“Attention you bastards! It is now seven am, marking the end of Night Time. The cafeteria has been unlocked, and the lights turned on. Here's to another day of mutual killing! Upupu~”
Carlos opened his eyes as Monobear finished the morning announcement. The start of a new day. The third day in Sun's Joy Academy. The second day of the School Life of Mutual Killing. Had it only been that long? Already his old life felt a million miles away. But he soon realised this train of thought was only going to depress him further, so he got out of bed, and showered and dressed for the day.
After dressing, Carlos stood in the middle of his room for a moment, gazing at the sealed window which had been letting in sunlight only yesterday. Maybe he would never see the sun again. His gaze then rested upon his laptop, which was sitting on his desk, switched off. Without the internet, there was no real point to it. Still, just having it out gave him a sense of comfort. Sighing, Carlos walked out of his room, and down the hallway.
The atmosphere in the cafeteria was considerably gloomier than it had been yesterday, despite the excitement of the dance. It was akin to a sunny day suddenly turning overcast. After grabbing a plate of pancakes, Carlos sat down with Nina and Ben.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Morning,” Nina replied happily. “How are you?”
“I've seen better days,” Carlos said. “Not having the sun kind of makes it feel as if I haven't slept properly.”
“I know what you mean,” Ben said. “The lighting in here's not the greatest anyway, so it's not even as if I can paint to relieve the stress.”
“I didn't hear you complain yesterday after finishing those decorations,” Nina said with a grin.
“That's different,” Ben said. “When it's my personal art projects, everything has to be perfect.”
“So you're saying that your friends aren't good enough for perfection?” Nina taunted.
“No,” Ben explained. “It's because Monobear had an input in the project that makes it unworthy.”
“Don't say his name,” Carlos groaned. “It's too early to be dealing with him.”
“All right, sorry,” Ben said. “But besides that, I'm looking forward to the dance tonight.”
“Me too,” Nina said. “It'll definitely create a brighter atmosphere though; everyone's been really down since Monobear took over.”
“It's understandable,” Carlos said. “He's telling us to kill each other. Kind of hard to keep your spirits up in that kind of situation.”
“I guess,” Nina said. “But that's why this dance is so important! We'll all forget about our worries for sure!”
“Even one night off from this all would be a god-send,” Ben said. “This dance couldn't have come at a better time.”
“I have to agree there,” Carlos said. “But I can't help but be pessimistic; what if someone is planning on committing a murder during the dance?”
“That is a very real possibility,” Nina said. “However, I doubt the probability.”
“Why?” Ben asked.
“Because we'll all be there,” Nina said. “It'll be really hard to get away with killing someone in the middle of a dance.”
“Some serial killers have done it in the past,” Ben said.
“But nobody here's the ETL Murderer,” Nina countered. “Everybody here's a novice when it comes to killing; there's no way they'd risk it.”
“If you say so,” Ben said.
“But anyway, let's stop thinking about murder,” Carlos said. “From what you've seen, which part of the dance are you looking forward to the most?”
“Definitely our outfits,” Nina said with a smile. “From what I've heard, Wyatt's really outdone himself.”
“I've not seen much,” Carlos admitted. “However, they seem to have done a brilliant job in clearing out the hall.”
“Don't forget the decorations,” Ben said.
“Oh yeah,” Nina said. “How are they?”
“You wouldn't know, would you?” Ben said, glaring at Nina.
“Hey!” she said. “I was busy with my game!”
“I ended up doing the rest of the work,” Carlos said.
“Anyway,” Ben said. “Besides the banner, it's all great.”
“Yeah,” Nina said. “Making it a rule was the dumbest move possible.”
“It's almost grotesque in a way,” Carlos said. “As if it's his reminder that he's still in control despite the dance.”
“Let's not get philosophical here,” Nina said. “I wonder about the food, though.”
“Apparently Shauna's a great cook,” Ben explained. “She's going to be preparing the food throughout the day.”
“I can't wait to taste it,” Nina said. “Do you think she'll mind if I sneak into the kitchen and take some?”
“Can't you just wait like the rest of us?” Carlos said.
Nina laughed. “Nope!” she said.
“But we haven't even finished breakfast,” Ben said.
“I know!” Nina said. “But you can't beat party food.”
“True,” Carlos added.
“See?” Nina said. “My blogger buddy agrees with me!” She wrapped an arm around Carlos, grinning widely.
“Could you let go of me?” Carlos said. “You're choking me a little.”
“Sorry!” Nina said.
“Just remember we still have to move all the stuff to the hall today,” Ben said. “So there's more to today than just food, Nina.”
“How much do we have to move?” Nina asked.
“Let's see...” Ben said, counting in his head. “Two hundred plates, two hundred and fifty cups, eighteen tablecloths, a disco ball, forty streamers, and the god awful banner.”
“What?!” Nina said. “That's a ridiculous amount!”
“You do remember there are only sixteen of us, right?” Carlos said.
“I know that,” Ben said. “But I also know what you two are like; it's in case you drop anything, ruining it.”
“Don't doubt me,” Nina said, winking. “The only thing I'll be dropping is the banner.”
“Don't,” Carlos warned. “Monobear might end up killing you.”
“I don't know,” Nina said. “He seems like he's bluffing.”
“I wouldn't push it though,” Ben said.
“Yeah,” Carlos said. “We want to keep the mood positive.”
“And positive it shall be!” Nina exclaimed. “I will try my hardest to ensure that this dance will be the best night of our lives.”
