I'm leaving my real name out of this, but I've been going by Jack for the last little while, so you can call me that if you feel so inclined. For background, I was a cop for about a week before this happened. So much for job security. The guy who was assigned to be my partner - we'll call him Dave - was a lot older than I was, but he was the most patient guy I had ever met, and I'll always be thankful for that.
Anyway, Dave and I were sent to check out a small town a couple hours away. For your safety, I'm leaving out the name, but we were apparently in regular contact with them. They were understaffed, so we lent a hand here and there until they went dark for over two days. No matter who you contacted in that town - the cops, the doctors, the local garage - you wouldn't get an answer. So, we were obliged to find out why.
We set off after handling half a shift of DUIs and domestic violence calls, and were bound to get there by nightfall. All the way, Dave's got a look in his eyes like he'd rather be bowling again, winning that state championship or whatever he said he'd done. On Dave's request, we had picked up an embarrassing amount of fast food, and stopped to stuff our mouths full of those mini burgers until the sickness set in. Road fuel, Dave called it, and by the time it was dark, we caught sight of a sign jutting out of a bush, welcoming us to the next beautiful town - one mile.
"So, I've known you, what, less than a week now?" I asked, keeping my eyes on the road. "Why don't you give me shit like everybody else?" Dave sat in silence for a moment.
"'Cause I remember," he said, tapping himself on the head. "First time I showed up there, I was shaking in my boots, fresh out the academy, just like you. I had no fuckin' clue what I was doing, but you learn on the job, and sooner or later, you're good. Just smile more, brighten up a bit even if it's just for show, and you'll be fine. Oh, and suck up, suck up a lot." He chuckled to himself, pausing a moment before continuing. "He may be an asshole, but the chief likes to think he sees something in people. Me? I personally think it's my charming good looks. How about you?"
"I don't know," I said, fighting back a smile.
"Hey, you don't have to answer this, but why are you always so quiet?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I mean you look like somebody shot your dog or somethin'. Like, if it's just the way you are, then that's cool, but if it's something else ..."
"It's nothing," I said, hesitating. I figured he'd find out eventually, one way or another. "Just had an accident a while back. I had a sister. I was walking her home after her dance classes and we got mugged. When he found out we had no money, this guy stabbed her with a switch and ran off. She died in the ambulance. I keep telling myself there's nothing I could've done, but I know there was. I could've stopped it."
"I think there's a saying that covers this," said Dave. "Discretion is the better part of valor, right? Maybe you could've tried, and maybe you might've even succeeded, but you also could've taken a knife to the gut. It'd be honorable, sure, but you'd also be dead, and how do you think your sister would feel about that? I'm sure you did the best you could. Bravery ain't all it's cracked up to be." I thought to myself, watching the shadowy forests speed by on either side of us. "But, in any case, I'm sorry it happened. Nobody deserves to go through that."
I sped up, eager to get it over with. Dave nudged me with his elbow and pointed at the road ahead. Slowing down, I saw a crack in the asphalt lit by the headlights, splitting into a deep fissure that trailed off into the darkness. I heard Dave swear under his breath, and I followed his gaze to a path of trees knocked flat against the ground, splitting through the thick forest at our side. Looking down the broken trail, the lights of the town radiated faintly in the distance.
"The hell happened there?" I asked. "Looks like a bomb went off." I killed the engine and stepped out of the car, Dave following close behind.
"Might've been clearing it for something," he said. I could see the doubt on his face. "Small town's gotta' expand."
The night was still and silent, pitch black beyond the steady glow of the moonlight that cast itself upon the splinters. Dave walked ahead to get a better look at the damage.
"Looks like we're going on foot," he said. "Car can't go any further - road's too beat up." Stepping forward, my eyes traced across the bed of splinters that cracked beneath our boots. Those trees were never knocked down, or even cut - there was too much debris. It was almost like they exploded. There was a kind of electricity in the air that needled at my skin and set my nerves on edge the closer we got to the town, like I was sucking on a live battery. Every time I looked ahead of us, there was always this feeling I got - that I knew something was wrong. Not just your run of the mill 'I know something bad's about to happen' kind of thing, like you're anticipating something, I mean that feeling you get when you know something's wrong. You feel an aversion that you can't quite explain - a sickness - because you know this thing shouldn't be happening, but it is.
