The strangers have started to wake up, finding themselves on the floor of a decrepit barn. They're quickly running out of daylight; the sun has begun to dip below the horizon and beneath the trees. They better figure out what to do soon, though a night outside wouldn't be the worst thing if they don't mind getting even dirtier and a couple of bug bites.
It's summertime, evidently. The weather is warm and dry, and with few clouds in sight, one can deduce it isn't going to rain. Birds are chirping, insects buzzing. Aside from the confusion, it's rather nice.
Especially the house. Unlike the barn or the truck out front, the farmhouse up the hill is in good condition. It's clearly been lived in, though. Furniture on the wraparound porch is slightly disheveled. Maybe they should knock before entering.
The place is unrecognizable yet oddly familiar.
No one knows each other.
No one is dead.
They all have some of their items with them.
Rubbing away the grogginess from his eyes only caused further panic to swell inside of Dante’s chest. Hazel eyes scouted every muddied corner of the barn. No answers shot out from the bales of hay, rusted tools, or unconscious bodies. Groaning, Dante dipped down and rubbed his temples with his index fingers as he tried to make sense of the situation. The entirety of his body dully ached, his head throbbing with an unmistakable migraine. Dante feared what kind of injuries he’d discover once he pulled back the fabric of his clothing.
It seemed impossible to recall how he’d ended up there. Dante couldn’t remember partying and drinking himself into a coma. Besides, that was unlike him. Lunging into the depths of his brain’s foggy recollections, he found nothing out of the ordinary. Ayo texted him when she got home to her apartment after they’d spent an evening out in the city, but Dante was 90% sure he’d gone to bed after reading the message.
So, what happened?
His mind had immediately gone to a night of drinking or drugs but quickly debunked it. Next, he mused the idea Ayo had pulled some kind of sick prank. It served as an amusing thought but was so uncharacteristic of her; Dante knew it was stupid to even consider it. The rest of his friends wouldn’t have done something of the sort either, nor did Dante have enemies that would throw him in a nasty barn on its last legs with a bunch of…
Dante sucked in an abrupt gasp, horror striking him until he realized the others’ chest rose and fell with serene abeyance.
They weren’t dead—that was a good sign. Mumbling with exasperation, Dante struggled to push himself up from the floor. He felt *disgusting*. Greasy and covered with splotches of dirt and grime from the decaying wood walls. Briefly, he considered trying to wake everyone up before the barn collapsed atop their head and ultimately decided against it. They’d rise with due time, no answers in hand probably.
Twisting and stretching, bones crackled, and joints popped as Dante settled into his own body once again. Then, he began to brush off whatever visible muck from his clothing he could manage. He could use a shower, but how likely was that? Some deranged killer probably tossed them inside, plans to put them in copycat Saw traps. Dante grimaced at the thought. He didn’t want to die. Lucky for him, Jigsaw likely wouldn’t have left him with his backpack. Bending down to pluck it up, Dante unzipped it and sifted through the contents. It’d been slumped next to his mattress at home previously. As far as he knew, nothing had been replaced or removed.
Dante began to walk, carefully stepping over the body of a blond male, convincing himself that he was alive. Eventually, Dante made it to the door. Similar to the rest of the place, sunlight streamed in through cracked wood. His hand touched the handle, and he jangled the knob. It wasn’t locked, and when he pushed forward, the door simply ripped right of the hinged and clattered into the grass.
“Well, fuck,” he hissed beneath his breath. Finally, he gathered the confidence to poke his head outside. There wasn’t much to look at: overgrown fields, a house on the hill, and lots of trees. Way too many damn trees. Where the hell was the driveway? Dante swallowed hard, turning his head back towards the other people.
A slight twitch in her brow was the only warning given before she suddenly woke up. She was quick to sit up and place a hand over her chest. With the intensity of each beat she was sure that it would beat right out of her chest. Light brown eyes scanned her surroundings with no little confusion or apprehension. The surroundings were familiar yet all wrong, everything was out of place or missing. The barn was similar to her own family’s yet devoid of the equipment or animals that usually occupied each of them. Not to mention how filthy the place was.
She was immediately on guard, her body tense as she tried to piece together what had happened. Lisette knew for a fact that this had not been where she’d fallen asleep. The last thing that she remembered before drifting off was the scent of bellflowers that surrounded her, the softness of the blanket she’d laid her picnic out on. As she moved to get up her hand brushed against something. It was then that she finally noticed that she wasn’t exactly alone. A choked gasp was all she managed to produce at the sight of the body. Lisette scurried back hurriedly, only to come across another. She quickly stood up, groaning at the nausea that came after.
Lisette quickly noticed her bag on the ground and for some reason she felt a little more at ease, though not by much. She grabbed the hand sewn item and looked through. If she hadn’t been sure about where she’d fallen asleep before, she was definitely sure now. Inside of her bag were all the things that she’d taken with her for her picnic.
Suddenly there was a sound, it echoed off the walls of the barn. Lisette’s head turned in the direction it had come from. There, standing at the entrance, was a person. Lisette could only stare as she tried to read them, to see if there was any clue on whether this person was responsible for this. She made her way over, slowly, hesitantly, before stopping a few feet away from them. “Did...Did you wake up here too?” Her drawl was soft. That accent of hers was all the more obvious due to the uncertainty in her voice. She glanced at the opening and then back at the stranger, wanting to look for herself but hesitant to get any closer.
Nick awoke to a loud sound and he immediately grabbed his aching head. Fuck, he'd definitely overdone it with the alcohol again. Without opening his eyes, he felt around for Katie, hoping to wake her for a glass of water and some pain meds, but his hand was met with an unfamiliar feeling instead.
He sat up and opened his eyes slowly, thinking that he was going to be met with the blinding light of morning, but it was almost dark. What was going on?
He looked around himself and startled as he saw others there, some awake and some passed out on the ground. Had he been brought to a party? No, Reeves wouldn't let him leave the city, and this definitely wasn't the city. Unless this was a job... He examined the others who were awake. They seemed confused, too, and everyone was fully clothed. It couldn't be a job.
What could he remember? He'd just gotten off a job. The client was the kind of guy who just liked getting any positive attention, so he was easy to please. He gave Nick a hundred bucks and sent him on his way. Then Nick was headed to Katie's house, he cut down an alley and... Nothing. He couldn't remember a thing after that.
