Adventures of a Self-Aware Character

Ever read a book where you questioned a character's decision? Maybe you felt the way they acted was cliche or just plain stupid. That's life for Martin, a man in his early twenties who lives in a world where every character is predictable and every story is predictable. Worse, when he tries to alter their cliched lives or point out their stupidity, he only ensures their cliched ways will continue.

Meet the self-aware character.


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2. Chapter 2 - A Horrorable Experience

Chapter 2 – A Horrorable experience

Staring blankly out at the airport, Martin knew that he had been right. This was a bad idea from the start. His vision already blurring, he peered around. Unusually for the terminal, it was devoid of people – bar himself, Simon and a man sitting on the bench beside them. At first, Martin had thought that he was reading the newspaper in his lap. Until the man started snoring. Martin frowned, wishing he was still asleep. It wasn’t until he heard a noise from his left that Martin broke away from this trance and turned to face his friend.

“Maybe…maybe it wasn’t a good idea to leave this early…” Simon whispered, slurring his words and stifling a yawn. They stood in silence for a moment, both trying desperately to stay awake, until the announcement echoed that their flight was going to leave in ten minutes. Martin yawned and prodded his friend to wake him up.

“I may be tired, but not too tired to miss a flight I indirectly paid for.”

Simon smiled sleepily, mumbled out an apology and turned to shuffle off towards the gate. Martin followed, yawning again and dragging his luggage with disinterest.

 

--

 

Four hours later, the plane landed at Bucharest. Martin stretched, having slept a little on the plane, and stood up. When Simon didn’t move from his seat, he received a swift kick in the shins. Yelping, Simon bolted upright.

“Wh..why does my foot hurt?” he said, blinking multiple times to clear the sleep from his eyes. Turning his head, he saw Martin grab the hand luggage and shuffle off the plane.

 

Only once they had reached the airport did the two realise how big this mistake was.

 

Thousands of people were milling about, pushing past each other to get to the correct area for booking. There were countless numbers of adults in business suits shouting down their phones in different languages, bulldozing elderly ladies as if they weren’t even there. Mothers with swarms of children yelled at airport attendees to move, yelled at their children to be quiet, yelled at anyone who dared to get in their way. Babies were crying at the tops of their lungs as parents franticly tried to quieten them down (or not, as some parents decided that their children made a ‘wonderful’ sound, and that their crying added to the ‘atmosphere’ of the place). Tourist groups bumbled around in a mess, spreading out maps as wide as they would go and crowding around as one person pointed at a spot on the map, praying it was correct.

 

Martin turned to Simon, who had started to sweat slightly.

“Simon. You’d better know where these people are.”

Simon pulled at his pocket, ripping his phone out and tapping a code in as quickly as he could.

“Yeah…yeah…one second…” he said under his breath as he tapped away at his phone screen. Suddenly, the tapping stopped, and Simon froze.

“What’s wrong? Did your ‘genius’ plan fall apart on you?” mocked Martin. Simon turned to Martin with a face of stone.

“It appears that the group isn’t here.” he said, beginning to sweat. Martin simply stared at his friend.

“Where are they, then?”

Simon looked back at his phone and tapped away again. A moment later, he turned back to Martin.

“They’re waiting by the entrance to the airport.”

“What the hell are we waiting for, then?”

Simon didn’t move. Behind them, another argument was breaking out between an angry lady and someone who assumedly was her husband. He was looking down at the floor, his expression mirrored in Simons’.

“I made a miscalculation.”

Martin looked his friend straight in the eyes. “What kind of miscalculation?” he said, tone considerably lowered. Simon swallowed and looked back at his phone.

“They’re at the entrance…but they haven’t got the money.”

“What money?”

“The money we gave them.”

Looking up at the ceiling, Martin groaned. Simon continued.

“They spent it on their own flights. They still have enough for the hotel, but not enough for us.”

 

isolation

Martin began muttering a prayer to whatever god was listening. Simon carried on looking down at his phone. The phone made a bleeping noise and before Simon could react, Martin had grabbed it at was scrolling through the messages. It showed a conversation with the ‘Tara’ Martin had seen on the forum post the other day and another man called ‘Gary’. The new message was from this Gary, who was attempting to apologise for spending the cash. Closing his eyes, Martin thought for a second.

 

 

He had several options.

Option one. Confront the group face to face. Argue with them, perhaps regain enough money to return home and never speak of this incident again.

