Rey Johnson hates Halloween. She can't even walk by a black cat without stopping dead in her tracks and sprinting across the street. Naturally, it came as a surprise to her and her friends, Poe and Finn, when she told them that she wanted to try the haunted house that had popped up at the edge of town for one night only.
'The Haunted Heart' had started to make a name for itself online for being one of the scariest haunted houses of the year. The creators claimed that those who were brave enough to enter would be subjected to such extreme thrills and horrors that their hearts were sure to beat out of their chest. Those who made it out alive would leave feeling as if they weren't going home alone.
"Are you out of your mind?" Poe asked, barely holding back his laughter.
The idea of little Rey in a horror maze was suddenly the funniest thing he had ever heard. He had been lounging on the couch in his loft when the shear outrageousness of the suggestion had made him nearly jump out of his seat, much to the dismay of his boyfriend who had been using his legs as a pillow.
"You know you nearly piss yourself when you see a trailer for a horror movie right?"
"I've changed," Rey insisted. She hadn't. "I don't even have to close my eyes when I watch those trailers anymore." She did.
Poe raised an eyebrow, seeing right through Rey's lies. "And you make it through the whole thing?"
Rey brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear, unwilling to look Poe in the eyes. "Well…"
Finn burst out laughing. "Peanut, you won't make it out alive."
Rey put her hands on her hips. "Wanna bet?"
Poe scoffed. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to make a quick buck, he pulled out his wallet as soon as the words had left her mouth. He threw a 50 dollar bill on the coffee table between them. It was soon joined by Finn's own assortment of bills.
"This will be an easy 100 bucks," Rey said smugly, trying to put on a brave voice. She was already wishing she had kept her mouth shut.
"Whatever you say," Poe said with a smirk as he returned his wallet to his pocket. "Just bring a diaper."
When Halloween finally arrived a few days later, Rey regretted not buying that diaper. Her body vibrated in the back seat of Finn's pick-up. Why was she doing this to herself? Sure, being a 20 year old who was afraid of the monster under the bed was embarrassing, but did it bother her enough to put herself through this ordeal?
In truth, proving herself wasn't the real reason Rey was there that night. She had conveniently left out to her friends that she wasn't going to be able to pay rent that month. Poe and Finn had been kind enough to let her crash at their loft while she looked for an affordable place near her college much to no avail. As days turned into months with no such a find, she had offered to pay rent for the remainder of her stay, but with only a part-time job on campus and her tuition and text book costs, Rey was running out of cash quick. Too proud to ask for a handout, she resorted to a more creative way of earning her rent money. If she had to face her biggest fears to do so, then she would.
The moment they pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of the truck, eerie music filled their ears. Fog crept along the paths and without realizing what she was doing, Rey was already clinging to Poe who led the way to the gates. A scream sounded in the distance and Rey watched as a young couple was chased by a man with a chainsaw, fake blood oozing from his neck. It was actually quite funny to Rey who eased up on the arm that was beginning to lose much of its feeling. The man was so obviously in a costume. How could anyone be scared of him? Had they never heard of makeup?
The group presented their tickets at the gate and walked along a winding cobblestone path lit only by a handful of lanterns. As they approached the front of the haunted house, the door opened on its own. It was at that moment that Rey's mind went blank of all reasoning she had clung to earlier. Knowing only a creeping sense of fear and irrational thought, she slid between her friends, using them as shields as they walked into the grand entrance. As soon as they had crossed the threshold, the door closed behind them with an echoing thud.
"Hey, Peanut," Finn whispered to Rey, concern lining his words. "There are going to be exits along the way in case you need to get out of here."
Rey huffed. "I won't need to."
She was the first to move along the maze, in a valiant show of courage that dwindled almost immediately as soon as a shadowed figure scurried in front of them. And yes it did scurry. It crossed their path in a contorted crawl, its limbs bent at odd angles and not at all where they were supposed to be. Rey tried to force herself to believe it was just a trick of the light, or even perhaps a small child running to catch up to their parents, but there was no one in front of them. What she had seen had been as horribly real as she could have ever imagined.