Fuck, was this some sort of human trafficking shit? Nick found his bag next to him and grabbed the pocket knife out of the first pocket. He held it close and ready as he approached the two that were awake.
"What's going on?" he asked forcefully, ready to put up a fight if need be. He could get out and call Katie to get help for the others.
A gunshot resonated in the dark alleyway. Suddenly, fresh blood coated their face. Before they fell unconscious, a scream washed over them.
Eyes snapped open. Revan shot up, a scream on the tip of their tongue. They instinctively patted their face. However, instead of fresh blood coating their fingers, it felt like ... grime? What? They lowered their hands and inspected the thin layer of dirt. All the sudden, the hairs on the back of their neck stood. Something wasn’t right. Revan surveyed their surroundings. The fuck? Instead of sitting on their bed after a night terror, they were sprawled on the ground in a debilitated ... barn? Their nose wrinkled. It reeked like a barn. Lord fucking Hades, it smelled like something crawled in the dirt and died. Without warning, Revan spotted movement from the corner of their eyes. Chills trickled down their spine. Their stomach clenched with unease. Realization dawned on their face.
They weren’t alone.
Revan lowered their gaze and spotted a group of unconscious strangers scattered throughout the barn. They were unconscious ... right? Shaking their head, Revan focused on their spot. Fortunately, they were close to the door. One of the strangers stood and approached the door. Revan ignored them for a moment and patted themself down. Despite the dull ache in their bones and an incoming headache, they felt no injuries. They removed their backpack and assessed their belongings. Nothing out of the ordinary. Revan faintly recalled packing their bag for work ... and nothing. Fuck, what time is it?
Suddenly, a resounding thump alerted them. Cognac eyes pinpointed the entrance. The door broke away from its hinges and fell outside. Heaving a sigh, they slung their bag on their back and stood. They ignored the grime clinging to their clothes and approached the exit. It seemed, by the time they completed their assessment, another stranger — a woman in fancy clothing — awakened. Instead of announcing their presence, Revan slipped past the woman — including the stranger responsible for opening the door — and walked outside.
They turned around and scanned the overgrown property. Open fields, an abundance of trees, a house on a hill—bingo. The lack of driveway was concerning. Revan patted down their pockets and retrieved their cellphone. On the plus side, it wasn’t damaged. The down side—”Of course. Horror movie 101: no fucking cell service.” Revan walked around and raised their cell. Nothing. Without a word, they lowered their phone and was about to stuff it in their pocket when—”The hell?” Revan raised their cell and gazed at the timestamp.
August X, XXXX.
Their blood ran cold. Despite their bizarre predicament, this wasn’t their first kidnapping. However, losing roughly two months? Revan tried to remember June and July, but ... nothing. Their last memory was heading to work in May. ”Fan-fucking-tastic. Just another Tuesday, right?” they grumbled under their breath. Revan shoved their cell in their pocket and scrubbed a hand down their face. They rubbed the dark circles under their eyes. If they were kidnapped for two months ... what the fuck happened?
The moment Riann set foot into his apartment, he was popped in the face by a loose balloon. On the front lines of this attack were Jason and Oliver, and behind them the little college apartment was filled to the brim with friends. Riann, dressed in scrubs, just off a hideously long shift at the hospital volunteering, burst into laughter as his once sagging shoulders puffed up with excitement. Music began to blast, bottle caps were popped open, and Jason slung his arm around Riann's neck.
"What, ya thought the socks I got you were the end of the birthday tyranny?" He teased, and Riann rolled his eyes, locked in the near chokehold his best friend had on him. He had indeed worn his bright pink unicorn socks to work today, and the kids had loved them. A good little prod at their inside joke. "I should've known that you weren't gonna stop there." Riann huffed through a smirk. Oliver moved over, hands outstretched with two open beers, both he and Jason sharing the same mischievous look in Riann's direction. "Oi, you know I--" "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just one, alright? Loosen up for a little bit, you goddamn saint!" Oliver nagged, and with a moment's hesitation, Riann relented. A chorus of woops erupted from the apartment as the birthday boy took his first swig.
Pizzas were ordered. Riann changed out of his scrubs. A few cheesy gifts were given, red solo cups being passed around. True to his word, Riann could not be convinced to pop open more than one beer. Still, he mingled gladly with everyone, shoved into an eventual, terribly cringy dance circle and playing a few rounds of beer pong. After a few hours had passed, Riann was ready to make his getaway. Somebody had brought out the Twister mat in the kitchen, and he knew the only way he was ever going to get to leave is if Jason or Oliver didn't --
"Leaving your own party, huh? Classic."
A very familiar voice. Much too familiar. In the middle of putting his coat on, the front door had opened, and there stood Talia, his ex. Despite the vague sting of the words, they did seem to have a little bit of kindness behind them. Instantly, a shocked redness entered Riann's visage, but despite how quickly the blush swept his cheeks, it took him a few more staggering moments to collect his words. "Uh... Talia? What are you doing here?"
She shrugged, almost shyly. "Jason and Oliver invited me."
If it were any possible to get redder, it became a reality now. Riann opened his mouth, perhaps to bestow a curse on the rest of Jason and Oliver's bloodline. But before he could, Talia reached out, and in her hands was a flat, delicately wrapped gift box. This time, he was stunned to silence, jaw tight but eyes soft.
"Uh, y-you didn't... you... shouldn't have." He finally managed, touching the perfectly curled bow. She cleared her throat, breaking his introspective moment. "I just came to drop this off." Her eyes met his. "Have a good birthday, Riann." For a moment, it looked like she had wanted to say something else, but she bit her lip and turned tail. Outside, she climbed into a car, with a figure he couldn't make out in the drivers seat. His heart sunk.
Fuck Jason and Oliver.
With a huff, Riann finished putting on his coat, grabbed his backpack, and placed the gift as gingerly as he could inside. Then, he disappeared. He'd probably come back later tonight and find the two of them wasted on the couch, and commence clean up. The party would surely continue without him, and besides, he needed to get home to his family. His mother had already let slip that Angela and Jenna had baked a cake and the family had "supposedly" chipped in gotten him that skimboard he'd been eyeing for ages. At least at home there were no ex-girlfriends or meddling roommates to deal with. The sun had just begun to set as Riann descended the steps of his apartment, leaving the chatter behind him and considering the possibility that, maybe if he knew what was good for him, he'd throw the gift into the back of a closet and never think about it again. He walked into the night.
