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Thirteen teens are locked in a house. Their kidnapper tells them that they will be set free only if their numbers shrink. When the teens start killing each other off, it’s up to Virginia to solve the murders. But will that be enough to entertain Capricorn? Will she escape this hideous house?

Age Rating: 18+

 

The Capricorn House by Sam Reed is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

The app has received recognition from BBC, Forbes and The Guardian for being the hottest app for explosive new Teen & Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense novels.
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1

Summary

Thirteen teens are locked in a house. Their kidnapper tells them that they will be set free only if their numbers shrink. When the teens start killing each other off, it’s up to Virginia to solve the murders. But will that be enough to entertain Capricorn? Will she escape this hideous house?

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Sam Reed

I was only fourteen when I woke up in that place. It was cold, dark, and completely foreign to me.

Everything was new, as little as it was, and I couldn’t make out a single thing in the darkness, other than the general things such as a floor, walls, and so on.

It was quite smaller than the average room and my knees dug into my chest.

I was never one for tight spaces so, as soon as I was entirely awake, I began shaking erratically from side to side and causing loud metal thumps to sound throughout the box, but it wouldn’t tip or give to the side.

“Hello? Is someone there?” someone asked in a weak voice.

“Yea, who are you? Where am I?” another voice called out. This one sounded much stronger than the last and was accompanied by two steady thumps against a metallic surface.

“Let me out of this damn thing!” More thumps sounded from the direction of the voice.

There were more people out there, and they seemed to be all around, but I couldn’t seem to find any means of an exit or a place where they could be hiding around my small confinement. I was trapped, and I had to find a way out.

Voices began crying out for help around me and, regardless of my situation, I felt as though I had to help. They all sounded my age, and scared.

Soon enough, the wall in front of me fell and receded into the floor to reveal a bright room. I felt like I couldn’t move from the wall behind me, as if I was weighed down by something.

Finally, I got the idea to slide my legs forward so that I could crawl on my back and finally get out of the box. By that point, I was breathing heavily and tears had already begun to sting my eyes.

I immediately looked around the strange new room, only to see other kids crawling out of boxes that were similar to my own. I looked at my back to find that my own book bag was the very object that was weighing me down.

The walls of the room were plain aside from one giant screen, and the floor was even more so with its white, fuzzy carpet.

Of course, I didn’t know it was fuzzy at the time due to my boots. As soon as we were all out, the crates slammed shut. There were boys and girls around me of all different shapes and sizes.

The one that immediately caught my attention was a small, pale boy with a ginger flat top that just looked scared and petrified where he stood.

“Ruth!” one girl exclaimed as she ran over to a girl and threw her arms around her.

They both looked identical to one another, with the same creamy skin, blonde hair, and bright blue orbs that flinched wildly around the room.

The only difference was that one wore glasses on the edge of her nose, and the radical differences in their styles of dress.

I knew they were sisters immediately, if not from their appearance then the way they were clinging to one another. It was later that I would find out that these two were actually twins. I will never forget them.

Ruth, the one with glasses, held her sister close. As they both looked around at the strangers in the room, we all did the same with similar expressions of confusion and fear painted onto our faces in differing amounts.

I couldn’t remember how I got there, and I had to assume that they didn’t either as Ruth asked “Where are we?”

A boy with curtained mousy brown locks shrugged and responded with a simple “I have no clue. What makes you think we’d know?”

“Well someone has to know something!” a girl with a tight pony tail yelled as she banged on one of the closed crates.

I noticed that the boy with bright ginger hair was rummaging through his bag in the back of the room and seemed to be getting more worried the more he searched.

He continued pushing up his glasses and biting his lower lip as he searched for something that couldn’t seem to be found.

Another girl with her shiny black hair styled in a dido flip said in an excruciating voice, “I can’t find my cell phone!”

The ginger boy then said, weakly, “Neither can I” but kept looking through his bag desperately, as if it would certainly turn up if he continued the search.

“What’s going on?” one boy with dazzling emerald eyes asked. “Why are we here?”

The noise in the room grew as we began talking over one another. Suddenly, all of the questions were cut short as a flicker was heard from the wall and we looked over to see a screen lighting up.

On it was a goat with a long elegant fish tail sweeping behind it. The entire screen was in red coloring, the mergoat included.

“Hello,” A voice said, seeming to come from all sides of the room. “I apologize for the delay in talking to you all. We were having some… technical difficulties on my end.

“This is my first broadcast to your house, you know. You can’t exactly blame me for getting too excited to check the correct settings.”

That voice was so indescribable when I first heard it, but now I can only call it prideful and malicious.

“Allow me to introduce myself. You may call me Capricorn. I will be the ringleader in this circus, and the show is about to begin.”

“Where are we?” Ruth asked, pulling her sister closer as she glared at the screen.

Capricorn paused, almost as if they were surprised by the outburst. “As I was saying, I am the ringleader, and we are about to start the show.

So, now, we will start with the formalities.

The thirteen of you have been chosen for one reason and one reason alone: You are teenagers. That is all. There is no other thought behind that, so don’t hurt yourselves thinking too hard about it.”

“I asked you once already, now tell me: Where are we?” Ruth asked again. This time, her voice was harsh and unforgiving toward the person talking from the other side of the television.

There was another pause. “Ms. Lawson, I have been struggling for some time now as to how I will demonstrate to you all that I am in full control. Thank you for volunteering as my example.”

Ruth’s back arched as her icy glare widened and bore into the ceiling with utter agony etched into her face. Her jaw seemed to lock in some form of a mock scream, yet no sound escaped her throat.

The lack of a scream as small gurgling noises attempted to escape was even more horrifying than any sound she could have made.

“Ruth? Ruth, are you okay!” Her sister held onto her shoulders, even as she stopped letting out that airy gargle and fell to the floor with a low thump.

She whirled around on the television and demanded to know “What did you do to her?”

Capricorn chuckled darkly. I could practically hear a grin spreading over the face of our unseen kidnapper as they sat, probably watching us at that very moment, in their secret location.

Of course, we were oblivious to all of that. They had the upper hand. They were anonymous. “As I said, she was my example to the rest of you. In case you haven’t noticed, you’re all wearing some interesting neckwear.”

My hand shot to my throat and dove under my scarf to feel a band around my neck. As someone who never wore jewelry in my life, I wondered why I didn’t notice something sooner.

Ruth stood up again, breathing heavily as she clung to her sister’s arms.

“Don’t worry, those collars are only in place if you disobey my rules. So, listen closely. I don’t know what I’d do if you couldn’t take the punishment doled out to you for simply not knowing your crimes.

“Now, as I was saying, the thirteen of you are here for one purpose: My entertainment. You see, as you grow older you’ll begin to see things and those things get… boring.

“Boring, repetitive, and all around unentertaining. But one thing has always captured my heart. And that thing is high school dramas.

“There’s something about hormonal teens in a close, mandatory, setting that just seems so appealing to me.

“You all have so many impulses,” they paused and let out a disappointed sigh, “but you also have many restrictions. It’s such a pity.

“So, I wanted to put you in this setting where you’d be freed from your normal limitations—well, aside from peer pressure. But that’s all about how you decide to dictate yourselves. I will now accept questions.”

