March 23rd, 2015.
Joseph Kaufman kneeled before the statue of mother Mary, grasping a rosary in his hand. He'd stayed a few minutes after Sunday service for a special prayer.
In his silent prayer, he'd considered the events just over a year and two months ago. The cold winter tormented him with memories of his time in that cement prison with Natalie and Jackson. The focus of the prayer, though, was Natalie herself. She'd been scarred more so than himself. He found God and set his life back on course with his faith, meanwhile, she tried to end her own.
She'd moved out of her old house to the other side of town into an apartment after begging her parents, and visiting doctors for mental checkups. She'd constantly been on pills.
Downers, uppers, doesn't matter. She'd taken them at some point. At first he assumed the light at the end of the tunnel was that Natalie and himself were not charged with the disappearance of Jackson, and were unable to be placed directly as murderers. They were never able to find that trap door, never able to even find Jackson's body. They simply couldn't be tied to the crime as responsible, and it was ruled as a simple disappearance. Simply being on a watch list seemed easier, but not for Natalie.
One part of his silent prayer was capitalized. He prayed that the damned tunnel he'd almost been buried in had been collapsed and closed forever, and that the Tormentor had been forever sealed, or dead, within it. He hated to wish death to anything with his new found faith, but having lived only 15 years of his life before the Tormentor showed up was no way to start a life. He was 16 now, and even the last year felt like a waste.
Finishing his prayer, Joseph stood off of his knees and opened his eyes, tilting his head to the statue. He turned around and placed the rosary around his neck as a necklace, walking for the church door. As he walked past the preacher, he nodded his head and spoke modestly.
"Thank you for the extra time, father."
The preacher nodded back and smiled, opening the door for him. The air that rushed around him gave a slight chill. Hardly being spring, the temperature had not completely escalated yet. In fact, snow was still on the ground, though it was melting in most areas.
He walked into the parking lot right outside the church while putting on his thick overcoat. He was just happy he wouldn't have to wear the damned thing much longer. The soft inside made his arms itch while he wore short sleeve shirts, such as the blue dress shirt he wore to the church.
He made his way to a silver and gray car. It wasn't anything fancy, but a pre-owned car is all he could have hoped for, recently getting his licenses. When he got in the car he moved his hands down his face, before placing them on the steering wheel. It had been nearly two months since he last visited Natalie in her new home. Her condition and hostility towards the location of her old house convinced her parents to rent an apartment, whilst renting out the old house to get some more money on the side.
Putting his foot on the gas, he left the church, and started driving towards the apartment complex in lower Tutelo, thankfully away from Jackson's house, and the entry path of Cook Forest. The only part of the forest the complex was near, was the tourist path. Good thing it was just as close to the town hospital as it was to the forest.
Joseph started drifting off whilst driving, refocusing to stop himself from swerving off of the road. Jackson's old home was a hollow mess at this point. Every time he would think of that forsaken house, he would notice his mind pulling tricks on him. Maybe he was the one who needed medication, not Natalie. Forsaken? More like foreclosed. After his disappearance, Jackson's mother and father moved into Philadelphia to help cope.
After a few minitues of driving, he pulled his car into an empty parking lot outside of a brick and tile apartment.
Stepping outside of his car, he closed the door with one hand while taking a deep breath, placing his hand over the rosary necklace. All he could think about was what Natalie's condition would be once he entered. At least she was living in a complex, where multiple people were around to help her if something went south.
Red brick, black tile roofing, wooden door with a window in the center; it was a pretty basic setup. Three floors, with two apartments on each floor. Natalie was on the second floor, to the immediate left of the stairwell. Pushing on the door, the twisting stairs were right in front of him.
It wasn't very long before he reached the top of the steps, though the echo of the cement stairs through the building forced him to cringe at some old memories. One foot off of the first set of steps out of two, he spun to his left and knocked on the door. When no one opened the door, he knocked louder and harder. Eventually lightly banging on the door, he was surprised no one from the other apartments came out to yell at him.
Just as he started to get a bit worried, the doorknob turned, and the door opened. Then, he saw her. Natalie was holding the door open for him. He walked into the apartment and hugged her.
"Joseph, I didn't think you would come today!" she said rather softly.
"I told you I'd come check up on you every week from now. How's it all going? You doing well?" he questioned.
"Pills are a bitch, Joseph. But it's better with them than without. Downers kill your mood right away."
She pulled away from the hug, holding her right arm. When she noticed Joseph giving her an odd look, she signaled him to follow her, taking him into the living room, away from the entry that doubled as a kitchen. An old television with a cup sitting on it, new looking brown couch, white panel closet to hold clothes and other gear; she'd moved into a fairly nice place. He sat down on the couch, looking at the TV, whilst talking to Natalie.
"So you've been on track?"
"Checkups when I have to, sleep is on track. Everything's good, Joseph. Just relax."
"That's great, Natalie. I'm proud of you, you know. I'm not trying to hassle or bother you."
"I know," she said, smiling. "Just relax, Joseph. Everything is fine."
He leaned back on the couch as she sat right beside him. The glare of the sun shined on the TV and into his eyes. When he pulled his hand up to cover them, Natalie reached behind her and closed the blinds, removing the problem. He gave a little smile and lowered his hand again. The glare still made it through the blinds, but it was hardly noticeable except when looking directly at them. Just then, there was a knock at the apartment door. Natalie looked over to Joseph.
"Did you bring anyone with you?"
"No, I promise, I didn't. Maybe it's one of your mother's friends?"
"I've been alone all day. I'll be home alone until my dad gets home tomorrow morning. I'm not expecting anyone, that's why I told you Sundays were the best for you to come over."
Joseph inched his way up as the knocking got louder. The silence was broken when the other side of the door gave way to a voice.
"Let me in, please."
The voice was that of a grown man. It was calm, polite, and over all formal. Joseph looked back at Natalie, who shared his confusion, before turning the doorknob. Without further hesitation, he opened the door. Looking through the expanding crack as it opened, he noticed what would later be confirmed. No one was on the other side at all.
Emptiness, and off lights that were on when he came into the apartment. He closed the dark outside away, and turned to Natalie.
"Must have been a prank. No one is on the other side," he said, rather distracted.
Just as Natalie was preparing to speak, he heard something from the room next to the living room. Natalie's bedroom.
Natalie jumped up from the couch and backed away from the room, never taking her eyes off of it. Stepping away from the door and towards the exit, Joseph's eyes snapped unto the blinds. No source of light at all. It wasn't just that the blinds had muffled the sun's light, but the light was seemingly completely gone. Joseph began to shiver in his place, as Natalie attempted to pull him closer towards the exit.
The cup on the television crashed on the ground, furthering Joseph's panic. The thought of shattered glass, along with the noise, had always been a fear of his. Deciding the temptation of knowledge overpowered his fears, he rushed to the window. Simply grabbing the blind by the bottom and lifting them, he noticed the moon was at full position. Even stranger, all cars in the parking lot were gone, excluding his own.
Natalie spun around and tried to go for the exit, but the lights all shattered, triggering Joseph's phobia further. The door creaked open in front of Natalie. The other side wasn't empty this time, with a silhouette of another person, slightly taller than her but shorter than Joseph, was standing on the other side.
Natalie turned back around and ran for her bedroom, pulling on Joseph to follow. Entering the room, they closed the door and locked it, practically diving under the bed. With no other options that his rushed brain could think of, he stood with his back pressed against the wall, to the right of the door. He hoped that if the door was opened, he wouldn't be seen because the door would cover him. The small lamp on her wardrobe hadn't busted, but instead flicked on. Joseph reached towards the wardrobe slowly in hopes of putting it in front of the door, but a continued scratching noise forced him to stop.
When the noise came to a stop, he tilted his head to the door, only to notice something moving at the bottom of his vision. Looking down, he saw what appeared to be four red strings with hooks tied to the ends of them moving as if they were worms. Natalie took a double take and slid back further from the edge of the bed.
The worm like threads moved up the door. When they reached the top, they placed the hooks so they would stab into the door, and dragged them back down to the bottom. After doing this once, they tried again. One reached unto the latch lock, and the rest moved over to hook onto the lock as well. Once they all found their place, they pulled together downward.
