He, Part One
What am I, you ask?
Why do I ask?
He leans against a tree in the thunderstorm, writhing in agony no one can comprehend. It’s not a wound or illness, but a curse that pains him. He tears the bark with his bare hand in anger. He curses the heaven and hell for creating this land between them, for this land is literally heaven and hell mixed together. It has hope, yet it has despair. This boy understands it all too well, that hope is the same as despair. Hope brings the idea of a bright future, and when you’re surrounded by nothing but despair, that idea of a bright future hurts more than the desperation itself. After all, it’s just hope, not reality. Despair, on the other hand, brings hope. It’s something no one desires, and to flee it, one seeks for hope, and thus the cycle between heaven and hell begins, namely this land between heaven and hell.
If he just stabbed his own heart, this nightmare of the endless cycle would cease. He has nothing, not even strangers to meet. There is literally nothing for him. The world knows not a single living soul other than him. No human has walked this land between heaven and hell for two years, the boy excluded. The technology never advanced enough to make it possible to flee from this world to other planets, so in short, the boy wasn’t left behind, but instead, the others are just… gone.
Gone they are, for calling them ‘dead’ is wrong. Their hearts never stopped, and their souls never left for heaven or hell. Their hearts vanished along with the bodies, and souls remain here on the land of eternal agony. Or that’s what the boy has concluded. After all, he can see the souls wander around, not knowing that they’d technically died.
If he just plunged his dagger into his own chest, he’d be released from this agony. He’d be sent to hell for certain, but at least he’d get rid of this cycle. Although this land has nothing to offer him other than the eventual death by the curse or by the Followers, he is an idiot like any other human being and clings to hope. Hope he’d crafted for himself before this agony began. He’ll fight gods and dragons all alone if that’s what it takes, but never will he give up on the hope he’d made up.
Though he has no idea if a god exists in this world or not, or if dragons were just a fictional story or real, he’d definitely fight them, and die like that. It’s not an emphasis, but the truth. He chose this dark path, so why should he turn back when there’s death closing in from whence he came? No matter who it’d be, they’d rather pursue the possible survival before them rather than let the death behind them catch up. Of course, weak minded people might do stupid things, but they are excluded here.
Instead of remaining still in this thunderstorm, the boy moves on, though the curse makes it difficult. It’s dark, almost like it was night, yet it is only midday. The boy arrives at a village next to a river. Some planks hang loose on the walls of the buildings, torn off almost completely by countless storms over the years. One of the buildings has its roof damaged by a tree that has crashed onto it. The tree still lies there with the breach on the roof, letting the rainwater in. Moss grows everywhere, none of the buildings looks comfortable. Windows look creepy, for years old curtains hang loose in a ghastly manner.
While there’s no actual life left in this ruined village, reflections of vanished people linger here and there—the souls that is—warping around, smiling, talking, walking, working, and so on. It’s like those reflections don’t know that they don’t exist anymore. Some tools, carts, and other items lie on the muddy ground. It almost looks like they were left scattered like this in haste.
Not only did humans disappear, but most of the wildlife did as well. Some hares and birds remain, but otherwise, the wildlife is long gone. Hell, even some insects disappeared, ones that can kill a human with poison. About diseases, it’s hard to say. There are no humans left to suffer an illness other than the boy.
In this creepy village, the boy takes shelter from within one of the ruined buildings. His equipment consists of a bow, dagger, and of supply, such as herbs, other tools, rope, and whatnot. He also has flint and steel to light a campfire.
Thunder keeps roaring outside, the rain hammering the roof, and the wind blows furiously, causing ghastly voices thanks to the gaps and holes of the buildings. He sharpens his dagger in the dark room, knowing that there is at least one of them watching him, even now. He says nothing, he does nothing, he just lets them be. It’s not a mere monster or a beast that hungers for humans out there. It’s something greater and worse than a creature with fangs and claws.
Yet they pose no threat to the boy, for now. As to why he can live without worry, it’s all because of his stupidity. He is safe from them now, but only because he already fell victim to them. The next time that happens, his very life will be consumed with the mistake. He can’t stop it, he can’t escape it, he can do nothing about it, should he make the next mistake.
Suddenly, the boy hisses in pain. He pulls his right sleeve up to see the spot that hurts. What’s happening within his arm can be seen clearly. Some black substance courses through his arm within his veins, bulging temporarily as the substance travels through his blood vessels.
The boy isn’t shocked. This is his disease—his curse. He knows not how he got it, or how to cure it, or what this curse even is. What he knows, however, is that he’s the only one out there suffering from this curse. Also, he knows that this curse is devouring him slowly but surely from within.
He keeps sharpening his dagger. Thunder strikes a tree nearby, as the boy can hear the lightning and a tree falling slowly, until it crashes onto the ground. Before he sits down to sharpen his dagger, he goes through the building, checking if there’s anything useful, but ultimately finds nothing.
