Samantha James has never been to a funeral before.
Sure, there was that one time seven years ago when she found a dead bird on their porch and decided - much to her mother's chagrin - that she would bury it beneath their prized willow tree in the yard, effectively offending both her cat and her parents in the process.
Her cat, because she had the nerve to deny him such a tasty little morsel, and her parents for having to live with the fact that there is a decaying corpse haunting their beautiful garden forevermore.
This is nothing like that. Not even close.
She keeps her eyes locked on the grand tombstone that now resides on the plot of dirt covering a very expensive, very impersonal and very empty coffin.
"Sam?" Mike calls her name softly, bringing her attention to a pair of beautiful brown eyes filled with gentle concern. He smiles, taking her hand and interlacing her slender fingers with his own. They're rough; weathered and scarred after venturing through the nightmarish planes of the Sanatorium, fighting off cannibalistic monsters and - oh yes - almost losing two digits to some freaky Jigsaw-trap.
She forces a smile back and gives his hand a small squeeze.
"I said I'm fine, Michael."
He backs off, but she can tell she's hurt him. That seems to be all she does these days. That, and burrowing so far down in her sheets she could pretty much out-burrow any burrowing woodland creature in existence at this point.
She pinches her eyes shut and imagines herself underground. Six feet under, to be exact. On the dot.
She imagines herself lying in that empty, extravagant coffin, listening to the dirt being thrown on the closed lid and the voices slowly fading away into nothingness.
She imagines her parents in the place of the Washingtons, burying their only child in that expensive box of wood, as if the ridiculous price of the container could make up for the loss of a life that would never again grace this Earth.
I wonder if they would find me as repulsive and unsightly as that bird, she thinks drily. I bet they would, somewhere in their minds. Their perfect little offspring reduced to nothing but meat and bones, good for nothing but fertilizer...
Her morbid thought process is interrupted by the voice of the priest - a tall, forgettable organism more lifeless than anything below their feet - thanking everyone for coming and showing their support to the Washingtons in light of the tragic recent events.
"Do you want to stay for a while?" Mike asks quietly, still eyeing her like he expects her to fall apart at any given moment. She's grateful for his presence - she really is, especially considering the fact that out of everyone in their merry little band of misfits, including Chris, he's the only one who actually bothered showing up - but his constant mothering is starting to get on her nerves.
I can't blame him. I really can't. He's just worried about me, and I need to appreciate that. Chewing him out won't do either one of us any good, and he's all I have now. It's not like he's being a worrywart just to annoy me, after all.
"Sam? Do you want to stay for a bit?" he repeats, a little louder this time. She nods silently, watching people leave through the gates like sheep being herded into a pen, and a tiny, cynical smile etches its way onto her lips.
"How much do you wanna wager the almighty Mr. Bobby Washington had to pay these lowlifes for coming to his son's funeral?" she muses out loud. Mike looks at her, startled by the cold and distant tone in her voice. It's so... un-Sam-like, and she knows it.
She knows it all too well.
It's something Emily would say, and the last thing she wants is for anyone to compare her to Emily flippin' Davis, but she can't help it. She doesn't feel even a tiny bit like herself these days.
"Dunno?" Mike shrugs, observing the crowd thoughtfully. The slight tilt of his head and the intense look in his eyes give the impression of him trying to solve an exceptionally difficult math problem, and despite herself she finds it strangely adorable. Not that she'd ever admit it to him, though. Hell, she doesn't even want to admit it to herself.
Not here. Not now.
"For the gents in the front I'd bet a fifth of whiskey and a lifetime supply of fedoras." He grins when his joke earns him a snort of laughter.
"Har-dy-har, Mike." She kneels down onto the loose dirt, tracing her fingertips slowly over the golden letters etched into the smooth, polished marble surface of the tombstone:
Joshua Benjamin Washington
11/06/1995 - 14/09/2015
"They didn't even bother with an epitaph," she whispers, mostly to herself. Of course they didn't bother with a fucking epitaph. They didn't know their son at all, not even a tiny bit. But then again, did she? Did she really know him? Could she ever - in a million years - have imagined him doing something so sick? That he could be so twisted and broken?
I did know him. But at the same time... I didn't.
Not at all.
Because she really, really thought she did. God, she thought... she thought she understood who he was, enough to feel like they had a real connection. She still feels that way, but the uncertainty is gnawing at her. Did she really understand Josh after all? In some ways he was always an enigma to her, but in other ways she felt like she did know him. She did understand him, at least better than most - if not all.
How could it be possible for someone to feel so close and yet so far away? So intimate but still so distant?
"Hey, Mike?" she whispers, hazel eyes glued to the elegant golden cursive etched into the gorgeous black marble, still unable to truly process what they're seeing.
She sees the letters. She reads them perfectly.
And still... it's his name. It's not supposed to be there. It doesn't belong there. Not on a fucking grave marker! It's wrong. It's horribly, painfully, ridiculously wrong and unfair and... She presses the palm of her hands against her eyelids - hard - as if trying to manually remove the image from her retinas. Maybe if she can do that, then... then it won't be real anymore.
God... She lets out a long, shuttering breath she didn't even know she was holding. God, Josh... why? You fucking asshole! Why'd you have to go and get yourself killed, huh? Why did you have to bring us all back there? Why? For a lousy prank? We could have helped you - I could have helped you - and instead you chose to pull something so completely messed up just to screw with us and now you're dead.
She bites her lip and feels the sting of tears beginning to burn behind her eyelids. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will. not. fucking. cry.
"Sam? Were you saying something?"
"Huh?" She looks at him, dark blonde eyebrows pulled together in confusion.
"You, uh, you started saying something. You said my name, and, uh... well. My name. Mike. That's me," he jokes, tapping his index finger against his chest. "Michael Munroe, Class President! Certified dreamboat and..."
"Yeah, uh-huh. Keep telling yourself that, Prince Charming," Sam cuts him off and punches him lightly in the shoulder. He grabs it and gasps audibly, staggering backwards with a horrified expression etched onto his handsome features. "Milady, you wound me! My pride! My fragile, delicate pride! However shall I recover?!" he wails dramatically. She rolls her eyes at his antics, but she does grant him a tiny smirk before turning to face the tombstone again.
"I was just wondering..." Sam pauses, chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip before continuing. "Do you think anyone ever actually knew him? Josh? I mean... the real Josh. Hell, do you think even he knew who he really was?"
"What do you mean?" Mike comes up behind her, peeking over her shoulder at the polished grave marker.
"All the things he did to us. The..." She almost says torture, but the word feels wrong on her tongue. Josh never intended to torture them, did he? No. No, she refuses to believe that. He had thought of himself as a healer. Someone who - through twisted and fucked up means - brought people together. And in a weird, messed up sort of way he kinda did.
"... The horror show," she finally says. "All that crap he did to Chris and Ashley, for starters. The whole... haunted-house-basement-dungeon crap. Do you think anyone knew he was capable of that? I mean, I know he was completely obsessed with horror and gore and all kinds of dark shit, but..." Sam trails off, stealing a glance at her somber companion.
"Do you think there's anything left at all? Anything for the Washingtons to... I don't know, maybe understand him better?"
"Well, to be fair..." Mike says thoughtfully, eyes narrowing in contemplation. "The lodge was pretty crispy by the time the rescuers came for us, and I don't know about you, but... I dunno... I mean, it's morbid as shit and everything, but..." He scratches his chin and looks off into the distance.
"What, Mike?" Sam prompts, still feeling the name of her best friend's older brother branded into her eyeballs like some kind of sadistic tattoo, all twisted and burning with regret and resentment.
"I feel like... all the work he put into those thingamajigs should at least be honored in some way, y'know?" Mike drags a hand through his dark hair, effectively ruining whatever hairstyle he decided was funeral-worthy.
Yeah. I do know. Never mind the fact that they were designed to torture, scare and emotionally demolish the living shit out of all of us - they were definitely really fucking brilliant. You were brilliant, Josh. And I fucking hate you for wasting your talent on something so twisted. I hate you for tormenting us and making us jump at imaginary shadows. I hate you for being indirectly responsible for Jessica and Matt almost dying in the mines. I hate you for taking my fucking clothes, for video taping me in the damn bath and stalking me through the entire fucking house in nothing but a tiny goddamned towel. I hate you for being directly responsible for ALL OF US almost dying in those godforsaken, horrible Tunnels of Death. I hate you for making me watch you fucking die. But most of all, Joshua... most of all I hate you for actually being gone this time.
"He would have made an amazing movie producer."
That's all. That's all she manages to say without crumbling into fifteen billion pieces right then and there. That's all she manages to choke out. So meaningless, so shallow and empty and unimportant. Just like the last words she ever said to Josh directly.
'"Okay... Josh. Do you have the keys for the cable car?"
"Uh... y-yeah. Here."
So damn meaningless. So useless. So casual. Nothing in those words indicated how much she cares for him, how important he was and still is to her. Only the brief touch of their hands - the tenderness in it, the lingering of Josh's hand in both of hers as she took the keys from his open palm...
That small interaction spoke volumes.
She smiles bitterly as she thinks of how he tried reaching out to her in the basement, about how she was too scared of her own feelings to answer in kind.
"You know, Sam..."
"I just wanted to say... uh..."
"It really means a lot to me that everyone came back this year, and y'know, that... you came, Sam."
God. The butterflies in her stomach had threatened to burst through her skin at that moment, and she was torn between confessing to the uneasiness of being back at the lodge and reassuring him. She had paused for a moment, wanting so badly to say something, anything, that could confirm to him that she felt something special for him as well, but what decided to come spilling out of her stupid, cowardly mouth instead?
"Josh... We're here for you. Really. Whatever you need..." She swore she could see the disappointment in his large, green eyes and the way his face fell, and she wanted to take back the words, wanted so, so badly to rephrase them, but she continued just the same.
"... whenever... we're all gonna make it through this. Together."
But that didn't happen, did it? Somewhere on that hellish mountain, the body of Joshua Benjamin Washington - or whatever remains of it - lies cold and alone and abandoned in those horrible, horrible mines, and 'together' seems like a cruel joke now.
She barely registers the gentle hand on her shoulder, but it still manages to pull her out of those painful, bittersweet memories tainted with grief and regret.
"Let's go home, Sam."
Home. It has a strange, unfamiliar ring to it. Home? Home... where is that? Ever since she came back from the mountain she hasn't really felt at home anywhere. Her blanket burrito continues to increase in size every other night, but no matter how tightly she bundles them around her lithe body, she still can't seem to stop losing herself to the dark, dank terrors of the mine.
Josh... I never should have left you.
With one last look at the tombstone with its cold, distant surface, she can't help but feel as empty and hollow as the casket underneath it. And in her mind, she etches the words of her own epitaph beneath the golden letters carved into the shiny, black marble.
So fly on
Ride on through
Maybe one day I'll fly next to you
Fly on, ride on through
Maybe one day I can fly with you
look at how far we've come
look at this mess we've made
I'm still praying that the sun
tears my body from the shade
tell me that we're too far gone
tell me that we'll be okay
swear to God I'd leave right now
if Heaven wasn't so far away
Sammyyy... Sam-Sam-Sammy-bird? Sammy-Sam-Sammy-Sammy-Sam... Saaa-aaam...
The voices echo out into the darkness of her cool bedroom, changing from Josh's teasing sing-song voice to the deep and distorted voice of the Psycho, until it twists into something else entirely; something unnatural, something monstrous. It's all Sam can do not to scream at them to shut the fuck up and let her get some goddamn rest because she's sick of having her name called, screeched, sung and whispered from every wall and every corner of the airy space.
"Shut up..." She pulls her blankets tighter around her tiny frame, shielding her body from the haunting echoes of the past.
"Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up!" Her voice is muffled against the pillow. It sounds so weak and powerless against the crushing darkness with its wide, grinning mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth and those eternally hungry eyes searching for something - anything - to rip apart and devour.
Sammy... Why're you hiding from me, Sammy-bird? His voice whispers teasingly in her ear. She can almost feel the cold breath against her skin, almost smell the dank wetness of the mines and the tangy, salty scent of blood lingering ever-present in the air.
"Go away," she mutters, digging her nails into her scalp until she nearly draws blood. The pain keeps her grounded, reminds her what is real and what isn't, but his presence refuses to leave her alone. It hovers in the air above her, circles the bed around her, slinks under the blankets next to her.
Why'd you leave me, Sam? Sammy... Sam... you came back for Mike. You came back for Mike but you left me.
"I didn't leave you," she wants to scream. "I didn't want to leave you! I was coming back!" And she would. She would have come back for him. She would.
The problem is... she never should have left him in the first place.
My beautiful little Sammy-bird... why'd you fly away and leave me all alone with Douchy McDickerson Munroe?
"Because I'm a fucking idiot. Because I thought... I thought it was the best thing to do."
His throaty laugh brushes against her neck, sharp razor teeth scraping along her collarbone like some sort of fucked up Wendigo kiss.
And was it?
"No." She laughs bitterly against the softness of her pillow. It's supposed to smell like laundry detergent, shampoo and perfume, but now it only smells like dirt.
Dirt... and blood.
Y'know, Sam... Josh drones sleepily, icy fingers trailing slowly over her exposed hip. She shivers violently, both from fear and excitement. His touch feels so real, so tangible she can't help but react to it. He leans down and nips gently at her throat, huffs of freezing cold breath causing goosebumps to erupt over her entire body.
It really did mean a lot to me that you came, he purrs against her neck, chapped lips lovingly tracing the outline of her jaw. The tip of his tongue flicks against her earlobe, sending a flurry of cold shivers down her spine.
Too bad you were such... a fucking... disappointment!
His voice transforms into something malicious - something deep and hoarse and not entirely human - and she falls out of her bed with a shriek as invisible claws descend on her; ripping through her torso and splitting her open like a morbid piñata from Hell. She doesn't even register her own screaming before her bedroom door slams open and her mother is shaking her fervently.
"Samantha! Samantha, it's okay! For God's sake, what is wrong?!"
She doesn't respond. She can't. Because for a minute, just before the darkness leaves the room, she swears she can see a tall, lanky figure perching on top of her wardrobe.
A tall, lanky figure dressed in tattered blue overalls covered in dirt and grime.
A tall, lanky figure wearing the most unsettling grin she has ever seen: it's both human and animal, his left cheek ripped into a jagged, bloody version of the Glasgow smile, razor teeth glinting in the moonlight. His eyes are still huge and green, but they're wrong. A milky film seems to have developed over them, making them appear both dull and agonizingly sharp at the same time. They seem to reflect the lights in a predatory, almost feline manner, and he snaps his jaws playfully above her mother's head before dissolving into nothingness with a hoarse chuckle.
"Josh..." Sam whispers his name like a prayer, like he'll miraculously appear in front of her again if she just wants it strongly enough, but of course he doesn't.
Imaginary beings tend to do whatever they damn well please, after all.
"Samantha, are you okay? Did you have a nightmare again?" Her mother touches her cheek gingerly, peering into her face with a worried crease on her forehead.
"I'm fine. Everything's fine."
Yep. Yeah. She's fine. She's always fine, isn't she?
Except that she isn't.
pay no attention
to the man who tried to change you
he's a dark familiar stranger
but that's the danger
the storm is strong
but it won't be long
and no matter where you roam
there's no place like home
"Good morning, Samantha."
Dr. Alan Hill smiles at her and rests his elbows on the obsessively tidy desk in front of him. Really, his entire office is immaculate.
Jesus. I bet he even uses a ruler to line his pencils like that. OCD much? Maybe I should be shrinking him instead...
"Sit down, please."
Yeah, why not. Not like I have a plethora of options, is it? Sam thinks drily and plops down in the chair across from him.
His unsettling eyes study her silently for a very long and very uncomfortable minute, and she's starting to feel the urge to dive through the open window and make a quick getaway when he speaks again.
"So, how have you been since our last session?"
Fucking awesome, Doc. I was visited by my dead crush last night. Oh, and he has claws now. No biggie.
Dr. Hill sighs and leans back in his chair.
"Samantha, we have already talked about this. You need to start opening up to me, otherwise I can't help you."
She cocks an eyebrow at him, incredulous. Help her? And how exactly does he plan on doing that? Prescribe her the wrong kind of medication like he did with Josh?
Yeah. That was really fucking helpful, wasn't it.
"How are the nightmares?"
"Oh, they're absolutely fantastic," she replies sarcastically.
"Nothing like having your name repeated fifteen billion times by monsters and dead people. Really, it does wonders for your mind. You should try it sometime, Doc. Oh, and did I mention they live in the walls? Yeah. Yep. Uh-huh. No lie. They live in my damn bedroom walls. Don't even pay rent, the mooching bastards. I should press charges."
"Mm-hmm," he mumbles and scribbles something down on a notepad. God, she wants to grab that stupid thing and whack him over the head repeatedly.
"I see... I see. And these auditory hallucinations, do they occur often?"
Sam opens her mouth to answer, but a movement in the corner of her eye catches her attention, and she instinctively turns her head to look at the bloody corpse swinging slowly from the rope attached to the spotless white ceiling. Its head is missing, but that doesn't matter.
She knows who it is.
It's the flamethrower guy.
He looks just as dead and mauled as he did when they found him hanging in the mines, only this time she can see every tiny, morbid detail of his mangled body without the darkness to partially conceal it.
S'okay, Sammy, a smooth voice purrs softly in her left ear.
S'only another dead loon. Y'know, it's been kinda lonely down here since you barbecued my darling little sister in the cabin. I mean, I get that she was trying to eat you and it was kind of a stressful situation for everyone involved and all, but that was exceptionally uncool of you.
"I know," she whispers. "I'm sorry. I had to."
"Samantha?" Dr. Hill looks at her curiously.
Sure. Sure sure sure. Keep telling yourself that, babe. Maybe one day you'll actually believe it.
She bites her lip and tries to ignore the sting of guilt and doubt brought on by his words. Her fingernails dig into the soft skin of her palms, and she's just starting to draw blood when she manages to snap back to reality.
"Yeah. No. Uh, what?"
"What happened there, Samantha? And be honest with me. It'll be so much easier for us both if you cooperate."
Hah. He used the same line on me, too. Whatcha think, Sammy? Loving my sloppy seconds head doctor yet?
"Jesus Christ, Washington," she mutters and pulls her blonde hair out of its signature bun, running a hand through the tangled strands. God. She really needs a fucking shower.
Just joshin' you, girl. Not a lot of entertainment value in being dead, to be honest with ya.
She used to think it was so cheesy when he said that. It was one of his favorite lines whenever he delivered one of his patented Washington-jokes, always earning him a chorus of collective groans from pretty much everyone within a thirty mile radius.
God... She misses that crazy, creepy asshole so damn much.
Aw, I miss you too, gorgeous. Who knew the afterlife would be so damn boring, right? I mean, y'know, they could've at least... I dunno... could've at least given me something to play with besides your pretty little head. Not, he adds, and she can literally hear the damn smirk in his voice - that I don't enjoy being inside you.
"Christ..." She massages her temples to ward off the incoming headache. Even the imaginary version of Josh is infuriatingly inappropriate, and she feels the ever so familiar urge to smack him over the head with a chair. "Can I ask you a question, Dr. Hill?"
"Please, Samantha. I think we're beyond the formal stage now, don't you?"
Nope. No, I do not. Sam forces a strained smile and puts her hair back up, mostly just to keep her hands occupied.
"Why did my parents hire you? How did they think it would help me?"
"Well..." He stands up from his chair and walks over to the window, staring out into the sunny afternoon for a while before answering.
"After the unfortunate incident on Blackwood Mountain, they did indeed feel like I could possibly bring you some... closure... in regards to Joshua's untimely demise."
Unfortunate incident? Untimely demise? Jesus fucking Christ, is he for real? She has to dig her nails back into her palms to keep from strangling him to death where he stands.
Sheesh, Sammy. Violent much?
"Josh didn't just die," she snaps. Dr. Hill turns to look at her, but he doesn't say anything. Those strange, all-seeing eyes seem to bore into her like a damn searchlight, and she has to keep from crouching down under his desk to hide from his scrutinizing gaze.
God, he is so freaking creepy. He gives me the heebie-jeebies. How can someone so eerie and unsettling be entrusted with the responsibility of repairing fragile, broken minds? I wouldn't even trust him to clean my cat's litter box!
"What do you mean by that, exactly?" he asks, calmly prompting her to continue when she doesn't say anything else.
"What do I mean? What the hell do you think I mean?"
"Joshua's death was a tragic accide..."
"He was killed!" she sneers at him before he can finish his sentence. God, she hates that stupid, raised eyebrow so much. She wants to grab a razor and shave it all off.
Gone. Dead. Erased from reality.
"He didn't get caught in a fucking landslide, he didn't choke to death on a piece of freaking apple, he did not fall off a cliff, and he didn't break his neck freaking snowboarding down some stupid slope! He. Was. Murdered."
Dr. Hill calmly sits back down in his chair and looks at her with a disarming smile that inspires about as much trust as a dead rat.
"I understand that you are still processing these things, Samantha. It's a lot to take in. First, the tragic deaths of Hannah and Beth Washington a year and a half ago, and then everything that happened with you and your friends. Really, it's perfectly understandable. You mind is still trying to make sense of everything, and fear can do horrible things to one's mentality. It's a powerful emotion and a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. Do you think... that maybe..." He folds his hands under his chin and looks at her with something akin to sympathy, but it comes across as nothing but pure arrogance and superiority.
Like someone trying to explain the concept of eating with a spoon to a toddler.
"Maybe... the reason why you keep imagining these monsters... is because somewhere deep down, after the trauma and the terror inflicted upon you by someone you trusted, someone you cared about..."
Where the hell are you going with this, you creepy old asshole? She wants to punch him. She wants to grab the letter opener from his desk and jam it in his jugular. She wants to bash his skull in with the ugly paperweight balancing on his immaculate desk.
Tut tut, Samantha. When'd you decide to go all 'I Spit On Your Grave' kinds of loopy on me? Being twisted is my thing, remember?
Shut it, Washington. She pinches the bridge of her nose between her fingers and sighs, impatient for the session to end so she can just get the hell out of there already and bury herself beneath ten heavy blankets. She wants to be crushed by them, consumed by them. She needs the weight to pull her back down and remind her of what's real and what isn't because her mind is starting to unravel faster than the ball of yarn her cat stole from her mother's crochet basket.
Dr. Hill continues on with his preachy presumptions, as calm and composed as ever despite her growing restlessness. "Samantha, do you think that maybe these monsters, these... delusions... are a direct representation of what Joshua has become to you?"
"You're saying... Sam slowly rises from her seat, rage boiling and burning like acid in her stomach.
"... that the monsters were just a figment of my imagination? That we - all seven of us - just fucking imagined being attacked by cannibalistic asshole horrors because we were so messed up over Josh's prank that our minds needed to replace him with mythological goddamn creatures from Native American legends?!"
"Please sit back down, Samantha. Let's just..."
"Fuck. You," she hisses through clenched teeth. It takes all of her willpower not to grab his head and smash his creepy narrow-minded face against his desk repeatedly until he stops breathing. Instead she turns on her heel and slams the door behind her when she leaves.
Burn in Hell, you asshole, I know what I saw. I know what happened. Hannah was real. The monsters in the Sanatorium were real. They were real. She's practically seething bu the time she reaches the exit, and she aggressively yanks her worn leather jacket from the coat rack next to the receptionist's desk with such force it sends the entire thing clattering to the floor.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," she mutters. Considering the distance between herself and the door, she frowns and turns on her heel, leaving the mess for someone else to pick up - another very un-Sam-like thing to do.
You've changed, Sammy-bird, Josh whispers in her ear. The sound of his voice freezes her on the spot because it's so Josh. Not the Psycho. Not the hoarse, screechy voice of the Wendigo.
It's just Josh.
You used to be kinder, y'know? Softer. Sweeter.
"Yeah, well..." She stomps across the parking lot, eyes trained on the white Sedan parked in the shade of a willow tree. She can see her mother through the windshield reading one of her magazines, completely oblivious to her daughter's internal debate with her dead crush.
"You used to be alive, asshole. So I guess we both changed."
Her mother looks up from the magazine when her seething daughter throws herself down into the passenger seat and snaps her seat belt on with a loud click!
"What happened? Did you finish early?"
"What?" Helena frowns, looking across the parking lot with a confused expression on her face. Sam follows her gaze, almost expecting Dr. Hill to stare back at her though the huge windows in his office, notepad in hand.
Thank God he doesn't. She's had enough of that presumptuous, arrogant creep for an entire lifetime.
"Please, mom. Let's just go home, okay?" Usually this would result in some sort of third degree, but the exhausted look on Sam's face keeps her mother from asking any other questions. She just nods her head and pulls out onto the highway.
Sam looks out the window and presses her forehead to the cool glass. It feels amazing against her blazing hot skin, and she closes her eyes with a small sigh.
"Is everything okay, Samantha? Do you want to talk about it?" asks Helena gently.
"... Fine. It's fine. I'm just tired, that's all. And I have a headache. I just wanna go home and sleep for fifteen thousand years."
"I don't think the alarm clock can be set that far into the future," her mother remarks. Sam laughs, and it feels wonderful and strange and unfamiliar all at once.
"Well, shit. Guess I have to rely on my dear mother to do it the old-fashioned way, then."
Helena takes her hand and gives it a small squeeze.
"I'll see you in fifteen thousand years, then. And I'll still be just as pretty and youthful as ever!" She winks and turns her attention back to the road.
Sam smiles and closes her eyes once again. The sun warms her face, and a slight breeze ruffles her hair.
It smells like apple blossoms.
She's fallen asleep - or is about to - when a voice echoes quietly somewhere in the back of her mind:
I'll see you soon, Sammy-bird.
cover my eyes, cover my ears
tell me these words are a lie
it can't be true that I'm losing you
the sun cannot fall from the sky
can you hear the heavens cry
the tears of an angel
Sam is pretty sure she's losing her mind.
Well, she's not one hundred percent positive but, she's also preeetty sure sane people don't normally hallucinate their dead crushes tearing into their mother's flesh at the dinner table.
"Samantha? You haven't touched your food," Helena notes with her intestines hanging from a gaping wound in her abdomen.
It takes every once of willpower in Sam's body to look at her mother without throwing up. The sound of Josh chewing and slurping makes her stomach turn violently, and the air is thick with the smell of rust and decay.
"I'm not... uh... I'm not hungry."
"But... it's vegetarian lasagna. Your favorite!"
Yes, mother. I am very well aware of what my own favorite food is, thank you ever so much. I'm just a tiny bit put off by Wendigo Washington currently chewing on the inside of your stomach. No offense or anything.
"At least have some salad, okay? You have to eat something." Her mother looks at her from across the table, concern etched into her delicate features.
