When he finally hit the ground, there was a horrible sound, like a large, ripe watermelon cracking open. The others could tell from that sound that Quentin had jumped from a much further height than he had thought, and he had not landed on his feet. After he hit, there was an awful, menacing silence, as Quentin made no sounds at all. The others could not move. Even Phoenix's sobs cut off in her shock. They stared in numb disbelief where their friend had just leapt, to either severe injury or death.
Suddenly the sound of high, malicious laughter broke the quiet. The three teens gasped in shock, taken out of their daze, as the laughter grew louder and louder. Finally it began to trail off. Once it had stopped completely, there was silence for a few seconds more. Then the teens heard the slow creaking of the barn door opening, and the loud bang of it shutting, leaving them alone inside the loft.
Once the unseen figure had left, there was still a stupefied silence for several seconds. But then Phoenix began to scream.
"Noooo!" she shrieked, her face dissolving into a contorted mask of grief, shock, and fear. "Noooo! Quentin, Quentin, noooo!"
She doubled over in agony, screaming and weeping harshly, her hands gripping her hair. Beside her Leandra too came alive, crying, whispering Quentin's name in a shaky monotone.
Connor still had not moved from where he had stood on the edge of the ledge, gazing into the darkness. He still felt numb, unreal, as if everything taking place was only a dream. This couldn't be happening…none of it was real. But it was. It was…he had been too late to save him.
Behind him, Phoenix was still screaming, her voice breaking. Leandra had curled herself into a ball, trembling, tears streaming down her cheeks. But Connor barely heard them.
Stumbling away from the ledge, he moved towards the girls slowly before his legs gave out beneath him, despairing thoughts running through his head. It took many minutes before he began to hear sounds again, the crackling, indistinct noises of Leandra's soft sobbing, of the painful croaks Phoenix was emitting. Reacting on instinct, feeling no emotion whatsoever, Connor stood and shuffled over to them. Sitting down by Leandra, he hooked an arm around her, pulling her close. Leandra hid her face against his side, and he felt her hot tears seeping through his shirt. Expressionlessly he held an arm out to Phoenix, who flung herself against him with a pitiful sob. As he closed his arms around them, he stared straight ahead, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, feeling nothing.
He had let him die.
Time seemed to expand and distort for the three, stretching endlessly before them. How long had they been in the loft, they didn't know. It could have been weeks, it could have been less than a day. It felt like a life time.
After Quentin's death, what calm and rationality they had had shattered. None of them could cling to the smallest hope anymore. They all knew they could never escape the loft- unless they chose death, as Quentin had. They knew they couldn't go home again…they were stuck until they died.
Though in their minds they knew this, none of them gathered the nerve to jump. It was one thing to know you were going to die, but another to take death into your own hands.
As time dragged on, they fell into a routine. They cried, at first often, but gradually less as their throats grew raw and their eyes no longer formed tears. They slept, at first fitfully, but then more and more. In sleep they could leave behind the loft, its terror and misery, their despair, their ever growing thirst and hunger, Quentin and his body below, and the constant knowledge that their captor would return.
The rest of their time was spent huddled close by the candle, relighting it when it went out, attempting to obtain comfort from each other. They rarely spoke, not possessing energy or voice to do it.
As time passed, the teens grew weak and light-headed, unable to think clearly. They couldn't stand or move without their heads spinning, so they stayed seated, trying to ignore their suffering, trying to keep going.
The teens huddled close around the dim light of the candle, shivering with fear and exhaustion. Connor had his arms curled weakly around Leandra and Phoenix, attempting to pass onto them a strength he no longer possessed. By now their clothes were stained with sweat, dirt, and tears, but they neither noticed nor cared. They no longer felt the sharp prick of hay beneath their clothing, nor could they smell the fetid odor of Quentin's body below. Though time had dulled all of these unpleasantries, the sharp pangs of hunger in their stomachs, the parched thirst of their throats remained. And it had not dulled their terror.
Connor could feel Phoenix's shoulders shaking beneath his arm. Though she had not moved, and shed no tears, he knew she was crying. Leandra reached to grasp his hand, squeezing without force. Connor put his hand on her hair and rubbed it slowly, unable to think of anything to say.
The sudden sound of the barn door creaking open made them jump. Their heads jerked up from their bowed positions, and they clutched at each other, eyes wide with mute fear. Leandra tried to speak but no sound escaped her throat. And their captor laughed, the sound penetrating their ears violently, filling the entire barn. Whimpering, the teens burrowed together helplessly, shaking with fear. Their captor had returned…their torment had only just begun.
