I observe keenly as the scorching wax drips onto your hand. You tremble in pain and alarm, the candle nearly falls to the pavement and I prepare my onslaught.
A look of grim resilience crosses your unkempt face, the resolute desire for life causes your fist to tighten around the wick.
My enthusiasm does not wane, what your holding is little more than a stump, and the last of the pack you rationed. I’ve watched as you have burned through each one. You can’t keep me away for much longer.
The petrol station is empty of replacements, you’ll see soon enough. Candles, flashlights and matches they used to sell here have already been fought over and used up. I saw it happen, as my vision stretches endlessly.
Even the fuel pumps are empty. When the eclipse occurred, it was the first instinct of many to drive in spontaneous direction. I had ceased to be a childish fear restrained by the coming of dawn, and my bottomless hunger inspired reckless panic. Those who chose this route relied foolishly on their headlights for protection, but a car battery can only last so long.
I am very old, and very patient.
There are not so many of you left now. I can observe you all at once, as I am everywhere save for where your dim lights reach. Intrigued by your different methods to keep me at bay, I like the way you tease my appetite.
It was a spectacle, to witness how rapidly your civilisations crumbled. Meticulous organisation of currency, law and politics came to nothing. Terror you felt for me when you were young, the fear you had forgotten, returned tenfold.
I am older than the sun, she had no right to banish me, reduce me to something weak, feeding only on the dread of children.
I craved to be more than the absence of something. I needed depth. The will power and presence of the human soul is what satisfies my void, where fear can only scratch the sides. The sun never gave me time to hook my claws into you.
She’s lost herself now, and I hunger for much more than passing apprehension.
On your way to the store entrance you stumble on cracks in the ground, discarded waste and dead animals I’ve left to rot.
I have no interest in them. It’s the detailed pattern of thought that gives humans the taste that I crave. Your tireless search for answers, your ambition, the way you cling to life – it fills me better than the instinct driven squirrel.
Rats persist still, they’ve never needed light, or vegetation. Eventually the species will eat itself, in the same way that humans have begun to do.
It was interesting to observe that overtime your species forgot their moral code, and the religions they once swore by. The concepts of heaven and hell, or any form of afterlife were forgotten with the sun.
They began to realise that there were older and more powerful entities, that had more conceivable effects on the human soul than the notion of god. Fear of judgment after death became replaced by the terror of being consumed by me.
Of course you have no memory of life without my threat. You were born in my shadow, after the sun had fallen. The bestial nature of humankind surrounded you as you grew. Watching your mother push your father into my reach solidified in your mind what it meant to survive. You are alone now, and you prefer it this way. Food needn’t be shared, and light sources could be rationed. Despite this, you are still down to your last flame. There aren’t many resources left to salvage from your world.
The door to the shop is open. Smashed in by desperate people like yourself, whose essence I have long since absorbed. Your dim light flickers over the empty shelves. No food, nothing to keep you warm, and nothing to give you light. The next station is 40 miles away, and your candle wont last the hike.
To your credit, and my disappointment, you’re not one to panic. An expression of grim acceptance works its way through your features. You’re contemplating your options. A brief notion of suicide flickers in your eyes, but does not linger.
If you were intelligent you would have taken this route by now. When I have you, I will eat everything. No fragment of your soul can escape my void. Those who perish before I reach them at least find peace in death. Their cold flesh becomes an empty vessel, and cannot satisfy me.
But I know you. You will fight against me until I crush you between my teeth.
You hold your flame close to your chest, cupping it with your free hand, so that your skin glows red and the bones beneath are visible. Gently, as though your time is endless, you sit cross legged on the floor of the shop. Using me to conceal themselves, the rats stare at you. You stare into me.
What are you looking for? A face? I don’t have one. My eyes are everywhere, my mouth is endless. My tongue drips with metaphorical saliva at the thought of how close you are to me.
