Ellie sat in the cold, in a corner of a room, a room so dark she couldn't even recognise, waiting for footsteps to sound outside the door, waiting for her murderer to come for her.
They'd run as soon as they could think to move. Ellie had been first out of the door, heading straight for the entrance. She heard the others coming out beside her, had heard the echoes of Ryan's laughter (not Ryan any more, no, no, Lois now, Lois' laughter) had pulled on the from door until the latch fell off, and she knew that somehow Ryan (Lois, her mind told her) was doing this, was trapping them in here, trapping them for their deaths, clean and simple under Ryan's (Lois') knife.
The door had stayed firmly shut, and much as Ellie wanted to scream and scream and hammer at it until morning, she knew if she stayed there much longer, Lois (Ryan) would catch up and kill her, so she took off down the nearest corridor and hoped beyond hope the others were following behind her.
They had been. Weaving their way into the house, down endless corridors and through small rooms and coat rooms and more living rooms, so many Ellie was sure they had to be lost, that they'd surely seen this room once before, now twice before, hopelessly lost in this labyrinth.
Dan had said, "We're deep enough in here that she won't find us for a while."
Then he'd said, damn him, damn him to hell, "She won't be able to find us as easily if we split up."
They'd argued, in hushed tones, scared that even a hash whisper might lead Lois to them (it's still Ryan, Ellie tried to remember), but they'd agreed, somehow. And they'd all gone in separate directions, hiding in the nooks and crannies they could find.
A text from Matt lit up the phone in Ellie's hand. Thank God for modern communication.
I hear him coming. Checks every room. I could be dead.
Another text a few seconds after that.
Ellie smile, small. She'd always found Matt's struggling with English funny, despite herself. It was almost comforting that at least he was the same old Matt she'd always known.
Minutes passed, and Matt didn't text back. The seconds seemed to last a lifetime, and Ellie counted them, tens, fifties, hundreds, each one that passed infinitely reducing the chances of Matt still being alive. One hundred, two, three. Three hundred and thirty one seconds, and Matt finally texted back.
She passed me. I'm fine.
Ellie let out a sigh of relief, silently, sure beyond sure that even the slightest sound would bring Lois upon her.
Another text now, from Dan. The joys of group chats.
We can't hide all night. She'll find us eventually. We need to do something.
What? We die if we don't hide.
It was surreal to see Sonam's texts when they weren't littered with at least three appropriate emojis.
Ellie typed quickly her agreement.
We've gotta hold out. I am not dying tonight.
There was a pause, then an ellipses appeared in the bottom of the chat screen, flashing there quietly, the universal sign that someone was typing. It stayed there for a minute, a minute and a half, two. Then the next text came up, from Dan, just one sentence.
How much do we know about ghost hunting?
Ellie frowned, texted back.
That's dumb. How do we know anything will even work?
Sonam backed her up.
Dan texted again. Ellie could almost imagine him sitting there, pushing his glasses up his nose pompously.
Just bear with me. I think I have an idea of how we can get out of here.
I don't understand.
The ellipses appeared again, and Ellie just knew that Dan was writing a long and complicated explanation as to exactly what his plan was, but Sonam cut him off.
It don't matter. We need to meet up + plan together. It's stupid like this :(
There, finally, Sonam shone through, the frowning face at the end of her text the silent affirmation that Lois hadn't got her, the affirmation Ellie hadn't even realised she'd been looking for.
A couple more texts and they agreed on a place, a tiny closet that they'd passed, somewhere near where Matt was hiding. They could only hope that Lois wouldn't try to check rooms she'd already been through. They could only hope she wouldn't find them first.
It was stupid, Ellie realised, this whole thing. Like the most ridiculous game of Manhunt to ever exist. She hadn't really known though, when she was playing as a kid, how terrifying actually being hunted was. The cruel irony, she guessed, of the thing.
When she was growing up, she'd lived in a tiny flat with her mum, the place barely bigger than a shoebox. Pretty much everyone she'd ever known lived like that, in a building that seemed to have a thousand floors and a million people living in a million shoeboxes. Until her neighbours won the lottery, and for the first time in her life she'd seen a proper house. A proper house with different floors and everything, so many rooms Ellie thought she'd get lost in them. They'd played Manhunt there, and she finally understood the fun of the game. Her shoebox flat had five rooms and only so many hiding places. Her neighbour's big house was a whole world in itself.
That was how Ellie felt now, the flashbacks to her childhood in that house were crippling. This abandoned house in Covenant Street was a world in itself, and there seemed to be nothing outside of it. Looking through the windows, she could see only darkness, like the rest of the universe had faded away and left only the shadows and the moonlight and the killer on her trail.
She reached to closet they'd agreed to meet in, and Ellie realised that it may have felt like Manhunt, but it had ended up being more like Sardines, with them all pressed up against one another in the closet, jostling for space that wasn't there, whispering their plans as quietly as they could, freezing when they thought they heard even the tiniest sound outside.
There, they talked and talked and talked, and slowly slowly, a plan of action started to bloom.