's 2016 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Brendan Cleary

Parker was moving through an endless column of leaves.


They were soft, and felt like a thousand tiny hands massaging every inch of his body. This was his life now, he thought, to forever float through a realm of foliage. This was how Parker would spend eternity.

 -Or so he thought.

He was dumped unceremoniously onto the ground, having fallen from a large pine tree. He looked around, confused. The world outside the tree had seemed so distant and vague; he was having a hard time adjusting. While he was in the tree, already that life seemed so long ago, he forgotten that there was a world outside it.

He had no memory of the place he was currently in. It was a forest, with dense trees and dark skies. The only sound was the wind.


 He couldn't have known where he was, could have been Missouri, could have been china; it was too dark and too generic to parse out any identifying features. No tree or animal specific enough to connect it to, or rule out, any location either.


Parker began walking in a direction that he was somewhat sure was north. That, he assumed, was the direction you were supposed to follow to get out of a situation like this. There was a reason for it being north specifically; through he couldn't quite remember it.


Something about north always facing the sun, or maybe it always faced away from it.


He couldn't remember most things.


After only a few seconds, he saw the building. The way it seemed to glow in the darkness made it look holy.


I'd worship that building, Parker thought, if I end up stuck here, with only that building to protect me, I'd worship it. I'd pray to that building.


It was in the shape of a large glass L. There were people inside, loitering on couches, drinking fluids served in technicolor glasses, and dancing lazily to unheard music.


 He couldn't help but think of the building in religious terms. It was a cathedral and the people inside were its Parishioners each twisting and contorting their body in their own distinct way of prayer.


As he got closer his ears began to detect the music emanating from the house, it was loud and commanding, the bass shook the ground and made his feet feel like tree's about to be chopped by boisterous lumberjacks. The stabs of synth's made his ears feel like a public swimming pool filled to capacity. The hymns of his church, the men and woman swaying along to them and singing with slurred mouths were the choir.


A woman was out front, holding an empty glass bottle in one hand and a cell phone in another. She was leaning on a mailbox, her arm hiding the name and number.


 "Welcome" She said, "You must be..." She twisted her face, trying to think of something that she knew she knew but was a little to inebriated to access. "Jose's friend right?"


 "Where am I?"


 "Hah, typical Jose's friend" Her head rested against the mailbox, she patted it like it was a pillow. "Jose said you would joke around and act like you didn't know him."


 "I'm not joking, I'm not Jose's friend. I'm scared and tired; I don't know where I am or how I got here. I was..." Suddenly he grew nostalgia as he remembered what his life was like just minutes before "...I was in a tree, a glorious unending tree, I was sliding down the leaves, or maybe I was one of the leaves. I cant... it's already disappearing..."


The woman put her hand to his lips. Parker stopped talking because he was afraid if he did he would accidently bite her.


 "Come inside and drink, Jose's friend. I think that fall from the tree may have hurt your head"


She ushered him into the building.


 She, he thought, must be one of the priests.


 Inside, Parker could see the telltale signs of human desecration.


 Socks haphazardly tossed on tables, bottles lying broken on the floor, or dangling from chairs, one accident away from joining there smashed brethren. Plates and utensils, both plastic and silver, were laid out on every available surface, yet there wasn't even a crumb of food on any of them.


As they moved past the crowd, Parker spotted a man sitting in a foldable table, plate on lap, idly waiting for food that Parker was suspecting would never come.


"Why the plates?" He asked.


"Someone order pizza, or maybe it was Chinese. We're all very excited. I can't remember who ordered it though."


 She turned to face him. "Sorry we didn't order anything for you, Jose's friend."


Parker stuttered, "That's uh... that's okay. I'm not even hungry". Parker felt claustrophobic, he didn't know if this was normal for him.


 "What's your name again?" They were on the staircase now, navigating the half dozen or so people who were using it as their own personal bed, each unaware of the people sleeping just inches from them.


"It's Parker" Parker felt relieved that he at least remembered his name. Out of anything, that was a part of him that he was most concerned with losing.


 He had lost things in the tree. Important things.


 She tittered "No it's not! Jose told me it was Andrew Sunhawk!"


 She poked him in the stomach, it wasn't supposed to hurt, but her long manicured nail pierced the fabric of his shirt, breaching flesh.


"I was testing you! To see if you would lie!"


 She laughed again, apparently only mildly bemused that a stranger had lied about his own name, and pulled him up the stairs, taking the steps three by three.