You stare into me, like you are my equal. You want to show me you’re not afraid, but I see through you. Your demeanour appears stoic, but there’s a tremble in your hand, and sweat glistens on your brow though there is no heat in the atmosphere. You sit in silence, unflinching as the rats begin to crawl over you and try to savour the feeling of being alive.
Someone is approaching you however. A woman.
She’s slightly older than you and her terror of me is etched onto her face. But her will to live matches your own, and what terrible things she’s done to evade me!
Unlike you, she remembers a time when the cycle of dawn kept me weak. As a little girl she kept nightlights to ward away my malice. All children could sense my ire after the sun had traveled onwards, but by the time they grew into adulthood, they had convinced themselves that their fear had been the product of overactive imagination. She knows now that I had only been dormant.
You hear her coming. The sense of hearing you possess is made acute due to the way my shadow oppresses your sight. Besides, no birdsong fills the air, no humming of insects, nor the sound of distant traffic.
Her footsteps ring loudly on the pavement outside, and the crunch of bones beneath her boots is the snapping of trees in a hurricane. She doesn’t know you’re here, she has come to this station for the same reason that you did.
Moments like these are my favourite. You’re on the floor, cradling the stump of a candle in your hands and daring me to take you. She carries a lamp, with fuel still left to burn, but whose light is only enough for one. Neither of you have seen another human in over five years.
I will swallow one of you in this petrol station shop.
You conceal yourself behind the counter of the store, your movement scattering the rodents. She senses your presence as a prickle on the back of her neck, and draws a rusted screwdriver from the pocket of her coat.
I see the relief on your face, she has no ranged weapon. You draw the revolver from your bag, something that you’ve only used for rats, when hunger gnaws at you. It’s difficult for you to manoeuvre the gun whilst protecting your flame, but you have two chances for an easy solution.
The first takes off her ear. Her shrieks of pain and fury are delicious in my ears, i’m preparing for a growth in my substance.
She steels herself against the throb of her lost ear, and lunges at the direction of the assault, lantern swinging. The sudden movement causes you to miss the second shot, and it echos loudly in the back of the hollow store. Both of you react cautiously, fearing to lose your light. But her lamp is more secure than your diminishing flame, so she allows herself to become aggressive.
I cackle as she uses her wiry strength to pull you over the store counter and onto the floor. Your candle is snuffed, but you are safe for the moment, as her lamplight protects you from above. Instinctively, you pull long legs from beneath the women, as she drives her screwdriver towards your face.
She prioritises the lamp over her weapon as she topples, clutching at it with her coat-hanger arms. My attention is all on the both of you. I draw my eyes in from many places around the world, and focus them on the way you are using your broken nails to wound each other.
You appear as though you’re grappling in slowed time. Attempting to cause as much harm to the other as possible, but both of you afraid to damage the light.
She is fierce, but your young strength aids you. The lamp is torn from her grasp as she wails in despair. You roll away, the soft glow of the light banishing me from your space.
And I drool as I take her. Her fear is the first thing I taste, it’s tantalising, a sharp flavour on my taste buds. But it brings little satisfaction. It’s her passions, the pattern of her thought that satiate me. She’s fought against me tirelessly, her determination and strength of will slide smoothly into my stomach. I merge it with my own, relishing in the growth of my power. Her physical form twists and stretches as the essence of soul is sucked away. Beliefs and aspirations melt on my tongue as I tear her apart.
I notice that the meal doesn’t fill me as much as it used to. The bitterness of instinct is stronger, and the sweet taste of original thought is diminished. The longer you survive against me, the more depraved you become, and the less space in my void do you fill. I will ignore this for now, the pleasure of finally taking her surpasses my concern.
You watch me devour your opposition with little feeling. The scene does not disturb you, you’ve seen it countless times before. In fact, I can sense a satisfaction in you that mirrors my own. You’re playing a game with me now. The hand that holds your light no longer shakes, you’ve bought yourself time.
You can’t tell, but I’m grinning back at you, the last scraps of her in my shadowy teeth. I love you, I love to watch you, to play this game with you. We both know how it will end.