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The Days Are Blood
Every since I was a young child, I’ve always possessed a deep passion and enjoyment for reading. My very earliest memories of enjoying the bliss that is reading came at a time before I was even in elementary school. My mother, a kindergarten teacher at the time, would read stories and poems to me every night before and while I fell asleep. I can still, even after all of these years, vividly remember looking forward to this time each and every night. Eventually, she began reading me more complex and advanced stories, such as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Stuart Little, by E. B. White. I credit these early experiences with reading as having a large contribution to developing my active imagination; which turned out to be one of my best assets. I cannot thank my mother enough for this.
Middle School and High School were not exactly the greatest experiences for me to say the least. I suffered from boredom, depression, anxiety, and frustrations brought on by schoolwork, social problems, and other annoyances teenagers face while coming of age. It was during this time, though, that I first realized my talent for writing. A lot of my teachers had told me that they believed I possessed a talent for writing, but it wasn’t until the eighth grade that I began to believe it myself.
In an enrichment class designed for students excelling in literature studies and writing, I wrote a humorous short story I titled The Ray Thomas Incident about a kid who drank gasoline and has hallucinated about being abducted by aliens. I didn’t put too much effort into it, honestly, and after I turned it in I quickly forgot about it. My teacher, Mrs. Lester, liked it very much and she decided to send it along with some other students’ stories to the Scholastic Arts and Writing Competition. Sure enough, I won the Silver Key Award and ended up going to Carnegie Hall in New York City, New York, to receive it. I was very enthralled to win the award, but winning it made me feel empty. I felt empty because I hadn’t put much effort at all into my story, and it had gone on to win in a national writing competition. It still haunts me to this day wondering if I could have won the Gold Key award if I had just worked harder. It was at this point that I decided I could have a career in writing if I only worked hard enough to achieve it.
So here I am, five years later, writing the preface to my first novel. During my time in high school, I was able to come up with a plethora of new useful ideas I planned to use for my future writing career. My original idea started out with just a U.S. soldier trapped in a warehouse forced to complete tasks to get to his wife and daughter. It eventually grew all the way to the complex story it is today, involving many unique characters and a much more complicated plot. The reader should note, that while there is a literal surface plot, I’ve also embedded many different ideas and abstractions to be aware of. Unlike my alien story from eighth grade, this time I promise I’ve put the hard work into this book. I’ve poured my heart and soul into it, and I hope you enjoy.
Victor awoke abruptly in a fit of coughing, with a searing pain in his head. He was completely unaware of anything in his surroundings. He found himself lying on a frigid, cold, cement floor, encompassed entirely by darkness. All around him, everything was completely silent. Still in a daze, he sat up, perplexed. As the drowsiness brought on by him being in his comatose state gradually began to fade away, his awareness started to return back to normal. What in the hell is going on? I have no idea where I am, he thought, baffled. Then it occurred to him that he must be in his hotel suite. A feeling of relief came over him briefly, but it only lasted for few seconds. He was not in his hotel suite at all; he was in fact very far away from it. All of a sudden, he was over taken with an alarming feeling of dread. The memory of exactly what had happened to him had flooded over him, suddenly bringing back all of his thoughts right up until it happened.
Victor could see it clearly now in his head. Completely sober, he had chosen to leave early from a cocktail party. He had left to go back to his hotel suite in order to work on the new book he was writing. It was five blocks away in Los Angeles, California. It had been very, very early in the morning, and he was foolishly traveling all alone by himself; not even with his entourage. Venturing down what at first glance had seemed to be a vacant alley in order to urinate, he had been cornered and assailed by a large group of men wearing all black suites and demon masks. The images of his attacker’s masks were now stuck in his head. They were some of the most hideous and horrifying masks he had ever seen, and being a successful famous horror fiction writer himself, it took a great lot to scare him. For, he had scared himself so badly while writing his first novel that he had checked himself into therapy.
Victor stood up; the beginnings of words began to form in his throat. He ended up choking on them as he tried to allow them to come out. He found that he was too frightened to even cry out for help. His pants were wet, sticky, and wreaked of fowl, drying urine. He had had to urinate so badly before he was attacked that he must have urinated himself during the attack. It was very disgusting, but it was also the last worry that he had on his mind. He was much more concerned with the situation at hand. It was then that he decided that crying out for help was not a wise idea yet. He wanted to assess the situation the best he could for himself before deciding on taking any course of action. His left hand unconsciously reached into his left pocket in order to search for a cigarette. His not finding one signaled to his conscious awareness to make him check the rest of his pockets. A quick search turned up nothing of any use at all.
