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I know my soul's freezin', Hell's hot for good reason; open once boogie gets in here
Topic Started: Mar 8 2017, 10:13 AM (724 Views)
dmboogie
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A Delicate Machine
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((Cass stood frozen in the bedroom, trembling hands covering their mouth.))

They couldn’t breathe. They could breathe in a technical sense and fill their lungs and exhale and live for a few minutes more, but if they did then it would reaffirm their existence and if they existed they could be noticed by whatever or whoever was out there now, separated only by a rotting wooden door whose lock had long failed, and Cass never really thought about how loud their breathing was but it couldn’t be that loud, could it, but maybe just because it was something they never thought about that meant they never heard it, they knew their breathing should be there so they didn’t hear their breathing but the person out there didn’t know, so it would be new and unexpected and clearly audible and Cass breathed again for they could only hold their breath for so long before their inhaling became a loud and desperate gasp which would be heard, and the person out there didn’t seem to be moving so maybe they hadn’t heard but maybe they were just waiting, maybe they just knew Cass was trapped and they were enjoying themselves, like Isabel-

A pencil and notebook sat on the bed next to them. Cass had found it in the doctor’s office where they had spent the night, once the darkness and the cold had overcome their hatred of the confined asylum and the “people” it held; but by that point it had been too dark to draw, and by the time it was light enough to see again they found that they couldn’t focus, that their hands were unsteady and their wrist hurt and that everything came out wrong, ugly, it wasn’t their art it couldn’t be their art this couldn’t be the last thing they ever made, and they kept trying and trying but it never got any better and eventually they gave up entirely because they didn’t want to disfigure any more innocent paper and it felt like finally giving themself up because who knew if they would ever have another chance to sketch with a clear head, who knew if they could even aspire to be “kind of okay” again, they were an artist and that was the only thing they had left and the only thing they were good for but when even after days of longing they couldn’t do anything worthwhile with the miraculous paper and pencil they had been granted when so many others were dead-

Cass hadn’t slept.

They had tried, at first; but then they had gotten to thinking that they didn’t have Trav now, that anyone could find them at their most helpless. That when waking up wasn’t a given, falling to sleep was a hell of a lot like dying. That they weren’t sure if it’d be more frightening to have their final moments be a dreamless void, or an inconsequential and irrelevant jumble created entirely by their subconscious. Though death was still a paralyzing terror, at some point living had become less important than being fully conscious of their demise.

After the announcements that insulted Trav’s memory one last time but blessedly confirmed Clarice’s continuing existence, Cass had left the asylum again, clutching the notebook close and carrying their two bags; hoping that the cold air would sufficiently replace rest with a chilling artificial alertness. It would have been safer to keep the notebook in a bag, but their hazy mind feared that if they stopped touching it, left it out of their sight for even a minute, that it would disappear.

Sadly, the only thing the wind did was once again make Cass regret their choice of clothing; now very tired and very cold. They had ducked into the hunting cabin for shelter, fought the urge to just collapse onto the bed. Had only just began to settle in when they heard someone else enter the building.

After another few minor freakouts, Cass took a deep breath. They couldn’t just stand there forever, both in a philosophical sense and because they were starting to sway on their feet and collapsing would be a pretty unambiguous way to draw attention to themself. All they had to do was figure out who, exactly, was out there. From the sounds of things, it was a guy out there; but even if it couldn’t be Clarice there was still hope of him being someone vaguely friendly.

They crept up to the bedroom door, hoping to press their ear against it to hear… something helpful? Unfortunately, their sense of balance had been entirely ruined, and instead of leaning in, they leaned against the door; opening it and bringing Cass with it, sending them to the floor with a quiet “Fuck!”

In a panic, they scrambled backwards until their back was against the wall, and found themself staring directly at the grotesque, battered body sitting in the living room chair. It moved. Cass shrieked.
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dmboogie
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A Delicate Machine
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
"...Min-jae?" Cass said, hesitantly lowering the arms they had instinctively raised to protect their head. They flinched again when they saw his crossbow, but after a moment realized that it wasn't being pointed at them.

After, well, everything else; their brief meeting with Jae and Vanessa on the roof hadn't really crossed Cass's mind much. It'd been uncomfortable, but a normal, everyday sort of uncomfortable. Ten-to-twenty minutes of silence and awkward shifting drowned out by hours of a blissful, dreamlike peace with Trav before reality had gotten around to finding them again.

