With trembling hands, Liam gingerly lifted his father’s reading glasses off the surface of the small upstairs office desk. He knew that he couldn’t keep his father, Gordon, waiting for very long, lest he fly into another fit of rage. Gordon’s request was simple: retrieve the glasses within ten seconds, or face the consequences. With his arms stretched out before him and both hands cupped together, holding the reading glasses, the pale-faced twelve-year-old boy proceeded to descend the tiny, narrow staircase. “It’s all right,” He reassured himself. “It’s just a few steps down. I won’t fall this time.” Liam took another cautious step. And another. The musty odor of rotted wood and decay permeated the air with each creak of wood. The last five steps were in sight, giving the boy a sign of relief. The relief was short-lived when Liam’s left foot fell upon a small wet slippery patch of mildew, throwing him off balance. The boy painfully tumbled down the staircase and onto the main hardwood floor with a shriek. Dazed and throbbing with pain from head to toe, Liam slowly raised himself up from the ground to meet his father’s furious gaze. “You careless little shit! Look what you’ve done!” Liam’s father, Gordon, pointed to the broken pair of glasses resting on the dusty wooden floor. “You never take care of people’s possessions! You’re reckless…!” “It was an accident!” Liam attempted to plead with him only to be sharply interrupted. “No, it wasn’t. There are no accidents in my home! I do not tolerate carelessness!” Gordon grabbed Liam by the ear and dragged him outside to a wooden shed in a barren corner of the backyard. “This will only hurt a little!” A smile formed across Gordon’s olive-skinned face as he tore off Liam’s shirt and seized a horsewhip before lashing out. “Please. No.” The boy pleaded in a weak sobbing voice as he hugged a nearby tree and forced his eyes shut. His cries of pain echoed to heaven as the whip tore into his bare flesh.
To distract himself from the pain, he reminisced of the good past times when his mother was there to watch over him. There was also the soft, comforting nature of his sister, Marija (Maria), who was always there to console him amid the pain induced by their father’s disciplinary action. His mother and father, divorced for some years, were complete opposites. Unlike many abusive fathers and husbands, Gordon was not a user of drugs or alcohol. Because of this, Liam had difficulty identifying the root cause of his father’s violent temper. He wasn’t sure if it was a mental illness or a history of intergenerational abuse. He recalled when Sonja, the family’s wife and mother, was forced to leave. Liam remembered her tearful departure from their home. By their old countries’ standards, the laws required that a father retain custody of his children in any divorce proceeding.
Consequently, the loss of Sonja was a devastating blow to Liam’s morale. Tearfully gritting through the pain, he asked himself why these laws remained mandatory, for he did not understand the court ruling in Gordon’s favor. Why was it upholding such archaic separation policies? He longed for his mother’s touch, warmth, comfort, and protection from harm.
When the flogging was complete, Gordon put the whip in its place near the shed before glaring once more at Liam. The boy fought back the tears in his eyes as his heavier middle-aged father seized him by the shoulders and pushed him against a tree. He winced as his lacerated skin clung to the bark. “You’re staying outside! Toughen up and stay put. That should learn ya.” With a grunt, Gordon wiped the sweat from his jet-black hair and mustache before shuffling back into their small, dilapidated home. Liam staggered forward to gather an old, dirtied shirt strewn across the tiny backyard to replace the previous one Gordon had just torn from him. Though It was one of his father’s oversized shirts, it would have to suffice against the freezing crisp evening air. Struggling to fit himself into the dirty rag amidst the painful sting of his open back wounds clashing with the cold breeze, he shifted his woeful gaze towards his once vibrant family home.
The house was practically a cottage, with only three main rooms. The tiny office space located in an upstairs loft was Gordon’s space. Beside his desk lay a small cot for resting purposes. Liam and his sister, Marija, shared a filthy blanket on the hard floor near the main entrance. The last room was the kitchen. There was a broken outhouse behind the cottage for toiletry usage. The family had lived an impoverished lifestyle ever since Liam was born. Sonja managed to work for a minimum wage, while Gordon could not hold down a job due to his violent outbursts in the workplace. Once their mother was forcibly separated from their family, living conditions deteriorated even further. Food and clean water became increasingly scarce with each passing day. Liam and Marija’s misery, including inadequate food and shelter, was compounded further by their father’s physically abusive nature. Following their mother’s departure, the beatings became almost routine.
