's 2018 Horror Write-off:

Looking For Group

Submitted by Mai Wisdom

"Now, I bet you're wondering why I've called you here today." They weren't. The one woman present, Petra, rolled her eyes. "Mike, this is more of your Midnight Society crap, right? I'm the one who told you about this place, and I explicitly asked to never go here."

He ignored her, as usual. "This house right here," he gestured expansively, "is the site of a mysterious event. One year ago, a D&D party - one much like this one -" "Jesus christ."

"-mysteriously disappeared in this very room." He grinned. "So I figured it'd be the perfect place to run the finale of my campaign." "Jesus christ!"

The skinny, possibly racist dude who played the skinny, definitely racist elf spoke up. "We just got to the drow mansion. How long is this session gonna last?" Petra thought his name was Dave? Doug? Something.

Mike grinned. "However long it takes you morons to get through 800 pages of hex paper filled with intricate puzzles and the finest, most balanced combat encounters the human brain can comprehend. Or until all of you die. I expect to either go well into the night or get back before Pizza Hut closes. Either way, fun for me, miserable for you." A player Petra just called The Nobody, who was definitely the least terrible of the three but also the least everything, threw a Frito in Mike's general direction. "You realize the point of DMing isn't to win, right?"

"To you, maybe." Mike preened, digging through his backpack and bringing out a camping lantern. "An experienced player like me knows the true joy of the game is watching everyone slowly grow to hate and respect you."

The greasy, obnoxious guy Petra had come to think of as "Other Mike" scoffed. "Bet your overpowered waifu's just gonna steamroll the combat."

Mike looked over - oh god, he brought notes. And he was actually checking them, which means no coming up with good ideas and tricking him into thinking he came up with them. "Uh, actually, Betty has to warp back to her home dimension to make out with her hot demon girlfriend to keep her demon powers from turning her evil. It's in the lore, Michael."

This set the tone for the rest of the night.

The party had solved eight pathetically easy puzzles and barely scraped through twenty agonizingly overpowered fights. This was mainly thanks to Petra's half-elf ranger (who suffered from wounds inflicted when orc raiders destroyed her forest village in a raid that imbued in her a distrust for orcs that she recognized was unfair as well as sending her on a quest to find her real family after she discovered she was stolen from a human settlement by the elves who had raised her though she was beginning to wonder if she even wanted to know a family who she had been taken from), and not at all thanks to Racist Dale's racist elf, The Nobody's optimized human fighter, and Other Mike's sexy tiefling with no discernible personality. Petra was in the middle of not listening to one of Mike's check-ins with Betty (still making out, yep) when she felt a buzz and glanced down at her phone. She looked around at the others, who were beginning to glance around nervously at the peeling wallpaper, and a thin smile spread across her face. "Hey, idiots." She stood up, knocking Other Mike's drink over. "I can't believe you morons were the only people I could find to play with, but good news: I found another group. Bye, dumbasses." She flipped the group off as she walked out of the lantern's light. "Hey! Hey, you left all your crap!" Mike waved ineffectually, stared into the darkness, and shrugged. "Whatever. Dumb ***** probably forgot she even brought a backpack. Yo, whatsisname, dig through that. See if she has any cool shit."

The Nobody started rummaging through the backpack. As he shoved a bag of homemade-looking jerky aside, a scream - unmistakably Petra's - split the air.

"Jesus!" Mike's knee slammed the table just as a loud snap struck, The Nobody yelped in pain, and the lantern went out. There was a deafening flurry of swears and, courtesy of Racist Dylan, slurs as the group got their bearings. "Whatsyerface, what's your status?" The Nobody whimpered. "My hand's stuck. I think there's a rat trap or something in here." Other Mike scoffed. "Nobody puts a set rat trap in a backpack. I'm gonna light a match so we can get back to the game."

There was a //skrr-flick!// and light and a //crunch// and no more light. Mike was pretty sure he saw teeth.