I didn’t want to say anything and decided to look around at everyone else. Some held vacant expressions while others clenched their jaws in anger and fear.

Finally, the boy with curtained hair decided to say “You can’t keep us here! People will come looking for us!”

Capricorn took some time to think about what he said , as ifit was an unexpected response. “I don’t think you should worry about your families and friends for some time now. I’ve already taken care of that possibility.”

“So, wait,” one girl said, “you want us to spend the rest of our lives here?”

“Nonsense! I don’t expect anything of the sort. I’m actually quite glad you asked that question, Ms. Rodriguez. There is one way to leave this place.”

After a long pause, the girl with a ponytail spoke. “Well, what is it? How do we leave?”

Another dark chuckle sounded through the room.

“Well, obviously, we have such an irreplaceable cast, so the show would have no choice but to stop if your cast grew smaller, or if large character changes were made.”

“I still don’t understand what you’re saying. How could our ‘cast’ grow smaller without you letting us go?” the same girl asked.

There was nothing but silence for some time.

We all waited in shock and awe for an answer until a boy spoke our shared thoughts. “This is all a big joke, right?” he asked. “I mean, this can’t be real! It can’t be!”

“Oh, but it is. Now for the rules!” At Capricorn’s word, the screen flicked and a list of rules appeared and they were read off to us in that same, twisted, tone of voice.

“Rule number one: When I call for you, please report to this room immediately. There will be no excuses. Rule number two: the curfew is precisely ten pm with a five-minute grace period after your first warning.”

“A grace period?” one shorter girl asked.

“A grace period, Ms. O’Connor, is a period of time for you to complete an action before a penalty is doled out for your ignorance.

“Meaning, if you are not in a bedroom at ten o’clock, you will have five minutes to get there from where ever you are on the property. This brings us to our third rule: There is an outside to this place, which you may explore.

“But, if you try to climb the wall outside, you will be killed.” I stopped breathing. This was the first direct death threat that Capricorn had forced upon us.

Ponytail did not look happy at all as her hands curled into fists. “Enough of this crap! You can’t keep us here for your so-called ‘entertainment!’ We aren’t going to act like we are, either!

“Very well, Ms. Robinsons. If that’s how you feel, let me say this: If I grow bored, even for a moment, I will stir the pot.

“And you never want an outer force in a high school drama. It’s always one dimensional, and completely absurd as a plot point.”

“How would you do that?” one girl asked. Her eyes scrunched into a nervous glance as she played with the hem of one of her fingerless gloves.

“Well, at this particular moment, I’m going to give you a fair chance to entertain me. And if you choose not to,” there was a pause “I’d have to think of some more motivation for you all.

“Now, feel free to explore the house! Just remember those three rules, and keep me entertained. Goodbye for now, children!”

The screen died again, and my gaze shifted back and forth to look at the other kids in the room. In such a short period of time, I was forced into such a predicament with these complete strangers.

My hands grew sweaty as my fingernails dug small crescents into my palms.

One boy, after the silence had finally gotten to him, collapsed onto his crate. He ran his hands through his blonde hair and said “We’re screwed. We’re all screwed!”

“Stop talking like that!” I looked over to see a boy from the other side of the room trying to mask his wide eyes by twisting his face into an attempt at a determined fashion.

“It wasn’t as convincing as he may have thought it was, but it was worth the effort on his part. “Look, I think we can do this. If we all just, think logically!”

I took that moment of relative peace to say “What do you suggest then?”

He looked at me and tried to smile. “So what would happen if we did nothing? What would ‘stirring the pot’ do? If we just sat here and did nothing, we might get let go right?” he asked.

“So we just try and act normal and boring, and we might get released if we don’t get provoked,” Ruth said. She was standing tall now, her sister behind her. “Are you sure?”

“Well, I can’t be one hundred percent sure,” he said “but it’s a good bet, right? I mean, there’s nothing that we know for sure but, it’s better than doing what they want us to. Right?”

There was a long, thick silence that fell over the room.

It remained that way with no end in sight until one of the twins said “My name is Ruth Lawson.” We all looked at her as she introduced herself. “This is my twin sister, Iris.”

The boy who had just spoken, the one with those precious green marbles embedded into his face, nodded and forced another smile as he said “My name is Cory.”

He ran a hand over his head, which didn’t stop a stray piece of hair from sticking up once his hand had crossed its path. “I hope we can work together to get out of this mess, or something like that.”

I debated saying my name, but held back on it as another girl said “Judith Rodriguez! But you can call me Judy if you want” as she twirled her short black hair around her finger.

The boy who had been rummaging through his bag zipped it up as he stood up. He slid it over the sleeves of his sweater as he said, “My name is Ernest McCoy. I wish I could say it was nice to meet you all, but you know.”

His nervous green gaze started running over the people in the room. He appeared to be calculating. It wasn’t in a cold way that most people appear, but it was clear that he wasn’t just looking at us. He was studying us.

“Yea, we get it,” another guy said. He let out a deep sigh as he rolled his eyes before looking back to the group. “The name’s Felix Johnson.”

“I’m Kim.” I followed the halfhearted voice to see a girl sitting on her crate and looking at the ground as she adjusted one of the straps that held the bag hanging from her shoulder.

Her hands then went to her ponytail to pull it even tighter around her hair.

Seeing that the introductions were dying down, I finally decided to say “My name is Virginia Miller” in a quiet voice, almost as if I was ashamed of the title.

One girl, dressed in black and a few neon colors with matching hair, genuinely smiled at us and said “My name is Marsha, but my friends call me Mars. So, I guess you can call me that, or whatever!”

I thought it was very odd how cheerful she seemed in that situation, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to start anything that early on, after all.

“I guess I’ll tell you my name too then,” a boy said. “My name is Arthur. No nicknames, please.” Another odd attitude for the situation, and I couldn’t help but think of him as pretentious.

“I’m Jimmy,” a boy said. His thumb slid under the lip of his blue beanie as he offered a weak smile for our troubles. It was a bit comforting, if I’m to be completely honest with you.

“My name’s Dave!” one boy said. He tossed a wink in with my introduction, which surprised me into hiding my face behind my bangs.

“I’m Mabel.” The voice startled me, and the girl that said it even more so, as she was standing right next to me.

She smoothed out her skirt and lounged against her crate before she turned to us and said “I guess we’ll all be here for a while then? What should we do until we get out?”

Dave nodded. “Yea, maybe we should, like, look around or something?” he asked “I mean, I think we should find those bedrooms before ten o’clock, in any case.”

“Yea and there might be a phone somewhere around here,” Ernest said as he adjusted his glasses. “We also have to worry about food and fresh water.”

“So, where do we start?” Judy asked as she placed a hand on her hip. “I mean, there are two rooms, two hallways, and a stair case here. I mean, we could solo it, or something.”

“We probably shouldn’t stay alone,” Ernest said. “I mean, you don’t know what Capricorn could be planning.” The way he said it brought what little weight was taken off of our shoulders crashing down once more.

“So, maybe we should go in pairs with three groups of three? Or we could do groups of three, with one group of four, and look at the other room later?”

“I like the group of two ideas,” Kim said. “That way, we can get this all out of the way now.”

