The darkness disappeared as the heavy eyelids blocking my view raised, allowing me to search around the unfamiliar room in which I found myself. Only one light hung down from the high ceiling and it didn't light up anything really, it was just enough to see at least around the narrow room but that was it, though it was flickering dangerously, ready to blow at any moment.
In the faint lighting I did notice something, it was a large metal door set into the wall just to my left, making even more questions flood my mind, as if the dam holding them back broke.
Where the hell was I? What was going on here? Was this some stupid joke or something? Whoever did this is a fucking asshole!
As my eyes adjusted to the lack of lighting, I was now able to see that there was a digital countdown clock just to the side of the metal door, ticking closer to zero, showing only two hours left.
Only two hours for what?
Confused and still slightly groggy from just having awoken, from what I figured to be a drugged sleep, I shifted my gaze around once again, finding it rather odd that a silver cassette player was sitting beside me, just waiting to be seen, it also had a tape setting in the open holder, just setting there to be pushed in and played.
Curiosity got the better of me, I hesitantly picked up the old device, only to push the tape in, close the top with a slight creak, and press the play button, the altered voice alone sent chills down my spine, and not the good kind.
"Hello Romano. I want to play a game. For centuries you've cut people down due to your own insecurities. Now it's your turn to be cut down to size.
The door in front of you is on a timer, when it hits zero, the door will lock for good, and this room will become your tomb.
Behind you there is a ladder, at the top there is the key to unlocking the door, you better pray that your blood doesn't make you slip while you're up there."
After only a moment or two of fuzz the tape turned itself off, and a crash echoed around the room as the cassette player tumbled from my trembling hand and shattered on the cement.
Carefully, but frantically, I checked myself for any sort or injury, finding myself confused, yet relieved, when I couldn't even find a single bruise, so what was this about blood?
With a weary glance to the timer I climbed to my feet, flinching as my skin came into contact with the ice cold floor.
Of course I didn't have any shoes, why would I have shoes?!
"Hmph! I wonder where everyone else is? Antonio? Feliciano!" Silence is all that answered me, so with an aggravated sigh I turned my body to the back of the room, my eyes catching sight of the ladder almost instantly, following it's height with my gaze, I could faintly make out the form of a chain hanging from the ceiling just above the last rung of the ladder.
More questions and confusion swirled around in my head. "What the fuck? This isn't that damn hard! I was fucking scared for no damn reason!"
Quickly walking over to the, seemingly normal ladder, I grabbed the first rung that I could reach, at about the level of my eyes, which snapped open wide as a red hot searing pain ran up the nerves of my arm as I cried out tearing my grip away from the ladder. Both my feet left the ground as I jumped back, tears stinging my eyes.
Lowering my gaze to my palm, the deep gash now settled there quickly became filled with blood that pooled for only a moment before raining to the floor. Yet all I could see in my mind at that time was that brief moment before the wound filled up, giving me a perfect view of the meat in my palm.
"Shit! The steps are fucking blades! That damn fucking bastard!"
Looking at the timer, even more tears pooled in my eyes from the fear that was tightening it's grip on my heart ever so tightly, making the threat of choking up just that much more plausible.
Even as a nation, if I was left here for too long, I would die... It comes down to the question... Could I make myself go through the pain of climbing the ladder just to live?
For a moment, I just stood there weighing my options, partly in shock at the same time, as well as willing myself not to start sobbing. Mostly though I was trying to think of another way to get that damn key.
Suddenly I got an idea, and if I may say so myself, it was a damn good one too! Grinning, I grabbed both sides of the ladder, planning on using them to pull myself up. Though I was taken off guard when a tremor flowed through my entire body causing me to convulse violently, yet my tensed muscles made it impossible to release the ladder.
Unable to take anymore of the electricity, my knees buckled and sent me crumbling to the ground, thankfully that broke my hold, but my head hit the cement. Knocking me into darkness once more.
Is this all a dream? Will I wake up back in bed with Antonio still beside me?
Is this all really happening? Will I ever see Antonio again? My brother? Anyone...?
As the second thought crossed my mind, my eyes were able to flutter open, leaving me to sigh when the same dark room came into view, with the key taunting me, the only difference was now there was a throbbing pain in the back of my head, and my entire body was tingling.
Tears came to my eyes as I sat up, but this time they came from a different kind of pain, one that cuts deeper than any knife.
"I never got to tell that fucking tomato bastard that... That I loved him back..."
Glancing at the timer, I gasped and jumped up, ignoring the pain that had replaced the tingling at the first sign of movement.
There was only five minutes left?! How long was I out?!
Turning to the ladder, I clenched my hands into fists, gritting my teeth to push through the pain of my nails in the gash.
"No! I will not just fucking sit back and die! This fucking bastard doesn't know who he's messing with! No ladder is going to get the best of me!"
I couldn't stop myself from crying out as I clasped one of the blades with my already injured hand, I wanted so badly to just let go and give up already, but I couldn't. I had to keep going, no one was going to try and kill me and get away with it.
Bringing my right foot up to the highest rung that I could reach, screaming as I pulled myself up to grab a higher blade with my left hand. My eyes screwed shut trying to think of anything that would block out the pain, but no thought or memory was strong enough. So I just pushed through, opening my eyes once more only to look up through the blur of my tears, extending my, now, pale white and trembling hand to reach for the next blade I could get my grip on, screams ripping out of my raw throat as each cut deepened just enough for blood to coat the blades and drip down to the floor, puddling there at the bottom as I moved up the hellish ladder.
"Come on Romano! You're almost there! Only a little further...!" Pulling myself up to the top flattened portion, I raised up to place my stomach on the only safe portion, giving myself a break from the pain of the blades.
Reaching up for the key just above my head, I slid off a bit, automatically catching myself with my foot by placing it onto one of the blades. A hoarse scream rose from my throat as the blade made a whole new gash on the heel of my foot, but before I could give up, I used all the force in my weak arms to push myself up further to yank the key off of the fucking chain, making me almost fall to the blood covered cement below as the entire ladder swayed.
Starting my quick, painful, yet careful climb down, I tried to keep my fear in check, telling myself I still had plenty of time, though in reality, I would be cutting it majorly fucking close!
Dropping the rest of the way to the floor, I whimpered, holding back a pain filled cry by digging my teeth into my chapped lips, until I found myself paused for a second. I rushed to the door, scrambling to get the key in the lock.
The key slid out of my slick, bloody hands.
The key was back in my hands,keeping my grip on it tight!
It slid into the lock, pushing back the wave of excitement, I focused. No time to fuck up now!
The key turned with a squeak and some difficulty, but I finally got it!
The timer stopped.
Then the door opened with a hiss! I smiled for a short moment, then collapsed to my knees, suddenly feeling weak. Bent over, I began sobbing into my blood soaked hands out of relief. I was alive! I did it! All by myself!
At first, I thought the squeaking was just from the door opening more, but then it started getting louder. Hesitating at first, I then slowly looked up. Startled to find the door opened all the way, and a young girl was standing there with one purple eye trained on me, the other hidden behind a curtain of white hair, her school uniform, as it seemed, splattered with something black, which looked like oil, and small splotches of something that looked extremely close to blood.
"Congratulations Romano. Your insecurities made your life not worth living, but not anymore. Are you grateful to be alive now? Grateful that you made yourself keep going?"
Staring silently for a moment I gave one short nod, making an eerie grin stretch across her lips. "Good."
Without another word, she spun on her heel and briskly walked away from me, staring after her for a second, the world began to whirl around me, and the last thing I remember was darkness, then hitting the floor once again.