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The ether-like blackness of the winter lodge curls around them, cloaking each of the six students in fearsome dark, punctuated only slightly by the full moon gleaming from the windows.

“Alright, let’s split up in groups and spread out!” Chad Buckmann says with an ape-like grunt as he eyes Cindy Cranford, who gasps at the thought.

“That’s a great idea!” She says, wriggling her pom-poms excitedly as her blonde curls bounce cheerily along her shoulders in tandem. She’s shockingly unphased about Smith just dying- probably because he was a dork, and also a black male in general- they always die first in these situations, as if reality itself is racist toward them in horror movies like these.

“Wait,” Kimberly Arthur asks in a perfectly stereotypical “low-key hottest girl in the group that is the lone survivor” voice. “I-…I don’t know.”

Hogarth Smeezley snorts as he corrects his glasses upon his pasty nose. “Yeah, if we split up whatever got Smith’ll get us too! Separating’s definitely a b-”

Chad imposes his towering four-letter jacket body over Hogarth, who pulls at his white collar nervously. “And if we don’t get these fuckin’ lights on it won’t matter. I wanna look this bitch in the face when I split his skull open.”

Oh!” Cindy swoons against Chad, who pushes her down the right hallway.

“See you guys later,” Chad says as he trots down the hall, holding Cindy magnetically close.

“Ugh!” Hogarth squeals with a stomp. “Idiots! G-get back…” Hogarth sighs and storms down after them.

Jessica Meroux pushes her ironic glasses up to her nose while with her other hand adjusts her raspberry beret- the kind you’d find at a second-hand store. “W-wait up. Don’t leave me with these nerds!” She says as she follows along closely with Hogarth, her checkerboard skirt billowing flippantly, because wearing skirts while vacationing at snow lodges is an awesome thing to do.

Kim and the other student stand awkwardly a moment, before the other reaches into his pockets.

Storm, the name everyone knows him by, even the professors, slouches back in a stretch as he takes a second to strike up his lighter, simultaneously lighting up the room and toking his secret weed. “Nice,” Storm says. “Well I guess it’s us two, eh Kim?” He says coolly, but in the “I’m so high, let’s have sex” sort of cool, which is really not cool.

Kim draws back. She’s super not into this whole thing now. She came to stay at the lodge over spring break for David, because he’s cute as hell and also told her he’d share with her some prime fiction. Kim’s always in the market for radical fantasy and sci-fi, because she’s cool and has good taste in stuff. She’s quite unlike Chad, who’s obsessed with sports, Cindy, who’s obsessed with Chad, Hogarth, who loves his stupid Japanese cartoon figures more than anything, Jessica, who wastes all her time binging on 80’s Netflix and blogging about asinine 80’s non-issues, and Storm, who literally just wants to smoke weed and fuck anything that’d allow him the pity of it. David, on the other hand, is cool, and was about to tell her about a sweet author they could spend the night reading together- not even making out, just reading, because they’re cool and mature adults. She wonders where he is…

“Guess it is just us,” Kim says, eyeing around the cozy trappings of the lodge’s entrance room that doubles as a fireplace gathering spot.

Yeah,” Storm says, brushing his filthy dreads aside, causing a few flies to scatter from the folds, “So let’s go like… I dunno, ya’ know?” He chuckles with that nasally laugh one would expect of a person who needs a bong to breathe out of to sleep at night. He thinks his awkwardness is cute- oh boy.

Kim squints an eye in thinly veiled contempt. “Sure. Let’s go find the power box.”

Another stupid laugh. “Alright, bae. Let’s smash it.”

The two go down the other way, Kim having seen enough horror movies to know that two people are generally enough to stop any “jumpscare” deaths so long as they both stay away from the window and vents. She has no idea what got Smith, all she recalled were those four, piercing, soulless eyes, burning like a thousand fiery hells as it swooped in and utterly destroyed him. She peeks down a moment to her right leg. Some of his blood is still there, clinging on like Smith’s soul to the physical plane as he was pulled down to hell by whatever abomination is hunting them.

She takes a deep breath. She’ll do her best to deny her inner whiteness and ignore any impulses to inspect anything that doesn’t really need to be looked at, and for the love of God definitely not inspect any suspicious noises. They already failed half of the test by splitting up, but so long as she can keep a reign on the people around her, they’ll see the sunrise.

*clamp… clamp… ch-champ* goes a thumping, like the sound of heavy, metal-lined boots.

