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The Devil's Swing

Chapter Text

Dear Henry,

It seems like a lifetime since we worked on cartoons together. 30 years really slips away, doesn’t it?

If you’re still in town, come visit the old workshop. I got something to show you.

Your Best Pal,

Joey Drew

 

It was strange to get a letter from someone who had been missing for three years.


Joey Drew Studios, named after its ever humble founder, producer, and head animator, had been limping along for a decade or so when all of its remaining staff, Drew included, suddenly vanished in the night. Police had swarmed the place in search of foul play, but they found nothing but an odd wiring set up and what they described as a strange machine that looked like a mutated photocopier mixed with a washing machine. An officer would occasionally be called over a supposed suspicious figure darting in and out of the door, but everyone figured it was just the neighborhood children sneaking in again.


The neighborhood children snuck in a lot.


While it was failing, The Lil’ Darlin’ Devil Show still had a few fans, particularly in the children of the town it was being made, and with the front door now eternally open and the show eternally cancelled, there was no end to tiny terrors going in to pillage, plunder, and vandalize the studio. However, part way into the first year of the curious closing, the children began to spread hushed little rumors among themselves. Stories about cutouts that moved on their own, zombie cartoons, spooky noises coming from the floor boards, and a strange machine that looked to them like an overgrown faucet, except it leaked ink. The adults of the town assumed that it was just the imagination of rowdy rugrats and their need to make their exploits seem much braver and more ‘adult’. The machine itself was already in the newspaper report, and even that sounded just like some animator jury-rigged something they shouldn’t have.


The problem was, Henry was an animator, and a few of the friends he left behind were animators. The last one of said friends quit the studio barely two years prior to the sudden shutdown only had a better name for the machine, not a better idea of what it was.

 

He had gotten letters from those friends constantly after he had quit-- after all, Henry was only mad at Drew’s pompous ass, not the other poor saps stuck under his yoke-- and over the decades they had only gotten more cryptic and vague about the goings on within the walls, save that there were several questionable renovations and the addition of a strange machine that no one knew what it did. Even after he finally moved back into town twenty-three years after leaving to join a newly-widowed sister and three year old niece, he could hardly convince them to meet him face to face, much less actually explain what they had been talking about. It was almost enough to enter the building on it's own, but that held the possibility of having to talk to Joey Drew, and the only reason Henry would have wanted to talk to Joey Drew was so he could slug him. So, in spite of his curiosity, he remained away for another seven years, even as the studio emptied and began to rot.


Getting a letter from a man no one had seen for three years, however, even one he still wanted to slug after all this time, was just too curious to pass up.


The old animator sucked in a breath as he stepped inside the studio. The main power had been cut long ago, with no one paying the bills, but the old generator must have still been running somehow, for the emergency lights flickered dimly above and before him, casting the rotting walls in an almost sepia tone. The floorboards creaked beneath him, sending spirals of dust around his feet, and the posters of the cartoon he used to draw-- of little Bendy himself, still haunting the studio after all this time-- seemed to watch him.


But that was impossible, of course. Henry shook his head and sighed; no wonder the kids all thought this place was haunted. He crumpled the letter in his hand, giving it one last glance as he tucked it away in his pocket.

 
“Alright, Joey”, he muttered into the musty air, filling the silence to steady himself, “I'm here. Let's see if I can find what you wanted me to see.”


As the old animator trudged towards the end of the entrance hall, a sound much unlike his own voice filled the silence instead; strange, warped and hiccuping music droning on an eternal loop. When he entered the old lunch room at the end of the hall, he found the source to be a broken projector in the corner of the room, the reels constantly jerking back and forth over the same two frames and showing only a flickering white screen on the wall. His stomach sunk slowly to his feet as he took stock of the room’s disrepair, and began to understand his friends’ use of the phrase “questionable renovations”. After all, there wasn’t much else to call someone nailing three large, ever turning projector reels to the wall, or large pipes lacing through the ceiling and filled with something that smelled horribly like rubber ink. All else was simply disturbing in its mundane decay, from rotting chairs to childish scribbles on the walls from juvenile vandals.


There was one other thing that stood out besides the pipes and reels, though it was far less disturbing. A bundle of long-wilted flowers laid on the table, pinning down a comparatively-fresh piece of paper with marks on it. As Henry grew closer, the marks solidified to his eyes as childish scrawls, apologizing to the supposed “ spooks ” that haunted the studio for the other children constantly mucking about the building. Childish scrawl that was very familiar to him.


Henry let out a snort that was somewhere between exasperated and amused. Susan. His niece had sworn up and down that she had never explored the rundown ruins of Joey Drew Studios, but now that he thought about it, her specific emphasis on ‘ rotting floorboards ’ when she relayed the other kids’ rumors really should have tipped him off. It was a little too late to be angry now, he guessed, and if he was really honest the fact she had apologized to whatever the children thought possessed the place now about said other children was equally hilarious and adorable.


He shook his head and turned away from his niece’s handiwork, feeling some of the sick feeling in his stomach ebb ever so slightly. If little Susan had seen no reason to be afraid of this place, then neither did he. Besides, strange things in the wall and bad lighting besides, in theory the only thing that was actually in the building was his rotten boss, who wasn’t so much ‘ terrifying ’ as ‘ a heel’ .


The thought occurred to Henry that Drew might have been waiting by his old desk, just to accost him by it one last time. It would figure, if Drew’s disposition hadn’t changed any in the past thirty years. The old animator plodded over to a specific corridor on the left side of the lunch room, realizing with some dismay that the narrow passageway was now quite constricting on his since-grown girth.  Still, he managed to squeeze down the hall into the the practical closet where his desk was. He had had a proper room, like all the original animators at the studio had, but after butting heads with Joey too many times, he had been banished to this cramped mouse hole in the wall, just in front of the way upstairs to the figure drawing room and the business offices they used to talk to the various network heads.


It brought up a few old, unpleasant memories, and the fact Drew was nowhere to be found was disheartening. The fact that stupid, overly cutesy doodle he sketched out was still on it, however, complete with the angry sticky note with a large “NO” on it, managed to bring a smile to his lips regardless. Little else of his old cubbyholed art space had remained intact; the character model sheets were all covered in ink-splattered paper on the walls, the floor similarly strewn, and crumpled into the corner was one of those creepy cut outs based on Joey Drew’s crappy original sketches of the Dancing Demon, jammed haphazardly into a spot which simply hadn’t the room for it.


Henry gave a shiver as he glanced over it; even with it’s head accordioned and crumpled, the sheer uncanniness of Drew’s original design for Bendy shone through clear as day. Who ever thought that it’d be a good idea to set eyes that far apart, or have that many teeth in a mouth?


Oh right. Joey Drew did.


Snorting, the old animator turned away from his old desk to begin squeezing his way back to the lunch room. He paused as he turned towards the door to the stairwell; now that he was looking at it straight on, he discovered the doorway had several planks of wood nailed across it, barring the way. Henry reached out and tugged on one such plank and found it immovable, as if it had just been nailed yesterday. Drew was meant to meet him here, so he guessed it was entirely possible his old boss had done it, but what would have been the point of blocking an old stairwell? Henry leaned closer to the planks and squinted through them, searching.


“Joey?”


Silence. If Drew had been the culprit, he was no longer in the stairwell, and if he expected Henry to tear all this wood down and meet him upstairs, he was going to be sorely disappointed; no amount of punching him in the face was worth Henry blowing out his back. If he hadn’t, then the question remained; why bother at all?


The old animator squeezed his way back out into the lunch room, insides twisting in time with his whirling mind. Even the flowers on the table did nothing to soothe the feeling; if anything, it made it worse.


He shook his head. He had to stay focused on finding Drew if he wanted any answers. If his old employer wasn’t waiting in ambush at his desk, perhaps the old storyboarding room would be a better bet. After all, Joey Drew might have been a poor artist and animator-- regardless of his own opinion on the matter-- but he had been brilliant at storyboards, and Henry could almost see him purposely sketching out an explanation and hamming it up instead of giving him a straight, normal answer about what the hell was going on. Henry had to suppress an irritated groan just thinking about it.


As he trudged down the next hall, the hiccuping of the broken projector finally faded away behind him. Up ahead, he remembered, used to be the indent where some of the vending machines had been tucked away, but as he approached it it became apparent the automats full of coca-cola had been replaced with overturned chairs, ink splatters, and a bit of graffiti that stretched from one corner of the indent to the other, spelling out in careful, childish letters Dreams Come True .


Henry wondered what kind of sick imagination the hooligan responsible for this particular scrawl had, if this was considered just a dream.


Swallowing thickly, he pressed onward down the darkened hallway, emergency lights flickering and buzzing. He could make out a dim shape through the door, but no matter how much closer he drew, he couldn’t quite grasp the shape of it. Even as he entered the wreckage of the storyboarding room, the thing sitting at it’s heart was so alien his mind fumbled to try to describe it. For all his imagination, the best he could manage was that it was a strange chimera of an Airacuda engine and oversized firehoses.


The word strange made Henry remember the newspaper that came out when the staff went missing. It made him remember all the hushed whispering of the kids in the neighborhood, and his niece’s reporting of the more rowdy of the lot’s escapades. But most importantly, he remembered the letters from his old animator friends, and the name for the contraption they all had repeated to him, over and over again.

 
“So”, he breathed. “This is the Ink Machine.”

Chapter Text

Though his vocabulary still stretched to describe it, save for the ever-repeating word strange, the longer Henry stared at the Ink Machine, the more details came into focus, such as its smoothness, the stillness of its gears and pistons, or the fact the back part was not a gaping maw of an opening but a large tank, filled to the brim with what smelled distinctly of rubber ink. The biggest detail of them all, however, was the fact the giant pipes the old animator had seen threaded through the lunch room plunged down from the ceiling and up from the floor, spreading out from the Ink Machine like arteries from a heart.

 

The second biggest detail was that all the wiring had been ripped from the walls and plugged into it.

 

With each faint gurgle from the tank, the emergency lights flickered. It was too well timed to be coincidence, and Henry realized with a sinking feeling that, somehow, someway, Drew had made this thing a source of power.

 

Which, he supposed, would explain why there were any lights on at all, even if the reason was far worse than just assuming the generator had lasted this long.

 

Henry edged towards the Ink Machine carefully, making a face as the puddle of black sludge that surrounded it splashed at his shoes. Hesitantly, he place a hand on one of the gears and pushed it forward. The lights above him glowed brighter for an instant. He pushed again, and again the lights above glowed. The old animator felt his stomach knot up; it wasn’t a source of power. This infernal contraption had become the source of power. Who had ever thought that was a good idea?

 

Oh right. Joey Drew had.

 

Henry leaned back from the strange contraption and scowled at the dim emergency lights, and the faint impression of air vents between them. He guessed he ought to have been grateful that the Ink Machine was powering anything at all, but some part of him couldn't help but muse how much easier searching for Joey would be if the place was properly lit and the stench of rotting wood, dust, and rubber ink wasn't clogging his lungs.

 

Follow the ink. The thought came up so suddenly Henry couldn't help but blink. His eyes slid from the lights to the pipes threading through the ceiling. He turned and traced them as they headed out the door; while one set headed back to the lunch room, another took off down another hall, in the direction of the break room and Joey's office. If the way to turn it on isn't in here, it must be that way.

 

Henry frowned slightly as he mulled the idea over. He was starting to jump to conclusions in his old age, wasn't he? And yet, the thought tugged at him. He found his feet idly moving him towards the door, and before he knew it, he was back in the rotting halls, frowning more at the passageway than the idea of going down it.

 

When it gets down to it, he supposed with a shrug, I still need to find Joey. If he turned the lights on while he was at it, it'd just make things easier for himself.

 

...Probably.

 

As he plodded through the dark hall, he realized suddenly he almost missed the stuttering sound of the broken projector, for now that he had gotten away from it the only sounds to comfort him was his own snorting when the general reek of decay got to him, and the steady dripping of ink from the pipes. Granted, one couldn't really expect much from a ruined building that had been mysteriously emptied of it's cast and crew, but even excluding his gregarious former boss being startlingly elusive, there should have at least been at least the scuffling of insects and rats, or the slithering of snakes and pattering of lizard feet.

 

Or, he realized belatedly, the heavy breathing of some thugs holing up or drug addicts. He had a much less dire sinking feeling than the ones he'd been getting since walking through the door, mostly involving the image of his little sister squawking at him for not thinking ahead when he got home. Oh well.

 

The point was that it was disturbingly quiet in the the Studio, more so than any building (however abandoned) should be on this earthly plane. It was thus a relief when he heard something like a voice ahead of him. He picked up the pace of his walk.

 

“Hello?”, he called ahead. Whoever it was continued to talk, as if they didn't hear him. As he drew closer, he recognized the thick whiny accent of the janitor. His eyes lit up and he called out again; “Hey Wally, is that yo--”

 

Too late, as he entered the small intersection of halls, he realized the voice was too tinny to be a real, live person. He stared balefully at the tape recorder sitting on the shelf as it cheerfully continued to play back it's contents.

 

--Get this”, the canned ghost of Wally Franks groaned from the speakers, “Joey had each one of us donate something from our work stations. We put them on these little pedestals in the break room. To help appease the gods, Joey says. To keep things going…”

 

The more dire sinking feeling was back.

 

Henry barely registered the rest of the old janitor's complaining or long, drawn out 'I'm outta here'-- he had already started to stumble away, jaw setting grimly. It was only after the recording clicked off that he stopped to look back at it, puzzled. He had heard no footprints ahead of him, and the tape recorder's buttons clearly marked it as manual instead of something that reacted to movement. How did it turn on?

 

The wiring's probably faulty, his spinning thoughts abruptly offered. The building is old, and full of decay. Besides, it's unlikely ink is good for the wiring, powering it all or not. Just a malfunction, nothing to worry about.

 

Henry still didn't like it much, but the idea it was just twitchy wiring messing with him was admittedly soothing, so long as it didn't result in a fire. His heartbeat slowed and steadied in his chest, and he moved on, the creeping calm settling in his bones without so much as a blink.



He passed a turn and came into a room that was little more than the hall expanding briefly. This too, was an automat nook once, but Henry saw no such drink dispenser here; the slightly-fenced area where it sat was now filled to the brim with various bits of junk and paraphernalia, and in the opposing corner, a drawing desk, where Henry could only imagine some poor intern got shoved into.



His eye was drawn back to the pile of junk. As he focused, it became more apparent that it was less just various scrap and more things people would've had to work with in the studio; old dolls, vinyl records, a copy of Joey's infernal book The Illusion Of Living sitting on the top of the pile precariously, inkwells, and the like. The only things out of place were the gears stuck out at points in the mound, and the wrench at the bottom, but with the Ink Machine just a few halls down and it's pipes threading through every flat surface of the building, it wasn't a stretch to imagine why those were there.



Joey had each one of us donate something from our work stations, Wally had said. To keep things going. Henry shuddered and shook himself. Keep going, his thoughts urged, and after a moment, he managed, trudging through the room into the hall's continuation.



The intersection leading both to Joey's office and the break room was not too far ahead. Henry was almost tempted to look at the office, to skip ahead to yelling at his old boss if he had just holed himself in his old seat of power. But something reminded him no, turn the lights on first, and he began to make the right turn that would take him in the break room's direction.



There was a horrible sound of the ceiling no longer being able to withstand it's own rot and snapping, a portion of the roof hitting the ground with a rattling sort of thud. Henry whirred left, instinctively, and froze. The damage to both ceiling and roof was less than it had sounded, but he was staring past it, through the door way.



There was something in Joey's old office.



His mind floundered as it tried to grasp what it was seeing, but his eyes remained frozen on the figure, his feet drawing him into the office on auto-pilot. As he drew closer, the stench of death mixed with the rotting wood and rubber ink into a horrible concoction that would've made him retch even without the sight attached.



And yet the sight attached was worse. As his brain finally processed the image, he grasped the table that looked like a stolen prop from Frankenstein, with pipes plunging down from the ceiling and up from the floor to burrow into the back of the reclined hunk of of metal, filling up the rest of the room with glass and ink.



