This nightmare begins in a town very much like your own. You can smell the welcoming scent of bacon that your neighbour is frying for their morning meal, hear the wind rustle through the leaves of trees aligning roads that lead to a distant mass of life, purr of engines and laughter of children, all living their day to day lives. You can see the silhouette of rooftops that encircle you as the sun begins to rise from the distance, leaving an auburn glow to beam upon the tiled bricks of your home’s walls as you feel the familiar chill of a winter morning. But as normal as this all sounds, an abnormal air lingers within this scene.
Although the town sounds, smells and seems alive, with all senses pointing to a conclusion of comfort, you notice one pivotal difference. No physical signs of life exist, the town is completely deserted. In that moment of realisation you’re surprised by the outline of a figure stepping out from around a darkened corner. You correct yourself: Almost completely deserted.
The figure is that of a man. As he emerges from the shadows you can make out his exasperated expression, spotlit by the morning suns glow. His forehead crinkles as his deep, brown eyes dart from left to right and his aged fingers trace the brick wall of the street opposite yours. He does not seem to notice your presence as he marches onwards through your line of sight, his movements a mixture of confused defiance, giving off the impression that he is late to an important event that he is not quite sure the destination of.
Seeing another presence would normally ease an unnerved soul, but nothing about this man is calming. In fact, agonising stress seems to exude from him like a bad stench, clouding your vision as he grows closer, forcing its way unwillingly up your nostrils. You gag on the smell of what you could have sworn to be decaying flesh and drastically wipe your bleary eyes to double check that the man is not hurt or bleeding. To your surprise he is perfectly well kept, with the exception of anxiety-induced sweat which has stained his armpits and beaded upon a creased brow, there are no physical signs that this man is in pain.
Even so, you feel the atmosphere becoming heavy as the man draws nearer, as if burdened by some dark grief that has manifested itself into the form of a rolling mist. With every step the man takes the winter morning twists and turns into a much more disturbing scene. Burnt orange beams of light probe through the mist as it engulfs you, warping the rustling of the nearby trees into a distant howl, low and mourning. It’s only now that you realise that the stench, which has become near unbearable, is not that of the man but of the bacon that was, only moments ago, pleasant enough to make your stomach rumble. The thought of eating becomes unpleasant as you wretch, trying not to think of what rancid flesh could be decaying nearby. But this is not enough to deter your curiosity. Through the mist the man remains outlined in rays of the morning sun, a glowing specticle on a desaturated stage. His back turns to you as he quickens his pace down the street.
As you walk you’re greeted with both familiar, yet disturbed sights through spirals of the mist that follows you. Cars that you’ve come to know throughout your daily commute lay skewed and riddled with dust, as you pass you can still make out the imprints of forgotten passengers. Looking to the sky you notice signs of life as birds soar beyond the thick fog, you squint and feel your heart fall to the pit of your stomach as you realise the silhouettes are in fact flying upside down. Through the haze you can almost make out their beady eyes rolling to the back of their heads, following you while they fly past. Shuddering at that thought you bring your attention back to the man in front of you and begin to question his presence. Unlike you, the man does not show any distaste for the sights and smells that surround him, he’s too focused to be distracted by such things. His stride has now developed into a more confident pace, tracing the faded markings in the center of a cracked road. Your gaze burns into the back of his skull, watching as his scruffy mess of hair gets pulled by a dank fog that swirls in and out of the rays of light, holding him within their grasp. Without needing to speak you see his dreaded urgency as clear as day, but you are yet to understand its cause.
This will not last long.
As you press further ahead you notice a bridge forming through the mist and observe how the cracks from the road beneath run deeply through it. The bridge appears as if it’s about to collapse at any moment. You assume this is why the man has suddenly stopped in his tracks and cautiously wait for him to turn around, confronting you to retrace his steps. However this does not happen and you find yourself silently waiting for what feels like an eternity, as your own brow builds up beads of nervous sweat, mimicking that of the man in front of you. His breath has become shallow, his eyes fixed directly in front of him. Following the man’s gaze you make out a shadow at the end of the bridge buried deep mass of fog, yet faintly illuminated by an ember light. Your heart thuds deep within your chest as you fight the urge to make your presence known by screaming out to the figure about the fragile state of the bridge. All sense of safety had wafted away with that fresh smell of bacon, replacing it with a crippling anxiety. But not for your own sake. For some reason you know that this fog of doom was never meant for you. You’re just an unfortunate bystander.
With feet rooted to the spot in shock, your vision is slowly welcomed through the mist, teasing you as it coils and caresses its way around the figure to form a dramatic entrance. The shape that finally emerges leaves you unable to hold back a gasp of rotten air, leaving you choking while you take in the sight forming before your eyes. The sight of a woman. Her frail body leaves little to the imagination as a thin gown flails to cover whatever curves might remain amongst the protruding bones tearing against her tightened skin. Even from such a distance blue veins are easily visible, spreading like branches throughout her almost translucently pale complexion.
But this is not the reason why you’re unable to let out the trapped breath of stale air you had gasped. Your eyes fixate on the woman’s skull in morbid fascination and utter disbelief. You can tell that the woman had once been a thing of beauty, with bright green eyes that reflect the morning rays of light. These eyes stare hopelessly at the man whose gaze is locked within them. Her lips have been painted red in a vain attempt to inject some colour into her porcelain body. But those days of beauty were long gone as your attention is drawn towards the woman’s skull; a skull that soars abnormally upwards, crushed by an unsympathetic force, as if someone had taken a rolling pin and smeared the woman’s skull skyward. This bare skull mimics the cracks in the road beneath her, revealing deep pink flesh between her tears of skin. You can only assume this is the remnants of her brain, but you hope not to see this in any finer detail. Coarse strands of hair shoot awkwardly out of the cracked skull, twisting and turning with the winding wind surrounding her.
