by Drew Shelton


I run, not looking back, not watching as the light fades. Some hidden facet of my being perhaps assumes that if I don't look, the Darkness will recede, go away, stop following me. The cloud of perpetual dark that surrounds me for most waking hours is following, ever reluctant to let me go.

Houses that seem lit in the distance turn dark after I pass; any light they shed ahead of me disappears only moments after my ground-thumping feet pass by. I run, run as I do most days, escaping, getting away. But today is different. Today, nothing I do can make my world stay lit. Darkness surrounds me, and I cannot make it recede without increasing my efforts tenfold.

I am very slowly advancing toward my home; too slowly, as I slow down, the Darkness gains speed, a renewed lust for the chase. I have looked at the streets for the past several minutes, scanning the horizon for a car, a person, anything. There are none. If I could find a person, the Darkness would leave as my companion's soul, filled of light, overwhelms my own. Most convenient for my adversary that I am damned to live a solitary life, a solitary job. There is no choice for me; I would do anything to make the darkness recede.

As I run, I see two yellow lights in the distance, like coins glinting in the night. I shriek, and run faster. The Darkness slows as I outrun it, coming closer to the shining lights, the headlights of a car. The light! The Darkness must be losing ground.

The car is not moving; it is parked, with someone slouched within: a woman. Unfortunately, she's also a stranger. I near the vehicle, reach through the window, and tap the woman gently on the shoulder. I receive no response. She is definitely alive, but in such a stupor that she'll be asleep for hours.

And I cannot survive the Darkness for hours, waiting for her to awaken. Considering all possibilities, I yank open the door and drag her away. She murmurs in her slumber, and I pitch her into the center of the road. As her head bounces on pavement she groans, and begins to sit up.

There is no time for explanations; she will only hold the Darkness until it can find a way around where she cannot see it. The car waits, the radio humming slightly, keys dangling loosely in the ignition.

The madness and terror of Darkness can force me to do things I might never consider. It is a moment's thought and I am in the car, sitting in the newly emptied driver's position, turning the key in the ignition. The humming radio cuts off abruptly and speaks. "What are you doing?"

Wonderful; one of the new "family" devices. These fancy keys tell the car my thumbprint, and I'm definitely not on the acceptance list for this one. "Who are you? Are you aware you are not allowed to use this vehicle?"

The advantage, for myself, of new micro-technology is its frailty in the face of physical work. A momentary impact with my heel shorts the equipment; it burbles quietly and then ceases. Another turn of the key gets the motor running; a good thing no one else tries to steal cars nowadays, or security would be much more powerful.

With skillful work, I turn the car around, dodging the figure in the road. The houses down the street are alight again, now that she can see them. I have a good lead on the Darkness now, as I speed up, heading home. There's maybe three miles to go, and I can go as fast as I like; the streets are conveniently deserted.

I watch as the needle on the speedometer creeps upward, hitting the seventy mark with the straight road. I know I'm outrunning the Darkness now; the faster I go, the slower it does, and the woman will repel it for some time.

Three miles. When I'm within Darkness, my senses are dull, my thoughts slow, my world horrifying. It's only by chance that I escape each time, and I work harder as it happens to prevent myself from entering it again.

Two miles. I once escaped the Darkness for an entire month, by taking an airplane flight, moving fast and far. It was by far the most glorious time of my life, and, as all good things, turned sour. It took time, but one day I awoke in Darkness, the living dark I had lived with for such a long time, never to leave me again.

One mile left. Sometimes I wonder why I had to get this evil placed upon me. I did nothing to deserve it. I don't tell anyone about it, and I don't know what it is. But I know what I have to do...

As I'm nearing my home, I slow down, skidding to a stop directly before my house. Who knows where the Darkness has gone? I can hope to enjoy the time before it returns. A short time, before the terror strikes.

* * *

The moment I reach my house, I slam my palm into the scanner by my door, waiting for it to recognize me. The door swings open, creaking, and I rush in. The door closes, though it can't block the Darkness. Almost nothing can.

I run down the hall, reaching the kitchen quickly. The lights turn on as I enter, and I stand by the sink, my thoughts suddenly numbing. Almost instantly a wave of terror washes over me, unspeakable fear. I seal the sink's drain and turn on the water while I can think to do so. I whirl around, thinking I see images on the edge of my vision, seeing the visions of my fear.

It's the Darkness. Its first fringe effect was always the unspeakable terror, the panic that hit me. It's getting stronger, more powerful and faster than before. There's only one way that I can stop the Darkness here, alone. I turn on the stove with my remaining thought, and press my hand against the burner.

I feel no pain as the skin curls and buckles with the heat, and blood leaks from the wound. A glance at the sink shows that it's about full, so I shut down the water while the injury gives me coherent thought for a minute. Taking a breath of Darkness in the air, I plunge my head beneath the water.

My mind clears instantly, and I feel better at once. The water; it's my only true method to fight off the Darkness. Even if only a minute of thought is given, a plunge in water is ideal. I draw up my head, ready to get to my bed and try to sleep before the cure is reversed.

* * *

This is definitely new. The Darkness never had any power over me before, beyond my mind and the lights around me. Now I cannot lift my head from the water. I lash out, splashing water around the room, a vain attempt to purge my area of the evil.

I can't, I just can't. The Darkness... I can't.... A few last spasms of my hand go before the Darkness begins to push the water down. The water takes its only outlet, myself. The clear fluid pours into my nose, then my mouth as I open it to scream.

It isn't long before the water floods my lungs, and I take a last gulp before my eyes glaze over. I feel myself lifting from my body, rising, above the floor and the boundaries of mortal life. I look down and see, spelled out in my own blood by my own hand, the name of my oppressor: DARKNESS.

Suddenly, I feel a sharp yank. Instead of rising further, I fall, screaming silently, through the floor. I grab at the counter, and my hands go right through. A moment later I slip down into the rapidly darkening earth. Then Darkness, Darkness forever. *


Story copyright © 1995 by Drew Shelton.


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