This is a fine mess I’ve gotten myself into, Frederick thought to himself, looking around the hall, and glanced peevishly at the broken drink glass on the floor. They did not need to push him that hard, he continued.
He peered down the aisle. It was dimly lit; high windows let in the moonlight. He turned around in the dank air and rattled the doorknob. It was locked. He pounded on the door. “Hello? Sir? May you open the door, please?” No response.
Instead, he heard a giggle.
He turned around, seeing nothing. “Hello?”
The giggling got louder, a touch more frantic.
He took a few steps down the hallway. “Uhm…hello? I seem to have got myself locked in here. Can anyone help me out a bit?”
“Yes. Yes I can.”
The voice was almost as silvery as the moonlight.
“Do come in, sir, and make yourself welcome.”
Frederick, having no choice about leaving, stepped further down the corridor.
“Hey, Lola, where is Freddie?” Con said.
She shrugged. “He had to go to the restroom.”
“Ah, I see.”
Con and Billy looked at each other. “Sure,” Billy said.
After a few false turns down the hallways, he found himself at a loss. The scene was not of gruesome horror like he seen in the movies. Nor was it any mild terror. But, he said later, it was vaguely unsettling.
The room was large and dusty. Cobwebs, heavy with dust, hung from the cantilevered lamps and the faceted mirrors. Red velvet, spotted and worn, covered the walls. The floor was thick with dust and debris. In the middle, there stood what looked to be a dust grey, high backed armchair that sat itself in front of an old-circle projector screen. A reel movie player was placed at the side, projecting a cartoon of a rabbit outsmarting a bald guy in hunting clothes and a shotgun on the screen. The seat giggled as the cartoon ran its course.
“That is Bugs Bunny, right?”
The voice giggled again. Popcorn was tossed up and fell around the chair. “Correct! Do you have any idea of how many of the current generation do not know that?” The figure stood up from the chair, easily taller than the back of the chair, and turned around.
Ah, there was the terror. That bowel loosening terror.
“Con,” Billy said. “I’m worried about Freddie.”
Con looked at his watch. “Yeah, it has been a while since he went to the restroom.”
Billy scanned the area. “Hm. Lola is not here either.”
“Really?” Con looked around. “Yeah, you’re right. She usually sits at the end of the bar.”
Billy stood up. “I’m going to find him. Give me a moment.”
The figure was tall and spindly, looking more like a stick doll than anything else. His face was hideous, all pocks and drooping wrinkles, looking like an unfinished clay sculpture. The eyes were unaligned, the left noticeably lower than the right, and wide open, showing a thick red iris on a field of black. The smile was a rictus, showing thin, sharp needles. The hands, long and misshapen, hung loosely at his sides; one held a box of popcorn. He wore an unadorned tunic and pants, both of rough burlap.
“Ah yes. Hello there.” He giggled again, the sound now a terrifying effect. He bowed low, one hand extended to the side, and the other, the one holding the box, was pressed against his torso. “We have been expecting you.” He rose and extended a hand. “It is time to go.”
Frederick backed away, trying not to soil his clothing. “What?”
“It is time to go,” he repeated, confused. He frowned. “Do not worry. It is painless, and then the founder will allow you to join us.”
He took a step forward, as if to grab Frederick’s hand, but froze. “Wait.” The man’s brow furrowed, and he leaned forward, his pupils narrowed to pinpricks. “You are not one of us. You do not have the mark.”
“The mark.” He went up to Frederick and tightly gripped his chin, the hand dry and cold as graveyard dust. He moved the chin to the left and right, looking for something. “No. No. You are not one of us,” he said absently. “This should not be possible. Number Seven will be punished, I gather. Might even be put into purgatory.”
“What are you talking about?” Frederick tried to pull away from that frigid grasp to no avail.
He shrugged. “It does not matter. My orders are clear.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a slim, serrated blade. “Any trespassers are to be killed.” He grinned for a moment. “Though, part of you might be of some benefit to us. We always need more templates.” He giggled as he slowly inched the knife towards Frederick’s throat.
“He is not there,” Billy said, coming up to Con.
“What?” Con stood up, somewhat unsteadily. He shook his head and felt his world tilt edgewise. “The hell?” He took a teetering step and almost stumbled.
“Conway, are you okay?” Billy asked, trying to pick him up.
“I…I don’t know…”
“Oh dear, looks he had too much to drink,” Lola said as she came up to the duo, placing her hands on her hips. She shook her head. “A shame really. I really wanted to dance with him.”
“Bullshit,” Con slurred out, trying to hold on to what little consciousness he had. “I…I know when I have been…drugged.”
“Drugged?” Lola laughed and gave a lazy smile. “Nonsense. It was only you and Billy here since you came here. The only ones near you were the bartender and me. Who could possibly have drugged you?”
“Only me and Con?” Billy said, instantly alert. “What about Freddie?”
Billy felt a cold stone settle in his belly. “Freddie. You know? The guy you danced with.”
She slowly shook her head, thoroughly confused, but still smiling. “No, do not remember him.”
“The guy in the checkerboard suit, girl,” said the bartender, glaring at Lola. “Aundre shook hands with him. I got him a gimlet. How could you not remember him?”
Lola’s smile twisted into a snarl. A gun appeared in her hand and aimed it at the bartender.
Although his perception was skewed like a shish kabob and his stomach trying to eat itself out, Con knew what could happen next. With considerable effort, he pushed himself towards Lola, falling on top of her, and bringing her to the floor.
The gun went off, the bullet missing the bartender and instead hitting a ceiling light. Sparks burst out, falling to the floor, and briefly hissing against the carpet.
The place erupted into a panicked herd, people scrambling for the exits and the band quickly dropping their instruments. One of the musicians went to a small red box and pulled a lever, causing a shrill alarm to blare out.
“You idiot!” Lola spat out, her eyes narrowed to angry lines, her arms trying to push Con away. “You will ruin everything!” All of a sudden, her face flickered, showing a horribly misshapen profile, before it went back to the beauty before. Her eyes glared daggers as she redoubled her efforts, but nothing could have shoved the drugged weight off her.
Con blinked, trying to slice that moment out of his mind. Either that or try convincing himself that what he saw was a hallucination. He chose neither, finally giving in, falling into a swoon and collapsing over Lola.
Billy turned to the bartender, none worse for the wear. “Keep an eye on him. Make sure she does not get away.” He nodded as he bent over and grabbed the gun out of Lola’s unresisting hand.
“I didn’t see much because of the other customers,” the bartender said as he eyed the people trying to leave, “but I did notice your friend get to the back room.” He motioned towards a door in the corner. Despite the chaos, a man calmly stood near it. “Do not worry, kid. I got this.” He grinned, causing the lines on his face to go into deeper folds. He reached under the bar and brought out a blackwood stave, knobbed at one end.
Aundre came up. “What in tarnation is going on here?” he said, his polished first-circle tones dropping to third-circle Kentucky twanging. He looked at Con and Lola, then at Billy. “The hell?”
“Sorry, Aundre,” Billy said, “but Freddy’s gone missing. Lola tried to pull a fast one on us and almost killed the barkeep.” He waved the gun about. “I am gonna find him. I’ll be back in a moment.”
“Uhm, sure kid,” Aundre said to the retreating figure, then saw a few police officers enter the building. “Dammit all.”
He dropped the knife when the siren rang out. He fell on his knees, clutching his ears, his face contorted in pain. “Turn it off! TURN IT OFF!”
Frederick took a step back, then another one, then ran out of the room and back down the hall, the man’s anguished screams following him.