If Cass's heart hadn't still been racing with the very real dread of the grave, it'd almost be funny how it had only taken five days to bring the both of them from a smoke break on the roof among strangers to jumping at shadows and taking cover behind furniture at the slightest provocation. Cass's bandaged wrist paled in comparison even to what Jae had been through on that first morning; and it looked like he had picked up some new wounds along the way on top of that, not to mention the legions of horrors that had undoubtedly fought to poison his thoughts since the last time they met.

He had killed someone, hadn't he? Fatigue and adrenaline made it difficult to remember who or when it had been, but they could have sworn that his name had crossed the announcements once. Only once, though; which was enough for Cass to relax a little for now. Along with Wade, Jae was probably the only person they had already seen on the island that they didn't mind running into again. It was a relief to see that Vanessa wasn't with him; a thought that immediately made Cass hate themself just a little bit more. They were missing their rooftop companion as well, and who was to say that Jae's didn't have a similarly tragic reason for her absence?

"I'm - fuck, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you but I heard noises and I was just, like, trying to figure out what was going on because I didn't know who you were and I didn't know how loud my breathing was so you could have been, like, trying to like fuck me up out here or something because everyone here's fucked up but now that I know it's you I don't think you were, so, sorry for assuming the worst, it's just," Cass half-said, half-mumbled; their brain forming complete and coherent sentences that had lost their way en-route to their mouth; ultimately coming out sideways.

"Yeah."
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[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
"...Thanks. I am, too," Cass said, choking up for a moment. Sympathy was a strange thing to receive when everyone still alive had to have someone to mourn, just by the sheer weight of the dead. The simple humanity of Jae's sentiment had caught them off guard; reminded them that normal people felt things other than numbness and fear. Reminded them that even though everyone else was suffering, too; that didn't make Cass's grief any less valid.

Unfortunately Cass was too fucking tired to really do anything with this reminder except to try and commit even a single detail of it to memory as it flew by, so they instead picked themselves off the floor and settled down in a chair facing opposite Jae; vaguely glad that he had put his shirt back on. They wished that they had known him well enough to offer a condolence in kind, but they didn't, and a generic 'Sorry about... everything?' would have felt artificial, no matter how warranted it was.

Sitting down had been a mistake, Cass realized as they struggled to keep their eyes open. They had started coming down from their adrenaline high when they had first recognized Jae; and in its place there was nothing left but a pressure behind their eyes trying to force them to let themselves relax and sink back into blissful darkness. The chair was more comfortable than they had bargained for, and their wrist still ached and they couldn't find the willpower to stand up again.

Cass was no stranger to going to bed later than they should, but that had always come from some sort of purpose. When they were immersed in painting and it would be physically unbearable to tear themselves away from it for another night and day, to spend their school day with their brain stuck back on their canvas at home, living with the rest of their life out of focus until they returned. But there had been an end in sight; a definite point in time where Cass knew that their sleepless trance would be over and they could safely pass out in bed. But now, they would keep going until they either passed out where they stood or died. It wasn't sustainable, but they could think of no alternative. Not when their final conscious moments were at stake.

Silence was dangerous now. Empty spaces were an invitation to drift away; and thoughts and willpower just weren't enough anymore. Cass began to ramble.

"Does it, uh, ever freak you out that you can't remember falling asleep? Like, you can remember being tired and in bed and you can remember waking up, but everything in between is just kinda... gone. Or it's filled by hallucinations but you're never sure how or when they started? Like, it's such a big part of our lives but it's just like, fundamentally something we can't do. You can't be conscious about being unconscious. And it's just, like. Shit, man. Is that what fucking dying feels like?"
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"No. Maybe? I don't - does 'I'm scared shitless of the alternative' count as a yes?" Cass laughed a bit as they finished their sentence, tired and desperate and the first time they had actually laughed at anything ever since they had woken up on the island, a realization that sent them that much closer into hysterics. They thankfully caught themself at the precipice of echoing Jae and Vanessa at the roof's edge; regaining control of their breathing in a miracle of concentration after only a few moments of laughter.

Ha! Existential dread. Definitely one way to help keep yourself awake. They was kind of confused by Jae's comment of finding comfort of equating sleep and death, but at least he didn't seem to buy into it either? Everything else was kinda... a lot to unpack.

"Like, my parents are both agnostic and so I wasn't really ever like, exposed to it as a kid, and now that I'm older I've just, never really felt the need to believe in shit? But I mean, I also wasn't planning on dying this early, so." Another harsh laugh.

It wasn't as if Cass had anything against religion. Marco was some flavor of Christian, and he admitted that he'd mostly just been raised that way, but even then they had still seen it bring him comfort over the years, to think that there was some sort of reason behind everything beyond the fucked up whims of nature and humanity bringing indiscriminate beauty and tragedy to all within their reach. It still seemed... alien. Like the majority of the world could just feel something Cass couldn't. Hadn't been the first or only thing to make them feel defective, but it was hard to escape.

