Marcus reached over and grabbed his phone, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the light.

7:45… Shit I’m going to be late! He thought as he jumped out of bed, grabbed his shirt and pants, and ran down the hall. He pulled his shirt down over his head and realizing that it was inside out and backward; he threw his pants on the couch in frustration. He looked over at his girlfriend Stephanie, who was sitting on the other couch looking at him, as he yanked his shirt off.

“You know you’re going to be late.” She said raising an eyebrow.

“No shit,” He replied, pulling his shirt back on, “you know you could have woken me up.”0

“Had I realized what time it was I would have. You know that clock has been broken for several days now and this is the third time I’ve asked you to fix it.” She said turning her head to the clock, which sat still as death, above the television.

He threw his hands up, already wishing the day was over so he could crawl back in bed and hide under the covers.

He pulled his pants on and quickly laced his shoes. Grabbing his keys he ran down the stairs and opened the door. Pulling it shut behind him as he walked to his car and got in. He turned the key and it started right up.

Well, that’s something at least. He thought to himself as he backed out of the driveway and took off for work.

Nearly a half hour late he pulled in just as the clock in his car turned to 9:30.

“Shit! I forgot to set my clocks forward. What the hell else is going to go wrong today?” He said as he got out and slammed the door on his car.

He reached for the handle to the rear door and an image flashed in his head. His computer bag, with computer and paperwork still in it, sitting next to the door.

Everything; he had left everything at home. He was not only much later for work than he originally thought he would be but he also couldn’t even do any work.

Marcus walked into his boss’s office hoping that he would understand the kind of day he had been having.

“I completely forgot to set my clocks and as soon as I got to work I realized everything was still at home.” He said.

“Well, hurry up and get your stuff and get your ass back to work.” His boss replied, “This surprises me, you’re always on time and prepared. Fifteen prior, right? Some sort of military thing.”

Marcus sighed, his thoughts momentarily slipping to his years in the service and he still wondered if getting out a year ago had been the right move.

He shrugged and walked out to his car. He got in and turned the key.

Nothing. The car didn’t turn over, it didn’t even make a sound.

“Well, this about sums up my life right now.” He closed his eyes and slammed his head against the headrest.

His mind drifted to the last few days, an odd fog had settled in and he noticed that with each passing day it was harder and harder to concentrate. Simple things like knowing which light switch turned on what light or knowing what reports he needed for work had at times confused him. Strange though, now that he thought back, there were things that stood out to him. He seemed to remember where everything was and could picture it all in more clarity than he ever remembered.

“What the hell is going on with me?” He asked as he stared at the steering wheel for a moment.

Frustrated, Marcus ran in to tell his boss he needed the rest of the day off so he could deal with his dead car. He kept to himself the fact that he needed to schedule an emergency appointment, with Doc, in an effort to prevent himself from losing his mind.

An hour later the tow truck showed up, the driver got in the car and it started up on the first try.

“Well, this day just needs to end.” Marcus said as he handed the driver some cash.

“Yeah, I hear ya buddy. This day has been a strange one indeed.” The driver said as he got into his truck and drove off. Marcus just stood there for a moment, rubbing his neck, and wondering what the driver had meant.

He drove home, slammed the car door, and walked into the house.

“What are you doing home?” Stephanie asked as she looked up from her laptop.

“Hoping this day ends, that’s what.” He looked down and realized his bag was by the door but on the wrong side. He tossed his keys in a bowl next to the door and stormed down the hall to the bathroom.

Throwing the faucet on, he bent down and splashed some water on his face. He reached up and grabbed a towel and wiped his face off. He glanced up into the mirror, two cold black eyes stared back at him.

He jumped back, dropping the towel and knocking the soap dispenser onto the floor, a clattering that was barely heard over the pounding of his heart in his chest. He closed his eyes hard and kept them shut.

Shit, shit, shit. What the hell was that? He thought to himself.

Slowly he opened his eyes and he saw his face, blue eyes and all, looking back at him. Though he was a little paler than normal.

