Survival

By , Petaluma, CA
An eerie silence fell over the city, as the last sliver of sun dipped below the mountains. The faraway behemoths of stone and earth had been comforting, bleak and rocky as they were, but now, they were the harbingers of doom, as they covered the last rays of sunlight that had kept night at bay. Now, dark ruled all.

The city hung, tense, on the brink of chaos. Would they come tonight? Maybe I had just imagined them, the horrible shadows, everywhere yet nowhere in particular, dancing maliciously at the edge of your view, filling the city with their flickering eyes, yet never in front of you, never fully visible. Maybe I had imagined all they had destroyed, people they had killed.

No. The rubble strewn across the streets was as real as ever, and the mass of bodies still burnt in the distance, the breeze bringing back the stink of death and ashes. This was a nightmare, yet it was real, and it kept going and going, in a way that the nights blended together, one long, horrible cycle. For a while I had fought for my life with passion, but now I felt tired and empty. All that was left was me and my pointless survival.

I sat in the corner, half asleep, the walls black with soot. I had a little fire burning in the middle of the room, which kept me warm. I was near delirious with hunger; I hadn’t eaten in days, maybe weeks; most of the food in the town had either been eaten, or had been buried in the heavy rock and wood of the collapsed buildings. The only water I had came from the canteen I had found packed away in a wooden box under the bed.

The tumbling sound of shifting rubble filled the air, definitely nearby, right outside the walls. A gut fear clutched at my stomach, and I felt adrenaline burning through my veins. Suddenly, I was wide-awake. Behind the remains of the bed, I crouched as low as I could manage, without mashing my face against the ground, and I waited, my legs and arms tense, ready to spring up and run away.
I stared intensely at the ground to my side. If something came, I would see its shadow. Yet the fire was not a steady source of light. Every flicker and surge of flame would play tricks with my eyes, making dark illusions of shapes that would last a second, yet quickly disappear. A moist sheen of sweat began to appear on my forehead. And I waited.

And then, suddenly it was there. I could feel its horrible energy, and its pure, inanely malicious intent all but congealed in the air. I twisted around, and it was right behind me. Its burning eyes stared through my soul, and suddenly, it was the most terrifying moment of my life. Fear filled me like molten lead, burning every muscle and tendon in my body. It grinned.

I threw myself back, away from the shadow, into my broken, dilapidated bed. The force pushed me right through the rotting wood, and yet I was too full of fear and adrenaline to feel any pain. I backed away, stumbling, unable to take my eyes away from the shade, until I pressed against the crack-riddled wall, cold sweat dripping from my unruly black hair.
Whether as a reaction to this insanely terrifying moment, or due to a reserve of mental strength I didn’t know I had, my panic lessened. I slowed my breathing, and, trying to find my voice, I stared into the eyes of the shadowy, formless monster.
“What are you?” My voice, unused for several days, was scratchy and rough. The shadow stared back, and grinned. Yet the malicious smile wavered for a moment, and I thought I saw sorrow, or remorse, if only for a moment. It spoke, its voice a raspy, powerful, painful whisper.

“Even I do not know. Nobody does. We are not… supposed to exist. We do not belong here. And yet, we are here.” Its grin reappeared. “Die.”

My head and my heart sank, together. There was nothing I could do against such a creature, nothing anyone else could do. Doomed. As it crept closer, I sank lower and lower against the ground, defeated, pathetically pressing as far away from the thing as I could. The fire had gone out; the only light was from its burning eyes. It was inches away from me now, and it reached out, touching my forehead. Unbearable pain exploded from its hand, racing through every nerve in my body, and I began to sink into unconsciousness. An errant thought slogged through my overloaded brain: I had managed to stay conscious until right before it killed me. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but still, it gave me a feeble last glow of pride.

A gold streak flashed across my half-faded vision, and thudded into the shadow, throwing it to the side. The pain vanished, and I reluctantly forced my mind back into action. I opened my eyes. Against the far wall, near a brand-new crack, was the shadow, and, pinning it to the wall, a large, brilliantly golden broadsword. Where the blade touched the shadow, the black, semi-solid darkness slowly dissolved into nothing. I followed the blade back to its hilt, and tried to make out who was wielding the weapon. Whoever he was, he was wearing a lot of grey, which made him hard to distinguish from the gray room around him, somewhat due to my cooked brain. The shadow gave a last scream, and disbanded, motes of shadow drifting to the floor, and disappearing. The man stepped back, and turned to look at me, his broadsword dissolving, in much the same way that the shade had. His eyes were gray, and his skin was rough and weathered. He stepped toward me, and I tried to pull myself upright, but my muscles had had enough, and I couldn’t move. He continued to walk towards me, and at that moment, my consciousness decided it was spent, and shut off. I fainted.





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