Randonauting is Not a Game

📅 Published on September 21, 2020

“Randonauting is Not a Game”

Written by Kitty “The Odd Cat Lady” Olsen
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.17/10. From 6 votes.
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I shouldn’t have gone. I didn’t want to go. Why did I go?

Melanie… it’s all her fault. It was all her that we went. She told us about this app a while ago in Discord. Said it helped her see parts of our town we’d never seen before. I was sort of just ‘that’s nice’ and went back to what I was doing. But she wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it. Going on and on about how we could do it all together and find something new and exciting. How we could ‘break out of our reality tunnel’ and see things that would blow our minds.

It’s been a long year, for all of us. Lost jobs, break ups, evictions and just the general drain of living had taken its toll. We could use something ‘mind-blowing’, or at least my other friends Parker and Nicole could, using it as a fun afternoon date idea. They hopped on the randonaut train real quick after that and got on the rest of our cases about taking a day out to see where the app could take us. It took only three times being called a ‘wet blanket’ before I agreed to go with them. Genesis and Chase also agreed to come along, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Chase ended up driving me to the meet up location since my car decided that day was the day not to work. Chase cracked a stupid joke about it being a sign. I called him a fucking idiot and demanded we pick up snacks on the way so we’d not be completely bored while doing this stupid thing.

I’d been yanked into this group of friends my sophomore year of high school, a less shitty year in comparison to the ones that followed. Melanie was the boldest, if you told her she wasn’t allowed to do something she’d proceed to immediately do it while flipping you the bird and cackling so obnoxiously loud your ears might pop. Tornado in a bottle, that girl. So an app that literally tells you not to trespass while you’re using it is just even more incentive for her to kick down the yellow police tape or rip the padlock off the door to an abandoned building.

Melanie presented her phone to Parker, who hit the button and got our first coordinates. I swear Melanie looked bummed when she saw the coordinates only took us a few blocks down. I laughed when we stopped by the entrance to the gas station. “So, this is breaking out of our reality tunnel? Passing the gas station I fill up at before I go to work?” I cracked, expecting everyone to start laughing and joking around with me.

Although Chase definitely reacted as expected, snickering away, and even quiet Genesis had to hide a smile, Melanie’s shoulders just dropped and Nicole gave me the dirtiest look I’d ever seen her give. And she glares practically at everyone.

“Ummm… I was just kidding? It was just a joke.”

Melanie shuffled her feet and I saw her eyes grow a little wet. “It is kinda dumb, isn’t it?” she said, her typically courageous voice starting to tremble. You could now cut the tension in the air with a knife, people heading into the gas station giving us a wide berth it was so bad.

I backpedaled at the speed of light on the sarcasm. “Let me try it, maybe Parker didn’t have the right, uh, intentions,” I offered, holding out my hand so she could hand me the phone.

Genesis sighed with relief as Melanie’s smile returned and she passed the phone to me. I really didn’t have much in mind when I clicked the button, but I’d do anything to keep us from exploding into a fight, especially in public.

“Okay, got a new location, just a few blocks away. You wanna lead the way, Mel?” I asked as I handed her phone back.

Everything calmed back down as we followed Melanie down the street, like a line of kids following the Pied Piper. Her energy had gone from deflated balloon to a lighting-packed whirlwind the closer and closer we got to our destination. She almost crossed the street right in front of an incoming car she was so fired up, Chase had to snag the back of her shirt and yank her back onto the sidewalk so she wouldn’t be pancaked by an oncoming truck.

It was nice, though, seeing her all fired up.

It was a mistake to be happy. It was a mistake to come out. It was a mistake to follow the coordinates on the phone.

It was just at the edge of town, a building divided up into a few different stores. The fish market, the inappropriately named ‘Gypsy Hall’ where you could buy crystals and dreamcatchers, a laundromat… and a store I’d just never bothered to look at, because I don’t think it’s had an owner for over a decade. Why bother looking at an empty store?

I glanced over Melanie’s shoulders as we approached the store front to see that we were heading right for that abandoned store. “Is that our destination?” I asked, glancing around the parking lot. Thankfully, it was the middle of the day, so it was pretty freaking dead. I don’t think the Gypsy Hall was even open.

“It is!” Melanie did a little dance in place as she grabbed the glass door’s handle and yanked it open.

Genesis cleared her throat. “Um, but, trespassing-”

“Who cares!?” Melanie scoffed. Parker and Nicole definitely didn’t, they practically shoved Melanie out of the way to get inside themselves.

