The Void Dweller

I had friends once. No one knows their names anymore, though, not even their parents. They’ve all been forgotten. Forgotten to any god or devil or man. Forgotten even by time and space itself. Remember their names.

There was our leader, Eddy Newman. He was a tall, spidery kid with acne-speckled cheeks. Although not the strongest or brightest of the group, he had enough confidence for the rest of us. We followed him no matter what trouble he led us into. We trusted him even until the end.

His brother Ryan was shorter, stouter, and smarter than all of us combined. Aside from their parents, Eddy and Ryan had nothing in common. We assumed one of them was adopted. My money was on Ryan. No matter the circumstances, he always behaved with respect and grace. He was the type of kid every parent wished to raise. No doubt, we were a bad influence on him.

Then, there was Orianna Woodsley. If Eddy was the group’s father, she was its mother. She cared for us all and never hesitated to remind us so. If something was wrong, she made it right. And if something was right, she grinned with all the pride and joy a human heart could muster. Ryan and I were madly in love with her, and neither of us had a chance.

Our last night as a group was spent in an old watchtower high above the forest trees. It’s amazing how many of these towers have been abandoned. Fifty years ago park rangers kept watch around the clock for wildfires in Greyback Park. However, not long ago, Greyback lost its national park status. The funding dried up soon after, and the rangers found themselves out of a job. Now its watchtowers stand like silent shepherds, dead and decaying amid their flocks.

For us, it was a weekly retreat to drink and smoke. There wasn’t much else to do in town. My parents didn’t care. Orianna’s didn’t either. They had all spent their youth drinking in the forest. So long as we didn’t fall out of the tower, they couldn’t care less what we did. As for the Newmans, I don’t think their parents realized what we did in the watchtower. They’d probably be appalled to know their sweet and innocent Ryan could demolish a handle of vodka on his own.

That night was like many others. The air was cool, the stars alight, and the moon swollen. High above the trees, the wind whooshed against the tower. From inside, it sounded like a gentle whisper or swift stream. It made us feel calm and safe.

By the time the sun fell, we were already shitfaced. Eddy was slurring his words and babbling about leaving town. He grew bored of the quiet nights and monotonous days trapped in a sleepy town with nothing to do. Somedays, he thought, it would be better if the earth swallowed the town whole.

His brother Ryan agreed. But, out of all of us, only he stood a chance of leaving. He’d find a stuffy, elitist university in New York or DC. Then he’d leave the humdrum behind and us along with it. Meanwhile, the rest of us would be trapped, destined to work as waiters or mechanics just like our parents.

Orianna listened with a pursed brow. She couldn’t disagree, but the thought of our group splitting filled her with unease. I took the opportunity to comfort her in a drunken embrace.

“It looks like you’re stuck with me,” I said. She hugged me back. Her hair smelled of roses and her breath of rum. The scent was as intoxicating as her full, blue eyes.

“But you’ll visit, won’t you?” Orianna asked the brothers.

“For you? Of course,” Ryan said.

Eddy shrugged. “I don’t know shit,” he said. “How can I promise something when I can’t even tell you what I’m gonna eat for breakfast tomorrow?”

“I’ve got a granola bar,” I said. “You can have that for breakfast.”

Eddy groaned. “You know what I mean,” he said. “But that doesn’t sound half-bad. Remind me in the morning.”

“If you can stand in the morning,” I said with a snort.

He cocked his head to the side and blinked slowly. “What do you mean? I’m not drunk. In fact, Ori, throw me a beer.”

“Only if you drink some water. Your liver will thank you, and so will I.”

“Yeah yeah. Whatever.” He took a swig from his water bottle and gulped down the beer Orianna tossed him. After draining the can, he looked around the watchtower with an empty gaze and lopsided smile. “We need music.”

“I have…” I said, pulling out my phone. The whole group erupted in a collective groan.

“None of that garbage,” Ryan said.

Orianna laid her hand on my shoulder. “Jazz doesn’t really fit the mood,” she said with a comforting smile. She pointed to the watchtower’s radio comms, which hid behind a bottle of rum and Coke. We knew they worked since we had messed with them several times before. Despite being abandoned, the tower still got power. When I switched on the comms, a little, green light glowed on its metal face. And a soft hum could just barely be heard over the current of wind outside.

“Just because it uses radio waves,” Ryan said with a hiccup, “Doesn’t mean it’s calibrated to pick up FM radio.” To prove his point, he turned up the volume and scanned through the frequencies. Most channels were nothing but dead air. But now and then the comms sparked to life with the fuzzy chatter of police.

