I've edited, corrected and modified a short story that I wrote back in November of last year. This was before things started falling apart in January of this year, and as I look back and reread this story, it amazes me how many of the underlying ideas and concepts are so closely related to what I'm dealing with now, such as: Fear, Putting up a front, trying to be something your not, and just allot of feelings and emotions. So without further ado, here is the corrected/updated story I've decided to call, "Fear of the Darkness..."
After working hard all day, honing your skills and keeping them at the height of their ability, you head off to the local tavern to relax your sore and aching muscles. You settle in near the bar and make idle chit chat with a few of the locals you've come to know during your stay in this small farming town.
You overhear a conversation at a table nearby, that suddenly takes a turn from relaxed joking and laughter to fearful tension, when one man asks another about where he used to run off to every weekend.
After a bit of hesitation and obvious internal conflict over whether or not to tell his tale, the man seems to prepare himself for something that makes him uneasy.
You quickly pick up on the fact that the fellow who asked the questions isn't the only one interested, as the tavern collectively quiets. You move to a more comfortable seat in the corner, one that affords a better view of the man now obviously dealing with memories and emotions he'd really prefer to have never had in the first place. You notice that even the bartender is interested, as she leans forward, elbows on the counter, her head slightly to one side so she can better hear. The man's eyes take on a glazed look as he pears beyond his surroundings into the recesses of his mind to a time past. After several moments you, begin think that he's never going to respond when in a quiet, almost fearful voice he begins to speak.
"Ya know... I used to fancy meself an adventurer. I spent me days here workin the fields, tryin ta make a little coin, but when I could git away... well, I went places. I watched fer certain people. Everyone knows there is lotsa ruins around these parts, and of course these ruins attract adventurers. I'd watch out fer some of these adventurers, and then I'd follow them. I used ta love how everyone here in town was wundering what I was up to or where I'd gone. Heh, it made me feel important. I was important, I was an adventurer after all!"
He pauses for a few moments, staring into the fire glowing brightly in the hearth. Then, as if he'd never stopped, he snaps back into his story telling...
"I'd follow them adventurers to a ruin, and then just wait. After awhile.... well they'd come out wouldn't they? All loaded down with their treasures. The stuff they'd be wearin when they went in was nice, so I figured they'd have to be leaving some things behind, things that they didn't want, but still was far better than I could be gettin. Figured that in time I could get stuff like theirs, then I could be going into ruins-- afterall, with the right armor and equipment, ya can do anything right?"
The man takes on a pained expression, as he stares off into space. He almost appears as if he is going to break down and begin sobbing without continuing his story, but once again after more time passes, he manages to compose himself and continues his tale.
"Well it was just like many times before. I followed a group, one I'd been following fur awhile, as they was really good, going in all sorts of places, coming out with things they'd go and sell, and I'd go in and brave the ruin and collect whatever they didn't take. Then I'd come back and sell it ta the merchant here in town."
Every eye in the place turns toward a wealthy looking man in the far corner, who suddenly appears uncomfortable under their collective gaze. He dons a sheepish grin and halfheartedly shrugs his shoulders.
"The last time I followed em a good long way, to a place I hadn't ever been or even knowed about before. Took a long time ta get there, and it was midday when they went in. Usually after only an hour or so they'd come back, but this time it was almost night. I was afraid even then but I just telled meself they was just exploring real good and had lotsa good things ter carry out, or maybe it was just a big ruin and they was exploring. I telled meself anything ter keep from thinkin of other possibilities. When they finally came out, it was only two of em. They looked pretty badly beat up. They wasn't carrying any of the gear the others had when they went in so I thought maybe the others was coming later, but they didn't stick around, they just left. I knew somethin was up, but I was too stuck on the idea that their stuff might be laying down there... stuff I could use ta be just as brave as they was. I went in. Me heart was pounding. It was like all the other ruins at first. Dark, smelly, quiet, so I just kept looking. Saw some things I'd normally have taken, but all I could think of was the possibility that maybe one of them was down there... ya know... not needin his stuff... "
A tear roles down the man's cheek as he pauses in his tale.
He takes a few breaths and continues... "I know it ain't right, but when ya got nuthin and ya work all the time so ya can have more of nothing, ya do whatever ya had ta, ta try ta better yerself." For the first time he makes eye contact with the man who started all this with his question, as if the man's look had been an accusation. He quickly looks away again, and closes his eyes trying to hold back a wave of emotion. "I was stupid. I shoulda knowed better. I kept going though. Wantin treasure too bad. Not small stuff that only got me a little extra, but somethin that would let me get somethin nice. Maybe a decent sword of me own. It was so dark, and me only light was the torch I was carryin. It got cold too. I didn't notice right away but there was a stench too. Just a little at first, not enough ta notice, but it was there. I traveled down so many tunnels, been through so many rooms that I wasn't sure where I was or even if I could get out, but I wasn't even thinking about that then. I just kept going, looking. I finally came to a room where the stench was so bad I finally couldn't ignore it any more. There was blood everywhere, and near the middle... there was somethin... just layin there, covered in blood..." You can tell he's no longer with you, his eyes having glazed over again, he's obviously back in that place, seeing it all over again, reliving the moment. "I knowed what it was, but I didn't want ta know. Someone had been killed, and they was torn ta pieces. They... they..." He closes his eyes tightly, trying to block out that horrific image in his mind and simultaneously puts the fingers of his right hand between his teeth and bites down hard, choking back the mental and emotion agony of his memory, his left hand tightly grasping the hair on the side of his head and pulling hard.
