Fourteen and One

Someone was breathing…

Somewhere in the dark someone was breathing. Rapid breaths, sharp against the otherwise silent cloak of darkness.

The darkness itself was palpable, seeming to flow like a liquid around objects in the alley. Over the trash strewn about the ground; around the overflowing dumpsters; through the hanging bars of fire escapes long unused; along this cursed corridor of the city. Vision in the nightmare blackness was like seeing the world through the oily smoke of burning corpses. Ink-like in its substance and foul beyond imagining. Something unnatural and not of this world. The darkness always came with It.

He had stopped running some time ago. He was tired. So tired that fear could no longer power through the exhaustion. He could not remember how long he had been running, how many miles he had covered. Through the sprawling city he had moved, quickly and deftly at first, then with increasing urgency and recklessness as his dread increased. It followed relentlessly and the dark was always there behind him. The adrenaline had finally ceased to flow leaving only a cold hole in his stomach, a visceral dread more profound than any known by him before. He had collapsed at last in this wasted crack in the cityscape, drained of strength and terrified.

It was coming. He could sense it through the ever present blanket of filthy blackness, could hear its footsteps hammering the concrete. It was coming and it was singing. A grating, guttural chant-like song in a voice that seemed to bleed the air as it cut through the blackness.

Fourteen and one and six more yet to come
I’m drinking in the fear and the life of twenty one
The night approaches when my blood will run
And all that is and was and might be is undone

The verse repeated over and over, maddening in its connotation and flavor. Tasting of corruption and nothingness, speaking insanity into his fracturing mind. It echoed throughout the alley rebounding off a thousand surfaces to assault him. He tried to cry out but his psyche was breaking apart and the words were lost in another ragged gasp for breath. Footsteps seemed to close in from every direction. They confused his senses and destroyed perception with their incessant marching. Through the dark they played out their rhythm of doom to the accompaniment of the horrific song.

Then there was silence. A quiet so profound as if all the world and beyond awaited the next awful moment. He didn’t dare draw breath. His sight was useless so he fought to focus on the space around him, to reach out and find a way to steal back his freedom. If only he could focus! If only he could pull his mind back together! One more burst of energy, one more superhuman effort would carry him to the others.

The sudden presence at his back was unmistakable. His dread forced a sharp intake of breath, as if to let forth a scream of sheer terror. It never came. Instead gruesome cracking and ripping noises followed by a hungry gurgling and a final, wet impact on the pavement issued from the darkness.

No one was breathing…