H. Danielle Crabtree
There was something in the air, dark and twisted, unnatural. It reeked of rot, mold and earth, the aroma of the dead. Its pungent stench eclipsed the fresh scent of the falling rain, and Colin gasped. His hands began to shake; his inhales and exhales sharpened. He knew what was coming. It was the same thing that came for him every night.
He picked up his pace, careful not to trip on the broken chunks that were supposedly a sidewalk. The light rain turned into a steady downpour as he turned a corner into an alley. His heart raced with each step. If only he could make it home …
He never knew what to expect. Every night it was some different form of torture upon his soul. He knew what the morning would bring, but still, he wondered if this would be the last time. If tonight, he would escape the hellish punishment, the curse laid upon him.
He pulled his jacket closer around his body and took a deep breath, trying without success to quell his fear. He would never be numb to it; the way one was with everyday experiences. No, there was no immunity in this ever-changing, waking nightmare.
Get it over with, he thought as he glanced over his shoulder. He hated no knowing where the end would come from or what he should expect. You couldn’t outrun what you couldn’t see coming …
He tripped over a broken crate in the alley, landing in a puddle. His palms scraped against the fractured concrete. It scratched away his flesh, blooding his hands. He lifted himself up from the sodden trenches of the small byway, only making it to his knees when he saw the legs of a man standing before him.
Rising to his full height, Colin took in the rest of the darkened figure. The man was faceless; a hoodie obscured his features where the light dared to touch. His choice of black made him into a shadow among shadows, but Colin had no doubt that he was the hunter in his purgatory. In the gloved form of the man’s hand was a knife; the object Colin knew would serve as today’s fateful end.
Slowly Colin’s eyes fluttered open. He gripped the blankets as if tearing at them when his consciousness revealed his reality for what was now a countless number of times. He was in his bed, destined forever to wake up to the vision of the dilapidated ceiling and his own personal hell called life.
Colin lay there for a few minutes, staring at the cracks and longing to escape his misery. Every day ended in his death, and every morning, he woke up here – doomed to repeat it all again.
He took a deep breath and gripped the blankets harder. His muscles quivered as if shredding the covers was the most exhausting act he had ever done. Anger, fear and pain filled him, and he felt as if he would go insane, if he wasn’t already.
He rose from his bed, walking to the bathroom, tripping over the trash and clothes that covered his floor as if he were a blind man. Finally reaching his destination, Colin stood in front of the mirror, staring at his haggard face. The once youthful face now was marred by lines, dark bags under his green eyes, and facial hair that left him looking dirty and old.
He cringed. This couldn’t be his face; he was only twenty-seven, at least he had been when the nightmare started. He had been promised a thousand deaths in recompense, and he could not remember how many times and in how many ways he had died.
But this was his punishment, one he couldn’t escape, for a grievous mortal sin.