 

Option two. Sell some of their possessions and beg the UK embassy to scrape together money for any flight they could get their hands on.

 

Option three. Go ahead with the original ‘plan’ and meet with the group. Tour Bucharest as previously planned, try to enjoy this holiday and worry about getting back later on.

 

Martin smiled slightly. Of course, there was always option four: punch Simon in the face. That wouldn’t solve any of the problems, but it would make Martin feel a damn sight better. Upon opening his eyes, he saw the argument behind them had stopped. Mostly because the lady had gone, leaving a very distraught looking man behind. Martin watched him for a second before deciding to approach him, passing the phone back to Simon.

“Martin, look, I’m sorry dude. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can, let’s just get some money back from the group and go.”

Martin didn’t listen – he just kept walking towards the man. Upon reaching the man, he tapped him on the shoulder. The man looked up, eyes downcast. He was a man of slender build; his white t-shirt sticking to his torso from nervous sweat.

“Yeah?” he said, his voice sounding slightly hoarse. Martin wondered if the man had been crying.

“I saw you arguing with that lady. May I ask what it was about?” Martin said, raising his voice above the noise.

“I messed up. The hotel we booked ‘cancelled at the last minute’. Turns out I didn’t actually…book it.”

Turning pointedly to Simon, Martin said, “Oh yeah? We have a similar issue actually. Want to come with us?”

Simon began shaking his head very obviously. Luckily, the man didn’t seem to notice.

“Really? Well sure, I’ll come with you! Let me find my wife first. The name’s Lance, by the way.”

“Ok Lance, meet us at the entrance to the airport in five minutes.”

The man began shaking Martin’s hand vigorously up and down. The force of it nearly knocked Martin over.

“Thank you, thank you.” he kept saying over and over. Martin grinned awkwardly and removed his hand. Before Simon could say anything, Martin had begun picking his way through the crowd. Simon followed his friend with a stunned expression.

“What. Was. That.” he said forcefully when he finally managed to catch up with Martin. “If we can’t pay for us, there’s no way we can afford those two as well…”

“Consider it interest.” Martin interrupted. As Simon began to speak, he cut him off again. “You lost me my money and my time. So now, you have to pay for these people as well when we get back.”

Simon frowned. “Ok, first off, I can’t afford the payment anyway, let alone with extra people. And second, we’re not at home. We’re in Romania. We have no cash. How do we pay for the hotel?

Martin smiled and turned to Simon as they squirmed past two very obese people.

“Maybe you should have thought about that before you spent all my money.”

 

--

 

Martin stood with the tour group, looking around and taking them in. Directly in front of him stood a young woman who was staring intently at her phone. She was scowling at the screen, flicking her unnecessarily long hair out of the way to see. When he asked her name, she looked up at Martin, staring at him for longer than socially acceptable with an intensity that threw Martin off.

“Tara Solberg.” she said, her tone somewhat annoyed. Before Martin could respond, she had already begun texting on her phone again.

To his right was a tall man in his twenties. Martin guessed his height would have been formidable had he stood up straight; as it was, he was clutching his elbows and bowed over slightly, glasses falling off his nose every so often. When he noticed Martin staring at him, he smiled uncertainly and held out a hand.

“The name’s Gary Lorway. Nice to meet you.” he said cheerfully, although his eyes betrayed a kind of fear Martin had seen often on the faces of newly employed staff members at the supermarket.

To his left stood the couple; Lance looking down at the ground and picking his fingernails, the woman staring confrontationally into the eyes of each person in the group. When she caught sight of Martin, he grinned. This seemed to knock her off-balance slightly, but she simply crossed her arms and stared haughtily into the distance. After some time, she introduced herself as Shannon. She didn’t bother to give a last name.

And then there was Simon. He was sitting on a nearby bench, sulking.

 

Martin coughed, eager to break the awkward silence that had fallen over the group. Everyone (except Tara) looked up.

“Well, isn’t this just like a horror story.” he said, smiling around at everyone. Shannon tutted and looked away, arms still crossed. Gary on the other hand, looked at Martin with curiosity.

“How so?”

Martin grinned.

“It’s so obvious. I’ve been isolated. I’m now in a group with the ‘Best friend who’s angry at me’,” he said, pointing to Simon, “the ‘One who’s cowardly and will become brave later on when faced with danger’,” he now pointed to Gary, who’s eyes widened. “Then there’s ‘The couple who would do anything for each other’.” For this, he pointed to Lance and Shannon. “Finally, we have the uninteresting ‘main’ character who is certain to die swiftly.” He made to point at Tara then stopped as she flicked her head up from her phone to give him a death glare. At this point, Shannon turned to Martin.

