Happy Friday everyone! Without further ado, I present part 4 of Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell. If you missed the previous chapters, here’s the directory for you. Otherwise, enjoy!
Chapter Three – Game Day One
Copyright Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel 2020
Hell had found me again.
Sitting in the makeup chair set up on the premises of the backstage area, I harrumphed. They were primping me for the cameras that would broadcast the games. One person was doing my nails; adding fake ones on top of my dry nails, cracked from all the polish. Another was doing my make up while yet one more was putting on my shoes for me.
Overall I felt like a show poodle.
Still, only ten victims instead of eleven. At least I’d saved one man. That was something.
I surfaced from my thoughts as the makeup artist clucked, “Those dark circles are getting worse. Maybe you’re anemic.”
“Considering Elena is forcing sugar free, carb free veganism on me, I don’t doubt it,” I mumbled, allowing her to apply foundation. This morning’s breakfast consisted of five grapes and a teaspoonful of oatmeal; an all-time low. ”And I – yow!”
I glared at the girl lacing my shoes, barely able to feel my toes at this point. “You don’t need to tie them that tight!”
She grimaced apologetically. “I’m not. They’re a size too small.”
Great. First a corset and now my feet were going to be squeezed, too. Beyond bored, I stared at the TV screen in front of me. Elena was having herself done up behind a screen on my other side, so I knew better than to talk to people anymore than necessary. Better to let the sleeping giant stay drowsy lest she cause a scene.
As the stylist walked away for a minute, I snatched her soda off the table beside me and took a few sips. Better to steal some sugar to stave off hypoglycemia than to faint on live TV.
But as something flashed onto the TV screen, I choked on the soda and it came out my nose. I coughed and snatched up a tissue to clean myself, trying to convince myself that what was on the news wasn’t real. No, Kit really was on television being interviewed. I snatched the remote and turned up the volume. “What the hell?!”
“So you’re the eleventh contestant?” the reporter asked, extending a microphone to Kit who was absolutely beaming. “What motivated you to compete?”
“Son of a bitch!” I swore, leaning forward in my chair. He was still competing after all?!
“Truthfully, at first it was the money,” Kit admitted without any shyness. He full on grinned, displaying dimples while flashing a dazzling smile. Unlike the day previous, he was dressed to kill. “But then I met Anna and whew! She knocked mi socks off! So I compete to see her again and steal some more of her time, plus hopefully her heart as well.”
The remote cracked in my grip. I could practically feel my blood pressure rising, if not boiling. I’d been double crossed but good, and had no intention of letting him get away with this.
“Finish what you’re doing,” I seethed to the stylist who’d returned behind me. “I’ve something to attend to…”
She knew better than to mess with me.
Ten minutes later I was striding into the men’s locker area where the competitors were changing their clothes. Storming through with heels killing me already, a few of the contestants looked up as I passed.
“Whoo,” the most obnoxious of them that I’d met yesterday drawled, sitting back on the bench as I passed. “Looks like the lady couldn’t resist seeing her suitors…“
Whatever look I shot him, it must’ve been something close to murderous considering he flat out quailed. I stomped around him and kept looking for my target. Passing another row of lockers, I found my man.
Kit was completely drenched, a towel wrapped around his waist after getting out of the shower.
“You,” I growled loud enough to make him jump and turn with surprise. I charged down the row at him, fists clenched. “What the hell are you doing back here?!”
He flinched, sensing oncoming wrath. Then he recovered, saying warily, “Ah. So you are an early riser. Didn’t think you’d find out until later at the actual event.” He looked down to my toes and then back up to my eyes with some humor. “Then again, it must take a long time to truss you up like that.”
Absolutely incensed that he would joke with me, my eyes narrowed as he chuckled. Not after what happened between us last night. Apparently my reaction only made him more amused. He cocked his head, eyes glinting as he teased, “You know, you’re just as sexy when you’re mad.“
“Why are you here?” I demanded, stepping up to him.
Quite literally nose to nose since he was only an inch taller than me, he didn’t move or break eye contact, staring into mine unflinchingly. “Mi tia is getting her cancer treatment right now.“
“Answer the question, or so help me God!“
“Easy,” he said, putting his hands up in surrender, retreating an inch and rocking back on his heels. “I can see you’re pissed and my response might antagonize you even more, so I’d suggest you sit.”
