My head is throbbing, my eyes shut tightly. I feel like I’ve just snapped from a deep sleep, but I’m in a state of semi-consciousness. Like you feel when your alarm clock sounds and you’re aware of it, but you still can’t quite shake the grogginess from your body. Like you can’t open your eyes right away. I’m squinting, slowly forcing my eyelids to open.
It’s not just that I feel too drowsy to move, I physically can’t. My arms are stuck, something wrapped tightly around my wrists. As I peer to my hands, I realise that a strong binding mass of duct tape is keeping my wrists restrained to the arms of a wooden chair. I can’t budge them, it’s that tight. It hurts.
My legs are no better. I swing my foot outwards. No use. All that’s done is knock my ankle off the leg. And now I’m wincing, the groan built in my throat inaudible. It doesn’t slip past the tape over my mouth.
My eyes have finally started to adjust to the semi-darkness of the room. To my left dangles a dim, flickering light bulb.
Seen as my neck is the only thing I can move, I whip my head around this dark room. Where am I? What happened? I try to call out, but my strangled cries for help stay confined to my throat. But I continue, nonetheless.
My body feels grimy and sticky from the heat rushing through it. I lean my body weight backwards as much as humanely possible. Rocking the front legs of the chair from the surface of the floor, I wiggle my ankle against the tape. Whatever adhesive is in this tape is stinging my skin as I work against it. It’s painful to fight against it. But, I have to try. It’s my only chance of escaping.
I have to escape. Right now, I’m in a position of vulnerability. I have to free myself. I wouldn’t like to imagine what’ll happen if I stay put and my assailant comes back while I’m still bound to this chair.
I swing the chair backwards once more. I’ve shifted my body weight too much. The chair is falling backwards and I’m helpless to stop it. I wince as I come into contact with the floor, the chair crashing on its side.
I groan with the pain. All my body weight is resting on my arm, which is pinned to the floor in a paining angle. As I shift my bodily alignment more central to the chair to ease the pain, I hear footsteps. They’re striding closer and closer to the room. Shit. I’ve got to slip out of these restraints now, or I’m dead. Beads of sweat are rolling from the pores in my face and my clothing is becoming drenched with it. Never in my life have I experienced such a strong feeling of terror.
“Hey Thomas, you’re awake. Now, we can talk. Let me help you.”
I’m sobbing beneath the tape, which I’m glad he can’t hear. I’m also glad, in this moment in time, that I’m unable to speak. If I were, I know I’d probably be running my mouth off at him, spouting a string of insults likely to antagonize him into doing something terrible. He’s crouching down beside me, his hands placed to my upper arms. In one swift movement, he yanks the chair upright. Still crouching opposite me, he brings his face level with mine.
There are tears streaming down my face, and I have no means to wipe them away. “Hey, don’t cry now. It’s okay. We’re just going to have a little chat,” he purrs.
The terror rising from my chest is choking me. Coupled with having the thick tape over my mouth, I feel like I’m slowly suffocating. My mouth is dry, my throat raw from all the stifled screams that have lodged in my voice box. His quaint tone of voice makes him all the more creepy to me. He’s slowly bringing his hand to my face. I jerk my head away from him, but he still manages to catch a tear from the side of my face. I grimace at the physical contact.
“Relax, Thomas. I’m not going to hurt you,” he whispers. “As long as you co-operate. Now, I’m going to remove the tape from your mouth. And you’re not going to scream for help, not that anyone’d hear you, I just want you to reserve your voice. Nod if you understand and agree.”
I nod. Not that I want to agree. I just want to talk to him. I want to know who he is and why he’s doing this. The slow advancement of his hand towards my face is once more making me shiver. He grabs hold of a corner of the tape. “Sorry if this stings a bit.” Now, he’s peeling the tape from my skin. I let out a groan as he rips it away in one movement.
“Who are you? Where am I? And want do you want?” I tremble.
My throat is incredibly dry. I need some water. It’s making me fatigued and I bow my head slightly. He tuts at me. “You need not ask who I am, Thomas. You know the answer to that question. Tell me, who am I?”