Chase hesitated for a second, but only a second before he shrugged. “I mean, it is unlocked,” he rationalized aloud before he followed Melanie inside.

I looked at Genesis, whose fingers shot up to her mouth and teeth tore at her already nonexistent fingernails. “You good?”

“F-fine… I just… don’t think we should be here. It’s making my stomach hurt. But we’ll pop back out in a minute, right?” she laughed nervously before she pulled the door open.

I followed after her, and the door shut behind us with a clunk.

The front windows were all covered in a layer of dust so thick it blocked almost all light from in, and Chase flicking the light switch obviously did nothing. Dirty glass shelves lined the walls and one cut through the center of the shop. At first glance, the only thing left in this vacant place was a cash register bolted to the counter. Parker managed to strong-arm it open.  Unfortunately, the only thing inside was a very surprised mouse. Chase screamed like an opera singer, Genesis managed to shoo the poor thing away before Parker stomped on it.

“So, what did this place used to be?” I asked, absentmindedly drawing swirls on the dusty shelves with my fingers.

Nicole twirled a lock of hair around her finger as she contemplated the barren store. “Think it’s been a lot of things, but it was some sort of knick-knack store before it became nothing. Check it.”  She knelt down on the ground and gestured me over. Swallowing my distrust of how nasty this store was, I joined her down there to see a small gnome statue with a broken-off nose, hiding under the shelf. “I bet if we can get into the back, there’s going to be more shit like this,” she said, grinning as she poked the sad-looking statuette on the forehead.

I got up and looked around. “What back–” I cut myself off when I saw the door behind the counter. Wondering how I could’ve possibly missed an entire fucking door, I walked over only to be stopped by Genesis grabbing my wrist.

“We need to go!” she said, her voice sharp and high-pitched.

Everyone else just looked at her like she was a nutcase. Genesis shrunk and stared at her feet. “I mean, what if we get caught? This is serious, I can’t afford a fine or something.  I can barely afford my apartment as it is, and I can’t– I just can’t go back to living with my parents.”  She barely spoke above a mumble.

Right. Trespassing. Illegal. Jail time, court fees. I backed away from the door and was about to agree with Genesis when Chase darted in front of me and whipped open the door. “Just a peek, then we’ll go!” he said before turning back to look inside.

Or rather, outside.

Instead of the back end of this parking lot where the dumpsters were located, vines were dangling from the door frame, hanging like a curtain to masquerade the forest so close to us now. I could hear a babbling brook, a bird singing… and the smell. The smell was heaven. Of green. Of the relaxing peace of a spring afternoon.

I didn’t even realize I was walking towards it until the vines were brushing against my cheeks, even then I only hesitated for a moment before I walked on through. The echo of my tennis shoes slapping against the cement floor turned into the crunch of dirt. With another step, I was fully in this forest that shouldn’t be here.

The breeze whistled through the treetops high above my head, the world so green and alive. I’d never seen a place so beautiful in my entire life.

I only took a few more steps down the path when Genesis roughly grabbed my shoulder and spun me around.

“Where are you going!?” she said, her eyes not full of the wonder but instead of terror.

For a second, all I could do was stammer. I finally managed to get out, “Just down the path,” before I shook off the awe and realized how very wrong this entire situation was.

I was walking through a forest that shouldn’t be within thirty miles of this store, yet here I was. And so was everyone else. Nicole was kneeling down next to a bush of roses, her fingers brushing the petals as Parker was leaning against a tree, head tilted back and the perfect depiction of pure relaxation and Chase was craning his neck all around to absorb everything in our surroundings.

Only then I realized Melanie wasn’t there.

“Guys? Where’s Melanie?”

This snapped them out of their wonderland bliss. Chase nearly toppled over as he starting looking around for Melanie. “Maybe she’s still inside?” he said.

Nicole shook her head. “No, she was right… behind me… guys, where’s the door?”

Where we’d come from was now a winding path, no sign of the storeroom door or any sort of building.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “We wandered away from it, that’s all,” I lied, knowing we couldn’t have possibly gone that far.  “Try calling Melanie’s cell so we can find out where she is.”

Parker had his phone out first and he scowled as he turned it on. “No signal,” he said as he waved his phone around. I pulled my phone out next and sure enough, no bars. One by one, all of us confirmed that we didn’t have cellphone service, my stomach sinking lower and lower with each nonfunctional phone. Parker gave me a bit of a sideways look. “Now what?” he asked.

