Ever Rain: Nine Kings Episode I

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Chapter 5

Hagerstown traffic was a bitch. Then again, there weren’t many days when it was anything better. Kellerika maneuvered her SUV around a slow couple coaxing their puppy through the crosswalk and made the turn into Deke’s apartment complex.

She scanned the barren parking lot in front of his building. “Not much action around the homestead tonight.” She pulled into a visitor’s spot and shut if off. “Must be a party going on somewhere in town.”

She stopped at the base of the stairs leading up to his second level unit. Even if she were blind, she could find it by following the thumping bass line and Mick Jagger’s voice. “He’s going to get himself evicted.”

Once at the top, she could clearly make out the lyrics to Brown Sugar coming from behind his front door. One set of raps on the door, then another.

Nothing.

“Deke?” She beat on it with a fist. “It’s me. Open up!”

“Hey, Deke!” Kell turned to one side and kicked on the door. Footfalls padded across the apartment’s interior. Deadbolt followed by the door lock.

Deke bopped to the music and mimicked Jagger into his bottle of root beer. “Oh, you made it.” He danced aside and ushered her inside. “I was beginning to wonder.”

Kell poked an index finger at the floor. “Turn it down.”

Her host bopped to his player and dialed it back.

“Better.” She caught the bottle of Barq’s he tossed at her and popped its top. “I told ya I had to deal with some work stuff before I came over.”

“Oh, yeah.” Deke strode into his living room. “How’d that go, by the way?”

Kell took a drink. “I took it.”

“Whoo!” Deke raised a hand. “Up top.”

She gave him a weak high five and sat in a recliner next to his gaming chair. Deke was a serious gamer: big screen TV, console, surround sound system, VR accessories… the works.

Her eyes focused on the thumbnail image on the screen. “So, what’s the big deal with this new game of yours?”

Deke grabbed a fresh bag of Doritos from the counter and strolled into his chair. “It’s not just a game.” He leaned closer to the screen. “Sweet. It’s loading.” He eased back into his throne. “It’s more than that, Kell. Ever Rain is the most realistic and anticipated multiplayer game ever.”

Kellerika lounged into her chair. “Why is everyone flipping out over one game?”

He readied his VR goggles as he watched the green bar on his screen fill. “The realism. The fact that it nearly gave some of its beta testers a heart attack.”

“And, you want me to play this thing?”

Deke hooked up the spare goggles and passed them to her. “Of course. I’ll go in one-player mode, so you can side saddle and see what I’m doing.”

With reluctance, Kell slipped them on. “Good. You’re less likely to lose belongings this way.”

The game loaded to its opening screen. They stood on a lone suburban street. A sidewalk to their right. A row of tall elms to the left. Nightfall. Fresh rain glistened on the black street under their feet and up ahead. One truck parked a stone’s throw away on the left curb. A distant flash illuminated the low-lying clouds beyond the crest in the road. A shallow peel of thunder grew until it rattled their controllers and goggles.

“Friggin’ awesome,” Deke whispered.

Rain to pattered on the truck’s windshield, the leaves, the road… everything. Words materialized in front of her.

A delicate thunder

.

.

.

Blood like rain

Then, the title surfaced from beneath the gathering water on the street:

Ever Rain

A low droning note accompanied by an almost native pulsating rhythm underneath. A tall muscular silhouette stood on the crest of the road.

Deke again. “Sweet.”

Player select

1 or 2 player mode?

“Last chance,” he said. “You wanna?”

“Nope.” Kell didn’t have to think twice. “No way in hell.”

In a few seconds, a box flashed over one player mode. It blinked and disappeared. The dark figure let his machete hang to his side as he advanced on them.

Male or Female?

Deke hits some buttons. “Just for you, bae.”

The word female blinked and disappeared.

The dark figure was even with the front bumper on the truck.

Kell squirmed in her seat. “Oh, shit.”

His steel-toed boots echoed off the pavement. Oiled jeans. An old plaid shirt with ivory buttons. Dried blood across the breast pockets. His face covered in a burlap sack. Nasal slits, a mouth hole, and eye holes. He had painted his eyes and mouth with clown makeup: blue on white and red on white. A taught rope secured the sack at his neck.

He chuckled. “This scarecrow’s got brains, bitch.”

He wound his blade up and brought it down, hacking a wide gash across the screen in blood.

“Fuck me!” A jolt of pinpricks coursed through Kellerika.

The screen went black, and then…

Chapter One

Her face was covered in some sort of black cloth. Deke tried to move the character’s arms, but they were bound to something. From the hole near her left eye, Kell could make out a stone wall ahead. Dirt floor. Her slender left arm was tied to an old wooden chair. Something held her neck in place, too. Couldn’t see what. A naked bulb swung in a slow orbit around the chair. Deke hopped the character around. The chair budged, but not much. An inventory folder opened at the bottom of the screen. Nada.

“Damn.” Deke turned to the right some. A small basement window. “Right. Now, how the hell am I?”

“Wait a sec,” Kell said. “Go back.”

The far wall filled the screen again. Deke hopped the chair around until its back’s faced it. The fake leather of Deke’s gaming chair creaked. He was up and into it. Their character crouched.

Kellerika nodded. “Ah. I get it. Very cool.”

Their character backpedaled until her gear rumbled. Wood splinters all around as the girl fell to the floor. The ropes and pieces fell free.

“That’s that.” Deke’s weight shifted on the floor causing it to groan.