“Are you okay?” Liam flinched as a familiar voice abruptly ended his thoughts. Marija’s soft gaze met with her brother’s. The ten-year-old girl’s blonde hair shifted in the breeze as her gentle blue eyes welled up in tears. “I’m not okay!” Liam choked as he, too, broke into tears. The siblings shared a sympathetic embrace until Liam broke the silence. “We have to get out of here.” “Oh no! Don’t do it!” Maria begged him frantically. “You know what father would do to you if you tried to do that. Last time when you tried to run away, the police caught you and brought you back here. Father was outraged! I thought he was going to kill you!” “I know,” Liam began. “But we can’t stay here forever. You must come with me! I can’t go alone.” Marija gave him a skeptical look as he continued. “We must stay together, Marija, even if it means running away! We can’t go on living like this.” “No, I won’t do it.” She refused. “Father will really punish me. He will do the same to you.”
A foreboding memory entered Liam’s mind at that instant. Yes, he remembered it all too well. The flight from home, the missing person report filed by one of the ‘good neighbors’ to the local authorities, the police search, Liam’s capture, and the agonizing torment inflicted upon him by his father as a reward. As if reading his mind, Marija shuddered with fear. “Father spoke of the many punishments I, too, would suffer if you ran away again. Just think of what he’ll do if he catches both of us. The neighbors in our village keep watching us. They wait for us to move because they always side with father. They always hated us just like they hate mother for leaving father behind.” “Shit.” Liam cursed while banging his clenched fist against the solid dirt ground. Marija placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I guess you’re right.” He conceded. “If we ran away, the police would bring us right back.” “Let’s go gather some firewood,” Marija suggested.
The brother and sister’s crunching footsteps through the fallen leaves broke the silence of the quiet forest as they ventured several meters beyond their property. The outer layer of the forest was ripe with dead branches strewn across the forest floor. A shard of dried brittle bark was perfect for kindling. Gordan had returned outside to keep watch over the children. Perched in a rocking chair, he smiled as he struck a match against the sole of his shoes to light a cigar. He reclined in his seat with a few puffs of smoke into the dusk air while maintaining a menacing gaze. Maria shook her head, peering over her shoulder with bundled sticks in her arms. “Father will always watch us like a hawk. I could never run away.” The cold crisp air stung Liam’s cheeks as he continued gathering firewood. The sound of trees shifting and shuffling in the slow breeze juxtaposed with dark overcast clouds provoked an almost disquieting ambiance. A growing sense of dread slowly worked its way into Liam’s chest. “Why should this evening be different from any other typical evening?” He thought to himself.
Darkness had fully set in. With a sigh, Liam looked into the fire they had built; its radiating luminescence gave him a sense of comfort and warmth. It did not cause harm unless touched. Rather than fear or rage, the entity was known for its stoic nature against adverse conditions. To him, it was almost like a distant friend. “You and I, we are alike.” Liam struggled to divert his towards the flams and away from the rippling pangs of hunger in his belly, the sight of Gordan greedily finishing a cooked fish fillet, and his sister shivering in the breeze. “No food, no shelter, and no clean water for you for the rest of the night!” Growled Gordon as he approached the doorway of the cottage. Marija nervously followed him since she was allowed to sleep inside that night.
As Gordan shut the door with a bang, Liam shivered in the cold night air. Starvation was nothing new to him. The small family was forced to abstain from meals quite often, given their current plight with scarcity. Intermittent fasting was nothing new to the boy, but sustained nutritional deficiencies were starting to take a toll on his health.
