Episode 2 of the Homicidal Air Fresheners Series
Previously: Hye-Su Lin bravely abandoned Netflix for a torturous night of socializing with other honor role students at a fancy “Go You!” dinner provided by Mr. Jonathon Boyd, the richest man in town. Her friends, the twins Kevin and Anne Clarke are there with her, as well as her nemesis, Katherine Mynde. Unfortunately, the dinner was a trap and a dangerous chemical has been released into the room.
I stood in a room filled with chemical clouds while something massive growled behind me. See? This is what happens when people make me stop watching Netflix. “Kevin, that isn’t funny.” My voice wanted to shake in fear but instead cracked from pain. My throat still burned. Along with my legs, arms, chest, and freaking soul. My fight or flight reflex turned all flight but I froze before I took a step. Where was the door? Right or left? Behind me? I didn’t remember.
It took five long painful breaths for the chemical clouds to dissipate enough for vision to return. During that eternity, all I wanted was to see. I wanted clarity. I wanted the burning to stop. I wanted to know where the freaking door was so I could run!
Then the white cleared around me. The chemicals settled. I lifted my screaming hand, expecting to find blisters and oozing red. Nothing. My skin was smooth, pale. But… I was on fire, wasn’t I? Shouldn’t I be covered in chemical burns? According to the pain, definitely yes but there was no evidence.
I tried to blink the shock away but it lingered like a bad cold in my head, making it impossible to think. I uh… I needed a plan. I needed to find a door. I needed to… to… Another sound. Not a growl this time. Worse. A whimper. I looked around, not for a door but for my friends.
Everyone was on the floor. Full on fetal positions. Tears ran down Anne’s face. Kevin’s face was wild but he didn’t seem to see anything. Olivia’s eyes raced from side to side as if she saw more than me. More than she could handle. None of the others looked any better.
Except Kat. She hugged her knees in the corner, shaking and terrified but the only one who looked back at me. Her curls were flat. Her eye liner running. You know its bad when Katherine Mynde let’s a hair out of place. Tears streaked black mascara down her cheeks and her calculating eyes worked on overload. Like any minute the whole machine might work itself into an explosion. But she was still more herself than any of the others.
“Kat?” I asked. There. The growl again. I glanced around but saw no source. Or, maybe, too many.
“It doesn’t make sense.” Kat whispered. “None of it. I don’t understand.”
“I should be on fire.” I said, looking at my hand. It was meant as a gesture of commonality, like hey, you’re confused? Me too! but Kat just glared at me.
“That’s because it’s not real.” She snapped like it was obvious. “The chemical is some kind of hallucinogen. Specific. Makes you think you’ve been burned I didn’t know hallucinogens could target the brain like that but I haven’t really studied up on the stuff so it’s technically still possible to my equation. I meant the attack. That’s what doesn’t make sense.”
I wanted to stay calm but her know-it-all tone really grated on my fried patience. She looked small, more fragile than she ever had before. Hallucinogen or not, my very being crackled and her voice was the gas on the bonfire. And yet a fuel I could easily stomp out.
“He puts us in the sun room.” Kat continued. Her eyes glazed over as if she were looking at a white board. Her fingers twitching against her knee as if she were writing. “But not just a sun room. A completely sound proof glass chamber hidden from the rest of the city through deliberately placed trees and gates. Wired to release a rare, expensive chemical. And uses it on fifteen teenagers.” She shook her head. “What’s the point?”
Kat looked at me. Her calculating eyes fell into fear. Only then did I feel the tension in my face. Like a twisted snarl. I tried to relax the muscles but instead felt my lips twitch up, showing my teeth. Kat braced herself, getting ready to run. I stretched my neck from side to side, trying to force the attack face to ease up but it fought against my intentions. Worsening. “Kat,” I said as panic rose deep within my chest, “I don’t think it’s just a hallucinogen.”
There was the growl again. Was that me? “Kat.” I said again and, this time, listened to me. Yup. That growl shook my throat.
Kat had inched her weight onto her legs. Looking at me like I was some scared animal who might attack any moment. Heck, maybe I was. But she didn’t run. No. She looked me up and down again, did that weird calculating thing with her eyes. Her eyebrows narrowing, twitching as she scrambled to add the facts of my behavior unto her inner white board.
My nails dug into my palms. Did she think she could turn this her way? That she could judge and find me cheap again? Manipulate the situation into her favor? This wasn’t something she could turn into an equation for life! This was chaos! “Kat.” I warned. She didn’t respond, her attention far off on some white board of pro and con lists. “Run.”
That got her attention. She looked at me and I knew the calculations had already been done. The conclusion made. “No.” She said and her voice trembled. She sank back into the corner and looked down. A non-aggressive stance.
