Inspired by SkellingtonZero's The Tea's Gone Mad.
A story which made me realise that there was something missing in my repertoire: the ability to write a mystery/horror.
This is my first attempt at a horror/mystery and the rating will increase as the story progresses.
And I'm not as grim as my name suggests, so please expect a little black humour.
I am grateful to liquidity and Social Safari for beta-reading this story.
Thank you in advance for any reviews and constructive feedback.
It started with Kyouya. When he realised that the storm had snowed everyone in, he suggested turning off every cell-phone but his in order to conserve energy. If the storm grew so bad that it cut off their electricity, at least they could work through one cell-phone at a time, hoping that signal would return to the lodge before every cell-phone gave out or that someone would find a signal nearby once the storm had died down. With this suggestion coming from Kyouya, the most logical member of the Host Club, everyone surrendered their cell-phones without a word and watched as their primary means of contacting the outside world were locked away in a writing desk. Why Kyouya felt it was necessary to lock their cell-phones away, they did not know, but they were willing to place their trust in him if it meant getting out alive.
The storm lasted almost a week. It had snuck up on them overnight, welcoming the Host Club and their classmates with a merry burst of snow on the evening that they arrived at the lodge. Running from the shuttle bus they had ordered from the airport to the foyer of the lodge, they exclaimed at the weather and its perfect timing, even though the snow was hindering their luggage, which they were too excited to leave in the capable hands of the shuttle staff.
'Okay everyone, I'm doing a head count!' said Tamaki, producing a clipboard from his rucksack and resuming the pose which he had witnessed so often from teachers in the classroom. 'When I call your names, raise your hands and say "here". Haruhi?'
'Kyouya,' said Tamaki.
'What?' said Kyouya.
'You didn't raise your hand…'
To compensate for Kyouya's lack of parallel gestures, the twins raised three arms. 'We're here!'
'Thank you, Hikaru. Thank you, Kaoru. Mori-sempai?'
'I'm here too!' Hunny added. 'And don't forget Usa-chan!'
Tamaki nodded as he wrote the pastel pink rabbit's name at the end of his register. 'Kazukiyo-kun, Momoka-san?'
The Class Presidents of 1-A raised their hands. 'Here,' said Momoka, oblivious to Kazukiyo's self-consciousness.
'And Renge?' Tamaki sighed, looking almost pleased that the fan-girl was nowhere to be seen.
'Hohohoho! Best vacation ever!' came the voice of his nemesis from behind their snow-covered luggage.
Everyone apart from Kyouya gawped: in the time it took to complete the brief head count, Renge had made a passable replica of her favourite character Ichijo Miyabi from Uki Doki Memorial in the form of a snowman.
'Can we go in now? It's freezing!' the twins complained.
'Not yet!' said Tamaki, racing past them in an effort to step inside first; the others followed, rolling their eyes.
No one suspected that such a picturesque flurry could turn into so violent a blizzard within the space of a few hours, their exploration of the lodge and what it had to offer thoroughly distracting them. As the occupants raided the pantry, claimed their desired bedrooms, and threw wood into the fireplace to make their settings brighter and more comfortable, the storm grew slowly in severity, surrounding the building in a thickening silence as it gradually blinded the windows and piled up high against every possible exit. It was not until everyone had savoured their meals, cradling cups of steaming green tea as they relaxed around the fireplace that an observation was made by Kazukiyo, their nyctophobic Class President, who the twins had invited just for fun.
'Don't you think it's snowing just a little too much?' he queried, wiping condensation from one of the windows and staring pensively at the sheets of snow obscuring the glass.
The twins shared a knowing glance and propped their elbows on either side of Kazukiyo's shoulders.
'The probability of you dying is more than fifty percent–' started Hikaru.
'–compared to us being trapped in the lodge without food or water,' finished Kaoru, causing Kazukiyo to splutter with terror as he tried to decipher which misfortune was worse.
