“Oliver?” Rowan greeted as the door shut. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” She took a few steps in but stopped when his head snapped up to look at her. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, still covered in fresh blood, and his eyes were wide and bloodshot.
“I din’t do it.” He muttered, his voice weaker than she’d ever seen it, and he ran his finger under his nose before pushing up on it and finishing with another brush.
Rowan studied him carefully but tried to remain passive looking. “You okay?”
He laughed bitterly and brushed at his nose again, “No… I feel like I have ants crawlin’ all ov’r meh.” He pinched his nose before blowing out a rush of air then snorting.
“Oliver,” her eye twitched and her head was cocked to the side so much her ear was nearly touching her shoulder, “What do you remember?” She asked, choosing to ignore the obvious signs of withdrawal.
The man scratched at his left arm, over his tattoo before scratching at his beard then his scalp with a harshness that could make him bleed. “I heard ‘er come into the room- then she left… I just followed ‘er but she slammed the door in mah face.” He shook his head, his hand still scratching his scalp as he began to rock back and forth.
“So the door was closed?” She questioned and finally lifted her head to look straight at him.
He paused and dropped his hand into his lap, “Yeah.”
“When did you get it open?” she asked as she knelt down, balancing her weight on her toes.
“After she stop’ screaming… I just opened it up.”
Rowan blinked rapidly a few times, “It wasn’t locked?”
“No.” he snorted again before brushing at his nose.
“Why didn’t you go in sooner?” She questioned and he paused and stared at her, looking lost. “Oliver? Why did you wait until she had stopped screaming? What was she doing when you got in?”
“She was juss’ starin’ at the ceilin’, blood was e’where.” He bowed his head and lowered his gaze to stare at his hands, wringing them together. “She was gapin’ like a-like a… fish.” The description was harsh but there was no malice.
She diverted her gaze to look out the window, “What did you do when you got in?”
Oliver’s head snapped back up and he made eye contact. “I held ‘er. She was dyin’, and scared…” He shook his head dejectedly. “I tried to stop it,” he displayed with his hands what he’d try to do to help; putting his hands around her neck to stop the bleeding.
“Did you take her necklace?” She asked one final question and he looked back at her, seeming to have been lost while he re-envisioned her death. “Oliver?” She prompted when he refused to answer. “Where’d her necklace go?”
Slowly, while brushing his nose with the back of his left hand, he reached into his right back pocket with his other hand and pulled out the bloodstained, silver cross and held it out to her. “I’m sorry…” he whispered painfully, tears in his eyes. “-but I din’t do it.”
Rowan felt her lip quiver at his expression and nodded her head, “Okay.” She stood and stepped backwards towards the door, implying he should keep the necklace.
“You doin’ alright?” Louis whispered as he passed by Carmen to go sit on the couch.
She gave him a look of disbelief. “Do you think I could be?”
James sat with everyone in the living room, watching on the corner of his eye as Carey poured himself a new glass of liquor. “What do we do?” As he spoke he looked away from Carey and looked to Matthew as he walked in.
“Well, we have a murderer among us.” He looked at Carey first and they shared a look of understanding between one another, leaving James curious and Carmen uncomfortable.
“We know that, what do we do about it? In fact,” Louis interjected as he pulled the bowtie away from his neck, throwing the polka dotted fabric over the armrest of the couch. “-we haven’t fully discussed what to do about being locked in this house.” He spread his arms out around him before folding them across his chest.
Matthew rolled his eyes and moved to the center of the room, standing directly front and center of the fireplace. “We keep the murderer locked in the room while we figure out what to do about being in this house. There’s a way out, we just have to find it.”
“We knowthat.” Louis started, “but how?”
“Eh, shuddup, old man.” Carey drunkenly supported the mustached ‘leader’.
“You shut up!” James barked, pivoting from his sitting position on the couch to look at the drunk blond.
“Oh yeah?” James made a face at him and Carey laughed, “You ain’t shit.” He slurred and Louis chuckled and shook his head in disbelief, James simply turning around to face Matthew again, ignoring Carey. “I mean, look at you.” He nodded his head in bravado, “Has your father stopped crying?” he, specifically referred to James’ choice in hairstyle and clothing but the younger man refused to humor the drunk with a retort or turning to look back.
“Carey, just-” Matthew released a deep breath as he ran a hand down his face and shook his head. “-just sit down.” Carey was taken aback but did as he was ordered, sitting awkwardly close to James, giving the younger man a daring glare. “Now,” Matthew started again, pausing as James stood up and moved to sit on the love seat beside Carmen. “We’ll do a sweep of the house and look for-“
“We did that already.” Carmen interrupted, looking unimpressed with everything going on.
Matthew gave her an intimidating look, “Well, the doors weren’t open then were they?” he spoke condescendingly but Carmen didn’t look any bothered.
