Sam paused as he filled the kettle. There it was again, that incessant sound just beyond his hearing. Every now and then it would make itself heard for the most fleeting of moments before vanishing as quickly. Sam frowned, sudden realisation dawning on him what this event entailed. Not again, he thought darkly, slamming the kettle down on the work surface. He walked into the living room and sat on the leather sofa heavily. I can’t go through this again, he told himself. This is too much for me.
Ever since the Event had indiscriminately erased fifty percent of the Earth’s population, ‘unexplained phenomena’, so labelled by what remained of the world’s scientific community, had increased to the point it was now an everyday occurrence. Truth was that they had no idea what had caused this catastrophic disaster anymore than the average citizen; no warning signs had been given or any freak discoveries by learned minds as to what lay in store. What had happened did so with an immediacy that tore lives apart and threatened to shatter civilisation completely. Somehow, humanity survived and maintained order, albeit barely. The way Sam saw it, mankind was tenaciously hanging by his fingertips over an abyss. One day we’re going fall; it’s only a matter of time.
An anguished wail cut through the haze of memories blurred in his mind. He sat up and peered through the window. Michael Jenkins was out in the street again, drunk, disorderly and eager to pick a fight with anything that crossed his path. Disgusted with this man’s behaviour, Sam lay down on the sofa, listening to the deranged man’s drunken curses echo down the street. Nearly every morning Jenkins did this. Sam understood his pain at first, but now it had become a strain on his own patience and sanity. The few people who remained in the neighbourhood had shut themselves away from the outside world, preferring their own company and pain without anyone else’s intruding on their own little private hells. They had no more desire to interact with this drunken slob that Sam did. But since he and Jenkins were the only living souls in two streets, the de facto responsibility lay with him to ensure his neighbour didn’t get ‘out of hand’.
He had to laugh when the local constabulary had explained that to him. Wasn’t their job anymore to police any minor incident in the surrounding area, they said with an earnestness that was chilling and final. Yes, they had been very insistent about that, stressing he alone should approach the individual in question. Looking back, he shouldn’t have been surprised by their attitude; they were just as jaded and apathetic as any other wretched soul in the de-populated world. Their job had worn them down to the living spectres they now were. Seeing humanity stripped of its dignity would end up doing that to you. After all, everyone had lost somebody. He mused this should have brought everyone together, but it had the opposite effect. No-one wanted to be reminded that others suffered any more or less than themselves. Plus, he thought, not everyone who ‘died’ had any desire to truly go. This was the phenomena that blighted everyone. All it came down to was mental strength. Some could handle it better than others. Jenkins was one of those unfortunate sods who relied heavily on ‘medication’ to get him through the episodes. It must have worked for him in the beginning; it was easier for everyone then. Now, though, time and exhaustion had whittled away any resolve left and what remained was a whiskey soaked shell.
Sam was one of the lucky ones. He could sense when he was going to be intruded. It was all about keeping your senses finely tuned and noticing patterns, however subtle, to the manifestations. He doubted Jenkins knew what time of day it was, let alone if he was being hounded by demons, alcohol induced or otherwise.
The sound was louder now and more insistent, almost demanding to be heard now. Steeling his resolve, Sam moved to the dining room, the ramblings of a drunken soul forgotten for the moment. It was here she always tried to appear to him, as though it was some nexus to wherever she was.
“Are you really dead?” He had asked her hazy, insubstantial form once. He hadn’t expected any reply beyond the whispered murmur that didn’t quite form into anything intelligible. The last time he spoke to her, he heard his name spoken softly with affection, as though he was holding her in his arms, playing with her hair and hearing her whisper how much she loved him. Tears blurred his vision as he remembered this, breathing heavily with unrestrained emotion.
The room became slightly darker in spite of the daylight that streamed through the windows. It was different every time she attempted to appear. Sound in the room would often be muffled, or heat would dissipate through the walls as an intense coldness took its place. The room would remain that way for hours afterward, as though the physical world didn’t dare to reclaim what had been taken from it, what had abruptly disturbed the balance between two different realities. This time, though, she pushed through stronger than ever; this time, her features were visible.
What he beheld wasn’t the loving wife he lost; this was something more menacing. She stared at him with jet black eyes that devoured the light and held no humanity in them. She sneered, a slight curl of the lips that held him in contempt. What stood before him wore his wife’s features like a second skin, but there was nothing to this cold eyed stranger that he recognised.
“Who are you,” he intoned, fearing what his answer would be.
The spectre just continued to stare at him, silently appraising him with its cold scrutiny. Sam shuddered, backing away from his wife’s apparition.
“Answer me,” he demanded hoarsely. Nothing but silence… and then a subtle change to her gaze, an intensity that increased the malice radiating from her being, which left him in no doubt he could be harmed whenever this entity wished it.
Sam couldn’t move, fear paralyzing him. He had never been subject to such hatred before. She suddenly began to laugh, a hoarse, guttural sound that was felt rather than heard; it seemed to shake the very air around him, making the walls vibrate. He knew she was only toying with him, keeping him locked in a state of fear. Is this what everyone else eventually saw? Their own need and desire to see their loved ones twisted into malevolent shadows of their former selves? He had no understanding of the forces at work, but something primal in his being reacted to the presence, giving a shard of understanding that he grasped on to with desperation: death was never the end. Mankind had been right. Something had always been hiding beyond the physical plane of existence, surreptitiously making itself known to people who were sensitive enough to hear its poisonous whispers, its false promises for what lay beyond.
What had happened to tip the balance was something he would never know. All he could do was deal with what stood before him: a being so inherently evil that it destroyed the living and the dead. The living continued to exist with the despair of loss and the soul destroying fear of uncertainty on a daily basis, leaving them hollow vessels, their vitality leeched from them. The dead had their humanity stripped away, leaving these cold shells that exuded hatred and a longing for life that would forever be denied to them
A sudden ear-shattering sound fractured the silence, severing the hold the entity had over him. He moved quickly to the living room and stared out the window. Jenkins’ unmoving body that lay sprawled on its back, half of its head missing; the rest was a bloodied mess of gore and bone that was scattered over the road. Blood pooled around the neck and upper torso, seeping into the body’s soiled clothing. A shotgun lay by its feet.
Jenkins had taken the only way out he knew. The drink hadn’t been enough to exorcise what plagued him. Did he really think death would be a release? Sam didn’t think so. Jenkins had always been a ‘sheep’, joining the flock whenever he could; not only had his final act lacked defiance, it held a sombre acceptance. Joining the tormentors instead of being the tormented appeared to be the only choice left to make.
He was vaguely aware that the presence had vanished. The house, though, still retained a disquieting quality to it. Sam shuddered. It would remain like this for days afterwards. He couldn’t bring himself to leave. He wasn’t even confident if he could lose the spectre that haunted him. I doubt it, he thought uneasily. We all carry our ghosts with us; location won’t make any difference.
For the first time in days, Sam opened the front door and walked towards his neighbour’s corpse. This will have to be disposed of, he thought mechanically. He toyed with the idea of letting the authorities know, but then let the matter drop. They would understand. In the end, everyone would understand.