Reaching the first street, we stopped, scanning the buildings, shops, and houses - all with their doors wide open in the night, with not a soul to be seen for miles. There was an eerie silence that lingered in the air, breaking only for the tap of our boots against the concrete. Even the wind had left that place. Looking back at my partner, I could see that same sense of unease creep across his expression. We didn't say a word, because nobody had to. I felt my hand drawing closer to my holster the further we went, my heartbeat thumping in the oppressive silence as the shadows started to play tricks on my eyes. We figured we'd try and find the local station, but in truth, I wasn't counting on much.
The streets were dark and unwelcoming at every turn, still barren and devoid of even a rat or an insect scurrying behind an alleyway dumpster. No birds, no crickets - nothing. Doors hung open on homes and stores long since abandoned, but nothing had been cleared out, like every soul in town just got up and left as quick as they could. Everybody just split, but for the life of me, I couldn't understand why. A town like that - it'd be a nice place to live under normal circumstances. Real small, everybody knows everybody - a real hometown atmosphere.
Turning another empty corner, the station came into view: a small, concrete two-story. The lights shone dimly from inside, leeched dry by the hungering darkness that surrounded us. Walking up the steps, Dave's hand crept toward his holster. The door creaked open at the slightest push, revealing an empty lobby.
"Hello?" I called, my voice echoing throughout the room. Only silence responded. Dave moved ahead and slowly pushed open an office door to my right, breathing heavy. Peering inside, he jumped back, swearing at the air. The door creaked open to reveal a man slumped over in his chair, a bloody hole in the back of his head, and a revolver on the ground beneath him, skull fragments and bits of brain matter still sticking to the wall. It felt like my heart had seized in my chest. I had seen dead bodies in the morgue, but never anything like that. An old cassette player sat on the desk in front of him, covered with flecks of dried blood. Stepping into the room, I pushed the man back, revealing a Walter Bennet stamped onto his shirt. "Look up a Walter Bennet in the registry," I said, turning back to Dave. He left the room, footsteps trailing off toward the front desk. Eyeing the cassette player, I leaned in to rewind the tape inside, and pushed play. A horrible static hissed in the background, broken only by the stuttering, shaken voice of a man.
"To anybody who finds this tape," he stammered, "to anybody that's left, listen very carefully to what I'm about to say. Everybody in this town is dead. Wherever you came from, you need to leave, right now. Get anybody you care about, and hide. Pack as much food and water as you can, and stay out of the cities - they'll eat them first. We're sorry. We're sorry about everything ... they made us do it."
A gunshot sounded, and only the steady shift of the static remained. My fingers clenched as a cold tingle shot up my spine. The heartbeat in my ears drowned out the din, rising and falling in dread anticipation as my thoughts raced through my mind.
"You okay?" Dave asked from behind, startling me. I turned to see him at the door. "I found out about that guy," he said. "He got discharged about two days ago. Paranoid schizophrenia, had a mental breakdown on the job or something. What's with the tape?"
"Call in," I said. "Get some people over here." Normally, I wouldn't have panicked like I did, but that place was something different. I felt like I was in danger. Looking worried, Dave took out his phone and called back, but didn't seem to get an answer. A minute passed, and he began to look concerned, giving up and punching in another number. Nothing.
"The fuck's going on here?" Dave stepped inside and leaned against the wall, looking down at the cassette player. "What'd it say?" he asked, the hiss of static still playing.
"He said everybody in this town is dead," I said.
"Well, I could certainly see how one might come to that conclusion," said Dave, chuckling with unease. "Still, I don't think we're that far up the creek. This is a pretty small place - chances are, they're all off getting drunk somewhere. We'll find them eventually, don't worry about it." He paused, looking down at the floor. I knew he was just trying to calm me down, but his face told me the truth. He didn't believe a word he was saying. Something had gone terribly wrong, and we both knew it.
