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A Heart Of Iron


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Chapter 1

A sickly shaft of moonlight filtered in the barred window. It slid over the solid iron walls and floor before coming to rest on the seven bodies lying in a perfect ring on the unforgiving floor. Seven doorways marred the otherwise perfectly circular room. Suddenly, the bodies jerked as if someone had shocked them with an electrical charge. The body closest to the window, a thin boy with brown hair, was the first to revive. Slowly, he opened his eyes and sat up. He wore baggy jeans and a non-descript grey T-shirt. He had deep brown eyes and an angular face. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light he looked around in a state of confusion. Next to him a pudgy, blonde-haired boy gasped and rose to his feet.
“Who are you?” the first boy asked.
“Sage,” the blonde boy answered.
“And you?” Sage asked.
No idea, his mind shouted. “Jaxon,” Jaxon’s mouth responded. Jaxon looked down at himself as if surprised the voice had issued from his body. “How did we get here?” he asked shakily.
“I,I… I don’t know,” Sage stammered. “I can’t remember anything at all. It’s like I’ve never experienced anything.” Jaxon concentrated hard, searching for any memories of what could have happened to them. None came.
By now the five other teenagers had woken up as well and were listening intently to the conversation. “Does anyone else have any memories that could help us figure out why we’re here?” Jaxon asked weakly. The cell was deathly silent. A muscular teen with a military style buzz cut rose to his feet.
“What do you want with us?!” he growled at the ceiling. “What kind of game are you playing?” As if on cue a digital male voice issued from a speaker suspended in an iron box at the center of the room. “Welcome,” it said in a monotone voice. “All seven of you have been brought here today for a very special reason. We are most sincerely sorry for any inconveniences this may have caused you. Luckily, most of you will not have to worry about it for long. At the end of the next 24 hours all but one of you will be dead. Allow me to explain. The mansion you are being kept in is positioned on an uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. The mansion itself is made of solid iron. Believe me when say that there is no way out. Success is unlikely, rescue impossible. Your job: stay alive.” here the voice let out maniacal giggle. “And a word to the wise, run.” There was a sharp crackling noise and the digital voice was cut off sharply.

For a second there was only a stunned silence and then a horrible clang. The seven teens spun around to see that one of the passageways leading out of the room had swung shut, leaving only a solid iron wall in it’s place. They were just in time to see the passageway to the left of the closed exit close as well. The smallest boy was the first to recover and darted from the room through the third passageway before the others could so much as blink. It too closed behind him.
“RUN!” the burly teen yelled and charged towards the fifth door. The remaining teens stumbled towards the remaining doors frantically. While Jaxon and Sage sprinted towards the seventh door, a girl who could easily have passed for a super model followed a girl with blindingly white hair through the eighth door. Once through the doorway Jason looked back at the empty room. Or nearly empty. In the center of the room with only three passageways remaining, lay a scrawny looking boy gasping on the ground.
“Come on!” Jaxon yelled. The boy looked at him terrified. Clang, two passageways left. “Asthma,” the boy choked, “you go.” Jaxon hesitated and looked back at the boy. Clang, only one left.
“Go,” he choked out. The door slammed shut, blocking the boy from help forever. Jaxon turned to run. He only made it three steps before the screams began to sound from inside the sealed room.

