He’s John Doe, right? I can’t think of anyone else that could be. Olivia took a slow, cautious step backwards. This can’t be good. Another step.
The naked man in front of her and Miya, the man keeping them trapped in a strange alternate reality he at least partially controlled, stood stock still, nearly blending into the background. Case in point, as she tried to back up, her heel hit a wall that wasn’t behind her moments ago.
She shot a look behind her, at the brown but otherwise featureless wall rising up a good three stories to the next intact floor of the shell of a building they were in. Can’t go that way. She glanced to her left, to Miya. Another wall isolated her from the outside. Wonderful. Walls. Close in walls. I don’t like this.
She’d only taken her eyes off John Doe for a second, but once she returned her attention to him, she found him standing about a foot from her. I didn’t hear him move at all. I don’t hear or see him breathing right now, either.
The lack of breathing wasn’t the only strange thing about him. The absence of a mouth on his face, the stumps for ears and a nose, and the fact his outline seemed to blend into the background only heightened the extreme unease Olivia felt. She loosened her fists. Don’t you take one step closer. The air behind him flickered in the process of forming images of something, Olivia couldn’t tell exactly what at that point. He took a step closer.
OK. I really don’t like you anyways, and I’m not that curious. Her right hand came up in an open hand blow aimed to below John Doe’s chin. She saw no reaction on his part until her hand made contact; he didn’t see it coming was the only reason Olivia could think of for that. She smacked him backwards. That should’ve done a lot more to him. What… oh, right, no claws. He stumbled back, and something fell on her from above before she could follow up, knocking her down.
Whatever had hit her had rolled off after delivering the blow to her head. She shook her head to shake off the pain, and immediately regretted it as her head protested with even more throbbing agony. Owowowowow, why does that hurt so much? She gritted her teeth and pushed herself back up. She glanced to the side to where the offending thing had rolled off to before she got to her feet. A smooth piece of concrete, as strange as that sounded, about twice the size of her fist lay about a foot off to the side with a small streak of blood down the side of it.
The wall to her left had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. The wall separating her and Miya still stood, about eight feet wide, terminating at the head of the stairs. As Olivia stood, she noticed a particular lack of John Doe in front of her. Then she nearly lost her balance as her head rebelled again. Don’t throw up, not now. She stumbled and leaned against the wall for support, holding a hand to the epicenter of the pain, a few tentative touches for damage assessment. She felt something wet and warm through her hair.
Blood. That’s my blood. That’s bad. That’s very, very bad. She nearly lost her balance, sliding against the wall a bit before catching herself. She pressed her hand against the wound. Please stop bleeding.
“Motherfucker!” Olivia heard Miya yell to her right, past the obscuring wall.
Right. Need to… need to move. Do something. Olivia walked along the wall on the landing above the grand staircase both her and Miya had been standing on, finding a stride after a few shaky steps. She reached the top of the stairs where the offending wall ended. She turned the corner, and found John backing Miya into another corner formed by his walls. A large chunk of concrete jutted out of the wall above Miya’s head, where she couldn’t see.
“Miya!” Olivia yelled. Miya tore her eyes off of John. Olivia pointed to the threatening concrete above her. John reached out to about Miya’s face level. Leave her alone.
Miya jumped and took a hasty step out from below the concrete. Right into John’s hand. Olivia broke into a sprint, headache forgotten. John grabbed Miya’s hair and slapped his spare hand over her face. Miya thrashed, jerking him around a bit, but she gave a muffled cry of pain and her struggles lessened. She tried to punch his ribs, but he moved fluidly out of the way, still maintaining his grip. This movement also put Miya between him and the charging Olivia.
Olivia, unable to stop herself in time, hit the both of them, slamming John into the wall, and Miya into John. All three hit the floor in a heap. Sorry, Miya. Olivia put her forearm against John’s throat, and wrapped her arm as best she could around Miya’s shoulders and pulled the two apart. After some confusion, Miya got free. This meant Olivia was free to use her newly available hand to beat John’s face in. Then something slammed down on her leg. Olivia let out a scream and abandoned her assault.
“Shit!” exclaimed Miya.
