Black Shadowed Nightmares

A black hole loomed in front of him, like a monster that was staring into his very soul. He was being drawn closer and closer to the forest. Daylight had almost gone, leaving a gray, almost surreal cast over everything. The wind was blowing, causing the leaves to rustle menacingly and the limbs to clatter like the chains of a man walking his last mile.

" Maybe this is my last mile." he thought.

The longer the man paused at the mouth of the dark path the higher his anxiety rose. A cold wind was whispering all around him. His nerves were on end, the slightest movement would have sent him into oblivion. The fear inside of him was penned up so tightly that he feared that he might explode. The man could feel the need to scream and run burning inside of him like the white of a flame. He repressed it; him and his childish fears.

Slowly, he extended his right arm into the dark shadows of the path. Nothing. The man drew in a breath of chilling air and stepped over the border. His safe reality became his nightmare. Instantly, sweat broke out all over him, only to be transformed into icy daggers by the whispering wind. His heart was pounding so hard that the only sounds that he heard were his heart and the clattering tree limbs. The arctic air that was swirling around him was making his blood run cold through his veins.

" Keep moving," the man thought, " Just keep moving."

A tremendous blast of wind cut through the heavy black coat he was wearing like a kitchen knife. Slowly he began moving, winding his way along the path in terrified silence and caution. The path looped and coiled through the forest like a wounded rattlesnake. The darkness was so encompassing that one could not see around the next turn on the path. The man's heart rate had slowed, but the only audible sound was the quiet whisper of the wind.

Suddenly, there was rustling. There was something moving off in the woods. He could not see what it was through the darkness. Biting panic shot up the man's spine. The man couldn't move or breathe. He stood perfectly statuesque until the rustling stopped. He could still see nothing in the forest, so he moved on.

The path seemed to be endless and the man felt as if he had been walking for an eternity already. The ground was hard and shot sharp pains through the man's shins. The ground of the path had not been this hard earlier. Suddenly, the man realized that he was no longer on the path. He had gotten lost in the darkness and wondered off the path. The path was now nowhere in sight. He was lost in a forest that no man had ever returned from.

Something moved in the brush behind the man. He spun around, catching a tiny glimpse of a dark figure. Out of shear surprise and panic the man began running through the thick forest. He tripped and stumbled over the thick underbrush and he ran. The man was running as hard and as fast as his legs would carry him. The man kept looking over his shoulder to make sure that what ever he had seen was not following him. The man was paying no attention what so ever as to what was in front of him.

Unexpectedly, the earth beneath his feet disappeared. Air was rushing up all around him. The realization of what was happening hit him like a ton of bricks. A black wave of panic washed over him…

He was falling!!!

The man let out a helpless yelp as damp rock and earth rushed upward on all sides. He could feel death waiting for him as he neared the ground. He began flailing about, looking, hoping, for something to grab hold of. Then…

KAPLASH!!!

Water was rushing all around him. As he slowly began to realize that he wasn't dead or mortally wounded, he pushed himself into a sitting position. He looked around, and realized that he was sitting in the middle of a small brook. The water wasn't very deep and was flowing against him. He was probably facing north since all rivers in this part of the country flow southward. The man looked up and saw a small gorge. He decided that is where he must of fallen from.

The man regained bearings, shook off his resounding shock, and stood. The water in the brook had been rather chilling, and now he was soaking wet. The wind was still whipping around him, leaving his clothes hanging off him like sheets of ice. The man began to splash upstream. Maybe, if he were moving his blood wouldn't turn into arctic slush.

Out of the corner of his eye, the man caught movement up ahead. Something huge and dark as a shadow was looming about. The "creature" looked like a man, but had no distinguishable features. The thing seemed to be made of only shadow. The man got a sense of pure evil. He felt as if this monster was staring into his eyes, like they were open doors to his very soul.

The burning need to run had surfaced again at the sight of the creature. The man turned away and began to sprint down stream. Out of no where, the black monster appeared in front of him. He spun around, only to be met face to face with the creature. It was only a few feet away.

The creature extended and arm, " You and so many like you will die. Die because of me."

The creature disappeared, leaving a maniacal laugh that echoed through the woods.

The man realized that he wasn't breathing. He took in a deep breath of musky air, and let the oxygen work its way through his body. Slowly, his muscles began to relax. He needed to get out of there and away from the creature. Most of all, he wanted away from the omen the creature had sent. Even the wind seemed to be whispering its eerie message.

Up ahead, the man saw as place where the land sloped gently upward. He picked up his pace, eager to get out of the woods. The man looked up the gentle slope. He couldn't believe hid eyes! Broad daylight and bright blue sky! He trotted up the gentle hill, water sloshing in his heavy black boots.

The man burst from the black forest into the warm sunlight. The man felt as though he had just cheated death and was now ready to laugh in its face.

The warm sunlight poured over him like holy water. The indigo blue sky rapped around him like a thick wool blanket. Thick green grass surrounded him, so thick that it reminded him of shag carpet the color of emeralds.