On the table itself, a body sagged in its leather restraints, doglike head lolling limply on a boneless, too-thin neck. The creature's eyes had been crossed out in a way that could've almost been comical if they hadn't appeared to be cut into the corpse's face, and its tongue dangled out of its gaping mouth. Further down, overalls built of browned paper had been unbuckled to expose a torso that had been torn open with ruthless precision. The creature's ribs blossomed out of the opening, too pearly and plastic in color and texture for any mortal beast's bones but so perfectly real and playing with the splatters of light that filtered on it in peculiar shapes. Balloon shaped structures peered out behind them in a gradient of gray lumps, and something akin to ashen colored rubber hoses tumbled out from the torn torso's lower portion haphazardly, hooking and hooping around the hint of hip bones at the bottom corners of the hole; lungs, stomach, and intestines, easily identified but simplified to mockery. The heart, or whatever would have passed for one, had either been removed at some point or simply never existed. If it hadn't been for the bile crawling up the old animator's throat and the pervading stink of decay clawing at his nose, the body could have easily been some cartoon that had tried to mock murder most foul and only succeeded in the 'most foul'.



The word cartoon connected with a name in Henry's head, and all at once he came to the realization he was staring at the real-life mangled corpse of the co-star of The Lil' Darlin' Devil Show; Boris the Wolf.






Chapter Text

Henry stared at the carved up corpse of what should have been a cartoon caricature of a wolf. It did not cease being any less in front of his eyes, nor did it cease having visible bones and viscera. He continued staring. It continued existing.

 

Recognizing that Boris's body was indeed going to remain a rancid reality, Henry did the only rational thing he could; he turned around and proceeded to retch the remains of his breakfast on the rotted floorboards.

 

The old animator's body heaved even after his stomach was empty, his mind trying to purge the image of the corpse just by him from it, but to no avail. He spluttered and coughed, hands on his knees, until his abdomen finally stopped it's pulsing squeezes. Eyes stinging, he looked up and towards a wall, anywhere but the impossible decomposing doodle.

 

The wall, as it turned out, was also a bad place to look, albeit to a lesser degree, and succeeding in casting an extra shadow of horror on the room. There, clear as day, written in Joey Drew's own flowing scrawl, was a simple, terrible sentence; Who's Laughing Now?

 

Not me , thought Henry briefly as he quickly exited the room, leaning against the doorframe as his body tried to heave again, staring dead ahead down the hall and away from the cartoon corpse.

 

Get a grip , his thoughts soothed. That's Joey's office and Joey's hand on the wall, but cartoons aren't real. He probably set up a dummy to scare you. This is Joey after all. Funnily enough, the intrusive thoughts actually failed to calm him, by simple fact that the stench and the limpness reminded him too well of bodies dangling from broken plane pieces, and of men mowed down just out of sight while trying to escape from heavy bootsteps and spitting, swearing shouts in German.

 

It's still a cartoon , his thoughts tried again. Would it even feel pain? That was...an unpleasant thought in it's own right. Henry shuddered.

 

Fine. His thoughts turned cold, and logical; Even if it is a cartoon that can really feel pain and really be dead, what can you do about it? Call the cops and say the boss that's been missing for three years horribly murdered a cartoon character from the show you used to work on? That's a one way ticket into a mental asylum. What would Darlene and Susan do then?

 

Now that was an argument that seemed reasonable. Even so, as the bile finally unhooked it's claws in Henry's throat, he couldn't help but feel sorry for poor Boris; in the cartoons he had always had the worst luck, almost none of it deserved. Disregarding his general desire to eat every herd of sheep, he was generally better tempered than Bendy and perhaps even--

 

There's nothing to be done now , his thoughts reminded, gently. Nothing can be done for the dead.

 

Henry thought of all the coffins he had seen covered in American flags. He gulped and nodded, taking a step forward, mindlessly. Nothing can be done for the dead.

 

The hall seemed longer than he remembered, and more stifling with a cadaverous cartoon's carved out gaze at his back, but he managed to stumble into the old break room.

 

The old animator could no longer bring himself to be surprised, even through the fog that had settled in his mind; gone were the break room's automats and couches, replaced by a room-length altar that had gestated in the darkest corner of an occult film set designer's mind. Six pillars, three per side in even rows, stretched out of the ground as if they had been pulled up from under the floorboards instead of built. They cut off sharply underneath small, square picture frames, each a square so perfect they may as well had been stenciled in. The large ink pipes looped out of the ceiling over each pillar, doubling back at harsh angles into the ceiling again whenever it approached the picture frame before curving back down for the next pillar. The twinned pipes and pillars all drew Henry's eyes forward, leading them to the back of the room.

 

Here, the ink pipes finally freed themselves from the ceiling, instead burrowing deeply into what appeared to be a modified power breaker. Smaller pipes spread out from the main metal plate, spiraling around the wall like varicose veins before vanishing beneath the rotting planks. The metal plate itself had only two particular things of note; a label saying “Ink Flow” with a blank light panel below it, and a lever marked Power by a different light panel. These themselves were not so bad, but the shape of the panels and the lever were disquietingly crude. If Henry hadn't known better, and if they weren't in fully realized three dimensions, he'd have said someone had drawn them on.

 

But then, if Henry's knowing better would say there wasn't a dead, decaying doodle of a wolf a very short walk away.

 

While his mind did not boggle to see the power breaker and it's set dressing, his eyes still ached at the sight, forcing him to close them and rub slightly at them with the heels of his hands. His feet plodded forward without him, and when he finally attempted to look again, the old animator discovered he was right in front of the metal plate and it's lever. After a blink, he idly took the lever and pulled down.

 

The lights flickered out for a single, startling moment before turning back on again. The panels on the power breaker lit up, dimly, with the emergency lights; the one under Ink Flow flashed a dull grey scrawl of LOW, and the panel that once read Power now read NO SACRIFICES .

 

No sacrifices. Henry gulped as he turned around, gazing at the pillars. Once again, he remembered Wally's voice over the cassette. Joey had each one of us donate something from our work stations, Wally had said. To keep things going.

 

In the gloom, the stencil-like pictures above the pedestals seemed to shift, showing images; a doll, a gear, an inkwell, a note of music, a wrench, and a book. Briefly, the image of the junk pile down the hall flashed in his mind.

 

Sacrifices first , his thoughts nudged. He trudged forward, out of the break room, sparing only one last glance over his shoulder as he turned the corner. As he wasn't watching where his feet were going, he had no knowledge of anything being in front of him until he smacked squarely into it, earning him a noise that sounded somewhere between an annoyed whistle and a staccato violin plunk!

 

The old animator stumbled back, staring, instantly bringing his fists up, only to find himself staring at one of the creepy cutouts of Bendy.

 

Henry let out a relieved 'whew', rubbing the back of his neck before looking around, squinting into the gloom. “Hey”, he called out, irritably, “Who's the wiseguy? Joey, if that was you, I swear to God--”

 

But his voice simply faded away into the darkness. There was no response from anywhere, or even a soft huff of someone besides himself breathing. Indeed, he realized, as his eyes slowly settled back on the ever-grinning cutout, there hadn't even been the faintest sound of footsteps or something being placed before the cardboard caricature had appeared. A sense of unease coiled in his chest.

 

Don't be stupid , his thoughts chided. Cutouts don't move on their own.

 

Henry suddenly wasn't so sure, but he managed to shake himself into moving again, edging around the cutout and back down the hall towards the pile of junk. Each bit of former merchandise seemed to shine in the dim lighting, or perhaps it was reflecting the flickering light from a room further down the hall. He began reaching for the book perched precariously on the top of the pile.

 

Wait a minute.

 

His knees groaned with the speed he whirled around, wide eyes stopping on the slight glow from under a door that had most assuredly not been on when he had walked by it the first time. Before his thoughts could catch him, he hustled as fast as his creaking bones would let him, reaching the door just in time for the light to vanish. After a pause, he gave a hesitant knock on the door. After receiving no answer, he gave faint huff, and knocked once more, only to jolt when the door swung open with a bang! , as if he had shoulder checked it instead of simply rapped on it.

 

The first thing that greeted him out of the newly-forged shadows of the small room was a small, staticy sound of an old radio humming away, but as his vision cleared, it hiccuped and faded in time with his own shock and crawling horror.

 

The room appeared to have been a very small office, once, but one could only tell from the collapsing bookshelf and the desk with a chair still lopsidedly tilted into it, as if the owner had only gotten up for a moment and had intended to come back. On the wall to the right, a peeling poster for Boris' spotlight episode Sheep Songs hung, and a few doodles of a halo seemed to dust the broken bookshelf.

 

It was hard to tell, however, given the whole room was covered with writing.

 

Specifically, most of it was covered in a single word, scrawled again and again in a childish hand, to the point the word almost seemed scratched into the very wood at some points, becoming a written litany of TRAITOR.

 

It was not the only word, or even the only handwriting in the room, however; over the sad looking poster of Boris someone had offered a very shaky We're Sorry, though with no note to who the words were addressed to. Across from the apology, Henry realized with a start, looked like the smooth writing of Sammy Lawrence, the music director of the studio, though it was far more fervent than anything the cranky songwriter had ever scratched out to him; All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

 

On the wall across from him, however, gently looped the most notable sentence, or at least the remains of one. And now these three remain: fear, despair and love. But the greatest of these is--

 

The sentence stopped short of it's last word, not for the lack of being written out, but for the giant, gaping gouges in the wood that had removed the last word, as if some horrible claws had scraped past it in anger. The old animator shivered and looked down, trying to collect himself, only to discover the mess had not missed the chance to spill onto the rotten floorboards; what Henry initially thought was a puddle of ink on the floor, after further study, turned out to be a mess of various inky footprints of various make, from dainty bare feet to large, circular stumps. He looked up again quickly.

 

The desk was in an equally disastrous state as the walls and floor, now that he was doing his best to focus on it instead, inky splotches and shredded paper cluttering it, and it's built-in shelves pulled apart like jenga sticks. At the center of the table, cotton and cloth spread out from two mutilated toys that may have once been Alice and Boris dolls, and between the two sagged a particularly sad looking Bendy doll. On instinct, Henry reached out to pick it up, and it let out the saddest of squeaks as his fingers closed around it.

 

Without much thought, he tucked it into his pocket, gently, while turning his gaze on the small room once more. His eyes alighted on the scratched out sentence, and for some reason a small sense of sorrow tugged at his heartstrings, mixed with the faintest scent of burning ink.

 

There's no time for this , his thoughts griped, his hand numbly reaching for the doorknob and shutting the strange room before the dire feeling in his belly could coil from the writing on the walls. Get the sacrifices.

 

The old animator's body felt heavy as he turned and plodded back up the hall to the nook filled with various paraphernalia and garbage. He squinted at the various objects before slowly pulling one of each that could match up with the stencils in the break room; a gear, a wrench, an inkwell, and the copy of Joey's stupid book, The Illusion Of Living. His hand hesitated as he reached for a doll-- you already have one -- before grasping it, deciding the he was keeping the one in his pocket for himself.

 

Arms laden with a myriad of merch, Henry trudged back to the break room altar, fumbling his way through placing the first few objects in their spots before he finally had enough wiggle room for his hands to set the rest without difficulty. Rubbing the bridge of his nose to ward off another headache as he drew close to the power breaker, he pulled the lever once more, lights blinking on and off again. The panel reading NO SACRIFICES had changed again, the words thankfully replaced by the original, simple Power. Unfortunately, the panel below Ink Flow still read LOW .

 

...Right then. Follow the pipes.

 

As some part of him mused about the repetitiveness of all this, his feet dragged him around and back down the halls. With a cringe, Henry realized that the cutout that had been sitting outside the break room was gone , but his thoughts and tread refused to let him reflect on the fact; instead he plodded apathetically down, taking a turn he hadn't before, towards the old screening room. He looked up to make sure the pipes were really directing him down this way, when a strange mixture of a whistle and a staccato violin plunk! sounded in front of him.

 

The old animator froze in his tracks, head snapping back down to stare ahead. For a split second, he caught a blur darting back around the corner.

 

“Hey!”

 

Henry rushed forward, but the small corner of hallway and the screening room was just as empty as the rest of the building; all he found was another cutout leaning against the wall, ink pooling around it's feet. A shiver crawled down his spine.

 

Still a cutout , his thoughts scoffed. Man up, will you?

 

With a slightly irritated huff, he shuffled into the screening room, stumbling a few times over the various chairs scattered in the dark before he reached the back wall. Looking up, he saw the pipes curve around the corner, plunging downwards just before it vanished into the nook that had been where reels were fed into the projector. Tracing it, he discovered in burrowing into the wall above a sign reading Ink Pressure, and a button that simply read Flow.

 

After a moment, Henry pressed it.

 

With a low, groaning creak, the ink pipes began to pulse, and the ever-underlying smell of rubber ink Henry had finally started to get used to increased, causing him to gag. For a moment, as he wheezed and snorted, he could almost swear he heard the faintest claws and laughter coming from the pipes, but when he shook his head, the supposed sound was gone.

 

On the other hand, the projector had turned itself on upon the pipes starting to flow, and it was most assuredly making a sound; specifically, it was playing an unpleasantly jaunty test animation of Bendy, courtesy of the Studio's boss himself, too-many teeth and too-set apart eyes and all. Henry didn't understand who had ever thought such an ungainly bounce had any charm.

 

Oh, right. Joey Drew had.



The song playing, however, was not the awkward, eerie Hellfire Follies that Henry usually associated such nonsense with, but something softer, something sadder. Idly, as he dragged himself out of the room, he recognized the melody as being the song they played whenever they decided to see how many kids they could make cry by splitting Bendy and his questionable-love-interest up in the most painful ways imaginable, even if they would just reset the next episode.



Huh.

 

He shuffled slowly back to the break room, and this time, with the panel under Ink Flow reading HIGH and one last pull of the lever, the lights all finally lit up to a full, glorious brightness, and the vents hiccuped on, pulling the dust and stench away. Henry gave a long, shuddering sigh of relief. Finally.

 

And with that, he felt as if some strings he hadn't known were holding him up had been cut . The old animator stumbled and caught himself on the power breaker as his legs tried to give out on him, reeling as the full horror and confusion he should have been feeling finally settled in with a loud What the hell was I thinking?! There was a dead cartoon! And a room full of crazy! And SACRIFICES! He should've left the moment he had seen Boris-- no, the moment he had seen the Ink Machine! Joey, objectively speaking, was not worth this level of sick and wrong, and while the cops would probably think Henry had lost his mind if he called them, that would not prevent the old animator from going home and fishing out some beer to kill a few braincells until he could un-see the whole mess, wagon and Darlene's fussing be damned.

 

The lights and vents chose this moment of introspective terror to give the place a suitable atmosphere. Which is to say, the vents gave out a horrible, screeching rattle while the lights began to glow far too bright, hissing as they overheated. Henry cringed and hid his eyes behind his arm from the overabundant brightness.

 

With a horrible groan, the lights, the vents, and his nerves gave out, plunging him into a dark, suffocating panic.

 

“I'm getting the hell out of here”, he rasped to the air, organizing his whirling thoughts into something mostly-coherent and forcing himself on his shaking, creaking knees to immediately hustle for the door.

 

As he passed through the hall, he noticed there was significantly more ink on the floor. He made the mistake of glancing up out of the corner of his eye to see that the gaping hole in Boris's torso had become a geyser of ink, likely pushing its way out of the spot where his heart ought to have been. He forced himself to move faster, swallowing the bile trying to crawl up his throat.

 

His jogging through the halls was silent save for his feet hitting the rotting, protesting floorboards and the harshness of his own breath, but as he drew closer to the former-storyboarding room where the Ink Machine nested, something hit his ears that made him stumble; a whistle. A familiar whistle, which he knew from somewhere, he was very certain, but where precisely it was hard to pin down. Regardless of where he had heard the whistling before, the version he was hearing now was almost gleeful in it's eerie, sinister tone, seeming to resonate within the very ink pipes and echo out of every leak.

 

He entered the last hall. After a split second, he realized that it was darker than it had been, and once again he made the mistake of glancing up, in this case at the room hosting the Ink Machine.

 

It had been boarded up.