Upon waking, at first he had heard only silence, but as he concentrated harder and harder, he thought he could hear the very faint sound of breathing coming from somewhere very close to his immediate position. He decided it was in his best interest to investigate what it was. Cautiously, he wandered forward through the darkness, his hands outstretched in front of him, towards the sound of the breathing. As he got closer, the sound of the breathing was becoming clearer and clearer. He was positive now. There was differently someone, or some thing, breathing within very close proximity to where he was. In fact, he now believed that he could hear the breathing of multiple different individuals.
He crouched down beside the one nearest his position and cautiously reached out to feel it. It was a man; Victor was touching his stomach. He gently tapped him in order to attempt to wake him up.
“What? Who’s there? Where am I?” shouted the man, immediately getting up to his feet, throwing his firsts and elbows rapidly and blindly through the air. Two blows connected with Victor, hitting him in the chest and nose. Before he had time to react, he was tackled down to the ground.
“You bastard! What the f*** do you think you’re doing to me!” shouted the man. Victor reacted quickly. He was a student of the martial art discipline known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A Judo practitioner named Carlos Gracie developed the art form in order to prove that a smaller, weaker, person could still over come a bigger, stronger, attacker by using leverage and techniques such as joint manipulations and choke holds that didn’t require strength to apply. As the man tackled Victor to the ground, Victor had instinctively wrapped his legs around his attacker to prevent against him mounting on top and raining strikes down onto him. Even though he could not see him, having performed an abounding amount of repitiations during his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes, Victor could feel his attackers position without needing to see him. The man was going so berserk he wouldn’t listen as Victor tried to tell him he didn’t know how they had ended up where they were.
Victor squeezed his legs around him hard and pushed him back. This broke down the man’s posture, ultimately taking him out of position for landing punches. As he tried to punch anyway, Victor captured his arms within his own arms. He lifted his hips to shift the attacker forward and throw him off balance enough to use leverage to roll him over. Victor was now on top of the man, his knees squeezed to his sides hard with his legs locked behind the man’s body, preventing himself from being thrown off.
“You need to calm down, I’m not trying to hurt you,” said Victor, attempting to calm him down.
“Jacob, is that you?” yelled a third voice in the background.
“All right get off me then, will you,” said the man to Victor, obviously embarrassed by his actions as well as getting humbled physically.
“No, I don’t know you’re brother. I’m Victor, Victor Tandberg, you’ve probably heard of me. But anyway I just woke up here a few minutes ago myself, I have absolutely no idea how I got here,” said Victor.
“I’m Benjamin, First Lieutenant Benjamin Arnold Johnson, but you can just call me First Lieutenant Ben. I just got back to the states a week ago from a tour in Iraq. The last thing I remember, I was leaving my house when men with guns surrounded my car at a stop sign. I got out with my hands up and told them to just take it, when they attacked me. They must have knocked me out and taken me here. The bastards,” said the man. They shook hands in the dark. Although they could not see each other, they could both unconsciously feel where the other’s position was.
“Wow, well it makes me feel a little better knowing that an Iraqi war veteran was brought here too. Who else is down here?” asked Victor, addressing the third person. The voice had resembled that of a younger child’s.
“I need to find my brother, Jacob. I don’t know anyone who’s down here, ” replied the voice. It was the voice of a little girl, it sounded like she was already in tears and on the verge of going into hysteria. Victor and First Lieutenant Ben rushed over to where her voice was coming from immediately.
“Little girl, we’re here to help you. I promise we’re not going to hurt you.” Victor stuck his hand out in order to reach for her approximate position in the dark.
“Get away from me! I don’t even know you, I want my brother!” she screamed. At this point she was sobbing even harder that she had been before. She began running away into the darkness in an attempt to get away from Victor and First Lieutenant Ben. A sickening thud was suddenly heard loudly as she unexpectedly collided straight into the wall. She hollered out into the air, in antagonizing pain.
“Help me please, I just hurt my arm,” she cried out. Victor and First Lieutenant Ben approached her cautiously.
“I promise we’re not going to hurt you. You can call me Victor. How badly are you hurt?”
“It’s my, my, my, arm,” she finally gasped out, clearly in an enormous amount of pain. “I had them right in front of my face and I ran into the wall!”
