Chapter 1: just before we got lost
I promise I did not abandon Strange Encounters , I've just been having a hectic life this past year filled with ups and downs.
So yeah welcome to the demon that's been consuming me for the past couple of months, because there's no Frank/Jeff content out there and honestly? An outrage.
Many thanks to my bootiful incredibly shit idiot baby, eymelee for constantly being my rock, beta reader and the muse fueling the raging fire consuming me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Oh shit,” Frank whispered to nobody in particular.
As he hooked the last survivor, hovering around for the Entity to claim its last victim, it dawned on him why this bearded guy seemed so familiar. The victim himself was currently giving his very last best efforts in staving off the inevitable, his intense expression faltering as Frank’s mask inched closer to his face.
“Oh fuck,” were the last, and probably the first words Jeff had heard in any trial before the Entity claimed his confused soul.
Outside of trials, Frank had all the time to do anything his nasty little heart desired, as long as it conformed to some weird unspoken rules the Entity established; rules meant to be discovered at one’s own expense. One such example was not invading the survivor’s camp, which made sense - the one place where they could get some solace outside trials would suck if it were constantly bombarded by a bunch of homicidal maniacs. Killers had the equivalent of the realms they were brought with, to loiter around outside trials, but it wasn’t uncommon for them to leave and wander around - in the same way how it wasn’t uncommon for survivors to do the same whenever they needed to scavenge something.
So Frank sits, crouched low by the trunk of a tree where he knows he won’t be easily seen. His eyes are fixated on the faint glow of the survivor’s campfire, its embers visible from between the trees. He's not close enough to discern their faces or hear their conversations, but Frank can tell them apart from their silhouettes. There’s quite a bunch of them present at the fire, the number thinning the more he waits in the shadows: a group of girls and some older guy leave together; two groups of four look like they’re prepping for a trial; a guy’s been lying by the fire for some time, undisturbed, probably asleep, as someone seems to be crafting something opposite of him.
He perks up when he spots a familiar, burly figure among the others, stare more intent as his eyes follow his guy’s every movement. Frank’s disappointed when he seems to settle at the campfire, though the killer doesn’t really know what he expected - from what he has gathered, being a survivor seemed pretty dull. Frank pulls out his hunting knife and begins idly carving miss matched patterns into the tree, occasionally sparing glances at the campfire.
Hazy memories play behind his vacant gaze, trying to recall more details about the person he’s been stalking since his last trial. The guy he has hooked the previous trial looks like someone from his past, back when petty vandalism was the most exciting thing he could rope his gang into. It feels like ages since they have become The Legion, yet he still fondly remembers the mural in the Chalet, as it came to life before his eyes.
A smile tugs at the corners of his lips as Frank looks back fondly towards the campfire.
“Shit!” He barely looked away for a minute, where did the fucker go?!
It’s only eight trials later when Frank gets matched against him again. He’s vibrating with excitement as he runs the poor man around the map, the survivor visibly confused when the masked man only nicks him with his blade and then sprints away giddily.
Jeff has given up on being altruistic or trying to distract the killer away from his teammates, as the Legion member only briefly pursues him, before relentlessly targeting his allies again - so he resigns himself to generator duty, occasionally joined by Quentin after which they’re both briefly chased away.
The match drags on at an excruciatingly slow pace and by the time Jeff finishes the last generator, Quentin is hooked for the second time. In addition to being the last two people alive, Jeff currently finds himself in the most awkward position as his teammate struggles for his life on the opposite side of the map, by the so-called office building. They know that Baker nicknamed this area ‘Azarov’s Resting Place’, the reason lost to them a long time ago. Instead they’ve come to call it the office map for the white, proper-looking building found here - and maybe for that one time Meg pretended she was working in a fancy office while refusing to let anyone else scavenge there.
There’s an exit door behind him, the second one on the far left wall on the other half of the realm. Jeff starts making his way towards Quentin, but his teammate stops struggling; by the time Jeff reaches one of the idle crushers found on the map, he’s gone. The artist feels a little guilty for his inability to save his teammate, but he won’t let his friend’s sacrifice go to waste. Heading back towards the exit gate, he starts opening the door. A quarter into the process he can feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and, sparing a glance behind, Jeff feels his heart drop.
The Legion was sprinting towards him, body hunched and knife held up threateningly.
Jeff quickly averts his eyes back to the door handle as his breaths come out in quick succession. The door’s horn rings at the same time as he hears the Legion’s grunts of pain, which no doubt come out of their feral frenzy. Perhaps if Jeff’s mind wasn’t chanting a mantra of ‘come on, come on, come on,’ he would have heard the killer grunt out a muffled ‘wait’ as they were coming out of their craze.
As a third and final red light comes on the door, Jeff is so close to getting out that he can taste the sweet escape.
However, he fails to keep tabs on his assailant up until a hand violently lurches his wrist upwards together with the lever he’s been holding. Jeff freezes the second he feels the heat of the killer’s body engulfing his backside. Before he can wrench his body away, another hand slams on the other side of his head, effectively trapping him in place.
“This is it,” he thinks: you win some, you lose some. He was so close to leaving too, maybe he should have just looked for the hatch after Quentin let go. He’s not even upset about it, and accepts that sometimes the outcome is not going to be what he wanted. Jeff expects to be hauled back and carried over to a hook, so he simply allows himself to reflect back on the trial. The presence at his back moves, the sound of leather shifting brings Jeff back to the present, making him aware that his assailant hasn’t left, but in fact crept closer into his personal space. He anxiously turns his head around to look, nearly jerking back when he’s greeted by the mask of the killer, close enough to give him a bloody kiss. The Legion’s just staring at them. Jeff can’t do anything but stare back anxiously, unnerved by every tilt of their head and rise of their chest.
“I know you.”
Out of all the things that could happen, hearing the Legion - a killer - speak was definitely not something he would have expected, let alone claiming that they personally knew him. Jeff can’t help but stare incredulously at the figure, something in his stare must have been amusing enough to make the other snort. Thankfully, the masked killer backs away to give him some room to breathe, opting to casually slide in a comfortable pose by leaning their weight onto their side. As they stare at Jeff with a slight tilt of their head, they take the opportunity to further inspect him.
Physically, the longed-hair survivor looks a lot like Frank remembers him: same dark eyes and hair, maybe slightly bulkier but around the same height; he can’t recall whether the scar was there before but the killer thinks that it wouldn’t matter that much, this guy could still turn out to be someone different. He’s not too bothered though, if he turns out to be somebody else, well, he’ll proceed with the standard trial, business as usual and his curiosity sated.
“You’re from-” Frank grunts, clearing his throat, the act alone dissipating some of the tension hanging in the air. “You’re from Ormond, right?”
Jeff eventually nods apprehensively.
“Cat got your tongue? Relax, I just want to talk, I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die, eh?” the man snickers, mock crossing a finger over his chest.
Jeff raises an eyebrow doubtfully. “Sure,” he says, his own voice sounding foreign to him. “What do you need from me?”
Satisfied with his cooperation, Frank parts his jacket and sheathes his blade in an inner pocket. Not exactly safe, Jeff thinks, though nevertheless it’s none of his business.
“I can’t believe I’m asking this but do you like drawing? Don’t look at me like that!” he quickly adds when he notices the other’s quizzical expression. “You know, like, drawing things and stuff, not like colouring and shit,” he adds in a rush. His hand itches to grab the knife and inflict pain, sure that the other would laugh or blindly agree for the sake of appeasing him. Maybe Jeff feels the man tense up, for he feels his nerves acts up as well.
“No worries, I know what you mean,” he blurts out, hoping to reassure the killer, ”I do actually, why do you ask?”
“Did a guy ever ask you to draw a mural for him? Tall guy, handsome devil?” Frank adds cheekily, watching Jeff’s expressions shift progressively faster.
“Uh, I think so? A long time ago?” He squints, a hand coming up to rub at his beard in thought. “How do you know though?”
Holy shit, Frank thinks. Without even realising, the lanky man lifts his mask up, a baffled expression forming on Jeff’s face, mirroring his. He watches, a shit eating grin spreading across his features, as the other’s own undergoes a myriad of emotions: bewilderment, realisation, dumbfoundment; Jeff’s eyes widen and his mouth forms into a massive ‘Oh!’.
“It’s you!” He eventually sputters out, pointing an accusatory finger at Frank, whom laughs and points his own index fingers at himself.
yell at me to write, you can find me here
thanks for taking the time to read, i hope you enjoy the journey
Chapter 2: i am as constant as the Northern Star
They reach sort of an agreement; Frank teases him with promises of more information about their hometown if in turn, he agrees to meet him outside of trials for a couple of hours. It turns out that they’re both equally desperate to discover what changes have occurred in the world in their absence. So Jeff accepts, he figures he has nothing left to lose. Moreover he would finally sate the yearning in his soul, the desire to reconnect with his past.
Just like before, Frank waits in the safety of the treeline from where he can easily see the campfire. He hasn’t been waiting for long and thankfully he doesn’t have to any longer either as he spots his current obsession arriving at the campfire. Jeff hangs around the fire for a bit, but seeing how most of the survivors have been arguing which desserts were better than others - an argument stemming from Dwight, who had the unfortunate luck of mentioning how much he missed chocolate ice cream in the presence of David, whom in turn mentioned how he could kill a man for flapjack, further escalating the situation when he began defending his questionable taste in sweets when further prodded about it. He quietly makes his exit before he can be roped into the sweets debate. Far enough from the campfire where the bickering becomes muted background noise, Jeff allows himself to relax, his hands come up to rub at his tired face and he sighs in content.
“Hey,” came a voice from the darkness.
Jeff lets out a very undignified yelp at the sudden noise in his vicinity, flinching away from the possible danger. He sighs however, when said danger turns out to be the man he faced two trials ago, now audibly having fun at his expense. A smile forms on his own lips, soon enough laughter bubbles and rumbles in his chest until they both settle into a comfortable silence.
“Walk with me,” The Legionnaire commands and without waiting for an answer, disappears into the shadows. Jeff spares one last glance at the campfire, before he abandons its safety in favour of the uncertainty of the woods. A waxing moon poorly lights their path, their surroundings buzz with life both from the campfires and other activities. A closer look to his left as they pass by a glade might reveal to Jeff a shack, where inside a trio warms themselves together, one talking animatedly about recent endeavours. If he were to stray from his guide and head to his right, he might stumble upon the ruins of an ancient temple, a living monument of a by-gone time where a priestess unendingly lights censers and prays. Vigilantly though, he follows his guide to their destination: a forgotten corner of the woods where a campfire lay among moss covered logs, long since extinguished. A myriad of questions swarm through Jeff’s head in regards to the campfire alone, however he suppresses them for now, focusing instead on the man a few feet away from him, studying him intently.
He’s never been one for socialising, but there he was giving it a shot nonetheless.
“So, hello,” Jeff clears his throat, “my name is Jeffrey, but everyone calls me just Jeff.”
Confidently, he extends his hand in an offer to shake the other’s but when he’s met with nothing but tense silence, he brings it back to nervously rub his arm. “Sorry. It’s been awhile since I’ve formally had to talk to someone, and even longer since we’ve last spoke so I can’t remember what your name was.” His eyes stare at the mask, focusing on the only visible bloodied eyehole.
He finds the man’s current attire more unsettling than usual; it’s nothing out of the ordinary per-se, but something about the simplicity of someone wearing a varsity jacket paired with that mask is a bit unnerving. The mask itself is bloodied on one half, a wicked smile spreading to the right side beneath a crimson eye. Yeah it’s definitely the mask, Jeff reasons in his mind, somehow blaming his nerves on it rather than the presence of the killer.
“Frank,” The Legion member speaks, settling down on one side of the log circle.
“Frank,” Jeff repeats in wonder, memories coming back to him vividly now at the mention of the name. “I remember now! You were the kid that kept coming every week to the blockbuster,” he adds, taking a seat opposite of Frank.
Frank can’t help chuckling as he himself recalls those times.
“I’m going to be honest with you man, you were the only reason why that place kept staying open,” Jeff recalls fondly, “I remember after a month, you finished renting out most of our horror collection.”
“Ah, yes.” The other adds, adopting a more relaxed position by fitting their hands in the pockets of their jacket. “I started renting out shitty action movies until the store brought in other horror flicks.”
Jeff laughs as he remembers the nights he used to spend at the end of the month, calling other stores in neighbouring cities and requesting everything down to the classics. “Remember how many times you loaned The Thing?”
