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Breath of Life

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“It is easy to go down to Hell; night and day, the gates of Death stand wide, but to climb back again, to retrace one’s steps to the upper air - therein lies the difficulty.” - Virgil, the Aeneid

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The campfire roars, as it always did, crackling and licking the dark sky, never taking a moment’s rest even in the coldest or windiest of times. It had always been raging on despite any effort in putting it out. Dirt, water from the nearby pond, or even, as David and Ace liked to try, peeing on it never worked.

It had become a sense of both comfort and great anxiety to the unfortunate group that call themselves the survivors. For whatever reason they had been brought into this world, the Entity’s world, this is where they lived, where they healed, and where they hoped to get out of one day.

But in the meantime, they waited.

They played the Entity’s sick and twisted game.

But most importantly, they tried to encourage one another in the worst of times to stay strong, whatever that meant.

Lately though, things have taken an odd shift around the campfire. Before, when there were only a handful of them, they would entertain each other with stories and songs because to them, they really had all the time in the world, and it was a nice distraction from the impending doom of another trial that always loomed over them.

Meg was one of the first survivors in their group along with Dwight, Claudette, and Jake, with all of whom she grew close to. Every few months or so, honestly, she couldn’t tell how long she had been there accurately, another person would wander into their campfire and there they stayed.

With each passing person coming to join them, their small and quaint group grew into what now seems like a big family. This should fill Meg with hope or some sort of happiness, and it does to a point.

But as each day goes by, a small part inside of her starts to wither away and give up. It’s not much, but the dread she feels grows worse like an infection, threatening to make her weak, to give up.

When she arrived, she wasn’t sure how long she would be trapped here whether it be a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or even forever; she never liked to think about that last option.

But when a new person shows up, and now with their ever growing family, there is still no hope of ever getting out, only staying here.

She keeps these fears tucked away deep inside her because she is afraid if she ever says them out loud, then they’ll be out in the open.

Too exposed.

Too real.

What would they even think of her if she were to tell them? Realistically, she thought they would try to calm her down and rationalize her thoughts, but what if they had the same feelings? She certainly didn’t want to bring them down with her and ruin their chances of hope that they may escape.

So she tries her best not to indulge these thoughts and rather enjoy her time with her new found friends.

While staring at the fire, her thoughts are interrupted briefly by the sounds of shuffling feet and multiple groans coming from the woods to her right.

“Bad trial?” She calls out already recognizing the groans to be from her fellow survivors, Dwight and David.

“You could say that,” Dwight says wincing as he reaches the campfire.

“More like it was fuckin’ shite,” David hisses, spitting to his left before wiping his face. “We weren’t even close t’gettin’ out. One fuckin’ gen and the bastard slaughtered us.”

“Again?” Claudette’s soft voice comes from behind Meg as she walks up to take a seat beside Dwight. She grabs his arm to inspect it for any sort of lingering injury.

Dwight nods before speaking up, “All my trials have been like that lately, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“It’s not you, kid,” David says, his tone a little less confrontational this time. “It’s these damn killers! They’re gettin’ too strong. I used to enjoy going up against this fuckers but now…”

“Well, where’s Feng and Bill? They could get out and maybe the trial wouldn’t be a complete loss,” Meg suggests trying to remain at least a little hopeful.

“They were both hooked when we died, they should be joining us any second now.”

Meg’s mouth forms into a tiny ‘o’ as she says nothing but understanding that the trials are getting harder and not lasting as long.

“You guys,” Claudette says, pausing briefly before continuing, “what if the killers aren’t getting stronger, but instead we are getting weaker?”

“Bullshit,” David mumbles, his voice lacking his usual confidence.

“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Meg admits, looking up at the worried expressions etched into her friends’ faces. “What if this is it? It could be a sign.”

“A sign of what?” Dwight asks, wincing as Claudette touches at a fresh scar on his arm. They all have similar ones from when the Legion decides to kill them themselves. It seems Dwight’s injury was just reopened lately.