On the other side of the hall, Melissa, Shauna, Mark, and Charlie sat around another table, eating.
“So guys,” Mark said. “Looking forward to the dance tonight?”
“I can't even begin to describe my anticipation for this evening,” Shauna said brightly. Cammy was laying on the desk in front of her.
“Well, you're the one behind it,” Melissa said. “I can imagine that you want it to go perfectly.”
“And then some,” Shauna said. “I have so many concerns about tonight. What if nobody shows up? What if Monobear ruins it? What if a murder happens?”
“None of that will happen,” Mark said. “Trust me. The others have worked too hard to not show. The only one I'm concerned about is Dirk.”
“Why Dirk?” Melissa asked.
“Because of what he told me yesterday,” he said.
“What was it?” Shauna asked, eyes wide.
“He's planning on leaving the dance early,” Mark explained. “Whilst everyone's distracted he's going to try and hack the network.”
“Can he do that?” Charlie said.
“He shouldn't do it tonight,” Shauna said. “He can't miss the dance.”
“I don't think we can stop him if he's dead set on it,” Melissa said. “All we can do is try and persuade him otherwise.”
“I think we've found our mission for today,” Shauna said. “Oh, wait. I've got to help Ella move the speaker system into the meeting hall today, so it's up to you, Melissa.”
Melissa smiled. “I'll speak to him.”
“And he can't miss it,” Mark said. “I need him to be part of the documentary. He can't do that if he's on the other side of the building, can he?”
“Exactly,” Shauna said.
“Um, I don't want to cause alarm or anything,” Charlie said. “But I just thought: what if Dirk is planning a murder?”
“What?!” Mark exclaimed. “Dirk? Kill? Impossible!”
“Not really,” Melissa said to him. “Stress does crazy things to people.”
“But we're better than that,” Mark said. He grabbed Melissa's hands, and stared her in the face. “For crying out loud, we're the ETLs!”
“Okay!” Melissa said, pulling out of his grip. “I'm just saying that we should be expecting the worst.”
“Yeah,” Shauna said. She smirked. “You know, one time at a toy show of mine, some kid ended up hospitalising her younger brother by stabbing him with a chip of wood from a puppet. Nobody expected that to happen. Perhaps something unexpected will happen at this dance, but not what we think.”
“Whoa,” Mark said. “That really happened?”
“It truly did,” Shauna said with a smile.
“Nothing like that's ever happened to me,” Charlie said. “Unless you count the time I entered my garden into a competition and the judge was actually allergic to the pollen.”
“Seriously?” Melissa said. “There was a garden judge allergic to pollen?”
“It's a little ridiculous, I know,” Charlie said with a smile. “Just so you know, I still won first prize.”
“As it should be!” Shauna exclaimed. “You're the ETL Gardener: of course you deserve first place!”
“I know,” Charlie said. “This was before I earned the title, though.”
“You're wrong there,” Mark said with a smile. “I can guarantee from the moment you touched a flower you were destined to be the best gardener out there?”
“You really think so?” Charlie said, blushing. “That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me...”
“Get used to the compliments,” Mark said. “There's an abundance for them just for you.”
“Don't forget about the rest of us,” Shauna reminded him. “We're all deserving of compliments.”
“True, true,” Mark said. “There's a reason we're all in an Enhanced Talent Academy.”
“Wait a minute,” Melissa said. “Do you think other Enhanced Talent Academies are having the same problem as us?”
“You mean a demonic bear imprisoning us and forcing us to kill?” Shauna said. “It's unlikely, but who knows?”
“What if this is actually all a complicated initiation ceremony?” Mark said. “I mean, we are supposedly carrying the hopes of the future, right? Would it really be that much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that by showing us ultimate despair, our hope will shine brighter?”
“Maybe,” Melissa said. “But speculation will get us nowhere. And if we look into it too much, we'll dampen the mood.”
“Yeah,” Shauna said. “We can't do that. This dance is not going to be ruined by the School Life of Mutual Killing. I'll make sure of it.”
Dirk had chosen a table in the corner of the room once again, but his efforts of being left alone had been thwarted by Chelsea and Naomi, who had decided to sit with him. Chelsea was drinking a cup of coffee, whilst Naomi was wolfing down a plate of pancakes.
“Slow down there,” Chelsea said. “We've still got some stuff to do today. And you'll overeat and not enjoy the dance as much.”
“I thought we went through this yesterday,” Naomi said. “I can eat hella amounts of food before it affects me.”
“Oh, I'm so sorry for forgetting,” Chelsea said dryly. “It wasn't as if I had anything else on my mind like worrying about murder.”
“Haha, I forgot all about that!” Naomi said.
“If only we all could,” Dirk said, still looking at his PDA. Yet again he had had zero luck in accessing the network. Then again, he hadn't had much time besides first thing in the morning and during Night Time. And due to this dance and the preparation that came with it, he'd been too tired to do much at all. But tonight would be the perfect opportunity: everyone, including the freak of nature that was Monobear, would be at the dance. Nobody would even notice him leave.
“Yeah,” Chelsea said. “Wouldn't that be bliss?”
“Not really,” Naomi said. “I mean, we'd still be trapped in this school only we'd have no idea why!”
“True,” Dirk said. “But at least we wouldn't be killing each other.”
“And then there's Monobear to consider as well,” Chelsea said. “He'd remind us immediately.”
“Yeah,” Naomi said. “Maybe it's not such a good idea after all!”
