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The Leaves of Fall

Oliver_Hart Oct 20th, 2017 (edited) 10,322 Never
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  1. The Leaves of Fall (Or: How Anon and His Friends Saved The World) -- Oliver_Hart
  2.  
  3. Tags: [Reverse Trap], [Anthro/Human], [Autumn], [Halloween], [Slow Burn], [High School], [Anon], [Nostalgia], [Adventure], [Rabbit]
  4.  
  5. Cover: https://imgur.com/a/vZS4Q
  6. Sam (drawn by Akella of /hmofa/) https://imgur.com/a/nk3t1wT
  7. Accompanying Playlist (WIP): https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J
  8. SoFurry link: https://www.sofurry.com/view/1479078
  9. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
  10. Summary: You've never really 'fit in' with the heavily divided Ranchview High School crowd. Jock, Goth, Prep, Cheerleader, Nerd...you were never any of these. But as Halloween approaches, strange things start happening, and a dark ritual begins with the finding of a curious red book. It's a race against time for you and your friends to stop a group of students from ushering in an age of darkness, and to also figure out just what the hell is wrong with that rabbit.
  11. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
  12. NAVIGATION:
  13. Prologue - Line 19
  14. Act 1: Co-Conspirators - Line 35
  15. Act 2: Fear the Nobodies - Line 1077
  16. Act 3: https://pastebin.com/TZGKfv3q
  17. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
  18.  
  19. Prologue
  20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELf-ciWpjWw&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=21
  21.  
  22. >The easiest part of how you’d explain all of this is to start from the beginning
  23. >Without the proper context or background, you couldn’t really explain why you’re on the roof of your school building, why the whole parking lot looks like it’s been bowled over, or why you’re fighting Vanessa Doermuth, the leader of the goths
  24. >So as she punches your lights out with an unnaturally wild right cross that sends you skittering across the rooftop, your eyes snap shut, and you try to pretend that it’s not happening, which has been your strategy for everything in your life that scares you
  25. >You try to pretend that none of this is real and that this is all some really bad teen movie, or that you’re trapped in some shitty dubbed anime
  26. >But it’s real. It’s all real. Vanessa, the moon, Sam, Mike, Jenna, Alex, the Behemoth
  27. >You’d rather get a slap to the face to wake you up, but you can’t choose how things happen
  28. >Vanessa starts laughing in that really obnoxious laugh that’s made you hate her for so many years, and you want to tell her to shut the fuck up, but you can’t put your energy into words
  29. >”Outnumbered, outclassed, outdone,” she lifts you easily in the air by the collar of your vestments and stares into your eyes. “And here I thought at least you and I could see common ground. I really thought you’d understand. And after all you’ve done for us, I was perfectly willing to let you live.”
  30. >Her lips curl up into a smile, and the fangs, which a doe definitely shouldn’t have, slide forward
  31. >”Unlike people, I guess some things change.”
  32. >You never thought it’d end like this. In all the fantasies you’ve had of your demise, death-by-doe was not one of them
  33. >Funny to think how all of this started a week ago, with that fucking flyer
  34.  
  35. Act 1: Co-Conspirators
  36. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0CSQk-UsIQ&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=1
  37.  
  38. >”Hey Anon, are you coming to the Spooktober Fest?”
  39. >The flyer is practically shoved in your face by Gloria, who doesn’t leave people alone until she gets an answer
  40. >You look it over, glancing back and forth between the poorly photocopied flyer for Ranchview’s Halloween program and the eager eyed goat-girl, all dressed up like she was going to church
  41. >She probably would be in church after school, now that you think about it
  42. >”Well Anon? It’s going to be so much fun! Candy, games, bobbing for apples, costume competitions, music…”
  43. >She leans in uncomfortably close and you can smell the incense she burned at Church before school radiating off her like perfume radiates off a teenage girl who just learned how to use it
  44. >”…dancing…”
  45. >You choke, and you’re not sure because of the innuendo or the thick smell of incense that blankets Gloria
  46. >Do you think she’s going to leave room for Jesus?
  47. >Luckily, before you can summon up a lie to give to this poor Catholic school-goat turned public school crusader, an annoyed voice from behind you answers
  48. >”Why would anyone want to go to a high school Halloween party, Gloria?”
  49. >The Goat’s eyebrows narrow with anger. You can see the swear words on her lips, but she settles for something more PG
  50. >”Was anyone asking you, Mike?” She stomps her feet
  51. >Mike, your longtime friend is leaning over your shoulder, reading the flyer. He grabs the flyer out of your hand and examines it
  52. >”It doesn’t even end until 2 a.m.! Why would anyone go to this?”
  53. >Gloria, of course, has an answer, as she always does
  54. >”It’s to keep kids from sinning and giving in to the devil’s temptations!” She shouts
  55. >Gloria is quick to get like this, which can be both funny and dangerous. You know it’s never happened before, but she could easily break a bone or two on your body with those curly horns. You just try to stay out of her way
  56. >Mike, ever the fuckhead, has a quick retort
  57. >”Halloween is the devil’s holiday you know,” he smirks. “Actually, it’s a pagan holiday too. Wonder what old JC would think of you participating?”
  58. >Gloria takes a step forward, tongue gated behind her clenched teeth
  59. >Her fingers rip through one of the flyers in her hand
  60. >”ACTUALLY YOU IGNORANT DEGENERATE, THOSE ARE THE SAME THINGS. AND FURTHER MORE-“
  61. >You spread the two apart with your hands before they can do the fusion-fuckyou-dance
  62. “Okay, break it up!” You shout
  63. >Mike backs off, and this seems to remind Gloria of her Catholic poise and temperament
  64. >You turn towards the goat with an answer, trying hard to sound as nice as possible
  65. ”I’ll think about it, okay, Gloria?”
  66. >Her expression does a creepy 180, almost like someone flipped a switch in her brain
  67. >She stands tall on her hooves and squeals with excitement
  68. >”Okay Nony, but let me know as soon as possible!” she smiles
  69. “Right, will do,” you return her smile, hoping she can’t tell faked emotions from real emotions
  70. >Honestly, you don’t think she can
  71.  
  72. >You and Mike head down the hall, hoping to kill some time before class
  73. >”You’re not really going to that stupid shit, are you?”
  74. “Fuck no, I’m hanging out with you and Alex.”
  75. >”Thata boy. Thought you were being swayed by her charm and good looks.”
  76. >You snicker
  77. ”Yeah man, it’s those horns. They call it being horny for a reason,” you reply sarcastically. “Besides, you know I have better taste in women than girls like Gloria.”
  78. >”I’ve yet to see proof.” He smacks you on the arm
  79. >Oh that cheeky fuck. He’s lucky he’s your best friend or you would have kicked his ass years ago
  80. >You still might
  81. >”Also, I hate the way she calls you ‘Nony’ like you’re some kind of pet. It’s creepy and condescending.”
  82. >It kinda bugs you too. You’ve got enough weirdness in your life already, but you’re at least willing to try to explain this one away
  83. “You know, it’s probably from being homeschooled for like 10 years. That’s probably why she’s so weird and s-”
  84. >”-Such a bitch?” Mike cuts in. “I thought being homeschooled was supposed to make you smarter than us poor public-school plebeians. Guess all it does is make you a socially stunted goody-two-shoes.”
  85. >Her and Mike have never gotten along for one reason or another. Mike was the antithesis of what Gloria stood for. He was loud, forthright and rebellious. But to Gloria, what mattered most was his lack of faith
  86. >You could even say she found it disturbing HURRR DURRR
  87. >When they got together, it was like an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object
  88. >One not willing to back down, and the other knowing just how to set the other off
  89. >You can still feel the anger radiating off Mike as you two walk down the crowded halls
  90. >You try to make a joke to ease the tension
  91. “You know she’s just horny all the time, right? That’s how those Catholic girls are.”
  92. >”Ew, dude. I don’t wanna think about that.”
  93. “No, look.” You point to the top of your head where your horns would be
  94. “Horny. See?”
  95. >Mike starts to laugh, and you can see the frustration on his face disappear
  96. >”Fuck you, that wasn’t funny.”
  97. >Sure it wasn’t
  98.  
  99. >The two of you sit in front of your locker chatting until the first-class bell
  100. >People come and go, moving like waters of a hormonal river
  101. >Some humans here and there pepper the crowd of otherwise a largely anthro population
  102. >It doesn’t bother you being in a minority (or at least not in the majority), but tensions between humans and anthros have only just lessened after centuries of negativity between the two groups
  103. >Even the cliques are mostly segregated, perhaps unintentionally
  104. >Nowadays, everyone just side-steps the issue and the conversations
  105. >Mike is completely unaware of the conversation to begin with as he starts explaining his plans for college
  106. >Senior year is an exciting time for anyone, and for Mike, it’s the final step before he can ‘leave this shitty suburb behind’
  107. >Talking about your future always made you a little nervous
  108. >Your mind wanders to what you’ll do after you graduate next year
  109. >It all seems so overwhelming
  110. >College? Trades? Take a year off? Travel?
  111. >For Mike, it’s all about going to college, ‘finding himself,’ and finding some tight pussy to bury his dick in
  112. >Despite your reserved nature, you kind of envied Mike for his certainty about the future
  113. >You wish your brain worked like his sometimes
  114. >Bah, there’s still a year for you to figure out what you’re going to do for the rest of your life
  115. >That’s not scary
  116. >…Right?
  117. >You’re listening to his babbling when seemingly for no reason, he stops talking all together
  118. >A look of terror spreads across his face
  119. >”Hey, isn’t that Sam Garlen over there?”
  120. >You look to where he’s pointing and groan
  121. >Sam Garlen: the name alone was enough to make you cringe, not to mention the smell
  122. >Everybody’s had that one ‘friend’ in their life, the one who you’re too pussy to tell off, right?
  123. >And maybe that one friend is also unbelievably awkward and weird and can’t take a fucking hint that you don’t want him around?
  124. >Well, that was Sam
  125. >Mike bids you a quick goodbye, despite your pleadings that he take you with him
  126. >”What, and risk Sam following us? Nah, he’s your friend, you deal with him.”
  127. >You stamp your feet in anger as Mike slips into the crowd
  128. “HE’S NOT MY FRIEND YOU ASSHOLE!” You shout after him
  129.  
  130. >”H-Hey Anon,” Sam’s weak voice squeaks behind you
  131. >You jump a little bit
  132. >Sam is standing behind you, hands shoved into the pocket of his oversized and dirty hoodie, head cast downwards, greasy brown hair covering his eyes
  133. >God damn he moves fast, you didn’t even see him sneak up on you
  134. >”W-What were you and Mike t-t-talking about?”
  135. >You breathe a small sigh of relief. He must have not heard your conversation, or at least he’s pretending not to
  136. “Just talking about our plans for Halloween, nothing serious,” you reply sharply, hoping he gets the hint
  137. >He doesn’t. In fact, when you mention Halloween, his broad rabbit ears prick up a little bit
  138. >He raises his head timidly and brushes his cropped brown hair out of his eyes
  139. >”H-Halloween?” He stammers, catching your uninterested gaze before returning his focus to the floor
  140. >”A-A-Are you going t-to the Sp-Spooktob-“
  141. >You cut him off
  142. “Dunno yet man, our plans are really up in the air right now. We haven’t decided anything.”
  143. >Which was a total lie, but you can’t stand to hear him talk sometimes. You think his parents were too poor or too stupid to correct his stutter or his anxiety issues
  144. >And now their 18-year-long bad decision is your problem
  145. >”Oh h-haha, w-well me too y-you know. L-Lots to do, lots of f-f-friends to make plans w-with…”
  146. >Now this was just getting sad. You know he has nobody else. He follows you around like a lost puppy
  147. >Sam anxiously twists his washed-out brown ears and shuffles awkwardly
  148. >You kinda wonder if that hurts, but class is about to start so you need to wrap this up
  149. “Did you need something Sam?”
  150. >“O-Oh yeah!” He says as he swings his ratty backpack over his shoulder and dumps it out onto the floor
  151. >A mountain of garbage comes spilling out, almost like his backpack is vomiting
  152. >Well, it looks sick, which fits with his attire; Tremendously oversized hoodie, baggy sweatpants, generic sneakers, and to top it all off, none of it looks like it’s been washed in weeks
  153. >Sam quickly digs through the pile of crumpled papers, notebooks, broken pencils, a REALLY ratty comicbook, and whatever else he’s been keeping in there since the dawn of time
  154. >You check your phone and pray he finds what he’s trying to autistically show you before class starts
  155. >His hands emerge from the pile holding a small red book, which he extends towards you
  156. >”D-Do you k-know what t-this is?”
  157. >You squint
  158. “Did you look through it yet to find out? There’s nothing on the cover.”
  159. >He squeaks a little and pulls the book out of your face
  160. >”Yes b-b-but I can’t r-r-read it, I-I-I never learned c-c-cursive,” he says, flipping open the rather thin text. “A-And s-since you’re always r-reading books, I t-thought you…could…umm…”
  161. >You take the book from him and start to read through it, but you have to admit, you can’t read it either
  162. >It’s page after page of this really crooked and spidery scrawl, an uglier kind of cursive than what you’ve seen your grandparents write
  163. >It looks like someone wrote this with a fountain pen, as some of the letters have trails where the ink bled off the pen. You spin through the book pretty quickly, having concluded that there’s nothing of value in it
  164. “I have no idea what this says. It’s like a conspiracy theorist’s diary or something. Where did you get this anyway?”
  165. >He hesitates and starts turning the pages of the book like you did
  166. >”T-The bathroom… F-F-Found it b-b-behind a toilet.”
  167. >Well, that was gross and all, but you honestly need to get going because class is about to start
  168. >You say goodbye and slip into the crowd, finally able to breathe a sigh of relief
  169. >God that kid needs friends. Or at least some medication
  170. >You glance over your shoulders back at him
  171. >He’s piling all the junk back into his backpack, quickly getting swallowed into the crowd, so much smaller than everyone else around him
  172. >You spy a familiar looking Spooktober Fest leaflet go into his pockets
  173. >Oh shit
  174. >Looks like you dodged a bullet
  175. >Well it’s Friday, and so you probably won’t have to see him for the rest of the day
  176. >Time to just take it easy
  177.  
  178. >”H-Hey Anon…”
  179. >God damnit how does he keep finding you?
  180. >You set down your sandwich and glare at the tiny rabbit
  181. >Of all the days where you and Mike and Alex didn’t go out for lunch, it had to be today
  182. “Hey Sam, what do you need?”
  183. >”O-Oh, I jus-just never see you in the l-lunchroom hahaha….” He trails off, not knowing what else to say. “S-S-So, you eating l-l-lunch?”
  184. >No, you’re writing your suicide note
  185. ”Yeah, usually I’m out with my friends, but I have stuff to do today so I’m eating quickly,” you tell him, giving yourself a way out
  186. >In truth, you and Mike don’t have the same lunch period, and Alex decided to skip school today, leaving you to fend for yourself, but you can’t tell Sam that
  187. >Why does this kid keep following you anyway?
  188. >You get that he’s oblivious to how much you’re not interested in being his friend, and that his weirdness probably makes him dependent on you, but god, even other special needs kids can take a hint
  189. >Maybe he’s got a crush on you?
  190. >…ew….
  191. >The last thing you need is to deal with this awkward gayboy, but you don’t know how to proceed
  192. “Where do you normally sit?” You sigh. Guess you’re stuck until you can finish eating
  193. >You start cramming food into your mouth
  194. >He lets out a nervous squeak and starts twisting his ears again
  195. >Really? This is such a simple question, god damn
  196. >”We-Well, I e-eat…ummm…I d-don’t really eat h-here…”
  197. “Why?”
  198. >He shrinks a little further into himself
  199. >”Too m-many p-p-people.”
  200. >What did he mean by this?
  201. >”I c-can’t eat with the j-jocks,” he explains
  202. >You look over to where a crowd of surly looking students are sitting
  203. >There’s at least 20 of them packed onto a long table, and they’re the loudest in the whole lunchroom
  204. >It’s all large anthros, but there’s a separate, identical group of young humans wearing their letter jackets one table over
  205. >That’s the weird part about athletics. They’re fully integrated here but still so…divided?
  206. >”C-Can’t eat w-with the n-nerds”
  207. >The nerds are spread out towards the back of the lunchroom, all of them rail thin and poorly dressed, poring over their AP textbooks. You know most of them because you’re in the same advanced classes, but you don’t associate with them on principle
  208. >They at the very least have humans integrated with their clique
  209. >Sam continues to list all the groups he can’t sit with
  210. >Theater kids
  211. >Band Geeks
  212. >Goths
  213. >Stoners
  214. >Preps
  215. >Popular kids
  216. >Punks
  217. >Slackers
  218. >Cheerleaders
  219. >So…everyone
  220. >Except you
  221. >To be fair, you and your little friend group don’t really fit in well with the other kids either, but you had each other and three’s a crowd, right?
  222. >But god do you hate cliques and groups. The drama, the politics…You can see why Mike and Alex want to graduate so badly
  223. >Still, he’s piqued your interests. If he can’t eat in the lunchroom…
  224. “Where do you actually eat then?”
  225. >He shuffles nervously
  226. >”I-I d-don’t.”
  227. “You don’t what, eat in the lunchroom?”
  228. >”…E-Eat lunch.”
  229. >You raise your eyebrows
  230. >How could he not have lunch?
  231. >Even if he’s poor as shit, the school practically gives kids like him lunch
  232. “Not even the reduced lunch?”
  233. >He shakes his head
  234. >”I s-save it for d-dinner so I don’t-“ he pauses, eyes suddenly splitting open with fear
  235. >He inhales sharply
  236. >You stop chewing
  237. “Are you okay?”
  238. >He shakes his head, brought back down from his sudden, heart stopping insight
  239. >”Y-Yes, f-fff-fine.”
  240. “Right…So why do you save your lunch? You kinda got distracted there for a second.”
  241. >”I’m just not hh-h-hungry enough to e-eat.”
  242. >That would explain why he’s so creepy and skinny
  243. >Can malnutrition cause the dark circles under his eyes too?
  244. >He’s a shit liar because you could see him jealously eying your lunch from behind his greasy bangs throughout the course of this train wreck of a conversation
  245. >But why would he lie?
  246. >Whatever, you just need to tolerate him for one more year
  247.  
  248. >You look down at your half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then back at Sam, who’s trying hard to look busy with the drawstrings on his rotten hoodie
  249. >Man, you really fucking love peanut butter and jelly. This kid better appreciate this
  250. >The lord giveth
  251. >You reluctantly extend the sandwich towards him and ask if he wants the rest of it
  252. >He hesitantly accepts the offer and sits down to start eating
  253. >That wasn’t really an invitation to sit with you, god damnit.
  254. >More like a ‘get lost kid’ sort of thing
  255. >You sigh, hoping he takes the hint, but he quietly stares at the table while taking mouse-sized bites of the sandwich and swallowing hard
  256. >He seems to be really taking his time with it, which is killing you, because this silence is once again awkward, and people are starting to give you looks
  257. >Oh, you know the looks. The ones that every textbook and parent says not to give a person of another species, looks that could get you fired in a professional setting
  258. >Humans and anthros alike pass by your table, staring at you and Sam. Some in disbelief, others with malice. The jocks especially don’t look too happy
  259. >They’re not cavalier enough to start something, but their faces say it all
  260. >’What the fuck are you doing?’ They seem to say
  261. >And you want to say ‘I’m trying here!’ right back
  262. >You start shoving food in your mouth a little faster
  263. >You NEED to get this over with
  264.  
  265. >It’s Sam who breaks the silence this time
  266. >”O-O-Oh! I almost f-forgot! I did s-some more drawings!”
  267. >He starts digging through his rotten backpack, and you internally groan. He’s always trying to show you his drawings and doodles
  268. >He pulls a handful of torn and crumpled papers out of his backpack and carefully spreads them open on the table
  269. >Well, actually, he was pretty good at drawing, you had to admit, but you just didn’t care all that much about superheroes and comics. You liked books much more
  270. >He starts leafing out his drawings, all of them in pencil or pen, and, not one to stray from habit, Sam’s drawn only superheroes again
  271. >Brawny men with capes soaring above city skylines, striking macho poses, smashing their veiny fists into the faces of evil
  272. >Buxom women lassoing between buildings, hauling the elderly and children with them to safety
  273. >One of them is an anthro of some kind, a baseball bat slung over his shoulders, a bandanna across his face
  274. >Man you gotta show this kid Watchmen, or Transmetropolitan one day, give him some taste
  275.  
  276. >You’re practically inhaling your bag of chips as Sam tries his damndest to explain each drawing and each hero to you
  277. >”A-A-And this g-g-guy is called t-the Electric T-Texan b-because—“
  278. >A sudden explosion of voices and shouts cuts off Sam, filling up the lunchroom
  279. >There’s a crowd of students, at the far end of the room, all shouting and jeering at something
  280. >You stand on top of the lunch table to get a better view
  281. >Sam remains seated, nervously tucking in to himself
  282. >You scan the crowd for something, trying to see over the heads of students
  283. >Suddenly, the crowd parts, and a well-dressed young otter, a prep named Jordan, comes tumbling out from amongst the ranks and crashes against a nearby table. Blood pours from his nose
  284. >A large gray wolf, decked out in his red-letter jacket and dark denim comes bounding out, one eye swollen shut, frothing at the mouth with rage
  285. >That was Trevor Nelson, the captain of the football team
  286. >Jordan spins out of the way of Trevor’s crushing blow just in time, and launches himself towards the larger mammal’s face with a feral yell
  287. >Cries of  ‘Go for the eyes!’ or ‘Fuck him up!’ are heard
  288. >What the FUCK is going on?
  289. >The jocks and the preps almost NEVER had issues with each other, and here they are fighting like wild animals
  290. >Another development catches your eyes: Gloria spearheading a group of frightened looking teachers and staff down the stairs towards the lunchroom
  291. >She doesn’t move fast in her ankle-length denim skirt and buckled shoes, but damnit if she’s not trying
  292. >With the authorities on their way, this wouldn’t last much longer, but the two anthros continue savaging each other like they’re not about to get suspended and kicked off their respective sports teams
  293. >When the teachers finally pull the two apart and restrain them, there’s a puddle of blood and torn fur all over the floor
  294.  
  295. >”If anyone wants to get suspended, then stick around! If not, go back to class!” Mrs. Lang, a mustang, shouts
  296. >The crowd almost immediately disperses at the threat of referrals and write-ups
  297. >A small group of five goths led by Vanessa Doermuth, are the last to leave the lunchroom
  298. >You can see them chuckling loudly, clearly having enjoyed the deathmatch between the “normies”
  299. >Man, of all the groups out there, you might hate the goths the most. Buncha antisocial freaks who hate anyone who doesn’t hate life…
  300. >Vanessa’s group strolls past Gloria, who is parasitically hanging on the fringes of the teachers, as if she had some valuable input to give
  301. >The doe puts on a contented sneer as she walks by
  302. >In response, the goat stamps her hooves and grits her teeth, trying to convey some message
  303. >Vanessa flips her off, and Gloria, flustered and holding back her un-Christian urges, defensively shoves the large crucifix around her neck towards the goths as they ascend the stairs
  304. >They laugh even louder at her
  305. >”Anon, Sam,” Mrs. Lang snaps her fingers. “C’mon, let’s go.”
  306. >As you’re packing your stuff, you notice that Sam isn’t moving. He’s got his head pointed down, his drawings still littering the table
  307. >His hands are tucked deep into the pockets of his hoodie
  308. >And he’s trembling all over
  309. >You knock twice on the table
  310. “Sam? You okay?”
  311. >His head shoots up
  312. >You can see how wide his amber eyes are, even from behind his uncropped bangs
  313. >He shakes his head and shivers
  314. >”S-Sorry, yeah. I’m f-fine. I-I’ll s-see you l-later,” he says quietly
  315. >You go to leave, but you see Sam still isn’t moving
  316. >You open your mouth to say something, but Mrs. Lang glares at you
  317. “Have a good weekend Sam,” you say, and you make for the door
  318.  
  319. “I’m telling you dude, it was like they’d gone rabid or something. I’ve never seen two mammals tear at each other like that before,”
  320. >Mike tells you to keep your voice down and not to use the ‘r-word’ so loudly in public, especially around the Shop N’ Save after school
  321. >He asks if you want to get your ass kicked
  322. >You apologize, but keep going on with your story
  323. ”Like have the jocks and the preps EVER had problems with each other?”
  324. >”Not since I’ve been at Ranchview. Carly would probably know, since she graduated a few years ago. She used to be a Cheerleader, so maybe she’s in the know,” he says somewhat sarcastically
  325. “Seriously, I wish you were there to see it. We’re talking claws out, face mauling stuff here Mikey. You would have loved it, dude. Real videogame shit.”
  326. >”Real videogame shit,” he mutters, almost laughing. “Where did my pretentious friend go?”
  327. “Where’s my loud-mouthed friend always up in everyone’s face?”
  328. >Mike picks up a basket and starts heading for the candy aisle, ignoring your teasing
  329. >”Hey, did Alex tell you he was working today?” He asks. “He might be able to give us the ‘proletariat discount.’”
  330. >You shrug your shoulders and follow Mike down the candy aisle
  331. “I never asked him. Maybe he’s working, I don’t know. He skipped school today so I didn’t see hi-“
  332. >And right on cue, a voice crackles over the store’s loudspeaker system
  333. >”Attention shoppers at the Ranchview Shop N’ Save. We hope you’re having a great shopping experience, because all you’re doing is filling the bellies of the pigs that exploit us.”
  334. >”To all you Shop N’ Save Smile Associates out there: Every single commodity you sell is another link in your own chains. The violence against the gentle laborer’s soul shall stand no longer!”
  335. >”Smile Associates, lift your heavy eyes! Cast down the shackles of corporate slavery! You have nothing to lose but your green aprons! You have nothing to los-“
  336. >There’s sounds of a brief struggle on the mic, and then an older, out of breath voice broadcasts through the store
  337. >"Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize for that. Also attention all shoppers, visit our seasonal aisle and pick up those last minute Halloween treats. Bags of peanut butter cups are now buy-one-get-one-half-off. Thank you.”
  338. >The speaker crackles off, and the shoppers go about their business like nothing happened, shambling down their respective aisles.
  339. >Yep, Alex was at work
  340.  
  341. >You locate Alex by tracking his striking yellow beanie towering above the stooped rows of the pharmaceutical aisle where he’d been imprisoned after his little stunt on the PA system
  342. >He’s busy assisting a mother bear and her completely-embarrassed-this-is-so-not-happening cub find estrus blockers, scent masks, things that’d make a vulnerable and confused cub going through puberty blush redder than a Mormon walking through the underwear section of a department store
  343. >The shelves are all picked clean, so they’re not having much luck
  344. >Is it breeding season or something?
  345. >You squint at the cub, who is trying her damndest to stay as far away from her mother as she socially can
  346. >Wait, you think she goes to your school or something, you know you’ve seen her before
  347. >She must be a freshman
  348. >You lose sight of her as a crowd starts piling up around Alex. Mostly mothers, sometimes daughters, and you can recognize most of them. They’re all cheerleaders as well.
  349. >”I’m sorry everyone, but I promise you, we don’t have any more estrus blockers or scent masks. We’re getting a fresh shipment tonight, so please-“
  350. >”You’re sure you don’t have any in the back?” The mother bear begs. “My daughter’s more riled up than two rabbits on their honeymoon!”
  351. >”MOM WHAT THE HELL!?” Her daughter looks like she’s on the verge of tears
  352. >”Nope, we’re completely out,” Alex responds. But the crowd keeps closing in tighter and tighter
  353. >A frustrated request to speak to the manager is echoed through the mob
  354. >Feeling like he’d finally found common ground with the madness of the crowd, Alex sighs and smiles
  355. >”You don’t wanna speak to Mr. Smith, trust me. He doesn’t understand our plight, sitting up there in his office chair, driving his 2004 Honda Civic-“
  356. >”Excuse me, but did you just say OUR plight?” An anthro fox steps forward. “What does a human know about what our children are going through? Aren’t you like 16?”
  357. >“Actually, I’m 18, and I understand what it’s like being under the heel of the state. The oppressor is up there right now, and let me tell you, he’s not going to listen to you-“
  358. >The crowd erupts in anger, closing in around him
  359. >Oh shit, this is bad. They’re about to eat your dumb shit friend alive
  360. >You freeze up, not knowing what to do, and you curse yourself for always being like this
  361. >Luckily, Mike is two steps ahead of you
  362. >”Comrade Alexi!”
  363. >Alex turns towards us and looks like he’s about to die
  364. >”We could use some ‘assistance’ at the checkout!”
  365. >Relief spreads across Alex’s face
  366. >He nods, and tries to squeeze through the crowd as politely as he can
  367. >This only angers them further
  368. >”I’ll be right back folks, let me go talk to Mr. Smith for you and see where we are with the shipment. Shop N’ Save thanks you for your patience!”
  369. >He practically sprints towards the registers
  370. >Mike keeps pace, but you’re having trouble not looking awkward. A quick glance over your shoulder reveals a dozen hateful stares, the only kind of hate that can come from a middle-aged woman having a poor shopping experience
  371. >One shudders to imagine what would happen had Alex tried to handle this alone
  372.  
  373. >”Jesus Christ, did you see the way that rabid mob was looking at you?” Mike practically shouts as Alex rings you two up
  374. >You glare at Mike, heart skipping a beat as he lets the ‘r-word’ fly freely around so many anthros
  375. >Alex seems a little flustered, but continues scanning things
  376. >”You’re not kidding. I’ve never seen anyone behave like that before in my entire three years at this sweatshop.”
  377. >”Well you know how they get when it’s that time of the year for them,” Mike says
  378. “That’s not until like November for most anthros, dude. Don’t you pay attention in class?” You bite back, sounding a little bitter
  379. >Mike shrugs
  380. >”You know I could give a shit about class at this point. I’ll figure that stuff out in the future,”
  381. >Alex finishes ringing you two up before you can respond
  382. >”Alright, your total comes to $16.63, and with the proletariats discount…, that’ll be $4,” Alex says.
  383. >You smack a $5 on the counter and tell Alex to keep the change
  384. >Knowing him, that’s exactly what he’ll do
  385. >Outside in the crisp, late-afternoon air, you pause for a second
  386. >There’s a steady stream of anthros heading into the store, almost all of them women, and a lot of them you recognize from school
  387. >It’s almost entirely cheerleaders
  388. >What the fuck is going on?
  389. >Mike is staring too
  390. >”…You think they’re all-”
  391. “Most definitely,” you answer
  392.  
  393. >On the car ride home, you turn down the music down a little
  394. “Is it just me or has today been really weird?”
  395. >”What do you mean?”
  396. “I mean like, weird for Ranchview. The fight today, the sudden surge in hormonal cycles, that sort of stuff.”
  397. >”That’s not a bad thing. At least something interesting is happening around town.”
  398. >You guess so, but it’s still really fucking weird. Frankly, you just want to go home and relax for a bit
  399.  
  400. >You pull up outside Mike’s ordinary house, which is tucked between other ordinary houses in an ordinary middle-class suburb
  401. “Am I still picking you up tonight?” You say to Mike as he unbuckles his seatbelt
  402. >”If you don’t mind. Oh, and maybe kill your headlights when you pull up. I’m ‘technically’ not allowed to leave the house this weekend.”
  403. ”What did you do now?”
  404. >”Nothing, I swear. Now,” he stretches out a fist to you, and you bump it
  405. >”See you tonight bro, and thanks for the ride!”
  406.  
  407. >The drive back home is slow. Not because of traffic, but because you decided to cut around town and enjoy the drive
  408. >There’s this golden light coming from the cool and cloudless sky, and the trees are losing their leaves
  409. >They’ve ripened up and are starting to turn to a rusted brown
  410. >When the wind came, they’d flutter down from their branches like tiny crispy bird feathers
  411. >Lately you’ve started to appreciate the seasons and the pace of life in Ranchview a little bit more
  412. >Things are going to change when you graduate, like it or not
  413. >All of your friends are going to move far away, and you’re going to be stuck at the crossroads of life
  414. >But for now, you’re going to enjoy the fall. It was beautiful out here
  415. >Home is…Well, it’s not as beautiful
  416.  
  417. >You flick on the lights in the kitchen
  418. >You think of calling out to someone, but you know nobody is home
  419. >Mom and Dad are away on vacation, and yeah, you like to be alone, but it’s starting to get to you
  420. >Home has felt so empty lately
  421. >You throw your backpack down in your room and hop on your computer, pulling up some music and shitty forums that you KNOW you shouldn’t be browsing anymore
  422. >Guess you just need to kill time before tonight
  423.  
  424. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laWNR1mkiwU&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=14&t=0s
  425. >You check the clock on your dash as your shitty car hums along towards the high school
  426. >9:14 p.m. You were the only ones on the road which was not surprising. Ranchview is like that when it gets dark, and this late in fall, it gets dark quick
  427. >”...And you know what I really can’t wait to do?” Mike croaks up from the passenger seat, pointing his beer towards the road
  428. “What’s that?”
  429. >”Go to college, get the FUCK out of this little town...”
  430. “...Find a nice girl, settle down, have kids…” you snicker
  431. >”Fuck that noise. I’m gonna stay 18 forever.” Mike drains his beer as if to issue a declaration of degeneracy
  432. >”And between you and me,” he twists the top off his second bottle of the night and tosses his empty into your backseat. “Maybe go somewhere where the pickings aren’t as… slim?”
  433. “You mean where there’s more humans?”
  434. >”Yeah, you get what I’m saying. More people I can relate with.”
  435. “What about Rachel Bigner?” You probe
  436. >”That weird theater girl from Lang’s English class? Hell no dude. I’m trying to get my dick wet here, not find my Juliet.”
  437. “I think Romeo and Juliet fucked.”
  438. >”Still not interested.”
  439. “What happened to ‘pussy is pussy’?”
  440. >”Listen man, just shut up and drive okay? I’m not super interested in Antrhos, but it’s got nothing to do with me not liking them or anything. Now, I’m gonna give Alex a call and tell him to meet us at school, so no more questions.”
  441. “Oh, and tell him to bring more beer because you’re fucking drinking all of mine.”
  442. >”Sorry, sorry, next time we pick up I’ll get you more.”
  443. >You’re not convinced
  444. >He starts rubbing your shoulder
  445. >”C’mon baby, you know Mikey’s good for it.”
  446. >You smirk, but you try hard not to
  447. “Mikey better be ‘good for it’, or my dad’s going to see that there’s at least 12 beers missing when he gets back.”
  448. >”That’s right baby,” Mike continues, dialing into his phone. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Mikey doesn’t treat his bitches right.”
  449. “Why am I the bitch? I’m the only one who knows how to handle money right.”
  450. >Mike shoves his phone against his ear, and you were the bitch for the rest of the night
  451.  
  452. >You aim the car up the hill
  453. >Despite the relatively large size of your town, your high school is kind of an island
  454. >There’s no houses or businesses around for a mile at least, and Ranchview is built on a hill
  455. >Which made it an ideal place for a couple bored seniors to go and fuck around at on a Friday night
  456. >You pull into the nearly-empty parking lot and kill the engine
  457. >You and Mike end up sitting on the hood of your car, nursing beers and staring off into the distance
  458. >Autumn was coming in quite nicely around here
  459. >The air had gone stiff and cold, and each breath you took pulled cold embers of fall into your lungs
  460. >You keep your eyes on the entrance to the lot. You almost kind of want to wait in the car and turn on the heat
  461. “Hey dude, Alex is coming, right?”
  462. >”That’s what he said. Just give him some time, you know how long it takes for him to do anything.”
  463. >This was true. He does take a long time to do anything. It might help if he didn’t fucking bike everywhere
  464. >It was possible he wouldn’t show up at all
  465. >So you and Mike shoot the shit for a few more minutes. It quickly becomes clear through your conversation that Mike’s getting pretty drunk
  466. >He keeps talking about how excited he is that he got accepted into his first pick college and how far he’s going to be from home
  467. >”It’s not that I hate this town or the people--”
  468. “You just wanna slay some human pussy?”
  469. >”No man, it’s not like that. I got nothing against anthros, nothing at all. It’s just... Nothing ever happens here. It’s boring. Do you know how old my neighbors are?”
  470. “Aren’t they like…four or five?”
  471. >”EXACTLY! We’re being pushed out of town by the youngins. Everything is so safe and sterile and boring.. Nothing ever happens here...”
  472. “You looking for that ‘girl next door’ kinda thing?”
  473. >”Well I wouldn’t say no-“
  474. >He abruptly trails off, staring at something in the distance
  475. “You okay dude?”
  476. >No answer
  477. “Mike?” You shake his shoulder
  478. >”Hey Anon, isn’t that Sam Garlen over there?”
  479. >He points towards someone walking out of the school’s gym entrance, pushing a cart laden with cleaning supplies
  480. >HOW THE FUCK DOES MIKE KEEP FINDING THIS KID
  481. >”Holy shit, I think it is. I think that’s our cotton tail.”
  482. >You hope to God he’s wrong. You were having a decent night
  483. >Mike slides off the hood of the car and lands with a curt stumble
  484. “Wait, Mike, hold on…” You try to stop him, but it’s no use
  485. >”SAMMMY!” He yells
  486.  “Hey, keep it down man. There’s no way that’s him!”
  487. >It’s too late to reason with Mike. He takes off towards the person, now frozen at the edge of the parking lot
  488. “It’s probably just a janitor you fucking idiot!” You yell after him
  489. >You love Mike like a brother, but sometimes you want to strangle him. You can’t believe he’s going to college
  490. >You grab his beer off the hood of your car and drain it, and then start shoving the rest of the beers into your backpack
  491. >You were NOT going to get an MIP because of his drunken bullshit
  492.  
  493. >You finish putting some of the beer in your backpack when Mike’s excited voice booms behind you
  494. >”Anon, look who I found!”
  495. >Reluctantly you turn around
  496. “H-H-Hey Anon…” Sam is standing next to Mike, red in the face and shivering from either fear or the cold
  497. >You glare at Mike for a second, and then turn to Sam
  498. “Hey Sam,” you sigh, trying to sound polite
  499. >Somehow he always manages to find you. Do you emit pheromones that attract really awkward people?
  500. >Mike, buzzed and oblivious, prattles on excitedly before Sam can get a response out
  501. >”Did you know that Sammy actually works for the school? Isn’t that neat?”
  502. >Actually you kind of wondered how he spent his Friday nights
  503. “Is that what you’re doing out here, or did your parents forget to pick you up?”
  504. >”Nope, he’s a night janitor!” Mike claps him on the shoulder, which makes Sam wince
  505. >A janitor huh? It’s oddly fitting for him, you guess
  506. >It’s creepy and decidedly low-level work
  507. “How come you never told me you were a night janitor?”
  508. >Sam fidgets with his ears
  509. “I-I’m not really an e-e-employee. I clean a-and they p-p-pay me,”
  510. >While you’re listening to Sam try to explain his job, you get an idea
  511. “Hey Sam,” you try to sound polite, but you honestly don’t have all night to let this kid explain his work
  512. >”Y-Yes?”
  513. “You got keys to the school?”
  514.  
  515. >You can’t convince Mike to come with you, because he says he’s got a better idea than just wandering around the school at night
  516. >”So you know how the gate to the dumpsters is always locked?”
  517. “Yeah…But why would you wanna go hang out with some dumpsters? I thought you had better taste in women,”
  518. >For the first time in what is maybe months, you hear Sam quietly snicker, just beneath Mike’s range of hearing
  519. >”No, you’re not thinking of the bigger picture here. The ladder, Anon, the ladder!”
  520. >Mike was referring to a ladder that lead up to the roof. He’s always wanted to get on the school’s roof for one reason or another
  521. >You take a swig of your own beer and make a decision, like any good student would
  522. “Fine, but we wait until Alex gets here.”
  523. >”Yes!” Mike pumps his fist into the cold night air
  524. >Sam is looking between you two like he’s trying to say something, but he eventually decides against it
  525. >Maybe he wanted to protest or say no the fact that he’s basically just getting used for his access to the school?
  526. >You look at the backseat of your car and realize you’ve still got some stray beers and a full six pack left, which was gonna be hard to fit all in your backpack
  527. >Luckily that’s where Sam comes into play
  528. >You stuff the last beers into the rabbit’s backpack just as Alex rides up next to the car on his bike
  529. >”What’s up comrades…” he leans his bike against your car ”…Annnndd Sam Garlen?”
  530. >He gives you a confused look, but you just shrug your shoulders, as if to say, ‘just go with it.’
  531. >You fill Alex in as the four of you walk over to the dumpsters, which were back behind the school in a loading dock of sorts
  532. >It was a popular spot for the slackers and the goths to come and pour out their angst on the great concrete canvas that is public high school
  533. >In the cold moonlight, you could make out all the graffiti and vandalism that the docks had accumulated
  534. >As Sam nervously unlocks the gates to the dumpsters, you paused to read what some of your fellow social misfits had left behind
  535. >Swear words, dicks, a swastika, a few pentagrams, even a heart containing two initials are proudly displayed
  536. >Were those two still together?
  537. >What drew your attention was a sentence that read “Fuck off Skinfuckers” and immediately beneath that, a booming retort was issued: “Yiff in hell furfags”
  538. >God, how old are these? How old is any of this?
  539. >Did the kids who left this all behind think that it’d be here forever? Where are they now? Behind the counter at a gas station, in a college dorm, serving overseas and killing brown people?
  540. >They were just like you once, but then things changed. Things always change. Nothing ever lasts
  541. >”You coming or what, Anon?” Mike is looking down on you from halfway up the ladder
  542. >You shake your head free of these curious thoughts and make for the ladder
  543. >Sam is waiting at the bottom, looking weighed down by the beers in his backpack
  544. “You gonna be good to carry those?” You question. “Because if you drop ‘em, you and Mike both owe me some beer.”
  545. >He nervously hooks his thumbs around the thin straps of his backpack
  546. >”I-I th-th-think I’ll be okay. W-We’re not g-gonna be here l-long right? I c-could get in t-t-troub-“
  547. >”Don’t be such a pussy,” Mike’s voice booms from the rooftop. “It’s a Friday night, the principal’s gone home already. Now hop your ass on up here, same goes for you too Anon, you dapper bitch.”
  548. >You frown and make Alex carry Sam’s backpack up. Alex tells Sam that the school shouldn’t be making him work for such poor wages and in such pitiful conditions — all without knowing what they pay Sam or what it’s like being a night janitor
  549. >You think he just likes pretending to be some kind of communist revolutionary
  550. >Sam goes ahead of you, struggling up the bars, and Alex brings up the rear
  551.  
  552. >The ladder is a tenuous climb. It makes sense that it’d be hidden from students —  this fucking thing was a lawsuit waiting to happen
  553. >Every bit of it is covered in a thick coat of rust, and wherever you put your feet, the bars flex dangerously
  554. >Noticing this, Sam scampers up to the top, and you were quick behind him.
  555. >Fuck that death trap
  556. >Alex is having a little more trouble. He’s by no means fat, but out of the four of you, he’s the biggest and the tallest, and having the extra weight of a few beers in his backpack isn’t helping
  557. >”Hey guys,” he pauses on the last few bars of the ladder. “This bar here seems kinda flexibl-“
  558. >The sound of metal sheering and snapping breaks the quiet of the night
  559. >The bars at Alex’s feet rend in half, and were it not for the fact that his grip reflexively tightened around the bars that he was holding onto, he would have likely plunged the 30+ feet onto the cold, wet ground
  560. >”FUCK!” He shouts instinctively
  561. >You’re all frozen with shock as Alex dangles off the side of the building, the bars too far down for him to comfortably place his feet
  562. >He grits his teeth and musters whatever he learned in gym class of sophomore year and pulls his body and feet up to the next rung
  563. >After some struggle and some grunting, Alex flops over the railing and onto the roof, where you and Mike pull him to safety
  564. >”Holy shit,” Alex breathes, sitting up on his hands and knees. He looks at you, out of breath, red and still shaking out the adrenaline. “You know how some high school kids have those ‘I almost died doing something stupid’ stories to tell? I think I just earned mine.”
  565. >You’d have to agree, though you keep it a secret that you haven’t had yours yet
  566. >”Well, we’re boned, thanks to comrade Alexi,” Mike says, looking over the railing
  567. >Alex’s near brush with death had destroyed enough bars in the already delicate ladder that it looked impossible to climb down
  568. >”It’s not my fault that the school can’t afford to replace their equipment,” Alex brushes the dust off his green sweater, “That’s something that the greedy fucks in the White House should have taken care of for us.”
  569. >”Well, we better get used to life up here, because we’re trapped. I say we eat Sam first,” Mike says
  570. >Sam squeaks nervously
  571. >He knows that was just a joke, right?
  572. >You scan the rooftop and notice a stooped building attached to the roof, obviously some sort of maintenance access tunnel
  573. “Sam, you have keys for that?”
  574. >He fumbles with the keyring in the pockets of his sweats
  575. >”M-Maybe?” He stammers
  576. >Good enough. It’s cold, you’re all a little scared, and you want a beer to warm up
  577.  
  578. >You all sit near the edge of the roof, beers in hand. Alex is halfway through his first, Mike through his third, and you’re nursing yours
  579. >Sam hasn’t even sipped his
  580. >From up here, you can see everything
  581. >Stretching out before you is Ranchview, all lit up with phosphorus orange from the streetlights
  582. >The moon, too big and too bright to not be a curious anomaly to astronomers, hangs fat and round in the sky above
  583. >All that stretched before you, stubborn against the darkness, was home. It was all you’d ever known
  584. >It seems endless
  585. >“Man, I cannot WAIT to get out of here,” Mike says, almost as if he was talking to the entire town
  586. >”Going to go to college, going to have some fun, put some miles between me and this town.”
  587. >He tosses his empty bottle off the roof towards the city, almost like he could strike a blow against the forces of stability and monotony that have plagued him since birth
  588. > It lands somewhere beneath you in the dark, the sharp sound of glass shattering on pavement being the only noise for miles
  589. >”I just wanna quit Shop N’ Save. College will be a nice segue into politics,” Alex concurs, also hurling his bottle off the edge
  590. >You pass them both another bottle, more ammunition for their rooftop rebellion
  591. “Why not just quit?”
  592. >”I’d love to, believe me, but mom and dad won’t let me. But once I’m no longer beneath their iron fist, I’m gonna do something big, something more important than selling estrus blockers to horny moms,” he sighs. “I just... wanna do something that matters.”
  593. >”Yeah,” Mike quips. “Me too. I want to do something important. Something that matters.”
  594. >You suck down your beer and toss it into the night
  595. >That doesn’t sound so bad, you think
  596. >Something that matters
  597. >”So what about you, Anon, bet you got into some pretentious Ivy League school,” Mike takes a swig. “You know what you want to study?”
  598. >You fidget uncomfortably at the question
  599. >In truth you’ve been putting off thinking about this kind of stuff for as long as you could. It made you nervous
  600. >How can anyone ask an 18-year-old what they’re going to do for the rest of their life? Haven’t they seen how many kids get burned in this trial by fire?
  601. >You clear your throat and start on another beer
  602. “I actually haven’t applied anywhere. Or… thought about it much,” you reply quietly
  603. >”You’re kidding?” Alex sounds surprised. “Out of all of us, I would have thought that you would have been on top of this.”
  604. >”Yeah, both of us morons couldn’t swing it in the AP classes like you can. You’re seriously not applying anywhere?”
  605. >Your heart skips in your chest. God damnit can we stop talking about this?
  606. >You guess you don’t see a purpose in all the urgency in adolescence. This is the last, finest year of your youth. There are movies made about senior year and all these guys can think about is trying to get it done with. The fools
  607. >You look around for a distraction and your eyes coldly settle on Sam, who hasn’t said a word yet. He’s been sipping on his beer, but is barely a fourth of the way through
  608. >That big tourist. That outsider. That freeloader
  609. “What about you Sam? What are you doing after you graduate?” You ask almost tauntingly
  610. >The rabbit freezes up at the question
  611. >That was mean, but it had to be done. You needed a diversion
  612. >”W-Well I-I-I umm…” he stammers. “I’m n-n-not s-smart enough for c-c-college a-a-and I’m not good enough f-f-for a r-regular job…s-so…” he trails off, unable to finish his thought. He bows his head, almost shamefully
  613. >Wow. That was really hard to hear, actually
  614. >You’d feel regret if you didn’t hate him
  615. >”So you’re just gonna be a night janitor your entire life and live at home?” Mike says, rather matter-of-fact. You know he didn’t mean to sound rude, but when you look critically at Sam’s options, there was no other way around it
  616. >”I-I g-guess?” he whispers
  617. >Now you REALLY feel regret for asking. You never wanted to know this much about him
  618. >Alex brings his knees close to his chest and looks thoughtfully at the city. You can see the moonlight reflected in his soft blue eyes
  619. >”Well, at least you’ll have Anon to keep you company in this tiny ass town,” he says wistfully
  620. >He didn’t mean that to be spiteful. Maybe he was trying to be sensitive
  621. >Alex has never been tactful. Amazing that he wants to be some kind of politician
  622. >Sam shivers a little from the cold, and maybe, in his head, he’s hoping you’ll stick around
  623.  
  624. >You all settle for silence, at least until almost all of the beer is gone and the night gets too late
  625. >Mike somewhat drunkenly slurs out that it’s cold and he’d like to get off the roof now, to which Alex replies that we’re stuck up here
  626. “Actually, we can just go through the maintenance thingy over there,” you jab a thumb behind you, towards the stooped over little entrance back into the school. “Right Sam?”
  627. >”I knew Sammy would come in handy,” Mike laughs. “There’s a reason we brought Thumper!”
  628. >Sam doesn’t say anything while Mike and Alex come up with increasingly offensive slurs. His eyes watch the tiny flitting lights of the city, like a child watches fireflies dance in the dark
  629. >They’re the only thing he hears and sees right now, not this city, not the cruel jokes behind him between two drunken dickheads he barely knows, not even Anon, his only ‘friend’ studying him, volunteering him to break the law
  630. >The rabbit’s tiny fingers are spread apart, barely touching yours, and you can actually see him breathing steady  for once instead of hyperventilating over everything
  631. >You shake him by his shoulder, and he lets out the most feminine squeak you’ve ever heard from a boy
  632. “C’mon, we’re gonna go,” you say, pointing at the door
  633. >He reluctantly retracts his hands back into his hoodie and digs around for his keys
  634. >When you finally stand, you can feel the blood pounding in your temple. You’d had a bit too much
  635. >More than a little drunk, Mike trots over to the edge of the roof near the ladder
  636. >”We could jump,” he says, looking a little like he intended to do just that. “We could probably land in those dumpsters. They’re open.”
  637. >Alex yells at him to get away from the ledge
  638. >”Don’t be a retard, Mike. You’d get killed, and I already cheated death once tonight.”
  639. >”You guys are no fun,” Mike grumbles, taking a few dizzy steps back from the edge. “Are we going to waste our youth playing it safe or are we going to fucking do something!?”
  640.  
  641. >The four of you elect to leave the rest of your beers on the roof, right next to the rooftop door, making plans to return again
  642. >Sam nervously fidgets with his keyring, trying out all shapes and sizes while Mike complains that he’s cold, which doesn’t help the rabbit in going faster
  643. >When he finds the right one, the door pulls open slowly, shaking off ages of rust and dust
  644. >Sam stands in the entrance wrinkling his nose
  645. >”We going or what?” Mike asks
  646. >”S-S-Something s-s-smells bad in h-here…” He turns to you for assurance, but you keep your gaze fixated on the dark corridor ahead
  647. >None of you can smell anything, but you remind them that anthros like Sam usually have a greater sense of smell than humans
  648. >”So nobody fart, cause it’ll kill Sam,” Mike laughs
  649. >”Especially not you,” Alex mutters
  650. >You tell Sam to just hold his nose so you can get inside and get out of the cold
  651.  
  652. >The four of you wander the black corridors above the school, relying on the lights from your cellphones to cleave a path into the dark
  653. >Old pipes are strung up like forgotten Christmas lights, and beneath you your feet echo off the cold concrete floors
  654. >After several minutes of no progress and increasing frustration, you ask Sam if he knows the way out
  655. >He stammers a little and shakes his head
  656. >”I-I’ve never b-been up here. I-I-I don’t know w-where t-t-this goes…”
  657. >You all groan loudly
  658. >To be fair it doesn’t look like anyone has been up here in YEARS
  659. >The only saving grace is that the deeper you get into the school, the warmer it seems to get, which is a welcome change from the frosted night air
  660. >That saving grace quickly becomes a thorn in your side, as the air gets heavier and warmer the deeper in you go
  661. >Soon you’re practically suffocating
  662. >Mike ditches his jacket and Alex pulls off his sweater. You also strip down to your undershirt
  663. >Sam rolls up his sleeves, revealing his starved, skeletal arms, his brown fur caked in sweat. He starts panting, not loudly, but enough to be heard, and you’re tempted to ask him if it’s hot under all that fur and why he doesn’t just take off the fucking hoodie. You’re all guys, right?
  664.  
  665. >The corridor spreads out considerably, and you can no longer use the walls to guide yourself safely
  666. >You fumble about in the dark, hands grasping at anything solid
  667. >Wherever you are now, it’s not the same stuffy halls as before.
  668. >After a few twists and turns, you all take a small break, slumping, backs against the wall, sweating out the tight air
  669. >It feels like you’re drowning
  670. >This is how you die, isn’t it? Steamed to death in your own high school?
  671. >Fuck, you can see the headlines in the local rag already
  672. >Mike tries to make light of the situation
  673. >”Everyone say their prayers before tonight?” He wheezes
  674. >Alex starts coughing and gasping for air
  675. >Sam takes raspy breaths and throws back his hood, his sticky brown hair spilling across his face, ears tumbling down in front of him
  676. >He reaches up to twist them reflexively, but his hands fall short and slump against his sides
  677. >You want to help him, call for someone, even scream at your own lagging suffocation, but you don’t feel like you’ve got any strength left
  678. >You check your phone for the time
  679. >11:59
  680. >How poetic would it be to die at exactly midnight?
  681. >But life isn’t like your favorite poems. Damn them for ruining your expectations
  682. >Goodbye Mom, Dad, Mike, Alex. It’s been a wild 18 years. Here’s to hoping that whatever god is watching you doesn’t mind all the shameful porn you’ve fapped to
  683. >Your vision starts clouding with darkness, so you close your eyes and surrender to the pink of your inner-eyelids
  684. >You hope it won’t hurt
  685.  
  686. >A tremendous, unearthly scream forces your eyes back open
  687. >The air almost instantly becomes bone dry and cold, and a strange, fiery light spills into the long corridor
  688. >The four of you suck in huge gasps of air like you’d just been held under water for too long
  689. >Before anyone can speak, Sam lets out a girlish yelp, undoing all the air he’d just taken in
  690. >He inexplicably slides forward, as if tugged down the hall by his backpack
  691. >”H-H-Hey!” he squeals, falling flat on his face
  692. >He’s jerked further down the hall, his fingers clawing into the raw concrete for something to hold on to
  693. >You instinctively lunge out towards him, and wrap your fingers around his thin wrists
  694. >He slides further down the hall, tugging you along with him
  695.  
  696. >The loudest sound you’ve ever heard practically deafens you
  697. >Alex grabs at your ankles, trying to keep you and Sam from being pulled away
  698. >He goes down with the two of you, and Mike doesn’t have much luck either
  699. >You hang on to Sam as tight as you can, you and your friends effortlessly strung along like dumb fish who took the bait
  700. >You all get pulled into a somewhat spacious room, but it’s clear that whatever’s happening has something to do with Sam, who gets tugged into the air
  701. >You heroically let go of your grasp on him lest you get pulled up into the air as well
  702. >The rabbit is suspended over a concrete basin in the middle of the room
  703. >”H-H-Help!!” He yells, flailing in the air, desperately reaching towards the ground
  704. >You can only lay there on the floor, paralyzed with shock
  705. >Is this a dream? This is anime shit, not real life
  706. >Sam’s backpack rips at the top, and the small red book comes flying out
  707. >The rabbit comes crashing down into a stone basin at the center of the room, landing face first
  708. >The book hovers in the center of the room, its pages flipping and glowing with a pale, phantasmal aura
  709. >The room explodes with a blinding, fiery light, and when you can see again, you look around
  710. >The walls are COVERED in strange writings, symbols, poems
  711. >It looks like the bedroom of a madman
  712. >You can recognize a few symbols
  713. >Pentagrams, symbols for planets, for men, for women, various species of anthros…
  714.  
  715. >And then at the center of the room, two numbers appear on the wall, scribbled in fire
  716. >31
  717. >A titanous rumbling in the earth beneath you shakes you out onto your back
  718. >What follows is a deep, throaty roar that shakes the whole building and forces all of you to clap your hands over your ears
  719. >It echoes for some time, and you try yelling, but your screams are swallowed by the monstrous howl
  720.  
  721. >After a few seconds the roaring flitters out into stunned silence
  722. >You cautiously crack an eyelid and look around the room
  723. >The red book, which was floating in the air, drops harmlessly onto Sam’s head
  724. >Deciding that they feel safe, Alex and Mike start slowly moving, and then scanning the walls
  725. >Bathed in the dim, warm light that seems like it has no source, nobody says a word, just stares slack jawed at each other and the fiery writings on the wall
  726. >Sam is heaving silently, his ears pulled tightly over his face in fear
  727. >You think he might be crying, which would be understandable. You’d probably cry too if you weren’t in shock
  728. >Slowly you pull yourself up onto your feet, though your legs tremble and shake
  729. >Holy fuck
  730. >You stumble over and lean against a wall, but you quickly pull away, not knowing if you should touch anything here
  731. >The walls are schizophrenically covered in strange writings and symbols, a massive “31” burns against the largest wall, traced in a flame
  732. >You study your surroundings as you try to steady your breathing
  733. >The closer you look, the more things start to make sense – at least a little bit
  734. >It looks a little bit like what’s written in that book Sam showed you today
  735. >There are words here. Words like “Drain” and “Desire,” burn as clear as red flame
  736. >Other words like “Rage,” “Rape,” “Raise” also appear
  737. >You read a little farther down the wall, trying to commit to memory what you’re seeing
  738. >The name written beneath the great 31 makes you pause
  739. >’Doermuth’
  740.  
  741. >”Anon?” The sound of Alex’s voice makes you jump
  742. >Mike and Alex are both on their feet, though they’re hanging on to one another trying to keep upright
  743. >Sam is leaning against the basin, knees pulled tight against his chest. He’s got the book in his hands – shut
  744. >”What the hell is all this stuff?” Mike asks, glancing around
  745.  “I have no fucking clue. None at all.”
  746. >You’re not superstitious or anything, but this defies the natural order
  747. >You saw Sam get pulled into the air, you heard that awful noise. You can see the writing that is literally on the wall
  748. >You take out your phone and try to snap a picture, but they all come out dark despite the strange light filling the room
  749. >Nobody is going to believe this. You can’t believe it. You try pinching yourself to see if you’re dreaming but you can’t wake up (wake me up inside)
  750. >You all marvel and whisper, except for Sam, who is still trying to regain some nerves
  751. >Mike opens his mouth to speak
  752. >”We…We all saw that happen, right? Like, every one of us saw Sam get tossed around? Heard that noise?”
  753. >Speaking of…
  754. >You ask Sam if he’s okay, but he doesn’t answer immediately, he just stares straight ahead, trembling with the fear of supernatural death hanging over him
  755. >The poor kid must be so scared right now
  756. >You extend a hand in front of him, offering to help him up
  757. >His eyes focus on your hand, and he hesitantly accepts your offer
  758. >He must have been weak in the knees, because when you pull him up, you pull a little too hard, and all 104lbs of him stumble into you
  759. >You wrap your arms around him to try and stabilize yourself to keep from being knocked over
  760. >God damn this kid is bony as hell. He must have an eating disorder
  761. >But you also feel a tenderness to him, something you wouldn’t expect from an Auschwitz-tier kid like him
  762. >This is so gay
  763. >When you realize what you’re doing, and how close he is, you break the unintentional hug and give him a sharp push, which sends him stumbling towards the basin
  764. >You awkwardly dig your fingers into the skin on the back of your neck
  765. >This is some Fujoshi’s wet dream, and you’ll not be a part of it
  766. “Y-You okay Sam?”
  767. >He nods his head and quickly averts his gaze to the floor
  768. >”Y-Y-Yeah, t-t-thanks.”
  769. “Good…Good…”
  770. >Silence, except for your strained breathing
  771. >You raise an eyebrow as you see a trail of blood winding down from Sam’s nose
  772. >How did you not notice that before?
  773. >He notices you looking and runs a finger under his nose
  774. >It comes back covered in warm blood, which causes a brief look of panic to cross his timid face before it collapses into something that looks like guilt
  775. >He must have hit his nose when he fell into the basin, which now has a substantial blood stain on it
  776. >It doesn’t seem to be bleeding anymore, so the small fluttering of worry in your heart subsides
  777. >N-Not that you’d tell him of course
  778. >The light of the room slowly begins fading, however, cutting your investigation short
  779. “I’m ready to go home now and forget this all happened.” You say, which earns tired nods from your friends, and Sam just shuffles behind you
  780.  
  781. >The other end of the room opens up into a similar hallway, with pipes emerging from the concrete like branches out of an old tree
  782. >The lights is quickly dwindling down to embers, so you all follow the shiny copper pipes, around corners, down long corridors and cramped hallways, silently hoping they will deliver you into the school’s interior
  783. >You’re relieved when you locate a set of stairs, which means you’re at least heading in the right direction
  784. >Or to the basement, and God knows you don’t want to find out what fucked up shit is down there
  785. >After a few more minutes of near darkness, you finally push open a clean, heavy door, and burst into the sterile light of the school
  786. >”Where the fuck is this?” Alex asks
  787. >You notice that the walls are stacked with shelves of sporting equipment, football pads and old event signs
  788. >The Spooktober Fest sign is pulled into the center of the room, ready for use next Friday
  789. “I think this is the equipment room, the one attached to the gym…”
  790. >It looks clean enough for Sam to have been in here recently
  791. >Kid probably just forgot to turn out the lights
  792. >Nobody wants to stay in the school any longer than they have to, especially not Mike, who cites his drunkenness and nausea
  793.  
  794. >The crisp autumn night feels good against your feverish skin when you finally exit from the gym’s doors
  795. >You hope no shit heads had come around while you were in there and fucked with your car or Alex’s bike
  796. >Luckily they’re all still where you left them
  797. >Alex props his bike up, but doesn’t get on it. He stares expectantly at you, waiting to move
  798. >”So…What now?”
  799. >A chill wind blows, and you can feel exhaustion starting to weigh on your eyelids
  800.  “We all go home and sleep. Try to figure out what we just saw.”
  801. >He nods in agreement and jumps on his bike
  802. >You make Alex promise to text you when he gets home, and he agrees, sailing off across the cold pavement of the parking lot, beneath a moon that looks much closer than it should be
  803. >Mike produces a joint from his pocket, half smashed, and begins puffing on it, not looking at any of you, just letting the pathetic little thing hang out of his mouth as he peers down the hill at the city
  804. >You frown, and as you get closer to Mike you can see him shivering – either from the cold or from something else
  805. “Mike?” You lightly tap his shoulder, but he doesn’t respond
  806. “Mike, we’re going home, okay?”