“God fuck yeah!” Frank starts excitedly, making the other laugh in the process. “Fuck, I remember renting that so many times. It was so bad, yet so good at the same time. Do you remember the dog scene? It was so disgusting but holy fuck was it the coolest thing I’ve ever watched at the time.”
Jeff laughs at the killer’s contagious excitement, feeling himself become more giddy.
“Did you know that for the part where the Thing is Norris and chomps down Copper’s arms, they used a guy that didn’t have arms and they gave him fake arms made of wax and filled with Jell-o? Like how cool is that?!”
“Actually,” Jeff adds in sheepishly when Frank settles down a bit, “I’ve never watched The Thing ?”
“No...” Frank gasps dramatically. “I can’t believe it.”
“I’m sorry! I thought it was cool but I just couldn’t bring myself to sit through all of it by myself.”
“You are not leaving this place until you get the full gory details of The Thing.” Frank gets up and surprising Jeff, takes a seat on the log adjacent to his to begin animatedly narrating the movie.
Jeff finds himself completely absorbed by the other’s story as he listens attentively, sneaking in questions when the other stops to catch his breath. There’s a smile glued to his face throughout the whole ordeal.
It’s only after sitting through four other synopses - given by Frank - that Jeff feels the call to a trial; a pressure building and buzzing at the back of his head that steadily gets painfully impossible to ignore. With genuine sorrow he excuses himself and Frank suddenly turns cold, all the previous excitement vanishing, moreover replaced by tension. But his shoulders seem to loosen a little when Jeff explains that he’s being called to a trial, perhaps understanding that it’s beyond either of their control. Thus Franks nods and they both settle to meet back here once every couple of trials, though Jeff is still skeptic about it, even with Frank’s reassurances that ‘he’ll know when to go’.
“So what did you end up doing after the blockbuster?”
Jeff hums in thought and leans back from his previously hunched position, stretching along the way. They’ve been playing marbles - or rather a makeshift form of the game with pebbles they’ve gathered from around their campfire - for a while now, both talking about random bits and pieces, trials they’ve faced since their last meeting or reminiscing about things from their childhood.
“You stopped working there a few months after you did our mural. Did we scare you off?” Frank says with some degree of disdain in his voice.
“Nah, I moved away to Winkler with my mom.”
“Where the fuck is Winkler?”
Frank scoffs in mock disgust. “Why the fuck would you move there?”
“Wouldn’t have been my first choice if I had a say in it,” a nervous smile spreads on Jeff’s face. He sighs and continues, “my parents had increasingly worse fights and arguments, until eventually they divorced and I had to move away with my mom. It sucked. For a very long time.”
Perhaps a small part of Frank feels like an absolute idiot for being such a condescending dickhead, but he’s too stubborn to take back anything he’s said. So instead, he opts to stay silent, nodding his head to signal his acknowledgement and perhaps interest, for Jeff takes it as a cue to slowly unravel his life story.
“I had to finish the last years of highschool being the ‘new’ guy somewhere I didn’t want to move in the first place. It was shit. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a lot of friends to begin with back home either, but at least I knew places, there were so many spots in Ormond I loved hiking in order to sit and draw or listen to music, you know?”
The killer watches as Jeff wrings his hands, wrought with nerves.
“I hated my mother for the longest time. I used to blame her for every inconvenience: missing my father, missing home, feeling isolated, lonely, you name it. I was angry all the time but thankfully, music and art were my solace, and I managed to pull through and change around.”
“I remember your sketchbook, back at the blockbuster. I’ve always liked your style.” Frank genuinely says, intending to relieve some of the tension. His heart does a somersault when he sees a warm smile light Jeffs’ eyes, a modest ‘thank you’ spoken back to him; he is unbelievably thankful that he’s wearing his mask on to hide his burning cheeks. “Continue,” he queues, clearing his throat.
“Well, uh, after I graduated high school I found work at this bar that used to do live music shows. All these small bands would come to play to get recognition, you know. I used to bartender there and in the breaks between shows or when hours weren’t so busy, I used to sketch out things for the bands playing.”
“Like the lyrics to songs?”
“Yeah!” Jeff nods enthusiastically. “One of the band members of a group playing at the time noticed my scribblings one night at the bar and, well-” Jeff straightens up to further open his jacket, providing Frank with a better view of his shirt. “They liked it so much that they asked me to do an official logo for their band,” he beams with a bit of pride.
“Impressive,” Frank can’t help but answer with a slow clap. “Though I’m not really surprised,'' he adds.
“How come?” Jeff asks, confusion in his tone.
“Dude are you kidding me? Your sketches back then were hella fly, of course they’d love your shit,” he states smugly, watching with great satisfaction as Jeff blubbers embarrassed, unable to contain the smile spreading across his face. “What band was it?”
“They’re called In The Shadow of Death, they started out as a death metal band but I think they shifted more towards melodic metal in the last few years.”
“Ah. Never heard of them,” Frank shrugs. “What other things you listen to?”
“Well, anything really. I enjoy most genres like rock, alternative, but metal in general is my favourite: death, black, heavy, nu-metal, whichever. Last thing I was listening to was this doom-funeral metal band called Shape of Despair and the screamo in combination with the opera and the rhythm were incredible,” Jeff rambles on excitedly.
“Doom-funeral metal? Sounds like something Julie would listen to. She’s one of the other members, if you remember,” Frank elaborates when Jeff looks at him unsure, “the one with the resting bitch face. Might be a bit of a bitch too, but she aiight.”
“Ah,” Jeff nods slowly, though he feels a bit unsure how to respond in regards to the other members of the Legion. Maybe Frank senses his hesitance, or maybe all the talk about music got him in a good mood, for the next thing he knows, the killer is reaching inside his bloodstained jacket rummaging for none other than his cassette player.
“No way!” Jeff says in pure excitement upon seeing it. “I haven’t seen a Walkman in years, holy shit! What have you got on it?”
“Oh you know. A little bit of Megadeth, a little bit of Death, Pantera.”
“Oh man, how did it that one song go,” Jeff says, face scrunched up in deep thought, desperately trying to remember. “Wrong... something... far too long...”
Suddenly, Frank springs to his feet, fists clenched tightly enough to have Jeff worrying whether their meeting is over - the worst about to happen. But instead, Frank’s boot starts rhythmically beating on the dirt, his body moving to an unheard beat.
I've been wrong for far too long
Been constantly so frustrated
I've moved mountains with less
When I channel my hate to productive
I don't find it hard to impress
Frank sings - although a little off pitch - with a vigour and confidence he himself forgot he possessed. Halfway through the lyrics a second voice joins his, hesitant at first but growing in volume. His body slows down, heartbeat picking up as he listens to the deep voice hitting all the right notes. Frank’s eyes are glued to the other’s face, completely enthralled by their hypnotising movements and expressions.
Frenzied by the same energy that seems to be haunting Jeff, Frank forgets any ulterior motives he was working towards or appearances he was putting up to enrapture his victim, instead joining his companion in headbanging and dancing to tunes only known to them.
They sing all the songs they know, all the songs they grew up with. Loud enough to scare any ones who may be lurking nearby; loud enough to wake the dead and stir unspoken entities in the dark.
They sing until they’re hoarse, until breathing alone is challenge enough, until they’re forced to separate.
Chapter 3: in my head it's like hell
Trigger warning for blood and gore.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The harsh percussions of Symbolic drum painfully against his eardrums, but the loud volume has become bearable after years of constant phonic abuse. It is the fifth time Frank has listened to his best mixtape back to back and if he has to listen to it one more time, he swears he’s going to smash the stupid walkman to pieces. He feels like an idiot - he probably looks like one too, waiting around like some gullible school girl who’s been played by the high school jock into believing she stood a chance. Like some piece of meat would ever be worth wasting his time on - why did he ever think reconnecting with his shitty ass past would be a good idea? The only good thing to ever come out of it was meeting the gang, and even then he still found a way to fuck things over for them.
In pent up anger, Frank kicks one of the logs laying around the forgotten campfire, a scream of pure unadulterated rage ripping free from his throat; the force is enough to send the log rolling to the edge of the clearing, revealing a bed of moss and… flowers?
He’s overcome with an intense urge to stomp onto them, destroy anything that dares to look nice in this shithole, but - he doesn’t. A heavy sigh escapes his flared nostrils as he attempts to calm down. ‘Breathe in, breathe out’. The way Jules used to tell him when his step-dickhead-dad would beat him up for standing up to his drunken shit; when he’d recede to his dark place and scream until he couldn’t breathe anymore.
Squatting down, he pulls the headphones off and pauses the tape, discarding it a few feet away from the scene of his recent tantrum.
Somewhere from some dark forgotten corner of his mind, he recalls it. He couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. It was meant to be his birthday the following week, before he fucked up the neighbour’s stupid kid for mocking him at his own first - and last - party; before he got sent back to the foster home that same night with tears in his eyes and one of the last genuine times he was ever sorry for what he’d done.
The woman - Cara? Caroline? - she loved everything. He remembers the gardens, the flowers she’d diligently care for every day, the potted plants and the nearby woods she took him to, in the brief time they’ve been a family. Was it Amesdale or Alcona? It was the farthest he’d ever been from home. ‘Home is where you’re loved,’ she used to say. He remembers how hard she cried as they took him away - did she love him?
“We call them Quaker Ladies because they look like these funny looking hats women used to wear a very long long time ago! Here, come closer, see the blue coloring? They also come in this beautiful white! Would you like to touch them?”
A whimper escapes his lips.
He furiously wrings his mask to the side to wipe off his eyes however, all he succeeds in doing is further smearing the dirt and grime all over his face. His hand settles over his mouth, gripping painfully as he deliberates what to do. Frank figures he will give him one last chance, check their campfire one more time, if he still doesn’t find him there after waiting for so long, well, there’s plenty of ways to make someone regret having ever been born.
With the mask in place and the walkman once again back in his pocket, he heads out into the woods.
Out of the corner of his eye, not far away from their meeting place, he sees a familiar hefty figure slowly emerging from a thicket of trees, donning his signature outfit. Frank turns on his heel, refusing to meet the other’s gaze, already mouthing expletives as he crosses the distance between them to fist a handful of the survivor’s jacket, but he recoils once feeling the sticky fabric around his fingers. It’s there upon looking at his fingers - the viscous blood staining his dirtied bandaged hands - when he realises that Jeff wasn’t coming from the direction of his campfire. Frank follows the trail upwards from his own fingers and his eyes finally notice the tears in the jacket and subsequently in the flesh; deep wounds seem to split the man’s torso in half, the gashes oozing with blood. Everything seems to slow down, a feeling of nauseating trepidation washing over him; when his eyes manage to settle on the man’s face, Frank feels like he’s been clubbed across the head.
“What the fuck happened?!” He yells and Jeff recoils, stumbling backwards off balance. The grip he has on the man tightens but it isn’t out of anger anymore, he’s overcome with dread and a wave of panic when his eyes land on the other’s features.
A massive gash splits down Jeff’s face, the flesh raw and bleeding. In horror, he realises that he can’t fully discern much of the other’s features: flesh hangs loosely from where the face was sectioned; his breaths come out raggedly as the man struggles to breathe in his grip, each inhale wheezing past the mutilated lips; the stark contrast of Jeff’s split skull - the white bone glaringly standing out among the red mess - makes his stomach churn. Frank forces himself to look away as he’s overcome by the need to retch and get away, but a pair of hands weakly grab at his forearms and the killer snaps his head back to the dying man in front of him, who seems to be desperately trying to anchor himself in the world of the living.
“Woah woah, take it easy,” Frank’s voice softens.
His own hands slide to the other’s and he finds himself completely at a loss. What the fuck is he supposed to do? How is this man even walking around in this state? His mind is on fire as he takes in the situation. As Jeff seems to struggle standing up, Frank slowly helps bring the man to a sitting position, though given the weakened state of the other he nearly topples over when Jeff collapses halfway through the process. Curse words flow freely from his mouth as he unceremoniously falls down to his knees next to the hunched man. His hands hover around Jeff’s frame, hesitant to touch, as if he might harm him and bring more pain than what he’s already experiencing.
In his state of panic and uncertainty, Frank fails to notice how the wounds on the other’s chest have stopped bleeding, the gashes seemingly mere shallow cuts now. It is upon hearing the hoarsest of grunts leaving Jeff’s lips that Frank becomes aware of the man's clearer, although still strained breathing.
