I wake to the first hints of sunrise peaking through my windows. Somehow I feel refreshed after only three hours of sleep. I’m shocked that the Demons even allowed me this much. I stand and stretch letting out a big yawn. My feet touch the soft rug as I reluctantly slide out of bed. The more I think about just how calm my night and morning were the more apprehensive I become. I search around and locate the box with my coffee pot, my favorite mug, coffee grinder, and coffee beans. It is a morning for coffee─ strong coffee. After a few minutes I have a piping hot cup of joe with a splash of heavy cream. Nothing like a lavish, fat heavy cup with just a pinch of sugar. I prefer less sweet coffee so I can actually taste the coffee bean. I pull back the door to my patio and step into the early morning sun. It’s a bit chilly, but nothing I can’t stomach. Nothing is considering the past week I’ve had to endure. Still, I slip on a pair of warm socks and then unfold a chair. I could go back inside and grab a table for my coffee but decide against it. Besides, the warm mug feels great against my skin in the brisk air. I had no idea that Dallas can get as cold as it is. I’m used to far colder weather but I didn’t expect this much of a cold front to come through. Someone’s tail lights disturb the darkness, bathing the buildings in a red glow. It’s barely five-thirty but quite a few people are already pulling into the street from our parking lot. Dallas is nothing like I imagined, Its roads are congested from morning until night. I always had this mental image of a quiet, small city with people smiling and waving from their cars. Instead─ well, let’s just say that I never want to get behind a wheel here.
I grin despite the grim situation that will come. Here I am thinking about something that will never happen. In some ways I guess it is comforting to imagine a future with me still in it. I should have just set everything up last night so I could have drifted away forever. I think I just want to enjoy one last luxury before the long sleep. I inhale the rich aroma, sigh and then drain more of the life liquid. My head turns toward my living space and I glance around noting that I don’t have too much to box up. Thankfully I haven’t recycled the boxes I moved in with so it shouldn’t take long to pack them up. I had the night to really think everything through. I thought about my mother’s words, my father─ who hasn’t even bothered to reach out, silently agreeing with her, and finally Devon’s hatred. It all cut deep. I turn back toward the city as the morning sky slowly grows brighter.
Downtown Dallas is pretty far away from my apartment but I can still make out the city outline. The very same outline from the paper. I’m curious if the image has changed from yesterday or if it has been replaced with new horrors. The knuckles on my hands turn white as I tighten my grip on the mug. The real question is, do I really want to know if it has? I stare at my bag laying on the floor by the desk. What would it show? Or worse yet, what will happen if I look at it? Then again what would it hurt if I did? It’s not as if I plan on being here much longer. In the end my curiosity wins and I find myself drawn to the bag. I set the mug on my desk and then ease onto the soft chair. My hands are shaking so bad I have to take several deep breaths before they are steady enough to work the buckles. I unzip the main compartment where I placed the paper yesterday and slowly pry it open. I’m treating it as if it is an ancient sarcophagus and I am opening it for the first time in thousands of years. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I will be gone soon. Or maybe I’m just scared that my last moments on this earth will be nothing but the Demon’s torturing me for however long they wish. Worst of all I fear that somehow by looking at it I will be dragged to hell to suffer for all of eternity. If these things exist then there is a high probability that something else will too. Please, if some divine being or entity is out there, let me just drift away to nothingness, I plea. The yellowish corner of the page peeks out from behind the stack of papers I had taken from the office. Its color reminds me of bones that have been encased by dirt for many years. I’m not sure why I feel the need to look at it, it’s become a compulsion to check it every single day─ see the countdown continue without change. At least, the numbers stay consistent. The images are another story.
The page feels as crisp as it has been since day one. No folds or crinkles could keep it from returning to its original state. I want to rip it into a million tiny pieces and then burn them. I want to watch as the pieces of ash float into the air far away from me. I want to believe that something like that could work. Maybe completely destroying it would end all of this madness. It’s a nice thought, but it will never work. It doesn’t stop me from thinking about grabbing a lighter and holding it to the paper’s edges. There’s something deeply satisfying about that mental image. Deep down I know, I can feel it─ it can never be destroyed. Anger seizes me and I scream at the page, “Why me? Why does it have to be me? Why couldn’t you just have let me be ignorant of everything?“ I grit my teeth and leap from my chair. I have a death grip on the paper, crumpling it as I yell at the ceiling, “Why did you ruin my life?” My chest heaves and I pace like a caged lion unable to reach its prey behind the glass. “What have I ever done to deserve any of this?” My voice cracks and I trudge back to my desk. My body sinks into the chair as the paper drifts from my hands down to the floor. I feel all of my hope go with it. I bury my face into my hands and sob. These─ things, They don’t need a reason. We are all probably a source of amusement and I just so happened to be on the other side of the bullet in Russian roulette.
My breathing finally evens out after several moments and my tears have started to dry before I pick the paper up again. I sag against the chair and feel the hole in my chest grow larger. My theory really is correct, it is perfectly smooth and crisp. In my fit of rage earlier I hadn’t looked at it to see what, if anything, was there. At first I panic when I see the blank page facing up and worry that it will be devoid of anything. I sigh in relief as I turn it over. I wish I hadn’t. Jesus, god─ my eyes widen as they drink it all in. The page is covered in mangled carnage. Each head and neck flow into one another, their bodies twisting in a morbid, elegant dance. Bodies pile on top of bodies making a path that meanders throughout the city. The paper feels like ice in my hands but I can’t take my eyes from it. The city is so clean, so pure, and yet the ground is covered in human flesh and waste. I search the page and finally locate Them. Sneaky. They are tucked behind and in-between buildings, barely a silhouette skulking in the dark alleys. They are turned toward the winding road made of flesh and bone that disappears far into the distance. I try and take in every detail, the buildings, the street signs, the restaurants─ to see if I recognize any of them. My eyes stop as I make out a familiar landmark that is only in one city in America, Dallas. Reunion Tower. I frown as I scan the image again. Where is the rubble? Where is the blinding explosion that consumes everything in its wake? There are countless bodies, yet everything else is pristine. The paper ripples beneath my grasp, its shape morphs and becomes soft between my fingers. My body trembles as I feel the page undulate gently against me. I need to look away. The fleshy piles are set into motion, twisting around each other and moving before my very eyes. Look away, Kate. Despite my best efforts, my eyes stay transfixed on the page. I can’t move. The most disturbing part is the look on their faces, it’s euphoric, borderline manic with pleasure. They are grinning wide, their faces blending seamlessly into one another and then disappearing into the inky-black. They moan in unison as the page drapes against my flesh. Then to my absolute horror, the black oozes from the page and drips on to my skin─ wrapping my wrists and forearms.
