In the midst of absolute chaos, we discover who we truly are. For me though, I found all the things I hoped to never see.
An absent father who had never once cared enough to introduce himself to me. A mother fading quickly into the howling darks of dementia. An ex-girlfriend who had grown tired of my somber haze and left some months ago. An employer submerged in a rapidly mounting embezzlement scheme and forced to lay me off. And me, a nameless face in an ocean of souls.
I had watched my life erode like crumbling marble before my eyes, all while doing little to correct my course. Reduced to a broken shell of a man with nowhere left to go. The loss of my job was the final nail. As if the message really needed to be any clearer.
So, I began to drive, west on the highway with the scarlet Colorado sunset glistening above a blockade of mountains that seemed to beckon me onward. In my rearview I watched as the beacons of the Denver skyline became duller and more distant.
Marvelous splotches of purple and sanguine blazed in the sky above, and dusty spirals gnawed at the road. I drove paths I never had before, seeing it as almost poetic to match my emotionally lost state of mind with a physical one. My only purpose then, was to disappear.
I inhaled deep, filling my lungs with the abrasive smoke of a Marlboro Red. The road began to twist and elevate at an upward angle as I reached the mouth of the mighty Rocky Mountains. Fellow travelers became fewer and fewer as I continued on. Soon enough, I was alone on the road with nothing but a canopy of dark to keep me company. It wasn’t much for conversation, but at least I can’t see myself in the dark.
I took passing glances at my passenger seat, to ensure my only true companion was comfortable. A Barretta 1911, polished black steel with an almost tantalizing aura. The smell of burnt sulfur and gunpowder manifested in my mind, and I almost craved it. The thought alone sent a shiver down my spine, as I pondered upon the thought of the bitter pill, and how it would taste as it went down.
As my attention turned back to the road, something caught my eye. I slammed hard on my brakes, causing my truck to groan and squeal as it swung wildly about and nearly grazed the guardrail. It came to a stop soon after, a mere ten feet away from the girl standing in the road. Her long auburn hair blew gently about covering her face. Ragged blue jeans and a blank grey hoodie pulled over her head. Her hands were clenched tightly in fists down at her sides.
My heart began thundering in my chest. I hesitated for a moment, as something about her was familiar. Slowly she turned towards me, face blank and eyes puffy. Aubrey.
It was my coworker: Aubrey. Well, former coworker, I guess. Quickly I threw my truck into park, and moved to step from the vehicle. I saw a single tear glisten on her cheek. I broke eye contact for only a moment, but it was enough. As when I stepped from the truck, I found I was alone once again.
My eyes drifted from side to side, searching desperately for a glimpse of Aubrey, but she was not there. I had seen her clear as day, and yet she had vanished. Had I only imagined it?
After several seconds of no sign I turned back to my truck. Before stepping in, something else caught my eye. Some 50 yards down the road behind me, an outline of someone stood motionless on the side of the road. I squinted to see, but only saw the vague outline. For a second, I thought maybe it was Aubrey, but then I noticed it was much too tall.
I looked closer, but the figure only continued standing there, a motionless shadow. I thought about calling out, but something about the sight left me unnerved. Then it began to move.
It hobbled slowly, unnatural and wavering. The way it moved was just… strange, not at all like that of a normal human. It’s as if the figure had been injured in some way. Each step made it sway from side to side, as if not accustomed to it’s own legs.
A deep fear seeped into my very bones, and my heart began to thunder as the shadow continued hobbling towards me. The feeling of dread became so visceral that I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. I got back into my truck and fired it up, hitting the gas and watching the thing rapidly disappear in the rearview.
It took several minutes, and many miles for my pulse to return to normal. I felt my mind reeling from the experience and confusion clouded my thoughts in a dense fog. I drove onward, still resolute in my decision, and something emerged onto the road. I slowed as a person strolled casually from the dense mountainous woods.
It was a small boy, dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans. I recognized him immediately. My 6-year old cousin; David. I pulled my truck to the side of the road once more and quickly exited, a stunned shock merging into my bones. He looked to me, a destitute expression on his face. His cheeks were puffy, and eyes bloodshot as if he had been crying a great deal.
