• Published 22nd Feb 2021
  • 4,085 Views, 128 Comments

The Endeavor of the Damned Shadows - dannny43

After having been stripped of everything but name, awakening to a strangely familiar world, and having all of his reality turned on its head, Austin Merkelo is determined to return to Earth, sparing no caution, effort, or opportunity.

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Prologue: Headaches and Horses?

So many worries, so little time. Taxes, mortgages, insurance, student loans, so many variables to take into account when managing between college and life. I'm just glad everything was paid off from the beginning, otherwise we'd be worse off altogether.

But that's the past, Joel can worry about those for the time being. For me, however, I just gotta get through these last few classes and my Associates will be done. Better late than never, I suppose. When that's over, I could finally apply for that EKG program, then if I pass the class, not to mention if I'm accepted in the first place, I could have a fine-paying job and not have to worry about money for a while. Wishful thinking for smooth sailing, except nothing has been smooth sinc-

"Excuse me, Sir. It didn't seem like you heard me, but can you help me find a product?"

Shit! Gotta pay attention. Removing myself from the top-shelf, I set aside a package of candles and give the senior customer my undivided attention. "Yes, ma'am? How can I help today?" Please let it be nothing complicated, just a few minutes till my shift ends.

The granny motions me to a pair of animal-themed blankets within the next aisle over. "My eyesight was never good. Can you tell me if this blanket is a bundle of dogs or cats?"

"Those would be parrots, ma'am. Are you looking for any animal in particular?"

"Hmm? Oh! Yes, I'm looking for a blanket that has planes on it. My grandson, Jason, just loves airplanes."

She's looking for airplanes but is questioning me about dogs and cats? What? Taking a glance around the aisle, the clearance aisle now that I've had a look, a rather distinct lack of any blankets are noted. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you may have to check the, uh... the clothing or fabric aisle which is aisles A12 or A13."

Her face scrunched up on my statement, the wrinkles and folds she bared together would put a mastiff's to shame. "But, the young man from over there said I'd fine the products within this aisle here. I do remember there being more blankets yesterday. Can you check the backroom? Maybe they're there?"

Check the backroom for the clearance aisle? Are you kiddi-... is she for rea-... *sigh*, "Ma'am, the clearance aisle is for products discontinued from our store or low stocked items that have no reserves available and must be rid of to make room for more products, thus the term clearance. I'm afraid there are no more blankets like this left."

"Oh, I remember them being here. I'm running out of time for his birthday." She babbled while fiddling with her glasses. "Can you please check the backroom or find a manager for me? I have more shopping I must get to before his birthday in two days."

A glance at my phone read 4:09. Already past my shift, got nothing else to do but go home... fuck it. "I'll see what I can do, ma'am."

"Oh, thank you, dear. My grandson and I greatly appreciate it."

Taking my cue, I about-face toward the back-rooms searching for a manager, extending my shift further than I had any right to. ...Damn it all.

Half an hour or so later, I'm finally given the chance to clock out, bumping into Davis while doing so.

"Damn Austin, you just clocking out now? Your shift ended almost an hour ago!" Practically screeched Davis.

"Might as well announce it on the intercom. It'll save your voice from going hoarse." I jabbed back to my coworker.

Said jabbing was rarely taken lightly by the old geezer, "Don't you give me any lip son," -I winced- "especially when I'm trying to keep you out of trouble. How many times have I told you not to do over-time? Especially when you've been warned more than once. They take this seriously, you're gonna be fired I tell ya what."

Yanking my employee vest off, I made my way towards the front entrance declaring back, "Yeah? Well Walmart and its execs' can bite me and my 'bleeding heart'. I'm outta here."

Before I could even take a step out of the computer room, I feel the rock-hard grip, forged from fifty years of hard labor, of Davis on my shoulder, "You ask real nice next time you see 'em, Merkelo. I'm sure they'll be happy to oblige. But, one last thing 'fore you go, that Ethan fella said he'd wait for you out in the parking lot, said something about hanging out." David relayed before releasing me and returning to work.

Ethan has been waiting for me for nearly an hour? Jeez, that dude needs to find someone else to hang with, I sure wouldn't mind that. When it comes to Ethan, you get nothing but headaches with the guy, or at least I do since he's got no other "friends." Exiting through the front entrance, I take a quick gander around, hoping for no headaches for today. Alas, 'twas not meant to be for lo and behold there he was just like David said, was wishing he was yanking my leg for once.

"Overtime again?" Ethan spewed, "They'll be havin' your ass for dinner any day now just you wait."

