Locking the door behind them, the group cautiously made their way through the study, Johnny keeping the board game wrapped in his arms. When it appeared to be safe for the group, they settled in the center of the room, placing the game on a nearby table.
"Let's hope those plants don't know how to pick locks," Johnny said, sighing.
"Can I go home now?" Heather asked, laying her head on the table.
"No Heather," Luke spoke. "You heard what was on the board..."
"With how this game's been going," Heather interrupts. "This game could take weeks or more! But why not? I appreciate being cooped up in a house just to finish a game in one day."
"No one like sarcasm, Heather," Dan answered, dryly. "Your turn is coming soon; you might as well keep it going until it IS finished."
"How many spaces till then?"
"Let's see," Johnny observed, counting the spaces. "25 for me, 24 for Dan, 23 for Luke, and… 27 for you."
"Swell," Heather answered, frowning.
"Here I go again," Johnny declared, taking a deep breath.
Johnny shook the dice in the palm of his hands, the others watched anxiously. He rolled the dice, which skidded across the board, and by the time it landed on the numbers, Johnny's expression dropped to a dead-pan expression: With a 2 on one, and 1 on the other, he got '3'.
"… God, I suck."
"Could be worse," Heather pointed out. "You could be Dan."
"Says the girl who was almost eaten by vegetation not two minutes ago," Dan muttered.
"Says the girl who's turn could be your end."
"Stop fighting, you two," Luke butted in, annoyed. "Save it for what comes next."
Sure enough, Johnny's token slid along the three spaces on the board while a riddle began to form deep within the crystal ball.
"A hunter from the darkest wild," Johnny read. "Makes you feel just like a child."
The rest of the young adults sat silently as Johnny read the riddle, yet the description made a few of them slightly uneasy. Even Heather started to feel a chill though her tough demeanor prevented a revelation of the sort.
"Huh… This one's a bit tougher. What's that mean?"
BOOM! Suddenly, the group turned to the sound of a gunshot blowing a hole through the doorway while one of the plants exploded through before landing onto the floor. More gunshots fired against the door, one after another, making the group ducked for cover, shielding their heads as splinters and bullets flew over them.
Finally, all seemed silent as the group slowly raised their heads to face the door, which had several holes due to the gunshots. All at once, the door burst open as a figure stood lowering his foot following a brutal kick. The group stood silently as they studied the figure, noting that rather than an animal or a plant it was a human being. As he slowly marched into the study, the features of the rather tall man were visible. He was garbed in a British explorer's outfit which appeared to be a century old, his long blonde hair stuck out from underneath his spiked pith helmet, matching the long mustache which stretched across his upper lips, his black cape flowed as he strolled inside with a large rifle in his hand.
As the stranger got closer to the group, the plant that had landed violently in the study spasmed as if it were dying. But it soon met a quick end when the man crushed it beneath one of his black boots and not once stopping to acknowledge it. And then he paused by the couch overlooking the four wide-eyed kids who could do nothing but gaze at the man's stern expression. After a moment of silence, the man was the first to speak.
"Now then," The man spoke, in a thick British accent. "Which one of you did it?"
The kids didn't answer right away, as if they were at a loss of words to respond. The impatience of the man was greatly seen and he did not wait long for them to answer.
"Which one of you rolled the dice?"
"… Damn," Heather answered quietly.
"Does that answer your question?" Dan asked.
"Maybe he's friendly?"
"Friendly?!" Luke asked, harshly. "The man has a flipping gun and just blew the door down!"
"An eccentric way of saying hello, to me."
"I have no time for stalling," The hunter spat, losing his patience. "Whoever rolled the dice, speak up!"
The hunter's behavior left the group silent again, and it occurred to them that it made him that much unpredictable. Finally, Johnny slowly stood up as the hunter turned toward the young man who eyed him nervously.
"I did… Sir."
The hunter paused, eyeing the young man who just stood waiting to see what happens. The hunter slowly paced around the man cocking his rifle, sending empty bullet shells crashing onto the floor. With one hand grabbing spare shells from his belt strap wrapped from one shoulder blade to around the waist, the hunter inspected the young man from head-to-toe while loading his gun.
"You don't seem like the usual sport I go for," The hunter concluded, clicking his gun. "But, beggars can't be choosers."
"And you are?" Heather asked. "Hell, as long as we're making polite conversation and shit."
"My name is Van Pelt," The man answered bluntly, slowly aiming his gun to Johnny. "And you… Are about to become my next trophy. Start running."
"… What?!" Johnny spoke.
"Whoa, hang on, mate," Dan butted in. "That's first degree murder, that is!"
"Where you come from, it's murder," Van Pelt replies, stepping closer. "But where I'm from, it's all good sport."
