He swore loudly, knowing what was happening. His dreams could never have fathomed the evil that lived in Harmony Hill. Strange how he didn't see it happening. Why had they thought it was mere coincidence at any point? The true villain behind everything was about to end the mind games and turn them into a final grand crescendo. The balance in the town was about to be shattered. The scales had tipped.
Now, running in the midnight rain, Eric could hardly believe where he was going. It was the last place he ever expected such a climax to occur. This single home, locked in a hellish town consumed by hatred and the darkness hidden deep in the crevasses of its heart. He looked up at the rain, hearing it bounce off the sidewalk.
The black hole was alive.
Becker stepped into the room and knew immediately what the notes meant. This was his test: to save another human.
Before him, a girl with wavy brown hair and a pretty face was struggling with one of her wrists, which was handcuffed to a bar of a bed frame. There was no mattress on the bed frame: it was just a bronzed skeleton standing in an otherwise empty room.
The girl turned to Becker immediately, fear in her eyes. But when she saw it was not her tormentor, she gave a sigh of relief and put her hand to her heart. Out of breath, she spoke.
Thank god. She said. Help me!
Alright, alright. Becker stuttered, unsure of what else to say. He ran over to the girl and examined the handcuffs. Her wrist had been torn raw from struggling to free herself. A small cut had formed, and she was bleeding slightly. Becker took a breath and looked back up to the girl.
What's your name? Becker asked, working on the desperate struggle of metal vs. metal.
Becky. The girl replied.
Becky? Becker repeated. Oh, holy hell.
Nothing, nothing. Becker muttered. He suddenly took a few steps backward and looked to Becky with worried eyes. Stand back a little.
She did so and Becker ran forward. Though he had little mass to toss into his velocity, he extended his foot, hoping to break the metal bar holding Becky captive. He heard a snap and a clatter, but fell to the floor. As he recovered, he saw that the bar had broken and Becky was freed, albeit with the handcuffs still hanging from her wrist, which was clutched in her other hand. Becky winced in pain.
Ah, Jesus! she yelped. I think it broke!
What, the bar? Becker asked.
No, my wrist!
Sh*t. Becker cursed, leaping to his feet. Becky was now bent over her own wrist, held into her waist to soothe the pain. But Becker's mind was already racing for an escape route for her. He took a quick look around, and then realized that the bed skeleton was the only decoration in the ghost-empty room. Then, he smacked himself in the head.
Idiot. He muttered, walking calmly to the window behind the bed skeleton. He grabbed at the handle to the window with clawed hands, but the window didn't budge. Looking out, he could see that it was a bit of a drop, but they'd probably be fine if they escaped this way.
Becker sighed, took two steps back, and ran at the window. At the last second, he lifted his sneaker-clad foot and felt it smash through the glass. Luckily, the shards avoided his limb, but regardless, he ended up on his back again, with one foot stuck out the window.
Jesus. He muttered, standing. Okay, I think you can get out this way.
He watched Becky pass him, and then made a move for the bedroom door into the hall. Becky turned,
Where are you going? she asked desperately, sounding rather pathetic in the process. Oh, come on, Becker thought, you can handle yourself now.
There are others here, I'm sure of it. Becker said, not bothering to take a glance backward. He knew she would be all right. Charlie would take care of her
The Saturn zoomed down the back streets of Harmony Hill, desperately driving for its fateful destination. Anson could barely keep his hands on the wheel, as the sweat had built up during his drive in the hot summer night air. The pressure building up behind his ears had reached the breaking point. A headache was welling up in his brain. All a matter of time before it all exploded.
The rain was pouring down now, and he was struggling to see in the darkness. The mighty power of a town disturbed had awakened something. Something evil.
From behind the dash, Anson squinted into the bleak underbelly of the city. He was on the outskirts. A roadblock had sent him around, delaying him. Purposefully? He began to wonder.
What massive creature had been born from the dark ashes spread by this decaying locale, burning in an unseen flame of inner darkness? The lives of so many had been affected by so little. Passing by the graffiti many street blocks back, past his own home, like holy scriptures of the suburbs. The gods of the community had spoken: the end is nigh. You don't belong. Take what you can and go. What do you have left?
He had a little. One thing. What little he had was going to waste. With Tony living with his mother, the vile creature spawn, where would his soul turn? What use did Anson have in significance to his life? Little. What he had left was fading like the last flicker of a candle before it is snuffed by the cruel hand of fate.
A slam. Anson screeched to a halt. The car spun slightly, landing diagonally on the grass-in-concrete-cracks infested road. He took a second to recover. His breath was ragged, like the leather belt holding his pants up. A bicycle. He could swear it was a bicycle.
