TMP Murder Mystery
Gusts of wind shake the house and eerie howls come from the meepit camp outside the perimeter of the TMP house. As you are about to step through the door, a voice greets you. «Ahh, I see you've come for the Murder Mystery, have you? What, you didn't know that was planned for tonight?»
«Tonight, TMP is having a Murder Mystery. The minions do not know it yet, but night by night, they will die, one after another. At the end, only a few will be left, and the minions - including the ghosts of those who have died - will have to determine the murderer.»
As the voice explains, further howls can be heard, this time from inside the house - from the basement? You shudder instinctively.
«Do you want to come and watch the fun, stranger? Trust me, it will be very entertaining, and I have just the spot where we can see all that happens... Every day, a new part of the mystery will be revealed.»
The voice pauses. «Well, are you interested?»
The Murder Mystery is now over, but this page is still up so you can read and reread it to your hearts' content! The solutions have been taken down again, but if you want to know more ask Swiss, she knows all about it.
The minions' troubled sleep was broken well before dawn by Hayden shaking them, looking worried. Eventually they all stood assembled in the centre of Sarah's room – except for Sarah herself, who muttered quietly in a corner, sound asleep.
«There's something I wanted to show you,» said Hayden, frowning, «before she wakes up.»
He motioned towards a box tucked in between two shelves.
«I couldn't sleep last night, and I found this. It's labelled ACME Do-It-Yourself Black Holes Kit. And it was here, in Sarah's room.»
«I've been thinking about this,» continued Hayden after a moment's hesitation to let the facts sink in, «and I've been wondering about Sarah. Who of us would have the motivation to kill the others? Why would they do it, to take power? But then, they would only need to remove Sarah, and assume power over us. There's no reason to kill the very minions you want to have underneath you. Unless you already have power, and they're just hindering you from carrying out your plans. I hate to say this but... do you understand where I'm heading?»
Sober faces around the room stared at Hayden. Suddenly, a rustling noise behind them broke the silence. Sarah was standing behind them, wrapped in her quilt, the look on her face one of mingled shock and outrage.
«I'll have you know that I heard almost all of that. And it's just plain ridiculous! I would never attempt to murder you, what would be the point? And unlike someone in this room,» she swept the room with a steely glance, «I care about you all. And I want to see us all get out of this prison alive and well. So let's get moving.»
The remaining six minions breakfasted on the last rations in the house as the dawn broke over the Haunted Woods. The wind that had blown for the past days had dropped completely, bathing the house in an eerie silence. Barely a leaf skittered past the window in the white morning light, while a blanket of cloud obscured the sky. To the minions, their imaginations running wild with the fear of what was to come, it seemed as if the entire world was motionless, waiting. As if that day something bad – worse than what had happened before – was going to happen.
Despite this, Sarah encouraged her minions not to give up hope as they headed down to the old dungeons of the former TMP. They must be so close to finding the way out. Perhaps they would find one more thing that would crack yesterday's code. Or perhaps – no one even dared dream of this – they would actually find the trapdoor that had lead the note's owner, at least according to the drawings, to freedom.
The old levels were a mass of crumbling plaster. At one point, they all dived for cover as a sudden rumble led to the entire roof falling down on one section, with Rain only barely making it out of the way in time. A failed ambush? The speculations almost led to another argument before Sarah calmed them down.
A midday rendezvous in the lounge showed a few clues, none of them particularly promising on their own, with one exception. A rusty key with a scrap of parchment titled «Emergency Exit – Council use only» sat prominently on the table.
«I'm sure we can find the door,» said Sarah. «No doubt it will be hidden – otherwise any minion could have used it – but maybe this combined with the drawings on the coded note will help us find the way out.»
«I know we haven't got any food, but two days ago I discovered another box of coffee in the pantry,» said Tiff. «We can at least have some of that to keep us going, in fact, if we make it all up, we can drink it as the afternoon goes by to keep our wits sharp.»
«Goodness knows we're going to need that, with our lives hanging on a thread every minute,» said Rain morosely. «I can't stand not knowing if the murderer is going to strike again. And after this morning I can't help feeling that it's going to be my turn today. Especially as...» she trailed off.
«No, it's just a coincidence. It must have been,» she reassured herself, to the puzzlement of the other minions. Without waiting for an explanation, they all headed to the kitchen.
As the minions placed the last of the coffee flasks at the top of the stairs, Sarah suddenly came running towards them.
«Rain has been – Rain is lying in the coffee barrel, drowned,» she spluttered. «How could this have happened? We were all being so careful, keeping an eye on each other... We can't let this go on.»
She stumbled into the lounge, followed by the other minions, none of them wanting to rush off into the unknown dangers of the dungeons for now.
«At least we'll be able to get out soon with the...» She broke off.
«Where's the key?!»
The rusty key that was lying on the table had disappeared. Disappointment and anger were shown in equal measures on the remaining five minions' faces, as with it their hopes for escape had also gone. The murderer must have been active again. But if every attempt at escape was to be forestalled, what would become of them now?
Sarah broke the silence with a bang by slapping her hand on the table.
«This just won't do. We can't go on like this. It's one thing trying to evade a murderer, and another to have someone deliberately sabotaging our efforts, someone who, it is becoming clear, is one of us.»
She paused. Tension was written all over her face.
«We're not leaving this room until this mess is sorted. I want to know who's responsible for this, and I want them to hand over the keys to get out, and then I'll... I don't know what I'll do, but something has to be done. And even if control seems to be slipping away from me, as a Big Chair I still have some power, and I say» – her voice was shaking but firm – «that no one leaves this room until it's over. And that's it.»
From a back pocket she pulled a small controller and pressed a red button. The sound of the lounge door sliding shut and locking sounded loud and threatening in the minions' ears.
«Now. I want to hear who did it, and why.»
It was the morning of the thirteenth day. Despite the glare she received afterwards, someone had mentioned the unlucky number during breakfast, and the mood was an uneasy one. With just Beth, Hayden, Rain, Sarah, Swiss, Tiff and Triggs making up the small party, and one of them most likely the murderer (unless the meepits were, after all, behind everything), no one felt like they could trust the other. And left unspoken was also the issue that unless they found a way out soon, there would soon be too few of them to do anything about the murderer at all.
Donning their gear, they headed towards the old dungeons. Past the once bricked-up tunnel, the metallic, smooth decor gave way to stones, dust and shadowy cobwebs. Clearly the area was part of a much older TMP and hadn't been touched for many years.