"Philip, please tell your daughter to eat something. She looks positively ill!"
"She's nineteen years old, dear. I'm quite sure she is old enough to decide whether or not she's hungry," her father replies without removing his eyes from the TV. Helena throws her arms in the air, exasperated.
"At least talk to her! I mean, look at her, for Pete's sake! She looks awful!"
"Child still in the room," Sam remarks sarcastically, putting her fork down. Honestly, she loves her parents to absolute bits but the way they talk about her like she's not even present sometimes makes her question whether or not she possesses the strange ability to suddenly become completely invisible at the most inconvenient of times.
Don't blame her, Sammy, the twisted image of Josh purrs and licks the blood from his torn lips. His eyes gleam up at her, reflective and predatory from the darkness beneath the dinner table.
S'not her fault, really. Women can never focus on anything when I'm eating them out.
"Holy shit, that is so damn inappropriate, even for you," she mutters and pushes away from the table. Helena turns her attention back towards her, raising a very disapproving eyebrow in the process.
"You have not been excused, young lady."
"I did not ask to be excused, madam," Sam snaps back at her.
"Samantha, really! Where have you picked up such a horrible attitude? Is this Michael's influence?"
Ooh, here we go. Mrs. James never approved of Mike, not even one fraction of the tiniest bit. Her father, however, seems to have adopted him as the son he never had. The hours they would spend tinkering away at some four-wheeled spectacle in the garage, yapping about sports and beer and other manly-man stuff her lady brain wasn't programmed to compute...
Sam massages her temple and sighs quietly. "I'm sorry, mom. I'm just tired, and my head hurts like he..." she catches herself at the very last second, seeing the way her mother frowns at her.
No cussing in this house. Nooo sir. A proper young lady does not resort to cussing like a common simpleton. Nope. All prim and proper here, yes ma'am.
"... like heck. Hurts like heck. Can I please go to my room?"
Helena's stern facial expression softens slightly, and she purses her lips thoughtfully.
"I really do wish you'd eat something..."
"Okay, yeah. Fine. Whatever." She stuffs a piece of the cold lasagna in her mouth and forces herself to chew. It goes down about as well as rubbery sandpaper and leaves a metallic taste on her tongue, but she takes a few more bites anyway. It's torture, but at least her mother seems to appreciate her sacrifice.
"There. Can I go now? Please? I really need to close my eyes for a bit."
"Alright, alright. I'll put some food away for you and you can heat it up later. You may be excused, but we will be having a chat about your attitude later."
Sam rises from her seat and forces a smile for her mother's sake. Her skin feels tight - too tight - and she can almost hear the strained creaks of her mouth trying to remember how a normal, functional human being expresses happiness and contentment.
"Okay." Helena nods, obviously pretending not to notice the way her daughter's face seems to stretch unnaturally into a painful grimace rather than a normal smile.
"Have a good rest, sweetie."
Not bloody likely.
"Yeah, thanks, mom." She walks up the stairs to her room, carefully avoiding any dark corners until she closes the door behind her with a soft thud.
Alright. No hovering nightmare creatures? Check.
She looks under her bed like a small child, expecting to see the grim visage of her new visitor grinning at her from the blackness, but there's nothing.
No blood, no writhing intestines, no beating human hearts in glass jars.
"All clear," she mumbles and lets go of her bed cover. She gets back on her feet and closes the curtains on the cloudy, moonlit night outside after making sure her windows are locked up good and tight. Paranoid? Yep. Necessary? Also yep.
So far, so good.
She strips out of her jeans, folding them neatly over a chair and removing her hoodie, leaving her in a fitted T-shirt and underwear. Then she crawls under her covers, pulling them all the way up to her chin.
"Okay... Josh, if you're there, please do me the courtesy of leaving me the fuck alone tonight, okay?" she calls into the darkness. Then she waits. And she waits.
Maybe he finally decided to let her have some much needed rest. Or maybe he got his fill at the dinner table. Whatever the reason, she's relieved to have some head space, however short it may be.
God knows she really, really needs it.
Josh, if this is how you felt, dealing with those visions and hallucinations all by yourself... I can definitely understand why you went completely batshit.
Really. She does understand. She thought she understood back at the old hotel after reading through his files, after finding his lair. She thought she understood him. She thought she knew everything.
But she didn't.
Not even close.
and I will turn off
and I will shut down
burying the voices of my conscience
and I will turn off
and I will shut down
the chemicals are restless
in my head
'cause I lie
and if I could control it
maybe I could leave it all behind
yeah, I lie
not because I want to
but I seem to need to all the time
'cause I lie
and I don't even know it
maybe this is all a part of my
Sam reaches out and touches his shoulder, gently. He doesn't reply, but the slight tilt of his head indicates that he's listening.
"What are you doing? It's practically sub-zero out here!" She shudders and pulls her jacket tighter around her tiny, shivering frame.
"I'm... just..." He trails off, looking out towards the ocean. The waves crash violently against the pier, dousing them both in sprays of sea water. It's below freezing, but Josh doesn't seem to notice. His eyes just continue to stare off into the distance - lost in a world that only he can reach.
"You'll freeze your balls off, you know. I bet you're already infertile."
He chuckles lazily, but doesn't move. Doesn't even look at her. His hand grabs for hers - cold, slender fingers interlacing with her own - before pulling her down to his level, almost causing her to fall head over ass straight into the ocean.
"Josh," she hisses.
"Sam," he says, mimicking her tone perfectly. She shoves him gently, unable to really hold on to her annoyance for more than a few seconds and hating herself for it. He always does this to her. No matter how infuriating he gets, she always forgives him instantly. Hell, she'd probably forgive him even if he did send her splashing into the freezing depths of liquid pneumonia.
"So what are you doing, anyway? The party's inside. Or didn't you get the memo?"
He looks at her then; his big, green eyes heavily lidded as per usual, giving him a permanently sleepy expression.
"No duh, Washington. We all exist. It doesn't exactly make you special, you know. As much as you like to believe it does." She smiles teasingly, effectively removing any kind of edge the comment might've had.
Seriously. Why do I like you so damn much, you creepy friggin' weirdo? Am I just a sucker for punishment, or what's the actual deal here?
Honestly. Five long years of friendship, and she barely feels like she's even managed to scratch the surface with this guy.
In some ways, she knows him so, so well.
She knows his quirks, his messed up sense of humor, his lame jokes and his unholy love for horror movies.
She knows how his eyes tend to bug out randomly whenever he talks about something that excites him, she knows how his entire face lights up when he laughs, and how the sound of his voice makes her entire body tingle like it's Christmas morning.
She knows how he makes her feel. But how does he feel? What is he thinking? His expressions are impossibly unreadable, and he's constantly joking around, deflecting every question with humor, perverted comments and general smartassery - quite annoyingly sabotaging any and all attempts at every real connection she tries to make with him.
Who are you, Joshua? How can I reach you?
He blinks owlishly at her, tilting his head ever so slightly, and for a split second she feels like he can see right through her.
"D'you know... what it feels like..." He reaches out and tucks a few rogue strands of her long, blonde hair behind her ear, causing her heart to race like the freaking energizer bunny on steroids. Those large, green eyes peering into hers, somehow managing to look unhinged, drugged up and completely gorgeous all at once.
She almost forgets how to breathe when he leans closer, slightly chapped lips only mere inches away from her own.
"... to be stung by a jellyfish?" He pulls back, cool as a cucumber. She blinks rapidly, trying to recover from the minor heart attack she just experienced.
He runs a hand through his thick, dark hair and stands up, offering the same hand for her to grab. His skin connects with hers, and she swears she can feel sparks of actual electricity running through her body as soon as it does.
"I hear it sucks. If y'ever go swimming, watch out for the jellyfish."
"... Yes, Joshua. That is exactly what I planned to do when I came out here. Go for a cozy little swim with the freakin' jellyfish. You got me," she says, rolling her eyes so hard she suspects she's managed to pull a muscle somewhere in her left eyeball.
The tall brunette smiles dreamily, throwing one last look at the ocean over his shoulder before he pulls her into him and wraps those long, beautiful arms around her small body. He buries his face in her hair and sighs, utterly content and annoyingly ignorant of the impending heart attack he's currently inflicting upon her.
I swear to God this boy will be the literal damn death of me. Rest in pining peace, Samantha Nicole James. It's been real.
"Sammy," he breathes, voice sounding almost reverent. As much as she likes to pretend to be bothered by the nickname, it always causes her heart to flip juuust a tad whenever Josh uses it, and the way he bristles at anyone else trying to do the same thing makes her stomach flutter like a million tiny butterflies.
Not that she'd ever admit to it, of course.
Sometimes she wonders how much he actually knows about the extent of her feelings for him. At times he seems completely freakin' oblivious - infuriatingly so - and other times... well... other times he does shit like this and sends her into a damn tailspin and she doesn't know how the motherflippin' heck she's still able to breathe with him being all huggy and sweet and adorable -
"... I'm hungry."
Aaand it's gone.
first in line
for the wishing well
for a long time
can't you tell
you see, I would have killed Romeo
and saved Juliet
but I don't write stories
that time won't forget
so won't you pass me the kerosene
let's burn to the ground
you've be looking for meaning
did you like what you found
forgive me, I've been lonely
but it's not like I don't know my way
I don't know my way
Chapter 6: You
If you must wait
wait for them here in my arms as I shake
If you must weep
do it right here in my arms as I sleep
If you must mourn, my love
mourn with the moon and the stars up above
If you must mourn
Don't do it alone
If you must leave
leave as though fire burns under your feet
If you must speak
speak every word as though it was unique
If you must die, sweetheart
die knowing your life was my life's best part
If you must die
Remember your life
If you must fight
fight with yourself and your thoughts in the night
If you must work
work to leave some part of you on this Earth
If you must live, darling one
Step. Grab. Step. Grab. Breathe. Step. Grab. Step. Grab. Hold. Step. Grab. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe...
"You're doing great, Sam!"
She looks down. Michael gives her a huge thumbs up and nods enthusiastically, dark hair dripping with sweat after his own workout. Despite the easy smile playing on his lips, he can't fool her. His brown eyes are filled with concern, and his long, muscular arms keep jerking in her direction, almost like a reflex.
Ready to catch her. Ready for something to happen. Ready for her to fail.
"Just take it easy, okay? You can do this, girl! I'm rootin' for ya!"
She grits her teeth and finds another holding point. She's made it pretty far this time and she refuses to give up now, even though her muscles are screaming in protest and every item of clothing is sticking to her like glue.
Okay. Okay. Breathe, Sam. You can do this. You've done this a thousand times. Easy does it. Easy. Okay. One more plateau.
She reaches the second to last alcove and hauls herself up, throwing herself down on the smooth surface. She's exhausted, and dehydrated, and she's pretty sure her entire body will be beyond useless in the morning, but she made it.
Only one more to go, and she'll be okay.
"Just one more, Sam," she whispers, wiping her face with the sleeve of her thin jacket. The material is slick and smooth and does little to nothing for her predicament, but at least the stinging subsides a bit.
"Sam! You okay up there?" Mike calls up to her, concern now evident in his voice.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she responds. She's out of breath, but otherwise okay. She just needs to finish this next level and everything will be perfect. She'll be herself again.
But will you, though? Josh questions, almost on cue. She groans internally and drowns her frustration in the lukewarm water from the bottle strapped to her waist.
"Yes, I will," she mutters defiantly, taking another swig. "I'll be fine. I'll be good. So shut up."
Oh, really? Really really really? He mocks her, but that's not what makes her stomach turn to ice and her blood run cold in her veins.
It's the fact that he's doing it in the exact same way as before, when she confronted him after his big reveal. The memory hurts her - slams into her like a ton of bricks - and suddenly the air is far too thin. She can't breathe properly. There's not enough oxygen in the world to fill her lungs, and her chest aches with the realization.
"No," she whispers, clutching her bottle like a lifeline. "No. No, I'm stronger now. I'm better now. You can't... you..." her voice trails off, head throbbing and tongue feeling like sandpaper in her mouth, and she knows she's in trouble when she starts hyperventilating.
"Breathe, Sam," she tells herself, placing her head between her knees and focusing on her breathing the way they taught her in trauma therapy; in through the nose, out through the mouth. In. Out. Slow, controlled breathing. In. Out. In and out.
"Just breathe. It's okay. You're okay. You're fine. Just breathe. Focus on the breathing. Just breathe. Just breathe. It's not real. It's not real. It's-"
Oh, but I am real, Sammy-bird, he coos in her ear.
I'm as real as you want me to be, babe. And let's be honest. You really want that, don't you? She feels his cold, slender fingers running down the side of her face, and she knows he's right. Some fucked up, messed up part of her really does want him to be real.
She needs him to be real.
Sheesh, Sammy. If you wanted me inside you so badly, all you had to do was ask.
"I should have helped you," she whispers, fingers desperately trying to find his but grasping nothing but air.
"God, Josh, I should... I should have done more. I should have tried harder. If I had... maybe..." Maybe what? Maybe Josh hadn't been dragged away from her, away from his friends and his safety and his salvation? Maybe they hadn't tied him up in the shed and he'd still be alive?
If she had just said something... done something...
She curls in on herself, arms wrapped around her knees so hard her muscles practically scream out in agony, but she doesn't even notice. She presses her face against the slick fabric of her workout tights, trying so desperately to keep herself together.
She can see it now. So clearly.
His villainous gloating, the manic glint in his huge eyes as he declares his victory over them. Ash and Chris sitting dumbfounded in their chairs. Mike staring disbelievingly at the raving lunatic in overalls acting like some kind of criminal mastermind...
And Sam, trying to reason with him.
"Hook, line and sinker for every little stinker!" Josh laughs, and it's a distorted sound. It's a disturbed sound. It's the sound of someone seriously riding the crazy train.
"Josh..." Sam steps forward, hands raised mid-level, like she's approaching a wounded animal. "Your fingerprints were all over this. It was obviously you."
"Oh, really? Really really really?" He looks at her, challenging her. Come on, his eyes tell her. Prove me wrong. I dare you.
"You're crying out for help, Josh... Come on, you wanted to get caught, didn't you?" Please! her mind screams at him. Begs at him. Please. Please listen to me. Please.
He scoffs at her, eyes flashing in anger and denial, and something more. Something... something vulnerable. "Oh, sure. I'm totally just crying out for help," he says, mocking her. "Help me! Ohh help me! Help help!"
He's making fun of her, but there's something real there, too. Somewhere in the mania and hysteria and the overall insanity, there's a real person crying for real help. She's one hundred percent sure of it. The quivering desperation in his voice gives it away, no matter how much he wants to deny it.
"Come on!" he shouts at them, almost pleadingly. "Come on! It was just for fun! I mean, so you got a little bit of egg on your face, right? Nobody got hurt-"
"What are you talking about, you ass hat?!" Mike interrupts, all fierceness and hatred and disbelief. "Jessica's fucking dead!"
Josh stares at him, glee and merriment and mania all but gone. "... What?"
"Did you hear me? Jessica. is dead. And you're gonna fucking pay, you dick!" Mike advances on him, fists clenched, and she knows she has to do something. She has to say something , but then it's too late, and Josh is on the ground.
Unconscious. Helpless. Vulnerable.
"Josh..." Her choked sobs sound almost unnaturally loud surrounded by all the stone in the alcove, and she knows Mike can hear her. She knows he's already trying to reach her, but the ever so dashing Class President Michael Munroe is no mountain climber. He'd just kill himself trying to get to her.
Hell, he'd probably try anyway.
"Sam! Sam, it's okay! We're gonna... I'm gonna come get you, alright? Just... fuck... just-just stay there! Stay. There!"
No. No. She doesn't want him right now. She doesn't want his help. He punched Josh. He dragged him out into the snow. He tied him up in the shed. He left him there, alone and defenseless, and why? Why? Because Emily was more important? He could've brought Josh with him. He could've saved him. He could've... he could...
"God!" She bites the inside of her wrist to keep from screaming. There had been so. many. chances. So many damn chances for Josh to be saved, and they all let him down. They all betrayed him. He was sick! He was sick, and they knew it, and they left him anyway. And Mike...
He hurt him.
He hurt him.
He hurt him... but so did she. And what's worse? She failed him as well.
"I'm sorry," she whispers into the cool surface of the stone wall. She doesn't even remember curling up beside it, hiding in the corner of the alcove, but it feels good against her flushed skin. "Josh, I'm so sorry... I'm sorry... I'm so, so, so sorry!" Her fingernails dig into her scalp, but she doesn't even feel the pain anymore.
It's nothing compared to the hellish flurry of emotions waging war inside of her.
The voice is so gentle. So careful. He's all concern and worry and strong arms pulling her into him, trying desperately to put her back together like she's made from nothing but fragile, delicate porcelain.
"Sam, God, I'm..." He doesn't know how to finish. He doesn't know how to help her. She's not even sure whether or not she even wants him to. She wants to scream and push him over the edge and beat him up and hug him all at once and her mind is nothing but a scrambled, useless mess.
He just sits there, letting her cling to him like he's the last tangible thing keeping her from losing her mind completely - her last thread to reality - and he strokes her hair and whispers gentle words that she doesn't even register, but the soft murmur is soothing all the same.
Really, Sammy? Him? Josh sounds hurt. Almost impossibly so.
"Please... please... don't..." she begs, feeling the pain and regret starting to consume her all over again. "Please just... don't."
D'you know what he did to me out there in the shed? Hm? Do you know? His voice turns cold, vindictive. Vengeful. He tied me up. You know that, don't you? Held a gun to my face, too. Josh chuckles darkly, and the sound is both familiar and foreign all at once.
He does that, doesn't he? Pretty President Asshole. He loves waving his gun around, doesn't he? Wanna bet he's compensating for something?
"Just be quiet, please," she mutters against Mike's chest. He doesn't respond, only tightens his grip around her and rocks her gently back and forth, trying to comfort her the only way he knows how.
"Please, just please be quiet. Be quiet."
I'm sure darling Christopher already told you the riveting tale about the stark raving lunatic who just wanted pizza, huh? I mean, really. Did that warrant a beating? I was fucking hungry. I'm always hungry. Right, Sammy? Sammy-bird? You know, right? I'm always... so fucking... HUNGRY! The last word comes out in a shriek so deafening it causes her to jerk violently, almost sending both her and Mike straight over the edge of the narrow alcove. Probably would have, too, if Mike didn't have such good reflexes.
"HolyJesushotsauceChristmascakeareyouokay?!" He peeks over the edge and shudders visibly. "Fuuuck. That was scary. Thaaat... was scary. Don't-don't do that again, please. I only brought one extra pair of underwear!"
She finds herself smiling, despite everything. Mike is such a dork. Sure, he looks like the stereotypical dreamboat you'd find in every generic action movie ever, but he's secretly just a giant goof.
And she wouldn't have it any other way.
you're not my savior, just someone I used to see
I am broken, something's wrong inside of me
I feel violent
like I'm dying
I feel broken, maybe I'm just breaking free
"You what?" Her mother stares at her, unable to fully process the information she just received. Sam shrugs, pulling her blonde hair out of its bun and letting it cascade down her back. It's longer, she thinks as she picks up a hairbrush. Helena grabs it from her and turns her around to face the mirror, jaw set in a tight line as she starts brushing her daughter's hair. Or, well, more like pulling every damn strand violently out of her freaking skull.
"Ow, ow, ow! Mom! Seriously? Child abuse!" Sam protests, giving her mother a sharp glare through the mirror.
"I'm sorry, honey. I just..." Helena sighs and starts brushing again, a lot more gentle this time. Sam closes her eyes and lets the familiar sensation calm her down before she takes the plunge yet again.
"I said I don't want to see Dr. Hill anymore."
"Yes, I heard you, Samantha. What I need to know is why. Dr. Hill is one of the best psychiatrists available, and..." "He's freaky. I don't like him. He gives me the creeps, always staring at me like I'm some kind of science experiment!" She shudders, the memory of those unsettling eyes still fresh in her mind.
"And," she adds. "He's exceptionally arrogant. And gloaty. And self-righteous. And condescending as fu-"
"... fudgestickles." Fudgestickles? Really? She can almost hear the sound of the invisible facepalm. My god, could I be any lamer...
Hazel eyes - so identical to her own - search her face through the reflective glass in front of her. She reads both doubt and concern in them, mixed with a quiet determination that makes her stomach twist with its familiarity. Uh-oh. She knows that look. She knows it all too well.
"Nevermind," she says before her mother can voice her thoughts. "I'll manage. Somehow."
Helena brushes Sam's light blonde hair into a long, silky braid and lets it fall down her back before she places her hand on her daughter's cheek, eyes gentle.
"Sweetheart, I know it's difficult," she says quietly. "But I honestly think he can help you. He's an extremely qualified psychiatrist, if a bit eccentric, and he comes highly recommended. Just... just please try to stick with it, okay? Just for a while longer. Give it a few more weeks, and if you still feel this way then we'll talk about finding someone else for you, okay?" She wraps her arms around her daughter's slender frame and kisses her lovingly in the back of her neck.
"We'll get through this together, my darling. Philip and I will do everything we can to make sure you get the help you need, and we'll be with you every step of the way. We love you so much, Samantha. I hope you know that."
Must be nice, Josh sneers at her. She feels every hair on her body stand on edge, and even her mother's embrace isn't enough to keep the sudden chill at bay.
Please, she thinks pleadingly. Please, Josh, please just let me have this. Please just leave me alone. Just this once. Please.
"Are you okay, honey?" Helena grips her shoulders carefully, turning her around to look her in the eyes. She puts her hand on her forehead and frowns, confusion and worry painted clearly on her beautiful face.
"You feel cold," she mumbles and flips her hand around, feeling her skin with the back of it this time. "You're a bit clammy, as well. Are you feeling okay? Do you want me to make you some tea?"
"Yes, please," Sam whispers, eyes locked on the nightmarish apparition crouching on her mother's pristine vanity. Josh grins, razor teeth stained a deep crimson and those dull, piercing eyes flashing dangerously at her. He pulls his limbs tighter - like a predator getting ready to pounce - and she knows she won't be able to stifle her scream if he decides to jump her.
Not real. Not real. Not real. Not real. Breathe, Sam, breathe. He's not real.
"Come on, sweetie. Let's get you a nice, warm blanket and a hot cup of tea. Hopefully you'll feel better."
"Okay. Yeah. Yeah, tea sounds..." Sam swallows, skin prickling as she feels that hungry, animalistic gaze pierce her body. "... good."
She follows her mom into the kitchen and sits down on one of the bar stools whilst Helena starts preparing the kettle, wary eyes hunting for any potential hallucinations lurking in the shadows with their sadistic grins and taunting words.
"Here you go, sweetheart. Just the way you like it."
Her favorite mug is placed in front of her, and she grips it tightly with both hands. It's scolding hot, but her body feels unbearably cold all of a sudden. She shivers and takes a sip, careful not to burn her tongue. The warmth feels amazing, but the taste... the taste is way off. It doesn't taste like her favorite blackberry and raspberry mix at all, not even close. It tastes salty, and slightly rusty, and it leaves a strange, metallic tang in her mouth...
Holyfuckingshit! She spits it out onto the counter, and the crimson liquid makes her stomach turn violently. The entire mug is filled to the brim with blood, and she swears she can see a human fucking heart beating in the morbid soup from Hell. She drops the mug and scrambles to her feet, stool clattering loudly to the floor, and she barely makes it to the sink before her stomach empties itself of all its contents.
"Dear Lord!" Helena exclaims, rushing to her daughter after recovering from the initial shock. She rubs her back soothingly, trying to coax her to wash her mouth out with a glass of sparkling water. Sam eyes it suspiciously, but it looks perfectly normal. She's still skeptical when she takes the first tiny sip, but there's nothing weird or disgusting about it.
"Is that better? Do you need me to call a doctor?"
"No," Sam replies and shakes her head. "No, no, I'm... I'm fine. I just... maybe I just ate something bad." Liar. "I'll be okay. I think I just need some rest. I didn't sleep much last night, so, maybe that's it."
"I don't know..." "Mom, I'm fine. I promise. I'll be fine. It's probably just a bug or something. One of those twenty-four hour things." She smiles at her mother, trying to reassure her, but it's really rather difficult to act convincingly when the grotesque parody of her crush is currently lapping blood up from the floor less than two feet away from them.
He lifts his head and looks at her, grinning as he offers her the still beating heart lying amongst the broken shards that were once her all-time favorite mug.
For you, babe. Be my Valentine? He tilts his head, torn lips dripping crimson down onto his filthy overalls. They're frayed and worn; edges smudged with coal from the mines and the blue fabric completely caked in dried dirt and blood.
"Oh, God..." Sam turns away from the grisly scene. She's quite sure her skin has turned a sickly shade of green at this point.
Awh, come on, Sammy! 'S just a little bit of corn syrup, y'know? He crawls over to her, movements both smooth and jerky at the same time, and those huge eyes staring unblinkingly into hers. He offers her the heart again, and this time she can even hear the heavy beating like a drum in her ears.
Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump.
"Go away, she whispers. "Go away!"
He smiles at her, and for a second it seems more sad than malicious. Okay, Sammy. I'll leave you alone. For now. Then he's just Josh again; the same broken, wounded boy they found roaming around the mines lost in his own head, and she regrets her words instantly.
But it's too late.
"Bye, Sammy-bird," he whispers. "I'll miss you."
And then he's gone.
behind my eyelids are islands of violence
my mind ship-wrecked
this is the only land my mind could find
I did not know it was such a violent island
full of tidal waves, suicidal crazed lions
they're trying to eat me
blood running down their chin
and I know that I can fight
or I can let the lion win
I begin to assemble what weapons I can find
'cause sometimes to stay alive
you gotta kill your mind
"Mm?" She looks over at her best friend, squinting against the bright sunlight. Hannah slips off her shoes and lets her feet soak in the cool ocean water splashing gently against the edge of the beach.
"Have you ever been in love?"
Sam pushes herself up on her elbows, considering the question. Her gaze automatically flickers towards the tall, dark-haired enigma currently playing water polo with Chris, Matt and Jessica a few yards away from them. Her heart jumps in her chest when his laugh reaches her ears, and for a moment she finds herself unable to look away.
He's not conventionally handsome - not like Mike or Matt - but there's just something about him. Sure, some people might even call him strange-looking with those huge, green eyes and that impossibly angled jawline, but Sam isn't one of them.
"Hellooo-ooo? Earth to Space Cadet Sami!" Hannah waves a hand in front of her face, grinning. She clears her throat and tries to ignore the heat rising in her cheeks. Did her best friend seriously just catch her checking out her big brother?
"Should I take that as a yes, then?" Hannah teases her, raising her eyebrow knowingly.