Riann woke with a start.
A choked cough erupted from his chest as he sat up light a lightning bolt. Auhg, fuck. Why did everything ache? It felt like he'd fallen off his bed in the middle of the night and slept on the floor. Except he didn't remember going to sleep. Or getting to bed. Or even getting to his family home. As the gunk in his eyes cleared, It slowly dawned on Riann that the ground beneath him was dirt, and his clothing was covered in muck. Neon pink unicorn socks still stuck out from his worn out Converse. A hand went to his head, brows scrunched as he tried to wish away the migraine.
What the hell was going on?
He was in... a barn. Dumped unceremoniously on the floor. And surrounded by... bodies. Riann's heart jumped into his throat for a moment before he clocked the rise and fall of chests, and turning his head he could see others begin to rise. Beside him, surprisingly, was his backpack, but he ignored it for the time being. Each person seemed of completely different creed, and he though he racked his brain none of them seemed familiar. Somehow, though, this barn did. When had he ever been to a barn? Years ago, maybe? Things were so fuzzy. Moments ago, he'd left his own apartment.
As Riann came to stand with a small grunt, he tried to focus in on the people around him. The fear in each of their faces was obvious, though they each seemed to take it in differently. One taller male, a surprisingly frilly-dressed female, a defensive looking red head. A dark haired figure brushed past too quick for Riann to catch their face. But there were so many odd things at play. His stuff was here. He was in the same clothes, no bindings or binding markings. He didn't feel injured, but perhaps they'd been drugged. His gut churned with possibilities. How long have I been gone? How worried sick is everyone?
Instead of heading for the figures at the entrance, Riann moved to the unconscious forms closest to him. Beside him there were three, two female and a male, all laid out on the ground as unscrupulously as he assumed he had been. He hovered over them as politely as one possibly could, checking each for the rise and fall of their chests, and reaching for their wrists to feel their pulse. All decently strong. The same dirt marred their clothing and they all seemed to have something or another beside them, a belonging. He couldn’t see any visible injuries, so it seemed that the only thing to do was wait for them to wake up like the others.
“Hey,” He said softly, surveying the three that lay on the ground, kneeling behind their heads and lip caught between his teeth nervously. The girl with the messenger bag had it resting so close to her head that he couldn’t help himself, and gently lifted her neck to push it underneath like a pillow. “You guys okay?”
For a long moment Ian thought he was dreaming. Dust motes swam lazily in front of his eyes as he blinked up at the dilapidated roof. Straw tickled his face as the world slowly came together around him. It all felt oddly calm until the aches spread through his body made themselves known and his skin began to itch from the thin layer of grime. Dread hit him all at once and his tongue felt thick and useless, a flat dead thing choking him as he lurched onto his knees, straw jabbing into sweating palms. Bile burned at the back of his throat as he glanced frantically around the barn in search of anything familiar.
Three people clustered around the door, a fourth man hovering over a trio of still unconscious people, all of them strangers. Hay bales, derelict farming equipment, wood that looked ready to buckle under its own weight. The only sign of hope was his own bag sitting next to him and Ian scrambled for it as panic threatened to overwhelm all rational thought. Luckily habit kicked in just as he felt himself slipping and after a few moments of deep breathing he was collected enough to try to piece things together.
The day had been routine. A morning spent running errands and then he’d been called into work late in the afternoon. There’d been a car accident- two bodies. Two men about his age with their faces crushed in and one of their arms bent so the bone was exposed- move on.
Laura was supposed to bring her wife to the next family dinner and he could hear the steady hum of the embalming pump as she asked what kind of wine to buy. It was familiar white noise and he let it fill the empty spaces in his memories.
They’d settled on a mid priced Malbec his mom was fond of and it was dark by the time they locked up. It’d been a pleasant night and he’d lingered over a cigarette before setting off for home on his bike. After that, he could find nothing but the beginnings of a headache as he let out another shuddering breath.
The rhythm eased as he dug through his bag, mumbling to himself as everything was carefully accounted for and then double checked to be sure. At least as sure as he could be given how fuzzy his brain still felt so it was entirely possible that he’d forgotten something incredibly important, something that would explain why he was in a barn, which would be weird enough without waking up there surrounded by a bunch of strangers, half of whom were passed out and the other half stood around looking just as confused as he felt and for all he knew this was somehow his fault and-
Ian bit down sharp on his tongue to quiet the racing thoughts as he checked the bag once again more out of obligation than hope. After that he forced himself to zip it shut and it hung limp from his hand as he stumbled to his feet. He closed his other fist around the keys in his pocket as he weighed his next move. It wasn’t much but the cool metal grounded him slightly as he inched forward, stopping a few feet back from the small cluster forming near the broken door. Even if the man clutching a pocket knife seemed more frightened than threatening, he wasn’t going to get within swinging range. Ian’s self defense knowledge began with screaming and ended with running and neither seemed particularly useful just then. But at the very least he wanted to get a look at where they actually were since he was pretty damn sure it wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
The world outside the barn only raised more questions. A single building cresting over the sprawl of trees was the only other sign of civilization. Scents of metal and musk brought to mind thoughts of rot and Ian felt as if he’d been sent back in time as he thought of all the miles that must stretch between here and the city. Everything still swam as he stared off into the distance and spoke to no one in particular. “What the fuck?” A hysteric little cry choked the final word and for a moment he wasn’t sure if he was about to laugh or burst into tears as panic settled into numb shock.
The floor pressed against her cheek was warm, stray bits of hay tickling her nose with every soft exhalation. Her mind felt sluggish, as if her thoughts were running on an outdated operating system. Eleanor felt a faint pressure against her wrist for a moment before it disappeared, rousing her slightly. Her body felt as though it weighed a thousand pounds, her every joint throbbing in time to her pulse.
Did I faint? She could hear the sounds of movement and indistinct voices, but none of them stuck out to her as familiar. Before she had a chance to properly speculate as to how or why she ended up on her face in the dirt, she felt her head being gently nudged onto a bag of some sort. The unexpected contact sent a surge of adrenaline through her body, fully rousing the blonde woman from her daze as she recoils from the stranger.