“Run!” I screamed.
Kat’s jaw tensed but she didn’t move. “No.” She repeated. “Because you want me to. You’re still you. At least, a little bit. Which means you wouldn’t hurt an innocent person.” She looked at the open palms of her hands. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
My fingers melted out of the fists. The fire still burned. Outside. Inside. A target distracted me. Made the burning more bearable. But Kat refused to play.
Feet shuffled behind me. I turned just in time to see a small army of blank eyed class mates straighten up. My scream might not have intimidated Kat but it sure woke everyone else up. They looked at each other. Sizing everyone up.
Except Kevin. He towered over me. Taller than before. His eyes unblinking. Only, it wasn’t Kevin. Not anymore. His snarl distorted his entire face. His teeth clear and at the ready. He took me in and, impulsively, I stepped back. Wrong move. It locked his attention in. I just labeled myself prey.
Okay. I needed a plan of attack. What would The Doctor do? Use his sonic screw driver. Scratch that. Buffy would use superpowers so never mind there. Both of the fandom Rivers would assassinate the space monster but I highly doubted that was an option. Adrenaline might make me stronger but he had that going for him too. I needed… Ah, crap, I needed help.
“Kat.” I tried to filter all aggression out of my voice but managed just enough self-control to make a hint of difference. Kevin growled at the sound but never spoke. “Kat, I need a plan here.”
“Look small.” She said. “Don’t look him in the eye. Maybe he’s like you. He might still have some reason left.”
I willed my eyes to look down. To mimic Kat in her frailty as best I could but instead I felt my eyes narrow in warning. “I can’t!” The panic in my chest somehow sounded like a threat. “Think of something else!” Kevin stepped closer. I wanted to jump back, to run, but my legs stood their ground, tensing for a fight.
“Stop aggravating him!” Kat snapped.
“I can’t help it!” Maybe it was for the best. Let him come at me. I wanted to scream and howl but I wouldn’t let me. I wanted to see how strong I was, how many fights I could win. I wanted to test the limits of my adrenaline. To know how many people I could take down before I got tired. And when I looked Kevin in the eye, I saw the same wildness I felt, I knew he would give me the chance to find out.
“Hye?” Kat’s voice shook. A part of me wanted to answer, to say it’s okay, it’s still me. But all I could manage was a rumble of a growl deep from my chest. Kat cursed as Not-Kevin tilted his head, smiling. This was my chance. Our chance. To prove which one’s stronger. I bent down, ready to pounce. My mind didn’t know what do to, what techniques worked best in a fight but my body knew, instinctively, how to move. I felt my own smile sneak through my snarl. Kevin lunged.
Kat’s curse echoed through the sun room. She tackled Kevin midair and the two flew across the room. The second they landed, Kevin tossed her off him. She flew into the air like a rag doll. I heard a crack as she hit the solid oak door with a gasp and fell to the floor.
I waited. I don’t remember breathing but I waited. Kat never got back up.
Kevin did though. His attention back on me. Heck, maybe he never truly got distracted. Kat’s last move didn’t seem to faze him.
It fazed me though. Knocked me out of my own inner chaos. I couldn’t look away. There was still time. Maybe she was just knocked out. Snap out of it, Kat!
Kevin stepped in my view. Had he always been so big?
No. He hadn’t. Before tonight, before that homicidal air freshener, he had been only half an inch taller than me. I know. Anne measured us one night, wired from too much studying. But this… thing was at least a foot taller. His teeth were all canines. And his fingers ended in claws. I didn’t want to fight anymore. My only chance was to run.
If anyone had been watching, and on the off chance they couldn’t see the monster growing behind me, they might have laughed at how I stumbled like a drunk fool over the knocked over chairs and fallen orchids. They might have chuckled and walked away thinking stupid teenagers. But maybe, just maybe, if someone had been there, they might have gone for help after I reached the glass edge and screamed. Punching at the thick glass. Someone please help me.
But no one saw me. The gardens were too well kept and the gates too high. I had walked into this trap. Boyd’s speech echoed in my mind as my fists turned bloody from hitting the solid glass. You caused this. You’re the one with the power.
I screamed even though I knew the place was sound proof. The only people who could hear me were monsters but I still couldn’t stop screaming. I didn’t want to see desperation like that so I kept my eyes on the distance, on the hope. Anything to keep from spotting the reflection screaming in front of me. So instead I saw the silhouette of Not-Kevin as he inched closer. In mere seconds, I’d be like Kat. Silent. You’re the one with the power.
