A soft voice was calling out to her, speaking her name like a verbal caress. Wren stirred, then slowly opened her eyes. She was no longer in the basement, having her skin practically grafted off by stone walls.
She was in a bedroom, lying on her side on a shaggy, but oh so soft, fur rug.
She immediately sat up, drinking in her surroundings, expecting some kind of attack or trick. Nothing.
Standing up slowly, she noticed with shock how nice the room was, how detailed, and comfortable it seemed. There was an overstuffed love seat in the far right corner, next to an open-door balcony which poured forth moonlight, a large wardrobe, a dressing table and chair in front of her, and a beautiful, queen-sized bed with lilac canopy curtains drifting overhead. It was the kind of bedroom you’d find in a older noble’s home, yet it seemed so… new. It was like she had stepped into an earlier century, when the owners had just finished furnishing the place, and she was the very first to see it all done up. It was a rather shocking contrast to the rest of the place, especially the outside.
Wren decided to test something about the place. Maybe it’s not real. It could be a psychological trap, or that I’m simply hallucinating. She stood and walked over to the dressing table, and let her fingertips brush the edges of it. Solid. No dust.
That voice again.
She swung around, arms raised in a defensive position, fully expecting a fight from something horrible, something hideous, perhaps even the Junk Collector himself. No one. The room was as good as empty. Yet the word seemed to faintly echo, softly breathing her name over and over, bouncing it from wall to wall. She closed her eyes, and gripped her hands tightly, to try to undo all this, but when met with no success, she decided the best course of action was to learn where, exactly, the voice came from. She honed her ears, her very being, on trying to locate the sound’s source. It was a bit like playing Marco Polo, in a way. A terrifyingly unpredictable Marco Polo.
This time, a new word softly resounded:
She cracked her eyelids, still facing the dressing table. She found herself peeking at the large vanity mirror. Ironically, she had never been one for vanity, for makeup, or any of those things her old friend Phoebe the fashionista had been into. She’d grown rather accustomed and almost content with her plain, mousy, almost scrawny appearance. But still, every now and then she’d feel a slight shiver of insecurity about it, before hastily brushing it away. What good would that do, after–
The image in the mirror flickered, then suddenly changed. Wren nearly jumped in alarm and surprise, eyes now wide open. In the place of a scrawny teenaged girl with plain, mousy brown hair, an oversized hoodie and jeans stood a girl she nearly didn’t recognize. The girl had pretty, shiny brown hair piled atop her head in a luxurious style, decorated with gleaming pearls, and a small tiara to match. The girl had on not scrap clothes for adventuring in, but a regal, off-the-shoulder silk emerald gown– Wren’s favorite color– accompanied by what looked to be a genuine diamond necklace. Wren found herself drawing shallow, shaking breaths. Th-That’s not me… that’s not me…
She gave a relieved smile, trying to shoo the image away. The figure in the mirror did the same. Wren tilted her head to the side. So did the figure. The background in the mirror was identical to the room behind Wren, but the figure…
The figure… looks like a prettied-up me. But…it can’t be. It can’t be. She cautiously reached out, the figure doing the same, pressing her fingertips up against the cold, smooth surface. They met, without any fleshly contact at all.
It was what caught her eye next that made her breath contract even more sharply.
Out of the corner of the room, in the mirror image, a newer, black-hooded, black-cloaked figure came into view, behind the fake Wren. Wren froze.
The eerie figure drifted close, closer, closer still. The figure slowly reached out, gently placing a hand on fake Wren’s bare left shoulder.
Wren jumped, feeling a light touch on her own shoulder, and spun around.
Wren spun back. They were both still there, both gazing out at her. The darkened, hooded figure’s face was half hidden from view, but she saw a smile graze his lips as they parted slightly to form, “Wren.”
The room spun before her eyes, tilting upwards, and then everything went black once again.
When she came to for perhaps the second time, Wren was lying flat on her back, tucked comfortably under cool, silky sheets. Although she didn’t want to stir, she made herself. She sat up again, rubbing her brow. Was it all just a dream? If so, the bedroom was the exact same one that had appeared in it– and it made her instinctively pull the covers around her body, quaking like a leaf in a bad windstorm. The voice still echoed in her mind, so loud it might as well have been audible.
She slipped out onto the glossy wooden floor, onto quivering legs. Deep breaths. That’s it, girl, only a dream. Not real. A dream or a trick.
She had to get out and find a way to the Junk Collector before she was driven out of her mind– perhaps literally. Resolve somewhat renewed, she circled around the room carefully, just as she had the basement, half-expecting it to drink her in the way the previous one had. No response. She looked around the walls, the wooden floor panels, even the delicate, small lamps that hung around the ceiling, waving ever so slightly at every breeze and giving off a faint, eerie glow.
Upon further investigation, she spied something atop the dressing. Taking a shaky breath, and keeping her eyes off the mirror, she reached out and snatched up a note.
“If you want to find your friends, search for the picture that has no end.”
Has no end? Her hand clutched the paper into a ball. What kind of riddle is THAT? Still, it was a clue, though she had no idea if it came from the geezer himself, or from kind of outside hel–
She stopped. Wait a minute… She uncrumpled the paper and looked over the handwriting carefully. It was the same graceful style as the note before’s. This person WANTS to help me… But why? “Why?” Wren asked aloud. “Who are you? What do you want with the likes of me? Why are you so intent on aiding me?” Again, no response.