“That’s true, but the group of three does sound a bit safer,” Arthur said.

“How about a vote?” Iris asked, her eyebrows coming together while her blue orbs smiled at us. This was her first attempt at a compromise within our large group, and I greatly appreciated it.

“I think that sounds like a great idea!” Dave said. “All for groups of two?” he asked, raising his own hand in favor of the idea. Kim, Judy, Mars, and Jimmy all raised their hands as well.

“Alright then, groups of three it is,” Kim said, putting her hand down in a defeated manner. “Who wants to come with me?”

Mabel stepped forward and said, “I will, if that’s alright.”

“Me too, I guess,” Dave said.

“Iris and I are in a group,” Ruth said. “Who wants to come with us?”

I awkwardly walked over to them when no one else did as I said “I guess I will.”

The other groups ended up being Ernest, Jimmy, Arthur, with Mars and Judy, Felix, with Cory. So the staircase and the three hallways we’d chosen were to be explored.

While the other groups ended up taking their own paths with little discussion, we took the third doorway.

It ended up being a dining room with two tall double doors behind a large table, which was decorated with a red and white runner down the middle of it.

Around the table were fourteen chairs, fourteen placemats, and fourteen place settings. Capricorn obviously expected us to eat there, but my attention couldn’t leave the two doors.

The same goat from the screen was etched into the white doors, along with a mold that resembled waves around them. The floor trim matched the waves in the doors and totally surrounded the room.

There was no phone in sight.

“Why are there fourteen place settings?” Ruth asked.

“It’s probably just to keep it even,” I said. “I mean, setting up a table for thirteen would just look wonky, am I right?”

I was cut off by Iris’s shout of “Hey, guys look over here!” We looked in the direction of her voice to find a door along the wall beside a china cabinet that was wide open.

“Iris! Don’t wander off!” Ruth said, running through the door.

What we found there was a kitchen with two stoves, one gas and one electric, along with a large fridge, a microwave, toaster oven, and so much more.

But what Iris was focused on was the pantry she’d opened up, full of canned foods.

“Sorry, Ruth. But, hey, at least we won’t starve here!” Iris said, smiling at us both as she motioned to the room and shelves full of food.

“I wonder how long this will last us though,” I said. “I mean, how are we expected to stay here, if not our whole lives? A month? A year?” My voice didn’t change, but my body shook.

Tears threatened to spring over my eyelids as a hand lay on my shoulder and I turned to see Iris standing there with a large, bright smile on her face.

“Don’t worry about it right now! If we worry about it, then we’ll be giving in!” she said.

“She’s right,” Ruth said as she pulled the cabinet doors shut. “We really shouldn’t stick around for too long. I don’t think everyone else will be done as quickly, but we should get back.”

“Yea, maybe we could even check out that other room!” Iris said.

She began walking out of the sizable kitchen and Ruth quickly followed. I trailed after them, back out to the room with the crates, but ended up crashing into Ruth when she stopped suddenly.

I followed her wide-eyed gaze to the metal crates that still lay on the floor. On each one were two suitcases. Looking over at my own crate, I saw that I recognized the two suitcases on my crate.

I walked forward immediately as if an invisible rope was pulling me toward the metallic box and the bags that sat upon it.

Ruth and Iris must have felt the same thing because they were already unzipping the suitcases on their own crates.

Slowly, and carefully, I walked over to my own crate and began unzipping one of the suitcases to reveal neatly folded clothes. Upon seeing this, I quickly pulled my book bag off of my shoulder as well and opened it up.

The objects inside were three notebooks and a binder. Curious, I considered pulling out the binder but I was stopped when I heard thundering footsteps on the stairs. Mars was standing there with a wide grin on her face.

“Hey! You guys need to get up here so that you can see this!” she practically shouted. “It’s amazing!”

She quickly ran up the stairs, not waiting for our response.

I looked behind me at Ruth and Iris who were digging through their bags. Iris stood to go, but Ruth pulled her back down. “You can go if you want,” she said “We’ll check it out too, but we have to wrap this up first.”

I smiled and nodded before zipping up my bags and walking upstairs. What I saw was a long hall filled with rooms. I couldn’t tell what was so special about that, however.

The hall stretched in a long rectangle around the whole floor with rooms at every turn. One of the doors was opened and I peeked inside to see Mars staring at the walls in awe.

This particular room was decorated in blacks and dark purples with neon blue and posters of singers I didn’t recognize strung around the room.

She didn’t seem to notice me, so I just shrugged it off and walked away. Each door was labeled with a different name. I passed about five of them before coming to the door that I wanted.

It held no other markings than the name “Virginia Miller”, which was carved into a plaque and then screwed to the door. I nervously pushed it open.

This may be just because it was my room, but I have to say that it was decorated fairly normally. A plain desk, full bed, and a dresser were all done up with neutral colors.

The dresser, which was short and wide, also held an assortment of make-up with a large mirror hanging above it.

On the wall across from the dresser, above the bed, were two windows. The drapes covering them were in dark colors, but they still allowed light to come into the room.

After looking around briefly, I walked out again and back down the hall after closing the door behind me. Mars disappeared down the stairs, but Arthur cut me off quickly as he came out of his room.

Unlike Mars, he didn’t seem to be too pleased by the decorations of his room. Quickly, I peeked through the still-open door. There were pictures all around the room of people, plants, bugs, and all kinds of things.

Most of them were in black and white, but I could tell that it wasn’t because they were old. It was because of some sort of camera filter.

The door slammed shut, startling me into looking directly at Arthur himself. “What are you looking at?” he asked.

He didn’t give me time to respond, stomping toward me and causing me to reel back in fear that he might actually do something to me. “Just stay out of that room, got it?”

It wasn’t a real question, which I understood entirely at the time, but I nodded anyhow. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t so much that I was scared of him, but I didn’t want to get on his bad side.

Not only that, but I also couldn’t imagine what would get him so worked up about that room. He then turned and walked down the stairs and I waited a while before I thought of following him.

That was when Jimmy came out of the room right next to where I was standing. I flinched back at the surprising noise, which had broken the silence quite suddenly, and must have looked like a scared cat from his point of view.

This startled him into asking “Hey, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” When I calmed down, he proceeded to smile.

“Hey, I heard ‘Captain Hipster’ chewing you out earlier. If he does anything like that to you again, you just come to me okay? I’ll knock his head out of that scarf.”

He said it in such a serious tone, and I knew that it was supposed to be reassuring, but I laughed anyhow. It was only a light chuckle, but it made me feel better. “Thanks. I will. And don’t worry, it wasn’t too bad.”

“Yea, I know. I can tell that you’re pretty strong.” After a while, he asked, “Sorry, I know I’m such a scatterbrain and everything, but what’s your name again?”

“Virginia,” I said, my smile never faltering. “You’re Jimmy, right?”

“Yea! Nice to meet you, hope we can talk again some time!” he said, walking over to the stairs as he threw a smile over his shoulder.

That smile, just like the one he gave me earlier, made me feel so much better. I couldn’t explain why. Maybe it was how laid-back he was.

The lack of fear or stress that the others carried certainly made me feel better, and made him easier to talk to.

