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Hunter, Haunted

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by canisaries, Sep 16, 2018.

  1. Bosumin

    Bosumin Only good for finding music

    This is probably the first time ever that I’ve reviewed something. At least, reviewed in the sense of looking over and having honest thoughts.

    What’s a review supposed to do? I don’t know, so this will probably be a bad review. I can only try to tell you something interesting I thought about. Sorry.


    I suppose it’s no surprise I’m generally unfamiliar with tpp, such to the point that unprompted my first assumption of the acronym is “The Phantom Pain”, and while this could actually mean something in the context of this story, Red is no Solid Snake. I do know the gist though, like I’ve read the tvtropes page before and actually watched the stream once or twice.


    So yes, I’m hopeless in that regard. But having read these five and a quarter chapters now, I’m still hopeless, but feeling pretty good!



    I guess uh, I’ll just say a bit here and there about each chapter thus far.


    The prologue: the beginning of a beginning of a beginning of a continuation (jamais vu, nice)

    Here is Red, a bad guy, doing bad things, for a (presumably) bad deity. The assumption would be that a god that requires sacrifice or violence in general would be a particularly unkind one, but judging gods by human standards is a zero sum game because the people set the bar in the first place. Anyway, he’s doing a sacrifice again, and though I haven’t read the preceding stories because I’m a loser, the descriptions, bells, and whistles do a swell job for me laying down the law. Like, I’ve watched youtube amputation videos before and this has a feel like it. By that I think I mean methodical in a kind of pseudo-reverent way. Good times had by all, excepting the dead as usual.


    The first chapter: Buy one get one free


    I can’t say nothing about high times at the homestead, as stated before, I am ignorant of context and whether or not that sends me to hell is a question left unanswered. Having worked at a grocery store myself though, I can...... envision the scene to say the least. There’s nothing left to say about the shrimp picking simulator that hasn’t already been said, except that brand loyalty is a disease and omanyte is a fool. The imagine spot at the checkout reminded me of a movie called God Bless America; the only thing I can think of that that would mean is that it’s a good scene because it reminded me of a good movie. I guess?

    Aside note on the excursion by Joanna’s family, it would seem kind of futile to be out on the street when someone’s been missing for weeks. It’s probably just the nuances of an American point of view, but most people would be at the stage where they go on the tv every few days to plead their safe return to the news, but pokemon society is not our society, can’t expect the lines to be parallel all the time, no fun in that. From a purely “logical” (heavy air quotes) standpoint, it doesn’t make sense. People don’t think logical in that kind of situation though usually, so I just had a ‘gotcha’ moment on myself.

    What a lucky guy, deciding to take a break in the graveyard at just the right time. Nothing wrong with that though, I think people give the element of convenience too much of a hard time, this instance here is not too much convenience at all, it’s a nice small amount. As I think a reviewer said before in this here thread, the impact of the ending flourish is diminished if the synopsis sets up the bomb at the start, but that’s small potatoes, it’s still an indicator that something’s going to happen, so the bomb can still kill us after all.


    The third technical chapter but only the second: Gump

    In which Red is tormented by the homeless and people disenfranchised by life itself. I feel like I’ve seen lots of small women who speak thusly with ghosts and are also not in touch with society at large, but that doesn’t matter. Ideas are like pants, you can have a million of the same pair, and if they all still fit, then there’s no reason to favor one over the other. Admittedly that is a somewhat tortured comparison, if it works it works, for me at least. For some reason, the minute detail of rawst berry as invasive is a spicy insert. I don’t know why it’s like that, but that thing is just great.

    As the internet people say, Red gets busy with the thot patrolling. Like, normally people who can talk to ghosts are held at arm's length at best and put on television at worst. I don’t really get Michi being all into the ghosts better than people to be around bent, since most of the ghosts can be seen too. But that’s just me, she’s not a step out of place in the pokemon sense, but no sympathy for pink hair from me, too tacky for a forest bum in my opinion.


    3: You’re disgusting, I’m going to kill you, give me 200 bucks -Dr. Phil

    The description of the clinic sounds like brutalism. Brutalism is one of my favvoorrite types of architecture, so I am in your debt, because everyone else seems to hate it. From the sound of it, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe finally managed to get Red to do something other than be a hikkikomori (haha I’m cultured) or something. With Red carrying his knife all ‘round, I wonder if there’s weapon laws or anything, kind of like the UK. I like his last name, ‘Akai’. Sounds like a fruit, rolls off the tongue like one. For all his talk, he sure does worry about being exposed. Seems like he took it out on the spider, poor spider.

    I don’t know psychology. Never been to one, never watched a thing about them. Unless Frasier counts, I haven’t the slightest clue about proper procedure in that sort of thing. That being said, it sounds good enough for me.

    Pokemon based religion is strange. Perhaps a bit late to start saying that now given the nature of the story proper, but I mean, the pokemon are here. Tangible, real things. That might be a bias of comparison in some way, but I can’t actually explain it well enough at the moment.

    I’ve never used a Yamask before and having read the story now, I can’t actually say if I knew the part about putting on the mask before. I went to look it up and now I’m satisfied at least. I can’t empathize with Red on the library being updated, I’m all for modernism, and the most of his gripes about the changes sound like an extension of his trashy nihilism. But that’s ok, it’s a legitimate concern even if he generalizes the opinion of such.




    4: You inherit 50 cats from your grandmother, pay 20000

    Red’s not all bite. He can appreciate the beauty of design, enough so to stop him from hurting the bird. Along with other things, there’s a sense that as much as he might be into the ascending thing, he’s still got the down home vibe. Or, may I be forgiven for uttering this, Red is a transcendentalist. If anything, this flies in the face of his goals because it means he’s still human. Can’t get rid of our feelings after all.

    Acting! Maybe he seemed a bit transparent in his method, it’s not like Michi could be expected to be a theater critic. One of the downsides of being a poor uneducated hermit is being an absolute dolt. Michi must have been one of those forest babies, with the caveat of being raised by ghosts instead of wolves, because all young children in literature learn first and foremost never to trust strange people. Alright, that’s a bit unkind, but maybe the ghosts could have told her? Some family they are. Red is in top form, as evil as evil can evilly act, what do I know about being evil? His confidence is sure though, and that’s nice for him. That being said, acknowledging overconfidence as a sin and indulging regardless does not absolve Red of looking like a digital dummy. Whatever, he earned his fun, and fun is what he gets.

    Killing the dead is a monumental case of double jeopardy that would probably be against the law if more people did it. I wonder if she knew she died the first time though, based on what they say about ghosts. Unfortunate for her, to be dragged to the negative dimension if only for having committed the sin of being killed by a bad man. Can’t win ‘em all, can’t say I feel for her. Much to my horror, this means I support the bad guys, gotta make a tumblr blog now.


    5 chapter: Giving bad people good ideas

    Red flashes back to a few paragraphs earlier when he first killed Johann, geez it’s like he’s not very good at handling out of body experiences. Having a bad time from putting a solid mask over his features is silly, sounds like he didn’t think this part through. Doesn’t matter though, he won! Now he’s gotta tie up the loose ends.

    Seeming to finally be fully into the cult deal, it’s high time for a full on cult experience. It’s sublimely uncalculated, but he’s fully aware of the immodesty of such and he’s in the zone!

    The chase sequence is almost wacky. The description is on point, and the title of the story is in full force, at least the first half.


    Something something about invisible homeless deaths being meaningless.


    A feast to rival Food Network shows. If blood is like wine, then Red is wasted. Mr. Helix is a fan, maybe there’s something to be said about his presence in senseless violence compared to rituals, who’s to say that gods are really into pomp and circumstance anyway?

    In true devotee fashion, Red’s god is infallible and he knows it. What kind of god would be so unkind to their friends like that? A fake. Or you know, he’s just losing it again. Come back next week as Red tried self-sacrifice!

    For a moment of self-revelation, it feels like he almost convinced himself of something else, but that’s irrelevant. Red got his mojo back. Or maybe, he had it all along. That’s the golden ending right?



    I have no clue what I just said in full, but at least I said something. Who knows, maybe coming into a story with the pretext of the full background would be unfavorable in some instances. This was a good story, nice and round with a jelly filling, the good jelly like strawberry not the bad jelly. Don’t take my word for anything, I’m indolent; and if you disregard that on the basis that I’ve been putting myself down the whole time thus far, then take it for like a dollar or two.

    Is a person even supposed to like anti-heroes? Red is “The Bad Guy”, with an antisocial streak to match, but there is something compelling about him. I have no thoughts on the nature of canon interpretation, faith is for the faithless and Red being the perennial tabula rasa is a simple fact. Write your people and if they’re good they’re good.


    Personally, canon names for pokemon protagonists have thrown me in the wringer. It’s a little thing, but at least Red is more tolerable then calling them gems.


    Sorry again. I can’t arrange thoughts to save my life.



    Ending got me like it's one of those Korean films, the really violent ones
     
    canisaries likes this.
  2. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    thank you for the comments!

    here's another chapter, first one of the "second arc" in a way. and oh boy you are all in luck because this is where we get to the weird stuff. it's also the part where mature rated chapters start becoming more common. this is one such chapter, rated mature due to detailed descriptions of gore and violence. language is still language. as a surprise guest, i think i'm gonna give a trypophobia warning as well. to save you the trouble of googling, that's the fear of lots of small holes next to each other. of course, it's not really as strong in writing as it is in visual media, but might as well mention it anyway.

    this chapter is also slightly longer than average, being about 5.7k words. it's longer than the old version while telling the same section of the story even though i was supposed to be streamlining this fic in this revision. whoops. but at least i think the two scenes replacing the one old one are better and more interesting and serve more of a purpose. really the only way i can tell if it's too long if i get feedback, so keep that coming as it's massively welcome! alright, thanks and enjoy.

    ---

    CHAPTER 6
    Rebirth


    ---​

    I’m floating.

    Gravity is there, but so is another force. It’s all around me and combatting gravity. The air is slow and heavy... wait, it’s not air. This is water.

    I look up. A sparkling blue light gazes back at me. Yep, I’m underwater. But I can breathe just fine. This is odd, but… I can’t deny how calming this feels.

    My relaxation is made even more bizarre by the fact that I can’t feel my limbs. I don’t think they’re there at all. But my body extends past my hips. That’s a tail. What am I?

    I curve my spine, surprised by how much longer it’s become, but soon receive an explanation to that. I see my body. It’s long and dark blue with a paler underbelly. The tip of my tail runs through two red, spherical jewels. I bring it to the side of my face and with it, bend my ear to view. Feathers. I’m a dragonair. One of those deep-sea kind.

    I roll over in the blue abyss. So this is what it’s like. I’m jealous! I can feel so much power in my horn, my serpentine body, my jewels… eugh, phrasing. Either way… what did dragonair do again? Just float around?

    No, what am I saying? They hunt! That’s what wild mon do. Their food doesn’t come from the store, they have to go out and get it for themselves. Well, that’s perfect for me!

    I sniff the air -- I mean water, hoping the instincts of my new body will take care of the recognition and locating, and they do. I sense something living and juicy some way ahead. Can't wait to sink my teeth into some fresh sushi!

    I slither my way through the water, enjoying its stroking of my scales. I've never swum anywhere near this fast as a human. This is wonderful! I wish I could stay as a dragonair, but then I don't. I don't want to be caught by some snot-nosed little shit and dragged around the region. Couldn’t even eat the bastard for retribution, they'd have me put to sleep.

    But never mind that, my dinner has arrived. I'm close enough to see my dull-eyed prey now. It's a magikarp, I see. The usual orange with a few white spots. And completely unsuspecting. Perfect for me to… strike!

    A powerful whip of my tail launches me at the plump fish and my teeth make contact. Thick, red smoke leaks into the water as I pierce the scale-coated skin. The magikarp flails, but not for long, as I bite down harder and shake my head around vigorously. My vision is clouded by the blood now all around me. I hope it doesn't attract competition.

    I rip off a piece of the fish's flesh and gulp it down. Delicious! But now, now I’m realizing just how hungry I really am. How much will I need to eat to will up this new belly? It must be much longer with this body.

    I gobble down the rest of the fish, even the bones and fins - it seems that a dragonair's throat is much more durable and less sensitive - and swim out of the cloud of blood. I'm still hungry. I won't stop hunting until I'm satisfied.

    Guided by my nose, I pin down more prey, lunge at them and devour them. A remoraid, a goldeen, another magikarp. A qwilfish I avoided, for obvious reasons. But I’m still hungry. And honestly, I could use something other than fish now. Maybe a shellder. Though will I be able to break the shell? Maybe I’d be better off finding a staryu.

    I smell my surroundings once again, this time ignoring the fishy scents. I spot a faint aroma unlike any of the ones before. That’s it, that’s what I want. I chase the odd but alluring fragrance through the waters, scattering a few schools of tiny non-mon fish in my path.

    Oh, if HE could see me now, HE would be so proud. A beautiful, deadly predator hunting to sate his hunger, an image so ancient yet always so elegant. I’m doing my part in the ecosystem, culling the weak to keep the species healthy. Removing the inadequate and fueling myself in the process. Destroying life to perpetuate mine.

    The scent grows stronger. My target is close. What’s it going to be? A shining staryu? A diving psyduck? A chubby seel cub separated from its mother? Whatever it is, my teeth will tear it apart. With a smell like this, it must taste amazing. My mouth drips with saliva.

    Oh, it’s coming from the bottom. From that rock, the little cave within it. Soon I’ll feel its soft flesh between my jaws, its useless struggles for survival. I slither closer and closer, all the way to the entrance. I’m ready to strike. I plunge my head in, teeth bared. What will I be eating?

    Eyes wide as plates stare back. Eyes I know. Framed by blue arms and a spiral shell.

    Wh-what’s He doing here? It’s not safe out here. If any predator found Him, He’d stand no chance.

    Because He’s… weak.

    And the weak should die.

    ...Yes. And I… I’m supposed to kill them. So I should… I have no reason I shouldn’t. So go..

    Go right ahead, Red. Eat.

    I… I’m gonna. Just in a second, I’m gonna, I’m just… just getting ready.

    Haven’t you been ready your whole life?

    N-no.

    Are you saying something is stopping you? That’s not how the Bringer, the Bringer, the Bringer, the Bringer. The Bringer doesn’t --

    Something grabs my tail and yanks me back. Everything is loud. I can’t see. Around, around, dizzy, there’s a darkness in the middle and I’m pulled towards it. A whirlpool? The current grabs me and draws me in the dark.

    I gasp. Light. Light blue, green. This is land. I’m a human. Oh, I woke up, I understand. Where am I again?

    There are people with black suits sitting in chairs around me. I’m in a chair too. This is some sort of event. I must have dozed off.

    There’s a guy talking over there. He’s in black as well. Looks old, sad. Everyone looks sad. What is this, a funeral? Wait... I think this actually is a funeral.

    But no one I know has died. I don’t recognize these people… oh, don’t tell me. Mom dragged me to another family thing. I bet the deceased is something like the second cousin of my grandfather.

    Where is she, anyway? Did she ditch me? The seat next to me is empty. What a bitch. Well, guess what? I’m eighteen. I’m getting the fuck outta here.

    Stealthily, I get up, lucky to have an edge seat. I let the crowd keep their attention on the current speaker while I scan my surroundings for an exit. This is a rather nice-looking graveyard, fancier than the one I live near, with less moss on the tombstones and walkways and robust deciduous trees in place of common evergreens. Unfortunately, the metal fencing around the around the area is also higher and equipped with a spiked tips, making it between extremely difficult and impossible to climb over. I don’t want to accidentally neuter myself, so I keep looking for a gate, but don’t seem to be finding one at the moment…

    “And now, a speech from one of her close friends, Red Akai.”

    ...I’m sorry, what did the old guy just say?

    I turn around. Everyone’s eyes are on me. He really did just say my name.

    Now… normally, I wouldn’t have any issue with being rude to a bunch of whoevers, but something about these people’s faces is telling me that bailing right in front of them is going to lead to consequences. Of the angry mob kind. And with no easy escape in sight, that would not be pleasant to deal with.

    “Mr Akai?” asks the old man quietly.

    I guess I should just give the speech. It can’t be that hard if I just stay vague and overwhelmingly positive. That should satisfy the crowd enough.

    I nod to the man, and we exchange positions. I can see more people’s faces now. Oddly many Unovans here. I didn’t know I had Unovan blood. Or… wait.

    That young Tohjoan guy in the front row, with the long face and short black hair, isn’t that… oh Gods.

    This isn’t any relative’s funeral. This is Joanna’s funeral.

    Okay. Shit, uhh. How do you start a speech? I need to make it good, or at least believable. If Joanna really is the deceased and all of her family is here, I can’t have even a single one get the idea that I wasn’t on terms that great with her, as that would make me a suspect in the case of her disappearance. Although it’s not like I can do that now, can I, having told her brother over there that I didn’t know her at all. Fuck! Where did they even get the idea we were close? Did someone spot me stalking? No, enough thinking! I need to start the speech!

    “So, uhh...” Not like that, dumbass! You’re not holding a presentation in front of your classmates, you’re calming a herd of angry tauros pawing at the ground!

    Wait, I may be able to turn that around. I sniffle a bit. “I-I’m sorry, I’m just still so devastated...” I hang my head. “But we all are, aren’t we? She was such a sweet woman, kind to all, and so beautiful, too...”

    I hear a whisper from the crowd. “Why’s he wearing white?”

    What? I’m not… I am?

    Yes, this suit is just like all those of all the other men, except for the color. Pure white. White coat, white shirt, white tie. Even the shoes are white. Shit. Do you think I could pretend to be colorblind? No, wait, that’s not how it works. Oh Gods. Well, alright, this is a thing. But I can’t let it distract me. I need to make up for this with my speech.

    “She was a bright young woman, independent, supportive of her friends and family…” I try to remember some real life example that I’d witnessed while stalking her, but the only memory arising right now is of her lying on the floor eating cheese snacks while watching some weird, weird anime on her TV. Uhh.

    “She was a girl who knew how to have a good time.”

    Whispers. Agitated ones. A commotion has arisen! Wh-what did I do wrong? “Oh Gods, I didn’t mean that she slept around or --”

    By chance, I pick up a single word from the murmurs. ‘Pocket’.

    I look down, and the left pocket of my pants - it’s stained red. Blood red.

    The crowd is confused and disturbed, staring at me with wide eyes and expecting an explanation, but I’m just as lost as them. I haven’t hurt myself. I haven’t put anything in there. I can only reach my fingers in and pull out…

    A lock of hair. Covered in sticky, salty blood, but its original color can still somewhat be seen.

    Pink. Michi’s hair.

    But why would it bleed? No, why would it be there in the first place? Why would I bring evidence of a murder to a funeral? No, why would I be at the funeral of the woman I killed in the first place?

    “Get him.”

    Someone just said those two words in the crowd. Now everyone stood up. I’m fucked.

    They approach. Oh Gods, I gotta get out of here. No, doesn’t running incriminate me further? They still don’t have anything to actually prove I killed Joanna. Do they? They shouldn’t, but they walk like they do and the wild, furious gleam in their eyes sure says they want an eye for an eye! I need to run! I turn around and --

    Smack right into a surface of some kind. Dark, wooden, hollow. That wasn’t there before. It’s a little bigger than me - that’s the coffin. I move past it but -- no I don’t, something’s got me by the arm. Something cold. Chilling touch. I struggle, but it holds me in place. Look back. It’s a shadow, a hand. A ghost mon’s hand. Why is it this strong? It’s basically cutting off my circulation!

    “Let… let go,” I growl, but it falls on deaf ears. If it has ears.

    More touches - warm ones, human ones - grab me. The mob has caught up. A sea of black suits.

    “This isn’t legal!” I shout as a last, desperate attempt to sway their minds. Trouble from the cops - it’s what keeps me from killing blindly. But not for these people, it seems. Animals. Animals trampling me.

    They tighten their hold and pull me back. To what? Pummeling? A public execution?

    The coffin before me creaks, its cover slowly opening now that it has the space. The crowd watches, still. What’s in there? It can’t be Joanna’s body. There’s nothing left of that. And if there was, they certainly wouldn’t show it.

    Crimson velvet lining. How royal. But that’s not what we’re looking for. Something’s glimmering on the inside of the cover. Metal. Sharp. And then the cover opens fully and I see it clear as day.

    Needles. Thousands of thin, long needles sticking out.

    No. No, they can’t do this. “You can’t do this!” I scream. But the crowd pushes me onward. Right towards the velvet lining. I wriggle, flail, resist as strongly as this body can allow, but they’ve got hold of so many places that the possible movement left is absolutely pathetic.

    I’m shoved. Velvet on my face, palms. Yet they’ve let go. Can I still run? I turn around to leap out, but the ghostly hand awaits me, slamming its freezing palm right at my heart and pushing me back. Wrists, ankles, frozen too, held to the back of the coffin. The crowd, all of them smile. In the front, Joanna’s brother. He grabs the edge of the cover. No. No, you can’t --

    The lid is slammed onto me.

    Every needle, each and every one, they puncture my skin, eyes, teeth, rip through the flesh and crush the bone as instinct tears one final, ear-splitting scream from my bleeding lungs.

    Pain. Purest pain I’ve ever felt. Every nerve blaring at the brain of the hell brought upon to the body, unobstructed by any other signals as I go blind and deaf.

    No pain.

    No pain now. Only black, empty, silent, cold, wet. Any darkness from before - nothing compared to this.

    Am I… dead? Is this the afterlife?

    Will it be like this forever?

    Thump, thump, thump, thump --

    No, this isn’t nothingness, something’s coming!

    A hole is ripped in the darkness, golden light shines in, it’s coming for me!

    “Red?”

    That’s human speech…? There’s a human figure in that light...

    And where I am, it’s not empty. Something’s beneath me. Soft. It warms my hands. And my heart beats. If I have a heartbeat, I live. I have my body. So where am I?

    Oh.

    Quickly, I hide my left arm behind me. Abe can’t see the bandage.

    “What happened?” Abe asks, shaggy hair hanging in front of his eyes. The absence of his glasses, as always, makes his eyes seem weirdly small.

    I take a moment to catch my breath. My lungs are intact and well. Thank the Gods.

    “Just a nightmare,” I respond. “Nothing more.”

    “...You sure?”

    “Yeah.”

    The boy in the frame backs away, though hesitant, and closes the door. “Goodnight...” he still says from outside before leaving for his own room with quiet steps.

    I pull my left arm away from hiding and sigh. As the exhaled air hits my bare chest, I realize how wet from cold sweat I am. My heart still beats at record pace. Otherwise, though, I seem to be fine.

    Oh Gods. What a dream. Why can’t Joanna just leave my mind in peace? I’ve resolved the issue. There’s nothing to be afraid of anymore.

    Maybe washing my face and walking around a bit will calm me down, convince my brain the danger is gone. I pry myself out of my bed. Ugh, my boxers have stuck to my skin with the sweat, it seems. Maybe I should just sleep in the nude for the rest of the night.

    I make my way to the bathroom, turning on the lights. My eyes wince at the sudden brightness.

    My steps are sticky on the tiles beneath my feet, but soon I the warmer, softer carpet in front of the sink. I turn on the tap and splash some lukewarm water to my face, neck and chest. Feels good. Well, pretty average, but after that dream, I’m just glad not to be in pain anymore.

    What’s up with that, anyway? Lots of people say that you’re not able to feel pain in your dreams. Hence the whole pinching test. Were they wrong, or… hm, maybe I really wasn’t feeling pain. Maybe I just thought I was feeling pain. I mean, it’d make sense for me to think that while thinking I was being skewered by thousands of needles.

    Still, that thought was powerful enough to make me scream in pain. And apparently even in reality, since Abe came running. Wasn’t a pretty scream, either… nothing like the dramatic, satisfying ones the movies use or even the real ones I hear. It was more of a screech - no, a yawp. It was the yawp of a mangy, old ursaring stomped to death by the hooves of a stantler he himself had attacked. Ugly, diseased, repulsive, pathetic.

    But I really shouldn’t dwell on that. Or any part of that dream. It was just my subconscious gone wild, constructing impossible scenarios to train me for something that will never be tested. Dreams are odd by nature. You shouldn’t take them so seriously.

    I take off my underwear and toss it into the laundry basket. After a cleaning away the worst of the sweat, I close the tap and grab a towel, the pecha-colored one. I dry myself off - oh, it’s warm, fuzzy, dry… sticky… red?

    That’s... blood. That’s blood on the towel. Where did it...

    I glance at the mirror above the sink to see my body, but my body - it’s… red too. Bloody. Full of holes. So many small, deep, black holes. Puncture wounds. No skin is left. Only torn muscle, shattered teeth, deflated eyes, dripping vitreous humour, blood, that’s really bad, that’s really fucking bad, I’m gonna go blind, what will I do without my sight, I’ll be helpless, useless -- but wait a second now, wait a second, how am I seeing all this if my eyes are…

    ...oh, oh, I’m still dreaming. That’s obvious. The jagged mess of teeth of the reflection twists into a smile. This isn’t real. I must've fallen asleep again after Abe left. Haha. It’s just… it’s just my mind again.

    I look down at my chest, the sight matching the man in the mirror. Gods, I’m so fucked up right now. I hope that goes away soon, I don’t want to have to clean this blood.

    I reach my mangled hand into my chest cavity underneath my ribs, grabbing the thing that beats and pulling it out with little resistance. I hold out the organ, the disembodied heart which still pulsates, but now without blood. The torn off edges of the thick blood vessels that leave it - aorta, superior vena cava, pulmonary artery, so on - are a sad sight, as clean cuts are more beautiful. Well, what a shame. I leave it in the sink. It’s certainly not going to stick to my insides anymore, so why bother trying to cram it in.

    I leave the bathroom, head to my own room and climb back to my bed, hoping to sleep off the dream.

    ---

    I’m sorry, what the fuck was that?

    I already knew before that the dream was bizarre, but now it's really dawning on me. A coffin come to life and killing me. First time that’s ever happened. I guess my mind took some inspiration from that evolved form of yamask. Cof… cofagrigus, I think. Hmh. Then it kept going, tricking me into thinking I was fully awake, and showed the aftermath of that coffin.

    Hold on… I’m nude, though, aren’t I? I undressed in that dream. So some of it was real. Was I sleepwalking? Eh, must have been something like that. Can’t have all been real, given I’m still alive and not bloody all over.

    Man, what a night. I guess it makes sense for such a wild day to cause odd dreams.

    Dreams, plural… there was another dream before the funeral one, wasn't there? Yeah, the one where I was a dragonair. Swimming around, hunting other mon and then…

    Right. I met the omanyte and I couldn’t kill it.

    But that was a dream. Dreams aren't like reality, they're much more unpredictable and work in illogical ways. In reality, I’m sure I would’ve…

    But in reality, I don’t have to kill it. I’m not allowed to kill it. I need to keep it alive. But it can’t go further than that. Isn’t that doable? It certainly is.

    And speaking about that change, it’s time to start my first day of being better.

    I leave the shining, bright window of my colorless bedroom to dress up and do the rest of my morning chores. Having brushed my teeth, I stick around in front of the sink, staring at my reflection.

    From this point on, I will no longer be weak. I will become a new man. A better man.

    I’ve said that a lot of times, haven’t I? Yet I still haven’t changed, clearly, if I have to say it again. My face is the same, my body is the same, even if the count of scars has risen and muscle mass fluctuated a little.

    This time, I really need to stick to my promise. I can’t allow myself to relapse, not even gradually. No situation is an exception. But I can’t be overly strict, either. I’ll stick to my rules, but I won’t make onix out of weedle. I’ll be logical, cool-headed, civil, but no less cruel than before. I will be in control.

    But to avoid these remaining as only words, I need to make concrete choices as well. Visible changes in my life. Though they should mostly be visible to me alone, lest it arouse suspicion or questions.

    Though, on the other hand, just a while ago I straight up stopped talking to the omanyte I couldn’t stay away from for years. If anything’s going to be weird, it’s that - it’s possible that opening up communication will ultimately calm any worries, even if it’ll still likely stir things up momentarily. So, I suppose my first concrete promise would be to stop being a coward and confronting the omanyte face to face. Fonz, too. I’d say Abe as well, but to be honest, I don’t think the amount of attention I’ve given him has even changed at any point.

    Now for the other promises...

    I’ve skipped training a couple of times lately. I can’t keep doing that. I should return to my routine today and then stick to it. It’ll feel extra heavy at first, but if I keep it up, it’ll return to being just another normal morning chore in no time.

    Two promises so far. I should come up with more. Well, I can try going outside more often, improve my tolerance of people, but that’s really just an extension of promise one.

    Promise three, I can probably settle for three for now, so what will I change…

    My eyes wander back to my reflection, his face, his features. The angular eyebrows, the smooth skin, the narrow, distant eyes, the strong jaw. Obviously, I can’t change my face on a whim - if I could, hunting would be a lot easier. But the coarse black hair, the bang that always hangs between my eyes, that could do with a makeover, even if a minimal one.

    I open the tap just briefly enough to rinse my fingers, then swipe back my hair. My widow’s peak is exposed. More like widowmaker’s peak… is what I would say, had I ever killed married men.

    From the mirror cabinet, I dig out the hairbrush. It’s covered in loose, chocolate brown hair - practically every tooth has a strand wrapped around it. Does Abe use this on his hair or a tangela? Ugh.

    Having dried my hands, picked out the clumps of hair and dropped them in the trash, I draw my slightly wet bangs back again and brush them to keep them in place. Occasional tangles provide noticeable resistance for the strokes. Should really start using more than just my hands for combing, oh well…

    By the time all of my bristly mane has been smoothly brushed back, the man in the mirror has morphed from an under-bridge raticate to a street-strutting, show-stopping ninetales. It’s so odd… I guess my mother had a point after all. I would look more approachable if I just groomed myself a little.

