Glyph awoke in a panic, his eyes probing the gloomy darkness of his surroundings for several seconds. It always took some time to regain the sense of where he was, especially now that his waking point was different for every hour. After a minute, his heartbeat began to slow, and he started to breathe normally again.
He stood up. ‘This place isn’t so bad.’ Glyph thought, eyeing the interior of the old dilapidated barn. ‘Maybe I’ll just wait it out here. It’s only an hour, and it’s obvious no one ever comes inside.’
Glyph rubbed his sore back and began rummaging around to see if there was anything useful among the debris of the decrepit structure. Unfortunately there was nothing to be found besides a bunch of rusted junk. He had just started to clean up his area when he heard the rattlesnake’s warning buzz.
He froze instantly. Glyph’s heart skipped a beat, and the blood drained from his face as he cocked his head and strained to listen. He looked everywhere around him without moving a muscle. It was close, he could feel the electric tension in the air, but nothing stirred. Maybe it wasn’t coming after him, but then again he didn’t want to be trapped in here if it was. Glyph grabbed his bag slowly, and moved delicately toward the hole in the back of the barn.
After a few tentative steps, Glyph caught sight of the snake coiled tightly with its rattle sticking straight up and shaking like mad. It was about four feet away, but Glyph wasn’t sure how far away was safe. Its gray mottled scales looked coarse compared to its sleek white underbelly, exposed only because the rattler was ready to strike. The snake’s eyes were black, but seeing as how the snake hadn’t attacked him yet he was fairly certain it wasn’t possessed, and wondered briefly if that were even possible. Glyph took another slow step backward. He considered trying to remove the snake, or trap it on one side of the collapsing barn, but the risk was too great. One bite meant he would have to go to the hospital or die, and right now neither of those options sounded any good. When he took his next step the rattle finally stopped, so he took that as a sign and crept out of the opening along the back wall. Letting out a deep breath, Glyph peeked around the corner down towards the road.
“So much for that hiding place.” Glyph mumbled, intensely studying the tall grass around his feet for other snakes. ‘Into town, or up the mountain?’ He wondered. It really wasn’t that hard of a choice. Town meant more black-eyed zombies, the mountain might have another rattlesnake. This was a no-brainer.
“At least the rattlesnake isn’t chasing me.” Glyph decided and stole a quick glance behind him to be certain. Then he stared up the field into the trees toward the top of the mountain. “Fuck you, Drathus.” he whispered, and started running up the edge of the immense field toward the tree line. After entering the woods, Glyph picked his way up the mountain, occasionally circumventing rock outcroppings too steep to climb safely. Overall the hike was fairly pleasant. The woods were quiet and a slight breeze flowed down toward him from above. He checked his watch out of habit; it had only been nine minutes. Heading off into the wilderness had probably been his best idea yet. It looked as if he might actually emerge from this hour unscathed, and he secretly hoped that perhaps Drathus couldn’t track him up here.
As the minutes ticked by and he gained elevation, he couldn’t help but think about everything that had happened to bring him here. Was there some force of nature propelling him forward toward this conflict with Drathus? He couldn’t really believe he was even entertaining these thoughts when he didn’t even know if any of this was real. Certainly he should pick his reasoning and stick with it, whether it was real or not, because jumping back and forth on the subject wasn’t helping. ‘Jumping back and forth…’ the irony of it made him laugh out loud. These things, these images and people, it all felt so real, but it just didn’t make sense. The one question he couldn’t wrap his logic around was why. Why him? He wasn’t anybody special, just an ordinary person trying to make a living, a life for himself, just like everyone else. He wasn’t a hero by any stretch of the imagination, so why, if this was all real, would it be happening to him? It had to be an illusion, some fantasy concocted by his screwed-up mind.
“This must be what it’s like to go crazy.” Glyph said as he stepped up the last few rocks; he had finally made it to the top. He looked left and then right along the top of the ridge. The sun was rising behind him, so he headed left in a more or less southerly direction moving with the ridgeline. The underbrush was a bit thinner, and made for easier walking than he had had on the trek up here, and he was covering some distance now.
