Thursday, January 21, 2016

DreamLeaks 6: Midnight Mystery Massacre

Good News! I'm not dead! Just recovering from a significant writer's block. But I'm ready to get back to creating, and another dream-based short story seems like a good starting point to go on. This one is based on an unusually vivid one I had just a few days ago, and it's been demanding I put it down.

Midnight Mystery Massacre

“I should have worn a costume,” Blane thought to himself. A costume wouldn't have necessarily prevented the apparent apocalypse and his inevitable demise. But it couldn't have hurt.

In fact, in what he expected to be his final moments, Blane had a lot of regrets. Getting to the company Halloween party late. Going at all, really. And perhaps not voicing his input when the movie was selected.

Things started out well enough. Okay, not well. Like every year, Blane's office had planned an “exciting” party for the holiday. The office would be open late, costumes were encouraged, and everyone would gather for the traditional spooky movie. This is what happens when office functions don't allow alcohol. Blane didn't care, and he didn't even want to show up. But unlike everyone else, he had actual work to do that day.

Despite that, he expressed his irritation with the whole affair as blatantly as he could without getting a reprimand. He sauntered into work half an hour late (blaming it on the long lines at Starbucks, if anyone asked, and nobody did,) and immediately noticed that he was the only one there without at least a token costume. He shrugged, ignored the unspoken scorn at his lack of participation, and tried to get to work. But that wouldn't be an option either. People were so excited about the movie that all the desks in the office were shoved into the corners so people could find a place to sit. Blane did his best to wedge into the tragic remains of his workspace and did his best to be productive for an hour or so, turning a blind eye to the schlock that stole everyone else's brains.

But he had to give up eventually. If the movie wasn't distracting enough, the gasps and laughs from his ostensibly adult co-workers was enough to finish the job. What could possibly be that interesting? Some movie everyone saw thirty times? He shoved aside what was left of his work and took a seat at far end of the room.

Well, one thing was for sure, at least this movie was unfamiliar. Though it probably had a good reason for that. It was filmed in black and white and had a budget less than his work computer cost. Blane glanced at the movie's case: something called Midnight Mystery Massacre. Even if the movie had been better, he couldn't figure out the plot after missing the first half. He figured that spoilers be damned, he could just look it up online and catch up on the plot that way. Except a search turned up exactly zero results. Wow, this one must be obscure. Without any other options, he settled in his seat and tried to figure out the plot on his own. And then he got caught up in the movie. Literally.

The next moment, he was struggling to breathe in the sunken remains of outer New York, which was just being conquered by … something at that point in the movie. Despite being moments away from drowning, he felt at peace. The water carried no sound, had no urgency. He was momentary content to rest here, basking in the shadow of whatever unearthly light up above illuminated him and the surrounding debris. That is, until he realized the debris was the bodies of other people.

Never a strong swimmer, Blane broke into a panicked, splashy paddle until he managed to surface and drag himself to shore. But the streets of the city were no more comforting. They were, in fact, completely silent, save for the occasional skitter of unrecognizable feet far of in the distance. He considered hiding into a building, but the way that every one of them had every glass window blasted open from inside made him worried. He ran as fast as his legs allowed until he found something not completely desolate.

Blane lost track of time and distance as he ran, never even noticing that he never seemed to get tired. Eventually, he managed to get out of downtown and into one of the wealthier subdivision, where the rich carved a mini-suburb into the middle of the urban sprawl. This area seemed to be just as uninhabited, but at least the buildings looked like their inhabitants fought back. Windows and doors were boarded up, with furniture forming makeshift cover and barricades. He continued down a road at random, looking for signs of life, when he heard voices coming from within one of the buildings. Strange voices, like that of a child, but it was the best bet he had so far, so he tentatively stepped over the table blocking the front door and made his way inside.

The voices were coming from the basement, because of course they were, but Blane felt himself drawn that way despite his better judgment. But he found it bereft of life, though judging by the stench, that had been a recent development. And then he heard the laughing, the happy little chuckles coming from every direction. Where the basement had once been empty, now it had little figures emerging from behind boxes, around doorways, from the tops of shelves piled with unused clothes and broken appliance. To his regret, he recognized the ventriloquist dummies from the movie. And even more regretfully, they recognized him.