“Things will happen, if you give them time. Just don’t ‘make’ things happen between us. The last thing we need is to be turning against one another.” Aidan spoke up from the dining room archway into the living room.
“We can’t just sit here!”
“Maybe we should… it would keep people from dying!”
Her exclamation was met with silence from those in the room as they considered the weight of her words.
“Carl got out-” James began but was quickly shut down by the eldest man.
“We don’t know that.” Louis countered, shaking his head slowly. “All we have is a bloody knife- nobody’s found him.”
“’All we have’ is three dead people!” Carmen shouted uncharacteristically loud, becoming more and more upset by the events unfolding.
Aidan looked to her in shock then slowly began to think keenly, her eyes cast down to the floor as they darted back and forth frantically.
“Listen,” Matthew tried but Carmen sat up straighter with the intention of arguing against whatever he had to say. “No, nobody talk!” He held his hands out like he wanted to grab and shake her until her teeth rattled. “We are not just going to sit here and wait to be found.”
“-but what if people are looking for us…” James piped with hope.
“Do you want to bet your life on that?” Matthew shot back, a look of irritation in his eyes.
James and Carmen both sank back into the couch.
Louis shook his head, “None of this is helping.”
“Thank you,” Matthew gestured to him exaggeratedly, “Thank you so much for your accommodating input!”
Aidan looked back up with a look of realization, her head popping up so fast that some of her braids fell over her shoulder with the sudden jolt. She didn’t speak her mind, however, seeing that while she was contemplating that the group had grown more irate. “Now wait-” she started but Carmen sat up suddenly.
“This is ridiculous…” Carmen moved to stand and James followed, also standing, but Matthew shoved him back into the seat with force.
“Sit your ass down!” He went to grab at Carmen but was grabbed and pulled back by Louis. Not realizing who it was, Matthew came back with a fist and landed a punch on the elder man’s nose. The stunned old man staggered back and landed on the ground, Carmen gasped and went to his side as James got to his feet to confront Matthew but Carey too was on his feet and stood beside Matthew.
Matthew looked shocked at first, even staring at his own hand but quickly masked it with a look of irritation.
“This is what I was talking about!” Aidan stood between both groups adjacently, her head bouncing back and forth to look between both sides. “We can’t fight one another! Don’t make things worse by turning against one another!” She glanced at Louis and watched as he pressed his fingers under his nose.
Louis pulled his fingers away from his nose and looked up stunned when he saw blood. With a shocked expression, he looked up at Matthew then to Carmen and offered a reassuring wink. She smiled weakly in response but then turned to look up at Matthew and Carey with a dirty glare. The two of them stood, Louis with the help of Carmen, and came up beside James to confront the other two.
Both sides glared at one another with equal amounts of disgust.
Harper stood outside with Calley patiently, his arms crossed against his chest. His bored expression shifted casually to one of thoughtfulness and soon he took a deep breath and addressed the intimidating looking man in front of him. “So far… we’ve had two people die right…?”
Narrowing his eyes and uncrossing his arms, Calley looked down at Harper. “What? –If you don’t count the guy in the library.”
“I did… who am I missing?”
“Carl?” Calley laughed bitterly.
“Right… okay.” He paused and looked up to the ceiling in consideration.
Calley cleared his throat, “Why?”
The door opened and a frustrated looking Rowan stepped out and shared a look with Harper before turning to face Calley with a curt nod. Calley shrugged a shoulder and nodded his head to the door, “You get what you was looking for?” he asked gruffly.
“Yeah, thanks for letting me in.” She offered a smile which was returned with a simple grunt from ‘the guard’. Rowan and Harper fell into stride and walked slowly down the hall, “I want to talk to everyone else, too… see what they have to say.” She said softly and he nodded curtly.
“What did Oliver say, though?”
“I don’t think he did it…” She admitted in a hushed tone, not bothering to look to her left to look at him when she spoke.
Harper mirrored her, avoiding her gaze. “Why not?”
“He’s confused, upset, and…” She paused and stopped walking, turning slightly to face him and he did the same, Harper squinted his eyes in confusion. “I dunno, ya know? He- I just have this feeling…” She sighed in frustration and put her fingers to her temple and lightly massaged.
“Is he still a dick?” He raised an eyebrow and smirked, offering her a small sense of relief from her stress.
She laughed through her nose a bit and shook her head, “Would you be surprised?” They began walking again and Rowan stole a glance into the bathroom, the door was closed but she knew the scene that lay behind it.
“Bacon flavored ice cream,” Harper stated simply. Rowan laughed, though she looked confused, and asked him to repeat it, “Bacon flavored ice cream… that would surprise me.” Rowan genuinely laughed as they walked down the stairs, Rowan slightly behind Harper and they turned toward the living room.