"I... uh... no. I mean... I'm... not sure," she admits. Her eyes catch Josh's, and she swears her heart damn near stops. He's looking straight at her, green eyes bright and beautiful against his tanned skin. The sunlight reflects off every drop of water running down his chest, shimmering like diamonds.
He's not exceptionally muscular, but he's not a twig either. The slight muscle tone suits him perfectly, she thinks. She usually goes for more athletic types - being a fairly active person herself - but this is Josh. Her breath catches in her throat when he smiles at her; that slow, enigmatic trademark Josh Washington-smile, and she instantly melts into a puddle.
He's so damn beautiful.
They maintain the eye contact for a few seconds longer, until Chris shouts something at him and he has to turn his head to catch the ball. Sam lets out a shivering breath and turns back to her friend.
"I mean, maybe? How do you even know for sure?"
The brunette laughs and gives her a pointed look. "Uh, hello? Remember who you're talking to? I'm the official No-Date Kate. The closest thing I've ever come to having a boyfriend is reading about it. I'm about thiiis far away.." she measures a couple of tiny inches between her thumb and her index finger "... from joining the convent."
"Oh, come on, Han," Sam smiles reassuringly. "You're just shy. There's nothing wrong with that. Besides, whatever happened to that cutie you met at the library last week? You were so excited! I mean, I swear I even heard wedding bells in the distance for a second there."
Hannah blushes and twirls her hair nervously. "Oh. Him. He, uh, he's... yeah. He's gay."
"Oh." Sam doesn't really know how else to respond. She feels terrible for her friend; she had been so happy and flustered when she told her about their first meeting and how they were into all the same books and...
Oh. Well. Shit. Okay, maybe she should have seen that one coming after all.
Hannah loved romance novels, particularly the works of Jane Austen. She liked to joke about how she was born in the wrong century, and Sam felt inclined to agree. Hannah was far too sweet and gentle for this harsh world. She belonged in an era of romance where courtships involved flowers and dancing, not hooking up once or twice in the back of some dude's car after one too many beers.
"I'm sure you'll find your Prince Charming someday, Hannah. There's bound to be some good ones amongst the troglodytes at our school."
"Well..." Hannah chews her bottom lip and glances over at her, brown eyes twinkling. "There's... one guy. Bu-"
"What?!" Sam interrupts, grabbing her arms excitedly. "Who is it? Do I know him? Do you need me to stalk him for you?"
The middle Washington-child blushes furiously, refusing to meet her eyes as she mutters: "It doesn't matter. He's way too popular, I mean, I'm not even a blip on his romantic radar. Trust me, Sami, he'd never be interested in me."
"Hey," the blonde says sternly, hazel eyes peering seriously into brown. "You need to give yourself more credit, okay?" She pulls her friend into her, giving her a tight hug. "You're an amazing person, Han. You're kind, and you're sweet, and you're considerate, and you're so beautiful. You just need to see it for yourself."
Hannah wraps her thin arms around the blonde, hugging her back."That's easy for you to say. You and Beth, you're.. you're so much braver than I am. Beth, she's... she's never afraid to go for the one she wants. Girls, guys... it doesn't matter. If she likes someone, she just goes all in. I could never do that, Sam."
Sam pulls back and smiles, eyes gentle. "You don't need to compare yourself to Beth, you know."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know. So, a-ny-way!" Her best friend raises her eyebrow and grins. "Are you ever going to tell him? And don't even pretend not to know what I'm talking about, Sami. I can read you like an open book." She adjusts her glasses, eyebrow raised.
"No way!" Sam blurts out, earning her a gentle laugh from the brunette. "I mean... come on. He calls me his little sister. His little sister, Han. I've been freakin' sister-zoned. There's just no way." She looks back at Josh, but immediately regrets it.
Jessica has her arms wrapped around his neck, hands playfully ruffling his wet hair. She's all flirty smiles and battering eyelashes, and Sam finds it hard to breathe. It feels like her heart is being crushed by an icy iron glove. She can feel her nails digging into her palms, but the pain is a welcome distraction.
It's fine, Sam. It's fine. He doesn't belong to you. He can do what he wants.
"Sami? Sam, what's..." Hannah follows her gaze, eyebrows furrowing in sympathy and understanding. "God, that girl is positively incorrigible," she huffs.
"Who're we talking about?" Beth dumps her towel haphazardly down onto the sand next to Sam. She's wearing a black swimsuit, and that perpetual beanie looks so ridiculously out of place it almost makes her laugh, but this is Beth.
She does whatever she damn well pleases.
"Jessica," Hannah mutters, shooting the blonde bombshell a nasty look. "She's putting the moves on Josh, and we do. not. approve."
"Gotcha," Beth replies and yanks something out of her sister's beach bag before she stands back up and walks into the water. Sam exchanges a questioning look with the other Washington twin, who in return shrugs and shakes her head, mouthing "I don't know."
"Hey, Jezebel!" Beth yells, startling everyone around her. "Paws off my brother, you greedy woman!" She throws something at them, causing Jessica to squeal and let go of Josh to avoid being hit by it.
It being a tennis ball.
Josh takes the full brunt of it straight to the face and curses loudly. "Fuck, Bethany! What was that for?" He stares accusingly at his sister, eyes both wide and narrow at the same time, which is quite impressive. Sam snickers, somehow not feeling entirely too sympathetic about it.
"Nice one, Beth," she comments when the younger twin plops back down and stretches out on her towel, basking in the sunlight. Beth grins and gives her a conspiratorial wink.
"I've got your back, girly. As much as the thought of Josh being romantically involved with, well... anyone... disturbs me..." she shudders, grimacing. "I'd much rather see you with him, and not that... that gold digging harpy."
"I fully, completely and wholeheartedly concur," Hannah agrees. Sam laughs, pulling the twins into her. She hugs them tightly, so incredibly grateful for their existence in her life.
She honestly has no idea what she would do without them, and she never wants to find out.
"I love you guys so much."
"We know," Beth replies teasingly, then she plants a peck on her cheek. Sam looks over her shoulder, catching Josh's eyes on her. He doesn't look away, and she doesn't expect him to. Another thing she definitely does not expect him to do is break into a damn run and literally throw himself over her, completely ruining the moment.
"JOSH!" The twins yell his name in unison when they're attacked by a wave of sand and ocean water crashing down on them as he lands. Sam - however - is far too distracted by the fact that Josh freaking Washington is lying on top of her, huge green eyes staring into hers, sparkling beautifully in the bright sunlight. She swears she can see them flicker down to her lips for just a second, but it happens so fast. Too fast. It might as well just have been wishful thinking.
"What?" He says, voice husky and low in his throat. She wants to kick herself in the face when her entire body goes weak at the sound of it.
Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. He doesn't see you that way.
"I mean, 's just a family hug, right? I'm family. Big bro Joshua. Right, Sammy?" He looks at her, expression completely unreadable. She honestly can't tell whether or not he's messing with her, and she wants to punch him right in his stupid, beautiful face and kiss the ever-living fuck out of it at the same time. Why can't he just be a normal freaking guy and not this... this... frustratingly confusing, enigmatic creature!
Honestly. How much is one single, fragile human heart expected to survive before it completely gives in, anyway?!
Ugh, God. She really, really wants to hit him. Just this once. It'd be so easy.
It should be so easy. He's right freaking there being his own usual gorgeous, infuriating self, but all she can do is smile at him, and her entire being just melts into a puddle when he smiles back.
That slow, lazy, all-knowing Josh Washington-smile.
That smile should be classified as a nuclear weapon, she thinks drily. But she can't deny the immediate effect it has on her. She wants to freeze that moment forever, if only to preserve this feeling of complete and utter happiness.
"One big, happy family," Beth grins.
"Forever," Hannah chimes in.
Josh raises his hand and brushes a strand of hair away from Sam's face, fingertips lingering on her jawline juuust a tiny bit longer than necessary, the tip of his thumb briefly caressing her cheekbone.
"Forever," he whispers.
all of your friends have been here for too long
they must be waiting for you to move on
I'm not with it I'm way too far gone
I'm not ready
eyes heavy now
heart on your sleeve like you've never been loved
running in circles
now look what you've done
give you my word as you take it and run
wish you'd let me stay
I'm ready now
"I really. hate. hospitals," Sam mutters as she walks down the sterile, bright hallway. It smells like antibiotics and cleaning products, and she's pretty sure she already cheated death at least twice by dodging, ducking and diving out of the way every time one of The Afflicted crossed her path.
Who even decided that having a bunch of sick people roaming the halls willy-nilly was a swell idea, anyway?! Aren't they supposed to be freaking quarantined or something? I mean, they can totally end up infecting the entire world and killing everyone, right? I mean, that's what happens in every zombie movie ever...
"Ah, fiddlesticks!" she exclaims, barely managing to twist her body away from the spray of germs being shot at her from the flank. She glares daggers at the culprit - a small, red-nosed child clutching a teddy bear - and shivers involuntarily at the sight of her bloodshot, fevered eyes.
Do not approach me, plague bearer! the petite blonde thinks as the girl takes a step in her direction. And then another. Her internal screams of warning and alarm are being thoroughly ignored by the receiver, and yet another step is taken.
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Sam breaks into a sprint, just barely missing a figure dressed in white as she rounds the corner. There's the clattering of a note board hitting the floor and a startled outcry left in her wake, but she doesn't turn to look.
It's every man, woman and child for themselves in such perilous situations, after all.
"Hey, no running in the halls!" they shout after her. She sighs and slows down, continuing forward in a quick shuffle.
After all, she was only told not to run.
At least my bouquet survived. Sam glances down at the increasingly distressed arrangement of flowers in her hands, frowning. For the most part, anyway. She pulls out a couple of broken lilies and drops them to the floor, not even bothering to look for a trash can.
"Lookie-look, Joshie. I'm littering. Anything you wanna say about that? Anything at all?"
It's been three days since the last time Josh spoke to her. He hasn't said a word since the kitchen incident, and she knows she should be happy about it. Okay, she should be more than happy about it. She should be elated! Ecstatic! Over the flippin' moon!
The silence should be a blessing... but it isn't.
It's a curse.
It feels wrong. Empty. Lonely. Unsettling.
"God... I can't believe I actually miss that crazy asshole..." She pinches the bridge of her nose between her fingers, sighing deeply.
Of course she shouldn't miss him.
Well, not that version, anyway. Not the night-time terrorist. Not the bloody, torn up creeper who apparently seemed to be under the very deluded impression that handing her a beating human heart is the equivalent of a proper romantic gesture.
But then again...
How much did she even know about the real Josh Washington? He always did have a warped, twisted sense of humor... but even so. Would he actually present the object of his affection with a real live heart? Even as a joke?
He did use real pig intestines to mess with Chris and Ashley, Sam. He left a rotting pig carcass lying around for them to find. How can you even put anything past that lost, twisted boy anymore? Who would even do something like that?
"No, Samantha, stop it! You're driving yourself crazy!" Sam frowns, eyes darting across the empty hallway. If anyone caught her actually arguing with herself like some sort of loon, she'd be wheeled off to the funny farm for sure.
Well... maybe that's where she belongs, anyway.
It wasn't his fault, she tells herself. He was just sick. He needed help. That's all.
She finally reaches her destination. Room 34. The letters and the numbers blend together before her eyes, shifting and pulsating as if they're warning her of some kind of life-threatening presence being contained within, which is ridiculous. She blinks once, twice, and it's gone. She presses her ear against the door, listening intently for... what, exactly? Danger? No. No, of course not. That's completely insane.
What kind of danger could possibly be lurking in a freaking hospital room?
It's completely absurd. She knows it is. Why is she even here if she can't even bring herself to actually knock on the damn door?!
"Stop being a weirdo, Samantha," she whispers to herself. There's a slight murmur coming from the other side, but nothing particularly monstrous. It sounds like muffled voices, for the most part. Human voices. She can't figure out whether it's the TV or actual live human beings, however. If it's the former, then there's no problem. If it's the latter... well...
If it's the latter then she desperately wants to turn her heel and nope the fuck out of there. Just bolt for the exit and whoever is in there would be none the wiser. Yes, that sounds like an excellent idea. Just leave and come back in five years or so. A fabulous plan.
Because running and hiding from every problem in the entire world is totally something she wants to do for the rest of her life.
Jesus, when did you become such a scaredy-cat, Sammy?
Her breath stops for a second, and the familiar sound of that dark, sleepy voice nearly brings her to tears before she realizes he's not actually back. It's just an echo, a memory.
He'd said the exact same thing to her a few years prior, after she refused to jump down from the tree house in his backyard because she'd somehow convinced herself she would definitely break every bone in her fragile little body and die horribly.
To his credit, Josh only teased her for about a minute before he smiled that blindingly beautiful Joshua Washington-smile and opened his arms wide, looking up at her with those impossibly huge eyes.
C'mon, Sam. Don't be scared, okay? I'll catch you. I promise.
She remembers listening to those words. The sweetness of them, the tenderness in his voice, making her believe every single one without question. She remembers digging her fingernails into the wood, breathing deeply.
Once. Twice. Three times.
She closes her eyes and feels everything: the rush of adrenaline as she throws herself off the edge, elation and excitement and fear fighting for dominance inside of her. The sensation of being completely weightless. She feels the wind rushing through her hair and it seems as if she's just going to fall forever... and then she feels those warm, strong arms around her body, steadying her. Keeping her eyes closed, she presses her face against the soft fabric of his shirt, desperately trying to catch her breath.
It's as if every sound in the entire world has been muted, and the only thing she can hear is the rapid beating of her own heart. She can smell his aftershave - a very recent addition to his morning routine - and that clean, expensive cologne he always wears. Every fiber of her being is tuned into him, and she finds herself wishing she could just stay in this one, breathtaking moment forever.
See? Josh whispers, soft lips brushing gently against her neck.
I'll always catch you, Sammy.
"God, Josh..." Sam swallows hard, the lump in her throat making it almost impossible to breathe. It feels like she's choking. The air seems far too thick and heavy and far too dense all of a sudden, and her heart is pounding in her ears. No, no, no, no... please... She rests her forehead against the door, desperately trying to regain control of her senses.
Not here. Not here. Not here. Please...
Why did this happen to her? Why couldn't she go one single freaking day without being tormented by his memory? If she loved him so much, why didn't she react more severely when she first learned of his horrible fate back at the cabin? When Mike told her what happened to him? Why didn't she go back to see for herself?
Why didn't she even try to save him?
It's all your fault, Sam. It's your fault he's dead. You deserve this. The nightmares, the hallucinations, the anxiety, the depression...
You deserve every. little. bit of it.
She rubs her eyes raw with the back of her hands. The throbbing in her head is unbearable, and the bright white lights really don't do anything to lessen the pain at all. She curses under her breath and grabs the door handle, hesitating.
"Okay, Sam. Come on, girl," she tells herself.
"It's just a band-aid. You're already this far. You didn't brave the plague infested hallways from Hell for n-WHOAA!" A hand lands on her shoulder, startling her - quite literally - out of her fragile, frazzled mind. She spins around, brandishing the flower bouquet over her head like a weapon ready to strike.
"Wow, chill! I'm sorry! I didn't... mean..." Matt pauses, fixing his eyes on the flowery attack in progress. Some of the petals are still fluttering gracefully around them, a couple of pink ones taking up residence in his dark hair.
"Are you... gonna hit me with that?" he questions, hands raised. "I come in peace, I promise. I'm unarmed. See?"
Sam lowers the bouquet, painfully aware of how utterly ridiculous she must've looked. He doesn't laugh at her, though. He just looks at her with those warm, brown eyes brimming with confusion and concern, and in some ways she'd probably have preferred the laughter.
Mike would have laughed.
"Uh... yeah. I mean, no. Hi," she says lamely.
They stand there, looking at each other in silence for a minute, before he clears his throat and smiles. "So, you here to see Jess, or do you just randomly stand around yelling at yourself in front of hospital rooms these days?"
"Don't forget about the impressive display of my deadly flower wielding," she comments drily. He laughs, and the awkward tension dissipates.
"Right, right. My bad." He scratches his cheek and glances at the door. "Is this your first time here? I mean since, well... everything."
"Yeah. I mean, I've..." Sam hesitates for a second, gathering her thoughts before continuing. "... I've kinda been putting it off for as long as possible, you know? I've been putting a lot of things off, to be honest. I just... I want to stop doing that. I want to stop being so afraid of everything, all the time. And I... I figured this would be a good place to start." She takes a deep breath, mentally patting herself on the back.
Good job, Sam. That actually sounded half-way believable.
"No, yeah, I hear ya. Things have been..." Matt trails off, and his dark eyes seem to slowly glaze over. He suddenly feels a thousand miles away, and Sam almost wants to shake him.
But she doesn't.
"Matt?" she calls his name quietly, trying to coax him gently back to reality. He gives his head a quick shake and smiles apologetically at her, awkwardly rubbing his neck.
"I think I lost you there for a second. You okay?" She tilts her head at him, raising her eyebrows slightly.
"Yeah," he replies. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good."
She knows he's lying, probably better than he does. She knows that because he looks and sounds exactly like she does whenever she's trying to convince someone she's fine.
"So, we doing this or what?" Matt grins. Sam nods, clutching her bouquet like a lifeline. "Yeah, let's... get this show on the road, I guess. I mean, we could just stand here like a couple of idiots until we either die of old age or, y'know, starve to death, but..."
Matt laughs and places his hand on the doorknob. "Well, they do probably have a geriatric ward here..."
"I swear, they just need, like, something to bond over, y'know? Some sort of... traumatic event to send them into each other's arms. I mean, at this rate they'll be in the geriatric ward before Chris makes a move."
Sam closes her eyes, groaning. So this is how it's going to be from now on, is it? She doesn't have her own private nightmare hallucination taunting her anymore so now she's being haunted by actual memories?
Yeah. No. Screw that. She'd rather go with the creepy monster asshole, thank you very much.
Clack. Click. Clack. Click. Clack.
Her entire body freezes on the spot as soon as the sound reaches her ears. For just a tiny fraction of a second she thinks she can hear the clicking of his long, deadly claws clattering down the hallways towards her, and her neck nearly snaps in the process as she whirls around to look for the source of the sound, heart racing.
Is it him? Is he back?! She wants to call out to him, but she doesn't. Her eyes dart from side to side, even checking the ceiling, but there's no sign of him anywhere. What is that sound? Where is it? Could it really be him? Could it be...
She swallows the bitterness of her disappointment when she sees a nurse walking into a room a few doors down, long red nails tapping against the clipboard in her hand. She wants to yank the damn board out of her grasp and slam it across the woman's face, and the violent urge actually scares her. Did she really want to see that monstrosity again? Did she want it - need it - so badly it made her completely unhinged? What the hell was the matter with her?
"Sam? You coming?" Matt calls from the doorway. He looks at her questioningly, and she's straining to remember how normal people shape their lips whenever they want to smile in a completely sane and I'm-not-crazy-I-swear manner.
Yeah. He doesn't buy it at all, that much is obvious. But he's not commenting on it either, something she very much appreciates.
"Coming," she says. He nods and disappears into the room.
Sam takes a deep breath and gathers herself before following, closing the door quietly behind her. The air is cooler in here, and the harsh fluorescent light is replaced by a dimmer, yellowish glow - something her impending migraine is very grateful for. Matt already left his jacket hanging on a coat rack, so she removes her own and places it carefully next to his. It's the same one he wore on the mountain, that much is clear.
The white leather is scratched in several places, and the sleeves are frayed and torn along the edges. No doubt he'd already been given the option to replace it by the school principal or his coach, but for some reason he hadn't.
Maybe it's his lucky charm. Aren't athletes kinda weird about that stuff? I mean, I guess he did kinda survive falling off a freaking fire tower on the very tippy top of a freaking mountain and then crashing into the freaking mines and then surviving a freaking Wendigo attack... though that was probably mostly because of the flare gun and not so much because the cursed thing admired his choice of wardrobe... Sam smirks at her own joke.
Hey, laughter is the best medicine, right? The cure for everything and anything that ails you! Harr harr. At least, that's what they say. Who's they, anyway? Why do these obscure, mysterious people get to dictate what is right and what isn't?
Sounds fishy if you ask me, she thinks as she desperately rearranges the poor flower bouquet into something at least resembling its former grandeur. Three roses and one lily ends up in the bin next to the door, but the rest of them look fine. Samantha James is indeed not very skilled in the art of flower arranging at even the best of times, but she feels pretty satisfied with the result anyway.
Now it only looks a tiny bit frazzled.
She rounds the corner, pleased with her magnificent effort. Matt and Jessica are talking quietly together, faces only inches apart and fingers intertwined on top of the fluffy duvet.
Well, well, well. What have we here... Sam raises her eyebrow, but she doesn't comment on it. No way in HELL is she getting involved in any kind of drama between Jessica Riley and Emily Davis, of all people. No way. Nu-uh. Nope. Despite her hair color, she likes to think she's relatively smart. Sometimes. Maybe. And smart people do not put themselves in the middle of a freaking nuclear war.
Matt finally notices her presence. He clears his throat awkwardly and pulls his hand back, cheeks tinted red. The bedridden blonde, however, remains unflustered.
"Hey, Sam. Uh... sorry. Guess you, uh... caught us in the act."
Jessica snorts. "In the act? Seriously, Matt? It's not like she walked in on us banging it out or anything," she says, rolling her eyes. "God. Socially inept, much?"
Wow. Harsh, Jess.
Her eyes soften, and she gently places her hand on top of Matt's. "I'm sorry. I was trying to make a joke, but... I guess I'm not completely over my mean girl phase yet. Forgive me?"
Matt looks at Jessica. His brown eyes practically radiate tenderness, and Sam finds herself smiling despite the awkwardness of the situation. She has to admit, they suit each other. Matt and Emily never made much sense, at least not to her. He was so kind, and so patient, and Emily was... so... well, Emily.
"So..." Jess says, biting her lip nervously. "I... guess we have some explaining to do."
Well. This should be good.
remember all the things we wanted
now all our memories are haunted
forever wasn't meant for you and I
even with our fists held high
even with our hearts aligned
we were never meant for do or die
Chapter 11: Neptune
Pitch black, pale blue
It was a stained glass variation of the truth
and I felt empty-handed
You let me set sail with cheap wood
so I patched up every leak that I could
'till the blame grew too heavy
Stitch by stitch I tear apart
if brokenness is a form of art
I must be the poster child prodigy
Thread by thread I come apart
if brokenness is a form of art
surely this must be my masterpiece
I'm only honest when it rains
if I time it right, the thunder breaks when I open my mouth
I wanna tell you but I don't know how
I'm only honest when it rains
an open book with a torn out paqe and my ink's run out
I wanna love you but I don't know how
I don't know how
I wanna tell you but I don't know how
No, I don't know how
I wanna love you but I don't know how
Pitch black, pale blue
these wild oceans shake what's left of me loose
just to hear me cry mercy
A strong wind at my back
so I lift up the only sail that I have
this tired white thread
I'm only honest when it rains
if I time it right, the thunder breaks when I open my mouth
I wanna tell you but I don't know how
I'm only honest when it rains
an open book with a torn out page and my ink's run out
I wanna love you but I don't know how
I don't know how
I wanna tell you but I don't know how
No, I don't know how
I wanna love you but I don't know how
I don't know how...
"Josh. Open the door. I know you're in there."
There's no answer. The silence screams at her, clawing at her insides and twisting them painfully.
It's too loud, too heavy, too... ominous.
"Joshua Benjamin Washington, open this damn door!" She's pounding on it now, kicking it, glaring at it. She is getting into that room today or so help her God. He's been locked up in there for three days, and now her patience has come to an end. If he doesn't open that freaking door right freaking now she has every intention of going full-on Jack Nicholson on his ass.
"Fine. Fine. You know what? I'm gonna go find an axe and chop this stupid thing to firewood and then you explain to the parental units why your room looks like a motherflippin' war zone!"
Even more silence. And then...
She yanks the door open before he can change his mind, breath already drawn in preparation for the angry rant of righteous fury she intends to rain down upon him, but when her eyes register the broken, wounded wreck of a person before her, every word gets stuck in her throat.
His dark hair looks messy and disheveled, deep purple bruises decorating the skin around his eyes. There are claw marks on his cheek, his eyes are red-rimmed and swollen and his lips are bitten and torn to absolute shreds. His skin is pale, his cheeks sunken.
He hasn't been eating, that much is obvious. Hell, he probably hasn't been sleeping much, either.
If at all.
"God, Josh..." she whispers. He doesn't say anything, just turns around and retreats back into his room. At least he doesn't shut the door on her, so she follows him to the edge of the bed and sits down on the floor next to him. He pulls his legs up against his chest and wraps his arms around his knees, curling in on himself. He feels so far away, and she doesn't know how to reach him.
But she's damn well going to try.
"I like what you've done with the place," she comments, taking in the cosmic chaos that is his bedroom. The sheets have been torn from his bed and thrown on the floor, bunched up and made into some sort of impromptu campsite. The closet doors are wide open, clothes scattered everywhere. The curtains have been drawn, blocking out the sunlight entirely. It's freezing despite the warm summer weather outside, and Sam shivers. She rubs her hands up and down her naked arms, attempting to stay warm.
"You cold?" he asks, voice cracked and broken. She startles, not expecting him to actually say anything. "Yeah, a little," she admits."If I'd known you were trying to reenact The Donner Party I would've brought my snowsuit."
He gives a short, hoarse laugh and grabs something from the bed, handing it to her. It's a black hoodie - his favorite - and she gratefully accepts. The fabric is soft and smells so much like him that it takes every ounce of willpower she has to resist the urge to bury her face in it and inhale deeply.
Don't be a creeper, Sam. Seriously.
He gives her a side-eyed look. "What?" she asks, crossing her arms over her chest. Did she put it on the wrong way? No. No, she did not. She specifically remembers feeling the slight brush of the patch in the back of her neck. So why is he looking at her like that? Oh dear God, did he actually somehow manage to read her creepy hoodie-sniffing thoughts?!
"What." she repeats, demanding an answer. He gives his head a slight shake, but she doesn't relent. "Joshua. Explain the look. Now." She pokes him in the ribs, and a pang of worry shoots through her when she hits nothing but bone and muscle. God, he's so thin...
"Y'look like a midget," he finally replies. She blinks up at him, confused. Then she frowns. "Wha? Hey! Is that a dig at my height? Are you calling me short?"
"If you gotta ask..."
"I'll have you know I am not short, thank you very much! I'm... I'm just... I'm just vertically impaired, okay?" she huffs. A tiny smirk ghosts across his lips and he shrugs, eyes drifting across the room.
"Yeah, sure. Okay, Sammy."
No. No, Josh, don't do that. Don't you dare shut me out again. Not this time.
