Stan woke up to the sound of a blaring alarm, something that sounded like a cross between a fire alarm and a national crisis alert. It made him shoot off the floor, pushing up with scrambling limbs to stand in his hazy confusion. Instead of the imminent danger he thought would surround him, he saw only a relatively normal room in front of him.
Well, it was normal if you’re used to be surrounded by birds in cages and literally nothing else. It was more unsettling than normal. The birds themselves were crowded in the cages, there were maybe a hundred of them or more. Some of them were common, blue jays and robins, but some of them were birds he’d never seen before. Some were rare birds he had only read about in books or seen on nature shows. They were the kinds of birds Stan wanted to travel to see some day. One he recognizes as an orange bellied parrot, native to Tasmania and on the World’s Rarest Birds list.
On the other side of the room, past the cages, he saw a simple, brown door. Relief flooded his system. Fuck the birds. Something didn’t feel right about this room.
He crossed quickly, weaving in and out of the cages in front of him. The closer he made it to the door the more desperate he felt. Something was not right with this room, or with this situation. How did he end up here? He didn’t remember anything before this that would make sense. The last thing he could remember was saying goodnight to his parents and climbing the steps to his room. Who put him here? He was obviously not asleep in his own bed anymore.
When he made it to the door he grabbed the handle, frantically pulling and twisting it. It wouldn’t budge. The most it gave him was a small wiggle before sticking, a telltale sign that this door was locked and he was trapped inside.
“What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck,” he muttered to himself, words falling from his lips like a prayer. He turned around and pressed his back against the door before sweeping his eyes across the room in front of him. Why the fuck was he locked in a room with hundreds of birds in cages? What kind of sick game was this?
Just as he turned around, ready to throw himself against the door in an attempt to break the thing down, a deep voice sounded from above him.
“Hello Stanley. Do you want to play a game?”
Fuck . Stan blanched, horror creeping up into his body. He turned and started throwing his shoulder against the door. The dull thud of his body on the wood wasn’t enough to drown out the voice above him.
“I want to play a game. Don’t worry, it’s going to be fun. I promise.”
The voice above him spoke slowly, deliberately. Each word felt like a stab in Stan’s gut. The door still wouldn’t budge under his weight, but he kept throwing up body against it regardless.
“Look around you, Stanley. Inside this room I have placed something incredibly valuable to you.”
Stan did as he was instructed, pausing and turning back around. He looked over the room slowly. Birds were important to him. They were one of his favorite hobbies. But this didn’t make any sense. They weren’t his family, his friends, his religion. They were important, yes, but they weren’t valuable .
“Your whole life has been nothing but careful observations of those around you. Never do you think to act. Never do you do what needs to be done. Inside one of these birds is a key to the door that will set you free. Now you must choose between taking action -”
“And what?” Stan yelled defiantly. Fuck this voice, what was it going to do? Kill him?
With that, the recording ended and panic flooded Stan’s system. Without thinking, he turned and ramed his shoulder against the door two more times before collapsing. He knew if he kept going he was more likely to hurt himself than take the door down but he didn’t know what else to do. How was he supposed to find the key? How was he supposed to know which bird had it? There were too many in here. And what was he supposed to do once he figured it out? Rip the bird open? He couldn’t do that. No. There had to be another way.
Stan spent more time than he wanted to sitting on the ground and staring out into the room. The birds in the cages before him flapped their wings and sang their songs. Absent tears rolled down his face as he watched them. He had to sit and choose between his life and theirs. If he wanted to live, he had to become recklessly violent. He contemplated running the clock out and seeing what would happen. If someone came through the door he could face them head on. Maybe he would win. But what if someone didn’t come through? What if he was gassed or shot or burned alive? What then?
The more time passed the clearer it became. He was going to have to kill these birds if he wanted to live.
