Death

A thick fog of dust hung over the miles of rubble and crushed bodies. It obscured the skyline creating a murky brown backdrop to the destruction. Voices called out of the debris, out of sight, trying to be heard over the wails and screams and moans of those unfortunates caught in the collapse yet still alive.

Nebuchadnezzar awoke to intense pain, his body twisted and broken, strewn over the remaining shards of one of The Tower’s giant plant pots. The once housed tree disgorged along with its soil.

His head lolled to one side and he found his neck was capable of, limited, motion. Below him, the splintered tree, it’s roots shattered and broken and left like a tangled mess of frayed rope. Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes drew up the roots to the trunk, hacked and marred by the falling rocks as though attacked by a frenzied woodcutter. Pieces of bark stripped away, exposing the pale wood underneath.

The branches of the tree curved upwards, reaching into the air like a mass of outstretched arms. Behind it was a view of desolation and a particular sight that shook Nebuchadnezzar’s soul and brought him forth from his confused pain.

The statue of his own image, carved in honour of the magnificence of his dream, had fallen with the rest of the tower. It lay in pieces, its back broken over a large slab. It was difficult for Nebuchadnezzar to make out through the thicket of branches and the heavy cloud of dust but straining, and wheezing on the granulated air, he recognised it as one The Tower’s foundations. The head, his head, carved of gold, lay submerged from hair to brow upside down in the earth. The blank eyes staring vacantly outwards. The arms of silver had been flung wide, only one presented itself to Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, bent nearly beyond recognition. The brass torso had taken the brunt of the fall and lay in shreds around the foundation stone. The iron legs smashed and shattered into pieces.

Tears welled up in Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes, the shock and the pain of the fall having not preserved any time for melancholy. His dream had died. Year upon year upon year of hard work smashed to the ground. His noble goal gone. Had it been doomed from the start? Was it unobtainable? No, his dream had been cast asunder by the very one he had sought to please, the one whom he had believed wanted them to reach the Heavens. His lord and master had discarded the gift of the faithful.

The broken statue burned in Nebuchadnezzar’s mind. Looking past the felled tree’s branches he remembered how he had once thought of The Tower as a tree. A living thing always growing, always reaching higher and among its branch-like corridors there lived hundreds of organisms, tiny eco-systems on every floor working through each and every day. But the walls and doors of that tree had crumbled, the people living in it scattered like leaves. The memory of The Tower turned to a vision of gnarled branches snapping in the fury of an inferno, the wood flared a bright crimson and burnt the thoughts of Nebuchadnezzar’s mind in kind. The mental anguish served only to further incense his righteous fury at this unjust punishment.

Thoughts of how he had been forsaken were soon overpowered with a feeling of intense heat, he was burning up, if felt as though his clothes singed his skin. He writhed in place, ignoring the intense pain of movement in order to be rid of the heat. Eventually he managed to tear off his dalmatic with bloody fingers. The high quality of the white cloth marred in the dust and dirt. His underclothes too felt hot and in a fervour he screamed as he tore them too from himself until he was left naked, lying amongst the ruins of The Tower.

The pain of his bodily injuries was gradually subsiding, the intensity reducing. Where he had been near paralyzed with pain before he was now able to struggle upright. His first steps tipped him forward, his back was bent and he stumbled along like a hunchback.

Figures came into view, calling out in strange tongues, appearing all around him. He felt an intense urge to avoid them, adrenaline pumping into his body, his breath fast and furious.

A woman sifting through the wreckage, cradling a small bag of valuables, looked at him. She stared, forehead wrinkled in confusion, at the naked man who stood before her. Nebuchadnezzar stared back, meeting her gaze unwilling to show weakness. The woman stepped forward, deciding the strangeness of the man and societal rules were irrelevant in times of such tragedy. She said something, speaking in words he could not understand. A growl welled in the back of Nebuchadnezzar’s throat. He had to ward her off, make it clear he was dangerous and not to be trifled with. She didn’t hear and continued to approach. When the woman was within an arms length Nebuchadnezzar barked at her, loudly with all the ferocity he could muster, spit flying from his mouth and frothing in the corners. The woman, startled, dropped what she was carrying spilling the contents on the floor. Nebuchadnezzar kept barking until the woman ran off, leaving him in peace.

The noise had alerted more people in the area and like phantoms in a fog they loomed in the dust cloud, swaying silhouettes. Nebuchadnezzar was panicked, the large number of people frightened him, whilst the fear of more divine retribution continued to tear at his mind. He started to hobble away from the approaching people, clambering over brick and stone, wood and clay to get away. As he travelled he felt his body limber up, the pain abated somewhat until it became only a dull ache, his legs felt powerful and he used his long arms more and more to propel his movement.

His naked body warmed as he travelled to the edges of The Tower’s domain. The air was cool but his body hair had thickened and grown in places it never had before. His head of hair now stretched down his neck, growing out of the shoulders and down along his spine, his thighs had also developed a soft fur-like covering.

