Updated: Oct 12
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As is usually the case for situations like these, the person with the gun became the de facto man in charge. I will give him some credit. He started off okay.
Our first course of action was a group field-trip to the basement where Tobias put in a call to the local authorities. We were informed that, owing to the storm and our remote location, it would take an hour before anyone could reach us.
That’s when Tobias’s leadership skills took a steep nosedive. In the end, he stole Jerry’s original plan and told everyone to go wait in our rooms until the authorities arrived.
With the (allegedly) blind man now in the wind, I had slipped to the number two spot on the group’s most-likely-to-be-the-killer list. But that didn’t mean they were ready to line up and do trust-falls with me. Tobias kept his gun in hand as he chauffeured each of us to our rooms, instructing everyone to lock our doors and stay put.
As Jerry wandered the suite looking for bugs, I sat at the edge of the bed, trying to make sense of everything. But this puzzle was missing too many pieces.
How could someone have orchestrated something like this? Why would they? Who killed the old woman? What’s going to happen next? Those particular mysteries were way too abstract for my brain to find any foothold. But I had no trouble with this one: Why does Tobias want us to stay in our rooms?
It made no sense. Tobias had demonstrated a certain degree of intelligence that would lead me to assume he knew why separating into smaller, easier-to-target groups was a bad idea. We only needed to survive for one hour. Why wouldn’t he want us to stay together?
The answer came to me out of nowhere.
He needed to get rid of us so he could use the phone without any witnesses. I couldn’t explain how or why I knew, but I was certain this was the answer. Tobias had a secret. He was playing dumb, but he knew more than he was letting on. And he might not have been the only one.
I suddenly remembered the note. The one Claire gave me shortly before the lights went out. I dug it out of my pocket, unfolded it, and read the message:
“We are all going to die here tonight.”
Well that is singularly unhelpful, I thought, crumpling the paper and tossing it into the trashcan against the wall.
Jerry fell onto the bed next to me with a defeated sigh, “I can’t find the bugs anywhere, dude.”
“Jerry,” I started. “You remember when we first left the car and I explicitly said ‘No weapons’?”
“Is there any chance you completely ignored what I told you and smuggled one up here anyway?”
He took a conspicuously sharp intake of breath and said, “What answer won’t make you mad at me right now?”
“Oh thank God. Where is it?”
Jerry rolled off the bed and crawled into the bathroom. When he returned a moment later, he was holding his jeans. He dug through the pockets until he found the police-grade stun gun that he’d smuggled up here without my knowledge, then tossed it to me. I was both annoyed and relieved. At least now we could defend ourselves if we were lucky enough to see trouble coming ahead of time. But trouble always had a way of sneaking up on--
I spun around to see what trouble had just snuck up on me.
She was standing next to the bookcase, looking very different from how I first met her. She’d let her hair down and changed into a pair of jeans and a Nirvana t-shirt. If not for the black lipstick, I may not have recognized her right away.
“Loren.” I said, careful not to make any sudden moves. If she’d come here to kill me, it was awfully generous of her to give me a warning first. I didn’t see any weapons in her hands this time, but I wasn’t about to assume anything.
“Hello there,” Jerry said like this was a perfectly normal encounter. “I didn’t think we’d have any company tonight. Quick question, are you the murderer?”
She crossed her arms. “No. Are you?”
He turned to me and said, “I believe her. I don’t know why, but I do.”
I couldn’t hold the question in any longer. “How did you get in here?!”
“There’s a secret passage behind our bookshelves connecting the two rooms,” she explained, pointing at the new entryway exposed in our wall. “Must be part of the murder mystery or whatever. You guys know this whole situation is totally fucked, right?”
I answered “Yeah,” as Jerry said, “Totally.”
She went on, “We’re getting out of here. You boys want to come?”
Jerry eagerly answered, “Always.” But I wasn’t so sure I could trust anyone who trusted us. The only way she could possibly know that neither of us were the killer was if she already knew who the killer was. Right?
“Not so fast,” I said. “What makes you so sure you even want us to come with you?”
“Claire trusts you. That’s good enough for me.”
“But why does Claire trust us?”
Loren seemed confused. She tilted her head and said, “You do know what she is, right?”
“What is she?”
“You mean... you don’t already know?”
“Can we just cut to the chase here? I’m so tired of beating around the bush.”
“Claire… she… well, she knows things she shouldn’t know. Sometimes, she remembers things before they happen. And…” Loren stopped, looked around the room.
“And she can tell when people are about to die.”
I thought about the note crumpled in the trash and asked a question I didn’t want to know the answer to. “Is she ever wrong?”
“Well, she told me you were like her. Was she wrong about that?”
