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VIVARIUM (oneshot)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by canisaries, May 28, 2018.

  1. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    UPDATE (18th July 2019): This oneshot's been revised! And not just lightly, either. This new version even has a considerably different ending, so even for the ones who read the old version, it could be worth checking out if you liked what you saw before.

    Hi everyone! I'm Canis, someone who's been lurking this forum for a while and occasionally posted in the discussion threads. Some of you probably already know me from Bulbagarden, where I do post actual fiction.

    I've decided to try my luck on here as well, which is why I'm posting this oneshot I recently finished. It's called Vivarium and takes place after a multiparter fic of mine called Hunter, Haunted. Both of these are Pokémon fanfiction and specifically Twitch Plays Pokémon fanfiction, but before you freak out, I can assure you that you don't need to know anything about that fandom to read, as my own take on the lore strays quite a bit from the """canon""" anyway. However, due to being a follow up to H,H, events outsiders will not be familiar with are mentioned - but even with this, I'm confident that the oneshot's story itself is readable even without knowledge of my previous works. Otherwise I wouldn't be posting it here. If you read through and are confused by something, ask me and I'll gladly explain.

    With that out of the way, we can finally start. I hope you like this story or at least don't absolutely hate it. Don't forget to read the content warning below. Let's go.

    [​IMG]

    ---

    VIVARIUM

    Synopsis: The white cube, the rude staff, the black beast. Red initially thought it was a one-off nightmare. Initially.

    CONTENT WARNING (mod's words):
    - graphic violence
    - torture
    - psychological horror
    - overall disturbing themes
    - strong language (uncensored)


    ---​

    Am I awake?

    Well, there’s a bed beneath me and a blanket over me. Seems like it. But it doesn’t feel like a full night has passed…

    And what’s with the silence? The brightness? My vision glows red even with my eyes tightly shut. My room isn’t this bright, and I should hear the chirping of pidgey and spearow outside my window like I do each morning…

    Oh no. I recognize this now.

    I open my eyes and see exactly what I feared. White. White walls, white blanket, white pillow. Not any kind of cozy togepi-white. This white, covering every inch of this cube with nothing in it but this bed, is completely sterile.

    So, I’m here again.

    With a groan, I sit up. The flimsy sheet covering me falls down, revealing my new outfit - white clothing adorned with straps and belts here and there. None of them are fastened to restrict me, though, for which I thank my luck.

    Still, this setting didn’t mean good things for me last time, so I doubt it will this time around. I should save myself the trouble and wake up.

    I put my palms on the bed for support and proceed to shake my body like a dripping wet growlithe. Unfortunately, unlike water, the dream doesn’t simply fling away. And now my head is spinning and I need to stay still for a bit so my vestibular system can stop going haywire.

    Whirrrrr…

    Oh, that, yeah. Last time I had this nightmare, one of the walls scrolled up with loud whirring, and by the look of it, the same is happening now. The wall reaches its peak with a clank, and the soundscape returns to silence.

    The opening reveals a gray-tiled hallway adjacent to my cube. One white door is embedded in the back of it. There could be more further along the hallway, but it’s not like I could go and look - there’s still a glass barrier in place of the wall that scrolled up. It’s practically invisible and the only reason I know it exists is because I found out the hard way last time.

    Behind the glass stands a single person. A woman in a white coat, a headpiece and a surgical mask. A nurse of some kind. I can’t tell if she’s one of the three that appeared in the original dream, but she certainly looks as indistinct as them. Any possible features or clothing to tell her apart by are covered by her apparel.

    “Morning, Akai,” she says. The tone is about as mechanical as most vending machines. Her eyes look through me, and while her mouth is covered by that mask, I can tell she isn’t smiling.

    “I see I’m here again,” I state.

    “You never left,” she responds with an equally monotonous voice. “It’s time for your breakfast.”

    “Breakfast?” They’re going to feed me this time? Alright, I guess I’m a bit hungry. Wouldn’t hurt to get some grub.

    The nurse moves to the edge of the glass to press something out of my sight. More whirring arises. A desk-height recess opens up in the cube wall nearest to the nurse, revealing a large plastic tube pointing downward and a simple red bowl lying underneath. The whirring ends to give way to a crackling noise from the tube. Soon after, dozens of brown pellets drop down, forming a moderately sized pile in the bowl.

    This really surpassed my expectations.

    I look the nurse right in her dark, dead eyes. “You can’t be serious.”

    Her lack of reaction indicates that she indeed is.

    “I’m not eating that,” I add.

    “It has all the nutrients you need, as well as fiber and a good texture for your bowels and teeth,” the nurse says. “Really, it's convenient. Busy people would love to have such a --”

    “Sh-sh-sh-shut up,” I interrupt, raising a finger. Her jaw clenches just a bit. “I’m not eating that.”

    “You have to eat now,” she continues, “or you won't have food before your treatment.”

    “Treatment?”

    “Just something to help you feel better. Now, please eat.” She gestures to the bowl.

    “No.”

    After a few seconds of unbroken, silent eye contact, the nurse speaks again.

    “You've made your choice.”

    She glances at the hallway’s ceiling and nods. Before I can wonder what she meant for too long, a quiet fwip catches my ears and a stinging pain pricks the back of my neck. Hissing, I reach for the area and grasp something thin in my hand. I yank it out, wincing, and... bring it to… view. It's a… red dart…

    ...I feel tired…

    ---​

    It’s… been a full night this time. I can feel it. It’s been hours since I last closed my eyes, I’m sure of it.

    But the glow… it’s still there, and it’s still quiet, which means I’m still asleep. Because I’m in the cube and that means I’m asleep. Because the cube is a dream.

    For a fraction of a second before I open my eyes, I hope to see the black nightstand and gray walls of my own modest but comfy room. Fortunately, I manage to kill that hope right before the inevitable disappointment sets in. And there it is - white. Just white.

    A heavy sigh leaves my lungs. Inhaling afterwards, something twitches at the bottom left corner of my ribcage. Huh. A cramp, I guess.

    Steps. Someone’s walking in the hallway. Now there’s whirring. They’re here for me.

    The wall clanks fully open. I sit up, and my eyes meet those of a nurse behind the glass. The nurse from before, I think.

    “Morning, Akai,” she says, delivery similar to last time. “Breakfast. Hope you’ll eat it this time.”

    My pride immediately rejects the idea, but a strong hollow inside me suggests I should reconsider. I’m much hungrier than before.

    But it doesn’t matter. This is still a dream. In real life, I’m not in any cube. I’m free, because I haven’t been caught. Sure, I came close, as a former victim happened to come back as a ghost and possess me, but she got exorcised out before she could make me spill anything. That adventure is now over, and I made sure to plug any possible leaks. I’ve been free from my possessor for a day already. Two days. Or one? I… can’t remember. Is this a different night than before?

    No, no, it still doesn’t matter. It’s a dream and it has no bearing on reality, it only seems to be a recurring one. I just need to endure it until I wake up.

    As the nurse presses the button again, I walk up to the glass. The recess in the wall opens up and the bits of kibble clatter into the red bowl. It seems that they emptied it overnight.

    “Don’t I get a drink?” I ask the nurse. She’s starting to look less generic and more recognizable, even despite her rather covering getup. She’s got kind of a natu face.

    “You use the sink for that,” she replies.

    “The sink?”

    She pushes another button and more whirring comes, this time from behind. A larger recess has opened there, one reaching the floor. Creeping closer, the interior becomes visible - there really is a sink, joined by a toilet and a shower, all on a tiled floor and naturally all white. The architecture of this place is beyond me.

    “You were shown this yesterday,” the nurse says. “Don't you remember?”

    “I can't remember anything since the last ‘breakfast’,” I reply, approaching the glass wall again. “What did I allegedly do during the rest of the day?”

    “Not much. After your treatment, you were shown the ins and outs of your room, given you seemed to have forgotten it since the first time. After that, you ate your meals and used the bathroom obediently, but outside of those, you just sat around peacefully for the rest of the day. Seems like the treatment worked.” She switches her weight to her other leg. “But enough about that. You should eat your breakfast.”

    A wave of hunger clutches my stomach again. I look at the red bowl and the pile of pellets within. Somehow, my mouth waters.

    No, I’m not giving in. I’m not going to eat their shitty food, and certainly not from a bowl like some kind of poochy pup. This hunger is only a trick of my mind, and just like everything else here, it’s temporary.

    Maybe getting shot by a dart like last time will wake me up. Even more reason not to eat. But to accelerate things, I should start acting up.

    I get right up to the glass. “You know… there's something I'm wondering. Maybe you could help me find out?"

    Her face stays neutral. "What's that?"

    “Starting with the least vital, how many of your organs can I remove before you die?”

