Part 11: TRICK QUESTION
PART 11: TRICK QUESTION
I realized how alone I really was.
In the beginning there was still the hope that I could connect to some of the other residents. Then I had the gyroids, as misguided as that was… at least I could pretend. Then Penny. And now I realized that the man I had hated this whole time was my only friend. And I had practically killed him myself.
Maybe I could escape, maybe I'd be luckier than Tom and get away in the night, travel hundreds of miles in the right direction without running out of fuel and land in a foreign country that could send me back home. Maybe. Or I could be caught, mutilated and sent back to camp to wait for some crazy bitch to come take my organs.
No, there was only one way out of here.
I used the map "Penny" sent me of the island's underground to find my way to the house in the middle of the island.
To call it a house is an understatement. It was a mansion, and I came up from the tunnel to see it from the back, its ominous silhouette accentuated by a halo of occluded sunlight. On the other side of the house I could make out the murmur of a large gathering, the kind of low din a mob makes. I wondered if that's where all the residents had gone and why they were here. Even sneaking around to look would have been suicide. Lucky for me, a back door hung open like the mouth of a giant angry gyroid waiting to swallow me up.
Did Tom leave this door open for me?
There was no going back now. My hands hurt from the death grip I had on my axe.
The house was a complete disaster. Trash covered the floor and previously elegant furniture was smashed into pieces and pushed up against torn wallpaper. No lights were on in the gloomy foyer. The house appeared to have the same layout as all the other ones they built in camp, but this one was much larger. I knew where Penny would be. I made my way up to the third floor.
The bedroom door hung slightly ajar and from inside I could hear the shuffle of movement. Through the crack I could make out two large French doors on front of the room that were open to a balcony.
It looked as though Penny was about to make an announcement to the crowd like some kind of deranged dictator.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Was I really going to do this? I didn't even know what I was going to do… run in there, chop her into tiny pieces and try to make it back to the tunnels without anyone seeing me? There was no rational course of action left… there was just action.
My arm reached for the door and it creaked aside. I saw her. She was sitting at a dresser, fixing her… face…
Tom, dear, is that you? Did you bring that boy I told you to fetch? DID YOU HAVE TO HURT HIM?!
Her voice shifted from a rational person to someone who had seriously lost their mind, with the sort of gleeful malevolence found only in comic books. She turned slightly and caught my eye in her mirror. I almost fainted.
Her face was… falling apart. It was clear a hideous disease was eating her alive. Her eyes were wrong- one was the dark black marble you'd expect of a mouse, but the other was… oh shit. It was my eye.
I felt dizzy and the room started to spin. My legs were about to buckle.
At the last second I pulled myself back together. I prayed that this would end quickly, one way or the other. I stumbled on my words- I wasn't even sure what reaction I was trying to get.
Tom's… dead. I killed him.
Dead? Phooey, that rascal, always getting into trouble. Now where am I supposed to find a child whose favorite animal is raccoons? Maybe Nebraska….
She didn't even care. She had completely lost it.
I, I have to kill you, Penny.
I brandished my axe as menacingly as a dirty, malnutritioned child could muster. At this point a shout went up from the crowd below. All eyes had turned to the drama playing out in the bedroom.
Yes dear, that's fine, in a little bit. We can't keep the crowd waiting, can we? No, we can't. It's a good thing you showed up.
My heart seized up. OH GOD… what have I done? Tom knew what was going on here. He told me to run because he knew everyone had gathered here and it would be a long time before they started to look for me. I had a real shot, he said… He knew what was going to happen here and it was so horrible he'd rather be dead than play any part in it.
I was so focused on the hideous freak that Penny had become that I hadn't noticed her personal guard dogs looming in the shadows behind me. They grabbed my arms with unnatural strength, twisting the axe from my hands. It fell harmlessly to the floor with a dull thud and I stared at it like a skydiver with a faulty parachute.
C'mon, Billy. This will be fun!
The guards dragged me downstairs while Penny addressed the crowd from her balcony. I could hear her voice muffled through the walls of the house but it was hard to make out complete sentences.
What I could make out was this: she was very upset about her documents and journal being stolen. She didn't know who did it but she was going to find out and I was going to help. She ordered everyone to… line up?
We emerged from the front of the house, the sharp sunlight making the figures before me indistinguishable and blurry until my eyes had adjusted.
In front of me was a long row of children, most crying, some expressionless. Some were missing legs or ears or other pieces I couldn't plainly see. They were being held against their will by their respective guard dogs, the residents of each camp watching from behind. I tried not to fall apart but I had a terrible premonition that I knew what was about to happen.
Penny screamed to me like a banshee from the balcony:
WELL, BILLY? Would you be so kind as to tell me which one of your friends here stole my belongings?
She didn't know. She couldn't understand that Tom betrayed her and now somebody was going to suffer for his actions. There was no time left to think.
It was me! I did it, leave them alone! LEAVE THEM ALONE!
Poor, brave Billy. You've already paid for your crime, don't make me add lying to your list of punishments. I know you were in your own camp, so it couldn't have been you. I'm very busy, and I'd really like to know who sent you those papers, Billy.
It was Tom! Tom did it! He did everything! Please… please just let them go…
Penny motioned to the first child in the line. The boy's guards looked panicked but resigned to do Penny's will. Begrudgingly, they dragged the boy, screaming, to the back of the house. Penny turned and left the balcony. Several minutes passed, blood-curdling screams filling the air.
The screaming stopped abruptly.
From inside the house, the dull thumps of someone heavily climbing the stairs could be heard. Penny returned to the balcony with her prize. She held out her arm… and waved around the arm she was holding.
Look, Harold's waving goodbye to all of you. Now how about the truth this time, Billy?
The crowd collectively gasped, children intermittently screaming for their own lives. I doubled over, trying to heave but my stomach had nothing to give up.
Too much. I couldn't deal with this. She was making me choose who to slaughter like livestock and if I didn't tell her what she wanted to hear she'd drag each one of these kids behind the house… she was making a show of this so nobody would ever cross her again.
Well? Think carefully this time, won't you?
My mind was blank. We were all going to die here, gutted by an insane monster until no one was left. Then they'd ship in a new batch of children.
It would go on forever.