When we finally got down there, I saw that Kim’s group had returned and had joined Iris and Ruth in looking into the suitcases. So we were just waiting for Judy, Felix, and Cory to come back.

“This is, like, so weird!” I heard Mars say. When I turned around, I saw her holding up what appeared to be a band t-shirt. “How did our clothes get here?”

“I have no clue,” Ruth said, practically sitting on her bag. “I can only guess that Capricorn took stalking us to the next level.”

“Stalking?” Kim asked. “What do you mean?”

“Do you really believe that we were brought her just because we’re teenagers?” she asked. “It seems a little weird, doesn’t it? I mean, it would certainly explain how our clothes got here, and our book bags for that matter.”

“And the room designs,” Jimmy said. “I mean, how else would this ‘Capricorn’ know about my favorite band? Or that I like to skateboard? Not to mention there was, like, three packages of Monster Energy in my room!”

He lost his grin when he suddenly began to think on that further. “Oh wait, that’s kind of, really creepy.”

“You think?” Arthur asked, rolling his eyes. “Anyway, we can talk about that later. What did you all manage to find?”

“Well, we found a dining room and a really big kitchen!” Iris said. “It’s stocked with food, so I don’t think we should worry about that at all!”

“Unless it’s poisoned,” Kim said, bringing our collective gazes onto her. Her face appeared serious for quite some time before she let out a small chuckle.

“Sorry! I’m so sorry! I don’t seriously think it’s poisoned, though!” At our newly curious glances, she rolled her eyes and said “Well you don’t think he’d try killing us off, do you?

“I mean, what would be the point of buying a house we could fit in, or all of that food, in the first place? To scare us?

“That would totally be a waste of time! If you ask me, I think that food is one hundred percent okay for us to eat!”

“Well, I didn’t think it was too funny!” Mabel said, crossing her arms lightly.

“No need to get upset, just because you don’t have a sense of humor!” she responded. After a while, she looked back at her and said “Hey, I’m sorry! We shouldn’t be getting off on the wrong foot so easily.”

She held out a hand with a smile in place of both an olive branch.

Mabel looked at the hand in question for a while before shaking it lightly and smiling at her. “I suppose you’re right.”

It was nice to see that we were getting along so easily. If someone so seemingly fiery-headed as Kim could be kind, then maybe there was hope for us after all.

“So, what was upstairs?” Ruth asked.

“The bedrooms!” Mars said. “That’s what we were just talking about—there are bedrooms for everyone. And they’re all really cool!”

“Yes, I think Capricorn took extra care to make sure that our tastes were shown throughout,” Arthur said, grabbing his upper arms in some form of a hug.

“So that’s what you meant by ‘room designs’!” Iris said. “Wow, I wonder what ours look like.”

I wondered about that for a second. It’s hard where our minds tend to wander.

As opposed to wondering why we were brought here, like Ruth, or if the food was truly poisoned, like Kim had joked about only moments before, my mind decided to ponder over why my room was so plain compared to Mars’s.

Thoughts such as Maybe I’m too boring and Maybe I just don’t have as much of a life, or as many interests as her crossed my mind.

Soon, Judy’s group returned, covered in mud and without their shoes.

“What happened to you three?” I asked, already running over to make sure they weren’t hurt.

“It’s okay, we just slipped. I guess it was raining outside recently,” Judy said with a slight laugh.

“You guys went outside?” Mars asked, her eyes stretching across the span of her face. “So that’s what was taking you so long!”

“Well, the hall we took led to a door, then another hallway with a lot of hangers and places for shoes,” Felix said. “That part had a door to the outside.”

“Oh!” Ernest said, calling attention to himself.

At that moment he hid under the hood of his sweater before saying “Yea, that’s called a mudroom. I guess you guys found the main entrance to the house. So, what was outside? Anything at all?”

“Well, nothing much. We could see that fence, though,” Cory said.

“Nothing much?” Judy asked an incredulous look on her face.

“We found a pond in the back with fish and everything! That’s not all either; there was this porch with these fancy doors and a whole breakfast table and everything! It’s actually pretty amazing out there.

“Oh—and, along the fence, there was flowerbed. I think there might be some vegetables in it.”

Cory sighed deeply. “Oh yea, how could I forget the garden, considering you pulled us over when you saw it,” he said, slopping some of the mud on his hand onto the ground. Only then did he notice the suitcases.

“When did these get here?” he asked, walking over to one of the three unclaimed cases and opening one up.

“They were here when we came back from the kitchen,” I said. “We don’t know how they got here though.”

“There’s a kitchen!” Judy asked, eyes lighting up with the idea. “Is there food?”

“Yea, it’s stocked!” Iris said.

Before she could say anymore, Ruth stood up and nearly shouted “You aren’t going to eat like that!” while she pointed to their mud-soaked clothes.

“You should really clean up first! If not to make sure that we all don’t have to live in a dirty house, then for your own health! If you stay in those wet clothes for too long, then you’ll get too cold and then you’ll get sick!”

Cory, Judy, and Felix were all huddled together at this point as Ruth calmed down considerably and lowered her hand. “Did anyone find a bathroom?” she asked, turning to look at every one.

“Yea, actually!” Mars said, unfazed. “There’s two upstairs in the middle cluster of rooms!”

“Yea and we still haven’t checked out that other room,” Arthur asked.

“Is there carpet up there?” Ruth asked. “I’d prefer if they didn’t walk on more carpet than they already have.”

They’d taken off their shoes, but there were still blobs of mud dripping from their clothes and onto the white carpet of the room we were in right then.

I was the one to say “No, just in the bedrooms.”

“Alright, why don’t you guys grab your bags and do rock paper scissors or something for the bathroom?” Ruth said with a long sigh.

“Who put you in charge?” Felix asked, glaring at her somewhat.

“Are you saying that you want to stay wet and muddy? How childish of you!” she countered.

He couldn’t say anything to that, so he simply grabbed his suitcases and his book bag, which he’d left behind, before marching upstairs.

“Hey, you know, I agree that we should totally try and keep this place as clean as possible,” Judy said “but do we seriously need someone in charge? I mean, will we be okay without a leader?”

Everyone seemed to think on this for a second, and I definitely was.

Ruth, after a moment of silence, said “I don’t think we need a leader per se, but I think it’d be nice if we had some type of rule system.”

Mars whined quite clearly in the room. “Is that really necessary?” she asked. “I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just do without rules while we’re here?”

“You mean social anarchy?” Ruth asked, stepping toward her.

“And what would happen when the dishes start piling up? Or food isn’t being made properly? Do you think Capricorn would take care of us if we ended up hurting ourselves?

“Or maybe just getting sick from unhealthy living conditions? Do you really think that would benefit anyone?”

When she saw that Mars was shrinking lower and lower, she let out another sigh. “I’m sorry. It’s just that this situation is making me antsy.

“I’m not saying we should have a whole list of chores, and I don’t care what you do in your own living spaces. But I think I speak for everyone when I say that the picture I just painted wasn’t very pretty.”

“I get what you’re saying,” Cory said. “But, maybe we can just take it one step at a time.” He turned to Judy and asked, “Do you want to take a shower first?”

“Oh no! You can go ahead!” she said.

