Written for a school assignment. Hope you enjoy!
'Bobby, you can't be serious?' I hear my sister say as slip into my army jacket.
'It's just a little wind,' I tell her, ignoring the loud whistling outside.
It's our last day here. Here in our parent's old summer cabin. We used to come here every year. The four of us. My brother, Aaron, my sisters, Laura and Kelly, and my parents... it has been months since they passed one month apart from each other. And now it's just the three of us, Aaron disappeared here the summer after his senior year of high school. There have been many disappearances in this forest, the thick brush refusing to give up its dead even if the area weren't so expansive nobody could be find anyway, and I think we all knew it was time to abandon ship. The cabin has been sold, it's our second to last day here, and all I want is to walk our dog and forget for just a moment that we're never coming back here.
'It's fine,' I argue, Max was pulling on his leash, wagging his tail as he stood by the front door, looking back at me impatiently. 'Back in a flash.'
I make my way through the thick brush, trying to not let Max drag me too far off course, the wind blowing through my short, spiked hair. The forest is mostly well kept but this is all private land and there are no green thumbs to be found in our generation of the family. I am not sure why Laura's worries keep being pushed to the forefront of my mind, as long as I don't stray too far everything should be fine.
Max finally slows down and I look around and try to orientate myself, Laura's words caused me to get lost in thought and at this time of night everything is starting to look the same. The wind has died down, the whole forest is quiet. The usual rustling of leaves has disappeared, not even twigs breaking in the distance as small animals try to find safe shelter for the night.
Something black darts across my vision and I stumble back barely catching myself before my arm is nearly pulled out of his socket as Max starts chasing it, the German shepherd dog a lot faster than me. I can feel the skin on my hand protesting as I clutch his leash, trying to keep up with him but nearly falling down several times.
I finally lose the battle and see him run into a cabin, chasing the shadow I saw down the stairs into what I can only assume is the basement. I stop at the front door, putting my hand on the frame. I know I should be leaving, that it's best to abandon ship before things go awry, but while my heart is nearly beating out of my chest I feel drawn inside. There is a familiar feeling to the place, like one of those dreams you have as a child that stick with you forever.
The cabin is dark and from what I can see in the moonlight rather empty. I don't remember it even being here and it doesn't seem inhabited. I hesitantly take a step inside, the wooden floorboards creaking beneath my feet. 'Hello?' I ask. No answer. I look down at the steps that Max has just raced down, it seems like a dark hole in the floor. 'Max?' I can hear a soft whine coming from him and take a step closer to the stairs, my hand dragging across the peeling wallpaper as I try to guide my way through the dark. 'Max!' I yell a little louder, hoping to lure him back to me. It's futile.
My sisters would never forgive me for leaving Max behind. No man left behind, right? I take a deep breath and hesitantly make my way down the stairs, with every step the dread deep in my core grows stronger.
There's a single bulb hanging from a wire, barely illuminating the room enough to see anything, but Max comes into view. He's lying on his side on the floor. His guts are next to him, looking like they've been dragged out of him, the carpet caked with his blood.
A wave of nausea runs over me and I turn around and throw up. I lean against the wall for some stability, my legs numb. Every hair on my body is standing on end. Taking a moment to gather myself I turn around, needing to make sure this is real. He's still there. His eyes are still open but it's clear he's not breathing.
This clearly wasn't an accident – which can only mean one thing: I'm not alone. Everything goes black.
When I come to I sit up, disorientated. It looks like another basement – everything is concrete. My eyes land on Max, or what's left of him: a pile of bones. No blood, no guts. Just his bones.
I can feel a chill run through me, but try not to dwell too long on the fact that my companion of many years is dead. I try to force myself to breathe calmly and take in my surroundings. The room stretches as far as I can see, concrete pillars keeping the whole structure standing. But for how big the room is I feel suffocated.
There's a door in the distance. I should just leave. I should leave Max here. Picking him up will only make him fall apart, and I don't know how long the track back home is. I feel defeated.
With one last look I turn my back to him and start walking to the door, my legs are heavy and I don't feel like I can even make it all the way there. My eyes are focused on the door but with every step I take it seems to get a little smaller, no no no no no! – I start running, needing to get to it before it disappears completely, my bare feet hitting the concrete. By the time I finally reach it there's nothing but a wall, I crash into it and slam my hands against the wall, 'Let me out!' my voice is hoarse, my balled up fists pounding on the wall but there's nothing left. No way out. I wipe the tears of frustration from my face and turn around, reaching out my hands in front of me to feel my way around the room, there's cold concrete against my palms. I panic and try to move but there's nothing but wall all around.