As they passed the old cells, strange remnants hinted at their former occupants. An Usul plushie, a green cushion, a broken dagger, a…
«Hey, that looks like a piece of paper!» cried Beth. «Maybe it's a map or something.»
The sheet was peeking out of a small hole in the wall. It looked like a brick had been hastily removed to create a sort of secret cache, left open when the occupant left or fled.
«It's not a map, but I think it looks like some secret instructions... maybe for an escape plan?» suggested Hayden.
«But then why would they leave it here when they escaped?» countered Tiff.
«Well, it's encoded anyway – unless these scribblings mean anything to you – so we'll have to decipher it before we'll know for sure» , decided Sarah.
«Come on, we'll have a quick look around to see if we can find anything more, then we'll go upstairs and get to work.»
The day was spent trying to crack the encryption with various methods, ranging from clever (counting vowels) to downright silly (pouring lemon juice on a part of it to see if it reacted to invisible ink), but although the minions felt they were making progress, the final instructions couldn't be solved. Frustrated, the only thing that kept them together working – although tempers were frayed and small accusations kept emerging – was that so far, there had been no victim. No one wanted to leave the safety of the lounge to be ambushed on the stairs.
Finally though, Sarah had to call a break and shooed her minions up to their rooms.
About an hour and a half later, after the minions had tucked themselves into their beds, a whooshing sound woke them, followed by the tiny, eerie hint of a cut-off, fading scream.
Triggs, Rain and Tiff, having slept more lightly, rushed out onto the landing.
«What happened?» asked Rain. «Let's get the others.»
They went from room to room, shaking the minions out of their sleep. Maybe it was coincidence that they went to Swiss' room last. Or maybe it was a chilling sense of foreboding.
Swiss' bed lay empty, the covers still made from the morning before. Across the room, random objects lay strewn on the floor. Her desk lay upturned, ink spreading into the carpet. The objects seemed to be lying in a certain direction – leading towards a patch of deep black hanging in the air in one corner of the room.
«What's that?!» asked Beth. It hung there, looking innocent, and yet the deep, black – almost like a void – was unsettling.
«I don't know, but I wouldn't like to touch it» , said Triggs uneasily. «It does look like some kind of void. No... wait. See how all the item have been almost drawn towards it? That's a black hole – and Swiss has fallen into it.»
The minions remembered the echoing, swiftly fading scream they had heard.
«At least it was quick» , said Beth.
«Well, let's go back to bed,» said Sarah. «I can't believe Swiss has just disappeared into that thing –»
«No doubt she was pushed,» interrupted Rain.
«– and it's very sad, but we need to get some sleep for tomorrow,» finished Sarah.
«We'd better drop each other off at our rooms,» said Tiff. «To prevent us being alone for as long as possible. That's how Swiss was got.»
She looked at Sarah.
«You can all sleep in my room,» she suggested, and led them away.
«I have a serious problem to announce to you» , said Sarah when the eight minions were all settled in the lounge, early on the morning of the twelfth day.
That morning, the sun had barely peeked above the horizon that morning before vanishing into a bank of cloud. Dismal rays of light struggled through the window panes as a wind gradually whipped up outside, sending dead leaves skittering across the compound. There were always dead leaves in the Haunted Woods, enough to make any normal denizen used to the sound, but in the anxious atmosphere of the TMP house, every gust of wind felt like a threat.
«The problem is the following,» continued Sarah. «When I was in the kitchen today, I looked through our food stores and we only have enough rations to last us another four days. In other words, we need to get out – or by some miracle, find the keys – soon, or we'll starve to death regardless of the murderer.»
«Unless someone has a hidden stash of nibbles in their rooms,» joked Tiff, but nobody laughed.
The minions descended one more time in to the basement. It had become a regular ritual. First they donned protective suits and helmets, then equipped themselves with makeshift maps (two turns left, one right, straight, right leads to the ball pit, and so on) and torches, then bunched together in groups of three or four and made their way cautiously down the stairs.
Zip, zip, peew! Suddenly, a few hours after they had started, laser fire could be heard echoing through the metallic corridors of the basement. A bright burst of light flashed, blinding the those who were already running towards its source. It took some time to locate the exact source of the battle, but when the remaining minions finally arrived, the usual scene spread itself before their eyes – with one difference.
Curtis' body lay on the ground, laser burns across his suit and face, powerful enough to burn through the protective fabric. Beside him lay Tiff – and she was still alive. Equally covered in soot, with a nasty slashed burn across her torso, she groaned as the others approached, shining their torches over the scene. Some metres away, two laser guns lay on the floor, tossed in different directions, both still smoking slightly.
Triggs and Sarah quickly helped Tiff to sit up, and she hastened to explain, coughing:
«We'd hit a two-way junction, one of those nasty ones that suddenly branch off, and Curtis and I got separated from the other two in our group. We tried to backtrack, but somehow managed to miss the turning, and suddenly we came out into this space here, and this person ran towards us and started shooting at us. No, I couldn't see who it was, they were masked. I guess they learnt after Si getting so close to finding out,» she added bitterly.
«Anyway, this masked person started shooting at us with lasers, they had two of them, and Curtis and I managed to grab one and shoot back, but while I was trying to defend us, Curtis got hit. Then our opponent tackled me, and I lost the grip on my gun. Next thing I knew, I was being blasted out of my wits. I guess the murderer thought I was dead, and ran off before they could be discovered by the rest of you.»
Tiff coughed some more. The floor was indeed covered with soot, with scuff marks all around the centre of the floor, and a fine layer, as if from an explosion, coating its edges, though of course the arriving minions had ploughed a trail through it from one side. Apart from that, it lay undisturbed, a black shroud over the crime scene.
«On the brighter side of things,» Swiss said cautiously, «our group found an old passageway, and we're pretty sure it leads to the old levels, you know, where the big chairs before Luc used to keep their minions.»
«There was a time before Luc?» asked Hayden, surprised.
«Yes, indeed!» Sarah declared proudly.
«Anyway, it was cause I was still thinking about what you'd said almost a week ago, about our cells, and I remembered that there used to be really old ones people were forever breaking out of,» continued Rain. «So we thought we'd go and look below the old annex, and we found the bricked up tunnel! Surely there'll be some escape routes there.»