Chapter 2
Jaxon and Sage raced down the pitch back passageway, away from the sealed room. The high pitched screaming echoed around the empty passageway, seeming to come from every side. The screaming continued for five minutes, getting more and more agonized towards the end. Cold silence filled its place.
Jaxon raced through the passageway, oblivious to Sage dropping further and further back behind him. After what seemed like an eternity, the passageway lead out into a spacious domed chamber. The floor was composed of perfectly matched iron tiles. At the edge of the passageway Jaxon froze and stood stock still. When Sage finally arrived wheezing beside him he made no noticeable response.
After a few moments of silence Jaxon stood and and looked around the room. Besides the way from which they had just come, there were only two exits; one on the far side of the room and one directly to their left that lead vaguely in the direction of the sealed room. “Where to? Sage asked.
“That way I guess,” Jaxon said pointing in the direction of the exit on the far side of the room. Just then, the smallest boy who had been the first to exit the now sealed room burst through the doorway to their left. “They’re coming!” he yelled, and raced into the iron cavern. He never had the chance to explain what was chasing him. As soon as his feet touched the paneled floor, four of the malevolent iron tiles dropped out from beneath his feet. He fell screaming into the black pit. There was a hard thump as he hit the floor of the abyss and a loud hissing noise. Jaxon and Sage ran to the side of the hole just in time to see him smothered in a writhing mass of venomous snakes at the bottom.
“This entire room is probably covered in traps!” Sage gulped. “Do we try our luck at the traps or risk whatever is coming through that door?”
“The traps.” Jaxon said in a voice that was far too calm for the situation. “Even if we do survive whatever comes through that door, they’ll always send another. No, the traps are our only way out. Take a close look around the room, do you see any visible traps?”
“No.”
“Then the only answer is that they are hidden under the tiles. Probably pressure activated.” Jaxon took off one of his ratty sneakers and threw it one tile in front of him. Immediately, a spike shot up from the tile and ripped through the sneaker. Calmly as if nothing had happened, Jaxon pried his now mutilated sneaker from the spike. Sage looked his friend in the face. He looked entirely impassive, his face devoid of all emotion. “Jaxon,” Sage said gently, “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine!” Jaxon snapped. A flicker of irritation swept across his face only to be replaced with an eerie calmness. “We should keep moving.” With that he threw his sneaker onto the tile left of the spike. Nothing happened. Jaxon stepped onto the tile and retrieved the sneaker. Sage gave one last glance at the pit of snakes and followed. They lost their first sneaker on the fifth row. A thin jet of fire melted through the tile and burned the sneaker to a crisp. Their second and third sneakers they lost on the eighth row, one to a metal cage that closed around it and the other to a second pit, this one lined with sharp blades and spikes. Finally they were down to Sage’s last shoe with three rows of tiles to go. By this point, only one noticeable pattern had arisen in the placement of the traps. No three tiled-concealed traps would be placed side by side, a kind of failsafe almost.
“We could use our socks and shirts if the shoe doesn’t make it,” Sage said, not sounding too enthusiastic about the idea. Jaxon looked blankly at him.
“Not necessarily,” he said slowly. “I’m not sure that they will weigh enough to trigger the pressure panels. Let’s hope we don’t have to try it.” Carefully, Jaxon placed a shoe on the tile directly in front of him. Nothing happened. Safe. Two rows to go. Again, Jaxon put the shoe down. For a second it was dead silent, then the tile exploded, blasting the unfortunate shoe to pieces.
“Now what?” Sage asked.
“The last row won’t be a problem,” Jaxon mused. “We can jump over it to the other side from the second row. The second row itself… that could be a problem. Hand me your shirt.” Jaxon and Sage took off their shirts and placed them carefully on the tile to the right of the the previously exploded one. Nothing happened. They tried it again on the tile to the right of left. Again, nothing happened. They looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. One of those should have been a trap.
“I’ll test it,” Jaxon said.
“Nice try man,” Sage said and gingerly put one foot onto the right hand tile. There was a loud popping noise and a column of golden smoke rose from the tile, surrounding Sage’s leg. Sage’s face twisted in agony as he let out a strangled scream. Jaxon caught him right before he hit the tiled floor. “Some kind of poison gas,” Sage choked and passed out. Jaxon rolled up the unconscious boy’s jeans to get a better look at his leg. It was hideously swollen and covered in vivid red sores. Jaxon glanced at Sage’s face. He wasn’t going to make it out, not with his leg like that. Carrying Sage would probably get him killed as well. It would be so easy to just walk away, and leave Sage behind. Only one of them could survive anyway, best to let him die now. Why was he even having second thoughts about this? The answer should be obvious, his survival was everything. With one last look, Jaxon turned and exited the chamber. Alone.

Chapter 3

Jaxon followed the winding black passageway to well, he had no idea. Like everything else in the mansion, the passageway was completely empty and deathly silent. But Jaxon’s thoughts were so loud and many that he hardly noticed his surroundings. He had obviously made the right choice in abandoning Sage so why did he feel so miserable? He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hardly even noticed when the passageway led out into another iron chamber, almost identical to the one he had woken up in several hours earlier. The supermodel girl from the first room was curled up in a miserable ball in the center of the floor, sobbing hysterically.
“Um,” Jaxon said awkwardly. Supermodel Girl spun around to face him with a scream.
“Oh, sorry, it’s just you.” she said blushing.
“So you’re still alive.” Her heavily applied mascara was streaming down her face and onto her designer clothes.
“Barely,” he laughed scornfully. “So what’s happened to you this whole time?
“Well, after Layla and I ran from that chamber-”
“Layla?”
“Yeah, she’s the other girl. The one with the white hair and silver eyes you know? Anyways, we ran down this dark passageway to a big metal chamber with these wire-thingies crisscrossing the room. And…and,” she broke off crying. “Layla just touched one and it broke. Then this rock hammer swung out of nowhere and hit her on the head. She was kind of dazed but she didn’t pass out or anything so we kept going. We hit three more booby traps but didn’t get hurt. The traps just kept missing us. From there we went through another passageway and came out here. Layla volunteered to scout out the next room to look for an exit and left me here to rest. And then well, you showed up.” She paused for breath. “What happened to you though?”
Jaxon told her his story but edited out his part in leaving Sage behind, saying that “he didn’t make it out.” After Jaxon told his story there was a moment of awkward silence in which they both turned to stare out the window.
“Come to think of it,” Jaxon said, “This is only the second window I’ve seen in the entire mansion.” he gave a sharp gasp. “How long do you suppose we’ve been in here for?”
“Six, seven hours?” came the reply.