The words, "I'm fine," died on her lips as she took in her new surroundings. The dilapidated barn she now found herself in was a far cry from the sunny college campus she should have been in-- that she was in what felt like mere seconds earlier. The last thing she could remember was stepping out of her dimly lit class into a blinding May afternoon, hands raised to shield her eyes from the glaring sun... And then, nothing. She was still wearing the same clothes as she had been earlier that day, now covered in a layer of whatever grime coated the barn floor.
Nothing about this was making any sense.
Out of all the questions racing through her mind, "wh... what?" Was the first fully formed word she managed to blurt out, directed towards the stranger who woke her.
Before she could allow him a moment to answer, she pulls herself from the filthy floor so she was sitting on her haunches. She winced as her joints loudly complained with her every move. She had a perplexed look painted all over her face, regarding her surroundings as though they may contain an answer to this mystery. The chances of this all being a disturbing dream dwindled the longer she looked around. The equally confused looks on the other strangers probably meant that she wasn't the only one who didn't quite know how they managed to all wake up in the same uncannily familiar barn. She goes to swipe her hair from her eyes, only managing to get her hand caught in the mess of pale hair and hay framing her face like a matted halo.
Eleanor casts her grey gaze towards her beige messenger bag, the already dingy material had a fresh layer of grime but she didn't seem to be very bothered by it. She began pawing through her bag, doing her best (and failing) to appear as unbothered by their new predicament as possible. She found her phone at the bottom of the bag, practically crushed by schoolwork, and pulled it out quickly. She switched it on and glanced towards the screen. She blinked, and then rubbed the bleariness from her eyes as she checked her phone again.
She somehow managed to blink and wake up two months into the future. Fear fluttered in her chest, why two months? Why her? Why them?
"No... No no no no no...." Her voice trailed off, rising panic evident in her soft voice. She stared at this strange man with tear-filled eyes as she turns her phone around to show him the date and time. She didn't know him-- hell, she didn't think she knew anyone in the room-- but she felt obligated to share her own realizations with them.
Heavens falling out of the sky
Sends a message to you, and I
See people crawling out of their trees
Chained to sickness, the dogs are free
I want to be saved
I want to be saved
The song started with an unusual sound, almost like it was coming through static. After a few seconds, the guitar would make its appearance, low and not very loud, with a steady and soft cymbal accompanying it. The screaming static would continue, making its presence the main sound until her voice came through, only then fading into non-existence. Words coming to life through a timbre smoother than aged whiskey, the softness of the medium notes contrasting with the fullness of the lower tones, which despite that were not heavy on the ears.
From the sound, the sound
The world is spitting out
Only love can save me now
Gone so down
Lost is all I found
Only love, love, love can save me now
The words become more urgent, but not aggressive. The stage is lit up by red lights and the dry ice creates smoke on their feet. People in the audience clap their hands on the rhythm of the song, following the cymbal’s cue, moving side to side, and nodding their heads in a sort of dance. Hēra smiles and takes her jacket off, throwing it at some corner of the stage. The audience was probably warmer, but up on the stage she was right under the air vent and she could feel the cold air blowing on her back. She felt goosebumps on her arm and torso, as the only thing covering her skin was a black striped short sleeve shirt with the chest cut out, and a lock on the neck. Somewhere in her mind, she felt a headache, but it was so distant it felt like a dream.
Drowning madly in deep blue seas
Waves of sadness swallow me
No soul can hear me beneath the weight
No gods or saviors, no hands of fate
I want to be saved
I want to be sa-
It all went silent. The music went dead, her voice cut out from her throat. She was in endless darkness, only broken by colorful auras that pulsed in rhythm with her pounding head. Somehow she knew she groaned but she couldn’t hear or feel it. Her limbs were dead as much as she fought to move them.
She didn’t know how long she had been stuck in that stupor. It felt like years, but as the veil started lifting it strangely started feeling like it all had only lasted for a few seconds. She felt it all coming back to her. The first thing that hit her was the smell, of mold on wood, and humidity making the scent of farm animals stronger. Then she felt the hardness of the ground she was laying on, a myriad of what seemed like strands of fiber prickling her skin in an unpleasant way, scratching at her naked arms and poking through the fabric of her shirt. She found her eyelids and started moving them, an act that felt nearly impossible with the pain she felt in her head. Slowly and painfully, she opened her eyes, being met with a blurry world.
She groaned again, this time hearing her own voice. Her tongue felt swollen and dry, an alien slug inside her mouth. She mouthed a few times, playing with her tongue and trying to swallow. The world started to become clear to her, the light making her eyes ache, and she saw a poorly lit dilapidated wooden ceiling, very high up. She lifted her arms and brought her hands to her face, rubbing her eyes with heavy fingers, not noticing the smeared make-up it left behind.
The pressure on her eyes felt good, but once released it made her head pound even more. What on Earth had happened? Had she drank herself to death again? She propped herself up with her elbow, feeling her head spin while she sat, her stomach revolting against the movement and making her sick. Somehow her leather jacket was resting on the ground next to her. She saw a young man by her side. He seemed to have a worried look on his face.
“Did we have a rave or something?”, she asked in a low voice, her mouth feeling weird with the dryness.
She looked around and saw some people standing near the door to what seemed to be a barn. She didn’t remember getting there or agreeing to go to a rave or anything of the like. And she wasn’t in the habit of doing that kind of thing anymore. It had been years since she’d last done something of the like. Ever since moving in with Dory, she had stopped partying, even if she hadn’t stopped drinking.
Nothing at all had occurred that previous night, painfully mundane and ordinary as it was, that signaled to Jasper any of the following day’s events were bound to occur.
His memory had become unreliable, and at times, an adversary, in the last four or five years; clouded by smoke that choked out his thoughts and paralyzing, numbing depression, most of what he did in the evenings vanished with the thin wisps of smoke wafting off the ‘cigarette’ between his fingers. As bad at that sounds, the alternative—uncontrollable hyperventilation, racing thoughts, and panicking over something important, or totally unimportant, or nothing at all, curled up somewhere on the bathroom or kitchen floor of his apartment—was far worse. That was high school for him. Everything was out of his control, and he had a grip, albeit a shaky one, on his anxiety.
Balance. That was the essence of this whole symptom management business. One of the free counselors he was forced to see on one occasion stressed that no two people had the same coping mechanisms, and that was perfectly fine. Jasper could pick up on how troubled this woman was after he’d given her his song and dance; she was doing a great job hiding the concern deep in her eyes, but he was keen enough to pick up on it. Pay attention to the things that make getting through the days even a little easier, and hold onto them. So-called ‘healthy’ things aren’t one-size-fits-all.