    She tries to hide it, but I detect the faintest of flinches. I smirk. I knew there was a mareep beneath that cold exterior.

    “Just imagine it. A blade slowly splitting your skin...” I draw my finger down across the glass, then reach forward with the full hand. “My hand slipping in and grabbing your uterus...”

    Grrrhhh.

    A growl. A deep, resounding one. It came from behind.

    The nurse looks on in confusion at the sudden change in my air. The glass reflects my widened, nervous eyes. Something faint and yellow glints above it.

    There’s nothing behind me that would make that kind of noise or reflection. Or there shouldn’t be. But I already know what it is, don’t I?

    Breath shaking, I slowly turn around. The formerly uninterrupted white is now largely covered by black. Black that has fur, horns, claws, teeth and those unmistakable yellow rings that always seem to stare at me no matter how I move.

    I should’ve expected it to show up.

    “What is it?” the nurse asks. I look at her, but the beast growls again, yanking back my attention. I press my back against the glass.

    The beast’s lips are pulled apart in a grinning snarl, showing its pale, veiny gums and jagged off-white teeth. A drop of sticky saliva hits the floor. It's hungry. And staring at me.

    “Get me out of here,” I whisper.

    “That's not happening,” the nurse says, indifferent.

    “Are you blind?” I snap, but still keeping as quiet as possible. Sudden noises and wild predators don't mix.

    The beast raises its paw, showing off its long, sharp talons, and takes a step towards me. My joints lock in place. Suddenly, its head turns to the right wall - to the recess with the bowl of food.

    The creature huffs in air through its wet, scaly nose. It ambles to the bowl and sticks its snout right into the pile, making a few pellets overflow. The beast takes one last snort, then pulls away. Its tongue slips out to lick the nose. Something in its eyes lights up.

    Its maw opens wide, and three slimy, black tendrils leap out. They wrap around the bowl and quickly pull back to the throat, allowing the beast to swallow the food in one go, bowl included. After this, it lazily returns to its original spot to lie down.

    Once a few seconds have passed with the monster motionless, I dare to speak again.

    “Well,” I whisper, heart racing, “that’s good. Now you can go get me some real food.”

    “What do you mean?” she says. I wince at the volume.

    “What do I mean?” I hiss. “Look at the… b-bea...”

    Suddenly I feel... weird. Weird like… last time. Tired. My vision is darkening at… the edges… am I going to pass out?

    A wheeze cuts the air. It came from the beast. It’s standing up again, mouth open and pointed at the ground.

    Another wheeze. Its pupils lose focus. Gurgling comes from deep within its throat - followed by chunky, brown mush splatting down on the pure white floor. Wonderful.

    “The cleaners would appreciate if you didn’t make such a mess,” the nurse comments.

    “What?”

    A whiff of the vomit reaches my face, making it implode in revulsion. I pinch my nose with my right hand and continue. “What was I supposed to do about that?”

    “Use the toilet for it.”

    “And how in the flying type fuck would that wor-”

    Oh… I get it now.

    “You’re saying I did that.”

    “You did do that.”

    “So can you not see the beast? Or are you just pretending not to, to fuck with me?”

    She tilts her head. “Are you seeing things that aren’t there?”

    I’m a second away from rejecting the idea until I stop. Illusion. This whole thing is an illusion, it’s a dream. How do I keep forgetting that?

    So, she’s saying I’m seeing something fake while we’re inside something that’s also fake. But what if this room isn’t fake? I’ve woken up three times here by now. Did they really get me and the normal day I saw afterwards was the dream instead? Or a hallucination? Or what if this room is a dream, but isn’t recurring just by chance and is actually more of the ghost’s doing?

    Not this again. I hate this. I hate having to guess what’s real and what isn’t.

    “Well, you had your chance at breakfast, but couldn’t keep it in,” the nurse sighs, eager to leave me. “Goodbye.” She heads off, her steps echoing in the dark hall.

    The noise catches the beast’s interest. It ceases its sniffing of the pungent puddle and raises its head to watch the human depart. Then it turns to me, separating its fuzzy lips and giving out a trilling exhalation. Fuck, it’s hungry again!

    I need someplace to hide. The bed? The bed! I can squeeze underneath it. If I can get there in time.

    I take a slow step towards the bed, but the beast takes its own step forward and barks loudly enough to make the glass tremble. It doesn't want me to move. But I can't just stay still, either - it'll come here and rip me apart anyway!

    Well, maybe... maybe that’s okay? The dream has to end at me dying. And maybe this time I’ll wake up back in my own bed and get back to my real life, just like I want to. Still, I really don’t want those fangs sunk into my flesh...

    The beast takes another step, sending a shot of panic up my spine. I need to make the choice soon - dash for the bed, or hurl myself head first into the creature’s maw for a death as quick and painless as possible?

    Its arrow-tipped tail whips the air as it steps onward again. Now’s the time to choose. I choose…

    Fwip!

    Ah, fuck! Another dart? It’s there, sticking out of my neck and -- oh shit, the beast is --

    Giant paws slam onto my shoulders, pressing me against the glass, talons screeching. Through my eroding vision, all I can see is teeth, a sickly tongue and gums… the faces, the faces in the wrinkles of its throat, the women I killed, they try to scream and I’m about to scream myself but teeth pierce my throat and scalp and the pressure, the pain only gets stronger until --

    ---​

    ...Great. I’m still here.

    I fling off the blanket and sit right up. I’ve got rage as my fuel, and I’m ready to get even madder at this shit - but I freeze.

    There’s black fur blotting out part of the white. The beast is still here, too. Fortunately, its infernal eyes and maw are shut, and its snout rests between its bulky forepaws. A stable rhythm of air being snorted in and grunted out fills the otherwise silent room.

    I guess if I stay quiet enough, I don’t have to worry about that thing for a while. But it’s only a matter of time when it wakes up, hungry again. And it can’t eat the kibble…

    I sigh. Should I just crawl under the bed now? The darts can’t hit me there, either. But the beast does have its long, sharp-tipped tail - it could still reach me. And in that case, I’d rather take the dart.

    Whirrrrrr...

    I cringe at the sudden noise of the wall opening up. I check the beast, but its eyes remain closed and body relaxed. It must be a heavy sleeper.

    Clank.

    Wall's open. As expected, someone in a white coat is standing behind the glass, but oddly it’s not the nurse from before. It’s another woman, somewhat shorter, with her mask lowered onto her neck and no headpiece.

    “You’re new,” I remark, keeping my voice down.

    “I am,” she replies. Her tone is softer and voice higher than the previous nurse’s. “I have your morning shifts now.”

    I stand up and creep over to the glass, surveying the new woman’s looks and motions. She blinks, her arms relaxed in front of her, one hand loosely clasping the other. So they sent a human this time.

    Her cheeks have a faint shade of pecha, just like her round, child-like nose. Her copper-sheened brown hair is short at the sides with longer, side swept bangs. Her eyes are big and green, sea green. Not too common for a Tohjoan.

    “You’re not wearing your mask or headpiece,” I comment, curious how this creature will reply.

    “I don’t consider them necessary. You’re already behind that glass wall.”

    “Won’t there be consequences for going against the dress code?”

    “Maybe a slap on the wrist, but I don’t care,” she says with a smile and shrug. “Anyway, I’m Jade Haruna. But you can just call me Jade. Nice to meet you.”

    “You know what I’m in for, right?” I snort, but then pause. I don’t really know the details, do I? “What am I in for?”

    The spark in her eyes dims and her smile melts off. “Multiple homicides,” she sighs. “You were possessed by a ghost who made you confess and reveal sufficient evidence, such as a hidden room in the house you lived in. There were knives, paras spores, occult items and a bloodstained board with belts and even...” A subtle wave of disgust passes over her face as she glances away. “...Human tongues preserved in jars. In the end, there was no way the ghost was just framing you.”

    I feel an overwhelming urge to bang my fist on the glass knowing that someone else has been poking through my stuff, but it’s countered by the freezing realization of them really having uncovered everything. Everything. My only motion is my wildly pounding heart. My exterior staying this still, it actually hurts.

    But wait, what about HIM? HE is the reason I did all of that! I killed those women to appease HIM! Sure, I liked it, but I shouldn’t get all the blame!

    “But then there was also that fossil...” she continues.

    Fossil? So they did find HIM?

    “It had powers,” she says. “Something clearly lived inside it. When the police tried to retrieve it, it attacked them with some kind of psychic powers… no, not exactly psychic, but supernatural nonetheless. They needed a whole squad to combat it. In the end, though, they did manage to destroy the fossil, and the presence seemed to disappear...”

    They… they destroyed HIM?

    I mean, HE can’t be destroyed, but to undo HIS special binding to that rock… it’ll take HIM thousands of years to collect HIMSELF back into a proper vessel, and from my pathetic mortal perspective, that’s as good as gone.