The pop noise of the lock and the flinging of the screws rung in both of their ears, as the lock fell to the ground. The door pushed open, and Natalie's view of Joseph disappeared behind the opening door. When the door stooped, Joseph had completely gone away from her view.
Someone stepped through the doorway, and the worm like threads revealed what they were- veins of some sort, maybe a tendon. They came from two slashes on each forearm of the person, right below the elbow. Yellow fat hung on them lightly and scarcely. The seemed so thin that the wind itself could most likely have moved them. He wore torn, rotted boots that matched the destroyed clothing he was wearing. A hoodie that had the color nearly completely faded, jeans that had been browned until the point the fabric was disconnecting, and a rusted metal mask- the original silver color hardly pressing through. The hood itself had fallen off, the only evidence of it left being a small patch of torn fabric.
He might have been slightly under six feet tall, if not for his hunchback. His entire body was leaning forward slightly. His posture was terrible, but his breathing was worse. Through his mask, his breath pressed through hard enough that is was easily distinguished as a forced, struggled breath. One that wouldn't come naturally. It resembled a patient on their death bed. It sent chills down her spine.
When Natalie saw the mask, the same the mysterious figure that had struck them over a year ago, she almost screamed in horror. She was forced to bite her bottom lip as hard as possible to not give away her location as she watched the veins and hooks retracted back into the arms of the man. His neck had a red, terribly stitched line from ear to ear. Joseph was no less confused at this than Natalie, up until the point where the man spun completely around and smacked the door with his right hand, forcing it closed, and looking Joseph directly in the eyes. In the eye sockets of the mask were two deep eyes, each with a broken iris. They rested behind bars which mimicked prison bars, and they had found their focus on him.
The man's mask iron bars over the mouth and eye holes, but they could hardly muffle the snapping sound coming from behind it. Directly following was something which reminded Joseph of tearing Velcro, as he watched the bottom jaw of the man drop even lower than the bottom of the mask. The jaw looked as if it had been broken and torn off, excluding some threads holding it on at this point. The exposed ligaments twirled and moves as if they were their own life forms.
Even with the dangling bottom jaw, he seemed to work some words out, which gave an echo, even though the room was not large or empty enough to do so. He spoke in a very calm, tired sounding voice.
The lamp's light burst just as he finished his sentence, and he returned to a silhouette. Natalie could see his vague shape lift its right hand and start to stretch out each finger.
Welcome to Hell
The two black figures merged, as one fell down to the ground. It became apparent that Joseph had pushed down the man out of instinct, but this didn't end with a simple shove. When the man hit the ground, he began to lift himself up immediately, letting out a furious, rather angry yell, like a child whom had just had his favorite toy taken away.
Natalie sprung up from the bed as Joseph opened the door which now had no lock, and they both consecutively bolted out of the room and through the living room, Joseph hardly remembering the layout of the room. He smashed against a square object, knocking it over. Yet again he was met with the horrid sound of broken glass from what he assumed was the television, forcing him to shutting as he ran around it, and through the kitchen area.
The creaking sound of the door let very little light in as Natalie opened the door in front of him, only natural light from the moon coming through the window even attempted to help light up the dark hallway.
He and Natalie were close enough that they could see each other in the darkness, as they ran down the twisting stairs. Natalie ran into the exit door and ended up smacking her face against it, before stepping back and opening it correctly. Following behind her, they ran out of the building, into the oddly warm spring night. Joseph closed the door behind him, as he speed-walked to the car. Natalie wasn't as patient, and bolted ahead to it.
She paused at the car door, jittering and shaking in her place. As Joseph arrived, she put her hands on his shoulders, forcing him to look her in her eyes as she spoke.
"Jackson! That was Jackson!"
"No! It's impossible! It's just another trick. A doppelganger from that creature in the trap door!" he retorted, surprisingly aggressive.
"We locked it away, Joseph. It should be dead by now down there!"
Joseph didn't wait any longer as he pulled away from her hands, looking for his car key. Strangely, only two keys were on the loop. His car key, and an unidentified glittering silver key.
"What the-" he began to question, as Natalie interrupted him.
"Joseph! Hurry up!" she yelled pointing to her hotel window. Even in the night sky it was apparent that the man with the mask was looking at them through the window, pressing up against it.
He rushed the key into the car door's lock and turned it, unlocking it and pulling it open. Reaching around to the door behind the driver's seat, he pulled the locking mechanism up as well. Natalie opened it and sat in the back, whilst he got in the driver's seat. Taking his key and putting in the ignition, the car started. He sped out of the parking lot and drove back to where he came from.
Natalie was obviously in a state of ill thought as she looked around frantically for any signs of movement in the houses they drove past. Nothing. No lights were on, and no one was outside. She'd forgotten her phone at her house, but thankfully Joseph had never taken his out of his pocket. He pulled it out with his right hand, as she climbed into the passenger's seat.
"Where are we going?" she asked between deep breaths.
"We are going to stop at my place, grab anything we can to help us, and then leave this damned town," said Joseph, pulling his phone out of his pocket.
"10:36 pm. Sunday worship does not end at 10:36 at night. We really need to leave as fast as possible."
"What about our families?" she retorted.
"We will call them every once in a while until they pick up, and we can tell them about the situation."
His sour, yet stern tone put Natalie at unrest, even giving her chills. As they drove around the bend, every house had its lights off, just as dark as the outside. All except one that Natalie caught out of the side of her eye while they drove past the cooks forest entrance.
Jackson's old home was as bright as it had ever been, nearly glowing in the night. Joseph didn't even have to look before he sped up. With each tree to his right looking like it was a person from his confused vision, he could hardly stand having to look forward at the road the whole time.
After what felt like an hour of speeding, the pair arrived at Joseph's house, which was away from the forest, in their favor. The tan and brown paint reflected brilliantly in the moonlight, with a stone and gravel walkway leading up to the front door. As expected, all windows seemed to point to the insides being dark.
He parked the car outside of the house, at the edge of the walkway. It took a second for the two to stand up and exit the car. Joseph kept his phone with him and made a phone call, entering a surprisingly short phone number while Natalie left her door open after exiting. When he closed the car door behind him, he tightened his grip on the phone. After a few seconds, he put it back in his pocket.
"Well, emergency services didn't answer. If you've got another plan than that one, please say it now," he said, placing his face in his hand and leaning over the top of the car.
It was just then that he noticed the shape carved in on his car's roof, scratched in like someone had deeply keyed the car. The same exact shape of the bronze face, or icon, he had run into in the forest, right before the Tormentor always appeared.
The Lord Cometh
Joseph immediately began to inch away, practically hopping up and down like a rabbit.
"Natalie, get in the house," he barked, seemingly in shock.
"Alone?" she questioned.
Her question was answered when Joseph jogged past her and towards the door, feet hitting the stone walkway with a loud shock wave. Nearly sprinting towards his house, Natalie saw him simply open the door. She caught up to him and ran inside, as he closed the door behind her, locking it.
"What was all that about?" she questioned. She was holding her knees, breathing erratically.
"The thing on my car looked exactly like that little mask piece from the forest!" he answered, ecstatic and checking windows. He continued.
"When we checked out your apartment window we were looking down at the car. We would have noticed, even in the dark." He zoned out for a second, before snapping back with another question.
"You leave your front door unlocked every morning?"
"I didn't. I swear I didn't. When I got to it, the door just opened. I wasn't thinking straight, but I promise I locked it."
Joseph peered outside the window, and his senses seemed to return to him.
"We're going to leave the lights off so nothing can see we are here. You've been here enough that I hope you remember the layout of my house. I'm going to get a knife in the kitchen. Upstairs my father has a pistol for self defense. We get in the car again, with protection, and get out of here like we said before."
Without giving any chance of retaliation, he pulled away from his whisper and began creeping through his house, lights off, with Natalie close behind him. The only noise being their feet hitting the floor, they carried on through the short hallway.
The kitchen was certainly not a far distance, as they reached it almost immediately. Before the kitchen doorway, which ironically no door stood, were two carpeted stairs. with one leading to the second floor, and one leading to the basement. Natalie stopped before these stairs, but Joseph didn't.
