"Hey Mel!" I say. I move through the video game store and position myself next to the mannequin in front of the Action/Adventure section. I begin to look through the pile of Xbox One games. "They release anything new?" I ask Mel the mannequin. "No? Man. It's been years since they released anything. They need to hurry up and get on it. Wait a second..." I pull out a copy of Bloodborne. "I haven't played this yet. Have you? Yeah? Cool. Is it any good? Alright, Mel. I'm going to take your word on this one. It better be good."
I grab the game and head over to the counter where another mannequin is set up. "This is it for me." I browse around the store. The front wall is made of glass which allows the sunlight to come in and illuminate the store. "Yeah, I have a reward card." The mannequin remains motionless. "Nah. I don't need a bag. Thanks." I grab the game and step outside the store. My bicycle sits outside chained to the bike rack. I undo the lock and start riding the street - bobbing and weaving through the rows of motionless cars on the streets. A billboard reads: "Ben Folds - This Friday at the Downtown Theater."
"Man, every Friday I go to the Downtown Theater to see Ben Folds play but every week he has to cancel the show and reschedule it for the next week. Maybe this will be the day Ben Folds finally shows up," I say to myself. I continue peddling down Main Street with the high buildings of downtown KMC in front of me. A pack of stray dogs run across the street. A murder of crows gather on a downed power line. I continue moving on and on until I reach a bridge that rests over a small creek. I take out a tackle box and my fishing rod and proceed to dip my lure into the water.
The gentle flow of the water adds a soothing soundtrack to the otherwise noiseless area. The occasionally flutter of wings in the distance rises and fades away. A bottle of water is in the tackle box. I pull it out and take a drink. I yawn.
KMC was once a populous city but ever since that event that occurred years ago, it seems that I am the only person left. I tap the fishing rod - hoping - that it would attract a fish. But nothing. Nothing yet. I set the rod down and build a fire using a stack of wood I collected in an abandoned garage just right by the river. It takes a second but I managed to get the fire going to send up a smoke signal. Hopefully - I hope - this will attract someone. It's a cloudy day but the smoke should still be noticeable. I've done this now for a few weeks. But everyday - so far - no one has come. I check the rod for bites - nothing. I sit down and look up at the sky that's covered behind a blanket of clouds. The calamity that occurred those many, many years ago...I'm not entirely sure what it was. No one really does. But I find myself wondering; is it gone or will it return?
Hooray! My rod caught a fish. After a brief struggle of back and forth I manage to capture my lunch. I cook it over the open flame I started and eat with my feet dangling over the edge of the bridge. I drink a bit more water. No one here.
I ride my bike through the city. Foliage has begun to take over the area. I stop in front of the Hall of Ush Garak - a legendary hero who was said to lead KMC into a golden age. Though that seems like nothing more than myths and fairy tales nowadays. I dismount my bike and enter the halls. The sun is rising in the east over this new day. The great doors are slightly ajar allowing me to slip in easily enough. The interior is decorated with stain glass windows and a chandelier - which once illuminated this hall high above the floor - lays cracked and broken on the floor. A statue of the paladin, Ush Garak, stands in the back, still intact but slightly worn now. This hall is also decorated with other heroes who helped lift KMC into a fabled golden age - Jacope, who was banished during the KMC Civil War and now his statue has been desecrated, Gillian Wild who disappeared during the calamity or so legend speaks, and one simply known as Thunder Fox. Whatever happened to Thunder Fox is a mystery as that era of KMC has been lost due to the onslaught that came from the calamity.
Beneath the statue of Ush Garak is laid out a prophecy, one that speaks of a hero who will destroy the darkness and lead KMC back into the promised land. Though I stopped believing in that silly prophecy a while ago. I lay my backpack on the ground and open it up. I pull out a diary that once belonged to a rising Phoenix. I sit beneath a stain glass window showing Ush Garak leading the people into KMC and starting this once glorious city. I open up the diary and start to read it. It's one of the few things remaining as proof that people once roamed here. That people once gathered and laughed here. Proof that KMC was once a place of hope. The passage I read, this Phoenix who was a cowgirl, spoke of heroes and a great clash. A huge gathering would come to her and gather. I close the diary after reading a page or two of this adventure.
