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Billy hadn’t really known what to pick up from Wilford’s place, but there wasn’t much of anything there to be picked up. He didn’t have anything, and Billy already knew that. He came back with a ratty old bathrobe that Wilford had had since high school, a pair of slippers that had been buried in the back of his closet, and a backpack full of clothes that he couldn’t really wear around all the stuff he was hooked up to. The bathrobe wasn’t much, but just wearing something that was actually his made him feel a little more like himself. He mostly slept to pass the time, but it wasn’t a pleasant or restful sleep. It was a fuzzy, drugged sleep that left him feeling just as gross as he’d felt before. He hated pain killers, but he imagined he’d hate being in pain even more in this one case.

The first time he saw the damage, while a nurse was invading his space and checking his stitches, he almost puked. The only reason he didn’t was probably because he had nothing in his stomach to puke up. One of the hidden benefits to a clear liquid diet, it seemed. He hadn’t ever seen the aftermath of taking three rounds to the stomach and surviving. He’d expected a few stitches here and there from where the bullets had gone in. He hadn’t expected the long incision straight down his stomach, or the other long one just over his hip. There were more in his side, and two more spots on his back that needed checking.

“Two of them went straight through. The third took a detour,” Billy had explained later.

It was no wonder everything hurt. Because everything was hurt. The clean-up operation must have taken hours.

“You’re a tough little bastard, you know that?”

He kept his bathrobe tied closed after that. He had to wear the belt high around his chest, because anything around his stomach was agony. But anything to keep him from having to look at that mess was preferable. Even more preferable would have been being anywhere but where he was. He hated the nurses and doctors and everyone else constantly invading his space. Billy was there more often than not, but he at least kept his hands to himself. He probably felt like he had to be there, for some irritating, sentimental reason, since nobody else would be coming to look smug at him.

“I want to go home,” he said while the doctor was in having a look at his charts.

“I… would very strongly recommend against that,” the doctor said.

Wilford shook his head. He hated the room, and the people in it, and the bed he was on, and the TV that never stopped showing the news, and everything that was sticking out of him. He wanted it all to just go away, so he could curl up somewhere dark and just be miserable for a while.

“I want to go home,” Wilford repeated.

The doctor put the clipboard back on the end of the bed. “Do you have anyone at home to keep an eye on you?” he asked slowly.

Wilford started to answer that he didn’t need anyone else, but his head was still all full of sand and cotton, and Billy was faster. “He’ll stay with me,” he said.

The doctor seemed to accept this a little more easily, but going to Billy’s wasn’t what Wilford wanted. He wanted to be left alone.

“Wil, you’re on the third floor. That’s a lot of stairs, man,” Billy said.

It occurred to Wilford he may have been even more slow to react than he realised. Or maybe Billy was secretly psychic. But he had forgotten about the stairs. Even sitting up hurt; he’d never be able to get to his front door.

“I’ll go with him,” he said, pointing at Billy.

The doctor still didn’t seem very convinced, but he nodded anyway. “Okay. I’ll go get the discharge started.” He gave Wilford a strange look before leaving the room.

Billy watched him go, waiting until the door was closed before turning back to Wilford. “You sure you don’t want to give it a few more days?”

He didn’t. It was the last thing he wanted. He hated everything about this place.

“I want to go home,” he repeated again.

“All right. We’ll go home.” Billy didn’t seem convinced either, but at least he’d leave Wilford alone. He respected personal space boundaries, unlike everyone else here. Wilford just needed to be left alone, and then he’d feel better.

Eventually, the doctor came back in with a stack of forms and releases and waivers for Wilford to sign - agreeing that the hospital wasn’t at fault if complications arose from refusing treatment, agreeing that he’d refused treatment, agreeing to having consented to the treatment he did receive. He didn’t care about any of it. He signed them all with a loose, sloppy signature that barely looked like his own, trusted that Billy was listening to medication instructions and garbage about follow-up appointments, and everything else. He still didn’t care about any of it. He was tired, he was starving, everything hurt, and he wanted it all to go away.

While the doctor finished up, a nurse Wilford hadn’t seen before came in and started getting everything ready for him to get up and leave. He removed all the gunk stuck to his chest, and took the line out of his arm so quickly, Wilford hadn’t even realised that’s what he was doing until it was done. He was already starting to blank out again when the nurse got up and moved to the foot of the bed. He was saying something, but Wilford wasn’t paying attention. He just wanted this guy to finish what he was doing so he could go. And then he felt the nurse’s hands go under the hospital gown, and Wilford jumped back to reality so quickly, he could feel his foot connect with something hard.

“Woah!” Billy said, quickly stepping forward to lean Wilford back into the bed. He had a strange look on his face that Wilford couldn’t read, but he wasn’t trying to. He was more concerned with the nurse.

“What the fuck is he doing down there?” he demanded.

“Man, you haven’t been able to get up to take a piss in three days,” Billy reminded him. “He’s got to take the tube out of your dick. You have to let him.”

Wilford had been so out of it, this fact had not even occurred to him until that moment. He didn’t even have anything to say. He just glared up at Billy, like it was his fault.

“That’s a normal reaction,” the nurse assured. He didn’t sound very sincere, but Wilford wasn’t equipped to go picking that fight. “It’s just a couple of seconds, okay? Let’s try again. Deep breath.”

Wilford did not take a deep breath. He kept his jaw set tightly and tried to ignore the fact that this man had his hands on him. It wasn’t a fact that was easy to ignore, and left him feeling light-headed and nauseated. Even once the nurse finished up, Wilford could feel himself trembling from trying to stay still. Billy put a hand on his shoulder, but Wilford slapped it away before he puked.

“Okay, all done,” the nurse said. “Do you want to try to get up and go pee for me?”

“No,” Wilford said firmly.

An awkward glance was shared between the nurse and Billy.

“All right. He’s going home with you, right?” the nurse asked.

Billy nodded, giving Wilford that same strange look again. “Yeah.”

“If he’s not able to urinate within the next eight hours, bring him back,” he said. He nodded to Wilford and gathered up everything to be taken away. “Good luck.”

Now that it was finally time to get up and go, Wilford couldn’t even force himself to get out of the bed. He felt like if he moved, he’d be sick. He hated himself for not even being lucid enough to realise that was going to be a thing. Thankfully, Billy said nothing, and busied himself with getting some clothes out of the bag he’d brought over on the first day. He’d been smart about it, and grabbed some T-shirts that were too big, and a few pairs of pyjamas.

“Do you want my help?” he asked cautiously as he laid the clothes out on the bed.

Wilford shook his head. He wanted to tell Billy to fuck off, but he didn’t know what would happen if he opened his mouth. Billy hung around after that for a few more seconds, before nodding and finally turning to leave the room. Even after he was gone, it took what felt like a week for Wilford to feel like he could move again. He moved even more slowly and sluggishly than was just from the drugs surging through his system, but he didn’t try to fight it. He put the pyjamas on first before he even thought about taking off his robe and gown. Even that was exhausting, and he had to take a long break afterward. Then he pulled the shirt on and took another break before even considering getting something on his feet. But he couldn’t reach the floor from his high perch on the hospital bed, and trying to stretch or bend down to get his feet into the slippers just made everything hurt again. If his nerves didn’t make him puke, trying to get down on his own would have, so he sat in a bitter silence. As he waited for Billy to come back, he slowly realised that there was something else he should be doing. Something important. Something about all this.

If something did happen now, he’d be doing all this again. He did not want to do all this again, because it was awful. He slowly and deliberately took his save log from his inventory and opened it up to find the next empty space. This was not an ideal place to save, but it was better than the alternative. If a helicopter dropped out of the sky on him as they drove down the freeway, he wouldn’t have to figure out what to do differently next time, and risk getting shot in the face instead. Any other time, he wouldn’t have even thought twice about it, but this time was different. He was clinically dead twice. But clinically dead is still dead, and should have triggered a reset anyway. But it didn’t. And now he was here, feeling miserable in every possible way while someone knocked at the door to be let in.

Wilford didn’t bother responding, forcing Billy to crack the door open and cautiously peer in. When he found Wilford dressed, he opened the door all the way and pushed a wheelchair into the room. Wilford tried to get down on his own, but even with the absurd amounts of morphine in him, it hurt too much to try, giving him no other choice but to let Billy help him down. Once he was in the chair, Billy helped him get his slippers on, and folded up his bath robe so he could hold it in his lap. Wilford had never felt so useless in his life.

-

Billy’s apartment was small, but thankfully on the ground floor. He opened the door into his front room, and slowly led Wilford over to the sofa to sit down.

“Let me get some stuff out of my room, and you can have my bed.”

“Couch is fine,” Wilford said as firmly as he could manage. Like hell was he sleeping in someone else’s bedroom. The hospital room was bad enough.

That strange look was back on Billy’s face. He was making assumptions, but Wilford didn’t have the energy to challenge him on it. He could have his assumptions, if it meant Billy would leave him alone while he was stuck here.

Still, Billy disappeared to somewhere in the back of the apartment. A few moments later, he returned with a pillow and a blanket from his room, which he carefully put down on the sofa for later. Wilford wanted to lie back down, though it felt like it would take him about twenty years to get the energy to do so. Billy put the remote and a huge paper bag down on the table in front of the sofa, before leaning over to pull the table out to make a little more room. He sat down on the other end of the sofa, keeping plenty of room between them, and reached for the paper bag again. He pulled out several bottles of pills, reading the labels for each of them in turn. Antibiotics, pain killers, sedatives, anti-inflammatories. No wonder he felt like everything was full of sand. He’d been pumped full of two of the things he hated most, and a bunch of other junk on top of it. With everything laid out so neatly on the table, Billy sighed and looked toward the kitchen.

“You think you’ll be all right on your own for about twenty minutes?” he asked.

Wilford nodded. Being on his own was exactly what he wanted at that moment.

Billy got up to get the bag he’d brought from Wilford’s apartment, and dug through it to pull something from the bottom. He handed Wilford his phone, and went to the kitchen to write down a quick note.

“The address here,” he said, putting the note down on the table next to the remote. “If you need to call an ambulance.”

Wilford waved him away tiredly. He didn’t want to look at Billy’s face for a moment longer. Billy hung around for a few moments longer before leaving the apartment again. Wilford waited until he seemed like he was well and truly gone before he convinced himself to try to get up. It felt like it took about a year to manage it, and the first thing he did was slowly wander off to find the bathroom. Whatever that nurse had done to him made him feel like his bladder was about to burst, which made that priority one. Once that was taken care of, he started to make his way back to the sofa, but thought better of it about halfway there. He turned to find a door, and on the first try, managed to find exactly what he was looking for. He stayed at the bar just long enough to leave a note, before returning to Billy’s apartment to rest. About fifteen minutes later, he got up to check the bar again, and was pleasantly surprised to find Buster waiting for him in the bed the kids set up for him. The dog started to jump up excitedly, but seemed to immediately realise something was wrong. Wilford let him into the apartment and closed the door behind him, where the dog promptly dropped his bat right in the middle of the hallway. He tried to make it back to the sofa, but ran out of energy in the middle of the living room. Buster danced nervously at his feet, looking up at him and whining loudly. Eventually, Wilford gave up and very carefully managed to lie down on the floor. It wasn’t comfortable in the least, and just getting down there hurt, but it meant he wasn’t standing up anymore. Buster continued to dance around him, and tried to lie on top of him until Wilford pushed him away sharply. After a few more repeats of that, the dog got the hint and sprawled across Wilford’s legs instead. That was… acceptable.

He didn’t know how long he’d spent on the floor, but Billy didn’t seem terribly pleased about it when he got home with his hands full of Chinese takeaway. As soon as he stepped through the door, Buster turned his attention to him and growled sharply.

“Knock it off,” Wilford said, twisting his ear.

“…Where’d the dog come from?” he asked.

Wilford suddenly remembered that Billy didn’t know about the dog yet. Whoops.

“He’s mine. Friend brought him over,” he said.

“I didn’t see a dog at your place,” Billy said.

“Lives with my friend.”

Billy shook his head and abandoned this line of questioning, and took the paper bags to the kitchen instead. Once they were settled, he immediately rushed back out to the living room to kneel down beside Wilford. Buster growled at him again, until Wilford twisted his ear and shut him up.

“Knock it off,” he said again.

Cautiously, Billy offered his hand for the dog to sniff. “We gotta get your daddy off the floor, okay,” he said, hoping to convince the dog to get up.

It didn’t, but a nudge from Wilford did. Buster danced nervously nearby while Billy helped Wilford up off the floor, and got him back to the sofa. As soon as Wilford was settled again, Buster immediately climbed up onto the sofa and sprawled over Wilford’s legs, resuming his task of dedicated protection. Wilford would have found it funny if he didn’t feel so fucking helpless. When Billy came again from the kitchen, he put a squat, styrofoam bowl down onto the coffee table, along with a plastic spoon. While Billy got rice and teriyaki beef, Wilford got egg flower soup. If he hadn’t been so tired, he would have been insanely jealous.
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Even the biggest stories have a limited shelf life, and it wasn’t long before Slenderman was cast aside until his trial, and Wilford was off chasing something else. This time at least, he wasn’t forced to chase after the stupid, pointless filler stories someone else wanted him to chase. He wasn’t chasing his own yet either, but at least the assignments he was given were decent. And there was nothing really stopping him from using his free time to branch off and find something else on his own.

He listened to Nichola do an interview over the phone, while he and Billy trawled through old planning records. This story was boring, and probably wasn’t going to go anywhere, but would be a big deal if it did.

“What time are we meeting that guy?” Wilford asked, tossing a stack of pages aside and leaning back in his seat. He didn’t remember this story, but he’d managed to wrap up Slenderman early this time. Someone else would have had this story last time.

Billy checked his watch. “About an hour. I’ve got a shadow today, so it’ll be cramped.”

“Whose idea was that?” Wilford asked.

“Not mine.”

Wilford wasn’t surprised. He knew this was coming, and even liked Jess. She didn’t care about a goddamn thing in the world, which made her exactly his kind of person. But he wasn’t to know that yet, and had an act to put on because of it. So he rolled his eyes and sighed. “He better not get in the way.”

“She, I think,” Billy said.

“That’ll be good for both of you,” Nichola piped up suddenly, before ducking her head back down again to listen to the person on the phone.

Their office wasn’t so much of an office, as much as a small conference room with their things in it. Wilford and Nichola shared a table, with both their computers on it, while filing cabinets and boxes of folders lined one of the walls. There was a TV on mute on top of one of the filing cabinets, playing a live feed of some nonsense happening on the west coast somewhere. Even though Billy worked in the van, he spent most of his downtime in with them, rather than skulking around with the other technicians. And since Wilford had possibly implied that Billy was on his ‘team,’ he didn’t seem to get called out as often as he used to. It was funny how that worked out.

Wilford poked through pages for a few more minutes, until Billy got up to go find his new shadow. That gave him just enough time to gather up everything he wanted to take with, before heading down to the garage to meet Billy and Jess by the van.

The interview was a bit out from town, so they didn’t waste a lot of time getting on the road. With Billy driving, and Wilford in the passenger seat going over everything one more time to make sure he had every tiny detail, Jess was crammed in the back in a jump seat that barely seemed attached to anything. She was quiet for the entire drive, not asking any questions or finding the need to fill the silence with chatter. It was another reason Wilford liked her.

