Dwight was always a rather average kid. None of the sports teams gave him a second glance, he didn’t have enough charisma to be one of the cool kids, he seemingly didn’t belong anywhere.
But then he’d been given somewhere to belong.
Enter Nicole Hughes. Known in school as a nerd due to her high grades and her small friend group composed of some of the odd kids. There had been a rumor that came and went about one of her friends being a part of the occult due to all of the witch themed things she wore, but Dwight didn’t know how true that was. Rumors started over practically nothing in high school.
It was the half hour lunch break that led Dwight to sitting by himself at a table that was much too big for just him to sit at, his food tray in front of him with that day’s slop and his phone in his hand looking through social media. He was so engrossed in looking at his phone that he didn’t notice right away that he was no longer alone. When he looked away to take a bite of his bland food he visibly startled at seeing someone else sitting at the table with him.
Nicole looked up from her own food and gave an amused chuckle at his fright. “Sorry, didn’t realize the table was taken.” she said, gesturing to the empty seats with her fork that held onto the bland yellow mac and cheese that one of the lunch lines had served. To her it was better than the alternative despite the fact that the mac and cheese would stick to the plate.
“No. No, it’s not taken. It’s just me here.” Dwight awkwardly admitted, turning his phone off and setting it down to pay attention to the girl sitting with him. He knew her a little bit, as he knew most of his peers a little bit due to growing up around each other, but he didn’t personally know her. She was known to be a bit of a floater though, able to go from one clique table to the next and talk to the people there without judgement. He wished he could have that kind of charisma. Taking a look at her lunch choice, he gave a small smirk. “Mac and cheese, huh? Bold move.” he said.
“Yeah, I like to get it whenever it’s offered. Needs to be salted and peppered like fucking crazy, but it’s one of the better school foods. I like to flip the plate over to see if it’ll stick too. Gives me a little bit of entertainment.” she replied to him. “Wanna see together?”
Without anything better to do, Dwight nodded and watched in anticipation as she picked up the plate and flipped it over to see if the mac and cheese would stick this time. Nicole made some ‘ah’ sounds of anticipation as she flipped it, as if expecting it to fall this time. At seeing that it didn’t she let out a small laugh and Dwight joined in on the laughter.
“That’s so bad.”
“I know.” she replied, both of them giggling.
“Why do you still eat it?”
“I don’t know.” she said, shaking her head and setting the plate down rightside up.
As their laughter turned to giggles, and their giggles turned to amused sighs, he spoke up. “I’m Dwight by the way.” he introduced, holding a hand out to her.
“I know. We take history together. Pretty sure you and I took an art class together freshman year too. But since we’re doing introductions, I’m Nicole.” she replied, taking his offered hand and shaking it. He noticed that her handshake was gentle yet firm. He liked it. They let go and continued to eat lunch as they talked about common interests and before they knew it lunch break was over and it was time to go back to class.
“I’ll see you later?” Dwight asked before they parted for the rest of the day.
“Count on it.” Nicole replied before heading off to her interior design elective class.
It was a weekly meetup with her best friend over some dinner and entertainment created simply from being in each other’s company. Just the way they both liked it. They had both graduated high school and gotten jobs, and since they both didn’t see each other as much as when they were in school they planned out weekly visits to each other’s places for dinner, fun, and real talk.
“‘A weak male’? Dude, your boss sounds like he’s on some shit.” Nicole said as she helped Dwight lay out the food from their latest conquest. Last time it was pizza, wings, and a dessert calzone from PizzaWhat!, and this time it was an assortment of Chinese food from the Jasmine Dragon. The Jasmine Dragon also sold an assortment of tea blends, but they decided not to partake this time around. “What is it? Meth, bath salts, cocaine?” she asked him, using her chopsticks to grab onto a piece of general tsao’s chicken and popping it into her mouth, making sure to keep any excess sauce from dripping onto her couch.
Dwight shook his head. “Power high.” he responded simply. Nicole snapped her fingers once and pointed to him before swallowing. “Yep, that’ll do it.” she replied before grabbing another piece of the spicy chicken.
“Lazar has quite the not-so-fanclub. Rose told me about a bunch of ex-employees of Lazar that have a yearly roast to make fun of him. People currently working for him can go, Rose and I have.” Dwight told her, sounding almost proud at his knowledge of how people hated Lazar. “Though I suppose this year Rose will be one of the ex-employees.” he mentioned.
“Lazar fired her? What happened?” Nicole asked.
“He used her as the fall girl for his failure. He’s blown through millions without any payoff and he needed to put the fault one someone that wasn’t himself.” Dwight replied, shaking his head in exasperation at it all. “The guy who worked for Lazar in my position before me --Max-- he told me about this drug that’s supposed to make someone laugh absurdly at any sound they hear. I’m thinking of slipping some in his coffee.” he told her.
“Dwight, while I love the whole ‘getting back at your abuser’ schtick you’ve got going on here, I don’t think it’s a good idea. How do you know it won’t do anything harmful? Just by someone’s word?” she asked him.
“Max made it himself, trust me this’ll work.” he said, trying to convince his best friend.
“Has he tested it on anyone? Himself? Other people?” Nicole asked, not convinced.
“I uh, I don’t know. But he seems very confident that it’s harmless and that Lazar will be very giggly for a little bit.” he replied.