Tamaki appeared in front of the trio, accompanied by the latest tablet computer displaying local weather patterns above their area of Hokkaido. 'We won't get snowed in,' he stated with confidence, pointing at a clear patch encompassing their lodge and a generous region without a brick of civilisation. 'According to the latest weather report, the snow is likely to clear up by the end of the week, so we should all play out in the snow while we still have the chance.' Raising his slippered foot on the sofa with the spirit of having conquered Mount Everest, Tamaki demanded, 'So who's with me?'
In the seconds that followed, everyone sipped tea, placed their cups quietly on the nearest flat surface, and ran from the lounge with undisguised joy, dragging a gibbering Kazukiyo along with them and leaving their second bespectacled classmate in a mild cloud of dust. As they exclaimed with delight at the snow which had gathered around the main entrance, pushing the oak doors until the snow acquiesced, then bounding into the dim whiteness lying flawlessly ahead of them, Kyouya went back inside to warm himself by the fireplace still crackling in the lounge. Playing in the snow was not an interest of his. Nothing could be gained from participating in such a pursuit when the only benefits seemed to be getting cold and nearly freezing to death.
While his friends laughed and played in their strange vacuum of night and snow, Kyouya merely checked his cell-phone, counting the bars of signal in the top-right corner of its small square screen and comparing it with the meter denoting battery power. Weather reports were never accurate. Despite how heavily the snow was falling right now, there was still signal and there was still internet; as far as Kyouya was concerned, this signified no sign of being stranded whilst their two most important channels were fully accessible.
Still, he thought, finishing the last of his tea, I question my judgement. It had not been his idea to rent out a lodge in the middle of nowhere, without servants to maintain their welfare or rangers to monitor their safety, it was Tamaki's,but what else would Kyouya have done with his winter vacation? It was this question which had challenged Kyouya, which had prompted him to consider if there was more to gain from accepting the invite rather than declining it. The prospect of becoming the first of his brothers to organise such an outing with classmates had enticed him in the end. Either that or Tamaki was incredibly persuasive, endorsing the charms of living the "commoner" lifestyle with the intention not only to enjoy themselves but also to further understand their poverty-stricken classmate.
Kyouya sighed, questioning his judgement.
Eventually, those who had run out into the snow came back in, dripping wet and wiping the remnants of snowballs from their bodies and faces. Since Kyouya had not joined them in a mass snowball fight and stood before them as the driest member of the Host Club, in addition to being the most logical, he had kindly prepared the baths so they could shower and relax in the hot, humid water upon their return.
'Since none of us are doctors, it would not do to get ill,' smiled Kyouya, a valuable statement in hindsight, though a discomforting rebuke to his classmates in the hallway, flooding and wrecking the Persian carpets strewn across the floorboards.
'Thank you, Kyouya-sempai, we truly appreciate it,' bowed Momoka, the Vice President of Class 1-A, before leading the girls to the female bathroom on the other side of the lodge. As Momoka left, she gave Kazukiyo an encouraging smile, a gesture on par with cherry blossoms budding in spring or a sunset framing the icecap of Mount Fuji – he snapped to attention, anxious to please her, and also bowed to Kyouya, offering his thanks for the soft, neatly folded towels, freshly laundered bathrobe, and warm, scented slippers no doubt awaiting them in the male bathroom.
Light shone dangerously on the rims of Kyouya's glasses. 'I didn't go that far,' he told the first-year.
'Come on, Pres,' said the twins, linking arms with Kazukiyo and guiding him to safety. 'Calling the Shadow King a servant to his face is not what a sane person does!'
Kazukiyo went gibbering to the bathroom, convinced he was a dead man.
'What about me?' Haruhi whispered to Kyouya as the others went ahead. 'I can't bathe with the girls or they'll discover my gender. And there's no way I'm bathing with you lot.'