The blackness pools from the page, over my wrists, and onto the floor. It does not stop until everything has bled from the page. Yet, the gunk on my wrists stay floating there. Then there is movement and a large, black form begins rising from the floor. It doesn’t stop until the figure towers over me. The sludge has formed into long, boney fingers that completely wrap my wrists like shackles. I’m in It’s grip, I can feel It’s flesh wriggling against mine─ like a million worms struggling to break free against Its leathery skin. The coffee I drank earlier spews from my mouth as I empty the contents of my stomach on the apartment floor. Still the creature holds me, calmly watching from the abyss beneath Its hooded shroud. The page chooses this moment to pull itself free from my grasp and then gently falls to the ground. The Demon’s fingers sear my flesh but I hardly react. As much as it hurts I know that it isn’t real, none of it is. It’s this thought that keeps me going at the moment. It isn’t real, it isn’t real, it isn’t real. None of it is real, keep it together it’s almost over. As if reading my thoughts It tightens Its grip and this time I can hear an audible sizzle. I grit my teeth and growl at the pain. I glare at this thing’s face, if you can even call it that, and dare It to do more. It loosens It’s grasp for a moment as if hesitating at the change in my demeanor. I don’t bother pulling away knowing that It will do whatever It wants. It isn’t real, it isn’t real. None of it is real. I repeat over and over again. The creature tilts It’s head at me and then begins to pull me closer. Survival instinct kicks in hard and I fight with all my strength to gain some sort of ground. I pull hard, screaming as my flesh is ripped from the bone. My feet dig into the ground and I shift all of my weight in the opposite direction, praying that I am able to free myself from this horrible monster. I don’t budge, not even an inch. My lips tremble as I try over and over again. Finally my legs buckle and I am left at Its mercy─ as if I were merely a child throwing a tantrum. The Demon draws me into Its chest and I am swallowed into Its depths.
The wind whipping against my skin is the first thing I feel as I come back into consciousness. My eyes flutter and I struggle to make sense of anything. My lips are so painfully cracked that they split as soon as I open my mouth. I slowly sit up and rub at my eyes, everything is still completely out of focus. Irritated, I blink a few times and then shake my head. Finally the blobs of color morph into more recognizable shapes. They come into sharp focus as I look around, realizing that I am completely surrounded. They aren’t looking at me, They all are staring in the same direction. I stand, eyeing Them all warily in case they do try to come after me. My shoulders sag as I think about everything that has happened over these last few weeks, what could I possibly do to get away from Them? I have literally not found anything of use, any information over what or who They could even be─ everything I have done up until this point has been entirely useless. I am so dehydrated that I can feel the sensation of crying but nothing spills from my eyes.
I. Am. Useless.
When none of the Demons turn toward me I turn to see what They are looking at. My stomach lurches into my throat as I see the outline of the Dallas skyline in the distance. I’m not sure why we are so far out, but I know that the vision will unfold the same way. My body is numb. I am numb. I don’t want to do this anymore. Why did I look at that damn paper? I could have just gone quietly after a nice cup of coffee. Instead, like dozens of times before, I get to stare at the total annihilation of a city with over six and a half million people living in it. I’m seized by an uncontrollable urge to turn and run somewhere, anywhere─ off of a damn cliff if I had to. Why did They insist on torturing me this way? What do They want from me? I panic as I realize I can no longer move my body. I’m forced to look forward, my eyes being held open the whole time. A gentle breeze weaves through the grass, almost as if it is dancing under water. My eyes trace along the patterns that the wind is creating, mesmerized by its beauty. I keep my eyes on the ground, not wanting to watch it again. But They have other plans. They snap their attention toward me and I can feel Their silent demands, look or else. I shake my head and before the words can come from my mouth unimaginable pain shoots up my arms and legs. I struggle in vain, trying to scream but nothing is coming out. Nothing is changing, nothing is happening, and I can’t move. I can’t move and They singe and burn, peel flesh from my bones, my clothing melts into my skin until I am sure that I will die from it.
But I won’t die, They won’t fucking let me die. These sick, twisted, horrible, awful Things. They won’t let me and They will renew my pain over and over and over again. They are now forcing these thoughts into my mind, making sure that I know who They are, and what They can do to me. I am insignificant, I am nothing, and I will obey. I can’t do it, I can’t resist Them any longer─ god help me, forgive me for my willingness to let Them in. I want to fight, I want to yell and resist. I want to somehow believe that I am strong and can end this sick little game that we play. But I can’t, and I am not, and They will get what They want. I look up at the city─ the beautiful skyline that brings people hope and the promise that things can get better. That they will go to work and come home after a long day to hold their children, their spouses, their lovers, and feel comfort in knowing that some day it will all be worth it.
But it isn’t. Because none of it matters.
In seconds the bomb obliterates everything. If I could cry I would, but I have nothing left in me.