“Hey! There’s another bathroom in here!” Iris shouted from the other unexplored room before emerging from the doorway. “So there! That way you guys can just get it over with now!”

“Iris!” Ruth said, losing her strong demeanor and running over to her sister. “What did I just say about running off?”

“Jeeze, Ruth, chill out! I was just in the next room! And it isn’t that big either, come on!” she said, leading her sister into the other room while she motioned for the rest of us to follow.

And a few of us did, myself included. You had to step down a step to get into the room, which was draped with the same white carpet and gray paint on the walls. This room also had a large white sectional and white futon.

The right wall was mostly a large sliding glass door where we could see the fence. It wasn’t really a fence as it was a sturdy cinderblock wall, complete with barbed wire and a few surveillance cameras.

Honestly, the only thing the place needed was a handful of guard dogs.

It was growing darker outside and that was the only thing I seemed to register as more people began flooding into the living room of this house we were trapped in. It was as if I could see the sky changing color.

That was impossible of course, but it was calming somehow, so I didn’t look away.

That was when I heard someone coming up behind me and turned to see that it was Cory. “Hey! You’re name’s Virginia, right?” he asked. “Like the state?”

I wanted to laugh but held it back as I smiled and said “Yea, that’s it. And you’re Cory.”

“Yep! Wow, I’m surprised you remembered that with everything that happened!” he said.

“Yea, I’ve always been kind of good at remembering things,” I said.

“Pfft! Not me! Between you and me, I can’t even remember the name of that bossy chick over there,” he said with a laugh as he pointed to the back of Ruth’s cropped head.

“So, why are you staring out the window so hard? Did you see something?”

“No,” I said a bit too quickly. I turned to look back out the window. “I just, can’t understand why we’re allowed outside,” I said.

That was a lie. I knew exactly why. I didn’t need to see the entire outside to know, judging from the tree line, there was no one nearby. This place was probably picked because of its isolation.

There was no one coming for us. No way to get help to come for us.

Cory didn’t bother answering, she just said “Hey, don’t worry about it! I know that we’ll get out of this alright! All of us!”

He had the widest smile of the most perfect white teeth I’d ever seen on anyone. He was gorgeous, tall, and I got the feeling that he was intelligent to boot.

His entire appearance and atmosphere put me in a much better mood somehow and I ended up smiling genuinely as I said “You know, Cory… I think you’re right.”

 

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2

After taking my bags upstairs, I decided to keep my door open. There was no point in closing it if I didn’t have to, after all.

That was when I heard something drop down the hall, followed by a quiet groan of “Crap!”

I peeked out the door and, when I couldn’t see anything, I closed my door and walked down the hall. There I found Felix, standing over a suitcase that had broken open. On the floor.

“Need some help?” I asked.

“I can lift it,” he said, stooping down. “The lid just popped open and everything fell out! I was just—I was trying to open the door.”

“I can get it if you want,” I said, my hand already on the door.

“Thanks,” he said, giving me a small smile as he began packing up his bag again. “Can you just, sort of, tell me if I’m good? Like, steer me in?”

“Yea, totally,” I said as I opened the door and walked in, facing the doorway.

As he shoved his way past the door frame, I directed him with different hand motions and such until—finally—the suitcases were in the room.

“Thanks!” Felix said, looking around.

“No problem!” I chimed, taking the time to look around the room. The walls were decorated with pictures of sporting events and famous athletes I couldn’t tell you the names of, even if I did remember their faces.

“Are you into sports?”

“Oh yea!” he said. “I’m actually a wrestler!”

I nodded for a small while before confessing. “Actually, I don’t know anything about wrestling. Sorry.”

He didn’t seem hurt by it but said, “It doesn’t matter. Oh, and uh—thanks for the help, but I gotta get unpacked. Maybe we can get together again some time.”

“Well, I don’t think that would be too much of a problem. You know, considering we’re all living together now,” I said, rolling my eyes with a light smile on my face.

“Well, you know what I mean.”

With that, I waved goodbye and walked back to my room. That was the first time that I thought it wouldn’t be so bad living there for a little while.

***

I ended up separating myself from the group for the rest of the night. They all wanted to eat and talk about plans for the future, but I just wasn’t feeling it that night.

I guess that, at the time, it just seemed too strange to talk about. It felt so surreal. I had to get some rest.

So I did. And when I woke up, it was worse. I was breathing erratically as I looked around, and nothing was familiar.

The color of the walls, the carpet on the floor, and the view out of the parted dark drapes that hung by my head. Everything was different because I’d forgotten where I was.

The night was dreamless but, when I woke up, I’d had a taste of normality—of waking up in my own bed with my parents just down the hall. I composed myself and realized that it was near dawn outside.

I probably shouldn’t move around too much. After all, we’re supposed to be in our rooms at ten. Did Capricorn ever say when we’re allowed to leave though?

I couldn’t think of anything he might have said but, to be on the safe side, I simply flicked on the light and closed the drapes before sorting through my first suitcase of clothes. I pulled them out, recognizing them as my own.

They weren’t just things that were bought for me. I shuddered at the thought that someone took these out of my own room. I tried telling myself that didn’t happen, but the suitcase was mine too.

I could tell by the busted wheel and the faded Hello Kitty stickers, that this was my suitcase. The other one was my parents’. It was large and held a majority of clothes.

The other one, smaller and pink, held a few other garments along with my own hairbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush, and even a handful of items from my makeup shelf.

These items weren’t random either; they were the only things from that shelf that I used every day.

The same nail polish, the same bottle of lotion, the same lipstick, and the same eye shadow and eyeliner that was probably smeared across my face at that moment from sleeping with it on.

Maybe they think I ran away.

It was a simple thought, but it sent me into a fit of tears, spurring on thoughts of my parents wondering where I was. Did they think I chose to leave them; to end up here?

I couldn’t calm myself down, no matter how much I wanted to. I was sobbing as I curled onto my side, but the smell of the unfamiliar carpet only made it worse as I began to shake.

It wasn’t a violent shake, but something more of a gentle vibration on the floor.

Eventually, I couldn’t cry anymore and I wiped my red, stinging eyes with the back of my hand as a few dry sobs left my mouth and sore throat barren of noise.

After gaining my composure, I began putting the clothes into the dresser and the few make-up items joined the others on the dresser.

That’s when I realized that the brands of the makeup that had been lying there already matched the ones I had at home.

So why would… why would you bring them here?

I got back down on the floor and pulled out the binder before leafing through it. In it, I saw pictures of the others in the house, all smiling up at me.

There were names written beside them, along with birthdays, hobbies, interests, and other such information one might know about a close friend.

There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to how we were placed, at the time that is, but I’ll list us all in order anyhow:

James “Jimmy” Malone, Felix Johnson, Iris Lawson, Ruth Lawson, Marsha “Mars” Olson, Ernest McCoy, Cory Lamb, Kim Robinsons, Mabel O’Connor, David “Dave” Federico, Virginia Miller (me), Arthur Crouch, and finally Judy Rodriguez.

I skimmed their short biographies but found nothing of real interest. It wasn’t as if there was a surplus of information and trivial things, such as favorite colors, were nowhere in sight.

