Diving into the nearest room, Harvey crashes to the floor and scrambles to close the door before his pursuer can catch up. Nearly drowned out by a droning hum, he hears rapid footsteps in the distance and the occasional thud of a fist hitting a wall. Backing away from the door, he tries to catch his breath and calm himself enough to think. With no light, the terrified student does his best to feel around and move by sliding his feet. His fingers touch cool glass and metal shelves while he sniffs at the faint aroma of ammonia. Reaching the back wall, Harvey continues searching for another door until his hand goes into water. He jerks his arm back when he feels a fish bump into him since he remembers running by an aquarium full of piranha.
“The switch is out here,” Coach Warner says as the lights turn on. The door rattles as the teacher tries to force his way in, his attempt ending with a frustrated kick. “I know you don’t want to be here, but you have no choice. This is something that’s more important than either of us. The world deserves her return. Now, open the door and come with me. Your friends miss you.”
“I would rather go back to my room,” Harvey states while he takes in his surrounds. Shelves of fish tanks and maintenance equipment cover all of the walls, which are an ugly brown that reminds him of drying dirt. “I wish I had more to say, but you obviously won’t listen to reason or logic. Anything more would be a waste of breath. It would be wiser to use my energy for escaping.”
The crazed teacher pounds on the door before bending down to pointlessly slip a finger into the room. “You’re cornered and your size is useless since you only train your brain. Even if you could get out of the room, I’m still hunting you. At some point, we’ll have to get physical and that’s when you lose. Might as well give up now because this will only end one way. That’s you coming with me to do what you were gifted to do.”
Searching the room for a weapon, Harvey picks up an empty tank of water and places it on the floor. He gets a step ladder to help him reach the lone lightbulb in the ceiling, but is unsure how he can safely strip the wires. Looking around for rubber gloves, he finds nothing that would protect him and realizes that he might not have it in him to knowingly electrocute another human being. Giving on up his original plan, the panicking young man takes a seat and puts his head between his knees. It only takes a minute for Harvey to come up with a new idea, but he remains silent and still to make sure he is thinking clearly. Quietly getting to his feet, he gently tips over the tank and watches the water flow under the door. All of the stones scattered about the floor, none of them bouncing into the hallway.
Harvey rubs his eyes and braces himself for a fight even though he prays that he can escape instead. Tiptoeing through the tiny stones, he unlocks the door and shoves it open before hurrying back to the middle of the room. As he had hoped, Coach Warner barges in and charges, but the man trips on the damp rocks. While the teacher crashes to the floor, the quick-witted student darts into the hallway and charges toward where he remembers seeing stairs. It is not long before he is being chased again, but Coach Warner’s broken ankle makes it difficult for the man to catch up. The only reason the two remain close to each other is that Harvey is already tired and has never been a strong runner. Contrary to his large size, he never had an interest in sports or keeping in shape.
Rushing around a corner, Harvey momentarily stops when it looks like the hallway is warping and twisting. A vase getting thrown at his head, but hitting the wall, urges him to continue running for the only way out. It feels like it takes an hour for him to reach the exit, Coach Warner screaming at his heels the entire time. Stressed and nearing exhaustion, Harvey puts all of his weight behind getting through the door. He stumbles onto a metal grating that goes around the open top of the aquarium. There is no escape from the circular room unless he tries to climb the pipes that lead to a skylight. Grabbing a railing, he stops himself from falling into the water and whirls around to face his pursuer.
“Last chance to come quietly,” Coach Warner says as he blocks the only door. Reaching to the back of his head, his fingers come back with blood. “That’s going to require stitches. Who would have thought you’d be the difficult one? I was betting on Ms. Hall since always had more fire than you.”
“I thought I already had my last chance,” Harvey replies, unsure if he sounds defiant and witty. Looking over his shoulder, he can see the piranhas darting through the plants, their scales almost mesmerizing in the light. “Come any closer and I’ll jump into the water. It sounds like you need me alive, which means you won’t risk me killing myself. All I have to do is throw myself over the railing. Wouldn’t even take much effort.”
“So much for being the smart one,” the teacher claims with a smirk. Picking up a nearby pipe, he takes a few steps forward and finds that his target stays out of the aquarium. “I thought so. Not very good at bluffing, Mr. Pugh. I’ve played more than enough poker to see through your half-baked lies. This game is over.”
Coach Warner rushes forward with the pipe swinging for his prey’s stomach, but the younger man clumsily jumps to the side. Reflexes slowed by his injury and anger, the teacher trips over Harvey’s legs and topples into the water. He is about to thrash and swim when he remembers the piranha are attracted to erratic movement. Gently moving his limbs to float toward the edge, Coach Warner keeps his eyes on his victim, who is still dazed from the lucky fall. The two lock gazes as the teacher reaches the far end of the aquarium and begins to climb out. He is about to pull himself over the railing when his leg is jerked down, his injured foot still in the water. Both men look down to see a huge moray eel with its teeth embedded in Coach Warner’s flesh. The moment he tries to move again, the creature violently drags him to the bottom where he thrashes enough that the piranhas join the frenzy. Within seconds, the water is crimson and the surface remains perfectly still.
“Please don’t throw up,” a friendly voice says from behind Harvey. The young man jumps and backs away from the wetsuit-wearing brunette that seems to step out of the wall. “On second thought, feel free to vomit all you want. Just not on my fins because I just had the tips painted to look like rainbows. You can’t see them unless I’m in the water. By the way, I’m Dawn Addison and I’m a friend of your friends. We’ve all had terrific meetings. Though, you’re going to have to be my last one. Time is running out or of the essence or flying or money or something so cliché that I simply want to kill every author in the world.”
“What do you want from me?” Harvey asks, sensing that he is still in danger. Thinking she cannot catch him, he takes a step for the open door, which melts off the wall. “I must be dreaming. That can’t happen in the real world. Yet, I can tell that Coach Warner just died and it’s not in my head. Maybe I passed out from seeing the accident and now this is a dream. That must be it.”
“Unless everything has been a dream and only now you’re waking up to reality,” the woman responds before hopping onto the railing. Pulling two tridents out of her hair, she casually walks along the slick metal. “I fear that you aren’t ripe yet. The piece I need won’t fit and is growing funny. At least from what I can tell from here. Excuse me while I take a closer look. I’ll buy you an ice pop afterwards.”
Before Harvey can react, the tridents are slammed into his feet and the shafts grow to wrap around his arms. With the young man stuck to the floor, Dawn has no problem climbing onto his shoulders and begins tapping on his head. She cracks her knuckles before digging her nails into his skull and forcing the bone apart. Frowning at the exposed brain, she wraps her legs around Harvey’s neck while poking at the organ. When his nose twitches, she happily probes the spot to repeat the spasm and make it occur in a bouncy rhythm. Dawn stops when she fears that the brain will become damaged and her finger gets tired. Slamming the skull shut, she remains sitting on the young man’s shoulders and lets out a sputtering sigh.
“I need to put a little extra work into you,” she whispers into Harvey’s ear. Removing her fins, Dawn slides to the floor and takes off her wetsuit to reveal a colorful dress. “Let the fun begin and pay close attention. Reality and dreams are one and the same. We simply pick the one we prefer and hold onto it for dear life. That and feel free to scream at the top of your lungs in agony when the moment feels right.”