Hesitantly, his hands rest on the survivor's shoulders, giving the slightest of shakes in order to get Jeff’s attention, and when Jeff seems to finally be able to lift his head up to look at him, Frank feels like he’s being played by some unseen force.
He can’t help the confused what the fuck leaving his lips, it’s all he can really muster as he dumbfoundedly stares at Jeff’s nearly healed face.
Slowly, the wound on Jeff’s face heals - the flesh mending and pulling back together by itself - until all that’s left is an angry red slash underneath dry and flaky dark specks of blood. Without realising his actions, Frank’s hand comes up to trace at the scar most visible upon the other’s forehead; Jeff's fingers come up shakingly, tracing down the length until they too rest upon his own forehead.
Perhaps it’s the worry from the recent scare making him act softer, for Frank’s fingers linger next to the other’s for more than necessary.
“What happened? Who did this to you?” Frank says, his skin already prickling with anger.
Jeff’s face scrunches up in pain, his hand coming up in an attempt to dismiss Frank’s desire to inflict violence. “It’s- it’s alright. It was just… bad trial,” Jeff reassures him with a voice almost unrecognisable, so meek and quiet that it only servers in further infuriating Frank. “My head is killing me.”
“Yeah no fucking shit it is?!” Frank bursts out, unable to contain himself anymore. To avoid taking out his anger on the vulnerable person in front of him, he gets up and begins a steady, sullen pace. “Man your head was split open like a fucking melon. I could see your skull, Jeff. You looked like- like-” Frank pauses, “like the fucking alien from Alien had a fucking go at you or you fucking died and turned into a zombie. For fucks sake, you even shambled out of the trees!” He yells, pointing at the trees from whence Jeff unceremoniously stumbled out of not too long ago.
Jeff would honestly laugh if he wasn’t in so much pain; what he does instead is grimace half in amusement and half from the pain. “Sorry,” he mumbles out “that bad, huh?” A groan escapes his bloodied lips, all the recent screaming having amplified his headache tenfold. “I’ll try to wait longer next time.”
Frank stares at him in confusion from behind the mask. “What do you mean you’ll try to wait longer? What, is this some common occurrance, you turning into a fucking zombie?”
Jeff lifts his head - eyes heavy with tiredness - to look nonplussed at Frank in turn. “Frank, I died last trial.”
Holy shit, Frank thinks to himself embarrassed, how am I so fucking stupid.
“I’m sorry, I know it must have looked really rough,” Jeff continues while Frank tries to process this new found information, “I usually end up crawling back to the campfire when I can, or just laying there until I don’t feel like I’m going to fall apart the second I get up. But I thought you might have been waiting for me earlier and I didn’t want to keep you there when you’ve probably been waiting for long enough,” he rambles on, the colour progressively returning to his face the more time passes.
Eventually Frank manages to mutter back an answer. “Shit man, is that what you all have to go through every trial?”
“Oh.. no, thankfully. It’s just when we die by the hands of, well, you guys,” a heavy sigh escapes him. “The hooks hurt but when the Entity takes you, you sort of wake up fully healed, minus a few memories and maybe feelings. It’s like you come back more apathetic, a part of you missing.”
Frank can’t really empathise with the other’s plight. He loves the work he does, succeeding most of the time but - even when he doesn’t, it’s different. He looks down at his bandaged hands, knowing that behind the rags lie open wounds, perpetually bleeding and maybe, he thinks, it could be worse. He could be Jeff.
“Dying is a whole different experience,” Jeff continues, “Sometimes, I wake up well after I’m healed back, sometimes I’m not so lucky. It’s sort of the same when we manage to escape but we’re injured. Minor to semi-major wounds we can treat by ourselves, but hook holes, mortal wounds, broken bones; they slowly mend back up after a while. You’re still left with the wicked scars though.” He adds lightheartedly amid the grim mood, but upon being met with silence back from the other party, he feels guilty; perhaps for dumping all this newfound information on his companion, or perhaps he feels he might have guilt tripped the other; he’s nonetheless sorry.
However, what Jeff perceives as offence, is in fact, sorrow. Why exactly, Frank’s unsure himself. Perhaps it is the fate they’ve been dealt, though Frank feels he deserved it for the rotten life he’s lead up to this point. But as he looks now at this man, downplaying his suffering to seem like a mere inconvenience, he’s struck with the realisation that he is truly, a selfish man.
“Look, I -” Jeff adds sheepishly and finally Frank seems to refocus back to him. ”I’m sorry if I might have upset you, that’s how things are here, I suppose, and there’s nothing we can do about it but persevere. I understand if I might have offended you, I’m not blaming you guys for what you gotta do. And I understand if-”
“Jeff,” Frank cuts him off, “don’t apologise, it’s-” alright? Okay? It really isn’t, it’s fucking shit. But what else is he supposed to say, nothing in this place is ever fucking fair. “Look, let me help you get back to your campfire, it’s the least I can do,” Frank offers his hand for Jeff to take and although a bit hesitant, the artist takes him up on the offer. Steadily the killer brings the man back up; Frank has to quickly catch Jeff from falling back down from the sudden vertigo setting in, so as an extra measure, he coils his arm around the other man’s elbow, whom in turn takes the cue and holds tightly onto his.
They fall into a slow and steady pace, the woods around them more silent than usual - perhaps its inhabitants occupied by their own trials and tribulations. Frank can’t shake the feeling of powerlessness, he feels utterly stupid that he isn’t prepared in any way to deal with a situation like the one he has just witnessed. If it were Julie, or Susie even, they would have done something for sure; fuck, even Joey would have probably offered to beat up whoever did this. His grip instinctively tightens around Jeff’s arm as another thought plagues him: what if something were to happen to the Legionnaires? He knows first hand what happens when he underperforms - the gravity of the wounds he suffers sometimes makes it impossible to hide them from his friends - he’d be powerless to help them. Frank slackens his grip at Jeff’s cry of discomfort, further prodding him with questions in hopes of coming up with solutions to any arising issues.
“Do you have supplies back in camp? You need anything?” he chimes in, nearly startling Jeff out of the daze he seems to be succumbing to.
“Yeah, we keep medkits back in camp. Some of us are first-aid trained so we have that extra bit of help too.”
“Is there going to be anyone that could take a look at you?” Frank asks with feigned concern, when in truth he’s sure that Jeff would manage by himself.
“Probably. Claudette usually looks over the wounded, but she was with me last trial. I doubt she’s in any state herself to look over others. She’s the short one, wears glasses and has the thick dark hair,” he elaborates immediately upon seeing Frank turn his head in question towards him. “Can we take a break please? My head is killing me.”
They stop on the path, the glow of the campfire a soft and inviting light in the distance, promising respite to all those who seek it. A crow takes off nearby, having Frank up and alert in an instant while Jeff catches his breath by a nearby tree - he deems the area clear after no further disturbances occur.
“So if Claudia- Claudette,” he repeats after Jeff, “so if she’s out cold too, who else is there?”
“Quentin’s pretty handy with medkits. I guess Adam and Bill are experienced too. But I’ll be fine, see,” he prods at his own chest, fingering the tears in the fabric of his shirt to reveal mostly dry blood and no more wounds, ”I’m basically all healed up, it’s just the headache giving me trouble,” Jeff flashes a smile and a thumbs-up, in turn precipitating a smile out of Frank - although without Jeff’s knowledge.
“Aight then, you know where to find me. I’ll be seeing you again soon, I hope.”
Frank takes his leave, placing his hands in the pockets of his jacket; before he can get out of earshot however, he hears someone calling out his name.
Partially turning, he glances back towards the campfire: Jeff waves at him, his body shadowed by the soft halo of the fire behind him.
“Thank you. For sticking out with me when I was doing bad. I appreciate it, Frank.”
There’s a long pause before Frank remembers to answer back, giving a curt nod and a hesitant wave in response to the man. A fire brews deep within his chest, warming his cold bones on his trip back to the resort.
He is teased relentlessly upon removing his mask back at the lodge, once Joey catches hint of his flushed cheeks.
Chapter 4: she knew your devils and your deeds
Just a small intermission, before a bigger chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Where have you been disappearing to lately, Frank?”
The man in question nearly chokes on the makeshift toothpick he fashioned himself out of some discarded wood. Julie regards him with a cold expression from the comfort of an old moldy arm chair, one of the few left intact with no springs to stab at your ass if you were unfortunate enough to sit without checking first.
Jesus Christ, he didn’t even notice her sitting there, he could have sworn she was out in a trial with the others. In fact, he asks her just that, but his deflective questions are quickly dismissed with great disinterest as she seems intent on prying out of him what she already suspects is happening.
He’s nearly come up with a semi-convincing lie but before he can deliver his lines, Julie completely shuts him down. “You’ve been seeing someone else, haven’t you?”
Frank stares in wonder at her, completely flabbergasted at how she manages to be so spot on in her assumptions; the only thing that leaves his mouth is an amazed ‘how?’ as he takes in Julie’s smug expression.
“Oh Frank, you make it too easy.”
“I… have no idea what you’re talking about,” he desperately bluffs.
“Then why did I just catch you hoarding all of our mixtapes under your jacket.”
Shit, and as if on queue, Susie’s mixtape falls out from underneath his overstuffed jacket.
“Ok babe, look,” he starts, abandoning his previous attempts at concealing his crime. A surplus of cassette tapes clatter to the floor once Frank ceases to care about holding them together. “It’s not what it seems.”
“Is it not? Gosh Frank, you make it sound like you’ve been cheating on us,” she says, a quiet ‘nooo’ leaving Frank at the mention of them.
“Babe I mean it,” he scoots closer, squatting at the foot of the chair. “You guys are my home, I would kill for your happiness.” He cooes, encircling his arms around Julie’s midriff.
“Cute,” Julie replies monotonously, tracing a finger down her partner’s jawline. “What’s their name?”
“Jeff…” Frank gives in.
“Jeff? Didn’t take you for a clown fucker, Frank.”
"Not that Jeff!” he shrieks embarrassed, as Julie takes pleasure from her teasing. “Survivor Jeff. Guy that looks like a headbanger, long beard and wears a leather jacket.”
“Oh, you mean blockbuster Jeff.”
“How do you remember him?! You only met him once when he did our mural!” Frank exclaims full of shock.
“Unlike you Frank, I actually remember the people I meet,” Julie says as a matter of factly. “Besides, I’ve seen him in trials, I have had plenty of time to document each and every one who’s stuck in this place.”
Part of Frank is annoyed at Julie’s vainglory but the other part of him is awestruck at her good memory nonetheless, the latter feeling reflecting in his adoring expression. She watches as Frank leans into her touch, his eyes glued to hers.
“What are your intentions with him? What’s this sudden interest in Jeff resurfacing now?”
A sigh leaves his chest as he contemplates himself. He hadn’t really thought that much ahead; he intended to get some use out of it. Firstly, play Jeff into letting his guard down, then take advantage of this in the future, but… the more time he spent in the other’s company, the more he found himself enjoying it. He’s reminded how easy talking to the man was. How it all used to come so easy to him. How it was back when times were simpler - when losing his virginity was his only worry and putting on a condom had him shaking with nerves.
“We’re just talking,” Frank settles on this answer with the intention of ending the subject there. He rests his head on his partner’s abdomen, taking comfort in her familiar scent and feel - oh how he wishes he could just lose himself in her.
Soft fingers trace patterns onto his checks, then neck, tracing the lines of his tattoo with a gentleness akin to the touch of a feather. He shivers, burying his head closer to her core, listening to the softest of hums reverberate against her sternum.
I love you, I love you, I love you
“I love you,” he whispers against her clothes.
A pair of hands wrap around his shoulders gingerly.
“Don’t ruin him like you’ve ruined us, Frank.”
Just a heads-up, chapter updates will take longer now as I've caught up with what I've edited and deemed suitable to post. Rest assured, all the chapters already have an outline, it's just a matter of adding in all them little details.
Thank you for taking the time to read, I appreciate each and every one of you! <3
Chapter 5: underneath my skin there is a violence
He’d never admit it, but Joey’s mixtape had always been one of his favourites - which is exactly why he’d chosen to bring and share it with Jeff. He’s got two of his own mixtapes tucked in the insides of his jacket while Blue Monday currently plays through the headphones of his walkman. Every step taken is in tune to the rhythm, the beat irresistible as he finds himself swaying and sliding all the way to their secret spot. Energy pumps through his veins, making it impossible for him to stay still, so to cure his itch, Frank dances around the enclosure.