The static hiss radiating from the cassette player suddenly grew. A feeling of unease washed over me as another sound pushed through in the background, slowly overriding the chaotic crackling before evolving into an inhuman shriek that set my nerves on fire. Cringing in pain, I fell to my knees, struggling to look back at Dave seizing madly upon the floor like every sense he had was being raped by the horrifying noise. Blood trickling from my ears as my vision buckled, I lunged at the cassette player and slammed my fist down on the stop button. The world swam around me as I collapsed, a steady ringing piercing through my ears as the taste of blood filled my mouth. The lights overhead flickered and dimmed, and the world drifted into darkness.
I remember having a dream, then, or more a nightmare that I still can't shake from my mind. The skies were rolling overhead like a storm, but they were the color of an infected bruise, the air choked with the stench of fuel as three crimson suns burned through the toxic miasma. I sat up, but the only thing I saw was an endless field of bleeding meat, trees of mutilated people fused together into the shape of writhing branches as they moaned in constant agony. Then, there was nothing.
I woke up on my back, staring absent-mindedly at the ceiling as a splitting headache thrummed in my skull. Rolling onto my side, I saw a smear of blood trailing out into the lobby. Dave was gone, replaced by an impenetrable silence that permeated every inch of the room. Struggling to regain my strength, I crawled to my feet and stumbled into the lobby, a blurry afterimage trailing behind my vision as something crunched beneath my boots. I looked down. It was human teeth, scattered and soaking in the blood. The trail led across the lobby before turning out of sight down a dark corridor, the failing lights flickering overhead. I followed it, shambling forward in the remnants of my delirium as the last of my senses returned to me.
Looking down the hall, the trail dispersed into a spatter of fresh droplets. As I walked, the light grew dimmer, giving way to the encroaching shadows. I removed the flashlight from my belt, and held it out, keeping my free hand on my holster. As the darkness swallowed me, I drew the column of light across the decaying walls of the building. Peering down the shrouded corridor, the beam of the flashlight was devoured by the shadow, as though the hall went on forever. A feeling of unease prickled at my skin as my mind struggled to grasp what it was looking at. That hall shouldn't have been there. The building was isolated - small - there's no way it could hold it. I remembered. Or ... I don't know. I only saw the front and the sides, and it was dark out, so I could've missed something. I figured I must have - it was the only way it made any sense.
A feeling of vertigo swam within me as I stepped out into the void, creeping forward and anticipating the worst. The further I went, the more I noticed the ashen markings of astrological symbols that began to crowd the walls, the ceiling slowly extending out of sight as the corridor seemed to narrow around me, instilling me with a sense of harrowing claustrophobia. My boots crunched on something again, and I looked down to see another trail of fresh blood stricken across the concrete, human teeth and fragments of bone scattered within it. Scratch marks swept through the spatters of crimson, and dug deep into the walls, broken nails jutting out of the sweeping fissures, as though someone had been dragged into the darkness beyond. A muffled cough sounded in the distance, followed by a patter of footsteps that steadily drew closer to me. I drew my weapon and aimed it down the hall, finger on the slide as my hands shook with terror. I twitched as a shadow passed over the beam of my flashlight, revealing my partner stumbling haggardly toward me. A deep sheen of blood coated his face, panicked and distressed.
"Run," he spat, coughing as he moved. "Get out of here." I ran to catch up with him as he passed by me, heading back into the lobby. "It's coming," he gasped again, throwing himself against the doors and blundering out into the night. He collapsed upon the pavement, writhing and screaming in the blinding shade. He was hysterical, looking like something had ripped his mind in two and cast him out into the dark. I held him down, and he looked up at me, his eyes filled with fear and adrenaline. "It's here," he said, his voice trembling as he repeated the phrase over and over again. "It's here, it's here, it's here, it's here." I felt a prickling sensation on the back of my neck as a sudden paranoia invaded my mind. Something was watching me. Something in the sky. I looked up, but saw only blackness above. The moon was full, but the stars were gone. I felt a sensation of absolute dread, like I was less than a pinprick of dust that was about to be wiped off the face of the universe.
My hands shaking with fear, I looked back at Dave, but his seizing had stopped, and he fell still. He laid face-up on the ground, thick arches of blood trickling down from his nose and ears, and tracing patterns on the concrete beneath him. I backed away from his body, still struggling to comprehend what had just happened.