“You can call me Ben, I know a lot about first aide,” said First Lieutenant Ben. She began to try to stand up from off of the ground. “You need to sit back down and calm down. If you hit your head, you may have a concussion,” said First Lieutenant Ben.
“It’s just my arm,” she said, gasping and wailing in pain.
“Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Victor. First Lieutenant Ben made her sit back down and began to thoroughly examine her to the best of his abilities under the extreme circumstances.
“She definitely has a fracture; I believe she fractured her ulna. I know a lot of people who have done that. It must hurt like a b****,” he said. First Lieutenant Ben generously used his jacket to help make a sling for her. He told her that she would need treatment for it eventually, but that the sling would keep it out of the way for the time being. “Stay tough little girl, I know it hurts but you need to hang in their and not give up.”
“All right, I’ll try my best,” said the young girl.
“I know you’re in a lot of pain, but can you recall the last thing you remember happening?” asked Victor. After a long pause, she finally answered.
“I don’t know, exactly, we were just in the subway station,” replied the young girl, still in tears.
“So you were in the subway station, is there anything else that you can remember?” asked Victor.
“I…just…don’t…remember,” she said in between tears, “but I was with my brother,” said the girl.
“Who is your brother?” asked Victor.
“His name’s Jacob, I just want to find him,” she said, “I don’t know what to do!”
“It’s going to all be okay, we’ll start to figure everything out soon,” said Victor, making a feeble attempt at offering her a sense of reassurance.
“F***! Nothing is going to be okay!” yelled First Lieutenant Ben loudly as he stomped both feet on the ground in succession out of frustration. “We’re trapped in some sort of a pitch black, freezing cold, good for nothing holding room. We’ve been kidnapped by a bunch of dick wads wearing fucking Halloween costumes. You’re going to have to explain to me just how the f*** everything is going to be okay, because from we’re I’m sitting right now, nothing looks like it’s going to be okay at all,” said First Lieutenant Ben.
“You really need to calm down, seriously, you’re scaring her. You’re only going to screw us more if you don’t shut the hell up,” snapped Victor back at him.
“I’m only thinking rationally here, don’t tell her everything is fine when it’s clearly not fine,” snapped First Lieutenant Ben back at him.
“Okay, I was just trying to give her some hope,” replied Victor, not wanting to get into an argument.
“Wait, you said your name’s Victor Tandberg, just like that author right?” asked First Lieutenant Ben
“Yeah, I actually am Victor Tandberg the author,” said Victor.
“Really?” asked First Lieutenant Ben.
“Yeah, I’m the real Victor Tandberg. I was actually spending some time in Los Angeles to get some inspiration for my next novel when they got me,” replied Victor.
“No s***. Well, I guess I don’t really see any reason why you would make that up, so I believe you. When I was serving overseas, I knew a ton of people who devoured your books like they were starving children taken to a Chinese buffet. I never read much myself, but I’ve heard a lot of great things about them. Look, I’m real sorry for my outburst, but we really do need to come up with a plan or something promptly. I’m a First Lieutenant in the United States Army, as soon as I get another shot at one of those fuckers that brought me here I’m going to tear them apart,” said First Lieutenant Ben.
“I like you’re attitude. So what we do know is that we were all kidnapped and brought here. We have no idea why or by whom yet. We just need to stay calm and come up with a plan. What are you thinking, Lieutenant,” said Victor.
“Well first, let’s account for everyone else that’s down here. Then we’ll need to figure out what the perimeter of this room is like. We may find a door, or another way of breaching out,” replied First Lieutenant Ben.
“Okay, that sounds like a good idea,” said Victor. “Hey buddy,” said Victor to the younger girl, “what is your name?”
“My name is Tara, I’m only eight. Some really bad, bad people took me and my brother here,” she said. She didn’t seem to understand fully what was going on, but she insinuated that she wanted to help.
“Okay, Tara. All I want you to do is just sit there and stay calm for now. We’re going to take care of you until we’re safe. People will be looking for us soon,” said Victor, trying again to provide her with a since of hope. The thought had crossed his mind that not many people actually would be looking for him. It had been over four years since he had written his last novel, he still hadn’t even started his fourth one yet. All three of his novels had been number one best selling books, and a movie adaptation of one of them had been in production, but was currently stalled because two different movie companies were fighting over the rights to it. This in it self had been stressful for Victor, let alone the hell he suffered through after working on his last book. Victor honestly couldn’t remember much about writing his last novel, for he was addicted to several powerful drugs all throughout the process of working on it. After suffering a mental breakdown, his fiancé at the time, Natasha, had threatened to leave him if he didn’t check himself into a good rehabilitation program. He had gone through a copious amount of trouble keeping the whole ordeal hidden from the public eye.
