Rated M for a reason :)
Pairing: Dark Alessa/Heather
--Shadows and Butterflies--
Run away, far away…and never look behind you…
Her eyes were watering.
The warm tears slid down her cheeks and she tasted salt as one pooled and then slipped past the corner of her lip. She licked it without thinking, and it was in that moment she realized her lungs were burning.
How long had she held her breath?
It felt like hours, but it wasn't. No one could hold their breath that long except the dead, and she wasn't dead, yet...was she? Her chest felt on fire. How long could swimmers hold it? Two minutes? Three? Gray speckles began marching along the edge of her vision, many breaking rank and wandering into her line of sight. Was she about to faint? After everything she had seen and done, she was going to faint over something like this?
That snapped her out of it. She blinked, drew a shaky breath--and finally struggled the air past her lips in small, wheezy pants.
The dizziness abated, but her heart continued slamming in her chest. The sound echoed in her ears, faltering a little here or there, like a drummer in her first parade. That little drummer was scared and pounding that drum as if she wanted people miles away to hear her loud and clear.
The sucking sounds and the rivulets of blood-black tendrils snaking from the washbasin made her wince. The smell was awful. While she had been holding her breath and letting the tears run down her face, these tendrils had spread across the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and coated everything in a thick, squirming blanket. She looked at the mirror and the thing inside, and shivered.
But like a sleeper waking from a clinging dream, she jerked her body into motion and stepped toward the source of her fear; the motion braver than she felt. Covering her mouth with one hand, Heather Mason unclipped the flashlight from her breast pocket and flicked it on. She barely noticed the yellow beam stuttering and dimming (a sign that her batteries would die soon), her attention focused on the creature standing only two feet away, imprisoned by a thin pane of reflective glass; a thing dressed like her, hair like hers and face like hers…but--
It wasn't her.
It was something else.
Her mind whirled as she stared at the mirror creature. She remembered that when she had entered this room some ten minutes ago, she had a feeling something was…off. Her feelings had not derived from one particular thing, but rather a combination of many--and one item foremost. It wasn't the washbasin, mildewed and smelling like copper and mold, or the fact that she had seen nothing of interest--no ammunition, health items, or even a ''love' note from the disturbed Stanley Coleman.
It was the mirror that had raised her suspicions.
It ran the full length of the wall from ceiling to the floor, its dull surface stained and cracked, and rendered her reflection a little blurry. She disliked mirrors normally, finding them uncomfortable to stare into; though she never understood why. Small ones were okay, but anything she couldn't hold in her hand or was larger than the standard bathroom variety deserved her aversion. But this one? This one was plain obnoxious.
Why was it here? She frowned and wrinkled her nose as she mused, fiddling with the flashlight in her pocket when the beam dimmed considerably. To conserve energy, she turned it off and let the bulb swinging above her provide illumination; its light was as dingy as the room itself.
Was this place used for? During her exploration of Brookhaven hospital, she had come across many odd rooms: some with normal hospital décor, but others were just creepy. She added this room to the Creepy List upon noticing the mirror and immediately wondered: was it a two-way mirror? Was there someone on the other side…watching her?
Was it Claudia, staring with her almost colorless eyes, somber black dress, and that sultry, yet, fervent voice quivering on and on about her God's paradise? Or Stanley Coleman, leering at her and scribbling his demented notes of undying love? The latter filled her with a sudden and fierce dread–and she made a face at the glass, hoping that whoever watched (if anyone at all), would think her unafraid. She briefly considered flipping the mirror off as well, but the last thing she needed was something attacking because she colorhad given/color them the bird.
After a few more minutes of staring at her pale face, dark circled eyes, and a mop of blond hair that certainly could use a good brushing, she had officially deemed this room useless (but creepy).
She turned on her heel and prepared to leave--but then paused at the door, biting her lip. What would be waiting for her in the hall?