So entrapped is he by the rhythm of West End Girls , that Frank completely fails to notice Jeff, who’s just emerged from the treeline. A broad smile forms on Jeff’s face as he takes in Frank’s carefree dancing and enjoyment - he can’t really contain the excitement that seems to have spread to him as well, so slowly he shuffles his way towards Frank with glee.
The man in question halts upon laying his eyes on the survivor, but he quickly resumes his dancing - albeit at a slower pace now - when he notices the other slowly grooving towards him. His lips twitch and he can’t seem to hold back the infectious smile spreading across his own face. The mask is lifted upwards, his eyes taking in how Jeff’s expression seems to get impossibly brighter upon landing on his features.
They scoot closer towards each other until the tip of Frank’s mask is close enough to poke Jeff in the forehead, and it is at this moment that Jeff shakes his hand in question, the smile never leaving his lips. Frank removes his headphones to hold between them as his other hand fumbles with the volume of his walkman, until the music is loud enough that they can both easily discern the first verse of The Man Who Sold the World.
Jeff laughs wistfully upon hearing Bowie’s voice playing through the speakers. Their voices join the famous artist in singing the chorus, then a second verse, until they find themselves singing it to completion. Frank feels his heart pick up in speed, overcome with an intense urge to wrap his hands around the other’s shoulders and bring him closer. Instead, he laughs as Jeff does a slow spin to the finishing notes of the song.
“I can’t believe you cabbage patch danced your way towards me, you absolute scrub.”
“Hey, I didn’t know what we were dancing to, so I did the first dance that came to mind,” Jeff attempts to defend his choice of moves.
“Aight, aight,” Frank shrugs, accepting the lame excuse, “you’re forgiven this time, but you better be showing me some new moves next time. Maybe some new ones we’ve missed out on.”
“Eh, I’d be a pretty poor teacher. Didn’t do much dancing outside my teenage years,” Jeff sheepishly rubs the back of his neck, remembering the times he'd awkwardly try to dance with girls only to be giggled at.
“Nah nah, you’re not off the hook boy. You better be coming prepared next time or I’m telling Joey you hate dancing. And you don’t want Joey hearing you dissing dancing or you won’t live to see another day.” Frank says with a tint of seriousness in his tone, grinning when Jeff gasps dramatically and mouths 'yes sir’ with mock gravity.
“So, uh,” Frank clears his throat, “I brought some mixtapes I thought you’d like.”
He brings forth said mixtapes, passing them onto a very eager Jeff, who’s inspecting them with great interest. “That one’s got a bunch of newer things that came out back then, but that one’s my personal favourite,” he points, eyes following Jeff’s every movement, taking in how carefully he handles the tapes. “I think they’re pretty rad so, thought you’d like them.”
Jeff’s fingers trace over Frank’s signature, uniquely edged onto his mixtape, unaware how attentively the latter watches his reaction, eager for validation.
“Thank you, I would love to listen to them! It’s been so long since I’ve last heard music that isn’t country and coming from a very specific fellow survivor.” Jeff winks, eliciting an amused snort from Frank. “I don’t have a walkman though, I might need a bit of help there.”
“Oh right, duh,” Frank quickly passes over his walkman. ”You can use mine. That was Joey’s mixtape I was listening to earlier, it’s pretty bangin’.”
“Thank you, I really appreciate you sharing your music with me Frank,” a wave of warmth washes over Frank upon seeing Jeff’s bright smile; he’s strongly trying to remind himself to stay cool, don’t smile like an idiot Frank.
Thankfully, he’s able to maintain a semi-disinterested look, in part because Jeff changes the topic.
“I was actually going to ask you something when I got here. A bunch of us survivors have split into groups to go scavenging for new things,” Jeff reveals, carrying on when Frank nods his head, "I was going to join them, but I was wondering whether you’d want to go together instead?”
Frank is skeptical, a tint of annoyance resurfacing to plague his features.
“Thought it would be a nice change of scenery and we could take our time until, well, we got called to work I guess,” Jeff adds in hopes of pleasing the other.
“Yeah, I guess something new to do would be cool,” Frank relents. “But I’m not joining a bunch of sniveling shitheads,” his tone drops, fixing Jeff with a cold expression, “it’s either us, or them.”
“Of course, I understand,” Jeff nods with seriousness, "I will be honest with you though, we might meet with others on the way, be it my colleagues or yours. I’ve had run-ins before.”
“Fine, fine whatever,” Frank groans, sliding his mask back into place before aimlessly taking off in a direction, his companion quickly falling in step with him. “What, you need me to be your big strong bodyguard? Need someone to change your diaper?” Frank mocks, part of him thinking that maybe he’s taking it too far, but he wants to unleash some of his frustration on Jeff, who’s thankfully not falling for his bullying tactics.
“Wow, I can’t believe you think so little of me, Frank, you wound me,” a hand comes up to wipe an imaginary tear away.
“Why else would you need a strong and cunning man like me for? It’s obvious you need someone to stop you from getting your ass kicked.”
“I’ll have you know, I can hold myself quite well in a fight, thank you,” Jeff says, striking a pose to prove his point and pry a laugh out of the other, “besides, I’m obviously just dying to be in your killer company.”
“Wow,” Frank stops midtrack to fix the other with a look of pure disbelief, “please don’t make me open up a can on your dumb ass.”
Laughter is the only response he gets, before they resume their trip in comfortable silence.
The endless woods of MacMillan estate welcome them, brimming with life: roosted in the safety of tall trees, crows litter the branches, observing every movement and cawing upon each disturbance in the fog. Frank gives them the stink eye from beneath his mask, hating the little annoying shits - always cawing at him wherever he goes. He wants nothing more but to catch one and wring it’s neck, make an example for the rest to fuck off.
The familiar red bricks of The Coal Tower can be seen in the distance, the building itself still proudly standing after God only knows how long, but it does not seem to be their destination for tonight. Good, Frank’s relieved. He can make out loud obnoxious voices coming from its direction - a quick question directed towards Jeff reveals that one of the groups has already claimed it as their hunting ground for the night; further prodding at why this area in particular is searched tells him that it is all because Nea - the one he hates for being an insufferable evading menace - noticed a sticker labeling some boxes as containing cheese.
Fuck. He would honestly kill for some cheese. Perhaps if they actually find any, he could ask Jeff to sneak him a wheel at their next meeting.
The Storehouse is thankfully void of lousy survivors when they stop to inspect its wears. Perched upon a couple of stacked boxes, Frank watches Jeff rummage and search the full shelves. He’s not really in the mood to look around for shit, preferring that they stayed back at their campfire and listened to music. He kind of wishes he hadn't handed him his walkman so quickly either, it would have been nice to listen to some music to kill time.
Leaning backwards, Frank brings an arm underneath his head for support against the hard surface. His eyes bore into the many holes strewn across the corroded sheets meant to shelter the building. Upon counting the twenty-eight hole, a loud crash snaps his attention back to his companion, who seems to be furiously rubbing the top of his head. The scene itself is littered with broken bottles, a viscous black liquid spreading across the cemented floor, engulfing Jeff’s boots and subsequently the wooden box they seem to have belonged to - now broken apart.
“What’d you do?”
“Dropped a box on my head like an idiot,” comes Jeff’s answer from between clenched teeth.
With a modicum of interest, Frank watches Jeff abandon his previous attempt at inspecting the stacked shelves, instead making his way towards one of the exits. There, he stops to observe his surroundings or perhaps chart their next course given how quick they abandoned the scene of their crime.
Or maybe Jeff doesn’t want to get in trouble with the big man owning this place since he’s known for being quite grumpy.
Frank jumps off from his seat, making his way towards a sullen-looking Jeff. “Here, let me have a look at your head.”
Disregarding the man’s protests and reassurances that he would be fine, Frank firmly holds onto his shoulder while checking the top of his head, prodding and poking at the reddened scalp, thankfully revealing no injuries in sight.
“You should probably keep rubbing the spot where you got hit. It should stop you from getting a concussion,” Frank rubs with pressure and a renewed tight grip on the other’s shoulder when Jeff tries to squirm away in pain. “Can we go now? This place sucks,” he mutters impatiently upon letting go of the survivor, feeling triumphant when Jeff gives in and agrees.
As the storehouse becomes nothing more than a blurry shape in the fog behind them, Jeff breaks the silence.
“Thanks for the tip, about rubbing your head. How’d you know about it?”
“I do a lot of stupid shit without thinking,” Frank shrugs, “call it experience. Or as Susie says, my dumb Aries genes.”
He’s met with copious laughter from Jeff. “Yeah, that explains a lot now,” the man admits with a wide grin, but it soon falters when his eyes catch sight of Frank’s narrowed ones, “no, don’t take it as an insult, please! It’s just funny to me how the way you work in trials seems to make more sense now.”
“And how is that?” There’s a cold edge to Frank’s voice, prompting Jeff to consider his next words carefully.
“You just seem, very purposeful in your actions. Like a plan with a man.”
“A plan with a man,” the killer deadpans.
Jeff decides to roll with his little slip up, hoping to appease Frank’s bruised ego. “What I mean is, you’re very focused and attentive to details, I’m amazed at how good you are at tracking. Not to mention your stamina, even Meg complains how you outrun and catch her, and she’s the fastest one of us. I have to give credit where it’s due, Frank. You are deadly effective.”
The beginnings of a smile form on Frank’s face, but the mask conceals any emotion. A nod of his head is the only answer the survivor receives, and content with the fact that Frank has not taken affront with his statement, Jeff attempts to ease the conversation to a subject he’s been meaning to address.
“So, is Susie the one with the mask like yours?”
There’s a skip in Frank’s step, amid which he side-eyes the man with an apprehensive look as skepticism worms its way into his heart. The prospect of revealing information about his gang is one he’s not too keen on, given how protective he is of his little bunch of misfits; slowly he relaxes though, knowing that there is nothing in this hellhole that Jeff could possibly do to hurt them - besides, he’s already run his mouth and named them, it was a matter of time until the survivor asked about them.
The sudden flutter of wings has them both frozen on the spot rigidly, momentarily shifting their attention back to their surroundings as their eyes attentively search the woods nearby. A gravely caw resounds from the branches above, as the two are made aware of their feathery observer, whose beady eyes are trained on their figures. Perhaps it’s the unnerving way in which the bird seems to focus on them, or maybe a more sinister entity that loves to take the birds’ many forms to spy on Its subjects, for Frank’s skin prickles with goosebumps the longer he stares back at the creature.
With a powerful beat of its wings the crow takes off, knocking off a couple of feathers to the forest floor. Frank picks one such feather up, observing how the jet black hues seem to shift under the watchful eye of the moon.
“That’s Julie. She was the one that was quiet, always stuck by me.” Not anymore , a part of him wanted to add. Melancholy tugs at his heartstrings, whether it is from the recent introspections or simply out of memory is not entirely known to him. He offers the feather to Jeff, who gladly accepts the gift with a delicate hand and a polite nod. Frank watches with a tint of sorrow how Jeff tucks the feather in the locks of hair behind his ear, then flashes him a thumbs up. There was a time when Julie would fall for his antics too, cherish all the trash little gifts he’d give her; but not anymore.
“Susie is the one with the highlights. Annoyingly cheerful,” Frank states emotionless, before resuming their stroll through the realms. “Then there’s Joey, goth fanboy all dressed up in black.”
“And you.” Jeff chimes in, falling in step once more with Frank. “What are you guys up to when you don’t have work to do?”
Frank hums in thought, his eyes taking in the subtle changes in the woods nearby. Ever so slightly, the forest seems to thin with beech trees giving way to leafless birch. A gentle breeze blows through the branches, emitting a hollow sound akin to a wail as it passes through the skeletal twigs. He can see the rooftop of a decrepit wooden building, seemingly abandoned, yet something feels odd about it, momentarily distracting him from the answer he was cooking up. Maybe Jeff senses it as well, for he’s waiting hesitantly next to him.
“I think the Wraith is home,” Jeff whispers eventually, a tint of fear in his voice. Scanning the premises reveals nothing at first glance; but sure enough among the scrap littering the field, Frank’s eyes catch the slightest movement - a shimmer with no shadow, the air bending as if struck by intense heat.
They know better than to look for trouble in someone else’s home.
“We’ll stick to the edge, okay? Come on,” Frank beckons the man, nudging him to motion with a hand at his back.