Some indiscernible, trying-too-hard indie band guitar rhythm played softly through his laptop speaker—the kind where the vocals and fake-fancy guitar melted together in a boring mess. It was almost one o’clock in the morning. Jasper took a deep drag, held it tight in his chest for a couple long moments, then coughed it out bitterly. He pushed his hair back behind his ears, thinking about how dull it’d been looking recently and how badly he could use a haircut, when a dull light caught his attention. Strained eyes, just now slightly red-tinted, focused on the notification on his phone.
It wasn’t his favorite kind of notification. Something about the light made what was actually Grindr look like Bandcamp—his heartbeat quickened for a moment in excited anticipation, leaving him crestfallen when he opened the actual message. Jasper’s eyes narrowed, and his neutral, slack stoned expression shifted to a light grimace as he read. Things that seemed too good to be true always were: he felt confident enough that morning to send a nice looking, clean-cut man a greeting, and he just responded with something both lewd and terrifying.
He clicked his phone off and pushed it away on his bedspread, a tight feeling rising up in his chest. This was all very normal—and it was one of those moments where Jasper thought about it and realized it shouldn’t be. But what could he do about it? You learn to settle and take what you can get when your dating pool is just as closeted, touch-starved, and desperate for feeling as you are. Spending time thinking about how you deserve better isn’t worth it, and only makes you feel worse.
Jasper’s mind swooned. He was stratosphere high now, the kind that blurred the boundary between your skin and your sheets—the kind that makes you feel like you’re floating like a leaf on the surface of a choppy lake, but in a way that doesn’t bother you. An immense weight held him there, and he gradually closed his eyes, giving into the deep, dreamless sleep that awaited him.
Unfamiliar light and sound began to leak in some unknowable time later. He woke up slowly, then all at once—he let out a magnificent groan as he rubbed his eyes, acutely aware of how badly his back hurt, which was odd. It almost felt like he’d fallen asleep on a floor instead of his own bed—
His fingertips grazed the floor, and picked up on the unmistakable feeling of rough wood, the kind that needed sanding, and dry straw. Panic immediately rose up in Jasper’s chest and he cried out, sitting up and scrambling to get his legs underneath him. Nothing about this made sense. The last thing he could remember was falling asleep in his own bed, on a night just like any other, and where was he now? Some kind of barn? This wasn’t anything remotely reminiscent of the urban sprawl he called home. He’d been kidnapped, or something. That had to be it… Or was he dead? Was this hell?
Everything ached deeply, terribly, but he did his best to stand on shaky legs as his head swirled with racing thoughts. Jasper stared in poorly-concealed horror as people roughly his age began to stir and speak to each other. Part of him was relieved that the others also didn’t have a clue about what was happening to them, but it only further disturbed his pessimistic core—they were all in this together, for some reason beyond them. There wasn’t any truth at all in The Good Place, was there? Was this some kind of sick rerun, or was this the real deal?
What he thought was a stupid question actually worked to snap him back into reality. Jasper blinked confusedly a couple of times as a young woman’s question seemed to echo in the still, stale air of the barn, before turning his sharp gaze to meet her eyes. She looked like someone he’d be friends with back in Seattle, but that wasn’t enough to protect her from—
“Are you fucking kidding?” He scoffed, raising an eyebrow. Jasper paused to swallow; his throat and mouth were dry, and his voice was a touch hoarse and uneven. “No, no—I’ve never seen any of you in my life, and I know I didn’t black out on a bender or some shit. Last thing I remember is falling asleep high in bed.”
The blond started pacing, straying from the group, trying to glean as much information as he could from these bleak surroundings. “None of this makes sense,” he whispered urgently, just loud enough for only himself to hear.
The first person Dante noticed was a girl. She was easily one of the prettiest women he'd seen in person, even when covered in dust. She still managed to maintain a dainty poise to her being. Maybe her aureate dress and corset had something to do with it; the soft pinks dulled under the unfortunate coat of grime. They had nothing in common, and he wondered how they ended up in the same place.
Regardless, Dante’s eyebrows raised as he lifted his hand to clear his throat. Right, he had to respond. “I guess so,” he replied laconically, swiftly maneuvering his torso back towards the opening made by the missing door. He didn’t have any satisfactory explanations for the second person he noticed-- a guy asking about details Dante didn't have. He figured going outside would provide him with some. So, he stepped into the grass with one last look at the woman on the floor and a shrug to the man with the knife. It wasn’t like there was anywhere else to go.
After extensive surveyance, there was nothing spectacular to find. More than anything, Dante found himself disappointed and nervous. There didn’t appear to be any immediate danger, but he could feel homesickness rumble in his gut.
Suddenly, Dante stopped and procured his own phone out of his sable jeans. Surprisingly, it was there. It still had a giant crack down the middle, but no further damages were evident. It was out of battery, though. He ended up pocketing his own device. There weren't a whole lot of positives about the situation Dante could find himself. Hell, he couldn't even check the time or the date.
There was no sense in dwelling on such calamitous circumstances. Dante shuffled forward towards the house, speculating the chance that someone was inside. His eyes darted around the property as his boots stomped up the stairs to the porch. For several prolonged moments, hazel eyes threatened the front door. Nothing happened, and he tilted his figure to peek into the windows. Moving closer, he got a better look at the interior.
An ugly, mismatched seating area surrounded a cherry wood coffee table placed parallel to a fireplace. There were holiday cards from Christmas sitting on the mantle. A cup sat atop what looked to be a newspaper. That could be important for figuring out their location. Dante made a mental note to take a look at it once they entered.
“I don’t think anyone’s home,” he stated with ambiguity to no one in particular, to anyone who might have been listening. “I still think it’d be a good idea to knock...”
So he did. Leaning back over, he wrapped his knuckles against the wood. A minute passed without any signs of life on the other side. What a surprise.
Shortly after Riann had roused them, the little trio on the floor seemed to stir. A small breath of relief escaped him, because with them and one more panicky-looking brunette, everyone had seemed to rise. That meant no one dead, or near-dead, or in serious danger for the moment. His posture settled slightly, and he rested on his knees for a moment to collect his breath as they all moved awake. The bright blonde went straight for her bag (no thanks for the bag-pillow or anything then. Understandable though.) The dark haired, goth looking girl immediately questioned whether or not this was the aftermath of a rave. And the final dude proclaimed no, this was not a rave, because he'd fallen asleep high in bed.
