Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Madhouse

Taylor Johnson

Three couples. One room. No Escape. When they each receive an invitation to Madhouse: The Escape Room, the gang can’t wait for a night of competitive fun and bonding. But before long, they realize it’s no ordinary escape room, and the stakes have never been higher for any of them...

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Assault, Eating Disorders, Extreme Violence/Gore, Kidnapping, Miscarriage, Racism, Self-Harm, Sexual Assault/Abuse, Suicide, Torture)

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Madhouse - Book cover
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Madhouse

Taylor Johnson

Three couples. One room. No Escape. When they each receive an invitation to Madhouse: The Escape Room, the gang can’t wait for a night of competitive fun and bonding. But before long, they realize it’s no ordinary escape room, and the stakes have never been higher for any of them...

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Assault, Eating Disorders, Extreme Violence/Gore, Kidnapping, Miscarriage, Racism, Self-Harm, Sexual Assault/Abuse, Suicide, Torture)

1: Self-Disclosure

JUDE

“Fuck!” I scream as he slides into me, his forehead coated in beads of sweat as he thrusts. I grip the back of his neck. “Oh God, Zack! Harder!”

He grunts, one hand gripping on to my thigh and the other on the headboard of our bed as he increases his force.

My husband is a tall, six-foot-seven man with a somewhat lanky build. His dark, chestnut eyes and long, straight mahogany hair contrast his fair complexion.

His face and jaw are square, with a little bit of stubble growing in on his jawline as maturity sets in his face. He’s twenty-five, but I swear he still looks exactly like when I met him at twenty.

He presses his thin lips on my neck, kissing up and down the skin as he fucks me.

My back arches as he slams into me at just the right angle.

“You like that, baby?” he whispers in my ear, biting the skin.

I dig my nails into his back. “Fuck, don’t stop!”

He moves his hips faster, keeping the angle the same as he sits up, pulling my ankles above his shoulders. I bite my lip, my eyes groping his toned chest. Fuck, he looks so hot.

“You close, Jude?” he asks, his brows furrowing with concentration. I can tell he’s close.

I reach my hand down to rub my clit, his grunts becoming louder and his thrusts less controlled. I increase my pace, pressing down harder on the sensitive bud as he rocks his hips back and forth.

Fuck, everything else on him might be lanky and thin, but his cock sure isn’t.

I whine as he moves his hips even faster, his jaw slightly agape and his eyes squinted shut.

“Fuck! I’m close,” I moan, rubbing my finger in circles faster as his nails dig into my thighs. My core tightens, and I suddenly release, my toes curling as ecstasy washes over me.

He lets out three soft moans as he cums into the condom, pushing in and out of me slowly as we both ride our highs.

He pulls out, licking his lips as he ties the condom and throws it in the trash can next to our bed.

He collapses next to me and rolls over to turn off the lamp, the room becoming pitch black. “Good night, baby. I love you.”

He cuddles next to me, slinging his arm across my chest, his fingers gently rubbing my shoulder as he closes his eyes.

I sigh, biting my lip, holding back tears. He always does this.

After long days, we come back home, eat a takeout dinner, talk about what work we have to do tomorrow, have sex, and immediately go to bed. I feel like I don’t know my husband anymore.

He doesn’t know about how my boss has been making inappropriate comments.

He doesn’t know that I’m scared to report it to HR because this is the first law firm that hired me out of law school, and I can’t fuck up what little reputation I have.

He doesn’t know that on my walk back to my car today, someone shouted, “Go back to where you came from!”

I wish I could talk to him about these things, all these things that are piling up and weighing heavy on my heart. Things my husband should know and help me carry.

I open my mouth to say something, but the sounds of his soft snores stop me. He’s exhausted.

Every day he comes home, he is. He wakes up at five in the morning, two hours earlier than I do, and doesn’t get back until seven, an hour later than I do.

His and his best friend’s company, SmartPole, just took off this ski season.

They created a BlueTooth device in a ski pole that connects to your phone and the speakers in your helmet.

That way, you don’t have to take off your gloves to skip a song or bang the side of your helmet the way most other BlueTooth ski gear works. It was a great idea, and they’re working nonstop to meet demand.

I’m so proud of him because he’s tried to launch so many different products, always hustling at his entrepreneurship, and now all his hard work is paying off.

I don’t want to burden him, but I’m struggling too.

I feel his lips press against my cheek as he moves closer to me. I know he loves me. The man kisses me in his sleep; for God’s sake, he’s the cutest ever. I’m fortunate to have a man like him who loves me so wholeheartedly.

