Actions

Work Header

Aftermath

Chapter Text

I fiddle with the zip of my bag, pulling and tugging it with vigor that could easily break the poor thing.

I sigh, throwing myself back onto the hard wood floor, stifling a grunt. I forgot how hard it really was and I built the damn thing. I look at the lumpy bag and eye up how much is in there, how much does Dwight really need?

On top of that I’m in the middle of nowhere, Fort de la Park. With no reception and a rapidly draining phone battery.

Nevermind.

Dwight had asked me to clear out my shack for anything that’ll help us with our new summer camp. I think he has his hands full with the basic stuff so it’s the least I could do to see if I had anything useful in my old shack.

It’s not like I was going to return anyway. Not after David’s dumbass decided proposing was a good idea…

And my dumbass decided saying yes was an even better idea than that.

All in all life is different after the others and I escaped from literal hell. I now can’t so much as see red lights from behind me or look at any planks of wood with primary colour schemes without going into full on panic mode.

Whatever.

I sit up, hoisting the bag onto my back with a brief sound of exertion, this thing had to be the weight of a large child at least.

Before exiting I look around, there were so many memories here.

There was the time I got slide tackled by a deer, the time I got my leg caught in a bear trap and had to be air lifted to the hospital…

The other time I got my leg stuck in a bear trap…

My bed for the past however long I’d lived here was little more than an adult cot with the only addition being a mattress that was never dry and two playboy magazines smelt of really bad life decisions.

I should take them anyway for… nostalgia’s sake.

David isn’t always gonna be around for me, not with this new job as camp counselor for both of us.

I scoop up the magazines and tuck the under my armpit, exiting the beaten down shack.

At least I could rest easy knowing there was nothing in there, I stripped all the cupboards and drawers, lining my pockets with anything and everything holding sentimental value.

I know I’ve double checked and triple checked everything, I should really just walk away…

Walk away Jake, walk away.

Walk over the hazardous fallen tree branch that wasn’t there three years ago.

The woods are nifty, Jake. Nifty as shit.

Nifty, nifty woods. With nifty animals and nifty…. Am I even using ‘nifty’ correctly? Probably not.

I could look it up, but no reception.

I feel weird, instead of worrying about the fact I can’t dial 911 I’m worrying about my use of the word ‘nifty’.

The only reason I was able to call for help when my leg was fucked a few years back was I had my radio on me. Two other park rangers had been talking over the coms at the time so getting help was no issue.

I suppose I got lucky with a lot of it.

I’m not a park ranger anymore so that kind of help isn’t gonna save me on the rare chance I step in another—

One of those…

I narrowly avoid the bear trap, leaping over it so I didn’t fall with my momentum.

“Hooooooly shiiiit!” I drag out, impressed I managed to dodge the very scary bear trap.

Unfortunately I needed my arms for balance, so my magazines flitted down into the jaws of the metal beast.

Not nifty at all.

I stumble, catching my breath. When I was moving the pack didn’t seem as heavy, but now I’m stopped I feel everything down to the last centimeter of rope.

On any other occasion I’d just leave, magazines and all. But I’ve stepped in enough of these in my three years horrid of absence to know that every company manufacturing them should be burned and the graves of those who ran said companies should be pissed on.

Preferably by me singlehandedly, or by me and Ace and Meg.

Ace because he’d be up for something weird like that and Meg because she would’ve loved the challenge and she’d be up for something weird like that.

Anyway.

I grab a nearby stick, one that’s large but not too large, pushing my hand under the left jaws and teetering the trap to an angle. I could just flip it over but the jaws wouldn’t be able to clamp shut and then I’d have an upside-down dangerous hell apparatus.

I hold the stick over my hand as I press down on the plate, the trap slamming shut onto the thick wood as I use the chance to remove my hand.

“Hey! What are you doing?!” An old, gruff voice calls out, a hunched figure hurriedly stomping over to my position.

I jolt in my own skin, standing up quickly as blood rushes to my head and my vision blurs.

“What are you doing with my traps, boy?” He grabs my wrist as my vision clears, pulling me face to face with a scarred man in his fifties.

“Uhh, nothing?” I reply with about as much smoothness in my voice as chunky peanut butter.

I feel the mark on my neck flare up, the mark all of us have that linked us with our Obsession, the killer we arrived in that realm with.

I had Bear-trap Creepy-smile-pants himself, the ‘OG’.

“Is this nothing, kid?” He points to the disarmed bear trap.

“No sir,” Owch, neck pain is real pain. I’m sad the entity still has a hold on me after all these years. “I just wanted to make sure no one stepped in it.”

“That’s the point, retard!” He yells, letting go of my wrist and picking up the trap. “You’ve fucked it up with a stick too!”

“Sorry sir, I nearly ran into it is all.” I squeak. Normally my voice is a decently deep but I felt like my manliness was being successfully challenged here.

“What’re you doing this deep in the woods?” He barks, holding the trap in his left hand in a way that my brain deems too familiar.

“Collecting some stuff.” I manage to calm down enough to deliver the truth. “I used to live in a cabin around here, I’m moving into an actual apartment complex so I wanted to clear it out before leaving it to the wilderness.”

“Ah okay.” He laughs, his demeanor completely changed. “I thought you was one of the park rangers.”

“Nope, not me.” I laugh with him out of social convention, worrying for myself more and more. “I’m just a weirdo in the woods with two porno mags under his arm and about ten kilos of rope in his bag.”

“You sound shadier than me, kid.” He punches my left shoulder with his free right hand. “The name’s Evan by the way, Evan MacMillan. People call me The Trapper”

Trapper, huh? Not nifty.

That could be why my neck feels so swollen. If the guy I’m talking to really is my tormenter, I need to fuck off pronto.

“Jake Park.” I reply, the back of my brain yelling at me for giving this weirdo ‘Trapper’ my real name.

“Not King? It’s written on your jacket.” He asks, pointing to my sleeve.

Greeeeeat, now I have to explain to Old-man McMurder I have a husband.

Or a not-quite husband…

“Nah, Johnathon King. He’s a football player from Carolina in America.” I lie through my teeth, “nice guy. I met him once at a game of his.”

 “Instead of Carolina, Germany?” MacMillan ribs. “It’s cool you like that guy so much you bought a jacket.”

No, as opposed to ‘Carolina, Manchester’. Why did I say America? For fuck’s sake Jake.

“It was a gift.” I lie, I stole it from David this morning. “Anyway, I should get going. This pack’s getting kinda heavy and it’s about noon already so uh, happy hunting!”

MacMillan nods and we do a weird manly-man thing involving arm gestures, awkward snippets of laughter and no words.

I begin walking up the embankment away from my Obsession acutely aware of the distance between me and my truck and the supposed other bear traps in the forest.

I didn’t think when we were released the killers would’ve come too.

I most certainly didn’t expect them to be just as creepy and murderous. In all honesty that might just be mine, the Trapper was always really depraved.

Especially to me.

I just hope my friends are safe.

I just hope they’re safe…

Chapter Text

 

I’m sitting in a parking lot, outside the women’s health clinic.

Because of course this is happening to me.

