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I meant to post this months ago, but here we are, better late than never. I definitely need to rewrite this or at least edit it.


Ed Green was on the verge of a breakthrough. The room had been perfect, although he despised the number '109,' it had brought him an oddly displaced streak of good luck... until now. Ed had settled upon 'Downfall' as the name for his supervillain character, and promptly gotten to work on the comic strip. But, as par the course, there was a heavy knock on his door while he was on the phone with his agent, Barry. "Look, I understand you're looking for something different," he began, attempting to close the conversation with the angry clientele. "But, this is a really bad time, and I'm going to have to call you back. Promise, in a few minutes, tops." Mr. Green didn't wait for the phone call to end, and hung up before scurrying over to the door. He opened it, and was greeted by several people in animal masks. "Oh... oh no..." "We overheard you talking," the one in the rabbit mask rasped, as his raven-masked counterpart made what appeared to be a choking sound. "You said this...'Downfall,' can reincarnate as any animal or organism of his choice... yes?" The blood in Ed's face drained precipitously. "Why? What do you want?" Raven Face motioned with a feathered arm to the balcony before him. "Right this way, and your answers will be given." --- Jesse's stepfather, Merrick, had decided to move out. He didn't stick around to find out what conclusion their argument bore, instead, he decided to follow a new friend's directions. Jesse decided to make an adventure out of it, as he didn't remember exactly where he'd said it was. The bus tires squeaked and whined as the vehicle came to a stop. "This is it," said Roby, his platinum-blonde hair obscured by the gray beanie he slid on. "If you're staying where I think you are," he'd said, "just follow the gravel road down through the Statuary." He gloved up his hands and held out his left. "See you tomorrow?" And, of course, as the snow continued to plummet from the skies, school was called out the very next day. When he'd awoken, Jesse looked out his window to see nearly a foot of snow - quite a bit for down in the Southeastern United States. The cold ripped at what little exposed flesh he had, mainly his face, as he approached the bottom of the hill. The main road was closed, so there weren't but one set of tracks, likely belonging to a snow plow. As Jesse continued across the hidden pavement, the snow grew even deeper. Whereas it had previously come up past his shins, it now reached up to his thighs. He pressed on, ignoring the biting cold at his nose, lips and eyelids. As he approached the hill his friend's house sat on, a precarious set of stairs... or stones that could be mistaken as mere facsimiles for steps... came into view. By the time he reached the top of the hill, Jesse's knees buckled, and he collapsed into the snow. If not for his elbows and hands, Jesse would have fallen face-first into the freezing whiteness. "You found me," he heard a voice shout from the darkness. And, suddenly, Jesse began to feel a warmth emerging from his chest. --- A good way to get to know one another, he'd said. "It'll be fun," said Dylan, "Educational. But 'gift-wrapped with adventure,' or so they say." Jesse sighed, his apprehension refreshingly replaced with annoyance. "Who came up with that stupid advertisement, anyway," inquired Jesse, still unable to look his stepdad in the eyes. "It did get us up here," he said. "So, I guess it worked ...but yeah, they really went a little overboard didn't they?" "Not even the ads back home in Gatlinburg were that bad, I mean, yeah," Jesse began, rambling, not answering Dylan's question. "They had the bad makeup and special effects for the Haunted Adventure and the Aquarium's terrible gift shop selection isn't mentioned on their's, but... wow." Dylan chuckled. This was about the extent of their conversation until they crossed the Tennessee-Virginia state line.

