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Oh, Deer!

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You were cold.

That was the first thing you could register as you struggled to regain consciousness. Wait, were you conscious? You couldn't tell. You were too cold, to the point of being numb.

 

***

 

The mechanical beep was the next thing you could sense. It wasn’t as cold now, at least. Has time passed?

Where were you?

Now that you were warming up a bit, you could feel the pain, beginning in your neck and radiating down your body. Attempting to twitch your legs only seemed to make it worse. Everything hurt. Why couldn’t you open your eyes?

There was a pressure on your hand, causing a dull ache to shoot up your arm. You couldn’t even make yourself wince, as if you’d lost control of your own nervous system. A familiar voice caught your attention as someone squeezed your fingers.

“Baby, I’m so sorry.”

…. Who?

Oh!

That voice… it belonged to your boyfriend.

That’s right. You struggled to work yourself through muddled memories.

Despite your distaste for large parties, especially ones that only existed to flaunt wealth, he had insisted you attend another one of his colleague’s weekly get-togethers. This time, it was a larger party than usual — a New Year’s party. You had always hated faking pleasantries with the rich assholes he surrounded himself with nowadays. He promised you that it was all to move up in the world, to find new opportunities; he was doing it all for you! But… as you watched him drink himself into oblivion once again, you couldn’t help but feel doubtful.

As usual, a fight ensued. You didn’t like arguing, but the more he’d drink, the more confrontational and aggressive he would get. It was almost a routine now… A fight, hiding in the restroom so no one would see you cry, then leaving early to drive home alone. He would normally crash at the party anyway and catch a ride home from another partygoer in the morning. Afterwards, he would profusely apologize to you for his behavior the night before, then things would settle back into normalcy for the following week as you were always maybe a little too quick to forgive...

So yet again, you had left upset.

But… you hadn’t quite realized how tired you were.

The next sequence of events were mostly a blur: driving the winding back-roads home, your eyes drifting shut, a loud blaring horn, a crash… The world spinning around you, the cold. Your vision had been blurred and distorted, but the last thing you managed to see was a lone deer staring at you from the side of the road, unnervingly still and seemingly unaffected by the chaos of the wreck. Then, darkness.

The mechanical beep. The flimsy blanket covering your torso and legs. The uncomfortable mattress. Oh. You were in the hospital.

Why couldn’t you open your eyes?

“It’s going to be okay… You’re going to wake up, and then I’ll do better. We’ll move back to our hometown if you want! Leave all this shit behind us. I’m so sorry sweetie…”

You were too tired to truly process his words. The darkness was inviting now, and you were so, so sleepy. Maybe a quick nap would be nice…

Your boyfriend’s voice grew distant as you settled into slumber.

 

***

 

It was too hot. It was still winter, right? Maybe the hospital staff had turned up the heater?

Fatigue still affected your body, but you felt a vast improvement from the night before. In fact, you finally had the strength to open your eyes! Your eyelids fluttered.

Red.

Everything was so red. It hurt to look at. You immediately were forced to register the fact that you were no longer on a hospital bed or tucked into a thin blanket, and your eyes darted around in a panic. Rubble and dust surrounded you, and… was that blood? It wasn’t yours, a quick glance down your surprisingly unharmed body confirmed it. What happened to your injuries from the wreck? You still wore a hospital gown, except the pale blue and white fabric that was cinched around your waist with a neat ribbon was now adorned with blood spatter and dirt.

Chunks of carcasses littered the wasteland around you, but none appeared to be distinguishable as human. Was this a nightmare? Despite the dull ache in your limbs, you seemed to have full control of your body as you sat up. You had never been able to lucid dream before. Perhaps it was from all the painkillers in the hospital. In the distance straight ahead, there was the skyline of a city. Every other direction you glanced was in ruin.

A booming explosion nearby had you completely on your feet in seconds, hissing at the remaining pain. Even if this was a dream, your fight-or-flight was kicking in and, well… based off your aching muscles, you really were in no condition to fight. Screams pierced the air from behind you and that’s all it took for you to start weakly sprinting ahead towards the city, weaving a beeline through the debris. The laughter, gunshots, and explosions that followed seemed to fade the longer you ran.

It was so hot here...

Sweat trickled down your cheeks and your breathing was labored. Why did the city have to be so far away? Perhaps if you were in better health this wouldn’t be so bad, but as is you felt close to collapsing. Only the adrenaline pulsing in your veins pushed you to keep going.

Eventually the ruined buildings began to morph into intact ones. The roads and sidewalks grew somewhat more clear of dust and damage, although they still looked pretty rough.

You seemed to be edging into what appeared to be a small business park now and — oh, what the fuck was that!

A gasp left your lips as you noticed actual monsters of all shapes and sizes walking along the sidewalk, entering and exiting buildings, looking at you… They only spared you quick, irritated glances before continuing on their way, so at least they didn’t seem particularly interested as you darted by.

You kept running towards the skyscrapers, the city center. What else were you supposed to do?

Somehow you managed to get into the heart of the city before you were forced to stop and catch a breath. The monsters absolutely swarmed the streets around you now, but none seemed to care as you doubled over, eyes screwed shut and hands on your knees as you wheezed from the run. You tried to compose yourself before shakily straightening up again. The buildings were so tall here, and the creatures that filled the roads and crosswalks were terrifying. Blood still coated the streets in messy splatters. The crimson sky only made you more nervous when you looked up and noticed the large pentagram that floated in place of the sun.

This definitely landed in your top 10 list of worst nightmares you’ve ever had.

You turned towards the storefront window behind you, if only to take a private moment away from this hellish city and calm down. But of course, with your awful luck, you came face to face with another monster on the other side of the window. You couldn’t help but stare at it in shock.

It stared back.

It was smaller, average and human-sized, unlike some of the hulking beasts you’d encountered during your run here. On top of its head rested deer ears, accompanied by small antlers. You opened your mouth in surprise, and the monster mimicked you, revealing its razor-sharp canines.

You began backing away from the window but for some reason you couldn't tear your eyes away. The monster did the same, a look of horror on its face. But... why would it be afraid of you? Hurriedly, you raked a hand through your sweaty hair, stilling completely when your fingers bumped into something hard on top of your head.

Wait… no.

The monster in the window matched your uneasy expression as you both brushed your hands along your antlers, and then ears. Together, you both watched each other drag your own tongues across sharp teeth. For the first time, you observed that it wore an identical hospital gown.

That’s… me.

Probably the most intelligent realization of your life, but you had no chance to revel in it.

“Move, bitch!”

Suddenly, monsters shoved and surrounded you at the window, and you finally registered the TV above you was running a news story that everyone seemed fascinated with. You were too cramped against the window now to escape, so your eyes were inevitably glued to the screen as well as a news reporter with a sharkish smile introduced the Princess of Hell.

Wait.

Hell?!

The crowd around you guffawed as the “Princess of Hell” introduced herself and her new passion project. You couldn’t possibly comprehend what was happening, especially when she began singing… A monster next to you was laughing so hard, it— he?— had to wipe a tear from one of his many eyes. Rehabilitating sinners at a hotel… What was so funny? No one else seemed concerned about being in “Hell”. Of course not, you reasoned, this is a dream after all. You were still safe, in the hospital…

Or so you attempted to convince yourself as you stayed rooted in place through the remainder of the Princess’s air time on the news.

All you had to do is wait to wake up.

Too distracted by your own racing thoughts, you didn’t even notice the radio static that crackled behind you.