A Halloween Treat

Today, I’m letting Thomas Allen–developmental editor, writer, and Cruel and Terrifying Imprint Leader™–takeover the website. Well, kind of. What actually has occurred is that the first chapter of his book, Working Wonders (The Legend of the Keepers Series Book 1), is available today to read for FREE.

Working Wonders is an urban paranormal, modern fantasy, horror novel, so it’s perfect for Halloween! And not to brag, but I got to design the cover!

Read the first chapter below…and, if you like what you’ve read, you can pre-order a copy of Working Wonders on Amazon here.

Coming January 15th, 2021!

Chapter One

            The city was the coldest it had been in a very long time. A harsh winter was expected from time to time in the south, but this winter had been unusually cruel. Temperatures in the area had dropped right after Halloween and managed to stay under freezing for over a month. Snow had fallen almost every day for a full five weeks. At night, the city was thrown into a deep blanket of wintry darkness. Snow had been plowed, leaving large brown-gray, mushy piles lining the gutters of the streets.

            Wintry conditions didn’t seem to slow anyone down, however. Cars raced down the freeways and side streets on their way to deliver people wherever they may be headed. People bustled along sidewalks, crowding around storefronts and windows, searching for the perfect Christmas gift for a loved one. Coffee shops and restaurants were packed to overflowing. Night clubs were packed—and doing a landmark business—even with the snow falling sporadically outside.

            Spirits were high, and it seemed almost impossible to not be happy during such a joyous time of the year. All the businesses in town were decked out in Christmas regalia. Jolly, fat elves and Santa Clauses were painted on windows, and strings of lights were hanging from every stationary fixture. Wreaths were hung from doors of houses and businesses, and the walkways up to the front doors of homes were lined with electric candy canes. Yards were filled with animatronic fixtures and wooden cutouts of gingerbread men, elves, and other seasonal creatures.

            Cheerfulness was somewhat unavoidable. Even as the wind cut through people on the streets, they’d pull their coats even more tightly around themselves. With a look of resolve on their faces, they’d march into another shop. The coldest of nights could not keep anyone from buying gifts for their loved ones. There was just something about the season; the crispness of the air, the bright lights, and the gaiety, the way that the smell of burning firewood mixed with the icy air.

            Busiest of all of the neighborhoods in the city was 1st Street. The epicenter of the Business District, fudge and coffee shops, candy stores, pet shops, museums, and other businesses lined the street. Anything from buying knick-knacks to having dinner to taking in artifacts of a peculiar nature could be done on that single street. During the holiday season, the area was a hotbed of activity.

            Even with the comfort of central heat and air, shopping malls could not beat the atmosphere on 1st Street. When asked about the area, a person would not be able to tell you what was so special about the experience of shopping there. However, they could tell you that you just couldn’t be unhappy while amongst the many shops and eateries. Possibly it could have been the fact that the most unusual shops—and shop owners—could be found there.

            On 1st Street, more than ninety-percent of the businesses were owned by the most unusual characters. From the flamboyant proprietor of Thirteen Runes—the most upscale and exclusive restaurant in town—to the thunder-voiced Mountain Troll that owned Buzz’s Coffee Shoppe, every store had a story. And every story had been told by every resident of the city—usually while speaking into a friend’s ear in a hushed tone.

            The neighborhood had been constructed and settled before the town even became a town. With that history, 1st Street seemed to carry a charm and personality that no other neighborhood in all of the state possessed. Even with hundreds of people milling about, it felt as though the experience was yours and yours alone. As tough as everyday life was, no one wanted to dispel the myth that life was much better while strolling along 1st Street.

            With Christmas two weeks away, the street was even busier than usual. Parking was not allowed. The street was so narrow that if each side filled up with parked cars, there would only be room for one car to drive down at a time. Of course, with all of the shoppers clogging the street, running back and forth from shop to shop, the street was fairly congested, even without cars parked at the curbs.

