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5 Days a Stranger

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        There are reasons I dislike mansions, I suppose.  One of them is that they are, almost by definition, owned by rich people who want to make themselves look impressive, and I dislike those kinds of people.  Another is that they are altogether too big and impractical for any reasonably sized family, resulting in rooms that are too big, too empty, and too seldom used.  I may be a man who enjoys the finer things in life, but such needless excess almost feels insulting.  
        Yes, there are many reasons I dislike mansions, however this particular mansion is the only one I would say that I hate.  Not for its gaudy decor or oversized and drafty rooms, not even for its insulting lack of pilferable treasure (though that is disappointing).  I simply hate this mansion because it exists, and because I am apparently stuck inside of it.
        And I thought I’d made a good choice coming back to England…
        It should have been a simple and profitable evening; empty manor houses are some of the easiest targets you can find and often ones with some of the biggest rewards, providing you have a fence who knows how to do their job even remotely well.  Finding the emptied safe in the office should have been my biggest concern that evening, not worrying about how I was going to find a way out of this insane place.
        And yet here I am, standing at the end of a row of locked doors with little more than my grolly and my wits and absolutely no treasure to show for any of it.  Other than the office from which I entered, the only open room is that of the toilet, and the window there is as jammed as the one I came in from.  So I guess the front door it is.
        I make my way back to the staircase only to see another man standing at the top of them.  He looks towards me and immediately seems frozen in fear, whilst I am merely frozen in surprise; this place was supposed to be empty!  Was he some other thief who had gotten here first?
        “No!” he yells.  “No!  Stay away from me!  No!  No!  No!"
        He turns and runs back down the stairs before I can even open my mouth.  I think I hear him trip at some point on the way down, then get back up and continue.  For a moment, I’m very confused; I don’t think I’m that scary looking of a fellow, in fact I like to consider myself quite handsome, so why is it he was so afraid of-
        Removing my hat I pull off the black mask I wear on every heist; I’m so used to wearing it that it’s like a second skin to me at this point.  Normally taking it off would be unthinkable but in this situation it does not seem as if I am going to get any treasure, and my only objective is to leave as quickly as possible.  Not to mention it doesn’t do wonders for my peripheral vision.
        By the time I get down the stairs the other man is already gone to some other corner of the property.  Unconcerned, I try the front door and entirely expect it to open, but no matter how hard I push or pull it won’t budge.  How is that possible?  There’s not even a keyhole on the damn thing, let alone a deadbolt or some other kind of lock, so how is the thing so stuck?  And if the front door is stuck, did that other man come in through a window like myself?
        “This is getting tiresome,” I sigh.  “I suppose I’ll have to find another way out…”  
        There’s a telephone next to the entrance and I momentarily think of calling someone to come help me, but then realize that nobody I could call would actually come.  Of course, I could always try the police, but what would I tell them?  That I got stuck in this old manor after breaking in to try and burglarize it?  Not likely.
        ...It doesn’t matter, either way.  The line’s dead.  Somehow I was expecting that.
        I choose to then go through the door on my right and find nothing but a sitting room.  Looking around the only possible value in the room is the painting on the wall, but the quality is  so low that I doubt it would be worth the effort of taking it, and besides that it makes me feel kind of uneasy.
        I decide to just leave it where it is.
        The next room is a television room with, as expected, nothing but a television and some seating.  Out of curiosity I turn the box on and watch as a fuzzy news report flashes on and off screen.  From what I can catch it’s about dear old DeFoe manor and the apparently mysterious disappearances that seem to surround it.
        I’m going to need to have a talk with my fence once I get out of here.  
        It flickers from screen to static before the signal completely fades and I turn the old thing off.  Perhaps it’s a blessing that it’s old and broken; I’ve always hated those things anyway.
        In the next room I finally track down another person, though a different man from the one I met atop the stairs.  This one seems younger, and has a restless air about him as he shifts from foot to foot in front of a raging fireplace.  I don’t intend to attract his attention but the door closing behind me does it anyway.  He turns around and immediately assaulted me with questions.