I didn’t think after getting out of the Entity’s realm I’d be starting a family. Much less with Adam.

He’s a great guy, and I do love him, I just didn’t think I’d ever find love in a place as horrible as there.

Let alone being able to keep a man like him (This is me we’re talking about).

I lean back in my chair with a groan, running my nail over the dashboard and making a scratching sound. The more I did it the more I focus on the dashboard itself.

It’s not the best car in the world, but maybe the parts will fetch some money.

Money really is the root of all evil. That and the entity, but my friends tell me to try not thinking about the past.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

I’m annoyed don’t have a paying job at the moment because I’m still helping Dwight with the summer camp, everything should work out okay, though.

Adam’s still in Japan until he gets a job here in America, he visited me once and left the next day. I still haven’t told him he’s responsible for why I’m here, at a women’s health clinic.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

I’m still doing my bit in chasing down leads and giving his resume to every high school and college this side of America.

I continue the meaningless scratching, stopping when I see the area I was feeling up had become slightly discoloured.

I put my hands in my lap, eventually having them cross over my mid to hug myself.

“C’mon, Megsie. You’re better than this.” I mutter to myself.

Adam had been sending me money for my shitty apartment and for me to invest in Dwight, but I need a boost.

A little sprint-burst.

Ah, Toyota, how you’ve served me. Although I think I’ll have to let you go now.

Now? Am I listening to myself? How am I meant to get around without a car? Buses don’t go everywhere…

Especially not onto camp-grounds.

I suppose I can get Jake to drive me places, or move into one of the cabins we’re building on property.

I could nudge Jane or Ace for money too. Although I don’t want to do that, we’re all tight for cash at the moment.

I should just go to somewhere they’ll buy this thing and see how much its worth.

Finding somewhere like that should be easy.

I twist the key in the ignition, starting it and looking behind me, waiting until I could safely get out of the park.

Just like a safe rescue, Meg.

It doesn’t take me long to be on the open road, silently cursing myself for not looking up nearby car shops.

The part of town I’m in should have one anyway, it gives off that vibe.

I eventually find one, Autohaven Wreckers. I didn’t want a fate like that for my dear ol’ car, but I’m just there to see how much my car’s worth.

Maybe if they offer enough I could just take the money.

Should I tell Dwight about this? Or Adam?

I pull into the lot and immediately hear the machinery whirring, I smell smoke and grease which can’t be healthy for me, especially in this state.

I park somewhere my car won’t be mistaken for abandoned and go to what looks to be a reception booth.

Before I even look at the guy manning the counter my neck flares up, hinting my Obsession was near. Which is impossible, now especially.

When he turns around I see a smile firstly, followed by the ethnicity of the man.

He was young and African-American, with cropped black hair and brown eyes so dark they seemed black.

“Good morning, madam. How may I help you?” His English was definitely accented, forget African-American, this guy was just African.

“I’m doing great, sir.” I respond in equal formality, reading his nametag as ‘Philip’. “I just had questions about if you paid for cars.”

Now the pain in my neck had swollen to a point I couldn’t ignore it, it was definitely reminding me of something I’d rather forget.

“We do buy cars, not me personally. Uh, royal ‘we’ you see.” He smiles awkwardly.

“Well what can ‘you’ offer me?” I smile back. I should be nice to him even if I can’t think straight at the moment, workers have no right to be looked down on.

Especially by my unemployed ass.

Semi-unemployed ass.

“I uh, can I see the car?” Philip asks sheepishly, grabbing a notepad and a pen as he straightens his hat.

“It’s in the parking lot.” I walk backwards for a second before turning on my heel to lead him to the car.

He follows me to my little grey vehicle, it was nothing too impressive, just a regular car you’d see in the ‘burbs.

“Is this it?” He asks, taking a few steps in front of me to look the car over again.

“You bet.” I sigh, reaching my hands into the pockets of the long white coat I forgot I’d stolen from Adam. Not like anyone could confuse it for mine, It was way too big for me anyway and slightly bloodstained. “It’s in decent repair, I haven’t had it break down for about four years.”

I wasn’t lying to him, in reality it’d only been about six months since it broke down last, from what I’d known. Sure, I was gone for the other three and a half years but it’s technically I was telling the truth.

I try hard to forget those years, but with all my friends in my life and the weird throbbing in my neck it’s hard to think of anything else.

“Why are you scrapping this car then? It seems like it works well.” He comments.

“I just need the money pretty bad.” I answer, clutching the underside of my stomach. I wasn’t going to lie, but at the moment I’m only through one of my nine months and the only people who know are me, my doctor and anyone who read my recent medical files.

“Why not go to a used car shop?” Philip asks.

“I thought I’d get more money from the parts than by selling it to a dealer.” I shrug.

“Maybe, but I don’t think we’ll pay you that much.” Philip folds his arms, his voice ringing with honesty. “I’d recommend going somewhere else.”

His advice was little louder than a whisper, as though he was scared who might hear him.

“Thanks for your time, Philip.” I smile, mentally scolding myself for using his name. I remember my old job in retail, having people I didn’t know calling me by my first name was unnerving at best.

He looks a little taken aback before touching his chest to feel the pin, “Oh, yes. Sorry. You’re welcome, miss.”

I unlock the car and hop in, waving good bye to Philip. “I hope everything works out for you, miss.”

I smile at him one last time, driving off again onto the small town highway, watching the little light behind the steering wheel flicker on and off signaling low fuel.

I sigh again. I hope everything works out well for me too, Philip.

Chapter Text

“Doc Morel? Someone here to see you.” My Personal assistant rounds the corner to my office to tell me my patient is here, tapping the door frame as she turns to leave again.

I look back to my computer, alt-tabbing to my calendar to see who I was expecting supposedly.

‘Max Thompson Jr.’ was what I had written, in subtext it reads ‘severe physical mutation, moderate mental disability’.

The annotation wasn’t made by me or else it would’ve been in French, it must’ve come from upper management.

I stare at the name for a bit, my neck starting to feel dry and burning.

I’m broken out of my mini trance to the sound of my assistant’s voice letting me know I have company. I thank her and dismiss her, smiling as I watch two figures enter my room.

I look to my clock, seeing I was staring at the screen and feeling my neck flare up for nearly two minutes.

“Good afternoon, Doc.” An older gentleman greets me, smiling warmly. Sitting next to him was who I assumed was my patient.

Jesus, upper management wasn’t lying about ‘severe physical mutation’.

“Good afternoon.” I smile, “Is this Junior?”

The mutated man nods by himself, the stringy skin giving slack each time his head moved.

“We’re just here for a general checkup, Doc.” The older man smiles. “Even though Junior’s very tame all the GPs we’ve been to are kinda scared of him, I hope you understand.”

“Oh no, I do. Don’t worry.” I chuckle, “I know how you feel, I try not to turn patients like Max here away.

“Then I thank you for your service to this great country.” The caretaker states, lips thinned into a forced smile. “It’s a shame, I assume you’ve faced your fare share of discrimination, Doc.”

I nod, not wanting to make the encounter more personal than it needed to be. He was right though, working in this part of America I’ve lost patients because I’m a black woman who doesn’t speak brilliant English.