«Well, we'll explore there tomorrow,» decreed Sarah. «I think with Tiff being injured and Curtis dead, that's quite enough excitement for today, and we really need to get something on those burns.»
The minions traipsed upstairs, half-carrying, half-supporting Tiff, who smiled grimly as they helped her along.
Around the breakfast table a tense silence filled the room. The sun cast its feeble rays through the window, bathing everything in a sickly yellow light.
For minutes the minions said nothing, each immersed in their own morose thoughts.
Suddenly Beth spoke up.
«Where's Si?» For Si was not sitting in her usual place, nor could she be spotted anywhere else in the lounge.
«It's started again,» Swiss moaned. «And the day has hardly begun.»
Sarah looked to the ground, then visibly pulled herself together.
«Alright, we'll try the usual search party idea. Minions get together in groups of two–»
With a loud bang, the door burst open. Si hurried in.
«I'm sorry, I got caught up looking at... doing something,» she apologised and sat in her usual place.
The minions stared at her.
«What?» she asked. «Oh, I see, you thought I'd... that's... it's okay, I'm fine,» she tried to reassure the others, some of which still looked like they were seeing a ghost.
«I'm here now, I haven't been eaten or anything...»
The tension eased again, and the minions resumed chatting a bit more brightly than before. How they could have worried about something that small!
The usual procedure that now structured the TMP day began, and the minions ventured down into the basement, looking for a way out. Now even warier before, they travelled in one group of four and one group of five, poking into every corner with their torches before heading on. The progress was slow and painful, but at least they felt secure.
At lunchtime, they gathered to discuss their findings.
«We didn't find a way out, but we did find a small room full of all kinds of tools and other bits and pieces,» said Curtis. «Maybe we can use something from in there.»
«We didn't find the tunnel either, but we did find a massive ball pit!» cried the other group happily. «If we can't get out, at least we can have some fun while we wait.»
The minions were distracted from their impending doom as Sarah planned and authorised an excursion to the ball pit in the afternoon, «to raise morale» . Excitedly, they gabbled about not having played in one since they were young, or how they were looking forward to the colours, or...
Before they bubbled out of the door, though, Si held them back.
«I need to talk to you about something,» she said. «This morning, I found this lying upstairs...»
She held out a small can. Triggs took it and read out: «Virtupets Own Brand Mind Control Juice. Works especially well on small petpets.»
«Are you thinking what I'm thinking...?» Swiss nudged Tiff next to her, who was frowning at the can.
Si continued. «If you also think this is what was used to control the meepits to make them – eat – Bree, then... well, I need to check something more, but...»
She turned to Sarah.
«Sarah, can you excuse me from the trip to the ball pit this afternoon? There's something I need to check.»
Sarah cocked her head in thought, then agreed.
«But take someone–«
«Alone, if possible.»
«Really, are you sure?»
Sarah sighed, but Si nodded. «Very well, if you must, but... stay in your room, okay? Don't go wandering off where you could be got.»
In retrospect, Sarah's words could have been prophetic. When going to prepare dinner, Swiss rushed back to tell the rest that Si had been found – frozen in the freezer. The minions clustered around the scene of crime.
The freezer door stood open, cold leaking out into the room. Si stood wedged in between the shelves and the door, upright and frozen to the uppermost shelf. Her arms were pressed against her chest. In her right hand she held–
«What's that?» Rain asked the obvious question.
«It's Beth's pen,» answered Tiff. «At least I think it is. It says 'Beth' on the grip here.»
Heads turned towards Beth, who blanched. A few seconds of silence followed.
«Are you sure that's my pen?» She had bent closer to look at it. «I don't recall owning one like that...»
Someone muttered behind her. She whirled to face the crowd.
«And I don't know what you think you're thinking, but it wasn't me! Someone's trying to frame me! Anyone could have written that on any pen!»
«Maybe Si wrote it on there before she died... a last message?» suggested Rain.
«Yeah, but how exactly do you use a pen to write on a pen?» asked Swiss. «Frankly, I agree with Beth, it seems a bit unlikely that Si would write on the pen itself before dying. I mean, if the murderer were really Beth, couldn't she have taken the pen out of her hand before shutting her in there?»
«I think what you're all missing...»
Curtis suddenly spoke up. Everyone turned to look at him. «I think what you're all missing is that this is a much sloppier murder than the past ones. I mean, look, for example Bree's was planned days in advance, preparing those meepits, and when Jay died by crumpets they spent plenty of time tying her up there and everything, whereas here, BAM, someone just gets stuck in the freezer and a bit of evidence stuck in her hand that's pretty implausible when you think about it.»
«What I'm thinking more is that didn't Si mention over lunchtime and this morning that she was on to something? My guess is that she found out who the murderer was, and he or she had to stop her as quickly as possible.» Curtis finished this with a flourish and glanced around to see if his logic was believed.
«That would explain why she wanted to be on her own this afternoon! Doubtless she wanted to check something when she could be sure that the murderer wasn't watching...» said Hayden.
«...while also opening herself up to just such an attack,» completed Triggs.
Sarah nodded. «Well, it looks like the murderer got there in time. Personally I have no more idea than beforehand who could have done this horrible deed.»
«We've run out of pink stickers,» said Tiff on the morning of the tenth day.
The minions were preparing to venture down into the depths of the lower levels again. As escape through the meepit enclosure was clearly not an option, they were going to search for any other possible means to escape. Even if it was futile, as a pessimistic minion had pointed out at breakfast, at least it passed the time.
«Pink stickers? I thought we had enough of those to sink a battleship!» joked Si.
«We have – the rest are in the cupboard upstairs, opposite Christy's room,» explained Beth.
Curtis offered to go and fetch them, heading back towards the stairs.
«What did I tell you about PAIRS this morning?» practically screamed Sarah. «You minions are awful. How can I expect you to remember anything? Rain, you go with her.»
Rain obediently hurried off after her fellow minion.
«Pairs are no good if it gets both of them killed,» remarked Swiss acidly.
«Hush!» yelled Sarah. «Or I'll cut your cookie rations!»
Swiss subsided, trying hard to look innocent again, but earning only another scowl.
A muffled thump suddenly came from the upper floor, followed by an «eww...»
The minions rushed to the scene of the supposed crime, their nerves tingling in anticipation. But when they arrived, Curtis and Rain were smiling sheepishly. On the floor lay not a body, but simply a spilled jar of green goo, sinking into the black carpet. As they watched, it bubbled evilly.
