Updated: Oct 12
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Tobias took a knee and pulled the boy away from his mother’s body. An awkward silence fell as we waited to hear what our honorary leader could possibly say. I didn’t envy his position. I wouldn’t have known how to talk to Wolfgang under the best of circumstances. I certainly couldn’t process more than a superficial “I’m sorry for your loss” if I had to. But Tobias wanted to be the one in charge, and that position came with certain burdens that guns simply could not help.
Tobias did the best he could, “Wolfgang, listen. I need you to be strong, okay?”
The kid seemed plenty strong to me. Just a callous, empty, “Okay,” followed by a long stare at his mother’s body and the words, “I guess whoever killed the old woman got Mom, too.”
Jerry was the next to speak. “I think it’s high time we all get out of here.”
Tobias stood and turned to square off against him. “Get out of here... and go where?”
“Anywhere,” answered Loren, stepping up to Jerry’s side. “Pick a direction and go! There’s a murderer in this house. It’s better than sticking around and getting picked off one at a time.”
“Nobody’s going anywhere!” Tobias said sternly.
Jerry crossed his arms. “It sounds an awful lot like you’ve got an ulterior motive to keep us in place.”
Tobias was getting worked up now. “If I was the killer, don’t you think I’d just have shot you all by now and been done with it?”
“Of course not,” Jerry responded. “The thrill is in the hunt.”
I punched him in the shoulder. “Alright, everybody shut up. Okay? Whoever’s behind this was hoping for this exact scenario. I don’t know how they did it, but I don’t much care anymore. The important facts are these: We’ve all been lured into a trap. We are being watched and toyed with. Nowhere inside this house can be considered safe and none of us can be trusted. The stupidest thing we can do is stay put.”
“Wait a second,” Tobias said. “What do you mean by ‘we’re being watched’?”
“Jerry and I have reason to believe our room is bugged.”
Tobias shifted his eyes to the body. “So then, there could be cameras. There might be footage of whoever killed--”
A jolt of energy shot through me fast and hard. I lost my breath and nearly lost my balance along with it. For a moment, I thought I was having a heart attack. But then the moment passed just as suddenly as it came.
“Dude,” Jerry put a hand on my shoulder. “You alright? You look like you just swallowed a stinkbug.”
“Claire!” Loren caught her sister before she fell over. “What’s wrong?” She struggled to catch her breath, then looked at me and answered without using her words. The killer knows we’re figuring it out. He’s panicked. He’s changing plans. And someone is about to die. It wasn’t just a suspicion or an intuition. It was the feeling of terror you get a half second before a car accident. When you see it coming but can’t stop it. The moment when time slows down, when some people see their lives flash before their eyes. It hadn’t happened yet, but we were way too late to stop this. It was as good as done.
“Fuck!” I screamed.
Claire finally spoke. She said exactly what I knew she was going to say. “I’m so sorry.”
The feeling was already wearing off. That sense of inevitability dwindled by the second, replaced with a newfound urge to get the fuck out of there before what I saw came to pass.
I chose my words carefully. “We have to leave!”
Tobias raised his voice. “I said we’re not going anywhere until--”
I’d heard enough out of him. Tobias wasn’t the only one here with a weapon. Before I’d even had time to think it through, I pulled the stun gun out of my pocket and hurled it as hard as I could. It struck him right between the eyes, dropping him onto his back.
“Yes!” I screamed immediately before realizing why I should not have done that.
“Dang, dude,” Jerry said. “Nice shot.”
Tobias was already getting back to his feet. He reached into his jacket, presumably going for the handgun, but then his face registered a look that I recognized all too well. The oh shit look. That’s when I knew, He doesn’t have his pistol anymore! He looked around for his weapon, but his eyes settled on something else.
“Jerry!” I screamed, pointing to where the stun gun had landed by the stairs.
Tobias leapt for it. Jerry let out a battle cry of “Sproing!” as he dove headfirst across the hall. They collided and tumbled down the stairs together. Loren stepped forward, but I held out my arm to stop her.
“Wait,” I said.
“Until we see who gets the gun.”
They both took a hell of a beating on the way down. There was blood on both of their faces when they finally came to a rolling stop. Jerry kicked the stun gun across the floor. Tobias took the bait, leaping to his feet while Jerry grabbed his ankles and pulled them out from under him.
Loren asked, “Shouldn’t we…”
“No, no, he’s got this.”
I knew Jerry would either get to the weapon first, or Tobias would spend the only charge on the one guy here who had already tasered himself for fun on multiple occasions. They grappled clumsily across the room until Jerry got the upper hand, snagged the weapon, and fired it into the air with a triumphant, “Ha!”
Tobias immediately punched him square in the nose. Jerry dropped the gun, grabbed his bleeding face, and said, “Ah fuck you, ya sore loser!”
Loren charged down the steps with Claire tailing her. I kept close. When she hit the foot of the stairs, Loren shouted, “That’s enough!”
Jerry pointed at Tobias, “He started it!”
Loren ignored him. “This isn’t helping! Put your dicks away and pay attention to what’s happening before it’s too late!”