Stepping out into the rain, he had been deceived. There was nothing but the vague remnants of skid marks. He nodded, as if understanding. Then, almost without thinking, he looked upward into the sky; into the face of god.
And he raised one finger, flipping the bird to fate.
The next stop was the bathroom across the hall from the bedroom. But first came the unpleasant visual of Darryl rolling in confusion and agony on the carpet, swallowing small dust bunnies and trying desperately not to bite his own tongue off. Becker could see this, and quickly removed his left sneaker and sock before shoving the sock unceremoniously into Darryl's gaping mouth.
That should tide you over til I can end this. Becker said, then opened the door to the bathroom.
It was adorned in pink tile, with little more than the essentials: a sink, a toilet, and a bathtub with a rod shower curtain. But the trick here was the few inches of water spilling onto the floor. Becker didn't even need to think twice.
Hey, Tony. He said rather nonchalantly, stepping carefully over to the bathtub, where Tony was oddly shackled to the shower curtain rod. Don't worry, this shouldn't take long.
Tony, by Becker's estimation, was just as calm. The water would never rise to deadly level, but it would never really stop. The Shredder had blocked the drain manually. Becker knew what to do. It was as simple as removing the curtain rod: one little tug, and
There. Becker said, helping Tony move the other end of his handcuffs off the rod. There's a window to get out in the room across the hall.
What about--? Tony began, but Becker knew what he was going to say.
There are more, bud. Becker said, sounding a bit fearful.
Tony turned to go, but stopped and looked back at Becker.
I didn't see their face, but they said to tell you that you go too far helping people.
Becker was frozen for a moment. He slowly leaned over the sink and looked at his reflection in the mirror. He was a broken man. The dark eyes were black now: little orbs of representative hell. His thoughts were reflected in his face. His bones had sunken. He was a monster.
Yeah. Becker sighed. I know.
Jay limped awkwardly toward the lights of the main strip. The little shops had closed hours ago, but he knew that if he could reach the strip, he could find a payphone and get to safety. He didn't like being out here. He felt exposed and unsafe. Sure his ankle hurt, but the desire to escape the pouring rain overpowered the pain. When in pain, the human body overloads itself, running on pure adrenaline. Adrenaline and fear.
But this fearJay wasn't sure where it was coming from. It was that feeling of something about to happen. Something was imbalanced. This town. He knew the feeling of evil, and Harmony Hill was ripe with it.
He stumbled into the street, sliding down a muddy hill. The streetlights were barely illuminating the street on which he limped. The fear was creeping back. Something was happening, but he didn't know what.
He sighed and sat on the edge of the curb, waiting for the inevitable. In a place like this, dark deeds were meant to be. Jay smirked. Here was the toast. He raised an imaginary glass to the streetlamp next to him.
A toast. He said giddily. To the corruption of Harmony Hill.
And there was the drink, and the bitter taste in his mouth. The burning throat. The nausea of a fresh whiskey.
Becker moved toward the next room, feet sloshing in the odd smelling liquid that had drenched the floor. He was aware it wasn't water, but he knew he had no time to think. It was about 1 AM now, and he was growing tired. The exhaustion of this day had torn him.
He opened the door to the linen closet, to find, not much to his surprise, Ryan Zippler handcuffed to the other side of the doorknob. Why anyone would put a double-sided doorknob on a closet door was beyond him. Regardless, the eldest Zippler child fell forward onto the soaked carpet, ruining his nice clothes.
Ryan. Becker said, almost bored with this game. I'm not supposing you know who put you here?
No chance. Ryan sputtered, wiping the carpet liquid from his lips. The hell is going on?
I'm not sure, really. Becker explained, beginning to dig through the many objects in the closet. A steady bass rhythm had begun to pulse through his head, soon accompanied by screeching violins. The music grew inside his mind, pushing the boundaries of logical thinking. It grew to a massive crescendo, and then
Ah. Here. Becker flipped a towel over, revealing a small screwdriver. He smiled pleasantly and brought it to the doorknob, removing each screw one by one.
Wait, how did you know there'd be a screwdriver there? Ryan asked incredulously.
Furthermore, who puts a screwdriver in a linen closet? Becker pondered as he unscrewed the last bold holding the doorknob in place. It fell into two bits, releasing Ryan from his pleasant smelling prison.
There's anopen window in the bedroom down the hall. You can get out there. Becker explained with a growing frown. He had suddenly realized this had an order. The people were the prizes in the game. Save them, save yourself. He was helping the others, albeit indirectly. The wavelength was whispering secrets to him.
What about you? Ryan asked as he straightened himself up.
Me? Becker asked, turning to face the next door. I think someone's got bigger plans for me.
