Perpetrator's Note: While I know this concept has been effectively beaten to death, I had to recycle it anyway. I like writing psychological fuckery, and the first bits of this were largely scribbled during slow (read: boring) periods at work. My first Jhonen fic, so if you must flay me please do so gently. (For anyone interested, the title is taken from a Creedence song; I highly recommend Rasputina's cover of same).
It was dark.
Snow, thin and grey and sad, lay in a tired blanket over the
grime of the city. The recent cold snap had been just enough to turn
the normal winter sprinkle into the sort of snow that becomes slush
almost immediately, the kind that churns every available particle of
dirt into sticky, clinging mud--until today, when the temperature had
abruptly dropped, and all the drips and drizzles had frozen
Devi stared out the window, at the buildings that stood as black outlines against the oddly bright night sky. The sudden ice had knocked out power grids all over town, and without the comforting glow of the streetlamps the city looked hostile, alien. For over a year she had avoided the dark, had locked herself in her apartment and kept the lights on, but now it seemed to her that the darkness had invaded her refuge, had taken up residence and made itself at home.
She shivered, hugging her blanket tighter around herself, and turned away. Candles dotted the shelves and counters of her apartment, stuck haphazardly in bottles and on saucers, casting bizarre shadows on the walls. It was nights like this that fed creatures like Sickness, she thought; too much of it would be more than enough to send you weird in the head.
She's gone, Devi, she thought. Dead and buried. And it was true, mostly; save for odd echoes, she hadn't been troubled by Sickness since she'd torn the doll apart. Some part of her knew, though, that in this case the dead didn't have to stay dead--she'd been very, very careful to give Sickness no chance to rise from her grave. No stress, no anger, no fear--no extremity of emotion that might feed the doll's hungry ghost. She'd been doing so well, until now, until her well-worn routine had been so rudely interrupted by the frigid dark. Even her laptop had abandoned her, the battery lasting only long enough for her to light her candles before dying.
Irrational though it was, Devi was scared. No, scratch that; she was terrified, the fear flowing heavy through her veins, a lead weight that pressed down on her and destroyed all sagacity. Her heavy door was locked and barred, her windows were all latched, but she couldn't shake her unfounded but insistent conviction that something was coming for her, that the shadows concealed some nameless evil that sought to do her harm. She was so afraid that she was half-tempted to call Tenna, to see if her friend would come stay with her--even spending an evening listening to Spooky squeaking would be better than being alone with her nightmares.
"This is stupid," she said to herself, glancing back out the window. The moon was rising, its glow all but obscured by the sullen clouds--a full moon, rendered a faint and ghostly silver.
"So don't come round tonight," she murmured, "it's bound to take your life. There's a bad moon on the rise…." It was a bad moon, or at least an alien one, and like everything else on this fucking horrible night it scared her.
She glanced at the clock, the battery-operated alarm that was the only one still working in this blackout. It was almost two in the morning; she really ought to try and get some sleep. Shivering again, she blew out most of the candles and took one into her room, setting it on the end-table and curling up on her bed. Things would look better in the morning, and she'd laugh at herself for being such an idiot, but for now she was perfectly willing to hide under the blankets like a frightened child.
Silence reigned for about half an hour, broken only by the faint stir of Devi's breathing--restless and uneven at first, then deep and regular as sleep finally took hold of her.
It's always the same, the dream. It's why she's grown to hate sleep, to fear what her dreams might dredge from her subconscious.
They start on the hill, looking down at the twinkling lights of the city, her and Nny. It's so nice, so calm and happy, and though she knows what's coming, every time she can't help but enjoy it. It was nice; and the niceness only made all that followed all the more terrible.
"You want to go back to your place?" she asks Nny, and as always some part of her screams to change it, to invite him back to her apartment instead--to see if, somehow, some way, it could have ended differently.
She hadn't been asleep long when something stirred in the closet, something shifting near-silently behind the hanging clothes. The door eased open with only the faintest creak of hinges, and a figure almost invisible against the darkness crept out, stealing noiselessly across the carpet. Two eyes gleamed bright in the gloom, followed by the glint of twin blades, the polished steel reflecting the dim candlelight. One step, then two, and halfway through the third Devi sighed, rolling over in her sleep and murmuring unhappily.