“I agree,” Chelsea said. “Anyway, are you guys looking forward to the dance?”
“A little,” Dirk said.
“More like a ton!” Naomi said. “I love dances! Did you know I was very nearly crowned prom queen in high school?”
“Really?” Chelsea said.
“Yeah!” Naomi said. “But then I knocked out the head cheerleader and was kicked out.”
“How did you manage that?” Chelsea questioned.
“I wore my skates,” Naomi said. “And she got in the way. The rest is something I advise we don't talk about.”
“Please tell me you didn't kill her,” Dirk said.
“Nope!” Naomi exclaimed. “She woke up five minutes later and stole my crown!” She sighed. “Not that it mattered because then I was accepted here!”
“I suppose that's one upside,” Chelsea said.
“That's why I'm going to make the most of this dance!” Naomi said. “To make up for the prom that never was!”
“I suppose that's a good reason to be looking forward to it,” Chelsea commented. “But yeah. This'll be a good way for us all to get closer, and a big F-you to Monobear for doing this to us; with this dance, I'm certain there won't be any murdering happening.”
“Definitely!” Naomi added.
“I wouldn't go as far as saying this is the ultimate way of rebelling against Monobear,” Dirk said. “I mean, the creep's practically gotten his grubby little paws all over this dance.” He lifted up his PDA. “Just look at the rules for further evidence: he's making us hang some banner, and Wyatt's gotta design an outfit for him. He's still pulling the strings at the end of the day.”
“I guess,” Chelsea said. “But still, to come up with a dance instead of murder is still going against him.”
“Can't fault you there,” Dirk said.
“Nope,” Naomi said. “And anyway, we'll still have an awesome time regardless of Monobear!”
“I hope so,” Chelsea said. “He probably won't try anything, but still...”
“What are you thinking?” Dirk asked, looking at Chelsea.
“It's just that he might release a new motive at the dance,” Chelsea explained. “You know, like 'if you bastards want to leave the dance, kill someone!': it's likely he'd pull something like this.”
“Not really,” Dirk said. “The dance itself is a prime opportunity to kill; why complicate?”
“You know, you sound really cold when you say this,” Chelsea said. “Why do you even think like that?”
“Better to understand your opponent than to be ignorant,” Dirk said. “It's a skill I learned from hacking: sometimes, the password can come down to a matter of understanding the person; you put yourself in their shoes for just a moment, and blam. There's the secret password; usually it's something personal. And I'm applying the same thing to Monobear: figure him out, and we're out of here.”
“Whoa,” Naomi said. “That's all kinds of intelligent!”
“I have to agree with her there,” Chelsea said. “You're brilliant!”
“Not really,” Dirk said. “I just honed my skills in a different way is all.”
“Well, they're the most useful skills right now,” Chelsea said. “I firmly believe that you might actually be able to get us all out.”
“It's an almost inevitable conclusion that that's what I'll do,” Dirk said. “I swear on my own life that we'll get out of here.”
“Let's just hope you hold to that promise,” Chelsea said. “I don't know if we'll all last in this place for too long...”
“Anyway, enough of the miserable mood,” Naomi said. “We have a dance to look forward to!”
On the table adjacent to them, Marian, Joel, and John sat, talking. Marian was sipping from a cup of coffee, whilst Joel ate an orange. John did not eat anything.
“So the dance is tonight,” Joel said. “You guys excited?”
“Kind of,” Marian said. “I'm not big on the social scene, though.”
“That makes two of us,” John added. “Although, you probably guessed that from how I was during the whole Sunshine Sally fiasco.”
“To be fair, having an afterparty just for convicting a serial killer is in bad taste,” Marian said. “I left the moment they brought out the booze.”
“Whoa,” Joel said. “Seriously? They seriously got drunk for catching a killer?”
“Yeah, shocker,” Marian said. “The law enforcement team isn't the elite group they present themselves as.”
“Well, that's a reality check,” Joel said.
“I saw it all coming from a mile away, of course,” John said. He rolled his eyes. “Good thing you left early, Marian: if you knew of that young detective's intentions, you wouldn't have shown at all.”
“Spare me the detail,” Marian said. “That's a thing I'd like to be buried in the past.”
“It's not as bad as this one time,” Joel said. “It was a year or so ago. Basically, these girls came to the local pool, high as anything, thinking I wouldn't catch on.”
“And did you?” Marian asked.
“Of course,” Joel said. “When the place suddenly reeks to high hell of weed, you can guess.”
“And how do you know that particular scent?” John said.
“This is sounding awfully like an interrogation,” Joel said sheepishly. “And for that, I have a cousin with particular tastes.”
“I see,” John said. “Thanks for clarifying.”
“Besides,” Joel said. “If I was that acquitted with that smell, I'd be here as the ETL Stoner, not Lifeguard.”
Marian laughed. “True,” she said. “But anyhow, returning to the story.”
“Oh yeah,” Joel said. “One of them then faked drowning just to get me in the water; they wanted to admire my hot body.” He groaned. “Man was it embarrassing.”
“It's unusual, I'll give you that,” John said. “I, unfortunately, lack embarrassing memories, but rest assured, I can feel your embarrassment to such a degree I'm thankful for the lack of experiences.”
“Lucky,” Marian said. “Although, nothing beats my prom night.”
“Do tell,” John said.
“Fine,” Marian said. “Essentially, I was there as some kind of police on the others. I was to suss out when they were lying about anything; my investigative fieldwork certainly didn't help in relinquishing the position there.”