Was this some sort of rehab experiment he'd been thrown into mistakenly?
Shaking his head, he opened his mouth to speak as the male shot up. He was more panicked than the other two, but each one of them was handling it in their own way. For now? He was holding it in as best as he could, because one more panicked soul wasn't going figure out this weird mess any quicker. "Pretty sure it wasn't a rave." He muttered in response, a hand coming to his brow as it furrowed with concern. If not a rave, then this was a kidnapping, right? It had to be. Was it a good idea to lay it on that bluntly to the people pacing in panic or barely out of the haze of a hangover?
He didn't have anymore time to ponder his next move before the blonde brought the phone to his face. At first he flinched, unprepared for the bright brick to be turned his direction, but as his eyes adjusted with a few fluttering blinks, the words on the screen settled in. It said... August. Whatever sense of stability Riann had been clinging to fled his body at that very moment. August? Nearly three months? No, no, no. That couldn't be right. The hand that had was on his head fell down to clench his mouth to keep it from falling open, his eyes wide. He had just been coming home. If it had been three months... Penny's surgery. His graduation. His family, his friends, they'd be worried sick, and how could he just not remember three whole months of being kidnapped?
Riann stumbled back slightly, another cough escaping him as he rose to his feet, shaking his head furiously. "N-no, no. That's -- no. There's no way that's right." He insisted, taking a slowing breath. His eyes fluttered shut for a second as his fists clenched at his side. The phone was wrong. Phones were wrong. Who knows how it'd been beaten around in her bag. And if it wasn't wrong, well... then their captors were doing this. To make them freak out. To scare them. That's all this had to be, right? No cuffs, no bindings, so the only thing keeping them here and their only vice would be their own fear. He wasn't going to succumb that quickly. No fucking way.
Eyelids fluttering back open, he turned back to the blonde, his once tight-clenched jaw loosening slightly. He offered her his hand to pull her up, and then did the same to the dark haired girl. “Freaking out is the last thing we should do... and probably exactly what whoever put us here wants.” As he said this aloud his posture relaxed further, and if they were to both accept his hand in helping them up, he looked at them with a determined gaze. Determined not to succumb that quick. “I’m... Riann.” He looked past the two, to the group that had already moved outside the barn. “Let's at least get out of this barn, yeah?" As he said this, he raised his voice and looked to the two men that had broken off, each in their own little isolated bubble of panic, hoping that they would hear.
Lisette was sure that this person was a little deranged from the way he’d whipped his pocket knife so readily. With each step that he took forward, Lisette took two back. She was no longer worried about keeping her distance from the person near the door, in fact she was all too ready to reach it herself. “I know as much as you do, which isn’t much from the looks of it.” Lisette glanced at the knife once again, her tone purposely shaky. There was no mistaking the fear and uncertainty in her face as she let them show freely. She was aware that the others were waking up, each of them in a state of confusion or panic when they realized that they were somewhere unfamiliar and surrounded by strangers as well.
When she finally reached the door and peered outside, Lisette flinched at the sudden brightness of daylight. After adjusting she could see the man from before heading towards the house up ahead. A mere glance behind her was enough to help her make up her mind. She’d figure out nothing if she were to stay inside of the barn, waiting for answers to questions she’d probably do better at finding herself. Not to mention the others inside. If she stayed she was sure that she’d witness some sort of scuffle. With that thought in mind she walked out, her steps were quick in an attempt To put as much space between her and the barn as possible.
The first stranger she’d encountered had already reached the house. While the barn had reminded her of her own home, the actual living residence did not. Her home had been surrounded by old oak trees and decorated with lovely flowers of different colors. The size was all wrong too, it was smaller than the place she called home. Lisette reached the porch just as the stranger had finished knocking. Together they waited for someone to open the door, yet no one came.
“Maybe they're out right now? I don’t see a driveway or anything.” Lisette looked around the yard once again. Besides the barn she didn’t see anything. She had been raised to put manners before all else, to act like she had sense as her mother would say. But she was becoming very aware of her current state right now. The layer of grime that covered her made her skin crawl something fierce. Lisette took a step forward, wrapping one hand around the door knob and pushing. Her eyes widened slightly when it opened. “Who would leave their door unlocked like this?”
Lisette stepped inside of the house and upon entering the living room all of the manners she’d learn as a child seemed to leave her. “This is as ugly as homemade sin.”
Nick looked at the scared woman in front of him, then to the others. He quickly realized that everyone else there was just as confused as he was. He closed his knife, but kept it close. "Sorry," he mumbled to no one in particular as he looked around.
What was going on?
A few of the others started to go toward the house. He grabbed his stuff and followed, ready to confront whoever was there. It could still be a human trafficking thing. Granted, it would be a really weird one, but he figured that people who kidnapped other people weren't exactly sane.
He waited with the woman as the first man knocked on the door, only to be greeted with silence. Nick reached in his pocket to check if his phone had any service as they waited for a moment. He sighed when he realized that, not only did he not have service, his phone was dead. Reeves was going to kill him. That was one of Reeves rules for Nick: never let your phone die.
Nick stayed silent as the others spoke, but he followed the young woman inside when she opened the door. He kept one hand on his knife, ready to fight if need be.
"This is as ugly as homemade sin," Lisette said.
Nick laughed out loud. "That's what you're worried about?" He approached a set of stairs and looked up. "Hello? Anyone home? We'd like to know what the fuck is going on!"
Eleanor's mind was still reeling as she held her phone with shaky hands, she barely registered that part of the group had broken off to explore beyond the barn. The questions of raves and the dark haired stranger's reaction to the date did nothing to quell the questions filling her head. His repeated no's mirrored her reaction of disbelief, but she remained where she knelt on the ground. She had just finished class, there was no way she could have been gone so long without anyone reporting her missing, right?
"Maybe whoever took us changed the date on my phone," when she spoke her voice was barely above a whisper, almost as though she were asking herself a question, "it's not impossible..." Her words rung untrue in her own ears, but she tried to ignore the voice in her mind telling her to scream.
