As promised, they arrived at the supposed location the next afternoon. The promise was late, but the girls did not feel they were misled like before. The house was there. Just a normal, simple house but it was enough.
“Nice view,” Cyndi commented.
“Let’s go in,” Jiro said.
The others followed Jiro inside. It was then that they heard some gasps. The girls. The guards already knew how it looked all along. No surprises.
“Completely different,” Joanne remarked.
“Wait until you see the basement,” Calvin said, forgetting that he wasn’t supposed to talk to Joanne. At least not in friendly terms.
Joanne turned to him. “It’s as big?”
“Possibly bigger,” Chun answered.
“Let’s go check it out then!” She had forgotten about their current situation. It was not exactly a good time to explore.
“Where are the others then?” Cyndi asked.
“That’s right,” Sharon confirmed. “I thought they would arrive before us.”
“Actually…” Chun began.
The girls all turned to him for an explanation.
“This is just a temporary house for us,” He said lamely. “They will send words back here when it’s safe.”
“And I thought that’s it,” Joanne said, disappointed.
“It won’t be long,” Chun reassured her. “First things first.”
“Basic tour,” Jiro took over.
The girls exchanged looks. Cyndi and Joanne shrugged when Sharon gave them a puzzled look.
“Let’s go,” Chun urged, seeing that the three princesses were still loitering in the living room.
They were taken to different rooms and told various items around the house before descending to the basement.
“There’s a map around here somewhere that tells you how to get to different rooms around here,” Chun narrated.
“Here,” Calvin said seconds later. “It’s on this wall.”
Jiro found the light switch and they were able to see the objects more clearly. They had to rely on the light flooding in from above since they descended.
“It looks almost like upstairs,” Sharon said.
“Almost,” Chun echoed.
“This map’s going to help you survive these next few days,” Calvin said, tapping at the glass display on the wall.
“What do you mean us?” Joanne asked, her hostility rising. “Are you saying we can’t get around and have to rely on you?”
“Qiao Qiao,” Cyndi interfered. “I’m sure he means well.”
Joanne scowled. “Fine.”
“How come we never know this place exist before?” Cyndi asked, turning to Jiro. She had come to rely on Jiro’s explanations more than the others these past days. It had become a habit because of their secret sessions. Though it had only carried on for two nights.
“It wouldn’t be a safe house if everyone knows,” Jiro answered.
“It’s a safe house?” Joanne asked, surprised.
The other girls turned to look at the guards also.
“All right,” Jiro said, his face hinting urgency. “You girls explore. We need to go upstairs to check on the security measures. I don’t want to take any risks.”
“Yes, sir!” Cyndi saluted Jiro.
Jiro rolled his eyes as he ascended the steps, indicating that he couldn’t care less. He turned around to see Cyndi still smiling with the others as the girls began to explore the place. A sense of reluctance shone in his eyes. Then he signaled to the other guards with his eyes.
“I’ll take the front area, you three can divide it up among yourselves whichever section you want to cover,” Jiro said.
The others followed his lead and ascended, working it out among themselves. It wasn’t until the girls heard a loud clanking sound that they raced up the stairs to see. Too late. They had been locked in.
“What in the world are you doing?” Angela screamed–and not Sharon.
“What’s going on?” Sharon asked, having reached the top.
Cyndi could see Jiro’s face through the small glass window. There was a sense of sadness in his eyes. “Jiro!”
“Chun, you better let me out or I’m so going to kill you!” Angela shouted, banging on the door.
After Jiro stepped aside, they saw Chun. He glimpsed at Angela once and then left also. Calvin actually placed his hand on the window and then withdrew it. Jacky glanced both at Sophia and Joanne. It was as if they were taking turns to say goodbye to the girls–in their own way.
“Are you guys playing a joke on us?” Joanne demanded. She was standing next to Cyndi. “Open up!”
Then they heard some feedback noises. Probably from a microphone. They scanned the room and found a small speaker hanging a distance from the door. It was leaning toward the stairs.
“Don’t panic,” Jiro’s voice came on. “You girls will only have to stay here for several days. Once it is over, you can open the door and come out. Someone will come for you then.”
“There is enough food to last a month,” Chun continued. “There are also other necessities for you stocked in the bedrooms. So you don’t need to worry about that either.”
“What are you guys doing?” Joanne asked. “Don’t tell me you guys are the traitors and you want to kidnap us to negotiate some terms with our fathers. You’ll never get what you want!”
“There are no traitors among us,” Calvin spoke up. “We made that up, so you girls would come willingly, knowing the danger that might lie ahead. There are some things we have to go take care of without you.”