“Yikes,” John said. “Good thing I was home schooled then.”
“Were you?” Joel asked.
“Yes,” John said. “It was better than interacting with the masses; knowing everyone so intimately was kind of annoying, you know?”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” Joel said. “Luckily my ETL's fairly average, so I never had that issue.”
“I don't think anyone else is capable of having that issue,” Marian added. “And could I get back to my delightful prom anecdote?”
“Oh, sorry!” John said. “Do continue.”
“Thank you,” Marian said. “Anyway, as I was saying, I was there to keep a leash on the other students. You know, like standing at the front gates, and checking for stuff like smuggled booze and finding lost items.” Marian then trailed off as a wistful grin blossomed on her face.
“And?” John asked.
“And,” Marian continued, “it was all going fine, up until someone – her name's slipped my mind, sorry – ran past me into the dance hall. Naturally, I followed her, but found nothing out of the ordinary. Until around half an hour later, when chaos descended over the prom.”
“What happened?” Joel asked.
“She'd spiked all the drinks,” Marian said. “Anybody that drank anything other than tap water was completely inebriated before they knew what was happening.”
A surprised look crossed John's face. “Are you serious?” he said.
“Entirely,” Marian replied. “We had to cut the prom short, and just shy of two hundred hammered teens were let loose on the town.” She rolled her eyes. “And of course all the blame fell to me for not stopping this girl.”
“Man,” Joel said. “Harsh.”
“Yes,” Marian said. “But still, I should have thought to check more thoroughly.”
“Nothing you can do about it now,” John said. “At least it makes for a funny anecdote, though.”
“I suppose,” Marian said. A wistful smile crossed her face. “And at least this dance will be more civilised; I fail to see ETL students sinking to that level myself.”
Across from them, Ella and Andrew sat together, two empty plates on the table.
“Ella,” Andrew said. “Looking forward to the dance?”
“Most definitely,” she said. “It should be a night to remember for all of us.”
“That it should be,” Andrew said. He smiled. Ella's face suddenly changed expression. “You all right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Ella said, looking to Andrew reassuringly. “I was just wondering: what if Monobear does something?”
“I doubt he'll be able to really jeopardise the dance too much,” Andrew said. “We've already pretty much guessed that it looks too much like a perfect murder opportunity, and why would he want to mess with that?”
“Yeah,” Ella said. “However, nobody here's foolish enough to actually go through with murder.”
“True,” Andrew said. “Tonight'll just be one big ball of fun.”
“Hopefully,” Ella said. “I can at least tell you that the music is going to be brilliant.”
“Really?” Andrew said. “What music did you pick?”
“I kind of used Dirk's help there,” Ella explained. “I know it's bad of us, but we hacked into everyone's music players and selected their most played songs, and compiled it into one playlist.” She reached into her pocket, pulling out a grey USB drive. “It's all on here. The only thing left to do is hook it up to the speaker system, which I'll be transporting to the hall today.”
“Cool,” Andrew said. “Gonna give anything away?”
“You should already know your favourite songs,” Ella said knowingly. “And for the others? Just wait and see.”
“I just hope everyone's got a semi-decent music taste then,” Andrew said.
“Oh, trust me,” Ella said. She winked at Andrew. “They do.”
Their conversation was suddenly cut short by the sound of someone running across the cafeteria floor. The two ETLs looked over to see Wyatt bursting through the doors, panting heavily, face slick with sweat.
“Hey, Wyatt,” Andrew said as Wyatt approached their table. “Are you okay?”
“I...” Wyatt said, but faltered. He sat down at the table, trembling.
“Wyatt, what is it?” Ella asked, her face flushing with concern.
“It's...” Wyatt spluttered. “I can't...”
“Please tell me no,” Andrew said.
“What do you think?” Ella said, looking over at Andrew.
“I think Wyatt's seen a body,” Andrew said. The atmosphere suddenly chilled as Ella's face turned white as a sheet.
“Surely you can't be serious!” she exclaimed. “But everyone's here! Aren't they?”
Wyatt suddenly held up a hand. He shook his head lightly. “Not... not that...” he panted. “Nobody's dead...”
Both Andrew and Ella breathed visible sighs of relief. “Thank God,” Ella said. “So what is it?”
Wyatt took a deep breath. “Sorry for the panic,” he said. “It's just that I overslept and panicked when I saw the time: I didn't want to worry you all into thinking I had been murdered.”
“Oh,” Andrew said. He let out a chuckle. “That's it?”
“Yeah,” Wyatt said, wiping the sweat from his face. “I didn't mean to scare you like that.”
“Scare?” Ella said. “Wyatt, you nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“Sorry again,” Wyatt said sheepishly.
“It's fine,” she reassured. “But how come you overslept?”
“I foolishly stayed up till three adding the finishing touches to our outfits,” Wyatt said. “I got so caught up in personalising everyone's outfits I didn't realise how late it had been. And of course, naturally, I practically passed out once finished.” He let an awkward grin cross his face. “It's just that I couldn't sleep until everything was perfect: it's my Achilles' Heel, so to speak.”
“I suppose there are worse weaknesses to have,” Ella said. She then winked at Wyatt. “And I suppose we won't be getting any pre-dance spoilers for our outfits?”
“My lips are still sealed on that front,” Wyatt said. “Besides, you only have a few hours to wait; surely even that's within the realms of your patience.”
