The boy awoke in a dark room; cold, and smelling of human waste. His arms and legs were all tingling. He could barely move; his limbs were rubber. With no recollection of how he got there, he tried to remember, but the only image his mind could summon was that of a rose. Dark red. It was as if his memories were just as trapped as he was. A shudder went down his spine as goose bumps rose all over his skin. He was wearing nothing more than a simple pair of dark shorts that cut off just above the knee. He tried to look at his surroundings but from his position on the floor could see only the ceiling.
Time passed. The boy did not know how long; seconds, minutes, hours, its all the same when you can’t move. Eventually he was able to use one arm to push himself upward into a sitting position. The room was dark, but not so dark that he couldn’t see. The light came from no discernible source; there were no windows or lights in the room. The only opening to the room was an old, cast iron door. He was in cell.
The cell was not large, and seemed to be made of stone but was covered in enough moss that the boy was reminded of a swamp. Monstrous cobwebs hung down from the ceiling in massive clumps, but there were no spiders in sight. Looking around the remainder of the cell he saw there was no cot, no toilet, no bucket, nothing other than him.
A low growling made the hair on the back of his neck and arms stand on end. Every muscle in him was telling him to run, but he had nowhere to go and even if there was he still didn’t have the strength to use his legs. The boy focused all of his attention on the door, expecting an animal to burst in at any moment. A stabbing pain in his chest alerted him that the sound was coming from him. The boy started to laugh at his own mistake, but the laugh soon became a cough. The sheer physical exertion was too much for the boy to take, and he was soon rendered unconscious yet again.
This time when the boy awoke, he had regained use of his legs. He stood and stretched his stiff limbs. He still felt miserable, but he was distracted by the appearance of a plate of food. There was not much: a few strips of jerky, a piece of stiff bread, and a handful of unsalted nuts. The boy inhaled this food and then began to wonder about the appearance of the plate. The door to the cell looked rusted shut, and no amount of pulling or prying on his part yielded any results. He was contemplating trying to use the plate to wedge open the door when he heard a voice.
Turning wildly and brandishing the tin plate as a weapon, the boy saw no one. Further inspection of the room yielded no results. He was still alone. A warm trickle on his lip forced his attention away from the voice and to his slowly-bleeding nose. Lying back on the damp stone, he squeezed the bridge of his nose in an attempt to cut off the bleeding. He stared at the cobwebs on the ceiling, contemplating trying to use one to plug his nose.
The voice came again. Soft and whispery, the voice was one he had heard before but could not place. He turned his head to the left and a movement in the moss caught his attention. He reached over and yanked a handful of the moss from the wall to reveal a small tunnel, just large enough for him to crawl through.
The boy was less concerned about a phantom voice than he was about escaping. The bleeding from his nose had ebbed but there was still a slow dribble down his face that he ignored. What was a little blood? The tunnel carried on for an indeterminate distance but it felt like hours passed. The boy’s knees had long since blistered on the rough, uneven rock and his back was bleeding in multiple places from scraping the top of the tunnel. The tunnel was darker than the cell had been, and he had just about given up when felt the tunnel turn and begin to slope down. It was only a few more minutes of crawling before the tunnel had opened into corridor lit by torches.
The boy ignored the unknown voice, briefly wondering at it’s source. He looked back down the tunnel, but didn’t waste time thinking on it and simply chalked it up to exhaustion and dehydration. The boy took a moment to breathe and stretch once more before he looked around. The corridor was made of a nicer stone than either the cell or tunnel had been. Where the cell had been a cobbled mess and the tunnel a gritty rock that was unidentifiable in the dark, the corridor was a plain, light brown stone that was not unpleasant to the touch.
The corridor was split every fifty-some feet by another corridor running perpendicular. There was no visible ceiling, only darkness stretching above. The blood had long since stopped oozing from his nose and had formed a thick crust on his face. The boy wondered when the last time he had bathed was, unable to remember anything other than the rose. He hoped his memory would return in time.
Hurry while you can
The boy was getting tired of the voice. Where did it come from? What did it want with him? Why couldn’t he remember anything beyond a rose?
He continued walking down the corridor discontentedly until it finally came to an end, making the last intersection a T shape. In the middle of the intersection he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks: a small pyramid of skulls. The bottom looked to be ancient but each layer looked newer the higher up he looked. The boy couldn’t tell if the skull on top was wet or just shiny, and he didn’t want to get close enough to find out. Curiously, the skulls were all facing toward one of the two branches of the intersection. The boy opted to go down the path they were not facing, not wanting their unseeing eye sockets to follow his every move.
He was walking for a few minutes when he heard a light clattering from behind him. The boy turned toward the sound and listened more closely. He heard a dry thump and then what sounded like something rolling. Clay pots or maybe a rock or—bones. One of the skulls from the pyramid rolled to stop, staring up at him. With shaking hands, the boy leaned down and picked up the skull, hating the way the texture felt on his hands. He glanced back down the corridor, not sure what he was expecting. Turning his attention back to the skull, the boy let out a yell and dropped the skull. Blood had begun to stream from the nose socket and leave a trail on the upper jaw before pooling on the floor.