She takes a deep breath, mentally preparing herself for the impossibly terrifying thing she's about to do, and grabs his hand. He looks down at her, surprise evident in his dark eyes. She laces their fingers together, studying his broken nails and bruised knuckles.
"Talk to me, Josh," she whispers, pleadingly. "Just talk to me, okay? I... we're all worried..." His face seems to close off again, taking him further away from her, and she curses herself inwardly. She knows damn well that she won't be able to break that infuriating mask of indifference once it's back in place, and she's not having it.
Not even a little.
Don't be such a damn coward, Sam! Jesus. Just say it. Just say what you're thinking for once in your miserable freaking life.
She gives his hand a slight squeeze, locking eyes with him again. Her heart beats wildly in her chest, but she ignores it. She has to say this, she has to make him understand. She has to show him that she's not there because she feels obligated to. Not just because Hannah was her best friend. Not just because she feels so guilty she wants to die.
Not just because he's the only one she's got left.
She's there for him. Because she cares about him.
"I'm worried about you, okay?"
She rubs her thumb across his broken skin, swallowing hard. What did he even do? Punch a damn wall? Knowing Josh, that's exactly what he did.
He punched a damn wall. Hard.
"Want me to get you a punching bag?" she says, attempting to lighten the mood a little. "We could string it up... well..." She studies every nook and cranny of the chaotic space, frowning. "... anywhere, I guess? Dude, your room is bigger than my entire house."
"D'you just say 'dude'?" Josh asks, smirking. She narrows her eyes at him. "Yes. Yes, I did. If it offends you then feel free to type out a written complaint and drop it in Kyle Braedan's mailbox. He's a bad influence."
Josh shifts, jaw clenching for a second before relaxing again, and it's such an odd reaction she can't help but stare at him, quizzically.
"What?" she questions, almost not expecting him to reply.
But he does.
"You hang out with him a lot, 's all."
"Well... I mean, yeah? He's my chem lab partner. We sort of have to. It's kinda hard to get any work done if you don't, ya know, talk."
"Mmmhmm." His eyes drift across the room again, and she feels the wall between them growing thicker.
God, why is she so incompetent at reaching out to him? Why does she suck so badly at this? Does she just always say the wrong thing or what? She just wants to connect with him! She just wants him to know that she's there, to confide in her and mourn with her and know that he's not alone, that she feels the pain and the loss and the sorrow and the heartache just as much as he does.
After all, she lost her sisters, too.
They both lost two of the most important people in their lives on that damn mountain and she needs him to stay, she needs him to be with her and just grieve and open up to her and God! Why won't he just freaking let her in already!
"They..." Josh licks his lips, hesitating. His fingers tear at the frayed edges of his pajama bottoms. "They called off the search, Sammy. Gave up. Just like that. Just like... like... like they never, God, like they n-never fucking... fucking mattered a-and..." He takes a deep breath, shaking. "How... how could they just... how can they do that, Sam? How?" He's looking at her now, eyes wide and desperate.
"Why? Why! It-it's not even been a year, and they... they could be alive? Right? Sam? Sammy?" Josh stares at her, begging her to agree with him. Please! his eyes are screaming at her. Please tell me I'm right! Please...
"Yeah," she whispers, though deep down she knows better. If Hannah and Beth were alive, they would've been found by now. But there's no way in Hell she's going to tell him that, not when he's breaking into pieces right in front of her.
"Yes, Josh. It's possible. They haven't found their..." Sam halts, hesitating. No. She can't say it. She can't bring herself to say the word. It's too painful to even think about.
"I mean, we don't know for sure that they're not alive," she finally says, clutching his hand tightly. "There's no evidence telling us they're not, right?"
"Right! Yeah! I-I mean... I mean... t-they..." He's tearing at his hair, frantically clawing at his skin with his free hand. She takes it and keeps it locked in her own, preventing him from doing even more damage to himself. His cheek is already bleeding from old scratches being reopened, and his bottom lip is bleeding from the abuse as he bites down on it repeatedly, muttering to himself.
It hurts to see him like this, so fragile and broken, but she doesn't know what to do. She doesn't know how to help him.
She has never felt so powerless in her entire life.
"Josh..." Her voice cracks, and he looks at her. His wild, manic eyes trace the features of her face with almost burning intensity. She doesn't know what he sees but whatever it is, it gives him pause.
He gently frees his right hand and tentatively brushes his thumb across her cheek, wiping away tears she's not even aware of. Her throat feels all too tight, and she wants to say more but she can't. She's choking on her own sobs and her body is shivering so violently she feels like she's got a fever.
"Sammy," he whispers, his eyes mirroring every emotion she's feeling inside of her, and then he's hugging her. Carefully at first, and then all together; his arms desperately crushing her against him and his own sobs muffled against her hair, nails digging into her shoulder blades. The physical pain doesn't even register with her, doesn't even come close to the overwhelming sense of loss and hopelessness inside of her.
I love this boy, Sam thinks and hugs him just as tightly in return, her face buried in the crook of his neck as his body is wrecked with desperate, heartbreaking sobs. Each one tears into her like a knife, twisting and turning until every breath feels like a shard of glass inside of her.
I love this broken, fragile mess more than I can stand.
She doesn't even think. She doesn't hesitate. She lifts herself up and closes the distance between them, kissing him fervently. She just needs to feel something - feel anything - anything but this crushing, devastating void inside of her, and she needs to fill it with something... anything...
Josh freezes in place, and she's not even sure whether or not he's even breathing anymore. Sam looks up into those huge eyes, and they're practically bugging out at her, bigger and wider and darker than she's ever seen them before. She's just starting to regret her actions when he curses under his breath and clutches her shoulder hard, pulling her back into him.
It's not a tender kiss.
It's sharp. Biting. Desperate.
His lips are chapped and broken. They taste like blood and cigarettes. But she doesn't care. She just wants him to hold her closer. Tighter. She wants him to crush her against him until their bodies merge together and leave them as one single entity.
Her fingers close around the fabric of his shirt, tearing at it impatiently. She wants it gone. She wants it to just stop existing, to stop creating barriers between them.
She's had enough of these freaking barriers.
She wants them all. gone.
"Sam... fuck, just..." He tries to slow her down, but she's having none of it. She wants every piece of clothing on this boy to disintegrate and never come back. All these walls and barriers and masks he's constantly hiding behind - they all need to just get. the fuck. out.
Josh pulls back, taking her hands and gently pressing them against the floor, pinning her down. His eyes are searching her face for something, but all she can see is how swollen his lips are and how his half-open shirt is exposing his sharp collarbones. He's all angles and shadows and bruises, but he's so beautiful, so impossibly beautiful it almost hurts to look at him.
"Please," she whispers. "Josh, please..."
That's all it takes for him to break, and his lips crash back down onto hers with renewed vigor, devouring her. She digs her nails into his back, pressing against him.
Kissing him feels so ridiculously good it almost makes her forget her own name.
No more walls, Sam thinks as she tears at his shirt again, and this time he's helping her. He throws it haphazardly into a corner and surges down to kiss her again before she has time to fully register how emaciated he looks.
But she can feel it.
She can feel every ridge and every valley of his spine under his skin, and her heart aches with every touch. Oh, God... oh, my God... She pulls away and looks up at him, sympathy and worry etched into her features.
"Sammy?" he whispers. She bites her lip and looks away, suddenly aware and ashamed of her actions. "Josh, I..." Her eyes spot a bunch of empty liquor bottles under his bed and she pauses, frowning.
"Have... have you been drinking?"
Josh follows her gaze, and he sighs. His muscles strain as he gets off her and throws his bedspread over the mattress, hiding the evidence.
"Nope," he says, capturing her face in his hands and kissing her again, hungry and impatient. "Josh, you're... you've been drinking. We shouldn't be doing this," Sam says, bracing her hand slightly against his chest. It's almost ridiculously hard to resist kissing him again, the skin of her palm practically burning from the touch and those eyes - those deep, dark, breathtaking eyes - staring so intensely into hers. The words seem to evaporate in her brain before they can reach her lips, and when he moves to close the distance between them again, she almost gives in.
She really, really wants to.
Oh, Lord, does she want to.
But she can't.
"It's... I'm sorry. It's not..." She pauses, biting her lip. She almost tells him she shouldn't have done that, but after so many times of literally shoving her foot in her mouth with him, she knows that's the worst thing she can say right now.
"I think we should... wait," she begins, carefully selecting each word to minimize the damage as much as possible. "We're both pretty messed up right now, and I just..." He interrupts her with a short, bitter laugh and gets to his feet, jaw clenched.
His face is completely unreadable. He's closing himself off again, and this time it feels intentional.
It feels directed at her, and it hurts.
It hurts. God, it hurts.
"Yeah, sure. Okay, Sammy," he drones, not even really looking at her anymore. "I get it."
No. No, he doesn't. He definitely doesn't get it. That much is obvious. He doesn't get it at all. And she wants to tell him that. She wants to tell him that so badly, but she also knows him well enough to recognize the look of someone who either can't or doesn't want to be reasoned with.
He picks up his shirt and yanks it back over his head, movements choppy and abrupt. She stands up and walks towards him, slowly, like she's approaching a wounded animal.
He jerks when she puts her hand on his arm, but at least he doesn't push her away.
"Josh," she says, softly. "I know what you're thinking and it's not true, okay? But with Hannah and Beth being..." Sam catches herself before she says 'dead' and mentally pats her own back. "... with them being missing... we're both pretty messed up, right? We're not exactly one hundred percent stable, shall we say, and... and we should be. At least sixty to seventy-five percent."
He laughs again, this time it's more genuine but still carries an edge to it. "If y'wanna wait for me to be stable, Sammy, you'll die a virgin."
"Harr-di-harr, Joshua." She rolls her eyes and punches his shoulder lightly, trying her best to salvage this complete and utter wreck of a situation. "Hey, you big asshole. Turn around and give me a hug before I start searching for some juicy blackmail material in this dump you call a bedroom."
"I'll sic my lawyers on you, James. Perks of having a rich daddy," he says drily, but he still wraps her in his arms and rests his chin on top of her head, breathing shakily. She smiles and closes her eyes, savoring the feeling for as long as she can.
"Bring it, Washington."
heaven and hell
I won't fit in here
everything must end
from the dark side end
does anybody here wanna be my friend
I just want it all to end
tell me when the fuck is it all gonna end
voices in my head
telling me I'm gonna end up dead
so please save me
save me before I fall
save me from myself
get me the hell away from it all
just save me
"It was..." Matt sighs, tiredly rubbing his hand over his eyes before continuing.
"It was everything. Just... everything. All of it. The fights, the drama, the belittling..."
"Matt..." Jess takes his hand and rubs her thumb gently over a fading scar running across his knuckles. He smiles briefly and continues, voice low and steady.
"I'm a pretty patient guy, but, even I have my limits. And let me tell ya, Emily sure knew how to push every. single. one of 'em."
Sam wants to laugh at this, but she doesn't. Matt didn't make fun of her for temporarily turning into some kind of flower-wielding lunatic out there in the hallway, and she's not going to make fun of him now. Sure, everyone knew what kind of person Emily was. Anyone and their damn grandmother could've taken one look at this gentle, patient boy and declared in no uncertain terms how much of a freakin' train wreck their relationship would be.
Surely, somewhere deep down, Matt already knew this. No point in rubbing salt in the proverbial wound.
Matt seems to know exactly what she's thinking, those deep brown eyes staring steadily into her own. "I mean, sure. I knew this before I started dating her. I knew what she was like, man. Not gonna lie and say I didn't. I guess I was just stupid enough - or arrogant enough - to think she'd be different with me. Sometimes she was... alright, y'know? Like, actually cool."
Sam can tell Jessica wants to shoot off some snide remark, but thankfully she settles for an impressive full body eye roll and a slight huff instead.
"I knew she was just hangin' out with me to get a rise out of Mike, and yeah, that sucked. But we did have genuine moments so I guess I kinda just decided to focus on those and take whatever I could get because hey, I actually liked her. But then..." he pauses, the muscles in his jaw working as he considers what to say next.
"All the jealousy and fightin' with Jess at the cabin, and later finding out from Ashley that she was actually flirting with him instead of going to find you-" he looks at Sam, annoyance clear in his expression. Sam bites her lip, feeling irrationally guilty about this revelation. But why? It's not like she actually had anything to do with whatever ridiculous potential two-timing plan Emily decided to set into motion, after all.
Come on, Samantha, she tells herself, exasperated. You had nothing to do with it. Stop feeling guilty over something you didn't even know about, for Pete's sake.
"That was it. I was going to step up and stop being such a dude-shaped doormat and just... just confront her about it, and goin' to get her stupid bag was the perfect opportunity for me to do it, but then we actually had... fun. We were jokin', and flirting, and she didn't even talk down to me..."
Jessica raises an eyebrow at him, and he chuckles.
"... that much," he adds. "And I thought, 'hey, maybe this can turn out to be a pretty chill weekend after all!' so I just... left it. Like, whatever, you know?" Matt drums his fingers restlessly against his leg, the sole of his foot tapping rapidly. He seems guarded, on edge, and Sam knows that feeling.
Holy shit, does she know it.
The urge to move around, the inability to focus on anything for more than a couple of seconds and that overwhelming sense that something dark and twisted is going to jump out at her from every nook and cranny within a fifty mile radius. It's what she's been feeling every day since they left that damn mountain, and her jittery behavior is really starting to take a toll on her mental faculties. Sam finds herself checking every inch of the dimly lit hospital room with paranoid urgency, and she wants to laugh out loud at her own stupidity.
Jesus Christ, woman. Get it together. She unclenches her jaw and cracks her neck from side to side, shaking her fists discreetly at her sides as Matt goes on, his words sounding strangely muffled all of a sudden, like he's talking under water. She resists the urge to tilt her head and smack the side of her head and finds herself staring intently at his lips, trying to decipher the words being shaped between them.
"It was good. For a while, anyway. I mean, there was the occasional jump scare along the way, but nothing too major. We got crowded by some crazy-ass deer on the way and almost fell off a cliff but, whatever. Just more mountainy weirdness. Nothing new there, I guess." Matt laughs, but there's an edge to it.
"Then there was that damn fire tower. We climbed the stupid thing like a couple of morons so we could use the radio and finally get some help, and then... then I don't really know what happened. One minute there's a dude on the other end tellin' us to wait until dawn, and I hear this freaky sort of... screech? Howl? I don't even... I don't even know, man, it just... it sounded freakin' wrong. Not natural, y'know? So I hear that, and suddenly everything just goes to shit..." Matt shakes his head and frowns, feet tapping intermittently against the white floor tiles.
Jessica says something to him and gently cradles his face in her hands, but their words don't register in her mind.
Sam isn't listening anymore.
It's as if she's completely forgotten how to speak and understand English, the language sounding odd and foreign in her ears as the human voices turn into piercing, bloodcurdling shrieks echoing in her mind, bouncing off the walls around her and drowning out everything else. Sam shivers as a phantom chill runs through her, freezing the blood in her veins and putting every nerve in her body in edge.
She's not in the hospital anymore. She's in a deep, dark place with dripping walls and rotting bodies. The intense stench of death and decay surrounding her makes her stomach turn violently. There's a sense of dread in the air, and she knows she's being watched.
Like a deer catching the scent of a hunter.
She feels the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and the cavernous mines seem to shrink. She's pushed forward against her own will, the bloody walls closing in on her on both sides, threatening to crush her to dust between them. Her fingernails claw desperately against the unyielding stone, desperately seeking purchase as she's being pulled forward rapidly through the continuously narrow space.
And then she stops.
She's in a small cave, no bigger than her bedroom. Actually, it is her bedroom, or some kind of twisted version of it.
Her desk is made up of rotting floorboards balanced between two big rocks, and there's a strangely familiar chair pushed up against it. A figure sits hunched in it, head bent forward at an awkward angle, and Sam struggles to breathe.
There's her blonde hair, now hanging loosely down her back in long, stringy knots. There's her leather jacket, and her plaid skirt. The very same outfit she wore on the mountain. The very same outfit Josh took from the bathroom when she was forced to navigate the hellish balloon maze in nothing but a tiny, flimsy towel.
The very same outfit worn by the creepy ass dummy in the basement of the old hotel.
"Saaaa-mmyyy..." The eerie, almost playful calling of her name makes her jump, but her body stays frozen. She wants to run, but her feet remained rooted to the spot. Against her own will she's forced to watch helplessly as her arm moves at its own accord, fingers clutching the back of the chair and turning it towards her, its movements painfully slow.
The rusted joints creak as the chair moves. Sam feels lightheaded from holding her breath but her lungs won't obey her, they scream out in desperate need for air, and her head is throbbing so badly it feels like someone just roundhouse kicked her in the skull with a cinder block shoe.
The noise sounds almost deafening in the small cave, and she wants to stop.
She needs to stop.
But still she keeps going.
I don't want to see it. I don't want to see this. I don't want to be here. Please, someone, please just get me out of here!
The dummy slowly raises its head, a nightmare creature made from rotting flesh and moldy stuffing, the leathery skin stretching all too tightly as it smiles, writhing maggots falling from the cracks. Sam opens her mouth and screams, but not a sound comes out.
"Welcome home, Sammy-bird."
Her body is twisted around as a clawed hand digs into her shoulder, and there stands Josh. Taller and skinnier than ever, his face looking gaunt and hauntingly terrifying. His lips are chapped and broken, jagged teeth cutting into them and slashing across his left cheek, opening further and further until the corners of his mouth reach halfway across his jaw and the smile just keeps stretching wider and wider, his skin tearing with a sickening sound as dark red blood stains his shirt an even deeper shade of crimson.
"I missed you," he whispers before his ruined lips claim hers, his razor teeth destroying her mouth as he devours her. She screams out in pain when she feels them digging into her flesh, tearing it and giving her the same morbid, grotesque smile, like a nightmarish version of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.
Her eyes tear open, and she's staring at the ceiling. Or, well, she should have been, if it weren't for the two pairs of concerned eyes and confused faces covering her entire field of vision.
"Holy shit! Holy shit holy crap holy shit! Jesus, Sam, you scared the ever living crap out of us!" Jessica pulls her into a ferocious hug, not caring one bit about the needle still stuck in her hand or the fact that she's still just wearing that flimsy hospital gown.
"You really went lights out there for a while," Matt says, trying to smile but failing spectacularly. "Do you need me to, like... shit, I dunno, get a nurse or a doctor or somethin'?"
"A doctor? Great plan, doofus," Jess replies, her blue eyes rolling practically all the way out of their sockets.
"Do you want them to lock her up in some loony bin? She's probably just got low blood sugar or something! Right?" She looks pointedly at Sam, and Sam just nods gratefully. She certainly doesn't need the good Doctor Alan Hill running the door down with his stupid, creepy eyes and his even stupider creepy face, giving her a damn lecture on top of everything.
"I dunno, Jess, that was..."
"Matt, just, like... please get her some water or a soda or something, okay? Please."
"... Okay, yeah. Sure thing, babe." He kisses her on the forehead and rises from the floor, hesitating for a second. His dark eyes turn to Sam, and she lifts an eyebrow questioningly.
"I'll get you a sandwich too, okay? You gotta eat somethin', you really don't look good."
Sam smirks, appreciating his concern but still unable to resist a tiny dig at him. "Gee. Thanks, dad. And here I was thinking partially comatose was a particularly good look for me."
He laughs. "Yeah, I... don't know about that. I'd keep tryin'."
"Just go fetch us some calories, okay? Jeez!" Jessica hits him playfully with a pillow and rolls her eyes at Sam.
"Fine, fine. I surrender!" Matt shakes his head and leaves, though Sam swears she can hear him muttering about violent females and ridiculous weapons of choice before the door closes behind him.
"I adore the guy, but sometimes I wish he'd just do as he's told and be done with it. Anyway, giddy up, girl!" Jessica pulls Sam off the floor and pushes her into Matt's chair. "You just sit there and get some color back in your pretty face before Mr. Worrywart comes back, 'kay? If you keep cosplaying Casper the Fainting Ghost he might change his mind about Head Shrinking McGee after all."
Sam gives her a salute and grins. "Yes, ma'am."
The older blonde pulls out a box of neatly wrapped chocolates and shoves a truffle against Sam's lips. "Here. Chocolate. Yummy yummy calories, amirite? If it works for friggin' Harry Potter, then it works for us. Shit's magic, ya know."
"Wha..." Sam doesn't get to finish the sentence before the chocolate fills her mouth. It's rich and sweet, but her stomach still feels queasy from the experience and makes it hard to swallow. Jessica puts away the box and tilts her head, blue eyes watching her carefully.
"You went all Catatonic Cathy on us there, you know? It was freaky as shit! I honest to God thought Matt was gonna hyperventilate himself into a coma for a second or something. I adore the crap out of that boy, but he's not very useful when it comes to an emotional crisis. Poor guy just ran around in circles like someone rubbed mustard in his ass and lit it on fire or something."
"I'm sorry," Sam says when she finally manages to force the chocolate down her throat. It goes down about as well as a medium sized rock, but she manages to fight off the urge to spit it back out.
"It's... probably just low blood sugar, like you said. I haven't been eating a lot recently."
"Not sleeping a lot either, by the looks of it. Girl, you are rocking some serious eye bags," Jess remarks, raising an eyebrow and tutting disapprovingly.
"Oh, that's just for aesthetic reasons," Sam quips. "All the cool kids are doing it these days. Haven't you heard?"
Jessica looks at her for a long time, and it seems like she wants to question her further, but thankfully she doesn't. Instead she grabs her hand and squeezes it gently. "Look, Sam... I know we haven't exactly been, like... BFF's, or anything, but... Mike told me what happened down there, you know, in the basement, and... he said you asked about me, that you were concerned for me, and I just... well... thank you. Really. That was... really sweet of you."
Sam smiles, a warm feeling spreading in her stomach.
"Don't mention it."
"No, Sam. I mean it. I've given you so much shit about your morals, and your diet, and your tree-hugging "let's all be friends"-attitude, and I flirted shamelessly with Josh, like, all the time, even when I knew how much you liked him, and just... God... I'm just, I've been a bitch to you, and I'm sorry. You never deserved being treated like that. I guess, I just knew that Mike always had a thing for you, and I know you never made a move on him, and I know that I'm like the biggest hypocrite in the entire goddamn world for saying this and I'll probably die a horrible karmic death..."
"Hey, Jess. Chill, okay? It's fine. I get it."
Blue eyes meet hazel, and they both smile. "You knooow..." Jessica says, her smile growing alarmingly wide. "For what it's worth, I think you make a good couple. You and Mike, I mean. You always had way too much damn chemistry anyway, it was bound to happen one way or another."
"What?" Sam looks at her, incredulous. "Wait, no, Mike and I aren't..."
"Oh, come on! Why do you think I always gave you all that crap? Even a freaking cyclops with exactly one functioning brain cell and a cathartic eye can see that you two are ridiculously good together! I know he used to be kind of a giant dick, but hey. People change. I mean, who would've thought you and I would be sitting here talking about boys and braiding each other's hair?"
Sam smirks at this, raising an eyebrow at her. "Oh, really? I see no braids."
Jessica laughs and grabs the hairbrush from her bedside table. "Well, let's fix that, then. Undo that godforsaken bun and let's give you an actual hairstyle for once!"
Dear Lord. I have created a monster.
no one knows
the trouble I've become
or how I’ve come
just a little bit undone
breaking down and letting go
please don’t leave
please don't leave me alone
dug in deep
now I’ve buckled down
I must love me
before there's ever loving you
for the hell I'm going through
please don't leave
leave me here without you
"Hello again, Samantha."
Sam doesn't reply. Her tired, bloodshot eyes stare blankly out the window, looking but not really seeing. She doesn't even bother trying to hide her insomnia anymore, making the purple bruises practically shine against her pale skin. What are they going to do, anyway? Throw her in the loony bin for looking like something straight out of one of those damn Romero-flicks Josh used to be into?
"Let's try this again, shall we?" Dr. Hill folds his hands together and place them on his desk, undeterred by her unresponsiveness. Nothing ever rattles him, and that annoys her. It annoys her more than anything has ever annoyed her in her entire life, and that includes listening to Emily talk about handbags for three hours straight.
Just once she would like to watch the good doctor squirm. Seriously, is that so much to ask for?
"Hello, Samantha," he repeats, calm and composed as ever.
God. Why must she suffer this way. Being here, in this abnormally tidy office with this abnormally creepy human being is not how she wants to spend her Friday afternoon. And yet, here she is. Sitting in the same chair. Staring out the same window. Listening to the same voice she's been hearing regularly for much too long.
She is so sick and tired of it, she wants to scream.
"Hello, Dr. Hill," she finally replies, every syllable practically dripping with sarcasm. He raises an eyebrow at her, openly expressing his nonchalance at her tone.
"Well. Not the most enthusiastic greeting, granted, but we can work on that," he says, scribbling something down on his notepad before looking back up at her. "So, how have you been since our last session?"
"Fine." The word falls so easily from her lips, she doesn't even have to think about it anymore.
"Samantha, we have been over this. Repeatedly. If you're not honest with me..."
"I said, I'm fine," she snaps at him, eyes narrowed into thin, hazel colored slits. The lack of sleep is really shortening her patience, and she starts tapping her feet restlessly against the floor. "Can we please move on now?" She stifles a yawn with her hand, wishing desperately for the session to be over so she can return to her room and hopefully pass out for a few hours. Maybe, if she just really works at it, he'll let her off early.
The thought makes her want to laugh. The esteemed Doctor Alan Joseph Hill, ending a therapy session early because she's tired? The same guy who told her to soldier through despite being practically on her freaking deathbed with pneumonia?
Not bloody likely, girl.
Dr. Hill stands up from his chair, fixing her with his unsettling gaze as he grabs her chin and studies her, not caring one iota about the fact that he is being exceptionally unprofessional. Not that she's claiming to be an expert or anything, but she's pretty sure he's not supposed to manhandle his
victims patients in such brutish fashion.
Really. She could probably sue him for... something.
Note to self, Sammy, she thinks drily. Research legal actions and punishments against invasion of personal space.
"You haven't been sleeping," Alan Hill notes, turning her head this way and that. He tuts over her glorious eye bags before returning to his seat, ignoring her sarcastic eye roll and taunting smirk.
"Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. How'd you manage that deduction? Brilliant detective work, I must say. I can definitely understand why you're top tier around here. Bravo."
He raises an eyebrow at her, unimpressed by her attitude. "Deflection, sarcasm, humor... they're all fine and well on their own, but inherently crippling as a defense mechanism, Samantha."
"Yeah?" She tilts her head at him, giving him her best 'could not care less'-expression.
