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Curled up beneath the sink, Derrick tried to be as still as possible as the screaming ripped its way down the corridor. He tried to warn Henry, told him that it was insanity to try and make it out. They were safest in their cells--an irony that Derrick failed to appreciate. Out there, shuffling in the dimming light of a prison that was slowly, methodically breaking down, were the remnants of humanity skittering about. Or something more. Something else.


He could hear it, sometimes whispering on the edge of his consciousness, enticing him. The voice, neither male nor female, wanted them all free, all of them out of their cells… And the first few, well… Derrick witnessed their demise. The fog that ran thick in the penitentiary wasn’t natural. It was filled with the stink of rotting flesh and the slow, inevitable sting of radiation. It was invading. A presence that hung in the prison and slowly, inevitably, was creeping into the tiny, hidden places. Even now, huddled as he was, Derrick could feel the fog within his lungs, tiny cords of corruption pulling them from his chest one burned-nerve fiber at a time.


Those first few attempts revealed the initial truth of the fog. It was hunger. Consumption without cessation. It fed off flesh and fear. When he closed his eyes, Derrick could see them, his cellmates, broken lumps of man-meat dragged down the corridors by the endless shuffle of insatiable hunger, the blood and filth of the corridors turning every thump-and-step into a wet-slick sound of encroaching terror.


It was everywhere. The fog held the penitentiary in the grip of madness born of prey and predator and fueled by the bittersweet stink of fear and flesh.


The screaming was distant now, an echo that rattled bone-like in Derrick’s head, and held no true place in the physical world. He could hear his own breathing, unsteady and swimming with the furious pounding of his heartbeat. Henry was gone. He gambled on an opportunity, a window to freedom, and the fog had toyed with him. It allowed Henry a glimpse of the beyond, of the possibility for release, for the meat of irrational hope was the sweetest drop upon the tongue.


Derrick knew it. He could taste that desperation in the air as Henry spoke through the cracks in the wall between their cells. It slithered into Derrick’s mind and he could only distantly hear Henry’s quiet voice as the bleating of some broken weakness. The cells were safe. The cells were home. The cells were where they should remain. He tried to explain that, to convince Henry to stay… that the fog somehow could not slip past the bars that kept them within. To leave was weakness. To escape was unforgivable.


Left alone now, with the phantom taste of Henry’s hope and fear in his mouth, Derrick slowly uncurled from beneath the sink. Debris and filth in the cell scraped beneath his unsteady form, the shuffle of his own feet growing in harmony with the lure of the veiled movements within the fog. Drawing closer to the bars of his cell, Derrick raised his hands to grip at the iron barrier deemed to be his only salvation from the swallowing siren-song of his humanity. With his breath misting into the fog-thickened air, Derrick put his face close to the bars in an effort to strive for some visual confirmation, for some marker in the shadows and mist, for some suggestion that this was all a nightmare.


The fog swirled, a slow curling of that creeping, hungering death, and leaned itself towards the cell. It rose up against the bars, filaments of poisonous thought slipping through. Derrick closed his eyes and drew in a shuddering, fog-filled breath. He was so tired. He should sleep. Just a moment… just a lifetime… just a forever.


The cool comfort of contact upon his hands made the sleep-deprived man smile just a bit. His grip on the bars lessened, but yet, the steady support of the touch of another gave him permission to sleep, if just for a moment. Derrick’s head rocked forward and hit against the bars, jarring him enough to open his eyes. Terror crashed fully on the man, held as he was against the cell door by flesh-diseased appendages that carved vicious grooves from sharp, jagged nails. The eyes, though… the fog had eyes of sickly yellow and luminated with insatiable starvation. A mouth too large, too wide, too full of rending teeth opened…


With a scream, Derrick threw himself backwards, away from the bars where the fog skittered and shuffled. There was laughter out there and Derrick struggled somewhere between hysteria and sobbing. Turning away from the bars where inevitability prowled in gnawing temptation, Derrick gripped the cold, familiar presence of the sink to steady himself. It was harder now. So much harder. He felt less and less certain, less and less clear, less and less himself. And as he looked in the mirror, Derrick could see the tendrils of fog gliding through the bars, the iron no longer his bulwark.


The flicker of a subtle glow in the mirror’s surface drew his eyes from the encroaching fog. A cry burst forth and tears filled his eyes at the image captured in the reflection. Staring, Derrick felt the tear cut a searing path down a radiation-scarred cheek as the figure in the mirror did the same. Screaming, Derrick’s fist crashed against the mirror, shattering his glowing-eyed image into a hundred slivered proclamations of his own creeping, consuming darkness.


He could leave, now… The winnowing was complete and he was the product. They waited for him out there, offering the true hope of wholeness in the final acceptance of what they all truly were. Lost in the fog, he could be free.


Sliding down to the floor upon his filthy bedding, Derrick began to slowly tear the sheets and blanket into thin, long strips. He’d been wrong earlier. There was an escape. There was a way out. And in escaping, he would remain Derrick. He wouldn’t become the fear in the fog, the hunger in the darkness, the mindless rage of broken humanity. Over and over, Derrick braided the strips of cloth methodically, repeating the only phrase he could, though the words were little more than growls past teeth that had turned to rending. I am Derrick. I am Derrick. I am Derrick.

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