 

Henry knew for a fact he had heard no nails or hammers, or even the breath of another soul. It was just enough to confuse him, to stop the part of him channeling Wally and chanting over and over I'm outta here , and to make him curious. Hesitantly, he drew closer to the barricaded doorway. His feet splashed in a puddle of ink that hadn't been there before, cueing him to look down. Vaguely, he could make out the daintiest of footprints, like the smallest ones in the room covered with writing on the walls, and as he turned his back on the boarded blockade to trace their path, he found them vanishing just under the closest closed door-- very literally, for they briefly seemed to have charred the floor beneath them before suddenly stopping, a ghost of half a footprint peering out from under the threshold. The scent of burning ink hit his nose.

 

“What the-- ?”

 

He couldn't finish the perplexed sentence; he simply didn't have the time, what with the sudden slicing feeling in the air just behind his back and the warped, mad giggle that followed it.

 

When he whirled around, he was greeted by a grin that at first appeared to float in the air, or perhaps was stapled into the air, for it was distended far wider than any natural baring of teeth. Then the darkness around it moved and Henry realized that he was not staring at shadows and a disembodied grin, but at a stringy, writhing mass of ink leering out at him from behind the boards. A twisted, too-skinny arm dangled out between the gaps bonelessly, the claws that were the most likely culprit of the prior slash began to slowly turn white in the mockery of a cartoon glove as the whole limb began to curl upwards like a snake, the tips of it's fingers carving gouges into the wood that was holding the rest of the body back. Faintly, in the part of Henry's mind that was far too calm noted that just above the distended grin curved crooked horns that made the macabre monstrosity look oddly like a warped version of Bendy .

 

“Awwwww, what's the matter, Henry?” , the twisted creature spoke without opening it's mouth, voice rattling in the pipes and echoing in the ink puddle spilling out from under the boards like the whistling before, “Don't you recognize an ol' pal?” Henry stumbled backwards a few steps as the creature began to cackle. With each delighted screech, a new leak in the pipes sprung forth, swiftly beginning to flood the floor with foul-smelling rubber ink. The board it was clawing at began to crack.

 

Nope , thought the old animator, turning on his heel and fleeing in the direction of the exit.

 

Henry ran as fast as his shaking legs and creaking knees could carry him, feet sloshing through the ink as it continued to pour down from the ceiling. Behind him he heard the rattling, insane laughter continue in time with the sound of each board holding the monster back straining cracking. As the first few echoes of the boards breaking reached him, he hooked his hand on the corner of the entrance hall and shoved, giving himself extra momentum as he sprinted those last few yards between him and freedom. The glow of the exit sign beamed above the door, beckoning him towards its safety.

 

And then he felt the sick crack of the old floorboards giving way underneath him.


Chapter Text

“And then the monster fell through the hole, cursin' me the whole way down!”

 

The children ooh-ed and ahh-ed at Jeremy Gramercy as he puffed up with the power of his own exploits. Every fourth grader knew about the creepy old Joey Drew Studios and how it was haunted, though none had come back with anything beyond tales of weird pencil sharpener-like machines and a few mentions of some sort of spook dancing around at the edges of the shadows. Jeremy had brought a story , and while it didn't exactly match anything the others had seen, just the thought of such an adventure stirred excitement in their little bones.

 

Well, that is, except for in girl, her overalls covered in paint and her auburn hair frizzing about her face save for where it was held in place by a single, red bow. This girl simply snorted at Jeremy, not even bothering to look up from what she was drawing. He leveled her a dirty look.

 

“You got somethin' to say, Susan?”

 

“Only that you're full'a baloney”, she answered simply. She still refused to look up, even as the boy huffed and hopped down from the table he was standing on to point a finger at her.

 

“You callin' me a liar, Paintbrush?” Jeremy Gramercy puffed up again, pulling himself to his not-too-impressive height. “You're just mad you ain't brave enough to face a monster! I bet you haven't even been in that ol' Studio.”

 

“Have, actually”, Susan responded evenly again, still focused on her doodles. “So's everyone else in here. Ain't nothin' more dangerous in there than rot and a few upset spooks who don' like people bustin' into their home.”

 

The boy flushed as the crowd behind him muttered to themselves, admitting now that the story's spell was broken that Susan was right. “W-well you just admitted the place is haunted!”, he shouted, trying to save face.

 

Susan rolled her eyes. “Duuuuh. Everyone knows that.”

 

“So maybe I was fightin' a spook, huh?! Maybe I'll go there right after school and fight it again!” The girl finally looked up to give Jeremy a surprisingly stern look, flipping her pencil and waving the eraser end at him like she'd seen her mother wave her pen at patrons in the diner.

 

"You’re gonna upset someone doin' that. Or you'll break through a rotten floorboard. Then everyone 'll hear 'bout how you were bravely fished out of a gross old basement by the cops. "

 

The boy flushed even harder as a few giggles came from the crowded students before they started to disperse. The girl who sat in front of Susan-- Kelly, her name was-- plopped down in her chair and turned to blink at her.

 

“But what about your uncle, though?”

 

Susan blinked, looking confused as she looked at Kelly and rested her pencil on her desk. “Uncle Henry? What about him?”

 

“I saw his car parked out in front of the Studio on the way to school”, the other girl elaborated, gesturing slightly. “He wasn't in it, and the door was just closin', so I figured he went in there.”

 

“AHA!” Jeremy Gramercy jumped up from his slouch, pointing at Susan again, seizing his chance to save face. “Yeah, Paintbrush, whaddyou gotta say to your uncle stirrin' up spooks?!”

 

“My uncle wasn't raised in a pig sty, for starters”, she snapped at him, frowning. “He'll at least knock first so the spooks'll know he's there.”

 

“What if the spooks turn cranky, like what Jeremy was bluffin' about?”, Kelly asked. The boy flushed so hard he looked more tomato than man.

 

“I AIN'T BLUFFIN'!”

 

“Uncle Henry's a grown up”, Susan answered, ignoring Jeremy and picking her pencil up, finishing the halo on her last doodle. “He'll be fine.”


Chapter Text

Henry was the exact opposite of fine. His poor knees ached with absorbing the shock of falling several yards, and his poor mind was absorbing the shock of the sudden horror show he had been thrusted into. It was only by luck he had landed on his feet as opposed to his face or his spine, and a miracle that nothing was broken except his general willingness to believe this was happening.

 

In fact, it was tempting to convince himself that he was as sleep deprived as Darlene insisted he was and was in fact hallucinating doing anything besides falling through rotten floorboards into some cellar Joey had added to the Studio after he left, and that he should just lie down and wait for his sister to get worried and send the police after him. Sadly, the ink constantly dripping on his head and shoulders, and the shower of it he took when he first landed as the deluge of rubber-based liquid followed him down, prevented him from comforting himself with such lies; he had come to the Studio to punch Joey in the face and walked into a low-budget Lovecraft story.

 

Wonderful .

 

The old animator had already used the doorknob as a way to straighten and steady himself before he realized there was a door in the room with him at all. Henry squinted into the gloom at his surroundings and noticed the cellar room he had fallen into was horrifically small, lit only from the emergency lights spitting down from the hole above. The only thing of note was the door itself, and the soft creaking of boards above.

 

Henry looked up at where he had fallen through, hoping beyond hope that he would see a way to crawl up; the exit had been only feet away, and the mad laughter had stopped and faded away, so if he had been lucky, he could slip out before the-- whatever that creature was noticed and book it to the nearest exorcist.

 

Henry was not a lucky man.

 

As his gaze turned upward, all he could see were the flickering emergency lights sputtering above ink-swollen splinters, playing with the gloom and shadows. One shadow in particular, however, moved contrariwise to the rest, circling the gap sluggishly. Slowly, a sliver of white peered out of it, a distended mouth glinting with too many teeth catching what little light there was to shine down on its intended prey.

 

Henry stared at the grin.

 

The grin stared down at Henry.

 

Slowly, the old animator turned the doorknob he still had a hand on and quietly slipped through the door, locking it behind him. He discovered that the door led to a stairwell, and that in spite of how badly they hurt his knees could in fact still take two or three steps at a time.

 

His escape into the darkness of a basement that certainly hadn't been there when he was still working in this place was disturbing silent, in the same way his escape from the monster had been sickeningly loud. At most, if he had bothered to stop and listen, he would've heard a snicker whistle from the pipes that plunged from ceiling to floor on each flight, or a sludge-like plop from the steps above. But he did not stop, not until he reached the bottom of the stairwell and booked into the next door.

 

Glancing around and grimacing against dim candlelight-- which, while at least more light than the stairs, still was not ideal for viewing his surroundings-- , he noticed a knocked over, busted drawer in the corner of this new room. Without a second thought, he lurched and grabbed it, pulling with all his might. The drawer and his back groaned in protest as it dragged across the floor, scraping into place against the door. Henry scrambled back to the furthest wall away from his sad little blockade, pressing himself against the wall. He waited, his heartbeat echoing in his ears and his breath echoing off the walls, and every second of silence did more to tie his nerves in to thicker and thicker knots than uncoil them.

 

Something glinted at the corner of his eye. Something metal. Something sharp.

 

Grasping blindly, Henry's fingers gained purchase on a coarse, wooden handle and pulled. From what he could see, the handle was far longer than the blade, which took up a small portion of the object at the end. A few test swipes confirmed his suspicions; it was an ax. Specifically, it was a fire ax, as if someone ( Joey ) had thought it would be a splendid idea to start worrying about fire safety after several questionable renovations had left the place an ink-filled madhouse. It was not as heavy nor sturdy as a proper wood ax-- indeed, it felt a little low-quality as fire axes went--, and it was not as sharp and well balanced as a machete, but it would do.

 

It would have to.

 

The old animator brought the ax up to bear, grinding his teeth and squaring his shoulders. Enough time passed that his eyes began adjusting to the gloom, the details of the room, the blockade, the ax, and his own outstretched arms forming in the candlelight. His breathing slowed, the musty oxygen in the air finally filling his lungs fully without being discharged too quickly. His limbs trembled. Sweat dripped off the end of his nose.

 

Eventually, he realized nothing was coming.

 

With a sigh, his arms fell to his sides, shoulders aching. He had no way to measure how long he had been standing still, but his aging body clearly didn't appreciate it regardless; he rolled his neck and winced as it popped. Still, he could at least see properly in the flickering candlelight, and while it would be wise to keep moving, he at least had been afforded a little time to think about where he was going.

 

He took in his surroundings properly this time, eyes scanning over the floors and walls. Initially, it seemed that the room was as small and unimpressive as the one he had fallen into, but then his gaze settled on the glut of candles tucked into the corner. Above the room's single source of light, and to Henry's sinking stomach's dismay, was more writing on the walls, in childish scrawl, parts of the words biting into the wood they were penned on as if they had not been written with ink, but claws; THE CREATOR LIED TO US.

 

His mind quickly flashed to the room he had found above, with the mad mantra of TRAITOR on every wall. He shuddered and turned away, quickly. To his relief, the next thing his eyes fell upon was a doorway. It was boarded, but he had recently acquired something that could deal with that.

 

As weak as the ax felt in his hands, he had to give it credit for it's sharpness. Or perhaps his old muscles and bones hadn't atrophied as much as he had thought? Regardless of the reason, each board buckled with one swipe each, allowing him entrance to the short hall in record time. The hall itself was little more than a dark corner leading to a proper door, it too boarded and it too buckling with ease.

 

The room within was, once again, small, and in this particular case it was cramped by clutter, candles, and coffins. The candles were placed around the edge of an inky circle with some form of emblem in the center; Henry hesitated to call it a 'pentagram', for the pattern repeated itself in layer after layer until it was a grim scribble on the ground. Vaguely, he could see the outline of another boarded door, just in the shadows on the other side of the circle. All in all, it looked plucked out of a Universal horror film set.

 

Also, there were coffins .

 

The old animator gulped past the sudden dryness of his throat. His first instinct was to open the coffins up to see if he could recognize anyone resting within them but no . If this was a horror flick, that was objectively a stupid idea, and if this was a bad horror flick, then it was objectively an especially stupid idea. All signs pointed to the latter, meaning all Henry could do was note it for when he escaped and could get a hold of someone. In the meantime, he started edging around the circle and away from the coffins, towards the door, so he could move on.

 

After all, nothing could be done for the dead.

 

He was halfway across the room when a cacophony of crashes sounded from the stairs and rooms behind him. Henry jumped, whirled, and stumbled, bringing his ax up to defend himself and accidentally staggering into the bounds of the circle.

 

He had a split-second to ponder why he felt like he had just pressed through and popped a bubble before the pain hit.

 

The agony started where his feet trespassed on the emblem on the floor and traversed upwards, jumping up marrow and muscle until it latched its claws into his brain, forcing the world to explode behind his eyes into a patchwork of sharp light and deep darkness. With a cry, Henry collapsed, newly gained ax clattering and sliding out of his reach. It didn't matter; his fingers clawed at his skull, trying to dig the pain out futilely, and even if they hadn't been his legs could no longer support him. He was helpless.

 

Barely, in some part of him once again detached from everything, he realized the crashes had stopped, replaced briefly by a sludge-like plop and then soft click, like a cloven foot hitting the ground. This was followed by a wet slurping noise of something dragging across the floor. Another click. Another slurp. Click. Slurp. Click. Slurp.

 

A limp. The monster had a limp. That would've almost been funny if he wasn't about to die.

 

With the limp came that eerie whistle that had mocked him upstairs, and finally the animator recognized it, distantly, as a warped version of Bendy's leitmotif. But where the leitmotif had been warm and friendly like the little darlin' devil himself, the whistle was the cool, mocking melody of a hunter. One that had no question about how easy its prey would be.

 

Even the parts of him that were too addled by his nerves setting themselves on fire knew enough to shut his eyes tightly when the whistle began to break down into a mad cackle. He refused to let the last thing he ever saw in this life to be that horrible grin; he'd rather watch the lights dance behind his eyes while that detatched little part of him got a head start on how to apologize to Darlene and Susan when they finally met up with him in the afterlife.

 

Oh, girls, I'm so sorry...

 

Speaking of those lights, the closer the creature's limp drew, the brighter they seemed to get. It wasn't quite his life flashing before him, but it would figure even now he wouldn't want to think much of it. Still, the twisted, gurgling giggles that came from everywhere at once suddenly cut out all at once in a confused little chirp, right in time with a particularly bright flash of light. A second, even brighter flash came after, coupled with the creature giving an earsplitting scream.

 

The last thing Henry knew, before his own pain was too much to bear consciously, was the scent of burning ink hitting his nose.



Chapter Text

Henry's knees hit the ground and he threw his hands out before him, just barely managing to catch himself before his face met dirt. He grunted as one of the German soldiers put a boot on his back, laughing, and dug his heel in. He was looking for screams, Henry thought, but he wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

 

He wouldn't dare.

 

--ake up..!--

 

Her shoes clicked against the wood in the floor as she ran, fire ax hefted over her shoulder. It was heavy, glinting in a decidedly lethal manner, and it was too harshly textured for her inky, dainty hands to hold in any way besides ‘ uncomfortably ’, but it would do for now, in spite of Boris' concerns. It at least deterred the Creators when she waved it, and the doors stood little chance under it as she continued her search have to find him, have to save him, something's wrong, something's WRONG--

 

She turned the corner and gasped.

 

--enry you need to wa--

 

“I don' get it”, The three year old girl mumbled, looking up at her uncle with tear filled eyes. “How's Daddy s'posed to come home if they're puttin' him inna box...?”

 

Henry had no answer, even as the rain turned black and began to thickly cling to everything, drowning out the twenty-one gun salute and Darlene's soft little snuffles at his side.

 

---not safe, you have to--

 

The wheelchair's wheels spun idly in the air. It was such a strange thing to see, from this height, without any pain in his leg or the cringing reminder he was going to need to call someone to help him. He looked over his shoulder at the inky beast that had once been the Dancing Demon, taking in his crooked form before smiling to himself.

 

All was going well.

 

---please...!---

 

Darlene scowled at him across the table. “You fell through the floor ? Henry--”

 

“I know, I know”, he said, cutting her off with a slight wave and mildly embarrassed lip quirk. “Can't leave me alone for five minutes.”