“Are you ok?” Stephanie asked from down the hall.

“Uhh, yeah. I think so.” He stammered, “I need to borrow your car, mine was having problems and I need to go talk to Dr. Reynolds, something just seems a bit off today.”

“Okay, let me grab my keys for you.” She said, setting her laptop down.

“No need,” he said, shaking his head and trying to blink the nightmare from his mind. “They’re in your coat pocket, on the counter, right?”

“Yeah, how did you know where they were?” she looked up and gave him a funny look.

“I’m not really sure, just a lucky guess is all.” Marcus said as he grabbed her keys and rushed out the door in the hopes of avoiding any further conversation. He didn’t understand what was going on and she sure as hell wouldn’t either.

He pulled into the parking lot of a small building tucked back among several other buildings, all long abandoned.

Marcus glanced up at the dark windows of the abandoned factory as he slowly walked up to the entrance of the office. He looked over to the other building, a crumbling apartment, and a chill suddenly ran up his spine. He stopped, a sudden feeling of being watched washed over him. Swallowing hard, he slowly turned his eyes to the windows of the factory.

Nothing, there was nothing there. Behind him he heard the slow scrapping of something being dragged across the pavement. He turned around keeping his eyes wide open hoping that he wouldn’t see anything. He looked down and realized that it was leaves that had been blown around by a small gust of wind.

It’s nothing you idiot. Stop letting shadows freak you out. He thought as he turned back to the entrance, grabbed the handle and walked into the building.

“I’m here to see Dr. Reynolds.” Marcus said as he walked up to the receptionist, a pretty young thing, short-cut red hair and a nice smile.

“Can I get your name sir.” She asked as her eyes strayed to his right arm. “Nice tattoo.”

“It’s Marcus, and thanks.” He replied as she typed away at her computer.

Hmm, she must be new. Either that or it’s been longer than I thought since the last time I was here. He thought as he looked down at the eagle, globe, and anchor on his forearm. It had been at least a few weeks since his last nightmare. His blood boiled at the thought of those nightmares, bringing him back several years, as he held his best friend in his arms shouting for a medic.

“He is with a patient right now, but he should be done in about 45 minutes.” She said looking up from her keyboard, flashing him a smile.

“Thanks, I’ll have a seat in the lobby.” Marcus replied trying to shake the images from his mind.

He slumped down in one of the seats, closing his eyes and rubbing his head. This day continued to go downhill and he hoped that maybe talking to Doc would help him clear his head up a little.

A sudden chill settled over him and he started to shiver. Each breath he drew in felt as if his lungs were filling with ice, his chest getting tighter as he began to struggle to breath.

His eyes snapped open and the feeling was gone. He looked over to the receptionist and found her giving him an odd look.

“Are you okay sir?” she asked as a hint of shock flashed across her eyes and was gone.

“Uh, yeah. I think so, it just felt like… Never mind.” He said waving her off, though she continue to stare.

She jumped as the phone rang, starling her out of her daze. She grabbed the phone, listened for a few moments, and placed it back down.

“He’s ready to see you sir.” She said still giving him an odd look.

“Thanks.” Marcus replied as he stood up and walked down to the end of the hall. He grabbed the handle and walked into the dimly lit office and took a seat, the back of an aged leather high-back chair staring back at him.

“Hey Doc, I know it’s been awhile and it was kind of short notice but I really needed to talk to someone and you were the first person that came to mind.” Marcus said.

A shiver went up his spine, wondering why the doc hadn’t greeted him when he walked in. He swallowed hard as his heart started beating in his chest. He stood up slowly and turned for the door, hoping his nightmares weren’t becoming a reality again, when the slow squeak of the chair turning stopped him in his tracks. He could feel the blood pounding in his ears as he closed his eyes. Whatever this was he didn’t want to see or even acknowledge that it was real.

“Marcus, I am so sorry. I was so busy finishing up these papers that I didn’t even hear you come in. Please have a seat.” Dr. Reynolds said.

