In the hall, three pythons lay dead, and another was stretched out alongside the wall, trying to digest the billiard ball it had swallowed. Down the end of the hall, a five ball rested in the corner, vomited by the final snake, which was nowhere to be seen. Victor crouched by the bathroom door and opened it enough to peek inside.
“Almost there,” he said. “I’ll give it a little longer.”
He closed the door and walked down the hall to the bedroom. Inside, he put the tequila bottle on the bookshelf and threw the lollipop on the desk. Peeling back the makeshift bandage on his arm, he examined the cuts near his wrist.
“Not so bad. I can clean them up when the bathroom is free.”
He pulled up the stool and sat hunched at the desk. For a while he sat there, eyes closed, breathing long, steady breaths, in and out. When he finally opened his eyes he just stared at the desk.
“It has to be done,” he said to himself, tapping his fingers on his knees. “It’s different to last time. They’re not real. They’re just part of the curse.”
He stared ahead for a moment, and then nodded. He straightened himself, with his shoulders back. Reaching down beside the desk, he picked up the final coded sketch book.
“All right,” he said, turning the first page. “Any more wisdom you can offer me?”
The sketch book shared the same seemingly random coloured spots as the other books, but the message spelled out in green this time had a different style. After piecing the words together, Victor failed to make much sense of them. His lack of artistic intuition prevented him from seeing the entry as a poem, which read:
TRAPPED, SCREAMING, NO ONE HEARS.
TYRANNOSAURUS WITH WINGS FOR EARS.
VAMPIRE CHASES, BEASTS TORMENT,
MAGPIES BURST TO WET CEMENT.
THUD, THUD, THUD,
I CANNOT FIGHT.
MAYBE I’LL GO SOON, THAT’S ALL RIGHT.
THUD, THUD, THUD.
THEN HE’LL LEAVE ME ALONE
AND I WON’T HAVE TO EAT SPAM.
“Good lord,” said Victor. “He went crazy.” He closed the book and dropped it back on the floor. “To hell with that!”
Leaping up from the stool with a fiery look, he marched out into the hall and up to the next door after the linen closet. He turned the door knob, flung the door open, and entered.
“All right then!” he barked. “Who’s first?”
His voice rang out in the wide, bare room. A buzzing electric light hung from the low ceiling, illuminating a large, roped-off circle on the dirt floor, something like a sumo wrestling dohyō. A few feet back from the rope, around the back half of the circle, stood a line of angry Asian men in different coloured judo uniforms. Darkness draped the room’s perimeter, hiding a hostile presence.
Victor stepped into the circle.
A gong thundered; the men stood to attention and then bowed to Victor. Victor returned the bow. A man in a blue gi stepped forward, tightened his belt, and entered the ring, standing opposite Victor. The man was short and lean—not an ounce of body fat—and had a long, thin scar down the side of his face. He stared wide eyed as he clenched his fists; his knuckles cracked on cue. Victor rolled his shoulders back, loosened up his arms with a shake, and took a deep breath. The man in blue pointed at him and spat an aggressive string of foreign words in an overdone Chinese accent. He then jumped to a half-crouched, side-on stance, with one fist straight out in front and the other over his head like a scorpion tail. Victor gave a suspicious look and raised his fists.
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