Carrying on through the doorway, he reached around the bend to touch the knife holder. With many knives there, he grabbed the very top. The eight inch kitchen knife was the biggest they had, and the bonus size was the easiest factor in his choice. Grabbing it, he put it in his left hand, as he grabbed another for Natalie. The next biggest was the six inch knife, which they owned two of. He grabbed it with his right hand before he turned around and walked back to the staircase.
Both staying silent, he handed her the six inch blade and place his knife back in his right hand. Natalie was looking down the staircase to the basement, before Joseph pulled her arm to angle her to the stairs going up. He knew how stupid and useless it would be to go down there in a time like this.
Gripping the knife as hard as he could, he began climbing the stairs to the second floor of his house, followed by his friend. The rough blue carpet dragged under their shoes, creating something similar to a Velcro sound. The staircase turned to the right twice before they reached the next floor.
The colder air of the higher level rushed their skin almost immediately. The two were hardly able to see each other in the darkness of the hallway, but it was visible enough for them to stay together. Going left two doors down, they were stopped by a noise as they walked passed the first door.
The room was Joseph's own room, and from the other side of the door sounded a very unnerving distraction. A very deep, guttural, gurgling sound swept from under the door, as they both held firmly to their knives. Walking backwards, Joseph slowly crept into his parent's room and began digging through the top drawer of the wardrobe. A great big window on the other side of the king sized bed allowed entry to the moonlight which provided at least a little aid. He placed the knife on top of the wardrobe.
By pulling up a line of fabric, he released a heavy metallic echo. He reached for it immediately, and pulled up his father's pistol. It was always loaded with a few shots in case of emergency, though the exact number of bullets slipped his mind. The pistol was a .380 subcompact, which fit very comfortably in one hand. The hammer had already been drawn. His father did not mess around when it came to his family's safety. He went to exit the room when Natalie stumbled her way in.
Holding her mouth to keep her quiet, she pointed to show what was bothering her. Hardly visible at all, the shapes of the threads coming from under the door. They crawled their way through the door cracks and swung around, as if hoping to grab something on the other side. Joseph pointed the pistol forward with both hands on the grip.
Suddenly, the door opened with a loud swing. The door hit the wall to its side, creating a thud. The guttural sounds now so clear they were almost vomit inducing, the figure of a man stumbled outside of the room. He walked as if he had just fallen off a building and broken his arms and legs, all crooked but yet stiff.
He turned his body towards the two, as they both backed into the bed. All hopes of being undiscovered went down the drain as the bedroom light came on without warning as he stared at them. Shambling towards them, his breathing escalated.
"Jackson, stop!" yelled Joseph, pointing the gun straight at his head.
With a pop, Jackson's jaw cracked back into place, and began to speak. He seemed hardly able to force any words out. His choppy gurgle broke each word apart.
"Survivors no longer," Jackson said as his jaw dropped back to where it was, but his decayed cheeks still mimicking a dreadful smile.
He raised his arm up, as the bloody hunters that were his veins and tendons split above him, their metal hooks swaying. Joseph took no time and fired a shot straight into Jackson's forehead, right above the right eye.
The mask seemed to withstand the hit, though it did gain a new hole. The back of Jackson's skull, however, shattered with the shot. The end of his head fell outwards in its very own explosion, sending red fluid all over the floor and wall behind him. Joseph, unprepared for the shot, fell unto the bed behind him. Jackson's body fell to its knees, head tilted towards the ground.
Both Natalie and Joseph watched in confusion as the head tilted back up, and the corpse stood from its knees immediately. Natalie jumped over the bed, back against the window, and Joseph crawled away. With a cracked laughter the hooked threads came swinging down, hitting the bed, but hardly missing Joseph.
He reached the other side of the bed as he stood with Natalie, and raised the gun again. One more shot echoed as Jackson recoiled back, having been hit in the shoulder. Clear as day, a yellow and brown mixture poured from the wound and dripped unto the floor, with a texture like puss.
The recoil of this shot sent Joseph's shoulder against the window, creating a large crack across it. The window was a few inches taller than either him or Natalie, though it was also about two feet off the ground. When Jackson leaped on the bed and looked both in the eyes, all that ran through their heads was survival.
Dropping her knife and grabbing on to Joseph, Natalie braced Joseph and propelled him backwards with her, straight through the window.
The Hunter Succeeds
The shattering sound is the only noise that made it through the adrenaline. After the silence was only the cracking sound of his back, and her hitting the ground next to him with a solid thud. They'd only fallen out the second story window, but the hit was devastating to take straight to his back.
The pain shot up his entire body. He was hardly able to roll over to see the pistol to his side. Reaching over, he grabbed it and sluggishly raised it to the window. His vision was blurry, and his aim was anything but steady. They had fallen into the backyard, which had unfortunately been home to a pebble style walkway.
The motion lights in the backyard had lighten up. They gave enough of a light to see that Jackson was still standing on the second story, looking down at them through the shattered window. His figure was only hardly shown, but it was clear enough to see him extend his hand outward.
His hand was clutched, but now open. The light reflected on something he had dropped downwards on the two, as he turned around and walked away from the window. Joseph slid his body away from it as Natalie kicked herself in the opposite direction. Dead in the center of the two rang a very familiar metallic *ting*.
Only bouncing once off the ground, the torturous sight of the small, palm sized metal face shined in the light of the motion light. Its bronze glittered all over, except areas now covered in a solid black stain. An awkward, adrenaline fueled silence was kicking in, until Natalie did what she had been dreaming of doing since this icon first found its way in to their lives. Grabbing it, the motion lights died, and all was black.
She had finally been able to hold the cursed item of light bronze. Picking it up, it must have only weighed a few ounces at maximum. Standing up whilst holding it, the motion lights began to trigger again, shining even more light on her. By crushing her hands over it, the bronze face had folded on itself. Twisting to distort it even further, she threw it as hard as possible back to the window.
It flew in, which wasn't surprising since it was a very large window, but didn't make the clicking noise of metal. Thinking it must have simply hit the bed, she turned to Joseph, who himself was smiling. Every time this object showed up, something else showed up. Both were treating this as if it was a small victory in its own.
Joseph stayed on the ground. He was looking up at Natalie, until some sort of a noise caused them both to cover their ears and close their eyes. The sound was very metallic, as if two sharp blades were scrapping each other. The loudness itself mimicked only that of a siren.
As he opened his eyes, he noticed from the side of his vision, something large was falling. The motion lights busted, leaving the moon as the only existing source of light. Landing directly on top of him, he felt as if several sharpened daggers had pressed up against the outside of his shirt.
The shape and sound were enough to piece together what this was. Raising its right hand, the Tormentor made its arrival obvious by sticking the claws deep through his biceps and in to the ground, pining him in pain. Attempting to scream out, a red mist floated from his mouth, and left with the wind. No sound left his throat no matter how hard he tried. The sharp, yet rugged pain was almost enough to make him pass out on its own.
He saw Natalie run down the side of the house to where he knew the car was. Even in his rush and freight, he couldn't blame her. When the Tormentor's horrible mouth opened, the stench of strong chlorine and horribly mixed wine filled his senses. In a split second he knew he had lost his year long fight. The Tormentor bit down on Joseph's neck, and the terribly long, sharp teeth made any breathing impossible. As his life rushed out of the new found holes with his blood, he could easily see even in the darkness that the Tormentor's eyes had altered after the bite, now resembling a black void with several white specs.
His eyes began to roll back in to his head with a sharp wet pain, and memories ran through his mind faster than he could even remember them all. Vision cutting out, all was forgotten.
Joseph awoke to the feeling of a cold, shivering floor brushing against him. Even through his blue dress shirt, he felt the pressure of the hard floor. As he opened his eyes he saw nothing but darkness, with selective light in the form of candles roughly 10 feet away. The candles burnt red and sat on a table of sorts, whilst the light made clear that a figure of a man was standing on the other side of the table, facing away.
No walls in any direction, Joseph lifted his head to look down. There was nothing beneath him. Darkness and void stretching in every general direction except forward. As he perched his body upwards to gain his balance, the being on the other side of the table turned around very ruggedly.
A skull of a goat for a head, antlers with at least 10 points each grew off of the head. The figure looked to be wearing a black ceremonial robe, that only stuck out from the void because of the red design that flaunted itself proudly on the right shoulder.
