Smith gasps, his body jolting up from the rustic-patterned quilt on the room’s single queen-sized bed.
The first thing he hears is the ocean outside, gently roaring against the beach front clear in view from the partially curtained window that is nearly as tall and as wide as the wall it occupies. Despite how deathly complete his rest was, he is not fully, fatally alert. Much of this is owe to the fact that he has never seen this room before and has no recollection of what’s happened the night before.
Across the room, its coral-aqua stripe wallpaper flawless and new, lies a wide dresser with a mirror.
Smith sees himself in the mirror and can only stare.
It’s weird, he’s well aware, but he just can’t shake the feeling. He could have sworn he had an enormous, axe blade-sized gash in his head, that he was dead, a pile of washed human mush with his blood spilled and slashed across the ground for fifty meters in all directions.
But no. He’s okay.
He lifts himself off the bed and approaches the mirror. He’s only wearing a pair of cactus-patterned swimtrunks, and as weird as that is, he’s far more entranced by the fact that he’s unharmed.
“Just what the fuck…” he touches his face while he muses to himself while he feels himself over. “Just what the eff” indeed, Smith.
The sound of a door opens from beyond his own door.
With a skipped beat of the heart, Smith gets right to action. With light steps practiced from all the times he snuck beer from his dad’s mini fridge, Smith goes over to the nearest thing he identifies as a reasonable weapon: a mid-sized, bright red fire extinguisher, mounted up on the wall with its snow-white inspection tag and metallic safety pin both intact.
He edges up to the door, his trained athletic musculature constraining at the ready. Whatever it is sneaking up on him, it’s going to have a real cool surprise when he smashes its face in.
There’s a pause at his door when the something steps up to the knob, and it hesitates.
Smith holds his breath, then the doorknob slowly, slowly turns. He won’t give it the opportunity.
Grabbing the knob himself, he turns and pulls it open with such a speed that he pulls off balance whatever it is on the other side. In a blink-fast display of impressive athleticism, Smith throws the one on the other side through into his room, throws it down and collapses on top, holding them down by their neck with his left hand while raising his right arm to deliver some heavy fire extinguisher justice.
It’s Kimberly, and she’s not wearing much. Dressed in an exceptionally-cute, if old-fashioned flower-print bikini, her curvature lays vulnerable as it awaits the delivery of the fire extinguisher, which never quite makes it all the way down to her face.
Her pale skin is pressed into by his dark hand, the exchange of heat flooding through the two of them in a moment of breathless shock.
“Wh-” the fear on her face clears out to confusion. “Sm…ith?” she adds, squinting amidst the curdling awkwardness of the situation.
Smith looks her over a second more and pulls away off of her.
“Kim!” he starts. “Are you okay?” he says, reaching down to help her.
She takes his presented hand, and he pulls her up.
“Yeah, I’m fine… just… just wanted to figure out where I was.”
Smith turns for the doorway, now open.
The opening leads to a hall, lavished gloriously by the morning light of the seaside; refracting in an ethereal glow all across the condominium.
“Do you have any idea where the hell we are?” Kim asks.
Smith shakes his head while he sets the extinguisher over his shoulder. “No idea… what was the last thing you remember?”
Kim glances aside, her hazel eyes scanning along the off-white carpet while she reaches back into her mind.
“There was a… David… David was there.”
Smith scoffs. “Yeah, I bet he was,” he says with a calm but thinly-veiled sass.
Ignoring Smith’s attitude, her thin brow furrows in thought. “David and the…” she looks up in shock: “that newsletter.” Without a word more she starts out into the condo’s charming living room, scattered with all sorts of sailing and beach-life-themed memorabilia.
“Kim, wait!” Smith tags along behind her, bypassing several worrisome spots in the silent apartment that may or may not house a terrible predator. “Hell you mean: newsletter?”
She makes a round across the living room, and starts next on the kitchen, connected by a bar which overlooks the rest of the condo’s main living space. “It was a…” she tries to find the words while she opens every drawer and cupboard— even one of those neat rotating utensil cabinets. “That… author guy, and his newsletter… and we needed a computer,” she explains.
Smith stops in his tracks. “Hah, I’m sure. I’m sure.”
“No, for real, man. It was this four eyed asshole that chopped up everyone… chopped up… you.” She looks back to Smith with an incredulous gaze. He has no idea how to respond to being looked over like this, so he just stands still while she steps up and looking him over. Other than the fact that he’s in marvelous shape and looks great with his shirt off, all Kim figures out is that he is most definitely alive.
“Uh… but…” she looks away. “It couldn’t have been a dream.”
Smith smiles and places the extinguisher aside. “Kim.”
She looks around once more with bated breath, as if looking for someone rather than for an object. “I saw you die. I saw… I saw Storm, and Hogarth, and-”
“Kim,” he states again.
She wraps her arms around herself, the cool air of the condo gaining an eerily-chilly twinge for her in the moment. “This shouldn’t be possible.”
Smith sighs and steps forward encouragingly. “Kim. You need to listen to me. Nothing happened. Maybe we just… maybe we had a bad trip last night.”
Kim’s eyes snap up. “Then how do you explain it?”
He crosses his broad arms. “Eh, you know… nice host? Put us all in our own rooms? I mean, maybe one of the crew’s loaded and we just didn’t know. Isn’t Hogie’s dad like a… computer designer or something?”
She shakes her head again, stepping back with an unsure, creeping discomfort.
It’s so close. It’s so close she can feel it pulsing through her like a bass speaker.