Rowan stopped on the second to last step and grabbed his shoulder - he stopped just as one foot hit the foyer flooring, his other foot still on the last step. “There’s something else though, about Oliver…” she started and continued when Harper made eye contact with her. “I think he’s going through withdrawals… we should do something to help him.”
“Like wha-” Harper paused, distracted by the aggressive standoff taking place in the living room entrance.
She followed his gaze and without even sharing a glance, they both finished their descent and ran into the room, pushing themselves between the altercation unfolding. “What the hell is going on here?” Harper pushed James back as Aidan stepped away on her own.
Rowan stepped in front of Matthew and raised her chin to meet the taller man’s gaze, her expression disappointed and angry.
“We’re putting a plan together to get out of here.” Carey inputted though it nearly went unheard. Harper looked at Louis and frowned at the older man’s bloody nose then stole glances at Carey and Matthews hands, resting his gaze on Matthew’s bloody knuckles. Leaving James’ side he stood to the left of Rowan so he stood directly in front of Carey - Rowan stood directly in front of Matthew - but looked at Matthew as he spoke;
“You’re putting a plan together by, what, punching the lights out of people?”
Rowan shook her head at Matthew and frowned deeply, “You’re so disappointing on so many levels.” Her words appeared to have stung the mustached man but he shook it off by responding with a glare.
“It’s better than having group therapy.” Carey slurred and chuckled but his amusement was short lived due to Harper grabbing his glass and throwing it to the ground. The glass chipped and rolled across the floor, the amber liquid leaving a wet trail behind it.
“Sit down- everyone!” Harper ordered, ignoring the glare that Rowan gave him. “Plant it!” he pointed directly at Carey who looked to Matthew. Both men hesitated but, in light of the situation, they took their seats. Carey pulled a chair from the dining room and set it beside the arm chair where James sat. Louis, Carmen, and Rowan all sat on the couch and Matthew sat beside Harper on the love seat.
“What are you try-“ Carey began but Harper pointed at him menacingly, effectively silencing him.
“I said ‘plant it’- plants don’t talk.” He addressed Carey but Rowan gave him a dirty look which Harper took with a look of regret. “Okay, so if you want a plan, here it is.” He continued and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, hands spread apart as though trying to pitch a story. “We form a group-“
“Oh here we go, real original there Harper.” Carey crowed but was silenced by everyone glaring at him.
“Task groups,” Harper emphasized and shook his head before continuing. “Everyone has a different job, different means of getting out-“
“Like what?” Carey interrupted.
“Jesus, dude! Will you give it a rest?!” James turned in his chair to glare at the other man and frowned. If it was grade school, it could be seen that Carey’s response would have been sticking out his tongue but instead he scoffed and leaned back in his seat.
Aidan glanced between everyone from her place by the hall doorway, and slowly slipped out behind the corner, disappearing into the hallway.
“-Listen, one group will try to break into the basement, another will try to shake the bars from the front porch off the foundation, and another group can be in the library looking for anything on why we’re here… and we can alternate trying the kitchen window.” Harper continued, trying to keep his calm.
“Alright gang, let’s split up and look for clues!” James stood and clapped his hands once and rubbed them together on contact. “Fred and Daphne,” He pointed to Harper and Rowan, “library. Scooby and Shaggy,” He gestured to Carey and Matthew.
“That’s enough.” Matthew interjected though the smirk on James’ face remained intact, even Harper leaned back in his seat with an amused smile.
Rowan crossed her legs and leaned forward as Harper continued, “Let’s pair off.” Matthew didn’t bother to hide his annoyance. “Rowan-“
“Oh what a surprise, Fred and Daphne are together.” Carey spat bitterly.
“-is with Louis, in the library.” Harper finished, glancing at Carey with a ‘seriously’ look. “-Carmen, and James can work on breaking into the basement. I’m with you two, moving the foundation.” He used two fingers and gestured between Carey and Matthew a few times. “Aidan- where’d she go?” He looked around the room.
Everyone pivoted around or twisted their heads around and just as everyone was about to stand in search for her, she popped back around and nodded her head. “Sorry, thought I heard something…”
“Did you?” Matthew looked at her doubtingly.
“I said, ‘thought’.” She replied bitterly, her upper lip curling.
Rowan huffed, uncrossed her legs, and stood in one swift motion. At her motion, everyone followed suit, standing and leaving for their assigned jobs wordlessly.
James left Carmen in the kitchen as she got a glass of water. Not wanting to stand there bored, he left and joined Louis, who was standing outside the library door. The white haired man was posing more of a body guard than helping Rowan. “She’s in her own world right now, thought I’d give her some space.” Louis whispered, cupping his right hand to the side of his mouth to throw his voice.
“What’s she doing?” He peeked into the library and watched with Louis as Rowan ‘neatly’ tore the library apart.
“Lookin’ for something specific, I guess.”
Still curious about placing where he knew the man in black, he peered in further to try and take a quick peek, “Hey, where’d the body go?” He said in a hushed tone but closer to a normal tone.
