“What in the world is this place?” Carter asked as they walked on through the forest. It wasn’t just a greenhouse of any kind, the room spanned much further and bigger than they had expected. There was even a small hill that was sloping upwards in the very middle of the room.
“Beats me.” Mariah clicked her tongue as they reached the bottom of the inclining hill. “But it’s fucking huge.” She looked up to the top of the tiny mountain.
“Well, let’s get climbing.” Carter said as he planted his feet firmly into the ground.
The leaves rustled noisily as they climbed up the steep slope. Oak trees were planted neatly in diagonal rows around the room. Their old age was showing quite evidently as withered and dead tree bark spanned their outer trunks. Eerie features of oddly malformed trunks, with big portions of their bark bent out of proportion like the hunchback of Notradame spanned most of the tree line. It was as if portions of their woody bark had been torn off and stripped away in their younger years from a freak accident. Now, they were bent out of shape but still growing strong in oddly formed patterns and maniacal looking twists. It looked almost ghostly.
Some trees were even covered in streaks of red spray paint that could have been easily mistaken as blood at a different time of day. Carter’s could feel chills running down the back of his spine, but he tried to shut off any thoughts of the supernatural to keep his sanity in tack. Maybe it was just in his imagination but he already felt as if they were being followed through the room.
“Hey Mariah.” He started. “I think somebody or something is following us.”
“What?” Mariah turned back to him. “I don’t see shit following us.”
“Are you sure?” Carter asked, looking very concerned.
“Don’t worry.” Mariah nodded and continued trodding up the hill. “I’ve been in this line for long enough to know if something is or isn’t following us from behind.”
“If you say so.” Carter replied nervously as he tried to shake off the thought. “Man. I’m seriously lucky to be teamed up with you guys. I’m probably a sitting duck for anything out there if I was on my own.”
“What do you mean?” Mariah asked as she went into a crawl to get up the hill.
“Even in the previous room, Coat was there to make sure Carla and I were safe before entering the room.” Carter laughed as he too went down on all fours. “She’s pretty proficient with a gun, I didn’t really expect it.”
“You mean, she’s combat trained or something?”
“I think so.” Carter paused, thinking of the consequences of revealing her identity for a moment. “Well, she’s a cop, so she did cop stuff. Procedures? Something like that.” He sighed. “Not too sure if that’s what you mean by ‘combat trained’ or not though.”
“Police?” Mariah turned back to look at him in surprise. “With that kind of body, fucking hell, wouldn’t have guessed.”
“But she seems to know her stuff at least.”
“I’d think a police officer would have some sort of a build. She looks like a twig you know?” Mariah coughed. “Couldn’t even stick me up back there.” She was referring to the incident that had happened in the ball room.
“Well, I’m just lucky I’m with you guys.” Carter laughed it off as they almost reached the top of the hill.
“Are you some kind of weak ass prick?” Mariah got to her knees and stood up straight. She had reached the top first. “You’re a guy man. Buck up.” She sneered. “What are you? IT guy from the repair store or something?”
“I’m an accountant.” He paused and thought for a moment “Well, unqualified so far, so I’m not officially one yet but I’ve been in practice before.” He pointed his index finger in her direction as if to solidify his claim.
“Huh.” Mariah nodded as if remembering something from the past. “The last time I had to deal with an accountant, I had to beat the shit out of him.” She clicked her tongue.
“Ooookay.” Carter’s eyebrows were raised in a slight concern. “What did he do?”
“Let’s say he was involved in some creative accounting.” Mariah laughed. “The guy thought he could get away with it too with all the numbers tying properly to each other and all that.”
“And then what happened?” Carter scratched his head as he stood up atop the hill next to her.
“My client found out about it one way or another” She laughed. “So I was called in to beat the living shit out of the guy to teach him a bit of a lesson.” She looked at Carter. “And try to recover some of the cash he stole from my client.”
“How much did he steal?”
“A few million.” Her answer was short and concise.
“Well.” Carter’s eyes widened in surprise. “That’s quite a bit.”