Beneath the mask he’s wearing, all I can notice is his eyes. His piercingly blue eyes. I swallow. “You’re the Grim Reaper.”
He nods. “Indeed I am.”
His confirmation of his identity sends me more and more into a sense of panic. This guy killed my best friend, and countless others, and now he’s been stalking me and has me tied to a chair. “What do you want from me?”
He kneels before me. “I’ve been watching you and I know you’re different from the rest of them. I have a test for you. I want to see if you can pass it by making the right decision.”
I stifle my uneven breaths for a moment. “What are you talking about?”
He bows his head. For a moment, it looks like an expression of remorse. Guilt for what he’s done. “You know that Halloween is in three days time. That means I’m due to perform my grim yearly task. And I’ve run out of inspiration. So, you’re going to help me choose one of this year’s residents of Eventide who’ll come face to face with me.”
“What?” I stammer. “No.” I thrash in the chair. “Let me go.”
He stands up and places his hands on my shoulders. “Not until you comply.” He’s circling around me. “What are you doing?”
He doesn’t answer. The chair is now suspended in mid air, with him holding the back of it. Its back legs screech as he pushes it towards the doorway. “Wait. What are you doing? Where are we going?”
He brings my chair to a standstill before a laptop resting on a desk. This room is also dim, the only source of light being the screen of the laptop and the fireplace at the other side. He takes a seat on the desk beside the laptop. “Shut up and listen, because I’m only going to explain this once. I’m going to click into a program of mine, which will show you a resident of Eventide and their actions at this moment in time. I’ll do this three times, after which you will tell me which of the three I will pay a visit to in three days time.”
“You’re out of your mind,” I tell him. “I’m not deciding on who you’re going to murder like some savage animal.”
He clears his throat. “I said shut up and listen. You’ll choose one of the three, or they’ll all suffer the same dreadful fate. You can save two of them. Like I’m sure you would’ve wanted for Alex.”
“Don’t say his name,” I hiss. “I’m not choosing. If you want a victim, pick me. Kill me.”
The Reaper folds his arms. “I said I wanted to talk, but I didn’t think you’d be this chatty. So, I’m going to have to silence you for the remainder of the test.”
He grabs a roll of tape from a drawer in the desk and he’s approaching me with it. “No, no, umm--”
My mouth is covered once again. I’m not doing this. I’m not going to choose who he’ll murder this time.
He gives his laptop a quick tap and a live stream video pops up. On the screen, I can see my school principal rambling around his kitchen. The sick bastard has set up a camera in his home, watching his every move.
“Choice number one. Aiden Blanchard. Mr Blanchard to you. Your school principal. The man who helped you majorly a few years ago when you were being bullied at school. He assured you and made you feel like you were safe. He dealt with your tormentor for you.”
The tears have returned to my eyes. I blink them down. I shake my head. I’m not playing this twisted game. Mr Blanchard has doing nothing but good things for me. There’s no way I’m allowing the Reaper to take him.
My eyes widen as he brings up the next person. No. No, no, no. Not Lucy. She’s sitting at her desk, her phone in her hand. “Choice number two. Lucy Harold. You just call her Luc, though, right? She’s your little sweetheart. The girl you love. The first and only girl you’ve loved. You’ve been seeing each other three years now, and your relationship is pretty solid. But, if you choose her, you’ll be ridding yourself of the person who ratted you out to good old Mr Mayor earlier today.”
I bow my head. Stop twisting the knife, you sick, twisted bastard, I want to scream. Lucy may have told my dad, but I don’t doubt for a second she did it because she was concerned. I love her and nothing will change that. My heart is wrenching at this game he’s playing. I don’t want to choose who he targets this year, but I most certainly don’t want three people to die at my hands. The two people he’s already shown have done such good things for me. I know them personally. I just hope the next person is someone I don’t really know.
The Reaper clears his throat. He’s drawing this out. I think he’s doing this for effect. “Choice number three,” he drawls. I wait in dreaded anticipation for the name of the next possible choice. I close my eyes tightly and a searing year travels down my face effortlessly as he utters her name. “Annabelle Burton. Your adorable, sweet, naive, innocent, six year old sister. Need I say anymore?”