The guy they were interviewing was some preacher. There had been another string of disappearances out there, but this time they were all adults. The police didn’t think he was a suspect though, because only a small number of the victims belonged to the church. Wilford had other ideas, though. He was able to get the on-camera interview with a bit of creative spin, telling the guy that as a trusted community figure, he could help keep people calm in this troubling times if he went on TV and spoke for a few minutes. It wasn’t even supposed to be an interview, but Wilford would make sure that it became one.

It started off simply enough, with the shot framed so the preacher stood outside, in front of his small church house. Wilford stood by patiently while the preacher talked about God providing, and having faith in His plan, blah blah blah. It was all bullshit, of course, but it was necessary to let him spout it. They’d cut it out later, when they actually aired the segment.

“And to the families? What do you have to say to them?” Wilford asked.

“Our doors are always open to any who seek comfort,” the preacher said. “We’ll be holding a vigil Thursday night, and encourage people to come out to show that we’re not afraid of whoever, or whatever is responsible for this nasty business.”

“And would you say you feel guilty for viciously murdering these people for your Satanic rites?” Wilford asked.

“Oh, no. Not at all.” It took a moment for the preacher to realise exactly what he’d said. “Which is to say, I’ve done nothing to feel guilty over.”

Wilford could see Jess moving a little closer to Billy, but he kept his focus on the preacher. “Because guilt would imply that you were unsure about these rituals?”

“I mean. I didn’t say that.”

“Rites, sorry,” Wilford said. “Different things, aren’t they?”

“You need to go now.”

Wilford saw him move before he realised what was happening next. The preacher pulled a gun out of his inventory and aimed it straight at Wilford. Billy and Jess stood stunned while Wilford turned to run. The gun fired from behind him, the bullet whistling past his ear as he tried to duck for cover. That’s what it took to get Billy and Jess moving again, away from the insane cult leader and back toward the safety of the van. More shots were fired, but the preacher’s aim was terrible. Two of his bullets hit the side of the van, and another hit the ground near Wilford’s feet. He didn’t notice that the one at his feet hit in front of him, rather than behind. He was too busy keeping an eye over his shoulder to make sure the preacher wasn’t chasing after them to notice the pickup truck speeding up the lane toward them. It wasn’t until he saw Billy take a wild turn off the path that Wilford realised they had somehow become seriously outnumbered. It was time to stop being the innocent little reporter, and time to start fighting back. He pulled his Magnum out and fired at the truck as someone leaned out the passenger window and fired back.

Wilford had been shot before, plenty of times. He knew what it felt like, and he knew what it meant. A searing hot pain shot straight through him, and suddenly his legs didn’t seem up to the task of carrying his weight. He managed to get off two more rounds in the direction of the pickup before he fell to the ground. Everything was turning a bit grey around the edges while the sounds of gunfire and shouting around him seemed to be completely shut off. Suddenly, there were hands on him, but he couldn’t see whose. He was only vaguely aware of the feeling of being picked up, and that he was being moved. Someone was frantically shouting, and then there was a lot of noise in a very small, cramped space. He was uncomfortably close to someone, but he was too sluggish to even think about getting away. Everything was like his head was under water. He didn't just feel slow; he couldn't see right, and sounds were all muffled and distant. He didn't know why it was wrong; just that it was.

“Come on, pal. Stay with us.” Someone slapped his face, harder than they needed to. Someone else was shouting frantically, too far away for Wilford to understand. A woman?

“You’re not going anywhere. Just stay with me.”

Who was going anywhere? Why wouldn’t this person just leave him alone, and stop slapping him? He wished it would all just go away. Eventually, it did.

-

Everything hurt. Every inch of his body felt like it was full of gravel, and when he tried to sit up, nothing cooperated. It just hurt worse.

“No, don’t do that.”

A light pressure on his chest pushed him back down onto whatever he was lying on. Someone’s hand was on his head, slowly carding through his hair. It was invasive and intimate, but at that moment, Wilford kind of liked it. When he opened his eyes, he was surprised to see Nichola sitting next to him with worry written across her face. But she wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at something across from Wilford, and it took him several long moments to convince his head to turn to see what she was looking at.

It was Billy. He was there too. Why was he there? Why were either of them there?

Actually, where was ‘there’ even supposed to be? Wilford’s attention drifted from Billy to the lines coming out of his arm. He slowly traced them up to a machine hanging over his shoulder. Why was that there? What the fuck was going on?

"Mister, you scared the hell out of us," Nichola said finally.

Why? What had he done? Wilford hadn't done anything. He just hurt. A lot. Somehow, none of these thoughts seemed to surface into words though.

“We probably don’t need to both be here now,” Nichola said slowly, still looking at Billy. "I'll go call the station."

Billy took a moment before nodding. “I’ll stay here,” he said.

Nichola looked down at Wilford and sighed, before she got to her feet. On her way to the door, she stopped next to Billy and bent to whisper something to him. Whatever it was, Wilford didn’t care. He was too busy trying to figure out why there was a bunch of stuff stuck in his arm. While trying to figure that out, he realised there was even more stuff stuck to his chest, and something else stuck to his face. After a few moments of foggy confusion, he was surprised when Billy leaned over and helped him put on his glasses. Wilford hadn’t even realised that he couldn’t see until just then. While he looked around everything, still trying to figure out what was going on, Billy did something else to make the entire bed sit up, just a little. Not enough to actually let him sit up properly, but he felt like anything more dramatic was just going to make everything hurt even worse.

“What the fuck?” he managed to say, before running out of energy to say any more. His throat felt like sandpaper. One more thing that didn't make sense.

“A bunch of hill-billies pulled guns on us,” Billy said. “I think you got on their nerves.”

That did sound familiar. Wilford remembered the shooting. He remembered making the preacher angry. He remembered the noise and the panic. And then he slowly started to remember something else, and it dawned on him just where he was. He wasn’t wearing his own clothes. He was wearing an ugly cotton gown with tiny blue flowers on it. He looked down at his stomach, but he couldn’t quite find the energy to try to figure out how to get underneath all the blankets and everything to see the damage.

“I never done this part before,” he said. If he had more energy, he’d probably be surprised that he was doing it now.

“You’re lucky to be doing it now,” Billy said, with a troubling lack of sarcasm. “They had to restart your heart twice.”

It hit Wilford like a very slow smack in the face. He’d never done this part before, because one of two things had always happened instead. Either the bullet had killed him and triggered a reset, or it hadn’t been enough to incapacitate him, and he reset manually. He looked down at his stomach again, and decided he didn’t want to see the damage after all. Not if whatever was hidden beneath the blanket was enough to trigger an Event.

“…ffffuck.” He looked down at the line in his arm again, understanding what it was now. “Jesus Christ.”

“The good news,” Billy started. “This is already blowing up. Nichola’s gonna take it from here. She won’t let anyone else touch it.”

Wilford nodded. Vaguely, he understood there was some element Billy wasn’t mentioning, and that it was a good element for ratings but a bad element for him, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. It was like his head was full of fluff and sand all at once. He probably wouldn’t even remember this conversation in the morning.

Wait. What time was it, even? He looked out the window, but couldn’t tell if the sun was going up or coming down.

“They gave me your keys when they took your things. I can run by your place, if you want anything,” Billy said.

Wilford nodded. He wanted… something. What did he want? He had no idea. Something that wasn’t here. Billy waited for him to respond, but when Wilford didn’t, he nodded back and stood up from his seat. He started to turn toward the door, but stopped suddenly.

"Do you have anybody you'd like us to try to call?" he asked cautiously.

Wilford was confused at first, until he caught up with what Billy was actually asking, and the tone he'd used. Like he already knew the answer, but just wanted to be sure.

"No," he said. Even if there was any way to get in touch with anybody, Wilford didn't want them here looking at him like they knew this was going to happen. Fuck them. They could stay in Korea, or wherever the hell they'd all fucked off to.

“Okay. They’ve been told not to let anyone in. I’ll be back in a little bit, okay?”

Wilford nodded again. He felt so tired suddenly. All he wanted to do was sleep.
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Wilford had no idea that he’d done anything wrong. How could he? It’s not like he had any control over whether or not the door showed up for him. The door disappeared for six weeks, and then came back exactly when he needed it, so Wilford didn’t think anything about it. He was more focused on other things. Things like other people resetting and fucking up his own plans. So far, everything seemed right, but that was the problem with resets. It always seemed right, because you had no frame of reference for the way it should have been. When someone else reset, or opened up a new save, they were the only ones to know. To everyone else, it was just another day. You might notice something was wrong if you paid enough attention. Those little bouts of precognition that could just be coincidence, or could be because they’d done this all before. Persistent déjà vu would be another clue, but Wilford didn’t have any of that to go off of, because the guy he was worried about wasn’t anywhere near him. He’d fucked off to go do whatever it was he did when he wasn’t sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. And Wilford had to let him. He had to let everything continue as normal, or else he risked changing too many things and ruining everything.

So he waited. He passed the time around the station, watching editors put together his segment where he and Billy had brought an end to Slenderman’s reign of terror. His name was out there now, giving him a little more leverage around the station. Not much, and not enough, but more than none, which is where he’d been before. Even if Nichola didn’t get any of the segment credit, he made sure people around the building knew she’d done half the work. She didn’t want to be in front of the camera, which is why she didn’t go with them. Or at least, that’s the story he told people. There was even some truth to it, though it wasn’t the reason Wilford didn’t even consult her before going. He didn’t want anyone in their way, plain and simple. The sudden appearance of a third party was bad enough. More people would have just gotten someone killed. But Nichola was smart enough to go along with it. She insisted it was her idea to stay close, and to do other interviews that Wilford was too abrasive to navigate successfully. As long as it got her name out there, it was good for her career.

She disagreed of course, but kept it to herself, save occasional glares in Wilford’s direction when she thought nobody was looking.

The segment ran the following evening, while the cuts on Wilford’s face were still fresh. He was a hero. The cops had done nothing, but he’d gone with a gut feeling and sorted the whole thing out. Everyone was breathing a little bit easier now. But he was just doing his job; reporting the news and informing the masses. At least, until he knew nobody was looking.

“I need a raise,” he said, letting himself into his boss’ office.

Shit for Brains didn’t even look up. “You haven’t been here long enough.”

Wilford dropped down into the seat in front of the desk and leaned back casually. He wasn’t here to negotiate. He was here to demand.

“The CBN affiliate's offering me twice what I’m making now.”

Shit for Brains did look up. “Is that supposed to scare me? Nichola did all your research for you. It’s practically her story.”

Wilford looked positively shocked. “She hasn’t told you yet?” he asked. “They offered her the same. I’m trying to convince her to stay, but I don’t really have many strong arguing points right now. I thought you’d probably want to give me a few.”

He felt positively giddy watching the idiot run all this through his mind, with the slow, dawning realisation that he was about to lose the biggest story of the year if he didn’t handle this right.

“This is blackmail,” he said.

“No, this is my team looking for a station who gives a damn,” Wilford pointed out. “We can take the job anyway, if that’s what you want.”

“Your team?”

“Adler too. He almost got himself killed, and have you seen his camera work? Being a fucking giant gives him some great angles. CBN would love to have him.”

“Why aren’t they in here with you?” He thought he had Wilford cornered here. He thought he was winning.

“Because I think Dennis is already packing up his things, and I told you, Nichola doesn’t want to stay anyway. But you’re closer, and traffic in this city is a nightmare. I don’t want to add another twenty minutes to my commute.” Wilford thought about this for a moment. “Actually, I think they are closer for Nichola, though. That might be why she wants to go.”

There were few things Wilford enjoyed more than seeing some smug asshole slowly realise that he’d lost, but he managed to keep all that joy clamped down while he watched Shit for Brains deliberate over the situation. When he said nothing, Wilford shrugged and got up.

“I’ve got a phone call to make, I guess.”

“No, wait.” He sighed angrily and shook his head. “I’ll match it. Whatever they’re paying you.”

Wilford considered this, and cringed dramatically.

“Two and a half.”

Wilford nodded, mulling this offer over for a few moments. “I’ll see what they say.”

He let himself out, trying to hold back on a grin that threatened to undermine the entire thing. He had to get away from the office before he gave himself away. He found Billy and Nichola waiting in her little section of the newsroom, putting on a show of packing up her desk.

“What did he say?” she asked as soon as she spotted Wilford.

“I got him up to two and a half. He knows this story isn’t over, and our names are out there, but I didn’t want to push it.” He probably could have gone for three, but it wasn’t a risk he was willing to take.

“I can live with two and a half,” Billy said.

Nichola nodded. “So what now?”

Wilford took a deep breath and looked around the newsroom. Everyone was trying to pretend that they weren’t watching whatever was going on between the three of them, so they had to make a show of being serious.

“We go to lunch, and take an obscenely long time to come back, I think,” he said. “Look like you’re not convinced.”

Billy stood up and shook his head. “No,” he said as he turned to walk away. Moments later, Nichola got up to follow him, leaving Wilford standing there alone. He watched them leave for a few moments, before rushing to follow after them, frantically trying to convince them to wait. When they didn’t stop, he sighed and followed them out of the building. Billy’s care was actually in something of a working order, so the three of them got inside, with Wilford taking the back. The waited until they were out on the street before they dropped their act and started laughing.

“What the hell did you say to him?” Nichola asked, turning around in her seat to face Wilford. “Two and a half? How did you do that?”

“Stupid fucker accused me of blackmail. I just reminded him that people are allowed to quit their jobs,” Wilford said.

The other two laughed like they still couldn’t believe it.

“If you keep this up, you’ll own the network in fifteen years,” Billy said.

Wilford suppressed a shudder. Owning a network was the last thing he wanted. So much work involved. “I’ll settle for my own show,” he said.

Billy took them to some little diner nearby. They took a table in the back and took their time getting through lunch, ordering multiple refills on coffee, and several items from the dessert menu. Wilford tried to order cheaply, because he hadn’t got his raise yet, and only had $20 in his wallet. Even ordering carefully, by the time they finally asked for the check, he couldn’t help but cringe at the sight of it. He threw his twenty down, and was surprised when Billy tossed it back at him.

“Pay day’s not for another week,” he pointed out.

Wilford didn’t miss the awkward glance Nichola threw toward Billy, though he pretended to as he stuffed the cash back into his wallet. She’s seen the state of his kitchen several times now, but apparently hadn’t realised that Billy had started paying part of his grocery bill in recent weeks.

“Yeah,” he said. He could make $20 last the week. He’d got by for longer on less.

He wouldn’t have to after this, though. Even without the money he had stashed away in the bar, which had already proved unreliable with the door disappearing for six weeks. He could keep that around for something else now.

Nichola paid for her share and the three of them got up to leave their mess for some under-paid server to clean up. They all piled back into Billy’s car, taking a long, leisurely route back to the station. By the time they got back to the garage, their game-faces were back on, with Nichola and Billy giving off every impression of having come back very grudgingly. Wilford took them back to their boss’ office, barging in on him again without so much of a knock.

“I want a better office,” Nichola said simply. “I can’t get my job done if I’m sharing a cube with a bunch of noisy scriptwriters.”

“Yeah, me too, actually,” Wilford said.

Shit for Brains sighed and looked at Billy. “What about you?” he asked tiredly.

Billy shrugged. “What do I need an office for? I work in a van.”

Wilford almost laughed. He wanted to, but it wouldn’t do them any good.

“I can’t give you both an office,” their boss said. “I don’t have that kind of room.”

Wilford and Nichola looked at one another for a long moment, before they both shrugged. “I think I could live with that,” Nichola said.

“Yeah. We’d be working together anyway, so sure,” Wilford agreed.

Goodbye for now, Kevin. See you again in a few months.

