I was just a child! A poor, helpless child! What could I have done to deserve this? What did I do? Was this karma or just horrible luck? I don’t know, but what I do know is what it all started with. It was the beast.

I was young, maybe 8 or 10 years old. I was spending my time watching some small animals meander around my father’s field. I did this for awhile until something caught my eye; a small group of assorted rodents. They were huddled together, as if trying to keep warm.

I got up and inched towards the band of animals. When I got closer I nearly threw up out of shock. The poor creatures were covered in scars, open wounds and matted fur. Some appeared as if they had been tossed in a fire. But they were all alive… and they were suffering. I looked away from the group for a moment to see that they were marching on a path made up of plants that had withered away.

My curiosity got the best of me. I went along the decayed path to find it led out of the field and deep into the woods. As soon as I stepped into the forest, I winced at the pungent, odorous smell of carrion and rotten flesh that was strewn about the path. I heard a whisper. It was a faint ghastly voice that murmured in my ear. It said only these words:

“The ash, ash, ash, ash.”

Each time it spoke it grew in volume and ferocity. The voice was now pounding on my eardrums. Then… it stopped.

My eyes frantically looked back and forth hoping not to see anything. Something began tugging my shirt. I flinched out of fear but the invisible force kept tugging. It seemed almost as if it was doing so playfully. I felt a moment’s relief until the childish tugs became violent jerks. Whatever it was it had me in its grasp. It pulled me as fast as a cheetah. The whole forest became a blur as I was being taken by some unknown force. I was weak, tired and struggling to stay awake. I fell unconscious.

When I awoke, I was in a clearing surrounded by stunningly white trees. I looked down to my horror to see the ground thick with ash like the voice had told me. I struggled to get on my feet and leaned on one of the trees to support myself. My hand practically went through the tree as it fell to a pile of white soot. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch some slight movement. I quickly turn around to see nothing. My heart races like a rabbit’s. I slowly turn back and find myself face to face with two soulless pits engraved into a wooden face with mangled teeth. My eyes dared to look at its razor sharp, scythe-like claws and pitch black, bony bodice that bled liquid soot. I turned my attention back to its eyes. They mesmerized me. They put me in a trance. I couldn't move.

I feel a sharp pain in my chest that descends to my lower abdomen. The creature briefly looked down to let my eyesight go. I looked down to see my shirt ripped and my entire torso bleeding slowly. I look at the creature to see it licking its blood stained claws in satisfaction. The ground beneath me gave way.

I now lay in a pit illuminated by the false hope of the hole in the ground above. The fall has broken my limbs and bones but I am far from dead. Where there once were wounds there is now a decaying mass of ash on my torso. I can only believe that this is what is sustaining my existence. It should only be a matter of time until the skin rots off my bone and I cease to exist. The only thing down here that drives me mad is the constant whisper that never stopped all through my suffering. It said:

“The ash, ash, ash, ash.”

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