    Now I’ll never ascend. I’ll never achieve immortality. I’ll die. And I’m stuck here until then, stuck in this cube, never seeing the outside again --

    Wait, no. It’s a dream, remember? Oh, thank fuck… had me worried there…

    I dare to look in Jade’s eyes again. She seems contemplative. Funny how that is, my mind creating the illusion of other minds...

    “You were really out of it when the ghost left you,” she says. “Struggling and screaming… you even tore an ear off a nurse that wasn’t careful.”

    Matches up with the original dream… impressive continuity for a dream. It… is a dream, right?

    No, shake that thought. It’s obviously a dream. I’m only here because I don’t seem to be able to wake up at will.

    Jade focuses on my face, the gleam in her eyes returning. “But looking at you now… you seem calm and clear-headed. The other nurses tell me you’ve mostly been peaceful on other days, too. Mostly...” The last word is barely audible. “Anyway… it really seems to me like that fossil had more to do with it than the others think. Was it really you who’s responsible?”

    I take a moment to think, gazing down with a pensive expression to buy the time. Real or not, this room refuses to go away. I’d be a fool to turn down an ally.

    I prepare a vulnerable voice. “If I tell you, will you actually believe me?”

    “I will.” Her standards must be very low.

    “That fossil… was really powerful,” I start. “When it told me to do something, I had to do it. No matter how awful it was. I couldn’t disobey. My mind just… it was like... forced onto rails...”

    So troubled, so hurt! I’m impressing myself with this performance. I give her a glance, eyes brimming with pain, and see my lie sink right in. Perfect. This little nidoran is completely fooled by this arbok’s false face, oblivious to the fangs looming above…

    Grh.

    The beast! Oh, it’s still asleep. It just grunted at a dream, I guess.

    “What is it?” asks Jade. Dammit, how do I explain my sudden turn… wait… oh, I can actually work with this. Just gotta form a story… and done.

    “I guess you can’t see it,” I say. “Yeah, why would you… it’s just in my head.”

    “What’s in your head? What are you seeing?” she asks, so close to the glass that her breath is condensing onto it. She’s like a kid. How did she even get employed? She’s way too naive.

    “There’s a monster I keep seeing,” I tell her. “It’s big, pitch black and ferocious, looks like a cross between a houndoom and a tauros… I call it the beast. It’s been there since I found that fossil, making sure I don’t tell anyone about what was going on. If I tried, it would attack or… take over. And when it takes over, I do violent things...”

    “Haruna!”

    Who was that? It came from somewhere beyond the hallway, startling us both. Still didn’t wake up the beast, though - that’s good.

    “The treatment is soon. Get on with it,” the voice, an unknown man, continues. Must be part of the personnel.

    “Just a minute!” shouts Jade back, then turns to me. “Listen, I’m very glad you’re opening up, but you should eat your breakfast now.”

    My gut twists in hunger, but I abstain from moving. “I’m not eating the food. Hell, it’s not even food.”

    Jade rushes to the wall. “It’s really not that bad,” she assures and pushes a button. “It’s pretty much flavorless, actually.”

    The food recess readies itself like before. The red bowl is spotless, too. Either they did a good job of scrubbing the vomit off or they just got a new one.

    “You’ve tasted it?” I ask. “Why?”

    She returns to the glass. “I wanna know what the patients have to deal with. Helps me understand what they’re going through.” She focuses on the filled bowl. “Now, you really should eat. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That, and...” She pauses. She sighs and continues. “The sedatives in it put you under more gently than the tranquilizer does.”

    “Sedatives?”

    She nods.

    “Should’ve guessed,” I mutter. But... “Why would you tell me that?”

    She smiles, though bittersweetly. “You deserved to know.”

    I hold my gaze at her for a while, then switch to the bowl. I suppose I could at least try it.

    I walk up to the recess and study the pile of pellets. They don’t look any more appetizing up close than they do from afar. I lean down to sniff. There’s a scent, but only a faint one, and so free of any distinct odors that it really can’t be described as anything else than ‘probably edible’. Guess the beast thought so too, before… no, thinking about that isn’t going to help me eat.

    I grab the bowl and sit down on the hard white floor. Jade sits down on her side as well.

    “No utensils,” I remark.

    “It’s not messy, hands are just fine.”

    The pellets do look rather dry. Hesitantly, I pick one up, feeling its rough surface between my index finger and thumb. After enough staring at the dull ellipsoid, I take the plunge and pop it into my mouth.

    It really tastes like nothing.

    I crunch it, chew and swallow just to get it over with. My hollow stomach seems to like it, however, as it instantly begs for more. A slave to my instincts, I abide and shove more in my face. The tongue is bored and annoyed by the lack of flavor or interesting texture, but the reflexes keep the process going.

    “See, it’s not that bad,” I hear Jade say.

    Halfway through the bowl, my hunger is sated enough for human thoughts to return. “So, the treatment,” I start. “What is it, exactly?”

    “Electroconvulsive therapy.”

    I nearly choke on a pellet. "What, you just thunderbolt me? No wonder I don't remember shit!"

    "No, no, it's not like that!" she assures, but I've already pushed away the bowl. "And you might forget things at first, but that's only a passing symptom."

    I want to argue, but I find my energy rapidly depleting… the drugs must be kicking in. No…!

    “You’re unconscious for the whole procedure, and they’re only small electric impulses…" Jade's words get less and less clear by the second. I slip down onto the floor, too weak to keep myself upright.

    “B-but...” I try while she keeps going, unable to distinguish her message. The world blurs, undulates, and my eyes get heavy…

    ---​

    Day four. Yeah, I guess I’m counting the days now.

    I got up like every previous morning and saw that the beast was still asleep. Maybe it prefers to sleep because its hunger can't bother it in dreamland.

    But differing from the other days, I felt something on my wrists and ankles. A stinging, a heat. I pulled back the sleeves and pant legs and saw red marks around the joints. Burns.

    “Did you sleep well?” asks Jade. She arrived just a moment ago.

    “I don't know. I don't remember,” I say quickly. “But I woke up with burns.”

    “Burns?”

    I show the red bracelets on my wrists. She leans in, gawking at the marks.

    “It's because of the treatment, isn't it?” I add, holding a one-sided gaze with her surprised eyes.

    “Well, they restrain the limbs in order to prevent injury while the seizures take place, but...” She tilts her head. “They shouldn’t be using anything that could cause that.” She answers my stare. “I’ll talk to them. In the meantime, do you want me to open up the bathroom? For some cool water?”

    “It’s fine,” I grumble, rolling down the sleeves. “It's unlikely to have any effect this late.”

    “Alright then…”

    I sigh, sitting down on the floor. She follows suit. Hm… she's eager to please. Maybe I should game this...

    “You know,” she starts, “you might be taken off the treatment if you behave well enough.”

    Oh, here's a good spot. “Like during the hours I can't remember because I’m essentially sleepwalking?”

    “Well, yes --”

    “They just want me to be easy to take care of. They don't actually want me to feel better, do they?”

    “I --”

    I lower my voice. “They're erasing me, Jade.”

    Grrhhh…

    Is the beast waking up? I give it a panicked glance, but see it only lying on its side, eyes closed. Its foreleg twitches. Must be dreaming.

    “What was that?” whispers Jade.

    I let my shoulders relax. “Nothing. Just the beast growling in its sleep again."

    A brief silence arises. If the beast’s slumbering scrapings at the floor can't be counted.

    Then Jade’s face lights up again. “Right, I brought you something!" She scrambles upright, skitters to the wall and drags out a cardboard box about the size of a meowth. “It's a present.”

    She reaches at the wall again, pressing something that apparently opened up a niche on her side as she shoves the box into it. Another press, more whirring and a couple seconds later, a recess appears on my side, containing the box.

    She grins. “Go ahead, open it."

    I draw the box out slowly. Not too heavy. What’s in it, real food? I sniff it. Can't smell anything. I think I hear Jade giggle.

    With cautious fingers, I lift off the lid. Inside, there's white velvet and --

    Him.

    I didn't even realize how much I missed Him.

    “You like it?” Jade asks, but I hardly need to answer as I grab Him out of the box and clutch Him against my chest. "I asked your family what you'd like…"

    It’s warm and soft and fuzzy, nothing like He really is, but it doesn't matter. It has His blue and beige and eyes and tentacles and shell. His image. That's all I need to see how terrifying this situation truly is and how vital His presence is to help me feel okay.

    I’ve spent four days in this featureless cage with no knowledge of the outside world. Could a mere recurring dream really have this much detail and continuity? Could it really block my memories of my life awake this effectively? No, it couldn't. This is illusion, madness or worst of all, reality. I’m not getting back to my old life. It's all gone now. The real Him - cold and wet but authentic - will never show Himself to me again. All I have is this fake, but thank fuck I even have this, as with it I can still remember what it's like to have something to hold and love. Love… something I've only ever been able to feel with Him.