He took a deep breath and turned around. His heart still nearly beating out of his chest as he looked at the doc. The chills were gone but he couldn’t shake the feeling as he sat back down.

“Sorry. It’s just been a really rough day.” Marcus said as he rubbed his eyes.

“Rough as in like the other times you’ve come to see me?” Dr. Reynolds asked as he pushed his round wire-frame glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“Not really.” Marcus said as he thought back to the several times he had come to see Doc. All of which had been for either depression or his problem coping with the stresses of normal life, or both really.

“Well, I know we talked last time about losing several of your friends and I thought that we had worked through that. I know you feel you didn’t do enough, but you couldn’t have done any more than you did.” He replied.

“I know Doc, it’s not really about that. Don’t get me wrong I’ll never feel like I did enough but that’s a discussion for another time.” Marcus shifted in his seat as he absently rubbed the metal band at his wrist, his fingers running across the names etched in the metal.

“The last few days I’ve been in this sort of fog. I’ve been having a hard time concentrating and doing the normal day-to-day stuff. But unlike the other times this has happened I’ve been getting these startling moments of clarity.” Marcus sighed.

“Hmm, I see. It sounds a bit like the fog of war or clouding of consciousness. Where there is this sort of detached perception of reality. It makes things, like you had said, difficult even though you do them day in and day out.” Dr. Reynolds said.

“Well it’s not just that. I’ve been having, well, seeing… I really don’t know how to describe it. I’ve just felt like at times someone is watching me and it’s like there is something in the shadows everywhere I go.” Marcus said.

Dr. Reynolds turned and scribbled a few things on a yellow legal pad and set his pen down. He shook his head as he tucked his glasses in his shirt pocket.

“I think you’ve been working too hard and stressing too much. What you could use is a vacation. Sometimes when stress overwhelms you there is a tendency to project, and in your case that stress is causing you to project something that isn’t there.” Doc said as he stood up and walked to the door.

“Not sure that helps Doc, but I suppose I could use a few days off.” Marcus replied.

Dr. Reynolds opened the door and shook his head, “Listen. Go home and get some rest. I think you just need a break.”

Marcus shrugged, not entirely convinced it was the stress that was causing things. For a moment he thought about telling him about seeing himself in the mirror with black lifeless eyes but thought better of it.

Not like it would probably do a lick of good anyways. I get the feeling he’s had enough of me for one visit. Marcus thought as he made his way down the hall.

He smiled at the receptionist as he walked out the door. He paused for a moment in the parking lot and stretched as he took in a deep breath of fresh air. He looked around and saw the trees several blocks down rustling violently, a sudden gust of wind blowing toward him from out of nowhere, he shuddered as the blast of cold cut to the core. As soon as it came the blast of icy air had passed.

“What the hell was that?” Marcus said as he looked around. His surroundings were as calm as death, an eerie silence had fallen over the area.

He hadn’t realized it before but the sun had started setting. The sky was awash with yellows, oranges and reds. Somehow it felt off today. Whether it was due to the odd shit that kept happening or the fact that the sky just seemed ominous Marcus wasn’t sure.

He started walking to his car, pulled out the keys and pressed the button. The familiar chirp of the doors unlocking filled the silence and caused Marcus to jump a little.

Maybe a shot or two will help ease my nerves. Marcus thought as he walked up to the car, opened the door and hopped in.

Starting the car he left and made his way home. His mind wandered to times long past and the buddies he lost when his helo was shot down. He hadn’t been on that flight but it was his helicopter and those were his brothers. He could still remember the smell of smoke as they had landed. He rubbed his eyes trying to wipe the memories and the tears from his eyes. He didn’t realize that he was nearly home until he turned down the street to his house.

His phone started ringing as he pulled into the driveway.

“Yeah, what is it sweetheart.” Marcus asked as he pulled the phone out and answered it.

“I realize you just pulled into the driveway but would you be able to go and pick a few things up from the drugstore.” Stephanie asked.

