You gazed out of the kitchen window, staring into the dimness of your backyard, the moon trying its best to bathe everything in its full, silver light. Tonight was going to be a foggy one. You blinked yourself from your near-hypnotic trance, returning your attention to the plate in your hands and finishing up with the rest of the drying. You lived alone, in a small but comfortable house not too far from the city where you worked. Your property backed onto a lovely section of forest you liked to wander in the warm summer days and observe from the warmth of your home in the winter. It was nearing mid-autumn now, the leaves turning all shades of gold, red and brown -- though there wasn't much colour to admire as of now, seeing as it was quite late. You returned to your spot on the couch, the heater to your left coaxing you to sleep with tantalizing waves of heated air. It didn't take long for your heavy eyes to stay shut after a couple of ever extending blinks...
You jolted awake, suddenly shivering from the coldness that raked its claws across your skin. The heater was off, as were the lights and the TV. You stood, making your way blindly back towards the kitchen. "Blackout...?" You mumbled, though that didn't explain the fog trickling in through your wide-open back door. Someone must have cut the power. You stood, frozen by the sight. Someone was in your house. Why the hell else would your door be open? Your eyes darted around the room wildly, now partially adjusted to the darkness that swamped you. Suddenly the house was too big and too small. So many places the intruder could be hiding... and so few you could seek refuge without being found. You resisted the foolish urge to call out a 'Hello?', instead opting to quietly open the top kitchen drawer, sliding a large knife from one of the sections and silently padding around the kitchen island, you entered the hallway leading to the main bedroom and ensuite, the stairs to your left leading to the two guest rooms above.
You adjusted your grip on the blade you held at the ready, your breath clouding as it left your mouth. The temperature had dropped even further. You probably should have closed the back door... You adjusted the dark green cardigan over your shoulders, steeling your resolve as you did so, and slowly slid down the hallway. You were just about to enter the main bedroom when the back door creaked, then closed. You whirled, breath catching in your throat. The moonlight broke through the clouds as you did, casting a masculine shadow against the wall opposite the kitchen. The shadow seemed to have eyes of its own as it froze. Then the form's head turned, slowly, predatory, as though it could peer down the hallway. You slunk backwards, into the main bedroom as it began to move closer. You could perhaps jump whoever it was if they weren't expecting you to have a knife -- the sound of the drawer sliding shut in the kitchen doused your hope for that advantage. Shit... Your eyes razed over the dim room, desperate for a place to hide yourself -- there! You dashed silently towards the walk-in wardrobe. There was a small row of old shoe boxes you never bothered to get rid of lining the right hand side. You could slide in behind them without making much noise.
As you began to wiggle yourself into place, you heard the sound of leather boots squeak just outside your bedroom door. You forced yourself not to freeze in fear, instead wiggling just those last few inches so that your sock-covered feet didn't stick out the other end. As those boots entered the room, soft thuds against the carpet, you lay on your side, left arm tucked beneath you, your right holding the knife against your chest. The footsteps got closer, your heartbeat ringing in your ears. You sucked in a shallow breath and held it, silencing any noise you may have been making. The footsteps crossed the threshold of the wardrobe and you watched between the cracks in the boxes and the slits between the low-hanging coats as the shadowy figure paced among your belongings. The intruder paused at the end of the small room, seeming to try and listen for any sound, before going through a few of your drawers. Your lungs began to burn. Oh my God, hurry up! You silently begged, now noticing the fog beginning to creep its way into the wardrobe.
The intruder remained for another several seconds, shifting some more of your clothes around before turning and leaving surprisingly swiftly, considering how slowly they had entered. You loosed the breath in a quiet sigh, waiting as the sound of the boots tracked back through the kitchen, and the back door opened once more, the footsteps disappearing, before hurriedly shimmying out from behind the shoe boxes. You stood swiftly, but before moving from the room, you decided to don a pair of the black, low-heeled combat boots you usually wear out on hikes through the forest. Just in case, you thought to yourself, also slipping a warmer fleece jacket over the top of your cardigan. Slipping out of the cover of the walk-in robe, you peeked out into the hallway. Clear. You darted quietly to the end of the hall, peering around the corner to the kitchen. The moon was shrouded in mist and heavy clouds again, and the kitchen was clear -- the kitchen door squeaked again, and you pulled yourself back behind the corner so quickly you nearly smacked your head against the wall. Whoever it was stepped inside again and... flipped the kitchen light on? You watched their shadow slowly creep further into the kitchen. Well at least you'd be able to see who you were stabbing.
