What I remember (I checked my writing records) most was that it was accepted for publication in a letter to me, March 13, 1992 (Friday the 13th), by Thin Ice…but Thin Ice went under before it could be published! I was even told that it would be the lead story in that issue of the magazine…but it wouldn’t be published until Summer 1994 (two years later!). But then it was delayed yet another year. Yeah—so, I waited three years for publication, only to have the rug pulled out from under me in 1995. The editor (whose name I realized I’ve since forgotten—I’d remembered her name for years and years…) even said I could submit elsewhere if I wanted to have it published earlier….
So, now…24 years later…I am finally giving it that life!
I am and have always been fascinated by walking…that by walking you can literally get anywhere on this planet. Okay, you might have to take a plane or a ship or two, but still…it’s by walking that would get you there to take that plane or ship. Or that swim. And I love walking…the physical (and metaphysical) locomotion through time and space. Yes, you probably never gave the “time and space” part much though, did you? One is moving through both TIME and SPACE when one locomotes. And if you let your mind wander…run free…you’re also wandering the universe when you walk. So, there’s really a whole lot more going on when you take those physical steps than perhaps is initially imagined….
And what if there existed a race that that did everything while in constant motion?
That was my inspiration all those years ago, and I just love this story! It has intrigue and sex (well, okay, an “honorable mention,” since sex is mentioned…) and mystery! Horror! Metaphysics! It’s a quest—and so much more I can’t get into without giving away the twists and turns that this 6,000-word story takes! It’s one of my favorites. I wasn’t sure if I would post it here, because of its length…I think it might be the longest on this blog. I have a couple longer short stories I’ve been holding off posting because of their length…but decided to go with “Walkers.” I might include one or two of the others, as well, later….
So, yes, “Walkers” is also unpublished…returned to me by Thin Ice, on May 11, 1995 (delayed a year from its original publication), because the magazine had gone under, but it was intended for publication (as the lead story!) in that Summer 1994 (1995) issue….
© F. P. Dorchak, 1992
Severen’s feet mindlessly shuffled on with bland reiteration, as he opened sandied eyes. The sky was clear and there was a chill in the air, as early morning reds and oranges splashed across the horizon. The terrain was dusty and desolate.
Severen lifted his head and stretched.
He’d dreamed of being confined to something called a “chair”…with wheels on it…unable to use his legs. He remembered it’d been a good dream.
“Another day,” he said, and rubbed his eyes, cracking open his mouth into a wide, morning yawn. Severen look around and saw Techen, immediately to his left, who also began to stir.
“Mor-ning, Tech,” Severen greeted, mouth full of sand. He spit out the silicate granules.
Severen smiled back and shook dust from his hair, then looked around to the faces immediately behind him, several rows back. Most were still asleep. Then there were the faces behind those, and still more behind those…the unfathomable mass of Walkers that filled in all the way to the rear horizon. And all of them walked…all of them trudged aimlessly across desiccated terrain. They were a people of many ages and varieties, and the sound of their incessant plodding unmercifully assaulted Severen’s morning grogginess, bringing him back to a reality he’d much rather preferred to have escaped. It was an ancient march. A tiresome one. At its best, it was
“…time to send one of us to investigate. Agreed?” It was Strutter, an Old Walker, who had finally came out and said it. “With that having been said, we must send one of us.” His voice was weary with age, but he was the wisest of the Walkers. All of the Council nodded, including Severen.
“We’re sorry to drop this upon you, Severen, my friend, but it is the will of the Council that you should go. You are the healthiest of us to withstand the rigors of the journey.”
Severen flinched, but remained strong—Council-bound—and accepting of the challenge. Somehow, he had come to expect this, despite the fact that he knew of two others who were supposedly younger than him. Smoothing out his Council uniform, he straightened up and addressed Strutter.
“I agree and accept.”
“Good. We wish you our best.”
There was something about Strutter’s look that sent a chill through Severen.
Those not of the Council, but closest to them, turned to each other and began to spread the word, and with a bow of his head, and eyes closed, Severen immediately slowed his pace and began the rearward journey. He shifted his shoulders and twisted his body, as he allowed the peopled interior to swallow him up. It seemed
Colder back here. Emotionally colder.