"Yes," he simply replies, colorless eyes not giving her one second's worth of peace. "So let's, ah... what is it that you young people like to say so... eloquently..." He pretends to think for a bit before snapping his fingers like he just solved the damn Antikythera mechanism. Honestly, she's surprised he doesn't jump up from his seat and shout 'eureka!' at the top of his freaking lungs while he's at it. Y'know, just to be even more obnoxious.
"Let's cut the crap, shall we?"
"Sure thing, Doc." She smirks at him, leaning forward in her chair. "I'm positively shaking with anticipation. So, let's hear it, then. Tell me how you're going to fix my head with your fancy big boy-words. God knows you couldn't fix Josh, so I mean, it's not like you've got the best track record in the world, but..." Sam shrugs, returning to her previous position.
"Even a broken clock is right twice a day, isn't that how the saying goes?"
"Your glibness does you no credit, Samantha."
I'll show you where you can stuff your glibness, you arrogant... She just looks at him and yawns, not even bothering to cover her mouth this time. Quite the opposite, in fact. She stretches her jaws so wide she could probably swallow his head if she tried.
Dr. Hill writes something down in his precious little book and tuts to himself, quietly mumbling something between sentences. Most of it is indecipherable, even when she leans ever so discreetly closer to him, but some of the words stand out to her.
Words like "disrespectful", "dosage" and "regression," amongst others. Well, isn't that lovely.
"So," he finally says, clicking his pen and putting it carefully back in its place. "You mentioned Joshua earlier, correct?"
No. Nope. Nu-uh. No way.
The last thing she wants to do is talk about Josh right now, especially with him of all cursed people. The very same man who gave Josh the wrong medication, the very same man who...
No. Stop it, Sam. Don't go there. Not now.
"Let's talk about that for a moment," Dr. Hill continues, completely disregarding the warning look on her face. "When you first came to see me, you were plagued by nightmares. Hallucinations. Paranoia. Severe PTSD. This is completely understandable, considering everything you have experienced in such a short amount of time. I understand you were very... close... with the twins, and with Josh. Losing both Hannah and Bethany Washington simultaneously in such a horrible fashion, and then exactly one year later Joshua, all three deaths happening on Blackwood Mountain..."
For some reason, hearing the proper name of the mountain sends a violent chill down her spine.
It sounds too creepy, too ominous. Like something ancient and powerful beyond human understanding, a place where spirits roam free and turn perfectly normal human beings into urban legends. She much prefers it when people refer to it as Mount Washington, if they have to talk about it. It sounds a little more normal, more mundane. It feels like a completely different place.
She remembers everything about it. The cold, crisp mountain air, the feeling of seclusion, of complete isolation. The howling of the wind blowing through the snow-covered trees at night, the crackling of a warm fireplace and the taste of hot chocolate after playing outside for hours... It used to be such a wonderful memory.
It used to be her happy place.
Much like the spirit of the Wendigo, Blackwood Mountain had possessed her beloved Mount Washington. Twisted it and corrupted it and turned it into a nightmarish version of itself.
"Did you know... what he was going to do?" Sam whispers, not sure whether she's asking Dr. Hill or herself.
She looks at him, hands clenched tightly at her sides. She doesn't want to talk about it, but she has to know. She needs to know. She needs to feel closer to Josh - the broken Josh - to understand why he did what he did. Why he pulled such a horrible, traumatizing stunt with them. Why he did what he did. Why - instead of opening up about his problems - he chose to punish them instead.
Why did he target her? What did she do? Was it because she let him down the year before, with Hannah? Did he want revenge because Sam failed to keep her from running off that night? Because instead of going to find her, she should've stayed put outside the bedroom door to intercept her best friend and stop her from going inside? Stop everything from spiraling out of control? Because if she did manage to stop Hannah, Beth would've never gone after her and ended up dying in the mines? They would've finished their vacation, gone home, and everyone would still be safe and alive.
She could have stopped it all. Is that why he did it? Is that why he hated her so much? Because she's the reason why his sisters died? Because she failed them all?
I already knew that, Josh, she thinks to herself, the familiar sense of blame and helplessness threatening to choke her. I already knew I messed up, and I'm still punishing myself for it every single day.
"Samantha?" Dr. Hill raises an eyebrow at her, waiting for her to continue.
And she does.
"Did you know about his plan? Before the... before everything?" She remembers the text messages, the mentioning of an e-mail from Josh where he let Dr. Hill in on his plan, but how old was that e-mail? When did he send it? Before he left for the mountain, or after? If it was before, why didn't the doctor do anything to prevent it? Even if it was after, he still could have done something. He could have alerted someone, tried to stop Josh before he could go through with it.
He could have done something!
"I did know... some of it," Dr. Hill finally admits, folding his hands together and studying his thumbs before continuing. "I knew he was planning something, some sort of... childish revenge scheme, but I didn't know the extent of it. Not until I received the e-mail you mentioned in one of our earlier sessions. In fact, I do believe that was the first time a patient has ever struck me."
Wait, what? Did she hit him? No, she didn't... wait. Oh. Yes.
She did do that.
"Even if you didn't know everything, why didn't you tell someone? Why didn't you warn anyone? His parents? Hell, you could've given us a little head's up about how maybe going to some secluded mountain in the middle of bumfuck nowhere with someone who wanted to hurt us wasn't the best freaking idea in the entire world, and yet you did nothing! You just sat there with your thumbs up your ass, and we went through hell because of it! Josh is dead because of it!"
She doesn't even register that she's standing up before she's charging at his desk, slamming her palms down onto it with enough force to cause what probably looks like complete and utter mayhem in his eyes, meaning she manages to send exactly three of his pencils clattering to the floor.
Well. That just won't do.
"Why the fuck didn't you do anything to help us?!" Sam swipes her arm across the polished marble surface, effectively sending his coffee mug flying. It hits the wall with a sharp crack, but doesn't break.
Oh, great. She can't even throw a violent tantrum properly.
Dr. Hill sighs and starts tidying up his desk, a slight frown creasing the corners of his mouth. He doesn't say anything for a while until everything is back in order, as if her previous fit never even took place, and that annoys her.
"I think we need to reschedule, Samantha. You are clearly in no state of mind to properly continue this session, and I have no desire to see my entire office destroyed on a childish whim, if you don't mind. Now, I'm going to give you a temporary prescription for Zopiclone. Normally I would advise against it, but in this case I think we need to make an exception. I want you to take one right before bed, and should you experience any..."
"Yeah, yeah, I already know this part. It's not exactly my first time," Sam mumbles and accepts the piece of paper he offers her. Usually she would keep pressing the issue, but right now she really just wants to go home and stop existing for several hours. At least she knows how to leave early now, just threaten the safety of his beloved office and he'll throw her head over ass out of there.
Good to know. God... I need some serious sedatives right now, she thinks and cradles her head in her hands. Her migraine is killing her, there's a painful tension in her neck and a strange humming in her ears that she can't seem to get rid of. It sounds oddly familiar, but she's too busy keeping her head from exploding to pay much attention to it.
"I do believe your phone is ringing," Dr. Hill notes after several seconds of watching her cover her ears on and off, stretching her neck and turning her head from side to side like a confused owl.
"Wha... oh," she says, feeling exceptionally unintelligent. So that's why it sounded so freaking familiar.
She yanks her phone up from the pocket of her leather jacket, expecting her mother's picture to flash across the screen. How did she know they were finishing up early?
"I swear, it's like she's got freaking surveillance cameras on..." Her voice trails off, eyes staring down at her phone. It doesn't register with her at first, but then it hits her all at once. She drops the device on the floor, screen still flashing and blinking towards her, demanding her attention.
It's not real. It's not real. It's just my head playing tricks on me.
There's just no way.
She tries to swallow the lump in her throat, but her mouth is dry. Her skin is prickling, feeling too cold and too hot all at once, and it seems like all the air has been sucked from the room. Her fingernails are cutting into her flesh, opening old scars and creating deeper ones, but she doesn't even register the blood dripping down her clenched fists and onto the floor.
She's entirely too focused on the name flashing in front of her eyes.
It can't be real.
But it is.
Joshua Washington is calling.
all the time I sit and try
you think I'd be tired
every night I'm sick
I'm staying up this time
how can I sleep if I don't have dreams
I just have nightmares
how can it be that I still believe
something is out there
Chapter 15: Sleep
I need some sleep
I can't go on like this
tried counting sheep
but there's one I always miss
everyone says I'm getting down too low
everyone says 'you just gotta let it go'
you just gotta let it go
you just gotta let it go
I need some sleep
time to put the old horse down
I'm in too deep
and the wheels keep spinning 'round
everyone says I'm getting down too low
everyone says 'you just gotta let it go'
you just gotta let it go
you just gotta let it go
you just gotta let it go
"I'm sorry, could you repeat that? If I didn't know any better I'd think I just heard you say something incredibly stupid! But hey, that's probably just my brain blocking my ears, right?" Mike looks at her, disbelief painted clearly across his handsome face. Sam bites her lip and averts her eyes, turning her phone nervously in her hands.
"I know, Mike," she says pleadingly. "Trust me, I know, but... you saw it, right? The log? You saw it! I didn't imagine it, right? I mean, how would that even be possible when it's right freaking here, Michael? What if he's..."
"He's dead, Sam," Mike replies quietly. His voice is gentle, but his words still cut like a knife. "Listen. I know you don't want to believe it, and I get that it's a messed up thing to accept, but you have to move on, okay?" He puts his hands on her shoulders, shaking her slightly. "Come on, girl. I know you're smarter than this. It's probably just a fluke. A glitch in the Matrix, right? I mean, we blew the entire damn thing to smithereens, everything went boom. Right?" His eyes are begging for her to agree with him, to see reason.
Begging her to just listen to him.
But she can't.
She knows what she saw. Josh had called her. He called her, and that wasn't her imagination playing a nasty trick on her.
He called her.
"It probably just... fucked his phone up, somehow, or... or... God, I dunno, I'm not a tech wizard. I mean, with this face?" Mike points at himself, tilting his head up to show off his sculpted bone structure. "I can't be both smart and pretty, mkay? That's the law."
Sam smiles, despite herself. Mike isn't a moron, and he knows that. She knows he's just trying to lighten the mood, and while she desperately wants him to agree with her, she also knows there's no way in Hell he'd ever let her put herself in danger over something so vague, even if the proof had been more substantial. Mike wasn't like that. He was protective, almost to a fault at this point, and really. Did she ever honestly expect him for one fraction of a second to actually... what, just allow her to go on a freaking suicide mission over something that could just have been a technical glitch?
"Even if that's true," Sam begins, and his eyebrows already knit together disapprovingly. "Even if that's true," she repeats, giving him a look that clearly expresses how much she does not want to be interrupted by his logic right now, even if it does sound more reasonable than her receiving a phone call from a dead person.
And besides, when was love ever logical, anyway?
"Why now? If his phone did get all jigged up in the blast, why did it take this long to malfunction? It's been months, Mike, why didn't it happen sooner? And why did he... why did I get the call?" Sam shakes her head at him, demanding an explanation. "It could've been any of us, even his parents. Or Dr. Hill. He didn't have many contacts on his phone list besides us, but still. Why didn't it happen to Chris? Or Ash? It could've been Emily, or Jess, or you. Even Matt. Why did it happen to me?"
"Did you call back?" Mike asks her, avoiding her questions with one of his own. His voice is kept carefully even and non-accusatory because he doesn't want to upset her, and she knows that. He's not the insensitive asshole he used to be before everything happened. Hell, she wouldn't even have recognized him if she didn't know exactly how much a person could change from traumatic experiences.
She used to be different, too.
She used to be kinder, softer. She used to be the peace negotiator, the mediator in every conflict and - at times - the only one that seemed to have all of her shit together constantly.
Not anymore, though. Nope.
Now she's just one tiny, blonde mess of a person, someone who hallucinates her dead crush ripping her mother's flesh open with his claws and tearing into her like a starving wolf.
But is he really dead, though? Really dead?
Did Mike even see him die? Had he ever told her he did? Did he tell her back on the mountain? She pinches her eyes shut and tries to remember exactly what he had told her when they met at the cabin after escaping the mines. She asked him about Josh when they entered the building, and he said something that devastated her, but had he specifically told her Josh was dead?
What did he say... what...
Remember, goddamn you, she demands and feels the familiar throbbing of a migraine starting to emerge, but she pushes past it. She has to remember, really remember. She has to remember exactly what Mike told her, and whether or not he ever brought up the subject again after they left the hellish mountain. She has to know, needs to know whether or not he actually confirmed that the boy she loved met his horrible demise down in those godforsaken mines.
Cold. Wet. Her clothes are soaked from the icy water and she's shivering so bad she can barely move, but she has to. They're following her, she can hear them moving through the forest at inhuman speeds, screeching and cooing at each other.
Looking for her. Hunting her.
There are so many obstacles in her path, almost as if someone or something wants her to fail, wants her to crash into a tree trunk or slam her face on a branch. She gives herself simple instructions to follow as she rushes towards the cabin, her tiny headlight doing a very poor job at fighting the darkness around her. She's running on pure adrenalin, the will to survive pushing her forward even though her body feels like it's going to collapse in on itself.
Duck. Jump. Left. Left. Right. Left. Don't fall. Don't trip. Duck. Jump. Jump! So close. Come on, Sam, you're so close. The cabin is right there. Come on. Come on!
She's exhausted, and frozen, and every time she hears that god-awful sound anywhere close to her she can feel those sharp razor teeth brushing against her throat. Every snap of a branch, every rusle of leaves signals her impending death but the cabin is right there and she breathes out a short sigh of relief, but it soon gives way for desperation.
The doors are locked. The doors are locked!
No. No. Nononono! Please!
"Hey! Hey! Come on, open up!" She's banging her fists against the glass window. "Guys! Come on! Are you in there?! Let me in!"
Oh, God. Oh, God. I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die.
She jumps ten feet into the air and spins around, letting out a startled "huff!" as she prepares to meet her doom, almost expecting a Wendigo to stand there in front of her, mimicking the voice of her friend to lure her into a false sense of security before it rips into her. She pictures herself hanging upside down in the mines, head missing and dark, red blood dripping from her neck...
But it's not her doom coming to decapitate her. It's Mike. It's Mike! ...Is it Mike? He doesn't look well. He's bruised and bloody and broken, and his eyes look dull and lifeless like a zombie, but at least he's not a Wendigo. Of course, unless they somehow managed to figure out how to shape shift as well as mimic voices now. In that case she'd be one hundred and fifty-five percent fucked.
"Shit... Mike? Oh, gosh, you look terrible." Good grief, Sam. Of course he looks freaking terrible! Even Michael Munroe is capable of looking like shit, you know, and you probably don't look much better yourself!
"Yeah," he replies tiredly. "I'll look even worse if we stay out here." He peers over his shoulder, dark eyes alert and serious as he scans the forest for incoming threats before turning back to her. "Come on."
Right. Yes. Survival. Good thinking. Sam nods and grabs a fist-sized rock from the ground. Now that Mike's here, her brain seems to function a little bit better. Safety in numbers, and all that. Funny how not running on pure survival mode helps her actually survive.
She smashes the window and reaches in to unlock the door, ignoring the stray shard of glass cutting into her forearm. Her hand is shaking like crazy and her fingers are completely numb from the cold, but thankfully she finds the handle quickly and turns the lock. The door swings open and they rush inside before Mike yanks it shut behind them.
"Okay..." Sam mutters, looking around the empty cabin. There's nobody around, and she can only hope they're all safe and sound somewhere else. Speaking of safe and sound...
Oh, God. Mike. Mike came alone. Mike came alone and Josh isn't with him.
Josh isn't with him!
"Mike... Mike, what happened to Josh?" she asks quietly, fingernails digging tiny craters in her palms. She doesn't want to know the answer, but she has to. Maybe he's hiding out somewhere, maybe he went into his head again and Mike stashed him somewhere safe, and maybe...
"It got him."
No. No. No. No. No. Nonononono! Oh, God, no...
Her brain refuses to believe him, completely shutting down at those horrible, horrible words. My fault, she thinks as the reality finally hits her, the gravity of what he's just told her. It's my fault. My fault Josh is dead. It's my fault. I left him. I left him! God, no... please... She can feel herself falling apart on the inside, but she has to say something. She has to say something but she's completely forgotten how to speak and her head isn't working and oh my God Josh is dead.
Josh is dead.
"God... What an... awful way to go," she finally manages to say, flipping the light switch without even thinking or caring about the consequences. She can't bring herself to care about anything anymore, her body running purely on autopilot. She knows this is no time to break down, but her best friend is gone and she has no idea how to make herself work properly again.
Mike reaches over and flicks it again, turning the lights off immediately. He shakes his head gently at her. "Not good," he says softly. She nods, but her mind is dazed.
Her body feels sluggish and weird, and she can't feel anything anymore.
Mike's voice pull her back to reality, and she looks up at him. "Are you okay? You checked out again. Where'd you go?"
She doesn't reply, not immediately. She needs to collect her thoughts a little. Back at the cabin, Mike didn't say Josh died. He said the Wendigo got him. It was Sam who assumed he meant Josh was dead.
"Hey, Mike?" She bites her lip and looks at him, worry and anticipation churning around her stomach. "Did you... actually see Josh die? I mean, did it... did the... the Wendigo... did you see it... kill him?"
"Her," he says quietly.
"What?" She frowns at him, not quite understanding what he's talking about. "Not it. Her, Sam. It was... it was Hannah. Josh recognized her. It was probably her the first time, too, you know... in the shed."
And the hits just keep on comin', don't they?
"What?" she says for the second time. "Wait, so, if Hannah did take him the first time, she left him alive. She left him alive. But they don't do that, do they? Keep people alive? They didn't seem to care much about that when they were hunting us all, Michael! I mean, what they did to that guy with the flamethrower? Chris said they just... just freaking chopped his head off on the spot!"
"Okay... Yeah, okay, and?"
"And," she repeats, anger and dread threatening to choke her before she can get the words out. "That means Hannah could have left him alive again the second time! You said she got him. I thought you meant he died! And you just meant... you just meant that she took him away again? He could've been alive when we left that damn mountain for all we know! We abandoned him! Again!"
Mike looks at her with resolve, obviously doing his very best to stay calm. "Going back down there again would have been suicide. And for all I knew, she was only keeping him alive as bait. Or a midnight snack pack!" He runs his hand nervously through his hair and sighs. "I couldn't risk it, okay? I'm sorry, Sam."
Josh could've been here. Josh could've been safe. Mike left him to die and he didn't tell me. He left him to die again. Just like he did in the shed. Hell, he didn't even go back down to the mines to get him, he just went for the goddamn keys, didn't he?
"You would've gone back for Jessica," she says coldly. He doesn't reply, but the look in his eyes answers the question for him. Yes, yes he would have. He would have gone back for Jess. Hell, he would've gone back there for Sam, too, or even Emily! Didn't he drop everything and rush to her aid when she came running down from the mountain in a panic, screaming like a banshee? He would've come for Emily fucking Davis, the worst human being to ever curse their little group of misfits.
But not for Josh.
"Did you leave him on purpose so you could get out alive?" The question leaves her lips before she can stop it, and part of her doesn't even want to. She wants him to be honest with her. She wants him to make her understand why he did what he did. Mike wasn't a coward, but he never liked Josh. Not really. He tolerated him well enough, but he never liked him.
And as far as she remembers, the feeling was mutual.
"Wha..." He just stares at her, incredulous. "Sam. Come on. You really think I'd do that? Seriously?"
He sounds hurt. He looks hurt, too. She doesn't want to hurt him. God, he's the only one who's stood by her through it all, the only person who came to Josh's funeral with her, the only person she can really talk to about everything that happened to them. Ashley is too broken, and Chris is still too wrapped up in his own guilt to function properly. Emily... no. Just no. And Matt and Jessica have each other now.
It's just Mike.
"Sam, do you really think I'm that kind of person?" he asks again, capturing her face in his hands and forcing her gently to look him in the eyes. "Answer me honestly, okay? Do you really think I'd sacrifice him like that just so I could save my own ass? I mean, yeah, sure, I wanted to beat the shit out of him for what he did to us, but come on."
"Did you at least try to save him?" she whispers, the burning rage already seeping out of her. She feels so empty in its absence, and when he clenches his jaws and averts his eyes shamefully, she finally cracks. Her body collapses in on itself, violent sobs ripping through her to the point where she feels like every bone in her body is breaking from the sheer force of it. Mike wraps his arms around her, whispering "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," as he strokes her hair and presses his lips to her temple, repeating the same words again and again in a broken voice, rocking her gently from side to side like a toddler.
"I'm sorry, Sam, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..."
That does it for her. That's the last straw. Maybe Mike didn't mean to let her down, but he did. He did. And now Josh is lost to her.
But not for long.
If he's alive, there's no way she's going to abandon him ever again. She's going to save him. She's going to save that beautiful, broken boy and bring him back home if it's the last thing she'll ever do. Even if it kills her.
And it just actually might.
Because that's when she decides to go back. That's when she decides to leave everything and everyone behind and actually do something good with her miserable existence. She is going to confront her nightmares head on, seek out the ghosts from her past and finally finally do something useful instead of cowering in the shadows of her past.
She is going.
Back to Blackwood Mountain.
this night is cold in the kingdom
I can feel you fade away
from the kitchen to the bathroom sink and
your steps keep me awake
don't cut me down, throw me out, leave me here to waste
I once was a man with dignity and grace
now I'm slipping through the cracks of your cold embrace
so please, please
could you find a way to let me down slowly?
a little sympathy, I hope you can show me
if you wanna go then I'll be so lonely
if you're leaving
let me down slowly
"Well, hello, friends and fans... alright. Let's do that again..."
Sam stares down at her phone, an overwhelming sense of dèjà vu washing over her as Josh's old video invite plays on her screen. She tried to delete it so many times, but always stopped short of actually doing it. Watching it now, feeling the movement of the train as it brings her closer and closer to the place of nightmares, she can't help but feeling nostalgic and even a little hopeful.
"Alright.... well. Hello, friends and fans. It's beyond awesome to have you guys all back this year. Um... first off, I gotta say I am super excited to welcome all my pals back to the annual Blackwood winter getaway. Yaaah!"
"God, Josh..." Sam mumbles as she watches him throw his hands up in mock excitement followed by a goofy chuckle. "You're such a dork."
"So, uhm, let me just let you know, uh... let's take a moment... to... address the elephant in the room... for a second..."
She should have noticed. She should have known something was up. He didn't look right, and she should've known. How could she have called herself his best friend when she didn't even pick up on something so obvious? Sure, she did feel like something was slightly off about the way his voice changed, about the faraway look in his eyes and the way his speech pattern seemed to deteriorate, but she just shrugged it off, convincing herself it was just a normal reaction to the sadness they all still felt.
What an idiot she was.
"I know... you're all probably worried about me, and..."
"No shit, Washington!" Sam hisses through her teeth, attracting the attention of the older gentleman sitting across from her. His eyes slide over the edge of the newspaper for a brief moment, watching her with mild concern before they return to whatever article he was previously reading.
No shit we were worried, you asshole! she thinks angrily, wanting nothing more than to dive through the screen and shake him violently. Of course we were fucking worried! You went completely MIA for two months and then all of a sudden you're inviting us back to that place like nothing ever happened? Like everything was totally fine! I should have known something was wrong back then. I should've kicked your freaking door down and demanded an explanation. Why would you want to go back there after what happened to Hannah and Beth? After everything you went through, why would you do that to yourself, Josh? Why?
God, why didn't I see it back then!
She's angry. So angry. She wants to break her phone into a million pieces and scream until her lungs give out, but what good would that do? She'd only lose her phone - her one connection to the outside world - and probably end up in a loony bin on top of everything else. Wait, did they even have a funny farm up here anymore? Not like they could shove her in ye olde Sanatorium or something, right?
Wait. Shit, they probably could.
"... and I know it's gonna be tough on all of us going back after... what happened last year, but..."
His eyes. She should have seen it. She should have known he wasn't in his right mind just from looking into his eyes in that moment. The way they just stared into the camera, through it, into her very soul... but they didn't look right. They didn't look right at all. There was a darkness in them, something deep and dark and cold. Looking into them now, she can easily recognize them as the eyes of someone on the brink of insanity.
Josh was breaking. He was breaking right in front of her and she was powerless to do anything about it.
But not for long.
"I just want you all to know... um... it means... it means so much to me that we're doing this, and that... I know it would mean so much to Hannah and Beth that we're-we're all still here together, and thinking of them. I really wanna spend some quality time with e-e-each and every one of you, and, um... just share some moments that... we'll never forget. For... for the sake of my sisters. And... y'know... okay."
The signs were all there. Hadn't she seen it? Didn't she know the signs? Yes. Yes, she did. She'd been there during some of his breakdowns, she knew the signs. The stuttering, the halting speech pattern, the strange, almost jerky movements of his head, that look in his eyes...
Was I just ignoring it? Denying it? Did I just fool myself into believing he was okay because I wanted him to be? Was I really that blind?
His voice startles her, and she almost drops her phone. The cord to her earbuds saves it, thankfully, though one of the buds is painfully ripped from her right ear. She picks it back up, halfway registering that her antics have once again drawn the attention of the older man with the newspaper. She meets his eyes this time, hazel against cobalt, and neither one of them says anything for what feels like a small lifetime. The man eventually shrugs and returns to his reading as Sam pulls her feet up in front of her, partially shielding her from his curious stare.
"Let's... party like we're fucking porn stars, okay? Make this one trip we will never forget, alright? Yes!"
The video ends with him once again throwing his hands into the air, all traces of instability gone. The way he just switched like that, how could she not have noticed before? Or maybe she did notice, but chose to ignore it because she was stupid and naive and wanted him to be okay so desperately.
Whatever the reason, someone should travel back in time and slap her with a hammer.
The older man puts his newspaper away and starts collecting his things, obviously getting ready to leave the train at the next station. Thank God, Sam thinks, feeling almost ridiculously relieved. The way he kept staring at her was starting to get on her nerves, and she didn't generally appreciate having strange people all up in her business.
"Should be careful," the man mutters as he grabs his suitcase and stands up from his seat. The train is slowing down, and Sam recognizes the train stop. It's the last one before Blackwood, and her stomach tightens uncomfortably.
Jesus Christ, what am I doing?! This is crazy!
She doesn't even register the words being directed at her before the older man leans in, staring at her with startling intensity. His eyes are almost impossibly blue, and the color stands out against his weathered, tanned skin like a neon sign on a dark night. It looks almost unnatural, and she shudders as her entire body is covered in goosebumps.
"Should be careful, girl," the man repeats, his breath smelling of old pipe tobacco. "That mountain is cursed. Bad things happen there. Better turn back while you can."
He straightens, and a flicker of concern ignites in those oddly bright eyes.