Wren threw her arms in the air, exasperated. I might as well take advantage of the hint… I need all the help I can get. She slunk off to the nearest wall, investigating the painting there, of a simple vased bouquet. Nothing. She repeated the process several times along each of the walls, halting at the last one, on the left side of the bed, partly concealed by the long, silky curtains. This HAS to be it. It was an unusual painting, to be certain; it was of a young girl holding what initially appeared to be a blank frame. No, wait…
She squinted. It was no ordinary picture, it was a picture within a picture. The seemingly blank frame held an identical picture of the one before it, and the one before that, the same, and… Wren’s head almost spun. It didn’t help that the smallest of them all was a very, very tiny mirror. She took deep breaths to calm herself. OK. This is it.
Curving her fingertips around the frame’s edges, she gave out a simultaneous yank and loud grunt; the painting unexpectedly tore loose easily, and the shock of its easiness caused her to loosen her grip. It thudded loudly on the floor, echoing faintly around the room.
She turned her attention to what the painting had been concealing all along: a hidden dumbwaiter. Obviously long since out of use, but she found she didn’t care. All she wanted was to get out of her, put the man in his place, rescue her friends, and leave. That was all that mattered.
Clambering inside initially proved a challenge, even for someone as petite as her, but she managed to just barely crowd in, clutching the role and pulley device above her head, used to move it up or down. It appeared that it went further down than it already was currently, but Wren thought she heard faint, ghostly moans from below. She needed no further motivation to get going, and started tugging at the ropes as fast as her small, skinny little hands could move.
What seemed like hours later, she halted at one particular station to give her rope-burned palms a short break. She felt like she’d out-sped the distant moans, but couldn’t be too sure. Couldn’t be certain of anything in this crazy fun house.
On the other side of the wall, she thought she heard something. Pressing her ear to it, she heard a young boy’s voice crying out. Kodi…? Her eyes widened.
Before she could stop herself, she slammed the full force of her small body against her side, crashing through and splintering wood everywhere. She tumbled out into a new room, and nearly regretted it; the dumbwaiter ropes, no longer controlled by her grasp, flew the mechanism the whole way down to the bottom, landing with a very noisy CRASH. She could hear the moans start up again. Terrific.
Behind her, Kodi seemed to be moaning softly. “Wren… please…”
She chose the only logical option: Deal with one issue at a time.
She gave a quick, cursory glance of the room she was in– a library– and decided that it’d be best if she plugged the gaping wall hole ASAP, before the creepers that the moans belonged to decided to come up for a little meet and greet. Hurriedly grabbing a smaller sitting chair, she shoved it roughly into the hole; it just barely fit. She jammed several large encyclopedias into leftover, unguarded gaps. Panting, she straightened, looking over at Kodi, who sat behind a large antique desk, clutching at his temples. “You OK? What happened?”
“Wren… please… make it stop…”
She rushed to his side. “What’s the matter?”
“I- I don’t know… I woke up in here, at this desk…Several books were placed in front of me. Some voice called within and around me to pick one and read one of them, but…” he yowled again, clearly in pain. “I-I started reading this one book about traps and tricks, hoping it’d yield something that we could use to resist this–” he threw his head back like an animal, mini dreads thrashing everywhere, and let out a heart-pounding, blood curdling scream, tears streaming down his cheeks.
She slammed the book shut, hoping the pain and his reaction was directly connected to it; the screaming didn’t cease, however, but did lessen to a few lower decibels, somewhat. Her eyes skimmed the title, “Mind and Manipulation: A Profound Study On Psychological Warfare”. She shook Kodi by the shoulders. “C’mon, snap out of it,” she urged, “it’s just like what happened to me in that other room… voices oozing outta nowhere and ordering you to do stuff that only makes you suffer or think you’re losing it. IGNORE it! FIGHT it!”
“I can’t,” he half moaned, half-whispered, “the voices already left. I think they left all this pain in their stead. When I first started to read, the voices receded, and I just let the words on the pages sink in, then I got paranoid when I thought I realized what was happening to us, and–” he was starting to hyperventilate. She shook him a second time, then, seeing a bucket of water near the desk ( Why would there be a bucket of water in here? she briefly wondered), grabbed it and hurled its icy contents over him.
He quivered several times, pulling his jacket around him as useless protection against the cold dampness, but the moaning and rocking stopped. She exhaled in relief. “Better?”
“Alright, then. Let’s stick together and see if we can find Guy, or the mastermind behind it all.”
“What kind of psychological torture is this place housing, exactly?” he asked through chattering teeth.
Wren shook her head, trying to clear and reassemble her thoughts. “From what I’ve seen, some might be hallucinogenic. Others are random voices spread throughout the house, probably intended to intimidate us, and if we can find the main source from where they’re coming from, we can probably fin– OH NO YOU DON’T!” she suddenly shouted, sprinting at a close-range painting; its eyes had moved. Just like in the classically spooky movies. The eyes seemed to draw back, as if spooked themselves, and vanished, leaving two black, empty holes. Wren stretched out her hand and looped her fingers through, yanking hard as she’d done before.
When the dust had settled, and Kodi had quit coughing, there was another gaping entrance– this one hid a small, rickety set of stairs. Wren turned to Kodi, other hand outstretched to help him up onto the rubble and through the hole: “C’mon– it’s time to put an end to this, once and for all.”
He gazed up at her. “You go on ahead,” he said. “I need to go snag Guy before something worse snags him.”
“You’re sure you’re well enough?”
“Well, now I know what to expect, at least.” He threw an anxious glance towards the desk and stack of books behind them. “We’ll meet back up with you in a few minutes, depending on how low the stairs go and what floor he’s on. But save the fireworks for us to help and watch too, OK?”
“Sounds like a plan.” He grasped her forearm, and nimbly jumped up like an acrobat. “See you in less than a half-hour?”
With that, both parted in differing directions on the stairwell; one up, the other down. Wren prayed with all her might that she had made the right decision, to involve them to begin with.
To Be Continued…
Image Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/jbrinkmeyer/ideas-for-my-light-lilac-bedroom/