“Looking at the position of the moon through the window when we first woke up, I remember thinking that it must have been just after midnight. If it has really been six or seven hours since then, the sun should have risen by now. Even if it had been only four or five hours since we woke up, the moon shouldn’t be in the exact same position as it was then.”

The girl’s eyes widened in understanding. “You’re right!” she gasped. “So what are we looking at right now?”

“Probably some kind of highly complex scientific screen. But there’s another thing. If there are no windows, how can we see in an “solid iron” mansion? Without some light source it should be pitch black in here. Again, some scientific invention probably.”
Just then there was noise behind them and they spun around to see Layla race into the chamber. The moonlight gently illuminated her already stark white hair.

“I found it!” she shouted in a high, sing song voice. “I found a way out!”

“Where??!!” Jaxon half yelped in surprise
“At the end of another one of those ghastly rooms. No time to explain. Follow me.”
The two of them followed Layla through yet another passageway, the shortest Jaxon had ever been in. They emerged onto a small platform hung over a colossal void. Jaxon peered over the edge. He couldn’t see the bottom.
“So where’s the exit?” Supermodel Girl asked shakily. Layla turned and pointed straight ahead. Stretching over the chasm lay a slender bridge stretching the length of a football field. The bridge was no more than four feet wide in diameter.
“Don’t worry about it,” Layla said almost gleefully. There are only a few spots to watch out for.
“Come on!” With that she started off walking across the bridge. Jaxon followed with Supermodel girl bringing up the rear. Ten feet in they met their first obstacle, a pool of black sludge that frothed and bobbled. They passed that easily after they found several rocks that jutted out from the black froth that they could use to step on. In fact, every trap they encountered on the bridge had some sort of loophole that allowed the trap to be bypassed. The swinging blades they encountered next wouldn’t harm them if they slowly crawled on their bellies under them. The hidden pressure panels could be recognized by their slight discoloration. It was as if the entire thing was a test. A deadly game to see who could survive the longest.

Finally, at the end of the bridge they reached their last obstacle. A small portion of the bridge had been cut away, leaving a fifteen foot gap between them and the exit.The gap was spanned by two ropes stacked on top of each other, the uppermost one several feet above the other.

Super Model girl screamed and started to hyperventilate. “No, no!” she said between gasps. “I-can’t-climb-that. I-just-can’t.” She collapsed on the bridge in hysterics. Layla ran over to her friend and tried to calm her.

“Shhh, it’s OK. You’ll be fine. All you have to do is straddle the bottom rope and pull yourself along with the top rope. Here, I’ll show you.” She started towards the bridge but just as quickly stopped. “Unless you want to go first.” she said with an eerie smile. “I can bring up the rear.”

“Sure,” Jaxon said slightly hesitantly. Layla smiled even wider.

“Perfect! You can be our groundbreaker.” Jaxon cringed at her choice of words. Not a pleasant image. Not wanting to appear cowardly, Jaxon walked to the lower rope and sat down. He grasped the top rope and started inching himself slowly along. He nearly fell at first but soon got the hang of it. After a few agonizing minutes, Jaxon found himself at the end of the rope. He bellyflopped onto the end of the bridge with a sigh of relief.

“I’m over,” he called back to the other side.

“We’re coming,” Layla responded as she pulled Supermodel Girl to her feet. She turned and grinned maniacally at Jaxon before pushing the other girl over the edge. The girl fell screaming into the darkness.

“NO!” Jaxon shouted helplessly. “Wha-Why???” he sputtered.

Layla stood on the far side laughing dementedly. “Don’t you see?” she cackled. “She’s dead, I’m dead, we’re all dead. We’re all pawns in that silly game of theirs. Survive they say. I’m not going to give her the chance to obey their rules.”

