Haunted

Static, hissing and quiet and echoing. A young boy sat curled up in an old dumbwaiter, one arm pressed against the side of the freight elevator and the other against the ceiling. The floor bit into battered knees, unforgiving and as uncomfortable as the tight square of space he occupied. He could hear something, faint somethings just beyond the edge of his hearing. They were almost familiar, in their distant beckonings.

The dragging whisper of feet on the ground, the whisper of wind in the walls, the gentle call of a distant guard beckoning him to leave his hidey-hole; stupid, stupid, stupid, a mantra of words echoing in his mind. Why had he done something so stupid even when he knew the outcome would be less than desired? Why? He clenched his eyes shut, shrinking into himself when another gunshot cut through the silence, a sound accompanied by a shrill, feminine scream.

‘I’m scared,’ he tucked his head into his chest, jaw clenched tight as he silently begged for the nightmare to end. For the men to go away, to stop rattling the doors and laughing when they caught someone. So he sat in the dumbwaiter, muscles stiff and limbs trembling from remaining in one position for so long. In the distance, he could hear them.

A woman begging, the sound of cloth ripping and her screaming.

The loud, creaking echo a bed hitting the wall and flesh hitting flesh. His stomach turned, numb and cold as the jeering laughter of the other men echoed, as it cut through the broken cries of a broken woman. He didn’t dare leave his spot, even though part of him screamed to. Maybe he could help her, do something…

‘No,’ a part of him insisted. ‘That’s what he’s waiting for. What they’re all waiting for.’

So he hid, wishing he could cover his ears as easily as he could close his eyes. Anything to block out the cries that soon faded to silence, the laughing of men and the sound of a gun going off. He wasn’t sure how long he was in that dumbwaiter, tired and afraid. How long had passed since the building went silent, how long before the scuffling sound of rattling bones filled the hallway outside.

‘Is it night, then?’ He wasn’t sure. He never was, anymore. So he listened, shifting ever-so-slightly. There were telltale signs of movement; the scuffing of boots on the floor, the creaking groan of upturned furniture, and the creaking whisper of doors opening and closing. ‘There’s no going back, not anymore. Nothing left but the shadows of my mind.’

He exhaled, and opened the dumbwaiter. He winced as the metal groaned, a scratchy cough that echoed. He slipped out, falling onto his face when his legs gave out from under him. His hands stung, the ground dusted with wet, red smears; he rose to his knees, trembling as he drew in a tight breath. Bleeding, his hands were bleeding. He pressed the stinging appendages to his stomach, body tingling with pins-and-needles as he slowly rose to his feet.

‘Why did I come here, to hide?’ He shook his head, stumbling forward. ‘Maybe she’s alright, maybe she’s just hurt and unconscious and can’t call for help.’

The hallway was long, endlessly so. The end was shrouded in darkness and shadows and swirling hues of grey and black. It was like a game, really; it didn’t matter how long he stumbled forward, the end was just always out of reach. Never closer but not further away, either.

“He’s fucking with me,” the truth of the statement was like a clear, ringing bell in his head. He drew in a tight breath, thoughts like a hive of bees as he tried to think. Loud, buzzing and impossible to dismiss. Of course the man was fucking with him, messing with his mind knowing the anticipation, the worry and stress, would eventually make him come out of hiding. “Fuck, of course…”

Leaning against one wall, hair matted and dark with sweat, eyes glazed, he breathed. There was something, then, at the back of his mind. A flicker of something; amusement, his mind supplied. Coughing, sides aching, he forced himself to take a step, and then another, his gaze focused on the path in front of him.

‘Come on, Toriel,’ he trembled, stomach turning onto itself. Hunger, he realized. When had his last meal been, anyway? A day, two or three? A week? Water, though? He drank plenty of that. His backpack, wherever he had left it, possessed five more bottles of life-saving liquid. ‘Where did I leave that at, anyway? In the cafe, back in town? We were hiding out there, for a while. Or is it at the school?’

He tried not to think too deeply, his mind honed onto one thought: keep moving forward.

“What kind of name is Toriel, anyway?” He paused, chest tight. “Other than it being mine, that is…”

It was then, that he saw it. A door propped open, the dust disturbed and something shiny glimmering in the soot. Pushing off the wall, he closed in on it. Toriel paused in front of it, staring down at the charmbracelet. His blood whooshed through him, a drum banging away in his ears. Thum-thump-thump. War was ringing, a constant thrum humming along. He stepped over the bracelet, pushing the door open.

He grasped the doorframe, a broken whimper rising unbidden. She was there, sprawled out across the bed. Her shirt torn, her torso bared and bruised and cut. Her skirts were pushed up around her hips, red staining her inner thighs and staining the old, battered bed red. He stumbled across the room, tripping over a broken chair and catching himself on the bed.

His hand fell upon hers, barely warm and smooth. Blood was pooling out from under her, the skirts and blouse bunched around her abdomen stained red. He was frightened, to move the clothing aside. Behind him, the floorboards creaked. A slow, ominous sound he ignored as he pressed his fingers desperately to her pulse. Praying, hoping, begging –

“She’s dead, Toriel,” a cold chill crept along his spine, and his head bowed. Her wrist was limp under his touch, her pulse a ghost somewhere far away. Dark, oppressive darkness advanced on him from behind; it was like feeling the deadliest of storms advancing from the blindside, seeing it in a rear view mirror but being unable to turn around. The presence stopped at his back, impossible heat and cold sinking into him. Opposite sensations but existing at the same time, haunting and utterly unnatural in every way. A hand ghosted over the back of his neck, and then his head was pulled back by a tight grip on his chin. He was forced to look up, into black eyes, as his hunter murmured, “If you hadn’t went and run away, I wouldn’t to have her killed.”

“They raped her,” Toriel closed his eyes, something wet and hot burning beneath his eyelids. It leaked out, trailing clear down his cheeks. A thumb gently traced the tears away, a stern hand hauling him off the ground. He turned, his body like a puppet getting its strings pulled as he whispered, “After everything you’ve done,

“You let them hurt her in a way that is…” He pried himself free, shoving a hand between them. Toriel’s eyes opened, rose-quartz irises tinged red around the edge. His hunter shifted, seemingly breaking apart around the edges as he swayed from side-to-side. Toriel stepped forward, gaze narrowing further as he hissed, “After everything you’ve done, you think I’d ever come willingly? Are you fucking nuts?”

His breath came out uneven, ragged and sharp. Somewhere far belong, the earth groaned. The glass beads hanging from lamps startling clinking together, one after another. The room jerked, one side dropping dangerously. A wail cut through the air, a siren of some otherworldly demon shrieking as electric green webs cracked through the floor around them both.

“Toriel,” The hunter stepped forward, reaching outward. Toriel’s eyes narrowed, his chest burning, burning, as the wail grew louder still. The bed screeched as it slid across the floor, dropping into the black chasm that split through the building. She went with it, consumed by the darkness and the shadows and the shifting hues of movement lurking within. His hunter lunged forward, but Toriel was leaving, his body breaking apart as his hunter snarled, “Run, Toriel. Run knowing that I will always come after you, a hound on a bloodtrail. I will pursue, and you, Toriel, you will forever be haunted by me.”

It was noise, then. Static, hissing and crackling and echoing. One moment the building was around him, coming apart in his pain and sorrow and fury; then there was utter blackness, the world snuffed of light. Toriel huddled in it, screaming. Outside, a world fell to ruin. A world crumbled, dying, as people continued to abuse it. Toriel cried, sinking into himself in his dark place where only the faintest, ghostly white flower dared bloom.

For he was forever haunted.

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