An excerpt from Nightmare Express
Jude sat against the trunk of the dried-up disfigured tree. The gnarled interwoven branches seemed to be drawing in on themselves while appearing to reach out and ensnare you in its life sucking embrace. The dead tree stood at the peak of a sandy ridge. From where Jude sat, he could look out over the wasted barren land. What vegetation, or what passed as vegetation here, was like the tree he now leaned against. Everything was dark, foreboding, disfigured, and showed no sign of life.
Overhead the sky was filled with angry deep purple and grey clouds that appeared to be at war with one another. Each one shot out streaks of lightening that seemed to be deliberately aimed at the clouds around them as if each was trying to take control of the shadowy expanse overhead. The heavy hot air generated by this constant battle created a skin scorching heat that blew dust devils around everywhere you looked. The dull black sand that was swept up in the heat and wind was driven into swirls managed to add to the uninhabitable appearance of the place. No rain fell here, there was no water, no moisture at all. This place was dryer than any desert on any map in another place.
There was existence here, but you couldn’t call it life, at least not the type of life that would every make someone feel warm and fuzzy toward it. The things that lived here were as dark and ugly as this land itself. The creatures here were the things of nightmares for living breathing humans. They were as malformed and dark as the vegetation. He watched as a black slithering form reared back and struck at his prey and succeeded in catching the small creeping creature that had tried to escape its unending demise. He thought about how he almost felt sorry for the little monster that had just been devoured by the larger predator because he knew the damn thing would be back tomorrow. In a bit the larger creature would also be taken by an even larger predator and this would continue throughout the day. It was an endless succession of one creature after the other inflicting pain on something smaller. In this dark land the only things roaming here were the shadows of what once was and now only existed in this land of shadows born of nightmares. No, there was no life here. These abominable beings would be tormented day after day and there would be no end to this torment that would be repeated over and over.
Jude sat there watching the workings in the expanse before him and contemplated what his next move would be. If he decided to go rogue, he knew what the ultimate consequences of his actions would lead to. The trick for them was for them to find him and he had learned and learned well how to stay hidden.
His mind began to wonder to other things. He could be walking in places that were green and lush. Places where there was water and live trees, where thing were beautiful and alive. Hell, if he wanted, he could be walking on the top of a mountain that was clothed in a shimmering gown of pristine white that sparkled and glittered in the reflective rays of the sun that beat down on it. He could be looking out over someplace where the temperature would burn the flesh of a skin and bone being with a mind-numbing blast of cold polar air.
Jude’s attention was drawn back to the place where he now rested against that hideous excuse of a tree as a dust devil came close enough that the little bits of lava hot sand pelted his skin. He didn’t have to look down to survey the damage because he knew there wouldn’t be any. Oh, he felt the pain from the little beads of incendiary grains, he felt them to the bone, but no damage would be done. No, he couldn’t be damaged, but he could feel pain and oh had he felt pain ever since his transition.
He stood up and winced as he did. The pain was still there but not as bad as it had been and soon it would only be a distant murky memory. Jude looked back over his shoulder to more of the same as what was in front of him. The clouds continued their battles overhead while the dust devils spun along their routes twisting and turning and sometimes intertwining with one another, swelling up then breaking apart to resume their random staggering paths.
Turning back in the direction he had been focused on before he again leaned back against the tree. He hadn’t yet stepped so far over the edge that he might not get out of it, but he needed to make up his mind. Deep down inside he knew that he couldn’t continue this existence. The constant moving from one place to the other and never connecting to anyone except in that one moment at the end of another’s life. That moment when everything that had gone before only mattered in determining where you went next.
There was an exceptionally loud roar of thunder and he jerked to attention thinking he might have been found but remembered they were blind to him right now. It would have been hard for them to detect him in this place even if he wasn’t off the grid. Right now, unless he allowed it, they couldn’t see him anywhere he went. When they had come to him and told him he would no longer be a collector and would from that point on be a tracker he had tried to refuse. Of course, in this like in all things, for longer than he cared to think about, he hadn’t had any say in what he did or what happened. It finally was more than his mind could process. More than he could handle. More than his damaged, twisted, blackened soul could endure.
Now he was thinking about becoming that which he had been tapped to track. Others like him who had found they could no longer follow meekly and continue to be tied to those who controlled their existence. He had known they existed, but he had never known they could go so dark, so terrifying even to another reaper. He couldn’t do this anymore. He would, like them, no longer be bound by the tethers of his sins and a contract he had never wanted to enter into.
He like the others would take what he wanted and bring about as much chaos as he possibly could. He would leave a path of destruction that the Powers That Be would never recover from. He would no longer collect from their list, any list, but his own. Only he would have no list. The difference between him and the others who had gone before him was he would do it just for the sake of destruction. His would be to let things out that would affect the world in such a way that living beings could and would no longer be blind to the evil that existed. The people of the living world would no longer go blindly through their lives in ignorance.
Jude again looked out at this plane that existed between two others. They had made him a reaper of reapers and he would show them what a reaper was capable of.
He was death and now he was rogue.