        “About time you showed up!  Do you know how long we’ve been stuck in here?  Where’s the way out, the front door?  C’mon, let’s get the others and get out of here.”
        I stand there dumbly for a moment before responding.  “Wait, wait, I believe you have the wrong idea.”
        He steps closer to me.  “Aren’t you the guy who owns this place?”
        I shake my head.
        "No?  Then how’d you get in?”
        Well, no sense in lying I suppose.  “A window on the top floor.”
        Again, he steps closer to me, and I take a step back because this man obviously doesn’t care about invading others’ personal space.  “Is it still open?” he asks.
        “No… no, it’s jammed shut.  Did so about the second I got inside.”
        “Damn…”  He seems disappointed, but not surprised, turning around and beginning to pace in front of the fire.  “Well,” he says, “looks like you’re stuck here, too.”
        “I beg your pardon?”
        “Stuck,” he repeats, “trapped, imprisoned, unable to leave.  How else would you like me to put it?”
        “I understand what ‘stuck’ means.  What I don’t understand is why I am stuck in this house.  It’s only a house.”
        “Yeah, that’s what the rest of us thought, too, but someone obviously doesn’t want us to leave.  You tried to open any windows?  They’re all jammed, same with the front door.”
        “The house is old,” I reason, “perhaps the wood is warped.  Why don’t we break the door down?”
        “Tried it,” he answers quickly.  “Me and the other three who got here before you all rammed into the damn thing as hard as we could.  Now we’ve all got bruises on our shoulders but the door doesn’t even have a scratch.”
        “Perhaps if we broke a window-”
        “Tried that, too, no dice.  It’s as if all the glass in this place is bullet-proof or something.  We’ve tried everything we can think of, okay, but so far we’ve only been able to get in, not out.”  He runs a hand through his hair and looks at me.  “I’m going to call a house meeting; do me a favor and ask the others to come to the sitting room, will you?  I’ll be waiting in there.”
        "Wait-”  I stop him before he can reach for the doorknob, asking, “Who ARE you?  I was under the impression that his house was supposed to be empty.”
        “Weren’t we all?” he sighs.  “My apologies, though; Harty’s the name, Philip Harty.  The others here are Simone Taylor -you probably know her from the BBC-, a schoolboy named Jim, and AJ, a skinny guy with a ‘tache.”
        “Ah,” I nod.  “I think I’ve met AJ, though I’m not sure where he’s gone to now.”
        “How lovely.  Well, I’ll be in the sitting room; just come by when you’ve found the others.”
        I’m about to ask why I have to round up this ragtag group of people I’ve never even met, but he’s left the room before I can do so.  I decide to take a look around before I leave, but there’s very little of interest outside of some mounted animal heads above the fire and some strange wooden statue kept inside a bell jar.  There’s also some very old sepia photographs of a gentleman hunting what I presume to be the aforementioned mounted animals.  This is obviously the room of someone who wants to make themself look impressive to others, but it just makes me think they’re overcompensating for something.
        I have to go back through the sitting room and don’t find Phil there, so I assume he’s gone to help find the others.  Having not seen anybody besides AJ when I was upstairs, I decide to try the other side of the house.  There’s a long dining room with an almost equally long table and a somewhat unsettling portrait of a man named Roderick DeFoe; judging by the safari get up I would assume he is the oh-so-brave-and-strong hunter depicted in the sepia photographs I glanced at but couldn’t be bothered to read the titles of.
        The kitchen is even less interesting and I skip my snooping around in favor of exploring the backyard, which is large but mostly empty.  There’s what appears to be a garden shed and a simple, square swimming pool filled to the brim with unsurprisingly dirty water.  All around the yard is a tall and imposing wall of stone.  For a moment I think I’ve found my way out- my trusty grolly could get me over that thing without a problem -but it’s then that I remember seeing an unfortunately deep ravine outside of the wall when I was driving by the side of the house.
