Jarred runs through his house screaming now, his wife’s name echoes through the halls as he pushes doors open searching everywhere. It had to be a joke, or a cruel nightmare brought upon by last night’s traumatic events. He swings Tabitha’s door open and sees her bed is messy with toys still displayed among the floor. He rips the pony covered blanket back then drops down searching underneath the bed. His stomach is in knots now, fear crippling his ability to stand back up as his face grows hot. He forces himself up and through teary eyes he reads the messages on his phone once more. Dialing the number he waits for an answer but gets a message, “The number or code you have dialed is not a working number.”
“F**k! This isn’t real!” He slams the phone down onto Tabitha’s bed.
Through demented anxiety he finds a moment to slip into a repressed memory that he thought nothing of at first, or just possibly didn’t understand. The woman who hung herself said something before she dropped, that it was her game. Her game. Now it was his, reality was forcing itself through a barricade of rational thoughts. This was raw and in it all the risk of losing was his wife and daughter catching a ticket to the other side. His phone alarms him with a notification, it was another text message from a different unknown number. Opening it up he sees a message that reads: Through the woods you’ll find a tea party. Enjoy. Your hour starts now.
He slides the phone into his pocket and runs back to his room to find his shoes. None of it is making sense, but he hopes to find some kind of answers by completing the first task.
Without hesitation he heads out the backdoor and cuts through his yard leading to the gate. He pushes the lever down and gives the rickety fence a shove, he was barefoot and the cold air was already wrapping itself around his bones, but there wasn’t time to waste. He takes a step out onto the cool grass and allows the dew from the morning rain to lather the soles of his feet, sending a slight shiver up his spine. Just past the field of grass were the woods, they were thick and closely crowded. Finding this next clue wasn’t going to be easy, but having one hour to do so was enough to get his adrenalin to course through him. Frail twigs and sensitive leaves crinkle under his foot, light echoes fade as he looks around and up into the air, searching for anything that could stand out. Autumn leaves blow across with a chill to remind him he should have grabbed his shoes, although he couldn’t waste any time. It had already been twenty minutes and nothing had come across his way except false hope. The sun was aimed high into the sky, yet only slivers of light pasted into the cool dark shadows between hordes of trees. Jarred releases a cloud of breath and frantically presses on climbing over snagged branches and rough edges creating mounts. He hovers his foot above a pile of dirt and places his hand around the base of a sturdy branch. He heaves himself up with a tired grunt and sees a white object less than twenty yards away. White and pink. The branch snaps and he falls back down, landing on his arm he groans while turning over. He uses his opposite hand to steady himself on the ground and pushes up. There was no time to make acquaintances with pain, not yet. He grabs his phone and checks the time while running, less than fifteen minutes remain.
Getting up to the area, he accidentally steps on a broken doll head. Its eyes were vacant and the mostly bald head was covered in marker. He kicks it out of the way and sees a missing poster child nailed to a tree. A seven year old girl from Texas, ten years before. The tree near it also had a missing child poster, a five year old boy from Missouri, three years gone. As he cautiously walks ahead, more toys scatter out nestled between the mixed red, yellow and brown leaves. After a few yards missing child posters covered both sides, all different kids from different years. Sitting idly in the center of it all was a small rustic table. The white paint was worn down to a palish yellow color on certain areas, three chairs circled around it. The legs on the complete set were painted pink. The first one held an overstuffed teddy bear, one glossy eye held in place with the other just a stitch creating a large X. The one next to it was empty, third and last was a note placed under a tea cup with red fingerprints up and down the handle. Jarred walks up to it and bends down to move the cup out of the way, it was filled to the brim with a brown, murky liquid. The note beneath had sloppy handwriting that said: Drink!
He pulls his phone out to see three minutes left. He picks the cup one and tries to steady his shaking hand, he was expecting poison, or anything at this point. He holds his breath and puts the edge to his chapped lips, the liquid was cold and foul. His gag reflex kicks in, but he drops his phone and slams his hand over the bottom of the cup to keep it in place. Forcing it down the cup empties with a surprise rolling down the edge and onto his upper lip. He places two fingers pinching the object and picking it up to his view before removing the cup. A finger, torn at the base of the knuckle.
He bends over and cups his hands over his mouth, the rules were specific, do not fail the task. Throwing up he assumes will cause him to lose. He swallows the mixture of vomit and foul concoction and falls back against the table. A text bings alerting him of a new one. He slides his hand across the dirt and picks his phone up turning it around. The message reads: Task Two-Five Finger Felay. Pick a favorite and depart ways. You have one hour.
Jarred holds one hand up and feels vomit begin to rise once more.
Ceilidh clocks out and slides her vest off, tossing it over her shoulders. “Alright, man, have a good one.” She waves a hand in the air to her co-worker coming onto the new shift. It had been a long night/day and she was ready to go home and be serenaded by the sandman. Stepping out of the front doors she turns the building and sees a man she recognized, although they weren’t on a first name basis he was a regular. Leaning against the wall, Jarred huddles over with his right hand pressed into his stomach. Blood was leaking out and soaking into his shirt.
“Woah, you okay, dude? What happened?” she shouts while running over to him. He looks up, terror etched into his face. Quietly he whispers, “Please, I need help.”