«What is that?» asked Triggs.
«Some ACME all-purpose green slime, or something,» answered Curtis. «We opened the wrong cupboard, that's all.»
«Honestly, can't you minions even find the right cupboard?» Sarah was having a bad day concerning patience. «All you have to do is go to this cupboard here, and open it like this, and –»
Sarah took the keys that Triggs passed her, turned them in the lock and yanked open the door forcefully. A shrunken face stared back at her.
TMP's Big Chair recoiled in horror. Ordinarily such a scene would have caused much muttering and giggling behind her, but the minions were themselves too shocked to say anything.
Steph's face looked out of the cupboard, her body leaning slumped against the side wall. The shelves had been removed, only on the brown chipboard floor her feet stood buried in an enormous pile of pink stickers. As they watched, the body slipped forward and fell face-first onto the floor, the pink stickers flurrying in the air behind.
The minions uttered little cries and shuffled behind their leader. It was too spooky for comfort. The murderer had struck again, leaving terror and chaos behind.
Nine shell-shocked minions gathered in the lounge. It seemed like their only haven.
After a long stretch of silence, Hayden spoke up.
«I was thinking about Bree's death, yesterday... you know she was eaten by the meepits? Well, I just can't believe that that was an accident, given, you know... So the murderer must have had his or her hands in the process somewhere.»
«The meepits aren't usually that hungry for human flesh... maybe it was something in their food,» suggested Tiff.
Who had fed the meepits the day before? All eyes turned to Swiss.
«It wasn't me, I swear!» she cried, horrified. «I mean, yes, I did feed the meepits, but I just took food from the pantry and stuffed it through the hatch, and added the usual bottles of Juppie juice from the vat. If anything, there must have been something in that.»
«We can find that out, at least,» said Curtis wearily. «The computer in the room where... where Nerd was zapped... is chemistry-capable.»
«Go down there again? No thanks!» exclaimed Rain. «I bet you're just trying to lure us in there again to zap us all with it!»
«Come on, come on, there's no basis for all these accusations,» said Sarah. «We'd better go down and see, all together.»
The computer analysis returned only that there was an unidentified compound in the Juppie juice. As Triggs pointed out, that did nothing to alleviate or increase the blame on anyone, as it didn't say who had put it in, or even where it might have come from.
The minions went to bed tired, uneasy and tense. Each would have accused the other of being the murderer, given the chance.
The ninth day after the minions were locked in dawned to beautiful blue skies and birds chirping far away in the surrounding forest. The TMP minions descended to breakfast – now held in the safety of the lounge – with an unusual optimism.
«Maybe we'll find the way out today!»
«Or at least a tunnel leading somewhere else!»
«It's such lovely weather, it has to be a good omen.»
Amid the crunching of minions eating cereal and the birdsong from outside, a shrill meep punctured the air.
Beth blinked, as if suddenly struck by an idea.
«Maybe we're going about this the wrong way,» she suggested. «Quite possibly there are tunnels leading out from the cellars, but I was just thinking about the meepit feeding hatch yesterday. Don't you think we could maybe get out of that? We could bribe the meepits into letting us pass...»
«Don't be silly,» responded Sarah. «Meepits are evil through and through. As soon as we got out there, they'd have us tied up and in their mind control labs before you could say 'meep'. It's a nice idea, but you can't trust those meepits. And anyway, we'd still have to get past the protective fencing at the edge of the enclosure. Anything meepit-proof is highly likely to be minion-proof.»
«Well, it was an idea,» said Bree thoughtfully.
The minions settled down to play board games and mini-plots in the bright sunlight that filtered through the large (Virtupets security) glass windows. They had easily agreed that such beautiful weather shouldn't be wasted, and would do much to raise morale. They could go back down and search for escape tunnels in the afternoon.
Annoyingly, the peaceful atmosphere was disrupted, as the morning went on, by more and more meeping noises coming from outside.
«What's wrong with those stupid meepits?» asked Curtis. «They're not usually like this.»
«I suppose I'd better go out and see,» said Bree and headed towards the back yard, where the meepit feeding tunnel was situated.
The meeping intensified. «Meep meep meemeemeep meep meep MEEP!»
Suddenly it stopped. Outside a single bird sang its lonely song.
«Bree must have managed to talk sense into them,» said Tiff happily.
«Talk sense into them? Hang on, you can't talk sense into a meepit...» said Sarah. «I have a bad feeling about this.»
«Do you want me to go out and meet her? I'm sure she'll be absolutely fine. I mean yes, I know people are... things are happening left right and centre, but we've figured out by now that it's a murderer and that the accidents are caused by him or her. Meepits and other random things just aren't involved in this.»
And with that, Rain went out to the yard, shaking her head.
«I bet she's just trying to reassure herself,» said Si. «You're right, something's wrong.»
By some unknown consensus, all the TMP minions followed Si out into the back yard, grabbing protective suits and sunglasses on the way. At the corner of the yard, the usual scene was reproduced.
Rain was staring down the feeding tube in horror.
«I think... you won't believe this... Bree has been eaten by the meepits.»
A confused gabble of voices greeted her words.
«How could that happen?»
«The tube is supposed to be a one-way system!»
«I knew something was wrong...»
«That's exactly the point, one way: one way out. Perhaps she tried to get out.»
«She's not that silly. The meepits pulled her out.»
«I said they were evil!»
Sarah pointed to a few scraps of cloth caught in the hatch of the tube. They looked like they had come from a protective suit.
«At least she was wearing her kit,» Sarah noticed, shaking her head.
«Yeah, none of the sunglasses were missing or anything...»
«But in that case, how do we know she didn't manage to get past the meepits and escape?»
Up until then, none of the minions had dared peer too closely through the hatch.
Rain looked slightly green and muttered: «She didn't escape. There are... a few bits on the other side. And her sunglasses. You can... you can look if you really want to.»
She turned another shade greener and excused herself, hurrying back to the safety of the house.
The name Bree was written on the list in the main corridor. Si was counting the names on it.
«We're down to ten people... no, nine – Steph is still missing.»
«We haven't even tried to look for Steph!» she cried down the stairs to the others.
«Look,» said Beth, coming up towards her. «We all know that something bad has happened. She's probably already – if the murderer hasn't wanted us to find her yet, we won't find her. Just... it's going to be okay,» she soothed, hugging Si.