  807. >Silent as a stone
  808. >”C’mon dude, don’t give me the silent treatment right now. You gonna even offer me a hit off that?”
  809. >At last Mike turns around – and you wish he hadn’t
  810. >He’s scowling, eyes bloodshot red, face twisted up with something beyond malice
  811. >”Just- give me a second, okay? Fucking Christ, you’re so needy.”
  812. >Ouch
  813. >You can feel that warm blood rush hitting you as well
  814. >Heart racing, you open your mouth
  815. >What crawled up his ass?
  816. >And despite that sudden and impulsive need to defend yourself, you swallow down your anger, shut your mouth, and nod
  817. >Where the fuck is that retarded little rabbit? You need someone to take this out on
  818.  
  819. >Found him
  820. >He’s sitting down on the curb at the edge of the lot, head down, hands working on something, his backpack beside him
  821. >You approach and try to make your presence known with a cough – you’ve already had enough of people turning their backs on you
  822. >All this accomplishes is startling him, causing a scrap of paper to fly from his hand into the wind’s pull
  823. >”N-NO!” He throws down his notebook and pen, digging into a full-on sprint, vanishing into the darkness that the streetlamps could never penetrate
  824. >Suddenly, you’re worried
  825. >Several seconds pass
  826. >Did the darkness swallow him? Is there something out there?
  827. >You jump to the edge of the curb, too afraid to venture into the dark yourself
  828. “Sam?” You call, not yet brave enough to yell
  829. >No response
  830. >Your fists clench, white-knuckled with panic
  831. >You just need somewhere to put your anxiety. You can’t deal with this right now – this entire night as frayed your nerves
  832. >Just before you cut a path down the hill into the darkness, see a brown rabbit emerge out of the dark, head down, a balled-up piece of paper in in his right hand,
  833. “SAM WHAT THE HELL!?” You shout at last
  834. >The shout makes him wince, and he looks up to you all suddenly hurt
  835. >He apologizes to you in a voice just beneath the wind’s own, and you can see that he’s still trembling, either from the sudden cold or the adrenaline
  836. >Could be both
  837. >You unclench your fists and snap the balled-up paper from his hand
  838. “This better be important enough for you to go off into the night for,” you sneer
  839. >You retreat from that threshold back under the light artificial fire of the parking lot's light
  840. >You undo the damage that his tiny, anxious hands did to the paper
  841. >It’s a loose outline of a sketch, some basic shape of a human, and maybe a cape flowing behind him? There’s a big circle drawn on the chest – the start of something, possibly a logo?
  842. “What is this, Sam?” You say, still trying to make out the beginnings of the features he sketched under the fragile light
  843. >”I’m sorry!” He squeaks, quickly appearing at your side, and for the first time (that you’ve seen), you think he might be crying
  844. “Why are you apologizing? You don’t have to apologize. I just… did you just draw this? Like, in those five minutes I was talking to Mike?”
  845. >The wind cuts into you again. This wind shouldn’t be here
  846. >He doesn’t answer, instead wipes his eyes with his sleeve
  847. >You try not to think about how crusty that sleeve probably gets
  848. >You don’t know what to feel right now – Anger, fear, anxiety, pity – so you just mumble something about being sorry you asked
  849. >You ball the drawing up and shove it into your pocket – he doesn’t seem to care
  850. >Alright, now it’s your turn to go and sulk for a bit
  851. >You need to cool off. Everyone needs to cool off
  852.  
  853. >Mike is already in the backseat of your car, head against the window
  854. >Silent, except for some grumbles
  855. >Sam stands on the curb, his ripped backpack slung loosely over his shoulders, not knowing what to do or say
  856. >Does he walk to and from school every day?
  857. >Damnit, you really just want to go home
  858. >You sigh and ask if he wants a ride
  859. >”W-W-Well y-you don’t need to, I sometimes get c-c-car sick an-“
  860. >Mike cracks open a window and pokes his head out at Sam, annoyed, drunk, high, but much more mellow than before. The weed seems to have done its job
  861. >”Get in Thumper, we’re going home.”
  862. >Normally you’d cringe at him using a slur against rabbits like that, but you’re too tired to care right now
  863. >Sam stutters an apology and scrambles into the passenger seat
  864.  
  865. >The whole ride is silent, you figure everyone is processing what just happened
  866. >You put on some music, some boring acoustic stuff, just to keep it from getting more awkward and confusing
  867.  
  868. >You drop Mike off as he mumbles a ‘thanks’ and pull away into the dark neighborhoods
  869. >You’re still a little salty about him snapping at you, but it’ll pass
  870. >You look over and think Sam might be asleep next to you, so you shake him by the shoulder
  871. >There’s no way you’re doing this alone
  872. >Startled, he jumps a bit in his seat
  873. >”S-S-Sorry! I was l-looking at the h-h-houses…” he trails off into a whisper. “They’re all so nice out here.”
  874. “Speaking of houses, mind telling me how to get to yours?”
  875. >He sits up straight in his seat and nods his head
  876. >You go slow through the neighborhoods, your car passing quietly underneath the orange street lamps
  877. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3nqKAw9vuU&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=4&t=0s
  878. >Something by Matt Elliot comes on, which he seems to really enjoy, quietly humming along to the somber melodies while he watches the neighborhoods slide by
  879. >You know, it’s weird. You’ve never really talked to Sam at length before. It’s mostly been dismissive stuff, trying to end the conversation as quickly as possible
  880. >All the houses have Halloween decorations set out
  881. >Pumpkins, light strings, plastic bones strewn across yellowing lawns, fake cobwebs
  882. >It all seems to fascinate Sam, because you have to ask him several times if you’re going the right way, to which he dreamily agrees
  883. >…
  884. >So, what now? You just keep rolling on you guess?
  885.  
  886. “Listen, I wanna get home before the sunrise, okay?” You complain, not necessarily angry at him, but tired and annoyed
  887. >”W-What time is it now?” He asks, sounding a little more nervous than before
  888. >You tap on your dashclock
  889. >12:42
  890. “12:42, and wayyy past my bedtime. Probably yours too,” you say with a slight laugh
  891. >Sam squeezes his ears so hard you think he might actually damage them
  892. >”I-IT’S PAST M-MIDNIGHT!?” He squeals, louder than you’ve ever heard him
  893. >It’s almost painful
  894. “Yeah, it’s almost one. What’s the rush?”
  895. >”I N-NEED TO GET H-HOME!” He squeaks
  896. “Okay man, chill out. What’s the rush?”
  897. >”I-I’ll get in t-t-trouble…” Without realizing it, he squeezes his neck a little bit
  898. >You’re tempted to just stop the car then and there and ask what the fuck that’s all about, but he seems a lot more anxious than usual, so you give your old rust bucket a little gas and sail out of the nice, cookie cutter neighborhoods and back onto the main roads
  899. >Crispy leaves seem to dash out of the way as you thunder through blinking streetlights and down empty roads
  900. >Sam stutters directions a little later than you’d like, so you have to crank the wheel sometimes to avoid missing important turns, your little shitbucket car crying out in anguish as you nearly slide onto two wheels
  901. >You’ve decided to kill Sam after this and sell his organs for new tires
  902.  
  903. >Eventually you’re traveling down a road you’re not familiar with
  904. >Behind you the familiar and the suburban glow like a fast-fading fire
  905. >The houses and buildings and stores that pockmark your suburban town start to thin out and become smaller and older and more weathered, more ashen, more haphazard and forgotten
  906. >Chain link fences press up against the cracked road, and the sidewalk devolves into a dirt path, and then, strangely, back into a sidewalk again
  907. >The streets no longer have names – just letters to designate their position in the minds of the city planners who forgot about this part of town
  908. >You roll slowly, suddenly aware of the fact that you’ve been white-knuckling the steering wheel, doing more leering than driving
  909. >Sam directs you to pull up in front of what must be his house, which is really no larger than a trailer, sitting on some forgotten lot
  910. >There’s a twisted chain-link fence around the front ‘yard’, if you could even call it that
  911. >Without the moonlight, you wouldn’t have been able to see that the ‘yard’ is just patches of dead grass and junk thrown about carelessly, with a shitty, rusty sedan parked in the center of the decaying landscape
  912. >This looks… sketchy as fuck
  913. “This yours, Sam?” You ask cautiously, letting the car idle in front of his house
  914. >He swallows hard and nods, hugging his backpack like a safety blanket
  915. >You don’t kill the engine
  916. >Everything inside of you is telling you to just push him out the door and drive the hell out of here
  917. “I’m coming with you. Just to the front door.” You decide, without ever asking the rabbit if he’s okay with that
  918. >Naturally he isn’t
  919. >”Y-You don’t n-need to d-d-do that,” he says with barely contained panic in his voice
  920. “There’s no way in hell I’m leaving you here. No offense dude, but this is a rough neighborhood.”
  921. >”I-I’ll be o-okay Anon, I p-p-promise...”
  922. >But you won’t hear any his whining as you undo your own seatbelt
  923.  
  924. >You walk with him from your car to his front door despite his protests
  925. >He hesitates for a second, then knocks twice
  926. >he doesn’t have a key?
  927. >There’s a short delay, the sound of a heavy chair squeaking, and then the door at least lumbers open
  928. >Standing there, arms slack at his side, wearing an oil stained undershirt, smoke drizzling from his cigarette, is Sam’s father
  929. >He looks a little like Sam; same shade of fur, but he looks much more greasy, much more unkempt, if that were possible
  930. >Maybe you’re specieist, and think all rabbits look the same?
  931. >Plus he’s almost your height, so he towers over Sam, glaring down at his son as if he could strike him with just a gaze
  932. >”Where the FUCK have you been?” He spits, at last taking the cigarette from his mouth
  933. >The smell of liquor is thick on his breath
  934. >Sam tries to answer quickly with a stammered apology, but his father doesn’t want to hear it
  935. >”Thinking you can just turn up two hours late… and who the hell’s this?” He says, jamming a finger at you
  936. >”This one of your friends? You got friends now? Friends with humans?”
  937. >Your heart jumps in your chest, and you freeze up, not knowing what to say
  938. >Normally you’d introduce yourself politely, but the words aren’t coming out
  939. >God damnit, why does this always happen?
  940. >”N-N-No,” Sam whispers. He casts a pitiful glance up at you, his eyes begging you to forgive him and just leave him to his fate
  941. >”H-He’s not my f-f-friend. J-Just gave me a r-r-ride home...” His voice shakes, but you’re still impressed that he hasn’t completely broken down yet – something you feel like you’re on the verge of doing yourself
  942. >Sam’s father glares at you, the tense silence broken only by the sound of the TV left on inside the house
  943. >He leans closer to you, bracing himself with the door, his weight and posture make you feel like he could tear the entire frame off on a whim
  944. >He blows a puff of smoke into your face and you wince at the acrid smell
  945. >”You can leave now. And you can keep the hell away from my son. This boy ain’t had no friends ever, and he’s not starting now, especially not with a fucking human,” he spews with venom. You can tell he’s just waiting for the chance to get physical
  946. >What do you even say in these situations? Like, what are you supposed to do?
  947. >”You heard me?” He slurs. “You deaf?”
  948. >You nod, not knowing how to answer
  949. >You feel like you’re going to shit yourself
  950. >”What’s your name?” He says
  951. >Your name?
  952. >Uhhh
  953. >Shit, what is your name?
  954. >He leans in closer, uncomfortably close
  955. >Oh god
  956. ”Brody,” you cough
  957. >Brody, what kind of fucking name is Brody?
  958. >He makes a grumbling sound with his throat, seemingly satisfied with your answer, until some stench hits his nose
  959. >His posture slackens, a smirk spreads across his face, his hateful eyes lock with yours, and it takes everything in your body not to look away in submission
  960. >”You been drinking tonight Brody?”
  961.  
  962. >Your stomach drops
  963. >He lets some laughter die in his chest, rumbling out of body like an earthquake
  964. >”Cause I can smell it on you. Trust me. I’ve got a good nose, ‘specially for drinking. Good ears too. Like how I can hear your asshole clenching up tighter than a kike’s pockets.”
  965. >Words don’t come out
  966. >You didn’t even drink… much... how do you answer?
  967. >He doesn’t wait long, or even at all, really
  968. >”Hey, Skinfucker. I know you can’t hear shit out of those assholes on your head, but I need you to try.”
  969. >His cocky, almost playful mood is gone in a puff of smoke. Something older than pleasantries and manners is now haunting his croaking voice
  970. >You can sense the restrained violence in his words, like a rabbit senses a wolf, just eying him in his peripheries through the brambles
  971. >You’re a coward though
  972. >Rabbits always run
  973. >”Because I just want to know that my son here is safe, and that you’re not endangering any anthros. You ‘coulda been a predator – wolf, fox, you know those snapjaws live ‘round here.”
  974. >His hands clamp around Sam’s thin, shoulders, his dirty paws clawing into Sam’s flesh
  975. >Sam squeaks in pain, but does his best to suffer through this sudden standoff
  976. >”I ‘bout got my gun when I heard the door. Never know what kind of blood drunk savage is going to wander ‘round here. You probably think you’re real brave, don’t you? Coming to my door, drinking, out fucking around with my son, putting him in harm’s way – bad enough they let those jagged jaws out round school - well you’re not.” He laughs for real this time
  977. >”You’re not brave, I can smell the fear on you. You smell like sweat and cologne. Don’t need to have a decent nose to see that you’re not from around here.”
  978. >”So listen to me, Skinfucker. I think we can understand each other. I have a drunk human kid on my porch right now, in a hood filled with predators, and I, being a responsible adult, shouldn’t let him drive home. But I think maybe it’s best you forget anything about my son, get in your car, go home, and forget this ever happened. Wouldn’t want to have to get more involved in your life to make sure you’re… making the right decisions.”
  979. >He nods towards your car
  980. >You understand him perfectly, but something keeps you on that porch
  981. >It’s Sam, struggling as quietly as he can while his dad’s paws, black with motor oil, force Sam to bend under their crushing pressure
  982. >With shame, fighting tears, your burden, that Rabbit that thinks he’s protecting a friend, looks up at you, black circles already gathering around his tired eyes
  983. >He’s saying it’ll be okay – this isn’t new for him
  984. >And with his unspoken permission, you finally snap back to the present
  985. >The iron rods in your body go soft like noodles – your stiff posture slackens, though the blood-pumping-fear that’s flooded your senses keeps you from speaking
  986. >But you do manage a nod, which is enough
  987. >”And you…” he turns a hateful eye towards Sam. “Get in here.”
  988. >He drags Sam inside by his ears and practically tosses him through the door
  989. >Sam’s father takes one last long look at you, his cold eyes glazed over and blood shot, scanning you, feral with smoke and drink, bitter from the years, stained hands anchoring him to the doorframe like a thin string holding on to a puppet that had grown too old and rotten
  990. >There’s the sound of gulls crowing overhead, the lap of waves at the beaches shore. You’re holding  revolver over Sam’s dad, and your name isn’t Anon, it’s Mersault, and you’re not scared, and this isn’t happening, and you squeeze the trig-
  991. >The door slams in your face, bringing you back to reality, standing in on the porch, shaking out the adrenaline and the biting wind
  992.  
  993. >You stare ahead, unable to move, unable to even think, just listening to the sound of the TV, the steady voice of Sam’s dad beginning to rise
  994. >Oh
  995. >It feels like the porch is spinning, much to the chagrin of your stomach
  996. >You hear the sound of the television grow louder, Sam’s meek apologies, threats from his father about getting his mom, some loud muffled thumping, and then a door slamming
  997. >And then heavy footsteps, those of an overweight and drunken rabbit
  998. >Moving towards the front door
  999. >Now it’s your turn to play rabbit
  1000. >Though you lack their survival instincts, you yourself are quite an impressive coward, so you cover the distance between Sam’s house and your car in time that’d make a Gazelle envious
  1001. >You don’t look to see if Sam’s dad is coming back out, you just twist your key into the ignition and gun it down the street, weak tail-lights evaporating into the dark
  1002.  
  1003. >Where are you going? This car is pointed… somewhere, deeper in this ghetto shithole - and you think you’re cursing at 40 in a 15, not that cops really care what happens here
  1004. >Coward
  1005. >You are more focused on the rear-view mirror than the road, watching for headlights to emerge out of the inky blackness like angry torches, burning a path clear to your vehicle
  1006. >He had to be following you-
  1007. >The deafening shriek of a horn draws your eyes forward
  1008. >You throw your wheel into a sharp right, tires giving off that awful tortured yelp as your rustbucket stutters towards stillness, hurtling you against the wheel
  1009. >A massive shape blurs past you, clothed in bone-white moon, ripping into the dark, out of town, horn splitting the air like thunder as it rolls on through, bound on tracks of faded steel, past the quarries, the sheds, somewhere inland but to god knows where and god knows when
  1010. >A train
  1011. >Christ
  1012. >You almost got smeared by a train
  1013. >You forgot how close you are to the rail car yards out here
  1014. >The horn calls out again-
  1015. >Cornered, alone
  1016. >-Aren’t you supposed to be that apathetic cool guy?
  1017. >Where is that stoicism now?
  1018. >The rumble of that beast is like an avalanche
  1019. >And the horn
  1020. >Cornered...
  1021. >...Alone
  1022. >One last echo repeated into the shit hole neighborhood, one last wakeup call for these ghosts
  1023. >A hesitant glance over your shoulder reveals an empty neighborhood, streets as dead as the houses they feed into
  1024. >Your feet shake, hands tremble, stomach twists itself painfully, free of the chase that never even was, but still feeling like a rat in the jaws of a wolf, that whiskey rot in your nose
  1025. >The car is spinning
  1026. >No, the earth is spinning
  1027. >Too fast
  1028. >Yep, you’re gonna-
  1029. >You throw open your door and practically tumble out, spewing acrid vomit onto a street that has no name
  1030. >The train rolls on, swallowing up your retching and choking, railing out of town
  1031.  
  1032. >Sleep doesn’t hit, even when you down four Bennadryl
  1033. >You lay in bed reading through the red book that Sam had accidentally left in your car, but you can’t focus on the words
  1034. >What you just saw inside the school and at Sam’s house has you too wired to sleep
  1035. >God fucking damnit, you wished you had his number. You wanted to know that he was okay
  1036. >You just left him there, with that… thing…
  1037. >He probably didn’t even have a cellphone now that you think about it
  1038. >What the fuck do you do?
  1039. >Do you call someone?
  1040. >It might just make things worse for Sam, especially if his dad found out. Oh fuck, you’re too young to handle this
  1041. >This whole night has been a gigantic slap in the face
  1042. >And you’re about to get one more, as you flip the book to the first page, about to set it down for the night,
  1043. >There’s something sketched on the inside front cover in what looks like pencil. You read it out loud
  1044. ”Brothers, black and red, convene on Hallow’s Eve. All blood debts paid and preparations made, then corruption shall be free.”
  1045. >You squint and read it again
  1046. “on Hallow’s Eve…”
  1047. >Your mind flashes to the fiery 31 and all those names written on the wall inside the school
  1048. >…..
  1049. >You’re dreaming. You’re dreaming. This is all bullshit, there was SOMETHING in that beer. Mike spiked it, you’re sure of it
  1050. >You pinch yourself, but you’re still in your bed
  1051.  
  1052. >You start flipping through the pages, trying to read the shaky cursive
  1053. >There’s references to the moon, poems about debts, symbols for men, women, anthros, and constant references to something called “The Book of Wrath” - a black tome of violence and trickery
  1054. >And “The Book of Rite” - a red book of invocation
  1055.  
  1056. >You’re not dreaming
  1057. >You’re just losing your mind
  1058. >Doesn’t Schizophrenia set in around this age? That’s what this is
  1059. >Your very first psychotic break
  1060. >You should take pics of stuff
  1061. >You pick up your phone to fire off a text to Mike and Alex about needing to talk about things tomorrow, but stop when you see there’s one already there
  1062. >From Mike, to both you and Alex
  1063. >”Tomorrow, Burgershack? We need to talk.”
  1064. >You try to think of an answer, but don’t have the mental capacity to formulate something
  1065. >With the message sent, your head slumps against your pillow, and the roaring quiet of your empty house finally lulls you into a shallow sleep
  1066. >You wake up, only once
  1067. >Something, and you swear you’re not just hearing things – something, inside your house, is growling, deep and low, with blood in its mouth, with enough weight and force to feel real, not just something coming from the trailing vapors of your fever dream
  1068. >And you’re wet
  1069. >You didn’t piss the bed, right?
  1070. >No, clothes are soaked through with sweat
  1071. >Sticky, warm, god awful sweat, a literal stain on your sheets
  1072. >It feels like your body is trying to scream in fear but can’t find its way to your throat
  1073. >Resignation sets in
  1074. >It was going to be one of those nights
  1075. >You go take a piss, drink some water
  1076. >You hobble to the living room couch and give in to gravity’s call, body crumpling into the cushions, eyes snapping shut
  1077. >The growl is long gone from your blitzed mind, so sleep comes – and not a moment too soon
  1078. >The sun was just starting to rise
  1079.  
  1080. Act 2: Fear the Nobodies
  1081. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQKnjDpmlio&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=5&t=0s
  1082.  
  1083. ”So I don’t know EXACTLY what I’m reading here, but I think I have the gist of it: something bad is going to happen on Halloween, it’s got something to do with the moon, Vanessa Doermuth--“
  1084. >”The goth chick?” Mike cuts in
  1085. >Obviously that name invoked something sour in his mind, because his already darkened mood gets darker
  1086. “Yep. She’s either behind this whole thing, or is a target for some ‘blood debt,’ but she’s involved somehow. I mean, I’ve been reading this thing all last night and since I woke up this afternoon, and I don’t think any of what’s going on is just coincidence.”
  1087. >Do you sound crazy?
  1088. >Guess you might as well go full conspiracy-theory mode inside this Burgershack
  1089. >Alex asks you what exactly is going on
  1090. “So the goths hate the jocks and preps, right?”
  1091. >”They hate everyone, dude, and everyone hates each other,” Mikes states. “It’s just… so retarded. Everyone is so retarded.”
  1092. >Well, he’s not wrong
  1093. ”Right, but yesterday I saw Trevor Nelson and Jordan fighting in the lunchroom. The goths were there. And then, Alex, what’s been happening with the estrus cycles of the cheerleaders around town, that can’t be coincidence.”
  1094. >Your commie friend isn’t convinced. “How do you know it’s just cheerleaders? Could be anyone. Most anthros have pretty strong estrus cycles. It’s like scent based right?”
  1095. >Mike tells him what you two saw coming in to the store, and Alex can neither confirm nor deny because he was hiding out in the break room after Mr. Smith came looking for him to presumably send him to the gulag
  1096. >Time to drop your manifesto
  1097. >Well it’s not really yours, but this should help
  1098. “So last night I did some reading-”
  1099. >”Thought you were pounding your girlfriend,” Mike says sarcastically
  1100. >You flip off Mike and pull the red book out of your coat pocket and slide it across the table
  1101. >You crack another energy drink while Mike and Alex flip through the red book together
  1102. “You ever seen Donnie Darko? The Philosophy of Time Travel that Grandma Death gives Donnie? This is… I don’t know, think of this book kinda like that. There’s weird shit happening all around – we all saw it – and this book helps explain a little of what’s going on. It’s not just coincidence.”
  1103. >Even though you did eventually find sleep in the end, it wasn’t a pleasant sleep. You kept waking up with your stomach in knots, the mid-morning sun burning bright
  1104. >Guess you were still having a hard time swallowing this whole thing
  1105. >Or it’s the energy drink
  1106. >You shrug and choke it down, trying to shake off the tired feeling weighing on your eyes
  1107. >”Did you highlight this?” Alex points at the inscription in the inside front cover
  1108. “Yeah. Last night. Said I couldn’t sleep. That’s what has me most worried. I know it seems like I’m drawing a lot of conclusions here with how people are acting and behaving and how I think it connects to this book, and all, and… just the stuff we saw, and… fuck-”
  1109. >You take a long, long draw on your energy drink
  1110. >You turn into a motormouth when you don’t sleep
  1111. “I know that this is confirmation bias on my part, all of what I’ve explained to you, but this part in the front is what worries me the most. Is this thing about another book. I’m not sure what the fuck this book is talking about, but there’s some other book out there that someone has, and this book, that someone out there needs, and I think- Fuck, I don’t know what I think anymore. This book is wrapped up in something, and there’s some other book out there that requires this one, and… yeah...
  1112. >That was very eloquent, good job Dr. King
  1113. >Alex raises his hand
  1114. >”Where did you get this book? It looks like something the Unabomber would have written. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong,” Alex says. ”Love the revolutionary feel,”
  1115.  >You almost say Sam found it, but you hesitate, that name dying on your tongue
  1116. >That’s right… Sam
  1117. >He could be dead
  1118. >If he is dead, that’s one less loose end to worry about
  1119. >But the idea of you being culpable in a murder of your classmate makes your stomach hurt, so you crush the energy drink
  1120. >Do you tell them about Sam’s house?
  1121. >You don’t know if telling them what you saw would help, or make Sam’s situation worse, so you decide to test the waters
  1122. “Sam found it in the bathroom, I guess,” you say as casually as possible, “and he left it in my car when I dropped him off last night at his house.”
  1123. >But Mike doesn’t care about that stuff, he cares more about teasing you. Why? Because he’s a cockface
  1124. >”Speaking of, how did your little boyfriend do last night? He seemed pretty rattled by the whole thing.”
  1125. >Fuck you Mike, you were the one who turned into a dick when you got out of the school
  1126. >You can feel yourself going red in the face, either from anger or…something else
  1127. >Oh god, fucking Fujoshits are actually getting to you
  1128. “Okay, he might be gay, but he’s not my boyfriend, and I don’t swing that way. He’s just a weird kid who needs a friend,” you reason
  1129. >But reason is lost on Mike, who is just smart enough to know how to push your buttons
  1130. >”Why put a name on it, right? Did you two at least say no homo?” Mike says, holding back his laughter
  1131. >...And Alex, who means well, but is lost in his own world
  1132. >”C’mon Mike, it’s literally the current year. Don’t be so homophobic,” Alex cuts in
  1133. >Sometimes you can’t tell if he’s being ironic, sincere, or stupid
  1134. >But with Mike, you can always tell when he’s trying to be a dick
  1135. >Like right now, making you bite your tongue, since for some reason he’s had an attitude since last night
  1136. >Still, you know they’ve both got your back, and it’s been that way for years, and you wouldn’t trade them for the world
  1137. >A pimply faced teenager drops a tray of fries between the three of you, momentarily easing the tension
  1138. >Mike digs in and starts eating
  1139. >”So Anon’s gay and is banging a rabbit, the goths are going to end the world, the school is full of horny cheerleaders, and somehow these two little books are the center of it all. Did I get all of that right?” He spews fries across the table
  1140. “First of all, I am NOT. GAY. FUCK.” You jab a fry at him
  1141. >”No need to get so defensive, Anon,” he laughs
  1142. “I am not defensive you dipshit. I am 100 percent NOT GAY.”
  1143. >Mike cracks a shit eating grin, and you want to smack it right off his face
  1144. >”Sure Anon, we believe you.”
  1145. >Alex, known for his listening skills, tells you that it’s okay to be gay and that he doesn’t mind
  1146. >You throw a fry at his face, and you hope it hurts, but instead he plucks it off the table and eats it
  1147. >You’re going to kill these two one day, holy fuck
  1148. >It then occurs to you: Mike was the one who organized this whole thing
  1149. >Did he bring you and Alex here just to tease you?
  1150. ”You didn’t bring me here just to be an ass, did you? You were the one who called this meeting,” you say, glancing between Mike and Alex
  1151. “Cause I have a lot of sleep to catch up on.”
  1152. >Mike’s expression darkens
  1153. >He sets his handful of fries back onto the table
  1154. >”Look, I know I’ve kind of been a dick lately, to both of you, but mostly Anon. And I’m sorry. But last night...”
  1155. >He pauses and scans the room, as if his next words were written on the wall
  1156. >”You know I don’t believe in magic, God, all that shit- but last night, I think we all saw something that should have us worried. I don’t care about the other kids, but I do care about you guys, and most importantly, I care about graduating.”
  1157. >Seriously? This is why he’s been so standoffish lately?
  1158. >”Something fucked up is happening at this school,” he declares, a cold kind of determination creeping into his voice
  1159. >”And we’re going to stop it,”
  1160.  
  1161. >You pause. You hadn’t thought of actually getting involved
  1162. >In fact, you risking your skin for anyone else other than these two is so far removed from your personal narrative that it’s practically unthinkable
  1163. >Ultimately you just wanted to make them aware of this bullshit so they could avoid it
  1164. “I hadn’t thought about… stopping it... I figured we could just ride this one out, try to keep from getting turned into hospital patients or something. If what we’ve already seen is any indication of what’s to come, we need to be as far away from school as possible, especially on Halloween,” you conclude
  1165. >Mike shakes his head
  1166. >”No way in hell.”
  1167. >You clench your teeth, biting down on nothing – though you wish it was his neck
  1168. “What about class? Your grades?”
  1169. >You know he’s bordering on a D in science
  1170. >”I’m going to be fine to graduate. And I’m not running from this. You haven’t ever wanted to do something bigger than just… going to school, drinking, smoking, talking shit about people?”
  1171. “Don’t be stupid Mike, you have NO IDEA what you’re messing with here,”
  1172. >”I don’t. But Vanessa Doermuth does.”
  1173. >You’ve activated his trap card
  1174. “What?”
  1175. >”Vanessa Doermuth. Rail thin, reeks of Menthols, likes blood, hates everyone – her name was on the wall last night.”
  1176. >You tried going back to that night, searching through your mind and what was still left over, what had survived the painful events after
  1177. >And there she was, her name underneath those two horrible figures, alongside a few others
  1178. >But hers was the biggest, the gaudiest, the ugliest, the most ignoble looking
  1179. >Vanessa Doermuth
  1180. “And your plan is?”
  1181. >Mike clears his throat and cracks his knuckles
  1182. >”Anon you’ve known me for how many years?”
  1183. “Too many,” you exhale, knowing what’s coming next
  1184. >”Right, too many years, and I’d have thought that by now you’d know I never have longterm plans, only short term ambitions-”
  1185. ”-And balls the size of cantaloupes,” you say without enthusiasm
  1186. >Mike smirks
  1187. >You’ve been practicing this dumb routine with each other since freshman year of high school
  1188. >”Right-”
  1189. >”That’s BULLSHIT!” Alex slaps the table, and you’re pretty sure that he even made the tray jump a few inches
  1190. >Also you may have let out a few little drops of piss
  1191. >…
  1192. >What? Your nerves have been fried ever since last night.
  1193. >”There’s no way that you’ve got balls that big. You’d be like… On the internet or something.”
  1194. “Not now dude,” you say. “It was just a joke.”
  1195. >You don’t have the energy to deal with Alex right now
  1196. >God your head is pulsing with noise
  1197. >Where was Alex during this whole conversation?
  1198. >You need sleep badly
  1199. >You try to tune in to Mike and Alex’s conversation, but it doesn’t feel possible
  1200. >It goes in one ear
  1201. >And out the other
  1202. >Mike is saying something to Alex, drawing little things on a napkin with his finger
  1203. >Each time Alex nods harder, enraptured in what Mike has to say
  1204. >Unlike you
  1205. >Everyone and everything in this burger shack looks and sounds like it’s a million miles away
  1206. >You kinda feel like that guy from Fight Club. What was his name again? Cornelius? T-
  1207.  
  1208. >Alex yet again smacks the table, shaking you from your pretentious day dreams, causing everyone in the restaurant to stare at your table
  1209. >And that’s a lot of very spiteful glares, especially from anthros
  1210. >You feel like a very small island about to get bombed
  1211. >Alex, unconcerned or unaware, loudly continues on
  1212. >“How can we sit idly by while this injustice robs from the cradle of our youth? Who will lift the flag of the gentle laborer? Who will rend these chains from around our necks? Certainly not the fascist PIGS of our father’s generation, the RABID WOLVES of the capital throwing them the bones of our generation for slop!“
  1213. >Holy fuck what is wrong with this guy?
  1214. >Actually that was fairly poetic
  1215. >But it doesn’t deter stares, in fact it only intensifies them, especially from the few canines nearby
  1216. >Like the golden retriever and his family, who crowd behind the father as they exit the building
  1217. >Though the father is trying to smile and explain to his kids compassion for the retarded, you catch his concerned glare that says ‘Please control your child.’
  1218. >Luckily dogs are known for their friendliness
  1219. >Thank god it wasn’t a Wolf, who might have been liable to rip your face off and eat it
  1220.  
  1221. >Silently, you try to apologize to him
  1222. >He nods in understanding and pushes his wife out the door
  1223. >You try to shush Alex, but he’s gone completely off rails
  1224. >Mike is able to do what you can’t, and that’s get Alex to stop raving
  1225. >”Comrade Alexi, save it for college. Right now you sound more pretentious than Anon usually does.”
  1226. >Alex lowers his fist like it was a revolutionary’s flag
  1227. >”Sorry,” he says, red in the face from exhaustion and soapboxing. “I just got so wrapped up in the injustice of it all.”
  1228. >”No, no, that’s good! Save that energy,  Alexi. We’ll need it for later,” Mike nods, obviously pleased by Alex’s enthusiasm for whatever it is he’s enthused about
  1229. >Mike turns to you
  1230. >”That’s why I brought you here, to talk about this, and what we’re going to do about it. If anything gets in the way of me and my diploma, I swear on my sister’s non-existent virginity that I will destroy whoever is involved. We’re solving this shit, I’m graduating, and getting the hell away from Halloween Town.”
  1231. >Fuck
  1232. >You kinda expected Alex to care, but not Mike ‘I could give a shit’ Sapone
  1233. >Especially to be so serious about this
  1234. >They both look at you expectantly
  1235. >”Well?” Mike says
  1236. “Well what?”
  1237. >”Are you going to try to stop this with us?”
  1238. >”Yeah Anon, think about how important these kids are to the revolution!”
  1239. >Thank you Alex
  1240. >You suppress a groan
  1241. >You don’t want to get involved, but it looks like you have no choice, because these morons will likely get themselves killed without you
  1242. >And if they die, you’ll have to put up with Sam by yourself
  1243. >The realization makes you pause
  1244. >You had almost forgotten that you left him there by himself last night
  1245. >Still hard to believe that all happened huh?
  1246. >Making a silent resolution to at least find a way to check in on him at school on Monday, you nod your head at Mike and Alex
  1247. “Fine. I guess we’ll save the world or something,” you offer weakly, outnumbered and out gunned
  1248. >Mike scowls
  1249. >”Or something?” He mimics you, adding some nasal congestion for flare
  1250. >What the hell? Why is he doing this now?
  1251. >”That’s seriously all you have to say about this? You were THERE last night, and that’s all you have to say?”
  1252. >What does he want from you?! What is with this sudden aggression? First last night, and now this?
  1253. >Your grip the table and meet his stare
  1254. >Yeah, that’s right. Get angry. Didn’t you see how he was looking at you? Say something. Defend yourself. Call him a manlet. Break something. This isn’t fair!
  1255. “Sorry-” you exhale, swallowing that bitter feeling again
  1256. >You can feel your balls shrinking up in defeat
  1257. “Didn’t sleep well last night.”
  1258. >Mike nods,
  1259. >”I swear,” he says, voice dropping to a terse growl, glaring around the room, lingering on everyone he can find – including you, “I will break every finger on the hand that did this, and the neck of the one who keeps me from graduating.”
  1260. >You’d rather not get involved
  1261. >You’ve said this a trillion times
  1262. >Yet you sigh in defeat
  1263. “I… I’ll try talking to Vanessa, on Monday. She at least doesn’t outright hate me.”
  1264. >That was enough to satisfy Mike
  1265. >Alex declares that he has work, but to stop by whenever, because ‘The oppressor's supplies are our supplies,”
  1266.  
  1267. >Alex hops on his bike and starts grinding up hill towards his home instead of work, waving you both goodbye
  1268. >Conversation between you and Mike becomes more friendly, but there’s still an air of slight tension hanging over you two as Mike slides into your car
  1269. >He promises you that if you could talk to Vanessa and lure her somewher-
  1270. >You cut him off
  1271. >Assault, kidnapping, and violence are out of the question right now – especially as a human-on-anthro crime
  1272. >”Yeah, but I bet she’d be into it,” Mike starts to laugh, a little more unrestrained than usual
  1273. >Which gets a laugh out of you
  1274. >Yeah, Vanessa would absolutely be into that
  1275.  
  1276. >You can’t stop thinking about Sam on the drive home. You wish you’d told Mike and Alex about what you saw. You could have at least told Mike before you dropped him off, but you didn’t, because you don’t know if he’d be able to take it seriously
  1277. >When you started to talk about Sam, he just snickered a little bit, so you shut the fuck up almost instantly and threw the car into a sharp turn
  1278. >Mike neglected his seatbelt, as usual, and the sound of him thumping into your unfurnished car door made you less angry
  1279. >It’s not like he could help anyway. And Alex would do something catastrophically dumb. And the police were probably a no-go, because Sam’s dad looked like the type who’d get himself and Sam killed in a police shootout
  1280. >The insane thought of ‘rescuing him’ yourself pops into your head
  1281. >His dad has no idea what your real name is or where you even live… it might work…
  1282. >An image of you princess-carrying him away from his burning house sticks in your mind’s eye for longer than you’d like to admit before you violently have to shake away the gay thoughts
  1283. >Fuck, you promise yourself you’re going to do some push ups and shotgun a beer when you get home to feel less gay
  1284.  
  1285. >The street lamps flicker on as you clunk into your neighborhood, but you drive slowly, not in a huge rush to get to your vacant house
  1286. >Plus the neighborhood had this nice orange glow to it from the various lights and decorations your neighbors had set out
  1287. >Sam had probably never really seen Halloween decorations, or been in a home that celebrates any holidays, so you can see why they might have caught his eye
  1288. >And the Spooktober Fest is something that he probably wanted to go to. It’d be his last chance at any real high school memory making before graduating
  1289. >You start to feel bad about not wanting to go with him or anything, because as much as you think it’s lame, you can understand why he’d be so interested
  1290. >Still, not how you’d spend your Friday ni-
  1291. >You slam on the brakes when the realization hits you
  1292. >The Spooktober Fest is on Halloween night
  1293. >October 31
  1294. >31
  1295. >Whatever is going to happen, it’s going to involve a lot of students as well, not just people that the goths might hate
  1296. >You start to hear that annoying little voice in your head that’s too loud for Alex and too quiet for Mike
  1297. >Your conscience
  1298. >You crank the music and try to drown it out on the way home
  1299. >”Hey, coward. When are you going to grow a pair?”
  1300. >”You’re just going to let whatever happens happen?”
  1301. >”Always too scared to-”
  1302. “SHUT THE FUCK UP”
  1303. >The music can’t go any higher
  1304. >”-too scared to get involved.”
  1305. >”Playing it off...”
  1306. >”...Like you don’t care...”
  1307. >God you need a distraction
  1308. >You pull into your driveway with the music at a blistering volume, thumbing through the contacts on your phone
  1309. >Let’s see…
  1310. >Alex
  1311. >Mom
  1312. >Dad
  1313. >Mike
  1314. >Jenna (from science class)
  1315. >Leo…
  1316. >Nah
  1317. >You slide your phone into your pocket, kill the car, and just sit there, forehead smashed against the wheel
  1318. >What you feel right now is kind of a mix of rage and sadness — the teenager’s cocktail
  1319. >Everything feels like it’s falling apart on you
  1320. >Mike’s turning into something else — will you even talk to him once he goes to college?
  1321. >Are you going to college?
  1322. >You’re going to be all alone, like usual
  1323. >Like Sam
  1324. >”Do you care at all?”
  1325. >You put your hands on the steering wheel
  1326. >If only to stop their shaking
  1327.  
  1328. >Be Sam
  1329. >And you’re not going to cry
  1330. >In fact, you don’t really have any good reason to cry – you made a mistake, you disobeyed him, you violated his wishes
  1331. >You deserved the bruises on your shoulder, the angry marks on your arm
  1332. >Thankfully you learned how to hide them with your brother’s old clothes
  1333. >Anon had just left after dropping you off, leaving you alone in your room, only the sound of the TV in your ears
  1334. >You’re not even sure what time it is, but sleep is long past the point of possibility
  1335. >Like most rabbits, your survival drive is extremely high. It’d take a hell of a lot to get you to calm down
  1336. >In fact, you’re still shaking
  1337. >You prop up a broken chair against the single window in your room so you can look out at the old abandoned warehouse next door
  1338. >You shut your eyes and try to listen for the sound of strumming on a guitar, the heavy thump of a bass, the pop of a drum kit
  1339. >Bands sometimes rent the warehouse out to practice or record
  1340. >There used to be a human band that played…
  1341. >What did they play?
  1342. >It was slow and kinda soft, you think there was a trumpet?
  1343. >It made you feel like jelly though
  1344. >Even the memory of those soft, gentle notes was enough to take you away from this place
  1345. >You imagined yourself playing in one of those bands, not saying much on stage, but not needing to say anything at all
  1346. >All that confusion and heartache gone with the opening notes
  1347. >Would you play drums? You’ve got the foot speed for it
  1348. >You could see your music soundtracking a super hero’s journey
  1349. >Samurai Outlaw, his bat wheeling and spinning, clearing a room of bad guys while the guitarist and drummer go wild
  1350. >Fantasy is where you were safe, and when you didn’t feel safe, you drew things
  1351. >Pictures, mostly superhero costumes, but sometimes other things
  1352. >You’ve still got that stash hidden in your roo-
  1353. >The shriek of a train’s whistle stops your fragile little heart
  1354. >The ground starts to rattle and shake, you can feel the heavy sound resonating in your chest
  1355. >Bringing you back to that day-
  1356. >No no no no no no
  1357. >You grab at your own throat
  1358. >-The day that everything went quiet
  1359.  
  1360. >Be 11-year-old Sam
  1361. >You’re in your shared room
  1362. >There’s noise reverberating throughout the house
  1363. >Your older brother Jacob hands you a sock stuffed with loose gravel and tells you to hold it
  1364. “I-I don’t-” you start to protest
  1365. >Jacob crouches down to eye level. He’s exhausted, the gravity of sleep pulling at his eyelids.
  1366. >He pushes his ears back and taps an aluminum baseball bat against his broad shoulders
  1367. >Jacob doesn’t play baseball — but he knows how to use the bat. You’ve seen him beat Joseph from down the street so bad he had to go to the hospital
  1368. >When Joseph was of course kicking your shit in
  1369. >At least he makes you feel safe sometimes
  1370. >The sounds of heartbreak comes rushing from under the door — muffled shouting, the climax of a love gone wrong, choked sobs, drunken anger -- the things you and your older brother know to be love
  1371. >”Sam, look at me,” he says, exhaling, trying hard to maintain his composure and keep from getting frustrated. “If anyone tries to EVER hurt you, I want you to tell me, okay? Just like with Joseph. But before that, I want you to hit them with that heavy sock.  Right in the head. You got it?”
  1372. ”But I don’t w-want to hurt anyone” you pull hard on your ears, like you could just pull the blinds on your shitty home and tune it all out
  1373. >Jacob taps you on the arm, and you release your vice-grip
  1374. >Blood comes rushing back to your ears
  1375. >”Did you hear me? I’m trying to look out for you, okay? But you also need to look out for yourself and stop being such a little kid. I’m not always going to be around.”
  1376. >The weighted sock feels like it weighs 100 pounds. Your arms tremble, adrenaline and desperation the only things lending you any amount of strength
  1377. ”Even if it’s dad?” You ask
  1378. >Your brother’s shoulder’s slump. He opens his mouth to speak
  1379. >The door shoots open
  1380. >Your mother, a tired middle-aged looking woman with worn and dirty fur, amber eyes swollen with pain, scowls at you two
  1381. >”Are you two still here?” She slurs, the sting of bourbon heavy on her tongue. “I told you to get the hell out of here. And don’t come back for a few hours.”
  1382. >Jacob stands up to his full height, his knuckles tightening around the bat
  1383. >”We heard you. I was…” He quickly glances back at you. “…I was just telling Sam some stuff.”
  1384. >You’d nod, but your whole body locks up when you see your mother glaring at you — and then she turns that same spiteful look at Jacob
  1385. >Your older brother, 17 by now, doesn’t back down, his face darkening, jaw clenching up like a coiled spring ready at a moment’s notice
  1386. >Your mother digs into her purse and throws a handful of wadded up bills at you
  1387. >”Here. Go. Make yourself gone for a few hours. Your uncle Richard’s coming over in a few.”
  1388. >You collect the bills and quickly dart behind your brother, dropping your make-shift weapon in the process
  1389. >He stiffens at your touch, his shoulders seeming to broaden when he feels you cowering behind him
  1390. >Protective reflexes, likely
  1391. >You were only 11-years-old, you guess he felt pretty strongly about protecting you
  1392. >But then there was this whole thing about teaching you to fend for yourself
  1393. >”Even if you’re a girl,” he said once, “you just gotta hit a wolf in the nose, and they’re down. Humans, aim for the shins. That’s all you have to worry about. Rabbits? Right in the chest.”
  1394.  
  1395. >Mom lets a side gust of air out of her lips. “You think you’re some kinda man with that bat? What do you think you’re gonna do, hit your own mother? Boy, I’d break your fucking ankles if you tried to touch me.”
  1396. >Jacob’s powerful legs tense. You watch and pray that he doesn’t lose his temper, so much like dad’s mean streaks
  1397. >…
  1398. >…
  1399. >”You ain’t no mother. You’re a liar.” He says, marching forward
  1400. >Mom steps aside
  1401. >You follow your brother out of your room and towards the door keeping close to his formidable shape and his shadow of safety
  1402. >”You’re a liar and a whore,” he says.
  1403. >Mom just starts laughing
  1404. >”Guess I know where you got your smart mouth from,” she says. “Now get the hell out of here.”
  1405. >You don’t need a second invitation. Though your home is small, dad’s managed to tuck himself in the kitchen, and you can already smell the reek of his whiskey, the sting of his cigarettes
  1406. >You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself
  1407. >You look behind you, into the kitchen, and see him at the table, the trails of smoke rising from his lips, the heavy bottle of amber liquid by his side
  1408. >His eyes are red, face burnt out and ashen, that devil smirk as you walk by
  1409. >It makes you start to shake worse
  1410. >”Oh, and Sam?” your mom coos from your room. “Make sure your retarded brother doesn’t do anything stupid. Can you do that for me?”
  1411. >You nod timidly, if only to do something with your body
  1412. >When you face forward your heart freezes as you catch the side-eye from Jacob
  1413. >His expression is ice cold when you two walk out the door
  1414. >You can practically hear him muttering ‘traitor.’
  1415.  
  1416. “Jake?”
  1417. >”What?”
  1418. “I- I don’t understand why you and m-”
  1419. >He stops walking, his bat dragging across the shattered sidewalk
  1420. >His body turns, and when you see his face you could swear you see dad’s hateful glares etched into his skin
  1421. >”Of course you don’t understand. You don’t understand shit, Sam. You’re still just a little kid who doesn’t know anything about… anything.”
  1422. >The sun burns your fragile skin, light brown fur offering little protection — your brother’s old hoodie the only thing clothing you, besides an old pair of jeans
  1423. >His scorching look dims a little when he sees you start to tense up
  1424. >”Come on,” he says, pointing down the street with the silver tip of his bat. “We’re going this way.”
  1425. >You don’t argue, and you don’t drag your feet
  1426. >Jake has no interest in matching your meager pace, so you keep up as best you can
  1427. >”Mom’s a cheat,” he says after a long bout of silence. “With uncle Richard. She’s been cheating on dad.”
  1428. >And then he looks down at you
  1429. >”You’re probably Uncle Richard’s kid.”
  1430. “B-But-”
  1431. >”But that doesn’t make it your fault. It just means you’re a coward like him. And mom. Remember what I said back at home?”
  1432. >You shake your head, trying to grasp what’s being said
  1433. >”If someone comes to hurt you — I take it back. I’m not always going to protect you. I can’t. Not anymore. Maybe when you were little, from mom, or dad, or anyone at school, but you’re older now.”
  1434. >He stops walking
  1435. >”Do you understand that?”
  1436. “N-No… I don’t understand a-anything!” You squeak loudly, wrinkling your nose. You want to cry
  1437. >Big kids don’t get to cry. Nobody gets to cry at your house
  1438. >But that doesn’t stop you from tensing your throat up and fighting back tears anyway
  1439. >”God, when are you going to grow up!?” He lets his bat drop against the concrete, the metal chiming like thunderstrokes on a hot day
  1440. >Instinctively, you jerk backwards, squeaking like you’d just been caught with the clothes iron by mom again
  1441. >Jake is still trembling with anger, but when he sees you shuffling backwards, he takes a long, slow breath and unclenches his fists
  1442. >Darkening, he reaches down and grips the bat, lifting it up to you
  1443. >”Here. You take this.”
  1444. >You stare at his offering and look down the nameless street
  1445. >Nobody is coming — no cars, nobody on the sidewalks
  1446. >Nobody cares
  1447. >”Sam?” He says, lowering his voice. “Take the bat. And let’s keep going, okay?”
  1448. “O-Okay,” you stammer, wrapping your spindly fingers around the thin base
  1449. >It’s a lot lighter than you expected
  1450. >It makes you feel safe
  1451.  
  1452. >The two of you walk in silence until you get to the gas station, where Jake buys you a soda and some gum
  1453. >He buys himself some cigarettes and a soda
  1454. >He lights up as you two keep walking, the ramshackle houses thinning out and fading into pastures and sheds, the sun overhead dissipating like a drop of amber into the hazing sky
  1455. >When the light slants, orange with the dying flames of the days end, and you two arrive at the old rail car yard, he stops you
  1456. >”Sam?” He says. “I want you to watch what I do.”
  1457. >He looks immensely tall and fierce in the eyes of the sunset.
  1458. >Standing far away from the tracks, you watch, gripping the bat like an anchor to reality
  1459. >Jake stands on the tracks, facing the darkness of a tunnel, he legs and body spread wide
  1460. >A pinhead of light glows in the darkness ahead
  1461. “J-Jake?” You squeak. “There’s a train coming-”
  1462. >”I know there’s a train coming!” He barks. “That’s why we’re here. Are you watching me?”
  1463. >You step forward, body guided by concern
  1464. >The train whistle shrieks in the tunnel as it rockets out of the darkness, its yellow head charging forward like a railed bullet
  1465. >Jake doesn’t move from the tracks as the train hurtles closer and closer
  1466. >”YOU CAN’T ALWAYS BE SUCH A LITTLE BABY, SAM!” He screams above the panicked shrieking of the horn
  1467. >You can hear the steel brakes crying out desperately to stop, to avoid the kid standing dead ahead on the tracks
  1468. >They yell at him to move
  1469. >Instead you stop moving
  1470. >Move, you will yourself
  1471. >Move
  1472. >The train is trying to brake but it can’t
  1473. >Move
  1474. >Your body is locked up like a car in the wrong gear
  1475. >It can only tremble with the need to move forward
  1476. >Jake doesn’t look at you
  1477. >MOVE
  1478. >”YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO F-FEND FOR YOURSELF!”
  1479. >You can see his whole body shaking
  1480. >He can feel the rush of wind from the train barreling forward
  1481. >He shuts his eyes
  1482. >Everything goes quiet
  1483. >Tenses his legs
  1484. >Tightens his muscles like a spring
  1485. >And jumps to the side, rolling into you, knocking you off your feet and onto your back
  1486. >He lays there, his weight crushing down on your tender body
  1487. >You can feel him shaking
  1488. >”F-Fucking…” he whispers, trying hard to hide his panic beneath the train’s evaporating whistle
  1489. >”See? See Sam? You— God— You can’t be afraid. Fear will destroy you.”
  1490. >He sits up
  1491. >You can see the tears stinging his eyes
  1492. >You can feel his body trembling on top of you, pinning you to the dirt
  1493. >He looks away, down the track, as the train rolls on
  1494. >”And, when you’re older, sometime soon... It’ll be your turn on the tracks.”
  1495.  
  1496. >Be Sam
  1497. >Be 18 again
  1498. >Watching out the window, heart racing as the train passes by in the night
  1499. >You didn’t get back there, to that day, when you were the one on the tracks
  1500. >But that doesn’t make your memories of Jacob any less painful
  1501. >Breathing a sigh of relief, you hop down and dig under your bed, pushing aside your brother’s old bat
  1502. >The bruises on your shoulder slow you down, so you only just grab the paper sack by the tails
  1503. >It’s more precious than gold, so you’re extra quiet as you withdraw the bag’s contents
  1504. >Comic books
  1505. >This whole ritual always makes your body shake and heart race
  1506. >If dad were to catch you with these
  1507. >Oh there’d be hell to pay, just like last time
  1508. >You had welts for weeks, and you never saw those Hurricane Jones issues ever again
  1509. >They were the last things you had to remind you of Jacob
  1510. >You sit back against your mattress, your walls covered in looseleaf drawings and sketches, shaking as the train rips into the night
  1511. >You’ve read these all so many times, but they help calm you down
  1512. >Especially after everything that’s happened tonight
  1513. >As you flip through the pages, eyes scanning across the print, you can’t help but let your mind drift towards happier thoughts
  1514. >Like Halloween decorations
  1515. >And Anon’s car
  1516. >And the way he walked up with you to the house
  1517. >You bet he understands why dad treats you like he does
  1518. >It’s not like you don’t deserve the punishment and the cruelty
  1519. >You’re a useless, slow, shy, timid piece of shit
  1520. >Frankly, you don’t think you deserve Anon’s friendship
  1521. >Your fingers turn the pages, but you’re no longer reading as Hurricane Jones uppercuts a terrorist
  1522. >You can’t help but miss Anon
  1523. >In some ways, he reminds you a lot of Jacob
  1524. >You push the comic book away and stare at the drawings on the wall
  1525. >He’s strong and cool, but also not afraid to be afraid
  1526. >Jacob was always talking about being strong
  1527. >And you know you let him down someho-
  1528. >The nob starts to turn
  1529. >Your eyes split with panic and you dive forward, throwing the Hurricane Jones comic into the bag, then shoving it under your bed, just as the door creaks open
  1530. >Dad is standing in the door, looking around
  1531. >”The hell are you doing on the floor?” He asks, eyes narrowing into slits
  1532. >You can smell how drunk he is — the smell of whiskey and motor oil radiates off him
  1533. “J-Just, I… I was t-t-trying to do h-homework,” you say, not meeting his gaze
  1534. >If dad heard you, he doesn’t give a response. Only glares at you, as if you’d just told him that you were a lion
  1535. >”Listen. That friend of yours?”
  1536. >Everything except your hands goes numb
  1537. >You pluck and stroke your ears
  1538. >”What’s his name?” Your dad says
  1539. >…
  1540. >Do you tell him Anon’s real name? You know Anon gave him a fake name, but what was it?
  1541. >Brody? Tyler? Joseph?
  1542. >”Hey, retard, did you hear me?” Your dad steps forward
  1543. >”Because I don’t want him around you anymore. So I want his name.”
  1544. >”H-His name is Brody,” you squeak, coiling up against the mattress
  1545. >He stops and braces himself against the door, lightly swaying to the tune of a whiskey stupor
  1546. >You notice the belt in his other hand
  1547. >Sometimes, when he’s drunk, you can make him forget to punish you
  1548. >You know that it’s for the best, but still, it doesn’t make you feel good
  1549. >So sometimes you take advantage of the situation
  1550. “He’s not my f-friend. S-S-So you won’t s-see h-him anymore,” you continue.
  1551. “I don’t have any friends.” Your voice falls into a whisper
  1552. >He coughs loudly, bracing against the door
  1553. >”Course you don’t,” he says. “But if you EVER bring any of them back here again, I swear, you’re getting worse than the belt.”
  1554. >He steps forward
  1555. >You don’t think there’s any avoiding this
  1556. >”You still have so much debt to pay off,” he growls
  1557. >You shrink into a tight ball, shivering as his shadow blots out the light, the belt loose in his grip
  1558. >You try to think of Halloween decorations
  1559.  
  1560. >Be the next day
  1561. >Be Anon
  1562. >”Biological Diversity Week is a state-mandated week in which we, the unfortunate souls who thought teaching was a noble endeavor, get to explain to you the nuances and caveats of a multi-species society. Now, before we begin, do we have ANY questions?”
  1563. >Gloria raises her hand
  1564. >”…Annnnyyy questions…” Mr. Bolm asks again, eyes practically begging for someone other than Gloria to speak up
  1565. >Gloria makes an impatient grunt and starts waving her arm
  1566. >The science teacher, a human in his mid 40s, runs a hand through his failing head of hair, and calls on Gloria
  1567. >”Yes, Mr. Bolm, will we be discussing sexual immorality and degeneracy as a part of this unit?”
  1568. >The class groans, and your head hits the desk
  1569. >Why is she always like this? You thought Sam was oblivious to social cues, but Gloria takes it a step further
  1570. >”No, Gloria. The syllabus clearly explains that this week is set aside so we can learn about the biological and physiological differences between all of us, so that we can all learn to better appreciate one another.”
  1571. >Not quite satisfied with that response, Gloria asks if she can lead the class in a prayer before they discuss such ‘disgusting topics’
  1572. >Mr. Bolm shakes his head again, and you can see the desperation for a drink already worn on his face
  1573. >”Once again Mrs. Duchene, as I’ve told you before, the school does not endorse any sort or religious ceremony. If you’d like, you may quietly pray. And furthermore, this is purely science and biology. There’s nothing to be afraid of here, and we do not deal with topics like faith
  1574. >His words falling on deaf ears, Gloria smacks her palms together loudly in pious fashion
  1575. >”I’ll pray for all of you, especially those among you who have given in to Satanic temptation…” she says, casting her judgmental gaze around the room, pausing on hard on Vanessa Doermuth
  1576. >”…And those who I believe can still be saved,” she says, as her eyes land on you with a wink
  1577. >You shiver a little bit, the holy spirit of the lord vacating your body at her vile gaze
  1578. >Vanessa hurls an eraser at Gloria’s head, and you’d laugh if you weren’t so on edge right now
  1579. >Sam hasn’t assailed you with his presence yet, which is a usual Monday morning ritual
  1580. >The fact that you haven’t even seen him wandering around aimlessly between classes had you late to Mr. Bolm’s class
  1581. >You spent the whole time and a few minutes after the bell waiting for him to show up
  1582. >And what’s worse is Vanessa Doermuth is in your class
  1583. >You cast a sideways glance at her
  1584. >She’s slouched in her seat, open-mouthed as she gawks at the ceiling tiles
  1585. >And though her fur is a lighter color, she’s dyed her hair a raven black, and cropped it short into an intimidating slice that rests easily across her light green eyes
  1586. >The very definition of ‘rebellious phase’, you used to think
  1587. >But now, as you study her, you can’t help but see her as something else — a cult leader, a witch, a servant — somehow she’s wrapped up in this whole thing, whether she knows it or not
  1588. >Her eyes flick over to you, and you try to stare straight ahead at Mr. Bolm as he endures another barrage of questions from Gloria
  1589. >A few seconds later, a ball of wadded up notebook paper bounces off the side of your head and onto your desk
  1590. >You sneak the ball behind your science textbook and unfold it
  1591. >’Saw you looking over my direction. Got something to say to me? - Vanessa’
  1592. >And of course it’s written in all black and decorated with pentagrams
  1593. >I mean, I how cheesy can you get?
  1594. >You scribble a reply, hands shaking
  1595. >Your distraction is only broken when yet another girl, this time an otter in a cheerleaders uniform, exits the room
  1596. >There was practice after school, that much was sure, but of the five in your class, four of them have left the room, and none of them have come back
  1597. >You know what to write
  1598. >Gotta play it smooth, Anon. Don’t let her know you know she’s involved
  1599. >Hell she might not even know she’s involved with some demonic fuckery
  1600. >Jussssst talk about the weather, that sort of chit chat
  1601. ’What’s with the cheerleaders leaving the room? - Anon’
  1602. >You hop the note over to her desk. Another returns in a few seconds
  1603. >’Why don’t you go to the second floor men’s bathroom and find out? Winky face. - Vanessa’
  1604. >What
  1605. ‘What’s that supposed to mean? - Anon.’
  1606. >You turn in your desk. Vanessa flashes you an evil grin
  1607. >You’re almost tempted to go to the second floor bathroom and find out for yourself
  1608. >Another note from Vanessa hits your desk
  1609. >’You know who is an even bigger slut than any cheerleader? Gloria. I bet if you put on a priest’s robes she wouldn’t mind being your little choir girl. Winky face - Vanessa XXX’
  1610. >Now that’s just disgusting
  1611. >You shiver at the idea of Gloria’s body on top of your own
  1612. >You don’t mind anthro girls, but you do mind Gloria Duchene. You mind her a lot
  1613. >You scribble a quick note, and throw it at Vanessa—
  1614. ‘That’s disgusting. I’d never do anything with Gloria. But seriously, what’s going on in the second floor men’s room that you know about? - Anon’
  1615. >—Which never makes it to its recipient
  1616. >Paper, that fickle bitch, never cooperates with you
  1617. >Instead the note sails a wide left, bouncing off Louis’ head
  1618. >Louis, in a room full of other gray wolves, would quickly stand out like a tree stands out among saplings
  1619. >He’s gawky, tall, body stripped of the typical broad-shouldered muscle and angular features that define his species
  1620. >Were he in anyone’s pack, he wouldn’t even qualify as an omega wolf
  1621. >His disinterest in reality and other people actually makes him some kind of an autistic alpha
  1622. >Plus he just outsizes most other wolves, at a cool 6’6”, so tall he has to slouch wherever he goes (at least for a wolf)
  1623. >He uncurls the note, reads it, and then shoots you a disinterested look
  1624. >You silently tear another piece of notebook paper out and scrawl down some instructions
  1625. >’Don’t go in the bathroom Louis. Trust me. Something is up. - Anon’
  1626. >It bounces painlessly off Vanessa’s head
  1627. >You grit your teeth and swallow a barrage of swears
  1628. >She reads the note, holding back her laughter, but just barely
  1629. >You try to signal for the two of them to switch notes, but Vanessa pockets Louis’ note with a devil smirk, and Louis raises his spindly, stick-like arm
  1630. >You can see trails of red ants crawling through his fur, probably a sign that he yet again brought his ant farm to school despite what happened last time
  1631. >You wonder why they never bite him
  1632. >Mr. Bolm breathes a sigh of relief when he sees Louis’ hand go up
  1633. >”Yes, Louis. You have a question?”
  1634. >”Yeah. Can I use the bathroom Mr. Uhhhhh…”
  1635. >Mr. Bolm looks like he’s about to collapse
  1636. >He wheezes a yes and weakly announces that his name is “Mr. Bolm” as Louis makes his way to the front of the room, hands drowned in his pockets, body curved in a slouch
  1637. >Gloria’s hand flies up again as Louis walks past her, his spine bent in a permanent ‘C’
  1638. >”Mr. Bolm, do wolves eat their mates?”
