Casey heard a door slam. It dragged her from a deep sleep. A metallic taste coated her tongue, and her head pounded as if she had been struck. And her bed, why did it feel so flat and cold.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and gasped. She was most definitely not in her room. But where was she? She lifted her head too quickly, causing blackness to crowd the edges of her vision before fading away. Using her arms, she carefully lifted herself enough so she could look around.
She gasped again. Forty-nine others lay around her. Some were sleeping deeply, but others sat up, holding their head, looking around in confusion and fear, or sitting as she was.
What was going on? She tried to remember what had happened last night, but her memory was blank. One moment, she had been sitting on her couch watching a movie. The next, she was waking up here.
She looked at the rest of the room, hoping it would give her insight into where she was. The room had no windows. The only light coming into the room came from the sconces on the wall. The floor was bare, well, bare besides the bodies that lay there. And no decorations lined the wall, save a large painting.
She leaned forward to examine the painting and shuddered. It depicted a bird, but it was unlike any bird she had ever seen. It was black and bore gruesome teeth. Clenched between the teeth was a young woman’s neck, blood dripping down onto a pile of human bones.
She shuddered again and looked away. Her gaze turned to the door, which resembled the door of a safe. At that moment, she heard the jingling of keys. Unsure of what would greet them from the other side of the door, she dropped back into her sleeping position and closed her eyes.
The door opened with a loud screech, and she resisted the urge to look up.
“Awaken!” A deep yet raspy voice called. The voice rather than the words demanded obedience, and she—along with the other—sat up.
She looked up and stared into the blackest eyes she had ever seen. The mere sight of them seemed to captivate her in the worst possible way. She quickly glanced away to study the rest of the man. He was thin, not in a pitiful way, rather he was lean. His face was hideous. It was skinny with a birdlike nose. Dark circles rimmed his expressionless eyes. His lips—thin and bloodless—wore a deep frown.
Fear poured down her spine as she continued to study the man. His presence filled her with a deep feeling of foreboding. Everything about this situation was not right, but something promised her that this horrid man was about to make it worse.
His eyes scanned the room before he nodded. “Now that you are all awake, I should like to welcome you to my mansion.”
“Who are you? Where are we?” a voice asked from somewhere behind Casey. She couldn’t see them, but the man must have. His eyes turned in that direction.
“I am Alastor Crow, and I am the owner of this mansion. That is all you shall learn about me.” Had she not been scared to death of this man and this place, she would have laughed at the irony of his name being crow since he resembled a bird.
The man spoke again. “The reason I brought you all here is that you are my guests. You should all be honored that I have picked you all—out of billions— to play my games.”
Games? This man was surely mad. It was clear that this man had kidnapped them all. And for what? To play his games.
Casey must be dreaming. She would wake up in her bed and laugh at this. This was merely her mind playing a cruel trick on her. She closed her eyes and pinched her arm. But when she reopened them, Alastor’s soulless eyes stared right back into hers.
She recoiled. So. this was not a dream then. She and all these others were actually trapped in this psychopath’s mansion.
“You can’t keep us trapped here. We can all leave. You can’t stop us all.” A man in the back stood and motioned for the rest of them to rise.
Alastor looked neither worried nor scared as he spoke. “None of you may leave until you have played my games.” He motioned behind him and two burly men appeared behind him. A held a wicked-looking knife while the other bore two guns, one in each hand.
They all froze. Alastor smiled. Somehow, his smile made him look even more terrifying. “Now that I am sure none of you will try to escape, I shall explain my games to you. Every day, I will pick one of you to play a game with me. If you win, you are free.”
And if they didn’t? What would he do?
It was as if he had heard her thoughts. “If you don’t win, you die.”
Gasps sounded around the room, and Casey could hear crying. It sounded far away, but as she touched her damp cheeks, she realized that the sound was coming from her mouth.
“Now, the first game I want to play is hide and seek. The person I choose today will hide, and if I find them before an hour is up, they will die.”
A palpable fear clouded the space as Alastor spoke. He had said it was a mansion—meaning there would be many places to hide—but he knew the house better than anyone. There was no way he would allow them to leave.
He glanced around the room before his eyes in her direction. No, no, no. Let him pick someone else. Don’t let him pick her. He pointed at her, and her heart plummeted into her stomach. “You. Come.”
