Nobody knew what was in The Darkness.
People had gone in, but nobody had ever come out.
People had experimented. There had been a clip shown on the News of someone plunging a big metal pole part way into it. When he pulled it away, it was severed perfectly cleanly, exactly on the line that The Darkness had reached.
Nobody knew what happened to the other end.
Both sides had deployed it repeatedly during The War, leaving patches of black oblivion on the sites of military bases, weapons factories and the occasional hospital, as the UN just sort of looked on.
Then it had started growing. Nobody knew why. Nobody knew how to stop it. Nobody knew very much about it at all, except that it was an extremely effective weapon.
That was about a week ago.
The Fox Inn had not yet been swallowed up. It had been there more than 400 years, and was still there now, a lonely outpost by the road that twisted and wormed across the brown and purple moors, 6 miles from where the nearest town had been.
It was a nice day, considering the circumstances, and Chris and Charlotte were sitting outside.
“How long do you reckon we’ve got?” Chris asked, knowing exactly what Charlotte was going to say.
Charlotte took another gulp of 23-year-old Scotch.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get through all this.” She remarked.
“You can’t drink the whole pub, if that’s what you mean.”
“You don’t know how long we’ve got left. We could be here for weeks.”
“Fair. Have we got food?”
“We’ve got a whole kitchen with a big freezer full of pub crap.”
The Darkness was lurking in the valley, stretching out gloomy tendrils among the heather. There was definitely more of it than there had been in the morning.
“What’s it you do?” Chris asked, trying to make conversation as Charlotte topped up his glass of whisky. “I mean, when you’re not working here.”
“I’m a student. At least, I was until I graduated in June.”
“What did you study?”
“It would be if I’d got better than a 2:2.”
“I’m still impressed. I were never any good at Maths. I always hated it in school.”
The Sun was just touching the horizon, turning the moor a thousand shades of gold. There was darkness coming from above, and Darkness coming from below.
“You were probably just taught badly.” Charlotte replied. “Anyway, when you think about it, this whole thing’s worked out quite conveniently for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Now nobody’s going to have to find out how badly I fucked up Uni,” she drunkenly slurred. “Enough about me. I don’t want to talk about me. Tell me what you did, before all this happened.”
“I were a carpenter, me. I actually did some of the work in here when they were doing this place up a few years back.”
“I’m not smart like you.”
Somewhere on the shrinking island of peat and heather and tough, brown grass, a grouse shrieked “Go back! Go back! Go back!” and then was silent.
“You know, this whisky’s the best I’ve ever drunk.” Chris said, to break the silence.
“It’s the most expensive we had. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste.”
“Have you got any family?”
“Well, I did. I’ve not heard from my parents or my brother or my boyfriend or my nephew since I went out to work this morning.”
“Fuck, that’s rough. Sorry for bringing that up.”
“It’s fine. Did you have anyone?”
“Sort of. I mean, my wife left me 6 months ago. She took my 2 kids. I’ve not seen them for a week now. I’m assuming they’re gone. I mean, basically everyone’ll be gone now.”
Chris dug into the pockets of his fleece and fumbled a bit, taking out his phone, a set of keys, and his shiny, blue passport, and placing them in front of him on the table. Eventually, he got to his wallet.
He took out a picture of two small children, with cheesy smiles on their faces.
“Here they are,” Chris said, handing it across the table to Charlotte.
“Aren’t they just.”
“It just came so suddenly.” Charlotte said, out of nowhere. “This morning, it was a long way off. It was just something happening somewhere else. Then it took over everywhere. There was no way to know where it was going next.”
“It’s moving a lot slower now.”
Then there was no sound but the gurgling of a stream, flowing blindly into that deep Unknown.
“What do you think it feels like?” Charlotte asked.
“What does what feel like?”
“When it… you know… when it gets you.”
“I saw on the News a guy somewhere who’d lost his hand in it. He said he didn’t feel it when it was in there, but when he took it out of course it just felt like he’d had his hand cut off.”
“That’s fine, then, if we’re going all the way in.”
“Only if you stay totally still. I you move away from it at all when it’s coming over you, then…”
“That’s a point. You’d get bits of you cut off.”
“They made a big mistake when they used this shit in the War and they didn’t know what it were gonna do in the long run.”
“I don’t think that’s very controversial.”
The Darkness was advancing faster now, and from all sides. It had obscured the Moon, and was encroaching on the weathered walls of the inn.
“You’ve been great today,” Charlotte said, heaving herself unsteadily to her feet.
Leaning on each other, they staggered a few paces forward. Chris took a swig of whisky from the bottle, and passed it to Charlotte, who finished it off, before smashing it on the flagstones.
And, back-to-back, they faced The Darkness.