The floor gives out from beneath me and with a hard thud I land in an inch of water in the room below. The flickering bulb is swaying back and forth. I drag myself to my feet, my legs are wobbly but I need to keep going. As I stand up I can see that one of the corners is darker than the others and my blood runs cold. The shadow that Bobby chased...
I can see the stairs that I raced down earlier run up them. It's my only choice. There's no front door though, just a normal wall. There's ornate wallpaper, hardwood floors. I turn the corner and face the large hall. There's warm light emanating from the crystal chandeliers hanging from the tall ceilings, there's round wooden tables with crochet doilies and fragrant flowers in painted vases on them. The wall on every side is just door after door after door, only sometimes interspersed with a large painting of someone dressed in old fashioned clothing. There's people of all ages on them, the women in ball gowns and the men in decorated uniforms.
I make my way down, staring at each of the faces, every few seconds checking over my shoulders that I'm still alone. The hall just keeps going and going into the far distance. Finally I hear it in the distance, piano music coming from somewhere, the melody in sync with my footsteps. I stop. Silence. I take a few hesitant steps and can hear the notes, several hit at once as I trip over a piece over carpet, a more melodious sound as I scramble to my feet.
My eyes are drawn to one of the paintings. I stand glued to the spot. My chest is tight. Tears welling up.
Yes, a bit older. Yes, battered and bruised. But it's unmistakeably him.
No. No, no, no, no – I shake my head. It can't be him, I refuse to believe it. I need to find my way out of here, now. I open the first door I see and slam the door behind me.
Mannequins, some of them are missing their head or some limbs, their appendages twisted behind them. I keep my hand on the doorknob behind me, it's tempting to go back into the hall. There's a door on the far wall and I take a few tentative steps towards it.
My eye is caught by something black in the corner of my eye. A fat, lone spider crawling down the face of one of the mannequins, leisurely. I consider taking it with me, needing a companion and possibly – hopefully – getting it out of this God forsaken place along with myself. After a second another one starts trailing behind it... Quickly joined by another one and more, and then they're everywhere. The floor is black with them and I can feel one creep up my pant leg, another one sailing down from the ceiling into my hair.
They're all over me. I crawl at my skin until I can feel blood trickling down from the scratches, just desperately trying to get them off me but there's too many. I wade through them. I can feel them between my toes, I can feel them crawling through my hair, I can feel them on the back of my neck. Through the spiders on the wall I can see the doorknob and reach out for it, not caring about the spiders being crushed by my hands as I grab the doorknob and twist it. As I do I can hear a squeaking sound behind me and as I look over my shoulder I see the doorknob slowly turn, making the answer of what to do next all the clearer to me.
I slam the door behind me. It's a room made of tile. It's oddly quiet and I take a moment to appreciate it. After a few seconds I can hear echoing screams but can't pinpoint where they're coming from. I can see a bath on the other end and rush my way over. My throat is dry, I need water. I need to wash these spiders off of me although most of them are already crawling down and walking back to their room.
As I walk up to the bath I don't see any faucets and the closer I get to it the more I realize it's just tile all the way down. I stare down, it is easily thirty yards deep, and I can see the source of the calls for help: Kelly and Laura. They're splashing in the water desperately trying to stay afloat, I can see them go under several times as I stare down at them helplessly.
'Bobby!' I can hear Kelly's voice break as she calls out for me.
I can't do anything. There's nothing to get them out, the only thing I can offer them is an empty promise that I'll help them. The doorknob remains unturned but I know that someone, something, is still hot on my heels.
There's another door. I try to not let my sisters' screams distract me as I pull it open, hard. The moment I do the skulls kept inside start rolling out. Most of them still have some skin and plucks of hair on them. The stench of rotting flesh fills the room and I dry heave before pulling my shirt over my mouth. It's the only door left, the other has vanished. There must be a door somewhere on the other side. There isn't a lot of light but I can see there should be just enough room between... the skulls and the ceiling for... me, to crawl to the other side.
My sisters are calling for me and I try to suppress my tears, it'll do no good if I stay here. I can't help them. I look at the skulls, I have to go. I make sure to close the door behind me, the light that will flood in when it's opened will let me know if I'm being followed. As I crawl over the skulls I can hear cracking sounds as some of them break. I stop several times, trying with what little light there is to make out the shape of a door somewhere. My hand crushes a skull as I put my weight on it and I look down. A pluck of hair. It's the same colour as Aaron's. I try to force myself to keep going but the tears start falling.
My heart racing, hands trembling, I collapse. There's pieces of skin, soft hairs touching me all over. These were people. This was Aaron; I can feel it in my heart.
I am not getting out of here.
Knowing full well that I shouldn't give up I sit up, wrapping my arms around myself. I am almost getting used to the foul stench permeating the room, my hand on my heart as I try to control my breathing. There's not enough air. Heart racing. I try to change position, anything to just breathe.