            When the area had been built, people hadn’t realized the potential for growth in the city. Actually, they hadn’t even thought of motor cars at that time. The street had been built when people were still riding horses and driving buggies. The city popped up around 1st Street so quickly that it had been impossible to widen the road, lest all of the buildings were razed and rebuilt. Instead, the city officials decided to just pave the street and make concrete walkways.

            Even Hurlbert, to the north, had a much wider street for cars to maneuver down, and 1st Street wasn’t much older than it.  Most of the buildings on Hurlbert had burnt down in the early 1900s. Many of the buildings had been rebuilt several decades later, but none ever went to much use for long. Only one building had managed to survive the “Great Fire”—as many citizens referred to it. Actually, it was located on the corner of 1st and Hurlbert. Which was probably the reason it had survived. That and it was made of stone. Everything from the walls to the main floor, to the roof, was stone.

            Working Wonders was the name of the establishment. It catered to quite a different type of customer than the rest of the businesses on the street. Not that there weren’t similarities between Working Wonders and the rest of the shops on 1st Street, but the merchandise held within the gray stone building was quite unlike anything else sold in the plethora of shops nearby. The building hadn’t even been wired for electricity. It had running water, but no other modern-day amenities. And unlike all the other shops on the street, it closed at six o’clock sharp, every day. This proved quite a problem for the grim-faced, balding man standing at the front door.

            He resembled any other customer that frequented the popular street. He wore brown corduroy pants, a simple long-sleeve white dress shirt, a tie, and a corduroy jacket with suede patches at the elbows. Horn-rimmed spectacles adorned his face, and an intelligent glint made his eyes shine. A multitude of wrinkles adorned his face and what was left of his hair was littered with gray. Anyone passing by would have mistaken the man for a typical, harmless college professor—though he wasn’t. 

            The common-looking man went by the name of Gordon Rowley. And he had known better than to come to such a place, especially at nighttime.  It was just asking for trouble—and more trouble was something Gordon really did not need. Time was up, though, and it was his last resort. His colleagues wouldn’t have understood the severity of the situation, and if they had, they wouldn’t have believed him. This shop was his Hail Mary—if he could manage it.

            Working Wonders was closed, and Gordon had no place to go. He hadn’t known what he would have done if the shop had been opened. Maybe he would have pleaded with the owner to help him. That was his initial plan, anyway. He didn’t know the owner very well anymore, but he didn‘t think that would stop the young man from helping him. Everyone knew about Working Wonders and its owner. It was a secret that everyone was in on but pretended they weren’t.  As Gordon stood in front of the large, impenetrable door, he wondered if asking the owner of Working Wonders for help wouldn’t just cause more trouble.

            “Damnit.” He kicked the door with the toe of his shoe, trying to be angry.

            There was only one thing to do for the time being. Figure out where to hide for the night. Gordon had to get off the street and inside. He needed a place with a door to stay in until the sun rose once more. A hotel might be out of the question. He most certainly couldn’t register under his own name or use a credit card if he went to a hotel.

            “Damn.” Gordon’s grumbled once more.

            Gordon gave the door another swift kick. Surely there had to be a building he could use for the night. It had been dark for over four hours already, and as each minute passed, the likelihood of trouble finding him grew. With a sudden thought, Gordon turned to look west, toward the crowds that littered 1st Street. He could mix in with all of the people until he devised a plan. No one could possibly pick him out in a crowd, but crowds were too risky. He would just be putting others in danger.

            As he turned right on Hurlbert, swinging around the side of Working Wonders, the snow picked up. Gordon was amazed at the dilapidated buildings that lined Hurlbert when just a block away was a thriving shopping area. A few buildings remained in somewhat livable condition. The ones that weren’t condemned had makeshift apartments on the second floor. A few windows poured warm yellow light onto the street below. Other than the occasional light, the street was barren.

