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It was a gloomy day for Michael, the sky was an overpowering grey, with rain that pitter pattered on the stone path in front of him. He normally liked rain, the feeling of the cold splashes upon his skin would calm him, and the sounds of the raindrops smashing against the hard floor would normally have been pleasant, but today felt...different.

Every hit that each of the many thousands of raindrops made seemed to bring further an unusual sense of foreboding; Michael didn’t know what it was, he just...knew something was off – it was like his subconscious mind was shouting something to him, something he missed, but he could never decipher what it meant. He shrugged it off, and pulled himself from his deep thought as he walked to work in his black suit and blue tie. He worked as a project manager for a finance company in the centre of the city, and he had a lot of work to do this morning, so there was no time to waste.

He arrived at a local café to buy his regular dose of coffee to perk him up, and soon entered the towering structure he worked in, sat down, and sighed. Rubbing his eyes, he began his work, going through a fairly amount of paperwork, and some files on his computer.

It was almost lunch, and Michael sat back, looking at how much work he had done, and looking out of the large window that encompassed the floor of the building he was on. Seeing out, he watched the endless flood of people that weaved around the buildings near him; he looked closer at the people, wearing various clothing for their own purposes for being here in this city. As he observed from his nest, up high in the building, he noticed something strange – every so often, someone from that flood of people would look up at him. He looked over and over, random people just occasionally looking up at him, and he would meet their gazes only to see them look back in front of them, and go about their day as normal. He chuckled lightly and shrugged it off.

Lunch came about a half an hour later, which pulled him away from the work that he was almost done with – of course, there would always be more, but he would have reached his daily quota. He headed his way out of the building and, as usual, went to the same nearby café. He was much more aware of what was going on around him than he was in the morning, and saw that every so often someone from the crowds surrounding him would stop what they're doing, and stare at him.

What the fuck?” he thought, starting to become concerned. “Why are people...staring at me?

Now, at every moment, he felt a strong feeling of being watched, by some person in the masses. He tried his best to ignore it, after all, it had to be his mind just trying to make up patterns where there were none. He ordered his lunch and sat at a table as he waited for it to be prepared. He ate swiftly, and made it back to the safe haven of his office building, to get back to work.

“You weren’t gone long, you have an hour you know,” his co-worker, Daniel, said confusedly.

“Uhh well, I wasn’t that hungry,” Michael replied.

He hastily returned to his seat, before getting back to work.

Why were people staring at me back there?” Michael pondered in his head, along with many more questions.

He had no choice but to get back to his work for now – he would think about it when he got home tonight. After a few minutes of intense concentration on his work, he began to notice the strangest thing, something he never noticed at work before. The whole office floor was completely silent. Not a single stroke of a pen, nor the tap of a keyboard could be heard in the room. His eyes moved up briefly to look at what was going on; all of his co-workers had stopped as if they were frozen in time. Within the few seconds of looking around the eerie scene, they began to move again, slower than normal; they turned to face him, their eyes black like onyx. He shook back in his chair, his heart now quickening. Time seemed to slow as his unmoving body couldn’t help but watch as in one slow, synchronised motion, every single one of his co-workers’ lips parted. All of their mouths slowly widened further and further, they opened further than he thought any human’s could possibly go, as the soul-sucking black hole on their faces kept growing larger. Then it stopped, all their mouths hung inhumanly agape like he did something wrong, like he wasn’t supposed to have noticed. Indescribably slowly, each and every one of his co-workers raised an arm forwards, and extended a finger… all pointing at him. He couldn’t watch further without losing his sanity, he ran to the door, down the stairs, and to the entrance.

What's happening? Why is this happening?” he thought as his mind raced between thoughts and the events that unfolded around him as he ran.

He reached the entrance of the office building, but was met with more of those horrific faces, their mouths hung open like they were all shocked, and their arms pointing at him like he was to be shamed. He kept running, out the door to see that the flood had stopped. Time stopped as he looked around, and again saw that everyone in his field of view stopped, and was staring at him. He needed to get out of here as fast as he could. He looked back, and now, the co-workers from his floor were now all standing in the building he exited, as though they were always there and never moved.