“Ooh stop there,” I said. “I want to listen.” As I’ve said, we live in a sleepy town where nothing happens. Even the cops had nothing good to say. They were just making their usual patrols.

Eddy picked up the receiver with a goofy grin. To our shock and amusement, he deepened his voice and spoke into the mic. “Uh, this is Sergeant Dick Barnes. I’ve got a report of two homeless men cockfighting on main and ninth.”

“Eddy!” Orianna screeched. She leapt up and changed the frequency before the police could respond. In her panic, she knocked over the bottle of rum, cracking the glass and spilling alcohol everywhere. “Shit!” she swore.

“And we got destruction of property in the old watchtower. You might want to send a few officers to take the culprit. She’s aggressive and intoxicated,” Eddy announced on a dead channel. White noise surged with a crack and a hiss. Despite my tender feelings towards Orianna, I couldn’t help but burst into laughter.

“It’s not funny,” she said. “I…”

The radio’s persistent crackle broke and filled with silence. It was a pervasive silence, the kind that cuts through a crowd, sinking into its trembling bones. Whatever Orianna intended to say, she did not finish. Her voice sank into her throat just as all ours did. We listened with sudden soberness to the spreading quiet. The air was dense and choking.

And in that unsettling silence, a voice spoke. Its words were coarse and deep like a man that smoked two packs for breakfast. “I have found you. I am coming.” The man spoke in a strange, inhuman manner as if he did not know what he was saying. His intonation was alien and illogical with pauses and emphasis at all the wrong words.

We stopped to listen for more. But in place of speech, we heard a flare of white noise and a low crack like bones splintering. Ryan, ever the smartest among us, turned off the comms and downed a beer in one go.

“It’s just some idiot messing around like us,” Eddy said. That was the most logical answer. Still, I could not shake the wave of anxiety that gathered in that silence. Nor could I make sense of that strange, demonic voice whose grating tone stung to hear.

Outside, the wind returned with vengeful force. It roared against the watchtower and battered the ancient trees. Trunks bent and branches snapped. Orianna rushed to the windows. She looked into the sky for thunderclouds, but the storm was coming from the ground.

“There’s something out there,” she said. Panic shook in her throat.

“What is it?” I asked, rushing to the window myself. Across the forest expanded a shadow so thick it made the night sky look blinding in comparison. Behind the shadow, space itself receded, leaving behind no trace or memory of what was. In front, a silhouetted man walked with slow, deliberate steps.

The brothers joined us at the window. “That can’t be real. That’s just…” Ryan said, but he could not finish his thought.

“I don’t care what it is,” Eddy said. “We need to leave.”

Just then the radio kicked on with a garbled purr. The white noise grew louder and louder until we groaned in pain. All the while, the shadow crept closer. When the static finally died, the voice spoke again.

“Fear,” it said, “Is the basest of sensations, one that lives at the very heart of existence. You cannot run from it, or hide, though I do love to watch you try.” The darkness pooled around the watchtower, lapping at its metal feet, which now appeared so feeble in the great, black expanse. We had no nowhere to go.

At the base of the tower stairs, the silhouetted man stood with arms crossed. A sad shade of starlight beamed briefly off his pale, glossy eyes. “Go on,” he said through the radio. “I would not bar your way. And even if I would, there is no other path that could lead you to safety.” He turned and walked into the shadow. It parted before him, leaving a clean trail into the forest.

Eddy, who just a second ago was eager to leave, now hesitated and knit his brow. “It’s a trap. It has to be.”

“A trap?” I repeated. “What even is going on here?”

“I can’t see the forest,” Orianna said, still looking out the window. “It’s all black.”

Ryan shook his head. “He left a way out. We have no other choice.”

“We don’t know what’s happening. We don’t know what he or it is. We don’t even know what our choices are,” I said.

Eddy turned on the radio and spoke into the receiver. “Hey! What do you want? Who are you?” he yelled. But there was no response.

“I want to go home,” Orianna said. She clasped her hands and shrank in on herself. Her eyes clenched shut and then opened wide and hopeful. But they could not shake the nightmare that surrounded us.

“There are two options,” Eddy said. His eyes darted outside and then back to us. He licked his lips and bounced from heel to toe. “We stay or we go.” The urgency in his voice was not lost on us.

Without hesitation, Orianna voted to leave. Eddy added his vote to hers. But Ryan and I hesitated. We had no idea what waited for us outside. Nor did we know what would come for us if we stayed. Perhaps our hesitation doomed us. And perhaps it made no difference.

