CONTENT WARNING: This chapter contains somewhat intense scenes and kids will be in peril and frightened. One scene depicts what could be considered domestic abuse (kind of), but that is between two adults. Still, reader discretion is advised.
“Wow, I can’t believe someone can talk so much about courgettes.”
“Well, that’s what these meetings are for. Hey, Rem! Lynn! We’re back! I hope the house is still intact!”
The basement we’d been locked in was damp and cold. There was an old heating oven in the corner, but it wasn’t heating anything at the moment. The whole place smelled like mould and gasoline, and I could see some half-empty tanks in the corner and greenish blots on the floor so those explained both smells. I shivered, but not just from the cold. Laketon had locked us in here and left us alone, thankfully enough, but I couldn’t stop fearing what would happen when he came back. I knew enough about people to know that I didn’t want to know about the things some were capable of.
Rem had fallen asleep at some point, probably due to sheer exhaustion, but it was fitful, and his face twisted in a nightmare every once in a while. I wanted to wake him up, so that I didn’t have to be so alone, but on the other hand, I wanted at least one of us to be able to get a bit of rest. I looked at Rem’s bare feet and wondered if he was as cold as or even colder than I was. I wouldn’t know that, though, not until he woke up. Meanwhile, I was there just with my scared, worried thoughts that kept slipping back to mum and Patrick.
I didn’t know how much time had passed, but they had to be home by now. It had been hours, at least, but I’d read and seen enough TV shows about the police to know that they wouldn’t start looking for us right away, so mum and Patrick would have to wait until then. I kept imagining them all torn up with grief and worry, crying in our empty house. I felt like crying myself, but I didn’t want Laketon to hear me, so I tried very hard to keep it down.
The only noise I allowed myself to make was to start speaking when Rem finally woke up.
He was groggy, but the cold, scary reality crashed down on him very quickly, and his lip started to quiver. I got up from the rickety chair I’d been sitting on to ward off most of the cold floor and rushed to pull Rem to his feet. He was shivering like I was, and there were tears threatening to spill from his eyes.
“L-lynn?” he whimpered, “Is he gone?”
“No,” I whispered, hoping I could say something different, “He’s upstairs, but still here. Don’t worry, mum and Patrick will call the police, and they’ll come and get us.”
Rem nodded, but then his lip quivered again. I hoped he wouldn’t start crying. I wasn’t good at comforting, not even when I didn’t have to worry about freaking out myself.
“This place is dangerous,” Rem said, “We need to get out quick.”
Before I could say anything else to calm him down, the sound of footsteps made me freeze. I backed away, sitting back down on the chair because Laketon had ordered us to stay put. Rem stood still next to me, flinching away from the door and taking small, scared breaths. The door creaked open, and Laketon stood there.
He cast a pretty hateful glance at us and then just turned to light a fire to the old heating oven. I heard him mutter something about freezing up there. I held my breath, but he didn’t even look at us anymore, and that made me calm down a bit. He was standing stiffly like before, and even though I didn’t know him well – or at all, to be honest – I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off about him. Well, other than the fact that he was obviously crazy and scary as all hell.
Before I could even really think about what I was doing, I opened my mouth:
“Why did you take us?”
Laketon looked at us with eyes that were strangely dull compared to what they’d been when he’d shown up on our doorstep for the first time, all fake-humbleness and asking for money. Somehow that gave me even more courage. He looked more confused than anything. Confused wasn’t very scary. I stood up.
“Is this to get back at my mum?” I asked, “She didn’t give you money, and you then do this? If so, then it’s stupid!”
Laketon’s face twitched a bit, as if searching for the proper reaction.
“This is how I take care of my money problems,” he finally said in a monotone voice, “I was told to bring the freak boy home.”
“What? Me?” Rem asked in a tiny voice, “I was home.”
“Apparently someone disagrees,” Laketon shrugged.
“But Lynn’s not me. Why did you bring her here too?”
Laketon’s eyes narrowed, as if his brain was finally catching up with who he was talking to. Suddenly he was scary again. His ragged voice turned into a growl:
“Okay, well, yeah, I did want to screw with your bitch of a mother, too. Now be quiet, ‘cause you really don’t want to piss me off even more than I already am!”
Rem gasped behind me and I instinctively stepped in front of him, even though I really just wanted to hide and curl up into a tiny ball somewhere where mum could find me. Laketon glared at us for a few terrible moments and then stormed out, leaving us in a steadily warmer but still unbelievably lonely basement.
After the door slammed shut and the telltale click of a lock had faded, Rem sniffled. I turned around and wrapped him into a hug that was the best I could do to comfort both him and me. Rem took a few deep breaths, and then he seemed to relax.
“Hey, It’s gonna be alright,” I said, not really sounding convinced even to my own ears.
“Yeah, maybe… I think so too,” said Rem, and I didn’t need to see his eyes to realise he’d got that faraway look again. I couldn’t blame him. I would have paid good money to see something other than this world right now.