The pressure on Olivia’s leg eased momentarily, then returned again. As John was providing no resistance, in fact going completely limp since being tackled, Olivia ducked her head down, the pain forcing her to curl up slightly. Aaaaaah. She involuntarily closed her eyes as the pressure on her leg eased off and came down again.
“FUCK,” Miya roared. This time the pressure left completely, and something large and solid thudded against the ground behind Olivia.
“Ow,” managed Olivia.
“Open your eyes, quick,” snapped Miya. “He’s gone.”
Olivia complied. Right. He can’t do stuff to stuff we’re looking at. She pushed herself into an upright sitting position, and Miya offered her hand to get her on her feet. Olivia accepted the offer. Where is he?
“Thanks,” said Olivia, shaking her leg. I can still stand. Good. Just hurts a bit. She shot a look at the concrete that had threatened Miya and fallen on her. We weren’t looking up.
Miya noticed Olivia’s leg. “Good to know some things never change. We have to make this stop,” she said.
“How?” Not that I’m arguing.
“Don’t look at me,” said Miya. “He can do stuff to inanimate objects we’re not looking at. You OK?”
“Alright. We need to get Chris to snap out of it,” rasped Miya. “He couldn’t do anything when Rob was aware of him in his world, remember?”
“OK,” responded Olivia, keeping her eyes on the area behind Miya, not letting John get another opportunity to attack the two of them. Miya did the same for her. “How do we do that?”
“Pray? Slap him? I don’t know. Let’s figure that shit out.”
“What about Ben?” asked Olivia. I don’t want to leave him behind.
“Get us outta here. I can’t do shit besides keep an eye on the roof,” he called out from around the wall, presumably where they’d left him.
“But-” began Olivia.
“Come on,” said Miya, cutting her off. “He’s right, and who knows what John’s cooking up.”
They descended the stairs, careful to face in opposite directions. I really don’t like not seeing John at all. I really don’t like that at all. What is he doing?
Miya hit a surprisingly immobile brick with her foot and nearly fell. Olivia caught her. “Motherfucker,” Olivia heard her mutter under her breath. They continued.
They made their way to Chris without any other incident. “You must have done a number on him,” commented Miya. “Hasn’t done anything besides the brick thing.” I’m not complaining.
They came to a stop, Miya watching behind them as Olivia considered Chris obliviously digging at the doorway. Let’s try this again.
“Chris,” said Olivia. No reaction. “Chris,” she insisted. Well this is going exactly as well as before. “You need to stop. We have to get out.”
“No other way out. Gotta get out through here. I checked,” he mumbled, wrestling with a particular stubborn beam of lumber. Is this just a pile of random building materials? I expected a better illusion, actually.
“Your girlfriend isn’t out there,” said Olivia. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.
“What?” he asked, his hand coming to rest on yet another cinder block. You don’t remember our previous conversation, do you?
“She’s not out there.” What was her name? Alice? “Alice… isn’t coming back.”
“What? No. That’s stupid. She’s out there.” I don’t know how any of this alternate reality stuff works. I don’t know what John wants or what will happen if you stay here. I don’t know if we can even get out of this weird alternate reality, but I’m not losing you.
Olivia grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. Then Miya slapped him. “You fucking idiot,” she shouted in his face. He stopped, his face went a bit slack in shock. Miya! What?
“You’re so fucking trapped in the past,” continued Miya. “Are you just not fucking strong enough to accept it? Do you not have the fucking balls to man up? Are you just going to sit here on your knees for something that’s never going to come? How long have you been here?”
Chris opened his mouth, but Miya bulled over him. “Hours! Fucking hours you’ve been digging here! You can’t get over the fact she’s dead, and they’re just going to use that against you. This. Isn’t. Real. She’s dead, no matter how much that sucks.” Chris’s hands tightened into fists as Miya continued, knuckles white by the time she finished.
Something moved at the edge of her field of vision. Uh oh. She’d been too fixated on Miya’s rant to pay attention to their surroundings.
John Doe approached Chris. Miya drew breath to say something else but it was Chris’s turn to shout. “SHUT UP!” he roared down directly into Miya’s face.