    “Are you crying?” Jade sounds worried.

    I sniffle and press my heated, reddened face onto the light brown fabric mimicking the surface of his shell. I hug the plushie tighter. My tears seep into the beige, dyeing it just a tiny bit darker.

    “I’m glad you like it,” Jade whispers.

    She gets up and walks to the wall. I look at her, eyes moist and miserable.

    “You should eat,” she says and presses the button, dispensing the breakfast. “I know the treatment scares you, but it has to be done, and it's better on a filled stomach.”

    As I'm still not moving, she returns to me and crouches. “I will talk to them, I promise. I’ll find out what caused your burns and tell them to fix it.” She places a hand on the glass. “But they're more likely to be co-operative if you're co-operative, so…” Her emerald eyes focus on the bowl.

    I sigh through my nose. After a lengthy blink, I make my way to the recess, Him under my arm. On arrival, I stop. I look at the plush.

    “No one is going to take Him from you,” Jade says. “He’s all yours.”

    A faint smile forms on my lips. Her I know I can trust. I allow myself to set Him down and grab the bowl to begin my lackluster meal.

    ---​

    Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep?

    What's that noise? Why is there noise? The cube is quiet. Is someone talking?

    “...ook at th…”

    “...s he waking up?”

    “...ctor, the patient is waking up!”

    I try to move, but something's keeping me down. The pressure on my burns flares up and I’m momentarily scared off from trying again. I grunt and realize something’s filling my mouth - a mouthguard.

    I open my eyes and try to make sense of the blurry environment. There’s not much there but a white roof and tall white figures swaying… are those people?

    “I’ll just amp up the anaesthetic,” says one of them and leans away.

    “Don’t bother,” interrupts a voice.

    “What?”

    “We already added the cushioning on the cuffs,” the voice continues, riled up. “This isn’t a spa. We house psychos here. I’m not wasting extra gas on this jackass. Let him feel pain.“

    “Doctor, I don’t think --”

    “You’re honestly gonna defend the bastard? You’re gonna be like Haruna?”

    “But they’ll find out, and some human rights committee’s gonna flay us for it!”

    “Oh, oh, but here’s the thing,” says the doctor. “Human rights only apply to humans. Now fire ‘er up.”

    A distressed sigh can be heard, and then a click --

    It’s so hot. It’s too hot! It burns! I can’t breathe. The air is too thick. Is it water? Am I underwater? I feel the pressure. It’s crushing. I can’t see. Or I can see, but nothing makes sense. There’s too much. It’s still so hot, constricting. Something’s coming. Closing in. I can’t see anymore. I can’t --

    ---​

    “Red?”

    I’m not answering.

    “Red, talk to me.”

    I hug Him tighter. The burns scream pain.

    “Please tell me what's wrong.”

    Jade stands behind the glass wall, her hands are clasped. She stares back at me, yearning for a response.

    But no. I don't want to bother. I don't want false hope anymore. I don't want to be smashed down onto the concrete of disappointment again. Just let me lie down on my face, don't yank me up for another round.

    They're not going to let me out. They're going to keep doing this to me until I’m dead or my soul is, leaving behind an empty husk that won't complain or cause any trouble.

    “Is the beast doing something?”

    The beast isn't doing anything. The beast actually isn't even here. It's gone, though probably not for long - it’s appeared out of nowhere before, it can do it again, no matter how hard they shock me.

    Jade lowers her voice. “Did the treatment cause something again?”

    “Haruna!” someone shouts out of view. Maybe the same guy as last time, maybe not. “Treatment’s soon, chop chop!”

    My fingers clutch His fabric like a noctowl’s talons on a fresh kill. It's not too long until they'll dart me again. So, will I wake up to endure another vortex or back in this bed to discover another new injury?

    “Only a minute!” Jade calls back and pushes the food dispensing button. “Please, Red, I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wr-”

    “They'll just make it even worse!” I snap, just to shut her up. I feel bad right away. I shouldn't yell so loudly right next to Him.

    “What did they do?”

    I stay silent. The pebbles clink to the bowl.

    Jade turns around. “What the hell did you do?” she shouts.

    She cares so much about me. Why? Is she really so naive that she believed everything I told her without a doubt in her mind? Doesn’t she know people can and will lie, especially when their life is on the line?

    Maybe she does know I’m lying, but still cares about me. She’d be the first. The first to ever really understand. Could I tell her the truth?

    “You have ten seconds to get him to eat the food before he’s tranqed!” the voice declares.

    That’s fine. I’ve lost my appetite.

    Jade continues to argue back, but I stop listening and fall back onto the bed. My heart’s going crazy, but that’s just the primitive side of me thinking there’s a way out of this mess and I should run straight for it. I stroke one of His fuzzy tentacles with my thumb and close my eyes. At least He’s here.

    The seconds run out and a fwip stings my neck, pulling me back to the abyss of the unconscious.

    ---​

    Oh, good. I didn’t wake up during treatment this time, it seems.

    But it’s not bright… it’s oddly dark for this room. Is it even the room? Am I back?

    I jerk upright, fueled by a spark of optimism, but… no, it’s just the cube again, only dimmer. Dispirited, I’m ready to lie back down - but something moves in the darkness.

    The beast? No, too small and the wrong shape. I think that’s human? Why would they have someone in here? They know I’m dangerous. Maybe...

    “Jade?” I breathe.

    The silhouette winces and turns to me. It looks like a man in the same attire everyone else wears here.

    What should I do? Should I try to take him hostage? They still have the darts and I don't know where they come from… I can't credibly threaten to harm him with us two under the bed, it couldn't even fit both of us… and if I fail, I’ll have to deal with the personnel hating me even more, which will lead to more pain…

    Grrhhhh…

    Two rings of striking yellow appear behind the man.

    No. No, you're only going to get me in trouble. Don't do it. Go away!

    The man finally realizes something's off, but it's too late. In a flash of pearly teeth and onyx talons, the human’s arm is torn clean off.

    The man collapses and begins a scream, but doesn't get to hold it for long as the monster's paw stomps down right on his face. A crunch is heard as the nose cartilage is crumpled, promptly followed by a snap when the neck twists too much too fast.

    Elated to finally receive some real food, the beast chomps further into the arm and begins to chew, not differing much from any ordinary snubbull given a stick-shaped treat. It leaves the rest of the body ignored for now… but it's got so much flesh, so much blood, so many organs…

    I slip out of bed and creep to the carcass. The beast doesn't mind. I suppose I’m like a tiny scavenger to it, a murkrow to an entei.

    Blood gushes out of the severed shoulder, pooling into a dark, red mirror on the floor. I reach over the corpse and dip my fingers in the fluid. Warm, sticky… smells like iron… and it looks so good on my skin.

    I smear it on my whole palm and slather it on my neck. Yeah. Yeah, this feels good. It's been too long. The other hand joins in and the red mess spreads on my face. Some of it gets on my lips. I lick it, and I… I realize just how hungry I am.

    I pounce on the open flesh, bite into a clump of muscle and rip it off. Fuck, yes! This is what I’m supposed to be eating. I’m no pet, I’m a predator!

    Spine slithering in exhilaration, I bite into more of the crimson tissue and pull it into my mouth, my throat, my stomach. It warms me from the inside out, hot like a charizard’s flame.

    The taste, while nothing to praise by human standards, digs into my tongue and enslaves me. It's the flavor of life, sustenance, the cruelty of nature and the creatures evolved to play by its rules. And I must obey.

    “Red, stop!”

    Jade?

    She’s behind the glass. It’s bright now. When did it get bright? When did the wall open up?

    The beast is gone. There’s no trace of it. No arm, either. I look back down. Just an unconscious man, still breathing, still two-armed, only one sleeve ripped and a wound on the skin. A modest bite mark, leaking a little red.

    I twist back to Jade. Wide-eyed Jade, transfixed by this scene, this incriminating scene. I shouldn’t lose her trust. I have to lie now.

    I bare my pathetic dull teeth. “Grr-rrhhhh...” That’s right. I’m the beast now. It took over and the Red she knows had nothing to do with this.

    “Grrrhhaaahhhhhh...” I keep snarling, back arched. She takes a step back. “Rrrhhhh-”

    Fwip!

    I go limp. Thank you. Finally the dart does some good.

    With growling breaths, still loyal to my ruse, I doze off into the darkness.

    ---​

    Awake again. My pulse speeds up. Did she buy it? I get up to ch-

    Hey. Hey! My arms are stuck. Don’t tell me…

    I squirm out of bed and look down at my chest. They did it. They fastened the straps.