“My father set this up?” Sharon questioned.
“Yes,” Jiro replied.
“I knew something was really wrong!” She took out her anger by banging on the door.
“You better tell us the whole thing!” Joanne tried again.
“I’m sorry, “Calvin said. “But we can’t do that.”
“Jacky ge!” Joanne yelled out, another weak attempt.
“Miss Joanne,” Jacky said, his voice hesitant. “Qiao Qiao…from now on, it’s up to you to conquer your fears. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”
There was a pause. They thought one of the guys would speak up again, but Jacky continued.
“It was nice knowing you, Jing Jing,” Jacky said with much sadness in his voice.
Sophia didn’t respond. She had already exchanged a look with him earlier. She did not want to say anything more.
“I hope you will use everything I taught you effectively,” Jiro spoke up again. That was meant for Cyndi.
“Why can’t you tell us?” Cyndi asked, her voice less accusing than the others.
“It’s getting late,” Jiro said, an attempt to divert from the question. “We have to go meet the others.”
They heard the other door leading into the basement being opened and sounds of footsteps.
“Don’t go!” Cyndi yelled out.
“Chen Yi Ru, you’re a coward!” Joanne exclaimed suddenly. “Why didn’t you tell me it was because you were going to die?”
“What?” That was Sharon.
Joanne turned to Sharon. “They can’t take us with them. Of course, it’s because it’s to the point where they’re not confident that they will win. Or survive.”
“Wang Dong Cheng!” Cyndi called out. “I won’t forgive you for this one!”
The other door shut then. The banging intensified since Angela, Cyndi, Joanne, and Sharon were banging on it. There was also the yelling that morphed into the whole chaotic scene. Only Sophia remained calmed, standing behind the girls, her back leaning on the wall. Sharon turned around to give her a nasty look then.
“Why aren’t you saying anything?” Sharon snapped. “Why aren’t you doing anything?”
“Banging on the door won’t help,” Sophia replied.
“Of course, you don’t care! It’s not your family.”
Joanne turned around and grabbed a hold of Sharon. “Don’t do it. I know you’re upset but don’t take it out on Sophia jie.”
“Let go of me!” Sharon was still struggling with Joanne. “I’ll bet Jacky ge told her.”
“He didn’t,” Sophia clarified, not wanting Sharon to taint Jacky’s reputation.
“Like you would tell us!”
“Sharon, stop it!” Joanne had used some force to control Sharon.
“Fine.” Sharon dropped the violent act. “But I don’t get why you keep siding with her.”
“We all know why you’re not getting along with her. But let’s get real. I meant without attacking each other on a petty level. Even if we don’t have that forbidden rule, would Jacky ge like you? Even if Sophia jie didn’t exist, would he have picked you?”
Angela and Cyndi had stopped banging on the door, knowing the guys wouldn’t open up no matter what. The guys had probably gone far already. They turned to Joanne and Sharon.
“Is this even the time?” Angela asked, rubbing her arm.
“Why not?” Joanne asked back. “We’re trapped here anyway. Let’s get this out of the way once and for all. We need to work together to get out of here, not going around in circles. We won’t find our way out right away, so of course, we will get irritated and attack one another. It is the last thing we want, right? That’s why I’m doing this.”
“You’re right. Go ahead.”
Joanne returned her attention to Sharon. “Well?”
“So he doesn’t pick me but like she’s being her true self.”
“It’s just that you think she’s fake.”
“She’s just the type to talk only when she needs to. Does that make her fake? We’re just loud, okay? What about Jiro? He’s quiet too, does that make him fake? Does that make him not worth Cyndi’s love?”
“Qiao Qiao, don’t bring me into it!” Cyndi protested.
“It’s his job to not talk much. Look at him carrying on with Cyndi the other day,” Sharon continued right on, ignoring Cyndi.
“But he hates it when we’re noisy,” Joanne pointed out.
“Calvin’s quiet too!”
“Calvin’s not quiet. He doesn’t want to get into trouble.”
“Then what about Chun?”
“Chun just needs to find the right person to get him out of his shell. And you’re getting way off base! You’re grasping at straws. Just admit it that you hate Sophia jie because you like Jacky ge. And that Jacky ge will never think of you no matter what, okay? But it doesn’t mean the end of the world because you could always find someone else. The most important thing right now is to find a way out and help them. Do you want to be standing around here and waiting to hear that they might be…”
The others did not realize Joanne was shaking so hard. From fear? Sophia–like always–was the first one to step over and comfort Joanne.
“I didn’t say that I’m going to be with him,” Sophia said, feeling the need to justify herself.