    Of course, approachable was the opposite of what I wanted, so that old style worked well in the past, but now… well, this is perfect. Now all I need is some fitting clothes, and a…

    I give the mirror my most amiable, benevolent, tame smile.

    There it is. Peak deception.

    ---

    “Good morning, Abe.”

    The boy looks up from his breakfast cereal and the open newspaper on the kitchen table. He appears surprised, even startled. Then a reserved smile forms on his lips.

    “Good morning, Red.”

    “Where is...”

    I don’t think I should say the actual name yet. Too drastic. I’ll circumvent it.

    “Fonz?”

    “Taking Helix to school.”

    “They left already, did they?”

    “Did you have something to say to them?”

    “No, just wondering.”

    I step aside to the kitchen counter to prepare breakfast. Abe watches me for a while, then returns to his own business.

    Today, I choose to make a good, big breakfast. I’ll need a lot of energy for the workout I’ve planned.

    “Are you going somewhere today?” asks Abe suddenly, his usual timidity overridden by his curiosity, it seems.

    “You could say that.”

    “Where?”

    “Outside.”

    “Well… yes, but where outside?”

    “Don’t know. Haven’t decided yet.”

    “Oh. Well, have fun.”

    “I will.”

    Soon after, he finishes his cereal, puts away the dishes and heads off for school. As I’m left alone, an urge to switch out of my new clothing instantly arises, but I suppress it. The button shirt stays on - well, until the workout - but in any case, hoodies or t-shirts stay off.

    There’s no “true self” to return to anymore. This is my true self, and today hasn’t even begun.

    ---

    After the breakfast, the workout and a quick shower, I almost left the house already, but then remembered something important - the exorcism. I retrieved the napkin on which I’d written the instructions, to my luck still finding them legible, and followed the steps to a T. Nothing out of ordinary happened, meaning that Joanna really was gone like I thought or that whatever remained of her died very silently. A little grain of doubt still remained in my mind, the ‘what if I did it wrong’ grain, but after performing the ritual two more times and once with a slightly different interpretation of the instructions, my logical side finally regained control. I realized I was just whispering to the walls of my room over and over again and allowed myself to move on.

    Now I’m finally ready to depart. Dapper clothes on, head held high, scabbard on hip, I exit the house. The weather’s even warmer than yesterday. The sky is bluer. Clouds puffier. I feel like what Giovanni must have felt like - you know, before he got his ass handed to him by a literal twelve-year-old. If those organ traders saw me now, they’d think their boss came for a surprise visit.

    Now, where to go? Somewhere with lots of people, definitely. Somewhere nice… the beach? Route 21 it is.

    I navigate my way to the southward shore with the help of familiar knowledge and street signs, making sure to maintain perfect posture on every street, regardless of the amount of onlookers. The scent of the sea fills the air, then the sight of it appears in the horizon.

    Numerous beach chairs, parasols and towels lie scattered on the pale sand, in use of people and mon alike. Most of the humans seem to be casually dressed and chatting or playing volleyball. Only a few brave ones are trying their luck with the still quite chilly water, shivering in their swimsuits. A lot of the mon, however, aren't held back by the sea’s low temperature, as proven by their playing and excited noises. The water and ice types seem to be getting the most out of it, splashing each other and chasing wild krabby. The fire types, on the other hand, prefer to keep as far away as the grassy areas beyond the sand, watching the leaves of the surrounding birches flutter, waiting for their owners to run out of fun and return.

    I step onto the wooden walkway that extends to a pier farther on, not wanting to drag my pant legs through the sand. A few clacks of my shoes against the planks later, the sight of a small, navy blue uniform at the other end of the shore stops me.

    A policewoman. What’s one doing here? Maybe she’s looking for me? But I left no evidence…!

    Yes, that's right! I left no evidence. That means she can’t be here for me. Or if she is, she can't do anything.

    This right here - this actually a perfect opportunity. What better way to prove my calm than by confronting my worst threat face to face?

    I set my course for the woman in blue and the big pile of cream-colored fuzz sitting next to her, most likely an RK9 unit. As I arrive behind them, my guess is confirmed.

    The arcanine picks me up first. Its reddish ears perk up, it raises its snout in the air to sniff the new, foreign scent, then turns to me with a curious, if reserved, look. The human, having noticed her partner’s motion, faces me as well. Her young eyes are a grayish green. Her long, auburn hair is bound in a ponyta’s tail.

    “Good day, officers,” I greet, hands out of pockets and relaxed at my sides. Feels strange doing nothing with them. The right one keeps wanting to touch the scabbard.

    “Good day to you too,” says the woman, smiling, adjusting her cap. The arcanine wags its tail a little to show its agreement.

    “Making sure the beach is safe?” I ask her, walking over to the railing and leaning on it.

    “No, no, they’ve got life guards for that,” she laughs. “We’re just spending our break here.”

    I nod, then look the arcanine in its deep brown, alert eyes. Its black nostrils quiver. What are you smelling there, sweetheart? Nothing but wool? Thought so...

    “Brave of a fire type to venture so close to the sea,” I remark. Its expression loses a bit of kindness.

    “If she wasn’t brave, she wouldn’t be a cop,” responds the woman, ruffling her partner’s neck fur, the hairs of which are long enough to cover her entire hand and more. “Ain’t that right, Wendy?”

    “Yeah,” the mon mumbles. I guess it was offended somehow? Whatever.

    A second of silence passes. Another. I should say something.

    “Is it busy over at your station right now?” I nearly add a question about whether they’ve had any specific mystery cases, but that would’ve been too suspicious. It’s probably also something cops shouldn’t discuss with civilians.

    “A bit, yeah.” The woman looks at the teal sea. “Have you bumped into those people walking around showing a picture of their missing relative?”

    “Once, yes.” She’s bringing it up herself? Alright.

    “We keep telling them we’re doing everything we can, but I guess it’s hard for them to just stand around and wait. Can’t blame them for trying, even if it’s very unlikely they’ll get any kind of clue so late...”

    “I hope they do.” Because I’m a person who loves happy endings. I hope no one would ever have to suffer or die. The thinking process of a sadist absolutely eludes me.

    “Either that, or that they accept defeat. It sounds cruel, but keeping alive false hope isn’t good for the mind.”

    “I can get that.”

    False hope. I bet Joanna would hate for that to happen to her relatives. She’d want them to move on. She obviously isn’t here anymore, so it doesn’t really matter what she’d think. But I’m here.

    “So… what do you think happened to her?”

    “I’m afraid I’m not allowed to go into that much detail.”

    “Oh.” Aw, denied.

    The cop gazes at the sea once more. For someone in such a rough and tough position, she’s surprisingly beautiful. Elegantly shaped skull, skin free of wrinkles and impurities. Honestly, such a great-looking specimen shouldn't be out on the field where Gods know what could happen to her. She should be kept safe, preserved. But nothing lasts forever. She would grow old and this beauty would wither away. She should be utilized to her full potential. That skin should only be incised by the sharpest, cleanest of scalpels. That flesh should be consumed only by an individual of equal or greater quality. Someone like me. But the clock is ticking. If I don’t get her, someone else might, someone less deserving. Someone would kill her improperly. She would go to waste. I need to --

    No, no. Red, stop. Now is not the time. This is not an opportunity. You have to slow down that pounding heartbeat, take deep breaths and understand that what you’re looking at is something that you can’t have.

    “Well, be seeing you. Have a nice break,” I say, drawing their attention back to me.

    “Thank you! We will!” answers the woman, grinning. The arcanine mumbles something similar, disinterested. With a wave and a nod, I leave.

    Whew! What an experience. Standing on the edge of a bottomless chasm, smiling at the pit, receiving a smile in return. Humans are so easy to manipulate. Is this all those politicians do? While living on our tax money? Gods, I hate society.

    Nevertheless! My first test is now behind me, and I passed with flying colors. I may have wanted to slit her throat and drink straight from her neck, but I didn’t show it. And it’ll only be easier from this point on as I gain more and more experience. I’ll keep succeeding, have some fun, and before I even know it, I’ll have merged with my lord and destroyed the entire city block.

    Life is great!

    ---
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
  3. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Alright gamers, I have gone ahead and written an alternate prologue! Basically what that means is that I've written a different prologue that can be read instead of the original one. It achieves basically the same function, but its content is far less graphic and therefore suitable to a wider audience. You see, the old prologue had basically the most graphic passages of the whole fic, and I figured it probably kept off a bunch of potential readers from a story that isn't nearly so graphic the entire time. In this new prologue, the tone is more consistent with the rest of the story as well.

    This likely still does fall under a mature rating, but know that it's teetering on teen. Think like, 15+? Well, if anyone disagrees after reading, let me know. Either way, here is the alternate Prologue to Hunter, Haunted, just a bit short of 2k words. I'll add a link to this in the first post so the out-of-chronological-order thing doesn't get in readers' way. Enjoy.

    ---

    ALT PROLOGUE

    ---​

    A gentle breeze blows through the streets of the neighborhood.

    The trees and bushes sway gently in this wind, showing off their emerging leaves or the needles that braved through the winter. Simple little houses flank the asphalt roads, their pastel walls near blinding in the strong sunlight. Only by a few puffy clouds here and there obscure the wide, azure sky. A faraway pidgey twitters - judging by its familiar song, a yellow-breasted one.

    No people seem to be out at this hour. No humans, no mon. They’re all at work or school or indoors for some other reason. There’s no one out here in this sunny April morning but me.

    Gods, getting away with murder is so easy.

    I hoist the garbage bag onto my back again. It’s heavy, but the strength gained from that quick breather I took helps alleviate the strain somewhat - and the knowledge that I’m basically halfway to my destination already. It stinks, too, but the surrounding air is luckily fresh and well circulating this fine day.

    I turn around and follow the path into the woods, replacing the houses and hedges of my neighborhood with pines and spruces. I can let my senses relax a little now that the risk of bumping into someone is much lower.

    Of course, I do have an explanation if someone gets nosy. Green waste. Just dumping it in the woods, returning it to nature. Don’t want to pile it all on the yard to be an eyesore and bug hive. For the good of the neighborhood, you know? The community. My fellow men. And mon. I’m socially conscious, you see.

    And if they still disagree, I’ll just make them socially unconscious. Haha. No, that wasn’t funny.

    I clear my throat, even if I didn’t say a word aloud, and proceed further. A few more bird mon’s tweets enter the soundscape. The bag’s starting to hurt my shoulders again. Luckily, the spot’s pretty close by now. Just a little more, and I’ll be ready to eradicate the evidence.

    “Kraw!”

    Oh, not a murkrow.

    Black feathers shuffle against each other, and so the murkrow has flitted down before me. It stands still, staring at the bag with hungry eyes.

    Yes, yes, I know you can smell it and it’s probably a fantastic fragrance for a scavenger like you. I wouldn’t mind giving you a piece on an idea level, but in practice, that’d mean opening up this stinky thing and exposing myself to all kinds of risks. What if a little civilized growlithe was roaming around in these woods and drawn to the stench? Then I’d have even more to worry about. I probably wouldn’t even be able to kill it, being a fragile, flammable human. Then I’d be caught because of a little puppy. A little puppy would be the one to cancel Judgment Day. I’m not letting that happen.

    “Kraw!”

    Oh, what’s Judgment Day, you ask? Well, when a god likes a man very much, HE picks him as HIS earthly vessel and descends upon this earth to reshape the world to its rightful state. It’s a very lovely experience for the man, giving him infinite power and immortality among other things, and that’s why I really don’t want to miss out on that. So get the hell out of the way, I’m coming through.

    The murkrow hops off the path to avoid my approaching feet, but keeps following me after I’ve passed by. “Kraw!”

    “Shut up,” I grumble, keeping my eye on the path to avoid tripping on anything. “You’re not getting anything.”

    I hear it take flight towards me and hurriedly turn my head, seeing it perch on the bag. The bag rustles as it begins to peck and tug at the thin, black plastic.

    “Hey!” I snap, shaking the bag and scaring the bird off. For now. “Piss off! Not yours!”

    Knowing it's just going to try again the moment I turn away, I pick up my pace. I just need to get to the opening, then I can throw this thing on the ground and make it vanish within two minutes. It won't matter if the murkrow gets its talons on it then. It can't do that much damage in that time.

    As expected, the feathered fuck keeps attacking the bag, though my rougher gait hinders his attempts at misdeeds. At least there's only one of them. Although it's possible a flockmate might hear us and come to its comrade's help.

    But, at last, I see the opening! I shake the bag one last time, then run the rest of the way, finally arriving at the small gravelly field among the evergreens.

    I heave the bag in the middle, its contents causing a thump. Hungrily, the murkrow dashes to pick at the already weakened plastic.

    Wasting no time, I search the surroundings for a broken off branch of fitting size and quickly locate one. Good, no need to get the hilt of my knife dirty. As the murkrow continues to drive its beak in the bag, I drag the tip of the branch across the ground, drawing a sizeable ring around the pile of waste.

    I hear a pop from the middle, and rush to add the details. Line there, curve there, circle there. I stand up straight, studying the pattern I've created. I think I remembered everything.

    I circle to the front and unsheathe my knife. The murkrow pulls its head out of the bag to give a quick, suspicious glance. No, it's not for you. You'll see.

    I take the blade to my little finger and run it across the tip, just strongly enough to pierce the skin and reach a blood vessel. The sting is there, but barely any stronger than a mosquito bite. Vivid, red fluid rises to the surface, gathers into a droplet and finally falls off, landing on a circle at the edge of the ring.

    The tiny stain formed in the gravel glitters, then glows. Its red light begins to expand.

    I back a safe distance away from the ring, smiling as things progress as intended. The glow continues to spread, keeping within the grooves of the carving. The murkrow throws perplexed glances at the sudden lights encircling it. Is it going to flee? If it knew what this meant, it would, but I don’t know if it’s smart enough to understand something’s amiss. Or maybe it's greedy enough to ignore it.

    Just before the advancing lights come together at the other end of the circle, something finally clicks in its brain. It flaps its wings frantically, stumbling into flight, racing for the edge. A membrane of glow envelops the bag. The murkrow too gains a creeping coating. The color brightens.

    Flash.

    The lights have disappeared. The bag is gone. The ring in the gravel has returned to a mere drawing. There’s nothing in the opening but me.

    And a murkrow staring at the new trim its tail feathers have gained.

    “Looks like you made it just in time,” I say, stepping closer and drawing its eyes to me. “Still, I wouldn’t try it again if I were you.”

    “Kraw!” it snaps at me and takes to the air again. It heads for the woods, its flight somewhat wobbly, and soon disappears between the trees.

    Great, now I have an enemy. If only it would’ve been a second late and disintegrated with the bag… I wouldn’t have to worry about getting caught by its pals. I’m not so good with those kinds of murders.

    Oh well, at least I’m basically done with this now. Just need to erase the circle, and then I can go.

    I begin pushing gravel around with my feet to cover the grooves in the ground. The task is monotonous, but the birdsong of the background makes it almost rather nice. Whistles, chirps, trills… I’m in not a bird expert, but I think it’s safe to assume these aren’t all just different types of pidgey. Maybe one of those is a starly.

    After all the marks have been removed, I kick the most dust off my shoes I can. I scan the ground. Looks shuffled around, but no one can tell why. They’d probably just guess that some children were playing. I guess I technically am a child… no, wait, I’m eighteen now, that’s right. Well, I’m still someone’s child.

    The bag’s scent seems to have completely disappeared. That was the last of her. The last evidence of my deed. Now only HIM and I could ever bring the truth to light, and I know neither will - until the ascension, when all lies shall become unnecessary.

    No more sneaking around searching for sacrifices, no more blood samples to make sure they’re clean, no more need to prove to HIM I truly am worthy. No risk of rejection, no need to worry I’ll be doomed to spend the rest of my life in a world I just don’t belong in. And then die. After years of frustration and misery. What a pitiful existence.

    No, don’t focus on that, focus on the ascension so close at hand. HE took over your body this time, remember? Sure, it made you have to vomit afterwards when you realized what HE ate wasn’t cooked, but it means HE has almost all of the power HE needs by now.

    I close my eyes and breathe deeply. In any case, yet another case is over. Closure. I can forget her name, her face, her address, all the details…

    Except that I can’t, remember?

    My eyes open. Oh, yeah. I don’t usually erase everything. I keep a memento, a trophy for every case. But this time I couldn’t. There was nothing to keep - HE had eaten it. So I had to keep something else, and I chose something immaterial. A memory. Her face, her name. Address and rest could go, at least. But I promised myself I’d remember her face. And I do remember it.

    Dark eyes. Black and bristly hair, like mine, but longer. Smoothly curved bridge of nose, almond-shaped eyes, widow’s peak. Pure, healthy skin. Eyebrows stylized to a moderate extent. They were silky.

    Then there was her name. It was a nice name. But did I ever speak it aloud? I knew I wanted to. Maybe I mentioned it to HIM at the start of the ritual? I like to do that, it always makes them freak out when a stranger knows their name. But the whole possession bit this time made those memories somewhat fuzzy.

    Well, it won’t matter if I say it now regardless. Because I simply want to. I’ll taste its sounds as they form in my mouth. I’ll feel it reverberate. I'll claim it, just like I claimed her life, and consume it.

    “Joanna.”

    ---
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2019
    NebulaDreams likes this.
  4. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Hello, I saw your request for HH to be reviewed, and so, I’ll be covering the first arc of this story plus the alt prologue you posted. I’m not too familiar with the lore of Twitch Plays Pokemon, but I thought I’d get out of my comfort zone and give this one a read since I’ve liked your work so far on Pletora’s Story and Dragony.

    So far, there are a lot of interesting things to talk about regarding this fic, and you’ll be glad to know my thoughts towards it are mostly positive. While personally, there’s one big element that gets in the way of fully enjoying this story, I’ll talk about that later and focus on the strengths first, as what is great is fantastic.

    While I’d like to talk about the voice first, I just thought I’d go into Red Akai’s character first, since you can’t really talk about how the fic is built around his POV without going into his specifics.

    Red Akai is an interesting case, in that he’s the driving force of the story and the source of both its greatest asset and its biggest flaw, which I’ll get into after I’ve talked about the positive points. I find him to be a compelling villain protagonist with a clear motivation and psychology.

    His actions throughout the story are indeed questionable, downright evil at times, but they have a purpose, and you get the sense that Red really doesn’t have much else to live for, with his banal daily routine and his constant thoughts about appeasing HIM. When he goes full SICKO MODE in Chapter 5, that’s where his personality feels the most alive, with all the descriptions of the different Pokemon hunting down their prey, and likening the world to ‘a society of caterpie’.

    There’s also an interesting dynamic with his brother Abe, who is obviously concerned about Red with his talk about making him see the therapist, but doesn’t know the depths of his depravity yet. All he knows is that his brother is a depressed high school dropout that’s edging towards insanity. It makes Red Akai quite tragic in his own special way without explicitly going towards the route of ‘oh, woe is me, I had a tragic past and now I’m broken’. Even though the fic hints at that at some point, it doesn’t come across as cliché.

    I want to gush about the strongest element of the story: the voice. Good god, the voice is fantastic. It’s very descriptive and oozing with personality. While it can get wordy in its stream of consciousness type of PoV when not much is happening plot wise, it adds a lot. You really get a sense of how screwed up the main character is, with his many detours, his staccato burst sentences, his paranoia, and catastrophizing at something even as mundane as going to a grocery store. This makes this story one of the most unique I’ve read in any Pokemon fic, and for that, I have to give applause.

    Some of the more wordy paragraphs left me thinking ‘alright, get to the point already’, particularly in the beginning when Red just stares at his room in bed for a few paragraphs. It’s well written and shows his dissatisfaction with his routine with the imagery of the colors being ‘soaked up by that grayish rag’ and the sliver of light ‘not covered by the white roll-down curtain’, sure. However, it also drags on for a little too long. If it wasn’t for the prologue, this would’ve been a very slow start to the story. Other than that, it’s solid throughout.

    With that said, the one big thing that holds me back from getting fully invested in the story is the way the villain protagonist is handled. These are very hard to write, since it’s often very hard to root for a main character that actively does evil things and enjoys it, and even when done right, I feel it’s a sort of case where the enjoyment of the story will hinge on the reader’s personal preference. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the story; just the emotional reaction it invokes.

    With Red Akai, there isn’t much of an emotional reason to want to see him (not to be confused with HIM) succeed. From what’s presented, there’s little to no chance to redeem himself, and if he appeases HIM in the end and brings about the new world, then that’s that. With the trajectory of the story at the moment, it doesn’t seem like the character with go through an arc of any sort. He’s not the sort of villain you love to hate, since the sort of stuff he does isn’t enjoyably evil, and he’s not the sort of villain you feel sorry for, since he invokes more pity than sympathy from me.

    That sadly affects my investment in the rest of the story, but it’s not a reflection of the quality of the writing, which is excellent, and makes up for that personal flaw. As the moment, it’s a bit too much for me to digest, but in the future, if I’m in the right mood for it, I would be willing to read more.

    Other than that, I found the world interesting as well, even if I wasn’t always privy to the TPP verse, as it was. It seems to take place in a world where there’s still the concept of wild and domestic Pokemon, but it’s also nuanced, as Pokemon have the capacity to gain sentience and even talk, if Pokemon such as Fonz are to be believed. Red even confirms it himself here:

    If anything, I think you could’ve banked more on that, since it's something most Pokemon fics wouldn't touch base on, but since the focus is highly central to Red Akai, perhaps doing that would’ve only dragged down the story. Even then, the story and voice stands well enough on its own that the TPP setting doesn’t get in the way of things.

    So overall, I’m really glad I read this story, even if I did have my own reservations about certain things. Thanks for giving us this unique take on Pokemon, and I’ll be on the lookout for any other projects you have in the pipeline for the future.
     
    canisaries likes this.
  5. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Thank you so much for the read and review!

    I really do like writing with a strong voice, being somewhat interested in rhetoric myself. It's true that I unfortunately sometimes get too into it as well, though, and get caught up in tangents which do feel natural for flow of thought but from a storytelling standpoint can come across as essentially video buffering for the actual events happening. To make matters worse, I've never been great at killing my darlings, as they say, but that is one of the things I've been working on with this revision - I've dropped scenes and even entire events to make the story more concise. I've recently gotten some help with shearing extraneous words and sentences, too, so I'm hoping to get better in that regard.

    It's also true that Red's character is very divisive with readers. I'd like to think that this is also something I've managed to alleviate from the original version, but I'm not sure if I can really affect it at its core given the canon I've set myself up with. There is an arc for him in this, however, and I'm trying to make it more prominent in this version with more tangible effects on his life. As for engagement... well, I'd like to think this fic leans a bit on the curiosity of the reader, especially before the second arc. Post chapter five, things start their escalation proper and a lot more surreal elements introduce themselves.

    Thanks again for the read, and I do hope you eventually come back to check out the rest of the story. My favorite scenes and shoehorned symbolism are in the latter half.
     
    NebulaDreams likes this.
  6. VRainbow

    VRainbow Member

    Alright, here I go with another one of my shoddy reviews.

    I can't say I've ever read such a dark, gritty Pokemon story before (outside of those terrible creepypastas, but they don't really count). The original prologue pulls no punches, setting up the main character to be an unforgivable monster of a human being, and yet I wanted to know more. Why is he this way? Is there really a god at all, or is he just delusional? It also gives an eerie tone to the rest of the story that I wouldn't have felt otherwise. Because I had seem what Red was capable of, when Red goes on an internal rant in the grocery store I felt legitimately worried, and had a similar feeling the entire time he was with Michi. The new prologue does basically the same thing, but its more "safe for work" approach could lead to debate over its impact on the reader, which I guess is the point of it.

    Red is also a very interesting character, and I enjoy seeing his thought processes and how he doesn't even feel the need to justify the things he does sometimes. He's not a hero, not even an antihero, just a plain bad person with selfish motives. It's like reading a Wikipedia page about a murderer. It's horrifying yet I can't stop reading. I can't wait to see how he reacts to his worldviews being challenged, and based on what the story has done so far I think there will be a lot of that. My only complaints would be the ones that are mirrored in the other reviews here. Red's internal monologues are an integral part of the story and interesting to boot, but sometimes they do go a bit overboard. And I feel there's some elements of this world that haven't yet been touched upon, but who knows what the future holds?

    I enjoy this story and hope it keeps getting better as time goes on. I'll be sure to keep up with reading it.
     
    WishIhadaManafi5 and canisaries like this.
  7. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    This is basically my catchphrase by now, but thank you so much for the read and review! I'm glad to hear you're liking the story, and I hope the rest of the chapters will get a similar reception.

    Now, it's time for another chapter, and this one has some gore going on again (especially the body horror kind), though I'd say argue it's even more graphic than in the previous chapter. I'm a big fan of the choreography I've created for it and I hope it doesn't gross y'all out too much. Anyway, rated mature is what I'm saying.

    This is also more than just a little longer than the average chapter at 7k words. Believe me when I say I did try to condense it, but I only got so far. I hope the suspense and hmmm unique content make up for it. Enjoy!

    ---

    CHAPTER 7
    The Houndoom


    ---​

    It feels good to be home again. Not that I couldn’t keep socializing for hours on end. But walking around aimlessly, occasionally striking up a conversation with a random person, leaving and then repeating starts feeling very pointless very fast.

    I turn the key in the lock and enter the house. “I’m home,” I call to find out who’s present.

    Three greetings. Abe, Fonz and the omanyte. Flinched a bit with that last one. But that’ll wane out once I put my first promise into practice.

    “How was your... outside?” asks Abe from the kitchen table as I proceed to the living room. His eyes are mostly on his homework, but I spot glances towards me. They’re still somewhat confused. I guess it really has been a while since I put on something fancier.

    “Very pleasant, thank you,” I respond and turn to the couch, but it appears he’s not done yet.

    “Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention it yesterday, but the psychologist called,” he says. He frowns. “Says you felt sick and needed a rescheduling, so I made an appointment for Friday, same time. But did you really feel sick?”

    Makes sense for him to doubt it, he knows me well enough. But with this newfound confidence, I have no reason to avoid evaluation anymore. “I actually did, Abe. I knew bailing would just postpone it, so I had no reason to fake it.” Little does he know, I needed it postponed. “I honestly promise that I’ll do it properly on Friday. Friday was the day, right?”

    “Yeah,” he mutters and hunches back over his notes. I take that as the green light to resume my own activity.

    I turn back to the couch and find Fonz staring at me. He too seems puzzled by my getup.

    “So what’s that outside he mentioned?” the nidoking asks. “Is that what you're all dressed up for?”

    “Well, I just felt like putting on something nicer, since I planned to walk on the streets and all that and not just wander about in the woods. And that I did.”

    “Oh! Okay,” Fonz replies, with some of that doubt Abe had before. I know, it's odd. But imagine how much more shocked you’d be if I told you I actually sought people out and talked to them. Yes, me! The antisocial guy! Truly, this is a metamorphosis.

    And just like in a metamorphosis, I'll have to dissolve my old self within this external shell so that the seed of the new self can grow into its glorious full form. To become the tyranitar I was always meant to be… I have to take the leap and confront the omanyte.

    I circle the couch. As expected, the omanyte lies Fonz’s lap. The little mon has its phone out. Back in the winter, it made me so distraught… that whole Shirlee event sure was an adventure. But that’s a thing of the past. I don’t want to care about the omanyte anymore. But I still want to appear like I care. To prove I can lie to them.

    “You don’t mind if I sit next to you, do you?” I ask Fonz, who seems somewhat confused by my continued presence.

    “Oh, no, go ahead,” he says, straightening his tail along the couch and freeing me a spot beside him.

    I gladly take the spot, then fix my eyes on the omanyte. It’s still busy with its device, but I see no headphones, so it has to be aware of my presence.

    “So, my lord,” I start, leaning into Fonz’s shoulder. The tentacled mon grasps its phone tighter as it turns to me, startled. “How have you been?”

    “I've… been alright,” it quietly replies, glancing away. So distant. I guess that's a consequence of ignoring it for so long.

    Something in the air changes. It's that feeling, trying to take away my control again. But this time, I’m prepared. The feeling tells me this is wrong, but I know that's not the truth. This is exactly how things should be. I shouldn't have an attachment to the mon. It's just a mon, just like any wild thing in the woods. It has no real power. It's useless to me.

    Wriggle. Something wriggled in my chest. But you can't fool me. I'll just go in deeper.

    “Made any friends at school?” I ask.

    “W-well, I guess there's this one treecko who's been cool…”

    The purple arms around the omanyte draw a little closer. Does Fonz think I’m going to… do something?

    Wriggle! Something about that protective grasp, suspicious look, it makes the wriggling worse. It's gained a texture. Itchy. Like hairy caterpillars squirming within my veins.

    No. This can’t happen. I can’t be feeling bad. Predators don’t feel bad.

    I cross my arms and push them against my chest. There is no pain.

    “...You alright, Red?” asks Fonz. He stares at me. The omanyte stares at me. No, I’m normal, completely normal. This doesn’t affect me in any way.

    “Yeah, keep going,” I say, smiling. Speaking is hard. No it’s not. It’s just like it’s always been.

    “S-so that treecko...” the omanyte continues, “his name is Travis and he’s the teacher’s son...”

    I nod along because I care. No, no I don’t. I pretend to care, just like I do with everyone else. And inside, I feel nothing. Yeah, nothing is crawling, nothing is nibbling on the walls of my arteries like they were leaves. My heart isn’t throbbing in distress, and the gushing of blood in my ears isn’t drowning out the words of the omanyte.

