In this mock reality Samuel Ward found himself standing before a sea of people. Men and women, old and young, rich and poor bustled in the surrounding streets. Rain as black as the night sky poured onto the streets of old cobbled stone and brick, forming dark puddles on the ground. The world of the dream is a world of deception that play tricks on the mind. Confusing and disorienting the dreamer to the point where they begin to question reality. After spending what he thought was an eternity shouting in vain, Samuel Ward growled in frustration and reached out to grab the nearest person he could find, a little girl walking with her mother.
“Hold on a minute, I know you can hear me! I just…” He stopped dead in his tracks as his hand passed through the little girl’s arm.
Confused and dazed by this sudden turn of events, he stood there as the crowd walked around and through him like ghostly phantoms. “I must be dreaming,” he muttered to himself.
“It is strange, isn’t it? Dreams, so real… Yet so misguiding… One can be easily fooled while in a dream.”
Samuel Ward jumped back in surprise at the mysterious voice. Looking around nervously for the author of the voice but finding none, Samuel returned his gaze back upon the ghostly crowd.
“Who’s there?” Samuel shouted, his words echoing through the rain soaked streets and fell upon dead ears, for he received no reply.
As Samuel was about to abandon all hope of being answered, it was then that he saw him. A tall figure cloaked in black gazing at him from the other side of the street. It only took a moment to register to Samuel Ward that this mysterious figure, whose shape seemed to project that of a man, had been the voice’s author. At that same moment, an unexplained feeling of dread clawed its way from the dark recesses of Samuel Ward’s mind. Some primordial sense that told Samuel that something was terribly wrong, urging him to flee.
The Man towered over the ghostly occupants in the streets, his gaze never wavering, and from a distance Samuel barely made out the man’s face. His face, whose skin was a pale color of grey, never altered from its blank, emotionless expression. The eyes were partially masked beneath the curtains of his long stringy black hair, yet appeared to Samuel Ward to be blacker than the hair that concealed them.
And as Samuel Ward finished observing the mysterious figure, the crowd melted away in a ghostly bluish mist, leaving Samuel alone with the tall, black-eyed man. They both stood there staring at each in silence for what seemed like hours before Samuel, pushing back the sense of dread that threatened to overwhelm him, finally found the courage to speak.
“Who are you? What do you want from me?”
The man cocked his head to the side as if interested in something that Samuel could not see, “You amuse me Samuel Ward… So many questions, and yet the answers you seek lie before you,” The Man’s voice echoed in his head even though Samuel could see that the man’s mouth had never moved.
“I have chosen you, Samuel Ward. Your time has come,”
“What do you mean? My time has come for what?” Samuel called out to The Man who had started to slowly turn and walk away.
“You will know,” The Man said, fading into the shadows of the alleyway behind him.
Samuel was about to go after him when the surroundings seemed melt away until he found himself standing in a dimly lit room. It only took a moment before his eyes had adjusted to what little light was there, and as his vision shifted into focus, he could make out the figure of a man whose eyes were wild sitting in a chair. The man’s appearance was disheveled and unkempt, with the bristles of his beard glistening in the dim light.
The madman didn’t seem to notice Samuel’s presence as he continued to mutter incessantly to himself, “He’s coming. Nowhere to run… Nowhere to hide… No refuge…. The Black-Eyed Man is coming. There is no escape!”
Reaching into his pocket, the man pulled out a knife, the blade shimmered in the light as he held it up close to his eyes. “Death is coming. He is close; there is only one escape… One that leads to damnation… It’s no use.”
Samuel cautiously inched away from the man upon seeing the blade when the knife dropped from the man’s hand, falling to the wooden floor with a metallic thud. Lunging from his chair with surprising speed that caught Samuel off guard, the man grabbed him by the collars of his shirt, pulling him forwards until he was only inches from the man’s face.
“YOU HAVE SEEN HIM TOO!!! You… You shouldn’t be here!” the man shouted, his eyes wide with fear.
“This is just a nightmare… Who have I seen?” Samuel sputtered while trying desperately to break the man’s grip which held onto him like a vice.