I am not getting out of here.
I need to get out of here.
At last, I see it. The light from the other side seeps through the sides of the door. Bone fragments piercing my skin, I get on my knees. My hands are shaking as I reach out for the door, my hand smearing blood on it as I push it open, stumbling inside.
The room is much like the hall; wooden floors, nice decor. The only furniture is a large chair, a man standing next to it with a pipe hanging from the corner of his mouth, turning around to watch me get up with my knees buckling below me.
'No knocking? How rude,' he says as he takes the pipe from his mouth and eyes me.
He is wearing a fitted suit. His face, dotted with liver spots, frowns as he fully takes me in, a look of recognition crossing his face. The few remaining hairs on his head are combed over. My eyes are drawn to his pipe; there's not much left of the hand holding it, just the bare bones. His socks have no ankle nor calf to hold them up, lying slouched on his leather shoes.
There's both relief and dread. Relief to have found another adult, dread because it's him and I know full well the part he's playing in all this... 'I need help! My sisters, they're in the-'
'Are they?' He asks me, interrupting me. He sits down, crossing his legs, like a king on his throne.
'What do you-' I stop myself. They're not in there. They can't be. But they looked so real... 'Are they real?'
'''Are they real?''.' He stares at me seriously before breaking, 'they look real don't they?' He asks me, giggling which startles me. 'They look a lot less real if you get up close but from afar very convincing. One of my better creations I must say,' he says, 'they certainly fooled Aaron.'
My blood runs cold. 'Aaron?'
'Aaron. Your brother, right? You would not believe how long he thought they were real, he wasn't the brightest bulb of the bunch.'
'Don't talk about my brother like that.' I say, wanting to grab him and choke him to death but I can't step closer, an invisible force holding me back. I remember the painting of him and can feel my nails dig into my palms.
'Hush hush,' he tells, 'he was one of my more challenging participants, held out a long time. I hope you'll be as much fun, I just had to snatch you up before you left.'
I feel sick to my stomach and start pacing. 'The people in those paintings, who are they?'
'Past participants,' he answers casually. 'Or, the ones that didn't make it out at least. By the time I knew for sure they wouldn't make it out I had them dress up, painted a little portrait before they went night-night. It's a good way to pass the time.'
My mind is racing, 'but how...' I don't need to finish my question.
'You trap their soul in a painting, drop their bones somewhere so people will think they got attacked by a bear or drowned in the lake... You space it out far enough and nobody bothers to answer any questions.'
I shake my head in disbelief. 'You're sick...'
He looks offended, 'well, that's rude.'
I remember the paintings, the faces of the children in them. 'You kill people. You've killed children...'
He shrugs, 'equal opportunity all the way, baby. Why should they not get to play?'
The happy look on his makes me queasy. 'What is this hellhole anyway?'
'Tsk so judgemental.' He looks around. 'It could use some improvements but it has its charm.' He sighs. 'Okay, this quote unquote hellhole is your home until the end of the game.'
'Game? What game?' I ask wearily.
'The game.' He says, waving his hand around, as if that will clear it up. 'The game we're playing.'
'I'm not playing any game!'
'Oh I'm terribly sorry, did I give you the idea that you have a choice?' He puts a hand on his chest, feigning actually being sorry, as he lets out a laugh. 'There's a prize for you at the end though,' clearly trying to entice me.
I look at him disbelief, 'I don't want your fucking prize!'
He takes a drag from his cigar and lets out a puff of smoke. 'I wouldn't be so sure about it.'
I can tell by the look on his face that this whole thing will end a lot quicker – no matter what the ending might be – if I just humour him. 'What's the prize?'
'Your life.' He says simply, a slight shrug. 'A pathetic existence, basically worthless, but you probably care about it. Most people do for some reason.' He looks puzzled by this.
'Fine. How do I end this?'
'Well,' a look of excitement crosses his face, 'you have two options: option one: you lay down on the floor here and wait for it to end, it won't take long and it's kinda pointless and... not as much fun to watch for me.'
I give him a look. 'And the other option?'
He cocks his head to the side, 'You start running.'
'Yes, and make the right choices; some doors should be opened and others...' He considers this for a second, 'never mind, I'll let you find out on your own.' I start to freak out on the inside at the prospect of it all and try to hide it, but he can see right through me. 'Now, don't worry too much,' he says in a voice that is almost comforting, 'I'll give you a head start.'
I don't need to ask what I'm getting a head start of. I turn around and with quickly quickening steps I make it to the door.
'Now, Robert, just one thing.'
I whip my head back around and he smirks at me.
'You may get your prize, but there's no winning.'