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In Living Memory

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My name is Philip Ojomo. 

I have been here for years I think now, in this other plane. I used to try to keep track of days and months and years by counting, but the sky never changes. I know I’m guessing at this point.  I go by entries.

So. Entry 14,582.  And Journal number 2.

I did not used to keep a journal, but the old book I found so faded it was nearly blank is now too full of my writing for me to continue to use it. It took me fourteen trials to find this new one, so I have very much missed writing in those days in between. I don’t know what it is about this place that made it seem so necessary that I start writing things down. I was disoriented and shaky at first, but it can’t have been more than a week after arriving here that I began to scribble things down on pieces of cloth I found, using charcoal from a fire bin.  Maybe there is something in the air. It is eternally dark, but never the deep black of true night—that darkness lingers at the edge, just past what you can see, but changes when you approach and get close to it. The atmosphere is always heavy with smoke and fog, and the fires do not cut through it yet can be seen at great distances.  There is something in the air to remind you that you are already dead, and nothing you do can change. 

It makes you want to chronicle. To put something down on paper to try and make it immortal. I think maybe it is a feeble attempt at some kind of life in this world. If I can’t have my own life anymore, then maybe I can give one to my memory. It’s something at least. I reread my entries and am sometimes comforted by them. Perhaps that is silly. They are never good, because nothing that happens here is good, and also because I am not a good writer. They do not promise me new hope, and show only how wrong I have been and how far I must still have to go, and yet, it is proof I have done this before. Time has passed, I have kept going. That is something, even if it does not feel like it.  It is something and I have proven it with words.

It’s not much. But anything in this place is a miracle.

I wish I could still think of things worth recording, but I can’t. What could I say I have not already told myself many times? Today I chased the same souls I always chase.  I don’t know what sins they committed in life to face me as their reaper, and I don’t want to.  I don’t even know if they are truly the same group of undying phantoms, made to look young, almost like children, or if each day the people are new and the appearances merely remain the same as part of my payment.  Either way, each day is the same.  I dig my blade into their backs and chests and cut them down. I pick them up as they struggle feebly or weakly bleed out, and I hang them on hooks for the whispering voice of the great Spirit. No one escaped me.  I have gotten better at this.  The past few times I have done this not one has made it out.

It does not feel like an achievement.

I used to think I would never get used to this. To hunting, to killing. I always remind myself that this is payment, this is not normal life. I have become the reaper for this Spirit to repay my debt, for the innocent souls I took.  I hunt like I hunted Azarov, I let my hatred fuel me, my anger. I will cut down all people like him, I will rain down punishment. It is fair. I used to say that whole thing to myself a lot, to try and make it easier for me. Things like I just said too, about not wanting to know what they did to deserve me. I thought doing that would make it easier for me to kill them, and I would suffer less.  I thought when I started that it would always burn me inside when I heard them run and scream, or tore one away from another they were trying to rescue from a hook.  I really did. But now I think I have become numb to it, which is much worse.

I used to try and record details too. Things I saw, markings in the buildings, anything that stayed the same in the ever-changing terrain. Hoping for some kind of change or significance. Even though the Spirit gives me commands and instructions, teaches me new tricks, sometimes even offers rewards, I still know so little about this place.  It tells me that it is none of my concern, that I should respect it, and I guess it is right.  I have paid the price for disrespect before.  I didn’t really know what pain was before I came here.  Recording details used to make me feel like maybe I was learning, in a way that I would be forgiven for, but it is harder and harder to care about that now. I should not give up though, I should think of something I can read tomorrow which is particular enough to bring a memory back.

Okay. Let me think.  All I can think of is an unpleasant memory, but I guess it is something.

The redhaired girl almost escaped me today. She turned and ducked right between my legs when I was upon her and I overswung. I was so surprised that I stumbled forwards a few steps and crashed into a wall before giving chase, and for a second it felt like tag or hide and seek. I remembered a girl I knew in class doing that once when we were very little.  It made me sick. I wish I could feel nothing. We were in the shed, and the droplets of blood from the gash on her back I’d carved refused to soak into the broken pallet in the doorway. They just glistened, then vanished, like everything in this artificial realm. They were much more red than the pallet chunks. A real color. Everything here is so muted.

Maybe someday I will look back and find this comforting.

 


 

 

Dwight, Dwight don’t do it. He’s too close. Claudette turned to try once more to see where the Wraith had gone, and the motion sent waves of pain shooting up her neck and down her arm. She bit down on her lip to keep from crying out. Claudette had been hooked thousands of times, but it’s impossible to grow used to the sensation of being impaled, of hanging, all  your body weight tearing down on your collarbone, the metal slicing through the flesh, the weight on the wound, the way the pit of your stomach sinks when you feel the blood seeping down your chest and watch red blossom through your clothes and feel yourself dying.

