The First, Second, and Third Person (and none of them the real one)

WARNING FOR VIOLENT DEATH AND INJURY


There is a dead body in the lake.

You're pretty certain that it's dead. Facedown in the water, floating a few feet away from the shore where you've been walking. You don't trust the dense forest (you're certain you saw a Hound earlier) and you definitely don't trust whatever it is fluttering about in the grassy flatlands. Phasing out had dumped you along the lake's shore, and since nothing has reached out of the water to kill you yet, you'll stay close.

But, back to the dead body. It's… well, it's human, you suppose. Looks human enough. The dusk-dim environment doesn't help. You aren't too keen on wading into the water to find out. You don't spot any blood in the water, nor do you see anyone else around. Did the body just float here from somewhere else? Did someone drown? Did a Hound get to them?

It might be wearing a uniform. Clothing black, a light pack strapped to the waist and back. Something that might be a weapon attached to the hip. The temptation to check is quite strong, but again, you don't want to risk wading into the lake. Still, a dead body… It's definitely cause for alarm this close to shore. This isn't an accidental drowning.

You decide to investigate. You can dry your shoes off later. The mud of the lake floor sticks to your soles and sucks you in with every step, but you get to the floating body and carefully flip it over. No blood on the front of the corpse either. Just glassy eyes and a gaping mouth. Thankfully (or rather unfortunately) not a Faceling. There's something stitched onto the corpse's belt, though. A closer look gives you some insight; it's the emblem of the UEC's Homeland Defense Force. Shit.

The body can't really be left floating here, and someone should at least report this death to the UEC. You grab the corpse's clothes and slowly drag it back to shore, where it won't be in danger of floating away. Once back on dry land, you lay the body out face-up and kneel over it to see if you can get a better idea of what might have happened. No signs of cuts or blood, and no damage to the body's clothing. Not a Hound attack, then.

"Get up."

A cold voice startles you from behind.

You stand and nearly trip over the body as you take a few steps back from whoever just snuck up on you. A big sunflower blooms across half of their face, overtaking one eye and pushing up into the hairline to force their bangs to hang over the petals.

You know who this is.

The Actor closes the gap and shoves his umbrella up like a weapon at your face. The tip goes right up against the vulnerable part behind your chin, an undeniably uncomfortable spot much too close to your throat. He lacks the height to loom over you, but he knows how to use his presence; it's almost like having gun pointed at you.

"You did this, didn't you?" he demands. "You drowned him."

Before you can respond, you hear the sounds of rustling grass and footfalls coming from near the trees. They get softer until you lose the sound entirely, leaving a dead silence. The Actor glances over his shoulder in the direction of the retreating steps, then after a moment retracts the umbrella.

"Sorry. I had to pretend I was on to you," he says, pushing the umbrella through a loop hanging off of his belt as if sheathing a sword. "You know how the UEC are."

You stare at him, flabbergasted.

"What the hell was that about?" you ask him. "Who the hell are you?"

"Don't play dumb with me," he replies with one hand on his hip and annoyance on his face. You can at least partially guess his facial expressions with one side of his face still visible. "You know who I am. You made a whole write-up on me."

You consider insisting on your lack of awareness, but it probably won't do you any favors.

"Okay, you got me. I've… written about you, sure. How do you know who I am? I can't be the only person who's ever written something about you. MEG, BNTG, UEC, Eyes of Argos, there's plenty of people who write about people in the Backrooms."

"I know lots of things," he says proudly, before his expression falls a little. "Except for your name."

You continue watching the Actor carefully, unsure of whether to take off running or not. You know that he's not… formidable per se, but you don't know how he feels about you.

"I don't need to know your name," he says, apparently getting the wrong idea from your hesitant expression. "I just need to make sure you won't be getting in my way."

"The way of what?"

"Anything I might do. I know that people paying attention to you isn't exactly the worst thing to happen, unless a certain eye is on you. But I like to be careful, you know?"

"What exactly do you get up to?" you ask him.

"You've probably already seen. Come on, I assume you don't want to stay here."

"Where even is this?"

"466, as named by the UEC. The forest is full of Hounds and the grasslands are full of ravenous lights. I don't enjoy being here, but it's nice to show up for the people who live here from time to time. They deserve better than what they have."

He suddenly looks very annoyed, although he looks out over the lake instead of at you.

"I was supposed to stay a little longer, but I think the UEC are on to me. I might not be able to come back again."

That's a weird thing to say.

"There really isn't anywhere decent to stay. Come with me, I'll lead you out. I know an exit," he adds.

You ignore the gross feeling of wet socks and shoes, trudging along the lake's shore with the Actor. He walks ahead of you, so you can't get a good look at him, but something about him feels like he's upset.

"You okay?" you ask him.

"Not really," he admits without hesitation. Alright then.

"Did something happen?"

"UEC doesn't like me coming around. Tried to confront me about it earlier."

"But you still come anyway?"

"I think all people deserve a little joy in their lives. I'm just trying to help people feel a little better."

"What do you do?"

"Every so often, I come here to tell stories. Nobody in this Level has ever left, save for the UEC," he explains. "Most of them don't know what it's like living in other Levels. The UEC won't tell them what it's like outside of here, so I do it instead. It's just funny stories, or weird shit I hear from people. Eleveners being Eleveners, or books I found in the Archive when I visit Blanche. Little things. Harmless stuff."