“No it’s… that’s just uncanny… there was…” she slaps a hand into her forehead. “There was…”
Smith draws close and puts his hands around her smooth shoulders. “Hey. Let’s get out of here. I’m sure there’s a clinic nearby, or a diner, or something. Let’s just move out of here and get some fresh air.”
“There was… there was…” she mutters in the quiet, nice-smelling, bright and lovely condo.
Smith pats her and starts leading her for the door… the very moment some synthwave music enters their earshot its direction.
She looks up in horror, breaking away from Smith and backstepping to the edge of the condo while the music picks up.
“Kim! Hell’s wrong with you?”
“Don’t open the door, Smith!”
He smiles at her reassuringly while he himself steps back toward the door to the outside. “Come on. You were always excitable, but this is ridiculous. It’s perfectly oka-”
“Don’t you open that fucking door, Smith, I’m serious!” she says, wheezing in abject terror.
The shrillness and urgency of her voice causes him to reconsider, if only for a moment.
“It’s probably a guy playing music down the hall. You just need to see it for yourself,” he says, grabbing the knob tightly and turning it.
The door opens, and she sees it: the four, burning, hell-cursed eyes, frustrated endlessly from thousands upon thousands of hours of fruitless, thankless labor…
In a swinging flash the artist poltergeist sends its neon-glow fireman’s axe straight into Smith’s neck.
She screams, hard, but no human produced sound can overpower the sheer force of the electronic synthwave beats, pulsing through the room and vibrating the glass all around the scene. Kim dashes for the large sliding glass doors, corroded lock the only thing keeping her from the balcony.
With a crack and a splash, Kill separates Smith’s head fully from his neck before slamming its axe deep into the corpse’s body over and over, reducing the victim’s body into a confused mass of smashed gore.
In the seconds this buys Kim, she furiously runs her fingers along the salt-crusted mechanism that locks the two glass doors together. The years of wear on the lock from the sea winds have clumped onto and inside of it, making it exceptionally difficult to open despite using every ounce of her strength.
As the splattering sounds stops, she sneaks a glance behind her.
Kill’s coming her way, its four volcanic eyes searing its gaze into her soul. Kim begins hyperventilating, she starts forcing more and more into the lock, tearing her nails and bruising her fingers. Looking around for anything she could use, she locks in on the only thing close enough for her to stretch over for.
Coincidentally enough, it’s the condo’s only other fire extinguisher, snapping it up she paws gracelessly at the safety pin while Kill Bloodstain makes steady, anticipating steps in time with the dense synthesizer beats playing from all around them.
Finally she ticks out the pin and, with only a meter between herself and Kill, she throttles it with a flood of sodium bicarbonate.
Kill lifts up its axe for a swing, but due to its blinded state, doesn’t track onto Kim when she barrels aside to safety.
The axe goes through the glass, smashing it out and sending the rich, crisp ocean breeze storming through the entire condo. With a gutsy dash Kim takes off for the hallway and the door leading out of the condo. While Kill Bloodstain pauses a surprisingly casual second to wipe the extinguisher foam from its face, Kim has already leapt over the remains of Smith and leaves him a second time in the wake of horrible, four-eyed danger.
She finds herself overlooking a beach city with a river running through the middle. On the fifth floor of the building, she wastes no time in running for the elevator.
The synthwave dies down, the distance between her and that masked predator now just over fifty meters.
With a smack, Kim slaps the elevator’s down arrow before slouching to her knees to catch her breath.
“A-…again?” she asks herself, her eyes frozen down the open-air hall where she came from. She’s confused, clueless, and horrified. They were in a winter lodge, she recalls, and now, suddenly, there’s here. It doesn’t make any sense to her, but she knows she needs to look for the others. If Smith, who was killed at the lodge, was alive here just a minute ago, then perhaps the others are somewhere as well?
One thing rings clearest in her mind, however; Smith died first once again. The tropes are still in effect.
The elevator pings happily, and the doors open up to reveal Chad and Cindy, making out in the corner in a completely tasteless manner.
Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Kim enters without a pause; better to be safe with them according to her horror-movie knowledge.
“K-Kim!” Chad says, swinging around to reveal his layered, rippled chest, the only thing concealing his trained mass being a single, ironically-pink speedo.
“…Kim,” Cindy says with far less surprise, and a disgusted smoldering in her hazel eyes. Now that Chad’s peeled off of her, Kimberly can see she’s wearing one of those hilariously-stupid strip bikinis that are basically a bunch of white straps that just barely tag properly around one’s more private areas.
She slaps the “Close Door” button on the elevator, and clicks the button to the first floor. “Kill!” She shouts.
Chad draws back in concern and Cindy smirks.
“Are you… okay, Kim?” he asks. It’s clear he knows she isn’t.
The elevator starts moving, the whirr of the lines pulling them up, and not down.
“No, dude. It’s Kill, Kill Bloodstain!”
The two lovers glance at one another, one with fear, and the other with a simple, sassy raise of the eyebrow.
“Who the hell’s-”
“You too, huh?” Cindy says.
Kim and Chad look to her, and she shrugs.
“I mean, I didn’t think like, for sure that it was real, but I sure as hell don’t remember checking into this hotel.”
Kim nods. “It got Smith. He’s dead again.”
Cindy’s disgust of Kim, shaken from the realization, melts away totally now when she grabs onto Chad’s packed arm. “Oh, Chad!”