“I have.” I smile, still nodding, although the smile doesn’t really meet my eyes, “Let’s take Max’s blood pressure first.”

As I gather my equipment I hear the caretaker ramble on behind me. By now I think I can call him Max Thompson Sr.

Despite the situation, I can’t help but have an uneasy feeling. But I can’t neglect my job because of this.

Remember why you became a doctor, Claude. To help people with the knowledge you gained, all of our knowledge.

That and to fund my fiancé’s summer camp business thing with the decent paychecks I receive whilst pretending I have a few more weeks to begin paying off student debts. He’s been working so hard, everyone else too.

I’m sad I can’t spend more time with him, but that’s shallow of me knowing Adam and Meg’s situation. I couldn’t imagine being in another country than Dwight for a really long period of time.

David and Jake are the weirdest couple from the fog, they’re fine being away from each other for longer periods of time. It really contrasts from the other couples.

I know Jeff and Kate are having a really hard time, even worse than me and Dwight because they’re joined at the hips… hip, hips?

wrong analogy…

I hate English, dammit.

I wrap the contraption around my patient’s arm, feeling him tense when I pull the straps tight.

“I need to be calm for me, okay?” I smile at him, trying to ignore the immense discomfort in my neck. “Do you think you can do that for me?”

He nods again, mouth agape.

I was always hard to work with the lesser developed patients because they’re always so scared, correct readings are hard to get.

Junior seems like he could potentially be a little more trouble on account of the fact he’s anywhere from 180cm tall to 200cm tall and double my weight (although that last bit isn’t really an achievement).

If he were to struggle or resist me in any way I won’t be able to fight back and I don’t think Senior would be much help either.

Surprisingly though, when I get closer to him his breathing is normal and he seems calm.

As the machine compresses and develops readings for me I feel increasingly curious about this patient’s link to my time in the entity’s realm.

There probably is none, even though my neck seems to feel otherwise.

It still feels like he’s the one who was chainsaw’ing me across the farm, even when I blended into the corn perfectly.

Blending in. I was great at that.

The realm was so dark, and since I’m of the same colour and quite small, hiding was always an option, even in the memorial institute.

He, quite understandably, wasn’t a very happy person when we were sent to the institute.

We usually all got out if that was a combination.

I don’t want to call them ‘good times’, but those trials were a little mercy.

Getting out, for me at least, was a big one.

Chapter Text

“Good morning Ms Karlsson.” A nurse enters my field of vision, holding her hands behind her as she approaches me. “How’re you feeling this morning?”

‘A lot worse now you’re here’ was what I wanted to say. Whenever this nurse specifically gets close to me my neck decides to give me the same pain I feel when I was being chased by that other, murderous nurse back in hell.

Instead I just watch her approach me out the corner of my eye, sitting down to the left of my bed.

She was way too pretty for someone causing me this much pain with her red curls and twinkling blue eyes. She had such a kind demeanor and it was hard to keep a straight face around her.

“I know you might not want to speak with me, Ms Karlsson, but I can’t help you if you don’t talk.” She informs me matter-of-factly, taking my hand.

I try not to make eye contact with her, but it’s hard because part of me wants to. “When can I get discharged?” I ask her instead with a flat tone, my accent much thicker than it should be (but it was eight in the morning so I guess I can give myself a pass).

“Well, I was actually here to ask you a few questions.” She smiles, revealing a clipboard and pen resting on her lap.

 

Patient: Nea Karlsson.

Age: 27 (insists she’s 24)

Sex: Female

Caregiver: herself, Sally Smithson

Occupation: Freelance artist, camp counselor at ‘Aftercare Summer-camps’.

Admitted for: Suicidal tendencies, paranoia.

Additional: Went missing for 3 years, temporary Visa, English is understandable.

 

‘Paranoia’. They call it paranoia because they can’t explain it with normal expressions, instead they call us all crazy.

I can’t say I blame them though, there are some people out there that really are paranoid and skittish. The religious prophets and the doomsday preppers, it’s just a shame the others and I were all bundled in with them.

The others.

I sigh at the thought, flopping my head down onto the hospital pillows. I should be helping Dwight with the camp, dammit. Jeff and I were gonna video call and show each other our artwork at ten this morning, I’ll be lucky to see my phone by that time.

Jeff’ll probably have the better logos for the camp, he’s better at planned art where as I just spray paint walls with little to no thought put into it.

“Ms Karlsson, what were you planning to do once you were discharged?” She asks me as though she were reading my mind.

“Oh, well. I was planning on calling Jeff and going over some sketches for our summer camp.” I answer truthfully. I’d say something along those lines even if it wasn’t true though because saying I’m doing something productive is more likely to get me out.

“Is this ‘Aftercare Summer-camps’?” She asks, genuinely interested.

“Yeah.” I confirm, chuckling. “Dwight originally wanted to name it ‘Bondage Summer-camps’ and couldn’t see what was wrong with it until his gotdamn wife pulled him aside and explained it to him.”

I’m not sure how much about my personal life I should be telling Sally, but despite the pain I feel like I can trust her. Sure enough she begins laughing hysterically, but not loud enough to draw attention to us from the hall. It was nice though, everyone here was so fake, it’s nice having someone be genuine for once.

After her fit finishes she begins jotting some things down on her paper, her professional demeanor returning. “Are you and Jeff romantic?”

“Me and Je—no, no.” I laugh. “He’s still trying to find it in himself to fall on one knee for Kate which I think is rather stupid.”

I should’ve said yes, the doctors in here love it when you have someone to go back home to, it means we have something to live for even if the something is just a cat or a potted plant.

“How is it stupid?” She asks.

“Well, we’re all major contributors to the business, right? Most of us are getting green cards through marriage, if you know what I mean.” I shrug.

“For your Visa? Is he from Sweden too?”

“Canada.” I correct her.

“Are you having trouble with your Visa?”

“I am, kinda.” I shrug, “I think Ace is having problems too, because of his age and the fact Argentina’s not in the best place economically at the moment.”

“Are you getting married like him?” She asks, probably to write it down.

“No. I haven’t dated anyone since the incident.” I respond truthfully, lying isn’t a good idea and it doesn’t help me anyway.

“Incident?” She asks, jotting it down with a colon, expecting me to tell her.

“I…” I bite my bottom lip. I can tell her, right? “Back in… hell… I was sleeping with this girl, Feng.”

She nods, writing it down, looking over to me even though I’m still trying to avoid eye contact.

This was a bad idea, “she was dating another survivor at the time, Jake. She was cheating on him to be with me.”

“What happened to the two of them?” She asks quietly, writing down my story.

“Feng left him to be with me. The second we got out though she ended it.” I sigh.

“Ended it?” Sally asks alarmed.

“The relationship! She—she ended the relationship.” I enforce. “I’m sorry for making you worry, it doesn’t matter and it’s not even relevant. I’m sorry.”

“No, no.” Sally shakes her head, “It’s important to know your problems matter.”

“Cool, cool.” I brush her off, swinging my legs to the right and preparing to stand. “Can I go now?”

Sally sighs and looks down at her clipboard, “Ms Karlsson, I think I can discharge you as long as you promise to refill your prescriptions on Tuesday and take care of yourself. Can you do that for me?”