The farther, the better, as far as Glyph was concerned. He kept moving, trying to forget the people he had killed in the last few days. No sooner would he block those images from his mind then it would be filled with others, like Ishea, Toban, and the kingdom of Kivastor. He wondered if he had a chance with Ishea. She was so hot, and Glyph was pretty sure she liked him too, at least a little. In his next breath he realized how stupid that was. She was, after all, a figment of his mind, but it was just so damned real. He would just have to face the facts, he was insane. It was the only explanation that fit, because after all, who would make him a king over anything? ‘A king!’ He thought. The whole notion was as ludicrous as it was cliché. It was like he was living out some b‑rated fantasy romance novel, well…except for all the killing. That was another can of worms he didn’t care to open. Why would his mind create a delusion where he was hunted, where he had to kill or be killed? Why jump back and forth? Why not just stick with the King of Kivastor fantasy and be done with it?
Spying a large boulder up ahead, Glyph stopped for a short break, and that’s when he heard it; the sounds of barking dogs drifting up the mountainside from somewhere up ahead, though it was hard to pinpoint exactly.
“Dammit, they had better not be after me.” he said, straining his ears to listen. The thought of search parties out looking for the killer of those innocent teenagers always sat at the forefront of his mind.
He could tell the barking was still a ways off and much further down in elevation. Rather than turn around, or risk losing the high ground, he decided to press on, hoping to get ahead of them. Glyph could hear the barking getting louder as his trot became a full out run. They were below him now. He glanced quickly at his watch in mid-stride; thirty-one minutes. It would be futile to hide at this point, so he kept going. A few minutes later he could hear the dogs coming up from behind him. They had made it to the top of the ridge and they were definitely following him. Glyph slowed to a stop at the top of a small incline to catch his breath and wait. The barking was loud and he could tell there were more than a few dogs. Way more.
About a dozen dogs of varying breeds and sizes came crashing in through the underbrush as Glyph stood his ground, trying desperately to remain calm. Time began to move slower for Glyph as he quickly reached for his pistol. He knew every shot had to count. The dogs continued to advance upon him at full speed, their fangs bared and froth dripping from their mouths. Glyph pulled the gun into position, took aim, and pulled the trigger. The top of the middle dog’s head split open like a crushed grape, dropping it face-first into the dirt, and tripping some of the others as it began to roll. He aimed and fired again, and another dog yelped and flew back, then another and another, dropping the vicious dogs’ ranks as they rushed him, bits of gore and fur spraying out of them like a sprinkler. As he tried to take aim on the fifth, they were upon him.
Two of the dogs bit deep into his upper left thigh and calf. The last dog, a German Shepherd, leapt forward and hit Glyph square in the chest at full speed. Losing his balance, Glyph fell to the dirt. His gun, knocked from his hand, was thrown several feet away. He screamed and punched at the dog on top of him, but missed as the dog jumped back for a second then clamped down on his right forearm. The dogs were snarling and growling fiercely as they shook his arm and leg.
Glyph began to kick ferociously at the two hounds on his leg, simultaneously slamming the head of the one biting his arm with his free hand. He could feel his flesh ripping away from the bone as the one he was kicking let go, and chomped on his leg further down near his ankle. Glyph yelled in pain again, and violently twisting his body to pin the canine’s head under his chest, he wrapped his arm around the dog’s neck and drove his fist into the mutt’s throat, crushing its windpipe. He continued to kick at the two dogs, which alternately took turns releasing, and re-biting, his leg.
Glyph pried the dying Shepherd’s jaws off his arm. Blood streamed out of the ragged holes and onto the ground. Glyph yelled like a maniac as his foot connected with a dog’s nose, allowing him to wrench his leg free. Immediately, Glyph started rolling down the hill, then started to slide down the rocky dirt. He tried to slow his descent, but began to tumble out of control, and after several seconds found himself sprawled out at the bottom a steep embankment. Glyph’s arm and leg were on fire as he tried to right himself.