The music began to build as they continued past the creature. It was just loud enough to make Rey's skin crawl in anticipation of what was to come. The room was still and the realization that it was only the three of them had created a pit of fear in Rey's stomach, sudden isolation gnawing away at her gut. She had been counting on the other guests' screams to warn her when something scary would pop up. It was her Plan B. Her Plan A was to simply close her eyes the entire way but, having predicted this cop out, Finn and Poe added the condition that she would have to go in eyes open.
It wasn't until they made it to the entrance of the first room, where they stood for what felt like forever waiting for the door to open, when Rey began to feel a warm breath against the back of her neck. She froze where she stood, unaware of the shit-eating grin on Poe's face who was looking on at the spectacle about to unfold before him.
"Helpless little girl," someone or something whispered slowly to her. The faceless voice inhaled Rey's hair. "You would make such a lovely meal." He let out a deep laugh, laced with malice. "Could I have taste?"
The monster feigned biting into Rey's shoulder causing her to let out a blood curdling scream. She dug her fingers into Poe's arm as she did.
Poe hissed and pulled his arm away from her grip. "What the fuck, Johnson? This bet is becoming too dangerous. You're ruining the mood."
The villain slunk back into the shadows, having his fill of scaring young women. As he did, Poe extended his uninjured arm to his boyfriend who gladly wrapped his own around it. They walked ahead into the now open room leaving Rey to scramble behind them as close as possible. She kept her eyes on the ground, breathing heavily as she followed the path. It was just an actor. It was just an actor.
Slowly the trio made their way through a nursery scene. In the middle of the room, a woman with clawed out eyes rocked back and forth in her wooden chair. In her arms was a baby doll or at least Rey thought it was a baby seeing as its head was missing.
"Would you like to hold her?" the woman asked, following the group's path with unseeing eyes.
"I'm not much of a baby person," Poe replied. "But my friend over there loves kids."
Following Poe's gesture, the woman turned her head towards Rey with such speed it was a wonder that she didn't snap her neck. Rey gulped.
"N-n-no thank y-you," she whispered, unable to raise her voice, or even look at the woman who had stood up suddenly.
Unfortunately for Rey, those were not the words the mother had wanted to hear. Before they knew it, she was on the group of friends, shrieking into their faces. She fell onto the floor and convulsed beside them, her hand clawing at Rey's ankles as she did. Rey jumped out of the way and all but tackled her friends in an effort to escape the room.
They took the hint and swiftly exited along a narrow path. The walls pulsated against them, forcing them to walk single file. Rey felt as if she was being crushed, but at least there wasn't enough room to be chased. She started humming a song to distract herself, holding onto the knowledge that they would be out of this hell soon enough.
As they wormed their way out of the enclosed path, an exit sign lit up the corner of the room. It was a beacon of hope to Rey who was about to run right out of the building, rent be damned. She sighed in relief, finally beginning to feel some semblance of security, that is, until a clawed hand shot out in front of her. She dodged backwards, falling ungracefully on the ground. Her fumble was lost on her friends who continued on their way, giggling at the props and cheesy sound effects, oblivious to the events that had transpired behind them.
"Almost got you," a shrill voice sang as the actor retreated into the folds of the curtains.
By the time Rey got back up, her friends were out of sight. She called out to them, only managing a squeak as her voice was suddenly lost to her. She could still hear the gremlin-like man giggling from his hiding place.
"Her friends have left her here with me. Oh what games we could play."
Its voice sounded as if it were coming from every direction. Just when Rey thought she had pinpointed it, it would shift behind, above, below, anywhere but where she looked. It was forcing her away from the exit and away from safety. She treaded carefully, forcing herself to keep moving through the maze rather than turn back and find herself face-to-face with whatever was taunting her.
It wasn't until the monster began to hum the very song Rey had used as a safety net earlier did her 'fight or flight' instinct kick in. She chose 'flight', although her speed was nothing to be impressed by. Her feet were heavy, her body transitioning from a steady thrum that pulsated through her veins to shivers that ran across every inch of her skin.
"Come back, sweetheart," the voice hissed behind her.