“I think so.” I respond, taking the discharge notice from her and shaking her hand which in turn sends a wave of pain down my spine.

I sigh as I turn to leave. I just wanna get my clothes and get out of here.

I’m going home now, I’m going to call Jeff and do work.

I’m gonna get better, and gonna take care of myself.

I can get though this.

Chapter Text

“Madre doesn’t want me talking to you, y’know.” Matias frowns as he throws another few breadcrumbs into the lake.

“I understand that.” I sigh, watching the fishing line dangle in the water. It was reaching five in the afternoon, we should pack up soon.

“But I don’t!” He throws his hands up in anguish. “You go missing for three years and when you come back it’s with nineteen others and some weird fucking eye on your neck that flares up frequently.”

He’s not wrong, although I hate to be called out like that. I frown, giving slack into the fishing rod, not caring about the water anymore.

“To add, whenever you see red lights or when you see a spider, you have a subtle little fucking panic attack!” Matias vents, “Tio, what happened?”

I sigh, “you won’t think I’m crazy or nothing, right?”

Telling him anything regarding my time in that hell-hole is bound to make him see me in a different light. Do I really want that?

“I already know you have enough people thinking you’re insane, it just doesn’t add up to me.” He shakes his head, “They brush it off as another senile old man but something happened to you!”

“Matias, you don’t want to hear abou—”

“You said you went through hell, huh? How’d you get out, huh?” He shifts his weight to look at me directly.

“The eye, it marks the ‘Object of Obsession’ and…” I start, stopping again.

“Obsession?”

Ace, don’t.

“Yeah, there were twenty-three of us, eleven pairs.” I bite my lip. “I was paired with a girl named Lisa.”

“Why were you in pairs?”

“Well. The person we were paired with. Would stop at nothing to see us dead.” I explain, my mouth dry and voice hoarse. “The fog rolled in by the hour, calling four to the trials each time. The four would then get, whisked away to… to the trial with a single hunter, the one who’d sacrifice us to the greater force we dubbed ‘the entity’.”

“So if there were eleven of you—”

“—twelve.”

“Twelve… of you.” Matias accepts the correction, “How did you know it was your turn for the fog?”

“There was no ‘turns’. You went or you didn’t.” I shrug. “We did have a system though. After your trial you’d get one off and then you were back on call.”

“Within the hour? So, you’d be there one hour then have one or two hours off? That means the group of four’d be different each time, right?”

“Kinda. We tended to stick in little groups of four, because there were 12 of us.” I nod, “But yeah. Usually it was me, Nea, Feng and David. But I had an arrangement with Jake and Adam. Adam got time with Megan, Jake got to be with… well… (that bit’s complicated) and I got to flirt with Jane.”

The words coming out of my mouth weren’t mine. It was a stream of drabble but it felt so structured.

A part of me feels like this was a string of questions I had prepared myself for, like I wanted to tell someone all these months.

“Were they the others? What about Lisa, Lucy?”

“Lisa.” I confirm, “She wasn’t a survivor. She was my obsession, my own little killer. They called her The Hag.”

“That’s kinda mean.” Matias lifts an eyebrow.

“Not really.” I laugh, but it comes as more of a forced hiccup. “She scraped you with her long nails and drank your blood before biting through your neck and eating your heart.” I drudge up terrible memories of the god awful Memento Mori skulls.

“Obsession… did she seek you out?”

“Kinda. She wasn’t too bad when it came to obsession things.” I shrug. “I always felt so bad for Kate. Feng too and… Adam.”

“Why were theirs worse than a literal cannibal woman?”

“Kate had a creepy, rapey clown who’d drug you and eat your fingers, he was terrible and for a sweet, young, pretty girl like her I can’t imagine... I can’t, help but…” I feel a little guilt for Kate, all of us went through the same things but most of us silently agree she got the worst of it.

“How did you get out?” Matias asks, gripped by my words.

I feel awful for telling him my story, but I’m not sure why I feel bad. It might be the fact I’m bringing up horrid memories, or the fact he doesn’t deserve to know what happened, for his sake.

“We had to detach ourselves from reality, walking through the bloodweb that gave us all of our edges over the killers.” I begin to explain.

Was I correct though? I didn’t think what I was telling him was false, but the way my sentences are being are being strung together, am I really in control?

Am I still under the influence of that horrible spider deity?

All of this could be a dream, what if I never even got out?

Is Matias even real? I swear when I saw him last he was nearly seventeen. Now I’m back it’s almost like he’s a different person.

The fish that swim in this lake must be so happy with life, then people who fish come along and reel them in.

Were we fish? Just living life until we were randomly selected to compete?

Was the water even real?

If I were to submerge myself now, what would happen?

“Tio?” Matias asks, his voice quiet and scared. “Are you okay?”

I stand up on the spot, averting my eyes from the water and beginning to walk away from the wharf.

“Uncle Ace?” He jogs after me, “was it something I said?”

No, Matias. It has nothing to do with you.

It’s my fault for telling you.

“Tio! Are we leaving the fishing equipment?” Matias asks frantically.

I don’t care about the fishing equipment. It can rot.

I shouldn’t have told him anything.

If not for his sake, then mine.

Chapter Text

“Thanks for coming on such short notice.” I laugh awkwardly, letting in the technician.

Normally I’d handle the technical problems myself, but ever since getting out of ‘hell’ I can’t so much as open up the insides of something mechanical before I’m back there, back in a trial in front of a generator.

As you focus on the machine you can’t afford to look behind you.

The constant dread of not knowing if you were secretly being watched by a killer or if a close friend was being chased or if there was anything else you needed to notice.

You’d hear the heartbeat, run away but not know where to or what you’re running away from—I should stop thinking about it, I don’t want to have a damn panic attack in front of the technician.

The doc said take your mind off it by thinking of something else immediate, like the appearances of those around you.

The technician’s an older man with dark skin, maybe in his sixties? He didn’t seem very old, although he doesn’t have any of the youth Ace has from his smile and charisma.

“No problem, I haven’t been getting much business lately.” He smiles, entering my house as I direct him to my computer.

I couldn’t ignore the sudden pain in my neck, the eye telling me I was looking at my obsession.

That was impossible, and dumb.

His smile was honestly kinda creepy. Not raising any red flags creepy, just really weird creepy.

“So what seems to be the problem?” He asks, adjusting the grip on his toolbox.

“The power goes out randomly, like I’ll be playing a game and then it just fails.” I explain.

“Do you think it’s a problem with your personal power-box?” He asks, “because if your neighbours are suffering the same there’s nothing I can really do.”

“I don’t know, I don’t talk to my neighbours.” I manage. It was a weird thing to hear from myself, to admit I was a loner.

And why was that, huh?

Yeah, it’s because I left Nea; why on Earth did I think that was a good idea?

Oh, that’s right.

I thought because of us sharing trauma we shouldn’t be together, instead I now have to see her every day for work, and watch everyone around me get married.

How the fuck did Dwight find love before me? How come Jake moved on so quickly? How do Kate and Jeff look so happy? How can Meg and Adam stay so close that long distance?

