As he sprinted through the city, Nathan's lungs were filled with the dense fog that had filled the air. His pursuer was fast, probably quicker than he was, but he knew his tactics couldn't be beat. Evading him was about more than just speed. Nathan knew that if he could find a small place to hide, he'd come out of this alive. Once he finds that place, the rest was up to his own patience.
The city was bare. Nathan found it odd seeing it like this, as it's normally so crowded. But then again, this wasn't his city. This wasn't the place he grew up in. The city was in ruins. It wasn't even habitable anymore. Walls were crumbling along the streets, cars were crushed underneath the rubble. His own house wasn't any better. Of course, he wasn't there when it happened, but if he had to make an assumption, the gas station neighboring it exploded. The blast was likely enough to take down the entire three-story apartment.
And, of course, that was his first idea when it came to a hiding spot, but his house was uninhabitable. Now, he was running out of time. And in this realm, time was precious. His enemy was catching up quickly. If he was caught, everything would be lost.
So he continued to sprint for his life down the barren roads of the demonic city, until finally, something showed up in the peripherals of his vision. An alleyway. It would be a squeeze to fit in there, but it may be just enough to escape. At this point, he was willing to try anything. He made a quick move for the alleyway, and squeezed himself through just in time to watch his pursuer sprint by. He should be safe now. Besides, there was only about a half an hour left.
A few minutes went by. Nathan's muscles were already becoming sore from the cramped alleyway. But what was really bothering him was the headache he had endured since the beginning of the contest. It seemed to get worse and worse as he progressed. Now, it felt as though an axe had just been driven into his skull. He couldn't take it, and finally, he screamed.
As he screamed, his eyes became blurry. Everything around him seemed to be drowned out by the images flashing before his eyes. There was a car, and he heard some soft music, then a fire. Was the car on fire? And then, a gruesome picture of a person, then two others. He screamed again.
Finally, he came out of his trance. His breath was heavy, his face was hot, and as he reached up to wipe the sweat off of his face, he realized his nose was bleeding, too. But it didn't take him long to realize that his bloody nose was the least of his problems.
"Well there you are," Nathan heard from behind him. He recognized the deep voice, how calm, yet terrifying it was. But how? How could he have found him?
When Nathan turned, he shuddered at the sight of Death. His face was sickly pale, and his eyes were a deep, blood red. He wore a cloak that draped over his entire body, and he had marks on his face that looked as if they were written in blood.
"Why don't you make it easy for me, and just sit still for a second?" Death laughingly proposed.
After the trials Nathan had been through, Death's proposal didn't sound too bad. But there was more than just his life at stake, and no sooner were the words out of Death's mouth than Nathan was up and running out of the alleyway and back on the main road. He looked back, and Death was nowhere to be seen, but words were echoing throughout his mind.
"There is no escape," he heard repetitively.
Dammit, where is he? Nathan kept thinking to himself. He took every turn he could, climbed every obstacle in a desperate attempt to shake his pursuer. But it was no use, Death words continued to rebound off the barriers of his mind. Why did I get involved in this? He asked himself.
Suddenly, he felt like he was struck in the back of the head, and he stumbled. But there was no one there. Yet the pounding inside his brain continued, and his vision soon became blurry again as more images flashed past his eyes. A gun, trees, a hand grabbing the gun. It looked like a forest. But, the sky was gray, almost black, and the trees weren't green. They were a brown, mulchy color that sort of melted into the ground. It was so dark. Finally, there was a picture of himself. But, Nathan didn't have the time to analyze this, as the unbearable pain caused him to pass out.
He awoke surrounded by people. There had to be at least a hundred there. After looking around carefully, he noticed that they were in the city square. A figure approached a podium in the center. As the figure passed by, people were passing out, gagging, retching. Once the figure stood up on his podium, Nathan saw who it was. It was Death.
"You are probably all confused on why you are all here," Death announced. "You all have one thing in common: you are all dead."
The people around Nathan became concerned, but he didn't. Of course, he knew what had happened. He remembered holding the revolver to his own head, making sure to be deep enough in the woods that no one would find him. He took one last look at the horrible world around him before shooting, and he didn't regret his decision at all.
"But," Death continued,"you have all died before your time on Earth was over. Therefore, you are going to be participating in a game. The rules are simple: outrun me for twenty-four hours. Survivors will be given their lives back, and anyone who is caught, will simply die."
"Use any means necessary," he added.
Nathan woke up back on the street, still rattled by the flashback that had just occurred. He blinked his eyes a few times to clear his vision, and soon, Death appeared in front of him.
"I told you, no one can escape," he said. Nathan backed up. There was still ten minutes left, and he didn't know how long he could keep this up. But he had to remember: there was more than just his life at stake. He turned and started to sprint back down the street; he had hit his second wind. But, it wasn't going to last long. If he wanted to do this, he had to do it now. Luckily, he hadn't strayed to far from his house...
Death chased him over to a ruined apartment building. The kid was nowhere to be seen, but there was a dark alley next to the old house. You've played the game well, my friend, Death thought, but now it shall end.
Five minutes left, and Nathan was backed against the wall of the dead end alleyway. Everything he's worked for came down to this one moment. It all depends on whether or not Death turns the corner. But soon, the familiar headache struck.
Dammit, no! NOT NOW! He thought, but it was out of his control. Everything went blurry, and soon the pictures showed themselves. This time, there was a hospital, and he was there, and there was someone else. She looked pale. Her hair was falling out, and her eyes were dull. Nathan realized that this woman in the hospital was his mother.
He came out of his trance, his fists were clenched, his face was red. He was sweating profusely, and his nose had started bleeding again. Everything in his heart and mind turned to anger. He was unable to settle the inferno that rose in his eyes.
Death turned the corner.