I will not cry. I will not cry, she repeated over and over to herself as she rounded the corner and into the next set: a kitchen scene bathed in what she assumed was human blood given the chopped and flayed body parts along the floor and walls. She prayed that her friends would be there waiting for her. However, the only thing waiting for her was a heart attack when a butcher jumped out of the cupboards and started to thrash a bloody knife in her direction, chanting 'fresh meat' as he did so.
This time her body chose 'fight' and without thinking, Rey punched the actor square in the jaw. She was met with a series of rather uniquely strung together curses as he dropped his knife and clutched at his face.
"Fuck. I knew I shouldn't have taken this job." He pulled his mask off and Rey realized, as it trickled down his chin, that the blood that covered his body was no longer fake.
Her hands flew to her mouth, completely shocked at her actions. She had never punched someone before, much less someone who made her seem like an ant in comparison. "Oh shit. I am so sorry. My friends left me. I hate scary things and I—I just—I just reacted. I don't know."
The man, who looked to be a few years older than Rey, ran his hand through his shaggy, black hair. He eyed her warily, his anger dissipating as he took in the frightened, young woman before him. Despite the poor lighting, he couldn't help but notice the freckles that patterned her face and the wild look that flickered in her eyes. She seemed genuinely upset. She also seems genuinely beautiful, he allowed himself to think, if only for a fleeting moment.
"If you don't like scary things," he spoke, voice deep and slow, "why are you here?"
"Winning a bet by proving a point," Rey stated matter-of-factly.
"That you can take on someone twice your size?"
Rey rolled her eyes. "That I can make it through a haunted house without crying."
The man smirked. "And how's that coming along?"
"Holding on by a thread if you must know. My friends abandoned me." Rey's eyes scanned the room. "Have you seen them?"
The stranger massaged his jaw as he gestured towards the exit. "I heard some people come by but they were laughing so I didn't bother trying to scare them. I'm guessing that was them?"
Rey nodded. Leave it to Poe and Finn to get through this hell hole unscathed because of their lovey-dovey relationship.
"Where did my friend go?" The familiar sing-song voice sounded from down the corridor.
Rey instantly tensed up. "I should have punched that guy in the face. I wish he would leave me alone."
As if the sick freaks who created the maze could hear her, the doors around them slammed shut and the power cut out. If Rey thought 'The Haunted Heart' was scary with the lights and music, being in complete silence and darkness was terrifying. Shapes formed in the pitch black surroundings, her mind trying to see what wasn't there. Unfortunately, her mind was not her friend and she began to envision the distorted crawling creature who had thoroughly shaken her a few minutes prior. Soon her mind replayed the night's horrific events over and over again. Her skin crawled, feeling as if someone was watching her, waiting to take her away, waiting…waiting…
"Not again," came the voice of the stranger from beside Rey. "This shit has been happening almost every night. I thought they would have fixed it by—"
A sob escaped Rey's throat. Before she knew it she was crying. No rent was worth the emotional torture she was being put through that night.
Rey tried to choke back her tears, not succeeding in the slightest. Too afraid to be embarrassed about crying in front of a stranger, her body began to resume its previous quivering. Get it together, Rey, she chastised, repeating it over and over again until a hand gripped her shoulder.
She shrieked, the hand instantly recoiling as she did.
"Crap, sorry. I was just trying to—are you okay?"
"Does it sound like I'm okay?" Rey snapped, the sheer stupidity of the question waking her from her breakdown. "I'm scared as hell and I can't see a damn thing!"
From beside her she could hear the man shuffle a few steps away. He cleared his throat. "Do you, um, do you have a cell phone?"
Rey shot him a dirty look, one that was lost in the obscurity of the room. "Are you hitting on me? Now? What kind of sicko are you?"
"I meant you can turn on the flashlight," he explained, thankful for the cover of the dark to hide the blush creeping up his neck.
A soft 'oh' made it past Rey's lips as she fished out her phone and turned on the flashlight. She directed it towards the actor's face who winced at the brightness. "Sorry."
In the new light, she could see where she had hit him more clearly than before. Without thinking, Rey lifted a hand to his chin and tilted it towards her. The bleeding had stopped, but he would have a nasty bruise the next day.
"Sorry," she apologized again, locking her eyes with his, willing him to forgive her.