            Gordon could barely make out the next block ahead of him through the flurry of snow—and now sleet—that was raining down upon him. A gas station and bank seemed to be the only businesses left of the block ahead. Whether or not they were closed yet, he did not know. However, a few illuminated lights on the buildings broke up the darkness of the block. God, how he wished one of them was still open. He had to duck into a warm room, even if just for a moment.

            The closer he got to the lighted businesses, the more wonderful they seemed. The lights made him smile, made his blood pump, made him feel safe again. Crossing the street that intersected Hurlbert was no easy task. The road was a sheet of ice, indicating it was rarely, if ever, traveled. When he firmly planted his feet on the other side, he broke into a quick stride, heading straight for the swinging glass doors of the wonderful establishment.

            “Fuck it all.” He hissed when the door didn’t budge.

            Gordon quickly spun on his heels and shot a glance at the gas station across the street. Even with the heavy snow and sleet, he could tell it was closed as well. So, with much hesitation, he headed back down Hurlbert, the way he had come.  As he made his way back, he pulled his jacket far up on his neck, trying to cover his head as best he could with the thick cloth. Halfway down the block, he could no longer take the beating he was receiving. He had to find shelter. Gordon walked up the front steps of the first building he approached without a light on overhead. Boards. Didn’t any condemned buildings have doors?

            “It’ll have to do.” He mumbled.

            It took a bit of doing, but he held onto the first board and pulled back with all of his might, letting his weight work for him. With a groan and a crack, the board pulled loose from the door frame, nearly making Gordon lose his balance and fall to his backside on the porch.  The next board popped free more easily than the first.  As to not leave any clues that the building had been broken into, Gordon shoved both boards through the hole, hearing them clatter as they fell on the floor inside. He followed them through quickly, determined to get out of the cold.

            The old building blocked the wind considerably but didn’t provide much warmth, especially to someone already frozen solid. Trash and rubble, even a few dead, dry leaves littered the creaky wooden floors, and a very thick layer of dust and dirt topped it all off. Gordon shuddered at the thought of having to sleep in such conditions, but he didn’t have many other options.  The relatively large room he was standing in must have been a foyer or lobby, for in the middle of the room was a long, rickety-looking staircase that led to the second floor. The carpet that ran up the center of the stairs was stained and frayed on the edges from years of wear and tear. Gordon moved over to the foot of the stairs and turned to look at the door he had come through, rubbing his hands together furiously.

            “Beasley Inn.” He read aloud the sign over the door. “Good.”

            From the name on the sign, Gordon knew that more than likely, there were several rooms upstairs. Since most of the furniture was still in the lobby, the chances were that no one had taken the beds from the rooms, either.  The howling outside motivated Gordon as a particularly violent burst of wind whipped against the face of the building. He had to move. He wasn’t safe in this cavernous room with no doors.

            Gordon quickly climbed the stairs toward the second-floor landing. If he hadn’t been so scared already, the sight of the approaching landing would have done it. As he ascended the creaking staircase, his breath caught in his throat at the sight of the pitch-black hallway awaiting him upstairs. It seemed as if a door of black fog waited for him at the top, and as soon as he stepped up from the last step, he would be swallowed up by nothingness.

            “Come on.” Gordon hissed. “Get going, man.”

            His feet refused to move, and he wasn’t so sure his brain hadn’t changed sides as well.  Just as he thought he would turn around and race out of the building, screaming like a madman, a rather fierce gust of wind slapped the face of the building. The wind caught one of the boards across the front door, causing it to clatter to the floor. A booming resonating sound filled the room below.  Gordon sprinted up the last few remaining steps and shoved himself into the darkness he so feared. He was so tired. A bed was all he needed. A room with a bed.

A room with a bed and a door, actually, he thought to himself.

            Gordon clasped a hand to his chest, feeling it rise and fall with each gigantic gulp of air he was taking. He had to calm down and find a room. He was no safer in this long hallway than he had been in the lobby below. Gordon reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his cigarette lighter. His hands shook a bit as he found a cigarette and brought it to his lips.