    “I see you’re awake,” I hear Jade say. “Beast.”

    She’s behind the glass - the wall must’ve opened up already - and she does not look happy. I don’t know what her expression is, actually. Like the other nurses, her gaze is void of soul and her arms hang relaxed by her sides, uncannily calm. It doesn’t suit her at all.

    I check the cube for the beast, and it seems it’s not here. The man attacked isn’t either. All that’s left behind of the incident is a small red smear on the floor.

    While I worry I know why Jade's acting this way, I still need to ask. If I stick to my story, I may be able to minimize the damage.

    I stare into her eyes as innocently as I can. "Hey, what's going on? Why am I all… strapped up?"

    "You can quit pretending," she spits, ill-fitting disdain on her face. "I know there's no beast that controls you. It's just you. It's always been you."

    Fuck, my little beastly act didn't convince her. I guess that also means she actually believed me before. How can she be gullible enough for that, but too skeptical for this?

    Maybe I'm misreading this situation. I should still keep up my facade for now.

    "What are you talking about?" I ask. "Did… the beast do something?"

    "Don't lie to me!" she snaps. "I saw it in your eyes… you were fully present. You knew what you were doing. Everything was intentional." Her fists close up, marking the first motion she’s had so far outside of her face. “You're a monster.”

    Saw it in my eyes? That’s absurd. How could anyone tell something like that from someone just by their eyes?

    Still, I don’t want to lose her. She's the only one on my side in this hellhole. I need to keep trying.

    “Jade…”

    “Nurse! Haruna!” she shouts, starling me. “You don't get to use my first name, you fucking freak! You ruin people's lives, come here to live on taxpayer money, and still you think you count as human? You deserve pain! You deserve to be hurt, you… you scum!”

    Freak, scum, not human… well, this is familiar. It's what they all say when I do something they don't like. Because I'm not like them, I don't even deserve to live...

    Jade, are you really just another one of them?

    She stomps closer. "Don't you have anything to say? Anything at all?"

    Well… I don't know. You're not going to believe any lie I could give, and the truth…

    ...maybe, actually. Maybe she could understand. It's not like I have anything left to lose, anyway…

    I walk right up to the glass, right in front of the infuriated woman. She's a full head shorter, but her significance is enough to still make her intimidating.

    I take a deep breath and pose the question. "Do you want to hear the truth?"

    "The truth?" She crosses her arms, no less enraged. "Yeah, sure, I could go for the truth for a change!"

    Alright. I hope you'll appreciate it.

    "All my life," I start, "I've been… terrified."

    Jade's eyebrows lessen in their angle. She's actually listening.

    "Terrified of how short life is, how death comes no matter what, how the time until then should be spent enjoying whatever you have…"

    I suppress the panic I'm all too familiar with and lock away the image of the abyss.

    "But enjoyment has never been easy to attain for me," I continue. "Other kids got plenty of joy and purpose from their friends and family, but me… I didn't feel anything good. Being around other people could only annoy or anger me. Some kids even made that into a little game, a game that naturally only got me in trouble…" Man, now I remember Craig, what a piece of shit. Anyway…

    “I tried to stick to myself and my own delights, but gradually, I became more desperate. I realized I was stuck in a civilization I didn’t fit in, losing more and more of what little happiness I could gather. Until… I met HIM. The fossil.”

    I smile briefly, remembering the hope HE gave me at my lowest. “HE was the first and only one who understood my problem, and HE had something even better - a solution. In exchange for my servitude, HE would grant me eternal life and peace of mind. And this servitude was barely a price with what it brought me. As HE trained me to become a fitting vessel, I gained knowledge, skills, a healthier body. And when HE had me kill those women to prove nothing held me back… I discovered a spring of joy that never dried.”

    I notice I’ve sank into my thoughts and let my head droop. I raise it back up. Jade still stares at me, but now… is that sympathy in her eyes?

    Does she understand after all?

    “Wow, Red...” she whispers.

    She gets it. She’s the first human to get it. Finally, I’m not alone --

    “You’re fucking dense.”

    “What?”

    “You’re so dense I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she sneers, a smile forced on her face by sheer contempt. “You think you’re the victim? That you’re the one who’s been wronged?”

    What? Oh, come on.

    She giggles. I didn’t even know people could giggle out of anger. “You murdered people. You tortured them. Did it never occur to you that they may have had problems of their own?”

    “They?” I growl. “They’re them. They have the whole world to them! I won’t throw away my chance at happiness for people who get it for free!”

    She merely laughs. Then she heads for the wall.

    I push my face onto the glass to see her better, but find little success. “Where are you going now?”

    “I’m gonna try to make you understand,” she answers out of sight. “I know just the way to do it.”

    She returns, holding --

    Oh fuck.

    I never did see Him this morning.

    An unsettling grin frozen on her face, she shoves Him onto the glass, right in front of me. “You love Him, right?” she says through her teeth. “That part wasn't pretend, was it?”

    “Give Him back.”

    “You had something you could love, yet you say you were still miserable… how wouldn’t it be possible for others?”

    “Give Him back!”

    “You’re just like the people you hate, yet you simply can’t get that through your skull…”

    She slips her left hand to her pocket and pulls out a -- a scalpel.

    With her thumb, she pops off the plastic guard. “But this’ll teach you.”

    The blade sinks into the azure fabric, ripping in a wound. Off-white wool puffs out. Now it's changing color at the edges. It's dyeing blue. Dark blue. Omanyte blood blue.

    “Don't get it yet?”

    Again. She stabs Him again. In the eye. He bleeds again. That's not wool. That's flesh.

    Face stone, I stare into her eyes. There’s no connection. We’re not the same species. She's an animal, a machine, a natural disaster.

    “This is what they felt when they realized you were going to kill them,” she says.

    Again.

    “This is what their parents felt when they heard you took their daughters.”

    Again.

    “And this...”

    She plunges the blade deeper than ever before. She swipes it through what little still kept Him in one piece, and half of Him falls to the floor. Splat. Grayish mush and blue stains.

    “...is what your mother felt when she realized she'd given birth to an abomination like you.”

    For ten beats of my heart, my mind is blank.

    On the eleventh, a thought appears, and I speak it.

    "I'm gonna kill you."

    She laughs. “Oh, really? How do you plan on doing that? In case you forgot, you’re trapped in there, and I’m over here!”

    She’s saying facts, but they don’t register.

    “I’m gonna hurt you so much.”

    “It’s not gonna happen, Red! Just admit your defeat! You can’t do anything to me!”

    Grrhhh.

    No. I don’t want to deal with you right now. I’m having a shitty enough time as is.

    Jade continues her ridicule. “And even if you did somehow break through and do to me whatever your sick little mind pleased, what’s that gonna change? You’re just gonna be captured again and put under even more security!”

    Grrrrrhhhh...

    “And even if you managed to beat everything they threw your way, guess what? You’ll still keep being the miserable pile of shit you are! You’ll still live a terrible life because you’re you! And you’ll die, Red! You’ll die and cease to exist like any other human, just like the rest of us, with the only difference being that no one will miss you!”

    Grr-

    "Shut the fuck up, you stupid mutt!" I snap, turning around to face the monster that's appeared. I'm not even fucking afraid anymore. It's just a dumb drooling animal - no, image of an animal created by my brain for who knows what reason. I may not know what's real and what's fake in this scenario, but in no possible combination is this thing actually here.

    "You don't even exist!" I yell at the beast's snarling face. "Nothing you do matters! You're a waste of thought! What makes you think you have the fucking right to interrupt?"

    It barks and arches its back. What now? Is it going to attack? Yep, it's pawing the ground, it's about to charge. I feel like I may have fucked up. If it hits me, it's still going to hurt, and that's not a good thing. Oh shit, here it comes --

    In a flash of instincts, I leap to the side, barely missing the oncoming creature's horns. No arms to break my fall, though, I land roughly on th-

    CRASH.

    A heavy thud. Loud clattering. Did it…? But that's not...

    I flip over to get a look of the glass wall. A large hole has appeared, framed by jagged shards and slithering cracks.

    On the other side lie three figures - a ripped up omanyte plush, a wriggling lump of fur and underneath it, the body of a woman. Immobile.

    The beast soon finds its way back onto its feet. My breathing halts, but the monster doesn't come for me. Instead, it looks around, piecing together what just happened, then scrambles off like mad. It… must have realized it was free, and now it wants to find a way out of this place. Freedom was worth more than food…

    I don’t understand what just happened, but it seems like I may be able to escape now, and I have to take that opportunity no matter what. It takes a while without arms as help, but I manage to get back onto my feet and rush to the hole in the glass. I reach my leg over the lower edge, and to my great delight, no invisible border blocks it. The glass really is broken.

