Jim is right, these people do need help. The problem with his plan is that you’re pretty sure that there are way too many monsters to beat by yourselves. Finding and stopping the source is the best chance at halting all this insanity, so that’s what you’re going to do. Between the break room and the projectors… well let’s be honest, if anyone in the group knows how to plan an evil scheme, it’s Victoria. Probably best to listen to her.
Waiting a few seconds until a window of opportunity arises, you all run from your theater to a set of stairs tucked away in a hall past the concession stand. As you run by, you notice someone jammed headfirst into the popcorn machine, limp and unmoving. The popcorn machine itself, on the other hand, is doing great, spewing popped kernels all over the body and onto the floor. Shit, those things really are evil.
You make it onto the stairs without catching the attention of any of the monsters, at least you hope you do, and begin to climb upward. After only a few steps, Victoria seems to stiffen. “We’re getting closer. I can feel it above us, some sort of presence casting power over this entire building.”
“Sweet, we’re heading in the right direction.” Although technically correct, the optimistic tone in Jim’s voice makes you wonder if he really understands what’s going on at this particular moment.
“Yes, there is no longer any doubt of that. But you should keep some things in mind as we move forward: the power I sense is getting stronger with proximity, so we may find new challenges once we confront it. And, perhaps more importantly, if we’re near enough for me to sense it, then we should assume it is able to sense us as well. Don’t count on the advantage of surprise; expect it to be waiting for us.”
You lift your axe a little higher, putting it in front of your body to block with in case anything tries to jump out. “Still no idea what we’re up against?”
There’s a hint of frustration in Victoria’s face as she shakes her head. “None. The aura of this magic is the same as what we encountered in the theaters, but it’s unfamiliar. Stranger still, it lacks any echoes of All Hallows Eve within it. This may not be connected another high family at all, even as a pawn. Perhaps some other entity merely decided to use our night to work mischief of their own.” When she looks up again, it’s not frustration you see, but a very dangerous gleam in her eye you’ve rarely witnessed. Whatever she plans to do to the culprit, it won’t be with detached indifference. “They will quickly learn what a mistake that was. The Willowbrook clan is not only a high family of All Hallows Eve; we are also among its protectors.”
Amped up and ready for whatever monster comes at you next, the three of you continue to climb in silence. Silence… and Jim slurping down a box of gummy worms. Did he grab shit when you ran by the concession stand? The man is dedicated to his whims, if nothing else. Slowly, you advance, until a single looming door at the top of the stairs stands before you. Exchanging brief looks with the others, you reach forward and turn the knob, shoving the door inward.
A flood of darkness washes out from within, spilling over all of you completely. It’s so empty, so dense, that it feels like a physical wave and nearly drives you back. You press forward, refusing to go tumbling down the stairs, making your way into the room. There’s no light to see by, you’re groping about, keeping the axe pointed strictly down so you don’t accidentally cut one of your friends. Step by step, you continue on through the torrent of shadow.
Then, from the left, a flash of light. Is Jim using the lighter? No, it’s too steady for that, more like a cell phone in a dark room. Through shadow this oppressive the light can barely illuminate details of the person holding it, but you don’t hesitate to move closer. If the enemy is using darkness, it only makes sense to congregate around the light. You make it over quickly, finding the phone clutched in dainty, female hands. A breath of relief slips past your lips, looks like you’ve found Victoria.
That relief turns to stone in your chest as the light lifts upward, however. There is indeed a woman holding the phone, a very familiar phone that you never had the chance to give back to her. She looks much the same as you remember her, and you do remember her. You remember almost everything from that night, if not the time leading up to it. Sometimes, you still have dreams about the life you lived, yet didn’t. She’s always in those. She’s in several of your dreams, but so many more of your nightmares.
Sheryl is staring at you, just as she appeared when you last saw her in the cab, save for the fact that her make-up is smeared like she’s been crying. “How could you? How could you do that to us? To me? You unmade our entire world. Everything… it’s all gone.”
You knew she was going to say that. It’s what she always says, in the bad dreams. In the moment, it seems such a simple decision, but a seed of doubt has been sprouting ever since. What happens to a world conjured by a wish when the wish is ended? Maybe it goes on, a dimension of its own. But far more likely, it simply winks out of existence, taking everything, and everyone, inside along with it.
“I didn’t… you weren’t real.”
“I wasn’t real? I helped you. I was your friend.” She shudders, nearly choking on a sob. “And for one lifetime, I was a lot more than that. All those years, our life, our wedding, our kids, was none of that real enough for you?”
Despite what some of your life choices might indicate, you aren’t entirely stupid. Fear has been the theme of the night. The people downstairs are getting movie monsters come to life, a classic premise designed to terrify. But that doesn’t really scare someone like you, not with your history of dealing with the supernatural and batshit crazy. You’re not afraid of movie monsters. Hell, you’re pretty sure Victoria is something way more monstrous than anything downstairs. After recovering those scraps of your lost lives last year, not even death has the luster of terror that it once did.
But Sheryl… that’s a fear that cuts to the bone. You are deathly afraid that you destroyed her, and everyone else in that world, when you came back. It’s a fear that wakes you up in the middle of the night, eyes casting about the shadows like you expect her to come lumbering forth, just as she has tonight. The tightness in your chest, the spots in your vision, this is what genuine terror feels like. Most people fear silly things, but credit to you, you’ve chosen a good one for your top spot.
Knowing it’s not real doesn’t change the betrayed, haunted look in Sheryl’s eyes, however. You have to find a way past her, get out of this darkness. She’s not the real Sheryl; you know that deep down, so maybe if you use the axe you can drive her off like the deathites. That might not tackle the root of the fear itself though. You could try apologizing, explaining yourself to her. A little closure might be what it takes to put this fear behind you. Then again, she isn’t exactly hurting or attacking you. Maybe just ignoring her and walking away is the best move. Even if it feels like that’s exactly what you did last time.
Whatever you decide, do it fast. Sheryl is reaching out for you, and the tightness in your chest is growing worse. Dragging this out is only going to make it harder, so pick a tactic already.