Victor closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “Okay, so, every room is cursed, but once I break the curses in all the rooms then I’m free—is that it?”
Neil looked toward the door again with worry.
“A lot of the rooms are already free from the curse,” continued Victor. “I just got rid of the magpies in the pool room.”
“You did?” said Neil. “How?”
“I used snakes from the kitchen to swallow the billiard balls.”
“Huh. Good for you. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“Well, what do you know about the other rooms?” asked Victor.
Neil thought. “Well, there’s Gary’s old teacher next door.”
“That curse is broken.”
“Oh. Um… In the library it’s Gloucester from King Lear. Gary saw part of the play once, and the part where they gouge his eyes out gave him nightmares.”
“Well, I beat him too.”
Neil looked surprised. “Huh. Okay then, there’s Gary’s stepfather in the painting—you’ll see a lot of him.”
“Yeah, the vampire in the painting,” said Victor. “How do I get rid of him?”
Neil turned suddenly to the door, practically melting in terror. “Oh no. Quick,” he begged, turning back to Victor, “kill me now. Please, I told you what you wanted. Knock me out!”
“Wait,” said Victor. “What’s upstairs?”
“Tell me what’s upstairs.”
“You haven’t been upstairs yet?” Neil said, shaking his head. “Huh. You know, you almost had me thinking you were gonna make it.” His eyes, wide with fear, darted again to the door. “He’s here,” he whispered.
“Wait, Neil—tell me what’s upstairs.”
“Oh fine,” muttered Victor.
He stood up, stepped over to Neil, and delivered a powerhouse front kick to his temple. Neil crumpled in the dirt.
Victor turned to where Neil’s final, transfixed gaze had been directed, and saw a shadow in the light beneath the door. He tiptoed out of the sumo ring and toward the door, as the final gong rang. The puff and hiss of Neil’s departure sounded, and Victor set his hand on the door knob. Footsteps pattered away in the hall. Victor yanked open the door and looked out; his eyes widened and his face turned white. Down the end of the hall the ghostly figure of a boy stood upside down on the ceiling.
A stunning radiance, as of a cloudless sunrise, consumed the room. Victor felt himself sucked back from the doorway, up through the clouds, and then set upon a snowy mountaintop. The air was still and crisp and breathtakingly silent. A ten-pound bumblebee wobbled past and spoke telepathically in Victor’s mind, saying, “Your ride is waiting.”
Victor turned around to see a giant snow leopard, ten feet tall. He sprang like a grasshopper onto the leopard’s back, held onto its thick fur, and then the big cat set off. Down the mountain they raced, faster and faster, and entered a dark, stony valley. The wintry wind howled and whistled, and then morphed into “Yakety Sax”. Victor laughed and loaded an arrow into the bow that had appeared in his hand. Immense, grotesque ogres began leaping out from behind boulders; Victor shot at them. As each arrow struck its target, the ogres exploded into vast swarms of fireflies, filling the valley with a million beautiful, blinking lights. The snow leopard, which had transformed somewhere along the descent into a small sled, came to a smooth stop in front of a tall pine tree, beneath which sat a large, rectangular box wrapped in red paper and a white ribbon. The bumblebee from the top of the mountain was there; it handed Victor a mug of hot Milo. Victor closed his eyes and sipped the drink; when he opened his eyes he was back in the room; the sound of the final gong was just fading.
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