Yet, this past year, we’ve been growing apart, and I don’t know how to stop it.

When we got engaged, we made a five-year plan, and this wasn’t part of it. We were supposed to be buying a house by now to start a family, but we’re both so busy we haven’t found time.

When I’m not at work, I’m putting in off-the-clock hours to be in the good graces of my bosses. I handle the paperwork they don’t want to on multiple case files.

I have to work ten times as hard as everyone else because I’m Latina, and there aren’t many of us in the world of union law or law in general. I’m passionate about it, though.

I want to help laborers get the benefits they deserve, and my long-term goal is to fight for the rights of undocumented workers who are so often exploited by the system.

That’s why I currently work at a law firm that represents various labor unions, as well as an internship at an immigration private practice on the weekends.

I stroke his long hair. When was the last time he got a haircut? He’s never had it this long. I kind of like it, though, so I probably won’t remind him.

I yawn, turning my face to the side so my nose nuzzles into his hair. At least we haven’t lost our intimacy yet.

I pull the blanket up him farther because I know he’ll wake up freezing later if it stays by his waist and close my eyes, drifting off to sleep.

LIAM

“How did it make you feel when Summer told you about her feelings of inadequacy?”

I grip my fiancée’s hand, biting my lip.

“I, uhm, it obviously didn’t feel very good. I hate seeing her upset because I love her. I was also confused because none of this was her fault, so I don’t know why she feels like she did anything wrong or didn’t do something good enough.”

“Focus on how you feel, not what you think she feels,” the therapist tells me.

“Okay, uhm. I felt confused because I wanted to help her but didn’t know how. I felt like I had failed her because I didn’t tell her enough how strong she is. I felt like I had done something wrong.”

Summer shakes her head. “Baby, you did nothing wrong.”

“I know that intellectually, but I wish I knew how to get you to see that you didn’t do anything wrong either. Our baby’s heart just didn’t form right, and neither of us could have stopped that.”

Her eyebrows furrow, and her lips tremble. I pull her close to me, pressing a kiss on her forehead. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Why are you upset, Summer? What’s the thought behind it?”

“I—I don’t like thinking about h-how she died. I don-don’t like thinking about how she died alone in there.”

I press a kiss on her temple, fighting back my own tears as I think of our stillborn daughter. This has been hard for Summer.

Even though the pregnancy was unplanned, Summer and I were already engaged when we found out, so a baby wasn’t a huge wrench in the plans.

We were so excited and picked out the name Isabella for her once Summer reached the second trimester.

On our routine bimonthly checkup, the doctor suddenly couldn’t find a heartbeat. They don’t know why her heart didn’t form right or why it stopped beating, but it did.

It was heartbreaking having to watch Summer fight through giving birth only to not come home with a child at the end of it. I was heartbroken too.

I imagined the day where I would hold her hand and help her push as a joyous one, not one where I had to wipe tears from her cheeks.

I miss my daughter too, and it hurts me every day that I never got to meet her, but I knew I had to be strong for Summer.

We both grieved the loss hard for the first two months, but then when I started feeling better, Summer didn’t. The loss took its toll on our relationship too.

It’s been seven months since we’ve been intimate beyond kissing, and I haven’t seen her smile in those seven months either.

God, I miss her smile. I’d go the rest of my life without being intimate ever again if it meant I could give Summer her smile back.

Summer started going to individual counseling about three months ago, and we only started couples counseling last month.

She’s getting her master’s to become a therapist for troubled youths, so she knows the power this stuff has.

I’m a high school history teacher, so while a lot of this is over my head, I know that many of my students who confide in me about their problems say therapy helps them a lot.

Besides, I’d do anything to help Summer feel better, even if it means talking about my feelings, which isn’t something I usually do.

“Do you think your child felt alone when she died?”

I glare at the therapist. Why would she ask a question like that?

Summer buries her head in her hands and cries. I rub her back softly, shaking my head angrily.

“What is the emotion right now, Liam?”

“I’m pissed off, honestly. I don’t know why you’d ask her a question like that when you knew it would upset her.”

Summer lifts her head, shaking it emphatically. “Baby, really, it’s okay. I—I can’t avoid these thoughts forever.”

Courtney, our therapist, nods.

“With traumatic events like losing a child, avoidance is a common coping mechanism. In this case, avoiding the negative thoughts. By avoiding them, we let them fester and continue to harm us from within.”

