"I swallowed a button when I was a kid."

"So? I swallowed a penny."

Mars looked at me with arched eyebrows, her expression expectant. "What about you? Did you swallow anything cool when you were young?"

I furrowed my eyebrows back at her, gave her a dull look, then looked away, irritated. Honestly, the things these people talked about. They were too stupid to be artists. I was amazed that they knew how to pick up a paintbrush. I was still feeling a little wobbly after the plane ride — I was not in the mood to converse with these weird people.

Well, actually, I supposed I was considered "weird" to them. Oh well — I seriously did not care. I rested my chin in my hand as I stared out the window. The van was large, fitting just enough seats for ten kids and the skinny man in the driver's seat who was, of course, driving. He followed the narrow gravel path towards a large mansion in the distance — Cobra Mansion, it was called. Sounded creepy enough.

Cobra Mansion was secluded on a large island surrounded by the ocean. Why were ten students — artist students — here, then? We were invited. An invitation had appeared in the mail, proposing that I attend this artist camp. . . which wasn't exactly a camp. More like a trip to a mansion where you were treated like gold.

I glanced at the foliage beside me that whipped by — the thin, lanky driver was obviously speeding. Oh, I felt safe already.

Why, oh why, had my mom talked me into going? And why had I listened?

Mars jabbed me in the side with her elbow to get my attention. I glared at her, hardly noticing that various strands of black hair had fallen into my eyes. My hair was dyed so I could have a more. . . darker look. My eyes were a light blue, slightly frosty. I wasn't a nice person, really. You could tell by my eyes.

I was thin yet tall, but I was often told that this heightened my appearance. I was naturally pretty, yet even so, I wore makeup. I had to — I was one of the "popular" girls in school. My two friends, Leslie and Carla, should have been defined as the devil's spawn. Both of them. They were cruel, catty, and drama queens as dramatic as they get. I, sadly, was like them. At home, however, I wasn't so insanely annoying. Inside, I hated them with such a passion that sometimes I thought that killing them would be my only way out.

Of course, unrealistic thoughts got me nowhere.

I was a bitter sixteen-year-old who held too much hatred in her than what was considered healthy. My mother had even wanted me to undertake therapy, and I had refused. To her, this trip to Cobra Mansion was my therapy now. . . therefore, I was expected to be glum and brood the entire trip.

Which I was doing now. . . quite well, actually.

Another elbow in the side made me snap at Mars.

"What?" I all but hissed.

"There was a rabbit," she squeaked, "But you missed it!"

Too bad the car didn't miss it. I turned away and scowled darkly at the chirping birds that were settled on a tree in the distance. I saw them take off in a flurry of feathers and soar across the sky to their next perch.

"Whoa, that's a big house!" Mar's friend, Alicia, suddenly gasped. I glanced towards the mansion and had to agree. It stood lofty, overlooking the land around it in an intimidating manner. Its size was shocking, stretching along the grass and hiding behind a set of trees of the forest. The walls seemed to be crafted together by countless pebbles — but I knew it was only decoration. Large windows faced the dirt road; soft white blinds covered my view from seeing inside.

The driveway was equally as acquainted. As the van pulled in it, I thought that it would never end.

Needless to say, I was impressed.

Everyone piled out of the car, all of their voices hurried and excited. None had been in a mansion like this before — not even Troy Landly, whose family was as rich as they were stuck-up.

Speak of the devil, I thought when I watched Troy pass me, his head held up high as if he believed he was a God. He strutted to the back of the van and simply waited for someone to get his bag for him. The skinny driver with a name tag that read "Jones" decided to obey the little snob's request.

Wait. A name tag?

I glanced at the mansion almost fearfully. What was this place?

I walked to the back of the van and got my bag out. It wasn't too heavy; I hadn't over packed. I did a quick check to see if everything was in it, and the result was positive. A girl who I didn't quite know but was familiar with stepped in front of me to get her bag. Her blonde hair was up in a simple ponytail, and she looked like the heat was killing her. She dragged her bag out — a heavy, bulky bag — and caught my eye.

"Tabbitha!" she said, standing up and leaving her bag on the dirt road, obviously not even daring an attempt at picking it up off the ground. "I never saw you in the van or plane!"

I only looked at her. Was there really a response to that?

Her name was Airy. She was a fairly happy person, yet very shy. Her smile was nice, pure, naive, and her dark brown eyes reminded me of chocolate. She was a good person to hang around, I supposed. I should have probably been a little nicer.

"How are you?" I asked her, my voice sounding fake even to myself.

"Hot!" she said as she looked up at the sun with an exasperated glare. "That sun is gonna give me a burn."

I decided not to hint that she might have needed a tan and only smiled. "It is pretty hot out here, isn't it?"