Louis looked over his shoulder, to look at James as he peered around the corner, a confused look on his face. “Body?”
“Yeah, the uh guy…” he snapped his fingers as he gestured to the empty chair with a white sheet that blanketed it – no body lay underneath. He stepped backwards so that he could no longer see into the library. “In the black suit.” He finished, a haunted expression on his face.
“Oh, I dunno…” Louis adjusted his suspenders and turned back to watch Rowan as she shifted through the desk, finishing with disgust and moving to the enormous bookshelves. “Maybe someone moved him…” he mentioned, referring to the body of Nick Greene.
“Okay, then why-“ he was cut off by Carmen calling his name harshly. “Okay okay!” He left without another exchange with Louis and joined Carmen back in the kitchen. His eyes went wide as he looked at her - her eyes and lips were tight with tension and her arms crossed - then shrugged his shoulders, “Sorry…”
“Can I help with anything?” Louis asked though his back was turned as he leaned over the desk while she searched the book shelves, opening books and leafing through pages just to put them back when she found nothing of real importance.
Rowan sighed deeply, trying to hide her annoyance. “I’m just looking for anything on us,” she gestured lazily to the, now, empty chair. “Michelle – Nick – whoever – had files of information on himself… we must have files too.”
“Files on… himself?” He asked curiously, turning to face her now with his hands in his pockets.
“Yeah, the guy…” she still didn’t turn to face Louis as she placed another book back on the shelf. “He was a serial killer,” She crossed her arms as she decided which book to take next and shook her head as she recalled what she’d read from his ‘dossier’. “He was a total freak and his ‘file’ was on the desk in front of him. Detailing everything he was ever suspected of doing.” She walked over to the desk, a short four strides, with her arms crossed as she continued. “So if he had one, we must have one…” She pulled the file out of the mess on the desk and handed it to the older man, having still not actually looked him in the eye.
“Unless he’s the one who brought us here and he killed himself.” He muttered as he skimmed through the file.
“Why would he bring us here just to kill himself?”
“Maybe we’re serial killers, too.” He looked from the file and their gazes finally met, hers in petrified realization while his was in dark determination.
After a moment her gaze softened, “Oh, Louis, your nose!” She winced and pointed at it, dried blood stained his upper lip and had dribbled down his chin. “Let’s go get you cleaned up.” She motioned to leave the library with her and he obliged, tossing the open file on the desk as he walked by.
“Okay, on three;” Harper rallied the other two men, all their hands wrapped around the same pole on the front porch. “one… two… three…” All three men pushed with everything they had, veins became visible on their necks, foreheads, and biceps – stressing themselves with effort. After a few moments of exertion, all three men gave out and stepped away from the cage that prevented them from stepping off the porch.
“Jesus,” Matthew stepped back and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “This isn’t going to work…”
Harper ran his tongue over his bottom lip, tasting the saltiness of his sweat, and turned to face Matthew just as the mustached man leaned back against the house by the door. “We need to find something to bring this foundation down some.” He gestured at the stone bricks where the poles were inserted.
“Like what?” Carey interjected and shook his head in annoyance.
Harper looked between the two sweaty men, all of them had sweat marks on their shirts and their brows were beaded with sweat. “Let’s look around.”
“Trust me, there is nothing in this house that is strong enough to break up stone.” Matthew countered and crossed his arms as he leaned back against the side of the house.
“Yeah, I’m not going on a scavenger hunt.” The blond man, Carey, commented and laughed bitterly.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Harper nearly laughed.
“Do you?” Carey shot back juvenilely. “Searching for something heavy to break stone is not… it’s just not worth it.”
“Not worth getting out?” Matthew chimed in, stating what Harper would have said.
Carey laughed, “Do you mean to tell me that you think that this is a good idea?” He gestured at the stone foundation. “What we should be doin’ is what Carl had been trying to do… cut through this shit.”
“With what?” Matthew narrowed his eyes at the blond.
“We have knives.” He replied in a dumb voice, dropping his tone lower and making a bitter face.
Harper glanced to where he remembered Carl had been working before he disappeared and masked his surprise with a bored expression.
The white line from friction and the pile of dust were both gone.
Harper came out of his focused observation just in time to hear Carey shout back at Matthews comment, which he’d missed, and start for the door.
“Where are you going?” Matthew barked and grabbed the blond’s arm.
“I’m taking a break.” He replied bitterly, like a moody teen.
Harper took a deep breath and pivoted to look at Carey, “No drinking.” He reminded.
The foul, drunkard shook his head as he ripped his arm from Matthew’s grasp. He paused long enough to present Harper with his middle finger held in the air before ducking under the hole in the door- leaving the two men to stare after him in annoyance.