*Sigh*, "Christ. Ethan, please, not now. Not today. For once, I'd like to not have any of your shit. Can you do that for me?"

"Uh, hello? This is me we're talking about, and you know my motto, I.D.C.B, I don't care bitch. Anyway you would not believe the shit life threw at me today, I had to deal with not one, but two old wrinkly hags, like my life wasn't hell enough. The first hag, Mrs. four-eyes, was askin' about for a manager an shit on some snuggy-wuggy airplane baby blanket, three minutes before my shift ended! Like fuck me, some eldritch fucker had their stink eyes on me or something, but no way was I staying any longer in that hell hole. Luckily, I managed to hatch the brilliant idea of sending her to the home cosmetic section! I was long gone before she ever knew what hit her, some other poor sod was gonna have some unwanted over-time, not me though. Speaking of which, the hell took you so long? Almost an hour of over-time? How are you not fired yet?"

"The fact you come to work late nearly every day and yet you're still employed here, tells me I got nothing to worry about. I make an effort to not work after my shift, you on the other hand go out of your way to intentionally be late."

"Hey, if you had to deal with the bull-shit and the equally shitty people like I do, then you'd do the same. Like for example hag number two. That bitch Nancy is always ridin' on my ass saying, 'Ethan, always remember to smile for the customer,' or 'Ethan, remember to say please and thank you, I can't keep babysitting you on the job,' like fuckin hell you old hag; You ain't my momma, my gram-gram or hell even my boss for that manner. Just some old-tattered-bygone bones wearing a meat skin masquerading as part of the living, forgotten by everyone: Family, friends, the reaper, fuck even the store has forgotten she exists seeing as how she hasn't moved past the custodian position after working here for over forty years!"

Fucking hell, poor Nancy. "Oh cut the shit, you know damn well she's only after your well-being. Poor lady practically sees you as the son she's never had, heaven knows why. Do you ever wonder what your problem is? Your problem is that you can't show basic human decency to anyone not worth your time, trouble is working this job entails having to deal with said "shitty" people with a smile at all times, but heaven forbid Ethan here even show an inkling of humanity. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object, so you'd rather avoid everything altogether."

A shit-eating grin was smugly displayed across his face, not holding back an inch. "Guilty as charged. Fuck this day and fuck everyone. I need a drink, you game?"

Already, I was beginning to see red, but that last question he proposed, the same question he's supplied to me hundreds if not thousands of times before with my de-facto answer always in tow, broke the camel's back. "Jesus H. Christ, How many damn times do I have to tell you? I. Don't. Fucking. Drink! Goddammit, every damn day it's the same with you! You bitch and moan and whine and cry about having to deal with people at Walmart, or what some asshole on twitter said or how mean some guy on face-book was and every damn time I tell you to suck it up. Then like always, we head to the bar only for you to waste your pay-checks on drinks so you can chugalug your woes away, while I sit there wasting my time, always questioning why you were in the will at all, then we call it a night. I don't give a shit about your petty problems or how sad and pathetic your life is Ethan. I have far greater problems to worry about then what some online shit-poster negatively commented about your "waifu" or whatever. You've been nothing but a pain in my ass ever since we've met and I'm so fucking done with your routine, that I almost want to get wasted!"

Taking a second to calm down and steady my breath, I almost fail to notice an icy chill permeate across my whole body. Why am I so cold? It's supposed to be 68*. The white noise we call birds and cars seemed almost absent from my ears as if time itself had stopped. The air suddenly felt heavy as pressure all around had increased? All of my hair was standing on end and before I could make any further notes, "Ethan" broke the silence.

"~Is that so, then why do you continue to hang about with me?~"

I don't know why, but chills crawled down my spine with the end of that statement. I felt compelled to reply, "... I don't know, ...guess I hate being bored alone more so than being pissed with you. Hell, there's nothing to do in this town. If it weren't for my family being here or for their situation, I'd have left years ago."

And just like that, everything fell back into place. Time resumed, had it been stopped? Noise flooded my ears, was I deaf? And all was right in the world, except it wasn't, much as I may have hoped at that very moment. The heavy air persisted and "Ethan" still sent chills to me when he spoke once again.

"Such devotion for your family huh? You'd do anything for them if they were on the line, ~wouldn't you?~"

Again, I felt compelled to reply, "Of course, without hesitation. I'll do all that I can to help, but at times I feel like I might lose my mind or nerves. Especially with you."