 They had all lost things in the trees


They entered a bed, that Parker was mildly surprised to see was already inhabited.


In it was a man with skin lighter than Parker's but darker than the woman. He was facing away from them, cigarette in his left hand. He was wearing a dress shirt, and resting on the bed was a raincoat and an umbrella.


 "I thought it would rain," Said the man in a clear, lucid voice. He took a long drag from his cigarette.


"You did?" Parker said. He was confused that this was how the man decided to start the conversation. This whole encounter, from the umbrella to the overly dramatic way the man smoked the cigarette, seemed oddly staged.


"The sky was too beautiful earlier, too peaceful, nothing that beautiful can last forever. So I prepared, I got ready for the worst, got primed to leave the sunshine as soon as I heard a single drop."


 "Drop" The man said, emphasizing the word.


 The man said, "Drop".


"But it doesn't change, the sky stays that same beautiful blue, and... I ended up being the idiot expecting rain when there wasn't any."


 The man artfully placed the cigarette inside an astray and got up.


 "I thought it would rain. But I was wrong"


The man turned to him, he was a young man, younger than the woman but about the same age as Parker, maybe a little younger. His eyes were intense and burning, as if both pupils had their own personal cigarette.


"Do you think it will rain, Parker?"


 "How do you know my name?" Asked Parker, who was relieved to get confirmation that his name was Parker, and not Andrew Sunhawk.


 The man smiled a sad smile, as if he was used to this exchange. "Oh come on Parker don't tell me you've forgotten again. It's me your pal Jose!"


Parker stared at the man hard, trying to parse out any familiar features, anything that would trigger a forgotten memory.


 "I'm sorry but... I don't know who you are."


 He sighed. "Well, that's...unfortunate, but such things happen."


"Tell me, what's the last thing you remember?" He asked Parker.


 "Falling out of a tree"


Jose smiled "Ah! That would do it"


 Jose clasped Parker on the shoulder, his grip burned like a recently put out cigarette stub.


 "That's strangely common around here, people fall out of tree's, people fall into trees. A few have even fallen from one tree to another! After what you've been through, it would be even more surprising if your memory were intact. One can expect a tad bit of memory loss after a joint meeting with a tree and gravity"


Parker found it strange that Jose didn't even ask him how he got into the tree.


Jose hustled Parker out of the room


"I think we should get you something to drink, something to quench that thirsty brain of yours"


Parker didn't like how Jose talked. He talked like someone who had planned everything they were going to say yesterday, and was following it word for word.


 "Say thanks to Diane for keeping a watch out for you, it was a thankless task, and her hard work needs to be appreciated."


 "Thanks" Parker said, unable to turn his head due to Jose large arm being wrapped across his shoulders.


 "Goodbye Andrew Sunhawk" Diane said, her voice sounding strangely far away.


 "Why does she keep calling me that?"


 "She calls most people that."


 Once they were in the hallway, Jose closed the door.


 And then he locked it.


 "What are you doing?"


 "There is going to be a phenomenon occurring tonight that you, and many other people, are going to mistake for a rainstorm" Jose took the small key in his hand, and threw it down a crack in the glass floor.


Parker watched it fall, until it was lost in the vast sea of lazy dancer's below.


"It's the least I could do for her, she saved both of us in a previous cycle, seems only right to return the favor."


Parker felt like there was some sort of context that he was missing.


"What is going-"


"Listen to me, Parker. It's not a rainstorm. It will try to make you think it is a threat; it will try to make you think your shelter is insufficient; it will make you think that survival is hopeless. Once it has convinced you how terrifying and powerful it is, it will then offer you a solution. The cord-cutters, the weathermen, the neighbors, they are all agents of the pseudo-storm, some are willing, others are misled. It does not matter which is which, what matters is that you must not listen to them. No matter how logical they seem, no matter how genuine they seem, do not trust them."


Parker looked at Jose, despite his relatively small stature, the man seemed to tower over the doorframe.


He shook his head, confused, and quite frightened. "I'm going to go downstairs now Jose, I'm going to try and find out where I am."


He turned away.


Jose grabbed his arm.


"You hear that!" He asked, pointing to the glass wall.


"Jose, let go of my arm!"


Jose pointed a finger at the trees below. They were being whipped around, moving so frantically that Parker expected one of them to be uprooted.


"That looks like a storm to me" Parker said, trying to wriggle his arm out of his grip.