Just as Matthew opened his mouth to make a comment, Carey poked his head back through the hole and pointed up above his head. “You should probably do something about this door.” He gave them a knowing look, raising his eyebrows and thinning his lips. “That would be productive.”
Neither man replied but he didn’t wait for them to, disappearing back into the house.
“Tell us about ‘productivity’.” Harper grumbled and turned back towards the pole, sizing it up and considering whether or not it was possible to break through. He glanced back at ‘Carl’s Pole’ and looked at it confusion.
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do.” Matthew’s voice, again, brought his attention away from the pole and back to reality.
Harper turned to face the other man who was still leaning up against a section of the house beside the doorframe. “’Trying to do’?” He tilted his head in slight annoyance.
“Lead the group- ‘take charge’…”
“This isn’t a dictatorship. All I’m doing is- well, I’m not punching people in the face, for one.” Harper replied, a small smirk of satisfaction setting into his features.
“Do you think you’re funny, Harper? Ya think you’re better than me, cus you ‘follow the rules’?” As he spoke his Boston accent digressed from educated to jargon.
“What the hell are you talking about, Matt?” The mustached man made a face at the use of the nickname, clearly something he didn’t care for. “What rules? You know we’re all on the same side right? No one’s better than anyone else.” He paused and gestured to the door, “Aidan’s right, we need to work together.”
“The only thing we’re on the same side of… is this ‘side’ of the house.” Matthew glared at Harper despite Harpers staggered look.
Aidan stood, with her hands by her sides, in front of the wall of pictures and, on her right hand, counted her index, middle, and ring finger with her thumb. Her face was grim as her eyes darted about the photos and she repeated the counting on her fingers until her eyes went wide and she looked to the closed door all the way to the left of the hall.
She stopped counting her fingers and pivoted to go down the hall, her eyes fixated on the farthest door on the right. Walking slowly, she moved towards the door, her eyes narrowed in concentration. When she reached the door she pushed her braids over both her shoulders and placed her hand on the knob gently. Taking a deep breath, she turned it.
It opened effortlessly, swinging open wide with no more than a gentle push- revealing a darkened room.
Her breath left her in a rush. It was open.
She ran her slender, left hand up the wall to her right- flipping the light switch as she passed over it. With the bright lights now on, it revealed a half bath. A look of disappointment flicked over her features as she stared at the small vanity mirror directly in front of her, the sink parallel to the door and the toilet to the right.
“Hey, when did this open?” A man’s voice from behind her, lower than usual, surprised her and she spun around- throwing out a fist.
The man, Harper, stepped back but not fast enough, her fist catching him in the jaw. “Ah! Shit!” He howled and stepped further back, holding his jaw.
“Well, don’t sneak up behind me.” Aidan warned, a few seconds too late.
“Yeah, that would have been great to know…. Before you punched me in the face.” He rubbed the offended area tenderly. “It’s my fault, I’ve scared Rowan twice now. I guess I need to start warning people I’m coming before I say anything else.” He laughed lightly.
Aidan started to smile but forced it back into her usual blank expression.
He gestured behind her, to the open bathroom. “You mind?”
The woman shook her head incredulously and stepped aside, allowing him to use the new bathroom before anyone else. After he closed the door she side stepped to check the door to the right. That one hadn’t opened yet, still locked.
Aidan looked upset, not disappointed but upset, as she bit her quivering lower lip.
The bathroom door opened and she turned her head to the left to watch as he came out of the newly unlocked room. “Hey, you okay?”
“I think someone else has to die…”
James and Carmen stood in the dining room, James with his right hand clenched into a fist and started to bite on his thumb nail as he looked around the house, “See anything we can break through a wall with?” He mumbled around his thumb.
“No,” Carmen responded after a moment of truly thinking about it as she looked between the three rooms around them. “It’s not like ‘they’ left any tools lying around for us to use…” She air quoted ‘they’, implying; ‘the people who brought them to the house’.
“Guess we can just break one of these chairs… or kick it down.” He lowered his hand and glanced between one of the dining room chairs and Carmen’s face.
“Chair.” She replied and started walking for the hallway, through the kitchen, expecting James to grab the chair from the dining room and follow her.
He didn’t follow her.
Instead, he stared at the front of the house where a man cloaked in darkness stood in front of the bay window in the living room. Despite not being able to see his face, James could feel the intense stare the man was giving. Stature wise, he and the man were nearly identical – as he’d been with Carl. Same weight and height.
“Carl?” He called out quietly, not wanting to aggravate the unstable man who’d disappeared within hours of first meeting him.
Instead of replying, the figure stepped closer, menacingly. Frozen with fear, James remained still and simply stared back.
“James?!” Carmen called impatiently. Startled by the sudden noise, James snapped his head to the side to look behind him to the kitchen entrance where Carmen’s voice had come from. Just as soon as he’d turned away he turned back to face the figure- it was gone.