“Why, he’s not good enough for you?” Sharon persisted.
“No, because I don’t want to interfere with his life.”
“But he loves you.”
“We barely know each other from these past days.”
“Are you trying to talk her out of it or help her?” Angela asked, not being able to stay silent any longer. “Since we have no problem in that area now, could we all get this going? We’re wasting time.”
“What are we going to do first?” Sharon asked, looking around.
“Check for possible knobs or switch or whatever that could open the door,” Cyndi replied.
They went to work just like that, searching around the area, grabbing at every single thing that could be the lever to open the door. Sophia descended the stairs and returned to the basement. She took a quick scan of the spacious area before stepping forward to read the map Calvin had pointed out to them earlier. The others followed her also but began searching the various rooms after standing in front of the map for a while.
“You’re great help all right,” Sharon said when she returned to the main room and found Sophia still staring at the map. She was sure Sophia hadn’t moved an inch.
“You’re at it again?” Angela asked, having returned also.
“I thought we’re clear on wanting to get out of here,” Cyndi reminded them. “Why are we starting senseless arguments again?”
“You don’t know anything,” Sharon scolded Cyndi. “She’s just standing there the whole time staring at that thing.”
Sophia finally moved, a smile on her face. “I found out something.”
Sharon rolled her eyes. “Enlighten us.”
“Eh…why are you attacking her again?” Joanne demanded, stepping into the room.
“You two just know how to defend outsiders.” Sharon meant Cyndi and Joanne.
“The layout to this room doesn’t match the map,” Sophia continued with her explanation, ignoring the others’ side rants completely.
“Yes, it does.”
“No, it doesn’t, look.” Sophia stepped forward and pointed at various spots. “Those spaces are probably used for secret panels or hidden rooms. Or a way out. All secret rooms must have that, or it would be like being trapped in a tomb.”
Sharon shivered. “Don’t say that.”
“She’s got a point though,” Cyndi admitted. “If it doesn’t, what if someone could get in the front of the house, which I’m sure, is locked as well. But what if they found a way in?”
“I’m going to kill Chen Yi Ru when we get out of here,” Joanne mumbled. “He didn’t even tell us about secret rooms in case someone gets in here.”
“He did,” Sophia said, contradicting Joanne.
Joanne wrinkled her face. “What?”
“He told us when you were scolding him,” Cyndi reminded Joanne.
“He just said to study the maps.”
“That’s giving us a hint.”
“That’s too ironic. That means he knows it’s going to be dangerous for us to be out there, yet he wants to risk it?”
“I don’t know why he would tell us after going through so much trouble of getting us here,” Sophia said. “But he must have thought of other possibilities and wants us to familiarize ourselves with the map.”
“So what now?”
“Now that we already know the empty spaces on the map, we go search for it once more.”
They divided up the search within the main room first.
“If I catch anyone of you doing this, you’re dead meat,” Sharon threatened about five minutes later.
Cyndi turned to Sharon. “What are you talking about?”
Cyndi was even more confused. She knew she did not have all the time in the world to waste. Why would she play some prank on Sharon? “What are you talking about?”
“There it is again. Just because I was shivering earlier because someone mentioned ‘tomb’ doesn’t mean I’m a coward. No point in playing ghost game.”
Cyndi ignored her and continued the search. She only had one area left to cover before going into one of the rooms to search. Just when she stepped toward the space that touched with Sharon’s side, she could hear a strange sound. “Sharon, quit it!”
“What are you talking about now?”
“You’re trying to get back at me, right?”
“So you admit it was you all along?”
“I don’t know what sound you’re talking about. But you must have thought it was me so now you’re doing it too.”
“Huh.” It was Sharon’s turn to ignore Cyndi.
Cyndi knew it was useless, so she attacked the file cabinet. As she was pulling out some drawers, she was feeling some wind moving toward her. “Sharon!”
“It wasn’t me!” Sharon sounded irritated, not defensive.
Cyndi turned around to see Sharon across the room. She was making her way down the hall. So…it couldn’t be Sharon. She realized the others had gone to search the rooms they had chosen as well. She was the only one there because Sharon had disappeared into a room. She did another quick scan of the room, feeling the chills. The air around her whistled again. “Sharon!”
“For the last time, it wasn’t me!” Sharon shouted from down the hall.
“No, Sharon, come back!”
“What?” Sharon came out from the room, sensing Cyndi’s fear from her outcry.
“There’s something really wrong here,” Cyndi said.
“Duh, we’re shut here.”
“No, I meant that sound you heard earlier, I hear it too.”
“I don’t hear it anymore because you stopped it already.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“Tell it to the kids.” Sharon turned to leave again.