I stopped screaming. Hot tears I hadn’t realized had fallen cooled against my cheeks. No more. I wasn’t some crazed creature, desperate for a fight but I wasn’t a runner either. I didn’t want to die screaming. I stepped back and looked at my reflection. I could deal with the face that stared back. Not a snarl or a scream. Just me. If I was going to die, I would die in control of myself.
I turned to face my death. I even looked Not-Kevin in the eye and braced myself for the death blow. He raised his claws above his head and swung.
Nothing could have prepared for the repercussions of that blow. The claws hit me square in the chest. I should have split in half. Dead before I fell. But the claws hit me like metal against metal. Sparks burst as his blow skated passed. No pain. No cuts. I gasped back a sob but stood my guard. Not-Kevin hit again. And again. And again. I could feel even my spirit shake as my bones rattled within me. Any second now, a claw would break through. Just one slice should kill me yet they all bounced off.
Not-Kevin’s frustration grew with every failed attempt to spill my blood. He bent down and looked me in the eye. His face had changed so much. Fur grew like armor along his skin but it was the snarl that made him unrecognizable. He was a monster. Reflective, animal-like eyes blinked into mine. His face less than an inch from me. His hot breath caged me in. And then he roared.
The whole room shook. Even the glass. But I stood still.
Until Anne started giggling.
The distorted laughter spilling out of possibly the most innocent girl in the world made shivers weaken my bones. The burning pain from the chemicals faded, like my body had decided they weren’t as important as the danger in that girl. She stepped closer to the glass. Not-Kevin looked at her and, for a second, I thought she was in danger. I even inhaled, ready to scream at her in warning. But then Not-Kevin leaned down, cowering on the floor until he was smaller than her. She didn’t even notice. Just looked at the glass. No. Not her. Anne couldn’t be scary.
“Anne?” I asked. “You okay, sweetheart?”
She smiled at me. If possible, she was less Anne then Kevin was Kevin right now. A fire burned in her eyes, like she’d embraced the burn of the chemicals. I’m not talking figuratively here either. There were literal flames in her eyes. It was the only thing left in those blinking gaps. She raised her hand and snapped her fingers.
Glass shattered all around us. I dove for cover as shards hit from all sides. Anne giggled again as she stepped into the yard. Her sunset skirt tattered from glass. Not-Kevin scrambled to his feet and ran the other direction. Before I knew it, everyone was on their feet. A class of fifteen honor students entered this room and thirteen monsters scrambled to their new freedom less than half an hour later.
A part of me wanted to run too. I wanted to get away from the thoughts terrorizing my brain, that I could have taken them down. I should have. I needed to run after them and stop them before they hurt anyone else. That Boyd had done this. Boyd needed to be taken care of too. Permanently.
But Kat still wasn’t moving. I scrambled to her side, desperate to remember my first aid training. “Kat? Kat, wake up.” I patted her shoulders, not wanting to shake her in case she had a back injury. I checked for breathing. Yes. That’s a good sign. But she needed help. And fast.
Miss Laine stepped through the garden, taking in the broken glass. “What the-” She started but apparently couldn’t find the words. “What happened?”
“Where have you been?” I snapped. “You were supposed to watch over us while we were here! That was your jo-” But I stopped. She held the back of her head and looked disoriented. “Are you okay?”
“I think I hit my head.” She blinked, still taking everything in. “Blacked out.”
Most likely someone knocked her out on purpose. I didn’t have time to ask why. “Call 911. Kat’s hurt.”
Miss Laine didn’t look like she fully understood but she obeyed.
“Come on, Kat.” I whispered. “You gotta help me understand. We need to find Boyd. I don’t know what he’s planning or what’s going on but we have to stop him.”
Kat’s lips twitched in a smile. “You idiot.” She whispered and cringed as she opened her eyes. Those eyes weren’t calculating anymore. There was too much pain. I could tell. But she still apparently knew more than me. “We’ve got a bigger problem. You’ve got to stop the other students before they hurt anyone else.” She tried to move but couldn’t even get her head up.
“Woah. Wait for the paramedics.”
“Promise me you’ll focus on saving the others first, okay?”
“How can I do that without figuring out what Boyd did to them? To us?”
“You figured it out. Make them remember who they are.”
“That’s not exactly what I did.”
The pain in her face melted into irritation. “Well excuse me for getting the full picture while I was knocked unconscious, you twit.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why’d you jump him?”
“You were the only one who was still you.” Kat gave me a weak smile before her eyes glazed over as she thought. Her voice was weak. “For a moment there, I was alone in a room full of monsters. I just didn’t want to be alone again.”
The ambulance howled in the distance. “It’s okay.” I said, taking her hand. “Help is coming. You’re not alone. Kat?” She didn’t answer.
To Be Continued...
Next: Episode 3 The Kevin Within