Elise began to sob as Psymon took in the terrifying sight before them. It was a man. Psymon swore again under his breath. A man was hanging from the ceiling in the room that Psymon could only presume had once been the house's kitchen.
The taut rope around the man's neck creaked ominously as the body swayed slowly back and forth. Psymon gulped and took Elise's arm. "It's all right," he said, hoping he sounded much calmer than he felt. "I-it's just a dead guy. Nothin' to worry about-"
He was cut off by a sudden click, click-ing sound in one of the next rooms. Both he and Elise quickly turned their heads in the direction it had come from. Seconds passed, and then they heard the noise again, though this time it didn't stop. The sound was drawing closer to where they stood, and Psymon's heart began to pound as he came to a horrifying realization.
There was someone else in the house. He was sure of it.
"Psymon," Elise whispered. She gripped his arm so hard that he nearly cried out in pain. "I think-"
"I know, I know," he hissed. "Just stay close. I'm gonna get us out of here."
They tip-toed quietly from the kitchen, though not without casting one last fearful glance at the body behind them. Poor bastard, Psymon found himself thinking in passing. I wonder if it was a suicide or if somebody murdered him. Though it was a horrible thought, Psymon sincerely hoped that the man had taken his own life and that no foul play had been involved. Otherwise...
Elise screamed in his ear as they rounded the next corner. Psymon jumped, and was about to snap at her to be quiet, though when he saw what was in front of them he found himself screaming right along with her. "Mother of God," he breathed.
When he got over his initial shock, Psymon dared step forward to get a closer look. There was no mistaking the blood on the floor as he shone his light across the room. And it wasn't just on the floor. It was everywhere, even on the walls and ceiling! But how-
A floorboard creaked behind them, and Psymon and Elise both spun to find a hooded figure standing in the doorway. The figure was far enough away from them that he almost looked like a shadow. Elise whimpered, covering a hand over her mouth as she backed slowly away from the figure. "Oh my God," she was murmuring to herself. "Oh my God, oh my God...I'm going to die. We're going to die."
Psymon didn't say anything. He only watched the shadow man as slowly—very, very slowly—he began making his way toward them. Elise kept backpedaling until she ran into one of the walls. The look of helplessness that entered her eyes then was almost enough to make Psymon want to shriek and run for cover. The blonde crumbled against the wall and wrapped her arms around herself, trembling as long at last she raised her gaze to meet the shadow man's. "Who are you?" she demanded, though her voice sounded weaker than Psymon had ever thought possible. "What do you want from us?"
The shadow man stopped and stared at her. "What do I want?" His voice came out sounding muffled and raspy, and it took Psymon mere moments to realize that the man was speaking through a voice box of some kind. Odd, he thought. Why would he bother trying to conceal his identity if he's just gonna kill us?
Before Psymon could think much more on it, the shadow man turned and made a motion with his hand, as though gesturing to someone behind him. On cue, two more hooded figures stepped forward, and Psymon's blood turned to ice when he saw what they were holding: axes. Two giant, towering axes, the kind that Psymon was sure executioners had used to behead prisoners during the Middle Ages.
"Shit, man! For Christ's sake." Psymon turned and bolted over to where Elise was still standing on the other side of the room. "What is this, some kind of freaking cult?"
He couldn't believe it. He seriously could not believe it. Little whiny Griff had been totally justified in fearing this place. If only Psymon had listened to him. If only he'd heeded the warnings that the legends told...
The shadow man chuckled into the voice box. "Look at what stumbled onto our doorstep. How convenient. Now we have enough sacrifices to complete the ritual. I was gonna go out and find two more dudes—make it a little more even, you know? But...you guys'll do just fine." He directed his gaze toward Elise. "Our Lord Satan will make good use of you in the underworld. He does tend to favor blondes, y'know. Maybe he'll make you one of his subjects, d—I mean, ma'am." The man turned to the side and coughed, and Elise narrowed her eyes at him. The look only lasted a moment, but Psymon could've sworn that during those brief two or three seconds he'd seen irritation, not fear, in Elise's gaze as she regarded their captor. Just as quickly, though, the look disappeared and was replaced by an expression of sheer terror.