Floorboards creaked overhead.

They had the same thought. “Jesus!”

Kell shook the goosebumps from her arms. “Was that you or the game?”

“Son of a bitch,” Deke said. “He’s in the house.”

The character picked up a chunk of its shattered armrest and started up the wooden stairs. Creaks and groans with each one.

“Shit.” Kell inched to the edge of her seat. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Keep it quiet.”

Deke giggled. “Why are you whispering?”

She scoffed. “Shut up.”

The door stood cracked at the top of the stairs. Deke maneuvered the line of sight toward the home’s front door.

“A good thirty foot sprint to get there.”

Deke hummed in accord. More heavy footsteps around a corner ahead and to their left.

“Man,” Kell whispered, “it swings outward.”

“Can’t budge the door unless I’m ready to run,” he said.

The killer’s voice growled close to the corner. “Goddamn females. Now, I gotta gut the bitch.”

“Hell with it.” Deke’s weight shifted once more.

The basement door flung open and the girl took off. She collided with a burlap sack two paces past the corner.

Kell’s view was close enough to see the dried and cracking face paint around his maniacal black eyes. “Where you think you’re goin’, whore?”

His right arm reared back. Soon, a blade buried deep into the character’s chest. Splotches of blood showered the VR screen.

Replay?

“Son of a bitch!” Deke tossed his wands into his chair in disgust. “It’s way more intense than I expected.”

Kellerika pushed her goggles up on her forehead. “That’s an understatement.”

“Insane, right?”

She laughed. “I can see why this whole VR thing is so popular now.”

Deke stood in front of her, goggles up. “Damn.” He ran his hands over his disquieted expression. He turned and studied the screen. “Maybe we should try it again as a guy.”

“I don’t know if my ticker can take it,” Kell said.

Deke flopped into his chair. “Maybe there’s something different with a dude.”

Kell slumped into her recliner, massaging her eyes with the butts of her palms. Then, a stroke of brilliance. “Wait. That’s it.”

“What’s it?”

She moved to the edge of the cushion. “The shoes. We lose them and then go up the steps.”

“Holy shit.” Deke’s voice trembled. “That might do it.”

He dropped his goggles and grabbed the wands. A blinking box flashed on Yes and restarted the level.

“Jesus, Deke. You’re gonna kill me.”

Once they had freed their girl from the chair again, she reached down and removed her heels.

Kell was pissed. “Why do they always assume a girl wears high heels?”

Deke maneuvered the girl up the steps, this time, nice and quiet. At the top, the killer shuffled around farther away in the same area. The door pried open. So far, so good. Deke pushed farther ajar.

“Front door’s still a shot.”

Deke’s body bounced. “Here goes nothing.” The character wielded a shoe as a weapon and then bolted for the front door. The killer came after her, but this time, she had made it to within a few paces of her escape. Their character got spun around and thrown against the wall beside the front door.

“Goin’ somewhere?” His masked face moves to within inches. He lifted his machete up next to his head. “We haven’t even had dinner yet.”

Deke grunted. The girl swung her heel at his left eye socket. “Light’s out, asshole!”

Kellerika found herself punching the empty space in front of her.

“You all right over there?”

She took a deep breath. “Better.”

The murderer staggered away, groping at the footwear lodged into his socket. The girl’s hand spun the knob and threw the door open.

“Fuckin’ bitch!” The killer wrestled with the irritant.

She stumbled down the lopsided front step and leaped into the grass in the yard. As she ran past the battered and rusted out mailbox, the screen showed parts of its numerals: a two, something that might have been the leg of a one or a seven, the bottom half of a three, and an eight blotted out by black paint. The girl took off down the dirt road. An old F-150 sat parked along the right-hand side.

Deke looked around. “Nothing else for miles, but fields.”

The girl jogged to the pickup and yanked on the driver’s side door.

“Get in the damn truck.” Kell’s hand clamped down on the arm rest.

The car door jiggled. “I’m tryin’. It’s jammed.”

Heavy footfalls across the front porch. “You’re gonna die, bitch!”

Kell’s grip on the armrest intensified. “Damn it, Deke.”

The girl yanked on the handle again. The pickup rocked, but refused to surrender.

“Fuck.” Kellerika pounced out of her seat. “Beat on it with something. Anything!”

Deke shifted the view toward the old farmhouse. Blood oozed from his mangled eye socket. The killer stormed across the front lawn and turned at the wire fence. His machete dropped along the top line, shooting up occasional sparks as he advanced.

“Got it!”

The truck door groaned open. Torn upholstery. Chunks of foam cushion missing. Rust-colored stains on the floorboards and passenger side window. Deke moved the girl inside as the killer kicked the bumper.

“Shit!” Kell stood beside him now. “Fire it up.”

The view surveyed the entire cabin. “There’s no key, Kell.”

A gloved hand shattered the driver’s side window.

Deke stumbled back into Kell. “No, damn you.”

With one thrust, the machete plunged deep into the girl’s chest. Again, blood splattered into their field of view until all was consumed.

Game over. Replay?

“Shit.” Deke heaved his wands into his chair and tossed his goggles on the stand next to the TV.

Kell slid her goggles off and set them next to his.

He paced the room. “Where the hell’s that key?”

Kellerika stopped him on his way back to her and shook his bony shoulders. “Chill out. You can try again later.”

His head of tight black curls bobbed. “Yeah. I need some time to cool off.” Deke paced to the front window and stretched out his back. “That was intense.”

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