“I suppose so,” Ella sighed. “It's just that I'm curious.”
“As am I,” Andrew said. “But won't it make it even better to find out later?”
“Exactly,” Wyatt added. “So, please, wait just a little longer.”
“Fine,” Ella said. “But you'd better not dash my hopes; I have high expectations, you know.”
“I know,” Wyatt said. “I know.” He smiled at Ella, who was about to reply when Shauna stood up, looking over the cafeteria.
“Could I please have everyone's attention?” she said. Silence soon fell over the cafeteria as every eye was on her. “Thank you. Now, I think it's time to begin to put things together for this dance!”
“All right!” Naomi exclaimed, grinning widely. “This is going to be rad as hell!”
“Hopefully,” Shauna said. “So here's the plan for today: everyone's going to bring the stuff they prepared for the dance to the meeting hall, except for Wyatt's outfits.” She winked at Wyatt. “That'll come later tonight when we're getting ready.”
“But what about those that didn't really help with anything in particular?” Mark asked. “I sort of just wandered around, filming.”
“In that case, I'd advise either seeing Ben's group about helping with the supplies, or helping to do any last-minute adjustments to the hall,” Shauna said.
“What about Ella's speaker system?” Dirk asked idly, fiddling with an ear bud. “I could always help out with getting that over.”
“Don't worry about that, Dirk,” Shauna said. “The two of us have it covered.”
“If you say so,” Dirk said. “I guess I'll just wander around for a while then.”
“Just try and do something productive before the dance, though,” Shauna said, rolling her eyes. Cammy's head drooped, which she quickly corrected.
“What about Monobear?” Chelsea asked. “What if he tries to get in our way or something?”
“Try and ignore him as best as possible,” Shauna offered. “But don't challenge him; we don't want to get on his bad side at all.”
“All right then,” Chelsea said.
“Any more questions?” Shauna said.
“Yeah, just one,” Nina said. “What time are you thinking of actually having this dance start at?”
“Half eight,” Shauna said. “Until around midnight, if that's okay with everyone.”
“Two and a half hours?” Naomi said. “La-ame! I've been to way cooler parties that went on until sunrise!”
“Naomi,” Joel groaned. “Please don't try and equate whatever illegal skater raves you went to to this.”
“They weren't anything like that!” Naomi rebutted. “My skater group was not a bunch of low-life ravers!”
“Could you two please stop it?!” Shauna yelled. “We're derailing here!”
“Sorry,” Joel said.
“Anyway,” Shauna said. “That's it from me! So let's get out there, and get ready for this dance!”
Marian walked along the hallway, heading towards the elevator. With Wyatt having finished his outfits, there was little reason for her to join him, so she figured it would be best to help out elsewhere. Her current first choice was to go to the art studio and help Ben and the others with moving the supplies: from what she had heard, they had made far too much stuff to carry on their own. Surely they would appreciate her help.
She passed by a classroom door, continuing to head towards the elevator. But as she did so, Marian noticed that the lights dimmed the closer she got. She'd never really noticed it before, but then again, she hadn't really explored the academy since Monobear took over. And back then, she wasn't solely reliant on the lights for illumination: the sun had played just as large a part in lighting her way. A soft sigh escaped from Marian's lips: the sun already seemed like a distant memory, and she felt a pang of longing for it, but soon shook her head.
“That kind of thinking only leads down one deep, dark road...” Marian said to herself. “Don't go there.” She then continued to walk towards the elevator, but just as she was about to press the button on the wall, Monobear sprang up.
“Hey now!” he yelled, causing Marian to back up. “You can't go down this way!”
“Why not?” Marian said. “This is the only elevator that leads to the art studio; let me pass.”
“Nope!” Monobear chimed. “This elevator is now off limits! If you really want to go down to the art studio to join the other bastards, take the stairs!” He sighed. “The youth of today really is getting lazy, huh?”
“I don't have time for this nonsense,” Marian said. “Give me a valid reason why I can't use it.”
“Um... because...” Monobear began, faltering. “Because there are rats!”
“Rats?” Marian said. “Exclusively in the elevator?”
“Yes!” Monobear said.
“You really expect me to buy that for even a moment?” Marian said.
“Fine, you got me,” Monobear said. “There's actually plumbing issues on the stop before the art studio!”
“The wood workshop?” Marian questioned critically. “Why would there be plumbing near there? Wouldn't it just pose a hazard for the materials by causing rot from any excess moisture?” She placed a hand on her hip. “Besides, Shauna already complained about there being a lack of bathrooms within the vicinity of the workshop, so don't try and lie to me.”
“Ugh!” Monobear growled. “Just accept that I'm not letting you use this elevator right now, so scram!” At that exact moment, another light on the wall lit up, indicating that the elevator was currently in use. Marian merely raised an eyebrow at Monobear, and smirked.
The elevator door then opened, revealing Shauna and Ella standing there with a large cart full of electronic supplies: Marian spotted a remote, some speakers, and a lot of loose wire. Ella looked up at Marian, and then to Monobear, appearing startled.
“Oh, hey Marian,” she said, blanking Monobear as she and Shauna stepped out.
“Hey,” Marian said. Monobear silently fumed. “What do you have there?”
“Some of the stuff for the speaker system,” Shauna said. Cammy rested in the cart. “These are just the fiddly components to make it all work.”
“Cool,” Marian said. “Where's the rest of the stuff?”
“Downstairs,” Ella said. “I actually found it all in some obscure storage cupboard. It's really out of the way, so it's a stroke of luck I found it.”