“Ex-cuse me sir, I believe you missed yourself in this little ‘play’ you’ve written for us.”

Martin directed a sickly smile at Shannon.

“Oh, me? Isn’t it obvious? I’m the arrogant main character who’s guaranteed to survive no matter what.”

Shannon coughed, smiled, and looked Martin up and down.

“Uh huh. Isn’t it a little egotistical to call yourself the main character, honey?”

“Well, that’s why I’m the arrogant main character.”

Shannon opened her mouth to reply, then stopped herself, settling for an angry look directed across the road. Martin continued.

“Honestly, all that’s missing right now is the ‘Creepy cult-ish leader who is the cause of any and all misfortunes that will befall us’.” He turned to a bemused looking Gary. “You created this little group, didn’t you?”

Gary nodded.

“Yes. There’s one person left to arrive. The tour guide. He just texted me to say he’s almost here. Local man. Nice enough. Not ‘cult-ish’, as you put it, in any way” he said, giving a sideways glance to Martin.

Just as he said this, the group heard a shout from down the road. They turned to see a person who was waving a piece of paper at them as he ran.

“I’m…sorry…for being late…” he gasped, bending down to put both hands on his knees. “My bus…he broke down…sorry…”

Gary smiled at him. “Don’t worry, we didn’t mind waiting Andrei.” Gary turned to the group. “Everyone, this is Andrei. He’s going to take us around.”

Andrei continued to pant, but looked up at everyone and smiled weakly.

“I am pleased to meet you. Sorry for my English. Do you want a tour?”

Everyone nodded. Andrei’s smile widened.

“Do not worry. I shall take you to my boss. He will take you on a tour.”

Gary looked at Andrei in confusion. “Wait…aren’t you the tour guide?”

Andrei laughed. “Me? No, no, I only make tours of certain areas. Your destination is not one of them.” His eyes widened and his face began to freeze. Staring at the pavement intensely, he carried on.

“I do not know why you would want to take tour of this place. It is bad place. People all say so.”

His face brightened suddenly as he looked into the confused faces of the tour group.

“I apologise. My boss is not far.”

With that, he walked off down the road. Under his breath, Lance muttered that Bucharest wasn’t even that dangerous.

 

--

 

Walking down the dimly lit corridor that led to this supposed tour-guides’ office, Martin began to feel a sense of unease he knew the others weren’t feeling. While the floor-to-ceiling photos of a decrepit old house set Martin’s teeth on edge, Tara was posing in front of each one and taking selfies, muttering ‘hashtag Bucharest’ under her breath over and over. The carpet (stained a suspicious dark brown colour around several of the doors) added to the tone of the place – although this didn’t appear to upset Simon, who was staring at the floor as he walked, his mind elsewhere. Martin could hear Shannon complaining about the flickering lights; apparently they made her feel sick. Heading the group was a slightly cheerful Gary, who turned to give Martin a small smile every now and again.

 

Eventually the group reached the end of the corridor. Andrei knocked on the door and waited for a response. When he received none, Andrei swallowed and slowly opened the door in a wide arch.

 

The room was surprisingly plain to Martin, as well as being quite small for the supposed owner of a tour group business. Everyone piled in, Tara continuing to photograph herself while Shannon tutted and started complaining about the lack of windows and chairs to the room. Once everyone was in, Andrei cleared his throat.

“Stefan is not here right now. He will be back soon.”

With that, he swiftly left the room, shutting the door behind him with a bang that made Gary jump. He smiled nervously and turned to face Martin.

“Um…Let’s just sit down and wait for Stefan.”

Simon immediately snuck into the closest seat. Shannon and Lance walked over to a rather dishevelled settee and sat themselves down as Shannon continued her rant. Lance simply nodded at opportune moments, looking rather glum.

That left Gary and Martin still standing while Tara tapped away at her phone. Looking closely at Gary, Martin noticed he had begun to sweat. He rolled his nose up and edged away from the man, deciding instead to take a look around the room.