Going out to Los Angeles had been a strictly personal decision for him. Rehabilitation had been a complete success, even though it was undoubtedly the hardest thing he had ever had to go through. While he had drastically improved his health, his new sober lifestyle change came at a large cost. For, it seemed to Victor that after completing his rehabilitation program, he had lost his ability to write without being under the influence of some kind of mind altering substance after having relied on them for a very long time to get him the through all of the long, tedious, sessions of writing and editing necessary for creating a masterpiece. Frustrated, he had left to go back to Los Angeles, the city in which he had lived before he got started in steadfast substance abuse. He had been hoping to use some time with just himself in order to figure everything out, that being the reason why he now found himself unable to tap into the creative parts of his brain. Ex-substance addict or not though, he did have a contract to finish a 50,000 word novel by the end of the year, and he hadn’t even gotten started with it yet. Before he could, he believed that he needed to find a new way to get his writing done besides turning back to his old habit of drug abuse. He had instructed everyone, including his agents, to make no attempts to contact him for at least an entire week, so nobody would be looking for him for at least a week.
It started out as the sound of breathing, and then it turned into a series of sniffles. It came from someone on the ground still that was still unaccounted for by the group.
“Hey, Victor, I found another one over here. It seems that it must be her brother, I’m having a lot of trouble waking him up,” said First Lieutenant Ben. Tara immediately sprinted over to the area where First Lieutenant Ben’s voice was coming from. Victor ran over as well. Ben stuck out his hand, shaking Victor’s hand in order to signal where he was. First Lieutenant Ben was lying over the boy, attempting to rouse him from his unconscious state.
“That’s Jacob!” exclaimed Tara.
“Jacob, can you hear me, your sister is here,” said First Lieutenant Ben, getting right down beside his ear.
“Jacob wake up! Please, Jacob, please!” she yelled, shaking his unconscious body. He responded with a few grunts, and began to sit up. “Jacob, are you awake?” Tara asked him, starting to get excited.
“Yeah, did the subway go by yet?” he responded.
“No Jacob, we’re not in the station anymore, I’m really scared, and I have a broken arm now” exclaimed Tara. Jacob suddenly rolled over and began convulsing before vomiting violently all over the floor. Victor patted him on the back, trying to help him feel better.
“Oh my God,” said First Lieutenant Ben.
“Take it easy, buddy, just get it all out. My name is Victor, Victor Tandberg. We all just woke up here together; we have no idea how we got here.”
“Where are we?” said Jacob.
“We don’t know,” answered his sister.
“Lieutenant, go around and find anyone else who’s down here while I help the boy out,” instructed Victor to First Lieutenant Ben. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness, so he could see the boy sitting up, vomit covering the front of his shirt. The smell was putrid; the kind of smell that could potentially make you disgorge yourself.
“Jacob, are you okay,” asked Tara.
“Yeah, I think so, what’s going on?”
“I don’t really know what the easy way to say this would be, but we’ve all been kidnapped and brought here for some reason we are yet to figure out. I know it’s all very scary to think about, but we have a plan to get us out of here. The other man down here is in the military,” said Victor, trying to provide the young boy with some hope just as he had done with his sister.
“It was the men in the masks!” shouted Jacob, suddenly. “They’re the ones who did this to us!”
“Wait, the guys that got me had masks too,” said Victor. “Did they look like demon masks?” asked Victor, getting excited.
“Yeah, they were red, with these awful contusions all over them, with horns I think,” Jacob replied.
“Yeah, that’s what I saw too,” replied Victor, “what were you doing when it happened?” Jacob tried to recall what exactly he and his sister had been doing, but found himself unable to. His sister was still unable to remember as well. Victor could hear First Lieutenant Ben talking to someone else now. It sounded like a woman.
“Lieutenant, is there someone else over there?” Victor asked.
“Yeah, one more. She says her name is Khalilah. She’s the last of them,” answered First Lieutenant Ben. Victor made his way over towards First Lieutenant Ben and Khalilah, followed by Jacob, and Tara. Jacob was trying to help her with her sling. After they helped her get through the initial shock of waking up, Khalilah seemed to be fully functional but a little bit dazed still. It turned out that she was an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles. She had been leaving the elementary school where she worked after staying late like she usually did to finish correcting her student’s papers before she left and got into her car just like she would on any other day. Little did she know at the time, that two men wearing the demon masks had climbed into the far back seat, undetected by her. As she pulled into her driveway, and got out of her car, she was attacked and kidnapped while trying to get into her house.