The man gripped Samuel even tighter, his eyes wide with terror as he spoke, “You’ve seen the face of Death, something that’s existed since the genesis of time. Nameless, and yet wears the guise of a great manifold of names. Ankou, Baubas, Goggayya, The Black-Eyed Man… Jack… Those are just a select few.”
“This is insane! What does he want with me!?”
“EVERYTHING!… Don’t you see? He wants everything that you are and everything that you will become! He wants your life, your future, your soul… But most of all, he wants you to fear… Even now he comes for both of us!” the man said, shaking Samuel with frenzied panic. Before Samuel had time to question the man on the meaning of this, the man’s eyes suddenly widened in terror.
“I’ve said too much… He’s coming!” The man said with a shudder. He only stayed there for a second until the realization suddenly dawned on him. The man he had saw in the streets, the one this man had called Jack, both his and this man’s tormentor was coming. Seeing the realization on Samuel’s face, the man’s released his grip on him, causing Samuel to fall to the ground. The man’s glazed eyes then fixated on Samuel’s, uttering a single word.
Samuel quickly got to his feet and scrambled to the nearest place he could find; the closet. Shutting the door, Samuel peeked through the small gap between as he stared into the room. A sudden noise made the man shrink back in fear and Samuel was overcome with a sense of dread, the same feeling he had felt when he encountered the figure in the streets, the one whom this rambling man had called Jack. Following the man’s terrified gaze Samuel was able to see the source of the man’s terror. Jack towered over the man, this time Samuel Ward could now clearly make out his eyes for the first time. No irises or pupils existed within those eyes, for they were a soulless black color. Impossibly, Samuel felt as though these eyes were even darker than the black hair that had first obscured them.
The wild eyed man was shaking uncontrollably now, his eyes wide in terror, “No… PLEASE!” he moaned, “DON'T KILL ME! I DON'T WANT TO DIE! PLEASE… HAVE MER─”
The man’s words were cut off as Jack seized the man by the throat with long skeletal fingers in a rapid flash of movement which barely registered in Samuel’s terror soaked mind. Samuel watched, paralyzed in horror as the man was lifted off the ground by the throat. Samuel tried to scream as the man squirmed in the figure’s grasp, but he found that he was unable to. Jack held the man in the air as the man desperately gasped for air, bringing the man close to his face, Jack cocked from side to side observing the man’s weakening struggle. Samuel watched in horror as long skeletal fingers tightened around the man’s throat.
The sickening noise seemed to echo in the dimly lit room as the man’s body immediately went limp in Jack’s grip. Blood bubbling from the dead man’s mouth as his eyes rolled into the back of his skull. Tilting his head from side to side as if observing the man’s limp form, Jack’s head slowly turned towards the closet where Samuel hid. The cold sweat of fear trickled from Samuel’s face as his eyes widened in terror. Had I been discovered? Will I end up like the wide-eyed man whose lifeless and twitching corpse was still in Jack’s skeletal grip, and why can’t I wake up? These were the questions that ebbed away at Samuel’s mind as he stood there in silence, waiting for the moment when the nightmare would end.
Unfortunately this did not come to pass, forcing Samuel to remain in the darkened closet as the nightmare continued. Then, before Samuel’s eyes, both Jack and the corpse faded away as though it was simply a mirage. At first Samuel couldn’t believe that that danger was gone, reasoning that it might be some form of trickery to get him to come out. Eventually Samuel decided to leave the confines of his hiding spot, reasoning that since this was just a dream that he would just wake up if anything happened. Thus, slowly yet cautiously, Samuel inched the closet door open.
A small pool of blood had formed on the floor where both the man and Jack had once been and small waves of steam rose from the darkened puddle as it cooled. Moving towards the desk where the man had sat, Samuel’s eyes scanned the room expecting Jack to appear at any moment. Confident that he was alone, Samuel’s gaze returned to the desk. The desk which now, he could see was covered in carvings; some were words that detailed some unspeakable horrors while others were crude etchings of nightmarish things. One such engraving caught Samuel’s attention, it depicted what seemed like a strange underground cavern where the forms and faces of people were scattered throughout its crude design and underneath it the words THE DEAD PIT had been carved deep into the desk’s wooden frame. The etching, along with the ominous name that identified it, deeply unsettled Samuel. Questions raced through Samuel’s mind as he stood there in silence,
What was this place, and what of its association with Jack?
