This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Time. It’s a strange and fickle thing. A trap. A never ending cycle of confusion and dread. You never escape. Well, except for when you do. But, what good is an exit barely anyone can dare to take? Then again, the exit is not a pretty picture for some. Imagine hurtling towards the end of an unfinished roller-coaster. The time just passes too fast and the outcome is far from promising.
Time goes on and on, no matter how you may try to hold it back, to stop it. It simply continues... Never pausing... Never faulting... Never slowing... But all roller-coasters end, as does everyone’s journey with time.
Time kills everyone in the end.
Eventually, time even kills itself.
Zak woke up to a consistent banging in the base of his skull. His hand darted straight to the dull ache, seeking out the pain.
It was wet.
When he pulled his probing fingers away and stuck them out in front of his smoke blue eyes, it was wet and red and his head was pulsing.
Something wasn't right. He couldn't concentrate. He could barely move or think.
Deep breaths, he decided as he took one in... Deep breaths...
His inquisitive side picked up his thoughts and settled his nerves.
On closer inspection, accompanied by a slightly clearer mind, he realised there were bandages on the dirty carpet floor that must have, telling by the stained and grim feel, once found a home wrapped around his forehead.
This was when Zak came to one, highly possible, in fact the only sensible, conclusion. He has been hit over the head by something. And it clearly didn't leave a pretty sight, or a pretty mind for that matter.
His head was as foggy as his vision, and twice as painful. He couldn't recall a thing. It hurt even more to try, and so he didn't, taking a moment to, instead, locate himself. Just to keep his thoughts busy.
He was in a dimly lit room, that had been, surprisingly, doing wonders for the adjustment of his eyes over the past few minutes of consciousness. His vision was beginning to clear at last, the pain behind his sockets easing. A small victory at last.
The dwelling was small and square, with an underwhelming grey colour pasted all over the walls. The carpet was a darker shade of the very same, identical other than slight hues of blue that mixed in too effectively. It might as well have been camouflaged.
A bed, which he was currently leaning against, was pressed up against one wall, sapping the place of even more space. A quilt, which had apparently once lay across the rough sheets, was now tangled in his legs, indicating that he had, at some point in the time he’d been unconscious, taken a fall.
The rest of the room was pretty barren, aside from an open cardboard box of clothing in the far corner of the room. It seemed barely touched, as if someone had just moved in.
He didn't like it.
Zak didn't know what it was about the room, but it somehow put him in a state of unease, as though it wasn't somewhere he’d ever want to be.
He knew that any memories he may have once had of this place would not have been good.
Which brought Zak onto another concern. His memory, especially involving the bandages. Although they seemed to have been placed with care in mind, they gave him a similar feeling to that awful room. Namely because of one question that continued to panic him.
Who had placed them there?
It certainly couldn't have been him. He was far too out of it, even now, he couldn't have been well enough at the time of injury to give himself any medical attention.
So who was it? A kidnapper making sure he stayed alive? An alien who was planning on experimenting on him? An insane torturer? A-
“Hello?” Zak’s paranoid thoughts were interrupted by a clearly pronouncing voice, that he soon discovered came from a young boy, roughly his age, with neatly parted ebony hair, skin as pale as snow, and rectangular glasses covering impossibly emerald eyes. He looked towards Zak in a quizzical manner, his head poking out of the cream door that he had just appeared through.
“Hi?” Zak decided to reply, after a lengthy silence. Taking this as an invitation to enter, the lanky boy slowly strode in and placed himself in front of Zak, unsure. He pointed one thin finger at the ground in front of them, in silent question. Zak paused for a minute in confusion, and then nodded finally in understanding. The boy sat down in the space.
He was dressed in what appeared to have once been considered fairly formal clothing, however it now seemed to have become scruffy and damaged. His attire consisted of a dirty white shirt, folded up to the elbows, trousers that were so grey they were almost black, dark vintage boots that laced to just above the ankles, and a threadbare woollen black sweater vest. His hand was wrapped in a similar set of bandages to the what Zak had found. However, his appeared to be fresh and clean. Though the same could not be said about his face.
Even so, Zak was sudden very aware of how his own cloud grey striped t-shirt, khaki shorts and stone-coloured plimsoll shoes felt so out of place in comparison to this dress sense, no matter how scruffy they now seemed.
Eventually, he realised how distracted he had become, and finally returned his gaze to the boy. He was nervously adjusting his glasses, before opening his mouth to say something. Evidently he decided against it, as the mouth snapped shut once more.
Instead, Zak decided to fill the gap.
“Um... What’s your name?” The other sighed in a way Zak had a hard time trying to decipher.
“Yes, I thought you might... I mean I had wondered if you would have some trouble recalling... After an injury like that...” he replied. It must have meant disappointment, Zak decided.
“You know me then?”
“Of course! We are... Were... Remain?.. Close companions. You once explained to me that we were best friends. I am quite unsure on what that meant, but I suspect... Good?”
“Yeah... It is... I mean if you were.” It was Zak’s turn to sigh now. This was difficult, dealing with a best friend that he couldn’t even remember. Stupid head wounds. He could only guess that this was the hardest thing he would have ever done. He tried again. “I know this probably feels kind of funny to you...” He laughed meekly. “How about we start again? What’s your name?”