The same bronze face that had just been destroyed, had been resting peacefully on this figure's robes. Joseph instantly stiffened, as he watched this new being calmly look at him. His mind now a mess of confused and dreadful thoughts, the goat skull spoke in a very echoed yet dastardly voice, sounding as if the reaper himself was inside of the body.
"Yes, you are deceased. No, I will not murder and fall the deceased. Indeed, there is a way out. It is certainly not running into the abyss around you. Your wounds have disappeared completely due to the use of my power, even off of your real corpse. The bronze face is a mark of tribute or sacrifice to the Tormentor, and I wear it in an act of blasphemy against the foul being. The carving on your car door was a warning that Jackson and his master were near."
Joseph stepped towards the figure, still in a phase of pure fear and adrenaline. He was hardly able to speak back. He curled his fists very sternly as he spoke to handle the situation, to the point he was discomforting his own hands. He began to whisper his favorite bible passages under his throat as he inched his way forward.
"The lord is good, a str-stronghold in the day of trouble. And he knows tho-"
"Out of all faiths, how can you assure yourself that yours is correct? Do you not notice your place in hell, in deep Malebolge?"
"Hell?" he questioned, shivering in his shoes.
"Hell, heaven, the illusion does not hold a light to the truth. You are property."
"Who are you? Can you e-explain to me what is happening?"
"A simple name would be Mendes. You are currently in your own mind. You could state that this was both orchestrated, and reductive. When the being you have dubbed the Tormentor fell you by use of its claws, your quantum mind collapsed upon itself. You are currently in the confines of your own mind, Joseph."
He pressed his hands even harder, which caused his fingernails to shake side to side in their place.
"Why is my mind empty?"
"Unfortunately for you, your story does not end with your killing. You have a chance, that I will gift. I will return you to your corpse, which Natalie has placed in the back of your car after noticing the Tormentor and Jackson had disappeared after your murder, made obvious by there being no signs of the pair when she returned to your body for the keys. She is hoping to reach a doctor with your body at this very time. Your mind is empty, because after death, all life becomes property to the Tormentor. He will torture everything both physically and psychologically for all of existence. When you are born, you are already owned property, feeding in to his lust."
"What is the Tormentor, and what did it do to Jackson?" His tone was horrified, and his mind was clogged.
"To put it in a way you could grasp, if the universe was a dream, the Tormentor would be lucid. I would be the brain recording the dream itself. Jackson had occasionally seen the Tormentor in his life, and struck a deal with the being to bring you, the target, and Natalie, the birther, to him. Jackson would impregnate Natalie to spread the Tormentor's seed, which is now inside him from this deal. You would be murdered, as the Tormentor knows exactly what would happen if I reached you in death. It had planned to simply kill you and use Jackon's will to thwart my influence by slaughtering you again."
"Why me? What is so special about me? Why does the Tormentor want its seed to spread? If the Tormentor is so smart, how did you find me in death anyways?"
"I am what the Tormentor, and most religions would call, God. Portrayed by most as an evil that has come to end the good, but in reality, I am the balance between the two. All solid matter exists because of at least one more matter particle than anti-matter existed at the creation of your universe. As referenced in that analogy, sometimes balance can not be fully neutral."
"Why am I involved in this plan?"
"When you were made unconscious inside of the facility, Natalie was alone in that room with Jackson in an attempt to impregnate her. It chose to treat you nonlethally, as he wanted Jackson to have that kill. The plan of such a being is destined to be complex, but he exceeds expectations once more."
"Where have you been in history?"
He began to shiver, and his eyes began to water, as he was unable to handle his new found information. Mendes touched his own head with his right hand, brushing under the right eye hole.
"There was... are three of us, of which the Tormentor is unfortunately on top of. All of us have been referred to as gods in history, but he was always the one most exposed to humans by a large margin. The most powerful. My appearance was apparently a sin against the worship of Jehovah- whom is ironically based off of the Tormentor. It has lead your own kind to murder at the sight of me. My figure a blasphemy, the knights of Templar, whom gifted me my newest name of Mendes, were all burnt for the following of my lessons. Towns have been burned and sieged, for my information was not met with peace."
"Was the voice asking to enter Natalie's apartment Jackson or the Tormentor?" He asked, shaking uncontrollably in the legs.
"Neither." Answered Mendes, quite sternly. "It was myself asking for urgent entry so that I could break the glass, causing you to exit due to your phobia."
"Are you and the Tormentor extraterrestrial?"
"We are not of your Earth, so by classification, indeed. I have existed since the first sentient lifeform spawned within the universe, and he has existed since time and space came to be. This is the time in which one must fall. Enki, the first name your race gave the Tormentor, was, and is, worshiped as a god. Every religion shows but one thing- that his greater power reflects even in your race.
Most races of the universe have been non-sentient, and unnecessary. Those like yours, sentient species, he enjoys pushing and influencing until you either destroy yourself, or he simply feels like moving on and destroying you himself. The other beings of the pantheon, are simply myself and one other. The other, you may not know, but he is closer to you than you think. He has... begun to get into my head with his cursed ideas. Perhaps this is why I wish to protect you."
Joseph sat in shock and awe as he attempted to process all of this. His entire life's faith had been destroyed. As if the entire universe had given way to a wave of neverending radiation- his body felt hot, but also as if it was expanding in the gastrointestinal region. It was a crippling sensation which lowered his cognition, yet somehow also made him feel slightly more enlightened towards the answers of the universe.
"I'm ready for the choices," he uttered, signing in complete belief in Mendes, whom he had only just paired with.
"You may return you Earth one more time. You will help remove Jackson from the image, weakening the plan Anu has against you. To do this, you must sadly return to the facility you were forced into over a year ago. That is where you will have a chance to kill Jackson "
"Another name your people have given him. He is both the light and the dark, but not the balance between the two. He acts in pure evil, but his motives are in pure love. With the pain and misery he feeds off of being emitted from your race, he learns in order to teach the next. Your species was taught in its years of early civilization in this same way. He has merged his lustful, sadistic heart, with the cycle of nature he has lead too. Texts of holiness can be attributed to the enlightened and their confrontations with Enki himself."
"I have made my choice," Joseph rushed in a fast breath.
His now apparent bone fingers clicking and scraping together from his robes, he awaited an answer.
"I'll go. I'll save Natalie, I'll complete what you say I am meant to."
A clear slime-like substance leaked from Mendes' jaws. The muscle and tendons holding the bottom jaw to the top had tilted up in a failed attempt to smile. Without any more useless talk, he brushed his hand over the candles, putting out their light.
No Going Back
Joseph came back into consciousness to the sound of metallic clicking. He was in the back seat of his car, laying across all three back seats. As he sat up, he felt around himself, and focused his attention to the front seat.
Natalie was working the key side to side, but it was obvious she didn't quite know how to work a car. She was breathing heavily and had tears streaming down her face. Joseph reached over to help her with the keys, but when she saw his hand beside her face, she screamed as loud as she could, and hit his hand away with a reflex.
She looked him dead in the eyes, when he questioned her.
"How long was I gone?" he asked in a worried tone.
She extended her right hand towards him, with all five fingers extended. He continued.
"Natalie, listen to me. We have ourselves in a very deep situation here. We have to leave as fast as we can. None of this should have happened to us."
This is when Natalie realized his bite mark on his neck was completely gone, and even the tooth holes in the collar had disappeared. Even the blood was gone from his body. Looking at him confusingly, and even suspiciously. She pulled something out of her pocket she had recovered from beside his body when she dragged him to the car. The pistol he had fallen out of the window with.
"How do I know you aren't just coming back like Jackson?" she said with a surprising lack of emotion. It was still very clear she was distressed.
"You won't believe it at all! I met a figure who called himself Mendes! He says he can help us survive, and fight the Tormentor off for good!" he refuted.
She pointed the pistol at his head, right between his eyes. She kept a straight face as well as she could, but tears had only increased in quantity.
"You don't know how to drive, your middle name is May, I promised to make sure you were on schedule with your pills even when you said you were fine, and I once had you tell me that you still had hope Jackson would come out alive and fixed, regardless of the fact we slammed the trap door on him," he continued in a rushed voice.