A hand clapped down on his shoulder harshly from behind, he spun around and yelped as he jumped away from the figure behind him. After taking a few panicked breaths he sighed in relief, though he still breathed heavily. “Carmen…” he greeted breathily, his eyes still wide from the adrenaline rush.
“What are you doing?” She looked him up and down, “Are you okay?”
He pointed behind him where he’d seen the figure, then becoming paranoid he looked over his shoulder to make sure it was indeed gone. “Did you see him?”
“See who?” She leaned to her right to peer around him, seeing the empty living room.
“You saw him? Is he okay?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t really get a good look at him. I could barely make him out.”
“Well, you’re sure it was him.”
Carmen grimaced and shook her head, “Well at least he’s still in the house, I’m sure he’ll come out again.”
James frowned, unsure. He grabbed one of the dining room chairs as they started towards the kitchen but not before James checked over his shoulder again – staring at the bay window where he’d seen the figure.
Harper looked at Aidan in shock. “Uhm, what?” He asked skeptically, taking a cautious step back from her.
“The unlocking sequences… I think they’re-” she stopped midsentence as Carmen came out of the kitchen. Harper looked over his shoulder at Carmen, James coming behind her with a chair in his hands, then looked back at Aidan and indicated for her to follow him upstairs.
She nodded and waited for him to go by before ensuing behind him.
“You guys don’t have to leave…” James called after them.
Harper paused quarter way up the stairs and leaned over the railing, “Nah, it’s alright… I wanted to check something.”
James shrugged and Carmen simply turned towards the locked door expectantly, uninterested in the exchange between the two men.
As Harper and Aidan disappeared up the stairs, Carmen turned to James. “Can you go first?” She asked sweetly, her accent made it sound all the more innocent and sweet. “Por favor?”
James smirked as only a man can do when a woman asks for help. “Of course.” He replied with bravado.
She smiled at his display.
He took the first few blows to the door with the bottom of the chair. It didn’t take long before it broke against the studs of the wall and then it became a race to break through first, each taking a leg of the chair to the drywall around the door.
“So,” James began, after some time of beating the walls. “Have you started to get… your memory back?” He asked, in between hits. There was silence though neither stopped hitting the wall but after a few extended moments, James finally turned to look at Carmen, pausing his hammering briefly. “Carmen?”
She didn’t stop nor did she look at him, instead she hit harder. James was about to forget about the topic but she responded after three more hits to the wall, “I had a dream last night…”
“You did too?” He turned to face her fully, holding the chair leg limply at his side. She paused to look at him, surprised at his enthusiasm for the two sharing an experience.
“Yeah,” She paused and stomped the end of the chair leg on the floor and leaned on it like a cane. “I was-” She let out a deep breath, “-in my house.” She stressed as though proving she knew it was hers and her memory. “And there was a man, he was screaming at me… kept calling me ‘Ana’… and he-he was so mad. I felt scared.” She shook her head and diverted her gaze. “The last thing I remember was he-he came at me- lunged at me, like, he wanted to kill me.” James, at Carmen’s shudder, moved to put a comforting hand on her arm, careful of the raw tattoo that was on the inside of her forearm. “What was your dream?”
He let out a deep sigh and chuckled at the end of the release, “Chaos. Nothing but chaos, people running and screaming… there was smoke. Even outside, the smoke was so thick I had to duck to avoid breathing it in.” He paused and took a deep breath as he met Carmen’s gaze, “Blue skies though… I remember that being important for some reason…” He laughed breathily and turned his gaze to the small hole that was forming on his side. “I wasn’t called anything though-” he snapped his head back at her as he remembered what she’d said about being called ‘Ana’. “Do you think that’s your real name- ‘Ana’?”
“If it was, why would I have ‘Carmen’ writt-tattooed on my arm?” She turned her arm to expose the fresh ink and they both looked at it in wonder.
“I think when there is a new door open, it’s because someone died.” Aidan confided in Harper as they stood in one of the many bedrooms.
“No way… that’s- why would you think that?”
She sighed, “The bathroom door opened, the guy in the library.” She correlated the two together. “The library doors opened to reveal the man in black, Carl disappeared.” She held up two fingers just before popping a third one up, “The half bath opens, Daisy is dead.”
Harper stared at her fingers in a mixed look of dread and disgust. “-and, what… you think to get that last door open, someone else has to die?”
He laughed bitterly and turned his back to her.
“It’s the only explanation.” She maintained her opinion.
Harper whirled around to face her, his finger pointed at her challengingly. “No, that’s like saying, ‘the only explanation for existence’ is a god or the only explanation isthe big bang!” He laughed and dropped his arm down to his side. “We don’t know which is true- just like we don’t know that dying is the only way out of here.”
There was silence as they both considered the possibilities and the math of her previous statement.
“Don’t… uh, don’t go telling anyone this. Okay?” Harper commented, breaking their silence.