He doesn't elaborate further, so you let the topic drop for now. You look out over the lake, noticing the little buildings gathered together on the far side.

"Don't do that."

"What?"

"Don't look over the lake. It'll pull you in."

You quickly look away.

"Is it safe to walk here, then?"

"Oh, completely. We could walk through the water and be just fine, as long as we don't try to get across the lake. Not that there's much over there on the other side."

"You really don't sound okay," you point out, noting his evasiveness despite the willingness to admit to his emotional state. "Did something happen?"

"Nothing much. Just… the UEC being the UEC. One of them told me pretty clearly to get out and stay out. All I did was just… tell a story about some Facelings being Facelings. They're just another living being, you know? What's wrong with recognizing that? Assholes who don't know when to quit," he mutters. "Assholes who think bringing people a little bit of joy with a damn story once in a while is too much."

He sighs loudly, and his next few steps are a little more stomp-y than before.

"Assholes who played stupid games and won stupid prizes," the Actor declares.

"Are they really that bad? They seem more misguided than malicious."

"Maybe some of them are. But you know me, I rub elbows with entities. They hate that. Some of them think I'm an entity."

"Are you?" you ask him.

"No more than anyone or anything else is an 'entity,' per se," he says, which isn't really an answer.

"Where exactly are we going?"

"There are these little shacks along the lake shore sometimes. They're pretty safe as far as exits go."

"What about that body? Shouldn't we report that?"

"Hey, the UEC told me to fuck off, so I'm just doing what they told me to. They'll figure out that one of their little soldiers didn't come back from patrol sooner or later. It's better for you not to get involved with them, anyway."

"Uh… okay then. Thanks for the help, by the way," you tell him, and he looks over his shoulder to give you a friendly smile. The two of you continue your path alongside the lake, the adjacent forest kept at bay by the water.

You're out of the Actor's line of sight. He doesn't notice when you move your hand to your hip where a trench knife is concealed. It comes out silently, and you keep it hidden with the blade against your inner forearm and handle wrapped under your palm.

"How far are these shacks?" you ask him.

"Oh, the exit's pretty close by, actually."

You don't get the opportunity of the first strike. His umbrella suddenly swings around like a sword leveled at your head. You leap back with the knife fully in your hand, noting the way that the Actor's positioning leaves his entire left side open. It should be easy to stick him and be done with it.

It should be easy.

It should.

The Actor flips his grip on the umbrella, and swings again. The handle is easily blocked by simply pushing it out of the way; it's not a weapon by any means. You take the chance and go for a stab directly to the shoulder, and bear down until the blade jams against bone.

He doesn't even make a sound. There is a trench knife in his shoulder, and he acts like you've flicked a bug at him. It's only when you twist that the Actor lets out a noise of pain, but it only seems to make him angrier. He grabs the end of his umbrella in his free hand, and pushes forward with it. You're driven backwards until you stumble over the rocks along the lake shore, and fall directly onto your back.

"Listen to me, you imperialistic piece of UEC shit," the Actor snarls in your face. The umbrella crushes against your windpipe, preventing any sort of response. No amount of wrenching or pulling with the knife seems to deter him. It's as if he doesn't care about the worsening wound inflicted on his shoulder. Blood drips from him and lands on your face in disgusting globules as he struggles to keep you still. The sunflower blooming across his face seems fixed on you like a floodlight, laying bare your deception for his single visible eye to see. His head tilts to the side slightly as if curious rather than enraged, and you can only tell that he's feeling any pain at all by the way he grits his teeth when he speaks. "I know who is in my troupe. I know who my co-stars are. I know who my playwrights and directors are. You, asshole, are not one of them. The first person tried to hide behind nonsense just like this, and trust me, I knew he wasn't my director. You aren't convincing either."

He finally lets off, only to shove you into the lake. You roll off of the bank and splash in face-first. You're in no danger of drowning in such shallow water, but you get back onto your feet before he tries to put you facedown. You almost miss what he says from coughing while recovering from the strangulation.

"I don't know what the problem is with you assholes," he hisses. "But leave me the fuck alone."

"Stay away from humans," you snap back. "I don't know what you are. Maybe you actually are human, but all you do is cause trouble for people. The people here don't need to hear about whatever the fuck goes on out there. We're keeping them safe in here, while you're trying to bait them into being killed by god knows what."

"Bait. Sure, whatever."

He swings at you with the umbrella again. It's such a pointless weapon, being so lightweight that it can hardly do anything. You move to block the strike.

A thick-soled boot connects with your knee, and you fall into the lake again. You feel the impact of the pebbles in the lake bed against your forehead, but you do not feel your skull fracture as something much heavier than an umbrella smashes against it.

The Actor dips the handle of the umbrella in the lake, stirring up the water to clean the blood off. The water around your body slowly tints red as the slow exsanguination begins.

"Second time that's happened. There's bound to be a third," he says to nobody in particular.

The Actor stands in the lake, water past his ankles, corpse floating at his feet, shoulder rapidly bleeding, umbrella dripping from from the wrong end. He's a mess, but he's a fixable mess.

On the other side of the hill, there is movement in the forest. A figure clad in black with a light pack strapped to his back and a weapon on his hip emerges hastily, having spotted a Hound among the trees.


rating: +15+x

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