He had never been back more than a half-a-generation or so before, and had labored long and hard to get to his present position on the Forward Council. People in the interior were less friendly, less open (how well he remembered that), and now he had to go back in—deeper—to investigate rumored trouble at the rear.
He’d heard of only one other walker who’d gone as far back as one generation, and now he was to go all the way back.
To the end.
As far as he could physically reach—and to make matters worse, he was to come all the way back.
It was a quest that bred mixed feelings among the Council, a quest that Severen felt severely hindered by, for further progression on his part, at least for the time of the journey, anyway, but he was duty-bound and the rumors had to be laid to rest. The killings (if there truly were any killings) had to be investigated…stopped.
Feet on autopilot and still facing to the front of the March, Severen retreated deeper into the interior. Uncountable bodies, both familiar and unfamiliar, brushed and flowed past.
If there really were any killings going on, it would probably do the horde well, he thought. Everyone knew there were far too many Walkers, and that, no matter how heretical the thought, they really could stand to use a thinning.
Facts were facts.
As Severen continued backward, he noticed something no one had ever mentioned. This feeling of going backward was almost an erotic, stimulating affair…and he wondered why it was so outlawed to the common masses. He noticed that going back just two or three rows had no real effect, but once you got the momentum going and traveled through at least a quarter of a generation, the sensation suddenly overcame you. It was a heady, whole-body phenomenon that was very much like sex. Everybody, except the aging and dying, went forward, and he had not known anyone who had gone this far rearward before—except in childhood tales, of course.
But it was a good feeling.
Severen also noticed how some began to regard him with suspicion. Or fear. Many turned to those beside them and whispered, all the while keeping a watchful eye upon him. He couldn’t hear them all, but occasionally did catch something like: It is not often one from the Council travels rearward. They must surely imagine something dire. Or: What becomes us that one of them dares invade our privacy? But, overall, Severen found the people most accommodating, actually somewhat more talkative than he’d expected. He would have quite an enlightening report to pass on—if he ever made it back—or passed it on to a Communicator.
Although he had probably been doing it for the past few rows, Severen became aware that he was slowing down. He had come across a tightly knit group at one point and found that he was growing increasingly bogged down. Twisting about, Severen glanced behind. He saw that the jam-up seemed to go on for quite some distance. He faced forward. Just enjoy the ride, Sevvy, he told himself. He looked around to the people beside him and attempted conversation, but as usual, only ended up in passing people by. Until he spotted a particularly quiet and hulking figure of curious intensity, off to his left. Temporarily delaying his rearward passage, Severen redirected himself laterally toward the man. People moved, respectfully, out of his way.
“Good day, citizen!” Severen hailed, “perhaps you can assist me? My name is Severen, of the Forward Council.”
The man wheezed once, then gave him a quick, non-interested glance. “Yeah, so?”
“I’ve been sent by the Council to investigate goings-on at the rear. There have been recent rumors surfacing—”
“Surfacing? Where’ve you been, mate? Them’s rumors been around fer generations.”
“I means, yer frigging behind the times, mate—an why would the Council send back one-ah its own? Why not someone more expendable?”
Severen bit his tongue. He needed to regain control of this conversation.
“Okay, so we’re a bit behind the times, can you assist me or not?”
“What do you want?”
“What’s in it fer me?”
“A better position in the March—”
“Oh, sure, an where would that get someone like me? It’s not like we’re getting anywhere with all this drudgery.”
“I can see about making you a Communicator.”
“Oh, a Communicator, huh?”
“Yes. It’d be low level to start, but it’d be a beginning.”
“Well, I can’t tell you much, y’see, I’ze only heard the rumors, like you, but there’s somethin nasty going on back there. I only heard a one guy who made it back, and he went mad. Was sent back to the rear. You ain’t gonna like what you find—if it don’t find you first.”
The man looked back disapprovingly at the Councilman’s choice of words.
“It’s dark back there, people…disappear…an…an there’s somethin else.”
“Don’t know. The man went n got all unscrewed before he could tell—but he was about to say somethin, I could see it in his eyes. It was like he couldn’t quite bring himself to say it.”
“That’s all you got?”
“Told you it weren’t much.”
“What was his name, this fellow?”
“Chim, or Jorg—no, Chjort, that was it. Chjort.”