I pressed my fingers down upon his neck, feeling for a pulse, then held my hand above his mouth, waiting for the faintest breath of air. Nothing. The realization crept in slow, playing at my senses as it swallowed my disbelief. He was dead, and he had seen or felt something in this place - something dangerous. My mind jumped back to the decaying memory of the noise, flowing out of the tape recorder like a symphony of nightmares. Already my brain picked and prodded at the thought, struggling to shut it out and forget it ever happened. Something was just wrong about it. It was almost like it wasn't a sound at all, more just ... a force, pouring into my head as my body fought to reject it.
A deadly silence filled my ears as the present came rushing back. I was alone, surrounded by a darkness that drowned every nook and crevice in its shadow. The lights of the police station flickered out behind me, leaving only the hollow, moonlit skeleton of the structure, its presence befouling the air with an aura of seething dread. The memory of the hallway lingered in the background, threatening my curiosity and egging on some deluded sense of vengeance that brewed within my mind. I could go back - it was always a possibility, but what would I look for? What could I really do? Nothing. There was no sense in risking my life for nothing, I figured, and if that makes me a coward, then a coward I am - I didn't even care. Discretion is the better part of valor, right?
At least, that's what I wanted to believe. I could hear Dave's voice screaming in my head, belittling me as I crawled to my feet. That's when I felt the presence return. Something in the sky. I looked up, and heard a sound that I still can't rightly explain. It was like a cross between a yowling hyena and an elephant, and though I couldn't see anything but darkness up there, I knew that something was moving. A hot, putrid wind panted against me, like something immense was breathing on me. It was watching me, but it didn't strike. It just let me stand there.
Trembling and shaking with any thoughts of vengeance purged from my mind by absolute fear, I turned away from the station and started to make my way back. I glanced at the phone on my hip as I moved, wanting to give it another shot if only to hear the voice of another human being, but something in my instincts called for silence. Everywhere I went, I still felt like I was being watched, as though a thousand eyes were following my every movement, yet every time I shot a glance over my shoulder, the streets would be empty, and the skies would be dark.
I spun around once more, facing the barren vastness of the night. Even then, a tingle ran up my spine as I felt the eyes tracing my features, devouring every drop of paranoia. I'd constantly catch shadows moving along the edges of my vision, but whenever I looked, they'd be gone.
Eventually, I reached the treeline. The broken passage of toppled timber still bathed in the moonlight, inviting me onward. I tried to peer into the distance, but couldn't see far enough to catch a glimpse of my cruiser.
I stepped forward, listening to the twigs and fallen branches snap beneath my feet. A feeling of uneasiness came over me as I glanced to my side and stared into the unfelled depths of the forest. I stood still, eyes unblinking in the impenetrable darkness that shrouded my sight. I could feel a part of my mind trying to convince me that things were moving through the shadows, obscuring the dim rays of moonlight for only a second before carrying onward through the trees. I tried to convince myself that it was just a wild animal, but I knew better than that.
My eyes panned across the darkness again. A feeling of dread washed over me as I fixated on a particular spot within the gnarls, but I couldn't say why. I traced over the area again, terrified and confused until a sliver of moonlight illuminated a trail of viscera stricken across the ground. What looked like a ragged spinal column hung loosely from a hole in a tree. I stepped toward the blood-stained evergreen and removed the flashlight from my belt, switching it on and shining it within the hole. The light revealed a cache of mangled flesh winding upward into the tree, like it had been hollowed out and filled with the aftermath of an industrial accident. I stepped back as a fetid smell wafted up from the hole, forcing me to gag.
I let out a loud cough, struggling to muffle it at the last moment, but failing entirely. The feeling of being watched intensified, as though I had offended some malign presence. Turning away from the forest, I began walking at a brisk pace toward my car, throwing cautious glances over my shoulder as the unnerving feeling persisted. Picking up speed, I scampered and vaulted over the rows of felled trees that barred my path, hoping that by some miracle I wouldn't lose my footing. The shifting cracks of snapping branches approached just out of sight, my mind struggling to differentiate between my own blunderings and those of the unseen horror that stalked me, but I could've sworn that I heard something following me. As I leapt over another log, the cruiser slipped into view. My limbs burning with exhaustion, I threw another glance over my shoulder, dashing quickly toward the vehicle. Nothing. I stopped as I reached my destination, turning once more to the shattered woodland as I struggled to catch my breath. Scanning the shadows, all was still, the dying lights of the town radiating through the blackness.
