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Chapter no 46 – THE SECRET SILENCE

Playground

The smell of burnt flesh hung in the stuffy air of the tunnel. As they approached the light, Tanya thought about the signage in the prior room.

Is it really THE END? she wondered.

The question was rhetorical. She didn’t know the answer, nor did she feel comfortable speculating. However, deep inside, she still feared the worst was yet to come. Nothing had gone according to plan since she’d taken that long slide all the way down into the bowels of the devious castle.

Why should anything change now?

Tanya pushed past the raging pain spreading over her seared skin as little Donnie continued to help her advance.

The boy’s smooth baby face projected the idle emotions of youth; it looked like it could’ve been any other day for him. The bubbled, red, and white flesh where his arm had been burned was of no consideration to Donnie.

When they both made it to the end of the tunnel, the gloomy but unsurprising realization found them; their journey wasn’t over. While the new room’s dimensions in width were a bit bigger than the seesaw space, the height was a far different story.

There was a sizable, rectangular sandbox with various lettered blocks sprinkled within the fine dirt, but that wasn’t the concerning part. Beside the sandbox, towering up at least fifty yards in height, stood the most intimidating, sadistic structure they’d seen yet.

Even at first glance, the gigantic rope climber was beyond problematic. The structure ascended so high into the dark space that it was difficult to

locate the apex. If it weren’t for the shiny golden bell with a pull string at the top, Tanya might not have been able to find it.

The altitude of the climb wasn’t the only peril present. Within the metallic stabilization pillar at the center of the massive web of red ropes, dozens of retractable spikes thrust in and out from the center pole. The long spears re-erected themselves in every direction, pushing outward, ready to skewer anything in its circumference. Then, just moments later, the shiny spits collapsed in on themselves like magic. The deathtraps were spaced every few feet and seemed to project with no particular rhythm. The randomness of the device made it quite possibly the riskiest structure they’d encountered.

I guess they saved the best for last, Tanya thought.

Her body and mind were too damaged to even conjure the strength to get worked up. But she knew the difficulty they faced was legendary.

Instead of a sign like all the previous rooms had, Tanya peered in the sandbox. A message had been laid out via the order of the multi-colored building blocks inside. There were countless wooden squares scattered about within the entire sandy rectangle, but the ones in the center clearly held a very specific message. The first set of letters had naturally been arranged to read: PLAYGROUND RULES.

Tanya struggled to keep her focus. An ordinary task as simple as reading now seemed like an epic challenge. But she hadn’t come that far to just pass out. Tanya looked beneath the heading for the challenge details and read them aloud to Donnie.

“No time for the sand, just climb to the bell. Only after the chime will you get a final farewell.”

Without warning, Tanya fell over into the sandbox. She no longer harbored the bare minimum of energy it took for her to stand.

“I—I don’t think I can do it…” Tanya mumbled.

She still sounded like she was in shock from her injuries. When she looked up at the diabolical tower of rope and thrusting spikes, her body locked up.

Somehow, Donnie seemed as if Tanya’s reading had registered with him. He pointed up at the bell all the way at the top of the structure and then pointed to himself.

“You think you can make it?” Tanya asked.

Donnie could see that Tanya was afraid for him. He hopped over the short wooden wall into the sandbox. Looking down at the many blocks lodged in the grains, Donnie fished out several letters. He placed them so that they faced Tanya, arranging them in a specific order.

The blocks read: I CAN RING IT.

The arrangement was more than a message to Tanya. Donnie had just revealed himself to be more capable than he’d let on. Instantly, she wondered why he hadn’t chosen to speak with anyone the entire time.

She had to know.

“Why don’t you just talk?” she asked.

Donnie thought about his response for a moment, then snagged a different variety of building blocks and placed the response in front of Tanya.

The blocks read: MOMMA SAY I TALK TO MUCH. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk at all, right?” He quickly shifted the letters around again.

The blocks read: I CAN’T.

“What do you mean you can’t?”

Donnie slowly unhinged his jaws to reveal the sad, slimy truth. A tiny nub sat toward the back of the boy’s throat; the sizing was all wrong.

Almost all of Donnie’s tongue had been lopped off. Tanya’s eyes popped.

While nothing surprised her anymore after their ghastly journey, it suddenly became clear to her why the boy had been so daring the entire time. He was probably better off not making it home.

As sadness entered her sore guts, Tanya watched Donnie reset the letter line-up.

The blocks read: YOU HELP ME, I HELP YOU. Her salty face was too roasted for emotion.

Donnie reshuffled the cubes one final time. The blocks read: I BE BACK.

Donnie turned away from Tanya and pulled himself out of the sandbox. He dusted off the many dirt particles that clung to him, then took hold of the ropes at the bottom of the colossal tower.

“Be—Be careful,” Tanya said.

She was unsure what other words she could offer him. While she didn’t like the idea of him climbing up the sadistic structure, who was she to stop

him?

Donnie turned to her and nodded his head. Looking back to the rough rope in his hand, he readied himself. But before he could pull himself up, the crackle from the loudspeaker gave way.

A gruff voice manifested, giving Tanya and Donnie a stern pair of instructions.

“Don’t climb it. Just stay where you are,” Rock said. “The game’s over.

I’m gonna let you out.”

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