        “Who puts a damn ravine and a giant stone wall as markers for their back yard?” I mutter to myself.  “Next thing you know there’ll be a moat and drawbridge…”
        “Hey!”  A voice, distinctly male but with a pitch that indicates unfinished puberty, breaks me from my thoughts.  I look around for the source and cannot find one until I hear another,
        I look to my left, towards the tree next to the house, and see a young boy swinging down from the lowest branch, bracing himself on the ground when he drops.  Well it isn’t AJ, and I would assume it isn't a woman, so by process of elimination this must be Jim.
        “You’re new,” he says.  “Have you come to rescue us?”
        “No, I’m sorry.  It seems that I’m prisoner here, as well.”
        He nods.  “I kind of figured…  What’s your name?”
        “Call me Trilby,” I say.  “And you’re Jim, right?”
        He nods again.  “Yeah, that’s me.  Have you met the others?”
        “I’ve met Philip; he asked me to come and find the rest of you and ask you to go to the sitting room.  He’s calling a house meeting, apparently.  You’re the first one I happened to find.  By the way, what were you doing in that tree?”
        "Trying to get over to the wall, but it’s too far away.  Besides, there’s this giant ravine on the other side of it, so there wouldn’t be much use, anyway.”
        As I’d thought.
        “Well, I’ll go on inside now.  See you there, Mr. Trilby.”
        He leaves, and though I quickly sweep the back yard for anyone else hanging around, I find nobody.  As expected I also find no possible means of escaping the damn place because those who built it were apparently very concerned with who could get on and off of their property.
        I go back inside and return upstairs, finding a professional-looking woman kneeling by a door and attempting to pick the lock with what looks like a set of tweezers.  My hand fumbles momentarily in my pocket before realizing that my box of lockpicks isn’t there, and a quick check of my tie reveals that I forgot to put one in its usual spot.  Of all days to be forgetful, Trilby…
        “Excuse me, Miss?” I speak up, seeing that she’s so focused on the door she hasn’t even noticed me.
        “What?”  She looks up.  “Oh, hello.  Philip mentioned we had a new guest.”
        “He’s already been up here?”
        “Yes; said he wanted to have a house meeting, I believe.  I just wanted to see if I could get this door open but I don’t think I’ll be having any luck at this rate.”  She sighs and stands, offering me her hand; she’s a vaguely familiar looking woman with blond hair and a bright smile.  “Simone Taylor; you probably know me from the BBC.”
        I take her hand and shake it.  “Very nice to meet you, Miss Taylor, but I’m afraid I don’t watch much television.”
        She seems a little crestfallen at that, but still smiles a characteristically television-presenter smile.  “Ah, well no matter.  What should I call you?”
        “Got a first name?”
        “Wait…”  She pauses and looks me over, then gasps.  “Not the cat burglar Trilby?  Oh wow!  I wish I had a camera!”
        And I am so, so incredibly glad that she doesn’t.
        “This could be huge!  I presented a Crimewatch special on you once, you know!”
        There was a Crimewatch special on me?  Well I certainly wasn’t looking for an ego boost but I won’t argue against it; perhaps I should watch television more often.
        Miss Taylor seems very lively all of a sudden, I’d say bouncing on her toes if she wasn’t wearing very uncomfortable-looking heels.  “You wouldn’t consent to an interview, would you?”
         ...Does she think I’m stupid?  “Madam,” I blanch, “even if I had some sort of retarding brain injury that would cause me to do so, don’t you think finding a way out of our current predicament is a bit more important?”
        “I used to think so,” she shrugs.  “But I’ve been here a few days now, and I’m really learning a lot about the place.  If only I could get these infernal doors open…”  She looks to me as if hopeful I could be of some assistance, but I inform her of my lack of lockpicks.
        “What kind of thief forgets his lockpicks?  Oh, whatever.  I suppose I should get down to the sitting room, then.  I expect the others are waiting.”
        “Is AJ up here with you?” I ask.  “I found Jim in the back yard, but nobody else.”
        “Hm, not that I know of,” she shakes her head.  “I think Phil checked the other rooms and didn’t see him, either.  Wonder where he’s gotten to.”