Shit for Brains seemed like he wanted to say about eight different things at once, the way he kept opening and closing his mouth like a stunned fish. “Monday,” he said finally. “I’ll have one of the rooms cleaned out for you by then.”

Wilford looked between Billy and Nichola, daring to seem hopeful, and a little pleased.

“All right,” Nichola agreed finally. “What do you think, Den?”

Billy nodded. “Yeah, all right. But the raise is effective starting today, right?”

Their boss shook his head and sighed. “Yeah, fine. I’ll put the paperwork through.”

He waved them out of his office, clearly regretting this already. They left without another word, and returned to Nichola’s desk. Now, everyone wasn’t even trying to hide their direct looks toward them as they sat down and hid behind the partition wall, Billy and Wilford taking the empty seats of a couple of writers who weren’t doing their job.

“I think they smell blood in the water,” Billy said, trying not to laugh too loudly. “We’re gonna have a mutiny here before too long.”

Wilford waved it off. It wasn’t going to happen for a few years, even at the rate things were going. “That’s their problem,” he said. “We’ve got one of our own now.”

Nichola looked at him impatiently. “Do tell.”

He shrugged, and looked out over the newsroom. “We have to find the next big thing before he decides to kick our asses to the curb.”
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Nothing. Wilford waited for something familiar to turn up, but it was like everything had suddenly stopped. And worse, the bar hadn’t shown up in weeks. It had maybe even been a couple of months. So Wilford was stuck waiting for something to happen, getting by on a shoestring budget, since all his money was stashed away in a place he couldn’t seem to get to. He had to avoid the fights, because he needed to be able to get in front of a camera at a moment’s notice. He still couldn’t convince himself to put on a nice shirt and a pair of tight jeans to go find someone else willing to throw a little money at him, so it was back to barely surviving between paycheques. He just had to get through this story. Then the next one. And then the next one. Eventually, things would change, and he’d be better off. But that was later. This was now, and he was starting to get desperate.

And then it happened; three kids in less than a week, vanished from thin air. This time, Wilford knew what he was looking for, and he was able to move before it became four, or five, or six.

-

Somehow, Wilford got the feeling Billy was hiding from him. It was a subtle feeling, but one that was hard to ignore when he found Billy eating his lunch in the men’s room.

“That’s fucking gross,” Wilford said when he finally found him.

Billy moved to guard his sandwich, and then changed his mind with a sigh and offered the other half to Wilford. Wilford took it and pulled the slice of cheese out, dropping it onto Billy’s paper towel on the counter.

“There’s this old school out in Temple Hills I want to go check out,” he said.

“What, tonight?” Billy asked.

“No, like,” he looked down at his watch, “now. I think I’m onto something.”

“Can I finish my lunch?” Billy asked.

“Can’t drive with one hand?” Wilford asked him.

Billy rolled his eyes and sighed again. It was a wonder he didn’t run out of breath. “All right.” He quickly wrapped everything up in a suitable to-go package and began the trudge out to the garage.

“Should we take anyone else?” Billy asked.

Wilford followed after him, having to work to keep up with Billy’s comically long gait. “They’d just get in the way,” he said around a mouthful of turkey and lettuce. “Probably get us killed.”

Billy seemed to accept this at least, and got out his keys to let Wilford into the van.

The school was as Wilford remembered it – or at least, how he thought he remembered it. It was definitely abandoned, but unlike most abandoned buildings, nobody else had moved in and tagged up all the walls or smashed the windows. There weren’t even any creatures living inside it. The whole building seemed dead. But it wasn’t. It was very much alive, though not with anything physical. Something had moved in, and they could feel it the second they stepped onto the property.

“This hunch of yours didn’t happen to say what we’d find here, did it?” Billy asked, grabbing his camera out of the back of the van.

“Keep your gun ready,” Wilford answered.

“How do you know I have a gun?”

“Because you’re not completely stupid.” Wilford ignored Billy’s impressive eye-roll, and unravelled a mic cord. It took him seconds to hook the pack up to his belt and run the cord under his shirt. Billy flashed him a thumbs up while he closed up the van, and followed Wilford into the school.

It was an awful place; dark even in the middle of the day, and unreasonably cold. Billy slowed to film something written in blood on one of the walls, but didn’t stop, lingering just long enough to get the point across. There were teddy bears in random places, impaled on hooks on the wall, or sitting ominously on old desks, as if they were watching what went on in their room. Wilford wanted to grab them; to reach out and pick up every one of the bears and take them all with him.

“Don’t touch them,” he said when he noticed Billy gravitating toward one. “I think they want to be picked up.”

Billy quickly moved away, giving Wilford an uneasy look. But before he could say anything, something crashed to the floor in another room, followed by frantic hissing. Billy and Wilford both looked around frantically, hoping to find a place to hide. At the sound of frantic footsteps coming their way, Wilford pulled his Magnum out of his inventory and was ready to fire, until he saw a slim man with a mohawk stumble through the door with one of the teddy bears in his hands. He didn’t notice anyone else in the room until he almost ran into them, and then he took a dramatic step back.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked.

“I could ask you the same question,” Billy said.

Wilford recognised him immediately. He was snooping around Freddy Fazbear’s 12 years in the future. And here he was now, snooping around an abandoned school.

“Put that fucking thing down,” he said, slapping the bear out of his hand.

“Oh. Yeah, there are loads of them here. Weird, huh?”

He was going to get them killed. Wilford wasn’t sure why, but that seemed normal. Last time, Wilford hadn’t had his precognitive lead that led him here at this time. Last time, it was just him and Billy, desperate to figure this story out before the disappearance count reached double digits.

“You shouldn’t fucking be here,” he said, pushing past the other guy to peer into the hallway. “How many of those bears have you touched?”

“There’s nothing here. I’ve looked all over this place,” the other guy said.

“How many?”

He looked back to see the other guy shrug indifferently. “Like, four?”

Wilford had to resist aiming his gun at the moron they stumbled across. “Jesus, we’re already dead.”

“What?”

Wilford could hear the other two mumbling something at one another, but he ignored it. The heavy, oppressive air around the building made sense now, because this asshole had actually summoned Slenderman. Fucking amateur. If Wilford hadn’t already known the answer, he’d be wondering how he survived long enough to be snooping around Fazbear’s more than a decade later. Somehow, Wilford had just caught him on the first run.

Or he’d changed too much by coming here early.

“We need to get the hell out of here,” he declared.

He’d come here with the intent of summoning Slenderman, but on his own terms. Showing up with him already crawling around was not what he wanted. He stepped out into the hallway, trying to peer through air that was entirely too dark. The windows opening out to the playground didn’t let any light in, making the end of the hall look like an inky, black abyss.

“Come on.”

He looked back, but the other two were gone, like they’d never been in the room to begin with. Wilford immediately turned back to see if they’d found another way out, but the room only had one door, and he’d been blocking it.

“No! No, no, no!” he hissed, turning back to the hall. This couldn’t happen. He couldn’t let it. He needed Billy for more than he cared to admit, and the moron with the mohawk was the entire reason he’d come all the way back this far. Even if he got out of this alive, without those two, he was on a completely different trajectory. Everything was lost, because he turned away for two goddamn seconds.

Wilford ran down the hall, keeping his fingers on the wall to maintain constant contact so he didn’t get turned around even more than he already was. He strained to listen to every little sound, but the only things he could hear were his own footsteps on rotting tile, and his pulse pounding in his ears. Something like the static between radio stations seemed to seep out of the very walls, so Wilford quickly turned, touching the wall with his other hand as he broke into a full run. Bursts of static filled the air, so loud he thought his eardrums would burst. As he tried to turn what he thought was a corner, he found himself in a wide room. There was more light in here than out in the corridor, letting him see the writing on the walls, and a collage of mangled and burned photographs nailed up. The static was so loud, Wilford had to cover his ears.

The sound was going to be utter garbage.

Wilford quickly turned, hoping to get out of the room, but his way was blocked by a figure eight feet tall, with long, black tentacles spreading out like spider legs from his back. Wilford tried to turn and run, but his feet tangled on something laying in a heap on the floor, and he fell down with it. The monster loomed over him, screeching its static roar so loudly, it felt like the entire building was shaking. With nothing left but reflex, Wilford shouted back and lashed out with his fist. He felt something connect, and the static noise stopped as Slenderman reeled backwards. Wilford had just enough time to marvel that it had worked before he felt hands on his shoulders, reaching around him and grabbing him. He tried to throw another punch, this time missing as he was hauled to his feet. He was surprised to see the tall figure behind him wasn’t another monster, but Billy. He quickly bent down to pick his camera back up, and started running toward the opposite side of the room, where Wilford could now see another door. He followed after Billy out of the room and back to the corridor, grabbing onto the sleeve of his jacket so they didn’t lose one another again as they ran. It was sheer luck and nothing else that let them find the door back out to the parking lot. They slowed abruptly as they both looked up at the sky, now completely dark with stars shining overhead. At once, they both reached for their phones and scrolled through their messages.

“Six missed calls,” Wilford said.

“Ten,” Billy said.

The van was parked a few feet away, and the two of them gave one another confused looks as they quickly made their way to it.

“Oh, you guys made it.”

Wilford swung his gun around and almost shot, until he saw Mr Markiplier standing in the parking lot with a stupid grin on his face.

“How the fuck did you get out?” Billy demanded.

Wilford lowered his gun, only because he wanted to know the answer to that question as well.

“Climbed out a window,” he said, pointing back toward the school.

If Wilford didn’t need him alive, he would have shot him anyway. Instead, he put his gun away and shook his head. He felt like he’d been running for hours - and had been, apparently. With a huff of laughter, he leaned against the van and slid down to sit on the pavement, resting his back against the wheel. They all got out. Somehow, stupidly, they all got out, and he laughed.

“What the hell’s wrong with him?” Mr Markiplier asked.

Billy looked down at him, and shook his head.

“We know where the fucker lives,” Wilford said, looking down at his phone and scrolling through his messages. He hit the call button on one of them and held the phone up to his ear. “We didn’t just break this thing wide open. We fucking solved it.”

As soon as their boss answered the phone, Wilford passed it up to Billy, so he could do the irritating work getting a proper crew and police backup to their location.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
The door opens into a bustling TV news station. Nobody seems to even notice that Wilford has stepped out of the conference room with someone who doesn't belong. There's a heated argument about frogs taking place somewhere across the room, and just a general sense of chaos.

"You packing?" Wilford asks as he quickly checks his phone for the time.

Not that it matters. In the light, his black eye is more than obvious, and he won't be going in front of a camera until it clears up enough to cover with makeup.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
As it happens, Nichola had a secret special gift for getting people to trust her. Wilford knew this already, of course. Which is why he skipped all the bullshit with Nichola this time, and brought her in from the start, rather than letting her glare at him angrily from across the station for the next few months. She still didn’t trust him, and wouldn’t until after the story went to air, but that was fine. She would, eventually.

Having Nichola on the story early freed Wilford up for other things. He’d thought this would be a good thing, but he couldn’t rush the story any more than he had, or else he’d risk changing his entire trajectory. He needed to be at certain places at certain times over the next twelve years. If he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, he’d lose sight of the whole reason he opened the old save. Or worse, he’d completely move the finish line and screw things up for himself a decade down the road.

Suddenly, Wilford found himself with a lot of spare time. It wouldn’t have been too big of a problem if he also didn’t have an empty bank account. Which came right back around to the problem he already had. Last time, he didn’t have the time to get bored. And when he did find himself with some free time, he had outlets for it. Even with an empty bank account, the right shirt and tight pair of jeans in the right club were as good as a guarantee that he’d find some way to get fed and have a little fun. This time, as he stared into the abyss of an empty refrigerator, Wilford couldn’t bring himself to walk into his bedroom and open his closet. The idea of trying to hit up a club disgusted him. Even if he did get past the initial revulsion and get dressed properly, and get through the door to whatever random club he picked at random, he wouldn’t be able to follow through. But he had to do something, because every time he opened his fridge or the cupboards, they stubbornly remained empty. Eventually, just to get out of the cycle of flipping between the eight channels he got on TV and trying to find a box of crackers that simply wasn’t there, he grabbed his keys and left his apartment into the night. He walked right past his car, because he had no idea where he was going and he needed to keep the tank full to get to work, and headed out toward the street. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in his neighbourhood, and phone apps hadn’t been invented yet, so finding something was more of a matter of luck, or knowing the right people. Wilford had very little luck, and didn’t know many people, since the sort of people who organised games tended to be the sort of people who liked to barge in whenever they felt like it.

Eventually, after hopping enough fences and cutting through enough shady parking lots and back alleys, he found something that sounded like a suitable amount of noise. He wandered over to find about a dozen people standing in some back lot, surrounding two people beating the shit out of one another on the ground. The guy was covering his face and curled up on his side, like he wasn’t expecting a woman half his size to be able to so easily hand him his own ass. Finally, he gave up and tapped out, staggering to his feet and keeping his head down while everyone laughed at him. The woman picked up her cash from the ground and walked off, clearing the space for the next pair.

“New guy has to fight,” someone said.

Wilford wasn’t surprised. That was usually how things went, even if you accidentally wandered in and tried to wander right out. He shrugged out of his jacket and took his glasses off, hiding them safely in the pocket before hanging it up on the fence.

“I’ve got five bucks. That’s all,” he said, pulling the wad of singles from his wallet and showing it empty after. The guy in charge shrugged, and pointed to the ground. Obediently, Wilford dropped the cash and stepped back, slipping his wallet back into his pocket.

Another guy stepped forward and matched his five, seeming confident in the way he sized Wilford up. Wilford knew he didn’t have the size, but he didn’t need it. He just needed to be quicker. The other guy was taller than him, but no more in shape, so he felt confident. These back-alley fight clubs were good for some quick cash, but not a whole lot of fun. It was all a bunch of retail workers and call centre slaves looking to blow off some steam. Nobody who really knew how to fight, on the whole.

The match was quick. The other guy almost knew what he was doing, but he kept over-compensating and pretending he knew a lot more than he did. While there were no illegal moves in clubs like this, there was a tendency to be generally decent and not just take the round with a quick kick to the balls, but this guy tried to be above board the entire time. All it meant for him was that his stance was too wide, and he was easily knocked off balance, and then all Wilford had to do was kick him in the side a few times to get him to tap out. Wilford took his cash from the ground and stepped back to watch the next fight. Though nothing was officially structured, everything moved like it was. Fights stayed pretty evenly matched, with nobody going out of their way to throw down on someone twice their size for an easy win. A few people got cocky, and challenged up, but those matches ended quickly, and were far between.

An hour later, he had $50 in his pocket, and a black eye to show for it. As these things tended to do, the club broke up naturally, as people ran out of steam to keep going. Wilford grabbed his jacket from the fence and headed off to find somewhere to spend some of it. There were a few crap fast-food restaurants that might still be open, and if not, the 24/7 would have something on the grill he could take home. And he’d have enough cash to get him through the rest of the week until pay day.

He didn’t know if he’d forgotten just how awful that felt, or if it just hadn’t been this bad the first time around.

It probably had not been this bad. Even if he didn’t want to think about why.

Wilford hopped over fences and cut across dark streets, eager to get some dinner and go home. He didn’t hear the other footsteps until it was too late, and they were right on top of him. Someone grabbed him by the front of the shirt, and shoved him against the wall. There were two of them - some of the bigger fighters from the club who had apparently followed him - but Wilford didn’t immediately recognise them.

“Cash. Now,” the one still standing back said.

“Fuck you. Get off me,” Wilford said, trying to kick off of the wall.