But it was not okay, and the minions knew that. Warily they eyed the shadows as they crept into bed. Up until then, no murders had been committed in the night. Was the daylight important, or was it just a matter of time?
Yet another sunrise displayed itself brilliantly on the horizon, but the minions were too tired to care. None of them had slept well, as the meeting and arguments of the past evening had lasted for hours beyond the usual curfew.
As they sat around the breakfast table drinking tea (by now, the coffee had to be rationed strictly), the usual morose thoughts were voiced.
«Do you realise we've been here for a whole week now?» said Beth. «And we're still stuck here.»
«I don't see why we're still trying to look for a way out. Wandering around in the basement is just more likely to get us split up and killed. The murderer is far too clever for us anyway.»
«What else do you think we should do, just sit around in the lounge and wait to be killed?» snapped Sarah. «I don't know about you, but I'd much rather die at least trying to do something.»
«Anyway, there are still ways to lure a minion out of the safety of the lounge,» added Tiff, scowling.
«Exactly,» said Sarah firmly. «Right now, we're all going to go down to the basement together. Your protective clothing is at the top of the stairs.»
The minions edged down the corridor together, none of them eager to descend into the lower levels again, despite the fact that they knew that their only chance of salvation might be found there. As they walked past the more familiar black doors of the main floor, Zoe suddenly pointed to one of them.
«Look, that door doesn't have a pink sticker!»
«Are you sure it's not one of those permanently locked ones?» asked Si sceptically.
«No, it's open,» said Zoe, pushing down the handle and walking in.
«Wait, STOP!» yelled Triggs. «It could be a ...»
Zoe screamed and a thud sounded as she fell to the floor. «...trap,» Triggs finished, irony heavy in his voice.
Now wearing the protective gear they had fetched from the entry to the basement, the remaining ten minions stepped into the fateful room.
The carpet was a plush red, and the walls patterned black and an evil green. In the middle stood a striking statue of Sloth, on the plinth was written «Crawl before your Master, or punishment awaits» . Zoe lay on the floor, stabbed by a dagger that had been fired out of the statue. A small compartment at the foot of it lay open, showing where the dagger had been concealed. «It must have a motion sensor,» said Sarah, examining it. «If it senses someone walking in upright, that is a motion above waist height, it fires.»
«It sounds like a straightforward booby-trap,» said Beth.
«Not really your usual murder,» Swiss added sarcastically.
«Was it even a murder at all?» Sarah asked, shaking her head. «Really, this could have been avoided.»
«I reckon it was deliberate,» said Hayden slowly. «It surely wasn't a coincidence that the door just happened to be open today. The murderer would probably have lured Zoe – or someone – in if we hadn't discovered it anyway.»
The minions sighed collectively, acknowledging the hopelessness of the situation, and stared at Zoe's body, lying on the ground, the pool of crimson around her blending in to the soft red carpet.
Later on, they gathered again in the lounge. Zoe's name had been added to the list that Tiff and Rain had hung up in the hall, along with Nerd, Rjay, Robin, Jessica, Jay, Gabby, Christy, Ata and Rjay. The list seemed too long, and yet it could in the future only grow longer.
«We've agreed that it's not worth going to search for an exit today,» said Sarah.
«Definitely,» agreed Steph. «Zoe's death is too bad an omen, so early in the day, for us to go down and search.»
«Who knows, maybe it wasn't deliberate after all, and the murderer is waiting down there to give another one of us the death stroke,» said Si.
«Whatever your reasoning is, I just don't want to go down there. This morning was already awful enough,» said Rain, summing up the general feeling.
The minions nodded, and settled down for another day of reading and games. Someone tried to start an evil plot contest, but it failed quickly, as the only plots people could bring to mind involved murders...
«Steph, could you pass me that pencil?» , said Bree absent-mindedly, reaching out.
She turned around. The seat which Steph had occupied not a few minutes ago was empty.
«Steph has disappeared!» , she cried out, jolting the other TMP'ers out of their game. «We have to find her.»
«I said there would be another murder today,» said Si bitterly.
A search party was promptly formed to look for Steph. They combed the top two floors of the house, and even braved parts of the basement to shout her name. However, after three hours of fruitless searching, they returned empty-handed.
«We can't find her,» Curtis reported wearily to Sarah. «We'll have to wait until tomorrow... or hope she turns up of her own accord.»
However, no one believed his last statement. They didn't doubt that something terrible had happened to her since disappearing – or was still happening.
After a silent dinner, each minion immersed in their own thoughts, Swiss suddenly spoke up. «We've been here a week, haven't we? I just remembered, I need to feed the meepits...»
The others shuddered at the thought of doing this task, it was usually unwelcome enough, having to venture that close to the perimeter the meepits patrolled. Swiss had volunteered to do it some months ago, and had been praised for her courage.
«I'll be back in five minutes. Or... if I'm not back... you'll know what has happened.»
With that, she donned her outside gear and protective sunglasses and went out into the back yard, where a small tunnel led to the meepit feeding hatch. No one had mentioned not doing the task, as this hatch was the key to the contract by which the meepits left the house in peace.
Despite the others' fears, Swiss returned in one piece, even smiling a little at having been outside.
After a last game, the minions retired to bed. Outside, the howling of the wind was punctuated by shrill cries and the occasional «meep».
The seventh day dawned to a rusty red morning as the minions donned the protective gear that Si had found the day before in the attic. Faces nodded affirmatives behind green-tinted visors and hands strapped on black, toughened gloves. Whatever came in the basement, this time they were prepared. And if another shadowy figure tried to attack them from behind, they were ready, wearing fireproof suits and shoes. The minions nodded confidently before descending – in pairs – into the basement.
The basement walls gave off a thin metallic sheen behind the layers of grime and occasional graffiti scrawled there by TMP'ers long ago. The footsteps of the group echoed along the winding corridors. Chants of «left, left, two right, three-quarter turn, straight, left» arose as the minions navigated along twisted pathways, lit only by random lamps and beams of torchlight.
«I'm scared,» Nerd confided in Tiff, his partner. «I just can't stop thinking about poor Robin yesterday. And the – whoever it is – knows I saw him or her or it, so I can't help feeling I'll be next on the menu...»
«You'll be fine,» Tiff shushed him. «Concentrate on the task on hand, I'd hate for us to get lost.»
*BZZT!* A loud buzz, accompanied by crackling electricity, echoed through the corridors of the basement. Rain screamed in surprise, then grabbed Curtis, her partner, and rushed towards the direction of the sound. Arriving in front of a locked door, through which sparks still issued, she saw Swiss and Bree coming down the corridor towards her.