“No, Sharon!” Cyndi had grabbed onto Sharon’s hands.
“Eh…what’s with this? I thought we’re supposed to search for an exit route.”
“What’s going on here?” Joanne asked.
“Something’s here,” Cyndi replied, walking toward Joanne.
Joanne raised an eyebrow in puzzlement.
“You’re scared of ghosts?” Sharon jumped in.
Cyndi jumped. “Don’t say it out loud!”
Sharon rolled her eyes. “This is ridiculous.”
Joanne did not trust Sharon enough. She turned to Cyndi. “Where?”
Joanne stepped toward the file cabinet, searching for possible levers. Then she could hear a strange sound too. She pressed her ear against the source, listening harder. Then she smiled, turning to the other two. “It’s the wind howling.”
“How can wind get in here?” Sharon asked.
“Help me,” Joanne said. She turned back to the file cabinet and attempted to move it.
Cyndi and Sharon exchanged a look, then walked over to help Joanne.
“What is this made of anyway?” Sharon asked, getting impatient.
“Wait,” Joanne said, stopping her progress.
“Get the files out first.”
“Hey, my brain’s not all here.”
They emptied out all the drawers, scattering folders after folders of information to one side. Being organized was the last thing on their minds at that moment.
“Okay,” Joanne said when they were done. “Let’s try again.”
This time, it was easier. After they slid the file cabinet to one side, they could see sunlight flooding in through some holes on the wall. It looked like it had been punctured to provide air for the room.
“Of course,” Joanne noted, stepping forward to inspect the holes. “It would make sense there is air flowing in or we’ll be suffocating to death.” She pressed herself against the wall, trying to see the view outside.
“You see anything?”
“Barely, just the grass.”
“If air can get in, can bugs?” Sharon asked.
“The holes punctured from the other wall looks smaller, not sure. But I think it couldn’t? I don’t see anything harmful…yet.”
“Let me check,” Sharon said.
Joanne stepped back and let Sharon had her turn.
“What are you guys doing?” Angela asked, joining them by the wall.
“We found this since we were trying to hunt for some ghosts,” Joanne explained.
Angela wrinkled her face. “Ghosts?”
Cyndi reached over and shove Joanne. Joanne snickered, not minding it at all.
“It was funny though,” Joanne said. “You look all pale.” Then she straightened again, turning to Angela. “Have you found anything?”
Angela shook her head. “It’s just a closet of some sort. I tried to see if there are other compartments or hidden panels but no luck. What about you?”
Joanne shook her head. “Closet. Could be used for hiding but one could suffocate after awhile.”
Sophia came out at that time. “You’re all done?”
“No,” Cyndi said. “I haven’t searched the room assigned to me. We found this.”
Sharon stepped back at that time. “We have air, what now?”
“Let’s go and search the last room.”
Angela, Joanne, and Sharon followed her. Sophia studied the air holes real quick before joining them in the room at the end of the hall also.
“Another empty closet,” Sharon mumbled, feeling defeated.
Angela walked over to where Sharon was standing. “This one seems bigger than the closet I found.”
Angela stepped inside and started to tap on the walls.
“I tried to push it in, but it doesn’t work.”
“It might not work because that’s not how it’s designed to open up. Not just a push or anyone from the outside could just come in.”
“Someone must have dug a path leading out of here somehow.”
Just as Angela continued tapping, the back wall gave way and slid open, revealing a space, just barely a space so it could not account for a room. It was made of metallic material.
“This is outrageous,” Sharon protested, not believing Angela’s luck.
Angela was even more shocked. “I wasn’t even tapping on the back wall though.”
“Thought you guys could open it by standing around there, huh?” Joanne asked in her teasing tone.
Angela and Sharon turned around to see her by the bookcase.
“These are fake books,” Joanne said. “Well, at least the ones on this side.”
By this time, even Cyndi and Sophia had abandoned their search elsewhere around the room.
“Only one person could fit in this place,” Angela noted, looking into the metallic room.
“Looks like a coffin, huh?” Joanne asked.
“You seriously know how to scare a girl, don’t you?” Sharon snapped, turning to Joanne with an annoyed look.
Joanne shrugged. “I was just saying.” She was still standing by the bookcase. “I think one of us should inspect that place and the rest of us stay out of the way. We wouldn’t want to be shut in, right?”
“Good point,” Cyndi agreed. “I’ll do it.”
“Okay, I’ll stay here…just in case.”
That also meant Angela was still tapping on the two walls of the closet. She wanted to be absolutely sure they did not miss anything. Luck finally decided to land its hand to Angela since she finally found a hollow space. She turned to the others with much excitement. “I knew it.”