            A satisfied moan escaped Gordon’s throat as he lit the cigarette and took a long drag, drawing smoke deep into his lungs. He kept his lighter lit with his right hand as he slowly moved his left hand over the yellowish-red flame, moving it back and forth in an attempt to get warmed up. He could no longer feel his right hand like he should; it needed to be warmed up, too. It was nearly impossible to keep the lighter lit his hand was so numb. Gordon switched hands as he exhaled and quickly took another puff on his smoke.

            The hallway wasn’t all that bad, Gordon realized, as he looked up from his hands finally. The flickering flame from the lighter cast a warm yet somewhat spooky glow in the hall but showed it to be without malice. Shadows danced merrily along the walls as Gordon moved deeper into the hallway. Three doors lined each side of the hall, indicating this particular Inn didn’t have much space for overnight guests.  All but two of the rooms had doors.  The shadows continued their silent ballet on the walls around him as he began to ease further down the hall towards the first door on his right.

A room with a door is required, Gordon caught himself thinking.

First thing in the morning, he had to talk to the shop keeper. Gordon yanked the cigarette out of his mouth and tossed it to the ground as he approached the first door. He stepped on the glowing stick with the toe of his shoe and twisted his foot back and forth, putting out the reddish-orange ember.

            “Damn,” Gordon growled as he found the first door locked from inside.

            Panic began to sink in when he realized that every door in this hallway might be sealed off from the inside. Gordon turned sharply and tried the door on the left. Locked as well. He was too weak to turn the knob roughly, and he didn’t know if he could kick the door down, and that would make the door useless anyway.  He eased down to the second pair of doors, trying the right one first. Gordon said a silent prayer in his head as the knob twisted all the way to the right, and the door swung open.  His prayers had been uttered too soon. The doorknob unhooked from the door and fell with a resounding “clunk” to the floor.

‘Why me?’ Gordon thought to himself as he kicked the door jam in frustration, then turned to the last room with a door.

Much to his surprise, the knob squeaked and turned for him with ease. As the door cracked open, he jiggled the knob softly, making sure it would stay intact for the night. Gordon grinned and stepped into the room just as a gust of air lapped at Gordon’s lighter, making the flame dance frantically around his thumb, then go out, leaving him in slight darkness once again.  Just as another gust of cold air made what hair that was left on his head stand up, the lighter was on again. It took just a split second for Gordon’s eyes to adjust and assess the room around him.

            “For fuck’s sake!”

            On the other side of the room, where a window had apparently been, was a large jagged hole. It looked as if someone had pulled the window—frame, glass and all—out of the building, leaving only splintered boards and ragged wallpaper around the hole. Anything could come through in the middle of the night with no window to stop it. It didn’t matter if the room did have a door that locked. A gaping hole in the wall somewhat defeated the purpose of closing and locking the door to the room. Gordon tore back into the hallway, cursing quietly to himself as his feet thudded against the wooden floor. He had to get into one of the locked rooms without breaking the door or lock.

How the hell do you get into a locked room without a key? Gordon thought to himself as he charged back down to the first two rooms.

            “Shit! Shit! Shit!” He cursed the unyielding doors as he tried the knobs again.

            There had to be a piece of metal, or something, amongst all the garbage in the building that he could use to pick the lock. He plunged his hands into his coat pockets, his pants pockets, looking for anything to use to open the doors. Coming away with nothing but folded pieces of paper from his pockets, Gordon held his lighter over his head and surveyed the few piles of trash that decorated the edges and corners of the hall. Kneeling down next to a collection of garbage beside the door, he began to dig through the waste.  Within moments, his fingers brushed against something cold and metal.

            “Thank God.” He stated in hushed awe as he picked the hanger up.

            Gordon let the lighter go out and shoved it in his pocket. He quickly set about bending the hook at the top of the already curved hanger, wanting to get it as straight as possible. Gordon moved to the door, coming eye-level with the keyhole. The lighter was needed to see, but there was no way Gordon knew of that he could keep the lighter lit and pick the lock. Gordon groped in the dark with his fingertip, trying to find the opening to the keyhole by touch alone. When his fingertip connected with the hole, he held his finger in place as he brought the piece of metal upwards.