"Are you talking about the fucking weather?" a boy I didn't know suddenly snorted at us. "What the fuck is wrong with you two? Who the fuck talks about the fucking weather?"

I stared at him with arched eyebrows. Obviously, he was on affectionate terms with the word "fuck". He was one of those guys who thought swearing a lot made them look "too cool for school".

"And who are you?" I asked, not really caring.

"Kyle's my name," he said, smirking. "And you are. . . death's girlfriend?"

Why? Because I had black hair? How pathetic. "Pretty close," I told him, then turned away with the roll of my eyes.

"He's weird," Airy said under her breath to me so Kyle the Creep wouldn't hear her. I nodded, agreeing completely. Once everyone had collected their bags, we followed "Jones" into the Mansion. The door creaked as it opened and I couldn't help but be reminded of a horror movie. Creee-eeak! I cringed. What a terrible sound.

"This is cool," Airy said to me.

Yeah, okay.

We all kicked off our shoes and set them in a row, upon Jones's request. Then, we followed him down a corridor. Our socks shuffled against the polished marble floors — above us hung various purple lights that bathed us in a violet. I thought that was neat and different. The walls were a very light blue, so light that the blue was hardly visible. From certain angles, however, the blue could be seen and it looked very catching.

Interesting house.

We reached the lounge. It was a giant room. The ceiling was so high up it appeared to be never ending black hole. The walls were shiny and delicately colored with a soft pink. Directly behind the black couch to the far end of the room hung a large painting on the wall; a painting of a table with various items on it ranging from a simple yet fancy wine glass to a table cloth to a plate. Various kitchen utensils.

There was no television, like I had been expecting, but there was a large music system. On the black couch, before the painting, sat a middle-aged man dressed in an elegant black suit.

The man of the house, I assumed.

"Welcome," he said in an official tone that told me he was more than used to public speaking. "All ten of you fine artists were recommended to me. You're quite talented. . . each and every one of you."

He paused to look us all over once.

"I am Samuel Klyde. I am the reason you are here. This is like a camp, except. . . you're not camping. You're in a mansion, my mansion, with your own rooms and the most delicious food you could ever taste." He paused to smirk. "I am the cook for the next two weeks, since everyone is out on vacation. Summer, I say. . . ruins plans."

I glanced at Jones with a raised eyebrow. If all the staff was gone—

"Jones here," Mr. Klyde obviously caught my look, "Is leaving in the afternoon."

"So we'll be alone with you?" Troy asked, disdain evident in his voice. Mr. Klyde didn't seem to care for it.

"Well. . . basically."

I frowned. Whatever did that mean?

"Do we get classes and stuff?" Mars piped up.

"Classes? Dear me, no," Mr. Klyde laughed, but no one else seemed to find this statement very funny. Instead, they were confused. "I couldn't paint worth chopsticks!" he bellowed again. I blinked at him, taken aback. Strange man; probably driven insane because he was so excluded from the rest of the world on his little island. "Nah, you're here to get away from the real world so you can paint and draw and write what is inside of you."

"Like meditating?" Alicia asked.

Mr. Klyde's smile fell. "No, not like meditating. Like artists."

A few people exchanged glances.

"Do you have a wife?" Troy obnoxiously asked.

Mr. Kylde grew uncomfortable. "Not anymore."

"Why not?"

Someone smacked him.

Nonetheless, Mr. Klyde answered, "She died."

An uneasy silence filled the room, hanging onto the air.

"Right-o!" Mr. Klyde suddenly stood up and gave us all a grin, seemingly in a good mood again. "That's it for introductions! Wait. . . we haven't all been introduced, have we?" he snorted out another string of laughter, slapping his knee. "Ah, this whole growing older thing is getting to me."

I gave him a weird look which he thankfully missed.

"Starting from you over there," he pointed the boy at the end of the room, "State your name and business."

The boy only stared ahead at the weird man.

Disheartened, Mr. Klyde said, "Which is another way to say. . . tell everyone your name and a few tidbits about yourself."

The boy shifted uncomfortably. He had dark brown hair that fell over his sharp green eyes. All in all, he was fairly attractive and I found myself thinking that he wouldn't be too bad of a companion. "My name is Hunter, and I. . ." he paused to look at his boarding shoes, "am I boy?"

His intelligence factor, however, could be questioned. Either that, or he was being sarcastic.

"That's. . . good." Mr. Klyde frowned. "Anything else?"

Hunter shook his head.

"Well. . . what kind of art do you do?"

"Drawing, I suppose."

"Any specific themes?"

Hunter grinned. "Death."

I frowned. So he was a slight creep. . . perhaps I could overlook that.

"What do you mean by death?"

Hunter seemed to grow bored. "Are you interrogating me?" he asked, fiercely. Everyone gave him a few odd looks; Airy looked frightened. Mr. Klyde blinked, apologized, then moved onto the next person.