 

“No shit .” His sister sighed in frustration, pushing his coffee closer to him even as she massaged her temples. He felt a small cringe of guilt, but knew better than to say sorry; if he did, she was liable to go on a tirade about how if he was sorry he would stop running off without plan or purpose, that he was the main source of all her white hairs, etcetera etcetera, until poor Susan was roused upstairs from all the noise. Instead, the old animator smiled a rueful smile at his drink, before taking a sip.

 

If only Darlene knew the full extent of the scares he had in the old Studio. Though, then again, perhaps it was better for all involved's blood pressure she didn't.

 

“Let me cut to the chase and let me guess what you're gonna say”, he said into the rim of his cup. “'You need to be more careful, Henry', right?”

 

“...No.”

 

Henry blinked at the strange sound of his sister's voice, as if something had overlaid it. As he placed his mug down, the cream within it began to swirl into strange shapes before settling into a star-like construct within the circular rim.

 

He blinked again. Now there were three mugs.

 

The two new mugs swirled in much the same way as the one in the center, until there was a trinity of pentagrams before him. The mug on the left suddenly swirled harshly, scrambling the emblem before reforming it in a crooked manner and then breaking it again, boiling and turning into bubbling, burning ink. The mug on the right jerked, a crack forming on the edge and a smear dashed itself across the center of the pentagram with a ghastly wail before the cup shattered, just in time for the mug on the left to bubble over and be devoured by its own contents until nothing was left but the boiling liquid.

 

The center mug-- the first mug and the last mug-- began to boil as well, but not in the same way as the left mug. It warped in a manner more similar to melting flesh than any known liquid, the pentagram distorting and twisting with it, gaining odd little marks where there had once been none. A deep gash cut into the sludge-like contents with a scream before the cream oozed into it, chains rattling as it did so. The remnants of the other two cups' contents crawled up the sides of the last mug, bulging the sides of it out in a sickening, cartoony way.

 

Henry barely had the wits to bail to the side before this cup, too, broke apart, it's contents crawling out with a myriad of grasping hands. Without its target, the ball of sludge hit the floor with a desperate, agonized cry, which only grew louder as the bubbling mass clawed it's way up the chair and onto the wall. As the old animator scrambled around to Darlene's side of the table, the squirming mass began to take on a true shape of it's own, the screams twisting into a high, mad, and horribly familiar cackle.

 

As Bendy's tell-tale grin formed in the darkness, Henry had no time to wonder how the macabre mockery of the the toon he once worked on had followed him home; only that he and Darlene needed to get Susan and run. Now.

 

“C'mon, Darlene, we gotta move--” As his hands came down on his oddly still and silent sister's shoulders, there was a horrible moment where they sunk into her form. The old animator reeled backwards with a shout, white ink sticking to his fingers and snapping off Darlene's melting form. She stood from her chair, even as the white ink devoured her auburn hair and began to ripple and smoke, the scent of burning ink hitting his nose.

 

A halo blinked into existence above her head, a small spot of light against the bubbling, inky demon rising against the wall.

 

Henry, listen, you need --”

 

TO WAKE UP.



Chapter Text

Henry's eyes snapped open.


For a dizzying moment, the walls and coffins all seemed outlined and flat, like living caricatures of themselves fully realized on the mortal plane, but a few blinks and the old animator realized that nothing had changed; the room was still very real, draped in gloom and dust motes, with only the candles on the edges of the circle he lay in offering any sort of light. The scent of burning ink lingered in the air.


“I--”


The sound echoed off the walls, followed by a miserable sounding wheeze, making the old animator jolt and bounce, attempting to pull himself to his feet and failing miserably. He looked around, frantically, for the source of the word, before belatedly realizing he was alone, there was a squeak toy tucked away in the pocket on the side where his weight had been before he shifted, and had just begun to form a hazy question in his mouth.


Henry's palm met his face as he concluded he had just managed to scare himself with his own voice and a child's toy.


His head was clearing, at least, though what part was a nightmare and what part actually happened was somewhat unclear. The scent of burning ink was fading away by the second, but he was willing to chalk it up to the candles and dripping ink. If that creature had been down here with him, he had the distinct feeling he would feel slightly less lively. On the other hand, glancing up through his fingers he could see that the way he came was now blocked by planks and splinters of ink-soaked wood. This too, he could rationalize, after taking a few moments to steady; he had, after all, fallen through the floor. It was entirely possible the place was just falling apart, and while that held the ugly notion that the Studio would just collapse on his head, at least it was something Henry understood. It was something he could conceive of, something reasonable.


There was absolutely nothing reasonable about the monster that had chased him, unfortunately.


His first instinct was to call the creature Bendy, just to give it a label so he could curse it properly, but the idea was mildly repulsive. The cartoon Bendy, after all, was small, sweet, cowardly, and nonexistent, while the monster had been rather large, clearly mad, bloodthirsty, and unfortunately real. Nevermind that it was highly unlikely the cartoon would know his name and, somehow, the creature did. Even so, the vague shape of what he saw of the macabre monstrocity's horns, the twisted grin, and its insistence on whistling the dancing demon's leitmotif meant the old animator's mind kept coming back to the same name.


Henry decided, after going around in circles for a minute or two, that he would compromise, and simply add the thickest mental air quotes he could around the name; “Bendy”, as it were. If nothing else, it gave him some sort of private satisfaction in mocking his hunter.


The old animator could feel the strength finally returning to his legs. Placing a hand on the closest solid object-- and wincing as he realized it was a coffin-- he finally managed to stand and, with a swift glance around, located where the ax he picked up fell when he collapsed. In a surprising bit of convenience, it was close to the door he had seen before his sudden agonies and collapse. He could not help but hesitate in crossing the circle threshold, but he found no resistance, nor any repeat performance of ' Attack of the Killer Migraine ', as if whatever it was that had assaulted him had been broken and spent. There was no way to to go back the way he came, even if he was fool enough to try; his fingers curled around the fire ax, lifting and taking a few test swings to make sure he had enough strength in his arms to use it, before he set to work on the door.


His reward for this action was discovering another stairwell, though he it was far shorter than the first. He could see the bottom of it, even through the gloom, with an overhang labeling the stairs as Utility Shaft 9. More candles flickered just out of sight at the end, beckoning.


As he limped his way down, he couldn't help but wonder how Joey had gotten the funding for all this. Perhaps it was a mundane concern, amidst the inky adaptation of Pickman's Model , but this all still had to be built, and as far as he knew, horrible occult magic would not pay for creating a deep underground bunker, or the pipes, or a strange machine that could not be properly described or even remembered.


Of course, due to the latter, the pool of things he was certain he knew was growing smaller by the second, but it at least distracted from the ache in his joints and the knots in his guts.


At the bottom of the stairs, the first thing he was greeted with was an altar, of sorts. It was smaller, more pathetic than the ones upstairs, made of little more than shelves holding bowls filled of water and stones, a banjo haphazardly tucked into a corner, and a scattering of images of Bendy. Above it rolled a familiar, smooth handwriting on the wall; He Will Set Us Free.


Well, he needs to hurry up, Henry thought dryly before registering the implication of where the words were and shuddering. He turned away quickly to face the rest of the room.


The room continued the trend of being small, though it was larger than the room with the circle and had only two coffins within it, tucked away in an awkward little nook. The ink pipes once more spidered out of some sort of electrical appliance on the wall-- a generator, in this case-- and a few dilapidated posters hung dejectedly off the wall. As he edged in, he could see the last wall had been converted into a larger version of the tiny altar in the stairwell, though thankfully sans the graffiti. Instead of a banjo, however, a cassette player was tossed crookedly in the corner. The old animator stared at it, daring it to turn itself on like the one upstairs had, but it refused; it simply sat quietly, daring him back.


It is a common, if slightly embarrassing, human trait to lose dares with inanimate objects, and Henry was no exception to this. After a few moments, he hobbled over to the larger altar and pressed play on the machine.


A voice as smooth as his hand hummed out of the speakers; Sammy Lawrence, though different than Henry remembered. While his writing spun easily on paper, the Sammy he had known was cranky, and had a tendency to snap his words. These words, however coiled in the air, rolling out like notes from a clarinet, and frightfully fervent, like an escapee from Jonestown; less snappish songwriter, and more sycophant shrine-tender.


He appears from the shadows to rain his sweet blessings upon me. The figure of ink that shines in that darkness. I see you, my savior. I pray you hear me. Those old songs? Yes, I still sing them, for I know you are coming to save me, and I will be swept into your final, loving embrace. But...love requires sacrifice. Can I get an amen?


You absolutely can not , Henry thought to himself, attempting to shake the dire sinking feeling out of his stomach and bones. He had almost succeeded when something brushed by his ear.


“I said , can I get an amen?”


Henry whirled around, bringing his ax up to defend himself, only to watch it end up buried in the wall. The room was as empty as ever.


He managed to pull his weapon out of the wall after a few hard yanks. Finding the room still empty and nothing yet springing out to accost him for his overly-ambitious attempt at a pre-emptive strike, the old animator quickly hustled for the hall he could see opening up in the corner, just to be sure nothing he couldn't yet see got any ideas.


To his dismay, another altar lay at the end, even smaller than the first. It was just a bowl full of stones and water, and yet another eerie Bendy cut-out propped up against a circle very similar to the one that Henry collapsed in, but smaller and with less layers. The bowl he didn't truthfully understand. The circle concerned him some. The cutout, however, was dancing on his last nerve.


Frustrated, frazzled, and irritated, Henry did what any reasonable, stoic war veteran on edge would do to a cardboard cutout; he jabbed two fingers into some of the ink dripping out of the wall, dragged himself over to it, and began to draw. Within a few moments, Bendy's cutout had a dapper monocle and a stylish mustache. The old animator leaned back to admire his own handiwork and gave a very small, weak chuckle. It wasn't truly enough to stave away the gloom and doom, but it made him feel the smallest bit better.


Which was good, because the next corner was a hall flooded full of ink, which was enough to make him consider once more just laying down on the floor and trying to convince himself he was hallucinating and the worst thing ahead of him was Darlene yelling at him later. Or, at least, consider clawing off his nose once he began wading in and had no way to escape the awful stench of rubber ink snaking up his nose.


It was no trench of mud and blood, however, regardless of how the thick liquid cut through his pants and chilled his legs. Indeed, it was hardly even the weight of the ocean or a pool, so easy it was to move his legs through the murky mire. The leaking pipes gushing from above glinted as they looped out just long enough to mock him before ducking back into the ceiling. The hall itself seemed to absorb every light except the glimmer at the other end of the hallway, and the old animator had to rub at his eyes to force them to adjust faster.


When he looked again, he saw the last traces of something that looked, from this distance, human.


“Hey! Hey, hold on a second!” It could easily have been “Bendy” luring him in-- he didn't exactly get a proper look at the creature, and the figure had passed by too fast to ascertain any possible inkyness or the shape of their head-- but at this point, Henry was willing to risk it for the hope of any fully human company that could tell him what was going on. Hell, at this point, he'd been willing to weather Joey. But the figure did not return, regardless of his shouting. “Hello? Excuse me--”


The old animator discovered two things in his attempt to jog out of the mire; one, that while the ink was easy to walk in, running resulted in the sludge sticking fast to his legs and slowing him down. Two; that when he finally made his way out and turned the corner, there was nothing there, save for another cutout-based altar wedged between a wall and a lopsided shelf.


Henry blinked. “Where the hell...?” He thought of hokey horror movies and their hidden passages, and dragged himself to the wall, tapping it with the end of his ax to see if anything sounded hollow. The wall, however, was solid. “Where the hell did he--?”


Actually, given today, it's probably better not to worry about it. It didn't try to kill him, after all. That was more than the other unexplainable thing running around, so far, and he really didn't need two unknowns trying to rend his head from his shoulders, or gut him, or eat him, or whatever “Bendy” thought it was doing. He turned to face the shelves and nearly retched.


Speaking of horrible things.


He hadn't been able to see what was on the shelves when he had entered the hall, and had not bothered to glance as he tried to find that human-like shadow, but now he wished he had turned the other way, so to spare himself the horror on the walls; a collection of cans long-expired or Bendy Bacon Soup.


He made a noise akin to that of a dying cat as he hobbled out of the dead end. He never understood why Joey insisted that bacon soup would be the dancing demon's favorite soup. He never understood why it was Sammy's favorite soup. He had not been the only one, either, for the soup that the Studio personally licensed lasted little more than a year, leaving them with far too many cans. Henry had assumed that they had all been thrown in the garbage where they had belonged but apparently not. Perhaps they had some odd, little-known use as a cheap form of concrete and that was a way Joey had cut costs on building this ever-descending pattern of stairs, halls, and awkwardly small rooms.


He would've mused more on the subject of how much of an understatement ' questionable renovations ' had been, if he hadn't caught a disturbing reminder of how dangerous the situation was out of the corner of his eye. Tucked away in a dent in the hall, just past the inky corridor, was a circle exactly like the one he had collapsed in, but on the wall instead of the floor. On the floor, just beneath it, bubbled a pile of ink that, somehow, seemed rancid, less like something you drew with and more like the horrible hybrid of crude oil and half-dried blood. For an instant, the old animator could have sworn he saw something flesh like peering out of the murk, but when he nudged it with the blade of his ax ( carefully , giving the circle a very wide berth as he did so), all it did was gurgle and fall flat.


Regardless, he did his best to stay plastered against the opposing wall and limp past it as quickly as he could.


Beyond it, he came to what would have been another turn down another hall, if it wasn't for the shuttered gate. Luckily, there was a switch next to it, so it was not too great of an obstacle. Still, Henry couldn't help but stare at the switchboard, squinting at it in the dark as if daring it to force him to backtrack. He had lost the dare with the cassette tape, but as he pushed down the switch, he found with some satisfaction he had won this one; the gate rose, groaning with its own exertions as it cleared his path.


Of course, he could never be properly lucky. The remaining portion of the hall was ended by another set of barricading boards. Still, all that took was a few more swings of his ax, as opposed to fumbling around in the candlelight for sacrifices or hidden switches. A small mercy, but a mercy nonetheless.


As the last board splintered and gave way, he stepped into a room that was, surprisingly, not small. In fact, it was quite large, and both sides seemed to beckon further in. Ink piled at the corners and pipes laced through the ceiling, true, but even in the candlelight he could read the sign, glittering with old records and cheery drawings of Bendy, labeling the space as the entrance to the Music Department.


A whole department .


In spite of himself, Henry could not help but be the smallest bit impressed. When he had left the Studio, Joey, and The Lil’ Darlin’ Devil Show behind him for greener pastures and bloodier battlefields, the 'Music Department' consisted of a piano on the second floor that Sammy constantly complained about needing to be re-tuned, a stuffy closet with bad wiring, and, on the rare occasion Sammy and the projectionist-slash-orchestra conductor Norman Polk could get everything organized, a rented out auditorium that had long since been converted into a local theatre.


This place thusly, regardless of the dark, dank abyss that had swallowed the Studio, was a thing of wonder, and a tiny part of the old animator he had thought he long buried couldn't help but mourn for it. Sorrow was not useful for escaping danger, however; he gave himself a good shake and began to limp about the area, skirting the large lumps of ink in his search for another pathway.


The side closest to him had another shuttered gate in the wall, this with no switch, and while there was a sign with a doodle of the darlin' devil giving an homage to Singin' In The Rain stating that the entrance to the orchestra pit (an in-house orchestra pit! Could anyone had imagined that in the 30s?) was just around the corner, the door to it was locked.


The furthest side was a bit more generous; two flights of stairs, one heading up, and one heading down, as well as what appeared to be a hall close to the upwards stairwell. The ascending staircase also was far more brightly lit, while the downwards was almost threatening in its shadows, and had very little to the side of it besides a large, half-rotted dresser.


Henry decided to head towards the upwards stairwell.


What he had thought was a hall was, sadly, little more than a deeper-than-average nook. Moreover, he took a brief fright when a bright smile met him around its corner. When he whirled about to defend himself he realized, to equal parts relief and mortification, that it was merely a poster greeting him. It was not even a poster of Bendy with Joey Drew's off-model grin, or of Boris looking far more lively than the old animator had left him, but of the dancing demon's dear canary and less-dear object of questionable affection; the horned and haloed image of Alice Angel.