  1639. >Louis slams the door loudly
  1640. >”What? That- No. They don’t,” he replies, rather quickly
  1641. >”Do wolves eat their pups? Do wolves have a lot of pups? Do wolves-“
  1642. >”No, yes, and whatever you’re about to ask: No.”
  1643. >She weakly lowers her hand and looks around the room
  1644. >Everyone is as still as lead statues
  1645. >”Well come on people, don’t any of you have questions?”
  1646. >Jenna Orthorn raises her hand
  1647. >You’ve always liked Jenna
  1648. >She’s a red fox, very clever (no stereotypes implied) and reads the same books you do
  1649. >But something doesn’t seem right
  1650. >She almost never speaks up in class
  1651. >You notice that she’s shifting uncomfortably in her seat, her dress practically shaking as her legs spam into the carpet
  1652. >Mr. Bolm notices too. “Bathroom, Jenna?”
  1653. >”YES!” She bolts from the room, her nimble body maneuvering around larger desks
  1654. >Vanessa and Gloria watch her red tail bounce through the door, Gloria with fascination, Vanessa with a sick and gleeful smile
  1655. >Almost mechanically, that goat’s hands shoots up, and she speaks without ever being called on
  1656. >”If foxes mate for life then why is Adrian Orthorn such a man-slut?” she quips. “He’s been with at least three other vixens since freshman year. I heard he and Jenna-”
  1657. >”Gloria,” Mr. Duchene stiffens up, face going red. “If you don’t have any appropriate questions about mating rituals or rites for Canids, then PLEASE be quiet. I reserve the right to remove you from the lesson you know.”
  1658. >Gloria shrinks in her seat with a pained expression
  1659. >”Yes sir!” You swear she’d salute if she were told to do so. “My apologies sir.”
  1660. >Mr. Bolm sighs
  1661. >”It- It’s okay. Now if we could move on, with class almost over-“
  1662. “One more question, sir,” Gloria’s voice reaches a military staccato
  1663. >He hangs his head even lower, arms slackening like socks full of yogurt
  1664. >”What is it? You get one more question, Gloria.”
  1665. >”What about humans?” she asks, her hooves clacking anxiously on the floor as she sneaks a glance behind her
  1666. >At you
  1667. >“Do humans mate for life?”
  1668.  
  1669. >Be Mike Sapone
  1670. >And MAN you gotta take a leak
  1671. >The first floor men’s room and women’s room are both closed. Figures that only the second floor men’s is open
  1672. >The construction seemed to come out of nowhere
  1673. >So you practically sprint from English class, down the hall, telling the straggling teachers that you ‘Gotta piss like a racehorse.’
  1674. >Which is not wrong, because when you finally hit that urinal, you feel like you’re chipping the porcelain
  1675. >Feelsgoodman.jpg
  1676. >You do your ritual, which involves taking a deep breath, looking around, then looking back down
  1677. >Huh
  1678. >The bathroom is empty
  1679. >Well that’s always nice
  1680. >Oh wait, no it’s not
  1681. >There’s a twiggish gray wolf… slumped in the corner right behind you,  by the trashcan, arms folded in his sleeves, his yellow eyes unblinking and shot open with panic, covered in highlighter-colored flyers for the Spooktober Fest
  1682. >At least, you see him in the mirror
  1683. >Weird, but he might be looking at something else, so you try to ignore him
  1684. >You finish up, zip up, and turn your head towards where the wolf should be
  1685. >You should ask him if he’s okay. He looks… Kinda out of it
  1686.  >You open your mouth, fingers pinching your zipper
  1687. “You like what you se-”
  1688. >But the corner is vacant
  1689. >Just the trashcan, standing alone in the flickering darkness
  1690. >You look back to the mirror
  1691. >There’s not just the wolf there, there’s also four cheerleaders — an otter, a possum, a white rabbit and a badger, all in their skintight maroon-red uniforms, frilled skirt clipping at their knees
  1692. >One of them is moving silently towards you, smirking, eyes bright red with rabid intensity, smiling and practically slavering at the mouth
  1693. >You jump back when you feel something tugging at the back of your shirt
  1694. >You spin around
  1695. ”Get the FUCK off me!” you shout
  1696. >There’s nothing there
  1697. >Then you hear the sound of paws scraping across the floor
  1698. >Everyone except the wolf is moving
  1699. >You try to keep your eyes on at least one of them but
  1700. >N-NANI!?
  1701. >They’re fast
  1702. >You spin around in all directions
  1703. >Left
  1704. >Right
  1705. >Stumbling backwards but bumping into something or someone you can’t see
  1706. >There’s nobody here! Why can you only see them in the mirror!?
  1707. >Did someone drug you?
  1708. >You’ve gotta be high right now
  1709. >Alex probably sold you some bad weed
  1710. >This is his fault
  1711. >”Please stay,” the badger hisses, her voice low and sharp like her fanged mouth. “We’re so hungry. We’ve been waiting for something tastier than Louis to walk through the door.”
  1712. >”Yeah!” The white rabbit joins in. “Louis is so…. Ugh. We want something sweeter to snack on!”
  1713. >Nope
  1714. >That rabbit has fangs where she shouldn’t
  1715. >You are getting the FUCK out of here
  1716. >Gotta get the fuck out of here and beat the SHIT out of Alex for this
  1717. >You lift your feet to run, but feel something heavy pulling down at your pants
  1718. >And then you see them sheer down the middle, the fabric shrieking as invisible claws easily rip through them…
  1719. >… And into your skin, blood springing from fresh wounds
  1720. >You kick forward and hit nothing but empty space
  1721. >Someone is laughing
  1722. >Someone with a booming and deep voice
  1723. >A voice you swear is right in your ear
  1724. >”Where are you going, Mike? You don’t think you’re going back to class, right? We all know you don’t really give a shit about class.”
  1725. >Oh Jesus, you recognize that voice from your English class
  1726. >Lydia Penferth
  1727. >You look back into the mirror
  1728. >She’s there, a towering anthropomorphic lion, tight-fitting black clothes, hair dyed bright purple, eyes colored in with what looks like an unnatural, feverish glow
  1729. >She studded her face with piercings
  1730. >Metal hooks in her ears, nose…
  1731. >… Studs and rods bulging out of her angular and feminine face
  1732. >Her lips are practically ringed shut and her massive, fuzzy ears are strung together with a thin metal chain
  1733. >But the worst of it all is the way she’s standing
  1734. >She makes her 6’0” look like another extra foot with the way she’s curled her body up over yours
  1735. >Without a little restraint, she may as well be drooling on your face
  1736. >She plants two paws on your shoulders
  1737. >You can feel their impressive weight kneading into your muscles, as if she was tenderizing you, like a slab of meat
  1738. >”You know, I bet these girls wouldn’t give you a second glance if they weren’t under my control. They’re such horrible people deep down, wouldn’t you agree?”
  1739. >The cheerleaders circle your shivering body, their fangs glistening, mouth’s frothing with hunger
  1740. >They must not be able to hear Lydia
  1741. >You keep your eyes focused on the mirror, watching the circle of cheerleaders tighten around you
  1742. ”You’re awfully cocky for a woman about to have her jaw broken,” you say
  1743. >You tighten your fists, feeling blood boiling in the pit of your stomach
  1744. “You hurt me and I swear—”
  1745. >”I don’t think it’ll hurt. Well, it might. Having your soul drained from your body can’t be comfortable. I just wish it didn’t have to be you, or that weirdo over there with all the bugs crawling through his hair.”
  1746. >She nods towards Louis, who looks about as useless as a discarded doll right now
  1747. “What do you mean? Then let me go you stupid razor mouth bitch.”
  1748. >You feel the fine needles of her claws pinching at your shirt fabric
  1749. >”We don’t want to hurt the nobodies. Or anyone without a shred of social cred. But we also can’t have you running off now, darling.”
  1750. “The nobodies?”
  1751. >She smiles, or, what looks like a smile behind all the metal coating her face
  1752. >”You, that wolf over there — people who don’t mean shit to anyone but a few people. Or people who don’t mean shit to nobody at all. I mean, the kids with no sort of pull in any social circles. Yeah, to be fair, you’re all going to go soon, but it doesn’t have to hurt if you don’t fight it.”
  1753. “And I’m not good enough to matter?”
  1754. >”Oh, I’m sorry baby. You know I always liked you — still gonna suck the soul right outta your body — but you don’t pull any weight in anyone’s social circle. Hardly even your own little pond with Anon and Alex and that weird rabbit.”
  1755. “Pull huh,” you nod your head several times, ignoring the piercing bite of her claws and the ear-rending shriek of fabric being slashed open
  1756. >Just a little longer. You clear your throat and search the open air for a distraction
  1757. “Maybe we can cut a deal?”
  1758. >She pauses, claws weighing into your bare flesh
  1759. >”Well… You might have something I want. But it’s a long shot.”
  1760. “Social pull, right?”
  1761. >Her laughter is a lion’s roar. ”Lets face it. You missed your chance to have that.”
  1762. “I never missed my chance. I gave it up. I don’t want it.”
  1763. >”Oh sure you did. You’re such a bad boy… you don’t want the fame or the glory at all. You’re just too cool and edgy to be in high school huh?”
  1764. >One by one her claws sink into your skin, pulling your body downward
  1765. >It takes everything you have just to remain vertical
  1766. >You’d have an easier time breathing underwater
  1767. >The cheerleader’s watch the sadistic spectacle, eyes feverish with feral hunger and need
  1768. >Whatever consciousness they have left seems replaced with only a rabid desire to feed
  1769. >Or to fuck
  1770. >You do notice none of them are wearing the traditional spats
  1771. >But that begs the question of why they were in the men’s room-
  1772. >”God this is FUN!” Lydia shouts, her sadism on full display
  1773. >You can hear her in your ear, but it doesn’t sound like the sound is coming from in the bathroom
  1774. >And neither is the ragged breathing of the cheerleaders
  1775. >Isn’t the women’s restroom next to the men’s room?
  1776. >The first floor’s was closed, wasn’t it?
  1777. >They had to be in there, or… or something. You just need a way out
  1778. >Or a way to stop them from maiming your dick and/or your soul
  1779. >Panicked, your split eyes flick back towards the mirror where your assailants are visible
  1780. >The mirror
  1781. >Mike you geni-
  1782. >You bend your knees to the bite of her claws and stifle a pained groan
  1783. >Fuck
  1784. >This isn’t good. She rests her chin on your shoulder, driving you even further down
  1785. >The minute you hit the ground, you know it’s gonna be curtains for Mike muthafuckin’ Sapone
  1786. >Lydia only confirms this
  1787. >”When your body hits the ground, Mike, I’m gonna watch you suffer. But no hard feelings, babe. Like I said, this is more about liability than hatred.”
  1788. “Oh fuck off, you like this,” you grunt.
  1789. >”Well, you’re not wrong.”
  1790. >The *tap* *tap* of blood splattering on the ground draws your attention
  1791. >You’ve got seconds, maybe, to execute your genius, well thought out plan
  1792. “S-So, back to our negotiations…” you try to keep your body rigid, but all it does is build tension in your lower legs
  1793. >You need to buy a little more time
  1794. >Your mind spins through all the possibilities while your mouth stammers, fighting back pained screams
  1795. >”Right, I almost forgot. I know you don’t read, but have you seen a little red book lying around here?”
  1796. >A little red book?
  1797. >Your mind spins through all of the memories you might have containing ‘little red books,’ and it’s shockingly brief
  1798. >Except for one recent memory
  1799. >Sam had a book just like that
  1800. >You’d sell out that gayboy in a heartbeat, but you know now Anon has it
  1801. >And soon they will look for it
  1802. >”Tik-tock, fleshy.” She presses down. Your spine bows forward, giving you a great view of the bottom of her muzzle
  1803. >You blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind
  1804. “I’ve seen it! I know what you’re talking about! A little red book with weird writing inside, yeah! I know it! But you have to let me go first!” You cry in desperation
  1805. >Some of the pressure releases
  1806. >”Bullshit, you’re just trying to save your soul.”
  1807. “NO! I mean YES! But I see your point now. Fuck normal, well-adjusted cunts. Fuck ‘em! Just let me go first!”
  1808. >You tighten your fists again as the pressure continues to evaporate
  1809. >You try to stand a little taller
  1810. >She pushes you back down
  1811. >”You’re not in much of a position to negotiate right now, babe.”
  1812. >You hope this works
  1813. >You suck down a gulp of air and lock your sights on her bottom muzzle, a stud poking through her thin, brown fur
  1814. “Right, right. I don’t have any social pull. But I know who has the book. You remember Sam?”
  1815. >”Garlen? That brown Mini-Rex?”
  1816. “They’re all Rabbits to me. You can’t miss him. Short. Same clothes everyday. Messy fur. Dark brown fu-”
  1817. >”You mean he’s got it?”
  1818. >She tenses her hold on you
  1819. “FUCK! MAYBE!”
  1820. >She arches her legs and tries forcing down harder
  1821. >”Nah, you’re full of shit, Mike. I shoulda known your dumb ass would say anything to get out of this.”
  1822. “I am dumb,” you squeal. “And I don’t have any social pull…”
  1823. >Now is the time
  1824. >You bend your legs, ass nearly hitting the tile floor
  1825. >Lydia’s horrible smile grows
  1826. >The cheerleaders hiss and claw at the empty inches in front of you and behind you
  1827. “…But I’ve got a lot of PUSH!”
  1828. >You explode upwards, your legs decompressing like a mine
  1829. >All those years of gymnastics paid off
  1830. >The top of your skull slams into her lower jaw with such force that she yelps and stumbles backwards, ropes of crimson blood and spit thrown from her red maw
  1831. >Free, but with the cheerleaders pressing in on you now that their handler has been temporarily incapacitated, you jump backwards towards a urinal
  1832. >You know you have little time. The cheerleaders hiss and grab at you, claws bared. One them lunges forward on all fours, skittering into the urinal next to you
  1833. >You face the mirror, ready to watch as the cheerleaders descend upon you like locusts
  1834. >Well Mike, you’ve made it this far
  1835. >What’s seven more years of bad luck?
  1836. >Despite the gnawing pain in your legs, you hit a dead sprint in the small distance between the back wall and the sink mirror
  1837. >Hands unseen grab you by your loose shirt fabric, but you run like your soul depended on it
  1838. >Not out the door—
  1839. >(you’d never make it)
  1840. >—But forward, at the mirror
  1841. >With a bound and a leap, you curl your body into a tight ball and become airborne, a human cannonball
  1842. >Your eyes slam shut as you watch yourself hurtle towards the bathroom mirror
  1843. >There’s the sound of glass shattering, a body thudding off the sink, and then tumbling from the sink onto the filthy tile floor
  1844. >And then a scream from next-door — a pained cacophony of one animal forcibly ejected from a reality warp, and four cheerleaders now likely unconscious from the severing blow that was your entire body colliding with their tunneled portal into the men’s room
  1845. >Your eyes open to a shattered mirror, shards of the reflective glass littering the sink
  1846. >And a whole lot of blood coating your upper body, dampening your shirt
  1847. >But you know time isn’t on your side with this one
  1848. >You don’t even think about going to the other bathroom and beating Lydia within an inch of her life (because let’s face it, she’d win that one)
  1849. >And that wolf that they likely victimized and then brought to the women’s bathroom is as good as dead as far as you’re concerned
  1850. >Snapjaws can fend for themselves better than you can
  1851. >You scramble onto two feet and leg it out of the bathroom, past the women’s restroom, and down the hall towards the stairs
  1852. >You white-knuckle the railing as you throw your body into a turn. Your wild flight comes to a halt when you crash into someone you didn’t see
  1853. >A red fox
  1854. >You stumble forward and brace yourself against the railing
  1855. >The fox sits up, shaking off the hit
  1856. >”Mike? Why are you sprinting down the stairs?” She asks, quickly scrambling to her feet and doing the ‘gotta pee’ dance
  1857. >She goes white when she sees the trail of blood running down your side
  1858. >”JENNA. DO NOT GO TO THE BATHROOM ON THE SECOND FLOOR!” You spin around and leg it down the stairs. “JUST GO PEE OUTSIDE OR SOMETHING!”
  1859. >You leave one of the few anthros you really actually like on the stairs in a daze, her head cocked to the side as you practically evaporate in a blur of blood and torn clothing
  1860. >A well-dressed rhino tries to stop you by virtue of your name, but you keep sprinting down the hall
  1861. >Class was almost over, and so the halls were beginning to swell with kids, making your escape both easier and yet more challenging
  1862. >The few times your grateful for more students in the hall is when you care about them the least
  1863. >Alright Mike
  1864. >Make it to your car
  1865. >Or find Alex and Anon
  1866. >…
  1867. >Fuck it, you can call them late-
  1868. >You blur right past a group of cheerleaders, who suddenly rise to their feet with mechanical alertness to your presence
  1869. >You swear you see their eyes glowing with lust and hunger
  1870. >Oh God
  1871. >One of them was a cheetah
  1872.  
  1873. >Be Anon again
  1874. >And, fuck, there’s finally a question
  1875. >Vanessa sits up in her chair for once, body locked straight forward on Mr. Bolm, who looks unbelievably overjoyed to have an actual question from Gloria
  1876. >”Actually, that’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked! Do humans mate for life?” he repeats, eyes eagerly scanning the sea of pimply, teenage faces for- oh god, no, no
  1877. >Look somewhere else you old f-
  1878. >”ANON!” He brightens, turning to write the question on the board. “Pop quiz for my brightest student. Do humans mate for life?”
  1879. >You become acutely aware just how piercing everyone’s stares suddenly are
  1880. >Especially Vanessa’s
  1881. >With a curious interest, she taps on the desk, cocking her head to the side, a smile gathering on her black lips
  1882. >Fuck
  1883. “Well, that’s… That’s the ideal, I think. I don’t know. I’ve never been in love before-”
  1884. >A few hushed whispers from the class cause you to start sweating
  1885. >Well shit, you kind of know how Sam feels
  1886. >Every time you get nervous, you always look for a distraction
  1887. “Have you ever been in love, Mr. Bolm?”
  1888. >To the sound of barely restrained gasps and your own heavy breathing, Mr. Bolm turns around, a stung look on his face
  1889. >”Yes, I have,” he says. You see a flash of light from the ring on his finger
  1890. >”I was in love for a long, long, long time. They say you only get one person in life you truly love. Or at least for humans this is true.”
  1891. >But his expression doesn’t match up like you thought it would
  1892. >It looks like you just diagnosed him with stage four cancer, or you informed him his best friend was dying-
  1893. >Oh god
  1894. >His wife is dead, isn’t she?
  1895. >Isn’t that perfect?
  1896. >Vanessa can no longer hold back her laughter as the bell kicks itself
  1897. >Mr. Bolm does not dismiss the class he only stares defeated at the floor
  1898. >The class dismisses itself
  1899. >You’re the first out the door, muttering a red-faced apology at the isolated figure that is now Mr. Bolm
  1900. >”Hey Anon, wait!”
  1901. >Vanessa is right behind you
  1902. >Damn, she moves quick
  1903. >You step into the stream of students
  1904. >Vanessa grabs your arm
  1905. >God she’s cold
  1906. >Like, ice cold
  1907. >”Great answer. How did you know that Bolm’s wife left him?”
  1908. “L-Lucky guess?” You shrug, not feeling any less like a complete fucknugget
  1909. >It suddenly dawns on you: this is her
  1910. >The woman who might be responsible for everything
  1911. “God.” she starts laughing like she’s not potentially involved in some dark ritual. “He’s such a fucking sob. He’s probably just upset he can’t pull any teen pussy now that his wife is gone. ‘Oh no my wife had an affair oh noooooo.’”
  1912. >She looks at you, suddenly serious, the laughter evaporating from her face. Her black lips go slant, and her green eyes flick upwards into your face from beneath heavy eyeliner
  1913. >”Don’t you just wish everyone like him, all these well adjusted, thoughtless fucks, were gone? Or at least punished?”
  1914. >Yep
  1915. >She fucking done it, Anon. She is no longer a hapless victim
  1916. >She’s at least some pawn in this entire mess
  1917. ”Punished in what way?”
  1918. >She pauses, studying you with pursed lips
  1919. >You stand alert, but only out of fear
  1920. >Satisfied, she nods her head slowly
  1921. >”Any way you want, Anon.” She nods to something further behind you
  1922. >Oh, it’s Harold, a North American Black Bear
  1923. >His arms shudder as he balances a high stack of percussion instruments
  1924. >He’s a band kid, and nice enough. You had gym with him once
  1925. >Surprisingly good at doing hurdles
  1926. >You look back to see Vanessa drawing a small black book out of her bag
  1927. >Your heart tightens up into a little ball of anxiety
  1928. >Oh god, she really is behind all this. ‘Brothers, black and red.’
  1929. >’The Book of Wrath’
  1930. >”We can do all kinds of things to shallow and awful people. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
  1931. >She spins open the book and nips at her finger. A small dot of blood appears on the tip
  1932. >She then smears it onto a messy page
  1933. >The drums practically explode out of Harold’s arms like a cluster bomb, shotgun-spraying in all directions
  1934. >Harold gets blown on his wide ass by the force
  1935. >By the time the bear can sit up, he has two punks on him, both humans, twisting his collar up, screaming in his face
  1936. >The crowds look tense
  1937. >And not because they’re about to witness a hate crime
  1938. >But because the ones still recovering from the barrage look pissed off at Harold and each other
  1939. >In fact they all look ready to commit hate crimes against each other
  1940. “What the-”
  1941. >”I told you. We have all kinds of ways to turn them against each other,” Vanessa says, closing the book, wearing a terribly satisfied grin
  1942. >It shuts with a heavy *THUMP*
  1943. “Is that why everyone seems so on edge lately? That book?”
  1944. >”No,” she says, shoving the book back into her bag. “Not just this book. How about we talk about this somewhere more private?”
  1945.  
  1946. >Your feet tap against the concrete
  1947. >You agreed to meet her at the loading dock behind the school after three
  1948. >The loading dock is empty except for the memories of you, Mike, Sam and Alex climbing the broken ladder
  1949. >Speaking of, you whip out your phone and start tapping out a message to the two of them
  1950. ‘Vanessa is the one. We need to’-
  1951. >”I knew you’d come, Anon.” Vanessa emerges from the shadows of the loading dock, reeking of nicotine
  1952. >Two other goths are at her side
  1953. >One human — A male
  1954. >And the other an adorable lil’ rat
  1955. >Who does not look all that adorable smoking on a cigarette that’s nearly 1/4 of her size
  1956. >Okay, it’s a little funny though
  1957. ”Right, I’m… I’m here.”
  1958. >The other two step towards you
  1959. >”Hang on. Anon’s not one of them,” Vanessa halts their advance
  1960. >Exchanging suspicious looks, they step back towards Vanessa’s side
  1961. >You notice she’s got The Book of Wrath open in her palm
  1962. >”Anon is one of us. A misfit — on the inside and outside.”
  1963. >Cringe
  1964. >God this was a mistake
  1965. >You should just leave right now
  1966. >You shouldn’t even be at school
  1967. >You should be trying to get Alex and Mike together to save Sam…
  1968. >… However you’ll do that
  1969. >”Do you believe in magic? Curses?”
  1970. >Oh, you always hated Harry Potter
  1971. “… I don’t know what if what know is true anymore. I guess I’m open to the idea?”
  1972. >The rat flicks her cigarette at your feet and looks up to Vanessa
  1973. >”How about a demonstration?” She says, her voice far deeper than it has any right to be
  1974. >She cuts into her thumb with her teeth and presses the bloody thumb into the pages of the book
  1975. >God her sharp little bangs that cover only of her eyes are just too adorable-
  1976. >You jump backwards as the cigarette pops and fizzes like a firecracker
  1977. >From its bubbling ashes, a terrible shape arises, the shape of a beast, rising from the small light, billowing up out of smoke and ash, a cherry-red heart of flame beginning to glow
  1978. >It lets out a scorched roar, breathing nicotine and flakes of ash
  1979. >It’s nearly twice your size in a matter of seconds
  1980. “Holy fuck!” You jump back as it reaches for you with an ashy hand
  1981. >Vanessa wheezes, sweat beading down her face
  1982. >No longer able to control the smoke-beast, she slams the book shut
  1983. >With a billowing puff, the beast becomes wisps of smoke, fading into the atmosphere
  1984. >You feel like shitting yourself
  1985. >God you’re such a coward
  1986. >”See what we can do?” She says, looking winded, but satisfied. ”And we can do more than just that.”
  1987. >”Have you seen the moon lately?” the human says
  1988. >Oh shit
  1989. “That was you? You can control the moon?”
  1990. >He nods in satisfaction. ”We could, until Kate lost the other book.”
  1991. “Kate?”
  1992. >”Winslow,” Vanessa says. “Kate Winslow helped us set this week in motion, but then lost the Book of Rite in the bathroom.”
  1993. >Just like the book said — ‘The Book of Rite’ that is
  1994. >God this is too much to take in all at once
  1995. >You feel like you’ve been drugged
  1996. >You hope they don’t notice your whole body trembling
  1997. >”We just need it to the complete the final rite on Friday. Along with a few… other things.”
  1998. “Final rite? Other things?”
  1999. >Vanessa smirks
  2000. >”Remember what I said about punishing every normie, Anon?”
  2001. >Normie
  2002. >Heh
  2003. >She continues as you struggle to move your mouth
  2004. >”What better way to punish the normies than to have them punish each other? Once Friday rolls around, and we have our pure virgin and our book, we can finally return this world to a primal form of madness.”
  2005. “Primal madness?”
  2006. >”You read a lot. Ever read Lovecraft, Anon? Think of violent, Eldritch madness, with a little bit of Twilight thrown in there for good measure. All the people that take their sanity for granted, their social status… They’ll be at each other’s throats soon enough.”
  2007. “So why are you telling me this?”
  2008. >There had to be an ulterior motive
  2009. >You back up, aware that you’re being clowned
  2010. >”Because you’re not one of them. You and your friends somehow are able to exist outside the petty spheres of high school cliques: The nobodies.”
  2011. >Oh
  2012. >So they’re awfully trusting. That’s a good thing
  2013. “Gee, thanks,” you quip, sarcasm dripping off your syllables
  2014. >It hurts because it’s true
  2015. >”But we need your help. You’re close with Gloria Duchene, right?”
  2016. >You blush at the idea
  2017. “Close? No, I wouldn’t say I’m close with her. More like she’s been fawning over me (no offense) ever since she got to public school.”
  2018. >”Right!” Vanessa says. “Her weird human fetish is exactly what we need. Well, that and her virginity.”
  2019. “WHAT”
  2020. >The goth’s start laughing
  2021. >”Calm down Anon, it’s not what you think. We just need pure, virgin blood to continue the ritual.”
  2022. “So you want me to… NO, I am NOT having sex with-”
  2023. >Vanessa laughs even harder
  2024. >You take a step back, face burning
  2025. >”We don’t want you to fuck her either. What you do with her is your own deal. We just need her for the week. So, will you help us? Bring her to the gym tomorrow for lunch. We’ll be waiting.”
  2026. >Help bring about Eldritch madness like in a badly written teenage drama?
  2027. >Help THESE cringy idiots?
  2028. >Who the hell do they think you are?
  2029. >Why would anyone want to help them complete a dark ritual?
  2030. >Sure you hate Gloria, but even you wouldn’t betray her to them
  2031. >Well, on second thought, it’d have to be a good enough reason…
  2032. >Your eyes flick towards the broken ladder again, and all you can think of is Sam, languishing under his father’s ‘care’
  2033. >…Which you think you’ve found
  2034. >You clear your throat
  2035. “Vanessa?”
  2036. >This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done
  2037. >The doe perks up at the sound of her name, her pierced ears twitching
  2038. >Who knows if it will even work?
  2039. “I’ll help you get Gloria.”
  2040. >You’re going to keep your knowledge of the other book a secret
  2041. >One last ace up your sleeve, in case
  2042. >Right now though, that doesn’t matter. The book is irrelevant. Because you have another chip you can cash in: Gloria
  2043. “But in exchange — right here, right now — I want you to make me brave.”
  2044. >The goth’s exchange confused looks
  2045. >”Brave?” The rat asks
  2046. “Just… Don’t ask.” You stare directly at Vanessa, eyes begging “Can you do it?”
  2047. >She studies you, the trusting look gone from her face
  2048. >You can physically feel your armpits getting wetter
  2049. >God DAMNIT you’re such a coward
  2050. >First it was college
  2051. >Then it was this whole situation
  2052. >And now you’re cutting a deal with the enemy
  2053. >To what?
  2054. >Save a kid who, up until last night, you couldn’t care less about?
  2055. >Are you gay? Is that why you’re doing this?
  2056. >You shake your head, ignoring the piercing stares of the goth’s
  2057. >You’re not gay, not even a litt-
  2058. >”Fine.” Vanessa says. “Hold out your arm.”
  2059. >You don’t even question her until she draws a razor from her bag
  2060. >Somehow you’re not surprised she keeps a razor with her
  2061. “Y-You’re not gonna stab me, right?”
  2062. >She shakes her head and grabs your elbow to steady you
  2063. >Her fingers are ice cold
  2064. >That’s not natural
  2065. >Well neither is getting your wrist cut but Vanessa Doermuth to get magical, Eldritch courage to save the life of your friend, but you’re pretty much ready to abandon reason at this point anyway
  2066. >Wait, did you just call Sam your friend?
  2067. >The knife glides cross your wrist horizontally, leaving a budding red slit.
  2068. >Blood trickles out
  2069. >She then takes your hand, twists your arm, and holds the book beneath your dripping wound
  2070. >You watch in silence, heart racing, as a page in the black book becomes soggy with your blood
  2071. >The goth’s are all smirking, and you swear they’re about to start chanting ‘one of us, one of us, one of us’
  2072. >With each drop of blood, you feel your heartbeat getting slower and slower
  2073. >You no longer evade the goth’s eye contact, but meet them head on
  2074. >Vanessa seems to notice, and a smile spreads across her lips
  2075. >”You feel It, Anon? The rewards of being on the right side.”
  2076. “I feel it, Mr. Krabs.”
  2077. >”What?”
  2078. “Nothing.” You withdraw your wrist, letting your blood drip onto the concrete. “Are we done?”
  2079. >Vanessa nods
  2080. >”You should be all juiced up and ready to go. Just don’t forget our promise, Anon.”
  2081. >You turn your back to them, car keys already dangling from your fingers
  2082. >Man you feel cool
  2083. >You feel confident, unafraid to piss them off
  2084. >But your mind feels sobered, fresh, not without forethought
  2085. “You’ll have your goat tomorrow,” you say, making for your car
  2086. >”Good!” Vanessa calls after you. “Because if you fuck us on this, our deal is off!!”
  2087. “Like I said, I’m going to help you. But first, I have something to do.”
  2088. >The parking lot is chaos, but you don’t mind. You maneuver cooly around hormonal, potentially magically cursed teenagers
  2089. >You flip your phone out of your pocket and ring Mike
  2090. >You get his answering machine
  2091. >Huh, you can normally get him
  2092. >You ring up Alex
  2093. >Anyone to help you with what you’re about to do
  2094. >”Y’ello?” Alex’s sleepy voice crackles through on the other side of the line
  2095. “Alex? You free?”
  2096. >”No, I’m at work. But yeah, I can do whatever. What’s up comrade?”
  2097. >The sun was just beginning to set on you, diffusing like a drop of amber into the gathering dusk
  2098. >An unnaturally cold wind whips across the car, carrying a handful of leaves against your windshield
  2099. >Though the skies were clear, it looks like a storm is fast approaching from the west
  2100. “I’m coming to pick you up. We’re going to rescue Sam.”
  2101.  
  2102. >You are Sam
  2103. >And from the single window of your room, you watch the leaves of fall drop into the breeze, one by one, like little parachutes of autumn
  2104. >Your hips, butt, back and arms sting are peppered with welts
  2105. >You tugged your hoodie up over them in the filthy bathroom mirror while Dad snores loudly on the couch, the TV at an ear-aching volume, especially for rabbits
  2106. >You’re used to it by now
  2107. >Through your chestnut brown fur, you can see the strips of the belt, swelling up like bruised fruit. You poke a tender one on the gentle feminine bow of your hips
  2108. >You recoil at the prodding
  2109. >Yeah, you really did it this time
  2110. >You really hurt dad’s trust in you
  2111. >His croaking voice from last night was in your dreams
  2112. >Anon was there, and so was Jacob
  2113. >Jacob hated most humans, but he was using his bat to protect you from your dad. Anon kept you shielded from your mother’s whip-like tongue
  2114. >His slick suit and tie were getting slashed to bits by her razor-sharp claws while dad and Jacob squared off over the bat
  2115. >In real life it was the other way around
  2116. >Dad and Jacob seemed to understand each other in a way — they spoke the language of booze and biting words, always stuffing down an injustice or sense of indignation with more anger into their caustic guts
  2117. >And when the anger became too much, they surrendered to the amber crutch
  2118. >In the dream though, dad opened his mouth, and spit a train at you, sending it down tracks of invisible light
  2119. >You could hear both him and Jacob calling you “Unwanted”, and then Jacob yelling over the shriek of the horn, “COWARD!”
  2120. >You tried to get Anon to move, but he had to protect you from mom
  2121. >And so you jumped out of the way of the train too soon
  2122. >Anon wasn’t fast enough
  2123. >And then you woke up in a cold sweat, dreams still heavy on your mind like lead balloons hanging overhead — threatening to crash
  2124. >It must have been around 5 a.m. when you started drawing
  2125. >You drew until the sun came up and dad roused you from your work
  2126. >He told you that he’d call you out sick
  2127. >Which was a lie, you knew, but it didn’t matter
  2128. >It was probably just to let the bruises and welts from last night heal and scab over
  2129. >The drawing helped speed things along
  2130.  
  2131. >Back in the mirror you strip off your hoodie, down an old, old pill — An estrus blocker
  2132. >And then another — a scent mask
  2133. >Whatever kept you from ruining dad’s life any further
  2134. >You grab your brother’s old hoodie from the dirty tile floor and carry it to your room with all the tenderness of a mother
  2135. >You’d do anything to repay Dad for your brother
  2136.  
  2137. >You are Anonymous, and you’re idling your car on Sam’s street
  2138. >”So this is your plan?” Alex says
  2139. >You had a great plan; Alex was just being a piece of shit
  2140. >Your car hums and sips on gasoline, shuddering in failing sunset as you cruise down Sam’s neighborhood
  2141. >”Is Sam even 18?”
  2142. “Probably?” You reply, unsure of the rabbit’s age
  2143. >”Jesus, I’d have moved out from here if I was him,” Alex says, resting his head against the cool glass window, his hair tucked beneath his beanie
  2144. “Well it’s not that easy to just up and leave these sorts of places.”
  2145. >”Yeah, not with the forces of capitalism pressing down on all sides.”
  2146. “Don’t make this about capitalism right now, dude. I need to focus. And I need you on your A-Game. Can you do that?”
  2147. >Alex sits up, flashing a confident grin
  2148. >”Are you seriously asking me, of all people, if I can break out the charm and lead a person on while we kidnap their son?”
  2149. >Actually, yes, you are
  2150. >But you’re in the shit now, no turning back. Not with Mike suddenly ghosting you
  2151. >Just you, Alex, a gay anxious rabbit, a violent alcoholic rabbit, and a serious criminal offense hanging over your very-not-a-minor-anymore head
  2152. “I should never doubt you. You’ve managed to stay employed at the Shop N’ Save.”
  2153. >”Gainfully so. I even got my coworkers to start calling me Comrade Alexi.”
  2154. >You can’t help but smile a little but, even as you approach Sam’s rundown old lot and kill the engine a few doors down
  2155.  
  2156. >Both you and Alex step outside into the brisk air
  2157. >The lingering smell of industrial sites, trash and train smoke hits your nose like… well, a train
  2158. >You and Alex make a sour face
  2159. >”What the hell is that?” He clutches his face and pinches his nose
  2160. “Factory runoff,” you say, tucking your hands into the pockets of your slacks and making for Sam’s house
  2161. >”When I’m in charge every one of these polluters will hang from the last rope’s they sold.”
  2162.  
  2163. >You are Sam
  2164. >You check to see if  Dad is still asleep on the couch
  2165. >The soft rising and falling of his chest and the volume of the TV tell you he’s out cold in another stupor
  2166. >Almost happy for Dad’s unconsciousness, you zip to your room, being careful when you shut the door
  2167. >The bag of old comics sits untouched where you stashed them last night before Dad came in
  2168. >If he found them…
  2169. >Your body shudders at the thought of Dad finding out you’d been hiding your brother’s old comics and baseball bat under your bed for six years
  2170. >There’d be hell to pay
  2171. >But as you quietly the door shut, careful to leave just a tiny crack open so you can hear your Dad’s movements, you feel a sense of giddiness you haven’t felt for a long time
  2172. >Your body is achy from the whooping, sure, but as you settle down on your bed, crack open a Hurricane Jones book, you can almost shut your eyes and be in Agora, the birthplace of the most fearsome superhero on earth
  2173. >Your eyes watch as the last rays of autumn filter lower and lower on your carpet, giving way to the procession of dusk
  2174. >Your stomach rumbles
  2175. >You’d rather wait out the hunger than wake Dad up with noise in the kitchen
  2176. >It’s safer when he’s asleep
  2177.  
  2178. >”So all I gotta do is fool this poor, downtrodden soul for just a few minutes?” Alex says
  2179. >He’s sitting alert in the front seat of your car as you idle down the street from Sam’s house
  2180. “Right. Don’t upset him, don’t try to go inside — just waste his time. I’ll get Sam out of there and into the car, and you’ll leave, walk down the street, and we’ll pick you up. Just like that.”
  2181. >Alex flexes his long, spindly arms forward, knuckles cracking like little twigs in the process
  2182. >”Nothing I can’t handle, Anon. I’m a natural-born leader of people.”
  2183. >Leader of this fist into your face if you don’t get out there
  2184. >”Five minutes?” He quips, shaking his body out, stretching his acting muscles
  2185. “Five minutes. This will be quick. Quicker than that. I promise.”
  2186.  
  2187. >You summon a few deep breaths for courage as you stand at the gate of Sam’s house
  2188. >Well, gate is more like an exaggeration. It’s really just a twisted chain link fence encircling the dilapidated yard
  2189. >There’s a shattered concrete path leading up to the sagging, one-story home, its white paint long since gone; its windows spider-webbed with cracks
  2190. >It’s a sad place to be, no matter who you are
  2191. >Hard to believe that just a few nights ago you were scared shitless about being here, and now all you can think about is your next move
  2192. >Did the pact with Vanessa work? Are you really about to do this?
  2193. >You feel for the handful of screws, nuts and bolts in your pockets as Alex saunters up to the door
  2194. >Can Alex do this?
  2195. >Guess you can’t be a coward when you’re an idiot
  2196. >You duck your body and quickly post up against the wall of the house  while Alex raps at the front door
  2197. >Rather loudly too
  2198. >You know you don’t have long to pull this off, so you dash to your right, finding the side yard a safe refuge to catch your breath
  2199. >You may have grown a pair, but you’re still out of shape
  2200. >You turn your neck upwards
  2201. >There’s a window set above you
  2202. >You hope this is Sam’s
  2203. >You wheel back into the dirt and withdraw a screw from your pocket
  2204. >Bouncing it up and down, you hold your breath, listening for the front door and for Alex’s schpeel to begin
  2205. >You don’t feel the familiar  knot of anxiety like you should
  2206. >Your breathing is even and slow
  2207. >But you do release a held knot of air when you hear Alex say:
  2208. >”Good evening sir. Can I talk to you a moment about our lord and savior Karl Marx?’
  2209. >Whipping back your arm, you pelt the window with the screw
  2210. >It thunks loudly off the side of the house, your aim that of a one-eyed blind man
  2211. >All confidence and no skill
  2212. >You try another one
  2213. >It bounces off the bottom right corner of the broken glass window with a loud *peck*
  2214. >God this better be Sam’s window. You’re going to give this at least one minute
  2215. >You hope that Alex can keep Sam’s dad busy
  2216. >You try another one, which lands dead-center
  2217.  
  2218. >Be Sam
  2219. >The sound of heavy knocking at your front door sets your heart off against your ribcage
  2220. >You drop your comicbook and grab Jacob’s bat, cautiously peeking out the door
  2221. >It could be Mom coming back, or one of dad’s brothers, here to ‘take care’ of dad
  2222. >You squeeze the bat’s handle, trying to remember Jacob’s instructions about breaking a rabbit’s legs
  2223. >Dad has begun to move around now, and he doesn’t look happy that someone’s woken him up
  2224. >The knocking grows more urgent as dad shuffles to the door, clutching his head and ears
  2225. >He’s already hungover
  2226. >Which means he’s got the devil in him
  2227. >You force down your anxious squeaks as you watch him throw open the door
  2228. >”Good evening sir. Can I talk to you a moment about our lord and savior Karl Marx?”
  2229. >Missionaries?
  2230. >Out here?
  2231. >The voice sounds familiar, but you can’t decide why
  2232. >The sound of something heavy chunking against your window nearly sets you off
  2233. >You fight back another squeak as your dad turns to look towards your cracked-open door
  2234. >The missionary (or whatever he is) increases his speaking volume to an unpleasant volume, especially for rabbits
  2235. >”I CAN SEE BY YOUR ABODE, SIR, YOU’VE BEEN WRONGED BY A LOT OF PEOPLE!”
  2236. >Your dad twists his ears in pain
  2237. >”Shut the FUCK up for a second! Jesus Christ you pink faggot, get off my doorstep before I-
  2238. >”AH BUT SIR!” The missionary continues, loudly, “DON’T YOU MEAN /OUR/ DOORSTEP?”
  2239. >Another *thunk* rocks your ear drums
  2240. >Something hits your window with force
  2241.  
  2242. >Be Anon
  2243. >You’re going to try one more time, and then go around back to the other side of the house
  2244. >You give a solid throw
  2245. >The window pops open
  2246. >Sam appears in the empty portal, his shaggy hair parted at the center, exposing the bruised-fruit color underneath his sleepless eyes
  2247. >The loose screw rockets dead-center towards the window
  2248. >Where Sam is just beginning to say something—
  2249. >—Until the screw blasts Sam on the nose, knocking him from the window and back into the house
  2250. >Jesus fucking Christ
  2251. >You sprint towards the house and throw yourself up towards the window, grabbing onto the ledge and hoisting yourself up
  2252. >You can do approximately one pull-up in gym
  2253. >You should have asked for super strength AND confidence
  2254. >Grunting as quietly as you can, you hoist yourself up, over the ledge and through the window—
  2255. >—Where you tumble through, falling flat onto your face into a disgusting shag carpet
  2256. >You pull yourself up on shaking arms, and see Sam, standing against his bed, a baseball bat pressed against his chest with one hand, the other using his longsleeve shirt to stem the blood pouring from his twitching nose
  2257. >This is the first time you’ve seen him in a pair of badly fitting jeans and a vastly oversized gray long-sleeve t-shirt
  2258. >His signature gross hoodie is resting at your feet
  2259.  >Sam’s whole body shakes something awful, and you can see the shock in his eyes
  2260. >He looks like he’s about to cry, in either pain or confusion
  2261. >”A-A-Anon?” He squeaks
  2262. >He lowers the bat a little
  2263. >You start to say something, but can’t find the right words
  2264. >You need something cool, something to make him calm down
  2265. “What’s good, money?”
  2266.  
  2267. >Sam steps back, toppling onto his messy bed as you rise you to your full height
  2268. >Your eyes snap around the room
  2269. >It’s…
  2270. >Wow
  2271. >You know that scene in A Beautiful Mind where the guy’s wife finds that shed that’s covered in paranoid writings and drawings?
  2272. >That’s what Sam’s room reminds you of
  2273. >Its covered wall-to-wall with drawings of superheroes and supervillains
  2274. >”Why are y-y-you h-here?” Sam says in an urgent whisper
  2275. >His free hand twists his ears
  2276. “Get your stuff. Quick. We’re getting you out of here.”
  2277. >He pushes his shock of brown hair from his eyes
  2278. >”W-What?”
  2279. ”Come on, you don’t have a lot of time!” You quickly start grabbing clothes off his floor,
  2280. >You can’t help but notice how big all of them are
  2281. >They’re probably hand-me-downs
  2282. >And it’s clear they haven’t been washed since being ‘handed down’
  2283. >”W-W-W-Wait, I c-can’t go,” he says, on his feet, grabbing things from your hands. “I h-have to s-stay h-h-here.”
  2284. “Why? Your friends are trying to save you right now. Both Alex and I are here to rescue you, so grab your shit, and come with me-”
  2285. >”N-No!” He squeaks, frantically rushing around, grabbing at the stuff you’re trying to keep from him. Eventually you leverage your height against him and hoist his clothes above your head
  2286. >He jumps at you, his legs granting him impressive height
  2287. >But it’s not enough
  2288. >”Dad says I-I’m n-not allowed to have friends. D-D-Dad says I don’t have any-“
  2289. >You set your jaw hard
  2290. “Then what does that make me?”
  2291. >Sam stops jumping at you
  2292. >He looks stung, but more confused than hurt
  2293. “Can’t you see what your dad is doing to you? He’s warped your brain so badly that you’re your own prisoner.”
  2294. Sam shakes his head, sending his bangs whipping around in a tight arc
  2295. >His ears would go too were he not clutching them in an anxious fit
  2296. >”H-H-H-He’s not! H-He’s making s-s-sure I don’t h-h-hurt anyone else! He’s l-l-looking out f-for me…”
  2297. >You drop the clothes onto the floor
  2298. >Sam’s eyes slam shut, and his shaking is even worse than before
  2299. >You can hear his dad shouting from the hall, something slams, followed by more shouting
  2300. >Alex, you think
  2301. >Just hold out a little bit longer
  2302.  
  2303. >Be Alex
  2304. >You don’t know how much longer you can hold this guy’s rapt attention
  2305. >He looks a lot scarier than you thought he would
  2306. >Built out, shirt stained with oil and grease, hard lines creased on his rabbit face
  2307. >He eyes you with annoyance and hatred
  2308. “ALL IM SAYING IS THAT WERE THE PRESIDENT OUSTED AND REPLACED BY A SUPREME LEADER, WE’D-“
  2309. >”A supreme le- LISTEN SHIT HEAD! I fought for this country specifically so you pink faggots can say this stupid shit, do you understand that?”
  2310. >He turns around, his hand heavy on the doorknob, staring at something down the hall
  2311. >You stick your foot in the door right as he slams it
  2312. >You stifle a yell
  2313. ”S-SIR, PLEASE WAIT, I JUST WANT TWO MORE MINUTES!” You say, taking care to say “two minutes” as loudly as you can
  2314. >You hope Anon can hear you
  2315. >Sam’s dad spins around, fire in his eyes, his jaw set in a hard line
  2316. >”Get the hell out of here before I kick your stupid pink ass down the street!” He yells, forcing the door harder against your shoe
  2317. >Oh god this hurts
  2318. >You push against the door
  2319. >You were NOT going to let this man continue to think incorrectly and continue to oppress himself
  2320. >Sam’s dad snarls and wraps his hands around your shirt collar
  2321. >”ARE YOU DEAF!?” He yells, trying to shove you
  2322. >You grip the rusted brass knob for dear life and push hard
  2323. >”I SWEAR I’LL KILL YOU!” He screams, his throat raspy from years of smoking
  2324. >You think this might be assault, but something inside for you says that he’s got proper grounds to be shoving you
  2325. ”PLEASE, I UNDERSTAND YOUR PLIGHT SIR! I TOO WAS ONCE A GENTLE WORKER, ALIENATED FROM MY HUMANITY BY LABOR-“
  2326. >The rabbit lets the door open, his focus no longer on you
  2327. >He’s squinting at something else inside of his house
  2328. >Oh no
  2329.  
  2330. >Be Anon again
  2331. >And now you think you made a mistake
  2332. >You hear Alex yell something about two minutes
  2333. >Which it might take you to escape
  2334. >This whole thing was a bad idea
  2335. >You mean, really, trying to break into someone’s house and willingly kidnap Sam?
  2336. >What part of you thought this would work?
  2337. >A harsh voice echoes from the hallway
  2338. >”I SWEAR I’LL KILL YOU!”
  2339. >You look down at Sam and back to the window
  2340. >Sam can only stare at the floor, blood seeping from his nose
  2341. >You sigh
  2342. >Well you trie-
  2343. >”I’ll go with you,” he says
  2344. >Wat
  2345. “You’ll go with me?” You repeat, not believing the words coming from Sam’s mouth
  2346. >”Y-Yes,” he says, his voice choked with confusion and uncertainty. “Y-Yo-You’re my friend a-a-and I trust y-you.”
  2347. “GREAT!” You thrust a fist into the air, catching yourself before your voice reaches a noticeable pitch. “Grab your stuff and let's go. And make it quick!” You say, already shoving clothes out the window
  2348. >Sam scrambles around, grabbing as many things as he can
  2349. >This mostly involves him running around the room and snatching drawings off the wall and shoving them into his backpack
  2350. “Sam, no. Clothes and toiletries only,” you say, noticing him trying to force a large paper bag into the backpack
  2351. >He’s wearing a frantic look on his face as he tries valiantly to cram the parcel into his badly packed bag
  2352. ”Come on, come on, let’s go!”
  2353. >You grab the baseball bat near the bed and hold it up
  2354. >Sam panics when he sees you holding the bat
  2355. >“W-Wait, g-give me t-t-t-that!”
  2356. >For the first time in your friendship he grabs something from you forcefully
  2357. >The bag splits open, its age finally ripping asunder against the zipper of the backpack
  2358. >Glossy-faced comic books spill all over the floor, their covers blooming in a circle around the bag like a shiny flower
  2359. >Sam’s eyes shoot open, but he doesn’t drop the bat when he goes to start collecting the comics, making it an inefficient labor
  2360. “God damnit!” You hiss
  2361. >It’s like Sam is completely ignoring everything in the room except that bat and those comics
  2362. “Let’s just go!” You clap your palms around your head in frustration. “We’re running out of ti-”
  2363. >The sound of heavy footsteps pauses all motion in the room
  2364. >VERY heavy, and angry footsteps
  2365. >Making their way to the door
  2366. >Sam looks up towards the noise, his eyes shot open with panic, his mouth frozen in a scream
  2367. “SAM, GO!” You chuck his old hoodie out the window and step forward, trying to put yourself between the door and him
  2368. >The door hurtles open, smacking loudly against the wall, leaving a sizable dent in the wood paneling, where several other dents of similar force are pressed into the wall like little craters
  2369. >Sam’s dad stands in the doorway his fists curled into tight balls, his eyes blood-red with whiskey heat
  2370. >”Sam you little bitch, what’s going on in he-“
  2371. >He scans the room, his eyes flicking to you
  2372. >And then down to Sam, who still has his hands frozen halfway in his bag
  2373. >His dad leans forward and glowers:
  2374. >”You son of a bitch,”
  2375. >You can see the muscles in his legs tensing up
  2376. >Being that he’s a rabbit, you REALLY need to make this fast
  2377. >Or he will
  2378. >”You break into my home, you try to rob me?” He slurs, his voice piercing and sharp
  2379. >His eyes flick down to Sam, who has pulled his backpack up against his chest, hugging it like it’s a life preserver
  2380. >And he’s sharky waters now
  2381. >”And you…” he seethes, a near feral growl rolling out of his chest
  2382. >”This was your idea, wasn’t it? To let your faggot friend back over here and rob us…”
  2383. >He starts forward
  2384. >”After all I’ve had to do for us — After all you’ve done to this family…”
  2385. >His trembling hands stretch out towards Sam
  2386.  
  2387. >Sam let’s out a panicked squeak, both his hands on the handle of the bat
  2388. >He swipes it to the right…
  2389. >… Catching his dad on the wrists with a louder-than-you-could-believe *thunk*
  2390. >Your jaw unhinges as you see Sam, his eyes glued shut, his face twisted up in panic, waving the bat from side-to-side like an over-sized fan
  2391. >And his dad — a look of shock plastered across his aged face — looks at his knuckles, which glow red with pain
  2392. >You shake the scene from your head and focus back on the situation
  2393. >There’ll be time to digest Sam’s actions later
  2394. >Now is the time to run
  2395. “SAM!” You shout, grabbing him by the ears
  2396. >You tug hard and he falls backwards
  2397. >With a tremendous effort, you try to whip him back towards the window
  2398. >It doesn’t work, but he gets the message
  2399. >In half a second, Sam’s already crawled out the window, his poofy tail disappearing over the ledge
  2400. >You hear him crash into the dirt below
  2401. >He’s safe
  2402. >And that’s all that matters-
  2403. >-And then he does something you wish, for the rest of your life, he wouldn’t have done
  2404. “A-A-A-Anon!” He cries
  2405.  
  2406. >Your heart hurls itself against your ribcage
  2407. >You can see the look of realization on his dad’s face
  2408. >It goes from pure shock, to glowing rage
  2409. >”SO YOU LIED ABOUT YOUR NAME?” Sam’s dad’s face twists into a horrible smile. “But you fucked up. Because now I know.”
  2410. “Sammmmm,” you call behind you. “Go find Comrade Alexi…” You try to remain calm and take a small step backwards, towards the window
  2411. >He starts laughing. Real, painful, rib sucking, hateful laughter
  2412. >”I never wanted to kill a man like I want to kill you, man!” The words explode from his mouth in a spray of spittle and whiskey heat
  2413. >He lunges forward, his powerful legs exploding underneath him
  2414. >He covers the distance fast, even for his inebriation…
  2415. >… Which you suspect is the only reason you’re able to jump back in time
  2416. >Your hands grope behind you, finding the ledge
  2417. >Your brush up against the hard surface
  2418. >You don’t look
  2419. >You throw your weight behind you, tumbling headfirst and backwards out the window
  2420. >Your eyes shut as the ground rushes up to meet you-
  2421. >But you never feel the ground
  2422. >Instead you feel a bone-crushing vice around your ankles
  2423. >You cry out in pain and look up to see a furry hand clutching your ankle, and Sam’s dad halfway out the window himself, straining to hold on to you
  2424. >”Get back here, you coward!” He grunts
  2425. >His other hand shoots around your ankle, and you can feel his unkempt nails biting into your skin
  2426. >”You fucking window jumping co-“
  2427. >Your other foot seems to have something to say to that little statement
  2428. >Without your mind’s consent, your other leg smashes into the rabbit’s face
  2429. >And you drop like a stone into the dirt and dry grass
  2430. >You land on your back with a loud ka-thump, staring up Sam’s dad as he peers out the window
  2431. >His shape disappears as he bolts for the doors
  2432. >Sam is still there, gawking at the spectacle of you kicking his dad in the face
  2433. >The only thing you can think of is escape
  2434. >You’re on your feet in the space between heartbeats
  2435. >But Sam won’t move
  2436. >His whole body is locked up
  2437. >Useless rabbit-loaf!
  2438. >You grab his tender wrists, squeeze hard, and break into what amounts your version of a sprint
  2439. >Sam tails behind you, legs stumbling and struggling to gain footing
  2440. >He wraps the bat in his hoodie and presses them against his chest
  2441. ”ALEXI!” You scream, throat scalded and hoarse
  2442. ”ALEXI GET TO THE CAR!”
  2443. >You look behind you to see Alex in a dead sprint, powerful legs pumping, arms wheeling as his lanky body brings itself closer to you with each stride
  2444. >And behind him
  2445. >A pair of crooked, chestnut brown rabbit ears, trailing in the wind, the sound of rabbit-feet pounding into the loose Earth
  2446. >A train whistle blows somewhere
  2447. >The rustbucket is so close
  2448. >Sam finally finds his footing and keeps up with you easier than before, though he still lags, attached only by your solid grip on his soft, fuzzy wrists
  2449. >The contrast is something to marveled at, but now is not the time
  2450. >But you can't afford to carry his weight right now
  2451. >You let go of Sam and break for the door, keys in hand
  2452. >It feels like it takes forever for the lock to go, but when it does, you throw yourself into the seat, jam the keys into the ignition, and twist like your life depended on it
  2453. >Sam is next
  2454. >You grab him by his t-shirt and tug hard
  2455. >He slams painfully against the open door, but gets the hint
  2456. >Your body clearly understands nothing but survival
  2457. >You pull the little rabbit on top of you and shift into reverse, the bunny’s weight against your legs, his feet blocking your view of Alex
  2458. >Alex, GOD DAMNIT!
  2459. >Alex is in a dead sprint, but Sam’s dad is hot on his heels
  2460. >”ANON!” He screams
  2461. >”DRIVE!”
  2462. >Sam is still trying to sit up
  2463. >Your hands fly onto the wheel, but your foot hovers over the pedal
  2464. >You can’t just leave him, can you?
  2465. >The gap between Alex, Sam’s dad and the car becomes even smaller, and the voice in your head tells you to leave now to make sure you can get away
  2466. >Sam throws his bat and hoodie into the back, his legs now jutting out the door
  2467. >You need to move
  2468. >Your feet press down on the accelerator
  2469. >YOU NEED TO MOVE!
  2470. “ALEX!” You cry
  2471. >But you don’t need to say anything else
  2472. >Because he does exactly what you’d expect
  2473. >Alex bounds forward, and with a tremendous leap, he throws himself on top of your car…
  2474. >… Right as a pair of angry hands snaps at the empty space where he used to be
  2475. >That’s all the excuse you ne-
  2476. >Sam’s dad smashes into the hood of the car, his mighty stomp crumpling the metal where he lands
  2477. >FUCKING RABBITS! GOD DAMNIT!
  2478. >That's a $1,000 repair job!
  2479. >You stomp down on the accelerator
  2480. >Your car peels off, but the rabbit remains attached to your hood, holding on to the open door frame—
  2481. >Reaching for Sam
  2482.  
  2483. >Sam screams and grabs onto your leg as his father tries to pull him from your moving car
  2484. >Jesus fucking Christ!
  2485. >Sam’s father is clearly not intimidated when you hit 25 miles-per-hour
  2486. >In fact, his face only grows more strained — excited even
  2487. >His eyes split wide even as his floppy ears begin to trail behind him like streamers
  2488. >You can feel Sam slipping from your lap
  2489. >You anchor him by grabbing his wrist, being sure to keep one hand on the wheel
  2490. >Alex, who is still on the roof, flattens himself against the top hood, fingers dug in to the rails where your top rack storage would go
  2491. >He’s fairly secure… you hope
  2492. >Sam, however, is already halfway out the door, and no matter how fast you go, Sam’s dad only seems to get closer to raking his son off your lap and onto the street
  2493. >Unless
  2494. >You recall driving across town
  2495. >How the rustbucket is so top heavy
  2496. >You grit your teeth
  2497. >Summon a deep breath
  2498. >Block out Sam’s screams
  2499. >And crank the wheel to the right as hard as it’ll go
  2500. >The car squeals in protest, its rubber wheels screeching as you throw the ol’ girl into a tight spin
  2501. >Sam’s dad goes tumbling off the car hood and onto the raw pavement
  2502. >You slam on the breaks, and Alex rolls forward onto the hood of the car as well with a loud metal *thunk*
  2503.  >He recovers quickly and dives in to the back seat, shouting something about your ass and how he’s going to kick it
  2504. >But you can’t take your eyes off Sam’s dad
  2505. >He’s motionless in the road, his body splayed out like a discarded doll
  2506. >Oh god
  2507. >Oh god
  2508. >He’s dead…
  2509. >Sam squirms in your lap, lifting his head from where he’d buried it in your leg
  2510. >”I-I-I-Is he gone?” he stammers
  2511. >You don’ know what to say
  2512. >’Yeah dude I just killed your fucking dad’ might sufice
  2513.  
  2514. >How do you even broach this? Do you need to call the polic-
  2515. >Wait
  2516. >No
  2517. >You see his body start to move, slow and dazed from the impact
  2518. >With a great effort he sits up
  2519. >Smeared with blood and gravel, his face is set in a hard line, all sharp angles carved out of his fine bones
  2520. >There’s no shock there, no pain
  2521. >He levels his gaze at the front of your car, squinting from the blood that trickles into his eyes
  2522. >His amber eyes lock with yours
  2523. >And suddenly you’re a little kid again; weak; afraid; scared
  2524. >But not alone
  2525. >Calmly you bend Sam’s legs,
  2526. >You turn the car around, breaking his dad’s steady gaze
  2527. >That invisible conversation you’ve had for what felt like hours
  2528. >All the language you can make out of looks
  2529. >In the rearview mirror you can see Sam’s dad stand up on two unsteady feet and glare down the dark street at you, his eyes flashing in your rear lights like angry candles
  2530. >Sam sits up and looks behind the headrest, fingers anxiously dug in to the old and shitty fabric…
  2531. >… And begins to shake when he sees that his dad is up on his feet
  2532. >You calmly press down on the accelerator and point the car deeper into town
  2533. >You have a long road ahead out of the slums
  2534. >No turns
  2535. >In the distance a train rolls on
  2536.  
  2537. >You don’t take Alex home
  2538. >The car ride is quiet and uneventful
  2539. >The street lamps come on early
  2540. >It’s not even late, just dark
  2541. >And the moon is so cold and big in the sky, another full moon
  2542. >You may be braver, but that doesn’t stop a knot from twisting in your stomach, thrashing around like a headless snake
  2543. >That moon has a cause, and it has an effect
  2544. >So what did you accomplish today, other than a few felonies?
  2545. >You shift your eyes briefly from the road to the rabbit in the seat next to you
  2546. >He’s not wearing his seatbelt, and you don’t have the energy to tell him to do so
  2547. >He’s curled tightly into a ball, his arms forming a tight link around his twiggish legs
  2548. >He keep his head down, his hair a shut curtain over his face
  2549. >Without his hoodie on, in that awkwardly sized gray long sleeve and jeans, he looks almost naked
  2550. >You can see more of him, the way clothing hangs off him like a sheet, his bird-like body only a thin and fading line against the drape of the fabric
  2551. >You can’t imagine what he’s going through — what he’s been through
  2552. >He looks malnourished
  2553. >And somewhere, deep in a pit in your heart, where hope once lived, you begin to see that you’ve made a grave error in trying to save him and the world from what’s about to happen
  2554. >You flick the blinker on and turn into your driveway
  2555. >It begins to sink in
  2556. >You’ve sealed someone’s fate
  2557.  
  2558. >”So, sleepover then?” Alex says, flashing a tired smile from the backseat
  2559. >You nudge Sam
  2560. “Hey. Dude.”
  2561. >He looks up and pushes away his greasy hair
  2562. >His eyes are bloodshot, stung by tears
  2563. “We… We uhhh. This is my house.”
  2564. >He looks forward
  2565. >”Oh,” he says distantly, still sniffling a little
  2566. >Alex unbuckles and leans into the center console
  2567. >”Because I’m not going home tonight.”
  2568. “Yeah, what about your parents though?”
  2569. >”Fuck the oppressors. After this evening, I just want to kick back and drink some bee-“
  2570. >He glances at Sam, but he doesn’t look like he’s paying attention
  2571. >”Some sodas. Or something.”