“Why not? People should know.”
“No, noooo, no.” He drawled and pointed at her angrily. “They do not need to know. People like Carey would jump at the opportunity-”
“You’re wrong.” She shook her head, her braids shifting and falling over her shoulders.
Harper, feeling like he was going to lose, stepped closer to her, his posture relaxed. “Why would we want to tell them anyway? So someone can kill another person? So someone can take their own life for the betterment of the rest of us?” Aidan’s gaze snapped up to meet his at the last question. “For everyone’s sake. We keep this theory to ourselves… we don’t even know if it’s true.”
She shifted her tongue around in her mouth, as though she had cotton mouth. “Yeah, okay.” She complied, blinking slowly as she spoke the words.
“Harper, where’d you go?!” Matthew’s voice boomed throughout the house, despite the constant banging downstairs.
The man being called bowed his head in defeat, “The master calls.” He mumbled and took his leave but not before confirming with Aidan that they weren’t to say anything about her theory.
“Yeah, I’m not going to say anything to anyone.”
Harper smiled appreciatively. “Okay, uhm… can you maybe go help Rowan and Louis in the library?”
She remained silent but nodded subtly, not that it was seen, Harper had already turned to leave.
Matthew stood at the bottom of the stairs with his hands on his hips, Harper couldn’t stop the laugh that burst from his lips. “Wha’d I do now, Dad?”
‘Dad’, Matthew, dropped his hands from his hips in a silent response to his comment and scowled up at the young man who was descending the stairs slowly. “Where the hell were you?”
“Aw c’mon, since when do I have a curfew?” He whined. Matthew was not amused and neither was Carey as he stepped from the living room, drink in hand. “I swear to god Carey-” Harpers good nature was soured by the blond’s refusal to stop drinking.
“This isn’t about him.” Matthew countered Harper’s bitterness by favoring Carey’s side, furthering the illusion of Matthew’s ‘fatherhood’ and siding with his ‘favorite son’.
“His drinking is a dange-”
“That’s enough!” Matthew held up his hand to silence either man from talking further. Harper turned his attention back to Matthew, a look of anger in his eyes. “Did you find anything to break down the foundation?”
Harper sighed and stretched out his bottom lip before biting down on it. “No.”
“Do you have any ideas?” Carey asked before taking a sip from his glass.
It was all Harper had not to go over and smash the cup further into the alcoholics face. “There’s a bathroom at the end of the hall we can bust open the wall, it’s an old house, maybe it has lead piping.”
“Maybe you forgot,” Carey started before he’d fully swallowed all of the liquid in his mouth, “but we kinda use that one and only bathroom, you know… to piss in.” he pointed upstairs to the full bathroom, unaware of the half bath that Harper was referring to.
Harper glared at him in digust, “yeah, and some of use it to take a shower… you should try it sometime.” He looked the man up and down, the blond had yet to take a shower like the others. “but I’m not talking about that bathroom. I’m talking about the one down the hall.” He pointed to the open door at the end of the hall behind him.
Matthew and Carey were both silent for a time, surprised by the reveal.
“When did that open?” Matthew asked, calm as ever.
“Far as I know…” he paused and looked up as he considered the discussion he’s had with Aidan upstairs. “A few minutes ago…?”
“And you want to take a pipe from there?” Matthew continued.
Harper nodded and shrugged, “Yeah, maybe a lead pipe from the sink… an elbow piece for the weight and strength of the joint.”
Carey looked to Matthew but the mustached man held Harpers gaze, as he thought about it. “Yeah, alright. It’s worth a shot.”
Just as Carey, Harper, and Matthew disappeared under the balcony – heading for the bathroom, Aidan came down from the second floor and turned into the library. Finding it empty, she walked up to the desk and grabbed at a piece of paper. Gently, she ripped the top of the paper into a clean strip. As she turned back for the door, she reached for a pen from the pencil cup.
Before she stepped back into the foyer, she checked both directions for anyone walking by. The immediate vicinity was clear, so she walked out and back upstairs. She expected Calley but did not expect for Rowan and Louis to come out of the upstairs bathroom.
“Oh, hey, Aidan.” Louis greeted in his usual cheery voice.
She offered a small smile without showing her teeth, and ducked into ‘the girl’s room’ and closed the door.
Aidan sighed and scribbled a message on the blank strip of paper then stepped away. She produced one of the kitchen knives and stared at it dreadfully. Licking her bottom lip she brought the knife up to her left wrist.
“Ha.” Harper smiled and peered up from his kneeling position under the sink in the half bath. Matthew stood uncomfortably close, leaning over Harpers hunched form. Harper flinched at the realization he was so close, laughing awkwardly.
“So?” Matthew asked eagerly.
Harper sat up off his hands and knees, resting on his heels. “It’s lead.”
“Great, take it.” Matthew urged.