And at his house, on his ancient couch, he asks her why she wanted to go out with him, truly wondering what she sees in him. All naïve she answers, not knowing that he has great reason to doubt, and that she was a fool for not realizing what he was until it was almost too late.
Nny froze, for a moment motionless as a statue, then tiptoed forward once more. Quickly now, quick and quiet and she wouldn't feel a thing--
Just as she's about to kiss him he…flees, leaving her alone and confused. She hears him talking to himself, or to something she can't hear, and when she follows she opens the door to the knives and shattered mirrors of his mind, the physical manifestation of his Sickness. She knows he intends to 'immortalize the moment'; her memory of that terrible instant hasn't dulled, and likely never will. But horrible as it was, as it is, memory can't compare to the nightmare fumbling of her fingers on the doorknob, to the kick that misses…
…to the knife that does not.
Just as he reached the edge of the bed Devi's eyes snapped open, wide and horrified, and she bit back a shriek, twitching violently beneath the blankets. At first Nny thought she had seen him, but that didn't prove to be the case--he knew when she saw him because she let loose the shriek, scrambling backward across the bed and landing in a tangled heap of sheets on the floor beyond.
Nny swore. "Devi, wait," he said, twitching--it wasn't supposed to happen this way, dammit. "Wait--"
"Fuck you!" she screamed, fumbling blindly for a projectile--her fingers closed on the clock, which she seized and hurled at him like a Frisbee. It missed entirely, smashing against the far wall. "You stay the fuck away from me!" The single candle flickered crazily as she scrabbled for a more effective weapon, scrambling barefoot over the carpet as Nny advanced, slow and implacable and dangerously irritated--this was not part of the Plan.
Devi kicked at him, a futile gesture with her bare feet, but a moment later her questing hand found something much more efficient--the bedside lamp. "I MEAN IT, YOU FUCKING…uh…FUCKER!"
"Original, Devi." Still he advanced, and it was with no compunction that Devi staggered to her feet and brained him with it as hard as she could.
"Don't mess with a classic," she said, or thought she said--the words came out high and hysterical, sound without meaning, as she scrambled past him and out into the living room. She didn't know how in the seven hells Nny had gotten in here, but it didn't matter--what mattered was that she had to get out, get anywhere that wasn't here. Tenna's apartment, the 24/7, anywhere that had people…This was a nightmare, it had to be a nightmare--it was always only a nightmare, until now.
She'd made it halfway across the living room when Nny's skeletal fingers closed around her ankle, jerking with unnatural strength and sending her sprawling face-first across the carpet.
"Come on, Devi…don't make this so…damn…difficult--OW!" By pure accident her heel connected with his jaw, making something crack in a way that could only be bad.
"Oh…sorry," she grunted, kicking at him with her other foot. "I'll just…roll over and die--" crunch of a shattering saucer "--so it makes--" the squishy thud of a half-melted candle "--your life--SHIT!" He'd caught her arm with his other hand, fingers clinging to her wrist like a vice, jerking her backward almost hard enough to dislocate her shoulder. A fresh flood of panic gripped her--she'd kicked his ass before, but this was different, this was… this shouldn't be happening, not in her apartment, her sanctuary… And with that thought her terror melted seamlessly into a deep, white-hot fury, searing away the greatest part of her trembling fear and leaving instead a sudden, vicious rage.
"Let GO, GODDAMMIT!" Devi twisted savagely, kicking and smacking and occasionally biting, but it was like beating at air--somehow he was almost never where he should be, and when she did land a blow it didn't seem to do any good at all.
Somehow she found her flashlight, the big heavy Maglite that her paranoid self had bought for just such a situation as this. She grabbed it and twisted again, swinging it in a savage arc that connected solidly with the side of Nny's head. The light snapped on, the beam jerking crazily as he seized her free hand, pinning both her wrists to the carpet.
"No," he panted. "You're coming with me, Devi, so just knock it off, okay?" He sounded more petulant than angry, as though she were refusing to follow the rules of some game. "Come on."
"Fair? FAIR? I'll give you fair," she snarled, desperately trying to free at least one hand. Nny did release her wrist, but only so he could snatch the flashlight from her fingers.
"I'm sorry, Devi," he said, sounding as though he genuinely meant it, and with those words he brought the heavy, steel-enforced butt of the light down hard on the back of her skull.
See? Staggeringly unoriginal concept. I'm hoping I'll be able to warp it into something interesting, but if not I can at least revel in my own absurdity.