“The fresh air of October sprang through my lungs, the aroma of a fall night chilling my spine. My red flannel wasn’t doing much for the cold. The only thing I wore other than that was a short red dress with spaghetti straps that hugged my curves.”
Editor’s Note: Content warning — partying/mature content, violence/murder. We recommend an older audience for this psychological thriller.
The fresh air of October sprang through my lungs, the aroma of a fall night chilling my spine. My red flannel wasn’t doing much for the cold. The only thing I wore other than that was a short red dress with spaghetti straps that hugged my curves. My friends convinced me to go to the Halloween party that happened annually. I wasn’t very social. I didn’t have any social media accounts that were for anything more than me using the app and liking friends’ posts. It wasn’t like I was surprised that not that many people were interested in me. After all, there wasn’t much to be interested in.
The broken, old concrete on the stairs of the barn creaked as I walked in, music from inside blasting in my ears. Every year, the seniors got to pick where the parties were held. This year, instead of some rich kid’s mansion, they decided it’d be a good idea to break into an abandoned barn on a farm in the middle of nowhere, away from our high school in the suburbs of New York City. I couldn’t tell whether the barn doors were knocked down before or after the party started, but I could tell that there was no way they were going back up.
My friend, Andrew Heightman, was the one who hosted and invited me to the party. I wouldn’t even really call him a friend, we just had an ongoing Snapchat streak that broke most records of people who were actually friends or dating.
I stepped into the crowd of sweaty bodies. My nose cringed at the overwhelming amount of Axe body spray and cheap perfume. I was almost certain everyone there was either drunk, high, or just out of their mind. The very loud beat of the music and screaming made my head hurt, making me lose some of my concentration. I fought my way through the crowd of teens, looking for someone I knew who was even a little bit conscious.
I got about halfway through the tight crowd when, suddenly, the music stopped. The lights flickered out and the room filled with quiet whispers of overexaggerated fear and gasps. If they knew what was about to happen, maybe their fear wouldn’t have been exaggerated.
I wasn’t fazed — after all, it was a Halloween party in an abandoned barn. Someone was bound to pull a not-so-scary prank. The lights turned back on with a loud, familiar click — except this time, it wasn’t the light switch for the entire barn but a spotlight.
I stood on the tips of my Converse, trying to see what the spotlight was reflecting on. There, under the spotlight, was a fully empty circle, except for the host, Andrew Heightman, standing smack dab in the middle in a cheesy Dracula costume. I exhaled, annoyed at the drama of it all.
“Hello, and welcome to the Annual Halloween Party!” he exclaimed, grinning a cheeky smile, and the crowd erupted with cheers. My feet began to grow tired from looking at him for that long on my tippy toes, so I fought my way to the front of the circle to get a clearer look.
“Tonight, I thought we would play a game,” he proclaimed, his deep voice echoing off the walls. “Not a middle school game of Spin the Bottle, or a game of tag, but a friendly game of Kiss, Marry, Kill.”
To be honest, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t weirded out by this. Beer Pong was an example of something teenagers would play at a party. Kiss, Marry, Kill, was more of a sleepover-with-your-best-friends-to-find-out-your-opinions-on-people kind of game.
I wasn’t exactly sure how this would turn out any other way than outing people on who they wanted to make out with.
“Now, I can see you’re all surprised. I’m not dumb. I understand why. ‘How would you play that at a huge party?’ you might say. And to that, I would tell you to just listen to the name of the game, and you know most of the rules,” he explained with almost too much confidence. He smirked and brushed his gelled hair back a bit while the crowd remained silent, not completely sure what that meant.
“Some of you probably picked up on the fact that I said ‘most’ of the rules. There are some more, completely unique to my amazing, awe-inspiring game.”
I scoffed quietly. Sometimes he could be so self-absorbed.
“Rule one: just like every single other thing that happens at this party, the details of this game will not be spread to anyone outside the guest list, or we will make sure you and the person which you shared it with aren’t able to tell anyone else.”
Most people were concerned about the rule, while I only noticed it when he said “we.” He was alone, wasn’t he?
“Like Fight Club?” a guy in the back of the crowd joked loudly, followed by a chorus of confused laughs.
However, Andrew didn’t seem too amused by the joke. “Yes, Jake, exactly like Fight Club.” A crooked smirk appeared on his face. “Except this won’t exactly be a fist fight, will it?” Now he began to pace in his empty circle, his arms behind his back in a fake attempt at looking fancy in a Dracula costume, the way you see people do in movies when the movies are set in the 1800s or something.
“Now, before I continue to explain, we need a few volunteers.” He stopped pacing when he said the end. “A girl and three boys is what we need. If you’re completely sure that you don’t care what the rest of this game entails, no matter what happens and that you will not stop playing, please step forward into the circle.” His words echoed in my brain as I thought about it. He knew that no one would step forward quite immediately if he made the game seem mysterious. And I had to give it to him, he was right.
Before I could think any more about it, I felt a strong hand push against my back, pushing me into the circle. I stumbled a bit, but regained my balance as I looked for who did it.