"Shouldn't go back there. Bad place. Cursed place. Careful, girl, or it'll eat you right up." He smiles briefly, showing off a grand total of six remaining teeth, and she can't help but compare him to the odd flamethrower guy from before. They share a lot of the same features, and for a moment she almost wants to ask him whether or not he knows anything about the old Cree legends. He sure sounds like he does, but then again, he could also just be your ordinary run-of-the-mill lunatic.
An eccentric, lonely old man amusing himself with scaring local teens and outsiders alike.
Yeah, that's gotta be it. He's just jerking my chain. Trying to scare me. He could probably tell I'm on edge as it is and wants something to laugh at later. That's all it is. That's all.
The man lifts his arms and pulls something from his neck; a simple metal disk hanging from an old leather cord. She hears it clink softly as it hits the table in front of her, face up. There's something etched into it, some kind of crude carving she can't quite make out. She looks up at him, brows furrowed in confusion, but the words are stuck in her throat.
"Arrows, girl. Protection against the evil." He nods solemnly at her before heading towards the exit, throwing her one last long look as he walks out onto the platform. She can still feel his eyes - those startling, unsettling eyes - on her as the train leaves the station behind, and she wraps her coat tighter around her shivering frame. The odd pendant is still lying on the table, and after staring at it skeptically for a few minutes she finally picks it up, turning it tentatively around in her hands. The metal still feels warm, its surface smooth and polished.
"Crazy old coot," she mumbles to herself, trying to shake the feeling of dread his words have awoken in her. Sure, he seemed mad as a loon, but still. There was something in his voice, something in his eyes. He seemed genuinely concerned for her, and maybe... just maybe...
Maybe he wasn't so crazy after all.
"Arrows, huh..." She looks closer at the symbols decorating the small, round disk. Yeah, yep. Those are arrows, alright. They look about as masterful and polished as the stick men she drew in kindergarten, though the shapes are undoubtedly arrows, two of them to be exact. Strange, and kind of cool, but what did he want her to do with it, exactly? Throw it at the big bad Wendigos?
Sam almost bursts out laughing at the mere absurdity of that scenario. Did he seriously expect her to fight off those living nightmares with nothing but this tiny, flimsy little object? She could try swinging it at them, but that'd probably just piss them off. Or maybe they were like sharks. Give them a good whack on the nose with the thing and they'd run for the hills.
Well. That'd be pretty useful, not to mention hilarious.
Maybe I'll try it and see what happens. Chances are I'll be eaten anyway, tiny talisman or no. I honestly don't see how it'd make much of a difference, but I guess it can't hurt. She shrugs and lifts the cord over her head, feeling the weight of the metal disk against her chest. Maybe it's just pure delusion, but she does feel a little bit safer. Calmer.
"Don't underestimate the power of placebo, Sammy-girl," she mumbles to herself as she sits back in her seat and rests her head against the window. The coolness of the glass feels good against her skin, and the familiar landscape still awakens pleasant memories in her, despite everything. How many times had she done this? Watched the lakes, mountains and waterfalls drift by, just marveled over the natural beauty of it all?
"Did you see this view? I mean, holy cow. Sometimes I forget to just... stop and take it all in."
Her own words echo in her mind, sounding almost foreign to her now. How long has it been since she did that? How long has it been since she was able to see the beauty in anything? She used to do that all the time, before. Nature, wildlife, oceans and rivers. Mountains. Valleys. It was all so beautiful and amazing, but ever since she lost Josh, nothing really seemed to make an impression on her anymore.
It was like he took all the colors and beauty with him when he died.
No. Not died. Disappeared. He's not gone. I refuse to believe that now. I won't fail him again, I won't.
She was going to save him. She was going to find him and bring him home, once and for all, and neither one of them would ever even think of putting as much as one freaking toe anywhere near this cursed place again. Ever.
"Typical Bob Washington," Sam says to nobody in particular. "Of course he'd build one of his fancy getaway spots on the one mountain he's told to stay away from. Pride certainly does lead to downfall, and now all of his children are paying the price while he sits there all cozied up in his big, fancy mansion..."
They should've been together now, riding a different train to a different lodge on top of a different mountain, laughing and goofing around.
Hannah should've been curled up against the window buried in a book, stealing shy glances at Mike whenever she thought he wouldn't catch her, and Beth should be riding her skateboard up and down the train cart, driving the other passengers mental. Chris and Ashley should be hiding away in a corner somewhere, playing one of their weird little nerd games and making googly eyes at each other, and Emily... well. Who knew what Emily did, she never traveled with them. Trains were beneath her, she always said.
Nobody fought too hard to change her mind, though.
Matt should be somewhere around the food cart, tossing a ball around with one hand and consuming the biggest burger imaginable with the other, and Jessica would either be shaking it up with the latest hit or trying to talk Beth into letting her do a make-over on her.
"You could be so pretty!" she'd say, wielding her mascara like a weapon at the younger brunette. Beth, on the other hand, had no interest whatsoever in make-up and fashion. All she wanted to do was ride her board and wear her precious beanie like it was physically attached to her head. For all Sam knew, it actually was. She'd never seen her without it, despite having spent countless nights over at their house.
"Nooo, thank you, Princess Peach! I'm staying the way my mama made me!" Beth would shoot back before mounting her board and making her escape, Jessica hot on her heels. And Josh?
Josh should've been there sitting right next to Sam, way too close but still not close enough, making those stupid jokes she secretly found hilarious and giving her tiny heart attacks every time his arm brushed against hers. He should've been there, alive and safe, looking at her with those enormous green eyes and smiling that slow, enigmatic Joshua Washington-smile, and everything would be right with the world.
Except that it wasn't.
That wasn't her life anymore. Hannah and Beth were gone, that was a fact. Emily found Beth's decaying head down in the mines, and Sam found Hannah's diary when she was with Mike. They both learned the gruesome truth down there, together.
The horrible, tragic fate of the Washington twins.
Hannah... God, Hannah... You must've been so scared... Sam closes her eyes, remembering all too vividly the sound of her best friend's voice mixed in with the horrible screech of the Wendigo. Those awful, heart-wrenching cries...
Was there anything left of her at all? There must have been. She didn't kill Josh, not like the others, and even though everything happened so quickly during those last horrifying moments in the cabin...
Sam could've sworn Hannah saved her life.
"God..." She finds herself clutching the tiny metal disk in her hand, like it can somehow reverse everything that happened to them. What good was this stupid little trinket anyway, if it couldn't bring her best friends back? What was the point of having a freaky encounter with some partially toothless stranger if it didn't lead her anywhere? What was the purpose of her carrying this old piece of junk around if it didn't have some kind of mythical abilities?
"What good are you, you useless little object?" She yanks the cord from her neck and looks at it, crushing it in her fist. The edge of the disk presses hard into her palm, slightly mimicking the familiar sting of her fingernails, and the overwhelming rage slowly seeps back out of her, leaving her feeling hollow and exhausted.
Maybe it wasn't magical at all.
Maybe he was just trying to keep her safe in his own strange way. Maybe it wasn't anything more than a present, a token of kindness from a complete stranger. She was still weary of him, but he didn't harm her. She had no real reason to distrust him, just like he had no reason to hurt her.
He didn't even really scare her, thinking back on it.
She already knew the mountain was cursed. Maybe he picked up on it, somehow, and wanted to help her. Maybe that's all it was. Just a gesture. Old people were kooky like that, weren't they?
The train is slowing to a stop, and a chilling sense of foreboding creeps into her very core as the shadow of Blackwood Mountain stretches across the platform, blocking out even the tiniest bit of sunshine. Sam shivers, almost subconsciously placing the pendant back around her neck. It feels a tiny bit better, and she decides to trust it. Even if it's only her imagination, it still makes her feel just a little bit less terrified.
But only just.
this is wrong
I should be gone
yet here we lay
'cause I can't stay away
in your dirty room
I'm here to play
'cause I can't stay away
it's wrong, they say
but I can't stay away
night and day
I just can't stay away
I wish I could
leave and never return
I know I should
but for you I'd burn
we get up
we go down
then we go one more round
it's wrong, they say
but I can't stay away
I can't stay away
Chapter 18: O'Death
won't you spare me over 'til another year
well what is this that I can't see
with ice-cold hands taking hold of me
when God is gone and the Devil takes hold
who'll have mercy on my soul
won't you spare me over 'til another year
well I am Death, and none can tell
if I'll open the door to Heaven or Hell
no wealth, no land, no silver or gold
nothing satisfies me but your soul
o'Death, someone would pray
could you wait to call me another day
the children prayed, the preachers preach
time and mercy is all out of your reach
I'll fix your feet so you can't walk
I'll lock your jaw so you can't talk
I'll close your eyes so you can't see
this very hour come and go with me
o'Death, I come to take the soul
leave the body and leave it cold
to drop the flesh off of its frame
the earth and worms both have a claim
won't you spare me over 'til another year
my mother came to my bed
placed a cold towel upon my head
my head is warm, my feet are cold
death is a-moving upon my soul
o'Death, how you're treating me
you closed my eyes so I can't see
you hurt my body, you turn it cold
you run my life right out of my soul
won't you spare me over 'til another year
my name is Death and your end
Whoa. That's far. That's... yeah, yep. Uh-huh. That's really far.
The cold window glass presses hard against her forehead, cooling her down as she stares into the abyss below her. The trees look tiny from up here, growing smaller still as the cable car takes her further up the mountain.
There's no going back now.
Sam lets out a shaky breath, and the world outside is devoured by mist as it fogs the glass before slowly retreating back towards her, allowing her to see everything clearly once again. Hannah used to do this, sit here and breathe on the glass, drawing intricate patterns and writing quotes from her favorite authors. She loved how the words stayed, even when you couldn't see them.
All you had to do was breathe.
It was like a secret messaging system, and they used it quite a lot during the years leading up to the accident. At least, they did, before Josh caught on and decided to mess with them. He'd write macabre quotes from his favorite horror movies, cryptic riddles and crude jokes. Sometimes, when his mind was acting up, he'd just ramble.
Strange, nonsensical messages nobody really understood but him.
Hannah was furious when she found out, but Sam never really minded. She loved reading his little notes, especially those rare insights into the inner workings of his enigmatic mind, and, yes, okay - maybe she kinda hoped he would write something special just for her. Maybe he even had, but she didn't understand it.
Joshua Benjamin Washington was always such a giant mystery to her, and that was part of the reason why she'd always been so incredibly drawn to him, even back when she was too young to understand why.
Why she kept seeking him out.
Why her eyes always seemed to follow him wherever he went.
Why his smile had the power to turn her head to mush and her legs to jelly. But despite all of that, it wasn't love at first sight.
Oh, no. When they met, Sam was still very much in her "all teenage boys are gross"-phase, and Josh was a prime example of the stereotypical dude bro-type she despised most of them all. What, with his frat boy jokes, his goofy attitude and his many, many short relationships, there really wasn't much substance to the oldest Washington-sibling at all, which made it even more confusing when Sam kept finding herself being drawn to him even back when he was just the world's biggest cliche.
In all honesty, she couldn't stand the guy.
He was too available, too easy to get, and easier yet to lose. His girlfriends were pretty much the human equivalent of underwear with every day of the week on them - Mandy, Tracy and Wendy became Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - and this became a very popular inside joke between Sam and Beth. Hannah would partake on occasion, but she was generally far too sweet and nice about it.
Slowly but surely, though, the layers of shallow playboy started peeling away, and he became something else.
As she grew older, though, Sam started to realize just how beautifully complex his mind truly was.
She could listen to his theories and philosophies for hours, watching the world expand and change into something different, something strange and wonderful, and the nights they spent lying outside on the front lawn, talking quietly and gazing at the stars after Hannah and Beth fell asleep during movie night... those were some of her most precious memories.
After a while, the Washington twins weren't the only reason she spent so many nights sleeping over anymore.
Sam feels a smile creeping over her lips as she remembers how Josh started sending her nightly text messages, asking whether or not she was awake, and her answer was always yes. Then he'd tell her to come outside, and she always did. Sure, it severely affected her beauty sleep and might've contributed to some massively impressive eye bags, but she didn't care. At the breakfast table she'd sit across from him, exchanging knowing glances and secret smiles, his sisters none the wiser as they fought over the last pancake.
He was so... different, and she knew she was in trouble. The way he would look at her with those eyes, those impossibly large eyes, and feel so far away yet so intimately close. That slow, unreadable smile that could mean anything, and nothing, and everything in between...
"God, Josh," she whispers, pushing away from the glass. "Maybe if you weren't such a damn paradox we'd actually be able to reach you before everything went to Hell."
No. Enough with this "we"-bullshit, Samantha. Stop hiding behind everyone else and just be honest with yourself for once, will you?
"Me," she corrects herself. "Maybe I'd be able to reach you before everything went so terribly wrong."
The cable car jerks upwards in a sharp, staggering motion, pulling her momentarily out of her reverie. She looks out the window, drawing a sharp breath when she sees how far she's gotten. It won't be much longer, now. She can already see the platform stretching out across the mountainside, ominously pulling her closer to the end of the line.
How appropriate, she thinks morbidly. End of the line. Last stop. Final destination. What kind of certifiable nutcase thought this was a good idea again?
It was me.
God. This really is a horrible, terrible, completely insane thing to do, isn't it? Yep. Yeah. Yes, it definitely is. She doesn't even need another voice in her head to confirm the fact that she is one hundred and fifty thousand percent nutso. But that hardly matters anymore, does it? Maybe going a little insane is the only way to survive this place, after all.
"Madness is nothing but a sane reaction to an insane reality, Sammy," Josh had told her once. She didn't understand what he meant back then, but now she does. At least, she thinks she does. At least to some degree, and that in itself is a frightening prospect.
"Great," she sighs, resting her head against the wall as the cable car starts slowing down. "Seems like the only way for me to really get you, Josh, is to go completely batshit myself. Isn't that just wonderful."
Honestly, though? He'd appreciate the ever-living crap out of that irony. Probably make some stupid joke about the two of them running away together, living crazily ever after in their own little bubble of insanity and send her pulse skyrocketing with one of his cursed Joshua Washington-smiles.
The cable car station is right up ahead now, and darkness swallows the car as it slides into the platform before finally stopping. She reaches for the door opener, but before she even gets close the doors open all by themselves, leaving her with intense feelings of dread and anticipation in the pit of her stomach. Well, that wasn't creepy at all, nope.
Not at all.
Except that it definitely one hundred percent was.
"What the hell..." She steps out of the cable car, eyebrows knitting together as she takes in the complete and utter destruction that greets her like a twisted welcome back-sign.
Broken glass. Everywhere. It's like a tornado ripped through the cable car station, destroying everything in its path. The forest around it looks completely untouched, but the station itself looks like a war zone. The door has been torn off its hinges and flung to the side, and there are weird, deep scratches etched into the door frames on each side, almost like...
"Claw marks," she whispers, shaky fingers tracing the splintered edges as her breath hitches in her throat. Well, if there ever was a reason for her to turn tail and get as far away from this hellish mountain as she possibly could, this would be it.
But she won't.
Tentatively she steps inside the building, her eyes actively searching for any potential threat before moving forward. There are remnants of red paint on the walls, undoubtedly the threatening messages left by Josh - or rather The Psycho - for Matt and Emily to freak out over. The handwriting is definitely his, she recognizes it from all those years of reading his secret little window messages.
Her foot connects with something on the floor, and she looks down, startled.
It's a bucket of paint, its contents splattered all across the floorboards. Whatever remained inside the bucket has long since dried, and it's got a crusty paintbrush stuck to the side of it.
"What the..." She looks up at the wall, partially covered in relatively fresh white paint. There's a step ladder pushed against it, flipped on its side. Someone clearly started painting over the words here, but who? When? And what happened to them?
Come on, Sam. You saw the claw marks. What do you think happened, exactly? A Wendigo just randomly decided to drop by for a quick coffee break and a nice chat before the next session of murder and chill?
Even in her own head, the words sound almost too sarcastic to process.
She takes another look around, but nothing seems to really stand out to her besides the obvious signs of a Wendigo attack. There's no blood, but that doesn't necessarily mean that whoever was here before her is still around. After all, didn't Chris tell her that Wendigos usually kept their victims alive before snacking on them?
Hannah was the exception.
It's been almost two years, but the loss of her best friend still hurts her beyond anything words can express. The guilt is still crippling, and despite all the time and effort Mike spent trying to convince her otherwise, she still feels directly responsible for everything that happened.
The prank might have been the catalyst, but Sam still could have prevented Hannah from walking into that room. She could've walked in there herself and ruined their setup, she could've intercepted Hannah at the door... but she didn't. Instead she went looking for her, like a complete moron. The cabin was huge, why did she ever think trying to hunt down her best friend was the better course of action?
"Stop it, Sam," she berates herself before she can retreat back into her little shell of remorse and self-pity. That's the last thing she needs right now, and if Josh really is alive, then it's the last thing he needs, as well. Not to mention the fact that she's still a far ways off from the guest cabin where she's planning to stay, what with the lodge being burnt to a crisp and all that, and the longer she stays out here - alone and unprotected - the more on edge she's going to be.
She exits the station and backtracks to get her stuff from the cable car, but the snapping of a branch somewhere to her far right makes her freeze like a deer in headlights. Her heart is pounding in her ears, her nails have automatically sought refuge in the palm of her hands, and two single words are screaming desperately in her mind:
She remains standing, motionless, as the forest once again grows silent. It's still light out, but the Wendigo is nothing like a vampire. They may prefer the cold, dank darkness of the caves and the abandoned mines, but there's nothing stopping them from hunting during the day. They're weaker, sure, but judging by their inhuman strength and impossible speed, she definitely wouldn't be winning any wrestling matches with one of them any time soon.
Daylight or no, they were still much stronger and faster than she was, and lulling herself into a false sense of security based on a few measly rays of sunshine would just be plain suicidal.
Five minutes pass. Then five more. Her joints are aching, and her lungs are screaming with need for oxygen due to her chest barely moving to inhale, only surviving on the very bare minimum of air, and her head is starting to grow fuzzy. She waits another minute before slowly taking a deep breath, eyes never leaving the spot where she's certain the noise originated from. When nothing jumps out at her to rip her apart, she finally relaxes her tense muscles and takes one single step towards the cable car, ready to freeze at the slightest rustle of leaves.
Nothing happens. The forest is so quiet it's almost eerie, and only then does she realize how completely unnatural that is. There are no birds chirping between the tree branches, no squirrels scurrying up the trunks. The silence is deafening, and it only serves to add more uneasiness.
As if she needed it.
Sam grabs her backpack from the cable car and resists the overwhelming urge to jump back inside and slam the doors closed, to retreat back to the safety of civilization and just forget this insanity. But she already knows there's no way she could ever possibly do that, not when Josh could be out there somewhere, lost and alone. If he is, what must he think of her now? And if he's not...
No. No, she doesn't even want to consider the possibility that Mike could be right. Josh is still out there. He's out there, and she's going to find him. She's going to find that twisted, broken, beautiful boy and bring him home.
Anything else is unacceptable.
Hang on, Josh, she thinks resolutely as she begins the long trek to the guest cabin. She's grateful that Mike pushed her to stay active and keep climbing even when all she wanted was to roll into a ball and disappear under her blankets forever, otherwise she'd be so ridiculously out of shape and completely unfit for this mad quest.
If you're still out there somewhere, I'll find you. And this time, I'm not leaving you. Never again.
With every step, her determination grows. Her jaw is set in a tight line, and there's a flicker of something igniting in her chest. Something warm, something strong and fierce, something foreign and yet so familiar.
Something she hasn't felt in a long, long time.
I won't believe in heaven or hell
no saints, no sinners
no devil as well
no pearly gates
no thorny crown
you're always letting us humans down
the wars you bring
the babes you drown
those lost at sea and never found
and it's the same the whole world 'round
the hurt I see helps to compound
the father, son and holy ghost
is just somebody's unholy hoax
and if you're up there you'll perceive
that my heart is here upon my sleeve
if there's one thing I don't believe in
It's easy to be brave when it's light outside.
It's easy to be hopeful when the sun is shining down at you through the leaves, and it's easy to feel strong when you're at the very doorstep of your adventure, eager to get started.
It's not easy to be brave when the darkness surrounds you.
It's not easy to be hopeful when your path is swallowed up by the blackness, and it's not easy to feel strong when you're dragging your feet through the snow, sweat pouring down your neck and turning into solid ice as the night air hits.
And Sam is utterly and completely lost.
She massively underestimated this hellish mountain, and she severely overestimated her own capabilities. Her backpack feels like it weighs a ton, and the straps are digging into her shoulder blades. Her shoes and socks are completely soaked, her ears are aching from the freezing night air and she feels a gigantic migraine brewing directly behind her eyeballs, clawing and digging its way through her skull.
"Where is that damn guest cabin!?" She hisses through clenched teeth as she climbs another slope, her ragged breath clearly visible in front of her. She knows she must've taken a wrong turn somewhere, but she also knows that's impossible. For one, the path to the cabin has always been very well marked all the way from the lodge, and there's just no way in Hell she could ever miss the trail. After all the long weekends, all the ski trips and vacations she spent up here with the rest of the gang, she could navigate this entire area in her sleep.
Somehow, this mountain is messing with her.
Okay, yeah. I get it. You're the boss, Blackwood. No one is arguing that, so step off your high hill and give me a fucking break, will you? I'd really freakin' appreciate it. I'll leave you alone as soon as I find Josh, trust me. I have no intention of ever setting as much as one toe on this land ever again after this, okay? Just, please, for the love of all that is holy... please stop yanking my chain and do me a solid, just this once. Considering the fact that you pretty much tried to kill me multiple times already, I'd say you owe me at least that much. Sam pulls out the pendant with the arrows carved into it and looks at the smooth metal disk for a few moments, considering the old man's words.
He'd told her it was protection against evil, didn't he? Of course, calling a mountain 'evil' sounds ridiculous even in her own head. Or, at least it would have, if the mountain in question was literally any other mountain.
But this isn't any other mountain.
This is Blackwood, and Blackwood does whatever the hell Blackwood damn well pleases, thank you ever so much.
"Okay... time for some good old fashioned guidance, I think." She closes her eyes and holds the pendant out in front of her, letting the arrows spin freely.
One... two... three... four... five... six...
There's the sound of rustling leaves a few feet away from her, but she forces herself to stay completely motionless as the pendant settles down. If there's a Wendigo out there watching her, it won't be able to spot her as long as she doesn't move. But can it hear her? Smell her? Will the sound of her erratic heartbeats lead the monster right to her like an organic dinner bell?
At least that'll give me a chance to test out my "boop the snoot"-theory, she thinks drily and finishes counting to ten before opening her eyes. The arrows are pointing north, like a compass, and she shrugs. What on Earth could she have to lose at this point? She looks in the direction of the sound she heard earlier, but it's quiet again. Carefully, so carefully, she crouches down and packs a fistful of snow into a ball before taking aim slowly, all the while keeping a close watch for anything with long, spindly limbs and razor sharp teeth.
Then she throws it into the forest.
It hits the trunk of a large tree and explodes into a shower of white powder, definitely loud enough to attract the attention of whatever is lurking in the shadows.
That is, if there's anything out there at all.
Please let it be a false alarm. Please please please just be a bird or a squirrel or a teensy tiny little baby wolverine... Hell, I'll even take a freakin' wolf at this point, just please... I'm cold and exhausted and lost and I'm just so totally not in a good place to fight monsters right now!
But, of course, this is Blackwood.
And only the Devil is listening.
There's a blood curdling shriek - so distinct and so unmistakable - and every ounce of liquid in her body freezes solid. Every hair stands on end, and every instinct is screaming at her to run.
She's on the move before she can think of anything else, before she can even think at all. Everything around her blends together as she races against the unseen horror, and the only thing she can do is give herself simple orders to stay on course and hopefully keep her from completely losing her shit.
Jump, Sam. Duck, Sam. Go left. Jump. Log. Tree.
Breathe. Go right.
The Wendigo isn't hunting her, not yet, but she knows it's only a matter of time. Judging by the sound, it's still a ways off from where she was standing just a few precious seconds ago, but those things are fast. They are so damn fast and she's exhausted. The only thing keeping her on her feet is her primal need to survive, but she knows that won't be enough to keep her alive if the emaciated horror catches up to her.
She is running on pure instinct now, trying desperately to keep the arrows in mind as she zigzags this way and that. Her heart feels like it's about to give in, and for one terrifying second she's convinced it's going to betray her. She needs to get somewhere else, somewhere safe, but there's nowhere to go.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh, God.
I'm dead. I'm so dead.
Her feet pound against the ground, the heavy backpack slamming into her with every desperate step. It knocks her off balance and sends her flying forward, arms flailing, and she can't keep herself from letting out one single, startled cry when her boot is caught against the edge of a rock. The world is a blur, and then there's just the darkness and a cold, wet sensation against her skin.
The world is quiet.
It's too quiet. Not a comforting silence, but a suffocating one. It's like the entire forest is holding its breath, the calm before the storm, and she knows she has to move but her body won't listen. It just lies there, motionless in the freezing snow, cold and wet as water begins to absorb into the fabric of her clothing, and no matter how desperately she wills it to move, to get up, to do something - it just won't listen.
And soon she'll be dead.
Get up, Sam. Get up!
She's so tired, so impossibly tired, but she can't stop now. She didn't come all this way just to die here, lost and alone in this unforgiving forest. Josh is still out there somewhere, and he's alone too.
She has to keep going.
Her fingers curl into the snow-covered ground as she forces herself to her feet, barely able to stay upright while her legs wobble and shake beneath her, threatening to give in. Another shriek, closer now. It's like a nightmarish wake-up call, and she's on the move again. Her limbs react before her brain does, carrying her further into the forest with no real sense of direction.
Something moves in her peripheral vision, but it's gone before she can see it properly - just a blurry, pale figure, too fast for her eyes to catch - but every now and then she catches a tiny glimpse of it, and it feels like someone has replaced all the blood in her veins with liquid ice.
Those jerky, unnatural movements. The way it effortlessly scales the trees, leaping almost soundlessly from branch to branch...
Without thinking she grabs a rock and hurls it into the darkness, not even bothering to look as her pursuer lets out a bone-chilling scream and chases after the sound, giving Sam a brief but much needed advantage. The soft forest floor muffles her movements slightly, but it won't be long before it catches her trail again.
She's not even close to safe, and she knows it.
God. Everything hurts. Her muscles are screaming, her joints are on fire and every time her feet connect with the ground it feels like every bone in her body is being broken repeatedly, but that's nothing compared to the grisly end that undoubtedly awaits her at the hands of her merciless hunter.
Gotta move. Gotta move. Come on. Come on.
