Chapter 1:

Part 1

It Was In the Dead...

It was in the dead of winter that I first ran the distance between my cottage and the city I’ve renounced long ago.

That phrase sputtered off my lips as I shivered, fighting back the bitter frost upon them. Head foggy, eyes trembling, it was certainly fucking cold. A perfect example of winter’s harshness. The dusting of snow clinging to the crevices in my clothing and the icicles threatening to weigh down the corners of my mouth would say so. A chill penetrating so deeply that several layers couldn’t stop my bones from aching and certain parts from becoming too shrunken as I trodded forth.

“Jingle fucking Balls! Merry Christmas, my ass! Why the shit am I here?!” A voice that no one else could hear but my own echoed across the white snowy hills. Only the crunching of snow under my boots responded back. The darkness of night ensured that my outburst mattered all the less, as if anyone would give two shits to approach a potential madman anyway.

In the distance, a lone building hovered in my vision. Lights flickered from within, but only in certain rooms and not others. One had to question why only certain parts of it felt alive, but that mattered not at the time. Life resided in those chambers, certainly more so than this godforsaken barren area I was in.

My hand reached for the handle, almost eager to be out of nature’s harshness, and into something… artificial. That was all I could describe it. It was very distinct. This place reeked like the entryway of just about any accommodations, a lobby as one called it.

It felt like I had just stepped into the set of something planned. Furnishings barebone, set up but hardly managed. Almost like a front for something else, a lone person opened a door in the back. Right on cue. An actor paid to give guests a complementary welcome. That was the feeling that he gave off. Perhaps, an automated bot would have given a heartier welcome.

“Hello there, taken an interest? I do hope you stay and have a look around. We have much to offer. Festivities to join, interesting people with stories to tell. We have that and much more at the Hive.

That sounded as much of a joke to me given how utterly dead the man’s surroundings were. After all, why the hell would someone offer a greeting in the bloody dark?! That little detail had just gone noticed, since my pupils had yet to dilate and yell at me for any sudden shifts in brightness.

But then, the man suddenly perked up, catching my befuddled expression. He reached over flicked a switch, instantly blinding me with a sudden glare. But my hand was already primed for it, covering my eyes just as the vestiges of black escaped my vision.

“Sorry about that. I don’t suppose you prefer Light Theme? Sorry, the regulars of the Hive are so used to the dark, hiding away while minding their own business. It’s because most of them are used to shying away from the public eye. Hidden behind anonymity and false titles and such. But rest assured, that doesn’t matter here. You can take on any guise you wish. Might I suggest a padoru theme?”

The Hive. Ever since that announcement of someone actually fucking winning money, it was like flies attracted to a fresh, rotten corpse. There always had to be someone with shallow dreams of making it big, and this little cottage out in the middle of nowhere seemed to be it for them.

It didn’t matter that virtually no one had heard of this place. Its promises of being something different, and though small, that it would grow and become something unique… eventually.

A work in progress. Developing. More in store.

How sweet those words must have sounded to those who heard nothing else but such things. I would know. Why else would I be lured here? On Christmas Day no less.

Instead of being with family, hanging out with friends, or having some semblance of an actual damn life, something had compelled me to make this journey. To some place in which looked inviting but held such mystery. It didn’t help that there was hardly any guide to light my way, but merely rumors beckoning me to grasp some part of it.

That feeling began to ring ever truer as I walked through the hallways, trying every door that I could find down the row, only to be met with… darkness. Empty… Empty… Empty… All dark save for vestiges of what was once there.

Dust collected within these barren rooms. Days and weeks had gone by without a single trace of activity. Footsteps buffered in fresh layers of silence. The scent of mold from the last traces of people no longer caring. Had I wasted my time coming?

But then, oh then, like a dam bursting from the seams, a deluge of banter whirled before my eyes at the next open door. I braced myself against the frame, dizzy from the contrast. I looked back toward the door to see a shiny new plaque that read ‘discussion room’. Likely, the lights I saw from the outside all focused upon this one place.

But then, the jostling of teacups and monster cans passed my vision as several people glided by me, as if I were a ghost. It looked like they had just freshened up and came back from a café for a change. I hadn’t spoken up yet, so they continued to ignore my presence, as I lurked to understand just what it was that attracted people here.

But as a weak “Hi” squeaked from my lips, their heads turned right at me. Laser sharp focus. Eyes, appearing suddenly from all corners of the room, they glistened with hunger. Their fingers twitched and their lips raced to be the first one… the first to tell of their story. To find out if I were the same. If I would partake in an exchange.

