Alex was gone by the time Theodore got home. He drove home in his old, gray sedan, trying his hardest not to let himself cry. Rose offered to pick him up several times, but he said no. She told him it was dangerous to drive with tears in your eyes, and he assured her he would be safe.
It was only when he stepped out of his car that he realized he had gotten the dirt from his clothes all over his seat. It wasn't like it was clean on the inside anyway. He shut the car door, hard, and walked inside the house.
Rose was sitting on the couch, just waiting. Her eyes were red but she was not crying. She cared for that dog just as much as Theodore had. When he walked in the door, she stood up and hugged him.
Theo hugged her back even though he didn't want to. He just wanted to be alone, and the more his sister held him the more he became terrified of crying in front of her.
He gently pushed her away, and went to his room, where he was alone, and cried for a long time. He laid in his bed and fell asleep, and the dreams came back to him.
He was on the street, surrounded by skyscrapers and abandoned cars. The first thing he noticed was that he could move.
It was dark, but the street lights reflected off of the black windows of the buildings and illuminated the block. The empty cars clogged the streets like they were in a dead traffic jam.
He began to walk down the sidewalk, his reflection nonexistent in the buildings beside him. He didn't notice. He peered through each car windows expecting to see a person, or at least the remnant of a person, but found nothing until he tripped over an object at his feet.
His face hit the pavement hard but he felt nothing. His legs were jelly and his body was ice; the only thing holding him this time was the fear of what he'd just discovered. And then, all at once, he was on his feet, leaning over the body of a dead man.
He was dressed in a black suit, face up, staring falsely into the dark sky. His face was thin, as white as ivory, wrapped with veins like decorative blue grape vines. His mouth was opened loosely, flies occasionally flying inside and retreating back out as quickly as a bullet. It was then that the city began to smell of death, a stench Theodore had never smelled before but so strong it could be identified anyways. He screamed although he didn't mean to, and he felt trapped once again. He turned and ran, his mind and thoughts slowly fading until the only thought left was implanted by something else. He floated away, the city no longer there, his body suspended above the city and the earth, seeming more like another dimension.
This is what he comes for, Theodore. Do not let him thrive. He comes for destruction.
The man had no name. It was how he preferred to exist. Many before had attached their own names to him, although he believed none to be particularly fitting. Some had thought of him as their god, some called him Satan, but he was neither, nor had he ever been successfully described. He was not offended by these names, but it just so happened that every world that had applied a name to him was soon after crushed in his grasp. Not because these worlds insulted him, but because he had to. He enjoyed it.
He floated in the void as he had done for eternity, directionless, but knowing his destination. He was nearly there. He could feel himself coming upon the new solar system, and although time meant nothing he knew he would be there soon. Oh, the joy it would bring him to live again, to own a body. He would take these lives for himself. He was powerful, and he felt it. After this world he would move onto the next. What could stop him? Nothing. Too many had tried before, only to crumble with nothing to show for their efforts. He destroyed their worlds, let nothing to remain of them, and then he moved on to the next.
It was when he felt that he could touch his new destination, when he could reach out and absorb the life from Earth, that he sensed it for the second time. The other one was trying again to stop him, and the man laughed in his mind. He could not be stopped, he knew that with all of his being.
This time the feeling was more intense. He felt as if he were there with the boy, looking down on him as he turned in his sleep. He could not move or touch, only see. As he looked, he knew. He knew the boy's name. Theodore. He began to know the people the boy was closest to. His past, his friends, his family, his acquaintances. He knew that right now, Hannibal was in his mind, warning him of the terror the dark being would soon inflict on his world.
Oh, Theodore, he thought aloud, real sound echoing through the bedroom. There is nothing you can do to stop me. When I arrive, you will be the first to suffer.
When Theodore awoke, he was alone, although it didn't feel that way. He found himself sitting in his dark bedroom, feeling sweaty and severely dehydrated. It felt as though he had jumped naked into a swimming pool and then put his clothes on. His hair was matted, and when he touched his face it was slick like butter. He sat up, and his pillow was damp. He thought about Alex briefly, and it hurt, so he shifted his thoughts to what was at hand.
After he showered, he stripped his bed of his now-sweaty blankets and pillow cases and threw them on the floor. He laid down on his bare mattress, feeling weak and tired, but too scared to fall asleep again. He felt the nearly overwhelming urge to hide, like someone was there with him, just watching. Like they were in his head.
He laid there for a long time just thinking, curled up and using his closed hands as his pillow. There was no question anymore, the dreams weren't just internalizations of something in his mind. He felt that. In the dreams someone was actually talking to him, or at least he was gaining information. He didn't know. Every question that Theodore raised about the situation, of which there were seemingly hundreds, there was no answer. And somehow he felt that if there was, it would only raise more questions.
Theodore was the last person to believe or accept the existence of anything supernatural. He laid there at two o'clock in the morning, rolling over every possible explanation in his head, but only extraordinary things came to mind. These weren't just dreams, they were more than that. What bothered him the most was that piece of information, because it left only two possibilities, neither of which were particularly settling. The first possibility he considered was that something was going haywire in the chemical circuitry of his brain. He wasn't completely convinced, since in every other aspect of life he'd been completely fine, but he was no neurologist, so he couldn't rule it out.
The second option was that someone actually was trying to talk to him. It raised an unending amount of questions, but the idea was certainly buzzing around Theodore's head.
After he laid there for long enough he realized that he simply could not know yet. He'd scared himself enough with the theoretical self-diagnosis of insanity, and the second option was no less terrifying. In fact, it was much more terrifying if he considered that what he was being shown and told was real (I am real, he remembered suddenly). He wondered if that feeling of not being alone had something to do with it, and then he wondered that maybe he actually was going crazy, and it was a positive feedback spiral that accomplished nothing but scared the seventeen year old boy laying in the dark.
In under an hour, despite his best efforts, he was asleep again, and he slept dreamlessly.
Alex's case was not isolated, but it was the first.
These cases were not limited to dogs, and in fact, almost exclusively struck humans. Symptoms were not consistent, constant, or predictable. It killed quickly and silently in too many different ways. Some patients died of sudden heart failure, others died of unsolicited strokes, others fell to a simple, yet unusually deadly influenza virus. In just one night it had fallen over the entire globe. No one seemed to notice.
There was no pattern to examine. Its victims seemed to be random, nevermind age, race, or class. EMTs and paramedics saved few. Hospitals were shockingly unoccupied. Most died in their homes as they slept, and others were too secluded from help, dead before anyone could find or help them. An old woman from California choked on her own mucus as she slept. A man in India suddenly developed an aneurysm of the brain, which ruptured severely and he quickly bled to death.
Hundreds of thousands of deaths afflicted the world in just one day. In the US, there were just over a thousand dead in New York City, five hundred killed in Philadelphia, two hundred dead in was no communicable disease. This was something else. This was something greater.
The next day, on July 18th, death rates were back to normal.