“I don’t know, it’s just…we’ve been here so long with no glimmer of ever getting out. What if the Entity is sick of us and wants to push the older survivors out and get new ones?”
Meg’s words are met with silence that even David can’t argue with. They all stare at the fire trying to think of something encouraging to say, something to lighten the mood.

They are failing miserably.

“Aye you sluts!” Nea practically yells as she comes and leaps beside Meg, slapping her thigh before taking a look at everyone. “Why all the gloom and doom?”

Claudette is the first to snap out of the dark mood as she rolls her eyes at Nea.

“For the last time, what have I said about calling us sluts? You know not everyone likes to be called that,” Claudette says, crossing her arms as though she’s reprimanding a child.

Nea breaks into a laugh as David joins in and shrugs. “Well it’s a good thing none of you are allowed to hate me cuz you’re stuck with me.”

“Nea…” Claudette warns.

“You know I’m not talking about you, Mama Claudette. It’s like my term of endearment, just let me have this,” Nea crosses her legs and leans against Meg, who leans back and puts her head on Nea’s shoulder.

“It’s her way of saying she loves us, just let her have it,” Meg smiles at Claudette.

“You two can be such a pain sometimes,” Claudette huffs quietly as she puts her supplies away, muttering to herself. “Such children, no manners…”

“Hey guys, I think I’m going to turn in,” Dwight mutters, standing up and swaying slightly.

“Oi, you good, mate?” David says, standing and grabbing a hold of Dwight’s shoulders, making sure he doesn’t fall.

A slight blush creeps across Dwight’s cheeks as he looks away and waves his hand in David’s face.

“I’m fine, really. That last trial just took a lot out of me. Sleep sounds nice right now.”

David narrows his eyes and inspects Dwight for a moment making sure he’s not gonna fall over on the way back to his tent. Once everything seems to be to his liking, he lets go of Dwight’s shoulders and gestures over his own shoulder.

“Get some damn sleep already,” David orders, sitting back down.

Dwight smirks back as he limps away from the campfire to his tent.

As soon as he is out of earshot, Nea takes the opportunity to tease him about their…whatever they have.

“Soooooo,” she starts, her voice wavering up and down.

“Nah, it ain’t like that, sweetheart, don’t get excited,” David dismisses her with a wave of his hand. “He just can barely take care of himself. I feel for the lad. He’s too shy to ask for help and at least I can make sure he’s still breathing at the end of the day.”

Meg hums in disagreement, a smile splitting across her face.

“That’s how it always starts out,” she teases, poking David’s upper arm with a thin finger.

“Oi! Get your witchy fingers outta my personal space!” David yells, swatting at her hand. “And besides, I’m a ladies man. They can’t keep their hands off of me, see?!”

“Oh of course. Well where are those ladies now, huh?” Nea laughs.

“Well Meg here was just tryin’ to get a feel for my muscle. If ya wanna feel it, all ya gotta do is ask,” David says, flashing an over-exaggerated wink at Meg who scoffs in return.

“I’ve seen bigger,” she snaps back, causing Nea to burst out laughing beside her.

“Oh ya, ya. Funny,” David mutters. His tone is full of hurt, but Meg knows better than to believe that when she can see the small smirk playing across his face.

“I think we’ve upset them,” Nea says through fits of giggles as she gestures to Claudette and David, now looking anywhere else but at them.

“They’ll be fine. They love us too much not to talk to us,” Meg replies.

The warm feeling that comes from laughing settles like a nice blanket over them as they sit and watch the fire, very much in a different mood now than they were before.

Maybe they aren’t getting weaker, Meg thought. There is always a lull after a trial, even if they weren’t in it. They have all become so close, it was hard not to feel sorry for one another as they return.

But being surrounded by people she genuinely cared about made all the difference in the world, and nothing can ever change that, not even the Entity.

Just as she was about to speak up and change the subject about Claudette’s very intensive care of Dwight, a slight fog rolls through the campfire.

