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The Afflicted

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In a small abysmal town, a town I grew up in, there is a terrible, dark secret. I had no clue that this secret existed until the night of my thirteenth birthday. I have never really been the religious type, and maybe a part of that is because of these... experiences. This town was tiny. All together, the town couldn't have had more than 300 people living there. It had all of the things you might expect from such a small town, the very necessities. A small library, three separate churches, one Baptist, one Lutheran, and one Catholic. We had an elementary school, but the part of the school that had once been a middle school was damaged in a fire. It wasn't used any longer but I found it odd that it was never demolished. I guess they were worried about losing the elementary school. Or maybe they worried the... thing... Whatever it was would get loose.

I had grown up in the town, but we did move a few times. That happens a lot when you live on rent. People buy and sell these houses even though they rent them out as well. It got a bit frustrating, but we moved each time we ended up in a different corner of the town. It was very nice to end up in a different part of town each time we moved. It kind of got rid of the monotony of the town, being able to look through my windows and see a new surrounding. I never really met with our neighbors too much. I was a bit awkward socially, and didn't really want to change that. I valued being alone more than being with most of these people anyway. The houses were mostly your average houses. Plain, beige, or a light blue. Usually single level houses, with your standard, mother, father, son, and daughter set up. These houses were all the same set up, similar layouts. The entire town really looked the same if you weren't in the town center. That's where the public buildings were.

I always found it funny that no matter where you were in the town, the entire place smelled like something was burning. Most of the people got used to it, but the closer we got to the school, the more I noticed it. Since our middle school was actually far outside town, the two neighboring towns were also small, too small to justify their own middle schools. Since we had the fire damaged middle school, it all made sense to herd all three of us in the same building. I never really had to smell it once I was going to middle school, but it made the smell that much more rancid every day. Nobody else seemed to notice it so I kept it to myself.

On the night of my thirteenth birthday, we had just moved into a new home. It wasn't really the way I wanted to spend my birthday, but I didn't really have any friends to speak of. I would have just as soon spent the day playing video games in my room, as I normally do. But tonight was a new night. I had a large room, the largest I had ever had to myself. I was having a great deal of trouble deciding how I wanted everything organized. It was while I was moving my television stand that I noticed the lights.

The house we moved to was directly behind the elementary school. I could actually see the front entrance from my window. The main entrance led to the west hall, which had basically the whole of the classrooms in front of it. First through fourth grade would find all their classes in that hall, as well as the art room, our gifted program, and the gym off on the right. A lone hallway branched off to the right, with the kitchens on the left side of this hallway and the gymnasium on the right. For the fifth graders, you had to walk through the gym to get to one of the two classrooms. The library was up on top of that, just barely spared by the fire from years before.

There was, however, another door, a south entrance. This was a set of double doors that would have led into the middle school, but those doors were always locked. It was structurally unsafe. These strange lights were at this door to the south. I stopped and stared for a second, trying to discern what they were. I soon realized they were candles. I darted to my light and flicked it off frantically, trying not to be seen, as if they even could or would have believed someone were awake at this time. It was a large group of people, faces concealed by hoods. But as my eyes adjusted I saw another man. No, a young girl. About my age. She was about my age. No, she was my age, I recognized her. She was Taylor, a girl I had a crush on for years, but never really told her about. Her face was down but it was surely her. Her hair was the long sheen of brown it had always been. What was she doing here? She was... crying. I barely noticed, but her hands were covering her face, and she was shaking slightly. She wasn't here of her own volition, that was for sure. I stared in a mix between confusion and horror as she was taken up to the entrance of the old middle school.

Then I heard it. She screamed something and made a run for it. She was caught quickly though. I felt myself get closer to the window, my curiosity dragging me closer and closer. I heard a door slam. That couldn't be the infamous middle school door, could it? Then I saw it, through the dirty windows, she was pounding on the door to the school. When she realized it was hopeless, she was looking for any other possible escape. She saw the same window I could see her through and charged at it. She began pounding on it, over and over, panicked, terrified pounding, the most desperate display I've ever seen. She stopped, and looked over her shoulder. Quickly, jerking back to her pounding, I noticed her mouth moving. She was screaming something. What was it? "No, no, get away!" I could hear it pounding through my head, perforating the silence. Then she noticed me. She started jumping, waving, anything she could to get my attention. But I was paralyzed. She needed my help, but the icy hands of terror kept me planted in my current location.