“Guy was a real estate mogul.” Mariah sighed. “He had the cash from his dealings up front and underneath, you know?”
“Underneath as in?”
“Black market and all that.” She looked across the room while scratching her bum with one hand. There was a strange itch there for a moment. “That’s why I had to come in. He didn’t want the fucking police snooping around his place that’s for sure.”
“Interesting stuff.” Coat merely nodded as he looked down from the hill all the way to the other end of the room. There was no door, merely an empty wall at the far end of the forest. “Well, looks like the exit isn’t over there.”
“Fantastic.” Mariah scoffed sarcastically. “Well, at least we know the exit isn’t at either ends of the building.” She paused. “What now?”
“Should we check under the leaves?” Carter said as he pushed a few leaves apart with his sports shoes which revealed a light green pasture underneath.
“That’s going to be a lot of ground to cover.” Mariah said as she looked across the room. “Literally.”
“Any ideas then?” Carter asked.
“I told you.” Mariah reaffirmed her position “I’m stupid.”
“Well, let’s just think about this for a moment.” Carter sat down on the grass as he scanned from atop the hill. “Do you think, a door might open up on the ground and we can slip in through there?”
“It’s possible.” She replied as she sat down next to him. “A lot of people actually install passages on the second or third floor of their houses into a panic room.”
“You’d wish they’d leave a note telling us what to do next at least.” Carter laughed.
“So what do we do?” Mariah said.
“Well. I’m kinda out of ideas too.” Carter started. “But you know what they say.” He dug his fingers into his pockets and pulled out a cookie. “Tea time is think time.” He laughed and then paused to clarify. “Or at least that’s what I say.”
Mariah shook her head and muttered under her breath. “Accountants.” She too took out some cookies from the back of her jeans and started munching on them. There was a short awkward silence as both of them tended to their appetite.
“They’re a bit on the sweet side.” Carter said as his teeth chewed the cookie into smaller bite sized crumbs. He was trying to break the ice in the midst of the deafening silence. “Would have liked it to taste a bit more chocolaty you know?”
“First world problems.” Mariah sighed. “They taste like the ones I usually get after a hangover.”
“After a hangover?” Carter asked. “You eat cookies after a hangover?”
“Yup.” Mariah nodded. “It’s always been my go to comfort food after a morning of headaches and vomiting from drinking. Pair it with a warm glass of milk and I’ll be off to fucking dream land.”
“Comfort food huh?” Carter scoffed. “I can still remember when I needed comfort food to put me to sleep after a night out.” He scratched his head. “I was still in high school back then when I needed it. Now I just sleep it off like a real sailor.” He was clearly putting his pride on the line as a drinker.
“You drink?” Mariah laughed sarcastically. “Fucking hell, like you can drink you little wimp.” She flung her hair backwards as if to taunt Carter. “Please.” She scoffed. “You’re an accountant.”
“But I drink like a fish” He paused to add dramatic effect “And that’s a fact.”
“What’s your best record?”
“Twenty-two shots in a night.”
“Twenty-two shots!? Of what!?”
“It was a mixture of different brands of whiskey, tequila, rum, vodka and a few other things.”
“Well fucking hell.” Mariah slapped his back. “So you’re a fucking fish, who’d have thought.”
“What’s your best record?” He said massaging the place that had been violently slapped with his right hand.
“Eighteen shots of whiskey in a night.”
“Whiskey? Where’s the fun in that?”
“It’s a personal preference when I go for the long haul.” Mariah laughed and gave Carter a thought again. “Correct me if I’m wrong.” She sighed. “I’ve always thought you accountant guys were shy quiet shits. Didn’t know you guys drink at all. Are all you accountants like that?”
“It’s really an individual preference I guess.” He smirked having known his record wouldn’t be broken by any simple Tom, Dick or Harry. “Some of us drink, some of us don’t. I just happen to have a knack for it.”
“Easier said than done.” Mariah laughed. “Twenty-two shots is suicide.”
“Not when you’re with the people I’m with. They’re pretty nuts.” Carter sighed as he looked off into the distance. He was now tired from the shenanigans that had been going on through the day and he started to blank off for a while. His pupils dilated as he leaned back on his forearms. The leaves under him crunched and crackled as his body lay gently on the ground. He was seeing in double vision, just to zone out for a bit.