“Don’t worry, babe,” he says, his brainless ox protective reflect activating the moment he feels her press against him. “I had a dream where I totally fucked him up. He’s not that fast.”
Rolling her eyes, Kim’s gaze draws across the elevator’s digital floor number panel at the top of the door. Her sarcasm dies instantly.
“Wh- guys, why are we going up?”
Cindy smirks and Chad scratches his chin. “That’s uh… not important right now.”
“That’s where your room is, isn’t it?” Kim asks with a smile.
“Well, I mean I wanted to check out the pool, but it was way hot so I figured we-”
“We were gonna have sex,” Cindy says with a lavish smile, as if that would somehow make Kim jealous or something.
Kim shakes her head. “Yeah, well we have to escape, and this means we have to go back down.”
“So?” Cindy asks, her trim brow curving in.
“So,” Kim spouts back, “it means we have to back past my floor.”
“Cool, Kimmy, I’m happy you can see something extra in this that the rest of us common mortals just can’t, but for our sake could you please enlighten us?”
Kim looks at Cindy as though she’s stupid. “K-Kill could hit one of the elevator arrows, and it would open up on the floor, and it’d murder us all!”
Cindy slants her pursed lips while Chad crosses his arms. “Well damn, I guess that’s pretty reasonable, but I’m not backing down.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Chad,” Kim says, the elevator almost to the tenth story and their destination. “Don’t you remember how fast that thing killed you?!”
Cindy prods a finger possessively into Chad’s cinched abs. “Obviously you were dreaming, like we all were.”
“That doesn’t explain why we’re here with no recollection of why!”
The two girls step up to each other with contemptuous eyes. “It couldn’t have been something that killed us, I’ll tell you that. So what we had a dream where people died, it’s not like it’s real! Because we’re here, Kim. Check yourself.”
Kim seethes, stamping her foot in the elevator with a brash scoff. She faces them entirely, ensuring her point is made. They’re at floor 9 and rising. “And I’m telling you now the thing from our dream is out there and killing people! Sure, we’re alive now, but I just saw with my own two eyes that there’s more to this and you need to believe me!”
The doors open, and the moment she sees Chad and Cindy’s expressions shift to utter terror, she too can hear the slick synthwave beat in a low pronouncement; like a cobra coiled at the ready to strike.
Kim looks behind herself to see Kill Bloodstain, its axe crooked over its shoulder while it steps forward from the opposite hallway with a formal, professional grace. Each of its four godless cinders for eyes are locked on the trio.
“Oh-oh God,” Cindy stutters.
In a flash, Chad’s expression revolves around shock, to anger, and then confidence, but finally a realization. He looks scared.
“That fucker,” he mutters as if to himself, his breathing picking up as he finally recalls the Winter lodge. “He… killed me-”
“That’s right,” Kim notes with a cold aloofness as she, too, watches Kill march for their elevator. “And now we’re about to all get fucked.”
“Unless we run!” Cindy bleats as if the solution’s obvious. She darts from the elevator and makes a curt turn for the stairwell.
“Don’t!” Kimberly yells the moment the doors start to close.
Like a flicked switch, Kill Bloodstain’s synthwave music picks up in preparation for the “drop” in the song, its body moving for Cindy with a heedless, almost puppet-like dash, its axe flying high at the ready.
Cindy screams, and the music blares. The sheer velocity of the strike sends her blood flying out in all directions, just far enough for Kim and Chad to see the splatter from the angle of the closing elevator.
Reflexively, Kim’s pushed herself far, far into Chad, like a scared child into a wide, safe closet.
She feels the fast beat of his breathing rubbing against her, the high cadence of his heartbeat pulsing against her neck. There is a small part of her that does feel jealous of Cindy, now that she thinks of it, but Cindy’s dead, so haha.
“Uh,” Chad clears his throat. “You uh… you okay, Kim?”
She snaps from her trance to notice how hard she’s pressing against him, their skin deliriously warm on one another. With a cough, she backs away.
He’s not all that phased at Kim and her swimsuit. He’s obviously far more concerned with the fact that Cindy just got slaughtered. “Don’t…” he gulps, struggling with his own breath. “Do you think-”
“Yeah, ” she says, looking away to the now descending numbers of the elevator. “She’s gone.”
Chad’s piercing gaze trails off. “Jesus Christ, Cindy…”
“B-but don’t panic. We can get her back,” she says, refocusing on his face.
He looks over to her with a mark of indignancy. “Now’s not the time for jokes. She just fucking died, Ki-”
“No, really! The newsletter!”
Chad looks at her as if she hasn’t a shred of respect for what just happened, which budges her to reiterate.
“Like… like Kell Inkston’s newsletter. It stopped Kill the first time, and it brought you all back. I mean, it brought us here, but I’m sure that it will… reset it all, or whatever.”
He looks around with a dead gaze. “…The lodge… yeah… I don’t get it, but there’s something going on here and if what you say is true, then it has to be connected somehow.” His entire musculature flexes in determination. “I’ll get you back from the fucker, Cindy,” he mutters under his breath. He takes a moment to regain himself before turning back to Kim. “Don’t worry. We’ll do this together. Thanks Kim, you’re a real friend,” he says before giving him a big, muscly hug.
“O-oh! Uh, yeah!” she mutters. She can bet he’d be extra emotional to see Cindy die like that, she guesses, but it’s a little hard to guess anything when he’s holding her like this.
They hit the first floor, and it opens up to reveal the beautiful pool lobby, along with an awkward pair of dweebs.