Needless to say, I didn’t move. He rolled his eyes and shook his head, looking at the ceiling while he decided what to say.
“Ai. Okay, when you revealed yourself to me last night, you made me feel… I couldn’t get you out of my mind and that never happens,” he admitted, leaving me absolutely incredulous. He shrugged. “I remembered what mi madre used to say to me. ‘Joey, if you find love, never let it go’-“
“You’re back because you’re ‘in love’ with me?” I asked with a forbidding edge that almost ended in a hiss.
He had the audacity to smile again. “Not yet. But could be. So I came back to find out.” His grin widened further, seeing my fury only intensify. “See, chica? Out of all the men who’ve said that to you, I’m the only one who meant it.”
So livid that I’d silently begun to shake, I merely growled, “After all I said…”
He waved me off, opening one of the lockers and not listening. “Meh. You think I’m going to die. No, no. You don’t know me, but you will. I ain’t goin’ to die today.”
I stepped up to him, slamming the locker shut again as he tried to open it. “Go home!”
All he did was chuckle, amused with my anger. “No. But pray thee tell how you intend to make me?” he taunted, deliberately pushing more of my buttons. He looked over my body with appreciation. “That get up they have you in is ridiculous, but I know what’s underneath after seeing you last night. You’re a temptation.“
“Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?” I asked quickly. Maybe if he had they’d disqualify him. Mentally unstable people were unable to compete and I could get him thrown out.
“You’re funny,” he said infuriatingly, reopening the locker. He took out a comb and looked down, eyebrows up as he noticed my outlandish lace-up booties. “You don’t believe me yet, but I think you’ll come around.”
My jaw may or may not have clattered to the floor as he dropped his towel, standing proud as a peacock, stark naked in front of me. He smirked, seeing my thunderstruck reaction. “I have to get dressed now, but feel free to stay and chat… and watch. I’m not shy. Stay as long as you like.”
I could certainly believe that. Instead I waved my fist in his face, riled even further with him if that was possible. “You nasty bastard! You got me with the whole sob story.“
“Eh,” he grunted, patting himself dry. “It’s all true! I can call her on the phone if you like.“
Losing my patience entirely, I turned to stomp back out. To my intense misfortune, however, my heel got stuck in the grout between the tiles. I yipped and abruptly lost my balance, teetering on my feet. I recovered as Kit caught me, steadying me from behind.
“Whoa. Steady,” he chided, stepping to the side of me and keeping a hand on my arm to keep me up. “Los zappatos esta feo y estupida!“
Ignoring his jibe about my shoes, I snapped, “Let go!”
He did immediately, allowing me to bend down to get free. The heel wouldn’t budge. He rolled his eyes, stooping down to try and loosen my shoe. I gave in and steadied myself by putting one hand on his shoulder and the other on the locker nearest to me.
“Who designs these things?” he asked, working his hand around it to wedge it up. “Deathtrap, blister makers…“
I ground my teeth together as his other hand lingered on my calf, steadying me. Going to shoot him another dirty look, I hastily decided that was a very bad idea considering he was still unclothed. All it did was give me an overhead view of his rear end. And while it was by no means an unpleasant view, I was in absolutely no mood to admit he was in good shape. Very good shape in fact.
Whatever Kit did for a living, he was all muscle. He had a lithe, cat-like runner’s body and not one that was likely acquired in a gym either.
Further adding to my good humor, Tiny came around the corner with her clipboard. She stopped dead in her tracks, obviously preparing to yell at me before seeing all that Kit entailed. “Anna, what are you doing?!”
“Her shoe is stuck,” Kit replied cheerfully, just as unbothered by her arrival as he was with mine. “Un momento, por favor. Almost got it…”
He lifted my foot, the heel to my shoe still intact and undamaged. He stood smoothly as I put my foot down, carefully avoiding the crack. He came up to my level, still grinning with open self-satisfaction. “See? No harm done.”
Oh, did I want to smack him. He knew exactly what I was thinking, too, and enjoyed it on some level, getting a bang out of my aggravation.
“Thank you,” I ground out through my teeth, turning to haughtily storm out with what was left of my dignity.