Before either of us could vote, Orianna screamed. The dense shadow wrapped around the tower’s legs and began climbing fast. “Fuck it. We’re leaving!” Eddy decided. We followed him down the stairs, running as fast as our groggy legs could carry us. The way was still open, and through it we could see the shaded boughs of trees sway under the night sky. Above, the watchtower was disappearing, utterly consumed by the encroaching darkness.

Spurred on by fear, we bolted to the bottom of the stairs in mere seconds. But the shadow was not far behind. With no other choice, we sprinted down the path laid before us. A gust of wind bellowed from behind. I glanced back. The watchtower was gone. I looked forward. So was the forest. The world was twisting and changing before our eyes.

We ran down shadowy corridors with shattered tiles. We ran down dirt paths drenched in shade. We ran because we had no other choice. We ran because we feared what would happen if we stopped.

But we had to stop. For one, our lungs ached, and our hearts drummed. Ryan was falling behind. And for another, the path had split into two. One way was paved with moist, grey stones that stunk of mildew. The other was lined with crumbling bricks coated in moss. Both were shrouded in darkness. Neither looked anything like Greyback Park.

“Which one?” Orianna asked.

Eddy chose the stone path. I can’t say there was much logic to his choice. Just a roll of the dice. But it beat indecision, and we followed him blindly.

Our steps echoed against the cold stones. The sound grew as it bounced against unseen walls in the darkness, building more and more until it throbbed in our ears. Dread filled my chest. We had chosen the wrong path. I knew it. Now there was nothing left for us to do but face the consequences of our mistake.

Yet, before I could say as much to my friends, the ground turned to grass and dirt. The echoes faded, and our steps made only a muffled thud. Just ahead, streetlights glowed. Their pale, artificial color was warm and inviting compared to the impenetrable blackness from which we had emerged. As far as we knew, we were safe. We had escaped onto a street we’d walked a thousand times before. I could even see my house just two blocks down the road. Once we saw the shadow disappear behind us, we allowed ourselves a collective sigh of relief.

“Okay. We all saw that, right?” I said.

“It’s over,” Orianna said.

“Alright. I’m leaving this town ASAP,” Eddy said. None of us was listening to the other. We were each lost in our fright and confusion, trying desperately to make sense of what we had experienced. We paced and muttered and pulled at our hair. Only Ryan stood quiet and still, deathly so.

The sky darkened. The stars were veiled. And as we walked down the street, the lamps began to flicker. Ryan didn’t follow.

“Hey, come on,” I said.

He shuddered and spit blood. His lips twitched as they foamed red. Still, he managed one word: run.

Behind Ryan, a man appeared. His skin was rotten and black, shifting between stages of growth and decay. Strips of skin hung from his yellowed skull like tar from weathered stone. And his hand, skeletal and drenched in blood, protruded through Ryan’s chest.

Eddy ran towards his brother while Orianna ran away with tears in her eyes. But the black corpse grinned with split lips and crooked teeth. “Stop,” he said in his harsh, alien voice. At once, our limbs froze, and we fell to the ground. All around us, reality melted into a shadowy void. We had never left the creature’s nightmarish world. We had only fallen into another illusion.

Eddy screamed for his brother, and Orianna sobbed. But the Void Dweller set a finger to his lips, and all fell quiet. Pale-faced, Ryan slumped onto the ground. A puddle of dark blood spread outward.

“You did not think,” the fetid man said in disjointed words, “It would be so…simple, did you?” Eddy roared silently. His face was red with useless exertion. “My employers have entrusted me to provide offerings: worlds, dimensions, space, and time. But, here at the juncture between and beyond, no living thing is to pass.” With a wave of his hand, he turned us to face him and Ryan.

“At times, I have bored of and forgotten those brought to this void. The dull and resigned ones anyway. But I see in you a fighting spirit, so let me make myself clear.” The Void Dweller wet his lips and cleared his throat. “If you were to pass with your reality into that of my employers, there would be consequences.” The half-formed muscles on his face scrunched together in an expression of anger and severity. “And indeed there are doors from the void into their world or perhaps even back to your own. Therefore, the most logical course of action is…consumption.”

He grabbed Ryan’s arm and lifted him with ease. Then, he dug his teeth into Ryan’s neck and ripped out his throat. I tried to look away, but my eyelids would not shut. We were forced to watch as he tore into our friend’s flesh and guzzled down his innards. Blood sloshed, skin tore, and organs burst until the gory mess colored the creature red. We watched for well on an hour. By then, all that remained of Ryan was a few strips of flesh clinging to his skeleton.