He emerged from the mountainous dust cloud, into the farmlands that had surrounded the once proud tower. So consumed with thoughts of forsakenness he had not noticed the farmstead and, in its shade, a man. The farmer started on seeing Nebuchadnezzar, a puzzled expression on his face at the naked and hairy man.

A farmstead such as this would normally have housed several families of farmers, workmen and their wives, but in the aftermath and confusion most had probably fled leaving only this fellow behind. He called out to Nebuchadnezzar, again like all the others in strange words with an odd collection of syllables, and approached. Nebuchadnezzar’s muscles tensed, ready to fight or flee. The man, close, spoke again, he seemed as though he was asking a question but the words were alien, like a lunatic speaking in tongues, an emissary of the devil come to taunt Nebuchadnezzar.

Suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar struck out, swiping with his hand and scratching the farmer’s face. Cursing and rubbing at the red the farmhand shouted at Nebuchadnezzar until the fur covered man struck him again. Reeling back and stumbling away the farmhand retreated. On the ground, near where he had been standing in the shade was a wooden sickle. The farmhand grasped it and waved it threatening at Nebuchadnezzar.

He was enlivened by the threat and felt his whole body heave as he breathed and panted heavy, rapid breaths. He stepped right, then left then right again, feinting and worrying the sickle wielding man, all of this fighting skill coming to him instinctually. Soon there was an opening and Nebuchadnezzar lunged past the sharp, flint edging of the sickle. His fist plunged into the farmhand’s gut winding him. Following through with the motion Nebuchadnezzar tackled him to the ground. The sickle fell to the floor as the man tried to catch his breath. So close to his head Nebuchadnezzar instinctively bit down on the man’s ear, his teeth sharper than before. The man screamed and pulled his head away, tearing the ear. He kicked at Nebuchadnezzar giving himself enough time to roll away.

Nebuchadnezzar licked his lips, savouring the taste of blood. The farmer fled round the side of the farmstead clutching his bleeding head. A door slammed shut as the man shut himself in the building.

In the past he would have been horrified and repulsed by his actions, but now, Nebuchadnezzar felt no remorse. This was the world he lived in, a world of kill or be killed, where hopes and dreams were as meaningless as faith. The exhilaration of the fight had excited him greatly and in the coming days as he continued to travel aimlessly across landscape he found himself addicted to the danger and the power. Attacked those he saw purely for the thrill.

He began to develop an aversion to the light of day, preferring to hide in caves and holes until the veil of night came. Under moonlight he would travel, hunting animals, stalking them, smelling their scent and tearing at them with his bare hands and claw-like nails so that he could smother his long face in their warm blood and sink his canines into their flesh.

In the days following the catastrophe of the tower collapse the people had begun to gather in clusters as they found others who spoke like languages. Their words had been rudimentary and simple at first but as they grew into small tribes their languages evolved and developed.

Nebuchadnezzar often came across such groups, attracted by the warm glow of the campfire they huddled around. He would approach slowly till he stood on the edge of the circle of light cast by the warm fire. Then he would howl at them, declaring his dominance and inspiring their fear.

The people, frightened, would look around until they saw his tall, shaggy silhouette just out of sight. The firelight would flicker and reveal his long snout and wet, black nose, the reds of his gums that clung to dirty, yellow pointed teeth. They would see how the fur that covered his body clung to his long, striated muscles and the forward bend of his posture all the way down his body to his paw like feet and his short powerful tail.

Their fear would excite him and he would dive into their camps and tear and shred and yelp and howl and rend and bite until they had all fled or lay injured and dead. He had become a beast in his mind and his body. He was both a man and wolf, and believed his curse to have been given by God as unjust punishment. And yet in this form he relished his power, reveled in the lack of moral consciousness and revered the savage brutality of his naturalistic form. But the transformation was not permanent.

Sometimes his mind became lucid, the fury and vengeance he felt at the crumbling of The Tower, his tower, abated. His mind somewhat clear reflected on his hubris and on the foolishness of questioning the Almighty. In this state he was merely a naked old man cradling his legs in the fetal position crying under the night sky over the horrors he had committed and would commit again when his mind returned to the hate and the anger and the rage.

It would not be long before his thoughts turned sour and the body would grow and the hair would grow and the teeth would grow. The werewolf stalked the land, halted only by running water. An intense fear of the liquid would seize him and he would yelp and turn away from rivers, lakes and streams. Even thinking of water caused the werewolf’s throat to close up and he would hack and cough and nearly suffocate.

One night, as the werewolf gnawed on the flesh that clung to a femur bone, the pointed ears perked up. They twitched unsure of the sound they had heard. A few minutes later it sounded again. A loud, long and forlorn howl. A howl that echoed the werewolf’s own. It tore the last of the meat from the bone, swallowing the chunks, uncaring of the red fluids that dripped over its fur, and set off after the sound of the other.

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