She looked shocked, but lowered the gun. She opened the door and stepped outside of the car, allowing Joseph to shuffle his way to the driver's seat, while she switched to the passenger's seat. He started the car, and they closed the doors as softly as they could.
She went to go put the pistol in her pocket, when he grabbed her arm. When she turned her head towards him, their eyes were locked again. Hers still in confusion, but his in a dark happiness.
"I know how we can finish this all," he justified.
As he was about to speak, Mendes' familiar voice filled his head. His vision went dark, and his hearing, excluding Mendes' voice, became a solid high pitch ring.
Return to the trap door. Go to the room Jackson once tried to kill Natalie inside of. Face the trials of your worst fears, and set yourself free from fate.
As if he was daydreaming, he came back to reality to Natalie pushing his arm to straighten him up. His ears bleeding profoundly, the dark liquid streams breached the inside of his shirt.
"We need to go back to the door."
"No! Get me out of this town, Joseph! You promised me we would be safe!"
He grabbed her shoulders.
"And we will be! We have to go face a trial, and we will be set free from our fate! This is our only ticket!"
"How do you even know that Mendes' is even real? You were dead, you could have been hallucinating for all you know!"
"Do you have a better option?" he retorted, as he grabbed the pistol from her hands forcefully. Taking the clip out of the pistol, he checked for bullets. None were inside the gun. Pulling back the top of the pistol, no shells flew out.
"I wouldn't have shot you. The pistol has been out of bullets since you used them. I found it empty. If you were a servant of that demon, you wouldn't have defended yourself. You would have killed me, and I would have rather died by you than any of our other options," she said shyly, looking outside of her window.
Resting his hands on the steering wheel, he looked out of the windshield and laid his foot on the gas.
"I want to finish this. We have to be ready to beat our own fates, here. We can outlive this.."
She simply looked at him and nodded. He started driving back south, beside the forest. The heat of the moment had both of their hearts racing at speeds they had never encountered before in both fear and adrenaline.
They had already encountered trees due to the speeding of the car. If no one seemed to be around in the world to save them, who could they possibly hurt by speeding? The trees casted shadows over their car that broke only between leaf layers, to cast the dark sky over them.
No birds, no bugs, no people, and no wind to break up the silence. The only noise other than the altered breathing of the pair in their near panicked state, was the engine of the car.
"Did he tell you anything?"
She broke the silence so suddenly it caught Joseph off guard.
"He told so much that I don't know if I could even describe it to you."
"We are about to do the scariest thing in history, and return to the place that almost had us killed. Please, Joseph."
He thought about telling her about how Mendes stated all human lives were the Tormentor's property to torture forever after their death, and how the Tormentor had even taught ancient humans with knowledge it had earned through this same method. Instead, he only told her what he needed to, so that she would remain as calm as possible, but hopefully have enough courage to go through with this.
He especially didn't want to tell her why Jackson had tried to rape her a year ago. How she was supposed to be the host of the evil seed of such a beast would surely ruin her.
"The Tormentor goes by many, more literal names. For instance, Enki and Anu. It also isn't from Earth."
"Where is it from, then?"
Paying more attention to the road, they saw Jackson's house. Natalie covered her eyes with her left hand and tilted her head to the right, outside of her window again. The car turned left, down a dirt road straight in to cooks forest. It was only a minute's drive from here.
"As long as the universe has existed, so has Enki and Mendes. They are like the personifications of literal concepts. The Tormentor is both good and evil, but Mendes is the balance between the two."
She let out a shocked sigh, and attempted to grasp the idea the best she could. The car came to a stop. To both sides of the road was overgrown brush, bush, and trees. The forest was thick and underused on this path, creating a natural canopy over them.
Natalie was whispering something under her breath, presumably a prayer. When she was done, they two both stepped out of the car and closed the doors behind them. Looking dead to the right, the area they had remembered was still visible. The trapdoor had hardly any brush growing on it.
They kneeled down before the trap door. Joseph still remembered how hard it was to lift this entrance, especially upon attempting to leave. Both of them dug their fingers into the dirt silently. Neither one of them wanted to attract anything that could possibly be around them, or worst case scenario, alert anything below the trapdoor.
When their fingers dug through, they were not met with comfort. Hard, coarse stone underneath their fingers, and splintering wood on top. The feeling was so tight they were both tempted to pull their fingers out. Starting to stand as they lifted for leverage, the rattling of the chains they had once struggled against to open the door quietly rattled away.
Once the door reached a point where they could fit in, it became apparent why the chains hardly made any loud noises. Joseph remembered that he had broken them to get out of the area before, which released all tension. The chains were freely hanging now.
The hard stone chasm they had revealed was pitch black. While Joseph grabbed his gun back out of his pocket, he remembered it had no bullets. The Tormentor was intelligent enough that he assumed it would recognize the weapon, meaning he could still use the look of the weapon as a threat, and possibly a means of defense.
Natalie took her phone back out and shined it down into the chasm. It appeared to be a seven foot drop. Putting her arm in the hole slowly, she peeked around to make sure nothing was right in the entrance they would be dropping into.
"It looks empty," she whispered.
Crouched back down, Joseph cautiously put his right leg into the hole so slow he was hardly moving. After this, he lowered his other leg in. Once both were over the edge, he rotated his body and lowered himself.
His shoes hit the stone ground, and he immediately got a chill down his spine. The smell of dirt and dust filled the air around him. Natalie lowered her leg after him, keeping her phone on for light. Joseph slowly aided her in descending by holding her legs with his arms. She was roughly a foot shorter than him, hardly five feet tall. Her falling would make much more of a noise.
Once she reached the floor and Joseph let her go, she tilted her phone upwards. The iron lamps still hung by chains like before, though they appeared much more corroded and rusted than before. They no longer gave off any light.
The doors on each side of the hallway a few dozen feet forward still stood, though even from here it was obvious the doors were more decayed.
She looked at Joseph, and questioned the plan.
"So, where do we go?" she whispered.
"The room with the old couch and broken pipes is the door to our right. That is the room Jackson promised the door with a wall behind it leads to. To our left is the door we saw the dead body inside of," he whispered back.
"The dead body with Jackson's clothes and mask-"
"Yes. The dead body he most likely used as a ploy against us. He probably thought he could trick us into thinking he was dead."
"But when we first saw it, he was still with us. The body just didn't have his hoodie!" she attempted to tell Joseph.
He ignored her last comment.
"We took a stairwell down to get back to this level. We saw the room with the couch and the pipes as we took the stairs down, and it was too our left, that means it must have been a door on the same side, a bit farther down, right before the dead end."
"But there isn't another door on that side?" she added, as an oddly phrased question.
Joseph's eyes lit up with revelation.
"We took a stairwell down to get back on this level through the red metal door. This was a seven foot drop maximum- I can still reach the trap door and climb out. If a staircase even went two or three steps up, we wouldn't have enough room to stand. The ceiling was high enough for us to stand and freely move," he said with a blank but shocked tone.
"What is this place?"
Standing close to one another, they both silently walked forward into the hallway. The chill in the air brushed up against them, feeding the feeling of hollowness and isolation. Dust in the air was very visible through the light of the phone.
As they walked forward, an odd click broke the silence and echoed through the entire hallway. With a sound similar to that of an arrow being shot from a bow, a tense wire stretching from one side of the hallway to the other flew forward.
Hitting their ankles, it threw both to the ground. It had created holes in their pants that went straight across and even cut their ankles a bit. Thankfully, the wire was old, and thus broke easily upon touching them- or their feet may have been taken.
"Oh my god!" Joseph screamed as he fell to the ground.
Natalie went silent in her fright. Checking their ankles, the cuts only seemed to hardly cut the first few layers of skin. Hardly any blood was running, as if it was a paper cut. Both were terrified that the noise of them falling could have alerted anything inside of the catacomb.
Scrambling to stand, they had realized they were at the end of the hallway. They apparently flung forward when they fell, not to say it was exactly a massive hallway. Natalie began to piece it together, based on her memory.
"We came through a staircase, took a right, and we saw this room," she said, pointing to the closed, but rotted door that allowed you to peek through gaps in it. The couch was still there, and was just as badly kept as before. "That means the staircase must have been about here."