As the Void Dweller sighed with satisfaction, our invisible binds loosened. Orianna whimpered and pushed herself to her feet. Eddy stood and balled his fists. But he did not move or speak. Attacking that thing was a foolish move that could only end in death. Despite his anger, Eddy’s head was clear enough to realize that.

“You are in luck,” the creature said. “Although great, my appetite is not so voracious as my employers’. Moreover, your companion was quite filling, so I have no further need to feast…for the time being.”

“You asshole. I’ll kill you,” Eddy said through gritted teeth. The decayed man looked at Eddy with grave, white eyes.

“I will ignore that slight,” he said, “Since you are the one that called me here by beaming your drunken chatter into my void. You have made my task that much easier and given me a tasty treat with which to amuse myself. So, indeed, I should be thanking you.” Tremors ran through Eddy’s tensed body. I could practically feel the rage radiating off him. The Void Dweller also sensed it and smiled fiendishly. “In fact,” he continued, “With my hunger sated, I am inclined to let you depart the void, though not without a bit of sport. I will lay the doors before you. You will decide which to take. Perhaps you will make it home. Or perhaps you will circle deeper into shadow until all hope of escape has gone. Perhaps you will pass so deep into oblivion that even I forget about you, so that you are forced to wander ceaselessly.”

“Take us back,” I said. “Take us to the watchtower.”

“I am afraid the watchtower is already gone, lost to your space and time, taken for the expansion of my employers,” the creature said. He raised his black, rotted arms. Two doors appeared behind us while another appeared behind him. “Speaking of which, I have business to attend to. Do take the opportunity to find your way back to the light. Consider it a head start. Use it wisely, or else I shall see you shortly.” With a twisted grin, the Void Dweller backed into the doorway behind him. After a few seconds, the door vanished.

Orianna hugged Eddy close and buried her teary face in his chest. “I am so sorry…Ryan…I cannot imagine…I wish…” she said between sobs.

Head held high, Eddy swallowed his sorrow and his anger. We had more pressing matters. “We need to leave,” he said.

“But it’s not fair. We don’t know which door goes where,” Orianna said.

“It’s not supposed to be fair,” Eddy said.

I shook my head. One of the doors was inky black, but the other had a muted glow. It was easy to miss like the faintest glimmer of light lost in the depths of the ocean. But still, I could see it. “It told us to find our way back to the light,” I said, and pointed at the glowing door.

We couldn’t waste time, and we had no other choices. But as I approached the door, Orianna stopped me. “What if it’s a trick? I don’t want you walking into a trap. I don’t want you to…”

“We have to,” I said. “Even if both doors are wrong, we have to walk through one of them.”

Eddy nodded in agreement. “He said his hunger is sated, so he’s doing this for fun,” he said. “A rigged game isn’t fun.”

Hands clasped together, we walked through the door together. Still we found ourselves in a shadowy corridor, and this time there were three doors to choose from. Even so, one of the doors shone ever so faintly. We kept to our strategy. As we passed from one corridor into the next, the scenery changed. At times, black flowers sprung from the earthy floor. At times, a shrill wind howled through the expansive wasteland. Once, I even saw gargantuan eyes peering down on us from above. Red veins throbbed in their sickly, white corneas, and their lids blinked long and slow. But mostly the void was empty and silent. For some reason, that terrified me more than anything else. I listened to every breath, every step, wondering if it was truly our own, wondering who else was listening.

I could not say how many doors we had passed through. Regardless, it was enough to sow doubt in our heads. Although we started at a walk, we soon began running without much thought. Stressed by the endless stream of doors, Orianna panted and cried softly. “We’re not going to get out,” she said to herself. “We did something wrong. We’re never going home.”

“Just stick to the plan,” Eddy said. But she did not hear him.

“It’s going to be okay,” I said. But she did not hear me.

At last, we stopped. Five doors stood before us, and not one glowed. “They’re all dark,” Orianna said. “We’re trapped here. It was all a trick.”

I looked at Eddy. “What do we do?” But he shook his head. “Do we just guess?”

“What if we’re wrong?” Orianna said.

As if in reply, a low voice rumbled in the void. “You have gone far,” it said, “But in what direction?”

“He’s coming,” Orianna said.

“I am. Can you hear me?” A dull scraping sound resounded from far in the distance. It was the sound of half-decayed feet stumbling slowly but ever so surely. With each second that passed, it grew louder and louder. Soon, I saw the muted shine of eyes amid the shadow.

