Jessica, Michelle, Steven, and Joel pushed a curtain aside and entered the last room of the museum. The walls curved up into a dome with rafters crossing the open area; the skylight highlighting the red rug in the center. Directly across from them was another curtain with the dull light of the EXIT sign above it.
Jessica sighed and rolled her eyes at Michelle. “This was a bust.”
Steven pinched her butt and winked at her. “Come on, it wasn’t that bad. Some of this stuff was kind of neat.”
“Oh, sure. The seven years of dust covering everything was super interesting,” Michelle sighed. “Admit it, you guys brought us here because it was the cheapest date you could come up with.”
Joel opened his mouth to object, but the slam of concrete behind them interrupted him. They jumped and turned to find a solid wall behind the curtain where there had been an open archway. Joel knocked on it, but the sound didn’t resonate.
“What gives?” He slapped the stone and then his shoulders slumped.
“Oh, whatever.” Jessica crossed the room and pulled aside the other curtain for the exit and nearly walked directly into another wall. “Hey!” She stumbled to recover herself and looked around at her friends in confusion, bordering on fear.
“Um… guys?” Michelle pointed to a screen that had lit up after the door slammed. “Come read this…”
The other three gathered around her and leaned in closer to read the stilted handwriting on the screen.
Too bad you didn’t enjoy the show
But the best is yet to come
When the sky is black above
You’ll find your hell below
Try to escape – or don’t
The result with be the same
“What the hell does that mean?” Joel said and scratched his head.
Steven shrugged and turned to the display next to the screen. A severed head, eyes sunken and lids cracked open. The blood pooled around it on the table was a nice touch. “Bet it’s just scare tactics. The door will open after a while. Or maybe it’s an escape room and we should look for clues.”
Jessica rolled her eyes and hugged herself. She moved back to the middle of the room and pouted her lip. “This was so stupid. I knew we should have just went to the movies.”
Steven leaned closer to the severed head and reached out a hand to poke the cheek. It squished under his finger and to his horror and disgust, a maggot crawled out from the eye socket and then back up one nostril. He let out a shout and jumped back, stumbled over the edge of the rug and landed hard on his back at Jessica’s feet.
“You okay?” She asked, her eyebrows arching up towards her hairline.
“No!” He yelled and scrambled to his feet. “That’s a real fuckin’ head!” He pointed, his hand shaking.
“What are you talking about?” Joel approached the display and bent to examine it. “This is just a prop. Like all this dumb shit. It’s all replicas of replicas…” Before he could say much more, the floor dropped out from below him and the darkness swallowed him. He yelled, but the door snapped shut and cut off the sound.
Michelle and Jessica screamed and clutched each other. Steven paled and looked like was about to pass out.
“What do we do! What do we do!” the girls screeched.
Steven’s mouth hung open, but he offered no help.
The light from the skylight changed from the bright sun to a dark blue. A high-pitched voice cackled from above them and said, “One down, three to go.” And they heard skittering as something moved around in the rafters.
The girls screamed again and Steven found it in himself to stand in front of them with his arms out. He stared up at the ceiling and tried to pretend it didn’t terrify him.
“What the hell is going on?” He yelled, but his voice cracked and he didn’t sound anywhere near as brave as he’d hoped.
“Mine, mine. All mine.” The voice tittered again and the sound of nails tapping on wood reached their ears.
Michelle burst into tears and crumpled to the floor to hold her knees. Jessica clung to the back of Steven’s shirt and stared all around the room to catch sight of whatever was terrorizing them.
Her eyes landed on a display table with a small light over it. It hadn’t been lit before; she was sure of it, and she inched towards it. A gold jack-in-the-box sat in the middle of the table on a faded green doily. A small plaque sat next to it and scrawled across it in the same hand as the last, it read, POP goes the weasel!
Jessica had enough sense not to touch the box, but she whispered the words out loud. “Pop goes the weasel?”
The voice let out a cheer and laughed, and she jumped away from the table. A small explosion burst from the wall behind the table – a gun-shot – and the bullet flew past Jessica and went straight through Michelle’s forehead where she sat on the floor.
She crumpled to the floor and blood pooled out beneath her, blending perfectly with the rug.
Steven jumped away and reached for Jessica’s hand, but she couldn’t stop the screams long enough to look around. She clutched the sides of her head and wailed. Steven finally found enough nerve to move over to her and wrapped his arms around her. But she beat at his chest with her fists.
“Get off! Get off of me! This is all your fault! You brought us here!”
Steven tried to shield himself from her blows, but several landed hard on his shoulders and arms until he’d put enough distance between them. Jessica’s hands fell to her sides and she continued to sob.
The light in the room shifted again, black filling the skylight.
“Two down! Two down!” Feet scampered back and forth in the rafters.
Steven looked up and found his resolve. His face hardened, and he crossed the room to find a way up the wall and into the rafters. He stepped onto a table; the legs wobbled under his weight, but he waited for it to steady. Then he jumped for the lowest beam and grabbed for it. He hauled himself up and sat on it and looked around into the shadows, but couldn’t see anything other than cobwebs.
“Steven!” Jessica screamed.
He looked back down and saw her flat on her back with the shape of a man looming over her, a top hat hiding her expression from view. He had one hand over his head, razor sharp fingernails splayed out. As he watched, he swung and sliced through Jessica’s midsection. Blood splattered and covered the wall. The noise that came from her throat was wet and clotted.
The creature cackled and tore at her shredded skin to pull out her intestines. He shoved them into his mouth and hollered in pleasure.
Steven was frozen in place for only a second longer. He knew he’d die anyway if he did nothing, so he pushed hard against the rail and propelled himself out into the room and aimed for the creature. He landed on him and they rolled to the side. He held back his revulsion at being covered in Jessica’s entrails and did his best to wrap his hands around the creature’s throat.
And all the while, the thing was laughing. It wiggled around and slipped out of Steven’s grip and flipped over on top of him. Lines cracked its grey, elvish face, but the glee in its eyes was undeniable.
“A foe!” It hooted and plunged its own hand down to wrap around Steven’s throat. It squeezed and squeezed and watched Steven struggle for air, and his eyes bulged in their sockets. But right before he passed out, it let go and leapt to its feet. It jumped and went unnaturally high in the air to land back in the rafters.
Steven choked and gasped and rolled to his side. But then he was face to face with what was left of Jessica, and he scrambled away on his hands and knees. He bumped into a table and tried not to sob. But then the floor went out beneath him and he fell into darkness.
The door behind the curtain slid open and the next tour group entered the room.
“Woah!” a small child exclaimed when he saw the mess of Jessica’s form on the floor. “Look at this!”
The creature chuckled and tipped his hat back to watch until it was time to go again.