 

It didn’t take long to discover a door in the left wall. Peeling wallpaper covered the front of it, but the groove in the wall was still obviously a doorway. Martin walked up to it and gave it a push. No sooner had he done so, the door was flung wide open, almost hitting him in the face. In stepped a tall man wearing a business suit and a brown tie, who stood with his legs spread slightly and his spine as straight as a ruler, taking up what seemed to be more than his fair share of space in the room. Martin peered around this figure, trying to catch a glimpse of the room beyond, but the man slammed the door shut as soon as he was through. The man locked eyes with Martin, giving him a wide smile that felt fake. Martin kept his expression dead-pan.

“You’re Stefan then.”

The man’s smile widened even further, pulling at the edge of his face in a manner not unlike that of a cloth puppet.

“You would be quite correct. My name is Stefan Ungar, and I own this touring business. I take it you are the group who booked a tour, then?”

His wide smile seemed to have caught everyone in a spell. Gary’s mouth had fallen open as he nodded meekly. Martin continued to observe ‘Stefan’ with suspicion as he somehow managed to break the laws of biology and smile even wider.

“Good. You have my payment, I assume?”

Gary blinked slowly.

“We’re…paying upfront, Stefan?” he asked. Stefan nodded.

“That way, I can provide excellent service to each and every one of you.”

As he said this, his eyes panned across the room, finally stopping on Martin. Something flickered behind his eyes as he looked at Martin; something that, for a second, made his smile seem somewhat sinister. Then it was gone, and the suspiciously-smiley Stefan was back. Stefan turned back to face the group.

“If that is everything, then shall we get going? I have much to show you, and it is already later than I would like.”

Stefan swept across the room to the door, flinging the doors open with abandon and gesturing for the group to exit. As Simon stood to follow, Martin grabbed his friend’s arm.

“Simon. Look. He’s the creepy cult dude I described!”

Simon gave Martin an odd look.

“Just thought I’d let you know. You know, if he does turn out to be a cult leader, it makes great material for a book.” Martin grinned. “Who knows, maybe ‘Stefan’ will make his way into a villainous role in my next book?”

Simon grinned back, secretly glad his friend wasn’t holding a grudge.

“Yeah, maybe. That’d be cool.”

A cough from the door brought them back to reality. Stefan was staring at them with a degree of suspicion, despite his plastered on smile.

The two walked out the door. Once they were through, Simon nudged Martin.

“For real though, Stefan is super creepy.”

 

--

 

Once they reached the entrance hall, they noticed that the rest of the tour group was missing. Turning back down the corridor to face Stefan, Simon asked him where everyone was. Stefan shrugged.

“Maybe they all went to get some food or some drinks. After all,” he said, his smile returning with great force, “it is getting towards lunch.”

Martin checked his watch – not even eleven. It was at that point he noticed that the entrance hall was completely empty – not even the receptionist who had greeted them with a smile was there. Noticing Martin’s confusion, Stefan continued.

“My staff take a break around this time of day.”

“Uh-huh. And, uh, these staff. How long do their breaks last for?” Martin said, narrowing his eyes.

“Half of an hour.”

Martin raised an eyebrow.

“I’m going for lunch as well, then. You coming, Simon?”

He walked over to the glass entrance doors, footsteps echoing around the empty room. Just as he was about to place a hand on the door, a sound from his right distracted his train of thought.

Tara! What on earth are you doing?”

“Uh, nothing?

“But you weren’t! You were tapping on the wall!

“So?”

“So?....SO? Lance, are you hearing this? She isn’t even listening to me!”

The voices grew louder as Shannon roughly pushed the doors open. She strode into the room, hands on hips, walking towards the doors where Martin stood. He took a step backwards as she thrust her hands out to grab the door handle. Just after her, Tara walked in, her gaze focused angrily on her phone as she typed away furiously. Rather than heading for Martin, she headed for Simon, standing by him and glancing at Shannon with a gaze that could melt stone.

“Shannon, you may want to look around, because I think Stefan-”

Shannon spun round to face Martin.

OH? Exactly WHAT should I do? Who are you to tell me what to do?”

Blinking slowly, a cocky grin starting to form on his face, Martin started to reply. But before he could, Simon swept in front of Martin.

“Ignore him! Carry on!”

Shannon looked down her long nose at Simon. She sniffed, before turning back to the door and flinging it open.

 

At least, that was what was supposed to happen.

 

Instead, the doors wouldn’t budge an inch. The force of Shannon’s pull on the door somehow managed to loosen her grip, and she tumbled to the floor in an unsightly heap.

UGH! GET ME UP THIS INSTANT! DON’T JUST STAND THERE!”