“Thank you. Want the position?”
Severen allowed the crowd to advance past, as he continued rearward.
“Sev’ren!” the man yelled back.
“Take it easy, mate. It turned Chjort nutty. Killed the others.”
You never really knew just how large the whole damn thing was from the front. Never really knew until you got inside it. All you saw were rows upon rows of bodies, and bodies going back as far as the eye could see. Way back. But as Severen ventured in, he got a true feeling for just how large this exodus was, more so than any of the Communicators (those who ran messages within assigned districts and kept the masses informed), the Forward Council, or any other mythical hero he’d ever heard about. Communicators came close to getting a truer feel for the size of the March, but they never ventured beyond their own boundaries. Each generation had several districts, but the number depended on how large a generation was. Lately, generations had been growing.
Council members…they really knew nothing.
Anybody could be a Council member, though there had to be a proving to see whether that person was truly worthy of the position. Everyone wanted to be up front, to make laws and institute changes, but not many were willing to work for it. To pay the price. To see something other than the backs of their contemporaries. That was what had initially driven Severen. That, and the love of a woman, or, more to the point, the scorn of one.
Severen had fallen in love with a woman named Thea. She had been strong, and the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on. He’d first seen her when she was only two hops over from him, magically having appeared out of nowhere. They’d flirted, and when Severen finally made his move, he found her more than interested. They were soon marching side by side. Copulating. Inseparable. Then he began to tell her of his ambition, that he wanted to start a family of his own and become one of the Forward Council. That was where things began to deteriorate. It seemed she had no ambition to go to the front, a place where you couldn’t hide.
She had something to hide. She didn’t like being put up for display. She liked where she was, free to drift about…to see others. And Thea had no intention of starting a family. She liked being able to see whom she wanted, and do what she willed. Severen had been nothing more than a passing encounter for her. Sure, she liked him…even the sex and good times they’d had together…but that was all. Severen had awoken one morning to find her gone. Just as he’d found her…he’d lost her.
He never did find out what it was she had to hide, but figured she was probably trafficking in the powerful sleep drug, Utopa, the most common offense in the March. The drug gave the power to dream while awake, for as long as three days, after which subjects usually became hooked and zombie-like. Some, those of stronger constitution, lasted longer and became junkies, but most withered away and died. Either way, all were eventually sent back to the rear. In the end, Severen’s break with Thea had been for the better. Associating with pushers wasn’t conducive to a Council position.
Severen found himself again eavesdropping.
“…Celila and Trax were doing pretty good until Celila’s Communicatorship,” a pair of Walkers discussed.
“Took her away, didn’t they.”
“Yep—but they’re still seeing each other, wouldn’t’cha know it. It’s been a hard road since she’s the youngest Communicator and gets all the rotten routes—she’s gone nearly all the time.”
The other gave a knowing nod and wrinkled his face disapprovingly. Severen remembered that name. Celila. She was new. Swift. She was also a good Mediator for the Council, which wasn’t good for her man, since she’d most probably get promoted and see even less of him. It wouldn’t be until her next promotion, a supervisory position, that she’d have any time for a relationship—and who’d want to wait that long?
Severen angled off into a different direction, and looked up to the sky. It had darkened noticeably since he’d last checked. He realized he was now into the very heart of the March, sand almost completely obscuring the sky. And don’t even talk about the noise. It was also decidedly colder…not just emotionally, but physically…and he didn’t like that. It should have gotten warmer, from all that body heat. But it
Wasn’t life a bitch? It seemed that all one had to look forward to was to live long enough to get to the front lines. Then what? Severen had gotten there, and where had it gotten him? He was back where he’d started—hell, he was further back than where he’d started. He’d actually regressed….
And he had just blindly accepted this task. How easy it had been to plod along aimlessly in life and be the yes-man.
This whole thing was entirely overrated. What was he supposed to do once he found what he was looking for? The gruff-one had mentioned that others had been killed.
What others, and why; what had killed whom?
Severen had no knowledge of anyone else being sent that far back, let alone being killed off.
But what if others had been sent back?
Was there something the Forward Council wasn’t telling him? What was that look in Strutter’s face all about?
Was he even supposed to make it back?
That last thought rocked him like an earthquake.