“We wipe out every reprobate and snuff out every sinner!” they sang as they converged on him. “If you fight a dummy, a dummy is the winner!” Blane was in no position to appreciate the wordplay insult in the song, as he found himself swarmed by the creatures and staggered by the pain they inflicted with their tiny little knives. That last thing he thought about as things went black was the stupid costume he should have worn.

At least, that's how the story felt like would end. He heard the sounds of gunshots, so close that it should have deafened him, but all he experienced was the relief of a stab-free moment. As his vision cleared, he found a woman standing over him, apparently looting the broken bodies of defeated dummies. Unlike him, she seemed built for this place, with some sort of body armor and a gas mask covering her face. She holstered her sawed-off shotgun and glared at Blane. “Hmm. I didn't expect to find any NPCs here. You better not be some helpless escort side-quest.”

“Excuse me?” Blane said as he stumbled to his feet, causing her to pause.

“Now, that's even weirder. I never heard that one before.” She waved a hand in front of Blane's eyes and watched his eyes follow it. “Huh. Say something original. Something unexpectedly human.”

Blane was reasonably happy to comply with the woman who saved his life. “If I survive this, I'm never going to a damn office Halloween party again.”

“Good enough for me.” The woman held out her hand. “I'm ZombieMauler657.”

“Blane,” he replied. “What kind of name is that?”

ZombieMauler657 shrugged. “Apparently, the kind of name you get when 656 other people call themselves ZombieMauler before you do. But this should be offline mode. How are you even here?”

Blane explained the entire situation, from his office party to his near-drowning and up to the dummy attack. But the more he explained, the more nervous ZM got. “Wait, you think this is a movie? But I never even heard of it. Hell, I never heard of the Midnight Mystery Massacre video game until I found a cheap copy online. I expected shovelware, but this has been pretty good so far. But it's not THIS clever.”

Both of them looked around warily. Was this part of the movie/game? Or another trap? “The way I see it,” Blane said, “We have three possibilities. Either I fell asleep dreaming and you're just part of my dream...”

“Or I fell asleep gaming and YOU'RE part of MY DREAM,” ZM added.

“Fine, FOUR possibilities,” Blane conceded. “Or we're both dreaming and in some sort of weird shared subconscious reality. Or lastly...”

He didn't need to even say the last one. Lastly, this movie/game/experience was real and drew them both into it. Which mean that if they fell to wayward dummies or worse, it would really mean the end for them.

“Let's work on the hypothetical that our real lives are in real danger,” ZM suggested. She handed him the shotgun. “Any chance you know how to use one of these?”

“No, but I'm a faster learner.” Blane took the weapon. “Are you sure you'll be okay without a weapon?”

ZM chuckled. “Are you kidding? This game's full of weird weapons. I half a dozen exploding teddy bears I've been itching to try out.” So saying, she scooped up the remains of a pile of coins that inexplicably fell out of the dummies, pulled out some weird sci-fi raygun appropriate for the setting, and took point on the way out of the mansion.

The front doorway had since collapsed, so she led him out the back. Which somehow directly led to a graveyard, one far more active than it had any right to be. ZM whipped out her gun. “Watch for the red objects,” she cautioned him. “Those are enemies or about to turn into them.”

Blane took in the whole area with a confused look. “What red objects? What red anything?” he asked. “Everything still looks black and white to me.” But he didn't need prompting for long. Several of the gravestones and statuaries came to life and charged them, and a bolt of energy streaked from the unearthly light up above, causing a tear in space to form. SomeTHING lurked within, eager to get out, but one exploding teddy bear ruined its ambitions quickly.

But Blane wasn't as quick a learner as he hoped, and he was running out of ammo fast. While ZM mopped up the remaining enemies, he concentrated on where to go from here. Fleeing mindlessly probably wouldn't help at this point, but off in the distance, he saw a man with a lab-coat and a tuft of white (as far as he could tell) hair, waltzing through the ruins without a care in the world. He looked familiar, and Blane remembered that he had been a mad scientist from the movie, one who was supposed to help humanity before betraying them to serve the invading aliens/demons/whatever.

“Quick, after that psychopath!” Blane yelled, and he and ZM sprinted after the mad scientist, who bolted away just as quickly. Behind them, several wagons full of dummies came to life and rolled behind, their wares breaking once again into song as they rolled.

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