    I step through, watching out for the shards on the floor, and check Jade. She’s limp and her eyes are out of focus. No breathing I can detect from afar. She seems dead, but if she’s not, she’s still unconscious and I won’t be able to get any response from her for a good while. In other words, she’s useless to me now.

    But what’s not useless is that glass - while every second spent here decreases my chances of escaping, I can use it to cut this straitjacket and free my arms.

    Knowing it’ll be well worth the time investment, I do exactly so. I end up with a couple of annoying cuts from being hasty, but none that should severely handicap me. Now, where the hell do I go? That white door next to me? It might lead to a room with a window in it. Worth checking out.

    I crouch one last time to nab the scalpel on the floor and shove the door open. It seems like some kind of break room. Smells nice. Has a window to the outside. Of course they’d have comfort like this right next to my cold cell.

    Before I enter, a small part of me tugs at my brain. It wants me to take Him with me. I glance at the plush, seeing exactly that - only fabric. While if I escape, I’ll be able to meet the real thing…

    Some noise comes from the end of the hallway. Shouts, tumbling. I need to go now.

    I dash through the room, open the window and leap through. Before me opens up a large field of gravel with a tall wire fence in the distance separating it from a forested area. The little rocks beneath my socks sting as I run onwards, but it’s a welcome sensation after being confined to nothing but unnatural smoothness. Together with the cool, fresh wind and blue, open sky, it tells me freedom is near.

    Bang! Bang! Thud!

    What’s that? It came from behind. Do I want to check, spend energy on turning my head? Do I even want to know?

    Scraping and thumps follow, slowly getting louder and closer. Are those steps? They aren’t human. Is it a mon, or... oh shit, is it coming for me? Run faster, faster, shit, I’m already going as fast as I --

    The thumping reaches its peak as a black mass appears at the edge of my sight - and passes me. It’s the beast, and its eyes are firmly fixated on the fence. Yes, with its bulk it can barge right through! It can free us both!

    Only a few dozen meters left. Come on, run! You can do it! You can do it, you magnificent monst-

    Fwip - fwip - fwip - fwip!

    Red darts stick into the beast’s flesh. The beast loses its footing and collapses. Its languid body slides a meter or so, setting off a cloud of dust.

    “No!” I scream. I nearly choke on my spit right after. I shouldn’t have said a thing, I shouldn’t be wasting energy on anything but running in general, but I just couldn’t stop that. But does it even matter? Can I even get away now that my personal battering ram has been taken out of the equation?

    I have to try, don’t I?

    My legs waver and my lungs burn, but I push myself for one last sprint. I can still do it, can’t I? There’s barbed wire on top of the fence, but that’s only pain. I’ll power through. I’ll climb that fence and reach that forest. I have to. I have to…

    Fwip - fwip - fwip!

    No! No! Not the darts! They pierced my skin, I felt it, they’re going to kick in, no, no, let me get away, I’m so close, only a dozen meters --

    My legs give in. Gravel stings my chest and face. No. Get up…

    I push the ground with my palms. I lift my upper body, but my legs don’t cooperate when I tell them to move. If my legs won’t move, then I’ll crawl!

    I claw and pull with my hands, dragging my body across the gravel. No, it’s too slow. I’m getting weaker each second. My left arm doesn’t work anymore. Now the right… my vision is blurring, dimming, my eyelids can’t stay apart...

    Please, no… I just want to be free… I want to…

    ...live…

    ---​

    Am I awake?

    Well, there’s a bed beneath me and a blanket over me. Seems like it. It’s been a while since I last shut my eyes, I can tell…

    The carefree chirping of pidgey and spearow fills the air, along with the faint hum of wind and traffic. It appears I’m back in reality. So it was all just a dream. What a relief… but it does make sense, doesn’t it? It all really took a turn for the impossible at the end.

    Well, doesn’t matter. I have an actual life to live, so I should get up and start the day. Get some proper breakfast, do my morning workout. But that’s all going to be pretty hard if I don’t open my eyes, so that’s what I do.

    A radio stares back, surrounded by white.

    END

    ---​
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2019
  2. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    This sort of story isn't my usual fare at all, but beta-reading it was a fun and different experience and I'm glad I got to see some of your prose work in the process.

    Vivarium's content is mostly outside of my taste in prose, but it does have something I really enjoy: a fully formed villain protagonist capable both of behavioural modelling and manipulation, and of experiencing failure and humiliation. Red is a good read, albeit a disturbing one. He was more fun than I thought he'd be, considering the premise. I like how he has nuance to his madness. He persuades Jade that he's a victim of his delusions when in truth he's totally chill with them. You did a good job making him both raging and analytical - he's constantly resentful even as he's figuring out possible solutions to his situation and devising manipulations for the other characters. When a protagonist is truly reprehensible, it can be difficult to be invested in them. In Red's case, because he was so focused on universal and relatable desires for freedom and respect and so on, I got invested. The prose carries that well.

    In terms of narration, I have a mixed experience with Vivarium. There's plenty I like very much, such as the seamless incorporation of Red's thoughts, the intensity of key moments, and the use of pokémon for descriptive purposes. However, your prose has a tendency towards over-engineered descriptions, particularly of the characters' physical movements. For me, that's a definite weakness, but you may feel differently and I respect that.

    Overall, this was definitely worth a read, even being outside my prose fic inclinations. I'm not sure I'll read your other TPP works based on enjoying Vivarium, but it's at least put them on my radar!
     
    canisaries likes this.
  3. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Nice to see you posting something! I'd seen you in some AC threads, but I wasn't sure whether you'd end up sharing your work or not.

    It's cool to see a horror fic, too. There used to be loads of them around here, but it's a genre that's become a lot less common, unfortunately.

    So, from what I can tell, this is a story about Red, and presumably the Red from Twitch Plays Pokémon? Or maybe a fan of some in-world TPP variant, or something like that. One way or another, he's done some Bad Stuff and been committed to a psychiatric hospital.

    You do a nice job of the horror-y elements of this story. The bits where you want to get gross, like with the beast vomiting or Red going for (what he thinks is) the orderly's mangled body, you have a good, visceral way of describing the gory stuff. It can be really easy to go over the top with that sort of description, but you do a good job of making it actually unsettling through how it's described, rather than just adding copious amounts of blood or whatever the way some people do to try and make things scary. Likewise, I think you did a good job of alluding to the nature of Red's crimes without dwelling on them too much. That's another area where people get tempted to go into way too much detail, but you have a good sense for how much more creepy implication can be than stating things outright. In general, you have good restraint where it's necessary, while also getting into the messy details where it would enhance the story--generally a good horror "sense," I'd say.

    I also like the parts where Red's clearly trying to manipulate Jade. He's obviously used to this sort of thing and doesn't think of anyone else as a real person, but only an obstacle or, potentially, a tool to be used. If anything I'd like to see more of it; Red spends a lot of time kind of clinically assessing his situation, recounting what's going on in a detached way. That might be part of whatever psychosis he has, but the parts that were more interesting for me to read were where he was interacting with other characters, trying to push things forward, rather than considering the situation inside his own mind.

    The part where Jade gives red the omanyte plush was a fun spot of lightness in the otherwise grim story. I don't know whether you really meant for it to be humorous, but it made me smile. Makes perfect sense for Red's character, of course, if you take him to be kind of slavishly devoted to his religion, and also makes for a nice contrast to how he approaches everything else in the story. It's not that he's incapable of feeling attachment or happiness, but rather that what causes him to experience those emotions is off, and it gives a nice bit of extra dimension to his character.

    This story overall does kind of seem only tangentially related to pokémon, though. You bring them up in the way Red describes some things ("She's got kind of a natu face" was my favorite, paints a lovely picture in my mind), and obviously there's Lord Helix, but for the most part you could alter those references a bit and there'd be nothing to distinguish it from a story about any generic serial killer in a psychiatric hospital. I think it certainly stands on its own as a story, like you said in your notes, but I do think I might have been better off reading the stuff that came before it first. Presumably that would deal a bit more with how this Red differs from canon Red, and how we got from there to here. As it is I think it works just fine as fiction, but it was a little distant from the source material to give me what I'm usually looking for in fanfiction.

    The psychiatric hospital setting works best at the beginning of the story, I think, where it's not clear whether it actually is a dream. There the bizarreness of stuff like the pellets instead of actual food and Red getting darted whenever he needs to get put down for the count adds to the creeping feeling of something being wrong that pervades the start of the story. From what I can tell, though, you meant for that stuff to be real? It kind of undermines things for me, because it strikes me as a little over the top. Like, yeah, there have been some horrible abuses perpetuated at mental institutions, but the staff here seem cartoonishly evil and things just don't feel like how they would realistically be able to work even at a badly-managed facility. Of course, a lot of those elements might be all in Red's head, and things might have in fact been a lot more normal, but as it is the presentation fell a bit flat for me.