My chest tight, I glanced down the path. “I guess we just… look for her.” With that, I started walking, looking for any sign of our MIA friend.

Whether it was through the denial of admitting where we were or just not knowing what else to do, everyone started down the path after me, calling out Melanie’s name and trying to listen for her. The only answers we got were birds, chirping away on this summer afternoon.

Parker was finally the one to bring up the topic on our minds after a few minutes of walking through the forest that shouldn’t be here.

“Where even are we?” he said, his hands jammed in his pockets as his head hung low.

Genesis hugged herself as she looked around this forest. “I don’t know… what was that thing about reality tunnels, Nicole? You and Parker are the only ones who have done this before.”

Nicole snorted. “That has nothing to do with this. It’s just about how stepping into a new place can make you feel weird or scared, not– not literally walking into another reality!”

Chase came to a sudden stop, craning his neck around. “Guys? Do you feel that?”

We all paused.  I was going to ask what the hell Chase was talking about when I felt it. The sensation of eyes on you. Everyone slowly looked around, the hair standing up on the back of my neck as I turned around and around, looking for a sign that we weren’t the only ones out here.

Far back in the trees, I saw it. Just a shadow at first. But it was a shadow that was no less than ten feet tall, vaguely shaped like a person. Goosebumps popped up on my skin as I took steps away.

“There’s someone–”

One of my steps didn’t touch ground and instead went through empty air. I shouted as I plummeted down the edge of a cliff I had no idea was there. I tumbled down most of the way, getting banged up every which way until I rolled to a stop, breathless.


I heard someone slide down next to me and I opened my eyes to see Genesis. “I saw someone in the trees,” I managed to croak out as she helped me sit up.

“You’re bleeding,” she said as she pressed her hand against my forehead.

The rest of the group slid down after us as I got to my feet, wobbly and sore but still kicking. Chase pulled a face as Genesis dug through her purse to find something to deal with the bleeding. “That looks like it hurts.” This did get him a smack from Nicole, because stating the obvious is just unnecessary at this point.

Genesis managed to use her glasses cleaning cloth to clean up the worst of it and found three mismatched Band-Aids to plaster on my forehead. Once that was done with, I finally got a good look at the place around us.

We’d gone from a forest to an expansive meadow, grasses and plant growth up past our knees. The expanse was only broken up by a treeline on the other side.

“Let’s head that way,” I suggested, pointing toward the trees.

“Any reason why?” Nicole asked.

I shrugged, but when no one offered any better ideas, we all started tramping through the meadow and right for the trees. Parker called for Melanie a few more times, but other than that, we were quiet until Chase gasped.

“Guys, look!”

I turned to see several small glowing lights rise from the grass, no bigger than the palm of my hand in size and all the colors of the rainbows. The lights bobbed and weaved through the air before flying amongst us.

I was enchanted by the sight, but who wouldn’t be? Nicole laughed as one hovered by her head. “What the hell?”

Genesis was the only one not so amused. “We should keep going,” She said, inching forward and not taking her eyes off the glowing orbs.

Chase snorted. “Oh, come on, Gen. Aren’t they cute?” He reached up to touch a bright yellow one that was passing by. “They’re like little pixies–”

His fingers barely brushed the light before I heard a loud pop, like someone had stepped on a balloon. Gone was the light, and gone were two of Chase’s fingers, leaving behind stubs while the rest were mangled and bloody, with jagged pieces of silvery metal were poking out of the skin.

Chase stared blankly at his mutilated hand before he screeched and would’ve toppled over if Parker hadn’t caught him. I heard a shrill giggle before a purple light dive-bombed Parker. Another pop and his shoulder was shredded, more silver metal sticking out of his skin. The blood drained out of Parker’s face but he somehow kept standing. “RUN!” he screamed before he took off himself, dragging Chase behind him as Chase bawled and clutched his ruined hand to his chest.

I took off just in time; I heard another pop and felt a sharp pain in my back, right over my shoulder blade. More pops went off, I didn’t turn behind but I could hear Nicole swearing at the top of her lungs. The trees seemed so far away and I ducked as another green light barely missed my head.