Marcus pulled the phone away from his ear as she started coughing.

“Are you okay?” he asked as he pulled the phone back to his ear.

“I’ll be fine. I just haven’t been feeling the best and I think this cold just hit me like a ton of bricks.” She replied.

“Alright, well text me the stuff you need while I drive over there. Love you, bye.” Marcus said as he hung up the phone, threw the car in reverse and left to go pick up some goodies from the drugstore.

He grabbed the last item on the extensive list and threw it in the nearly overflowing basket. His phone beeped as he got a new message.

What now? I don’t have room for anything else. He thought to himself as he pulled the phone from his pocket. Reading the screen he nearly dropped the basket.

“Shit.” Marcus said out loud as he read the text.

Pick up several pregnancy tests. That was all it said. He lowered his head and pressed a knuckle to his temple.

Well, looks like I’ll be getting some pregnancy tests for her and some booze for me. He thought. Of course he always wanted to be a dad but this was a little too much a little too quick, especially on a day like today.

He grabbed the last items, checked out, and walked outside with two full bags. Setting them down he opened the door and piled everything into the car. As he closed the door he saw the reflection of a man standing several yards behind him.

“Is there something I can help you with si…” the words died in his mouth as he turned and looked at the man. Before him stood what seemed like any normal man of about six feet, maybe a little more, he had a fairly stocky build like he worked construction or just kept in really good shape. What turned Marcus blood cold were the eyes, black as night as they peered out from under his hood. The man’s face was scared and slightly burnt.

“You… I’ve been searching for you.” The man said, his voice a slow, deep, and booming rumble. Marcus cringed and his heart leapt into his throat as he heard the man speak.

“I don’t know who the hell you are or what you want but stay away from me.” Marcus shouted as his hands starting to tremble.

The man’s lips curled into a smile as he took a step toward Marcus. He raised his hand, the flesh slightly blackened and cracking, and beckoned Marcus to him.

Marcus fumbled frantically for his keys as the stranger slowly walked toward him. Grabbing his keys he ripped them from his pocket, yanked the door open, and climbed in. His eyes never leaving the eyes of the other man, if that’s what he was.

The lights in the parking lot began to dim and Marcus froze in terror, wondering what kind of hell had been unleashed. Knowing that at any moment he was about to die, it took all he had not to want to cry or piss himself or both.

Come to me… the shadows whispered to him. The man cocked his head to the side, audibly cracking as he did. His black eyes burned with what could only be considered joy; and he smiled.

Marcus started feeling dizzy. He reached for the ignition and started the car, his eyes drifted to the steering wheel for only a moment.

A sudden burst of thunder struck as the parking lot lit up brighter than the noon day sun.

The man placed his charred and now smoking hand on the window.

The only sound Marcus could hear was the blood pounding in his ears. He couldn’t catch his breath as he struggled to think of what he needed to do to get out of there. The fog had swept in with a fury. Sudden flashes of eyes following him and things in the shadows leapt into his memory. Things he hadn’t noticed throughout the day. Things he thought weren’t real, and now he knew they were.

A sudden realization dawned on him that he needed to leave the moment watched in horror as the man’s blackened hand start to pass through the window. His eyes darted to the shifter and with a glimmer of clarity he slammed it into reverse and tore out of the parking spot. He slammed it into drive and left a trail of burnt rubber as barreled out of the parking lot, nearly hitting a car in the process.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. What is going on?  Marcus thought to himself. His eyes darted from the rear view mirror to the road ahead constantly looking for anything that didn’t seem right.

He slammed on the brakes to stop just in time before he ran through a red light. He watched as a man stumbled into the street, nearly dropping the bottle of booze in his hand as he tripped in front of the car.

Marcus vision began swimming, everything growing dim, as the man stood up with a wicked smile on his face. Marcus shook his head and realized the drunk had already made it to the other side of the street and the light had turned green.

