In a large enclosed space, silence always seems unnatural. His footfalls are in stereo as he paces through the abandoned aisle. Inhaling and exhaling in a natural rhythm feels too up-close and intrusive, wrinkling the perfect heavy blanket of silence that smothers him from temples to collar bone. It is heavy, unpleasant…and indispensable.
Without the silence, he would not hear the scuffle in front of him at the end of the aisle, just past his line of sight. He would not know to slow his walking down gradually, coming to a casual stop about five feet from the noise’s origin so as not to let on that he has heard it. He would not know to pull the blade from his belt in anticipation of confrontation. And he would not know to leap as quickly as possible toward the noise in order to upset the ambush waiting for him next to the canned tuna end cap.
But there is nothing there. Not anymore anyway. He slides his feet along the floor and peers around the corner into the next aisle, his blade still at the ready. Still nothing is revealed to him.
“O’Bannon?” His voice is hoarse and low in an attempt to fly under the ambience. “Is that you?”
Somewhere in the distance a door is opened, assaulting the silence with a harried slam against the wall. Rapid footsteps advance. A human voice is calling out in a frantic tone, but the words are distorted by their own echoes.
He snaps his head to face the sound. Eventually the whirl of echoes coalesces into proper English.
“…the rafters! Charlie, run! It’s in the rafters!”
He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t get the chance to. He has only a half second, maybe, to hear and analyze before something dusty and screaming dives through the air and lands on his back, digging its gnarled claws between his shoulder blades and knocking them both to the ground. He howls as his right shinbone snaps from the impact.
He feels himself being forcibly rolled over to face the ceiling. The thing throws one mottled, bony leg on either side of his chest, pinning his arms at his sides with its knees and shoving its face right in front of his. Wrinkled, rotting flesh curls and hangs around yellowing cheekbones and deep-set milky eyes, all framed by clumped black hair. When it sees the look of disgust on his face, it smiles, peeling cracked lips back from brown teeth, lips that split in several places and start to ooze an unsettling green-white substance.
“Don’t struggle,” the thing rasps, its sour breath sliming its way into his nostrils and tickling the back of his throat. “You’re going to like it in here. I promise.”
He wriggles and writhes, but the thing’s legs are surprisingly strong. The frantic footfalls are closer now, and there are many of them. He can hear someone calling his name. Just a few more seconds before the cavalry shows up. Everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.
He is still thinking that everything is going to be okay when the thing sinks the sharpest parts of itself into him.
When the cavalry does finally arrive, he can barely see them; they are blurry, upside down and in only two dimensions once those brown teeth grind down on his left eyeball.