"But like, if we all get reborn like you're saying, is it still us? Like, how much of me is like, intrinsic to my soul or whatever and how much of me is my family and my friends and my country and my probably fucked up brain chemistry that makes me feel sad and empty most of the time?"

...They hadn't exactly meant to say that last part. The more tired Cass was, the harder it became to keep their thoughts and their words separate once they started talking.
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"That sounds... nice, actually," Cass said, glad that Jae had the mercy to just ignore the extra crushing void in the room that they had carelessly introduced. It had felt oddly liberating to say out loud; but any such relief was immediately drowned out by worries that it hadn't been an accident, they just wanted pity, even though they had done nothing to deserve it and Jae had no obligation to care, and even then this entire talk of the afterlife was for Cass's benefit, wasn't it, and it had actually been working for a little bit before they just had to abuse the fact that their composure was completely falling apart because they knew] that it'd be easier to talk, harder to think, they knew and they still hadn't done anything to try and prevent it, content to just accept the burden they'd place on anyone with the misfortune to have to listen to them-

Jae was still talking. It'd be even more unforgivable for Cass to be so self-absorbed that his efforts were wasted, even if they were for a waste of a person. They sat on the edge of their seat and listened.

"Still, I dunno how much I like the thought of just... like, that the instant I die I'll forget everyone I've ever loved? Like none of it ever mattered at all? It sounds lonely, even though I wouldn't ever even know it, but that just makes it seem even... lonelier, I guess. Thinking of all the people my like, past self wouldn't ever have wanted to part with."

Soon after Cass finished that particular meandering bit of philosophy, an unfamiliar girl with a knife and a taser walked into the room; making their talk of death and the afterlife a bit more immediately concerning than it had been even before. Was this what the rest of their life would be, being violently flung between physical dread and existential emptiness?

All they could do for now was raise their hands and slump back into their chair, hoping to make it clear they weren't a threat. "...Please don't?"
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Cass began to dissolve into their seat, hands and torso burrowing deep into the cushioning as they shrank away from the conflict. They didn't want Jae to get hurt after he had gone out of his way to talk to them for even a little while, but they didn't want to see anything happen to Dorothy, either; even if they didn't know her. They didn't know what she and Jae had been through together, what they had done to each other, but they were already long weary of even the threat of violence. Even though it was clear neither was looking to start any trouble with Cass themself, the sort of safety that let you hear the screaming from outside the filthy cage you had sought refuge in still killed you slowly.

Still, Cass had no weapon, no willpower to use one even if it existed, and no energy to try and talk them down or even stand up. Thankfully, it looked like Dorothy had immediately talked herself down, flickering through emotions fast enough for none of them to really find a place to rest on her face. First anger, then fear, then regret, then what seemed to be...some sort of friendliness? It seemed like she was going to settle down on the last one, at least for the time being.

"Me?" Cass said hesitantly, for even knowing that Dorothy probably wasn't referring to anyone else it was still strangely surprising to be picked out of their spacious crowd of two like that. "I'm Cass. I'm just, uh, here."
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What was there to say?

Cass didn't know these people, not really. They hadn't known them before the world ended, and they would never know them like they had Trav. Jae and Dorothy had a shared history, ugly as it seemed; it kept their conversation burning. The only thing that connected them to Cass was proximity.

Jae was pissed, Dorothy was on edge, and whose side would Cass even be supposed to take? The look on Jae's face was scarily close to how Trav had looked, when he had found Jerry for the first time; but where had it gotten Trav? Dead with the shallows for a grave. Still, without context, Cass had no place to try to intervene. They had been useless as a mediator between Chris and Marco, years ago; so why should it be any better as an outsider?

It had been hard to think for a while now, anyway. Best to just let themself be forgotten until either of them turned their head to the side and remembered they weren't just surrounded by furniture.
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[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Cass hadn't realized how close the tension in the room had been to its breaking point, but as Jae burned and Dorothy crumbled in the space of seconds; one thing became clear. It was a rare moment where even Cass speaking up couldn't possibly make the situation any worse than it'd be if they just let it play out.

It would have been an emboldening realization in the hands of someone whose composure wasn't made of hastily glued together porcelain when they weren't pushed to the fraying far corners of their mind from a lack of everything a body needed to remain more than just raw materials.

Instead, Cass uselessly flinched as Jae snapped (not even yelling, not even angry at them), was so thrown off by the realization that they still didn't even know Dorothy's name that they couldn't even call out after the girl as she left to get revenge on the behalf of someone she had been threatening to tase not even five minutes prior.

