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Interminable

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RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

The notion instantly appears in his head as the hairs instinctively stand up at the back of his neck and his breath is caught in his throat as the shape appears before him. At the sight of it, he immediately lowers his gun and runs. Bullets won’t work here. There’s no distinguishing his own frantic footsteps from the heartbeat throbbing in his ears as he leaps across the concrete floor. Cardboard boxes and steel structures zoom past him in the darkness. White flashes appear like the buzzing of flies on the edges of his vision. His head feels heavy and his throat is dry. Oh, god, where’s the exit? Where’s the bloody door? His hand goes up in exasperation to his forehead, beads of sweat sticky under shaking fingertips as his gaze darts back and forth across the maze-like interior, trying to distinguish the shapes in the darkness.

Somewhere within the labyrinth of crates and boxes echoes the faint humming of the approaching thing that should not be and the teeth inside his mouth vibrate with the sound of it. He thinks he hears a noise to his left so he spins around, nearly stumbling over a discarded forklift in the process. Clutching the crumpled documents closer to his chest he only barely avoids falling to the ground and recovers in time to turn the corner of one of the structures.

A noise that might be either a sob of relief or an exasperated breath escapes his lips as the faint glow of a streetlamp outside appears in the distance before him, shining in through the main entrance door standing slightly ajar. From behind him comes the unmistakable sound of skittering footsteps and gurgling moans and it takes all of his willpower not to look over his shoulder. Panic sears his veins but spurs him on. He knows they’re getting closer, can hear their wheezing breath and the unspeakable wet sounds of their hungry mouths nearly close enough to be felt.

In a wild flurry of movement he somehow miraculously manages to slam shut and barricade the sturdy metal door, pausing only a second with his back against the steel surface before he sprints for the car. Upon reaching it, his only thought is to drive. The documents scatter on the floor somewhere as he flings himself into the driver’s seat and starts the engine, wheels darting across sidewalk to join the main street. He doesn’t know in which direction he’s going. He doesn’t care. Inside his head is a tangled writhing mass of static that lends no substance, no aid, so he just drives. The thick fog is too dense to see through past the point of a couple dozen yards ahead on the deserted street but eventually the buildings grow less crowded until eventually, they are replaced altogether by shrubs, trees and the vast expanse of hills and grasslands. Though the sun should be high in the sky, nothing penetrates the unnaturally dense formations of stratus-clouds overhead and the land is as gloomy as any night. It’s getting darker and darker… Was it this bad before?

It’s not until he’s certain the town and the creatures inhabiting it are far behind him that he releases his foot from the gas pedal and allows the car to slowly crawl to a halt on the side of the deserted highway. He has no memory of the route he took when racing out of the town and thus has not an inkling of where he currently is. Before reaching for the medical bag to mend some of his cuts and scratches, he brings out his phone to briefly check the GPS. As the screen flickers to life and his eyes meet the light of the illuminating display, it’s the realization of the numbers on the alarm widget that takes the air out of him as if he’s been punched square in the gut.

4 hours and 16 minutes remaining. He stares open-mouthed at the screen in sheer disbelief as the rhythmic ticking of the seconds are counting down before his very eyes like tiny droplets falling down a well, disappearing forever. It can’t be true. He blinks several times, rubbing his tired sleep-deprived face hoping that maybe, maybe it’s only a trick of the eyes and if he wills it strongly enough he can make the hours reappear in front of him. They do not. Tears well up in his eyes and everything goes blurry instead.

How did he lose so much time? His hands fumble with the handle of the car door as nausea wells up inside him and he barely makes it out in time until he falls on his hands and knees to the ground, stomach reflexively trying to empty itself of contents that aren’t even there. He hasn’t eaten properly in days, after all. In this pathetic display on the asphalt, the seriousness of the situation hits him. There’s no time. He hasn’t got enough time. His head is spinning with confusion. The shadow seems to grow even thicker around him and despair chokes him from within, conscious of every second that passes by.

Failure. That is the word that bounces back and forth inside his skull like a sinister ping pong-ball, more a noun in reference to himself rather than the act itself. How is it possible? The hours escaped from him. He swears he had at least 9 hours left before he entered the warehouse building. What the hell happened to all that time? Mind a flurry of thoughts, he tries to backtrack and remember what on earth could have taken him so long but the memories are fuzzy and blurry around the edges, impressions and flashbacks melting together like a flickering camera reel. Did time somehow warp itself forward? Is this the will of the Ancient growing stronger or is he finally losing it? How long has he been sitting here on the ground? Minutes? Or hours?