I entered the car and started the engine. Hands shaking aimlessly on the wheel, I turned the vehicle around and drove off into the night, falling into a familiar daze. Everything felt like a dream, but I was helpless to wake from it. Somebody or something killed my partner; maybe the presence that followed me, or whatever made that awful noise. The same thing happened, right? Both made him seize and bleed out. When he came running out of the dark in that hallway, I don't think I ever saw anybody that scared before - and I just left him there, dead on the ground. There was nothing I could do.
Looking ahead, the road began to bleed into the night. The reach of the headlights withered further and further until all I could see was a thick wall of darkness. A lingering fear grew within me as the blindness set in, images of my car swerving off the road flickering through my mind until the yellow divider crept into existence once more. The wall of shadow slowly dispersed, and I found myself speeding straight down the road. A feeling of relief swept over me, only to be snatched away as I shot a glance to the side. Slowing the car, a sinking feeling weighed on my mind as a dip in the treeline slipped into view. Mystified, I stared down the shattered path of trees, the lights of the town gleaming deliriously in the distance, mocking the dying sliver of hope that I still clung to. My mind struggled to comprehend what had happened; it was like I had never left, or gone in a circle without knowing it, but that wouldn't work either. I looked at the map. It's just one road, straight down the line. None of it made any sense.
I turned the car around and went back the way I came, but it wasn't long before the darkness flooded in, and I was driving blind through the shadow. The divider materialized in the void, and the moonlight split through the blackness, revealing the forest at my side once more, the path to the town ripped asunder.
Defeated, I cut the engine and opened the car door, a cool gust of wind chilling my skin as I stepped out into the night. Fighting back the creeping malaise, I shut the door and turned to face the fading lights. As I walked, the lonely ambiance that had struck me before had all but faded to an aura of crippling malevolence - a wrongness to the air and everything it touched. I knew that I wasn't alone.
The streets were as dark and barren as ever. Not even the howl of the wind dared to infringe upon the black radiance of the town. A part of me hoped for some sort of confrontation - some winding horror that would pull itself free from the alleyways to swallow me whole - but nothing came. All that faced me was the sound of my own footsteps, until a sense of unerring dissonance flooded over me. A short ways ahead stood the police station, dark and empty beneath the sinister moonlight. I picked up the pace, still scanning the building for whatever seemed to disturb me. Then, I saw it. My eyes traced across the concrete, discovering a thick streak of blood that snaked down into an open manhole. Dave's body was nowhere to be found. I panicked. He couldn't have been alive. I checked. He had stopped breathing - he didn't even have a pulse. There was just no way. I walked toward the manhole and looked down into the darkness, a faint buzzing coming from below.
The pale moonlight that shone upon the concrete began to slowly fade to a deep crimson, and as I looked up, I saw streaks of blood begin to drip down across the full moon, obscuring the pristine lunar surface until only a glowing red remained. Feeling like I was slowly losing my mind, I looked down at the open manhole. I didn't want to go down there, but I didn't have much of a choice, at that point.
I unclipped my flashlight and turned it on, shining it down into the depths of the sewer. Only the walls of the grime-coated shaft were illuminated by the light, the bottom nowhere in sight. Hesitating for a moment, I lowered myself down into the manhole, gripping the ladder tight as I descended. The shaft was cramped and claustrophobic, and the crimson moonlight that once shone from above had all but slipped into a dark obscurity. Soon, the bottom came into sight, the flashlight revealing a dirty, concrete floor. I dropped down from the shaft, landing with a soft thud that felt like a gunshot in the overwhelming silence.
No - it wasn't entirely silent. That buzzing was still there. I swatted at a fly that landed on my cheek. I shined the flashlight down the dark corridor, illuminating a long tunnel that forked in the distance, swarms of flies buzzing through the light. As I walked forward, I noticed the thin film that covered the ground, rising in random locations to form small, soupy pustules that crawled with maggots and flies, like the floor was the hide of some diseased beast. I approached the fork in the tunnel, and began to hear the sound of breathing in the distance.