“What have you found then?” Sharon asked.
“Hollow space, what else?”
Angela did not care to patch up Sharon’s wounded state. She returned to study the space, still tapping on it. “I wonder how it opens.”
Joanne fumbled with the bookcase some more, trying different sides of it. Then she grabbed the small statue in the middle. Angela withdrew her hand as she saw and heard the sound of sliding wood.
“There you go,” Joanne said. “What’s inside?”
“A box,” Angela replied. She took it out and stepped back into the room. “Look.”
The other three gathered around her.
“Open it,” Sharon urged.
“Yeah and get poison with…” Joanne drawled out dramatically.
“You’re having a riot scaring the rest of us, aren’t you?”
“I’ll open it,” Sophia volunteered, taking the box from Angela. She made sure to aim it away from them all. “It’s a key.”
“Two guesses it’s not to open the door in front or why in the world would those idiots lock us down here?” That was Joanne. She only meant Calvin–not the other three guards. But she might as well include them all from her rising rage–all over again.
Then they felt some wind rushing in. They were so occupied with thinking about the key that they had forgotten about the metallic room. They turned and see Cyndi staring outside, shielding her eyes from the sudden light.
“Should I step out to check?” Cyndi asked, turning to the others.
“Not yet,” Sophia said. “We should check if there are any types of maps around here. There might be traps down that path. To keep out intruders.”
“Good point.” Cyndi reached out and pulled the door shut. She joined the others in the bedroom again.
“You think we overlook the closets in the other rooms?” Angela asked.
“No,” Joanne contradicted Cyndi.
“Why not?” Sharon asked.
“Because the other rooms are to throw others off if they discover this place,” Sophia replied.
“After four tries, finding a closet would equal to giving up.”
“That makes sense.” Sharon had to admit she was giving up too soon as well, seeing another empty closet.
“I wonder what else is in this closet then,” Joanne pondered, tapping on her chin. She stepped toward the bookcase again, attacking the left side.
“The most you could do is open the right side as well,” Sharon said.
“No harm trying.”
And Sharon was right, the right side of the closet slid open when Joanne grabbed onto one of the books on the top row.
“Don’t look,” Angela yelled out.
“What happened?” Joanne asked, making her way toward the closet.
That stopped Joanne.
“What’s wrong?” Sharon asked, looking from Angela to Joanne.
Joanne felt her knees weakening. She began to shake again. Then she closed her eyes, forcing herself to breathe out. She opened her eyes again, dropping down on the floor. It was an attempt to get into meditation.
“What’s she doing?” Sharon tried again.
“Meditation,” Sophia answered.
Sophia looked at Angela–who she had guessed already found out. “Are we supposed to…”
“I think we could tell Sharon now,” Cyndi jumped in, understanding Sophia’s concern.
“So you all know this except me?” Sharon asked. “Do you think I got that big of a mouth?”
“You’ve been quite irritated recently. We didn’t know if we should tell you. And we were at the mansion these past days. The fewer people know the better.”
“What happened then?”
“She made her first kill.”
“What?” Not shocked. Sharon was still confused.
“Jacky trained her how to defend herself in crisis, in case he couldn’t protect her. But that became a mistake because…”
“Who did she kill then? One of ours?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary. I don’t know the details exactly, but Jiro told me that he could sense that Qiao Qiao already made her first kill from her haunting look at the dining table that night when she wasn’t into all that fight talk anymore. Then you know what happened these past days.”
“She did it to save Calvin,” Sophia said.
“What?” All three girls turned to Sophia.
“Jacky told me they got separated when they were at this one market. He told Calvin and Qiao Qiao to go first. Then he used himself as bait to lure those other guys. That was when he ended up on my doorstep. Qiao Qiao told him they got ambushed at this one site. Someone was hiding on the roof. Calvin found out too late. He could only push her out of the way, but she reacted and turned around to shoot the other guy or it would’ve been Calvin.”
“She has no choice though, so why would she…” That was Sharon–still.
“Have you killed anyone before?”
“Of course not.”
“None of us have, except for the guys. So imagine what she has to deal with.”
“What are we going to do now? Hide these guns? Or take them with us for precautions?”
“It’s your call, but I’m not going to take one with me.”
The others turned to look at Joanne still trying to fight her inner demon. Sweats were forming on her face like the previous times, yet they could tell she was trying to push back whatever it was that was attacking her. They ended up scattered around the room, waiting for Joanne to recover while thinking over what Sophia had said.
© Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
Posted: Tuesday, February 15th, 2011