by Peter Douglas
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Death has visited this place. Unsteadily, I rise from where I had stooped to examine the corpse. The poor girl had been eviscerated, long gashes riddling her body where the knife had ended her young life. She did not deserve this fate. She should have been carefree for many years to come. Instead, she lies broken in the middle of this crumbling ruin; life stolen. The smoke from the half dozen fires stings my eyes as I take in the devastation around me. Buildings, once regal alabaster white, lie in ruins, charred and blackened with soot. Victims of the chaos litter the street, crushed under the debris, never to rise again. Others still faintly cling to life, their moans the only reprieve from the eerie stillness that has claimed this once beautiful city.
In my mind's eye I trace a path back in time, to another scene, another place, another girl, the same picture. The same broken death. He killed the same back then. Not very inventive, his weapon of choice a long knife, but chillingly brutal. He reveled in his victim's pain, savoring their deaths like a fine wine. I was there that day too, I saw the carnage and my heart ached silently inside, as it does now. Back then, I had fled the wreckage, determined to free myself from this nightmare, but it seems he has caught up with me again. His hunt is relentless. I thought myself free of him at first, but then I would feel his dark eyes watching, waiting to catch me off my guard, mocking me from the shadows. How foolish I was not to leave then, before it was too late.
Bending again to the limp form at my feet, I kneel down to close the girl's eyes. She was my friend once. We had shared the joy of life, the ecstasy found in the scent of fresh bread, in a cool wind through the trees, in the squealing laughter of children as they chased each other in the meadow. But now the horror etched into her cold face turns my stomach. Gently, I close her eyelids for the last time and say a prayer for her eternal peace. Absently, I wipe the blood off my hands and rise once again, my mind in a haze.
“Is there no end to death?” I ask the silent gray sky, “Can we ever be free?”
He stalks us like a starving lion, indiscriminate of whom he devours. Deep within, I know I cannot run much longer, the end is near. Panic begins to well up inside me. He could be anywhere, waiting to spill my life as he did hers. Oh, the blood! It is everywhere. It coats my hands, soaks my tattered shirt, and drips from where I wiped my face. Frantically I scrabble over to a fountain, desperate to be clean. So much blood! Furiously, I swipe my arms with the cold water. Caked blood on my forearms slowly begins to melt, veins of red draining into the clear fountain. Stripping off my ruined shirt and throwing it away, I dunk my arms up to to the shoulders. God, it's not enough! I hear her crying out to me, begging to be saved, to be freed from this tormented betrayal. Her terrified face assaults me in waking vision. I submerge my head squeezing my eyes shut to block out her haunting gaze, scrabbling furiously at my crusted hair. I must be free of this! The screams of the dying reverberate before the black of my eyelids as I thrash about in the water, echoing accusations of guilt. Slowly, the fury dissolves with the blood, dissipating until I can regain control. Panting and out of breath, I finally resurface, the turmoil in my head fading to a soft moan, and then dying out entirely. A cold hard fog drifts over the barren wreckage of my mind. I am the living dead. Stone-faced, I stare into the fountain, now solid red from the blood. As the ripples from my dripping hair subside, my arms tremble on the rim and I catch a glimpse of my face in the reflection on the water. There is a cruel glint in my eye. My lips turn up in a sneer and I dash away my reflection. Readjusting the long thin knife at my belt, lost in the tempestuous darkness of my own soul, I slowly leave the town behind. Death has visited this place.
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