When the sun was just sliding below the horizon, all ten teenagers were moved into the den to "interact". I found this whole interaction hour to be a little childish. . . although I could use it to talk to the creepy boy named Hunter who was currently sitting by himself on a couch, coloring his fingernails black with a marker. I watched him for a while, entertained only for about a second, before walking over to him. When I sat down beside him, he didn't even look at me.

"I bite," he told me.

"Oh, please don't!" I mock cried.

I watched him look at me from out of the corner of his eye. "Hard," he insisted.

I raised an eyebrow. "Are you sane?"

"Far from it."

"Do you like cards?"

"I like poking people in the eye with cards, yes."

I blinked at him, unnerved. What a creep. "How old are you?" I asked him.

He looked up, straight ahead, at the brown wall across from us. The other adolescents around us were milling about; some even laughed at the lame jokes that were being told in the corner of the room. "Sometimes I pick berries," he shot me a meaningful look, "And then I eat them."

I only stared. He blinked back. After a few moments of simply staring at each other, he leaned forwards and breathed on me. I caught the faint smell of a peppermint — thankfully, his breath was decent. He held up a peppermint in front of my face. "I think you need this."

I frowned and took it from him. "Really?" I asked, trying not to show embarrassment.

"No, not really," he leaned back into the couch and continued coloring his fingernails. I furrowed my eyebrows at him, not knowing what to say anymore.

Awkwardly, I asked, "Can I see a drawing of yours?"

Slowly, he looked back at me. "Can I see you fall off a cliff?"

"You're. . . rude."

"You're. . . annoying."

I snorted, then got up, "Jerk," I grumbled out, but before I could walk off, his voice stopped me.

"Where's your room?" he asked me.

I looked back at him, a little perplexed. "Why?"

"I'll show you my drawings. Where's your room? Which number is it?"


"The third last room?"

"Yeah. . ."

Hunter nodded, smirking. I watched him for another moment before turning and walking off. Odd little guy. Airy grabbed my arm and forced me to look at her. I blinked back at her, confused. Irritation began to well up — honestly, couldn't she just leave me alone?

"Interesting place, huh?" she said to me, sounding as if we had been friends for years now. I wanted to shove her away — she had no idea who I was or what I was like. To her, I was that fake popular girl who only worried about what she was going to do on the weekend. She had no idea that I hated my friends and my life. She had no idea that if I were angered enough, I wouldn't know when to stop trying to get revenge on someone.

I was relentless.

I turned away from her only to be met with the sight of Troy. I wrinkled my nose in disgust. Beside him, Kyle was staring at Mars as if he actually thought she was catching. Troy glared down his nose at me, head held up high, chin raised.

"Oh, it's you," he sneered, then steered around me, making sure he got a good shoulder shove against mine. I bit back a rude remark and glanced back at Kyle.

"What the fuck are you fucking looking at?" he snarled, following Troy towards Mars and Alicia. I watched them walk off with a ludicrous expression written across my features. I sighed and strolled away from Airy, towards a wall, which I placed my back against and slid down. I sat down and sighed as I pressed the back of my head against the wall.

I was bored.


Sighing, I closed my eyes. I listened to the murmur of the other artists in the room. I heard soft laughter; unfamiliar laughter. I didn't care to open my eyes to check who it was. I had only met six of the other teens. I hadn't met three of them yet. I didn't really care to, either.

As I leaned back against the wall, I felt a pair of eyes on me. I refused to open my eyes. I didn't feel like it — yet curiosity was tugging at my veins. Giving in, I peeked one eye open to see Hunter staring at me with a strangely feral expression. I opened my eyes all the way and made sure he knew that I was staring. Still, he did not break his fierce stare.

What a creep.

Closing my eyes, I tried to relax despite Hunter's heavy gaze. That was when I heard a faint sound. . . a musical sound. It sounded like an acoustic guitar.

A second later, it was gone.

It must have been only in my imagination.

Hell, I was bored. . .

I decided to head to my room. Standing up, I brushed my hair down because it always got full of static if I rubbed it against a wall. I gave Hunter one last look — he was still eyeing me down — and turned and left the room. I knew my way to my room — Mr. Klyde had showed each of us earlier. I found my way to the familiar hall and proceeded down it. I hesitated half way to my room when I caught sight of a painting that tugged at my curiosity. I stopped and glanced up at it.

Various shades of red contrasted with a bright blue sky. The ground was a murky black, disturbed only by the red hues that made up the blood of the river. A single spear was lodged into the black soil directly beside the river of blood. It was such a desolate yet imaginative piece that I found myself staring up at it for more than a few minutes.

It was beautiful, in a morbid way.

When I walked away from it, towards my room, I couldn't help but shiver at the icy prickles that formed at the base of my neck.