“We have to choose,” Eddy said.

“But but but,” Orianna whimpered.

“If we choose wrong, so be it. We can’t go back,” he said. The creature smiled, and its fetid jowls shook with delighted laughter. Eddy approached one of the doors. Orianna huddled close to him. Her eyes darted towards the approaching monster, who filled the void with the stench of rot and iron.

Despite the looming danger, I hesitated. Eddy was wrong. We could go back. The door was still there. And around its dusky frame was the faintest shimmer of light. “This one!” I said. “It’s this one!”

“We just came from there,” Eddy said.

“Trust me!”

While the Void Dweller lumbered closer, Eddy and Orianna sprinted towards me. We jumped through the door and once again found ourselves outside Greyback Park. As I shut the door behind us, it vanished entirely. Something felt different this time. The air was firmer, the colors brighter, and the shadows deeper. The trees smelled of autumn, and the world was abuzz with the flutter of wings and the hum of car engines. In short, the world was alive.

And though we allowed ourselves a sense of comfort, our heads hung low from the loss of our friend. I could already see the guilt torturing Eddy. He could not save his brother, and now he had to tell his parents. I felt a similar dread. But I needed to talk to my parents. I needed their comfort. I needed someone to say it would be alright and that I had done the best I could.

Yet, as soon as I mentioned Ryan, my parents scratched their heads with confusion. “Who?” they asked. I can’t count the number of times Ryan had been in my house, slept over, or stayed for dinner. Just a day earlier, my parents would have called him a second son. Now they didn’t even know who he was.

“Eddy’s brother,” I said.

“I thought Eddy was an only child,” my dad said. My mom nodded in agreement.

Then I started to talk about the watchtower. I hadn’t even gotten to the part about the interdimensional corpse that attacked us. Even so, already I could see their sympathy turn to confusion and then to concern.

“What watchtower?” my mom said. She studied me with narrowed eyes, no doubt wondering which drugs I had taken. I even started to second-guess myself. But I wasn’t crazy. The watchtower had always been there, looming above Greyback Park. We could see it from our backyard for Christ’s sake. And yet, when I gazed out the window, there was nothing.

My friends received similar reactions. The Newmans couldn’t even remember their own son. All trace of him was lost, even his memory. Only we could remember Ryan just as only we could remember the watchtower. I did not try to understand it. After all, maybe it was for the best. No parent should suffer the loss of their child. We would suffer it for them.

One after the other, the days passed without incident. Although we tried to return to normal life, the encounter with the Void Dweller had changed us. Eddy grew tight-lipped and insecure while I became prone to bouts of depression. But we learned to live with our new reality. Orianna did not.

Worse than losing her was the knowledge I could do nothing about it. Just like Ryan, she too was eaten by something horrible. But unlike Ryan’s monster, this one was slow and invisible. Over the course of weeks, I watched Orianna spiral into an unreachable paranoia. We were safe, back in our reality. Each day was proof of that. But she didn’t think so. It was a lie. All of it. Her home, her family, even us. Soon the creature would return to consume her as it did Ryan. And she would not let that happen.

I was kind, patient, and supportive. I was the tender arm around her shoulder, the attentive ear to her many fears. I was everything she had been to me over our many years of friendship. Even so, Orianna would not listen. She hanged herself exactly one month after the incident.

In public, Orianna’s parents blamed mental illness. In private, they blamed me. At the wake, they accused me of drugging her, abusing her, and other dirty crimes I need not mention. They said she talked about a watchtower and a dead boy, neither of which existed. They said she talked about a walking corpse and about me. I knew they were trying to make sense of it all, and despite their accusations, what they wanted most of all was answers. Answers I couldn’t give them. They would not believe me.

After my interrogation, I joined Eddy by Orianna’s casket. It was a closed casket ceremony. The noose had broken her neck so bad the mortician couldn’t make her presentable. Neither Eddy nor I was a religious man. Regardless, we knelt before our friend for several minutes praying to any god that would hear us. But God was not with us. Only the devil.

It started as a whimper. For obvious reasons, no one at the wake noticed. Everyone was lost in their own sorrow. But then, whimpering turned to screaming, the kind that curdles blood. It was a scream of utter terror and agony. What’s more, it was coming from the casket.

“Help me! Help! Please!” Orianna begged. Between her screams I heard the chatter of teeth grinding against bone and the tearing of skin from flesh. As her cries continued, blood dripped through the crevices in the casket. Eddy beat his hands against the box, but it was sealed tight.