Far enough from the Lodge where the trees are once more the dull beech they’ve grown accustomed to, Frank finally answers, “There’s not a lot to do. A lot of the times we loiter around and be a nuisance to others. Or creep on you guys,” he nudges Jeff with his elbow, who’s still a bit tense from the near close encounter with another killer. “Anyway, why are you so tense? Thought you said you had run-ins with other killers before?”
“Yeah but, it’s the Wraith, you know,” Jeff attempts to justify his nerves with a meek voice.
“And? He’s like the least intimidating killer out here, dude probably cries after every trial.”
“You say that but you’re not the one facing him in trials,” Jeff points out.
A sudden realisation hits Frank, clear as day now the more he observes Jeff’s defensive attitude. “Holy shit. You’re scared of the Wraith.”
“What?! No!” Jeff attempts to defend himself, unsuccessfully, as Frank seems intent to hold this new found information against him forever. “Look, the dude is just terrifying! He’s like the freaking Predator materialising out of thin air!”
“Oh my god. I can’t believe you just compared the Wraith to the Predator. Holy shit Jeff, you’re fucking terrified of him,” Frank laughs, leaning his bodyweight onto Jeff’s; he’s got a tight grip on the squirming man’s shoulder as he pokes and nudges at his chest, unrelentingly teasing him. “What’s next, you’re gonna tell me he pulls a canon from underneath those rags and shoots your ass in trials? Oh! Or maybe he stabs you in the ass with his weird weapon thing!” Frank adds, driving the point across by reaching behind and giving Jeff’s butt a cheeky pinch. His laughter resonates across the woods as Jeff yelps in surprise, promptly running a few steps ahead to put some distance between them.
“Ey, stop that,” the scruffy survivor points a not-so-threatening finger at Frank, as he walks backwards on the path in order to fix the other with a semi-serious stare. However, he fails in holding up the facade, instead bursting out in laughter at Frank’s growls and snarls that attempt to imitate the ghostly killer, better resembling the grunts of a pig.
Engrossed in their shenanigans and mutual teasing, they don’t seem to notice how the forest floor turns into a beaten path, up until Jeff trips on a discarded brick and plants himself on his bottom. A grunt of surprise leaves his lips as he turns to take in his surroundings; what seemed to have once been a building resembling a modest shed, was now nothing more than ruins. Half of the walls seemed to have long been destroyed, with most of the rooftop collapsed, leaving behind parts of the lower foundation intact. What’s curious is that the building looks to have been repurposed in the past, the place littered with old rotten infested shelves, a three legged table resting upon the floor and various moldy jars are scattered around.
A hand appears in his peripheral vision - Frank’s hand to be precise, beckoning him to stand back up. He takes it gladly, dusting himself off once he’s back up on his feet.
“What do you think happened here?” he asks, full of curiosity.
“Beats me,” comes Frank’s bored answer, although he curiously peers around the premises of the buildings. It is where he spots somebody, a figure nestled among the shrubbery engulfing the side of the building. Jeff seems to notice it too, for he inches ever closer.
“Claudette?” he asks, unsure.
The figure peeks its head out from behind the weeds, revealing to be a petite girl wearing glasses. A smile forms on her face as she takes in their figures, but a part of Frank bristles in annoyance at the fact that she does not seem concerned about being in his presence at all. His anger increases tenfold when Jeff leaves his side to greet his friend, leaving him behind to stew. With malicious hyperfixation, Frank watches how the two survivors interact - specifically, how happy Jeff seems to be in the other’s presence.
It should be him. It should be him, and only him, that makes Jeff happy to talk to.
He doesn’t even realise when he’s pulled out his knife until he feels the leathery handle in his tight grip. He deliberates the many ways to drive his point across, before he begins a slow and resolute walk towards the two, the knife playfully swung at his side.
Bits and pieces of their conversations become more discernible as he approaches, but they don’t matter to him. If he hadn’t been so self absorbed, perhaps he would have heard Claudette mention her assistant keeping her company, or perhaps he would have heard Jeff’s surprised exclamation. What he does hear is his partner introducing him to the botanist.
Then suddenly, a loud second voice greets as well.
He nearly drops his knife when an enormous figure rises from the shrubbery, easily outmatching him in height and build. What the fuck , Frank thinks, as he watches the Hillbilly stand up to his full height, offering a hand for the girl to take. He’s freaked out all the more when his fellow killer scoops an extremely surprised Jeff up in his arms as if he weighs nothing, giving the man a twirl in a crushing hug.
“Remember what we talked about Max,” says the girl as she fixes her green apron in place.
“Be gentle,” the giant drawls, setting Jeff back down on his feet.
Frank falters, unsure whether following through with his plan would be a good idea, now in the presence of another killer, one who seems so eager to interact with survivors. For the time being, he tucks the knife behind into the waistband of his cargo pants, settling next to his scruffy survivor - the latter looking like he is struggling to keep the contents of his stomach in.
The Hillbilly reaches to grab at him too, but Frank is quick to back away from his grasping arms.
“No.” His voice comes, sounding maybe a tad too angry. His fellow killer seems to visibly deflect at the rejection, but the botanist lays a reassuring hand on his back - the effect of such a simple gesture is immediately visible when the giant beams once more at her side.
“This is Max,” the girl says, and as if on cue upon hearing his name called, the Hillbilly waves excitedly. “And this is my friend, Jeff,” she continues, introducing him with a smile.
“New friends!” the killer’s voice booms loudly, causing Frank to flinch at the volume.
“Hey big guy, it’s good to meet you,” Jeff waves back, “what are you two doing here?”
“Collecting a batch of Amaranth. It thrives well around these parts, so I come here to collect it once in a while,” Claudette says, taking off her plastic gloves. “Max here loves to help me out, so he’s my little assistant for tonight,” she smiles, her face brightening up as she looks up at the deformed visage of the Hillbilly.
Part of Frank is disgusted at the thought that anyone would willingly want to spend time in that freak’s presence, but he continues to remain silent, judging the conversation.
“I like helping!” The brute butts into the conversation and, as if to drive the point across, reaches back to the shrubbery to pick some weeds they’ve been cutting at before their arrival. Frank only rolls his eyes at the eager display for attention, unimpressed by the other’s excitement.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” he mutters under his breath aggravated - and a tad deeply hurt - when Jeff begins casually conversing with Claudette, failing to notice his irked demeanor.
A nauseating wave of numbness washes over him. Betrayal. Is this what this feeling is? Or is it jealousy? His eyes fixate on the two interacting survivors, taking in their carefree and close friendship. No, it’s hatred. He wants to direct it at Jeff, punish him for his lack of attention and consideration; but really, he wants to take it out on the girl. His eyes shift towards her figure, tracing the lines of her face, the bright eyes behind large spectacles, lips pulled into a smile. How happy she is, wasting the precious little time he has discussing fucking plants. His fucking time. With his fucking survivor.
Dark thoughts swirl inside Frank’s head, progressively worsening. He feels himself receding back into that same dark corner of mind he used to hide in - back when he’d be overcome with an intense urge to erupt. A familiar pressure builds behind his forehead, the pain flaring square between his eyes; Frank’s hands clench and unclench idly at his sides in a vain attempt to calm himself, but it’s of no use. He’s just about ready to pounce on the two - caution thrown to the wind - when Jeff calls his name, smile back on his face. The same smile that lights his eyes up when he looks at him, same smile capable of making him weep - knowing someone looks at him that way again, that he’s not all bad, that he’s still redeemable. The tension building up slightly dissipates as he focuses back on Jeff’s kind face. He has to keep his cool, he decides. Come on Frank, you can do it - just this one fucking time, do not fuck it up like you always do.
But the words leaving Jeff’s mouth are the last thing he wanted to hear. The most ridiculously worthless fucking question he’s ever fucking heard someone ask him. “You want some amaranth too?” his idiot offers, clutching a handful of weeds to his chest.
You want some fucking amaranth, Frank? Want some fucking piece of shit grass to chew on like the stupid cow you are? You stupid fuck, sitting here like an idiot. Piece of shit. You’re a stupid piece of shit-
Someone calls his name, and through the raging sea of thoughts, Frank emerges anew.
The patience he was valiantly attempting to cling to - the last bit of rational thought seemingly keeping him from losing his shit and taking it out on them - vanishes into thin air, leaving naught but cold indignance at Jeff’s ridiculous obliviousness, at his inability to read the killer’s obvious, rigid body language.
His body remains impassive, though deep down Frank boils and seethes as he fixes Jeff with a long stare from behind his grinning mask. All eyes seem to train on him the longer the silence between them all stretches, but this is not the attention Frank desperately craved.
Cracking the knuckles on his right hand, he finally seems to find his voice,“Laisses tomber cette salope, Jeff.” 1
Said man in question does a double take at the sudden change in language, even more so at Frank’s irate choice of words. His mouth opens a few times, soundless, before a quiet ‘Pardon?’ leaves his lips.
“We have better things to do,” Frank raises his voice, carrying on without giving Jeff any room to argue. His hand grabs the other’s forearm in a relentless grip, aggressively pulling him, causing Jeff to slightly stumble which in turn makes Frank falter.
But upon noticing Jeff’s expression, Frank grasps that perhaps he’s making a terrible mistake - one he won’t be able to worm his way out of. Sure, he could push the man all he wanted, inflict great pain upon his body and spirit, but Frank realises, he’s never quite seen Jeff mad before - ever at all, regardless of what horrors the survivor has been subjected to. Frank’s inner turmoil has him torn; on one hand he’s absolutely delighted to pry such a reaction from the man, but on the other hand he’s… sorry.
He is momentarily brought back to reality when incensed, Jeff pulls his arm free, leveling him with a stern look. He recognises that look, a murderous calmness hiding disappointment - seen in former step parents, case workers that had the best intentions for him, Julie, everyone he’s disappointed. It hasn’t even crossed his mind before that he would experience it here, in this shithole - from someone he used to admire a lifetime ago. How maddening it is now when that very person sees him for what he is, a stubborn lowlife that ruins everything.
Such thoughts plague Frank, with such fierceness that the urge to scream and lash out at Jeff nearly overwhelms him; though instead, he feels his heart drop to the pit of his stomach when Claudette breaks them out of their tense engagement.
“And what things do you have to do, if I may ask?” she asks ever softly. Frank can only stare at her in disbelief, his mind a panicked mess as he tries to process that Claudette in fact, can speak French too. Fuck, he thinks, of course she’s fucking Canadian.
But his attention snaps back to Jeff when the other calls his name harshly, moreover realising just how much he fucked himself up.
“I understand that there are many differences between us in terms of our roles,” Jeff starts, his voice increasing in volume, chest rising with each breath as he desperately tries to maintain a calm demeanor, “but we are not in a trial.”
Those last words are spat through clenched teeth, and Frank watches, mesmerised by the range of emotions playing across Jeff’s face.
“I am here, with you, because I wish to be and I value our relationship,” he emphasises with a sudden gentleness that has Frank taken aback. Inching closer, Jeff’s features soften up as he fixes Frank with a doleful gaze, “please treat my friends with respect. Claudette has helped me countless of times and she is a wonderful woman.” Gently, he places a warm hand on Frank’s shoulder, the other still clutching the bouquet close between them, “I cherish her friendship as much as I cherish ours, please understand this.”
Breathing proves to be a challenge as Frank’s chest painfully constricts, whether it’s from the pent up anger that seems to be oozing out of his every pore, or the sheer fact that he’s made an absolute fool of himself is not exactly known. Strangely, the longer he seems to gaze into Jeff’s pleading eyes, the more he feels himself assuaged, shoulders gradually relaxing, losing himself into those warm, seemingly endless hazel orbs. Just as he’s about to relent, even consider apologising, everyone’s attention is brought back to the booming voice breaking the silence.
“Them some funny sounding words! I did not understand a thing you say!”
Claudette giggles at her companion’s statement, while Jeff turns to regard the killer with confusion, having forgotten he was even present. Frank however, well, he bites his tongue with enough force to draw blood.
“Forget it,” he states venomously, taking in each of their expressions: Claudette’s slight lift of her eyebrows, in what could be amused curiosity; Jeff’s aggravated expression, trying to salvage the situation; Max’s obliviousness, observing everyone in turn with a lopsided smile on his deformed face.
“T’es une vidange,” 2 he spits through clenched teeth, unsure to whom he wants to direct the insult, but maliciously rejoicing nevertheless when the girl seems taken aback, before he hears his name called out harshly once more by his companion.