A chill penetrates them deep within their bones, sending shivers up and down their spine.

Meg always hates the feeling of being called to a trial. Though the obvious reasons of being chased, hung on meathooks, and potentially killed were high on her list, the simple act of being called was a whole other beast entirely.

Just as the campfire screams safety, security, and moments of reprieve, the fog burns every nerve in her body. The fog spreads dread and absolute terror in its wake as she knows what is about to happen.

“Ah, for fucks sake. I just got out of one!” David yells, kicking at the dirt in front of him. The fog only shows up for the people who are called, so you’re never too sure who you’ll be in a trial with even if they are sitting right next to you.

“Looks like I’ll be joining you. Let me get my flashlight real quick,” Nea says, jumping up from the log and sprinting away to her tent. The fog doesn’t care where they’re at when it calls them, but at least it gives them enough warning to grab any items that might be useful, or burn any little trinkets they find around the campsite.

“Anyone wanna go to MacMillan?” David says, pulling a small key out of his pocket. “I keep findin’ these and I wanna get rid of some.”

“That’s fine with me. At least there are a lot of good places to run around there.” Meg replies, shrugging, as David tosses the rusty key into the fire.

“And now we wait.”

She didn’t have anything to throw in the fire or take with her, unfortunately. Being more preoccupied with keeping her mind busy, she tried to stay around her friends for as long as possible and not wander off to scavenge for things. Plus, that had never been her main interest.

Her main weapon was her speed.

When Meg first arrived, she was just burning the little trinkets or bouquets out of spite.

‘Why would they give me a small key?’ she thought. With trial and error, she realized when she threw that in, they’d all go to Macmillan Estate. With the others trying out different combinations, they soon began to realize they would do better in some games when they burned certain things.

There were some items they found that would even change the moonlight, but they haven’t been able to find any more of those offerings in awhile, no matter how much they scour the forest around them.

Soon she simply gave up actively looking for things to burn because in her mind, she was terrified that soon she wouldn’t be able to find anything.

If the Entity can give them these little boosts, it can take it away just as easily. She preferred to distance herself in order not to be disappointed if or when the Entity decides to make things worse for them.

Meg blinks and suddenly she’s standing in front of a large iron building surrounded by darkness. It was always jarring to start the trial and always took a few seconds to get their bearings.

One minute they're sitting by the campfire and in the blink of an eye, everything is different.

Meg looks around while mentally preparing herself for the trial, hoping to see the face of one of her companions standing near her.

Unfortunately, she’s alone.

But she hears no heartbeat, yet, so she can’t complain.

Taking it slow, she starts to walk into the building knowing that there is always one generator here and it is usually the most difficult and dangerous so, it helps to get it done early.

As she walks, she is careful to breathe quietly in through her nose and out through her mouth.

In through the nose, out of the mouth.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

She is okay for now, she can do this.

The haunting echoes of the iron building shifting around her does nothing to calm her racing heart or shaking hands, so she clenches her fists, hard.

The pain of her nails biting into the skin of her palm helps ground her.

Just keep going.

She reaches the generator and starts working connecting one wire here, another there.

For knowing nothing about electronics or generators, there is always that sliver of gratitude that the Entity made repairing these so easy.

Meg connects the colored wires for a few minutes and it springs to life, lighting a fire within her chest that keeps her going.

No heartbeat yet.

She wonders if it’s a silent killer like the Shape or Wraith, or if they are even playing at all.

The best trials are the ones where it is almost as though the killer gives up as soon as it starts, almost defying the Entity and refusing to play its game.

The killers never move an inch through the whole trial, ensuring everyone can get out. Though she knows the killers don’t do it for the survivors’ sake, it’s nice to know that they are trying something in this twisted game of cat and mouse.

It never lasts long though, as usually the next time she runs into the same killer, they are even more brutal and filled with rage.

She notices new blood on them as well, and can only imagine what the Entity does to them when they don’t do its bidding.