With no one left to help, all that was left was to try and avoid tripping over the pieces Jae's explosion had left behind, to hope that he would calm down and wouldn't blame Cass for... still being there. It'd be easy. All they had to do was just sit still and say the bare minimum and regret it all later but at least for the moment they'd be safe, they just had to remember that their anger had driven away Irene and had been too late to help Trav, and why would it bring anything other than pointless, unproductive harm here?

It was pointless. It was unproductive. But something in Dorothy's pained expression had stuck with them. Maybe Cass was tired of a lifetime of feeling like a ghost, maybe they were just too exhausted to care about the future anymore. Either way, they spoke.

"What the hell, man? You're just gonna - you're just gonna let her go kill someone for you?"
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Well. That was one way to solve the problem, even if it wasn't exactly what Cass had meant. They stared at Jae as he loaded his crossbow; the sound of the bolt sliding into place punctuation for his clear intent to puncture. "...Well, okay then."

They reluctantly got to their feet, riding the wave of assertiveness before it faded and left them passed out in the chair. "Guess it's not really my place to try and talk you out of any of the 'killing' shit, is it?" Cass wasn't even sure anymore if that part bothered them as much as driving Dorothy out alone had. Was revenge more moral then revenge by proxy; just because you were the only person who'd be hurt if you failed? (But it wouldn't be just you, wouldn't it? Trav had fought alone and died alone but Cass still carried the fresh scars on their heart. Had Jae just outlived everyone he was afraid of hurting, or was he simply past the point of caring?)

Murder was still distasteful and Cass still didn't think any of them deserved to die, but as the days wore on it was getting harder to think of any argument against killing people like Isabel other than a vague, lingering sense of wrongness. They hadn't wanted to Trav to kill Jerry, but it wasn't really because they cared if Jerry died or not, was it?

After a certain point, did the blood you'd spilled drown out any worth inherent to your humanity? Even if the killers hadn't chosen to be unceremoniously thrown into hell, how much conscious cruelty did it take for their collateral damnation to become earned? Cass didn't have an answer, and hoped they wouldn't have to find one for a while longer. As it stood, it wasn't like Jae needed to be reminded of the core tenants of his faith by someone who hadn't even had the decency to try for a deathbed conversion.

Cass was starting to sway on their feet again. They leaned back against the door to the bedroom they had initially tripped out of. "Just... try not to do anything worse than dying, alright? I'll be in a corner. Somewhere."
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“...Goodbye.” Cass hadn’t expected to meet Jae a second time. No, an active absence of expectation still implied some semblance of thought, and Jae had been far from theirs. Would there be a third meeting, a third thought? Would it mean anything to either of them, if there was? Did even the most temporary of proximity start to feel familiar or comforting if everything and everyone else had fallen apart around you?

Regardless, Cass stood there for a while, after Jae left; staring blankly at the space left by his absence. Then, slowly, almost reverently, they approached the baton he had left behind. They picked it up, collapsed and flicked it out a few times. Snick. It was still useless as a weapon unless they could fight to overcome their natural inclination to not bludgeon another human being over and over again as they cried and bled and as parts of their body started to fail and give way under a remorseless flurry of blows; nothing like the easy abstraction of the twitch of a finger transforming fire and powder into a more efficient demise.

Mustering that sort of rage at anyone other than themself wasn’t a bit of personal growth that was particularly high on the dwindling list of Cass’s priorities, but If nothing else, it felt good to have something to hold onto, and it made a satisfying noise. A sorely needed anchor to the physical world.

With both intruders gone, there was nothing stopping Cass from returning to the bedroom, from glancing at and then trying to forget the still-open notebook, containing Cass’s first and only attempt at immortalizing Trav’s face. It had turned out twisted and ugly until they had finally and violently X’ed it out, immediately regretting it afterwards as it felt like watching him die all over again but already beyond the point where the drawing could be repaired, if it was even worth repairing in the first place.

They settled down in the corner, not wanting to trust the comfort of the bed. All they had to do was remember that sleep could be death, and... just keep existing. Too tired and too hurt to focus on anything that could make life still worth living, but still clinging to every last moment of consciousness. Even if it hurt and even if their entire being and their soul if they had one was screaming at them to create, to live, did they deserve even one of the string of chances that they had been given one after the other, still alive when so many others weren’t, what right had they to be even close to happy, of course they should shut up and sit still and be grateful for the fact that their mind was still theirs-

Snick. Sleep equaled death.

The sound and the sentiment repeated. Eventually, they slowed, becoming separated by spaces. Then sentences. Then paragraphs. Then pages. Then-

Clatter.

((Silence.))
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