Without another second of hesitation, you leapt from the corner's concealment, knife already beginning its plunging swing down towards the intruder's chest -- "Connor?" You exclaimed, reeling back as he yelped, jumping a few feet away. You both stared breathlessly at each other, panting heavily. It took you all of three seconds before you shattered the stunned silence between you two. "What the fuck dude? I nearly just stabbed you to death! Why are you in my house? How are you in my house? What-!"
"Okay, okay, calm down! I know, it was a bad idea, but I was driving past when the power cut out in the street -- I think a massive tree fell a few blocks over and they said you'd need to manually reset the breakers -- so I used the spare key to get in through the back when you didn't answer your phone or the front door. I saw you were asleep, so I figured I could just sneak in and out and you wouldn't have had to worry about it tomorrow... I know it was stupid, I'm sorry I scared the living shit outta you..."
"Damn right you're sorry! What was the deal with you going into my wardrobe and poking around? You a perv or something?" You glared up at your best friend and coworker. He stared blankly back at you.
"Don't play dumb, I watched you go through my shit! I was hiding behind the shoe boxes in my wardrobe-"
"I didn't go into your wardrobe."
Now it was your turn to be confused. "What?"
"I didn't even go into the hallway. I was outside fixing your breaker box this whole time. It took me like ten minutes to figure it out, since you use a different system to mine."
You turn your gaze to look at his feet. Light grey sneakers with blue markings. No trace of the leather boots that had come mere inches from your face. You stared in silence at the ground for a few long moments. "Then who the hell was in my house?" You raised your eyes to meet Connor's paled face.
"I don't know," he whispered, swallowing thickly. Something creaked somewhere in the house and you both jumped, whirling around as you raised the knife again. After a few moments of nothing, Connor breathed, "It was probably just the house settling..." You nodded your shaky agreement.
"Can I stay at yours tonight?"
"Sure thing. My car's out the front," you both started backing towards the front door, Connor turning around as you crossed into the lounge room, collecting your phone as you went. You opened the front door a fraction, peering through the crack to ensure the coast was clear, before opening the door further. Connor pressed ahead, leading the way, you with your knife keeping close behind him. The fog seemed to flow thicker and faster now that you were outside, or maybe it was the watery moonlight playing tricks on your eyes.
He unlocked the car with a flash of lights and a quiet 'beep' and you both climbed in. He jammed the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine faltered. Your stomach dropped, feeling the colour drain from your face. "What's wrong?" Connor didn't respond, only trying another four or five times before smashing his palms against the steering wheel.
"Fuck!" He hissed, now glancing around wildly as the fog thickened more and more, now almost obscuring your house from view.
"What's wrong?" You pressed, voice rising in fear.
"The battery's dead." Connor said, swearing again. You sat in stunned silence beside him. Whoever had been in your house moments before was sure to be behind this.
"We can try the neighbours, I'm sure they'll help us," you said, but you didn't move for the door handle just yet. Connor glanced between the handle and your face. Searched your eyes. He sighed.
"Okay, but give me the knife." You obliged him, and you both exited the car. The fog was so thick you could barely see two feet in front of your face and it seemed to warp the sound within as well.
"Connor?" You called.
"Over here," he responded, sounding both far away and right beside you all at once. "Hold your hand out," he instructed, and you did so, feeling out for him.
"Connor?" You called again, fingers twitching in the thick, moisture-laden air.
"I'm here," he seemed to be miles away now. "Why do you sound so far away?" He called.
"I was going to ask you the same thing!" You shout into the obscure night.
"We need to stick toge..." Connor's voice trailed off into nothingness as the fog swirled like a starved vortex around you, tugging at your clothes and lashing your skin with freezing droplets.