Nathan watched with pleasure as his plan unfolded. The chains caught Death, and clasped around his appendages. They tightened up, and Death was soon made his prisoner.
"What the hell have you done?" Death shouted.
"You b*****d!" Nathan screamed back as he rose his foot to meet the side of Death's face.
"This...this is my game now," he said as he watched Death slip into unconsciousness.
Nathan watched as Death awoke about five minutes later. It took him a while to figure out where he was, and what had just happened. But as soon as he did, he started struggling, trying to pull the chains out of the walls.
"Don't hurt yourself," Nathan said.
"Do you have any idea what you are doing?" Death shouted. "Do you know what kind of peril you are putting the world in right now?"
"Of course I do," Nathan said calmly. "With Death captured, no one can die. The old, sick, and wounded will all suffer. People can't eat meat, because animals can't be killed for food. Yet they won't starve to death, because Death isn't there to give them the luxury of his presence. In the end, all mankind will go crazy. And when you escape, if you escape, they will all die. Until then, they will suffer."
How does he know so much about the afterlife? Death thought.
"What about your family and friends?" Death asked, "Are you going to let them suffer too?"
The question hit Nathan hard. What family? What friends? They had all left him. He walked away from the situation for a second, just to think about everything that went on before. Finally, he came back.
"I'd like to make a bargain with you," he said softly.
"What kind of bargain?" Death asked.
"It's my mother. You see, she's been in the hospital for a while now. She has cancer. It's a tumor in her brain. The cancer was left too long, and the doctors said they couldn't do anything to stop it. She's been through chemotherapy and all, but I know that eventually, she will die," Nathan broke down. "I will release you, and the world, if you spare her life."
Death was still confused, something still didn't add up.
"How'd you know about the game?" Death asked. "In order to conduct a plan this elaborate, you would have needed to know about the game prior to your own death."
"There was only one person who had ever won the game," Nathan said as he slowly pulled himself together.
"How'd you..." Death started.
"I had been doing research on my mother's condition," Nathan interjected, "and came across a blog. The man claimed that he had been hit by a bus while riding his bike, but said that he was given a second chance by playing some demented game, where the goal is to evade Death for twenty four hours. Many people thought he was crazy, but I knew that it may have been my only option left."
"It makes sense now," Death realized. "You killed yourself knowing that I would give you a second chance. That way, you could play the game, set your trap, and make your deal."
"Exactly," he responded.
"But what if you were wrong?" Death had to ask. "What if he was crazy? Weren't you afraid that you'd actually die?" His voice had become quieter, and softer. Was Death showing him sympathy?
"If this plan didn't work," Nathan said in a grave tone, "I would have had nothing to live for anyway."
Death pressed on, "But why do you view the world this way. Why is it so evil in your eyes?" Nathan felt it. The headache was coming back. His vision blurred, and soon he was lost in his own flashback.
In it, there was a car. Nathan's father was driving, and he and his two best friends were sitting in the back. Soon, the side of the van caved in, and the van started rolling. Everything from then on in the flashback was blurry. But Nathan wasn't surprised. It wasn't that clear when it was happening in the first place. There was a flame. And slowly, it grew. He felt his arms burning, and his skin melting to his clothes. But someone pulled him out, and as he was being put on the stretcher, he saw the car explode. Then everything went black before his vision was restored.
Nathan felt nauseous as he exited the flashback. He tried to talk, but couldn't. Recalling that memory was just too much.
"Don't strain yourself," Death said. "I saw. It wasn't their time to die either."
"Wait...but....but that means that...that they..."Nathan started.
"They played the game too," Death finished for him. "I remember perfectly. They stuck together. They risked their lives to save one another. And even when their failure was imminent, they didn't give up. They had your persistence. In the end, they survived twenty three hours, forty eight minutes, and ten seconds."
"Why then? Why did you take them if you knew it wasn't their time?" Nathan asked angrily. But the answer he got was simpler than he expected.
"I had to, it's my job," Death explained regretfully. It finally made sense. Nathan realized that Death was no more than an employee. Though he has the power to take lives, he doesn't decide who to take them from. But if he doesn't, then who does?
Nathan understood, though, what Death was soon going to say.
"I cannot save your mother, it is not within my power," he said. "And when she dies, she will not be given a second chance. Her time on Earth is up."
"I understand," Nathan said. He started choking up again. Neither of them said anything for a while. But eventually, Nathan released Death from the shackles, but still, they stood silently, just thinking about everything they just went through.
Death finally broke the silence,"You have survived the twenty four hours. Therefore, you are granted your life back." He reached out his hand and touched Nathan's shoulder. A glow emanated from his finger, and Nathan soon disappeared from the realm and back into the real world. But he heard something as he faded:
"The final decision is up to you."
Nathan awoke in the woods that he walked out to twenty four hours earlier. He saw the gun laying next to his right hand. Slowly, he raised it to his temple. But, as he was about to pull the trigger, he realized something. The sky was differant. His world had color. The trees were greener, the sky was a light blue with no clouds in sight. It was a beautiful day, something he hadn't thought in a long time. He lowered the gun, and walked back onto a path that ran through the woods. He noticed the people all seemed happier and friendlier than he remembered. He followed the path to a lake, and walked around it so that he could be alone. Finally, he stood on the edge and looked out onto the blue-green waters and saw how bright the sun was as it reflected off.
But suddenly, a sharp pain ran through his chest, and a headache came. His vision blurred, but he didn't see anything other than a red spark flash in front of his eyes. Then he realized that his mom was dead.
He took another look at the gun and remembered what Death had said:
"The final decision is up to you"
So, he raised the gun in his right hand, and threw it as hard as he could into the lake, and walked away, back to his old house, because he knew that's what his mother would have wanted him to do.
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