You're mind wanders. You remember many a ruin that you've been in. You remember the darkness, the smell of death, and that ever present chill that cuts right to the core of your very being. After a few moments, moments that could very well have been hours, you come to the realization that you've been staring into the very same hearth fire that this poor distraught soul was gazing into earlier. Even in that realization you find yourself unable to pull your eyes away, filled with memories and emotions of the past. When you do finally manage to break the fires hypnotic hold you peer around the room, which suddenly seems much darker, colder, and see that many others seem to be in a similar state: Some simply staring at the man telling his tale, others have their arms wrapped tightly around themselves, as if doing so provided some warmth or protection. Some show a hint of tears in their eyes, sympathizing with the man, while others seem to be frightened, and you wonder how many would jump in fright if someone sneezed. Your gaze comes back to rest on the man, who now seems much calmer. His hands lay open on the table in front of him, he stares mindlessly into nothingness. His right hand is bloody, obviously having bitten down quite hard on his fingers. His left hand holds a clump of hair that only moments before was attached the side of his head.
After what seems like an eternity in utter silence, save for the crackling of the fire, the man suddenly takes on a crazed appearance, his eyes taking on a new look his eyes gleaming with madness. Like one who would pluck out his own eyes in order to keep from seeing the events forever burned into his mind.
"All I could do was jus stand there, I stared at that mess, frozen. I couldn't move. Then out of nowhere there came this... this shriek..." as he says the word shriek he sprays the table in front of him with spittle. "It was the worst thing I'd ever heard. It scared me so bad I dropped me torch and ran to a corner of the room and hid behind a pillar. Then another shriek came, from somewhere else, like wolves calling to one another on a hunt. Then there were more and more and more all around. I sat on the floor and covered me ears, I didn't want to hear it anymore!" the man is almost shouting, as he covers his ears, reliving the events of that experience. "Then they was there! In the room! I could hear them, tearin inta what was left. Rippin, crackin, chewin. I was terrified, it was all I could do ta not scream! I knowed that if I did they'd hear me!" A stench rises to your nostrils and you notice that the floor beneath the mans seat is wet. You wonder if he soiled himself the first time he lived through his story, and realized based upon your own experience that the stench of death is far worse than what most of the patrons were now smelling. "I don't know when they finally left, but when I finally opened me eyes it was dark and quiet. I couldn't see anything." He's now telling his tale in a whisper, almost as though if he's too loud, those creatures might actually return. Sitting in his chair he pulls his knees up tight to his chest, and wraps his arms around his legs. He begins to sob. "It was so quiet. So cold. I just wanted to be back home. I tried not ta breath. I didn't want anything ta hear me." You look around and see some people crying, others with a look of disgust on their face. You realize that most, if not all save the man, haven't a clue what real fear is. That the sheer terror of being in the dark, surrounded by things that don't need light to see, can cause even the strongest of men to need a change of clothing.
You pity the man. He thought himself an adventurer of sorts, but mistakenly assumed that good equipment would bring skill and bravery, not realizing that years and years of training and hard work have to accompany that equipment.
"It was days. Days I was there. I didn't know it then. In the dark and quiet you don't know how much time goes by. I just sat there. Afraid to move, and yet I couldn't keep myself from shivering." It seems that the man's sanity has returned, enough at least that he doesn't appear raving mad, although his chin is covered in drool and he still sits with his knees hugged to his chest. "I don't know what was worse, the cold or the quiet. At first I liked the quiet; it meant there was nothing around. After awhile though the quietnessgets loud. So quiet you can hear the air goin in and out of yer lungs. So quiet you can hear yer heart poundin in yer ears." He's gazing off into the fire again. "So quiet that every move sounds like someone is yellin at ya. I sat like that fer so long it hurt. Eventually I stopped shiverin. I wasn't warm but me body just stopped. I knew I was goin ta die. It didn't matter anymore." Tears stream down his face, even though his voice shows no emotion at all. "I was supposed ta die. I deserved it. Pretendin ta be somthin I wasn't. Takin from the dead an all. Lookin ta gain from others that died." He looks down at the table, and a sad smile comes to his face. "I was stupid. I was a fool. Heh, I thought meself somehow better than a field worker. I shoulda died there. I know I fell asleep as some point. All that fear tired me out. I woke up hearin someone talkin. Talkin out in the room, they was lookin over the remains, tryin ta figure out what it was, whatever was left anyway. I peaked out from behind the pillar and it was so bright. I don't ever remember the sun being that bright. It hurt so bad, I know I must have made a noise, because they jumped a bit and drew their weapons, figurin I was a monster or somethin. They came at me from both sides of that pillar, but I guess I wasn't scary enough for em, they put away their weapons and helped me up. They never did ask why I was there or even if I knew anything about what had happened there. I just remember the one, he talked ta me the whole time they helped me out of that cursed hole. Not really talked to me I guess, as I didn't say nuthin. Just talked at me I guess. They got me out and back here." He's relaxed quite a bit and is even sitting like a normal person again, although his demeanor has changed yet again. He seems small, sad, and yet content all at once.
Without another word he gets up and leaves. For the longest time no one moves. Even when things do begin to return to normal, people move only to get up and go home. As you get ready to leave, you head over to the bartender, who is still leaning on the bar just staring into the fire. You pay your tab and give her a few extra, for whatever the poor fellow had to drink.