Jose shook his head slowly "No. It's a good impression though. I'll give them that."


Jose put a hand on the glass wall; his breath distorted a small part of Parker's view.


 "Just look, they're coming out now, the agents, the cord cutters."


Parker struggled to see anything in the vast darkness. There did seem to be something skirting below the trees, something small and frantic. But it was almost certainly just a group of squirrels.


Jose stumbled away from the window. He mumbled something under his breath about there being more of them than last time.


 "You need to remember, it's not a real storm. It can..." He closed his eyes and rubbed his face with his free hand, Parker noticed just how tired Jose looked, like he hadn't slept for days."


"We're going to go into the bathroom and hide in there until the cord cutter's are gone. Just because it's not a real storm doesn't mean it's not dangerous."




"It's the only room that I haven't locked yet. All the people who deserved to be saved have been saved."


"Who are the Cord cutters?"


"Look outside and see for yourself!"


Parker glanced outside. He didn't see anyone.


"They're agents of the pseudo storm, they're here to make the storm seem real, to back up the weatherman's claims."


He laughed and shook his head in disbelief "Honestly, it's a ingenious system, the way they plays both sides. They're sick, evil people, but they're smart, I'll give them that, they're fucking smart."


"So... these cord cutters, what exactly do they do?" Parker couldn't help but be fascinated by Jose's neurosis, they were so insanely elaborate, so weirdly unique, he couldn't help but marvel at the nonsense that this man truly believed.


"They do whatever they think will make you panic, whatever they think will make you act irrationally, whatever they think will make you believe in the storm. If you think they're going to break your arms, they'll break your arms. If you think they're more than monsters, or look disturbingly human, they'll imitate your speech, say a few random English words and sprouts tufts of hair and scraps of clothing to make it seem like they used to be human. If you think they're going to eat you, they'll eat you. They are just as dangerous as you think they are."


Jose continued, glancing out the glass wall every few seconds. "We need to avoid them, there's too many people here to not make them dangerous. Someone will panic, it's just a matter of when. That's why we're going in the bathroom. I see the way you look at me; you think I'm crazy. We can't have that, Parker. For this to work, we need to trust each other."


Parker nodded


"Do you trust me Parker?"


"Yes I do" Parker said.


"When I let go of your arm, are you going to run away?


Parker shook his head


Jose smiled "Good."


He let go of Parker's arm.


And Parker ran.


Jose didn't react at all, didn't even try to stop him. He just gave him a look that Parker didn't understand, and watched him run down the stairs.


Once Jose had reached ground floor, he collapsed on one of the few vacant beanbag chairs, feeling safe now that people surrounded him. Surely, Jose wouldn't try anything with this crowd around.


Next to Parker, on an orange beanbag, was a woman wearing sunglasses. Her head was staring straight up at the fan on the ceiling. The sunglasses made it impossible for Parker to tell if she was awake or not.


"Hey" He said, poking the woman on her shoulder, "Do you have a phone I can borrow?"


The woman did not respond.


While he was trying to get her attention for a second time, a party goer, one who was just moments before staring at tattoos on their body that they didn't remember getting, noticed that the storm had died down. There were shapes outside, they realized, large shapes that weren't there when they arrived.


"Listen I hope I'm not waking you up, but I really need some help."


While Parker insisted on trying to get this woman to help him, more partygoers had noticed the thing outside the walls, and were clustered around the glass, trying to make out what it was.


"Hello, if you could just tell me where we are that would be-"


"Couldn't tell you" The woman did not take her eyes off the fan.


The partygoers curiosity was gradually becoming fear. They were too big to be a human, too round to be a bear, too many legs to be moose.


"What did you- what do you mean?"


At this point, Jose and the woman were the only two conscious people not watching the thing outside.


"I don't know." The woman seemed to be sinking into her beanbag, as if she was a turtle retreating into a shell.


People were backing away from the walls, people reached for phones only to find that they had nothing to dial, people searched for their car keys only to find they had none, people called for their friends only to find that they couldn't remember them.


"What do you mean?" Parker did not notice the people who were running to the other side of the room, he did not see that the thing outside had become things, each with the same trash can shape, each with the same whirring wind up toy noise that they produced with each footstep.


"I can't remember."


The partygoers who had fled to the other side stopped suddenly. The door that they had come in from had disappeared, and their escape was blocked by what looked like dozens of the things.


"What do you mean?" It was a redundant question. Parker knew what she meant.