A week passed since Connor, Leandra, Quentin, and Phoenix had disappeared. Their families had woken in the morning to find their children gone, with no sign as to where they had left or been taken to. The strangest part was none of their cars were missing, so unless they had been picked up by a third party, they had to have been taken against their wills. 1
A panic had broken out in the town. Four strong, healthy, well-liked seventeen-year-olds, all disappearing on the same night? It was beyond strange or coincidence- it was scary.2
Police searched the teens' houses thoroughly, but found no clues as to what may have happened. Search teams were sent out to scour the town and other towns for the missing teens, but no trace of them was found.3
Until eight days since they had first gone missing...4
Eight days after the teens had disappeared, the police officers who had been searching for them decided to try the woods behind the old Trinity Baptist Church. They hardly expected to find them there- after all, why would they have been taken to a place where the only life was that of wild animals?- but it was one of the few remaining places that hadn't been searched,and they were determined not to leave a single stone unturned.6
The three officers split up once they entered the edge of the woods- it was quicker and more efficient that way. Just in case, they each carried a flashlight, their belts with attached weapons, and a walky talky to call for help if needed.7
Officer Adam Bradford shivered suddenly as he trudged through the thick undergrowth of the woods, shining his flashlight around and calling the teens' names. He could have sworn he'd felt someone's eyes, watching him. He had the creepiest feeling...8
Oh, please, he told himself abruptly. You're just spooked because you're alone in the woods, looking for four kids who disappeared. No one's watching you... Try as he might, thought, he could not shake his feelings.9
He had been walking perhaps 25 or 30 minutes and was deep into the heart of the woods When he came across the barn. It shocked him to discover that it was, in fact, there. He had thought no one had ever lived in these woods, or even spent a long enough time in them to build anything. But here stood a barn, evidence that if no one lived in or used it now, someone once had.10
The barn was very large and spacious looking, as though the person who'd built it had had plenty of money to spare. However, from the peeling paint and washed-out looking exterior, it looked to Adam as if it had been abandoned for many years, forgotten.11
The oddest thing about the barn, besides that it even existed, was there were no windows on it at all. Even from a distance Adam could see this and wondered. What kind of barn had no windows to let in sunlight for the animals inside?12
Adam made his way to the barn's door and stood before it, looking at it with interest. The door stood much taller than he, and he was not a small man- over 6'. He took out his walky talky, preparing to alert his colleagues of his find. He planned to search the barn quickly for the teens before moving on. Not, of course, that he expected to find them. But even if he didn't, it would be interesting to look.13
" 2466, do you read me? Over."14
"754, what is your statement? over." 15
" Abandoned barn has been found. Will search it for the kids. Over."16
" Keep your weapons drawn. Over."17
Adam flicked off the walky talky and stowed it away. Drawing his weapon out from his belt, he held it in his right hand as he slowly opened the barn door with his left. 18
The first thing he saw was nothing- complete and total darkness blinded him momentarily. Gasping, Adam quickly fumbled for his flashlight and turned it on. That was slightly better. Slipping off his jacket, he stuffed it in the door so it could not shut all the way, leaving it open so a stream of light shone through. Adam began to wallk slowly around the loft, shining his flashlight around. At first it seemed perfectly ordinary- old stables lined with hay, feed troughs, and blankets in the stalls.19
It was in the center of the floor that he found something quite extraordinary. Dimly visible by the light of his flashlight were the broken, sprawled bodies of four teenagers, two girls and two boys.20
The teens he had been searching for...21
Adam stopped short, shocked. He'd finally found them. But here? Like this? What the hell...22
His stomach knotting in disgust and sympathy for the poor young teens, he nevertheless stepped foreward gingerly, shining the light on them and peering closer. He coughed, almost gagging on the putrid odor that came from them, particularly the dark-haired boy on the left.23
Each of them had apparently died from a long fall. Their bodies were twisted and broken, badly misshaped from the fall. But where had they fallen from that had hurt them so badly, proving fatal? Adam's guess was a loft. He shined his light upward, but it did not travel high enough for him to see if his guess was correct.24
Swallowing hard, trying to block out the bodies' terrible smells, he bent over them to examine them closer. the dark haired boy- that was Quentin Dresdon. He was a distance away from the others, and he'd landed on his head, from what Adam could tell. Perhaps ten feet away from his lay a dark-haired girl, face down in a smear of blood. This was Phoenix Upner.25
But the strangest thing was the way the bodies of the other two teens were positioned. The bodies of the blonde boy and girl- Connor Sandhone and Leandra Liapno- were also facedown, their bodies crushed from the fall. But the strange thing was they were closer together than either of the other two- and they were holding hands. Adam stared, strangely sick and touched at the same time.26
What had happened to these kids? he wondered shakily. How had they even got to the barn that none of them could possibly have known about? How had all four of them managed to fall to their deaths? One he could see, but four? The chance that it was accidental was nearly nonexistent. Had they jumped? Had they been pushed? If so, by whom? Had there been someone else in here? Could there be someone here now?27
With that thought, Adam's grip on his gun tightened, and he shone the flashlight around.28
" Is anyone there?" he called. " This is a crime scene! Officer Adam Bradford speaking! Identify yourself!"29
He waited, his stomach tense. When he received no reply, he relaxed slightly. His gaze fell back to the intertwined hands of Connor and Leandra. How had they come to join hands? he wondered. Had they jumped together? Or had they been alive when they'd fallen, and reached for each others' hands for comfort? Adam suspected he'd never know.
He reached for his walky talky and tried to speak into it to tell his partners he had found the kids. But for some reason, he could not get it to work. Frowning, he flicked it on and off, to no avail.
" Weird!" he muttered. " It worked a minute ago!"
Suddenly there was a long creaking noise as the barn door swung slowly open, then completely shut. Adam jumped, startled and afraid. Who had done that? There was someone there! Except for the meager light of his flashlight, he was now completely engulfed in darkness.
He tried to call out, " Police! Identify yourself!" but for some reason, he could not force himself to speak. His throat seemed to have frozen in fear. Then suddenly he heard a loud, malicious laugh echoing off the walls... and the slow, heavy footsteps of something moving toward him in the darkness.