“I suppose it is,” Marian said. “By the way, have either of you two experienced difficulty with this elevator?”
Shauna's eyes widened. “No,” she said. “Why?”
“Oh, Monobear tells me there's some kind of fault with it that means I can't use it,” Marian explained.
“Well, we didn't experience anything strange,” Ella said. She smiled sheepishly. “Just a regular elevator trip!”
“What did you do, Monobear?” Shauna suddenly asked, glaring at the black and white creature.
“Who? Me?” Monobear said. “Whatever do you mean?!”
“I think you know very well what we mean,” Shauna said. “What have you done to this elevator?”
“What are you talking about?” Monobear said. “I'm just a bear! What would I know about elevators?!”
Marian rolled her eyes. “So the elevator's fine, then?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah!” Monobear exclaimed. “I've just realised that this was the wrong elevator! I'm thinking about the other faulty elevator!”
“Oh, of course,” Marian replied flatly. “And which one would that be?”
“It's in the textile building,” Monobear explained. “I was just fixing it up for when you bastards finally begin killing!”
“Nobody's going to be killing anyone, Monobear,” Shauna said airily. She exchanged a look with Ella. “Anyway, I don't have time for this; we have to hook this all up.” She gave a quick smile to Marian. “See you later!”
Marian smiled back, and waved as the two girls walked down the hallway. “Yeah, see you tonight!” Once they were out of sight, Marian walked towards the elevator, stepping inside.
“Hey!” Monobear shouted. “I've not finished talking with you yet!”
“Whatever, Monobear,” Marian said. “The elevator's fine, and to be frank, I dislike talking to you immensely.”
“I'll have you punished for this!” Monobear screeched.
“You can't,” Marian said knowingly. “There's no rule I'm breaking.” The elevator door began to slide shut. “Have a nice day.”
“You bastards really tick me off!” Monobear yelled to the shut door, but as he did so, the elevator slipped down, cutting him and Marian off.
Marian let out a sigh as the elevator opened, revealing the art hallway. She quickly stepped out of the elevator as it shut behind her, and walked down the hallway, relieved with the silence. Seemed Monobear wasn't following her, thankfully. Probably he was now harassing Ella and Shauna. Marian paused for a moment, considering going back, but soon realised that they could deal with him: the quiet was refreshing.
She continued down the hallway, taking it all in. The walls were a pleasant cream, decorated with some sort of red patterns. However, the metal plates on top of the windows and the dim lighting made it seem less pretty. It was at this point that Marian realised that this was all a ploy on Monobear's part: he was trying to make the prospect of being cooped up inside as awful as possible, hoping for someone to snap and commit a murder. A plethora of questions rose up inside Marian's head as she continued to walk, but shook her head. The type of questions she was thinking of would in no way be answered: there was no chance of Monobear ever revealing his true motive behind this all. Maybe it was a sick social experiment that would keep going until someone was on the verge of killing? No, that was unlikely. From what Marian had gathered, it all seemed to be the trademark of the Despair Event. She let out a sigh. That meant that things weren't all that good in the outside world: there was a chance the authorities would be too busy to rescue them for a while.
Marian's thoughts were soon interrupted by the sound of voices. She looked up to see a classroom door partially open. A laugh sounded out: this was where everyone was. She took a step forwards, towards the door, when it suddenly opened all the way, revealing Nina carrying a box full of decorated cups.
“Hey Marian!” she said warmly. “What brings you here?”
“I had nothing else to do,” Marian said with a shrug. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Yeah,” Nina said. She motioned to the door. “Just go see Ben: he'll find something for you to do.”
“Thanks,” Marian said.
“Anyway, I've gotta go,” Nina said. “This is the first of many boxes that need to be brought up to the meeting hall, and I don't want to take any longer than I have to.”
“Okay then,” Marian said. “See you later.” Nina walked past Marian, and along the hallway towards the elevator. Marian then opened the door fully, and stepped into the art studio.
There were several students already inside: Marian saw Charlie and Carlos packing plates into a box, and Chelsea helping Ben place a disco ball inside a much larger box. Carlos was the first to see Marian, and gave a friendly smile and wave.
“Hi!” he said, before standing up. “Hey, everyone, Marian's here!”
“No need to announce my entrance like that,” Marian said dryly. “I'm not royalty or anything.”
“Oh please,” Carlos said brightly. “You're our friend, and that automatically puts you up in that category!”
“I'm flattered,” Marian said, smiling wryly. “But I'm just here to see Ben.”
“What is it?” Ben asked as he lowered the ball into the box. “Has something happened?” Marian saw his eyes widen.
“No, no,” she said with a chuckle. “Nothing like that.”
“All right then,” Ben said. “So what do you want?”
“A job,” she said. “There's nothing else for me to do, so do you have anything I could do?”
“I have an idea!” Carlos exclaimed. “Marian, you could help me and Charlie with packing this stuff up? It'd help lighten the load significantly!”
“I'd say it's a good idea,” Ben said. “You can take that job if you'd like.”
“All right,” Marian said, smiling. “I'll do it.” She quickly walked over to the two ETLs in question, and grabbed a few colourful plates, carefully placing them in the box.
“This all seems a bit menial for you, doesn't it?” Carlos asked tauntingly. “With such a high-profile title, I expected you to be doing something more... important, I guess.”
“Like what?” Marian asked.
“I don't know,” Carlos said. “Maybe overseeing this whole thing?”
