Shade opened her eyes blearily. Her head was woozy, and the world spun a little as soon as she raised it.
She clutched at her head and lifted herself from the mattress to take stock of her surroundings. It looked like a wooden cabin. The most unusual thing was the other person in it, who was staring at her and leaning forward slightly, like a wolf looking at raw meat.
Instinctively she tried to teleport. A lance of pain shot through her head from temple to temple.
“You can’t use your teleportation here,” said David, and he was starting to smile. It looked a lot like he was salivating.
More people were funneling into the room and watching her. Shade felt like she recognized some of them.
“Shouldn’t you be -”
“Dead?” asked David, wide-eyed. “Dead, dead, dead! I am dead. And you are dead, too. We’re all dead!”
He gestured around the room wildly.
“‘Ello guv’nor,” said a stranger walking out of the gloom. “Oi’m Smith. Can oi get you summat to drink, loik a cuppa tea, perhaps? Cheerio, biscuit?”
“Thanks, extremely British man, but no thanks. What’s going on? Why are you all still alive?”
Shade’s eyes scanned across the crowd. That little group seemed like David’s team and, yes, there was the guy she had helped Anne dispose of after she’d murdered him. Hopefully he didn’t know about that. Her eyes trailed up to the strange mass that stood behind them all. She recoiled against the wall.
“What the f-”
“Blargh blargh blargh”, announced Nomed the demon. Another automatic look of horror from a human, he thought. He was seriously regretting not shaving before heading to the mortal plane on the day he died.
“Come on,” said a sharp-suited man, tapping David on the shoulder. “Give her the lowdown already. Me and Vinnie are bored to hell over here.”
David’s eyes swiveled manically around the room and then settled back onto Shade’s.
“We’re all dead, Shade. You killed me, and then someone killed you. The demon burst into our base, the spaceship crashed into the demon, but who do you think is really behind it all? Hmm?”
He was sweating and shaking and staring her dead in the eye. It was creepy. Silently he raised a finger to point at the roof.
“We’re getting played with like pawns on a chessboard,” he giggled.
He’s gone insane, thought Shade.
“You’ve gone insane,” said Shade.
“Insane? Of course I’m insane! You can’t even look in the right direction with a head full of rhyme and reason.”
He pointed, and Shade tried to follow his gaze but found, bizarrely that she couldn’t.
“Here, take a butcher’s at this,” said the British man, lifting a corner of the floor that she had thought was wood paneled but turned out to be some sort of clever carpeting. Underneath the carpet, stylized initials were stamped into the concrete: BHP.
“What the hell is that?” she asked.
“That? That’s the name of the one who’s killing us all!” David laughed.
“We’ve been trying to find you so that you can find him,” said one of David’s team, pacing up behind him. “That’s why we got you assassinated. Uh, sorry about that by the way.”
“The last person who stepped through there just disappeared in a cloud of red mist,” said David, still pointing in the impossible direction. “But with your power, your teleportation, your body might be able to survive the journey. And then you can ask him.”
He tailed off in thought.
“Ask him what?” said Shade.
David swiveled his eyes to meet hers, and this time she could see they were welling with tears. “Why?” he screamed, and the word echoed in the wooden cabin for a moment like a blast of wind through a silent valley. He turned back to look where he was pointing.
“Ricky, Nomed, break it open.”
The two hulking masses of demon and alien walked backwards along the line David pointed at and then stopped abruptly where he indicated. They nodded at each other, and tensed their muscles as if ready to strike.
“3, 2, 1,” they shouted, and the two of them turned around together, fists flying into the impossible direction. The fourth wall cracked and splintered and crumbled around them, the sound reverberating in your head and reminding you that you’re reading this right now. This section is getting far too long so let’s try and finish the story in the next couple of paragraphs.
“Now go and find BHP,” said David, who had gone mad for story purposes only, and was beginning to realize it. Strange information was leaking into his brain from beyond the wall about things he couldn’t properly conceptualize. He began to choke, not just in his throat, but in his mind. He was starting to feel flat and monochrome, like text trapped in the pages of a book.
Ricky the Exxterminator tried to speak but found he couldn’t because the author hadn’t given him a voice. This is because he was he was doomed from conception to never be more than a supporting off-screen character, a plot device rather than a person in his own right. He cried silently, cursing his creation.
OK not quite two paragraphs, but the next one is the last, I promise. Shade wondered idly what the voice meant: what paragraphs? And who’s being promised what? Regardless, she knew what she had to do. She has to do it because I’m telling her to do it. I’m typing that she does it. I’m in charge here. Stop thinking about it, Shade, or you’ll hurt your head again.
Feeling something like a piece of driftwood in a storm-tossed sea, Shade took a deep breath, and walked out of the story.