No cars, buses, or trains moved. He sprinted to his car in the large car park for the employees of the business in which he worked, got in his car and drove. He drove as fast as the car and the frozen traffic could take him. He weaved through the congested traffic as he made his way through the labyrinth of roads. Michael’s eyes darted everywhere, his breathing was quick, and he was desperate to escape, to make it home where it would be safe. Just as he was starting to feel less anxious about his situation, the radio resonated static, undoing his effort to try and make himself calmer. A raspy, dry breathing emerged subtly from the static, slowly becoming louder, until the static was nothing more than a silent hiss in the background. The breathing then stopped briefly, leaving silence for a moment, before a loud, familiar whisper echoed in throughout the car:

“I overheard them today, they talked about turning it off,” the feminine voice choked up in tears, before collecting herself again, "just please...please just wake up... wake up."

In the background, he could hear the faintest beeping sound, though it was mostly muffled by the static. It continued for some time as he continued driving back home.

“What the fuck... Why is this all happening-”

He stopped when he glanced in the wing mirror of his car, which surveyed everything...and everyone behind him. Thousands of them stood behind him, never walking though, just...standing, yet getting ever-closer every time his eyes weren’t staring back. His eyes began to dart around again, looking for any more in the outskirts who might sneak up on him. As he was looking back, occasionally glancing forwards to navigate the desolate roads of the suburbs, he noticed that slowly, the crowd began to dissipate, people leaving this mass every time he looked away and back. Feeling relieved, he looked back more frequently in an attempt to get them to go faster, which worked, surprisingly.

The crowd behind him now consisted of a few stray people, so he felt that he wouldn’t have to look back any longer. Focusing more on the road, he made his way back home, calmer, but still on alert, still...anxious about what had happened, as innumerable questions flooded his mind.

He entered the town in which he lived, giving him an overwhelming sense of safety, but his heart stopped once he saw what was in front of him... in front of his house. All of them, every single one of them from the city were now standing there, in front of him. In a panic, he turned to back out...to find that his exit was blocked by more of them. Now, he was surrounded by them, black blood welling up, and falling down their faces like tears from their entirely black eyes; they were no longer pointing, just...staring at him.

“Don’t you feel tired?” the crowd of demons said in unison, all with low, penetrating voices.

He was thrown aback by their sudden speech, he had never expected them to speak, and they way they did was...frightening, to say the least.

Step...

Step...

Step...

Michael froze when he heard the cold footsteps of the things around him, moving slowly – one step at a time – but all synchronised to such an extent that there wasn’t even a blur of sounds, it was one...loud...step. The radio started again, its static wavering through the air in a haze as he listened. This time he could hear the beeping much clearer.

“What is that sou-” Michael asked to himself, but froze as he was hit by a sudden realisation.

Michael ran back into the car, and listened closely to the radio for a voice. Her voice, that spoke earlier. The voice of his wife. As the things closed in, he began to cry, and hoped to hear her voice again. And there it was, the light, impossibly beautiful voice of his wife, speaking through the radio.

“If you can hear me in there, the doctor says that you won’t last much longer, but I know you can do it, I know you can wake up,” the last part of that sentence was slurred under sounds of her crying.

“No, wait! I’m here! I’m right here! I’m alive! Please hear this, please please-”

Michael was interrupted by his wife once again, showing that she hadn’t heard him shout into the radio.

“I’m sorry, but they said I have to go for now, but I’ll be back as soon as I can, promise.”

“No, no, no, no, no…” He was reduced to tears as he now began to lose hope in his situation.

The staring people were so close, now only a few metres from his car, and still closing in.

“Why not go to sleep?” they all said together, their voices searing him with fear.

He all but felt hopeless, and began to step out of the car, as the beeping grew louder and louder, seemingly emanating from the sky as he approached the crying, black-eyed creatures. He stopped not a metre from them, when a hand landed on his shoulder; looking over, he saw the tall figure that stood behind him, who had the same features as the rest, but one difference…he was smiling an eerie, inhumanly wide, and crooked smile. That one smile terrified him more than the crowd behind him did, more than anything he had ever experienced. That was the last thing he saw before he fell to the floor, blacking out.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep…

Michael’s wife, Amy, was about to turn away and out of the door, until she swore she saw his husband’s eyes flicker. She was shaken with hope, and rushed back to his side. She kneeled there, next to the hospital bed, for the longest of minutes before her husband’s eyes finally opened. For the first time in what seemed like forever to her, her husband took a deep breath of the fresh air from the open window.

“Finally free,” he muttered under his breath.

The doctors performed checks on him to make sure he was okay, before allowing him the day in the hospital bed for his mind to come back to normal. In the evening, Amy came by and they both left the hospital together, but as they were walking, her husband began to stare at her from behind, and parted his lips into an eerie…wide…crooked…

Smile.