Jeff himself takes a step forward, prepared to argue tooth and nail to appease Frank’s bruised ego, but he’s cut short as a knife is brought forth to the party, the atmosphere instantly dropping as both survivors stiffen. Even the Hillbilly observes in stillness, awaiting the outcome.
As a rush of breath leaves Frank’s lungs, an unnerving chuckle spills past his lips, which further turns into full blown laughter; he finally seems to realise just how stupid they all are. He can’t believe he wasted his time on this shit, made himself look like a fool in front of prey. He has to give it to Jeff though, he played his cards well - managed to make him let his guard down, only because he fancied him a long time ago. That’s what you get for being weak, Franky boy, haven’t you learned from all your fuck-ups?
The longer Frank’s laughter draws on - perverted by misconceptions and anxiety born out of long harbored issues and insecurities no one ever cared to look for - the more it seems to take on a sinister tone. The nearly inhuman sound, similar to the cry of a wounded animal, elicits shivers from both survivors as they steal a glance at each other, fearing the worst will happen. All that Jeff can do is worryingly stare at Frank, hoping that by bringing his hands up in a calm fashion he could gradually soothe the other. Slowly, he shuffles closer, beckoning Frank to join him as he attempts to think of a solution, something that could salvage this situation which seems to escalate further and further.
“Frank,” he starts, in a calm collected manner, “I’m sorry I’ve upset you. Let’s-”
“Shut up! I don’t wanna fucking hear it!”
A crow flies off in the vicinity, its indignant caw chastising the sudden bellows disturbing the calmness of the night. Somewhere in the woods, something stirs, perchance aroused by Frank’s commotion, loud enough to wake the dead long since laid in unmarked graves; or maybe it’s something else, something ancient and malicious, feeding off of such emotions and thriving with each petty squabble.
Thriving off of Frank’s internal struggle.
Past the crashing thoughts going through his head, Frank registers how pathetic Jeff looks; those big doe-like eyes boring into him, practically begging to be gutted. If he’d just done what he told him from the very beginning, none of them would have gotten into shit. But instead, here they all are, staring at him like lambs to the slaughter, while the Entity whispers at the back of his head, dulling his senses and working him up into a frenzy so familiar yet so strange. His eyes linger upon Jeff’s lips, vaguely registering that he’s yapping again, but the words sound muted, as if he’s been dunked in a pool of water, sinking deeper and deeper into the churning waters.
Outside of Jeff and Frank’s standoff, Claudette’s hand reaches over to grasp Max’s, her delicate fingers intertwining with large gloved ones, squeezing gently. She feels the wired body at her side getting tauter, like a spring ready to snap when Frank’s aggression would ultimately culminate in bloodshed, well aware of how easily riled to action her killer companion was. So she draws them closer to each other, the warmth of her body next to his alike a lighthouse on the shore, guiding his wooden boat through his sea of fears.
On the opposite shore, Jeff struggles to keep his own companion afloat, whose paper boat has become waterlogged from the crashing waves of anger and contempt plaguing his own sea. But to Frank, there is nothing but the bloody sea, with its waves lapping at his fragile raft; it has become so difficult to hold onto the edges of his paperboat now, red soaking through the fibre. He is going to be overturned, the familiar lick of fiery waves welcomed as he will finally let go. His white knuckles around the knife handle poised to strike, Frank takes one last breath before diving under and allowing himself to succumb to the Entity’s sweet siren song of violence.
But, someone has settled on the opposite side of his boat, and the masked killer can see the traces of their body in the paper. His eyes refocus past the thin veil impending his sight through the haze of anger and Frank sees him, finally sees Jeff - past the raging chaos in his head, his own lighthouse guiding him to the shore.
Warm hands envelop his cold bony one, the contrasting temperature of their skins jarring him back to reality and for a second Frank is startled, frantically taking in his surroundings: Max’s guarded stance, Claudette’s knowing eyes piercing into him with a fierceness surprising Frank. And Jeff - still persisting, willingly taking the knife in his hands, putting himself in his path for what? To protect a girl already safe in the clutches of a monster? To save his own skin?
“Frank,” his name falls from his lips softly, and Frank chokes, realising that it’s him he’s trying to protect, Jeff’s eyes betraying a deeper understanding of Frank’s struggles. His own eyes sting with tears threatening to spill past his lashes, feeling like a child consoled after throwing a tantrum. Yet, he desperately craves the attention, the validation that his anger and pain is justifiable, regardless of how humiliating it is to him to be seen in such a vulnerable state. A part of him is still precariously close to lashing out as Frank yearns to finally be understood.
That same warm hand traces the length of his arm, settling on his shoulder but the masked killer finds this all too much, hastily removing himself from the survivor’s proximity with a rough shove to the other’s chest. Unsure of what to do, he briefly paces back and forth until Jeff approaches him once more, softly calling his name.
Ultimately, it proves to be too much for Frank who, overwhelmed by the whirlwind of emotions surging through him, roars a ‘fuck off!’ one last time before cowardly bolting to the woods, disappearing into the shadows - leaving behind one confused gentle giant, one intrigued botanist and one heartbroken artist.
“I’m so sorry,” Jeff starts with a broken voice, turning to face his colleague. Claudette watches him sympathetically, following the movement of his hand rising to rub at his eyes before settling in his beard, restless. “I…” he falters, unsure what to say.
He’s startled when a hand rests on his back; Claudette gazes him with a sad smile, her hand rubbing soothing circles against his tense back and the tears threaten to spill from his red eyes when he takes in the reassuring nod of her head.
“It’s okay,” ever softly she calms him, “go after him, Jeff. He needs you.”
He regards her briefly, a sad expression adorning his worn face, ever thankful for her understanding and forgiveness even in such troubling situations.
With a forlorn exhale, Jeff nods, his mind already planning a course of action, mulling over the many ways this whole fiasco can play out. What’s certain though is his gratitude to his friend, so Jeff turns, surprising Claudette with a much needed embrace.
“Thank you,” his words are muffled by her shoulder. Claudette discerns the sadness in his intonation but she understands - how could she not, when she’s been here for an eternity and has faced so many obstacles already.
A pair of arms wraps around the both of them and Claudette only smiles warmly as Max feels compelled to join them in their hugging. She’s glad Jeff is likewise, a caring and mindful soul; no one else would have been a better person to introduce to Max.
As Jeff leaves to follow Frank’s trail, the botanist watches - Max joining at her side - until his silhouette in turn disappears amidst the trees.
If there was anyone that could help the troubled Legion, Claudette is certain that Jeff would be the one to break through their walls and see them for who they really are. So as her and Max return to their plants, she’s surprised to hear his intuitive thoughts.
“‘Think yer friends like each other. Like Evan and Philip do!” he points excitedly after putting two and two together.
“I think you’re very right, Max.” She admits, offering a smile to her companion.
Chapter 6: have a look in my eyes
i know it's been a few months since the last update, sorry. my life has basically been a shit show and i'm unfortunately still not quite in the clear, but i try to stay alive.
references are for 'The Forest' video game.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Frank Morrison wishes he would die. Just die, right there on the spot, the earth opening up from underneath to swallow him. He’s miserable, he’s cold, and to top it all off, he made an absolute fool of himself.
Vaguely, he registers water hitting against his mask; cold droplets, not large nor numerous enough to soak him, but just enough to slightly inconvenience his sullen jog through the dark woods as his clothes steadily become wet.
It’s oddly soothing - the repetitive motion of falling raindrops against his jacket - and Frank finds himself welcoming the drizzle that cools him down from his previous flurry of emotions.
What a fucking fool he’s made of himself. Once again.
A long sigh leaves his heavy chest, the exhale of air suppressed by his mask as Frank stops to catch his breath. The woods are still around him, thankfully with no crows to taunt him in sight. His feet drag him the last remaining steps to the nearest tree - a pine tree, growing moss across its bark. Absentmindedly, his hand comes up to touch the growth, fingers grazing through the damp patch, taking in the texture while he tries to make sense of his thoughts.
Idiot, idiot, idiot. They’re all idiots and he’s the biggest of them all. How did he let himself get so carried away? He never hesitates in getting things to work his way and yet, that whole exchange was disastrous. Is he getting weaker? Is he becoming as useless as Susie? No, he’d never. He’s just rusty, that’s all. He just hasn’t had any opportunities to study people and interact with them in a long time, that’s it. Frank just needs to get back into his mojo, stretch his wings a bit.
It definitely had nothing to do with the way Jeff looked at him or the way he made him feel.
fuck fuck fuck fuck
With a trembling hand, he moves the mask up and away from his pale face, choking on the cold air. He’s suffocating, unable to inhale any fresh air as his chest uselessly expands and contracts rapidly. There are tears at the corners of his eyes and they sting painfully, the threat of them spilling past his lashes somehow causes him to further panic.
He’s not going to fucking cry, he swore he’d never cry again - he’s not fucking weak anymore. But his chest feels tight, leaden, and if he didn’t know any better, Frank would have thought that he was going to have a heart attack with how sharp the pain spears through his flesh. He knows better than this, though. He knows the Entity altered them enough so that they would never fear the threat of such pain and issues anymore. Not when Its corporal punishment was much more effective at keeping them at bay, remind them who really held their leash; there wouldn’t be a point for the Entity in risking permanent damage to Its toys by meddling with their inner workings.
The air rushing past his lips is short and messy - grunts infused with shrill inhales as the killer tries to regain some semblance of his usual self: the mask he’s kept in place for so long, that stoic and confident persona he’s crafted and convinced even himself to be a reflection of his true character, falters briefly in these vulnerable moments. Somewhere in some corner of his mind, a memory resurfaces, reminding him that he is in fact familiar with this sort of pain - only, he’s merely suppressed it and convinced himself that it wouldn’t happen again; after all, his dad isn’t there to chain him, neither is his mom to strip him naked and throw him out in the cold. He doesn’t have a reason to feel like this anymore now, does he?
With what little remaining strength he has, Frank wills himself to calm down, push past the anxiety and guilt stabbing like daggers into his weary heart. Calm, relax, he whispers to himself, trying to think of Julie - his Julie from before, the one that didn’t hate him yet. Her visage forms in his mind, her features emerging from the dark, porcelain skin stretching over high cheekbones, sharp and fierce eyes staring into his very soul.
And then the skin catches on a rosy hue, fuller cheeks beneath calm and welcoming eyes - a warmer gaze staring into his soul, only this time searching for something - weakness? fear? Or maybe searching for the boy he buried there a long time ago.
His breath catches in his throat. Unmovingly, Frank listens, straining to pick up any further noises - sure enough, it calls again, his name carried by the wind, intermingling with the constant rain.
That fucking idiot, Frank thinks, feeling his heart painfully twist in shame.
His skin prickles with goosebumps, a shiver involuntarily racking his body as anger once more threatens to resurface and drown his senses. His cheeks burn feverishly, a contrasting heat against the cold air, but Frank drops the mask down in place as he flees farther into the woods instead of facing the mess he’s made head-on.
Why does Jeff have to be so fucking persistent? Can’t he read the mood? Isn’t it obvious that Frank doesn’t want to fucking deal with any of the shit that just transpired a few hours ago? He just wants to leave it as far behind him as he can - hoping that it could somehow be forgotten, a slight mishap in this grand hellscape, just like all the other mishaps left to sit and fester until they inevitably accumulate and gain a life of their own.
Curse words spill past his lips when his foot catches on an overgrown root. He turns to stare at the offending tree, swatting bushy saplings out of his way. But, before he can begin to direct his newfound annoyance at the new target, he hesitates.
Wasn’t he in the Huntress’ realm just moments ago?
Frank thinks he should have focused more on his surroundings, maybe then he would’ve noticed how the trees seemed… different. Taller, more piney - or was this cedar? Shit, he probably should have paid more attention to all those times Susie would yammer on about ‘safety in the woods’ and ‘hey guys let’s learn about the flora and fauna of Ormond so we don’t ever get lost while following our fearless leader down dodgy shortcuts in the woods because he’s trying to stay low for doing some stupid shit again!’.
He nearly gives himself whiplash with how fast he twists his neck back in the direction of the voice. Sharp eyes scan the surroundings, searching for any movement, any figure coming out from the growth. It has stopped raining, but the air retains a certain coldness to it - in parts sustained by the persistent breeze occasionally blowing through the trees. Though, Frank feels that there is more at play than just the weather keeping him tense and shivering.
That call was closer, most likely just a thicket of trees standing between them. How in the hell is Jeff managing to stay on his tracks? As if on cue he hears him again, his voice echoing through the night.