«What was that,» Bree said in a deadpan voice, already expecting the worst.
Nobody voiced what everyone knew: another murder had come to pass inside that room. Rain dodged a spark and fumbled at the door.
«Thank goodness I brought my Virtupets X17 Lock Defractor,» she said, pressing a small device against the door. A loud click bounced off the walls, making the minions jump.
Cautiously, they advanced into the room, Curtis checking the walls for another possible trap. They entered on a bizarre scene.
The room was filled with instrument panels and machinery. In one corner, a box emitted the sparks that had jumped through the door, it seemed to be some kind of power generator. On the left, a large computer brought up strings of meaningless symbols. The floor was covered with soot, but the minions' eyes were drawn instantly to the bench in the middle of the room. Poised over a metal board hung an enormous ray gun, reminiscent of the lab ray. On the bench, held down by straps, lay a … Hasee?
The Hasee was clearly dead, twitching only to a stray pulse of electricity that coursed through the bench.
«Is that it?» Bree wanted to know. «I was expecting... well, you know what.»
«Don't get your hopes up too soon,» warned Rain, crouching on the floor behind the bench. «I've found the protective suit someone must have been wearing over here.»
Curtis, Swiss and Bree crowded round. Bree pulled a small ring out of the pile.
«This is Nerd's.» A sob shook her throat. «He was always proud of it, he never took it off...»
«...willingly,» completed Swiss. «I think we can assume the worst.»
«Maybe if someone can crack the computer, we can find out exactly what happened,» suggested Curtis.
«In the mean time, let's get upstairs.»
However, when they turned around, the door had swung shut behind them. Its magnetic locks had sealed the same way they had been before they entered, except that on the inside, there was no keyhole. Were they trapped?
Before they panicked, however, Rain noticed another, smaller door behind the bench. Moving across to investigate, they noticed that sooty footsteps led out of it.
«The villain must have gone this way,» Swiss breathed. «We have no choice but to follow, I suppose.»
Where would the path lead, to the villain's lair?
The footsteps, despite the minions fears, led not to some evil chamber, but back to one of the side entrances to the main floor. They continued upstairs... to Beth's room.
In the evening, the minions gathered in the lounge to witness a confrontation. The four people who had found Nerd's transformed body had told their story to the others, and both Beth and Tiff (being Nerd's partner) felt affronted that they could be implicated in the murder.
«I'm telling you, I was framed! I bet the murderer deliberately led the trail to my room to get me killed as well!»
«Nonsense, we won't kill you just cause you're the murderer. Just own up and you'll be fine.»
«Fine?! You must be mad! Ah, but I see, you don't care about the deaths of your fellow minions, you don't want to avenge them, so you must be the murderer! Speaking of which, I'd like to know where you where when Nerd got trapped in that room.»
«I've said this before and I'll say it again, we got separated! It's not my fault we come to a split in the corridor, and when I turn round he's suddenly not there any more! I looked for him, of course, but you know how it is about getting lost in those tunnels...»
«Has it ever occurred to you that Nerd might not be dead?» Sarah asked irritably. The debate had been going on for some time. «Maybe it was always just a Hasee and he left his clothes there in order to make us think he died. Maybe he's the murderer. He could have lied about the shape he saw in the dust.»
«Hold it over there, we've finally got the computer logs up here.» Hayden, Si, Triggs, Curtis and Swiss had been trying for hours to crack the code the computer from the basement was spouting.
«Unfortunately, the video camera was disabled – probably deliberately – but we've managed to get the sound recording out, the one the computer records so it can respond to voice commands,» Si explained.
«I didn't know we had that kind of modern Virtupets technology,» someone muttered in the back, but was shushed by the others.
«Anyway, there are clearly two voices, and one is forcing Nerd – by name, that's how we know – to strip and lie on the bench, and you can hear noises of the straps being tightened. The computer also logs firing the ray gun at the bench, with the intention of performing some kind of mind control. Clearly it malfunctioned rather badly.»
«It's just a shame the other voice, not Nerd's, is distorted by some kind of mask or visor. It's impossible to tell who it is,» added Hayden.
They played the soundtrack for the others to hear. Most frighteningly of all, a chilling scream split the air before the buzz of the ray.
The minions clustered round the computer in despair. How on Neopia could they survive this?
As the sun rose over the Haunted Woods and spread a red, bleeding light over the landscape, a hammering sound could be heard coming from the TMP house.
Tiff and Rain were tacking a list up to the wall with the names of the minions who had perished. So that they would be remembered in honour, Rain said to the frowns of the others.
The diminished number of minions settled down around the table for a breakfast and short conference. For once, it wasn't Sarah who began.
«There are only fourteen of us left,» said Si.
«If someone dies today, we'll be down to thirteen, and that's unlucky,» said Zoe morosely.
Si ignored her. «As I said, there are only fourteen, so we need to be extra-careful. On the other hand, we've covered all the rooms in the main floor by now, so we need to finish the floor with the bedrooms upstairs, and then move up into the attic and down into the basement.»
«We all know the basement is dangerous,» added Zoe. «I don't think anyone's ever mapped the entire thing. I don't know how the key would have got down there, but we have to look, just in case. But please, we have to follow Sarah's advice and go in pairs. Or even bigger groups. I don't want to lose any more of you.» She looked around at the surrounding minions, who nodded seriously before moving off to different parts of the house.
By the end of the day, the enthusiasm had dropped to a previously never experienced low. How could they possibly find the key? They had looked in all the usual places one normally put things. They had searched all the places they had been the day before they were locked in with a fine-tooth comb. Even every bedroom and plotting room had not been left untouched, and several minions had come down completely dusty from poking around in the attic.
«It's useless» , said Swiss, echoing the general feeling.
Sarah took a look at her demoralised group. But they couldn't just give up now!
«Come on,» she encouraged, «have one more look. Go back to your stations»
No one moved.
«I said hop to it!» she exploded, tense due to the depressing atmosphere. «When the Big Chair says move, you move. Or I'll take away your cookie rations.»
The minions hopped to it and scurried back to the attic and the lower levels.
In the attic, clouds of dust filled the air as Robin and Nerd moved and opened wooden crates and cardboard boxes, casting a quick glance into the top of them to see if the key had fallen in. Further to the left, Si and Sarah rummaged through a pile of miscellaneous objects TMP had gathered over the years.
