In the End. By Cedês Doherty

An excruciating pain racks her body exploding outward from her heart. Its sears her with a white hot fury. It is as if her memory was erased. She knows only the pain. She writhes clutching her chest trying to reach in and pull it out. She feels as though she’s dying as her body curls around itself in defense. The pain intensifies so it is no longer one massive force but thousands upon thousands of red hot pokers relentlessly stabbing into her heart. A cry escapes her lips burning her throat.  

Surely no one can experience such pain and hope to live? Please God make it stop! I will do anything so long as my suffering is ended. I shall welcome death with open arms if it meant the end of this agony.

Suddenly a light the color of blood envelops her. She cannot help but to hope it is the answer to her feverish prays. The light brightens with each passing second. Soon it is so remarkably bright that even with her eyes squeezed shut she cannot escape it. It burns her making the tears she had fought to contain pour forth in salty streams down her cheeks. Yet it continues to intensify until her skin is sizzling. She knows now that it is not her salvation just a new flavor of torment.

Strange noises begin to sound at the edge of her hearing. She strains to listen. Glad to have something to think on that is not her own torture. They sounds have the cadence of words, but it is in no language she has heard before. The words float about her and focusing all her attention on them she is able to push the pain to the back of her mind. They begin to dance and whirl about her. At first watching them wrap about each other is mesmerizing. But when the are so entangled as to be indecipherable a thought strikes her.

Wait . . . sound wasn’t visible. You could not see words that were not written. Could you?

No sooner does the the thought flit across her mind is she flung forward by an unseen force straight into the eye of the crimson beacon. Her body twists and tumbles as she falls through the air. Her stomach jumps into her throat as she is hit with a wave a vertigo. Thankfully her stomach is empty and nothing comes up. The light disappears or has blinded her, she cannot tell which, and she’s captured by darkness. Her descent quickens. Wind batters her from every side making it impossible to tell which direction she is falling. Her tears fall more quickly as the wind whips her eyes. Her chest compresses in fear. Her lungs flatten fighting for every gasping breath. She tries to determine how long she falls but it could have been seconds, days, years and she would not know the difference. Trapped in her vortex of deliverance she once again knows nothing but pain.

With a suddenness that makes her gasp everything stops and she is slammed down on her knees with bruising force. As battered as she is her reflexes fail her and her face smashes into the ground as well. There is a sharp crack and a dull pain pulsing in her nose as blood pours forth. She pushes back up onto her knees and tilts her head back to stop the flow. A moment passes before her brain comprehends that her broken nose and aching knees are the only hurts she feels. The punishing light is gone as well replaced by a soft yellowish glow.

Blinking slowly she looks around assessing her new surroundings. She finds herself in a monstrous cave. It seems to go on forever in all directions save up. Not twenty feet above her hung thousands upon thousands of dangerous looking stalactites. Their sharp points covering the ceiling like a mouth full of deadly canines. She fears the moment they should fall and resolves not to look up again. Red-brown dirt coats the ground and her as well thanks to her fall.

She has no memory of obtaining the knowledge to describe what she is seeing. Thinking on it she realizes she does not remember anything. Not even her own name! The not knowing terrifies her. How could she not know who she was? What had happened to her? What had brought her to this place? She strains to remember back before the red light and her sister pain. She must remember something! However, her efforts are met by a new pain. A pain that charges through her head like a bull with force enough to knock her out. Not a moment later she wakes up to find herself face first in the dirt yet again. She struggles to her feet shaking her head to clear out the cobwebs. Remembering is not worth the pain she decides. She needs to find aid. There must be someone here that can help her. With naught else to do she chooses a direction at random.

And walks . . .

And walks . . .

And walks . . .

She has walked an eternity to no end. With every step she takes the heat increases tenfold until she is sure it will burn her. The ground has already succeeded in cooking her bare feet. Every step is agony as she sets her blister ridden soles to the dirt. Bloody footprints mark her path. Every inch of her skin is covered in sweat. Her hair clings to her back and shoulders where it is not matted in greasy clumps. The humidity and dust combine in her lungs leaving her to choke out every breath. Her mouth is desperately dry without even a hint of saliva to wet her tongue. She is close to despairing. Perhaps she was wrong and there is no one else here. Or maybe she chose wrong and should have gone in another direction. Or worse what if she has been going in circles all this time. She decides to change course. Then it is as if a veil has lifted she is not alone.

No longer is she lost in a desolate cave but surrounded by a crowd of people. She gasps stumbling back in astonishment. The people vary wildly from one another in race, height, age but they are all the same. Every one of them is deathly thin. Their bones strain against the thin layer of flesh covering them. Gaunt faces look about with a blankness in their stare. And they all wear the same rectangular scrap of burlap that covers them neck to thigh with holes cut for their head and limbs. Emptiness and dejection radiates off of them. She knows she will find no help here.

They look even more lost than she feels. Some are wandering about in aimless circles, others laying in the dirt blinking at the ceiling with their mouths hanging open, one man is clutching his knees to his chest and weeping. His sobs are the only sound other than the shuffling of feet and the rasp of her ragged breathing. She wants nothing more than to run from the despondency around her but she cannot ignore the urge to alleviate the man’s sadness. Kneeling in front of him she lays her hand on his shoulder.

“Ser, are you alright?” she asks. His sobbing ceases and he lifts his head to look at her. His eyes are glassy black orbs that seem to emanate darkness. She jerks back and collides with flesh while arms snake around her waist holding her in place. She struggles to free herself and notices the others have congregated around her. They stare at her watching her fight. Her heart beats faster than a hummingbird’s wings pounding like a drum in her chest. A dry cackling sounds in her ear as the arms tighten around her. His arms are less than skin and bones without even a whisper of muscle, yet his hold is as strong as iron.

“Feed on the madness or it feeds on you.” The man singsongs in her ear over and over again. The chant disturbs her more than she can say. The others take up his call swarming around them. They get closer with every word. Their bodies seem to radiate cold instead of heat chilling her to the bone. Her blood runs cold, her breath leaving her in white puffs.

“Feed on the madness or it feeds on you.”

The chant rises in volume until it is the only thing she can hear. It drowns out the pounding of her heart. Her fear is a physical thing. It suffocates her. Smothers her cries for help. Squeezes her heart so tightly it is like to burst. The others reach her then and she gasps in horror. They are not people as she had originally saw but skeletons come to life. Their bones are held together by dried tendons. Their eye sockets gaping holes of death. Their teeth aligned in macabre smiles. As they bear down on her their weight forces her to the ground.

“Feed on the madness or it feeds on you.”

How can the dead talk? Her brain spins trying to make sense of the insanity. The creatures begin to mutilate her. They claw at her with sharpened finger bones shredding her body. Her skin hangs off of her in bloody strips as they tear out chunks of her flesh. They rip out her hair by the handfuls leaving her scalp a gory mess. Her anguish filled screams turn to a strangled groan as they claw out her eyes. She bats at their grasping hands but she has no strength left to her.

“Feed on the madness or it feeds on you.”

Her arms fall weakly to the ground as she loses all hope of escape. Resigned to her fate she stops struggling. She lays in the arm of a monster, being picked apart by his brethren and feels nothing. Her fear died hand in hand with her resistance. What is there to be afraid of when I am already dead? The arms around her no longer feel like restrainment but a lover’s embrace. Comforting hands to help her through her change. What she had thought was ripping and tearing was naught but gentle caresses urging her forward. When the others finish their ministrations they back away. The arms around her help her to rise. Looking down at herself she sees that she is now as fleshless as her friends. Her skull falls back as she laughs with joy answering their calls.

“Feed on the madness or it feeds on you.”



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