I burst through the treeline and collapsed, crawling away and finally looking back to see the swarm of lights, halting right at the border of the trees. For a brief moment, I saw a trio of children standing among the lights, their hands upraised with dozens of white strings attached to their fingers leading to the lights. Each was dressed in gold, and one waved before they all vanished, the lights going with them.

I heard Genesis gasp behind me before she said, “Stay still, it looks like you got hit. Just one piece though… least you’re better off than Chase and Parker.”

While she managed to ease the shrapnel out of my back, I looked up to see Nicole and Parker trying to care for Chase. Parker had torn off a shred of his shirt to bandage up Chase’s hand while Nicole tried to keep him calm.

“We have to get out of here,” Genesis said, getting up and helping me to my feet. “Chase needs medical care ASAP.”

“Yeah, but where is out of here?” Parker asked.

Genesis paused before holding up a finger. “Wait– I hear running water.” Her eyes lit up as an idea clearly zoomed through her mind. “You follow running water, and you’ll find a town, right? Or some sort of civilization?”

Nicole frowned. “And what if civilization here, wherever the fuck here is, decides to kill us?” She gestured to the field we’d left behind.

“It’s all I got!” Genesis complained.

Parker glanced between the two girls before he stood up, taking Parker with him. “We don’t have time to argue, let’s go with Genesis’ idea first. We can’t get any more fucked than we already are,” he said before heading for the sound of a babbling brook.

I wish he was wrong. I really wish he was wrong.

We got to the stream and it was impossible not to notice that the stream was going the wrong way- as in, the flow of water was going uphill. After a moment’s hesitation, Chase managed to get himself to the ground before placing his bloody hand in the water.

“Don’t want it to get infected,” he managed to joke, to no one’s amusement.

Nicole eyed the water. “So, which way do we go? Upstream or… upstream, holy shit, this place is insane…” She trailed off near the end but I could make out what she said.


Parker took off to follow the backwards stream, leaving us to follow behind. I wish I knew what was going through his head. Maybe he thought this backwards water was interesting, or maybe he just picked a direction at random and prayed we’d find someone to help us. Whatever the reason, we had to book it to even keep him in sight.

We finally caught up to Parker at the pond that the water was heading for. Nicole smacked him on the arm as she panted for breath. “What the hell, babe? Why were you going so fast?” she said between pants.

Genesis gasped before she pointed out to the center of the lake. I looked and my breath caught as well.

If this backwards reality had seemed remotely like our own at first, it surely wasn’t now. In the center of the pond, a woman was lounging on some rocks. Her soft-featured face didn’t distract from the ivory feathers sprouting over her chest and arms, or the scaled fishtail that started at her waist and looked like a rainbow, light causing it to sparkle and change colors. She seemed more focused on the water below her than on the crowd gawking at her.

I glanced up at Parker. “You okay, man?” I asked, waving my hand in front of his face.

He didn’t even blink. His pupils were as wide as quarters as he stood there motionless.  I don’t think he was even breathing.

When he finally did move, it was to take his shoes off.

“Babe?” Nicole tried to grab his arm, only for Parker to shove her to the ground.

Without so much as acknowledging us again after that, Parker began to walk into the water.

I shouted after him, asking what the hell he was thinking. Genesis pleaded for him to come back, Chase just stared in mute shock.

Then a girl’s head rose above the water, her black hair plastered to her pale skin. She grinned, revealing a mouth full of shark-like teeth, before she opened that hellish mouth and bit down on his already bleeding shoulder, ripping away a chunk of flesh and chewing away, blood squirting down her chin as she continued to smile.

Nicole screamed and tried to charge into the water after her, but Genesis reacted first, grabbing the taller woman around the waist and hauling her back and away. “It’ll eat you too!” was her reasoning, but Nicole didn’t care, calling out Parker’s name again and again, begging for him to come back as he continued to walk towards the feathered and scaled women.

More of those pale girls rose from the depths, each taking a bite out of Parker without him so much as acknowledging their presence. The crystal clear water around him turned a rusty crimson, leaving a trail of blood and mangled flesh in his wake.

When he reached the woman in the center, the water now up to his neck, she finally looked up. Even from the distance, I could see her eyes were pure black. She grinned, showing off the same smile as the girls still circling Parker, flipping up their iridescent tails and chowing down on pieces of him.

She raised her hands, clasping his cheeks gently before turning his head around like she was twisting the cap off a bottle. Parker faced one last time, his head on backwards and completely expressionless, before she popped his head off with a final pull. His body fell back into the water, the girls swarming it and shredding it to pieces while the woman cradled Parker’s decapitated head in her lap, affectionately running her fingers through his hair.