She was scared, she was always scared during trials, but there were parts of that you could get used to and learn how to bear. Pain was different. She’d gotten tougher, but it still burned. It still made her stomach drop and filled her with panic.

And now she was scared for Dwight. He was edging along boxes, trying to make it to her, but he was already bleeding badly himself. A deep cut on his shoulder.

What was worse was that she couldn’t point, give him some idea where the Wraith had gone, because then it would know she saw a friend. Not that she knew where to point even if she could. He’d gone invisible and taken off, but it had been seconds ago. Dwight hadn’t given him enough time to move on, but he didn’t know that. The Wraith had stayed close after hooking her for a few seconds, watching from the hill for signs of the others. Dwight had been too far away to hear him disappear a few seconds ago.

The worst part was the guilt, was that as much as she wanted him to run, she also wanted to be rescued. She tried so hard to care for the others and protect them, and she knew this was selfish, bad. She was so scared, and it hurt, and the memory of what it felt like to be skewered by the Entity was banging against her skull. 

She was dreading struggling against the monster that imprisoned them here, worried about her friends, five generators to go and without her to help them. She didn’t want to die again. And seeing how ready he was to risk himself to save her, it filled her with hope and happiness even though she knew she should want him as far away from her as possible. It made her feel guilty to be happy about this, but she couldn’t help it. There was a reason he was a good leader, and it was that he always tried to be there for the rest of them, even when it was stupid.  Maybe especially when it was stupid.

They were never alone with him around.

Dwight broke cover and ran up the hill in a mad dash. Claudette looked around frantically for signs of the Wraith reappearing, but saw nothing. It wasn’t until his arms were lifting her off the hook that they heard the bell toll from behind the hook and saw the monster’s form burn into existence.

She grabbed Dwight’s arm and ran.

Their feet dug into the soft earth as they sprinted frantically, trying to do anything they could to lose the monster behind them. Claudette slid over the top of a pallet and ducked past another, close to a maze of crushed cars they might lose him in. Behind her, she heard Dwight scream and the thud of a pallet falling.

Claudette spun on her heel and saw the Wraith shaking its head in pain, and Dwight crawling away from a fallen pallet, blood oozing from his back.

She knew she couldn’t make it, but Claudette ran.

Dwight did his best to wave her off, trying to get her to hide, but she kept going, skidding to a stop on her knees beside him. She tore off a strip of gauze from her medical kit and tried to stop the bleeding. She heard the telltale crack of the Wraith breaking the pallet between them and knew she was out of time.

Her instinct was to run, but there was something stronger than instinct. She kept trying to stop the bleeding.

Dwight tried to shove her off of him, but she felt in her chest the way she’d felt when she’d seen him coming for her, even though she knew she shouldn’t want him to, and she knew somewhere deep down he must feel the same. Nobody wanted to die alone, nobody wanted to be abandoned. He’d been on a hook before, for too long. If she left him he was dead. She couldn’t save him, but she could stay.

Claudette threw herself between Dwight and the Wraith and looked up into its face as it raised its blade.

It stopped, mid-swing, and just stared at her, like it had frozen, or was a robot someone had flipped the off switch on.

For a few horrifying seconds they just stared at each other.

“Claudette, just go!”

That broke her out of her tableau. “No,” Claudette replied, whispering out of instinct because the Wraith was so close now it couldn’t possibly matter.  Without breaking eye contact with the figure towering over her, Claudette stopped the bleeding and pulled Dwight back a few feet.  It still didn’t move, except its glowing white eyes, which followed her.

“What are you doing?” Dwight asked in an equally hushed tone as she pulled him into a half sitting position and tore off a strip of gauze to wrap around his shoulder. He looked up at the Wraith then too.

Slowly, the big monster lowered its blade. It just stood there, still staring, then blinked and took one small step backwards.

“What is it doing?” Dwight asked, more confused.

Claudette was trying to keep her eyes on the Wraith while bandaging Dwight, which was easier said than done. With a second pair of eyes on the monster, she glanced down to get a better look at the gash on his back.  “I don’t know. It didn’t hit me and kind of froze up.”

“Why?” She could tell Dwight was thinking a million miles an hour, trying to formulate something that made sense. “For fun? It thinks we’re that beaten?”

They did have five generators to go.

