Updated: Oct 12
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Jerry swung a mean right hook across Wolfgang’s cheek. It connected with enough force to send the boy flying off the table.
“Boom, baby!” Jerry exclaimed as Wolfgang and the knife both collided with the floor. He walked over to where Wolfgang was trying to pick himself back up. “You know, I promised my lawyer I’d stop punching kids in the face, but for you I think I’ll make an exception.” Wolfgang made a desperate charge for the knife, but Jerry caught him in a headlock and pulled him away, shushing calmly. “It’s okay. Relax. We’re just gonna leave the weapon and talk about this like adults. We’re gonna be like Fonzie okay? You probably don’t get either version of that reference, but trust me… it’s okay.”
Hope was already running around the table. “LET GO OF MY CHILD!” she screamed.
Before any of us had time to react, Hope had already pulled the gun out of her clutch purse, put it against Jerry’s head, and pulled the trigger.
His lifeless body fell to the ground. Wolfgang gasped for air. Hope dropped to her knees and reached for her son. It was the last mistake she’d make in this life. He quickly picked up the knife, turned, and plunged it into her eye all the way to the hilt. By the time she had collapsed the rest of the way to the ground, Wolfgang was already halfway out of the dining room.
I ran to Jerry’s side, but there was nothing I could do for him. The bullet had gone straight through. It was a clean kill. He never saw it coming and hopefully didn’t feel a thing.
“What the fuck?!” Loren screamed. “Where did that gun come from?!”
Tobias walked over, knelt down, and pulled the weapon from Hope’s dead fingers. He turned it over a couple of times, then gave his assessment. “It’s a Ruger 380. A purse-gun. Designed to be discreet.”
I tried not to lose my temper. “You mean to tell me… that this woman… has had a gun on her this entire time?! And what?!” I was screaming at Hope’s body now. “You just chose not to defend yourself?! Maybe that I can understand, but then you freakin’ killed Jerry just because he was trying to help you?!”
Loren grabbed my arm. “Jack, calm down. You’re not helping.”
I tried to calm down, I really did, but then a chime rang out and Nathaniel said with a smile, “Ah, goodie! It seems that the detective has finally arrived. Perhaps he can help us sort out this ghastly affair.”
“SHUT UP, NATHANIEL! NOBODY LIKES YOU! YOU’RE WORSE THAN A HANGNAIL!”
Tobias walked up to Nathaniel and draped his jacket over the old man’s head. “Ignore him,” he said. “Now, let’s talk about a game plan. Next time we respawn, when the boy attacks Jack, I’ll subdue the mom. Loren, can you help Jerry?”
“Great. In that case, I propose we skip ahead right now. There are six bullets left in Hope’s gun. Any volunteers?”
I was taken aback. “Wait,” I said. “Hang on. You’re all suddenly okay with the idea of dying?”
“It’s not death,” Tobias explained. “We’ve been busy. We learned a lot after your disappearance. For instance, we learned that this isn’t a solid timeline. It’s an incursion. We built an echolocator out of the radio and some spare parts from--”
“Did you guys even look for me?”
Tobias made a face like he just heard me speaking in comic sans. “Why would we? Your trap gave us an entire uninterrupted hour to experiment and learn exactly what we’re up against.”
“What about Jerry? Did he at least try?”
Loren answered, “He did, but he got struck by lightning a few minutes after you disappeared.”
Tobias shook his head. “I told him not to bother. But Jack, you’re missing the point. We’ve figured out so much! See, this house, it’s a vacuum in time. Alright?” Something about Tobias’s explanation was nagging at my subconscious.
I asked, “Does that mean you know how to get out of it?”
“No, but I think you’re failing to understand the implications. It completely rewrites quantum theory from the ground up.” There was still something there. Beyond the techno-babble. Something he said that I couldn’t let go.
“Does any of that get us closer to getting home?”
“It will,” he explained. “The scientific process is just that: a process. There aren’t any eureka moments without extensive work and study. And we’re only at the beginning of--”
“Hang on!” I interrupted. It finally clicked. “You said ‘respawn’ earlier.”
A frown overtook his expression. “Yes. What’s your point?”
I laughed softly to myself. “I know what’s going on.”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
I was about to explain when Claire started to cough. Loren grabbed me by the arm and said, “Guys. I think we have a problem.”
Tobias was already moving for the door before I even smelled the smoke. Claire struggled to get through her coughing fit to spit out the words, “Wait! Don’t!” But it was too late. Tobias stepped into the smoke-filled great room. The carpet, book shelves, and couches were all burning up. Tobias stood there staring at the flames, likely working out the best plan to extinguish the fire. It was exactly what Wolfgang was counting on.
For “the smartest man in the world,” Tobias sure was stupid as hell sometimes. The boy leapt out from his hiding spot and smashed the fire poker over Tobias’s head, dropping him instantly. Before I knew it, he’d grabbed his mother’s gun and put a bullet into Tobias’s back. Then, he set his eyes on us.
Loren pulled me to the back of the dining room and screamed, “Run!” just as the next shot rang out. I saw Bridget fall to the ground, then we were flying through the door behind us, into the parlor. We ran without thinking, deeper into the house, through the doorway on the far end, into the nauseatingly long hallway with the lime-green and purple wallpaper. The sisters ran in front of me. I stopped to look behind and see if we were even being followed, but all I saw was an endless stretch of checkered carpet. It seemingly went for miles and miles. I closed my eyes and tried to remind myself that this was just an optical illusion.
A shot rang out. I opened my eyes and saw Wolfgang standing there. I couldn’t figure out how close he was. That damned hallway made it impossible to know if the space between us was a few feet or a few hundred yards. My ear stung. The bullet must have grazed me, I thought. I put my hand to the side of my head, pulled back at the searing pain, looked at the handful of blood on my palm and reassessed. That bullet did more than just graze me. Wolfgang was running now. I turned around and did the same.
Loren was calling my name from somewhere up ahead. For the first time, I noticed an irregularity in the repeating patterns against the walls. A break. No, a door. Loren leaned out and gestured for me to hurry up. But she was so far away, and Wolfgang was gaining. I’d never make it in time. Another shot echoed down the hall.
And then, inexplicably, I was there. Loren pulled me through and slammed the door shut behind us.