by Aaron Whitaker

“How did I get here?”

This is the question I seem to be asking myself as I stumble into this alley. Dark, lonesome, and musty; I would avoid this type of place in a heartbeat on a normal day. The walls look moist and slimy; perhaps that is where the aroma of mold is coming from? I manage to trip on some conveniently placed trash, but somehow catch myself just before my nose makes contact with the ground. Good thing too, because at that moment I realize that my hands are touching a surface that’s equally foul. Frantically I rise to my feet and wipe my hands on my pants, and turn to fully examine my surroundings.

“How did I get here?”

This setting is stark contrast to the one that I was enjoying a few moments ago. Savoring a big juicy burger topped just the way I like it, from this nice diner down the street. Adding in a homemade malt to wash everything down just right. Sitting alone and basking in the silent tranquility. Maybe that’s why I am in this predicament? Seems so far away now.

“How did I get here?”

My daydreams soon come to an end though. A swift punch in the gut brings me back to reality, and reunites me with my peaceful dinner. “Whoa, Carter you almost got some on me.” The sarcastic laugh was a dead giveaway as to whom it belongs, Francis. He’s your run of the mill sleaze and full of himself to boot.

“How did I get here?”

The more I ask myself that question, the more I realize that the answer is standing before me. Francis is a middleman, goes around collecting debts for his boss, a loan shark, if you will. “You’re past due.” I take another hit this time with his brass knuckles, which have a bizarre reflection off the slime-covered walls. I think a few of my ribs just cracked. I probably look pathetic hunching over in this dank alley. “Unfortunately we have to forcibly repossess our investment.” A final blow, a kick sure to shatter the rest of my ribcage.

“How did I get here?”

Am I going to die? Beaten, bruising, coughing up blood; and my day was going so well. Now I welcome the slime and make a nice bed out of it. It’s soft and eerily warm. “Thank you for your gracious payment, I believe we will reconsider our investment. See you next month to checkup on your progress,” Francis chuckles as he throws me my recently emptied wallet. He seems confident that I’ll make it through this ordeal. Either way, I can’t seem to keep my eyes open, perhaps a quick nap wouldn’t hurt.

“How did I get here?”

The darkness surrounds me; it seems like hands are gripping onto my soul as they pull me down into the abyss. As I fall into the nothing, I can’t help but ask myself the same redundant question; I thought I already knew the answer. It feels as though that this void is draining my emotions to balance my body with the landscape.

“How did I get here?”

Even though this place attempts to make me feel isolated, I can still sense the presence of others. Their voices start, quietly at first, no more audible than a slow, paced exhale. But breaths turn to murmurs, murmurs change to whispers, whispers progress into statements, statements become conversations, conversations morph into debates, debates lead to arguments, arguments evolve into yells, yells alter into screams, screams shift into battle cries, battle cries epoch at thunderous roars, “I can’t stand it anymore!” The voice that cries out does not belong to me, although it might as well. My rapid decent makes it hard to envision the owner, but as soon as I take notice my speed begins to slow. Perhaps this space wants me to absorb everything that was going to follow.

“I can not let this go on any longer,” the same voice screaming, whose body is emanating a light in stark contrast to the darkness around it; it’s almost painful to look at directly. A man in form, he tries to assert power over another figure that is his exact opposite.

“I’m afraid that neither of us have a choice in the matter,” is the calm feminine rebuttal. Her body is wrapped in a material that matches her background, just as dark if not darker. The only way I’m able to see her clothes is because of the thin strip of red that runs along her outline. If that wasn’t there, it would seem like her head and slender limbs were emerging from the ether.

“How did I get here?”

This scene confuses me; my drop is now a hover over the two conflicting entities. I can see them clear as day, but why haven’t they noticed me?

“He is only a child!”

“Quit acting like he’s innocent. That is something that he has lost long ago,” chuckles the mysterious muse, as chills run down my spine. I’m not sure if they are from fear or excitement.

“There are other methods to resolve this.”

“He desires punishment… retribution, and right now his focus is on that Francis fellow.” Right at this moment my heart skips a beat, realizing that they are talking about me. And whatever spell that was keeping me immune to their sight breaks with my spike in terror.

“How did I get here?”

Not sure if that question would be appropriate to ask here, considering I don’t know if I would like an answer from these two, so I say nothing. This doesn’t stop them from turning their heads towards me. A look of horror takes over the gilded man’s face, as if my very presence has increased the stakes of whatever dangerous game they were playing. He stutters for a moment but tries to retake control of this perplexing situation, “I do not believe… that this child of God is lost.” To no avail the woman steps forward, with each pace closer to me her smile widens; a sight that frightens to the core, but at the same time it could enchant even the strongest of wills. “You’re wasting your time. He has made his decision; I can feel it in his heart.” Before I know it she places her hand on my chest, with her free arm wrapping around my back to pull me in closer. Something doesn’t feel right, my skin feels cold from her palm; what is it? Fear… anxiety… acceptance? I’m not sure. As my thoughts begin to broaden, large wings spring from the woman’s back; wings with the same jet black hue and eerie illumination. With one powerful thrust, we are sent skyward leaving the man behind.