You should have listened
Shaken by the unknown voice’s warning and the bloody skull, the boy turned and ran down the corridor for as long as he could. He thought he could hear someone or something chasing him, but the blood pumping through his body drowned out any outside noise. The corridor he ran down was just as plain as the main one had been and it lit by the same torches. The corridors may have been identical except that there were no branching corridors down this path.
Finally coming to a stop, the boy panted for breath. His heartbeat was a hammer to his head, pounding any coherent thought into oblivion. Blood had started to leak from his nose at some point during the run, but he was so desperate he didn’t care. Ahead of him was a staircase made out of a smooth, white stone that may have been marble.
You’re wasting time
The boy cursed loudly and panted up the stairs. Each flight consisted of twenty-five steps and then a short landing before another flight of stairs that went up in the opposite direction of the previous flight. He climbed flight after flight, struggling not to fall over from exhaustion. After what felt like fifty flights of stairs, he came upon a landing that had a small fountain.
The basin was flawlessly chiseled out of the wall. The bowl was large and incredibly smooth. The wall above the fountain was bare save for one single engraving: a rose. Fresh water ran from a small opening just below the stem of the rose and drained through an opening in the bottom of the bowl. The boy didn’t believe his luck; he stuck his head into the fountain and drank his fill.
A far-off thumping took the boy’s attention away from the fountain and to the stairs. Something was coming. The boy turned back to the fountain for one last drink and paused. A minuscule, red line was a fracture in the perfectly clear liquid. As he watched, the red expanded and soon the entire pool had turned a deep red. He touched his face and it came back red and sticky. Blood. He screamed and fell back from the fountain, scrambling away. The once-white rose had turned as red as the water.
Time is running out
The thumping had grown steadily steadily louder and the boy did not wait around long enough to find out why. He took the eerie voice as a sign to run up the stairs. Two at a time, the boy leapt up the stairs with renewed energy. His mind was reeling, had he drank blood?
Pounding up the stairs as fast as he could, the boy wanted to put as much distance as possible between him and whatever was chasing him. His exhaustion dulled his awareness and the boy tripped. His body slammed onto the flight and slid down to the landing. The boy remained on the landing while the stars cleared from his vision. When he gained his bearings, the steady thumping coming from below him was louder, this single slip had allowed his pursuit to gain ground.
The boy pulled himself up the stairs, further smearing them with his own blood. The impact of the fall had created a new geyser of blood to spurt down his face. Unable to muster enough strength to return to his feet, he pulled himself up with his arms. He went up multiple flights in this manner, his fear forcing him to continue his ascent. The thumping from fights below him was growing louder and the boy guessed that whatever was chasing him would be upon him in minutes. The boy pulled himself harder, fighting the urge to collapse. The higher the boy climbed, the thicker the blood from his nose became. It pulsed to his heartbeat and the boy knew he should be concerned about blood loss, but his sole focus was escape.
The voice pushed the boy further and at the end of one final flight of stairs was a large chamber of deep, black stone; pure obsidian. In place of the torches that had been hung on the marble walls of the staircase, the obsidian chamber was lit by small lanterns, glowing with a ghastly white flame. The glass-like smoothness of the obsidian made walking difficult and he fell back to his knees, crawling his way into the chamber.
Looking around the chamber, the vastness surprised the boy. The room was circular in shape and almost entire empty. There were deep scratches in the stone; rough, deep cuts that left a fine grit that stuck to his fingers. In the center of the room was a stone protrusion. A perfectly round cylinder that came up to about waist height. Growing out of the center of this obsidian cylinder was a single rose. The pulled himself upright using the stone and examined the rose.
Whatever had been chasing him had almost caught up to him, the thumping had been reduced to a short, staccato clicking. The sound was increasing and the boy knew it would upon him shortly.
Sweat dripped from his forehead and mingled with the blood that had not ceased to pour out of his nose since entering the chamber. The closer the boy came to the impossible rose, the more his nose bled. It was a morbid waterfall on his face.
The clicking was on the last flight of stairs.
The boy reached out to grasp the rose.
The clicking stopped.
He hesitated and turned back toward the stairs.
The boy waited, every fiber of his being ready to explode. Fear had eroded any sense of fight he had previously commanded. There was nothing there. The boy laughed, he had made the same mistake as earlier when he mistook his stomach for a monster. Hysteria overwhelmed him, it took all of his willpower to stay on his feet. He turned back to the rose and plucked it from where it grew, ignoring the thorns cutting into his skin. Bringing the sweet-smelling flower to his face, he didn’t notice the woman standing directly in front of him.
The boy wondered why this time he heard the voice not in his head, but in his ears. This was the last thing the boy wondered.
What a waste. I had hoped he would fare better.
The woman wiped the boy’s blood from her blade and sheathed it.
Such a shame, this one was amusing.
Toeing the boy onto his back, she reached down and plucked the rose from his fingers.
Their wanton disregard for other life never ceases to amaze. Perhaps the next will be wiser.
Biting the flower from the stem, the woman savored the flavor and let the red juices pour down her throat.
His chase may have been lacking, but his taste made up for it. Quite lovely.
The woman rolled the stem between her fingers for moment before stabbing it into one of the boy’s lifeless eyes. Working deliberately, she pulled the eye out of the boy’s head and stuck the stem back where it had previously grown. The stem rejoined where it had been broken off and the eye morphed into a plain, white rose.
Time to play again.
The woman smiled as she began the long walk to the next cell.