  2572. >You silently thank whatever God there might be for Alex’s save
  2573. >Probably not a good night to get wistfully drunk
  2574. >Sam clears his throat and rubs his eyes eyes with his sleeve
  2575. >He looks from you to Alex a weak smile hanging to his lips by one finger
  2576. >”S-Sodas?” He says softly, though you can still hear the ache in his voice
  2577. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had a soda before, dude.” You try to put a little pep in your voice
  2578. >Sam’s ears shake from side to side
  2579. >There’s a little more color back in his cheeks
  2580. >His voice still shakes
  2581. >”I-I-I h-have. J-Just not many of t-t-them. O-O-Or-“
  2582. >You pop open the door
  2583. >”Well, come on. Lets get some dinner. And maybe I can wash your clothes?”
  2584. >Sam glows beat red and hides his gaze in his lap
  2585. >But you can see how big his eyes are
  2586. >F-Fuck
  2587. >You shake your head free of The Gay(tm), sucking down cold air
  2588. >It just occurred to you how deep your pits are soaked
  2589. >You need to change
  2590. >And…
  2591. >You glance at your phone
  2592. >No missed calls from Mike
  2593. >Maybe you should give him a ring
  2594.  
  2595. >You are Mike MUTHAFUCKIN’ Sapone
  2596. >And you gotta keep moving
  2597. >Your eyes nervously flit around the neighborhood as you bank into a turn, your car gliding under the streetlamp like a wraith
  2598. >You grab the spot where Lydia’s claws held into your skin
  2599. >It hurts, but the bleeding was fairly minimal
  2600. >You considered going to the hospital, but you don’t think that’s a good idea right now
  2601. >You were followed a good distance once you made it to your car
  2602. >And you can’t trust anyone right now, not while the moon is out in full
  2603. >First evil vampiric cheerleader encounter and it was hardly sexual
  2604. >You’re pretty sure you’re going to run into werewolves at this point
  2605. >In fact, you’ve decided to run over any fangmouths you see
  2606. >But that won’t happen
  2607. >You’ve been doing loops around this random neighborhood for what feels like an hour
  2608. >Covered in sweat
  2609. >Hair matted down with moisture
  2610. >Head aching from where you rekt Lydia
  2611. >Eyes heavy with sleep
  2612. >Body…
  2613. >…Strangely warm and feverish
  2614. >Just keep doing loops, wait until it gets dark
  2615. >Just keep moving
  2616. >And then what?
  2617. >Go home? Wouldn’t they know where you live?
  2618. >Do they?
  2619. >God you don’t feel good
  2620. >How long as this car been on the ‘E’?
  2621. >Are you even moving?
  2622. >You feel like you’re going to be sick
  2623. >You pull over, kill the engine and throw open the door
  2624. >Your body seizes up and forces its contents out
  2625. >But nothing comes
  2626. >Its just your body retching and lurching out of the car underneath the street lamps of some foreign neighborhood
  2627. >You try forcing your body to stop heaving but to no avail
  2628. >Your stomach is colliding against your ribcage and it hurts
  2629. >Your back and shoulders hurt
  2630. >Everything hurts
  2631. >Even your eyeballs
  2632. >Your vision is going dark
  2633. >The idea that something isn’t right has long since been replaced with the firm, unshakeable knowledge that something is REALLY wrong
  2634. >An image of you receiving your diploma flashes in your head
  2635. >And it slowly becomes ethereal, fading away like smoke against the sky
  2636. >You reach out to grab one tendril and anchor it to the Earth
  2637. >But it slips through your fingers
  2638. >And your vision collapses
  2639. >As your body hits the sidewalk
  2640.  
  2641. >Be Anon
  2642. >You open the door to your room and motion for Sam to enter
  2643. >But he doesn’t
  2644. >He stands in the entryway, hands folded in front of him, twisting his body as he peers into the dark space
  2645. “What? He’s not here dude. Remember? He’s back at your old house. Probably,” you laugh. “Probably wishing he lived in a place like this.”
  2646. >You snap on the lights, part of you expecting to find Sam’s Dad in wait
  2647. >But it’s your same old room
  2648. >Same old desk, same old computer, same old unmade bed and messy, low dresser
  2649. >The floor is a minefield of dirty clothes and loose sheets of paper
  2650. ”Go on, I’ll find my old pajamas while you change.”
  2651. >You almost nudge him forward, but hold back
  2652. >”I-I-I can’t…” he says, looking up at you with a worried expression
  2653. >”D-Dad said I’m n-not allowed in a b-b-boys room.”
  2654. “What? Why would he say that? Now come on, lets go.” You push him inside, very quickly done with being tender
  2655. >He squeaks at your touch and jumps forward into the room, gaining impressive distance
  2656. >Rabbits. Fucking rabbits, man
  2657. >Sam glances around your room, his eyes lighting up as he glosses over the little bookshelf in the corner
  2658. >”Y-You have a b-book shelf?” he says
  2659. “… Yeah, I have a bookshelf. What’s so cool about that?”
  2660. >Sam presses his fingers together when he sees you waiting at the door
  2661. >”I-uhhh I always wa-wanted a book shelf in my r-r-room,” he says
  2662. >Oh, right. Makes sense. His family was a buncha cunts and probably wouldn’t get him one
  2663. >You sigh. You’re not sleepy, but you’re tired
  2664. “You can go look if you want.” You point towards the shelf. “I think I’ve got old copies of Superman on the bottom shelf.”
  2665. >Sam’s eyes go big
  2666. >”S-SUPERMAN!?” He catches his palms over his mouth before his voice hits a high note that…only girls can hit…
  2667. >Well he is a super feminine boy
  2668. >With an oddly androgynous face
  2669. >Hmmmm
  2670. >You shake your head
  2671. >”S-Sorry,” Sam whispers
  2672. >You turn to go find your pajamas
  2673. >You think you left them in the kitchen
  2674. >Nobody has been home for a few days
  2675. >Not like anyone is gonna tell you otherwise
  2676. >You are Anon, a high school bachelor, after-all
  2677. “Just get undressed before you start reading the comics.”
  2678. >Sam’s ears shoot up to the top of his head
  2679. >”W-What? A-A-A-A-A-Anon I-“
  2680. >You shut the door
  2681. >You’re a patient man, but not that patient
  2682. >Why is he being so weird about this? It’s not like you haven’t changed in front of Mike or Alex
  2683. >Speaking of…
  2684. >You pull out your phone and call Mike again
  2685. >It rings, but terminates in his voicemail
  2686. “Fuck,” you whisper, stepping into the kitchen, where Alex has parked himself
  2687. >He’s spoon-deep in a bowl of cereal, the fridge door still open
  2688. >”How’d it go with your boyfriend?” He asks, the spoon hanging from his lips like a  metal cigarette
  2689. >You point your phone at him
  2690. “What did I say about that? What did I say?”
  2691. >”I can’t remember, but I think you came out to Mike and I at a burgershack. You’re…You’re at least bi, right?”
  2692. “NO!”
  2693. >Alex sets aside his cereal and leans over the table, a templetive look on his face
  2694. >”Listen, Anon. I’m not Mike. I’m not trying to tease you here. But you gotta face facts…”
  2695. “I know you’re not Mike.” Your groan echoing off the low ceiling. “Because you’re my retard friend Alex, whose last two braincells are trying to tell me I’m gay, which I’m not.”
  2696. >”You need to be honest with yourself. I support you and Sam, dude.”
  2697. >You feel like you just got punched in the gut
  2698. >You and Sam?
  2699. “ME and SAM?” You exclaim
  2700. >”Well that’s what it looks like!”
  2701. “It’s not what it looks like. It NEVER is!”
  2702. >”So why were you so hell-bent on saving him today?” Alex folds his hands over each other
  2703. >….
  2704. >You didn’t think ahead this far
  2705. >Very few times is Alex ever able to get an edge on you
  2706. >FEW TIMES
  2707. >You swear this will not be one of those times
  2708. >But you did make a pact with the literal enemy in order to commit a felony in order to have a very obviously mentally ill gayboy have a forced, extended sleepover with you
  2709. “Listen here motherfucker, I am not gay. Alright?”
  2710. >And that’ll do it, you think
  2711. >The smirk across Alex’s face says everything
  2712. “What do you want me to say? That I feel…” you lower your voice to a harsh whisper “… responsible for him? That maybe since him and I are such cowards deep down I might be able to at least save him?”
  2713. >Alex tilts his head
  2714. >”You’re a coward? Since when have you been a coward? You could be the leader of the next intellectual movement to abolish property. You know I’ve read your writing-“
  2715. >You open your mouth to tell Alex everything
  2716. >How you made a pact with Vanessa
  2717. >And will sacrifice Gloria to them so they can complete their dark rite
  2718. >But you say nothing
  2719. >You catch yourself before you can ruin another friendship
  2720. >You’ve already lost Mike
  2721. >You don’t need Alex thinking you’re a traitor
  2722. >…But you’ve practically signed his death certificate and gotten him involved with a psychotic drunk
  2723. >You clutch your head and fight down the screams
  2724. >”Anon? Are you having an epiphany?”
  2725. >You shove your finger at him
  2726. “LISTEN! I AM NOT GAY, I AM A COWARD, I AM NOT GOING TO DIE, AND NEITHER IS SAM!” You step forward, “And I swear to God, there will be no gay shit tonight. NOTHING!”
  2727.  
  2728. >You knock on the door to your room
  2729. “Sam? I couldn’t find anything in your size, so I figured you could just wear my pajamas for the night.”
  2730. >You wait for a response before knocking again
  2731. ”Sam? You dressed?”
  2732. >You jiggle the knob a bit
  2733. >Just let him know you’re not trying to get in, but you want to make sure he’s not naked
  2734. >No response
  2735. >With your old pajamas in one hand, you twist the knob and enter
  2736. >God this better not turn into one of those embarrassing cliche things where you see him naked
  2737. >Oh
  2738. >He’s not naked
  2739. >In fact he’s still dressed
  2740. >And he’s still cruising through your comics
  2741. >He’s even taken the liberty of using an old English paper of yours to sketch in the margins
  2742. >For the first time in what feels like a long time, you see him smile
  2743. >Feelsgoodman
  2744. >As quiet as you can, you whisper:
  2745. “Hey, you like my essay on Frankenstein?”
  2746. >The rabbit sits up, looking around as if forgetting where he was
  2747. >His eyes find you, and his smile folds into a nervous line
  2748. >“S-Sorry. I-I’ve never… uhhh ... been in a r-r-room this big b-before. I g-got distra-distracted.”
  2749. >You tell him it’s okay, and throw your old dirty pajamas at him
  2750. >He squeaks as they drape off his head and cover his soft features
  2751. >Hnnng
  2752. “Just come out when you’re ready. I’m gonna heat up a pizza in the oven.”
  2753. >You shut the door, red in the face
  2754. >Fuck, you need to do something manly, like… fight Alex or Mike or something
  2755. >…And find the promised sodas…
  2756.  
  2757. >You crack a beer in the kitchen and get Alex to shotgun it with you
  2758. >That’s right
  2759. >Drink down the confusion
  2760. >How can a boy be so feminine? It should be against the laws of the natural world
  2761. >You slurp down the can in record time
  2762. >Pushing down everything that happened today
  2763. >And a little bit of something else
  2764. >Alex isn’t competitive but even he tries to match your pace
  2765. >But you are a pace he cannot match
  2766. >You belch loudly and groan
  2767. >Fuck that felt good
  2768. >”A-A-Anon?” A shy voice behind you draws your attention
  2769. >Sam is in the hallway that runs along the kitchen
  2770. >Wearing your pajamas
  2771. >The bottoms are too big for him, they nearly slip off of him
  2772. >Were they not strapped in place by the tender bow of his hips, they’d be around his ankles
  2773. >The dirty white t-shirt is draped over his upper body like a tent, but it does the job
  2774. >”Hey Sam, are those Anon’s clothes?” Alex looks at you wearing a sly grin
  2775. >God you just want to punch him sometimes
  2776. >Sam draws a deep breath, his trembling slowing as his chest expands
  2777. >”Y-Yeah,” he still says weakly, avoiding eye-contact with Alex
  2778. >You crumple the beer cans on the counter, hoping Sam doesn’t notice what the cans say
  2779. >Again, you don’t think beers are a good thing right now, but you need to drink away the confusion
  2780. “So, you want something to drink? Pizza’s in the oven. I’m gonna go wash your clothes,” you say
  2781. >He looks somehow… at peace
  2782. >The tired glassy look in his eyes folds into a vague comfort, tinged by only a little anxiety at being left alone with Alex — Your friend who is not Sam’s friend but you pretend he is
  2783. >You retreat to your room, leaving a few root beers and Dr. Bepper’s out on the kitchen table for Sam
  2784. >He’ll be fine
  2785.  
  2786. >The filthy clothes he wears day in and day out are too big for him, you think, as you shove them into the washer
  2787. >The hoodie
  2788. >His jeans
  2789. >His shirt
  2790. >… His boxers…
  2791. >All of them are at least your size, if not bigger
  2792. >You add plenty of detergent, even some bleach for good measure
  2793. >Lord knows when the last time they were washed
  2794. >You drop the lid on the washer and pace back into the hall
  2795. >You’re gonna have to get this kid some new clothes eventually
  2796. >Back in your room, you take a second to catch your breath
  2797. >You just need a few moments to collect yourself
  2798. >The shakes haven’t hit yet, but you think that might be the beer
  2799. >Or that evil pact you made with Vanessa
  2800. >Fuck, you can’t believe you did that
  2801. >You grab the red book off your dresser, pushing aside a drawing Sam had left there
  2802. >You notice it’s left open to a random page
  2803. >Looks like he was doing more than just dra-
  2804. >You flip the page
  2805. >One of Sam’s superheroes is in the margins, right next to hundred-year-old spidery scrawl
  2806. >He’s a human, standing tall, robed and garbed in what looks like priest vestments
  2807. >Corded with muscle and sinew, the priest’s body bulges through his robes a little bit at the sleeves — but the rest of the costume remains loose and scholarly
  2808. >In his right hand is an open book
  2809. >And atop his head is a short pointed hat
  2810. >Oh, he’s some kind of wizard, or wise man
  2811. >You read the name of what you assume is one of Sam’s characters
  2812. >Jesus Christ kid, you could have at least written your name in cursive—
  2813. >—“Anon, The Brave and Wise.”
  2814. “Anon,” your mouth forms the words but your somewhat sobered mind keeps them from coming out of your mouth
  2815. >Oh
  2816. >Oh dear
  2817. >Your heart does flips
  2818. >Blood rushes to your face
  2819. >Oh god oh god
  2820. >This is cute as hell
  2821. >You’ve never seen yourself as a superhero, let alone “wise and brave”
  2822. >This feeling, right now?
  2823. >This is The Gay(tm)
  2824. >It’s — It’s not your problem if Sam has a crush on you
  2825. >After all you just daringly rescued him from an abusive alcoholic
  2826. >You draw a few fortifying breaths, mind mulling over what’s happening
  2827. >It feels like a block there
  2828. >You flip the page idly
  2829. >A softly written header catches your attention
  2830. >”To cleanse the body and soul”
  2831. >Initially you think it sounds like new age shit
  2832. >But you know this book is no joke…
  2833. >You mark the page with a scrap of paper and make a mental note to come back to it
  2834. >It’s only 8:30 and your thoughts are coming in at a sluggish pace
  2835. >When you shut your eyes you don’t want to open them again
  2836. >Did you have homework?
  2837. >Aw fuck it
  2838. >Before you turn the book shut, your mind wanders to another idea
  2839. >Sam might have wanted to know what was so special about this book
  2840. >After all, it was there in the chasms above the school
  2841. >And you… You want to know more about this thing that Vanessa has going
  2842. >Well, you have time to do some light reading
  2843. >The pizza is in the oven and the washer is going
  2844. >Sam is just going to have to deal
  2845.  
  2846. >You are Alex
  2847. >And you’ve known that Sam was a bit odd
  2848. >But man, it’s not even your house
  2849. >This is just ridiculous
  2850. >“C-C-C-Can I have t-this one?” the rabbit asks you timidly holding up a Dr. Bepper, pointing at the label
  2851. >”U-Unless you w-wanted it…” he lets his sentence nervously die, the pleading tone in his voice plain and clear
  2852. >You level a concerned gaze at him
  2853. “Yes…?”
  2854. >He flashes a smile for a second as he pops the can open with his fuzzy little fingers
  2855. >Sam takes a few light sniffs, his nose wrinkling at the sharp smell of Dr. Bepper
  2856. >Your concerned gaze continues to be more concerned
  2857. “You ever had a Dr. Bepper?”
  2858. >The rabbit shakes his head, throwing down strands of hair across his face
  2859. “Well it’s kind of… Hm… You know when you eat spicy food? It’s kind of spicy.”
  2860. >He takes a slow, savoring sip
  2861. >His eyes go wide as the first of the sacred nectar touches his tongue
  2862. “See? It’s spicy, like the indignation of a worker alienated from the fruit of his lab-”
  2863. >”It’s g-g-good!” Sam squeaks happily
  2864. >He sets the can down and pulls his (Anon’s) pants up higher on his body
  2865. >God they’re so comically big on him, it’s a wonder how they even fit
  2866. >Probably the fact that he looks kinda girly just based on skinny he is
  2867. >You draw a long sip on a root beer
  2868. >Sam continues staring at the can of Dr. Bepper, sneaking looks at you
  2869. >You stare at him, confused
  2870. “Are you done?”
  2871. >He deflates
  2872. >”W-W-Well don’t you w-w-want any?”
  2873. “What? No. I’ll just get my own. That one is yours. Gross rabbit spi-”
  2874. >The rabbit then shakes his head a bit, shutting his eyes in the process
  2875. >“T-T-That’s m-mine?” He asks, as if he can’t believe himself. “We d-don’t h-have to s-s-share?”
  2876. “Yes. That’s yours.”
  2877. >With trembling arms, he grabs the Dr. Bepper off the table and loudly begins to slurp
  2878. >Lol what the fuck
  2879. >Ordinarily you’d insist that it was ‘OUR’ soda, but you don’t want to share his gross rabbit spit
  2880. >You’ll allow capitalism, just this once
  2881. >Sam’s eyes narrow and his nose wrinkles as he loudly slurps
  2882. >When he’s done, he gingerly sets the can down and belches at glass-breaking volume
  2883. >Good lord, you’re amazed he’s still standing
  2884. >His face glows red as he points his eyes to his feet
  2885. >His floppy ears drip down his forehead and across his face
  2886. >”S-S-Sorry,” he whispers
  2887. >The gentle *beep* of the oven causes him to jump a few inches into the air
  2888. >You guess the pizza is done
  2889.  
  2890. >You are Anon, and you are sitting uncomfortably close to Sam on the couch, eating pizza
  2891. >Alex is rifling through your shelf of movies
  2892. >The TV is on but nothing is happening
  2893. >Sam eats in small bites, but none-the-less has already consumed two pieces of pizza and is halfway through his third
  2894. >”Lord of the Rings?”
  2895. “Too long.”
  2896. >”James Bond?”
  2897. “Too violent.”
  2898. >”Batman: The Dark Knight?”
  2899. “Too sca-”
  2900. >Sam sits up, a slice of pizza still dripping from his face
  2901. >”T-That one!” He exclaims
  2902. >And then, as if suddenly embarrassed, he looks at you, the want plain across his face
  2903. >“I-I-If that’s okay?”
  2904. “You ever seen The Dark Knight? It’s really good, but it’s pretty intense. I don’t think you’ll like it,” you say
  2905. >”I-I can take it!” He asserts
  2906.  
  2907. >Sam could not take it
  2908. >He spends the whole movie clinging to your arm so tightly you can physically feel blood returning to it once Batman dashes off into the night for his final scene
  2909. >Alex, being the beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, radiant retard that he is, keeps looking over and flashing you thumbs ups
  2910. >You sneak in a middle finger at one point and try to scoot away from Sam, but (consciously or unconsciously) he follows you to the other side of the couch
  2911. >God fuck
  2912. >You spend the entirety of the movie with an extra 90-something pounds clinging to your arm
  2913.  
  2914. >”Well that was fun,” Alex says through a yawn. “How about we watch another one?”
  2915. >The wind outside had begun to pick up
  2916. >It’s 10, still too early for bed, but you’re all tired
  2917. >Maybe one more and you’re good to go
  2918. “Sam, can you do another one?”
  2919. >He is laying down partially in a nest of Dr. Beppers, clinging to your arm and staring in abject shock as the credits roll across the screen
  2920. >You start trying to shake him loose
  2921. >To which he complies, sitting up straight, sending his pile of cans scattering
  2922. “I don’t think Sam has another one in him.”
  2923. >You nudge Sam playfully, but secretly hope you’re correct
  2924. >You’re starting to feel the weight of sleep pressing on your whole body
  2925. “Only thing he’s got in him is eight or nine Dr. Beppers,” you snicker
  2926. >Sam does not respond
  2927. >The credits roll across his glassed eyes
  2928. “Sam?”
  2929. >You jam an elbow in his side
  2930. >He immediately shakes his head, ears loudly whipping and slapping against the sides of his skull
  2931. >”Is that a no?” Alex says, raising his eyebrow
  2932. >”Yes!” Sam shouts, no longer shaking his head, but twisting his ears
  2933. >It seriously looks like he’s going to tear them off
  2934. >”So, no movie. Got it,” Alex says
  2935. >”N-NO! Y-Yes! Movie!”
  2936. “You sure? You look like you’re on the verge of a panic attack.”
  2937. >”I-I-I’m not, I-“
  2938. >”The Joker probably just freaked him out. Heh. Wanna know how I got these scars?” Alex does his best imitation voice of The Joker
  2939. >”N-N-No!” He shouts again, his body sinking into the couch
  2940. >He draws a fortifying breath
  2941. >”I’m not scared! T-Th-That was the f-f-first m-movie I’ve wanted to s-se that I’ve been able t-t-to…”
  2942. “Watch…” You whisper
  2943. >Sam’s home life hasn’t been good, but depriving a kid like him of  superhero movies ought to be a crime
  2944. >”A-A-All we have I-is- o-old movies we g-get out of garage s-s-sales,” he says. “D-Dad always picked th-them.”
  2945. >Alex holds up a copy of Mulan
  2946. >”You ever seen this one? It’s like a superhero movie.”
  2947. >He eyes the title from the couch
  2948. >”N-N-No. Can we?”
  2949. >He looks up to you like a little kid asking his dad for something
  2950. >What the fuck
  2951. “Y-Yeah,” you stammer, not sure how to handle someone so chronically deprived of entertainment staples like Disney films. “You think you can handle this one? It’s about a war I think.”
  2952. >”Y-Yeah,” He says, sinking into the cushion
  2953. >The nest of cans crinkles beneath him
  2954.  
  2955. >Once again, Sam could not take it
  2956. >During The Dark Knight he looked drawn in and obsessive
  2957. >During Mulan, however, he just looked incredibly uncomfortable, especially during the big gender reveal scene
  2958. >He squirmed anxiously, even drawing his ears over his eyes at one point
  2959. >The movie gracefully concludes and you breathe a sigh of relief
  2960. >And not just for Sam’s sake
  2961. >It hurt watching him squirm and kick his legs in anxious fits
  2962. >What hurts more is your insides
  2963. >You feel like they’re at war with each other
  2964. >Heart versus brain
  2965. >Versus… Well, your other, smaller brain, dangling between your legs
  2966. >Sam’s PJs nearly slip off his lithe body
  2967. >You can see the bare of the top part of his hips, the soft fur that begs your touch
  2968. >It was like that the whole movie
  2969. >At credits end, with Alex nearly passed out in his chair, you slip into the kitchen
  2970. >FUCK
  2971. >You splash some cold water on your face, feeling the sting of reality dripping off your feverish skin
  2972. >Anon, control yourself
  2973. >… Maybe it’s just been awhile since you’ve fapped, and so you’re turning prison gay
  2974. >That and Sam is such a feminine guy
  2975. >You’re not into that, right?
  2976. >E-Even if you were gay, that’s not bad, right?
  2977. >You grip the edges of the sink hard as you draw air deep into your lungs, trying to calm yourself
  2978. >It’s also midnight, so it’s bedtime
  2979. >You’ve had a weird, intense day, so you just need to sleep to figure shit out tomorrow
  2980. >Tomorrow
  2981. >Your heart sinks in your chest
  2982. >You remember the promise you made to Vanessa?
  2983. >You know, the one where you betray the trust of someone and aid in a dark ritual?
  2984. >The promise of snakes?
  2985. >Yeah
  2986. >You gotta go to school
  2987. >And then there’s Sam and Alex
  2988. >Are they going to school too?
  2989. >You can’t call the police about Sam’s Dad
  2990. >You’re technically fugitives, or at the very least, you’re all at risk of getting fucking killed
  2991. >In more ways than one
  2992. >FUCK
  2993. >FUCKITY FUCK FUCK
  2994. >You shake your head
  2995. >You just need to go get your sleeping bags out, clear some space in the room, and catch some sleep
  2996. >But first, Sam and Alex
  2997.  
  2998. “So the plan is straightforward: I go to school, Alex goes to school. Sam, you stay here. It’s safer…”
  2999. >The rabbit looks uncomfortable with the idea of ditching school. He starts threading his fingers together
  3000. “What? What’s wrong?” You say, some suppressed anger coloring your voice. “It makes the most sense.”
  3001. >”I just…”
  3002. “What? You just what, Sam? Your dad will look for you at school.”
  3003. >”I know!” He squeezes his ears. “B-B-But If I miss mo-more school I w-w-won’t gradua-”
  3004. >”BULLSHIT!” Alex smacks his couch hard, sending Sam at least six inches into the air
  3005. >”This institution is BULLSHIT! When will we stop treating work and school like factories! Students aren’t machines! Sam, you should stay home.”
  3006. >You want to cry out of frustration
  3007. >Or kill Alex
  3008. >You frantically look between the two
  3009. >Alex looks genuinely upset and ready to be strangled (by you)
  3010. >Sam looks like he’s on the verge of actual tears
  3011. >You really don’t know what to do here
  3012. >Provided this all goes fucky, Sam will get taken by his dad, and then you’ll all go mad in the end anyway
  3013. >But if your non-existent plan succeeds, you’re going to be depriving him of his GED, which is basically the bottom of the barrel for working at any establishment
  3014. >Either way you’ve ruined his life
  3015. “Alex, do you work tomorrow?”
  3016. >”No. I’m shackle-free.”
  3017. “Perfect. Sam.” You point a finger at the bunny. “You will come with me and Alex to school tomorrow. Do you understand?”
  3018. >He nods sheepishly
  3019. >”Why… Why are we even going to school tomorrow?”
  3020. >Well, Alex, you see, I made a pact with Vanessa, to sacrifice an innocent goat tomorrow for their evil ritual
  3021. >This, of course, is all kept to yourself
  3022. >But you promise yourself that at one point, you will tell all of them what’s going on
  3023. >You’re sure Mike would want to know, if he were here and not off fucking around like he probably is
  3024. “We’re going to school tomorrow because...”
  3025. >Come up with something
  3026. >Come on
  3027. >Do it, retard
  3028. “Because…” you look at Sam, his amber eyes shining behind his shock of hair
  3029. >They’re trained on you, waiting for an answer, expectant and honest
  3030. >You wouldn’t lie to those eyes, right?
  3031. “Because Sam needs to graduate!” You declare, to no applause, only tired and confused looks from Alex
  3032. >Except Sam
  3033. >Who is absolutely, positively, could-not-be-more-obvious blushing
  3034. >He stares straight ahead, locking eyes on absolutely nothing, putting his anxiety in his fingers, which dig uncomfortably into the couch
  3035. >You can see his mouth working, but nothing comes out
  3036. >Alex raises some eyebrows at you and winks
  3037. >”Anon, now’s your chanceeee,” he whispers, pointing a sly finger at Sam’s couched hands
  3038. >You shake your head furiously
  3039. >The rabbit hasn’t noticed a thing, and is now trying to hide his shock behind his hair, falling in thick strands over his face
  3040. “Listen, I just want to make sure Sam graduates. And I also have some research to conduct at school tomorrow with this whole ‘book thing.’ This is PURELY a scouting mission. There is NO subtext. NONE.”
  3041. >”Surrreeee…”
  3042. “Fuck off Alex. It’s not like I’m going to go to classes anyway.”
  3043. >”SURRRRRRRREEEEEEE….”
  3044. >He winks at you
  3045. >”Not gonna go to classsessssss….”
  3046. >Oh come on, there wasn’t even a reason to draw that out
  3047. >”T-Thank you A-Anon,” Sam squeaks up. “B-But my d-d-dad will be l-looking.”
  3048. “Right. I’m thinking that you try and stick close to me. We’ll pick a place to meet between and after classes. He’s not going to come right into class and snatch you. And if you see him, just…”
  3049. >You think
  3050. >What can Sam do
  3051. >Your eyes wander down
  3052. >His waist barely fits into your pants, but the way his legs are…
  3053. >He could probably get some good distance, not to be speciest or anything
  3054. “Just run, okay? As far as you can, as fast as you can. Rabbits are quick, and your dad is a drunk old fuck.”
  3055. >”J-Just r-r-run. Got it,” he says, if only to reassure himself. He looks at you with some degree of determination. “O-Okay! I’m gonna r-r-run as hard as I c-can! I’m good at r-running,”
  3056. >”That’s really speciest of you, Anon,” Alex says to unlistening ears
  3057. >Yeah
  3058. >This is gonna work out just fine
  3059. >Jusssstttt fine
  3060. >You weigh your options
  3061. >Tonight feels like a minor victory, but the rest of the week…
  3062. >That’s up in the air for all of you
  3063. >You know one thing for certain: you need to figure out something before Friday
  3064. >Friday
  3065. >The night of the Spooktober Fest. Undoubtedly the goth’s target
  3066. >Why? Because they took an ‘angry-at-the-world’ phase and turned it into an entire personality
  3067. >Sure, you’re angry at people too. You’ve always been an outsider to everyone, but you’ve done nothing about it
  3068. >Never wanted to ‘get back’ at anyone
  3069. >Except the goths, those cringy faggots
  3070. >What a week this is going to be
  3071. >You turn your thoughts towards your group
  3072. “I gotta be honest with you guys,” you start. “There’s some REALLY bad shit going down at school. I’ll tell you more once we get a hold of Mike.”
  3073. >”Like libertarian wasteland bad?” Alex says
  3074. “I’m not sure I can picture that, but picture the worst thing you can, and then that’s about it.”
  3075. >”But the ROADS!” Mike smacks the couch. Again. “Who will build the roads when water is privatized!?”
  3076. >Sam lurches forward, his heart pounding at the sudden noise
  3077. >Alex continues ranting about the evils of the ‘free’ market
  3078. >You breathe a sigh of relief as Alex quickly reverts back to his old ways
  3079. >As tried and true as he always ways
  3080. >In all of this, you have one thing on your side, for better or worse:
  3081. >Your friends
  3082.  
  3083. >You decide to all go to bed after midnight
  3084. >Before that, you grab Sam’s freshly cleaned clothes, and you swear they’re like five pounds lighter
  3085. >You’re going to force his gay ass to shower tomorrow before school
  3086. >On your way back you grab two sleeping bags
  3087.  
  3088. “Just like a sleepover,” you say to Sam as you roll out his sleeping bag on the floor of your room
  3089. >All of your dirty clothes are pushed to the side in a pile
  3090. “I haven’t done this in a longggg time,” you say to yourself. “Pizza, soda, sleeping bags, movies... I feel like a little kid all over again,” you chuckle
  3091. >Sam wrinkles his nose as he glances around the room
  3092. >“I-I-I’ve never ha-had a sleepover before,” he says. “I-I’m not u-used to them.”
  3093. “I know. There’s a million things you haven’t done or seen that just blow my mind.”
  3094. >The rabbit flashes a weak, regretful look at you
  3095. >”S-Sorry,” he says, voice paling against Alex’s snores
  3096. >Passed out in his clothes (sans shirt), Alex is sprawled across his sleeping bag
  3097. >His bag is unzipped completely
  3098. >It’s little more than a blanket to him
  3099. “What are you apologizing for? It’s not your fault you grew up in such a bad environment with such a shithead for a father.”
  3100. >You pause in unzipping the sleeping bag
  3101. >Sam shuffles his feet a little
  3102. >”I-It’s always my f-f-fault. I d-d-don’t even know why y-you’re being so nice to me…”
  3103. “It’s not always your fault dude. You can’t control who you’re born to.”
  3104. >You sit up and stretch
  3105. “An old friend of mine used to say you get two families: the one you’re born into, and the one that you make.”
  3106. >You point a finger at Alex, who lays shirtless and splayed out across the floor, barely on his sleeping bag anymore
  3107. >”He might be a dumbass communist supreme, but he’s my friend. And Mike might be an asshole, but he’s also my friend. And they’re both family.”
  3108. >At least, you hope that your friendships can withstand college
  3109. >People change
  3110. >You think…
  3111. >Maybe you’ll change when they all leave you behind?
  3112. >”S-So…” he clears his throat. His feet thump against the floor, though the rest of him seems paralyzed
  3113. >”Does that m-m-make me your f-friend?”
  3114. >Yes?
  3115. >No?
  3116. >Gahhh, you don’t know what to say. This was largely just an impulse move spurned on by your newfound courage
  3117. >Well, time for another
  3118. >You nod your head
  3119. “I guess so. We’ve known each other for a while, right?”
  3120. >His face lights up and his foot pounds the carpet to a tempo that could shake houses
  3121. >Alex only snores louder, as if he were trying to outdo Sam in a noise competition
  3122. >”D-Dad says I’m not allowed to h-have friends… H-He says I’m only going to h-hurt them a-a-again.”
  3123. “Fuck what your dad thinks.” You start back on his sleeping bag and unzip it all the way down. ”He’s just a lonely old bastard.”
  3124. >Sam says nothing, he just watches with fascination as you unzip the sleeping bag
  3125. >”T-T-That’s for m-me?” He says, as if he was confused
  3126. >His eyes glow and his nose wrinkles
  3127. >Oh, wow. He’s probably never been in a sleeping bag before
  3128. >You explain to him how to use it like he’s some kind of little kid, before he happily hops in (heh, hops)
  3129.  
  3130. “Gnight everyone,” you say
  3131. >You kill the lights
  3132. >The last thing you see is Sam looking up at you, his eyes glowing, cute pink nose wrinkling, the look on his face probably the most contented and safe-kept you’ve seen him wear
  3133. >”A-A-Anon?”
  3134. “Yes?”
  3135. >Alex’s snore reach a noisy crescendo, but you think you can make out what Sam is trying to say
  3136. >”T-Thank you. Y-You’re my f-f-f-f-friend too.”
  3137. >FUCK
  3138. >The Gay(tm) is strong tonight
  3139. >Well, tonight nothing will happen. It’s going to be a kosher night, no hotdogs
  3140.  
  3141. >”A-Anon?”
  3142. >You roll over in bed
  3143. >”I-I can’t s-sleep.”
  3144. >You groan, your eyes still glued shut
  3145. >Sam is just a dream, you say to yourself.  A voice in the dark
  3146. >”I-I-It smells so strong in h-here,” he takes a sharp breath
  3147. “So what do you want me to do?” You ask
  3148. >A very apt question indeed
  3149. >Your room smells how it smells. Who cares?
  3150. >You weren’t expecting having any anthros in your home, so you didn’t do any cleaning, or even consider that his nose is insanely sensitive
  3151. “You can sleep out in the family room on the couch…” you grumble
  3152. >”Eep!” Sam squeaks like you’d just stepped on his tail
  3153. >”B-B-B-But-”
  3154. >His stuttering reaches a frantic pace, even if it’s beneath a whisper
  3155. >Oh Christ you know what he’s trying to do
  3156. >Not tonight lil’ gayboy
  3157. “You take my bed,” you say crawling from under the sheets in just your shorts — no t-shirt
  3158. >Sam shields his eyes
  3159. >Rabbits must have great nocturnal vision
  3160. “I’m going to take your bag. Deal?”
  3161. >You end up sleeping on the floor next to your bed in Sam’s sleeping bag
  3162. >You think you hear Sam softly breathing, the gravity of sleeping pressing dreams into his head
  3163. >Or he’s just turning ever so softly, uncomfortable in your flannel sheets with all the fur he’s got
  3164. >Something is awry
  3165. >Whatever, you don’t care. Sam can deal with it
  3166. >You can’t do everything for him, now can you?
  3167.  
  3168. >You are Mike MUTHAFUCKIN’ Sapone
  3169. >And there is a faint little voice in your ears right now, though its distance is indeterminate
  3170. >In fact, it could be miles away
  3171. >Or it could be right up next to you
  3172. >Everything is so dark
  3173. >”Mike?” It says, its voice sinking to a worried octave, still lacking masculine weight
  3174. >You smile — at least you think you do
  3175. >Whoever this voice belongs to must be pretty
  3176. >”Mike? Can you hear me?”
  3177. >It sounds louder now
  3178. >VERY close
  3179. >A hand is on your shoulder, shaking you awake
  3180. >When your eyes finally do open, you’re staring up at a silhouette cast in the fire of street lamps and the moon’s behemoth size
  3181. >Long, conal nose, ears that rise like sharp angles on the top of the head
  3182. >Orange fur
  3183. >White strip that travels under muzzle and down to the chest
  3184. >”Hey! Do I need to call 911?”
  3185. >You know that voice
  3186. >It’s… Oh fuck
  3187. “Jenna?” You sit up quickly, and the sharpness of the world collapses into black stars that suck at your vision
  3188. >That was a bad idea
  3189. >But, maybe out of spite, you remain vertical
  3190. >Jenna Orthorn retracts her hand
  3191. >”God Mike, you scared the hell out of me. What are you even doing out here?”
  3192. “I’m going to kill the vampires,” you mumble and shove your body to your feet
  3193. >You wobble, unsteady, as if a gust of wind could dislodge your footing and send you crashing against the hood of your car
  3194. >Your body feels as hot as it did before
  3195. “What are you doing?” You step back, bracing your fists for a fight “Are you one of them?!”
  3196. >You lean back into the light of a street lamp
  3197. >”One of them? You’re outside my house you weird-“ She stops, her jaw going slack as you stray into the light
  3198. >”Oh my God…” Jenna grabs at your shirt
  3199. >Its largely scrapped in the back, but the front has good bit of dried blood on the front
  3200. >Surprisingly, you don’t fight back
  3201. >You don’t feel worried about her, and you can’t place why
  3202. >”Mike…” She stares, her brain still processing
  3203. “Vampires did this,” you breathe, not sure of what you’re saying. The world looks funny, and you feel REALLY warm
  3204. >”Vampires?” Jenna draws her face up, her eyebrows arched and mouth slightly agape
  3205. >”Alright. Vampires. I get it. Stay there. I’m going to call an ambulance. You tell me about the vampires and the werewolves, okay?”
  3206. >She draws her phone out of her pocket and begins to dial
  3207. “No,” you say, staggering forward. “No. No werewolves and no vampires.”
  3208. >You grab the phone out of her hand with surprising ease
  3209. >Her eyes glass over with fear
  3210. >And you see fangs, for the first time in the four years you’ve known Jenna
  3211. >”MIKE! Give that back!” She snarls
  3212. >You don’t fight her when she snatches it from your grasp
  3213. >You just stare, muttering, brain cranking at warp speed to find out your next move
  3214. >And what is your next move?
  3215. >You need to see someone
  3216. >Someone you can trust
  3217. >And it has to be tonight
  3218. >You have no idea if you’ve been followed, if you can even trust Jenna, if the feverish feeling is from the scuffle today in the bathroom or not…
  3219. >”Just… Stay where you are. I’ve got first aid training and a basic kit in my house. Please, Mike. Just stay right here, okay? Don’t move.”
  3220. >Stay where you are? OUT IN THE OPEN LIKE THIS?!
  3221. “I can’t!” You cry into the night. “I’m being hunted! What about that don’t you understand Jenna?!” You lurch forward, knocked unsteady by your own cry
  3222. >Now you see
  3223. >She’s one of them
  3224. >This evil vixen must be working with Lydia and Vanessa
  3225. >And now you’ve got her alone
  3226. >Or vice versa
  3227. >GOD IT’S HOT
  3228. >You scan her like a hungry wolf, settling on the fuzzy nape of her neck
  3229. >It looks especially-
  3230. >Oh no
  3231. >NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO
  3232. >She takes a brave step forward, though her tender, delicious arms are trembling
  3233. >God fucking- You are not allowed to become a vampire
  3234. >You clutch at your head as pain shoots through your temples
  3235. >You look up at the moon and feel a hot flash come over you like a rush of sharp wind
  3236. >That moon is way too big and way too close. This is not natural
  3237. >None of this is natural!
  3238. >”Give me your keys, Mike.”
  3239. >She extends a shaking palm
  3240. >Instinctively, you reach into your pocket
  3241. “Why? Don’t you trust me? I’m just a little drunk. Nothing you haven’t seen before.”
  3242. >”You’re not drunk,” she says quietly, almost hurt. “I’d be able to smell it on you. There’s something wrong with you.”
  3243. >You shake your head
  3244. ”Well, alright, you got me. I’m just turning into a vampire is all,” you reply unceremoniously, like it was just another casual fact about being Mike Sapone
  3245. >Jenna thinks it’s anything but casual
  3246. >”STOP SAYING THAT! STOP WITH THE VAMPIRE STUFF! YOU’RE SCARING ME!”
  3247. >The sound of her voice is sharp against your ears
  3248. >When did they become so sensitive?
  3249. >You’re running out of time
  3250. >You need to get the fuck out of here
  3251. >You step towards the car
  3252. >She steps forward
  3253. >You’re going to go to Anon’s house—
  3254. >You take another step
  3255. >She takes another step
  3256. >—Whether or not that faggot wants you there
  3257. >He’s got to have something that can help you
  3258. >Jenna clasps her paws together and mirrors your pace
  3259. >You eye her claws, though thin and bone-white, you are undettered. You don’t think Jenna has it in her to claw you
  3260. >You take another step and put a hand on the car door
  3261. >She places her hands over yours with a sharp snap of her wrists
  3262. >Your eyes turn downwards, marveling at the way her small, trembling hands rest on your own
  3263. >Such small hands
  3264. >A snarl crawls out of her chest, and you meet her narrowed gaze
  3265. >Her fangs are like gleaming little daggers, wet and glistening in the light
  3266. >Would she have the guts to maul you over this?
  3267. >Mammals like Jenna don’t hurt people
  3268. >You don’t have time for this
  3269. >You scowl, grab her wrist and pull — hard
  3270. >Her face twists up in pain as you pry her away
  3271. >Though it hurts your heart, you don’t stop until you’ve pried her off entirely
  3272. >With a shove, you push her back from you
  3273. >She stumbles, but does not try to stop you any further
  3274. >Just lets her body hang in the dark, defeated and slack
  3275. >”What’s wrong with you?” She whispers. “Why don’t you accept help?”
  3276. >You slide into the driver’s seat and start the car, praying that there’s enough gas left to find Anon’s house from here
  3277. >Jenna does not look up
  3278. >You pull up alongside her and open your mouth, but nothing comes out
  3279. >What do you say?
  3280. >’Sorry I’m becoming a bloodsucking freak and I need to see my weirdo friend whose weirdo book might be able cure this’?
  3281. >There’s a stone in your stomach
  3282. >Something about her defeated look, the way her dress falls off her tired body—
  3283. >—It makes you feel really guilty
  3284. “Come talk to me at school tomorrow. I promise I’ll tell you more then.”
  3285. >That seems like enough
  3286. >You start to push on the accelerator but stop just before you edge out of earshot
  3287. ”And for FUCK SAKE, do NOT talk to any cheerleaders tomorrow. Just… stick to yourself this week at school. Do you understand?”
  3288. >She raises her head
  3289. >Her green eyes are almost glowing
  3290. >”Promise me you’ll tell me?”
  3291. >…
  3292. >…
  3293. “Promise.”
  3294. >Your feet find the pedals and you coast off into the night, swallowed quickly by the absence and silence of a suburban photograph
  3295. >You don’t know how much gas you’ve got left, but that needle has been on ‘E’ for awhile, but there’s no way in hell you’re stopping for gas
  3296. >The moon feels like it’s watching you
  3297. >And with every headlight that cleaves into the leftmost lane, you duck your head behind the wheel a bit
  3298. >A distinct chill sets in your gut, slowly blossoming there and spreading outwards like the tendrils of a some vine
  3299. >You check the dash clock, having lost your phone on your flight from school
  3300. >It’s a little after 11:00
  3301.  
  3302. >You are Anon
  3303. >And this is gay
  3304. >This is so gay
  3305. >You mean, he had to have planned this
  3306. >Not a few minutes after you’d fallen asleep on the floor, Sam had rolled off the bed and basically onto your stomach
  3307. >His head now rests in the crook of your elbow
  3308. >His ears draped over your arm
  3309. >And the rest of his body splayed out across your chest
  3310. >He breathes easily and calmly, his eyes shut tight
  3311. >And you can’t help but feel how soft he is
  3312. >Not as bony as you’d imagined — and yeah, he’s built like a bird, but there’s something about this that feels okay and natural
  3313. >Maybe it’s the way he smells
  3314. >Or the thinness of his arms and legs, all the weight of him placed in his midsection
  3315. >Something about this feels right, like you want to protect him from everything bad in the world
  3316. >But you know it’s so wrong
  3317. “God fucking damnit…” you hiss, trying hard to wriggle out from underneath him
  3318. >You try moving his arm, and you treat the whole thing as if he were made of glass
  3319. >In the moonlight his face tenses up in pain as you touch him
  3320. >Must be a dream, or he’s used to being hurt in his sleep
  3321. >Well, fuck
  3322. >Guess you’re stuck here
  3323. >You just hope to God Alex doesn’t see this
  3324. >Sam’s ears start to jitter and twitch
  3325. >He sits up with a sudden gasp
  3326. >And then looks down
  3327. >His eyes split wide
  3328. >His face instantly explodes in a blush
  3329. >You can feel how hot his breath is on your face
  3330. >”A-A-Anon?” He stammers. “W-W-What are you d-d-doing?”
  3331. “What are YOU doing?” You almost have to shake your head
  3332. >How can he be so oblivious to everything?
  3333. >How can YOU be so attuned to all of this? HMMMM?
  3334. >”I heard a l-l-loud noise and and and a-a-and I w-woke up h-here”
  3335. “No I meant about you being on top of m- Wait, did you just say you heard a loud noise?”
  3336. >You jetpack up into a sitting position
  3337. >Your unwanted bedmate slides into your lap
  3338. >Ordinarily, you’d care, but not right now
  3339. >You glance around the moonlit room, ears suddenly perked
  3340. >A noise?
  3341. >Sam scampers to his feet, clutching his own ears out of stress
  3342. >There’s a loud clatter in the kitchen
  3343. >Alex sits up abruptly and pulls his beanie off of his face
  3344. >There’s only one thing in your head: Sam’s dad
  3345. >You don’t know how he found you, but he did
  3346. >On two shaking feet, you stand up
  3347. >Sam’s baseball bat is in the corner of your room
  3348. >You retrieve it and nudge Alex awake as quietly as you can
  3349. >Sam cowers behind you, his ears twitching wildly with each crash and scraping sound
  3350. >Chairs moving
  3351. >Things falling over on tables
  3352. >Hissed swears
  3353. >Heavy breathing
  3354. >Moving towards the door
  3355. >You see lights come on, and a voice croons:
  3356. >”Annnnonnnn.”
  3357. >That scraggled, throaty voice. It has to be him
  3358. >You twist your fingers around the handle of the bat and stand in front of the door, ready to strike
  3359. >The nob starts to turn
  3360. >Your heart jumps
  3361. >Sam squeaks and hops backwards a bit, putting some distance between you and him
  3362. >Alex is standing off to the side, wielding your alarm clock like a heavy stone
  3363. >The door creaks open, cool air rushes in
  3364. >You hold your breath
  3365. >And then once you see the outline of someone in the door, you let rip a yell, and jam the bat forward towards what you think is the midsection
  3366. >There’s the sound of sucking air, and then the metallic *piff* of fingers on the bat’s broad-size
  3367. >You push harder but can’t seem to make contact with anything solid!
  3368. >”What the fuck!?” You hear, and finally that voice sounds close enough to be recognizable
  3369. “Mike?”
  3370. >”Anon? Did you just try and stab me with a baseball bat?”
  3371. >He wicks the bat from your shocked grip as the lights go on in the room
  3372. >Alex chucks the alarm clock at Mike’s head
  3373. >Where it bounces off, sending him stumbling
  3374. >”Die you capitalist pig!” He cries
  3375. >You have to physically restrain Alex from leaping onto Mike and kill him
  3376. “ALEX! ALEX! Stop! It’s Mike!” You cry
  3377. >Alex’s body goes slack and he looks back at you
  3378. >”I know, but he abandoned us,” he says with some hurt in his voice
  3379. >Mike stumbles into the room rubbing a spot on his forehead
  3380. >”I didn’t abandon you retards. I lost my phone and got attacked by vampires.”
  3381. >”A likely story,” Alex replies
  3382. >”It IS! Look at my clothes!”
  3383. >He turns around and reveals the bloody gashes etched into his skin, and his peeling, gray shirt
  3384. “Jesus Christ, Mike, what happened?”
  3385. >He grunts in pain, and you notice his legs are trembling
  3386. >”No time to explain what happened. I need your help.”
  3387. >His eyes, beginning to glow with an unnatural aura, settle on the red book on the nightstand
  3388.  
  3389. “I- I don’t know what you want me to do!” You exclaim
  3390. >You’ve moved the research into the kitchen table, where you assess Mike’s fate under a singular kitchen light
  3391. >The rest of the house looks impossibly dark
  3392. >You spin through the red book, looking for something that might be able to help Mike
  3393. >But you’re hindered by the old, spidery handwriting, its thin pen demanding of a light
  3394. >It’s interesting, but full of weird, esoteric things that elude you
  3395. >Writings on the nature of hell
  3396. >Explorations in time and space
  3397. ”There are ghosts of other times and world that walk among us. They are as if we are not. And we are as if they are not-“
  3398. >Mike paces back and forth in the kitchen
  3399. >”That’s not going to cure this bullshit, Anon. Look for something about vampires.” Mike demands
  3400. “Hey, I’m going as fast as I can. You need to chill out.”
  3401. >”I CAN’T CHILL OUT!” Mike clutches his head in frustration
  3402. >”I DON’T WANT TO BE A SPARKLING VAMPIRE FAGGOT, I WANT TO BE HUMAN!”
  3403. >Sam is useless. During the chaos he simply clutches his ears, trying to turn down the volume
  3404. >Alex is not as useless
  3405. >In fact, he’s pacing alongside Mike
  3406. >Like a starved tiger in a cage
  3407. >”LISTEN!” He grabs Mike’s shoulders and shakes him a bit. “Quit yer bitching. You are NOT going to be a vampire for the rest of your life. If anything, we can go to a church tomorrow and have a priest lift the curse.”
  3408. >Mike shakes his head. “This isn’t a videogame Alex, a priest can’t just cast ‘heal’ on me.”
  3409. >Actually
  3410. >You squint and rattle off a line
  3411. >He can
  3412. >That old header you found earlier? “To cleanse body and soul”?
  3413. >You start to read aloud
  3414. “Men of cloth are men of the curse, oaths taken in darkness and the shadows of the Earth. One in the same, though they share no name.”
  3415. >”Does that thing only rhyme?” Alex asks
  3416. “Sometimes.”
  3417. >You continue reading
  3418. “Two flowers to be plucked form soil: The devouring plant and the plant of purity. Lay them at a crossroads under pale dawn. Until carriage passes, be not free of other-worldly blight.”
  3419. >”…. What?” Alex and Mike both look at you, as if expecting a translation
  3420. >You shake your head
  3421. >You’re not a machine, and you don’t work like that
  3422. >And if you were a machine you’d be a shitty one
  3423. >”Very helpful Anon, good find, good find. Now we just need to find this FUCKING DEVOURING PLANT AND THE PLANT OF BEING A PURE FUCKING UNHELPFU-“
  3424. >Alex smacks the kitchen table hard
  3425. >Sam squeaks
  3426. >”Shut the fuck up Mike. Just… Shut the fuck up.”
  3427. >Mike clenches his fists, stares at Alex, and lets out a slow ball of hot air from his lungs
  3428. >A moment passes, and the wind batters the house from outside
  3429. >It almost sounds like someone is trying to get in.
  3430. >”I’m sorry. I’m panicked. Anon.” Mike looks at you with a nod. ”Sorry. I’m being a dick. I’ve been a dick about this whole weekend.”
  3431. “It’s alright,” you say. “I’ve been a useless coward up until now.”
  3432. >”Up until now?” Mike says. “No offense buddy, but you haven’t done anything yet.”
  3433. >You glance around the kitchen
  3434. >All eyes fall on you, Mike’s from across the polished wooden table, Alex’s alongside his, and Sam’s just near the tall entryway that leads into the kitchen — the threshold of inclusion
  3435. >Everyone is here, or where they should be
  3436. >You roll up your sleeves and bare the scar from where Vanessa cut you
  3437. “I have some things I need to tell you.”
  3438.  
  3439. >So you spend over an hour detailing what happened on Monday
  3440. >Everything that you did
  3441. >The pact, rescuing Sam
  3442. >And everything that Vanessa said to you
  3443. >How she ‘trusts you’
  3444. >Mike tells you his side
  3445. >The clocks in the kitchen all glow with the same times
  3446. >1 a.m. Becomes 2.
  3447. >2 becomes 3
  3448. >Sleep is no longer heavy on your eyes
  3449. >You disobey its gentle push that ordinarily drives you into bed by 11 or 12.
  3450. >In fact, you feel alert as the clocks glow at 3:30 a.m.
  3451. >And you know you’ve fucked yourself out of sleep because outside the birds are starting to chirp
  3452. >And you hear something howling
  3453. >Probably the wolf family down the street just waking up
  3454. >When all is said, and you think you’ve got everyone on the same page, you get up to make coffee as Mike and Alex both sip on beers
  3455. >Sam has another Dr. Bepper, which he sips on throughout the rest of the night
  3456.  
  3457. >”Jesus Christ, what did we get ourselves into?” Mike asks, crumpling his can
  3458. >You no longer care how many beers you all go through while your parents are gone. Beer is irrelevant in the apocalypse
  3459. >”I can’t believe they just… trusted you like that, and agreed so readily to give you powers.” Alex says
  3460. >Mike squints, his eyes beginning to redden with blood and exhaustion
  3461. >”Yeah, it sounds too easy. Too good to be true. Are you sure they’re not just using you?”
  3462. “No. I’m not sure. They could be using me.”
  3463. >”What do you mean you’re not? You might have played right into their hands! And for what? To save Thumper over there?”
  3464. >Mike tosses a weak thumb over his shoulder, towards Sam
  3465. “Stop calling him that.” You rise from your chair. “Sam is our friend. And I learned more about their plan. It’s a win-win for us, you fucking dickhead. Plus we’re getting rid of Gloria.”
  3466. >”Well, there is that,” he says, half sarcastically. “It’s just… I’m going to be one of them pretty soon, and I’d rather not. Does that make sense to you? Does it bother you at all? You weren’t the first to jump at stopping this bullshit, you know.”
  3467. >Yes
  3468. >But only because you’re his friend do you swallow your words
  3469. >He already sounds like one of them, and that enough should be reason to start shouting
  3470. >So full of anger and hatred towards others, feeling so deprived and robbed of things owed
  3471. >You restrain these words behind your lips, and instead try another tactic
  3472. “Mike. I’m sorry, okay? I was doing what I thought was best. Just like you were when you came over here.”
  3473. >(Thinking he’d been followed, no less)
  3474. >Even through the sheen of sweat on his face, you can see Mike soften a little, like melting wax
  3475. >”I know. I didn’t mean to yell. I’m just…”
  3476. >”Scared?” Alex says
  3477. >Mike nods
  3478. >”I feel it more each second. It’s like I’m watching everything I’ve wanted get swallowed up by this edgy, edgy darkness. Like I’m drowning and trying to breathe water. I don’t want that.”
  3479. >His voice begins to shake
  3480. >”Every moment I feel more and more pitiful, more angry at things out of my control, more… what’s a good word that’s not hateful?” He asks you
  3481. >”Retarded?” Alex cuts in
  3482. “Recalcitrant,” you correct him
  3483. >Mike nods slowly
  3484. >”I feel more and more retar- recalcitrant. And you two are starting to look drinkable.”
  3485. >”Majorly gay,” Alex nods, looking at you. “But Anon is gay too, so it’s okay.”
  3486. >You can’t decide if it’s out of fear, or anger, but he’s REALLY turning into an edgy drone
  3487. >Just like one of them
  3488. >”I refuse to accept the situation at hand. But I feel so helpless… I’m worse than Sam.”
  3489. >”Yeah, he is kind of useless,” Alex casually asserts. He digs his hands into his pockets, eyes finding his shoes
  3490. >Well that was uncalled for
  3491. >You notice how Alex isn’t looking at you anymore — only Mike has the balls to meet your displeased gaze
  3492. >His eyes have an unnatural glow to them. Through his clenched teeth you can see his fangs beginning to bud, like little tiny daggers
  3493. >Mike’s knuckles go white as he coils up everything he has inside of him
  3494. >“So I’m asking you as a friend -- as my longtime best friend. Help me. Please.”
  3495.  
  3496. “So we need a devouring plant and a plant of purity,” you frantically scroll through search results on your computer
  3497. >’Plant of purity’
  3498. ”There’s like a billion results and a billion different names for a plant of purity,” you say
  3499. >Outside the sky is beginning to lighten, a glowing blossom of amber light that chases at the fleeting darkness
  3500. >Your room smells like sweat and bodies and the faint reek of blood from Mike
  3501. >You’ve been up all night with nothing to show for it except a seriously fucked circadian rhythm
  3502. >Mike’s been pacing, Alex sleeping, and Sam?
  3503. >Well Sam looks pretty contented right now to be reading old superman comics
  3504. >But you’re starting to worry about him a little
  3505. >He said awhile back that he feels warm
  3506. >When you felt his head, it was true
  3507. >You flick through the results on your computer and try to keep your friends off your mind. You need to focus
  3508. >Another question is coming up:
  3509. >Are you even capable of doing this ritual? That’d mean you’re cursed, right? Because you sure as hell aren’t a priest
  3510. >And that means Vanessa didn’t just grant you bravery
  3511. >She also cursed you…
  3512. >Maybe her book can ONLY curse, hence why it’s called The Book of Wrath, you dummy
  3513. >God you’re gonna kill her when you get the chance
  3514. >But now is not the time to dream of murder
  3515. >”Isn’t sage what people use to purify their houses and shit?” Mike grumbles from the far end of the kitchen. He crushes an empty Dr. Bepper can with his foot
  3516. >He’s been pacing back and forth like a caged tiger ever since you started your research
  3517. >Grumbling to himself, displeased with circumstances (and who wouldn’t be?)
  3518. “I think so. Do you want to try sage?”
  3519. >Mike leans over your shoulder, and you can feel the sheer heat pouring off of him
  3520. >It feels like you’re standing next to an old furnace
  3521. >”What else does it say?” he asks, eyes glazing over from the volume of text on your computer screen
  3522. >”Baby’s breath, daisies and white lilies…”
  3523. >Sam lifts his head
  3524. >He’s been silent up until now, sitting in a high kitchen chair and reading, looking like an overgrown rabbit doll that had been left there by some toddler
  3525. >”D-D-Daises and l-l-lilies?” He repeats, just loud enough for you and Mike to hear him
  3526. “Yeah, those two. And sage,” you say
  3527. >”O-Oh. We h-have daisies and l-lilies at s-school. They’re in the g-garden by the p-parking lot.”
  3528. “Great! We can use those two for our purifying plants,” you say. “Man, this book is really nice. Shame that once those goth bitches find out that we’ve got the other book they’re going to eat us alive.”
  3529. >”Speaking of, which one is the devouring plant?” Mike says. “Because that sounds vague as hell, and I’m getting itchy over here.”
  3530. “Devouring plant…” you begin scrolling back through the list of sacred flowers and plants
  3531. >Nothing comes up — not that you really expected anything. ‘Devouring plant’ is such a shitty, vague hint
  3532. >There’s like… no plants that devour anything, except maybe the venus flytraps
  3533. >You remember a freshman project that you had to do in Mr. Bolm’s room with those things
  3534. >You were studying plant ecology and evolution
  3535. >….
  3536. “Sam?”
  3537. >Sam perks up a bit
  3538. >”Can you still get us into school?”
  3539. >He shakes his head
  3540. >”I-I lost the k-key at my h-house,” he says. He weakly looks to you, then glances away quickly. “When A-Anon picked me u-up I think I dro-dropped it.”
  3541. >”Of course you lost it, Sammy boy,” Mike grumbles. He turns to face you.“Simply out of masochistic curiosity, what were you thinking with the school, Anon?”
  3542. “It’s a stretch, but there are venus flytraps in one of the biology rooms. A devouring plant, right? I figure it might work if we can get in early and swipe one while nobody is looking.”
  3543. >”I see, I see…” Mike shifts his gaze to Sam again. “But you lost your keys? Isn’t there a morning janitor who could let us in?”
  3544. >Sam tucks himself into a nervous ball
  3545. >”Y-Yes, but s-she’s already mad at m-me for lo-losing my keys already,”
  3546. >Mike slowly paces over to Sam, a wide, shit-eating grin playing out across his face
  3547. >The rabbit squeaks a bit and scoots back in his chair, sensing ill-intent pouring off the vampire fledgling
  3548. >”I-I d-d-don’t thi-think she’ll g-give m-me more k-k-keys! And…” he drops his voice, “s-s-s-she scares me.”
  3549. >Mike puts two gentle hands on Sam’s shoulder and presses him in for a hug, that grin frozen on his face
  3550. >”Thanks for helping us Sam. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
  3551. >Sam’s arms spread out, unsure of himself what to do with the appendages
  3552. >You can see they’re shaking something awful
  3553. >And a part of you feels a little jealous that Mike is hugging Sam so tightly
  3554. >The gay part of you
  3555. >”Bu-But I didn’t d-d-d-do anything!” He squeaks uselessly
  3556. >Mike squeezes Sam so hard the rabbit gasps, letting out the last of his stored up oxygen in one desperate fit
  3557. >”Not yet you didn’t,” Mike says, warmth dripping off his voice. “But you will.”
  3558.  
  3559. > You know, this is kinda peaceful
  3560. >The sun is just starting to rise and come up over the bluffs
  3561. >There’s a type of dawn-stasis that’s got the whole world in a still, like a photograph, or a frame out of a movie
  3562. >That’s what this feels like
  3563. >All the teenage drama and angst and edge
  3564. >All the delusions of childhood that you’ve shattered in one weekend
  3565. >All the footsteps leading ahead, and the anxiety yet to come…
  3566. >It feels like a fine sheen of silver is over everything, fictionalizing your life, swallowing everything
  3567. >This must be what dissasociatives feel like
  3568. >You can hardly believe any of it
  3569. >And maybe your childhood therapist was right
  3570. >You don’t have to feel one way or another about anything. It’s important to just be present
  3571. >And right now, you’re feeling very present
  3572. >You’re grateful for this singular moment, sitting in your car with your friends
  3573. >How often do you take moments in like this with them?
