Fog curls around you. You need to choose, the voice tells you. You feel its presence around you like a malevolent ball of living energy. Two doors stand in front of you. Your future stands in front of you. Except it is only behind one of the doors. That is the challenge of the Trial. The last task before you are allowed to become free from your prison sentence.
You shift on the small platform. The rest of the room is pitch black, and even though there are no lights, the two doors are illuminated. The one on the right is blood-red. The left one is pure white.
Angelic and demonic. Good and bad. Yin and Yang. Yes and no-
You tell yourself to stop speculating. You are a woman deserving your freedom. Behind one of these doors is certain death. And behind the other one of these doors is your future. You are not quite sure what this future is, but it has something to do with you leaving the death camp you are sentenced to.
Now the only hard part is choosing the door. Should you take the red one? But maybe it is the good side, and the doors are mixed up to fool people into thinking the opposite. Maybe, it is the white door that is, in actuality, the bad one. Red or white? White or red? Good or bad? You take a deep breath and push open the door. Hopefully leading to your future.
A cold fog envelopes you as images assault your brain. The malevolent voice thunders around you, seemingly in your mind as well as everywhere in the darkness you are in.
See who you were.
Your earliest memories of your father handing you a kitchen knife to cut the turkey. His big smile, complete with the dimples you did not get. Your mother’s watchful gaze.
Who you have become.
Blood spraying from the necks of the two men you murdered after they called you crazy. Gore dripping from the walls as you finish pulling off all the skin of a woman who spat on you. Your eyes, wild with the thrill of the kill, landing on a man who didn't deserve to live. Carving your name into his heart and stringing it above his mutilated body. Because even in death, you wanted to show him who he really belonged to. Not the girl he cheated on you with.
Do you deserve freedom?
More images assault you. All your best memories, all your best moments.
When you sliced through fingers, organs, skin. When you carved up people as if they were roast beef. When you made it seem like the only thing this world really needed was to be drenched in blood.
Three hundred people you killed before they caught you. The worst serial killer in the world was your title for fourteen glorious years. Until you took it too far, and you were caught. They were not allowed to kill you.
You were responsible for the assassinations of over thirty political figures around the world. You had over fifty different aliases and could hide in plain sight.
You had been passed around country to country, answering for your crimes. Until they put you in a death camp to live out the remainder of your days. Two years later, they pulled you out and offered you this choice.
I do not think so.
“Wait!” you cry, your voice cracking on the last syllable. You are crouched on the ground, the weight of your guilt and anger pushing you down. The swirling fog stops as if awaiting your next move.
Wait? I have judged you and found you not worthy.
The voice sounds cold. You struggle to get to your feet.
“You need to give me a chance to prove myself,” you pant out.
Prove yourself? After three hundred deaths?
The fog swirls around you even faster, stealing the breath from your lungs. You are drowning on dry land. All your fears bubble up into a seething mass beneath your skin until you feel like you are going to burst with anger and rage.
Chalia Renolds, you have been judged by those above you. You have been deemed not worthy.
You feel your heart cracking. Shattering into small bits and pieces that will never be able to connect again. “You cannot do this to me,” you scream into the fog. You sound a bit deranged, even to yourself. The voice chuckles.
You do not have a say in the matter.
“You will regret this,” you cry. The voice seems to inhale.
You are not worthy, Chalia.
You do not have the strength to even scream back. Your heart turns to stone. Well, whatever is left of it. You stiffen.
“Then I will make myself worthy,” you insist. The voice sighs.
You misunderstand me. If you are found unworthy, you are sentenced to death.
You cringe. “No,” you say, “death cannot contain me. I am stronger than it,” The fog swirls faster around you, and you feel your limbs beginning to weaken. “STOP,” you scream, but the voice does not respond.
The cold fog spins around you faster and faster as you feel your heart thudding slower and slower. You can feel beads of sweat dripping down your face as you collapse once again to the floor, your limbs heavier than anything you have ever felt before.
“You...will...regret...this,” you snarl, the last words you are able to force out before your eyelids sink, and you are plunged into darkness.
You find yourself in a box. As long as you are tall and only a foot wide. You are lying on your back, your arms and legs bound with rope.
The box is pure black, but as you struggle to free yourself, a small square of light appears right over your head. You blink, your eyes adjusting, and take in the sight of your mother and father looking sorrowfully down at you.
“Mother?” you ask, spite sharpening your words. You bang against the box. She does not reply, but the answers are in her brown eyes. The way she looks at you as if it is the last time she is seeing you. You look at your father and see he is looking at you with disgust and hatred. You glare back, and he flinches. Good. The sniveling coward.
“What is happening?” you ask, and your mother and father draw back. Faces crowd the small window, and your heart begins to float up as you see everybody who loved or lived with the people you have murdered look down at you. A cold fog begins to descend around your body, and the voice speaks in your mind.
This is your punishment. To die at the hands of those you have wronged.
You struggle again, your movements panicked.
“This is insane,” you snarl, the rope starting to fray, but the window closes, and you are left in the inky blackness again.
You focus your attention on the ropes around your hands and rub them against the iron chain, trying to create friction. After a couple of minutes of sawing, your hands snap free, and you start to pound against the lid of the box. You draw a breath to yell again, but an unexpected sensation causes the tiny hairs at the back of your neck to flutter. A faint breeze seems to be coming from the bottom of the box. How is this possible? You think.
