The confusion masked the ascent of dark figures, but when I became aware of them, it was like looking down and noticing the ground was crawling with ants. They shuffled upwards from the perimeter stairwells, and along the sides of the pits, sinister and dark, visible in the distance only by the white streams of light that emanated through their masks, picked up by flecks of dust ash from the burning corpses of Jacobs fellow campers. The screams and moans were suddenly competing for Jacob's attention, as the menacing figures began a barking, or honking, an unidentifiable some sort of loud noise. It was as though a duck was being strangled, and the noises of its demise were amplified and deepened in pitch, sharp and loud.
With their ascension a horrid feeling began to wash over me, a goose-bump rush of nausea and ache. I could feel my heart pulsing in my chest, cold blood rushing through my ears, and stomach churning. My plight wasn't all physical, however, my mind was also being assaulted by cold clouds of depression and anxiety, atop the fear and confusion of the world that had seemingly turned inside-out around me. Somehow I knew that this torment originated from the continually emerging dark creatures who drew ever closer. It was simultaneously the feeling of the loss of a family member to death, the sudden realization of mortality along with the discovery of infidelity, or the departure of a soulmate. The unimaginable dampening of the soul, helplessness in extreme, a vulnerability inescapable and terrible as its certainty.
It was clear now that there were two types of people who ran around, those who were under the control of the shuffling creatures, and those who were not. The despair was overwhelming, the feeling of helplessness crushing and debilitating, as though every pore and vein in my body were injected with cold molasses, which grew steadily colder in adrenaline rush-like waves. I became aware of the reason for why people were shoving each other, grappling and dragging them towards the holes of inferno, why they flung others off the sides of the platforms to their death on the furnaces that burned below; it was the only way to expel the hopelessness and despair that gripped their souls, even if it were for but a moment. A concentrated essence of schadenfreude, which had broken through the social ice that held it dormant in everyday life. I could feel the desire cloying at him, to grab the nearest person and fling them to the terraces and calderas below, to feel something other than the crushing anguish. Those people were the ones the creatures controlled, playing on their cruelty and malice, willing them to a level of hideous sadism that would never manifest normally. These laughed hysterically, uncontrollably while attempting to strangle and kill others, tearing off their clothes and the clothes of others, and rubbing their flesh grey with the ashes that whirled around them. There were others who didn’t instantly succumb to the debilitating hopelessness, others who simply couldn't take it, and collapsed in emotional agony, or ran around madly in panic, as though set on fire and not remembering to ‘stop, drop and roll.’
That was the real power they wielded, despite their bulk and obvious physical strength, their ability to control and amplify the dark emotions that ran though the minds of lesser men, the controlled ones. They wore an all-encompassing suit of heavy cloth reminiscent of biohazard suits I had seen in all the disaster movies that had been popular in the 90’s. Though, these suits were heavy, like the lead aprons one wears when x-rayed, the duck-men suits were thick like a deep red welder's jacket, yet pliable and rough like denim. The fronts were tainted with black oily stains, darkening towards their legs, and down the body, as though the odd boxy mechanisms in front of their faces slowly excreted a foul black pus in addition the barking screeches of their language. The only semblance of a 'face' would be the thin, capsule shaped goggles that emerged from the suit where their eyes should be, emitting bright white light, illuminating wherever they were looking. All deviations of physical nature were obscured, if there were any to begin with, the only notions of hierarchy were the different items they carried. Some simply carried square shovels reminiscent of snow shovels with brooms on the opposite side of the scoop, for disposing of the ash and carbon that was steadily accumulating everywhere, an oddly futile job, as the thermal columns would simply carry the ash back up into the sky, to fall back and accumulate once more. Others carried what appeared to be guns, of the shape and proportion of a weed-whacker, though appeared to do nothing, and still others, though fewer, appeared to have what Jacob could only describe as large leaf blowers. These tools' dark nozzles emitted no noise, only an invisible wind that peeled back layers of skin and fabric, melting it off and sending it away as glowing, dancing embers.
They were herding those who wouldn't bend to their will into rooms that seemed to appear, using the controlled to force those who resisted inward. When the rooms became full the Duck Men closed bar gates behind them, trapping everyone, controlled or not. The single red screen in the room slowly became orange, then white, accompanied by a loud whir and groaning, of many huge gears turning faster and faster. The white light filled the room, possibly super microwaves that crisped everyone in the room, turning bodies to carbon in seconds. The screen and the great whirring would fade quickly, dying abruptly, before more are shoveled into the rooms, suddenly empty now, littered with piles of black ash, and accompanied by the maniacal, hyenic, insane laugher of the controlled people. Other controlled ghouls simply tackled and strangled whoever they saw, chests heaving in sadistic glee. Their bodies seem to have become gaunt and skeletal, pale skin now a midtone gray, covered in caked blood and ashes and sweat.
In the midst of the cathedral, pacing slowly throughout the chaos was what appeared to be the Lord of the Duck Men. Taller, and with an orange tinged suit instead of red, the imposing figure bore machinery and tubes underneath the heavy robe of the same thick material the suits were made of. Though it was filthy and clearly utilitarian, the Duck Lord maintained a regal, powerful aura, which seemed to part the seas of chaos, for which he undoubtedly was the architect. He read from a large scroll, in a language different from the other duck men, trilled and deep, rolling and without the crude, sharp screeches and howls.
My hearing was overwhelmed with the whirring noise that accompanied the crisping of an entire chamber of people.