By Andrew R. Duckworth
There is no escaping it; the grim reality of the coming calamity, the ignorance of a populace so captured by the mundane, the things that dwell in the shadows twisting thought and diverting attention. And, while I thought I might be able to escape them, I always made sure to recognize them and realize their abilities. But now it seems there is no escape. Don’t think me insane or out of line! Not everyone can see them, those beasts that dwell just beyond humanity’s understanding, out of sight and reach, but still able to cause the most horrific of events. It is what began my running, years ago. I had the misfortune of coming across one of them, dipped in the shadows of an alley, hidden by the dark brick of opposing buildings and the pavement trailing off into the distance. But there it was, waiting for its prey, seeking out minds to warp. And how terrible a thing it was, built of the night around it, wearing the darkness like a cloak. Eyes that held hatred for all around it peered out from an anthropoid frame with oddities about the silhouette that revealed the horror. Dripping from its form was a liquid, not runny, but more congealed, a goop that slowly descended from the creature’s arms, chest, and legs to the ground below it. The thing stepped about in an uneven pattern as if losing balance. But it was perfectly capable of remaining on its feet and chasing after the first mind it came across. At that moment, I was the prey being carefully examined by the predator. It took in my every detail, seeing me under the light of a flickering streetlamp. The cover of darkness gave the fiend the advantage. Having never seen one before, I wondered what it was, naïve to what lurked just down the alley. Perhaps it was some wounded person tipping side to side out of injury. But no, nothing so lucky for my case. Instead, that night, I would understand what goes on behind the scenes, between the walls of the known and the unknown, the creatures that secretly dominate the world around us and seek to make us all slaves to their will. And what will is that, you may ask. A will to control, to fully dominate its subjects, leaving any hope of freedom or life useless and naïve. Those things that stalk humanity, that make one feel watched in a lonely room, exist and depend upon our ignorance of them to survive. That night, I was lucky. By chance, a raccoon happened to leap out of a nearby dumpster as the creature marched closer. Noticing the sudden change in surroundings, the furry animal racing off, the devouring creature stretched out its skeletal, dripping arm and grasped the poor animal as quickly as a frog’s tongue captures a fly. Hearing the animal scream for its life before crunching teeth caved down around it putting an end to its ability to flee or call for help, I turned and ran as fast and as far as I could. Since that day, I have seen three others in their true form, a form so hideous and from the world beyond and below that it might extinguish all of the goodness of any of the pure hearted. They suck the energy out of any individual, rendering them drained and useless, in an attempt to devour them… or worse, use them for their corrupt, foul means. I discovered their purpose when I was in Washington D.C., visiting a former friend, a lawmaker. I say 'former friend' because I have had to so distance myself from those who have attachments to those that veil themselves in shadows. As I stood from our dinner, at a table full of other congressmen, I began hearing a small noise below the volume of fifty loud conversations occurring at once. I made my way to the restroom at Callahan’s. That dim sound rapidly became louder, a hideous shrill shriek. It seemed to meet only my ears, as other patrons were still lost in conversation or shoveling food into their wide-open mouth. So deafening was it that it nearly caused me to drop to my knees and cover my ears. Not wanting to look on the brink of losing my sanity, I simply quickened my pace and hurried to the restroom. I was thankful, as the sound from the dining room, that maddening sound, was gone. Instead, some baroque tune played through a small speaker. It was pleasant, so much so that I wished to stay there a while just to relax my ears. But there was that restroom attendant, the one that opens the door, turns on the sink, and hands you a clean towel. He was a skeleton of a man with bags like bruises under his eyes. His gray hair was slicked back, and his face had all of the liveliness of the statues all around the city. A bony finger pointed towards the sink as I was about to leave, the man reminding me to wash my hands as though I had not intended to. I splashed my hands under the faucet and turned to take an offered towel. But upon another glance at the attendant, I noticed something vile, a single tear of blood trickling down the old man’s cheek. The man’s right eye was bleeding. I pointed to his eye. “Happens all the time,” said the man, as if expecting a comment. “Enjoy your night, sir.” As I reentered the dining room, something stopped me. I looked at the table, surrounded by all of those dishonest snakes to see that the head of snakes, Congressman Mathis from New York, was sitting in front of a shadowy area of drapery. And, out of the drapery came a slime covered and withered arm with a large hand reaching out. Unnoticed by everyone. It placed its wretched fingers on the congressman’s shoulder as if to either praise the man or invade his mind further. Either way, no dripping fangs ripped apart that table of suit jackets. Instead, they were left alone to continue in their vile misdeeds. The monster was not hungry for anything other than power that night. And two times since then, I’ve witnessed those beasts stalking people as they lived their lives, the creatures always staying to the shadows. Perhaps running is what they want me to do. Maybe it is why I seem to be the only one that can gaze upon their hellish forms. And if there is any madness in my mind, it is caused by those things that crawl up the siding of the building every night and tap on the windows, forever haunting me, waiting for the perfect opportunity, waiting for the coming time of endless nightfall. They can’t haunt the halls here. My caretakers, thank Holiness, keep the monsters at bay. Dim lights stay on in the halls throughout the night and the shadows are minimal. The substance that the creatures seem bound to cannot lead them to my room in this fortress. Yet, in fearing these awful creatures that only Hell can unleash, I have become an observer of the mundane, one who follows routines, one who invites the creatures to invade. May the Almighty protect my soul from these beasts that wish to bring upon an age of darkness. May the Almighty protect the souls of mankind from the devouring wickedness of those filthy beasts. Their claws scratching the walls fills this place with scraping and grinding sounds each night. I fear the day that the power goes out and the generators fail. If or when that happens, it will mean my end. And with my end, the end of the world.
I was originally going to write several short stories in hopes of publishing a collection (and I may still do just that), but I’m currently working on a larger project and this was going to be waiting for some time and I was anxious to share it along with a few other short stories. Many aspects went into this extremely short story. However, what I wanted to convey most was paranoia and a slow descent into insanity. In the end, I wanted the reader to question the narrator and question the narrator’s setting. The creatures I wanted to keep sort of cosmic horror, things that can’t be understood and drain hope. Lovecraft was definitely an inspiration for this short story. Poe also had a certain impact as well, particularly with the narrator insisting that he is not insane. The main inspiration, however, was paranoia, both at the individual and societal level. As the story progresses, I mean for the focus to gradually move away from the creatures and more to the narrator’s state of mind. Any references to actual individuals or actual businesses, current or past, that occur in this work are entirely incidental as, to my knowledge, Congressman Mathis and the restaurant Callahan’s in Washington D.C. are completely fictional, devised in my mind and placed in the short story. I hope that you have enjoyed this short story. Thanks for reading!
This writing is the work of its author, Andrew Ryan Duckworth, and can in no way be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any form without request from the author.