Chapter 1

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"You'd better get ready..."

A voice echoes through the cold, dull, uncomfortable room. Not a sultry, rich voice, but a rash, almost shrill one, one of the kind that makes one jump off the bed when they have nightmares. A chill breeze is gliding through the walls, making anyone in the room shiver.

There are eighteen people, eleven women and seven men, all in their early to middle twenties. Even though there are so many of them, this is not enough to make the atmosphere a little less cold. They are all sitting on the floor, cuddled on themselves, with someone occasionally groaning.

"You all know what I want, so listen carefully." The mysterious voice speaks again, leaving the group abashed and even more willing to leave this ableist place once for all, possibly before it's too late. A girl with dyed blue hair is eyeing every corner of the room, wondering who is talking right now.

"I know you're looking for my face, but you won't see it, or at least until I tell you that you can." The blue-haired girl, however, is still suspecting that there might be someone else, apart from her and her peers, lurking in the room, perhaps as a shadow or a ghost.

"You're all here, and you'll stay here. If you want to get out of this room, you have to tell me stories." Three girls eye each other, sighing out of relief. Still, fear is still in the air, since everyone believes there's a lot more at stake, and anyone's life could be at risk.

"Pay attention, though. You'll have to come up with convincing stories all together. Anyone who fails will be washed away." Blood is freezing in the eighteen guys and girls' veins. Now, it's definitely certain that their lives depend on their storytelling abilities. But why is their survival depending on those? Why can't there be a different deal?

It seems like it's no longer a matter of the mysterious voice. Now, they're left by themselves, not being able to escape this hellish room or call for help. If the only way to survive can lead them to safety or doom, it's only the voice's decision. No-one can object it or show any sort of doubt, or else they could make more and more steps closer to death.

***

Silence has fallen since the voice stopped talking. Not a peaceful, quiet silence, but a nerve-wrecking one. The room is still filled with ice-cold air that makes the guys and girls shiver; however, some of them are even sweating. Impatience is what can be perceived from their looks, even though no-one has the faintest idea of when the voice may restart talking again.

A boy wearing blue hoodies stands up, slowly approaching a metal door. "Come on, guys, there's a door," he says, finally breaking the silence. "Let's open it." He pulls the knob with all the force he has in his right arm, under the belief that it won't budge so easily.

However, he's surprised as the door opens effortlessly; therefore, he passes the threshold, followed by the remainder of the group. In particular, the blue-haired girl smiles at him and teases, "Thank you for saving us." She chuckles at him, earning a roll of eyes by him.

"You don't need to tease me," he states, making her laugh loud and contributing to kill the creepy, eerie atmosphere that there has been until a couple of minutes ago. He reprises, "Let's see what's there." Next to him, another guy, wearing a brown shirt and a rather old pair of jeans, is smirking.

There is another room, as grey and dull as the previous one, but with three couches, two armchairs, a small glass table and a television hung on a wall. While the majority of the guys and girls take seats on the couches, the blue-haired girl, followed by the two guys who talked to her, turns left to find an open-space kitchen and a large fridge.

She approaches the fridge to open it, only to be stopped by the guy with the brown shirt holding her wrist her tight and warning, "Don't open it! There might be something poisonous inside!" She, however, doesn't take him seriously, rolling her eyes at him and groaning.

"Stop acting like a kid, Keaton! You're so fucking annoying!" she exclaims, raising her voice and letting go of his grab. He steps back, annoyed at her reaction, and mutters something under her breath, which prompts her to snap at him. "You won't stop me from having a snack!"

Meanwhile, the guy with hoodies intervenes, "A snack is definitely a good idea. Let's call the others." He's about to reach him, when the girl stops him. "No," she begs. "Not until I find out what's there in the fridge. Please, Kane, stay here. We'll call the others later."

Although he's not convinced by his friend's plan, Kane decides not to move any further objections and instead turns back to Keaton, making some small talk with him. Silence has been completely replaced by bustling, movement, action, speech. Something that wasn't present when the mysterious voice was talking.

The blue-haired girl, at the same time, is busy inspecting the fridge, looking for something edible. To her shock, it's completely empty. She opens the freezer, only to find nothing inside as well. Dejected, she closes the fridge and turns back to her friends.

"Have you found anything yet?" asks Keaton with a hint of malice, raising an eyebrow and making her uncomfortable. She gulps, not having a clue of what to make for lunch now that she's just found that there's no food.

"There's nothing, unfortunately." She shakes her head, lowering it a bit in order not to meet Keaton's stern look. However, his expression softens as he notices that her green eyes are pale, nowhere near glowing on her face in their brightness.

She raises her head and throws a worried glance at him. "Don't worry," she assures. "We'll try and find a solution. I'll have to explain the situation to the others." She, after assuming a serious tone, smiles again, much to Keaton's relief.

"Let's go, then," he replies, heading to the living room where the other fifteen guys and girls are still sitting. Meanwhile, Kane notices that his friend is still standing in front of the fridge, eventually exhorting, "Come on, Jennifer, let's go."

"Okay, okay. I'm coming." Jennifer trails behind Kane, occasionally waving her dyed blue hair and looking around to see if someone is spying on the whole group. As her suspects die straight away, she reunites with her peers, when she hears a clear melody echoeing through the living room.

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