It was a guy I recognized only from him being a part of the high school football team and a part of the popular guys. Also known as the designated a-holes of the school.
“Jerk,” I muttered, turning to go back to my spot. But before I could, I felt a cold, sturdy hand on my arm, keeping me in place. I looked back and saw Andrew.
“Nuh-uh-uh-uh. No matter how you get in the circle, voluntarily or not, you cannot leave the circle. You, Miss Stone, are staying.” Couldn’t even call me by my first name.
Sighing, I looked at the people that were now in the circle. Thomas Sanches, the football captain, was standing there with his old bomber jacket and fake zombie prosthetics. Angel Lee, the guy who everyone loved till he came out as gay and suddenly everyone who was homophobic just “never really liked the guy.” And last, and definitely least, John Young. He was the kind of guy that didnt smoke, didn’t fail any classes, and most definitely didn’t really go to parties. But he also wasn’t the valedictorian or anything. He didn’t really do anything. The kind of guy who you could be in school with for years and completely forget he existed.
“Now that we have all of our lovely players, we might as well start instead of wasting time explaining the rest, am I right?” The crowd murmured in agreement, and you could tell they were starting to get suspicious of the ominous game Andrew was proposing.
The lights went out with another loud click, and I heard the scraping of wood and concrete and the footsteps of about four people walking to where I could tell was the middle of the circle. They were only standing on the sides.
Another click, and the lights were back on. Andrew was now not in the middle of the circle but off to the side. Replacing him in the middle was now a single wooden chair facing three more chairs in a triangle shape. I noticed John take an audible breath in through his nose and then sneeze into his elbow quickly.
“Now, Miss Stone, please step forward into one of the chairs,” Andrew instructed, pointing to the chair that was facing the rest. Annoyed at the fact that I probably should’ve been drunk right now but instead was playing a stupid game, I shoved my hands in the pockets of my flannel and walked to the chair. I plunked myself down on the chair, self-conscious about myself when I saw the glares people were giving me.
“Now, boys, be gentlemen and sit across from her, will you?” he said, as if he were more of a gentleman than them. As they stepped forward into their chairs, I felt myself forgetting why I was ever friends with Andrew. On the topic of friends, where were the friends that invited me?
I zoned back into the real world when Andrew spoke. “The game begins.”
A smirk traveled up his face as he snapped, and the all-too-familiar click of the lights filled my ears. I felt my arms being guided up to the sides of the chair by unfamiliar hands of people I could not see. I sighed, trying to play it cool. It was all a prank orchestrated by Andrew to scare everyone.
As I started to question myself, I felt rope being tied around my hands, securing me to the chair. The mysterious hands pulled the rope tightly and the lights came back on.
“What the hell is this?” I glared at Andrew. I tried to turn my neck to see the faces of the people that tied me up, but no one was there. Just a confused crowd and a few familiar faces. I noticed John once again sniffing through his nose and gulping. Was he nervous?
“Relax, Stone. It’s just a friendly game,” he said. The sudden change in nickname made me feel more intimidated for some reason I couldn’t name. It’s just a prank, part of me said. But it was kind of hard to listen to it when the other part was screaming, You’re definitely not okay!
“Now, as I said before, Miss Stone will have to pick out of these three gentlemen who she would like to kiss, marry, or kill,” he said, his smirk still remaining. “Kiss?” he said, giving me a questioning glare.
I hesitated, then I just chose to say the first person I looked at.
“John, I guess?” I said. He looked at me weirdly, his brown hair that usually covered half his face now showing his shockingly gray eyes. The look he gave me wasn’t of disgust but of surprise. As soon as I matched his look, I could tell he wanted to rip through the rope around his wrists and run far, far away.
Click. Darkness surrounded me once again, and I felt my chair being pushed and moved. I felt what felt like another set of human legs covered in jeans push against mine and then another click.
My eyes adjusted to the light again, and I saw what had changed. I was now pressed against John’s chair, our knees touching. Everyone gave us an odd look.
“So kiss,” Andrew said.
“Huh?” John stuttered.
I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t feel like making this take any more time than it already was probably going to take, so I leaned forward and pecked him on the lips, his expression surprised as I pulled back. The crowd erupted, and suddenly, I realized that if Andrew wanted us to kiss for the kiss part of the game, what would he want us to do for the marry and kill part?
“Shocking. Didn’t think that would ever happen,” Thomas spoke up. Only the football team and the girls who liked him laughed. It was like a cult. He was basically their god.
Whatever he or his girlfriend, Leana Brown, did, the rest of the school just followed. Don’t ask me why.
“Thank you, Mr. Sanches, for your unneeded opinion,” Andrew spat back, and although he hid it well, I could see that pause of frustration in his cocky smirk. “Thank you, Miss Stone and Mr. Young, for participating in the first part of our game,” Andrew said, and I gave him a fake half-smile.
Click. Darkness consumed the room yet another time, and I could feel my chair being moved by the invisible humans hidden in the darkness.
Click. Light filled the room from string lights on the walls as I was once again facing the three boys.