I sat back down on the chair, trying to think about getting out. So far I hadn’t done more than tried the door to see if it had somehow miraculously unlocked itself. The fear of Laketon had kept me from trying to bash in the door with something heavy – which I knew would probably fail anyway because I was, after all, a twelve-year-old girl with the measly strength to match. And I had to admit very quickly that the courage I’d felt a moment ago had dwindled to almost nothing again.
I just really wanted to go home.
“We will get out, won’t we?” said Rem in an airy voice. He’d been quiet for a long moment and spoke so suddenly that I started in my seat.
“What?” I asked, “I mean, yeah, sure. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried. Well, maybe I am. I know I’m scared at least. But I know… I think…” Rem fell silent, trying to find the right words, “Can you tell a story?”
Rem’s eyes were still not quite seeing the basement.
“You told me stories all the time when I was little. Especially when I was scared or… that time when I was sick. I don’t remember much of that, but I remember your story.”
“Rem… sorry, but I really don’t have any stories right now.”
“Oh…” Rem stared through the walls, “Well, then I can tell one.”
And before I could say anything to that – although, what was there to be said? – Rem started to tell his tale.
“Once there was a man. He was a hunter… well, not like a guy who shoots deer, but still in a way like the guy who saved the Little Red Riding Hood in the nicer versions of the tale. This man hunted for information instead of animals, though. He was sad because he didn’t have much money. You know, because a lot of people didn’t need to get hunted knowledge from him. But then he got a job, and he took it, because that job would give him enough money for his house and food. All he needed to do was find one person, so he did.
“It took some time, but finally the hunter had everything he needed, and he got his money for a job well done and was happy again. But something about the man who’d given him the money felt wrong, so he kept thinking about it.”
I listened half-heartedly. Rem wasn’t the most eloquent of storytellers, that was for sure, but right now, his uncertain words and rather boring storyline were very welcome, because it almost made me feel like we were back home, doing something Rem insisted on wanting to do with me even though he had more than enough friends to play with to ever really need my company. Rem paused, searching for something from beyond the bricks, and then went on:
“The hunter got worried, so he called the man who’d paid him. He didn’t know the man he’d got the money from was a boogeyman, but he was smart enough to feel his evilness. The boogeyman was angry yet happy. He said too much, and the hunter got even more worried…”
“He thought about it and realised that if something really was wrong, it would be his fault because he’d been the one who’d lead the man to the person he didn’t know but whom he’d found. So he finally got up, and got into his car.”
“He drove into the dark and didn’t stop ‘till he arrived in Twinbrook, the place he’d been hunting in.”
“Twinbrook?” I couldn’t help but repeat, unimpressed, “There are other towns than our hometown, you know.”
“Yeah, but this story takes place here. Now. Soon.”
I fell silent, feeling an extra shiver going through my spine. Rem didn’t sound scared or teary anymore. He sounded… sure of himself. Like all those times he started babbling about princes or phoenixes. Could this be… like those times? Where was it going to go now?
“The police still isn’t going to do anything! It’s been almost twenty four hours! What are we supposed to-“
“We’ve got to stay calm.”
“And how’s that working out for you, mister?”
“…Not well. I… where could they be? Their cell phones are here, and they’d never leave home without them.”
“I know! And I- Was that the doorbell?”
“The hunter was nervous, and scared, but he knew he would never have peace unless he asked…”
“He was greeted by saddened faces, and he feared the worst even though he didn’t know what the worst could be.”
“You don’t… uh… you don’t know me, but my name’s Brent Douglas, and…”
“Hey, I do remember you! You were the one my son talked to in the library some time ago.”
“Yes, but… excuse me, this isn’t the greatest time for us.”
“Really? Has something happened? Shit… did that creepy guy do something after all?”
“What creepy guy are you talking about? Do you know something about our missing kids?”
“What? Your kids are missing? Shit! I knew something was wrong… Look… there’s something I need to tell you…”
“The hunter confessed leading the boogeyman to the house, and the parents were angry at first, but then the hunter promised to help them. They were hesitant to trust him, but the hunter told them he could get the police to help, because he knew people.”
“Wait,” I said, “You’re talking about this? You know, this situation? Are you seeing things again?”
Rem’s eyes focused for a second.
“I… I hope so. Because that means mum and daddy are here soon.”
“The hunter knew where the evil man lived, because he found out things like that about his clients. So… sooner than the parents had hoped for, they were at the door of the boogeyman.”
“The police should be here soon. If we’re wrong about this, I’ll take responsibility.”
“But if you’re right, Mr. Douglas… That’s our kids in there. With my… with a very angry, unstable man.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why we’re checking.”
“What? Shouldn’t this be left to the police?”
“Like I said, my responsibility. Now stay back, both of you. I’m about to do something really stupid.”
“Finally! Do you realise I’ve had to listen to those kids whimpering for hours already… wait… Douglas? What the-?”