She bursts through the trees into a bright clearing, and she's so confused by the sudden change in scenery that it doesn't even register how familiar it is until she quite literally runs face first into something painfully solid, knocking her flat on her ass. She stares up at the sky for a moment, disoriented, as something warm and sticky runs down the left side of her face.
It's the cabin. It's the cabin! The sheer, ridiculous luck of it all seems so ludicrous and absurd in the grand scheme of things, so impossibly preposterous she doesn't quite know how to react. It's not until she hears it again - that loud, horrifying screech - that she regains her feet and shakily makes her way over to the cabin door, pressing one hand against the bleeding wound on her forehead and desperately searching for the key with the other.
It's not there.
It's not there!
"Oh, God... oh my God... shit... shit shit shit fuck shit shit..." She feels the handle, hoping that it'll be unlocked by some foolish miracle, but of course it isn't. Mike told her the windows were broken, but obviously someone came up here and fixed them. It could even be the same person - or people - who started painting over the walls inside the cable car station.
Sam bites down on her cheek so hard her skin breaks open, but it helps keeping her grounded as she looks for the key again with both hands this time, searching each of her pockets simultaneously. The Wendigo is gaining on her, like a shark smelling blood in the water, and it feels like her heart is going to explode out of her chest. It's so close now, she can practically feel the cold, rancid breath on her neck. Her entire body is coiled like a spring, steeling itself against the imminent threat of the impending hurricane of knives and razors about to descend upon her.
Come on, come on, come on... where the fuck are you?!
The Wendigo has caught her scent now. She knows it. She can tell from the high-pitched scream of triumph echoing through the trees, and the sound of something large crashing towards her. Something large, and fast, and hungry.
"Oh my God... I'm going to die I'm going to die I'm going to die..."
There! Her fingers finally close around the small metal object, halfway hidden inside the lining of her jacket. Of course there's a damn hole in her pocket, and of course the damn thing decided to play hide and seek with her at such a crucial moment because of damn course it did! She wants to cry and scream and laugh and faint from all the different emotions exploding through her body at that moment, but her date with death is rapidly approaching and this is literally no time for such insanity.
She yanks her hand back up and shoves the key into the keyhole, twisting it around and pulling the door open violently as soon as she hears the telltale click of the sturdy metal bolt sliding back. She throws herself inside the cabin, locking the door behind her and falling to the floor, her legs no longer able to support her. She crawls into a corner, pressing her knees up against her chest as she tries to remember how to breathe properly.
You made it. You made it. You're okay. You're safe. Just breathe.
But she knows that's not true. The Wendigo could still be tracking her, following her footprints in the snow or even picking up her blood trail. They're not blind, she knows that much, even if their eyes are motion-sensitive. If that were the case, then they would most likely be spending ninety-five percent of the time crashing into walls and falling from ceilings. Of course, as much as she'd prefer watching them stumble around like blind drunkards, she's not that lucky.
It's outside the cabin now.
She can hear the creaking of the floorboards out on the patio, the old wood screaming in protest under invisible feet. As stealthy and emaciated as they are, they're not weightless. It paces around outside for a little, walking back and forth, circling the area where she ran into the wall like an idiot and bled all over the place. Could it smell her through the walls? Did it know she was still around, or did it assume something else got to her before it did? Snatching its dinner from right under its nose?
Maybe it would even attempt to hunt down the competition.
As if she'd be that lucky.
Sam covers her mouth with her hands, attempting to muffle her breathing as much as possible whilst staring wide-eyed at the front door window. There's a huge shadow looming in front of it, something so impossibly tall and skinny it shouldn't be physically possible, and she has to bite down hard on her cheek to keep from whimpering as it lifts one long, emaciated finger and drags the tip of its claw over the glass, the noise cutting through her like nails on a chalkboard.
It's toying with her.
It knows I'm in here. It has to. What's with all these damn games?! Her blood is pounding in her ears, drowning out every other sound and leaving her vulnerable on the floor, unable to focus on anything other than her own heartbeat. It's so loud - so impossibly loud - and she wonders if this will be the last thing she ever gets to hear in this life before the Wendigo crashes through the window and swallows her whole.
Maybe this is the last thing anyone gets to hear before they die.
Then it stops.
Oh my God. I'm dead.
But she's not dead. She's still here, still pressed up against the wall, staring at the shadow with unblinking eyes. It burns, but her eyelids won't move. Won't obey. All she can do is focus on the immediate and very real danger outside, very much aware of the fact that the only thing separating her from that impossibly strong, supernatural killing machine is a simple wooden door and some fragile glass fibers.
Not much of a shield at all, if she's perfectly honest.
She doesn't understand what it's doing. If it truly knows she's here, why doesn't it break the window and claim her? Why play this bizarre, torturous game of chicken? It's beyond nerve-racking!
The shadow moves away from the window, and a whole new level of anxiety takes up residence in the pit of her stomach. What's it doing now? Where did it disappear to? Having it outside the front door was horrible, but not knowing where it went is even worse. She has no idea what to expect, and part of her wants to just get it over with. She's too tired - too exhausted - to keep playing these twisted little games right now. Sure, she finally found the cabin, but what good did that do her? With that thing outside, it's just as dangerous to be stuck in here.
Cut off. Isolated. Trapped.
Well played, Blackwood, she thinks, giving a small laugh in spite of the situation. You win. I'm done. There's nothing more you can throw at me now. All cards are on the table, as they say. I'm sorry I ever challenged you. She lets her fingers run over the leather cord around her neck, the metal disk warm against her skin. It's comforting, even now, and it gives her a much needed distraction from the fact that the Wendigo is tapping on the window directly above her hiding place.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
"I'm done," she whispers.
The tapping stops.
And then she hears it.
The one sound she never thought she would ever hear again for as long as she lived.
The voice that's haunted her every second of every night, every day since she left him all alone in this horrible, godforsaken, cursed place.
thought I found a way
thought I found a way out
but you never go away
so I guess I gotta stay now
walking out of town
looking for a better place
something's on my mind
always in my head space
oh I hope some day
I'll make it out of here
even if it takes all night
or a hundred years
need a place to hide
but I can't find one near
wanna feel alive
outside I can fight my fear
isn't it lovely
heart made of glass
my mind of stone
tear me to pieces
skin to bone
It feels like she's been hit by lightning.
Every cell in her body hums with electricity, every hair stands on end, and Sam is ninety-nine percent certain her heart has stopped beating. She's trapped in an odd sort of vacuum - torn between logic and emotion - and it's almost too much for her to process at once. Her mind is in shambles, trying desperately to make sense of the situation.
That was his voice. That much, she is absolutely one hundred percent positive about. But how? How could Josh possibly be out there? He shouldn't be. There is no way he'd be able to somehow avoid the Wendigo completely and make his way to the cabin the very same moment she arrived, let alone the fact that even if he did manage to sneak past it, he'd be dead for sure the moment her name left his lips.
It couldn't be him. Nothing could be that simple.
Not on this mountain.
This is some sort of trap. It has to be. As much as she desperately wants - needs - it to be Josh, she can't risk everything on a stupid, reckless whim. She has to be smart about how she does things, and being smart does certainly not include running outside headfirst like some sort of love-crazed loon.
Wendigos can imitate voices.
That has to be it. Whatever is out there, it's definitely not Josh. Not even he could fake a Wendigo attack, brilliant son of a famous movie producer or not. Besides, she clearly remembers the bone-chilling shrieks from before, the flash of something large and inhuman leaping from one tree to another in that strange, jerky sort of way that no person on the planet could ever successfully replicate.
"It's not him," she whispers, cradling her head in her hands. She presses her palms against her ears, desperately trying to block out the sounds coming from the window above her. "It's not him. It can't be him. It's not him. It's not him."
The tapping has stopped. There's no sound at all, except for a slight cooing noise she can't quite place. It sounds odd, almost pleading, but it's definitely not something a person would be able to produce. If she has to compare it to anything, it'd be the dying whimpers of a wounded animal. Maybe that's what it is, too. Maybe the Wendigo found something else to feed on. A fox, or maybe even a wolf.
She's not eager to take its place anytime soon.
The one thing she can't quite understand, though, is how the Wendigo knew her name. Not just her name, but it called her Sammy.
Josh was the only one who ever did that.
"It's probably the mountain," Sam mumbles under her breath. The mountain didn't want her here, that much was painfully obvious. It wanted Josh all to itself, the last of the Washington siblings. And why? To punish him for something his father did? It already took Hannah and Beth, and Sam has a sneaking suspicion that if Beth actually survived the fall, she would've been turned into another one of those monsters, because simply killing them would be too easy.
And Josh makes three.
Maybe she's being ridiculous, thinking of the mountain as some sort of sentient being, but that's what it feels like to her. Like it's alive, watching her every move, waiting for new ways to fuck everything up for her. Besides, she's dealing with flesh-eating monsters from Native American legends. Logic doesn't really seem to have that much of a foothold around here, so who's to say her suspicions are false?
I'm onto you, Blackwood. You had me going there for a while, but you're gonna have to do better than that if you want to kill me. I'm here to find Josh and I am not. leaving. without him.
Steeling her resolve, she slowly gets to her feet.
It's not him, she tells herself. It's not him. It's not him. It's not him. It can't be. He's not there.
The only thing staring back at her from the window is her own reflection, eyes narrowed into thin hazel slits and jaw clenched. There's nothing out there but trees and snow, and the disappointment is so complete, so utterly devastating it almost knocks the breath from her lungs. It feels like she's been kicked in the stomach, and the sheer force of it confuses her.
It shouldn't hurt this much. It's shouldn't be this painful, because it's exactly what she expected.
She knew it. She knew he wouldn't be there, and yet... it hurts. She wanted him to be there so, so badly, despite knowing all too well that he wouldn't be. What she wouldn't give for that to actually be true, though. To see him standing there, those impossibly huge eyes looking back at her and that slow, enigmatic smile creeping across his face, to know that he was okay. That everything would be okay.
She wanted things to be easy for once.
What could she possibly have done to warrant this... this cruel and unusual punishment? She wasn't the one who invaded the mountain and disturbed the spirits by turning it into some kind of rich boy playground. She never had anything to do with Bob Washington and his little pissing contest with the locals. Whatever issue Blackwood has with him, she wants no part of it.
All she did was fall in love with the broken, beautiful boy who happened to be unfortunate enough to be his son.
Not bothering with even considering staying in the bedroom - the very vulnerable bedroom with a very breakable window facing towards the very place of sacred slumber - she yanks the mattress quite unceremoniously from the frame and drops it in the bathroom instead. It covers the entire floor, and she'll probably have to create some sort of nest with every blanket in the entire cabin to stay warm, but she doesn't care.
It's not like she's a stranger to the concept, after all.
Besides, this isn't a freakin' B&B. It's the home base for her rescue mission, and comfort isn't really a priority at this time. Right now, all she needs somewhere to sleep without worrying about getting eaten by monsters. Maybe, when she's got her boy all safe and sound, maybe then she'll start prioritizing tiny pillow chocolates and fluffy, embroidered bathrobes.
Maybe being the operative word, here.
"I should find some way to reinforce the windows too," she says, thinking out loud while she gathers a bunch of spare blankets from every room in the building. "There's too much glass. Bamboo shutters aren't exactly top tier when it comes to security. What's wrong with some good, old-fashioned metal bars, anyway?"
Must discuss with asshole movie producer swiftly upon return.
For now, though, she'll probably have to improvise with whatever tools Mr. Washington deemed appropriate for his fancy little guest cabin. Of course, that also means she has to go outside to reach the tool shed in the back.
Out there. In the open. Alone. Sans flamethrower.
Awesome. Where are all the crazy, toothless natives when you need them? Sam thinks, huffing from the effort of carrying something that feels like fifteen tons of blankets and duvets to the bathroom. Sure wouldn't mind one of those weapon-wielding gun psychos on my team right about now. You got any of those, Blackwood?
I'll take five.
Actually, that's probably a very bad idea. Careful what you wish for, and all that. Besides, knowing this mountain and its tricks, any potential weapon wielder she might encounter would probably break down the door, dismember every single one of her limbs with a giant machete and DIY her skull into some macabre Ed Gein-esque cereal bowl.
"Yeah... no, thank you. I'm pretty attached to my body parts."
This makes her snicker. Bad puns aren't really her area of expertise, but Josh would approve. And frankly, that's all she cares about right now. Well, that, and actually finding the guy so she can assault him with bad puns until his ears fall off. It'll be the only entertainment he gets, anyway, because she fully intends to handcuff him to her bed or something for the rest of his remaining days.
Wow, okay, calm down there, bondage queen. It's only a precaution. Precaution. Maybe you can extend it to some kind of tracking device implanted in his neck. That's much better, right?
Yep. Not creepy at all. No, sir. Nu-uh.
Sam drops her backpack on her makeshift nest and rolls her shoulders, grimacing. It feels like she's been carrying the entire mountain on her back, and every muscle in her entire body is screaming at her to just flop down on the bed and remain motionless for a couple of years, at least. But that's not an option right now. Her mind is still buzzing with the memory of Josh's voice from that thing outside, debating whether or not she actually did hear what she thought she did.
It wouldn't be the first time she hallucinated him, after all.
"Only one way to find out," she mumbles, arming herself with the handgun she "borrowed" from her father's nightstand. Not that it would do much good against a damn Wendigo - even a heavy-duty shotgun wasn't enough to kill those things - but at least it gave her some sense of comfort. Any weapon is better than no weapon, and she'd rather not go out there armed with nothing but her questionable good sense and a metal disk attached to a flimsy leather cord.
The necklace feels warm against her chest, the pendant seeming to pulse in perfect harmony with her heartbeats. It's probably just her imagination, but there's no denying the fact that it really does calm her down.
Maybe that crazy, toothless guy wasn't so crazy after all.
"Hooo-kay... Breathe, Sam. Stay cool. It's only a few yards to the tool shed. A few teensy, tiny yards. You were on the track team, for Pete's sake! You can cover that ground in less than a minute. You just gotta stay calm and not panic. Just pretend you're not about to do something incredibly, unbelievably stupid and just do it!
She presses her ear against the door. It's completely quiet, but she's not that easily fooled. It could still be out there, biding its time. It could be tracking her somehow, or waiting to ambush her as soon as she steps one single toe outside. Ideally, she'd rather wait until the sun is up before she does something like this, but there's no time. Every second is just more time between her and Josh, another opportunity for the mountain to rip him away from her again.
Anything can happen in less than a minute.
Slowly, so slowly, she turns the lock, wincing slightly as the metal bolt slides back with a tiny click. Then, even slower, she twists the door handle and pushes the door open, inch by inch.
God. Her heart is pounding so freaking loud! It's practically a fully functional dinner bell at this point. But then again, didn't Hannah stand right next to her the year before, back at the lodge? Right before she blew it up? Yes, yes she did. She was right there, her rancid breath sending cold bursts of air down Sam's neck, and yet... she didn't attack her, despite the fact that her traitorous heart was beating so hard she thought it was going to shatter her rib cage.
As for their sense of smell? Maybe it's too sensitive. Maybe, instead of not picking up her scent in particular, it's picking up every scent.
Confusing. Disorienting. And very, very useful to her.
Sam closes the door soundlessly behind her, but she doesn't lock it. Risky, yes. But she might need to get back in pretty damn quick, and locking herself out of the cabin would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. Besides, if the Wendigo really is out there somewhere watching her, it would lose interest in the cabin preeetty freaking fast.
The prey has left the building.
She moves down the walkway, mentally cursing every time one of the wooden floorboards creak underneath her feet. It's barely noticeable, so hopefully it won't be enough to alarm any potential predators. She's pretty light on her feet, and her small frame is definitely putting her at an advantage. For all the times she absolutely hates being the short girl, this is not one of them.
Well, that, and the fact that hide and seek was always a freaking cakewalk for her compared to the freakishly tall Washingtons. The look on Beth's face when she opened the cupboard in the kitchen and found her tiny, blonde friend grinning down at her, hazel eyes beaming with triumph...
Okay. Focus. No dwelling on the past now, Sam. Plenty of time for that later. Y'know, when your life is not in immediate danger? Sounds like a plan?
She peaks her head around the corner, eyes zooming in on the living room window.
That's where I heard it. I know that's where I heard it. So... where are the footprints? There should be footprints. Right?
Of course, the Wendigo seemed to be pretty fond of scattering around like giant, monstrous spiders, but even climbing the wall should've left some sort of trace. Claw marks, for example. A disturbance in the snow drifts clinging to the roof at the very least.
But there's nothing.
I didn't imagine it. I didn't imagine it. It was real. It was real. It was real.
It was real.
"I'm not going crazy," she whispers, breaking the silence despite herself. The lack of evidence rattles her, sending her exhausted brain into overdrive. Did it really happen? Did she really get chased by a Wendigo earlier? Surely, she couldn't have imagined it.
No. There's no way.
Sam makes her way over to the window, frantically scanning the walls around it, the ground below it and the roof above. "There has to be something, anything... please... there has to be something here..." She crouches down, touching her fingers gingerly to the fresh layer of powdery snow. Pure, white, and entirely undisturbed. "How..."
She rises to her feet, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully. Okay, Sam. Think. It must've come from somewhere. You heard it on the walkway, and then... then... Looking up, she freezes.
There, on the very edge of the gutter, she can almost make out the shape of something that might resemble fingers if they weren't so impossibly long and thin. Her heart picks up the pace as she studies the imprints, squinting to get a better picture. Sure, it was a long shot, but the Wendigo could've been using the ledge to support itself and then bent over the edge, hanging upside-down as it taunted her.
Maybe... maybe... She lifts one hand in the air, carefully tracing an invisible exit route.
Roof. Branch. Tree trunk. Then... back into the forest? It would be quite a leap, but nowhere near impossible for a Wendigo. Those things could put any professional basketball player and Olympic gymnast to shame, after all.
Well, it definitely beats the "I'm going batshit insane"-theory, so I'll take it.
Of course, that also means she's in very real and very immediate danger, and standing here gawking like an idiot is very much not ideal to her whole survival strategy so maybe it's a good idea to, y'know, move her ass and actually do what she came out here to do before something else happens. According to her experience, this mountain is hellbent on getting her out of the way as quickly as possible, and the last thing she wants to do is provide the opportunity for that to actually happen.
Wasting no more time, she hurries over to the tool shed. Caution and stealth be damned, she picks up a large rock and smashes it against the padlock until it springs open, immediately throwing it aside and yanking the door open as quickly as she can. There's not a lot of materials to work with, but she grabs whatever she can carry, determined to sort through everything when she's safely back inside.
Tools... metal sheets... fuck, these things are heavy!
Yeah. Nope. Metal sheets are a no-go. Maybe it'll work better if she goes with the square pieces of chain link fence instead. They should provide a decent level of protection, at least until she figures out a way to make something a little more permanent.
"This is one of the downsides of being a freakin' homunculus," she hisses through her teeth as the metal sheets slide back into place. "No way I'm moving those all the way around the cabin on my own. Gotta make Josh work for his meals when I get him back, can't have that lazy asshole freeloading while I do all the work around here..."
Gathering the pieces of fence under one arm, she grabs the toolbox and staggers out of the shed, stopping only long enough to close the door with her shoulder and shoving a large rock in front of it with her foot. Seeing as how she busted the lock open, that's not gonna do much to keep anything out anymore.
Oh well. Oops, and all that.
She surveys the area closely before moving towards the front door with her newfound bounty, all too aware of how vulnerable she is with her hands occupied and her attention constantly distracted by the very real possibility of tripping over her own feet. Really, that would just be the icing on top of an extremely shitty birthday cake from Hell, wouldn't it.
Sam freezes to the spot, head whipping towards the noise. Honestly, there is no sound more terrifying, more ominous than the snapping of a branch when you're miles away from other people, surrounded by trees cloaked in complete darkness, because it could be literally anything.
Get inside, her mind is screaming at her. Get inside! MOVE!
But she can't.
A tall, hunched figure slowly makes its way through the woods, one arm extended backwards in an odd angle. Sam narrows her eyes, trying to make sense of it, but it's obscured by the darkness and the trees. It doesn't seem to have noticed her, its back crouched and turned towards her. There's a strange sound of something being dragged through the snow, something heavy, and a muffled grunt as it occasionally thumps against the uneven terrain.
What... is that? Is that... is that a person?
No. It can't be, right? It has to be an animal. A deer? There are plenty of deer around, and she already knows they're not opposed to feeding on the local wildlife if the opportunity presents itself.
Just go back inside, you idiot! What are you doing?!
Honestly. This is not a time to wrestle with her goddamn savior complex. Even if that is a person, what exactly does she expect to accomplish by rushing after them? That thing will tear her to pieces in two seconds flat, and her pathetic little handgun won't even make a dent in it.
Then she sees it.
As it's walking through a clearing in the trees, the moonlight hits something large. Something undeniably human.
Something undeniably human covered in tattered, stained overalls.
I will search for you
'till there's no more breath left in my lungs
I will keep you safe
from the monsters in the dark
I can't lose you
I won't live without you
with all we've been through
I'll do what I have to
I'll keep searching on
'till I find you
I'll find you
in the eye of the storm
I'll save you
I will find you
I swear that I'll find you
I can't lose you
what would I do
don't wanna live without you
I'll do what I have to
I'll keep searching on
'till I find you
I find you
in the eye of the storm
I'll save you
I will find you
I swear that I'll find you
I'll find you
Chapter 22: Hold On
the night is blind
so hard to find
the way back home
but it's worth the risk
to brave the cold
the fear in me
is pulling deep
like an undertow
but I will escape
the hand of fate
before it knows
no matter where you go
I'll find you
no matter where you go
I'll find you
I'll find you
hold on for your life
it can't be time
I won't say goodbye
hold on for your life
it can't be time
I won't say goodbye
for your life
no matter where you go
I'll find you
no matter where you go
I'll find you
I'll find you
"Shit!" Sam hisses through her teeth as her knee bangs into a rough piece of rock for the fifth time.
The air around her feels colder by the second, and she can barely feel her fingers anymore. Every single inch of her body is aching, and she's not even close to reaching the bottom of the mines. It feels like she's been at this for hours, but in reality it's probably closer to one and a half.
Maybe two, at the most.
She loses her grip on the edge and curses again, regaining purchase against the slippery, uneven surface before she continues, counting every step in her head almost obsessively.
Six hundred and fifty-one... six hundred and fifty-two... It's too dark to see properly, and her headlight went out somewhere around the third leg injury, which absolutely does not help even one tiny bit. The darkness unsettles her, and she seems to jump and freeze even from the tiniest of sounds. Every second is pure torture, and the fear of suddenly being ripped apart by a flurry of claws and teeth is no longer just irrational paranoia, but a very real possibility.
There are spare bulbs in her backpack, but she doesn't want to risk breaking her rhythm. The wall is too steep, and the rocks are too slippery. If she loses focus, she'll most likely never have to worry about broken headlights or bruised knees or anything else ever again.
"Easy, girl," she mutters to herself. "Easy... slow and steady does it..." A particularly sharp edge cuts into her fingers, forcing her to seek another gripping point. She knows she has to find somewhere to rest, and soon. There's no way she's going to be able to look for Josh in her current condition, not to mention how incredibly screwed she's going to be if she has to actually, y'know, run for her freaking life sometime in the immediate future.
There's a pretty wide ledge to her right, but in order to get to it she's going to have to leap from a ridiculously flimsy foothold and find steady purchase in one single, fluid motion, and just the thought of playing Tarzan with every muscle in her body practically screaming for mercy makes her want to just curl up and die.
Seriously, Sam. Get it together. You didn't come all this way just to play jellied pancake at the bottom of a godforsaken mine shaft. Suck it up, for Pete's sake! You left Josh down here all by himself once before. You're not doing it again. If this was a normal rock climbing wall you'd be able to scale it in your sleep, so stop being such a flippin' baby about it!
She grits her teeth and steels herself for what she's going to do, allowing herself only two seconds to breathe deeply before setting her jaw and kicking off against the rock.
For one tiny, horrifying second she's free falling, before her feet finally connect with the rough surface of the ledge. Her legs fold like wet paper under her, sending her falling face first into the ground. Not the most graceful landing, but at least she's not lying in a bloody pool at the bottom of the mines, which is definitely a plus.
Hooray for small victories.
"Yuck." Sam turns her head to the side and spits out a mouthful of blood before feeling her teeth rapidly with her tongue, making sure none of her beloved pearly whites decided to escape upon impact.
Thank God. I do not think I'd be able to rock the hillbilly-look. Not to mention the fact that Josh would've literally laughed himself to death at least twice, and that's not really the kind of reunion I'm hoping for if I'm going to be completely honest.
She grimaces and spits more blood. The metallic taste refuses to leave her mouth, and she briefly considers washing it out with some water. She goes to pull out her water bottle, but thinks better of it. After all, she has no idea how long she's going to be down here for, and she can't afford to waste one single precious drop. There's no guarantee she'll be able to find a usable water source anytime soon, and dehydration can kill just like any Wendigo.
She's simply just gonna have to hash it out until the wound in her cheek heals back up again.
Sam knows she's not going to be able to stay on the ledge for long. Remaining in one place for too long is extremely dangerous, and while she's probably safer up here than she would've been down there, she also knows that she's completely trapped if something - or someone - should happen to drop by for an afternoon snack.
Evening snack? Midnight snack? A light breakfast?
Honestly, there's no proper way to tell. She didn't have time to prepare for this, after all, what with everything happening so impossibly fast and the fact that a certain mythological creature just happened to appear out of nowhere with the one thing - the one person - she needed so desperately to find.
Coincidence? Yeah. I think not.
Still, here I am. Well played, Blackwood. Well played.
"Ten minutes," she decides. "Ten minutes. That's all I get. Then I have to keep moving."
First things first, however: the light bulb.
It takes her a couple of minutes to work some heat back into her fingers, but when she does, she almost wishes she hadn't.
With the blood rushing properly through her hands again she can feel every ache, every sting and every cut acquired during her unforgiving descent into the mines. She's completely covered in bruises to the point where she probably looks more like a freaking smurf than an actual human being right now, and if that crazy, beautiful asshole even considers nicknaming her Smurfette she will personally make sure he gets an intimate make-out session with her fist.
"I swear to God, Washington..." Sam hisses through her teeth as she begins the process of replacing the tiny, broken bulb in her headlight. "You better be alive down here, or so help me, I will bring you back to life just so I can murder you all over again..."
Okay, there we go. Now I can see.
She pulls herself closer to the edge, sliding on her stomach until she can see over it, but even with a working light bulb there's no way to tell how much further she has to climb before reaching the bottom.
"Testing, testing... one-two..." she whispers before dropping one of the useless batteries into the darkness. Then she starts counting.