“So, what’s your story?” the first of them asked me.

Such kind consideration. Simple feints of curiosity meant to lower one’s guard. Did they think I had not seen through them? That they were waiting for me to start, and in turn, trade my attention for theirs? That was how wolves wore sheep’s clothing. But I knew how they thought… I could be one of them, if needed be.

Rather than reply, I remained silent, pretending that the lights weren’t home in my head. Distracted, attention taken away, or simply already bored of speaking – they could ponder all sorts of reasons for my sudden silence. But I was not here for them. I had my eyes on the prize… whatever it was. At least, the last one offered drew headlines.

And soon enough, the masses lost interest. They went back to talking about their own stories, their unique sense of culture, or simply, partaking in various manners of drunkenness and getting high. Such eyebrow twitching behavior… heaven forbid it rubbed off on me, even if I were merely exposing myself just to get in the know.

Thus, my movements clung to the outer walls, waiting, pondering my next course of action. After all, my chances were at its best when all the information was gathered. To know who were enemies versus allies. To see what the hierarchy was from within. And to know who to bribe to get myself some fucking listens.

And after spending enough time to warrant pawning off boredom to several rounds of mobile games, I came to a conclusion. There were several characters in this play that I had to pay close attention to.

One was a smiling girl that constantly thrust pills upon people. Despite how sketchy that sounded, the people here looked upon her fondly. Blind ignorance of the maniacal airs that she put on, gestures that invoked a sense of welcome but with fangs hidden beneath her casual strokes. Wild mood swings, fits of burning Elmos, and sudden crying potatoes – an entire spectrum waiting to unfold. Was she putting on an act, or was it tragedy waiting to happen? That was something that made me inch away despite the charismatic allure of crazy that she exuded.

Another man caught my attention, simply for the fact that he whizzed by anyone and everyone, with the attention span long enough to make his drink taste palatable. And drink he did, until the very words that came from his mouth sounded like a dyslexic, one-handed pianist that swore off auto-correct. I watched as he weaved and ducked between a new story every couple of minutes, waving his free hand into the air as if he was logging his interest on a height chart. Surely, people would mind if he made such proclamations public, but otherwise, the very act of it was nothing short of… humorous.

Not to mention, several people also loitering about, begging for their stories to be heard, listlessly hoping for life advice like this place was some magic haven for self-improvement. Licking each other’s wounds, that was what it felt like. Poor souls who hurt themselves time and time again taking risks, only to fail. At the very least, I wished for them to do it in another room, where I can turn off notifications and pretend that they didn’t exist. They were sussy bakas, all of them.

However, it made me wonder what caused them to try so hard. Some entity whispering sweet words of encouragement, perhaps? Or just maybe, the rewards were just that damn good. But as I recalled, there was an empty room from before that seemed to proudly display that prize, the current one for this event. Some shiny dreams drawn out upon a canvas! That was the prize apparently, or so I had been told.

Pfft. I laughed at that. Here I was, lured by the same promises yet doubtful that they were worth it. How hypocritical it must have seemed. But nonetheless, people were fooled by the what-ifs, ephemeral but always seeming to be in reach.

Delude ourselves in glory and then doubt our chances. Mankind thrives upon bouncing between such nonsense.

That sounded good in my head, so I pulled out a notebook to jot it down. One never did know when it would be useful next…

But then, a loud crash echoed throughout the room. Audible gasps littered between the sound of the remaining glass sprinkling the floor. A man had yeeted himself out the window, likely having overstayed his welcome. He had carved a message upon the walls of the room, speaking of his farewells. An unfortunate circumstance for those in attendance, but the blip of his existence served as a knife to cut through the monotony that I stood within. And honestly, I almost wished I had the courage to do the same.

Undoubtedly, I started to regret ever coming. Just what was I here for? Certainly not for deluded promises of riches and fame. It didn’t matter to me that someone had won, because I knew in a million years that someone would never be me.

I had enough sense to realize that, but yet, I still came.

It was in the dead of winter that I first ran the distance between my cottage and the city I’ve renounced long ago.

I had received an invitation, with only those words as my guide. Asking me to join. Willing me to participate. And for what? To wait around for the next big prize, in hopes of making it big then? Ha! I couldn’t last another week in here!