It was then that I took off. Fuck this, fuck everyone with me, I just wanted to get out of there. Branches whipped my face and grabbed at my clothes, I shoved them off as I kept on going. I kept going until I fell on my face.

I stayed still until a pair of hooves entered my vision. Just a pair, not four like you’d expect from any creatures at home. I followed those hooves up to a wooden masked face peering down at me. The mark was almost featureless, just slits for a nose and holes for the eyes, the wood scored a straight line right around the mouth area, and ram horns coming from his forehead and curling behind his ears. Through the eyeholes, I could make out two bright yellow eyes with oblong pupils. In his right hand, he carried a long staff, made of dark wood and with a thick bulb on the end that looked ready to bash my head in.

I couldn’t move. I was frozen. This creature towered over me, would probably tower over even the tallest of humans. All he did was cock his head to the side before turning around and walking away.

I stayed still like that until Genesis shook me out of my stupor, asking if I was okay and telling me we needed to keep going- we needed to find our way back.

I felt like a newborn deer as I stumbled back up to my feet, glancing to see the pallid, humorless Chase and Nicole, her face blotchy and red as she continued to cry.

I wanted to go home. More than anything else, I wanted us all to get back home.

Our random wanderings through the woods took us out of the treeline and right into a vacant brown bricked street, surrounded by towers that went past the clouds.

“What the actual fuck,” Nicole mumbled as she turned around and around.

I just looked back at the forest behind us, a chill going down my spine as I remembered the creature standing above me. “Let’s just keep going forward. And probably not talk to anyone unless we’re sure they’re a human being,” I said before I started down the street.

This city was all the same shade of brick, from the street below our feet to the buildings that seemingly sprouted out of the ground. It was so bland and awful to look at I would’ve been zoning out if I wasn’t brought back to reality every few moments by Nicole sniffling or Chase groaning in pain.

Chase was clearly not doing well by this point, trailing behind the rest of us and looking paler with each step. Genesis hung back with him, trying to support him best she could, but with her petite frame, keeping Chase from toppling over was a trial.

I’m not sure if we really did wander through there all day. All I remember was that it was getting dark when we came across the tea party.

In this city with everything literally looking the goddamn same, it was a treat for the eyes when we turned and found a white pavilion. Next to a bubbling fountain was a table which had two women seated at it, one dressed in a red ball gown and the other in what can only be described as a blue flapper dress. Both were laughing and clearly having a good time, the one in blue was enjoying a cigarette and the red was munching away at a crumpet. Despite being probably twelve feet tall, they looked… almost normal.

Genesis threw her arm out in front of me as I was about to approach. “Look at the floor,” she hissed.

I followed the table down to see three people kneeling on the ground all disheveled and out of sorts, their clothes little more than rags but their collars made of gold chain links that bound them to the table leg. The lady in red glanced down before tearing off a piece of a biscuit and throwing it down for them, like an owner giving their dogs a treat. The humans dove for it, not even letting it reach the ground before snatching it, growling and actually baring their teeth at each other in an attempt to have even a crumb of the biscuit.

Feeling ill, I turned to leave, only to see Chase manage to straighten his shoulders and start walking across the pavilion. Nicole snatched the back of his shirt and hissed, “What do you think you’re doing?!”

“I’m going to ask for help. The rest of you stay back.”

Shaking Nicole off and ignoring her repeatedly stating ‘no’, Chase stumbled towards the pair of ladies. They didn’t even take notice until he was almost there, when their ‘pet humans’ started growling. The one in blue looked down, looking Chase up and down with concern. “Oh, you poor thing. You look like a mess!” she said, tutting her tongue.

Chase managed to wave his not injured hand. “I’m Chase. You could say I’m… I’m a bit lost,” I could see him trying to smile through his fear.  “So are my friends.”

The lady in blue looked up at us and cooed quietly, while the lady in red just nodded as if it was a story she’d heard a dozen times. “Nothing new, people get lost in here every day. Wrong place, right time. What would you like us to do?” she said.

Chase cleared his throat. “Can you tell us how to get out of here?”

The lady in red glanced over at the lady in blue, who nodded before looking down. “We could,” said the lady in red, “but one of you will have to stay.”

Chase didn’t even hesitate. “Sounds like it’ll be me.” He flinched as the woman in blue reached down to pinch her cheek between her enormous fingers.