“What? You weren’t going to invite us in, you bastard?”
Rem stopped talking when we heard a loud thud from above. I looked at the worn out ceiling and hoped with all my heart that the thud meant rescue and not something bad.
“Lynn?” Rem asked, “What was that?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “But I hope it’s the cavalry.”
The sounds of a scuffle grew louder and then fainter, and then there were footsteps. The door was bashed in and creaked open, and the faces of mum and Patrick greeted us.
Suddenly, everything was going to be all right in my head.
I ran into mum’s arms and heard Rem do the same for Patrick. Mum clutched me to her chest so tightly I could barely breathe, but I didn’t care. I hugged back just as tight.
“Come on, kids,” said Patrick, “Let’s go home, okay? The police will be here soon.”
I rushed to hug Patrick as well, and Rem hugged mum, and then we turned to the door. The door had been broken and now meant freedom. We could leave, and Laketon wouldn’t hurt…
He was standing right there. He’d come in and seemed far too big and imposing while blocking our only escape route. His eyes were blazing with fury, and it seemed to just get worse when they fell on mum.
“You bitch! I knew you’d never leave me alone!”
Mum stepped in front of all of us, and I was reminded of documents about mother bears that protected their cubs. Normally mum was gentle and fussy, but now she was all rage.
“What? You took our children! And why? If this was revenge for me refusing to help you, then you’ve gone way too far!”
Half of my mind cheered for mum, the other half hoped with all its might that she wouldn’t tick off the furious and obviously unhinged guy standing between us and freedom. If Laketon hurt mum, or any of us, I…
There was a slap that sounded louder than anything I’d ever heard before in my life. Mum staggered back, disoriented from the strike to her face. I felt my blood freeze, and heard Rem and Patrick shouting somewhere in the background. I think my own voice had stopped working.
My dad had just hit my mum. And even though my “dad” had never been around, it still made everything much worse. It was still something no kid wanted to see.
And then it got worse. My shock had slowed time down in my head, but in the end, it happened way too fast. Mum fell against the ancient heating oven, sending burning coals on the floor. I heard Rem gasp and remembered the smell of gasoline and hoped it really did come just from the half-full tanks I’d seen.
The flames built up almost instantly. Their deafening crackle and roar filled the room almost as effectively as the slap. I saw the chair I’d spent the last who-knows-how-many hours on being consumed by fire, and I faintly heard Laketon cursing and stumbling back out of the door. Patrick yelled, and so did mum. The flames leaped all the way up into the ceiling and reached for the walls.
We backed against the door, but Patrick leaped forward. Mum shouted after him, but I knew she couldn’t and wouldn’t really stop him. Because while the way to the door and to safety was clear, the flames had barred one of us from it.
“Rem!” Patrick shouted, “Hold on, son!”
I saw Patrick cough when the burning air made him slow down. I saw Rem’s wide, panicked eyes among the flames. He was cornered, and I didn’t want to know what would happen if the flames ever reached the gasoline tanks. I saw it all in a strangely numbed way that probably meant my brain wasn’t working right because of the fear I was now drowning in, and I realised something that may have been partly because I’d been around my strangely clairvoyant brother:
Patrick was too slow and too big to reach Rem in time.
My feet were moving before my mind could catch up.
I flattened against the wall that was quickly heating up and took a deep breath I almost immediately had to cough back out. Rem was screaming at me to turn back, and Patrick tried to reach out to stop me. I was too quick and too determined to care. I crossed the wall of flame from a spot that was still remarkably not on fire, and hopped and jumped and crouched to get to my weird little stepbrother, who definitely shouldn’t be burnt to a crisp because of my stupid dad. I saw Rem’s wide eyes again, and he reached his hand towards me. I grabbed it and pulled, heading for the narrow path to safety that was getting narrower all the time.
“Phoenix,” Rem whispered hoarsely, and I was sure his mind had fried because of the panic. I hoped he’d be at least somewhat alright.
I really, really hoped we’d all be alright.
I pushed Rem in front of me and leaped through the gap in the flames.
I saw Patrick catching Rem and could almost smile, because we were going to be alright after all. I forced my legs to move even though I knew I was trembling so much I could barely stand. The air was so thick it was almost solid. Breathing it was like breathing in tar. But it would soon be over, and we’d all be together and safe.
I still kept thinking that when my hair caught on fire.
Someone yelled. Maybe it was me, maybe it was mum or Patrick or Rem. Maybe it was everyone. My shouts died when I started coughing. My throat burned, and then my arm burned as well. I screamed for sure, then, with soot-covered lungs, and felt my foot slipping. I was falling, and everything was burning.
And then… nothing.
Author’s Note: I wish I could say that no Sims were hurt in the making of this chapter, but I’d be lying. Pretty much everyone at the lot suffered burns and possible psychological trauma. But… uh… I didn’t save my game that time, so it doesn’t count?