Without further ado, this is:
I wake with something approaching surprise. A headache pounds through me, seemingly running through my whole body before retreating back into my cranium and finally fading to a dull ache in my right temple.
For a second, something seems to fill my hand. Something heavy, not just with physical weight but emotion as well. Then I clench my hand, and it's gone.
I glance around. Sepia tones surround me, like an ancient photograph brought to life. I lay in a nondescript bed, surrounded by others, all perfectly made with something approaching agonizing detail. And all unoccupied. Tables with sharp implements shine, as best they can in the strange light, underneath lamps that do nothing to light my space. I flick the switch on one, then inspect it to find the bulb broken.
What has happened? The last thing I remember is...
What is the last thing I remember?
I lift myself to my feet. My feet are bare, but not cold against the clean tile. I turn towards the door.
And I nearly fall as a wave of nausea and pain overcome me, once again emanating from my forehead. I take a moment to steady myself against the bed before setting out once more.
This time I make it through the door. I wobble slightly as I look around the hall. No one is there to greet me. Door after door instead catch my gaze. A map is placed upon the wall opposite my room. I cross to it.
A title at the top of the paper tells me I'm in a hospital. Yet there's no one here?
Has the world ended and left me behind? Or... I shudder. Have I ended and left the world behind?
I glance around wildly. 'Is anyone there?' I try to call out, but my voice doesn't make a sound in the desolate halls and no one answers. I wait a second anyway.
There isn't anything for me here. I turn back to the map. I doubt it is the first time in my existence I've done so, but I curse its maker as I try to trace my way through it with my finger. Finally I think I have found the way out.
My heart drops for no reason. I look around, trying to find the source of the dread I feel. But nothing moves in the faded yellow of the halls. I back away, terrified. I turn and flee, a hand upon the wall to steady myself.
A cool mist is falling as I leave the hospital. Not rain, nothing so separate as individual drops, simply a constant cloud that is drawn inexorably down. It feels good against my skin, calming me. I turn back as I make my way down the road from the building. It sits, by itself, foreboding and seemingly brooding, upon a hill.
Something catches my eye as I turn back away. Something finally moves in the second story, blotting out window after window as it makes its way down, following the same path I took. I wait, an expectant hope blossoming in me. A minute passes.
And then the dread returns. I retreat from the hospital as something seems to press against me, forcing me down. My breathing quickens and then explodes in my chest as my follower passes the door. I turn and run.
Only once do I look back, to reassure myself of what I had seen. It is true. A cloud of pure darkness pursues me, billowing and shivering under the falling mist. I don't know what is inside, or if anything is, but I know its sole purpose, its only reason to exist, is to hurt me. Now I run without a second thought.
The city is silent around me. Buildings stretch tall into the sky, which is a strange mix of night and day. It is too dark to be day, despite a disc in the sky that I think is the sun. Even windows refuse to have reflections, only a dull sheen that neither gives away their inhabitants, nor the world outside them.
I lost the shadow shortly ago in the complex weave of civilization. Neither of us, apparently, can make sense of the sprawl and spread of society, how the streets wander and interconnect without sense or purpose. My only guiding light is a pull, a slight tension in my mind that seems to draw me somewhere.
The shadows begin to deepen as I travel further away from the hospital. I don't know why, as the sun isn't going down and the only clouds are the ones that skip across the sky at a dozen times their normal speed.
Once again, I feel it before I see it. The shadow peeks out from within an alleyway. It watches me for a minute. Then, without realizing it, I am running. And it is chasing me.
Once again, I have evaded the darkness. In a sense. The non-moving shadows still surround me, brought on by a distinct absence of light that is threatening to drown me as it deepens to black.
The city ends abruptly, mid-building. Literally. I can see where some have been cut in half. Inside, life stands still with no humans to run it. Televisions are frozen, little more than glorified picture frames. Chairs sit unfilled while beds are alternatively in disarray or a state of perfection.
I stop at the border between city and wasteland. Something almost tangible seems to separate the two, a spider's web spun across a hundred miles of society's triumph. I pause for only a second as, closer now, I feel the shadow approach. Too scared to face that which I don't understand, I push through the nonexistent web. I cross...
And immediately collapse. My eyes fill with color. A room sits in disarray around me. A chair beneath me, a table in front of me, something in my hand, some thought in my head.
The vision breaks into brightly lit streamers that flow away from me. I gasp as the implications of what it meant hit me. I force it away, driving myself into action. I have to run. Escape the shadow that even now is drawing upon my unprotected back. I jump forward, feeling the ground shake as the darkness slams down, barely missing me. I keep moving, running with a fervor that I doubt I ever had before.
I doubt that I will be able to stop this time.
I don't know how long passes. A while. Still I flee. Despite my speed, which I know is inhuman, the shadow keeps pace, unhurried, unworried.
The landscape that I pass through is alien. Elm trees grow larger than any I have seen before, taller than the buildings of the city I left behind. They grow in sporadic copses, sometimes only a few thick, other times stretching farther than I can see.
Likewise, there is the occasional building. Lighthouses illuminate giant swathes of the land with each sweep of their giant lenses. And in juxtaposition, there are buildings that do the opposite, stealing the light from the world a little at a time. I avoid their lightless areas with a terrified passion.
And through it all, strange creatures roam. Alien things with horns and wings and hooves and halos. I feel nothing from them except a strange interest that scares me. Like the darkhouses, I stay away from them all.
No longer can I argue that I may be alive. I doubt the ability of the strongest drug on earth to give me these visions.
The mist has finally condensed to rain. The drops seem to reduce the world to only what I can touch, the trees uniform and indistinct while light and dark blur by. And through it all, I can feel the Shadow closing.
In the distance, a sound of massive movement echoes toward me. Water. Through a break in the falling drops, I see a massive river that seems like it could cut the world in half. Instantly, I know this is my destination.
But the Shadow knows it too. Now it draws even closer, trying to catch me as I pour on another burst of speed.
The river draws near.
I lower my head to try and gain even more speed.
The Shadow reaches out and I duck, nearly falling. But the River is so close!
And then I am gone. Or back. In my room. Not the hospital, but in life. Or am I? I move without wanting to. Terror fills me.
A gun is in my hand. A box of bullets on the table in front of me. A dark cloud seems to hang over me as I load the cylinders in the chamber. I reach out to stop myself as, without looking, I place the gun to my head and...
And I fall, rolling and tumbling and rolling some more. I fall onto my stomach, only a few feet from the River. I know that if I can cross it, I will be free. But I can't rise. I gasp as I look back.
The Shadow, no, I know now, Life seems to fill the horizon. It rushes at me, eager to catch me, to put me back in my cage.
I have to run, have to escape. But there is no escape. Not from this. The Shadow of Life overtakes me, drowning me in dark fog struck through with flashes of lightning. I feel it lift me, move me, then we are flying. Through the wasteland of Half-Life, over the city, through the streets and up the drive of the hospital. It throws me into my room before, finally, it retreats.
My eyes ache as the sepia tones of death fade, shimmer, and finally pop back into pastels. The hospital comes to life around me.
Nurses and doctors swarm around my bed like moths to a flame. But I feel no pleasure from their presence. Somehow, these brightened halls are even darker than their unlife counterparts. I close my eyes, hoping to sink back into that afterworld. But all that greets me are dreams too bright to gaze into.
The Shadow Of Life //END//