So I leave for a couple weeks and everything comes out at once. I see how it is.
Yet, even before I left, I got to experience a portion of one of the most popular games of the year and, in my opinion, the most innovative of the year. Until Dawn, the newest game from Supermassive Games, quickly gained popularity in online Let’s Player circles and in the general gaming populace based on the hype it had created at various gaming conferences. The game focuses on a group of friends coming back to commemorate the memory of two of their other friends who unfortunately died a year earlier, only to be put in danger themselves and having to survive until dawn to be rescued from death. Add on top of this quick time events that feel immersive for once (rather than just annoying) and a deft use of motion controls that can get you killed if you’re too jittery, and you have a game that single-handedly breathed new life into the survival horror genre and partially filled the hole in gamers’ hearts where Silent Hills would have gone. But, as always, what really made the game a success for me was the characters, and today’s fic looks at these characters in a way that tries to resolve the unfortunate conclusion of this otherwise fantastic game.
Spoilers for all of Until Dawn under the cut.
A majority of Until Dawn‘s fans, like myself, are dissatisfied with the ending. During the course of the game, our intrepid group of teens discovers that they’re not being hunted down by a murderer, but instead a pack of wendigos who seek to devour them. The most unfortunate part of this is that the main antagonist’s (Josh) sister happened to turn into a wendigo, rather than falling to her death like the group first assumed. Josh himself became severely depressed, on top of a whole other slew of psychological issues, after the death of his two sisters, with whom he was very close. Due to this, he sought to make his friends understand the suffering his sisters went through by, well, psychologically tormenting them. While this was in no way right (and was caused mostly by him going off his meds and falling into paranoia), Josh never gets a happy ending. Canonically, he never even gets the opportunity to heal from his trauma, as, in his endings, he either dies at the hands of his wendigo sister or is turned into a wendigo himself.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of fic out there re-writing this ending, or putting forth timelines where the possibility of Josh turning into a wendigo is avoided altogether. hannanotmontana’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings seeks to right this wrong using the former of the two, and does so by utilizing the best resource Josh has: his friends.
Taking place directly after the game, a search party returns to the mines and retrieves Josh, immediately putting the partial wendigo in intensive care. However, everyone has a problem: how the fuck do you heal wendigo-ism? The nurses are baffled (as none outside the main group of friends understand or believe that being a wendigo could be the cause of Josh’s mysterious illness), and the couple of Josh’s friends that can still be around him so soon after his psychological attack are at a loss, not knowing if there’s any of their friend left in the wendigo and knowing that their only resource on wendigo-related things died back on that mountain thanks to, ironically, wendigos. However, Chris (Josh’s best friend) and Sam (his implied mutual crush) hunker down and start thinking about what they can do. Though they don’t have any permanent solutions, as the fic goes on, it seems to them that Josh begins acting more like himself—more human—when they spend more time with him. Although the idea of spending time with someone who, in some part, wants to rip the flesh off their bodies and devour it is kind of terrifying, this is what they resolve to do. And it’s cute.
Josh – or the creature – had been crouching in the middle of the room when she entered earlier, watching her intently ever since she had slipped through the door and had placed the tray on the ground.
He’s just sensing your movement, Sam tells herself. He doesn’t recognise you.
Nevertheless, she had said ‘Hi’ and a constant stream of quiet, gentle words is spilling over her lips noq, much like talking to a sick animal that you try to coax into eating. Except that at the sight of the raw meat, Josh shivers and looks more alert. So much for coaxing.
“Right, what did Chris say? Cut it in chunks so you don’t choke trying to wolf it down.” She tries not to breathe through her nose and smell the metallic sensation of raw, bloody liver while she cuts it up into rough chunks. Then she picks one chunk up with the fork and looks up at Josh, taking a deep breath.
His eyes are focused on the meat.
Sam fights the urge of closing her eyes, turning her head and just sticking out her arm. Instead, she slowly holds out the plastic fork for Josh. Even though she had steeled herself for the jerky movements all the Wendigos had displayed, she flinches when his head shoots forward like a snake and his fangs close around the raw meat, as well as the prongs of the fork, breaking two of them.
“Fuck, Josh, was that really necessary?” Sam hisses, momentarily forgetting that this isn’t Josh, and even if it was, it – he – can kill her with those crooked fangs and she shouldn’t aggravate him. However, the reaction of her opponent is different than she expected.
Instead of yanking his head around to tear the meat of the fork (and quite possibly the fork and two or three of Sam’s fingers, too), he freezes, his fangs still closed around the fork, but keeping his head perfectly still. He glances up at her from beneath long, dark eyelashes and if it weren’t for the eyes, the fangs and the general Wendigo-ness of his body, he could’ve been dorky Josh who had messed around with Sam one time too often and is now frozen realising he went too far.
I love this fic’s use of small moments to show progression. So far, there aren’t any huge dramatic happenings, and I think that’s an important sign of them all trying to fit back into society. But also, it’s a good signifier of how they can’t simply slip back in it like an old glove: the group went through someone so horrific on so many levels together, and it’s something no one else could understand. There’s this bond they can’t get rid of, and despite what Josh did, this bond saves him in the end. Unlike what the game seems to think, people who suffer psychologically shouldn’t be left to become victims of their own minds. Chris and Sam’s treatment of their friend is so important because they recognize what he did was wrong and life-threatening, but they also know that he deserves the chance at regaining his humanity and getting help for his psychosis. Eventually, some large event is going to happen—that’s the nature of stories—but until then, I hope hannanotmontana continues exploring these more subtle moments.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a little more than halfway done at three chapters and just over 11k words, and I’m keeping a close eye on it for updates. I will bring up that while Josh is treated respectfully, as the characters are teenagers going on twenty-somethings, the word “crazy” comes up constantly when describing the events of the game and mental issues. I wouldn’t say avoid the fic solely for that reason, but be aware that the terminology isn’t always great. That aside, if the ending of Until Dawn had you pulling at your hair, definitely give this fix-it fic a read. You can check it out here at AO3.