I bite my lip. “So, it’s not good when I do that? When I comfort her?”

“No, it’s very good that you comfort her. One of the most important parts of recovering from a traumatic event is feeling like you have a close support network.

“By coming to therapy with her and showing unconditional love and support, you’re giving her that. I just caution against enabling avoidance behaviors.

“If she’s having these thoughts at home, don’t help her avoid them by changing the subject or distracting her; instead, talk through them with her.

“Be there to help her as she struggles through these emotions rather than carrying her over or around them.”

“I—I’m sorry, Summer. I didn’t realize what I was doing was hurting you,” I lament, shaking my head.

“No, Liam, please don’t feel bad,” Summer says before the therapist can interject. “You aren’t a trained professional; I know that. You don’t know how to handle these things, hence why we have her.”

Courtney smiles and nods.

“Well, we only have fifteen minutes left, so let’s focus our remaining time on the intimacy issues. I know that’s a big part of why you decided to see me for couples counseling. Have there been any improvements?”

“No, there hasn’t,” I answer. “It’s not even that sex is so important to me; it’s just that it was a big part of our relationship before, and so it worries me.”

“Why does it worry you, Liam?”

“It makes me feel like maybe she doesn’t trust me anymore? Or maybe she’s not comfortable the way she used to be with me?”

“That’s not why,” Summer whispers, looking at me tentatively.

“I know we touched on the fear aspect regarding intimacy, Summer. Is that what you’re referring to?”

“No. That is part of it, though. I’m scared that we’ll get pregnant again, and I don’t want to lose another baby, but I also feel undesirable right now. I don’t feel sexy.

“I don’t feel like if I took my clothes off in front of him that he’d like what he sees anymore.”

It takes everything in me not to burst into laughter at how preposterous the notion of me finding this stunning woman unattractive is, but I keep my composure.

How could I not find her absolutely breathtaking? She looks like a runway model. She’s been out of my league since the day I started ogling her in Social Psych our sophomore year.

Even Professor Harrison made a joke about it one day during lecture.

She’s five foot eight with a slender build. Her legs are toned, long, and gorgeous. She has narrow hips, large breasts, and the cutest bubble butt I’ve ever seen.

Her skin is a beautiful golden color with rosy undertones. She has straight, dirty blond hair that reaches just below her shoulders, giving her a beautiful, sophisticated look.

Her eyes are a lovely hazel shade; both the green and brown of her irises shine bright, almost as if the sun glows within them. She has a petite little button nose I love to press kisses on, and her face is round and small.

She has a dimple on her right cheek that gives me butterflies every time she smiles. But her best feature, by far, is her lips. They’re soft, pillowy, plump, and naturally red.

I almost fainted when she first kissed me at the toga party my club baseball team threw; it was like a dream.

“What do you think of what Summer just said?”

I shake my head in disbelief. “I think you’re the prettiest woman I’ve ever laid eyes on, and you’re the prettiest woman I will ever lay eyes on. You take my breath away every time I look at you, even after four years.”

“You’re going to make me blush,” she whispers, hiding her smile by looking down at her lap.

I lift her chin. “Princess, I don’t care if we never have sex again, as long as you know how much I love you and how beautiful I think you are.

“I never want you to feel like I don’t think you’re absolutely perfect, and I’ll remind you every day if I have to.”

“How are you real?” she asks, looking up at me like I might disappear if she blinks.

“Why do you say that, Summer?” Courtney asks.

“Sometimes, he seems too good to be true. I mean, how many twenty-four-year-olds do you know who speak the way he does to me?”

“Not many, but that speaks only to his character and how much he loves you.”

“I’m just afraid that if I can’t fix this intimacy problem, he’ll leave me.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” I assure her, taking her hand in mine.

“I’m not going anywhere. Does the fact we’re not intimate anymore bother me? Yes, it does. I’d love to have sex with you again the way we used to and how frequently we used to.

“I can’t sit here and pretend I don’t want that, but that’s not why I love you. That’s not why I’m with you. Okay?

“I don’t like when you say things like that because it makes me feel guilty about wanting to fix our intimacy issues,” I confess, even though I feel ashamed for saying it out loud.

I don’t want to burden her with my feelings when she’s already having such a hard time, but I also don’t want to keep mine locked away and harbor any resentment. Not that I could ever resent her.

“All right, well, we’re out of time today. We’ll expand on that thought next week. Try to do something fun this weekend, okay? Enjoy each other’s company.”

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