The following short story takes place in the world of the Kingdom of Nothing RPG.
Blood dribbles from my head like the last few droplets of alcohol from a bottle. Most of the damage had already begun clotting and, with the aide of my stringy hair, the blood had slowed from how it was flowing a few minutes prior. Or had it been longer than a minute? An hour, perhaps? Maybe even a few days?
Time is fickle with me. Always has been – or so I think?
I push myself from the ground and make it back to my feet. I feel woozy – not in a good way, though. This wooziness feels wrong and filled with physical pain instead of numbing the emotional. I steady out, suck in a breath, and try to get my bearings as the lone bulb sways overhead, spotlighting one corner only to leave shadows in the opposite.
The swaying light doesn’t help with that creeping bit of nausea that lingers in the back of my throat.
Four walls. A door. No windows – just tile. What remained of tile, at least. I follow it to the husk of a sink and the rusted exterior of a bath tub. I don’t know how I got in here or when, but I am in a bathroom. Or should I say it used to be a bathroom? I don’t know. I suppose someone could say either. Me? I decide to ignore that question and return back to a more important one.
How did I get in here?
Door. I try the door and find that it’s unlocked. I exit the room and find myself in another – no, not another room. It’s not another room or even a hall or a closet – though, no one calls a closet a room these days. Unless, of course, it’s one of them fancy closets with the hangers and the safes that people sometimes –
Doesn’t matter. Focus.
I’m in another bathroom. No, not another. I’m in the same bathroom. I twist around expecting to see another me staring back, confused, but only find the lone bulb waving at me from the bathroom I had come from. The same bathroom I was in now? I don’t bother waving back. You don’t need to wave back to things that aren’t alive.
A deep growl shakes the room.
My body freezes, and I’m left shaking in the shadows.
I know that growl. It was the growl that attacked my friend. I had a friend. I have a friend. My friend’s name is… I wince, the pain in my head making it hard to think. I try to conjure up a name or a face in my mind but each time it’s like someone smacks the memory away with a brick.
Another growl and the bulbs in both bathrooms shake violently. Or tremble. Or maybe I’m trembling? I wrap my arms around myself and just move into the next room. The door closes behind me, and I approach the door ahead, only to find another bathroom behind that one.
Same tiles. Same tub. Same stupid sink that I didn’t want to pick out in the first place.
I frown and stare at the sink. My sink. Why is my sink here and why is it mine? Why am I annoyed? Why is it here when I didn’t want it in the first place? Why is this all here? Why are the tiles under my feet broken when…
The growl again. Closer. Hungrier.
I feel my anger and confusion towards the sink vanish, only to be replaced with blind terror towards the thing behind me. I rush to the new door, swing it open, and enter the next bathroom. And then the next. And then the next. Like a motion picture, I’m running through the same room over and over, and like a motion picture, it’s all coming back to life. The sink begins to fill in a chip at a time and the bathtub’s rust is eaten away. The tiles begin to pop back into place like stones skipping over the water’s surface, and the dust is swept to the corner before vanishing altogether. The lone bulb is replaced with a fixture and its exposed wiring is pulled up until it’s secure in a ceiling that isn’t filled with chips and holes. Soon enough the bathroom that I enter has a fresh coat of paint and smells of pine green from one of those fancy air fresheners that she always liked.
And by the time I get to this version, my knees are shaking and my lungs are are on fire. The blood on my head is mixing with the sweat and my body heckles me for how much I’ve neglected it these past few years. Or days?
I fall to my knees in front of the sink I hate and try to catch my breath. The mirror shows a man that I hate with every ounce of my being, a corporate noose around his neck that I want to pull on until he stops grinning. He’s looking down from the mirror with that fake smile plastered on his lips. A mannequin stuck in the perfect moment that was never really perfect but merely manufactured. He just continues to stare and smile, and I just continue to gasp for air and hate him.
Yet, my usual hatred for this man isn’t strong enough to avoid the pull of my eyes. Like a magnet, my gaze is tugged downward. My attention falters. Slips. Shifts. And then I find myself staring down at the sink that I hate and the contents on top of it. Razor. Shaving Cream. Bandaids. Floss – I missed flossing. A cup with –
I stop on the cup holding toothbrushes right under the mirror.