That sure as hell didn’t happen. As soon as I put weight on the offending shoe, the heel snapped. Getting it out of the floor must’ve weakened it. I started to tip over sideways and Kit caught me again. This time I landed halfway on his chest and in his arms.
“Careful,” he murmured in my ear, laughter in his voice. He straightened me, hands lingering on my waist. He winked. “No need to swoon, señorita. I’ll put my pants on now.”
It was official. I absolutely hated him. Shooting him one last scathing look, I stomped out of the locker room on the balls of my feet to avoid the broken heel. His laughter followed me out.
Two hours later, new shoes were the least of my troubles. My nerves were shot.
I stood over the field of the underground maze. It’d been specifically built over the soccer field, a layer over the top so they were enclosed below with cameras throughout. And in that maze was a death trap. It was essentially one giant mouse trap made for men, filled with dangers of all kinds: animals, poisons, and booby traps.
Standing next to my father, we overlooked the field. Elena was on my other side, already drunk. As for me, I was filled with nothing but dread. I’d stood here three times before, and all three were filled with death and gut-wrenching guilt.
I might even have been experiencing a panic attack, perhaps a remnant of PTSD restimulated from the previous games. I knew what was coming. Worse even, I would have to watch without flinching.
As it was, all eleven of the competitors stood before us in a line, clad in the simple rugged clothes that they were given. All looked pensive, though it varied between confidence and a few who appeared outright terrified. The reality star wannabe had planted herself in front of the camera.
The only one to even look directly at me was Kit. He stood at the farthest end of the line, completely unfazed by the proceedings. He rubbed his hands together, leaving them white with some kind of powder. It reminded me of the chalk gymnasts used to get a better grip on their equipment.
He caught my eye and winked, seeing my attention. Then his brow furrowed into concern watching me. I was trying to breathe steadily to not hyperventilate, and I was sure it showed on my face.
Then I saw the crew director signal the proceedings to start. Suddenly feeling sick, I turned sideways and vomited onto the grass. Elena grumbled as I retched a few more times, losing what little I’d eaten.
“Do you need a relaxant to calm down or will you finally get a grip?” she asked, disgusted with me. Father hadn’t even noticed me at all, still totally absorbed with the task at hand.
I straightened, wiping my mouth off with the back of my hand. “No. I need for this insanity to stop-“
She didn’t have time to reply as the ten second count down to going live on the air started. I made the sign of the cross over my chest, praying to the Lord that He wouldn’t hold me accountable for all this.
As Father started speaking to the public who I was sure were all lined up around their TVs resentfully, I stared straight ahead. My eyes didn’t focus on any one thing, attempting to dissociate from everything. But as he came to the final intro, I closed my eyes in pained silence to listen.
“All competitors have chosen one weapon to bring into the tunnels,” he said, his voice perfectly bored with the proceedings. Then he cleared his throat. “Er, no. Actually, one competitor has chosen another method.”
My eyes quickly found Kit. He was the only one with a rope with a spike attached to it and looped around his shoulder like the equipment like a mountain climber’s. Even more irreverent to it all, he’d put gum in his mouth. He stood chewing, ignoring all the cameras as they zoomed in on him. He blew a bubble and popped it, completely unfazed.
“All who emerge from the maze will continue to the next round,” Father announced, reading from the teleprompter. Then he addressed the contestants, warning, “You will have one hour to make it through to the exit of the maze. At that time, the maze will fill with poisonous gas. All still inside will perish.”
Death. Muerte. It circled them all like a vulture, ready to take them. It sickened me.
“Anna, please wish all the competitors good luck,” he instructed me, sounding like someone commanding a dog.
My legs felt like they were going to give out on me they were so weak. I made it to the first of the competitors, the reality TV wannabe and shook her hand. I did the same with each one after that, knowing there was nothing else left for me to do. I’d warned them and they’d all stayed.
Er, no. One had gone and promptly come back. As I got to Kit, I no longer felt anger. I stuck my hand out, treating our interaction as if it were a goodbye. Most likely, it would be.
But as he took my hand to shake on it, he did something different than the rest. He kissed my hand, bringing it to his lips before I could stop him. He looked at me playfully, seeing my surprise. “Breathe, chica. Nice new shoes.”