He watched her intently, unsure of what to do with a stranger touching him so intimately. She was holding his chin far too firmly, definitely lacking the presumed gentleness of someone of her stature. It should have hurt, but he found himself forgetting the pain as he got lost in the intensity of her pleading gaze. His features softened and he opted for a smile, deciding to forgive the person he was trapped in a small room with.
At his lazy smile, Rey dropped her hand and allowed herself to fully look at the man in front of her. The light illuminating his face only accentuated his sharp features. Alone, his traits would never work: his nose too long, his moles too plentiful. Everything about him was a little too much and yet together she found that it painted the perfect picture. He was quite handsome. It was almost enough to distract her from her surroundings and the nightmare she had trapped herself in. If she could hold onto that face, then perhaps it would erase the bad things she had seen.
Desperate to break the silence and distract herself from her troubles, Rey extended her hand towards him and introduced herself.
"I'm Rey," she said with a sniff. It was a vain attempt at a peace offering but one that he gladly accepted.
"Kylo Ren." He took the hand offered, trying not to laugh at how small the woman's hand was in his own.
Rey tilted her head. "Really? Kylo Ren?"
He chuckled deeply, a welcomed sound to Rey's ears. "Nah. My real name is Ben. Kylo Ren is actually just my stage name."
"Stage name? So you're a proper actor then?"
"Well I graduated from poli-sci a couple years back. I absolutely hated it but my mom's a senator and wouldn't stand for her son to go into fine arts. I'm doing this to pay back my student loans. Haven't caught my big break yet."
Rey nodded solemnly. If there was one thing she knew well, it was student loans. "Well I would hire you. You scared the crap out of me. Very believable."
"Ah so you're an agent then?"
"No, but I could be. I'm already a couple years into my business degree so maybe I'll take some specialized courses if it means helping out a rising star."
"Business hmm?" Ben looked Rey over. She had tear stains down her cheeks and her hair was standing in all different directions. She was a hot mess, definitely different then the business types he had ran into with his mother.
Rey put a hand on her chest, feigning offense. "Don't look so surprised. I've got big plans. You see, when I open up my own chain of auto shops, you'll be begging to hire me."
Ben chuckled at her hopeful outlook. Even though she wasn't much younger than him, she still somehow maintained a youthful optimism. Despite having only just met, it seemed to Ben that Rey was a force to be reckoned with. He didn't know many people who would put themselves through their worst fears to win a bet. He didn't doubt that she could do whatever she set her mind to.
As Ben studied the young woman, the gears in Rey's head began to turn. Her eyes lit up and she snapped her fingers. "Hey, maybe you can be my spokesperson! Every successful business has a celebrity endorsement."
"Spokesperson? With this face? Are you sure you don't want a Hemsworth selling oil and tires for you?"
Rey frowned. "What's wrong with your face?"
"Well there's a reason I'm in a haunted house wearing a mask."
"You're crazy," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "You're beautiful."
Rey quickly bit her tongue. Did you just call a perfect stranger 'beautiful'? She lowered the light from his face but not before seeing a mischievous look dance across his eyes.
"Ah you think I'm hot."
"What? I didn't say that. I – "
Rey felt a blush creeping across her cheeks. She cursed herself and her stupid mouth. Of course she did find him oddly attractive, however that didn't mean she had wanted him to know that.
Rey groaned. "I regret ever coming here."
"I'm glad you did."
"I think I'm going to go sit in the corner to avoid any more embarrassment."
Rey began to walk away when Ben grabbed her wrist. She turned to meet his eyes which watched her with curiosity and fascination. He gestured towards the floor.
"Let's share the light. We'll be here for a while."
Rey let herself be pulled down and promptly took a seat next to him. She placed her phone on the ground, allowing the light to fill the space between them.
Ben continued to watch as she fidgeted, uncomfortable with the silence that they had allowed to go on for too long. Ben quite enjoyed the quiet, a welcomed change from the loud music and shrill screams that he had to endure over the past few weeks. For a while, it was just their breathing that filled the air around them and he was content to stay that way a little while. Rey on the other hand had different plans.
"So how long do you think it'll take to get the power back?"
"Usually from 15 minutes to an hour."
Ben put his arms behind his head and leaned into the cupboard behind him. He watched in amusement as Rey's eyes widened comically. She worried at her bottom lip.