Kyouya propped his chin with a thoughtful hand. 'You know, Haruhi,' said the Shadow King, 'we do have more than one bathroom here.'
'Rich bastards,' muttered Haruhi, when she saw what he meant.
As expected of any lodge available exclusively to the super-rich, the communal baths were stocked with hundreds of complimentary salts and gels for dissolving in the water. Whilst Hikaru and Kaoru tested the merits of each designer product, quickly transforming the bath from the standard of a pristine spring to an atrophic pond, Hunny voiced concerns about the increasingly bad weather.
'Usa-chan won't like it if we're stuck here,' Hunny had mumbled to Mori, scrubbing one of Usa-chan's ears with a soapy sponge.
To hear one of the eldest hosts confiding such feelings brought the weather remorselessly to the attention of every male present, invading their previous tranquillity with visions of no food, no utilities, and no means of escape, should the snow continue to fall relentlessly.
'Don't worry,' smiled Kyouya; he had already made his decision, assuring Hunny that he would personally brave the wintry conditions to find a signal on his cell-phone or plough a message through the snow if the worst ever came to worst.
'Yay!' beamed Hunny, all worries forgotten. He dried off and happily skipped from the bathroom with his companion Mori in tow, possibly in search of midnight cake and other sugary goods which were probably not good for him.
'You're so reliable,' sighed Tamaki, equally satisfied that the Host Club and its friends were not in any danger. As water trickled down his bare chest, turning his skin the colour of algae, the twins laughed and urgently climbed out of the bath.
'Even if our cell-phones fail, we still have internet,' Kyouya murmured, once again enjoying solitude as Tamaki hauled himself up from the water and sped after the twins. 'There is nothing to worry about, absolutely nothing.' He stared up at the muffled glow of the lights shining down and hoped that he was right.
It continued to snow, filling in the scars of last night's adventures, pressing the doors and windows firmly shut as if Hokkaido itself could not bear human contact. Due to the amount, it soon became obvious that these necessary apertures were suffering from the occasional leak, an inconvenience highlighted by Kazukiyo when he entered the lounge screaming that the lodge was about to collapse and that they were all going to drown.
Hikaru did not look up from the computer game was he playing with Kaoru, who lazily regarded their panic-stricken classmate with a dubiously raised brow. 'Seriously?' yawned Kaoru, ending the game with a massive explosion and high-fiving Renge as Hikaru surrendered his controller to Tamaki.
'Seriously!' hissed Kazukiyo. 'Come on!'
Rolling his eyes, Kaoru reluctantly left his seat and stepped out into the hallway, directing his gaze from Kazukiyo's trembling figure to the dark patch marking the Persian rug which served as the lodge welcome mat. To the confusion of Kazukiyo, the twin removed some paper from his pocket and produced a miniature boat, complete with sails and crew, in less than three seconds.
He placed it on the dark patch expanding on the rug and watched it gradually rise and float above the rug's patterned surface.
'Hmm,' mused Kaoru, 'this is a bit serious. Guys! You better take a look at this!'
Everyone but Kyouya joined Kaoru and Kazukiyo in the hallway.
'Nice boat,' remarked Hikaru.
'Thanks,' said Kaoru.
They all saw the dark patch.
'We have to tell Kyouya!' decided the Class President, rushing upstairs to the first-floor study where Kyouya frequently took refuge.
Behind the day-old newspaper that greeted the anxious rabble, Kyouya patiently closed his eyes and wondered why everyone was running to him in this particular situation. Leaks were not his speciality and preventing leaks was not amongst his showcase of knowledge and talents. Nevertheless, he advised that the best thing to do was to seal the leaks as quickly as possible to minimise any interior damage. Nine salutes later and they had mopped up the water which had somehow breached the inner sealants of the first floor and basement before Kyouya could so much as lift a finger. Somehow, Mori had known where to find the emergency DIY kit, distributing poly-filler to Renge and Momoka, whose hand-eye coordination did not necessarily surpass that of the twins, though they did refrain from sketching and writing graffiti.