Ben woke abruptly, realizing he wasn’t in his bedroom anymore. Instead he was lying on a cold, hard floor. He stood up, looking around the dirty white room that he was in. It reminded him of an old surgery room. The walls were a dingy white and the floor was made of discolored white tiles. The whole scene made him feel like he wanted to wash his hands. The room was empty except for a small surgical table that held a paper towel and a small scalpel. It was completely unfamiliar. He was confused to why he was there. The last thing he remembered was going to sleep in his dorm room. Was this some crazy prank that a fraternity was playing? Or something that Richie thought would be funny but was failing miserably? Whatever it was, he hated it and wanted to leave. Something about the room felt wrong. The heavy smell of disinfectant hung in the air barely covering another smell; one of rot and decay.
As he looked around he saw a door. Grateful, he started to it, gasping as he took the first step. His stomach felt like it was on fire. Pulling up his shirt, he looked down, seeing a long jagged scar on his stomach. It looked like it had been cut days ago, and it was already healing over.
“What the hell?” He whispered, gingerly touching the puffy, red line. He winced as he touched it. It was clearly recent and still tender. He tried to remember getting it but nothing came to mind. But it wasn’t the biggest problem he had at the moment.
Walking to the door, he tried the knob which didn’t turn. He tried shaking it harder but it didn't budge. As he turned to look around the room again a recording started to play.
“Hello Ben, do you want to play a game?”
Ben shook his head but the recording didn’t notice. The deep, computerized voice continued. “Too long have you fed that enormous gut, eating and consuming without a thought for the consequences. Now, years of gluttony have finally caught up with you. To survive you’ll have to cut into your tender flesh and find the key that opens the door to your freedom. If you do this, you’ll have a new appreciation for life and food. Maybe one day you’ll come to understand and thank me. You have one hour.”
Ben looked in horror from the speaker to his stomach, shaking his head as he fell to the floor. This couldn’t be real. It had to be some terrible prank, some elaborate lie designed to scare him. This didn’t happen to people in real life.
Ben was a good person, he didn’t hurt anyone. He gave to charity when he could. Yes, he enjoyed desserts and chips but that wasn’t a crime. He looked down at his gut. Bev had always told him it was cute, that she like being able to use him as a pillow and heating pad. He had tried to lose weight he really had but- no, he shook his head. He refused to believe that a few extra cookies meant he deserved this. Thinking of Bev reminded him how dire the situation was. His breakdown had already cost him nearly ten minutes. The blinking red clock in the corner was more than happy to count down his remaining time.
He again looked at the thin scalpel on the table, knowing he had only one option.
The first thing she became aware of was the cold, hard floor her body was pressed uncomfortably against. It registered in the back of her head the same way a toothache registers after coming off of novocaine at the dentist. She opened her eyes slowly, bright light overwhelming her senses as she attempted to blink the sleep out of her eyes.
The second thing she became aware of was a table in the center of the room. From her place on the floor Bev couldn’t see what, if anything, was on top of it but it was there. Clear as day.
The third thing she was aware of was the fact that she was not alone. Across the room, chains around her ankles, was an older woman with fiery hair much like her own. Who the woman was didn’t register immediately to Bev, all she could do was wonder what the fuck is going on.
This wasn’t where she fell asleep, not by a long shot. She was not in the arms of her boyfriend, snuggled together in his bed with movies playing quietly in the background. She wasn’t wrapped up in warm, soft blankets with his comforting arms wrapped around her. She was in a room with some woman and no recollection of how she got there.
“Hello Beverly. Let’s play a game, shall we?”
A deep, unrecognizable voice boomed from above her. In her confusion she almost thought it came from the body on the other side of the room. Was she even alive? Bev had no clue.
“Your parents have constantly let you down. You father abuses you and your mother lets it happen. The ones who are supposed to love and protect you have caused you harm and fear and instead of reaching out for help, you simply let it happen. I have graciously given you the opportunity to seek retribution. In this room I have locked you and your mother. You have one hour to kill her and take vengeance or you both will die.”
As soon as the recording cut out Bev was on her feet. The woman in the room with her was her mother and she had to check on her. She had to be okay.