“Oh, I would never in my life find humour at your expense! But yes, you may regard me as Howard Wrightgood, at your service!” Howard exclaimed.
Wrightgood... That sounded familiar... Like something Zak had heard in a far off dream.
“Zak.” He replied out of habit, but then realised that he needn't have bothered. Howard would clearly have already known his name. But, surprisingly, he didn't make any comment about this, only nodding nervously. He looked like a drenched puppy.
“I found you,” he nodded towards the top of Zak’s head, “Bleeding... Blood everywhere...” Zak cringed at the thought, but Howard didn't seem to register it. For some reason, Zak doubted that Howard would even understand that there would be any discomfort at the idea. “I tried to fix you up, but I recommend a good amount of rest before we take off.”
“What do you mean take off?”
“Oh right! I keep forgetting about the amnesia. Oh dear, I didn't mean to say forgetting, I do apologise!” Zak just shrugged, hoping that Howard would get to the point soon. “This place... It’s not what you think.”
“What is it then?” Zak questioned.
“We’re not really sure. A prison? A nightmare? Hell? Could be anything worse too.”
Zak almost laughed out loud at the ridiculousness.
“You’re kidding me right!?”
“No... No...” Howard shook his head back and forth wildly in confusion.
“You’re delusional. This is a house.”
“It is now...”
“What?” Zak blanked.
“It is a lot of the time. I suspect it likes to take hold of the darkest of people’s memories. It likes to torment us.”
“That’s not possible! This is a house, a normal house!” Zak wanted to scream. It must be a prank. He’d thought that Howard would have the decency not to do something like that to an injured friend, but he guessed he didn't really know him, not any more.
Howard was gazing down at him, eyes crinkled in confusion, perhaps hurt, definitely deadly seriousness. It was a while before he spoke again.
“I know you may not believe me, but it’s the truth. Think about it. How did you get hurt if this place is so safe?”
In the time that it took Zak to answer, he could see Howard visibly tense.
“I... I don’t know...” Zak muttered in disbelief. Howard seemed to relax. The more Zak thought about it, the more it scared him, and the more it made sense. As much as he desperately didn't want it to be true, he was starting to trust Howard and his claims. Zak anxiously chewed along the edge of his thumb. He looked up again and raised his voice, though it was still nothing more than a whisper. “Who hurt you?”
“Huh?” Howard’s nose scrunched up, wrinkling all the way along his brow. Zak nodded towards the bandage, encouraging Howard’s response. “Oh... I guess, the same person that did this to you?”
“You guess?” Zak asked. Howard appeared to become uncomfortable at this, running his slender fingers over the back of his hand repetitively. Zak decided to drop his confrontation for now, returning to a more pressing issue nagging at the back of his mind. “You think someone is behind this then?”
“I suppose so. There always has to be some kind of villain involved, doesn't there?” Howard rubbed harder on his hand, squinting at the thought. Zak could understand his discomfort at the idea. He didn't much like thinking about a sinister being watching over their every move, playing them like pieces in chess. He could almost feel eyes trailing over him now. It made him shiver, pinpricks trailing up his spine.
“He must be the one trapping us here. He’s playing a sick game with us.”
“What?” Zak was interrupted from his panic.
“That’s what we are. What some of us always were, to an extent. But now we are being pulled by the strings by some unknown foe.” This made Zak feel even more claustrophobic. He could almost feel his lungs caving in. But he tried to steady himself as Howard got to his feet. The taller boy held out his hand in offering, which Zak accepted, lifting him to his feet. He still didn't really know what he was doing. Everything seemed to be racing to fast by him.
“Are you ready to go?”
“My, my, you are slow today.” He paused for a second, rethinking his statement. “Sorry, of course you are. Isn't really your fault. We’re moving on.”
“Moving where?!” Zak was beginning to become exasperated by this long game of cat and mouse. He wished Howard would just explain himself instead of becoming all... All... Wishy washy...
“The main rule of trying to escape a place is to explore. If you stay in the back of the room, you may never find the door, after all.” Zak sighed, deciding just to follow and not make the mistake of asking too many questions again. After all, his head was thumping up a storm now. He needed a break of just physical movement, no brain activity.
He followed Howard out the door and into the rabbit hole.
Although, in reality it was more like a flight of stairs. Strangely familiar stairs, and a strangely familiar door.
A front door.
Without really thinking, Zak ran for it, blood thumping in his ears. He only registered Howard’s cries for him to stop when the door had already swung shut behind him.
He wasn't outside the house, like he thought he ought to be. Instead he seemed to be back in the first room, that he had awoken in. It was surreal, to say the least. So, he moved back towards the handle.
Upon opening it again, Zak found that the room that revealed was not the one he had just been in. Howard wasn't anywhere to be seen either. It seemed to be a kitchen of some kind. It was very simple and rustic, leaving him with the same bad feeling he had been branded with before.
Zak shut his eyes for a minute, bowing his head against the pain that was getting louder in his temples.
“I don’t know why you decided to come back here, you little shit, but I’ll make sure you fucking regret it.” A female voice echoed in his skull.
He opened his eyes long enough to take in the image of a girl with an elaborate pink outfit holding a knife against his neck.
Zak promptly fainted.
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