    Or, or, you know, maybe there is something, but it has nothing to do with this. There may be a bit of an infestation going on, but it’s not tied to the omanyte, and I can do something unrelated to dispose of it. I can -- well, I can’t dig my fingers into my chest and scoop out the larvae because my skin and bones are in the way, but maybe with a knife I can get through. And my knife is right here on my belt. I just need to pull it out and…

    Fonz flinches, having spotted my hand on the hilt. The omanyte stops in response.

    Hmm. Okay.

    Let’s think about this.

    It seems that if I stay here, I will do something irreversible.

    “...Good to hear you have friends,” I manage to get out, gaze on the knife. “But, excuse me as I...”

    Do what? You need a reason, don’t you?

    “...I have to go check something,” I say fast and get up. The hand is off the hilt. I move to the kitchen, where Abe gives me a questioning look. I pause for two seconds. Then I open the fridge.

    “Should we get groceries?” I ask.

    “What?” says Abe. “You just got groceries yesterday, shouldn’t we have everything?”

    He’s right. The fridge is pretty much full.

    “Maybe for… for normal eating, but what if… I wanted to… make a pie?”

    “A pie?” Abe tilts his head. “Have you ever made a pie before?”

    “Well... in class, we did,” I respond, beginning to feel a little confidence in this plan. “And it can’t be that hard, right?”

    “I guess not...”

    “Great, I’ll check a recipe.” I close the fridge and walk mechanically to the living room, studying the books of the shelves. Fiction, fiction, history, dictionaries, art, wine...? Must be mom’s. Fits her drinking, though then again it doesn’t, as she’s not exactly doing it for the flavor as far as I know.

    There, 100 Recipes for Baking, delicious-looking pastries on the cover. That ought to do it. Search up pie, pie, pecha pie, why not. Ingredients: sugar, flour, butter, salt, milk, oil, pecha berries. I think we have all of those, shit. I really don’t feel like baking right now. I want to get out of the house.

    Maybe we don’t have enough pechas. They’re rather small, too. I should get bigger pechas, fresh ones. Or fresh enough I can find in a supermarket.

    Back to the kitchen, I check each ingredient. Some do seem to be a bit on the shorter side. Good enough.

    “Yeah, we need more stuff, I’ll go get it,” I say and begin writing the needed items down on a list.

    Abe and the others have watched me for this whole time. Please go back to what you were doing. You’re not making me feel any better by gawking. At least I get to be out of here soon. I’m going out right now. I have the list and my wallet’s already in my pocket. Get the backpack, I get the backpack. I’m putting my shoes on, I’m tying the laces. I am ready. I am ready, and I’m out.

    “Bye!” I call as I slip through the door, then shut it without waiting for any responses.

    I sigh. Boy, that sure got out of hand. How did that even happen? Did I just… not try hard enough? I know I had to do something to defuse the situation after my hand went to the knife… but didn’t I move my hand? Am I not responsible for it in the first place?

    Ugh, I don’t wanna think about this. Let’s just say I fucked up somehow and that I’ll do better in the future. The walk to the supermarket will be a long one if I start ruminating on all my choices.

    I step down from the porch and begin the journey. In just a few minutes, I pass the high school. I see myself reflected in its windows and realize that my old tawny backpack doesn’t really go together with my otherwise sophisticated getup. Neither does my scabbard, I suppose, but at least these two match each other.

    I keep walking, more familiar buildings scrolling by. I’m not sightseeing, though, so may as well let my eyes rest on the monotonous sidewalk. My gaze rolls along the asphalt smoothly, lazily scanning for any items I’d need to watch out for, until a crossing forces me to raise my head again.

    But it’s heavy. It feels hard to keep my head up, eyelids apart. Am I tired? But why would I be tired? I work out every morning without trouble, just walking around shouldn’t make me this dazed. Is it because of last night? Is the nightmare catching up with me? I’ve had nightmares before, and I don’t think…

    Oh, hold on. I think I get it. I haven’t really eaten anything big today since breakfast. I’m just lightheaded because I’m hungry. Yeah, there definitely is a gouging feeling inside my abdomen. Well, it’ll have to wait until I’ve bought the stuff I need and gotten back home. I know there’s no shortage of food there.

    I take a deep breath to restore my focus, then look left and right for any vehicles. As none can be seen, I cross the street and keep moving.

    Library, hospital, graveyard, the market’s sign peeking above the spruces… the sunny, warm mush of a view changes so slowly, but I guess progress is being made. Just gotta go past these trees... and the parking lot has been reached, we are very close now.

    Hm, some people have gathered in front of the store. Who are they? They have photos with them… ah, Joanna’s relatives. Man, they’re resilient. Sorry to say it won’t be rewarded. They should just move on, honestly.

    As I arrive at the mass of people, I try my best to slip through unnoticed, but as luck would have it, someone touches my arm right before I reach the doors.

    “Excuse me, sir, have you seen...”

    It seems that we both recognized each other upon my turning around, given our raised eyebrows. It’s Mr Dopey Face himself, Joanna’s brother. Can’t tell if he looks more desperate this time or if he’s always been like this. Certainly different from the guy who slammed a needle-covered coffin lid onto me last night. Some primeape part of my brain itches for revenge. Because it’s definitely this guy’s fault he killed me in my dream.

    “Oh, it’s you,” he says, then pauses to consider his options. I sort of forget to think about mine and keep staring at his face. There’s something a bit weird about it. Something’s definitely going on underneath his skin. Like… long worms, almost. But branching. They emerge from underneath the man’s collar, travel across his neck and face, then dive underneath into his eye sockets and scalp.

    Oh, they’re blood vessels, of course. We all have those. But are they usually that visible? These veins and arteries, they throb pretty strongly. I think I can even hear them. Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun… yes, that’s them. The blood coursing through must be under so much pressure... if only one of those vessels was pricked with something, the fluid could escape.

    I think this guy is talking to me now. His mouth is moving and sounds are coming out and he’s holding up the photo of Joanna, but nothing really registers. It’s just… not as important as that phenomenon on his face. You know, all that pulsating has to come from somewhere, and I know exactly where - deep inside that chest, there’s a small, beautiful, colorful organ that works day and night to keep that blood flowing. Such a nice, dutiful organ. Yet this man gives it no thanks. Instead, he traps it inside himself, keeps it inside a bony cage and makes it work overtime with unnecessary stress. And he’s the good guy?

    “Are you okay, sir?”

    I look back at the man’s eyes. Wrinkles above the eyebrows. Slightly ajar mouth. Confused. At my behavior.

    “...Yes, I’m okay,” I respond with lazy lips, and he goes back to his speech.

    But am I okay? I kind of feel like that, if I stay here, I may end up lunging forwards and biting into one of those juicy, juicy arteries. I mean, I’m really beginning to realize just how strong this hunger is. My stomach is practically twisting itself to a knot. And those things on his face, they look like candy! I wanna chomp down on those tubes, deflate them and drink their warmth. And I want to give my respects to that little guy trapped in this chest, too. I want to bend its oppressor’s ribcage right open and liberate that heart, cuddle that squishy little thing! Oh, I could scoop out the lungs and other organs, leaving only the ribs - it’ll look like a beautiful butterfree spreading its wings. I can use some pieces of membrane and skin to decorate it. Just like arts and crafts!

    Oh my Gods. Based on those thoughts, I should definitely leave.

    “Sorry, I gotta go, I’ll let you know if I see anything,” I mumble, interrupting him. He gives me another confused, slightly offended look. Well, I don’t care. With my heavy, clumsy legs, I tow myself away and enter the store through the automatic doors.

    Whew, I’m glad I’m gone from there… but now I have to survive the shopping itself. And there are so many people here. And I need to talk to some at the end. And pay. And take myself home. But I’m so tired and so hungry… couldn’t I sleep for just a minute somewhere? No, no… gotta soldier on.

    Life turns into a lazy rollercoaster ride with rather boring sights to see. Gates to the store, baskets - don’t forget yours, shelves… an intersection - where to head? The answer lies in the shopping list. I draw the list from my pocket, check the items… well, I suppose the berries are first, they’re right next to me...

    One by one, I collect the items on the list. I dodge every person that gets close. Really don’t want to bother with any right now. Men, women, kids, hate ‘em all. Someone really should do what I almost ended up doing last time. But while I’m away, of course.

    At last, it’s time for the final item. Salt. Sssssalt. Let’s find the salt. Should be wherever the seasoning is, and there’s the sign for it. I have located the salt. And so I arrive at the aisle and claim a nice and cheap enough seeming package of salt and add it to my basket. This basket sure is heavy… I think I’ll put it down for a bit. Whoa, letting go makes my arm feel like it’s just lifting itself. There it goes…

    Hey, hold on. There’s something red on the floor over there, in that other aisle. I think it’s… no, there’s no reason for there to be blood on the floor of a supermarket. It must be something else, like ketchup. Someone sure has made a mess. How do you manage to be that clumsy? I’m curious enough now, I think I’ll take a closer look.

    I abandon my basket for a moment to check out the aisle. As I circle the shelf, I see something more than just blood. An elderly man in a black coat, face first on the red-stained ground. He’s not moving. Is he dead? Did he have a heart attack and drop something he held? But this smell… it definitely smells like blood here. Well… okay, maybe he just…

    Wait, what’s that behind the shelf? A leg? Someone else is down too? This is weird… is something going on?

    I sneak closer, and… that is a leg, yes. But it’s just a leg. And its owner is a few meters away. Motionless. Puddles and smears of red between the two. And further away, even more bodies on the floor. More blood. These people are dead.

    Wh-who did this? What did this? Did a rabid wild mon barge in? A scyther, by all this blood? Why didn’t I hear anything? A-am I in danger?

    Something moved.

    Something’s standing over there, far away. Looks human. Has human hands, with blood on them. Was it him? He kinda looks like me. Did he think like me? Is he here to kill everyone? Am I not alone in this town? He’s only standing there right now. He’s frozen like me. I don’t want to move, afraid I’ll trigger an attack, but I have to get my knife. I need to defend myself.

    I grab the hilt --

    Blood.

    Blood on my hands. They’re all red. Trembling.

    And so are his.

    That’s a mirror.

    No. No, I couldn’t have. Nothing like that has happened. I’ve been shopping, just like anyone else. When could I have done this? It’s impossible! Yet the blood, the blood is there, and my knife… I slide it out. The blade is red.

    Oh shit. I need to get out of here before someone sees me.

    I dash back the aisles, retracing my route and returning to my basket. I’m about to grab it, but I stop. I can’t get the blood on its handle. Actually, I can’t have any blood anywhere, handle or hands. I need to clean them somehow. On my jacket? No, not on my jacket, everyone will see it! It needs to be underneath the jacket, on my shirt. I zip open the jacket using the very tips of my nails, then jam my hands inside and rub them onto the fabric. The sticky red doesn’t want to get off. Come on… wait, why am I doing this? I don’t need the basket! This is a life-or-death situation! I need to get out --

    “Hold it!”

    A man in a dark green shirt has appeared at the other end of the aisle. Oh fuck.

    “Let me see your hands,” he commands. Looking down at myself, I realize why. I look like I’m shoplifting.

    But what do I do? I can’t show the blood - even if he hasn’t reached the crime scene yet, he’ll know I was the perpetrator the moment he does. He’ll be able to identify me.

    But I can’t not show my hands, he’ll keep thinking I’m stealing and get security. And security is even worse.

    “I said let me see your hands,” he repeats, taking steps closer.

    Should I kill him? It’s not like it’ll get me in any more trouble than I’m already in. But I’d have to be fast and get no blood on myself --

    No, I’ve got it! I’ll pretend to be a victim! Genius!

    “Thank the Gods you’re here! There’s a --”

    I’ve extended my arms, to present the blood on my palms and my shirt. Only there isn’t any.

    “A what?” the clerk asks.

    I glance at the aisle where the old man’s body was. It’s gone.

    “I’m going to have to search your pockets, sir,” he says.

    I allow him to inspect me. Having found nothing, he leaves with an apology.

    For a minute, I ponder whether I should go back and check if the blood really is all gone, but decide against it. I shouldn’t try my luck.

    I grab the basket and begin making my way to the checkouts, heart still pounding in my ears.

    ---

    Okay. Okay. Just a couple more steps. Dig out your key. Walk up to the door, one, two, three. Push key to lock, twist, it clicks open. Finally, finally. I’m home. I’m safe.

    “Hi, Red!” rings Abe’s greeting from the kitchen. Shit, he’s probably expecting me to make the pie. But I really don’t think I should. I need rest because I’m sick. I must be sick, clearly. Explains the tiredness and low appetite despite the hunger. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so sick that I start hallucinating, but there’s a first time for everything.

    I take off my backpack and stumble onward in the hall, peeling my jacket off and throwing it on the floor. I turn my face to Abe, who’s sitting at the kitchen table. He looks a bit worried.

    “I’m not… I’m not feeling too well. Can you unpack for me?” I ask. My words are quite slurred.

    “O-oh, sure,” he says, jolting up, like he’d just spotted a frail old woman about to take a tumble. I leave him to deal with the groceries and try to move along, but a blotch of blue interrupts all my thoughts and actions.

    My l- the omanyte has made Himse- itself comfortable in the armchair. It’s lying on its side on the soft surface, surrounded by a blanket. Its teal tentacles are touching the bottom of its shell. Its big eyes are closed in peaceful slumber. It’s like baby mon curled up in its nest.

    Oh Gods, no. I can’t deal with this contrast. I can’t deal with the promise being whispered to me, that everything would be fine if I just took it onto my lap and hugged it. That it’d be the only way to really make me feel safe and well. It’s a dirty lie. The spirit of the mareep telling me to give in to my weakness, the thing that shouldn’t exist.

    I have to keep moving. I can’t get any food, not even a glass of water. I can’t stay here or I’ll ultimately die.

    I turn my head and pull myself onward. Sixteen stairs and what feels like an hour later, I bust through my room’s door and flop onto my bed. The lights aren’t on, but the window provides more than enough of it. Despite that, only few seconds pass before I feel myself sink into my subconscious and leave reality behind.

    ---

    Where is it? All I can see are trees. Of course there are trees, it’s a forest, but there should be something else, too.

    Trees... evergreen trees, their branches spreading above me and swaying in the wind that howls with a houndour’s voice. They almost seem like they’re reaching for me, wiggling their dull green needles like spider legs, eager to get their claws on me to do who knows what.

    Up in the sky, in the few spots where the fuzzy blanket of the branches doesn’t cover it, the black of night peeks through. In a few of those breaches, tiny stars twinkle. In this scarce light, I can barely see three meters ahead until the surroundings are swallowed up by the unending darkness. Why didn’t I do this during the day? I guess I just need to follow this path of bare ground and growlithe-orange dead needles until I eventually bump into it.

    Wait, what's ‘it’ again? What am I looking for?

    Clank, clank, clank. What's that noise? Sounds metallic. It's coming closer, too. It doesn't seem good. I should get out of its way.

    I jump off the path and instantly regret it as the moss I land on gives in far more than I expected. With a nearly comical shlorp, my shoes sink into the wet green mush. I didn't know there were parts this swampy in these woods. Either way, I should get back to the path, as this clearly won't be fast enough. The clanking is approaching, so I better hurry.

    The suction is strong, but I manage to lift my foot and lower it closer to the solid ground. That's one step, I'll likely need two more. Come on… yes, shlorp, we get it. Hurry it up, the noise is getting louder. I don't wanna get in the way of a crazed tyranitar or whatever that is! The ground's already shaking with each clanking step! Sh-should I try to hide instead? I don’t know if I can outrun it even if I make it to the path. There’s a tree right on the edge over there, I’ll use that. Final step... yes, solid ground! Run to the tree, there we go, now hide behind it, yes, oh Gods, I made it in time.

    I try my best to lower the volume of my troubled breathing and fit my silhouette behind the orange-barked pillar. Curse my wide, masculine shoulders… but I should be safe now. As safe as I can be.

    The clanking is close, only a few meters away. It must be out of the shadows by now. But I can’t look. It’d see me.

    The rhythm isn’t changing as it nears my hiding spot. It hasn’t noticed me, it seems. As the clanks, loud as hell, move past the tree, I tiptoe to circle it. Like straight out of a cartoon, but miraculously, it works.

    Past the tree, I catch parts of the monster I’m avoiding. Numerous big, golden limbs carry its heavy body. Like a giant mechanical ariados. I haven’t seen its face yet, and plan never to do so.

    Something seems to be on its back, though. Something with muted colors, making it harder to distinguish in the dark.

    It’s passed by now. I can sigh in relief. Glad I avoided that.

    “Thought we missed you, huh?”

    What? That voice?

    With a cluster of clanks, the monster turns around and dashes at me, faster than I can hide again. Fuck! It definitely saw me!

    “Hit him with the string!” the voice shouts, a little girl’s voice, the fuck is she doing here?

    The monster leaps around the tree, shoots something white at my feet, and before I can even tell what I’m looking at, I’m yanked onto my back. String? It caught me with a string shot, of course!

    I stumble up to a sitting position, dead needles pricking my palms, and finally get my first proper look at whatever’s captured me.

    It’s got the mask as its face. That mask. Joanna. But its eyes aren’t holes and there are four of them. Black, gleaming. And then, on its back, it’s the owner of the voice. Michi.

    “You’re dead!” I shout. “You shouldn’t be here!”

    “Weird greeting, but okay,” she says, leaning onto the monster’s head. She even has her own saddle. What the hell is this?

    “Let’s get to the point,” Michi says and pats the monster with her little hand. It lifts and slams its forelimbs onto my sides. Very, very quickly. Had those targeted my body, I would’ve been skewered. I shift my hands closer to myself.

    The girl gives me a stern stare. “You need to confess.”

    “What?” What does she mean, ‘confess’?

    “Go to the cops and admit all your crimes,” she continues. “Or we’ll kill you.”

    ...Oh fuck. She would want that, wouldn’t she. But I can’t.

    The monster’s soulless glare is unnerving, but I manage to speak. “I can’t do that.”

    “Yes you can, and you will!”

    The monster hisses, enhancing Michi’s words.

    Oh Gods. This can’t be happening. I can’t be caught. I can’t be killed. I have to ascend. I’ve worked so hard. I have to get the peace I deserve.

    I have one weapon left. The one I’ve been honing all day. It needs to count.

    I adopt a miserable face. “Please,” I crow, “you can’t do this to me. I need to keep going.”

    Michi’s sneer twists a blade in my chest. Yeah, it was too hopeful of me to think pity was that powerful.

    “Really? You want us to feel sorry for you? The child murderer?”

    “Well,” I mumble, “if you’re alive, I never did kill you, and so I never actually murdered a child...”

    “You’re disgusting,” she spits. She pats her steed once again. “He’s made his choice. Get him.”

    The mask on the monster splits by the mouth, opening a much bigger maw and exposing curved, sharp fangs. An infernal screech comes out and echoes around the woods. Shit, it’s gonna attack!

    I try to get up, but the web on my shins has glued them together, making the usual method impossible. I squirm onto my knees and somehow manage to bounce up onto my feet. But I wobble. I can’t hop like this, I’ll fall on my face again right away. But I have to get away, or the spider will --

    A limb knocks me back onto the ground, then pins me down. “No, don’t --”

    Fuck! Oh, Gods! That stings, stings! Screaming pain in my left forearm, it took its fangs and sunk them right in! Right between the bones!

    I see the monster withdraw, but the pain persists. It’s so bad. It’s so bad I can’t think of anything but my dissolving flesh. Dissolving, it really is dissolving, the skin is caving in by gravity alone. Blood pours out of the puncture wounds. Blood and other matter. I hear sizzling. The pain spreads to my torso. My lungs are bubbling. I can’t breathe. The venom creeps up my neck. Oh Gods, I’m really gonna die. My brain is going to melt. It’s already doing so. Patches in my vision are missing. The voids only get bigger. But my skin, my skin is still intact, it seems, if limp with no structures beneath. Oh Gods, there it comes, I can feel it. My thoughts shattering.

    Death.

    Wait. It’s gone.

    ...Oh, great, I get it now. It was just another nightmare. Just a dream, and now I’m awake. In my own bed, at night. Safe. Though I’m not a fan of the cold sweat. Especially with my day clothes still on. Ugh, looks like I’ll have to change for tomorrow.

    “Do you understand now?”

    Oh fuck! Who -- her? How is she…

    “You will confess, or it’ll get even worse,” Michi says. What is she doing in my room? How did she get in? Wait, if this is reality, shouldn’t she be dead?

    “It’s not a hard choice,” she continues, glaring at me from the opposite side of the room. “Jail isn’t even as bad as you deserve. I’m letting you off easy.”

    Reality. She wouldn’t come in like this. She’s not stupid enough to taunt a killer like me. The real Michi was resourceful, bright. This is a dream. A creation of my own mind.

    Her expression wavers. “Is there really no convincing you?”

    “No,” I breathe. “No, there is not.”

    I get up and remove my sweat-soaked shirt. I want to be comfortable. Comfortable now that I’ll have my revenge on whatever cluster of neurons is playing her part.

    “What are you doing?” she asks, taking a step away. “I can scream, you know. And then everyone will see us. I’ll tell them what you did.”

    Some steps come, and the door swings open. Light floods in. Abe is there, shouting something about what I’m doing. But I’m not fooled.

    I concentrate on the boy and imagine him turning into red dust. With little to no delay, it happens. The lights flicker out, and the door closes on the pile of powder.

    Michi looks at the door, then at me. Stupefied.

    “It was a nice try,” I say, walking closer, “but I figured it out.”

    She backs up, bumping into the wall. “What do you mean?”

    “You had your fun, but now this dream...”

    I study the wallpaper behind Michi. Then, in an instant, it shreds to wrap around the girl. A startled gasp leaves her poor little lungs.

    “...is a lucid dream.” I smile. This is perfect. They’re so rare, yet this is the best time for one to happen.

    I’m going to get everything I can out of it.

    I grin, raising my right hand and bringing before the girl. She eyes it, expression quite alarmed. “And that means...”

    Shnk!

    Blood surfaces at the tips of my fingers, brought forth by the sharp, black talons that have shot out through the skin.

    “We’re going to have my kind of dream.”

    I snap my new claws, and with the reverberation of the loud click, cracks form in the surrounding walls and ceiling. Dust and small debris begin to rain down as a rumble of its own arises around us.

    “Don’t mind me, just getting the stage ready for the act,” I purr, turning around and flicking my hand. With the motion, all the furniture of the room reduce to ash. “We’re going to need lots of space...”

    Another flick of my hand, this time directed above, finally shatters the ceiling and walls, flinging their pieces into the exposed darkness around us. A wind picks up to remove whatever remains, catching the piles of powder that once formed my dull, gray bedroom. All but the straps of wallpaper still coiled around Michi, rendering the poor girl immobile.

    The blackness lights up to a deep blue adorned by thousands of sparkling stars. It reveals a familiar setting around us, that being the forest. It’s a pretty forest, and it certainly will fit the scene about to unfold. All it’s missing now is a full moon, let’s add it… plink! There.

    “Beautiful,” I whisper, admiring the scene I’ve managed to craft through willpower alone. “Now, Michi...”

    I clasp her face in my hands. She struggles - in vain, naturally. Boy, this makes me smile.

    “Your image of me is definitely inaccurate if you think I’m going to give up killing just because of a few nightmares, so let’s set the record straight. Once and for all.”

    I begin to change things inside of my body. Lengthening bones, strengthening muscles. My skin stretches to cover the expanding forms underneath, reaching its limits rapidly, and I say let it. It’d only get in the way and keep all that delicious blood of mine hidden beneath. Same goes for the clothes. A beast has no need for those.

    Rip, snap, rip. The limit was reached and broken. The futile cloth and tissue tear and peel off in bloody patches, exposing the beauty within. Fibers, tendons, ligaments, fasciae, glistening with the fluids of my body! And it so terrifies the girl!

    Somewhere deep inside my neck, rows of sharp, conical teeth pierce the flesh. I cough out a bit of blood onto my lips. The taste makes my mouth water.

    “It's time you see me for what I really am,” I rasp. She whimpers as she spots the new set of pearly whites peeking from my throat, forming into a predator’s jaws.

    A drastic reshaping in my skull severs the nerves to my eyes, blinding me - but only momentarily. New eyes have been created for me, true eyes. Right now, they see mostly darkness, but there’s also light somewhere ahead.

    The new head that nests those new eyes and new teeth pushes up against the light, but it can’t quite fit through the old one’s mouth. Yet, but allow me to change that.

    I let my left hand sprout its own claws as well, then take both to my human jaws. I shove the talons in and pull.

    With a rich eruption of blood, the jaws are popped apart, illuminating the vision of my new head. Now Michi can see it, too. By her face, it’s a success. My lipless, torn up mouth pulls its corners into a toothy grin.

    My eyes, glowing yellow with tiny black specks for pupils, stare right into the girl’s innocent blues. What, are you worried about their lack of lids? I’m the king of this reality, sweetie. I don’t need to blink.

    Michi’s nerves have given out. She begins squirming, screaming like a zubat in a blender, desperate for someone to hear and come save her. But no one’s here but us. The tiny girl and the wide-eyed walking corpse, its fluid-coated crimson surface shimmering in the moonlight.

    Oh, I still need a little something. I’m the Houndoom, after all, I need to look like it. I mold the back of my skull to extend with two milky-white horns, elegantly curved. I travel down along my spine with my mind’s touch until I reach the tailbone, then reform it to be the first of many caudal vertebrae I create one after another. With a long enough tail on my hands, I finish it off with the signature triangle tip. Edges sharp as razors, naturally.

    I study my new form with a proud eye. Satisfied, I stomp a bloody foot down onto the ground and halt the girl’s wails through pure intimidation. “Well!” I roar. “Do you see now? Do you see what I really am?”

    “Yes! Yes!” she screams. “Whatever you say, you freak! Just let me go!”

    I allow the wallpaper to turn limp. As it's been drenched by the many sprays of my blood, it tears apart from the smallest motions of the girl. She stares at her freed self, puzzled by my sudden compliance.

    “Well, go ahead,” I say. “Run. Maybe you can get away this time.”

    I step back and hunch over, preparing another wave of changes within my body. Michi blinks, then remembers her survival instinct and takes the chance I've provided her. Her pathetic little run is adorable to watch. It's like she only learned how to walk yesterday.

    Now… to really live up to the first descriptor of Big and Bad.

    I slam my claws onto the gravel, the leaking blood dyeing it crimson. Whipping my tail and letting the fiercest of snarls pour out between my teeth, I expand my form even further. Bones change shape. Muscle fibers duplicate. My heels rise off the ground for hind legs better built for running. My muzzle extends, allowing the accommodation of even more grisly teeth. I have tripled my size. This should allow for the end I’ve planned for her. Let us now make that happen.

    With my omniscience of the stage I’ve created, I locate a root running across Michi’s trajectory with my mind’s eye and raise it. As expected, it knocks onto her shin and sends her face first onto the ground.

    I gallop to her, earth-quaking thumps heralding my rapid approach, and reach her just as she’s gotten back onto her feet. Like a meowth playing with a ball of yarn, I topple her over with a shove of my paw. She rolls onto her back and freezes in horror as she sees how much I've grown.

    “Looks like you didn’t get away...” I sneer. “Now, you know what the Houndoom likes to do, don’t you?”

    A flame ignites within me, right at the bottom left of my ribcage. Yes, you’ve got that right. I’m going to fill that hollow.

    My hands grasp her tiny, delicate shoulders, careful not to puncture anything with my talons. I can feel her shivers against my palms. My words and the saliva dripping from my mouth have gotten my message across.

    I open my jaws wide and shove her legs in. She screams and claws against my fleshy muzzle, but I barely feel her touch any more than a beetle’s. A taste of pecha spreads onto my tongue. She truly is a sweetie, who could have guessed!

    “Let me go, let me go, let me go!” she squeals as my talons only stuff her deeper into the thumping abyss, ignoring any scratches or flails. It’s starting to hurt my jaws to keep them this wide apart, but my hunger is a thousand times louder than any pain.

    Michi’s voice is all but gone from the constant shouting. “What is wrong with you?” she still tries, but the only answer she gets is a powerful, final shove from my hand pushing her in entirely. The legs in my throat trigger the reflex of the hour, and with a function most primitive, she's swallowed.

    Silence reigns as an oversized lump makes its painful way through my neck and chest. I feel as if my esophagus is only seconds away from bursting. My pulse is deafening. Still, the thrill very much overpowers the discomfort. The thrill of predation.

    Finally, as the lump reaches the abdomen, the swelling eases. I gasp for air. A faint ache passes over my brain, a response to the lack of breathing for a while, I’m sure.

    I notice my breath is through a human mouth. A blurry glance around confirms I’ve returned to my room and my real body. I suppose all good things have their end.

    I remove my pants, which still appear to be sweaty, and crawl back into bed. Now I’ll get to have a proper rest. A relieved smile forms onto my lips.

    No more nightmares.

    ---
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
  8. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    new chapter surprisingly fast, given the time between the last few ones. i believe it's due to the old material starting to get better and more recyclable, making me rewrite a smaller percentage of the chapter. there's also the simple fact that this chapter was shorter in general. the cut-off to the next chapter was moved further, but an entire scene was also cut (to be relocated later on in the story). anyway, the word count for this one is pretty much 4k, so almost only half of the previous chapter.

    on the content: there's no gore, but there are colorful descriptions of illness and spiders. language is on the level it usually is, that being strong. i guess i could rate this teen. it's still in the context of a mature fic, though.

    i should probably describe what happens in the story this time, huh? well, we're seeing our dear friend psychologist jordan marsh again. and things definitely don't go wrong at all. enjoy.