They stopped to get pizza, none of the fast food restaurants really appealing to him at the moment. Jesse couldn't stop thinking about the housefire, and the funeral thereafter. The color scheme was jarring and the angle of the architecture set his teeth on edge. They took their table and the server collected their menus when they decided on the large pepperoni with mushrooms. An odd cartoon from the '90s boinged and bounced in and out of his ear canal, with an equally eccentric spectacle to complement his eyes. Jesse spent most of his time waiting trying to decipher the storyline of the program while Dylan scrolled on his cellular device. The main antagonist, or protagonist, appeared to be a jester at a king's castle who was always up to hijinks. Like Tom from Tom and Jerry, or Wile E. Coyote, yet the Jerry and/or Roadrunner seemed to be several individuals of the King's court, whom he was constantly trying to kill in devious, 'ACME'-style death traps and devious machinations. "You haven't even eaten anything yet, something wrong," Dylan's inquiry snapped Jesse out of his stupor, not even realizing the food had been brought to them. The jester still wore his hat, but he was now in the black-and-white striped clothing of a prisoner. Jesse shrugged and grabbed a piece. Its aroma matched that of the establishment, and something about the heavy grease that they could smell as well as feel on their skin turned his stomach. He remembered the last thing he'd eaten with his father: pizza and hotdogs at the football game almost two years ago now. "I'll finish this and you can have the rest." Dylan finished inhaling his pizza slice, and cocked an eyebrow. "You okay?" Jesse sighed. "Yeah, I guess." They got the rest to go and hopped back in the truck. Jesse was fast asleep before they even got back onto the main highway.

"Hey, bud! We're here!" Jesse couldn't remember his dream once his eyelids parted ways, but he recalled it being about the crooked jester in his striped shirt. Somehow, he'd managed to escape, and was on a killing spree. It was the only thing he remembered; a news story about the escaped jester convict. He'd been thinking about the strangeness of the dream and the cartoon he'd seen in the restaurant so deeply he didn't even hear his stepfather's next question. "Wanna see the room? See what we're working with?" The annoying chime indicating the car door had been opened accompanied this question. Jesse rubbed the last of the sleep from his eyes and squinted up at the flourescent sign and the establishment it floated a few feet in the air above. "End Inn? I thought it was... oh," he trailed off as he realized the light in the rest of the name had died out. "River's End Inn," said Dylan, "probably referring to the Little Kanawha River Trail, a few miles northeast of here. C'mon, let's get unpacked." The two-story Inn was rather unremarkable, and appeared quite old. Some of the rooms on the second story had boarded-up windows and doors. Entering the office, the first thing Jesse noticed was the smell. It was akin to rotting flesh, like a dead rat or something had been laid before him, a smell barely masked by the feeble air freshener. The next thing he noticed was that the scrawny man behind the counter was staring at him with a lazy smile before he even entered the room. "Hi, I'm T.J.," he said suddenly, without prompt. "Are you interested in getting a room," he asked, "perhaps Room 109?" Dylan nodded. "Whatever you have available." The man nodded in return and disappeared. What Jesse initially thought of as a mannequin wearing a pig mask in the corner ... began to move, and follow, close behind. For a minute or two, Dylan and Jesse were the only two souls in the room. After a few minutes, the man - or woman - in the mask returned, and beckoned for them follow. They did so. The masked person led them along the concrete path to what appeared to be the last room, at the end of the first floor. "Room 109?" it asked, handing them a set of keys. Dylan reluctantly handled them. "Do we pay you," he asked? "No," he said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trench coat. "You pay after you're done staying. Do not interact with anyone you think you may know, and ritual is at 8 o'clock PM," he replied. "But I assume you already knew that, reading the fine print and all." Dylan and Jesse exchanged glances with one another, and the former shrugged. "Probably don't remember it is all." "Oh, don't worry," the Pigface said, leaning in, "you won't forget a thing staying here, and we'll have you two getting to know one another in due time." As quickly as he had appeared, Pigface had left. They exchanged one more expression, before Dylan declared, "well, now that that's over with..." He then turned to his left, reached past Jesse, and unlocked the door. The room was practically bare. Against the far wall were two narrow beds, with pale-beige blankets and sheets. An old air freshener seemed to still be working, albeit barely, mixing with what Jesse vaguely identified as trash. There was a small toilet room, with no tub and no door. There wasn't even a