“There’s something messed up with me. I think that’s what she meant. If what you’re saying is true, then I think she and I ended up on opposite ends of the freakshow lottery. But we’ve already spent too long discussing it. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, we’re being watched, which means they’ll know any plan we come up with. Our best option is to work fast and stick together.”
“Agreed. Let’s get going. Claire is waiting for us.”
I knew the clock was ticking. I didn’t have time to second guess. Survival instincts had kicked in, and now we were making our escape.
“Who the fuck’s Claire?” Jerry asked as we walked through the secret passageway.
She was waiting for us at the end of the plain, dimly-lit corridor connecting our two rooms. Claire held Loren’s butterfly knife in her hand fully extended, pointed at the floor. I instantly knew without asking that she was afraid of knives. She hated touching them. The only reason she had this one was because Loren insisted she take it and arm herself moments ago, before heading through the secret passageway and leaving her alone and vulnerable. But did I know that because of the look on her face? The body language? Or was there something else at play? Was something putting ideas into my head again?
Damn, I really need to get my medicine before we leave.
Claire smiled with her eyes when she saw us coming. I noticed that she had already changed clothes for the escape. A knee-length floral skirt and a black long-sleeve blouse that didn’t quite match. Still, it would serve its purpose well enough if we needed to run.
As we entered their room, I forgot what was going on and tried for mandatory pleasantries. “Claire, this is--”
She cut me off, “Jerry, I know.”
Jerry smiled and whispered, “I’m famous.”
Loren took her knife from Claire and asked, “Is it safe?”
Claire shook her head. “I can’t tell. There’s something about this house. It’s like trying to see through fog. All I know is what’s right in front of me.”
Loren looked at me. “How about you? Is it safe?”
“How the hell would I know? I told you, I’m not psychic.”
She sounded like she was running out of patience. “Not psychic. Just sensitive. Sometimes, when people are close to death, they can hear something whispering from the other side. For whatever reason, Claire’s talent has a certain effect on people like that. She’s like a signal boost.”
A jolt of electricity ran up my spine, followed quickly by a wave of nausea. The earth quaked. The house shook. I nearly lost my balance again, and in an instant, it was over. I reflexively reached up and grabbed my throat, right where the phantom pain was beginning to subside. “Did you guys feel that?”
Jerry shrugged. “Feel what?”
Claire was holding on to Loren for balance, her head turned down as she took deep breaths. One of her hands was pressed against her throat. When she finally looked up, we shared the same thought. She let me be the one to say it.
“Someone just died.”
“Oh snap,” Jerry said. “Jack’s got the shining! Quick, what number am I thinking of?”
Loren quickly replied, “It doesn’t work that way you idiot.” (The number he was thinking of was sixty-nine.) She turned her attention to her sister and asked, “What did you see?”
“Nothing,” she answered. “But I felt it.”
I looked at Jerry and gestured to the door. He didn’t need to be a mind-reader to know I meant, Time to move.
He led the way into the hall. We followed. Down the first flight of stairs. The ground floor was already in sight. And then Loren screamed.
We saw her in a crumpled heap at the landing of the second story, bleeding into the carpet. Hope’s lifeless body. Her terror-stricken face drained of color. A kitchen knife protruding from the center of her throat. That must be why she didn’t make a sound. The killer cut off her voice before she could alert anyone else. Smart, because a simple scream was all it took to bring the rest of the house running to meet us. (Thanks a lot, Loren.)
At this point, Bridget’s scream just felt redundant. Tobias, predictably, pulled out his gun. “What happened?” he yelled. “Oh my God. Oh my… God!”
Bridget went to check for a pulse, but it was nothing more than a formality. We could all see that she was done for. After a few seconds, Bridget looked up and shook her head. I considered signaling the others and making a break for the stairs, but Tobias’s gun was seriously complicating our route of escape.
“Somebody better start talking right now,” he said.
Jerry made a valiant attempt, “Hey, don’t look at us. We were hanging out upstairs together when this happened.”
“Why were you out of your rooms?”
“We were planning our escape. Don’t worry, T-Bone, I was going to come back for you.”
That’s when Loren reminded me of the worst part of Hope’s death. “Someone has to tell Wolfgang.”
“Tell me what?”
I turned and saw the boy standing in the open doorway to his room. Loren and Tobias moved fast, cutting off his line of sight. They talked over one another, speaking too quickly for me to understand either of them. Wolfgang walked towards me, pushed his way between the two of them, approached the body of his dead mother, and looked down at where she lay in a pool of fresh blood. The others were too focused on finding the right words to say, or figuring out what was going on, or casting blame and doubt. They were all too distracted to notice what I noticed--the briefest flicker of a smile on Wolfgang’s face.