        I suggest that he may already be in the sitting room as I accompany Miss Taylor down the stairs, however we enter the room together and only find Philip and Jim.
        “I didn’t see AJ anywhere I looked,” I say, letting Miss Taylor take the last remaining seat while I instead lean against a wall.  “He seemed afraid of me when I saw him earlier, so perhaps he’s hiding.”
        “Not surprising,” Philip sighs.  “He’s a rather jumpy fellow.  Guess we’ll just have to go on without him.”  He leans back on the couch and looks up at me.  “Alright, so what’s your handle on the situation?”
        “Let’s see if I’ve got this right.  You’ve all been trapped in this house by some invisible intelligence.”
        “Right,” nods Simone.
        “And you can’t leave.”
        “Nope,” confirms Jim.
        “And as soon as I entered, I became trapped, too.”
        “Pretty much,” sighs Phil.
        “Why?  Why would anyone want to keep us prisoner here?”
        The three of them shrug.  Jim offers a weak, “Well… maybe they’re just lonely.”
        “No…  If they wanted company they’d have shown themselves.”
        “Maybe they have.”  Phil shrugs with a lazy roll of his shoulders, leaning back on the sofa.  “Maybe one of us is behind all of this.”
        Simone rolls her eyes; I get the feeling this isn’t the first time Philip has brought up this possibility.  “Don’t be silly,” she sighs.  “Why would any of us want to trap a load of people here and pretend we didn’t?”
        “I don’t know, do I!  I don’t speak loony!”
        “We mustn't squabble amongst ourselves,” I cut across.  “Hampered by fear and paranoia, we’d only hinder each other.  I suggest that, for now at least, we assume the four of us are innocent.”
        Jim nods.  “I-I agree with that.”
        Phil rolls his eyes and huffs, but doesn’t say anything against it for the time being.
        “We five,” Simone corrects, “including AJ  Where could he have gone anyway?”
        “Hell if I know,” Phil grumbles.
        There’s then a moment of silence.  Unsurprisingly, Simone is the one to break it.
        “Listen, Mr. Trilby,” she says, “We work as a team in this house.  That’s how it’s been since this started.  So we all have to share information.  No secrets.  So... why did you come to this house?”
        “He’s a cat burglar.”  Phil seems exasperated at this point, and I wonder what the point of him calling a house meeting was if he was just going to get angry with anyone who spoke.  “Why do you even have to ask?”
        Simone huffs in his general direction, then looks back at me.  “Is there anything you know about this house that would help?” she inquires with all the tact Phil apparently doesn’t have.  “Anything at all?”
        “I doubt I know much more than any of you, I’m afraid.  All I know is that the last heir just died and it’s supposed to be empty.”
        “Well you’re not much of a help then, are you,” Phil grumbles.  Simone elbows him in the side.  Jim visibly stifles a giggle.
        “It’s nice to see a new face in here,” she continues.  “I wish it wasn’t in such strange circumstances, but who knows, maybe with five of us here we’ll be able to figure a way out.”
        I appreciate Simone’s attempt at politeness, especially with how I’m apparently the main suspect for all of this in Phil’s mind.  I wonder briefly if he was that suspicious when the others arrived or if I’m just a special case.  Then again, for all I know he’s been here the shortest time out of anyone besides me.
        “Perhaps you’re right, Miss Taylor,” I nod.
        “Five heads are better than four,” Jim quips.  Simone smiles placatingly at him.  
        “That’s the spirit, Jim.”
        “Well, I guess we’re done here,” Philip starts to stand, apparently even more aggravated than when we started.  
        “Actually,” I cut across, “there’s a few things I’m still not clear on.  Would it be alright if I asked the three of you some questions?”
        “Of course,” Simone nods, reaching over and pulling Phil down by the sleeve of his jacket.  “Ask us whatever you’d like.”
        He grumbles, but stays.  I decide to start with him so that he can leave, given how eager he is to go off to parts of the house unknown to me.
        “It was Mr. Harty, correct?  What do you know about the house?”