This room had been refuge from the three or four slurping things that had given chase while she explored this section of Brookhaven. After the darkness had fallen and Brookhaven turned from slightly stagnant, musty hospital--to oozing 'Hell Land' complete with demons and burning walls, she had found new enemies ready and eager to dismember her with whatever sharp pointy objects they could carry. Some, however, didn't want to kill her, but contented themselves on being general nuisances. Stanley's sadistic affections came to mind and that strange man on the phone who had wished her a happy birthday. Who he was and why he called talking like some drunken clown eluded her, but the one thing she did know--was that everything became worse when this 'darkness' swallowed the real world.
That thing kept causing it somehow. She knew it. That creature with the twitching face; the one that turned rusty valves and dragged monsters away; and the one that had always stopped whatever it was doing--just for a moment, and would gaze pensively at her when she passed by. It had no face per se, so when it ogled her (or when she had thought it had ogled her), it was damn disconcerting. She would feel dirty somehow, scrutinized, and strangely--a bit revered. Why it looked at her like that was unknown, but it was as creepy as hell (the first on her list to be honest).
It was during these thoughts that a movement from the mirror caught her attention.
It was just a coy flicker, something catching the dim light above--something she would have never noticed had she simply opened the door and strolled out as intended. Yet, she turned, eyebrows knit with surprised interest, and saw the slithering motion under her reflection's feet. Squeaking a cry that would have embarrassed her any other time, she pivoted with a jerk, her eyes and gun trained on the floor below and aiming wildly.
And there was only bare concrete stained with grime and dust.
Her shaky breath of relief sounded more like a gasp and her cheeks filled with heat. She glanced back at the mirror, positive that someone was having a good laugh at her expense--
(Hah! Fooled you! Happy Birthday!)
And probably had that phone in hand, anxious to announce in that buoyant voice--a voice that brought images of the Mad Hatter and his never-ending tea party to mind. Heather could relate well to Alice; poor, confused Alice who by the end probably wished she never had followed that fucking bunny in the first place--
Her breath caught again as the squirming darkness on the 'Other Side' expanded to cover the floor, and just to convince herself one more time, Heather's eyes shot to her feet, gun shaking as if held in the hands of an arthritic eighty-year old.
(Hah! Fooled you again!)
What the hell was going on? She pull out her flashlight and toggled the beam from the mirror to the concrete, illuminating nothing more than rust stains around the basin's feet. She kept the light on the Other Side, watching with fascination as the tendrils wove with purpose over the floor toward that same basin squatting on her side of the mirror.
Instead of fleeing as she should have done (something she would always regret when thinking of that moment, and the horrific events afterward), she shifted from one foot and the other, her eyes unblinking as the goo on the other side collected beneath the washbasin's twin. The rills disappeared into the cracks and crevices with sly, moist whispers, and then silence. She shifted again, watching, hardly breathing. Was it gone? Where did it go? What--
Then she heard one of the most disturbing, disgusting sounds she would ever hear in her life. Her eyes flew to the washbin on her side as the basin shook and porcelain chips sprinkled onto the floor. A slurping sound chugged from the pipes, shaking them with the force of its entry. As she listened to it, the image of an old man gumming a plateful of meaty spaghetti popped into her head. She stepped back. Gross.
She began edging her way closer to the exit—with one eye on the mirror and the other on the basin. When the black worms oozed over the dirty rim and the sucking sound became thicker, wetter, she sprinted for the door.
Yeah, time to go Birthday Girl…
She stumbled into it with a clumsy smack and jerked the knob, turning and twisting with (of course) no luck. She stared at it stupidly for a momen. Did she just not walk through here ten minutes ago? When did it lock? Why didn't she hear it lock? Then in her mind, she could hear the Birthday Man singing through the phone, his voice scratchy and full of glee.
("Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you;
got locked in a cage,
you silly dumb fool...")
She gave the door a frustrated kick as the realization hit her. This was a trap! How could she have been such an idiot? She should have known better!