The hunter stepped toward Johnny, drawing his gun threateningly as Johnny slowly stepped back, never taking his eyes off the man. But Luke suddenly jumped in, his hammer pointed towards the hunter's face.
"Don't even try it, arse-hole!"
"To quote yourself, Luke," Heather spoke, sarcastically. "'He has a gun!'"
"It IS a pretty old model, though," Dan pointed out.
"Tell that to the door."
The hunter paused, staring at Luke, who tried to steady his hammer, despite the fear. But his eyes appeared to see through the man in his way, rather towards Johnny, who was unsure of what to do. Suddenly, the hunter swiftly swiped at Luke with the butt of his gun, knocking him aside. He collapsed on the floor, the hammer barely slipping from his hand, while the other clenched his jaw where the gun hit him. The hunter simply stepped over Luke, as the others looked on in shock.
"I am in no mood for any tom foolery today," Van Pelt spoke, before returning to Johnny. "Now, to show you I'm fair, I'll give you a sporting chance with a five second head start. It makes the hunt all the more interesting… For me."
Johnny's eyes widened as if he were about to shit in his pants, all while Van Pelt reset the gun to aim toward the petrified young man. But whether he was ready or not, the hunter proceeded to count down.
No second after Van Pelt began counting, Johnny raced past him and burst toward the back door. And yet the hunter's expression was unfazed, not even acknowledging the young man's attempt to escape.
"Three… Four… FIVE!"
Finally, Van Pelt turned and fired his gun, barely missing Johnny as he leapt through the door. Van Pelt burst into a run and out the study, following his target. Luke picked himself up, reached for the hammer, followed the hunter out the study, and hurled the tool toward the back of Van Pelt's head. Unfortunately, the hunter simply stepped to his right, allowing the hammer to fly past him and hit the wall.
"Bollocks!" Luke cursed.
Van Pelt turned his head towards Luke, who started to regret his rescue attempt. The hunter fumed, that his hunt was interrupted so abruptly.
"That was unsportsmanlike, underhanded, and just plain bad form!"
Luke prepared himself, as it seemed the hunter was considering his options. Yet the hunter only stood there leaving the young man both scared yet confused at the same time.
"But you're lucky I can't kill 'you'," The hunter stated, walking out the back door. "It's 'the rules'."
After the hunter left, Luke just stood in his place as if the words the hunter said affected him in some way. The others did nothing except slowly get back up before turning toward Luke, who's eyes stared towards the open doorway.
"God, I hope that bought Johnny some time…"
Outside, Johnny ran around the house, as Van Pelt followed not far behind. He relentless fired shots with his gun, barely missing him every time. Where the bullets hit, bark exploded from the trees, holes burst along the house's walls, and a bird feeder exploded off it's chain crashing into the grass. Yet the hunter never strayed, cocking his gun and reloading mid-step.
"Run all you want, Sonny-Jim, but you won't escape!"
Through the front door, Johnny ran inside avoiding the purple flowers that fired their poisoned darts, which hit the walls while Johnny climbed up the stairs. Johnny turned briefly to see Van Pelt was on his tail, he too avoiding the darts yet fired a bullet at one plant causing it to explode and all the other flowers actually screeched as if they shared the pain before shrinking back.
By the time Van Pelt reached the top of the stairs, cocking his gun, he turned toward the slightly open bathroom door. He slowly approached the doorway, his gun raised at the ready. Then he kicked the door and aimed… Only to find the lion sitting in the bathtub, exposing his fangs with one yawn. Before Van Pelt could react, Johnny emerged from the broom closet, shoved Van Pelt into the bathroom and shut the door.
"Here's dessert!" Johnny shouted, before climbing down the stairs.
Silently cursing, Van Pelt slowly got back up on his knees recovering his gun which slipped only an inch. But before he got to his feet, a growl caused him to slowly look up and catch the lion emerging from the tub. The beast, disturbed from his rest, glared at the man, its claws stretched from his paws and crouched to pounce, while his fangs were bared. The hunter stared at the lion, not of fear but annoyance.
"Bugger!" The hunter spat silently, before the lion pounced him.
Back in the study, Luke shook the dice in his hands. Yet for both Dan and Heather, it felt like an eternity as for the past few minutes they just watched him shake the dice in his hands. But for Heather, there was no time for pity not after all the gunshots and a hunter running around the house.
"What the fuck are you waiting for?!" Heather asked, impatiently. "Roll, for Christ's sake!"
"I just need a nice big number," Luke spoke, mumbling to himself. "Just close to the bubble thingy, that's all I ask."
