My consciousness awakened, and suddenly I found myself in a poor, dirty, decaying house. Imagine yourself in my predicament, opening your eyes and seeing that your home has disappeared, replaced by a decrepit hut in the worst of slums.
Yet, my confusion was soon subdued by a great anguish, and a sense of fearful urgency swelled in my guts while I looked at the maggots and spiders crawling all around the wooden hovel. By instinct I realized I was hunted by someone I knew not, and for reasons I was oblivious to, but which had been decreed so severe that they had to be punished like an unspeakable crime.
I dared looking at the windows, wondering if barring them all was the wise thing to do, and the strangest landscape revealed itself bright with unearthly gloom: under a purple sky with no sun and clouds of yellow and gray-blue, stood an entire city made of rotten, crooked huts like the one I was in, a place made to challenge the mind and body. Misshapen monsters born of several buildings cast one upon the other looked over streets whose broken stones had been pulled out, a war-like view where panicked throngs ran left and right in a wide-eyed frenzy, like ants to whose nest a cruel boy has laid siege.
An unknown force urged me to escape, and since no one seemed to care about me at the moment, I obeyed it at once, and rushed out of the house.
I felt I had to escape an evil punishment, but I had no idea where to go. I was disoriented while sinking into that human tide where everyone appeared so different and yet so similar. Against common sense I tried to stop someone and ask him what was happening; the bald middle-aged man, clad in rags, was the only one who would suffer wasting two seconds of his time.
“Someone has been condemned. We don’t know who he is, but they’re coming for his judgment!”
“What did he do?” I asked.
He looked at me as you would to an adult man asking things that only children can without looking like fools.
“His very life is an offense to them. Now out of my way! I don’t want to be here when they come.”
No other would heed me, so I was left with nothing but engage in the same mad behavior, and I began running along the streets, going wherever my heart told me it was safe. Traversing that miserable city, I saw the effect of its madness unravel: many took with them their few possessions like they were to run away forever, many trampled upon each other in the attempt to make as much distance between themselves and whoever was to come, many other entered the abandoned houses to pinch any barely valuable item left inside. I was disgusted by that show of misery.
As we heard the sound of hoofs clattering on the stone, a choir of screams arose in response; the crowd around me began swirling faster and more desperate. Their contagious frenzy, and the echo of that ominous steed galloping, took control over me and even I started running madly in no particular direction, just to gain all the possible distance between me and the horse.
As much as I could run, the source of our collective terror pursued me behind every corner, hunting relentlessly. The screams got louder and more frightened rising above the clang of a blade cutting through flesh, until the creature was behind my back, and turning I gazed upon him.
His steed was a rotten corpse, with bones peeking out of putrid flesh. The harness was of blackened steel and blood-stained rags. Swinging his scythe, the dead horseman harvested the life of an unlucky couple standing between me and him. His perennial grin reigned over all that death and fear. He was living bone, armored with spikes of black steel melded with his cranium, his shoulders, his forearms, and his torso.
My legs became like butter. I fell to the ground, unable to move, to lift my gaze from the demonic knight.
He moved his horse forward, reaching to me with his writhing hands. Chill ran through my spine when he clutched me by my shirt’s collar. The last residue of will and consciousness slipped away from me, as if the rider was absorbing and feeding on them. My sight became blurry and I fainted.
When I awakened, I found myself laying on sand. I had not fully recovered yet from the spell of the spectral horseman: I could barely move my limbs, and my mind was confused.
I was at the center of a hellish-looking arena. Spikes of black metal rose above platforms where grotesque faces and monstrous grins leered at me, shouting curses and blasphemies. Horrendous gargoyles adorned the circular wall.
We are used to think these images are cool, but what happens when you are actually stuck in one that looks so real and dangerous? I feared for more than my life. I feared my soul would be destroyed forever, the plaything of a demonic legion.
And then I heard steps coming towards me, and I saw a being of stone. She had strong feminine features, generous curves that would have been attractive if not for the rugged gray surface, and the featureless head at the top. It resembled a stone egg, with no eyes nor mouth, no nose nor anything else you’d expect in a face. Her hands were reptile claws.
She sprang forward and got on top of me, holding my back to the ground with unexpected strength.
I cried out before I could notice. “Why are you doing this? I did nothing!”
A low, yet hear-piercing hiss came out of the demon’s stone head. “And that is why we like you the most.”
Then she started clawing at me. Each cut on my flesh left me with overwhelming pain, and stained the sand with blood, and with each wound the crowd cheered more loudly. The demons licked their lips and laughed with sadistic excitement, enjoying my desperate screams and the sight of my blood.
I begged her to stop, but she kept ripping my body with more intensity and cruelty, until I could not move my head anymore, and I knew that my body had been completely torn out.
“Now the final part” said the stone demon.
From the middle of her blank head opened a vertical fissure. The narrow hole became a gaping maw covering the whole space of her head. Inside it, long fangs jerked back and forth with anticipation; a long, forked tongue licked them full of anticipation.
The maw bent over me, a portal into a deep darkness where my screams fell silent.
I woke up. My bed sheets were soaked with sweat, my heart was racing and my limbs trembled. And I knew my soul had been attacked.