"Ritual?" she squeaked, shaking her head. "What do you mean? What are you going to-"
The shadow man snapped his fingers, and that's when the two figures next to him stepped forward with their axes. One of them was significantly shorter than the other, Psymon noticed, and that's when he began to form a plan. I can probably take the smaller one, he thought. Yeah. Elise and me'll run by him as fast as we can. I can throw him off balance and trip him. We should be able to outrun them pretty easily after that, and then...
And then they would make a break for it.
The figures with the axes drew nearer. One of them—the taller one—raised his ax and made a move to charge. Psymon didn't waste another moment. He grabbed Elise's hand and started running.
It ended up being far easier than Psymon had imagined. They managed to rush straight past the two armed figures without so much as touching them, and when they came face to face with the shadow man himself, Psymon found he only had to shove him aside in order to gain passage through the doorway. The man staggered backward, grunting as he collided with a wall, but Psymon didn't stop to see if he had injured him. The two figures with the axes were advancing on them again, and Psymon pulled Elise onward, screaming his head off, all the while the shadow man shouting, "Stop them! Stop them!"
Psymon was still screaming even long after he and Elise had made it outside. They ran and ran until the house was no longer in sight, and when at last Psymon felt it was safe to catch his breath, he stopped and rested his hands against his knees, panting heavily. He had never been more afraid in all his life. He'd had quite a few brushes with death over the years as a professional snowboarder, but none of those experiences even came close to what had just happened.
After several moments he finally thought to address his companion. "Elise," he said in between breaths. "Are you-"
"You idiot. We must've rehearsed that fifty times and yet somehow you still managed to screw it up!"
Psymon frowned, turning quickly as he realized that Elise wasn't talking to him, but to...
Psymon blinked and rubbed his eyes. Sure enough, the gangster was still standing there, clad in a long black robe that went all the way down past his boots. I thought he and the others left a long time ago, Psymon thought. And what's up with those weird looking clothes? Wait a second...
"I told you it should've been me," another female voice said, and Psymon bristled. Allegra.
"Mac's taller than you," Elise told her somewhat defensively. "And taller figures always appear more menacing in the dark."
"Taller than me?" Allegra snorted. "Yeah, by like, two inches!"
There was the sound of crunching snow, and Psymon spun to face yet another newcomer: Griff. The 12-year-old had a dorky wobble to his gait, as usual, though Psymon noticed that he was also sporting one of those ridiculous black robes. Psymon clenched his fists, seething with rage. I am seriously gonna murder them.
"I thought Mac was doing a perfectly fine job," Griff said before Elise could retort. "That is, until he almost slipped and said 'dawg.'"
Elise groaned. "Fraser, you are seriously the worst actor of all time."
"I wasn't about to say 'dawg,'" Mac insisted. "I was about to say 'dude!'"
Elise shook her head. "Whatever," she said, waving him off. "The point is that you messed up the entire operation. I, on the other hand, carried out what I believe to be an Oscar-worthy performance."
"You really did," Griff commended her. "Gosh, Elise, that was amazing! How did you get to be so good at acting?"
"Oh don't go saying shit like that to her," Allegra snapped. "You'll just make her head even bigger than it already is."
"HEY." Psymon stepped between them, waving his arms wildly back and forth as he bellowed, "HEY. EVERYBODY SHUT UP. Just...just shut up right now." Elise smirked delightedly, looking like she was about to remark, but Psymon went on before she could do so much as open her mouth. "You wanna know something? You guys are the fucking worst. I oughta kill you all for messin' with me like that-"
"Please." Elise interrupted him with a shake of her head. "As though you've never played a prank like that on any of us."
"For real, yo!" Mac yelled, looking genuinely angry at Psymon. "Way I see it, this ain't nothin' but payback."
Psymon wrung his hands, holding back the urge to wheel around and punch Mac in his pasty white face. "Payback?" he whispered. Then he threw his head back and laughed. He kept laughing until he saw them all beginning to take small steps back from him. Good, he thought. Let them be afraid. They have no idea what's coming to them.
