This story is by Nick Franck and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Darkness gathered at street level. My commute led right to it, not the daily boring one, but the special kind. The kind for which I alone bore responsibility. It led to a hidden workplace where I fought monsters in secret. Protecting the populace behind the scenes.
Water splashed beneath my shoes as I stepped toward the gathering dark. It had yet to become visible, but I felt its proximity. I stopped next to a missing person’s board. Needy faces stared out at me, all of them craving discovery.
I asked them the same question as always: Did I fail you?
“You did.” The words injected themselves within my mind. I spun around, puzzled.
Reality shifted, and a claw emerged from the concrete through a layer of black mist, pushing its way into the open air. The rain did not touch it.
A grin exploded on my face, part madness, part fear. I snapped my fingers, and the same darkness swirled around me, cladding me in shadow-like armor. The shadows grew and swirled away from my hand. They formed a sword, the only weapon able to kill what crawled out of the pavement.
The passersby kept walking, the monster remained invisible, until it decided otherwise.
Its eyes were orange marbles, the same color as the street lamps. The light ran along its chest and stomach, trickling down through its legs. It outlined mock up muscles, designed to look humanoid.
“Elias. Drop the grin.” It knew my name, but I didn’t care. My purpose was clear.
“Didn’t know you could talk.” I charged toward it, my blade of shadows held high. I struck at the lumbering creature and cleaved only wind. It stood behind me as fast as a drop of rain falling to the ground. Undeterred by my attack, nor by my presence.
“I’m going to teach you a lesson.” It said, showing a row of teeth clad in orange light. “Look down.”
“You will not distract me, monster. The craftiness of your people precedes you.”
The orange eyes peered into mine. “We’re crafty monsters?” He laughed, a thunder crashed inside my head. The laughter took with it my shadows. They tore away, adding to the monster’s bulk. “You’ll see.”
I fell, like my body had lost its substance, and I slipped through the concrete. All became darkness.
Until light flowed from my body and burned through it. It formed around me, like the shadows. My body grew, the light lengthened my arms and legs. My torso broadened, mixing with the darkness, giving it a muscular semblance.
The world flipped. The only light source was my body, it illuminated tall buildings sprouting around me. Creatures made of darkness passed by, without sparing me a glance.
I should kill them. The thought repeated itself, echoing itself into power. A sword of light extended from my hand. Rage and opportunity took over, and I crashed through the dark landscape.
I recognized the dark figures as kin to the monster. Long I had searched for their world, to find the source of my infection. They had created their worst enemy, and I proved it to them. The fall of my sword was their doom. Every slash lessened their population.
Screams emanated in my head. They blocked out my thoughts, giving me pause. The creatures surrounded me, their darkness stirred, forming something mouth-like.
One of them sat, huddled over, its body protecting things beneath. Two of the same dark forms. Smaller, unmoving.
Children. Killed by my hand.
I am the same as them.
Realization hit like a hammer, and it took the light away from me. I blinked, and the world flipped again, sending me back to familiar streets.
The dark creature stood in front of me, a small distance between us. It smiled, the light forming teeth in its darkness.
“You’re back faster than I had thought.”
Bodies were scattered over the pavement. Their blood mixed with the rain. My heart pumped, raced. The shadows came in an instant, driving my anger.
But the sword… I couldn’t summon it.
“I was wrong.” I said. “You are no monster. I am.” My words stung my eyes. Laid a weight upon my heart.
“You are.” Its smile dissipated, the facsimile eyes focused on me. Orange and sharp. “But so am I. We are, because we had to be. We do not.”
“Then what is the solution?”
“Our worlds are connected, our people are bound to fall through to the other side.”
“They have.” The shadow pointed at the missing posters. “Where do you think they are?”
My head gave out. Years of worry, a life of isolation. All for nothing. All for reasons I thought I knew.
“What happens to your people when they enter our world, is the same as happens to us. Panic turns to rage. Rage into murder, until I come by.” The creature pointed its head down, a shadow to my posture. “You wish to stop this?”
“Yes.” I said, my whole heart part of the answer.
“Then we must die.”
“We’re what connects the worlds. We die and the connection follows.”
“But we can’t…” I had tried before, when the isolation had become too much.
The puzzle finished itself within my mind, the answer became obvious. I extended my hand, and the sword followed it, tracing back into my grip.
“So you agree.” The monster said, and its orange teeth shone in the darkness.
I nodded and charged, my sword held in front of me. The shadow did the same. The closer it came, the more it mirrored me.
His sword plunged through my body as mine did the same. We fell to the curb in unison.
As I stared into the sky, the connection shut. The other world, its call, always in my mind, disappeared.
My job finally finished, I let out a sigh. The last breath I ever took.