Updated: Oct 12, 2020
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This time, when we came to around the dinner table, the screams were almost entirely subdued. I went from getting my head crushed beneath Koda’s mammoth paw to sitting next to Jerry in a confusing instant, but in the moment before I died, I started making plans.
Bridget and Tobias leapt to their feet and embraced. “My darling,” she screamed with crocodile tears, “I thought you were dead!”
I also jumped up. Except I went onto the table. Before I could dive across, Wolfgang already had his knife out. I screamed for Hope to move, to get out of the way, but she just sat there, resigned to her fate. Wolfgang stabbed her in the throat, and I speared into him.
His chair rolled backwards, we crashed to the floor, and somewhere along the way he shoved his bony knee into my face and ran out the door. The little bastard was quick. And he was getting better. Hope died almost instantly this time.
“Fuck!” I screamed, getting to my feet. “He’s just gonna keep doing that every single time!”
Tobias looked around and asked, “What happened?”
I answered, still in screaming mode, “A fucking polar bear ate us because we couldn’t find the stupid attic key! This game is bullshit!”
I heard a growling noise and shut right up. It was coming from nearby… No, worse, it was coming from inside me! The seriousness of the situation slowly dawned on me in a jumbled mess of thoughts.
That was my stomach growling, which makes sense. I haven’t eaten in days. But that means our hunger level--like our memory--doesn’t reset after each iteration. Which means, we’re probably all starving right now at different rates, depending on who stayed alive the longest. But then what happens when the hunger gets too strong? What happens when we don’t have the strength to continue? Do we just start dying and restarting and starving over and over forever?
A loud chime interrupted my thoughts.
“Ah, goodie! It seems that the detective has finally arrived. Perhaps he can help us sort out this ghastly affair.”
Everybody screamed some version of “shut the fuck up” at Nathaniel. Not surprisingly, he didn’t seem too bothered by it.
We charged into the great hall, but before we could start barricading the door again, the detective let himself in and began screaming at us, “Everybody listen! Stop screwing around and solve the damned mystery!”
“MAKE US!” Jerry yelled before walking up and spitting into the detective’s face.
“You consistently underestimate the seriousness of this situation and overestimate your own competence. I will not continue to spoon feed you help. If you fail, you shall have no one but yourselves to blame. And I promise, I will let you fail. In the meantime, if you have any questions, Mr. Cholmondeley is at your disposal.”
Much to our surprise, he then turned around, opened the door, and left, slamming the door shut behind him hard enough to make the chandeliers rock.
Jerry turned back to look at us with a triumphant win-face and said, “Ha! That’s one problem solved. What’s next?”
Nathaniel tapped his way into the room, saying, “I believe now would be an excellent time for us all to come together and work as a team if we are to solve the mystery of Bedside Manor.”
“Oh shut the fuck up!” spat Loren. “You’re not even real.” She picked up the poker by the fireplace and proceeded to thwack him over the head repeatedly, with enough force to decapitate any normal human. Nathaniel just stood there and took it with a smile.
“Feel better?” Jerry asked.
“A little, actually. Yeah. You wanna try?” She offered him the poker. He accepted as she added, “It’s quite therapeutic.”
Before Jerry began his turn on the human(?) punching bag, my stomach rumbled again, loud enough to get Claire’s attention.
"You’re hungry," she said without moving her lips.
So are you, I thought.
“I have a bag of trail mix in my room.” I said to the group. “Split six ways, it won’t go far, but at least it will hold us over until we’re forced to eat Nathaniel.”
“It’s probably not safe,” Tobias announced, as if we needed someone to state the obvious.
Jerry responded, “It should be fine if we cook him well enough.”
“I meant leaving the great hall.”
“How about we put it to a vote?” Loren suggested. “All in favor of going to Jack’s room?” She raised her hand. Jerry raised both of his. Claire was next. Then Bridget. Then, finally, Tobias. “I guess it’s unanimous, then.”