I should’ve realised sooner I was a complete dildo to them all, now I have to reap what I sew and I don’t want to be confronted with that.

“Okay, sure.” He nods, “In that case I can still take a look but I might not find anything and I’ll still have to charge you.”

“Yeah, that’s cool.” I mumble, leading him around the back of my house to the box.

He opens the door, examining the wires and circuit boards inside, looking at them as though he knew exactly what the jumble of coloured strings meant.

“How long have you been an electrician?” I ask him, still aware of the throbbing in my neck. I didn’t really want to know, but if I ever want to start being a better person, maybe talking to people is a good idea.

“Three, four years? Not very long.” He answers, tripping some breakers and going to touch the wires with gloved hands.

“Really? I would’ve thought you’d have a lot more experience being that old.” I scoff, realising after a few moments what I had said. “I didn’t mean it like that, I’m so sorry.”

Now was when I should just pretend 我不会说英语了 .

“No, don’t worry.” He laughs, “I’m doing this job so I can scrape together some more money for a comfortable retirement. I was part of the CIA.”

“Isn’t that the special police in America?”

“I guess, I can’t tell you exactly what we did because I signed an NDA, but the CIA was a more science focused wing of America, we handled quite a bit of forensics.”

“I mean, I understand why you can’t talk about it.” I shrug, having no knowledge of what the fuck an NDA was or what forensics translates to. “Back home if someone mentions Tiananmen square negatively they’re shot, so.”

He laughs at my joke which somehow only makes the situation more awkward, I mean, who laughs like that?

It sounded like a demented fucking giggle and I do not need to be reminded of that horrible beast any more than I already am day to day.

“So what’s a young girl like you doing living alone?” He asks, not in any invasive manner, he was just being a nice old man.

“I broke up with my boyfriend.” I mutter, which wasn’t false, just not as truthful as it could’ve been. Mainly due to the fact my last boyfriend was a woman.

“Oh no, why’s that?” He asks in concern like a father would.

“I just didn’t think I could be loyal to him with everything going on. I wasn’t ready for a relationship and I just regret it now.” I sigh, “He was great for me and my dumb ass let him go.”

“Does he have another girlfriend?” He asks, pulling and tugging at the wires in my box, shifting them around as he continues to look for something.

“Not that I know of.” I shrug, which was true.

I really hope Nea isn’t over me yet, I want her back I really do. I guess everything that happened is my fault, but I’m still sad about it.

“Do you want to get back with him?” The electrician asks.

I pause for a second, thinking about many things. Should I tell him? Can I tell him? If I said yes would I be telling the truth?

“I think so yeah.” I nod, looking at the box as he plucks a fraying collection of wires. “The sad thing is we probably would’ve broken up anyway, we definitely weren’t getting married at least.”

“No? Well I think you should at least give him a shot. Maybe things’ll work out better than expected; you don’t know until you talk to him.” The electrician smiles, finishing his replacement of a few wires that I now see were very faulty. “On a more professional note, you’re lucky your house hasn’t burnt to the ground yet, Ms Feng.”

“Yeah, thanks for this.” I smile, watching him trip some circuit breakers then close the door to the box. “I don’t have access to much cash right now, but I can give you a cheque or something.”

“A cheque works fine, Ms. Feng.”

I grab a cheque book resting on my kitchen table. I don’t know exactly why I have one but I guess it’s useful so whatever.

“Who am I writing the cheque to?”

“Herman Carter please, Ms Feng.”

The ringing in my head and the pain in my neck screams at me ‘that name seems familiar’ but at the same time I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.

“Herman Carter, sure.”

As he leaves my house with the money in his hand, I can’t help but focus on the now dwindling pain in my neck.

It makes me wonder if getting back with Nea was such a bad idea.

Chapter Text

“It might rain later today.” Dwight mentions, kicking the loose pebbles at his feet as we walked further into the natural park.

“And?” I turn to look at him, watching him try not to meet my gaze by hastily looking at trees and adjusting the position of his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

“Well, y’know. Forests, rain.” Dwight hiccups his voice abnormally squeaky. “Forests with, red trees…”

“...Red forests”

“Subtle.” I deadpan, “was’ yer point?”

“We’re going to be alone in a rainy forest, just you and me.” Dwight elaborates poorly. “What I’m trying to say is I don’t really wanna carry a man twice my weight and half a foot taller than me out of the forest all because you saw a misshapen rock formation or something.”

We stare at each other in silence. 

Does he really think this little of me?

“Ye really think that’ll happen?” I ask, not sure whether to feel offended or curious.

“It might.” Dwight shrugs. “Claudette is petrified of cornfields now, so that.”

“Cornfields are scary anyways.” I shrug, but not in a dismissal way, as it would be poor to downplay his concern.

“I guess.” Dwight nods, “You can’t see anything moving in them until It’s too late.”

“Claude of all people though, she was amazin’ at hidin’ in them fields.” I chuckle, trying to suppress memories. Why’d I mention hiding in the cornfields?

The cornfields were only good when we were up against The Nurse, that and those trials with my own Huntress on Lery’s. I would’ve enjoyed them more if it wasn’t for us being able to see each other through walls.

Dwight was right, why did I agree to come along with him? I feel like our shared trauma is the only thing we have in common.

I mean really? I couldn’t see a younger version of me befriending a skinny wimp like him for any reason.

“I’ll be fine.” I sigh, continuing down the path we were on. 

I guess he wanted someone strong to help him with some heavy lifting, or maybe as a meat shield for bent back twigs in the woods.

The twigs all look the same though, all the trees are the same. I half expect to see a generator waiting for us off the beaten path we were travelling.

Part of me is waiting for a heartbeat. I want to hide behind a bush or find a tile with a pallet and a nice, safe, comfortable window. I know nothing’s going to happen, but I want to do it, I need some safety.

I hug myself instead, picking up my pace nervously as I look around for anything, A wall with a window, a red stain, a shimmer in the tree lines.

“What did uh, what did you do with your Saturday?” Dwight asks hesitantly. It’s a clear attempt to distract me, but I welcome it.

“Netflix with Jake, I cooked some pasta for dinner. We looked’t weddin’ locations, y’know, pretty normal stuff.” I mutter half of my sentences, my mind not fully torn from the scenery.

“Wedding locations, huh? Do you know where you wanna get married yet?” Dwight continues with the conversation.

“Not a church, I know that much.” I joke, hearing him laugh behind me as I keep moving forwards into the fray.

At least we could make it back to camp from here, the trail was pronounced enough it shouldn’t be too difficult to find our way back.

“You were at my wedding, right? That cathedral was real beautiful.” Dwight sighs, remembering his own wedding to Claudette.

It was real nice church, I’ll give him that. For a while I wanted to marry Jake there, but something tells me he wouldn’t be too much into it.

“We was thinkin’ the woods, but I dunno.” I sigh.

“I think that sounds really magical.” Dwight smiles. “Meg wanted to get married on the beach.”

“She also wanted an ‘orse n’ carriage I take it? I love that woman, she thinks so big.” I laugh, imagining poor Adam having to talk her out of a mariachi band.

