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The night was filled with whispers of those who left their mark on the worn, narrow path winding down to the docks. The moon was hidden beneath the heavy clouds that threatened rain. A veil of darkness covered all those who wandered through the murky drapes. Hidden behind the cloaks of invisibility the night had to offer, the man stood waiting, hidden amidst the shadows, silent as the grave.
Waiting for what? He did not know. He knew only of the night’s dark tasks; he could sense it in the gentle sway of the trees around him, and feel it in the bitter wind nipping at his skin. Something dangerous was lurking nearby, stalking his prey as he was stalking it. It was getting restless; the creature had waited much, much too long. He knew it was only a matter of time before his darkest secret was revealed. It wasn't here to taunt- it wanted blood tonight. He was a statue, stone cold and still.
Then, with a shuddering force, he could feel the beast on the prowl once more. Trotting silently on the falling leaves, the man followed behind from a distance. The beast had left an easy trail to follow as it became careless from its ravenous desires. It was too easy, almost like a trap. The man choose to ignore his suspicions and continued to follow the beast. The road broke and a small clearing was ahead. He heard a small splash. The man cautiously approached; his guard up. The stars peeking out from under the clouds allowed him to see the small lake winding around the clearing. He stood alone. He didn't know if someone was watching him from the far end. “Perhaps I made a mistake,” The man thought, “Those wicked eyes have strayed from me.”
Nevertheless, the night was filled with empty shadows that remained unnoticed when they were filled. He took a small step forward, out of the safety of the darkness. He would be an easy target now, yet nothing came towards him. He took another small step, now he was completely exposed. He couldn't feel the monster. In fact, he couldn't feel anything. The emptiness that filled him would have been frightening if he could have felt it.
Each step that he took towards the forbidding lake at the edge of the clearing, his thoughts seemed to disappear from his head. He was now at the bank of the lake. Mechanically, he kneeled down by the water, peering into its depths. It was curiously reflective on this dark night and he could see the faint outline of his reflection. Yet, his empty mind seemed not to know the face staring back at him. The water seemed to hold a compelling spell over him. He had no struggle in him as he bent closer and closer to the surface. He stared as his face got closer, the face that wasn't his. He would soon be emerged in the water. The thought seemed to snap his mind into place as he once more felt the icy air on his back. He pulled back from the water but it was already too late. He felt the beast below him seize his face and pull him under; into the water as frigid as the night, arctic still as he was completely submerged in the water. Millions of needles pierced into his skin as he sank deeper and deeper into the cold, cold water.
The air was still. Not a soul seemed to be out tonight. An uneasy calm settled over the night as the trees stopped waving. But beyond the winding road, into the small clearing, underneath the water of the lake, panic was blooming from within the very soul of the strange man. Slow, dreadful panic crept into his mind, paralyzing his body from the weight. He was being flung around and around. The more he struggled against the beast, the more tangled he became. His lungs were filled with the biting water as he tried desperately to breath.
It was a horrible way to die, your life being sucked out of you one mouthful of water at a time. He could feel the life slipping from him. Slipping...slipping.
Then, quite suddenly, it stopped. The beast's coils released him and he went tumbling down. He landed on the hard dirt with a dull thud as he gasped for air. The water cascaded from his lungs in a spasm of coughing. He laid there on the ground for a few moments, still gasping for air, when he noticed something was wrong. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.
He was looking up to the sky, or what he assumed was the sky, but it looked peculiar. He seemed to be staring up into a black sinuous universe. He couldn't see the stars, the moon, even the clouds were gone. The man was looking up into complete darkness. He cautiously lifted his head to survey his surroundings. The uneven terrain was bare. He could see no plants or grass or trees. There were no signs of life anywhere. The stranger definitely wasn't back in the clearing in the woods.
The man got up to view his confinement more clearly. He turned slowly in a circle but the view was the same from all around him. About three yards from where he stood was dirt then darkness. He looked up towards the deceiving sky. The darkness was so close it was as if... he could touch it. He cautiously lifted his hands toward the darkness but frightenly pulled back. “Perhaps the beast, after all these years, outsmarted me,” The man thought. He had fallen into the trap he had set himself.
A sudden realization occurred to him. He seemed to be under the lake. But that was absurd! The beast couldn’t have led him here; he knew the traps it had set before. This was different; he couldn’t explain how he got here with his clothes still completely dry. Panic-stricken, he started to run but stopped himself. He didn't know what was beyond his vision. The beast could be out there even if he couldn't feel it. He would have to be on his guard to defend himself if something approached.
He sat on the dirt and closed his eyes. All was silent. He didn't know how long he was sitting there but he began to drift to sleep. He struggled against his heavy eyelids, knowing the beast was awaiting his unawareness. It wanted to catch him off guard for that is the only way to defeat an equal opponent. He was suddenly awoken by a faint splash. Without a moment’s hesitation, he sprung to his feet, ready to fight with his bare hands. But as he held his ready stance, he could hear nothing more than the sound of his own ragged breathing. He continued to stand there, straining his ears. Finally he began to doubt he had ever heard the noise. The darkness was beginning to play tricks on his ears. He was standing there for so long, his knees were getting weak and he was exhausted.