He can’t make sense of time anymore. His perception of it is all wrong. The present stretches out, overlain by premonition, its meaning slipping into the background of the past. The invasion might happen any second and he wouldn’t even have time to react, might not even know about it. It’s hopeless. It’s no use. Oh, god, what if the whole thing is only seconds away? The shadow seems thicker than ever now. It’s entering his mouth, forcing itself into his lungs with every ragged breath. Are the streetlights growing dim? They might be. It’s hard to tell, because there are spots dancing across his vision that make it difficult to see. Or are they- are they countless tiny insects crawling on his eyes? A laugh is heard from somewhere inside the creeping darkness. Laughing at him , a justifiably condescending mockery of his insolent ineffable stupidity, or perhaps in victory of the coming doom upon mankind. This is it. The Shadow has come for him, to snatch him up and prematurely end his life. Or worse. The future is fear.

Shaking hands find the gun fastened to the holster inside his waistcoat, unfastening it with quivering movements. The metal feels cool against his too-hot skin. The same relieving coldness is now against his throat, bobbing slightly with the frantic pulse of the blood flowing through the nearby arteries. The barrel of the gun is angled almost perfectly parallel to his spine as he slowly angles his head back, eyes screwed tightly shut so as not to see the chaotic crawling mass of clouds overhead. He holds his breath. A single twitch of his finger is all it would take. One single tiny motion would be enough to end all of this, to ensure the Shadow doesn’t take him. He would be abandoning the last hope for all of humanity, but what did it matter? He already has. He has already failed. With his insolent time-wasting, the world is already doomed. At least this way no one will ever know who to blame for it.

And with a sharp noise that echoes between the hills, the gun clatters to the concrete. The road is as empty as ever, no wind disturbs the leaves of the roadside foliage. The weapon, however, remains unfired. He can’t do it. Whether it’s out of cowardice or some twisted notion of reason, he doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care. Heaving breaths expand his ribcage. Arms plastered to the side of his torso, he can only rock slowly back and forth as he allows the feeling of utter defeat to overtake him, wet cheeks staining his shirtsleeve. Whatever will happen now, he doesn’t know. He had twenty-four hours. Every single one of them, spent ceaselessly on the road and dashing through ramshackle buildings and ruins of corrupted towns and villages in search of something, anything to give him a clue. After all that searching? Nothing. Nothing but scraps of half-burnt or decrepit old books and fragments of artifacts that could have been mapped out and could have helped him if he had days of research with good resources at his disposal and a few nights of solid sleep, but he had none of those things. Knowing this only serves to act as another crushing blow to his already crumbling morale. He had done all he could. What will happen to him now? What fate awaits his soul in the clutches of the minions of darkness, what torments will he have to endure for the rest of existence? He doesn’t know. Because he doesn’t know the identity of the invading god that will indubitably carry them out.

But then a thought strikes him, and his bloodshot eyes fly open. How on earth could he forget!? The documents, the ones he just recovered from the warehouse - they’re still in the car. He hasn’t checked them out yet. Hope reignites inside his chest like a gust of air does to dying embers. It’s a slim, wary hope tinged with apprehension of the disappointment that might follow, but it’s there nonetheless. He sees then that while the silent stretch of road is dark, it’s no darker than before. The streetlights are alight with their faint sodium glow, they haven’t flickered out and died. The shadows beyond aren’t approaching with menacing swiftness. There is no mocking laughter. The only thing that remains of the horrors is the lingering images of the hallucination in his mind.

With a singular purpose in mind, unsteady legs find their bearing again and he turns to grab the documents inside the car. They lie scattered in a messy pile all over the passenger’s seat and the floor and he scoops them up, eyes flickering through the yellowed pages. There has to be something in there that can help him. Turning on the interior lights above him to aid his vision, he begins to systematically skim through the pages for anything useful. Among the many mad scribbles of sketches and odd details he searches for names, repeating symbols, concepts or anything that could help him connect the dots with a clear, red thread.

And then he finds it. Yes. Yes, this could be it. Quickly he scribbles the conclusions down on a shakily-drawn table in his own notebook and double, triple, quadruple-checks it all over again. It’s not much, but it’s a whole lot more than nothing. With this, he has gone from completely clueless to being able to at least make a pretty educated guess. If he’s right about the colour associations, the rivalry between at least two of the gods (one of which is still unnamed), the runic design and the recurring symbolism of the aspect of “fear” that permeates all of it…

Again, he opens up his cell phone. 3 hours and 41 minutes. Swallowing down the immediate searing panic at seeing that more than half an hour has already been wasted, he checks the GPS. Stonehenge is a three-hour drive away. If he pushes the speed limit, he can make it in two and a half. That would leave him with roughly an hour. There is still time. There is hope. He lets this sink in for a moment and tries not to think about the various unknown factors that might exist within the ruins themselves. The important thing right now is there is still time.

Feeling a new sense of resolve he starts the engine up again and once more, drives off into the darkness.