Maybe he was an offering. An offering.
“No, no—that can’t be. The Council isn’t like that. They’re Law-givers. Elders.”
So why choose him? The only ones on the Council who had any real power were the old ones. The ones who’d been around a while. So where did that leave the younger members? If the elders didn’t die, then the younger went nowhere.
(except on journeys like this)
But he knew of no one—
Then it hit him.
There was something about a journey!
He remembered…as a child…that his parents had told him about a Council member they’d met who’d gone back on a similar trek. Severen didn’t remember the purpose of the trek, but did remember the look on his parents’ faces when they talked about it. They were scared.
Because little Sevvy had already made up his mind that he was going to join the Council when he grew up.
Millions of tiny switches clicked on and off inside his head.
And there were always bogeyman stories from childhood about what went on back there…way back there. Stories of the dead coming to life and ripping the aged from their generations, never to be seen again. Of screams and howls in the dead of night. Maybe there were more to the legends and myths than people cared to believe.
A conspiracy within the Council!
Severen was suddenly slammed into.
It wasn’t the normal hiking-through-the-lands-trip-and-tap—no, this was a full-on grind that lifted him up off one foot and had him tottering for a moment as he skipped across the terrain, trying to regain his balance. When he did regain his footing, he whipped around hard to see the face in the crowd that must have started the upset. It was a face that sent a chill up his spine. It was an evil, twisted face that didn’t look real…but continued to hold his gaze.
Severen maneuvered out of the face’s path to see if it would follow.
No sooner had he repositioned himself, then the face again followed him…but had also gained in row. Severen looked around. Found that the generation of people around him suddenly seemed to have aged a great deal. Many were white-haired and bent over…more shuffle than walk to their strides. Many had only half-opened eyes, or failing eyesight.
This meant the dead were even closer than he’d imagined. Maybe a lot closer.
Severen maneuvered toward a stout individual and there held his position. The old man looked to him.
Why do you come to me? his gaze begged, I am old and not long for the March. Go away.
I am sorry, old man, but I have no choice, Severen’s eyes replied, I am on a mission. From the Forward Council.
So you would have me killed for the Council?
Before Severen could make his reply, the stalking face was upon the old man. Severen had been so hypnotized by the ancient one’s gaze that he’d forgotten to keep track of his pursuer. He looked on in horror as he saw its face—and what was left of its body. It was dead and stank of carrion. Powerful, clawed arms raked out from underneath powerful, shredded shoulders…arms that hopped and grappled from shoulder to shoulder and supported a smoldering torso. It tore asunder those it touched. It was a torso that supported a head and shoulders—and nothing more. There was nothing below its gaping and dangling chest cavity.
Severen watched as the old man was torn apart by the corpse; he backed away with weak, flaccid knees…and noticed that those alongside the old man had also moved away…silently and without question.
As if this was accepted routine.
“No!” Severen shouted.
But still his feet took him away.
“No!” he shouted, but still his gaze was upon the old man.
“No!” he shouted, but still the corpse crawled and rended. Rended the ancient one to pieces….
Severen watched as the old man’s eyes were separated from their sockets….
His words had no effect on the killing. No effect on the dismemberment that went on (as he watched). Words that could not stop the direction his feet were taking him. Away. Severen saw the old man crumple soundlessly, wordlessly, to the ground.
Why do you come to me, the ancient man had pleaded.
Because I am on a mission, he had replied.
He was on a mission to find out what was going on at the rear. Well, he’d just found out—and now he was running away.
This is the real reason I was sent back. I’m no investigator—I’m a sacrifice.
Looking to a cripple beside him, Severen saw the walking stick he possessed and grabbed it without thinking. The cripple looked to him and smiled, then allowed himself to fall to the ground, quickly trodden asunder by those that flowed over from behind. Severen was shocked to discover he felt no emotion one way or the other. Turning, he looked back for the clawed corpse and hefted his newly acquired weapon. He was lucky, the wood felt solid and sturdy. It was dense and would wield well.
Severen backed up and readied the staff; glanced behind himself several times, but still could not see his attacker. It was getting darker. Colder. Out of the corner of his eyes he thought he saw something, and turned slowly, not sure there was really anything there. Yes, three positions over…a face glared back at him with a mouth full of teeth and decayed flesh.