"What time is it?" I check my pocket watch, because I'm fancy like that. "It's almost 0800." I will head back to the usual spot around midday to set up the smoke signal but until then, I might as well try and preserve some history of KMC's glory. I get up and approach the statue of Nozdormu. History has forgotten all but his name it seems. But maybe I can discover more if I continue reading whatever journals and diaries I can find.
A cat meows.
"Hello buddy," I said. The cat prances over to me, ready for food. I pull out a can of cat food and give it to her. "You're lucky I'm here. Otherwise you'd have to defend yourself."
I leave the Hall of Ush Garak a few moments later and grab my bicycle. I peddle around KMC just checking to see if anything has changed. Nothing ever does.
"Same spot another day, eh Mel?" I stand on the bridge with the mannequin I had at the game store out with me. Just something to give me company. Well...the allusion of company, I guess. I watch the smoke rise from the fire hoping that today is the day that it attracts someone to my position.
"What do you plan to do?" Mel asks me. Although in reality no one speaks. It's just my mind filling in the blanks.
"I dunno man." I sit down next to the fire. The mannequin never moves. I look up at the sky. A cloudy day again. Just like yesterday. It's always cloudy. I can't really recall the last time I've seen a clear sky. It's been this way ever since the calamity. A fish is cooking over the flames. Just like yesterday. "I feel like I'm in Groundhog's Day," I say to Mel. I shift my eyes to the mannequin - hoping - that it will actually say something. "Yeah, well, I'm not dumb enough to kill myself to see if I do wake up the next day. Ignorance is bliss...I guess." I stand up and brush my jeans off. I walk over to the bridge and look down at the creek. I've picked this spot because it's the exact center of KMC. This was once where everyone would gather for shopping, events, music, and everything. Now it's just abandoned.
I turn back to the mannequin and say, "Do you know the story of Super Shadow the Deceiver? No? Great! I can tell you to it. Super Shadow - or SS for short - was a man who came to KMC to lead people astray. He was a false prophet. But people listened to him. They gathered to listen to his wisdom and knowledge and gain answers from him. People were desperate for answers. And he provided them with that. Some people came and rightly called out SS's lies and dubbed him the Great Deceiver. This angered many of SS's followers. They were far too gone at this point and didn't want anyone to threaten the legitimacy of their leader. And so, while many who opposed SS gathered at Gundark's manor, SS locked the doors and windows and set the manor aflame. Many great KMCers died that day. But this only led to a rebellion against SS. His desperate attempt to maintain power led to his downfall. SS saw no other option but to flee KMC. His loyal followers stayed and fought against the heretics, as they called them. But they were vastly outnumbered and were eventually driven out of KMC. But it is said that SS is still out. Some rumors, well I think at least, say that SS may have been the launching point to the calamity that left KMC in such ruin."
"Do you know if SS still exists?
"I don't know, Mel. I think that's a question I wouldn't want to answer." I check the flames to make sure it remains strong so that the smoke would be noticeable. I pace back and forth hoping someone would show up. But if its anything like all the time before...then no one will be here. I feel like I'm wasting my time. But I have to hold onto hope. That's all I have some days. I stop and look towards the place where Gundark's manor once stood. The manor was never rebuilt and the wreckage of those flames are still apparent, even today. I breathe in and wait.
I lock the steel door that I set up in a warehouse in a downtown strip next to the Impediment Theater. I've spent a lot of time forfeiting this warehouse, taking great care to make it look like no work was ever done here. I have to keep my location secret. The weekend is approaching and that's when it comes. A force of shadow and fire that sweeps through KMC, searching for anyone who may be foolish enough to remain here. I walk through the warehouse knowing I'll be here for a few days before it is safe to come back out. No one came again this week. Hopefully the following week will be different. And hopefully no one comes out during the weekend. The shadowy calamity that plagues KMC is something no one can stand against. I sit down on the sofa in the middle of the warehouse - a worn and torn piece of crap sofa - and think about that moment when I first laid eyes upon the beast.