“Mom! Mom, please,” Bev cried, dropping to her knees next to her mother and shaking her. This couldn’t be happening. There was no way this was happening. “Mom, you have to wake up. Please.”
Elfrida Marsh groaned, slowly rolling her head to the side and looking up at her daughter.
“Bevvie? Darling? Where are we?” her voice came out dry and hoarse. It made tears well up in Bev’s eyes and she folded over, curling into her mother’s chest. “Don’t cry, Bevvie. Tell mommy what’s wrong?”
Bev couldn't answer. She only sobbed harder, her tears soaking her Elfrida’s blouse. This was her mother in front of her. They were the same flesh and blood. Without her, Bev wouldn’t exist at all. Yes, maybe she made some mistakes in her life but who hadn’t? It’s nothing she deserved to die for.
When Bev finally calmed down enough to speak the clock on the wall read 47:04. Her mother, patient as ever, simply ran her hands over Bev’s back in an attempt to comfort her daughter. She looked down at Bev, eyes rimmed red and cheeks blotchy.
“Bev, honey. What’s going on?”
Bev’s shoulders automatically started shaking before she spoke. “We’re trapped, mom, we’re gonna die in an hour.”
Mike sat up, looking around the long narrow room that he was in. He was instantly uneasy. He didn’t recognize the place and knew he hadn’t brought himself here. He jumped to his feet, ready to fight whoever was near, whoever had done this but there was no one else there, it was just him.
As he stood he realized that he was in a smaller room, cut off from the rest of the hallway. There was a glass wall separating him from the hall. He could see the outline of a door in the glass and tried to push it open but it didn’t budge.
He spun around, feeling like he was being watched. Sure enough, there was a small camera in the high corner of the room trained on him.
He walked over to it, giving it the middle finger and saying, “Hello? What the fuck is this? You can’t just keep me here! This is 2018 not the fucking 1950s!”
“Do you want to play a game Michael?” The recorded voice made him jump, but what actually scared him was the flames that appeared on the other side of the glass barricade. They rose from nowhere, licking to the ceiling and towards him. He could feel the instant heat from them and drew back, horrified.
“Years ago your parents died in a fire while you sat by and did nothing. Your weakness and fear paralyzed you Michael and they suffered for it. I’m giving you a chance to redeem yourself. Simply go through the fire. You’ll see a path that is, largely, safe. On the other side of the fire is a door. Reach that and you’ll be free, with a new appreciation for life and all it has to offer. You have one hour.”
The recording cut off and Mike stared into the flames. His mouth had gone dry and he was shaking from fear. He had been scared of fire since that day, years ago. All he could see was his parents, screaming for him to help. But, much like so many years ago, he was frozen to the spot, unable to move. Everything felt numb, even as the heat from the fire grew warmer and closer. The fire terrified him, thick red and orange limbs reached for him, trying to grab him. But the glass protected him. He was safe in here. Safe from the fire and the heat it brought.
Mike scurried to a corner, watching the flames dance and twist. He could only hear his parents screams and his own labored breathing. He didn't notice the time ticking down. He didn’t notice as it flashed 40 minutes, then 20 and finally 0. He didn’t notice as gas filled the room and he slowly suffocated. He didn’t notice any of it.
Nothing seemed to make sense but at the same time it didn’t really matter. The ground was so soft under his skin. He was so comfortable. The sun was shining bright, warming his skin. There was no place he’d rather be than right here, between his friends and in his boyfriend’s lap. If he looked up he knew he would see Richie looking around at their friends or maybe down at him. There would be that glint of light off of his glasses and that crooked smile on his face.
“Edward. It’s time to wake up. I want to play a game.”
The rough, low voice boomed around him shaking him out of his thoughts. What the fuck? When he looked around no one seemed phased. Bev and Stan were angled toward each other, having some distant conversation Eddie couldn’t quite hear. Mike was picking flowers and Ben was lounging back. It was like no one heard what he heard. Maybe he was just lost in his own thoughts, floating somewhere high above his friends and that’s why he heard it.