    ---

    CHAPTER 8
    Illness


    ---​

    There was no doubt about it - I’d become sick.

    The first thing I noticed after waking up was pain. As my eyes recognized the daylight from my window, the pain became more specific. It was a dull, pressurized pain, restricted to my abdomen. My mind, as it sharpened, soon gained the ability to describe it even better.

    It was as if all the organs around the area had detached from their ligaments, letting them shift around freely. On top of this, they all had dried, shrunk and been filled to the brim with small, cold stones. And on top of that, their muscles were still inexplicably contracting, causing the organs to constantly squirm on top of and beneath each other and hug the freezing lumps inside them.

    Basically, I’d become a sub-zero theme park ride with arms, legs and a head.

    This naturally made life very difficult for me. As the fatigue that had struck me yesterday had only strengthened, I found myself almost completely unable to walk. My limbs simply wouldn’t stay straight beneath me.

    Luckily, I could still crawl around. I could use the bathroom and drink from the tap, though when I finally wanted to go downstairs for some food, I had to face the hell that was the staircase. I wanted nothing more than to silence my screaming hunger, but I didn’t want to crack my skull due to a less-than-optimal move, so progress was very slow. And had anyone been at home at that time, humiliating. But at least I now know what it’s like to be a slug.

    When I finally got to the kitchen, I ate and I ate a lot. It felt so good to eat and so bad to stop. Eventually, though, the worst hunger was sated and I could stop myself from shoving any more food in my face, as I knew I may have ended up only throwing it back up later. I also didn't know how long this illness would last and so decided to spare the rest for the future.

    I would've loved to just collapse on the floor there and sleep, but I knew I'd have to answer Abe's questions if I stayed there. That and the irritation coming from the outside light drew me back upstairs - after another date with the steps of pure evil - to close the curtains of my room and sink back to sleep.

    I woke up again some hours later and repeated the whole process. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last time, and I was right.

    I had hopes of the illness loosening its grip overnight, but unfortunately the next morning was barely different from the one before. I tried to remember any dream I would have had, but always drew a blank. I guess it was a victory in a way - no more nightmares, just as I’d said - but honestly, I could have gone for at least one, just to have something else on my mind than whatever basic need I was trying to fulfil at the moment and the freezing pain still ravaging my guts.

    Later in the day, however, something new did happen. A strange, short humanoid with the head of a tangela showed up at my door. I hissed at it to get it to shut the door leaking in that horrid, toxic light, but it just came closer and began speaking in an alien tongue. As I stared at its curious eyes and its fine, brown vines, I realized it was in fact my brother asking me if I was fine.

    “No, bring me food and close the door, please,” I attempted to say, but what came out was more like the mating call of a stantler buck.

    Luckily Abe, the sweetheart he is, did think ahead and bring me a sandwich later on. That's one aspect I do like about mareep like him. Sometimes they do nice stuff for me without asking for anything in return. It makes no sense, but I'm not above reaping the benefits.

    The rest of the day went pretty similarly to the previous one. A fear crept into my mind - that this was something a lot more serious, something my immune system wouldn’t be able to fix by itself.

    However, this morning I felt oddly better.

    When I woke up, my innards were still. Still, empty and warm. No turning, no twisting, no stones inside. Pretty much normal, if a bit weak.

    As I got out of bed, I was elated to find out that my legs could carry me with little strain, making me able to walk around as naturally as any biped. I took the opportunity to wash myself in a hot shower, untangling all the greasy strands of my neglected hair and removing the suffocating odor of sweat from my skin.

    After that, I felt fresh enough to get dressed in actual daytime clothing - the snappy kind, too, even if I didn’t expect to be going anywhere. In the mirror, I saw the charming, friendly young man I was disguising myself as before the illness struck. Just with a little gray underneath the eyes.

    I wouldn’t yet go ahead and call myself completely healthy, but I’m definitely recovering.

    I take another bite of my oran sandwich. It tastes like the best sandwich I’ve ever had now that I have the focus to savor it again. Not that I take much time for that, though, as my hunger still seems to be at a level higher than normal.

    “Oh, hungry like a houndoom, huh,” I hear from ahead. It’s Abe, backpack hung over his shoulder, eyes alert, probably about to head for school. “So, you feeling better?”

    I nod, mouth still busy with chewing.

    “That’s good,” he sighs, leaning onto the back of a chair across me. “But... should I still cancel your appointment for today?”

    I gulp to clear my mouth. “Appointment?” Oh, the psychologist. “Right, that appointment.”

    “I mean, if you go out now, you might just end up getting worse or at least not healing as quickly...”

    Hmm. I’d hate to postpone it again - I’d rather just get it over with. And I’m in a pretty good mood due to this recovery… a good mood means patience and composure, both of which I’ll need if I’m to convince the psych I’m all well and good and a danger to nobody.

    “I think I’ll go,” I say. “I have a good feeling about today.”

    “I dunno… what if you suddenly get really bad, though?”

    “I’m sure the people at the clinic will know what to do. And in the bus on the way back, too. I’ll yell at people to call an ambulance if I have to, and then I’ll be in better care than anywhere else.”

    “Hmmh… well, if you say so...”

    “Abe, what time is the appointment?”

    “Uhh… same as last time, 15.20 --”

    “So it’s still hours away. Listen, Abe,” I say, leaning forward. “How about you hold off on canceling that appointment until you come back from school? If I’ve gotten worse during your time away, you’re free to call them and tell them I’m not coming.”

    Abe sighs, examining the ground. “Well, that does sound like a sensible suggestion...”

    I smile. Oh, Abe, you’re so easy.

    “Do we have a deal?”

    “...Sure.”

    “Perfect! Come get me with a cab like last time. Now, were you leaving for school, or...”

    Abe’s glance at the microwave clock, horrified expression and dash away from me answer the question.

    “Have a nice day at school,” I call after him, feeling amiable after my success.

    I’ll be frank with the shrink, find out what her issue with me was and fix it. I’ll be out of there in no time. But for now, I should focus on sating myself. Hunger is only going to make planning harder.

    ---

    The taxi is far better this time. Instead of a smoke-bathed hunk of junk with a fat beardo at the wheel, the vehicle I’m currently in is actually serviceable - not fantastic, but not actively repellent. It’s nearly odorless. Its windows are clear. Its driver is much younger, clean-shaven and, dare I say, even sort of handsome. Compared to the primeape last time, he’s a dragonair.

    Having arrived at the clinic’s blocky entrance, we get out of the car and Abe pays the driver. The driver smiles after receiving his payment, then drives off.

    I draw in the pure spring air. It’s still like the most wonderful drug.

    “That was a nice guy, wasn’t he?” Abe says, and I can’t say I disagree. I nod.

    We move on beneath the red-stemmed, green-leaved vines of the entrance’s roof. Abe opens the front door for me despite the obvious strain it brings his bony little arms. I thank him, much to his surprise.

    “You’re oddly cheerful today, you know,” he remarks as he follows in to the lobby. “Is there a reason?”

    “Just glad to be healthy again.”

    I begin heading for the stairs on the right, but Abe hurriedly grasps my shoulder.

    “I know where the room is this time,” I explain.

    “But you gotta give up your knife first,” he whispers.

    Right.

    I sigh quietly as we walk up to the glass box of the receptionist. The guy sitting there is the same as before. Unfortunately.

    “I’m here to deposit my knife,” I exhale, detaching my scabbard from my belt and placing it on the desk.

    “Thank you for your cooperation, sir,” the man says, taking the scabbard and storing it in the drawer. He smiles. I silently wish for an accident to befall him later in the day.

    I turn to Abe. “You can leave now. I’ve wasted enough of your time.”

    “O-oh, no, it’s nothing, as long as you get help.”

    Wait… help?

    Abe realizes his slip and quickly begins to back away.

    “Yeah, I’ll go ahead and leave now, hope it goes well, bye!”

    He skitters to the exit. I dare not look behind me to see the receptionist’s face, as it’s probably something I couldn’t resist punching. I start making my way to the waiting room.

    Help? Why would Abe think I need help? I know my transformation was dramatic, but it wasn’t that dramatic. But maybe it isn’t about the change. Maybe this has been going on for longer. But for how long?

    I’ve tried my best to appear normal. I’ve kept my crimes secret. I haven’t said anything too troubling. The flareon incident was ages ago.

    Maybe he saw the bandage? Maybe he thinks I slit my wrists. But I’ve done far worse on my torso and he knows that… it just doesn’t make sense.

    Having reached the third floor, I walk out of the staircase and through the waiting room with the four sofas. No one’s there. I arrive at hallway E and spot the familiar five chairs and table against the wall. I sit down on the one furthest away from the table this time, making sure no spiders are around.

    Well, here we are. I think I have a minute or two before I should be called in. Alright.

    So… my plan. It’s still to be normal. But not too normal. No one’s perfectly normal. I’ll be honest for just as long as my answers aren’t weird, then I’ll switch. This isn’t really different from the plan last time, but this time I also have to ask her questions. I won’t get anywhere if I don’t.

    I rub my hands. Alright. Normal. I’ve got this.

    The door opens. “Red Akai?”

    “Normal.” Fuck! “I mean, here.”

    Dr Jordan Marsh nods. I suppress a sigh as I get up and enter her room. Off to a great start.

    “So, how are you?” she asks as we seat ourselves in the armchairs.

    Oh, we’re doing this again? “Fine, thank you.”

    “No migraine this time?”

    “I believe so. I feel pretty good.”

    “That’s good...” She writes something in her notes. I don’t understand her priorities.

    She straightens her gray wool sweater, then looks back at me. “Alright, as we got the basic questions out the way last time, I’d like to move on to more personal ones already. Is that okay?”

    Why are you asking me like I have a choice in the matter? “Yes.”

    “Good to hear. So... last time you mentioned not having many friends or spending a lot of time with people. Would you say you are a loner?”

    Kind of a loaded word, but I shouldn’t stray too far from the truth. She might catch me lying again if I do, and that’s very bad for appearing normal. “Maybe so, yeah.”

    “Do you enjoy the company of others?”

    “If I like the people I’m with, yes.” Kind of an obvious answer.

    “You seem to have very few people you like. Are you happy with that?”

    Yes, but should I say that? I think I should - if I’m not happy with something, there’s a problem, and she’s looking for problems. “Yes.”

    “Out of those people, who would you say is closest to you?”

    “Oh, I’m not one to pick favorites.” A genuine smile creeps onto my face. Such a wholesome answer.

    Dr Marsh adds something to her notes. I guess that answered something she had in mind. I hope in the correct way.

    I realize my legs are and arms are crossed. Should they remain this way? Would a normal person sit like this? It can appear hostile. But it also shows defensiveness. Are more people comfortable or uncomfortable in a situation like this? Should I untangle my limbs only later on to give the illusion that I’ve warmed up to her?

    Ugh, people are so much harder when their guard is up. Maybe I shouldn’t overthink this. Maybe that in itself will make me seem unnatural.

    Dr Marsh returns to her questions. “Are you impulsive?” “Are you irritated easily?” “Have you ever stolen anything?” Not really, I wouldn’t say so, no.

    Are all of these questions going to be this easy? Is she going to keep straight up asking me if I’m dangerous or not, just phrasing it differently each time?

    She goes on. “Do you consider yourself better than others?” “Have you had destructive thoughts lately?” Lady, wow, you’re just going to spell it out for me? Are you even trying?

    But hold on now. These can’t be things that just anyone is asked. If she’s bringing up points such as these, she must be doubting me. How do I erase that doubt?

    “You know,” I say before she has the opportunity to quiz me again, “I’m noticing a kind of… troubling theme with these questions. Why are you asking me these things?”

    “I just want to form a complete profile of you,” she answers with an encouraging smile. She flips a page. I don’t feel encouraged.

    One the fringe of my vision, something moves. My breathing ceases mid-exhale.

    In the upper corner of the room, where the white walls and ceiling meet in a black dent. There truly is movement there. Quick, patchy movement. Oh, no, is that…

    The moving object sticks long, pointy limbs out of the hole. Yep. A spider.

    Ugh, not again. Is this building somehow especially alluring to them? Whatever. As long as it stays all the way over there, it’s of no importance.

    “Alright, Mr Akai,” starts the woman, drawing my attention back to her pale face framed by red glasses and shiny dark hair. “I must be frank. I do not believe you are being honest.”

    “What?” What? How can she tell? Were my answers too unnatural? Did she read some subconscious visual cues from my expressions and body language or something?

    “You exhibit signs of lying, and what you’re saying doesn’t all add up. You said you wouldn’t pick favorites out of the people you like, but last time you claimed to have a very strong bond with your omanyte, whom you consider your god.”

    The omanyte. Dammit! I forgot about it. But it’s not like it’s a person. From either current me or past me’s perspective. I see it as a mon now, something worthless and irrelevant, and past me saw it as something completely above mortals.

    “W-well, He’s not really a person, per se...” Idiot! Why are you stuttering? That’s weak, that’s suspicious!

    And… where is that spider right now? I can’t shake it off my mind. It better not have advanced.

    I give the corner a glance. A chill tickles my back. The spider has left its hole and made its way roughly halfway down the wall. In the wall, two new legs peek out. They look larger than the previous one’s. Just how many spiders is this place housing? I bet it’s the vines outside that lure them in. They think this is just a weirdly shaped forest and make their foul little nests in here.

    “Mr Akai?”

    Shit, I just stopped talking right in the middle of my sentence! What’s she going to think of that?

    Dr Marsh is staring into my eyes. Dark irides meet dark irides. The good faces down the evil. You’d love to expose me, wouldn’t you? That’s why you became a shrink, so you could weed out the bad guys, huh? Purify the world of the rotten-minded so that your golden society may bloom with unmarred, perfect petals?

    “Are you afraid of being diagnosed with something?”

    Because I’d then be under a magnifying glass, putting my secrets in danger of being discovered? Yes. Because people would think I was crazy? No. I know full well that people would call someone like me insane. It doesn’t matter that they think that, because I know it’s not true. I don’t think one plus one is three. I don’t think water is dry. I don’t think anything that doesn’t make sense.

    But to answer your question… “Well, yes. I wouldn’t want you to get any wrong ideas about me.”

    “I am a trained psychologist, Mr Akai. You can trust my judgment.”

    Can I? You’re with society. I don’t trust society’s judgment.

    Something flickers atop the woman’s left shoulder. I focus on it. It’s black and many-legged. Of course it is. I check on the corner. It’s empty. No spiders. Is that one of the spiders? Are they advancing? Where’s the other one? Could it be near me? My muscles tense up.

    “And, Mr Akai, a diagnosis is nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, it’s better to be diagnosed with something than not be aware of it at all. Then you can understand yourself better and others can understand you better.”

    I already know everything I need to know about myself. HE knows the rest and unless HE tells me, it’s unnecessary and none of my business. As for others… I tried once to make someone understand. She now wishes she’d never given birth to me.

    The spider on Dr Marsh’s shoulder starts moving. It crawls its way off the grey wool and onto the woman’s pale neck. My nails scrape the green leather of my chair. It keeps moving. Across her jaw, onto her face. Why isn’t she reacting? She must be able to feel it.

    She’s going to notice it any moment now, scream and flail. She’s got to.

    “It’s apparent from your behavior that you have antisocial tendencies. And you already know you’re different from others, don’t you?”

    The spider climbs in front of her nostril, scrapes the rims of it with its legs and, after a moment of pondering, shoves itself in.

    Still no reaction from her. Maybe these spiders are too light to be noticed… and if that’s the case, one could be on me and I wouldn’t even know. Oh fuck, I bet there’s one on me. Or even more. I slap my palm onto my face. Ugh, sweaty. But I have to do this, they need to come off. I swipe across my face multiple times, exhaling forcefully through my nostrils. I can’t seem to touch anything. Maybe I was clean. I definitely am now. Or am I?

    “Mr Akai, it’s better if you admit it. That way we can help you.”

    Help? Help? What the fuck are you going to do? Brainwash me? Lobotomize me? You can’t erase an arcanine’s stripes without skinning it alive!

    Oh shit. The spiders could be in my hair. Crawling all over it, hiding between the strands, laying their eggs onto my scalp. I stuff my fingers in there and shake them all over. That’ll show them. But they’ll just come back. I can’t stay in this room. I shoot up, still scratching all around my head.

    “Mr Akai, is there something wrong?”

    From between my fingers, I can see a black spot exit her right nostril.

    “Yes, something’s fucking wrong, this place is a spider hive!” I snap. Oh Gods. I’m not being normal, am I. That’s very troubling.

    “What?”

    I should fix this. Can I even fix this? But to fix this, I should stay here, and the spiders are still here. They won’t leave. If I stay, they’re just going to get closer a-and touch me and...

    “Spiders!” I shout, unable to stop the word from bursting out. “Spiders i-in the ceiling, on the walls, on your face, everywhere!”

    She’s staring at me with hoothoot-eyes, grasping her notebook. Oh, great. Real great. I look like a total lunatic. Can I justify any of these actions? Isn’t it worth a try?

    A discomforted chuckle leaves me. “Sorry, I just really, really don’t like spiders and they’re stressing me out, especially since they’re making it so hard for me to act normal which I need to do because in actuality, I’m --”

    No. No, what did you just say?

    “You’re what?” Dr Marsh asks. Her face may be shocked, but her pen hand is almost shaking in triumph. Oh Gods, she heard me. She knows I’m not normal. This was the final straw. This is unsalvageable. The only thing I can do now is make sure it doesn’t get any worse!

    I sprint for the door, the sudden motion startling the shrink.

    I’m about to grab the handle, but stop to first eye the general area around in case of any more spiders. None are found, so I wrench the door open and dash out.

    “Mr Akai, please come back and sit --”

    “No!”

    I kick the door shut behind me and speed toward the end of the hallway. My heartbeat is bombarding my eardrums. My fingers return to my hair, ruffling it again to get rid of all real and imaginary arachnids. Violent shudders run through my entire body. I’m like a mightyena shaking its fur dry after a swim. Only instead of water, it’s spiders. So many spiders.

    I turn the corner, run, turn another corner another, then I stop. There are nothing but hallways here. Nothing but white, no windows, no doors. I really should have bumped into something familiar by now if I was going the right way… should I go back to where I started and try again?

    I’m almost hyperventilating. This is a disaster in so many ways. This situation just needs to end. I need to get out of here as soon as possible, before anything else goes wr-

    Oh Gods no.

    ---
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
  9. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    less than a week to update this time? b r u h

    about 4.5k words this time, a nice size. mature rated, naturally, due to language, body horror, existential horror and horror in general. expect some metal af imagery.

    thank you all, and enjoy - enjoy the end of the second arc.

    ---

    CHAPTER 9
    The Mareep


    ---​

    “No! No more of you!”

    I plunge the ball of my shoe onto the black speck on the floor and twist it, making sure it tears the bastard apart. No more spiders. No more of them, please. Let this be the last one.

    I move away my foot and look at the remains. Bits of black on a yellowish-brown smear. Okay, it’s dead. Just as it’s supposed to be. Do not come back to life, you hear me? Stay dead.

    Thank the Gods, it seems to be listening. I’m not seeing any motion. It really is dead.

    I exhale. I still need to find my way out of here. Gotta get back to the shrink’s door. I look up from the floor.

    I turn to stone.

    The walls and ceiling ahead of me, previously snow white, have now been totally obscured by black. Swarming, crawling black.

    Millions of spiders are walking across each other, dangling by strands of web, digging in and out of the mass.

    I can hear them. Quiet crackling, rustling. Brushing of chitinous limbs against another.

    And there’s no end to them. No white at the end of the tunnel. Just all-encompassing, all-consuming spider sludge.

    And it’s coming towards me.

    Without any further hesitation, I twist around and bolt for the other end of the hall. The hallways on my left and my right look identical - of course they do. I just pick the left. Keep running. Look back. The spiders have just turned the same corner. I have to run faster, even though the acid is already swelling up in my legs and the air is starting to feel prickly.

    I take another turn -- fuck. My feet tap to an ungraceful halt. A dead end. A tiny stub of a hallway with no door or windows - only a sad, blank rectangle of a wall at the end.

    I spin around to face the spider sea. It slows down, probably to savor my horror as I would of my own prey.

    Okay. No. This situation should not be happening. It’s too much. But it’s real, isn’t it? It’s really…

    Actually, you know what? It’s not real. Calm yourself, High Priest, and let me explain.

    Spiders are lone hunters. Not pack animals. The chances of so many coming together, of the same kind, no less, are microscopic. Less than that. And why would they come after me? Spiders hunt flies. And these ones probably aren’t even capable of piercing my skin with their tiny fangs. And they’re certainly not able to feel anger at the murder of one of their kind. Hell, don’t they cannibalize?

    Logic speaks against this situation. It isn’t real. It’s just the disease again. It was always the disease. It tricked you.

    You know, High Priest, you made a promise a few days ago. You promised that you wouldn't let your emotions control you anymore. That you'd leave behind your human faults and weaknesses and live your life as a machine until the soul of your god would inhabit you. You would only allow joy to exist. Joy or nothing, your only emotions.

    Fear is not allowed, especially not at false danger. So close your eyes.

    I do. The rustling grows stronger. It surrounds me. I flinch as I feel motion on my pant legs. Then there’s an itch on my ankles. A violent convulsion comes over me. But no, I won't touch it. I won't move a muscle. Because it's not real - and even if it were real.

    The itch moves up my shins, lingers behind the knees. My legs quake as I resist my reflexes. I am in control. I will succeed.

    The spiders engulf my legs and sneak up along my torso. My obliques instinctively squeeze, wishing to harden into a shell that may protect me from the plague dancing atop it. But it’s okay, it’s not real. They’re not real and they can’t hurt me. They’re only fake signals of my imperfect vessel, creations of a momentarily crippled brain. Momentarily. This will pass. You only have to hold on, High Priest, and soon --

    “Gaaaaaahhhhh!”

    My eyes are open, I’m on the floor, my fingers are scratching everywhere. My spine is twisting, neck crackling. My shoulder blades are kneading the skin and muscles of my back. All around, my body is bending, convulsing, slithering.

    But there are no spiders anywhere. Just white. Just silence. Just my clothes touching my skin.

    Did… did I...

    No. No, it wasn’t me. I never gave in. I never lost balance, someone else pushed me off the tightrope!

    But… who else could it have been? No one else is around. No one else could have been influencing me. So it… it was me.

    I let my grasp loosen. I gave my animal instincts control. I failed in my mission. I failed…

    I… failed.

    I drag my shaking hands off my body to stop their scratching. I put them onto my face, horrified breathing echoing back from the palms.

    This… this slip-up, this mistake… it proves I really am… w-weak. Weak as in…

    Not fit for HIM.

    My face is searing hot. Scalding fluid escapes my unblinking eyes. This can’t be true. But it is. I just proved it. I gave in. And not even at the hardest part. The spiders had barely reached my navel, and I already fell. Weak. So incredibly weak.

    I take my hands to my tired arms, grasp them, feel the warmth. My trembling calms down a little.

    So… what now? What is there left? I have no goal. The light I’ve been chasing has disappeared. What is there to do in the darkness? Just exist until death comes?

    Death. No, no. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to cease. I don’t want to see what lies beyond life, sentience, existence.

    But what’s the point of existence? It’s just being. Feeling hunger. Feeling pain. Feeling worry. Any joy, only temporary, incomparable to the amount of effort done to reach it. Every day a struggle to survive until the next, then just repeating.

    My body becomes limp. No more twitching, no more shaking.

    This is what it’ll be like forever.

    “Uh… hey!”

    A man is speaking. Yelling. I think at me.

    “You on the floor, are you okay?”

    There’s no point in answering.

    But… eh. May as well, I guess.

    “Yeah.” My answer is dull, lifeless. An oran falling down from a tree in some forest. Just a thump. No people around.

    There’s no point in getting up, either - but may as well.

    Using my limbs, I propel myself up. A skeleton frosted with muscle and skin. Organs here and there. Hair and clothes on top. Who cares.

    “You don’t look okay,” says the man. Green clothes, dark skin. Pretty normal looking. What’s he doing in this nuthouse? Is he an employee?

    “No really, I’m fine,” I mumble.

    “You… sure?”

    “...Yeah.” I smile. I don’t know how.

    “Well… okay, then,” the man says and turns around to walk away.

    “Wait.”

    He stops and faces me again.

    “How do you...”

    I feel stupid asking this. There’s no way I’ll get a good answer, so why am I bothering?

    I swallow, throat dry. “How do you live? How can you live without… screaming at the Gods?”

    “Well… I’m an atheist…?”

    “Screaming into the void, then.”

    “I... don’t feel the need to.”

    Of course you wouldn’t. Mareep.

    Still, I keep trying. “Even though your short time here is filled with pain and fear for its inevitable end?”

    “It’s not that bad,” he simply says. “There’s all kinds of nice things, too. And death… it’s just part of life.”

    Straight from a fortune cookie. I shouldn’t have asked.

    “Forget it,” I sigh. “Just go.”

    “You sure you’re gonna be alright?”

    I nod. I can’t exactly get worse than rock bottom.

    “Alright...”

    Finally, he leaves. His steps on the floor clack like hooves.

    I begin walking, not really sure why or where, just taking turns at random. They’ve got to lead somewhere eventually.

    Oh, look at that. An emergency exit sign above a glass door that leads to a staircase. Exploration truly is wondrous.

    I enter through the door and descend the stairs, ignoring any floors I pass until the steps run out underneath me. Looking ahead, I can see the outside shining through another glass door. Birch branches swaying in the wind, casting spotted shadows on the grass and gravel beneath them. Looks pretty nice.

    I pass through the door like a ghost, feeling little to nothing in my fingertips as I operate the handle. Outside, it’s not as quiet as in the building, but still rather quiet. Only the gentle wind and its effect on the leaves can be heard. Though I guess there’s traffic, too.

    Speaking of traffic, I suppose I’ll head to the bus stop. I have no reason to be anywhere, but I feel like I should go home.

    I circle around the building until I come across the familiar glass box. It's empty. I sit on its bench, waiting, blankly staring at the dark grey road. I don't look up until I hear the bus arriving.

    I get up and wave for it to stop. As it does, I enter and pay the driver without speaking too much. I search for seats, but having found none free, settle for grabbing a pole and standing. The bus nudges into motion. Clouds, trees and buildings scroll by as the motor hums, occasionally interrupted by a stop and the sounds of new people getting on.

    People of all ages, sizes, colors, levels of affluence. Each of them different from one another, unique, yet they all walk the same, talk the same, act the same. Truly mareep.

    They come close to me, squeeze against me as the bus gets more crowded. To them I’m just another member of the herd, another puff of wool. Nothing to watch out for or to avoid.

    This was my intent, my masterful deception. But looking at these dull-faced ruminants… it's not like it takes a lot to fool them, anyway. They don't particularly seem to care.

    The bus reaches the high school. I unboard as the doors open, along with a few other people, none of which look especially odd. The door shuts behind me, and the bus swooshes away.

    The glass wall of the school stares back at me. My reflection’s clothes are the same as the last time I saw them, but his hair is far messier. Ruined. As are the eyes, the skin surrounding them reddened and salt-stained.

    I was never a houndoom in mareep’s clothing. I’m a mareep like everyone else, only one born with black wool and chipped, sharp teeth and the thought that it meant something.

    I’m not a predator. Just defective prey.

    Well, I guess that’s it, then. I’m going to rot and die like everyone else in this pointless world. Be forgotten about the moment the casket is shut, provided I even get a funeral.

    Throat constricted by a bitter grip, I turn around and start walking homeward.

    A shadow slides over me and my surroundings. I look up. The sky is grey, the sun is gone. Something wet taps my shoulder. Awesome, it’s going to rain. I pick up my pace.

    More drops come down, painting black spots onto the asphalt I tread. I raise my jacket’s hood, not that it's going to help much. I watch more and more specks appear. The drops seem weirdly… colored, sticky. They look a bit like...

    I raise my hand, palm up. A splat of vivid red dyes the surface.

    I look up. The skies have turned the same color. Save for the tapping of the rain, all has gone silent.

    Another hallucination? Blood rain? Blood rain seems familiar, where have I…

    Oh no.

    On the hour of HIS arrival
    all life will be given these signs.
    Prey and predators alike shall witness this.
    The sun shall cower.
    The sky shall cry blood,
    the earth shall roar

    A rumble rushes through the ground. A deep crack splits the road right between my shoes. I immediately jump to the side for firmer ground.

    No no no no no. This cannot be happening. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen. The probability of something going this wrong is zero.

    and the trees shall bow to HIM.

    Rustle, rustle, snap, snap. The trees of the wooded areas shake independently of the earth. Convulsing. The birches’ bright green leaves dim into crumpled taupe as their branches droop to touch the ground.

    The prey shall fear, the predators rejoice.

    I’m not rejoicing. I’m not rejoicing! I’m terrified! This is not how this was supposed to go!

    From the body of HIS Bringer
    HE shall rise.
    HE shall free HIS children,
    complete their imperfect vessels.
    Chaos shall never see end
    from the day of HIS coming,
    the Day of Judgment.

    Prophecies 23. Varenich’s vision.

    The earthquake strengthens abruptly, throwing me onto the bloodstained ground. From somewhere beyond the buildings, trees and bloody fog, a gargantuan figure arises, accompanied by a discordant screech the likes of which no mon could replicate - not a legend, not a ditto. My very organs wince at the noise. Several other screams follow, but they're human. Prey.

    The quake relaxes. I scramble up to run for cover in the nearby bunch of mangled trees. I can't allow myself to be seen. While more shrieks ring out in the distance, I peek at the giant through between the trees’ naked branches.