"Connor? Connor!" You screamed, stomach lurching as though you were falling, and yet your feet were planted firmly on the ground. Or was it the ground, because it seemed more like mist now. You felt yourself twisting, turning in on yourself, screaming louder and louder. Suddenly there was a clear path through the fog, leading you straight towards the forest your property backed onto. You began bolting straight for it. At least you knew your way through there, and any place was better than the maelstrom undulating around and behind you. You leaped over a fallen tree, branches laden with damp, half-dead leaves slapping against your face and arms as you sprinted along familiar paths and foxtrails, twisted roots trying to catch your feet. You squeezed your eyes shut against a particularly spiky pine tree as you barrelled past, feet catching in the uneven turf sending you sprawling. You groaned, lifting yourself up from the damp muddy ground. You raised your eyes. There was a... campfire here? And three other people -- two men and one woman -- staring at you as though you'd just walked out of a time travelling machine.
You scrambled to your feet, dusting off your hands and knees. "H-hello?" You offered, unsure as to how or why there were people camping out within 100 metres of your home. One of the men stood up abruptly, darting towards you.
"H-hello! I- we weren't expecting s-someone new," the man, caucasian, with short black hair and dark, squarish glasses stammered, apparently nervous. You took in his dirty clothes, the dark circles under his eyes. The other two didn't look much better.
"Yes. You see, there's usually f-four of us who get chosen at a t-time, and we wait here for The Trial to begin."
"I'm sorry... Trial?" You glance between the three dusty, tired-looking humans. The woman, her skin a rich chocolate, wore a slightly tattered pink button up and blue skinny jeans. She kept her gaze focused on the fire, as though deep in thought. The other man offered you a crooked, worn-out smile. He was maybe Korean in appearance, with his piercing but elegant dark eyes, his thick black hair tousled in all different directions. He wore a dark green windbreaker and loose grey jeans tucked into rain boots, a light grey camo scarf around his neck.
"Y-yes, Trial." The first man explained to you how The Trials operate and you stood reeling in front of him for a few moments afterwards.
"We get chased by fucking psychopathic serial killers? Until we get five generators up and running, to power these 'exit gates'? How the fuck are you all not dead? And there's more of you at this 'Campsite'? Fuck that, man. I'm not playing that sick fucking game," you said, backing away, only to feel the piercing coldness of this 'Fog' pressing back.
The man took a step forwards, pushing his glasses up his nose as he spoke, "Look, none of us would be here v-voluntarily. The Trial will start soon, so you just need to trust us. Please, we will need your help to get out alive," he begged, motioning back to the others, who watched on in silence. You gave him an assessing glare.
"And this is all happening less than a hundred metres from my house?"
"We're nowhere near your home now," the other man finally spoke up. You turned your searching gaze on him. "The Fog brought you here. This is not even on the same plane of existence as your house was. We're playing by a different set of rules now."
"What about my friend, Connor Deverix?"
"He's most likely safe, at least for now. If he's not here with you now, then he'd be at the Campsite. If The Fog brought him here too," the second man answered again.
You opened your mouth to ask another question, but a low growl reverberated through your chest and you jumped closer to the three strangers before you. You gazed up at the first man as he said, "I understand you have a lot of questions but... save them f-for after. Right now we need to focus on getting ready to survive." He turned from you, picking up a worn-out toolbox from beside one of the logs they had been sitting on. "I'm Dwight Fairfield by the way. That's Claudette Morel and- "
"Jake Park," the second man stood, his own slightly shinier toolbox in his grip. He extended a hand to you. You tentatively took it, his calluses scraping against your own skin.
"You'll have your calluses soon enough," he muttered as you pulled away, The Fog parting to the right of the campfire. "Let's get a move on."
You watched them file into the fog, Claudette sending you a shy glance as she passed, pushing her own glasses higher up her nose. You trailed behind them, sticking close to Dwight so as not to lose him. As The Fog thickened again, muffling all sound, you could just hear the nervous leader say, "Don't worry, we'll make sure you get out in one piece."
You suck in a breath, the cool air biting your throat, before you lose sight of them completely and The Fog cleared. Instead of a chilled night forest, a dusty orange cornfield sprawled out before you, the tang of rancid blood clogging your nose and leaving a bitter taste on your tongue. What the fuck was going on?