Nathaniel--with his head almost completely flattened--spoke up with the same detached cheerfulness we’d come to expect from him. “I recommend we stay where we are. I believe we haven’t yet found all the clues in this area. Perhaps if we were to continue our search, we can bla bla bla bla bla...” I didn’t hear the last part of whatever he was selling. We’d already left by then.
We stuck together as a group (finally!). Not that it really mattered; I’d already seen what one bear could do to a half dozen able-bodied people. If there were more booby-traps or Saw-games waiting for us, no amount of teamwork would guarantee our safety.
We stayed quiet until we reached the landing of the third floor, when Loren asked her sister if it was safe.
“I don’t know,” Claire said. “It’s like listening for a whisper in a room full of screaming.”
I turned around to see if Tobias noticed. It was rather brave for them to be speaking so candidly around a spy and a member of a supernatural exploitation think tank. That’s when I realized, neither of them were moving their lips.
Loren asked Claire if we could trust everyone.
“There’s a darkness here like I’ve never seen, hiding deep inside one of us. Like the boy, only worse.”
Loren understood. She told Claire to stay close, no matter what.
I probably should have been a little more interested in the fact that Loren was tapped into our mental WiFi network, but the thing about traumatic paranormal murder disasters that nobody ever tells you is this: eventually, you hit a plateau, where nothing really surprises you anymore.
When we reached the Woodrow Harper suite, Jerry made the valiant offer to go in by himself. He had the fire poker resting over his shoulder and a big, dumb smile on his face. I realized with equal parts annoyance and admiration that he was actually having fun with this.
“I’ll go with you,” I said.
“Me too,” added Tobias.
Loren stepped up. “We’ll all go.”
Jerry walked up to the door, took a deep breath, and said, “Alright! Let’s do this!” Then, with a short charge forward, he kicked the door open. “Shit, that kinda hurt,” he muttered under his breath before rushing inside. He kept the fire poker extended, making light-saber noises as he swung and pointed it in every direction. The rest of us followed closely. A few seconds passed, but spikes didn’t fall from the ceiling, the room didn’t start filling with sand, and the door didn’t slam shut of its own accord. It appeared as if we were safe. For now.
Bridget looked around and commented, “Your room is a lot smaller than ours.”
Jerry lowered his weapon before responding, “This is a weird time to flex, but go on with your bad self, Bridget.”
I found my stuff right where I’d left it: in a pile in the bathroom. The bag of trail mix was sitting on top of my crumpled up t-shirt and jeans. Not much left in the way of sustenance (plus Jerry had already picked out most of the M&M’s), but if it could stave off hunger for even a few more minutes, I’d take what I could get. Then, quite suddenly, another thought occurred to me. Jerry’s pants were on the floor by the shower, but that wasn’t where he left them. No, he carried them back into the room when we grabbed the stun gun… but was that before or after the reset point?
I checked his pocket. Sure enough, the stun gun was still there. And more importantly, it still had a cartridge in place. Things were looking up.
Tobias called from the bedroom, “You good in there, Jack?”
I hid the weapon in my waistband under the suit jacket and returned to the others. “Found it!” I said, just before a surge of electricity ran up my spine.
Claire pointed at the armoire next to me and screamed, “Jack, look out!”
The door opened and Wolfgang lunged at me with an axe. I barely managed to fall back in time to miss a direct hit to the face. Wolfgang had found himself a new weapon. It was a bold decision that was going to cost him dearly. He wasn’t so practiced with this one, and as soon as his swing missed, he lost his balance and hit the floor. I quickly jumped on top of the axe. Wolfgang grabbed the handle and pulled, but he wasn’t strong enough to wrestle it away from me.
His next go-to move was a desperate charge towards the door, but Jerry cut him off before he could escape. He held the poker out like a rapier and said in a calming voice, “Alright, buddy, time for you to chill out. Now, we aren’t going to hurt you, but you need to--”
That was all the time it took for me to line up my shot and fire the stun gun. The prongs landed in the center of his back and immediately sent him into a seizing, electrified fit on the ground. Tobias wasted no time grabbing the bookshelf, pulling it free from the wall, and toppling it over onto the boy, pinning him in place.