There was no time to berate herself. Vaulting from the door with a croaking cry, she aimed her gun again, swaying the weapon back and forth uncertainly. They were everywhere now, wiggling, oozing like a nest of mushy snakes. She couldn't shoot these things. There were too many of them. And that sound continued to bubble from the basin, loud and chunky as the old man in her mind helped himself to another plateful of spaghetti. He grinned at her with red-stained lips.
Darkness surrounded her; the worms crawled over the walls and slithered over her boots. There was nowhere to run, nothing else to do but try not to pass out from revulsion, and let her drummer pound, pound away. Her eyes shot toward the mirror--and her drummer suddenly tripped, falling flat on her ass.
That was the moment she forgot to breathe, forgot to blink, and basically stared with stupefied wonder one has when watching something fall from the sky and then letting said object squash them flat.
She appraised her dark twin, the memories of how she arrived at this moment now tucked into a dark corner of her mind. She thought she heard sirens whining from far away, but that sound faded as the tendrils beneath her feet made a sound like jello peeling from a mold. They oozed up her boots.
Her "reflection" hunched her shoulders as Heather did and hovered close to the glass--close, but not touching. The muck from the floor covered her reflection from head to toe, but what skin showed was ashen and sickly looking. When Heather breathed, her twin's chest did not move--not even when Heather inhaled as if preparing for a marathon across Toluca Lake. The reflection's hair hung in limp tendrils, goo dripping to join the seething mass coating her body.
And as Heather stared, a strange and frightening thing happened. She seemed to split into two forms of awareness.
The part that was her, Heather, remained alert and aware that this thing that looked like her--wasn't her--and that she should indeed, run away from it and away from this room in a screaming, hysterical frenzy. The other part of her, some child-like persona that she had been never aware of until now, stared with awe and...recognition. What fascinated her so? The hair was different--that much was certain--or maybe it was just all the black in it, making it seem more brunette than blond. The face was the same…which was unnerving and damned creepy (knocking reigning champ The Valve Monster to number two on her Creepy List), and struck a chord within her mind. It was like looking at another version of herself; perhaps one that had lived another life, lived through different circumstances, but the outcome--
(Don't you remember?)
Had been less than roses and bunnies. This was more than a reflection…she knew this somehow. This was--
Her twin lurched forward in a broken movement, her entire body quivering as if ready to fall apart. Heather bleated in surprise and sprung back. Such a girlie reaction. Her twin didn't move again until Heather took another step back.
The reflection pressed her palms against the mirror and gave a wet, hiccuping sound. Blood smeared beneath her hands and Heather could see the darkness spreading behind her like a great, rippling wall. "Do you see what I see?" the twin croaked, her voice sounding garbled and thick as if she had a mouthful of shattered teeth.
Now it was talking to her? Oh goody. Heather blinked, eyed the door once more, and then inched herself in that direction. Black tendrils popped and squirted under her feet. The walls and floor seethed; Heather's stomach clenched like a fist squeezing an orange. If she didn't get out of this room in the next five minutes, she was going to hurl. She took another step toward the exit, the gun now aimed at the mirror in case Little Miss Bloody decided to try something funny.
It said nothing else, but watched her movements with dead eyes.
(You've seen those before...don't they look familiar?)
Her twin rocked a little on her heels, but kept her hands on the glass. Her fingertips looked like squashed maggots. Heather repressed a shudder as she met her twin's eyes, finding them not as blank as she had assumed, but with keen intelligence glittering there. Cold wisdom, raven eyes--a raven that all the other little ravens probably stayed away from. It was planning something…but what?
A sharp "ting" sound caught her attention, and Heather's eyes snapped to the bloody palms spread upon the glass. Cracks began appearing from beneath each finger, stretching outward like ice breaking over a pond. The mirror rippled then, as if someone had tossed a pebble into that same pond while the ice melted. Heather gaped, more astounded than terrified until her twin giggled and pressed her face against the now swirling surface of the glass. Her forehead popped through a moment later.
