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A Grim Reminder

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Running, running, and running away.

In her dream, the boy was running.

Running further and further away.

Though, he knew it was futile and so he stopped. Thereupon, he wondered. Questions raced through his mind seeking answers he’d no time to find such as where he’d done wrong as the monster’s long, clawed feet broke apart the earth in its pursuit not far behind, having been disturbed from its slumber under their chosen campsite. Or why hadn’t anticipated the possibility, to lower their voices, after thinking over countless other scenarios in his head. What he could have done differently instead of telling to run as fast as they can. But, sinking to his knees as the ground trembled, how could he have known? Exhausted, using the last of his strength to keep his head up to watch the others, to make certain they were safely away, still running, for all his training, for all their preparations, what could have prepared them for something like this? For everything, all he could do now was listen and wait as they fled and he remained, hoping he might give them more time, as the monster got closer and closer and closer still. Until its hunched, misshapen form loomed over him, its shadow stretching so far and wide he saw only darkness no matter where he looked thereafter and chose to turn and face his impending demise because he’d succeeded; they were far gone now.

He could feel its rotten, hot breath rolling down his body and a fetor so foul as it spewed from its mouth when it cracked open, brandishing pointed teeth each thick and tall as himself that he almost fainted, his eyes watering as it sniffed him then pulled away and there was one moment of respite—one, surreal second of quiet, his fear abated—before something, something sharp, hooked itself around him and hoisted him high into the air and there he dangled, high as a mountain, able to glimpse a last look at the others as black specks upon a sea of greens for but a moment before the monster’s clawed fingers pressed into his spine, and he cried out in anguish as that second of quiet became an eternity of pain.

Unthinkable pain, as its teeth sank into his legs and chewed up his waist, pulling out his insides.

Indescribable pain, as he vomited and spat and coughed bile and blood, the juices spilling down his chin onto his chest as upward still its hunger moved. 

His ribs were crushed, his lungs skewered, his heart pounding, and, gasping for air while he tried to suck in more, his head felt ready to explode, the whites of his eyes filling with red, popping out their sockets, as he let out a scream that died in his throat and the world, his world, became dark.

Letting out that scream, frightened awake, the girl hit the back of her head into the tree she'd been nodding off against, having taken refuge up high as she dared climb shortly after finding herself lost again in another forest of these giant trees, pulling her blanket closer around her shoulders as she put one of her trembling, frost-touched hands behind her head and pulled at knots of matted, wet hair.

She winced, coming away with blood. The black strands slipped between her fingers. Staring after them until they were lost to the all but perpetual darkness which enveloped her, she was wary of what lurked there. And, in the gloom, mistaking her stomach for something else, the girl nearly fell from her perch before catching herself, dangling by her hands and looking up at the treetops and feeling cold rain hit her face before breaking off a branch with a foot outstretched and letting it tumble down, before hoisting herself back up.

Sound was the only way to be certain it was safe, and after waiting a time and hearing nothing, those things that’d chased her up here must have finally left and it was only then did the girl start her careful descent. 

She slid down the trunk of the tree slowly, using any branches and holdfasts between the bark where she was able, until when she was little more than halfway down as a sudden, sharp pain split through her skull and her vision filled with blinding shades of red, whereupon next she knew she was flat on the ground where it was muddy and damp and sodden from the cold. Her fall the remainder of the way down had been softened by the branches and leaves of the tree, but her back hurt all the same.

Lying there, these scarlet flashes of pain were memories. Recent memories, of the monster in her mind, of the boy’s neverending pain. And she continuously pushed them back down, fighting the urge, the hunger, the want for blood that once licked her tongue, clenching her teeth and forcing herself upright because this boy from her dreams was dead and she wasn’t. Not yet.

His name had been Marcel.

And he was dead.

Her name was Ymir. 

And she didn’t want to go back to the way she was. What she was. Couldn’t be that way again, as she let her thoughts of him fade and there she was again, alone and unashamed.

Ymir. That was her name.