            “Here we—” Gordon stopped his joyful whispering as he suddenly realized how quiet it had become.

            Gordon listened from his kneeling position, trying to make out any noise in all the quiet. The wind had stopped blowing against the building, the ice was no longer slapping against the brick exterior. It was dead silent. Not a sound was to be heard except for his own breathing. His heart was pounding against his chest again, creeping up his throat, making it hard to breathe at all. Gordon swallowed hard, trying to get the lump from his throat and calm himself down. His breath came in sharp, hissing wisps through his nose as he waited for a sign of any movement in the building.

            Gordon shot up, standing tall, and pressed himself against the wall, ducking back into the darkness as he realized the hissing noise was not his breath. It was coming from the end of the hall, from the stairs, floating down the hall, searching him out. The hall seemed filled again by the noise. It echoed through the building, but at the same time seemed like it wasn’t there at all.

            “Jesus,” Gordon whispered to himself.

            Gordon’s eyes locked on the top of the stairs. As if black water were running up the stairs, the walls, and across the ceiling itself, everything atop the stairs seemed to be getting darker. Not just darker—it was turning absolutely black. It was a darkness that no light could push through, pure and absolute. Gordon pressed himself up against the wall as hard as he could without making any noise. The darkness stopped halfway to the first set of doors, as a wild animal in the woods would do when listening for its prey. Gordon had heard stories but had no idea this was what he would encounter when the time finally came. His body froze as his mind raced, pictures running through his head. Death, destruction, bloody appendages of humans, his own death.

Gordon’s brain flashed an image of him shrinking, his skin slowly tightening as fluids left his body. All of his blood oozed out every possible exit. It seeped out of his eyes, his ears, his nose, mouth, any exit it could find. His bladder and intestines expelled their contents as if he had no control over his own bodily functions. His skin kept shrinking, his eyes shriveled within their sockets, his eardrums burst with a loud pop and extreme pain. He’d keep shriveling up until he was a bag of bones, lying on the floor in a heap. Gordon’s mind flashed horrible images as the darkness waited for any sign of movement. He didn’t know if hiding in the dark would work, but it was his only chance. Somehow, even though this apparition had no eyes that could be seen, he knew he was being watched.

            You can’t hide in the dark, Gordon.

            Gordon gasped when he heard the ethereal voice hiss his name. The voice floated on the air, as if twisting and curling, rolling into Gordon, searching him out, then plunging deep into his head.

            The dark cannot hide you. The darkness is my home. The darkness you so fear is where I find my energy. I am the darkness, Gordon.

            Gordon stepped out of the shadows and turned to face the blackness.

            The hissing voice turned into a cold, sharp laugh that came in gasps at first, then rolled into one long sound. The laughter floated like the hiss, searching Gordon out and pounding through his ears into his brain. This laugh was only for him. Gordon clasped his hands over his ears, but his actions didn’t stop the laughter, it continued to roll out of the nothingness and pound into him, somehow pounding into his ears through his hands. Or was the laughter coming from his own brain?

            Laughter seemed to reverberate everywhere. As Gordon backed up, he cringed at the laughter. It was getting louder and louder, pounding against him, making his stomach turn. Then, suddenly, the laughter stopped. It didn’t taper off; it just stopped. A trickle of blood oozed down from Gordon’s nose, over his lips, to his chin, then dripped off. Gordon brought his hands away from his ears and wiped at his nose with the back of his right hand.

            It’s too late, Gordon. The hissing voice sounded amused.