'Well,' said Kyouya, surveying the girls' handiwork. 'You've done a great job–'
Renge and Momoka grinned.
'–but how do we get out?'
Their grins fell.
'We still have a lot of food,' Renge laughed nervously, 'and loads of wood, so we'll be fine! The snow will stop, the snow will melt, and we'll leave the lodge without any problems – hohohoho!'
They spent the next two days riding casually on this assumption, burning log after log, consuming meal after meal without implementing any strict rules on how much should be consumed. These rules only came later, enforced by the ever logical Kyouya, who called a meeting in the dining room to discuss what he saw as "unforeseen circumstances".
'We can't go on like this,' said Kyouya, using Tamaki's tablet computer to present an inventory of what supplies were still available to them at the lodge. 'If we don't learn to curb our energy consumption, we'll run out of food and run out of fuel – a scenario that I, for one, am not keen to experience, should events go against us.'
'What do you mean?' asked Kazukiyo, looking as if he already knew what Kyouya meant.
'Today, we ration our supplies. We shrink our portions at meal times and only light the fire in the mornings and the evenings. Insulate the doors and windows with cushions and padding. Leave the kitchen sink and the two main bathroom taps running to prevent the pipes from freezing overnight, and switch all electrical appliances to eco settings and charge them up only when the appliances warn us. Turn off our cell-phones and leave one switched on to pick up any signal. We can't have every cell-phone running low on battery. If the electricity fails, we have to at least have the means of contacting the outside world. Even if there is no television and no internet, we will not be isolated.'
'Wow.' Tamaki blinked. 'As much as I appreciate the immense thought you've put into this, why do I feel as if you've prayed for this moment?'
'Questions?' said Kyouya.
Hands stayed down. Everyone was willing to follow Kyouya's advice. They adhered to his recommendations with a sense of adventure, romanticising the hardships they would face in having to eat smaller portions and burn less wood as they huddled under piles of blankets, awaiting the imaginary rescue team desperate to reach them.
Embracing advice was what Kyouya had hoped for. Above the edge of his newspaper, Kyouya watched his classmates strip the lodge of every blanket it had in order to continue their fantasy. There was some primitive calling in every human being faced with the prospect of a night in the cold, he observed. They liked to hoard things – food to eat and bedding to burrow in – as well as sharing creepy tales to chip away at the darkness.
'Kyouya, do you really think we're okay?' Haruhi stood beside the Chippendale leather armchair that Kyouya was sitting in, a woollen blanket wrapped around her. She had come up to him the previous evening, shortly after Kazukiyo had started querying everyone's nonchalant use of firewood. Only Haruhi, the one true commoner amongst the super-rich who were on this trip, felt anything remotely close to what the Class President was feeling.
The fears of Kazukiyo increased with the passing of each day, to the point where even consoling him had become more or less futile. He would obsessively tour the lodge, checking the sealant applied to the doors and windows, going through the DIY kit and the potential use of its unused items, and counting the diminishing long-life foods and pasteurised beverages stocked on every shelf in the pantry. He barely slept, refreshing his inbox every few minutes as he tried to distract himself on the internet, sometimes asking what day it was merely for something to say. In seeing Kazukiyo in such blatant distress, the twins began to spend more time with him, letting him win more games and trying to make him laugh instead of making fun of him. They even sent emails to Kazukiyo's family when he had abandoned his computer, inventing an extensive catalogue of jokes which Kazukiyo had told to keep up the spirit of his friends, despite the guy's decreasing interest in banter of any kind. After all, the Class President would not have come on this trip had it not been for the twins' invitation, and the twins, for a change, were both feeling guilty.
'We're doomed, I can feel it,' Kazukiyo whispered, more to himself than anyone else. 'We can't even do what we came here to do. We're totally lost. We're totally doomed.'