Hogarth, in a lemon-lime colored binary-themed pair of swim trunks, and Jessica, in some mockery of one of those Japanese school swim suits one sees so often in their graphic novels, gawk at the two locked in the embrace.
“Cindy not quite doing for ya, Chad?” Jessica asks with that frozen edge of sass she’s so well known for in their little group.
“Wh- Guys!” Chad says without a thought to Jessica’s usual nonsense. “You guys need to listen right no-”
“Eh,” Kim starts while she pushes away from Chad. “It’s Kill Bloodstain.”
Jessica heaves in to deliver the quickest, sharpest comeback she can; something that would make Kim’s insides curl and make Chad realize he’s being insulted, but the name strikes her.
Hogarth and Jessica are quiet while the two step out from the elevator and into the lobby.
With a slow, measured motion, Hogarth pushes his glasses back up on his face.
“So it was real,” he notes.
Jessica’s expression is wide in shock. “That… that four eyed douche was… real?”
Kim nods. “It was the newsletter sign up that saved us, I’m sure of it.”
Again the two dweebs exchange awkward glances.
“I’m… I’m sorry, Kim,” Hogarth says. “I should have believed you the first time.”
Jessica just hums, peering through her spectacles around the lobby. Her unusually keen perception hones in on a small stream of smoke coming from one of the sitting areas, though all the tropical plant displays are blocking her view of the spot.
“Don’t worry about it. We just need to find a computer asap,” Kim explains, looking around for hotel signs that might clue the way to a business office.
“No time like the present,” Chad says, starting off in a random direction. “Let’s split up and start lo-”
“Huh,” Hogarth, Kim, and Jessica say respectively.
Chad looks to them with an indignant look. “What?”
“Haven’t you ever watched a horror movie?” Kim says. “Splitting up is the classic B-movie way to get killed by the monster.”
“…Are you serious?” Chad asks.
“Well, obviously,” Hogarth chimes in pretentiously. “Everyone knows that separating make it easier to build tension so the director can kill you off in a single scen-”
“Actually,” Jessica says with a leading tone, her eyes sharpening in a way far more perceptive than her usual attitude of complaining and accusations would have someone, even one of her close friends, expect her capable of. “If Kill Bloodstain went right out and killed us after we saw it, and it needed to travel each time, it’s probably closer to a ‘force of nature’ killer rather than a ‘jumpscare’ killer. If we split up it would probably have to track each of us down separately like a normal person would, and that would maximize our chances.” She explains this whole thing with a terse look, drawing deep from a knowledge of media and tropes that reaches deeper than everyone’s even deeper than David, who’s generally considered the be the best cultured of them all.
The two males exchange dumbfounded looks, but Kim’s expression flashes in brilliance. How could she have overlooked it?
“Jessica,” Hogarth says with a snort, “that’s totally ridiculous. We’re in a horror movie, it’s plain to see, and Kill Bloodstain’s obviously supernatural so it wouldn’t make sense for it to be so limit-”
“No,” Kim says with a clear tone. “We totally misunderstood it… this isn’t a horror, it’s a thrille-”
“Sup bitcheeeeeeees!” drones Storm from the side of the lobby, wonderfully enough right where Jessica saw the smoke from.
Everyone’s just a little displeased to see Storm, with the exception of Chad, who’s just genuinely happy he’s okay on the sole basis that Chad is just that kind of person, believe it or not. Kim doesn’t hate Storm, of course, she just doesn’t like seeing or thinking about him at any time of the day at all.
The four give their typical greetings as expected for greeting Storm while he swaggers up in his super tasteful and original weed-themed swim shorts, his lanky, paste-white body in competition with Hogarth’s for how doughy and soft it can be.
Such is the result of a sedentary lifestyle and plenty of weed brownies, Kim assumes.
“What do you remember from last night?” she asks him with a slant brow.
Storm employs his trademark “I’m pretty certain girls find this cute” laugh, and immediately repulses both females in the group with his nasally, awkward antics. Not these girls, Storm.
“Aww, ya know,” he starts with a bashful, put-on wave of the hand. “Just chillin’.”
Even Chad finds this distasteful.
“Really, Storm?” Hogarth says between a sigh.
He shrugs. “I mean, yeah!”
Kim scratches her head, Chad glances aside, and Jessica just puffs in sheer pathetic humor.
“What’s the matter?” Storm asks.
“Were you high that whole time?” Hogarth asks, looking over Storm and the red tint of his eyes.
“Pffft, duh. As if The Storm would come to any party empty handed! Am I right or am I ri-”
Chad’s glance aside, aimed out to the automatic doors which then leads out to the pools, wins him a slow wide look of alarm. He starts breathing heavily again.
“You are an unbelievable idiot,” Hogarth belts out with a tone of a parent to a child. “You shouldn’t smoke that garbage if you know it’s going to cloud your judgement. It’s not healthy and it’s not helping-”
“Guys,” Chad says in an awe-struck, gentle tone, which Hogarth readily ignores.
“-us figure this out at all. Think back through that weed-stained gray matter for a single second and tell me what you remember from last night,” he adds, putting an insulting emphasis on the key concepts of the message.
Storm scoffs at the little man, looks aside to makes his drawn out “heeeeeeh” noise like the last breath of some poor animal out in the African Serengeti, and shrugs.
“You know it was like… a lodge… sorta cold-”
“Guys,” Chad reiterates, getting the attention of the two girls.
