The day was slow, and every step Tobias took, every page he only half-read, every lesson he silently endured was as if somebody was nailing the day in place, stopping it from moving forwards.
Even the bell that signified the beginning of his lunch break seemed to take several seconds between each deafening blast of shrill metal screeching.
The small gathering of trees at the back of the playground seemed more intimidating than Tobias had ever imagined it could. Each tree morphed into the unidentified Dark man, his arms outstretched to grasp his next victim, Danielle quivering behind him, filled with shame at having told him the location of her Gifted friend. His mind was playing up. Everything seemed so slow and painful.
As he blinked back the horrors of his own imagination, the trees around Tobias snapped back to their original form, and the other children became visible playing and screaming amongst them. Pressing his back against the usual – and softest – tree, Tobias opened his book without looking at it, and glanced down at it only when he had tricked himself into turning the page. He tried not to worry that the Dark man could be waiting just around the corner, but the thoughts were clear in his mind. There was nothing Tobias could do to escape. Even though Tobias was surrounded by responsible adults who would try to protect him, who were trained to keep him safe, Tobias found it hard to deny the likelihood that the Dark man would cut them all down where they stood if they tried to stop him. He had done the same to the man in the paper, and had tried and fortunately failed to kill Danielle.
Fortunately, was that really the right word?
Danielle had survived the Dark man’s first attack on her, fortunately. And yet if she had died, like the Dark man had wanted her to, Tobias would have never met her, and she would now not be a pawn in the Dark man’s sick game of hide and seek. Fortunately, Danielle had survived, and now her life, Tobias’ own life, and the lives of every other Gifted individual was now in danger.
Something knocked him out of his imagination. Something nearby made a sound.
A scream, a shout, a cry. Echoing from somewhere, but nowhere in particular, a scream. From a male, so it sounded. The noise was certainly too gruff to be a female.
The other children around Tobias did not seem to even notice the sound, but it cut right through Tobias, as he knew that it was too deep to come from another child.
The Dark approaches.
The Voices, with their stage-direction kind of commentary. A surge of horror spread quickly through Tobias, and he felt his stomach drop. The Voices repeated themselves, as if telling Tobias to run.
The Dark approaches.
There was no emotion in the first, and yet now, Tobias could sense a tone of desperation. The Voices were not only worried for their host, but also for themselves. If Tobias was taken or killed by the Dark man, then they too would surely perish. The Voices could not survive without a host, and as far as Tobias was aware, they could not jump freely from body to body.
They had obviously had faith in Tobias when they had first found him. Maybe that’s why they left it so late. As a young child, they knew that he was unlikely to put up much of a fight towards them. They had been wrong, and because of his fear of the Voices, and his disregard for their orders, he was going to die.
The Dark approaches.
Tobias let the fear of death pass. He could not act suspiciously in front of all the people around him. If he appeared afraid, the teachers would be concerned, and if they saw the Dark man, they would try to protect Tobias and the other children, resulting in slaughter of everybody.
Tobias had never thought of himself as a selfless person. Certainly not selfish, but in no way prepared to dive in front of a spray of bullets to save a kitten. Apparently, however, he was more likely to accompany the Dark man to his death than to try and hide, resulting in the death of those around him.
Now he found himself standing up, his book resting on the ground, the light breeze blowing its pages around, losing Tobias’ place in the story.
Through the trees - which were thin, and yet acted as a good hiding place – Tobias heard another scream, a wail, more like. He knew exactly what was making the sound. Who was making the sound. What was making the sound. The Dark man was in no way a man, more of a monster. A monster who didn’t care who or how many he had to kill, as long as he quenched his thirst for the end of the Gifted. There was no apparent reason for it. Just a madman on a rampage.
Passing through the trees, the amount of playing children slowly dwindled, and in front of Tobias was a small fence, easy to climb over. On the other side was a garden. Overgrown, and the perfect accompaniment to a council house, many of which were scattered around the area. Among the overgrown grass, which indicated that the owners of the house were either away permanently or simply not very proud homeowners, lay something. Something.
The Dark is present.
The scream produced itself from the writhing creature in the long grass. Squirming uncomfortably on his back, covering his ears, dirty clothes covering the skinny torso of what appeared to be a man.
The scream trailed off, and the man stopped thrashing for a moment, before taking several quick and shallow breaths. Rising slowly to his feet, Tobias didn’t recognise the man, but the ominous glare in his eyes, coupled with the Voices’ confirmation provided all the evidence that Tobias felt necessary.