  3574. >Too often it’s just drinking, vidya, complaining, drunk, pass out, drinking some more
  3575. >All those little mantras about smelling the roses and that zen bullshit? You swear at this very moment, you’d frame them all on your wall in teak
  3576. >You look out through your slightly fogged window at the school, as seen from the back of its parking lot.
  3577. >The darkness of the night sky is receding — the moon’s titanous face slipping behind the mountains
  3578. >The moon DEFINITELY should not still be full, or that large even
  3579. >The street lamps seem like they’re just barely staving off the glow of dawn
  3580. >All light is diffused by the steam of your breaths, becoming a muted and dim orange as it strikes with galactic precision on your misty windows
  3581. >It’s cold and slightly windy and the world smells like pumpkins and coffee
  3582. >To Sam in your passenger seat, it must smell amazing
  3583. >He’s got sensory perceptions that make your senses seem blind by comparison
  3584. >It’s not easy to admit, but you’ve become used to his presence, and part of you is always curious about what’s going on in his head
  3585. >What he hears, sees, smells
  3586. >What he’s expecting when he jumps…
  3587. >…And jump he does, when Alex, who is half up-to-speed by now taps him on the shoulder
  3588. >”Is that the janitor?”
  3589. >A clunky, square van, wearing curtains of rust and an odd ring of glittering stones encrusting the license plate, chugs into the parking lot, dragging behind it a tail of dark smoke
  3590. >It looks like a janitor’s van — or like a van a janitor would drive
  3591. >Sam nods and watches as three more clunky little sedan’s follow close behind
  3592. >”B-B-But those I d-d-don’t know about…”
  3593. >You squint hard, wiping down the glass a bit
  3594. >Mr. Bolm steps out of one of the cars, smoothing back his fading crop of hair
  3595. >Fuck, this just got a little bit harder
  3596. >Mike, impatient, tells Sam to get moving and go get the janitor to let us in
  3597. >Sam takes some budging, but after awhile, you unlock the door and tell him to go
  3598. >He flashes a look of utter remorse and fear, his eyes pleading with you
  3599. >No mercy
  3600. >Wearing his hoodie and badly fitting pants, he throws up his hood and trudges across the empty lot, where, back on Friday, you all assembled on the hood of your car, shaken to the core at what you’d all seen and felt but did not immediately believe
  3601. >This weekend has been one single long moment of disbelief
  3602.  
  3603. >Be Sam
  3604. >Or, ‘Thumper,’ which you know is a totally derogatory name, but you can’t help but feel you deserve it
  3605. >Just try to control your heartbeat, loser
  3606. >You can see Stella, your boss, walking towards the door, her stout badger-tail trailing behind her stocky body
  3607. >Being a rabbit, you close the distance between you and the badger quickly
  3608. >Your fragile little heart hammers against your ribs as Stella’s keys jingle in the door
  3609. >You audibly squeak at the mental picture of her turning around and verbally assailing you for being a no good fucking idiot rabbit (which is obviously true), fangs glistening with anger and hate, the glint of plain madness in her eyes
  3610. >Well, there will be some madness regardless of whether or not she’s angry with you — that’s just how Stella is
  3611. >The badger snaps her body around as soon as you come into speaking distance, a box cutter in her hands, her body wide in a practiced fighting stance
  3612. >”I’VE WAITED 56 YEARS FOR YOU TO MAKE YOUR MOV— Oh,”
  3613. >The wild look fades from her when she sees you, Sam Garlen, trembling before her
  3614. >She seems almost disappointed?
  3615. >”Sam, what did I say about sneaking up on me without some kind of warning? I nearly stabbed you. Thought you were one of those scum bastard collectors after my sacred crystal collection.”
  3616. >She squints and draws her blade again
  3617. >”You’re not, right? You haven’t been talking to anyone on any sacred crystal forums?”
  3618. “N-No?” You squeak
  3619. >The question you feel is still unanswered
  3620. >Oh god she might actually stab you this time
  3621. >You tune out the world and prepare for a death you knew was coming
  3622. >Her expression softens as she clutches a pink crystal pendant hanging form her neck
  3623. >”Good. Good.” She smiles. “Once they sell my collection to the CIA it’s all over for us. They’ve been harvesting sacred crystals since they scrambled my brains in the 90s. But they don’t know about this rose quartz here. As long as I keep this safe, the world is safe.”
  3624. >You really don’t know where to go from here. She seems more unhinged than usual, and that’s saying something
  3625. >She takes your silence as an opportunity to tell you about the mystical properties of the crystals she bought off the internet
  3626. >”You know, Rose Quartz carries calming properties and energies. It helps with my sweating. And these sugilite-amethyst earrings help ward off the negative spirits that so often trail in the shadows just outside my vision. But they’re there. I know it. I can feel their cold hands on my back whenever they think I’m not paying attention. But I’m always ready. Waiting. Watching.”
  3627. >She strokes her earrings a bit
  3628. >Indeed, there were two purple stones dangling from the pinks of her ears
  3629. >You came here to do something — something that matters. Not talk crystals with a psychotic badger
  3630. >Stella turns her back to you, but not without a second, wayward glance
  3631. >She hunches low over the door and begins fighting to get her keys in, almost as if she were suspicious
  3632. >You hold your breath
  3633. >’Stella I lost my keys, may I have some more?’
  3634. >’Oh, I’m a clumsy idiot slut-for-brians. I lost my keys and I need to let my friends in to commit a crime would you please let me have my master keys?’
  3635. >None of those words come out
  3636. >Instead both you and Stella gasp as the doors swing open
  3637. >A scene of utter janitorial chaos unfolds before you
  3638. >The lunchroom looks like a raging bull trampled it. Tables that weigh hundreds of pounds sit overturned and pushed back against the walls with no order or direction
  3639. >Like a meteor strike, the epicenter of the lunchroom disaster is clear, all the furniture of the room scattered about on its sides
  3640. >Stella leaps forward into the lunchroom, boxcutter at the ready
  3641. >”SEE!!?” She shrieks, spinning her wide body around in a pudgy, tactical arc
  3642. >She’s going full /k/ommando
  3643. >”CIA HUNTING FOR THE CRYSTALS I KEEP HIDDEN! Well, you won’t find my stashes you deep state sons of bitches! No, not Stella’s stash!”
  3644. >She laughs maniacally, deeply pleased with whatever it is she’d done
  3645. >The thought of where she might hide those crystals makes you shudder
  3646. >”And the faculty all think I’m insane. Well now look at this! It must have taken at least 20 CIA operatives to turn the room over like this. And that’s with a sunstone juicing them up!”
  3647. >She turns back to Sam with a serious expression
  3648. >”Are you going to help me clean this up or what? We’re not going to be able to keep our jobs if the principal sees this and mamma’s got some sugar babies to feed.”
  3649. >Wait
  3650. >There’s no fucking way she got pregnant
  3651. >What the hell is a sugar baby?
  3652. “Y-Yes- I mean, n-no! Wait!” You stutter
  3653. >Stella impatiently taps her feet and jabs a claw towards the mess
  3654. >”C’mon Sam. I’m your boss, remember? Your literal job description is doing things like this.”
  3655. >Your heart jumps in your chest
  3656. >You try not to look Stella in the eyes
  3657. >Anything you can do to avoid her hateful gaze will help you prolong what little bit of courage you’ve been lent by your friends
  3658. “I… I uhhh - l-lost my k-k-key, and wanted to…open the rest of s-school up b-b-before the b-bell…?”
  3659. >Stella groans and swats her head a few times (a lot harder than she should be)
  3660. >”Shit, Sam. You think I have 15 of these made and stashed around the school or something?”
  3661. >She leans in uncomfortably close. You can smell the filth and old gin on her breath
  3662. >Your noses nearly touch, and everything in the world right now makes you want to recoil in terror (or vomit)
  3663. >”Do you think that?”
  3664. >You shake your head rapidly, taking care not to whip her in the face with your ears
  3665. >She draws back, studying you as you choke down tears
  3666. >You open your mouth to issue an apology, but she merely nods and instead unclips a key from her ring and tosses them unceremoniously in the air
  3667. >”Here. Take my key. I’ve got extras hidd- errr, in my office. Go unlock the school. And when you’re done, you bounce your butt over here and help me clean this mess up, got it?”
  3668. >You scramble for the key on the ground, which you managed (unsurprisingly) not to catch
  3669. “Y-Yes Ma’am,” you squeak, holding the key up like it could unlock the greatest treasures in this world
  3670. >”And be on the lookout for any deep state operatives roaming the halls. If you see any, use the spells I taught you.”
  3671. >You distinctly remember spending a few lunch periods practicing ‘evasive magic’ with Stella, using various crystals and philters of cleaning fluids she keeps in her office
  3672. >It of course felt like a waste of time, but who knows, with all of this going on, you might just have to cast a repelling wall of atomized bleach from a bottle
  3673.  
  3674. >Be Anon again
  3675. >You see Sam poke his head out of a side door in the gym, and give the go ahead to Alex to go grab flowers from the garden
  3676. ”Just be stealthy about it,” you tell him with a breathy air of caution
  3677. >Alex salutes you and pulls his trademark yellow beanie tight against his head
  3678. >That Shaggy looking motherfucker
  3679. >”Remember when we stole Sam from his house? I am nothing but stealthy.”
  3680. >You almost correct him, because what you pulled was a RESCUE, not a theft, but he’s already out the door, his lanky body striding across the parking lot, his hand on his head to keep his beanie from being torn away from him by the snapping wind
  3681. >You sigh and sink back against your seat. You can hear Mike’s anxious tapping on the window
  3682. >”So where are we going to get this venus fly trap? I thought you said you knew where to get some.”
  3683. >Your eyes follow Mr. Bolm as he enters the school from the lunchroom door
  3684. >All the feelings of shame and regret crop up in your belly like spoiled milk
  3685. >You may no longer be a coward, but you know that you were less-than-cool to Mr. Bolm on Monday
  3686. >And for what? All to put your anxiety somewhere else other than your caged heart?
  3687. >God, maybe deep down you still are a coward, one so absolute that no bullshit magic can fix
  3688. >Figures it’d be his classroom
  3689. >Figures it’d be him coming early
  3690. >Figures that you fucked up yesterday
  3691. >FUKCUCKFKFK
  3692. >Figures you’ve got anger issues too
  3693. >”I do know where to get some,” you summon a few fortifying breaths and unlock your door. “You just wait by the side door near the gym. I’m going in.”
  3694.  
  3695. >You step out into the cool dawn of fall, and even before you head for Mr. Bolm’s classroom, you wave to Alex, who does not wave back
  3696. >He dives down into the garden, ripping any white flower out of the ground and stuffing them into his pockets
  3697. >Inside the school, you see a blur of Sam as he dashes around the school with boggling speed, unlocking every door he can reach
  3698. >He looks vaguely terrified, but to be fair, he always looks vaguely terrified
  3699. >Maybe just slightly more terrified than usual
  3700. >No students are here, so he has nothing to really worry about… kind of…
  3701. >You don’t try to flag Sam down, and instead, you march straight to Mr. Bolm’s room, hoping that he’s not there, and that you can make this a quick grab-n-go
  3702. >You’re not entirely sure how long Mike has before he’s too far gone and is trying to drink you like a red slushee
  3703. >To your dismay, the door is wide open, and you hear the sound of classic rock playing off a radio
  3704. >You pause, your back against the wall, and wait
  3705. >Someone in the room is humming along to it, singing soft and low
  3706. >Probably him
  3707. >The song fades out into the throaty voice of a radio broadcaster
  3708. >”And that was Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, 1975’s chart topper with Stevie Nix on the mic. A song about courage, and doing what it takes to move forward-“
  3709. >You rap twice on the door frame
  3710. >Mr. Bolm is hunched over his desk, a red pen spinning in his hand
  3711. >It comes to a curt stop when his eyes meet yours
  3712. >He looks up at you, his face hardening and his mouth setting into a hard, vaguely annoyed line
  3713. >”Mr. Anonymous. I didn’t expect you here so early.”
  3714. >His voice is devoid of any cheer. There is a tired air to his syllables
  3715. “Hi Mr. Bolm,” you reply, stepping over the threshold, clenching your fists — the terror you’d normally feel just lurking beneath the surface
  3716. >You flick a glance around the room, scanning for what you came for
  3717. >The chairs are all set down, the hard, flat, black desks all clean and neat, and in the back of the room, on a ribbed metal rack, thriving under a clean, luminous grow light, is a row of venus fly traps
  3718. >”Can I do something for you?” He caps his pen and bends backward stiffening his posture. There’s a small look of contempt played across his face
  3719. >You can’t say you don’t deserve it
  3720. >You have been, and always will be, a coward. Once this buff wears off, you’ll go back to being a sniveling weasel (no offense to weasels, obviously)
  3721. >And Sam will be hopeless, helpless, always
  3722. >People don’t change
  3723. >But you think, maybe, deep down, a seed of hope has taken root, because staring at Mr. Bolm, who so clearly is still mad at you, you can only see yourself issuing some kind of apology
  3724. >At least, that’s what you tell yourself
  3725.  
  3726. >So what do you say now, to get a hold of a freshman science project, for a dark ritual?
  3727. >Mr. Bolm is a man of science. He wouldn’t understand if you explained it to him
  3728. >You clear your throat under the studying eyes of Mr. Bolm, mind racing for an excuse to intrude upon what is likely his early-morning solitude
  3729. >You at last land on a good excuse
  3730. “I came by because… because I wanted to apologize.”
  3731. >He raises an eyebrow and uncrosses his arms
  3732. >”Apologize?”
  3733. “Yes. I wanted to apologize for what I said yesterday. It was totally, totally uncalled for, and out of line.”
  3734. >You scoot towards the venus fly traps
  3735. >Your science teacher looks down at his papers for a moment and draws out a long sigh
  3736. >You take that as your chance to get as close as you can to the back of the room
  3737. >”It’s okay. I’d like to think you didn’t mean anything by the question. To be fair, it was unprofessional of me to use you as an example, let alone expect an 18-year-old to know about love or the human mating process.”
  3738. >Ouch
  3739. >Swallow it down, Anon. You deserve this
  3740. >You put your back against the shelves and fold your hands behind your back
  3741. “Honestly, I’m just more frustrated with myself than I am with not knowing those things. I sometimes get nervous and say or do things that are really hurtful.”
  3742. >You wrap your fingers around the base of a plant and give a light tug
  3743. >The stem writhes in pain beneath you
  3744. >Wait
  3745. >WRITHES?
  3746. >You suppress a yelp as you feel something nipping at your fingers
  3747. >Little teeth like a puppy — sharp as needles — pierce your skin
  3748. >You try your damndest not to look like you’re in pain while Mr. Bolm explains himself
  3749. >”So I’m glad we came to this understanding. I know that the details of my marriage are popular among students, but still, it doesn’t hurt any less.”
  3750. “Yep, glad we did!” You tug a little harder, trying to balance the pain between subtly. Mr. Bolm is far enough to not be able to see the minutiae of your struggle
  3751. >The conversation lulls, and now both of you seem to wait for the other to speak
  3752. >Mr. Bolm makes the first move while you feel another row of teeth embed themselves in your finger
  3753. >”So, you’re a senior now. What school are you going to?”
  3754. >You clear your throat
  3755. “I”m not… I haven’t really thought about it yet. I guess I don’t know if college is for me.”
  3756. >Fuck fuck fuck
  3757. >”You’re kidding me?” Mr. Bolm adjusts his posture, leaning forward across his desk
  3758. >”A kid as smart as you… not going to college?”
  3759. >You tug harder but the roots seem to resist you
  3760. >”That’s a serious waste of talent. You’re a smart kid, Anon. Maybe the smartest in my class, at least. Just don’t tell the other students I told you,” he adds with a chuckle.
  3761. “I won’t S-SIR!” You barely hold down a squeal as the tiny mouth latches onto your finger again
  3762. >”So, what I’m saying is: Have some faith in yourself. I’m not trying to be an ‘adult passing down life-changing advice to a despondent teen’ here, but I mean it: give your future some consideration. A future outside this town, at least. There’s nothing in this town for anyone who is young. Sure, you could get some minimum wage job — there’s nothing wrong with that of course — but there’s better ways to find fulfillment outside of this place, especially for someone like you. I don’t want to see you trapped here, rotting away. You ever been to the bad part of town?”
  3763. “N-No sir! I mean, yes, I have, I think… twice now.”
  3764. >You slip your other arm behind you and try to do your best to look like you’re holding a respectful pose
  3765. >”You don’t want to end up there Anonymous. I have a few students who come from there, and they’re… not doing well. But you’re doing spectacularly.”
  3766. >You clench the base of the plant, and with your other finger wrapped around the stem, you tug the fly trap free of its soil
  3767. >It comes up, along with the rest of the dirt in the cup, attached to the bottom of the plant by its robust root system
  3768. >The damn thing chomps down even harder, trying to defend itself
  3769. >It’s of little use, as it comes free, thrashing its bulbous head about like a fish on a line
  3770. >Mr. Bolm’s expression brightens a little
  3771. >If only he knew what you were doing
  3772. >”I mean that. You’re going to be alright, Anon. Maybe sometime this week you can come by and we can discuss scholarships?”
  3773. >NOT IF YOU KEEP FUCKING TALKING TO ME
  3774. >Is what you want to say
  3775.  
  3776. >Now you just need to slip out of this room without showing him you just destroyed a science experiment
  3777. >You shuffle to the door, your hands behind your back
  3778. >His eyes follow you, expectantly
  3779. >Good
  3780. >Don’t look at the back of the room
  3781. >Don’t look at the science experiment you’ve just ruined
  3782. >You grunt as the plant again bites you
  3783. >”You doing okay there Anon?” He raises an eyebrow, cautiously sizing you up
  3784. “Yep!” You exclaim. “I’m actually just… Thinking about what you said. I need to give this college thing more thought. I guess I’m just stuck between a rock and a hard-”
  3785. >You definitely feel blood slipping between your fingers
  3786. “-A hard place. So to speak.”
  3787. >You are nearly to the door
  3788. >So close to freedom you can taste it
  3789. >And you know? This turned out okay. Things between you and Mr. Bolm seemed to have gotten smoothed over
  3790. >You pause in the door, halfway out of the room
  3791. >You lock eyes with your teacher and nod
  3792. “Thank you, Mr. Bolm. You’re a great teacher,” you smile — and it’s a real, genuine one too
  3793. >He returns the gesture, the small twinkle of an educator’s satisfaction behind his eyes
  3794.  
  3795. >”HANDS OFF MY CRYSTALS, YOU DEEP STATE FUCKO!”
  3796. >You feel the sudden absence of the plant in your hands
  3797. >And the brush of a thick paw swatting that plant out of your hands
  3798. >You watch in abject horror as the fly trap — spraying dirt across the floor as it travels — sails through the air and lands out of reach down the clean, clean hallways
  3799. >You turn around to see a very overweight and upset looking badger staring at you, her fangs bared, a growl simmering in her chest
  3800. >”Thought you were pretty smart didn’t you?”  She barks
  3801. >She jabs you in the chest with her claw, but your eyes immediately flick to the flytrap a good distance down the empty hallways
  3802. >You swear you see something green in the plant's base — almost emerald green — covered by dirt
  3803. >Mr. Bolm rises in his chair
  3804. >”Stella?”
  3805. >Stella doesn’t seem to hear Mr. Bolm
  3806. >”So you’re the agent that’s been stealing from me? You look like a little kid!” She laughs, her lower jaw quivering with manic desire to nom on your neck flesh
  3807. >”Well, I got you now. I got you. Hehe.”
  3808. >Mr. Bolm moves towards the door
  3809. >She quickly slams it shut on him and jams a set of keys into the lock
  3810. >With one quick motion, the bolt slides forward into place forever separating you from Mr. Bolm (or until he unlocks the door)
  3811. >”What the hell is the meaning of this!?” Mr. Bolm tries to knob, but it’s of no use
  3812. >Stella grabs you by the wrist
  3813. >You lurch forward, fighting against her near-Amazonian strength to no avail
  3814. >”I have been DREAMING of the day I find one of you deep-state fucks in my school. You have no idea how deep this school’s pits are. How many hallways nobody’s ever been in. There are maintenance corridors even /I/ don’t know anything about,” she says with sadistic joy
  3815. >You stumble behind her
  3816. >”They’ll never find your body.”
  3817. >You can only watch as the fly trap writhes in agony on the waxed floors, surrounded by handfuls of packed dirt, a small greenish crystal gleaming in the white fluorescent lights
  3818. >She actually buried a gem in a student’s science experiment
  3819. >You dig your feet in and strain hard to stay immobile
  3820. “I’M NOT CIA, I’M JUST A STUDENT!”
  3821. >”Sure you are. And I’m a doctor. You sons of bitches have the rest of my crystals, and /you/ are going to share with me /exactly/ where they are!”
  3822. >Jesus fuck she’s strong
  3823. >And that’s not even to be speciest or anything
  3824. >You fall flat on your ass as this absolute unit of a woman drags you down the hall towards janitorial oblivion
  3825. >The sound of plodding feet forces your attention
  3826. >Sam sprints around the corner, a ring of keys in hand
  3827. >He comes to a screeching halt in front of the fly trap, eyeing it curiously
  3828. >Holy fuck
  3829. >What luck
  3830. “SAM!” You scream
  3831. >The rabbit looks up
  3832. >”A-Anon?!”
  3833. ”SAM! GRAB THAT PLANT AND BRING IT TO ALEX!”
  3834.  
  3835. >You are Sam
  3836. >And you just fucked up
  3837. >Your heart is pounding in your throat, and that’s not from the exertion or from sprinting
  3838. >You’ve just pissed of Stella something awful, as evidenced by the fact that she’s literally frothing at the mouth, eyes terrifically wide and full of predatory desire as she scrambles after you
  3839. >You’ve just got to get this plant to Mike. He’ll know what to do, right?
  3840. >Right?
  3841. >God these hallways feel long
  3842. >Stella can’t outrun you, sure, but you get the feeling something isn’t right
  3843. >Ordinarily there’s at least ONE or two students who are here by now
  3844. >And yet it’s silent as a graveyard, save for the mad scramble that you’re currently winning
  3845. >You just fix your eyes on the distant lunchroom, and the doors at the very end of it that will lead you to sweet, open pavement, and then to Mike
  3846. >And then what?
  3847. >”I SHOULDA KNOWN YOU WERE DEEP STATE, SAM!” Stella’s rapidly fading voice reaches your tender ears ”I’ll get you, thumper- who the hell are you punks?”
  3848. >You throw a quick glance over your shoulders
  3849. >Stella is no longer behind you
  3850. >You skid to a halt
  3851. >The plant you were carting nips at your fingers aggressively, but you can’t take your eyes off the empty hallway
  3852. >Where the hell did Stella go?
  3853. >Silence screams back at you
  3854. >And then…
  3855. >A hellish chorus of deep, throaty growls rises towards you, sending your heart racing
  3856. >To your finely tuned ears, it sounded like… nothing you’ve ever heard before
  3857. >Deep and feral, yet with a sustained cadence to it, like someone pulling a very unpleasant note on a cello for too long
  3858. >Something about that sound makes the adrenaline spike in your veins — invokes that primal fear drive
  3859. >It’s almost the same noise you heard in the annals of the school on Friday, just lower and more controlled
  3860. >You take a few plodding steps backwards, eyes never leaving the spot where Stella once was
  3861. >Your eyes are drawn to the end of the hall by a sudden flicker of something dark at the end of the hall
  3862. >It’s there for a moment — and then it’s gone, like a stroke of lightning
  3863. >That hellish choir begins again
  3864. >Welp, time to run
  3865. >You start forward, but come to a quick, skididng halt while the sound of something ancient and evil grows closer
  3866. >It’s almost as if someone were driving nails through your wide feet, sticking you to the floors
  3867. >You’re so close to freedom, and yet… you can’t move your legs. Can’t force yourself to turn around and look away
  3868. >It’s like trying to start a car without any gas in the tank
  3869. >You look down to see that your legs aren’t even trembling
  3870. >That horrible, low, gurgling noise is getting closer, like banshee-shriek of a train hurtling towards you
  3871. >Fuck
  3872. >Why can’t you move?
  3873. >You thrust your arms forward to try and propel your body in a direction — any direction
  3874. >The motion serves to thaw the ice in your veins just a little bit
  3875. >”A-Anon?” You weakly call out, finding it a strain to raise your voice above a tired shout
  3876. >You look around
  3877. >The lockers
  3878. >The doors leading to rooms
  3879. >It all seems so normal
  3880. >Except the end of the hall stretching away from you, like a point infinitely vanishing on the horizon
  3881. >Just staring makes you dizzy
  3882. >”Hey!” Mike’s voice behind you doesn’t make you jump
  3883. >In fact, you feel a strange sense of calm wash over you when you turn around to face him
  3884. >…Who is standing about 10 feet away from you, still as stone
  3885. >The booming growl, like a wave breaking, retreats at the sight of Mike
  3886. >”M-M-Mike, I-I’m glad it’s y-you,” you breathe a sigh of genuine relief, even though you’re pretty sure he doesn’t like you
  3887. >Mike says nothing for a few anxious seconds, and then smiles
  3888. >”Me too.”
  3889. >He takes a light step forward
  3890. “H-Here.” You extend the venus flytrap forward. “A-Anon got the p-plant, but you h-have to help me f-find him, we got chased an-and I lost him back the-there.”
  3891. >Your friend freezes in place, just a few feet away from you now
  3892. >His arms slacken at his side as he curiously cocks his head, like a child encountering something new for the first time
  3893. >His mouth moves, but his words aren’t audible — even to your ultra-sensitive hearing
  3894. >”Sam?” Mike says at last, a mechanical cadence in his voice
  3895. >Alarm bells are starting to ring behind your eyes
  3896. >Something isn’t right
  3897. >You take a cautious step backwards, only to find that Mike remains rooted in place, his head still curiously on a tilt
  3898. >”Sam? Is that your name?” He repeats, sending shivers racing up your spine, as if a cold finger were tracing lines into your back
  3899. >Something in your heart is telling you to run
  3900. >You throw a quick glance over your shoulders, and with your freehand you unconsciously begin tearing at your ears
  3901. >The hallway seems to positively loom ahead, almost going vertical at its end
  3902. >That had to be a trick of the light
  3903. >Or you’re hallucinating something awful
  3904. >Whatever it is, you desperately need it to stop
  3905. >”Sam, you okay there?” Mike is closer now
  3906. >You swear to fuck you’d have heard him move
  3907. >”You’re scaring me, dude,” he says, a familiar tone snaking back into his voice, though it’s colored by a very subtle flatness that sounds positively inhuman
  3908. >It’s that same kind of cock-sure attitude that he’s always got, but it seems… misplaced
  3909. >Wrong
  3910. >Out of context
  3911. “Y-You’re scaring me!” you squeak, taking a wide step back. “M-Mike? Please s-say something?”
  3912. >”I can’t, Sam.”
  3913. >And then he starts to laugh
  3914. >Or, it would be laughter if there were any noise coming out of him
  3915. >Instead, his body twists and writhes as if he were in a fit of tremendous hilarity
  3916. >He soundlessly flexes and keels over, face reddening and contorting with strain
  3917. >And then he halts entirely, eyes locked on you with robotic and mechanicall precision
  3918. >Your legs feel unlocked now, but they’re still heavy with tension and fear
  3919. >All the muscles in your powerful legs coil up for flight as your amber eyes search Mike’s for something familiar
  3920. >It’s like looking into two polished stones
  3921. >They do nothing but reflect back at you
  3922. >Whatever this is, this isn’t Mike
  3923.  
  3924. >You turn on your heels, feeling the tension in your leg explode — launching you forward like a bullet shot out of a gun
  3925. >You’re surprisingly slower than you thought you’d be
  3926. >It’s like there’s 50 pound weights strapped to your thighs
  3927. >Heart hammering in your chest, you strain and struggle, fighting for every yard you gain
  3928. >All to the sound of that hellish call ringing in your ears, deafening the inner voices that ordinarily whip you into panicked flights
  3929. >’Mike’ is still standing where you left him, an isolated figure in the middle of the hall, alone, no longer even watching you; his gaze fixed on something else in front of you — something you can’t see
  3930. >Or can you?
  3931. >Another flash of darkness at the end of the hall
  3932. >This time you catch some definite shape to the rapidly displaced light
  3933. >Tall and angular -- nearly as tall as you -- but drawn with sharp points that seem defined even in the fleeting glimpses you catch of it
  3934. >It’s like smoke contained only by a thin, ephemeral line, in the shape of a… large dog of some kind?
  3935. >It’s gone when you try to focus on it
  3936. >And so is Mike too
  3937. >Gone in a flash, almost as quick as he appeared behind you that first time
  3938. >It occurred to you that you were suddenly making quite a bit of progress careening down the hall
  3939. >You skid to a halt
  3940. >Down the hall is /not/ where you want to go right now
  3941. >Not with that… thing… down there. Whatever it is
  3942. >You bank hard-as-you-can down an intersecting hallway…
  3943. >And find yourself staring at something familiar
  3944. >You’re somehow in the same hallway you just came from
  3945. >Turning behind you to look only reveals the same hallway /again/
  3946. >Same look, same lockers, same shine on the floor, same distance to the end…
  3947. >You half expected to see ‘Mike’ there waiting for you again
  3948. >This is some Twilight Zone shit
  3949. >Try to remain calm. You’re just stressed and maybe got turned around
  3950. >Right?
  3951. >Turning back to go the way you came only puts you in the same hallway again
  3952. >It’s like being trapped in a maze of mirrors — every direction and turn looks identical
  3953.  
  3954. >You race on down the hallways, trying doors as you go
  3955. >None of them can be opened, not even with the set of keys Stella gave to you — a fact you don’t understand
  3956. >Did the locks change?
  3957. >You try banging on the doors — first cautiously — and then with frantic need to escape, to run, hide, to find somebody who will tell you everything is going to be okay
  3958. >A protector
  3959. >Anon, Mike, Alex, an adult, your older brother
  3960.  
  3961. >Eventually you slump yourself against a locker, feeling the very real chill of bare metal against the nape of your neck
  3962. >The venus fly trap has stopped writhing so hard now
  3963. >Now it just lays flaccid in your grip, the shiny emerald bound in its roots
  3964. >It feels like there’s a rope around your neck, tightening the budding knot in your throat
  3965. >No
  3966. >Don’t do this here
  3967. >Your eyes sting with tears
  3968. >God damnit you coward, you crybaby
  3969. >Quickly you rub your eyes with your sleeve, shooting glances down each end of the hall, checking for foot traffic out of habit
  3970. >”A-Anon?” you say, straining above a whisper
  3971. >”Anyone?”
  3972. >Silence answers back
  3973. >Nobody is there
  3974. >Not Mike, Alex
  3975. >Especially not Anon
  3976. >Alone again
  3977. >Nobody around for you to burden
  3978. >Nobody around to hurt
  3979. >Just as it always should be
  3980.  
  3981. >A low, simmering growl prompts you to your feet, instantly banishing any lingering feelings of worthlessness
  3982. >That shape — the dog on all fours — blinks into existence near the end of the hall, but just close enough for you to gain some kind of outline or indication of its composition
  3983. >You see a sharp body with ears like knives, lean and starved, shrouded in dark mists
  3984. >The strange dog has a tight and angular face, though you can only see the outlines through the thick fog pouring off its body
  3985. >A pair of bright yellow eyes glow back at you through its shadowy cloak, obscuring the fine details of its snarling jaw
  3986. >Though it sounds like its growling with something ancient and evil, its mouth doesn’t appear to be moving
  3987. >To your relief, it doesn’t move towards you
  3988. >It only watches as you begin to shake and tremble like a leaf caught in a high wind
  3989. >Like the pathetic rabbit you are, you press your body up against the locker and squeak pitifully under the strange beast’s predatory gaze
  3990. >Its shape is more of an ashen outline, but you can see just how skinny it is
  3991. >Hungry, perhaps?
  3992. >With another growl, it flashes into nothing right before you, as if it were suddenly deleted from existence
  3993. >Ringing silence sings loudly in your ears now
  3994. >Only the blood pulsing in your ears, the rapid drumbeat of your frantic heart pounding in your skull can be heard
  3995. >You shut your eyes and try to think of sleepovers and Dr. Beppers and movies with Anon
  3996. >What would Batman do right now?
  3997. >He’d probably twirl his cape around him, or stand tall and go hunt down that strange creature
  3998. >You try to stand up straight, but your legs are shaking too hard
  3999. >And besides
  4000. >You’re no superhero
  4001. >You’re weak
  4002. >And pathetic
  4003.  
  4004. >“Sam?”
  4005. >That voice
  4006. >God you haven’t heard it in years
  4007. >It’s so familiar
  4008. >When you open them again and see the source of that painfully familiar voice, you drop the venus fly trap at your feet
  4009. >”J-Jake?”
  4010.  
  4011. >It’s him, almost the same as you remember him
  4012. >A tall, lanky rabbit with your dad’s face and eyes, yet younger and less jaded than your father, stands before you
  4013. >Dark circles pool under his eyes, and his eyebrows are sloped inward, betraying any kindness you might have been able to find in him
  4014. >”Sam, what the hell are you doing?” He asks, smoke trailing from his lips as he speaks
  4015. >He raises a glowing cigarette and gives it a quick puff
  4016. >”You hiding again or something?”
  4017. >The bite in his words stings, just like it did all those years ago
  4018. >”Thought I taught you better. Taught you how to look out for yourself. You’re not going to let everything I did for you go to waste, right?”
  4019. >That familiar tightness seizes around your throat as tears spring to your eyes
  4020. >Not now
  4021. >”Are you crying?” Your brother bends down to eye level, and you can’t help but notice the way he doesn’t cast a shadow in the sterilized light of the hallways
  4022. >His face contorts with anger
  4023. >”God damnit Sam. It’s been years and you’re still the same little crybaby you always were.”
  4024. “I-I-I’m s-s-sorry, I c-can’t h-h-help it.” You try wiping your tears away, but Jacob catches your wrists, pulling you painfully away from the lockers that had served as your anchor to reality
  4025. >His vice-grip around your wrist feels very real, even if you can’t understand how or why he’s here
  4026. >He drags you to the middle of the hallway
  4027. >You try digging your feet in to the slippery linoleum, but Jacob only pulls harder
  4028. “P-Please stop!” You plead, feeling like a doll tugged along by an angry child. “Y-You’re h-h-hurting me!”
  4029. >”Good.” Jacob says with a heat to his voice
  4030. >All it’s missing is the whiskey reek
  4031. >”You know Sam, you’ve caused a lot of people a lot of hurt in these past years. I thought I could make you strong, but I realized something.”
  4032. >He stands you in the center of the hallway, fingers digging painfully into your shoulders, rooting you in place despite your fierce desire to run away
  4033. >”Deep down you’re a coward. A burden.”
  4034. >A train whistle blows
  4035. >”You’ve always been a burden to our family, to mom, dad, and even me.”
  4036. >You start shaking when you see that glowing orb of light emerging from the farthest end of the hallway, looking like a shining golden nail
  4037. >A nail that’s growing rapidly and speeding towards you
  4038. >The heavy body of a train appears at the end of the hallway, carrying its singular light like an angry torch as it trundles forward
  4039. >”This time you’re going to get it right,” Jacob says coldly
  4040. >The train whistle shrieks again
  4041. >There’s the sound of steel racing forward, hundreds of metric tons of power and kinetic energy on the move, gliding across the floor without any tracks
  4042. >The train is racing towards you now, its full force hurtling down the hallway
  4043. >”Hold.” Jacob commands
  4044. >His grip becomes loose
  4045. >”Wait for it.”
  4046. >You couldn’t disobey even if you wanted to. Your entire body seizes up with fear
  4047. >The train is so loud now that you can barely hear Jacob
  4048. >”HOLD.”
  4049. >And then…
  4050. >Everything goes quiet as the rush takes over your head
  4051. >It’s not even a conscious decision at this point
  4052. >You hurl your body off to the side and crash against the lockers with the train still bearing down
  4053. >Jacob turns to you and his expression is so cold, sterile and hollow that you can’t look away, as if he’d frozen your eyes on his own
  4054. >His eyes that reflect nothing
  4055. >And even though everything is still that same, horrible frequency of pure silence, you can hear Jacob as clear as glass shattering on a quiet day
  4056. >”That’s no dodge, you fucking coward.”
  4057. >The train collides into him
  4058. >He’s gone in a wisp of smoke, vaporized into the ephemeral
  4059. >All that silence is gone with the sudden explosion of blaring horns and careening steel as the train blurs past in a smear of darkness.
  4060. >The train rolls on until your eyes slam shut and you clap your palms over your ears to stifle the noise and banish the sight
  4061. >When you at last open your eyes, the train is gone
  4062. >Slowly you work your hands away from your ears
  4063. >…silence, save for the sound of sneakers pounding on the floor in the distance
  4064. >You shake your head a few times as if to shake loose a dream
  4065. >That’s what everything was, right? Just a dream? A hallucination?
  4066. >The venus fly trap writhes at your feet, and it nips at your furred fingers as you lift it up
  4067. >The sound of sneakers against the floor is getting closer, but you don’t feel like you have the strength or even the drive to lift your head
  4068. >The words of your brother bounce around painfully in your skull
  4069. >”Deep down, you’re a coward. A burden.”
  4070. >It was just like it was back then all those years ago
  4071. >”That’s no dodge, you fucking coward.”
  4072. >Even the face he made?
  4073. >That flash of anger and then the icy-stillness of his features?
  4074. >It was just like a smoldering flame ready to be kindled
  4075. >You could have sworn it was dad
  4076. >You’d cry if you could (like the wimp you are) but you feel too badly shaken to do anything but point your eyes to the floor and try to evade the mental anguish
  4077. >Welp
  4078. >Hopefully whoever is racing down the hallway will just put you out of your misery
  4079. >”SAM!”
  4080. >A familiar voice; a light in the darkness of your mind
  4081. >”SAM! RUN!”
  4082. >It’s Anon, racing around a corner, coming directly at you
  4083. >And the sound of heavy feet against the tiles tells you Anon isn’t alone
  4084.  
  4085. >You are Anon, and you are about to shit your pants
  4086. >Not because you actually need to shit, but because you’ve never had to run this far and this fast before
  4087. >Every foot you place haphazardly and clumsily in front of the other sparks sheer chest-driving agony
  4088. >After Stella took off after Sam, you tried to find an alternate route to get back outside the school
  4089. >All you heard was the sound of wolves
  4090. >And man
  4091. >You had a guess what that meant
  4092. >See, with all the dumb, edgy, Twilight-tier shit happening at school right now (including witches, Eldritch horrors and vampire cheerleaders), the feral howl of wolves could only signal one thing to your sleep-deprived mind
  4093. >Werewolves
  4094. >And then you heard Stella go down hard and fast, like a fat Santa Clause plummeting down your stairs at the tender yet inquisitive age of 9, followed by a less-than-jolly few sentences and screams of pain.
  4095. >Who those screams belonged to, you couldn’t tell. You just kept running, those shrieking whimpers echoing off the empty walls of the school and chasing at your heels
  4096. >And now here you are, feet churning under you, throwing paranoid glances over your shoulder
  4097. >They’re not cowardly glances, and this isn’t a cowardly flight
  4098. >Cowardice would be hiding somewhere, ignoring your mission
  4099. >Your mission?
  4100. >To find Sam and get the hell out of here
  4101. >That mission is drastically accelerated when you hear a howl
  4102. >Maybe a wolf student got to school earlier than you expected, and it’s not actually werewolves?
  4103. >But then you hear another howl
  4104. >And another
  4105. >And they’re just down the hall
  4106. >You throw another glance over your shoulder
  4107. >Three hulking masses are closing the distance behind you in a matter of seconds
  4108. >Oh fuck
  4109. >Bulky werewolves, rippling with shreds of clothing and tightly corded muscle bear down on you, their fur dark as night, eyes bright as blue sapphire, are scrambling down the hallways after you
  4110. >Fucking just…
  4111. >Perfect
  4112. >You dig into your flimsy, un-athletic body and beg of it just a few seconds more of cardiovascular agony
  4113. >Begrudgingly, you are granted your wish, and your pace quickens
  4114. >You know this is all in vain
  4115. >They’re going to catch up to you and feast upon your innards
  4116. >If you were Mike you might try to slow down and fight them
  4117. >Or if you were Alex you might try to befriend them and lead them on the path towards glorious revolution
  4118. >But you’re Anon, and you’re running, and…
  4119. >You have no plan, other than to keep running
  4120. >Times like these you wish you were born a cheetah, or a rabbit like Sam, then maybe you’d stand a chance at survival
  4121. >What are humans good for anyway?
  4122. >Thinking and cooperating?
  4123. >Fat load of help that’ll do you
  4124. >All alone, you’re wolf food for the apex predators of the school
  4125. >You dash around a corner, shoes squealing and streaking across the polished floors
  4126. >The werewolves, being…well, fucking huge, and less dexterous than you, slide past like a bunch of drunken ice skaters, tripping and tumbling over one another, their mouths wet with frothing madness
  4127. >And alone, at the end of the hallway, like a little brown smudge against the auburn of the lockers, you see Sam in his hoodie and baggy jeans
  4128. >And at his feet
  4129. >The venus fly trap
  4130. >That cotton-tailed faggot actually did it
  4131. >You open mouth, a smile contending with your desire to scream
  4132. ”SAM!” A yell bellows from your lower stomach, and it rings with impressive clarity and volume
  4133. >You think you might be a good singer if you live through any of this
  4134. >Sam looks down the hall at you
  4135. ”SAM! RUN!” You say, not so much commanding as you are pleading
  4136. >”A-Anon?” He jumps to his feet
  4137. ”JUST RUN, THUMPER!”
  4138. >That time you were commanding with your voice, and you’re not sorry for even a second
  4139.  
  4140. >That rabbit, that little fucking bunny who you hated so much in the past, scoops up the venus fly trap and pounds down the hallway without a moment of hesitation
  4141. >You guess he is good for some things, namely running away
  4142. >You can only hope he finds the door and gets the fuck out of the school before the wolves do…
  4143. >And they are so close now
  4144. >So close you can smell the wet dog on them
  4145. >One of them reaches for your legs with its heavy, dumb hands (though appropriately decorated with razor-sharp claws)
  4146. >These lads must have been footballers, because DAMN they thicc
  4147. >In a quick blur of motion you move to the right — just enough so that the werewolf grabs onto empty space…
  4148. >…And it trips, having lost its footing
  4149. >That’s one down — for now
  4150. >Just two more to go
  4151. >No problem right?
  4152.  
  4153. >Problem
  4154. >A maniacal shriek forces you and the wolves to a halt
  4155. >What is this, a cartoon?
  4156. >”Oh my GOD. You glow-in-the-dark, CIA niggers! Thought you could sick your Russian bio-wolves on me, didn’t you? Thought you’d get away with my power crystals?!”
  4157. >That voice sounds like it’s coming from all directions
  4158. >But especially…
  4159. >Above you?
  4160. >”Well you’re in the jungle now, human. I can smell the ZOG on you.”
  4161. >Oh fucking god damnit
  4162. >It’s this crazy bitch again
  4163. >Stella explodes from the ceiling, her face sufficiently painted in strange, spiraling patterns, dropping like a sack of wet concrete, her arms spread wide, claws glistening in the pale light
  4164. >Streams of froth seethe out of her shivering mouth as she descends upon her target like the world’s shittiest spider
  4165. >She lands ungracefully behind the wolves, only to continue cackling like a madlass
  4166. >You see she’s stripped herself down to only her underwear
  4167. >Fat and fur spills out over the waistband of her camouflaged panties
  4168. >The only proper piece of clothing on her is her useless earings
  4169. >”Come here you little fucks!” She swipes dangerously close to the wolves, who whimper and unconsciously back up towards you
  4170. >”You ain’t seen strength like mine. BEHOLD, THE POWER OF ROSE QUARTZ!”
  4171. >She shakes her head violently, the heavy stones dangling from her hears becoming tiny wrecking balls
  4172. >Jesus Christ she’s even crazier than the werewolves are
  4173. >It occurs to you (with all the speed of a xan’d out tortoise) that this is your chance to run
  4174. >And take it you do
  4175. >You’re quietly thankful for the janitor’s unhinged madness, because when you look behind at the scene of unfolding carnage, you catch a fleeting glimpse of her football-tackling one of the enormous werewolves onto her clean, clean floors, and then ripping into him with her claws
  4176. >Oh god, that sound is horrendous
  4177. >It’s the sound of meat rending and carnage and fur ripping from its follicle and the panicked yelps of a dog whose intestines are in mortal peril of being evicted from its body
  4178. >You swallow hard and keep running, acutely aware that only two werewolves are on your trail versus three
  4179. >And then there’s Stella, after she… finishes with the poor football player-turned-werewolf
  4180. >Gotta play this smart
  4181. >You’re nearly outside now
  4182. >You can see the lunchroom and the carnage that the wolves undoubtedly left behind
  4183. >And just nearby, sweet, sweet salvation, shining with the glowing light of the day, like a quest item in a video game:
  4184. >The door to the parking lot, etched into the glass walls of the lunchroom
  4185. >You can almost TASTE the cold air on your tongue
  4186. >Naturally, because life loves raw-dogging you in the ass, you don’t power through the door with infinite grace, but rather crash through the door as a werewolf barrels into you, its hulking arms crossing around your midsection in a kind of death-hug
  4187. >You’re fucked now
  4188.  
  4189. >You are farmer Alex
  4190. >You are un-alienated from your work by capitalism as you happily rip white lilies from the school’s communal garden
  4191. >You glance over to the massive, white pile of flowers sitting nearby and decide ‘Yeah, that’s enough.’
  4192. >In fact you’ve torn nearly every white flower out of the garden
  4193. >Gathering up a handful, you happily start the trek across the open parking lot to Anon’s car, where Mike is impatiently waiting, despite having been told to wait by the lunchroom doors
  4194. >His car is the most recognizable one because it’s a dented piece of shit with a collapsed front hood
  4195. >And one of the only ones in the parking lot
  4196. >God this is taking awhile, and it’s pretty fucking cold out here
  4197. >You aim your head towards the lunchroom doors
  4198. >Wonder when they’re going to get back? Surely it can’t take that long?
  4199. >Like a dam suddenly bursting, Sam explodes through the doors at break-neck speeds
  4200. >You wave to the rabbit, but the look of sheer terror on his face says your efforts are a waste
  4201. >His heavy feet pound into the black grit of the empty parking lot as he shoots on over to Anon’s shitty car at the far end of the lot
  4202. >Hm
  4203. >Moments later, Anon tumbles through the lunchroom doors, a rather steroid-driven looking wolf clinging to his midsection
  4204. >That doesn’t look like any wolf you’ve seen
  4205. >Looks like a gray wolf crossed with a muscle-bound body builder
  4206. >And all the tattered clothes make you think something FUCKY is going on here
  4207. >Hmmm
  4208. >Anon is screaming and trying to pry the wolf off of him as the hulking beast starts pulling him back into the school
  4209. >Hmmmmmm
  4210. >A SECOND wolf tumbles out the door, tripping over  Anon, landing a good five feet away
  4211. >HMMMMMMMMMMMM
  4212. >In a daze, it lumbers to its feet and glances around the parking lot for prey
  4213. >Its sapphire-blue eyes, burning with feral need, settle on you like two heavy and malevolent orbs
  4214. >HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
  4215.  
  4216. >You are Anon
  4217. >And you are NOT going back into that school
  4218. >The werewolf’s feral claws rip into your suit jacket as its tightening grip squeezes the air out of you
  4219. >This furry FUCCBOI is not going to consume your delicious flesh
  4220. >Not today
  4221. >You’ve got a goat to fuck over, some cringe goths to fuck over, and a bunny to fu-
  4222. >Wait
  4223. >NO, NOT THE TIME FOR GAY
  4224. >You kick and thrash your legs, forcing all those gay thoughts into the bend of your knee as your leg explodes directly into the jean-padded crotch of the werewolf
  4225. >You strike gold
  4226. >Or more appropriately, jewels
  4227. >The werewolf yelps in pain as your dapper shoe SMASHES into his tender nut sack, forever cucking him out of pups
  4228. >Like a snare, his grip instantly fails, and you’re free again — and on your feet in a few painful seconds
  4229. >You check to see if the snapjaw bled you
  4230. >That’d be another kick in the dick for him
  4231. >Though your beautiful suit jacket is striped with tears, the werewolf never punctured your crisp, white dress shirt
  4232. >The beast hunches over in pain, whimpering and gagging on what must be post nut-annihilation-nasuea
  4233. >You scowl and tighten your fists with all the blood, annoyance and anger you’ve got inside of you
  4234. >Which, compared to Mike, is not a lot
  4235. >But it’s enough for you to do what you’re about to do
  4236. “Herrrreeeee doggy,” you say with snarl and smirk. “Be a good boy and bring your pretty face to my fist…”
  4237. >The werewolf raises its head, and for a split second you lock eyes
  4238. >This might be someone you know, who you never had problems with
  4239. >Could even be that they had no choice but to undergo lycanthropy
  4240. >Is this really the right thing to do?
  4241. >Fuck it
  4242. >You belt the werewolf in the fucking face so hard that you instantly regret doing it
  4243. >Bone crunches beneath your hands and pain explodes like a live wire running up your twiggish arm
  4244. >JESUS your hand hurts
  4245. >The werewolf stumbles to the side in a slow, almost drunken stagger
  4246. >He doesn’t fall, but slackens, just barely standing up right, a thick thread of drool sloping down from his open mouth onto the cold asphalt
  4247. >Reflexively you shake your open fist like you were able to fling the pain off
  4248. >God that was painful
  4249. >You think you struck bone
  4250. >But Anonymous?
  4251. >That was so god damn cool, you almost wish someone had seen-
  4252. >The werewolf stands tall, straightening its back like it was bending a steel rod
  4253. >A savage growl booms from its chest
  4254. >Its jaw drops open like a leaden weight, revealing a row of bloody teeth
  4255. >The werewolf starts forward, very slowly, trembling with hate
  4256. >Anonymous, do you think its mad at you?
  4257. >…Perhaps…
  4258. “Mikkkkeeeee? Sammmm? Alllexxxx?” You call out, taking slow steps back
  4259. >Now is a perfect time for someone to come and rescue you
  4260. >But Alex sprinted inside, drawing the other werewolf with him
  4261. >Maybe a little bit of cowardice is a good thing?
  4262. >You want to run, but you don’t have to anymore
  4263. >In one massive swing of its burly arms, the werewolf catches you in the chest, sending you sailing through the air like a badly-dressed superhero
  4264. >Unsurprisingly, you don’t stick the landing, because you land flat on your back, even rolling several times because God hates you for masturbating too much
  4265. >The asphalt doesn’t hurt as much as you thought it would
  4266. >What stings more is the shame
  4267. >You manage to sit up, but perhaps that was a mistake
  4268. >The werewolf is closing the distance between you and him, something close to a smirk playing out on his face
  4269. >Welp, this is it
  4270. >You’re going to get mauled to death out here
  4271. “Listen, listen. I don’t know what they did to you, but you don’t have to do this to me. You can still walk away from this.”
  4272. >The werewolf issues a hateful growl
  4273. “I know you’re in there, whoever you are. I’m sorry I socked you in the face!”
  4274. >Silence
  4275. >Well, diplomacy was worth a shot
  4276. >Your hands dumbly search the asphalt for something to use as a last-resort weapon
  4277. >A rock
  4278. >Some glass shard
  4279. >FUCKING ANYTHING COME ON
  4280. >You come up with a good, fist-sized chunk of asphalt that looks like a burnt potato
  4281. >This will have to do
  4282. >Man, fuck what you thought before
  4283. >You are NOT going to die out here
  4284. >A very shameful part of you is thankful for the courage buff that Vanessa gave you, because it enables you to do otherwise dumb things like attempt to fight a seven foot tall werewolf with a rock
  4285. “Come closer you knife-eared mutt, I’m going to make you choke on my coc- I mean, rock.”
  4286. >And those might as well be your last words, as the wolf bears down on you, its jaw flying open to rend your flesh
  4287. >But they aren’t your last words
  4288.  
  4289. >Your car smashes headlong into the werewolf, yeeting that bitch through the air to a symphony of collapsing metal, pained yelps and squealing rubber
  4290. >The werewolf lands rather unceremoniously a good 10 or so feet away, crashing to the earth like a leaden mannequin and sleeping like one too
  4291. >The driver side windows of your car roll down
  4292. >Mike MOTHERFUCKIN Sapone is sitting at the wheel
  4293. >Sam is in the back, leaning out
  4294. >”Say the lines, Thumper.” Mike commands, eyes glued dead-ahead like a total badass
  4295. >”O-Oh!” Sam squeaks. “G-Get in f-f-faggot, we’re s-s-aving-”
  4296. >Impatient, Mike cuts him him off
  4297. >”We’re saving the world. God damn you, Sam, you ruined this for me.”
  4298. >”S-Sorry,” Sam replies
  4299. >Mike turns his eyes on you
  4300. >They’re REALLY glowing red
  4301. >Oh fuck
  4302. >”Well? Are we going to do this thing or what?” He barks. “Sam, scoot over back there. Anon, get in.”
  4303. >You don’t have time to think about the damage that’s already been done to your car
  4304. >You frankly don’t want to
  4305. >Because there’s something — or someone — missing from this equation
  4306. “Where’s Alex?”
  4307.  
  4308. >You are Alex, a once happy-go-lucky teenager now sprinting around the lunchroom as if your life depended on it
  4309. >The werewolf may be big, and he may be fast, but he’s also dumb as hell, much like yourself
  4310. >You feel on equal footing
  4311. >By utilizing a lunch table, you’re able to stay out of the beast’s grasp
  4312. >But it’s only a matter of time before the other one that got Anon comes in and enslaves you with his hot werewofl dick
  4313. “I know that you’re mad right now, but we’re not enemies,” you say as slowly and as clearly as possible, though all you do is come off condescending and chiding
  4314. >Maybe logic will work on the werewolf? Surely some part of him must still understand what you’re saying
  4315. >The werewolf only snarls in dim acknowledgment of your human-mouth moving up and down
  4316. >That’s a start
  4317.  
  4318. >You keep your feet moving around the tight circle of the lunch table
  4319. >If this guy were smart he’d lunge over the table and grab you, but he’s not the brightest bulb in the crayon shed, as the expression goes
  4320. >So he’s perfect for you
  4321. “You probably feel really angry right now — have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you’re so upset? You’re upset because you’ve been wronged.”
  4322. >The wolf comes to a halt
  4323. >His head tilts ever so slightly with the distant recognition of words and logic, striking like lightning on a very, very, very barren field
  4324. >"You’re being used. Can’t you see that? Used like the lowly idiot that you are.”
  4325. >At the utterance of the word ‘idiot’, the werewolf tries again to reach across the table and rip your smart mouth off your face
  4326. >You swiftly duck his swipe, bending your lanky frame in a game of mortal limbo
  4327. “But I understand your rage! I get it! I’m being used too! We’re all being used and abused by the system. My system is one of economic and social oppression, and yours is… well you’ve likely been turned into what you are now by a group of nefarious teenagers. Essentially the same thing. We are comrades.”
  4328. >’Comrades’
  4329. >The werewolf ponders those words with an expression of understanding
  4330. >Maybe you’ve actually gotten through to him?
  4331. >The realization causes a smile to grow on your face
  4332. >You stroke your shitty, patchy beard and push your glasses up against the bridge of your nose like an anime protagonist
  4333. >Fuck, you probably look so cool right now
  4334. “We’re all trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death. Why must we fight?”
  4335. >[The Dead Flag Blues intensifies]
  4336. >The werewolf nods very slowly, its ears flattening against its skull in submission
  4337. >Holy shit
  4338. >It’s actually working
  4339. >You might actually have gotten through to someone — unlike those poor, shackled souls at the Shop N’ Save
  4340. >SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS, THIS IS THE-
  4341. >Just then Mike cracks the werewolf across the back of his head with a rock, sending the beast tumbling forward
  4342. >He crashes face first onto the table, eyes shut, tongue drooping out of his mouth
  4343. >Unconscious as people’s slavery to capitalism
  4344.  
  4345. >You are Anon again, and you just watched Mike knock a werewolf out with one solid blow to the head
  4346. >Sam cowers behind you
  4347. >Mike spits at the werewolf’s body, which looks like a massive, muscled carpet laid out across the table
  4348. “Nice hit, Mike,” you say
  4349. >Your friend scowls
  4350. >”We don’t have time to fuck around in here. Let’s go,” he says, anger creeping into his voice
  4351. >Mike turns and heads for the door, haphazardly throwing the rock behind him
  4352. >As if he’d aimed it like that, it knocks against the skull of the wolf with ease
  4353. >You decide it’s best to leave before Stella comes in and finds you
  4354. >Lord knows it’s going to be ugly when she does
  4355. >You shudder at the thought of what she’s doing to the poor werewolf she managed to catch from earlier…
  4356. >…Or where she might be hiding…
  4357. >…And what clothes she’s wearing now, if any at all
  4358. >Sam stops in the doorway, raising one ear like an antenna
  4359. “Hear something?” You ask
  4360. >He nods
  4361. >”Laughing. A-And growling. S-Something is moving around in the w-w-walls,” he says, glancing behind him
  4362. >You put your hand on his back and guide him outside
  4363. “It’s probably that crazy janitor. Let’s just get outside. We’ll be safe out there,” you say
  4364. >”I f-feel safe with y-y-you,” he says, a weak smile playing across his lips. “I’m not w-worried.”
  4365. >A rush of blood hits your cheek
  4366. >You turn your head and look straight (heh), evading his puppy-dog eyes
  4367. >Fucking hell, he must know how gay he sounds and acts
  4368. >There’s absolutely no way he’s not aware of this, despite how socially retarded he might be
  4369. >Why is this playing with your heart so much?
  4370. >”Get moving, Thumper,” Mike says, already a good five or six feet ahead of you and Sam. “Because the sun’s about to come out and I’m starting to get hungry.”
  4371.  
  4372. >The four of you stand at the road leading in to the school
  4373. >A few cars trundle on by in the glowing dawn
  4374. >You’re flipping through the red book, trying to find the passage about purification that you found the night before
  4375. >The sleeplessness must be getting to you, because you really, seriously cannot find it
  4376. >Mike is staring at the rising sun as it grows in the east, saying nothing
  4377. >C’mon Anonymous, this is what you’re good for
  4378. >Books ‘n shit
  4379. >Oh god oh fuck
  4380. >You’re going to fuck everyone over since you can’t find this stupid fucking passage that you read last night
  4381. >Something about laying them at a road or something?
  4382. >Fuck it
  4383. >You grab the (now dead) Venus flytrap and a handful of white flowers and shove them at Sam
  4384. “Here. You’re fast. Run out in the middle of the road and lay these down. Can you do that?”
  4385. >”W-Why me?” He squeaks
  4386. “Because I told you too and we’re going to run out of time. Now go!” You bark
  4387. >Sam shoots off, pausing only for a second to check for cars like a good boy
  4388. >The road is clear
  4389. >Gently, he sets down the bundle of plants in the middle of the street, taking great care to arrange them in a neat pile
  4390. “Sam, you don’t need to do that. Come on back.”
  4391. >”S-Sorry!” He calls
  4392. >He looks left
  4393. >And then right
  4394. >And then freezes
  4395. >A car is speeding down the road, going wayyyy faster than it should be
  4396. >”C’mon Sam, just hop on back,” Alex says
  4397. >Sam doesn’t move
  4398. >Instead, he stands upright, hands shaking with tremors
  4399. >Wtf
  4400. >Move, Sam
  4401. “Yo, Sam, come on back!” You call
  4402. >It’s almost as if he can’t hear you
  4403. >surely the car will slow down
  4404. >…
  4405.  
  4406. >It continues its pace — even accelerating
  4407. >”Yo Thumper! Get out of the way!” Mike calls
  4408. >”Yeah, dude, come on. Let’s go!” Alex tries stretching his voice but his words work as well as Mike’s
  4409. >The look of sheer tension and terror frozen on Sam’s face tells you something is wrong
  4410. >Something is very wrong
  4411. >You’re not sure that the car is going to stop
  4412. >And you have no idea why Sam isn’t moving
  4413. >You briefly contemplate running out there and grabbing him
  4414. >But you don’t have to
  4415. >Sam practically tosses himself to the side of the road
  4416. >The car rolls on by about 10 seconds later, softly plowing through the delicate pile of plant material Sam had assembled
  4417. >Well that was needlessly dramatic
  4418. >The rabbit darts over to your side
  4419. >He’s breathing hard and trembling all over
  4420. “What the hell was that, Sam?” You say with a fury in your voice
  4421. >This dumb ass might have gotten himself killed
  4422. “Are you fucking suicidal?”
  4423. >”I-I-” he takes a few steadying breaths. “I’m s-sorry. I g-guess it’s just s-s-s-s-something that happens.”
  4424. “Something that happens? You freaked the fuck out of me. Don’t do that again. Ever.”  You say, distinctly aware of how angry you sound as the words leave your mouth
  4425. >You hope your concern is bleeding through more than the displeasure, and that Sam understand
  4426. >”S-Sorry… My b-brother and I-”
  4427. ”Your brother? You have a brother?”
  4428. >The bunny nods and turns his eyes downward, letting the shag of his long-ish hair obscure his eyes
  4429. >”Y-Yeah, Jacob… Ca-Can I tell you ab-about him s-someti-”
  4430. >Mike grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you hard, rudely cutting off Sam
  4431. >”DID IT WORK!?” He demands
  4432. >You peer into his eyes, still shaken from Sam’s little stunt
  4433. >Your friend’s eyes still glow red — in fact, they’re glowing even harder now
  4434. >Evidently, it didn’t work. Because you fuck up everything
  4435. >You sadly shake your head
  4436. “I don’t think it so?”
  4437. >Mike freezes
  4438. >”So you mean I’m trapped like this?!”
  4439. >His face tightens into a snarl, jaw set in a hard line
  4440. >He grips your shoulders tight, you being his only anchor to reality (and his past, “stable” life)
  4441. “M-Maybe? Maybe I read it wrong?” You stammer, trying to pull his hands off of you
  4442. >It’s possible you misinterpreted the actual cure from the Book of Rite
  4443. >You needed more time to look! Mike rushed you!
  4444. >”MAYBE?!” Mike repeats, nearly hysterical
  4445. >When he talks you can see his fangs. They look like little needles in his mouth
  4446. >God, this is surreal to see such features on humans
  4447. >You’re used to it on anthros, but not people
  4448. >”Maybe isn’t good enough, you fucking retard!” He gives you a shove
  4449. >You scowl
  4450. >You should shove him back
  4451. >FUCK this guy, man
  4452. >You try to do nice things for him and he basically throws them back in your face
  4453. >Remember on Friday how he acted like a fucking cock? And then Sunday? And then this morning? And then he basically ditches you and shows up expecting you to fix his problems!
  4454.  
