“When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive.”
I woke up in a pile of corpses. My eyes clenched shut, the room perfectly silent. Only my more visceral senses were activated. Sputtering on fetid blood, I tried to break free of the vice of cold flesh, the ichor acting as a foul lubricant, both assisting my escape and causing my hands to struggle for purchase amid the limp limbs and loose skin. I cut my right hand on some teeth but kept going. Struggling, I could feel the cold air on the sticky, damp covering of my naked body grow inch by inch until finally, my torso was freed. The rest of my body unbalanced and followed suit. I tumbled clumsily until I found my remaining body heat quickly siphoned by the slick stones on which I lay. I retched, the entirety of my stomach contents being little more on the tongue than acid and old blood. Shivering and panting, I lay there in the fetal position until my breath quieted and my body no longer registered anything but a slow warm numbness. I had almost drifted to sleep when an internal jolt sped through me, shocking my limbs to shake violently and then straighten. Where was I?
I could feel the fluids that hung heavy on my eyelids begin to coagulate. Sitting up, I rubbed my filthy hands together until at last, I could feel bare flesh touching. Slowly, methodically I wiped the filth from my eyes, intermittently wiping my hands on the stone floor. Once they were as clean as dirty hands could make them, I slowly opened them with only a minor stinging sensation.
I opened them into complete darkness. I could not remember if I had been blind. For I could remember nothing save the circumstances of my cadaverous birth.
Stumbling to my feet, I decided it was high time to explore lest I freeze from inaction. The pungent taste of iron lingered on my tongue, but my mouth could produce no water to expectorate it away. Blessedly, I had no sense of smell nor ability to breathe through my nose, which was clogged, most likely with the same dried decay that served as my only source of insulation. Thirst and hunger filled my boney frame, motivating my exploration. Though I knew an endless hill of meat lay nearby, I was not yet at a point where I could consider the thought seriously. From touch, I was able to establish I was in a room, a massive and frigid room. The first fresh pile of corpses I contacted made me fear that I had gone in a circle there in the dark, but by using the wall as a guide rail with the fingers of my throbbing right-hand maintaining contact and my left arm out, I was able to ascertain that the room contained no less than twenty such mounds of humanity. My heart, my breath, and the slow, careful padding of my sticky feet were the only sounds in that darkness. For some reason, among the thousands of cadavers, I was the only one spared such an ignoble fate.
I felt nature must have some reason to have saved me, and though it appeared at first sight that the room had no means of egress, logic dictated that there must be one. For hours I walked along the wall feeling it haphazardly. In this time, I reflected how uncannily calm I felt in the circumstance.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it, and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
The voice first heard when waking again spoke in my mind. I strengthened my resolve and began more methodologically searching each panel of wall though my hands had long since grown numb. The room suddenly felt as if it shifted, and on the opposite side, I could see a blinding light. The corpses illuminated for the first time became dearly more real to me. Pyramids of corpses. Had I been in any position but that in the periphery, I would have been crushed and suffocated as surely as an ant supporting a boulder. The walls I could now see were made of unfamiliar metal sheeting. Cautiously I approached the light. Inside was a small white room that appeared entirely devoid of anything. I placed one foot in and then slowly, another. A heavy clang issued immediately behind me, and the light intensified so greatly I was forced to close my eyes. A torrent of cold water rained down from the ceiling. Though my first instinct was to escape it, there was no escape to be had. I took the opportunity to cleanse myself of the filth that clung to me, yet without soap, it was destined to at best be a partial effort.
After what seemed to be an hour of the falling frigged water, my body had ceased even shivering. I breathed heavily, increasingly certain that this would be my end. Still, I did manage to cleanse my pallet somewhat and fill my stomach with the water, though it did bear with it an unpleasant metallic taste. The first stomach full I voided, as I did with the second, but with the third, I found my thirst finally quenched. Moving to a corner, I held onto myself to preserve body heat. The lights began flashing, and I was covered in a viscous material that I soon realized was a sort of soap. This was then followed by hot water, which felt as if it burnt through my frozen flesh. Two large chunks of solid blood escaped my nose, and I could breathe through them again. The smell of the water was harsh. Noise in a wholly foreign tongue was heard. Lights flashed orange, and a door into a further chamber opened. Fear gripped me then. Whoever the hosts were, it was abundantly clear that they were no friends of humanity. Still, lacking any other choice, I crossed the threshold.
“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
The room I now found myself in was vast and domed. There were no windows providing a portal to the outside, but it was bathed in bronze-colored light. Curved furniture at nonsensical angles adorned every surface, including the walls and the very ceiling itself. I slowly made my way through the room. There hung rubber-like clothing on the outside of the door with sizes that varied from that of a small dog to that of a large bear. I looked at the more medium-sized offerings only to find the sleeves and legs quite incomprehensible. This filled me with some measure of relief. Though I knew humans capable of such horrors as I beheld in the other room, it gave me some measure of grim joy to know that some other force was afoot. I rifled through the bizarre clothing and found among them a long stream of smooth black fabric and wrapped it around myself in the fashion of a toga. There were domed machines centered on the curved surfaces of the desks in which eldritch runes floated in three-dimensional space. Approaching one to touch it, I felt a sinister darkness creep in. My hand faltered, and I continued my exploration. Though the functions of the objects that surrounded me were apparent, their forms were wholly unfamiliar. I continued my searches, hoping to uncover something that may be of use, thanking providence for the emptiness of the room.