A sudden noise removed all thoughts from Samuel’s head as he soon felt the familiar feeling of dread cling to him like some cursed parasite. Thinking fast, Samuel Ward returned to the dark embrace of the closet, shutting the door so that only a small crack remained. The sense of dread was now threatening to overpower him as it increased each agonizing second. Sounds of heavy footsteps seemed to echo in the room as the Jack entered Samuel’s limited field of vision. Samuel held his breath as Jack scanned the room, as if searching for something…
As if he's searching for me...
Slowly yet deliberately, Jack’s gaze briefly paused on the desk where Samuel had been only moments ago. With what seemed like a nod of recognition at the etchings that the dead man had engraved onto its wooded frame, Samuel’s heart stopped as Jack’s gaze slowly turned towards his hiding place and, for a moment both eyes met. Beads of sweat trickled down his face as Samuel Ward waited in anticipation for an attack. Several seconds passed with no attack forthcoming then, as quickly as these events occurred, Jack’s form seemed to fade away as though it was a mirage, leaving Samuel Ward alone once again.
It was a safety that Samuel refused to believe as thoughts of ambush and death ran wildly in his mind. After what seemed like hours, did Samuel finally worked up enough courage to attempt to leave the sanctuary of his hiding place. With utter caution, he slowly opened the closet door, his eyes frantically scanning the ever widening field of view. Then it happened. With a blinding flash of movement, Jack’s face filled Samuel’s field of view causing him to stumble back in utter shock as the door was viciously torn open and gaunt fingers enclosed grasped at Samuel’s shirt. With a violent jerk, he found himself flying through the air, crashing through the wall and falling through into utter darkness.
Time is a fascinating thing. Seconds and microseconds, hours, and years seemingly measured, dictating our lives and limiting our mortality. It is unknown how long Samuel Ward remained unconscious, it could have been seconds or it could have been hours before consciousness finally enveloped Samuel Ward’s battered and bruised form. Once it did, he was greeted by the unmistakable smell of death. The stench was unbearable, causing Samuel’s eyes to water as he heaved violently. When his eyes had somewhat adjusted to the darkness he could see that he was in a vast cavern deep underground, the dripping of water echoed throughout the cavern as it splashed into a puddle nearby. The vague silhouettes of stalactites and stalagmites filled his ever adapting vision as he examined his surroundings. Wiping his mouth which stung from vomit, Samuel tore part of his shirt making a makeshift mask out of it to make the stench more bearable. Then, cautiously, he walked towards a small beam of light that illuminated the ground in front of him.
A familiar noise echoed in the cavern and Jack suddenly stood thirty yards ahead of him, in his hands Jack carried the body of the wild eyed man. Jack stood there for a moment, and then Jack suddenly tossed the man’s body down at what appeared to be a large pit. The hairs on Samuel’s neck stood on end as he heard the body land with a sickening thud. Then Jack was gone, disappeared into the shadows. Samuel fought the curiosity that ate at him, reasoning that Jack was still here hiding in the shadows. But as the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, and after a few minutes of hesitation Samuel cautiously walked forward. Being careful as to not trip and fall into some hidden crevice he moved forward, when he reached the mouth of the pit the stench there was unbearable even while breathing through his shirt. Tears ran down Samuel’s face as he squinted to see the obvious, then suddenly a light illuminated the pit and what Samuel saw made him scream in terror.
Fear is a universal emotion that has governed humanity since its first breaths of life. Millennia of overuse and the subsequent desensitization has left it diluted, and sapped of its original potency. But within these caverns of the mutilated dead, Samuel Ward was overcome with terror in its purest form. A terror raw, and true, the likes of which mankind has not experienced in countless ages.
There, piled by the hundreds in the pit, were the mutilated and rotting corpses the dead. Some whose faces were horrifically contorted from decomposition, while others were just a pile of bones. Corpses old and new in various forms of mutilation gutted, and eviscerated. What Samuel had mistaken for water was actually blood dripping from several bodies that were impaled upon stalactites on the roof of the cavern. The body of the wild eyed man lay sprawled on the top of the pile, his eyes glazed over in death, blood oozed from his gutted form. Samuel screamed in terror as his eyes took in every horrific detail, every new horror brought fresh screams from his mouth.