“What are you getting her for a wedding gift?” Dwight asks, keeping the conversation alive.

“Jake joked we should give ‘em a dollar for every time someone made a ‘Cool Runnings’ joke at Adam.” I mention.

I hear Dwight double over in laughter, making me turn to see him rest against a rock, his amusement clearly genuine. "Are ya dead, man?" He quotes, recounting all the times we'd ask Adam the same question, whenever we saw him we'd ask about his last trial that way. 

God only knows how that man tolerated us.

“Just give ‘im an ‘undred dollar bill n’ an apology.” I add, making Dwight laugh even more.

“Oh god, I guess that’s what Kate’s giving you for your wedding!” Dwight giggles.

I’d normally be saddened by the mention of Kate’s homophobia but I didn’t really care at the moment.

“I’d pay money for Jeff to propose to her, what is he doin’?” I laugh, shaking my head.

“They’re perfect, man. I dunno.” Dwight shrugs, standing up from the rock and patting me on the shoulder.

We walk side by side after that, the trees seeming a little more friendly as the light peers through the canopies. Even when rain starts falling from the sky it feels peaceful.

“So what d’ye think? We take the kids ‘round the trail we came n’ pass them rocks near th’ river?” I point to where the forest becomes an open rocky river side.

“We should make sure it’s passable first.” Dwight nods, walking through the trees to the overpass.

Immediately we see a fallen log bridging this area and the next. The rain made it look slippery and the river below was louder than I was comfortable with.

“That don’t seem safe, man.” I point out, looking at Dwight with concern.

He looks around a bit, thinking of alternatives. 

“There’s a rock formation over there.” He gestures to our left.

“Yeah, ‘at one seems a lil’ more solid.” I nod, walking over to it with Dwight in tow.

We cross the path with little resistance, the rocks below our feet holding up as we hung onto the upper shelf to get over the river.

"The centre of balance seems weird, especially if they were gonna carry their own stuff." Dwight scratches his chin.

"I don't think id'll be too bad for 'em." I pace.

"We should have a dry run with some of the others, maybe on a clearer day." Dwight stretches, walking onwards into the next part of the forest.

I follow him casually, rubbing my own tired eyes as I think to myself.

The future's looking okay.

Chapter Text

The car’s tires slow as we reach the park, multi-coloured balloons littering the area as kids played on various hired blow-up attractions. It was mid-morning, not early enough for there to still be fog on the horizon, that was always a good thing. 

I sigh in my seat, picking out all the people from the crowd I can still name. It was weird, some of my relatives really did seem four years older than when I last saw them. Everything from gray hairs to older children to sunken cheeks; some of my older relatives weren’t even present at all, although that shouldn’t be as surprising.

“So, you and I are going to get out of the car and enjoy Thomas’ birthday party.” Jeff exhales, his fingers wrapped loosely around the steering wheel as we wait in the parking lot of the family playground. “This means a lot to your family, okay? We aren’t gonna blow it.”

“What do you mean ‘blow it’?” I ask slowly, raising an eyebrow in him and adopting a defensive stance.

“C’mon Kate, it’s too early for this. I mean do something that’ll… y’know, like, ruin his day? Not that we’d purposefully ruin his day or anything but we can’t make a scene.” Jeff darts around the subject.

“You better start makin’ sense real soon.” I feel myself snarl, every bone in my body ready to fight.

A sensation I know too well.

Make a scene? Who the fuck is he talking to? I’ve been great with my mental health over the past year and my nine year old cousin’s birthday party ain’t changing that.

How many of my triggers are gonna be at a damn kid’s birthday party?

“I know your family’s real ‘hands on’ and maybe a large crowd isn’t the best setting right now--”

“This is ‘coz I’m on my period, ain’t it?” I snap, folding my arms with a frown.

“What? Of course not! Why did you even think that?” He lets go of the wheel, his face reading confusion and disgust.

“I get crabby on my periods, I haven’t had one in four years so I forget how to handle ‘em.” I tuck my hair behind my ear, fixing the back of my skirt.

“I don’t care, Kate.” He sighs in exasperation, his tone masking some level of anger. “Not just your cousin but your entire damn family hasn’t seen you in four years. Haven’t they waited long enough for you to say ‘hi’?”

“Are you telling me how long they’ve waited? Seriously? You were there, Jeff! I can’t believe you’re acting like you’ve just gotten over your trauma.”

“I’m not saying that. I understand I had it a lot easier than some of the others but we can’t  stay in a little hole of sorrow forever!”

“And why not?”

“Because we need to move on! We can’t let ourselves just wallow in our own depression, that’s not how it works.”

“Well then how does it work, Jeff?”

“What?”

“If it don’t work like that, how does it work?”

Jeff glares at me for a moment, thinking of an answer. “You can’t live your life depressed, you have to be stronger than the demons, right?”

“You don’t sound sure.” I mumble, the argument’s intensity way too tonaly imbalanced.

“Well, I dunno how other people do it, okay?” He shakes his head angrily, “I just know that I need to get over it because of you. I can’t leave you alone, I don’t think I could even consider it.”

“So why are you pushing me to get better too then?”

“Are you listening to yourself? Are you serious? I want you to get better so we can act like fucking adults again.” He vents, “I wanna be able to go have a beer with the other guys and not have to worry so much about you or them. I want to be able to talk with the others and not see them like I did in trials.”

“Adults? We act like adults all the fucking time, we cry each other to sleep! What more do you want?”

“I wanna marry you, Kate!” He exclaims, “You know I do, this isn’t a new thing for us. But when we argue like this I dunno if we’re ready for it. I’ve been talking to Nea and she wants to get back with Feng, and Jake’s marrying David because Claudette and Dwight already got married. Ace and Jane reconnected and Meg? Meg’s having Adam’s kid, and we’re still arguing over your little cousin’s birthday party.”

I stop and stare at him. 

He’s so right.

Everyone around us is getting married and having kids and I’m pegging all my problems on my period. 

What am I doing with myself? Why can’t I see the bigger picture, am I that entranced in my own problems?

I know Jeff wants to marry me, we’ve talked about it before because I wouldn’t let him just propose without talking it over with me.

I can’t believe all the others see us as the perfect couple.

I guess it’s because we seem like the most normal what with our similar interests in music and art and everything else. I wish we were perfect though.

How long did the argument last? A minute or two? How did I go from ready to rip his balls off to agreeing with everything he says?

We meet each other’s eyes but I have to look away from him in shame. I watch my little cousins run and jump and wonder if that’s what I want: kids of my own. I know we’ve talked about marriage and I could never leave Jeff, not after all this, but at the same time I don’t know if I can commit to him, if I can really love him the way he loves me.

I can’t believe myself. Mental illness always reared its head when talking about my family. Mainly Schizophrenia, and the paranoid kind at that, but depression and anxiety wasn’t uncommon either.

People like me and Ace, we had the big families that didn’t understand what we were going through, and Jane had the entire public breathing down her neck, waiting to lap up more of the ‘nonsense’ she spouted.

Not being taken seriously is one thing, being branded crazy by those around you is another. 

A lot of us have new trust issues, new problems we wouldn’t have if we weren’t treated like crazy people.