Looking down the hill, he could see the path they had walked up from. The slope was actually pretty steep and it was a miracle his stamina was doing him so much justice that day. On a regular day, he’d have already been sweating buckets. As his mind dazed off into the previous week, memories flooded his mind. He had work to do: projects to hand up, exams to handle, job application forms to fill up, people to meet for drinks and a visit back home to see his parents in the upcoming semester break.
“Mom’s lasagna.” Carter sighed. “Wish I could have some right now.” He whispered to himself as he tried to picture the soft and juicy layers of pasta. Savory sour beef bolognaise sauce would fill the middle crevices of those layers complimented by a good helping of creamy melted mozzarella cheese on the very top. He could almost taste it.
As his vision grew even blurrier from the double vision, he started to imagine the layers of pasta and bolognaise sauce in his mind. He pretended for a moment that he could see it and feel it. Closing his eyes, he tried to recall the smell of the sizzling beef in the pan right before the tomato puree would be added in and mixed thoroughly with oregano and bay leaves. His nostrils flared up as his mind went into a state of complete bliss. Carter sighed and opened his eyes once more, hoping to see a steaming plate of lasagna right in front of him, layer upon layer of savory goodness. But that was not what he saw at all.
As his blurred vision took the world in as it is, Carter could see something in the tree line. Painted in red, layer upon layer on each other. There was a pattern. He could see letters forming in very convoluted and crooked shapes. Quickly, he concentrated his vision once again to see what was hiding within the tree line. Immediately, the letters disappeared.
“What the hell?” He gasped.
“What the fuck?” Mariah looked at him as she too sat up from the ground. She had been dozing off for a bit. “What happened?”
“I think.” Carter paused. “I see something in the tree line.”
“There is no one following us.”
“No. Not someone.” He scratched the back of his head. “I thought I saw letters for a moment.”
“Well, I don’t see shit.” Mariah said as she stood up.
Just at that very moment, something clicked in Carter’s mind. He had caught what his vision was telling him.
“It’s those streaks of red.” He said. “They’re in a pattern or something.”
Now from a far, he could see that the red spray paint had been deliberately splashed onto the tree bark to form a pattern of sorts. He couldn’t really make out what it was, but he was sure he saw letters painted in red while he was blanking out. Quickly, he got up and shifted his body sideways, changing the angle of his vision.
“There!” He shouted. “There’s an ‘A’! Right there!” Carter was pointing to the far left end of the room.
“I don’t see it.” Mariah said, looking in the same direction.
“You have to stand here.” Carter stepped aside and let Mariah take a look.
“I still don’t see it.” She sighed. “You sure you’re alright man? Don’t scare the living shit out of me okay?”
“It’s not on the wall, it’s the red spray paint lines on the trees.” He sounded frustrated. “Try connecting them without considering the distance. Look at it in a two dimensional image or something.”
Mariah squinted to the trees, trying to make out a pattern. As she focused and refocused her vision, she could see a pattern emerge. The red spray paint lines in the far end were much thicker than the red spray paint lines nearer to them as if to compensate for the difference in distance in between. She closed one eye with her palm to see if she could make out a 2D image by taking out her depth perception. Slowly, as her eyes adjusted, she saw the letter as well.
“I see an ‘A’ as well.” She admitted. “Holy shit.”
“You see it too?” He exclaimed. “I’m not crazy right?”
“Yea, I see it. Fucking great. Now what?”
Carter closed one eye with his right hand and peered out with his left eye, the same way Mariah was doing. He focused and refocused his vision across the tree line and slowly put together letters which seemed to be forming out of thin air. His vision scanned across the entire room and made out the words which read quite oddly as:
“S – A – C – C – H – A – R – I – N – U – M”
And on the opposite tree line:
“A – C – E – R”
Carter scratched his head for a moment and turned to Mariah with a confused looked on his face.
“What the hell does that mean?”
Written By HoiHoiSoi
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