I pulled my hand away abruptly and he chuckled. Then his eyebrows went up, leaving me mortified as I saw that one of my fake nails had come off in his hand. A few of the competitors snickered, spotting it, too.
“Relax,” he ordered, offering it back to me. “You’ll sweat the rest off, too, and then your makeup if you don’t calm down.“
“Quiet!” the reality TV wannabe from down on the end hissed. “We’re not supposed to speak!”
Kit merely rolled his eyes as I took off for where I was supposed to stand.
A huge television screen rose behind the contestants, ready to broadcast what transpired in the maze. I could feel my heart in my mouth; my heartbeat pounding loud in my ears. The group of contestants headed toward the mouth of the tunnel, readying for the start and all focused except for one.
My eyebrows rose as Kit blew me a kiss with another roguish wink and sauntered off after them, lagging behind leisurely. Either he had a severe lack of respect for authority, or he was just a ham for the cameras. It could’ve been either or both.
“How undignified,” Elena sniffed under her breath, nose wrinkled at his behavior. “Good thing he’s going to die. I’d hate having a buffoon for a son-in-law.”
Forcing myself not to cringe as my father fired off the starting pistol, I watched as all of the men ran into the tunnel. Again, all except one, Kit rolling up his sleeves and strolling in at a leisurely pace.
“Idiot,” Elena hissed as I gulped, wondering just what Kit’s plan was. Or even better, if he had one.
While Kit came across altogether unmoved by the idea of death, I was pretty sure it was because he had a plan. One that made him unbearably smug every time he thought about it.
Also assuring me of that, I scoured the enormous screen that was televising what transpired underground. All the competitors had headed in different directions. But as I searched the different views, all broadcast simultaneously, I only counted ten competitors.
Where had Kit gone?
Echoing my question, the camera crew director was avidly conferring with his people manning the cameras. They were having the same problem. Kit had seemingly vanished once in the maze. None of the cameras could find him.
Inside the black painted walls of the maze with minimal lighting, I was beginning to notice a pattern. There was absolutely no way for the competitors to know where the traps were. Every wall was painted the same dark color, visible only to us because of the night vision cameras. And as the first victims of the games was claimed by death, I put a hand over my mouth.
None of it was censored by the cameras as the man was impaled by spikes that shot out of the wall. If I hadn’t already hurled, I would’ve right then. The spikes went right through his head. I looked away with a curse, wishing I could block the grotesque sight from my mind.
“You all right, sweetheart? You look tense,” Father asked, politely concerned about me.
“Who wouldn’t be?” I muttered, seeing once again that none of the people here were at all bothered by the gruesome death.
Father misconstrued my unease, however. He reached over to pat my hand. “Don’t worry. I know the designers of the challenges. None of the contestants will make it through to the last challenge. You won’t have to wed any of them, pumpkin.”
I wanted to scream at him with that last bit. I wasn’t worried about marrying anyone. I was at wits’ end as the carnage continued, four more men dying in succession and quickly, especially as they got to the halfway point in the labyrinth.
Between anxiety and the innards-squeezing corset, I could barely breathe. I didn’t move as the commercial breaks rolled, even as the camera that’d been squarely pointed at me to capture my reactions paused in its broadcast.
I felt like I might faint I was under so much pressure and I was sure it showed. As my makeup person powdered my nose, I could see concern written in her expression. As a champagne was offered to me, I took it eagerly and downed it in one gulp. It was the only way I was going to ever make it through this without a nervous breakdown.
Fifty-five minutes into the competition, Kit was still nowhere to be seen. The broadcast director was throwing an outright fit over it though it was the least of their troubles. For whatever reason, the walls of the maze were shaking and throwing off the cameras covering the competition.
One wall at a time, something was moving succinctly through the maze. It kept rocking the mounted cameras and no one could figure out what was doing it.
“Maybe there’s a cat,” one of the crew suggested from somewhere behind me. “On top of the walls. The stadium has a feral problem.“
“One hell of a big cat to shake it that bad,” another scoffed. “If that’s what’s doing it…”
“Five more minutes,” Father commented, looking at his watch with apparent boredom. He stood, smoothing his suit down. He extended a hand to Elena who grumbled. He sighed. “Come. We must head to the exit in case any of the contestants make it through for the next round of the competition.”
