The sound of the static, hissing and quiet and echoing, was unnerving.
A young man squatted inside an old dumbwaiter, his arms pressed against the walls of the freight elevator and the ceiling. Toriel shifted his weight when the floor bit into his knees, the surface, once-cold, warmed as his blood dried on the bumpy surface. This small space, while perfect to hide in, was as unforgiving as it was uncomfortable. Toriel tried to ignore it as he strained his ears, his eyes half-closed as he listened for the familiar, distant voice that called out to him.
All he heard was the whisper of feet shuffling across the ground and the song of the wind rushing through the rooms beyond his cramped, metal room. In the distance, he heard the faint laughter of a guard and shrill, feminine screams. Toriel’s eyes closed, then, his heart heavy. He drew his focus closer to himself, away from the hallways and the patrolling, armed men outside.
Why had he agreed to do something so stupid?
He had known that the outcome would be objectionable, that the risks involved meant being able to go behind his group’s back. It meant being able to lie to them, to steer them in the wrong direction. He had known it wouldn’t end well, not for those who got caught.
He clenched his eyes shut, shrinking into himself, when a gunshot cut through the silence. The sound was accompanied by the frantic screams of a woman, by hysterical cries and broken words Toriel tried to ignore. This was his fault. All of it was. He opened his eyes, inhaling sharply as he listened to the growing stillness and silence beyond his dumbwaiter.
He almost laughed, then. Almost.
He was scared, frightened and uncertain like the boy he used to be often was. He was tempted to press his chin to his chest, to beg for the nightmare to end. Had he been naïve, he would wish for the men to vanish. He would wish he couldn’t hear the screams and cries as people he knew, who trusted and believed in him, were caught and prepped for the slaughterhouse likes pigs led to their death.
Toriel wasn’t naïve. If anything, he was sickened by what he did know.
He knew why the men were laughing as they dragged a screaming woman down the hallway. As he crawled out of the dumbwaiter, muscles stiff and limbs trembling from remaining in one position for so long, he knew why this one woman was begging, why she was crying, as he made his way through the wreckage of this hospital that had, long ago, been prestigious and glorified for its discoveries.
When the sound of torn clothing cut through the halls, followed by a scream and slapping flesh, Toriel knew what was happening. His stomach turned, numb and cold, as the jeering laughter of the other men echoed through the hallway. Their laughter and grunts cut through the broken cries of a young woman who was barely seventeen, her cries torn from unwilling lips.
In moments like these that Toriel wanted to run to her, to help her…
Something old and jaded jerked away from the thought, flaring somewhere deep inside his chest as a part of him insisted on helping the girl who shared his meals with him. Then that voice came back, low and dark as it whispered, ‘That’s what he’s waiting for, what they’re all waiting for.’
Toriel stood in the hall, one hand pressed against a crumbling wall. His eyes closed as the cries faded away, muscles easing as a man groaned low and long. He counted the seconds before the gun went off, listening as a door opened and closed and men walked into the distance. His eyes opened, rose quartz irises sparking with bursts of burning red. His lips pressed into a thin line.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there with his hand resting on the wall. When he finally took a step forward, dark shadows danced across the ground. Darkness crept through the windows, the sun long gone. There was silence and stillness with only the gentle creaking of wind-kissed doors opening and closing. Toriel began walking in earnest, gaze jumping from corner to corner.
There were telltale signs of movement. The scuffing of boots on the floor and the creaking groan of upturned furniture echoed around him. The hallway he walked was long, endlessly so. He saw the end, shrouded in darkness and shadows and swirling hues of grey and black and white.
‘There’s no going back, not anymore. Nothing left but the shadows of my mind.’
This war, it was like a game; it didn’t matter how long he walked, the end was just always out of reach. Never closer, never too distant. Toriel pressed his lips into a tight line, gaze narrowing on the shadowy veil at the end of the hallway as he muttered, “He’s fucking with me. Like always.”
The moment the words left his lips, the change was instant. At the back of his mind, something shifted. Toriel nearly lost his footing, his shoulder hitting the wall as one hand flew up to his skull. Blunt nails bit into his head, eyes clenched shut as amusement cut through his thoughts. It was a sensation that was far from foreign, something which plagued him from an early age.
Coughing, sides aching, Toriel forced himself to take a step. His gaze zeroed in on the path that was before him, on the mist and shadows and the mocking, distant laughter that echoed from the darkest, most hidden corners of his psyche. As he took another step, he felt someone watching him as he struggled towards the end of the slowly curving hallway.
‘Come, Toriel,’ a voice mocked him, turning his attention from his feet towards the air around him with a growing sense of unease. The feeling of a phantom’s hand trailing up his back had him jerking forward, eyes wide. He turned in a fast circle only to find the emptiness of the hallway. In the mot-rich hallway, a voice whispered, ‘How long has it been? Are you not tired? Hungry? Rest a moment, close your eyes…’
When had his last meal been, anyway? A day? Two? A week?
Toriel shook his head, attempting to dislodge the sinuous voice whispering in his ear, as he cast his gaze across the hallway before him. His mouth was parched, throat burning. Where was his backpack? Where was his water? As he stumbled forward a few more steps, his mind churned.
Where had he left that backpack at? ‘Was it the café or the school?’
