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Four Horsemen Challenge - Shades of Grey
by Dark Star (scribesds)
at August 26th, 2011 (11:20 pm)
busy

current mood: busy

Shades of Grey


Author: Dark Star
Summary: There is no colour anywhere.
Written for The Four Horsemen Challenge at writers_toybox
Thanks to Jo for the beta.

*


The world is grey. Grey skies, grey landscape. There is no colour to be seen anywhere, not even red. He misses red.

The world is cold. The wind that whistles through the damaged buildings is bitter. There is no heat to be found anywhere, and even the warmth from the small bonfires he makes is not enough to warm him. He misses warmth.

The world is empty. He has seen no living person for weeks, and even the wildlife is scarce. He has seen nothing move – not rats, birds, or even insects for days. He is truly alone.

The world is silent. The only sounds come from the wind rattling loose boards on the buildings or howling along the lonely passages between them, and even to his ears, the sound is eerie. He misses the noise of people, or the chatter of birds. The silence is deafening.

*

He wraps the threadbare coat tighter around his thin frame. He has not eaten for over a week, and even then it was only a scavenging rodent. He’s not really sure why he bothers. Who cares if he lives, anyway? He doesn’t.

*
He stands, lifting the rucksack off the floor. It contains everything he has in the world, and he hefts the heavy bag over his shoulder and stamps out the grey heat of his fire. He’s not sure why he bothers with the heat at all, as it never warms him. But he chooses to do it, because at least it gives him something to do. Every night he clears a space and he gathers the wood. And while he’s busy with his task he can pretend that everything is normal. It’s only when he stops working that he remembers.

But he likes to watch the movement of the flames and the grey crackle of the wood gives him some semblance of life. Fire is, at least, living. It is the only sound and colour in this poor parody of Earth. He huddles over the meagre heat and broods.

*

There are still buildings around, though most of them are derelict. He prefers to stay outdoors when he can. The absence of humanity is too depressing to stay inside for too long, but still, they do provide cover from the daylight. He has just built his fire for the night and he starts toward it when he stops. A sound…. Not the wind, and not the rattling of buildings. Something else. Humans? No, there are none left. Demons, then? Not many of those, either. With something approaching glee, he pulls his sword from his pack and hurries off to see what has made the noise.

Staring down from the rickety tops of the old buildings he sees them. He grimaces. Zombies. He should have guessed – they’re one of the few things still walking, and he supposes its only fitting that all that’s left as remnants of the dying civilisation are dead things. Is nothing left alive?

That thought sends him hurrying down to where the zombie pack are shambling about in the ruins. His sword is true in its aim; he’s been fighting for too long, too many deaths are burned into his soul. But this is different. He can’t be blamed for killing something that is already an abomination and he puts everything he has into his killing spree. It is exhilarating. Kill, kill, kill and he doesn’t stop until the walking dead are reduced to piles of bloody pieces.

He gathers the gory pieces and spreads them around town, arranging them artistically in prominent positions, and then he waits. And waits. His heart sinks. Killing and dismembering the zombies has used the last of his energy and he hoped… but nothing.

He can’t eat zombie flesh, but if anything were still alive they should have been lured out by the smell of… well, not fresh meat but meat nonetheless. But nothing has stirred. He really is alone, then.

It’s then he hears the smallest of sounds. Something is heading toward the broken zombies and he’s there in a flash of vampire speed, grabbing the animal by the scruff of its neck before it reaches its prey. He lifts it up and stares dispassionately at it. It’s a cat, straggly and old, and its green eyes widen in fear at the predator eyeing it up.

Angel shrugs inwardly. A cat’s as good as anything else, and he’s so hungry. He feels the animal trembling in his fingers, and as he raises the animal towards his lengthening fangs, light bounces off the frayed old collar and settles on the tag.

Buffy.

He stares at the name for a long time, but not really seeing, and suddenly, long-buried memories race to the surface. Golden hair. Bronze skin. Her smiling face. The feeling of being wanted, and loved. The feeling of being somebody, and the feeling of being something other than dead.

He drops the frightened cat in disgust, where it runs off and disappears into a hole in the fence. Angel’s head is still full of the only woman he’s ever truly loved. Why did the cat have to bear her name? Was it an omen? He shakes his head. Foolish nonsense. It had become common to name animals after slayers once they had become so widespread, and the name of ‘The’ slayer had been the most popular choice of all.

So long ago. At least she had ended up with a relatively normal life and normal lifespan, and had seen none of this desolation, and he’s glad of that.

Angel leaves the carnage behind him and returns to his campfire deep in thought. What had he become? He’d hacked the zombie corpses up without a thought. He’d done dreadful things over the years that made him wince now that he thought about them. Was he still a monster if there was nobody left to judge him? Or was he a monster because he was the only one left?

The fire has burned low and he piles more wood on it. Sitting cross-legged in front of its warming embrace he feels the meagre heat on his face, and he closes his eyes, allowing the fire to make him drowsy.

Click.

Instantly awake, Angel turns his head toward the sound. He makes no move when the rustle of bushes part and the cat comes slinking out. Giving the vampire a wide berth, the cat skirts around the clearing and settles on the other side of the campfire, drawn into the open by the warming glow. It hunkers down, watching him warily.