It was towering with furnace-fire of eyes and terror seemed to go before it. A creature of fire and shadow that drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread that blocked out the sun. From out of the shadow a red sword leapt flaming as fire came from its nostrils. It was terror incarnate. Its name I dare not speak. Not even in the hidden corners of my thoughts. I managed to escape the wrath of the beast by chance or fate or luck. Or perhaps it was a curse that I survived. To remain behind and constantly worry about this creature's return.
I clinched an AR-15 in my hands. I went around KMC and gathered as many weapons as I could. A foolish task as even the full force of the KMC military was vanquished beneath the foe. But it provided a false sense of security in this coming days. I wasn't around when KMC fell to the creature. I saw it when I returned to KMC. Such fear it produced. Nothing like I ever experienced in my lifetime. It was the river that provided me a blanket of safety to escape the eye-sight of the demon and allow me to live for another day. I wonder - as much as I fear - if the beast knows that I'm here. Is that why it continues to return here? To hunt me down? I pray that it does so out of some preset path it takes and not because it's aware of my presence.
I pull out a book. The same diary from before. I flip towards the end. A passage about fire in the sky. A dim flame that seems to be growing by the day. Was this when the creature was born? I think to myself. Or did it always exist? I flip to the very last page that has any writing on it. The only thing written on the page reads: "Fire rains from the sky. The sky has become black. Shadows..." and it ends. I close the diary and set it back into my backpack. I pull out a bottle of water and drink a little of it. I get up and go around the warehouse to make sure all the barricades and locks are in place. The beast will return. Like it always does. Once the sun goes down...once darkness returns to the land...it will be here.
I sit back down on the sofa. I cradle the AR-15 and take a deep breath in. Followed by a steady breath out. My body begins to shake. Fear has returned to my person. It's coming. It is coming.
"Just a few more hours," I utter to myself. And so I wait.
The sun rises. Another weekend has passed and the terror has subsided for now. I unlock the doors to the warehouse and look out into the dead streets of KMC.
I step outside - AR-15 in my grasp - and roam the empty streets, taking great care to make as little noise as possible. I dare not attract attention to myself for fear that the shadows are close enough to come back. I reach the Hall of Ush Garak and sit down on the great steps. I look up at the sky covered in clouds. A cool breeze runs by. My eyes drift downward to a creature standing before me. A spawn of the shadows. A shadow of a wolf with eyes lit aflame. A few of these tend to linger behind after the calamity passes.
My hands tighten. My finger dances on the trigger. The wolf shadow snarls at me. It prepares to lung at me, slowly circling around my person. I don't bother standing up. I raise the AR-15 at the creature. It leaps forward. I pull the trigger.
The shadow wolf falls dead. I watch as its body dissolves back into nothing. I stand to my feet and brush off my jeans. The breeze has died. Maybe next time...I'll just let the beast finish me off. Save me from this nightmare, I think to myself. I walk through the city and examine the new damages. Not as much as last time. But enough to be noticeable. The game store now has a huge hole in the ceiling where it caved in. I don't bother going in to check it out. I just keep marching forward. I reach the bridge where I always make my fire. I check my watch.
"Noon," I mouth the word but no sound comes out. I set up the wood and make my normal fire. Today may be the day I find someone. Or maybe I'm foolish to stay here at KMC. Maybe I need to leave and find someone out there instead. But I know that the calamity would just find that new place and leave it like it left KMC. I sit down on the bridge - feet dangling over the side - and just stare down at the stream below. I can spot a fish swimming downstream. I look up at the cloud covered sky and just wait. Wait for anything to happen. Anything.