“So cute,” she cooed before she lifted her foot and brought it down on the head of one of the chained humans, blood spraying out over the white stone. Chase’s face contorted in horror as the woman in blue took out a handkerchief and casually wiped the brain matter off her shoe. She picked the bloodied chain and draped it around Chase’s neck, which immediately tightened and sent him crashing to the floor.

The woman in red looked up at us and waved. “In the morning, follow the sun, you’ll find your way back to the door! Just look out for the rats tonight, they’re nasty little things!” she called out before she plucked Chase up and sat him on her lap, patting his head. Chase, looking sick to his stomach, rested his head against her chest and his eyes slid shut.

Genesis surprised all of us by being the first to start walking away. Nicole sputtered angrily before snapping, “We can’t just leave him here!”

“I think that’s exactly what we have to do,” she responded, carefully keeping her voice low as she looked meaningfully at the headless body before continuing on her way.

I followed after her, ignoring Nicole’s insistence that we needed to find a way to get Chase out of here.

We took shelter in one of the many buildings that were in this bizarre city. It was a single room with stairs in the corner leading to the basement. We just curled up in the corner and I at least tried to pretend this was all just a bad dream.

Genesis didn’t though.

“You think Melanie’s still alive?” she said quietly.

I thought about all we saw today– Chase’s mangled hand, Parker’s decapitated head, the random man who was crushed under the woman in blue’s shoe.

“If she came through with us, I don’t know,” I said, unable to say the truth.

I could feel Nicole start to shake, hear her start to sniffle. “Why did we have to leave Chase? We already lost P-Parker, and probably Melanie too… why?” her voice cracked as she began to quietly cry.

I had no response, only stretching my arm out over her shoulders in an attempt to comfort her.

I don’t know how I slept at all that night, perhaps it was the quiet. Maybe I was just that tired. I wasn’t even aware I was sleeping until I was shaken awake by Nicole.

“Liam! Liam! There’s someone in the basement! I can hear them!” she said. Genesis was already inching towards the door but Nicole was heading for the basement, standing on the top step. “Melanie? Melanie, is that you down there?”

I stumbled to my feet, trying to tell Nicole that the odds of anything down there being Melanie were practically none when, through my sleep blurred vision, I saw something zip past Nicole’s ankles.

Nicole yelped before she fell forward, vanishing down the stairwell. After several loud bumps of her body crashing into the steps, there was a beat of silence. And then I heard the chewing.

Wet, ripping, tearing and chewing.

Nicole screamed only once as I dashed to the staircase, Genesis hot on my heels. I looked down the steps and could only barely see what was going on down there. All I could see was a mass of small furry bodies wiggling and swarming a roughly Nicole sized space. Genesis pulled her phone out and flicked on its flashlight.

Rats. Blood soaked rats that had already torn Nicole to pieces like starving piranhas. The floor around her and the walls were splattered in blood and various bits of viscera, several rats having crawled inside of her guts and were making themselves cozy in there.

Genesis made this garbled whimper as she backed away, the phone slipping from her fingers. I just stood there frozen like an idiot until Nicole’s body began to move.

It’s a truly indescribable sight. The hoard of rats still crawling through her body as the body sat up, her head lolling forward as it got to what was left of its feet.

One shredded hand rested itself on the banister, another rat curled between her radius and ulna as she began to haul herself up the steps.

That’s what got me running.  I bolted out of that building in cold sweats, finding Genesis puking outside the door. “We need to go!” was all I said before I grabbed her hand and dragged her down the street, thankfully right in the direction of the rising sun. I looked behind us one more time to see the rat-infested Nicole, her head now resting on her shoulder as she ‘watched’ us run away as fast as we could.

We ran and ran until we’d left that city behind and we were back in the forest, which was just as lifelike as it had been the day previous. Had we taken a giant loop and found our way back around? I’m not sure. I don’t think that place makes any sense when it comes to directions.

We stopped for only a second to catch our breaths. Genesis took her glasses off to wipe the tears off of them. “Is this hell?” she asked, her tear stung eyes looking up at me.

I shrugged. I didn’t even know what to say. This wasn’t reality, nothing here was good.

We stumbled through the woods, Genesis still crying while I just focused on going forward.

Just keep going and we’d reach it. That’s what they said. It had to be right. If it wasn’t, we were just fucked beyond all saving.