He slowly made his way through the intersection, keeping his eyes on the drunk, and made his way home. He was slowly loosing memory of the days events as random moments snapped into his mind and were gone.

As he pulled into the driveway and turned the car off he couldn’t get out of the car. His hands were shaking violently and his muscles tightened painfully and he couldn’t help but wonder if this is what possession felt like. He wondered if he would lose control of his body and be a prisoner in his own mind.

After a few minutes, he stepped from the car and collapsed to his knees. The shadows swelling around him as the sound of voices was carried with the wind. He grabbed his head as the voices became louder and louder until they stopped without warning.

He looked up expecting to see the man standing before him but saw nothing. Slowly he stood, sweat dripping to the ground, and his head began to clear.

The moon shone bright in the sky as he looked up and realized that the world around him wasn’t as quiet as he thought. The sounds of crickets and other night critters washed over him.

He grabbed the bags, his hands still shaking, and slowly walked up to the door, threw it open, and walked inside. Dropping the bags he locked the door and dead-bolted it. He walked downstairs and made sure that door was locked as well before grabbing the bags and walking into the kitchen.

“Babe where are you?” Marcus asked down the hall as he checked the back door. Now was not the time to take any chances, though he wasn’t sure the locks would do much good considering the man had reached through his window.

“Getting ready for work. Why?” he heard the voice from down in their bedroom.

“Work, I thought you weren’t feeling good. And isn’t there something you’d like to tell me?” Marcus asked as he pulled the pregnancy tests out of the bag.

“I feel fine. Though, I didn’t know you were going to be out so late. Your dinner is in the fridge.” Stephanie said as she walked into the kitchen. “I have to get going. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Wait… I was picking up cold meds for you because you weren’t feeling good and now you tell me you’re feeling fine? And what about the tests?” Marcus said as he handed her the pregnancy test.

“What are these for? I’m not pregnant.” She said raising an eyebrow as she tossed the test on the counter.

“You sent me a text! I’ll show it to you.” Marcus said as he pulled his phone out, his hands started shaking again as he read the last text from her. “It. It can’t be.”

She grabbed his phone and looked at the text. “See, the last text I sent you was that I was visiting with some friends tomorrow. Why are you acting so strange?”

“I don’t know, something is happening and I really don’t know how to explain it.” Marcus said, bile rising in his throat.

“Well we can talk in the morning. Why don’t you get some rest, you don’t look so good.” Stephanie said as she kissed him on the forehead. “You feel a little warm, take some aspirin and get some sleep.”

“I’ll try.” He mumbled as she turned and walked out the front door.

How could it be? I saw the text, she said she was sick. Marcus thought back to the stranger, the cold black eyes like pools that threatened to drown him. The man’s charred hand and face only making his heart beat faster.

He walked room to room and turned on all of the lights, clicked on the tv, and sat in a corner that gave him a vantage point to all windows and doors.

“I sure as hell won’t be sleeping tonight.” Marcus said as he looked around, immediately losing interest in whatever was playing on the tv.

Oh, my head hurts. He thought as he slowly opened his eyes. He darted awake realizing that he had fallen asleep. Pulling his phone out he realized it was nearly 7am. He cradled his head in his hands and rubbed his temples.

His head shot up when he realized that Stephanie should have been home by now. He stood and was about to call her when something caught the edges of his vision down the hall.

He looked up and realized that it was the picture of their first date, or rather it should have been. He ran down the hallway and the blood drained from his face.

The picture in the frame was of him sitting in the restaurant where they had their first date. There was no one else in the picture accept him. A sudden panic washed over him as he ran and checked each picture, she wasn’t in any of them.

He turned to look down the hall at their bedroom, the door was slightly open and he could see nothing but an inky black beyond.

He slowly walked down the hall and in one motion threw the door open and flipped the light on. There was nothing. No sign of Stephanie. No sign of him.

The room was completely empty.

His eyes traced the room back and forth looking for anything that would show that someone lived there. His arms hung limp at his sides and he nearly dropped his phone when it rang.