The other guy was bigger than him. A lot bigger. He leaned his weight against Wilford, pinning him against the wall. His arm pressed into Wilford’s neck, not in quite the right spot to properly choke him. It didn’t matter though, because Wilford still couldn’t breathe. This guy was too close, and Wilford couldn’t move away, no matter how hard he tried to kick away. The second guy stepped forward and tried to reach for Wilford’s wallet, but as soon as he got close enough, Wilford managed to land a single kick to his knee. The punch in the face he got for his effort hurt worse than anything else he’d been hit with that night, because he got it from both sides - the fist right on the side of his face, and his head slamming against the brick wall behind him. Wilford couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He wasn’t even aware of pulling his gun from his inventory until he heard the shot. Everyone stood stunned for a moment, until the guy holding him against the wall staggered backwards. It gave Wilford enough room to slip away, and when he raised his gun at the second guy, his hand was so shaky the bullet went high over his head. It didn’t matter though. He’d got his point across, and turned to run. He didn’t look back to see if he was being followed, and just ran straight to his apartment. Once inside, he bolted every single one of the locks on his door, and collapsed against it a few seconds later. He still couldn’t breathe, and everything was still twirling around in his vision, and greying out on the edges. He had blood on him that wasn’t his. He dropped his revolver on the floor as soon as he realised he was still holding it. As badly as his hand was shaking, he was likely to accidentally fire it and shoot himself.

He stayed there for so long, his back cramped up and his legs started to fall asleep. He got up shakily and moved the few steps across the room to the sofa, where he immediately collapsed. Wilford hated himself. He hated that he lost his shit over a simple mugging. He hated that he couldn’t defend himself, when not a half hour earlier, he’d been having plenty of fun fighting people for money. That had to stop. He had to do something about it. It meant he’d have to change more things, but in this case, it was worth the risk.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Wilford was idly clicking around his email when he was startled by a cardboard box being dropped next to him on his desk.

“I’m in,” Nichola said, stealing Kevin’s empty seat and sitting down.

Wilford looked at her, momentarily too tired to understand what she was talking about. And then he looked at the box, and slowly caught up.

“Oh? What’s changed your mind?” he asked.

“Because I know you’re up to something,” Nichola said. “And you’re going to be my ticket out of the script room.”

The script room, like the website room, was just another large, partitioned-off section on the same floor, where eager, young hopefuls had their spirits broken. Nichola was wasted in there. Wilford knew it the first time around, and it was no different this time. Only this time, he had the advantage, and was able to get her to join his sinister little team much sooner than before.

“I might be,” he said.

He started fingering through the box of notes, photographs, tapes, and everything else Nichola had managed to gather off the clock. She’d collected a lot of information; more than he remembered.

“Your place, or mine?” he asked, pushing the box closer to her.

Nichola shook her head. “No,” she said firmly. “If you think I’m going to-”

“We can’t do this here,” Wilford pointed out. “If shit-for-brains thinks I’m recruiting, the whole thing will go to someone else who’ll just fuck it up.”

Nichola still didn’t seem convinced. “I know what you’re like.”

“Oh? What am I like?” She wasn’t wrong. Or at least, she wouldn’t have been. Things were different this time, though not exactly by choice. The first thing Wilford had done after he reset was to block and delete about half a dozen numbers from his phone so he didn’t have to go through the hassle of ending everything like a goddamn adult.

She glowered at him, and finally picked up her box and stood. “My room mate goes to bed early. Your place.”

Wilford watched her walk off after that, surprised she’d agreed so readily.

Four hours later, he was surprised to see her waiting in the garage near his car. He was also surprised she hadn’t keyed it, though he wasn’t sure why that surprised him.

“I’ll follow you,” she said.

“Passenger door doesn’t open anyway,” Wilford said as he got his keys out. The driver’s side door also didn’t open correctly from the outside, forcing him to open the back door and snake around to open the front door from the inside. “And there are bees over on that side.” He hadn’t taken care of the bees yet, because he was pretty sure they’d become structurally integral by that point.

Nichola rolled her eyes at him as he made his way awkwardly into his car, and got into her own car, which was in far better condition than his. The way she waited, it was almost as if she expected him to take twenty minutes to get the engine going. But when it started right up, Wilford stuck his tongue out at her and backed out of his space to lead the way to his apartment. He led the way out of DC, trusting her to keep up on the freeway as they drove toward Fairfax. Evening traffic was about the same as it always was, causing Wilford to have to pull over at one point to let Nichola catch back up after someone decided to taxi a jet the wrong way down the freeway. She found him eventually, and soon they were able to get off the freeway and onto the surface streets, which were no less hectic. But the average speed was at least a lot slower, making it easier to stick together. In theory, anyway. After he’d lost her for the third time, Wilford began to think that he probably should have fought off a few bees for her to just ride with him. But this way, he wouldn’t have to deal with driving her back to the station to get her car.

They got to his building without being killed by one of the many maniacs out on the roads, and he even offered to take her box of information, but she refused, apparently still not exactly convinced this was the right thing to be doing. Instead, he led her up to the door and let her in, pointing at the stacks of his own notes he hadn’t bothered to organise or put away yet.

“This is where you live?” Nichola asked incredulously.

“What’s wrong with it?” Wilford asked.

He didn’t have much. A small TV in the corner, and an old sofa on the opposite wall, making the living room seem needlessly large, despite how small it was. A card table in the dining room was buried in mail he refused to look at. And that was about it.

“I expected more, I don’t know. Everything?”

“Thanks,” Wilford said flatly. He shut the door behind her, only locking the top two locks, instead of all five like he’d normally do. While Nichola found a place on the floor to start sorting out her own notes, Wilford kicked off his shoes at the door and went to the kitchen.

“I have Pißwasser, or… red something.” He picked up the pitcher, completely unable to remember what sort of drink he’d mixed up in it, or when. “Maybe not the red.”

“I’ll take a beer,” Nichola said.

Wilford grabbed two bottles and used his lighter to pop off the lids, letting them drop on the counter to be collected later. As he handed one to Nichola, he sat down to start nosing through what she’d brought. She had about a dozen micro-cassettes, and a few mini-CDs, which Wilford set aside to look through later.

“What’s this?” Nichola asked, picking up the tape he’d shot with Billy.

“We found him,” Wilford said, pointing to his TV, and the VCR on top of it.

“We?” She hesitantly got up and fed the tape into the VCR. It hadn’t been rewound since Wilford had used it as his get out of jail free card, but Nichola seemed almost hesitant to try. Finally, she rewound it just a few seconds before hitting play. Wilford and Billy were still bumbling about out in the woods, starting to give up on the night when something caused the film to go static-y. Wilford saw him first, but Billy was quick to spin around and get a glimpse of Slenderman on film. While Wilford shouted at the giant monster, Slenderman seemed poised to attack, but decided to beat a hasty retreat instead, leaving the two of them a little startled, but otherwise alive out in the dark.

“How in the fuck?” Nichola asked.

Wilford just gave her a big, fake smile. “Now you know how I got the story,” he said.

“No fucking kidding,” Nichola agreed. “I was ready to believe the rumours that you blew shit-for-brains.”

“Ew.” Not this time. Not the first time.

He got up to grab his laptop and tape player from the couch, and started with Nichola’s mini-CDs first. She had a few clips that might have had glimpses of long, black tentacles and a blank face, or might have just been weird lighting. The micro-cassettes were hasty interviews with people who didn’t want to talk to her, but she was persistent, and managed to get little snatches of information out here and there. While he sifted through her information, she did the same with what he’d managed to gather. Slowly, they began to actually organise it, grouping their notes together where information overlapped or sources were the same. Two hours in, Wilford called Billy and convinced him to come over, and bring some dinner for the three of them. It wasn’t until he mentioned Nichola being there that Billy agreed, but he did take his sweet time showing up.

By midnight, they’d got through half of the notes, all of Wilford’s beer, and the entire stack of McDonald’s junk Billy had brought over. None of them got any sleep that night, and while it was nothing new for Wilford, the other two seemed to regret this by the time they noticed the sun had started to peek over the trees outside.

“Oh, shit,” Nichola hissed, quickly getting to her feet. She looked over the organised chaos spread across Wilford’s floor like she wasn’t sure what to do with any of it.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Wilford told her.

She hesitated just a bit before nodding. She still didn’t trust him not to just steal it all, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to, and she’d know that soon enough.

“There’s some instant coffee. There,” Wilford said, pointing to the kitchen. “Cups are in the dish washer.” He only had two mugs, but that was fine. He could last until he got to the station. He usually did.

Nichola nodded again and went to the kitchen. A few seconds later, Billy got up to follow her. The two of them were silent as they microwaved their water and searched Wilford’s barren cupboards for the small jar of coffee. Wilford waited until it sounded like they were nearly done to start picking up beer bottles and food wrappers, taking them all to the trash. Billy and Nichola were both standing silently in the kitchen, staring at their coffee like they’d rather be crawling into bed.

“I thought this was over when I graduated,” Nichola said eventually.

Wilford shook his head and laughed. “Not if you want to get out of the script room, it’s not,” he said as he headed to his bedroom to find some clean clothes.
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The look on Billy’s face was pure surprise and relief. In fact, Wilford was even surprised they didn’t lose their jobs. But Wilford knew how to play his cards, and when to play them. He’d been sitting on the tape from that night out in the woods for weeks now, waiting for the right opportunity to use it. Defending a stolen news van, and tens of thousands of dollars of equipment was the right moment. The outrage quickly shifted from a van being stolen by thugs, to a van being stolen by employees.

Although technically Billy was salary, and therefore never truly off the clock, and was always in possession of the keys, so it wasn’t really stealing at all.

And anyway, that tape was pure gold. It took some convincing to get it queued up, but only five seconds to convince the world’s worst station master of its worth. Wilford knew it would work. Billy hadn’t been so sure, even after they were let out of the office with a warning to sign equipment out next time.

“How did you know that would work?” Billy asked once they were in the elevator back down to the ground floor.

Wilford flashed him the fakest of fake smiles. “I told you. I’m fucking awesome.”

Billy did not see convinced, but Wilford didn’t care.

“This story’s gonna be huge. Anybody who works on it will be able to go wherever they want,” Wilford told him. “Starting with away from here.”

Billy still seemed unconvinced, but Wilford left him to figure everything out for himself and returned to his desk

“I heard you got jacked. What happened?” Kevin asked before Wilford could even sit down.

Wilford paused just long enough to make sure Kevin understood how stupid he sounded. “We got jacked.”

“Oh.” It took him a second to apparently realise that his question had not been answered. “Yeah, but. I mean. How bad was it?”

“I’ll live.”

“Man, what kind of reporter are you, that you can’t share the details?” Kevin asked.

“What? And give you ideas?” Wilford watched Kevin twist himself in knots, trying to find yet another way to ask what happened without repeating himself. He thought he might have a shot at the record until they were both suddenly interrupted.

“You slimy son of a bitch!” someone hissed at him loudly enough to make him jump.

Wilford turned around to see another young reporter stepping into the shared cubicle. Like him, she’d been shoved aside and her talents squandered. Also like him, she’d planned on doing something about it. Nichola invaded every inch of Wilford’s space, pushing him uncomfortably up against his desk.

“Can I help you?” Wilford asked, not even having to pretend to be shocked at the sudden aggression. He’d forgotten that Nichola hadn’t just woken up one day and decided to hate everyone. She’d always hated everyone from the day she was born.

“I’ve been trying to convince him to run that story for months. How did you walk in there and have him just give it to you?” Nichola demanded.

“I got stabbed today. The pitty angle works great,” Wilford said.

Nichola moved her hand like she wished she had something else to stab him with. Or like she was trying to resist pulling something stabby out of her inventory.

“That was supposed to be mine,” she said through her teeth.

Wilford wondered if she did have something sharp in her inventory. A broadsword probably, knowing her. She seemed the sort to carry one of those around.

“You must know an awful lot about it, then,” he said. “Probably more than I do.”

“No. You don’t get to steal my story, and then steal my work on it as well,” Nichola said. Again, it seemed like she really wanted to stab him with something. Wilford tried to put a bit of distance between them, but his desk was very much in the way and not letting him move very far.

“No, I didn’t know it was yours,” Wilford lied. “You must have worked hard on it. Months, you say? And you’re sure you don’t want to work on the story with me?”

“Oh, you’ve got some nerve, pal.”

She moved like she was pulling something from her inventory. Wilford reacted quickly, guarding his sides against further abuse, but he didn’t act correctly. Rather than grabbing something, Nichola surprised him and slugged him in the jaw instead. A stunned silence hung over the area as Nichola stomped away, leaving Wilford holding his face like an idiot.

“I think she likes you,” Kevin said.

“Shut the fuck up,” Wilford said, turning back around so he didn’t have to look at Kevin.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Given to all the children Wilford pays to take care of the dog. And Jim.




Do not over feed this dog. He’s too stupid to know when he’s not hungry and will puke if fed outside this schedule. If he pukes, he’s your responsibility. I will not be blamed.

Breakfast (pick two):

- 1 can or pack of fish - tuna or salmon or whatever
- 1 egg - boiled or raw - he likes the shell
- 3-4 slices of bacon - raw

Lunch/Dinner (pick one):

- Chicken
- Beef
- Pork
- Fish

About the amount that would normally come with a rice or noodle dish. Cooking is optional

You can feed him snacks, but be prepared for him to puke. If he pukes, he gets another meal, but no more snacks. He is a dog; not a celebrity chef. Don’t bother trying to impress him with sauce or seasoning. None of that dog food shit. Not unless you want to clean up dog mess everywhere. He likes trash. Don’t let him eat it. He gets soup bones sometimes. Absolutely no bones otherwise. You can throw a few noodles at him if you want to watch him be stupid. He gets minimal table scraps. Do not let anybody else feed him, no matter how much they complain about how skinny he is.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Wilford probably should not have left the dog at the bar. But going through the hassle of finding a place to keep the dog, or trying to hide it in his tiny DC apartment would be more time, money, and hassle than it would probably be worth. But he still should not have left the dog at the bar. Thor had assured him that it would be fine, and that no harm would come to the useless animal, but assurances from a stranger meant exactly nothing, especially when Wilford knew the power of spite in someone who believes they’ve been wronged. He knew it from himself well enough to have been able to recognise it in Jim Moriarty.

Well. If that fucker wanted to cross that line, he’d get to find out first hand just how much Wilford dislikes people messing with his things. And lucky for Jim, he’d probably get the chance to experience that, because Wilford actually had work to do, and the bar was fickle about showing up for him these days. And that in and of itself was a problem, beyond the dog. But also a problem to deal with when it arose.

As it was, Wilford had some decisions to make that were easier this time around, but still not as easy as he’d expected them to be. He liked his mohawk, and his fuck-you fashion, and apparently hadn’t actually outgrown any of it as much as he thought he had. But the fuck-you fashion to match his attitude was past its sell-by date, and had to go if he was going to pull this plan of his off. It was time to be a proper adult again. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the spare cash to have someone professional take care of it, so it was down to himself, a pair of clippers, and the bathroom mirror. It took some time, and a bit of careful patience, but eventually he got everything trimmed down to an even fade that didn’t leave his head completely shaved down. It still had a bit of a boot camp vibe to it, but at least it would grow out to something a little more decent within a few weeks. Usually that was a problem, but just this once it was a blessing. Now, all he had to do was go back to work, playing the role of the eager young reporter, and wait for the right cue to act. He hadn’t been able to save any notes or information, but he knew what he was looking for, and that it was getting close. He just had to be patient and play the game. He hadn’t been good at it the first time round. Maybe he’d have got better at it by this time.

