The two of us ran through to the dining room and I was the first one to push the door open and step into the cool light. The fluorescent lights that were flickering overhead and the clinical light that had transformed the whole of the canteen into something like a hospital ward. The rows of steel tables that lined the aisle on either side before us. All the way towards the kitchen where the food was prepared each day.
I turned my face from left to right to study the rows of tables and half expected to discover Zayne laying upon the top of one of those steel tables as though he had found himself upon an operating table. His white overalls cut back, and his skin sliced away at the belly and folded back. His tummy cut open from chest to sternum. Sister Dixon elbow deep in Zayne’s guts. Blood spouting out in all directions and against her face as she turned to me and began barking like a dog.
But there was nothing.
The dining room completely devoid of life or a single wretched soul.
The rows upon rows of steel tables that had been set with plastic plates and plastic cutlery for the morning breakfast.
“I don’t like it in here.” A frightened voice announced to the side of me. I lowered my eyes to the sound. My gaze that settled upon Ariana and the way that the cool light seemed to shimmer and ripple across her hazelnut pig tails. Her face that was lifted to mine and the skin so smooth and so perfectly beautiful. Her eyes that were wide like polished conkers and blinking towards me. And the sensation that washed over me complete, that if it was the last thing that I did, that I would make sure that Ariana would be the last of the loonies to die in here.
“I know,” I said, moving my right hand out towards her so that my fingers fell upon hers. Our fingers that interlaced with the others. A small charge of electricity that seemed to pass from her body and in to mine. “I’ll get you out of here.” I said, and I meant it, I really did.
Ariana’s conker brown eyes that studied mine. The trust that she had placed in me. Her mouth that was lifted on either side of her lips as she somehow managed to force a smile against her face from who knew where.
“There’s something happening Mandy. In here. In Deadwood.” She said, her eyes wide and still studying mine for comfort. “Tonight.” She said.
And I knew that it was true. That the moment had arrived and that the game that we had found ourselves a part of would be revealed to us at last.
Ariana’s face that remained lifted to mine.
“I don’t like Sister Dixon.” Ariana said, and I noticed the tears that began to well against her conker eyes that were close to flooding over I reckoned. I squeezed her hand a little tighter and reckoned if I really wanted to, I’d be able to crush those delicate little bones of hers to dust.
“I don’t either.” I said, squeezing her hand a little harder than I should and finding it difficult to stop. Ariana’s face that screwed up a little with fear, or maybe pain I thought.
“She’s not nice Mandy.” She said. The tears that were flowing now down her cheeks. “She’s cruel.” She said.
I shook my head.
“What do you mean?” I asked, and the sound of the girl’s timid voice that danced like the chirrups of a jenny-wren.
“She hurts me.” She said.
The anger that coursed through the whole of my body so that it suddenly felt as though my skin had been dipped in acid. And I knew that it was true. That Sister Dixon had hurt every single one of us in here in some way. And what acts of wickedness had been inflicted upon poor Ariana?
“How?” I asked, “Where does she hurt you?”
And I had meant on the poor little mite’s body. And was surprised when Ariana’s eyes widened and the colour that seemed to suddenly drain from her face.
“In the tower.” She said, “In the big house.”
I shook my head, not quite understanding what Ariana was telling me at first and then quickly realising that she was talking about Deadwood Manor. The memory of the day I had crossed the great lawn with Bieber and Deadwood Manor before us. The black windows that peered out from the house. The thought that someone remained hidden there on the other side. A person that remained shrouded by darkness. I shook my head from left to right.
“What?” I said, leaning in a little closer to the girl that had found her voice. “What has she done to you in there?” I said. The anger that was boiling up within my belly now and the taste of poison upon my tongue. Ariana’s sweet face that screed up as she closed her eyes and shook her head from left to right. The tears that were flowing like cool rivers down each cheek.
“She hurts me.” She repeated.
I lifted my face from the little girl and pressed my hand against hers. The sound of the stifled sobs that Ariana made and the whole of her body that seemed to shake from top to toe. Once more I peered out towards the deserted dining room and the tables that were lined like operating beds on either side. I shifted my face from the steel tables and brought my gaze towards the floor and noticed a streak of scarlet blood that smudged across the entire length of the hall. The floor tiles that had been splashed with blood and all the way towards the kitchen and on to the other side.
The sound of someone screaming out again for help.
Their wretched cry.
“Help!” The voice cried out from the kitchen somewhere and out of sight and the word all mangled somehow as though the sound was almost too hard to utter.