But Simon did just stand there, staring down at this fuming lady with the fear of a deer in the headlights. Behind him, Martin was struggling to contain his laughter and failing miserably. Tara didn’t even bother to hide her joy, holding her phone up to Shannon with a twisted grin.

“I am totally putting this on Snapchat.” she said as Shannon fell back to the floor after struggling to regain balance.

It was at this inopportune moment that Gary and Lance decided to return. Gary was holding something in his hand, something which he was going to great efforts to hide.

Shannon, upon seeing her husband enter the room, began flailing even more frantically.

LANCE! Help me up now!

Exchanging a look with Gary, Lance ran over to his wife and heaved her upright.

“Hey everyone, Stefan’s gone. Suspicious, right?”

Nobody appeared to have heard Martin. They were all occupied with watching Lance heave his wife upright.

Eventually though, Shannon was back on her feet, and looking angrier than usual.

“Shann, what happened?” Lance asked, both fearful and worried.

“Well Lance, the door is broken. Clearly it isn’t just the lights that are broken around here!” she said, her voice increasing in volume nearer the end of the sentence. Lance looked around, worried somebody might have heard his wife. It was only then he noticed the absence of Stefan.

“Where’d Stefan go, Martin?”

Martin rolled his eyes in an obvious manner. Shannon turned to face her husband again.

“Why are you asking him?

“He’s the arrogant main character, right?”

Martin let out a single, loud laugh.

“Yeah, Lance! You’re damn right I’m the main character! Now, my guess is that Stefan is the cult leader I mentioned before. I mean, he owns a large business, all his employees vanished the same time he did, we’re locked in here, there was blood on the floor earlier and now Gary is holding something secretively.”

Everyone turned to face Gary. He looked around innocently at everyone, before starting to laugh.

“Oh, come on everyone! You really think I’m hiding something? Ha, funny joke Martin.”

Martin took a few paces towards Gary.

“You know, I think I’d like to re-establish the little roles we have in this horror story.”

Keeping eye contact with Gary, he continued.

“Simon is still the ‘Best-friend character’. I still feel Tara is going to die first.” Tara glared at Martin again, before returning to her phone. “Shannon is obviously the cynical one. Or possibly the brave one who becomes cowardly.” Shannon sighed and looked at Lance, who was hanging on the end of Martin’s sentences. Martin himself continued to walk towards Gary.

“Lance, I think you’re the cowardly one. It makes perfect sense now. It’s probably why you and Shannon make such a good couple.”

Lance grinned until he caught Shannon’s eye and looked down at the floor. Martin was very close to Gary now, only a few paces between them.

“That leaves you, Gary. Who exactly are you? Why did you make this group? And what are you holding?”

Gary had started to sweat again. Behind them Simon was whispering something about Martin liking to go off on tangents; that it was a ‘writer’s thing’.

“You know Gary, I think you’re the nice guy who turns out to be against us. It makes sense, after all.”

Gary looked into Martin’s eyes, sweating profusely now. Then suddenly, he laughed.

“You’re not serious, right? Come on. Stefan and his crew obviously all went to lunch or something. The doors probably self-lock at lunch – after all, who wants customers when you’re eating? And this?”

Gary held up the object he’d been concealing behind his back. It was a golden cylinder, about twenty centimetres long and five centimetres wide, with a circular groove in the side.

“I found it in the snack room back there. It was just sitting there, on the table.”

Everyone except Martin made an ‘oh’ sound of understanding. Gary continued.

“Come on. It’s almost lunch anyway. We should grab a bite to eat while we wait for Stefan to return. I’m sure our tour won’t take long, then we can sort out hotel arrangements.”

Just as he said this, Stefan appeared in the doorway.

“I hope I did not keep you waiting for too long?”

“Of course not Stefan.” said Gary, relieved of the opportunity to remove himself from the spotlight. Stefan smiled the widest smile he’d given off yet, before walking over to the group. Martin followed his movement across the room, each footstep echoing around the empty hall. He noted with some interest that the receptionist had yet to return.

“Why did you lock us in, Stefan?” Martin asked.

“Hm?”

Stefan changed his course, walking instead to the double doors. He placed a slender hand on the handle and gave it a light tug. When the doors, to no surprise, didn’t move, his expression started to shift into one of slight concern.

“I do apologise. The doors here are self-locking at night. They are not supposed to lock during the day.”

“Of course not” said Martin under his breath. Stefan pretended not to hear and walked over to the doorway again.

