Hell found me.

When I felt its touch—a touch like a piercing dagger wrought with fire and concealed in a bloodcurdling scream—I was in a corridor lit by dim, swinging yellow lights, the steel of the walls and ceiling closing in on me like a metal cage. Silence had fallen, save for the reverberating sound of my pounding footsteps and ragged breaths. That scream broke the silence and I felt a moment when my heart went still and numb with grief. It was the final addition to my torment and sent tears streaming openly down my face. At that moment, I felt like all hope was gone...my worst nightmare had come true, and there would be no waking up, no going back to correct mistakes that were already set in stone.

I was losing stamina. Who knows how long I had been running through those winding pathways, climbing up the clanging metal steps through this gray and lifeless prison. The tears on my face were by now mingled with the beads of sweat that soaked my skin and plastered my faded t-shirt to my body. My hair clung to my forehead with the same moisture, and I barely held to enough concentration to wipe it away as I ran. The words that sealed my fate kept echoing through my mind: I'm too late...My God, I'm too late...

He was in here somewhere, and that scream had been his.

How much suffering would we both endure for my mistake, for my untimely failure and betrayal to friendship? I should have known what consequences could have followed my actions, but the "should haves" that had led me here were all history now and I could do nothing but shed them as I cried.

You're a man grown. Men don't cry.

It didn't matter. I didn't know what I was anymore.

It's so hard to look back at how I had always lived my life on the edge, between the haunting darkness of our barren society and the depths of despair that plagued my solitude. It all seems so pointless now, seeing as I lost everything when I gave up that caution for a single moment. After the war everything had been taken from me. I lost the woman I loved, the parents who raised me, and the younger sister whom I had always sheltered- leaving me only with my best friend, my brother in everything but blood. He became the only person I cared for, my sole purpose for living.

What was I? What were we?

We were wanderers, lost souls who chanced to survive the world, divided into the powerful and those they hunted. The billions of people who had dwelt on the Earth before had perished, leaving only a handful in their trembling wake. We were among that handful. We lived to find ourselves bound in death. For years over the course of history, people had made predictions as to when the Third World War would be, and how it would end. They never could have anticipated this annihilation of everything good in the world. You would think precautions could have been taking to prevent the radiation sweep that destroyed life...not only did it rid the world of people, of creatures, but by destroying virtually all plant life, the earth had become naught but barren wasteland, scattered with decaying structures such as the one I was in.

Unfortunately, of those remaining, I had become one of the hunted. We don't know why. We don't know what purpose our suffering served. But to be robbed of life would drive any person to the brink of insanity, as it nearly did me, and I therefore suppose that it really served no purpose except for man to extract that taste of vengeance which cannot be taken out on nature, or perhaps to test those controversial human-subject tests that seemed humane after such massive death. Perhaps if circumstances had turned out differently, I would have been the captor, the torturer, and this would be my stronghold. But I was the rabbit in a wolf's den. The mere thought of being lord of a fortress that served as nothing but a large torture chamber sent shivers up my spine.

They had taken him in a chase, following us through the ruins of what once was a civilized city, as we eluded them. There weren't many of us left—us being the people who were trying to restore the world rather than conquer its remnants and be kings of the dead. In fact, I'm not quite sure if there were any others besides us at all. Maybe they had all been mutilated and killed beforehand.

Our biggest mistake—my biggest mistake—in that chase was splitting up as we ducked behind crumbling stone foundations and remnants of gray walls. He had been alone. The sound of him calling my name as they took him, and my inability to do anything, had penetrated the deepest recesses of my heart...he was alone. We were never alone; ever since we were kids we had done everything together. We had lived together, and succumbed to the world's death together, and evaded the bringers of our own end together. And in the end, thinking probably more of myself than him, I had told him to go—that we had to split up.

Another scream.

And another.

This time, there was a series of them; on the one hand, they of course sent me deeper into the pit of despair, but the nearer proximity of the sound told me that I had almost reached the place. I forced my unwilling body to quicken its pace. As I turned the corner, a pair of steel doors approached, and I could hear the sound of my brother's torment resounding behind them. Distantly I wiped away a lock of sweat-soaked hair that was plastered to my face.

Think. Don't just act—think. You can't barge in there.

Thought? I was gone from the realm of rational thought. I was heading toward those doors with all the speed I could muster, with the full intention of throwing them open. Maybe I couldn't succeed. Maybe I wouldn't save him.

But, in his final moments, I would be with him as he had always been there for me.

Only this time I've come too late...

As my hand closed on the rusted knob, the sound of his screams were hitting me with full force. They triggered a jumble of memories that made the pain all the more profound. I thought of all the times we had spent together, of our laughter ringing throughout the darkest days, and of the times I shared with other loved ones before they, too, were gone forever.

I twisted the knob with cold, sweaty hands.

It was a plain room. A single light hung in the middle, the dying halogen bulb flickering and causing erratic shadows. There was a table below it and nothing else. It was a metal table of cold, dead steel, with two simple black straps that reached over its length. It stood beside a small machine with a black screen that was monitoring something—brain waves, judging by the wires and hooks. Besides that, the floors and walls were barren—just more of that monotonous gray, the only color my eye really knew anymore as all the spectrums of the world faded to black.