Storm gives his trademark “please purge me” nose laugh. “Whoa, like, I wonder what that was!” He says while scratching his crotch.

Kim takes an exasperated breath. The others are so unaware of themselves falling into the stereotypes of classic B-movie horror there’s no chance they’ll get out of this alive… except her, of course.

“No, let’s actually just-”

Storm ignores her and rounds the corner to a long hallway, striped with light from the windows.

Storm! Don’t inspect the noise, you’re going to fucking di-

Whoaaaaaa,” Storm grunts in fascination.

“What?!” Kim snaps as she rounds the corner too and sees what Storm’s looking at. “Oh… shit,” she says, as a sick synthwave riff plays in the background.

Even knowing of it, Kim couldn’t keep herself from looking around the corner. She is the only virgin of the girls in the group, but maybe this is one of those avant garde horror films… no, couldn’t be. If that were the case then why would Smith have been the first to go? She must be the one to survive… Then again if David, a Latino, is still around, rather than shaking his maracas and warning them about some horrible Aztec curse, then perhaps it is genre-defying! There’s just no way to know for sure. These thoughts and more race through her mind and she looks upon the horrific mystery in front of her.

Across the hall, shrouded deep in the shadow, is an armored figure, only its white-metal gauntlet and the glint of a crimsoned fire-axe visible in the moonlight’s aim. And the eyes, they glow. Arrayed like a dice roll, the mask’s four eyes cinder like godless, heedless coals in the night, and they stare straight for Storm and Kim.

“Wow, is that one of those cosplayer dudes?” Storm says with a chuckle before toking it up again.

Run you idiot!” Kim shouts the second the figure bursts into movement.

For being fully armored the maniac is really fucking fast, hitting a full sprint with an almost phantasmal disregard to its own weight.

Kim and Storm storm back down the hall. :^) They turn the corner, Kim first, and Storm second, just as a visceral, gory crashing sound splits through Kim’s hearing. She glances back to see the four-eyed killer’s axe embedded solidly through Storm’s collarbone. The hipster’s jugular sprays red vitality with plenteous, gulping spurts. He reaches out as if to cry for help, but all that exits his lungs is his final 420 A.M. puff of weed smoke.

Kimberly dashes frantically down the hall where she saw the others had traveled. The quiet of the lodge overtakes the horror once more, and she feels, at least for the moment, that she’s safe.

“What the…” She skews her breath. “What the fuck was that thing?!”

“H-…” A voice peeps out from a nearby room. “Hey… Chad, I’m not sure if we should be doing this,” Cindy’s voice emerges from two doors up on Kim’s left.

Chad sighs. “Come on, babe! Don’t be a fucking pussy!” He says, his voice the auditory equivalent of sweat, cheap beer, and garbage on a hot Summer’s day.

Kim ducks into the side of the door as Cindy groans.

“Fine!” Chad yells, “Whatever!”

An as-per-norm partially-undressed Cindy pushes out the door. “It’s just… Sorry, it’s just I’m feeling really wei-… Oh… Kim.” Her bitch voice activates with flawless efficiency, the sort she uses on a regular basis during cheer practice, when she’s on the phone, or basically any time she’s not trying to appear attractive to Chad.

Kim draws in a labored breath. “The thing, it just got Storm!” She points. “Over there.”

Cindy scoffs as Chad comes out. “Oh, hey Kim,” he says.

“Guess you guys were testing out the beds before the electricity?”

Chad averts his gaze. “Yeah, well we looked everywhere but couldn’t find one. Just figured we’d wait til sunup.”

Yeah,” Cindy says, contributing to the conversation in a very helpful way. Thanks Cindy.

Kim shrugs. “Neat. Where are the other two?”

“Doctor Dork and Dorkette?” Chad asks with an awkward smirk. He looks further down the suite halls. “Pretty sure they went that way. I guess they thought if the monster got in they’d hear our screams so they’d know to run, fuckin’ pussies.”

Cindy coos concernedly. “Oh, really, Chad?”

Chad nudges Cindy with a grin. “Not that I’d have trouble with some fucking cree-” Chad’s gaze crosses over Kim’s shoulder. “Holy shit,” Chad says. Kim swings around to see the dull glare of the killer’s four eyes, gleaming about fifty meters from them. It’s not moving, just staring closely- as if an ambush was too easy and it’d rather let them know they were fucked before it dashed in to slay.

“That’s it,” Kim cries. “Run!” Kim, such a clever girl, darts deeper into the hall. She understands splitting up is a bad idea in general horror-movie theory, but she also knows running from the monster is the most important part.