As he stood frozen in utter horror and gazing upon the putrefying forms and faces of the mutilated dead, these twisted and rotting forms seemed to rise from their resting places like puppets whose strings were directed by an unseen hand. The arisen dead stood there for a brief moment, staring back at Samuel Ward with rotten shapes that had once been their faces. Then, almost in unison, the undead mass advanced towards him, their voices crying out to him as they drew closer. From this cacophony of voices, Samuel Ward could hear the various pleas for heap, warnings of impending doom and of The Black-Eyed Man, and the cries and screams of forgotten souls they reached out to him in desperation. Tried as he might, Samuel Ward was soon enveloped by the undead mob. At first, he fought back against the masses of rotting bodies, pushing and kicking out at them as they clung onto him, the efforts proved futile, and he soon resigned himself to their cold embrace. As their putrefied flesh latched onto his, a cascade of emotions and images flowed through his head. These thoughts and emotions contained no hint of malice or intentions of harm towards him, but seemed to impart the originator's warnings and desperate pleas for help. It was then that Samuel Ward relaxed and allowed himself to be overcome with the thoughts and emotions the swarm imparted upon him.
A sudden noise echoed in the cavern, causing a panic amongst the putrefied mob as they quickly, and desperately scrambled off Samuel Ward. He watched in confusion as the masses of the undead retreated in terror back into the shadows, leaving him alone once again. Dazed and confused, Samuel Ward slowly got back on his feet, brushing off the muck and gore from his encounter with the undead mob. Caution soon overtook him as the familiar feeling of dread slowly began to return to him. Whatever caused the swarm to flee in terror was now here in the caverns with him, the realization weighed heavily upon Samuel Ward as he scanned his surroundings in search of the cause of the swarm's panicked departure.
Then he felt it, the familiar feeling of dread crept upon him, he knew that Jack was behind him as he turned to run but long skeletal hands grabbed him by the throat, and he was violently turned around so that his face was inches from Jack’s pale grey visage. Hysterical, Samuel beat at Jack’s arms with fevered energy but Jack’s grip around Samuel’s neck never weakened. In a last desperate attempt to loosen the grip that was slowly depriving him of air, he reached out his hand and ripped Jack’s mask off his face. The sight that appeared underneath the lying mask sent him further into terror.
There are countless horrors that are spoken in hushed tones throughout the world, tales of demons, monsters, and specters that are meant to frighten all of those who hear it. Jack’s name is one of those names that are spoken in whispers. He is neither a spirit, nor a demon, nor anything that mortal man can comprehend. For the face that Samuel saw was far worse, the only feature that existed on Jack’s pale face was two large, black, unblinking eyes. Jack cocked his head to the side as if observing Samuel’s terror, lifting up its other arm, Jack’s long skeletal fingers brushed against Samuel’s face. He cried out in terror for the very touch was ice-cold, no warmth came from it.
“Now do you see?!” Jack’s voice echoed in his head.
A sickening ripping sounded as Samuel’s eyes widened in terror, the skin where Jack’s mouth should be was being stretched and ripped apart as an unholy maw opened on its face. The mouth was filled with long, thin, needle-like teeth that could easily bite a man in half, a long snake-like tongue darted from Jack’s open mouth as it licked Samuel’s terrified face sending fresh waves of terror in Samuel. He didn’t have time to scream as Jack’s fanged maw lunged towards his face.
Samuel woke up screaming, his sheets soaked with sweat, shaking feverishly he sat up. It was all just a horrible nightmare, one that he finally woke up from. Relaxing somewhat, he ringed his fingers through his hair, and breathed a sigh of relief. Samuel stepped out of the bed and turned on the light near his nightstand. The light illuminated the tall cloaked form of Jack, and in the small corners of his mind Samuel Ward finally understood Jack’s cryptic comment. His time had come. The time had come for him to die. He understood this even as Jack lunged towards him and his whole world fell into darkness.
Written by Hayden Larsen