This is a really short piece of fiction. I mentioned on twitter I had a story that seemed to be bursting to get out and this is the result, a breathless scene jumping short narrative. It pulls on a lot of thematic ideas I have floating around, but doesn’t really expand on them. What do you think?
The bitter air felt like it was burning my throat as I struggled to breath. My head was expanding and shrinking, but I couldn’t pause long. I could hear them coming. I didn’t know why I was running, no other choice I think. Death was chasing me, yet Death was waiting for me in the coldness. I had nothing to save, not even myself.
I plunged into the blinding darkness between the trees and glanced back to see them flying over the bushes at the top of the hill like winged predatory monsters. They didn’t seem human, covered with mud, tattered rags and carrying makeshift weapons of blades and bats. More like beasts in the shape of people. The sound they screamed was awful, was inhuman, was… I bashed and rolled into trees and bushes, that cut and stung my cold skin.
One of them was close, I could hear its breathing, as if he (if it was a he) were calling out to all around that he existed. I couldn’t see, couldn’t tell from which way I had come, which way I was going so I kept moving. It seemed better to act then to try and think. He seemed to be whispering something, as if he was trying to coax me towards him. I pushed harder instead, but he was getting closer. Without a chance to gather my wits, I tripped forward, my face hit water and dirt. Above me there was a clunk, a blade dug deep into a tree. The man was grumbling incoherently as he tried to pull the blade free. He wasn’t standing like a man, his knees were bent, his back arched like an animal. I slowly lifted myself up and he kicked me hard in the ribs, sending me spiraling. I couldn’t see his face, but from the sounds, I figured he was chewing his dirty lips in anticipation.
Lying on my back I watched as he raised the freed blade high, intending to strike down. I couldn’t move, frozen, watching Death finally strike. But something moved, flashed and then there was a vivid crack and the man fell to the ground. “Help me,” some part of me whispered, a part that wanted to stay alive. Something moved near my face, a shimmering of the shadows. It was warm.
“You have been touched and once you have been swallowed by the darkness you will be theirs. Their darkness is the absence of hope. One light.”
“My family…” I gasped though the bitter cold and the warmth was suddenly gone. I stopped. But then I willed myself to breath. My wife, my daughter, cold, dead. Part of me didn’t want to let go, something in me was changing. It was moving and it was wrong.
Torn inside, I was moving again. I don’t know how I got up. The trees were blurs, my breathing was dead. The shouting and roaring never diminished, always close. My hand reached into my pocket, my wallet was still there. Barely stopping I pulled out the photo I kept there, a photo of my wife and daughter somewhere bright, smiling, alive. Even in the near pitch-darkness, I could make out the details of their faces. I could imagine touching my daughters face.
The image was shattered in my minds eye suddenly, by the memory; ripped from the car, flying through the night. Watching as the car rolled, not once but three times with a terrible metal crunching and wheels turning uselessly in the air. Their bodies broken and bloody as I scrambled through the wreckage. Blood in their hair.
Then the roaring and screaming, as those beast-creatures, those not really human, came for me. I shook my head and my family were alive again in that photo, looking back at me with smiles and love. I knew it was a lie, but it was the one light in the darkness.
Something lifted me from behind and again I was flying in the air. I lifted myself from the hard mud. I should be in pain, but a chilling numbness spread through me. They were chanting, banging on the ground, on their hands. They surrounded me and somewhere light shone. A single man, one that walked like a human might, lifted me by my chin with one hand. Was that my blood that dribbled down his arm? His skin was covered with tattoos but I must have been hallucinating because they were moving, dancing dark patterns, hiding his true face. “You will make a fine dog,” he said with a guttural voice, like an animal that learned to talk human. Something was rammed down my throat and choked. I started to blackout and I was falling, into blackness. I saw the photo of my wife and daughter, but they were animated, calling to me. I reached for them and the darkness swallowed me, like forgetfulness creeping through sand. I welcomed it for it promised closure and peace. Endings.
But in the utter darkness, there was a pinpoint of light. When I no longer knew who I was, it was there. I though I could see the blue sky. I reasoned it would fade like everything. Then the photo was in my hand, they were looking up at me smiling, loving me. The darkness crept like sleep over my hands, over the photo. Blood in their hair. The car rolling three times. Scrambling through the wreckage. The blood washed away the darkness, I fought it like trying to wake from a nightmare. But it would not go away. My hands melted as a I tried to scratch at the edges and the rage welled in me.
My hands were different, bigger and heavier. I felt I was wearing a huge mask, my head was difficult to turn and I couldn’t call out or speak. Instead I roared and bit. My claws passed through those beast-like people like paper. The man with the moving tattoos had fallen to the muddy ground and I opened my jaws and swallowed him, eating all the dark and terrible things inside him, digesting it.
I awoke some impossible to determine time later. I was naked but unhurt. I stood up slowly, blood and body parts lay all around me. In a pile of tattered rags I found my wallet and taking the photo without looking at it, I try to find my way. Something new was inside me. Something of rage and fire. But I also felt empty. The rest of me couldn’t reconcile the two: the emptiness and the rage.
I knew where I was going without knowing. My mind didn’t question where my body moved. The sun was rising and the light was seeping through the trees. I found the car, but the bodies were not there. I knew also that that was okay. The trees seemed to promise a path and I followed it to a small glen. My wife and my daughter’s bodies lay there. They were cleaned and dressed in white clothes. There was no blood in their hair. I lay down beside them, hoping to fall asleep with them. Hoping the darkness would keep its promise.
In the dream I was on a boat. I remember looking over the side and seeing a monstrous dog or wolf stare back at me. A man steered the boat from the back. He seemed fuzzy, as if I couldn’t perceive him directly. “It’s time to say goodbye Daddy,” my daughter said.
“I don’t want you to go.” I begged.
“Don’t be silly Daddy, we can’t stay and you can’t come,” she said as she kissed and hugged me.
I felt my wife hold my hand. Her voice was gone but she held me. Then she was gone too. I wasn’t allowed to turn, wasn’t allowed to see where they were going.
I awoke to something being poured down my mouth. It tasted bitter and sharp. A tall woman held my head back. “Drink this mead. It is a holy drink and it is strong enough to wake the near dead.” I knew her or rather I knew her warmth and her voice.
“I wish to die.”
“Dying is not for you or I yet. Life has other purposes for us. They are not the only darkness-es in this world.” Her voice was calm.
“There is a monster in me.” I whispered.
“That is what makes you human.”