Chapter 2:

Part 2

It Was In the Dead...

I do not know what I’m doing today. Actually, I don’t even know what I did yesterday, or the day before, or any fucking day ever.

Certainly, the darkness before my eyes seemed to speak of that. Wherever the hell I was…

It wasn’t the time to worry about taboos and borders.

The pressure against my joints told me that I couldn’t even move my fucking limbs! How was that for worry?! Where was I? Just what had happened to me? I couldn’t remember… I couldn’t remember.

Kanae staggered down the snowy streets, determined to never look back.

Yes… there was snow… But that wasn’t it… I was running too, but I don’t remember being some broad. I could feel my package down below!

“Deck the halls…” Music flowed within the air over the chittering and chattering of the elves, working happily on a mountain of toys.

Okay, now someone was definitely fucking with me. I was far too old to believe in Santa Claus, and I sure as hell knew that elves didn’t exist. But the images that flowed into my head were so vivid, so familiar. Like I had experienced them before. From somewhere…

A black-haired young girl stood in the dimly-lit hallway outside the principal’s office.

Always something to do with winter… some of them having to do with Christmas even…

It’s about four hours walking between the two, but the heavy snowfall adds an extra third total onto that.

Just what were these images in my head trying to tell me? Where were they coming from? Where? WHERE?!



The light clicked on, blinding me. Stars clouded my vision, the consequence of burnt pupils that had succumbed so long to the dark. I struggled to keep them closed, waiting for some relief before opening them once again. But a buzzing right before me tickled my curiosity.

And then, a light chuckle. I could resist no longer.

Cracking my eyes open, a dark screen filled my entire vision. Upon it, only sparse lines populated the background, the cursor blinking incessantly as if waiting for some command to be entered. It blinked and blinked, slowly driving me crazy with its constant rhythm. The lack of any change made me impatient. The abandonment from it filled me with dread. But then, a message flashed upon the screen, and with it, a voice.

“Welcome back, fellow member of the Hive. Back from your previous venture, no? Now rid of him, rightfully so. Expunged of that fossil who dallied amidst these halls, his ostentatious humdrum of fiction mucking up the weeklies. Quite the eyesore.”

A moment of silence blanketed the room as I fought to understand what was happening. The voice continued, speaking with a mixture of elegance and grit that was oddly distracting but hard to interpret as well. Words, on occasion so complex that I wished a dictionary were beside me… if only I could reach the phone in my pocket. Verbose language that made me wonder if there was any point or importance to the floweriness to begin with, or if the act of talking in such a manner just sounded good to the voice itself.

My mind struggled with it all.

Words said good. Put words in good order. Sing-songy voice like a damn rhythm game.

But above all, it came with a British? accent. God, I wanted to shoot myself.

Somehow, the voice could infer the internal struggle I was facing. The sweaty palms, the cringes of disgust, and the jitters of my jaw in hopes of biting my own tongue off. Or perhaps, there was just a fucking camera in the room. After all, someone put me here. Straps restraining my arms and legs, held against some electronic slab in the middle of the room. I couldn’t even turn far enough to verify if that was the case, prevented from the very act of even shying away from the screen held so intrusively towards me.

“Are you okay? Would you like for me to send you some pictures of red pandas to calm the nerves? That always does the trick for me.”

I couldn’t tell if the voice was mocking me or held true concern. Either way, it blasted them right at me. In a way, they were better than an empty black screen. On the other hand, I hated furry things. Not to mention, the creature’s beady eyes were zoomed in so far that it caused a guttural yelp to erupt from my throat. At least, it reset my mind enough to warrant some form of self-preservation. Verbal retaliation for the suffering I was subjected to.

“Stop! Just fucking stop! Where the hell am I?!” I cried out, and the images suddenly went away. Back to the black screen as entered text blipped across my eyes yet again. I wondered why it had to be spoken too, since I could freaking read. I was neither blind nor deaf, you know…

“The Hive, of course. Recovering from your last mission. And being primed for the next. After all, we must continue with the festivities. This place would be ded otherwise. And as we all know, the show must go on, the show must go on!”

“Missions, what missions? I don’t remember doing anything for no Hive!”

A light chuckling encircled me, like the devil switching from one ear to the other.

“Of course not. That is the purpose of the Hive. To extract what we can from you, without you ever suspecting, to delude you into giving it your all-“

“And what makes you think that I’ll do it again?!” Anger bubbled from within me. To think that I was being toyed with, made to do whatever without ever recalling what. I would simply refuse. What would they do about it? Ban hammer me? Raze my history into the ground? Step on me? Thrust out the scythe of death and end my existence? I laughed at all of that. It could do its worst.