“I will talk to my associates about this matter. Again, I do apologise. Please, down the corridor to the right you will find the sleeping quarters of my staff. I always hold spare rooms open. If the doors are not opened by the end of the day, please use them as you see fit, free of charge.”

With that said, Stefan nodded to the group and disappeared behind the door. Martin began to laugh as soon as he closed the door.

“Ha! Did you hear that? What kind of business has rooms in the building for its staff! Come on guys, it’s super obvious now. This is a cult building.”

This set Gary off laughing.

“Come off it, Martin! He’s obviously just a nice guy, right everyone?”

The rest of the group remained silent. Lance looked around the room uncomfortably, staring at a particularly interesting spot on the ceiling. Simon coughed, keen to break the silence which followed.

“I’m going to find the rooms. You coming, Martin?” he said, gesturing towards the right hand doorway. Martin nodded and begun walking towards the doors, but not before smirking at Gary.

 

--

 

“Ok Martin, I agree. This does kinda make sense.”

Martin was sitting on the bed, his case still unpacked on the floor beside him. He turned the page of the notebook and clicked his pen repeatedly, frowning down at the paper.

“Because, you know, there’s the creepy cult leader like you said, and everyone else fits their roles perfectly.”

Martin scribbled something down on the page, before sighing and flipping the book shut.

“Yeah. I reckon we could get some of our money back from the others if we asked. I have enough material to get going on my story again.”

Checking his watch, Martin threw the book on the floor and stood up.

“It’s just gone ten. Should we try to beg them for money now or later?”

Simon pondered this for a second.

“Now. There’s probably a late flight we can get somewhere. Besides,” he continued, “if the door still won’t work, I can always smash through it.”

Martin grinned and opened the door. As he did so, there came a horrifying scream from down the corridor. Simon and Martin stared at each other, shocked, before Martin slammed the door shut and locked it.

“What are you doing? Someone needs help!” Simon shouted, making a grab for the keys. Martin shoved them in his pocket and pushed Simon away.

“No, Simon. Listen to me. Whoever that was – and I’m betting it was Tara – is dead. Murdered by the cult. If we go out there, we’re bound to get killed as well.”

Outside the door, footsteps thudded in the direction of the scream. Simon continued to glare at Martin, who rolled his eyes and threw Simon the keys.

“Fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Simon wasted no time in unlocking the door and running off. Then everything went silent. Martin sighed and peered around the door. The corridor stretched away in both directions, fading into darkness to both the left and right. From the silence, Martin heard a soft thud along the corridor, followed by a muffled shout.

“Damnit.” Martin whispered.

 

He was left with a number of choices again.

 

Option 1. Stay in his room until morning before examining the situation. The most sensible option in this case, although he knew that waiting any longer could result in further deaths.

 

Option 2. Run in the opposite direction to the scream into the bowels of the building. As per usual horror-esque rules, this would also lead to his death. Probably from some evil monster or spirit.

 

Option 3. Follow Simon and the rest down the corridor, getting tangled up in a cult-like mess involving Stefan, Gary and the golden cylinder.

 

Martin grinned, deciding to pursue option 3.

“After all,” he said to himself, “I am the arrogant main character. This is the sort of idiotic thing he would do.” He returned into his room and grabbed the torch he’d packed for emergencies. After deliberating a moment or two, he grabbed a couple of replacement batteries as well. He hesitated, then snatched his phone and dialled the police.

“Best to be prepared.” He mumbled.

 

It took no time at all to reach the room. Martin kicked the door open to reveal a dark room. All Martin could see was a suspicious liquid covering the floor. The first thing that hit him, though, was the smell. It reminded Martin of high school dissections. The only sounds coming from the room were the sounds of gasping breaths. Martin lifted the torch up, made to press the on switch, then remembered that there was probably a light switch he could turn on. After briefly fumbling around the wall, Martin found a light switch and pressed it.

 

The floor was, as expected, coated in a thin layer of blood. As were most of the walls. In the corner of the room sat three frightened tour group members. Shannon was trembling and staring wide-eyed around the room. She caught sight of Martin and a whimper escaped her throat, causing her to back even further into the corner. Next to her was Simon, who was cradling his arm. He had his eyes closed, and was mumbling under his breath. Standing in front of both of them was Lance. His shirt was ripped from the waist downwards, revealing a large gash across his stomach area. Blood was slowly leaking out of it even as he stood. One arm was also covered in blood (supposedly from covering the wound), while the other arm was holding a bat of some kind. In the opposite corner was a pile of red mush that Martin tried his best to ignore.