Instead of exploring it, Eddie opted for ignoring it. The bliss that followed was too good to pass up. He was so comfortable, so soothed in Richie’s arms that it was almost as if nothing in the world could ever get to him. He was safe here.
“Your whole life your mother has made you out to be a frail, sick boy and you believed her.”
There it was again, booming above him and shaking him to his core. No one else moved, all caught up in their own bliss to notice. How could they not notice? Eddie couldn’t ignore it this time.
“Richie. Hey, babe, did you hear that?” Eddie asked, shifting off of his boyfriend’s lap to bring himself to eye level. Richie didn’t answer, he simply kept his head turned to the side looking out to god knows where. “Baby?”
Suddenly Richie’s head snapped forward, eyes locking with Eddie’s in a way that could only be described as sinister.
“Even after you found the truth you let her lie and manipulate you. You never once had the guts to defend yourself. Now is your chance for redemption.”
Eddie shot up off the ground. He was not with his friends on a grassy hill. Richie was not with him. He was all alone in a big, fucked up room and was all disoriented.
“On the other side of this room is two pills: one will save you, one will end your life. You have one hour to cross the room and take your medicine. Choose wisely.”
Across the room on the wall Eddie could see a large clock begin to count down. He wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen when the timer hit zero but he knew he wasn’t going to be in here to find out.
Crossing shouldn’t be too hard, right? Shakily, Eddie rose to his feet to get a better look at the room around him. And naturally, why would anything ever be easy?
Littering the floor in front of him was hundreds of used needles, scalpels, scissors, forceps, all kinds of medical equipment. They were sitting in pools of blood and gore, some of it was smeared and dried on the floor as if someone was crawling through it, trying to get away.
Eddie could feel his chest constricting and his breath shortening. Whose blood was that? Where were his friends? Why was he here? Oh god, was the blood his friends’ blood? Oh god, was it Richie’s?
Richie woke up, gasping and coughing painfully. He tried to sit up but couldn’t, his forehead slammed into something above him nearly instantly. Everything around him was pitch black, he couldn’t see anything, it felt like he was being swallowed by darkness.
“Hello Richie.” The voice startled him, it was like someone was speaking directly behind him but that was impossible. He felt behind him, feeling a small speaker near his shoulder.
“I want to play a game. Your friends are all in other rooms, dealing with their own, personal horrors. Your game is to stay here, buried, and to wait for them. Hopefully they remember you and come looking. If not, you have enough air to survive for two hours. The test is on them to think of you during their own panic. I hope they’re as good of friends as you think. Your survival depends on it.” The recording cut and Richie was alone again. The silence was nearly deafening. All he could hear was his own labored breathing.
“What? No, no no. Fuck. No.” He started to feel around with his fingers. Too soon, they met the edges of his confines. He was in a long box, he could feel the wood and splinters with his fingers. It was small and narrow, he couldn’t even turn to his side on it.
He knew what it was, even if he didn’t want to admit it.
A coffin. He was in a coffin.
He started to hyperventilate, pounding at the top and screaming, “Help! Someone! Fuck!” But all that accomplished was to cause dirt to rain down on him. He sputtered,coughing it up and spitting it out. He felt it hit his face and realized, to his growing dismay, that he didn't have his glasses. Not that it mattered now, he couldn’t see shit, but it was another blow, another thing that weakened him.
His fingers felt around again, searching for anything to grab, any sign of weakness. He felt a small string near his other shoulder and pulled it, hearing a bell ring in the space above him. He kept pulling it, crying out for his friends to rescue him, for someone to remember him and come looking for him.
Tears streaked down his cheeks as he kept feebly pounding at the box, praying that someone could hear him. He had no idea where he was or how deep he was buried. He couldn't mark the passage of time. He was stuck, buried alive until his friends found him. All he could do was hope that they wouldn’t be too late.