Some, lacking any other place to run, ran upstairs, other's stayed where they were, their confusion masquerading as calmness.


"I... just can't remember, not since I got here. And it just... get's harder and harder the longer I stay here. I can remember my first name, but not my last name."


Meanwhile, one of the shapes had started moving. It moved slowly, like a creature not used to it's own locomotion, and stopped inches from the glass wall. People began to relax, perhaps they were unable to get in, perhaps they were protected.


Parker leaned in, making sure she didn't mishear what he was about to say.


"Did you fall out of a tree?"


A man, drunk and far from lucid, stumbled over to the thing and tapped the glass experimentally, like a kid toying with animals at a zoo.


She smiled


"The leaves were so green."


The glass shattered, the drunk was pierced by five of the creatures limbs.


What happened next could only be described as chaos simplified to its purest form.

Heads were collapsed, some smashed by the creatures, others trampled by scuffed shoes. Limbs were flung next to broken glasses as if they had the same significance. No matter where Parker looked, all he could see was abstract madness. The staircase was like a beacon, the only object in the room that seemed to have been uncorrupted by the chaos.


He ran to it, cursing under his breath. He couldn't believe that Jose was right.


One of the creatures, shoving a half dozen people down it's gullet, swung at Parker lazily.


Parker stopped at the creature. Looking at it now, in plain view, it didn't look as bad as he thought it was. With it's soft doughy physique and strange mismatched eyes, it looked more like a enlarged Muppet than some demonic monstrosity. It was still terrifying, but in a sad, pathetic way. As it gobbled down a dozen pair of legs, Parker looked it in the eyes. For a creature engaging in such a grotesque, hedonistic act, it seemed strangely bored. It seemed like a job for the monster, a job the monster did cause it had to, not because it wanted to.


Then, remembering what Jose had said, he tried something.


Something stupid.


He pictured the monster with wings.


Suddenly, as if this was as easy and commonplace as blinking, the monster sprouted a pair of fleshly paper-thin wings out of it's shapeless back. The wings beat in rapid succession, flapping menacingly. Despite their impressive size and power, the wings seemed to be vestigial. Even with the wings, the monster stayed grounded.


The monster gave him a weary look, shoving the last shoe into its maw. Parker got the feeling that this wasn't the most comfortable thing for the monster. Indeed, the sprouting of the wings did not seem like a pleasant experience either.


Parker left for the stairs, walking at a slower, but still urgent, pace. Behind him, he heard the wings being retracted, and a noise that sounded like the monsters equivalent of a sigh.


Parker made it to the stairs, only to find that he wasn't the only one with this idea, dozens of the other guests were also struggling for space on the steps, pushing and shoving each other to put some distance between them and the creatures.


Parker looked below, a surprising amount of the monsters weren't attacking anyone. They were just standing around, dormant and formless, waiting for someone to come along and define them. Of course, due to the hysteria, no one seemed to notice this. One of the partygoers, out of shock or misplaced bravery, simply stared at one. The monster, using newly sprouted appendages, waddled up to the person frozen in front of him, and burned him with a mouth that blew fire at him as if it were a flamethrower. The man, now on fire, resumed his flailing and screaming, almost spreading the flame to an older woman hiding behind an overturned table, watching in awe as a monster sprouted appendage after appendage, simply adding mass to it's body whenever it ran out of space.


We're enabling them, Parker thought, we're the reason they're as deadly as they are.


He yelled this to the others, but his message didn't reach anyone in the cacophony.


A woman threw a man over the railing for the simple crime of taking up space, and he fell a foot from a creature, who dutifully picked the injured man up, who could do nothing but scream, and after unhinging it's jaw to show a vast empty mouth, happily swallowed the man in one gulp.


He pushed his way up the stairs only to find an even greater crowd panicking in the hallway. Jose was true to his word; all the doors had been locked and sealed. Conversations could be heard behind some of the doors, a few trying to communicate with the people begging to be let in, but most of them were silent.


Parker approached the bathroom, a Man wearing a t-shirt that said, "party on" leaned on the door with bloody hands.


"You gotta let me in man. You... you cant do this." The person said. Defeated, he slumped to the ground, still muttering about how the people on the other side had to let him in.


It was obvious to Parker that the man had given up hope, and he knew he would die here, yet the man continued to ask to be let in. Perhaps the man didn't want to admit to himself that this was hopeless, perhaps he felt that he had a duty to continue begging until he finally died.


Parker didn't know if he felt pity for the man, or if he admired his efforts.