    Black as coal, easily over thirty meters tall. The red mist makes it difficult to make sense of its silhouette, but it at least appears to have a humanoid torso and arms. The talons on it hands, gleaming gold, busy themselves with picking up wriggling little bug-like humans, raising them up high and dropping them onto its unknown, obscured face. The caught humans’ pleas turn to screams - if they weren’t those already - as they plummet and fall silent only moments after.

    I crouch and bury my face in my hands, not caring about the blood they stain it with. Sooner or later, I’m going to see the same fate as those people. Hiding won't help. HE won't leave a single mareep unbutchered.

    But maybe… maybe if I can bring HIM the scrolls, HIS old stone home… m-maybe HE will spare me! I’ve been so useful, HE will surely s-spare me…

    This is desperate, this is pathetic, but it's the only way I may be able to survive, so I have to give it a shot. I have to get home. Without HIM spotting me on the way there.

    Another gut-shaking screech echoes throughout the city as I get on my feet and begin to creep onwards. Just keep going, just keep going. There’s not that much left to go.

    The pounding rain of blood and screams of the giant’s victims are the only sounds I get to hear as I make my way closer and closer to my home street. The once comfy views have been twisted into nightmarish reflections of their past selves. The earth is riddled with cracks and fissures due to the quakes, the grass is wilted and even the houses look like they’ve all been abandoned fifty years ago.

    This really is the apocalypse. This is what I wished for that whole time. This was the ultimate reward.

    And here I am, absolutely terrified. Shaking like a pichu. Scuttling about like a sewer rattata. I’ve never, never felt this… helpless.

    Lungs burning and now entirely drenched in blood, I arrive at my home street. I hate how open it has to be. I’ll need to slip in my house as fast as I can. Then I’ll go straight for the basement. Then I’ll… figure something out.

    I keep moving, staying on the right side of the street, using the houses to block the giant’s view of me. I shuffle past all gaps more quickly. Finally, my house comes to view.

    Okay. I’ve done great so far. The giant hasn’t spotted me. I can do this.

    A smell also seems to be strengthening as I approach my the house. It’s like smoke. At first, it was just strange, but now it’s getting uncomfortably thick… I can’t see any origin point in the area, though. Must just be another symptom of the apocalypse.

    I cross another gap, eyes on the monster as usual, but... this time it wasn’t there. Did I lose it? Did it maybe just crouch? Well, it’s no use stopping to wonder about it. I have limited time, so I have to hurry before --

    “HIGH PRIEST.”

    Oh Gods. Oh Gods, oh Gods, oh Gods.

    HE hasn’t spoken in a real voice to me in years. HE has never used one like this. But I know it must be HIM.

    Invisible hands grasp my brain, forcing me to stumble to a halt. The steps are slippery from the sheer abundance of blood on the road.

    They try to turn me next. It hurts to resist, but I just can’t turn around. I can’t look at HIS face. HE is enraged, and when HE is, HIS gaze just b-burns so much...

    “TURN TO ME.”

    The booming, monstrous voice reverberates inside my skull. Its vibrations reach the very marrow of my bones.

    Unable to resist any longer, my body gives into HIS order. I try to squeeze my eyes shut, but they’re frozen open. They’re forced to meet HIS.

    Searing red eyeballs in sockets blacker than any void. Piercing yellow irides. In their middles, black pinpricks to stare directly to my brain.

    It doesn’t hurt, for which I’m thankful - but all things considered, it’s not like it lessens the terror of the situation much.

    But beside that terror stands also shock. HIS face took me by surprise. Such strong surprise that only two seconds later did the rage arrive.

    Golden mask, nested in a mane of tentacles, clean and shining despite the constant rain. It’s got big pointed teeth and a beast-like look to it, but I still see her - Joanna.

    Why? And how? She’s dead! She’s been dead for so long already! She turned into a ghost, yes, but I killed that ghost, and a ghost can’t be the Bringer, anyway!

    My eyes thaw out and I can finally take in HIS body in detail. HIS torso, as previously seen, is that of a male human’s, only its texture, color and naturally size wrong. A golden marking coils around it in a spiral. Below the torso are no legs, but two tentacles supporting HIS weight from the front. In the back, the body stretches into one resembling that of some odd sea invertebrate - perhaps a nudibranch. At its very end, a tail-like extremity rises up, its stalk sprouting whip-like tendrils that coil in the air. Those are probably for catching even more prey.

    “AS YOU CAN SEE, I HAVE FOUND A SUPERIOR HOST TO BRING ME.”

    I flinch as the voice snaps me out of my thoughts. HIS jaws don’t move as HE speaks. I suppose that befits a god.

    “SHE IS MUCH CRUELER. MUCH THIRSTIER FOR VENGEANCE AGAINST MANKIND. WHILE YOU…”

    HIS face adopts a scowl, the metal screeching as it twists. HE lifts HIS hand to point a golden claw at me.

    “ALL THIS TIME, YOU HAVE BEEN WEAK. YOU HAVE FEARED AND YOU HAVE LOVED THINGS OTHER THAN YOUR GOD.”

    All this time? “But Y-YOU told me YOU would choose me!” Hard not to stutter when talking to a thirty-meter monster. “YOU even possessed me!”

    “A PREDATOR SHOULD RECOGNIZE A LIE.”

    Lie. HE lied to me? HE… never intended to make me the Bringer?

    HE laughs. Each vocalization is like a cannonball to my heart. “YOU EXPECT TO BE REWARDED? PUNISHMENT IS WHAT YOU NEED.”

    Oh Gods no. No, I don’t want punishment. I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to be punished by the god of cruelty HIMSELF.

    Eyes wide, I throw myself onto the bloody street. “No, my lord, please!” I bow my head all the way to the ground. “Please forgive me! I-I regret everything! Please, accept me as a predator!”

    HE slams the hand onto the ground with a deafening crush, startling me upright into a sitting position.

    “YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO FEAST ALONGSIDE ME AND MY CHILDREN!”

    HE roars at me, maw finally opening. HIS gums are riddled with bloodstained spears, torn human bodies still skewered by some of them. HIS throat isn’t much better. The entirety of it seems to be encircled by thousands and thousands of needle-like teeth. Not because HE would need them, but just so that the death of the prey is even more excruciating.

    “YOU SHALL BE DEVOURED, JUST LIKE ALL OTHER PREY.”


    “No, please...” I fall to my hands. My voice is a whine, a sob. But I know it won’t affect HIM. Predators don’t know pity, less does their god. “I trained my body for YOU! My skills, my cruelty! YOU know I’d be an excellent --”

    “YOUR BODY? THE CUT-UP CARCASS?”

    My scars ache. But I cut them for HIS sake…

    HE raises HIS head. “I HAVE SPOKEN ENOUGH. NOW, THE TIME HAS COME FOR YOU TO PERISH.”

    I wind my feeble, hopeless, blood-soaked body upright. “S-so now what? You’re just going to kill me?” I shout. I shouldn’t shout. But HE will kill me either way.

    HE chuckles. I SHALL NOT KILL YOU, HIGH PRIEST.”

    Smaller figures, slightly bigger than humans, appear from the fog at HIS feet. Shit, what’s going on now?

    “INSTEAD, I SHALL LET YOUR FORMER BROTHERS BE THE ONES TO TEAR YOU APART.”

    The figures bare their teeth to snarl. Their faces become clear. They’re like those of burn victims - if burn victims had hungry, yellow eyes and more teeth than would ever be necessary. I think I recognize one… as being the receptionist from the clinic. Something is hanging by his hip. He reaches into it and pulls out a knife. My knife. From my scabbard. I feel my flank and realize that it is indeed missing.

    Shit. I forgot to get it back from the clinic. And now he has it.

    “HOWEVER,” the monster speaks, “ALLOW ME TO MAKE ONE LAST ADJUSTMENT.”

    Oh Gods. Now what? What is HE planning on doing? Will it hurt? How much? And wh- ow ow ow ow, feet, ow! They’re… it’s like they’re being mangled!

    I can’t resist the pain any longer and fall down on the ground to ease the pressure on my feet. They’re growing, changing shape… and itching? I feel fewer and fewer toes. The shoes around them resist the expansion, hurting my poor feet even more by squeezing - but then they disintegrate, disappear. So do my socks, it seems. The new ends of my legs are revealed.

    Mareep hooves. Black-wooled.

    Something coils around me too fast to resist. Black, shining, a hint of wetness. It’s one of HIS tendrils. It yanks my trembling body upright, then slowly lets go as I figure out how to balance atop my new feet. They’re like stilts. There’s so much more strain on my legs now.

    I try to cry out one last time for HIM to spare me, but what actually comes out... is of course a bleat.

    “THERE,” HE says, withdrawing the tendril, deaf to my pleas. HE locks eyes with me again - surging the already overflowing fear. HIS face morphs into a wild grin.

    “NOW RUN, MAREEP! RUN!”

    Oh shit!

    I turn around and fling myself to a stumbling run. With deafening barks, the figures at HIS feet leap forward. A brief glance back confirms that a tidal wave of teeth and claws is rolling towards me. Saliva drips from their maws. They really want to sink their fangs into my flesh. They want my blood. Gods, so this is how it feels. This is how prey feels.

    No, don’t dwell on that, just run, run! Run for what, though? The house? Sure, whatever, fuck it! It definitely won’t shelter me from beasts as strong as these, but it’s not like I’ll be able to reach anything else before they catch up to me.

    Getting closer to the house! I’m going a lot faster than I expected. Maybe it’s the newfound spring in my step. Maybe HE gave it to me to make the chase more interesting. Just like I gave Michi a head start. What goes around, comes around, huh.

    Front yard! I almost slip on a pool of red as I change trajectory, thank the Gods I didn’t. I shove my hand in my pocket and dig out the key. As fast as I’m going, I practically slam onto the door as I reach it. Come on, get in, get in!

    Barks nearing and nearing, I fumblingly unlock the door, slip in and slam it shut. I dash towards the basement stairs. They’re already thumping at the door, oh Gods --

    “Whoa, what’s got you so worked up?”

    I look to the living room. Abe’s sitting on the armchair, a book on his lap, as if nothing was wrong.

    “Have you looked outside?” I scream. No, don’t bother! Focus on your own safety!

    He recoils, face innocent. “It’s a beautiful spring day?”

    “You are so fucking den-”

    My mutter is cut short as I spot the view through the window.

    Bright golden sunlight illuminates lively leaves bursting with green. The street is dry, intact, empty of any monsters. The sky is a beautiful azure, cloudless.

    No twisted trunks of dying trees. No sticky, hot rain. No fog. No rumbling or barking or thumping - only faint birdsong and wind.

    I look down. No mareep feet. Heels on the ground, shoes on. The rest of my clothes are clean, too… save for some dust at the knees.

    “What’s wrong?” asks Abe. “Did your appointment not go well?”

    I shiver in place, trying to decide the correct emotional response.

    Is HE tricking me? Giving me a false sense of security before the door busts open and a pack of demon-men pounce right onto me and tear me to bloody shreds?

    Or is this actual reality?

    I take a deep but shaking breath.

    I think… it’s reality.

    Justified fury begins to well up inside me.

    What I saw was just another hallucination. A lie told by the illness. It wasn’t enough for it to humiliate me with my illogical fear of spiders. It had to plunge its grubby little hands right into the core of my very reason to exist and disfigure it. Is there no limit to these illusions?

    Hold on.

    Say that word again.

    Illusions.

    Illusions.

    I… I think I understand it now.

    Everything adds up.

    ...I know what I have to do.

    I reach for my scabbard, but remember again I still don’t have it. I’ll need something else.

    I walk into the kitchen and open a drawer. I seek out the shining kitchen knife, sharp as ever, and lift it out.

    “Red… what are you doing?” asks Abe, slowly approaching.

    I slam the drawer shut and turn to him. I raise the knife. Abe’s expression switches from worry to horror. I chuckle and grin.

    “I’m gonna cure myself.”

    ---
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2019
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  10. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Hi there! This is for the review game, and while I meant to read chapters 2 and 3, I ended up reading through chapter 5. And since that appears to be the end of an arc, I figure this is as good a time as any to leave my thoughts.

    So... Red Akai. Oh infamous divisive protagonist. Having seen more of him, what is my current take on this controversy?

    I think he's fun to read, plain and simple. :/

    There's been some interesting discourse on the proper way for a reader to feel invested in a protagonist, and whether or Red fits any of them. It's certainly clear that we're not meant to sympathize with him. Or even root for him. Or see how he overcomes obstacles (he's definitely no Light Yagami.) No, I feel like the core appeal of being in his head is simply seeing how he reacts to things, and how they affect him, and it's damn entertaining. The narration is positively dripping with character, the way the tiniest provocation launches him into these ridiculously grandiose self-serving superiority rambles. The way it's so transparently obvious when he hastily glosses over or justifies things to himself. (And I don't mean justifying his actions--he has no qualms with murder, with or without it serving HELIX's ends. I mean justifying his own flaws or shortcomings.) I mean, hell, just look at the spider scene.

    (no seriously, I'm glad you labeled this black comedy because the number of times I laughed out loud at Red's narration is too many.)

    I'm glad you did take a few opportunities to include some explanations of TPP lore without it feeling like an infodump. Even though I followed the let's play itself way back when, the lore seems to be an entirely different beast. At least, the whole worldmerging thing would've had me totally lost without an explanation.

    As a couple people mentioned, sometimes the descriptions of mundane things did drag on a bit. I do like that the narration shows how dull Red's life is in comparison to the things he'd like to be doing if it wouldn't self-sabotage his long-term goals. It just went overboard a tad. But this became increasingly less of a problem as the plot kicked in. And speaking of the plot, I feel like it's been well-paces so far. I loved Michi and the way she was just completely not having any of his BS (rip Michi btw. :<) I hope more characters/situations will continue to throw curveballs at him like that in the future, because that was by far the most fun part so far.

    At this point, I'm not... tooooootally convinced that Joanna is gone (idk that description seemed pretty hard to argue with, but.) Considering that the fic is only a third of the way through, and "killing the ghost of his victim" was the whole premise, I feel like that subplot is not yet over. Or if she really is gone for good, then there will be lasting repercussions (idk maybe he'll get cursed lol.) You did say this is where the fic gets weird, after all!

    ~Chibi~
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2019
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  11. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    three weeks later, here we are again with another chapter, this time the beginning of the third and final arc!

    rating is hmmm maybe teen? there's strong language (a bit more than usual) and gross imagery, but it's not horribly violent. we'll go with teen for now, but just keep in mind that it's kind of the higher tier of teen.

    enjoy!

    ---

    CHAPTER 10
    Searching


    ---​

    “What are you doing?” Abe repeats louder, shivering in place. He’s reached the limit of how close he dares to come.

    I don’t bother answering, as I’d have to explain the full context for that, and he probably wouldn’t even believe me. I’ll come up with something to tell him afterwards. For now, there’s another matter that’s more important.

    I touch my right temple with the tip of the knife. The cool metal draws a tiny gasp from me. Abe’s eyes grow even wider from before. Gods, am I really doing this? I guess I am. I have to.

    You see, I’ve realized what’s actually been going on. It’s not the fault of any ‘disease’ that I’ve had all those nightmares, hallucinations, lapses of judgement, fits of exhaustion and nausea and so on. It’s something far more obvious, something that I should’ve realized ages ago - something that’s probably the one responsible for me reaching this conclusion so late.

    Back at the cabin, all those days ago, I put the mask of a ghost onto my face to get it to possess me. My plan was to eradicate the ghost in my mindscape to get rid of it for good. I thought I succeeded, but now I see that I was mistaken.

    Illusions are practically what ghost mon are famous for. And what better way to create said illusions than from within the mind of the target himself? It’s child’s play for the ghost to make the target think he’s eradicated his possessor, only to hide deep within his mind and continue sabotaging him from there.

    When I thought I killed that yamask, that’s what happened. Which means that the mask never actually came off. It never separated from my skin, she only made it look like it did. In reality it’s still on to this day, which means that I need to get it off. Now. Regardless of how painful it will be.

    I try my best to calm my trembling hand. This is the end, Joanna - I’m going to get you out of my head.

    I push the knife’s tip onto my temple. The sting is harsh - still bearable, but it’s only gonna get worse from here.

    “What are you doing?” Abe screeches one more time, backing away with strained legs, glasses askew on his face from all the shaking. “Stop!”

    “I gotta do this...” I hiss, gathering the willpower to drive the blade deeper and run it downwards. Damn my self-preservation instinct. I should make this fast to minimize the pain, but my primal side doesn’t quite get that. Next to the pain, I feel a warm drip moving down. Blood. Usually it would excite me, but I’ve had more than enough of it for today.

    The boy, his skin quite devoid of color by now, reaches for his pocket and pulls out a black rectangle.

    “Don’t!” I growl. I don’t need cops complicating this now. In my current state, I might end up saying something very bad that’ll lead to investigation, and it still hasn’t been too long since Michi disappe…

    Michi. I killed Michi after I got possessed. It might not have actually happened. She might still be alive.

    Something new creeps into the surrounding soundscape. Sirens. They’re coming for me. She told them. I need to run. But I also need to get Joanna out of my head, she’s only gonna make things harder, so I should hurry up and carve this face off…

    ...no, wait, that’s ridiculous. Why would I carve my own face off? How’s that gonna help? The mask could be absorbed all the way to my brain for all I know. No, the mask probably doesn’t even exist anymore. The merging was likely just symbolic. I can’t use raw power to solve this problem. I need to… I need to…

    There’s a way. I know there’s a way. But it’s just not… coming to me. Fuck! Is this Joanna’s doing? Can she do that, block memories? Information? How can I even win against something like that?

    I remember the sting in my temple and pull the knife out. I can hear Abe sigh. And the sirens. Shit, the sirens! I need to get outta here!

    I nearly run straight for the stairs, but remember I have a loose end to tie up. I better do it fast...

    “Abe!”

    The boy flinches, then shrinks away as I walk toward him. I stare into his eyes, unblinking. I keep the knife at my side.

    “I wasn’t here,” I stress. “I wasn’t here and I didn’t do anything.”

    “Wh-what are you talking about…?” His voice is breaking, resembling that of a togepi.

    “It’s not hard!” I snap. “Just say you didn’t see me!”

    “I d-don’t understand --”

    “Do as I say, Abe, and I won’t hurt you!”

    His shaking stops. He’s become as still as a xatu. I realize I’ve raised the blade. I’m pointing it right at him. And I just threatened him, too.

    Shit. I went too far. His trust for me might be permanently damaged now.

    I back away, open my jacket and shove the knife in the breast pocket. The pocket’s bottom rips as the blade goes through, but for a makeshift scabbard, it’s good enough.

    I give my brother one final glance. His eyes are reddened, sparkling by now. I can’t think of anything to say, so I merely turn away and head for upstairs. Only when I’ve climbed all the way up and opened the door to my room does he dare to speak up again.

    “Where are you going?” he shouts.

    I stop to think of a lie. “The beach.” It’s not too far away, but it’s at least in the opposite direction of where I’m intending to go. Though Abe can be smart. He’ll probably realize my exact tactic. Shit. Shouldn’t have said anything.

    I leap across the room to the window and open it. The volume of the sirens increases dramatically. Eardrums aching, I focus on the branch of the sturdy old oak right outside. After climbing on the sill and angling myself correctly, I jump down and grab onto the rough-barked branch. The scar underneath the bandage on my wrist stings a little. Right, the psychic-nullifying seal is still there. Although it’s not like it’ll be of much use anymore.

    I drop down onto another branch below, then descend onto the grass. I look up. The window is gaping and welcoming any thieves in. Probably should have closed it, but then again, there’s nothing in my room worth stealing.

    Red and blue lights flash near the front of the house. Shit, better get moving.

    I run across the back yard and hop over the hedge to another yard similar to mine. Having glanced around to make sure no one sees me, I circle around the house and slip to the street.

    I start walking towards the direction of the high school at a normal, non-suspicious manner, but still a brisk one.

    Okay. Current plan, head to the cabin. It’s a good place to hide out. Unless Michi told them about that. Or did she talk to them at all? Are these sirens real, or just another trick again? Gods, this hurts to think about. But… if Michi’s alive, she could be at the cabin. I could catch her again. If I threaten to kill her, Joanna will be forced to stop fucking with me and tell me what’s really going on. She wouldn’t play with a real child’s life, right? Or… didn’t she do that last time?

    I shake my head. Whatever the case, I need to focus on getting to the cabin now. And I need to make sure I won’t be fooled by Joanna while doing it. I’m sure that, if I just pay close attention and concentrate, I can tell what’s real and what isn’t. Her illusions can’t be perfect. If they were, she’d surely gotten me in jail by now.

    I haven’t lost yet. I can still turn this around.

    “Gahh...!”

    My left hand, what’s hurting it? It’s like a bunch of fire ants are biting…

    I look at the palm. Cuts. More cuts - they’re appearing on their own? And they’re… forming letters?

    SO YOU
    FIGURED
    IT OUT?

    Joanna… this must be Joanna talking to me.

    “Couldn’t you just use your voice?” I growl.

    A wave of warmth passes over the palm, healing the wounds. But only to make space for more afterwards, it seems.

    I GET TO
    HURT YOU
    THIS WAY.

    “Drama queen.”

    Another cleaning swipe.

    YOU HURT
    ME. IT’S
    ONLY FAIR.

    I groan and close my fist. I shouldn’t be reading what she’s saying. She’s probably trying to distract me so she can mess with me while I walk. She’d likely try to guide me straight to the police station.

    I concentrate on the road, though another wave of heat and more carvings make it difficult. Curiosity tugs at my mind. But I can’t give it headspace. I need all my neurons on my environment.

    Ten eventless steps later, though, I cave in. Just a little peek won’t make my world collapse, right?

    MADE YOU
    LOOK.

    And then a crude drawing of male genitalia.

    “Grrh…!” I close my fist and shove it in my pocket. “You got a lot of nerve, you know? Those spiders, that apocalypse… and now this, too. You do all these things to humiliate me. Is that your idea of justice?”

    A heat and a few strokes. I don't need to look to know she said yes.

    “Justice… I hate that word,” I mutter, speeding up my pace. Having to watch this idyllic little neighborhood inch along is pissing me off. I guess my only pastime is continuing our chat. Her writing doesn't even hurt anymore - I guess she figured the shock value was gone and gave up.

    “So… you want me locked up, I’ve gathered.” I sigh. “And I can't have that. But you won't change your mind, so we can't come to an agreement.”

    Rumbling. I stop. The asphalt cracks before me. But it looks… just a bit short of real, like an effect in a movie. I can tell now. I can tell what's her doing.

    The cracks form letters. I guess this is her new notepad.

    COULDN'T YOU
    CHANGE YOURS?

    She's bargaining? It's not blind aggression, so I take that as a positive. It likely won't last with my answer, though.

    “No. There's no other way for me. I’ve tried living like you and it doesn't work. I need to ascend, and for that, I need to stay hidden.”

    The cracks repair and reform.

    MAYBE YOU
    SHOULD JUST
    KILL YOURSELF.

    My fists tighten.

    “...Really? You don't think I even…”

    My clench my teeth and march through the illusion. The cracks fade away as I step on them.

    “You don't think I even deserve a fair chance at living?”

    Blood rushes in my ears. Along my voice, it's the loudest thing I hear right now.

    “After being born like this, after trying to just fucking get what you people take for granted?”

    My nails dig into my palms.

    “After the Twitch?”

    The word makes everything silent for a while.

    I shouldn't have brought that up. I don't want to remember those things right now. I've got plenty on my mind as is.

    Forget this talk. It was a mistake taking her bait. I never should've spoken up. I need to just get to the cabin now. I'll think of what to do afterwards based on what I see.

    That moment might not be that far, actually. That path right there should take me to the graveyard, correct?

    Correct, I can say as I clear the little patch of woods the path has taken me through. I'm right before the graveyard. Not much more now.

    I slip through the metallic gates. The sunshine renders the area even prettier than last time. Specks of pollen, glowing in the golden spruce-filtered light, hover in the warm air. The roses and tulips set on the roots of the gravestones seem to enjoy the luminance as well, even if they’re bound to soon wither like the corpses two meters below. Only the sleepy green moss and spiky grass really flourish here.

    As much as I’d like to stay and enjoy the view, I have to keep going. I head to the edge of the yard and enter the woods. Flanked by prickly branches and bushes and rawstberry plants - which seem to now have sprouted some small white buds, neat - I proceed along the mossy forest floor until I reach the actual path, then follow it further.

    I feel more relaxed already. Safer, more in control. The woods have always felt like a secondary home to me. The shade, the silence. I can be who I am, what I am. It’s like I belong here.

    But while I appreciate these feelings of peace in the middle of all this stress, I still have a job to do and a plan to figure out. I can’t allow myself to rest just yet. Right, gotta keep an eye on the environment too, make sure Joanna doesn't manage to slip anything by me.

    A faint rumble arises from within, accompanied by an ache. Hunger. I guess it's been a while since I ate. Or has it? I ate just before I left for the psych appointment, and well at that. Maybe I'm burning it faster since I'm still recovering from the illness. No, wait, there was no illness, I know now that was just Joanna. Gods, this is annoying. What was I even doing here?

    Right, the cabin. And Michi. Something with Michi. Kill her? Wipe her memory? I mean, if I wipe her memory, she'll be like nothing ever happened, and if she told the police something before, they'll think now it was just her messing around. Because she's a kid and kids are weird and quirky. That's perfect for me. That's my plan.

    And there's the cabin! She should be around there somewhere. I need to slow down my pace, like this, so I can catch her by surprise. I need stealth especially this time as she knows my aura's been suppressed.

    I glance around the opening, catching neither Michi or anything surreal. She might be indoors. In that case, she’s already trapped if I go in. No need for stalking. But was there ever? I’ve already beat her once in a chase. Though then I had mental clarity on my side. Joanna wasn’t as… brave with the illusions back then… or was she? Did any of it happen? I mean, if I killed her, there’d be no reason for me to be here in the first place…

    It doesn’t matter! I’m busting in through that door and killing any little girls I come across.

    I march across the opening and place my hand on the rusty door handle. I stop. As soon as I open this door, I’ll get to pounce on her like a raikou. Dig my nails in her skin. Feel the flesh. Feel the flesh of struggling prey that thought it was safe.

    This will be sublime.

    I knock the door, swinging it open. Where is she? I can’t spot her anywhere. Did she hear me approach and hide somewhere? Where could she be…

    I close the door to make any possible escape attempt of hers a bit slower and check the second room quickly. No one here, no places to hide. That leaves the big room. Let’s see… under the table? Nothing there. In the fireplace? Nothing there. That leaves the pile of mattresses. Come to think of it, it does look a bit higher now. She must be curled up within.

    I walk closer. Slowly. I want her to fear. Fear is the best seasoning. Hunger is a close second. I’ve got both on my side. My heart pounds, my stomach writhes. Only seconds now…

    I place my fingers on the edge of the mattress. Grasp it. This is it. Three, two, one…

    I fling it to the side.

    Nothing.

    I strip more mattresses away. Still nothing. She’s not here? But I need… maybe she’s outside?

    I rush out, now annoyed by the closed door myself, and look around. Can’t find her. But I need to find her. My insides are imploding on themselves.

    “Pi-pi-pi-pi-pi…”

    Fuck off, pidgey! I don't need any witnesses, even wild ones. And I don't like you advertising your presence while you know I can't get you and I'm starving…

    Joanna. Joanna knows where she is. They're always scheming together. Scheming against me.

    I glare at my left palm.

    “Joanna!” I snap. “Where is she?”

    Come on, respond. Respond, you bitch. Don't you dare go silent on me now.

    A sting, a splitting wound. She's responding.

    DON'T
    YOU
    REMEMBER?

    Remember… you've got gall, talking about remembering! You're the one fucking with my memory!

    “Just tell me where she is!” I growl, a bit of foamy spit falling out.

    The palm is healed. Well? I'm waiting. Write! Do it already!

    Finally! Words are forming…

    SHE'S
    RIGHT
    HERE.

    What do you…

    “Ngh…!”

    Something’s going on. Inside. Where the hunger is.

    The hunger says it’s hollow, but that something disagrees. There’s a mass, solid but soft. Moving.

    No. It can't be… it can't be her. She wouldn't fit. Even if she did, she'd have suffocated, overheated, dissolved in the acids…

    I place a hand on my abdomen, hoping to calm the commotion, but only achieve the opposite. The mass twitches, expands. I can feel the organ's walls stretching. Way too much. The air is… squeezing out of my lungs…!

    “Stop…” I try, but it's barely even a wheeze. Why bother… I should focus my lungs on gasping for the air while I still can. I'm not going to convince this thing with words. Maybe… force?

    I form a fist and drive it into my gut.

    A lump pokes up into my esophagus, bringing an explosion of nausea. I collapse onto my knees and arms. A cough laden with the urge to vomit leaves my mouth. Another. Oh Gods, no, don't try to --

    The lump shoots up my throat, arriving in my mouth with the sour, disgusting taste of vomit. My airways are shut, rendering me unable to breathe. I separate my lips again, some acidic fluids leaking out, and that's when the lump sees its exit and dashes out - or the front of it does, as the rest of it still occupies my poor, poor esophagus.

    Through my wet, blurry eyes, I see what's vacated me.

    A hand. A smallish human hand. Covered in gastric acid, half-melted mush of oran, foamy saliva and who knows what else. Its fingers flex and extend, reaching for something to grasp onto.

    Michi… it really is Michi…

    But she can't come out, she won't fit, she'll tear me apart if she tries crawling out. It's not great to have her in me, either, but at least then I can breathe even a little...

