The apartment was dark except for a single bulb that hung above the table, its shine glowed on the head of the old man who scribbled beneath it. The bulb’s light faded, nearly went out completely until he finally looked up and muttered under his breath. The bulb responded, protesting by glowing brighter if ever so slightly, as Carl went back to his writing. His mind sharp, resolved to do whatever was required, that strength fueled his determination. His momentum did not waver and the page filled with his scrawling script.
His writing finished, he set the pen down atop the sheet. Reaching down he grabbed the backpack that rested on the floor next to the table. Walking stick in hand Carl headed for the stairs, momentarily leaning against the railing as he stopped to adjust the pack as the hall went dark behind him. He turned slowly, his eyes revealing a strength that couldn’t be doubted, locking onto the thin filament within. He glared at the bulb and the light burst back to life. The man once again turned and headed down the dark stairway.
It was thirteen flights down to the street level, but that didn’t deter him. Carl was still strong despite age taking from him some of the physical strength he had known in his youth. These were just more steps of a long journey he was prepared to continue. He stepped out into the deserted street, looked both up and down, stopping to consider his course out of the city.
The street was dark, and it had been that way for a while now, no lights lit up the windows of the buildings that lined the street. The world had gone dark more than a year ago, unplugged if you will; all of man’s wonderful electronics had stopped working in an instant.
Chaos. It was the one word that could even begin to explain the situation as people tried to adapt and reason out what happened. Their world had been plunged into the darkness and with the darkness came the wraiths.
Carl headed down the street passing by the darkened buildings, sensing there were still some scattered souls hiding in the dark waiting for the sun to chase back the shadows that hunted in the night. Shaking his head, he headed down the street. Carl knew their fate, but alone he couldn’t save them. His hope being he could find others like himself before it was too late for them all.
With these thoughts hanging in his mind he picked his way around the automobiles that sat along the street, exactly where they had come to rest when the world stopped. Dwelling on the things lost didn’t do him any good, there were enough people lamenting the fate of the world. Those weren’t the people he needed to help to turn back the tide. He felt there were others out there like him, even dreamed of them; individuals with… abilities.
Carl turned off Main Street and headed north at the intersection, intending to be clear of the city limits by the time the sun rose above the horizon. The wraiths roaming the streets looking for prey made the city dangerous at night. The people hiding during the night would spill into the streets when the sun rose and they would hinder his progress more than the creatures of the night, they at least knew better than to confront him.
Pushing the pace he knocked off the city blocks quickly, one after another. The taller apartment buildings and office towers gave way to the factories that filled the gap between downtown and the suburbs. Nothing stirred on the streets he navigated. The wraiths were looking for easier victims than him. Sensing his presence before he got close, they avoided a confrontation.
The empty streets allowed him to tune into the sounds of the city. It felt the same as every other town he had passed through in the past few months. Society broke down quickly when pressed to the limits, and civility broke down even before that. Carl understood the pressures of families desperately trying to remain together, of parents trying to provide for their children. The longer the madness lasted, the farther from normal people’s lives drifted, the harder it was for even the best of humanity to keep the faith. Even if he found the help he needed in time, it would be generations before anyone referred to it as “the good old days”.
Carl was brought out of his brief contemplation by noise from a commotion ahead of him and down a cross street. A male voice, distinctly human, shouted. Mixed in with the unearthly sounds of at least one wraith, possibly two. He continued on at the same pace, straining his senses to read the scene and fighting the urge to rush forward, to confront the creature,.
The human, most likely coming back from foraging and caught out after dark, out from behind the safety of boarded up windows and doors. He kept calling for his neighbors to come to his aid, they wouldn’t. Carl picked up his pace. Desperation dripped from the man’s cries for help. That he was still fending them off piqued Carl’s curiosity. He might just possess the skills Carl needed.
Carl rounded the corner of the building and found the man backed into an entryway, frantically fighting back with nothing more than a broken off stick.
“Fool,” Carl whispered for his ears only.
There were two wraiths and they were taking turns distracting, lunging, patiently waiting for their prey to slip up. It reminded Carl of watching wolves take down a deer, just a matter of time before the man tired. He had stopped yelling, conserving his breath for the fight before him and coming to the stark realization that he had been left to the wolves. The attackers sensed Carl’s presence before the man realized he had an ally. Instinctively they spun to confront the newcomer they sensed was the more dangerous opponent. They were right.
Reaching out with his ability, he approached the pair, scanning the area to make sure there weren’t more shadows waiting for an opportunity to catch him preoccupied. The area seemed clear for the moment. He wasted no time closing the gap, ready to engage and dispatch two more of these vile creatures.
Carl called up his magic, feeling it grow, tingling up and down his arms, waiting for the precise moment to release. The pair facing him were adept at hunting together. Moving apart and circling him as he crossed into the space between them. Carl realized it would be inhumane to pass the man by, positioned himself so that he would be between them and their prey.
“Stay where you are.” Carl spoke to the man behind him, not taking his attention away from the pair facing him. “I need to know that you won’t be in the line of fire. It’s not that precise and it doesn’t discriminate.” There wasn’t a response, but the scrape of the man’s boots on the walkway let Carl know that he hadn’t moved far.
“So you two have nothing better to do tonight? It seems you picked a bad part of town to hunt this evening.” He couldn’t be sure if they understood him. The one to his right seemed ready to turn tail, though his partner was clearly feeling confident. Carl struck quickly, there was never any doubt that he would allow these two to slip away. They would trail and harass Carl and the human the rest of the night if he didn’t finish this now.
The arcs of power streaked from his fingertips, catching the wraith to his left. Suspending it in midair, the wraith fought and struggled against the tentacles wrapping about its cloaked form. The magic crackled in the night air as it flowed from Carl, growing in intensity as the creature expended the last of its energy in a final desperate attempt to break free, a silent scream frozen on its skeletal face as it exploded into ash and nothingness.
He swung his aim towards the other wraith as it darted towards the man cowering behind Carl, hoping to take advantage of Carl’s attack on the other. The magic struck with a vengeance that cut him down several paces from his prize.
Carl held onto the power for a moment or two before he released the energy, scanning the area to make sure no others had come while he was distracted.
“Are you ok?”
“Who are you?” the man blurted, picking himself up off the ground. Having witnessed the slaying of the first shadow creature before diving out of the way, the second tried to nab him. The streaks of power arced past him to strike it down as well, now unsure if he had improved his position or not.
“I’m just a guy, nothing else.” He was fairly confident the man really didn’t care about his name, rather the power he used to slay the wraiths. Carl hesitated to disclose much more, his hope that this man could be a member of the army he so desperately needed dissipating faster than the wraiths under his withering power.
“Get yourself behind some protective walls, there are more of these creatures hunting the night.” He didn’t say anymore, but straightened his backpack and retrieved his walking stick from where he had dropped it on the ground.
There were still a few hours before sunrise and he still intended on clearing the city before the human inhabitants came back out from behind their walls. He hoped the wraiths would give him some space and allow him to regroup as he walked. Their fear of him overrode any tactical advantage if they were to work together on a large scale. They couldn’t know the effects of his attack or how long it would take for him to recover fully. Even he hadn’t explored those limits.
He headed back towards the street, the man he had saved no longer standing at the entryway. Run off to his bolt hole, grateful that he would live another day. Carl’s attention refocused on his immediate surroundings, searching for any movements in the shadows, making sure not to let them get the drop on him. The new day would be here shortly and hopefully the message he left on the lonely apartment table this past night would be found by someone who could help. He couldn’t be sure how much longer the human race would last without a shift in the balance of power.