Please, can we just talk?
“Fuck off!” comes his defiant answer, spilling past his lips with such intensity and suddenness that startles even himself, “I don’t want to fucking hear it!”
The snap of a twig nearby and the sound of rustling leaves break the brief stillness settled after his bellows. An infuriated huff of air escapes Frank, who’s already turning to yell in Jeff’s face, eager to unleash his pent up anger.
But there’s no one there.
The insult he was cooking up dies back on his tongue, as does his bravado when nothing but the dark silhouettes of maple and cedar greet him back.
“Jeff?” his question comes so softly, so meekly, and Frank hates it. Hates how fucking pathetic he sounds and how scared he actually is. Why the fuck is he so scared, why is he so ungodly terrified all of a sudden, why can’t he hear Jeff anymore and why did something just fucking move right there why god what is that-
Dread worms its way into his heart the longer Frank squints and attempts to spot anyone - anything - but his eyes can’t seem to pierce through the impenetrable darkness. Maybe he should take off his mask, he’d be able to see much better then - but that small voice inside his brain screams and thrashes wildly, demanding him to keep it on, not to expose himself to whatever stalks him through these woods.
Desperately his head turns to the sky above, perhaps hoping the light of the moon could somehow provide him with some solace, shine a way out of this place. But there is no light. There is no moon he can see. There are only the tall trees, stretching farther and farther into the sky, suffocatingly consuming the ether.
There are no crows cawing overhead and laughing at his misfortune.
There is no Entity spying through their beady eyes.
There is only The Forest.
And The Forest watches him, with a different kind of hunger than the one he’s familiarised with.
In a last-ditch effort to maintain the fearless persona he already struggles to uphold, he breaks the grave silence that seemed to have settled over the woods.
“Whoever the fuck you are,” he begins, though as much as he tries not to, hesitates. His voice breaks, tone betraying his weak demeanour, but somehow Frank musters all his remaining willpower, all the stubbornness he refuses to let go of, in order to carry on.
“Leave me the fuck alone!”
No one - nothing, greets him back.
The Legionnaire relaxes briefly, shoulders slumping, but he’s still on guard. After all, he’s not out of the woods yet.
Still, an inkling of scepticism crosses his heart. Jeff’s been unrelenting before, hounding him to apologize or whatever other stupid shit he wanted to do that would only anger him more - so why the hell did he stop now? Why’d he gone so quiet? Is he trying to further aggravate him now by suddenly dropping off the face of the earth? Or maybe he’s playing some stupid prank on him, guilt-tripping him for the shit he said. If that’s the case, well, Frank’s not one to back down, he’s going to stand his ground, no matter how wrong he might be.
Or maybe, that same little voice in the back of his head whispers, the only sane voice that urges him to stay on his guard - even more so when he hears the branches above him shift and something land in an adjacent tree, something happened to him.
He wants to look up. Really, he does. Despite sensing that whatever is above him is definitely not the usual crows. It’s just that if he does, Frank’s not sure how well he would be able to keep himself together.
So instead, he does what any rational being would do when they find themselves in the Entity’s ass end of the world - if he was even in the Its clutches anymore - lost and most likely not alone.
Frank turns back on his heel and runs for his life.
Yet after two hasty steps in his sprint, he’s forced to stop in his tracks.
A figure blocks his path.
Frank’s eyes catch on the long beard, the disheveled dark hair, and for a second he’s nearly relieved to see a familiar face. Except, all the similarities of the features he assumed belonged to Jeff seem to end there. The second his eyes shift to take in the full picture, The Legionnaire finds himself petrified on the spot.
Blood. As much as his eyes can see through his grinning mask.
A figure bathed in blood stands still as a statue, hindering him from his retreat. They seem to be carrying a heavy rucksack, but that’s not the detail Frank fixates on. It’s neither their lack of clothes, just a pair of modest shorts covering their bloodied form. Neither is the fact that they haven’t spoken a single word this whole time nor had they made a sound that would explain their sudden appearance.
None of these details really matter to Frank.
It’s the bloodied axe they carry in one hand, the bow he sees jutting from behind their rucksack - and the look of pure death upon their face that truly freezes the blood in Frank’s veins.
Frank Morrison has felt scared a total of three times in his life.
The first time, when his father beat the living shit out of him and left him tied and bleeding against the radiator in their dingy rotten apartment to starve till the morning light, as his mother lay passed out from a recent high nearby, uncaring of the horrors bestowed on her son.
Once more, when his stupid mouth and juvenile misconduct got him tangled with the wrong crowds and messing with the worst of people, leaving him to realise - as his face was smushed against the icy ground and he choked on the blood gushing from his nose - that he’d rather take the beatings than the crushing fear and painful humiliation.
Lastly, there; once the frenzy of his newfound power and his bloodlust faded, where regardless of how many times he’d make the meat quiver and cry and beg for their pathetic lives, he’d realise that he was in fact, confined in a cage. Regardless of his other ‘colleagues’, like-minded psychopaths, stabbing, trapping, mauling their victims alive and competing with each other to inflict the worst of pain; despite having all the free rein to act as he’d always desired, Frank was terrified to realise just how fucked he was.
Fucked in the head? No, he’d always been unhinged. What he’d always yearned for, the freedom of a bird, to soar unbound by any rules and limitations, presented so nice to him by an Entity promising him all the carte blanche to unleash his potential - was nothing but a sweet lie to trap him in a different sort of cage. Perhaps, in the end, the bird was the cage in its own way.
And now, as he stares into the eyes of this crimson death, Frank Morrison feels a familiar icy cold fear settle over him once more.
While these bitter reminders of his shit life flash through his mind, he makes a decision; the masked man’s hand slowly inches towards his breast pocket, albeit sluggishly.
His knife. But should he pull it out? He’s nasty with a blade, but this guy is fucking armed to the teeth - one misstep and Frank would surely find his own blood soon upon the man.
His hand creeps closer, fingers slipping past the hem of his jacket’s zipper. The other man hasn’t moved an inch and the lack of reaction only serves to fuel Frank’s fear.
No, he can do this. He’s faced worse people; bigger, dangerous. He’s got this. I’ve got this.
Just as his fingers twitch around the knife’s handle, something shifts in the canopy overhead. His eyes quickly dart above, though, in the dark he can only make out shapes jumping through the trees. Shit, he thinks, he’s got fucking back-up?
Except, the shapes move farther from the two, the echoes of branches bending and creaking under their retreating weights tell him that they’re leaving. But this new knowledge only serves to fuel his nervousness. Did they sense the fight about to start? Wouldn’t whatever stalked them want to pick off whatever’s left of the victor?
Movement ahead catches his attention; Frank tenses as his focus returns back to the blood-man. His eyes follow the other’s smooth movements as their hands work to remove something latched from the rucksack. He pulls his knife out confidently ready for action, but his heart rate spikes up the second he sees the stranger bring a gun to the party.
He’s not a fucking coward, but Frank nevertheless backs up a few paces, feeling sorely underpowered for this fight.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck, his mind races, Ok, new plan; back the fuck away and dart to the bushes.
Sounds like a good plan. Blood-man wouldn’t have a clear shot if he loses sight of him in the shrubbery. But the fact that his target hasn’t moved an inch nor trained their red gun on him yet makes Frank believe that something’s not right. If he permits Frank to back up any further he’s going to be gone in a flash.
What’s he doing? Frank thinks, a little peeved by his foe’s inaction. It’s as if he doesn’t even care about him. It’s as if something else has his attention.
Something bigger than him.
The stranger’s gaze subtly moves upwards.
The gun is raised and pointed straight to his chest.
The Legionnaire takes one more step backwards, preparing himself to turn tail and run for the hills.
Until something hisses behind him, a sort of hiss that chills him to the bone and sets his body on fire all at once.
Frank’s breath hitches as a terrifying realisation strikes him: all this time, the stranger was looking behind him.
With a burst of renewed dumb courage fueled by his terror, Frank turns to see what has been creeping up on him this whole time - only to be forced to back off as a giant appendage strikes the ground where he stood mere seconds ago.
The ground shakes beneath him, the aftershocks of the strike powerful enough to send him reeling backwards until he’s flat on his ass, staring at this, this thing, this fucking lumbering monstrosity, this gigantic spider made of fleshy limbs towering over him, hunkering down and arching yet another limb, bringing it down to smite him-
And then, there’s a flash of light - a deafening whir only getting louder. Although the mask blissfully protects him from the worst of elements, the blinding heat and light that suddenly burst in front of him have Frank covering the eye holes with his forearm, shielding his head away as the air around becomes unbearably hot.
The creature staggers away from him, its attack incomplete. It screeches, a sound he’s never heard before in his life, so loud and piercing that it hurts, it hurts just to listen and Frank’s own scream joins in unison. He tries to back off, drags himself backwards and away while the creature is preoccupied with its own pain, but it’s proving to be quite a challenge with the way it flails around, nearly crushing him several times in its blind rage. Mistakenly, he uncovers his mask while he’s still facing the monster, immediately regretting it as his eyes sting in agony before adjusting to the scene before him. Frank watches, stupefied, while that thing burns and angrily stomps around, hissing and striking the soil around it. The moment it seems to regain its composure and refocus on his meek form cowering at its feet, once the flames have died out over its singed flesh, Frank hears a click, then that same whirring sound.
And the creature is once more lit ablaze.
This time, the Legionnaire wastes no precious seconds fumbling about. While the monster leaps away and begins trashing against the trees and foliage of the forest, Frank crawls and drags himself away from the two, until he hastily shuffles back on his feet.
For a brief few moments, as he stands in the middle of his two assailants, legs sluggish and heart frozen in unease, he stops to take in the events transpiring around him. The thing is - and Frank seems to finally notice just how fucked it is - an amalgamation of spidery limbs that remind him oh so much of the Entity’s own limbs descending from the skies whenever It claims Its victims’ souls. But where the Entity comes down from the void, the inky cradle of Its very existence, this creature has a source, too.
A fucking child.
Frank Morrison is not a squeamish person, not after the shit he’s seen and the bigger shit he’s done. But there are some horrors in this world he wishes he would never have to set his eyes upon ever again - such as the visage of those monstrous members sprouting from a child’s mouth.
On the other side of him, blood-man wraps a soaked cloth smelling strongly of gasoline around his bloody axe. Frank’s eyes follow the movement of his hands, the careful roll of his wrist as the fabric tightens around the axeblade.
The creature recovers again; Frank can hear it hiss behind him, undoubtedly prepared to spear him a new one. His eyes, panicked behind his mask, lock with those of blood-man whose face has yet to betray any emotion. He doesn’t break contact, not even when the man pulls out a lighter from his gory trousers and lights the axe on fire.
In that brief moment, when the flames soar to life before him, Frank can see it - that glint of madness in his eyes.
The killer can see him for who he is: a man with nothing else left to lose.
And Frank’s two assailants spring to life around him, intent on tearing themselves and whatever stands between them to shreds.
Nope. No. No, thanks. Goodbye. I’m out, I’m fucking out of here, he thinks to himself, having made up his mind that he’d rather be anywhere else - yes, even in the Hag’s ghastly domain - than in this nightmare.
This time, Frank actually runs for his pathetic life.
Runs as chaos unleashes in his wake.
Runs while the Forest howls around him, monstrous and alive.
Runs faster when something else begins trailing after him, tripping behind, though somehow managing to keep up with his frantic pace.
Keeps on running even if his lungs burn from the lack of oxygen, his muscles threatening to give out from the exertion - but Frank doesn’t dare stop.
The fearless leader keeps on running, tripping on roots and scratching his hands and any other unfortunate patch of exposed skin on branches and in bushes.
Something stumbles behind, grunting as it impacts with a hard surface, most likely a tree. Frank doesn’t give a shit about whatever’s following him anymore though, not when he can see an opening through the shrubbery ahead - the dark cerulean hues tantalizingly peaking through the leaves. His heart soars for a moment, glad to finally see a way out of this labyrinth of trees, so he rushes forward with the last slivers of his strength. The last of the bushes scratch at his mask as he pushes through with a triumphant cry and his eyes immediately settle on the open expanse, the opposite treeline in the far distance, the mountains jutting in the background with their snowy peaks and the stars gleaming on the celestial vault beneath the dark moon.
A manic smile spreads over his face at the sight, his feet dragging him forward and down the slope, shoes slipping on the rained rocks and causing him to slide further in.