Standing in the doorway of the pantry, Hikaru tried to conceal his irritation by reciting ten to zero silently in three different languages, as Kaoru had advised him. 'Pres, enough of this doom talk,' Hikaru said, once the exercise was complete. His tone was neutral, but Kaoru, crouching beside Kazukiyo and looking at the cans, boxes, and packets lining the shelves, could tell that Hikaru was still angry.
'Yeah,' said Kaoru, smiling at Kazukiyo. 'You don't want Momoka to think you're a coward, do you?'
A hand clamped itself across Kaoru's mouth, the quickest Kazukiyo had ever moved since discovering the leaky door. 'I'm not a coward!' For a moment, worry entered his dull expression and the old Kazukiyo came to the fore. 'Am I really coming across that way?'
The twins shared a glance. 'No,' they said, generously, aware that Momoka Kurakano was listening nearby.
On the day before the brown-out, Haruhi was alone with Kyouya, musing on possible outcomes for the end of the week. Emails from their parents informed them that a rescue team was on its way and should reach the lodge around that time, depending on the weather. The emails were subdued, thought Haruhi, as if they were merely delaying an inconvenient truth. In response, Kyouya gave a kindly smile, not wanting to share his private opinion, which was uncomfortably close to what Haruhi had just observed. Inside, Kyouya felt ill at ease, pacing back and forth within his mind, trying not to let the rising panic get to him. He was not used to losing control or being wrong in some way. Before embarking on this trip, Kyouya had planned everything to the letter, ensuring that the absence of adult supervision would not affect the safety and enjoyment of his friends. But now, he could see that the tension was setting in, eating away at each individual silently, making them cling with over-emphasised joy to the simple pleasures of being alive, even though the supplies were still there and the possibility of being rescued not that far away.
When the lights went out, switching computers to reserved power supplies and leaving the television screen suddenly black, dropping them into an eerie void occupied by the firelight and its crackling heat, Kyouya knew it was time to dig themselves out of the lodge and try to find help. Also, if the back-up generator did not switch itself on, somebody would have to go outside and make it happen. Failing that, a signal on Kyouya's cell-phone would have to do; he would have to fulfil his promise to Hunny and the others about personally braving the snow, and grimly, he looked forward to it.
Around the flames of candles, Kyouya asked for volunteers to help turn on the back-up generator and accompany him in the search for a cell-phone signal. A few hands shot up, eager to cure their restlessness and boredom, as well as to assist the Shadow King with his logical plan. Hunny and Mori, being the eldest of the group, offered to restore the back-up generator, whilst the twins insisted on accompanying Kyouya to a place with a high vantage point where they could possibly obtain a signal. The rest went about equipping themselves with shovels and other tools capable of digging in the snow, and opened one of the second-storey windows to gauge the situation.
It was obvious that a lot of snow had fallen, the level of snow reaching as high as a second-storey window ledge. Kazukiyo almost fainted at the prospect of how doomed they all were, muttering apocalyptic theories to himself as he eyed the few half-buried trees scattered here and there - the sole features of a pure white landscape in the northernmost part of Hokkaido.
Meanwhile, Tamaki had named himself the leader of the "Snow Liberation Party" – a nickname he hoped would put a smile on his friends' faces as they poked their shovels at the undisturbed snow spreading outwards in all directions. A few people smiled, which was good enough for him. They would get out of here for sure! They just had to believe! 'The snow is hard enough to walk on,' Tamaki reported to Kyouya and his volunteers, who were wrapped up in their warmest clothes and carrying some food supplies and digging tools for the upcoming task.
'Don't go too far,' said Haruhi, presenting a bundle of flares. 'We don't want to lose you.'
Kyouya smiled, received the flares with a bow, and climbed out of the second-storey window with Hunny, Mori, and the twins. As the Snow Liberation Party waved "good luck" to the figures shrinking into the distance, it was the last time that they ever saw their classmate, Kyouya Ootori.