“Quick!” I said, moving forwards urgently and pulling Ariana along with me, “Hurry,” I said, “Its Zayne, he’s in the kitchen, he needs us.” I said.
The squeaking sound that Ariana’s feet made against the floor tiles as I dragged her along the aisle with me. The kitchen door that remained open ahead of us and the sound of cutlery clattering in there as though someone was busy preparing food for the day.
“Help.” The voice called out again from the kitchen. Zayne’s voice. The desperate pain that was heard against each syllable.
“No.” The voice called out. The boy remained hidden from view but the sound of his voice that carried out from the kitchen. The clatter of cutlery in there as though a knife were being sharpened.
“No!” Zayne’s desperate voice called out. The sound of the word corrupted somehow and fleshy and wet against the tongue.
And that was when I really began to leg it across the dining room towards the sound of his desperate cries. Ariana’s hand that remained clasped within mine as I dragged her across the tiled floor so that her feet and her toes made a high-pitched squeaking cry against the polished floor. Her toes that smudged against the blood that was sticky beneath our feet. Until finally we had covered the full length of the hall and all that remained between ourselves and the desperate cries of pain inside was a steel door that remained slightly ajar so that the light from inside seeped out.
Without thought, or concern for what danger I must surely be placing myself in, I let go of Ariana’s hand and rushed through the door and into the kitchen and on to the other side.
The horror that was revealed before me.
The world in slow motion it seemed to me as I raced through the kitchen.
My feet as though I were suddenly running through porridge and my eyes that were opened wide with the horror that had been revealed within the kitchen.
A kitchen bench that was revealed at the centre of the room. The wood that was riven with thick knots and twisted swirls. Cooking equipment that was scattered here and there across the oak surface. A meat cleaver. Steel forks. A carving knife. And laying upon the surface of the table in pools of curdling blood were animals that had been butchered. A Pheasant that had been decapitated. A squirrel that had been skinned. A rabbit that lay on one side and a deep crease that had been cut against its belly so that its innards were rolling out.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Spreading out across the centre of the table was a pool of blood that was thick and sticky like treacle. An occasional splash of blood that jumped up from the centre of the puddle. And so, I lifted my head slowly upwards and noticed for the first time the metal frame that hung above the whole width of the kitchen bench. A horrid ancient looking metal frame that was suspended above it. The metal that was thick and rusted and flaking away with dark patches. A line of cruel hooks that ran the course of the frame and appearing as though a huge mouth had been suspended above the table and the teeth that were sharp and about to bite. And impaled upon some of the pikes were butchered animals. Their bodies limp. Their legs hanging down. The cruel pike that had been pierced through their open mouths,
And that’s when I saw Zayne.
His limp body.
His gaze that was cloudy.
His tongue that had somehow been barbed against one of the hooks so that his lower jaw had dislocated it seemed against the weight of his body that had been suspended against his tongue. And the tongue that was grotesque and pulled out like Stretch Armstrong. His tongue a strange wounded purple colour.
Eminem standing below Zayne’s lifeless body.
His face lifted towards the boy that had been impaled upon the metal spike above.
Eminem’s white overalls that were splattered with blood and his arms that were red to the elbow.
And I probably shouldn’t have shuffled towards the psychopathic Eminem. But the rage that was boiling against my guts and my fingers that had screwed into balls of anger as I inched towards him. The sound of Ariana’s feet disappearing behind me to one side as she went to help Zayne somehow where he remained impaled upon the pikes above the kitchen bench. Until finally I came to stand before Eminem. His face that was splattered with blood. His eyes that were wide. His mouth that hung open. An expression upon Eminem’s face like he didn’t have a god damned clue how he had found himself here.
“What have you done?” I said. And my words that were cruel and cold.
The confusion that flashed against his eyes. His nonsensical words as he shook his head and the deceit that rolled over his tongue.
“It was her.” He said, his eyes wide and the fear that was dancing across them. “It was her.” He said.
And that’s when the tip of a pointed blade appeared from the centre of his chest.
A look of surprise that briefly flickered against Eminem’s features as he lowered his face to study the cruel blade that had suddenly revealed itself between his chest.
The blood that spread out across his white overalls as though a damn had been breached. And in an instant, the whole of his body appeared to buckle as he fell to the floor as though struck by a bolt of lightning.
Behind him was Ariana.
Her hands that were coated with blood. The knife that she held against her clutch.
“He killed Zayne.” She said. Her eyes blinking with fear and anger and rage.
“He killed them all.” She said.