She doesn’t want to know.

So she works, hoping that her friends are okay and maybe they can make it out. It’s looking like a good match to say the least.

With a loud hum, she hears another generator power on to her right a little ways away. There are a couple of tall walls blocking her view to see who was on it, but she silently thanks them for getting it done.

In her silent thanks, her heart starts pounding in her chest as she hears it: the heartbeat.

Immediately crouching behind a rock, she covers her mouth with her hand in an effort to make her breathing less noticeable.

No matter how many times she goes into a trial, it never gets easier.

The heartbeat grows louder with each passing second until it is so deafening in her ears, she can barely hear herself think.

She needs to run.

Whoever it is is here and will see her here, so without another thought, she pushes her heels into the slick grass and makes a run for it.

Adrenaline coursing through her veins allows her to burst away for a few seconds to put some distance between her and the killer, but it never lasts long.

Looking behind her, she sees the killer marching after her, cleaver in one hand and bear trap in the other.

Her heart sinks as she looks around for a window to vault through and try and confuse him. It works sometimes, but his bear traps always terrify her more than anything. As she runs, her ankles already tingle with the phantom pain of being caught in a trap.

Please don’t step in a trap, please don’t step in a trap, she chants to herself over and over again as she runs around the brick walls and around rocks, causing him to miss his swings every time.

Two more generators pop almost at the same time, causing her to push on and giving her the hope that maybe they’ll get out of this one. It won’t be so bad this time, right?

She runs into the building in the middle knowing that she already got that gen done so maybe she can take the killer away from her friends who are hopefully working on the last generator.

Come on…

She can practically hear the Trapper’s breathing down her neck, he seems so close behind her, but she has to think quick.

Looking around, the basement is here, so she doesn’t want to go downstairs. Going upstairs surely won’t work, and there aren’t any pallets.

She takes a deep breath and sprints for the only window in the building and hoping for the best…

But she was wrong.

An ear-splitting scream pierces the cold air as Meg lands in a beartrap hidden by grass on the other side of the window. Its jaws snap shut so tight, Meg can barely get her fingers through to try and pry it open. Tears stream down her face as she feels like she is about to throw up from the excruciating pain that now is shooting up and down her leg.

For a brief moment, through blurry vision, she looks up at the Trapper who simply stands on the other side of the window and watches her struggle.

If she can just get her foot out, she can run for it as best as she can if he’s just going to stand there, and in her time of desperation, it sounds like a good plan to her.

Within seconds, her fingers become slippery with her own blood that pours from the wound on her ankle. She can barely get a grip on the jaws and when she thinks she has a handle, she opens it about an inch before her fingers slip, causing it to come crunching down on her ankle once more.

She hears the hum of the final generator be done and now if she can just get out, she knows she will be fine.

Come on…

But it’s too late.

The Trapper bounds through the window and picks her up with ease. Being almost twice her size it is no difficulty for him to carry her, as it always is, to a hook that sways in the wind.

Despite Meg’s injured ankle, she kicks and hits him, putting all of her energy into each kick hoping that it will make an impact. Sometimes it does, most of the time it doesn’t, but she hopes that this will be one of those times.

Please, God, let this be one of those times.

Her stomach is in her throat as she sees the hook getting closer.

She starts pleading, something she hasn’t done for awhile.

“No, no no please no,” she coughs in between sobs but before she can get out any more protests, she feels the sharp agony of the hook piercing her shoulder.

She lets out another scream as though it would help with the absolute agony of being left to hang like a dead animal.

Whimpering, she tries to regain her composure, or some semblance of it, as she knows three of her friends are out there and they can get her and they can make it out.

As she hangs there her mind begins to detach itself from her body as a way to cope with the pain. It was a practice she learned after the first couple of trials. The pain, the excruciating agony of it all is too much for one person to handle, so she tried to detach herself. She wasn’t Meg, and Meg wasn’t hanging here on a dirty old meat hook about to die.