Completely unexpectedly, the room became flooded with an illuminating light. The onset of the light was temporarily blinding. They were in a fairly large room, with a cement floor. The walls were painted in all white. There was a door with no handle on it, unable to be opened from the inside. The ceiling had an array of pipes on it. A loud voice began to speak, coming from speakers.
“Welcome everyone, my name is Vincent, I will be your guide for your first challenge,” said the voice.
“Who the hell are you, and what do you want from us,” screamed Ben.
“Like I said, my name is Vincent. I bet you’re wondering why you’re here.”
“You’re damn right,” said Victor back.
“Mr. Victor Tandberg, you have been brought here for a reason. All of you have. Your actions today will decide if all of you make it out of here alive or not,” said Vincent. Everyone in the group started talking at once, all demanding answers from the speaker who called himself Vincent. “Silence! Not one more word out of any of you unless you want your life taken right now. You’re lucky I’m merciful enough to spare you. Everyone remain silent until I am done explaining what will be taken place. You have all been brought to a place known as Blood Hall. Here, you will be pushed to your limits physically, but more so mentally. Right now you are in the basement. Blood hall has five floors. You will be working from the bottom up. On each floor, you all will face a challenge so immense, that the average person would consider it impossible. But you all are far from average; we’ve made sure of that.
If anyone fails a challenge on any floor, the punishment is imminent peril. I am about to release you from this holding room into the first room of the basement. In this room, you will find the floor resembles a chess or checkers board, except with twice the spaces. There will be hundreds of objects scattered randomly throughout the room. There will be a scoreboard on the wall. Your goal is to get the score up to three hundred in one hour. I will be watching you on the cameras the whole time. Begin,” said Victor. Nothing but static could be heard over the speakers for a moment before the door swung opened, leading them into the next room.
“What the f***! What the f***! This is bullshit, come down here and talk to me yourself,” yelled Ben, up at the speakers.
“Oh my goodness, I cannot believe this,” gasped Khalilah.
“Well we can’t just sit here and cry about it, we have to figure out we need to do, let’s go.” Victor led the way into the next room, the distraught Ben, Khalilah, Jacob, and Tara followed closely behind him.
The next room was about the size of a basketball court with a large checkerboard pattern on the floor. Around the room were hundreds of completely random objects just like Vincent had said. Just from taking a glance around, Victor could see basketballs, soccer balls, volley balls, a bible, a stroller, a couch, chairs, a baseball bat, a large wooden cross, a stool, a large sketch book, an empty bottle of Vodka, an old-fashioned television set, an apron, picture frames, nails, thumbtacks, empty pill bottles, a guitar, footballs, and a bookshelf, amongst many other things. A scoreboard hung on the wall, with a timer on it counting down from sixty minutes. “What do you make of this, Victor,” asked Ben. “Honestly, this is incredibly overwhelming, we just need to try thinks until they worked,” said Victor. Khalilah then spoke up, taking some of the pressure off of Victor to come up with the solution on his own. “Okay, so we have to just figure out how to score points. Maybe we’re supposed to just play checkers with the different objects,” suggested Khalilah. Tara picked up a basketball, and bounced it on a black square. Less than thirty seconds after it hit the square two points went up on the scoreboard. “Hey, look at that!” she yelled excitedly. “We just got some points, everyone, grab more balls and try bouncing them!” instructed Victor. So while the clock ticked downward, everyone in the group frantically gathered up basketballs and began trying to bounce them on the black squares. After wasting a whole minute of trying, the scoreboard remained the same; ticking downwards with only two points on it. “Hey, everyone stop a second so we can hear each other. Where was the square that rang up the point?” asked Ben to Tara. Just then as if on cue, fifteen points went up onto the scoreboard. “What, I don’t believe this,” remarked Khalilah, “perhaps we just got points from hitting the black squares but they were delayed at going up.” “No, I don’t think so,” said Ben. “There has to be some sort of pattern. It either had to do with the basketballs, the black squares, that specific black square, or something else.” He went over to the square that set off the points, and stood on it. At the same time, Khalilah picked up a pillow, scoring ten points up on the board. “Did you see that!” she yelled excitedly. So they now had a basketball dropping on a black square, basketballs being bounced by everyone and then stopped, and a pillow to add into figuring out the pattern. “Hey, did you just move that pillow onto a white square off of a black one? I think I got it! The code is to take something from a white square, put it on a black, then take a new, different item, put it down on another black square then move it to a white. That’s how we’re going to rack up the points,” suggested Ben. “But that doesn’t explain how,” and another four points went up in the middle of her sentence, “how we got that fifteen.” “Or maybe what happened was once we stopped trying, the