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A FIERY blaze slathered the locked door, filling the room with fluffy puffs of dark smoke

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A FIERY blaze slathered the locked door, filling the room with fluffy puffs of dark smoke. Small patches of black air snaked its way into my lungs, and I heaved and coughed up my guts, spitting all over myself.

Snatching my blouse off, the soft silk felt nice against my sweaty face. The scent of my floral fabric softener hit my nose, fighting away the burnt aroma. Light patches of heat tickled my body, causing me to shiver in my bra and jeans.

Focus. About four minutes have passed so the door should be weakened enough by now, but the fire blazed at full intensity, making me think that I might die of severe burns if I touched it with my hands.

Leather was flame-resistant though — at least for a while. So, if I kicked at the door with my boots instead of punching, the door might give way without burning me.

Or so I hoped. But hey, if I survived, I could tell Tim that my nine months of kickboxing lessons actually came in handy.

I went to strike, but I hesitated. The flames licked the floor now, slowly spreading around the perimeter of the room. Only a matter of time before the whole floor caught fire.

And then, the dusty bulb shuddered once more before finally going out, leaving me with only the fiery embers as my light source.

Thick smoke bred with the warmth and blackness of the room, crafting this harsh, lethal atmosphere that I couldn't take anymore. It was do or die. Either I was going to die by the hands of my captor or die in the fire. Why not go out fighting?

Charging forward, my leg swung out, putting all my strength in my thigh and calf, striking the middle of the burning door. A sickening crack choked the air.

Soft flames absorbed my jean hem, but I patted them away with my shirt. Seconds later, I kicked again, hearing the wood weaken once more before I slapped away the flames on my jeans again.

One more time.

Sucking air deep into my diaphragm, my foot lashed out once more, putting all my might and force into the movement. It connected with a loud bam as pieces of scorched wood flew forward, revealing a giant rectangle hole.

Darkness stared back at me through the hole with only a few cackles of flames lighting the way as smoke dipped forward through the opening.

Without any hesitation, my body barreled through the door with my shirt over my face like a mask, ready for whatever was out there.

But once my body made it outside the room, blackness painted my vision, and the ground underneath me disappeared.

I closed my eyes as my body tumbled through what felt like a hard-plastic tub. It almost seemed like I was flying, which on first thought sounded almost beautiful and fun, but it really wasn't.

It was hard, cold and almost deafening as screams engrossed my ears, my thoughts — everything. Every part of my being became enthralled by the terrifying screams of the unknown as my body submerged deeper into this tub.

Fantasy. That's the word that entered my mind. I was entering a broken, twisted fantasy that wasn't mine.

I didn't know how much time had passed or how long I was captivated by the screams, but all of a sudden, everything became silent. A bright fluorescent light flashed at my feet, and I could finally see. Below me, a small hole — too small for a human body — blocked the end of the tube.

Thinking I was going to smash into it, I closed my eyes, bracing myself for the pain and broken bones. But instead, the hole sort of stretched and sucked when my feet hit. My eyes widened as the hole expanded like a condom. The thick rubber material slurped my body through the small space.

Once through the hole, my body hit solid cement, knocking the air out of my lungs before I tumbled against some bars.

"Ouch," I whispered, closing my eyes in pain. I didn't get to wallow in my agony for too long because I got that feeling. That feeling you get when someone's watching you — studying you — stalking you.

My eyes opened in an instant, but I winced when a bright light blinded me. It took me a couple of minutes before I could see, but I jerked back at what I saw in front of me.

Slick carbon bars melted together into a cage that surrounded me, reminding me of one of those vintage, metal bird cages. A ceiling chain hooked onto my cage, suspending it in mid-air.

The cage wasn't the freaky part. The eyes of at least two dozen people gawked at me. Most of them belonged to other teenagers who were in similar cages, all of them sporting the same ankle monitor.

The most sinister gaze belonged to the colorful man standing in the pit below with a joker smile on his face.

"Welcome, Betinia. You are our last contestant," he said in an unfamiliar accent.

"Contestant?" I whispered, staring at the other people around me.

"Welcome, everyone," the man in the pit screamed in a high-pitched tone before smiling and giggling. He snapped his fingers, causing multiple large, flat-screen televisions to emerge from various locations in the giant cylinder-shaped room.

Every television flashed with a different face. From looking around, every person in a prison appeared on a screen. My face materialized on the one in front of me. Live footage of me right now, in all my half-naked, burnt glory. Only a singed bra covered my top half, and it was close to falling to pieces.

Eyes widening, my arms wrapped around my chest, trying to cover myself as best I could.

The man in the pit clapped his hands and cackled, bringing our attention back to him. "Welcome to Battle of the Killers, a new murderous reality show. I wonder which of you will survive?"


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