In an attempt to dampen the dread eating away at her chest, she slips the phone back into her bag. It's just a phone, glitches happen, right? She could find a way to explain the date on her phone, but how on earth could she make sense of her sudden new reality.
Her inquisitive gaze scoured the room and it's occupants for any kind of answer, lack of hope evident on her face. Deep down, she knew she wouldn't be able to figure much out from her vantage point on the floor-- but she felt nearly paralyzed, floating in a sea of indecision. "Freaking out is the last thing we should do," his words brought her some morbid comfort--Whoever "they" were or whatever they wanted, she couldn't just allow this fear to eat her up inside. None of them would be getting anywhere if they sat transfixed by their fear. The stranger offering his hand and name was something tangential she could focus on.
Eleanor gladly accepts Riann's hand, allowing him to help her up. She steps back on unsteady legs to make more room for the dark haired woman, rubbing her hands on a pair of filthy jeans that looked to be a few sizes too big for her. She gives those looking her way a timid, half-hearted smile, unsure if she was doing it to reassure herself or the others.
"Eleanor," she said by way of introduction, voice louder than before, and nodded along to the rest of what he said. She glanced between those remaining in the barn, waiting to hear what they thought. Either way, she definitely didn't want to hang around in the dilapidated structure any longer than she needed to.
She lifts her bag from the floor and slings it across her shoulder, not wanting to leave anything behind lest it disappear along with her past three months.
A voice broke through the ringing static and Ian flinched back to awareness. “Let’s at least get out of this barn, yeah?” It was the man who’d been helping others- Ian thought he’d heard him introduce himself as Riann. It seemed like everyone was awake and lacking any serious injuries so if someone intended to kill them they were either bad at it or had something more elaborate planned than this would be mass grave. The thought made him feel claustrophobic, skin crawling as he stumbled towards the door.
People were already filtering out and he followed them at a distance. Having a task eased the anxiety a bit and he focused in on the feeling of walking. Aside from the aches he seemed to be okay, at least physically speaking. And he had his things- dead phone included. That wasn’t too unusual, he always forgot to plug it in at night. Things could be worse. Being outside made it easier to breath. The air was warm but not unpleasant and if he kept his eyes fixed forward he could almost pretend he was just taking a walk. All he had to do was focus on the quiet sound of grass beneath shoes instead of the overwhelming feeling of wrongness that hung over the entire world and then he was at the porch as the knife man and the princess voiced their displeasure.
“If you’re going to be kidnapped wouldn’t you want it to be by someone with similar taste?” Though honestly he didn’t think it was that ugly. A little kitschy, sure, but it hardly looked like the kind of place with bodies beneath the floorboards. He further tangled his curls as he ran a hand down the back of his head, glancing back towards the barn. It was going to be dark before too long and as much as he didn’t want to add a trip to jail for breaking and entering to this already horrible day, the house was certainly a more attractive option than the barn. If someone was living in the oddly clean house they had to at least know where they were, if not how they’d gotten there. But still he hesitated next to the door. Something about the place was odd. It reminded him of a house museum he’d been dragged to on a field trip years ago. Everything was staged to create the illusion of domestic life but somehow felt hollow, the kind of place where only ghosts would live.
“Maybe there’s a phone?” Though who knew how much good that would do them. Who would they call? What would they say? At the very least he needed to get someone to feed Baby while he figured out what the hell had happened to him.
“Are you fucking kidding?” Hēra looked up a bit shocked at the harsh tone of the stranger, to see who had spoken. “No, no—I’ve never seen any of you in my life, and I know I didn’t black out on a bender or some shit. Last thing I remember is falling asleep high in bed.”
She should feel some sort of relief, after all, she had spent a lot of effort into not going to those kind of parties anymore, but that meant… That meant that whatever was happening here was much worse. Her head started spinning as lightness spread through her body as if all her bones had vanished. Her blood ran cold. Her vision went blurry and she couldn’t really focus on anything in her sight. Riann’s hand, their introductions, all of that went unnoticed by the brunette while she silently collapsed in on herself.
Her hands grabbed the side of her head with so much stiffness her knuckles turned white, and she rocked herself in a backward and forward motion.
”Then this must be like one of those movies, the ones Dory like so much for some reason, but that always freaked me out too much and I always ask her to wear headphones because even the sound makes me scared, and now it’s happening to us, and this has happened to me before but that was before I saw the movies, now I know that they’re going to make us cut our own leg off or eat someone else’s eye or something, I don’t know, I can’t really think like them, but I know they must have awful ideas of things to do to us and…” The girl trailed off, her panicked rant turning into a whisper.
Lisette’s lips pressed into a straight line as the man who she’d creeped away from spoke. One of her reasons for leaving the barn had been to get away from the knife wielding stranger. She didn’t understand how he was speaking so casually now. Lisette made her way to a different area without a second thought. Her movements were cautious while she took a look around, searching for any sign that someone lived in the house. The barn had been empty with no tools or animals anywhere to be seen. She knew that any decent farmer would keep it stocked up.
Her little tour eventually led her to the kitchen. It was then that her body chose to remind her of its current state. Lisette’s stomach growled a little louder than she’d liked. Thankfully, she was alone in the kitchen for the time being. Lisette made her way over to the fridge but she was fully expecting to be met with empty shelves. So far she was getting the impression that no one lived here. It wasn’t a pleasant thought either. If no one lived in the house it could have simply been some type of hideout for whoever had abducted them all.
To her utter surprise the fridge was fully stocked. For a moment she just stood there, staring at everything inside of the fridge. When she picked up a carton of orange juice she looked at the date. “…August…” She quickly placed the juice inside. None of the food looked expired, the milk still seemed fresh especially so she could only assume that these groceries were made at the same time. But the expiration dates were all wrong. Lisette wasn't all that hungry anymore and closed the fridge. It was then that she noticed the calendar on the fridge door. “What in the world? This can’t be right. It was definitely May when I fell asleep.” Her expression was one of disbelief. The calendar was turned to August and the 8th day was circled.
The Lisette hiked her bag up further on her shoulder. This whole situation was strange but it was only getting stranger. She moved to the cabinets as well, looking through them and checking the dates on some of the items.