Amused, Harper run his hand through semi styled fifties cut and scoffed. “I don’t really have the tools.”
“What do you need?”
“A wrench would be great.”
“We don’t have a tool box-”
“No, shit.” Harper laughed bitterly and indicated for Matthew to move so he could stand, doing so when he had the space.
“Then how do we get it?”
Harper brushed at his knees then wiped his hands on his thighs. “I don’t know.”
“Hey guys!” James popped his head in and paused as he looked at the broken drywall tossed into a pile to the left of the door, then to the hole in the wall under the sink. “What’s going on in here?!”
“Any ideas on removing a pipe?” Harper asked.
“Uuh, a wrench?”
“Without a wrench.” Harper elaborated and Matthew looked between the two men expectantly.
“Kick it?” They both laughed together.
Matthew did not look amused, “This is our best chance at breaking down the foundation.”
“I thought you just wanted to cut through it.” Harper turned to look at Matthew and crossed his arms.
Rowan pushed by James and peered in, “Is Harper in here- oh hey, can you come here?”
He smiled and nodded in her direction, “Sure.” He scrutinized Matthew, “Excuse me.” He muttered his pardon and squeezed passed the blond boy.
“What’s up?” He asked once they were in the hall.
“It’s uh… it’s Aidan.”
Harper’s face fell from relaxed to apprehensive. “What did she say?”
“Say?” She asked, perplexed. “No, Harper… she’s dead.”
Shocked he took a step back and stuffed his hands in his pockets, his face reflecting disappointment but understanding. “I see.”
“Are you alright?” She nodded her head down to catch his gaze.
He snapped out of it at her imploring and nodded despite the grim expression. “How?”
Sighing, she nodded and diverted her gaze. “Her wrists were slashed.”
“Did she leave anything?”
Rowan looked at him in slight surprise before pulling out a folded piece of paper from her back pocket. “Yeah…”
He unfolded it, his eyes darting over the words; ‘For Aidan’.
“For herself?” He asked when he looked back up to meet Rowan’s gaze.
She shook her head and shrugged, “Unless she figured out who Aidan really is.”
Harper looked at her thoughtfully. “Does anyone else know… that she’s dead?”
In response, Rowan simply shook her head glumly.
“Okay, so what we’ll-”
“Got it!” James exclaimed from the bathroom followed closely by;
“Goddamnit!!” shouted by Matthew and the sound of water bursting from the pipe. Both Matthew and James, who was holding the lead pipe, came out of the bathroom soaking wet.
Harper ran back and poked his head into the bathroom, water was spraying out of an open pipe. “James! You didn’t turn the water off?!”
The kid shrugged exaggeratedly, hoisting the pipe over his head. The pipe was ‘L’ shaped, an elbow piece connected to the long lead straightaway.
“Great,” Harper shook his head and looked to Rowan who looked helpless. “Here we go.” He ducked down as he burst into the watering bathroom. A string of curses followed for several seconds until finally the hissing sound of water rushing through the pipes stopped and Harper emerged victorious, soaked from head to toe.
“Oh, Harper.” Rowan laughed at his appearance, the water weighting his normally fluffy styled hair. With his boyish features he looked even younger in his drenched condition, he looked down at himself and shook his arms a single time, flinging water from his body and onto the hardwood floor.
“Got the pipe.” James smiled and offered it to Harper but Matthew snatched it away.
Harper didn’t say anything about it, instead he looked to James as he indicated to the bathroom behind him. “You clean it up, kid.”
Having expected it, James simply nodded his head. “Yeah, alright.”
“What was all the racket?” Louis asked as he came out with Carmen and Carey from the living room. “What happened?” he continued, seeing the water in the hall and a soaking wet Harper.
“We needed the pipe…” Harper explained and shrugged, his movement sending several drips of water pattering to the polished floor. “We got the pipe.”
Carmen laughed as did Louis, their laughter contagious made Rowan and Harper laugh genuinely as well- Carey chuckled but stopped when he noticed that Matthew was not.
“Uh, while we’re all here…” Rowan began and Harper stopped smiling and stuffed his hands in his pockets, ignoring the squishing sound that followed. “Aidan has taken her own life.”
They all looked at her in shock but they accepted it, accustomed to death within the walls of their prison. Even with the news of another death, the group disbanded and continued their assigned duties.
James went to the kitchen and, with Carmen’s help, fetched towels to clean the water up. Matthew ordered Carey to the porch with him, lead pipe in hand. Louis went back to library, leaving Rowan and soaking wet Harper standing in the hall.
“I know why she did it.” He admitted glumly, his voice low to remain discreet.
Rowan looked at him in surprise. “What?”
“She thought that the doors opened… when people died. That the only way out was either to die or to be the last one standing.” He finished by diverting his gaze to the last, known, locked door.
She followed his gaze and they both looked to the door with the busted drywall around the frame.