        Oh, that seems to have piqued his interest.  He even manages to smile a bit.  “Plenty, actually,” is his response, “I read an article in this month’s Treasure Hunting Monthly.”
        That’s something that exists?  And furthermore it’s something that people actually read?  The world continues to astound me.
        “It was built by some explorer guy, Sir Roger DeFoe or something, I can’t remember.  His wife died giving birth and he and his son went missing some time later…”  He taps his knee, then digs into his pocket.  “Here, actually.  This article could probably tell you better than me.  I’ll let you borrow it, but try not to mess it up.”  He pulls out a carefully folded magazine page, passing it to Simone who hands it to me.
        “Thank you,” I say, slipping the paper into my pocket to read later.  May as well familiarize myself with my surroundings.  “So you came here to... treasure hunt?”
        “Yep.  Just looking for some old artifacts.”
        “And I’m sure you had full consent of the DeFoe solicitors to do so,” Simone retorts.
        Philip huffs.  “Oh shut up.  I just heard that there were some old family tombs buried under the property.  And I mean like, really old.  Anything inside probably doesn’t belong to anyone, so finders keepers if you ask me.”
        Simone looks about to respond, but thinks better of it and keeps quiet.  Probably a smart decision; Philip seems like one to argue his point to the death if he needs to.
        “I called in some favors to help me get over the ravine and the wall outside and into the backyard, then I couldn’t get out again.”
        Something occurs to me.  “You called in favors?  So people know that you’re here?”  If that’s the case then someone’s bound to come looking.
        “Yeah,” he nods, “a handful, but they won’t get suspicious unless I’m gone for months.”
        Lovely, so no help at all, then.
        “Nobody comes looking for thieves,” reasons Simone.
        “I’m not a thief!” Philip snaps.  “I’m a treasure hunter; I only take what belongs to dead people.  They sure aren’t using it anymore, right?”  He gestures in my direction.  “Our new friend here, now HE’S a thief.”
        “True,” I admit, and I can feel a tinge of a smile on my lips, “but also a gentleman.  And I only take what I’m sure nobody is using, as well.”
        “I’m sure that’s a great comfort to them.”
        “Stop being so hostile, Phil,” Simone sighs.  “It’s not his fault that he can’t get us out of here, you know.”
        “It’s fine, Miss Taylor,” I say, “I’m sure the three of you have been under a lot of stress.  I don’t blame Mr. Harty for being short-tempered.”
        “How very chivalrous of you,” he mutters.  I pretend not to hear.
        “Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself, Miss Taylor?”
        “How sweet of you to ask,” she chirps.  Philip rolls his eyes and mutters something.  “I’m a correspondent for the BBC.  Mainly I do outside broadcasts for the news, but sometimes I present documentaries or variety shows.  I can pretty much go wherever I’m needed.”
        “Very much a Jill of all Trades,” Phil adds.  Simone looks proud.
        “Am I right to assume you came here to do a broadcast?”
        She nods.  “Yes; my camera crew and I came to report on the stories of weird happenings that have been reported around here.  More people have gone missing around this house than anywhere else in the country, you know, ever since the strange disappearance of the owner and his son, like Philip mentioned.  People from all walks of life, too; there doesn’t seem to be any kind of distinct pattern.”
        “People like us?”
        She hesitates.
        Jim makes an uncomfortable sounding noise, the only peep he’s made in quite a while.  “Don’t say that…”
        “Er-” she quickly tries to continue, pulling the topic away from its more depressing aspect.  “Anyway, I came down here to try and film a documentary; there’s been a lot of interest surrounding ghost stories lately, so we figured something about old DeFoe Manor would pull in the ratings.”
        “So you didn’t want to film here because you thought it would make interesting viewing?”  I sigh.  “This is why I hate television.”
        Simone seems cross with that.  It seems that I forgot my manners.  “Excuse me,” she snaps, “I was talking.  As I was saying, I got here before the camera crew.  I was supposed to wait for them, but I couldn’t resist taking a walk around the grounds.  Next thing I knew, I found myself near the pool in the backyard, and I couldn’t find a way back to the front.  My own fault, really…”
        “Yes, it was,” Philip agrees.  Simone ignores him.