This time though, there was tape over Thomas’s mouth. I watched in horror as he squirmed in his chair, muffled cries coming from behind the tape. Loud protests came from the crowd.
“Oh, shut up, or I’ll put tape on all of your mouths,” Andrew said in an annoyed tone. The crowd stopped arguing other than a few over-exasperated gasps.
I looked down and noticed my hands were shaking slightly. I tried to stop them and keep them still, but they just kept shaking more than before.
“Turning back to Miss Stone.” He turned on his heels, his wicked smirk not just annoying me, but scaring me now. What was he hiding behind it?
“Now, what were we saying before we were rudely interrupted by some people here?” Andrew questioned, the question having absolutely no reason other than trying to intimidate the crowd. I snorted at his stupidity.
“Right at the point where you forced two strangers to kiss, actually,” I retorted, gathering all the confidence I could into my voice. His eyes rolled.
“Those cocky remarks aren’t fooling anyone, Stone. We can all see your hands shake,” he argued, his brigade of the cocky game-master starting to crumble like a stone wall being hit by a missile. Quickly.
“Just get the game over with,” I remarked, eager to leave. His smirk returned to his face, and he stepped over to stand behind the three boys I was looking at.
He rested his hands on Angel’s shoulders, standing straight in the middle, making an uncomfortable amount of eye contact with me.
“Get your dirty hands off me,” Angel said, his sass finally seeming to annoy Andrew. Angel shivered his shoulders for a couple of seconds before Andrew straightened his shoulders and held Angel’s shoulders down. His biceps shone through his shirt sleeves as Angel fought for freedom from Andrew. Andrew started to lean down, and soon his mouth was at Angel’s ear.
He whispered something quietly into Angel’s ear, making him gulp and making Angel’s face turn an uncomfortable shade of gray.
“So, Stone, please select which to marry,” Andrew said, turning back towards me. He gestured his hand above Angel’s and Thomas’s heads like he was a shop worker trying to sell a new flavor of ice cream.
“Uhh…” I said. Angel looked at me, and he slowly mouthed, Me. I didn’t mouth anything back, as Andrew was still watching me like a hawk.
I looked at Thomas, but his facial expression was blank.
“Angel,” I muttered quietly. Even if he asked me to do it, I still felt kind of odd for saying I would marry a gay guy to his face.
Angel let go of a breath he seemed to have been holding for a while.
“Fair enough,” Andrew said.
Click. The invisible hands were back on mine in seconds. I felt something being slipped onto my ring finger, and I took a shaky breath as I guessed what it was.
Click. I looked at the new things added to the room: rings on Angel’s and my ring fingers and what looked like legal documents on a desk in between us.
Angel and I met eyes, and both our eyes were filled with the horror that this was real. I let out a strained, choked, laugh.
“Very funny, Andrew,” I said, the words coming out as if they had to fight a thousand wars to slip off my tongue. Sweat began to form on my hairline, making my black hair come out of its original curled style.
“If it were a joke, you would be laughing. This is real,” Andrew insisted. I gulped, my breaths not coming so naturally anymore.
“I’m done, Andrew. Get me the hell out of this chair,” Angel said, finally cracking from stress. But he mouthed “me” earlier as if he wanted to continue, didn’t he? Or was that for a different reason?
“Nuh-uh-uh. The four of you came into this circle, and only three of you will come out safely.” His words made my breath hitch, and my heart started beating millions of miles an hour from what I can guess. Andrew paused and walked over to Thomas, and to Thomas’s demise, put his fingers under Thomas’s chin, forcing him to look up at Andrew. Andrew’s chiseled features glinted in the dim lighting, making him even more terrifying. But I could see the way his black hair was shiny with sweat. It was not hot in here. It was mid-fall. So why was he out of all people sweating?
“Speaking of, there’s only one step left for my little game. And there’s only one person left for the job. Isn’t that right, Thomas?” Andrew says, a laugh escaping his lips. I looked at the crowd and noticed one of my old friends, Gray, was in the first row of people in the antsy crowd that was held back from entering the circle by fear. His hand was holding something mostly hidden by his black jeans. I then realized it was a phone camera. With a light on. Gray was recording this.
What would he do with the recording? Did he not notice Andrew’s threat? Would he post it anonymously online?
Before I could think of any more scenarios of what he could do with the recording, my ears filled with a click.
He’s gonna kill Thomas was all that went through my head.
Before I could think, I summoned all the strength in my body and broke through the ropes, my wrists burning from pulling on the rope so hard. I picked up the chair, turned it over, ripped off the bottom of the chair with a disgruntled yelp, and walked blindy towards the figure that I could make out as Andrew from my limited sight.
Without another word, I plunged the sharp wooden leg of the chair straight in his chest, and, choking and bleeding out in the dark, he fell to the ground. My hand slipped to my face, cupping my mouth.
Tears filled my eyes as I heard the gunshot. The gunshot I knew had killed Thomas. I slipped to my knees, realizing what I had done. A hand covered my mouth with a cloth, making me grow drowsy as I slipped from consciousness.