With the sun already slipping below the horizon, I packed up my gear and headed out the door for the minute or so walk to the lake. By the time I reached Sunset Bay, all but the last vestiges of sunlight had vanished and what little remained offered nothing more than the soft, warm glow of a distant fire reflected in the clouds.
Yet something magical happens at dusk, at that time after sunset but before darkness settles in completely, those precious and scarce moments when the world seems torn asunder with night full to the east and day grasping at its final seconds to the west.
The orange embers of day faded quickly as I approached the shore. A chill settled over the land, a quick cutting of the air that seemed hurried to reclaim from daylight all that it could touch, so I pulled my jacket a bit tighter about me.
Cool winds slid over the water and rushed ashore. The bay offered no protection.
I considered turning back, going home. What possible opportunities rested in dark times?
Then an armada of shadows came near such that I felt I could reach out and grasp their lightless forms.
At first I believed them to be alike, creatures of one form forever clad in the dark armor of dusk, yet my feeble human eyes grew accustomed to failing light and with that newfound strength, I began to see a menagerie of ghostly figures.
Some danced in pools of reflection that captured day’s end and sent it back heavenward in ripples of color. Some took flight on ethereal wings and floated effortlessly on air. Some walked the earth with the likeness of corporeal substance.
All shapes and colors materialized, wisps of smoke manifest in fleshly forms, whispers from the dark only dreams could create.
How soon I realized the bewitched armies of dusk were on the move. Battalions and regiments and squadrons and fleets took shape from what moments before had been the empty evening. And finally the horn players appeared and sounded the trumpets of advance. The march had begun.
Up from the depths and out of the sky came hordes of spirits in guises both familiar and alien. Whether from the cold or fear, I could not escape the tremble whose skeletal fingers ran down my spine, the specter of death in the face of such monstrous beauty as took shape before me.
Cloaked in white save the crimson of her face, the high priestess of this gathering flitted upon the breeze to a station nearby where she glowed as though capturing all light and bringing it unto herself. All around her dimmed in her presence.
Then the sky became one with the lake, a powerful act she wished into being without the slightest gesture, and upon the water’s surface the heavens fell. What hues! What patterns!
The magic she wielded summoned yet more demons, yet more powerful beings, yet more fantastic works of the gods. And where the elements beckoned to her call and became one, the waters parted for the royal court who would this night stand before the armies of dusk and bow to the god and goddess of royalty.
A hush seemed to fall. I found myself holding my breath and wondering. Would I survive this encounter with those of this other world, this place betwixt the realm of light and the realm of dark? What hides such power from the witnesses of life? What was yet to come?
Even then they arrived, the royal guards whose voices chase away devils and whose approach sends challengers fleeing. With them they ushered in the last inhalation of the hour, and then they exhaled the mystic thought that chased the day away. And the light hurried over the horizon.
Then they came. I tried not to look, tried not to meet their gaze. My attempts were futile. My humble soul could not refuse the deities who slipped between worlds and ruled the dusk.
First the god-queen who herself was made of light and shadow and all that exists in between. She floated from place to place, a body in the guise of spirits and a soul in the guise of flesh, and she took her place where land and sea and air joined as one.
In her eyes I found eternity, the burning depths of the universe filled with stars and conquest, her reach forever and her will undeniable. Yet even she knew subservience. I saw a goddess bow her head, and in that instant I revered what was to come.
And finally, the god-king. Eyes of crimson rage and fiery passion, cloaked with colors no being could imagine, the order of all that is became apparent while in the presence of such power. He seemed to draw strength from the worship that flooded over him, from the absolute knowledge of all those gathered that he was the first and would be the last, that he breathed life into the cosmos for his own entertainment, that he demanded unwavering trust and unflinching allegiance. The sanctity of the encounter grew as I realized trepidation followed heartfelt devotion: this shadow cast felt such ardor for their gods, such deference. They would follow them unto the end of time and would sacrifice their lives for them.
Only the hour that is neither day nor night could contain such magic. Only dusk could give stage to beings such as these.
I watched as they marched onward, a legion vast before which all fell, a countless army of shadows before which a wave of triumph washed over the land and brushed aside all challengers. I watched as the god-queen and god-king empowered the innumerable to unstoppable success; they vanquished all who stood in their way.
Then the last drop of light fell into the cupped hands of the world. Nightfall…
I shook myself lose from the imaginings that had filled my mind. I still wanted to take pictures.
Ah, but the day had ended, dusk had been eclipsed by dark, and I stood at the shore of Sunset Bay where I had begun my walk. I hadn’t even lifted the camera from my side. I felt there was no sense in trying after night enveloped the area. I turned and walked home.
Only the next day would I discover the memory card full of pictures I never took, of creatures I never saw, of encounters I never had. Only the next day would I again wonder about the armies of dusk. Only the next day would I ponder an encounter with gods made of shadow and light, of armies before which light itself would retreat. Only the next day would I wonder…
— — — — — — — — — —
 A covert of American coots (Fulica americana) swimming near shore.
 A rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) walking toward me.
 A brown domestic swan goose (a.k.a. Chinese goose or African goose; Anser cygnoides) floating just offshore.
 A white female Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) standing quietly.
 A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming in the shallows.
 A ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) enjoying the sunset.
 A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) paddling slowly close to land.
 A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) drifting in the lake with full breeding plumage on display.