"I need to help her," I caught myself saying out loud. But then I looked back at the candle-wielding crowd outside. Who were they? What good could I be if I were to be thrown in as well. How could I help her. I got it! I lunged for my phone, my fumbling fingers flipping it open and darting over the number pad. I finally managed to dial 911, as she was signaling me even more frantically. I noticed a glint of light behind her, and finally registered, she was not alone in there. As my phone rang, a faint red glow slowly appeared behind her. "Come on, come on," Suddenly the line went dead. How was that possible? It was my cell phone. That can't be possible! After my incredulous staring at my phone I looked back to the horrific sight. I froze as soon as I saw what was happening. The men with candles had a new focus point their gaze was fixated on. It was me.

The paralyzing fear was not going away, and it was the most striking feeling in the world. I couldn't breathe. If I even moved a muscle I felt they would be upon me. I could only watch. I looked back to Taylor. Her panic had escalated so far I could see the redness of her face, her eyes bloodshot, tears streaming down her face as she pounded the glass and convulsed with fear. The faint glow became more evident. It was a person. A bright red, glowing person. A man on fire. It walked towards her slowly, twisted, and contorted as the flames burned. Muscles stretched and pulled with the fire. Its face was empty, a screaming mouth, with hollowed eyes and a missing nose, most likely claimed by the fire that killed him.

He moved in such a twisted manner, his limbs violently twitching, his face eternally screaming in agony with the still burning fire that consumed him. He convulsed violently as he walked slowly towards Taylor, exacerbating her panic. Her panic quickly turned into desolation, the understanding that there would be no hope. As her own desperation subsided, she turned to face her impending doom. I watched terrified as the creature drew closer. Inch, by inch, the infernal immolation drew closer and closer and closer until finally her suffering would end. Or so my naive mind would have me believe. Much to my dismay, her torment would be drawn out.

I watched in terror, unable to avert my eyes as the infernal beast drew closer. He touched her forehead with his hand. Then he slowly backed away. I hoped it was over, but I knew as she slowly started her own violent convulsions, no ending was near. No happy ending at least. She began to glow a fiery orange.

The first thing to ignite was her clothing. Then, her hair. I could faintly hear her screams now. I could tell it was as loud as she could. Tears welled in my eyes as the fire spread from her hair down. Her face combusted, flames spewing from the eye sockets, slowly it spread down, to her shoulders, her arms, her chest, then finally out of view to her legs. As the fire spread I could see the muscles tightening and snapping. I could see the twitching of her arms and neck, mirroring that of her assaulter. Then, quite suddenly, the glow was lost, leaving nothing but a charred, skeletal outline of what she used to be. She collapsed, into a pile. I saw a cloud of dust, or possibly ash rise up. As the tears finally flowed forth from my eyes I realized, I hadn't looked for the hooded figures since I saw the beast. They were gone. Leaving only the two of us.

It must be a dream, it has to be. I just need to sleep, I'll awake in the morning to find that none of this was real. Out of possible frustration, possibly just the feeling of uselessness, I fell to bed. There was no sleep to be had though. I lied to myself from the moment the notion of sleep entered my mind. I spent the night staring at my ceiling. Every blink brought the image of her burning eyes into my mind. Stuck in my mind for an eternity. I knew sleep wouldn't come. Sure enough the next day rolled around. I couldn't tell my mother about it. What could I say? I knew the only possibility was to feign illness. Fortunately, once the shock wore off and the impact of what had happened set in, I didn't need to try to vomit. She was easily convinced. The rancid smell of the smoke was even worse, or maybe I just imagined it was. I needed to clear my head.

I walked slowly around town, trying to get away from that wretched place. I walked almost a quarter of a mile from my home before I noticed them. All the people were staring, their eyes fixed on a single point. Me. Their eyes burned with anger, with hatred. There was no end to them. It seemed everyone was staring at me, the most hateful, spiteful stare I've ever seen. I tried to ignore it, but then I noticed, a few were following me. I peeked over my shoulder a few times, each time they drew closer. I quickly rounded the next street, heading back towards my home. I knew nothing good would come from this. I was three blocks from my home when it happened. Everything just went black. A hood was placed over my head and face. Tightened, suffocating me. The panic and struggle quickly made me lose consciousness.

It was night before I had awoken, the hood still over my head. My hands and feet were bound. I couldn't move if I tried. I could hear voices. Familiar voices. I immediately knew what was happening, and I knew I wouldn't be leaving. These were esteemed members of my community.

"He can smell it," the librarian said.

"Are you sure? How can you be sure?" the math teacher asked.

"He's told me. It was very long ago, but he was sure. He makes a face when he gets back off the bus too. I've watched him." said the nurse.