Suddenly, it hit him. The traps. She was hit by a rock. “You’re crazy!” he shouted at her.

“The truth dawns,” she giggled.

“I’ll kill you!” he growled.

“Don’t worry about that. You won’t have to.” And with that she stepped off the edge of the bridge and fell into the chasm.

Chapter 4

Jaxon turned and ran. Away from the shock, away from the pain, away from the betrayal. He raced through another gaping passageway, plowing through the blackness. Layla’s demented laughter rang in his ears. “We’re all dead” she had said. The words held a hollow ring of truth. Then an electrical shock ran through his body and he collapsed into unconsciousness.





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When he woke again, he was sitting in an iron chair that appeared to be bolted into the ground. His arms and legs were secured brutally to the chair by four metal clamps. Again, he found that he was in another of the iron chambers, but this one was different. Unlike with every other chamber, this one had no passageways leading out of it, no exits. Instead, at the far end of the chamber was a long discolored line mottling the floor. Beyond the line were four iron columns, each supporting a mirrored box. Somewhere off to Jaxon’s left a groan split the silence. Jaxon craned his neck to see the occupant of a chair identical to his own, wake up. It was the muscular teen, the only one besides himself to still be alive. His combat boots were blackened and scorched and his army jacket was shredded in places but he physically he looked unharmed.

A hidden speaker crackled to life somewhere in the room and the familiar robotic voice issued from it. “Congratulations!” it said. “You two are the last survivors of today’s events.Unfortunately for one of you, there can only be one survivor. You know what that means. It is up to you to choose who that survivor will be. A duel of sorts. Any items you might need to aid you in your choice can be found in the iron boxes in front of you.” Right on cue, the boxes opened to reveal their occupants. The first contained a knife, the second, a pistol, the third a rope, and the fourth a metal pipe. “You may begin in ten seconds. Nine seconds, eight seconds, seven…” the voice droned. Jaxon froze in shock. They were being ordered to kill each other? To become a part of this evil game? “Three seconds, two seconds, one second.” the voice continued. “You may begin.”
A loud crack split the air as the clamps on the chairs snapped open. The boys leaped to their feet and raced towards the columns. They were both heading to the obvious destination, the column supporting the pistol. Within seconds they reached it and grabbed for the pistol at the exact same time, Jaxon holding the barrel and the other boy grasping the grip. The other teen looked down, shocked to find that Jaxon was pressing the barrel of the gun into his own chest.
“Do it,” Jaxon panted. “Pull the trigger. I can never be happy Not after this. You,” he laughed. “you might have a shot.”
The other boy looked down at him with a look of sheer shock and stumbled backwards, right onto the discolored line. There was a flash of light and a smell like burned tin and the muscular teen crashed lifeless to the floor. The last trap had done it’s work.
Jaxon looked at the gun still in his hand. I won, he thought in amazement. Won what? He thought grimmancing. A game. Their game. Doing what they want. Not anymore.
With that last thought he raised the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.





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Several miles above the mansion, a unidentified aircraft hovered in place. Inside, a heavyset man in a lab coat intently watched a high definition tv screen. On screen, a thin boy with brown hair lay crumpled next to an iron column. The man pulled out a sleek black phone and dialed a number.

“This is the main operative observing center calling,” the man said into the phone. “Observation test number thirty-six complete. Longest two surviving test subjects, Jupiter and Mars. Will send the recap feed as picked up by hidden cameras immediately. Unfortunately, there was one glitch. There were no survivors. The longest surviving test subject committed suicide before we could collect him for examination.

“Yours is not a position I would care to be in right now,” came a gravelly voice from the other end of the line. “Mistakes can be… how shall I say it. Deadly. We will need to run the test completely over again. This was supposed to be the last one. You know how the Boss feels about delays.”
At the other end of the line the man let out an involuntary shiver. “And the bodies?” he said slightly shakily.

“You know the drill. Put them with the others.”

Epilogue

One day earlier the same brown haired boy was sitting under the shade of a large oak tree in a shabby looking park. He opened his hand and glanced at the note the stranger had given him. Next to it was nestled a slightly crumpled one hundred dollar bill. He unfolded the note and read it.

Want more of these? Meet me at the park at 12 P.M. tonight. You know the one. This is a one time offer. Mess up and we’ll assume you’re not interested. Dispose of this note immediately.

The boy crumpled the note up and ground it into the dirt at his feet before standing to leave. He would be back tonight.




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