The Black Forest is an ill-created concatenation of barren trees and dead grass. The full moon shines behind dark and misty clouds in the sky—giving it the perfect gray atmosphere. The entrance to the forest is silent and still, the smell of decayed bodies and rotting flesh fill the stifling air and would strangle anyone who didn’t come from either Dark City or Hell on Earth up in North World. Dirty, dark, and sinister eyes watch his every move—scrutinizing every part of his body for even the most imperceptible sign of weakness and boring into the essence of his being for the slightest tinge of fear. Drake feels the eyes on him for a few more seconds—his heart nothing more than an organ that serves a function of blood circulation in his body—and they move on, approving his lack of emotion, sensitivity, and fear.
He walks into the forest.
The mist of The Black Forest is all-encompassing and ever-present, the silhouettes of tall and jagged trees with chipped bark and broken branches are all Drake sees. The creatures of the night move in silence above and around him, waiting for that tinge of fear they believe is inside him to reveal itself. They follow his movements doggedly and keeping him within sight—Drake continues to stroll as if walking through a peaceful meadow. Tiny circles of black and gray which can only be eyes pop up around him—filled with murderous intent and impatience—ready to pounce, the creatures are waiting for that tinge of fear, just a tiny slither of it is all they need to descend on him with the ravenous hunger and ferocity of a thousand bloodthirsty soldiers in the midst of war. Drake walks through with his eyes closed, soaking in the negative and evil energy of The Black Forest, filling his heart with more darkness and distributing it throughout his body—numbing his pain receptors—and leaning into the nothingness that lies at the bottom of his brightest nightmares and darkest dreams, into the abyss he dumped his parents’ bodies in, into the nothingness that delivers everything.
Drake walks through The Black Forest for seven nights—there are no days in Dark City—and only stops three times and sleeps for three hours. The creatures don’t attack while their prey sleeps. They like to hear the screams and pleas for mercy, the longing for death and the prayers for a God or divine entity that doesn’t exist while they feast. The creatures of The Black Forest like to deliver slow, painful, agonizing deaths. It is the force that keeps the forest alive, the wellspring that keeps the trees corrupted, the grasses dead, and the creatures carnivorous. To make it through The Black Forest—Drake understands—means you must camouflage seamlessly, you must irredeemably corrupt yourself to the point a return to goodness is nothing more than a fool’s fantasy; Drake was born corrupted, but not enough, which is why his parents tortured and trained him every day since he was five years old. Putting on costumes of monsters and vengeful spirits and beating him every night before he went to bed, strapping him to a wooden table and dislocating his knees and forcing him to straighten them every day for a month until it became routine, breaking his arms and forcing him to train the limbs that still worked. Drake remembers it all with a vividness that would give most people heart attacks.
Danny Doucette was corrupted and blood-stained to the point of no return, Drake thinks, now I must let The Black Forest rip the idea of return from my heart forever.
Drake comes to an impasse where the trees form a circle, the ground is littered with scratch and claw marks, stained with blood, and smells of rotting flesh and decay tinged with toxic waste fill the air. He ingests this smell like perfume, letting it assault his nostrils and turn his stomach into knots he didn’t know existed until this very moment. Drake thought he’d smelled worse when his parents used to dump his face in acid every morning but obviously, Dark City has been holding out with The Black Forest. Now it begins, Drake thinks and walks into the circle. Six wolves emerge from the mist with dark grey fur and bottomless black eyes, their claws bared to full length and black, gooey, acidic saliva falls from their lips. Their growls and snarls are low and harmonious, their murderous intent attacks Drake with full force but he feels nothing. Emotions are as foreign to him as a new language. Drake cracks his neck and fingers and his back muscles tense. He glances right then left, not bothering to look behind him—the wolves crowd around him in a tight circle, just far enough that they can get proper momentum when they pounce to take him down. Drake’s facial expression takes a darker turn than normal, his eyes become a deep and empty onyx, his brows furrow to the point they seem to connect, his lips are a full and plump but straight line, his dark skin becomes even dark when the clouds float by the moon and cover it.
Drake takes a deep breath when a light breeze tickles his skin, “Come.”
The wolves pounce and Drake kills them without mercy.
Drake exits the forest covered in blood—staring at the gate leading to Dark Road Seven with a cold and listless gaze. The sky is a deep, cloudy gray and the moon shines like a light bulb, there’s a path that leads around the forest in a circle littered with streaks of blood and bone—the Dark Circle. Where my parents made me walk with a cinder block strapped to my broken leg, Drake remembers, Mom cracked the whip when I didn’t walk fast enough and strangled me when I showed signs of weakness. His gaze returns to the black gate with broken hinges and rusted metal covered with bloody handprints—a beat-up mailbox hangs just to the right of it as if it were a mansion rather than a road. He walks up and puts the death certificate in, and the gates open with a grating creak—the sound of metal striking metal or fingers scratching a chalkboard pierces the air. When he was a kid, a sound like that nearly burst his eardrums every time he heard it but now it was like a sweet melody.
He takes in the sound like fresh spring air.