She was pointing to an area of wall to the left of the rotted door. With a knock, it was obvious that there was something on the other side. The echo gave evidence.
"But there was no wall when we came this way, and we didn't even notice a door. I still can't see how this would work."
Shining her light around the area of wall that she suspected to be the entry way, no cracks that would suggest this wall moved showed up. Out of desperation, she pushed her right hand, which was not holding the phone, on the wall. Once it was pressed, she pushed it to the left.
The wall began to slide and a sound reminding her of an old shopping cart. It was an oddly metallic sound for a cement wall. Joseph saw this and began helping her. Once the wall was unable to be pushed any further, it seemed to blend perfectly with the section it had moved in to. The small metal staircase, which somehow went up but allowed them to still have enough room to stand without breaching the ground, was mocking them.
They took the stairs up, and within a few seconds, they were at the top. The air was much clearer up here, and the dust didn't seem to effect their breathing anymore. The door that was painted red on the other side- something neither one of them could forget, was dead ahead.
There was no time to think. Joseph knew that they were in the Tormentor's territory now, and any stalling would end in their deaths. He walked straight through the door. Natalie followed, though slower. She turned around just for peace of mind. This was door was still painted red on this side, but not the other they had entered from.
All that was left was the large metal door with the lever locking mechanism on the other side. Surprisingly, this door was open as well. From within, another lamp hanging from a chain was in this room, but unlike the others, it was lit and lighting up the whole area. Natalie had to close her eyes for a brief moment as the two walked into the room, but she opened them once more to avoid being sneaked up on.
The cold steel table that she had once been assaulted on was right in from of her. Her body began to break down around her, and she became hysterical, and dropped her phone to the ground. Burying her head in Joseph's chest, Joseph then realized the dried up, rust-like blood on the floor and table.
He knew she couldn't look at this any longer than she had to. Picking her up, he walked her over to the door that simply had a wall behind it. The bugs that once infested the wall completely seemed to have died, with only cocoons and small parts littering the floor behind the door. The door itself remained open, just like before. He stood her up beside it.
As a simple test, he knocked on the wall that the door had concealed. Jackson had told them before that this door had led to the room with the couch and pipes in it, but that was obviously false. It was simply and attempt to get them both in this isolated room that he could lock, to spread the seed of the Tormentor. Jackson had assumed the Tormentor would kill Joseph if he locked him outside, though. For some reason, it did not.
His spine replicated a crawling worm when he heard an echo on the other side. What could be there? Even more chilling, the wall even chipped away with his knock, something it seemed far too strong for on their last visit. White powder left the wall. Was this wall completely drywall?
He took a step back, and lowered himself to one knee to speak to Natalie, who was now curled up on the floor, trying to silence her weeping.
"Listen, I know what you're going through in this room. I want you to know that I'm here, Natalie. We are going to finish this! We won't have to deal with any of this every again, and maybe even live normal lives!"
She raised her head out of her arms, and brushed her eyes against her sleeve to clean herself. Joseph knew it wasn't enough, so he took the unloaded gun and handed it to her.
"You might still be able to scare it off with this. Just point and act intimidating. That's all you need."
She was very understandably still shaken up, but so was he. After all, they were in the place ran by a creature that was very actively hunting them.
He stood back up, and walked to the wall. With one kick, his foot went through. He hadn't hit anything on the other side, but he had created some noise. Ripping his foot out, he took a few steps back. To speed up the work, he simply ran through the thin drywall.
All he was met with was a black room only lit by one, somehow still burning candle. There were several unlit candles on the floor in a circle beyond this. In the center was a statue heavily resembling Mendes, about two feet tall. Upon meeting eyes with the statue, he blacked out and fell to the ground.
Natalie heard him fall, and sprung up as a reaction. As she went to turn her head to check on him, she caught a reflection out of the corner of her eye. Reflecting the light of the hanging lamp was a silver metal mask. Jackson had found his prey. He began his zombie walk towards her, shuffling and hardly keeping his balance.
She pointed the gun instantly.
"Jackson! Stay a-away!"
He simply walked forward, dragging his long metal poll on the ground, sharpened side scrapping the floor. The closer he got, the less the light shined on him. Eventually, he wasn't too far from her. She lost control and began pulling the trigger, praying in her head that a bullet would come out.
The hooks threaded with vein that came from his arms grabbed her while he kept walking, and stuck in her clothes. Only one managed to break through the clothes and puncture skin. It impaled directly behind her kneecap.
Her only reaction was to hit him with the gun. With a crack, the gun smacked the metal mask, causing it to lose its grip and fall off. His corpse-like face now looking straight in to her very existence, he dropped his poll and grabbed her by the throat. The hooks tore out of her, ripping clothes, and taking some red meat from behind her patella.
When she finally caught the courage to scream for Joseph, he kissed her. His dislocated bottom jaw so far bent that her's actually mostly fit inside of his mouth, his slime covered, purple tongue fed into her, rubbing against the roof of her mouth. It began to slip back in her throat, gagging her as her tears fell out of her eyes, burning until they dropped off of her check. She felt his soft, torturous flesh rush against her- everywhere. Soon, she felt this rancid flesh within her.
No Benevolent Gods
Joseph woke back up, now surrounded in the void of his own mind and death. Mendes was still at his table, writing something down in a very small book via feather and ink. It would have fit inside the average jean pocket.
"You are not dead. You still have a bit of life in you," Mendes said to him, without halting his writing.
"Why am I here? Why did you lead us back here, you lying fuck!?"
His writing sped up drastically, before he dropped his writing feather. He spoke only once it had drifted to the floor
"Prophecy is still well and good in your universe. Fate, however, is not. Events are not naturally planned out. Enki and I cause our desired events to occur through our meddling and teachings."
"The Tormentor and you? I thought you two were against eachother!" he said, forming a fist with each hand.
Mendes formed another twisting smile with his skull. The bone that formed his head itself twisted and cracked, forming the desired expression, before it repaired the cracks. This was unnerving to Joseph, though he had already spoken to Mendes, which helped his confidence.
"Ereshkigal and I work together, these are answers the soon to die deserve- though, I have been questioning my loyalty... He is not truly heroism and evil, but rather manifested just as your universe did, the greatest thing capable of these concepts.I came to be when the first sentient life form came to be, a manifestation of both sentience and sapience. There is a third, one for your race, and it could be said by me preventing them conflicting, I am the balance..."
"What is your goal, then? Watch us die?!"
"That, my child, would be Ereshkigal's goal. He does this out of undying love, yet undying order. After you, he will move on to the next"
"Then why not kill the Tormentor, and free existence of his grasp? All life goes to him after their death, and he seems to hold power over reality itself. What does that make you?"
"That is because the "Tormentor", as you insistently call it, is lucid in this dream we know as reality. I have thought and pondered- perhaps corrupted by that dreaded beastial manifestation of your rebellious race, but that is simply regicide. I am not prepared to break my loyalty, and I will exist as I am meant to exist."
"So you'll let us be slaughtered and fall to a being you know is plotting to kill us?!" Joseph defiantly shouted at Mendes.
"As we have done with every sentient race before you. With the knowledge we gained from you, we will teach the next even greater. This, child, is Enki's cycle. Undying love for all, and equality which has no bias."
"You're his servant!"
"As are you."
Joseph recoiled back, which provided the chance for Mendes to continue
"You brought Natalie, the individual chosen by Enki to birth his spawn, to Jackson, the person chosen to spread his seed. You have been gone for about 10 minutes in Panthalassa, Joseph. She is already seeded. Your race will either be killed, or trained. I exist to offer the alternative, should prophecy fail. That is my meaning."
Joseph's thought pattern began to break down, as everything around him began to form a puzzle. Every odd occurrence hadn't been a fight between the two deities, but instead a partnership using him as a pawn. This is what it felt like to be used as a tool against your own people? As an involuntary slave? He wouldn't have it. He had to help Natalie, regardless of circumstance. This, he would never let go of.
Mendes spoke one last time.
"Enki, Ereshkigal, Nabu, the Tormentor, Ea, whatever you will call it, can not be stopped. You can not stand in the way of the will of your owner. You are property as life. You were brought here to stall you long enough to end the seeding process. I wish I could spare you and kill you now, but you aren't my property."