Again, Hogarth raises his hand up at Chad dismissively. “Quiet. Storm needs to think this thr-”
Without a pause, Chad’s muscular arm locks around Hogarth’s cute squishy body, without an ab or bicep to be found. With a heave that’s almost unnervingly easy for him, Chad shifts all of Hogarth over so his head is pointing right at the pools.
Finally, Hogarth sees those four burning eyes. Kill Bloodstain fell several stories into the pools, climbed out, and now it’s on its way to say hello.
“Oh shit!” Hogarth spits. “Why didn’t you say something?!” he says, immediately pushing away the second he notices the subdued synthwave pulsing in a steady beat around them: a flickering modular noise, trailing off into the silence. It was just enough to be covered by the sound of the lobby’s fountain ambiance.
Kim realizes, bitterly, that they just committed the sin they were on the verge of paying proper respect to: groups will attract it, because it’s “cooler” to kill multiple people at one time.
The second they start running the synthwave gains its primary melody, a rising drum beat with the sharpest, deadliest snare drum any of the five have heard.
You can bet that the second the synthclap starts they all split up… all except for Storm, of course.
“Whoa, hey cosplayer dude. Where’d you go last time?” he asks along with his classic interrogative snort.
His body is anatomically separated from a downward stroke of the axe so fast, and so brutal, that it would split a car in twain.
From the corner of her hearing, Kim can hear the rapid, repetitive striking of the axe blade slamming into Storm’s corpse: she has no clue why Kill would hate them so much, but it must have something to do with the newsletter.
Dashing off with hardly a breath inside her, Kim reels her mind through the problem while her eyes search for anything that would lead her to a computer.
Rounding the corner of an identical hallway, she rounds a corner a little too fast and rams right into none other than David. The two collapse onto one another, her lips just a centimeter from touching his, and her softest places rubbing against his hardest.
But they both love cool fiction more than getting sexually frustrated, so they skip that part and go straight to the trying to survive stuff.
“W-oh! Shit, sorry!” she says, picking herself up immediately and helping him up.
He takes her hand while rubbing his collarbone. “Ah, Kim! Hey! It looks like we’re… somewhere else no-”
“Yes, let’s go!” she says, tugging him along.
Without hesitation, he follows her and matches the pace. “Sure, but what’s up?”
“Kill Bloodstain’s up!”
His features freeze in realization immediately. “So… so we’re not… done with-”
“No! He just killed like three people!”
“Wait… but why would it….” David’s brown-eyed gaze peers off with a ghastly, horrified expression growing across his face. “The curse.”
He grabs her by the shoulders. “The curse! The curse of Kill Bloodstain! It’s still active!”
Kim looks at him as though he’s stupid, which he is to some degree, but markedly less so than everyone else here. “Okay,” she states as if it were obvious.
“No, like, we must have done something, or one of us must have done something so plebian, so cultureless, so foolishly without taste, that it must have created some kind of… some kind of time loop!”
“Whoa,” Kim says with an impressed tone while she does the smart thing and tugs David along in the opposite direction of the lobby. “Like one of those Netflix shows.”
“E-” David looks perplexed for only a second before realizing she’s pretty much right “Exactly.”
“Dang, that’s kinda creatively bankrupt if you think about it,” she adds. “I feel like I’ve seen that a lot recently.”
David shrugs. He prefers books, but he’ll humor The Office from time to time. “Right, so someone must have done something horrible to garner Kill’s wrath. We need to find a computer right away… hold up, no we don’t,” he says, groping about his thigh to his right side pocket. He pulls up his smartphone.
Kim jolts in surprise at the weird sight. “Is that… some kind of cassette case?”
“What? No, it’s my Android.”
Kim’s eyes squint at the thought. “What’s a… oh!” she stops herself when she sees it light up in a shocking, colorful array of lights. “Is that a… phone?”
“Yeah,” he says with a smirk as he opens up his browser and navigates to kellinkston.com, where everyone knows slick and happening fiction can be found on the regular. “I’m on my dad’s plan, and he just got unlimited data.”
“S-…Sweet?” Kim blurts, unsure of what it means.
David scoffs while he navigates carefully past the newsletter sign up page, ensuring not to break the fourth wall and read the short story of part one. “You act like you’ve never seen one, girl. What’s wrong with you?”
She shakes her head. “I… I haven’t… I mean I don’t think.”
He shrugs up a bit, but stops himself when her words actually process through his mind. He snaps his gaze over. “Sure thing, weirdo. You’re constantly going off about your galaxy.”
Kim looks David square in the face, and he pauses from his newsletter sign up to look up.
“What?” he asks.
He leans in playfully. “Yes?”
“I have never seen something like that in my entire life.”
There’s an awkward pause between the two of them while they realize that maybe, just maybe, this goes deeper than just a newsletter subscription.
The two of them feel that weird, crawling chill when one peers down at the verge of a great pool and cannot see the bottom; the feeling one gets when they see the depths, and the depths see them back.
“That’s not… that’s not possible!” David says, laughing it off.
“No. I have no clue why you’d think I have a ‘galaxy’ or whatever. I promise you I’ve never seen one of those, and neither should you have one.”
“I’ve never seen you have something like that, David. It’s cool, but you must be misremembering things if you think I have something like that.”
David glances aside again, and this time it’s from a different kind of concern. He looks back to address her.
“Kim… Are you okay?”
She looks herself over as if to humor him. Same old-timey bikini.
“Sure looks like it,” she says with no small bit of irony to her tone.