And thus she picked herself off the ground, mud caking her aching body as she turned away from the tree as she had to keep moving if she wanted to keep on living, and stumbled forward, continuing to wander the wilds, holding those memories at bay until she couldn't walk anymore and heaved, bending over, knees in the mud. Harsh, ragged gasps of cold night air, spittle drooling from her mouth, clinging to her skin, and nothing more, as, with them, came the monster and its hunger and those horrors creeping their way back inside her mind despite her fortitude. Like the monsters she'd had to fend against, roused from their black slumbers, circling her and closing in, bright yellow eyes in the dark; waiting for the perfect moment to devour her, too. Same as she’d done the boy. To Drag her down. Sink their teeth, biting down. Bring her back into the fold, into the nightmare, and consume her whole. Clawing their way, clawing their way, gradually, gradually…

She heaved again and collapsed as it seeped into her, soaking into the patches of  snow around her where she curled in a fetal position when those memories began anew.

She buried her face in her hands, as if doing so would make them go away, but, the memories, they were still there, and she chuckled to herself, at her own naivety, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as she tried to rise to her feet again because of course they wouldn’t simply go away; seared and branded into her brain forever.

Memories of the boy, Marcel, and the terrified look on his face above her head as her jaws widened and she bit down, tasting of his blood, and savoring the snap of his bones.

Memories of after, when she woke up, when she saw his remains against the smoke billowing toward that crimson sky, and the trail she followed to a scene of even greater carnage: that great wall, broken, and town thereafter, burning, and the utter silence which waited beyond.

Memories of these monsters, chasing her everywhere she went, giving her little time to rest, and, lying in her own puke, searching for stars that weren’t there, she thought she heard one of the wolves that’d been chasing her from before, approaching her and she pushed herself up to run because she didn't want to die again, not yet, but even so she couldn’t and she shut her eyes because that was it, this was the end, only… nothing happened.

And then the wolf tried to speak. 

Infantile attempts at communicating its thoughts into one word, chanting it over and over and over again until she didn't want to hear it anymore and came face to face with the boy forever pained, Marcel, whose sacrifice allowed her the mercy of being freed from a decades’ long nightmare, instead. 

His body was broken, spine twisted so he walked on all fours, his intestines dangling and feet dragging across the ground. He walked with his hands, holding himself up and wading along. The back of his shirt was torn, skin shredded and viscera exposed. He leaned further left than right, his right arm not much but loose sinew and bone. His black hair was spread out in patches atop his peeled head, his crimson skull visible beneath the fleshy flaps hanging down. His neck was partially ripped open. What remained of his jaw hung low. His mouth was snapped wide with a drooping tongue. The only thing wholly intact was the upper half of his face, barring the bottom of his nose.

Relief washed over her, then, because she knew he wasn’t real; knew that he was guilt personified, molded from memory and nothing else and wouldn’t be her demise, though she also knew that lingering her staring at him would be. So, she took a moment to compose herself before she kept moving, trying her best to ignore the thing following her every step thereafter as she went. Except, no matter how far she went, the land seemed endlessly empty—every place she came upon was deserted.

While there were signs that people once lived in these places, these villages, definitely until very recently, if not for the fact of her scavenging them for leftover food and clothing, the girl might’ve thought herself to truly be alone. 

Herself, and her hallucinations. 

And the farther she traveled the riskier it became, as well, for dotting the land also were these forests of giant trees in abundance and she didn’t linger any near them than she had to, avoiding them entirely whenever she could because of the sounds from within. In the day, it was the grunts and groans and earth-stomping feet of those mindless monsters she never wanted to become again. During the night, it was the howls and growls and struggle of wild animals that prowled around as these monsters slept. That had stalked her all the way to that tree, and were scared off by the monsters before they, too, had left her alone in turn. That had frightened her so that she’d mistaken the boy’s walking corpse for one. They were full of dangers and between that and the headaches, the accompanying pain that were this boy Marcel’s memories trying to tell her something, his last thoughts, his last screams, the girl wasn’t so keen on revisiting those times anytime again soon.

Not that it was up to her to decide. 

Glancing back at the boy, the only way to learn more about him rather than the dream of his death, his final moments, was the same as her own past. Of a certain battlefield from her past that she kept being returned to, mixed in with his, and a voice that guided her through it: to keep moving forward in search of something grand. 