He walks through the gate and it closes behind him with that scratching chalkboard sound with an audible click when it locks. No turning back now, Drake thinks and continues.
The road is pitch black, his body has developed a will of its own and walks with a sight he knows nothing about but trusts completely. Dark gray clouds float in the sky and block out the moon, giving the road crisp darkness with white particles floating about and deep, black silhouettes of creatures with glowing eyes watching him as he walks, scrutinizing him the way the animals in the Black Forest had. The air is cold and stifling, almost suffocating; Drake walks in a hypnotic and monotonous rhythm, rocking slightly from left to right as if he’d had a bit too much to drink. The smell of rotting flesh and fresh blood are roses to his nose, the frigid air soothes his skin, and the murderous intent tinged with primal fear induces an orgasmic feeling he’s only experienced once in his dark and twisted life. The steps his feet make have been silent thus far but now take up a crushing sound as they step on skeletons, broken branches used as weapons, and decomposed flesh. This road is off to an unimpressive start, Drake thinks, I figured the creatures here would have more spine. The blood covering his body begins to dry up and become sticky, making a slick, gooey sound every time he moves an arm or finger—he pays this no attention; a faint scent permeates the air, a scent Drake’s never noticed before, it smells of apprehension and sweat tinged with something. . . tangy? flowery? Drake can’t distinguish the scent, but it has a luxurious quality, a divinity akin to darkness itself. Fear. That’s what Drake is smelling. I see, Drake thinks and smiles, they’re afraid.
Drake senses a large creature looming over him and turns in a flash, punching through the creature’s chest and gripping its heart—blood spilling out like a waterfall and drenching his forearm with a second coating. Drake flexes his muscles and yanks out the creature’s heart, the creature falls forward and Drake holds it up with one hand and takes a bite out of the organ—the sounds of tearing tissue echo in the night.
“Bitter,” Drake says then throws the creature’s body aside and walks on, taking bites out of the heart like a freshly picked apple.
Drake finishes the heart and licks his fingers and forearm, letting the metallic taste of blood settle on his tongue and the roof of his mouth like a delicacy he shan’t soon forget. He sniffs the air deeply, searching for that sweet, flowery smell of fear—still faint but getting stronger with each passing second—trying to track down the poor excuses of life with the gall to exist in the same space as him. Drake begins to see the road in a new light, the annoying white particles flying through the air don’t look like particles but tiny specks of lights—snowflakes that don’t quite dissolve when they touch the ground. The silhouettes become a little clearer and the shapes of the creatures become easier to make out, the jagged hills and plateaus become easier to spot and the splattered blood and body parts that litter the road become more distinguishable. Drake comes across a mangled, twisted, and thoroughly lacerated body on the ground and kneels for a closer look; he sniffs the body and that sweet and flowery smell of fear graces his nostrils and fills him with a terrifying glee. He sniffs, again and again, trying to suck it all up for himself, his mouth opens in ecstasy and his chest puffs out in lustful pleasure. His heart beats slowly, his pulse drops, the demons have a party in his eyes as they become an obsidian black, a thick and smooth smoke comes out his mouth when he exhales, and he sucks it back in through his nose—not wanting to let the delicious and terrible scent escape him. He follows the scent to the center of the body and plunges his hand into the hardened chest and rips out the heart then sniffs it, he licks it and lets the taste of rotting flesh and day-old blood settle on his tongue like vintage whiskey then takes a large bite with carnivorous teeth.
“Sweet,” Drake says, standing up and walking on with another heart to feast upon.
His nose and palate are now attuned to fear and it’s a taste he will pursue to the ends of the earth. Before it was his curiosity and bloodthirst that led him but now it is his nose, chasing the smell of fear in living and recently dead creatures of the night. The blood on his body is completely dried up and flaking off him with each step. The creatures of the night retreat into the shadows, the glowing eyes that once inhabited Dark Road Seven become nothing more than a child’s nightmare in the face of Drake Devereaux. His hunger for fear makes him insatiable, his nose guides him like a dog that smells fresh meat, and the cold and stifling air soothing his skin and fills him with an electric charge enough to power a city for centuries and transforms him into something more than human. The shadows form around him like a silk cloak and he camouflages seamlessly into the night, becoming one with the darkness. His steps become lighter, his heartbeat drops to nearly zero, his skin becomes colder than the Arctic on its darkest days, and the demons in his eyes expand to take over his entire body—corrupting him to the point far beyond the possibility of return. The blood melts off him and sizzles like acid hitting metal when it hits the dirty, blood-spattered road. Drake looks into the night sky—the moonlight reflecting in his obsidian eyes—then looks into the horizon, Dark Beach so close but yet so far, just over the mountains yet to be conquered.
Drake tunes his ears and hears tortuous screams and pleads for mercy in the distance, the melodious sound of ripping flesh and snapping bones tinged with the smell of the rotting dead that hold the same resting place fill him with an existential pleasure akin to spiritual enlightenment or hot and rough sex. A sinister and sadistic grin appears on his face as he walks down the steep hill toward the horizon filled with bloodshed.
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