The Impala skidded onto the lawn, ripping up the muddy earth in chunks. Charlie quickly jumped over the car doors and ran up the driveway, unaware of what exactly was going on. From the darkness, he could see four figures running towards him.
A voice cried out: Becker's in there!
Charlie didn't even bother to see who they were, though he recognized the voice as Ryan Zippler's. He immediately turned and ran for the door, his hair plastered to his forehead in the pouring rain. The mud was seeping into his clothes. Where would it go from there? Into his skin? Through his muscles? Into his veins? Mud coursing through his body. It was the blood of the town. Corrupt; dark. The black hole.
He slammed into the door at a full run, but found himself flat on his back in a mere instant. The wind knocked out of him, Charlie panted for a long time before standing up again. He found himself joined by a rather soaked Eric, who was now kicking at the door.
Son of a b*tch! Eric cried, grabbing at his foot. This freaking thing!
Together, the two tried for what felt like an eternity. No matter how hard they pulled, the door didn't budge. It was the guard for a creature unknown. What was the enemy: the door or the house? Or was it something more? Fate? God?
Becker moved through the next test rather easily. Kristin was shackled to a small cabinet in the study. Becker easily broke the cabinet door. He felt rather amused at the idea of Kristin trying to leap from a second story window with a cabinet handcuffed to her wrist, but soon remembered the severity of the situation.
And now, walking to the final room, Becker had to think. He had saved Becky, Tony, Ryan, and Kristin. He finally realized the obvious: they were individual prizes. Becky was Charlie's, Tony was Anson's, Ryan was Eric's, and Kristin was Jay's. But where was his prize? Behind the final door. What was the final test? Who?
His footsteps echoed the constant sloshing of the wet carpet. It was beginning to annoy him. But he had to think; it really went well with the screeching strings booming in his head. The little random squish-slosh created a wonderful countermelody to his soul. And the lovely smell of something unnatural complimented his scent. The madness had slowly crept over him. What creature had he become?
He then remembered, coming face to face with the final door, that it had been locked when he first tried it. Out of pure curiosity, he tried it, rather sure it would still hold strong, but much to his surprise, it turned. He opened the door and stepped in warily, sure it was going to be a trap.
But no explosion occurred; no nails shot into his face; no man tried to stab him. It was an empty white room, except for a single oak table, set right in the center of the room. From the doorway, Becker could see that a small metallic object was set upon the top of the desk, and he approached it carefully. Upon closer inspection, he realized, much to his confusion, that it was the crucifix lighter Chagrin had encounter so many times before.
What is--? Becker muttered to himself, picking up the lighter and flicking it casually. He was so very confused. Where was his test? Where was his reward? He began to retrace his steps back into the hall. Perhaps Darryl would know what this was about, seeing as how he was told what to do by the true enemy.
All the while, he flicked the lighter casually, enjoying the glowing light. It was warming, like a family. He had never known the true meaning of happiness. But somehow, it was contained in the lighter he held before him.
But walking down the dimly lit hall, he found no trace of Darryl. Simple conclusion, he thought, must have just gone into the bedroom. He was, after all, closest to that door.
Becker never saw it coming.
As he walked into the room, still flicking the lighter, he discovered Darryl with one leg out the window. Becker twitched, flicking the lighter into emitting a constant flame. Something jammed. The flame refused to die. Darryl, bent out the window, leaned in and smiled a smile only the truly mad could know.
Sorry Darryl said, beginning to frown. But he has my prize, too.
And with a yelp, Darryl threw the shard of glass in his hand at Becker, using every bit of aim.
Becker could see the shard coming at him in slow motion, right at his hand, holding the broken lighter, flame burning bright. The shard's edge caught the flesh on his finger, gliding past and tearing the skin in half. Becker gasped, and let the lighter go.
In a glass world, Becker then realized what that liquid in the carpet was. He knew the smell. The sound. Gasoline.
A flash, and Darryl disappeared as the fire erupted. It spread rather quickly, engulfing the top floor instantly. He fell, disappearing into the darkness below, now illuminated by the glow of a familiar flame.
And a new smell spread: charred organic matter. The burning of the last honest soul in Harmony Hill.
Charlie and Eric didn't feel anything until the windows shattered from the differential pressure. Charlie had given the door a bum rush, then realized the windows weren't shatter resistant as he had first thought. The two moved over to them, just in time to have them shatter in their faces.
From many, many blocks away, Jason Becker watched the inferno graze the sky, tearing a new hole in the continuum. Reflected in his eyes, his brain readjusted to the new sensation of darkness in Harmony Hill. This last fire burned away the last shred of innocence.
Somewhere in his head, the time was lost. He was in the black.
His hands started drumming on the streetlight.