I awaken in a ditch. What happened? I think to myself. I stand up. My body aches. I struggle to stand on my feet. I sway from side to side. The sky above is dark. Not good... I pull myself out of the ditch and find the AR-15 I was using. I grab hold of it after managing to get out of the ditch. I breathe in. This isn't good. One, the sun is already setting. Two, the beast is becoming more activate. Three, my safe haven has been discovered.
I stay low as I duck behind a dumpster. No one in sight. At least so far.
On the horizon, just beyond the lip of the dusty road (where the long grass had begin to take over from the now absent bustle of city life), JR moved swiftly across the abandoned road. His footsteps leaving tracks in the dry dust, himself barely a shadow in the growing darkness.
He looked off into the distance, as he crouched down by an abandoned car, using his assault rifle's scope. Ahead was his destination, a sprawling complex once known as the Role Playing Forum. It walls which were once pristine, and welcoming, were now chipped, cracked and dirty. Windows were shattered and there was no sign of life.
"Have I been away that long?" JR muttered, still looking through the scope, "What happened to this place..."
A long time have I waited for this, my little green friend!
I sit down, my feet dangling just over the river. My signal fire was lit. Hoping for someone. I look around at the abandoned city. Ruins...that's all they have become. This place - or so I've read - was once a sprawling city filled with all kinds of people who traveled from around the globe to come here. But is there anyone in this globe left??
"What time is it??" I look up at the sun. It was a bright and sunny day. Hopefully that would make the smoke signal visible from further than normal.
I awoke from a dream that had embedded itself into my consciousness. A habitual dream – a cruel and continuous one – of a time much better, considering. I had been behind the piano again, as the curtains rolled back, before the heat of the lights had come back to me. Those crepuscular lights that would expose my every physical imperfection and flaw to the crowd, revealing myself as a shrinking figure beneath its weight. I could feel the touch of the piano keys against my fingertips, rough. Despite its polished exterior – I could smell the polish quite well – the piano was an ancient one purchased from a garage sale. The once white keys were beginning to transform into yellow slabs. It was a black upright piano with a slight marking here and there. I could hear the sound of the audience morphing from a murmur to a unified roar of disjointed chatter. I could hear their voices, the audience’s whisper, as they maneuvered towards the bar and seats. I saw their faces, the faces of hundreds of strangers, unknown and vast sitting upon old, worn-down, pale – no comfort, there was no comfort to be had in those seats – relics of chairs that were illuminated by the faint glow of the spotlight that brightened me and my band. That crepuscular spotlight that would forbid me from escaping the reach of the audience’s eye. I could see a few people holding bottles up, beer bottles. Some would waggle them back and forth to the beat of the drummer as we begun. I sat on the black cushioned piano bench under the hot lights, every eye, all of them, were starring me down. The crepuscular spotlight has already inflicted its wounds into my person. The bassist started to play along with the frantic build-up of rhythm that emerged from the drummer. The bassist’s fingers nibbled on the strings. A pumping upbeat bass line birthed with the sole intent to get the audience excited, to make them prepared. His head bobbed to the motion of the music, up and down, behind his own microphone, the same microphone he would knock over later in the show to make the crowd more invested in his solo. Every movement from the bassist was fluid, a natural showman. Waving his drum sticks in the air to add flare to his rhythmic thrashing, the drummer would count off for the show to kick-off into full throttle. This would be a punk show with an energy of teenage angst and pent up aggression. Every injustice that could be conceived in our minds would be bitched about while on this stage, with the pretense that it doesn’t bother us. I sat behind the piano, feeling the crepuscular spotlight call me out. I took a deep breath, steady. At least I tried to be. My nerves refused to relent. I licked my lips as I moved them closer to the microphone that was placed in front of me. My eyes were closed, retreating into a world from beyond the stage. My fingers cracked and fidgeted as I laid them to rest upon the piano keys, simply waiting for the moment they can come to life. I opened my mouth and started to sing, I would sing to the world in general.
It had been like I was really there. None of it seemed like a dream to me, not a bit. The barrier between reality and fantasy was a nylon curtain, confusing dreams with truth.