microwave that Jesse could identify. "Any signal," he asked Dylan, who was conveniently scrolling on his phone. "Nope, not even WiFi," he replied glumly. "You stay here and start unpacking. I'm going to go get some spray stuff and cleaning materials." "We're only staying the weekend," Jesse hollered after Dylan as he hurried out of the door. No response, as he must have already been hurtling downstairs. Jesse took some time after he'd gotten their clothes and books out to look around. There was an old trash can under the sink hidden behind an old dresser. He decided to put that future chore on the backburner, and decided to look for the source of the rattling. It was coming from a vent in the toilet room. It was too high up for Jesse to reach on his feet, but before he used the toilet as a stool he noticed its poor condition. There was a crack and what looked like a triangular piece of porcelain missing from the tank. He noticed that it was also crooked. As he was about to leave, his eyes caught sight of movement. Two brown antennae wiggled from behind a tile in the corner. When Jesse bent down to get a closer look, a cockroach the size of his hand shuffled beneath and the antennae disappeared. It had been about twenty minutes of Jesse trying to find and exterminate the cockroach before Dylan returned with a box of cleaning supplies. "What've you been up to, Jesse?" Jesse stood up so fast he almost failed and fell backwards. "Oh, thank god, please tell me you have baking soda and sugar!" Dylan blinked as if he'd been given terrible and unexpected news. "I... believe we have some baking soda in here, and there was sugar by the faucet... are you okay, seriously?" "I'm fine, just get the sugar and mix it together with the baking soda?" Dylan sighed. "WE HAVE A ROACH PROBLEM!" With this, his expression changed dramatically. "Oh, well in that case-" he then set the crate down on the ground and grabbed the can of banking soda, opening his hand at the end of his outstretched arm just in time to grapple the sugar Jesse handed him, which he promptly concocted into a spinning tincture of three-parts sugar, water and baking soda in the squirt bottle. Jesse then directed him to the locations he'd seen the roaches. About an hour of this, and an hour of unpacking, later - in total about 2 hours - Jesse decided he was going to get some sleep. "You do that," said Dylan, "I'll represent us down at the ritual." Jesse sighed with content and was soon asleep.

He usually dreamed vividly, but in its place, Jesse had only a vague memory of being chased. He remembered being confronted by a glowing jewellike object or being, radiating pulsing purple and green lights. But every time he turned to leave, he felt wind on his back as something began sprinting toward him. And every time he reached the exit, the lights went out, and the last memory he had was of something grabbing him forcefully by the arm. Jesse woke suddenly to the slamming of the apartment door and Dylan practically falling to his knees, shaking. He was pale, and his lips blue. "Are you okay, you look sick," groaned Jesse. "I-it's nothing," Dylan lied. "Okay, okay, it wasn't 'nothing,' exactly." He sighed. "I was just... I saw something at ritual I'm not usually accustomed to." Jesse rubbed his eyes to get a better look and sat up in his narrow bed. Dylan was even worse than he thought, he looked practically green he was so pale. "You look sick, man." "I... did drink a bit too much. They... do things a little differently up here." Dylan stumbled over to the bathroom and slammed the door, locking it. "Do you need anything," Jesse shouted. No response. As Jesse layed back down, waiting for a response, he quietly drifted off into a dreamless and soundless sleep. Until he was woken once again... It started off with a shocked screech, and then a wail. The wail escalated to sobbing, and was greeting with a louder screech. This was followed by horrified screaming. The screaming grew louder, and Jesse tried - in vain - to muffle it with his pillow. After another fifteen minutes of intermittent screaming, it escalated again into one - endless, unending - howl of terror. "SHUT..." screamed Jesse, as he whirled off the bed and stampeded over to the bathroom door. "UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPPPP!" Jesse shouted until he was out of breath as he broke in the door, ripping the catch for the doorknob out of the wood and likely breaking his toe in the process. What Jesse saw at that moment, on that night, caused him to begin screaming in his own right. They didn't even notice him, as they continued screaming at one another. Something that shouldn't exist, shouldn't be possible, met his gaze. Dylan screamed at himself, as his second copy screamed back. All they seemed able to do was scream at one another. They screamed themselves hoarse. A moment later, a third and fourth scream joined the first two. Jesse burst out of the bathroom, practically knocking the door off its hinges, to see another two Dylan Copies. They also screamed at one another. Dylan Three cowered in the alcove between the beds, collapsing