Parker stepped over the crying man, and knocked on the door.


"Parker, is that you?" Jose said. Parker was surprised that Jose could recognize him simply from his knock.


"Yeah... please let me in."


Jose opened the door quickly; his face was crazed but measured, like a madman whose fears had finally been proven justified.


"Get in. Now. Before the others notice."


Parker looked down at the man begging to be let in. He was still quietly begging. It didn't seem to have registered for him yet that the door had opened.


Parker got in, and the door was closed on a desperate horde of partygoers.


Jose locked it, the pleading of the man before had increased in intensity by magnitudes.


"Shame... it would have better for them if they had just been eaten immediately. At least then, they could of died blissfully, without awareness. Instead, well, now they have to deal with the dread and anticipation of knowing you're going to die."

Jose shudders "Poor bastards... they're playing right into the psuedostorm's hands."


Jose looked at Parker and smiled "I can't tell you how happy I am that you came back. I just knew you would keep a clear head, you always..." Jose stopped, and put a hand on a nightstand, planning his next few words carefully. "We're going to be here for a while... now's a good time to explain to you what... what all of this is. I know you have a lot of questions, and I have...well, some of the answers." He chuckled nervously, as if he was unsure if Parker had gotten the joke, or if what he said was even a joke. He continued.

"I've been vague, haven't I? I wasn't trying to confuse you or anything it's just... I couldn't exactly flat out tell you, could I? I'm sorry for playing coy, using metaphors. I was just trying to be blatant as possible while still being subtle. Didn't want you to think I was crazy... but's it seems I failed at that."


Parker rested on the bed. It was the best bed he had ever had the pleasure of lying in.


"So...think of this as a fresh start. No more half-truths. Ask me any question and I'll tell you everything I know. It doesn't have to be about all this" He said gesturing around the room "You can ask me about anything you want, who I am, what I'm like, what I do... the two of us are probably going to be in here for a while, I don't want to spend that time sitting in awkward silence you know." He chuckled again, and then his smile faded when he turned towards the door. The banging and yelling was getting louder. Jose picked up a chair and put it firmly against the door.


"So, what do you want to ask me Parker?"


"Why are we alone."


"I'm sorry, I don't... could you be a little more specific?"


"Why are we, specifically, the two of us, the only people in this room? Why did you give everyone else separate rooms?"


"For everyone else, they're safer being alone and in small groups. The more people I put together, the greater the risk that they would fuel each others paranoia and get themselves killed. As for why I decided to put you with me. Well, you're the only person here I truly trust."


"But... I still don't understand-"


Jose raised his voice "I don't think I can make it more clear Parker, I saved you."


"Yeah, but why only me and a few others?" Parker stood up from the bed, and looked Jose straight in the eye. "Why not the people at the door? Why not the people who are being eaten alive right now-"


"They're only being eaten alive because that's what they assume the cord-cutters will do. There deaths aren't my fault."


The yelling was reaching its peak, the bangers from some of the other doors had joined the assault on Jose's door, and even with the chair, and the door was having a hard time containing them.


Jose ran to the door "I'm not opening this fucking door, you hear me!" The yelling and banging subsided, but only slightly.


Jose sat on the side of the bed, rubbing his temple.


"Honestly... you were the only one worth telling. All the others... well, the more people I told the higher chance we would all die, so I only chosed people who I owed, people who deserved it. Everyone else wasn't worth putting my life on the line."


"That doesn't answer my question. Why me specifically?"


Parker paced the room; he had the suspicion that there was a still a lot Jose wasn't telling him.


"Why do you care so much about me? I've never seen you before, never heard of you, but you're acting like you know me. Explain that!"


Jose shook his head slowly "I know it should be expected, given the process, but it still is... I keep expecting you to remember. I mean, after all, we have been through; after all you've done for me... after all I've done for you. Then again, Parker, you did tell me that you wouldn't remember things right away. But that's the thing, you said not right away, implying after I've jogged your memory, you would remember.


Jose took Parker's shoulders and put his face inches from his.


"Parker, we've been in this situation before. Only then, you were the one who saved my life. I'm repaying you."


Outside, the screaming had stopped; Parker could hear what sounded like a calm muffled voice speaking. Whatever he was saying, it was powerful enough to get the bloodthirsty people at their door to stop trying to get in.