For several moments after, I laid as I was, breathing soft, on my side, my eyes open, facing the door. My mind tried to release the dream, knowing that it was a terrible memory to recall in these days. But the dream tried to hold on unpityingly but, moment by moment, the harsh reality of the world around back to my view, liberation at last. This cold reality was my escape from the hope of dreams. I became fully aware of the cot that I slept upon. The same kind that I once used while I served in the military, a single pillow – very thin – was tucked under my head, and a blanket that was just a stain of its former self was all that covered my body.
A strange noise echoed through my boarded up fortress. I raised my head slightly off my pillow. Is it the creature? I asked myself. It didn't seem like the right time. No. It can't be it. It's way too soon. I grabbed my AR which I kept beside the bed and clinched it tight. I pulled the blanket up, as though somehow that provided me some type of coverage. The building shook. But it remained standing. It shook once more. And after that...silence. I rolled out of bed. The smell of sulfur crept into the space. I placed my hand over my nose, hoping to shield myself from that odor. I stood on my knees beside the shamble mess that I use as a bed. I try to limit my breathing, trying to do everything I can to avoid making any unnecessary noise.
A strange presence is around me. I can't describe it. But it's there. I'm not sure what it is. But it puts me on the verge of having a panic attack. I try to remain as still as I can. My gun's muzzle raised almost parallel to the ground. “When the wind is in the east, ‘tis neither good for man nor beast; when the wind is in the north, the skillful Asher goes not forth,” I said under my breath to myself, trying to shake off thoughts of the presence around me. I stood frozen in places, still on my knees, head bowed, and eyes closed. An allusion of prayer for those who passed by, perhaps. “When the wind is in the south, it blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth; when the wind is in the west, then ‘tis at the very best.”
The streets were empty. Like always. I walked down the sidewalk. Despite it being nearly summer, a cool chill still lingers in the air. That cold never leaves. I can see my own breath with each exhale I take. I finally arrived at one of the largest buildings in KMC, Hero High. This high school once housed and trained the elite fighters of KMC. Now it is in ruin. It has been years since any student explored the halls. I open the large double doors to get in. The hallway is hidden behind a shroud of shadows. I turn on a flashlight.
The founder of the school's portrait still hangs. Her name, Jessica Wayne. Underneath her picture reads, "mycoreisdark." Next to her picture was one of Andrew James Brok who took over the academy after Jessica Wayne. Next to him is a picture of one who helped steer the academy into great heights after Andrew Brok stepped down. His name, Benjamin Mason. Beneath his picture reads, "The Original O." The portrait of Jacope X is missing. Naturally. His banishment was severe. I can only finally hints now that he even existed.
I open the door to a classroom. It's a theater style classroom. Probably able to hold fifty students. My flashlight wanders the wall until it stops on a large picture. I walk over and see many students standing with Jessica Wayne. I look down to see a list of names:
David Voorhees - who went by Jason. He held to the order of Nozdormu and was cast out with the other unforgiven.
Lance - he was known as the Thunder Fox.
Zake Scyth - Lord of the Follen.
Gillian Rose - the Wild Cherry, as she liked to be known
"What happened to all of them?" I ask myself. The picture has many, many more people. I sit down in one of the chairs. Memories fill this room, like they do all the halls of Hero High. But now...it's abandon. Like the rest of KMC. "I wish there was someone here. I'm tired of talking to mannequins. I'm tired of talking to myself." I put my head on the desk, despite it being covered in a thick lair of dust.
I simply keep my head on the desk. Trying my utter best to return to those days. To return to that time. But no matter how many times I open my eyes, everything remains exactly the same. I'm trapped in a place where only echoes of memories exist.
I swing the ax once more. Finally the door breaks open. I slip through the wreckage. The grand library of Hero High. Why didn't I think about coming here sooner? Maybe because the calamity was still dominating my mind...and so I only thought about survival. Not about how to kill that monster. Books are everywhere. On the floor. Covering the walls. Piles upon piles on tables.