"An hour? A whole hour?"
Ben simply shrugged. "Not much we can do about it. We just need to wait it out."
Rey sighed and rubbed her arms absentmindedly, a gesture not lost on Ben. With the power out, the heat had followed. The room's temperature had begun to drop significantly in the past few minutes. Ben however took little notice of the cold, his body always running a little too hot. He looked around for something to offer the woman next to him, silently cursing the company for not letting them bring in any personal belongings. He strummed his fingers against his thigh when it dawned on him that he did have something to offer.
"Here," he said as he untied his apron and handed it to a confused Rey. "You seemed cold. I don't know if it'll help much."
Rey took it graciously and wrapped it over her shoulders. "Thanks," she said shyly as she took a look around her and sighed. Sitting with Ben in the light had allowed her fear to slowly dissipate. The gnawing pit in her stomach was already beginning to be replaced by another sensation.
"Does this place happen to have any real food or is it all prosthetic limbs?"
Ben smirked. "Are you hungry?"
"We're not supposed to bring anything in here with us, but if you behave and don't assault me again, then maybe I'll buy you something when we get out of here."
He winked at Rey who immediately began to turn crimson. Was he flirting? At a time like this? Of course, it wouldn't have been the first time she had been hit on by a stranger, but she usually ignored the endless advances of frat boys. With Ben however, she found it hard to ignore how giddy it made her feel to hear his attempt at asking her out. Seeing as she had nothing to lose, and unable to deny how attracted to him she was, she decided to play along.
"And what would the famous Kylo Ren buy me?"
"The works, of course." He gestured widely, as if the food was right there in front of them. "Can't you just taste it now? Filet mignon, champagne, crème-brulée? Anything my agent desires."
Rey giggled. She actually giggled. "You're a dork."
"So is that a no?"
His expression was serious, all traces of his prior light-heartedness gone as he waited for Rey's response. How strange, he thought, that he suddenly wanted nothing more than to hear this perfect stranger say 'yes', as if he were dying and he was begging her for the cure.
Rey's eyes met his. If it was possible, his worried eyes and furrowed brows only made him cuter. Hell, she thought, if she was going to face her fears tonight then why not accept a stranger's request for a date?
"It sounds perfect."
Ben let out a sigh of relief. It was then that the lights turned, followed shortly by the music. The doors unlocked with a click, signalling their newfound freedom. Ben stood and extended a hand down to help Rey off the ground. They stood awkwardly for a while, unsure if it was time to part ways, unsure if what they had said still meant something.
Ben had been no stranger to women's teasing, often finding himself a target of numerous dares or attempts to make boyfriend's jealous. He hadn't planned on asking her out, it had kind of just slipped out in the moment; his subconscious being ever the wingman. What's more is that he definitely hadn't expected Rey to agree to his request. He wouldn't put it past her if she brushed it off and left to go find her friends without another word. She owed him nothing. It was all in good fun and he really should be getting back to work and—
Something hard pressed into Ben's hand. It was Rey's phone. He stared at it, slightly dumbfounded, when she laughed.
"I can't leave without my talent's number, can I?"
Rey smiled brightly up at him as he quickly entered his phone number into her cell, afraid that if he took too long the offer would be rescinded.
"I get off in an hour. Wait for me?"
Rey bobbed her head, agreeing to meet Ben in the parking lot when his shift was finished. Her body hummed, excitement building within her as all thoughts of ghouls and goblins vanished from her mind.
"Well I guess I should go find my friends," Rey said begrudgingly, handing him back his costume.
Ben nodded in agreement and slipped on his apron. He was about to put on his mask when Rey—who decided that she would continue to face her fears—balanced on her tip toes and gave Ben a goodbye kiss on his cheek.
It was at that moment that they heard yells from the next room. Two familiar faces proceeded to come tumbling into the kitchen.
"Rey? Rey, are you here? The power went out and—oh my god. Straights! Kissing! This really is the scariest haunted house ever."
It was true what they said about 'The Haunted Heart', Rey found herself thinking an hour later as she watched Ben stroll up to her in the parking lot, his grin stretching from ear to ear: you really don't go home alone.