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Another stressful day at work. Customers yelling at me, managers yelling at me because customers were yelling at me, all leading me nearly to the point of tears. I've had enough for today. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm home now, under no one's authority but my own. No customers to lie about me mistreating them for some free coupons. No supervisor to dock my pay to compensate for said coupons.
But I simply can't help but to replay the day's events over and over again in my head. Turning up the volume on the TV only intensifies the screaming matches occupying my mind. I've had days like this before, and this is one of the worst. Fortunately, I have a stress relief tactic that's yet to fail me: a quiet walk around the block.
I turn off the television, throw on a light coat, and check the time; it's already past eleven at night. I don't want to be out too late, but I know I won't be able to sleep until I can put this behind me. At least I don't have work tomorrow.
I lock the door behind me as I leave. The golden glow of the sidewalk extending seemingly endless among the brick and mortar houses never fails to inspire awe in me, but it's had me worrying about how much longer I'll be able to live here without a higher paying job.
Not surprisingly, I see few people sharing the sidewalk and street with me at this hour. I'm indifferent to them, as it's quite a safe neighborhood.
The walk hardly helps. As I finish my lap around the block, I'm still plagued by today's frustrations. I decide to continue my walk, only extended to three blocks. As I step past the first block, I finally begin to quiet the looping arguments and notice the sound around me. Or, more accurately, the lack of sound.
Only two noises seem to exist in this bubble of the universe: the subdued hum of the streetlights and the harsh slap of the rubber on my shoes meeting the pavement. In the near silence, the dull thud echoes forever. Everything seems so much louder at night.
I look behind me for my home to see how far I've gone. I can't see it. Must have gotten lost in thought and walked way past my mark unconsciously. The walk has already helped, so I figure I might as well walk straight home from here.
Six blocks into my return trip, I begin to worry. How could I have gone this far without noticing? I still can't see my place. Did I take an absent-minded turn at some point? I pick up speed, unsure of anything else to do.
Suddenly, I notice something. Something odd, and possibly impossible: the echo of my footsteps has no rhythm. I immediately stop and listen intently. The last stomp of my shoe sounds off as loud as usual, but the echoes are abnormal, some too soon after the last and others reverberating louder than the one before it.
I look around hoping to find the source of the mimicking echoes, and am suddenly aware of the fact that I can't see as far as I could earlier. The bulbs of the streetlights have dimmed down from a golden brilliance to a dull yellow.
I start walking at a slower pace, hoping that the noise maker will broadcast his or her location to me through one of these echoes, but continue to arrive from all directions.
"Is somebody there?" I call out in fear and desperation, but only my own words return to me in the same ever-changing repetition as my steps have. I must have walked beneath at least a hundred lamps at this point, but as I step into the next dying ring of light, I'm plunged into darkness. I look up to see a dark bulb staring back at me, void of all but enough light to make out its shape. And I hear a voice again, impossible to be an echo yet unmistakably my own, but not emanating from my lips. A mocking whisper from just behind my ear, "Is somebody there?"
I twist my neck around with such speed that I worry it might snap, and I see nothing. Nothing but an inky darkness untouched by even the brightest star. Unbeknownst to me, a trail of dying lights has followed me and finally caught up. My fear reaches its boiling point. I turn and take off, full sprint, no end to the road in sight, as each light goes dark as I pass under. The echoes of my footfalls intensify with each block, to the point that the echoes are louder than the source. The buildings on both sides no longer have doors or windows. They have become a solitary brick wall, trapping me in this echo chamber. I begin to see the lights in front of me preemptively going dark, and I fall to my knees from exhaustion and hopelessness. The void engulfs me as I watch every visible light fade from existence.
"WHY?" I scream into the abyss, expecting this to be my last word. There is no echo. Not even a normal echo. The sound of my scream dies in the air and disappears. Absolute silence.
Until, several seconds later, a single streetlamp ignites. About half a block away, one small circle of light illuminates the ground, revealing a solitary figure. It has the appearance of a person... No. The appearance of me. My height, my shape, it is me, but made of pure darkness. And though it has no visible eyes, I know it is watching me as my voice sounds from its non-existent mouth, repeating back to me, "Why?"
And then another light activates, closer this time, showing me myself once again and asking me my own question.
A third light. A fourth. Five, six, seven...
I lose count as some lights reveal more than one incarnation of my living shadow, all asking me the same question that I have no answer for. The seemingly infinite road is flooded with these dark imposters, no longer echoing at random, but chanting with increasing volume, "WHY? WHY? WHY?"
I cover my ears and close my eyes tight, but it does nothing to quiet the voices or get the images of the shadow people out of my head. A minute after the chanting began, just when the volume was reaching deafening, it ceases completely. I open my eyes once more to the pitch black vacuum of sound.
I begin to wonder if this the afterlife before I am suddenly blinded, not in darkness, but light. All I can see is white, and I know that luminescence has returned to my life. But as my vision adjusts, my blood runs cold. Only one light is on, the one directly above me. I am exposed, surrounded by the unknown with no escape. So I cry. I weep for myself, not knowing whether anyone will ever find me, alive or dead. I fall to the ground and cry as my last light gradually becomes dimmer, listening only to my own sobs echoing back at me, slowly getting closer and closer...
Written by Provider92