"Where do I ever begin?" I ask myself. There has to be something here...in these halls...that can help me fight back. I can't hide for the rest of my life. And there seems to be no one coming back. Not as long as it remains. Therefore, I must defeat it. I have to try. Maybe then...maybe...they will begin to come back. I walk towards a pile of books on the closet table.
I pick up a book and read the cover, "Weddings and Lost Pirates." Not gonna help me one bit. Another book, "Earth's Defenders." Maybe? I pick up another book, "A Vampire in Narnia." Nope. I doubt there will be anything in here that can give me a clue on this monster. I pick up another book, "Deepths of Azarath." Maybe? I decide to sit down. I set up a lantern that I had in my backpack. I try to get as comfortable as possible to begin to read.
Crowd laughs nervously and a few grunts are heard from the back seats as people edge closer to hear the punchline.
"Why not? Don't you like the internet?"
The crowd suddenly stands up, aware that they are about to receive what they came for. People slowly edge closer to the set as Sheldon prepares for his next line. Sweat is clearly visible on his brow and his mouth is quivering in anticipation as he readies himself for what is about to happen.
"I just prefer Firefox because, like the fox, I am cunning and nimble."
The crowd suddenly surges forward as the words escape Sheldon's mouth. They are so powerful, they almost shake the very foundations of the CBS studios. He watches as, in what he perceives as slow motion, the crowd moves toward his fragile body. He has been preparing for this moment his whole life. This is his moment. This is his Emmy. This is his Golden Globe. This is even his Oscar. The crowd converges around him so quickly they ignore the trampled cries of Leonard and Penny, who now lie shaking on the floor, their bones crushed by the sheer mass of the crowd. Sheldon stares back at the eyes around him. What he sees are no longer people. What he sees is the human psyche stripped down to its core. Their lives, what they were before this moment has been forgotten. Ravenous. Hungry. They want one thing from him. Sheldon closes his eyes, clears his mind and relaxes his body. What happens next depends completely on the next few seconds. The time between this and what he mutters next feels like an eternity. Slowly, he opens his eyes. He looks at Leonard, then at Penny, both lying lifeless on the floor. Without a second thought, he says with resounding conviction...
In a split second, the crowd pounces on his ready and waiting body. Man, woman, child all at once. Sheldon cries out in complete ecstasy as they consume his flesh. He stops suddenly, as he drifts into eternal slumber. Peace at last.
"No," I whisper. I slam the book on the table. I'm still in the high school's library. It has taken all this time but I may have found what I was looking for. What we have here, now...that's it. Whoever is left alive is the last bastion of hope for KMC, until it happens: the end. The god of our world has long vanished, Raz. Some wonder if he was just a myth, a legend, like many of old. But text after text confirms my worst fears, without his hand here, we are doomed. The calamity has won.
I sink into my chair. The flames from the candle dance in front of me, casting a warm glow on my face. A silence sweeps over the room. A silence far louder than any silence I have ever heard in my life. Soon, we will all disappear. This land will no longer exist. It'll vanish into the sands of time. Nothing more than a memory.
"This can't happen," I said. I close the book and stand. My body is stiff, sore. I turn and leave the room. I won't wait for the end. No. I'll go out my own way. FIGHTING! I go into the great halls of the school. The heroes of old line the wall. But their pictures are in vain. Pictures that were supposed to carry them into eternal life have become just temporary remembrance before it all comes crashing down. I haven't seen a soul here since my return. So, why bother? In just a week from today, it will have been a year since I returned to this place.
I shall face the calamity then. On that day. I know I cannot win. The calamity has already won. Everything here is just waiting to go into the void. But I can at least go on my own terms. I must fight one final fight for what I believe in. For those who have come before me. For those who are no more. For starryknight and Quincy and Cherrywild and Super Marie 64 and iKinneas...and for MadMel. I have but a week to prepare. And when that time comes, I shall face the wrath of the calamity.