points went up. I think I know what we have to do! We have to all bounce a different object off of every square, then stop all at once,” suggested Jacob. “We only have fifty five minutes to get the rest of the points! I say we just all start experimenting with different items, putting them randomly on squares, taking them randomly off squares, moving them around, trading them, everything, and let the points add up. We don’t have to figure out the pattern.” There’s five of us down here, if we all just keep trying new innovative things we’ll get it.” “That sounds like a great way to get us all killed, Tandberg, we need to try to figure out the pattern,” snapped Ben to Victor. No one but Khalilah noticed that three more points had gone up on the board. “No, no, what he said makes perfect sense,” said Jacob, “That guy, Vincent, said this was going to be impossible for the average person. The average person would most likely to figure out the pattern. What Victor is saying is that the pattern is most likely so complex that we won’t be able to get it. He thinks we should just keep trying random things and let the points add up without understanding how it’s happening.” Ben paused for a moment before speaking. “You know what, you’re one smart kid. And Victor, you’re one smart guy. I want Victor, Jacob, and Tara to spread out and start moving random things. I will try random things myself, but in relation to the pattern we already have. Me and Khalilah should work in this area while you guys roam around,” he said. Khalilah looked dismayed, as if she didn’t actually want to help with the pattern, but she went ahead with Ben anyway. Victor, Tara, and Jacob then proceeded to split up around the room. Within a few minutes, twelve more points total had gone up onto the scoreboard, going up in increments of fours. Victor had to admit he was impressed. Tara was able to put the pain of having a broken arm out of her mind in order to contribute to completing the task. At only eight years of age, Victor could tell she had already been through a lot in her life and possessed a level of mental toughness not known by many others her age. The same was true about Jacob. Being a writer, Victor was good at observing and reaching conclusions about people. He was usually very accurate at reading people. Whenever he met someone knew, in his head he began writing a character based off of them in his head. It wasn’t something that he tried to do, or even did consciously; it was just something he did naturally. It was a writer thing, he supposed. Jacob and Tara were trying different things, experimenting with objects such as a bottle, a chair, a gong, a record player, and a loaf of bred. At the same time, Victor himself was experimenting with the different objects scattered throughout the room, throwing, bouncing, moving, and pulling them around to different squares at completely random. They had just crossed the half hour mark on the timer counting downward with exactly one hundred and twelve points racked up. Unfortunately, they were not even halfway to their goal, and the time was running out. While the three of them worked relentlessly to try random ideas, First Lieutenant Ben and Khalilah worked just as relentlessly to try and solve the pattern. They were running into a lot of trouble with it. For, they were unable to find any one combination of items and moves that consistently put points up. Maybe Victor Tandberg is right, thought First Lieutenant Ben, maybe the pattern is way too complex for us too understand. Khalilah had taken mostly a role of observation, watching First Lieutenant Ben attempt different things, trying to find at least one combination that consistently put points up. During their attempts, many points had gone up onto the scoreboard; the problem was that they were unable to replicate those points with any one specific thing. Starting to get frantic under the stress, Khalilah began having a panic attack. “I just don’t know what to do, I just don’t know,” she said. There was a hint in her vocal tone that she was considering giving up, as if she just didn’t care and was content with accepting their impending doom. “Let’s go! Get back to work. I am not just going to give up and you aren’t either. Get back to work we can still do this. We just need to not give up,” First Lieutenant Ben preached to her. It wasn’t that Khalilah wanted to give up, it was just that not making any progress had her very discouraged. Victor had over heard the conversation from across the room, and came over to give her some uplifting advice. He believed that First Lieutenant Ben meant well, and wasn’t trying to place the blame on her, or be rude to her, it was just that he lacked a good sense of empathy. Victor was very empathetic. He was used to creating characters and placing them in bad situations that created a strong emotional response from the audience, so he was very talented at connecting emotionally with others. “Khalilah, we need your help. We absolutely cannot do this without your help. Please don’t give up, just keep trying,” he told her. “I’m fine, but thanks Victor,” she answered to him. Victor took it upon himself to keep the moral of the group in check. They had gotten up to one hundred and fifty seven points now, with twenty-five minutes remaining. They continued working diligently. The emotions in the room were running wild as the clock ran lower and lower. Only five minutes remained now with only two hundred and fifty points up on the scoreboard, everyone in the room had the same sense of urgency. First Lieutenant