He stretches to look about her head and neck. “You don’t… look like you got hit anywhere. Any headaches, migraines?”
“No, dude! I’m fine! Just… nevermind. Let me sign up to the thing.”
He backs up in his browser from the confirmation page to the sign up page, then hands the phone over to her.
She fumbles with the touchscreen keyboard awkwardly, as if she were from a completely different era than the twenty first century and struggles to get the first five characters of her email put in.
David smirks, easing an arm around her torso to help her. “Here. What’s your email?”
“K.email@example.com,” she says with a strange tone.
She recalls she has an email address, but she’s never used it for anything. For some reason it’s just knowledge sitting around in her mind that’s never been used until now. In fact, she’s not completely sure what an email is; it’s just something within her; derelict, lost knowledge just waiting for the right moment to pop back into her head when asked.
David puts in the rest of the email and confirms.
“There,” he says with a certain, but hollow tone.
For some creeping reason, the two of them feel as though they’re missing something, as if simply signing up for insightful and hip updates isn’t enough this time.
“This… this isn’t right,” David says with an empty look.
Kim nods. “Something’s going on… and it’s more than just the email stuff. We already signed up, after all. Can you think about… remember, whatever, anything else?”
He looks to the thin-carpeted floor in thought, the monotonous diamond pattern continuing on for what seems like miles and miles of hotel room hallways.
“…I mean… I think we need to find some other way to appease it.”
Kim looks around, feels the air. She knows he’s right. There’s still that ill at ease vibe that permeates the building.
“Like…” Kim thinks over the words before she finishes. “Like review some of Kell’s books?”
At once, the weirdly oppressive atmosphere of the hotel hall cheers up a bit. They know this is the way.
“Good idea, Kim!” he says with an impressed look. “If we all give Kell Inkston some honest reviews, that will increase his social proof, and thus help readers make better decisions when making their next reading purchase!”
Kim hums. “I’m sure it also helps him sell more books in gener-”
David stops her with a finger to her lips. “Nah ah ah! Let’s not get into that! Let’s focus on the task at hand and get the reviews done. Do you remember where you left the others?”
There’s a short pause when she realizes exactly where this is going. “You… you want me to bring them over?”
He shakes his head while tapping on his phone. “Not quite. After I leave this review, I need you to find them and help them out.”
“What will you do?”
“I mean, assuming I make it, I’ll be right there with you,” he says with a curt, almost morbid smile. “I have no clue if getting Kill Bloodstain’s favor will protect me until all of us have fixed the problem.”
Kim glances aside in thought. It makes enough sense, but they’re really banking on so much that they don’t know for sure.
David finishes his review of Woodcastle, a charming fantasy battle romp with some interesting metaphysical undertones. He gives it a five star, because he read it before and genuinely enjoyed it, but mostly because he thinks it would make Kill Bloodstain less likely to murder him.
“There,” he says, handing the phone over. “Your turn.”
She stares dumbfoundedly, swapping between David and the phone until he helps her out and opens up Paper.
Obviously, Kim hasn’t read anything by Kell Inkston before, nor does she have time to do so.
“Wait so… am I going to just read through this whole thing and write a full review?”
David waves his hand dismissively. “Naw, just put down a few lines about how it was cool and point out pacing issues or something. If I recall the characters speak in pretty modern language for the setting so I guess you could complain about that in your review. Just some food for thought when you think of what you want to write.”
Kim squints at the screen, skimming a few pages to get the jist that it’s about some guy named Ralic and his wife, and apparently some festival’s going on.
“Cool, but we’re like… being chased right now,” Kim notes.
David places his hand on her shoulder as an act of comfort. “Kim. The proper appreciation of art takes time. The review won’t mean anything if it’s not heartfelt.”
She hums. “Yeah, well it won’t be heartfelt if I’m dead. I’m just gonna skim it and get it over with.”
David crosses his arms. “Kim, I am telling you that if you just jump through it there’s a lot you won’t appreciate about the nuance, the syntax, the context! You’re missing a shit load from-”
The two, reacting to their quickly-developing reflex, turn the second they hear the pulsing beat of synthwave music.
Does the direction of the hall where she last saw the others, those four red eyes are blaring with misplaced disgust; a righteous indignation to punish those of poor taste in all forms of media.
Immediately Kim flips to the end and starts her review. She has no clue how the star thing works so she doesn’t even touch it. Rather she writes it right off.
“good didnt liek pacing cool characters weird dialogue god thoug,” is the summary of her not-so-considerate review.
Kill’s still running to her, and despite David’s pushing her forward to run, her legs are frozen.
Why isn’t it stopping?
“Kim, Kim, come on!” David screeches, forcing everything he has to get her to move with him, but she won’t.
“Wh- okay!” Kim says, snapping from her trance only after he practically yanks her into a run.
The two tear down the hall to escape, but all the while the sweet synthwave picks up with a fatal, bloody intensity.
This is it, she’s sure. Her review was rushed. David was right- she’s about to die.
Without looking back the duo hears the music reach a fever pitch; like a final, deadly smash of the keyboard like an axe into a skull.
In the gray, reeling moment in which the body assumes its own death, Kim’s mind clears out to see her home, her family’s farm, right outside of New York City.
Then she’s back.
Kill Bloodstain passed right by them, rushing forward at an Olympian pace to elsewhere. It worked.
“Phew!” David exclaims with no small amount of relief. “Guess it’s the thought that counts, eh?”