            Gordon moved back slowly, keeping his eyes on the darkness, looking for signs that it was creeping closer to him as he slunk backward. As Gordon approached the second door on his left, his heart caught in his throat. It was now or never. He had to get out of the building. He had no chance to survive here. Suddenly, the darkness shifted, as if reading his thoughts, knowing the plan he was running through in his head. The darkness shot forward, heading straight at him. Gordon sprinted through the doorway as quickly as possible, knowing the darkness had missed him by a fraction of an inch as it shot past the doorway. He didn’t stop; he kept up speed, running across the room. He didn’t have to look behind himself to know the dark creature had entered the room and was following him, trying to catch him. As soon as he was close enough, Gordon leaped off of his feet, throwing himself forward.

            You cannot escape me, Gordon.

            Gordon’s head shook with the sound of the hissing voice as he flew across the last few feet of the room and right through the hole in the wall where the window had been. It was only a second, he was sure, but it felt like forever that his body fell through the cold wintry air, dropping to the ground like a brick. He struck the ground with a grunt. A large drift of snow helped absorb the shock of the fall, but did nothing to keep the breath from being pushed up from his lungs and out of his mouth.

            ‘Go! Go! Go!’ Gordon shouted to himself, mentally. Holding his ribs, he jumped up and darted down the length of the building towards the street. Each time he lifted a foot and put it back down, it was sucked in by another pile of slushy snow. Gordon just wanted to fall down, to give his body to the snow-covered ground, and sleep. Let the cold overtake him. When he was only a couple feet from getting to the sidewalk, Gordon fell to his knees as a sharp pain ran from the bottom of his ribcage all the way to the top.

            “You didn’t jump out of a window to quit,” Gordon growled to himself.

            Using one hand to hold his chest and the other to brace himself against the building as he pushed up with his legs, Gordon rose to a standing position. He held himself as he shot a glance backward, then forward. Still no sign of the darkness. Gordon took off again, pounding through the last few feet of the snowbank, finally arriving at the sidewalk. It was a little slick from the sleet and snow, but he felt like he had much more balance now.

            He couldn’t go back to 1st Street. The darkness would have no problem following him into a crowd, and Gordon couldn’t risk all the people seeing the creature. Worse, he couldn’t risk that the creature wouldn’t attack them all. As tempting as it was to run towards 1st Street, Gordon turned the opposite direction and headed back towards the bank. He ran as quickly as he could, hobbling a bit from the pain in his ribs. Still running, Gordon glanced at his watch. It was only approaching eleven o’clock. Dawn wouldn’t come for at least six hours. He had to get indoors. And fast.

            As soon as his breath was more controlled, Gordon headed straight for the front doors of the bank. He grabbed hold of the icy metal bars and pulled with all of his might. They didn’t budge. Locked tight. Gordon cursed loudly as he yanked on the bars, then stopped and ran his hand over the glass of the doors. Tempered, thick glass. Backing up slightly, Gordon kept an arm across his chest as he kicked out with all of his might. His shoe caught the glass head-on, and like a basketball, bounced right off, sending sharp bolts of pain through his foot. He supposed he had broken it, too.

            Not wasting any time, Gordon assessed the area and located a loose brick on the side of the one-story building. At the corner of the building was a lone brick, sticking out, barely hanging onto the building, wanting to fall to the ground. Gordon hobbled over to the corner of the building and grabbed the brick with one hand. As he pulled, it jiggled a bit, but wouldn’t pull free of the rest of the bricks. With a sharp yelp, Gordon grabbed the brick with both hands and wiggled it back and forth, trying to pry it loose from the building. His ribs sent wave after wave of pain through him. Gordon bared down and yanked harder on the brick. A fingernail splintered, his joints turned white, and his knuckles were grated like cheese on the surrounding bricks, but Gordon continued to pull on the loose brick. A crackling noise preceded the brick popping out from between the surrounding bricks.

            Not missing a beat, Gordon clutched his left arm across his chest again, holding himself as he now hobbled over to the doors. He was losing his breath again, and even in the sharp winter air, he was sweating bullets. This wasn’t going to work, he thought to himself as he reeled back with the brick, preparing to hurl it at the thick glass. It was going to bounce off just like his foot had. Even if it broke the window, there was no guarantee that there would be a room inside the bank that he could take shelter in that would have a door with a lock. Just as Gordon had his arm slung back as far as it would go, a long hiss came from behind him.