Thinking it was work he answered the call, his mind still trying to process what was happening.

“I’m… coming… for… you…” the voice on the other end a deep rattle, more the sound of death than anything.

He threw the phone across the room and ran down the hall. He grabbed his keys and cracked the door open to check outside.

The sun was shining and the sounds of nature belied the fact that something was terribly wrong.

He looked around for several seconds before running to his car. He wasn’t sure where he was going but anywhere was better than here. And hopefully the nightmare figure from before wouldn’t be able to find him.

His mind began to wander as soon as he was out of his driveway and down the street. He continued driving for several hours not even sure where he was going or where he had ended up so far. He turned down a street leading into an industrial park as his car sputtered and died.

“That’s just great. My car is dead and I don’t have a phone to call anyone.” Marcus said as his shoulders dropped and he banged his head against the headrest several times.

He looked around thinking that maybe he could call a tow truck from one of the businesses around him, but they all looked a little run down and he realized that he had pulled into an abandoned industrial park.

“Wow, really!” Marcus shouted as he got out of his car and slammed the door. He looked up at the darkening sky, “Why am I not surprised. I mean, why wouldn’t it start raining.”

For the briefest moment his mind strayed to the 9mm that he kept in his glove box. He wouldn’t go down without a fight, and if he needed he would do the job himself instead of the man that was after him.

The sky crackled with lightning as he reached for the door and realized that the car door was locked with the keys still inside.

Maybe I could break the window. The thought had come and gone as he looked down the road to see the man several hundred yards away.

There was a flash of lightning and the man was now only a dozen feet away.

Marcus started backing away, realizing he wouldn’t have much of a chance soon.

A sudden boom of thunder struck and Marcus fell backward as a bolt of lightning struck the ground a few yards in front of him. As his eyes cleared he saw the man standing where the lightning struck. The black eyes reflecting the lightning that flashed across the sky. A grim determination set on the man’s face which was twisted and black.

“COME!” His voice shook the ground as he reached out with burned and cracking hands. Hands that seemed to be burning from the inside.

Marcus could see a faint red glow from some of the cracks as he crawled back several feet, turned, and leapt to his feet. As he took his first step he nearly ran into the man.

His breathing came in short bursts as he tried to step back several feet but couldn’t. His legs wouldn’t work.

“It’s time!” A deep blood curdling laugh echoed out from the man’s mouth. Tears began to well up in Marcus eyes as the man reached out for him.

With his last reserves of strength Marcus threw his arms up in front of himself and took one step back as the man grabbed his wrist. A burst of heat radiated through his body, as flames began to lick at his wrist from the others hand.

“Nooo!” Marcus shouted and tore his wrist away from the others grasp and started running down the street.

The man lowered his arms and began laughing, a laugh that stopped Marcus and made his blood freeze in his veins. He slowly turn around and watched as the man continued to laugh as he reached up and pulled back the hood.

“What are you?” Marcus said, his voice little more than a whisper.

The man smiled, sending a chill up Marcus spine. The black eyes turned to red as if on fire. He fell to his knees as parts of his face and upper chest began to turn to ash and fall away. His arms hung at his sides as he looked up, his movements jerky and unsteady. A sudden burst of light came from his eyes and then went dark as his body fell over and crumbled. His ashes blowing away with the wind.

Marcus stood there, his heart pounding, as he swallowed hard.

Is it over?  He asked himself.

A sudden pain shot through his wrist and made him wince. He lifted his arm and realized that there was a burn mark in the shape of a hand on his wrist.

“I can live with a little burnt flesh if this is all over.” He stood and watched as the last of the ash was swept up in a sudden gust of wind. Turning he walked back over to his car and stared at the keys hanging from the ignition.

He placed his hands against the window his head drooping and eyes closing. He wished nothing more than to go home and have everything back the way it was; and of course to get about a days’ worth of sleep.