He hadn’t got better. That, or people were more obnoxious this time round. Things couldn’t have changed that much so soon, so maybe he had just erased every memory of shit-talk and teasing over his sudden decision to lose the mohawk. When he got his next paycheck, he put every spare penny of it into some decent shirts, so he wasn’t constantly cycling through the same two. He got a pack of proper undershirts, so band art and beer logos weren’t showing through the light-coloured ones. He found a few more neckties he’d hated the first time around – either because of who gave them to him, the colour scheme, or both – and found they suited his tastes quite nicely this time. He hadn’t realised just how much the colour pink as a general concept had grown on him. And back at the station, he ignored the teasing and the “good-natured” ribbing from people who noticed what he was doing, and couldn’t stand the thought of him getting out of the trenches. He had something planned for every last one of them.

He got a new assignment. Then another. And another. And none as good as his first, only because the first had been a fluke. Nobody expected Holby to be the centre of controversy when they sent him there in a bizarre hazing stunt. Nobody expected the kitten circus to be the centre of controversy either, but this time they were right. Another shelter having an adoption day. A puppy that fell down a storm drain. The mysterious case of a cat with six different homes. All the crap they showed during the last three minutes, after everyone had turned the channel because the sports scores and weather reports had already been read. Fluff pieces to fill the time before the network switched back over to national programming.

Maybe it was a good thing the dog was at the bar, and Wilford wasn’t, because his patience for things cute and furry was a negative number before the end of the week.

Not that things were all bad, though even the things that were ostensibly good had a way of being horrible. Wilford was typing up a piece for the website when his boss showed up beside his cube, with that stupid, clueless grin on his face.

“Good news, buddy,” he said, putting his hand down with a smack on Wilford’s shoulder. “Finally got you that replacement.”

Wilford wanted to point out that he wasn’t the one who needed the replacement. He wanted to point out that he should have been given a raise for all the extra work he’d been doing in lieu of an actual replacement. But he knew how those scenarios ended, so he flash a painfully fake smile up at his boss.

“Oh? Tell me more,” he said.

Kevin stepped around the cube partition, looking over the space that was meant to be shared by three people, but which Wilford currently had to himself. Wilford had almost forgotten how stupid Kevin looked, with his poorly-maintained dye job. Bright blue roots shone through the jet black dye, and his eyebrows were an absolute mess.

“You two have fun,” the idiot boss said, before walking off. And once upon a time, that guy wondered why Wilford had fucked his wife. To anyone with half a brain, it was clear as day.

That was also a lesson in how not to behave around other people, and one which Wilford got loud and clear. After a few repetitions.

“Your mascara’s running,” Wilford said as Kevin took a seat on the other side of the large cube.

“What? Shit.” Kevin quickly dove into the satchel he’d had with him, and pulled out a small mirror to check for himself.

“You could have at least touched up your roots. You look like a goddamn moron,” Wilford said. “Did you actually do your interview looking like that?”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Kevin shot back as he tried to fix the mess his mascara was making on his face.

Wilford finally turned around properly from his computer to face Kevin. “Oh, fucking try me, bitch,” he said, arms crossed over his chest.

Kevin looked up and snorted in a way that completely gave away the fact that he was trying not to laugh and poked himself in the eye with his mascara wand, undermining whatever stance he was trying to make.

“Put that thing away and strip that shit out of your hair. You aren’t fooling anybody but yourself,” Wilford said.

Kevin did not put his makeup away, though he did stop to rub his eye, and smear what was already there even more. “Is that why you’re still in cube hell?”

It was Wilford’s turn to snort. “Didn’t you hear? You’re my replacement. I graduated to kitten circus hell.”

“What? No. I was told I was on the website team,” Kevin argued. “Who else is there?”

Wilford had an exaggerated think. “The webmaster’s actually off-site, but you knew that already, surely. And there’s… no, he quit last month. But there’s–uh. Oh. Just you. Congratulations.”

Kevin stared at him for a few long moments. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

“No, I’m fucking out of here.” Wilford quickly saved the article he was typing up to the network, and tossed the folder of notes across the cube to Kevin. “Which makes you head of the website department. Welcome to the worst fucking station in DC.”

Kevin stared down at the file where it landed on his keyboard. “Great,” he said flatly.

Wilford was not, in fact, out of anywhere, because he’d completely forgotten that he didn’t get moved to a different section along with his so-called promotion that still didn’t come with a pay raise. It meant he was stuck with Kevin, but at least this time around, he knew how to handle being in close proximity to him. Where harsh words didn’t work, a good kick to the knee did wonders. He also took great delight in sending Kevin off to someone else, to watch him irritate them right out of the building. If he’d known about that trick the first time around, it mightn’t have been so completely unbearable.

It took Kevin about two days before he came in with a brand new look, which also seemed to make things easier this time around. For some reason, people found it more difficult to tease him about his bright blue hair when it was out in the open, even if it had been bleached out and dyed a shade to closely match his natural colour. While Wilford did enjoy the teasing, it meant Kevin was less of a moody brat all the time, and a bit more like the irritating brat Kevin Wilford knew, and was able to predict.

And then he saw the little red flag he’d been waiting for. Kids disappeared all the time, but this was the one he remembered. This was the one with a witness nobody took seriously. According to the cops, the girl had run away. Case closed. Kids run away all the time. But Wilford knew that wasn’t true at all. He knew someone new had moved into the neighbourhood, and Wilford knew his signature.

He waited for the quiet lull between the lunch broadcast, and the 5pm broadcast to go find his new partner in crime, stuffing his face with a sandwich and playing with a portable video game.

“What time does it get dark?” Wilford asked him, leaning over the back of Billy’s chair to see what he was playing. There was a second half of the sandwich sitting in a Tupperware container, and Wilford helped himself to it.

“Uh. I don’t know. Six? Seven?” Billy said. “That was mine.”

“Great. I’ll see you then.”

Billy shook his head and grabbed Wilford’s sleeve to keep him from wandering off. “Hang on. See me for what?”

“Don’t tell me you went to school to film orphaned kittens your whole life,” Wilford said.

It brought a look of mild indignation to Billy’s face, but Wilford already knew why. Billy had gone to school hoping to be a war correspondent. But a civilian or not, he was a towering giant of a man, and made an embarrassingly easy target for anyone wanting to stir up trouble.

“No. I didn’t,” he said.

“Good. Because I have got one hell of a lead, and it’s going to get us the hell out of this sinking ship,” Wilford said.

Billy looked at him suspiciously. “Why me?” he asked.

Wilford shrugged. “Because you want to.”

He walked away after that, leaving Billy to consider the choice. Last time, he hadn’t had the advantage of knowing which buttons to press, and it had taken him all day to hound him into submission. This time, Wilford knew he had him. When he went down to the garage at dusk, he wasn’t in the least surprised to see Billy hanging around nervously.

“Care to tell me where we’re going?” he asked.

Wilford hopped into the van and grinned. “To catch ourselves a monster.”
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Someone kept resetting. He felt like he'd transcribed the same sentence eight hundred times – and he probably had. He just couldn't remember actually doing it. He'd only got back from lunch a half hour ago, according to the clock, but a niggling sensation at the back of his mind was telling him otherwise. His ears ached from the headphones crammed into them, not quite drowning out the sounds of everyone else in the other nearby cubes getting vocally angry with the persistent feeling of déjà vu. Just knowing that he’d been sitting there, practically unmoving for hours, made his back ache as if he had actually been sitting there all day.

And it was all made worse by the fact that he wasn't even supposed to be transcribing poorly-recorded scene interviews. It wasn't what he was hired to do, but apparently the words "junior reporter" meant something else entirely at AFC.

Minutes dragged on as hours as the entire building was stuck in the reset loop. Nobody could tell when it was starting, or when the reset kept happening, but everyone could feel it. Once or twice was normal. Everyone indulged from time to time, to keep that coffee from spilling on the keyboard, or to make it to that meeting on time. That wasn’t what resets were for, but nobody cared. What they absolutely were not for was endlessly starting over every time something didn't quite go exactly to plan. The more it happened, the more everyone else could feel it. The clocks may have all but stopped, but clocks didn't get tired and sore after sitting in the same chair for hours. They didn't get eye strain from looking at a flickering monitor while trying to listen to someone mumble underneath wind noise. They didn't feel the extra time of repeated resets. A person could literally grow old and die from resetting the same five minutes again and again.

"Warfstache," a stern voice barked from above as a folder fell on the keyboard.

Wilford jumped sharply and bit hard on his tongue to keep from saying anything he might want to reset from. He wondered if this had happened already, or if it was new, and the reset was finally over.

"Congratulations. Your first assignment," the senior editor said before walking away quickly.

Wilford moved quickly, not sure if the reset loop was actually over, or if this was just a cruel trick. He pulled off his headphones and threw open a drawer where he kept a couple of neckties just in case he actually, finally was given an assignment. He remembered getting the one on top, as some sort of mean-spirited joke. At the time, he hated it, which is why it wound up crammed in the drawer in the first place. Looking at it now — black, with pink racing stripes — he found he actually rather liked the look of it. Maybe this time around, he’d hold onto it. He snatched it out of the drawer and quickly rushed out of the room, hoping to get away from whoever had decided to put the entire station in a choke hold.

He wondered if he'd done this before as well.

The pool of camera operators hung out closer to the newsroom. They looked just as miserable down there as everyone upstairs had. That couldn’t have been a good sign. Wilford found the man he wanted playing some loud Flash game on a computer, and gave him a nudge.

“Come on. We got work to do.”

Billy looked up at him with confusion and relief quickly trading places across his face. “Thank god,” he said, quickly getting up to fetch his gear. “I haven’t seen you down here before. Are you new?”

“Not exactly.” Wilford didn’t waste any time in getting out of the building, and neither did Billy. They made quick tracks out to the garage and into a waiting van. As Billy tore out of the garage a little too quickly, Wilford put on his tie and used the visor mirror to try to flatten his hair to something a little more professional-looking than a mohawk.

It wasn't until they were a few blocks away, and Wilford was properly in his seat and not in danger of falling out onto the floor, that they finally resumed a semblance of calm after their mad dash for freedom. Clocks were moving again, and the air didn't feel stale and heavy, as it had inside. No longer within the sphere of influence of the unknown resetting bastard, everything was once again back to normal.

"So, where are we going?" Billy asked as he cut off a Prius.

Wilford finally opened the folder, already knowing exactly what was inside. "Let's find out, shall we?" he said slowly, reading over the brief sheet in front. "Holby Medical Centre," he read aloud. "To interview one Doctor Nigel Burke, and someone upstairs thinks they’re real fucking funny.”

"What do you mean?"

Wilford slammed the folder shut and tossed it into the foot-well. "Who have you pissed off lately? It seems someone at Holby is leaning on the reset button."

The drive from that point on was a quiet one, but it was far from peaceful. Billy drove like a maniac through busy streets, using the size of the news van to muscle into spaces he couldn’t fit into, while Wilford tried to think back to the first time he’d done this. People like to say that you don’t forget your first assignment, but you do. You forget everything about it, because it’s usually this sort of hazing bullshit meant to make you quit before they have to start giving you real stories. But Wilford couldn’t actually remember any of the real details. Anything he thought he remembered could have just been implanted from the brief he’d just read. He’d just have to wing it, like he did the first time. And he did remember the outcome, so winging it had worked.

As he worked through scenarios in the passenger seat of a speeding news van, Wilford became increasingly aware of the sideways glances he was getting from Billy. He was able to ignore it at first, but it soon became a needling sensation that bored straight through him.

"Keep it to yourself, Billy," Wilford warned.

"I–" The cameraman was suddenly focused intently on the road straight ahead of him. "My name's not Billy."

"Of course it is," Wilford said, reaching up to straighten his moustache. Not that it needed it with the amount of forming cream he used, but this was going to be his first impression to the people who made the real decisions. He had to look good.

As soon as they reached the hospital, Wilford left the van to pace around the parking lot for a few moments. He straightened his tie, and and made sure his glasses were clean, hoping he didn't look like he'd spent all day stuck in an endless reset loop. But the air felt heavy here, too. It was a hospital, after all, so the sphere of influence would be much bigger than some moron somewhere in a news building. If it were one of the doctors resetting, dozens of people would be directly affected every time. And that affect would ripple outward, like rings from a boulder being dropped into a very large lake. Eventually, they'd settle and fade, but not until they got far enough away.

Wilford turned around to make sure Billy hadn't just taken off and left him there. Even the smallest differences could change everything, making Wilford extra conscious of everything he did. Almost surprisingly, Billy had the camera on his shoulder and was ready to go, taking step after step backwards to try to get Wilford in frame.

“Knock it off, I’m not that short,” Wilford scolded. Eventually, cameras would get smaller and be mounted on gimbals, making Billy’s absurd height less of a problem. For now, there was the hood of the van. Wilford pointed at it and stepped in front of the van while Billy framed his shot. “You need to learn to shoot from the hip.”

“This thing weighs half a ton,” Billy argued as he set up the shot for the intro segment.

Wilford got through it quickly, ignoring the niggling feeling that he’d done it a dozen times before. As soon as he finished, Billy packed up the camera and they trudged across the parking lot like they were facing Everest, determined to make it inside before they were blipped back out to the van. The vague worry that it had already been happening hung on Wilford's mind, even as they walked through the entrance and up to the reception desk. The blue-haired woman who looked up to greet them did so with a cheer so false, it was clear she'd been there at least sixteen hours. Probably more.

"Are you who I think you are?" she asked in a squeaky voice.

Wilford unclipped his press pass from his belt and slid it across the counter with his index finger. "Wilford Warfstache," he confirmed, before cocking a thumb over his shoulder. "And my cameraman, Billy."

"My name's not Billy," Billy said again.

Wilford ignored him completely, and smiled the same falsely cheerful smile down at the receptionist.

"Doctor Burke should be out of surgery any minute now," she said flatly as she pointed down the hall on her left. "His office is down there. Take the elevator to the third floor. Follow the signs after that."

She slid Wilford's pass back across the counter to him, along with a clipboard. He took his pass, signed his name, and turned to find the man he was supposed to interview. As he and Billy made it to the elevator, Wilford began to wonder why it felt like he'd been on his feet all day. As he pressed the button to call the car down, he was hit with a sudden feeling of stupidity. If the hospital was Everest, Dr Burke's office was the summit. And it was going to take days to get there. Wilford looked over at Billy, and saw that he had come to the same conclusion. Then, he wondered how many times he'd come to the same conclusion. A quick glance to his watch told him that it was a perfectly reasonable hour in the middle of the afternoon, but every fibre of Wilford's being was telling him that it was well past midnight.

But instead of giving up and going home, like he suspected he was expected to, Wilford stepped onto the elevator as soon as the doors opened, and mashed the button for the third floor, powered by pure fuck-you determination to get this right. By the time they finally reached Burke's office, it felt like it had taken a week to get there. But amazingly, they needed only wait a few minutes before the completely unassuming man in blue scrubs walked cheerily up towards them. Wilford hated him immediately.

"Wilford Warfstache," he introduced with all the false candour he could muster, holding his hand out.

Dr Burke took his hand, shaking a little too vigorously. "Nigel. Come. Have a seat," he said, his accent implacable, other than stereotypically English.

As soon as Dr Burke turned to unlock his office door, Wilford turned round to look at Billy, mouthing the words 'Roll it'. Billy was just as fast and smooth as he’d always been. He reached up to turn on his camera, holding it nonchalantly on his shoulder as if to just carry its massive weight. By the time Dr Burke's office was unlocked and the three of them were inside, Wilford's false charm was plastered over his face, obvious to anyone who didn't have their head completely up their ass.

