It was not the impact onto submerged granite that woke me, nor the mouthful of putrid foam, but plunging into icy waters. The river slammed me onto the bank and I pulled myself out with quivering breaths and numb extremities. My vision blurred, steam rose from my body – a dwindling heat in a cold dark world – and I tried to find where I fell from.
My car was wrapped around a protruding rock down a cliff with a me shaped hole in the windscreen. Despite the cold my neck burned from the seatbelt – but all pain vanished as a figure strolled over to the driver’s door. It stood sidelong against the cliff face, against the pull of gravity.
It ripped the door from its hinges to tumble into the rapids.
It reached inside and hesitated, peering into the gloomy interior. It tracked the broken windscreen, turning slowly to follow the path of the car door, across the bank, hollow black eye sockets within a dark hood honing in on me.
I don’t remember running, I came to my senses when I tripped over a tree root and fell into the undergrowth.
I scrambled as the darkness closed in like a snare. Sinister shapes lashed out from the shadows, howling and gnashing silver teeth. I screamed and bolted into a thicket of thorns. They came alive and dug into my flesh. I thrashed in panic, becoming hopelessly trapped. A blade rang through the air and the thorns shuddered. I fell out the other side. Death had caught up to me, had taken a swipe at me… and missed.
It stalked through the withering thorns which caught and tangled its robes. I ran deeper into the woods.
Another horror scuttled from the darkness, something like spiders sewn back to back. It rolled, each freakish step tumbling it at frightening speeds and it pounced to sink its infinite fangs into me. Another scythe swipe and it shrieked and scuttled back into the darkness.
I flung a handful of dirt at my pursuer and made to run again. The earth rumbled open, exposing flame and sulphur and an enormous taloned hand which caught my ankle and dragged me into the fiery depths.
The scythe swung and severed the hand. The stump retreated with a howl that rattled the earth and the fissure sealed back into place, leaving a twitching taloned thing to writhe on the surface.
The sudden silence was filled by my panting.
Death stood over me, offering its bony hand.
“I will not kill you,” it said with a voice like a grinding glacier, “You died in that car crash.”
“I guide the dead to safety,” it stalked back through the sliced thorns, stopping to beckon with its hand. “Stay if you wish. If you are lucky, you will only face oblivion. If you are unlucky…”
My skin prickled, dozens of fiendish eyes leered from the darkness.
I took Death’s hand and he guided me to the light.
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