Okay, this was good. One bite. Riann flashed his most earnest smile at the blonde as he pulled her up, glad to have received a name. Eleanor. Good, good. "Hi, Eleanor." Riann said softly, a breath he didn't know he'd been holding escaping him as he spoke her name to let it roll off his tongue. Something to cling too, a sane voice, a solid image. Someone in front of him in the same predicament, and at least, she had listened to some reason. The phone said August, and that meant three months completely missing, but surely, there were answers. And whoever had stripped them of those three months didn't deserve an ounce. Unfortunately, the seeds of panic had seemed to be sowed in the dark haired girl, and rather than taking his hand, brought them over her hears and began to rock herself back and forth.
Instantly, his gut twisted, but his heart didn't drop. Riann had seen this before. A few of his siblings were prone to anxiety attacks, and if the contents of his bag were untouched, he should have had a bottle of his brother's meds in there. That was probably not what she needed, though. Instantly, Riann dropped down to his knees, crouching before her but making sure to keep a comfortable amount of distance. His eyes were filled with empathy, and he reached out his hand once more, but did not touch her.
"Hey," His tone was low and he searched for a gap in her panic to meet her eyes. "This is not gonna be like any movie, I promise you. Look, if this were some real horror movie shit, we'd have already heard the sadistic voice booming out from the creepy loud speakers, right?" Riann tried to crack a smile. This girl wasn't his sibling, or a patient at the hospital, but he found that for these sorts of things, something to focus on, to distract with, was the best way to pull someone out of their own loop. "I've watched like, one Saw movie, and the circumstances are always way worse than this. This barn? Actually kind of nice. Okay, yes, we woke up on the dirt. But there's sun shinin' through. Sun in a horror movie? I think not." He cleared his throat a bit, acknowledging the corniness of his speech as he faltered for a moment.
"Look... let's go outside. At least if you want to decide this is gonna be like one of those movies, get a lil more intel on the psychopath trap we're supposedly in. I can at least swear to you I won't be doing anything graphic. Can't say I'm grossed out with that stuff, but I'm trying to be a nurse. I'd probably get kicked out of nursing school if I participated in any Saw traps. That's how that works, right?" A one sided chuckle. That was probably enough off-topic rambling to grab her attention. Now, the hand that had been outstretched reached a little further, hoping she would take it this time. "Could I get your name?"
Riann's smile helped ease the knot of anxiety deep in her abdomen, she was still acutely aware of it gnawing away at her insides. However, what little comfort she had found in that moment vanished when the dark-haired woman's panicked voice rang through the barn. Eleanor froze, even as the stranger's voice softened into a breathy babble. She could empathize with the same fear they all undoubtedly felt, but she felt as though she were in entirely unfamiliar territory when it came to the realm of comforting someone.
"I... Ah..." Eleanor falters, not knowing what she should or shouldn't be doing at a time like this. She was grateful when Riann stepped in to take the lead, shuffling her feet awkwardly in the dirt as he lowered himself to the panicked woman's eye level.
She was shocked to see the ease in which he sloughed off his own anxieties and worries to tend to someone else. Though his low tone and reassuring words were not directly meant for Eleanor, they bolstered her courage. Upon finding out he had been training to be a nurse before they were taken, she made a mental note to compliment him on his bedside manners. Having someone with any form of medical training would be a boon for the group if the worst happens. The longer she had been awake, the clearer her mind became.
"This doesn't have to be a horror movie, you know, right? It can be a mystery we need to solve," she offers, doing her best to keep her tone similar to Riann's.
She shuffled a bit closer with a painfully concerned look painted all over her face. She usually would have just avoided inserting herself at all in another time, preferring to let someone more experienced deal with it. She should still have her water bottle kicking around in her bag somewhere, it may give the dark haired stranger a chance to breath. "maybe, uh, some water might help?"
Stepping away from the front door as the woman replaced his spot, Dante glanced around. Yeah, there really was no driveway. The small details of the house were started to wriggle beneath his skin, uncomfortable confusion settling at the bottom of his lungs. Dante’s lips twisted, and the girl pushed inside, immediately insulting the house. It wasn’t Dante’s style either, but he didn’t think it was ugly necessary. Whatever.
“Maybe. Whoever owns this place seems like they’d still be rockin’ landlines,” Dante replied, looking at the newest member of the house discovery crew.
He followed inside behind the girl and veered off to the living room to the left. Reaching the mantel, he plucked up the Christmas card and opened it. There were no signatures or notes. His eyebrows furrowed. “None of this makes sense.” He stated the obvious before abandoning the card and trailing after the woman into the kitchen.
August? August? “Jesus Christ. So what, two months just went down the drain?” Dante couldn’t recall the happenings before then and up to this moment for the life of him. He needed a drink or the occasional cigarette, but unfortunately, a Caprisun would have to suffice for now. He squeezed his arm past the woman, procuring the beverage from the shelf of the fridge before backing up.
Dante leaned against the stove and poked a hole into the pouch with a straw. “Before we venture any further, how about introductions, yeah? I’m Dante.” He waved to the other people in the room before he sipped at his juice, assuming it wasn’t poisoned. It appeared to be sealed, but what did he know anymore? Nothing was as it seemed.
And his brain could go in circles forever, asking but not able to answer the multitudes of questions forming. What did they know? It was August, they were strangers, they had food, they had a roof. What about running water?
Dante shuffled to the sink and twisted the handle for cold water. Sure enough, the clear liquid drizzled down from the silver faucet and down the drain.
“Good to know….” He mumbled before twisting back around to the others.
Nick ventured up the stairs to have a look around and see if there was anyone there. "Hello?" he called again as he reached the top. He found himself in a hallway which looked over the first floor of the house. It was definitely a cool set up, but Nick didn't really have the time to admire it. He pushed open the first door he came to and found a bathroom. All of the towels were clean and unused, like someone had just finished doing laundry. He stepped back out into the hallway and headed to the right. He pushed open the next door and found a bedroom, which was also empty. The third door he came to was a large closet with clothes inside, all hung neatly. He turned and walked to the other end of the hallway, finding another empty bedroom and an area that looked like a study. Both rooms were devoid of life.
"Well, fuck," Nick sighed. He ran a hand through his hair and checked his phone again out of habit. Still dead.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and headed back downstairs. "No one's here," he reported to the others.
Nick pulled out his carton of cigarettes and lit one, taking a long drag as he listened to Dante speak.
"Before we venture any further, how about introductions, yeah? I'm Dante."
"Nick," he responded simply as an introduction. He watched as Dante tried the water. "Oh, good. At least we've got that going for us."