You (I)

rating: +12+x

By Marcelles D. Raynes

You can't remember the last time you ever saw the sunrise. You think about it for a while, but that last memory of sunlight is so old and faded by now that you can't even describe it accurately if you had to. It's been dark for so long, days and nights have bled together, and now? So much has changed since the Black Out. You remember waking up here, but not where you were the night prior. Had the Wickermen gotten to you?

You notice a flickering light in the distance. It's not that far from where you are, maybe a ten or fifteen-minute walk through the Void if you're quick. You glance down at the match you have in your hand. Such a tiny thing, that matchstick, but it was the best source of light you could find before you left home. The matchstick burns down to the nub, scorching your fingertips. You bite back a yelp; wouldn't want the Grues to find you.

You fiddle with the matchbook in the dark for a minute before thumbing your finger over its contents. You count the matches slowly. One. Two. Five. Eight. Eight matches left. If they burned as slow as they have been over the last few days, you figure that you should be able to find out whatever that light source in the distance is before your last match burns out. You shudder at the thought of traversing the Void without a light. The screams of your old traveling crew still echo in the back of your mind.

You shovel those thoughts down into the recesses of your mind and start walking. You had gotten quite good at that; walking. You chuckle, the thought of having to get good at something that was already second nature to you again was so absurd. The match didn't do much to expand your field of vision, but you felt comfort in knowing that your chances of falling into a Wickerman's trap or stepping on a shard of rusted metal were lower if you could see, if only a little bit. Not to mention the added benefit of keeping the Grues at bay.

You scold yourself for thinking about the monsters again. The light in the distance was closer now, only a few dozen paces away by your estimate. Maybe it's a Generator? No, it's too faint to belong to one of those massive hunks of metal and industry. It must be something else. But what?

There is a growl coming from behind you. Or maybe to your left? Your right? It seems to be coming from all directions at the same time and yet coming from nowhere as well. You clutch your matchbook and frantically scan the ever-decreasing field of vision you have. There's nothing around you that you can see, nothing but dirt, half-eaten corpses, and claw marks on old cars and stones.

Claw marks?

You move closer to one of the ancient cars on the side of the road and touch it. It's cold and dead, not unlike the Void that surrounds you. As you feel your way around the car's exterior, you come across those claw marks you saw a moment ago. You thumb over them, finding the metal around the marks warm. You lean in closer and bring the match right up to the surface.

You feel your heart leap into your throat as you recognize the familiar copper scent. It's blood.

There is a roar that tears through the darkness, drawing your attention behind you right as your match burns out. You feel your chest tighten as your eyes strain to peer through the inky darkness. You cannot see anything, but you know that something has seen you. The ground beneath you starts to shake. You can smell rotting fruit and donkey shit now, and the smell only grows stronger with every second. You try to light another match but cannot. The stench overpowers you and you double over to vomit.

With trembling hands, you pry open the rusted car door and climb inside. You apologize to the occupant, a lone skeleton with the lower half of its body missing. Before you can close the door behind you, you feel something wet and slimy wrap around your ankle. The thing yanks on your leg, and you feel as if it'll tear the whole limb off if you don't do something.

You try to hang onto the other car door, but the thing is stronger than your grip and you're forced to let go. You clutch the center console, now desperately kicking at the Grue that has a hold of you. The creature roars and pulls on you harder now, breaking your grip on the console. Now your hand finds itself hanging on to the handle of the door you entered from. More appendages slither around your torso from the darkness and work in tandem to release your grip and drag you away.

The air rushing past your ears is deafening. You can barely hear the Grue opening its mouth to take a bite out of you. Your thoughts race at a thousand miles an hour as you smell the scent of rotten meat blasting up at you from the mouth of the predator. Adrenaline flows through your veins and time slows to a near halt. With a heave, you push the Grue's tentacles wrapped around your waist far enough away from you to slip your hand through. You take a match out, but as you're about to light it…

The Grue thrusts you sharply to the side, knocking the matchbook out of your hand. It roars in your ears, threatening to rupture your eardrums. A stench that burns the hairs in your nose assaults you. The Grue flings you down and you hit the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of your lungs. Frantic, you scramble away from the Grue but it latches onto you once again and pulls you back into the air.

You realize that you still have a single match in your hand. The tentacles are slick and wet, so you tear a piece of your shirt off and dry a small patch of the Grue's skin off. Your breath escapes you as the tentacles tighten around your chest. You can feel yourself slipping away into the darkness. Still, you try again and again and again to light the match. You don't want to die here. You can't die here.

Before you realize what's happened, you're falling again. This time you land on your back, knocking what little air you had left in your lungs out of them. You gasp, gulping in all of the oxygen you can as fast as you're able to.

You can see again.

As the Grue roars again, you look away. You cringe as huge globs of spittle land on your back, dripping down your shirt and into your pants. You gasp as you hold the match close to your chest to avoid getting it wet. To your left, you notice the matchbox. To your right, you see the car. An idea forms in between your ears as you scramble to pick up the matchbox.

The creature attempts to grab at you again, but you hold the match between yourself and it as you run back to the car and pry open the gas tank. You hold the lit match in-between your teeth as you light another. You glance over your shoulder and catch a glimpse of the creature.

The Grue was one you'd come to identify as the Profaned. Most of the creature's body was obscured by the darkness; the limited range of your matchstick only revealed a small portion of its body. You gasp as you notice a beak, massive and lined with teeth larger than you, opening and closing faster than your eye could track. In the mouth of the creature was a tongue, long and slender, that trashed about wildly as it shrieked. A conglomeration of tentacles spread out from all directions. You cannot tell where in the darkness they're extending from, but more and more appear out of the Void and attempt to grab you.

You tear yourself from gawking at the massive creature and throw the lit matchstick into the gas tank. You barely have time to scuttle away as the gasoline in the tank ignites and explodes into a raging inferno. The creature attacking you shrieks and withdraws into the darkness. You can feel the heat from the explosion burning the hairs on your arms, but you're safe for now at least. You let go of a breath you didn't know you were holding and light another match.

The light you were walking toward is so close now. You can see figures moving about in the shadows. You thumb over the contents of your matchbook. One. Two. Five. Five matches left. If you were lucky and quiet, you figure that you should be able to make it to that light source in five minutes or so.

You inhale, trying your best to ignore the searing pain coursing through your legs and chest, and continue walking. Just a bit further now.

Just a bit further.

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