        In an attempt to keep the two of them civil, I continue my questions.  “What happened to your camera crew?  Did they ever show up?”
        “I suspect so, but they probably left when they couldn’t find me.  Truth be told I’m glad they didn’t get mixed up in all of this; I’d feel bad if they were trapped because of me.  At least it’s only me stuck here because of my stupidity.”  She laughs sheepishly, then elbows Philip in the side when he starts to agree that what she did was rather stupid.
        I sigh and look towards Jim, who is still sitting demurely in the rocking chair adjacent the sofa, hands folded in his lap.  He looks startled when my gaze turns to him, as if he hadn’t thought he’d be noticed.  He doesn’t speak until I ask him if there’s anything he knows.
        “Not much…  I mean, at school we could always just barely see the roof of this building over the playground wall.  We… heh… we used to tell each other it was haunted…”
        “Why?  Did you have any stories or legends?”
        “Er… well a friend of mine used to say that a crazy hermit lived here… and said that he’d kidnap people and… er… eat them…”
        “Well THAT makes me feel reassured,” Phil sighs.  Jim fidgets and looks as if he wished he hadn’t spoken.
        “If you had stories like that, why did you come here?”
        His fidgeting only gets worse, and he looks at his feet.  I see his ears beginning to tint red.  “It was so stupid…  We…  We climbed the wall during lunch... we wanted to see how long it would take for the school to notice we were missing, but then we came across this house, and Richard dared me to knock on the front door.  Bet me a pound I wouldn’t do it…”
        “My school was like that; broke my collarbone playing pile-on once.”  Phil almost seems proud of that.
        “Shut up, Philip; Jim was talking,” Simone snaps.  I ask Jim what happened next.
        “That’s when it got kind of weird…  I stepped onto the porch and went to knock, but the door just… opened.  All by itself.  Richard dared me to step inside...”  He looks sheepishly up at me, and I know where the story is going.  
        “So you did, and then the door closed behind you and wouldn’t open again.”
        “Did your friends call the police?”  
        “How should I know?  I guess not… since nobody’s showed up…”  He sighs.  “That was on Wednesday; the school’s bound to know I’m gone by now, so maybe they’re looking for me.”
        “I suspect so; perhaps they’ve alerted your family, as well.”
        He makes a noise, not quite dismissive but nearly there.  “Not likely; my parents move around a lot, you see.  Last I heard they were out of the country.  That’s why I go to St. Trinian’s; they didn’t want to be carting me around on their adventures, I suppose.  I’ve been going there since I was ten.”
        “And how old are you now?”
        “Nearly sixteen.”
        I cross my arms and lean once again against the wall behind me, pondering what I’ve been told.  There’s a definite pattern in these stories, and my coming only makes it stronger.
        “You look like you’ve got something to say, Mr. Pinstripe,” says Phil.  
        “I was just noting the pattern in all of this,” I reply.
        “Yes.  It seems to me the house only traps people individually, not in groups.  It didn’t try to trap Jim’s friends or Simone’s camera crew.  It’s letting people in, one at a time.”
        Simone looks at me skeptically, and with how I’m talking I don’t suppose I blame her.
        “You’re talking about the house as if it’s alive, “she says incredulously.  “Surely it’s got to be more like someone’s behind all of this, some joker pulling the strings.  Maybe someone can control the doors and windows via switches.”
        “Maybe,” I allow, “but how would they have known we were coming?  How did it know to leave a window open for me, risking one of you finding it?  And furthermore, have any of you seen any cameras around here?  If someone was monitoring the place there would have to be some evidence of them.”
        “So you think the house is haunted?” Jim asks.
        “Er…”  I suppose it does sound rather silly when put like that.  “Well... I wouldn’t say that, but I definitely get a very odd feeling about the place.  Feels kind of like being watched.”
        “Yeah,” Phil agrees.  “Who knows?  Maybe this is one of Simone’s ploys to get more viewers.”
        She raises an eyebrow.  “Excuse you?”