Kim’s silent for a second, allowing the near-death experience to register even a little bit through her mind before thinking. “Y-yeah… but if it’s not going for us, then that means it’s running for the others!”
David’s relieved expression sours immediately. “Let’s go!”
The two scramble down the hall with all they have. Fortunately they’re both fairly fit, as David’s on the cross country team and Kim’s does her fair share of fieldwork, but neither have the fortitude to catch up to the inexorable speed of Kill Bloodstain.
The synthwave blares in the distance amidst a combative roar from Chad.
Kim and David round the corner just in time to see the jock spraying Kill down with a fire extinguisher. All four eyes and then-some are covered in the foam, temporarily blinding the entity of rage.
In a shocking turn, Kill swings, and misses. Kim and David cannot believe their eyes.
Cornered in a dead end where they tend to have vending machines, Chad wastes no time in darting around Kill and giving a sharp swing from the backside into Kill’s head.
Kill topple over into a roll of foam while David sprints with his huge frame for the other two.
“Run!” Chad yells, his short hazelnut-colored hair a streak past the two of them as they watch the struggling Kill wipe its face and return to its feet.
“Leave a review, quick!” Kim yells, shoving the phone into Chad’s free hand, the other one holding the extinguisher up over his shoulder like a readied broadsword.
“Read it and love it for fuck’s sake, Chad!” David screams as the three round the corner, making their way to the wing with the actual computer lab.
At the edge of her vision, Kim can see Kill Bloodstain wipe just enough from its face to spot them. It won’t be far behind.
With the synthwave having died out to a subtle, covert, though dynamic beat, the kind of music a Miami cop would prepare a drug-bust ambush to, the three find the business center in the hotel, where they find Hogarth furiously clicking and typing through different computer systems in his quest to sign up to the newsletter as fast as humanly possible. Jessica’s also there, but quiet and concentrated while she reads through the short story before the signup page. Her eyes are focused, sharp, and very cold while she reads over the events of the Winter lodge from Kim’s perspective.
“Guys!” David starts, “just leave a review! Get one of the free ones!” He says while Kim starts immediately to find a way to barricade the room.
Hogarth glances back, but Jessica ignores him.
“Huh?” Hogarth mutters while David steps up, not looking over to whatever Jessica’s doing.
“Check it out,” David says, navigating over to Kell’s amazon page, downloading any of the free shorts available, and opening it up in the kindle cloud reader. “Just go, come on!”
“U- wait but-”
“No questions,” David interrupts, glancing between the two of them, “just skim through it and-” he stops, giving an animated gasp at Jessica. “Jessica!”
“What.” She says this with an ice-cold tone, as if his antics are an inconvenience to her.
“You’re reading the thing! You’re breaking the fourth wall!”
Her squint sharpens behind her glasses. “The fourth wall was already broken, dude. You broke it.”
David freezes thinks back and realizes that in trying to keep the knowledge of the even isolated, he himself had broken that golden rule simply by mentioning it.
“Just what the hell is going on?” she asks with a clearly interrogative tone.
David shakes his head. “I… I don’t know, dude. It’s just… I just remember the curse and that we need to break it somehow. One of us must have done something super plebian for us to garner his wrath like this.”
“Sounds pretty fucking pretentious if you ask me,” Jessica mumbles while she scrolls to the part of the story where she gets killed. “Who the fuck does this Kell Inkston guy think he i-”
The synthwave picks up in decibel and complexity, a whole new line of melody added to the tune in the atmosphere.
Immediately David rushes back to help Kim with the barricade, stacking tables and chairs against the single entrance.
“We… we have to hide you guys!” David yells, glancing back and forth around the room for a place to put those who aren’t ready.
“What?” Hogarth asks as he finishes up his review of Defiance, a high-speed sci-fi short with a rather unlikable bastard of a main character.
“Did you finish?” David asks with a wild glare.
Hogarth pushes away with his feet to roll his chair away from the computer screen. He shows the “success” page clearly for David to see.
“Excellent, so now… Chad, how about you?”
Chad’s still fumbling with the smart phone “It uh… hacked me into like a number game or something?” he asks, showing David the phone’s lock screen, its ten digits displayed asking for the pin.
David’s expression sours awkwardly before swinging his gaze to Kim.
“Kim, could you help Chad and Jessica with the reviews? The password’s one one five two.”
She shrugs. “Sure, just t-”
“In there,” he says, nodding over to the small utility closet.
She sighs and nods, grabbing Chad by the wrist and pulling him along. “Come on, Jess,” she adds over to Jessica, who’s bent over the computer finishing the story.
“As if. Have fun in the dark,” she says in her typically dry, bitchy tone.
Kim shakes her head, not sparing another word while she takes a clueless Chad into the closet and shuts the door.
“Okay,” Kim says, struggling in the small space to reach around him and fumble in the password. “Just read it fast and leave a review.”
“A-alright,” Chad says, like a poor baby when it comes to using technology.
She pushes as best she can to stay separate from him in the hot dark of the closet, but she it’s so uncomfortable, even painful to lean over all the wires of the server rack, she can only back up so far. He on the other hand doesn’t care, allowing all of himself to push up against her.
He smells great, and his chest feels even better. Kim’s a good, home-loving girl, so she has trouble keeping her head straight to such a sudden increase in contact with another person, especially one with a body like this.
Chad’s eyes scan slowly over the screen of the phone as he reads the story, considering each line carefully while he formulates his review.
“You should hurry,” she says with a thinly veiled sigh of exasperation.
