He wasn’t even aware that he had any remaining hope in him to hold onto, but as soon as Rennan crossed the threshold between cracked hospital building and guiding, blinding outside light, the last of it was wrenched from his body like a blow to the chest.
The surface world was crumbling away.
Sickly, yellow mist rolled through the streets in waves, seeming to take on different shapes every time he switched his gaze. Towering buildings speared their way through the fog, their foundations visibly ancient and sinking, skeletons of rusted steel poking through concrete beams, windows long since shattered and replaced by row upon row of empty sockets like so many eyes. Every few seconds, the fog would thicken and swallow up swaths of them whole, making the landscape look like it was in a constant state of death and rebirth. With the fog came eye-stinging grains of dust, but Rennan didn’t even move to blink.
This was no longer Earth.
He sunk to his knees, tracks of tears produced from the prickling dust readily streaming down his face, yet still he stared, transfixed, at the empty world laid out before him.
Maybe this was a dream.
He squeezed his eyes shut, ignoring the burning sensation that came with it.
Wake up. Wake up, he thought.
He opened his eyes again. Everything was exactly the same.
He shut them again.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” he whispered, lips barely moving.
“Wake up, wake up… wake up, wake up, wake up!” he said. His voice was beginning to waver.
“Wake up! WAKE UP! WAKE UP, WAKE UP–WAKE UP–WAKE–UP–!!”
Rennan balled his hands into fists and began pounding them into the dust at his knees. His own voice echoed around him, garbled and dissonant as it bounced from building to building, travelling through the fog. He only screamed louder, trying to drown out the sound.
Pain erupted from his throat, but he didn’t stop. He folded over onto himself, yelling into the ground, desperately hoping, pleading with himself, to regain consciousness. To open his eyes and be back in his own room, his own home, his own world. If he just kept screaming long enough, the nightmare would end. This would all be over.
He kept going until his mantra dissolved into wordless cries, and then, finally, until he lost his voice completely.
Around him, the yellow mists continued to roll on, through streets and alleys and the chassis of empty cars. The world he had been thrown into remained coldly indifferent to his crumpled form.