Oh, HELL no…
Heather only hesitated long enough to shove the gun into the waistband of her skirt, and then bolted for the door.
And oddly enough, it was the only surface clear of black worms; its rusted white metal gleamed between the black like a dirty but beckoning promise of freedom. She just hoped it would open this time--hoped that whatever force had sealed it shut, would somehow fade and let her the hell out of here.
She hit the door at a full run and then pawed at the knob in a frenzy. A stream of creative swear words spilled from her lips when she found it remained locked as before. She wouldn't look behind her, she refused to; she knew her twin's mad eyes would be shining as it popped free from the mirror one bloody limb at a time, and the tendrils on the floor would climb her twin's body as they did on the other side, coating it in a thick, crimson paste as it lunged for her–
Heather cursed and kicked at the rusted metal, her boots leaving ragged stripes that smelled faintly of copper and spoiled meat. Enraged, disgusted, and certain that thing was about to reach its arms around her and give her a dripping, Hello Hug, she pounded on the surface and screamed for anyone--Stanley, Claudia, the Stupid Birthday Man--anyone with a semblance of sanity to open the door and let her out!
Black bubbled around her ankles and streaked up her boots, and she could feel how cold they were--and that sound just would not quit, the worms squirming, the old man slurping; it kept going and going and she just wanted out! She would not die here; not in some shit hole with black goo and some freak bitch that looked like her and--
"Do you see what I see?" Came the whisper at her ear and Heather froze, her drummer smacking face-first into a wall, and stood there stunned.
Then two things happened simultaneously: a cold tongue laved the side of her neck--and the door unlocked with a hollow click.
Instinct took over. Heather gave a ragged shriek, her leg shooting up and backward in a kick that would have made a Head Cheerleader proud. She connected with something soft but solid, probably her twin's thigh. It grunted and fell back, giving her enough time to twist the knob and spill herself into the hallway. She stumbled and scraped her knees, but was on her feet and blindly rushing forward the next second. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and this thing as possible. She didn't want it touching her again.
Her twin had other ideas.
It made no sound as it moved, only the cool air swooshing behind her gave any warning. Heather felt it snag the collar of her dirty white hoodie, giving a vicious yank. She pin-wheeled backwards with a cry, her flashlight spinning from her pocket and her balance undone. She fell on her butt and her skirt rode up, exposing her thighs and the yellow daisy underwear she almost never wore unless it was laundry day. She thrashed and her twin retreated, giving Heather enough time again to flounder to her feet and grope for the gun.
As soon as her hands touched the cold metal, she withdrew it and aimed at the pale face looming in the dark. She fired and kept firing until only raspy clicks echoed in the hall.
When would these things ever stop? What did they want from her? Why did everything in this Hell Hole want to either kill her or mess with her head? With every jerk of the gun, memories of shooting the monster in the clothing store resurfaced. She saw it so clearly in her mind: the red-brown skin, mottled looking and bloodstained, the bizarre head that seemed more at home in one of Giger's paintings than in the Boutique Marguerite. When it had faced her, its limbs twisted as if it was in agony, as if it stained to see her, as if--
it was an elephant whose legs were replaced with disjointed, fleshy piping; piping made from muscle and a mouth quivering in the center of flat tips. It has no eyes and no nose, only mouths. Blood drips from each and gristle hangs in strings as it devours the female corpse on the floor. She raises her gun, drummer hammering away, and in her mind she thinks this isn't real, this isn't happening--but she looks at what the creature's eating and she suppresses the urge to puke. It's probably one of the employees that worked here, but she doesn't look human anymore. Too much blood and torn flesh; too much blood spreading on the floor. The thing ate the woman's face and now it wants to eat hers. She screams a warning to back off--such silly thing to do--like it cares, like it understands, but she does it anyway with tears forming in her eyes.
