Chapter 54

Screamtopia was proving to be as efficient as it was scary, which was very. A zombie guide led them through twisting halls with gaps that often held monsters waiting to leap out and just as often did not. It made the shocks harder to anticipate and that made them all the more effective. The rooms themselves were decorated terror scenes; every prop and every costume spared no detail to craft an atmosphere of unapologetic horror. The walls echoed with yelps and even a few genuine screams.

The HCP students, beings who in the back of their minds thought themselves combat-hardened warriors already, found themselves just as prone to bouts of fright as humans while they trod the bleary black halls. So dark was the building between rooms that one had to navigate half by touch, and even the usually unflappable Nick had to remove his sunglasses after his first several stumbles. It was a fun time overall; the telepaths even suspended their listening to better immerse themselves in the spirit of fear. The one potential blowup had been avoided so far, with neither Sasha nor Vince acknowledging each other and instead merely moving at opposite ends of the group. Likely they would have made it the whole night without so much as having to say “hi” if it hadn’t been for the maze. Then again, many things wouldn’t have happened that night if not for the maze.

“We have reached our parting point,” their zombie guide, Rathstein, instructed as they entered a room with five doors facing them. “I am no longer able to accompany you, for the magic that animates my putrid body will not sustain inside the Ghoul’s Labyrinth.”

His group glanced at each other excitedly. The kids always looked forward to the maze part; it was what made this haunted house truly unique. This was a bigger group than they usually took at any given time, but they’d been respectful and quiet during his speeches and spiels designed to set the mood. At this point, size didn’t matter anymore. No matter how big a group came through, the maze would see to it that every one of them felt the chill of death along their spine.

“Some parting words before you go: you may choose any door you wish and go through in whatever combinations you like. But be warned, the Ghoul’s Labyrinth is the only one who will decide your destination. Should you survive to the other side, you will find an oasis of relief waiting. For those of you who don’t... my corpsely comrades and I look forward to you joining our ranks.”

With that, Rathstein stepped to the side of the wall and fell silent. His eyes shut and he leaned against the wall, truly appearing to be a dead body propped up and forgotten by some killer or gravedigger with a presumably hectic schedule.

It was, predictably, Chad who went first. Without comment he stepped to the first door and pulled it open. Waiting on the other side was an inky blackness that obscured what lay beyond, even to his enhanced vision.

“Anyone coming along?” Chad asked with a glance tossed over his shoulder. Will, Jill, and Rich walked over to join him. They filed through the opening one by one, and as the last one cleared the threshold, the door slammed forcefully shut, making the remaining people in the room jump a foot or so in the air.

When their hearts had slowed from thunderous pounding to a dull thudding, more groups split off through the doors. Alex and Selena took off through one opposite of Chad’s exit point, Sasha and Julia scampered off through one of the diagonal ones, and Hershel and Mary took the other.

“Guess that leaves the lonely hearts club with the center door,” Nick commented once Hershel and Mary were gone from the room. After the initial exodus and the couples pairing off, the only people left were himself, Vince, Alice, and Camille.

“Oh joy,” Alice mumbled. Her words and tone were disappointed, even as her body language told a different story.

“Well, let’s get to it; I don’t want to fall too far behind,” Vince said, striding forward and opening the door. He plunged through without hesitation, Nick hot on his heels, followed by Camille and Alice.

Their door slammed shut like all the others and Rathstein opened his eyes. He let out a sigh of relief at their exit; holding the corpse look took a lot of concentration. He wouldn’t have minded keeping his eyes open a bit longer, too; there had been several major hotties in that group. Most of them were spoken for, as usual, but he was pretty sure the devil girl hadn’t been leaping into anyone’s arms as they sashayed through the haunted house. Part of him was tempted to see if they lingered in the lounge once his shift was over; at that point staff was allowed to join the party. He doubted he would: it was unlikely no one in that whole group had the hots for her and all but one of the guys had been in almost strangely good shape. It was sort of weird to have a sampling of people that large and only one person out of shape, but Rathstein brushed it aside from his mind. They were probably all friends who’d met at the same gym or something.

The eerie sound of voices drifted to Rathstein’s ears. It seemed like the next group was drawing close. Not wasting any more time, Rathstein headed to the closest door and knocked three times. He waited and knocked twice more, then flung it open and hurried through. He emerged in the employee break room that led out to the lobby where they first met their groups. It was a useful little system the boss had developed; the lack of back tunnels for the staff to move through had freed up plenty of room in which to stuff more attractions. Rathstein checked his makeup in the mirror then hustled out to meet his next group of charges.

He hoped this one would have more hot girls and fewer muscular males.