        “I mean hey, locking up people against their will in a creepy old mansion and secretly filming them sounds like a nice setup for some new reality show, don’t you think?”
        “If it weren’t highly illegal, perhaps,” she spits.
        “Legality wouldn’t stop lots of people.  The least you could have done was stocked the place with more food; we’re nearly out and now we’ve got five mouths to feed.  Does that just mean the little stunt’s going to be ending soon or are we supposed to wait until one of us starves to death?”
        Simone looks about ready to start fuming.  I wonder momentarily if these two have been at each other’s throats since they arrived and if poor Jim has had to put up with it, so to prevent a fight from breaking out I try to break the tension.
        “Phil, I think we just covered that it isn’t likely we’re being filmed.  The three of you have been here for days; I’m sure you would have spotted a camera or microphone.”
        “Four,” Jim corrects.  "There's four of us, not including you, Mr. Trilby."
        “Ah, right, the four of you.  Speaking of which, I wonder if the elusive AJ will ever come out of hiding,”   
        Simone looks from Phil to me, and breaking eye-contact seems to cool them both down visibly.  “...I hope so,” she says.  “He’s been trying to do some research on this place, and I think he wanted to share what he’d found.  Maybe we should try looking for him again…”
        “Ugh, now?” Phil groans.  “It’s getting pretty late.  I’m beat.”
        “Yeah, me, too,” Jim nods, then yawns a little bit.  Him yawning makes me want to, as well, but I bite down the urge.  I check my watch and it’s already past ten; have I really been here for that long?
        “I admit, I’m getting rather tired, as well.”
        “But… what about AJ?” Simone frowns.
        “I’m sure there’s no need to worry.  AJ’s a grown man and I’m sure he’s completely capable of taking care of himself.  If he hasn’t turned up by morning, then we can go looking for him.  Besides, unless he found a way to escape he’s got to still be on the grounds somewhere.”
        “That’s true,” she sighs.  “I suppose I’m rather tired, too.”  She stands from the sofa and stretches, Phil and Jim doing the same.  
        “This sofa is free to sleep on if you’d like,” she tells me, gesturing to where she was just sat.  “I use the one in the next room over; they’re actually rather comfortable.”
        I look to Phil and Jim.  “Where do you two sleep?”
        “The room with the fireplace has a comfortable carpet,” Jim smiles.  “It’s nice and warm in there, too.  We and AJ usually share that room.”  He laughs a little bit, rubbing his neck.  “I just kind of wish all those mounted animal heads weren’t in there; they give the room a weird feeling at night.”
        “I dislike them, as well,” I agree.  Hunting has always struck me as a cruel sport, should it even be called that.  Perhaps lions and tigers are dangerous animals, but hunters go out of their way to go into their territory for the sole purpose of killing them.  
        I stop myself before I can get overly philosophical in my own thoughts.  “Are you sure neither of you would prefer the sofa?”
        “No, I’m alright,” Jim answers.  “The room might give me the creeps, but I like sleeping by the fireplace.”
        Phil shrugs, pointedly looking in another direction.  “It’s all yours.”
        And that settles that.  The three of them retire to their respective spots and leave me alone.  I see Jim take a carefully considered book from one of the low shelves in the room before following after Philip.  
        I decide to try and find some food before I sleep, but as Philip mentioned earlier the house is almost completely devoid of food.  The refrigerator is completely bare, as are the cupboards save for some cleaning products and an obscenely large bag of salt, the purposes of which I cannot even begin to fathom.
        One dissatisfying glass of water later I do retire, turning off the lights of the extremely blue room in which I’ve found myself and laying down on the sofa.  It’s a bit small, especially for someone who sleeps on his back, but Simone was right about it otherwise being rather comfortable.  I rest my hat and grolly on the floor beside me and try my best to fall asleep, but find it unfortunately difficult.  Even though I know myself to be completely alone in the room, the uncanny sensation of being watched causes and unconscious shiver to run up my back.
        I close my eyes and, for the sake of getting any rest tonight, try to block it out.