    I grab her hand with both of mine, wincing at the slimy, chunky touch, but push with determination. It slides in maybe a couple centimeters, but after that refuses to budge… maybe pain will scare her back in.

    I bite down onto her forearm, hard enough to draw blood. It tastes awful. As awful as it was the first time I tasted it - a bitter disappointment. Back before the flavor grew on me, before HE made it taste so great.

    She's quivering in place, but that's not enough. I bite down harder. A whine comes from within. Just a little harder… but fast, the lack of air is really getting me… dizzy… blurring my vision. Back of head aching… bite harder… down to the bone…

    Crack!

    Through? It went through…?

    Receding. She's receding. Lots of blood… cough it out… cough? Gasp, cough. I-I’m breathing!

    Breathing, yes, though interrupted by a lot of coughing and swallowing and spitting out vomit and blood. The lungs are still squeezed, but I think it's slowly getting better. The mass is shrinking. Nausea is easing up. The mass twitches again, no, no more… and it stops.

    Oh Gods. It's over for now, thank fuck. My vision sharpens, brightens… and there's something beneath me. Something solid among the red-brown-yellow fluids. That's… a hand. Her hand. I bit it off? I didn't expect that… though, to be fair, I didn't expect a lot of what just happened.

    Whatever, that's weird, all of this is weird, but I just want to take a bit to get my shit together first, I'm not gonna recover from this in just a couple of seconds. I lay on my side, avoiding any droplets or chunks of vomit, and close my eyes. Let me just breathe for a bit. Not only because of nearly choking a bit ago, but for all of today. This week. Fuck this week.

    Okay. I think I’m okay enough to try getting up now.

    I inhale deeply, then bend my arms and spine to prop myself up to a sitting position. The world around has stopped undulating. Okay, good… now, can I stand up fully?

    I try and succeed. Thank the Gods. I spit on the ground and to my relief, find the saliva to be clear. I check my hands. Clean, save for some dirt, which I brush off.

    So it was another illusion. I mean, yeah, obviously. You can’t fit a human inside another human. Save for a fetus inside its mother, but last I checked, I was male and she was twelve…

    I turn around and, as expected, see the pool of vomit gone and the hand --

    Floating? In midair?

    No, you’re supposed to be gone too! The illusion’s over!

    It hovers closer, its fingers raising. I step back. This isn’t real, why are you still --

    Smack!

    ...Excuse me.

    Did you just fucking slap me?

    The slimy hand stays in midair, unapologetic.

    Oh, I get it, because I slapped Michi that one time! Back when we first met, and she said I wouldn’t hit a girl! And then I did, and now she’s hitting me, because irony!

    “Really funny, Joanna!” I yell at the hand, cleaning my face of its slime. “Just hilarious! You should be a comedian!”

    The hand slides off to side. It turns to face the direction and accelerates, heading for the forest ahead.

    “Where are you going now?” I shout, following with a walk, then a jog. Why am I even following? This is an illusion. It doesn’t matter. It’ll probably lead to even more pain and humiliation. I should stop and…

    ...no, hold on, I know where the hand is taking me. And I really should go there - I need to know if any evidence was left behind, if Joanna left some kind of message without me noticing. Clues of the murder… that may or may not have happened.

    The vaguely familiar trees and rocks pass by as I follow the floating hand and retrace the steps I took just a few days ago. I remember thinking I was a houndoom on a level beyond just metaphorical… was it Joanna’s doing? But why would she do that when it was what led to Michi’s death? Had I been all there, I would've just wiped her memory and let her live in ignorance. Even if Michi didn't die, that trick would've endangered her quite a bit…

    Oh, the hand is slowing down. Are we getting near? Yes, I recognize this scenery. The place is just a couple of strides away…

    The hand begins fading, then finally disappears as it reaches the murder scene. I dash to catch up and…

    There's nothing out of the ordinary.

    I’d say that's a relief, but if there really was nothing, why would the hand lead me here…?

    I monitor my surroundings with apprehension. If anything unrealistic happens, I can't let it fool me again. And if I manage to see through more illusions, I may get better at recognizing them in the future, which just might be the key to regaining control over my mind…

    ...hm. Now I’ve stood here for a minute or so, and nothing’s happening. Maybe she doesn’t want to risk that illusion-resistance developing.

    Alright, if nothing’s happening and I’m safe where I am, I can take this time to think. Figure out the current situation and what I should do next.

    What happened before I came here? Well, there was that apocalypse illusion that made me realize Joanna was still in my head, then I heard sirens and figured the cops were coming to get me. I escaped the house and headed here to… well, hiding out was one goal, but I know I had Michi in mind. I couldn’t find her anywhere, though - no, my insides don’t count - so I should probably put the whole Michi thing aside for now, anyway.

    What I definitely need to do, be it now or eventually, is get Joanna out of my head. Then the information I’ll collect will be certain, and damage control will be much easier. And in any case, I don’t want to live the rest of my life with a reality-muddling mind-parasite.

    How do I get her out? I know there was a way, but it’s just not coming to me. I remember the other ways - or, well, the one that would actually work and then the delusion that carving off my own face would help. But not that second real way. Not yet, anyway… but if I can see through illusions if I really try, there’s hope for accessing blocked off memories. So think, Red, think. How does one kill a ghost?

    “Pi-pi-pi!”

    A pidgey? The pidgey from before, probably. Either way, I’d like it gone. I need to concentrate.

    “Prrruuuuuu...”

    “Hey!” I shout at the treetops, voice echoing. “Shut up!”

    Maybe that’ll scare it off.

    “Prrr… prrehh… ahh... ihh… iiihhh….”

    Nope, still singing. It’s weird song, though, haven’t heard one like that before. A lot of different tones, like different vowels, and it keeps getting lower. Raspier. Almost… human?

    A tiny brown bird flies out from its hiding spot among the branches, lands on the mold close to me and hops closer. It looks at me with its black, beady eyes.

    Its beak opens.

    “Red Akai killed me.”

    That’s… my voice.

    Like playback from a recorder. Don’t tell me…

    “Red Akai killed me.”

    The pidgey continues to stare at me with its cute little chubby face, unaware of the meaning of its words.

    She… taught it to say that. While I was occupied with something else, probably that fantasy featuring HIM. Which means… these words have been here all this time, repeated by that pidgey.

    If the cops didn’t find out about me yet… this is how they will.

    No, remember what you promised yourself. If anything odd happens, the first thing you’ll do is make sure it isn’t just another illusion. Make no conclusions before you’ve taken a long, close look at it.

    Or listen, in this case. Whether the pidgey itself is real doesn’t matter. The authenticity of its call is what I need to determine.

    “Come on, birdie...” I mumble at the hopping critter. “Say it again...”

    Its pink, bulky beak opens once again. “Red Akai killed me.”

    That sounded… I don’t know how that sounded. It doesn’t immediately sound fake, but it does sound weird, but weird is kind of expected from just a mimicking feral.

    But what would ‘fake’ even sound like? Could I be able to tell from anything?

    Dammit. This makes the verdict on this one… inconclusive.

    However, I do already have a bit of a plan on what to do next. If it really can speak, I’ll have to get rid of it, for sure. If someone finds it and complains, I’ll just say it went crazy and attacked me. Killing a feral in self-defense is completely legal.

    I reach into my jacket and draw the kitchen knife from the breast pocket. Easy, now… don’t want to let the pidgey know what’s coming.

    I hide the blade behind my back and slowly crouch. The bird hasn’t flown away yet, but it’s not close enough for a confident stab.

    “Here, birdie, birdie...” I call gently. “Prrruuu… I’m a friend...”

    I’ve caught its attention. It takes one hop closer, but no more. It’s almost as if it can smell my intentions now.

    “Come on, birdie… I’ll give you some nice scratches.” I wiggle the fingers of my visible hand while bettering my grasp of the knife’s hilt with the other.

    It’s approaching, yes! Hesitantly, but still doing it. Come on, hop, hop, just a few more to be sure… yes, it’s practically dead already. And so dies that phrase...

    “Red Akai killed me.”

    ...That didn’t come from this bird.

    I carefully turn my head. Another bird has appeared behind me.

    “Red Akai killed me,” it repeats. “Pi-pi-pi. Prrruuu. Red Akai killed me.”

    There’s another that knows.

    My heart thumps louder. I can’t kill either one now. The other will just fly away…

    Did Joanna teach two pidgey? Did the first teach the other? And if it could teach one, then...

    “Red Akai killed me. Pi-pi-pi-pi-pi...”

    That came from the treetops. A third pidgey.

    The birds’ voices unite in a cacophony of chirrups and confessions.

    “Red Akai killed me. Prrruuu. Pi-pi-pi, Red Akai killed me. Red Akai…” And even more are joining. The… whole forest knows.

    “Jo-to-to!” A pidgeotto, too?

    There, I see it. Perched on that pine branch, staring right at me with angry black eyes. Pale read crest raised. It’s pissed, I can tell. Did it figure out what I was gonna do with the knife?

    It spreads its wings and leaps down, swooping at me. Oh fuck!

    I shield my face with my forearms while trying my best to point the blade the bird's way. It's not deterred much, simply swerving to the knifeless side and scratching my sleeve with its talons. It didn't pierce the skin or even fabric, but I can tell there was some serious intent to harm behind that touch.

    It flies past me to another branch, but has barely perched when it jumps back down. Fine, you wanna fight? I've got my knife, and I don't care how many times I need to swing it before I -- ah, fuck!

    The knife falls out of my hand, and the surprise dive bombing pidgey flies off. Before I can attempt to pick it back up, the bigger bird's talons swipe at my neck - thankfully missing, but forcing me to occupy both of my hands to cover it and my face.

    “Joohhh!” it screeches, flapping its wings frantically and continuing to claw me in midair. Fuck, it's really going! These talons aren't cutting, but they're certainly bruising. Ow, nevermind, it found the bare hands!

    “Stop, you asshole!” I grunt, trying to shove it back with my arms, but it always pushes back, scratching and nipping at my poor hands. Screeching like a demon. This thing needs a fucking exorcism!

    Exorcism…!

    The pidgeotto turns to dust, spreading into the air and dissipating.

    That's my proof. That's my proof that this is the word she didn't want me to remember!

    “Exorcism,” I speak. Hearing it back feels so surreal, as if it was a word I hadn’t bumped into in years and suddenly came across again, shocked by how I still managed to remember the meaning. Which is…

    I don’t remember. I can’t remember what the word ‘exorcism’ means, though I bet I did a moment ago before Joanna had to go and ruin things like she likes to do. But as long as I still remember the word, I can always find out its definition somewhere else. So I need to make sure I remember!

    I snatch my knife off the ground like a noctowl snatches an unlucky rattata. Exorcism. A long word, but Joanna proved longer could fit. In the skin of my palm, that is!

    I wipe the blade onto my jeans, then drive the tip into my left palm. Stings, yeah, too bad, live with it. Line, another, another, another, E. Then X. O, R…

    What’s the word I’m writing, again? Exor... cism. There it is. C, I, S, M. Nice try, Joanna.

    There we go. Exorcism. Spelled by wounds. Doubt I’ll forget it’s there, and even if I do, the ache will remind me.

    Gods! Yes! Finally, something goes right! There really is hope for me. It may be difficult, but I really do believe I’ll eventually get rid of this mental tumor.

    I tuck knife back in my jacket’s breast pocket and sigh in relief. Okay, what now? What’s my next step?

    Scanning my surroundings, I notice all the pidgey are gone. Whether they evaporated with that pidgeotto or not, I didn’t notice. They could have been real, partially real or completely fake. None of those options tell me for sure if there really are cops after me, though.

    I should play it safe and assume there are. Still, I have to leave these woods to get the information I need, probably from the library. That’s where I’ll head, then. I’ll just need to be as inconspicuous as I can on the way there… normally that’d be a piece of cake, I have lots of experience of that from my stalking, but this time I also need to make sure not to fall for any of Joanna’s tricks.

    Still, I’m feeling confident. I have a clear plan and destination.

    I begin my walk back to the cabin. Somewhere, a pidgey chirps.

    ---
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2019
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  12. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    new chapter? yes here. thank you. you're welcome.

    i believe i managed to make significant improvement over some scenes over the old one in this one, hope you'll like them too. i mean red almost feels like an actual human in one

    rating is mature i guess because this one gets a bit real with some suicidal themes but also because there are a lot of no no words this time around. don't actually think there's gore in this though but if you made it this far i know you won't be shocked if there is. anyway, enjoy!

    ---

    CHAPTER 11
    Got You Now


    ---​

    I didn't hear any more utterances of that destructive phrase on my way back to the graveyard, only ordinary birdsong. I’m too sick of speculation to wonder what that could imply.

    I exit the iron gates of the empty graveyard, their hinges screeching. It gives me shivers, but no one seems to be around the vicinity, either. Must be a slow day. Though I can't imagine yards of corpses being very popular on any other non-memorial non-funeral days.

    Funeral. If I died, what would my funeral be like? Would anyone have anything positive to say about me? Would anyone show up? Well, Abe would, and so would Fonz and the omanyte. Maybe my old teammates would. Jess, Angel, Jordan… ATV? I don't know if ATV would have the capacity to understand funerals. In a way, that makes us alike.

    But this is assuming a funeral would be held. I hear those are expensive, and the one mostly responsible for our finances is my mother. Would she hold a funeral for the son she hates, the son who hated her? Maybe she would, just to celebrate.

    No, cut that out. You're not going to die, and to make sure of that, you need to focus on the task at hand. Keeping illusions at bay and yourself out of the cops’ sight.

    Eyes peeled and ears perked for any blue uniforms or sirens, I continue on my way to the library. None seen or heard yet. Maybe Abe didn't snitch on me after all, or he fell for the beach lie.

    What's that over there? Oh, just a poliwrath. A civilian. I can't avoid civilian sightings in the long run, so I should just get used to them now.

    Alright, at the hospital now… a few more civilians appear, two across the street and one coming towards me. That’s a big guy. Wait, he seems familiar...

    ...oh Gods, I know that guy. And judging by the look he’s giving me, he recognizes me too, fuck!

    “Hey!” shouts the buff thirty-something Unovan with the Wheel of Arceus hanging from his thick neck. It’s clear he’s got a bone to pick with me. My legs have frozen, unsure where to run, if to run at all.

    Do I take the knife out? It’s what spooked him off the last time, but he might call the cops on me if I do it now. He certainly has the look of someone who’s not going to give up so easily this time around.

    Dammit, it’s too late to run now, I twiddled my thumbs for too long and now he’s way too close! I guess I just have to try and resolve this quickly through verbal means…

    The man points a finger at me. “You!” He stops only an uncomfortably small distance away, really making the best of his stature as he towers over me. This time, he actually does intimidate me, but this time he actually does pose me a risk.

    He crosses his burly arms, his jacket’s fabric tightening. “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about our meeting the other day, and I really regret not setting you straight, so I’m gonna do it now!”

    Better put the plan in motion before he goes full lecture mode.

    “L-listen,” I stutter, shrinking my body. ”I’m really, really sorry about what happened at the bus stop.”

    Arcean raises a brow. He probably wasn’t expecting that response. “You are?”

    “Yes, yes, I am. I shouldn’t have acted like that,” I say, sweeping aside my hair. “I was having a really bad day and I wasn't thinking str-”

    “Hold on,” he interrupts. What, what is it?

    His stare seems fixed a little to the side of my face. Is he looking past me or at my temple… oh, dammit. I know which.

    His fingers, like nanabs, point towards where he's looking. “Are you hurt?”

    He must be looking at the wound from earlier when I still had the bright idea of carving off my face.

    “It's fine, that's from an accident,” I try, swiping off the dried blood that had leaked from the wound, but now the guy's looking at my left hand. The one with the… something carved on it. I guess cuts like that do bleed, and checking my hand… they bleed a lot.

    “That's also from an accident,” I quickly add. “I've had a clumsy day…”

    “Show me,” he says, reaching for my hand. No, that's none of your business, asshole! I yank it away and hide it behind my back.

    “No, it's fine, really.” I shuffle past the Arcean, but he grabs my wrist by force.

    “No, let me see,” he says, leaning in to get a better view of the palm. I close my fist, but apparently too late.

    “Exorcism?” he mumbles. “Did you do that? Did someone do that to you?”

    I manage to tear my hand away from his hold and bring it to my chest. “It’s seriously fine, please just let me go!”

    He pulls out a phone. “Do you need me to call someone?”

    My entire body twitches. “No! Don’t call anyone!”

    He’s staring at me with worry and shock on his face. Oh my Gods, he’s definitely going to call someone, no matter what I say. I need to get the hell away from him. With a head start, I may be able to get to the library and get Joanna out of my head before they catch up to me. With a clear mind, I have a way better chance of getting away.

    Saying no more, I leap to a run, never looking back despite anything the Arcean shouts.

    There it is! The big chunk of a building with the white grainy walls and black roof, the library. Thank the Gods, my lungs are dying. I was too panicked to pace myself and just went the whole way on a sprint.

    Coughing and gasping to remove the sting in my lungs, I swerve to the front yard and jog to the front doors. Thank the Gods again - even if I only have one and that one isn’t included in the pantheon referenced - that the library is such a comfy place. The freshly baked buns’ smell will replenish my stamina in no time.

    I yank the doors open and step in and oh fuck I forgot, the renovation! The foul stench of new paint, rubber and too many spices nearly make me collapse. Should not have drawn that in so fast and so desperately. Well, just give me a couple more coughs and I’ll be okay enough to keep going…

    “Whoa, are you okay?” asks someone.

    Having finished coughing, I give a wheezed ‘yes’ and continue deeper into the building.

    I head for the Fact section, but slow down my pace as I notice several people staring at me, the whites of their eyes well visible. Fuck are they staring at? Oh, right. The wounds.

    “It’s just paint, don’t worry,” I say, pointing to them and smiling to ease the peoples’ minds.

    I dive in between the bookcases, brushing past the plethora of books held up by the tacky, metallic squiggle shelves. The black rug beneath gives a spongy squeak for each of my steps. Ugh. It’s like every part of this renovation is actively competing for my disdain.

    I navigate my way to the shelf on ghosts, its books still gloomy in coloration. I begin going through their backs, searching for anything on… I check my hand again. Exorcisms. That was the word.

    The library was mostly quiet when I walked in, its soundscape only consisting of murmurs, muffled steps and pages being turned, but now I think… I think I hear something else. Like creaking. The sound is slow, drawn-out. Where’s that coming from? Actually, it seems to be coming from all around me, from multiple sources… oh my Gods, are those maybe some new tables already getting loose?

    No, no. That doesn’t matter now. I can’t get distracted. But is that… is that shelf over there a little crooked?

    My gaze jumps between the shelf’s surfaces and the ground. Are they parallel? Or are they a little different? I can’t pin down any difference, but there’s got to be something for me to pay any attention to it to begin with… it must be crooked. I knew it. Everyone is incompetent in this rotten world. I can’t wait to destroy this all.

    Thump!

    Was that a book falling down? Is someone being clumsy, or...

    No, no, no, I need to focus! I only have limited time, I need to make use of it. I slap my face, only to flinch as the wound on the side complains. My palm is smeared with red. Right. No touchy. I wipe it clean on the skin of my forearm and slide the sleeve back down.

    Having finished going through the books’ titles and not found anything specifically on this ‘exorcism’ business, I grab one generic-looking book - hey, this feels familiar… did I read this one the last time I was here? Well, doesn’t matter. I open its glossary and look for E. There. E, exorcism, better start at the end… there, pages 122-132 and 145. And I’m at page 172 right now. I flip through the pages, watching the numbers of the bottom corners slowly diminish as I slowly approach 122.

    Thump! Thump! Thu-thu-thump! Thu-thump!

    Fucking seriously? No human being can be that clumsy. Did a wild stantler run in? And what is with the creaking? It’s even louder than before! Aren’t libraries supposed to be quiet?

    I slam the book shut - instantly regretting it as I realize my progress is reset. Fuck. I continue searching for page 122, this time from 56 on. May as well take a quick glance at just what the hell is making so much noise while the pages go by...

    ...what the fuck is that.

    On the floor before me, there lie several books, carelessly scattered around their original shelf - or more specifically, what’s become of their shelf.

    The bicolor metal squiggle that used to coil around the rows of books has twisted into a new strange, irregular shape. Its jointy form looks even more like a serpent than before.

    Its end suddenly bends upwards with a sharp screech. Chills crawl up my body.

    The top and bottom side of the end begin to separate. The opening stops at about a forearm’s length, creating something that almost looks like a… maw.

    Metallic shards erupt from the edges. Teeth. It is a maw.

    Oh. Oh, okay!

    “Really, now?” I laugh. “Shelf-snakes? I’m not gonna fall for that! You’re wasting your efforts.”

    I turn my back on the metallic serpent and open my book again. The creature keeps screeching, but I ignore it, resuming the search for 122.

    Yes, I’m nearing it now. 103, 109, 115, 119 --

    “Excuse me, sir…”

    “Son of a whore!” I spit, jerking my head towards whoever just tapped my left shoulder. Unfortunately, I recognize him in an instant.

    “What the fuck do you want from me now?” I hiss at the Arcean’s stupid tauros face. To hell with politeness now. This guy has crossed the line.

    “It's okay, it’s okay,” he says - dares to say - holding his palms up. “I’m here to help.”

    “Help yourself the fuck away from me!”

    “It's alright. I figured it out. I figured out your problem.”

    “What problem?” Aw, shit, wait, no! If he knows something about me, he really shouldn't say it aloud!

    I raise a palm before he can speak. “H-hold on. Can you just, uh, wait a moment?”

    “I… sure, if it’s just a moment.”

    I don’t know if it will be, but it’ll do for now. I’ll get to 122 in that time and know what to do after that.

    Almost there! 120, 121, one two t…

    It's blank.

    I flip another page. The next opening is blank too. No 123, no 124. Just grainy white.

    I pinch the rest of the pages and run my thumb upwards. Corners upon corners flash by, all empty.

    “...Actually,” I say to the Arcean to my left, “you can help me in one way.”

    “What's that?” he asks, his gray eyes wide.

    I step closer and show the open book to him. “Do these pages look blank to you?”

    “...No?”

    “Okay, thanks.” I reach my fingers inside my jacket. “Now, I need to write something down… do you have a pen on you?”

    “Uh, lemme s-”

    As he looks down and pockets his hands, I draw out my knife. I let the book go to grab the Arcean’s neck and bring the blade to it. The book reaches the floor with a thump.

    “Wh-”

    “Don't fucking move!” I growl. “Understand?”

    “Y-yes.”

    I slide closer to the guy to get a better grasp, which frankly still isn’t great given his massive size, but it seems to be working well enough.

    Either way, I face the shelf-serpent again. It’s gotten a lot closer... my sudden motion seems to have frozen it for now, though.

    “I’m done with the games,” I whisper to Joanna. My breathing’s gotten heavier from the surge of tension. “Show the pages, or I’ll kill him. And I know you don’t want any more people to die.”

    “What?” the Arcean whimpers.

    “Not you! I’m talking to...”

    I sigh. I shouldn’t say her name. In case the cops haven’t found out yet, that’d be a clue.

    “What’s your name?” I ask the man.

    “F-Father Samson.”

    Father? Unexpected, but matters not. “Samson, whenever I say your name first, that means I’m talking to you, okay?”

    “Okay.”

    “Alright, good.” I look at the book on the floor. “Samson, let’s crouch.”

    Slowly but surely, we squat, Samson following my level with a slight delay.

    “Okay, now stop.” He does as ordered, though trembles with uncertainty… right, I didn’t say his name. I nod to confirm he did as I wanted. He sighs. I briefly wonder if I should instruct him to keep still next, but figure he’s doing a good enough job of it already. Man, holding a hostage is tougher than I expected. How do those criminals make it look so natural? Oh, right. I’ve really only seen them in movies. Anyway...

    I transfer the knife from my right hand to my left, still keeping its edge close to the Arcean's throat, and pick up the fallen book with the right hand.

    “Samson, back up.”

    “Like… walk backwards, or get up again...”

    “Get up again. Reverse of crouching.”

    “Okay, just making --”

    Now, Samson,” I stress, and he gulpingly obliges.

    We rise as carefully as we descended, him trying his best not to get cut and me trying mine not to give him any window of escape.

    “To the table,” I command, and we shuffle to a table not too far away. I lower the book on the table and open it. The pages are still blank.

    Not Samson,” I clarify to the man beforehand before focusing back on the book, “show them.”

    No change.

    I tilt my head. “Remember what we did back at the cabin? That counting down from ten thing? Let's do that again. It went so well the last time. So, once I hit zero, Father here will die, okay?”

    “Wh-what?”

    “Samson, shut up!” A bit of foam exits my mouth. Gross, but I don’t have a hand free to clean it off, so I’ll live with it. “Here we go. Ten, nine, eight…”

    “This is the police! We have you surrounded! Drop your weapon now!”

    Oh, the police are shouting? How convenient for them to show up right this second, huh, Joanna? You must think I’m stupid. The countdown continues.

    “Seven! Six! Five!”

    “Drop your weapon or we will shoot!”

    It’s not going to work! “Four! Three! Two!”

    Spots of black begin appearing on the pages. Finally. I can see a page number. 94. I reach down and flip a small stack of pages. 116. I go through them individually. More and more letters appear on the white.

    Then it's finally there. Page 122.

    I’ve… I’ve looked at this page before. I’m sure of it. Exorcism, a ritual in which a hostile spirit is removed from a person or place. There are fatal and non-fatal ones, the former being one that destroys the spirit entirely and the latter only removing it from the target… I remember reading this. And I remember reading… flip, flip… yes, there are instructions here! I just need to --

    “Freeze!”

    “Shut up! It’s not going to --”

    My gaze has lifted from the book, and what it shows has turned me to stone.

    The background is grayish and blurry. I think I can see a bunch of human figures standing some distance away. They have blue-tinted clothes and some mon beside them. There’s too much blur to tell their species, all I can say is that they’re pretty big.

    In front of those people, there lies the metal snake, now joined by more of its kind. Their jaws, along with their triangular teeth, all point towards me.

    But all the way in the front, the closest to me… it’s her.

    A shadow in midair. Big red eyes, leaking fluid. Two arms and a tail that hold onto a mask - a golden mask of her face, expression apathetic.

    “Red.”

    She speaks with a human voice, her old voice, the one I haven’t heard since that day I took her life.

    Everything else has quieted. The screeching of the metal, the mumbles of the library, the breathing of my hostage. It’s only her and me now.

    “What is this?” I whisper. “Why would you show yourself to me?”

    Her fingers grip the mask a little tighter. “I’m offering you a way out.” Her voice is shivering.

    “A way out?”

    “I’m allowing you to kill me.”

    Kill… her? Is she saying that really is her real form?

    “Stab me and I’ll be gone from your mind. F-forever.”

    She blinks. Droplets of maroon escape her eyes, only to disintegrate halfway through their journey towards the floor.

    “...Why now?” I ask. “And… you know they’d help you out of me. You know you’d live. Why would you get yourself killed now?”

    “Because I don’t want to live!” she snaps, taking her hands off the mask and balling them into fists. “Do you even know how much fucking damage you’ve done to me? Have your fucked up fantasies stuck in my mind forever? S-see Michi die over and over again?”

    She hugs herself with trembling hands. “A-and when they get me out of you, who’s to say you won’t just find a way to squirm out of whatever you’d deserve? You lie like it’s second nature to you, and you’ll do anything to save your own ass. Maybe you’ll go on the run and I’ll have to spend the next seventy years fearing that you’ll come finish me off. Maybe you’ll use the insanity defense. It wouldn’t be far from the truth!”

    She glares at me, but quickly recoils and looks at the floor instead.

    “I just...” she quietly continues. “I-I know I’m not gonna have a natural death anyway. It’s better to end this when I still… when I still have hope.”

    I stare at her in silence. Her pitch-black form, her leaking downcast eyes. Her fingers running along the edge of her mask. She looks like she's waiting to hear her sentence for an accidental felony. But in this situation, she wants the capital punishment.

    I'm not a guy who often empathizes with others… but I think I understand how she feels.

    It doesn't make sense in my logic why she feels this way, but feeling like it… I get why she wants to be gone. Because, a few years ago, after He first died… I felt just like her.

    It passed when I met HIM and found out He wasn't truly gone. But Joanna… she doesn't have a god on her side.

    “...Okay.”

    She looks up. Relief. But also fear. So weak and tired she is. But soon she'll rest… as I lay her to sleep.

    I switch the knife to my right hand and shuffle a bit to make the coming strike easier. Samson tensely goes with it. I notice he's mouthing something. It can't be to the cops, since no one could see it from his previous angle, so he's probably… praying. Sure, that'll help.

    But I guess it's good to have him preoccupied with something. There's likely no time for him to try anything while I swipe at Joanna and bring the knife back as is, but I have nothing against odds even better.

    “Close your eyes,” I tell Joanna. “That way you can't dodge.”

    She nods and shuts her eyes, more otherworldly liquid oozing out between the lids. She holds her mask low, body exposed.

    I draw in a deep breath. It’s odorless. Maybe I’m numb to the smell already, or maybe it’s some effect that comes from Joanna. Either way… I’m ready.

    I raise the knife and swipe.

    Like a scyther’s limb, the blade cuts the air. It meets the ghost's body and tears through it like drenched paper.

    The impact has opened her eyes. I guess even ghosts aren't immune to reflexes. But it's too late for her. Her body's halves break up further, into pieces smaller and smaller. She corrodes, and the mask joins her, both eaten away by an unseen acid… until nothing is left.

    It's done. I'm free.

