"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win." – Stephen King

I hate this place.

It's dark, cold, and it stinks. A lot. The wind whips through the ally, pitching the stench at me. It burns in my nostrils and triggers my gag reflex. The decision to spend the night here suddenly seems like a very bad one, but there's no fixing it now.

Hiking through this godforsaken city during the day is bad enough; doing it at night would be unbearable. At least for the moment; I would be forced to run in the dark under different circumstances.

I've done it before, and run into more than a few psychopaths scattered around here and there. I can always tell who they were because a thick cloud of terrible sadism clings to them like a second skin, brightening their horrifying eyes and darkening their souls.

Besides, sneaking around at this hour with my backpack will draw unwanted attention to the fact that I had nowhere to go home to. Nobody will really care, but it's still better to remain inconspicuous.

A freezing breeze hits me, making me shiver so hard my teeth chatter. The cold bites at my face, and I'm sure my cheeks are cherry red. I'll have to steal something warm soon. Wincing at the thought, I try to position my backpack so it will block the wind.

It helps some, but it's not even close to the kind of protection I desire. And I can form a picture of what I do desire in my head pretty easily. A little house, a soft bed . . . perhaps a window to look out. I don't let my mind linger these fantasies for long.

They get me nowhere. Of course, there's always the possibility I'll make it to my destination, and things will get better, but the ache in my heart and the coldness seeping into my bones makes me doubt it.

My motivation is rapidly disappearing. At least before, I had someone to travel with. Someone to talk to. Someone to share the burden of living with. Now it's just me, and I'll never see him again. Maybe it's for the best. I don't know.

There's a lot of things I don't know.

I chastise myself for a while, but I know it's not helping. Sometime soon, those happy images will sneak up on me again and whisper in my ear. Things always seem so much easier in my dreams. But this – my situation, my sorry excuse of a life – is not a dream. It's reality, and it's bleak. It's brutal.

And it will be, until I can find my way to where I think I belong. Out of this crises. Out of my own personal hell. I sigh, and moan a little aloud. There's no one around to hear, not anymore, and if there is, they stick to the shadows and remain unseen.

Right now, the future seems just as daunting as the present. And I'm not sure if that can change. I close my eyes, and let a wave of self-pity wash over me, an emotion I allow myself to succumb to only occasionally.

I hate this place.

A/N: I plan to finish up the rest of my stories shortly, with the exception of Before and After, which is on hiatus.