“That's not my style,” Marian said. “Besides, Shauna's got that whole thing covered.”
“Speaking of which, where is she?” Carlos said. “She was supposed to check up on us after helping Ella with the sound gear.”
“Probably getting held up by Monobear,” Marian said with a sigh. “He's still hell-bent on meddling with us.”
“I wonder how long it'll take before he leaves us alone,” Carlos said. “Surely he's realised nobody's going to be killing anyone, so this game of his is somewhat futile.”
“Or he's playing the long game and hoping one of us cracks over time,” Marian said. “But none of this is worth speculating about right now: we should be focusing on the dance instead.”
“Maybe,” Carlos said, uneasy. He placed a handful of cups into a second box, before moving closer to Marian, leaving Charlie alone on the other side of the table. “But I've got to ask you something,” he said, lowering his voice.
“What?” Marian said. “And why the secrecy?”
“Because I don't want Charlie to know,” Carlos said. He suddenly turned a deep red, and began to stammer. “You see, uh... well... I kind of like Charlie, and want to ask her to the dance.”
A warm smile fell on Marian's face. “So that's it,” she said. “I actually find that quite endearing.”
“What do you mean?” Carlos asked.
“I just mean to say I find it kind of cute,” Marian said. “Now, I suppose I should ask this now: do you have the courage to actually ask her?”
“Well, about that... I actually... uh...” Carlos faltered, before lowering his head in shame. “No, I don't.”
“Would you like me to help you out?” Marian asked. “I'm not exactly the most romantically experienced, but I can try and put a word in for you.”
“Would you?” Carlos asked. “Thanks. You're a great friend.”
Marian smiled. “Don't mention it.” At that moment, Charlie walked up to the two of them, her eyes wide with curiosity.
“What are you two talking about?” she asked.
“N-nothing!” Carlos exclaimed, blushing furiously. “Just – we were just – talking! Yeah – talking – about, um... the dance! That's it!”
Charlie giggled. “Well, if that's all, then there's no need to hide it from me, is there?” she said.
“Yeah,” Marian said. “But there is something else.”
“Oh?” Charlie asked. “What is it?”
“Carlos has something to say,” Marian said. She nudged Carlos' shoulder. “Don't you, Carlos?” She gave a reassuring wink to the ETL Blogger.
“Uh, you see...” Carlos said. “Charlie, I was... well... maybe... damn it, this is stupid.” His face continued to flush redder and redder.
“What is it?” Charlie asked, concern plastered on her face.
“It's just that... well...” Carlos paused, shaking. “I'd like to know if you'd maybe like to go to the dance with me?”
Charlie went silent, her face going pale. “Oh,” she said. “Um... that sounds nice. If you want to go together, then sure. We'll have fun with everybody for sure.” She flashed a serene smile, and Carlos blushed even harder.
“Really?” he said.
“Really,” Charlie replied. “Now let's finish packing.”
“Got it,” Carlos said with newly found vigour. He began to grab cups by the handful, and placed them inside the box. “Anything for you, Charlie.” Marian began to laugh at the sight of the two of them. Maybe this dance wouldn't be such a bad idea after all, since with people like Carlos and Charlie, how would anyone be able to do anything but have a good time?
“Nyoom!” Naomi cried out as she skated across the floor of the hall. “This polish works wonders!”
“Well, it took half the morning to find,” Joel said with a shrug. “I'd expect it to work pretty well.”
“Where did you find it exactly?” Melissa asked, pinning a banner against the wall. In sparkly pink text it read 'A NIGHT TO REMEMBER'; Shauna had found it in a storage cupboard near the dorms, and had given it to them before leaving to help Ella with the sound system.
“Wood workshop,” Joel explained. “There's a whole bunch of it near the hammers and saws.”
“They have hammers and saws?” Andrew asked. “I won't be sleeping easy tonight.”
“Monobear probably put so many there just to tempt us,” Mark said. “I'm sure nobody's going to actually kill someone with them, though.”
“And from an objective viewpoint,” John said, “it'd be all too obvious when coming to identify a killer if they used something from there.”
“How so?” Andrew asked.
“Well, out of this group here, only Joel knows the layout of the room,” John explained. “And provided she had the time, Shauna would also probably be familiar with the area; Ben might be as well depending on the art project. And of course factoring in a potential buddy system would mean that at most five or six people would have enough knowledge of the room to confidently use a weapon from there without giving it away, and as such the culprit could easily be found through blind guessing.”
“That's amazing...” Mark said. “How do you know all this?”
“I was enlisted to help with the most notorious serial killer,” John said. “I think I picked up a few things.”
“Well, I'm interested,” Melissa said. “I was actually planning on writing a murder-mystery novel when I first arrived, but now it seems in bad taste. But I still did some research on the subject matter beforehand; not anything to make me an expert, but enough to write three hundred pages of mystery.”
“Only three hundred?” Andrew said with a grin. “Wasn't your last book like six hundred and twenty pages or something?”
“Six hundred and twelve to be precise,” Melissa said. “Of course, that's after having eighty pages worth of content cut by my editor to keep it small enough to be marketed to the young adult audience.”
“That's a thing?” Joel asked.
“Unfortunately,” Melissa said, pouting. “Six hundred and twenty is the absolute maximum a young adult novel can be, since apparently the publishers think teens are incapable of reading lengthy pieces of literature.”
“That sucks,” Mark said. “But you know what? I'd read anything of yours, no matter how long!”