Just as he thought he was going to collapse, he heard the faint splash again. He snapped back from his daze and became alert. The noise seemed to have come from above him. He looked up but nothing changed in the mysterious dark sky's demeanor. He knew he had to do something about his imprisonment so he slowly raised his hands up toward the darkness. The man feared this would unleash the beast upon him but he was willing to take the risk. With his drained arms, he reached into the sky.
He reached until he could no more. His hands touched nothing but air. He only needed a couple more inches, and then maybe he could reach the darkness. Yet he felt nothing even as he jumped into the stagnant air. It looked so close but yet the more he tried to reach it, the more it looked farther away. After a few more struggles, he gave up, exhausted.
He collapsed to the dirt; a desperate pit of despair grew in him stomach. The hopelessness in his drained body consumed his once powerful bond to live. He wished the beast would come and devour him already and end his pitiful despair, when he heard the splash again. This time it sounded closer. He laid on his back, still alert but defenseless. The splashes were coming more and more until it sounded like someone was bathing in the lake above him. “The beast must be having a playful swim,” The man thought with a heartless chuckle.
He was brooding in his despair when a startling flash of light erupted off the dark water. The bright light bounced off the ground and into the surrounding darkness. The man, abruptly aware, stared up in awe as the lake flashed once more. There appeared to be an illuminate lightning storm from within the mystifying water. The light became brighter and brighter until he could no longer stare into the blazing glow. He shielded his eyes from the blinding brightness, fearing he would be blinded by the incandesce blaze of the startling lightening. Although his eyes remained tightly shut but he could still see the flashing through his closed eyelids.
Suddenly, it stopped. Although his eyes were closed, he could sense the light had passed as quickly as it had come. The atmosphere was opaque once more. He opened his eyes; taking in his surroundings, but he was alone once more in the darkness. The soil bore scorched marks from the powerful lightening. He noted these changes pessimistically until he glanced up into the sky. The man was bewildered at what he saw. There, sketched into the sky like a portrait, was a face; One that he knew quite well. Its uncanny resemblance to his own hardened face brought fear into the man’s eyes. It was reflected in the water like a large mirror. Yet, it wasn’t him. It wore the same frazzled and frightened expression as his own but it was like someone else was wearing his face. The man couldn’t comprehend this. Perhaps he was nothing more than a spirit, floating helplessly in between heaven and hell. Perhaps he was dead. The beast had finally overcome his trickery and had managed to finish him off. It was the only explanation the man could think of. His evil-doing had finally caught up with him, and he was staring it in watery face up above him.
He had completely forgotten about the lake! The beast had pulled him under and he must have drowned in the icy water. All the missing puzzle pieces seemed to come together. He had heard once that the dead only felt what they desired. He desired to stay alive, even if he was dead.
The man hesitantly thought, “I feel alive. I feel pain and tiredness and I’m frightened. How could I be dead and yet feel these things?”
With great caution he brought his hands to his face. He could feel the familiar ridges of his nose, his mouth, his jaw… He stopped. The face above him was mimicking his movements. When he lowered his arms, they were lowered from up above him.
He started to walk to the left. The mirage of him walked besides him. He moved back to the right; so did the image. Up and down, down and up, the mirror copied his every movement. This thief who was trying to steal his identity continued to prance around with him. Neither of them missed a step in this meaningless dance.
“Leave!” The man clamored with all the weak courage he could gather. The reflection did not leave. It remained in the same rigid stance that he was in. “Leave me!” His voice was getting more thunderous as his shadow still refused to depart. Again and again he shouted, but the clinging fiend only shouted with him. His throat was getting parched and his words began to mix together until he was shrieking nothing.
He was about to relinquish his efforts when the bizarre flashing began once more. Like brilliant rays of sunshine bursting from the water, from the ground, from all around him. He was instantaneously blinded by the glaring beams. They boomeranged off his skin, revealing all his secrets which he had so carefully tried to conceal. The light brought a curious bitter wind, and he felt it chill his blood. The man knew his reflection had betrayed the darkness he had hidden in the past. He was trying to escape but his heavy footsteps thudded on the callous ground he had grown so familiar with. Forceful gusts of wind wove their way under his skin, turning his blood into icy slush. He could feel his heart faltering under the arctic chill but he was powerless to fight against it. He was being pushed down to the rigid ground and he collapsed as pain seared through his body, sending needle pricks down his spine. Every limb of his body was on fire, yet he was turning blue from the unbearable chill. His lungs caved into his body, making it impossible to breathe. He saw a pair of evil eyes emerge from the water where his reflection once stood. After years of hunting, the beast had gotten its wish. It materialized from its hideout and marked his body with its needlelike claws.
The man knew without a doubt he was dying. The pain was vigorously spreading throughout every fiber in his body. He felt as if he was immersed in a sea of boiling water. White light was ahead in the distance. He must be getting near the end of the tunnel. He just had to walk through and the pain would be over…
Mike awoke with a start. His white hospital gown was drenched in the sweat pouring down his face. He was still in the murky windowless room. He was safe. A shiver ran down his spine but he could sense the danger had passed. His past had yet to catch up with him. With a sigh of relief he laid back down on the bed but he could sleep no more.