Instinctively, you begin to feel along the floor of the box, searching for the source of the air. It takes only a moment to locate. There is a tiny vent! The small perforated opening feels similar to a drain plate, except that a soft, steady breeze is now coming up through it. They are pumping air in for me, you think, they do not want me to suffocate.
Your relief is short-lived, however. A terrifying sound is now emanating up from the holes in the vent. It is the unmistakable gurgle of flowing liquid...coming your way.
The water trickling into the box behind your head feels warm...body temperature. The fluid is already several inches deep and has entirely swallowed the back of your body. As it begins creeping up your ribcage, you feel a stark reality closing in fast. I am going to die, you think. With renewed panic, you raise your arms and begin pounding wildly again.
Light! You slit your eyes, squinting into the ray of light streaming in from above. A face fills the window.
“This is for my mother,” she says, and you recognize her in the shape of her nose, and the tilt of her eyes. You carved her up after catching her with the man you were with. She was unrecognizable afterward, and they had to do a dental scan to find out who she was. You took particular pleasure in her death. You can barely hear her through the opening and the sound of water filling up your box. You raise your throbbing head to keep your ears above the quickly rising liquid.
“She deserved it, that cheating bitch,” you spit out, but the window slides shut once again.
You have often heard it said that an animal, when cornered, is capable of miraculous feats of strength. Nonetheless, when you throw your whole force into the underside of your box, nothing budges at all. Around you, the liquid continues rising steadily. With no more than six inches of breathing room left, you are now face to face with the small window. As if on cue, it slides open, and you look into the eyes of your mother.
“Fuck you,” you spit out, but she does not blink.
“You are not the daughter I thought you were. You are a murderer who deserves the darkest hell there is,” she says, closing it back up. You close your eyes, feeling the sting of tears on your face. Screw her, you think. You are an avenger whether or not they call you one, and you will receive your punishment with honor.
The liquid is now creeping over your throat, and you can feel your level of terror rising with it.
With each passing second, you begin to feel an eerie numbness overtaking your body. It was as if your very flesh is preparing to shield your mind from the pain of death. The water is now threatening to pour into your ears. Outside the box, you can hear voices.
and you internally seethe at the way you are displayed for all to see. Then the voices are gone.
Water pours into your ears, a sudden womb-like silence engulfing you. You realize you are truly going to die. You begin pounding on the top of the box, and the window slides open one last time.
The face above you has haunted your visions for the past two years. Your brother. He was the one who turned you in. You got cocky and thought he would not know his own sister's work. But he alerted the police, and they caught you. He looks down at you as if you are lower than the dirt on his shoe.
“I hope you burn in hell,” you mouth, but he does not flinch. Instead, his gaze softens, and he looks at you almost pityingly.
“I forgive you,” he mouths back, and a cold fury overtakes you. You scream, and this time he truly flinches.
“I am not one to be forgiven, I am greater than anything you will ever be. I wish all the bad luck in the world against you and I hope you die in a hole, you miserable sack of meat,” you yell. He does not blink but rather looks down at you with that despicable sadness before closing the window.
With the water rising through the final inch of air space, you tip your head back to keep your mouth above the waterline. As you do so, warm liquid pours into your eyes, blurring your vision. As the liquid rises above your lips, you instinctively draw a final breath and clamp your mouth shut.
A moment later, the fluid covers you entirely, reaching the top of your tomb and spreading out across the box.
You have dabbled with drowning your victims a couple of times, and you had often wondered what went through their minds as they struggled their last. Now you are going to find out firsthand.
You can feel your body reacting to the absence of air. Carbon dioxide is accumulating in your blood, bringing with it the instinctual urge to breathe.
Do not breathe. The reflex to inhale is increasing in intensity with each passing moment. You know very soon you will reach what is called the breath-hold breakpoint, that critical moment at which a person can no longer voluntarily hold their breath.
Your instinct is to pound and struggle, but you know better than to waste valuable oxygen. The window above you opens, and you stare at the hazy patch of light as faces crowd the opening. You float your arm up and flip them all off. Your core muscles begin burning, and you know hypoxia is setting in.
At this moment, you realize your true significance in the universe. It is as lonely and humbling a feeling as you had ever experienced. Almost thankfully, you can feel the breath-hold breakpoint arriving.
The moment is upon you.
Your lungs force out their spent contents, collapsing in eager preparation to inhale. Still, you hold out an instant longer. Your final second. Then, like someone no longer able to hold their hand to a burning stove, you give yourself over to fate.
Reflect overrules reason.
Your lips part.
Your lungs expand.
And the liquid begins pouring in.
The pain that fills your chest is vaster than you had imagined. The liquid burns as it pours into your lungs. Instantly the pain shoots upward into your skull, and you feel like your head is being crushed in a vice. There is a loud roaring noise in your ears, and through it all, you can see the eager faces looking down at you. You twist your lips in a snarl, your final muscle contraction leaving the expression frozen on your face.
There is a blinding flash of light.
And then blackness.
You are gone.
Your last conscious thought is that you should have chosen the white door.
It is over.
Chalia Renolds’ dead eyes stare into Katherine Solomon’s. Her frozen expression is one of spite as if she had been mentally planning our deaths. The last tiny air bubble trickles out of her lifeless mouth, and then, as if consenting to give up her ghost, the serial killer dubbed the Death Song, slowly began sinking to the bottom of the box…where she disappears into the shadows forever.