He tried not to think too deeply, his mind honed onto one thought: keep moving.
Yet the voice was always calling to him, a seductive whisper that did not fade away no matter how hard he tried to push it away. Toriel knew he had to find the end of this place, to leave its shadows behind and escape into the light of day. There were others who needed him, who would understand, in time, that the scarifies he made meant the war they fought would be worth it.
‘What are a few deaths if it means saving hundreds?’ Toriel forced himself to keep walking, to not listen to the disembodied voice whispering in his ear. He refused to acknowledge the words seeping into his mind, to turn from the satisfaction and sick pleasure of knowing a young girl had just been raped because of him. Toriel focused on the corridor in front of him, kept his eye on the door steadily approaching. When he saw the light shining through the half-open door, his determination returned with renewed vigor. ‘If killing them means saving countless innocents, I’ll do it. Sometimes being a ‘hero’ means staring the dark in the face. Sometimes it means…’
Sometimes being the champion meant knowing how to get your hands dirty. The truth of that was one which sickened Toriel, something that hung over his head every time he was forced to kill a friend or an ally for the sake of not having ten years of hard work destroyed. As Toriel closed in on the door, his attention shifted to something shiny glimmering in the light.
Toriel paused before the doorway, staring down at the charm-laden bracelet. His blood roared in his veins, whooshed through his body as a drum banged away in his mind. War was ringing, a constant thrum humming along. He stepped over the bracelet, pushing the door open without stopping to think, to really think, about how all of this was going to end.
He grasped the doorframe and pushed the broken, splintered wood. The door swung open.
Toriel didn’t move, for a time. He simply stared at the girl sprawled across the bed, eyed her torn shirt that was scattered around her. When he did move, it was for him to pause at the end of the bed and gaze at her torso, the flew bared and bruised and cut. Then his attention shifted to her skirts, seeing how were pushed up around her hips and how her inner thighs were stained a deep, brilliant crimson. He knew she was dead even as he reached for her, his heart breaking as he sat on the edge of the bed.
His hand fell upon hers, her skin cool and smooth. A single bullet hole punched through her brow wept a trail of blood, a thin river of red sweeping over the ridge of her nose and down her cheek. Toriel was silent as he straightened her clothing, more than content to ignore the creaking floorboards as he folded her hands across her abdomen. His hand lingered on hers, then.
“She’s dead, Toriel,” a cold chill crept along his spine when that voice caressed his ear. Her wrist was limp under his touch, her pulse a ghost somewhere far away. Toriel exhaled, slowly, as a 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 yet being unable to turn around. 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 gone 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 on strings, as he whispered, “After everything that’s happened, after all we’ve done, you would sink so low to let them…”
He pried himself free, shoving a hand between them. Toriel’s eyes opened, rose-quartz irises tinged red around the edges. His hunter shifted, breaking apart around the edges as Toriel stepped forward. He could feel something happening, this deep feeling inside of him that hadn’t a name yet demanded retribution. His gaze narrowed as he said, “After this, you think I’d come willingly? You made your intentions clear, as far as where you stand in opposition to me.”
His breath came out uneven, ragged and sharp. Somewhere far below, deep within the earth, groaned. The glass beads hanging from lamps started clinking together, one after another. The room jerked, one side dropping dangerously as the floor broke apart. A wail cut through the air, a siren of some otherworldly demon shrieking as electric green webs cracked through the floor around them both.
His hunter stepped forward, reaching for him. Toriel’s eyes narrowed, as his chest burned, the wail growing louder. The bed screeched as it slid across the floor, dropping into the black chasm splitting the building in two. She went with it, consumed by the darkness and the shadows and the shifting hues of movement lurking within.
The hunter lunged forward, but Toriel was leaving already. He had no reason to linger, questions answered as his body broke apart. His nameless hunter laughed. As Toriel faded away, pulled from this ruined building to some distant place, the younger of the two heard his hunter whisper into the darkness, “Run, Toriel. Run knowing that I will always come after you. You will be haunted by your choices, boy. You can flee, but you can’t escape the shadows of your own heart.”
It was noise, then.
Static, hissing and crackling and echoing.
One moment the building was around him, coming apart in his pain and fury. Then there was utter blackness, the world snuffed of light. Toriel stood in it, head tilted back, and eyes closed, as thousands of faceless, screaming souls clawed at him. Outside, the world fell to ruin. Cities crumbled, dying, as people continued to fight against a force they didn’t understand.
Toriel watched from the sidelines, sinking into his dark place where only the faintest, ghostly white flower dared bloom. The seed of hope still lingered, waiting to bloom. He stared down at it as the darkness around him screamed and roared, bloodshed staining once-holy grounds black.
He would never escape. Toriel knew this.
Yet he would fight because he was forever haunted.
This story, ‘Haunted,’ was my first post. It seems so long ago that it came up. I wrote it on FictionPress, long before I came to WordPress, and it was a story which I liked a lot. Now that I’ve revamped it, I can see how my writing style has changed. How I’ve improved.
It’s longer now than it had been when I first wrote it, considerably so. I hope everyone here likes this one story because it is an old one which I’ve made anew. It’s deeper than it had been, the story behind it a bit darker. I think that’s why I like it. There’s something in it, an underlining story, that gives it such depth and character.
I’m pleased with it. I hope all of you are, too.