The Game – by Alexis Messina

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As the cold fall wind blew through the crisp air, brown leaves scattered across the lawn of the desolate house that stood in front of us. Glancing at my best friend Jason and back to my sister, I immediately regretted my decision to tag along. The house looked as if it was 100 years old, and it probably was. The blackened walls, crumbling shutters, and scratched up glass windows didn’t look too inviting, but I knew Jason would call me a wimp if I chickened out now. It was Jason’s idea to come here, as he was the only one of us so invested in the lore of the town.

Every year on Halloween night, a group of kids would come across an old house in a different part of town. Judging by the pictures I had seen on the internet, they all looked exactly the same. The houses never appeared in the same location, and each time only one person from the group was able to escape. You’d think these stories about people disappearing after entering the houses would give Jason a red flag, but no. He decided to drag his little sister, his best friend, and his sister along.

Sticking my hands in my pockets to keep them from freezing, I spoke up. “Maybe we should go now. It’s getting kind of late.”

“Are you kidding, Logan?” Jason replied. “We just got here. Are you backing out again?”

Rolling my eyes, I gestured to my baby sister. “I think it’s past Annabelle’s bedtime.”

Annabelle scowled at me and scoffed. “Excuse you, I’m sixteen.”

I scoffed at her and tried to ignore the little flip my stomach did when I saw Jason walking up to the front porch. “Jay, are you sure that’s a good idea?” I called after him. Jason looked back over his shoulder, his green eyes full of mischief and a smirk painted on his lips. “You scared?”

Annabelle piped up and followed him quickly. “I’m not,” she boasted.

I gave Charlie a wary glance but she just shrugged, her head of blonde curls bouncing against her shoulders. The two of us reluctantly followed, only to hear Jason groan. “There’s no doorbell.”

Annabelle pointed to the bronze knocker on the door, and Jason gripped it in his hands, knocking furiously. My breath hitched and my heart almost stopped when I heard the door creak and open slowly, only to see absolutely nothing. I let out a sigh of relief and Jason snorted. “Lame.”

“Okay Jason, there’s obviously no one there. Can we go home now?” Charlie pleaded anxiously, looking back out towards the lawn. “I don’t want to get arrested for trespassing.”

“We’ll be fine,” Annabelle replied, taking a step through the door, Jason immediately following. Charlie followed them into the darkness as I gave one last look back towards the road. If I booked it would they notice? “C’mon, Logan!” I heard Annabelle yell from the inside, and sighed in response,  making my way through the door and hearing it slam shut behind me. “The wind is really strong tonight,” I told myself.

“Annabelle?” I called when realizing the other three were already out of my sight. The first noticeable thing was the staircase on my left and I hoped to God that they hadn’t gone upstairs. The wood looked old and covered in dust and most of the bars on the railing were missing. On the right was a kitchen, which had a wooden table and four chairs along with normal kitchen appliances like a refrigerator, an oven, and a sink. The set-up of the house looked oddly familiar, as if I had somehow been there before. “Annabelle!” I called again, making my way through the hallway towards what seemed to be a living room. All it had in it was an old floral printed sofa and a wooden cabinet. This didn’t look like a haunted house, it looked fairly normal apart from how familiar it seemed.

The sound of footsteps barrelling down the stairs accompanied by creaking wood caused me to jerk my head to the side. “Logan!” I heard Charlie’s voice as she sprinted around the corner, throwing herself into my arms.

“What the hell Charlie-” I looked down at her, furrowing my eyebrows.

She looked up at me, her green eyes wide and glasses almost falling off her nose. “We’re in my house.”

That was when it hit me. That was why this house seemed so familiar, it was an exact copy of Jason and Charlie’s house, and I had recognized it from my countless visits there. I took a look around the house, holding Charlie close to my chest. “Where are Annabelle and Jason?”

Charlie pushed her glasses back up, pulling away and taking my hand and leading me towards the staircase. “Up there.”

For God’s sake.

Charlie gripped onto my arm and I took a step up the staircase with her close to me. The stairs underneath creaked with every step, and Charlie gasped each time as if the noise was made by someone – or something – else. I paused and turned to Charlie’s pale face. “You sure they went up here?”

She just nodded and nudged my arm, and as she did we both heard the sound of screaming. My heart jumped to my throat and Charlie squealed as she tightly gripped my arm in her knuckles. “Annabelle.” Her voice was only a whisper and the blood drained from my face as I imagined what could have happened to my sister. I dragged Charlie up the stairs with me as fast as I could, stopping in the hallway trying to figure out which room Annabelle and Jason could have been in. Taking a step forward, I felt something underneath my foot.Looking down, I found a familiar looking phone, and as I bent over to pick it up I realized it was Jason’s. I clicked the home button in hopes of using it as some kind of flashlight since the house was dark, and I saw he had a new message from a number I didn’t recognize.

[You’re in the game now. You know the rules. Only one makes it out alive.]

I didn’t think it was possible, but Charlie’s face became even more pale as she read over my shoulder. “My brother has to be hiding something from us.” she said, her voice shaking.

“He isn’t hiding anything,” I replied, but my voice was just as weak because I was terrified. In that moment the thought of my best friend hiding some kind of dark secret from me didn’t seem too impossible.

