Read part one of the story here.
My eyes pinballed between Beth and Brett, Brett and Beth. An observant young girl who answered any questions I had asked, who had used her brain instead of her emotions, who had tried to treat an illogical situation logically. Or the boy with an attitude problem who blew up every chance he got. A boy whose only concern was grabbing a gun to explode the monster into a mess of blood.
I should have taken her.
But his unwashed hair and the ring piercing his lip reminded me of my own brother. I couldn’t save him when my suicidal father had sparked a match and lit the house on fire. But I could save Brett.
I yanked the boy by the shoulder, cringing when I heard the pop, and then redirected my attention toward his torso, scooping him into my arms bridal-style. I limped down the hall, his body mass weighing me down more than I thought. He might have been twig-thin, but he still held muscle.
I ran past dozens of doors, hearing the swoosh of the creature’s dress. I ran past another set of concrete stairs, hearing the thump of the creature’s steps.
I only turned back once. When the sounds stopped, creating a pocket of complete silence. I kept trudging forward, but turned my head to see the creature.
It had stopped in the middle of the hall, where Beth lay. It stretched a long arm out, out, out about five feet and then rested its deformed, arthritic hand against her cheek.
Beneath the claw, Beth’s skin crumbled. Like paper mache. Like dried paint.
She was there, pale and pretty, and then she was gone. I wondered if a new painting hung on the wall somewhere resembling her face. I wondered if Lizzie had met the same fate.
I shifted my focus straight ahead and shuffled forward faster, because now that Beth had disappeared, the creature shook like it swallowed an earthquake.
It screeched as it convulsed, creating an obnoxious, piercing sound that rattled the paintings along the halls. Doors flew open and closed, the metal knobs smashing up against the walls inside.
I could see into each room. A bed. A leather chair. A standing lamp. A television. All identical, aside from the paintings above the beds. Some showed watercolors of rats. Or clowns. Or guns. Or spiders.
Maybe the paintings acted as hints. Like one of those escape rooms my ex-fiancé and I had completed in NYC, filled with clues to the exit. Maybe a safe sat behind the frame holding ammo. Maybe a gun was stored beneath the bed. Maybe we could defend ourselves. Just like Brett wanted.
I scuttled backward, swerving into the gun-room. I tossed Brett onto the bed, both his legs dangling off and his arm bent at an unnatural angle, and promised to pop the limb back into the socket as soon as he woke up. In the meantime, I grabbed the chair to stuff beneath the knob for protection (even though the monster seemed to have quieted down since its feast, satisfied with Beth) and scrambled toward the painting.
I removed it from the wall as carefully as I could, resting it on the floor, and skimmed my hand across the wallpaper for a hidden latch or secret button. Nothing. Checked behind the television stand. Nothing. Looked in the air vents. Nothing nothing nothing.
I had my body halfway beneath the bed, grasping at more nothing, when Brett woke up.
“Fuck me. My head hurts.” I could hear the bedsprings creak. He must be rising, glancing around. “G’uhh. My goddamn shoulder too.”
I wriggled out from the mattress. “I don’t know what happened,” I said. “You two were unconscious in the hall. I was running from… from the woman in black, and I tripped over you guys.”
“Yeah, we saw this painting. A giant one. We were like, drawn to it. It looked like the creepy-ass woman, except this one was dressed in white with blonde hair. We were just standing there, staring at it and it, it, it knocked us out, I guess.” His brows crinkled. “Where is she anyway? Beth. She shouldn’t be alone in this shithole.”
“I could only carry one of you.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means I could have left both of you but I didn’t and you should be thankful.”
He pushed off the mattress with his good arm. “Thankful my sister’s got a death sentence? Fuck off. I’m going to find her.”
“Like you said earlier, we need guns first. I think there’s some in here. There’s a painting that might be a… I don’t know, a hint or something.”
“A painting? You left my sister to die so you could go appraise some motherfucking art?”
“That’s not how it happened. I had…”
He launched himself off the bed, woozy on his feet at first. He bent to grab the frame on the floor. “This is the painting you mean?” he asked, cracking it across his knee, splitting it into two pieces.
The moment the frame severed, the canvas paper inside disappeared. A gun plopped out from the empty space. Clattered onto the floor. A three dimensional, honest-to-goodness fucking gun.
“Holy shit…” Brett said, checking the chamber for bullets. “This is legit.”
“There’s no way…” I said, trailing off. I had my doubts the entire day, but kept pushing them from my mind the way I would during a dream, believing what was in front of my eyes over whatever my brain tried to convince me. I had to continue to think that way, illogically, or I wouldn’t get anywhere.
“We need to find that ballroom again,” Brett said, turning the weapon over in his hands. “The rooms probably shifted by now, but we have to find it. After we find Beth.”
I nodded. Earlier that morning, the woman in black stepped out of the painting-turned-mirror inside of my hotel bedroom. And now, the gun popped right out of the painting. Maybe all of the paintings could be transformed from paper to reality.
I could picture Lizzie’s face peering out from the painting inside the ballroom. Maybe we could snap the frame and break her out. Maybe she would be okay. Beth, too, if she ended up in the same situation.
“Give me the gun,” I said, sticking out a hand. “You already have your knife.”
“Why should I trust you after what happened?”
“After I saved you?”
“You’re not a hero.” His lip lifted, like a dog with a snarl. “You can come with me, but I’m not giving you the damn gun.”
He tucked the weapon into the back of his overtight jeans, an empty look on his face. I wondered if he would stab me if I snuck it from him when he glanced the other way.
Then I wondered if he would rescue me if the woman came close to capturing me — or if he would save the bullet. If he would let me be a sacrifice so he had more time to get away. Or if he would shoot me himself the next time I pissed him off again.
I wondered which risk was the better one to take.
Read part three here!
Vote for the ending you want to see in the comment section on Creepy Catalog! A) Let Brett keep the gun and go together. B) Find a way to take the gun and go without him. The final part of the story will be out this time next week!