League of Humanity

Short Story - "Ashes"


Part 1: Loneliness

I don't remember what happened. Things were quiet, and then there was a commotion, and then... more quiet. I don't remember falling asleep.


It was dark. I couldn't move at first, and I couldn't see either, but I was at least beginning to stir. As my eyes began to regain their focus, I saw that it wasn't dark; it just wasn't anything. There was nothing there. I had woken up in some sort of void; everything around me was pitch black, except for a small light in the distance. Even though it was just as black as everything else, I somehow had a keen awareness of the floor; it was flat, with no particular temperature, stretching out to infinity. I don't know how I knew that, I just did. Finally regaining my footing, I began walking towards the distant light.


It seemed like a hundred kilometers; the distance to the light kept extending, as if it never ended. I did make it eventually, though. It turns out that the light was actually a small town; people bustled about in every corner. There must have been at least a hundred people living here. As I walked through, none of them made eye contact; most kept moving as if I wasn't there, although a few people shot glances at me. Some seemed hostile, but most were just curious. Nobody stopped to talk, though.


I came into what looked like the town square. There were still a few people milling about in the square, but not as many anymore; it was getting late. I'm not sure how I knew that, given that there was no sun, but... it was the impression that I got. In one corner of the square was a small coffee shop; I ordered a hot chocolate and sat at a table outside. It was beginning to rain. For a while I just sat there, gazing at the stones, taking an occasional sip of my drink. After maybe ten minutes, a young girl came up to me.


"Are you waiting for someone?" the girl asked.

"No. At least, I don't think so."

"Oh."


The girl looked at me, seemingly puzzled. She seemed like she was waiting for me to say something, but I didn't know what. Finally, she began to speak again.


"Are you alone?"

"I... I think so."

"You don't have anyone to take care of you?"

"No."

"Oh. Okay."


The girl stared at me for a few more moments, the confusion on her face very noticeable. For a moment, some other emotion flashed across her face; pity, or maybe fear. Then she turned and ran away into the rain.


It was dark now. I'm not sure how, there was, again, no sun, but everything seemed darker. The rain had picked up, and everyone was inside. The homes that lined the streets still had lights on inside, they looked warm and inviting, but I wasn't welcome. There was no house here waiting for me.


Part 2: Hatred

I left my mug on the table and began walking again. Past the shops and the houses, the town became more sparse, interrupted only by the occasional shop or supply shed. Eventually I came to a run-down carnival. It was closed. I'm pretty sure it had been closed for a long time; the electricity was off, the gates had rusted and fallen off, and a collapsed ferris wheel was succumbing to decay in one corner of the lot. Having nowhere else to be, I stepped over the broken gates and walked through.


Debris and trash littered the ground. The park hadn't undergone a disaster or anything, it had just closed down, and began to fall apart from disrepair. Waist-height concrete walls, which probably once marked the lineup areas outside the rides, littered the area. Most of them had crumbled to pieces from erosion, although the more sturdy walls that supported the buildings and attractions were still there, albeit weathered and covered in graffiti. I would have loved to visit a park like this, when it was new... and when I was younger. Now, I'm just too... uncomfortable.


At the back of the lot there was one of those fun house things. Behind it was another set of gates, leaving the park lot, but the path had been blocked by debris. I took a close look at the fun house. For an abandoned amusement park, the building was still in pretty good shape. More importantly, it was the only way to get to the other side of the path, and I didn't want to have to walk all the way back to the gates at the front of the lot. So, I stepped inside.


It was dark, but I could still see fine; one of the strange properties of this place, I guess. Although the building itself was stable, the weather had not been kind to its contents. Paint was peeling off the walls, and the spinning metal discs in the floor were rusted over pretty heavily. Most of them didn't even spin anymore. One of the rooms had ropes hanging from the walls and ceiling; it was probably some sort of rope maze or something when the park was new, but now the ropes were decomposing and had mostly fallen apart, so I could just walk straight through the room. The rest of the fun house was in a similar state of disrepair.


Finally, I came into a room filled with mirrors; one of those mirror maze things. The mirrors were all covered in some amount of dirt and grime, so navigating it wasn't a challenge, but they were still reflective. Shapes seemed to dance in the shadows, but they didn't concern me. My reflection, though... It seemed to shift from one mirror to the next. I could never figure out what specifically was wrong, but they always seemed slightly off-putting, in slightly different ways.


The mirror maze was the last room in the fun house, and the door was directly ahead now. The rain pattered against the concrete ground outside. Next to the door, though, there were two large mirrors, in ornate frames. At first they seemed completely normal, but then I noticed the writing above the mirrors, on their frames. The mirror on the left read "THE LIE", while the mirror on the right read, predictably, "THE TRUTH". Curious, I stood in front of the first mirror.


The reflection in front of me was of a young woman; she was tall, thin, and attractive. There was nothing notably unusual about it, but the image was comforting. I took a few steps to the right and gazed into the second mirror. The reflection of the woman was replaced by one of a young man; similarly tall, thin, and... I ran out the exit, hitting it so hard on my way that the rusted hinges broke clean off and the metal door clattered against the pavement. That reflection was... it was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen. I hated it. I hated the person in that frame. Going through the fun house was a mistake.


Part 3: Fear

Behind the park was a large mountain. I don't know how I didn't notice it walking into the town; it towered over everything. The rocks were sharp and black, and the dirt was powdery and gray. A small trail led up the side. Having nothing better to do, I decided to follow it.


It was a long hike, longer than the walk to the town, but I wasn't tired; it didn't seem to take any effort. Even as I got closer to the peak, the temperature remained the same. There was no temperature, not really; everything in this place just felt sort of room temperature, like it was only half there. The rocks remained the same, as dark and jagged as ever, but as I approached the end of the trail, I noticed that the dirt was not dirt, not really; it was ash. The entire mountain was covered in ashes.


At the peak, the air was still. There was no wind, no movement, no heat or chills. It felt no different than it had on the ground. Nothing significant had been achieved. The top of the mountain was a small plateau, with an impassable rock face extending upwards ten meters or so on one side, and a steep cliff on the other. I peered over the cliff. The rock lining its face was as sharp and jagged as ever. I contemplated for a moment, and then sat down. I ran the ash through my fingers; it was strange. There had never been a fire here, there was nothing to burn, and no spark to light it. It seemed, though, that the very potential of there ever being anything was cut away before it had even existed; it had turned to ashes before it even had the chance to burn.


I considered walking off the edge. There was not really anything else for me to do here. Then again, there wasn't really any point in falling either. It was all the same. Half a meter to my right, a slate of rock had broken off from the mountain, and was lying on the ground. Its face was black like everything else, but the way it formed had left its face perfectly smooth, and it was quite reflective as a result. I looked at the reflection in the rock. For a moment, I thought I saw the young woman I had seen in the mirror earlier. Then it was gone; there was just the man. I kicked the rock off the edge of the cliff, and watched it shatter into pieces against the broken terrain at the bottom.


There's no point staying here. I don't know why I was here in the first place. Maybe I thought I would walk off the edge. I wanted to. I still want to. I don't get to make that choice, though. There's nothing to do but give up.


Part 4: Ashes


Someone wakes up in a hospital bed. It was the middle of the night, and the lights were off, but a nurse sat next to the bed, working on a computer. There was nobody else there. The person was in hospital because of an overdose; they'd tried to escape from themself, but nothing came of it apart from a hospital visit. They woke up crying. A reflection glints in the window, and they turn away.