“David…” I called as I approached. I was within just a dozen feet of him, when suddenly he was yanked backwards by something within the shadows. He yelped in horror as shadowy limbs wrapped around his body and tore him back into the treeline. I rushed towards him, shouting his name multiple times, but never getting a response. The world around me grew silent, and malicious.
Then from within the woods a new shape took place. An impossibly tall, humanoid shadow began sauntering out. It appeared similar to the one earlier, but much more pronounced. I took a step back out of instinct, as my heart began to erratically pulsate once again. Another took shape behind the first, and then a third off to the right.
I fled, as a terror gripped my very soul. That image was not my cousin. It was a lie designed to lure me towards them, whatever they were. I reached my truck and again fired it up. The three entities reached the road, and I saw them in all their hideous manifestation. They were devoid of all light, so dark they even stood in contrast to the darkness around them. All three were tall, at least eight feet with twisted and unnatural limbs. They had no physical features of any kind, just a solid black slate where a face should have been.
I slammed my foot on the pedal and my truck roared from the scene, leaving the specters in my wake. I drove with an urgency I had never before possessed. Further and further up the winding mountain roads, and further away from all I had ever known. The images weren’t going to stop me.
After some time, I arrived at a rest area. I didn’t want to stop, but a throbbing head and aching bladder left me little choice. My truck rumbled into the abandoned parking lot. There was not another vehicle or person anywhere in sight. I stepped from my vehicle and rubbed my head. Had it all been a hallucination? Had my delirious mind simply concocted the imagery and fooled me into believing my visions were real?
I began to relieve myself behind my truck. The sounds of dripping liquid splattered against the ground, piercing the deafening silence of the moonlit night. Above me gleamed the opulent full moon which stared down upon me with an indifferent gaze. The trees whispered to one another, bringing with them a cold chill that slithered down my spine. Then a new sound came. It was faint, but the hushed sounds of weeping soon became apparent.
I finished and looked behind me, where I saw an impossible sight. My girlfriend Nicole, well… ex-girlfriend sat there on hands and knees. Tears poured from her eyes like water from a faucet as she groaned and muttered quietly. She was dressed in tattered sweatpants, and a weathered black hoodie. Her clothes were torn, leaving parts of her flesh exposed to the elements. She did not seem to notice, and didn’t even react to the chilling breeze. I stepped towards her, but paused as my eyes beheld what clutched her shoulder.
It’s image faded into focus, and I recognized yet another one of those obscure shadows. It’s hand was wrapped upon Nicole’s head, squeezing tighter and tighter down upon it. She began to wail and babble incoherently as a torrent of tears and saliva dripped from her face. The shadow then lifted it’s head and stared directly at me, as if sneering with an unseen grin.
Then another sound of weeping emerged to my left. I turned and saw another woman standing with hands pressed to her face. Two of the shadows engulfed her, wrapping her tightly in their deformed limbs. I recognized from her voice, it was my mother. She wailed pitifully, as if her entire world had been torn from her. I wanted to move in, to console her, but I knew the shadows were lying.
To my right another person appeared, this time a man. He sat on the ground in the fetal position, gently rocking back and forth. His head shook back and forth in an almost rhythmic fashion. He muttered to himself quietly, appearing quite distressed but with words impossible to discern.
From his voice I recognized him as my good friend Ben. Four shadows then approached him, kneeling and wrapping their spindly arms around him. He cried as they embraced him in an almost tragic hug. The things offered no love though.
They enjoyed his misery, all of them did. As if they fed upon the raw negative emotions of the tortured souls they ensnared. I could almost sense it in their diabolic flat faces. They were not there to console.
I stood there paralyzed with fear and confusion as my friends and family continued crying and muttering. Suddenly all the weeping stopped, almost in unison. Something shifted upon the treeline. Upon the perimeters of the rest stop, I saw dozens of the shadows emerge. All of them trudged towards me in a gruff circular motion, as if acting as one giant pupil retracting it’s lens.
