She nodded and hesitated. “I don’t suppose you can find ice here?”
The cowboy lowered his head after staring at Becky’s sprained ankle. “I didn’t mean to shove her that hard…” His voice trailed off.
Becky shook her head. “It’s not your fault. You know it.”
“Can you hop? For a short distance?” Mark offered, feeling bad for being so inattentive. “We’re going over to that room.”
“Think so.” Yet she seemed less than certain. She looked around her nervously, as though she might find something as a support.
Mark held out his arm.
She took it shyly, balancing herself, and then stood upright.
The others moved onward, leaving Mark to steady Becky, who hopped on one foot as she made her way slowly toward the doorway.
Becky spoke up. “Can’t seem to walk,” she told Mark sorrowfully.
“What?” Mark said in disbelief.
Becky put a hand on her hurt ankle, bandaged heavily with cowboy’s shirtsleeve, and winced. “It’s probably inflamed,” she said with a grimace. “I just hope it’s not broken.”
Mark was concerned. “That bad?”
“Awesome, dude,” Logan breathed and stood still. “You’re right.”
Mark grinned. He felt hopeful again.
Then the redhead came suddenly to life. He was back to his usual, animated self again. “Becky! Andrew!” he called, waving his hand in the air. “Get yourselves over here!”
The threesome turned and waited for the other two to jump to their feet.
Instead of jumping to his feet, as what the others had expected, Andrew cradled his injured arm awkwardly and began his laborious progress of getting up. He managed to push himself off the ground with one arm, stagger to his feet, and finally stand upright.
Becky, however, sat motionless on the ground as though she hadn’t heard a thing. She was staring blankly at nothing.
Mark strode over with a worried look on his face. “What’s wrong?”
Becky shook her head. Her lips moved but Mark couldn’t make out her words.
He looked at the cowboy. It was then he noticed something different about Andrew.
One of Andrew’s arms was bared, sleeveless. Mark’s eyes widened. Andrew would never, under any circumstance, allowed heavy damage to his cowboy outfits. Especially the new ones.
“What are you trying to prove?” George went on, looking suspiciously at Mark.
Mark had been thinking about the same thing. He thought he knew the answer.
“I believe we just broke through our first obstacle,” he said confidently. “Next, I’m going to toss my backpack over to see if any more arrows will shoot out.”
George was silent for a moment. A last he nodded.
Wasting no time, Mark shook off his backpack and flung it toward the doorless doorway.
The backpack landed on the other side with a thud.
Seconds ticked by.
No arrows. Nothing.
Mark could still see the smoldering at the edges. Beyond the doorway, a room came in full view. It was dimly lit by the torches, its soft light casting a soft gleam on the burnished statue at the center of the room.
Mark thought it funny that they were always lighting the torches everywhere they went. Except this one.
George wasn’t all that impressed. “Another room?” he said disbelievingly. “How many more?”
Logan turned grave but said nothing.
“There you go,” said a loud voice behind him.
Mark turned around and a torch was pushed gingerly into his hands. “Appreciated it,” he told the redhead, who nodded.
Then he set to work right away. He couldn’t wait to see how well it turns out.
He gently set the torch down on the ground next to the door.
The threesome moved aside and watched in silence as the door began to burn. The deteriorating door, damp with mold and slightly decaying, splintered easily in the flames and soon became a sizable heap on the floor.
They didn’t dare to go near it until the smoke subsided.
Beside him, Mark felt another presence.
He had no idea how long George was there. “How’s the stomach?” he asked instinctively.
“What?” said George, his voice sounding slightly irritated.
Mark stole a quick glance at George, who also happened to be looking at the doorknocker. George had a frown on his face.
“Never mind,” he muttered. Better to stay away from someone as jittery as George. He wouldn’t blame George, though. It’s hard not to be edgy in a place like this.
Mark averted his eyes from the stare of the snake on the doorknocker. Something about it was beginning to make him uneasy. George must have felt it too. Because soon both of them were staring at everything else on the door but it.
Mark stooped down to retrieve it. Just as his hand touched the torch, his eyes lit up.
A thin smile crept across Mark’s lips. He had an idea. “Hey, guys!”
Several blank faces looked up.
“Who’s got a torch?” He saw a puzzled look or two.
Good. At least he had their undivided attention.
Without asking what it was for, Logan stood up right away. “Let me go look.”
He was that nice.
Meanwhile, Mark resumed examining the door. He was rather interested in the door knocker, though he had no idea why it had to be a design of snakes.
Mark shifted his attention back to the door. His foot hit something hard and solid. He sprang back in fear. He almost laughed aloud, though, when he saw what it was.
An abandoned and unlit torch rolled across the marble floor. It came to a halt beside the door. Andrew must have dropped it hastily while he was trying to save Becky.
Mark found himself standing in front of the door again. This time he was feeling calmer and thinking more clearly.
He peered over his shoulder to check on the others. They all seemed the same as before, sitting hunched on the floor, shoulders slumping, and looking very much like a group of limp and ragged mannequins.