Just as he finished his speech, Joseph's vision went white. With a flash, he seemed to be looking through someone else's eyes.
The First Death of The Hunter
Through a rotted door, he saw the metal table. The large metal door with the lever lock seemed to open itself. A teenager in a grey hoodie stumbled in, holding his throat. Looking at the mask it was obvious this was Jackson. From within his hands, blood poured outside. Had his throat been slit?
This was obviously not recent. Jackson was not rotted, his clothes were new, and the setting looked picture perfect. Joseph was apparently seeing the past through an odd pair of eyes.
Jackson stumbled and fell on the table, and later to the floor. His blood hit exactly where the stains exist in modern day, giving the origin of the blood.
Whoever's eyes he was looking through seemed to be confused, as he tilted his head to the right when he saw the cut. The rotted door flew open as well, and the mystery figure approached the dying Jackson. His dying gurgles and guttural noises filled the room with a booming sound, that he Joseph recognized as the same type of sound that he heard within his house when he first got the pistol.
The mystery figure spoke.
"You were not meant to die, Wilkerson. You made a deal that you could not keep."
Following this stern statement, Jackson's throat began to repair itself like worms moving to the other side of the wound. He coughed up the blood in his throat, before taking a large gasp of air.
"I made a deal that I would get Joseph to him, and impregnate Natalie. I expected some help, you motherfucker. I played my part- excellently, I might add."
"You are an object of fear at this point. I'm sure you managed."
"I don't get why he didn't take Natalie when she was in that locker. Why did I have to kick him in the back and run? Is impregnating her really that important?"
"It is the largest part of your entire deal. You promised him you would complete the deal, and in turn you would see what you were truly capable of. There was no room for failure."
"You might not have noticed, but within Panthalassa, he can change reality. He could have killed Joseph any damned second!"
"That is not the point of our lord. He observes and records how sentient life reacts to certain situations, before destroying the life himself. He then uses that knowledge to teach the next sentient life form."
"Alright, so we need to get a baby in Natalie. What about Joseph?"
"You speak very twisted of people you once called your friends."
"What about Joseph?" he repeated, emotionless and cold.
"Joseph will be the one to bring her back. Dispatch of him when it is finished."
"The bedroom in this facility. I'm sure you will find comfort there."
"Be more direct, fawn."
"I'm going to put your corpse there. After all, seeing your own corpse means it eventually had to end up there. Eventually meaning in the past, in this case."
"You're going to take my body, take it back in time, and put it in that room so that we can see it?"
"How did we see it in the first place?"
"That sums up why I need to put it there. It's a time loop. Enki specializes in these things."
"That means you eventually had to start, but to start it would have to not be there?"
"This paradox is a few dimensions above your mental capability. Keep thinking and you'll go insane," Mendes mocked.
"And what about the original man we saw? The one who hit us with the pole and put us in the trap door? I had to look like I was on their side, and a bit of a coward. Playing down my role, as you would say."
"That would be You. Wearing the mask Michael Asher had created for Enki, you are going to have to go back and fulfill the role of that character now. From inside of death itself, Enki will deploy you. It should only take a few hours out of today to do. Very simple work. Right now, you will die. You will complete the minor task of knocking you three out, and you will place all three of you in here. After that is done, you are free to experience death for one year and two months. Part two of the plan will then occur. "
"Why did he have to slice my throat?"
"You had failed him, and punishment was due. Besides, you're going to be of much more use to him dead. He has plans for you. Plans which you are involved in directly. You will remain dead for a year."
"Well, here goes part two," said Jackson as his throat began to crawl like worms again, but away from eachother.
The slice in his throat retook its place, and he began bleeding out again. This time, he seemed to not be panicking at all. His red life force flooded around him.
The Hunter's Paradox Begins/Ends
Joseph recollected his consciousness instantly upon finishing the vision. Both angry and in extreme shock, he pushed himself off the ground, and then off his knee to a full stance. Again, he met eyes with his old friend. Jackson seemed to have been standing there, looking at his unconscious body.
Beside him was Natalie, whom's clothes were now partially torn off of her body. She was crying and attempting to crawl away, with a trail of thin blood dripping down her legs. With most of her clothes torn, only her undergarments remained fully on. Joseph went to run towards her, but after the first few steps Jackson slammed his metal pole to the ground beside him. Jackson stretched his arms to his sides before speaking.
"I'm full again, Joseph! Flesh restored to completion. Is it not beautiful? Sometimes you really need to learn to appreciate what you have, because you'll probably have to go far out of your way to get it back."
Joseph was taken back upon seeing the tan skin on his arms and within the gaps of his mask. Though his heart was beating what felt like magma through his body, Joseph knew that Jackson was extremely sensitive to his ego being struck. That was his key to getting him to leaving Natalie alone. He had to make sure he didn't damage her any further.
"Congratulations, you're mortal again. Now, you can die just like the rest of us." he insulted, trying to get Jackson as angry as possible. He knew he could take advantage of his egotism.
"And who would possibly be able to do that? You?" Jackson mocked back, bending to the floor and scraping some of the blood leaking from Natalie, licking it off his finger in what seemed like total bliss.
"If that's what it takes, I'll take advantage of the opportunity."
Jackson placed his other hand on his weapon, tightening his grip so much that the muscles in his hands felt as if they were in flames.
"I've waited so long to strip the flesh off of your body. You'll be my bitch to torture for eternity. I can certainly be an opportunist as well."
"Why didn't you kill me when I was unconscious, then?"
"Obviously you were being shown something that you needed to see. Besides, it gave me time to fulfill part of my destiny."
Natalie was dragging herself out of the room, sobbing uncontrollably. The line of red ichor trailing behind her marked her path as she pleaded quietly for safety. Joseph stood ready for anything that came his way, but never took his eyes off Jackson's weapon. Joseph couldn't see it, but he could feel Jackson's smile from behind his mask.
"So, you're nothing but a servant?"
"I'll gladly live and die by Enki's will. Maybe there is some reality where you came to your senses as well and joined him. I'm glad it isn't this one, because that just makes this a lot more fun.."
"Are you even the able to think for yourself? What happened to our friend? Someone that was actually human!"
"You fell victim to professional acting from an uncaring mind."
Joseph took one step towards Jackson as a challenge to his dominance.
"I'm going to kill you for what you did to her. She was your friend, you fucking freak!"
Jackson held back a laugh under his mask, but a muffled snicker made in through."
"Go ahead and kill me! The Tormentor runs by fear. As long as I'm feared, I'll keep coming back as a weapon! I'm the executioner!"
"Good thing I don't fear you," Joseph said, hoping to strike a nerve. His heart beating faster than any other moment, even when he first met Mendes- or first saw Ereshkigal.
"But Natalie does. Do you think she wouldn't fear her rapist? I left my mark." Jackson responded with a tone so knowing, so sure, and so positive, it replaced the very definition of maniacal.
Without wasting any more time, Jackson swung the sharpened end of the pole towards Joseph's neck in an attempt to catch him off guard, but Joseph stepped back, making it simply swing by him. Before Jackson could make another swing, Joseph knew this was his time to make his move. Running forward, he went straight for the mask. Grabbing both sides, he lifted it up and off of Jackson's head. Now he had to truly look him in the face. As a response, Jackson kicked him in the stomach, sending him back, forcing him to drop the mask.
Joseph looked around the room, and set his eyes on the oil lamp above the table. As he began running, he felt the sharp piercing of the pole just above his ankle. He hit the ground hard, even bouncing his face off of the cement. His vision went a bit blurry, but was cut back to reality when extreme pain took over his right foot.
Looking back, Jackson had stabbed through his Achilles tendon. When the pole was pulled out, Joseph stumbled on to his left foot and began a shuffle to the table. Leaning on it on his stomach, Jackson slowly walked around to the other side to watch him suffer.
"How does it feel to walk?" he asked, now standing at the opposing side of the table..
Joseph didn't waste any time in grabbing for the lamp. With both hands on the chain, he pulled it down from the ceiling. The weak piece of metal holding on there broke, but Joseph fell to the ground again, oil lamp in hand.