“Alright. Gimmie a sec,” he says, not speeding up a bit.
“Like, it doesn’t matter if it’s good, just do it.”
He hums, his surprisingly delicate gaze alight from the glow of the screen while he reads. “So uh… this Kell person… he writes like… books?”
She smirks in the dark, shocked at how slowly Chad’s made assumptions about this whole thing.
“Yeah,” she confirms, just as the synthwave music picks up.
She can hear David and Hogarth arguing with Jessica in the connecting room.
“For the last time: leave. a. review!” David reiterates, his voice muffled by the door.
“No. It won’t do anything,” Jessica says plainly and with complete certainty.
“It’s the curse! You have to!” Hogarth shouts, now totally on-board with the weird, mystical rules of the situation they’ve crafted for themselves.
“Really, dude? You’re the last person I expected to go insane,” Jessica answers.
Kim can just barely hear Jessica getting up from her seat.
“This Kill Bloodstain bullshit is ridiculous, and I’m going to put a stop to it.”
“Jessica, get away from the barricade!” David shouts.
“Kill’s right there!” Hogarth yells in addition, right when the sound of an axe being slammed into a giant pile of wood overtakes their hearing. Kill’s trying to get in.
“Shit,” Kim mutters, practically into Chad’s collarbone. “You need to finish, right now.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s not good,” he says firmly.
“I’m sure it’s good enough for Kill. Just skip to the end. Don’t die, dude.”
His eyes pick up in pace as it scans over the phone’s words. He’s still dedicated to read the whole thing.
She’s forced to stand there with bated breath while his chest pushes comfortably against her, right as Jessica’s voice starts up again in the other room:
“Okay, you dumbass, just what the hell do you think you’re doing. Plebian, huh? Is that what we are? You think you can just act like we have bad taste and then murder us? That’s real fuckin’ dumb. I bet you know that, too, but you’re too dense to pull your head out of your ass and-”
There’s a visceral, splintering crack. Kill’s smashed through the barricade and lifts its axe again for Jessica.
“Get away you idiot!” David shouts, amidst the sound of a chair smashing against the solid sound of whatever it is that Kill’s made out of.
Kim hears a dense clap of flesh and a grunt from David. Her breath becomes short when the temptation to open the door forces into her. She hopes he’s okay, but she knows she has to keep quiet.
“Oh! So you can just hurt whoever you like, huh?” Jessica shouts. “Or are you only interested in killing people you don’t like? You actually think we should die because of what we like? You’re the one that needs to g-”
“Jess!” Hogarth squeals the second the sound of the axe splits through the room.
Kim purses her lips to keep quiet. She’s happy she gave some reasonably helpful feedback and input for Kell to help him improve his writing craft, but she’s more than a little terrified now that David, who she assumed was practically untargetable by Kill, just got hurt.
She doesn’t care much for Jessica just getting murdered; she can jump in a lake.
As the sounds of Hogarth struggling weakly against Kill crosses her hearing, she peers back to Chad, his excellent visage of a body illuminated softly by the phone’s light.
“A-almost done?” she whispers, practically into his neck.
He nods, but she doubts he would even know how close he is to the end.
Hogarth and David crash about the place while the silent Kill Bloodstain delivers a few certain strikes. It doesn’t sound like blood being spilled, but more so being tosses aside or knocked unconscious. Perhaps Kill threw them away because they were getting in the way?
Finally, the struggle in the other room becomes silent. The only thing she can hear is the steady thumb stroke of Chad, getting as far as the fourth page of Nocturna League: Episode 1.
Kim holds her breath, waiting for the sound of footsteps, or breath, or anything from the other end.
Then at once, a bolt of lightning and a fever-pitch of awesome synthwave.
The great axe of Kill Bloodstain smashes long-ways through the closet door, dividing it instantly and revealing the sprawled horror, standing at the ready with its axe low in its grip. All four of those ashen coals are looking at them, particularly at the phone.
Kim leans back so far into Chad she slips past and falls into the jumbled boxes of server equipment, but her fall’s broken by Chad; he grabbed her with his free arm, and all of her weight is suspended by him. She feels like a feather, but a feather that’s about to spiral down to hell.
Kill Bloodstain witnesses them both, staring his way with a shocked gaze, Chad’s muscles strained to both support Kim and to prepare for rapid, life-saving movement.
Abruptly, the synthwave stops, and Kill draws back as if a little embarrassed. “Oh, cool. Well I hope you guys are enjoying it. You know I put a lot of time into that stuff. Have fun my dudes,” it says right before evaporating into an ethereal nothingness, axe and all.
Kim’s quickly pulled up back into Chad’s grip.
“That’s it?” he asks.
She looks over to the phone. Chad hasn’t even finished the story. They must have misunderstood the situation somewhere down the line.
“I guess… I guess so,” she says, peeking out from the closet and looking over to a positively splattered Jessica and a pair of woozy, though still quite-alive Hogarth and David.
Chad looks perplexed while he glances between the phone and the wreckage out in the business center. “So… we’re getting killed by this dude… why?”
Kim doesn’t have an answer for that, but David does.
“Art’s serious, Chad,” he mutters as he picks himself up.
The group ponders it in awe while, strangely, things begin to blank out. Just like the moment in the hall when she thought she was about to die, Kim feels a gray sort of lightness, as if she’s being moved not only in body, but in spirit. Everything dissipates into a pastel confusion of dull color and lines.
There’s something going on here, and they don’t quite understand it yet.
-To Be Continued-