  4455. >Maybe it was your newfound courage
  4456. >Or you just lost your temper
  4457. >Or even cowardice — and thus self defense
  4458. >Whatever it was, it caused you to shove Mike back
  4459. >And it feels good when you do
  4460. >He stumbles backwards a bit into Alex’s arms
  4461. >”When did you grow a pair of balls?” He says with a snort
  4462. >His hands tighten up into fists
  4463. >”Let’s try that again,” he says, starting forward. “Because something tells me this isn’t the real you. Deep down you’re still the same old bitch you’ve always been.”
  4464. >Oh shit
  4465. >It’s on now
  4466. >Scrawny as he is, Alex does a somewhat admirable job of trying to hold Mike back
  4467. >But he can only restrain Mike for a few seconds
  4468. >Good
  4469. >You don’t want any easy hits on this faggot
  4470. >You start forward
  4471. >Alright Anonymous, time to break something precious
  4472. >You stop
  4473. >Something annoyingly pulls at your shirt
  4474. >When you look down, Sam has his little fists knotted in the fabric of your white undershirt
  4475. >He’s twisting hard
  4476. >Through the thick tangles of his unkempt hair, his shining amber eyes look up into your own — not through you, or around you in some cunning attempt to evade you out of anxiety
  4477. >Every muscle in your body comes to a screeching halt
  4478. >Your fists open up like springs to a bear trap, releasing all the pale tension in them
  4479. >Why?
  4480. >You want to fucking kill Mike right now
  4481. >But Sam looks like he’s about to start crying or something
  4482. >God damnit, fuck this little cottontail
  4483. >Always running when shit gets real
  4484. >Always forcing you to bail him out
  4485. >A burden to you
  4486. >And to everyone else
  4487. >So why can’t you just brush him off like the weak little mammal that he is, and go knock Mike’s fucking lights out?
  4488. >Why can’t you move?
  4489. >Just move
  4490. >MOVE, DAMNIT!
  4491.  
  4492. >You don’t have to move at all
  4493. >Mike does that for you
  4494. >A feisty uppercut lodges itself beneath your chin, sending your eyes upwards
  4495. >And even though it’s nearly morning
  4496. >You swear you can see the stars — more clearly than you’ve ever seen them. As if they were right in front of your face
  4497. >So this is what it feels like to have your lights punched out
  4498. >Feels surreal
  4499. >Like you didn’t even feel Mike’s hit
  4500. >Your feet move backwards, knocking Sam on his ass
  4501. >You swear you’re going to fall
  4502. >But you don’t
  4503. >You only taste blood
  4504. >And the sweat
  4505. >And you only feel the heat
  4506. >And the cortisol
  4507. >And that warm blood rush which takes over your head
  4508.  
  4509. >You launch yourself at your best friend, swinging as hard as you can, aiming for any part of Mike that you can get your hands on
  4510. >He dips backwards, evading your blows, his vampiric agility ever the more apparent when he ducks underneath one of your wild rights
  4511. >Jesus Christ, this is some anime shit
  4512. >Fuck it
  4513. >Time to use… That
  4514. >And by that, you mean you basically throw yourself at him, tackling him to the ground
  4515. >While he may be fast, not even he could evade such a cunning move like throwing your dumb fucking body at him
  4516. >Good job Anonymous, you’ve got him no-
  4517. >Mike shoves you easily onto your own back
  4518. >Well this isn’t good
  4519. >You can hear Alex and Sam shouting something, but it’s all muffled and distant
  4520. >They might as well be a thousand miles away
  4521. >In fact, everything feels and sounds like its a galactic mile from the side of the road where you’re fighting your best friend
  4522. >You don’t really feel it when Mike mounts your chest and throws haymakers at your face
  4523. >You can feel his fists bounce off your cheek, jaw, nose, skull, shoulder, but it’s all so distant
  4524. >Everything feels like it’s happening in slow motion
  4525. >You can even see his muscles slowly coil with each strike
  4526. >So why don’t you fight back?
  4527. >All you can do is look up at him, his eyes shining with fury and vampiric rage
  4528. >Is it still Mike?
  4529. >The Mike you drank beers with on the school roof?
  4530. >Who you did hood rat shit with after school?
  4531. >Who you told Gloria to fuck off with?
  4532. >Is it still him?
  4533. >…
  4534. >Are you even still you?
  4535.  
  4536. >Two hands grab Mike by the shoulders and pull him back
  4537. >It’s Alex
  4538. >He’s yelling something, barely restraining Mike with all of his spindly strength
  4539. >You don’t move
  4540. >You don’t even think you could right now
  4541. >Sam’s face appears above yours, blocking out the fledgling sunlight
  4542. >His mouth is moving, and he’s assuredly talking, but you can only focus on his ears
  4543. >They droop downwards like his hair, nearly touching your face
  4544. >You unconsciously reach up and catch one by the tip
  4545. >What are you even doing?
  4546. >You’re not sure it even matters
  4547. >Mike must have gotten you good in the head
  4548. >You stroke Sam’s ear as blood leaks into your mouth from your nose
  4549. >A FURIOUS blush rises on the rabbit’s face
  4550. >He closes his eyes and tries softly to pull away, saying something about stopping and about being worried about you
  4551. >This dumb fucking rabbit might not know it, but he’s your only anchor to reality right now
  4552. >Heh
  4553. >Figures
  4554. >You get in one fight and you pretty much zone out while Mike wails on you
  4555. >A smile crosses your bleedings lips
  4556. >Somehow, you knew it’d end up like this
  4557. >The world becomes sharper and clearer as each stuttering heartbeat pounds in your chest, ripping you from the dream and back into reality
  4558. >”MIKE! FUCKING CHILL, DUDE!” Alex shouts
  4559. >”Chill?” Mike says with a sharp laugh. “Why don’t you try to chill out when you’re turning into a vampire because your ‘friend’ can’t do anything right, let alone save himself?”
  4560. >Sam’s eyes are huge, like chips of amber the size of your fists
  4561. >They’re honestly… kind of beautiful
  4562. >You don’t have the strength to fight the gay thoughts right now, so you just let them happen
  4563. >Maybe it’s the daze of getting your ass kicked
  4564. >Or maybe it’s the spell put on you by Vanessa fading
  4565. >But despite your shattered interpersonal relationships (and nose)…
  4566. >…Down and out on the side of the road…
  4567. >...Looking into Sam’s concerned eyes?
  4568. >It all feels right
  4569.  
  4570. >You sit up to the sound of a car horn blaring
  4571. >Jenna Orthorn is pulled up, her van blocking the bike lane
  4572. >You hear hear her car door slam shut, the sound concerned footsteps approaching
  4573. >”What the hell are you guys doing on the side of the road!?”
  4574. >She sounds hysterical
  4575. >In an instant she’s at your side, pushing Sam out of the way
  4576. >Sam collapses quickly to his knees, useless and fighting tears
  4577. >”What the hell happened to you?” She says, poking and prodding with medical precision. “Actually, don’t answer that. I’ve got a first aid kit in my car. Just lay back down… And try not to move.”
  4578. >She looks over to Mike, who is no longer trying to charge you like an angry bull
  4579. >He just looks sullen as he stares daggers into the ground, his features hardened into a scowl
  4580. >”Mike?” She says, caution working its way into her voice. “Did you…?”
  4581. >YES
  4582. >YES HE DID, YOU ORANGE BITCH
  4583. >Your lips, however, remain sealed
  4584. >Mike looks up the vixen, and you swear you can see lightning in his eyes
  4585. >”Take care of him,” he nods at you. “Because he can’t take care of himself. Or anyone else.”
  4586. >Oh you assfuck
  4587. >He narrows his gaze at the vixen
  4588. >”Today, 3 p.m. I don’t care what class you’re going to be in. Come meet me around the back of the school, by the loading docks. We need to talk.”
  4589. “If you can last that long.” You spit blood at Mike
  4590. >Jenna pales, though that’s not easy to see beneath her fur
  4591. >”What happened to you, Anonymous?” She says. “You look like you got attacked by wolves.”
  4592. >You nod
  4593. ”Yes, and no.”
  4594. >Do you single Mike out?
  4595. >Tell Jenna the truth?
  4596. >She’s a really nice girl
  4597. >She doesn’t need to be apart of this
  4598. >Mike doesn’t say anything — only stares coldly and calmly at you, before turning on his heels and walking down the road towards town
  4599. >Jenna  and Alex call after him, but he doesn’t respond
  4600. >He just keeps walking down the side of the street with white flowers blowing softly in the autumn wind behind him
  4601. >They blow across Sam like massive snowflakes
  4602. >One lands softly on his s
  4603. >He plucks it off and holds it delicately in his palm — cradles it with both of his paws like it might shatter
  4604. >”What the hell happened out here? What’s going on?” Jenna says as she pads you with bandages
  4605. >You lay back down and close your eyes
  4606. “I’ll let Mike tell you everything,” you say, no longer caring if Jenna is involved, who gets hurt or how the story is spun
  4607. >Everything is fucked anyway, and it’s only Tuesday
  4608. >Besides, people will be arriving soon
  4609. >You’ve got your end of the bargain to keep with the goths
  4610. >But frankly, you could care less about how this all ends
  4611. >Hell you might even join those edgy freaks and really get one over on Mike
  4612. >He, who only cares about graduating and leaving you all behind, can go fuck himself
  4613.  
  4614. >Jenna moves you all to the parking lot so you’re no longer bleeding out on the side of the road like roadkill
  4615. >Alex is talking quietly to the fox
  4616. >His looming figure bends over the rather small vixen, having to nearly crouch to get within earshot
  4617. >You just hunch over and let the blood from your nose drip out onto the asphalt like steady drops of crimson rain
  4618. >Jenna looks distraught, Alex looks somehow worse — not a look you’re used to on the happy-go-lucky communist
  4619. >At least Sam and Alex and Jenna haven’t betrayed you
  4620. >Jenna leads Alex over to you
  4621. >You’re covered in bandages
  4622. >”Anon?” Jenna begins. “Alex and I think you should go and find Mike.”
  4623. >No
  4624. >Fuck that guy
  4625. >He can turn into an edgelord vampire all he wants
  4626. “Can’t,” you say, which is only half the truth. “Besides, he’ll be coming back to talk to you later, won’t he? What’s the point in me cutting school to go and track down the guy who just kicked my ass?”
  4627. >”Kicked your ass? What are you talking about?” The fox inquires
  4628. >You shrug your shoulders and stand up. “I’ll explain later. Or maybe Mike will. It doesn’t matter. Sam.” You point at the rabbit
  4629. “You’re following me until lunch. And then Alex. Understood?”
  4630. >”What? Why?” Jenna asks again, sounding dismayed
  4631. “Again, everything will be made clear to you soon.”
  4632. >”Why won’t anyone tell me anything?” She says with a groan
  4633. >You pat your chest, making sure the red book is still in your inner pocket
  4634. >You can feel it there like a heavy, flat stone, despite how small and thin it is
  4635. >You hate this fucking book
  4636. >You hate yourself for getting involved
  4637. >Alex salutes you as you walk past
  4638. >Sam follows quickly behind you, leaving Jenna alone at her car, visibly and audibly confused
  4639.  
  4640. >The day plods along slowly
  4641. >You’re counting the hours, minutes, seconds, until your lunch period
  4642. >T-minus one hour until you have to do the unforgivable
  4643. >Talk to Gloria Duchene
  4644. >Lead her into the gym
  4645. >And then
  4646. >Well, you don’t know what’s going to happen to her
  4647. >But you can’t help but feel this tiny tinge of… rot in your stomach
  4648. >That must be guilt
  4649. >Just the thought of giving her over to the goths makes you cringe and presses that sickly feeling deeper into your guts
  4650. >And you can’t believe you actually care about a person who honestly gives you the creeps like Gloria does
  4651. >Well something similar did happen to happen to you and Sam, right?
  4652. >Christ, why do you get all the weirdos?
  4653.  
  4654. >You have Sam attend class, but tell him to meet you outside at the first floor bathrooms every 30 minutes. It’s a system that lets you check in on him while you’re still ‘present’ in class, though that’s a gross misuse of the term, because really, all you’re doing is throwing glances towards the clock or towards the door in English class
  4655. >Sam should know where you are in case there’s trouble
  4656. >What if his dad shows up out of fucking nowhere and caves your skull in?
  4657. >He did look really pissed off after you… you know…
  4658. >Ran him over with your car?
  4659. >God damnit, get a hold of yourself
  4660. >You’re safe here, in large numbers, among students
  4661. >Well, what if he pulls Sam out of school?
  4662. >Then what are you going to do?
  4663. >Worse yet, he knows your name
  4664. >Fuckity fuck fuck
  4665. >What class is thumper in? An art class, right? Advanced drawing?
  4666. >You’re going to go check
  4667. >You just want it to be lunch already
  4668. >And also for everyone to stop staring at you
  4669. >To be fair, you look like an absolute mess, what with your suit jacket torn, your clothes ruffled, the dried blood on your nose and lips…
  4670.  
  4671. >You stand up abruptly in English class, and Mrs. Felix, with whip-crack speed, addresses you
  4672. >”Mr. Anonymous? Going to the bathroom again?” She says sharply
  4673. >You nod in reply
  4674. >”Drink less coffee next time,” she says dismissively, before quickly jumping back in to the existentialists, her mouth moving a mile a minute
  4675. >How anyone keeps up in her class is a fucking mystery to you
  4676. >Guess that’s fennec foxes though, right? Little balls of energy
  4677. >You almost say “speak for yourself”, but just shrug off the misplaced “advice”
  4678.  
  4679. >In the halls you have to do everything you possibly can not to break into a sprint
  4680. >And the halls feel awfully empty, save for the occasional cluster of students
  4681. >You notice yourself catching venomous looks from other students
  4682. >Mostly it’s coming from jocks, especially anthros, and ESPECIALLY anthro wolves
  4683. >Big, hulking animals that make you look like a little emo twig in comparison
  4684. >Not that you’re emo, you remind yourself, power-walking to the first floor
  4685. >Emos don’t power-walk
  4686. >Were you not in public you’re sure they’d tear you in half
  4687. >But not while you power-walk
  4688. >There’s no honor in that
  4689.  
  4690. >You’re nearly to the stairs when a shape lunges in front of you, blocking your path
  4691. >Naturally, because you’re a jittery, anxious bastard, you nearly piss yourself
  4692. >In fact, you let out a pathetic little scream
  4693. >”Anon!”
  4694. >No
  4695. >Not now
  4696. >You see curly horns
  4697. >An over-zealous crucifix hanging proudly against her heavily conservative denim dress
  4698. >Fur white as pure snow
  4699. >A Long conal snout, big, judgmental eyes accented by a pair of thick-rim glasses
  4700. >Yep
  4701. >Gloria Duchene
  4702. >”Are you going to the bathroom?” she asks, leaning in uncomfortably close
  4703. >Bitch what the fuck does it look like you’re doing?
  4704. >You swear you can still smell the communion wine on her — or is that perfume?
  4705. >What’s the difference to her anyway?
  4706. “Yessss….? You reply with a deep, deep groan
  4707. >Gloria, who is about as socially conscious as Sam is, doesn’t seem to pick up on your annoyance
  4708. >”Well, do you have a hall pass? You know I’ll have to writeeeee you upppp.”
  4709. “A hall pass? Since when is that a thing?” Your tone is incredulous
  4710. >She wrinkles her nose and smiles, her heavy eyelashes fluttering like they each weighed 20 pounds
  4711. >She grabs a hold your hand, and you die a little inside when you feel how sweaty she is, even with her fur absorbing most the moisture
  4712. >”Don’t worry, Anonymous, I’ll escort you though. If the principal sees me with you, he’ll let you go without a spanking.”
  4713. >Somehow that explains so much — the spanking part, you mean
  4714. >She drags you back towards the second floor bathrooms
  4715. >You wriggle free of her grip, much to the stubborn goat’s dismay
  4716. >”Oopsies, you slipped!”
  4717. >She grabs you even tighter, ringing your slender wrist
  4718. >You dig your heels in and grind to a halt
  4719. “Please stop. I’m trying to go downstairs — and I don’t need you help,” you beg of her, hoping that her god will take pity on your accommodating soul
  4720. >”Nonsense,” she balks. “You need me (and I need you).”
  4721. >She whispers that last part, but you can still hear her well enough
  4722. >If there is a god, he is not with this thirsty-ass goat right now
  4723. >Goats are stubborn, but damnit, you’re a human
  4724. >Have a little pride in yourself and your species!
  4725. >What is mankind, the crafty ape, good for?
  4726. >Well, being crafty
  4727. >time to bust out the…craft…?
  4728. “Gloria, Gloria, listen to me. You listening? I was thinking about you today.”
  4729. >The goat sucks in a massive gulp of air before her mouth flies open
  4730. >”YouwerebecauseIwasprayingaboutyoutooand-”
  4731. >She’s practically tripping over her own tongue
  4732. >Go in for the kill, buddy
  4733. “Yeahhhhh, I was thinking about you!” You shoot her some finger guns in a bad attempt to look and act cool. “In fact, I was wondering if you’d like to eat lunch w-”
  4734. >”YES.” She tugs you in close by your shirt collar
  4735. >You can physically see how moist she is, which is an ugly, ugly thing
  4736. >Sweat beads off her forehead, sliding through her short fur only to be lost in its tufts, never to complete its journey to the floor
  4737. >”YES WE CAN EAT LUNCH TOGETHER, DARLING.”
  4738. >Glad to see she’s so eager
  4739. >Or are you?
  4740. >You are about to sacrifice her to the goths
  4741. >That familiar feeling of guilt settles at the bottom of your stomach like a sour stone
  4742. >You do your best to smile
  4743. >Oh, you sneaky dog, such an actor now
  4744. >Fuck face
  4745. “G-Great. Let’s eat in the gym though, okay?”
  4746. >”At the gym?” She cocks an eyebrow
  4747. “Yeah. Less people. It’s uhhhh-” You start to sweat
  4748. >Fuck, why is this happening to you?
  4749. “It’s just a more relaxed environment,” you lie
  4750. >You lying liar
  4751. >You lying faggot coward
  4752. >Wait
  4753. >No, that last part was also a lie
  4754. >You’re not a cowa-
  4755. >”Well… if you say so. Lunch time at the gym? Got it!”
  4756. >You breathe a sigh of relief when she skips off, doing a quick twirl mid air, sending her skirt spinning around her dainty legs
  4757.  
  4758. >You at last free yourself of the horny (heh) goat and flee down the stairs
  4759. >God damn, she’s really, really, really forceful today. Is she starting her heat or something?
  4760. >Don’t female anthros take pills and wear scent masks for that sort of thing?
  4761. >Maybe she forgot hers this week this week?
  4762. >Or it’s got something to do with last Friday, the moon, the goths, and all the weird shit happening around school
  4763. >Speaking of weird shit, when you peek through the windowed door to the art room, you see about 15 empty seats. In fact it’s just Sam, the teacher, and an odd assortment of theater kids and stoners (sitting on polar opposite sides of the room)
  4764. >Sam looks even more isolated in the middle of the two factions, as if he were dividing them
  4765. >Judging by the horrible looks the two groups are sharing with each other, you get the feeling that Sam isn’t the source of the animosity or division
  4766. >Something else, more supernatural, is
  4767. >You breathe a heavy sigh of relief
  4768. >Thank fuck he’s saf-
  4769. >A sharp pencil sails across the room towards the stoners
  4770. >Then a few erasers
  4771. >And some rulers
  4772. >And then exacto knives
  4773. >The stoners retaliate by leaping from their seats — mostly a group of humans save for the odd skunk — and throwing themselves towards the opposite side of the room with all the suddenness of a sloth
  4774. >A scrap breaks out like a summer storm — that is to say, suddenly and violently
  4775. >The teacher, a rather thin doberman, bares her fangs and jumps into the fray, desperately fighting to separate the teens before they murder one another
  4776. >Sam seizes up at the sight of the melee
  4777. >You throw open the door
  4778. >Sam turns his head, sees you standing in the door like some kind of hero (despite the fact that you really fucking aren’t), and bolts towards you, pausing only to grab his drawings
  4779. >He’s unable to stop himself in time, sprinting with some kind of madness and wild abandon
  4780. >The thin little rabbit collides into you with the force of a thrown pillow, though it does send you stumbling back
  4781. >God damnit, this is like the second or third time this has happened
  4782. >You wrap your arms around him to steady yourself and him, as both of you are in danger of falling and making this significantly more gay than it already is
  4783. >Eh, the gay doesn’t bother you as much anymore
  4784. >But falling might
  4785. >Sam looks up at you with his bright eyes, like shimmering pools of molten gold
  4786. >You can see the panic and fear behind them, but you also recognize the comfort and relief that now colors his expression
  4787. >”T-Thanks A-Anon…” he squeaks
  4788. >Instinctively, you reach a hand down and stroke back his ears, run your fingers through his matted and greasy fur
  4789. >God it feels good to comfort and protect him
  4790. >Before you realize what you’ve done, Sam lets out a contented sigh
  4791. >”W-What are you doing?” He whispers, nuzzling into your touch. “I-I like it.”
  4792. >You instantly drop your hands to your sides
  4793. >Fuck, what were you doing?
  4794. >You scratch nervously at the back of your neck while a blush scours your cheeks
  4795. “I-I don’t… Just ignore that. The important thing is: you’re out of there.”
  4796. >the rabbit nods, letting his bangs cover his face once again
  4797. >You’re tempted to just punch him in the face in order to prove your heterosexuality, but you could never do that to him
  4798. >And his big, puppy dog eyes, glowing like chips of amber completely disarm you
  4799. >”Y-You w-w-wanna see my d-drawings?” He asks, moving the subject autistically to what he’s been working on
  4800. >No concern for the obvious violence now taking place in the room behind him
  4801. >You can hear the want in his voice
  4802. >Frankly, you’re glad that he’s gotten the courage to speak to you directly and not in whispers
  4803. >You can’t help but smile a little
  4804. “Of course I do. But not here. Let’s get somewhere safe,” you say
  4805.  
  4806. >’Safe’ is hard to come by these days
  4807. >It seems like everywhere you go there’s some angry clique glaring at you
  4808. >But the jocks themselves seem especially pissed
  4809. >As you and Sam walk down the lower hallway, where you were chased by werewolves not but a few hours ago, a group of scantily clad Cheerleaders pass by you
  4810. >Both are anthros, one being a curvaceous pig, the rounded pink skin of her thigh accented by the red and white top stretched tightly over her well endowed body
  4811. >Her shirt clips just beneath her substantial breasts, and you’re sure by the boner you’re wielding that she’s in violation of several dress codes
  4812. >Yet you can’t help but be drawn to her, almost as if her eyes are hypnotic
  4813. >She flashes a cute wink and a smile, and then you see it: the shimmering red in her eyes, the narrow filed points of her teeth
  4814. >She’s just like Mike is
  4815. >You can’t help but gawk like a fucking idiot because the smaller of your two heads is doing a lot of thinking right now
  4816. >”A-Anon?” Sam squeaks up
  4817. >You shake your head of lewd thoughts
  4818. >You’ve been caught, but who cares, right?
  4819. “They’re real pretty, huh?”
  4820. >You jab the bunny with your elbows
  4821. >If Mike were here he’d talk about how he thinks they’re beautiful but would never fuck an anthro…
  4822. >…Which he seems to talk about a lot
  4823. >Sam casts a glance over his shoulder
  4824. >His ears perk up quickly in alarm
  4825. >He must have noticed the vampirism too
  4826. >”Y-Yeah th-they’re gorgeous h-haha.”
  4827. >He looks up at you, his eyes begging for approval
  4828. >”D-D-Do you think they’re h-h-hot, Anon?” He pauses, hands gently pulling at his ears. “I-I mean f-f-for m-mammals?”
  4829. >You hum in thought
  4830. “I mean… I guess so? That pig is pretty thicc, right?”
  4831. >Sam makes another obvious glance backwards
  4832. >You grab his ears and steer his head forward
  4833. >Maybe he isn’t gay after all? He’s just… supremely awkward, as usual
  4834. ”Hey man try and be subtle when you’re checking a girl out, okay? You’re gonna get us called perverts,” you say
  4835. >Sam lowers his head in shame, finding comfort and safety in staring at the floor
  4836. >”S-Sorry t-t-they’re so…. H-Hot? H-Ha.”
  4837. >The way he says it sounds extremely forced and uncomfortable and you want to ask him if he’s gay or not, because now you’re confused
  4838. “Hey Sam…” You rub the back of your neck and fix your gaze down the hall, scanning for any signs of potential danger
  4839. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you…”
  4840. >Here it comes
  4841. >Absolute truth
  4842. >And maybe more confusion on your part
  4843. >The moisture under your arms and the heat radiating from your stomach to your face tells you you’re nervous
  4844. >Which… shouldn’t be happening. You were supposed to be brave, courtesy of Vanessa
  4845. “Are you-” you cough a bit, as if choking on the words themselves
  4846. >Anything to prolong the question, right, you coward?
  4847. >Wait, ‘you coward?’
  4848. >You’re not allowed to be a coward
  4849. >This is clearly just a fluke
  4850. >Okay, deep breaths
  4851. >Out with the question
  4852. >You look down at Sam…
  4853. >…Who has pulled the collar of his ratty hoodie far away from his wiry neckline, and is peering down at his chest
  4854. “Dude, what are you doing?”
  4855. >The bunny shoots his head upward, and almost instantly grabs at his ears, twisting them like they were throttles to a tiny and pathetic dirt bike
  4856. >”N-N-N-NOTHING!” He squeaks, his face flush with crimson
  4857. >What…
  4858. >Why is this such a big deal?
  4859. >Oh god you just want him to stop freaking out
  4860. >It’s really not a big deal
  4861. >Not like he has tits or anything
  4862. >Maybe gyno? You’ve never seen him without his hoodie
  4863. “Okay, okay, I believe you, man. I believe you. Just chill-”
  4864. >”I swear I-I-I wasn’t l-l-looking I-I mean c-c-comparing my-myself I-I- mean-” His words fire off at a mile a minute and you only catch a few
  4865. >You know, if he didn’t stutter like a fucking madman, he could maybe be a rapper
  4866. >Beats being a janitor
  4867. >And GOD he’s really wringing those ears out now
  4868. >Alright, time for an intervention
  4869. “Look, it’s fine, just-” you forcefully pry his hands away from his ears, but you take care to squeeze them softly. “You’re going to hurt yourself. Crush my hands if you have to crush something.”
  4870. >Sam, trembling, gives you a tight grip — you can’t tell if he’s excessively weak or just not trying
  4871. >”T-Thanks…” Sam whispers in a shuddering breath
  4872. >You ignore the cuteness and keep walking down the hall, your face pulsing with heat and embarrassment
  4873. >You know how this looks to everyone, and you do catch a few giggles from a few human preps who pass you by
  4874. >You try to pay them no mind, but Sam obviously notices
  4875. >He squeezes your hand a little harder, using his other free hand to clutch at the drawings he wanted to show you
  4876. >Just gotta get you and him somewhere safe
  4877. >And you don’t…
  4878. >…Don’t seem to want to let go of his hand?
  4879. >It’s so small and gentle in your comparatively huge hands
  4880. >Sam has an artist’s fingers — delicate and nimble
  4881. >You can feel them threading your own
  4882. >Fuck, he’s probably gay, and you really want to let go of his hands, but you can’t — not now
  4883. >Or could it be that you don’t want to?
  4884. >You come to a stop eventually, wandering out of a dream
  4885. >Huh, did you hold hands with him all the way down the hall to the lunch room?
  4886. >…
  4887.  
  4888. “Alright Sam, let me see those drawings,” you say, already trying to forget your extremely gay waltz down the hall
  4889. >You slump against the wall near the cafeteria, nervous sweat running down your face, underarms completely soaked from the self-conscious anxiety
  4890. >Somethin’ ain’t right, you think in a vaguely Texan accent
  4891. >Sam scoots over to you across the dirty floor, crumpled paper in hand
  4892. >Kinda gross… Who knows when the last time these floors have been cleaned since Stella went apeshit?
  4893. >Speaking of, the lunchroom looks spotless
  4894. >Which is alarming to think of how fast and strong the janitor must be to have flipped over all those tables back to their original configurations
  4895. >Sam doesn’t seem to notice
  4896. >Or care
  4897. >He just prattles on about his drawings with sheer joy written across his face
  4898. >”T-This one is a superhero na-named S-Slayer,” Sam says, unfurling the paper and spreading it out on the floor
  4899. >’Slayer’ is a somewhat short, stocky human with spiked brown hair and piercing green eyes
  4900. >He wears a tight leather jacket with spikes and has what looks like a heavy… rifle? Of some kind slung across his shoulders, clearly meant to obliterate fools
  4901. >Huh
  4902. >He looks a lot like Mike
  4903. >Not to mention the fact that these are really, really good drawings
  4904. >Like really good
  4905. >Or maybe you’ve got low standards?
  4906. >”H-H-He kills m-monsters,” Sam explains, excitedly pointing to features on ‘Slayer’ (no relation to the band, unfortunately)
  4907. >”H-His Obliterator g-gun can take out bad guys i-i-in one s-s-shot, b-b-but he’s also got a s-short temper, and is k-kinda mean. S-So he’s an ant-anti hero.”
  4908. >Next is ‘Charmer’, a fair-skinned human who is dressed in a sharp suit (not unlike your own), with an admittedly suave smile. He’s got a well fitted fedora (lel) covering his face, leaving only his cheeky smile visible
  4909. >If you had to guess, you’d say this guy looks like a gangster of some sort — an told timey mobster who speaks with a Boston accent as thick as clam chowder
  4910. >Charmer is apparently a natural-born leader and uses his social cunning to influence others
  4911. >Kind of ironic that Sam is drawing socially conscious characters, but you keep that rude little comment to yourself
  4912. >”T-T-The next t-two are a duo,” Sam says, nervously withdrawing a carefully folded scrap of paper from his pocket
  4913. >He spreads out the drawing, and you read the character names out loud
  4914. “Anon the Brave and Wise,” Your eyes flick to the next line “and Samurai Outlaw.”
  4915. >Holy shit, it’s you
  4916. >You’re not wearing your signature suit and tie, but instead what looks like priest robes, with a hastily scribbled red book in one hand
  4917. >You’re posed like you’re delivering a sermon, or reciting a powerful spell
  4918. >And to the right of you is a hooded figure with a pair of wide rabbit ears raised like two antennas
  4919. >Though the face is obscured by the hood, Sam has taken the time to color in two pairs of golden eyes, peering out of the darkness of his cowl
  4920. >In his right hand, Samurai Outlaw wields a simple baseball bat as a weapon
  4921. >You look to Sam, who says nothing, only shyly smiles and digs his hands into the pockets of his hoodie, perhaps in a dignified effort to keep himself from stress-pulling at his ears
  4922. “Sam… Is this us?” You ask, even though you really have no doubt in your mind who each character is supposed to represent
  4923. >”I-I u-used you all f-f-for ref-reference,” he says, slowly folding each drawing back up, instead of crumpling them up into unintelligible balls like he did before
  4924. “Of course — I don’t know why you wouldn’t, but why would you call me ‘Brave and Wise’? I’m neither of those things.”
  4925. >”B-Because y-you- I mean, h-he is! H-He’s brave and s-smart and c-c-caring and h-handsome and k-kind!”
  4926. >Your heart catches, and a deeply sour feeling hits your stomach like you swallowed a dumbbell
  4927. >You’re only brave because of a spell
  4928. >Yet another thing you keep to yourself
  4929. >”I-Is that alright?” Sam asks after noticing your silence
  4930. >Frankly, you’re speechless
  4931.  
  4932. “I-I’m sorry,” he says, his expression crumbling like a pathetic little sand castle against a tsunami
  4933. >It was like watching a very happy balloon suddenly have all its air let out in one go
  4934. >He starts tightening up the drawings between his trembling little fingers
  4935. >You shake yourself back to reality
  4936. >Fucking hell Anon, say something, because Sam:
  4937. >A) is a fantastic artist and B) has all the spine of a jellyfish
  4938. “Dude, wait. Hold on.” You place your hand over his. “Please don’t throw those out. They’re really, really, really good.”
  4939. >The little rabbit brightens up
  4940. >He pushes his free hand through the mop of his hair, and you can see something really rare:
  4941. >A genuine, beaming smile
  4942. >Not shy and hidden behind his scraggly fur
  4943. >But really big and bright, like it’s about to fall off his tender and feminine face
  4944. >It sends your heart fluttering
  4945. >Fuck, it makes you feel good to make him feel good
  4946. >The next words escape your lips without any prior thought, and when they’re out in the open, you don’t even care
  4947. “Can I have your drawing of me? To keep?”
  4948. >The rabbit blinks a few times
  4949. >Silence
  4950. >And silence
  4951. >And more silence
  4952. >”Wh-What?” He stammers suddenly, voice rising to a high, girly pitch
  4953. >He looks like you just asked him to reverse entropy or something impossible
  4954. >Or on a date — both of which are impossible(?)
  4955. “Can I keep your drawing?” You repeat, not even fighting the words as they leave your lips
  4956. >”You want to ke-keep one?” He parrots back, sounding unsure of himself
  4957. “Yes, dude, I want to keep mine. I mean, if that’s cool with you. If it isn’t, it’s fin-”
  4958. >”YES!” He squeals with far, far too much falsetto to be a boy (or he just has a great singing voice)
  4959. >He leans uncomfortably close to your face, and you can see just how red he is — and how much sweat is saturating his fur
  4960. >”I-I want y-y-y-you to h-have it!”
  4961. >He’s practically yelling at this point, drawing significant stares from everyone around you
  4962. >You kind of jerk yourself back a bit
  4963. >Sam has no idea how close he really is, because he’s propped himself up on his palms and his leaning into your face like he’s trying to kiss you
  4964. >Talk about overreacting
  4965. “T-Thanks, dude,” you stammer back, glowing red yourself
  4966. >Sam is still in your face, breathing hard, staring intently at you — almost through you — with his big amber eyes that nearly glow against the tangles of his chestnut colored hair
  4967. >People are starting to stare and whisper
  4968. >You slip all three pieces of paper out from his grasp and into your back pocket, but he doesn’t seem to notice
  4969. >Well, you’re sufficiently uncomfortable, and your meager social reputation is probably compromised
  4970. >Whatever, who cares?
  4971. >And maybe you’re not really gay after all
  4972. >In trying to put your eyes somewhere that isn’t on Sam, who is practically frozen in place, sucking down hot gulps of air and taking shuddering yaoi breaths, you flick your gaze to the clock
  4973. >Oh shit
  4974. >It’s nearly lunch, and you’ve got an appointment with some cringe in the gym
  4975.  
  4976. >You tell the rabbit to wait by the doors to the gym, which are double-wide, windowless affairs down a hall adjacent to the lunchroom
  4977. >Gloria sees you approaching and smooths out her skirt
  4978. >Fuck
  4979. >She waves enthusiastically, a lunch box swinging in her free hand
  4980. >Her horns gleam in the light, and her fur is slicked back with moisture
  4981. >Fuck
  4982. >She looks like she actually got all gussied up for you
  4983. >It makes you feel even more guilty
  4984. >You press on regardless of how much of an awful human being you are
  4985. >You need this strength to defeat the goths
  4986. >Their courage spell, charm, hex, whatever
  4987. >You’re going to turn it against them
  4988. >But as you approach the goat girl, you feel a pit open up in your stomach, and your heart catches in your chest
  4989. >God, here’s that old familiar sting of regret again
  4990. >You don’t feel fear, but you do feel guilt?
  4991. >Puzzling
  4992. >”Hi Nony!” She calls, and you cringe at the word ‘nony’
  4993. >She sours at the sight of Sam, and at that alliteration
  4994. >”Oh… Hello, heathen,” she says dismissively
  4995. >You grab Sam by the shoulder and pull the bunny in tight against your side, forcing on the biggest possible smile despite the warning in your heart
  4996. “Hey Gloria! So I take it you’ve met Sam before.”
  4997. >Sam shrinks into his hoodie
  4998. >”Sam and I have been lab partners for three years in every god-hating science class we’ve had at this institution. She smells bad and won’t come to my bible study.”
  4999. >Sam stiffens up as the last syllables hit his sensitive ears
  5000. >Panic fills his expression, going from shy anxiety to pure unbridled fear
  5001. >‘She?’
  5002. >Gloria rolls her eyes and crosses her arms
  5003. >”Never mind. Will Sam be joining us?” She says, her tone begging for a ‘No he won’t’
  5004. >You paint on an even wider smile — so hard that your cheeks are actually starting to hurt
  5005. >Holy fuck you don’t know how much longer you can keep this up, and a part of you is starting to look forward to betraying her to the goths
  5006. >Just like Judas betrayed Jay-Z-us
  5007. >Does that make you Judas?
  5008. >Well, this obnoxious, overly Catholic goat is certainly no Jesus
  5009. “No, Sam was actually just going back to class, actually.”
  5010. >Gloria’s eyelids flutter and her expression floods with warmth and cheer
  5011. >”Oh goo- I mean, DARN,” she says, her barely disguised relief more obvious than the crucifix roped around her thin neck
  5012. >”Well, Sam, thank you for escorting nony back to me. Don’t want to be late to class!” She informs him
  5013. >Gloria grabs you by the hand roughly and spins you around so your back is facing Sam, who stands there completely helpless
  5014. >”S-Sorry,” he squeaks after you. “Have a g-good l-lunch!”
  5015. >You can hear the hurt in his voice
  5016. >If only you could tell him what’s going on
  5017. >Would he hate you?
  5018. >Hell, you hate you
  5019. >He probably wouldn’t have an opinion either way
  5020.  
  5021. >You steel yourself before entering
  5022. >Take a fortifying breath, Anon
  5023. >Everything is going to be okay
  5024. >You tug on the doors
  5025. >They open up, but not without astonishing effort on your behalf
  5026. >Is it just you, or are you feeling weaker?
  5027. >It’s just nerves, you swear
  5028. >Right?
  5029.  
  5030. >The door slams behind you and Gloria with finality, locks clicking without warning
  5031. >One by one the lights flicker on, illuminating only small portions of the gym at a time, sterile light reflecting off the polished hardwood floors
  5032. >Gloria squeezes your hand harder
  5033. >”Anon? What’s going on?”
  5034. >You hear a cackle
  5035. >And then a low, simmering growl
  5036. >It’s a sound so ugly that Gloria claps her hands over her ears
  5037. >You’re inclined to do the same
  5038. >Whatever it is, it’s not of this world
  5039. >The last overhead light — in the center of the gym — blinks on
  5040. >Vanessa is there, as well as a lanky human and a crotch-height rat
  5041. >They’re all decked out like Halloween never ended, or they listen exclusively to The Cure, which is an insult to Robert Smith for having to be associated with these dorks
  5042. >The horrible noise stops
  5043. >And something — something otherworldly and strange — appears next to Vanessa
  5044. >It looks like a massive dog, crouched on its paws, wreathed in a continuously radiating fog
  5045. >Two yellow eyes burn back at you through the thicc tendrils of smoke
  5046. >You can’t take your eyes off it
  5047. >Gloria thrusts her cross necklace forward like a holy shield towards Vanessa and… that thing…
  5048. >The strange beast flinches and wavers, shrinking back a little
  5049. >”Get behind me, Anonymous!” She shrieks
  5050. >You don’t move
  5051. >What the fuck is wrong with you? MOVE
  5052. >Vanessa only laughs harder
  5053. >”Oh Gloria, how I’ve missed tormenting you, you adorable little sacrificial goat.”
  5054. >Ignoring every word that comes out of Vanessa’s mouth, Gloria starts forward
  5055. >”Get OUT of here you degenerates. ‘Nony and I are going to have lunch here. Shouldn’t you be smoking sin sticks out behind the school?”
  5056. >You at last will yourself to take your place behind Gloria
  5057. >Somehow you feel safe here, despite being a good six inches taller than she is
  5058. >The doe scowls back at the goat
  5059. >”And shouldn’t you be on your knees in front of a priest, sucking out some forgiveness?” She retorts
  5060. >Gloria, fearless and stubborn as she is horny (HEH- Not now you fucking degenerate), continues forward with slow, plodding steps, as if she were battling against hurricane-force winds
  5061. >”I will be tonight! I’ll be confessing my sins for and praying for you lot to repent!” She cries, obviously missing the sexual overtones in Vanessa’s retort
  5062. >”I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Vanessa smirks through her piercings
  5063. >What the fuck are those in her mouth? Are those…
  5064. >…Fangs?
  5065. >”You see, the Behemoth is only at half of its strength. But, now that Anon here has brought us everything we need, well… even I have no idea what this thing is capable of.”
  5066. >Vanessa draws the Book of Wrath from her side bag and flips it open to an earmarked page
  5067. >She nips at her thumb with her fangs
  5068. >She smothers her bloody finger against the page
  5069. >’The Behemoth’ shrieks loudly in that godforsaken tone and blinks out of sight
  5070. >Fucking hell that’s scary
  5071. >Gloria turns around to face you, her face a mix of puzzlement and hurt
  5072. >”Nony, what does the degenerate mean when she says ‘you brought her everything she needs’?”
  5073. >You open your mouth to speak, but no words fall out
  5074. >You feel your throat start to tighten
  5075. >As well it should, you goddamn filth
  5076. >”Anonymous?” She asks again, taking a step away from you, the realization hitting her like a pop-fly hits a little leaguer: hard, and in the face
  5077. >She lets her crucifix fall weakly against her chest, a sign of defeat
  5078. >”Why?”
  5079.  
  5080. >What must be the Behemoth, that feral dog wreathed in smoke, blinks into existence behind Gloria
  5081. >She turns around and cuts loose a furious ‘BAAAH!’
  5082. >It must have been instinct, because Gloria would have never put her head down on her own — her horns gleaming in the sterile lights of the gymnasium
  5083. >But she did
  5084. >She bolts forward with wild abandon, hoping to ram the beast
  5085. >For its hulking size, the beast was quite nimble
  5086. >It blinks out of existence, forcing Gloria to charge through a wall of rapidly dissipating smoke
  5087. >But maybe Gloria’s target never was the Behemoth?
  5088. >The goat just keeps sprinting, horns down, ready to shatter bones
  5089. >A feral, animalistic scream rips from her throat
  5090. >Vanessa’s eyes go wide
  5091. >Oh my god
  5092. >You can only watch in amazement and slight horror as the goat tears forward like an angry white comet, her dress flowing behind her like a meteor’s hot tail
  5093. >In a panic, the doe quickly spins through her black book, turns to a blood spattered page-
  5094. >The other two goths fly to the sides to avoid getting their ribcages shattered
  5095. >Gloria goes flying uselessly into the air, as if lifted into the ceiling by God himself, just inches away from the flinching doe
  5096. >She flails helplessly like a leaf caught in the wind, or a worm dangling on a hook
  5097. >”YOU COWARD!” She bleats at Vanessa
  5098. >She turns to you, her arms still spinning and grappling for something to hold on to
  5099. >”YOU KNEW, ANONYMOUS! YOU KNEW WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO DO!”
  5100. >You shrink back into your suit jacket like a gigantic pussy
  5101. >Just being called out like this is something that’s going to be deeply etched into your memory, right where all those memories of your 9th birthday party fester, immune to therapists and drugs alike
  5102. >”I TRUSTED YOU!”
  5103. >And yet you still cannot speak
  5104. >You can’t even say you’re sorry
  5105. >You, Anonymous
  5106. >Are a fucking coward
  5107.  
  5108. >Vanessa looks like she just ran through a car wash with how sweaty she is
  5109. >She spins the black book open again and starts tracing lines with her finger
  5110. >The Behemoth blinks back next to her
  5111. >”You STUPID MUTT!” She swats the beast as hard as she can with the book. “I almost got crusaded!”
  5112. >Its head rears back as the blow clocks into its snout, but it doesn’t yelp or even make a sound
  5113. >”You still can’t control it?” The only other human — a poorly dressed and pale young goth says. “I thought you said you should at least be able to command it without the sacrifice!”
  5114. >”It doesn’t fucking matter, Reese! Because we’ve got what we need right here! After the sacrifice is complete I’ll have more control over the Behemoth than ever.” Vanessa motions up to Gloria, who is currently spinning upside down. “This is perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better catch, actually So just shut your dumb fucking mouth.”
  5115. >Gloria’s crucifix necklace slips out over her head and dangles from her curled horns
  5116. >”Without the power of God, you won’t win this, you sick degenerates. The fires of hell await you!”
  5117. >Her crucifix at last slips from her horns and clatters to the ground with incredible weight, sounding like it was made of lead as it hits the shiny wooden floors
  5118. >The Behemoth shrinks away from it, a grumble low in its throat
  5119. >Vanessa only laughs — either at the helpless goat or at the pain of her ‘pet’
  5120. >”You know, sweetie, that’s what I like so much about you — you’re just like everybody else. You never change. You’ll never beg for compassion from me because you’re too damn stubborn, which is going to make this all the more pleasant.”
  5121. >”That’s where you’re wrong,” the stubborn goat fires back. “People can change! They can repent their sins and they can change! You ever heard of a little diddy called… oh, I don’t know… THE ACTS OF CONTRITION?”
  5122. >You notice that even when she spins your direction she avoids looking at you
  5123. >Understandable, considering you literally betrayed her
  5124. >Bleh, you deserve it, you lying, evil bastard
  5125. >”I doubt it.” Vanessa replies with ice in her tone. “Nobody changes. Now, you’ve said quite enough for today.”
  5126. >She slams the Book of Wrath shut
  5127. >Gloria screams as she suddenly drops out of the air
  5128. >You reach forward, as if to catch her
  5129. >But you never move from the spot you’re helplessly rooted in
  5130. >You little bitch
  5131. >Gloria screams
  5132. >And then collides with the ground
  5133.  
  5134. >The next thing you know you’re at her side, shaking her uncontrollably, trying to wake her up
  5135. “What the hell did you do to her!?” You scream at the doe, who looks vaguely concerned at either what just happened or at how you’re reacting
  5136. >”You’re overreacting,” she says, though there is a questioning tone in her voice. “She’s… She’s probably just unconscious.”
  5137. >She snaps her fingers and stares down at her companion, the rat, who darts forward and throws her head onto Gloria’s chest, listening for a heartbeat
  5138. >There’s a moment of silence and a span of time where you don’t even breathe
  5139. >Oh fuck
  5140. >You… You killed this gir-
  5141. >”She’s still breathing, and I can hear a heartbeat,” the rat says, raising a thumb into the air. “It’s faint though.”
  5142. >Vanessa lets out a held knot of air
  5143. >You nearly collapse into a stressed-relieved pile
  5144. >”Good!” She says. “I didn’t want to kill her. Now, fetch her, Anonymous.”
  5145. >The fuck did this bitch just say?
  5146. “I’m sorry, but what? I’m done, right? I did what you wanted.”
  5147. >Your tone is somewhere between pleading and outraged
  5148. >Vanessa smirks a knowing, shit-eating smirk at you that you want to punch off her face. “Not quite. You might have noticed you’ve been acting like a total pussy for the last few hours, right?”
  5149. >Oh no
  5150. >Was it that obvious?
  5151. >You nod, ever so slightly, a bead of sweat sliding down your forehead
  5152. >The smile on Vanessa’s face grows even wider
  5153. >”The curse is wearing off. I’ll need to reapply it. But this time it’ll be stronger than it ever was. Once you help us, that is.”
  5154. >I’m sorry but did this bitch say it was a curse?
  5155. >ANON, THERE SHOULD BE ALARM BELLS RINGING INSIDE YOUR HEAD
  5156. “N-No. I… I…” You start
  5157. >The smile on Vanessa’s face collapses into a scowl
  5158. >A pair of fangs slide out from her lips
  5159. >”You know we trust you, right? You know a lot about us — what we’re doing here, what our plans are — and with with the Spooktober fest so close, and our goals nearly in sight… you aren’t turning your back on us, right?”
  5160. >She opens the Book of Wrath again
  5161. >The Behemoth blinks in next to her
  5162. >”Because I really like you. Of all the obnoxious cunts at this school, you’re the only one who seems to get what it’s like to be an outcast,” she says, a slight smile returning to her face. “And you always will be. People don’t change. I like that about you. I like who you are.”
  5163. >The Behemoth growls, and you clap your hands over your ears
  5164. >She motions towards the beast weakly
  5165. >”Though if you did decide not to help us, I can’t say for sure I have total control over the Behemoth yet. It has gotten away from me more than a few times this morning — roaming the halls, doing fuck knows what.” She raises an eyebrow. “Do you catch my drift?”
  5166. >You swallow hard and nod
  5167. >You fucking pussy
  5168.  
  5169. >You find yourself back in the clustered annals of the school, which run like tangled veins above the gym and ultimately onto the roof where you spent your Friday night, Gloria’s crucifix stuffed into your pocket hastily
  5170. >You have the goat slung over your shoulder, her useless weight threatening to drag you down to the floor
  5171. >And fuck, it’s so hot up here still
  5172. >It feels like a smokehouse or sweat lodge
  5173. >Why would anyone willingly hang out up here
  5174. >You jerk on your collar with one free hand
  5175. >”Hot, isn’t it?” Vanessa glances back at you
  5176. “Well, if you consider heat stroke-tier hot-” you sheepishly reply back, out of breath
  5177. >You shift Gloria’s dead weight on your shoulders
  5178. >Vanessa’s gaze finally leaves yours
  5179. >You’re starting to get the feeling that she might not trust you
  5180. >”Stick with us, and maybe we’ll even juice you up so you can carry even more dead weight next time.”
  5181. >As if there will be a next time
  5182. “T-Thanks,” you reply in a wheeze
  5183. >The Book of Wrath glows with unnatural light, serving as a kind of flashlight for your unwilling trek
  5184. >You can’t help but feel watched — hunted — by the Behemoth, which flashed out when you entered through the secret door in the gym’s equipment closet
  5185. >Lord knows where it is now or what it’s doing
  5186. >Does this count as a hostage situation?
  5187. >You try to make small talk with Vanessa, but she only wants to talk about other stuff — in particular, how much she hates everyone
  5188. >See, to Vanessa, everyone is a normie (excluding a few people: yourself, Mike, Alex, Gloria, Jenna and Sam)
  5189. >Oh, and Louis, that one gray wolf from English who always has bugs crawling in his fur
  5190. >Everyone else is stupid cattle who hates her
  5191. >You almost point out that she’s an entire bitch, but you keep your mouth shut
  5192. >What the doe fails to grasp is that her victim complex is completely fucking obnoxious and if people hate her, it’s probably because she thinks everyone else does and acts like it
  5193. >A real self-fulfilling prophecy
  5194. >You’ve never exactly had many friends (three, if you’re counting Sam now), but somehow you didn’t turn into a bitter cunt like she did
  5195. >Do her ‘friends’ even care as much as she does? Or are they just dressing for the part?
  5196. >”And people don’t change,” she concludes. “They’ll always be scum. Frankly so will you and I, but we’ll at least be in control finally.”
  5197. >You have to slap yourself in the back of the head to keep your eyes from rolling back even further into your skull
  5198. >It’s going to be a long, hot walk in the annals of the school, with an extremely obnoxious doe
  5199.  
  5200. >Somehow, even in the gloom up here, you’re starting to get a sense of familiarity. You guess you’ve done this before and the light from the book (seriously, you’re so far beyond questioning shit nowadays) doesn’t hurt
  5201. >You feel you’re near the room with the altar and the weird writing on the wall
  5202. >Or maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that you still have the red book with you
  5203. >It might help guide you-
  5204. >Wait
  5205. >You pat your breast pocket
  5206. >SHIT
  5207. >The red book IS still in there
  5208. >The book they NEED to complete this ritual
  5209. >Shit fuck shit shit shit fuck
  5210. >Anonymous, you absolute fucking idiot
  5211. >You clench your jaw in anger, wishing your neck was between your teeth so you could gnaw your stupid head off
  5212.  
  5213. >You’re sweating by the time you reach the ritual chamber somewhere between the gym and the roof
  5214. >And it’s not just from the exertion
  5215. >How long do you have before they figure it out?
  5216. >The room is just as you remember it: a semi-large concrete square with a stone basin at the center, lit with an unnatural pinkish glow despite there being no source of light
  5217. >There’s a smearing of dried blood in the basin in the center of the room from where Sam fell and hit his nose, but otherwise, the basin is clear
  5218. >The walls are schizophrenically covered in etchings and bizarre marks, most notably a large ‘31’, signifying SOMETHING is going to happen on Halloween
  5219. >You swallow hard
  5220. >Okay, Anonymous, you’ve done as they asked
  5221. >Now you need to find a way to slip the fuck out of here without being caught or stopped or searched or…
  5222. >You shudder
  5223. >…Made to join their cult
  5224. >Not that being a complete traitor ISN’T cringe, obviously
  5225. >Vanessa stands before the altar and draws a small razor out of her bag
  5226. >Of course she has a razor
  5227. >She jerks her chin at you, hair falling over her face
  5228. >”Bring forth the offering, Anonymous. And then stand beside me.”
  5229. >Her voice is commanding
  5230. >With stuttering heart, you obey
  5231. >The way you see it, you’re kind of fucked and should just play the part until you craftily think of something
  5232. >The two other goths under Vanessa’s command step back and block off each entrance
  5233. “What are they d-doing?” You stammer, your heart stumbling with sudden concern
  5234. >Your fear is apparent, and this seems to please the sadistic doe
  5235. >”There’s something we need to talk about. But first, the ritual. Lay the goat on the altar.”
  5236. >You hesitate
  5237. “You’re not going to kill her, right?”
  5238. >The doe laughs
  5239. >”And spare her from all the fun that’s coming this Friday? No, no. She’s just going into a long, unnatural sleep. Think of it like a coma. Thanks to this little book here.”
  5240. >She pats the Book of Wrath harshly
  5241. >How can you trust her words?
  5242. >Oh, that’s right, at this point you’re being held against your will now — her trust is irrelevant
  5243. >And you’re also back to being a gigantic puss since their curse wore off
  5244. >A puss who signed a pact with these weirdos
  5245. >You meekly tell yourself this a spy mission
  5246. >That’s right, you’re gathering valuable intel on them!
  5247. >A-After all, you didn’t like Gloria anyway
  5248. >Despite how incredibly guilty you feel, you’re glad for what you’ve done
  5249. >Awww fuck, you know you’re full of shit and you ain’t proud of anything
  5250. >You’re scared as hell right now and deep in enemy territory
  5251. >You might fight back if you were Mike (who you’re starting to miss right now)
  5252. >But you’re not, you’re-
  5253. >”Anonymous?” Vanessa says through clenched teeth. “You want us to juice you back up?”
  5254. >You nod weakly
  5255. >You might need a little courage here for what’s coming next
  5256. >It could help you beat them
  5257. >”Lay the goat down,” she commands, her tone clipping on the last syllables.
  5258. >You heap Gloria onto the altar after another moment of hesitation
  5259. >She sinks neatly into the large stone bowl
  5260. >Almost like a little bed for her
  5261. >Vanessa grabs a hold of her wrist in one fluid motion, and gives Gloria a rather large horizontal slash across the wrist
  5262. >Blood sops into her fur, stymieing the flow at first, and then it all pours out in a steady trickle around her
  5263. >You rub your hands nervously
  5264. “You swear you won’t hurt her?” You lurch forward, but step back as you catch a hostile glare from Vanessa
  5265. >”I PROMISE she won’t die — yet. God, you’re acting like you’ve got a crush on her or something.”
  5266. “I don’t it’s just- I don’t want a murder on my hands and-”
  5267. >You’re cut off by the Doe’s harsh laughter
  5268. >”You really don’t seem to get it, do you? Nobody is going to die, but nobody is going to be the same after Friday night. Everything is going to be irrelevant, and you, me, and everyone else in this room right now? We’re going to finally be the ones in control, watching while everyone suffers.”
  5269. >”What about Lydia?” The she-rat asks. “She’s not here.”
  5270. >Vanessa, pushing Gloria’s blood stained body onto the floor with a grunt, takes a moment to gather herself and wipe a wet smearing of blood onto The Book of Wrath
  5271. >”She’s on a special assignment in town right now. But rest assured, she’ll have her place in our new paradise. You all will.” She sweeps her eyes around the room, lingering on you
  5272. >You lift the goat out of the basin and try carrying her over to a wall so she can rest… somewhat comfortably…
  5273. >”You don’t need to waste your time with her. She shouldn’t be able to feel a thing. Now, come watch while I put the collar around our new pet,” Vanessa says
  5274. >You rise to your feet
  5275. “You mean that THING? The Behemoth?”
  5276. >The doe flashes a fanged smile
  5277. >”Yes, that ‘thing’, when at full strength on Friday night, will be capable of turning this world from mundane to beautiful, beautiful madness.”
  5278. >You cringe internally and externally
  5279. >But this is the kind of information you came here for, so you press on despite your increasing fear that you’re trapped in a bad teen movie or book
  5280. “And what… exactly is it?” You ask
  5281. >Without looking at you, Vanessa replies, “It’s a lesser god of some kind. It was summoned last Friday night — though we’re not entirely sure how. Without the other book and a blood sacrifice it couldn’t have been brought here. That just tells me that someone else has it.”
  5282. >She frowns
  5283. >Gee, who could be holding onto the other super important book?
  5284. >”This puts our whole operation in danger,” she says
  5285. “Danger? How?”
  5286. >”The Behemoth is loyal to the holder of The Book of Wrath, but with both books it can be undone. Kate fucking Winslow lost the Book of Rite, a red book, in the girl’s bathroom at some point and never found it again — and whoever has that book began the ritual last Friday. Thankfully, we do know the beast is loyal to me — kind of. All we need now is to invoke the ritual and I’ll have greater control over it. That should make finding the Book of Rite easier. And then this whole glorious enterprise can commence now that we’ve got the blood of a pure virgin.”
  5287. >A smile presses onto her lips
  5288. >”I love having control over things. Over people. Don’t you?”
  5289. >Fuck no you don’t
  5290. >You’d like as little control over someone as possible
  5291. >Still, you nod firmly in agreement, trying the best you can to play the part of sadistic edgelord while you rack your brain searching for a way out of this mess
  5292. >Pleased, Vanessa turns her attention to the Book of Wrath
  5293. >The pages begin to glow with an unnatural light as the blood dries and disappears into the pages
  5294. >The book vibrates with increasing intensity before slipping out of the doe’s slick grasp and flying into the air above the stone basin, where the shallow pool of blood begins to bubble
  5295. >The writing on the wall begins to glow. The occult symbols shimmer and burn as if they’d been traced in fire
  5296. >This is it
  5297. >You can sabotage this now, grind the whole damn thing to a halt
  5298. >Do you rip it out of the air and try to get out via the roof? Push the others out of the way and escape to the gym?
  5299. >What about leaving Gloria here?
  5300. >It’s not like you can haul her with you in a daring rescue — you’re weak as hell
  5301. >The ground start to shake
  5302. >Alright, it’s almost show time. How are you going to do this?
  5303. >How can you d-
  5304. >The book drops uselessly into the blood, and a horrendous, ear-rending scream can be heard echoing throughout the halls
  5305. >You clap your palms over your ears
  5306. >Vanessa and her rat friend collapse to the floor in balls of pain, trying desperately to drown out what must be an extremely high frequency screech only audible to anthros
  5307. >As the earth-shaking noise subsides, you’re left standing in the dimming glow of the room, lit partially by the walls as they shine with singed carvings
  5308. >Vanessa throws herself upon the altar
  5309. >”What the fuck is this shit?!” She screeches, quickly raising the Book of Wrath out of the shallow pool of crimson. “Why didn’t it fucking work?!”
  5310. >Wat
  5311. >It didn’t work?
  5312. >IT DIDN’T WORK!
  5313. >You did it! By doing… absolutely nothing?
  5314. >The other two goths approach the altar looking dismayed
  5315. >”What do you mean it didn’t work? How can you tell?”
  5316. >"The Behemoth… It should be right here… I should-” she opens to book and flips to an earmarked page
  5317. >She dips her finger in some of the blood and smears it across the tea-colored paper
  5318. >The doe looks around anxiously, and after a moment of stunned silence, she screams
  5319. >”FUCK!”
  5320. >She throws her head down against the stone basin, teeth grating against one another in fury
  5321. >You take a step back, silently relieved
  5322. >This crazy week is over
  5323. >Friday’s bullshit will never come to pass
  5324. >It takes everything you have to hold back a smile
  5325. >Alex and Sam are safe
  5326. >As for Mike? Fuck that guy, but you can’t be angry right now
  5327. >You can only feel elated
  5328. >Everything is going to be oka-
  5329. >”What the fuck is that?” Vanessa lifts her head
  5330. >Her eyes narrow in on a dried bloodstain left on the inside rim of the basin
  5331. >It’s Sam’s bloodstain, caked on from where he fell and conked his nose on Friday night
  5332. >”That’s blood,” she snarls. “That’s someone else’s blood!”
  5333. >She opens the Book of Wrath, scrapes a little dried blood on her fingers and makes a strange symbol on the pages of the book
  5334. >The blood saturates into the page and then fades into nothingness
  5335. >The unnatural light in the room flares up and flickers like a fire suddenly stoked with gasoline
  5336. >And then there’s a hissing sound
  5337. >You all turn to the wall directly adjacent to the altar — the source of the noise
  5338. >A new name is burning brightly on the wall
  5339. >’Samantha Garlen’
  5340.  
  5341. >It was a dark and stormy night — except it was day time, around noon, and though the skies were the color of wet concrete, the narrator was full of shit and it was not raining
  5342. >And you are Mike Sapone
  5343. >Mike Sapone, an angry manlet turned vampire, who has two things running through his mind at this very moment: a desperate lust for blood, and a sharp mental pain that his future is draining away right before his eyes, much like the blood that’s draining from this dog’s neck
  5344. >That’s right, you’ve got a dog by the neck
  5345. >A family looking mammal, evident by his beer gut, his slightly graying (otherwise wonderfully golden) colored fur, his too-big-for-him polo shirt and goofy cargo shorts
  5346. >As you plunge your fangs into his quivering neck get a mouthful of fur, there’s an explosion of hot salty blood in your mouth
  5347. >The anthro dog struggles, but you’ve been imbued with a Twilight-tier strength, making you one mean motherfucker
  5348. >You bite extra hard, secretly hoping that you sever an artery or something
  5349. >He shudders, his eyes roll forward, and he droops helplessly in your grasp
  5350. >It takes you only a little bit of your newly found strength to keep him from collapsing onto the bathroom floor of the Burgershack
  5351. >Poor bastard was just washing his hands when you ravenously descended upon him
  5352. >You suck hard, feeling your belly quickly fill and grow hot with blood
  5353. >Something inside of you goes slack
  5354. >You can feel your muscles start to relax and thoughts start to slow from a manic bullet to a contented wisp of smoke
  5355. >God, you’re not proud of what you’re doing, at all, but you were so hungry — feral, almost
  5356. >You drag the still bleeding golden into the stall, shut the door, and…
  5357. >Eww…
  5358. >You crawl out underneath the divider and back into the bathroom
  5359. >You wipe a smear of blood from your lip with the back of your hands as you stare into the mirror
  5360. >You’re pretty sure only you can see yourself  in the reflection, because that dog didn’t even seem to care that you were standing right behind him with ill intent
  5361. >Your emerald-green eyes, alight with a red glow, stare back at you
  5362. >God you’ve changed
  5363. >Your already pale skin is even paler now
  5364. >Your eyes are sunken in, bags underneath them the color of bruised fruit
  5365. >You lips, were they not soaked in hot blood, are nearly blue
  5366. >And despite all the transformations, you’re still pretty short and kind of stocky
  5367. >Somewhere some muscle grew — the muscles you used to clock Anon, of course
  5368. >Thinking back on it makes you feel like shit
  5369. >But you tell yourself he’s the one responsible for all of this
  5370. >This… thing you’re becoming
  5371. >It’s not you
  5372. >What’s it matter anymore anyway? It’s you now
  5373. >It’s not you
  5374. >No, it is you, and you’re going to be like this forever
  5375. >It’s not you
  5376. >You’re going to be trapped here in this podunk fucking town for the rest of your life, just like Sam and Anon, who can’t sack up and leave
  5377. >It’s not you
  5378. >It’s not you
  5379. >It’s not you!