against the bedside table. Dylan Four grabbed a lamp off the counter where the television would've been, and raised it above his head, set to smash the lightbulb on Dylan Three's head. As he arched his back, preparing to slam it down on his copy's head, Jesse reached out and grabbed the lamp. The two of them struggled furiously for about a minute, before Jesse got a good footing beneath him and swept Dylan Four's own out from underneath. The Fourth Clone careened into the carpet with his full body weight. Jesse heard something crack. Dylan Four screamed. Dylan Three screamed louder. Clone Four rolled over to grab a fork as Jesse, thoughtless, grabbed a chair and raised it above his head. Dylan Four screamed, raising the utensil above him in futility. Jesse, without hesitation, brought the full weight of the chair down on Dylan Four's head. Blood scattered across the carpet, countertop, walls and ceiling. The four screaming men was then reduced to three, still one too many. Jesse turned to Dylan Three, still cowering in the corner and screaming and crying endlessly, and raised a finger to his lips. He then returned to the bathroom, where a fight had broken out. Blood blanketed the pale white tiling and porcelain of the walls and floor. Dylan Two - or One - lay twitching and screaming in the tub. The other continuing screaming, his eyes rolling in his skull. Jesse clutched at his hairs, starting to lose sight of what he'd originally intended to do. Then Jesse started to scream. About two-and-a-half to three minutes elapsed before he heard the deafening slam of the front door being kicked open and impacting through the drywall ahead of him. Before Jesse could react, an entourage of people wearing matching uniforms but various animal heads for masks piled into the room with assault rifles. The nearest one put a three-round burst through Dylan Three's head, and another crammed into the bathroom and put a pistol round through Dylan One or Two's. The final one was stabbed to death right in front of him. As Jesse was being escorted out in zipties, the last glimpse he caught before they enveloped his head in a black bag was a pair of frightened eyes, wreathed in a head of platinum-blonde hair. Jesse screamed his name, but seconds later, he felt a prick in his neck. And in less than that, unconsciousness greeted him.

Jesse awoke like he'd been drinking for forty-eight hours straight before passing out, with next to no recollection of the nights before. He didn't recognize his surroundings, but the first thing he noticed was that he was sitting upright in a chair, with his hands bound. The second thing he saw was a black paper bag lying on the floor, and a few feet ahead of that... the shores of a lake of blood. When Jesse saw where it was all coming from, he tried to scream, but only hoarse rasping responded to his whims. Jesse fell sideways, shattering the brittle wooden chair he was restrained to. Before getting up, Jesse slid his tied arms over his legs, so he could better use them while having them tied at the wrists. Jesse stumbled to his feet and made his way down a narrow metal hallway, with the only lightning being an intermittent, flickering flourescent light tube about halfway down its length. As he neared the metal door at the end, Jesse heard a rasping wail. The first time it registered as only whining metal grinding against more metal. But, the second time, he heard a voice behind it. "Help," sounded the voice, "somebody, anybody." Jesse attempted to reply, but only made an indiscernable noise himself. He heard them on the other side of the door he leaned against, in the divot just before the door at the end of the corridor. As he neared the first intersecion, the light from the lighter he'd confiscated from Dylan's dead body the only dull circle of illumination he could count on, he noticed something at the end of the corridor. A humanoid shadow appeared against another light source, seeming to wear some sort of hat. And just as quickly as Jesse had noticed this spectre, it had disappeared. He quickly forgot about it, as he neared the intersection. As it appeared, the hallway Jesse had been venturing down was a side-corridor or artery to the larger, main, corridor it attached to. For at the end of it, in only direction, Jesse saw a squat rectangle of light. The shouting continued, however, and Jesse knew he would have to double back to check the source of it. As he returned to the divot in the wall, and began to push on the door, the wailing became louder. Jesse, gathering his utmost strength, was able to move the door into the open position. He was certifiably winded by the time he did so, but he found renewed energy when he saw the other people ziptied to chairs. One of them had platinum blonde hair. As if on instinct, Jesse moved to the person he assumed was Roby. After removing his gag and blindfold, Jesse realized his anticipation had been correct. The bright blue eyes that looked into his own were that of his grade school friend he hadn't seen in over fifteen years. "Roby?" He looked confused and borderline violated. "Who are you?" Jesse