Once he’s sat down to sharpen his tools, a reflection of a vanished person walks past him in the room. He isn’t surprised. What he is wondering, however, is that how can a soul of a person be as tenacious as that? Not accepting one’s own disappearance at all and wandering aimlessly. It doesn’t look like a ghost, but more like a transparent human which warps around like it wasn’t aware of the fact that it doesn’t exist anymore.
The most dangerous moments in this world right now are ones where he could fall to his death, drown, or anything alike. Some poisonous weeds still exist, they could kill as well. But the ultimate threat is the existence of them. Followers they are called. They were but a myth back in the days, but when humanity disappeared, it feels like this myth has come to life, for he sees Followers daily, especially his own Follower.
So, what brings hope to this boy in a world where there are only wandering souls and ethereal predators? It’s not some object that could bring back the humanity. Actually, the boy knows how to resurrect humanity, but he can’t do it, even though anyone could do it if they just wanted to. Instead, what brings hope to this lost case of a boy, is actually a living person. It’s a girl, and it’s unknown whether she still lives or not, but she was alive after the disappearance, if not even until this day. And that brings hope to him. If she is out there, breathing the same air, he will do anything to get to her. And to find out whether she lives or not, he will do anything. Dying for the sake of getting to know if she lived until this day or not would confirm his hopes, and that’d be enough for him to die smiling.
He has no idea where she is, or how does she even look like. He just has to find her in this vast world. He may never see her, or it could be that he finds her decades later. Or it could be tomorrow. Already two years have passed since he began his search for her.
During those two years, the boy’s body has grown in muscle and stamina thanks to the never-ending journey to find her. But the muscles he has gained aren’t swelling. He could run for miles without sweating like an everyday commoner would.
An hour later, the boy still hides in the old building while the storm is calming down. He looks around a little, hoping to not sight any of them. He prefers to keep his distance from them, although it proves difficult at times. Also, it’s pointless. But who’d want to see the sight of one’s own demise?
He sees none. After checking his equipment, he looks around quickly to see if there’s anything useful in the village. In the end, he finds nothing and departs, walking towards South.
He cannot explain it, but ever since the disappearing day, he has felt a strong urge to travel South. At first, he ignored the newfound instinct and traveled West. For months he kept at it, until he just couldn’t resist the urge to travel South anymore. In a way, the feeling is like walking towards warm paradise while you’re suffering from cold winter. She has nothing to do with this feeling.
More precisely, it feels like there’s a safe haven from them in the South. Although he may not show it on his surface, he is terrified of them. He wants to find shelter from them, a place where they can’t come near him, and that is precisely what he seeks from South. Also, if she has developed the same instinct, he just might find her from South as well. But that is but a dream.
As he walks the muddy road that nature has begun to reshape back into what the way was before being trampled, he spots it moving among the trees. Subtly riding the wind without any real physical form. It is like a shadow that is not born due to light not reaching a particular spot behind an obstacle. It reeks of darkness, radiating black aura around it, while in the middle of the darkness, an orb of pure black works as the source of the dark.
It’s getting bolder, isn’t it? The boy reasons. Over the two years, his own thing—the Follower—has grown bolder and bolder, approaching the boy more and more. During the time it all began, he saw his Follower—the black shadowy horror—watching him from a faraway cliff, but now it’s watching him from three dozen yards away. Never did the Follower get so close two years ago.
Am I beginning to feel regret? Is it sensing my doom like scavenger birds do?
“Hoy, you there!” The boy hears such. Has to be an auditory hallucination, the boy reasons.
The boy turns to see who’s shouting. The voice isn’t that of a woman’s, but a man’s, and there shouldn’t be any other male human left, and even the last female human is fifty-fifty. However, this boy has no idea what’s awaiting him.
His eyes don’t lie, he does see a person sitting on a rock. A man in his prime with short beard and hair. But for some reason, the boy pulls his dagger out. “What are you?” He even asks such.
“‘What’ you ask? You mean ‘who’?”
“No, ‘what’ is the correct term. You aren’t real. You must be one of those reflections, wandering aimlessly in this world, not accepting your fate.”
The aberration on the side watches the boy as he talks to a person he doesn’t believe to exist. How peculiar.
“Reflections? I ain’t one of them. Rather, I know a thing or two about them.”
The boy is mystified. “Huh? What do you know that I don’t know?”
The person this boy finds hard to believe to be real laughs. “Just kidding! I have no idea what the hell you are talking about! Reflections? Hmm?”
I knew it. “So, would you like to know if you are a reflection or not? If you aren’t, I’ll gladly accept your company.” Though I doubt he is a human.
And thus, the boy plunges the dagger into the man’s belly—more precisely, he plunges it into my abdomen. I try to cover the wound he’d caused, but apparently, I will bleed out anyway.
That boy was never supposed to do that.