But it doesn't listen, hungry, and it comes now, lips without a face twisting and drooling and the noise it makes shivers through her, reminding her of something--but she doesn't remember--no time to remember, and she fires the gun--over and over until it clicks like a lighter snapping--metallic clicks taunting that there's nothing left, nothing more to repel or hurt or kill. And it comes still, brown flesh twitching and greedy, but it falls before it reaches her; falls so hard to the floor that it shakes the tile beneath her feet.
She lowers the empty gun, chest heaving, breathing slowing, breathing with relief--and stares at it, wonders at it. What is it? How did it get here? What did it want?
Her twin lurched backwards, her slender body jerking with each hit and her head rolling senselessly. Even as her twin twitched with every shot, her arms remained limp at her sides. She reminded Heather of one of those movie zombies that wouldn't die; the one that kept coming no matter how many bullets pierced its flesh or how many times someone hacked at it with an axe. Something unstoppable.
The gun ceased clicking and her twin teetered back on her heels. Then, methodically, and with almost aching slowness, her body rolled forward. It made Heather think of a dunking bird, a toys that could tip its head as if taking a drink of water. The creature twisted her neck around with a moist crack, resettled herself, and shrugged away the injuries. She raised her head, eyes locking with Heather's. Heather gaped back, her gun and arm straight, but shaking. It wasn't dead? Why wasn't it dead?
Her twin smiled her wide, maddened grin and stepped forward, blood-soaked arms reaching--and then, without hesitation or thought to what she was doing, Heather whipped the gun at her face.
It smacked her twin across the nose and she reeled back with a grunt of pain. As she righted herself, her twin seemed more annoyed than angry, even with blood spurting from each nostril and dripping down her chin. It reached for Heather again, arms thrown wide and fingers grasping like a needy child. Blood spread over her twin's high collar, bright against the black ichor stained there. Her twin shambled forward (the resilient little zombie she was), but Heather darted past, giving the creature a brutal shove into the wall.
And for those brief seconds when she made contact with her twin's bare skin, she again had the oddest sensation of being in two places at once--of seeing from another perspective--seeing herself from another's eyes.
(Dead eyes…raven eyes…don't you remember?)
She saw her own messy hair, her own panicked and pinched face streaked with tears that she could not feel; she felt the jolt of sweaty hands pushing against her shoulders. It was a dreamy, yet stifling sensation; like she was swimming past herself. Myself? No, that isn't me, it's someone else with my face, my body, my blood--
And it was with that thought she came back--staggering, lolling to the side as her awareness returned, and she once again saw from her own eyes.
A heartbeat passed.
She lurched forward at full 'dream speed', a maddening pace akin to walking underwater or the slow, lazy glide in zero gravity. Her drummer twitched with dismay, uncertain, and then slammed with one loud, horrified thump. The drumbeat broke that long, long moment which seemed to stretch into forever and beyond forever--shattering it like brittle crystal. And with that moment's death she wrenched free and escaped down the corridor, away from the creature and was running, running--
(far away…never look behind you…)
A smell filled her nose and seared into her lungs, and for once, it was not decay or blood--but the scent of damp grass, the crisp smell of ozone, of trees and the waning sunlight filtering through the boughs like a thousand golden butterflies. She saw hills upon hills of wildflowers, saw them bending to the wind, fluttering petals in a sea of white and blue--
('Lessa? We'll stay together always…won't we? Just like real sisters, just the two of us…)
She nearly ran into the wall when that voice--that familiar, yet faceless child whispered through her mind (or her twin's mind?), but she steadied herself and pressed onward. The scent of green fields and trees faded and the sour smell of corrosion swept into its place.
Heather tore down the hall and then darted down a side corridor, making way for the elevator. No enemies hindered her escape, and she didn't question where they all had gone. She didn't care.