    Weight lifted off my shoulders, I draw back my knife.

    But there's no knife.

    I stare at my hand. Just a bare palm, no blade, no hilt. I look past it, sharpening the background.

    A steely cluster floats in the distance. It has three eyes. A magneton. There’s a golden badge stuck to one of its lower magnemite. On one of its magnets - the knife.

    It needed me to take the edge away from the hostage so that it could pull it away safely.

    Someone shouts something. My left arm is thrown off Samson. A second or two later, both my wrists are grabbed and yanked behind my back.

    The air before me thickens and darkens. Joanna appears. Reappears. Her eyes are stern, fearlessly on me.

    “You…”

    I don't get to finish the sentence, whatever it was, as strong hands grasp my shoulders and begin to push me.

    No, I… I can't go with them. I'm not done here. This isn't how it's supposed to go. I can't be caught, I can't be --

    “You are.”

    No waver in her voice.

    Foreign arms are slipped underneath my own. They bend and pull. I can't keep my balance and lose my footing. But they don't mind. They keep dragging. My shoes graze the rubber mat.

    A full thought is finally completed. I speak it out loud.

    “You tricked me.”

    “That I did,” she responds, hovering by and keeping up with my moving body.

    “But you said… you said you didn't want to live with these memories.”

    She snickers. “You really think you're that impressive? In a few dozen years, I doubt I'll even remember your name.”

    This… this can't be real. It can't be. It…

    My face twists into a grin in realization.

    “Oh, it's just another illusion!” I laugh. “You really had me there, wow! B-but I've seen through it. You haven't won yet!”

    The grin trembles at her unchanging face.

    “Try it,” she says. “Try to escape. Try to see through it. We both know you can do that with my illusions.”

    I will. I will! I'll prove it's fake! Your condescending tone is just there to make me lose focus!

    Okay, concentrate. Concentrate on the cops. The uniforms. Blue, buttons, badges. Their faces. Eyes, mouths, the strands of their hair, the pores on their skin. The hair on the arms dragging me…

    I can't spot anything out of place.

    But I just haven't focused enough, right? I need more time, more effort. They're fake, they've got to be. I can't really have been caught. I just need to find the right detail to prove it. I-it's in there. It's in there somewhere! It's g-got to be. This can't possibly be…

    The metal threshold of the front doors knocks into my feet. The cool outside air pours in. There's a white police van parked outside.

    This…

    “This is r-real,” I whisper.

    “Told you,” Joanna whispers back.

    “D-do they...”

    “Yes. They know what you did, thanks to all the clues I left them when you weren’t looking.”

    No. It can’t be.

    I turn my head to the group of cops. “This is all a mistake!” I yell. “I’ve done nothing!”

    They ignore me, instead surrounding the van. One opens the back doors. An arcanine walks into view, vest on. Its vigilant eyes lock onto me as I’m dragged ever closer to the vehicle.

    “You can’t squirm your way out of this, Red,” Joanna spits, the last word drenched in contempt.

    A ramp is pulled out of the holding area and positioned on its edge. They’re gonna put me in there, yep. I need to get the fuck away before they can lock me up.

    I jerk my body away from my captors, but their arms don’t budge. Not with this, not with any of the following ten. No twisting or flailing is helping - I think they’re just holding on even tighter.

    The cell awaits right before me, its doors fully open like the maw of a gyarados about to swallow me up in one gulp. Like its prey, I lean as far away from it as I can, but the arms locked around mine still pull me closer slowly and surely. There’s no escape.

    As my shoes drop off the ramp and onto the cell’s floor, they fling me in with one quick chuck. I stumble and turn, realizing one last chance to escape the monster’s maw - but the arcanine blocks the entrance. It shoves itself in, and my last hope dies as the doors slam shut.

    “No...” I wheeze.

    The cops leave the gridded window. Only Joanna remains there.

    “It’s over,” she says as the motor starts up. “I’ve won. And now...”

    The van nudges into motion.

    “You’re going to face the consequences of your actions.”

    ---
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
  13. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    well buckle up bros, it's time for a ride

    rated mature for gore, violence, death and language. enjoy, and say hello... to the beast

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    CHAPTER 12
    The Skin


    ---​

    “Is it always so dark in here?”

    The arcanine sitting across from me provides no answer. The space for a reply is merely filled by the rumble and hum of the police van as the mon continues to stare at me with its dark but vigilant eyes. At the front of the van, the rest of the police squad stay just as silent as the RK9.

    I sigh and lean back onto the wall. The white block protruding from it doesn’t make for a terribly comfortable seat. The discomfort isn’t helped by my cuffed hands forcing an awkward curve to my back.

    It seriously is dark in here. There’s no source of illumination save for the tiny gridded windows at the front and the back. Through their little square holes, the blue of the outside sky shines in, casting its faint, cold light on me and the mutt.

    I don't know how long this ride is going take as I don't exactly know where I’m being taken, but I do know that it's someplace I really don't want to be. Then again, I suppose there's a scale to it. If I’m taken somewhere I can still possibly run away from, that's a small bad thing. If they're taking me straight to jail, that's a bigger bad. If they take me to a chair with cords coming out of it…

    No, they have to take me somewhere before those latter two. Everyone gets a trial, right? And I don't even know how much evidence they have - they might not have enough, or at least not enough for the worst punishment for each of my crimes combined. Though that'd be several lifetimes, so just one step down from that won't be too much help.

    And there's still the issue of the ghost in my head. If they don't have enough, she'd surely be glad to give them all they need via my own vocal chords.

    I shudder, causing the metal cuffs to chafe into my wrists, which in turn draws out a discomforted grunt.

    “Where are we even going?” I ask, though fully prepared for just more silence.

    “We’ll be there soon,” says the arcanine, surprisingly enough. Her eyes are fixed on the window on the front. Oh, no need to actually pay attention to me. It’s not like I’m a serial killer or anyone important.

    “Yes, but where?

    No answer. Back to this, I see.

    “Where?” I demand.

    The arcanine reacts this time, but only by rolling her eyes.

    Oh, I’m a joke to you? Just an annoyance? I killed nine people. Eight of them I ripped apart and ate parts of. I stalked them all for weeks and made them vanish without a trace. I’m a cold-blooded killer, show some Gods-damn respect! Awareness of the situation! If I wasn’t cuffed, I’d have my hands around your stupid bitch neck! And that pun was unintentional!

    An itch crawls onto my temple. Dammit, not now! I don’t have anything to scratch that… couldn’t you have appeared during any of the countless moments I’ve had with my hands free? Fuck, it’s getting stronger…

    The arcanine gives me a strange look as the left side of my face severely twitches in a vain effort to ease the itch. Great, now I look like a stereotype. And the itch isn’t going.

    I bend my head to the side, reaching for the shoulder. I rub the side of my face on it, but it’s too low to reach the itchy spot. Maybe the wall? I turn to it, but near immediately decide not to try my luck with it. Who knows what kind of filthy jackasses they’ve held in here. I don’t want any of the microbes squirming on this wall in my healing wound.

    The humming that surrounds us changes pitch, and I’m pushed a bit towards the window. We’re slowing down. We stop.

    Well, that was a short ride… I guess that’s good news for me, as I don’t think the worst places to end up in are anywhere near my neighborhood.

    Seatbelts are unfastened, car doors opened, steps taken outside. The doors of the back swivel apart, letting in the outside light intense enough to draw my eyelids almost all the way shut. Between my lashes, black figures begin to take shape over the white. Black, then blue, then composed of many colors. One with reddish brown around its head leans in.

    “Was he nice?” it asks. It’s a she, and a she with a voice I recognize. She was at the beach. She’s the red-haired policewoman. I glance at the arcanine, which now has stood up. I guess it’s the same one from then. Explains its attitude.

    “Nice enough,” replies the mon as it leaps down onto the street. Its mane and tail catch the wind, beginning a fluttering dance. Yes, you’re so majestic, catching the bad guys, all heroic, we get it.

    The red-haired woman climbs in, shoes clanking on the metal floor, and gestures me to get up. “Okay, buddy, let’s go.”

    She’s smiling. Why is she smiling? I’m not a kid, I’m not a victim, yet her tone is so sweet. I was nice to her before, yes, but her opinion on me has to have changed after the information she now knows. So is she… mocking me? Is that what’s happening?

    Whatever, it doesn’t matter. The time for possibly my only chance of escape is nearing and succeeding is priority number one.

    I take my time standing up, letting my eyes adjust to the brightness. The view outside sharpens, revealing more cops. Quite a lot of cops. All their eyes are on me. My breathing gets shakier as the woman places her hand on my arm, the touch startling the limb.

    I walk to the border of the floor and hop off, the woman escorting me the whole way. I look around. Every side seems to have an equal amount of people. Beyond them, plain woods surrounding this opening and some large, white building. Looks like there’s no crevice in the crowd for me to slip through… yet, at least.

    “Is everything ready?” someone asks.

    “Should be, yeah,” another answers. I hope I don’t have to stick around to find out what they mean.

    The cops’ faces turn - nigh simultaneously, unsettlingly enough - to what lies ahead. We begin to move for the white building about a dozen meters away. Pretty bland looking, as this concrete cuboid seems to only have one door and not a single window. Is it some kind of storage? And where is the street? I look back, only to see a solitary asphalt road surrounded by more wavering trees. Is this a back entrance, or…

    “Where am I?” I ask the redhead still by my side as we begin to move.

    She gives me a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, we’re here to help.”

    Help…? How do you… help someone like me? Why would you?

    This isn’t right. This is all wrong. Nothing makes sense. I need to get away, get the hell away from here before they drag me in through that door. I have a feeling that if I enter it, I won’t ever be coming out. And if I will, I won’t be doing so as the same man.

    I keep my head still while I glance to my left. There’s a gap between two officers. My jaw tightens. It isn’t the best opportunity, but I know I won’t be able to forgive myself if I don’t try it and a new one never comes.

    I try to calm my breathing, relax my shoulders, slow down my heartbeat. It has to be out of the blue. I blink. I’m normal. Yeah, I’m normal.

    “Pi-pi-pi-pi-pi...” sings a pidgey somewhere. “Pi-pi-pi-pi-pi-pi-pi-”

    I ram my foot into the woman’s shin. As she recoils, I bolt for the gap. The surprised faces of the cops sweep past, then it’s just the spruces in front of me. I hear shouts from behind, but nothing’s touches me. Did I do it? I think I did it! I just need to make it to the woods and lose them --

    Why are my wrists heavy?

    They’re getting heavier. It’s the cuffs, they don’t want to follow me. I try to pull them closer but I just slow down, they’re even heavier and I can’t move, shit, no, no!

    The spruces ahead, their sweet gate of freedom, are no longer approaching. My feet brush against the asphalt below in vain.

    “Let me go!” I scream, yanking on my hands, the wrists rubbing against the cuffs frozen in midair. Then they move. Backwards. The trees recede. The fuck’s going on?

    The force pulling on the cuffs only strengthens. I’m drawn back and no attempts at stopping myself are helping. My shoes just keep skidding on the ground as helplessly as the hooves of a deerling on ice.

    The cops and the building return to my sight. I’m right where I started. Two men come at my sides, grabbing onto my arms. I struggle with fuck all results.

    “Good job, Magnus,” I hear someone say behind me. I look over my shoulder to see one cop patting the back of a proud magneton. The same magneton that disarmed me at the library. Son of a bitch. This ugly thing keeps fucking up my plans...

    “Come on, let’s go,” says the man to my right and tugs me towards the building. I give him a wrathful stare, standing my ground. He sighs. ”Alright then.

    He and his partner grip my arms tighter and begin to drag me, my back to our destination. I try to anchor myself but find no success. I’m not getting away. Oh fuck, it’s hitting me, I’m not getting away.

    “What are you going to do to me?” I ask of the cops following us, voice near to breaking.

    Their eyes all shoot at me, and they open their mouths. “We’re here to help,” they respond in unison.

    I’m not going to ask anymore.

    Okay. Okay. This is weird, but it can’t be so bad, right? This is Kanto, a civilized state. A democracy, a free region. They can’t do anything inhumane to me. That’s forbidden by law.

    But they’re cops. They are the law. They decide the law. They have the power. They can do anything. Who’s going to stop them?

    A creak arises from behind. We’ve reached the door.

    As I’m pulled inside, the first thing I see is a closet by the doorframe. It's as white as the walls of the room, though everything’s dimmed to more of a gray from the lack of indoor lighting. It all darkens even further after the last cop of the group, having entered, begins to shut the door.

    When the room has gone pitch black, the men dragging me take a sharp turn. With a click, the room illuminates again. I’m pushed onto my feet and let go. I twist around, taking in the new surroundings with haste.

    I’m still in the same room, but now I see how large it is, and how… unbalanced. Most of the room is as blank as the building’s exterior, white walls broken up by only a few doors and the closet, but the front of the room...

    Elegant arches. Crystal chandeliers hanging from the high roof, carpet of red velvet on the floor. Paintings of beautiful men, women and mon on the walls. Golden vine-like decorations running up and down all surfaces.

    In front of all this, right next to me, a snow-white sheet covers something immobile and human-sized. Someone standing behind the whole thing. A man. Now he’s moving. He’s stepping into view. I see his face, his tall bulky figure, his pale hair and gray eyes and I realize who it is.

    “What’s he doing here?” I demand from the policemen, but they’ve all turned away from me - towards the closet. The clacks from their shoes fill the room as they form a line in front of it. One by one, they open its door, pull out some kind of long, white garment and return to their spots.

    I look back at Samson. He has one of those garments as well, hung around his arm. With that arm’s hand, he holds a leather-covered book opened in the middle. With the other hand, he fidgets with the spiny golden wheel of his necklace.

    Golden...

    I study the decorations of the room more closely. They too are golden and spiny with green gems embedded in them here and there.

    This is an Arcean chapel.

    Samson snaps the book shut and hands it to the red-haired policewoman. “Alright,” he announces, facing the crowd of cops. “We all appear to be present. Let us begin.”

    A wave of swooshes rolls over the room as all its inhabitants - sans me, the arcanine and the magneton - put on their garments, shown now to be robes. Everyone but the giant has their hood on, hiding their face. Of them only the woman remains recognizable afterwards due to her locks peeking out.

    The Arcean locks eyes with me. His face stays neutral, but those eyes… he really doesn’t like me. I guess that makes sense after I held him at knifepoint and all that. But that’s kind of where the sense making ends. Why was I brought to an Arcean chapel? Do they want me to hear a sermon on how murder is bad before they cart me off to prison? Does he want me to hear one and the cops are just going along with it for laughs?

    “Sister Ronnie,” he says, prompting the woman to step up to the sheet-covered mystery object. “Please.”

    Her delicate hands pinch the fabric and pull off the covering in one swoop.

    It’s a board. Upright. Wooden, painted pure white. On it, two, four, six, eight, ten straps, symmetrically placed. White leather, golden buckles.

    It’s not a sermon they’re planning.

    I’m not staying here. I’m not staying here.

    I turn and run, run for the door, into the sea of robed humans. Their arms rise, their hands grab onto me, but I don’t care, I have to get out.

    “Move aside,” a robotic voice rises from the audience. All fingers suddenly let go, as if I had a deadly disease --

    Pain! Fuck, it hurts! Stop! Stop!

    The world has turned on its side. My limbs are thrown around like I was caught in a hurricane - no, four hurricanes, all in different directions.

    It stops. My limbs still jitter. I can’t see right. Everything’s a mess. Is something touching me? Am I being dragged? I try to struggle, but I’ve forgotten how to move… some seconds pass, I think, I don’t think I can trust my sense of time right now. I hear speech, muddled, my chest is cold, I can see something, I can feel again… I’m… I’m… I’m on the board!

    My jacket is gone, my shirt is open, my chest is exposed… th-they’re really going to do it!

    “L-l-let me g-go!” My words come out slurred as I’m still relearning how to pilot my tongue. It’s not helped by the belt is pressing against my larynx. There’s one for my forehead, too, making me unable to turn my head properly. I feel so blind.

    “Gods, Magnus, how hard did you shock him?” someone mutters in the crowd.

    Magnus. The magneton. How many times will it destroy my chances of escape? I hate it! When I ascend, I’m going to seek out every one of its kind and --

    Oh fuck. I’m not going to ascend. Because I’m here and I’m going to die. I’m going to die! But I can’t die. This is not how it was supposed to go. I was supposed to live forever, I was supposed to bring about the new world, but now, now I’ll die before I can, I’m going to be dead! I’ll never see the Judgment happen, I’ll never see HIM again, I’ll never see my home again, I’ll never see Him again, I-I’ll never hold Him --

    “Brothers, sisters!” booms Samson, shattering my deafness to the outside world. His back is to me, his arms raised in the air, the robe’s sleeves resembling wings. “Today, we have seized the beast. Praise be to Arceus!”

    “Praise be to Arceus!” echoes the crowd, raising their hands towards the ceiling.

    The Arcean brings his hands to his heart. “But,” he begins with a sorrowful tone, “while this is a joyous occasion for us and the rest of the world, we mustn’t forget the many victims of this monster’s crimes, the innocent lives lost to the ravenous jaws of this horrid creature. May Arceus soothe their souls and guide them to paradise, may he bless and comfort their families. Truly.”

    “Truly,” responds the crowd, bowing their heads.

    “Let us have a minute of silence,” declares Samson and bows his head as well. In a snap, all noises cease, all motion freezes, except for my panicking breath and heart.

    So they knew? They knew about me all along? They watched me, waiting for the right moment to strike, waiting for my first and last mistake. And today they noticed such a moment, and they sent in Samson undercover, is that right? All that bullshit about him wanting to help, that was a ruse to get close to me!

    And it actually worked… and now they finally have me. And they’re going to kill me. They’re going to cut my heart right out of my chest, I bet! These people want to see me suffer. These people want to drink from the chalice of justice filled with my blood.

    Justice… what a drug to the mareep. What a sweet high it gives them to perpetuate their mindless norms and standards, to celebrate the culling of the misfits! They speak of righteousness when they mean conformity!

    These pathetic creatures! Crowning each other every day for being so unquestioning! Spitting on the eons nature spent handcrafting them to survive! And here they execute the one meant to thrive, the rightful heir of this world!

    If I only had the power… their brains would paint the walls pink...

    Itch. Left temple, again. No, now is an even worse time! A-and another, in the lower back? Gods!

    My fingers twitch, my biceps tug at the wrists fastened down below... it’s so uncomfortable, but I can’t do shit about it! Couldn’t I at least die without my skin feeling like it’s had a swarm of tiny bugs injected into it?

    The itch spreads. Oh fuck. It’s in my sides, my shoulders, my neck, everywhere. I’m trembling. It’s not getting better. A growl leaves my throat.

    “A minute has passed.”

    With Samson’s words, it’s like I’m awakened. The itch has released its grasp of me. Blood rushes to my skin freely, relaxing my muscles. Weird, but I’m not complaining.

    “Now we may begin.” Samson faces me. Oh shit. Nevermind, I’m complaining.

    His glare is full of contempt. “You, Beast! You have done much evil. You have torn innocent women from their lives. Tortured them and desecrated their bodies in unholy rituals for the demon you call your god.”

    Demon? Demon?

    “Better a demon than a fucking pony!” I snap, but he ignores me.

    “Arceus has witnessed your despicable deeds. He has sent us, his loyal followers, to rid this earth of your wickedness.”

    My stomach turns. That's how sickening his words are, this whole situation is. I snarl.

    “Yet there is something that must be done before that,” Samson continues. “A life that can still be saved.”

    My stomach turns again. Wait, no. It’s not nausea. I know this feeling, this distortion. This is...

    “Sister Ronnie,” Samson calls. The woman soon walks into my sight. She holds something in her hands, something shiny… something metallic. Samson picks it up. It’s a long-bladed knife. They’re going to… oh fuck, they’re really going to…

    The lump in my gut swells. It squeezes my lungs from underneath. It gets harder to breathe, every inhale stings. From the bottom of my vision, I can see my abdomen bloat, its skin stretch…

    A whine arises from within. Something presses onto my insides, squishing my organs to abnormal shapes.

    “Stop, stop!” I grit my teeth. How impotent must my digestive fluids be not to have melted this brat to mush by now?

    “Do not fear, child,” Samson says, approaching. “You will finally be free.”

    He raises the knife, its blade sparkling in the chandeliers’ crystal-reflected light. Oh fuck. This is going to hurt.

    “Now lean back, child. I do not want you to get harmed.”

    He jams the blade below my ribs. Hot blood spurts out, blinding pain floods my nerves. I scream. It’s deep! It rips even more of me apart, traveling down to my navel, past it, stop!

    They pull the metal out. My screaming breaks up into agonized breathing. I feel too bare. Organs aren’t meant to be exposed like this. Too much blood is leaking out.

    A small arm slips out of the wound, smeared with blood and stomach contents. Its fingers curl, reaching out for something to grab onto. The sour stench of vomit wrinkles my nose.

    Samson offers his hand to the child, undeterred by the goop it's covered in, and she grasps it. He pulls on it, tearing the edges of my wound apart as the rest of her begins to leave my body.

    “No… no, no, no…” I can only whimper.

    Pink hair appears. I hear a weak gasp. A gasp for fresh air, a gasp of freedom.

    But she shouldn’t be free. She doesn't deserve to be free. Curled up inside a cauldron of acid, locked behind bars of bone, that is the fate that belongs to her. She needs to suffer for all the trouble she’s brought me. She needs to be digested.

    Another yank, and her brown coat is visible. Another, and her jeans show - another, and she tumbles down onto the floor. I’m so incredibly hollow now. The emptiness is screaming…

    All the blood spilt has now dyed the front of Samson’s white robe a sticky crimson. He crouches down and helps mucky little Michi up. I can see her right hand is missing, the arm only ending in a nub. I’d call bullshit on her not having died from bleeding out, but considering everything she’s been through, it’s probably safe to assume she can’t die at all.

    She turns around. Her pale blue eyes glare at me, furious but victorious. I respond with an equally furious stare.

    Samson steps forward, no doubt to show off his shining armor once more - but is stopped by Michi raising her arm.

    “This is it for you, Houndoom,” she says, letting the arm drop. “You're finally going to get what’s been coming to you for years.”

    “Get back in,” I breathe, shaking from the pain of my gaping wound. Even with that agony, I want her back, need her back. It feels like she'd even fix it. “You belong in there. You are my prey.”

    Michi looks back at Samson, who’s still holding the bloody knife. “I’m done with him. You can get back to your ceremony now.”

    She heads for the door. Seeing her back turned to me, seeing her get away… I need to chase her, hunt her down. The instinct is awakened. I need to do what my nature tells me to do…

    But no struggling, twitching, flailing is getting me off this board. I can’t get away. I’m forced to watch my prey walk out right in front of me, just meters away from the stomach it should be filling, the thirst it should be quenching. All while my body bleeds out, all while these mareep gawk at my pain, my humiliation, my death…

    This can't be how it ends. This can’t all have been for nothing. I didn’t train myself, restrain myself for years to just… die. This can't be how it ends!

    B-but what can I do? I can’t do anything! I’m just a weak little human with flimsy limbs and dull teeth. This body is so pathetic. How can it be so pathetic? I have the mind of a bloodthirsty beast, but the body… where is my rightful body?

    The body… the body was there when I ate her.

    That body is what made it possible. That body had the teeth and the claws that caught her and the throat that squeezed her down. And that body, where it came from - it was this skin, this disguise, and it must still be there.

    I wheeze just a bit. A wheeze of laughter.

    Michi stops. She looks over her shoulder. “What’s so funny?”

    “It’s so silly how simple it all actually is...”

    “Sure, okay.” She resumes her walking.

    I focus on my right hand. Its soft flesh, tidy fingernails. Such an adorable little hand. But it’s false.

    Ten rips and spurts of blood split my fingertips. Curved, needle-sharp talons reveal themselves.

    The audience steps back, some members gasping. Samson’s eyes open wide. “The Beast...” he whispers, voice trembling.

    Michi has frozen.

    “You thought you could make me forget?” I continue. “You thought you could convince me I was just a lowly human?”

    She's beginning to fear. I can see it, smell it. For six heartbeats, she stays as silent and still as the rest of the room - then she faces Samson.

    “Kill him.”

    Samson flinches, as if he’d just now remembered he had the knife. He steps closer. “This is the end, Beast,” he tensely says, raising the knife.

    Something at the very bottom of my spine aches. Oh, there’s the thing I ordered! It’ll make for a nice, flashy way to showcase my power.

    The vertebrae multiply, extending the spine rapidly and tearing right through my skin and jeans. The newborn tail rears its tip like a serpent about to strike. The arrow-shaped end glistens with my blood and its own sheer sharpness.

    Samson takes a step back like the coward he is, but being a fool as well, stands his ground. Hiding behind the knife, he gathers up the courage for another strike and finally lunges for my heart.

    But guess who’s faster.

    The wonderful noise of flesh and organs being skewered rings out around the room. Samson’s silver eyes, bulging out of their sockets in shock and pain, flick back and forth between my face and the black appendage inserting into his abdomen.

    I can’t help smirking. “Guess those prayers weren’t much help after all.”

    I yank back the tail. The tip slices through even more tissue on its way out of the man’s body. He collapses onto his knees, dropping the knife and gasping for air. The crown of his head, covered with his golden hair, points right at me. I guess I should finish him off, make sure he doesn’t sneak up on me later with that knife.

    “Hey, pony boy.”

    He raises his head, eyes full of terror. With one swift swing of my tail, I slash across his throat. Red fluid gushes out, depriving his brain of the oxygen it needs. He opens his mouth to gasp once more, like a magikarp on dry land, then falls down on his face, silent. An ever-growing pool of blood forms underneath.

    I bring the tip of my tail to my mouth and lick in a bit of the blood. The taste is energizing, appetizing, back to the way it should be. Deep in my throat, teeth begin to form.

    “Father Samson!” screams the red-haired woman as she dashes to Samson’s limp body. It should be obvious he’s dead by now, but still the woman has to flip him over and take a good look at his cleaved neck and empty eyes before she gets the picture.

    Finally, she snatches the knife and jolts up. Her green eyes drill into my own with rage. “You bastard!”

    Blade raised, she charges at me. She hasn’t learned a thing from her leader’s mistake. I suppose I can use her to test my strength in a different way.

    The straps on my right arm loudly snap as the limb yanks itself free. I shove the palm right onto the woman’s face and squeeze. As her skull crackles, she drops the knife and latches onto my hand with her own. Her tugs and scratches are like a little bug’s. Those and her whimpers… so adorable.

    With one crushing contraction, her whole head caves in. It crumples like paper, if paper oozed blood and gray matter. Her skull feels like eggshell within my grasp. The yolk drips down to the floor.

    I toss her corpse aside. It thumps down right next to Samson’s and no longer moves.

    Through my bloodied talons, I glare at the audience. “Does anyone else want to try?”

    Frantic steps and cries fill the room. They all race for the door. They think they can run. Cute.

    Oh, the itch is back. In the left forearm, more specifically. I pull the arm free and raise it before me. Aside from the psychic protection seal carved onto the surface, nothing seems off about the skin. Whatever’s causing it must be from beneath. Well, let’s find out!

    I stick a talon into the skin. It singes, but I no longer need to fear pain. I swipe the claw down regardless. Blood squeezes out, but there’s something else, something black… black fur. Sticking out like grass from a crack in the asphalt.

    Oh, I get it… I get it! The body has developed further! It’s been growing within, incubated by my old skin. Now it has its own, and a coat of fur to top it off. Makes sense, houndoom have fur. I was personally more of a fan of the skinless version, but perhaps this one leaves less of a mess behind…

    More itching. It’s everywhere now. Every inch has hair beneath the skin, wanting to get out. Well, I have no reason to keep them in!

    I hook my claws on the edges of my abdominal wound. Fuck, this is going to hurt, but it’s all for the sake of evolution.

    I pull the edges apart. The skin tears, splits further, exposing more of the bloody black fur. Every fiber broken, I can feel it scream at me, scream at me to stop, and I scream with it, but all of it comes from a lesser being. To the beast, pain means nothing! The new mouth in my throat already snarls, gnashes its teeth, waiting to get out!

    The crowd still panics and stampedes in place. It seems they’re all trying to get through the door at the same time, jamming it… of course they are! They’re herd animals! And there are the arcanine and magneton herding them, circling them, keeping them together. Good, good! Keep them gathered up like that! That way I can kill more efficiently! But to take care of personal business first...

    “Michi!” I call, voice inhuman, monstrous. Where is she? There, at the edge of the crowd! She glances at me from the sea of robes, eyes sparkling with tears, desperately pushing onto the people blocking her way out. So small, such a runt, such a sweet little snack!

    “Look at it!” I roar, spreading my arms wide. “Look at my true body! Remember it well, as after I get you… you’ll only see the inside!”

    Oh? The itch has spread to the last place it hasn’t spread yet - my throat. The snout inside is furred now, completed. It’s time for me to pry myself off this board and abandon my human skin once and for all. The hour of the Beast has come.

    I grab the sides of the board and push my body forward. The remaining belts, on my forehead, neck and legs, squeak as they’re stretched nearer and nearer to breaking. My remaining human skin is drying up, hardening, crackling. My heart beats faster, louder, stronger! My lungs draw deeper breaths than they're ever drawn before! I’m ready! I’m so ready! I’m doing it, doing it, now!

    Rip!



    ...Wh-what?

    No heartbeat.

    No breathing, either.

    My head hasn't moved. The belt is still on my forehead, my viewpoint is the same. The people are still panicking, shoving each other to the direction of the door…

    But my arms aren't there. My legs aren't there. Nothing below my neck is there. Where has it all gone?