At the center of the meadow stood two oddly placed buildings. They were a steal gray color with many many windows. These buildings meant something very strong to the man. They felt very familiar, like home. What ever it was that the towers meant to him, it was very powerful.

The man sauntered up the small hill to the small concrete entryway of the second building. He stood there looking out over the small meadow. Chattering birds coasted through the sky. A soft breeze was blowing, spreading the fragrance of flowers in bloom. It was an absolutely perfect day. Almost beautiful enough to make him forget the omen of the phantom.

The man turned and peered through the large glass panes of the front doors. There was a gigantic cardboard box sitting on top of a slate gray receptionist desk. The box looked very flimsy and soaking wet. He pushed open the door with a swish and entered the lobby cautiously. There were a few stainless steal benches, a security guard clip board, some built in fluorescent lights, and the cardboard box.

The man called out, " Is there anyone here? Is everything alright?"

There was no response. He paused a few moments before he moved to the box. The box was, in fact, wet and with closer inspection appeared to be covered with soot. The flaps of the box had been folded shut and it smelled rancidly of smoke.

The man opened the box. Inside were hundred of headshots of men in the same attire as he. The photos were Polaroids, and looked like they were scorched around the edges by intense heat. At the bottom of each photo was the pictured man's date of birth and the current date, like that engraved on a headstone. As he rummaged through the box, he found many photos of men that he knew. Many more of the pictures were of men that he had never met. As he shuffled through a hand full of pictures, he came across a face that he recognized horrifyingly. It was his own!

The man dropped the photos back into the box and shoved it off the desk. He wanted it away from him. Fear and panic were taking hold of him again. The man could see the tidal wave of panic sweeping toward him. He stumbled toward the front doors as panic slipped its tight grip around him. The world began to swirl around him, mixing into a blur. He staggered off the concrete and into the grass where he began to vomit.

There was a sound that was surrounding him that seemed completely out of place. It was a deep thrumming or rumbling, and it seemed to be coming from the tower. The man wiped at his mouth, perplexed as to what was making that sound. The second building began to shake violently. The ground followed soon after, knocking him to the ground. The man staggered to his feet. The ground was shaking him so hard that he felt like a drunk man trying to fly. Was this an earthquake?

Suddenly, there was a great crashing and rumbling. The suddenness of it caught the man off guard. He stood motionless, peering at the dimming horizon as the sky grew darker and darker. Sheets of paper and what looked like snow began to fall around him. The snow was the wrong color, he thought. It was gray. The man looked over his left shoulder. A massive gray and brown mushroom cloud was rushing toward him. Rubble and ash pouring from its colossal mouth.

The man began to run, trying to beat the cloud to the woods. . He felt that if he could reach the forest that he would be safe, but with the heavy clothes that he wore fatigue soon began to set in. The man tried to run faster, but it was not fast enough. The mushroom cloud caught up with him. A thick cloud of ash engulfed him and everything went black. The man was forced to the ground by the shockwave carried by the cloud. Debris and ash soon began to cover his body, burying him. The soot was in his airway, restricting his breathing like as asthmatic. The weight of the debris on top of him had the man pinned. He could not get up, he could not even move. He could feel the life being pushed out of him. He knew that he was dying. When his comrades said that he was going to die, he would know. That you always knew. He had never believed them until now.

The man squeezed his eyes tightly shut and began his hale Mary. He had been a catholic his whole life.

" Hail Mary, full of grace…"

Someone shook his shoulder and he could hear movement all around him.

" Come on. Reynolds, get up."

Larry Reynolds turned over on his bunk, disoriented, " What?"

" Cap. Conners said you had to be up by 7:30. The probbies will be here soon, and we need to wash both of the trucks."

Larry cocked his head, still disoriented, " What trucks?"

John laughed, " What trucks?…The engine and ladder trucks. What are ya, stupid? You must have been having one hell of a dream for you to have forgotten where you are, Lar."

Reynolds let out a long sigh of relief. " It was just a dream. Ha, ha, ha, it was just a dream."

" What?" John asked with a worried expression.

" Nothing." Larry answered, " Hey. Johnnie. What's today's date?"

" September 11, 2001." John replied, " Now come on, Lar. Its 7:35 already."

Larry Reynolds sat for a moment on the edge of his bunk watching John walk away, " September 11, 2001 was the date of death on all those pictures…"

He shook off the thought, it did not matter. He stood and stretched, then moved to the fire house window. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were sparkling on the other side of the city. As a native New Yorker, he felt at home with the towers. They meant something very powerful to him.

It was an absolutely beautiful day outside in New York City. The air was warm, and the sky was clear. Nothing could possibly go wrong today. Larry Reynolds moved on down stairs to be with the other members of Ladder 23 and Engine 54. The nightmare was over. He would never have to deal with such evil, hopelessness, and terror again.