  5380. >You throw your fist into the mirror, as if you could strike the ‘you’ on the other side and obliterate him
  5381. >The mirror shatters, glass shards flying downward in a glinting rain
  5382. >You catch only little bits of yourself in the showering glass — a fractal image of the whole Mike Sapone
  5383. >Somehow, in the scant seconds that you see yourself reflected back in the falling shards, there’s a young man there, bright green eyes, healthy, warm skin, and someone tall and well-dressed standing next to him
  5384. >Anonymous, and you, standing side-by-side
  5385. >Then the image is gone when that glass clatters into the sink, and time sets back upon itself
  5386. >When you look down at your trembling pale fist, the richness of your blood contrasts with ghastliness of your skin
  5387. >You can’t help but laugh
  5388. >You really have become an edgelord now
  5389. >And in all of your laughter, you don’t even notice the tightness of your throat, the stuttering of you heart beat, or the tears cutting down the caked on grime on your face
  5390. >You swiftly exit the bathroom just as a pup — fur as golden as his father’s — skirts past you, probably looking for his dad
  5391.  
  5392. >Next, you stop at a convenience store for some pain killers
  5393. >Your head is killing you
  5394. >And so are your bloody knuckles
  5395. >So many noises fill your ears
  5396. >Everything seems to have been raised to painfully sharp levels
  5397. >You can hear the dead drone of the music overhead and pick out every single instrument and every note
  5398. >You can hear the cooler’s fans kicking on, chilling some drinks
  5399. >You swear you can hear the harsh blood of the female cheetah at the counter flowing in her succulent veins
  5400. >It takes a tremendous effort on your part not to launch yourself over the counter at her and feast
  5401. >You shove the little packet of pills into your pocket, scanning the ceiling for any security cameras
  5402. >There’s at least three, so you stuff an extra few into the waistband of your jeans and throw your shirt over them
  5403. >Who gives a shit if you get caught, man?
  5404. >Nothing matters anymore
  5405. >You convince yourself you don’t feel nothin’
  5406. >You’re going to live out the true edgelord vampire shit
  5407. >Fuck college
  5408. >You can’t go
  5409. >Fuck getting out of this town
  5410. >It’s not going to happen
  5411. >Fuck everyone and everything
  5412. >All they’ve ever done is let you down
  5413. >”Ahem.”
  5414. >You turn around
  5415. >The cashier is standing at the end of the aisle, impatiently tapping her feet, arms crossed over her dark blue vest with a pin on it that says “Have a great day!”
  5416. >She does not look like she’s having a great day
  5417. >She’s old, with stress-lines pressed deeply into her skin, a sizable amount of pudge gathering around her hips, waist, arms, thighs, etc etc
  5418. >She couldn’t be more than 35, but she looks at least 60
  5419. >60 and pissed
  5420. >”You need some assistance robbing my store, sir?”
  5421. >You don’t know why you say what you say next, but you don’t care
  5422. “Actually, that would be great. Could you get me a pack of smokes, snapjaw?”
  5423. >The cheetah’s face twists up into a snarl
  5424. >”You little shit. This store is my livelihood. Put ‘em back, skinnie”
  5425. “Why?” You take a small step backwards
  5426. >”Why? What do you mean ‘why’? Stealing is wrong, and if I let one more shoplifter out the door corporate is going to fire me. Put. Them. Back.”
  5427. >You flinch
  5428. >Sure, feeding on that retriever was one thing — you had to, or you’d probably die. And you didn’t hurt him or really cost him anything
  5429. >But this was ruining someone else’s life
  5430. >F-Fuck this town, right? G-Going to raise hell
  5431. >The emergency exit sign glows behind you like a beacon
  5432. >The cashier’s body tenses up for a chase
  5433. >The seriousness of her threat is made all the more apparent by the way her jaw falls open, revealing a jagged set of teeth, yellowed with years of smoking and poor dental hygiene
  5434. >Fuck it
  5435. >Fuck everyone
  5436. >These pills may not be worth dying over
  5437. >It’s the general principle of the thing that moves your legs right out the door
  5438. >The emergency exit screeches in protest
  5439. >And it really does screech, as the fire alarm explodes in protest as you bolt out the door
  5440. >The cheetah clamps her hands over her ears, but manages to push on after you
  5441. >Oh hell
  5442. >You leg it out around behind the store, knocking a few trash cans down as you make your less than daring escape
  5443. >With your vampiric powers, your body seems to absolutely FLY across the asphalt and down the smoothed sidewalk
  5444. >You pass Halloween decorations and seasonal costume stores that blur together in an orange and black smear
  5445. >You throw a glance over your shoulder
  5446. >She’s still behind you, but losing steam quickly as years of habitual smoking and poor eating habits literally destroy her career at the convenience store
  5447. >Ignoring the sudden pangs of guilt now rising in your stomach like acidic floodwaters, you keep sprinting, the sidewalk now curving up into a hill, pressing its slope into your lungs
  5448. >God damnit
  5449.  
  5450. >You stand atop the hill panting, the chase long since over, the cheetah long since collapsed in an exhausted heap onto someone’s lawn, bawling and begging for you to come back
  5451. >You may have incredible, super-human strength, speed and agility, but even you get tired and guilty
  5452. >And to be honest? You feel like absolute shit right now, physically and emotionally
  5453. >You can never go back there, and that was where you and Anon would get slushees after school
  5454. >And this neighborhood that you’re now in…
  5455. >…It’s so perfect
  5456. >The houses are neat and prim, large and well-kept
  5457. >The lawns may be yellow, but the paint is unmarred by the seasons, the windows are clean, there are new cars in the driveway and carved pumpkins garnishing every porch
  5458. >Not to mention all the fake cobwebs and skeletons strewn across the dead grass
  5459. >This is where suburban families live
  5460. >Families like that golden retriever you attacked
  5461. >They wake up at orderly hours — some at dawn’s first light — and they hoof it to work and then back
  5462. >They eat quiet and healthy dinners and are in bed by 10
  5463. >They are quiet in their contentedness
  5464. >And where are all the people?
  5465. >Where is everyone milling around, visiting small shops, attending ragers, skipping class?
  5466. >Everywhere you look it’s void of life
  5467. >Just clones of clones of houses and not a soul on these pristine sidewalks
  5468. >It’s just you in suburbia, the lone phantom, haunting the hoity-toity part of town…
  5469. >Here forever, or until you work up the nerve to kill yourself
  5470. >You’re burning every bridge now — with town, with Anon, with Jenna, Alex
  5471. >How many until you set fire to the one you’re standing on, Mike?
  5472. >All you ever wanted to do is escape this shitty town and live a new life with new people and new friends and do…
  5473. >…Something that matters
  5474. “FFFFFFFUCCCCCCKKKKKKKKK!” You shout into the uncaring clouds
  5475. >The sky answers back with the distant rumble of scattered thunder
  5476.  
  5477. >You wander around the neighborhoods to sulk, and you don’t see a single person the entire time, except one
  5478. >A very sickly and greasy looking brown rabbit pulls up next to you in a beaten, rusted old car that looks like it was salvaged from a scrapyard
  5479. >The window rolls down slowly with a painfully loud squeal
  5480. >The rabbit glares at you, as if studying you
  5481. >You study him back
  5482. >Damn, either you’re speciest as fuck, or this rabbit looks insanely familiar
  5483. >A tiny bit like Sam? Maybe it’s just the species and the fur color
  5484. >Like that’s all the same, but the face is only lightly similar, without the button nose and trembling whiskers and androgynous cheeks/jawline
  5485. >Unsatisfied, he scowls and peels off down the road, out the neighborhood
  5486. >He looked like he was hunting for something
  5487. >You shrugged
  5488. >Probably a weirdo
  5489.  
  5490. >You wandered the town
  5491. >Saw some little shops you’ve seen for the trillionth time
  5492. >The costume store which you don’t care about (Halloween can fuck off right now)
  5493. >A dentist’s office where you got your cavities filled three years ago
  5494. >The liquor store — surprisingly you’re not in the mood to drink
  5495. >A few fast food chains
  5496. >A boutique and coffee shop combo
  5497. >You contemplate going in to steal something but decide against it
  5498. >You’ve already stolen from enough small businesses
  5499. >You park yourself on a bench in front of the store
  5500. >Maybe it’s time to knock over a bigger store? You’re hungry, and not for blood
  5501. >Though you could go for some type A right now
  5502. >The Shop N’ Save is just a short walk away
  5503. >Plus Alex has always encouraged you and Anon to take a ‘proletariat’s discount’ whenever you’re there
  5504. >You change stand up from the bench, stretching out your stocky body
  5505. >Despite your new super nature, you still get sore
  5506. >The door to the coffee shop opens to the sound of a cheery bell
  5507. >And Lydia Penferth, purple hair and jingling with piercings galore, steps out, five cheerleaders flanking her
  5508. >Lydia is sucking down on a large black coffee, while the cheerleaders are double-fisting frozen, syrupy coffee beverages
  5509. >”Just like I was saying, getting your nipples pierced doesn’t actually hurt that bad. At first it’s painful, and then it’s over,” Lydia says, though her language is obscured by the sheer volume of piercings in her full-lips
  5510. >Her voice sounds like she’s trying to talk with a swollen tongue
  5511. >”We’re so hungry…” one of the cheerleaders whines
  5512. >She’s a human, tan skin and shimmering blue eyes, her russet hair tied back in a ponytail
  5513. >”You don’t want blood… What do you want? More coffee? Shoulda known you vapid hoes would want the frappuccinos.”
  5514. >”Cock, souls, ANYTHING!” Another — a horse — cries at her master
  5515. >”You’ll have your fill once Friday rolls around, bitch. You airheads remember we’re on a mission to-”
  5516. >Lydia turns her head forward
  5517. >Directly at you, eyes bulging forward
  5518. “-Find Mike.” She smirks at last
  5519. >You don’t return the gesture
  5520. >Your muscles tense up to fight
  5521. >Lydia spreads her arms as if to hold her horde of succubus/vampire cheerleaders back from bum rushing you
  5522. >”Don’t run just yet, Mike. Not that you could get away this time.”
  5523. “You don’t think so? Wanna take a bet?” You say
  5524. >”No. I can see what my girls have already done to you. Your gift — it’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
  5525. >You hold up your pale arms to them
  5526. “You have a weird definition of beauty if you think this is beautiful.”
  5527. >”In time you’ll learn to find beauty in negative spaces. Like the hole in your chest where you heart should be.”
  5528. >You can’t help but laugh
  5529. “Real fucking poetic, Simba. I always thought you weren’t paying attention in our English class.” You start clapping. “Bravo. Well, now that you’ve effectively ruined my life, why don’t you come at me by yourself — no help from your little gang — so I can show you the extent of just how far I’m willing to go
  5530. >”That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about, actually. Girls, stand down.”
  5531. >She lowers her arms, and the hissing group of cheerleaders drop to a coordinated knee
  5532. >”You look good, Mike. Full of anger and hate — and rightfully so. You’re not happy in this little shit hole, are you?”
  5533. >You can’t help but nod
  5534. >”Nobody is. You think these fucking people like living here? It’s like living inside a boring sitcom. All we’re missing is the canned laughter.”
  5535. >She takes a small step forward
  5536. >You don’t move out of spite
  5537. >”There’s no going back to your old and shitty life. Not that you’d even want to, right? I can smell the fresh blood on you. I can see it burning behind your eyes. There’s no way out.”
  5538. >The excitement in her tone is palpable
  5539. >Lydia does actually have a point. Anon’s cure didn’t work. And though you’re still working through it, your dream of leaving this town behind is pretty much all but dead
  5540. >”Join us,” she says.
  5541. >You cross your arms across your chest, coldly turning her offer over in your mind
  5542. >“You don’t have a place without us, can’t you see that? And once Friday rolls around you’re going to want to be on the winning side. If only you knew what was going to happen you wouldn’t hesitate.”
  5543. “So why not just tell me now?”
  5544. >Lydia straightens her spine and nods affirmatively
  5545. >”I owe you at least that.”
  5546. >She summons a deep breath, letting a smirk shine through her face of gleaming silver hooks
  5547. >”Once the Behemoth is at full strength, and the night of Hallow’s Eve rolls around, we’ll turn this world upon its head. Think about it: a world of hedonism, vampirism, lycanthropy, debauchery — It’ll be like a constant rager in a college town. Drinking, sex, partying and general anarchy.”
  5548. >Sounds… not bad
  5549. >You guess if the world has to end with them in control, wouldn’t you want to be on their side?
  5550. >Shit is hopeless now anyway
  5551. >”At the end of all things, don’t you want something to hold on to? What do you say? Join us?”
  5552.  
  5553. “Wait, ‘Samantha Garlen?’ Isn’t that Sam’s last name?” You grasp onto the altar for support, legs trembling but you can’t place why
  5554. >Oh, maybe that’s why
  5555. >Vanessa looks PISSED
  5556. >It looks like she’s got lightning in her eyes
  5557. >She completely ignores you and spins through the pages of the Book of Wrath, malcontent seared into her expression
  5558. “Does Sam have a sister or something?” You ask weakly
  5559. >”That BITCH!” Vanessa shrieks, your question hardly even a blip on her radar. “She’s the one who fucked with our ritual, and you know what? I bet she has the Book of Rite with her at this very moment!”
  5560. >The doe carefully scrapes the last of Sam’s blood off the rim of the stone basin and sprinkles it onto the Book of Wrath’s pages
  5561. >”Well we’re going to find out exactly where this cunt is. And then…” She looks at you, a wildness in her eyes. “Finish what she started.”
  5562. >You clear your throat awkwardly, because you’re not sure what to say
  5563. >You’re almost never sure what to say
  5564. >Especially to maintain a ruse as elaborate as this
  5565. >”Samantha. Garlen.” She commands, turning her attention back towards her vengeance
  5566. >A cloud of ethereal smoke plumes up from the altar, as if there was a fog machine hidden inside
  5567. >Heh, that’d be pretty cheesy
  5568. >Inside the smoke an image forms out of light and sound, and when it becomes clear through the haze, your heart stops
  5569. >You see Sam, outside the gym. He’s on his hands and knees, bending over a sheet of paper
  5570. >He looks so enamored he doesn’t even notice the crowds of people waltzing past him
  5571. >Someone throws a wad of paper at him
  5572. >It bounces harmlessly off his head
  5573. >Sam pays it no mind, the little autist is too absorbed in his drawings
  5574. >”That can’t be right,” Vanessa steps back, shock plain on her face as the dark eyeliner “Isn’t that Sam Garlen?”
  5575. >Her eyes flick over to the wall where ‘Samantha Garlen’ is still burning with orange flame
  5576. >”I don’t understand…” She gawks
  5577. >Neither do you tbh
  5578. >”Something has to be wrong with the book,” the human goth, Reese, says. “Because I have science class with him. That’s a boy.”
  5579. >”Pffft, hardly,” the rat goth says. “We’re in the same cooking class and I swear he makes even the guys there blush.”
  5580. >You start inching towards the entrance
  5581. >This might be your only chance
  5582. >”SHUT UP! THERE CAN’T BE ANYTHING WRONG WITH THIS BOOK!” Vanessa booms, her face a bright scarlet, lit up with agitation. She brushes her hair out of her eyes. “We need his blood /and/ the book now to finish things.”
  5583. >”And to stop them,” Reese says calmly
  5584. >Good to note, as you sneak level: 100 out of here
  5585. >But you can only make it so far before Vanessa notices you out of the corner of her eyes
  5586. >”Don’t think I don’t see you over there, Anon,” she says coldly
  5587. >You freeze in place, as if you’d suddenly been thrust into a lone spotlight on a very dark stage
  5588. >A sadistic smile replaces Vanessa’s enraged face
  5589. >Fucc
  5590. >”You spend a lot of time around that rabbit, don’t you?”
  5591. >You groan inwardly because you know what’s next
  5592. “I already brought you Gloria. I’ve done what you asked. What more do you want from me?”
  5593. >Vanessa’s smile only brightens
  5594. >”Isn’t it obvious? We want Sam — he’s the one who has a part of our little puzzle: the book we’ve been hunting for. You’ve been a good boy for us, you’re right, and for that we’ll juice you up to make it easy.”
  5595. >”Yeah,” the rat snivels. “You’re the one who should… you know… bring him to us like you brought the goat. Just lure him in with some carrots or something.”
  5596. >”There’s not a question of whether or not he will,” Vanessa snaps, silencing the rat. She turns all roses and sunshine in a split second, testament to her manipulative personality “He’s going to do it. Right ‘Nonny’?”
  5597. >The next words come out of your mouth heavy as stones
  5598. >You instantly wish you could pluck them out of the air and stuff them back in your mouth
  5599. >Fuck, you’re full of bad ideas today
  5600. “No.”
  5601. >The doe freezes
  5602. >”What do you mean ‘no’? HE HAS THE FUCKING BOOK WE NEED.”
  5603. “N-No, he doesn’t…” you stammer weakly hoping to buy some time and divert attention away from the fact that the book is L I T E R A L L Y in your pocket right now
  5604. “That faggot hangs around me all day, every day. D-Don’t you think I would have known if he had your- I mean, our book?”
  5605. >The doe stares venomously at you
  5606. >”Just do as I say and bring me that fucking rabbit,” she seethes
  5607. >Oh, so that’s how you wanna play it, princess?
  5608. >Can’t manipulate people so you’re going to act all pissy?
  5609. >Well you can be pissy too
  5610. “I said ‘no.’”
  5611. >You compress all of your fear into tiny little balls that you squeeze into your fists
  5612. >Are you a bad enough dude to take on three of them at once?
  5613. >The Book of Wrath flips open, and your fists unclench
  5614. >Guess not
  5615. >”Now I see… Now I see… You’re trying to protect him, aren’t you?”
  5616. >Yes, you are. God damnit, you are. You’re not going to play this game anymore
  5617. >You’re not going to be manipulated by this cunt
  5618. “I told you, he doesn’t have it. And there’s no way Sam’s smart enough to know what to do with it if he did have it. He’s not anything special.”
  5619. >Vanessa grinds her teeth
  5620. >You swear you could see dust and smoke coming out of her mouth, like an angry truck sputtering oily black fumes
  5621. >”You’re not listening to me. You’re going to bring me that rabbit. Or we’re going to bring him here.”
  5622. “What do you even need him for? You’ve got the goat — I don’t get it,” you say, pretending not to notice the way the goth’s eyes are lighting up with an other worldly glow
  5623. >The doe sighs deeply, a vein bulging through the short shag of her fur
  5624. >”I’ll level with you, because I like you, and I think you’ll see reason. What Sam did, somehow, was complete a vital step of the ritual we were initially trying to complete: he unleashed the Behemoth. The ritual is going to happen whether or not we’re in control of it on Friday, meaning every one of us is in fucked… unless….” She stresses the last syllables. “Unless we have the book and Sam. We can’t control the Behemoth — or the ritual.”
  5625. >Wew that was a word salad
  5626. >Vanessa sounds like she’s barely restraining her anger
  5627. >Are they saying EVERYONE is now fucked because of Sam? Unless they complete the ritual?
  5628. >So basically, unless they’re in control of it, they’re going to be drawn into endless madness and debauchery?
  5629. >Do they… actually have a good point?
  5630. >They ARE the only ones who can stop anything from happening
  5631. >You already fucked Mike over with the cleansing rite, how can you expect to know how to stop a world-ending ritual built upon ceaseless madness and a weird dog… thing…?
  5632. >Christ
  5633. >Your hand flies to your chest — to the book, that covers your heart
  5634. >Vanessa’s eyes seem to light up
  5635. >”Got something there?” She says inquisitively
  5636. >What do you do?
  5637. >Do you join them?
  5638. >It’s all so fucking hopeless
  5639. >You remember the way you didn’t roll over and die when that werewolf was about to gore you?
  5640. >Yeah, that was some bullshit. You only felt that way because these freaks juiced you up good
  5641. >You’re back to being a coward
  5642. >And then, of course, Mike ran over the werewolf (with your car, you might add)
  5643. >What would Mike do right now?
  5644. >God you wish he were here
  5645. >Mike would fight for you
  5646. >You… you need to fight
  5647. >”Grab him.” Vanessa commands
  5648. >The goths make a move towards you
  5649. >The red book flies out of your pocket
  5650. >You open it and clutch a handful of pages, threatening to rip them out of the binding
  5651. >You… You’ll tear ‘em up, you fucking swear, and ruin everything for everyone
  5652. >You’ll trap everyone in eternal limbo
  5653. “BACK UP!” You cry
  5654. >And, almost literally — you feel like crying in terror right now
  5655. >The goths halt in place, brought to a standstill by the fact that you might actually do it
  5656. >This was your plan?
  5657. >As if reading your mind, Vanessa spins to a certain page in the Book of Wrath. She uses her fangs to tear into her thumb
  5658. >Hot blood drips from her furry fingers onto the page
  5659. >She looks at you with an evil smile. ”I should have known you had it with you. You’re smart, Anonymous.”
  5660. >Actually, you’re a huge idiot. All you did was forget it was in your pocket
  5661. >”But, I guess this is where our friendship — and you — end.”
  5662. >The Book of Wrath glows
  5663. >You feet an intense heat in the center of your chest
  5664. >OH FUCK
  5665. >You start pulling at the pages of the book in a mad attempt to destroy it-
  5666. >You go flying backwards, back into the darkness of the hall, out of the room
  5667. >You sail through the darkness for a good distance before colliding painfully with the concrete floors
  5668. >The daze hits you hard
  5669. >If you could see right now in the darkness, you’re sure you’d be seeing stars
  5670. >Well, you’re not dead… somehow
  5671. >You stagger to your feet
  5672. >”God DAMNIT!” The doe shrieks, her voice hoarse and clipped from the effort. “I should have known I couldn’t hurt him while he has the book…”
  5673. >Your ears, even with their dull human capacities, can hear two pairs of footsteps coming
  5674. >One: The sound of heavy black boots — human
  5675. >And the other, the sound of small claws skittering across concrete — a rat
  5676. >You take off with the red book in the opposite direction, diving into the darkness of the tunnels
  5677. >Vanessa’s obscenities ring off the walls with decreasing clarity as you delve further into the steaming darkness
  5678.  
  5679. >God you wish you had night vision right now
  5680. >It’s not fair that anthros get night vision and enhanced hearing and smelling and all this other bullshit
  5681. >While all you seem to have is sheer luck and a knack for pussying out at the right times
  5682. >The tunnels twist and turn and dive, and rusty pipes hang over you the entire time like heavy copper clouds
  5683. >Christ, you can’t believe that these maintenance tunnels are completely devoid of light
  5684. >GOD THE SMELL
  5685. >It’s like rotting corpse gas invading your sense
  5686. >And how does anyone see up here?
  5687. >You get a bright idea
  5688. >Emphasis on the bright (heh)
  5689. >You draw the Book of Rite from your pocket, swab some blood from the inside of your mouth which still hasn’t healed up, and draw it on the page
  5690. >God you hope this works
  5691. >The book lights up with an otherworldly, pale light, throwing your shadow on the low walls of the tunnels
  5692. >Holy shit! All you did was flip it to a random page
  5693. >You press your nose to the book and try to read the thin scrawl
  5694. “And be a light in the darkness, volumes thin.”
  5695. >You fold this page over
  5696. >Who knows, maybe you’ll get to use it again somehow
  5697. >Now all that’s left is a long, steamy journey through the tunnels
  5698.  
  5699. >When you at least descend the stairs into the gym’s equipment room, you’re close to heatstroke
  5700. >You pause a moment among the old football helmets and half-deflated dogeballs, breathing hard
  5701. >Your head spins and you jerk on your collar, releasing hot air that had accumulated under your clothes
  5702. >Hopefully the goths are still lost up there
  5703. >You felt guided by a certain… sense, while in those passages
  5704. >You turn the red book over in your hands
  5705. >It has long since stopped glowing
  5706. >Maybe it was the book guiding you out somehow?
  5707. >Your eyes adjust to the darkness
  5708. >You can see all the Spooktober stuff right where it was when you first came up here
  5709. >No, wait, there’s more
  5710. >Fake skeletons, fake cobwebs, plastic pumpkins, strobe lights, industrial fog machines… signs and streamers and a punch bowl that is most definitely going to have a lot of alcohol in it by the end of the night
  5711. >An image of Sam creeping around the Spooktober fest springs to mind
  5712. >God, he wanted to go so bad
  5713. >And now that you know why, you feel immensely guilty for passively turning him down the first time
  5714. >Your heart aches
  5715. >Sam
  5716. >Oh god
  5717. >You hope he’s still waiting outside the gym like you told him to
  5718. >You press the supply room doors outward and sprint across the gym for the first time in your life
  5719. >He’s still there, you reason with yourself
  5720. >There’d be no reason for him to leave
  5721. >NONE AT ALL
  5722. >Unless he was captured
  5723. >You quicken your pace despite the exhaustion
  5724. >You WILL protect that dumb fucking bun
  5725.  
  5726. >Be Mike again
  5727. >You’re standing a good 20 feet away away from Lydia Penferth, after she just offered you to join her
  5728. >Well?
  5729. >What’s the call, chief?
  5730. >The world’s about to change — and not in your favor
  5731. >The lion’s eyes go soft for a moment
  5732. >”I know this is hard for you. What I’m asking isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing is easy to begin with. I mean, what would your weirdo friends think?”
  5733. “I don’t care what they think. At least, not anymore. Fuck ‘em. And fuck everything else too. Fuck this whole town,” you say with finality
  5734. >”That’s what I like to hear from you.” Lydia raises her head a bit, and you can see her many chains and piercings sway with her. “That’s the Halloween spirit.”
  5735. “Fuck Halloween too. All I wanted to do was smash some pumpkins and drink some beer and now I have to be this… thing-”
  5736. >Lydia cuts in
  5737. >”You can do all of that. We’ll even help you! And after Hallow’s Eve comes to pass, there will be more drinking and debauchery than you could ever dream of!”
  5738. >That does sound… tempting, eternal hedonism and all
  5739. >You recall a discussion in Anon’s car last Friday where you proudly (and drunkenly) announced your intent to ‘berry ur dick in some fine wimmin’ or something to that extent
  5740. >Lydia’s offer is starting to make sense. You could probably do well if you joined them
  5741. >IF you joined… you’d know everything
  5742. >You’d know Anon has the Book of Rite with him, that he’s planning on stopping things
  5743. >You were too, at one point
  5744. >Before Anonymous let you down and shattered your dreams
  5745. >Before you turned into this… this fucking… thing
  5746. >This shadow of who you once were…
  5747. >…This edgy faggot who hates everyone and everything like some kind of bad Sonic OC
  5748. >What happened to ‘doing something that mattered’?
  5749. >NONE OF THIS SHIT MATTERS ANYMORE
  5750. >A dark wind blows, and you can feel it roll across your paled skin, prompting goose pimples
  5751. >Everything feels so much sharper now that you’re a vampire
  5752. >You hear minute details, like blood pumping in someone’s veins
  5753. >The gentlest breeze lights up a million different nerves on your body
  5754. >Your vision is impeccable — you can see that slight smile playing on Lydia’s pierced upper lip
  5755. >You’re the ultimate badass now
  5756. >A perfect predator
  5757. >A killing machine, if you so wanted it
  5758. >But you don’t want it
  5759. >Right now you want only one thing
  5760. >And that’s to break every finger of the hand that dealt this to you
  5761.  
  5762. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PvyBKSmQ_g&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=12
  5763.  
  5764. “You know, I haven’t exactly enjoyed being a vampire. It’s actually kind of ruined my life,” you say calmly. “Not sure how you all have done it for so long. Can’t go to college, can’t leave this town, can’t go anywhere that’s not within five miles of a blood bank…”
  5765. >”Well, it’s only been since Friday,” Lydia says with a fabricated air of humility. “I have no idea how far I can push my new powers. But come this Friday, I’ll find out.”
  5766. “Bet it’s impressive.” You kick at the sidewalk
  5767. >”You know, we could… learn… together. Push one another day in and day out, becoming the strongest that we could possibly be. I know you’ve always had a lot of strength — you nearly broke my jaw on Monday. Together we can become even stronger.”
  5768. >You frown
  5769. ”Stronger than Vanessa?”
  5770. >Lydia smirks as her  purple hair blows evenly across her face
  5771. >”If we become strong enough, we might not even need her. Me and you, Mike. Think about it. Nobody above us. Not even the Behemoth.”
  5772. “I have thought about it,” you reply, forcing calm and even syllables into your words, cheek muscles fighting back against a force so indescribably powerful that it could make nuclear weapons look like firecrackers:
  5773. >Your cock-sure smile, in this perfect moment
  5774. >”And?”
  5775. >You lock eyes with the lion, their unnatural feverish glow steadily rising in intensity and luminosity
  5776. >They await your answer with decisive hunger
  5777. “I’m not in to furry bitches,” you say
  5778. >And you can no longer refuse the smile spreading across your lips
  5779.  
  5780. >A cold gust blows a vacant plastic bag between you two
  5781. >”Guess you’re not gonna come quietly over to our side, huh?”
  5782. >You spit again on the cold cement
  5783. “Guess not.”
  5784. >”I see.”
  5785. >Lydia straightens her spine, her massive form seeming to grow larger and larger
  5786. >Muscles ripple underneath her black shirt
  5787. >A hungry growl crawls up from her throat and sends shivers through your whole body
  5788. >Her eyes blaze with fiery red intent
  5789. >”I’m sorry it has to end like this, Mike. I gave you the chance to join us willingly.”
  5790. “You did,” you say as you stiffen your own spine and tense up your body. “It was a generous offer, but I don’t think I’d fit in with you all anyway. I’ve been itching to re-locate your jaw since Monday.”
  5791. >For a moment, nobody moves
  5792. >You know, you really can’t take a juiced up lion-vampire-succubus-thing and her five minions, right?
  5793. >But you sure as hell can try, can’t you?
  5794. >Nah, that’d be dumb. You’d get mauled and SUCCed to death
  5795. >Now might not be the best time for bravery
  5796. >You crack your neck
  5797. >The air is heavy with cold moisture — it bites into your pale flesh
  5798. >”Scared?” The Lion says with a razor smirk, her mouth made nearly indescribable by piercings
  5799. >You shake your head
  5800. “Not scared. Cold.”
  5801. >But you are scared
  5802. >You’re actually terrified right now
  5803. >You need a way out
  5804. >Like
  5805. >Now
  5806. >You’re reminded briefly of Anon on the ground in the parking lot, reaching for a weapon to clock the werewolf with, instead of bumrushing him with his fists…
  5807. >…Which you’re about to do (the bumrushing part that is)
  5808. >Thankfully your better judgment catches you as your leg muscles tense up, ready to explode forward like a compressed mine
  5809. >What would Anonymous do?
  5810. >Anon would probably run right now
  5811. >You shrug your shoulders in what might be the lamest standoff exit ever
  5812. >Spinning on your heels, you tear off down the sidewalk, past all the little shops and houses
  5813. >Towards where? Where are you going to go?
  5814. >You’re going to the only place you have left
  5815. >The Shop N’ Save
  5816.  
  5817. >Muscles pounding
  5818. >Concrete shuddering as you force earthquakes into the sidewalks
  5819. >Your legs burning, seared with lactic acid
  5820. >Cars whistling by you
  5821. >Cold wind blowing stray leaves into your face
  5822. >There’s a storm coming
  5823. >Above you
  5824. >And behind you
  5825. >You’re out of breath when you tumble through the automatic doors of the Shop N’ Save
  5826. >Humans and anthros dodge out of your way, groceries jockeying in their swinging arms
  5827. >You don’t have the time nor the inclination to apologize to them, because you narrowly dodge a furious and powerful lion swipe at your chest
  5828. >Lydia caught up unsurprisingly fast
  5829. >Her glistening claws go wide, tearing into a Moose’s plastic bag, freeing nearly a dozen oranges
  5830. >They tumble to your feet
  5831. >”You’re really going to drag this out in front of all these people, aren’t you?” She roars, taking another swipe
  5832. >You duck this one just like you duck responsibilities — with ease and grace
  5833. >Someone from the assembled crowd moves to grasp the furious lion — a human teenager in a boyscout uniform
  5834. >He gets one arm on the lion before being completely swarmed by ravenous cheerleaders
  5835. >They tackle people to the ground indiscriminately, gnawing at their sensitive and exposed flesh
  5836. >”Coward! Hiding behind people!” Lydia wheels around, her face tightened in unbridled frustration
  5837. >She seems to be upset that she can’t control her ‘flock’
  5838. “You got the wrong guy, honey. I’m not a coward.” You swiftly bend down and grab an orange off the ground
  5839. >You shear it in half with only a tiny bit of your strength, exposing the citrusy, sweet meat of the fruit
  5840. >”I’m not a coward. Just an asshole.”
  5841. >You lunge forward, practically jumping into Lydia’s slavering maw
  5842. >Your arms push ahead of you, an orange-half in each hand
  5843. >With precision, you dig the oranges into Lydia’s widening, eye-liner-caked eye sockets
  5844. >For good measure you even twist a little bit, really smearing that juice in there
  5845. >Lydia fucking SCREECHES and then gives you a pained shove
  5846. >You stumble backwards, falling right onto your ass
  5847. >The lion drops to her knees like they were made of lead, her hands darting to her now inflamed eyes
  5848. >Now’s your chance to run!
  5849. >You rise up to your full height and prepare to bolt out the door
  5850. >But the cheerleaders appear at the flanks of the lion, blocking your way back out into the parking lot
  5851. >You sigh
  5852. >Fucking hell
  5853. >You turn on a heel and sprint deeper into the store
  5854.  
  5855. >What’s the plan here?
  5856. >Just run until they swarm you?
  5857. >You can’t possible take all of them
  5858. >Fuark brah, you’re in it now
  5859. >You blur past helpless shoppers, spinning with strange grace around them in the crowded aisles
  5860. >The horde of ravenous anthro cheerleaders, on the other hand, acts more like a wrecking crew
  5861. >They mow down everyone in their path, unleashing mad cackles and frustrated hisses as they practically scramble atop one another
  5862. >You manage to lose them by diving over a knee-height meat cooler and hiding behind it
  5863. >The sound of their parting hisses sends your heartbeat over the edge
  5864. >You feel like you’re going to pass out
  5865. >And now you’re trapped as they tear down each aisle, hunting for you
  5866. >God DAMNIT
  5867. >You can’t take them all
  5868. >And Lydia is probably up by now, looking for you, ready to eat you alive with bloodshot and swollen eyes
  5869. >So this is where it ends?
  5870. >Trapped in the fucking Shop N’ Save?
  5871. >All alone, burned every bridge over troubled waters
  5872. >Your throat tightens and you wipe an embarrassing tear from your eye, feeling hot and angry
  5873. >You’re not scared or sad that you’re alone…
  5874. >…You tell yourself
  5875.  
  5876. >Your ears prickle with the sound of light footsteps sprinting your way
  5877. >Well, it’s over, they found you
  5878. >You stand up, prepared to fight for your life
  5879. >Though your body is tense, your heart’s not as strong, and it catches with the thought of your impending demise
  5880. >But when you see the source of the noise your jaw drops
  5881. >A thin, orange vixen with a stripe running down her fur and into her green sweater, is waving her arms, a phone glowing in one hand
  5882. >Her green eyes shimmer in the light, looking like two of the emerald beacons of hope
  5883. >She practically throws herself at you, wrapping her arms around your chest
  5884. >Her worry physically squeezes the air out of you
  5885. ”Jenna?” You cough
  5886. >”Mike!” She squeals. “We finally found you! God am I glad to see you!”
  5887. >The slender vixen motions for you to drop down behind the cooler
  5888. >You and her both crouch low, out of sight
  5889. >”We’ve been scouring Ranchview looking for you,” she struggles to hide the excitement — and volume — of her voice
  5890. “Who is ‘we’?” You ask, concern rising in your voice. “Wait, fuck that, I don’t care. You can’t be here! It’s not safe!”
  5891. >”We know, we saw you on the run outside. You looked graceful. Like a gazelle,” she says with a shit eating grin
  5892. ”Oh fuck off. Just get out of here before they see you with me. You’re in danger just by being with me.”
  5893. >But she doesn’t hear you. The fox presses her phone against her ears, which are folded back against her skull
  5894. >”I found him. We’re in the meat section. Can you steer them away?” She asks
  5895. >Her ears shoot upward in excitement like broad orange blades
  5896. >And you thought Sam had big, goofy ears
  5897. >”Got it. We’ll wait for the signal.” Her fingers swipe across the screen, ending the call
  5898. >Signal?
  5899. >A familiar voice crackles over the store PA system
  5900. >”Mike, get out of the snack aisle! They’re heading right for you!” He SCREAMS convincingly into the mic
  5901. >Oh my fuck
  5902. >It’s Alex
  5903. >And you’re nowhere near the candy aisle
  5904. >You peek up over the meat cooler
  5905. >Red-uniforms blur towards the other end of the store
  5906. >The cheerleaders hiss and cackle, thinking they’re about to have you cornered
  5907. >There’s some rumbling on the mic that pierces your ears, followed by a familiar sound.
  5908. >One you’re so familiar with that you start groaning
  5909. >Yep, it was Alex on the PA system alright
  5910. >He played this song to DEATH freshman year
  5911.  
  5912. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U06jlgpMtQs&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=16&t=0s
  5913.  
  5914. >”Alright, let’s go!” Jenna shoots to her feet and grabs you by the wrist
  5915. >Oh no you don’t
  5916. >You’re not getting rescued by a 5’5” vixen who you’ve got at least 60 pounds on
  5917. >You take off, dragging Jenna behind you like a doll being dragged from a moving car
  5918. >Perhaps you’ve only got a fraction of a second to make it out the door to safety
  5919. >But you’re not leaving without Alex
  5920.  
  5921. >Thankfully that commie dumbass finds you
  5922. >By running into you with a nearly FULL shopping cart as he emerges from the baking ingredients aisle without warning
  5923. >The thin metal of the cart catches you in the side, sending you stumbling
  5924. >Thankfully you let go of Jenna so you don’t accidentally yeet her across the store
  5925. >”COMRADE!” Alex cries, leaning over the shopping cart
  5926. >You suck air, barely holding back the urge to wring your friend’s thin neck
  5927. “Comrade Alexi,” you wheeze. “You doing some shopping right now? Because we gotta GO, you dumb bastard. Rabid cheerleaders-”
  5928. >”We’re just getting some supplies,” Jenna brushes herself off and hops into the cart like a little kid, ignoring your candid use of the ‘r word’
  5929. >What the hell is going-
  5930. >The pungent smell of garlic ASSAILS your senses
  5931. >You wince, fighting back vomit in your throat
  5932. >You look into the cart and see the entire bottom half is covered in raw white bulbs of garlic
  5933. >Jenna is rubbing her bare fur with a clove
  5934. >Mike is doing the same thing
  5935. >There’s also two water pistols, a super soaker, and a pack of water balloons pressed into the back of the cart
  5936. ”The fuck is this shit?” You cry. “You guys getting ready for a pool party!?”
  5937. >”No time to explain!” Alex hops in and takes his seat in front of Jenna. “It’s the fox’s plan!”
  5938. >You can hear the cheerleaders shriek in frustration at not having found you — which only means they’re about to start scouring the store
  5939. >And then a lion’s roar sends you into a panic
  5940. >Oh good, Lydia is back
  5941. >A human’s voice crackles over the speakers as the music clips in and out before returning to ear-shattering volume
  5942. >”Attention shoppers, we’d like to apologize for the annoyance. Alex Mullen,” the voice says slowly. “I will find you once I figure out how to stop this.”
  5943. >Alex just raises his middle fingers to the sky
  5944. >”Sic semper tyrannis!” He cries defiantly
  5945. >F
  5946. >You’re all dead
  5947. >Two cheerleaders — a cat and a horse — appear at the far end of the baking ingredients aisle
  5948. >They surge forward, directly at you
  5949. >And man, they can cover a lot of distance quickly
  5950. >”PUSH!” Jenna cries, directing a paw forward, right towards the cheerleaders
  5951. >Wat
  5952. >You shrug
  5953. >You’re all about to die anyway, so why the fuck not?
  5954. >Utilizing your vampiric strength you easily spin the cart so that the tip is pointing down the end of the aisle
  5955. >The fully loaded cart feels nearly weightless to you
  5956. >Alex rises up on shaky legs
  5957. >He plants one foot forward on the edge of the cart and levels a menacing finger towards the rapidly approaching cheerleaders (His other hand he uses to firmly affix his beanie to the top of his head)
  5958. >Comrade Alexi cuts loose with a yell
  5959. >”FORWARD UNTO DAWN, COMRADES! TSSSSUUUUUUUU!” He howls
  5960. >Jenna claps her hands over her ears in pain as the soviet anthem reaches ear shattering volume, as if in response to Alex’s deceleration
  5961. >You grit your teeth, sharing only a fraction of Jenna’s anguish
  5962. >Fuck it
  5963. >FOR THE UNION
  5964.  
  5965. >You don’t expect them to move out of the way
  5966. >And they don’t
  5967. >The cart flies down the aisle, propelled by your sheer determination to blow right through these cringy fucks
  5968. >And blow through them you do
  5969. >The cheerleaders slip underneath your cart as you bowl them over, their bodies acting like little demonic speed bumps
  5970. >You bank around the corner, threatening to hurl Jenna and Alex overboard
  5971. >Shoppers dodge like you were an oncoming car
  5972. >You might as well be, with how fast you’re going
  5973.  
  5974. >Aisle’s blur together in a multi-colored smear
  5975. >Somewhere along the line, Alex manages to grab a bag of Halloween themed chocolates off one of the shelves, but then drops it
  5976. >But you don’t slow down, not for a minute
  5977. >Hot on your heels are the cheerleaders
  5978. >Like red, horny little comets, they sprint after you
  5979. >And you can feel them gaining as you speed across the produce section
  5980. >Despite how strong you are, this cart is still dragging you down
  5981. >But you’ll be damned if you’re going to abandon your friends
  5982. >You squint hard at the double-wide main doors, muscles and lungs burning with equal intensity
  5983. >You’ve done enough running today for the rest of your life
  5984. >Jenna turns around, bouncing a garlic bulb in hand
  5985. “What are you doing!?” You shout, trying to compete with the Soviet anthem now on repeat, and the hushed swears of the store manager whispering underneath the song
  5986. >You look behind you
  5987. >A human cheerleader with auburn hair is grabbing for you, swiping just mere inches away from your shirt
  5988. >Her fingers are now more like claws than they are dainty, manicured fingernails
  5989. >A garlic bulb beans her in the center of her forehead
  5990. >The cheerleader tumbles gracelessly to the ground, yelping in agony
  5991. >”TAKE THAT YOU PRISSY BITCH!” Jenna says as she prepares yet another bulb for flight
  5992. >You can’t help but smile at the idea of Jenna swearing
  5993. >That gives you that extra push to explode out the front doors
  5994. >To freedom, leaving the Soviet anthem — and the cheerleaders — behind
  5995. >The little rush of dopamine you get from having ‘escaped’ doesn’t last long for two reasons
  5996. >1) You don’t have a plan after this, because loading up Jenna’s car and escaping would probably take too long
  5997. >2) Lydia Penferth, having somehow located Jenna’s minivan, has already ripped the hood off and is tearing savagely into the various components of the engine
  5998. >Jenna gasps, as well she should
  5999. >That van was worth at least $500
  6000. >It may even be shittier than Anon’s car
  6001. >”That’s my car!” She tries standing up, a garlic bulb in hand
  6002. >You force her back into a sitting position
  6003. >Lydia, slick with black oil and brackish fluid, starts to laugh when she sees your makeshift tank
  6004. >Her eyes are bright red — and not from any vampiric magic or rage
  6005. >From where you blinded her with some DIY mace
  6006. >”End of the line, kiddos. You’re not going anywhere.” she announces, starting forward. “Mike, I’m gonna enjoy hearing you squeal.”
  6007. >It was Alex who spoke, looking completely non-threatening with his massive legs tucked against his chest to save room in the front of the rattling shopping cart
  6008. >He balances a garlic bulb in his right hand
  6009. >”I ain’t a good shot, but that doesn’t matter when I’ve got all this ammo,” he motions towards the cart. “I think you’d better quit before someone ends up smelling like an Italian dinner.”
  6010. >A frustrated growl slips out of the lion’s clenched teeth
  6011. >”You’re a coward. You’re all cowards. Come and fight me — no weapons,” she says
  6012. >”We may be cowards, but none of us are morons,” Alex retorts, not realizing that he himself is a moron. “Now if you don’t mind, we’ll be leaving in one piece.”
  6013. >Lydia raises a pierced eyebrow. “In a shopping cart?”
  6014. >”It’s more of a chariot,” he says
  6015. >”So this is the crowd you keep?” She looks at Alex, Jenna, and then to you
  6016. “These are the homies, minus two,” you reply
  6017. >”Won’t be a very fair fight, six on three,” Lydia says with a smirk
  6018. >”Six? Can you not count?” Alex says with a slight laugh
  6019. >A feline hiss from behind halts his idiotic laughter
  6020. >The three of you turn in unison
  6021. >The five cheerleaders have all assembled behind you
  6022. >They’re all trembling — but not from the cold air which you heave into your lungs
  6023. >But from anticipation
  6024. >Who knows what burns in their blood, other than hunger and lust for your mortal souls (and likely Jenna’s virginity)?
  6025. “Not even going to fight fair, are you?” You bark
  6026. >The lioness has only to point to her still bright-red eyes to make her point
  6027. >Ah yes
  6028. >That was clever, though not at all fair
  6029. >She snaps her fingers
  6030. >”Goodbye, Mike.”
  6031.  
  6032. >There ain’t no laws against stealing shopping carts and pushing them halfway across town
  6033. >And if there were, you don’t care
  6034. >Through a combination of sheer luck and well-placed garlic bulbs, you and your crew managed to leave the cheerleaders and Lydia in your wake, somewhere along the road, stirring in the wind like beaten flags
  6035. >Now you push your ‘chariot’ aimlessly up a steep road, sucking in lung fulls of cold
  6036. >The air is scented with sweat and garlic (two very unpleasant aromas), and the lingering scent of Jenna’s cherry blossom perfume
  6037. >No longer being pursued, Alex and Jenna walk behind you while you struggle the cart up the hill against the steadily mounting wind
  6038. >Bright orange maple leaves slap you in the face, reminding you that you’re in the shit now
  6039. >On the plus side, their sharp colors contrast quite nicely with the steely-gray skies looming overhead
  6040. >If you were Sam you’d probably try drawing this scene
  6041. >All of you, struggle-pushing a cart uphill, silhouetted against the darkening gray skies, orange and light brown leaves billowing in the cold
  6042. >Your current state is less than poetic or artistic. You suck down frigid air, sweat stinging your eyes
  6043. >Frankly, you need a rest
  6044. >After your Vietnam style ‘tactical retreat’, you’re sweaty, exhausted, your nerves are fried, and you’re getting hungry
  6045. >Not just for blood, either
  6046. ”Where are we even going?” You call behind you
  6047. >Jenna is quick to answer, though she appears just as exhausted as you are without having done anything but walk but this steep hill
  6048. >Her sharp ears are pasted against her skull, likely to guard against the wind
  6049. >”The old church,” she says, pausing to take a labored breath
  6050. >Despite fox’s nimble and cunning nature, Jenna Orthorn is as nimble as a freight train
  6051. >Though she’s got the cunning part down
  6052. >The old white oak door church would be a great place to lay low…
  6053. >…Provided you aren’t somehow prevented from going inside, which would present a number or problems on top of genuinely annoying the piss out of you
  6054. >The old church was built some time ago, its age evident in the flaking, egg-shell colored paint and its lean wooden construction.
  6055. >There’s also a white steeple housing a rusted bell — though its chimes have long since gone quiet
  6056. >The train tracks are just down the hill, where freighters roll by in the night
  6057. >You’re not sure why people slowly stopped coming to the old church
  6058. >Perhaps because it was on top of a massive fucking hill?
  6059. >Or because it’s an old and unpleasant reminder of the town’s heritage, sharing more in common with the poor, stooped houses of Ranchview’s outskirts than its landscaped and gentrified center
  6060. >Now only teenagers come up here on ‘ghost investigations’ or to drop acid
  6061. >Sometimes both
  6062.  
  6063. >You veer off the main crossroad once you’re on top of the hill, to a more narrow, one-lane affair that dives further to right, terminating at the old white oak door church
  6064. >Its parking lot is small, decrepit, and unsurprisingly empty
  6065. >The sight of the church makes you gag
  6066. >The closer you get, the more nauseous you become
  6067. “I-” Your sentence is cut off by a choking feeling tight in your throat
  6068. >Between the garlic and your proximity to the church’s towering crucifix, etched in stained glass, you can’t go any further than the parking lot
  6069. >It would probably take a lot of exposure to the church to get closer
  6070. >But you would, over time. No fucking way are you going to stand out here
  6071. “God, fucking- guys, I can’t do this.” You shove the cart forward
  6072. >It coasts harmlessly across the shattered lot’s weathered blacktop
  6073.  
  6074. >”So it’s true then, isn’t it?” Jenna remarks softly, watching the cart traverse the uneven pavement
  6075. >Her voice has no tone other than exhaustion
  6076. >”Alex wasn’t lying about the vampires, the werewolves, the moon, the ritual. It’s all true?”
  6077. “What more proof do you want? You just saw Lydia Penferth make a snack out of your engine block. We just got chased halfway across town by a bunch of demonic cheerleaders. Look at my eyes for fuck sake!” you cry
  6078. >Why are you so angry all of the sudden?
  6079. >There is no need to be upset
  6080. >”It just… goes against every natural law, every scientific principle, and just plain common sense. I’m struggling here.”
  6081. >She marches past you and plants her self on the concrete steps leading up to the white oak doors
  6082. >”We’re all struggling,” Alex chimes in. “You, me, Alex… Anon and Sam to be sure.”
  6083. ”Anon and Sam…” you hum their names like an old song you know
  6084. >God, you really kind of miss them both right now
  6085. >Anon’s ability to generally keep up with you
  6086. >And… You guess Sam’s social retardation
  6087. >Especially the way it flusters Anon
  6088. >Those little pieces of your past life? You want them back
  6089. >Jenna narrows her eyes at you
  6090. >”Mike… What happened between you and Anon? Last time I saw him he was bruised, beaten and bloody.”
  6091. >Your eyes pass between Jenna and the crucifix she’s sitting under
  6092. >The sight of the cross makes you wince, but when your eyes pass over Jenna…
  6093. >You feel calm
  6094. >Even tranquil
  6095. ”Why did you come looking for me?” You ask
  6096. >Her posture is stiff and serious
  6097. >”Because I was worried about you,” she says softly. “You were acting so strange for so long… I couldn’t stand the thought of you sulking… in so much pain…” She points her eyes towards her feet. “You’re so reckless, and I was so scared you’d hurt yourself-”
  6098. >Even from your short distance you can see her eyes shimmering with tears, like glassy green pools
  6099. >You can only stare like some starstruck idiot
  6100. >Was she actually crying on your behalf?
  6101. >”All of us were worried about you. Even Anon,” Alex says with a type of weakness. “Remember on Monday night? He kept trying to get a hold of you. Why didn’t you just pick up the phone?”
  6102. “I- I lost it when I was running away from the Lydia-” you stammer
  6103. >God Jesus, you feel like you’re on trial right now
  6104. >You… really fucked up, didn’t you?
  6105. >”And when you came back to Anon’s house, and you scared the hell out of us, you should have seen Anon’s face when he first saw you. He was so relieved.”
  6106. >Yeah, you really fucked up
  6107. >You hurt a lot of people — physically and emotionally
  6108. >And maybe financially, since you practically cost that poor convenience store clerk her job
  6109. >”Answer the question,” Jenna commands, still unable to look at anything but her shoes. “Did you hurt Anon?”
  6110. >You can hear the knot in her throat as she fights tears
  6111. “Yes,” you say, without a snarl, without anger, without any contention
  6112. >Just honesty
  6113. >You instantly feel like you’ve got a hole in your chest
  6114. “I did. We fought, and I kicked his ass. I thought he could cure me- stop me from becoming a vampire. But he didn’t. And I lost it.” You flick between the vixen and Alex
  6115. >Alex gives you a hard stare
  6116. >You don’t like seeing him like this. It’s not his natural state
  6117. >But you deserve it
  6118. ”I hurt him. And I’m sorry,” you continue. “I wish I could take everything back, but I can’t. The damage is done. The damage is…” you trail off, casting your gaze skyward into the featureless clouds
  6119. >The damage is done
  6120. >The wind rips through you all like you were full of holes
  6121. >You’re all cold — the chilled air sapping your warmth
  6122. >But nobody speaks. You all just sit there, shivering, waiting for someone to say something
  6123. >It feels like there’s nothing to say
  6124. >At least, not until the lone anthro among you, her voice resolute despite the tears splitting down her fur, opens her mouth
  6125. >”Don’t apologize to us.” She extends her phone out to you. Her face is hard, not out of anger, but determination “Apologize to him.”
  6126.  
  6127. >”Anon, y-you’re hurting my h-hands,” Sam whines
  6128. >You don’t care
  6129. >You really don’t care
  6130. >You’re never going to let go of this faggot
  6131. >Which is what you tell yourself, as you drag him down the hall
  6132. >You keep throwing glances over your shoulder
  6133. >Why didn’t they follow you?
  6134. >You highly doubt they got lost in the tunnels
  6135. >Oh god oh fuck
  6136. >Your heart skips a beat as you mull over the possibilities of what they could be cooking up
  6137. “What’s your next class?” You demand sharply, trying to distract yourself and focus on the task at hand:
  6138. >Protecting Sam
  6139. >”Sc-Science?” Sam stutters. “R-Room 185.”
  6140. “Good. I’m going to wait with you,” you say resolutely.
  6141. >”Why? I-I don’t know if the t-t-teacher will be o-okay with tha-that.” He sounds like he almost doesn’t want you protecting him, which is weird
  6142. “Science with Mr. Bolm?”
  6143. >”Y-Yes-” Sam starts, but you cut him off
  6144. >No time for his whimpering
  6145. “Good. He knows me personally. He’ll be okay with me just hanging out in the back.”
  6146. >Your attendance score be damned. You can miss class, you’ll take the GPA hit for missing math
  6147. >Hell, you didn’t even have your backpack with you
  6148. >You left that in the car
  6149. >What’s the point of even going to class this week?
  6150. >”I-Is everything o-okay?” Sam says. “Where’s G-Gloria?”
  6151. >You toss another glance over your shoulder
  6152. >Nobody but other students behind you
  6153. >And jocks
  6154. >Two, to be precise
  6155. >One human, rugged dark hair and a wood-carved face
  6156. >And a gray wolf, his fur bristled with rage, ears flat against his skull
  6157. >Both stereotypically decked out in red letter jackets
  6158. >The swing of their arms, the synchronization of their steps-
  6159. >You’re just being paranoid, you assure yourself
  6160. >Yet you can’t help but move a little bit faster than before
  6161. >Justtttt being nervous, this is totally normal
  6162. >They’re walking to class, is all
  6163. >”Anon, I t-t-think those g-guys want to talk to u-us,” Sam says
  6164. >You look over your shoulder again
  6165. >Just paranoi-
  6166. >Oh fuck
  6167. >How did you not notice it before?
  6168. >The two jocks’ eyes are bright blue, like glacier cores had been drilled into their skulls
  6169. >They narrow hateful glances at you, and it’s only then do you see that the human has a dark bruise on his cheek
  6170. >It’s swelling up like rotten fruit
  6171. >Ah yes, your knuckles still ring with pain from having clocked that werewolf in the face
  6172. >Well, it’s time to run now, isn’t it?
  6173. >Your muscles tense up, and internally your nonathletic soul groans in agony
  6174. >You’ve done so much running already
  6175. >You’re tired
  6176. “Sam, when I say run, I want you to start sprinting as fast as you can down the hall, okay?” Your voice is barely beneath a whisper
  6177. >Sam’s ears twitch like two sensitive antennas
  6178. >”O-Okay,” he says with a bit of resolution. “I tru-trust you.”
  6179. “Good. On three. Ready?”
  6180. >The bunny nods and pushes his hair back with his free hand
  6181. “One.”
  6182. “Two.”
  6183. >Suddenly there’s a commotion as no less than four students descend upon the pursuing jocks
  6184. >It’s a group of punks
  6185. >How can you tell? Well, they make it obvious
  6186. >They’ve got ‘teenage rebellion’ practically patched on their studded denim jackets
  6187. >And it’s all humans
  6188. >With fury and energy, the mowhaked gang of students leaps out from the shadows and swarm the jocks like ants
  6189. >Two punks per hulking body
  6190. >Eight pairs of fists and eight pairs of kicking, stomping boots swing wildly
  6191. >The jocks roar with frustration, but pry off the skinny vegan anarchists and begin pummeling them
  6192. >A crowd quickly gathers around them, obscuring your view of the fight
  6193. >Anonymous, this is the PERFECT opportunity for you to make an escape
  6194.  
  6195. >And escape you do, by calmly walking Sam to class
  6196. >When you get to the door, you realize that your hand is still interlaced with Sam’s
  6197. >Feeling a little more than gay, you gently untwist your fingers from his and smile
  6198. “See? Safe and sound. Now, let’s get in there-”
  6199. >You pause as you feel your phone weakly pulsing in your pocket
  6200. >A phone call? Right now?
  6201. >The caller ID reads ‘Jenna Orthorn (Fox from Science)’
  6202. >Ah, that’s right, you had a project with her earlier in the semester
  6203. >You slide to answer and put the receiver your ear
  6204. You mouth to Sam, “I’ll meet you inside.”
  6205. >The bunny nods
  6206. >He lets out a huge knot of air held in his chest
  6207. >Relief is plain across his features as his shoulders slump and head droops, lacking tension to keep it stiff and rigid
  6208. >The rabbit quickly opens the door and slides inside, letting it shut behind him
  6209. >You’re not exhausting him, are you?
  6210. >Like, he’s not tired of you, hopefully?
  6211. >Ah fuck it. He owes you big time for saving his life (even though he has no idea you did)
  6212. >You clear your throat
  6213. “Hi Jenna. This is Anon.”
  6214. >”Anon?” A male voice crackles on the other end of the line
  6215. >Your heart sinks in your chest
  6216. >You know who this is
  6217. >”It’s Mike.”
  6218.  
  6219. >What do you say?
  6220. >I mean, really, WHAT DO YOU SAY to this guy
  6221. >You don’t say anything for a few moments, your mind spinning at a thousand miles-per-hour, mulling over every possible dialog choice
  6222. >A few hours earlier this guy was kicking the shit out of you
  6223. >NOW he calls you?
  6224. >So, what do you say? Something to really hurt him
  6225. “Hi Mike.”
  6226. >Ah, that’s right. You’re still a pussy, so you settle for neutrality in your response and tone
  6227. >”Hey man… How are you doing?” Mike replies with a VERY awkward pause in the middle of his sentence
  6228. “I’m doing… Not great. I hurt all over. And I think I’m being targeted.”
  6229. >Mike laughs a little. “You and me both, dude.”
  6230. >There’s a long gap where none of you speak
  6231. >You only listen to him breathe over the phone
  6232. >”Listen, I called to tell you something, and I want you to know this time I really mean it.”
  6233. “What do you mean this time?”
  6234. >”Just… Shut up for a second. Wait, no, don’t shut up. Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
  6235. >There’s a long groan on the other end of the line, and then the sound of Mike taking a large, fortifying breath of air
  6236. >”I called to tell you I’m sorry for kicking your ass.”
  6237. >You shake your head in confusion
  6238. >That’s only barely scratching the surface of what a cunt Mike has been to you recently
  6239. “Annndddd…?” You trail off, hoping he takes the hint
  6240. >He does not take the hint
  6241. >”And what?” He replies with genuine confusion in his tone
  6242. >You scowl, and it feels good, even though Mike can’t see you
  6243. “What do you mean ‘and what?’, dude? You’ve been an absolute, self-centered dickhead this entire time. How do you NOT see that?”
  6244. >”I- I know. I was getting to that, fagtron. This isn’t easy for me.”
  6245. “I don’t care if it’s not easy for you. My nose STILL hurts,” you say with an audible sneer
  6246. >And Mike audibly winces
  6247. >”I got you good, huh?” He says in defeat
  6248. >Got you good? Bro, he FUCKED you up
  6249. “Yeah, you could say that. So… Where’s the rest of my apology, bitch?”
  6250. >Mike summons another deep breath, and then begins slowly
  6251. >He’s never been good with words, or articulate
  6252. >”This afternoon I thought my life was over. I didn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything. I was angry, and stupid, and I hurt people I cared about because. But you know what? I fucking need you guys. I need you, and Alex, and Jenna, and… Is Sam with you?”
  6253. >You shake your head
  6254. “He just went to class.”
  6255. >”Well tell your boyfriend that I need him too. I need you guys to be my friends.”
  6256. “He’s not my boyfriend god damnit, and I am not gay.” You grind your teeth
  6257. >Now isn’t the time!
  6258. His voice drops to a submissive whisper “We’re still friends though… right?”
  6259. >Surprisingly, despite the pain radiating all over your bruised and bloody body, you have an answer for him almost instantly
  6260. >That’s hardly even a question
  6261.  
  6262. “Of course, dude. You may be a fucking asshole, but we’re still friends.”
  6263. >”Thanks, you big faggot.”
  6264. >You missed this. A smile starts tugging at the corners of your lips
  6265. “And we’re going to put a stop to this shit, aren’t we?”
  6266. >”Shit yeah we are.”
  6267. >You break out in an even wider smile
  6268. “And we’re gonna get you to college, right?”
  6269. >”Right!”
  6270. >”And you’re gonna fuck some prime freshman poon?”
  6271. >”Fuck yes man, and you’re gonna tap that bunny’s sweet, sweet ass.”
  6272. >Your smile collapses like a star at the end of its life
  6273. >You have only thought about sex with Sam a FEW times
  6274. “Mike, when I see you next time? I’m going to punch you in the face. I want you to know that,” you say
  6275. >Mike laughs on the other end of the line
  6276. >”I think that’s only fair,” he says
  6277.  