Our heads jerked to the right as we heard a door slam shut, and Charlie led me by my arm towards it. I set my hand on the knob, turning it and opening the door as slow as I possibly could. I don’t know what I expected to see, maybe a dead body on the bed or even just a puddle of blood on the floor, but thankfully saw neither. All we found was my sister cowering in the corner of my room, hugging her legs to her chest, and a small furry animal curled up on the center of the bed. Annabelle looked up at us, her blue eyes wide and full of fear. That was when I noticed something a bit different about her. Half of her head looked badly shaven, as if someone had took a pair of scissors and chopped it all off on one side. I looked back at the animal on the bed, which wasn’t really an animal but a pile of Annabelle’s hair.

Charlie let go of my arm and rushed to Annabelle’s side, helping her up and wrapping an arm around her waist to help her stand. She didn’t look injured, but there were small drops of blood that stained her jacket, and she looked traumatized. “What happened?” I asked. Ignoring my question, she lifted her hand to the side of her head. She froze when she felt that her hair was gone and muttered far too many cuss words than any person should know.

We were stuck in this creepy place separated from our friend and all she cares about is her hair.

“Are you hurt?” Charlie asked her, gesturing to the bloodstains.

Annabelle shook her head. “That didn’t come from me.”

“Then who did it come from?” I asked, but I had a feeling we already knew the answer.

“Jason,” she replied with a scowl. “He’s also the one who cut my hair. I’m positive he brought us here on purpose. And I swear to God if this is just some stupid prank I’m going to—”

Charlie cut her off. “Why would Jason want to cut your hair?”

I pulled out his phone from my pocket and showed her the message, which made her raise an eyebrow. “So that’s it? We’re just part of some game he and his little ‘friend’ here made up?” Annabelle gestured to the message on the phone screen with a scowl as the word ‘friend’ left her lips.

“I don’t think that’s a friend.” Charlie said, taking the phone in her hands. “I think someone may be using him.” The three of us exchanged worried glances until a voice interrupted our collective silence..

“Don’t move!” We all pivoted towards the door to see a figure standing in the doorway. I knew it was Jason just by the sound of his voice.

He held a small dagger in his hands, and his green eyes looked tired. His blonde, shaggy hair was a mess, and his fingers had small hints of dried blood on them. “Don’t move.” He repeated, holding out his free hand towards us, panting slightly as though he had just ran a mile.

Annabelle and Charlie clung to each other for protection, wrapping their arms around each other as tight as they could. I stood frozen still, my breath caught in my throat.

“Jason, what’s going on?” Charlie asked, her voice calmer than expected.

Jason lowered his hand, gripping the dagger so hard his knuckles turned white. “He made me do it.” He finally answered. “I promise, you guys, I didn’t want this.”

“Who made you do what?” Charlie furrowed her eyebrows.

“Him. The one who makes these houses. Last year, I snuck out to one with some other friends and I was the only one who made it out alive. He uses the survivor of the previous year to convince the next group to come. It’s this sick, twisted game he plays.”

That would explain the creepy text. “So you were trying to kill us?” I asked.

Jason glanced nervously at the door. “I didn’t want to. He kept telling me to play by the rules. I had to-”

We all heard another door slam shut, and Jason hissed at us, “He’s coming! Run!”

Charlie and Annabelle scrambled to the door and ran as fast as they could down the stairs, and I followed, grabbing Jason’s arm. The old, wooden stairs creaked menacingly with every step, and my heart seemed to beat a million times a second. The silence was broken by the heavy breathing coming from Jason and I, and the thundering of our footsteps that traveled down the stairs with us. The girls were able to make it to the kitchen and hopefully out the door, but we froze when we heard footsteps approaching us.

“He isn’t going to let me leave,” Jason said with a worried look.

“We’re getting you out of here.” I assured him, but I think it was more or less me trying to convince myself. Jason nodded, but his face was pale and full of horror.

“Only one survivor.” We heard his voice and a chill went down my spine,

“Go, Jason.” I demanded, and Jason’s eyes widened at the voice, grabbing my wrist and pulling me down the stairs. I made the mistake of glancing behind me. There I saw the silhouette of a figure at the top or the staircase, and my heart began to pound.

“C’mon!” Jason called, and I was relieved when my feet touched the floor at the bottom of the staircase that seemed endless. We were so close to the door. Only a few more steps and we would be out of this place, out of this illusion of Jason’s house, and in our car speeding back home. Jason let go of my wrist and sprinted toward the dim light illuminating from the moon and out the front door. Just as I was about to escape, the door slammed shut in front of me. My whole body collided with the wooden door, and pain shot through my nose, I touched my hand to it as I grimaced with pain, and blood stained my fingertips. It had to be broken. I tried to turn the doorknob, but the door wouldn’t budge.

Covering my nose with my hand, I turned back towards the kitchen. Whoever it was that had chased us had stopped, and was nowhere in sight. I tried to remember Jason’s house as well as I could, but it was hard to think with my nose throbbing in pain. What was the closest window? I knew Jason’s house had a window in the kitchen but this version didn’t appear to have any windows at all.

Then I remembered the back porch. Jason’s house had a door in the back leading to a back porch and his back yard. I sprinted down the hall and across the kitchen into the living room as small drops of blood from my nose trailed behind me. Jason’s house had a den that led to the back door. The den was on the right where it should have been, but as I ran into where I remembered a door was, all I saw was an empty wall. There was no way out.

My knees weakened as I dropped to them in defeat and heard faint footsteps behind me. My heart dropped to my stomach and I felt the hair on my arms stand up as his voice whispered quietly, “Welcome to the game. Logan.

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