"Is this about the space station?" Burke asked as he sat down behind the huge desk.

Wilford hadn't got that far into the file, but he nodded all the same. "Of course," he said slowly. "It was your idea, wasn’t it?"

He played along, asking vague questions and letting Dr Burke ramble on about this new project. Slowly, Wilford transitioned the interview to more terrestrial topics, asking questions about the hospital itself.

“Just one more question, before we go,” Wilford said after a believable amount of time had passed.

Burke held his hands out, opening himself up in either complete ignorance, or utterly false innocence. "Go ahead," he said.

"Precisely how many times did you brutally murder your patient today?" Wilford asked.

Burke's entire demeanour changed. He sat up stiffly, gawping like a big mouth bass in blue scrubs. "I–I–I mean–"

"Because if I had to guess, going off of the rings around your otherwise lovely receptionist's eyes, not to mention the amount of time it took to make it up to the third floor, I'd say you've been going at it at least eighteen hours."

Burke shook his head frantically. "No, you don't understand–"

"And presumably, you've left someone else to close, so you could be here for your big interview about this alleged space station, am I right?" Wilford continued. "Eighteen hours is awfully long for something routine, especially when you're only halfway done. Wouldn't you agree?"

Burke continued to gawp and stutter, until he looked over at Billy. "Is that on? Is he recording?"

Burke lunged for the telephone on his desk, but before he could even dial the first number, Wilford was rushing Billy out the door and back down to the elevator. They zipped right past the dozing receptionist, breaking into a full run as soon as they were back outside. But instead of getting back into the van to make their escape, Wilford stopped, and made sure Billy had the lens trained on him.

"And there you have it, folks. Doctor Nigel Burke, world renowned surgeon here at Holby, isn't all he's cracked up to be. Unless you want to spend twenty hours on your next tonsillectomy, you might want to consider finding a new medial provider. This has been Wilford Warfstache–"

A banging and a chorus of shouts behind him cut him off abruptly. Turning, he saw a trio of security guards pouring out of the hospital's front doors. It took them only a moment to spot Wilford and Billy, but they had the advantage of their van. Before the security guards could get to them, Billy was already peeling out of the parking lot, once again leaving Wilford to hang on for his life as he tried to get settled in his seat.

Even as they took sharp corners back out onto the street, Wilford wondered why Burke had called security at all, instead of just resetting to avoid the meeting. Watching the security guards give up their chase through the wing mirror, Wilford realised exactly why.

"All that, and he didn't even remember to save when he was done," he said.

Billy laughed as he checked the mirrors for any remaining security guards, but they were all doubled over in breathless agony far behind them.

"If I'd spent all day fucking something up, saving would be the first thing I'd do," Billy said.

Wilford had to laugh at the whole thing. It had been absurd from start to finish, but he let himself relax into his seat as they made their way back to the station, knowing he'd be getting something out of pulling off the impossible.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
It was undeniably the same person. There had been a lot of resets during the Slender Man story, but there had also been a lot of déjà vu. Wilford had just ignored it at the time, because it was a difficult story, especially for someone with effectively zero field experience. For a long time, he’d assumed the reach was just farther than he’d originally realised.

But it wasn’t. It had just been him and Billy, the entire time. They didn’t have the crew they had now. They didn’t have help. But they did have competition. Wilford remembered that now – or at least, he thought he remembered that. All of the resets and going back and forth and chronic déjà vu had muddied everything about the story, but there was someone else. And Wilford knew he had reported on this man’s death. It should have been permanent, if that were the case. But something had happened. Someone had opened up an old save and undid everything.

But who?

It couldn’t have been the same guy who had broken into Freddy Fazbear’s. The other guy had already been the victim of an Event. And Events are unavoidable once they happen. That’s why they’re Events.

Unless someone opens up a save so old, it pre-dates everything leading up to it. Then anything’s fair game.

Save scumming is one of those things everybody knows about, but nobody ever encounters. There’s always a friend of a friend of a friend who knows somebody, but the farther back you trace that thread, the more distant the friend who knows somebody becomes. Nobody has ever been able to prove a single instance of save scumming. Ever. By its very nature, it’s completely untraceable. But it is noticeable. Do it too many times, or go back far enough, and you’ll begin to give yourself away. Just like this man had done.

Nobody said ‘swag’ back then. But why was that what stuck out so much in his mind? Swag. It stuck in his mind like a thorn. An odd anachronism that was the the key to unravelling the entire question.

Wilford knew the answer; he’d just been avoiding going down that path. He’d solved the puzzle, and he knew he was right. There wasn’t a shred of doubt about it in his mind. But there was a new challenge. Could he prove it? Could he be the first person to document a case of someone else save scumming?

That would sure be something, wouldn’t it?

There was only one way to prove it though. And Wilford was the only person on the planet with the means to do so. But it wasn’t going to be fun. In fact, it would be hell. And there would be no going back.

He looked up at the dog where it stood trying to lick a hole through the wall, in the same spot as always. Such a stupid, pointless creature. It would be gone. Wilford would never have to see it again. He watched the dog ruin the paint on the wall and slapped his laptop shut. There were some things he’d have to take care of before opening his save log and going through with this completely idiotic plan.

Déjà Vu

Mar. 2nd, 2017 10:21 am
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Apparently werewolves were going to be the height of entertainment for a while. And wasn’t that a shame, because werewolves weren’t even that fun. Even the fallout with Bigby hadn’t been as satisfying as Wilford had wanted it to be. AFN had a bit of a reshuffle up top after Bigby was dragged away in a muzzle, but it was nothing even worth following.

Not personally, anyway. The website room worked a bit of overtime, but the shelf life was barely more than a week after they broke it. Wilford shouldn’t have let his boredom get in his way. He should have drawn it out and had more fun with it, but he’d been getting itchy. He needed to hurt someone before he managed to hurt himself.

Next time. He’d do it right next time. Which meant finding a next target. Unfortunately, he was met with nothing but dead ends as he poked around databases and servers he wasn’t supposed to be poking around in. Either everyone was behaving, or more likely, everyone was getting better at hiding their bad behaviour with word getting out that someone would actually be looking.

As he bumbled around back doors and shoddy security, he found a few barely-hidden login databases, but that wasn’t the sort of thing he was interested in. Even manufacturing a story about millions of stolen passwords wouldn’t have a satisfying payoff, no matter how mad the scramble to fix the issue would be. It might be something to keep an eye on, but if Eyefind couldn’t be bothered to even occasionally check that all of their user information was out in the open, they probably wouldn’t be very bothered over it all being stolen.

He was almost glad when his phone started buzzing from a text message. It gave him an excuse to give up, at least for a while. At first, he thought Billy had somehow gained remote perception, since all he’d sent was a single link to a CashForDreams listing. As soon as he clicked on it, Wilford saw right through Billy’s game. It was a weak play, even for him.

“Seriously?” he asked as he read the missing dog post. He looked up at where Buster was making a determined effort to lick a hole through the wall, and then back down at the picture on his phone. He wasn’t even going to pretend it wasn’t the same ugly dog. Apparently the dog had always been skinny as hell, except now it was taller and had fewer teeth.

Billy had to have known Wilford wasn’t going to drive all the way out to Red County to give it back, reward or no. Because it still wasn’t about the money; it was about idiots thinking they could use him for their own amusement.

Also, anybody who called their dog Lord Pancake Butterworth didn’t deserve to have a dog.

“I’d have run away too,” he said, locking his phone and deliberately not responding to Billy.

Buster cared about none of this. He continued to lick the same spot on the wall, as he’d been doing for the last three hours.

At the studio the next morning, Wilford mentioned none of this to Billy. He watched Billy and Nichola share exasperated glances, being as obvious as two human beings could possibly be. It was sickening, and Wilford wanted to see none of it. With Buster at his heels, dragging the baseball bat that was apparently his now, he retreated to his dressing room to continue his search for a worthwhile story.

Wilford couldn’t help but feel like he’d done this before. In fact he knew he had. It was that persistent feeling of déjà vu that told him none of this was new. He’d find himself reaching for something before he knew he wanted it, or knowing answers to questions he shouldn’t have known when people barged in on him throughout the day.

He almost felt stupid when he finally realised what was going on. It was actually a novel feeling to be on this side of it for once.

But why here? Why now? That’s what he couldn’t figure out. By the end of the day, everybody else in the studio seemed just as off-centre as Wilford, so it wasn’t any of them. They weren’t that good at lying. It must have been someone in the neighbouring studio, but they were a daytime talk show. What reason did anyone over there have to keep save scumming?

Wilford looked up several seconds before his door opened and Billy stepped inside uninvited. Even though he knew it was coming, Wilford tried to convey through an angry glare that knocking was appreciated. Stopped in the doorway, Billy gave Wilford a wary glance before slowly bringing a folder to Wilford’s desk.

“Give me that,” Wilford said, snatching it away.

He didn’t know what to expect inside the folder, but he knew he already knew what it was. The grainy photographs he found somehow weren’t surprising at all. He’d seen them before. He’d seen that face before.

For some reason, he seemed to think the owner of that face was dead.

‘Hit by a bus’ and ‘swag’ sprang to the forefront of his thoughts. Why the hell would that association be made to these photographs.

Wilford was sick of Freddy Fazbear’s. He wanted to put that story on the shelf and forget about it until something big happened. He didn’t care about some ghost breaking in at night.

Why did Wilford think this man was dead?

“Who is this?” he asked finally.

Billy shrugged. “We don’t know. But Kevin thought since it’s from Fazbear’s, you might be interested.”

“I’m fucking done with Fazbear’s,” Wilford said.

But he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the photographs. He couldn’t have possibly cared less about Fazbear’s, but the dead man had all of his attention.

Wilford knew his name. He just couldn’t remember what it was, or why he knew it in the first place. Or, most importantly, why he wasn’t dead.
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Wilford had expected this whole Uroboros thing to blow over, the way most of these stupid outbreaks do. Three days in, and it's obvious that isn't going to happen. Maybe if he hadn't taken the last of his sleeping pills, he could have at least avoided some of the endless nightmare that was a full-city lock down by sleeping through some of it, but nope. He got to be awake and conscious for every last minute of it.

When he finds the bar, he's glad for the change of scenery. He even lets the dog through, and shepherds it right outside again to let it run around while he goes to collapse by the fire. It's still being bored inside, but at least he's being bored inside somewhere else.
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Wilford never bothered doing anything as lame as making sure they had police backup when they were about to break a case wide open. It was far more rewarding to go in pretending to have no idea what they were stepping into, relying on Wilford’s awkward phrasing to pull a confession out of the wrong-doer in the hot seat. And Bigby was no exception. He was so certain he was going to get away with everything, he let pour decades of ill deeds before he even knew what he was saying. And the look on his face when he realised it was priceless. It was second only to the look on his face when nobody gave a shit about his threats, and packed up and walked out without a shot being fired.

Wilford liked being in the future of journalism, where recordings may have been local, but everything was also wirelessly transmitted to a van parked elsewhere. Bigby could have killed them all, but to what ends? Someone would have reset, and had even more dirt on him the next time around. His only chance was to run for the fucking hills before all this ‘brand new information’ was released to the cops.

That was always the best part.

He returned to the studio for just long enough to see everything safely delivered to the editors and change into something a little more casual, and suited to a night out. As he fetched up the dog from whoever had decided he wasn’t feeding it enough this time, he considered dropping it off back at home. But the damn thing refused to grasp the basic concept of not shitting all over the carpet, making leaving it at home, alone, an uncomfortable concept. He still had the stupid pink leash from the bar, so Wilford clipped it to the dog’s collar and just took it to the track with him. It was the first time he’d been back to the track since the night he turned Jim’s face into hamburger. Some of the runners had shuffled out, making Wilford take the time to actually look at the numbers, instead of being able to make a good guess based on who tended to get cocky in the eighth and who was only there because they liked running in circles in a dumb costume. But in the end, he still won some money and got more than a little drunk. And it turned out that the dog was better company at these things than Jim would ever be, because it instantly decided whether or not it liked someone, and never stopped barking at them until a shotgun was introduced to their face. Wilford didn’t know what the dog knew, but it sure had a knack for picking out the loser.

Wilford had forgotten that Kevin also liked the races, and his mood darkened as soon as he spotted the blue-haired idiot making his way through the crowd with the new sound guy in tow. What was his name? Something with a B, Wilford thought.

He didn’t care.

At least, not until the dog stopped yapping at Chicken Little, and tried to lunge at the sound guy. Wilford held onto the leash, but did nothing to stop the dog from trying to attack, instead trying to figure out why.

“What did you do to my dog?” he demanded.

Kevin watched the dog, and then looked over at the sound guy.

“Ignoring the fact you’re still pretending it’s your dog, yeah,” he said, taking a step back before he got caught in the cross fire.

“I–I didn’t do anything,” the sound guy said, trying to get as far away as possible without actually running for it.

The dog ignored everything going on around them, focused only on tearing the sound guy to pieces. It would have been quite a sight, if Wilford let it happen. He wondered if the scrawny mutt could even bite hard enough to break the skin. And wasn’t that something right there? The dog didn’t like people. It made that very clear, and seemed to follow Wilford around only because he was stupid enough to have fed it in the first place. A few of the people around the studio had got the dog to warm up to them using the same tactics, but this guy? The dog wanted him dead.

Wilford looked around at the crowd that covered the parking lot. Hundreds of people shuffling about, and the dog didn’t care about any of them. Except for the ones he did care about, which he barked and snarled at until they went away or got unnerved enough to stumble and lose their race. Most of them were new runners, but the dog didn’t know that. The dog hadn’t seen any of these people before. But the only person the dog hated that Wilford even recognised was Chicken Little. Wilford liked Chicken Little, because he knew what made him stumble, and who he did well against. Wilford knew he did better some weeks than others, but always in a predictable cycle. This week, Wilford’s money was on him to win, because–

“You’re fucking fired,” Wilford said suddenly.

“What? What’d I do now?” Kevin asked.

“Not you. Him.” He pulled the dog a bit closer, glaring at the ex sound guy. “I don’t like having fucking liars on my team. You’re gone.”

Wilford turned, ignoring the stammering protests, and put the dog into the car before it managed to actually tear someone’s throat out. The guy had been nervous at first, but he’d been a trembling wreck ever since the interview with Bigby. Wilford couldn’t believe he didn’t see it sooner, but there was so much else going on, he hadn’t thought to look.

“Get him the fuck out of here before my dog has a stroke,” Wilford said to Kevin.

Kevin eyed the dog, still going nuts in the back seat of the car. “Yeah,” he said, taking another step back and reaching out to the ex sound guy. “Better do what he says.”

Wilford watched them go, waiting until they disappeared into the crowd and the dog settled down before getting into the front seat. As soon as he sat down, the dog poked his head between the front seats and sniffed at him as if it had completely forgotten about ever being upset.

Suddenly, the racetrack wasn’t fun anymore. Wilford started the car and jabbed the horn a few times to encourage minglers to get out of his way so he could head home to order some bad delivery and catch up on the actual news.

The only place that delivered so late was an abysmally cheap Italian place, but Wilford was drunk enough and tired enough by the time he got home that he didn’t care. He didn’t want to deal with the stove, so a pie tin full of nasty spaghetti was what he was in for, while he managed to talk them into sending a plate of cold cuts for the dog as well. While he waited for the delivery guy to show up, Wilford browsed the headlines, skimming over Jay Norris, street crime, Uroboros, and another sex scandal without really reading any of it. When his dinner finally arrived, Wilford put the dog’s share on the floor in the kitchen and swallowed the last handful of his cache of sleeping pills before eating as much of the soggy noodles in bad ketchup as he could stomach. By the time he collapsed into bed, the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. If he was lucky, he thought he might even be able to sleep until noon.