    Black hairs pop into the bottom of my vision. There's something fuzzy there. It rises, grows.

    It's a back. Two arms. A neck. A head. All at least twice the size of mine.

    It growls, making the earth tremble from the sheer power of the noise. Two growths extend from its skull, reaching for the roof. They curve, sharpen. Horns.

    Fast as a thunderbolt, the beast leaps forward, landing right next to the crowd. Before the people can even react, the creature has shoved its horns through a few’s backs, impaling them.

    Screaming. Swipes of talons, sinking of teeth, stabbings via tail. The white robes turn red, and the people fall like crops to a scythe.

    It's playing out exactly as it should - but without me.

    I’ve been left behind.

    Oh shit. That means… that means it has my organs. My heart, my lungs. I don’t have anything. I’m only a head. I’m going to die. I’m going to die and nothing can stop it!

    How long do I have? How many seconds before consciousness leaves?

    The room brightens with orange as the arcanine fires a blast at the beast, but the creature merely dashes through the flames and grabs the mon by its snout. The arcanine whimpers once before it’s flung to a wall, muzzle dyed red.

    An ear-splitting, metallic screech follows. The magneton is caught in the beast’s jaws, the mon’s steel shell currently bent as the pressure of the bite is too much. Sparks fly out. Soon after, the beast drops the flattened metal mon to the floor with a clunk.

    There seem to be no more humans in the room to kill. None except one.

    On the opposite wall, a small figure cowers, shivering. She must have snuck there during the commotion. Now she’s creeping along to wall to a better hiding spot, desperately hoping she won’t be noticed.

    A dull ache forms in my brain. Oh fuck. There it is. Death. It’s approaching like a stalking predator and I have nowhere to run.

    The beast raises its snout towards the ceiling. A long, loud, wailing howl arises from between its sharp teeth. But it’s cut short - the arcanine has gotten back up and tackled the beast to the floor. The black-furred creature snarls and drives its talons into the arcanine’s neck. The mon jolts in pain, showing the whites of its eyes, then limply collapses. The beast stands up, victorious.

    It twists its neck around to face me - like a noctowl, but even faster. Its yellow eyes, bright as a bonfire in the night, burn onto my brain as it stares at me. I know what it’s trying to say. That I’m next.

    Michi takes another step. It's still relatively silent, but not silent enough for the beast. Its fiery glare locks onto the girl, who freezes in response. Thank fuck, it's distracted…

    But it makes no difference, does it? I’m gonna pass out soon, anyway. I’m lightheaded, the headache’s worsening… it’s all gonna go black any moment now, I’m sure.

    The creature lunges for the tiny human, quickly seizing it with its claws. The girl trembles all around as the monster slowly opens its maw.

    The beast jerks its head forward and chomps down on Michi’s neck. It pulls back, ripping the girl's head off with little effort. Blood shoots out of the stump of a neck and rains down all around. It's like a great, big fountain.

    The beast straightens its neck and gulps Michi’s head down whole. The creature may not have an expressive face, but just by looking at it I can tell it’s enjoying the hell out of its meal. But it's not done with her yet. It looks back down at the body, and something slithers out of its mouth. A black, slimy tendril. Joined soon by two others.

    Together, the tendrils dive into the severed throat of the girl. They slide deeper and deeper, squishing as they move. The beast has frozen in wait. What is it doing…?

    The tendrils stop. They begin reeling back into the beast’s body. I can hear a voice. Muffled. Female. Distressed.

    The corpse’s neck widens rapidly. Something's emerging.

    A shadowy figure pops out, its maroon eyes wide with terror at the tendrils wrapped around it. The neck stretches even more until a glimpse of gold arises, then the whole thing is yanked out - the whole thing being Joanna and her mask.

    “Stop! Stop!” she screams as the tendrils pull her into the beast’s maw. “He killed me! He killed me!”

    The beast ignores her. It draws her to its throat, snaps its jaws shut and swallows.

    It turns to me.

    My eyes get sore. Black circles my vision. Oh fuck... my time is up. Well, place your bets: which will be my ultimate cause of death, suffocation or mauling?

    The beast approaches. Its steps are heavy thumps. It reopens its mouth.

    The black framing my vision advances, narrowing my sight to only show the monster ever nearing. Its hundreds of teeth, its blinding eyes. They're all I see anymore.

    No… I-I don't want this to be the last thing I see. I want to see something… good.

    I squeeze my eyes shut. I can’t keep track of the blackness anymore, but what would be the point? Whether slow or fast, it'll still come.

    I go back. Back several days, weeks, months, years. I go back to that moment when the men in lab coats first handed it to me, that beautiful thing. The omanyte. Him. I’m gonna call Him a Him. I’ll never meet a god who could punish me for it again, so why bother sticking to one’s orders.

    I think about His shell, its grainy surface. His tentacles, their touch cold and so weak. His big eyes, His gaze, equal parts fear and curiosity. The feeling in my chest, my throat. Completely foreign to me then.

    I’m so sorry, my lord. I gave You away in exchange for immortality… which I then never even got. At least with You, I may have been able to enjoy what little life I had.

    I can feel the beast’s breath. Hot and humid. The monster growls, and I think I can even hear its saliva dripping. Death is only moments away, it seems… so let me tell You something. Something I’ve been meaning to say ever since I met You. Three words so simple, yet so hard to even think.

    My lord.

    I...

    ---
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2019
  14. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    huh well that only took about a full month which i don't even know if is a lot or not anymore

    anyway here's the penultimate chapter. rated hmm i guess teen this time for gore and language. enjoy

    ---

    CHAPTER 13
    It’s Over


    ---​

    Talking.

    Wheels rolling on tiles.

    Not here, but somewhere close by. Beyond walls.

    I’m breathing. My heart beats. I’m lying down, on something soft.

    Where am I?

    I draw in a long breath and slightly open my eyes. It's bright. Bright and white. White. The chapel!

    I sit upright, eyes wide. The brightness burns my retinas, but fuck that, I need to get… out…

    No, this isn’t the chapel. There’s no gold, no red velvet. Instead, the only other colors beside white are teal, metallic gray and a warm, dark brown.

    Teal is the tiled floor, and the metal is from the bars along the bed I’m on. The brown comes from the wooden table across the room. The hospital room.

    I lie back down. The sheets and mattress are soft and smell clean. I suppose a hospital room like this is one of the better unfamiliar places to wake up in.

    So… why am I in a hospital? I haven't been sick… or, no, I was sick, but I got bett… no, that’s not it either. I was never sick, it was just an illusion. Illusion… is this another illusion? No, I don't want any more illusions! I just… I just want to be okay, back to normal, like I used to be before all of this.

    “J...J-Jo…” I try, but my jaws are still lazy. Whatever, she gets what I mean. “Are… y-you th...there?”

    No response. But she could just be ignoring me…

    The door of the room opens, loudly enough to make me lose my train of thought for a while. A woman enters. Dark skin, white and teal clothes… a nurse’s clothes?

    “Good evening. Are you alright?” she asks, just a tad slower than people usually say that.

    “I…”

    Well, am I alright?

    “I’m… not sure.” I sit up. “Why am I here?”

    “You're recovering from an exorcism.”

    Exorcism? I know I was going to perform one, but I never actually managed to do it, and then I was taken by the cops and… weird shit happened.

    I check my left hand. The palm is bandaged. I guess they saw the wounds and did that.

    “You were possessed by a malicious yamask,” the nurse continues. “It was taken out of you. You're free of it now.”

    Taken out…?

    No. My luck isn’t that good. There’s some catch here. This is just Joanna trying to fool me into thinking I’m safe so that I’ll put my guard down.

    “My name is Megan McConnell,” the woman says. “I’m your nurse. Can I help you in any way?”

    “Sure… can you tell me what happened in more detail?” Not that I could trust any of it, though…

    “I’m sorry. I only know what I just told you. But I can get you someone who knows more.”

    “Do that, please.”

    “Alright. Is there anything else you need? Water? Food? Bathroom?”

    “No, just… do that thing you offered.”

    She nods and walks off.

    Well, if this is an illusion, Joanna’s at least paying attention to detail. That clock on the wall - quarter past eight - is ticking at a consistent pace, and there’s a security camera near the ceiling. Its lens is pointed just a little bit away from me. Then there’s a window mostly covered by blinds. Orange light is shining through and casting down onto the floor in a striped pattern. Sun’s gotta be setting. Or rising, if a full night happened to pass while I was out. Just thinking about that makes me disoriented.

    Either way, this whole room seems pretty real to me. But so did all that happened in the chapel. Did I just not check? I was pretty distracted.

    I lift my shirt and check my skin. No wound. Well, my old scars are still there, but there’s no huge one going right down the middle is what I’m saying.

    Still, if this is just Joanna tricking me again, how can I prove that? Take another hostage? This time I’d know not to take the knife away. But if Joanna’s good enough to make this room, she’d be good enough to make a fake person or mask someone approaching. There’s no way to win…

    The door opens again. May as well treat this as real for the time being and see where it goes.

    Four people enter - the nurse from before, some guy I don’t know in a white coat, another guy I don’t know with a badge on his chest and oh for fuck’s sake why does Samson have to be here.

    “Thank you for coming,” the nurse murmurs to Samson, who gives a smile while bowing not to hit his head on the frame. He still has that Arcean necklace on. Does he ever take it off?

    “Good evening, Mr Akai,” says the stranger in white. He’s got glasses and short dark hair, and I’m no detective, but I’m pretty sure that coat is a doctor’s. “I’m Dr Sato. How are you feeling?”

    “Fine,” I say with caution. “What happened to me?”

    “You were suspected to be under malicious possession, by Father Samson here,” the doctor explains with a nod to the Arcean, “and that suspicion turned out to be correct. You were detained by the police…” He tilts his head to the other stranger this time. “...and brought here, to the hospital, where an exorcism was performed with the help of Father with you restrained. You lost consciousness as it ended, likely due to mental exhaustion, and your wounds were treated. Since then, you've rested here.”

    I… see. So that’s why Samson followed me. Didn’t expect him to have experience in exorcisms...

    Wait. Exorcisms can be non-fatal. Did they get Joanna out? Have they talked to her? Oh Gods. If they have, it's jail for me.

    “What happened to the spirit?” I ask, trying my best not to let the distress show.

    Samson’s smile droops. The doctor shuffles aside to let him take front stage. Okay, what’s he gonna say?

    “We… attempted a non-fatal exorcism,” he sighs, “but due to unexpected complications, the yamask didn’t survive.”

    Really?

    “Have you seen what’s on your left wrist?” he asks.

    I look, though I already know what’s there. The scars of the psychic protection seal. They’re almost healed by now, only visible as brown impressions. My teeth clench. People shouldn’t see these seals, they’ll get interested… but I guess I had no way to prevent it this time.

    Now what do I do? Do I play dumb? Do I play dumb about this whole thing, just say I don’t remember - save for a few snapshots, to allow myself some leeway? I think that may be the best strategy for now… I can always say I’ve remember more later on.

    Samson saves me the trouble of asking what it is. “It was there when you were caught, bandaged up,” he says. “One of the nurses suggested that could have been what made the exorcism unusually difficult and ultimately caused it to go fatal. She said it resembled some spiritualist symbols she’d seen and speculated that the yamask carved it themselves to resist any possible exorcisms.” He stares directly into my eyes. “Do you know anything about that symbol?”

    I return the stare, unflinching. “No. I’m sorry.”

    His expression softens with a smile. “Hey, no need to apologize. I’m just glad you’re okay now.”

    Why does he care so much about some random kid like me? I've been nothing but an asshole to him, and he has no guarantee that was all just because of possession. And even if he thinks it was the ghost, why does he seem so upset by her having died?

    Speaking of, I'm still not convinced she's really gone. I've been tricked too many times before. At least this time I'd like to see it coming.

    Hmm, just realized that cop hasn't said anything yet. I wonder what he’s here to tell me. Ngh, I hope I’m not in too much trouble after all I did… being possessed should excuse me at least somewhat, right?

    His tired-seeming eyes notice my stare. “Right…” He scratches his stubble. “I'm Officer Tojiro from the local police. As you know, you caused a bit of a ruckus at the library earlier today. Now, we don't know yet how much of that was you and how much was on the ghost, and whether you're safe to let go, so you're gonna have to stay in this hospital for the next 24 hours.”

    “What? Come on, what did I do that was so…”

    Right. I guess putting a knife to someone's neck and saying you're gonna kill them unless they do something is kinda serious. I glance at Samson. He smiles. Even though I almost slit his throat today. What a weird guy.

    “I don't know how much you remember,” the cop continues, “but it did involve you threatening a man's life at knifepoint. We can give you a full rundown of the events during the questioning. Speaking of… do you feel fine enough to answer our questions now, or would you like to wait a bit first? Process what's happened, get some alone time, maybe?”

    I need to think things over, yeah. Plan my answers. And alone time’s never been a bad thing. “I'd like a while, please.”

    “Alright. How long do you think you'll need?”

    “Hmmh… an hour, I think.”

    He nods. “An hour sounds good. My colleagues and I will get back to you then.”

    He takes his leave. The doctor decides he should follow, and so does Samson. The nurse lets me know I can call her at any time and then exits as well. The room has become empty save for me. And the presence of the security camera I can't ignore.

    I gotta give it to you, Joanna, if you’re there. This is a very impressive ruse. Take it from a professional schemer. I just don’t know where you’re going with it. If you can make illusions this detailed and you’ve found a way to circumvent my reality-sense… you can pretty much make me do anything by crafting the right situation for it. But you haven’t made me speak aloud my secrets. Or have you? Are you actually able to take over my body? Have you done so and just cast me into a fake world inside my brain while you spill each and every bean in the real world? And then when you’re finally gouged out of me in the real exorcism, this world will just collapse and I’ll find myself somewhere completely different?

    Collapse… it could happen at any moment. At any moment, I could see the truth. Realize my life is over. This anxiety is infernal. But if I’m doomed nonetheless, should I just kick back and try to enjoy my last moments as a free man?

    I watch the clock tick. Tick, tick, tick. It just keeps ticking. How slow could she be? Or how cruel?

    Or, maybe… this really is reality.

    Wouldn’t that be something.

    ---

    The hour passed. I decided to use it as planned, thinking over all that had happened and what I should say about it. I stuck with the ‘I don’t remember’ idea, and when the cop came in with a couple of his buddies, that’s what I told him. I did, however, conveniently remember a few details - only vaguely, of course - that pointed in the direction of me having acted out of fear and the belief I had to do what I did in order to survive. It’s technically not false when I put it like that, you know.

    In exchange for answers, they told me more about what the future would hold for me. Were I to spend the next 23 hours like a good little boy, I could be released on bail. Bail didn’t sound bad at all - it’s essentially like normal freedom, but you can’t leave the region and if you get caught for another crime, Gods help you. You also need to show up to court when the time comes, or again, Gods help you.

    Adhering to the terms of the bail wasn’t a hard promise to make. I’ve got no plans of going vacationing, and if I do need to commit a crime or two, I’ll just do what I’ve always do and have no one find out. A crime is really a crime only when you get caught, after all. As for court, the biggest threat to that is simply forgetting. I’ll have to arrange myself a reminder when the letter comes and I find out the date.

    I asked them what would happen after court. Depends on the verdict, they said. There’s such a big room for interpretation that I could walk out like nothing had happened at all or spend up to twelve years in prison. Twelve years. That’s a hell of a long time for just wiggling a knife about. Abe could actually have gotten laid during that time.

    After the questioning, the good doctor joined us again. The officials’ forces combined, they told me there was one more thing I needed to do, for both medical and judicial reasons. I could barely contain my excitement when I heard the words ‘psychological evaluation’ one again. To make matters simpler, I mentioned my previous appointments with Dr Marsh and asked whether she could be the psychologist chosen for the job. They agreed it would be beneficial, but didn’t yet make any promises. Only said they would try and call me back with the result. And by me I mean Abe. He’s pretty much my guardian given my mother wants nothing to do with me.

    And speaking of Abe…

    “Red!” the boy exhales and rushes to me. The nurse closes the door behind him.

    “Hey,” he greets as he stops beside my bed, grabbing his arms. “Are you okay?”

    “I'm okay, yeah.”

    “I'm sorry for getting here so late,” he says. “I wasn't around my phone for a while and it was on mute and it took time to catch the bus and then I had to wait until you were done with the police --”

    “It's fine, I don't mind.”

    It's clear that he does, though, given that panicked justification and his reddened eyes. I don't know why he cares so much. I’m a pretty shit brother, all things considered, and he's only had me for a couple of years. Not to mention I actually threatened him with a knife just a few hours ago. I should probably apologize for that at some point. Get back his trust in case any was lost.

    “So… what happened?” he asks. “They said something about a possession? And exorcism? Why would a ghost want to possess you?”

    I tell him the same thing I told the cops. “Beats me. I don't know when it got into me. My memories are hazy, anyway…”

    “But it's gone now, right? It's over?”

    A freezing chill grips my core. If only it was that simple.

    “Yeah.”

    “That's good, that's good…”

    Neither of us says anything for a while.

    I guess I could do that apology thing now.

    “Listen…” I start. His eyes meet mine again. “When I left home… I don't remember fully, like I said, but…”

    As he realizes what I mean, he looks away quickly. “Y-you mean when you… had the knife and you told me not to tell anyone you were there or… you'd…” His fingers grip his arms tighter.

    “Yeah. That, I guess.” I sigh. “I'm sorry. I don't know what exactly I was seeing or thinking then, but I do remember feeling really helpless and cornered. That must have made me act the way I did.”

    “I see...” His eyes wander the room for a while. Then he focuses on the bandages of my left hand. “What happened to your hand?”

    “Oh, that.” I consider removing the bandages to check out the wounds, but the hospital personnel probably wouldn’t like that, and I should try to stay on people’s good sides for now, given my situation. “I carved the word ‘exorcism’ onto my palm to help myself remember what I needed.” A brief smirk comes forms on my face. “Pretty clever, huh?”

    “That must’ve hurt...”

    Hmh. I guess he would focus on that. “It wasn’t that bad.”

    His gaze finds its way back to my face. “So… what happens now? When can you come home?”

    “24 hours. Well, around 23 by now. Either way, they wanna monitor me to make sure I won’t do anything crazy. Apparently I got rowdy during the possession and that’s why.”

    “Did anyone get hurt?”

    Oh, Abe, always such a goody-two-shoes. “Nah. Save for feelings, maybe.”

    “Good...”

    Another silence arises. He seems deep in thought.

    “You should head home,” I start, reclaiming his attention. “It’s getting late, and I’m sure the others...”

    The others. That includes the omanyte. I haven’t thought of… it since that last memory I had before blacking out. I was dying, or thought I was dying. I thought of the omanyte…

    No, I shouldn’t dwell on that right now. Especially not with Abe around.

    “I’m sure the others want to know what’s happened to me and if I’m fine,” I continue. “You should let them know everything’s alright.”

    “Yeah, you’re right,” he sighs. He begins to turn, but freezes.

    “...What is it?” I ask.

    “I…” He shifts positions, never finding a comfortable one. “I was just wondering...”

    He closes his eyes and forces out what he has to say. “Do you need a hug?”

    Do I need… “No?”

    “O-okay. Just making sure.”

    “Okay.”

    “Well, s-see ya.” He dares one quick glance at my face, then heads for the door.

    “See ya,” I reply, and he exits with a nod. He closes the door with him.

    I lie back down on my bed and exhale deeply. I enjoy a long blink. My eyelids really are getting heavy, now that I think about it.

    But before I go to sleep, I want something to eat. I hope they still serve food at this hour. Probably not… but it’s worth a try asking.

    I’m about to call out for a nurse, but remember I was shown a button next to my bed for that sort of thing and press that instead. Hope it works. Hope the nurses aren’t sick of needy or troublemaking patients overusing it to the point of ignoring it. I’d imagine a room for solitary confinement would have a higher percentage of patients like that.

    Guess I’ll just wait for now. I better not get my hopes too high up for the chance of food - the hunger will only get worse if I think I’ll be getting some grub and then be denied. Even if, given the reputation of hospital food, I’d probably have a better culinary experience with a fresh placenta from the maternity department...

    Oh, dammit. I just realized I could’ve asked Abe to bring me something.

    ---

    Ngh… who turned on the lights? I’m a recovering patient, couldn’t you let me sleep in? They say sleep is the best medicine, you know…

    ...Why is it this quiet?

    The hospital was still full of hums and steps and beeps when I went to sleep. Am I supposed to believe every patient was magically healed overnight and they’ve all left since?

    No, even that can’t be it. There’s no noise from the outside world, either - no traffic, no wind, no birds. Something’s definitely off.

    I force my eyes open.

    Empty?

    This room is empty. No tables, no chairs, not even a window, and… where’s the door?

    I sit up and survey the milky white room, but no, I can’t see a door anywhere. But that’s not right. If there’s no door, how does anyone leave? Or enter, for that matter?

    And… what am I wearing? A white hospital gown? Why are there… belts on it? What are those used for?

    Okay, this is really weird. I don’t like this at all. Somebody better explain this to me and quick.

    Maybe… maybe something happened while I was asleep? Something that made them put me in this room? Actually, ‘room’ is too generous - this is basically a cube. Just a white cube with nothing but this bed. Clearly not the same kind of bed as the one in my old room, either. This one’s mattress is less soft. You’d think someone required to spend time in this cube could use all the luxury they could get.

    I push the thin blanket off myself and put my feet on the floor. It’s cold, even through the socks I’m wearing. I don’t think those are mine, either.

    A whirr? It’s loud. One of the walls is moving, scrolling up. It slowly reveals what this cube connects to, that being a hallway it flanks. The hallway is covered in dark gray tiles for its whole visible length, save for the door embedded in the wall across from me.

    The whirring stops with a clank, the wall fully raised. Silence returns.

    Can I… leave? Are they indirectly telling me to leave? Well, that’s fine by me, it’s not like I want to stay. This place is just creepy.

    I head for the hallway with a brisk pace. I wonder wear it le-

    Fuck!

    Oh, that’s really funny. That’s really funny that you’d put a glass wall there.

    I rub my poor aching face and step back. A faint grease smear now floats in front of me. At least I’ll be able to tell where the wall is now.

    Steps. Someone’s coming. I’m guessing from the hallway.

    A brief wait proves me right. Three humans emerge, one male and two female. Each has a long coat, a headpiece, gloves, a mask and a notepad, all of the items white. The woman on the left seems to have no ear.

    They stop in front of my cube and turn to me.

    “Uhh… what’s going on?” I ask.

    “Nothing,” answers the man, his voice muffled by the mask over his mouth and nose. “Go back to what you were doing.”

    What…? No, I want answers!

    I lean on the glass. “Why am I here? What is this place?” Oh Gods, don’t tell me... “Am I quarantined?”

    “Not in the traditional sense of the word, no,” the man replies, and writes something down.

    “...What’s that supposed to mean?”

    This time the woman on the right responds. “You carry no pathogen or radiation, but you are being contained for the safety of others.”

    No pathogen or radiation… “You think I might do something dangerous?”

    “You already have,” she says and gestures to her female colleague, the one with the missing. “Just look at Nurse Hayashi.”

    I glance back and forth between the two. “Elaborate?”

    “You tore off her ear.”

    “...No, no I didn’t.”

    “Yes, you did. Don’t you remember? You were yelling and snarling the whole time, too, about how you were some kind of ‘priest’ who was going to bring about the end of the world.”

    Fuck, how do they know about my priesthood? Could it be that what they’re saying… actually happened, but I just don’t remember?

    “I don’t think he remembers,” says the man.

    “Interesting,” say the women in unison, and all three write something in their notepads.

    This… I don’t like this one bit. I don’t like the way these people treat me, like I’m some kind of feral. I’m probably smarter than all of them. And I’m definitely stronger. They should be the ones in here being fucked with. They should be --

    Did something just growl? I can’t see anything...

    You know what, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting out of this… whatever this is.

    I stand up straight. “Let me out of here. Right now.”

    “That can’t be done.”

    I bang a fist into the glass. “Right now, assholes!”

    Oh, shit. I wasn’t planning on doing that. I was trying to be civil, show them I was a human just like them.

    “Are you going to get violent again?” asks the one-eared woman.

    “Shut the fuck up, or I’ll tear the other ear off too!”

    No, I…

    “I think we’ve seen enough for today,” she says, unfazed by my aggression. “Let’s move along.”

    They lower their pads and continue their march through the hallway.

    “Hey! Don’t go! I’m not done with you yet!” I bang the glass, but they ignore me, disappearing behind the corner.

    The door on the hallway opens, capturing my attention. A man resembling the others leaves, paying me no further mind. Through the frame of the door, I see a room with actual furniture in it. A sofa, a coffee table, some chairs, and sitting on one chair is --

    “Joanna!” I scream. My nails scrape the glass. I should’ve known. I should’ve known the hospital was just her tricking me again.

    Well, I did know. But I did nothing. What could I have done? Nothing. But I should have done something.

    “You piece of shit!” I spit at her, but all she gives in return is a brief, uninterested glance with her big red eyes. They no longer leak.

    The door swivels to a close, dimming the hallway just a bit, but enough for a reflection to appear. A reflection of me, but also something else. Some kind of shadow over me. Sharp-horned, needle-furred.

    Oh Gods, oh Gods oh Gods oh Gods!

    Its eyes open. Its blazing, searing yellow eyes. Staring right back at me with its tiny, sharp voids for pupils. Silently as a noctowl.

    “Let me out! Someone!” I rasp. I keep pounding the glass. It hurts all the way to the bones of my hands, but no one comes.

    All hairs on end, I turn around. I barely get a free look at the beast when its tendrils seize my neck, coiling around it in a slimy, suffocating grip.

    It’s huge. It definitely wasn’t this big before. I try to scream again, but not a puff of air can leave or enter my lungs. I’m forced to stare right into the beast’s maw, the source of the black tentacles wrapped around me.

    Its jagged, off-white teeth point in all directions. Streams of sticky spit roll down its pale tongue and gums.

    Something moves in its throat - the wrinkles on the skin. They form faces, faces I recognize, faces of my victims. Agonized. They’re trying to scream, squirm their way out, but all in vain. They're part of the beast now. Forever.

    A breathy growl exits the pit of the throat, coating me in the stench of its innards. The jaws open wider. The beast definitely wasn’t this big before.

    A crushing grip - the beast’s hand - takes hold of me, squeezing my limbs against my body, crackling the bones. I’m unable to even struggle. The tendrils release my neck, only for the beast’s jaws to pinch around my skull. My primitive side takes full control, and I screech.

    The pinch gets tighter. The teeth cut into my scalp with burning pain. Hot blood trickles down my forehead and temples, circles my nose and ears. The teeth reach the bone.

    The beast bites down.

    Crack!

    ---
     
  15. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Review of Chapters 6-12

    Alright. By chance, you got me to binge-read chapters 6-12, and since I enjoyed the last batch, but found it a bit hard to take in all at once, I thought this would be a good opportunity to jump in. I'm glad I did, because I feel the second arc is where the fic truly shines. While the writing of the first part was very good, I had personal issues getting attached to Red's character. Now I've given it more time to digest, it finally clicked with me that it was part of the plan all along. He's still an unrepentant asshole with a whole bevy of screwed up shit going on in his head, sure, but the story just runs with that. It's very entertaining seeing how batshit insane Red can truly get, and how his downward spiral is paired beautifully with the stream of consciousness prose. I don't even care if I know it's all gonna go to crap for him; I'm just here for this wild rollercoaster ride of madness.

    Speaking of which, that was the best part about reading these chapters: the feeling that I'm losing my mind along with the protagonist. I love it when a story can do that, and I think it was done great here. We have some sort of grounding to go on, but with certain events that happen, such as Red devouring Michi (alive or ghost) or that whole fiasco at the Arcean chapel, it becomes increasingly hard to tell what's real and what's not. Some of the dreams/hallucinations here, especially with chapter 6, have some wonderful imagery. Even if not a lot happened from a narrative standpoint, it tied in very well with Red's character, from turning into a Dragonair out of his desire to become an apex predator, to that whole funeral scene and coffin scene. That was a really tense moment, even if we could've guessed it wasn't real. I also love the visual of Red leaving his heart in the sink. Perfect way to cap off a very surreal series of events. His reaction says it best:

    Of course, things can only go up from there, and up up up, they go. The one standout moment for me was in chapter 9 where he starts losing more of his sense of self. The talk with the atheist was oddly sobering, and it only really hammers in how hollow Red's life really is in the grand scheme of things and how he's sabotaging himself. He's just trying to prove himself to his lord, which I'm willing to bet isn't even real at this point, but all those mental hangups are getting in the way. But aside from that, we get more fun with Joanna, as it turns out that decision to wear the Yamask mask comes to bite Red in the ass. That added yet another layer to the story and also what the reality of the situation is, given that a possession could be plausible in the Pokemon world. I really liked the banter between them as well, as it added some much needed humour to an otherwise intense situation.

    I don't have much else to say regarding the following chapters. At this point, I'm hooked, and want to see what happens next in Red's journey.

    On a side note, one complaint I had was that the integration of the human/Pokemon situation wasn't really addressed that much. Now I've seen more of it, with how the Arcanine is shown, as well as the brief interactions with Red, Fonz and Helix's Netflix and chill, it was kind of surprising to find out how progressive everything seems for the Pokemon. With Pokemon schools and all that, it seems like Pokemon are viewed more equally to humans, or at least, have that potential. Like I said before, it's a minor part of the story, so I can see why you didn't fixate on that. I just like the idea of Pokemon being integrated into society in general.

    So yeah, thanks for sharing this deranged shit with us so far. I'm eager to read more of it.
     
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