Angel holds still, pretending to be asleep and he watches the cat inch toward the heat beneath his lowered eyelids. She settles down carefully, ready to bolt at any sudden or unexpected movement and it occurs to him then that he is no longer alone.

For the first time in ten years he smiles.

End.

Comments

Posted by: ares132006 (ares132006)
Posted at: August 27th, 2011 08:01 am (UTC)
Immortal

This is amazing. And you said you were having difficulty with the story.

The desolation of the world, and of Angel, comes through so vividly. Your use of words paints a picture of the world, dead, and the only thing left are zombies and monsters.

And surprise! A cat, a half-starved cat with a collar and a name. Oh joy. Its name is Buffy. And Angel is no longer alone.

A beautifully written story.

Hugs

Ares

Posted by: Dark Star (scribesds)
Posted at: August 28th, 2011 04:52 pm (UTC)

I always have trouble with my story, so it usually comes as a bit of a surprise when it turns out have decent! Thank you for reading, Ares.

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: August 27th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
Buffy

Powerful and poignant. You managed to find a typically Jossian combination of epic and intimate, sad and unexpectedly funny. The moment when Angel discovers the cat's name is such a magical moment. It's laughter through tears. It's PTB up there yet respecting Angel's desperate quest for life.

But he likes to watch the movement of the flames and the grey crackle of the wood gives him some semblance of life. Fire is, at least, living.

These lines read as blanc verse.

I regard this gem as a companion piece to "Hunter". It made me smile and it made me cry. It reminded me again why I love this verse so much. Thank you.

Posted by: Dark Star (scribesds)
Posted at: August 28th, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC)

I always find it fascinating to see how others regard my stories, and what they might find in them. You think it’s a companion to Hunter? Hmm… well, it seems that I like my cats!

Thank you for the lovely feedback.

Posted by: Dralf (dralf_burns)
Posted at: August 27th, 2011 07:19 pm (UTC)
buffy angel dance

This was beautiful. It was touching and powerful.

You drew me into this desolate, apocalyptic world with your vivid words and imagery. You drew me into Angel's mind and then in the midst of that despair, you introduced a cat. I could feel my heart breaking as the cat's name brought back memories of Buffy and then he released it.

And then the end when the cat approaches the fire and Angel's no longer alone. Simply beautiful. I smiled along with Angel.

Wonderful work!

Posted by: Dark Star (scribesds)
Posted at: August 28th, 2011 05:01 pm (UTC)

Thank you - it's lovely to know that my little story touched you. I didn't want to do a happy ending as such but I did want to give him just a little ray of hope.

Thanks for reading.

Posted by: ital_gal (ital_gal)
Posted at: August 27th, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
pony with a soul

I already commented over on your LJ, but I will also say here what a beautifully stark grey story this is. I could see it.

And somehow, after all that, when the cat came and sat by the fire, it made me smile too, and I thought, how sweet.

How can you write something that is bleak and sweet at the same time?

Posted by: Dark Star (scribesds)
Posted at: August 28th, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)

Ah – thank you for the extra attempt to put your words together, and such lovely words! I love a story to have more than one layer – not just bleak or scary or whatever I’m trying to do, so I’m pleased that you think I managed bleak and sweet!

Posted by: librarian2003 (librarian2003)
Posted at: August 28th, 2011 10:23 pm (UTC)
angelus

This was a lovely story, DS. Such a bleak post-Apocalyptic world, and that bleakness is very well sketched for us, largely by inference from the effect on Angel. And we're reminded that, unless he's dusted, Angel must go on long after Buffy is no more than dust. That reminder is as chilling as this future.

The state of mind that brings Angel down every time is loneliness, and here, in the cold darkness he's given a small ray of warmth in the cat. And that's lovely, because the reader feels that warmth, too.

Super story!

Jo

Posted by: Dark Star (scribesds)
Posted at: June 5th, 2015 10:33 pm (UTC)

Thank you, Jo!

Posted by: Fox (foxstarreh)
Posted at: May 3rd, 2015 06:24 am (UTC)
Bangel

This is sad.

There's a part of me that's always sure that in the end Angel will be the last one alive and he'll be alone, because that's how he is.

So thank you for adding a little bit of happiness to the future I keep imaging for him. (And happiness by kitty, that's not something I would have imagined for him but it's very very nice.)

Posted by: Dark Star (scribesds)
Posted at: May 11th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)

Thank you so much for responding to this story! I can’t seem to help doing dark futures for him, so perhaps I owed him a little happiness. Can’t have him getting too happy, of course…

Glad you enjoyed it.

Posted by: a2zmom (a2zmom)
Posted at: June 5th, 2015 09:41 pm (UTC)

How did I miss this?

The imagery here is so powerful. The world is completely bleak at this point, but Angel manages to find some small thing worth caring about. Just beautiful.

Posted by: Dark Star (scribesds)
Posted at: June 5th, 2015 10:32 pm (UTC)

Thank you. I seem to write a lot of bleak futures for him, but at least he has a small bit of companionship here…

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