Chad scoffs as he tears a leg from one of the old wooden chairs and raises it to strike. “We’ll see how scary you really are!” He yells with a victorious boom, swinging the weight of his weapon for the four-eye’s face.

Kim glances just before rounding the corner – she wishes she didn’t.

In a deft, blink-fast motion, the suited maniac catches Chad’s swing and, holding his weapon at bay, moves in with its axe. Chad’s screams and Cindy cries in horror, both voices drowned out by the visceral debilitation of the murderer’s axe strikes. Kim dashes out of earshot with Cindy close behind her. They pile behind the next couple halls down within the maze of musty winter lodgings.

“Chad’s…” Cindy sobs.

“Get yourself to-” Kim takes a breath, “together, Cranford! We gotta find the others.”

“O…okay.”

The two creep down the halls with bated, nervous breaths, each step rendering a crying creak from the old floorboards. Soon, they hear the unmistakably-irritating voice of Hogarth.

Kim eases her gaze past the door frame to spot Hogarth, Jessica… and… yes!

“David?!” Kim exclaims as she passes in with Cindy.

David turns from Hogarth to see her. His brown eyes light up, even in the scarce, match-lit dark. “Kim… Hey, they won’t listen.”

“Listen to what?”

“I know why it’s here, the thing, I mean.”

“Yeah but that’s bogus,” Hogarth snorts as he messes with the electric box under match light, produced by David.

Cindy leans weakly against the doorframe to the hall, classic white person horror-movie mistake, but no one notices.

“Well what is it?” Kim asks.

Kill Bloodstain,” David says, lighting another match for Hogarth, holding it where he can shine the light into the fuses.

There’s a morbid, collective chuckle at the name.

“The hell’s that?” She questions.

David’s features sharpen. “It’s the psychic id projection of that author I was trying to show you,” he says, winning sighs from both Hogarth and Jessica.

Kim squints an eye in surprise. She trusts David, but even this is a little far-fetched. “Who?”

“Kell Inkston,” David says. “It’s email list is the only way to remove the curse placed upon us.”

“The curse?”

David nods as he lights yet another match. “Kill Bloodstain hunts plebeians without a healthy appreciation of the objectively-best form of art, genre fiction. Someone must’ve drawn its wrath onto our group by being especially pleb.”

Kim rubs her chin as she looks aside. “You know… Smith did say something about ‘getting turnt af’ at a teenager’s party last weekend.”

“Chrissakes,” Jessica moans. “Drinking at an underage’s party?”

“Yeah, I know,” Kim adds, “but what’s worse, he mentioned they were listening to… vaporwave.”

Even Cindy, a pleb in comparison to all of the others, can’t help but cringe. She dated a guy that was into vaporwave, and he was a massive douche. Vaporwave is without a doubt the lowest form of music ever to exist, even an animal’s dying screeches is more musically-sound.

Disgusting!” David exclaims.

“I can’t even compute how bad that must’ve been!” Hogarth sneers.

Jessica skews her breath. “Wow, okay, very funny, David, so the black guy cursed us all?”

David nods. “That, or Chad- They’re both pretty bad… Actually, Hogarth, you’re into anime, right?”

Hogarth sighs in pretentious disgust. “I am.

“What do you watch?”

“Well, obviously I only watch vague under the radar anime that’s of the highest quality in both writing, animation, and waifu-quality: Sword Art Onli-

“Fuck,” Kim says with a heavy cringe.

“Oh. My. God.” Jessica hisses- even her taste in anime is better, and she doesn’t watch it because it’s all confused backwards, sexist, homophobic garbage.

“Well damn,” David says. “I guess you could’ve cursed us too.”

“I’m still offended!” Jessica huffs with a stamp of the foot. “You accused Smith first!” Oh, she is totally blogging about this when she gets home.

“Neat,” David says in dismissal as he turns back to Kim. “We have to get the power on so we can get on the computer and get you guys signed up for Kell’s mailing list.”

Kim hums skeptically. She hates getting stupid emails, so she’s always cautious about new lists. “So, not considering the benefit of not getting murdered, what sorts of things does Kell’s list have to offer me?”

David smirks, lighting the last match in his box. “Why, that’s easy. You get a ton of rad free fiction just for signing up, exclusive updates, special offers, and more. Like, I think you even get Kell’s Voidstar Empire prequel upfront, too! It’s a sweet deal!”

Kim’s suspicion melts away instantly. “And it’s all free?”

“Yeah!”