Olivia jumped an inch at the outburst. The veins on Chris’s neck bulged, and his eye twitched. Chris? That was loud. When did he get loud and angry? Why can’t John leave us alone? Chris snapped his attention to John, his face losing none of its previous anger.
“You,” spat Chris. John nodded.
The air over John’s left shoulder flickered and formed an image. A darkened movie theater. Chris and a girl about the same age sat side by side, his arm draped over her shoulder. The girl flicked a bit of popcorn at his face. Both smiled. Chris’s expression softened. No. He’ll want to stay here. Say something.
“Chris, this isn’t-” Olivia began, breaking the silence.
“Quiet,” he said, lacking the vehemence of before. She still shrank back. Sorry. Miya hung back, eyes darting between John Doe and Chris.
“How do you know this? You just looked into my brain for this memory, didn’t you?” asked Chris.
John nodded. Chris watched the image for another moment. Nononononono. Chris’s jaw jutted out. “Out.” A man of few words. The image over John’s shoulder winked out, and he took a step backwards.
“Graaaaah,” grunted Chris, eyes clenched shut and hand splayed over his temple.
That worked? How did that-
Olivia jerked awake. She blinked several times as her eyes focused. Noise hit her ears. Lots of noise. Lots of sound. Creaks in the roof and walls around her, the light breathing of her friends lying beside her, a horn in the distance. Someone muttered something in the room. Loud. Stop it, stop it, stop it. Not again.
She eased herself upright. Remember, block it out. Focus on something else. Where am I? Where is everyone else?Where is John? A negligible trickle of light came in under an old warped door, enough for her to see her surroundings.
Dust floated throughout the room, a fleck or two catching her in the eyes. Her eyes watered in response. Other than a cracked light fixture hanging from the ceiling, the room was completely devoid of even furniture. There were people, though. Chris, Ben, and Miya lay to her right, Amanda and Rob were to left. Amanda, on her knees, shook Rob.
“Hey, wake up,” whispered Amanda, eyes darting back and forth, not resting on any one place. Can she see anything? And where’s John? Rob grunted in response.
“Sleepy time. Fuck off,” he mumbled, throwing an arm over his eyes.
“No, you idiot,” she said a little louder, punctuating her statement with a punch to his shoulder. “I can’t tell where we are.”
Olivia stood up, and Amanda froze at the sudden noise. Something else caught Olivia’s attention. There he is. John Doe, looking exactly the same as in the illusion, sat up against the wall on far side of the room, beside the door. You.
Olivia marched towards him. The long claw on her heel caught the floor, and she nearly fell. You made me think I was normal.
She recovered. You dropped chunks of concrete on me.
His head jerked up suddenly, beginning to tilt to the side until he noticed Olivia coming for him. Her wings smacked into the ceiling lamp. The glass shattered completely. You attacked my friends. You made them suffer.
John Doe pushed backwards with his legs, now fully aware of the situation. Olivia closed the distance You tricked me.
She aimed a downward kick to the center of his chest, putting as much force into it as possible. Right before she made contact, he vanished. Her foot shattered the wall and fractured the floor behind it. No running. She pulled her foot out with a snarl, bringing more wall with it.
Where are you? What started as an attempt to open the door with the handle ended up as her thrusting her fingers through the crack between the door and frame and ripping the whole thing off of its hinges and dropping it to the side.
John Doe, in the hallway, jerked his head in her direction. Shadows started to coalesce around him, but he ran to the nearest room and slammed the door behind him. No. None of that.
Olivia simply lowered her shoulder an inch or two and plowed through it in her pursuit. Now another room, just as dusty and featureless as the last. Except this one had a fleeing John Doe in it. Get back here.
John stumbled over the remains of a chair, then teleported again. Olivia hissed in frustration. Kill him. She stormed into the room. Movement in the window of the room caught her eye and the scraping sounds of feet against tile brought her to the window. John slip down another foot on a slanted roof of a nearby house, arms windmilling to the side, then recovered. The stoplights and headlights of the city twinkled in the background. Olivia brought her hand crashing down on the intact window. Tear his fucking throat out.