  6278. >Mike ends the phone call by telling you he’s waiting at the old white oak door church
  6279. >You agree to meet him there after school
  6280. >You sigh heavily and take a moment to gather yourself
  6281. >No matter how vulnerable you are out here, the weight off your shoulders outweighs that vulnerability
  6282. >GOD you’re glad to have patched shit up with Mike
  6283. >And you have so much to tell him and Jenna and Alex
  6284. >So much has changed
  6285. >You push down those lingering feelings of guilt at having left Gloria with the goths
  6286. >Push it down into a little ball in your stomach that you’ll surface later
  6287. >You promise to yourself that in some way, shape or form, you will rescue her
  6288. >Alright, show time
  6289. >Just make sure Sam is okay
  6290. >You open the door to Mr. Bolm’s class and slip inside, posting up against the closed door
  6291. >Almost in unison, the class turns their heads to face you
  6292. >Mr. Bolm, stretching his arms to reach the top of the white board, directs a questioning glare your way
  6293. >’Biological Diversity Week!!’ Is written in huge bubble letters in the center of the board
  6294. >”Mr. Anonymous?” He looks like a shocked gopher
  6295. >You wave shyly to the class
  6296. “Hi Mr. Bolm… class. I had a free period (which is a lie), so I thought I’d just audit this class for a day,” you say, blushing from the sudden and direct attention
  6297. >The teacher, still bewildered, says “That’s… fine, I guess. Just so long as you don’t distract any students.”
  6298. >You nod and take an empty seat next to Sam, who sits in the back, near the window
  6299. >Just like an anime protagonist lmao
  6300. >He shyly waves at you before returning to his present task of scribbling on a loose sheet of paper
  6301. >It’s hypnotizing to watch him draw, but not hypnotizing enough to distract from the knots of anxiety tightening around your lungs
  6302. >You can feel every eye on you, sharp and piercing and judging
  6303. >Well, to hell with them, you say to yourself
  6304. >All that matters is protecting this bunny
  6305. >Mr. Bolm carries on
  6306. >”As I was saying earlier, humans don’t have heat cycles like most anthros have. Hence why we don’t need to use estrus blockers. And our noses aren’t as sensitive as a herbivore’s, so we don’t need scent masks either. So from everything, it may sound like humans have little in the way of natural talents, but that’s just not true. Remember how I said that humans are crafty and cooperative?”
  6307. >He turns around excitedly to face class
  6308. >Someone coughs and you swear you could hear crickets chirping in the distance
  6309. >All the exuberance drains from his face
  6310. >He coughs, tugs nervously at his collar, and carries on as admirably as he can after getting shot down
  6311. >”Anyway, humans are often said to be crafty. Researchers have noted our ability to be a cooperative group, even when circumstances should prevent it. That’s not to say other mammals don’t cooperate, but a human’s natural state is to… cooperate?”
  6312. >He weakly smiles at the rhyme. Guess he’s making his own fun at this point
  6313. >”Moving along then… relationships! Fun stuff, right? Now, let’s just make this quick and dirty: most species mate for life. No species eats their young. Interspecies relationships…”
  6314. >Sam drops his pencil
  6315. >His posture stiffens up, and he directs his attention towards the front of the class
  6316. >”… Are uncommon, but possible. They will rarely yield offspring. Hybrids are not possible — they’re one species or another. We don’t know how this is possible, but we’re working on uncovering the reasons behind this miracle. Science!”
  6317. >Mr. Bolm pauses, as if awaiting a response
  6318. >More crickets
  6319. >You’ve only ever given a passing thought to interspecies romance
  6320. >Like in the hall, when you saw that stacked sow
  6321. >It’s not something you’re OPPOSED to, necessarily
  6322. >after all, you’ve been battling mysterious gay urges for Sam this entire week
  6323. >Shouldn’t that count for something?
  6324.  
  6325. >What you end up doing is tailing Sam around school — sneaking into his classes or waiting outside like a lost puppy
  6326. >You don’t care how creepy it looks or how awkward the judgmental looks from the other students make you feel
  6327. >You have to keep him safe. Now more so than ever
  6328. >Vanessa and her merry bunch of morons want Sam to complete the ritual after he fucked it up the first time
  6329. >You need him — and the Book of Rite — to stop it
  6330. >(Also you’d like to keep him safe, but that’s besides the point)
  6331. >Your head is on a swivel as you scan the hallways
  6332. >Hell, you even do quick sweeps of the classrooms
  6333. >The only thing you notice is the incredible hostility between each of the school’s various cliques
  6334. >Tension so thicc you could cut it with a knife
  6335. >Teachers and security staff rush around the halls like firefighters, extinguishing brawls and hauling mammals off
  6336. >You’ve seen humans and anthros alike pulled into the admin office, some even wearing bruises and bloody noses
  6337. >There’s always been a tension between the various groups here, but never like this
  6338. >The tension before was a kind of soft animosity, traded only in harsh looks and rumors — seldom in fists and claws
  6339. >You anxiously scratch as the back of your neck as you stare down the clock mounted in the hallway outside of Sam’s last class: history
  6340. >Hurry up
  6341. >Hurry up!!
  6342. >When the doors click open, and the bell finally rings, the floodgates open
  6343. >The hallways become a fast-flowing river of multi-colored bodies, all of different shapes and sizes and species
  6344. >You imagine Sam getting lost in the hormonal tempest, his big goofy ears the standing up like a shark fin narrowly breaching the surface of the open ocean
  6345. >You’re thinking so hard about all of this that you don’t even notice when the little rabbit appears next to you
  6346. >”Hey Anon, you w-w-wanna see my draw-”
  6347. >Your heart jumps up in your chest, and, rather shamefully, you gasp
  6348. >Which causes Sam to gasp
  6349. >Very manly, Anon
  6350. >Guess a bit Sam is rubbing off on you
  6351. >You groan at the idea of becoming an anxious, stuttering mess
  6352. >You look down and see the tiny rabbit, swimming in his over-sized and crusty clothes, clutching a handful of paper, looking somewhat shocked
  6353. >”S-Sorry,” he says
  6354. >He sounds sad
  6355. >But you can see a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth from behind his bangs
  6356. >Oh, so he thought it was cute and funny that he scared you?
  6357. >You should do something back to him…
  6358. >… Or just let him enjoy his moment
  6359. >It’s really…  kinda nice to see him smile…
  6360. >… And to see him confident enough to do stuff like that
  6361. >“I didn’t m-mean to scare you. I ju-just wanted to show y-you my drawings.”
  6362. >Damn, this kid is an artistic machine
  6363. >He probably just does the minimum amount of classwork to maintain his GPA and keep his job and spends the rest of his time drawing
  6364. >Wonder what he’s going to do after he graduates high school
  6365. >… And what about you?
  6366. >You shake your head, drawing a curious look from Thumper
  6367. >Not the time to have this conversation with yourself, Anonymous
  6368. “I do want to see your drawings,” you start. The little bunny’s expression lights up. “You can show me in a bit. We’re going out?”
  6369. >”W-We’re what?”
  6370. “Not like that. I meant we’re just leaving and going someplace else. Shit, you knew what I meant. Don’t do that to me.”
  6371. >”I-I don’t know what I d-did!” The bunny squeaks
  6372. >You put your hand on his shoulders and bend yourself down to his level
  6373. “Sam?”
  6374. >You bring your face uncomfortably close to his
  6375. >Your friend tries flinching away from you, but you easily hold on to his slender, malnourished shoulders
  6376. “Don’t not-not talk back to me.”
  6377. >”…W-What?”
  6378. “Now that we’ve got that settled, c’mon. We’re going to meet Mike and Alex and Jenna somewhere.”
  6379. >And you take him by the hand
  6380. >And dive in to the moving sea of bodies
  6381. >Not moving too fast
  6382. >Because you don’t want to lose him
  6383.  
  6384. >Your car is where you left it
  6385. >Or, more appropriately, where Mike left it
  6386. >Badly parked
  6387. >And you know it’s yours by how shitty it is
  6388. >Paint peeling
  6389. >Windows spider-webbed with cracks
  6390. >Visible rust
  6391. >One of the door panels is unfurnished
  6392. >Oh, and the massive indent on the front hood where Sam’s father stomped on your car yesterday during the rescue
  6393. >It sticks out like a moldy, rusted sore thumb
  6394. >The chilled air clings to your skin, and the heavy skies that hang overhead like slabs of wet concrete herald storms
  6395. >It’s surprising that thunder isn’t rolling like a freight train overhead
  6396. >Didn’t the forecast call for rain?
  6397. >You look about the parking lot as you climb into the driver’s seat
  6398. >Nearly empty
  6399. >Just like your soul lmao
  6400. >You don’t know whether to be grateful or furious that Mike left the car unlocked and the keys in the ignition
  6401. >You submerge those thoughts in a bath of stomach acid as you survey the lot, feeling hunger gnawing at you
  6402. >Cars drift in and out
  6403. >Anthros and humans pour down the sidewalk like lines of ants
  6404. >Sam, unrestrained by his seatbelt, presses his nose up against the dirty window glass
  6405. >”C-Colors…”
  6406. >His voice is a soft wisp
  6407. >Though you’re on a hill, the leaves of fall have managed to drift upwards on the iced wind
  6408. >They bluster on by like fish being pulled on invisible lures
  6409. “You could probably draw that,” you remark
  6410. >”I’m n-not very good a-at anything other than f-f-figures.”
  6411. “Bah, don’t be so hard on yourself. We’ll get you some crayons and a good piece of construction paper and you’ll be set.”
  6412. >The bunny wrinkles his nose at you as a smile tugs at the corners of his lips
  6413. >Guess your joke sailed right over his head
  6414. >Ah well
  6415. >Your car hums to life, sipping on a meager stock of gasoline
  6416. >The rustbucket is a thirsty girl, so you’ll have to hit a gas station at some point
  6417. >You’re about to take to the main road and head to the white oak door church when Sam gasps
  6418. >You turn your head to the passenger seat
  6419. >Sam is frozen, staring out the window, shivering
  6420. “You okay, dude? Forget something inside?”
  6421. >”T-That car.” Sam pokes the cold glass with his little finger. “I-It looks like my d-d-d-dads.”
  6422. >You unbuckle your seatbelt and lean over his shoulder
  6423. >All you can see is a few students wandering the lot, and a couple cars
  6424. >One of them being a shitty, rusted sedan (like yours) with dark windows
  6425. >Its headlights burn against the muted gray light of the afternoon, but it doesn’t look like there’s anyone inside
  6426. “You sure? This is a student lot. There’s about a million shitty looking cars around here.”
  6427. >Which was only partially true
  6428. >A lot of the suburban kids had nice, new cars that gleamed like polished coins
  6429. >And though you were suburban, your parents provided you with a real piece of shit that has nearly killed you twice
  6430. >… Not that you’re complaining
  6431. >A free car is a free car, right?
  6432. >The rabbit shakes his head
  6433. >”M-Maybe. I-I don’t know.” He swings his head to face you. “C-Can we leave?”
  6434. >Something about the car is making him nervous
  6435. >Well, it’s starting to make you nervous too
  6436. >Retard, what if Sam’s dad is checking the school for his son? He must know Sam works after classes
  6437. “Right. Off to the old white oak door church.”
  6438. >You quietly press on the gas and coast down the hill, out towards the main road
  6439. >Sam clutches his drawings close to his chest
  6440.  
  6441. >You roll into the small parking lot of the church
  6442. >Ah yes, you’ve been here before, mainly with Mike and Alex to ‘hunt ghosts’ when you were younger
  6443. >You never found any ghosts but you did burn a couple thousand calories on the bike ride up the hill
  6444. >What?
  6445. >You were a little chubby back then
  6446. >Because you were… bulking…?
  6447. >It doesn’t look like anyone is outside except Mike, who sits, shivering, on the concrete steps next to an overturned shopping cart
  6448. “Yo fagtron,” you lean your head out the window
  6449. >Mike stands up and flips you off
  6450. >Ah, glad to see you two are back to normal
  6451. “Where is everyone?”
  6452. >Your voice rises over the mounting breeze
  6453. >”Inside!” Mike returns
  6454. >His voice booms like he swallowed a microphone
  6455. >Must be the vampire powers
  6456. >”Someone left one of the doors unlocked around back.”
  6457. >He stands up and walks over to your idling car, throws open the door, and then hauls himself into your backseat
  6458. >”Hi Anon.” He kicks the seat ahead of him, eliciting a sharp, feminine gasp from Sam. ”Hi Thumper.”
  6459. >Yep, Mike may be a vampire, but he’s still Mike
  6460. “Hey asshole,” you fire back
  6461. >”Ahhh it’s good to be back to the old days of casually insulting one another-”
  6462. “-Until it explodes into violence,” you say, cutting Mike off
  6463. >”Yeah. I missed our toxic dialogues.”
  6464. “Strangely enough, so did I.”
  6465. >Sam leans over the center console
  6466. >”Y-You two are m-mean to each other,” he says, hair falling over his eyes
  6467. >”We’re mean because we love each other,” Mike leans forward and blows a kiss at you. “Anon is my bitch.”
  6468. >Alright, you can’t help but smile at that too
  6469. “If anything you’re my bitch. Always stealing my beer, bumming rides off me. I’m your sugar daddy.”
  6470. >Sam looks completely lost
  6471. >And you’re sure as hell not going to explain this to him
  6472. >You clear your throat and try to steer the conversation somewhere more productive
  6473. “So where’s Alex?”
  6474. >Mike stretches out
  6475. >”Jenna and Alex are inside the church. Turns out someone left the back door unlocked. Lord knows what they’re doing in there.”
  6476. >Yeah, he actually does. It’s his house
  6477. “So why aren’t you inside?”
  6478. >Mike scowls and points to his glowing eyes
  6479. “Oh. Right. Sorry again about that.”
  6480. >But your apology is not weak this time, nor is it scared of Mike Sapone’s anger
  6481. >It feels like you’re talking to him as an equal for once
  6482. >”I’m still getting used to everything. You know, the nuances of being a blood sucking edgelord, but it turns out I can’t actually enter the church. Holy ground and all that good stuff.”
  6483. >”M-Mike,” Sam speaks up. “Ha-Have you…”
  6484. >And then he trails off, shyly looking up to you to distract himself from Mikes annoyed scowl
  6485. >”Have I what?”
  6486. >”Y-You know…” Sam tries again
  6487. >”Oh. Blood.” Mike folds his arms across his chest and looks directly ahead
  6488. >Not at Sam, but through him
  6489. >This seems to frighten the little rabbit
  6490. >”I don’t want to talk about it.”
  6491. >Sam shrinks into his clothes
  6492. >”S-Sorry.”
  6493. >The vampire sighs deeply. “No, it’s fine. I just don’t want to talk about it. You two should get inside though, Comrade Alexi and Jenna are waiting for you. Or maybe you should all come out here. I don’t know.”
  6494. “Why is Jenna here?” You snatch the keys out of the ignition.
  6495. >Mike kicks his feet up onto the center console and shuts his tired eyes. “Because she saved my life.”
  6496. >His ordinarily short, spiked hair is ruffled, his green eyes look bloodshot and red (even through their otherworldly glow), his skin looks bruised and bloody
  6497. >And especially pale
  6498. >He’s practically snoring already
  6499. >”By the way, I’m going to stay here for a hot minute. It’s starting to get dark and cold outside and I’m sick of being in the fucking wind.”
  6500. >Yeah, he’s is probably done for the night
  6501. >You want to ask him about Jenna, but you don’t bother
  6502. >All will be explained later
  6503. >Probably
  6504. >Hopefully
  6505.  
  6506. >You slip in through the back of the church, Sam at your heels
  6507. >You’re grateful for the warmth
  6508. >The wind sharply slams the door shut behind you
  6509. >Sam jumps nearly a foot into the air,
  6510. >You know he’s your friend and all, and he’s got… issues…
  6511. >But it’s like every little thing sets him off, and-
  6512. >”ANON!” Alex hops off the altar with a shout
  6513. >You also jump a little
  6514. >Alex throws his arms around you
  6515. >Sam looks on in dismay, and maybe a little of jealousy
  6516. >Sensing this, Alex detaches from you, bends his massive, 6’2” lanklet frame over and practically lifts the five-foot-nothing rabbit into the air
  6517. >”And Sam! Sam! Sam!” He bounces the rabbit like a baby
  6518. >Sam, of course, struggles but eventually gives up the fight
  6519. >”Calm down there, Alex,” Jenna says, rising from a pew in front of the altar
  6520. >Her tail fans behind her, and the smile plastered across her face says she’s happy to see that you and Sam are still alive. ”They just got here, give ‘em some room.”
  6521. >She smooths out her knitted green sweater, ears folding against her skull
  6522. >Alex sets Sam down gingerly and pats him twice on the head while muttering “pat pat”
  6523. >Sam winces with each assailing pat
  6524.  
  6525. >You don’t know what to say
  6526. >You feel like you just got ran over by a truck full of emotions
  6527. >Mike is back on your side
  6528. >Alex is alive
  6529. >Jenna is here too
  6530. >And Sam is safe
  6531. “I think I need to sit down for a second,” you say as you lean into a polished, creaking pew
  6532. >It squeals with age and protest under your meager weight
  6533. >Sam hops up next to you, his drawings still in hand
  6534. >You don’t really mind him tailing you anymore
  6535. >It’s just the signals from Alex that you can’t abide
  6536. >Alex winks suspiciously at you
  6537. >You raise your middle finger to him in response
  6538. >Witnessing the exchange, Jenna rolls her eyes. ”Another thing nobody will explain to me, right?”
  6539. >”We’re trying to help Anonymous see that he’s gay,” Alex offers
  6540. >A rush of blood hits high in your cheeks
  6541. >”Y-Y-You’re gay?” Sam says with a weak voice
  6542. >He almost sounds heartbroken
  6543. >That’s… not what you expected
  6544. “God damnit, I’m not gay!” You plead. “Jenna, I swear I’m not.”
  6545. >She shrugs
  6546. >”It doesn’t bother me if you are. I’ve got a gay uncle. It’s not a big deal.”
  6547. >GOD DAMNIT
  6548. >You throw your hands up
  6549. >You don’t need this shit right now
  6550. “Can we just… Not talk about this right now? SO much has happened and changed since I last saw the both of you. I need to talk to ALL of you as soon as possible, so we can get a plan together.”
  6551. >”A plan?” Alex remarks. “What happened to wanting to stay out of this?”
  6552. >A heavy breath of air escapes your lungs
  6553. “We can no longer hide from this. And frankly, I’m fucking done running away from things that scare me. You understand?”
  6554. >Alex issues a crisp salute
  6555. >”Sir!”
  6556. >Alex is like an obedient child sometimes
  6557. >Stupid, well-meaning, optimistic, but above all, he has what Mike doesn’t:
  6558. >Loyalty
  6559. >But you can tell that something has changed with Mike
  6560. >In a good way
  6561. >Your eyes turn to Jenna
  6562. “This is your chance to walk away. I won’t hold anything against you if you don’t want to involve yourself. Hell, I’m not even sure you’ll believe the kind of shit that I’m about to tell you.”
  6563. >It’s true
  6564. >How the fuck could anyone believe this shit?
  6565. >You could present all the evidence that you have
  6566. >The aggression at school
  6567. >The vampire cheerleaders
  6568. >The werewolf jocks
  6569. >The size of the moon
  6570. >The sudden absence of Gloria Duchene
  6571. >The Book of Rite
  6572. >The Book of Wrath (once you get a hold of it)
  6573. >Mike MOTHERFUCKING Sapone’s current state is evidence enough
  6574. >ALL of this, and it wouldn’t be enough for anyon-
  6575. >”And let you all hurt yourselves? Nah. Plus I think I involved myself already,” she says, a dissaproving hand on her hip
  6576. >”H-How?” Sam squeaks up
  6577. >”Lydia Penferth ate my car,” she replies
  6578. >Her lips part and you can see the rows of her meticulously cleaned fangs
  6579. >You shrink back against the pew
  6580. >Damn
  6581. >She kind of reminds you of Mike
  6582. >”Welllllll alright then,” Alex says, trying to ease the tension in the room. “What say we all take a jaunt on over to the rust bucket and Anon can let us in on what he’s discovered?”
  6583. >Oooh, jaunt. You like that word
  6584. >You’re proud of Alex
  6585. >His dumbass is learning bigger and bigger words
  6586. >Probably all the books you’ve been forcing him to read
  6587. >You give a disparaging look at the double-wide white oak doors behind you
  6588. >From the stained glass windows, crafted in the shape of a cross that loom over the wooden altar, the blue light of dusk is pouring through
  6589. >It’s going to be cold as hell you tell yourself
  6590. >But you go anyway, because this shit is important
  6591.  
  6592. >You rap several times on the window
  6593. >Mike wakes with a loud snort
  6594. >He looks about, shaking the dreams from his head
  6595. >When his eyes settle on you, he nods twice and reaches for the lock
  6596.  
  6597. >This car isn’t big
  6598. >It’s rusty, smelly, and gets terrible gas mileage
  6599. >But damnit, you’re starting to grow attached to its flaws
  6600. >The cracked windshield
  6601. >The bent in front hood
  6602. >The raw passenger side door which lacks any kind of upholstry
  6603. >This little battlewagon can fit five people, albiet uncomfortably
  6604. >Mike crams himself in the middle seat in the back
  6605. >Him and Jenna are practically ontop of each other
  6606. >And you can see Jenna looks flustered by the whole situation
  6607. >Lol nerd with no experience with the opposite sex aside from her slut brother
  6608. >Alex spreads his spindly legs wide like an asshole
  6609. >He probably has no idea what he’s doing or how much room he’s taking up, he’s just stretching his legs
  6610. >Sam gets the privilege of sitting in the passenger seat next to you
  6611. >He’s distracted by his drawings that he never got to show you
  6612. >You glare at him until he stuffs them into his hoodie’s pocket
  6613. >You’ll look after this, you promise to yourself
  6614. >You don’t enjoy seeing him so sad
  6615. >Alright, the gang’s all here
  6616. >So, do you-
  6617. >”Can you hurry up?” Mike says. ”Fur is hot and I’m basically using Jenna as a coat right now.”
  6618. >”You’re WHAT!?” Jenna says with a gasp. “You so are not. You’re the one rubbing up against me!”
  6619. >”I dunno,” Alex says with a dopey smile. “I think both of you would make great coats for each other.”
  6620. >Mike slugs Alex hard
  6621. >”Hey, don’t hit him!” Jenna says, catching at Mike’s arm
  6622. >Mike looks about ready to turn and hit the vixen as well
  6623. >To your surprise, he lets his hands drop into his lap
  6624. >”Sorry,” he grumbles
  6625. >You can’t help but crack a slight smile
  6626. >Just like normal. Alex is a dumbfuck, Mike is an asshole
  6627. >And you like Jenna. She’s smart but doesn’t put up with Mike’s shit
  6628. >But now is not the time for this
  6629. >Now is time for… EXPOSITION
  6630.  
  6631. >The sun slips behind the mountains, small trails of golden light shining through the overcast
  6632. >Blue dusk had long since settled over everything, smothering the world in a shade above black
  6633. “So just to recap: Vanessa and her gang of retards have the ritual in place and ready to go. They just need this here book-” you hold the red book out to the passengers in the back, though you doubt any of them can see it in the darkness. “-and Sam to finish things.”
  6634. >”Okay, easy,” Mike claps his hands. “We don’t give them either the book or Thumper.”
  6635. >You frown
  6636. “Unfortunately we also need Sam and the book to stop the ritual and banish the Behemoth. Oh, and from what I can tell, we’ll have to do it at the altar that we all saw on Friday.”
  6637. >”I’ve got a question,” Jenna cuts in. “What is this Behemoth?”
  6638. “Dunno,” you say. “It’s some kind of old god that they say can bring the world to chaos-”
  6639. >”-And debauchery and hedonism,” you and Mike utter in unison.
  6640. >You throw him a confused look
  6641. >”Lydia Penferth tried to convince me to join her side earlier today. She told me the same shpeel. I blinded her with oranges.”
  6642. >”Impressive,” Alex says
  6643. >”It- It-” Sam tries sitting up in his seat
  6644. >Damn, he’s actually contributing
  6645. >It’s enough to make you smile
  6646. >Ordinarily he doesn’t speak unless spoken to
  6647. >”It makes you s-s-see things that a-a-aren’t there, I s-s-saw you my brother,” Sam says, almost ashamed
  6648. >You’ve been meaning to ask about… Jacob? Was it Jacob? Maybe after this
  6649. >You clear your throat to dispel the melancholy mood settling over the vehicle’s occupants
  6650. “So like I said. We’ll need to bring Sam and the Book of Rite with us on Friday, sneak into the gym, and… I’ll read up and figure out a way to undo all of this. But I know for sure we need Sam and the book.”
  6651. >”We could…” Jenna starts, before her words collapse into a series of thoughtful hums
  6652. >”We could get costumes. I mean, the Spooktober Fest is a costumed event. Plus the goths won’t be able to tell it’s us if we’re all dressed up.”
  6653. >There’s silence, almost as if everyone is still digesting what you said
  6654. >Sam squeaks up again
  6655. >In the mounting darkness, you can see his hands go to his ears and tug at them softly
  6656. >”W-What about my d-d-dad?”
  6657. >Ah yes
  6658. >The crazy, abusive, dangerous, alcoholic rabbit who is probably still out hunting for Sam right now
  6659. >You hadn’t even thought of him
  6660. >He’s a rogue element
  6661. >A dingo in the daycare
  6662. >It’s not like Sam can avoid school
  6663. >If he misses any more class his chances of graduating are slim
  6664. >And you will not fuck his life up anymore than you already have
  6665. >In the darkness, you shrug, hoping nobody can see your complete ineptitude
  6666. >”What’s so scary about Sam’s dad?” Mike asks
  6667. >Ah, that’s right. He never met the guy
  6668. “Bruh, Sam’s dad is-”
  6669. >”Deeply misguided,” Alex cuts in
  6670. >….
  6671. “You could say that.”
  6672. >Or you could call him what he really is:
  6673. “Sam’s dad is a violent drunk who’s out hunting for us.”
  6674. >Silence
  6675. >”You mean, like, right now?” Mike asks. “As in, he’s driving around looking for us? To do what?”
  6676. >Sam pulls anxiously at his ears
  6677. >Reflexively, you snatch his hands with your own and give them both gentle squeezes
  6678. “H-Hurt me,” Sam says. “Last time I r-r-ran away my d-d-dad burned me and b-beat me,”
  6679. >Jesus CHROIST
  6680. >He BURNED Sam?
  6681. >You remember the way he stomped on your hood and caved it in
  6682. >Fuark
  6683. >Somehow the goths seem less threatening than a psychotic rabbit
  6684. >You guess you’ll… cross that bridge when you come to it?
  6685. “He knows my name and my car, but I think we’re safe here. Nobody ever comes to the old church.”
  6686. >You only get silence in response
  6687. >…
  6688. >Probably wasn’t a good enough answer
  6689. “Well shit, what do you want me to say? I don’t have a plan. If we stay here, we’ll likely be fine .”
  6690. >…
  6691. >”I bet I could take him in a fight,” Mike remarks
  6692. >Well probably not
  6693. >But okay
  6694. “Sure thing, buddy.”
  6695. >Your sarcasm is nearly physical
  6696. >Mike folds his arms across his chest, poking Jenna in the boobs
  6697. >He doesn’t seem to care, but the fox does
  6698. >She strains away from the human, only gaining meager ground
  6699. >Sam squeezes your hand anxiously
  6700. >And for a good minute, nobody speaks
  6701. >You all just saturate in the revelations
  6702. >Marinate in their weight
  6703. >SEETHE in their-
  6704. >Alright that’s enough
  6705. >Alex, thankfully, says one word
  6706. >But it’s enough to get you all to pile out of the car and into the fresh air (it was getting kind of musty)
  6707. >”Fire?”
  6708.  
  6709. >Ah fire, mammal-kind’s oldest friend
  6710. >You love fire
  6711. >It’s so… mesmerizing
  6712. >Calming
  6713. >Hot
  6714. >And apparently Alex loves fire too
  6715. >… Maybe a little more than you do
  6716. >He rushes around like a madman, collecting sticks and twigs for kindling while you drag some old logs up from the surrounding area
  6717. >You throw them all into a tight pile in the center of the parking lot like the world’s worst boy scout
  6718. >With the wind gone and the light faded, you rely on your cellphone’s weak camera flashlight to cut around in the darkness of the barren fields surrounding the church
  6719.  
  6720. >And your car’s cigarette lighter to start the blaze
  6721. >You heap everything you’ve gathered into a loose, brown assortment in the center of the empty lot
  6722. “Last thing we need is to burn this whole place to the ground,” you say, pressing down on your car’s ciggarette lighter. It sinks neatly into its slot
  6723. >”At least something on your car works,” Mike remarks
  6724. “Hey, it gets us around town. You can complain when you’ve got your car back.”
  6725. >The vampire saunters back over to your crummy pile of sticks and logs grumbling something about getting his car back and driving it up your ass
  6726. >Par the course for Mike
  6727.  
  6728. >You press the red-hot lighter into the pile of grass and twigs, hoping you can get enough heat going to catch the bigger sticks
  6729. >Shit
  6730. >All it does is burn through the dry grass, the flames curling the brown plant matter into a charred crisp
  6731. >At least the wind is down to a pathetic limp
  6732.  
  6733. >You hunch over the pile with the lighter, its heat renewed by a second trip to the car
  6734. >You press the lighter down once more into the brittle grass>And you fail once more to create fire
  6735. >Everyone is standing around, waiting for your shitty little pile of twigs and dredged up logs to spark up and become…
  6736. >… Anything other than a puff of smoke
  6737. >”Good job there, Ranger Anon,” Mike says, like a total dick
  6738. “You wanna do better? I’m trying my best here.”
  6739. >You feel the Book of Rite like a flat, square pancake in your breast pocket
  6740. >Maybe
  6741. >Hmmm
  6742.  
  6743. >With the book open you find a broken piece of glass in the parking lot
  6744. >Probably the leavings of some irresponsible teenagers coming up here to drink
  6745. >Sam looks on with alarm as you delicately trace the broken glass across your skin
  6746. >You hesitate, still forcing the glass into your skin
  6747. >C’mon Anon, just do it
  6748. >You even found a page about starting a fire
  6749. >It’s simple shit
  6750. >… Simpler than curing Mike’s vampirism, which you so beautifully pulled off last time
  6751. >You suck in a lung full of cold air
  6752. >How does it go again?
  6753. >”Down the street not across the lane,” Mike says, as if he were reading your mind
  6754. >”Mike!” Jenna slaps him on the arm, her claws extended, leaving score marks in Mike’s exposed skin
  6755.  
  6756. >”Hey! What the hell was that for?” Mike says in protest
  6757. >He rubs at his arm, but produces no blood -- just scratch marks
  6758. >You shrug
  6759. >You know he’s wrong anyway
  6760. >That’ll get you killed
  6761. >”Please b-b-be careful,” Sam says
  6762. >He nervously tugs at his ears
  6763. >God damnit you’ll stop him after this
  6764.  
  6765. >He’s like a child sometimes, you swear
  6766. >Kid is going to tear his ears off
  6767.  
  6768. “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. I’m a professional.”
  6769. >”Professional emo,” Mike remarks, and gets another smack for itor
  6770. >You smile at Sam, which calms his nerves a bit
  6771. >Well, here goes
  6772. >The longer you drag this out the less likely you are to do it
  6773. >Just
  6774. >Fuckin’
  6775. >DO IT
  6776. >Don’t let your dreams be dreams
  6777. >The glass stings as it cuts across your wrist
  6778. >Your veins open up slightly, and a small trickle of blood drips out
  6779. >It lands on the page you’ve set down at your feet
  6780. >In an instant the fire blazes up, throwing heavy shadows across the blacktop and against the fading white of the church
  6781. >Jenna, Sam and Alex all clap
  6782. >Mike is still too busy rubbing at his arm to notice
  6783.  
  6784. >Like slavs, you squat on your hams near the fire, feeding sticks into the unnatural blaze
  6785. >Both you and Alex and hypnotized by the tendrils of flame that lap at the sky
  6786. >Above you the moon hangs like a massive stone, ready to drop at any second
  6787. >Another night with a full moon
  6788. >Another night closer to Friday
  6789. >Your phone’s clock reads 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday
  6790. >You look over to Sam, who, despite his heavy, ratty clothing, is shivering against the fire
  6791. >It’s still a cold night regardless, and there’s not a lot of meat on his bones to keep him warm
  6792. >He’s a hungry skelly
  6793. >Do you… do the thing?
  6794. >You know, what you’ve seen in all the movies?
  6795. >…
  6796. >You slip out of your torn blazer and drape it over Sam’s trembling body
  6797. >He looks up at you in bewilderment, as if he couldn’t believe that somebody was THIS kind
  6798. >You’re… not? You’re not kind
  6799. >Goddamnit you’re a coward and you’ve been a dick to him for so long
  6800. >You just can’t stand to see him so cold and forgotten about
  6801. >”Thank you,” he whispers, his voice broken by the snapping of the fire
  6802.  
  6803. “Don’t mention it.”
  6804. >You hope nobody notices
  6805. >Everyone is too busy with each other or the fire
  6806. >Alex stares into the fire, his eyes reflecting its light and little else
  6807. >The lights are on, but when there’s fire, nobody is home
  6808. >Mike and Jenna are sitting side-by-side, leaving just a few precarious inches between one another
  6809. >You can feel the heat of the fire on your face
  6810. >This was a good idea
  6811. >And hey, it’s close to Halloween
  6812. >Sam doesn’t really have much holiday experience
  6813. >Hell, you’d be surprised if he celebrated any holidays at his shithole of a home
  6814. >How do you give Sam a more authentic, festive experience?
  6815. >…
  6816.  
  6817. “You guys wanna hear some scary stories?” You probe
  6818. >Damn, scary stories? You’re all legally adults
  6819. >Why would anyone want to hear scary stories?
  6820. >”Hell yeah man, been a long time since I heard any good ones,” Alex says. “The specter of capitalism was a lot less frightening than I thought it’d be.”
  6821. “That’s just a concept from The Communist Manifesto,” you remind your dumbass friend
  6822. >”Ah, yeah. That book was good. Not at all scary though.”
  6823.  
  6824. >You sigh>You love Alex but he’s helpless without you
  6825. >Sam pokes at you
  6826. >”I-I want to h-hear a scary s-s-story.”
  6827. “Alright Thumper, you want a scary story?”
  6828. >You crack your knuckles
  6829. “You’ll get a scary story.”
  6830.  
  6831. >By the time you’re done, Sam is huddling up next to you, wrapping himself around your arm and shivering
  6832. >His amber eyes sweep around the darkness that surrounds your dwindling fire, searching for something
  6833. >A horrible monster
  6834. >The man with the hook for a hand, waiting to gut little rabbits and hang them in his basement
  6835. >You can only fight a satisfied grin
  6836. “Scary, huh Sam?”
  6837. >The rabbit shakes his head violently
  6838. >”N-No…” he says, fighting the tremors in his voice
  6839. “C’mon, it’s okay to admit you’re scared. That story used to scare me a TON,” you assure the gun shy rabbit
  6840. >His trembling slows a little
  6841. >”Y-You get scared?”
  6842. >BOI, if only he knew what a coward you were at heart
  6843. “Yeah. I do. Probably more than you think.”
  6844. >The fire snaps and hisses, and you see its lapping flames reflected in Sam’s huge eyes that stare back up into your own
  6845. >He looks so… spellbound?
  6846. >Your heart goes doki doki
  6847. >You’re so caught up in looking into Sam’s eyes that you didn’t even notice that Mike grabbed your car keys and popped open your trunk
  6848. >But instead of driving off like a dick, he wanders back into the firelight with Sam’s baseball bat leaning easy on his shoulder
  6849. >In his freehand he’s got a few dusty old beer bottles by their necks
  6850. >“You know what’ll take your mind off Anon’s story?” He asks
  6851. >Sam clings tighter to you
  6852. >”Some batting practice.” Mike smiles, his fangs visible as they bite into his lower lips
  6853.  
  6854. >You and Alex throw more sticks into the fire
  6855. >Alex with joy
  6856. >You, with reluctance. Sleep is starting to weigh heavy across your whole body
  6857. >What a fucking day
  6858.  
  6859. >The fire’s light stretches further, painting your tall shadows across the empty blacktop
  6860. >You sneak concerned glances at Mike and Sam and Jenna
  6861. >Sam is standing a good 20 feet away from Mike, his two small hands wrapped around the base of the aluminum bat that once belonged to his brother
  6862. >Jenna huddles over him, adjusting his grip
  6863. >”Okay so, hold it like this,” she says, sliding Sam’s hands a little further up the metal cylinder
  6864. >”And when Mike throws it, I want you to pretend like you’re swinging THROUGH the bottle. Got it?”
  6865. >”G-Got it,” Sam stammers. “H-How do you kn-know all of this? You’re li-like a genius.”
  6866. >The vixen laughs
  6867. >”Genius? No, I just played softball for eight years. I’m as unathletic as they come.”
  6868. >”Well I’ve never played a sport. You guys ready to see the shittiest throw you’ve ever seen?” Mike asks, a dusty beer bottle in his grip
  6869. >Jenna steps away from Sam, leaving the bunny an isolated figure in the fringes of the firelight, accompanied only by his shadows
  6870. >Mike steps into his throw, hurling his arm forward, his body following with a controlled burst of power
  6871. >You nervously watch the bottle sail through the air towards Sam
  6872. >The rabbit pulls his arms backwards, bringing the bat with him, his body tensing up like a compressed spring
  6873. >Sam’s follow through is smooth and clean
  6874. >The bottle explodes in the air in a shower of amber glass
  6875. >You breathe out
  6876. >Were you holding your breath?
  6877. >Sam’s shoulders slump forward as he relaxes his grip on the bat
  6878. >Mike’s jaw drops open
  6879. >”Holy shit Thumper, did you used to play baseball or something?”
  6880. >Sam holds the bat in front of him, astonished at his own capacity to demolish glass bottles
  6881.  
  6882. >”N-No I never pl-played a sport. B-But I w-w-watched my b-brother smash up old cars w-w-w-with this bat…” he trails off, eyes finding yours, as if asking for approval
  6883. >You nod slowly
  6884. >Mike readies another bottle
  6885. >”Alright dude, this one is coming in hot. Last time I went easy on you. No mercy this time.”
  6886.  
  6887. >Sam jumps into a ready stance, lifting his shoulders, raising the bat high, glancing at the positioning of his fingers and adjusting according to Jenna’s instructions
  6888. >The bat wobbles with uncoordinated grace
  6889. >It might be too heavy for him
  6890. >Mike doesn’t wait for a signal
  6891. >He lunges into a merciless throw
  6892. >The bottle goes hurtling forward without grace, turning end-over-end in the firelight…
  6893. >… And becomes a million tiny fragments when Sam swings through it
  6894. >Jenna claps her hands loudly. ”Nice hit!”
  6895. >Jesus fuck, no kidding
  6896. >You don’t want to be on the receiving end of that any time soon
  6897. >Sam’s eyes crack open
  6898. >He looks around at the little glittering fragments that catch the firelight
  6899. >”I-I did it?” He says, questioning himself
  6900. >”You crushed it!” Jenna squeals in excitement
  6901. >Mike looks… defeated. He squanders a scowl and throws his head towards the fire
  6902. >”Nice hit,” he grumbles
  6903. >Sore loser
  6904. >You’re just relieved that Sam didn’t get hurt
  6905.  
  6906. >The fire reduces itself to a weak smolder
  6907. >The beer bottles are all gone
  6908. >You, Sam, Alex and Jenna watch the smoke drift up into the sky and then disappear against the moon
  6909. >Everyone is shivering
  6910. >Even Sam, who is wearing your suit jacket on top of his hoodie
  6911. >”So…” Mike starts. “I’m going to be sleeping in your car, right?” He looks towards you as he suffocates embers with his heels. “Because inside the church is no-go, and I’m sure as shit not sleeping outside.”
  6912. >Well, he’s already got your keys, so why is he asking your permission?
  6913. >Ah, maybe he’s just trying to be nice
  6914. “As long as you don’t drive off in the middle of the night,” you warn him, though you know it’s not going to do any good
  6915. >Still, you issue the warning as a kind of formality
  6916. >The rest of you end up back inside the church
  6917. >Your eyes are as heavy as water though, and the warmth of the church isn’t helping
  6918. >You feel the gravity of sleep pulling you down
  6919. >Jenna and Alex post up on pews, pillowing their hands underneath their heads
  6920. >You sit down, the old pews creaking under your weight
  6921. >You’re going to stay awake as long as you can, watching that back door
  6922. >Sam hops up on the seat next to you and leans his heavy head on your arm
  6923. >Is it just you… or is Sam being insanely affectionate lately?
  6924. >All this touching and grabbing and boldness directed at you makes you feel… something… in the crispy ashes of your heart
  6925. >He’s just being so nonchalant about this, almost like it’s a normal thing nowadays
  6926. >The creaking of the pews steers your attention away from the rabbit cuddling up to you
  6927. >It’s Jenna, sitting up, her eyes half open, nose in the air, twitching
  6928. >”That smell…” she mutters, looking around the church in a daze
  6929. >She settles on Sam
  6930. >The bunny doesn’t seem to notice, his eyes already failing against sleep
  6931. >”Couldn’t be…” Jenna mumbles, narrowing her vision, brows furrowing
  6932. >She hums in thought, and then says something beneath your range of hearing
  6933. >She lowers herself back against the pews
  6934. >You try inhaling deeply through your nose
  6935. >*Snifffffff sniffffffffff (my dear)*
  6936. >Only a slight mustiness
  6937. >It smells kind of sour, like sweat
  6938. >Well, it’s not like any of you have showered in a couple days
  6939. >And you don’t even want THINK about the last time that Sam bathed
  6940. >Do anthros give themselves tongue baths?
  6941. >Ewwww
  6942. >You shake your eyes open
  6943. >Oh the places your mind goes when you’re nearing sleep’s door
  6944. >You reach your arm around Sam and pull him in tight
  6945. >The bunny doesn’t tense up or squeak
  6946. >Instead he nuzzles in against you, cooing softly
  6947. >You look down
  6948. >Yep, he’s definitely asleep
  6949. >”Y-You smell so g-good,” he whispers
  6950. >…
  6951. >Okay so he’s not asleep
  6952. >He must be in limbo between slumber and lucidity
  6953. “T-Thanks?” You offer back
  6954. >What the hell are you supposed to even say to that?
  6955. >Guess that was good enough, because he doesn’t reply
  6956. >You can hear Alex snoring loudly a few rows over
  6957. >Alex has no qualms about where he’s sleeping, as per-usual
  6958. >You lay your head against the back of the pew and try to get comfortable
  6959. >Your eyes flutter shut
  6960. >And sleep is within your grasp
  6961. >But then a train horn forces Sam up, which forces you up
  6962. >Down at the bottom of the hill, behind the church, a freighter screams on by in the night, its horn pulling away
  6963. >Sam’s posture stiffens with fear, and you can feel his grip on your arm tighten
  6964. >It’s just a train, no need to get so worked up
  6965. >Is what you want to say
  6966. >But instead you say nothing
  6967. >You just pull Sam tighter while the train rolls on
  6968.  
  6969. >A few minutes later it passes in the night, leaving silence in its wake
  6970. >Sam slowly relaxes himself, his body and muscles slackening into the crook of your arm
  6971. >You pull him tighter against you, trying to comfort him
  6972. >”S-Sorry, I-”
  6973. “You don’t have to explain,” you say (and try to resist making an egg joke)
  6974. >A yawn escapes you and you lean your head back against the pew
  6975. >Sam snuggles up against your side, still shaking in little tremors that subside into the soft rising and falling of gentle, controlled breaths leaving his lungs
  6976. >You let your eyes fall shut
  6977. >You stare at the pinks of your vision, fighting against the always-on overhead lights in the church
  6978. >But eventually you can no longer pay attention to anything
  6979. >It all falls away
  6980. >Alex
  6981. >Mike
  6982. >Jenna
  6983. >And finally, Sam
  6984. >Just leaving you, drifting off to sleep
  6985.  
  6986. >You are Sam
  6987. >Jacob was 18, you were 12 now
  6988. >But he still couldn’t get dinner right, leaving you to do the cooking (as usual)
  6989. >You didn’t mind one bit
  6990. >You liked it
  6991. “Y-You gotta measure the m-m-milk properly, or else it’s w-w-watery,” you say, watching your older brother eyeball a glass of milk
  6992. >”This would be easier if we had measuring cups,” he says with a groan, resting his head down on the table
  6993. >A bottle of amber whiskey isn’t far from his grip
  6994. >He looks older now, more harshed by the world
  6995. >His brown fur is frayed and unkempt, growing wild
  6996. >His body is trimmed of fat and now lean with muscle
  6997. >He stopped going to school
  6998. >He started drinking and smoking more in its absence
  6999. >Fighting more
  7000. >And dodging trains more too, when he lost a fight, or when he couldn’t get a hold of his nerves
  7001. >You’ve been going with him usually when mom and dad fight, or dad gets too drunk
  7002. >You’re scared out of your god damn mind every time
  7003. >And yet you went, to feel the safety of distance from you and this house
  7004. >To have your brother buy you comic books at the gas station (some he buys for himself)
  7005.  
  7006. >You stand above the stove, elbow noodles roiling in the scalded pot
  7007. >Whenever mom and dad weren’t home, you could breathe a bit easier
  7008. “R-Ready with the b-butter?” You kill the flame on the noodles and hoist the heavy pot off the stove with a great effort
  7009. >Your thin arms shake under the weight
  7010. >”Sure,” he sighs, uninterested, a half-finished cup of whiskey at his side. His head is on an easy swivel as he scans around the kitchen, already forgetting what you asked him to do
  7011. >You rest the pot in the sink and drain the water, using a fork to try and keep the noodles from slipping down the drain
  7012. >Mac and cheese was what you made when you made dinner, and that was only if you ate
  7013. >Most of the money went towards rent, then dad’s drinking, mom’s smokes
  7014. > Jacob stole anything leftover to buy cigarettes or something else to drink
  7015. >On the plus side, you’ve gotten great at surviving off one meal a day, and learned to save your free school lunch for when times were especially lean
  7016. >You might have been a coward
  7017. >But you were resourceful
  7018.  
  7019. >Jacob eats in silence, his glass of drink filled up yet again for the third time
  7020. >You can smell it on him
  7021. >He talked little, just stared absently, eyes clouding over with dark thoughts, the angular features of his jaw set in a hard line
  7022. >He reminded you too much of dad
  7023. >But he wasn’t as cruel as dad, nor as mom
  7024. >Jacob was hard sometimes, but you knew it was only because he was trying to give you something
  7025. >Self-reliance
  7026. >”You ever seen dad’s old gun?” He asks, suddenly, his plate barely touched
  7027. >A dumb smile goes across his face
  7028. “N-No. D-D-Dad has a gun?” You say
  7029. >You hated guns
  7030. >They meant death
  7031. >”Of course he’s got a gun, Sam. From when he served in the war. ‘Member all those stories he told us? I think he stole it.”
  7032. “R-Right,” you say to your plate, keeping your eyes down out of sudden anxiety
  7033. >”Sam. Look at me.”
  7034. >You look up
  7035. >And look down the barrel of a pistol
  7036. >A black hole of nothing, encased in cold steel that gleams like clean silver
  7037. >Jacob is smirking, his fingers teasing the trigger
  7038. >”BAM!” He screams, pressing hard
  7039. >You shriek
  7040. >The gun clicks uselessly, its magazine spent and chamber void
  7041. >When you finally look up, Jacob is howling with laughter
  7042. >”Come on Sammy, did you seriously think I loaded it?”
  7043. >You try to stammer out a response but feel your throat tightening, tears springing to the corners of your eyes
  7044. >God damnit
  7045. >You coward
  7046. >You utter fucking coward
  7047. >Get a hold of yourself
  7048. >Jacob stops laughing when he sees your face
  7049. >There’s a flash of anger behind his eyes
  7050. >One that reminds you of dad
  7051. >He sets the gun down on the table
  7052. >It’s loud and heavy, and you know it couldn’t weigh more than a pound or two, but it sounds like it weighs a ton
  7053. >”Jesus, Sam. It was only a joke. Are you seriously going to be a bitch about this too?”
  7054. “I-I-I don’t-”
  7055. >”You’re such a little baby. It was just a fucking joke.”
  7056. >Now the tears come
  7057. >You can’t control it
  7058. >You cry at everything, don’t you, you big baby?
  7059. >Jacob’s face flashes with anger — and he holds that anger for a few seconds — until his exterior falls apart like ice met with a flamethrower
  7060. >”C’mon…” he nudges your arm
  7061. >”You’re bigger than this, right? You’re a tough kid.”
  7062. >You jerk your head back and forth, ears flopping side-to-side
  7063. >Your short, unwashed hair follows your ears
  7064. “I-I’m n-not. I’m s-s-sorry for… I got so sc-scared.”
  7065. >Jacob looks lost
  7066. >Though his expression hardens back into a stoic, almost cold stare, the slight frown pursing his lips says he’s still unhappy with your tears
  7067. >And why shouldn’t he be?
  7068. >It wasn’t loaded
  7069. >Amazing though, isn’t it? The first thing you do when confronted with anything frightening or dangerous is to cry
  7070. >And now you’re making life hard for everyone — just like you always have
  7071. >Like the burden you are
  7072. >Those words ring loud and clear in your head
  7073. >Burden
  7074. >Burden
  7075. >Burden
  7076. >”Sammy?”
  7077. >Jacob is standing up now
  7078. >”Do you hear that?”
  7079. >Your ears twitch
  7080. >The sound of metal clicking, locks turning, like the sound of nuclear missiles bursting from their silos, screaming across the sky
  7081. >”Fucking shit. I think it’s dad.”
  7082. >You stand up too, the old and shitty chair squealing in protest against the horribly dirty tile floors
  7083. >Heavy, drunken footsteps approach the kitchen
  7084. >Your dad stands in the opening leading to the family room, looking leaner and more feral than before
  7085. >His dark brown fur is tossed, unwashed, and scraggled
  7086. >He’s wearing an old, dirty work shirt stained with oil, heavy, baggy work pants and boots
  7087. >There’s a fresh bottle of Jack in his hands
  7088. >His eyes coldly scan over Jacob, reflecting nothing
  7089. >When they linger on you, you swear you can see lightning in his eyes
  7090. >His eyes flick towards the table and narrow on the old pistol
  7091. >You shiver a bit
  7092. >That look only meant hell
  7093. >”Dad-” Jacob starts
  7094. >”Shut the fuck up,” he commands, still fixated on the gun
  7095. >Jacob tightens his fists
  7096. >”Is that my gun?” Dad barks. “You been in my room?”
  7097. >He turns his eyes on you and steps forward into the kitchen
  7098. >”Hey, bitch, you been fucking around in my room?”
  7099. >Your legs start to quiver, and a rush of adrenaline hits your system
  7100. >It’s almost instinctual at this point — the terror
  7101. >The fight or flight or freeze
  7102. >You always freeze or flee
  7103. >Both a mix of cowardice and learned behavior on your part, you figure
  7104. >Dad looks ready to fuck you up something awful
  7105. >You open your mouth to stammer an apology, but before you can start speaking, Jacob cuts in
  7106. >”It was me,” he says with finality. “I found the gun. Not my sister.”
  7107. >Jacob sneaks a look at you, and it’s so full of coldness and determination that you could swear it’s like looking at dad 15 years ago
  7108. >Why?
  7109. >You can understand that he hates you, but you wish you knew why?
  7110. >Is it because you’re always hiding behind him?
  7111. >Even now what separates you from your dad is a few feet of table and the muscular, feral frame of Jacob
  7112. >”Don’t protect her,” Dad snarls. “Don’t you dare protect that fucking burden. You hear me, boy?”
  7113. >”I’m not protecting her because it wasn’t her, you old fuck. I found the gun.”
  7114. >Dad turns his snarl onto Jacob
  7115. >”You’re talking a lot like a man. Watch your fucking mouth.”
  7116. >Your brother doesn’t move
  7117. >Doesn’t even flinch
  7118. >”I’m a man now.”
  7119. >His voice comes out in a whisper
  7120. >So quiet you can even hear your dad’s ragged breathing
  7121. >”Got something to say?” He sets the bottle down on the counter to his right
  7122. >He’s tender with the whiskey
  7123. >Just not with anyone else
  7124. >Not even mom
  7125. >Jacob purses his lips and throws his gaze to the side
  7126. >Dad stomps forward
  7127. >”I said: you got something to say, faggot?”
  7128. >Your brother cocks his head forward, staring straight down dad’s gaze
  7129. >It’s like staring down the barrel of a loaded gun
  7130. >”I’m a man now.”
  7131. >Dad smirks
  7132. >That devil smirk…
  7133. >”Oh you’re a man? You’re gonna act like a man, you smart mouthed little shit.”
  7134. >You close your eyes and wait for the violence to come
  7135. >Nothing but the sound of heavy breathing and your heart pounding in your chest
  7136. >Something clatters onto the table, stirring your nerves
  7137. >And not just one thing
  7138. >Several things, all bouncing off the table
  7139. >Heavy, and metal, with a dense weight
  7140. >Like little stones
  7141. >You open your eyes
  7142. >There’s a few bullets littering the table, gleaming gold in the kitchen light
  7143. >”You’re a man? Take those bullets. Load that gun.”
  7144. >Dad knocks the lid off the bottle of whiskey and throws it back for a dirty swig, saturating his fur
  7145. >He smelled of oil and smoke and now of his old friend Jack stain him
  7146. >Jacob is already loading the gun
  7147. “W-Wait!” You squeak. “J-Jake, don’t!”
  7148. >Your pathetic pleading falls on deaf ears
  7149. >You know he can hear you, he just doesn’t seem to care
  7150. >Jacob loads the magazine into the pistol, cocks it back with a mechanical *click*, and levels it at his Father
  7151. >Dad just smiles
  7152. >”I won’t even move,” he says, taking another swig
  7153. >Jacob is breathing hard, the strain on his face coming out in creased lines and furrowed brows
  7154. >”C’mon, do it. Prove you’re some kind of man. Put one right between my eyes.” Dad says
  7155. >And then he starts to laugh, but you don’t hear it
  7156. >Everything goes quiet
  7157. >The buzz of the light bulb above you
  7158. >The sound of whiskey running down dad’s throat
  7159. >His laughter
  7160. >Jacob’s heaving breaths
  7161. >Even your own heartbeat
  7162. >All of these are thrown into a quiet abyss
  7163. >Jacob’s fingers twitch
  7164. >Your eyes slam shut instinctively
  7165. >There’s a concussive blast that explodes against your eardrums, shattering the stasis
  7166. >And you know what happened without even having to open your eyes
  7167.  
  7168. >Dad casts an easy glance above him, at the bullet hole punched in the door frame
  7169. >”I thought so. You fucking coward.”
  7170.  
  7171. >Jacob’s whole body is trembling
  7172. >Hot air rolls in and out of his heaving chest
  7173. >Sweat dampens his fur, and you can smell the scent of gunpowder and smoke
  7174. >He lowers the gun, slowly, like it weighed 50 pounds even
  7175. >In one swift, angry movement, dad reaches forward, snatches the gun from Jacob’s shaky grip, and…
  7176. >There’s a flash of silver as the butt of the pistol smashes across Jacob’s jaw
  7177. >Your older brother, your guardian and protector, leans against the table for support, whole body still shaking with adrenaline and pain, blood funneling from his nose
  7178. >”Don’t you EVER go messing with my shit again, you hear me? You ain’t no man, so don’t go acting like it.”
  7179. >Dad quickly drains Jacob’s glass of whiskey
  7180. >As if you were an after thought, he forces his attention on you
  7181. >”Got something to say to me?”
  7182. >You notice you’re doing a whole lot of staring and nothing else
  7183. >Do you have something to say?
  7184. >Should you apologize?
  7185. >You didn’t really do anything wrong, right?
  7186. >Jacob flashes a vulnerable look at you, his eye rapidly swelling, blood threading down his fur from the corner of his lips
  7187. >There’s a silent plea in his gaze
  7188. >Laid out and desperate
  7189. “N-No sir. I-I’m s-s-sorry sir,” you stutter
  7190. >Jacob’s eyes fall shut
  7191. >”God, just listening to you talk pisses me off. Fix your damn mouth. Y-Y-Y-Y-You retard.”
  7192. >”I ca-can’t he-help it-”
  7193. “You’re just trying to piss me off now, aren’t you?”
  7194. >No! You just…
  7195. >You don’t know what to say!
  7196. >Maybe it’s better to say nothing?
  7197. >You open your mouth to speak but force it back shut
  7198. >God you hate yourself
  7199. >God you hate yourself
  7200. >God you hate yourself
  7201. >God you hate yourself
  7202. >”Get the fuck out of here,” your father commands. “And take your pussy brother with you.”
  7203. >Jacob struggles to his feet
  7204. >He gives Dad a savage, bloody scowl
  7205. >And then turns to face you, hate carved into the lines of his face
  7206. >He grabs you by the wrist, tears leaking from his eyes
  7207. >”C’mon, let’s go, Sam.” He yanks at your fur, sending pain shooting up your arm
  7208. >Jacob leads you out of the kitchen like an impatient boy pulling a small puppy on a leash
  7209. >It’s probably best not to resist right now
  7210. >You throw one quick glance over your shoulder
  7211. >Dad is sitting at the table, gun in one hand, bottle in the other, a pack of cigarettes budding from his oil-stained shirt pocket like they were white flowers
  7212.  
  7213. >You know where you’re going
  7214. >Even in the darkness, you can tell by the familiar tracks in the shattered pavement where Jacob is taking you
  7215. >He does this all the time
  7216. >When he’s angry
  7217. >Depressed
  7218. >Upset
  7219. >Had a bad fight
  7220. >Lost a bad fight
  7221. >A train roars in the night like an invisible, incomprehensibly large animal rolling over in its sleep
  7222. >The lights flicker out over head; most of them don’t even bother to come on as Jacob drags you away from home
  7223. >Some time passes before he speaks, his voice tinged with fury
  7224. >”What the FUCK Sam. What the FUCK is wrong with you?”
  7225. >You say nothing, only swallow hard, like you understand
  7226. >Best to just let him talk before you make it worse
  7227. >”I mean, you could have said something. You could have done something. I- I don’t know! All you do-” He tenses his grip on your wrist
  7228. >You squeak in pain as his his coarse fingers ring your wrists, pressing marks into your flesh
  7229. >As long as he gets out his anger safely with you, it’s for the best
  7230. >”-All you do is stutter, and cower, and hide, and wimp out, and let shit happen to you! And then to me! We’re supposed to be on the same team here, and all you fucking do is keep your head down.”
  7231. >You stumble in trying to keep up with his pace
  7232. >The houses thin out as grass and weeds overtake the pavement
  7233. >Soon the stooped houses disappear entirely, leading only to empty warehouses, unused plots, and industrial refuse
  7234. >That train horn booms in the distance, as if it knows you’re coming
  7235. >”Well!?” Jacob yells
  7236. >You can hear the heat in his voice
  7237. >You’re almost glad you can’t make out his face in this darkness
  7238. >”You gonna say something? Or are you going to keep your mouth shut like you always do when shit gets tough?”
  7239. >And what can you say now, after you’ve yet again hurt your brother and fucked things up?
  7240. >Good going, Sam
  7241. >You had this one chance to stand up for your brother and for yourself, and you let it go
  7242. >You shake your head and stay silent
  7243. >”Well you’re not going to pussy out on me again. Not this time,” Jacob says from behind clenched teeth
  7244.  
  7245. >Past the quarry
  7246. >Over the river bends
  7247. >Bridges
  7248. >Sheds
  7249. >Warehouses
  7250. >Where there are no houses
  7251. >Where the fields spread out even further and the stars creep out from behind clouds
  7252. >You know where you’re going
  7253. >Closer now
  7254. >Your heart starts to hammer when you see the tracks laid into the ground
  7255. >Jacob drags you down into the old pit where the train runs through, tunnels on each side
  7256. >A horn blares — it’s close now, but it’s even worse because you can’t see it
  7257. >He pulls you onto the tracks, gripping you by the ears
  7258. >It must be instinct, because you try to sprint away
  7259. >This is the way it’ll always be, you guess
  7260. >Your older brother was too much like Dad
  7261. >He grabs you by your dangling ears and yanks hard
  7262. >You scream in pain
  7263. “Jacob!” You pull desperately at his hands “We don’t need to do this! Please let me go!”
  7264. >Your pleas fall on deaf ears as you’re dragged onto the ties
  7265. >You’re just watching for smoke in the moonlight now, sweat beading down your forehead, saturating your fur
  7266. >”Shut the fuck up and stay there. You understand me? Don’t move. Not even an inch. Not until I say so.”
  7267. >His words make you shiver
  7268. >”One god damn inch too soon and I’ll break your legs.”
  7269. >He shouts above the oncoming squeal of the train, your sensitive ears twitching at his hot whiskey breath
  7270. >Your brother steps away from you, leaving you upright on the tracks, facing the opening of a tunnel
  7271. >And you can see a spot of light, like an angry nail in the darkness
  7272. >Growing larger
  7273. >”You will not move. Not until I tell you to.”
  7274. >The train whistle shrieks as the ground  rumbles
  7275. >”HOLD YOUR GROUND! IGNORE EVERYTHING ELSE BUT ME!”
  7276. >Prove yourself
  7277. >Prove your bravery
  7278. >Grow the fuck up, Sam
  7279. >Your brother is saying something else to you over the shuddering sound of steel barreling forward, but you can’t hear him
  7280. >Everything goes quiet
  7281. >The engine is roaring forward, that train shot forward like a bullet aimed right between your amber eyes
  7282. >There is only you and that train
  7283. >It’s so close that you swear you can feel the heat coming off of it
  7284. >Everything is deaf
  7285. >Everything is muted, blunted, a galactic mile away
  7286. >Just you
  7287. >And that train
  7288. >The rush takes over your head, like a flood of adrenaline and blood pounding in your ear to the speed of locomotive engine piston rods
  7289. >You can feel your legs again
  7290. >You can hear your heart hammering in your delicate ribcage, pounding war-drums in the crevices of your skull
  7291. >And you can hear Jacob at last
  7292. >”Holllddddd!” Jacob shrieks over the worried blare of the train’s horn
  7293. >YOU CAN FEEL YOUR LEGS AGAIN
  7294. >”Holddddd!”
  7295. >Don’t move
  7296. >MOVE NOW!
  7297. >”HOLD!”
  7298. >MOVE!
  7299. >The train blasts out of the tunnel, its horn screaming in panic as its brakes squeal and struggle to halt 200 tons of steel and coal-fired velocity
  7300. >”HOLD!!!”
  7301.  
  7302. >Your fear sends you toppling from the tracks onto the cold, hard dirt
  7303. >You hit the ground face first, and then you just lay there as the train rumbles past you
  7304. >You’re frozen in panic and pain
  7305. >You don’t want to move, you don’t want to be alive
  7306. >You want the thrumming beat of your heart to stop altogether
  7307. >Then you look up and see Jacob towering over you, that devil-look etched into his face with his father’s hands
  7308. >”That’s no dodge, you fucking coward.”
  7309. >The train rolls by in the night
  7310. >It’d take miles for it to come to a full stop
  7311.  
  7312. ONTO ACT 3: Something That Matters -- https://pastebin.com/TZGKfv3q
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