    I'm as baffled as Red at what makes Jade change her demeanor so suddenly at the end. The shift seems to come out of nowhere. It was cool to bring Lord Helix (plush) back into play there--I'd actually just been wondering where it had gone off to.

    Some minor notes on the prose:

    Looks like you couldn't decide how to work the end of this sentence.

    I think you might want to consider using "said" more often. You often look like you're kind of reaching for what speech tag to use and settling on some sort of unusual choices. "Said" is nice and invisible and won't distract from the actual dialogue itself. Some examples of that:

    It's clear that he's interrupting from how you've framed his dialogue, so what do you gain from using that as a speech tag.

    Again, Red's statement is an assertion, so I'm not sure what value you're getting here that "said" wouldn't provide.

    "Rushes to assure" is just kind of clunky in general.

    Missing a space after "knives,". Something spellcheck should be able to catch for you!

    Should be a question mark here.

    In any case, it's great to see you posting stuff here! Hope you'll add more soon. Also, completely unrelated to the story itself, the story banner looks really cool!

    I don't know if you're looking for anything to read, but if so I think you'd enjoy Sike Saner's work. Her one-shot "Starlight" is a super quick read that shows off her horror-writing abilities, and The Origin of Storms features lots of grusome transformations, characters doing horrible things, as well as some awesome humor and worldbuilding. And if you're interested in getting more feedback, check out the Review Game; help another author out, and receive a review in turn.
     
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  4. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Thank you for giving the oneshot a read, and I'm glad you seem to have liked it!

    I can see that, and I've thought about it myself a lot as well. However, the other stories in the same universe take a lot more from Pokémon (for example, Hunter, Haunted prominently features a Yamask, which is actually the same ghost referenced here) and... well, I've come this far and it'd be impossible to retcon so much now.

    Oh, I actually intended for it to seem partly/totally fake. You're completely right about the staff being way too rude, and the architecture is super odd. It indeed is largely influenced by Red's own fear and misconceptions.

    Fixed. That probably happened as I re-edited it a couple of times.

    Fixed - though I just tested spellcheck on it and it didn't complain. Odd.

    Fixed!

    Those reading suggestions you gave sound rather interesting, I'll give them a look. Once again, thanks, and I'm hoping to post more stuff here once I finish it!
     
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  5. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    I will be honest, I came here for Review game :p
    Also, take this as a review from a person who knows next to nothing about TPP. I know Red is a murderer and in love/worship relationship with Lord Helix, at that is it.

    Just like @unrepentantAuthor said, this kind of story is not my cup of tea. That doesn't mean it is bad (just that I dislike stories with villain protagonists who are realistically evil).

    On the contrary I really, really liked your writing style! You know how to set up correct mood for a bizzare story where the protagonist is nervous or unsure what will happen, which was required for the first half of the story to work (Is this a nightmare or a reality? What they are doing to me when I lose my consciousness?). You achieved this specifically by focusing on seemingly unimportant details (getting up from the bed, feeling dizzy, talking about everything being white etc.) and prolonging the story part before the point of getting some answers. The unhelpful nurse character who preceded Jade helped to keep the athmosphere mysterious and ominous even. I think it is very well written (in fact it will be even more suspensful to readers who are not familiar with TPP - they might assume Red is innocent and are therefore in for a twist).

    Second part is where the "disturbance" really kicks in. And I am of course not talking the gore and the mostly offscreen murders, but rather Red's mind and his attitude to what has happened and is happening. Red is really written like he has mostly despicable traits, and when in the ending he is told to his face exactly how much disgusting he is, it feels like justice and average reader will probably agree with it (I didn't expect that to happen in the end, but it felt right because of how much I dislike Red in this universe). This is despite the fact Jade was not exactly professional nor very nursely in her last moments.
    If you want the story to be more approachable to non-TPP audience, I recommend adding some extra paragraph to the second half to explain about Michi - I have no idea who that is besides obviously another victim (if there is any significance, it was lost on me). Maybe a very brief flashback, that explains why is s/he important to Red to remember their name?

    The story has sort of open ending in that we are never sure if it was very vivid, long dream that look realistic, or if Red is indeed institutionilized. I think this was a good thing (despite me prefering close endings and getting all the answers), because it is fitting the style and plot of the story - it is bizzare from the beginning to the end (in a good way).

    If you ever write anything else than TPP or horror stuff, ping me because I want to see more of your style ;)
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
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  6. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    You're correct - although I feel like I'm required to add the murderous Red thing is nearly exclusive to me, so I don't end up misrepresenting the TPP canon (more than I already do).

    Yeah, I suppose it's the cross I or any other writer with immoral protagonists have to bear. They're not that easy to jump into.

    It's good that you liked Red's callout, I felt like it was overdue as I hadn't managed to let an average person's view clash with Red's own head-on before.

    Jade's behavior towards the end I remember intentionally making as conflicting with her earlier appearance as possible. I've... unfortunately forgotten the core reason for this, I think it was to hint towards a certain subtext which does not seem to be as clear now that I'm skimming through this story again a few months after writing it. Subtlety is hard.

    The Michi part's indeed a tricky one... I didn't want it to take too long, but I wanted it to be there since I felt like Red would logically think about her at that point (since she's rather important in Hunter, Haunted, the events of which happened right before this piece). Unfortunately Michi's role is pretty complicated in HH and it'd take more than a paragraph or just simply be too much of a detour for the story. Maybe I should just remove the reference to her entirely. Red's not in the best state of mind here, anyway.

    Consider your statement mentally noted - I'm actually very close to starting a lighter PMD story with an original cast. When I get some of that up, I'll let you know. I feel like it'll be able to gather a bigger audience than my edgier stuff with more obscure lore.

    Thanks for the review!
     
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  7. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    Ah! In my head, her "change" was totally natural. Realizing one has been fooled by the very person they were trying to help, feels like a total betrayal. She offered help where others just hated, and Red repaid her unusual rare kindness by accepting comfort when he didn't deserve any. It is like she took pity on a homeless person, gave them money, and the person bought a gun and shot her coworker with it. Any person would react with anger to this, because this too wrong on so many levels, as well as becoming personal in the moment you realize you just helped a monster to harm innocents (well her case was a bit different, but the emotions are similar: by comforting Red, she comforted a monster who killed innocents... it is as if Red has made her indirectly an accomplice).

    You try to be nice and instead you are played into becoming dirty. Of course you want to make the person pay for it, show them exactly how low they are, what is the magnitude of their crime(s). And the more noble your intentions were, the worse the betrayal feels. So yeah, Jade's tragic character arc felt realistic to me.
     
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  8. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Ah, never thought of it that way, I guess... I don't think I've been told that by any other reviews so far. This could be an opportunity for me, but then again, what makes Jade initially have that switch is pretty weak, even Red remarks on how it makes no sense.
     
  9. AmericanPi

    AmericanPi Write on

    Hi, I'm here for Missing Mod Madness, and since I prefer one-shots over chaptered fics I decided to check this out.

    I'll start with a compliment, and that is, wow this story really scared the crap out of me. My heart rate was through the roof as I read through it, wide-eyed and glued to my seat. I'd say that you wrote a very successful horror story, if that was your intention, because it was one of the scariest things I've ever read, ever. The vivid but not over-the-top descriptions of the gore, the beast, and otherness of the box were spine-chilling. The overall plot terrified me as well because I totally get how terrifying it is to feel trapped. Also, I was scared because I KNEW that there was bound to be a Tomato Surprise (i.e. a dramatic reveal) at the end and I was anticipating what it would be. I also find it a very smart choice to not have Red do anything in his "other world", i.e. the world he lived in before he was committed to a psychiatric hospital. That, among other things like the nurses not being able to see the beast, made me realize that the narrator was an unreliable one who struggled with reality.

    Speaking of struggling with reality, I also love how you made Red's full situation ambiguous and revealed it slowly, even though most of it was revealed in the scene where Jade broke down. At first I sympathized with Red because he was trapped in a terrifying recurring nightmare and wanted to escape, but as the story progressed and Red's real situation became gradually more apparent I hoped that Red would get what he deserved.

    However, there's a big, big issue with this one-shot, and that is its exploitation of the mentally ill for horror.