Liam closed his eyes and shielded his face against the frigid air with both arms. Despite being exposed to the harsh hands of nature, he knew that in this temporary environment, he would not be subjected to his father’s excoriating demeanor or his brutish chastisements. Here, in the presence of nature, Liam could find a place of refuge. Finally drifting into a dream state, he found solace in his temporary departure from the real world. The visions he saw contained imagery of long-past memories almost forgotten, memories of his mother Sonja and her many interventions in times of distress. These visions were often interrupted by an overshadowing figure, a creature of almost enormous proportion which lacked any distinguishing features upon its form. It was initially difficult to decipher this being’s nature and purpose. The creature was truly amorphous in its appearance and was solely defined by a malevolent blackness that composed the entirety of its form. It descended upon his parents with incredible swiftness and agility, enveloped Gordon, and transformed his outer appearance into a raving madman foaming at the mouth. His eyes changed color from black to gray and then to a reddish-blue tint.
Overcome with a fit of rage, he attacked Sonja with a stone and proceeded to bludgeon her to death. Liam pleaded for Gordon to stop, but to no avail. The specter departed from Gordon and approached Liam with a summoning voice. “There is nothing left. Take refuge in me.” Though petrified with horror and trepidation, Liam found the tone of its voice alluring for reasons unknown. Here in its inhuman voice, he found purpose, however incredulous that may have seemed to him at first. Liam had witnessed this recurring nightmare since he was three years old. The increasing frequency of this dream coincided with his father’s growing cruelty over the years. He hypothesized that this nightmare was, in fact, a cruel joke played upon him by his subconscious mind, given its constant interaction with the outside world. Its poor interpretation of his adverse social environment was quite unreassuring at best.
The sharp crack of a twig caused Liam to jolt awake from his near-unconscious state. He sat upright to observe his surroundings. Squinting through the darkness, he could make out the silhouetted figure of his sister in the moonlight. Marija rushed over to Liam and sat by his side. “I brought you some food.” She said in a soft low voice. “Where did you get it?” Liam inquired. “I stole it from a neighbor’s house.” She explained. “Don’t ask me how I did it! Just take the food that I brought you.” Marija dropped a small sack next to Liam and hurried away. Liam unwrapped the food sack to find a loaf of bread, an apple, a baked potato, a vine of grapes, and a small slice of cake. Overcome with relief and hunger pangs, the boy eagerly ate every bite of the meal before him. Upon finishing the food, he turned on his side to feel a soft blanket beside him. “Bless you, Marija.” Liam thought with a smile while unfolding the blanket and wrapping himself in it. The overhead moonlight slowly faded behind the oncoming black clouds.
Early the following day, Liam awoke with a sudden jerk. Gordon was holding Liam by the arm. “Happiness and warmth all night, huh? Your sister brought you food and a blanket when I gave her strict orders to stay inside!” The older man cried out in anger. Gordon back-handed Liam across the face and dropped him. He marched into the cottage and returned with Marija, dragging her by the hair. The girl begged, pleaded, and screamed as Gordon threw her delicate form against a tree. “Stealing?” Gordon roared as he grabbed Maria by the wrist.
“Mrs. Jacevich told me she saw you in her kitchen last night taking food. Is this how I raised you? You lying, thieving little bitch! I told you to stay inside! You will both pay the price!” Pinning Maria down to a tree stump with his elbow, Gordon snatched up a nearby rod and pointed it at Liam. “I’ll deal with you in a minute.” Gordon raised the rod and struck Marija in the face twice. He pivoted towards Liam and kicked him in the stomach, knocking him to the ground. Gordon continued striking Marija with the rod again and again as she screeched. Griping in pain, Liam supported himself with his hands and got up. “Stop!” He shouted, running towards Gordon. With a quick fist swing, Gordon struck Liam hard in the jaw. The boy lost his balance and collapsed to the ground again. Still determined, Liam charged forward a second time. Gordon swung the rod, knocking Liam off his feet a third time. Blood trickled down Liam’s face as he staggered to his feet, his wounds throbbing. The excruciating sensation of burning pins and knives coursed through his body. Through the pain and disorientation, Liam could vaguely make out a terrifying manifestation; the color of Gordon’s pupils was beginning to alter colors from gray into black, blue-tinted red, and a plethora of illusory shades and tones he had never seen before. No. It wasn’t real. The disorientation was causing him to visualize images that were not there.
