I sure took my time updating, but I've set myself firmly on a Double Update month, starting with this week. I hope you enjoy it!

"Why? Why are you here now?" I try my best to sound more irritated than scared, but my voice still shakes.

She stands up and snorts, staring down her nose at me. "Why do you think?"

Oh, no. Why else would Misery appear before me at this time, this place? Was it only because I was at my worst just this moment?

Shit! SHIT!

No, this might not be Misery at all. Okay, maybe a bit. But, what other ghoulish entity was bone-thin, dressed in all black, and came when one was about to pass?

She's Death.

I'm going to die.

I am going to die.

I try to stand up but my legs don't obey. I fall back in a pathetic heap. There is no shame as I gaze up at the water-spots on the building's ceiling, only a strange wonder at how dull the world had become—more so than before—now that no one had the time to repaint or reconstruct, just hide in the cracks and pieces of the old world and try to survive...now this ceiling would never do anything but accumulate more water stains that looked like agonized faces...and for the millionth time I thought of one of my favorite vocabulary words back in the normal, overly hopeful days when all I cared about was graduating and getting the hell out of this city.

The word was "Pareidolia."

It was one of those lovely words of the English language that fit me very well.

Pareidolia: when you saw meaningful things in places they did not belong. The Man In the Moon was one, that bunny your friend swore she saw in the clouds, all delusions of a brain desperately searching for meaning. As much as I appreciate what belief and such can do for a person, even I must draw the line when suddenly Jesus appears on a tortilla or the Virgin Mary on a potato.

Funny thing though, some time ago I, too, had that psychosis.

I saw an unthrown punch as a sign of friendliness but really it was indifference.

I saw people laughing with me when in reality they laughed at me.

I saw love in the eyes of those I found I cared for, but truly it was hunger, and they could not wait to eat my soul once I came out of my shell enough to take a bite.

By the time the disaster came, there was nothing left inside this shell but hatred, pain. Those feelings had given way to compressed, silent rage.

That is why I thrived when the world broke apart.

I had prepared to explode, one violent burst of protest at my life, the spectators laughing and pointing at it, the fact that it would never leave me quite alone, everything.

Then the world did it to me instead, and it became a dog-eat-dog world.

I had no complaints. That was the one time in my life that I ate all day.

With this in mind, I allow myself to smile.

"You don't scare me," I say with confidence. "Go ahead and take me. I'm ready to die."

But the smile fades as hers grows.

"Do not be stupid enough to think I'm Death come to drag you away. Have you not been listening? Well, read my lips: I'm not here to take you," She purrs, "I just brought some of your friends here to talk with you."

Fear once again stabs me, somewhere between my heart and stomach, unable to decide between the two literary seats of human emotion.

In the end, it settles for a chill up my spine.

"What friends? I don't have any damned friends."

The girl doesn't even blink. "No, you don't. But you have ones who are going to Heaven while your elevator goes south." She licks her lips. "Straight down to the big barbeque."

"I take it you like that prospect?" I ask. "Me, deep-fried and on a stick for eternity?"

I already know her answers. I just want to stall, because it now dawns on me, all of what might come to pass, and dread drains the blood from my face. What little water is left in me beads into sweat on my brow. My legs remain numb, my back still pulsing with pain. I can't run.

"Of course." Misery laughs coldly, eyes flashing. "What's coming is the most delicious sort of poetic justice ever."

"However," She gets on her knees again, gleeful smile firmly in place. "Even entry into Hell requires a lovely, mandatory mental cavity check."

"WHAT?" The outraged shout scrapes my throat, sending me into a coughing fit.

Out of nowhere, Misery pulls out a pair of gloves, snapping them on loudly. I flinch, and she's wriggling her fingers eagerly. Her grin is now too wide to be human.

"Starting now." And before I can even blink, her hands are on the sides of my head, cold and greedy.

I black out immediately, but not before I feel her, intruding, forcing her way into my unprotected skull, waiting in the darkness like a shark for a bleeding swimmer.

I also felt, one at a time, another presence, then another, cramming into my dying brain.

She had indeed brought company.

End of Part I

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