Nea said it best though, we can’t expect them to believe we aren’t crazy just because we want them to.

I just don’t wanna keep my head down.

Chapter Text

I cringe when I step on the dead, dry leaves in front of me. Half expecting something to jump out of the bushes comprised of 80% sticks. 

Force of habit I suppose.

Funny, really. I can’t remember the last day of sunshine we had in Kyoto, yet the run-down estate we’re entering through dubiously legal means remains crisp and dry, the various dead trees and bushes contrasting against the feral vines covering once great works of stone and chisel.

A cultural marvel.

“Stop jacking off to the statues, we have a job to do.” Yui chuckles, breaking me out of my chain of thought. I forgot how much like Nea and Feng she was.

“I’m coming, dirty woman.” I mumble, watching my step down the embankment from the spade fence we had scaled, dried leaf litter and loose dirt making the descent more difficult than I remember.

It has been four years, after all.

“You think we’ll find our buddies?” Yui asks, her tone only half joking as she carefully slides open the paper-thin shoji door, already torn from years of stress.

I hope not. My neck’s already starting to burn from what I’m hoping is phantom pain. Yui’s fiddling with the hair around her neck too. Maybe it’s just a nervous tic.  

“There’s no such thing as ghosts, Kimura-san.” I sigh, walking through the crack in the doorway, making sure not to fall through the rotting wood of the floor.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” She asks, lips slightly agape with her eyes wide open as she leans against a wooden beam holding up a doorway.

“After death St Peter judges our souls and sends us to heaven or hell, no one ‘stays’.” I explain my theology, suddenly very aware of the religious symbols around my neck,the cord rubbing against the scars.

“Bullshit.” She frowns, walking behind me as I trace the walls to my left side, looking through the tears in the closed shoji, turning into a smaller entrance room, the floor creaking under my weight as I walk further into the estate. “If The Oni died centuries before he arrived in the Entity’s realm, what does that do to your heaven/hell theory?”

“He didn’t die centuries before. Likely a few seconds.” I mumble, flicking on my flashlight to better navigate the cold entry room, floating particles of dust catching the beam of yellow. “Time is queer in The Entity’s realm at best.”

“Queer, huh?”

“Odd, strange, peculiar.” I look back at her with an unimpressed expression. 

“Whatever.” She sighs, pulling in front of me. “That’s still a dumb explanation.”

“God got me through those four years, Kimura-san. I’d like to think he’s the reason we got out at all.”

“If God loves us so much, why were we sucked in in the first place?”

“Because The Entity is not God. She was something different entirely.” I explain. Granted I didn’t really know what The Entity was, none of us did. Claudette always referred to her as female so that’s what we started doing as well. We saw physical forms of hers at least, usually the claws that we’d struggle against that sacrificed us in the end.

“We don’t even know if she was a she.” Yui shrugs.

“And we don’t need to.” I cut her off, “We’re out now, and I like to believe I owe my life to divine interference.”

“Of course. You’re obviously God’s favourite, how stupid of me.” Yui says sarcastically. “Plus, for such a perfect Christian you sure as hell managed to screw up on the ‘no sex before marriage’ part.”

I feel my breath hitch as I meet Yui’s smug face. “How do you know about that?”

“Really? I wouldn’t trust Meg with hosting a surprise party for my freaking cat! She sucks at secrets.” Yui laughs, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I knew before you did.”

“For the record, Meg and I are getting married in the near future so it doesn’t count.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night.” Yui smirks. 

I follow behind her as she advances to the next room, sweeping the area with the torch. The second I enter through the decrepit entryway, my neck flares up, damn phantom pain.

The air is dead, a haunting quiet filling my ears with low ringing, bringing my focus to the absence of life in this place. Dead flora for dead halls. Are we the next dead men to walk through here?

The scenery’s too familiar here, the crooked mask on the wall above the sword rack. The pleated mat beneath my feet covered in dried blood. The chill up my neck as flickers of black hair fill the space behind me, cold breathing in dead air.

“Adam-kun?” The voice scares me, causing me to swing blindly with the torch, met with resistance in the form of a crack and a feminine scream. I turn behind me frantically. Met with nothing. 

No blue skin, no black hair, no katana.

“Adam-kun, what the fuck?!” Yui screams, blowing sharply out of her nose, vacating blood onto the floor from various facial orifices.

“Kimura-san?” I choke when I come to my senses, falling to my knees next to her and steadying her by her shoulders. “Kimura-san, what happened?”

“What happened?! You hit me with the torch!” She yells, tears running down her face from the pain, it was likely they weren’t willing tears, Yui was never one to cry.

“I did?” I mutter, examining my flashlight, still on with the beam obscured by a viscous fluid. “Oh dear, I did.”

“Oh fuck.” She wails, “I found your lighter, jackass. Mission accomplished now just get me outta here.”

She slams the small rectangular prism into my open hand, leaning into my arm as I feel her breathing get more teary. 

The joking tone of our conversation before morphing into a pained collection of sobs, all too familiar.

I put the long forgotten silver object in my coat pocket, still stained red from the past four years I’ve worn it. Carefully scooping up the frail woman in my arms and preparing to go out the way we came.

The shiny silver sitting comfortably in my pocket, tangible evidence the past four years really happened.

Chapter Text

Christ this place is rundown.

I sigh into the unlit ruin of Mount Ormond’s lodge. My father’s before he passed, and mine before I… well… also, passed.

My breath materialises in front of me despite the extra layers, God only knows how cold Alice is.

My worries about her quickly subside when I see the dog run through the dark living room whilst barking to herself happily. The sunken couches stained with cigarette ash and spilt booze, graffiti lining the walls, most of it unintelligible scrawlings or unrefined art pieces.

We all had to start somewhere, I suppose. Hopefully the budding artists find a constructive creative outlet that isn’t warped by peer pressure.

I sigh to myself, walking further into the old building over cold water left over from melted snow, the welcome mat now home to various colonies of mold among other things, I’m sure.

This place used to be so welcoming.

The soft humming of smudged light-bulbs, the whir of a struggling generator that powered the heating, trapped in the large cabin by locked windows, sealed shut by outside snow and unmoving locks stiff in place from years of unuse. 

Now the windows are all broken and the wind has free reign of what’s left. I’m not even sure why I bothered coming here to ‘collect my things’. Everything of worth is probably gone, destroyed or both.

Maybe I can find some rope or something for Dwight. Some old safety instruction videos although I doubt that’ll help. Maybe he’ll want to pawn that old VCR we had in the craft room provided it still works. 

Or even if it’s there at all.

I sigh to myself, watching the crystallised breath in front of me, small flakes of snow stuck in my beard.

As a boy, whenever a storm hit I was always scared of the thunder, but I always felt safe in front of the fireplace, sitting on one of the couches with my comics strewn on the floor under the roof of a makeshift pillow-fort. 

Security was a constant here, until The Entity at least.

I didn’t realise until I was told by the others I was unique in that the realm of Ormond was linked to me instead of The Legion. I never thought too much of it, still don’t.

Although repression is probably to thank for that.