            You cannot run from me, Gordon.

            Gordon didn’t move a muscle as tears came to his eyes. There was no more strength in him to run. His arm quivered as he held the brick, ready to throw. The darkness had followed him from the Inn, and he had nowhere else to run. Even if he did, he knew he couldn’t outrun the darkness again.

            “I didn’t tell anybody.” Gordon’s voice wavered as he turned slowly, lowering his arm to his side, still holding the brick.

            In the open, the darkness looked much different. Without any surfaces to attach to, it just hovered in the air, as if a dense, black fog. Gordon could imagine shoving his hand into the darkness and feeling it suck him forward, pulling at his arm, wanting to swallow the rest of him.

            That won’t save you, Gordon.

            It knew he was afraid and would say anything to avoid his fate. Gordon was telling the truth, though. He hadn’t told anyone about the darkness. He had known better than to involve other people. Gordon would have told the shop keeper about the darkness, if only he had been able to contact him in time. He had attempted to contact the shop keeper by phone when he first got off of the airplane but had failed at reaching him. He would’ve attempted to contact him first thing in the morning to ask for help, ask him for protection. But now, he knew he’d never see morning. He was lucky to have outrun the darkness once. No one had ever been able to escape the darkness before.

            The shop keeper won’t be able to help you. No one can help you.

            The darkness let its voice roll again, coming out of its gelatinous body, aimed only for Gordon‘s ears. It connected with its target, making Gordon stagger backward, reaching up to cover his ears again without dropping the brick.

            I am the darkness, Gordon. Even he cannot stop me. The darkness found the thought amusing, giving a sharp, evil laugh.

            Gordon’s head pounded with the sound. It was so loud that he could do nothing but try to block out the sound with his hands. Gordon knew that the darkness could kill him with its voice. The darkness knew the effect its voice had on Gordon. It knew that the sound of its voice would drive Gordon to insanity or kill him. As the laughing continued, Gordon could feel his ears pounding, as if his eardrums were swelling from the noise, throbbing within his head, wanting to burst if any more pressure was applied. He could feel blood begin to trickle down from his nose to his upper lip again.

            “Stop it!” Gordon managed to scream as he held his hands over his ears.

            Your time has come. The voice hissed, then became quiet.

            Gordon pulled his hands away from his ears and stood up as straight as possible, looking at the darkness. It was beginning to shift, waver around the edges as if it were a pool of water that had been disturbed. It was preparing to attack him. There was nowhere to run now and nowhere to hide. The darkness had come, and the darkness was going to get what it had come to collect. Anyone that knew of such things would always say the same thing. When the darkness came to collect you—collected you were.

            Gordon knew it was time for the darkness to collect him. There was nothing else to do but to accept it. He looked deep within the black creature, taking in every detail he could as he stood before it, helplessly cradling a brick in one hand. Gordon let his head turn skyward, tears starting to roll from his eyes and over his cheeks. Collection time had come, and Gordon was prepared to be collected. Even as the tears filled his eyes and fell in fat drops down his cheeks, a small, glittery object caught the corner of his eye.

            Mounted crudely at the upper corner of the bank’s wall, Gordon saw a twinkling light being reflected off of a glass or metal object. Quickly, Gordon glanced upwards and to his right at the wall of the bank. The object that had caught the light was both metal and glass. As most businesses did lately, the bank had mounted security cameras to record the patrons that came and went through its front doors. A smile crept to Gordon’s face as he blinked the tears from his eyes for the last time. More confident—not of his survival, but in his shrewdness—Gordon turned his head back to look directly at the creature before him.