Gordon stood tall and began laughing like a madman. “Son and daughter from my own flesh and blood. God damn you both!” Liam stared in horror as Gordon tossed aside the rod and drew out a long sharp knife. Raising it above his head, he trained it upon Marija’s throat. “Never again will you burden the people of our society and my house! You are not my flesh. You are worthless! To hell with you both.” This man couldn’t be his father. For the first time in his life, the man he had once called father was now threatening murder. Whatever was happening, he knew it had to be stopped. A whistle in the wind and a whispering voice inexplicably restored a vital amount of physical energy to Liam’s body, followed by a sharp command. “Up! Save her life. Extirpate the threat.” The transcendental experience lasted for but a second.
Channeling his hatred alongside this newfound energy into strength, Liam made one last desperate charge forward. Gordon’s mouth dropped as Liam managed to catch him off guard. Slamming into his thighs, Liam pushed Gordon off balance into a backward summersault down a small knoll leading into a neighbor’s yard. Recovering for a minute, Gordon partially rose to his knees before coughing up a mouthful of blood and collapsing to the ground. Liam staggered backward in shock at what he had just seen. The long knife’s handle jutted upwards as the red blade remained buried in Gordon’s chest. The last expression on Gordon’s face was one of horror and disbelief as the life slipped out of his eyes.
Liam climbed up the hill to meet Marija as she sat on a tree stump, crying hysterically. “It’s okay,” he said reassuringly. “It’s all over.” Liam held her in a total embrace before stealing one final glance over the hillside. Mrs. Jacevich emerged from her house to see her next-door neighbor’s lifeless body. She puckered up her lips and screamed before turning her frantic gaze towards Marija and Liam. “Help! Help! Murderers! Murderers!” The women cried out and pointed in their direction. Within seconds, neighbors were rushing to the scene. “Let’s get out of here!” Liam snapped. The siblings hastily fled into the woods hand in hand.
“Let’s rest first.” Suggested Marija. Knowing that they had been traveling by foot for hours, Liam nodded in agreement as he sat down on a nearby rock. “All right.” The two sat quietly for a moment watching the birds sing in the conifer trees. “Why did Mrs. Jacevich accuse us of murdering father?” Said Marija taking a breath. Liam wiped the sweat from his face before answering. “You know that Mrs. Jacevich is father’s biggest ally. They might have been having an affair. It’s her word against ours. We won’t stand a chance. Our country has no fair laws.” “Hello. I’m here. Follow my voice.” A message softly whispered through Liam’s mind. “Did you hear that?” Marija nodded in surprise. “Yes, I heard it too.” “Keep moving forward and go left.” A bit unnerved, Marija anxiously glanced at her brother. “Liam, I don’t think we should follow it.” “Wait.” He interrupted her. Listening attentively, Liam experienced a euphoric sensation manifesting in his mind and heart. “It’s telepathy. And I think it might have been the voice that helped me stop dad from killing you!” “What? No, Liam! This isn’t right!” Marija seized his arm in a panicked act of protest. Her brother gently but firmly took hold of her hand to lead the way. “Marijah. Please. You need to trust me on this. Would I ever lie to you?” Marija shook her head reluctantly as she followed her brother’s lead. “You’re almost there.” After circumventing a cluster of shrubs and spruce trees, they came upon a clearing. Directly in front of the siblings was a vast hillside complete with a paved road and five medium-sized houses interspersed along the roadside. Dirt pathways interloped between each home and the main throughway. The two looked on in sheer astonishment at such a scene. “I’ve never seen a paved road before,” Liam commented. A second later, the telepathic voice continued its instructions—”the fifth house along the road. You will find me there…”
A sizeable white home with a single gable and double-paned window rested atop the roof, which loomed over the approaching children. The yard was small but adequately spaced for a vegetable garden. The front porch railing was a contrasted yellow meringue. A thin, familiar blonde-haired woman smiled at them from the front porch. “Mom!” They both exclaimed in unison. Marija and Liam hurried into Sonja’s outstretched arms. Overcome with excitement, Liam began to ramble with a torrent of questions. “Is it really you? How is it possible? How did you reach us?” As Marija buried her face into her mother’s long wool dress, Sonja smiled. “You will find out soon enough h. In time, you will know. I am so overjoyed to see the two of you for the first time in years. You’ve both grown up so fast.” Between tears and laughter, mother and children continued their embrace. Sonja’s face felt saddened at seeing the bloody gashes and cuts on both Liam’s and Marija’s faces. “My God, what has Gordon done to you? Both of you come in.” Sonja ushered them both into the foyer. “You both need food and medical attention. Ladies first.” She said, taking Marija’s hand while guiding her into a small bathroom m. From the corner of his eye, Liam noticed the same grey-blueish-red tint he recalled seeing in Gordon’s eyes. Upon shifting his gaze to the floor, another sight caught his eyes – a small trail of black soot leading into the main bedroom, accompanied by the smell of mildew emanating across the hallway. Liam shook his head in disbelief. “This can’t be right,” He thought to himself f. It was typical to smell mildew, mold and rotted wood in a poorly maintained house. However, this home’s interior had no apparent signs of deteriorating organic matter.
