moss. In his other hand, he held a darker shard of stone, held at an angle, that he had collected on his travels. He pounded the darker stone against the slate continuously, until the angled stone crumbled beneath his hand. With frustration, he threw the shards of stone down before picking up another discoloured stone.
The dark was growing stronger, displacing the sunlight. The sounds of clashing stones repeated for longer periods after every silent interval. The boy sighed before the daunting harmony of desperation hummed once more. The audience was but a single boy and two rival stones.
His hands were covered with blisters, and his fingers were swollen and shaking. Still, his damaged digits remained clutched around two pieces of stone. Despite the challenge, he persevered. Numbness radiated through his forearms and shoulders. Hope had run out; stubborn arrogance headed this charge.
The situation only changed when he attempted a larger stone. He picked up a lustrous black, sharper piece of stone and pounded it into the stationary slate in his other hand. The sight of tiny sparks plummeting into the awaiting moss below was enough to brim the boys eyes with tears.
Small streaks of blackened smoke rose from the moss pile and drifted leisurely upwards. The boy placed his beaten hands on the dirt and dropped his chest to the ground. He blew softly onto the pile before placing both hands behind the moss, which acted as a rudimentary windshield. The reward was brighter embers with each exhale. He blew incessantly without stopping. The blowing continued until the fire began to gorge itself on the moss.
Not wasting any time, he unwrapped his cockroaches and swiftly placed them on a large, thin piece of slate. This was hurriedly followed by placing the stone on the flickering flames. Sometime later, soft sizzling accompanied the smell of burning. Using the tips of his nails, he picked up one of the blackened roaches, before suspending it beside his gaping maw.
”Dear Lord, may your right hand shield me from any illness. Please. ”
Dropping the food into his mouth, he began to chew slowly. The crispy carapace surrendered beneath his molars and violently released the meat within. Pleasantly surprised by the flavour, he savoured every bite and forcefully stopped himself from swallowing it greedily. He ate and washed the other roaches down with some moss water. With a minimally full belly, he began to look on the bright side of things.
”Cockroaches and moss water. Not the most appetizing-sounding meal, but goddamn … that was **ing delicious. Even a few roaches a day would be enough to at least keep me alive, I just need to hope the scaled snacks keep coming to me. ”
He then had an idea for collecting more cockroaches, far more efficiently than before. He recalled that roaches consume both plant and animal matter. Natures waste collectors.
Fetching the discarded heads from the earlier roaches, he paired each head with one smaller leaf and a few centimetres of moss. Passing the stem through the roach head and moist moss, his lures with complete. He placed his baits in the north, east and west, just past the dim inner circumference of light around the centre dirt patch.
Following his successful baiting, and with night almost upon him, he crawled into his den and covered himself with his blanket. He was prepared for the dark. Believing that his hallucination was purely starvation-induced, he had no worries about sleeping tonight. Almost. The gnawing feeling of terror was pushed deep within himself. Subconsciously wrapping himself tighter in his blanket, he was prepared.
Sleeping was a place where everyone should feel safe. Secure within the own reaches of your mind, where your imagination is the only enemy. But sleeping is not always safe. When you sleep, your body is still stationary in reality, suspended in time. And the real world is not always safe.
A guttural hum cut through the silence. In a moment, the boys eyes snapped open. Swirling in their sockets, his eyes begin to scour every inch of the overwhelming darkness. The fire flickered and faltered without issue. Nothing was there.
Something was there.
He did not move, nor did he breathe. For a time, comparable to eternity, he laid still. Hysterical eyes still pierced every inch of the night, scouring for answers. He was petrified, it felt as though his chest was compacting into itself. He caught his breath repeatedly, only to lose it a few seconds later.
Minutes passed without worry until a shadow seemingly moved in his peripheral vision. He slowly turned his head to look and it was gone like nothing had even happened. Hot sweat rolled from his cheek onto the ground below himself. The dirt moistened and slid beneath his head as he faced forwards once more.
Facing forward, his eyes retracted back in his head. Soon followed by the contracting of his muscles.
While the world spun and distorted, his face was frozen in place. His eyes were brutally bewitched by the scene ahead of him. In the span of a second, the boy doubted everything he had ever known.
A shadow was on the wall. Waving.
Unobstructed by being bathed in the orange radiance cast by the fire, a dark shadow stood proud on the southern wall, feigning for his attention. It appeared to be humanoid, with a head, two arms and two legs. Like a shadow cast behind you on the sunniest of days, it was unordinary. But this time, far from ordinary.
The boy could not move. His body was pinned to the ground by fear, but he could not look away. The shadow gripped his eyes with dread and stole his breath with its mere existence.
The scene of this play changed once more. The shadow had stopped waving, instead, it stood frighteningly still. The darkness surged within its figure, and the radiance of the fire faltered for but a second. The flames returned moments later but the figure did not. It was gone.
The spluttering of the flames basked in the quiet. The boy tried to focus on the dancing of the flames and the sounds and smell of burning moss to force himself to calm. Salty tears seeped from his eyes and hit the dirt with an inexplainable relief. His lips trembled, and his stomach shook like a hive of dying wasps, humming with melancholy and anguish.
He kept his eyes entranced on the fickle flames, staring silently, and suffering in stillness.
The entire cavern began to freeze minutes later. His weeps grew louder, and his body shook in panic. His sweat froze in place, suspended in motion, it did not dare fall.
Amidst the weeping, the wind grew furious and surged through the cave and collided with the unfed flames of the fire. The flames waned; the smoke spiralled into submission. The wind suffocated the fire, extinguishing every trace of light.
Irrevocable darkness swallowed and coated the cavern in seconds. Any semblance of calm he had scrounged together was devoured. He wept for hours. His body heaved in his dirt mound, burrowing further into the wet ground. Not a single thought managed to get through to him. Only terror prevailed.
Hours later, daylight broke the stalemate with the shade. The day had come, at long last.
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