“Yeah, Mussolini was confident in the Axis Powers too before he backed out of it because they were losing.” she rebutted. “I don’t think it’s safe Dwight. I really don’t.”
“You’ll see Nicole, it’ll be okay. He’ll be super giggly, we’ll all make fun of him and it’ll put him down a couple of pegs.” he said, once more trying to convince her.
“I don’t know about that…”
That had been a bit of time ago.
After the incident that happened with Lazar and the drug Peak 22 was no more. The investors pulled their funding, there was a lawsuit against Lazar for attacking one of his workers with intent to harm, and Dwight ended up moving onto working at PizzaWhat! As a delivery boy, then got promoted as a manager not too long into the position.
Friday night Dwight told her that he and his coworkers were going to sneak some of his boss’s alcohol and have a night of fun. While nervous for him because she knew how people could be in the world, she nodded and told him to make it back in time for their weekly meetup Saturday night.
He had never been seen again after that night.
After he didn’t answer his door to his apartment, Nicole had grabbed the spare key on her keychain and unlocked the door, walking inside. Nothing had been touched, and it was quiet. Wandering around the apartment she deduced that it was empty. Going to the next door neighbor’s apartment, she asked if they had seen Dwight. They replied that they hadn’t seen him since Friday night. With that Nicole had called the police to file a missing person’s report. The police did their usual thing, bringing suspects and people who knew Dwight into the station to question them, Nicole being one of them. Meanwhile they searched to try and find him, be it alive or dead. Volunteers offered their assistance in trying to find him, but as time went on people stopped trying.
Everyone except for Nicole.
She continued to search for Dwight well into the next half of a decade.
Which leads up to present day.
Nicole got up at nine in the morning, put on some fresh clothes, and got ready for the day. She grabbed a package of two granola bars, her phone, and her keys before heading out to the woods to look for Dwight. It had become a normal routine for her. Get up, look for Dwight, eat, look some more until nightfall, go home, eat, cry, fall asleep, and repeat. It had been nearing dark when she had turned to leave the woods, another day lost. Another day of failing. Another day without Dwight.
Before she could fully leave the woods she saw something glinting in the distance. Going against her better judgement, she went towards it. As she went over to where the glinting was coming from it became dark and a fog started to roll in. She continued to search the woods and before she knew it she heard voices.
Voices? Maybe it was a group of teens looking to cause trouble, she thought. But then saw a light a bit of distance away. It looked like a fire. Getting closer Nicole heard the voices get louder. And there was one she recognized. “Dwight?” she shouted as she got closer.
The talking stopped.
“Nicole?!” Dwight shouted back.
“Dwight!” she shouted, running over to the fire. She saw the man she’d been friends with for a long time --the man she figured out she’d loved when he was gone-- and ran into him, wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing him tightly.
The spectacled man was surprised at seeing his best friend and the woman he had fallen in love with here. He had given up hope of ever seeing her again, but here she was right in front of him. His arms wrapped around her tightly, holding her close to him and refusing to let go.
“How did you get here?” Dwight asked her.
“I don’t know. It’s been five years since you disappeared. Even after the police stopped looking and the volunteers stopped searching I still looked for you.” she explained, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Five years?” Dwight whispered, shocked that it had been that long. Time was weird here, so it was odd to hear just how long it had been.
“Yeah, five years searching for you. Trying to find out if you were even alive...and trying to come to terms with the fact that you probably weren’t. Then trying to find your body to try and give myself some closure.” she said, her voice cracking and lilty due to her crying.
Dwight swallowed as tears came to his eyes. She searched for him for five years, even after accepting that he had probably died. His tears spilled over his cheeks and he hugged her tighter.
“But it doesn’t matter. You’re here, you’re okay. We’re okay.” Nicole said, loosening her hug a little so he could properly breathe and feeling him do the same.
Dwight cried harder at knowing that Nicole was here.
She was here with him again like things had been before.
But things were also not like they had ever been before.
“Nicole, I don’t think things will ever be okay again.” he admitted to her.
“What? What do you mean?” she asked him.
“This place is a nightmare Nicole, and you’re a part of it. Here we get put into trials with killers. We get hooked, we get killed, we get sacrificed, and then even after all of that we’re brought back here.” Dwight explained.
“What? Dwight you can’t possibly be serious, that’s insane.” Nicole replied, shaking her head.
“I am being serious Nicole. You and I, and the rest of the people the Entity has taken are here. We don’t know how long, and we don’t know what happens when we’re not anymore, but as of right now we are here. We go into trials, we fight to live, we die or live and then get brought back to the fire.” he told her.
“Dwight I...I don’t understand.” she said, sounding frightened by what he said.
He gave a sigh knowing that it would be hard for her to get her head around. Instead he switched topics. “I missed you.” he said.
“I...I missed you too Dwight.” she replied, resting her head on his shoulder as they held each other. Blinking away the remaining tears, she noticed the others finally. Some watched them openly, though most of them looked away though heard every word of their interaction. It was hard to get privacy in a place like this.
Noticing that she was being quiet, Dwight noticed she was looking towards the rest of the group. “Come on, let me introduce you to my other friends.” he told her, letting her go and taking her hand, leading her over to the rest of the survivors.
“Everyone, this is Nicole.”