The sky is nothing but layers upon layers of heavy dark clouds and thick fog. No light ever shines upon the land. In the bleak, endless valley, everything is shades of grey and black. Cold and dampness are the norm. The twisted silhouettes of dead trees stand out against the mist, their skeleton branches inky streaks across the charcoal skies. Above the forest, flying vultures circle relentlessly, tenebrous, threatening shapes. Their shrieks echo from time to time, and on the ground, the roars of unseen, unnameable monsters respond. The only constant sound is the pernicious pitter-patter of the never-ending rain. Beneath the leaden sky and the hateful cackles of the vultures, between the dead trees where bloodthirsty monsters roam, a large mud river slithers through the grim valley. The endless rain makes it a challenge to get dry, and the dark, stinky muck covers every inch of the ground beneath the trees. Where a broad ravine cuts the forest in two, the mud is deeper, heavier.
Down the gorge, where it is easier to wade through, a faint form moves. From afar, it looks human, with a head, a torso and four limbs. A thick armour of sludge covers it, making it impossible to discern its skin or its features, only that it is horribly gaunt, all pointy bones. Sometimes, the pitiful creature raises its head as it crawls its way through the mud, and behind the filth coating its face, incredibly green eyes stare back at the nightmarish land, eyes shining with implacable determination, a primal, instinctive will to live. It is the only emotion it ever expresses, the only thing that makes the creature more than just a sack of bones, a lifeless meat suit that even Death can’t stop.
Heavy limb after heavy limb, shattered breath after shattered breath, the crouching creature goes on and on, slowly, painfully slowly, always moving forward , but where to? For the landscape never changes. Once, long ago, in another life, in another time, when there were still rays of sun shining upon the valley, when the mud river was a soft stream of clear water, when the trees were green and tall, the creature had a name, it had a heart, light in its eyes and people who cared about it. Then came the deafening thunders, the blinding light, the raging tornado, and the world turned grey and dead. The creature does not remember this time; it does not remember anything from before the darkness. Its vague memories of tender smiles and gentle hands are fleeting images that pop up in its brain when it gets a little respite from the cold and the dirt, a dying dream of the possibility of something beyond the darkness. However, the creature does not have the strength to ponder on that thought for more than an ephemeral second. Only one directive exists in its mind: keep moving. This is the prime directive, the only reason to be it knows. No matter how tired it feels or how hard it gets to drag its loaded body through the slimy dark matter, it cannot stop even for one moment.
The creature does not remember the last time it ate or slept, it only remembers moving forward. Beyond the lines of twisted dead trees, on the rare occasions it lifts up its head, it can see uncanny eyes feasting on itself. Tiny incandescent specks, red and yellow and sometimes blacker than the skies, watching it with ravenous hunger, deep savagery, a rage that cannot be extinguished. On these occasions, the creature remembers all of a sudden why it cannot stop. It remembers the only time – so long ago it now feels like a dream – that it was so tired and desperate that it slowed down, slowed enough for the monsters to lunge at it. Remembers the unbearable pain, the agony that tore up its body, the screams. Remembers the terrible and seemingly endless fight, the feeling of being eaten alive and simultaneously drowned in the mud, the darkness that started to overcome everything. After it escaped by diving into the deepest part of the mud river, fire burning in its veins and its lungs collapsing on themselves, the only feeling left was tiredness. The creature does not know it, but it was at that time it lost its last sense of self, its last shred of consciousness. Exhaustion took root in its very bones and the new directive became printed in letters of fire and blood in its brain: never stop; keep moving.
The creature knows nothing but exhaustion, pain and the prime directive. It is empty of all other feelings and thoughts, but it does not know it. It has no conscience of what it used to be, where it comes from, what is at the end of the gorge or if there is even an end. But it knows, like it knows it has to breathe, that it cannot stop, that it has to keep crawling, inch by inch, through the dark, the cold, the mist and the muck.
The vultures keep circling up there in the fogged sky, and their occasional shrieks escort the sluggish progression of the creature. At times, those piercing screeches of hunger and rage sound like… like words. The creature does not comprehend the concept of words, does not fathom anything else but the threat of the cries. And yet, when the mist is at its thinnest, when the creature raises its head just for a short moment, it can almost grasp at a meaning. It can almost make out words of encouragement. Of endearment. Of comfort. Concepts that the creature forgets as soon as they reach its brain, nonetheless concepts that have a lingering effect on its organism. Each time, even though it does not recall the previous occurrences, the creature is filled with renewed strength, allowing it to dig up its way faster.
There is no real sensation of time here, wherever here is; no day and no night. It is always the same charcoal fog covering everything. Still, the creature knows, without knowing it consciously, that it has been crawling for a very long time, maybe even since the dawn of time itself. Occasionally, when it is dragging up its tired body under the icy rain, a thought nearly overrides the directive, almost gives back a sense of self to the creature: it will get somewhere, there is an end. The thought brings hope with it, a sensation that, like all the others, never lasts – on the surface anyway. Inside, on a level that the creature has no conscience of – for if it has something close to conscience it is only about the directive – the images of the time before the thunder, the hope that there is something beyond the ravine, the momentary awareness, fuel its muscles and its heart. Without these flashes of consciousness, the creature would have given up long ago, would have left the vultures and the monsters rip apart its flesh. All alone in the cold and the constant darkness, in the thick mud river between the skeleton trees, the vultures a constant threat above its head and the monsters waiting for the smallest moment of weakness to prey upon it, the creature keeps moving forward, never giving up, never giving in, relentlessly stubborn and determined to live. It will get somewhere. It will get out.