I both hate this cup and love it, and I don’t remember why. It’s one of those clay cups that a child makes during art class. Its handle didn’t survive the oven and the gloss made the painted picture under it hard to make out. Two blobs are flying a kite. The ground is green – grass – and the sky is filled with a robin blue color that makes me feel relaxed. The words on the top of the mug are multicolored, warped, and hard to read.
I bring the mug closer to my face, squinting at the childish, mutated letters.
Faith can move mountains.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard those words. Sometimes when I’m woken from sleep by a kinder soul, they preach about that. And then they pay the moral toll to feel better about themselves and leave me with a dollar or even a few. No, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard those words but it is the first time they feel right. They are no longer a cane that beats me down but a crutch to hold me up.
I stare deep into the cup. I’ve decided I don’t hate it. I look towards the man in the mirror to find him staring back down at the mug in my hand, as well, and he’s no longer smiling. We both have that same look on our face.
He and I are from different times and different paths but we are the same in this instance. This cup reminds us of that and of our choice that got his Point A to my Point B. We remain in solemn silence together.
Then the growl explodes right into my ear and the mug slips from my hand. I watch as it hits the floor, bursting into a million pieces. The man in the mirror lets out a scream, and just as I look up the mirror explodes sending me stumbling back. This sets off a chain reaction. Everything shatters, everything breaks. Everything is taken from me. Again.
I open my eyes.
I’m on my back and see the creature straddling the remains of my buddy. At first I think that its spine is protruding from its back but I’m wrong because I soon realize that every bone of its body is on the outside of its skin. No. Not bones… needles. Needles run up and down its back and arms, twisting like barbed wire as they drizzle chemicals out from the metal bits.
And it’s using said metal bits to stab into my friend’s chest.
My only friend.
My only friend who kept me company at nights. My only friend who stopped the man in the mirror from grinning his stupid grin at me sometimes. My only friend who protected me and told me stories that made me laugh. My only friend who was my only friend because he was my only friend.
He was mine.
Everything is taken from me. Again.
And then I remember why I was here with my friend. I remember the man who told us that he could make us happy. I remember his whispers and promises that we could forget all our pain and just enjoy our lives again free from our demons and despair. I remember not wanting to go but going because my friend – Benny, his name was Benny! – wanted to believe that this magician was true. Benny wanted to believe that this man was more than the wizard behind the curtain and that he was telling us truths. So we had followed him here. No, I had followed Benny here because he always protected me. And when we arrived, the man then transformed. Needles had sliced open his skin before those same needles had sliced into Benny.
I wanted to run but the creature had told me to hit myself with a brick. It told me that I wasn’t strong enough. It told me that I couldn’t do anything else. It whispered in the front and back of my head that I couldn’t save Benny like I couldn’t save anyone. It demanded I hit myself with a brick, and I just gave up. I smashed myself in the head with a brick because it was all I could do as an empty man. An empty bottle has no more allure and neither did I.
I hit the ground empty.
But when I woke up, I had a drop of something left in me.
There is a drop left inside me – I can feel it. It’s more than rage and it’s more than fear. It’s more than thirst for the courage of the bottle and the lust for the promises of a needle. It’s beyond the hope for being spoken to and the dream of getting that perfect amount of change to pay for a coffee and a piece of pie.
I find my faith.
I pull myself to my knees as the creature continues to claw into the body of Benny. I stare at the creature with all the self-loathing I usually keep for myself. In all the reflective surfaces around me, I can feel the man in the mirror staring — but not at me this time. And that grin on his face isn’t for me this time. For once, we are all just staring at a common goal and a common enemy.
We hate each other but today, we hate something more.
The creature stops stabbing into my friend when it hears me pull the copper rod up from the ground. It turns towards me as I brandish the weapon like a sword. Its head cants at an impossible angle, and it peels its lips back only to show another mouth that screams for me to give up, lie down, and wait my turn to die.
But I have faith. I have faith that this copper rod is the bane to this creature’s existence. I have faith that my rags and filth are slabs of armor made of the porcelain pieces of the sink I hate. I have faith that Benny isn’t dead yet and I can get him to the stitcher shack in time. Most of all, I have faith in me knowing my faith.
You see, I know my faith isn’t like everyone else’s. I learned that a long time ago. When it came to my faith, it could never rise up. It could never climb high enough. This creature is about to understand that my faith could never move mountains.
But my faith can sure as hell destroy them.
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