Tobias wiped his bloody face off on his sleeve. He looked around at the crowd that had gathered on the first floor, then up the steps. “Bridget?” His voice had lost all authority. Now it was replaced by simple, old-fashioned fear. “Honey? Where are you?”
I looked behind me. There was no one at the top of the stairs. A quick head count proved that we were suddenly missing two more people. Bridget and Wolfgang were both lost, disappeared into the ether just like old Nathaniel. And… (I just now noticed), Maggie. There was a bloody spot on the floor where she had died, but evidently someone had moved the body.
I looked towards the front door. It was right there. We were almost free. Just a few steps and that unspeakable vision I saw at the top of the stairs wouldn’t be possible.
Tobias was already on his way up the stairs, calling his wife’s name. The others shifted gears accordingly, joining him in the search without even a second thought. Only I stayed behind, by myself, wishing there was something I could do to change their minds. But Tobias wouldn’t leave without his wife. Loren wouldn’t leave without the missing child. Claire wouldn’t leave without her sister. And Jerry wouldn’t leave until everyone else was safe. Nothing I could say would change it. That’s why he was about to die.
I looked to the bookcase, where that strange noise had come from. It was moving, pivoting on a hinge, swinging outward, creaking open like a door. Another secret passageway. I braced myself for the closet monster or swarm of killer hornets or whatever other surprise attack this night had in store, but nothing happened right away. The bookcase stopped moving when the passage was about a foot ajar. Enough to see through, if I wanted to take a look. This was a new mystery beckoning me over. Luckily, I’d run out of intellectual curiosity several dead bodies ago, and I could see this obvious trap for what it was.
After several seconds, I still hadn’t moved. I guess that’s when the obvious trap decided to up the ante. “Hello?!” screamed the voice of Bridget from the other side of the secret door. “Is someone there?! Please! Help me!”
I approached the bookcase, leaned against it, and pushed it closed until I heard the latch snap into place. Bridget, or whatever was using her voice, continued to plead with me, but now it was muffled, barely audible. If we were lucky, nobody else would hear it.
I turned to see Loren standing at the foot of the stairs, Claire hiding right behind her.
“Did I just see you closing a secret door?” Loren asked.
I shook my head and said, “What? Secret door? No.”
Bridget let out a loud scream. The pipes on this woman were impressive, to say the least.
Loren began approaching me, taking slow steps with Claire silently following. “What was that?” she asked.
“What was what?”
Click-Clack. The bookcase door swung open again, with enough force to hit me in the back and knock me onto the ground as books flew of the shelf and landed around me. Bridget continued to scream, “Help me! Please! Oh my god! Tobias! Someone! Anyone!”
“Oh,” I said, feigning stupidity. “You meant that?”
Loren rushed over to the passageway, but I pulled myself up and blocked her path. I held out both hands and said, “Wait!”
She stopped long enough to put her knife against my throat and say, “Give me one Goddamn reason why I should.”
“Earlier, when we found Hope’s body, I saw something. I don’t know if it’s what you would call a vision, but…” I looked at Claire. “I know you saw it, too!”
“What was it?” Loren asked.
I couldn’t bring myself to describe the details. “This house is fucking with us. There is no scenario where we all get out alive. It’s like quicksand. The more you struggle, the deeper you sink. The only winning move is not to play.”
“And you’re the one who decides where we draw the line, who is and isn’t worth saving? You want to be in charge of triage? What if it was me or Claire in that room? What if it was your friend Jerry? If you want to run away and save yourself, go for it. But don’t you dare tell me who isn’t worth my saving.”
“Bridget?!” It all became moot anyway a second later, when Tobias finally heard his wife’s voice. He raced down the stairs, ran past us without even acknowledging our little standoff, and went into the secret room behind the bookshelf.
Jerry slid down the handrail behind him, jumped off at the last second, and waved at us as he followed Tobias like a farmdog chasing his owner’s car into traffic. I rolled my eyes and followed. Loren and Claire were right behind us. The moment we were all together in the room, the secret bookcase door slammed shut behind us.
It was a library. A secret room bigger than the parlor, with every square inch of wall covered in bookshelves and lit by a cluster of crystal chandeliers. Under other circumstances, I’d have been losing my mind (in a good way), but despite the size of our new cage, I was feeling woefully claustrophobic.
It certainly didn’t help that Bridget was chained up to a wooden chair in the center of the room, with a square box in her lap that had a bright LED display counting down the time from fifty-six minutes…
It also didn’t help that the blind man had suddenly reappeared, standing in the room with us…
Loren tore the books from the secret door, throwing them to the ground in an effort to find a way to reopen it from this side. She wouldn’t find it. I knew she was feeling regret, but I kept my I-told-you-so’s to myself for now.
Tobias was at Bridget’s side, comforting her while simultaneously checking the chains that held her in place. Bridget’s mascara was running down her face. She was saying a lot of things, nothing terribly important. A lot of “I love you,” “I don’t want to die,” and variations on that theme. Claire collected the books Loren had tossed to the ground, moving them into a stack in the corner. Jerry circled the room, taking it all in. I just stood still, frozen, wondering if I could have tried harder to escape when we had the chance.