Nerd sighed. This was so pointless, kept repeating through his mind. Bored, he glanced to the right to see if there were any more interesting boxes to sort through. And jumped as a shadowy figure moved in the corner of his eye between the dust motes. No less than half a second later, a blinding flash of light shot towards him. A wordless cry of warning ripped out of his throat and he ducked and rolled blindly, hitting another box with a smack. Opening his eyes, the figure was gone. Beside him, Robin had been reduced to a small pile of grey ash. Wiping his eyes, Nerd ran to tell the others.
The remaining minions (now thirteen in total) gathered around the sofas in the lounge. Sarah lay slumped in a large armchair in the centre of the room, a sad frown on her face.
«Look, guys, I think it's pretty clear by now what's going on. We have to face it: someone's trying to kill us all. And I think it's likely that that someone has got the keys. So. There's not much point in looking for them any longer, unless you actually want to explore the lower levels.»
She stopped there and looked around sceptically at the faces beneath her.
«We should explore there, actually,» Hayden pointed out. «Maybe we can find an escape tunnel or something. Goodness knows all the minions from past times have plotted enough mutinies and escapes. I heard that mutinies used to be really frequent a year or so ago, and in response the Big Chair increased the security, to which the minions responded with even more clever plans. Maybe we can find some of the things they used to get out.»
He looked around to find twelve pairs of eyes gazing at him proudly. Two minions clapped.
«Oh, come on, it's not like I said anything special! It's...» Hayden gave up trying to explain and shrugged.
«All right, tomorrow we'll all go down into the basement,» decreed Sarah. «Carefully. And let's hope we can find a means to escape by down there.»
On the morning of the fifth day breakfast consisted of a handful of nuts and berries each, grabbed by Sarah and Nerd on a hurried raid to the kitchen.
As the last TMP'er munched on their Jumbleberry, Sarah tried to restore some kind of order.
«Look, I know it's hard, what with four of us having ...died... already in these past days, and I know the outlook is bad, but that just means we need to band together all the more. TMP spirit, right?»
The minions said nothing.
A small cheer of 'Right!' came from the gathering.
«That's better. Now. Rules first. You will not, I repeat not, wander around on your own. Always go anywhere in pairs. I said pairs and I mean it. Before you go anywhere, tell me where you're going. That way I can keep an eye on you. Okay?»
Nods from the listeners.
«Now for the plan. We're going to have some singing, and some games, to boost morale, and then we're going to get those pink stickers out and get hold of those keys. I don't know what is lurking in this house at the moment, but we are going to get out as soon as possible. For that we need to find where the keys have been hidden. So get out your maps and stickers and start searching.»
The minions made to head out the nearest door.
«In PAIRS!» Sarah shouted after them.
No one mentioned the fact that the killer might not be some mysterious beast, but instead one of the guild members.
Exactly five hours, eight minutes, and 37 pink stickers later, a scream rang through the house. By now, the meaning of this was instantly clear.
In plain sight against the green carpet, Jessica lay on the landing of the upper floor, her face a mask of surprise. Cautiously, Tiff poked her with the end of the feather duster she held, but she remained completely stiff.
«Rigor mortis,» Tiff said matter-of-factly. «She died of shock.»
Although the minions searched around the place where she lay, no other clues gave any hints as to the further manner of Jessica's death.
Finally Rain asked: «Who was assigned in a pair with Jessica, anyway?»
Zoe sheepishly put up her hand. «I just had to go to the bathroom, that was all! By the time I came back, there had been this scream and you lot were all standing here...»
Sarah simply shook her head in despair.
The minions clustered around the dinner table as the sun set below the horizon, bathing the room in an eerie red glow through the large windows.
«I really, really want to get out of here. It's creepy,» said Bree, waving her hand around the room to indicate the atmosphere.
The minions nodded, glancing furtively around.
Suddenly Nerd jumped up.
«I've got it, it's the windows! That's the solution. Can't we just break them and escape that way?»
But Swiss shook her head.
«They're made of triple-proofed, meepit-safe Virtupets glass. I should know, I supervised their installation myself two years ago. They're almost indestructible. If a meepit can't get through them, then neither can we.»
The excitement that had grown in the room flickered and died.
«There's a reason this house is the TMP house,» added Sarah. «It's secured on the outside to keep meepits, werelupes and strangers out and on the inside to keep the minions in. Joxie, a former Big Chair, installed the system to keep control of mutinies.»
«Which means we can't get out» , said Swiss glumly. «Unless we find the key.»
«Unless we find the key.»
The next day brought no relief, but instead more horror.
Still shell-shocked from the death of the day before, the minions had only made half-hearted efforts at finding the key. Instead, most of them huddled in the lounge, absorbed in thoughts, or talking as much as they could to banish the heavy atmosphere. In the morning, no one dared venture into the kitchen to make breakfast.
However, by midday, widespread hunger was beginning to make itself felt. A large group consisting of Si, Jay, Swiss, Sarah, Tiff and Bree bravely voyaged into the kitchen to get some food. Lunch was a sombre affair, although some minions attempted to lighten things up with jokes and riddles.
Although it had been far from the others' minds, Jay offered to bake the crumpets that poor Gabby had meant to make the day before. In memory of her, she said. No one had the heart to turn down the offer, instead, Si and Swiss offered to stay with him in the kitchen for company.
It was some hours later when Triggs returned from a foraging trip to the kitchen, empty-handed and shaking.
«Well, you know I meant to just go and get a cup of coffee, and we were wondering how Jay was doing with the crumpets, and so when I got into the kitchen there was just a tray on the counter, with about three crumpets on it, and a few crumbs. Um, well, I thought that was a bit suspicious, but I figured that Jay must be in the middle of baking, so I went into the pantry to get him, ask if I could help, you know. I don't know why Si and Swiss weren't there. And then – he was there, all right, but – tied to one of the shelves with, well, it looked like duct tape, and all around him lay crumbs and a few pieces of crumpet, and, well – he's dead.»
The minions in the lounge simply stared in horror, then all trailed behind Triggs into the pantry. Against the white, plain shelving a body had been bound with black duct tape, the crumbs lay on the floor as Triggs had described. Next to Jay's corpse Si and Swiss knelt on the grey floor, Si with her head in her hands. The looks in the others' eyes demanded an explanation.