I stopped, shining the flashlight down the corridor to my left. The pitch darkness seemed to swarm around the column of light, revealing nothing but a distant expanse shrouded with flies. Swatting the insects away from my face, I turned toward the other corridor, trailing the small spot of light slowly across the ground before revealing a small spatter of blood. Terror prickled at the back of my neck as I shifted the light to the side, revealing a grotesque mound of gore slumped against the wall. The decaying remains looked as though they had been run through a meat grinder, to the point that it was difficult to tell whether the corpse belonged to a human or an animal. My eyes caught sight of a shredded hand, answering my question, if not for the single, dilated eye embedded in its open palm.
I turned away from the disturbing sight and began to walk down the other corridor, struggling to fight back the overwhelming sense of nausea, and the lingering fear for my life. The sound of labored breathing grew around me, as though it were coming from the walls of the tunnel. I shined my light across the festering brick, revealing strands of diseased and necrotic meat that wound beneath the crumbling surface, as though the sewer had been built within a living, breathing organism. Continuing down the passage, the flashlight illuminated an old, wooden door set at the end, a bloody handprint stained upon the yellow coat of paint that slowly peeled away from its surface. I approached it, listening closely for any sound on the other side.
I gripped the handle, feeling the warm dampness of its surface as I fought back the fear that surged through my veins. Every facet of my being screamed at me, begging me to turn away. A fleeting image of my partner flashed through my mind, but faded just as quickly, giving way to the truth that had been worming its way through my thoughts ever since my escape attempt. I could've kept trying to drive away, but I didn't. I could've tried to call someone. Whether it would've worked or not, I gave up. I barely even made an effort. I knew then, that some part of me wanted to be there. I felt like I deserved it. Why should I leave, right? What did I really have to live for?
Anticipating death, I opened the door and shined my light into the darkness before me, swarms of flies buzzing through the air. I stepped forward, and swept the beam across the expanse. I stood within a vast chamber of dimensions unknown, with any attempt at revelation unveiling only the dark radiance of the beyond. I advanced, feeling an overwhelming sense of smallness in the trembling void, spitting as flies began to crawl upon my lips and writhe beneath my clothing. The further I walked, the pestilence that had consumed the ground slowly faded to a creeping blanket of raw flesh that reminded me of my nightmare, tendrils of meat snaking between panting, razor-toothed maws that jutted up from the crawling hellscape. I felt like I was walking through the organs of some eldritch horror, the stench of death choking the air as the swarms of flies only grew in number. There was something else, though, beneath the nauseating miasma of decay. Something that made my head throb with pain. It smelled almost like fuel.
Then, the light illuminated something entirely different. Hundreds, if not thousands of mutilated bodies towered high into the air upon the dark terrain of bleeding meat. Wired together by knotted entrails and bizarre fusions of flesh, they were arranged in a colossal, looming ring that encircled a vertical ocean of blood. Defying all natural laws of the universe, it warped and corroded the air that surrounded it, as if the ring contained some immense gravitational force.
Ignoring all reason, I crept toward the towering void, climbing over the sea of bodies until I could see the churning of the liquid. I stopped before the pool, standing only a foot away from its influence. Staring into its depths, I felt as though I were sifting through infinity. Time around me began to slow to a crawl, my thoughts devoured by the harrowing abyss. A feeling of unerring wrongness began to flood over me, unnerving every sense I knew existed. Wincing in pain, I reached toward the pool, as though hypnotized. As I stood there, it began to dawn upon me that the churning depths were not what truly disturbed me - it was whatever lurked beyond them. I was staring into a portal to another place - another dimension - I don't know. I don't know how to make sense of what I saw in that moment.