But still, I lingered around, hoping that there would be more. Some meaning for me to be here, just enough to fill the rest of the evening. To have wasted a precious holiday all for some simple words. Wouldn’t that be a dumb story to tell? Certainly not enough to fill 5000 words, but enough for a shitpost.

Just as I had decided to resign and leave the place forever, I brushed against someone that made the hairs on my arms stick up. At first, he slid in casually. Among all the weirdness, the begging and tomfoolery, he shrugged it off with a smile. Eyebrows barely arching over the most ludicrous of things. Teasing words in response to whatever malarky that spewed forth. He was one of them, without question.

The way he wiggled and squirmed as he talked, the flashes of purple phallic bulbs, and how he casually sipped upon monster at the start of each story – they unnerved me. Just who was this person?

It didn’t take long at all to find out. His presence was seemingly all around the place, muted but present. A story so long that few dared to touch upon it due to its sheer length – the fact that it simply existed spoke volumes without it even being heard. But then, laughable stories that simply made one think that he was insane. But he was fine with that, however strange it was. He came and went as he pleased, never batting an eye on the prizes displayed. How he had managed to remain here for years was anyone’s guess.

But I could tell, he simply reveled in what was there in the room. An aura of joy exuded from him, unlike the others. He was not a soul tormented by endless doubts. Empty promises and out of reach trinkets did not lure him here. He had chosen to stay of his own free will. A volunteer to the madness.

He was an eyesore. A danger to those that hungered for the prize themselves. Such flippant behavior made me question if he was the monster who created this all. Laughing as others struggled to carve a path forward, jeering as some fell short and tumbled, that was all that I could envision hidden under his cheery mask.

The chaos of people coming together would be better off without him. This broken venue of shattered dreams and endless struggle. But above all, that blasted message that kept echoing in my thoughts.

It was in the dead of winter that I first ran the distance between my cottage and the city I’ve renounced long ago.

It was in the dead of winter that…

It was in the dead… It was in the dead… It was in the dead…

My fists clenched suddenly. There was no doubt in my mind. It was him! He had led me here! He had sent that message! So that I would be convinced to tell my story! A story that no one would enjoy hearing! Because what kind of sick person (maybe there’s one in mind…) would take pleasure in listening to something so fucked up?! Go sit on the couch and watch The Joker or something instead!

The more I thought about it, the more I had to do something about him. To confront him and get this waste of an evening over with.

…So I waited, and waited. For him to leave the room. By then, it was way late into the night, much later than any feasible working person of society should stay up. Surely, he was not a normal person. I couldn’t approach him carelessly. But in the silence in between rooms, where no one bothered to linger, that was the best place to strike.

I DMed him because that was the only way to directly call for his attention. A single ding hung dryly in the air.

“Yo, why did you call me out here for?” I called out to him as he pulled out his phone to check.

He slowly turned around, wondering if he could be bothered to answer, but he did so anyway.

“Bored. Everyone else is asleep in the house. So I said ‘fuck it’, I’ll come out and play.”

His frivolousness was what I hated. He was never serious about anything, acting purely upon whims and vibes. But then, I immediately said.

“How did I know that you were going to say that?”

That was more of a question to myself than it was to him. But he kept smiling, and smiling, and smiling.

A torrent of anger swept over me. The thoughts from before of how he must be hiding everything were plastered upon his expression. They were all I could see, so much so that I couldn’t convince myself otherwise. His message continued to ring in my head, like a chant hypnotizing me. I wanted it to stop. I needed it to end.

So I reached out and grabbed his smiling face, and with a sudden jerk, smashed it into the wall. Again and again and again. All the while, laughter cut through the crunches of bone and the crumbling of plaster. I thought they were him mocking me at first, but then, I realized that they were nothing more than my own. For another voice began to echo inside my head in its place.

Good riddance! Good riddance to it all!

Because who cares about dumb otherworld stories anyway? There is already too much fantasy in this world and even more being aired in the next season.

Who cares about dry as fuck ramblings of amateurs? What does this place bring that would replace the likes of true classics? But I suppose… they have a purpose of their own… To satisfy, to misdirect, and to overshadow… Yes… I could use them… I could use all of them…

In the end, I didn’t know how long it went on. All I knew was that there was a smile on my face, because I could finally, finally go to sleep. I was done here. There were no more voices in my head. No longer would I be stuck in the place called the Hive. Mission complete.

And with that, I blacked out. The day of Christmas already long behind me.