Sonja and Marija stumbled out of the bathroom at a slow, methodical pace. Though Marija’s wounds had mysteriously vanished, her eyes were noticeably different – there appeared to be an absence of color in her once vibrant blue eyes. Everything about her seemed different. Her pupils began to fade from blue to gray, then dark black. Sonja’s eyes mimicked a similar pattern. She smiled and beckoned Liam to come forward. “It’s time we have a look at those scrapes and bruises on you.” Liam took a step back. “Who are you?” Sonja tilted her head slightly while responding in a calm tone. “Liam, it’s me. I’m here to help you. Are you all right?” He took another defiant step back. “No! I can see right through you, just like I started to with dad. Who are you?” Silence ensued as Sonja’s smile quickly faded into a disquieted expression. “Your eyes are different. Marija’s eyes are different. Who the hell are y u? What have you done to Marija?” Liam demanded once more. At this, Sonja’s voice shifted to a firmer tone.
“So now you see who I am. Unfortunate.” “Where’s my real mom?” Liam shouted. Sonja tilted her head once more. “She once lived here. She inherited the house from your dead aunt. But I have claimed her mind as my own. She and I are one, just as your sister shall be.” With a swift stroke of its hand, the being impersonating Sonja drove an incorporeal blackened hand through Marija’s head. A brilliant flash of light was immediately followed by Marija’s lifeless body crumpling to the floor, her eyes now pure white, without pupils, and devoid of color. Liam cried out in disbelief. “This can’t be real! You tricked us. It was a trap! You stole my mother and sister’s minds. You destroyed who they were!” “No.” The entity began. “They were absorbed. Did I not save you both from a torturous existence? The world will seek you out and destroy you, and I am the only one who can protect you from it. I cannot absorb you if you are deceased. Your mind must be whole so that I may consume it.” Liam took another step back to the front entrance door. “No,” He objected. “You must have been the cause of father’s madness. It all makes sense now. Maybe you were the affliction, the sickness. You destroyed my family.” “Your presumption is correct.” The entity interjected. “However, your parents invited me into their lives. They made a covenant so that they could improve their existence. Every time they relinquished an ounce of willpower, I became stronger. The world offers you no hope. The void is your refuge.”
Within seconds, Sonja’s human form disintegrated into ashen soot and mildew. A dark, amorphous mass emerged from her place. Within seconds, it fully enveloped Liam’s head, torso, and legs as he struggled and kicked with every fiber of his body. The boy’s desperate act of defiance was immediately countered by the entity’s overwhelming vigor and might, which facilitated an intoxicating atmosphere. Such an atmosphere offered no respite, a blinding trajectory devoid of light, and a suffocating preternatural aroma poised to extinguish even the sanest person’s consciousness. The entity had lured his parents into a false state of comfort and hope, only for these emotional beliefs to be extirpated upon the entity, revealing its true nature. In his final parting thoughts, Liam wondered how so many men and women throughout the world could be seduced by this entity’s deceptive promises, which lead only to a road of despair. The final question that perturbed him the most was how many more souls would unknowingly make a covenant with such an entity and thus satiate its appetite? Those who embrace its false promises have their fate sealed – In nihilum.
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