The things who had embraced my family then rose from them and turned their gaze towards me. The members of my family appeared statuesque, unmoving and unbreathing. As if time itself had refused to move forward for them. I felt cold tears begin to drift down my cheek, stinging like a hornet’s kiss.
The obsidian specters continued their advance, and I turned to flee back into my truck. Fumbling with my keys I managed finally to unlock the door and crawl inside. I turned the key, but the engine refused to ignite. The ethereal mob loomed closer as I cranked again and again. The engine whined but refused to turn over.
Within moments they had surrounded my truck, and pressed firmly up against the windows. The truck groaned and began to shake as the weight of the things bombarded against it. Several wriggled their way onto the roof, and a few clambered aboard the hood.
I felt my mind begin to fray, as the longer I seemed to stare at them, the foggier they became. They began to mutter whispers and curses, terrible things which gnawed upon the fibers of my mind. My breath turned to steam as the temperature of the air around me plummeted.
The things continued to push on the frame of my truck, rocking it back and forth as they continued muttering blasphemies and spite. They had come for me. They had always been after me. They had used visions of tragedy and heartache to get close to me, but I’d be damned if I was going to let them win.
I grabbed the Barretta from the passenger seat and pressed it firm to my temple. The sleek barrel felt almost warm as it touched my skin. It was my saving grace, my key to the door. But then I noticed the shadows.
From outside they had ceased their movement and stared motionless, as if leering in approval. Their blank faces focused squarely on me, as if cheering me onward. I put my finger on the trigger, and their excitement seemed to grow. Several of them shuddered in anticipation, and I closed my eyes.
A million vague memories and emotions cascaded through my mind. I saw pieces of my childhood, fragmented thoughts of my parents and friends, and a world broken beyond reason. All my fear, love and hope manifested within my mind and I felt it begin to bleed away.
My mind was enveloped by dark, as the last fleeting remnants of my life faded. I was left in an abyss, alone and without purpose. I felt my mind being pulled downward, and with no fight left, I did not resist.
As I sunk downward, something suddenly emerged. A small singular source of light. A lone beacon in a realm of eternal dark. It fluttered and gently shimmered through the coat of black. Despite it’s small appearance, insignificant as it was, the dark could not extinguish it.
I realized then what the shadow things were. The ravenous scavengers of despair, the ghouls of tragedy. They were not there for me. They were there for what I aimed to do. To feed upon the endless stream of sorrow from those I left in my wake.
I opened my eyes, and once again the creatures stared back feverishly. I lowered the gun from my head, and the creatures seemed perturbed. They began to hiss and scowl, while muttering threats and morbid promises. But I was not swayed. For the monster that was my own mind could never be outdone by some fiendish shadows. What more could they do to me?
I reached for the handle and flung the door open. The creatures sneered and groaned as I stepped from the vehicle, but as I expected, their clutches could not hold me. I strolled right through them, shrugging off their touches as if they were no more threatening than the caress of leaves in the wind.
I broke through them, despite their protests, and made my way over to my mother. There she sat, frozen with her head draped in her hands. Cold tears forming into icicles upon her cheeks. I leaned down to her, as the creatures crowded around. I leaned in and embraced her, holding tight as tears drifted from my eyes.
“I’m sorry momma.” As soon as I said it, I felt her form dissipate from my arms. I pulled back and found her gone, along with the vestiges of my other friends. The shadowy ghouls remained, but I no longer feared their presence.
I knew they would be there, as they always had been. Hiding in the shadows and waiting for a feast of anguish. Whispering dark secrets and hurtful lies into my ears. But they would not be feasting that day.
I walked back and entered my truck, and further down the mountainous road I saw it. A single light flickering in the distance. A lone candle in a world of ominous dark. What it was exactly I cannot say, but it’s presence was beautiful. Even just the single speck of light that it was, it was much better than a world without it.
I fired up my truck and drove back onto the main road. The road which I had once all but forgotten about. What lies around the next corner is a mystery to me, but I’ll gladly take it over the eternal dark. I cannot let the shadows win and even if the light cannot save me in the end, perhaps it can save another. I must follow the light, and even if the road forgets me, I will not forget it.