One thing, however, did catch my eye. Next to our names was a title like “Jock” in Felix’s case or “Nerd” beside Ernest’s picture.

I retched at the titles, not even bothering to look at mine before I threw the book under the bed and looked through the notebooks.

Upon seeing that the notebooks were empty, I simply dropped them onto the desk and placed the book bag on the foot of the bed.

Quietly, I took my scarf from the floor, where I’d discarded it, and placed it on top of my coat. I considered simply putting them on and not bother changing, but that was when I turned to the dresser again.

Looking up in the mirror, which was just above the dresser, I noticed the collar again, now that it was released from where my scarf had hidden it away.

It was a tool to keep me there, I knew that, but it was almost entirely forgotten when I saw my eyes, red and puffy from the tears, in the mirror next to my horribly matted hair.

I need a shower to calm me down. With that, I selected an outfit for the day and walked out into the hall with bated breath.

There wasn’t even the slightest sense of a shock, so I assumed it was okay as I made my way out into the hallway to see if I could find the bathroom.

When I did find it, I knew that Ruth wasn’t going to be happy if she saw the state of it.

It wasn’t too bad for my tastes, but the dirt trail from the door and the muddy pair of pants left in there was something that would be frowned upon.

Deciding that the pair of pants was a bit much for me, I walked off to find the other bathroom.

This one was easily located on the other side of the central cluster of rooms, as the core, the bedrooms were placed around was made up of the two bathrooms.

After knocking quickly, I entered and turned on the light before locking the door with a bit more force than usual, as if it added extra security to the room.

I would have worried about surveillance cameras if I had been more awake, but I didn’t really care at the time.

This bathroom was clean of both dirt and clothes, so I simply prepared one of the towels from the linen cabinet on top of my clothes before turning on the warm water. That was when I began washing everything away.

***

When I was done and dressed about twenty minutes later, I gathered my clothes. This, of course, reminded me of the pair of pants in the other bathroom.

I knew that, if I didn’t obtain that pair of pants, there might just be a fight the next day about it.

I knew that it probably wouldn’t end well, considering what I’d seen of their personalities so far, so I had no choice but to pick them up and take them back to Felix’s room.

With barely a thought in my head, I walked down that hall again to return to the bathroom. When the door was opened and I stepped inside, I didn’t need to turn the lights on to know that something was wrong.

My feet, without even a pair of socks to shield them, felt sticky and warm immediately. The pair of pants was in the sink, which was just by the door. I could have grabbed them and left.

I should have grabbed them and left… but I didn’t. I turned on the light, and what I saw was horrible.

It was Jimmy. The warm liquid that currently bathed my toes was his blood.

I began shuddering horribly before I let out an ear-piercing scream and pulled the clothes tightly to my chest in fear, as if they would protect me from some unknown figure that might have been lurking about.

In the hallway of people, the first one to respond was, of course, the person in the room across from the bathroom: Arthur.

“What’s wrong, did you see a spider? It’s only dawn you know,” he said.

I whirled around and pointed into the bathroom. I didn’t want to look again but was forced to as I heard Arthur let out a gut-wrenching cry.

When I looked again, I could see where all of that blood, which still covered the bottoms of my feet, originated from.

The front of his curtained dusty brown hair was soaked in deep red, just covering his forehead and the lids of his innocent blue orbs, which dug into me like a knife.

This sight fell from my view as I sank to the floor and a mound of people blocked the bathroom door. They trampled over my bloody footprints, and I was left in shock.

Mars was crying in the back, Cory’s expression matched my own, and Ruth looked at the bathroom with a dark expression.

Soon, the larger part of the commotion died down and we all sat outside of the bathroom in the dark. I had set my clothes down next to me so that my hands were free to cover my face.

A few sniffles broke out here and there, accompanied by a painful sob, or two. That ended when Dave stood up and marched down the stairs.

Many followed him with their eyes but, as if on call, Judy was the only one to stand up and scamper after him.

I stood as well, which had Cory and Ruth following soon after to see what was happening downstairs. When we were about halfway down the stairs, we could hear what was going on.

“Let us go home!” Dave said.

I could see the fury written on his face while Judy stood behind him with a look of concern gracing her features as she watched him attack the screen with two tightly-clenched fists.

“Come on, you bastard, you can’t kill us! You can’t!”

“I don’t think anyone’s there, Dave,” Judy said before stepping forward and laying a hand on his shoulder. “And if there is, then no one is listening.”

She wasn’t trying to comfort him at the time and I knew that. It was just the flat-out truth. Regardless, he didn’t listen to her. He just continued pounding on the screen with the ferocity of a caged animal.

“Stop it!” Ruth said, already down the stairs and walking over to him. The authority of her voice caused him to turn around. “We can’t give in! I know that this is scary—”

Scary?” he said, cutting her off as he turned around quickly. “This isn’t scary this is insane! Someone is dead, and you’re worried about ‘giving in’?”

“I understand that!” she said, holding her ground. “But we can’t rely on anyone to help us, except for ourselves, and we especially can’t rely on Capricorn. Who do you think did this?”

“Who else but the whack job that locked us up in here?” he said.

“Do you really think that? Because I certainly don’t,” she said, a serious look growing on her face. “Why would this happen so early on, if it was planned all along? It doesn’t make any sense!”

“This entire situation doesn’t make any sense!” Dave threw up his arms in frustration and turned around, where Judy put a comforting arm across his chest.

Looking up at Ruth, she asked, “If you don’t think it was Capricorn… who was it?”

She looked up at me on the stairs, shifted her eyes to Cory, and swallowed before turning back to Judy. It was hard for her to say, I understood that.

I understood that what she said came from a lot of thought that she couldn’t explain to us at that moment, but no matter what I understood, nothing could have prepared me for when she said “I think it was one of us.”

Judy stared at her with a blank face, as if she was expecting this. Dave obviously wasn’t.

He turned around slowly and gave an incredulous look before asking “You think one of us did it? In what sick, twisted world do you live in where people would do this?”

“The real one.”

A shudder ran up my spine at those words. I knew they could hear at the top of the stairs, but that was confirmed when I began to hear people joining Cory and me in watching the scene unfold.

“Ruth.” Iris stepped forward and ran down the stairs, staying at the foot of them. She hesitated before asking “You don’t mean that, do you?”

“What is wrong with you people?” Ruth asked, turning around to look at us with fire in her gaze and courage in her voice as it rang through the house.

“You think that everyone in this house is okay with waiting for Capricorn to let us go, if he ever will? We were kidnapped, and the only way we can get out is either by playing the game, or not.

“Both of those options are based on the slim chance that they might work. They’re not a sure thing! Not only that, but our kidnapper said that if our numbers shrank in large amounts, we’d have to be let go!

“That is a motive to kill someone, and you know it!” After her rant, she collapsed into herself and looked down.

“It’s not that I want this to happen, but it is! So we should just accept it and do all we can to make sure that it doesn’t happen again! Okay?”

“And what is ‘all we can do’?” Mars asked. “Hold a trial? Lock someone up?”

“She’s right!” Kim said. “Even if we did do that, we have no way of knowing for sure if we’re right or not! We could end up punishing someone who didn’t even do anything wrong!”

“And what if they got out?” Arthur asked.