“Wow. Maybe this Kell person isn’t so bad after all.”

The light clicks on, almost as if the mysterious conductor of this event approves of her words.

The commodore 64 clicks on at the back of the room, and David steps over. Hogarth turns for the door with Jessica. “Okay let’s get to a telephone.”

David flinches and spins. “No, wait! You have to sign up, it’s the only way!”

Hogarth scoffs. “Anyone who hates my darling Asuna-chan wouldn’t have a clue about problems. See ya.”

Kim turns as well to see them reach the door… just as that sweet synthwave music comes pounding throughout the environment. “Wait!

Jessica laughs as she exits into the hall. “Is that actually synthwave? What kind of-” She screams as the deep, plunging sound of a fireaxe head meeting a neck squirms through the hall.

Kim draws back with David, running to the computer.

“OH MY GOD, HOGARTH!” She yells as Hogarth squeals in horror. The axing sound reverberates again and again, swings faster than humanly capable with as much strength and accuracy as the first. Cindy, now huddling with the two by the computer, spots Jessica through the door frame for just a second as she runs for her life down the hall. Kill Bloodstain leaps forward with phantasmal speed, reaching her in only seconds.

“Okay… almost done loading…” David stops as he watches for the computer to do something. “wait… what the hell?!”

Cindy groans. “Well did you load the OS disk?”

David raises his brow. “W-what?”

Kim’s dumbfounded. “Cindy, you know how to use this thing?”

“Yeah, my fucking parents want me to lear-”

The two push her up to the keyboard as Jessica’s screams pour through the doorway, punctuated again and again with Kill’s crimson axe.

“A-alright first we load the initial floppy.” She puts in the little black disk into the drive and moves her hands to the keyboard. She hesitates as the sound of Kill’s axe being torn from Jessica’s obliterated corpse hits their ears.

“Well?” Kim demands.

“It was… shit…” She start sounding out the letters as she pecks away slowly. “L…O…A…D……ugh… fuck…quotation… asterisk…-”

Kill Bloodstain’s laugh rings into the room as the synthwave picks up in intensity.

“I… I’ll be right back,” David exclaims as he turns for the door frame.

As David pushes a nearby tool locker to barricade the door, Cindy puts in the last keystrokes to load the OS disk.

“And there!” She exclaims.

“Now what?” Kim asks, turning back as she hears Kill’s footsteps near the barricade.

“We… we wait,” Cindy says.

Kim raises her hands to the heavens in disgust. “Please!? Maybe?!

Cindy taps her French tips as David piles a ladder and a couple chairs upon the wall of furniture. “And… there! Loaded!” She looks to David, “now what?”

“Go to kellinkston.com!”

“Okay…” She opens up 2.5, which doesn’t really exist yet but what the hell, and types in the address. Cindy’s frantic keystrokes are overpowered by the immense volume of Kill’s breaths; long, powerful exhalations. The barricade begins shaking.

“Oh my God… okay we’re here!” Cindy says.

“You need to sign up with your emails! It’s that easy!” David yells as he pushes his entire weight against the ‘cade.

Cindy gets to the cheery little signup page, “Oh, hey wait… there’s a short story here…”

“D-don’t read it!” David exclaims. “It’ll break the fourth wall! Just sign up!”

Cindy nods with Kim hovering closely over her shoulder. Cindy puts in her email “chad4lyfe<3@aol.mailserver.host.web.com” and clicks the signup. “I’m done!”

David buckles against the force from the other side of the barricade. In the next second, the force applies such a huge burst of strength that it throws David meters in a crash to the floor. “Kim! Sign up, you have to sign up!”

Kim puts in her gmail, as excited about getting sweet free fiction as she is about surviving, and cursors over to the signup button.

Kill smashes from the barricade, axe poised to lodge into Kim’s skull and tear her visceral entirety asunder, but she clicks.

The axe stops mid air, just an inch from Kim’s neck.

“Hey,” Kill says in a deep, ghastly voice, “thanks for signing up, my dudes. You kids are alright.” At that, it dissipates into silent nothingness.

“We… we did it!” David cries out, bringing Kim in for a hug.

Cindy draws back slowly with disgust on her features. “So… he killed all our friends… for email sign ups?

“Art is fucking serious, Cindy,” Kim says.

Cindy flinches. “W-well th-”

“Yeah, Cindy,” David says. “Shut the hell up.”

-Click here to sign up today for your complimentary copy of Defiance and also escape the wrath of Kill Bloodstain!-

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