It turned out he was more than lucky. It was nearly three in the afternoon when he woke to the sensation of his head being licked. Maybe if the dog were licking a spot where he still had hair, he could have continued to sleep through it, but no. The dog liked the shaven side, where his hair was still so short, the dog was basically licking his scalp.

Gross.

Wilford pushed the dog away and carefully rolled out of bed to get dressed. Under normal circumstances, he would have blown off going into the studio, but he needed to get the final word on the Bigby story. He cut his regular morning routine in half, skipping the shower and breakfast, and only barely bothering to get dressed, and taking a quick few minutes to hunt down anywhere the dog may have pissed overnight.

When he finally walked into the studio, he found it a confused mess. Everyone was scrambling about without getting any sort of work done, though they sounded like they were all working on the case of the century. The girls at the front desk were gone, with their computers shut down, leaving Wilford with nobody to watch after the dog while he investigated. The first place he tried was his own dressing room, and wasn’t at all surprised to find Billy behind his desk on the phone.

“Oh, thank god. There you are,” he said, hanging up.

Wilford looked out toward the hall, and all the commotion happening around them.

“Phone was off. I wanted to get some sleep,” he said, realising he never turned it back on again when he grabbed it out of its dock. “Mind cluing me in?”

Billy sighed and shrugged. “Uroboros outbreak,” he said. “Nine confirmed cases, which is nine too many.”

Wilford remembered seeing something about Uroboros the night before, but hadn’t actually read the article. But the scrambling chaos made sense.

“Fucking hell,” Wilford sighed. Uroboros wasn’t one of their required vaccinations, because of its rarity, but most of the field crew were kept up to date on it anyway. The office crew, not so much.

Billy finished shutting down everything at Wilford’s desk. “They’re trying to get everything shut down by six. The entire city. Might as well go back home.”

Wilford shook his head. “You’ve had your shots. Why aren’t we covering this?”

“Media blackout,” Billy said as he pushed past Wilford to get back out to the hall.

Those were two words that made Wilford’s blood run cold. It meant their unconfirmed cases greatly outnumbered the nine confirmed ones, and they were looking at a serious problem here.

“Go back home,” Billy said. “They’re gonna start shooting people at six.”

“I want everybody pointing a camera at something,” Wilford ordered. They weren’t going to waste this just because the National Guard had license to kill.

“I had a feeling you were going to say that,” Billy said wearily. He turned to rush down the hall, leaving Wilford with nothing else to do but go back home and dig out a camera to point at the street from his front window.
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Getting roped into bar tending had been a blessing in disguise. Not that Wilford would admit it, but it had given him a chance to get back to grips with reality. With that came the slowly dawning reality that Jim had been left unsupervised in the studio and god knew where else for who the hell knew how long, but that was a problem for another day. Wilford shoved it aside when he went back through the door to be confronted by the mess left over from the night before. Jesus Christ, what had even happened? He didn't want to know.

But he did need to know where his phone was within the mess, because it was ringing. He finally found it under a plastic bag, and almost declined the call when he didn’t recognise the number. In fact, he meant to, except he hit the wrong button and answered it anyway. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to find himself being summoned down to the veterinary clinic to retrieve the dog. In a way, it was a good excuse to get away from the mess and everyone in the studio. Maybe the fresh air would help anyway. Or not, because as soon as he stepped outside, he wanted to be back inside. He had at least had the foresight to find a clinic in Vinewood, so it was only a short drive along Spanish Ave before getting there. There was paperwork to sign, new medication to collect, and bills to pay before they even showed him the dog, still whacked out on something inside a large cage. Just looking at the dog made it clear that it wasn’t walking out under its own power. It didn’t even complain about being picked up, and didn’t even seem to notice that anyone else was in the room. That made it easier at least, but babysitting a stoned dog was the last thing Wilford wanted to be doing. But he didn’t exactly have a choice, so he took the dog out to his car and put it in the back to drool all over his seats.

Once he got behind the wheel, Wilford turned back to look at the dog. If dogs could turn green, that's the colour it would have been.

“Yeah, you and me both, pal,” he said.

He watched the dog grumble tiredly, and turned back around in his seat and pulled out his phone. Even that was a mess. He wasn't surprised. Ignoring all of it, he called Billy, and put the phone down on the dashboard.

“Oh, there you are,” Billy said.

“What are we doing today?” Wilford asked.

“Where’d you go? I was looking for you about ten minutes ago,” Billy said.

“Had to pick up the dog. What’s the schedule today?” Wilford didn’t want to deal with any of it. “I think we both want to go home and puke our guts out.”

“Uh,” Billy said in a way that wasn’t reassuring. “You’ve got ADR for a segment next week. There’s also a scheduled conference with the network at three.”

Wilford didn’t respond for a long moment. This wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “Fuck,” he said finally. He hung up with a sigh and started the car. The day already sucked, and it had barely begun. But going back to the studio meant another short drive, instead of having to drive back to Mirror Park with a returning headache that was threatening to blossom into a full-blown migraine. He carried the dog under one arm into his dressing room, pleasantly surprised to find it had been cleaned up while he was gone. He put the dog down on the floor, and immediately went to go lie down on the sofa. He barely had his glasses off when he was startled by something clawing at his legs. Something that turned out to be the dog struggling to climb up with him. It made it eventually, resting its bony weight awkwardly over both of Wilford’s legs, but he was too tired and sick to bother kicking it off. He didn’t expect to actually get any sleep, but maybe he could fight off the headache if he closed his eyes for a while.

It wasn’t a very long while until someone knocked on the door before letting themselves in. It looked like the new sound guy, but it was hard to tell from the distance.

“Uh, about the thing next—”

Suddenly, the dog had all the energy in the world. It sprung up and starting barking and growling, sending him taking a long step back into the hallway. Wilford was barely fast enough to sit up and grab the dog by the collar to keep it from ripping the guy’s face off.

“Take it somewhere else,” Wilford ordered, not sure what had just happened, and not too keen on finding out what would have happened if it continued.

As soon as the door was closed again, the dog’s energy disappeared, and it collapsed on the floor, panting heavily. It had pills somewhere. Wilford wondered if he should give it one. He grabbed his phone and sent off a quick text before lying back down again in the hopes that the entire world would just take a break for the day.

He didn’t do the ADR. His schedule was empty on Saturday, and there would still be enough time to mix the segment for broadcast even if he put it off until then. He just had to survive through the conference call, and then he could go home and die in peace. He was halfway through the world’s most pathetic lunch of delivery garlic bread and pasta with terrible canned sauce, when Nichola let herself into his dressing room.

“I would not have done this today if it were up to me,” she said, handing Wilford a printed email.

Wilford didn’t like that. He cautiously took the email and read over it. He wanted to get angry. He wanted to shout and run Nichola right out of the room, but he didn’t have the energy.

“I assume this is the point of the conference today,” he said, dropping the paper down onto the table.

“That’s my impression, yeah,” Nichola said.

He rubbed his face, careful not to knock his contacts out, and got to his feet. A quick glance at the dog showed that it hadn’t even touched the grilled chicken he’d ordered for it, which meant it hadn’t eaten the pill he hid in one of the pieces.

“Make sure he eats that. That’s your job,” Wilford said, making sure he had his keys and phone with him. “Conference is at three, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s a video conference,” Nichola said, looking down at the dog with confusion.

Wilford checked his watch. “I want to be there in person for this one.” He had about three hours, which he figured would be plenty of time.



He got to the CBN offices about twenty minutes late, and had to spend another ten just getting to the right floor and finding the right place. When he walked in on a bunch of stuffy programming execs arguing about demographics and ad revenue, the entire room went silent all at once, as all eyes were on him.

“What do you think you’re doing?” some asshole in an expensive suit asked.

Wilford shrugged. “You wanted me to do something about my demo. I’ve done it. Don’t fucking tell me what to do with my show again.”

“I don’t think…”

Nobody seemed to know what to say, and Wilford left them like that, drawing concerned and confused looks as he made his way back through the building and out to the garage. He actually felt pretty good after that. Having some cute young thing with her fingers in his hair for three hours had done wonders on his headache, and after walking in and seeing the looks on everyone’s faces, Wilford almost felt good. He felt like he’d won this battle, at the very least, and that counted for something. He returned to the studio just long enough to turn a few heads and gather up the dog. It still didn’t want to walk anywhere, but at least it had apparently eaten its pain pill, so that was something as well. But he was done with the studio. He was done with the network, and with people in general, and just wanted to go home. Even the dog seemed to agree, since it perked up a little bit once Wilford put it in the back of the car. It acted like it didn’t want to sit down, and tried to keep its back end laying down while getting its front end high enough to look out the window. All it managed to do was get drool and snot all over the glass, but there wasn’t much Wilford could do about that but roll his eyes. Even he had to admit that having one’s nuts cut off was going to be a miserable experience.

When he got back home, he was greeted by the sight of a banged up pickup full of lawn equipment parked on the street in front of his house. As he got the dog out of the car, Wilford turned to look at the pickup, and then around the yard. He couldn’t see the guy, forcing him to wrack his brain for a name. The only name he knew for sure that it wasn’t was Pedro, and that the landscaper got really annoyed when Wilford called him that.

“Hey, uh. Ben. You in the back?” he called out, pretty sure he got it right.

“Yep.” A few moments later, the landscaper opened the gate to the back yard. “What’s up?”

Wilford looked down at the dog under his arm, and then out at the open front yard. “You know how to install those underground fences?”

The dog was miserable right now, but Wilford had seen it vault over the back yard fence like it was nothing. The second he let it outside without a leash, it was going to disappear.

“Uh, yeah,” Ben said. “I don’t have my trencher with me, and I’d need about four or five hours. I can come by on Saturday, if you want.”

“Come by Saturday,” Wilford said.

Ben looked at the dog before heading back to finish what he was doing. “I also charge fifty bucks extra to clean up after dogs.”

Wilford rolled his eyes and went inside to go find out how much an electric dog fence was going to cost him.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Tonight, the door opens to Wilford's dressing room. Wilford steps inside and drops the intern folders down on the coffee table.

The only gun he keeps in his dressing room is his sawed-off shotgun, but it'll do for now. He grabs it from one of the filing cabinets by his desk on the far end, which sits next to a shelf full of entirely unrelated items. Items which may be recognisable as a trophy collection, if one knows what to look for.

Unlike his house, Wilford's dressing room is actually decorated. Warm colours, comfortable furniture, framed posters from the classic era of film on blue-painted walls. Some of it was inherited from the previous occupant, but Wilford's made enough changes to the room to make it his own.

The dog has also apparently moved in, if the big metal bowl beside the desk is any indication.

Once he's got his gun and enough ammo to get the night started, Wilford checks his phone to see if anything good is happening nearby.
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The dog followed Wilford everywhere, constantly sniffing at his feet for the next dropped morsel. It was like he suddenly never had a moment alone, because something was always underfoot, making noises and licking at his ankles. But it was still preferable to leaving it alone, in his house, to piss all over everything.

The dog was not housebroken, and if it ever had been, it had forgotten how to be. There was something degrading and undignified about having to stop what he was doing to quickly drag the dog outside before it made a mess of the carpet. Unfortunately, someone had finally come to clean up the mess of folders that had been on the floor for weeks. It was a shame. He had almost started to get the dog trained to piss on them.

As Wilford took the dog back inside, the new sound guy passed them in the foyer. In an instant, the dog went from licking the carpet to hunched up with his hackles raised and his ears pressed back, growling pathetically.

“What the fuck did you do to my dog?” Wilford demanded.

The sound guy took a wide step away, inching toward the door. “I didn’t do anything.”

Wilford glared at him, while the dog growled, until he finally left. The dog still growled at the door for a few moments longer, until Wilford continued on his way to his dressing room. It only took a few seconds for the dog to realise it was being left alone, and follow after him again, sniffing at his heels and licking his ankles. This was a stupid wager, and he was stupid for letting himself get dragged into it like this, but it was too late to quit now. It wasn’t even about the money, even though he stood to gain a good amount when all this was finally over with. It was about showing a bunch of stupid people why they were stupid.

He detoured just enough to steal a glance at the wager board. Even though it was no secret that he’d caught on, it didn’t seem like the betting had slowed by much. A few people were still down for their original $200 buy-in, but most of the wagers were sitting at $400, and a few at $800. In a few hours, a good half of those $400 wagers, and most of the $200 wagers were going to double. Wilford would be out a couple hundred bucks by the end of the day, but it would be worth it. He hoped. Maybe he could even turn some of those $800 wagers into $1600, but he doubted that the sort of people who would be that stupid would actually have that sort of cash on hand. But maybe he’d get lucky enough to see the look on someone’s face when they realised they blew a collective three grand on a goddamn dog.

Wilford hung around the studio through lunch, even graciously accepting Kevin’s offer to bring something back from the sushi bar he liked to go to. Of course, Kevin took for fucking ever, like he did with everything, and finally made it back to the studio in time to meet Wilford in the parking lot.

“Where are you going?” Kevin asked as he handed over a paper bento box.

Wilford opened the back door and coaxed the dog into the hot car with his foot. “Vet appointment,” he said, enjoying every second of the crushing realisation that spread across Kevin’s face as he connected the dots.

“For what? He looks fine. He looks… great, actually. How’d you manage that?” Kevin asked.

“Magic,” Wilford said as he opened his own door.

Kevin rolled his eyes. “You’re a moron if you’re dealing with that crap. Why go to the vet at all?”

Wilford shrugged, as if the answer should have been obvious. “Gotta get his tags and get him fixed,” he said.

Kevin stared at him wordlessly as he slammed the door.

“You’re not really keeping it?” he shouted incredulously.

Wilford responded with a quick beep of his horn before starting up the engine, cranking the AC, and pulling out of the parking lot.


An hour later, after dropping leaving the dog with the vet, Wilford detoured back to the conference room to find a sea up updated wagers, with the popular money now siding with the only two $200 wagers left on the board. Except for Kevin, who had changed his wager with his most recent buy-in: Today.

Wilford dismissed that, like he dismissed everything else about Kevin and returned to his dressing room to go over copy for the next segment he had to film. Some boring crap about possessed children’s toys that he didn’t care about, but Mandy had spun it into a good panic piece, with a healthy helping of Buyer Beware. But if people wanted to bring something that fucking creepy into their houses, they deserved everything that came with it, poltergeist and all. They even had an interview for the segment, so Wilford at least looked forward to that part of it. Interviews were fun, at least. It still wasn’t Bigby, because his guys were playing hardball, but it would do until he finally caved.

The vet was supposed to phone back when the dog was ready to be picked up again. When his phone finally rang around five o’clock, Wilford was glad, because it gave him a reason to quit hanging around the studio. But the woman on the other line did not sound how Wilford expected her to sound, which made him nervous.

“We need to keep him overnight, for observation. There were some complications during the surgery,” she said.

“What do you mean, complications?” Wilford asked.

His mind went back to Kevin’s brand new wager on the board. What did he know that Wilford didn’t?

“He had a bad reaction to the anesthesia. It happens sometimes with sighthounds,” the woman said.

“Why didn’t you tell me that before?” Wilford asked, turning to his computer to Google what, exactly, a sighthound was supposed to be. (It was not exactly anything, it turned out. For some reason, this irritated him even more.)