"Haha, then that's reason enough on why you must join me. The bar is calling your name, my friend. The aroma is simply intoxicating, and the atmosphere will lull you to sleep. Come Austin, let's get you a drink."

That last word, for whatever reason, resonated fear deep in me. Instantly my hands, face, and mind felt numb. A bead of sweat trickled down my face as I felt myself swoon from side to side, all balance within me lost. "What? N-No, I don't d-drink, I d-don't... I don't... what's wr-wrong with m-me?" But he ignored my inquiry.

"Nonsense, why of course you drink! I mean, why else would you merrily join me if not to wet that bone-dry whistle hmm?" He states upon seizing my arm, and I am all too eager... my body is all too eager to join him.

"But I said I d-don't... I... I s-suppose a drink or... two wouldn't be bad... right?" What did I agree to? My vision is nothing but blurry darkness, my head is spinning, and my mind is falling into the void of sleep, just as I hear his final words of this waking world.

"Of course not, don't you worry none. Let me take care of everything. Hahahaha...."

Eternal light, everlasting dark. A murky world of shapes and shadows flashing before me, like a slideshow within a cinema. Frame by frame, abstract concepts, and art morphing, contracting, creating, becoming. Stars and moons and nebulas all around, revolving around me. A void of beauty and chaos forever unrelenting, where uncertainty was my only companion through this cosmic journey. Journey? But to where? What's happening? The hell am I witnessing?

"Relax Merkelo, we're almost there."

Ethan? No, someone...something else, but who? I can't... can't remember anything, only fear?

Know no fear.

That voice, it's different. Angelic? Divine? What is going on?! Within my vision, a sphere of colors was quickly approaching. The sphere held a shape within, a figure of white with a red outline and... wings?

"Hang on Merkelo, this is gonna be one hell of a bumpy ride. How do you Texans yell that war-cry again? Oh yeah, Yee-haw!"

The void was replaced by a vortex of flashing colors as we descended to the sphere. Everything that I was stretched and contracted as if squeezing through time and space itself, transcending all of the dimensions and crashing down into a newfound reality.

The last thing I would remember within this chaotic existence was a sense of calming harmony... crushed, fractured within me.

A gulp of fresh air was my first action upon regaining my conscience. The ground before me felt soft, like grass. The sound of birds chirping and leaves swaying within the wind assaulted my ears. But something about them felt wrong, very wrong. Never mind my ears, I couldn't feel anything! My whole body felt numb from head to toes, and any attempts to open my eyes resulted in blinded retinas. From what I could see was that it appeared to be noon. What am I doing sleeping outside? What happened last nigh-... wait, noon?! I'm going to be late for class! Without any further thought, I tried to shoot off the ground, opening my eyes to the world in the process. It only took me a second for the eyes to adjust to notice the big grey thing where my nose should be, but it was enough for me to lose focus on my ascent, resulting in a crash back to the grass. Houston, we have a problem.

And there I laid for a minute or two. My complete attention was on the grey blob that inhabited my nose. Blocky was the first thought to describe what I saw. Not knowing whether something was wrong or not, I decided to prod my "nose" for more answers, which quickly revealed to be a bad idea... cuz I had no hands.

Instead, a stump came into view, a dark grey flat stump. The stump hung in the air for seconds before being turned several angles over. The end result is an identification of a horse hoof. Look ma, no hands! Before long, both hands were revealed to be horse hooves, which revealed horse arms, that were attached to a horse frame?

Bewildered more than ever, I took a chance to look for any reflective surfaces before exploring the rest of my body. Luck was with me today, for I managed to spot a creek about thirteen feet away. One thing I learned pretty quickly, was that whatever had happened to me, profoundly impacted my motor functions. The struggle to find any traction with my "hands" led me to experimentation ranging from rolling my way there, to a little shimmying, to attempts at hopping, until I finally resorted to an arduous army crawl.

Without hesitation, I peeked my head from the edge and was floored by the revelation.

Who ya callin Pinhead?

Yes, that was the first thought to cross my mind upon witnessing the honest to God ivory horn on my forehead. The thing looked like it was straight from a narwhal, is that what I was now? Deciding on finding out, the next thing to stand out was the dinner-plate army-green eyes staring back at me. For the longest of time, I stared within those green abysses, losing myself to the wonderment and beauty of their nature. Only then did I become aware of the navy blue hair entwined with a lighter shade of blue that adorned my head, bearing the appearance of being wild and shaggy. Zoinks, Scoob! ...What the fuck is wrong with me?! Stop with the jokes and Focus! Shaking myself from the ridiculousness, I confirmed my suspicion of having a rectangular mouth and nose. Despite the alien appearance, I could breathe and operate this mouth almost as naturally as my human counterpart.