Melissa blushed in modesty. “No need to be so kind,” she said, brushing off the compliment.
“I really mean it!” Mark said, grinning. “And when we get out of here, you should definitely write a book about our experiences.”
“Really?” Melissa said. “It's hardly been eventful; we've been trapped in a building with an ultimatum of murder hanging over our heads. The only thing is that nobody's dumb enough to actually fall for it.” She sighed. “Plus, who'd read it?”
“I would,” Mark said. “You're a really great writer, you know?”
“Bleurgh! Keep this lovey-dovey stuff for when you bastards are slow-dancing to a dumb pop-song tonight!” Without any warning, Monobear sprang up between Mark and Melissa.
“M-M-M-Monobear!” Mark wailed, leaping back in surprise.
“We're still doing this?” Monobear huffed. “Haven't you bastards gotten used to me yet?” He let out a downtrodden sigh. “I feel beary under-appreciated!”
John groaned. “Please don't start doing the thing,” he said.
“What thing?” Monobear asked curiously, tilting his head.
“The bear pun thing,” John said. “I can tolerate the involuntary trapping, the pressure to murder, and even your appearing out of nowhere. But bear puns? That's crossing a line that's never meant to be crossed.”
“Jeesh! Way to take things lightly,” Monobear said.
“What do you want, anyway?” John asked, sighing.
“To see how the dance is coming along!” Monobear exclaimed.
“We're all set up except for the art equipment,” Naomi said. “They should be here any minute!”
“I don't see why it concerns you,” Andrew said. “Unless you're gonna help us set up, which would be kind of weird and uncomfortable for all involved. So please don't do that.”
“Enh... whatever!” Monobear said. “Someday you bastards are gonna warm up to me: mark my words!”
“Not gonna happen,” Joel said, rolling his eyes.
“Hey now!” Monobear shouted. “I was counting on this group of you bastards to be less dismissive! The last person I spoke to ended up so rudely absconding from the conversation via an elevator!”
“Wouldn't we all,” Melissa mused dryly.
“I heard that!” Monobear said. “What makes you bastards think you're better than me anyway?!”
“Well, for starters we don't trap innocent kids and try and force them to murder each other,” Mark said.
“Minor details,” Monobear said dismissively. “It's such a small amount on a global scale that the percentage of all humanity you bastards make up is entirely negligible!”
“Hey! We matter!” Naomi said. “Just because we're a tiny amount of all people doesn't make us worthless!”
“You tell yourself that,” Monobear said venomously. “Anyway, I'm getting bored. You bastards are just sitting around and making friends when you could be killing one another!”
“Is this going to become a running theme?” John said. “How many times do we have to say it: nobody's killing anybody!”
“Upupu~ We'll see after tonight,” Monobear said, giggling darkly.
“What?” Joel questioned.
“N-nothing! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!” Monobear wailed, before dramatically faux-fainting. “Oh, how careless of me! Loose lips introduce potassium cyanide into the water supply!”
“Uh... what?” Andrew said blankly.
“That's not how the idiom goes,” Melissa said. “This bear is off-his-head insane.”
“Uwah! So vicious!” Monobear shrieked. At the same time, the doors to the meeting hall opened, revealing the group from the art room. “Too much! Too much!” And with that, Monobear vanished once more.
“Hey guys!” Naomi yelled as Chelsea and Ben wheeled in a large box. Behind them, Carlos and Charlie carried another box, albeit somewhat smaller. Nina and Marian held even smaller boxes.
“Hey Naomi,” Ben said. “We brought the supplies.”
“That's excellent!” Melissa exclaimed. “We have everything set up, so let's get right to it!”
All in all, it took a further three hours to fully decorate the meeting hall. At some point during the spectacle that was the implementation of every last decorations, Ella, Dirk, and Shauna arrived to set up the sound system. With long rows of tables filled with plates and cups, trays piled high with food, and a colourful spectrum of banners and streamers, the meeting hall was transformed from the dreary reminder that was their new life to a place that truly seemed worthy of holding a school dance.
Later still, Wyatt brought everyone up to his dorm room, and distributed out the outfits for the dance. It was stunning simplicity: midnight-blue summer dresses with white knee-socks and black pumps for the girls, and black dress suits with bow-ties for the guys. The next hour was then spent on hair and make-up until finally, at ten pm sharp, everyone stood outside of the doors to the meeting hall.
“Oh my gosh! I can't wait for this!” Naomi exclaimed to Shauna as they stood outside in the dimmed lighting. She still wore her skates, and had adorned her hair with a flower crown. “This is going to be the best!”
“I have to agree with you there, Naomi,” Shauna said. She had even dressed up little Cammy in a new tuxedo for the occasion. “This is definitely a night we will remember for a long time.”
“And trust me on this,” Ella said. “The music? It's to die for.” She gave a sly wink. “I'll be manning the DJ station tonight, but give all your gratitude to Dirk for helping me set up the playlists.”
“Whatever,” Dirk said with a shrug. He wasn't wearing the bow-tie and had instead opted to unbutton the first couple of buttons on the shirt. His hair also remained relatively untouched. “Let's just get this party started.”
“With pleasure,” Shauna said with a grin as she pushed open the doors to the meeting hall. Everyone immediately poured in, kicking the dance off with refreshments and the stellar choice of music. And everyone shared the same thought, regardless of their personal opinion on attending the dance: this was going to be a great night for all.
It was just too bad that one of them would be dead before sunrise.