“Children,” We all looked at the screen instinctively as it lit up with the red mergoat, yet again “whatever happened to make you call upon me?” Capricorn asked.

“Don’t bother telling me, I’ve already seen all of the rooms. I’m looking at him now. Don’t worry; I’ll have that cleaned up for you. You won’t need to touch it. Unless, of course, you were serious about investigating.”

“We were,” Ruth said as her eyes shot daggers into the screen.

“And why would you do that? I could just tell you who the killer is, you know. No need to rush to such drastic measures.”

“That’s a good idea!” Iris said. “Would you really do that for us?”

“What are you talking about, Iris?” Ruth asked. She stood there, looking at her like she was crazy. Her head flicked back to the screen. “We can’t trust them to tell us the truth!”

Capricorn gave a bark of laughter at that. “I suppose you’re right! You can’t really expect me to tell you the truth.

“How about this: You hold a trial. You hold a trial, catch the culprit, and I deal with whoever you think it is, right or wrong. Does that sound fair?”

I shrank a bit where I stood, but managed to ask “What do you mean ‘deal with them’?”

“Kill them. What did you expect me to say? I would only assume that you all knew killing the culprit was the best option for you all. You have already pointed out the flaw in locking them up, after all.”

Most of us were stunned into silence once more and I could do little more than look down at my own bloodied feet.

“What if we get the wrong person?” Kim said. “Locking up someone who didn’t even do anything is one thing, but it’s a whole other idea to kill someone when they didn’t even…when they didn’t do anything.”

“That wouldn’t be a problem for me!” Capricorn said.

“I don’t think you should worry so much, Ms. Robinsons. Not to mention, you can all sleep soundly. I certainly would after knowing for certain that a killer was no longer lurking over my head.”

We remained silent and looked at each other for some form of guidance from our peers. This situation was foreign and strange. Not to mention just how insane the situations sounded to us all.

I hated every minute of it as my hand grasped at one another and I was left to pull my scarf in front of my mouth.

I felt like it took away my ability to speak, if only for a moment, and pressure was alleviated from me, just like that.

Ruth wasn’t as fazed. She turned around quickly, daring us to disagree with her when she said “I think that sounds like the best idea.”

No one took the dare.

“Very good! Now, remember, whoever you choose as the culprit will be executed. So, choose carefully! Goodbye children and good luck!”

The screen faded to black once more and Ruth stomped past us and up to the bathroom so that she could begin the investigation. A lot of us, like Mars, walked all the way down the stairs and into the living room.

Some of us, like Arthur, walked up to their rooms to sit alone and afraid. The only ones left in that central room were Judy, Dave, and me. Making a decision for the rest of us, I followed Ruth up the stairs and into the bathroom.

“I want to help!” I said. I must have looked crazy. My face was red with determination, just as my feet were red from the blood. My hair was still wet and dancing around my head in strands.

It certainly wasn’t one of my best moments, but my eyes and heart were strong. Even at that very moment, I’m confident that she could see that.

“Alright,” Ruth said, “Then come on in.”

I nodded and took that fateful step across the threshold of the bathroom with extra caution to stay away from the blood.

“What happened to your feet?” she asked.

“I found the body,” I said, and she didn’t have to ask any more questions about that.

“So that’s why there’re footprints down the stairs,” she said with a nod. When she saw that I wasn’t saying anything, she said “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Virginia.”

“Right, Virginia. So, how long have you been up?”

I thought about that for a while before I said “Well, I’ve been up for about an hour, but I’ve only been out of my room for about twenty minutes.”

“Those are your clothes?” she asked, pointing into the hallway. I followed where she was pointing and nodded to her when I saw the same towel wrapping the clothes up.

“But your hair’s wet. So you were taking a shower in here? Why did you come back?”

“I didn’t shower in here, actually,” I said.

“I came in here, saw those,” I pointed to the pants, which were still lying in the sink, “so I thought I should take a shower in the other bathroom, but then I remembered the pants and came back up here to get them.”

“Did you use the one up here? Or the one downstairs?” she asked.

“Up here.” After a while of her nodding and looking at the body, I asked “I’m sorry, but why does it matter which bathroom I showered in?”

“Well, if I was showering, and a guy walked in, I wouldn’t exactly leave him standing,” she said, a dark smile playing along her lips as the dry humor soaked the moisture from my breath.

Upon seeing my reaction, she looked down and said “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. It’s just that it sort of slipped out. I know that this is awful, and I hope you don’t think that I feel good about this.”

It was sincere, and it melted my heart.

“It’s okay, I understand,” I said. “You were just trying to make me feel better, I get it.” Only then did I begin to look around him too. “So, what do you think the killer used as a weapon?” I asked.

“It had to be big and heavy, and I don’t see anything covered in blood like his head is.”

“You’re wrong about that,” Ruth said. As she spoke, she pointed to the edge of the sink where a light brownish-red stain darkened the porcelain.

“Looks like the killer bashed his head in by grabbing the back of his head and smashing it repeatedly on this. They must have been pretty strong. I think we can rule out a few people from that alone.”

I nodded dumbly before noticing something on Jimmy. I didn’t want to touch him, but I had no choice. Carefully, I picked up his hand, growing colder by the second, and examined his fingernails.

“I think this is paper,” I said, pulling some out and onto my own hand. I shuddered deeply as I showed it to Ruth.

She took a pinch in her own hand and looked it over. “It’s sticky,” she said. “It must be a label to something. Is there shampoo or something in here?”

I looked around with her. The medicine cabinet was empty, as was the shower. The only cleaning items were two bars of soap.

The bar of soap that was in the shower lay opened on the small shelf and another on the soap dish on the sink countertop. When I noticed that, I looked at the shorts more closely than I had before and picked them up quickly.

“Look!” I said. “These are wet!”

“What does that mean?” Ruth asked. “Aren’t those Felix’s?”

“Yea, he must have left them here, so I was going to—”

“Bring them to him after your shower. You already said that.” The way that she cut me off, annoyed me, but I didn’t care. What got me was the way that she said “What’s so important about it?”

“They weren’t wet when I came in here. The killer washed their hands before they left,” I said.

“That helps us set up a concrete timeline, but it doesn’t do much else for us,” she said, brushing it off as if it was nothing.

“Now, what does interest me is how small the time frame is for the murder to take place. Twenty minutes isn’t too long, so they would still be awake when this happened. Can you remember who got here first?”

“Well, Arthur did, but his room is right by the bathroom. Not to mention, I did scream pretty loud.” The defense was half-hearted, but Ruth nodded in understanding.

“Let me just say this: You will hurt a lot more people by trying to keep the blame off of who you honestly think the killer might be,” she said. “If there is anything you’re not telling me—”

“It wasn’t him.” I was a bit quick to say that. “Believe me, he almost threw up, and besides, a lot of people probably weren’t even sleeping. You can’t base it off of who was and wasn’t.”

Ruth stared me down for a while before letting out a sigh. “You’re right. Let’s just go off of what we have for now.

The killer was strong enough to, not only hold a teenage boy long enough to pound him to death on a sink while he was fighting for his life, but they were also able to do it fast enough before he started screaming for help.