What a waste. It was the only episode poster Henry knew of that actually had her prominent and bright, and even then there was an odd listlessness of the drawing that had not been in her fiery concept and sketches. The Hays Code was a wicked thing, though not half-so wicked as Joey Drew's conception of love and how fragile it is. At least someone looks happy here, even if it is just a poster.


He made his way up the stairwell, knees groaning against gravity in protest. Three steps away from the top of the flight, a sound cut through the musty air; a strange mixture of a whistle and a violin plunk! , but nine-fold and held out far longer than the prior staccato notes he had heard. It was almost like a cartoon choir.


He leapt over the last three stairs, ax at the ready, but discovered nothing in the small room but a projector and another cassette player. There was, however, a large opening in the wall, overlooking a larger room below, and hesitantly, Henry dared to peer out.


The room was littered with chairs and instruments; the orchestra pit he hadn't been able to get into downstairs, no doubt. A screen was pulled down on the furthest wall, and microphones dangled from the ceiling, both dusty from disuse. If he leaned out far enough, he could see a partitioned-off corner that possibly had once been where the voice actors recorded in time with the music and the film, or perhaps when a song needed to be sung by said actors. An overly-large Bendy head sat over said partitioned corner, ink-spattered and indescribably eerie in its supersized glory.


There were also nine cut-outs in two rows at the center of the room. Five stood in the back on the top of the step up to where the orchestra would have sat, while the other four stood in front of the step and down, all together creating the image of a bunch of kids bunching up to start singing Christmas carols, albeit very creepy kids. One's head was crunched in an eerily familiar way, while another had a surprisingly dapper and very freshly drawn mustache and monocle.


The old animator wasn't sure if he ought to have been horrified at the idea the damned things were apparently moving, or should laugh himself silly at the way they huddled together. He settled for a bewildered snort and a small twitch of his lips before checking over the projector and cassette.


The projector was at least polite enough to wait for him to press the button to turn on, though all that came about was it hiccuping a flickering, blank screen and a skipping track before shutting itself down. The cassette beside it was the voice of the man who used to run it, Norman. Norman's drawl had been a calming sound in the Studio all those years ago, if only because he was one of two people who could get Sammy to play nice, but from the sound of things he had lost that power sometime after Henry had left; the ghost of his voice described the songwriter constantly bringing the orchestra to a screaming halt and commandeering the room for hours at a time for himself, turning on the projector and then holing himself up until long after the reel had shut off.


“-- like the lil' devil himself was chasin' behind.”


The old animator could relate to that, at least.


Shaking off another Sinking Feeling ™, Henry tapped on a few walls and, finding them solid and thus making the projector room a dead end, turned to head back down and to try the downwards stairwell (and cringing as he discovered the ascending staircase had another supersized, ink-splattered Bendy head on the overhang, positioned so you'd never know until you turned back. Goddammit Joey ). The descending staircase was more promising, in the sense that out of the darkness an Exit sign was glowing over a door at the bottom, but that also highlighted a giant pool of ink which would make it impossible to open due to pressure. He could chop the door down, but he highly doubted the monster made entirely out of ink and darkness and thus would blend in perfectly with that pool would allow it. He'd have to find a way to drain it, or another exit.


However, as if luck had finally finally favored him, there was also a power switch just to the right of the door. He flipped it, and breathed a sigh of relief as the lights flickered on without complaint or hiss. Being able to see, surely, was a step in the right direction.


But of course, Henry was not a lucky man.


While the lights did not hiss, the derelict dresser he had glimpsed earlier screeched as it pulled itself in front of the doorway, barricading the old animator in the stairwell. The ink pool below began to bubble and swirl and whistle , beckoning and taunting him into meeting its embrace, just to see if he could take the exit door down before it take him . Henry, instead, got a better grip on his fire ax and, deciding he would rather gamble on an empty room with more space to fight in, began to chop away at the dresser.


The room was less empty than he'd left it a moment ago.


A jaunty tune cut in from speakers he had not seen attached to the Music Department's sign, counterpointed by the whistle below warping into a familiar, mad cackle. The lumps of ink writhed and rose from their corners, clawing up the wall to pull themselves upwards, mouths already forming in their chaotic masses to scream. Upon the sign, a childish, mocking scrawl dripped freshly, framing the scene with sickening sweetness:


Welcome Home, Henry!


Chapter Text

The puddles crawled even further up the wall, forming shapes with too many teeth and the briefest, most sickening of flashes of human eyeballs and flesh churning beneath their surfaces. Some imploded into little more than grasping hands and gaping, screaming maws, but the ones that managed to hold themselves together formed simulacrums of full upper bodies, some even so far as to include heaving, flaring ribs as they wailed and swayed. These half-formed creatures dug their claws into the floor and, pulling their grotesque torsos along by freakish fingers, rushed Henry all at once.

 

The old animator himself would not have been able to tell anyone who asked (if they ever had the mind to, or the chance) what, precisely, happened in that fight. Mostly, while he felt ink and claws and choked on some soup of gore and rubber when the creatures tried to force parts of them down his throat and he was vaguely aware of the jaunty tune continuing throughout, he saw red and heard gunfire. It wasn't until several minutes afterwards, while he was coughing up ink and purging his stomach of the last traces of breakfast that had held on through the sight of Boris, in sudden silence, that he even realized it was over. The grasping hands and gaping maws that had not been able to move from their corners wailed one last time, over extending their reach and falling apart for their attempt.

 

Suddenly throwing himself down the stairs into that pool of certain doom seemed almost attractive but no . The girls were waiting for him, and now he was very sure that if he didn't keep alert and moving, he was going to leave them very disappointed.

 

With a few more weak coughs, Henry wiped his mouth and used the wall to straighten himself out. He steadied and turned, eyes sweeping the now-lit room to see if he had missed anything in his stumbling in the dark.

 

Naturally, he only saw the cassette he had missed a second or two before it turned on.



“So first, Joey installs this Ink Machine over our heads” , drawled out a voice. Henry recognized it immediately as Sammy, and couldn't help but a note of relief that at least in this recording, the songwriter sounded like his old, cranky self. “Then it begins to leak. Three times last month we couldn't even get out of our department because the ink had flooded the stairwell.” The old animator could relate. “Joey's solution? An ink pump to drain it periodically. Now I have this ugly pump switch right in my office.” Ah, now this was promising. Even as Sammy's voice continued, the sarcastic ' thanks, Joey ' sounding a bit layered and warped but otherwise unnotable for an old recording, Henry's mind toyed with the notion of an ink pump. He hadn't seen any doors, but perhaps if he chopped his way into the orchestra pit, there'd be one just under the projection booth, which would've been impossible for him to tell while up there. Or at least, perhaps a switch for the shuttered gate, since he still couldn't see anything of the kind in the room he was currently in.

 

His musings turned out to be moot; as he drew closer to the left side of the room to have a go at the orchestra pit's door, the gate groaned and shuddered, causing him to jump. As he brought his ax up to defend himself once more, he watched the shutters pull up, agonizingly slow, by themselves, clearing the path to another hall with one last rusty creak.

 

It was a little too convenient.

 

Still, staying in one spot made him an easy target, and nothing had jumped out immediately when the shutter gate finished opening, nevermind he had intended finding a way in not a few moments prior. Even so, unease curled in his belly as he limped his way over and through.

 

It was a rather short hall; he could see something akin to an office window just past where it ended, with a cutout already peering just around the edge of the hall, propped up against the wall. He spent a frustrated, childish second sticking his tongue out at it-- stalker bastards -- before taking in the rest of the hall. The right had a few doors, only one of which was open down towards the end of the hall, while the left had a blockaded side-path with an arrow pointed down it saying “Infirmary”.

 

Under most circumstances, Henry would wonder why Joey thought it was necessary to have an infirmary in an animation studio, but given the state of the place... Yeah. Actually a good call. Unfortunate it looked like it would draw too much attention getting into; if nothing else, he could've used some aspirin.

 

The old animator couldn't actually bring himself to be surprised when one of the doors swung open, even as he flinched and held up his weapon. What was concerning was, as he edged closer, it slammed itself back shut . Then open again. Then shut again. Open, shut. Open, shut. A faint grumble came from the pipes before it slammed open once more, staying so this time. Perplexed, Henry kept his fire ax at the ready and chanced a glance into the room.

 

It was very tiny, first of all. The only thing within was a ceiling mic and a small organ with the tiniest bit of ink around the base, while a pipe with a crack in it dripped quietly from above. When he cautiously slipped in, Henry could barely fit from shoulder to shoulder in the width of the room, and while he'd like to think he was still rather broad shouldered after all this time, he had the odd feeling that someone was suggesting something else about him.

 

He took a few more steps closer, which the organ took as cue to start playing itself, a small wail warbling beneath the notes. From the pipe above, a sing-songy melody in a frighteningly familiar off-kilter trill harmonized with the notes; “Shave and a hair cut--”

 

The pipe above burst open in a shower of glass, but the ink shifted instead of falling, turning into two blades not unlike overgrown scissors. Henry managed to throw himself out of the way just short of losing his head to it all, slamming the door closed behind him as his heart hammered in his ears.

 

Muffled behind the door, the last two notes quavered from the organ, complete with the singer chiming in “---Two bits!” and then cackling, voice fading away as something slipped through the pipes and away. The door locked itself with an almost frantic click, and Henry could not have cared any less than he already did, as he was already most of the way down the hall in spite of his groaning, shaking knees.

 

He caught his breath leaning against the opening to the office window, trying to keep his heart from beating its way out of his chest. Somewhere in his head, in that horribly detached place that was viewing all of this in a manner that was all-too calm, part of his brain checked a mark labeled ' jackass ' under “Bendy”'s name.

 

Once he had something akin to a functional level of oxygen in his body again, he peered through the window into the room. It was easy to guess it was Sammy's, by virtue of the fact Sammy's smooth handwriting was all over the walls. Most of it was unintelligible for the layers upon layers of it, save for one particularly large line that blazed on the wall just across from the window, conspicuous in its clearness; It’s Time To Believe .

 

What if instead I don't do that. Some small part of Henry was still hoping he'd wake up with his face plastered to his work desk and Darlene lightly bapping him with a rolled up newspaper before ushering him off to bed, though most of him was instead choosing to believe he was a dead man walking. The first one was unrealistic, and the second one helped nothing, so he'd rather insist he was getting out of here through the front door, thank you.

 

He did, however, feel his stomach drop when he saw where the ink pump was...or rather, was meant to be, as the whole bit of the wall had been torn out, a large scrawl of SANCTUARY written over it. The detached part of his brain imagined a bunch of those horribly monsters he had fought dancing around a burning ink pump, led by Sammy as his messy long locks caught in a non-existent breeze from where he was standing on a chair and cackling wickedly, but the rest of him didn't find anything whatsoever funny about the situation.

 

A bit belatedly, he realized there wasn't much point to the whole thing all together, as to his right was merely a storage closet, while to his left the door to Sammy's office was itself blocked by by a pool ink framed by a cutout, making the whole thing a case study in futile efforts. Irritably, he shoved the cutout over. On a shelf above the pool was a cassette player.

 

Henry didn't even blink when it turned on by itself.

 

It seemed fairly innocent at first; just poor old Wally Franks, babbling about losing his keys and noting nervously that he was ' outta here ' if Sammy found out (and frankly, after seeing everything, he sort of hoped he did and Wally just never contacted him after getting fired). If not for the churning in his stomach, the old animator might have smiled at the familiar rambling.

 

But then the voice warped-- the tape skipped and stuttered, something whispering softly beneath it before it outright changed into not more of Wally talking, but Sammy snickering softly to himself.

 

Every artistic person needs a Sanctuary. Joey Drew has his and I have mine. That fool Norman hasn't even caught on, despite how horribly close he is to my safe place. He doesn't know to enter, you need only know my favorite song, and pick a single instrument to serenade our Lord; sing our old song, and my Sanctuary will open to you. That's it! It's so simple, and he doesn't even know--

 

Henry glanced at the word SANCTUARY over where the pump had once been. A sudden spark of hope lept in his chest. Perhaps his escape route hadn't been destroyed, but simply moved. Norman was the orchestra conductor just as much as the projector runner, so in all likelihood, whatever this 'Sanctuary' was, it would be in the orchestra pit. He would just have to find it and...

 

Play...a song. Right. Sure, why not, it was an animation studio gone horror flick, the thing trying to eat him looked like a mockery of a cartoon, made as much sense as anything else whatever. As long as it got him out of there, Henry could not bring himself to care any more.

 

Skirting around the leaks and small pools of ink (and eyeing the organ room until he was well clear of it), he limped out of the hall to discover that the previously-locked door to the orchestra pit had been opened while he wasn't looking, the doorway almost looking welcoming and inviting. Some part of him thought trap while another wondered when the faint scent of burning ink hit his nose, but if he had other options he would have taken them by now. Grip tightening around his fire ax, he hobbled in, scanning the room with a suspicious squint.

 

He found nothing he hadn't seen from the projector room outside of a piano tucked away in the corner. What he did not see, however, were the nine cutouts that had been there previously. One, at least, was accounted for ( ...maybe ) down the hall to Sammy's office, but the other eight were nowhere to be found.

 

At least, not until he looked up towards the projector booth.

 

He couldn't help but choke on a laugh when he spotted them, monocle and crumpled included, cluttered in a smaller booth next to the projector's. It was hard not to, even within his current situation, as the cardboard caricatures had apparently crammed themselves into the room like sardines, all trying to peer into the orchestra pit. It was hard not to imagine them clamoring over each other, fussing about wanting to see and otherwise cajoling as they elbowed and flailed about. The cutouts were still as ever, but Henry stifled laughter all the same.

 

After taking a few moments to sober up, he scoured the room, tapping on each wall and listening for the tell-tale hollow sound. He finally found it, on a flat bit of wall between the actual orchestra pit and the indent of the voice recording booth, but a few testing chops proved that it was too thick just to chop through, and close inspection revealed no place to worm his fingers into and force it open. His hopes about getting past the somewhat illogical puzzle were dashed; he was going to have to actually play a song.

 

The real question was which one ? Sammy had been very proud of many pieces, and the show itself was incredibly musical. ' Our old song ' could be anything from a lullaby to a leitmotif, and Henry certainly couldn't remember each one perfect enough to play it.

 

“This is ridiculous”, Henry muttered softly under his breath, taking a step back from the hollow wall. He blinked as his heel hit something on the backswing and turned, noticing the cassette player just before it (to absolutely no surprise of his) turned itself on.

 

The voice, however, was a delightful surprise; Susie Campbell, the most talented voice actor the studio ever hired. If Alice had been a waste, what happened to Susie's career was an utter tragedy. The old animator had been sure she could've carried an entire show for herself, but when the Hays Code dropped, it was flat love interests and talking chairs all the way down. It was, at least, nice to hear her voice, still chatting merrily from her first weeks on the job--

 

Wait.

 

There were no such thing as cassettes in the 40s. Susie couldn't have recorded the tape. A chill crawled up Henry's spine as he continued listening.

 

These past few weeks I have voiced everything from talking chairs to dancing chickens. But this is the first character I have really felt a connection with. Like she's a part of me. Alice and I, we--we--we--”

 

Susie's voice stuttered and warped, curling in the air like the vocal equivalent of paper catching fire. Much like Wally's cassette, the track skipped, changing without warning from Campbell's sweet voice to the music director's mocking tones.

 

Play our old song ”, Sammy laughed from the cassette before it turned itself off.

 

For a moment, the only thing Henry could do was stare at the cassette player, his twisting guts the only form of movement his mind or body took. Very slowly, keeping his voice as steady as possible, he took the risk to address whatever was warping the tape, praying it wasn't the macabre monstrosity that had been hunting him; “I don't know what you're talking about”, he admitted to the air.

 

As if on cue, the projector jumped to life, and for a brief moment it actually works. True, there is no visuals; it's the same blank, flickering screen as ever. But the opening theme of The Lil’ Darlin’ Devil Show hummed to life over the speakers. The old animator recognized it as a later variant, from after cartoons gained voice acting and thus the opening, lyrics.

