The bright spotlight blinds me as the mystery operator swings it towards me. Flinging my arm up, I shield my eyes and squint into the otherwise dark room.
When the mysterious letter came in the mail last week, beckoning me to the abandoned warehouse, I almost didn’t go. But then the eviction notice came hot on its coattails and I figured, What the hell? Not like I have a job, or family, or anything to miss me, really.
I step into the room hesitantly, one foot in front of the other, and the door slams behind me. Jumping, I turn with my heart ready to burst out of my chest. But no one is there. Just empty shadows dancing in the ominous darkness, mocking me.
It’s not a question from the booming voice echoing over a loudspeaker, but a command to turn and peer into the room. I do just that, powerless to stop, and find myself facing five other people.
Quite an eclectic hodgepodge of people, too. The cryptic letter senders must have really reached far and wide for this crew; they seem to be as destitute as myself, if not worse. The obscenely tall man immediately to my left is covered with gauged piercings in his face, with a lime green Mohawk to top off the leather bound look. A small, mousy type girl is hovering behind him, chewing her nails while her round bifocal frames slide down her nose. Next to her is a rotund man, looking bored. A blonde woman is standing in the middle of the room, shifting uncomfortably in her designer heels. And to my right is a guy who looks like he could walk onto a Hollywood movie set as a biker gang member and fit right in. The leather vest slides right over tattooed, bulging arms, and his jeans fit nicely over his boots.
And they’re all staring at me. I smile nervously and wave.
“Hi. What the hell is going on?” No one answers me.
A slow clap begins behind me. I leap forward a few steps, turning and gripping at my chest with wide eyes. A man steps from the shadows directly behind me.
He’s wearing suit pants and a white shirt, loosely buttoned and topped with a black jacket. His beard is perfectly scruffy, and his hair is dirty blond and tousled. Bright blue eyes pop from his skin as he looks me over.
“Welcome to the game, Maggie. You’ve already won the first challenge by being the first to speak.”
“Game?” I didn’t sign up for any game. “I hate reality shows.”
He chuckles. “Don’t worry. This isn’t reality TV. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ashby, but I go by Ash. You’re entering into a competition to -”
“We don’t have a choice?” I interrupt.
“My associates and I assumed since you accepted our invitation that you also wanted to play.”
I consider for a moment and nod. “Not like I have anything to lose, I guess.”
He smiles. “The competition is for an elite position as assistant to some of the most powerful men in the world.”
“Why us?” says biker boy.
Ash looks at him with aplomb. “Each of you has a quality we seek. There is a table behind you. Please find an assortment of items behind a nameplate. Each of you has the same selection. When the bell sounds you have ten seconds to decide which item will be invaluable to you in the competition.”
The spotlight swings to the table and the six of us approach it quickly. Maggie, reads my tag in simple block lettering. I glance to my left and see Callista, the blonde, and to my right is Chandler, the biker.
The item selection is minimal, and I breathe a sigh of relief since I’m a horrible decision maker. Among the selection is an air pistol, a machete – which sends a trickle of alarm through me, a notepad and pen, a syringe, a brush, and a book. My head tilts looking at the recondite book, bound in brown leather and tied off with a black satin string. There are no markings on it, nothing to indicate what might lie between the precious pages.
The bell sounds and we all lunge forward. I grab the book, hugging it close to my chest. A jolt rockets through my body, electricity tingling to my fingertips and making the hair on my neck stand on end. But I turn with the book clutched in my white knuckles and my jaw set.
Too late. I’m out of time to change my mind. Ash steps into the light and smiles.
“Excellent choices,” he says softly. “Follow me, please.” He leads us into a small, well lit area off the main room. The table is filled with little appetizers. “Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll return shortly.”
I sit on the couch and take a mini sandwich. “This is weird,” I comment.
“Why are you talking?” the blonde says with a hostile edge.
My eyebrows shoot up. “Pardon me for trying to break the ice. Seems we’re all in the same boat.”
“I don’t talk to people like you,” Callista returns and looks away with her nose in the air.
Blinking at her, I sit back on the couch. This is like a freaking soap opera. When the door opens five minutes later, Ash walks in with five of the scariest men I’ve ever seen. “Contestants, these are your bosses. You’ll work for them for the duration of the next six weeks.”
He looks at me and smiles. “Maggie Smyth, you are mine.”
And be sure to check out the other flashers this week:
Pender Mackie (m/m)