"I...I don't" The fact that Jose had been right about everything before that made it sound weirdly possible. Parker didn't want it to be true. He didn't like the idea of having major events and people completely erased from his mind. If he had forgotten about his previous experiences here, who knows what else he could have forgotten.


"You... literally taught me everything I know. That whole thing with the raincoat and the umbrella, these are yours, you... you did that whole speech for me originally." He handed them over to Parker with a fan boyish glee "No idea where you got them from, we only travel here with the clothes on our backs after all."


Outside the noise had stopped completely; even the man had stopped talking.


And then, they heard gunshots, about thirty or so in quick succession. Parker could still hear someone calmly speaking as the gunshots continued.


Jose went silent. "... Shit, I thought we'd get more time."


"You told me you wouldn't be vague," Parker said, still trying to wrap his mind around what Jose had just said. A part of parker wish he had been eaten been one of the cord cutters earlier, he wish he had never met Jose; he wished that he had never left the trees. The trees were simple, in the trees, no one lied to you, and no one kept secrets from you, especially not your own brain.


Jose backed up to the other side of the room "It's the weatherman. They're going to offer you a deal, they're going to act like it's different from being killed by the cord cutter's, but it's the exact same thing. He's... you had a thing you used to say, about what the weatherman was like, what was that?"


"... I still don't remember"


The door unlocked it self, the chair fell and the door began to open.


Jose spoke "They sell death in a nice package that's what you said. They sell death in a nice package."



Parker did not expect the person who would sell them death to look so mundane.


It was a man, who looked to be in his mid 40's; he could have passed for younger with a half decent comb over. He was dressed in a tweed jacket, and was wearing slightly rumpled slacks, his smile put Parker at ease, and his eyes seem incapable of showing any malevolent thoughts or intentions.


He tipped his yellow, wide brimmed hat to the two of them, and held out his hand.


"Hi, my name is the sudden realization that you are wrong." He said this without blinking an eye, as if this was a perfectly normal way to introduce oneself.


"... What did you just say?" Parker asked. He didn't think a person like this would be capable of saying something so vindictive and accusing.


"I said my name is Joseph F. Hopkins, and I think the two of you have some unfortunate misconceptions about this whole mess."


He propped up the fallen chair and sat down. Jose quickly ran past the man and shut the door, apparently he was more concerned about the things outside then the man out there, through the way he eyed the man as he passed made it clear that Jose did not trust him.


"Mind if I take a moment to enlighten you both?"


"Don't listen to him Parker. Every single thing he says is misinformation, don't believe a word he says."


"Well, that wasn't a no." He chuckled. "It's a real shame what this place can do to a person."


Jose ignored him, and began rummaging through the closet; he looked at Parker, and mouthed the word stall, then resumed shifting through broken lamps and worn clothing.


The man looked at Jose and shook his head. It seemed that the man was completely aware of what Jose was planning to do, but had decided it wasn't worth his time to stop him.


"It's sad, the people who need my help the most are also the ones who are the most skeptical of me. Cant blame them, what I preach is a little to good to be true. I blame the media personally, you've been told all your life that nothing is perfect, that everyone has an ulterior motive. You've been so programmed to believe this that you end up missing out on the best opportunity in life, simply because you've been told that easy solutions are something to be feared. I'm not trying to get you to change your mind about any institutionalized notions, I'm just asking you, just this once, to believe me. I am working in your best interests here."


Parker folded his fingers and fidgeted, the man seemed sincere.


"What are you offering me exactly?"


"An easy exit, one too good to be true."


The man put a hand in his suit pocket, but paused before taking it back out. "I'm going to pull something out of my pocket, and once I do, you will rightfully want to question everything I told you before and my true intentions. When I open my palm, will you promise to keep an open mind?"


Parker gave him a thumbs up, the gesture seemed to fit the surrealness of the situation.


The man smiled "Saying you will do something and actually doing it are two different things, but I appreciate your optimism"


With a strange sort of care and finesse, the man removed his hand from the pocket, revealing that it was now gripping a pistol.


Parker clenched the bed sheets to steady himself, Jose was to busy rummaging through the closet to notice.


Parker had to ask, "Where you the one who-"


"This is your easy exit." He moved the gun slowly in his hand until it was directly across from Parker. For a second Parker thought Hopkins was about to fire, but instead he put the gun back in it's hiding place. "I'm not going to use it until I explain what it is I plan to do, and only if you agree to go through with it. If you say no, I will leave the two of you alone."


"Oh great, so then we'll get eaten by the cord cutter's and not you, huh?" Shouted Jose, now deep within the cavernous closest.