She used to picture the forest, but soon the look of trees make the pain worse as it proves as a reminder that trees are all she sees. Before being here, she loved the woods. The smell, the crispness of the air in her lungs and on her face, the peacefulness of it all, and the way the leaves sound as the wind blows through were some of her favorite things.

Now she thinks of the beach.

It is very different from the woods, and anything to take her away is a welcomed idea.

She is torn from her thoughts once more as a giant spiked spider leg tries to impale her stomach, and knowing it’s the Entity, she grabs a hold of it, trying to keep it away from her for as long as she can.

She never wins, but buying any sort of time before being killed is enough for her.

None of her friends have come for her yet, and a seed of resentment plants itself deep in her stomach as she looks around frantically.

She ran the Trapper for three generators! They should save her!

But just as soon as she had those thoughts, one-by-one she heard the screams of her friends from the far corner of the map.

They all were downed, they were all going to die, and it is yet another loss in their books.

But they were so close to being out, so damn close.

Tears flow freely from Meg’s eyes as she tries to blink them away, but the moment she stops focusing on the giant spike in front of her, it stabs her in her stomach, instantly killing her.

She never knows what happens in between the time of being killed and waking up in the woods close to the campfire.

All she knows is that her physical injuries are gone, for the most part, even though phantom pains still linger for awhile.

Especially the pain in her shoulder which is always a constant reminder of what happened within the trial. Depending on the killer, there will be other pains, like in her back or her arm, but the worst has to be the ankle pain she never quite goes away, despite not going against the Trapper in weeks.

With a small groan, Meg comes to as she reaches for her shoulder instinctively.

No hook.

Her shirt is dry with no blood.

Everything is as it should be.

Taking in a deep breath, she opens her eyes and looks around, taking in her settings so she knows which direction to walk when she gets up.

Her whole body tenses as she bolts up as though she were on fire. The sky isn’t the dark starless midnight black as it always is at the campfire.

It's a pale blue with streaks of orange lining the clouds.

It almost seems like morning, but that can't be right...can it?

Twisting her head so fast she could give herself whiplash, she begins to panic. Not having felt like this in a long time after a trial, she breaks out into a sprint in a random direction as she ignores every rational part of her brain.

Branches from bushes and trees whip at her face and legs leaving little scratches that trickle blood as she tears through the trees, ignoring any sort of path laid out before her.

She knows she will come to the campfire soon, and everything will be back to normal, right?

She will see her friends and Claudette will scold her for running like a madwoman and cutting up her face, and everything will be fine.

This must be some trick played by the Entity, she thinks.

But as soon as she hears the soft chirp of a bird, her whole world freezes and her blood runs cold.

Meg loved the sound of nature before, but at the campfire, there were no sounds. Only occasional wind that they couldn’t even feel. Everything seemed so fake, so artificial, as it was. The Entity tried to make it look like the forest with its dense trees and foliage along the ground, but there was always something that was simply off.

The only animal noises she would hear were the echoes from the dead cows at the farm, the frogs in the swamp, and occasionally the piercing caw of a crow.

Never a song bird.

Then that’s when she felt it.

She feels it on her neck, making her baby hairs stand on end as she turns towards it.

Wind.

She actually feels wind kissing her face like a lover, caressing every inch of her body.

It flows around her, engulfing her in the cool sensation that reminds her of a brisk fall morning.

She chokes on a few tears, knowing this can’t be real and somehow the Entity got better at making things more believable. This is a trick, she tells herself.

A mirage.

She has to get back to the campfire.

Taking a few steps forward, she stops as she hears more birds not only chirping, but practically singing.

What once would be music to her ears turns eerie and cold, making her want to shut out noise forever.

What a whole new level of cruelty, but then again, what did she expect from the Entity?

She begins to run once more, hoping to find the campfire in her frenzied panic, and at least she won’t be alone.

Everyone else at the campfire will have experienced this and they can talk about it, maybe come up with a theory or two.