And with that, the picture that was painted piece by piece was completed. Why the long face? That alone earned me a slap, provided by yours truly. Boy how I regretted that, those hooves fricken hurt! Anyways, I took the next few minutes to look at the rest of me. Avoiding the crotch area, I examined my upper body, lower feet, and oh yeah, took note of the fucking wings on my back. They were, strangely enough, just hanging off my side, utterly limp. Lifeless.

A horse? A grey-coated blue-haired horse? A grey-coated blue-haired magical flying horsey? I don't remember a single thing about yesterday, but what kind of college prank is this? No, this isn't a prank, this isn't a suit or some smoke and mirrors bull-shit, but it sure as shit isn't real, no doubt whatsoever. Drugs, maybe? A sleep-deprived halluci-

~Rumble. Rumble. Clip. Clop. Clank!~ "Woah, nelly!"

~Rumble. Rumble. Clip. Clop. Clank!~ "Hahaha, you'll have to be at least twenty-percent faster to catch up, or else your hat will be left in my dust!"

Cutting off my train of thought, the distant rumbling sound of hooves accompanied by voices reached my ears somewhere beyond the bushes to my left. The daunting task of crawling to the bush left me breathless upon breaching the branches. Peaking over the newfound cliff edge, a valley of orange and yellow deciduous trees lay rooted down below. All around were a bunch of colorful... four-legged animal things running about while the leaves fell in droves. A pair of the animal things were trotting closer to my position, unaware of me and talking to each other? They look exactly like me, or well almost like me. They're the same species as what I am, but bared significant differences. Both have smaller, uh mouths, but neither have horns or wings. The hell is that on their rears? On each rear end was a symbol or tattoo? Why do I get a strong sense of familiarity when looking at them... when looking at me?

The closer the colorful horses got, the more distinct their female voices became. "Ugh, look at the mess those two made. I thought they learned like a friendship lesson about not cheating in races or something, some years ago."

"Well, first off, the lesson was about friendship being more important than any silly competition. Secondly, you do realize the whole reason we have the "Running of the Leaves" is to make a mess, right?"

"A mess from leaves? Yes. Not from dirt and mud. Why are they using wagons again?"

"Something about it helping rid more leaves. It's also a challenge to see who can finish first with one. Not that I'm complaining, they sure are efficient just by looking around." With that said, they took a few seconds to survey the surrounding area, spotting me in the process. They exchanged a pair of waves at me before resuming their trot along the dirt path.

With that over, I reversed my head back into the bush and laid myself on a nearby tree trunk, processing all that I had heard, witnessed, and experienced. I could feel my heart rate spike by the second and my breath was becoming rapid. Talking colorful horses. Familiar talking colorful horses. Ok, lets just back up a bit and recap. I awaken in the middle of a forest as a horse with no memory of what, how, or why this happened, there are a bunch of walking-talking colorful horses in a nearby valley, and everything I've experienced so far, tells me that this is really happening. This is simply impossible. This can't be real, yet everything feels real, looks real, all of my senses are saying this is real, but it can't be real, it just can't. Seriously, what am I on?! Did someone spike me with LSD? Cocaine? Is this what people on drugs experience? Maybe I'm not drugged. A dream, this is a dream, a specific type of dream. Yeah, I'm lucid dreaming, it makes perfect sense, nothing but a lucid dream.

"Austin! Austin! Austin!"

Fear rattled within me and my breath caught in my throat upon hearing that voice. "Ethan!?" What the hell is he doing here?

"Austin? Was that you? hold on, don't move Ima coming."

I began moving. Dream or not, I was not sticking around Ethan. Army crawling was proving to be less effective by the second as the repeated calls for me only grew closer. Before I knew it, I was out of breath having not crawled more than 9ft. I must be terribly out of shape hehe... what is wrong with me?

Only after questioning the state of my mind do I realize, the bush directly in front of me was parted by a golden-stumped hoof. Taking a deep breath, I steadied my gaze upon the gold-coated headache. Standing before me in all his wicked glory, was another winged and horned golden magical horsey. Sure as shit doesn't look like Ethan.

"Austin? That you?"

It's Ethan. ~Thud~. Having my head meet dirt, only two sentences were uttered, "I take it back. This is a certified nightmare."

Author's Note:

Here to set the mood.
Credits-Lost Frequencies