One... two... three... four...
Thirty-three seconds pass before it hits something, and the noise makes her flinch a bit. It's a tiny battery, but the sound carries far too well through the cave chambers.
Sam holds her breath for a few moments, listening for any sign of potential trouble, and when a horrifying shriek pierces the silence she damn near falls over the edge, barely managing to scatter herself back to the wall before something large and pale flashes past her, razor sharp claws digging easily into the walls of the shaft as it ascends towards the tiny speck of light streaming down from her entrance point on the surface.
Only when it disappears completely does she dare to let out a shaky, terrified breath.
Ho-ly cow. That was too damn close. Too. damn. close.
I've gotta move.
She opens her small backpack and wraps a few strips of bandages around her hands before securing them with medical tape. It's not the best solution - she'd much rather have a pair of nice, thick gloves - but she needs to feel every nook and cranny in order to make it down in one piece. Free climbing is no joke, especially not in these conditions, and gloves would only hinder rather than help her.
But man, how sweet it would be.
Okay, Sam. Get your shit together. You can't stay here one second longer. You'll be trapped for sure when that thing comes back, and you've come too damn far to die here. Give yourself ten more seconds, then you're off. Not one fraction of a second longer.
Steeling her resolve, Sam gathers up another mouthful of blood and spits it out before pushing her legs over the edge. She feels around for a steady foothold, cursing soundlessly until she finds it and lowers herself down. Her arms are shaking with the effort, and the lack of proper sleep and nutrition is really starting to affect her.
Suck it up, you big baby, she mentally chastises herself. It's not like people haven't survived worse conditions than these before.
You're nothing special.
Her movements are jerky and robotic, but at least she's moving, and that's all that matters. So what if her legs are cramping up and every single piece of her skin feels like it's been torn to ribbons? So what if she's faint from hunger, that her mind is blurry from lack of sleep and that her head is pounding like a rabid monkey drummer on a five-week bender?
She's here. She's alive.
And she's getting closer to Josh every single second.
Josh. Josh. Josh. His name repeats in her mind like a prayer with every step, every grip of her fingers, every shuttering breath exiting her lungs.
She's so close now, so close to where she left Josh and Mike that horrible, awful, terrible night. She has no idea how she actually knows this, but she does. She can feel it with every fiber of her being, as if the mountain wants her to know.
This is where you failed him, it tells her.
This is where you lost him.
"Shut up, you asshole," she mutters under her breath, quietly seething with anxiety-induced anger.
I'm gonna fix everything. I'm gonna get him back and there's not one single damn thing you can do about it. You can throw every freaking Wendigo in the entire world at me and I'll fight each and every one of them if I have to.
Not that she has even the slightest idea how she would actually go about doing it, though, if the mountain decided to rise to her challenge.
Finally, finally her foot hits the ground, and she feels around gingerly with the toe of her boot for a while before stepping onto it, carefully releasing her hold on the rough surface of the wall. She extends her fingers shakily, wincing at the now all too familiar sensation of blood rushing back into her frozen digits, bringing the pain along with it.
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.
She clutches her hands to her chest, feeling exceptionally sorry for herself. The bandages did their job well enough, but she removes them anyway. No point in keeping them now, especially not when they're soaked through with blood and water from the wet rocks.
Hell, with her luck they'd probably just end up giving her a nasty infection at this rate.
That would just be freaking perfect, wouldn't it.
With that in mind, she should probably find somewhere relatively safe to patch herself up a little before doing anything else. She's in horrible condition, and she'll feel even worse when the adrenaline rush wears off.
There's an alcove not too far from where she entered the cave system and she carefully heads towards it, scanning the surrounding areas suspiciously. Everything seems quiet enough, but she won't be fooled. This mountain has been catching her off guard an awful lot lately, and she's determined to never let that happen again if she has anything to say about it.
Of course, even just thinking that way is too much of a rebellion against the almighty Blackwood, and Sam only has time to reach halfway across the floor before she hears the telltale scampering and clattering of claws scurrying back down the mine shaft, pebbles and rabble raining down from the opening.
Shit shit shit shit.
Sam throws herself against the opening, pumping her arms like the undefeated track star she is.
Thank you, mother dearest, for forcing your vertically challenged offspring to join the track team with her tiny, tiny legs. The absurd thought almost makes her laugh, but this is no laughing matter and her life is very much on the actual line, so instead of throwing her head back and cackling maniacally she decides to claw her way into the alcove instead.
Much more sensible. I'm proud of me. Insert proverbial patting of back here.
It's a tight fit, but that's a good thing.
She squeezes herself through the gap, wincing as her sore muscles contort painfully. As short and petite as she is, the opening is extremely narrow, and the extra layers of clothing as well as her backpack aren't exactly helping in any way. Still, if even she has trouble squishing through it, there's no way in Hell anything else will be able to follow her in here.
She manages to push through to the other side with a stifled huff, catching herself against the opposite wall as she crashes forward and straightens, taking in her new surroundings. Now that she's inside, she notes that it's not so much an alcove as an actual cave, albeit not a very large one.
It's about half the size of her bedroom at home, but the floor is covered with old newspapers, and there's an old lantern hanging from a protruding rock in one of the corners.
Did someone... live here? Sam drops her backpack on the ground, examining the lantern curiously.
It definitely looks like someone spent some time in here, with the newspapers arranged like an improvised nest on the ground.
Sending a grateful thought to whoever lived there before her, she dumps herself quite unceremoniously onto the thick pile of paper and closes her eyes, sighing heavily. It's really not the most comfortable bed by anyone's standards, but it's dry, and in her exhausted state that's all she cares about. Besides, it's not like she can just rent a room at the nearest Hilton or anything, and she'd rather sleep in a cave than pass out somewhere out in the open where every Wendigo and their grandmonster can stumble over her.
Warmer in here than out there, too, her mind briefly registers in her sleepy haze.
Despite all her efforts to remain conscious, she slowly feels herself drifting further and further into a place between dream and reality. It takes everything she has to reach up and remove her headlight, flicking the tiny switch to preserve the battery and placing it carefully next to the lantern. As much as she wants to get back up and take inventory of her injuries, her body refuses to cooperate. It's been a very, very long couple of days, and the cave feels more comfortable than it ever had any right to, all things considered.
Sam cracks open one eye, grunting in protest as she musters all the strength left in her body and zips open her backpack, yanking the thin thermal blanket out from the outer pocket. Her body feels so, so heavy, but her clothes are soaked and even the isolating layer of newspapers isn't enough to keep her body heat from dropping dramatically in her sleep, so she grits her teeth and places the backpack under her head as a makeshift pillow before covering herself with the blanket.
I'll only... close my eyes... for a second... just... a... second...
All goes black, and somewhere in the distance echoes a long, frustrated shriek through the cave system.
knocked off my feet
the earth moved beneath
the edge of a dream and a nightmare
I opened the door
fell through the floor
I slipped through the cracks into nowhere
"Okay!" Beth exclaims, clapping her hands together with a cheerful grin.
"The tables are set, the candles are in place, every teensy tiny bit of sparkly crap has been arranged exactly how frau Hitler - I mean my sweet, lovely sister - wanted them... the drinks are in..." She pauses, frowning, and her dark eyes study the table as if she's searching for something.
" Hey... wasn't there, like, three full bottles of eggnog here two seconds ago?" she sats, scratching her head in confusion. Her signature beanie is still present, despite her sister's valiant attempts to remove it because it's not 'Christmassy' enough.
She still makes the occasional grab for it when she thinks Beth isn't looking, though.
Sam purses her lips, nodding thoughtfully. "Yes..? At least, I mean, I think there was? I'm... not really sure, to be completely honest. I'm on mistletoe duty and I'm happy to report that those are all accounted for, thank freakin' God. I even pricked my finger on those amorous bastards! Twice! I mean, I get that love is supposed to be painful and whatnot but..."
"Sam!" Hannah interrupts her impassioned tirade, earning a look of indignation from the blonde.
"Okay, okay," she mutters, sucking on her wounded finger. "I get it. Focus, right? I'm just saying! Those bitches hurt like a mother-"
"SAMANTHA! This is no time for injuries! The eggnog is missing!" Her best friend grabs her narrow shoulders, snowflake-painted fingernails digging into them like tiny Christmas daggers as she shakes her ferociously, damn near causing her poor brain to rattle around in her skull.
Her ears are definitely bleeding, though.
"This is an emergency! We can't have a Christmas party without eggnog, Sam! Nobody does that! Nobody, do you hear me, woman?!"
"Whoa, Han, chill," Beth comments, gently prying Sam out of her sister's death grip.
"We hear you, okay? Everyone hears you. I hear you, Sam hears you, the entire population of fucking Siberia hears you, girl. Just calm down. We'll split up into groups and hunt down the wayward bottles, yeah? It'll be like a scavenger hunt! You like those, right?"
"Yeah..." Hannah replies, her brown eyes slowly regaining a sliver of sanity. "I do like those."
Well, thank holy Jesus fucking Christ for that.
"Okay! Great. You're with me, you loon. I'm not letting you roam free in this condition. We're gonna search the kitchen and the dining room, and Sam... you got the lounge and the wine cellar, 'kay?" Beth looks at her pleadingly, begging her not to argue.
"Yeah. Gotcha," she says, nodding in agreement.
Breathing a sigh of relief, the youngest Washington gives her a thumbs up and links her arm with Hannah's, dragging her along. "Come here, you beautiful holiday psycho. We're gonna find those bottles and lock the damn things in a fucking safe until the party, alright? Then we'll all throw our heads back like crazed hyenas and laugh at this entire stupid goddamn..." The rest of Beth's words are cut off when they disappear out of sight, leaving Sam to fend for herself.
"And then there was one..." she mumbles, sighing.
Well. Time to get to work, I suppose. If I were three bottles of disgusting Christmas liquor, where would I be...
In a liquor cabinet. Duh.
"Hardi-harr," Sam says drily, dragging her feet along the polished wooden floors towards the lounge. "I'm freakin' hilarious."
Especially when nobody's listening.
"Shut up. Nobody asked you."
Oh, this is just wonderful. I haven't even searched for five minutes yet and I'm already sassing the hell out of myself. I would not do very well in solitary confinement at all. I'd be one of those crazy freaks who talks to cockroaches and keeps pet mice for company, naming them ridiculous things like Mr. Chuck Cheeseford and Mousington Junior the Third... Ducking down, she ransacks the cupboard.
Nope. No dice.
"Come on, you stupid bottles of alcoholic crap," she whispers to herself, straightening back up.
"It's not like you grew legs and freakin' walk-oooh wait a minute..." She closes her eyes, face palming hard enough to permanently imprint the shape of her hand onto her skin.
Of-fucking-course. Joshua Benjamin Washington, you goddamn lush, I'm going to absolutely, positively annihilate you... Groaning, she turns on her heels and backtracks hurriedly, spinning on the slippery floors as she rounds the corner towards the stairs. She grabs the railing, barely managing to keep her footing.
"Fucking rich people and their obsession with their own reflections! Floors are for walking and on some occasions running, not for checking your gosh darned make-up before heading out the door!" she hisses, climbing the stairs with renewed vigor whilst spewing curses at the Washingtons - or rather, the esteemed missus - for her constant need to have the floors waxed three times a day.
Barreling into Josh's room like a pint-sized tornado of justice, she immediately halts when the smell hits her.
"Jesus, Josh! It's like a damn brewery in here!" Sam tears across the floor, yanking the half-empty bottle of eggnog from the heavily inebriated boy currently slouched down against the foot of his bed. He looks up at her, large green eyes swimming with foggy clarity and that unmistakable haze he gets from consuming large amounts of alcohol.
"Sammy! Sam-Sam-Sammy-bird! Come join me, won't you? I'm... fucking celebrating! It's Christmas!"
"Yes, I know that, thank you," she hisses. "And Hannah is going absolutely ballistic looking for this crap!" She waves the bottle in front of him, wincing when its contents sloshes onto her arm. It doesn't smell unpleasant by any means, but Sam grew a distinct lack of respect for any sort of alcoholic beverage after her uncle drank himself to death four years ago.
He looks down, and she immediately regrets her silly little outburst. Something is obviously not right, and here she is, throwing a damn tantrum like a spoiled little child.
Honestly. Someone should smack her.
"Okay. Okay... hey, Josh?" She crouches down, touching his arm gently. "Josh. What's wrong?"
"Wrong?" He looks back up, eyebrows knitting together in false confusion. "Nothing's wrong. Didn't you hear me? It's Christmas! Fucking Christmas, and it's... everyone's celebrating! I'm fucking celebrating, Sammy-bird, so c'mon! I'm just having... having fun, y'know? Getting drunk... by myself... in my room... fuck, I mean, isn't that what it's all about? 'Tis the season to be jolly', Sammy! So be jolly, right? Yes, Joshua, dear! Be jolly and happy and normal and..."
He blinks up at her, his eyes slowly focusing on her face.
"Sam? What're you... what are you doing up here? Everyone else is... having fun. You should have fun, Sammy."
"Not without you." She sits down beside him, gently removing the remaining bottles from his lap. He protests weakly, but doesn't make any sort of move to stop her when she pushes them out of his reach and takes his face in her hands, smiling softly at him.
"Not without you, Josh. Do you understand?"
His huge, green eyes - those damn eyes - look at her, and she can't breathe. It's like all the air has been sucked from the room, and he is so close it makes her heart thump like a sledgehammer in her chest.
It's not right.
It's not right.
This is Josh. This is her best friend's brother. He's a playboy, and a shameless flirt, and a freakin' serial dater, and... and...
Sam wants to throw herself in front of a bus for thinking this way about him. She promised herself when she left for the trip that she wouldn't give in to him. Everything she feels around him - the butterflies, the reddening of her cheeks, the intoxication at his mere presence - it's absolutely nothing she can't handle. It's just a stupid crush, right? It'll pass, and everything will return to normal.
It's okay. It's fine. He's cute, and you're a victim to your biology. That's all. There's absolutely no reason to panic.
"Josh... let's go back downstairs, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure," he slurs, making a half-hearted attempt at getting up, but all he manages to do is partially crawl himself up into a semi-standing position before crashing into her, knocking the breath from her lungs in the process.
Sweet baby Jesus he's heavy! Sam thinks, desperately trying to lift the both of them off the floor and failing spectacularly. Why, oh why does she have to be such a tiny, useless little midget person!? This would be so much easier if Mike were here, or Chris, or even Matt! But nooo, every single one of them had to bail on everyone because they all had to attend some sort of family-related Christmas event.
"Okay. We can do this. On 'three,' okay? You ready?"
Josh nods, though Sam isn't even sure he actually knows what they're about to do.
"One..." She braces herself, tightening her grip on him. "Two..." His arm snakes around her waist, and her breath hitches in her throat for a short moment before she manages to compose herself enough to get back on track.
She pulls, and he pushes. Together they manage to get up on their feet, though Josh has to lean heavily on her to keep his balance. Jesus Christ, how much eggnog did this boy consume to achieve such a massive state of absolute uselessness?!
He looks down at her, and her mouth goes dry. How does anyone even talk to their crush!? How is it done? What is the formula? Honestly. How can she possibly be expected to function normally with those deep, unreadable eyes - those goddamn eyes - staring into hers like she's the only thing keeping him earthbound?
No. Nope. I'm not crushing on him.
"Hey there, Sammy," he whispers. "Sammy.... Sam-Sam-Sammy-bird... small and plucky."
Sam shakes her head, but despite herself she feels a reluctant smile tug at the corners of her mouth. He's annoyingly adorable, even when she has literally no idea what he's babbling about... which is just about ninety-five percent of the time.
"What are you even talking about, you weirdo?"
Josh doesn't reply. He's staring intently at something above her head, a tiny smirk etching its way onto his chapped lips. She tilts her head past his shoulder to see what he's looking at, but he grabs her face to stop her before she can satisfy her growing curiosity.
Those mesmerizing, unreadable eyes capture her own, holding her gaze with a focused intensity she did not expect from such an intoxicated individual. He leans down, his fingertips sliding softly over her skin as he brushes a few wayward strands of her hair behind her ear, his eyes never leaving hers. Her heart feels like it's about to break out of her chest, and she's entirely forgotten how to speak.
"Hey! Bad Josh! BAD! Release her at once, you hormone-driven ape!" Beth yells, her feet pounding against the staircase as she storms towards them, forcefully yanking Sam away from her brother. He sways, his balance immediately worsening as his one and only support is literally taken away from him, and he curses loudly when he goes down like a sack of drunken potatoes.
"Fucking... ow," he mutters, grabbing for the railing to pull himself back up.
"What are... you're drunk, you asshole! So that's that happened to the eggnog, huh? You decided to start the party early?"
"Beth... come on," Sam tells her, keeping her composure while she tries to figure out a way to keep things from escalating. "We can make more, it's no problem. It'll take fifteen minutes! Twenty, tops. Besides, there's still one and a half bottles left, and the party doesn't even start for another two hours. It's plenty of time to get everything set up, so let's just... not start anything, okay? Please?"
The youngest Washington-twin looks at her for a long time, and Sam can practically see the conflicting emotions playing out behind those dark eyes. On one hand, she doesn't want to make a scene because despite being quite the scrapper, she's no drama queen. On the other hand, she's annoyed with her brother for his blatant disregard of anything even remotely party-related, and she's itching to tell him exactly where he can stick that half-empty bottle of eggnog.
Finally, her shoulders drop. It's like the fight is slowly draining out of her, and Sam breathes a sigh of relief.
"Fine," Beth agrees grumpily, taking the rest of the liquor before turning on her heel and stomping back downstairs where Hannah is still waiting for her, wringing her hands and muttering quietly to herself about "deadlines" and "time tables", sounding more than a little insane. She brightens considerably when her sister raises the bottles in the air for her to see, but she immediately zooms in on the dramatically increased contents.
"Don't worry about it," Beth says, patting her head in a comforting manner. "We'll go straight to the kitchen and make some more. It... it spilled. Tipped over in the fridge. It'll be fine, alright? We'll make a new batch, an even better one, so come on."
Seriously, Sam thinks as she follows the twins with her eyes. Sometimes I wonder which one of them is the oldest. She shakes her head and turns back to Josh, still clinging to the railing for dear life.
"Here, hold onto me. I'll get you downstairs," she coaxes him, smiling encouragingly. Her heart skips a beat when his fingers interlace with her own, but she ignores it and helps him back up, laughing good-naturedly when he staggers around for a bit before regaining his footing. He looks at her, a teasing smirk playing on his lips when he bends down and kisses her.
It happens so fast - so unexpectedly - all she can do is stare at him with wide eyes.
"Mistletoe," he says, grinning smugly at her stunned expression. She blinks up at him, temporarily unable to understand the English language until it finally dawns on her.
Mistletoe. Of course.
As they're walking down the stairs - his arms wrapped firmly around her shoulders and hers around his waist to keep him from falling - she both curses and blesses those tiny, green assholes simultaneously.
Well played, you prickly bastards.
you've always loved the strange birds
now I want to fly into your world
I want to be heard
my wounded wing's still beating
you've always loved the stranger inside
oh little ghost
you see the pain
so take my hand and perfectly
we fill the gaps
you and me make three
I was meant for you
and you for me
Ow... ow... ow...
Sam opens her eyes, blinking rapidly for a few moments. It's cold, and her entire body feels like it's been shoved through a meat grinder after being chewed up and spit out by fifteen ravenous cannibals, and then thrown into a pit to be trampled by wild animals until not even one single tiny fingernail remained intact. Long story short:
She's freakin' miserable.
"God..." she mumbles, rubbing the back of her head as she manipulates some warmth back into her frozen, aching joints. "I haven't been this sore since I climbed my first real mountain in the seventh grade..."
That was an experience.
"Okay, Sam. Another day in the glorious hell that is Blackwood. Joy of joys." The lack of enthusiasm in her voice makes her chuckle, but even that sounds hollow and dead in the confined space of her tiny, rocky refuge. The mattress of old newspapers helped a little against the cold, but it wasn't exactly soft, so hopefully she won't have to come back here to spend another night in here.
Still, she's not ungrateful. Spending the night out there would've been absolute suicide, and the last time she checked; being dead considerably lessened her chances of finding the oldest Washington-sibling.
"Am I crazy for thinking you're still alive, Josh?" she whispers into the darkness, expecting no answer.
She's not disappointed.
Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I'm absolutely insane for believing I can still save him, but I don't care anymore. Even if I'm too late... even if Josh really is dead... nothing can be worse than not knowing. If he's dead, then the world can't hurt him anymore.
Nothing can hurt him anymore.
The elastic band holds her headlight snugly in place as she quickly and expertly re-folds her blanket and puts it in her backpack, grabbing a handful of bandages in the process.
Gotta patch myself up a bit, otherwise I'll smell like a damn five-course meal to these freaks. Of course, this entire mountain smells like a freakin' slaughterhouse, but on the off-chance that I happen to run across a bunch of them... if I'm unlucky enough to meet a whole pack then I'm probably dead anyway, but if it's just one or two... well... She tightens the bandages around her torso, zipping her jacket back up and doing the same thing to her leg before fastening her backpack securely with every safety strap she can find.
Anything can happen down here, but if she loses her only supplies then she won't stand even a tiny sliver of a chance against anything this mountain can throw at her. She'll be open - exposed - and even if she manages to get away somehow, there's no way she'll be able to make it back up the mine shaft without her climbing gear.
That backpack is quite literally the only thing standing between her and certain death.
"Well, isn't that lovely," she mutters, checking herself over one last time before entering the tiny gap, pausing only to listen for potential danger outside of her little refuge.
Okay, what are the chances Josh is standing right outside this crack, safe and sound, just waiting to throw himself into my arms? The very thought is enough to make her chuckle, and she has to remind herself to shut the hell up before she gives away her own damn position.
Still, it's a funny scenario.
Josh would never stand around like some damsel in distress waiting to be rescued, and he definitely wouldn't throw himself at anyone out of pure desperation - well, not in the literal sense, anyway - no matter how dire the circumstances were.
Well. It doesn't sound like anybody out there wants to skin me alive and grind my bones to make their bread... Slinking out of her hidey-hole, Sam does a quick sweep with her headlight to make sure no cannibalistic creepers are hiding in the shadows, waiting to jump out at her as soon as she turns her back on them. From previous experience she knows that their eyes reflect light sources, similar to other predators, so all she needs is one telltale flash of white somewhere between the rocks and she's outta there.
It's safe. For now. But she also knows from previous experience that it can change at the drop of a pin, so it's best not to linger for too long in one place.
Right. Let's be strategic about this. Walking around willy-nilly isn't going to work, and I can't waste any time. Who knows what this glorified lump of cursed rock is plotting next, and I really need to find Josh. He's been alone down here for far too long already, and I'm getting so close.
I can feel it.
Honestly. Why else would Blackwood sic its mutated attack-dogs at her so early on? Not even twenty-four hours after her initial arrival at the mountain?
Am I seriously trying to rationalize the actions of an ancient lump of rock hellbent on destroying me? Sam thinks, shaking her head in utter resignation. The day I can actually understand the inner workings of a pissed off Native American spirit will be the very same day I check myself into a freakin' mental hospital, because surely that would mean I finally lost every single one of my marbles... She snickers, though the situation isn't really humorous.
"If I'm lucky, I'll be as crazy as you, Josh."
She keeps walking, pausing every now and then so she can listen to her surroundings. There's nothing noteworthy happening, except for a steady drip, drip, drip from all the various cracks in the ceiling and walls. Hopefully that means there's a few clean water sources around here, though that's gonna have to be a second priority.
Sam freezes immediately, her feet glued to the spot with nothing but tensions as her ears strain to listen. Did she really hear that, or was it just her asshole mind playing tricks on her again? It hadn't done that in a while, but she has a sneaking suspicion that Blackwood had something to do with her hallucinations and her nightmares - puppeteering her from a distance to make sure she was too fragile, too weak and too scared to pose any real threat.
But not anymore.
I'm not scared of you, she thinks, setting her jaw as she pushes forward. The whispering grows louder, and now the words are unmistakable:
"I'll be as crazy..." "... if I'm lucky..." "... crazy as you..." "... Josh..."
"... Josh..." "... crazy..." "... Josh..."
Stop it, she wants to scream. Stop it now! Pressing her hands against her ears she keeps walking, her teeth grinding together so hard it gives her a headache. The whispering grows into a cacophony of screams, echoing around her and above her and below her all at once.
Not real. It's not real. It's not real. It's just another dirty trick.
Then it stops.
She lowers her hands reluctantly, wide eyes staring into the darkness. The silence is almost deafening now, and after being exposed to such an explosion of sound, the lack of it is even worse.
Okay. Yeah, okay. Your point, Blackwood. That was... marginally unsettling.
But you also showed your cards.
Picking up her pace, she carries on. The voices left her on edge, and there's definitely more supernatural crap coming her way, but that doesn't matter. She's more sure than ever that she's on the right track, and even though she's only been down here once - nightmares not withstanding - she recognizes part of the mines. Not a lot, not yet, but enough.
Then she sees the door.
That's where I found Mike, she realizes, the memory of her friend fighting off a bloodthirsty Wendigo playing like a movie in her head.
The door to the sanatorium. God, it feels like a lifetime ago, and in a way - it sort of is. They were different people back then, and remembering how much she used to absolutely hate everything about him; from the easy, confident smirk and obnoxious 'I can have anything and anyone I want'-attitude to the way he wore his freakin' hair makes her smile.
Who would've thought Michael Munroe - class president and self-declared sex god - would turn out to be one of the kindest, bravest people I've ever met. Shows how much going through literal hell can change a person, I guess.
They should teach that shit in reform school.
"Hello..." she whispers, narrowing her eyes. "What do we have here..."
The double-barreled shotgun Mike used to block the door is still there, a bit rusty-looking but no worse for wear. Yanking it free, she checks it over. Would it be too much to hope for that it's still loaded?
Cracking the barrel, she checks the ammunition.
Score. Thank you very much, Michael. You're an absolute idiot for leaving this here, but I'm so glad you did, she thinks, smiling as she throws it over her shoulder and grimaces for a bit when it settles over a particularly nasty bruise. It's uncomfortable as all hell, and not the most practical thing to have on your back when you might have to, y'know, run for your damn life, but whatever.
It's still a weapon.
Continuing on the same path they followed the year before, her heart beats loudly in her chest. Josh feels so close now, but whether or not it's just wishful thinking is unclear. Sure, this is how they found him back then, but what were the chances of him being in the same place, rambling about decaying faces and talking to absolutely nobody?
That'd be way too easy. But then again...
I could use something easy right about now.
I'm buried alone
I'm buried alive
I should have known
I should have tried
here lies the one
who couldn't survive