 

I'm the dancing demon, watch me twirl and hop and spin

Stop that dour frowning, turn it back into a grin--”

 

The projector clicked off once the song had played itself out, just in time for the cassette player to rewind and start again. “ Play our old song ”, Sammy's audio repeated, though this time there was an undercurrent of annoyance, almost a whisper saying the same words just beneath the songwriter's own.

 

Henry shuddered, but it had given him his answer. “Thank...you...?”, he offered. The cassette remained silent, but on the other hand nothing had suddenly come screaming out of the pipes to take advantage of his doubt and hesitation. For the moment, it seemed safe.

 

He at least had what he needed to get to the pump.

 

Limping back to the orchestra pit, the old animator scanned the various abandoned instruments before picking up a dusty banjo, setting the ax to lean against a chair for a nerve wracking moment. With a few testing plucks to make sure the strings wouldn't snap on him-- strangely enough, it was still tuned-- he gave an awkward cough and began to strum the old theme song's melody. His fingers were unsteady, but the notes managed to form correctly, a shaking sacrifice to the missing Sammy's so-called sanctuary drifting into the air.

 

The pipes hummed, then rattled, then resonated as “Bendy”'s voice reached out to him, turning the whole thing into a mocking sing along.

 

I'm the dancing demon, watch me twirl and hop and spin~!

I'm quick to give a smile, but I won't forgive your SINS--!

 

Henry did not think much of the macabre mockery's rewrite.

 

As the twisted cackle cracked through the pipes, the wall shook and raised up. Quickly discarding the banjo and snatching back his fire ax to view the opening of a skinny room that might as well been a hall. A few pipes sprang leaks as the mad laughter continued, dampening almost all sound.

 

Because of which, Henry did not hear the cassette player turn back on until the screech of “ SANCTUARY ” in Sammy's distorted voice cut through the din. Regardless of what the cassette player thought, he hadn't any intention of staying out in the open in the first place; he lopsidedly sprinted into the so-called sanctuary like a bullet that couldn't quite keep straight but at least kept fast and true.

 

The wall slammed down behind him, sealing him in but also keeping anything that had been considering entry-- like whatever it was scratching at it now-- out. Not that there was much to keep out of; the whole slender room was much like an elongated version of those shelved altars so many halls and rooms away, and at the end the promised ink pump was jury rigged rather awkwardly into the wall. There were no spidering veins of ink pipes, nor puddles for anything to jump out of. At most, it was creepy and claustrophobic, and for a moment, Henry was grateful to whatever had been trying to talk to him through the cassette for helping him get in.

 

The trouble that followed was getting out once the clawing at the sealed wall finally stopped.

 

There were no other switches aside from the pump's, and he couldn't help but hope he was not going to be forced to resort to singing the damned theme song to get out, but luck seemed to favor him; pushing the pump switch down not only resulted in sudden silence from outside save for the sound of the pipes stalling and reversing, but the wall going back up, with what little he could see clear. He blinked at the opening for a few seconds, frowning, before slowly bringing his ax up, squaring his shoulders.

 

Understandably, he could not bring himself to trust it.

 

Minutes ticked by slowly, nothing after nothing continuing to occur, with each absence of happening carrying on in constant sequence. Finally, a brief moment of something, a small jolt as one of the cutouts briefly peered around the corner and let out a curious noise somewhere between a whistle and a staccato violin plunk! It disappeared back around the corner as quickly as it came, and the nothingness returned with great vigor and no more annoucement than Henry's grip on his weapon growing tighter.

 

When he could no longer stand the unending nothing tying his nerves into knots, he took a deep breath and slowly edged forward to the entrance of the sanctuary, taking a quick peek around the edge himself.

 

Claws cut through the air just past his nose as his reward.

 

Stumbling back into the skinny room, his breath caught as more of those things with too many eyes, too many teeth, too many ribs and too few legs howled for him, swarming like ink-ridden wasps through the opening. His vision flashed red as gunshots rang through his ears.

 

For a few dissociative moments he was not in a skinny room in an sick cellar of the Studio but a cell, somewhere in Germany, claws on his head forcing his face into buckets of water but the water was gone it was sludge it was ink and it was crawling down his nose and throat--!

 

Then he was back, wheezing and dizzy, stumbling through putrid puddles of what had been his opponents to the wall beyond, leaning on it. With each hack and snort, more ink came up from his lungs, his own snot turned black and mottled grey with it. “Bendy”'s laughter rattled distantly through the pipes, twisting into a sinister whistle just as it faded out of earshot.

 

Swiping at his face to get the last vile bit of sludge stuck to it off, Henry stood on shaking knees, breath sucking in and venting out in desperate gasps like he had just realized air existed. For a split second, as his gaze wandered about without any rhyme or reason, he could have sworn his swimming vision saw something leering out from the balcony above, but as his sight cleared he realize there was little more than a single cutout, abandoned by the rest and pushed to the side.

 

Turning, he saw another cutout just by the entrance to the sanctuary. Likely, it was the one that had startled him by peering around in the first place. Upset and still slightly loopy, he took some of the ink still dripping off his ax and drew lazy stars and circles on its face, too unfocused for anything specific.

 

At last, his wits fully returned, followed by his breath. He grimaced at the ache in his bones as he dragged himself out of the orchestra pit. The sucking sound continued from the stairwell as he stumbled about, but it wasn't until he saw the pool draining away to nothing with his own eyes that he allowed the relief to flood him. He could see the end of the nightmare before him, an exit sign glowing warmly in the gloom. He wasn't sure he was really okay to drive, but he had no intention of walking home after all this.

 

Sneaking past Darlene would be the real trick of the matter, but if he could get to his room without his ink-soaked boots tipping her or Susan off, he'd be in the clear, at which point he could get out of his ruined outfit and sleep for a day or six. Muse over how much a stiff drink would be worth it once he had been able to recover. Perhaps call an exorcist, or risk being arrested for arson by 'accidentally' discarding a lit match on a drive by. Ink was incredibly flammable after all.

 

He took a few steps forward into the stairwell.

 

Suddenly, sharp claws swooped in under his hand, snatching the fire ax and ripping it out of his hands with an inhuman harshness. Henry started to whirl around, only for his temple to meet the flat side of his own weapon. The old animator collapsed into a heap on himself, his surroundings going impeccably bright then horrifically black in a way that had nothing to do with the still-glowing lights above. As his grip on his consciousness slipped and sent him spiraling off the proverbial cliff into the abyss of unawareness, he heard the sad sounding squeaker of the Bendy doll still tucked away in his pocket that he had just fallen on, and the faintest flicker of a familiar voice above him, humming gently in the dark.

 

Sheep sheep sheep, it's time for sleep...


Chapter Text

“Sheep sheep sheep, it's time for sleep

Rest your head, it's time for bed

'Til the morning when you wake

May your dreams replace your dread”

 

Henry had lost his taste for the show he had once worked on, and its music, but he would know that lullaby if he was half-deaf and three rooms away. The record had long since worn out, but it had played for years, echoing quietly in Susan's room whenever Darlene could not escape work in time to put her to bed. Out of all of the songs, this one perhaps was the most tolerable, if only for the fact it had associated itself not with a cartoon that had left a bitter taste in his mouth, but with a little girl with frizzy, auburn hair and a bright red bow softly sleeping in her nest of sheets.

 

“Sheep sheep sheep, it's time for sleep...”



 

 

 

“...Rest your head, it's time for bed

In the morning, you may wake

Or in the morning, you'll be dead...”

 

Lullabies were generally meant to lull people to sleep or soothe them back into that warm blanket of dreams and memories if they had already been. The sheer wrongness of the lyrics and the pounding ache in his head, however, meant that the song instead slowly reeled him back into an uneasy awareness. After the pain and the song, came the distinctly strong smell of decay mixed with rubber ink, then the sound of dripping, then the feeling of ropes wrapped around his wrist.

 

Finally, the humming changed for a true, smooth sounding voice. One he finally recognized. Sammy?

 

“There we go, nice and tight. Wouldn't want our sheep roaming away now, would we?” It sounded like Sammy, to be sure, but the Sammy he had been hearing over the cassettes; rapturous and zealous instead of dry and snappy. Moreover, as Henry's mind struggled upwards, apparently his assailant, if he was trying the old animator up like a hostage. “No, we wouldn't”, the songwriter answered his own question without pause, chuckling. “I must admit, I am...honored you came all the way down here to visit me. It almost makes what I'm about to do seem...cruel.”

 

Finally, Henry's eyes opened blearily, the part of him that hadn't quite learned expecting to see an overdressed stick of a man with much-too-much hair.

 

Instead, the first thing he saw were overalls that appeared to be made out of paper, with circular stubs of ink peering out where feet should be. What the old animator initially thought was darkness still circling the edge of his vision moved , revealing them to be too-wide, elongated lower arms that ended not in fingers, but fat nubs that bent in a manner more akin to a party favor than a dexterous digit. As his gaze moved upwards, he discovered that the overalls stopped just above Sammy's hips, straps straining from holding all the ink that filled the paper pants in. Out of the center of the pool of ink, and among the chunks that might have once been organs, Sammy's spine sprouted forth, twisting upwards and branching into the center of his ribs instead of the back where it was meant to be.

 

“But the believers must honor their savior”, the thing that had once been Sammy Lawrence continued, ribs flaring with his words and too-thin shoulders heaving with the effort his impossible form had to put into speaking. Sammy's extended neck vibrated a bit with each word, but if he had an expression to go with the strain the old animator wouldn't have known it; Sammy's face was almost entirely covered with the disembodied head of a small Bendy cutout, save for the mouth, which had been coarsely cut out to reveal fangs far too alike the wailing creatures made of eyes and mouths, fangs that now bared in a hiss as the music director tilted his head down at his captive; “I will have him notice me.”

 

“Sam...?”, was the best Henry could manage out of the myriad questions, concerns, and complaints that had filled his head, though he could only thank the bleariness he had yet to shake off for the fact he had managed not to scream. It had, at least, caught the song writer's attention, as the creature's fangs vanished save for a thin line outlining a frown. He leaned down a little, studying his captive.

 

“That voice...that face...” Sammy hesitated for a moment, a questioning scowl peering out from under his mask. “Do I know...?”

 

Any possibility of getting the music director to recognize him or see reason became dashed in an instant, as the pipes chose that moment to begin rattling. Looking over Sammy's shoulder-- Sammy himself had turned when the commotion started-- Henry could see the room he was being held in was empty save for a bit of scaffolding with jury-rigged speakers, barrels, a shuttered gate on the opposite side of the room, and several pools of ink that were now bubbling and muttering something incomprehensible. Faintly, he could hear “Bendy”'s whistle within the whispers.

 

“Ah!” The song writer straitened, fangs baring once more in a way that could almost be mistaken for a grin. “Nevermind-- do you hear that? Our Lord is calling to us, my little sheep. I can hear him crawling through the vents... crawling !” Henry could not decide if the positively delighted squeal Sammy had given or the fact that not-quite-grin had been refocused on him was creepier. “With your sacrifice, I will finally be rewarded-- be freed from this prison .” The creature gave a grand gesture to himself, and a bow that would have been mocking if it wasn't painful to watch for both the strain and the mindboggling bonelessness. “Free from this inky...dark...abyss I call a body”, he clarified with a hiss, in case Henry had missed it.

 

Henry had not missed it, though he wished he had. His throat strained to try to respond, protest, or at least swear, but little more than a wheeze passed his lips. Sammy paid him no mind, straightening and carrying on with his spiel.

 

“The time of sacrifice is at hand. The ritual must be completed. Soon, he will hear me.” A few of the nubs the creature called fingers patted his captive on the head, lightly, like he was blithely informing a child they were, in fact, going to have to have to spend several torturous hours in the dentist's office to be fitted for braces. “He will set us free . Let us begin, my little sheep.”

 

With that, the thing that had been Sammy Lawrence turned, the stubs that served as his feet slurping slowly across the floor as he slinked into a room to the side and shut the door. Henry sagged forward slightly, the bonds on his wrist holding him up in spite of his weak knees, mind whirling blankly over what had just happened before finally registering yes , an ink-riddled zealot cadaver of a man he had once known had in fact tied him up like a dame being held hostage by pirates and was about to feed him to a huge macabre mockery of a cartoon demon and that no , he was most certainly not fine with this development.

 

As the speakers hummed to life, Henry began to struggle, pulling against his ropes. To the tune of Sammy singing the extremely sick and wrong version of Sheep Songs, he glanced upwards, looking for anything that could help as the ink pools began to climb the walls, the first flashes of teeth and eyes glinting out of the darkness. His fire ax, for some reason, had been rested against one of the scaffolds, not a few feet away from where the old animator was tied, but still too far to be of any use freeing himself. No other sharp object he particularly wanted near him could be found; he had no choice but to throw his full weight against the ropes and pray.

 

This endeavor was not helped by Sammy electing to stop singing and start laughing.

 

HEAR ME BENDY! ”, his voice cackled from the speakers, “ Arise from the darkness! Arise and claim my offering, claim this soul that is so rightfully yours! I summon thee, ink demon; come, free us! Show your face and take this tender sheep!

 

Some detached part of Henry that wasn't focused on breaking lose noted with some satisfaction that at least he wasn't the only one that thought “Bendy” looked like a screwed up version of the cartoon demon, though the fact said supporting evidence was in the form of a snapped song writer was less than appealing. Following this, he registered the mutterings from the inky pools-- now properly gaping maws and staring eyes clinging to the corners like lifelines-- turned louder and louder until they became an incomprehensible chorus of chatter. The jaunty whistle that had signaled the macabre mockery's approach had snapped into an angry hiss from above, joining the incomprehensible babble until they were legion, and the legion was screaming .

 

The sound of a pipe shattering came from the room Sammy had locked himself into.

 

Wh-- ” A gasp cut through the speakers, the music director no longer sounding so thrilled with getting what he wanted. Muffled through the mesh and clearly distant from the microphone, something that sounded almost like the repetition of a word over and over again, but between the legion of shrieks and Sammy's own panicked babble starting up, it was impossible to make out. “ W-wait, my Lord, no--! ”, the song writer shouted. “ I am not a-- I am your prophet! St-stay back! Don't you hear me? I am YOUR--

 

With one last struggling heave, the ropes snapped, echoing a much uglier cracking sound that screeched out of the speakers before they went dead silent. Henry snatched the fire ax as he stumbled and straightened, seeing flickers of forest and cell and hearing the faintest memories of gunfire as the maws on the wall began shrieking holy murder. He at least managed to keep enough of himself together to throw himself into the opened hall, wielding his weapon like a machete to vines upon the various planks and discarded furniture cluttering his path to freedom.

 

Just as he entered a clearing, on the very last plank, the ax's shoddy build finally had enough; the blade went spiraling behind him into the inky depths of a pool he only just realized he had waded through, and the shaft splintered into small, useless chunks. The plank itself was not cut clean; instead it twists and snaps, leaving two hunks of wood with very sharp edges.

 

The pipes in the ceiling began rattling, and Henry decided at least with one of said shattered planks in hand he'd at least be armed for the approaching bloodyminded beast.

 

Turning to face where the noises were coming from, he spared a glance at his surroundings; to the side was very clearly barricaded with debris, forcing him to continue 'backwards' across the cleared section. Mind spinning with adrenaline, it wasn't until one foot was already in the quagmire that he realized, grimacing, that he had walked backwards into another pool of ink. Given what everything out to kill him was made of, this was exceedingly poor planning, but the noises were still coming from where he had fled, forcing him to continue further into the lightless, damp gloom. Finally, his back hit a wall, and the wall rattled in slight protest-- no, not a wall. A door.

 

A way out.

 

Keeping his eyes forward towards the light of the clearing and switching to only one hand holding his new, impromptu weapon tight, his free hand began groping the wood behind him, searching for the doorknob. His shaking fingers finally met metal and curled around it, tensing to turn the knob and flee.

