My eyes opened. What day was it? What time was it? I shifted uneasily. Morphine stirred beside me. Her eyelids fluttered open.
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"What time is it?" She muttered.
"I don't know. What day is it?"
"I don't know. Friday, I think. Why?"
"No reason," I said.
Morphine sat up. She pushed the hair away from her face. "It's night," she said. "I can feel that much. I wish I had a clock up here.
She raised an eyebrow at me, but said nothing.
Footsteps sounded on the ladder, and we both turned our eyes to the hole in the floor. After a moment, Cross's shock of red hair stuck up through the gap. The rest of his head quickly followed. He smiled at us, and I had to restrain an urge to cover myself with the blanket, even though I slept in my clothes.
"Good evening, Morphine, Renton," he said, his eyes sparkling in the gloom. "You both slept well, I trust?"
"No," said Morphine, one hand still pressed against her head. "Probably not. I feel like a two-day old slice of roadkill. Grill me up and eat me, just like that. Urgh..."
It occurred to me that this statement did not quite make sense, and I turned to look at her.
"I'll be fine just as soon as I wake up," she said. "Stop looking at me like that, Renton, or I'll tear your eyes out." She sighed. "No, no...no, I won't. I want you to see what I'm going to do to you, just as soon as I find my staple gun..." She heaved herself to her knees.
"Er..." I said.
"What did you want again?" said Morphine. "I distinctly remember you having something you wanted."
Cross flashed her a gleaming, white-toothed smile. "Actually," he said. "I was just checking to see if you were up yet. You sleep in pretty late, even for dead people, you know that?"
Morphine sidearmed a pillow at him, and missed.
"Anyway, I just wanted to invite you downstairs to join our game. It really isn't fun without four, you see. Just slide on down when you're up and ready, okay? Ta-ta." Cross's head disappeared.
"Fuck," muttered Morphine. "Now we have to find out what he meant. Here, could you hand me my sock? It's over by your head..."
Some minutes later, feeling reasonably more human, we stepped into the lobby. Christy and Jeremiah were already there, fiddling idly with brightly-painted plastic somethings. Cross lounged against the candy counter and watched them with the detached amusement of a parent watching his children play tag, or maybe cowboys and indians. He turned and flashed another blinding smile at us.
"Ah," he said. "Just the people I was waiting for."
Morphine arched an eyebrow. "You were expecting anyone else to come out of this theater?"
Cross shrugged. "This place has passages even I don't know about. Who knows what might come parading up out of its bowels one day. Thankfully, it's just you-"
"-just you, and we can continue living our lives in comparative peace. But I digress. Gather 'round and see what's what, you two. This game is only fun if you know how to play."
On the table were four plastic machine-pistols, each colored in a jaunty flourescent so bright it could have caused flashburns, had the overheads not been so dim. Next to these, Cross had set a gallon-size pitcher of brightly glowing liquid. The stuff within appeared to be roughly the same consistency as water- save for the light, of course.
"This," said Cross, gesturing toward the pitcher. "Is a wonderful concoction of my own design. It is phosphorescent, long-lasting, and soaks into clothes almost immediately. These other things, as you can see, are water-pistols. Catching my drift yet?"
Morphine picked up an electric blue Uzi. "You've...gone insane?"
"Heh. Not quite, Morphine. Not yet." Cross cracked his knuckles. "You see, I DO have a use for these things, random and unexpected as they may be. They will serve us well in the coming hours, I think, for-"
"Cut the shit, Cross. Just TELL us." Morphine crossed her arms. "What are we doing?"
"Very well," said Cross, mildly chagrinned. "You're each going to take a pistol and fill it with liquid. Then, the four of you will go into the theater and hide somewhere inside. I will not be participating, as I would probably be tempted to cheat. The four of your, however, should be equally matched for such a game."
"And just what sort of insane game do you have in mind?" said Morphine
Jeremiah picked up a bright red pistol. "I think he wants us to hunt each other."
"Precisely! Two points for Jeremiah!" Cross grinned. "It's a game, you see. You will each try to hunt the other three down and spray them with water, while not being sprayed yourselves. It is an exercise in patience, stealthy, ruthlessness, and so forth. You all should do quite well, I think." He grinned slyly.
Morphine held the gun like a dead fish. "You're serious, aren't you?"
"Always," said Cross. His smile faded. "In light of the information we've been given about our pursuers, as well as the things we know about our enemies, wouldn't it be best to keep ourselves on our toes, just in case they DO show up? Wouldn't it be better to be prepared? Hmm?"
"Certainly," said Morphine. "There's nothing I'm more worried about right now than how well I can blast shoot a psychotic god-crazy maniac with a water gun. It all makes sense!"
"Morphine," I said. "Give it a rest."
"He's right," said Jeremiah. "You're being a- well, a bitch about this. It's just a game, okay?" Beside him, Christy was nodding vigorously.
Morphine turned her icy glare on me. "Renton," she said. "I will have a few choice words for you later. As for the rest of you, you're all immature children, and you're nuts if you think this will do any good for any of us." She sighed. "But if it's what you really want, I'll play your stupid game." She picked up a bright pink machine pistol and hefted it in her hands. "Just as long as you're all ready to lose, that is."
Our pistols full, we filed down the aisles, eyes already hunting for choice hiding places. The theater suddenly seemed so much larger, so much more threatening than it ever been before. There were hundreds of places where someone or something could be hiding, waiting to pick off an unwary passer-by...
We were halfway to the stage when the lights behind us switched off, plunging us into near-total darkness. On instinct, I raised my gun up in front of my face. The glowing liquid provided a small amount of light...but not enough.
Cross's voice echoed out from somewhere above us. It was ghostly, taunting; it seemed to whisper into our ear and boom out over the stage at the same time. I was suddenly very nervous.
"My friends," said Cross. "The game is afoot. Prepare yourselves! Take your places, hide well, and be prepared for anything. The hunt has begun."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.