Chapter 9: Smith

?/?/?

My senses came back in single-file. Smell. The scent of ashes burned my nose. Taste. Blood filled my pallet. Sight. Blinding light, crimson skies, smoke, burnt land. Hearing. Screams, of agony, of fear, and the sound of gunshots. And touch. Pain. Excruciating pain that covered every inch of my body. I writhed, but no one came to my aid. I screamed but it simply joined the chorus of other voices.

Slowly the pain subsided, my breath returned to me. I closed my eyes to shut out the nightmare in front of me, it was useless. The din simply filled the void. I attempted to stand, only to discover my legs had become useless and collapsed under me. It took a few more tries, and a herculean effort, but eventually I was able to support myself on two legs.

"Hideous isn't it?" a man said. I jerked my head to my left, perhaps too quick because it caused me to lose balance and staggered. The man stood calmly, observing the scene, his face masked in shade. He was dressed impeccably in a neat, black suit and silver tie.

"Who... what?" I said, unable to form a proper sentence.

"I'm Joshua. This is the Labyrinth."

"The what?"

"The Labyrinth. Listen, Jones, I really am sorry for what you're going to have to see here. Truly, I am," he took a step back and turned, "Remember, there is a way out of this." And with his hands in his pockets, he began to stroll casually away from the firestorm.

"Wait!" I called, to my surprise he stopped and turned back to me.

"Yes?"

"How..." I stopped, "What do you mean a way out?" He looked at me for a few seconds.

"Well that's a stupid question," he muttered in response and continued walking, disappearing behind a wall of flame.

Dazed, I turned back to the wreckage. A realization struck me. I was looking at the flaming skeleton of what used to be a school. This thought sent chills down my spine. The screams had subsided to mere outbursts of terror every few seconds. Someone groaned a few yards away from me, and it clicked that I should be trying to help these people. I ran towards the dim calls for help, attempting to pull out my cell phone in the process (which just lead to the revelation that I didn't have one).

The scene was grisly. A soot-covered, wheezing child lay in a pool of his own blood, impaled piece of twisted steel that was embedded deeply in a hunk of concrete. I paused for a moment, unsure of what to do. The child was clearly in pain, but he didn't look like he would be able to handle the shock of being ripped off the steel bar. He began weeping.

"The merciful thing would be to let the child die..." said Nick. His voice came directly from my right, and once again I stumbled back in shock.

"How did you-?"

"No idea," he said resignedly, "I have no idea what has been going on since we left Light. Joshua says that if I just keep... well, whatever. That's not important."

"Where are the others?"

"Around. Matthias has lost it, and Natasha isn't quite right. She's not exactly... solid. Neither am I for that matter. But she forgets things every time she makes a jump, whereas I can remem- oh come on, again really?" Nick looked down at himself, he was slowly fading from sight, becoming transluscent.

"What's happening?"

"I'm about to vanish. Great, and right when I find someone to talk to. Listen, ignore the kid okay? It's just a trap. I'll be back in a few minutes, try not to get into trouble until then." And with those words, he faded away completely, and I was left alone with the sobbing child once again. He looked at me with baleful eyes. I hid my face in disgust, I couldn't endure the scene any longer. Nick's words echoed back to me, and with a sickening feeling in my stomach, I turned my back on the child and marched on.

"Wait!" he called after me, "Wait!" he wheezed, "Wait! Wait, wait, wait... wait... wait..." Each repetition became softer and more pathetic. Though I had not traveled very far, the child's voice grew silent and distant, until there was no sound at all.

I trudged through the mud of the building's corpse again. The heat of the place was intense, enough to make me want to fall over and give in to exhaustion. Voices rose up, begging for help, then died off symphonically as I passed by. A sense of dread was mounting in me the more I lingered in the graveyard. Unwelcome thoughts began to parade into my mind, and suddenly it became necessary that I know the name of this school that I now found myself mourning.

"Still here?" said Nick. Dimly, I turned and nodded.

"Hey," he said, worried, "Hey! You haven't let this place get to you have you? Listen, none of this is real..."

"We need to find out what this place is called."

"It's the Labyrinth..." he said. I ignored him.

"We need to find the name of the school," I continued, "I just need to know something."

"Smith!" Nick reached out and grabbed me. He looked me dead in the eye.

"What, Nick?"

"Don't get lost in here. Not like Natasha and Matthias. Don't leave me alone in here."

"I won't," I promised, "I just... I just need to know where we are okay?" Nick sighed and looked down dismayed, then pointed towards an arch of brick off in the distance.

"Over there. That's the front entrance, or what's left of it anyway," he muttered. I looked from him, to the arch. And then I ran. I broke into a sprint. The need to know the name of this place eating away at me. Nick, panicked and wide-eyed, chased after me. "Hey! HEY! None of this is real! Don't get lost, Jones!" But I wasn't listening.

I reached the arch, it stood in the center of the wasteland, smoke encircling it, and flames reflecting off the once-gleaming gold letters that were set into a concrete section at the top of the arch. The read: St. Jude's Primary School.

Horror ran through my body like a ghost. Chills gripped me, and my heart stopped beating. I could hear nothing, sound became a wraith, near me but not quite one with me. Sheer, heart-rending terror mounted in me as my eyes followed the arch down towards the ground. Towards the sight I had been dreading this entire time. Towards what I had always known was there, but simply refused to admit.

The mangled and broken body of a girl in a white, linen dress lay on a slab of concrete. Here dress was stained crimson, the lower part of her right leg seemed to have been violently removed, and her hair lay damp and matted. She did not move, she didn't even breathe. She was young, nine at the most. I covered my eyes.

"No..." I choked out, tears welling up. I couldn't get a breath, and I fell to my knees. Words failed me, instead I could only expel a string of heaving sobs. My body shook, wracked with anguish. One by one, by senses left me, single-file. Touch. I became numb, I couldn't feel my heart beat, or my blood rush, or palms pressed against the concrete. Hearing. I felt my mouth forming the word 'Michelle' over and over, though I heard nothing come out. Sight. My eyes were hot with tears, and my sight was blurred. Taste. The salty taste in my mouth became bitter, then sickly, then finally vanished all together. Smell. Ashes, death, flame, dirt, it all became odorless to me. I was left in a void. A nowhere world of misery, all-consuming.

"Jones!" Nick yelled, his voice so faint and distant. A vague part of me was indistinctly aware of his hand on my shoulder, and slowly I was dragged back.

"Michelle!" I heard myself screaming, though the word was so butchered coming out of my quivering lips.

"Smith! Don't leave me! Don't get lost! Stay with me!"

"Michelle..." I whispered, slowly having every emotion drain from my body as the shock set in.

"Jones!" Nick took a step back. He looked at me, sitting pathetically on my knees like a child. He followed my gaze. "Who is she?" he whispered.

"My daughter."




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