Severen followed that smile down to its neck, then down to its chest.
Down to its waist.
There was now more body to this corpse than when Severen had first encountered it!
Severen looked to the newly acquired legs…legs that had not originally belonged to that creature. Legs, he recognized, that had belonged to the ancient man
(why do you come to me?)
with the penetrating gaze.
The creature had stolen the ancient one’s body.
The very thought made Severen’s stomach heave, and, indeed, he nearly did. He tried not to imagine the horrors the ancient man had been put through to give up those legs.
The monster approached, and the crowd widened.
Good, Severen thought, more room to swing this thing.
The corpse lunged awkwardly, but Severen managed to hold his ground as he lifted the staff in a backward arc and quickly snapped it forward. It connected, and the corpse took the full force of it in its waist, easily splitting in two. The top half flew forward and the bottom half crumpled to the dirt. Severen then watched as the creature latched onto another walker. Not allowing it time to gain another claw hold, Severen again rushed it. He rose his weapon high over his head and brought it crashing down onto the center of the corpse’s cranium, splitting it open. It emitted a rancor that made Severn gag. The thing writhed in pain, but uttered no sound, and the walker it was attached to hardly seemed cognizant of the attack. Severen finished off the creature by hammering it free with the staff, and it went tumbling bulkily to the ground—and to the rear of the March.
Great, that’s the last place I wanted this thing to go, he thought.
The March then folded back in around Severen as if nothing had happened, and as he wiped the sweat and fear from his brow, one of the walkers adjacent to him turned and smiled. Severen regarded him blankly.
What was going on back here?
Severen no longer knew just how far back he was, and it didn’t really matter, he guessed, because things weren’t right. He could no longer see the sky, and it was almost always dark, now. And there were times he had actually thought he’d heard screams—and laughter, hideous, hideous, laughter—from the rear. Every time he would look back, fear would grip him and give him a good throttling. He didn’t want to go back there. It was a No Man’s Land. A festering graveyard. Nothing good was back there….
He had given up on the quest long ago—blew it all off. His sojourn had now become more of a matter of principle. Of what was right. He recalled how it had bothered him to accept the quest…at why he should have been chosen…but found he didn’t feel this way about this new revelation. Some things just felt right, even if they were wrong….
But who would know of his intent?
There were no longer any Communicators this far from the Council, so information of his whereabouts wouldn’t exactly be known, and to the masses he would just be remembered as the “one from the Front” performing his duty in the defense of his people. He would fade away into the annals of history as just another soul lost to the rear.
His blood boiled.
He had his pride and no one was going to sacrifice him.
As unfortunate as his present situation was, he had to make the best of it. He was too far back to just turn around (so to speak) and return home. If not for the Council, then he had to do this for the others. His fellow walkers.
But, by the gods, the more he thought about it, the more it made sense! Send the young! The virile! Those who could better challenge the Old Ones. Send them to the rear to appease whatever was there—just keep it from coming forward. Keep it away from the front…from the Forward Council.
Severen looked to the staff. To those around him. If they weren’t dead, they were very near. Their shuffling was pained and slow, their bodies decayed. It wouldn’t be long now.
He was scared as hell.
Severen’s pace had slowed quite a bit, either from fear or uncertainty, but slowed down it had.
The air now had a distinctly different feel to it, and it stunk. Rotted flesh. Nervously he glanced behind himself (as he tore off a piece of fabric from his uniform and tied it around his mouth and nose), but could no longer see beyond two or three rows. It was as dark as night and there was a thick haze, one that he’d walked right into.
Like he had any choice.
Rotted, moldy flesh, he thought, so much particulates in the air.
His mind began to drift back to the conspiracy. As right as he knew he was, he tried to coax some sense out of the activities that had led him to his present situation. Of course the Elders wouldn’t have taken this journey themselves, they probably wouldn’t have survived it, and sure he wasn’t the youngest—not by far—so why was he picked above all others?
Maybe because you’d risen from within the March, Sevvy, old boy.
He hadn’t been born into the Forward Council, like the others. Strutter had always been there, had been there even before his parents had grown, and Techen—Techen was born into it, he knew that. But what about Quix? Se-Er? Yes, they, too, all claimed birthright. In fact, Severen now saw, he couldn’t think of one of the Forward Council who wasn’t of direct bloodline (except Strutter, but he was the Elder, the Rule-Maker), so why would the two younger members be any different?