She didn’t answer directly; instead offering a vague apology and reiterating that the dog had to be kept overnight now.

Wilford growled, and decided he was done with this conversation. “Your bedside manner sucks,” he said before hanging up the call.

He needed a few moments to calm down. It wasn’t just the idea of losing that pissed him off. He couldn’t even technically lose this wager. It was the knowledge that with damn near everybody in the company betting against him, it all almost came down to dumb fucking chance. Wilford looked down at his phone and pulled up his list of events apps. He needed to hit something, but there weren’t any fight clubs happening close enough at the moment. At least, none that had bothered to check in. The gym would have to do. Sparing just enough time to make sure he had his keys, Wilford got up and started to stomp out of his dressing room. He got as far as opening the door before Nichola stopped him, standing right on the other side with her arms full of folders. Before Wilford could ask what she wanted, she shoved the folders into his arms.

“Tomorrow morning,” she said before turning and walking away.

Dropping the folders right there on the ground, Wilford continued on his path to go find someone to beat up.

––

He walked into the studio early, having nowhere else worth going to. It was quiet at that hour in the morning, even with the one or two people who liked to do their jobs at night. There was almost always someone doing something in the studio. Wilford didn’t care what schedules anybody kept, as long as they made deadlines and didn’t fuck anything up. It usually meant that people came and left as they pleased, and sometimes never even showed up at all. Sometimes it meant having someone drive out to Little Seoul for him. And that lucky person today was a small, blonde woman working on a script.

“Take a break,” Wilford said, holding a folded $20 bill in her face. She slowly reached up to take it, making a face like she wasn’t sure what was going on. Once she had the bill in her hand, she finished typing out her sentence, and then looked down at the cash in her hand.

“Oh. Okay,” she said, already reaching for her purse at her feet.

Wilford turned to leave, finding his energy draining sharply by the time he got to his dressing room. This time, the folders had been cleaned up, and his door shut. Apparently leaving the mess in a walkway was what it took to make them go away. He stepped inside his dressing room, and took one look at his desk before heading to his sofa instead. He managed to take a short nap, waking up again at the sound of his door opening. There was a moment when he’d forgotten about sending someone out for breakfast, and nearly told her to fuck off before he saw the coffee cup in her hand.

“Here you are, sir,” she said, setting it down on the table, along with a brown paper box.

“Where’s my change?” Wilford asked.

The blonde held up the iced coffee in her hand and gave it a shake before leaving. He made a note to find out who she was as he pulled one of the Bungeoppang from the box. With that kind of brass, she’d probably do well in the field. Wilford filed that away for later and focused on trying to beat his hangover before it hit. But he barely got into the first bite when his door opened again. It was Nichola, and she was wearing her ‘done fucking around’ face. As soon as he registered that detail, he spotted the enormous handcanon in her hand. Making a noise of shock and protest, Wilford ducked away as he heard Nichola pull the trigger.
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Four o’clock in the morning was a terrible time of day to begin with. Nothing was open, all the games around town had pretty much all ended, and there was nothing even close to good on TV. Add to this a machine gun rampage outside, and 4am was absolute hateful. To this, add temperatures still sitting in the high 90s, and 4am was pure fucking hell.

Ten more hours. That was all the longer Wilford had to endure the dog’s company, before he could get rid of it. Ten long, painful hours, listening to it whine and compulsively try to lick a hole in the kitchen floor. Why did people ever let these creatures into their house? Did people really enjoy this sort of thing? Why?

As he tried to ignore the dog’s whining, Wilford made a point of looking away from it, and noticed a white paper bag on the sofa. Billy must have put it there when he dropped off the dog. Having literally nothing better to do with his time, Wilford got up to see what was in the bag. Maybe he’d get lucky, and find some sort of tranquillizer or something. But he was not lucky. There were two bottles of pills, a huge tube of some sort of paste, and a bag of dog treats, with a few sheets of paper instructing on the use for everything. One of the pill bottles was for pain, while the other was an anti-parasitic. Reading that word nearly made Wilford gag.

“Oh, fucking gross,” he said. Billy brought some nasty, parasite-ridden dog into his house. Amazing. Billy was going to die.

If nothing else, the dog was going to take the pill to get rid of whatever bugs were crawling around on or inside of it. Wilford could only hope it meant he’d be lucky enough that the bugs didn’t get on him. He had no idea how in the hell he was supposed to convince a dog to swallow a pill, so he took one from each bottle, stuffed both into one of the soft dog treats in the bag, and tossed the whole thing in the general direction of the dog.

He was going to burn the sofa. After he got rid of the dog, his day was going to be full with a to-do list of murder and arson, while trying to also fit filming a segment in somewhere.

As Wilford sat down again, he watched the dog as it slowly inched out from under the kitchen table. It came out just far enough to snatch up the treat with its tongue, only to hide against the wall again. The dog didn’t seem to move very often, but when it did, it moved slow and stiffly, which Wilford couldn’t exactly fault it for. Not if it had been hit by a car. He’d be slow and stiff and bitchy too, and he knew it.

“Enjoy it while it lasts. You’re back on the street tomorrow,” Wilford told the dog as he resumed flipping through channels.

At some point, Wilford managed to doze off for a little bit, once the noise out on the street calmed down. His nap lasted barely twenty minutes, but that was about how long they usually lasted, so there was no point in trying to force himself to go back to sleep. This was usually the point where he’d start getting ready to head to the studio, before taking an obscene detour into Little Seoul for breakfast. But he didn’t want the dog in his car for that long, so he figured he’d do something new and fix his own breakfast. He didn’t have a coffee pot, but there were a dozen coffee shops between his house and the studio he could stop at later. On his way into the kitchen, Wilford peered under the table to make sure the dog was still alive. He found it asleep, which was… a thing. Kevin would be out of the betting pool around 1pm, which meant Wilford only had to hold onto the dog for an hour or so after that. Whoever got the money after that, he didn’t care. But he did agree with Billy on one thing. Kevin didn’t get the cash.

Wilford almost never had breakfast at home, so he wasn’t really sure what to make from anything he had in his fridge. There were eggs, which was a start. Usually they were for soup, but he supposed he could make some sort of omelet or something. As he started pulling things from the fridge, Wilford heard a low whine from underneath the table. The dog had moved forward the smallest bit, and was watching everything Wilford did. Rolling his eyes, Wilford grabbed a small frying pan from inside the oven and put it on the stove to heat up, assuming the dog would eat a scrambled egg. Getting through both his and the dog’s breakfast quickly, Wilford quit putting off the inevitable. The dog was still wearing the collar the Bar had provided, so Wilford hooked the leash onto it and exhausted every ounce of his patience trying to get the dog back outside and into his car. His car, which cost more than his house. That hurt. It wasn’t like he ever used the back seat, but using it to carry some disgusting, mangy dog was still painful. At least the drive to the studio was quick. Not wanting to spend two hours commuting every day was the ultimate deciding factor for Mirror Park over somewhere up in the Hills, or out in Morningwood. But even Mirror Park was too far away with the dog in his back seat.

Once he got to the studio, he wordlessly left the dog at the front desk on his way to make-up. It was only a small segment they were filming, but he wanted to get it done with and out of the way. Billy was in early as well, and found him in the chair, ignoring the stylist complain about the lack of style to his hair.

“You want to do this now, or after?” Billy asked from the doorway.

Wilford glanced over at the stack of folders in Billy’s hands. “After,” he decided. “Tell me about Bigby.”

“We’re working on him. We should be able to get him in next week,” Billy said.

“Great.” Wilford was looking forward to putting Bigby in the hot seat.

“Nicola wants to know about the interns,” Billy said quickly, as if saying it fast enough would lessen the blow.

“Tell her they’re right where I left them.” He wished the cleaning staff would get a clue and throw them away, because he was getting sick of having to kick the stack of folders out of his way any time he wanted to lie down on the sofa.

“She’s also told me to mention the ratings. Consider them mentioned,” Billy said.

“And consider your mention ignored.” Wilford saw the stylist reach for some bright purple bottle of hair product, and slapped his hand away.

Billy watched this, silently, and conspicuously not bringing up the other elephant in the room. Wilford assumed he must have seen the dog at the front desk before coming back to bother him. He hung around for a few moments longer before going away to bother someone else.

Filming the segment took longer than Wilford had wanted it to. Constant sound and light issues were still plaguing the set, dragging everything out to a painful crawl. By the time the segment had been filmed, it was already getting on close to lunch, but it didn’t seem like many people felt like leaving the studio. It wasn’t difficult to guess why. Not with the amount of noise coming from the conference room. Against his better judgement, Wilford stepped inside and crashed their party. A few people were looking smug, while others were already sour over having lost the bet.

“What’s the buy-back on this one?” Kevin asked, looking at his watch.

“Double what you paid last time?” Billy said, giving Nichola a questioning glance. Nichola nodded.

“Yeah, that sounds fair,” she said.

The white board on the wall had a neatly-organised chart, listing everyone’s names and their bet on how long before the dog disappeared or turned up dead. Several names had already been hastily erased. Wilford wasn’t exactly surprised, even as dug into their wallets to buy back in with new predictions. What did surprise him was what he saw at the top of the chart. Nichola & Bill | Until he thinks we’ve forgotten.

“What the fuck is this?” he asked suddenly, finally drawing attention to himself. “Get back to work.”

“Ah, shit. Dad’s home,” Kevin said.

“You’re all fucking idiots,” Wilford said tiredly, as he turned to find somewhere else to be. Sometimes, he hated every living being on the planet. This was one of those times. But if they were going to play this game, he was going to play right back. On his way back to his dressing room, he stopped by the front desk to collect the dog, confusing everyone there in the process. Pointing out that he’d clearly intended to keep the dog, as it was wearing a collar, just made the confusion worse. He liked that.

As Wilford took the dog back to his dressing room, he looked down at the sorry state it was in. If he was going to keep it, he was going to need to do something about how gross it was.
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Wilford wasn’t surprised when Billy never made it into the studio. That was fine. Billy was on a mission Wilford hadn’t felt like dealing with. His own personal standards didn’t tend to be very high, but getting rid of stray dogs was beneath even him. He didn’t even care what Billy did with it. It was his job now, and that’s all that mattered.

He went over the morning reports by himself. Mandy had made good use of his few hours of unemployment and did some extra digging on Bigby. Kevin’s unemployment didn’t last nearly long enough, but a new lead on something else forced Wilford to call him back earlier than he’d planned. Such a shame. He didn’t want to be in the building when Kevin came back. On his way out the door to go find lunch somewhere, he passed by their new sound tech nervously handing in his medical clearance, while asking a thousand questions about “what now?” What now should have been obvious: get back to work. Letting someone else deal with it, Wilford left. As soon as he stepped outside, he regretted it. The wall of hot, sticky air hit him like a freight train. Wilford considered locking himself in his dressing room until much later, but only briefly. Going home was suddenly his priority. He’d have lunch there, in the air-conditioned comfort of his living room.

If the parking lot was hot, his car was literal hell — his own personal oven left broiling under the San Andreas sun. The air conditioner was quick to kick into gear, but not quick enough. The car didn’t even feel habitable until he hit Vinewood Blvd, but at least by then, it was a straight shot out to Mirror Park.

Once he was home, after battling lunch rush traffic, Wilford went straight for the control on the wall and dropped it to its absolute lowest setting. It was too hot too cook. It was too hot to even eat, so instead of finding something for lunch, Wilford collapsed into his chair and waited for a heatstroke death to take him. He stared up at the ceiling and listened to the air conditioner kick in, wondering how in the hell anyone lived in Los Santos. Human beings were not designed to survive these temperatures. It was impossible.

Wilford didn’t know how long he sat there, avoiding doing anything that might take even the smallest amount of energy. When his phone rang, he let it go until just before voice mail would pick up. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to see Billy’s name on his screen.

“What?” he said when he answered the call.

“Where’d you run off to? I came into the studio to find you, and they’re all saying you left,” Billy said. In the background, Wilford could hear a group of people laughing in the way people do when they’re trying not to laugh. He didn’t even want to know.

“Who’s asking?” he said.

“Well. Me, I thought,” Billy said.

Amongst the chatter in the background, Wilford could hear Nichola trying to be quiet, and failing.

“You fuckers better not be hot-boxing my dressing room again,” he warned.

That was all he needed, for his personal space to reek of weed for the next foreseeable future. Annoying fucking bastards, the lot of them.

“I’m at home. What do you need?” he asked with a sigh. At least if Billy was with him, he wouldn’t be stinking up the studio.

“I just needed to drop some stuff off with you,” Billy said.

More laughter in the background. Wilford rolled his eyes and hung up. Everybody was so hateful, and it was too damn hot to deal with any of it. He just wished the rest of the idiots at the studio felt the same.

Eventually, once the house started to feel like the inside of a refrigerator, Wilford remembered what he’d come home to do in the first place. He looked over to the kitchen, figuring he might as well actually get on the task of lunch. Before he even got to his feet though, he was suddenly distracted by the sound of a key opening his front door. Wilford didn’t bother getting up, but as soon as he stepped through the door with a red and white dog in his arms, Wilford was on his feet and ready to shove him right back out the door.

“What the fuck is that?” he demanded as Billy kicked the door shut and walked over to put the dog down on the sofa, but it didn’t stay there for very long. As soon as it was free, it jumped down and ran underneath the kitchen table, to hide against the wall. Great.

“You said to take care of it. You did mean take it to the vet, right?” Billy asked.

“Of course I didn’t mean take it to the fucking vet!” Wilford shouted. “I meant take it out to the fucking desert or something!”

He looked back at the dog where it cowered under the table. It looked like it had been chewed up and spit out by a combine harvester.

“What the fuck is wrong with its face?” he asked.

Billy bent down to look at the dog as well. “You mean the road rash, or the mange?” he asked. “The vet says it looks like he was hit by a car. It’s amazing he didn’t break anything.”

“I’m gonna break your fucking neck. Get it out of here,” Wilford demanded. He threw open the front door, letting the house heat right back up like an oven while he waited for Billy to go fetch the dog and leave. He did not fetch the dog, even if he did turn toward the door.

“Do me a favour and at least knock Kevin out of the pool,” he said. “He’s got two hundred on twenty four hours.”

Billy left him with that, laughing to himself as he closed the door behind himself. After that, Wilford just had to take a moment to himself, trying not to kick anything out of rage. He hadn’t listened to the bullshit that was going on behind Billy, but now he understood it. He understood it, and he hated it.

He wanted to shoot the dog, but that would mean having to deal with the mess. And throwing it outside wouldn’t solve a damn thing either. But, if nothing else, he could screw Kevin out of $200, and then just drop it off on the Boulevard outside the studio. Sighing, and not sure what else to do, Wilford tried to not implode from the rage at being used as a fucking pawn like this, and went to go see what he had in the kitchen.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting to eat too,” he grumbled as he pulled some chicken that really needed to be used from the bottom drawer of the fridge. The chicken was going to go bad anyway, so why the hell not? Wilford grabbed a knife from the block and diced up the chicken breast into small pieces, using the table as a giant work surface. He could hear the dog whimpering and licking at its wounds under the table, going out of his way to ignore it. With the chicken diced up, it went into a frying pan, while Wilford tried to figure out what to make with it. There was a pack of glass noodles in the cupboard, so stir fry it was. But he wasn’t going to waste everything else on the dog, so he portioned about half of the chicken out onto a plate, and put it down on the floor for the dog, while he went on preparing a proper meal for himself.

God, he hated animals. Now he was stuck with one in his house.

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Wilford Warfstache

June 2017

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