There was no blood. I had been so prepared for that flash of brightness, for the intensity of the contrast of red against the metal, but it did not come. The only color that met my eyes was that of exposed human flesh, constrained by the two straps. I could almost feel the metal's icy touch against my own skin.

What happened then—after a moment suspended in time in which my brother and his two captors stared at me—passed in a blur that I will try to describe to the best of my ability. But I'll never forget his eyes. The look of pain there, of torment in body and soul, shattered my heart to pieces. What had they done to him? They had torn him apart from within his own mind. He himself had been the one to tell me that that was what they did—they took you back, through their "sick psychological experiments", to your moments of greatest suffering, and then used those memories to tear at the remnant of your present and future.

My brother smiled a crooked, pained half-smile. "I knew you'd come," he said in a raspy whisper.

Amazing, what the human mind can think of to cause pain to another.

That is a contradiction, I suppose, to call them human, for I have already made it evident that these creatures were not human. They stood there in their black lab coats and darkened goggles, with gloved hands that touched my brother's skin and held him in a merciless grip as he died, his screams ended. I wanted nothing more than to kill them. I was an animal myself. My eyes were wet and bloodshot, and reflected the hatred burning in my heart and the lust for death that consumed my mind.

They moved towards me quickly, the sound of their black boots clinking on the metal floor. I did not wait. I flung myself at them with a barbaric cry. They remained stoic, accepting pain because they felt and knew nothing anymore. I pummeled with my fists, knocking them to the floor and never even receiving a yell or moan in gratification. Why wouldn't they bleed? Would they not bleed? I felt the satisfaction of one of those throats in my grip as I knelt beside one of the fallen scientists. The cold-blooded murderer was lying on the ground. With strong fingers I crushed his throat and felt him die. I did not see it, for his eyes were concealed behind those black goggles, but I knew it and let him go limp, my thirst for the kill only becoming greater.

But the other fought back. His fist crashed against the side of my face.

"No..." my brother moaned. "No, don't hurt him..."

He was fading fast. Even argument was gone from him.

Pain wracked my head, and the hard floor rose up to greet me. At first I thought it was just a hallucination, but then I realized that there were indeed more people coming my way. A hidden door on the far side of the room produced more lab-coated monsters, emotionless behind their goggles. Soon they were all upon me. I struggled, thrashed, resorted even to biting, but no amount of rage could take out seven men. Smooth gloves lifted me from the ground and pinned my arms behind my back. I was face to face with the one who had been there first; I could tell who he was only by the bruise that I had put on the side of his pallid face. They all looked the same to me otherwise.

He beat me there, where I stood as their prisoner. They didn't laugh or taunt. I welcomed the pain, welcomed it as punishment for my mistake in leaving him alone, but also felt that it was failure. My demise would soon come and I had only taken one of them down with me.

Finally, when he stopped hitting me and I felt the metallic taste of blood in my mouth and vomit rising from my stomach, the man before me spoke. It surprised me a little...almost as if I were to hear the monitor speak, or the silent walls.

"The world is over. You should have known your place. Your private apocalypse would have come much sooner, and quicker."

Apocalypse. "That is the purpose, then?" I asked. "You want to play at being God? Or is it Satan?"

His face remained expressionless. "God and Satan? Right and Wrong? They don't exist any more." He turned then, to my brother. This innocent victim was his laboratory rat lying on a table, mutilated beyond further experimentation.

A gasp rose from those lips, parched from screaming and loss of water through perspiration. Irregular and harsh breathing rose into the air, and barely inaudible words were whispered as the one I had come with the intention of saving looked right at me. "...I knew you...would come...to save me..."

"I failed you, Adam," I said in response, my voice cracking, my tears spent.

"No...you...won. You saved me...I'm happy now..." Adam looked at me, and smiled wanly. "I can go."

How did I save you? How...

I could not ask. I just shook my head in disbelief.

"Goodbye..." he said, finally shutting his eyes. "Goodbye, Joshua."

"Goodbye," I whispered, offering him the most tormented smile of my life.

And then, Adam died. One of the scientists pulled the wire that was attached to his mind by a probe. As he pulled it out, a spurt of dark blood followed, and I saw my contrast. At that moment I ceased to feel anything...sadness, joy, pain, anger...

I was an empty void. A shell of a person. My soul was with those who had gone before me.

More steel flashed before my eyes...a knife, such a crude weapon to use now at the end of everything. I saw a lot more blood then. My own. I didn't care. The pain proved that I was alive, which I resented, because with nothing to live for I just wanted to die. I looked forward to death. After all, there had to be something beyond it...because Adam had to be there, and all the others I had lost. When my wish was finally granted after hours of torture and "experimentation", my last tears mingled with my life's blood, and my final thoughts were of regret for the loss of innocence. Because with it had come the loss of goodness that had once been so plentiful in the world, and of the love that is ever so lightly thrown aside in tormented yet willing sacrifice.

The End