Ben’s heart was racing faster at this point than the drivers racing cars during the final lap of the Nascar Daytona Five Hundred, a race that takes place at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida. Having fought in the war in Iraq, he had looked death in the face many times and survived all of his encounters with it up until this point. While the stress brought on by trying to dynamically apply his intelligence to the situation at hand was very high, he was able to suppress it enough to think logically. First Lieutenant Ben’s time and experience with the United States Army had given him this ability. Khalilah was still working as well. Despite almost suffering a break down, she was now actually surprisingly calm. She had run out of good ideas a long time ago, though. She had worked exceptionally hard at trying to identify the correlations of everything that scored them points, but had been unable to come up with anything at all. Neither had First Lieutenant Ben. Victor observed her saying prayers to herself. While Victor observed the brother and sister still working hard as the time was running down without showing any signs of slowing down, he made a mental note of one thing. Death was not something they feared. They feared being separated, and what they did not know more than dying. Victor was curious to know what all they had lived through. Victor himself was suppressing strong feelings of dread in order to keep working. The last ten minutes had been spent in total and complete silence with everyone in the basement focused intently on scoring points. With now less than five minutes remaining, the rapid points that had been going up were not going up anymore. All of a sudden, First Lieutenant Ben broke the silence. “We’re not going to make it!” he shouted. He then got down on his knees and began to pray. Seeing the strong man that First Lieutenant Ben was break down brought discouragement to the whole group. “The only thing we can do now is pray,” said Jacob. He too got down and began to pray, his sister doing the same thing. Khalilah began praying out loud, speaking in a foreign language that Victor recognized to be Arabic. She must be of the Islamic faith, Victor thought to himself. Victor was not religious by any means, not even enough to pray during his possible last few minutes on the planet he called earth. He wasn’t really that worried. He believed he had figured out exactly what the solution to the scoreboard and timer was. If he was correct, then they had absolutely nothing to worry about. All of a sudden, three hundred points totaled up on the scoreboard, with only four point two seconds remaining. “Everyone look, we’re fine!” First Lieutenant Ben was the first of the group to look up. Relief swept over the whole group once they realized that somehow they had completed the challenge. Jacob wiped the tears out of his eyes and began to laugh. Tara began to relax as well. That’s when the lights went out. The voice of Vincent came back on over the intercom system. He was laughing wickedly. “Humans, you are about thirty seconds away from walking out of this room. In the next room you will be debriefed on everything that happened in here today. When the door opens, you will proceed into the next room in complete silence. My minions will guide you. You must remain silent and unreactive to them or their will be consequences.” As the door opened, the group’s sense of relief was suddenly gone. In rushed a large group of the men wearing demon masks and all black robes. When he saw them, he became paralyzed with fear. He called us humans, was he trying to imply that nothing else here is human? What if these demon men are not men in costumes, but real demons? Thought Victor to himself. The demon’s looked way more realistic than other demon costumes. The masks these demons were wearing had red faces, horns, and pointed ears. Without a warning, the demons swarmed the group. There were way too many of them to fight off. Victor looked over to find First Lieutenant Ben was being restrained on the floor in handcuffs. A demon kicked him in the ribs ruthlessly while he lay on the floor. The brother and sister were the next to join him on the floor, also restrained in handcuffs. Victor and Khalilah were the next two to find themselves in handcuffs. The demons then lined up. Each individual captive had one individual demon on all of his or her own left arms. Each individual captive also had a single demon on his or her own right arm. They were set up in a line. Extra demons made up the line at the front and also at the back as well. This made Victor feel as if he was an actual prisoner now. His hope of escaping and getting out was low at this point. They were led through the doors and out of the basement towards a set of stairs going up into another room. Too demons in blue masks guarded the door with large spears in hands. The group of captives was forced up the stairs and into the new room. Khalilah tried to ask a question and was struck across the mouth. “You will proceed in silence! That is your last warning!” yelled Vincent over the intercom system. In the next room, the five captives were forced to fill chairs facing a table. Without even knowing for sure, Victor automatically got the intuition that the man standing at the head of the room was Vincent himself. He was correct. Vincent was larger than all of the other demons they had seen so far. He wore a black suite with a red cape, and a white mask. Enormous white angelic wings also came out of his back. “Be seated everyone,” he commanded