I stood on shaky legs, praying to God and all the saints at least a few would come out alive. After sitting through it all, I couldn’t feel my knees. I followed, trying to not crumple to the ground.
We made it across to the exit just as the first contestant made it out of the tunnel. The reality TV star wannabe had made it through in one piece. Her clothes were singed, but she was otherwise okay. Perhaps her father had somehow told her where the traps would be.
I clapped with everyone else, the elites in the stadium breaking into applause. Nauseating me completely, the wannabe merely grinned and waved back to them all, enjoying their attention.
I kept clapping as two more men came out of the exit, then the fourth. But as a fifth live creature came running out after him, Elena screamed. And I didn’t blame her.
The fourth man was apparently being chased by a lion from inside the maze and it followed him out with a fierce roar, dangerously close to where we were standing. Before I could move, our security team shot it before it could leap onto the man.
Feeling immensely sorry for the creature as it reeled and fell, I looked away as it died. Unlike the eleven morons who had volunteered for this, the lion hadn’t. It was just plainly hungry, ribs showing through its fur.
“One minute,” my father murmured, looking to the entrance with unblinking eyes.
I followed his gaze, saying the Lord’s prayer under my breath as the seconds ticked down. There were only two men left in the maze, one being Kit. While he wasn’t visible, the other was seen springing for the exit. But as I noted where he was, I realized he wasn’t far enough through. And as the clock counted down the last few seconds, I closed my eyes to block out the sight. He was about to be gassed as was Kit, wherever he’d disappeared to.
Three, two, one…
I cringed as the buzzer went off, announcing the end. Bowing my head as the chambers released the toxic gas, the last man choked and fell, succumbing to the toxin.
Kit was dead. He had to be. Nothing was left alive in there. Not even any animals that had been left as traps would’ve been able to breathe.
I put a hand to my mouth, eyes welling up with tears. Seven gone. Even one was too much, but this many was unheard of during the first event.
“Well done to the four champions,” my father announced over the prevalent clapping; the crowd completely entertained. He stood, facing them. “Your merit has been proven today-“
He stopped, cutting off his well-rehearsed speech. My breath caught in my throat as I heard coughing coming from the inside of the tunnel. Looking up, I saw Kit stagger out of the entrance, a handkerchief over his nose. He waved it around in front of his face, trying to clear the air.
Scarcely believing my eyes, I couldn’t stop myself from rushing forward despite Elena’s outraged call after me. I made it over to him and caught him just as he stumbled, crashing to his knees as he tried to breathe.
“Get some oxygen!” I ordered the medical staff who was on hand (all who looked positively incredulous that he was still alive). “Hurry!”
“Ai,” Kit wheezed, rubbing the handkerchief over his eyes to wipe away the toxin that’d been sprayed on him. “Nasty stuff-“
Abandoning my composure altogether and insanely relieved, I pulled my sleeve up over my hand and dabbed it at where he was rubbing. “Here.“
He stopped and blearily opened his eyes, both widening as he saw who was helping him. “Oh. It’s you.”
Ignoring his talking, I looked to the medic who’d come over with an oxygen mask in hand. He extended it to me, opening a bag to prepare treatment on Kit. Before I could get the mask on his face, to my insane disbelief, Kit smirked at me with a cough. “See? I’d told you I’d live-“
He shut up as I shoved the mask over his face. I was no mood to be sassed. “Save your breath.“
“I’m an idiot,” he wheezed out, prompting me to nod along with him in agreement. “I was almost out when I heard that other guy choking on the gas and went back for him. He’d already croaked by the time I got there.“
“Just breathe,” I ordered, checking him over for more injuries. “I-“
I yipped in surprise as I was hauled forcibly backward by my shoulder.
“What are you doing?!” Elena snarled at me, trying to drag me away from Kit. “You’re going to ruin your dress!”
I went to protest but failed completely in my ridiculously tall heels. I looked back at Kit to make sure he was okay and he gave me a weak thumbs up.
“The four other contestants will be offended by your preferential treatment,” Elena hissed, absolutely scandalized by my compassion as she grabbed me by the wrist.