For a horrible, horrible second, nobody was speaking and the only thing any of them heard was wet, haggard breathing, far louder than it had any right to be.

Racist Devin spoke up. "Alright. Let's stay calm. We know where the door is, and the moon's full, so we should be able to find our way out and then get to the car."

Mike stood up, reluctantly. Racist Dallas being calm and measured was a bad sign. "I'll lead, okay? Then you three-" he paused, "two."

He took two steps. There was a crack, and a yelp, and a horrible greasy smell from under the floorboards, and Mike realized very quickly just how old this house was. And then another crunch.

There was another period of terrible silence. There wasn't any breathing this time. And then, there was.

The moonlight was just beginning to reach through the room's front window. The Nobody saw a shape, a huge monolith of hair and muscle, towering behind Racist Dan, who was rooted to the spot. The thing tensed up.

There was a wet, impossibly loud cough. A burst of clattering objects sprayed across the table. The Nobody could barely see them, his eyes slowly adjusting.

Some of them were dice. A lot of them were teeth.

There was a great gaping emptiness, a vantablack hole that seemed to radiate despair.

And then there was a crunch.

The Nobody had a bad angle, with his hand still caught in what, yes, was definitely a rat trap secured to the inside of this backpack, because of COURSE its owner knew this would happen. The Nobody couldn't see what had happened, exactly, but he saw the shape move around the table. He spoke up, shakily, because with the moonlight streaming in there was no sense in staying silent anymore. He knew he wouldn't get a response, but he had to say it anyway. "Derek?" "Huh. Derek," the horrible rattling voice idly noted. "How'd I get Doug out of that?"

The Nobody felt the immense, crushing, palpable terror of knowing exactly what was happening. The Nobody knew some small part of him was irreparably gone, because he knew the thing in front of him existed. That it had the capability to exist. If he could strike now, and kill this monster, if he could rip his hand from the backpack holding a sword and swing and know that unspeakable horror was gone forever, he'd never be satisfied not knowing if it was the only one.

He took the thing in, as it stared impassively. It was something like a massive bear or dog in body shape, knuckling across the floor on a set of grotesque arms. Its red-orange fur was long, matted, and greasy, radiating a horrible rotten odor. A constant clattering echoed in the room as more dice fell from the beast's body. Its (her?) muzzle extended straight from its body and was tipped with an otherwise normal human face, split across the cheeks as the mouth extended back. The face was Petra's, which The Nobody felt somehow didn't surprise him. His mouth felt dry. He formed words, unbidden, because there was nothing else he could do. "Are you a werewolf?"

The Petra-thing laughed. It was a sound The Nobody hadn't expected - still rough, guturral, but an oddly human sound nonetheless. "Nah. I'm a bugbear."

He laughed not knowing why, choking on the stench. "Are you gonna kill me?"

She shrugged, ponderously. "Those guys deserved to die. You don't. You're just an asshole who went along with them."

"What, so you're teaching me a lesson?"

She shook her muzzle from side to side. "No lessons. Like I said, you're just a loser. Plus, I need someone to be scared of me."

"Or what, you'll die?"

She laughed again. "If I did, I wouldn't tell you I needed you. I'd just lose power. Become a wandering monster, something that needs to hide in closets and under beds to feed off ambient fear. Something mothers tell their kids about to get them to behave." She closed the distance in a single improbable lunge, pulling the bag of jerky from her backpack, locking too-large eyes with The Nobody. "I'm not gonna be something pathetic like that."

The Nobody spoke, terrified, as Petra moved back to the table and picked her character sheet back up. He felt like he had to keep talking, as if he couldn't talk and be scared at the same time. "This happened here last year, too, right? What, was this whole D&D thing just - just, like, a scam? Just a way for you to lure people out here and kill them?"

"Huh?" Petra's muzzle bent in half to look over her shoulder with a sickening crack and a spray of teeth. She looked back at The Nobody, shambling back out of the moonlight. "Nah, Mike made all that crap up. I actually like D&D. You guys are just assholes."