She scurried into the rusted compartment and poked at the 'down' button continuously until the doors creaked closed and the fluttery sensation of descending rolled over her. Then she sagged against the wall and sighed with a mixture of relief and fear as she realized she had just thrown away her only weapon besides the knife in her vest pocket. No flashlight either. The lights inside the small elevator chamber dimmed and sputtered, hurting her eyes. Shaking her head, she shoved all thoughts away and just concentrated on where she would go once the doors opened. She had the map memorized for the most part, but she only hoped that the rooms were in the same place as before…
And if the doors were still unlocked…
The light blinked on the second floor, and then did a sluggish shift to the first. Like a runner waiting for the gun to fire, Heather readied herself as the downward motion stopped and the doors groaned open.
She shot forward without hesitation, without a glance to either side as she ran for the Day Room.
Burning walls pulsed and grating clanked under her feet; wheelchairs loomed like twisted art sculptures, and other strange shapes idled in the darkness, but nothing moved or slithered on the floor; no enemies or obstructions blocked her way. Again, she didn't question why, her only thought was to find another weapon, and find one fast--
"Do you see what I see?" Her twin giggled somewhere close by and said the words in singsong. Heather almost fell (how? How did that thing get down here so fast? Did it take the stairs?), but she pressed on, plowing through the Day Room and then barreling through the second set of double doors. She emerged into another hall, one that she had trouble recognizing. Did she come through here before? Nothing looked familiar. The twin's words bounced through her head, unintentionally stirring memories of Christmas and the old record her father used to play--
(Said the night wind to the little lamb: do you see what I see?)
and now she had that damn carol in her head. She didn't want the memories of her father tainted with that creature's voice (even if it did sound like her); he deserved better; he deserved to be alive.
"Do you see--"
"Shut up! Just shut up!" screamed Heather, and she careened down the hall like a frightened rabbit--
(Oh dear, oh dear, I shall be too late! I'm late, I'm late for a very important date!)
She rounded a corner and her hand darted out to keep herself from slipping. No enemies here either and she finally wondered where they all had gone. It seemed odd that a hall once teeming with things that wanted to eat her or tear her apart (or do God knows what else) were now devoid of anything but the occasional gurney and broken wheelchair.
Then, another thought crossed her mind and gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Did they ever exist? Was she imagining all of this? Dreaming? Was she still in that diner, head on her arms, sleeping soundly and peacefully, her father still alive and well? Her father--
sits…head bent at an odd angle, and she knows something's wrong when she enters the room, but she's so happy to be home and away from that place that she ignores the warning that flutters in her stomach and breathless, relieved, she approaches the front of the chair.
That flicker of memory made Heather recoil physically, and she slowed her pace with a winded gasp. She had come upon a wide hall, grating on all sides and dark holes along the floor. A choice of two corridors greeted her, left or right. After a slight hesitation, she chose right. A scent wafted through the air, one that she wanted to ignore, but she had trouble doing so. Heather remembered the blood--the smell and the way it drip-dropped from the bottom of her father's chair…
her words fade in her throat and she stares, unblinking, unbelieving, and her first reaction is to laugh, because this isn't her father bloody and dead, it couldn't be, he was alive and she was alive and she had survived the mall, killed monsters, beat up a nasty giant worm with two mouths--she had endured, she had made it, she had won the day, and he was waiting for her to come home, worried, probably ready to call the police--and he can't…be…dead!
But he is--he is and it wasn't the blood seeping in the carpet or spreading over his shirt from the stab wound in his stomach; it wasn't the pallor of his skin, waxy and somehow unreal--it was his eyes…his eyes showed her that it was true. All the light had gone out, only dead space, blank space, empty space where his soul once was, but it's gone now, gone away, far away…
"And never look behind you…"
"Ow!" Pain flared in her skull, and she stumbled against the wall. Did someone say that aloud? Was it her twin? Where was it?
Breathing hard, she opened another door, one that she hadn't seen before, or maybe one that had been previously locked--she couldn't recall. Slamming it shut behind her, Heather turned--and then stared in wonder, her breath catching.