    For a long time, ever since around Year 2 of my clinical depression, anxiety, and addiction that have been with me since 2013, I've been wary of how people perceive and treat the mentally ill. Thanks to my mental illnesses I've come dangerously close to full-on psychosis serious enough to warrant a stay in a psychiatric hospital a few times (it happens around once or twice a year, even though I try my best to avoid it with various treatments). And honestly, having anything close to a psychotic episode is terrifying - you may not remember the full extent of it, but you know after the fact that what you felt during the episode were wrong, you hurt your loved ones, and you acted in a way that terrifies people. Thankfully I've never had to be committed to any residential psychiatric institution, but because of my experiences I feel that many mental illnesses - even the psychotic ones - should be treated like an illness. That is, the patient should be viewed as someone who is ill and should be treated with human decency as they are cured or treated. Sure, many people with psychosis commit atrocious crimes, but I'm in the school who believes that torturing and demeaning criminals doesn't make you a morally better person. And then there's the fact that many people with mental illnesses really are the victim rather than the criminal.

    So yeah, overall I'm a little tired of people exploiting mental illness to create horror. Framing mental illness as something scary really works against the perception of real-life mentally ill people, because even those with non-psychotic mental illnesses are affected. I FAR prefer realistic or even tragic depictions of mental illness, because mental illness of every kind causes a lot of pain to many people, patient and loved ones alike. You don't even have to humanize the patient if they've really done some heinous crimes, but I'd love to see more stories humanizing those affected by mental illness someway or another. Since Red is too ill (and immoral, as a matter of fact) to tell a realistic story from his POV, I'd love to see the damage Red's mental illness did to his loved ones, from Jade or someone else's POV.

    Overall, though, this was a great horror story. Jade is a kind and good character, and I really sympathize with her. I feel bad that I was effectively scared by Red's mental illness, but if you set out to terrify your audience you did a great job in that regard.

    Feel free to PM me if you have any questions.
     
  10. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    @AmericanPi Thank you for the review!

    You're actually the first person I've heard say something I've written scared them. Most I've gotten is being unsettled or disturbed. I'm still a little baby when it comes to writing horror, so that's a neat thing for me to hear.

    For the mental illness aspect: I'm no stranger to mental illness myself. I was diagnosed with depression and a personality disorder about a year ago and I'm very sure they'd been there for even longer. It was only a year ago that I finally realized that what I felt wasn't normal and I needed (and deserved) help. This entire thing has changed my perception of mental illness quite a lot and made me research the subject more to understand it, and myself, better.

    For the story and how it portrays mental illness, I can definitely see where your concerns are coming from. It can appear that it was written by someone ignorant of a lot of aspects of mental health and its treatment, but there's a simple (although external, so I apologize for that) explanation for it.

    The story is written from Red's perspective. Red, while it can't unfortunately be seen here, is a character beyond Vivarium, with him appearing in several others of my stories. It's in his character to have misconceptions on how mental health actually works, as the religious cult he's in teaches it in a rather black-and-white way. Or rather white-and-black, as the "evil" humans are said to be the strong ones and the compassionate are weak, making them hesitant to kill and causing them to be unable to make the hard decisions, yadda yadda yadda. But in summary, Red incorrectly believes all sociopaths enjoy violence and gore like him, when his affinity in fact is not caused by his condition, but only allowed by it due to him not being restrained by guilt. There are a whole lot of people out there who aren't mentally ill and still enjoy a good bloodshed - slasher audiences, for example. I'm one of those people too (well, sans the not mentally ill part, technically, but still within non-sociopathy).

    Additionally, the story is heavily implied to be either fully or partly unreal, because of dreams or hallucinations. Both of these elements are born from within Red's own mind, meaning they will be shaped by his own preconceived notions about mental health and how it's treated. He greatly fears being imprisoned, trapped and tortured due to his deviancy from society's norms, and naturally his crimes. He thinks in stereotypes rather than facts - white rooms, no windows, terrible food, rude nurses, painful "treatment". It can't be said which of these truly happen and which don't. Granted, real hallucinations usually aren't like they are in media, aka always so convincing that you can't tell if it was real or not after the fact, but that's one stretch I need to keep in order to maintain the mystery.

    I wrote Vivarium partly as an exploration of morality. Can you blame Red for what he does? Does he deserve pain? Why not or how much? What should be done with him? So on. I will admit that themes like these can override realism in the characters. The story is surreal by nature anyway, throwing yet another factor into the mix. Do know, however, that my other stories delve more into Red's character and feature him in a more normal environment with more normal interactions. One of these stories is currently being revised to make Red more grounded in reality, in fact. Furthermore, a future story is planned with more mentally ill characters that deviate from what Red expects.

    Hope this cleared things up somewhat, or at least convinced you that I did put research into the subject. Trivializing mental illness is not my intent, but something like it may happen despite my efforts, and I'm open to criticism on it.
     
  11. AmericanPi

    AmericanPi Write on

    @canisaries Thanks for your explanation. I think the one-shot did a pretty good job at standing on its own, but it makes sense that there's some Twitch Plays Pokémon/other story lore that I'm missing here and explains a few things about Red's condition. I totally understand that you didn't intend on exploiting or trivializing mental illness. Thanks again.
     
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  12. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Okay, so, in contrast to every other review you have in this topic I'm actually coming into this having read Hunter, Haunted in its entirety. Given that you ended that story in a very ambiguous way suggesting the possibility Red had ended up trapped in another hallucination, I can understand why you went with the rather ambiguous opening that you did. I'm not really going to speak much to the whole padded white cell thing or the use of electroshock treatment (which is rare and I say this confidently). This is a fic and one with a heavy dose of supernatural horror overtones. So, I'm not really bothered by the lack of realism in that department. It's reminiscent in some ways of these scenes in prison movies where someone is rotting away, their spirit crumbling into nothing. I think it works fine and choosing to spawn the beast in the second part is, I guess, an okay way of Red grappling with the "Am I dreaming?" thing and establishing how he, one again, isn't grounded in the slightest. Good job altering the prose, too. Red's much calmer in the first scene than he is in the second, where the beast appears. It shows.

    So then... I guess I should talk about Red and Jade. Their dynamic's the foundation for this oneshot, I suppose. Jade's basic premise isn't entirely original. There are pieces of media where you have someone incarcerated and they find a sympathetic staff member. Jade ticks off those boxes... including the "new to the job" and the "maybe gets a bit too attached to her charges" ones. I suppose the most interesting thing I got from them was the Helix plushie (just the thought of Red needing a security plushie) but, unless I misread something, the fact that Red seems most certain he's not dreaming when Jade is around. That was a bit of an interesting ripple, given his general disdain for humanity. Except that then gets turned on his head when Red starts to revert back to the norm and the subtlety goes out the window. I'm not really sure how to interpret the last scene with Jade. I think Red is in a dream/hallucination for the entire time Jade is there, and the first two scenes and ending are reality to some degree. Because, otherwise, Jade's shift in character is far too sudden a swerve and doesn't make a lot of sense to be anything other than a dream/hallucination. At least, I can give it credit for giving credence to Red having a massive fear of death and mirror H,H's comment about that. It's the best we've got as far as a motivation for his insidious actions. I can't compare it to the original ending, but I was fairly satisfied that Red either seems trapped in a real institution or within the confines of his own twisted mine.

    That's all I've got. I know it's not as concrete as my feedback for H,H, but I hope it was alright.
     
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  13. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Okay, so you probably know my thoughts on this already, but I’m going to try to expand on what I said and go into more detail as I go on. Short version, of course, I liked it, but long version, well, I guess you’ll have to see.

    It’s interesting reading this directly after reading HH, and while it pretty much spoils a lot of HH’s story, it’s also something that strangely enough could stand on its own. Red’s voice translates well to the context of a one-shot, and throughout, there is still that sense of Red’s warped mindset as well as some of the black comedy that comes with his voice. Since the story is literally one big dream (or is it?), it’s pretty much self contained, so I could see people unfamiliar with HH enjoying this.

    I think the most interesting parts are seeing Red vulnerable in a way that isn’t exactly touched upon in HH. In theory, it could serve as a great what-if scenario where Red faces the consequences for what he does, and seeing him reduced to such a state where he has to depend on a plush Omanyte for comfort is kind of sad in its own pathetic way.
    The thing I like the most about it though is how Jade and Red’s relationship progresses, and even if she’s only real in his head, I think she represents that lingering feeling of guilt Red might have had at the end of HH after marking Michi’s grave. That part where she stabs the plush version of HIM feels pivotal as it could also hint at parts Red really hates about himself, and how he tries to rationalise the weight of what he’s done through HIM.

    My main gripe about this story is that it’s a bit inconsequential. Since this one-shot is mostly a dream, not a lot ultimately happens in the end or adds much to HH in terms of progressing the story, even if they showed facets of Red’s character we might not’ve seen otherwise. It’s not really a technical fault, but just something that comes with the nature of this story. That being said, you ended it on one hell of a line, with the ‘radio staring back, surrounded by white’, so I was pretty pleased with that. It just reinforced the ‘personal hell’ element of this one-shot.

    So again, great stuff, and I’m excited to see what comes next in your TPP verse.
     
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