 

The middle of the room was where the real mess was. Hanging from the ceiling was the body of a woman. Fresh blood was still gushing from her slit throat, dripping down her body onto the floor as the rope that hung her dug deeper into the wound. Matted strands of long hair clung to her back. Below her, a phone lay shattered in a million tiny glass fragments.

 

It took Martin a spilt second to decide what to do.

 

“What are you doing? Let’s GO!”

Nobody moved as he turned to go. They were transfixed on the corpses’ hand. First its hand twitched. Then her arm started to move in spastically rigid movements. Shannon, upon seeing this, shrieked and ran from the room. Lance turned to Martin.

“I agree. After we were attacked, Gary threw the cylinder under T…under the corpse. He kept chanting these incantations and then ran out the room. Stefan wasn’t so lucky.” He pointed to the mush in the corner. As he did so, the corpse raised its head, spraying blood in an arch around the room. Its mouth was prised open as thousands of black beetles burst from between its blue lips. Martin didn’t wait to discover what would happen next. He ran out the room, hearing Simon skid slightly on the wet floor.

 

They were halfway down the corridor when they realised Lance wasn’t there.

“Damnit!” Simon said, cradling his arm.

Behind them, the two heard a fierce battle cry, before a sickening crunch echoed down the corridor. The pair began sprinting at full speed, not bothering to stop or look back. Maniacal laughter followed their footsteps, growing louder and louder as they reached ever closer to the doors. With a last-ditch effort, Simon threw himself at the hallway doors which marked their escape into the entrance hall and pushed.

 

The doors wouldn’t budge.

 

“Oh, good. You arrived in time, then.”

 

Gary’s voice echoed down the corridor behind them. Simon began frantically pushing at the door with his good arm, banging on it in the hope someone would hear. Martin simply turned around to face his antagonist. A few metres away down the corridor stood what used to be Tara. It looked as though it was suspended on its own at first, but upon closer inspection Martin could see Gary behind it, propping it up with his arms.

“Hi, Gary.” Martin said. “Seems my horror analogy was accurate after all.”

Gary chuckled, making the corpse jiggle. Its arm began peeling away from its shoulder. Martin forced a lump back down his throat.

“Yes, I guess it was. Though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by your actions. I actually picked your friend there as a target at first.”

Simon, who had stopped banging on the door, began again with great effort.

“I suppose you’re wondering what’s going on, aren’t you Martin?”

Martin blinked, a trickle of sweat beginning to travel down his neck. “Not really. But I’m sure you’re going to tell us anyway. You are the villain, after all. You people have a tendency to be somewhat egotistical. Please put the corpse down.”

Gary ignored him, the decaying arm continuing to drop down slowly.

“You see, this business is just a front. Me and my partner Stefan run this…shall we say…establishment? Yes, that sounds right. Our real business is behind the scenes.”

“A cult.”

“No, not a cult. We are simply a group of individuals who obey a different set of rules to everyone else.”

“That’s a cult.”

Gary leaned around the corpse and frowned at Martin, who was starting to feel faint to more he looked at the corpse. Seeing his paling face, Gary took a step forward with the corpse. He went on to talk about his cult; how they strived for equality through demonic power. Martin stopped listening, focusing instead on a shadowed figure approaching from down the corridor. His attention was drawn back to Gary as he wielded the golden cylinder above his head.

“We can change the world, don’t you see that?” Gary shouted. “Come on, Martin! Join the bigger picture here!”

Simon started screaming for help as his efforts to escape became increasingly more futile. Martin continued to watch the shadowy figure behind Gary.

“Where is Stefan?” Martin asked, hoping to buy enough time for the figure to reach Gary.

“Him? Oh, he was obliterated by this beast here.” Gary patted the corpse on the shoulder and it groaned, the arm finally falling to the floor. Gary pulled a face at the resulting flow of blood, wiping his hand on his jumper. “I hate mess.” He muttered under his breath. Behind him, the figure came into view. Recognising him to be Lance, Martin tensed. Lance looked across at Martin, pleading with his eyes for more time.

“And what about you? Why weren’t you?”

“I ran as soon as the sacrificial area was set up. I’m not stupid.”

Lance nodded to Martin, who looked up at the cylinder.

“Are you sure?”