"The cord cutters, as you call them, are gone. So are the other residents, they have all heard my offer, and they have all agreed to it. The same thing happened last time, Jose, and the time before that. Don't you remember?"


Jose didn't respond.


Hopkins turned back to Parker. "Now, it's getting awfully late, we are all running out of time. I'll tell you what your options are as quickly as I can, and I want you to tell me your decision as quickly as you can. Does that make sense?"


Parker, feeling strangely detached from the situation, gave another thumbs up.


The man's demeanor changed, taking on a more severe, serious tone.


"Everything you have done since you feel from that tree hasn't really happened. You are dreaming, nothing here is permanent, nothing here is truly real, and nothing here can ever truly satisfy you. This is a shared hallucination, and you need to do the same thing you did every other time, and wake up."


"I'm sorry, what do you mean every other-"?


"This happens every night Parker. You can't even imagine the number of time's we've talked. It's not always in these circumstances; it's usually not even in this scenario. It's been a while since you've been in this one actually, you were in the ship one before this, boy, no offense, but you were quite the pain there. Not as frustrating as last time you were in this place, but still, rather bothersome. I don't know what causes you folks to go from one scenario to another, that's not my department, but it seems pretty random to me."


The amount of things Parker understood in that speech was dwarfed by the amount that Parker did not understand.


He pulled out the gun again, quicker this time; Parker could sense that Hopkins was under duress.


The gun was put between the two of them; close enough for either to reach it.


"That gun is your alarm clock, when you use it, when you "kill" yourself, the shock will cause your conscious mind to resume control, and allow you to wake up, with no memory of any of this ever happening."


Parker looked at the gun, it was silver, with a yellow smiley face on the handle.


"Why is that there?"


"Again, not my department. Now-" He leaned over parker. "Would you like me to do it, or would you like the honors?"


Parker looked for Jose; his friend was out of sight.


He looked at Hopkins. The man smiled, suddenly, all of his fears and suspicions about the man washed away. He felt a reassuring feeling of calmness.


"... It wont hurt, will it?"


"No it will not, Parker. It won't hurt at-"


The word the man was unable to finish was "all". The full sentence would have been "it won't hurt at all". Sadly, John Hopkins was never able to finish this sentence, as Jose bashed his skull in before he got the chance.


With a loud crack, Hopkins fell to the ground with a thud. Jose smiled, and adjusted his weight, holding his hammer proudly.


"Knew it was in here somewhere, wish you hadn't put it in so deep in there."


The hammer had a smiley face on its handle, just like the gun.


"... He was offering us a chance to escape-"


"You shouldn't have believed him for a second, the guy wasn't even a half decent liar. Hell, he wasn't even real"


He pointed beneath him, where Hopkins's body rested. Hopkins's head was now a broken fishbowl, it's water slowly draining. A few tropical fish flopped around the corpse.


"How did..."


"They need stand in's for their body parts, a fridge for their body, two pizza boxes for their hands. Any round object works for their head, once you deal with them for a while, you begin to be able to see their disguises."


Jose smiled; his teeth were yellow and rotting.


"Still, never thought I'd see the day when one of these things disguised themselves with a fishbowl."


The glass crunched beneath Jose's bare feet as he moved to the other side of Hopkins, and began rustling through his body in the same manner he had gone through the closet.


Parker looked down, the gun was still resting in the dead man's palm.


Jose threw his hammer besides it.


Jose turned the man's pocket's inside out and groaned, he muttered to himself and kicked Hopkins's body in anger. "... I thought for sure, this one would have it."


Parker, while Jose was distracted, quickly scooped up the gun, He didn't know what he would do with it, but he felt safer with it.


"At least one of them has to have it." He got up, and began casually picking the glass out of his feet. " It doesn't make sense for them to... god, they always seem to come here so unprepared."


Jose turned to parker, expecting him to ask him what thing he was referring to. Parker didn't respond; he was to concerned keeping the gun concealed.


Jose smiled strangely, like he was responding to some non-existent smell, and answered a question no one asked. "The thing isn't really... we never got far enough to figure out exactly what it was, we just knew it existed."


Jose continued "We were looking for a keycard, or a password written on a piece of paper, something we could take from them and use against them. Making sure they can never come here again."


Parker shuffled to the other side of the bed, so both of them had their backs to each other, and took out the gun.