couldn't form a response at that moment, and instead replied with, "no time, help me get the rest of them." They both stopped momentarily when they heard what sounded like jangling bells coming from the ceiling, and continued when they deduced it was their imagination and nothing else. Jesse managed to unshackle an older woman and a teenaged girl named Martha and Sal respectively, and Roby an older man in his mid-thirties to early-fourties before the next horrible thing happened. As Jesse was removing the restraints of another older man, he heard the clattering of brittle metal upon the ground, followed by more jangling bells clattering against brass containers. He turned in the direction of the noise - a big mistake - as what he saw caused an uncontrollable inhuman screaming and wailing in him that he did not know possible. Hanging from the square opening by his unreasonably-large shoe, dangled the jester, his bells and whistles entirely undisturbed by the climb through the vents. He cackled and howled as he grabbed the man by his arm and - with impossible strength - hauwled him kicking and screaming into the vent. Jesse and Roby screamed, gathering Matha, Sal and the other three remaining hostages and booking it out into the main hallway, two of the latter three still bearing a thick stripe of duct tape across their faces. They ripped it away with flustered fervor as they joined the others stumbling over each other to get to the exit. As they exited the facility, at a slight incline, they found themselves in the street of a small town down the street from the inn Jesse hadn't seen before. It quickly dawned on him that this town was familiar, however, and his heart sank into his guts. Before they could relax, the rattling cap and bells echoed forth from the shadow beneath. Martha began sobbing, and clumsily staggering after the other six. A bus up ahead, which Jesse instantly recognized as a trolley. Jesse and Roby exchanged an exhausted expression as they realized where they were. "H-How?" A tortured howl and screaming ripped through the air behind them, but they knew if they slowed down they'd be grabbed. And the trolley was just ahead. The six remaining clambered up the stairs, and Jesse winced as he heard the recognizable scream of Sal. He hurried them on, and just as Roby was climbing in, a crimson waterfall of blood burst from his mouth and chest, as they both looked down to see a glistening knife protruding from his sternum. Roby collapsed, and Jesse cranked the door shut as the jester slammed into the glass, smearing a bloody handprint across its surface as an older man hit the gas and spun away. "Where to?" As soon as he said this, the vehicle started whirring uncontrollably and breaking down. Jesse's voice caught in his throat, as he looked for some spark of life in the town around him that he once knew. Everything seemed years, if not decades, older. Everywhere he looked, all he saw were boarded-up windows and doors. Trash and detritus were strewn across the sidewalks and roads. "Hey, Jesse was it? Need to find another ride." He almost didn't hear the question when he saw what looked like an older homeless man wearing old bags and tarps as makeshift clothing. "How did you know my name?" "Overheard it from your friend as we were running," he replied, pulling over to the curb. "Hey, Fred, you got that piece ready? Name's Jeff by the way." Jesse heard a click over his right shoulder, and looked over to see a younger man with a dirty beard and serious features holding a revolver, and an older women who looked down at it in stupefied disbelief. Jeff cracked the window and leaned out as the man turned, his already crow's feet-ridden eyes narrowed even further as he struggled to make out what was happening. "Hey, you live here?" The man didn't respond. Jesse and the three survivors cautiously exited the trolley, followed by Jeff. The younger man, whom he'd come to know as Fred, pulled a gun on the man. "I want to know who you're working for," Fred practically shouted. Jeff and the older woman seemed taken aback. "I know who you are," he continued. "Are you from here," shrieked Jesse. The old man seemed unfazed by the gun pointed at him, as he slowly looked up from beneath his hood. A cascade of white beard obscured and diminished his elderly features, even after he removed his head covering. He stood straight up, with his chest out, and looked Fred straight in his eyes. "Put the gun away and I'll show you." Fred looked frantically around. "You with the Inn people?" The man chuckled. "No. Better." He motioned over his left shoulder with a nod of his head. From several piles of trash, debris and detritus piled up around the Mountain Mall's facade, Jesse and Jeff were the first to notice movement. Unfortunately, before they could utter a word, from behind a statue of an overalls-wearing black bear holding a wooden 'Welcome' sign projected a laser. A dark form, soon joined by more, emerged from a pile of boxes and bags. Within seconds, all around the entrance were people in rags training rifles on them. The old man produced a hand crossbow, the crinkling