“I hope you realize that shooting her might not work,” Max says as he looms out of the solid wall. The yellow-tinted ghost scratches at the gash across his throat, which drips harmless, star-like blood. “You only have two choices, Cook. Go back downstairs and call to apologize or keep climbing and make things worse. I guess you could climb up and apologize in person. That might be better.”
“Nice try, but Max wouldn’t suggest any of those options,” Gemma replies while she hooks her arm around the ladder. A violent tremor shakes the building and a cart full of towels falls into the shaft. “I take it you’re listening, Dawn. At first, I thought all of this was done by special effects or hallucinogenic gases that are pumped throughout the building. Then I went to that abandoned play area. Made no sense that the kids were safe while the kidnappers were stumbling into traps. Let’s remember that they had to have been down there for hours, so why didn’t they set anything off before? I’m thinking it was for my benefit because you don’t want me to leave the game. That means, you’re not going to kill me until you have to.”
“Does she have to?” asks the phantom while drifting toward a door. Max throws them open in time for a woman to fall backwards and plunge into the shadows. “Guess you’re not going to shoot her. What about Corvus? Any plan for him?”
“You will find out when I get there, Addison.”
“My name is Max.”
“Max is dead and I’m not in the mood for this game.”
The spirit shrieks as it is torn in half, balled up like a piece of paper, and launched through the distant ceiling. With a dull groan, a metal flower pot from the rough falls into the fresh hole and rapidly bounces around the shaft. Gemma watches to see if it will hit her, but the movements are too chaotic to be sure. Clambering up a few more feet, the detective leaps for the open doorway and scrambles onto solid ground. She is about to take a look at the flower pot when it hits the ladder and ricochets toward her. With less than a second to react, she jumps to the side with enough force to go through the wall. She scrambles back into the hallway in time to see another guest emerge and get decapitated by the projectile. The body scratches where its head used to be, shrugs, and returns to its room as if nothing has happened.
“Still have forty floors to go,” Gemma mutters while she wipes what she thinks is plaster dust off her clothes. Getting some in her mouth, she is surprised to find that the powder is really sugar. “If your intention is to make me continue playing the game then you’re failing. How about you act like an adult for once and tell me what’s going on? None of these shocking events that have become tedious. Just stop throwing this tantrum and we’ll talk.”
“Do you promise to listen?” Dawn asks from a loudspeaker.
“As long as you stop hurting everyone.”
“Consider it done, but the doors stay locked.”
“How do I get up?”
Grinding gears echo from the elevator shaft as a platform rises, smears of blood on the tiles from those that fell. Stepping onto the shaky lift, Gemma rubs her badge and stares into the darkness above. A black feather falls on her face before small lights appear in place of the missing ladder. Their shadows moving along the ground, the ravens fly in tight circles that mesmerize the detective. She shakes her head clear when the platform moves, the corners creating sparks as they drag along the walls. The ascent is slow and jerky, which makes Gemma fear that she has walked into a trap and will be dropped at any second. She stands with her legs wide and changes her position whenever the platform dips even an inch.
A chorus of snake-like hisses makes the detective draw her gun and watch for serpents falling from above. Instead, all of the doors open and she drifts by to see the guests returning to their rooms. None of the people notice Gemma as they march out of the stairwells, their faces devoid of emotion. Whenever she passes the hospital floor, she sees that all of the employees are standing in the hallway. The unmoving figures resemble statues with their heads tilted back to stare at the ceiling and arms spread out. As the detective continues to the penthouse, the only sounds that remain are the cawing of ravens.