The boy’s jaw swayed as he looked at her, his vocal cords closing and opening like an insect’s mandibles. No sound came out except one short higher-pitched, blood spurting wheeze, but she could hear his words in her head because his screams would never go away. He was a part of her, and as she replied to him, asked herself the question as she turned on her heels reluctantly, following him until she was at the precipice of one of these forests of giant trees once again: what purpose was she here? Why was she given a second chance, spirited away from the nightmare which had consumed all the mindless others like her? That this boy had to die so she may live again? She felt he was only the beginning in a long, estranged history that she, for now, couldn’t remember anything except that battlefield, guided by the voice of someone else.

Of someone caring, and kind. 

Someone who told her that no matter how terrible things seemed she must keep moving. To follow this boy. This grotesque fragment of a bloody memory. But, standing before this entrance to this giant forest, its trees so enormous they seemed to touch the stars themselves, she hesitated. The trees appeared wicked. Ancient, twisted tawny tower-gates blocking passage to whatever secrets lay within and, peering beyond them, she saw only blackness.

She felt her chest tighten, a rumble in her heart in anticipation at what might be waiting inside. She dare not risk it, but, again, something, someone, told her otherwise; that her past would only come to light if she plunged into the dark and dragged it out herself. That she had to go forward, keep moving, ever onward, until the land disappeared beneath her feet and there was nowhere left to be. 

So, she listened, because she didn’t want to succumb to the nightmare again.

And scratching and tearing herself on thorns trying to keep pace with the dead boy's surprisingly lithe form down, she came to something after a time: a church in ruins, ravaged, raped, despoiled, once a solace, now just a shell of what it’d once been, and while she was afraid of what potentially lay inside, too, lurking, and would’ve moved past it out of instinct, ignore the boy—just another hallucination in her mind, after all—and continue wandering the wilds, if not for that voice—oh, that gentle, loving voice—beckoning her from that dark, oh how she would’ve. It persuaded her otherwise. Intimidated, pressured, pushed, her on. That voice of someone caring and kind, turning vile and cruel, ordering her forward. Into that darkness, into that unknown, to brave the peril, swallow her dread, and conquer her own fears. It shouted. Screamed. Keep moving, keep moving. Keep moving.

And soon her body was at its splintered doors, arms weakly pushing them open, blood rushing through her veins as her heart pounded in her ears. Thump. Thump. Thump. She had to keep moving, and forced her way inside, tripping, tumbling on.

Falling in a dusty heap, eyes to an open ceiling above, the moon’s light shone, helping her to see. 

Around her, nothing moved. Nothing stirred. Only silence reigned, and she turned to the boy, to Marcel, to ask why here, what was the purpose of leading her to this place, but he was gone. And the voice that spoke to her, remained quiet in kind.

She was alone again. No, she thought, she’d always been alone.

Eventually, she caught her breath and sat up on one of the old and rotten wooden pews lining either side of her, assessing even in her own awful state a lone podium flanked by two large statues at the front of the room. Behind them, was an altar, and slowly, but surely, she continued her way towards it, and reaching it shortly thereafter, its worn and aged plaque, rusted and cracked, was surprisingly warm to the touch as small dark shapes began to appear when her focus narrowed. Knowing them to be letters, she stepped back and squinted and tried to sound out the word they formed. Though, she couldn’t, and, instead, looked up at the statues again. The depiction of what they were. What they were called, long abandoned, long forgotten, only, she couldn't, she couldn't... she was so very tired…

The girl doubled over beside the podium. 

It was hollow in the back.

Scrunching herself into the void space, she put her knees up against her chest and rested her chin on top of her hands, an infant inside her mother’s pregnant womb once more, eyelids heavy for the first time in what felt like ages.

It wasn’t long before she was fast asleep and the world, her world, became dark, her last woke thought that she’d been led here because her name was Ymir and maybe it was time for her to truly live.

Art by Tatong on DeviantArt

Art by Gjergji Zhuka on instagram (@gjergjiart)