When Nathaniel spoke, we all stopped what we were doing and listened. “It would appear that our dear Bridget has fallen victim to one of Bedside Manor’s many perils. A most dangerous trap indeed. But not to worry! There is still time to solve this puzzle and save her life. To do so, we must work together and search for clues.”
Loren charged at him, “Listen to me you mysterious old fuck! Let us go right now or I’m going to cut you into confetti and throw a goddamn party!”
“I’m sorry,” he responded a little too calmly. “I don’t understand that reference. Perhaps if you search the library, you will find what you are looking for.”
She lunged forward with a scream and plunged the blade into his stomach.
He didn’t react. I nearly pissed myself, but the old man acted like he hadn’t even noticed. Loren yanked the knife out, slinging blood across the carpeted floor. Nathaniel waited a moment, then said, “If you need a hint to get yourselves started, or if you find that you’ve gotten stuck, I am authorized to give you up to three clues to get you back on track. But all members of the party must agree before--”
Loren held the knife with both hands and slashed it across Nathaniel’s face from ear to ear. Blood poured from the enormous gash. The flesh of his top lip dangled over his beard. His tongue moved up and down, visible from the tear in his cheek meat. And yet, it didn’t seem to phase him one bit. His words were slightly harder to understand, but I think he was explaining what we had to do to get another hint.
Loren backed away, a look of pure horror on her face. “What the fuck is going on?!” she gasped.
“Well my theory of sex cult just got shot right out the window,” Jerry said, handing her a stack of oversized encyclopedias.
That’s when Bridget said something that caught my attention. Her voice changed. It was quieter now. This was meant to be for her husband and no one else. Of course I had to listen.
“Tobias, my darling, I have to tell you something. I have to tell you… I know about Lisa.”
“Be quiet dear.”
“That’s what all this is about, right? That’s why we’re here? Isn’t it? That’s the only thing that makes sense. This has to have something to do with--”
“Bridget! Not another word.”
“I love you.”
“I’m going to get us out of here. I just need to find some tools.”
Jerry walked up to them. “What are we looking at? I’m a bit of a bomb guy myself.”
Tobias pushed him away, “Not now, you. No offense, but this is way out of your league. I just need to find a way to open the faceplate.”
Jerry removed his belt and held it over, “Here, you can use the belt prong to pry it open.”
Tobias reluctantly accepted the help while Bridget looked on in fear. “What is it?” she asked.
Jerry answered, “It’s an IED with a targeted C4 blast.”
Tobias opened the device, then the two of them began speaking bomb jargon like they were talking shop. “There’s a panel to enter a disarm code.”
Jerry pointed, “Watch out for the mercury tilt switch. If we jostle it, the bomb will go off.”
“I can disarm this. I just need to disconnect the arming switch from the power source.”
“Are you mental? Dude, what kind of bomb has a tilt switch and not an interrupter detector? You disconnect that wire, you set it off.”
“Kng flg brmrrr, wk tha ha clas br you to sol…” Nathaniel continued to bleed and bubble unintelligibly.
A hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me away from the bomb experts. It was Loren, directing me to the corner where she and Claire had been building a small fort out of books. “We’re making a bunker,” she explained.
“I can’t leave them,” I said, pointing at the chair bomb trio.
“You can’t help them either. Help us!”
She had a point, and I didn’t have time to argue. If that bomb got down to one minute, I’d have to find a way to subdue Jerry and drag him to the safety corner. But until then, at least I could do something productive. Nathaniel continued to drone and bleed, Jerry and Tobias argued about explosives schematics, Bridget tried to remain calm, and the rest of us built a blast wall in the furthest corner of the room out of the thickest books we could find.
The wall was only about chest high when I heard Jerry scream, “NO!”
Tobias screamed back, “FUCK YOU! I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!” He shoved Jerry away, reached into the bomb casing, and--
Loren slammed an open hardcover book over my head and pulled me to the ground. The room turned solid white, and the air around me was replaced by pure sound.
Time wavered. I floated. Reality coalesced. Eons passed and then, I was brought violently back to the moment. Everything hurt. My insides revolted. Air--mercifully--returned, but breathing was a laborious task. I tasted copper. I couldn’t see anything. The only sound was the ringing in my ears.
And then, what was left of my survival instinct took over. I tried to move my fingers. So far so good. Then my arms. Not so good. I yelled out Jerry’s name and realized that it was muffled, not just by the ringing. There was something in front of my face. On top of me. All over my body, holding me down.
Ah shit! I realized. I’m buried alive!
I struggled to free myself, finding that the grave of books I’d fallen into wasn’t all that deep. I pushed the debris off of myself and emerged into a dark room. The only light was coming from the myriad fires or pouring in through the secret passageway where the bookshelf door had been blown right off its hinges. Most of the room was gone, or at least hadn’t landed yet. There was a small crater in the center of the room where Bridget’s chair had been. Loren and Claire were both up, coughing, covered in burns and blood, but alive. And then I saw the bodies. I almost didn’t recognize them from what was left... but there was no doubt. Bridget, Tobias, and Jerry were completely destroyed.
My vision had come true. We couldn’t have saved them. They were all dead.