Suddenly, from upstairs, the gang heard the sounds of gunshots. A lion's roar bellowed followed by Van Pelt's screaming, as they heard a struggle from upstairs. The sound of crashing, tears, and snarls echoed while dust fell from the ceiling. Within a few moments, all was silent as all three kids looked up.
"Who's gonna check?" Luke asked first.
"Not it!" Heather quickly responded.
Before Dan could let loose as little as a curse, Johnny appeared from the open door frame to the study. They turned to face their friend, relieved to see his alive yet couldn't ignore his appearance. Breathing heavily, Johnny appeared exhausted as hell after narrowly avoiding a violent fate.
"Johnny, you okay?" Luke asked, concerned.
"Yeah…" Johnny answered, slowly nodding. "Just peachy."
"What happened to-" Heather began, then paused as her eyes widen. "Holy shit… Did you-?"
But Johnny just walked past Heather, not even acknowledging her question. Instead he just took a seat by the couch, looking down at the board game intensely while the others just looked on with concern. Then he turned towards Dan, who waited anxiously to hear what he had to say.
"I don't think you'll have to feed Bernard for a while."
"Ooh…" Dan winced. "Nasty!"
"Law of the jungle. Damn, that guy moves fast for someone his age."
"Well, um…" Luke began, awkwardly. "Guess it's my turn."
Johnny only nodded silently, never turning from the game. The others turned to Luke, who since picked up the dice and rolled for an '8'. Doing so made the token slide 8 spaces, as he proceeded to read the next riddle from the crystal ball.
"There is no bigger interruption, than the force of this eruption."
Luke turned towards Dan and Heather who didn't know what to think, as Johnny finally took his eyes off the board closing them shut and taking a deep breath. All at once, it felt warmer in the room so much that he started feeling uncomfortable, tugging his shirt collar, and feel sweat pour from his forehead.
"Is it getting hot in here?" Johnny asked.
"It's probably just me," Heather answered.
"No, seriously… It's really… Hot!"
Johnny suddenly lifted his feet up as if they were on fire. He looked down and saw the bottom of his sneakers marked on the floor which had turned red. The nearby electronic thermometer suddenly went past a hundred degrees toward accelerated levels before it suddenly exploded into sparks. All at once the room began to rumble as the gang looked around. And then they saw what appeared to be the room getting brighter, slowly turning toward the fireplace. The fire seemed to rise higher from the heat as a larger red spot was seen below it.
"Should we start running?" Dan asked, edging over the couch.
Just as anyone was about to answer, molten lava burst from underneath the firewood, slowly melting the wood down. It flowed from the fireplace as steam began to fill the room, as everything around them appeared to slowly break down from the intense heat.
"Yes, run!" Heather shouted. "DEFINITELY RUN!"
"Go, go!" Johnny shouted, leaping off the couch. "Hurry!"
The gang quickly got up from the couch making a mad dash out the room. Johnny grabbed the game board before following the others from close behind. More and more lava flowed from the fireplace, melting the floorboards in it's path. Soon the entire house heated up as steam emerged through the cracks of the floor. As they ran, Heather turned toward the pool watching the water boiling up from the intense heat. The dart frogs that got out of the water burned from the heat, as they slowly trudged on the ground and all their color melted like paint.
"Welp, froggies are dead!" Heather noted.
"This whole place is gonna blow!" Johnny declared. "Come on!"
Before they got far, Dan suddenly stopped and turned towards the stairs as if he realized something.
"Wait, Bernard!" Dan shouted, running toward the stairs.
"Are you kidding me?!" Heather shouted. "LEAVE THE DAMN LION!"
"Dan, come back!" Johnny called out. "It's not worth it!
"I'm not letting an innocent creature burn because of your dumb game!" Dan called back, climbing the stairs.
"He's bloody barmy," Luke remarked.
By the time Dan reached the top of the stairs, he swiftly opened the bathroom door to call for the lion. But he stopped at the sight before him: The lion leaning against Van Pelt, gnawing on his uniform when he finally spotted Dan at the open door.
"That's a lovely image," Dan spoke, sarcastically. "Come on, Bernard!"
The lion snarled in response before running out of the bedroom, leaving the seemingly dead hunter behind. It raced past Dan down the stairs, as the young man followed.
"I think I'm getting through to him."
Meanwhile, Johnny and the others raced to get to Dan when they stopped and ducked aside as Bernard leapt from the final steps onto the ground. For a moment, it took note of the three stunned adults a growl rumbling from it's throat.
"That lion's not going to eat us, is it?" Luke asked his friends, silently.
As if in response, the lion turned aside and leapt over the steaming floorboards to the front door. It proceed to claw the wood off the door, attempting to escape the intense heat. Luke, meanwhile, looked on with relief as Dan rejoined the others.