Ace always had ridiculous theories that he always tried to prove, and right now she can’t wait to hear his theory about this because she can’t stand being here alone.

The trees begin to thin which gives Meg a little hope that she is getting closer to her friends, so she pushes on despite her screaming muscles.

But as she draws closer, she isn’t closer to her friends, or to the campfire.

She isn’t running through the Entity’s woods, and she most certainly doesn’t see anything she has seen in years.

A parking lot opens before her with two cars parked on either side, yet with no other people.

She can hardly believe it. These aren’t like the cars at Autohaven, no, these are cars that work. They are well-maintained and washed.

The panic that settled in her stomach begins to expand once more as she runs to the street, expecting to be taken away at any time or see some new killer or fall into some other weird dimension.

But instead of any of those thoughts that plagued her mind, she runs down the street and around the corner and right into a small woman carrying groceries.

Upon impact, the woman drops her groceries and begins to profusely apologize to Meg who, instead of apologizing back, stands as still as a statue.

Although she doesn't move, her eyes dart around the street like a wild animal as she sees buildings, actual buildings, and people walking around, cups of warm coffee in their hand as they are bundled up for the day.

“Miss? Miss?” The woman finally is able to get through to Meg who turns her attention towards her. “Are you okay?”

Meg can barely find her voice as it seems like something is squeezing tighter and tighter around her neck.

“Do you need help?” The woman asks, balancing her groceries on her hip and placing a hand on Meg’s arm.

“Where am I?” Meg manages to whisper, her voice hoarse and scratchy.

“Downtown, honey. Do you need me to call someone for you?”

“No, no I mean, what town is this? Where am I?” Meg asks finally finding her voice.

“You’re in Issaquah.”

“Issaquah,” Meg repeats slowly. This can’t be happening, she repeats to herself.

One minute she is spending eternity somewhere not even on Earth, and now she is here, in a seemingly normal town, talking to a seemingly normal woman.

“What state? What year is this?”

“Washington, dear, it's 2019, please, let me call an ambulance for you or something, you don’t seem well-” the woman says, pulling out her phone.

“No! No…no, I’m okay, I’m…” Meg mutters, beginning to walk off and ignoring the protests from the polite woman. Either the woman gave up trying to stop her or Meg tuned it out because not long after she walks away from her, all she can think about is the distant hum from car engines, and inaudible chatter from the people all around her walking along the street.

As Meg walks, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, her eyes wander between all the inconspicuous faces walking by her. There are just…so many people. She hasn't seen this many in a long time. Always seeing the terror and angst etched on the faces of her fellow survivors, along with the terrifying and sadistic ones of the killers, she had gotten used to seeing the same faces for years.

Here, though, she sees men and women of all ages…and children.

She can’t even recall the last time she has seen a child, so full of hope, of promise.

So innocent.

As she comes to an intersection, one face pulls her from her thoughts as she looks in front of her. Her eyes snap up and are met by a giant of a man standing on the other side of the street, staring at her.

Her heartbeat quickens instantly growing louder in her ears as her palms sweat and her legs twitch wanting to turn and run in the opposite direction.

Although every fiber of her being is telling her to run, she stays rooted to the spot. A few people bump into her as they pass, muttering apologies, but that is the least of her worries.

The man standing planted in front of her must be almost seven feet tall with broad shoulders, heaving up and down with every breath. His muscles almost burst through the very old timey looking suit he is wearing.

He stares at her as her whole body begins to shake, phantom pains radiating all through her limbs as an especially sharp pain shoots up her shoulder. Giving her a slight nod, he takes a tentative step forward, waiting to see if she will turn and bolt like a scared rabbit.

She wants to move, but right here, right now on this crowded street, she can’t seem to even breathe.

With just a few big steps, he reaches her. Meg practically has to crane her neck up in order to see his face.

She can barely process who she is staring at.

In the real world.

In broad daylight.

With tears in her eyes as she looks up at the man in the mask looking down at her, she realizes she is face-to-face with The Trapper.