The Gamemakers yelped and jumped back as the speakers roared. Popcorn flew. One of the women screamed.

A cat. Just a silly cat onscreen.

They laughed in relief, good-naturedly shouldering the woman. She rolled her eyes, smiling ruefully and looking up again just in time to find herself face-to-face with the clown on the screen. She screamed again. This time, she wasn't alone.

The only person in the dark, cozy room who wasn't paying attention was Deyna Balthazar. He huffed irritably, drawing back into the navy blue couch's fluffy cushions and trying to remember whose idea this had been. Whoever it was, they would be fired. Honestly. Gamemakers watching horror movies? Who ever heard of such a thing? What if the President was to walk in right now and see them sprawled all over the room, like children, blue-lit faces staring wide-eyed at the screen? Total disaster. They would never be taken seriously again.

The woman next to him hiccupped and raised an empty champagne glass. Deyna rolled his eyes. He had never even bothered to learn her name, but he knew she was a shameless drunk.

An Avox stepped from the corner of the room where she had been lurking, unnoticed. The Gamemakers screamed. Deyna gritted his teeth. The Avox kept her head and eyes down as she advanced with the bottle of alcohol, but even in the dim light, Deyna was sure he saw her biting back a smirk. The clown gnashed its teeth behind her.

It was a good thing, the Head Gamemaker mused, that the woman couldn't talk. It wouldn't do for anyone to learn what she had witnessed. Not that this generation of Gamemakers had done a good job of preserving the traditional mystique of their position, but still. Deyna had intended to fix that when he was promoted. He failed. He was only twenty-three, and they simply didn't take him seriously.

An earsplitting shriek from the speakers made him wince and clap a hand to his temple. Still, he leaned around the Avox to see what was going on, more out of morbid curiosity than anything. The woman's eyes widened when she realized exactly whose view she was blocking. She threw herself to the ground and poured the champagne from there.

Deyna nodded approvingly. Much better. Good problem-solving skills, too, he mused. Perhaps he would take this woman as his personal Avox.

He raised an eyebrow at another scream from the movie. A teenage girl was cornered, cowering against what looked like an old wooden wall. The camera zoomed out, revealing an old-fashioned carnival game booth, all stuffed animals and cotton candy and blue-striped awnings.

The clown lumbered into the frame. The girl shrieked. It was taller than an average human being, and it moved unnaturally. Its red-painted mouth split into a grin. Even Deyna's eyes widened for a split second. The clown's teeth were like a shark, sharp and bloody. The Head Gamemaker tilted his head. Bloody? Why were they bloody? Had the clown already killed someone? Deyna felt a bit miffed that he had missed it. Perhaps he would start paying attention after all.

The clown lunged. Blood flew. The girl screamed. The Gamemakers groaned at an awful ripping, grinding sound.

Deyna raised his eyebrows, shaking his head slowly. This was a good movie. It took a lot to get a reaction like that out of Gamemakers. They did kill children for a living, after all. Still, this was something special.

If only he could see something like that in real life, Deyna thought. Carnivorous clowns. Wolves, maybe. Spiders and shadows and darkness, ghosts and murderous living dead…

If only.

He smiled.