 

Then the whistle started. Softly, sweetly, sickeningly sinister, just behind the door he had thought was an escape route. Further behind the whistle, he could almost hear something beating, or pumping, like an oversized heart, but this was slightly less important information than the sudden knowledge that “Bendy” had gotten right behind him .

 

Henry ripped away from the door, splashing and scrambling before getting his footing, swinging his sad plank around to defend himself from the oncoming ambush. The whistling stopped almost as suddenly as it started, as did the noises from down the hall. For several moments, nothing happened. Nothing after nothing in a conga of absolute stillness occurred, save for the faintest of ripples in the ink pool that the old animator, in his frenzied focus on the door, completely missed.

 

“Huh” , said a warped whisper from above him, rustling Henry's hair with it's heavy breath. “Not th' most observant fella, are ya?”

 

Henry hopped forward and whirled around, sharp bit of wood giving him splinters as he gripped it tighter. He gaped upwards at the monster that was made just as much from the shadows as the ink, finding even with the light at it's back, the only thing new thing he could see clearly on the beast was a ragged, ripped bowtie sagging pathetically on where it's chest ostensibly would be. Other than that, all the old animator could make out was the outline of curved, crooked horns, the hint of twisted arms and claws as they folded behind the macabre mockery's back, and a distended grin stapled mid-air in the gloom and leaning ever closer to him, unmoving even as “Bendy” spoke.

 

Boo.”

 

Thinking rationally, Henry immediately smacked said grin with with chunk of wood he was holding. The macabre mockery of a toon gave a surprised little ' gack! ' in response, stumbling back awkwardly and giving the old animator the chance to skitter around while the beast was distracted. Even so, he felt “Bendy”'s claws slice through the air above him, missing the top of his head by millimeters at best. The monster laughed.

 

“Why you cheeky old man!” Even as he sloshed out of the pool of ink and back into the hall, he could hear the click-sluuuurp from his agony-induced fever dream, now clearly all too real, of “Bendy” limping out shortly after, followed by a heavy, twinned ' kkrrck !' of claws burrowing into both hall walls. “Do ya REALLY think y'can get away THAT easy?”

 

I can sure try! , Henry thought, but he had no spare breath to shout back, nor spare energy to wonder how the barricaded side hall had suddenly been cleared as he dodged down it. Behind him, the click-sluuuurp of the monster's limp had gained a twisted counterpoint to its melody, like malformed spiders with too few legs crawling in the dark and a single, wet sounding crunch as his steps approached the corner. The old animator only dared a quick glimpse behind him, but it was enough to ascertain that, to make up for his limp, the inky horror had decided to pull himself along the walls with his spindly fingers, snickering sickeningly all the while as he speedily began to catch up to his prey.

 

The old animator skidded through the open doorway at the end of the hall, wondering if he'd have enough time to hide or at least find something to defend himself, when the door slammed shut behind him. Spinning about, he was able to watch a plank of wood drop and latch itself in front of the door, barring it. The scent of burning ink filled his nose, but confusion and dread filled his heart; whatever had happened had been helpful, but surely a wooden door would not stop the monster for long.

 

“Bendy” didn't seem to think so, either; while at first it slammed into the door with a mild ' ow ', as if it couldn't see (and maybe it couldn't, as Henry certainly didn't remember any eyes staring at him in the dark), it quickly shook it off with a breathy laugh, wheezing unintelligible whispers about what it was going to do to Henry when it got in. But the second slam against the door only yielded another, more pained ' ow! ', as did the third and fourth.

 

“Oh, what in Hell's name--” , the inky horror growled, muffled slightly by the wooden blockade. It was sounding about as perplexed as it's intended prey felt as he watched the door-- no more thick or strong than the others he had himself chopped and only enforced by a plank-- not do so much as buckle under the weight of the creature. The old animator could hear a faint ' shnk ' like something sharp pulling from a wall, but there was barely time for the first hisses of something scratching at the door before the monster let out a horrible wail of agony, followed by the tell-tale damp sounding ' thunk !' of something large hitting the floor.

 

Henry almost took this and the labored breathing afterwards as cue to back away from the room, when “Bendy”'s voice warbled into the air again.

 

“Th-that's not fair...It's not--” If the old animator hadn't known better, he could've sworn that the macabre mockery's voice had halted and hitched. “That's not FAIR--!” The monster's breath hiccuped again, and in spite of himself Henry almost felt sorry for it; sorry for the thing that not a few seconds prior had been trying to rip his head off.

 

Darlene's right; I'm getting old and mushy.

 

Any sympathy he could have, however, quickly got smothered as the hiccups and hitches turned into snickers and snorts, twisting higher and higher until “Bendy” was giving his all-too familiar cackle again. The muffled sound of something sludge-like splattering on the floor and slithering away came in time for the clockwork-like switch from laughter to whistling, the sound fading into the distance like nothing out of the usual murder attempts had happened.

 

Henry shivered.

 

Turning and finally noticing his surroundings, he discovered that the shock appeared to have addled his eyesight, because for a few moments everything looked a little too flat and poorly shaded to be correct. In a few blinks, however, the shadows and third dimension set themselves back where they were meant to be, allowing the old animator to grasp that he was in an antechamber before a room labeled Vault 59.

 

' Antechamber ' is usually reserved for a room preceding a much larger, much grander room, but in this case it meant ' a very small space with a generator crammed into a corner, and shelves upon shelves of poorly-made Bendy dolls, save for one particular shelf right in front of the entryway where a trio of Bendy, Alice, and Boris dolls sat expectantly, as if Henry had interrupted their tea .'

 

The trio of dolls were in far better condition than the one still tucked safely into his pocket and it's two compatriot, but something about how they were all arranged to stare at the old animator unnerved him deeply, especially now when he was without any form of weapon at all. He hobbled into the next room quickly without sparing another glance.

 

The next room was, for the most part, empty besides barrels, but a small flicker of hope sparked within Henry as he saw the sign next to the door at the end; 'LIFT', written in large, friendly letters, beckoning. Downwards had not been a friend to Henry that day, and if it went all the way up to the top floor of the building by some luck, then he thought he'd be excused for breaking a window and climbing down to escape if he chose his words carefully.

 

Henry took a few steps towards the door.

 

Something around a corner that ducked to the side of the lift gasped, followed by a quiet ' oh no no no !' and a can of bacon soup hitting the ground and rolling out into view. The old animator froze, sucking in a breath to try to contain his panic.

 

Nothing in here save for whatever was haunting the tapes and the door had been friendly, and he was once again, defenseless.

 

Finally, he managed to work up the nerve to call out, squaring up his stance and balling up his fists; he'd be damned if he went down without a fight. “I know you're there, pal. Come out and show yourself.” He would almost be proud of how much his voice didn't shake if the situation wasn't dire.

 

Of course, it was all ruined when hesitant steps brought a cartoonish, dog-like head into view, the expression of it's owner as sheepish as Henry's was startled.

 

Boris--?!


Chapter Text

“Boris!”

 

Mr. Carlson couldn't help but smile as Susan's grasped at the old doll, clutching it to her chest before holding it out to berate.



“You silly old wolf”, she huffed at the doll. “You really need to stop gettin' into trouble.” She pulled her backpack off her shoulder and unzipped it, looking up at the old music teacher as she placed the cartoon toy within. “Where'd you find him?”



“You left him at the theatre last week”, Mr. Carlson explained, eyes twinkling in mild amusement. “I guess I could've asked the lads to leave him out for you when you came in today, but I figured you two had been separated long enough.” The girl beamed up at him, grateful.

 

“Thank you.”

 

The old man chuckled softly and ruffled the girl’s hair, earning himself a giggle from the frizzy-haired child. She zipped her bag back and pulled the straps over her shoulders. Susan was a charming little girl, if a bit of a dreamer. Her uncle had been much the same way, decades ago when Mr. Carlson himself had to pull too many jobs in the then-understaffed school, and the Community Theatre had collapsed into financial ruin and was instead being rented out as an auditorium.

 

Her mother, alas, had been a much coarser child, and the old music teacher couldn’t say he had gotten the pleasure of knowing her father, as a child or otherwise. Still, the family were good, bright, curious people.

 

Though perhaps, a bit too unlucky.

 

“Susan, my girl?” She looked up to see Mr. Carlson's expression falling slightly in concern. “While I don't mind walking you to the theatre, your uncle was meant to pick you up, wasn't he?”

 

“Oh. Yeah.” Susan shrugged slightly. “I heard he went over to the old Studio? I guess he's not back yet.”

 

“The Studio?” The old music teacher could almost see Henry's expression when he talked about his old boss, and the nervous, haunted stares of every other former employee that managed to leave before the incident, each worse than the last. Nevermind the state of the place. “Perhaps we should call your mother when we get in.”

 

“Why? ...Oh, 'cause of the spooks?”

 

Honestly, he'd almost forgotten about those rumors that ran around the student populace. “...Yes, my girl.”

 

“Naaah, it's okay.” She shrugged again, fixing the bow in her hair. “Uncle Henry's prolly makin' friends with all of 'em, y'know? He's really nice. He'll be fine.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Fine, adjective; when applied to a person, meaning in good health, happy, or otherwise content. An example would be “Susie was just fine with a vacation to Hawaii.”

 

As such, Henry was not, in any way shape or form, fine.

 

In fact, as the back of his head ached away and he squinted at an unfamiliar ceiling, he was starting to realize that something had knocked him out again. The old animatory groaned and put his hand over his eyes, trying to remember what had happened. He remembered Sammy, or rather what was left of him, leaving him to the inky monsters that lurked in this place and-- from the sound of it-- getting smashed for his troubles. He remembered his flight from the macabre mockery that was “Bendy”, but also distinctly remembered not being snagged by it given his lack of being dead. And towards the end, just faintly he remembered...Boris?

 

No. No that was impossible. Granted so was everything in this Studio but-- Boris was very, very dead the last he saw of him. Nothing got vivisected and just stood back up again. At least, he hoped not.

 

Henry winced as he removed his hand, struggling with the concept of sight in the same way one struggled for footing on a slippery slope. For a long, stomach-dropping moment, everything looked like crudely colored animation cells, before textures and depth decided to shade themselves back in, seeping in ala the ink he was coming to despise. To his right, an unseen ceiling fan rattled away, and a clock tick-tick-ticked with a persistent percussion, each burst trying to convince him it was time to get up.

 

After a few seconds of working up the nerve, he finally looked off to the side.

 

The clock, as it turned out, was a Bendy clock, specifically designed as a rip-off of the old Felix The Cat clock, eyes twitching side to side and all. It rested on a wall between two corner bookshelves; to the right, the shelves were nearly bursting full of books, with two picture frames smuggled between the tiniest of spaces. Most of the books seemed to be thick tomes and textbooks, though a few well-thumbed and slightly inky paperbacks were smashed into any available cranny. At the foot of these shelves lay a mattress, covered in pillows and dusty from disuse. Nestled amongst the pillows, Henry could make out a few cassette tapes scattered about.

 

The left bookshelf had the decency to be less cluttered, though as such it was far more empty looking for it-- a few more picture frames, a couple of dolls, and a few large bones that the old animator could only hope were from a cow or other large, non-hominid entity. In front of these shelves hung a hammock, lazily draped above a well-worn footlocker. Unlike the mattress and its pillows, both of them seemed rather clean and recently used.

 

Likely because sitting on the hammock was a very real, surprisingly intact, and amazingly not dead Boris the Wolf.

 

The blood drained from Henry's face, but the dog-like doodle hadn't even noticed him. Instead, all his attention was focused on a beat up cassette player in his hands, equal parts cradling it and eyeing it like it was suddenly going to come to life and bite him. The old animator could relate to that, at least, given everything that had happened up to now, and the longer he stared at the upsettingly un-deceased drawing, his more his initial panic faded away into something akin to awe at how perfectly on model Boris was in spite of being in three dimensions, and then pity as he took in all the little nuances of his body language and expression.

 

Real wolves were apex predators, but this one looked more like a hunted sheep.

 

Henry cleared his throat. “...Boris?” The wolf's head snapped up, yelping and throwing the cassette player on reflex. The player hit the opposing bookshelf and landed on the mattress, bouncing slightly and kicking up dust.

 

“Wh-- oh!” The toon swiftly took to his feet and Henry couldn't help but note his lope looked amazingly well animated as Boris hopped over to him.

 

He also noted, with a bit of unease as the wolf hovered over him, that Boris was huge.

 

“Hey--”, Boris started, fumbling, one ear perked and the other drooping ever so slightly as emotions jumbled on his face, “Hey, howdy there Henry. How ya doin'? You okay? Do you need some juice? Do you know what day is it? What--”

 

“Whoa, whoa, slow down.” The old animator sat up, wincing slightly. With a quick glance, he discerned that he himself was in a small cot that was soaked through with ink-- but unlike everything else, this appeared to have happened some time ago, as the cot was dry and had no particular scent. The cot sat in a nook, and when he finally righted himself, he briefly found himself facing a poster of Boris before turning to look at the actual thing. The whole thing was uncanny, but the cartoon creature seemed about as dismayed as he felt, which was...comforting, in a way. He rubbed the back of his still-throbbing head. “...What...” The hell. “What hit me?”

 

The wolf grimaced, wringing his hands and glancing at the discarded cassette player. “...Alice”, he admitted after a moment, giving Henry a slight jolt at the notion.

 

How many of you are alive in here?!

 

“She's real sorry”, the toon continued, looking back up at him. “She was meanin' t'get ya'll's attention but she swung a lil' too hard and well...” He gestured at Henry's current position, sheepish. The animator grappled with a few seconds of the image of Alice-- listless, limp, Alice-- managing that level of strength or slapstick, but the image would not stick in his mind.

 

“So uh...where is she now then?”, he asked instead.

 

“Out.” The reply was automatic, and certain. In fact, Boris's form straightened a bit, both ears perking in full as he blinked. “Once we got ya'll all tucked in, she said she was gonna go lookin' for a safe way up past--” Henry watched, darkly fascinated, as Boris initiated a real life full body shudder, his whole body quivering like a plucked string before snapping back “--Past them monsters out there 'fore comin' to get us.”

 

The old animator blinked and started trying to get up off the cot. “She went out there alone ?” Boris hadn't exactly faired well himself out there. “Where is--”

 

“Whooooooooaaaa easy fella.” One gloved hand plopped on Henry's chest, and before he could completely register what was happening, easily pushed him back down onto the cot. Boris looked like he didn't even have to expend effort with the act, and Henry felt his stomach curl into a now all-too-familiar knot. “This is my place.” The wolf re-thought his statement. “This is our place”, he corrected, nodding. “Joey gave it t'us when we first came outta the Inkwell. It ain't been used for a while, but Alice says nothin' ever comes in here, so it's all safe-like. She wanted me to keep an eye on ya'll to make sure you didn't get into no trouble again.” A crooked smile formed under the Toon's snout. “You've been a mighty big handful, accordin' to her.”

 

Henry's mind spun with thousands of questions. Inkwell? Us? Has Alice been following me? Why haven't I seen her? If Boris and Alice are around, then does that mean...?

 

No. No, absolutely not. That thing could not have been-- no.

 

Henry shifted his weight, and both he and the wolf jumped when a sad sounding squeak. After a second of blind panic, the old animator remembered about the doll in his pocket.

 

“I really have to stop forgetting about that”, he grumbled.

 

“What was that?”

 

“Oh.” The old animator pulled the sad little toy out. The wolf, like a proper canine, immediately perked on seeing a squeaky toy, eyes bright, before registering the shape of the doll.

 

“What’cha got a Bendy doll for?”

 

“I--” Do I really want to tell him about them? “...I have a niece. She’s...a big fan. I thought she’d like once I get out of here.”

 

“Really?” Boris’s eyes went wide, almost in awe. “Of us ? They still ‘member us out there?”

 

Henry blinked, frowned, and blinked again. “...Yes? I mean-- it’s reruns now, but the show ran for decades and we live in the town that made it; it’s pretty famous.”

 

“Oh, gosh.” The wolf perked up. Then he drooped. Then he tilted his head, frowning slightly, looking back over at the cassette. “Tho’...tho’ maybe that ain’t so good...After all, with Bendy an Alice like--”

 

“What?”