But the voice that came afterward was so calm, so devoid of anger at my defiance that it couldn’t help but pierce me. It made me feel tiny with its superiority. The text turned red as blood, highlighting its lofty role in the Hive.

“You know, words are magic. What is said, how one says it, they hold an unseen power that very few can come to understand. Prose, intonation, pitch, rhythm – the way a sentence is strung together can sound so much like a harmony… quite hypnotic at times, no?”

“Surely, you jest. Whatever voice in the screen you are, you really think that I’ll fall for some hypnotism mumbo jumbo and go off to do whatever you ask?”

Another dry chuckle, this time with more depth. A richness pervaded it, like joy emitted after sampling a fine wine.

“Oh, but I already have…”

I arched my brow at that statement, feeling fully in control of myself. If that weren’t the case, then why was I restrained? I looked down at my unmovable limbs as if mocking the voice for his blunder. But then, they released, and I fell forward. Immediately, I went for the door, hoping that I could escape somehow despite knowing that my path was likely locked, but a single statement from the voice made my actions freeze. I couldn’t even catch what the words were, but somehow, my brain felt its full weight, and it did what was commanded.

Stiff as a board, my eyes looked to the side, back at the screen. Waiting for the answer to this madness.

“A funny statement isn’t it? It was in the dead of winter, I mean. One thinks nothing of it when spoken. Just another phrase to start off some middling thought, don’t you think?”

I could almost feel the presence of the voice pacing around me, like some diabolical villain revealing a secret weapon. It was then that I knew I was fucked.

“And why that phrase exactly? Why not simply, “In the dead of winter,” or “It was the midst of winter”? With all the options of the English language… why must so many stories begin with that exact phrase, hmm? Why must it be said in that exact manner?”

And then, the voice appeared right next to my right ear, whispering the next line with a hiss.

“It was in the dead… It was in the dead… Itwasinthedead. Itwznteded. 𝕴𝖙𝖜𝖟𝖓𝖙𝖊𝖉𝖊𝖉.”

Those words, seeming so innocent at first, slowly became more and more distorted, until they were undoubtedly foreign in tongue. But no matter what that language was, or if it was even human, my mind immediately filled in the gaps. It filtered out the noise and replaced it with what I thought I knew. But regardless of how my mind distorted the very words to my own convenience, it nonetheless was compelled to stand at full attention. I was charmed, unable to rip my thoughts away. At that very moment, all I cared about was what came after. What would come after. And all the times in which it had been uttered time and time again.

It was in the dead of winter that I forced 13 people to take mysterious pills, all the while hiding my insanity through lemon drops faking some sense of delirium.

It was in the dead of winter that I kidnapped a young child and pounded upon the door of a doctor’s office, simply to bring her guard down and strike when she least expected it.

It was in the dead of winter that I convince some girl to act as a fool, setting aflame reasonable ties and any hopes of a comfortable future.

It was in the dead of winter that I sent some dumb kid into the ghetto, convincing him that Santa had an estranged sibling that wished to ruin Christmas.

It was in the dead of winter that I convinced a little chimney sweeper that no one loved him, so that he would dive into the cold sea.

It was in the dead of winter that I passed out flowers before raining down hellfire upon cultists.

It was in the dead of winter that the world was convinced that it was totally fine, a virtual utopia held together by a constant stream of pills.

It was in the dead…

It was in the dead…

It was in the dead…

All that and many, many more… Each story, written for the Hive. Scenarios, giving some falsified background to cover up the truth of the Hive’s targeted cleansings.

Just how many stories had unfolded, all because of a simple phrase? Just what evils had been thrust upon the world, all for the sake of one festivity? Those innocent members of the Hive, orchestrating chaos upon the world, all for one purpose.

And it would likely continue… unless someone could figure out the secret and put an end to it. Someone from the outside which had the sense to pick up what was wrong about this place. Because as far as I knew it, we were trapped. We didn’t know any better.

As soon as the next prompt of magic words hit our ears, we would be right back at work, doing what the Hive wanted, never knowing better. It didn’t matter what day it was, it didn’t matter that we all had other things to do in our lives, other people to talk to and spend time with. The Hive would bring us back with a simple announcement, and we would all react to it. Using icons that even we didn’t understand the meaning behind.

The voice chuckled once again as the magic spell set firmly in my mind. And then, it would be off to churn out another story, and with that, another tragedy to unfold. But the voice so kindly left me with some parting words.

“The Hive is my playground. I choose what stories you all will see. So I hope you have a wonderful experience. What you’ll come up with, what will it be…?

“So, Very Merry Christmas, to one and to all. With my influence at the helm, it is I who will make the final call.”