Possibilities flashed through my mind, though none that I could rightly describe. That gateway - that aberration - was beyond me. But whatever it was - whatever I would see - would it really answer my questions? My hand still lingered in the air, warped by the lensing effect of the pool. A feeling of morbid curiosity egged me onward, but the fear began to swallow me whole. I withdrew my hand, unwilling to continue. Utterly numb to my surroundings, I climbed down from the hill of mangled bodies, and fell to the ground, overwhelmed and defeated by my own insignificance. I didn't understand what had happened to the town, and least of all, what was happening to me. Grasping at straws, I studied every possibility, but drew only blanks. I couldn't do it.
A distant rumbling sounded from within the ring, setting me on edge. The flesh beneath me hummed and vibrated as though it were liquid, threatening to pull me in. I crawled to my feet and backed away from the portal, confused and terrified by the low thrum of power that now radiated from within, infecting the air with an aura of raw depravity. Something was coming. Panic overtaking me, I sprinted blindly into the darkness, but no matter how far I ran, I couldn't find the door that I had entered from. It was like the chamber went on forever, the festering meat sinking beneath my boots as the flies crawled and coalesced upon my skin.
The sound from the gate - now far out of sight - rose like an oncoming train, splitting my eardrums with its deafening vibrancy. I collapsed to my knees, shaking in terror and cupping my hands over my ears, but it didn't help in the slightest. It was like the sound wasn't entering through my ears, but through my mind, unhinging every sense I had as the pain within me steadily grew. A familiar whine began to rise from the crescendo, utterly immune to any feeble attempts to shut it out. It sounded like every noise that I had ever feared, bound together into an incoherent, gibbering scream, yet still somehow separate. It burned my senses to dust as I curled up on the ground, helpless to resist it. As the mad symphony reached its peak, my skin began to shift upon my bones, as though a thousand insects writhed beneath the surface.
I sensed another.
All at once, my mind began to ache. The wailing presence of whatever now lurked in the chamber sent me into a reeling delirium. My skin began to melt away before my eyes, wracking me with a blinding pain as the viscous soup threatened to slough off my bones, shifting from solid, to liquid, to solid again. My bones began to snap and realign themselves, pushing me over the edge as I screamed helplessly in the darkness. The world around me began to spin as a whirling shadow overcame it, and I knew that I was dying. The last tinges of pain surged through my body until I finally let go, and felt myself slip away.
I don't know how I survived, but I woke on my back, my eyes blinded by the glare of daylight - but something was wrong. The sky was a toxic miasma of rolling, violet clouds, the sun burning crimson through the otherworldly chaos. An immense pain began to surge through my body, and I screamed in agony, violently writhing upon the concrete beneath me. Gritting my teeth, I calmed myself for a moment to look at my surroundings. I was in the middle of an empty street, still in the town. I could see the break in the treeline that led out onto the highway. Looking down at my body, I winced in disgust, assaulted by a chaotic flurry of fear, nausea, and depression. My skin had been repeatedly liquified and reconstituted, scarred and malformed as it barely adhered to my body. My bones felt rigid, and splintered with pain, like half of my joints had been fused together. Struggling to crawl to my feet, I looked down at my hands, the remnants of my fingers gnarled and elongated, if not missing entirely. The red sun beat down on me from above as I worked to support myself, trying not to scream as I slowly made my way down the splintered path, and toward the highway, my vision blackening as the delirium slowly returned. The smell of fuel lingered in the air, the toxic skies rolling above me. Whatever happened in that town, it was spreading.
I remember reaching my car, but it was a blur after that. I apparently managed to drive a good distance away before crashing, and somebody wound up finding me. I woke up in a hospital, patched up as much as I could be, but the surgeons couldn't do much. There was no rational explanation for what had happened to me, but I remembered it, clear as day.
I ran away as soon as folks from the government started showing up, and joined with some others since then. The skies are normal out here, but I think it's only a matter of time before it spreads. Something was released into the world. Something awful that nobody can explain. The others have been telling me stories of small towns covered in meat and bone, like something unnatural was assimilating the Earth. They oughta' be dropping bombs on the whole area, but I don't know if even that'd do the trick.
In any case, don't rely on the news. The government's probably keeping the story under wraps so nobody panics. I'm sure it'll come up eventually, but by then, it may be too late.
The sounds are getting louder again, and the stars have started to disappear. The others are packing up. I don't know if you'll hear from me again, but I hope to God this all works out.
Stay safe out there.