The explosion rocked the building and Ben pulled Melody close. Everyone in the hallway ran and push people out of the way. Anything, it seemed, that got the group away from the explosion. In what Ben expected wasn’t a coincidence. The explosion came from behind. The art patrons scattered around the stage in the center of the room that held ten foot tall poles.
“Do you think that was the cops coming in?” One person asked.
“I think these artist freaks are trying to kill us,” another said.
Ben tried to block out the voices. All the stress, the worry, the sense of loss fought against any sense of peace. Why did The Artist need to do this? From his research, Ben knew The Artist would do whatever it took to finish his show. He’d tried to ask Officer Lyle about the events at the haunted house, but the Officer brushed off his question, saying therapy taught him to block out the memories. But Ben knew therapy encouraged the opposite.
“Do you think that was your cop friend?” Melody asked.
Ben shook his head.
“As much as I wish it was,” Ben said. “I think he’s already in the building. The Artist wouldn’t kill his protege.”
Shock rang in Melody’s voice. Ben tried to remain calm and explain away the question.
“You know, someone destined to take over your position.”
“I know what a protege is, Ben. I don’t need you to mansplain to me.”
“Okay, okay. The Artist killed and ‘made art out of’ Officer Lyles’ older sister when he was eight. In the news reports, Cass Lawrence called out Officer Lyle as his protege.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me?” Melody said.
But Ben took the earlier hint and didn’t respond. The crowd murmured until a deafening scream erupted from the other side of the room.
The simple word silenced the room. Ben wondered how one person could stop everything.
“Thank you,” the apprentice said, “and for the next exhibit, we need volunteers.”
The lights turned off. Ben could feel people pushing tight against him. The claustrophobia developed by the cage the year before sucked the air from his lungs. Hands grasped, small and large, at arms, legs, anything, it seemed. Muffled screams tore through the darkness like beacon lights of trouble. Ben tried to hold on to Melody’s hand, but then realized he didn’t feel her anymore. Losing reality in his moment of panic pulled his attention too far away. The lights turned on.
Five people remained in the room that once held twenty. No one spoke but looked at each other. The screams continued, but off in the distance. The last five huddled together. Ben focused on one thought. They took Melody.
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