Dark eyes lower ever so slightly from the sky, noticing that there is no ground in the distance ahead, the earth dipping into a pit surrounded by smooth rocky edges. That’s strange. His eyes drift ever lower into the sinkhole and a chill settles over his spine. The pit gets bigger, and bigger - gripped by alarm, Frank tries to crane his neck downwards, looking for the ground through the minuscule holes in his mask, all the more as he slips farther and farther towards the edge. But all he manages to see is an abyss to which he seems to sink further and further into.
Panic seizes his mind and his body springs into action, attempting to climb back up. Dirtied hands grab at the rocks, gripping and dragging his weight upwards - but the longer he struggles the more he plummets, shoes sliding against the wet boulders as he flails to no avail.
Pebbles roll down the slope all around and above him, accompanying him on his progressive downfall. In a last-ditch attempt to stem his fall, Frank angles his feet the way he’d so often done while skiing and drags them with as much force as he can, defiantly staring down the encroaching darkness. For a while, it seems to work as he slows in his descent - up until his feet reach the smooth edge of the void.
And suddenly he finds himself with one foot in the grave and toppling over into it.
People claim that life flashes before one’s eyes when one’s close to dying. What a load of shit. The only thing that crosses through Frank’s shit brain as he slides over the edge and into the abyss, is the image of his faithful gang, most likely laughing at their idiotic leader’s death by a stupid sinkhole.
He can’t even scream. His mouth opens, yes, but nothing comes out, not even a pathetic mewl rushes past his comically wide open lips. Unbelievable. What kind of fucking idiot dies because he’s too stubborn to take off their shitty hard-to-see-through mask? What imbecile manages to worsen their situation in a few minutes? All because of what? Because he was a coward that didn’t want to die skewered by a monster? Because his desire to be in control and collected wouldn't permit him to apologize or admit when he was wrong? Because he craves the attention, needs everyone to focus on him? Because he’s a selfish possessive idiot that ruins everyone around him?
No. It’s everyone else’s fault but his.
Even in death, Frank Morrison would never admit that he was wrong.
He’d die a thousand deaths and be resurrected by the Entity before he’d admit it; though something tells him this time, there would be no Entity to bring him back from this cursed place.
Although it’s dark, darker as the void wraps around him and swallows all traces of life, Frank still closes his eyes - instinctually probably, perhaps comforting knowing he has at least control over this little detail, choosing to defy death and not look it in the eyes.
But he’s quite painfully jarred out of his self-deprecating last thoughts when his air is abruptly cut off. His hands desperately come up to his throat, fingers digging beneath the mouth of his hoodie to pry it away from where it suffocatingly cuts into his neck. Unsurprisingly, he gags and begins to struggle, legs flailing and kicking into nothingness while his heartbeat drums wildly in his ears, drowning out his senses.
Like an animal he trashes, disregarding the fact that whatever his hoodie caught on was most likely stopping him from the violent death awaiting at the bottom of the hole; even if his struggling only further suffocates him and the most rational thing to do would be to relax and angle his head backwards, Frank Morrison trashes, gripped by panic and terror.
Is it the loss of oxygen that terrifies him so, his surroundings and the inability to see or perceive anything around?
The lack of control? Unable to fight back and get a hold of himself?
The helplessness? Frank Morrison the coward, the scared boy too loud and rowdy for his own good-
“Stop struggling Frank!” someone screams from above.
Reality punches him in the face - honestly, reality fucking decks him, snapping him back so fast that for a split second, Frank thinks he’s back in Ormond with Clive, yelling at him to stop fucking around in the house.
As his heartbeat progressively calms down, other sounds begin filtering back to him, his ears picking up the hum of running water somewhere nearby, and strangely, animals - real live animals.
Is he hallucinating? Did he actually suffocate and die?
It all seems so surreal. The sinkhole doesn’t look like an abyss anymore - instead, he can see the bottom, albeit at still quite a fatal distance away; sees figures cavorting there, perhaps eager for him to fall in and join their ranks.
Averting his eyes, Frank tries to catch a glimpse of whatever’s holding him back; but the angle hinders him from moving and all he ends up doing is further inconvenience his breathing.
There’s a shift above him; gravel falls from above him and peppers his clothes. He hears a grunt, the sound so familiar and welcomed that it has his heart soaring with joy.
“Jeff?” he asks tentatively, voice cracked and hoarse.
But joy soon turns to horror when Frank finds himself abruptly dropped back a few paces. Jeff - he presumes - curses above as he struggles to maintain both hold on Frank and whatever else he must be clinging to in order to keep them anchored above the void. The grasp around his hoodie tightens, but the Legionnaire is too petrified to react to the discomfort, instead, fixated on the view below.
“Don’t drop me!” he yells full of panic, desperately trying to reach upwards and grasp at the other’s hand.
“I won’t,” Jeff answers with a sharp edge in his strained voice - but there’s also something else.
Alertness - a calculated edge that ignites a small spark of hope in Frank’s shrivelled heart. This is a plan with a man, someone who’s got something figured out.
“Listen,” Jeff starts, and Frank is all ears, “I don’t know how much longer I can stay like this. We need to get up as soon as we can, or I’m going to fall in with you. Now listen,” Jeff reiterates as he adjusts his grip, “I can’t drag you like this without slipping in myself. So I’m going to throw you up.”
Frank pales upon hearing Jeff’s solution. There’s a tentative attempt at a protest but really, what other choice does he have? It’s not like he has time to argue and come up with something else.
After a tense pause, where Frank ruminates his only option and gathers his courage, he relents, “You better not fucking drop me. Please.”
A reluctant grunt is the only confirmation he gets.
There’s a moment of silence, in which Frank collects his thoughts and attempts to calm himself down in preparation for the throw while Jeff adjusts himself and judges the consequences of the maneuver he is about to attempt.
“On three, okay?” Jeff brings him back to the present.
Frank hesitates while his heart leaps back in his throat, despite all his previous attempts to prepare himself. He doesn’t get to formulate an answer when Jeff begins the countdown.
Oh fuck, he’s not fucking ready for this. He can’t fucking do this, he’s just going to fall back down like a sack of fucking potatoes. He doesn’t want to do this.
“W-wait wait, wait, I’m not ready yet-”
But his words are cut out the second his hoodie tightens around his throat like a noose, while the world around rushes past him at a nauseating speed.
Up, down, turn around
Please don’t let me hit the ground
Faster than he could let out a scream Frank slams back onto the rocks at the top, the air knocked out of his lungs and his head nearly slamming onto the surface. He only has a mere few moments to adjust to the pain before he has to shimmy away, already slipping back down towards the hole.
Jeff scrambles back up himself, hauling his weight with great difficulty. With bleeding hands, the survivor struggles to get his feet back up, but he’s aided by the brush his hand is tangled into.
That same brush he swatted away when he emerged from the forest, long brushy twigs and brambles surprisingly sturdy, was maintaining both of their weights. The thought that they were quite literally at the mercy of a stick is truly terrifying.
Bandaged hands clasp around leather, tightening around the fabric. With a heave, Frank pulls Jeff, dragging him the last remainder of the distance back safely at his side.
“Holy fuck,” Jeff whispers between breaths.
Holy fuck indeed, that was too close of a call. Any later and he would no doubt be rotting at the bottom now.
“Why - why did you keep running away?” Jeff rasps between the pants, dragging himself next to him.
But Frank is speechless - a combination of exhaustion settling in and, well, shame.
With a trembling hand, Frank flings his mask to the side, uncaring about the blasted thing that caused him so much more trouble than help.
A few feet away from him, Jeff brushes the leaves off his beard and hair, dirt and blood caked hands working away while both of their breathing calms down; all the while, Frank regards the man with a modicum of suspicion.
Just how strong was Jeff, Frank wonders as he thinks back to how he soared through the air. Sure, he wasn’t as heavy as the man but Frank was no lightweight either, not when he could easily outweigh and carry survivors in trials. But then again, he could never do that before, at least not with heavier individuals. Was he missing something?
The killer ponders and watches, eyes glued to the other’s scratched fingers, picking apart and untangling his hair. His heart skips a beat when those fingers reach to the feather, the one Frank bestowed him with, the same one still somehow hanging in Jeff’s hair - he watches feeling a tad pained how Jeff rearranges it back behind his ear.
No, he does not like the way his heart painfully lurches in his chest. And he does not like the sorrowful look upon Jeff’s features.
“I just wanted to apologize, Frank. I didn’t realize how much it was bothering you back there. I-”
“Shut up,” harshly, Frank shushes him, “just, shut up.”
He can’t look Jeff in the eye; he feels the other’s gaze boring into him, eyes as hot as coals searing his flesh. He wants to scream, lash out and rip his face to shreds, just so he’d stop looking, so he wouldn’t feel so exposed and vulnerable but-.
But instead, he coughs - choking on the anxiety threatening to overcome him. Greedily he gulps down the cold night air, which serves to somewhat cool down his heated skin. Thankfully, the survivor seems to understand Frank’s desire to calm down, to regain a hold over himself.
There are no further questions aimed to prod at him - no unintended humiliations and distress.
Instead, Jeff settles close to him, his warmth a comforting weight at his side - instinctively Frank leans into the man, unconsciously closing his eyes to lose himself into this quiet moment. A heavy arm circles across his back, finally resting upon his right shoulder; he sinks into this man, cheek resting against the cool fabric of his jacket, as he momentarily indulges in his friend’s familiar scent.
His mind wanders, on other shores in faraway lands. Frank’s thoughts drift aimlessly between the events that just transpired and the ones he fled from. They seem so far away now, so insignificant - but he lingers on them, the intoxicating notes of anger root him in their presence.
Why can’t he let go?
A breathy sigh, a squeeze of his shoulder, and Frank wonders if perhaps Jeff’s mind wanders through the same forest as his.
He hums, content in this peaceful moment but it is short-lived, as all things seem to be in this purgatory they reside in.
The dread in Jeff’s tone was palpable, so much that Frank refocuses back on the present with dizzying intensity. His gaze falls back on the same scene before them: the sinkhole, the mountains, the trees rustling in the breeze; but there’s something else trickling through the darkness.
Steady orbs - maybe flashlights - steadily trickle in the distance, some faster than the others. Survivors who have come looking for Jeff? Frank turns to quickly regard the other, the tension visible in their stiff posture and anxious vision.
Fingers sink into his flesh painfully, but he’s too preoccupied to register the pain.
One orb pauses in its tracks, and both survivor and killer alike watch with bated breath as it shimmers brighter, inches closer to the gap separating them. Although the distance in between is enormous, Frank doesn’t feel any sort of comfort or safety in this fact. Somewhat, it feels that no matter the distance, whatever’s on the other side would still find a way to pursue them.
Jeff staggers back up on his feet, prompting the not-so-confident leader to follow in tow. Frank squints, takes one hesitant step closer as he tries to make out just who the fuck was creeping on them. They look like people, bipedal and normally proportioned and not like whatever the fuck the spider thing was or whatever was awaiting his demise down in the hole. Yet, he feels… odd. It all feels off somehow; the more he stares the more the light seems to shift, what he thought was once a flashlight now clearly resembles a crude torch. The fire dances and twists, casting shadows on the figures and the longer he stares, the more he feels gripped with apprehension.
“Okay so, I don’t know about you,” Jeff’s voice chimes in at his side, dripping with worry as well, “but my gut is telling me to leave right this instance.”
Frank, however, does not answer to his woe. Not because he doesn’t want to leave, no - he’d bolt away so fast he’d put any survivor to shame. The anxiety clutching him is quite, literally, petrifying.
“Frank, please,” Jeff inches closer, “we need to leave, something bad is going to happen, man.”
When he finally turns, a tad vexed and ready to snap back at Jeff that he did, in fact, agree with the survivor’s gut feeling, the words die back in his throat, body instinctively recoiling in on itself at the inhuman scream ripping through the night.
Jeff’s wide eyes and pale expression must be mirroring his own, for Frank can’t imagine he’d be able to hold any sort of composure after hearing that screech. Jeff’s gaze only grows duller when his eyes snap to the figures in the distance, eyes as wide as saucers that would make him laugh if Frank were to behold them under any other circumstance.
So instead of gawking at each other and dawdling any longer, Frank decides to employ the most sensible tactic to deal with this situation.
His hand clenches around Jeff’s forearm, after which gaining back Jeff’s attention, he nods his head in one last reassuring nod.
And then he runs, dragging his survivor with him.
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