They wouldn’t be—unless another insider was being cultivated as he had been….
This wasn’t exactly the feeling he needed just now.
An unexpected rocking from the row directly behind him caught him off-guard and sent him into an adjacent walker as he tripped across a particularly deep rut. The man he hit crumpled to the dirt and had, in fact, actually disintegrated.
“Oh, no—no…I can’t be there yet!”
Another walker near to him opened a hardened, white eye and winked weakly.
“Y-yer not…there yet….” he said.
But you’ll wish ya were.
The words put Severen temporarily at ease. If one was dead, then others were sure to follow, and soon. The graveyard
was not far away.
Ah, the hell with it.
Spinning around on his heels and actually facing toward the rear, Severen hefted his staff before him and marched forward.
Into the pitch blackness of the unknown.
It wasn’t long before he found that all those surrounding him were, indeed, dead.
None moved out of his path as he approached, so he came to wielding his staff and smashing them out of his way. Their bodies crumbled into dust as did the first. Or as near as he could tell, in this darkness, to which his eyes had grown exceedingly well accustomed. He also saw that the ranks had thinned out considerably, and this bothered him.
What was beyond? Was there a beyond?
Would he fall off some edge that rolled up after the March’s passage?
Old wives tales told to disobedient children.
Yet tales that still scratched at his troubled, adult psyche.
Movement. There was movement ahead.
Severen felt the fear again seize him, but fought it off and cocked his head. There was a figure that ran behind the few bodies that still shuffled past. He squinted, but the figure had darted back into the darkness. It was an upright figure, to be sure, like him—but quick. All this time, he thought he was alone. The fear returned.
There’s nothing good back here.
He tightened his grip on the staff.
What had he gotten himself into?
He continued forward and heard noise…this time behind him.
Then the noise moved somewhere to his left.
Then back again, behind him.
Spinning around, Severen brought up the staff just in time to deflect the brunt of an attack. A dark figure had bounced off him and run back into the dark, but not before leaving tears in his clothes and stinging gouges in his flesh. Severen thought of the similarities between this attack and the earlier one—but that this one had legs.
Severen spun around several more times, making sure that the thing was gone. At least temporarily. His temples throbbed with his quickened pulse, and his chest heaved with shortened breaths. Adrenaline surged throughout his body. There was more movement…more of them.
“Who’s there! By the power of the Forw—”
A black thing lunged, and this time Severen wasn’t as lucky, his staff slammed up hard into his forehead. Warmth spread down and over his eyes. At the same time, something ripped deeply into his right arm and there was another liberating splash of warmth upon his face. Blinding pain quickly followed…then the thing was off him.
By the time Severen managed to reopen his eyes, another was upon him.
Pain or no pain he cocked back the staff, and, twisting around with it, slammed it hard into what he surmised was the torso of the creature. It took all the spring out of the thing’s attack and Severen watched it crumple into a heap. Quickly recovering, Severen barely had time to react to another one, so he ducked…only netting a gash to his forehead…and followed the shape around. He brought his weapon down square on the thing’s back and there was a more-than-satisfying crunch. The thing didn’t get back up. Severen backed away, whirled his stick about him, and peered into the darkness for more.
But none came.
The ache of his body grew more painful as the shock wore off, and his gait turned into more of a labored shuffle. He’d managed to stem the flow of blood from his wounds, but the pain that racked his body had to be more than just from cuts and bruises.
Infection that spread rapidly. If Severen didn’t miss his guess, he probably wouldn’t make it til sunrise, if there was a sunrise anymore….
Severen dreamed as he dozed. Dreamed of a dark and thick blackness…a blackness from which nothing returned. He saw eyes…two large…all-seeing orbs that emerged from the darkness, only to return back to it. And he saw claws…lots and lots of claws…that all tore and ripped into him. Ripped him into big, chunky pieces—
He awoke with a start. Couldn’t believe he had
(been allowed to survive)
dozed. He was alone. Except for the occasioned walking dead he passed. He no longer swung at them.