“Stop!” This is the only thing he can utter before he begins to fade. Some force drags him in the opposite direction to prevent any chance of him catching us. Even his light can’t protect him from what is coming; slowly but surely and resisting with all his might, the emptiness is devouring him. With her head crocked to enjoy the view, she gives only a single somber word response, “Goodbye.”

Attention returning to me, the enchantress looks deeply into my eyes. No further words are spoken, just her peering and prying into my soul. Then a sudden kiss, originating out of surprise … or expectation; sealing me to my fate, whatever that might be.

“How did I get here?”

Damp, must, slime; I’m back in the alley, and I’m standing! This can’t be, Francis nearly broke me in half. But the very thought of his name makes me realize that I am not alone in the alley. Francis is lying face down in a puddle of muck at my feet, with the ground around him flowing into a small river of crimson. “Francis?” I’m not sure why I say this; I guess I am hoping that by muttering his name it will create some miracle response of him getting up, or at the very least a groan of disturbance. Although a quick examination of his body proves that he won’t be moving anytime soon. A large hole has been punched through his chest, as if he had been hit with a cannon ball from point blank range with chunks of flesh frayed to and fro. What could have happened? A quick look at myself gives me the traumatizing answer. I’ve felt damp since I woke up but I only took it as water from the alley; wishful thinking. In reality, my arms are coated in the same dark crimson pulling from Francis. Did I do this? How? These questions echo in my head as if to taunt me for the act I just unconsciously committed. I look over the scene relentlessly, desperate to prove to myself that this wasn’t my doing. These hopes promptly faded away as I turned back to the slime. There are two menacingly bright red eyes staring back at me, but the eyes are my own.

“How did I get here?”

My feet soon take control of themselves, forcing me in the opposite direction. They don’t seem to care where they take me, as long as it is away from the gruesome attack. Sirens begin to blare in the distance, and they are only getting closer; are they after me? I should be running out of breath, but each stride feels longer and stronger than the last almost as if I am flying. Somehow I manage to find myself in front of my apartment building. Eager to receive sanctuary, I burst through the doors, not paying attention to anyone who may or may not be in the lobby. All I want is to get into my room, and pray for all of this to go away.

“How did I get here?”

I know deep down that I will never be that lucky. Even in my own house, I can only feel despair and foreboding. Everything is dark; it makes me sick how eerily similar it is to the void. The only glimpse of light in the entire space comes from a dim lamp on my desk. Resting peacefully inside the illumination is a photo… Oh Emma. The photo reveals a joyous depiction of my wife, Emma, and I. It was our first anniversary and we wanted to go somewhere special; she always was a little bit of a thrill seeker, so we went to the amusement park. Not the most romantic of places but I did try to redeem myself with a cliché candlelit dinner; at least we both got to enjoy ourselves. We thought nothing could hurt us. If I only knew what I know now. I would have never gotten myself involved with Francis and his boss; then Emma and I could have continued to live our fantasy. That’s why Emma’s not here; I wasn’t sure how far Francis was willing to go but I didn’t want her to get hurt because of my own idiocy. So I sent her away. Her mother has been sick recently, so it was a good excuse to get her out of the house. But would I want her to come back? Look at me now; as I glance at the mirror hanging on the closet door I can see a literal shadow of my former self. Patches of grey skin form around the stains of blood with eyes red as fire; what would she think of me?

“How did I get here?”

I think I know the answer to that question now. I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I have to correct the wrongs that I have done. I can’t let Emma see me like this. Easing myself to the window facing the street, I open it. “It should be quick,” those seem to be the words that escape my lips as I step out onto the ledge. But as soon as I’m about to take my leap, I hear two of the most gut wrenching sounds I’ve heard all night. Our apartment door unlocking, followed by an angelic voice, “Carter, are you here?” Turning on the light, a look of terror overcomes her as the sight unfolds before her. Why now; oh why Emma did you have to come back? Silence ensues. Eventually her body begins to relax but the look of terror remains; at this point, tears start to swell in my eyes. I can’t let this go on any further. I have to end it quickly. I don’t want to hurt her.

So… I lean forward. “No!” Emma’s screams reverberate in the air around me, spilling out into the street. To prevent any more damage, I look towards my fate. As I do, something else disturbs me entirely. Fire and brimstone breaks though the ground, lurching for me. From the flames emerges the woman in black, embracing me once more. Scared more than I ever have been, I look back. Emma, my angel, is at the window holding out her arm crying for my return. Her face was of fear, but now turns to surprise as another odd yet bone-chilling photo develops in front of her.
Instinctively, the demoness pulls me in closer and whispers into my ear, all the while smirking evilly at Emma, “Welcome home.”



  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Aaron Whitaker is a senior at Heidelberg College, majoring in Anthropology and History. He’s from Woodstock, Ohio. This is his first published story.


  • * * * * * * * * * * * *


art by Samuel Barrera


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