I nearly started bawling when I saw the door. On this side, the building looked like a sweet little cottage, covered in moss and hanging plants.

Genesis laughed like a madwoman as we started for the door. “We’re out, we’re out, we’re out,” she chanted between her giggles.

We were out. We were supposed to be out.

Then something bashed me in the back of the head, sending me to the ground. My ears ringing, I barely managed to roll over in time to avoid a second hit.

It was the creature with the hoofed feet from before, only now he was wielding that staff with expertise. Genesis had also been hit, stumbling away as she clutched onto her bleeding forehead, her glasses nowhere to be seen.

“Wait, please-” I held my hand up which only barely saved my face from being whacked. The staff’s head collided with my wrist and I heard something crack, followed by knife-like pain shooting up my arm. I shouted and clutched my arm to my chest as I tried to scoot away with just my legs. “We’re leaving! We’re fucking leaving, is that what you want?!” His first response was to bash me right in the teeth. I couldn’t even scream anymore, blood spewing out of my mouth and covering my chin.

The creature cocked its head to the side. And then it spoke, in a quiet, ice-cold tone.

“And you’ll bring others. It happens so often. You’ll say you’ll keep the secret, but humans can lie. And the humans you bring with you will do this world the tragedies they have done to their own.” The creature growled and pounded his staff into the earth. “I will not let you leave.”

I glanced at the door, wondering if I could make it before the creature caved my skull in. Clearly, he knew what I was thinking as he raised his staff in the air again. Before he could bring it down on me again, Genesis threw herself in front of me.

“What if I do you a favor!?”

The creature paused. “A favor?” he asked, lowering the staff.

Genesis raised her hands in the air. “One of us stays, the other gets to go free, and they promise never to bring anyone else here or you’ll kill the one who stayed,” she said, her words coming out so fast I could barely understand them.

For several agonizingly long seconds, the creature was silent. “… So you’ll offer yourself as leverage?” he asked.

I was about to tell Genesis to shut up, that she shouldn’t do this, that we’ll find another way out, but she stood as tall as she could and nodded. “Just let my friend go, please, I’m begging you,” she said, her voice somehow not shaking.

All was still for a few more stretching moments. Then the creature reached up and removed its mask. Much to my surprise, his face was shockingly human, minus the yellow eyes and horns that were now clearly protruding from his forehead rather than the mask, but it was gaunt and covered in multiple scars, like someone had taken a knife to him. He reached down and brushed his fingers against Genesis’ cheeks with a careful gentleness.

“If only every human was as unselfish as you,” he said before he took Genesis’ hand in his own and led her away into the woods. She looked back at me one last time, offering the saddest of smiles before they vanished into the forest together.

In too much pain and too exhausted to even stand, I crawled my way to the door. With a shaking hand, I pulled the knob and pushed myself on through.

The dead air of the empty store was the most welcome thing. I dragged myself inside before I kicked the door shut behind me, practically sobbing with relief.

I was free. I was free.

I heard someone walk up and craned my head up, expecting to see police officers or something. If I got thrown into jail for trespassing I wouldn’t care at this point.

But the only person there was Melanie.

She squatted down beside me, examining my injured face with curious eyes. “…Did you see that place, too?” she asked quietly.

I tried to respond, but all that came out was a gurgled mess. She shushed me quietly before pulling my head into her lap. “I wanted you all to see that world. When I went there, it was so wonderful… I knew I had to share it with everyone,” she smiled blissfully, “so when we got sent here, I knew it was fate. Did the others like it too much to leave?”

I couldn’t even muster up the energy to feel anything other than a dark emptiness. Melanie laughed quietly before setting me back on the ground.

“I’ll go get you some help. Just stay there.”

I don’t know exactly what Melanie told the paramedics, probably something along the lines of ‘turning her back for one second and then he was all messed up’, but I don’t care. I’m never speaking to her again. The cops tried to search the area, even the back room, but all they found were mildewed cardboard boxes and a nest of baby mice.

I can talk again, but my body still aches and my wrist is probably forever fucked. The doctors can’t quite say why it isn’t healing, but it isn’t. Nothing is. My bruises are still as dark as they were when I left that place.

I’m forever broken because of what happened there. And I hope that Genesis will stay safe, as long as I never go back.

Rating: 9.17/10. From 6 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Kitty “The Odd Cat Lady” Olsen
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Kitty “The Odd Cat Lady” Olsen

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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