Jump to Chapter
The room around us disappeared, blinking out of existence for an infinitesimal moment. Before my mind had time to register the frame skip, my surroundings had been replaced. The walls were concrete. The air thick and wet. The only light coming from a single bare incandescent bulb hanging from the ceiling. I had been transported to the basement.
Koda the bear was gone now. In its place stood an upright wooden coffin. Before I even had time to say “What the hell?” the scene had already been set in motion. The door of the casket creaked loudly open to reveal a woman sleep-standing inside with her eyes closed and arms crossed (so how did she open the door without her hands, anyway?). I recognized her instantly. This was Bridget, or at least some version of Bridget. I almost averted my eyes, because there was something undeniably creepy about watching an unconscious woman, especially one wearing nothing but a thinner-than-paper-thin white gown. The way her outfit hugged her features like a second skin, she may as well have been wearing nothing at all. But before I could turn away, her eyes opened. Two burning red pupils immediately fixed on me. She uncrossed her arms and stepped forward, although the way she moved might better be described as floating, her long red hair rippling behind her like light trail photography, obeying its own laws of physics.
“Is he ready?” she asked, freezing in place a few feet in front of me, just out of smacking distance. Her strange accent was now far more exaggerated, and as she spoke, it exposed two elongated canine teeth.
“I’m sorry,” I said as politely as possible. “Do you want to, like, borrow my jacket or something? It’s, uh… a little cold in here.”
“He’s ready.” That second voice came from right behind my ear. I turned around to see Loren, scantily clad in what can only be described as a dominatrix swimsuit. Black leather, fishnets, mascara, lipstick, and nothing else. “The mind-flaying is complete. He has no idea where he is or what has happened. He is utterly confused.”
I absolutely agreed with the last thing she said. Everything else felt like gibberish.
“Excellent!” Bridget exclaimed. She was right behind me now. Her hand wrapped around my torso, her fingers settled over my heart, and she pulled me to her, pressing her cold chest against my back and whispering into my ear. “I’ve wanted this one since the moment he walked in.”
I stammered, “Do you ladies know… how much a polar bear weighs?”
They both laugh-cackled. I could see now that Loren bore the same fangs as Bridget. I felt awkward as hell.
Right then, the door to the basement stairs broke at the lock and slammed against the concrete wall. Jerry stood on the other side with a shirt covered in blood, a crossbow in his hands, and a look of gleeful madness in his eyes.
The women immediately stopped laughing. “Impossible!” Bridget hissed. “You’re supposed to be dead!”
“Yeah,” he responded, taking a step into the room. “Well you’re supposed to be stupid! I guess I’m the only one here defying expectations.” With that, he aimed the crossbow at Loren and let an arrow fly.
As it pierced her chest, she screamed, fell to her knees, and exclaimed, “Agh! You’ve killed me, you butthole!” Her final words lingered in the air as she burst into white flames that quickly extinguished, leaving behind only a pile of ash.
Bridget pushed me into the wall with way more force than someone her size should be capable of. I hit the ground and watched as she floated towards Jerry. “You’re too late, Jeremiah Cumberbatch! The mind-flaying is complete. Your friend now believes that none of this is real. Nothing you say will convince him otherwise! Your only choice is to join us!”
Jerry threw the crossbow to the ground as she closed the distance. She bore her teeth, hissed, and went in for the attack. She must not have seen the wooden stake tucked under his belt. He pulled it out, thrust the weapon into her heart, and quipped, “Suck on this, blood sucker!”
She wailed in pain as her skin burst into brilliant white fire. (I guess they should have been wearing a little more armour over their single vulnerable organs, but nobody asked for my opinion, so…)
I stretched and wiggled my extremities to test for any broken bones. My shoulder took most of the brunt force from the attack, but save for a nasty bruise, I couldn’t complain. As I got back to my feet, Jerry ran up to my side and started shaking me like a human maraca. “Jack!” he shouted. “Are you okay? TALK TO ME, DAMMIT!”
I waited for him to stop shaking me before answering, “I’m fine.”
He smacked me and said, “Snap out of it!”
I smacked him back as hard as I could. “Don’t hit people, dude. We’ve talked about this!”
He pressed his hand against his cheek and asked, “Do you know where you are? Can you remember what’s going on?”
“Well,” I looked around. “I think we’re still trapped in Bedside Manor.” I looked at the piles of ash on the floor, then at the blood on Jerry’s shirt. “However,” I continued. “I feel like I might have missed something.”
He grabbed me and shook me again. “It’s your mind! They flayed it!”
“Oh. Okay. What?”
“Here’s what happened. Your name is Jack Townsend. I’m your best friend Jerry. I loaned you ten thousand dollars--pay me back when you can--and then we went on a cross-country road trip until the car mysteriously broke down outside of this spooky manor. We came here to ask if we could use the phone, then BAM! Turns out, this was just another one of them classic sexy-vampire dens. I’ve been killing them all night. They captured you because they wanted to turn you into their Renfield sex-slave, but the only way to do that was to erase your memories.”
He went to grab the crossbow off the floor.
“So you’re telling me,” I began, “that I’ve been brainwashed by sexy vampires to believe that this was all just a simulation?”
“Simulation?” he repeated, pulling an arrow from the quiver slung across his shoulder and loading it into the weapon. “You mean like the 1999 sci-fi classic ‘The Matrix’?”
“No, more like Juman--” He shoved the weapon into my hands.
“No time to discuss genre-defining cinematic masterpieces! We have to get out of here before their king Wolfgang recovers from my garlic bazooka. It’s a long story. Remind me to tell you later.”
He was already at the stairs when I stopped him with one simple question. “What kind of pet does Lucy have?”
He turned around to see me aiming the weapon at his face.
He blinked a few times, then said, “Easy there, Jack. You don’t want to shoot me. I’m your friend.”
“You have no idea who Lucy is, do you? Just like how you didn’t know that our sheriff was a woman named O’Brien. Lucy doesn’t have social media, and the researchers for this little experiment skipped leg day.”
“That’s just your mind-flaying talking.”
“So you do know Lucy?”
“Prove it, then. What kind of pet does she have?”
“She has a pet snake.”
I gave him a few seconds, just in case he wanted a do-over. Then I said, “Wrong again.”
I aimed for his foot, but crossbows aren’t nearly as intuitive as you might believe. The weapon went off about a half-second after I expected it to, and the arrow ended up lodged in his knee. The thing calling himself Jerry put his hands on his hips, gave me an “Are you satisfied?” scowl, and shook his head.
The walls disappeared. I saw nothing but darkness.
What happens next?