            It was foolish, but it was the only thing Gordon could think of to do in the last few moments he had. Maybe the message would be delivered to the correct person. Gordon swung back with his arm, not bothering to hold his ribs, for he could no longer concentrate on the pain in his chest. With one quick movement, he hurled the brick at the darkness. The brick sailed through the air and struck the black cloud right in the center. As if caught by ghostly hands, the brick did not fall through the darkness and hit the ground. It disappeared as if the blackness had caught the brick deep in its bowels and was holding on. Gordon held his breath as he waited to see the darkness’s reaction. Suddenly, the brick fell out of the black cloud, clattering to the street below it. Again, the cackling began.

            Gordon shoved his hands over his ears again as the darkness laughed long and hard. It laughed inside his head, only audible to Gordon. The black cloud whipped in around Gordon as he held his head and screamed in agony from the pain the noise was causing him. The darkness rolled around him, encircling him like a tornado, wrapping around him tightly as Gordon’s screams tapered off into one long moan. Gordon could feel the blood that had been trickling out of his nose begin to ooze out. His ears felt warm and wet, and he knew blood was leaving his body through them as well. The darkness, even though seemingly intangible, began to squeeze him like a giant boa constrictor. Gordon’s scrawny frame began to feel the pressure from the darkness’s movements around him. He was surrounded by blackness, the vision of the street around him completely blocked by the black creature.

            Blood poured freely from his nose and ears, and suddenly Gordon realized it was coming out of his eyes as well, for he could see no longer.  Suddenly, he lost control of his bladder, soiling himself, his urine expelled from his body and ran down his legs in hot streams. Next, his intestines let loose, his bowels releasing. Gordon could no longer tell if he was still sane or insane. He could see himself being squeezed by this giant gob of blackness as if hovering above himself. However, he wasn’t just a spectator; he was also feeling the mind-numbing pain.

            As quickly as the process began, Gordon felt his skin begin to tighten around him, squeezing against his bones as if his skin was the darkness. It seemed as if he would have lost consciousness by this point, but Gordon somehow knew the darkness was able to keep him alive until the very end. It wanted him to experience everything that was happening to him. Pain made the creature happy. As it began to drain Gordon’s body of every last drop of fluids, feeding off of his very life force, Gordon could feel his mind giving out. The darkness was drawing him into insanity. Losing his mind would be the last horrific act that the darkness inflicted upon Gordon before it let him die. With his last ounce of sanity, Gordon saw what the creature’s destiny was. Gordon saw what was to come.

            You shouldn’t have tried to contact him, Gordon. The creature hissed malevolently.

            The hissing voice pierced through Gordon’s skull. It didn’t bother going through his ears like a normal sound. It began in his brain and worked its way through as if someone had put his head into a blender. It stirred his thoughts, feelings, emotions, and pain until everything ran into the other, and Gordon could no longer tell pain from happiness. He could no longer distinguish pain from pleasure. Everything was pain. Everything hurt. Gordon was going insane. The creature cackled a final time as the blood stopped running out of Gordon. No fluid was left in his body. There was nothing left of what Gordon had resembled.

            Just as quickly as the darkness had appeared, it blew away with the wind, riding on it, away from the scene of its attack. Gordon’s lifeless body lay in the middle of the street, between a gas station and a bank, a brick laying under his head on the concrete. All that was left of Gordon’s body was what appeared to be stretched and dried rawhide, filled with dried, shriveled organs and bones that appeared to poke against every possible surface of his skin. Gordon, now a bag of bones, lay upon the icy street. What blood had left his body had been taken by the darkness.

            The night was filled with noises from the distant freeway as the snow and sleet began to pick up. The wind howled, whipping its cold breath down Hurlbert, sending sleet slicing against every surface it encountered. Just a few blocks away, on 1st Street, the remaining shoppers were catching the last shuttles to the parking garages. The merchants in all of the shops were closing their doors, ready to count their money and go home to a nice warm bed to huddle under the covers. On the wind, a low, maniacal laugh could be heard as the darkness tucked itself away for the night.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase (And Thomas Allen)

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