I can’t stifle my sobs any more. Even past the tape, they’re escaping as shrill, pained wails of terror. He sheds the tape once more and I don’t even flinch this time. All I can focus on the impossible ultimatum he’s just given me. “So, Thomas. Who’s it going to be?”
My eyes are scalding from the tears escaping. I bite my lip to suppress my cries. “Kill me,” I plead. “I’ll volunteer instead.”
I can see the corners of his lips twitching. Slowly, his mouth turns up into a crooked smile. “I’ll not kill you Thomas. You’re instrumental. You’re special. I need you. But you have to choose, or I’ll just take all three.”
I cringe at his use of the word special. It makes me shiver. “Thomas, you need to make a decision.”
I can’t do this. There’s nobody living in Eventide I can think of that I wouldn’t mind killing. But, these are people I know. They’re good, kind, caring people, who definitely don’t deserve such a fate. “I ca-- I can’t.”
He folds his arms. “I’m going to give you five more seconds to decide and if you haven’t reached your decision by then, I’ll just deal with all three of them.”
And now he’s starting the countdown. “Five,” he says. My lower lip is trembling. “Look, please--“.
“I can’t decide on--“.
“Stop counting, please,” I shriek.
“Mr Blanchard,” I weep.
He nods and closes the laptop over. “Well done, Thomas. You passed.”
The Reaper smiles again and comes back to my level. “You’ve proven to care for the common good. You chose to save as much lives as possible, saving the ones you held dear. You’re not like the others. You’re not like that father of yours. Like I said, you’re special.”
“What are you talking about?”
His seemingly random rambling is making me nervous. “I never wanted to be the Grim Reaper. It wasn’t a choice. It was a dated curse forced on me. I’ve got a dark side to my soul I can’t control,” he explains. “But, I can share it with someone. That part of my soul can be fragmented within someone else. I’ve been waiting for so long for someone I could--”
He looks to me, a crazed desperation in his eye. “Someone who could take it on. Somebody who’s got enough light inside them to manage it.”
My heart is wrenching as he comes closer to me. “No, please. I don’t want to--”
A teardrop escapes his eye. “You’re my temporary solution. You can take some of my darkness away. You can help make the guilt I have to endure over what I’ve had to do easier to deal with. All I need is some of your blood.”
Frenzy still dancing in his eyes, he dashes out of the room. What does he mean, I can take on some of his darkness? That he can fragment some of his soul in mine. That’s not possible. He must be delusional.
He’s shuffling back into the room with a small vial in his hand. Gleaming in his other hand, is a large kitchen knife. My eyes widen as he stalks towards me. He rolls up the sleeve of my school shirt. “No, please, no.”
“You’re going to liberate me,” he smiles. “I only need a tube of your blood. I promise it won’t hurt much.”
“Please,” I beg. “I don’t want-- aargh--“.
He’s just sliced the blade across my forearm and there’s an instant flow of my blood gushing onto the arm of the chair. He presses the cool glass of the vial to my skin. I watch as my blood trickles into the container and fills it three quarters of the way. “Thank you.”
His hands trembling, he places the vial down on the desk. My eyes widen as he brings the knife to the same part of his arm and drags the blade along his skin. He fills the container the rest of the way and snaps the lid on it.
The Reaper shakes the vial thrice in his hand. “Now, our blood has been combined.”
He looks at me and gestures to the fire. “This is where I was anointed. And it’s where I must deposit our blood. To be saved.”
My breaths are becoming increasingly unsteady. He sounds like some kind of disillusioned, religious fanatic who’s lost himself in some kind of twisted fantasy. “I’m sorry, Thomas. This may hurt, a lot.”
He tosses the vial onto the flame and an instant wave of heat stirs within me. It’s increasing. I grit my teeth and bow my head. Everything’s roasting. My skin is flaming hot. My cheeks are burning. I feel like I’m going to explode. My pores are producing huge beads of sweat, but it’s not cooling me down. If anything, it’s getting hotter and hotter by the second. I’m boiling.
“What is this?” I cry. “What’s happening?”