Claudette didn’t reply. She kept bandaging, then pulled Dwight painfully to his feet.  “Let’s get out of here before it changes its mind.”

He nodded, still staring at the monster which was staring back. Claudette had to tap him on the shoulder to actually get him to come.

 

They backed away until the Wraith was out of sight. It never once moved to follow them.  They found and fixed two generators together quickly as somewhere out in the junkyard their companions set off another.  They bumped into Meg at the fourth, and Jake at their last generator.

“What happened?” Meg asked as she slowed her sprinting towards the exit so the others could keep up. “Wraith grabbed Dwight and Jake back to back, then you, and I haven’t so much as heard him since.”

“Yeah,” Claudette replied, breathing much harder than Meg had to, “He sort of let us go.”

Jake looked over at them with the clearest “What?” expression, but said nothing.

“I don’t know,” Dwight answered for her, “It’s like he broke or something. He stopped moving.”

Meg quit running.  “Where is he? I wanna see.”

Jake gave her a disbelieving look and walked the last few feet to the exit gates and flipped the switch to open them.

“You want to go back there?” Claudette asked.

“Yeah, I want to see it,” Meg said again. She gave the gates a glance. “After those are open.”

“Well, it is the most unusual thing that’s happened in a long time. Could be important,” Jake conceded as the doors slid open. He turned around to face the others. “Okay, let’s go.” He pointed at Meg. “But if you get hooked because we went sightseeing, I’m leaving you.”

He didn’t mean it. 

“Buddy, I’d leave you in the dust. No offense, but you all run like 60 year old men,” Meg replied, already heading off. She stopped. “Oh, right. I don’t know where we’re going. Claudette?”

Claudette nodded and motioned the others to follow.

 

It didn’t take them long to find him again, because he hadn’t moved at all. He was standing there, by a broken pallet and some crushed cars, staring at nothing.

The four survivors leaned out past a row of nearby cars and watched. He didn’t seem to see them.

“Woah, you guys really did break him,” Meg observed.  “Cool.”

“Can they break? I always thought they were alive—like people,” Claudette responded, “Do you think..?”

It looked up at them and all four jumped and dove back behind the stack of crushed cars.

“Is it coming?” Claudette asked, back pressed against the wall.

“I didn’t see,” replied Dwight.

Jake stuck his head out and looked.  “It’s not,” Jake called back quietly. “It’s just looking at me.”

They all slid half out from behind the cars again. Jake was right. The Wraith stood looking at them.  It turned its head ever so slightly as the others slid into view.

“What did you do to it?” Jake asked, looking up the stack to Claudette and Dwight.

“Nothing,” Dwight replied.  “It stopped on its own.  I mean, I guess I hit it with a pallet.  But not any better than before.  I’ve hit him like,” he actually estimated in his head for a few seconds, “12,000 times give or take.”

“It kept coming for us after that, and then it just didn’t.” Claudette was watching it carefully, trying to see any potential wounds from this distance.  She hadn’t even thought that the pallet might have messed up its head until Dwight suggested it just now. “It was ready to hit me, we were both on the ground, and then it stopped and just stood there, and then when I moved Dwight away it took a step back and kept watching us, and it’s still standing there.”

“Should we get a closer look?”

They all looked at Jake. He just returned the incredulousness with a What? gesture.

“What if he kills us all?” Meg asked. “Weren’t you the one who didn’t want to come at all?”

“Yeah, but I hadn’t seen him yet. I want to get out of here. C’mon, we’ve all died before—what’s one more?”  Jake stood up and turned to face them. They looked uncertain.

“Well,” Dwight conceded, “this could be big. If we found a way to long-term stun them or something. ..But we shouldn’t all go, I’ll do it.”

“Why you?” asked Claudette, worried. “I’ll go.”

“No offence, but you’re half-blind. I’m fast, I should go. Or Jake,” Meg added.

Jake was already gone.

“Ah, dammit,” Meg looked out past the edge of the cars. He was slowly creeping towards the Wraith. As he got closer to it, it watched, then slowly took a step forward and raised its weapon. Jake stopped. It took another step towards him, then another, steadily moving faster. He started to back up.

“Jake, run!” Claudette screamed. He turned to look at her.  As he did, the Wraith lunged at him and swung, missing by a huge margin. Jake took the hint and booked it back towards the others.

As soon as he reached them they took off as one, making a B-line for the waiting exit. As they ran, Dwight looked over his shoulder and saw the Wraith slow down and then finally stop and watch them flee.

He kept running, and the four of them passed together into the waiting temporary safety of the campfire.