"He is diseased. And he saw it, we all know he saw it. If he were to tell an outsider, don't you know what that would mean?" the librarian said again.

"Well. I suppose there is nothing we can do."

"He won't be missed. Not really. Besides, another sacrifice can only improve our standing. You don't want the flames again, do you?"

"Very well. We must."

The hood was torn from my head and I stood outside the school. Outside the burned out middle school. My breath caught in my throat and I looked around. The hooded candle-wielders were surrounding me again. "Do you understand why this is happening?"

I broke. I felt a tear fall down my cheek, as the situation took over. "No. No, I don't."

"You can smell it. It has diseased you, the fire that happened here so long ago. It chose you. It hungers for you."

I couldn't stop the tears now. The hopelessness setting in. When I looked at the door I saw only the suffering Taylor went through. And I knew, that pain was now mine. That agony. Nobody would discover my remains. No one would ever see me again. And few would even notice. As the tears streamed down my face they marched me forward. I complied. A struggle could only worsen my situation. They pushed me through the door and closed it. As soon as the door closed reality set in. I needed to move. Now. Maybe hide, find a way to escape, a way to fight. There had to be something. I was surrounded by burned and destroyed furniture. Scorched and ruined desks and chairs. Nothing reliable enough to be a weapon. I slouched down, hoping to be silent. The old wood creaked and groaned with every step though. All was silent around me and I was convinced I was caught. But dead silence persisted. I saw the one thing that could make me forget myself though.

There, by the window. A pile of scorched and broken bones, surrounded by ash. I let out a sharp gasp, and then I heard it. I knew I was discovered. A loud howl of agony sounded throughout the entire building. An icy chill shot through my body. I knew what would happen now. Sure enough the howling grew louder, and became a constant fitting in the setting. No. Not louder. Closer. I ran through the first floor of the building, watching everything swirl around me. Nothing useful. I tore my shirt off and wrapped it around my hands. I swung violently at the windows, the loud thumping creating my only chance at escape. I saw it now. Shambling its way towards me, it's jerking movements slowly coming towards me. Instilling a brand new form of terror. It shattered me to my core to be this close, listening to the pained shrieking. I charged the door. Of course it would be locked again though.

My breath caught in my throat even worse. I hammered against the door as hard as I could. I could feel the desperation of Taylor, as well as hundreds before us filling me with strength. I slammed the door harder and harder. I heard the wood in the door cracking. I had a chance. The shrieking was closing in, inch by inch, but I knew if I looked behind me it meant paralysis, and death. My only hope was this door. I slammed it again and again and again, the cracking would getting louder and louder until finally...

With a loud snap the door flew open, and I flew through the threshold and fell on my knees, gasping, coughing, and wheezing. Was I free? Had I truly escaped? I looked up. The hooded figures were all staring at me, incredulously, seeing this escape that was clearly impossible to them. Never did they imagine someone would attempt an escape by running directly into them. It was then I noticed it. The sound. No, not the sound, the lack of it. The silence. So silent, anything could be heard. A sole drop of sweat fell from my forehead and hit the sidewalk. I could swear I heard the splash it made, deafening to me. I turned behind me, following the stare of the crowd in front of me. The infernal entity stood before us. Slowly shambling his way through the front door, an explosion of ash under every footfall. It slowly shambled further and further, as we all edged away slowly. Then I sensed something. I'll never know how, but I knew something was about to happen. I flew to my feet and darted away as fast as I could, diving when instinct made me. As I glanced behind me, the being shrieked again before exploding wildly, sending an inferno in a ten foot radius. All the cloaked and hooded figures were ignited immediately. Screaming in agony, as Taylor did, as they would have heard me scream if they had their way. As soon as the shock passed, I realized, I was on fire as well. Only my right pant leg. My own yelp of panic drowned out by the screams of the dying around me. I quickly extinguished the flames and ran. As I looked back I saw them collapse one by one. The flame entity had disappeared. This was impossible. I had survived. But to what kind of life.

I am now twenty years of age. I can't close my eyes without seeing Taylor's face. The suffering. The pleading. I can't take it. I write this now, with tear stained cheeks, and a faint heart. I have chosen to end the suffering, the sleeping pills will take me soon. But I needed to chronicle this first. I needed to share this. So her suffering wouldn't be in vain. Nor would the suffering of the hundreds, possibly thousands before us. But she is gone now, and soon I will be too. I will now sleep for the first time in ages, never to awaken. This horror will end. It must end. Goodnight my friends. And sweet dreams.

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