She was in the hospital garden.
The gray world still lingered here, the sifting fog clinging to all like dew upon grass. There was a faint aroma in the air, the scent so paper-thin that Heather wondered if she imagined it. Directly ahead, a large tree grew in the center of the garden. A short masonry wall surrounded its base. The tree appeared to slouch as if weeping and its limbs hung bare and motionless. Its missing leaves, dead and brown, carpeted the cobblestones beneath. For some reason, Heather felt a wave of sadness wash over her as she looked at the tree, a feeling of nostalgia–
(This can be our special place 'Lessa, somewhere safe, somewhere beautiful...)
But she jerked away from the feeling before it could daunt her. She took a step forward, uncertain. There were rows of shrubs lining both sides of the stone-laid alley, and tiny white flowers peeked from the underbrush. They were the source of the scent she had noticed upon entering. Fog leeched most of the color here; the red brick of the hospital walls took on a muted, russet hue and she had seen healthier looking plants in the desert. But there was a sense of calm here, of safety. Again the feeling of recollection pulsed within, but she gritted her teeth and pushed it aside.
Through the mist, she spied what appeared to be another door. It shimmered for a split second before the gray swallowed it whole. Heather started forward, her steps quickening as she heard a branch snap somewhere ahead. The gray world had proven time and again it could be as dangerous as the dark one, and she would take no chances. Her mouth was dry as she looked beyond the tree, but the path was clear. She glanced behind–also clear. Her twin was a no-show. I wonder where it went? she thought, but shrugged the worry aside. There was no need to dwell on it; the explanation was simple: her twin wasn't allowed in this world. It only existed in the other. Heather had enough sense to know that some monsters couldn't cross over. Lucky day for the Birthday Girl.
She now neared the tree and its mourning bow. The path there divided into three alleys: one that continued ahead, and the others to the left and right. The door (she hoped) lay at the end of the forward path. Another branch snapped, louder this time and closer. Her eyes darted like a bird's over the shrubs, over the faint outline of Brookhaven's walls that appeared through the gray like dried blood. She passed the remnants of a wheelchair poking through the brush, its arm handles rusty and one wheel sticking in the air like an abandoned tricycle. She spied torn papers and a doctor's clipboard hidden under a clump of pale perennials. Rivers of weeds broke though the stone walkway in scraggy patches, and the leaves from the Weeping Tree looked like the dried husks of bugs. The mist thickened and smelled like stagnant water.
When she reached the tree, she paused, considering its wizened form. Its limbs remained frozen, almost plastic looking; not a real tree at all but something masquerading as a tree.
She walked by, veering to the far side. She wouldn't take the risk. For all she knew, this seemingly dead thing could come alive and grab her; she wouldn't be surprised with the way her day was going. The tree's branches rustled then, a faint shiver rippling through its skeletal frame. Her eyes widened. The knife in her pocket felt fragile, barely there. Should it choose to attack...
With that thought, and almost on cue, she felt a presence. It was behind her, toward the door that had teased escape. She snapped her head around, her hand at her pocket–
The Valve Monster stood on the path, somehow more bigger and more intimidating than he had appeared through metal grating and glimpsed dragging corpses off into the darkness. The fog made his mottled skin glisten more red than brown, and made his white smock dirtier looking as it clung to his thighs, stained and bloody from who knows how many victims. The latex gloves he wore seemed molded to his hands, the fingertips completely red. His head fluctuated in different sections, each part vibrating to form a constant shifting visage that made her eyes cross just by looking at him. Slinky, yet, powerfully built, his body faced sideways, his stance relaxed but held a hint of readiness. He stared at her, sightless gaze somehow piercing despite the lack of eyes. She watched as his hands unfurled and then clenched, unfurled and then clenched, his breathing deep and even as if he…as if he--
He's restraining himself…