She looked past him, wondering if she could run past and find the exit. Then she remembered the burly men and their weapons. There was no way she would be able to pass them without losing her life. But wasn’t she also going to lose her life if she played this psychopath’s game?
There was no way out. She was going to die either way. Before her thoughts and mood could plummet further, the man on Alastor’s left tucked his knife into a sheath and his waist and advanced towards her. She shrank back, but it didn’t stop the ran from grabbing her shoulders and yanking her up. She screamed. A beefy hand clamped over her mouth. “Shut your mouth, woman.” His disgusting, hot breath burned her ear.
The man dragged her to where Alastor stood and then dropped his hold on her. Her knees gave up. She crumpled to the floor. She felt a hand wrench her hair and she gasped in pain. It was Alastor this time. He pulled her up until she stood directly in front of her.
He caressed her cheek with a bony hand. “I shall enjoy finding you, my dear,” he whispered near her ear. Her stomach churned and she had to work hard to keep the bile from rising. She reared back, pulling herself from his grasp. She lost several hair strands in the process, but it was worth it to be farther from the man.
He frowned at her but made no more to draw closer. “You shall have one hour. If I do not find you by the end of that time, you will live.” When she made no move, he gestured to his watch. “Your time is ticking.”
She froze and then darted past. She wondered for a second if one of the men would yank her back or kill her as she flew by, but they did not.
Casey ran down a long hallway. Her shoe stumbled over the runner, but quickly righted herself A staircase met her to her right and she ran down it. She stopped. Her heart was beating so hard she feared it would fall out of her chest. She needed a plan. She had to hide from Alastor for an hour. Which meant she had to be smarter.
She paused for a moment and then ducked her head into the room on her left. It was another staircase, leading down to a dimly lit floor. There was a possibility that this would be a good place to hide, but the idea of waiting in that dark room—hoping to stay hidden—was not one she cared for.
She closed the door and then continued down the corridor. She passed by various doors but did stop and didn’t look in. Sweat trickled down her back. She needed to hide. If she continued to stay out in the open, Alastor would be able to find her and kill her immediately.
As if her thoughts had conjured someone, she heard footsteps coming down the staircase she had previously traveled down. Her breathing paused as her mind raced. He was coming.
She saw a room to her right and darted in, closing it slowly so that it didn’t alert anyone. Turning, she glanced around the room. It was an ornate bedroom. The bed was king-sized with gold bedding and a heavy-looking canopy around it. Two bedstands stood on either side. Both held large lamps.
She noticed a window and rushed to it. It was locked. But maybe she could break the window and escape. Her hopes deflated as she looked down. The ground was several floors beneath her. And even if she could get down without dying, there were no other buildings or people around. She would never survive.
The door clicked behind her. She spun around. She screamed. Alastor stood behind her, a knife in his hand. His dark eyes were expressionless, but a smile perched on his thin lips. “It looks like I found you.”
She tried to step back, but her back pressed against the window. “No, no, don’t come any closer.” She looked around for another exit, but there was none. However, her eyes landed on a vase. She lunged for it and held it in front of her like a weapon.
He laughed. “What do you plan on using that for? Do you believe that you could hurt me with that? I have the better weapon, my dear. Besides, rules are rules. I found you, so I get to kill you.”
He was right about the vase. There was no way she could hit him with it. Not without being run through by his knife. She started to lower the vase.
“It is good of you to see reason. Now, I do hate to kill you, but a must.” He started to advance towards her.
She did not bother to think, she merely lifted the vase and launched it at the window. Both objects shattered, flicking glass and porcelain around the room. She grasped the broken edges of the broken window. The glass pierced her tender flesh, but she continued. She lifted herself until she dangled headfirst out the window. She felt a hand grasp her foot, but she kicked at it. The force of her kick pushed the hand away, but it also caused her to fall the rest of the way out the window. She screamed.
Tree branches scratched at her face and hands as she made her descent. She tried to grab on as she continued to fall, but the branches were too brittle to hold.
She was about to die. In this crazy man’s mansion. Her friends and family would never know what happened to her. Tears leaked down her face. The ground rose up to meet her and then darkness engulfed her in its grasp.