The real deal is different though, obviously. No generator by the stairs for one, the doorways are a lot smaller and actually have doors in the frames and I doubt I could vault over the stained blue counter by the backdoor without the dip.

It’s a shame I can’t show this place to Kate. 

I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that can stomach even looking at the building from the outside anyway. Alice can too, of course.

Alice.

She’s been living with my sister for the past four years and it’s a miracle she recognised me at all. I’m glad she’s around still though, not just for me, but for Kate. It’s good having something real around to ground us on Earth again.

Alice breaks me out of my thoughts as she begins to growl at the air, the darkness of the lodge and my shitty flashlight not helping to identify anything worth a damn.

“Yo dude, there’s a fucking dog in there!” A hushed male voice expresses, quickly getting sushed by his company.

I freeze, a sudden pain in my neck flaring up.

There should be two pallets upstairs and on the walkway with another few outside. If things get dicey there should be a few lockers around and I have that window on the counter and a loop to my right… oh, yeah.

Where there was once a heap of metal we would cling to whilst going around in circles, is now is replaced with more of the same stained carpet, complete with indentations from the old pool-table we once had in that spot.

Meg’s ‘sprint burst’ or whatever she called it would be real useful now. To be fair, being able to see the aura of everyone I’ve so much as put a bandaid on is pretty useful too, especially for getting to Kate’s having a ‘moment’. But I’d much rather have one of the fancy powers that make you feel like you’re dying for a minute before you can use it again.

Sure Feng’s was hard to learn for anyone over 120lbs and David’s only worked like half of the time, but they were insanely powerful. At the same time I’m sure Meg or Jane would happily trade some of their more useless perks for an aura reading one like mine.

But that’s not important right now.

“Can we adopt it?!” A hopeful female voice chirps as the group moves up the outside staircase.

“Are you fucking kidding me? No!” Another, deeper female voice responds harshly.

“Shut up, all of you.” A new male voice snarls, his voice less rich than the other boy, a lot more gravel and edge to his overall tone.

I see four figures enter the building from the second story, the throbbing in my neck becoming more unbearable as I take cover behind the fireplace in the center of the room. I should be obscured to some degree to at least three of them. Still not sure on exactly how that works, but I’m hardly in a place to argue.

Alice stops barking when she sees the young adults, running up the stairs to meet one of the girls in a plaid skirt and pink hoodie, the border collie tearing at her stockings as she kneels to better hug my companion.

“Suzie you don’t know where that thing’s been! It could have rabies or something.” The darker skinned of the two males told her off, kicking Alice off of the girl in the pink hoodie and earning a whimper from both girls in response.

“Don’t kick him!” Suzie protests.

“Stop fucking caring,” The man in the lead growls, hunched over as he kicks an empty beer can further down the stairs. “This place is in the middle of fucking nowhere, a stray couldn’t survive up here. It belongs to someone.”

“If it’s here at all it could’ve made it by itself, Frank. Not everything’s gotta be a fucking conspiracy, y’know.” The harsher girl says, I could practically hear the eye-roll.

I watch as Suzie ruffles Alice’s ears, noticing the black collar normally hidden by fur. “He has a collar, Julie.” She says smugly.

“Hah, bitch!” The darker boy laughs at Julie’s mistake.

“Fuck off.” She sneers back.

“Alice? Aw that’s a cute name.” Suzie fawns over the dog, “If lost please phone Jeff on this number.”

“Do we have reception up here?” The dark boy asks.

“We haven’t had reception up here for two fucking years Joe.” Julie rolls her eyes.

“You think ‘Jeff’ might be Jeff Johansen?” Susie asks her friends, my breath hitching slightly as my full name exits her mouth.

“Who?” Frank asks, peeved.

“Y’know, the guy who technically owns this place?” Susie elaborates.

“Yeah, the one who’s been dead for four years.” Julie scoffs, “Come on, Susie.”

I hear the group make their way onto the same floor as me, coming near the center of the room where I’m hiding.

I can see them more clearly now. All of them are late teens at the oldest with various piercings and tattoos accompanying rebellious themed accessories.

I feel myself clutching my neck even harder. These guys aren’t a threat, surely. I have a knife in my jacket for paranoia purposes and I doubt these kids have much bite to their bark.

“I’m serious! I saw him on the news, he came back!” Susie protests.

“You’re sure it’s the same guy and not someone who just shares his name?” Joe shrugs.

“Well, no. But the dates all line up and the photo in the news looks like one we found upstairs a few months ago.” Susie elaborates, still carrying Alice in her arms.

“Are you talking about The Survivours?” Frank asks, making me cringe at the name the media gave us when we first appeared. “That’s just a publicity stunt, Sue, you know this.”

I sigh at his words, trying not to get angry. We’ve been told by too many people we faked the whole thing, most of us were denied medical treatment until Nea… did what she did and a bunch of us expressed we felt like doing the same.

Funny, however many times we were told death wasn’t an escape, I don’t think it’s set in yet.

“I saw that too.” Joe nods, “Kinda weird though how all these people who were missing for like four years just turn up covered in blood in the woods.”

“That can be easily faked y’know.” Julie shakes her head.

“Yeah but they tested the blood and it was from people who died ages ago.”  Joe shakes his head, “That black chick had the blood of some immigrant in the 80’s on her shirt who ripped out some mofo’s spine before fucking off into the woods. And that China girl had some CIA dude’s blood on her’s.”

“That can still be faked Joe.” Frank sighs, getting aggravated.

“Yeah but some of those missing guys were dead though even though their bodies weren’t found.” Susie pipes up. “Like the TV host who drove off a bridge or the Japanese teacher who was in the train crash.”

“I’m pretty sure he was African living in Japan.” Julie mutters.

“So you do know the case.” Joe pushes her playfully, earning a dagger-filled glare.

“Yeah, I know it, that doesn’t mean it’s not fucking fake.” Julie spits.

Alice wriggles out of Susie’s arms, happily trotting towards me and tugging at my jacket to try and convince me to meet her new friends.

I feel my breath hitch, this is bad. 

Susie huffs, walking over to my hiding spot behind the fireplace. I hold my breath, freezing in place as she looks straight at me, prying Alice off my jacket gently and conveniently not noticing my presence.

She turns around to face her friends again, their conversation progressing as they begin to find seats, making themselves comfortable all in my line of sight.

If Susie didn’t register my presence whilst making physical contact I could probably just walk out of here before the distortion effect wears off.

I’d have to get Alice though first and I don’t want to push my luck with my powers too far.

She should be able to follow on to what’s happening. At least I hope.

I slowly get up from my half crouching half sitting position, making my way to the door whilst praying Alice catches on.

Instead I catch the gaze of Frank, who glares at me before his eyes dart back to the rest of the group.

Hopefully he didn’t notice me. I know my limit is three at a time for distortion to work so one of them is fully aware of my presence. Alice cranes her head back to see me at the main door to the lodge, she wiggles out of Susie’s grasp again, having the girl place my dog on the floor gently.

As soon as Alice is by my side I make sure to leave the door open in my wake as we hastily trudge outside through the snow.

My breath resumes as normal once outside, my body relieved and the pressure in my neck lifting. 

I don’t think I should’ve come here.