"You call that payback?" he said finally. "You losers ain't seen nothin' yet! Just wait. I'm gonna get you all so bad that you'll wish you'd never been born."
Elise narrowed her eyes at him, though she sounded amused as she said, "I'd like to see you try."
"Uh, Elise," Griff said, his eyes darting nervously from her to Psymon. "What are you doing? Don't encourage-"
"Oh, I will," Psymon promised her in a low, threatening voice. "It may not be today, and it may not be tomorrow, but soon enough, I'll get you. Do you hear me? I'll get you all!"
"Wait, Psymon," Griff held up a hand in protest. "Please don't. At least...don't prank me. I didn't even wanna do this in the first place, okay? I was scared to go in the house. I was worried that it might really be haunted-"
"Too late," Psymon snapped. "You all are dead meat! Mark my words...the day of reckoning is coming."
Elise sneered at him. "Oh goody. I'm sure it'll be a blast."
Psymon glared at his fellow SSX competitors, taking in their varying expressions—Allegra and Elise looked calm but slightly wary, Mac furious, Griff terrified out of his wits— already beginning to form ideas in his head as to how he could make them suffer for what they'd just done to him. Then he gave them all one last rude, single fingered gesture before turning sharply and stomping away.
For several minutes Allegra, Griff, Mac and Elise stood side by side, watching Psymon make his way over the hill, mumbling to himself all the while about how he was going to get revenge on them one day. When they were fairly certain that he could no longer hear them, Elise chuckled and said, "Well, that was the most fun I've had in weeks."
Griff peered up at her. "Uh. You do know he's gonna find a way to pay us back, right?"
Elise smiled. "Yeah. But you've gotta admit that it felt good to be the one pulling a prank on him this time, rather than the other way around."
"Hell yeah it did," Allegra said, clapping her hands together. "We should do this sort of thing more often. In fact..." She grinned devilishly at her friends. "What do you guys say we start planning another prank?"
The four of them began to slowly walk together in the direction that Psymon had gone. "Okay," Elise said after a few moments. "But this time I want a different crew involved." She frowned over at Mac. "Sorry bro, but you'll be sitting the next one out."
"What?" Mac leaped in front of her, his arms held out as if to say: The hell do you mean? "I played just as big a role in today's prank as you did!" he told her. "Heck, I was the star of the show!"
"Wrong." Elise tossed her hair back. "The whole thing wouldn't have been even remotely believable if I didn't possess such fabulous acting skills."
"Hey," Allegra said. "It was my idea to turn Psymon's dare against him."
"And I was the one who found the secret tunnel that leads into the house's cellar," Mac added. "And you've gotta admit that the plan never would've worked if we hadn't known there was another way in."
Griff was nodding along with everything they were saying. "Yeah," he said. "And I bought the costumes and props and fake blood and stuff from the Halloween store. So I participated too...right?" He gave a small laugh when no one acknowledged his comment. "Um, I mean, I know it wasn't much, but-"
Elise cut him off with a deep sigh. "Whatever. I guess you all played your part. Our next prank's gotta be big, though. I was thinking maybe we could ask Moby for some ideas."
"Moby?" Allegra shook her head. "No way. He'll tell Psymon what we're planning. Then the whole thing will be a bust."
"Hmm." Elise considered. "You're probably right. Best leave it to me to come up with a plan."
Griff jumped in front of the group as suddenly he was struck with a new thought. The others stopped, looking puzzled as Griff held up his index finger and exclaimed, "Wait. I actually think I might have an idea!"
Allegra groaned. "Please don't tell me it involves aliens."
Griff looked down at his feet sheepishly. "Well...it might involve aliens..."
The others shook their heads and began mumbling to each other, clearly not wanting to hear it.
"Hey, wait!" Griff hurried after them. "We'll need to iron out the details, but I think it could be a pretty cool prank-"
"Forget it, dude," Mac said. "Ain't no way Psymon is gonna fall for some alien invasion crap."
"If we do it right he will!" Griff argued. "I mean, who would've thought he would be fooled by the prank we pulled today? It could totally work. Guys? Guys! Hey, wait up!"