When Tessa mysteriously wakes up chained in the dark with two other people, she must uncover a secret in order to escape.

______________________________________________________________________________

Pancakes, all she wanted. Pancakes.

Tessa’s second thought when she woke up was to run. Run, but to where? she asked herself as she moved slowly in the dark. Something tight, cold, and rough was wrapped around her ankle. With shaking hands, she slid her fingers past her jean shorts to her bare leg. A chain? What happened to me?

Last Tessa remembered, she was walking her dog outside her apartment complex. The night had been warm as she stormed the sidewalk with frustration. She’d been debating on how to break up with her boyfriend for weeks and that night she decided she must call him. But what would I have said? Sorry, Jake, I can’t live with your smelly feet. No, that would never work. After five years of us, he would have cleaned them for me…or hurt me. Did Jake do this? Does he know? She tugged the chain again, then huffed, imagining how good pancakes would’ve been.

Focus, Tess, focus and leave here alive.

A cold breath slid down her neck. Tessa spun on the ground, crawling frantically for safety, for freedom, for hope. The chain squeezed around her flesh, taunting her, knowing she wouldn’t escape. Tessa kept crawling until her skin felt ready to break. Flipping on her back, she swung a hand and screamed, “Get away!”

After a few heavy breaths, the pitch-black room became silent, save for her rapid heartbeats.

Through the darkness, a voice whispered, “Who else–who else is there?” A man’s voice, but not strong. Perhaps a teen, Tessa thought. She decided to keep silent. “I just, I was leaving my buddy’s place and I…what happened to me?”

Well, it’s not Jake. He’d always been strong with his words. Violent, almost.

“Please, if anyone is…”

“Keep quiet, kid,” a stronger male voice stated.

“Who are you?”

A long sigh before the stronger male said, “I guess a prisoner like you.”

“But why? I didn’t do anything. I SWEAR! I didn’t.”

Light flashed like lightning, striking Tessa’s eyes with blinding bolts. She squirmed on the ground, her arm covering her face, and before getting a second to adjust her vision, a voice came over a speaker. “Three of you. Three, but not the same. One of you caused your imprisonment. One of you holds a secret, the key to your freedom. Solve who, solve which secret will let you go home. You have five minutes.”

Tessa stretched her face off the ground, blinking rapidly as she pressed off white tiles.

“Where did she come from?”

Turning back, Tessa saw the teen chained to a black leather barber chair. Across from him, the man was chained to another. Tessa followed her own chain, which was locked to the silver railing leading to the barbershop’s waiting area. A black tarp covered the entrance.

“She’s stuck like us,” the man said. He had salt and pepper hair, thick eyebrows, and wide, blue eyes.

“What does this guy want?!”

“You heard the voice, kid.”

“BUT WHY?!” The teen must’ve been 15 or 16. He grabbed his bleach blond hair and rocked back and forth, metal chained to his wrist.

“What are your names?” Tessa calmly asked of them.

“Mike,” said the man.

“Bob-Bobby,” said the teen, wiping his watering eyes.

How Tessa missed it at first was beyond her, but a digital clock was hanging from the ceiling, the time counting down to 3:11. “All right, no time for small talk. Let’s solve this and get out of here.”

Bobby kept rocking, mumbling something to himself.

“Kid, we need you to focus.” Mike waved a hand at him.

Tessa breathed deeply. “Let’s start with us, Mike.”

He nodded. “The voice, hell, let’s call him the Barber, said a secret is the key to our freedom, so, screw it, let’s start spilling secrets.”

Bobby’s hands flew from his face. “I masturbated in my sister’s room!”

Tessa and Mike stared at the kid, their expressions blank.

Bobby’s chin lowered to his chest. “…My computer was broken…”

The clock dropped to 2:21.

“Well, that’s not it,” said Mike. “Next.”

“All I got,” shrugged Bobby.

“I hate my boyfriend’s smelly feet.” Tessa rubbed her bare arm, brushing her red hair strands off. “I was going to break up with him.”

The clock dropped to 2:03.

“I doubt the Barber cares about awkward self-pleasures or broken relationships,” said Mike.

“Well,” coughed Bobby, “what about you?”

Mike cleared his throat but did not answer.

“Tell us,” said Tessa.

1:40.

 “This seems to be a vengeance thing, if I had to guess. Why else would the Barber have us here?”

1:31.

“Tell us your secret,” said Tessa.

Mike nodded. “I had an affair with a married women. Maybe her husband…yes, that has to be it.”

1:22.

 “Or not.”

 “Come on,” cried Bobby.

What else? What secret of mine has done this? Tessa stared at Mike as the lights flickered. His face had no answers.

1:04.

“I don’t want to die!” cried Bobby.

Tessa pulled her legs in tight and prepared for whatever happened next.

“I’m sorry. If I’m the cause, maybe, I…” Mike shut his eyes, his words dropping to a whisper.

:41.

I’m sorry, too, in case it was me. Is this you, Jake? I’m sorry! Her mind went somewhere else – her favorite breakfast joint.

:32.

She smelled the delicious pancakes in front of her, fork in one hand, the other reaching for the maple syrup. Too far away. She needed someone to grab it for her, to give her one last taste of hope. You can’t keep me here, Jake.

:14.

Bobby screamed. Mike whispered rapidly. Tessa kept silent, focusing on her breakfast. There is little beauty left in this world. I need the maple syrup.

:05.

Please, make these pancakes right. At zero, Bobby’s final scream burned. Mike’s whispers died. The lights vanished from the barbershop.

And at breakfast, Jake said, “Here’s your maple syrup, darling.”

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