in his beard betraying an obfuscated smirk. "Start talking and put the gun down... or get shot." They raised their hands. Fred slowly put the gun down on the ground. "Now back up and talk," said the old man, waving the crossbow in the direction of the empty parkway. "We were looking for another ride, just passing through, those... people... are after us." "You don't work for them?" "No," Fred replied with a startled grimace. "We need to find another vehicle, are there anymore trollies at the aquarium?" The old man exchanged a glance with what appeared to be a young woman wearing makeshift armor. "Take their guns and search them." The old man picked up the gun Fred had, and the other three vigilantes began forcefully searching them. "It's all we have, we don't have any money or anything." The woman found a knife on the older lady. "They lied." "Tie them up and escort them to the upper floors." "Seriously," she replied. "Do you think that's necessary-" "If they don't get one of them, they'll get one of us." A moment of uneasy silence fell over the group, and then they reluctantly began binding their wrists and leading them through the lower lobby. The wooden tower through which used to run a waterfall was now dry, but Jesse could see through the openings that ran through the upper floors that dark figures hovered over the railing, looking down at them. Some of them laughed and made gutteral noises, and others departed in disgust. "The murderers and rapists that were left over after the collapse," the woman began. "We hold them at bay and let them have the upper levels provided they leave us alone. A lot of them have resorted to cannibalism. It's an uneasy peace." "It'll all end one day, though," said the old man. "Which is why we have you... sacrifices." The woman grimaced at this, her features barely visible among the grime and dirt. They walked the survivors to the stairwell, forcing them on their knees at the bottom. "COME AND GET IT!" The woman then cocked the gun that Fred previously had, and pointed at the old man. "You too." The old man chuckled as he began to realize what was directed at his skull. "You think I'm afraid to die?" The woman was then joined by the other survivors, as they all trained their weapons on him now. "Why didn't you tell us there were others?" "I didn't know! You think I know everything?" While they were distracted, Jesse was slowly inching over to an abandoned shop. As one of them saw him, he dove into the establishment as the nearest vagrant fired a hunting rifle, shattering the window. In the chaos, the survivors dogpiled the man, possessing his shotgun and firing at the others. Jeff fired off an arrow into the woman's neck. And a bloodbath ensued. Once the hammering racket from the weapons fire subsided, along with the bloodshed, Jesse remained in a petrified fetal position for at least another half hour before he found the will to move, and it was only when he heard the crunching of glass beneath boots. He rolled over quickly, brandishing the first thing he found, a golf club, at arm's length. It was Fred. "Whoa! It's over, they're gone." "Everyone?" As he said this, he heard a stampede of footfalls. "No... run." As they exited, Jesse caught a human form descending the stairs with an inhuman gait. "RUN!" He didn't stop to look back, not even when he heard the scream. They exploded out of the Mall's back entrance, hurtling across the street and onto the bridge leading to the dilapidated Aquarium. About three-quarters of the way across, Jesse heard an earsplitting cackling sound. They looked back to see the black-and-white Jester, his impossibly-wide grin, his blackened eyes. Fred fired off a few rounds at him, and he exploded into a swarm of insects, rats and vermin. "WHAT THE F-" Jesse grabbed him by his shirt collar, and hauled him the rest of the way across the bridge and into the parking lot. The trollies were just barely in sight when he felt something crawling up his pantleg. Jesse kicked and screamed, batting at his leg, which only accelerated the endeavor. The thing crawled up into his shirt and he ripped it in half, a centipede the size of his arm falling out which he promptly stepped on. "C'mon, we gotta go, look!" Jesse, to his horror, did so. The swarm was coalescing back into human form, the Jester screaming in agony. The duo flew down the stone steps to the trolley station. Jesse caught one final glimpse of the Jester, standing perfectly still, at the bottom of the steps. It was as though he'd teleported to the ground level, without the struggle of walking impeding his speed. Fred yanked Jesse aboard, slamming shut the door. When Jesse looked again, he was gone. He collapsed in the passenger seat as Fred pulled away, the vacant black rectangles detailing the trolley routes and locations reminded him of the town he'd once known and loved, now dead and darkened by whatever catastrophe befell civilization. Jesse almost started to laugh, with a sigh and the first signs of tears, but he stopped when he heard what sounded like the jingles of Jester's bells...

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