To speak of the devil is to call him, so too is it to praise his absence. A large door opened with an instantaneous reverberation of grinding metal. I ducked behind one of the desks, translucent with swirling ripples. There were six beasts of three forms.
The large beast’s height was that of three men but its back was hunched over. It possessed two globes for eyes. Its skin was adorned with obsidian scales. As it walked upright with its four legs and four arm-like appendages sprouting from its trunk, I could see the flow of emerald iridescence as it passed through the light. The upper two arms were similar to those of man but bearing three claws each, the lower extremities two glowing scythes. Its mouth was made of hard claws of constantly moving chelicerae.
The two medium sized beasts looked almost like some form of fallen angel. Ratty wings, where eyes should be only thick leathery skin that gave the appearance of knuckles. They had no mouths. Innumerous snake-like appendages adorned their sunken abdomens. The three small beasts were naked save the thick hard brown segments they were shelled in. They possessed no obvious means of locomotion or sight, emitting a constant clicking sound as they hovered over the ground.
The beasts communicated each with their own tongue, wholly indecipherable to myself. A mixture of clicks, gurgles, and chimes. My heart raced, to look upon them was to look upon the face of madness itself. I steadied myself. I could only control that which I could control.
The small clicking beasts started to converge on my location. No doubt able to use sound to see through the material I hid behind. As the clicking increased in frequency, I looked around for options. The three larger beasts began to move in concert, chittering deeply with one another, and then stopped. I held my breath and quieted my heart as best I could. There was nothing of use to men in that room. The best I could hope for was to sprint towards the exit and see what fashion of freedom existed in the world I now found myself in. But I waited. After a series of eternities, they turned to make their way to the door leading to the room where I awoke. I exhaled a soft sigh of relief and slowly made my way from one desk to the next, getting closer and closer to the exit. As I did, I smelt the distinct smell of smoke and charred meat.
I was near the exit when a thunk loud enough to vibrate the floor was heard. I hid instinctively. Another thunk directly behind me. The fallen angels had used the ceiling to box me in. Their pallid skin dripping with a sheen of mucous now barred my escape. The one in front, its snake-like appendages moving in tandem, reaching backward to strike. I rolled through its legs and, with all my might, pushed up on its tail, toppling it over. I could hear the one behind me crawling swiftly over its kin, and I ran. Ran as hard and as fast as any man had. When I was on the other side, I spotted a large button, the door slammed, and my assailant slammed into it.
It was night outside, with nothing save bonfires as a source of illumination. The colossal metal structures surrounding me intensified my feelings of claustrophobia. I made my way through the labyrinthine alleys pausing in a place I heard no sounds. The ground appeared as ordinary as any street that I could remember though the rest of the architecture was purely alien. Was I on earth? I looked around for a safe place to hide, ultimately finding none. Eventually, I saw a valley between the unfamiliar structures, likely a road of sorts. There, I saw shadows of beasts of all kinds, some whose silhouettes dwarfed those I was able to see more clearly in the light. I was careful to let each and everyone pass with myself unnoticed. I heard an overhead shriek and could see in the smokey outline of the stars a great flying beast large enough to entirely occlude the sky when fully overhead. As it passed, I saw the glint of some broken glass lying on the ground. I held it as a makeshift weapon in my right hand and, hearing clicking in the distance, ran, hiding behind a bonfire whose crackles I hoped would hide my presence. One of the large bulbous-eyed creatures from before followed behind the clickers holding a large sphere. As the creature came closer, I could hear the message playing loudly in English, the voice somewhat familiar “Please all remaining humans, you are plagued. Submit to the nearest ambassador. You will not be harmed. They will help you. Please submit.”
The bonfire blazed brightly, arms and legs could be seen sticking out of it, blackened skulls at its base. My mouth salivated, looking at the cooked flesh of one of my kind lying near to me on the ground. The shame of this repelled me from that place and I moved on as before, each sound raising my ears. Eventually, I was able to make out the sound of water. I crept forward. There was a pulsing mob of thousands of creatures gathered together. A long skeletal beast with hundreds of long white claws was systematically pulling flesh from a large bonfire and handing it to the diminutive creatures huddled around it. With one of its larger claws, it occasionally dropped an entire body, still flaming into its jaw, chewing with its irregular undulating pointed teeth.
In the distance, I could see a tower built of unblinking eyes held together by black goo. Next to it was a relic that wholly reduced my will. The eye of London. I was in London, near to the river Thames. Perhaps my eyes were the last human eyes ever to see it. I laughed maniacally at fate. What good could I do in such a world but be another meal among the corpses?
“Recollect that at any time, the power of withdrawal from life is in your hands.”
With this, I took the glass shard and, with only momentary hesitation, opened my left forearm from wrist to elbow, fading quickly into the nothingness for which we are all destined.
I saw a boy sitting by a small fire of piled flesh, face hollow and ashen. I could not move. He turned to me. “You are the dreamer and the dream.” The boy’s face contorted into a flat smiling mask, and then his whole body disappeared in a nonfluid wave.
I awoke in a pile of corpses.