“Help me!” Eddy shouted. But there was no saving her. Orianna was right. It was all a lie. The Void Dweller would not let us leave, and he would not let us die, not until he had his fun.

As I looked around, the funeral home faded. Orianna’s family moaned and melted into the floor. Soon, there was only shadow and the casket sealed shut before us.

After several agonizing shrieks and a chilling snap, Orianna was quiet. “No. No. No,” Eddy said, shaking his head. He glanced around the void with wide, panic-stricken eyes. Eddy pulled a knife out of his pocket. After all we had seen, I doubted such a thing could kill the creature. Still it was the only hope we had.

Just then, the casket burst open and Orianna’s corpse fell out. Dark, viscous blood oozed from bite marks in her flesh. One of her eyes was missing, and her chest was torn open. Entrails spilled from her gut, piling into a steaming heap on the floor.

At once, Eddy lost all his courage. He dropped the knife and ran into the boundless blackness. But there was nowhere to go and no running from what was coming.

A door materialized in front of Eddy, and the Void Dweller strode forward. His putrefied lips peeled back into a menacing smile as he grabbed Eddy’s neck. His fingers wrapped so tight around his vocal cords that he could not make a sound. “I find your gullible nature quite amusing. If I were not so busy, I might have let you live simply to study you. You are most interesting creatures,” the Void Dweller said. With only the slightest grunt, he lifted Eddy into the air and tore his head from his body. Hot blood streamed into the creature’s open mouth and poured over his ragged face. He took several gulps and then threw the corpse at the foot of the door.

Every nerve in my body told me to run as far as I could. Yet, I knew I had only one choice. Mustering all my courage, I grabbed Eddy’s knife and rushed at the creature. “Most interesting,” he said, “And most foolish.” With a wave of his hand, the knife melted into thin air. Nonetheless, I ran faster towards the creature. His facial expression was alien and ambiguous, but I sensed curiosity. He didn’t move. He wanted to see what would happen. How many beings had come before him? How many dared to fight him? Could he be hurt? Could he be killed?

I didn’t intend to find out. At the last second, before barreling into the creature, I stepped aside and dashed through the open door. I heard the Void Dweller shout before the world of shadow disappeared behind me. What lay ahead, however, was equally horrifying and infinitely more difficult to explain.

The world of the employers was a complex assemblage of different realities layered one on top of the other, each acting to their own unique laws of physics. Mountains twisted and crumbled in illogical loops of causality. Oceans roiled in seas of light, where time moved not forward but sideways. Arcane structures of impossible architecture rumbled from forces unknown to thought and theory. And everywhere I stepped, space itself distorted and deformed.

Towering hundreds of feet above it all were the Void Dweller’s employers. The sight of them sent me into a fit of madness. My feet buckled beneath me as I screamed in terror. I squeezed my temples painfully tight to keep my thoughts from escaping me. The employers were a writhing mass of wrinkled tendrils, bulging pustules, and glistening hooks. Their eyes were many, and their mouths gaped with long, drooling tongues.

Not knowing how or why, I stumbled towards the gargantuan monsters. Grey wisps rose around me like dust beneath my feet. The employers recoiled at the sight of me. They bellowed in tongues so loud and deep that my vision dizzied and blackened. Yet, as horrifying as they were, I heard fear in their voices.

The Void Dweller appeared in the doorway. “You must leave this place. You must leave now,” he said. “Your presence is a sickness. Each second is…” The employers bellowed once more. A dim, colorless circle was expanding around me, destroying everything it touched. In a matter of seconds, it would reach the employers.

When the bellowing came to an end, a doorway appeared before me. “Step through now,” the Void Dweller said. “No tricks. No games.” By the sound of it, we were both desperate for me to return home. So, I did as asked and stepped through the door.

For a third time, I found myself on the street outside Greyback Park. As the wind whistled through the night sky, I stood motionless, waiting for the illusion to fade. But it never did. So, I walked home. My parents were waiting for me. They thought I had run away. As far as they knew, there had never been a watchtower. As far as they knew, I never had any friends. They were all lost to memory.

Truth be told, it all seemed too easy. Why would the Void Dweller ever let me go? Knowing what he could do, how could I ever escape? Perhaps it was a trick. There was no way of knowing.

I thought about Orianna. Maybe she had the right idea. Better to die at your own hands than in the hands of a monster. But even if it let me, I couldn’t go through with it. I have seen Death’s face, and I have no desire to see it again soon.


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