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The Last Night

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He was running, fleeing, from the most unlikely of threats. Before, he had declared that such a force was non-existent, that for it to be present in the world was impossible. Carrying a crude wooden club, he took extra care as to not hit himself as his arms swung in a pendulum motion. The man dodged a countless number of trees in his attempt to escape. Leaves crunched with each step. Blood pumped through his body so fast he could feel it, augmented with copious amounts of adrenaline. His heart beat as if it were ready to burst out of his chest cavity. A low-lying branch seemingly materialized before his face. He ducked just in time to avoid it and slowed down for but a moment. Then, he returned to his original speed.

“Phew,” the man panted.

Around him, nothing in the forest stirred. There was no recognizable sign of any living creature. The trees seemed to go on forever in every direction. Running for miles, he didn’t pause for any sort of rest. Without warning, he halted. His boots scraped the ground before coming to a stop. All the while, his head pivoted in a desperate manner, searching for anyone giving chase. When he detected no immediate threats, he breathed a sigh of relief. The man could hear his own pulse. His sweat had begun to smell, emitting a somewhat sharp, sour odor. Droplets of cool sweat slipped off his face and down his neck. For a few minutes, the man stood idly as he waited for his vital signs to grow less frantic. He looked down at the club that rested in his greasy palms. It was simple, with a few thin cracks along the edges. Dry blood coated the thicker end.

Once relaxed, he began to walk south. Now that he was no longer running, a more detailed visual of the surrounding environment emerged. This forest contained a select variety of tree species: thick oaks stood proudly alongside equally impressive maples, with a few young beech trees scattered throughout. As autumn was in full swing, one aspect they all had in common was their lack of foliage. With every step the man took, rotting, brown leaves made loud crunching sounds. Now aware of this, he attempted to lessen the noise created by stepping lighter. This did little to alleviate the problem, and the crunching persisted.

    Eventually, he came across a small house in a section of forest clearing. Its exterior was built out of logs and had an entrance directly facing him. A small window adjacent to the door was adorned with a pane of dirty glass. Dark tan shingles on the roof gave the house an entirely wooden appearance. When the man was about five meters away, he stopped and thoroughly examined the exterior. Its roughness and apparent simple construction gave it a rustic appeal. He smiled and approached the entrance. When he finally reached the door, he raised the wooden club in his right hand, while reaching for the knob with his left. He slowly turned it, and quickly pushed the door open. He looked inside, shifting his head back and forth.

“Hello?” he asked. There was no response.

He entered once he realized no one else was inside, closing the wooden door behind him. It creaked from some invisible strain. Interior direction was rather plain. The only furniture was an old sofa in the far left corner of the one room structure. On the opposite end was a low-lying night stand the same color as the walls. An oil lamp sat on top of it. The man went over to turn it on, as the only other light source was what streamed through the insignificant glass window. He flipped a switch on the bottom of the lamp clockwise. With a small click, the room glowed with bright yellow light. Eyeing the couch, he went over and collapsed onto it. Thoughts of who owned this house and why they built it here began to fill his mind before being overtaken by those of weariness. The sky grew dimmer with each passing minute. From its position in the sky, the Sun appeared to be only a couple hours away from setting.

“Oh well, I need a nap anyway,” the man grumbled as he rested the back of his head on one of the tattered cushions.

Woven between dreams, the sound of snapping wood rang out, loud enough to rouse him. A sickening odor of dead flesh upon rotten wood was enough to cause his loud heartbeat to drown the rest of the sounds from the door. Having slept with the weapon close to him, the man jumped from the couch, raising the club above his head. A figure was standing in the freshly-cleared doorway. The darkness outside revealed little in the way of appearance until it approached. A young woman dressed in black and blue stood before him. Her long, dark pants were in tatters. Parts of her face were missing, and what was left was beginning to shrivel up and turn gray. Low moans echoed from her throat, which grew louder as her dark eyes seemed to lock onto the man. She stretched out her arms as she wobbled toward him in an awkward fashion. Terrified, he stood there, frozen.

“Living dead,” he whispered under his breath. So much for all that running.

He lunged forward, and, using the force of one hand, swung at the woman’s face. Missing his target, he smashed it into her shoulder. She attempted to grab his outstretched forearm. He outmaneuvered her slow, clumsy reach and swung again; this time, with both hands behind an attack. Her nose was hit and immediately caved in. She was sent sprawling into the nightstand, knocking over the oil lamp. The floor and woman burst into flames. Embers raced up her legs like an eager swarm of fire ants, igniting her dress. Dark smoke and the scent of burning fabric filled the room, followed by that of seared flesh. The woman did not cry in pain, her expression as empty as a sky without stars. His fear seemed to anchor his feet to the burning ground. However, before he would accept burning with the house, and seconds before her incendiary grip wrapped around him, he took off running.

Almost tripping over the fallen door, he stopped for a moment to stabilize himself. Outside, the air was filled with a loud gurgling sound. A dozen others were closing in around him. Closest to him was a tall, skinny boy, and rather young by the looks of him. The man went to hit him as he neared and noticed the eleven grouped closer together. In a matter of seconds, any possible route of escape would be cut off. Out of desperation, he bashed the boy’s head with enough force to put him on the ground.The club splintered into two large pieces and many smaller fragments. The man fled. Avoiding the clamoring hands of some of his attackers, he disappeared into the trees. Golden light from the growing fire illuminated the path ahead, alerting him of any hazards. As he traveled further from the scene, he could see less and less. Just as the last of the light from the burning house left his vision, his forehead slammed into an unseen tree branch. Dazed, the man fell backward, hitting the ground flat. His fall launched an upward spiral of dry leaves. He was unconscious before he met the forest floor, and everything turned pitch black.

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