 

Boris apparently had forgotten Henry was still in the room, much less under his hand. He jumped, gave a short startled “ bork! ” and then stuttered out, “N-nothing!” Shaking his head, he went back to wringing his hands, apologetically. “A-anyway! I’m real sorry ‘bout that, but Alice-- Alice said ya’ll gotta stay put, so ‘fraid your niece’ll have to wait for that dolly a lil’ longer.”

 

That wasn’t even at the top of Henry’s concerns right now. The old animator shoved the toy back in his pocket and tried to get back up, only to succeed in flailing under the even weight of the wolf’s hand. “Just-- look, I can’t just stay here! If nothing else, people will come looking for me, then what will happen?”

 

Come to think of it, now that he had said it, yes, he did wonder what would happen if the police went down through the hole now sitting pretty in front of the entrance, or a bunch of kids snuck in. Boris didn’t seem to understand, though; the dog-like doodle tilted his head, an ear raising curiously. “Wouldn’t that jus’ make it easier t’get out, if ya’ll got friends comin’?”

 

“That’s--” Henry flopped back onto the cot, rubbing at his forehead with one hand. “... Listen ”, he tried again, weakly. “This is all a lot to take in all at once. Could-- could I at least be alone for a while to try to process...?”

 

“O-oh...” Boris finally removed his hand from the old animator’s chest, and when Henry peaked through his fingers he couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt at the wolf’s hangdog expression. “O-o’course. Yeah. I-I mean thing’s all mucked up so a’course...yeah.” The dog-like doodle pointed at the door. “I’m jus’-- I’mma go now. Uh...feel better soon?” With a soft, sad little “ohhhh” and more hand wringing, the wolf left, closing the door softly behind him.

 

Henry thus was left to his own thoughts, and inexplicably felt like a total asshole for it.


Chapter Text

After waiting for a moment to make sure the wolf’s footsteps had faded away, and trying to shove the pang of guilt when the poor thing had done very little besides exist when he probably shouldn’t, Henry sat up again, wincing as his head continued to ache. His knees, however, somehow were still intact-- stretching them and swinging them over the side of the cot earned nothing more than the normal creaking and groaning they always gave. He was very certain he should have been more injured than this.

 

He was very concerned that he wasn’t.

 

Shaking himself, he took a look around the room again, no longer distracted by living cartoon, but nothing new really struck him save for the fact that apparently, said living cartoon and his equally alive cartoon friends had been specifically living there.

 

The cassette player Boris had discarded but had been unable to stop eyeing still lay on the mattress in front of him, lounging on pillows and draped with their dust now.

 

Oddly, the player didn't start itself up, regardless of his increasing proximity to it and what every player had done in response as he dragged himself over to the mattress and flopped down next to the device. Even picking it up and catching the faintest whiff of burning ink from the object in question did nothing; it remained, inexplicably, a perfectly mundane cassette player.

 

After waiting for the jump that refused to come for another minute or so, Henry pushed the pillows hiding the other cassettes on the mattress around, revealing three beyond the one already in the player. Studying the tapes, he could see numbers in faded ink looped on the labels, disturbingly similar to the single gentle hand in that room full of crazy so many floors above his head. The cassette already loaded into the player happened to have a “2” on it, but all things considered he didn't think it'd be too disruptive in the already disjointed narrative that had become his life.

 

His thumb pressed down on the play button .

 

“--sure I'm doin' this right?” Boris's drawl echoed from the speakers, along side the sound of him fiddling with the recorder. Some snickers faded in from the background noise; a girlish giggle and an eerily familiar chortle, though sans the distorted gurgle Henry had been hearing throughout the Studio. He shook his head.

 

Can't be.

 

A t that point, the girl's voice chose to cut in, curling out of the speakers like smoke in the air. “Ah, Boris, dear, I think you're holding it wrong. Just a bit.” The old animator automatically recognized it as Alice's voice, though she sounded different than he remembered; lower, and without an easily identifiable accent. Perhaps Susie had decided to tweak it some?

 

Then maybe that voice isn't actually--

 

“Don' listen to her, Bori, you're doin' great!” Speak of the devil, quite literally; a shiver oozed down Henry's spine as Bendy The Dancing Demon's voice came over the speakers. No, the tone and cadence was a perfect match to the macabre mockery that had been chasing him. And yet...something was off about it, beyond the obvious lack of guttural growls and twisted reverb. The Bendy talking over the speakers sounded honestly cheerful and just a tad squeaky, the nigh-audible grin sounding like it would've been the genuine article if he had been able to see it.

 

It was, if he dared think it, almost darling in a way.

 

The recording didn't care much for his crisis of faith and continued, Bendy humming over the speakers , “But maybe if you tilt a liiiiiiiiiiil' bit more like this...”

 

“Like this...?” There was an odd, rubber-band-esque sound, followed by Boris yelping and a crash, counterpointed by the wince-worthy skidding of the recorder.

 

Less wince-worthy was the laughter that burst forth from the other toons in the background. “You're terrible, Ben”, Alice managed to wheeze out.

 

“Y'know it, Canary”, crooned the dancing devil, sounding utterly unapologetic.

 

Boris whined. “Awww, shucks, yer both a coupl'a grifters”, he groaned.

 

“An' P.T. Barnum was right”, Bendy replied back , “What's yer point?” The poor wolf whined again, and the cassette clicked off.

 

Henry blinked at it, waiting for it to turn on and turn the whole thing nightmarish, but the player remained stubbornly inanimate and silent. In truth, that perhaps made him more unnerved than a sudden ‘gotcha’ and proof that something had always been sick and twisted to the Toons would have been; No, instead he had gotten proof there was something sweet prior to the nightmare.

 

That there was, at some point, a before to this after picture.

 

There were four more tapes. Removing the cassette already within, he placed the tape labeled “1” and clicked the player shut before hitting play.

 

“Test, test....okay, good, it's working”, Alice sighed over the speakers. Her voice seemed a bit softer than the other tape, more hesitant. “I figured we might as well use these for posterity but now that I think about it, I'm a tad clueless as to what I should...” She paused, clearly thinking about her next words.

 

“...Norman brought me another book”, Alice eventually began again. Henry straightened up at those words, glancing at the bookshelf behind him with renewed curiosity.

 

Norman knew about this? Granted, he would've found out when the ink monsters shown up anyhow, but it was hard to imagine the projectionist chilling out with a bunch of real life cartoons. His mind reeled at the image as the tape continued.

 

“He says he's bringing a shelf next time so I don't have to keep cluttering up the corner with these. Thank goodness; Ben's been griping about me turning the living room into a library.” She sighed again, wistful. “I know he's just fussing but...a library. Wouldn't that be something?” Henry couldn't help but glance at the bookshelf once more. Over the speaker, Alice cleared her throat. “Ah, anyhow, Norman's too good to us. Sammy and Susie are...”

 

The length of her pause alone gave the old animator chills.

 

“...Interesting”, Alice finally decided on, audibly uncomfortable, “And Mister Drew himself is a bit aloof. We haven't seen anyone else who works here. But I hope they're more like Norman. I hope most folk are more like Norman. It'd be a bit...eerie, I think, otherwise.” The cassette clicked off.

 

A living cartoon calling humans eerie. There was some irony in that, though the implication Susie of all people had been lumped in with Sammy, now that he had seen what had become of the latter...

 

Henry replaced the tape with the one labelled “3” and pressed play.

 

“Uuuuugggggggghhhh”, droned Bendy's voice, continuing and getting louder for a few seconds as if waiting to hit the correct dramatic pitch. Henry stared at the player, brow raising in the same way it raised at Susan when she was complaining about not wanting to go to school on instinct.

 

“Cripes”, the dancing demon snapped, finally getting on with it. “I swear gettin' dragged out here turned Canary into a total drag. So what she's all smart an' nice an' funny now, with that stupid sunny smile and her stupid silky voice and...and...”

 

Henry couldn't help but give the most unimpressed expression at the player as the demon's warbly voice trailed off. Almost as if the darlin' devil could feel the Judgement through time and space, the sound of a table being slammed rung out through the speakers.

 

“Sh-she's a menace I tells ya!”, Bendy’s recording insisted, squawking indignantly at the mere implication of an idea that he could've possibly been dizzy for a dame.

 

The old animator honestly didn't know if that was in-character or a new development, with the way Joey handled romance in his scripts and his tendency to pull the rug out from Bendy, but it was ridiculous either way.

 

“An' she's a BORIN' menace at that!”, the darlin’ devil continued, still ranting . “Y'know why I got this stupid' thing rollin'? S'cause after I messed with Bori a lil' when he had it, she said I had to have a go. 'It's only fair', she says”, he mocked, briefly affecting a higher, more nasally voice to imitate Alice before blowing a raspberry. “Fair! Lemme tell you somethin' about fair; the bad guy gettin' their just desserts is fair. The hero gettin' the gold and the girl is fair. This is cruel an' unusual!”

 

“What was that 'bout P.T. Barnum?”, Boris drawled from somewhere in the tape’s background.

 

Bendy made noise akin to a strangled cat . “You--! Hush! No comment from th' peanut gallery!” The wolf gave a soft little huff but fell silent. “That's betta’'.” The dancing demon snorted through his nonexistent nose before carrying on. “ANYway, before I was so RUDELY interrupted, that dame wouldn't know fair if it bit her on her halo! Why I have half a mind t'walk up ta her and--!”

 

Henry barely had the chance to think that Bendy was too chicken to try whatever he was about to say before he noticed Boris starting to snicker softly behind Bendy’s ranting. He leaned away from the cassette player just in time; not a second later, a loud cymbal crash went off, followed by a terrified shriek from the darlin' devil and the sound of the recorder hitting the ground. As the old animator leaned close again, Boris started cracking up from wherever he was in the background of the tape, the recorder creaking interrupting his laughter in spurts as someone picked it back up.

 

“And that”, hummed Alice through the speakers, clearly pleased , “Is why we don't call people 'boring menaces' while they're in earshot.”

 

“H-hey, HEY!”, Bendy shouted, sounding significantly distant from the recorder. “I ain't gotta take this kinda abuse from you!”

 

“So who do you usually take it from then?”, she replied, to another round of laughter from the wolf.

 

A sound that was far more tea kettle than human or demonic hissed through the speakers. “Wh-- You lousy--!” The cassette clicked off before Bendy could finish his sentence.

 

It took Henry a few seconds to realize he too was laughing, though much softer than the uproar that the recorded cartoon wolf had caused. After the bitter taste Joey Drew had left on all things Bendy and the war, Henry had honestly forgotten how much he had liked the characters. And with Alice actually being an active participant, instead of just set dressing! Even in the hell the Studio had become, it was too good, too pure, not to enjoy.

 

As he reached for tape “ 4 ”, the old animator was beginning to think he was going to get little more than adorable apocrypha.

 

“Bendy's fallen ill”, Alice's voice whispered, shattering all hopes in an instant. “I really shouldn't be talking right now, but Boris passed out from exhaustion, and with Bendy like this it's...it’s too quiet. I’ll go crazy if I don’t talk to someone, so it might as well be myself.” As he strained to hear the angel's exhausted, soft voice, Henry could almost make out the sound of something wheezing quietly in the background-- Bendy, if Alice's opener could be believed.

 

But why would a toon be sick if it wasn’t for comedic--

 

“Mister Drew told us it was a complication with having a proper physical form”, the cartoon angel's voice cut in before the old animator could finish his thought. “But each time he comes back from his supposed patch up sessions, he just gets worse. I don't--”

 

She gulped.

 

...I think whatever it is, Mister Drew is causing it. It sounds nuts out loud, but what else can I think when each time he brings Ben back he's more drippy, more jumpy, and less coherent. I think he might be going blind and I-- I don't know what to--”

 

The wheezing in the background stopped. “Alice? Alice, where are you...?” Henry's stomach dropped at how weak Bendy sounded compared to his theatrics in the tape just prior.

 

“Ben?” A chair scraped slightly as the angel turned away from the recorder. “Easy, easy...I'm here, Ben.”

 

“A-Alice...” A sick, sinister squishing sound slithered out of the speakers, all too familiar to Henry's ears. Still, Bendy's voice was so very weak, free of maliciousness even as he gurgled; in all honesty, without that menace, it was kind of pathetic sounding. “Eatin' people's hearts out is overrated. Don't let 'em offer ya any, okay...? I don'...I don' want 'em ta...” He took a deep, gasping breath. “...Where's Boris?”

 

“I-- Boris is sleeping. Ben, I don't understand what you're talking about, what do you mean...?”

 

The soft wheezing picked up again.

 

“...Ben?”

 

When there was no reply, Alice sighed, and the chair scooted again, bringing her voice back close to the recorder. “This is what I meant by 'less coherent', though this particular brand started two days ago. Mister Drew brought him back, and for an hour or two he seemed fine, if dazed. Then, suddenly, he started tearing up posters and putting up some kind of...collage where my reading nook used to be, before passing out. He's been fading in and out since, talking nonsense whenever he's awake and melting when he's not. I hadn't had a real image of what languishing was supposed to mean until now but...” She trailed off. “...I think he's dying. No, I--”

 

She gulped and her voice dropped, barely audible. “I think he's Ending.”

 

Henry couldn't tell what the difference was, save that “ Ending ” sounded like a kiddy way of getting around talking about death, but the emphasis on it reminded him of the emphasis put on the words “ cancer ” or “ gut shot ”, and put the same twist to his insides all the same.

 

“Norman-- bless him-- left me his harmonica and promised he'd be back to get us, but it's been a week now. If it takes any longer...” The chair scooted again, quietly, and for a few seconds there was nothing but the sound of Bendy's wheezing. The cassette clicked off without any further comment.

 

Henry tried to fight the shake in his hand as he put in the last tape.

 

“So uh”, Boris's drawl shook forth, sounding inexplicably like he was looking around sheepishly. “It's been real quiet 'round here, so I guess this'll at least give me somethin' to talk to...” The wolf gave a worried whimper. “Alice's been gone for, erm...six hours now? And Bendy's been gone for’a couple’a days...when Alice snuck out, she said somethin' 'bout findin' him an’ Norman. I dunno...maybe I shoulda gone with--”

 

There was a loud crash in the background and a feminine shout, muffled by distance.

 

“Alice?!” A thunk sounded as Boris' dropped the recorder, his footsteps hustling away. A silence fell for a few seconds before the footsteps returned, joined by what sounded like a pair of dainty, ink-drenched feet and a constant, slurping drag.

 

“There, on the couch” , Alice ordered, a touch of steel in her quiet voice that had not been there in earlier recordings. “Even if he could stand, it'd be a bad idea with those feet, get him reclining.”

 

A squealshing noise oozed out of the speakers. A warped, insane snicker wheezed out within the sick slurping, making Henry sit ramrod straight and look around before realizing it was just more of the recording.

 

“Bendy? Buddy?”, the recorded Boris called, clearly unnerved.

 

“I don't think he can hear you.”   Without pause, rummaging noises began, bouncing further and closer to the recorder. “Come on, dear, help me find something we can use to carry him. He's too...spagettified, for a lack of better term, for either of us to cart him around.”

 

Boris let out a confused whine. “B-but what ‘bout Norman? Weren't ya’ll gonna--”

 

“Norman's not coming”, t he angel cut in, distracted. “Nobody's coming, Boris. We're on our own. Really now, I need your help, get over here.”

 

“H-hey y'can't just-- ya'll can't just tell me no one's comin' and not explain!”

 

Alice's rooting about stopped as she let loose an exhausted sigh. “ I WILL explain, Boris, but I need you to help me! Could you just-- ” There was a beat before the sound of dainty, ink-drenched feet drew closer to the recorder. “ Now, how did that get there..?

 

The recorder groaned as it was lifted, and the cassette clicked off.

 

The old animator leaned back against the bookshelf, staring at the cassette player like it bit him. He dared it mentally to turn back on and have an addition saying that the real Bendy had been replaced with a crazy clone behind the other two’s back, but like all dares with inanimate objects, he lost it. It left him in silence, with only the sickening realization that “Bendy” was perhaps, really, truly the real thing.

 

Henry wished there was something still in his stomach; he had never wanted to throw up more in his life.