to them once they hold all filed in. “I see that you have all survived your first challenge, just like as was expected by me. Upon my observation of this group trying to complete the task of scoring three hundred points by the end of an hour, I became impressed with the actions of one individual. That would be the writer, Victor Tandberg. You see, everyone, there was no pattern at all. I watched the whole time and put points up randomly for you whenever I wanted to. No matter would you guys had done in there, I still would have put three hundred points up. Most people we’ve had perform this challenge attack it with the strategy of trying to figure out the pattern, and they ended up working so tirelessly on it that they became emotionally frustrated when they can’t figure it out, the points stop going up, and the timer remains going down and they just give up. But then in the end we pass them anyway. The point of the task was to force you to work as a team. From our experience in all of our years of doing this, we find that in order for people to really, really get to know each other, they need to have one of these two things; time together or experience together. Since we aren’t able to give this group a long enough period of time together, we must instead put it through experiences. That was all the challenge was set to do. We believe that Victor Tandberg was able to figure out that the score was going to reach three hundred regardless of what the group did, and for that we applaud you.” The group of demons in the room applauded Victor. “Now that you have all gotten to experience things together, the next level won’t be as bad. My job was simple to prepare you for what you have in store. Good luck all of you, what lies ahead will surely test you much, much more than the test you have completed in the basement today. May you go on, to take on the rest of Blood Hall.” And with that statement, the lights in the room went off. A number two and an up arrow appeared on the wall. They were in an elevator. It was going up, taking them up to the second level of Blood Hall. Chapter Two: The Second Level Just as abruptly as the lights had gone out, they came back on. They were on the second floor now. Victor and First Lieutenant Ben exchanged glances, sense they were forbidden to speak yet. The elevator doors lowered down into the floor, and the roof was lifted up into the air. They were now on a platform on in the middle of what appeared to be a small stadium. Thousands of the demons were seated in bleachers, taking up every seat in the house. In the first row of the bleachers on the right side was a roped off section. Here sat Vincent and another man wearing a white skull mask. The mask had rotten teeth, and contusions all over its face. The sounds of all of the demons talking in the stands combined to sound like one big blur. Above the bleachers on the left side was a large screen. “Greetings everyone. I am Jesse, the master of the second level. Welcome to the second level of Blood Hall. This is often the level that makes or breaks contestants. If you make it through this, you will leave this level with a taste of the horrors to come in the remainder of the levels. This is the level where many people fail. Will you be the next one to fail?” as he said this, he pointed to Victor, as if to scare him. The demons in the crowed erupted into cheers, cheering for them to fail. “The way this challenge is going to work is simple in theory, really. Each of you will be hooked up to our very own innovative invention we call the Mind Projector. What this device does, is, using magnetic resonance imaging, electromagnetic readings, and other brain scanning technology, is to read events that have been stored into your long term memory, and project what they would have looked like in third person up onto the screen. This kind of technology has been secretly in development at Blood Hall for the past ten years. This group will be the first group we test it on. We have paired each of you up together. First Lieutenant Ben and Victor have been paired with each other, and Khalilah is paired with both Jacob and Tara together. Since you will all be hooked up to the mind projector the whole time, it will be able to read your thoughts. During Victor’s mind projection, First Lieutenant Ben’s subconscious mind will be rating Victor’s actions throughout the projection as either good or bad based off of First Lieutenant Ben’s own views. Victor will get a point for each good or bad thing he does. At the end, if Victor does not have enough good points based off of First Lieutenant Ben’s interpretation of his actions, he will fail the challenge and be sent to his death. The same goes for everyone here. First Lieutenant Ben cannot just say he believes everything Victor is shown doing is all good just to give him good points because it is his subconscious mind rating it based off of his views, so there will be no bias possible.” Just like Jesse had said, a small group of demons wearing the same costumes as those downstairs came down to hook the group up to the machines. S***, I’m f*ed, Victor thought. It was obvious to him that he and First Lieutenant Ben shared completely different views on a lot of issues. I don’t know how I’ll get through this. “Oh and one more thing,” said Jesse, “there is a red button on the side of your chair. Push it if a memory is displayed that you cannot bear to have everyone here see. This will fail you on the spot, ensuing your death, but it will prevent anyone else from seeing your memory. Just keep this in mind.”