Spinning over so that he was sitting on his rear end, he grabbed on to the chain with both hands. Jackson had now walked fully around the table, now standing in front of him. Joseph used his good foot the best he could to bring him to a weakened stand. With both arms, he went straight for Jackson's head.
The cast iron lamp busted open on his head, and the glass shattered. The oil inside the lamp that was burning through a feeding mechanism was broken as well, combusting on Jackson's head. Though the fire didn't burn any of his face or hair, the glass and iron did very obvious damage. After the burst of light flashed the room into brightness, all went dark. Joseph could see nothing past his own hands.
Joseph began to lose focus upon hearing the shattered glass hit the floor. Jackson, however, was used to the darkness in full, and as he said, was an opportunist. Going straight for his abdomen, Jackson stabbed through Joseph. The feeling of the pole going completely through his body and brushing against his insides stunned Joseph. The steel was no longer cold, but was instead warm. As if he was melting from his insides, the pain took over.
Jackson knew how to take advantage of the situation. Yanking the pole out of Joseph to ensure mass bleeding, he threw the pole to the ground, pushing Joseph on the table by his throat. The now dark room didn't bother Jackson. He had spent so much of his time in dark, light free areas at this point, that he was used to it. Grabbing a large sharp of glass from the lamp, he stabbed in to the side of Joseph's left knee, just under the kneecap.
It went in from the right side, making sure it completely went under the bone itself, slicing all meat and muscle. The noise was comparable to gutting a fish as he slowly tilted it towards him. Joseph began to lose his mind due to the pain. It was unbearable. He launched himself up, causing Jackson to stop shifting the glass, instead opting to punch him in the face.
When his head was sent tot he side, he noticed Natalie was completely still. She had passed out, and no help would come from her. Jackson smashed his hand downward unto the glass sticking out of the leg, breaking the shard off within him. The large piece of glass that had been broken off fell to the table.
All movement from this knee was not impossible as it was not fully disconnected (only about half way through was it sliced), but it was immeasurably painful. He fell back to the ground. This time face down, Jackson grabbed his head. Repeatedly bashing it against the floor, he was in a complete bloodlust.
Reaching for the metal pole, Joseph was beginning to lose all hope for survival. Just as he considered himself broken, his finger tip touched it. Curling the finger, he slipped the pole into his grasp. He stabbed behind his back, hitting Jackson in the shoulder.
Jackson's scream of sudden pain accompanied his reflex, which lunged him off of Joseph. Turning over, Joseph grabbed the table with his right hand, and used the pole for leverage with his left. When Jackson looked back up to see Joseph standing, with aid, on his two injured legs. The pole was his only strength to support his body. He knew that even if he won, he wasn't even going to be able to walk very far away.
Jackson decided to finish the job now. He stepped forward and put both hands over Joseph's throat. Choking him as hard as he could, Joseph's eyes felt like they would explode from pressure. He could no longer let go of the table, but Jackson held him up to ensure a faster strangulation, and a more painful one. Using his left hand to grab a piece of glass from the table, the same one he broke off Joseph's knee, he slammed it into Joseph's jugular vein.
It seemed Jackson was enjoying the suffering a bit to much. He wasn't aware that Joseph had raised his arms, nor was he aware that Joseph was switching the pole to his right hand. Jackson was so busy with his impending victory, he didn't see a thumb coming towards his own eye.
Joseph began to force his thumb in Jackson's left eye, and push as hard as he could. He could only find the strength within him to take one step towards Jackson, but that one step was used to provide momentum to his next attack. When he let go of his eye, all Jackson saw was a pole coming slamming down for him. He looked up as a reflex, but this only forced the pole to miss his face. Instead, the sharp end hit the bottom of his neck, just within the gap of his collar bone. Impaling downward, it exited on the other side, half way down the spinal cord.
The pole had impaled vital organs, but Jackson had a few seconds of life left in him. Putting his hands on Joseph's shoulders, whom was keeping himself up by holding on to the pole inside of him, he exhaled a red mist from his mouth that fell down to the ground. Small spurts landed on the pair. Joseph's own wounds were grave as well. His stomach had lost too much blood, and the blood was taking over his throat, filling it. As Jackson fell to the ground, so did Joseph.
Joseph could feel himself losing consciousness, but even worse, he could feel his memories fading. The glass in his jugular was still in the wound. He wasn't choking, instead it was simply becoming harder to breath. He was still able to take shallow breaths between his bitter gags. The glass still being there gave him a few more moments of consciousness. He thought to himself, trying to hold on.
"I am Joseph Kaufman. I live on Tutelo, Pennsylvania. My parents are Marissa and Alex Kaufman. I was born in 1999. I am 16."
"I am Joseph Kaufman. I live in Tutelo, Pennsylvania. My parents are Marissa and Alex Kaufman. I was born in-"
"I am Joseph Kaufman. I live in- Where? Oh, lord-"
"I am Joseph Kaufman. My parents are Marissa and- my own parents? Who are they? What are their names? Not my own parents!"
"I am Jos-"
He bled out from his wounds, beside Jackson's dead body.
Epilogue 1: Jackson
Black. Black is all that existed. His eyes seemed to be stuck closed.
"Do you accept the deal, Jackson?" the voice of Enki demanded.
"Yes, lord," he delcared.
Jackson opened his eyes in a void, with no remark or existing evidence of any location he has ever heard of. Pure black void stretched in every direction like an ocean of nothingness. The simpleness of his mind triggered itself, and thoughts reached back into him.
"Not this desolate void again!" he thought to himself.
Then suddenly, he wasn't alone. Right beside him grew a horrid sight. Pale white skin with vertebrae stretching the very skin of its back. The long nails for claws it bore resembling that of which he'd only seen in horror movies. Black, beady eyes matching the void in which he was floating, with the same morbid shade.
Back legs stretch from it just as well, with the same terrible claws as the front pair. His mind faded again after seeing it, only to recover immediately. This was death? This is what he had been waiting for? The black void of no existence but himself and a twisted figment of his own conception?
The right hand of the creature stretched forward, and his own life flashed before his eyes. Joseph and Natalie, his personal interests, and events that made up every bit of him, revisited. The talons made a small cut on his forehead, and surprisingly, he still bled. He must have seen his life flash before his eyes countless times, but it never seemed any less disturbing.
"Is this the end? Is this death?" he thought.
As if reading his mind, the creature smiled and noded its head.
"Is this creature really God?" His mind asked nearly seconds after seeing the creature's apparent response. The being gave no movement or sign of any response.
"Or is it my Satan?"
The creature looked at him again, but didn't move a single muscle. The shock of the recent arrival filled him with nothing hatred, suprisingly, and the blood from the cut on his forehead reached the bridge of his nose. The creature seemed fully intent on watching the blood drop, as it dripped clean off his nose.
The blood seemingly went down forever, disappearing out of his eyesight. Jackson went to move, but the creature let out a blood stopping snarl as he made his attempt. A few seconds passed, and a small dose of warm liquid hit his head, shocking him into closing his eyes. Upon opening them, the creature took a swipe directly for his neck.
A cold chill went down his back, and warmth seemed to touch everywhere but his head. He could feel himself waking up- one year before his death.
Epilogue 2: Natalie
Natalie stumbled up the church stairs, holding her stomach. She had changed clothes and cleaned up the blood. The sun was shining again, and she had seen many other people, meaning that she was hopefully back in reality. The baby seemed to be growing faster than usual for a normal fetus. Her only option was abortion. She didn't want to birth Jackson's child, or anything related to her tormentor.
She almost fell into the church doors, as she reached the top of the stairs. She had found herself needing faith. She needed to be forgiven for what she was planning to do. She took a deep breath, and opened the door.
People were worshiping in their seats. What she saw though, terrified her to the point she had to scream. Instead of a statue of mother Mary, a grand statue of Mendes stood. Behind the statue where hundreds and hundreds of books yet he was only holding one.
The book was titled- Homo Sapien Sapiens
Her eyes opened. It was all a crooked dream. She was no longer on cement, but rather the floor of her apartment. How she got here, she did not know. Nothing was damaged in the apartment- excluding her. She was back in our reality. How far she was going to continue was unknown.
Her pregnancy could not be allowed to be completed. She wouldn't birth Jackson's child.
Written by ShawnHowellsCP