In the brief moment that followed, Gary’s eyes widened and his head snapped upwards. Lance

Grabbed the cylinder and threw it beneath Gary, before running back down the corridor. As the cylinder touched the bloodied carpet, it pulsed with a strange ethereal light. Gary dropped the corpse and held his head in his hands as he sank to his knees. He slowly met Martin’s eyes and for a second, Martin thought he saw remorse there.

 

The pulsations reached their climax and there was a crunch as flesh burst open all over Gary’s body.

 

“Oh God, oh God!” Simon screamed as he continued to hammer away at the door. Seeing Gary’s rapidly melting face, Martin felt inclined to join in with the screaming. He spun around to face the door, ready to commence frantic escape attempts. It was then he saw the sticker on the door.

“Simon. Have you been pushing on this door the whole time?”

“Y…Yes…” he mumbled out. Martin took a deep breath, instantly regretting it as he caught a whiff of the rotting corpse smell. Before he threw up, he grasped the handle and gave the door a sharp tug. It flew open without any resistance. The two tumbled out through the doors, collapsing to the floor of the entrance hall. Through the glass doors, they could see a large group of people facing the building, flashing lights brightening up the otherwise darkened city. A man with a megaphone was standing in front of the doors, facing them. He shouted something in Romanian through it, aiming the words at Martin.

The man outside said something else before a couple of others burst through the glass pane using a large blunt object. It didn’t take long for them to see the decaying piles of flesh shambling down the hallway towards them. One of them gave a signal. The other pulled out a gun and shot both of the abominations in the head. Martin held his hand up for a high-five from his position on the floor.

“Nice shot, although you took your time to get here.”

The two officers looked at each other in confusion, before one started to speak in Romanian. When it became clear that neither person was going to understand the other, the officers shrugged and made their way down the corridor as more people poured in through the broken window. Among them was a very dishevelled looking Shannon. She sprinted over to Martin and shook him by the shoulders.

WHERE’S LANCE? IS HE WITH YOU?” she screamed into Martin’s face. Just then, an officer walked out of the corridor, propping up a very pale but still conscious Lance. Shannon shrieked when she saw him and ran over. Simon tapped Martin on the shoulder.

“D…did that really happen? I mean, my arm hurts too much for this to be unreal, but still…”

Martin stared off into the distance, unable to focus on anything.

“Yeah…that was really weird. Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if I’m asleep or something silly like that.”

“Hope not. It would really suck to have gone through all that for it only to be in your head.”

Behind them, Lance was talking to Shannon, who nodded in agreement to something and walked over to Martin and Simon. She looked a lot more humble than before, yet still somewhat shell-shocked.

“Lance wanted me to tell you boys that he’s looking for people to work in his shop.”

Simon looked over her shoulder at Lance, who was waving at them and grinning despite the ambulance crew tending to his wounds. Shannon coughed loudly to regain their attentions.

And he wants you two to work there. It’s not huge, you don’t have to take it, but he wants to repay you for offering us a free holiday.” She looked upwards. “Even if this holiday nearly killed us.”

“Yes.”

Martin gave his friend an odd look.

“Simon, we’ve literally known these people for a day. We know nothing about them. Why on earth would you say yes without any more information?”

Simon glared at his friend.

“I need the work, and I need money to repay you. Besides,” he said, looking back over at Shannon, “I trust them. Where is the shop?”

“It’s in a little English village called Rivermouth. You might have heard of it. Lance is trying to start a business, but he needs people to run the shops. Pay’s good, too.”

Simon stared at her, starry eyed at the prospect. Martin continued to frown.

“Where would we live?”

“Above the shop. Obviously.

“What about Simon’s injury?”

Simon returned his glare to Martin.

“Come on, dude! This is perfect!”

For the third time in a day, Martin was presented with three options.

 

Option 1. Return home alone and continue to write dross for a magazine that was going nowhere.

 

Option 2. Take a leap of faith and agree to this job opportunity, hope it works out for the better and forget about the traumatic situation they’d just been through. Happily ever after.

 

Option 3. Sign up for extreme therapy to forget about the melting corpses he’d just seen.

 

Sighing, Martin sent a quick prayer up to the heavens.

“…Ok. I’ll take it. But only if you can promise no weird stuff will happen. I might lose any sanity I’ve got left if I have to go through that again.”

“Right. I’ll just take your details down, then Lance and I can contact you to fill out all the forms to get this thing going.”

Simon elbowed Martin in the side with his good arm, the injured one looking much better now he’d wiped the blood off on his shirt.

“See, Martin! I told you this was gonna be great! Plus, we can get that microwave now!”

 

 

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