By Profe Steve
“I thought I could run,” The man muttered, teeth clenched and head bowed, “I thought hiding, getting away, would be the best thing I could do.” He raised his chin defiantly and wiped a grimy glove over his forehead, cutting off the beads of sweat that dripped into his eyes and looked around.
All that met his gaze was carnage and smoke, dust and devastation. His other hand hung limp at his side, the useless blaster with its glowing barrel dangling from one finger.
Shadows moved and retreated as light burst forth from the broken shards of the ruined building, causing Ember to squint. He let the spent weapon drop into the mud.
He shielded his eyes as he called out, desperately trying to keep the tremor from his voice, “What are you waiting for? Do it. Do what you came here for. Kill me.”
A lone crow drifted down to light with a gentle flutter of feathers, then strutted about, head swiveling as if uncertain where to begin his feast. He was the first of many which would soon dine on the scorched flesh that littered the ground.
“You misunderstand. You have always misunderstood.” The voice that came from the blinding light was strong but not harsh, hard but not cold. “You have been lied to and you let yourself believe the falsehoods. We wish you no harm.”
Ember barked a laugh which ended in a cough that made his chest burn, almost driving him to his knees as his face contorted into a grimace. “You must kill me now, my hands are red, stained with the blood of your kind. You cannot ignore that.”
The voice took on a note of sadness, “No, we cannot ignore it, and will not, but we have no need to see you perish as well. There has been enough death here. Do you feel it? Have you drained the cup to the bottom, swallowed yet the bitter dregs? Do they churn and roil in your belly, burning and sickening you?”
Ember sank to his knees, hands clasped his stomach as he wretched. Wave after wave of nausea tore him until he prayed to any god willing to listen to let his life end.
“Does your mind accept the truth? Do you feel it in your breast, feel your heart ripping?”
Tears blurred Ember’s vision as he fell prostrate on the cold tile, but he did not feel the scene change. He was howling like a lost soul, raw, ragged sobs tearing his throat, “I killed her. I slew Kayara. I destroyed them all. All dead. All gone.”
His eyes were clenched, moisture seeping out to drip down the side of his face on to the sterile white pillow.
“Good,” the voice of the doctor soothed, barely audible, “you must embrace that; must hold onto that to get through it. Let it come, let the feelings come, I am here to help you. Your wife is dead, but not your children. They need you. They need you to come back.”
“No! They are dead! All dead!” Ember screamed, seizing his weapon from the mud as another wave of the strange creatures surged up from the ground. He never questioned where they came from nor why his blaster was functional once again, he simple began wildly firing as he roared in defiance.
Doctor Reed turned to her companion, concern lining her eyes, “I despair. Almost he is willing to accept, but until he does, he will continue this endless battle. Until his mind accepts, he will not listen to reason. It will be a long, slow process.”
The girl, barely into her teen years, twisted her hands, a tissue crumpled between delicate fingers as she gazed at the stranger on the bed before her.
He wore the face of her father, but there was nothing left of the man who had been everything to her until the accident that took the life of her mother. “He will. He will come back. I know he will, and I will be here when he does.”
Ember blazed away at the creatures, but they were mobbing him, some clutching at his arms and legs, biting, gnawing. He screamed as they ripped dripping gobbets of his flesh from his body. It was fitting. He deserved this, he must pay.
She laid a gentle hand on his fevered brow and whispered, “I don’t know where you are, what horrors you face, but you don’t have to face them alone. Come back, Daddy, come back.”
Ember’s violent thrashing eased as a single ray of light broke through the clouds outside the window and illuminated his face.