Jose interpreted his silence as confusion. "It's a hard thing to understand, I know... when you first told me about it, I thought it was wishful thinking. I mean, to just assume that your captors would just have the method of breaking free on them, it wasn't just naïve, it was idiotic!"

"But then... god, I thought about these words so many times Parker... you don't know how many..." He composed himself. "You told me, that jailer's needs keys. The ones who are in control have to have a device, an invention, an item, something that keeps them in control. You get rid of the item, no, you control the item-."


He laughed "And you'll be in control."


Jose sighed with relief, and opened the door, removing the barricade. He asked Parker if he was coming, they only had a few hours to themselves until the next cycle, and they had to find the keys to free the other survivors.


Parker checked the cartridge there was one bullet left. "What if he wasn't lying?" He asked.


"... Parker, they're obviously lying, by how much it's hard to know, but I'm certain there not being honest. Living in a dream... ridiculous...can you remember a dream that even came close to being this vivid?"

"... Can't really remember any of my dreams."

"Well what do you remember?"


"... I remember trees."


"That was probably a dream. Dreams are vague, unsure, and constantly shifting. This place, they want to give it the atmosphere of a dream, they overload you with men who have fishbowls for head and creatures that are only as scary as you let them, but this place is real. Honestly, It sound like it's the most real thing you've experienced in a while Parker." His voice was touched with sadness. He seemed disappointed in Parker, more so than ever.


"You don't remember the tree's?" Said Parker, genuinely shocked.


"...Uh, no? I remember the tree's outside, but I feel like that's not what you're talking about. Listen, forget about the... tree's, I don't care what they were like, they're nothing compared to what this place is going to be like once we gain control."


"... But what do we do until then, watch hundreds of people get killed?" Parker found himself getting angrier and angrier as he talked. "Attack people who seem to want to help us? Spend hours listening to people beg to let them in?" In a move that surprised both of them, Parker raised the gun to his temple and stood up facing Jose.


Jose took a few steps back, shocked and confused. "No you... you cant do this Parker, I don't want to start over again."


"I want to go back to the tree's" Parker felt strangely calm, he had the strangest feeling that this was bound to happen. He closed his eyes, but before he could pull the trigger, Jose yelled.


"No, please! I understand, I really do. But could you just... please stay, for my sake. I know it's not ideal, but I have a feeling we're getting close. Sooner or later one of them is going to have the keys." Jose was shaking; his eye's shifting from the gun to Parker's head, the gun to parker's head. "And then this place can be as perfect as it appears."


Parker began to lower the gun slowly.


"Thank you, thank you... you don't know what you did for me, you don't know..." He laughed. "You gave me my name, actually. Did you know that? I...I cant see a way a person could have a bigger impact on someone's life than that."


Parker stopped lowering the gun at his chest. "What do you mean?"


"The first time we met here, you asked me what I wanted to drink. You used to act like the bartender for everyone else. See, that's something I always admired about you, you always kept a calm head, you knew that all the things the pseudo storm did was only as dangerous as you let it be, so you decided to treat it all as just one big party."


"What drink did I give you?"


 "Well, I asked for a vodka, because I never tried vodka before and I..." Jose stopped talking, and licked his dried lips. "You know what? I don't really remember what vodka is."


 "... How long have you been here Jo-"


"Wait! I'm not done. Anyway" Jose had become progressively more and more excited as he told the story, restlessly fidgeting and tapping his foot. "I... asked for a vodka, and you said, guess what you said!"


"Jose, how long have you be-"


"You said, "okay, Jose!' You said okay, Jose!" He burst out laughing, as if this was the funniest thing that had ever happen to him, he laughed like a person who had never heard a joke before. "And then, well... that's how I got the name, that's why I'm... Jose." Parker had the sinking feeling that Jose thought of this as the most important moment in his life.


Jose wiped away his tears, still chuckling, and looked up to see Parker pointing the gun straight at him.


"... Parker I don't under-"


"What's your name?"


"It's Jose. Remember? Okay, Jo-"


 "Your actual name. What is your actual name?"


"Well, I mean if you need to know it's..."


He looked up, his eyes hazy, his face blank.


"... I don't know."


Parker pulled the trigger.


Jose's body disappeared before it hit the floor. Hopefully back to reality, back to the real world.


Parker sat down next to Hopkins's body, which seemed to be dissolving, the fingers merging into the wood paneled floor. He closed his eyes, hoping if he focused hard enough, he could return to the trees and their endless columns of leaves.