Konrad Selivanov could not tell dreaming from waking. Bound now in perpetual sleep, never certain of his own consciousness, the sensation of falling might have been either memory or nightmare. Likewise the pain, dulled somewhat by the drugs being pumped into his veins, remained constant in both. He heard voices and sounds, all alien, smelled antiseptics and smoke. The harshness of the concrete beneath him alternated with the softness of a mattress. Selivanov understood that he had survived the fall, that his body lay shattered, broken and useless in a hospital bed, and that his eyes were gone.
“Miracle he’s alive,” one of the voices said, perhaps a doctor.
“Never walk again,” another replied.
Selivanov wanted so much to speak himself, but a tube had been forced down his
throat. Unable to move or make any sound, he could not make them understand what he had seen, warn them of what he knew.
Selivanov could not even scream when the Darkness came for him.
He must be dreaming now, he reasoned, to see in his mind so clearly the image that came to him. As if he looked up from where he lay on his back, a form descended towards him, stopping to hover a few inches from his face, a phosphorescent mist without discernible shape. This then changed, and what appeared to be a man stood at his bedside, outlined by the glowing mist. A figure all in black, a three-dimensional shadow, a ghost composed of old motor oil. Though it had no face or eyes, Selivanov knew that the thing looked at him. Terror gnawed at his insides. He wanted to run, to scream, to pray, to die, to escape in any way the presence before him. Never in his life had Selivanov conceived that such fear, such revulsion could be possible, such an undeniable sense of malice and hatred. Of evil.
The figure spoke. “Little thing, I have use of you,” he said. No. Not “he.” Certainly that voice—the buzzing on ten billion flies somehow shaped into words—could come from nothing close to human. *It* spoke, calm and patient, though Selivanov knew the voice resounded only in his mind.
“Get away from me!” Selivanov heard his own voice screaming.
“There is no reason to be afraid, little thing.”
“I have chosen you.” The glowing haze shimmered and the spectral form changed.
Selivanov now saw himself, dressed in his favorite suit, smiling his most polite smile. But this reflection of himself had no eyes. It stared at him with two raw, bleeding, gaping sockets, tiny black tunnels drawing Selivanov into bottomless insanity.
“No! Leave me alone!”
“Do you not understand, little thing?” The image altered, though the voice remained unchanged. Selivanov saw before him a beautiful woman, her naked flesh lustrous and perfect, save for her missing eyes. The warm smell of female arousal filled Selivanov’s nostrils, the voice caressing him. “I offer you My favor.”
“No!” Selivanov shrieked.
The woman changed, her features becoming recognizable.
Selivanov gasped. “Lorraine?”
But Lorraine had no eyes.
“I can give you that which you most desire.” Lorraine’s voice said. She hugged herself, covering herself, self-conscious. Lorraine had always been shy.
“You’re not my wife! My wife is dead!”
“What is this ‘death’ to Me, little thing?” Lorraine vanished, leaving in her place the faceless phantom, her voice again a cacophony of flies. “I existed before the coming into being of that which you refer to as Reality. Before that void of nothingness was filled with galaxies and worlds, order and time—before the beginnings of wretched life—I alone have been and ever shall be. I am eternal and always.”
“But why are you doing this to me? What do you want?”
“You alone have perceived Me as I am, little thing. You alone have the knowledge best to serve Me.”
“I don’t understand,” Selivanov said.
“I have been trespassed against, little thing. That which belonged to Me was stolen away. The mere existence of your world is an affront to Me, one that I will not tolerate. You will offer it to Me as a sacrifice.”
“You have no choice, little thing. The destruction of your world is a certainty. You can but serve to expedite that which is inevitable. Do this, and you alone I will spare. You, and perhaps Lorraine.”
“Lorraine?” Selivanov’s unspoken voice shrank to a whisper.
“You know what to do, little thing.”
“You will serve Me.”
“You are Mine.”
“I can’t! I can’t!”
And then Selivanov was alone again.
He became aware of other sensations: the mattress beneath him, the tube in his throat, the bleached intake of oxygen. He heard voices, not in his head this time. Human voices, the voices of men and women. Doctors and nurses.
“Blood pressure’s coming down and heart rate’s leveling off.”
“Looks like he’s going to make it.”
“Close there for a minute.”
“Almost lost him.”
They don’t know! Selivanov realized. *It* had been so near, so near, and they didn’t
know. They didn’t know about any of it. How could they? If Selivanov had been able, he would have wept for them. For himself.
For the Earth.