“He was choking,” I exclaimed, trying to get her to let go. In her mad haste to take me back to my seat, she hadn’t noticed that I could barely keep up and couldn’t take big steps because of the limited movement the skirt gave me. I stumbled over the grass and landed hard on my knees due to the absurdly tight pencil skirt.
She kept going, ignoring as I cried out and scraped both of my knees. “Stop, Mother! Ow-“
“Elena, stop,” Father exclaimed, coming to my aid as she continued on without noticing I’d gone down. She kept walking, yanking me behind her as I tried to stand and kept tipping over.
In some part of my mind, I realized that she must’ve taken something. I knew she popped pills but had never seen her like this before. She was completely out of it.
To hell with my clothes. I took my free hand and reached down to rip the skirt. But before I could, a hand grasped my free shoulder from behind and then grabbed my mother’s hand on my other wrist.
“Let go of her!” Kit commanded, using a menacing, authoritative tone that I hadn’t heard from him before. He shook her off, getting me to my feet before standing protectively in front of me. He stayed there, shielding me as Father arrived.
“She’s high,” Kit hissed back to me, sounding appalled.
Seeing her now as she glared back at Kit, her eyes were dilated.
“Oh, dear, Elena,” Father said, steering her away from all the cameras which had followed us. “I do believe you’ve gotten too much sun. Let’s get you inside…“
Kit just looked between the two of them with another wheeze, cursing in Spanish. He looked back at me and I just shook my head, forestalling any questions by jerking my head back at the cameras.
He rolled his eyes, seizing my hands to look at the scrapes on them and grumbling to the EMT who’d arrived, “Get her some bandages and antiseptic. Nasty puta. High as a friggin’ kite!“
I sputtered as a couple of guards came up and nabbed him, hauling him back away from me. Kit didn’t take it very nicely, trying to jerk his body out of their grip. “Eh! Get your paws off me!“
I turned warily as Tiny stomped up to me and looking pissed to hell. Her eyebrows were jammed over her eyes, telling me I was in for it. She grabbed me by the back of my jacket, forcing me to turn and then shoved me toward the stair that led back into the inner stadium. But not before growling at me, “This is all your fault, rushing over like that! You looked like a commoner!”
“He was choking,” I protested, trying to peer back and earning myself a sharp prod in the back.
“Get inside before you screw anything else up!” she hissed after me.
I nearly stumbled again, biting my tongue to stop myself from screaming at her. That or crying. It wasn’t my fault that my mother had gotten herself high again.
Stomping off the field, I made it into the tunnel that led out of the stadium. Once out of public view, I snapped. I took my shoe off and threw it at the wall. I kicked the other one off with equal force and it bounced off the concrete block wall closest to me.
Somewhere between wanting to beat the hell out of someone and the urge to break down and cry, I leaned wearily against the wall. I slid down and sat on the floor. Putting my head in my hands, I bit back tears.
This was no life. I always ended up like this. While the world thought I lived the high life, I was little more than a slave to my parents’ whims. A toy – no – a puppet for them to exploit for the whole world to see.
Hearing approaching footsteps, I wiped my nose. Seeing Mortimer squat in front of me with a grim expression, I forced myself to smile. He sighed and patted my hand. “Come on, tiger. Let’s get my favorite soldier mopped up.”
I nodded, knowing he was absolutely furious just by the set of his eyes. As they scanned the blood covering my knees and hands, a muscle in his jaw twitched. But he knew better than to say a word. If either of us expressed our displeasure in a way that angered the hierarchy, we both knew we’d suffer and the price we’d have to pay.
So letting him help me to my feet, I just wearily leaned into his side as he took me home… if one could call it home, that is.
That wraps up this week’s chapter! Any predictions for the next week? Anyone dare guess what was causing the walls to shake? No guesses on where Aiyla and Kit’s relationship is heading or perhaps the identity of the Lynx? per a few of your requests, I’ve prepared to release the
If you’re enjoying the story, make sure to subscribe for my newsletter. Each week I’ll send you an alert when the next chapter is up. As thanks for joining, I’ll send you a free copy of my best selling ebook Still Death from my Destiny in the Shadows series.