My knees hit the ground. A quick tug relieved the pressure on my wrists. As my hands yanked free, I wrenched the burlap off my face. It was pitch-black. Where was I? I ran my fingers over my lips, but the tape was wrapped all the way around the back of my head with no detectable endpoint. The ground shook in the wake of a loud boom. What the—? A metal jiggling noise. Like the sound of a key turning inside a lock. A door! A door had slammed.
Scrambling to my feet, I crashed against the door. My hand grasped the latch, but it wouldn’t give. I banged my fists, screaming and yelling—or at least tried to—but no one responded. Could they not hear me? Were they already gone? God, no. Please no.
I banged harder, but it was no use. Even if they heard me, they couldn’t understand me. I was alone. Trapped. I sunk against the door, hands pressed flat on either side. Don’t panic. Stay calm. They had to come back at some point. Right? They couldn’t leave me here forever. My fingers curled, sounding a loud crinkle. I stiffened. What was that? I pulled away from the door, hands groping in the darkness. Paper. It was paper.
Pinned to the door? Why? Was it a message?
If so, there must be a way of reading it. My eyes panned the darkness. The lights couldn’t possibly work. The place was abandoned, wasn’t it? I fumbled along the walls, feeling for a switch. My foot brushed against something soft. Stepping back, I squatted, inspecting the item. It felt like maybe a backpack or a satchel. My fingers found the zipper and tugged. It gave way easily. I slipped my hand inside, extracting a slim object. A protrusion jutted along the side. I clicked it. Light burst forth.
From the ceiling, light glinted off the tear-shaped crystals of a beautiful chandelier. For a moment, I couldn’t move. My hand quivered as I cast the flashlight slowly, illuminating my surroundings. In the corner loomed a rustic grandfather clock, while centering the space was a grand renaissance staircase, made grander still by a decorative rug. The walls were little more than patches of cracked plaster, the bone-dry floor coated in flaking paint.
Fear slithered in my veins. The placed looked as though it might cave with the slightest breath. I rose on shaking limbs, pointing the light at the door. A sheet of paper clung to the wood by four pieces of tape. It read:
On every floor, you’ll find several strategically placed flags. Each flag contains a clue and each clue contains the whereabouts of the object you need to find. In total, there are ten flags, each labeled with its designated number. If you haven’t already guessed, the clues must be deciphered in chronological order. First flag one, then two, then three, and so forth. To keep you on track we’ve made sure the clues only make sense in the correct order that you read them. The tenth flag contains the clue that will lead you to a code. This code will grant you access to the digital lockbox securing the front door. Inside, you’ll find a key—your only means of escape. Remember—you cannot leave until all objects are in your possession. Store them in the backpack provided. And find the code. Good luck.
Shit. I was right. They’d wanted April all along. Not wanted—needed. April was the only one capable of collecting these items. That had to be it. Why else create this challenge? And disguise it as an initiation?
I stepped away, my body shaking.
But they had the wrong girl. I couldn’t complete this challenge even if I wanted to. And without the items, I couldn’t escape. Or could I? I pointed the light at the door. Looped through the handle was a digital lockbox. What about the windows? Could I break the glass and climb out? I redirected the light, shocked to see two windows on either side of the door boarded up from the inside. No. This wasn’t happening.
I backed away, passing the beam to my right where the wall opened in a wide arc to frame the entrance of what appeared to be the parlor, though, in the dark, I could discern little more than silhouettes of furniture. Here the windows were also boarded up, and on the left as well where the dining room resided.
Okay. I was officially panicking. Leaping to the nearest window, I gripped the board, heaving with all my might. I grunted between stymied breaths. Bracing one foot on the wall for leverage, I lost my grasp and tumbled back, hitting the floor with a bone-jarring thud. The light winked out. Shit. My hand fumbled for the flashlight. Where did it go?
Movement from behind.
I whimpered, groping the floor with frantic fingers.
I twirled, a scream stifled in my throat.
There—dark, lone, and eerily still—loomed a black shadow.