“I think it’s safe to say that none of the girls here could do it. Maybe Kim and,” she hesitated, “my sister. But I think that even they would have some trouble. We shouldn’t even go down that road.”

“I think Ernest is out, too. So that leaves Arthur, Dave, Felix, and Cory as possible suspects,” I reasoned. Looking around for a while I began grabbing my head.

“How are we supposed to narrow down that list? Is there anything else?”

“Well, there is that sticky paper you found under his fingernails. I still think it’s part of a label, and if it isn’t here, the killer must have whatever he scratched it off of.

“So the only thing we need to figure out now is how we’re going to go about finding what this is and who has it. Do you have any ideas?” she asked.

“Well, we could see if anyone else has taken a shower or used this bathroom,” I said.

“Do you think they’d confess to that?” Ruth asked, shooting me a peeved look.

“No, but we can see if their hair is wet!” I said. “We could even ask the others if they saw anyone come in here.” I managed a confident smile, regardless of what we were talking about and what was lying at our feet.

“You’re the only one with wet hair,” she said, discouragingly “but I think finding witnesses is a great idea.” She looked down at my feet and said.

“You should clean up first. Speaking of cleaning, I’m going to get that blood out of the hallway. You can talk with the girls, and I’ll deal with the boys. Remember, anything useful can help. We’ll meet up in the central room.”

Without further discussion, Ruth turned around and stalked off.

***

After I’d washed my feet off, pulled on a pair of socks, and left my laundry in the corner of my room, I walked downstairs.

Once I was done, I walked downstairs and looked for the others. I found all of the girls in one spot, much to my benefit.

They sat out on the porch at the long table looking down at the wood with heavy eyes. None of them even noticed me when I came out of the house, all of them so lost in their thoughts.

It had to be around seven-thirty, judging from how the sun was now entirely up and over the tree line.

“Hey,” I said, breaking the ice.

Judy looked up and tried giving me a half-smile in return only to look back down soon after.

“What do you want?” Kim asked, stirring her cup. It looked like they were all drinking tea.

“Well, I was wondering if I could ask you guys about this morning,” I said.

Some of them looked up in shock that I’d gotten to the point so quickly.

“Do you think one of us killed him?” Mars asked, a bit of panic ringing in her voice.

“No! No, no! I just wanted to know if you guys saw something, or maybe you heard something. Like doors closing, people leaving—”

I stopped talking, upon seeing their judgmental faces glaring back at me from all sides of the table. Their very eyes asked me to leave. I decided to do the exact opposite. I sat down at their table and looked around at them.

“Look, I know that you don’t want to talk about this, but what if it was you? Don’t you think Jimmy would want us to find out who did it?”

It was a low blow, but it got answers.

The first came from Mabel. She said “I couldn’t sleep last night, and I heard someone turn their light on in the room next to me. I think his name is Cory. He stayed awake for a while before…”

The way that she trailed off bothered me into asking “Before what? What did he do?”

“He left his room. I didn’t hear him come back before I fell back to sleep,” she said, finishing her statement with a hard look at her small cup.

I nodded and added that to a list of things going on in my head.

Mars didn’t take long to say “My room was right next to Jimmy’s. I didn’t have trouble sleeping, but I woke up because he was making a ton of noise. There were things getting thrown around in there.

I thought he might have been upset about… you know. So I didn’t say anything. I was thinkin’ that I should’ve gone over there, but he left as soon as I thought of it.”

“When was that?” I asked. “Was it before or after dawn?”

“It was after, like a, while after,” she said. “I didn’t hear anything else from him.” She adjusted the black and blue striped grip on her hand guiltily.

I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, but Kim cut me off by pushing herself away from the table roughly and walking into the house.

The door was slammed behind her with a great force that made me flinch where I sat as my eyes refused to follow her exit.

“Can I go check on her?” Judy’s question surprised me and so did my affirmative nod in response.

It felt like giving an order, and that didn’t sit quite well with me. She left in a much simpler manner and left us sitting there.

“Can I add something else to my statement?” Mabel asked, trying to be as formal as possible.

“Of course, anything you say would be helpful!” I felt so professional as those words slipped out of my mouth. “Did Cory come back to his room?”

“No,” she said. Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. Through the glass table, I could see her fingers running over her book and picking through the page tips.

“Actually I just remembered how my room is laid out. It wasn’t Cory that left, it was Dave. He’s on the other side of my room, you see, so I must have screwed it up. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay!” I said. “I’m just glad that you guys are talking.”

“How are you doing by the way?” Mabel asked “Being that you’re the one that found… him.”

I shuddered at the memory. It’s weird how, when I was looking at him so closely, I was so calm. At that moment, however, I felt like I had just seen him like that for the first time.

Regardless of that, I managed to say “I’m fine now, actually. I think it’s important to think more about surviving right now, and Ruth is right. If we let this person walk around, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be safe.

“I know that you guys probably just want to leave it alone, but it isn’t like this is some news report. This happened right down the hall from where you sleep for the time being.”

They nodded and stared at the table again.

“When you say it like that,” Mars started “I really want to catch who did this. Even if that means they’ll… you know.”

“Be executed?” The way Iris said it made me squirm in my seat. We had to face that fact though. Whoever was decided guilty at this trial was going to die.

Somehow, I was okay with that.

***

When Mars, Mabel, and Iris had finished saying all they had to say, which was very little after that, I was free to visit Ruth in the central room. I wasn’t expecting her to be there, honestly.

Finding all of the girls together was a lucky break, but such a feat could not be hoped for with the boys. There she was, however. Sitting promptly on a box, as if I’d taken all day to get to that very room, was Ruth Lawson.

“So, what did you find?” she asked.

“According to Mabel, Dave left late last night, before dawn, and didn’t come back,” I said. “Oh, and apparently Jimmy was throwing things around last night.” She nodded. “That’s all I have. What did you manage to find?”

“Dave said that he didn’t leave his room after he went to sleep last night, and knows nothing.

“Arthur says, as you did, that he was up a majority of the night and was ‘trying to get some goddamn sleep’ when this ‘whole murder thing started’. It was quite a rude remark.”

I almost wanted to laugh at her attitude but concealed it. She would have made quite the tyrant if her circumstances were different. She continued, “Ernest slept all night, as well, but that’s a lie.”

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“His eyes were too dull for a full night of sleep, but that doesn’t really mean anything until we can tell what he was doing all night.

“Anyway, Felix said that he left for a jog this morning, which is why he only recently woke up.”

I could feel my breath shorten as I said “Wait, you mean that he didn’t know about Jimmy—”

“Until I told him? Yea. He didn’t know anything about it.” That was one of the few times when I saw her look down in remorse. “I didn’t talk to him after that.”

I fidgeted, picking at my fingers for some time before a realization washed over me. “Wait a minute, what about Cory? Did he say anything?”

Ruth shook her head as she sighed “I’m afraid he was sleeping all night as well. So much for our circumstances making people restless, I suppose.”

My shoulders sagged again. “So what are we supposed to do?”

Before Ruth could answer, the red screen flared on and Capricorn’s voice filled the house.

“Good morning children. I hope you’ve been diligently investigating the crime scene for the time that I’ve left you because now it is time for trial to begin.”

 

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