“Jesus!” Jerry yelled. “Calm down, guys! I think we got him.”
I dragged the axe over. Wolfgang was trapped beneath the shelf and books, all except for his head and a portion of one of his hands. He was screaming, cursing, thrashing, repeating himself over and over about how much he hated us and how he was going to cut our faces off and gut us and etc. He was an annoying little shit, and an objectively terrible person. But he was also still a kid, and I took absolutely no pleasure in what I was about to do. Jerry saw the weapon in my hand and the look on my face.
“Whoa, whoa, dude!” he stepped over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to kill him.”
“Oh, I wasn’t going to kill him.”
Wolfgang suddenly stopped screaming.
There was an unusual note of concern in Jerry’s voice. “Well… What are you going to do?”
I whispered back to him, “Will you take the others and leave us alone? I… I don’t want any of them to see this part.”
It took a little convincing, but Jerry managed to get the rest of them out of there. I locked the door behind us. Now it was just me and Wolfgang.
I took a seat on the ground next to where he was still struggling to break free. It was a noble but futile effort from a broken body. There was blood pooling around his neck, and he smelled like he’d probably pissed himself.
“I’m not fucking afraid of you,” he said rather menacingly for someone in his predicament.
“Go ahead and do your worst.”
I took my time finding the right words. I stared at the axe in my lap. Of all the weapons Wolfgang could have chosen, he went with this. If he’d jumped out at me with a knife or a molotov cocktail or even a sharp pair of scissors, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But he’d overestimated his own ability. Lucky me.
“You’ve been alive the longest out of any of us, haven’t you?”
He tried to move his head, to look me in the eyes, but the shelf had his neck locked in place. “What?” he asked.
“I’ve just been thinking. You lasted a couple hours the first night. Who knows how long you really made it after the squirrels got your mom. And then what? How long did you stay alive in this house by yourself after Koda got the rest of us? I’m just saying, you’ve probably been hunting for a while now, burning a lot of energy. And you never even got to eat dinner.”
“Why are you still talking to me?”
I took the handful of trail mix out of my jacket pocket. This would have been my portion, about one-sixth of the bag. Mostly raisins, but in that instant, it looked like Christmas dinner.
I poured it all into a pile in front of Wolfgang’s face. Right where he had to look at it. Close enough that he could smell it, but impossibly far. I could feel his hunger. It was ferocious. He struggled to move, but the broken bones held him still. He screamed and stretched out his tongue, but the food would stay there, just out of reach, until he bled out or starved to death.
I climbed back to my feet, wished him well, and went to join the others in the hallway, hoping the door would be enough to muffle his screams. Claire couldn’t look me in the eyes, which I took as proof she knew what I had done. Jerry took the axe from me and said softly, “Dude, why don’t you just let me go in there and, you know, finish him off? It’s not even a big deal. Life is meaningless, remember? You didn’t have to do it like this.”
But I did. I needed Wolfgang to hate me. I needed him absolutely, blindingly furious with me. I needed his hatred of me to overcome his senses so that when he died, when he came back, the only thing he could think of was revenge. That was the only way we could save Hope.
Tobias took charge and changed the subject. “I think we can take this experience as evidence that bedrooms aren’t trap rooms. It might be a good idea to continue searching for supplies. Maybe there was something in Hope’s suite we can use to get out of this mess.”
I was already headed for the stairs. “What are we waiting for then?”
Hope’s suite was even bigger than ours. (Not that I was jealous or anything. I just found it interesting.) There was plenty of space to explore. Tobias and Bridget started raiding the kitchenette. The sisters checked the walk-in closet. Jerry went to the bathroom. I went straight for the bedroom and found exactly what I was looking for right away. My backpack was sitting there on the mattress like it was waiting for me.