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The Mire was slowly but steadily consuming Samuel. Lost for… days… He couldn’t rightly remember how many had passed. The last can of dog food was gone, and Samuel’s mistake of resorting to drinking from the water of the Mire was felt not just in the twist of his insides, but in his mind. Samuel could hear… whispers. Small, soft voices that slithered into his head, just below his ability to make out what they were saying, but enough to know that they wanted him to stop. To rest. To just sit down and close his eyes.


The evidence was all around him: the remains of those who surrendered to the siren-song were caught with the twist of that accursed red vine. It was… everywhere. Samuel couldn’t escape the red vine’s promise of eventual sweet consumption, even when he sought refuge in the ruins of a building. Whatever it was, Samuel felt certain that it was more than just a passing mutation of a creeper-vine from the old world.


No, this crimson plant was an extension of something sentient--something that seemed to breathe slowly in and out as the Mire moved each day into night and back again. It was old, as if the passing horrors of fairytales now had some initial, physical form. The danger was when he stopped moving. When the body stopped to seek a few mere minutes of respite, the vine seemed drawn to the body, creeping its way towards the promise of warm flesh and blood that dared to enter the Mire.


Samuel had to keep moving. He had to keep walking. But it was hard. So hard. And if the vines weren’t going to kill him, the creatures of the Mire certainly would. Shuffling forward, one foot in front of another, Samuel looked down at the revolver in his hand. A small bark of a laugh bubbled out, breaking swiftly into a single moan that marked the fracturing of his mind. It was all he had left, a bloody revolver. Six shots. No. Five, he corrected himself, one was already spent on a lone mongrel. Five shots and not an end to the Mire in sight. If he kept walking, focusing on using a straight line, Samuel rationalized that the Mire would eventually give way to another terrain. Anything was preferable to the Mire at this point.


Hauling himself up a bit of broken land, Samuel came to a jarring halt as the ruins of a small shack leaned-to in front of him. “No,” he whispered, stumbling forward with wide eyes. “No,” he said again, as the evidence of his own footprints circling back and forth around the shack was revealed. How many times had he already passed by this place? How many times had his feet unknowingly brought him back to this very place? How many times had he collapsed in this very shack, believing it to be new, desperate for rest while the strangler vines crept ever closer?


“God, no,” he said, his voice a broken sound of a soul resigned to the void. Stumbling a few paces away from the shack, Samuel dropped down, his back to a boulder where the first tendrils of a new strangler shoot were growing against the stone. Pulling out the revolver, the man balanced it upon the flat of his hand. He was so tired… maybe if he just closed his eyes, he could clear his head long enough to escape. Samuel’s head tipped back, resting against the boulder, and his eyelids became far too heavy to fight.


With dreams of crimson relief clouding his mind, the soft rumble of the earth beneath Samuel was not registered immediately. But the hurried insistence of the shaking ground and clank of metal was enough to jar the man into a state of semi-awareness. With a nightmarish horror that could not help him move, Samuel saw nothing but the red vines of the Mire doing exactly what they promised. Vines snaked up his legs, wrapped in their crimson grip as the sunset cast sharp rays through the canopy. A thick wrap of twisted crimson circled his waist, holding him in place. He could feel the pulse of the strangler vine against his temples as the tendrils crawled down his face.


Unable to move his head because of the shackling force of the red vines, Samuel was only able to track the movements in front of him. A figure… it was running towards him. Fear filled Samuel, a primordial sense of caution that wanted him to defend himself. Raising his right arm, Samuel dimly noted the elegant curve and swoop of thin red vines snaking down his arm as puppet strings that pulled his limb into a motion he could not control.


The revolver was aimed at the figure as it drew closer and the shot that should’ve deafened Samuel only sounded faint and far in his ears. Two more shots were fired, and the figure merely jolted as the ring of metal chased the revolver’s explosion. Closer now, Samuel could make out that it was power armor and it was moving pointedly in his direction. The revolver fired again and Samuel swiveled his attention to regard his hand as if it belonged to someone else. Why was he firing at someone who could help him?


He wanted to call out for help, wanted to cry out his apology, but all that happened was the final blast from the revolver aimed in shakey fashion at the power-armored individual. The click-click-click of three empty pulls of the trigger followed, marking Samuel’s inability to truly control his own actions.


“I’ve got another one, sir,” the mechanized voice of the suited figure called out. His announcement was echoed back by another voice, distant and affirming. He was not alone. Bending down to peer at Samuel with the brilliance of his headlamp, the stranger sighed behind the dense protection of the helmet and said, “Looks like just in time.” The revolver in Samuel’s hand was pointed at the chest piece of the power armor and still going click-click-click as his finger mechanically pulled the trigger of the empty weapon over and over.


“Help me… please,” Samuel rasped, his jaw aching with the movement as the crimson vines fought against his flesh.


“Don’t worry, you’re safe now,” the mechanized voice said before he reached to the side of Samuel and yanked at the strangler vine that crossed over Samuel’s chest and anchored him to the rock. “We’ll get you back to the doc, he’ll get you right as rain. Just hold still.”

Samuel, unable to do anything other than exactly that as the vines were pulled slowly and steadily from his body, tipped his head forward and wept.

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