"I guess that answers my question."
"Guess he just wants to get out as much as we do!" Johnny declared.
"Then let's get the hell out already!" Heather shouted.
Luke ran toward the door, just as Bernard turned roaring towards him. Luke was taken aback at first, but slowly made his way toward the door, keeping a close watch on the beast, reaching his hand to the doorknob. He swung the door open, then the lion ran past him, knocking him to the ground.
The others raced out the door, with Luke close behind, the group making their way toward the road. The sound of collapsing wood caused the group to turn and watch as the entire house was set ablaze. Lava poured from the doors and windows like it was bleeding out, as the top of the volcano emerged from the roof, splitting it and the windows, breaking into pieces. Luke looked on, twitching his eye, and barely able to contain himself.
"My house… My house…"
"Damn," Heather spoke. "Your super's gonna be pissed."
They all looked silently as the house burned to the ground, leaving the volcano in its place. Johnny slowly turned toward Luke, who was at a loss for words, yet his eyes showed that he was upset.
"Luke, I didn't mean…"
"This is all your fault, Johnny!" Luke snapped, angrily. "You couldn't just leave well enough alone; you had to bring that bastard game!
"I didn't know all this shit would happen! How was I supposed to know?!
"The game pieces move by themselves," Luke pointed out. "It projects freaking RIDDLES on a ball! And thus far we've been attacked by animals, plants, hail, AND LAVA! What the hell did you think was gonna happen?! My house is gone because of you and your STUPID game!"
"I'm sorry, okay?!" Johnny snapped. "I'm sorry about your house and I'm sorry I ruined your pary. But we have to finish playing this game!"
"Oh screw you!" Luke shouted, turning away. "You can play, but I'm out!"
"Where do you expect to go?" Dan asked.
"Don't know, don't care! Screw this game! Screw the lion! This is the last time I do something nice for people!"
But Luke didn't go very far when Johnny suddenly grabbed his arm, stopping him in his tracks.
"Nobody's going anywhere till we finish the game!" Johnny spoke.
"Get your damn hands off me, you bastard!"
Luke pulled his arm away from Johnny's grasp and swiftly punches Johnny in the face. Dan and Heather gasped at the sight as Johnny rubbed his fingers against his nose, wiping away the small trace of blood pouring down. Angered, Johnny wrapped his arms around Luke in a headlock as the latter punched Johnny in the stomach. They end up rolling on the gravel road, growling and beating each other until Heather approached.
She grabbed both men by the hair, the two crying in pain as she held them for a few seconds and then… BAM! Heather literally butted their heads together, settling the fight.
"YOU TWO SHUT THE HELL UP AND SIT THE FUCK DOWN!"
All at once, the argument between Johnny and Luke ceased as they straightened up in a sitting position yet not even glancing at the other. But still they listened as Heather paced between the two boys, more visibly annoyed than angered with the two.
"Look, I really, REALLY hate to say it, but we need to keep playing," Heather explained to Luke. "The rules said all this will disappear if and 'when' we win! And that could mean getting your house back. But I swear, you back out now and abandon us to deal with this shit ourselves, I will personally castrate you! And I don't give a fuck if it's Johnny's fault or not!"
"Oh come on…" Johnny groaned.
"And you!" Heather interrupted, turning to Johnny. "Next time you pick up a 'possibly' cursed object that doesn't belong to you, do the one thing you and EVERY protagonist I've seen in movies have trouble with: THINK FOR A GODDAMN SECOND! You got it?"
"… Yes, ma'am," Johnny answered, slouching.
"Well, Luke's house is currently occupied by the elements," Dan declared. "Anywhere we can go to finish?"
"We'll discuss that in the car," Johnny answered. "I'm driving."
"SHOTGUN!" Heather called out.
"Again with dibbing everything!" Dan groaned.
"And here I go to the front seat!"
They piled into Johnny's car, Heather taking the front seat while Johnny was at the wheel. As he turned the ignition, he looked to the back seat. He saw Dan waiting anxiously to go while Luke simply just looked out his window, glaring, not even bothering to acknowledge Johnny's backward glance nor anyone else. Johnny stared for a moment then let loose a sigh and he turned away with a look of guilt. In silence, they drove off to search for some place to finish the game.
But as the car disappeared in the distance, a hand emerged from the rubble that was Luke's house. Then something pushed it's way through: Van Pelt, mangled and torn apart, but surprisingly still alive. As he looked towards the car, the wounds on his skin began to fade and his clothes appeared to mend all by themselves. He then hoisted up his fallen gun and then his helmet, adjusting it on his head.
"Well played, boy," Van Pelt declared, with a look of determination. "Now the real hunt begins."