Braxton stumbled often but pushed forward toward an opening in the hallway. A deep, familiar voice boomed in the distance, but the ringing in his ears made it impossible to gauge. Lionel would deliver the Artist’s message and take the others to “David”, though Braxton didn’t know what that meant. The voice disappeared and Braxton heard the shuffle of feet. He tried to yell, but the pain sparked so severely in his jaw that he almost collapsed.
No one responded. I need to locate Ben. Braxton felt along the wall as he went, hoping to find some clue or opening to take him on to the group. Instead, he found a switch underneath some fabric. A stage ahead glowed red. On the stage sat a slumped figure, but Braxton couldn’t discern any details at first, just a dark outline.
Braxton checked his firm grasp on his fractured jaw and wished he could use something to support it without his hand. The figure didn’t move except for the slightest rise and fall of the torso. At that point, though, Braxton didn’t dare trust anything that he couldn’t observe up close. The image of the outline around the large pole jerking flashed to his mind. No, you can’t lie to yourself. The Artist won’t let you lie to yourself. A head of dark black hair resolved into clarity.
Jessie? Braxton, remember how his sister’s head hung that night. Part of him still wondered if she was smiling under the blanket of her black hair. This can’t be Jessie. She’s already dead. Braxton walked as fast as he could without losing consciousness. The stage light glowed brighter and a voice clip played.
“What did you do?” Dad?
“She asked me to make her beautiful, so I did,” Cass Lawrence said.
Braxton froze. The stage light dimmed and a single red light lowered to a foot above the girl’s head.
“Don’t you see it, Brax? Do you see how beautiful I made Jessie?”
Braxton groaned, unable to speak, the distorted noise the only sense of relief.
The voice clip cut out before Braxton’s dad called Cass Lawrence a bastard and tackled the killer. Later, Cass Lawrence claimed he saw a sparkle of appreciation in Braxton’s eyes. The Lead Detective recommended a thorough psychological evaluation for the eight-year-old boy. The single red light bulb glowed in past and present. Each heartbeat pulsed with the slightest sway of the girl’s head.
“Don’t worry Braxton,” Cass Lawrence said. “Even if I’m gone by the time you reach this stage, you will see my work. May I present to you, my newest protege.”
A side hallway glowed to life, and a spotlight fell on a person he hoped to never see again.
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