“Aaauuughhhh!!” He screamed as he tried to stand.
Glyph reached down for his knife with his good hand. He pulled it from the sheath as the first of the evil curs came sliding down the hill after him. Glyph lunged and fell into the dog’s chest knife-first, as it slid toward him. The dog yelped, and Glyph rolled to one side, extracted the knife, and sunk it to the hilt into the canine’s side as it tried to kick away. Glyph pulled the knife toward him with all his strength. The slice emptied the dog’s hot slimy entrails onto his face and arm, like someone had dumped a bucket of chum.
Gagging as the sloppy mucus splashed into his mouth and nose, Glyph grabbed its collar, and flung the dog’s body away from him. A trail of bloody intestines stretched from Glyph to the dead beast several feet away. Two more of the dogs came skidding down the embankment after him. Pulling himself to his knees, Glyph swung full-force, punching one of them in the face, knocking it backwards. The other dog leapt onto Glyph’s back and tried to lock its jaws on to the back of Glyph’s head. Glyph flung the dog to the ground and started stabbing it over and over again until it stopped moving. Then he turned his attention back to the one he had punched. It’s black, pupiless eyes were open, but it lay there limp and unmoving. His eyes focused in on the mutt’s collar and the tags that hung there. These weren’t wild dogs; they were people’s pets.
Glyph got wearily to his feet; he was sure he hadn’t killed them all. He attempted to scale the steep bank for his gun, but after one try he knew he wouldn’t be able to make it. His leg was going numb, and he started feeling light-headed. He was covered in bite marks, and they were bleeding profusely.
Just then the last three dogs burst from the underbrush, having skirted the steep slope, and charged at Glyph. The first one that leapt caught Glyph’s knife in its underbelly, as the other two bit into his leg once more, pulling him back to the ground. Glyph slashed one across the face as it bit into his leg again, and he rolled on top of it, pressing his knee into the dog’s ribs with all his weight. As the dog’s ribs buckled, Glyph turned in time to see the last animal bite deep into his shoulder from behind. Glyph screamed again, and brought the knife up point-first, plunging it deep into the dog’s skull from below and cutting into its brain. The dog huffed and exhaled its final breath. Glyph collapsed next to the dead body, the acrid stench of dog guts filling his nose.
Lying there for several minutes, Glyph stared at the sky through the treetops, the sound of his heart beating loudly in his ears. He tried to move; he knew he needed to stop the bleeding. Through sheer force of will, he managed to shift himself into a sitting position. He dragged the red-stained knife to his chest and began sawing off a long strip of his shirt. He was starting to feel cold and nauseous. Glyph tried to move his leg, but the pain was too much. After extreme effort, he slid the material under his leg and tied a tourniquet using his mouth and good arm. The maneuver caused pain everywhere, and he quickly lay back down.
He was beginning to pass out. His arm sat limply on his chest, as the blood, still pumping out the punctures in his arm and shoulder, completely soaked his shirt. Glyph checked his watch, but the face was smeared with blood. Eventually, he pulled his shirt off over his head and wrapped it several times around his arm. The urge to run was in him, but he couldn’t will himself to even roll over. He became chilled and could no longer feel his leg. Shock was taking control, his breathing became labored and his body started to shake uncontrollably.
“This can’t go on!” he spat, shaking his head, tears rolling down his cheeks. “It has to stop, it has to!” He screamed into the morning air. “It can’t…” he breathed. “It… can’t…go…ON!”
The clouds moved slowly overhead, and the sounds of birds filled the air. Glyph looked through blurry eyes, as time slowed again. His watch was chiming. He noticed a small popping noise, and the air was vacuumed out around him. For a moment there was no sound, then darkness surrounded him, and he was lost to it once more.