Severen had never really given much thought to what was actually at the rear, the ultimate rear. To what it might actually look like. He just wished he wasn’t there, now. On the surface, he tried to convince himself that he didn’t care to know, but deep down he did feel a sense of duty. A yearning for more.
Bring back information…crush the conspiracy….
Back—back to whom?
The Council could no longer be trusted. They were all suspect. All in on it. Had been since the dawn of eternity. All those sent back in the legends and myths had been sent back as fodder for some evil god. Sent to keep whatever was there from coming forward and destroying the rest of the March.
Was sure of it.
Never had there been any mention of the dead coming back to life from the graveyard. Never. Had always been left as a black void of nothingness. A place not spoken of during the light of day, barely even whispered of during nightfall.
It was a lair.
But a lair to what?
What evil force made its home there, and to where did its power extend?
Severen checked his arm’s dressing. It was a mass of dried blood and torn material…and there was a gangrenous pus that festered around the wound. Severen touched it with the end of his staff and it burst, splattering onto his face a smelly spore-like substance that got inside his mouth. He didn’t bother to check his other wounds. He felt the infection as it ate away at him. He didn’t need any further confirmation.
Heavily, Severen lifted his throbbing head.
“What…are you?” he coughed into the darkness.
Two blazing red eyes opened their lids from the darkness before him.
“What do you want from me. From us?”
The eyes floated. He was sure they were amused with him.
Gathering all his effort, Severen hefted his staff and swung it out before him. The eyes remained untouched…were now filled with a mass of scrolling stars.
Not much further to go. Care. No longer cared. Never make it back….
Severen plodded forward, used his staff as a crutch. Lost all feeling in his left side. Numb on his right. Vision grew cloudy….
DO. YOU. KNOW. WHO. I. AM?
Came the voice.
DO. YOU. KNOW. WHO. I…AM?
It was a voice. Inside his head. This was it. Had finally gone delirious. Alone; seeing ghosts. Hearing voices. What difference did it make if he answered? Was dying anyway….
No, I do not know…who you are…but I’m sure this…poison…has invented something good…for me.
Severen looked into the blackness and laughed.
Well, aren’t you a grand delusion!
Pleeeased to meet you….
Severen felt the uneasiness that accompanied that silence. Felt, for the first time since his last attack, that maybe, maybe he wasn’t all that alone…maybe it wasn’t delirium he was talking to….
YOU HAVE COME…FOR ME…YOU ARE TO BE MY…COMMUNION.
“Who are you?”
I AM ALL.
“…said that, but…what are you?”
No immediate response.
I AM…THAT WHICH KEEPS THE MARCH…FORWARD.
That which keeps the March forward. Severen shook his head. “Don’t…understand.”
IT IS NOT YOUR PLACE…TO UNDERSTAND.
That which keeps the March forward. Could it be possible that the March was evoked by this thing? Controlled by it? That the March was nothing without it? But the March had been going on since time immemorial….
I AM BEYOND THAT.
Severen’s head hurt. He stumbled. I’m going to die, I’m really going to die….
Severen placed the staff out before him for support, bore the majority of his weight on it…but only managed to continue forward in short…shuffling…movements. Movements that brought immense pain. Severen jerked; felt something burrow into his brain.
A gigantic claw shot out from the darkness, and with it, a deafening clap of thunder. It smashed through Severen’s stick and grasped him mid-body, lifting Severen up off the ground. Severen went limp and expelled a loud huh! as his staff clattered in pieces about him. He had a sudden flashback of helplessness as a child…the time he was caught first-time masturbating…and felt like that child again. But there was also an unexpected ease with who he was…what he had become.
He felt small and puny…yet complete. He retreated inward.
There was warmth there.
The two large, red eyes again formed in the darkness before him and Severen was pulled in. Severen looked directly into the eyes and spoke:
Go on…I’m prepared….
Severen floated. Drifted within nothingness. There he found the thing he had come for. The quest. The reason. It was fear, plain and simple. Fear from the Walkers as they had built it up over their generations; over eons.
From turning back. Fear…from looking behind—and forward. Fear that they were being followed…devoured from that which was behind them. Darkness. And it had caught them. Exacted its toll. Its price for existence.
PAY HOMAGE TO THAT WHICH CONTROLS THEE….
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