His eyes snapped open as he stumbled forward a step. His hand slipping through the glass. His memory flashed to the night before when the man had done the same. He leapt back and stared at the window, then his hands, the color draining from his face as he realized it wasn’t over.

“No. No. No. Please let this be over, please let everything return to normal.” He said as he sank to his knees.

“Why me, what have I…” He trailed off as the burning sensation seeped up his arm. He grabbed his wrist and realized that the burns where starting to spread. Flame began to erupt in small burst from his wrist and then his arm.

Holding his arm out in front of him he opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out. Tears rolled down his face as flashes of his life erupted before him. Between each flash he watched as his arm turned black. His fingertips turned to ash and began to dissolve into the air.

All he heard was the pounding of his heart and he felt the fire consume him faster and faster, each beat stoking the fire. The pain wracked his body as he curled in on himself, crying and hoping he would wake from this nightmare.

He cried out as he lifted his head to the sky, his body nearly consumed as his eyes faded to pools of black. One crimson tear rolled down his cheek and was burnt away.

“Help… me…” he whispered.

A flash of light more brilliant than the sun was there one moment and then gone. Nothing remained but a black shadow upon the ground.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The wind whipped across the road, leaves rattling and swirling as they were caught up in the sudden gust. Marcus opened his eyes, his body felt as if it had been crushed. He slowly pulled his face out of the dirt and looked around. It was much darker than he remembered, though to be fair all he remembered was pain.

He rolled onto his back with what little strength he had left and stared at the blackening sky. The subtle shades of oranges, reds, blues, and purples seemed a little off to him.

“I see he managed to find you in time.” A deep gravelly voice said somewhere to his left.

Marcus felt his chest tighten up as he looked over. A man was sitting on a pile of shattered concrete less than a dozen feet away the cherry of a cigar momentarily illuminating the scars on his face before he tossed it aside. He was clad in worn and tattered clothing and some form of odd chest plate and other bits of armor that were covered by a dirt and blood stained cloak.

“What? Who are you?” Marcus said, struggling to sit up. He looked past the stranger, shock sweeping across his face as he noticed he wasn’t in the industrial park, or anywhere he had ever seen or heard of on earth. The landscape was a blasted and ruined wasteland. Towering buildings stood naked; steel and stone left to weather through the ages.

The man stood and walked over to Marcus, his boots clicking as the steel plating connected with stone.

“You know, this would go much easier if you people would stop fighting the process.” The man said, “But as it is you don’t. The name’s Raze.”

“I don’t understand. What happened to me?” Marcus asked as the man bent down and handed him a flask.

“It’s called burn out. You see, we fight a war here that keeps your world, or the world you came from safe. Your world is bridged by many others and we do the best we can to stop the spread of darkness.” Raze said, his voice echoing a deep regret of ages past.

“That doesn’t answer my question of what happened to me.” Marcus said as he took a long swig from the flask and nearly threw up. He cringed as a sudden cold swept from his chest into his limbs. After a few moments the feeling faded and he felt a little better.

“You’re here because my brother in arms was killed. Before he died he was able to jump to your world to find a replacement before he moved on. He chose you. Now, I can understand your fear at seeing him. You burn out when you come here and the same is true when you cross the other way, only it’s much slower and much more painful. Or so I understand.” The man said as he tucked the flask into his belt.

“I can still picture his face the first time I saw him. It was like some sort of nightmare. He was smiling and said ‘I’ve been searching for you.’ I thought he was trying to kill me.” Marcus said as he shook the images from his head.

“Far from it my friend, far from it. He only hoped to find someone worthy of continuing the fight in his place.” Raze said as he stood.

Marcus pulled his knees up and rested his head on his arms. He had fought in one war and that was enough for a lifetime, now he had another to fight and he wished that he had the choice to go back. He wished he could see Stephanie one last time, and he wished he would have the chance to know what it would be like to be a dad.

“Time to go, the sun is setting and you’re about to get your first taste of what this life is like.” Raze said as the sun dipped below the horizon.

© Joshua Benes 2016