A dim blue light pulsates to the woman’s left, distracting you. As your gaze escapes to locate its source you are greeted with an odd sight. The woman’s veins throb in time with this light as your eyes trace a bag of questionable liquid that bubbles within an IV drip, attached to a steel frame being held up by the woman’s skeletal hands. You follow a liquid bubble flow from the bag, down a winding tube, leading to a large needle that has become encrusted within the crease of her arm. It looks as though the skin has become adjusted to the needles presence, with fine layers of fresh skin having grown around the dried up crusts of liquid that seeps from within. You watch in awe as this liquid emits a ghostly glow, pumping through her veins. You wonder if this is the only thing keeping this frail remnant of a woman alive. If this is what you can call alive. She looks more like an apparition with her eyes locked, unblinking, and her body looking as if it’s about to shatter and fade away within the harsh mist sweeping about her. The only signs of life show within her shallow breaths, when her skin stretches even more so as to sink within the darkened crevices of her skeletal frame.
You wait for her to speak. She does not. You wait for her to move. She does not. You wait for her to lose her grip on the drip and succumb to her inevitable death or for the cracked ground beneath her to crumble and eat her whole. Neither of these things happen.
But still, you wait.
You’re startled by a low mutter reaching your ears which draws your attention away from the scene at the end of the bridge. Blinking, you allow your eyes to tear their gaze and follow the source of the sound to see that the man in front of you has begun to speak. But he’s not speaking to you, nor to the woman. The words overlap each other in a hushed tone and a quick pace but you squint to make out his quivering lips.
“I did this” He seemed to repeat. But surely you must be mistaken, how can this man feel responsible for the state of this woman? Does he know her? However, after further speculation, you are certain that these words are correct “I did this, I did this, I did this.”
Eventually the muttering suffices. Taking in a deep breath of muggy air, he clears his throat so that he can project his last words clearly:
This unlocks a dormant source of life within the woman. As soon as the words had left the mans lips her eyes, once dull and sunken, strain to focus on her target, fixating on the man in front of her. The blue liquid pumping throughout her body shines through the mist surrounding her as she’s propelled forward at an alarming rate. It almost seems as though she is hovering just above the ground at the speed of which she cuts through the dense mist. You’re unsure how a woman, who moments ago seemed on death’s door, can move in such a manner. The man had a mere second to react, managing to stumble a few steps backwards in a panic, placing him parallel to you, before succumbing to the morbidly fascinating sight that you’re unable to escape from.
You watch as her body rushes past yours and panic causes time to slow enough for you to pinpoint every detail of this horrifying scene: The woman’s bulging eyes protruding outwards from her crushed skull as her mouth opens to let out an agonising whail, while the mans stare quivers under the impending pressure of her overwhelming presence. Those teeth that remained were misplaced and almost animalistic, hanging from her gaping hole of a mouth like stained daggers. You notice spit splutter outwards from them through her unintelligible cries. It is an utterly terrifying view, however, even through fear, you can’t help but feel something irrevocably sad about this scene. The mans sunken eyes, now wet from self-pity, close tight in defeat as his arms spread wide to embrace the mess that he is so adamant to have caused. His fingertips stretch towards the monstrous form that weeps before him; veins throbbing, skin tearing, eyes carving into his soul.
Until all of a sudden, the sight vanishes completely.
Hearing a thud, you see the man fall to his knees while letting out audible cries of his own, howling from deep within his chest. All the while his arms remain outstretched to cradle a figure that no longer holds his attention. You stare in bewilderment for a moment, replaying the last few moments in your head for any sense of what just happened. You see the woman draw nearer to the man’s solemn face, you see her stretched skull skew backwards against the pressure of the wind ripping against her fast-moving body, you see her hand grip the UV drip that glides next to her. Your eyes awaken from their delirious gaze, alerted, to the sudden realisation that, for a moment, the UV drip was all you could see. As the woman’s body had moved steadily parallel to yours you recall how her body shrunk as her horrific side profile was revealed. Horrific because, simply put, there was no side profile. Her skin and bones, her flesh and vein-riddled skin, everything had shrivelled to complete absence.
Armed with this new knowledge, unsafety pricks at your spine, tempting you to shift it anxiously to peer back upon the street that you had just walked down. You do a s your instincts tell you. Sure enough, your suspicions were correct: You and the man are not alone. The woman, or more, the remnants of a woman, shift slowly over the cracks in the road. You watch the back of her protruding skull bob intermittently, revealing fleshy pockets with every shift of her weight. She doesn’t look your way. She doesn’t falter her movements. She doesn’t let out that same ear-piercing shriek that rings in your head from moments ago. She doesn’t make a sound at all.
How did this woman come to be this way? What hardships did she have to endure? What possible purpose could her life now hold? Endless questions burden your mind as she becomes nothing more than a figure through the mist once more. Any hope of understanding or reason fading along with it. This woman is not yours to help. Her story is not yours to know. You’re just another shadow, peering through the fog of a strangers nightmare.
An emptiness washes over you as her silhouette starts to disappear, leaving you alone with only the sounds of a broken man.
“Forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me….
Images by Nicky Gorov: https://www.instagram.com/un.n.4med/
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