«I can't believe what happened... we should have known something was wrong!» Si burst out. She shared a glance with Swiss. «Jay sent us away about an hour ago. We'd just fetched something from the pantry for him, and then he said thanks for our help, we could go and get some rest, he could manage this bit on his own. Maybe he did look a bit funny, I don't know. Anyway, we went upstairs and lay around in Swiss' room for a while, but then we thought that we should check on Jay, and then we came down, and there was this...»
«It's a clear case of death by crumpets,» Swiss stated, an unreadable look on her face. «I never thought it was possible, but all the evidence points towards it...»
«Duct-taped to the wall and force-fed until he died. That's... awful,» murmured Rain. «--Yeah, I'm sure it's duct tape, as an evil minion I know about these things!»
The minions gathered around and stared at Jay's body.
«What a horrible way to go,» said Beth eventually. «He was so valiant, he always stood up for himself and put up a fight... how dreadful for it to end like this, not even able to resist!»
«Maybe that's why he sent Si and Swiss away, because he thought he could handle it on his own,» Zoe said thoughtfully.
«Whatever happened, that's it,» Sarah declared. «Not a single one of you will bake any more crumpets in this house!»
It sounded almost silly, the thought of a crumpet ban was after all something to giggle at, but all the minions nodded seriously, and traipsed out of the kitchen to their respective rooms. For a while they occupied themselves with games or books. Robin tried to build a replica space station out of cardboard. Curtis rummaged in his boxes for a screwdriver, then set about slowly prising off the top of his Virtupets Silver Standard bedside table. Hayden snuggled into his inflatable chair and read 'The Mystery of the Kougra Paw'. But by and by everyone drifted into a restless, troubled sleep.
The third day dawned bright and early, the pink sky drawing the sleepy TMP'ers out of their beds and down to the kitchen. Soft rays of red light slanted through the windows, illuminating the passageways of the house. No one mentioned the incidents of the day before. It seemed too unreal. Surely, today they would find the key and get out of the house.
However, when they came to starting the search again, they pulled up short. Someone had removed all the pink stickers off the doors! Angrily, Sarah turned round and stared at the others.
«Come on, minions. I don't know who thought it would be funny to play a practical joke on everyone last night, but it's not. Pull yourselves together, this is serious business here, not some... airy-fairy holiday fun. Now, who was it? Out with it.»
All the minions stared back at Sarah wide-eyed, each looking as innocent as the other.
«Anyone who gets caught disrupting the search effort in future will get sent back to their cells and chained in with double padlocks.»
Everyone smiled as they remembered when Swiss had been locked in the cells for misbehaviour years ago, then appeared in the common room half an hour later claiming that 'one padlock was so easy anyone could crack it.' Smiles melted away, however, as Sarah glared at them all. Each minion put on their best innocent face and waited for someone else to own up. No answer was forthcoming, unfortunately, and so the minions painstakingly began to stick pink stickers to the doors once again. This time with superglue.
By midday, a small area of the TMP house was covered in pink, non-removable stickers, looming brightly against the black, green and metallic decor. Amidst complaints of «how are we ever going to get those off?» the minions gathered for a makeshift lunch of bread and cheese. Spirits were low, the task of mapping the entire house loomed gigantically before them, and unlike the morning, no one was convinced that it would be over soon.
«We'll be stuck here for days,» exclaimed Bree and burst into tears. The three TMP'ers next to her immediately tried to comfort her, but hardly succeeded with their own enthusiasm so low.
Gabby offered to make some crumpets in the afternoon to raise the morale.
«Surely you can spare one person in the search?»
Around four o'clock, the first few hungry minions trekked up to the dining room to get some crumpets. However, the room was empty, the crumpets absent, nor was their maker anywhere to be found.
«Where's Gabby?» asked Jessica, «she seems to have disappeared!»
Calls of «Gabby, Gabby!» rose through the house as the small group searched the kitchen, the dining room, the pantry and the surrounding rooms for any signs of their friend.
«Anyone seen Gabby?»
But Gabby was nowhere to be found. Steph started to panic. «She must be around somewhere!»
The calls drew other minions from the various parts of the house. The search was now not only a search for the keys, but also a search for Gabby. But an hour later, there were still no signs. Instead, a vague burning smell permeated the house. «It must be the crumpets she meant to bake!» exclaimed Steph. «Hang on, I'll just go and take them out of the oven.»
Ten seconds later – hardly the time it took to run down the stairs to the kitchen and up again – Steph stumbled back in the room, wild-eyed and shaking.
«There's this thing in the oven... it looks like a giant crumpet... but I think it's Gabby...»
All the minions gathered around the oven in the kitchen, shocked to the core. Stark against the black tray lay a light brown mass, a crumpet in shape, but here and there something stuck out, tell-tale signs that it had once been Gabby. Her clothes lay crumpled on the floor in a corner of the kitchen. The minions gathered round, horrified and speechless. How could you possibly... that is... killing someone was one thing, but methodically baking them... into a crumpet?
One thing was for sure. Unlike the two previous deaths, this was a murder, a deliberate, malicious act. Naturally, this also cast suspicions on the other incidents. Gathering again in the lounge, the minions had to face the awful truth that someone – or something – in this house was trying to kill them. One by one. In such awful ways.
That night, all the minions brought down blankets and huddled together in the lounge for warmth.
The next morning, all the TMP'ers gathered in the main room to plan the 'Search for the Lost Keys', an epic adventure starring… well, everyone in TMP really. Various suggestions echoed through the room.
«We need to all go together!»
«No, every minion on their own! I don't want to share the glory...»
«Come on, come on, we need a plan. A serious plan.»
«How about dividing the parts of the house up?»
This seemed to be the prevailing suggestion, until someone pointed out that they didn't have a map of the building. In fact, no one really knew how far it extended, or how many rooms there were. Especially the lower, underground levels seemed to be completely uncharted. Minions navigated in there by memorising the numbers of turns in the passageways – and occasionally getting the numbers wrong.
So how could they possibly find the keys? Eventually Beth suggested that they could mark each room they had checked with a sticker.
«Have we even got any of those?» said Zoe pessimistically.
It turned out that they had indeed. Blushing, Jessica produced some bright pink stickers from a box in hidden in the corner of her room.
«Well, at least they'll stand out nicely,» said Swiss, referring to the dark, space station-style décor of the house.
And on that parting comment, the TMP'ers set off into the different rooms, each armed with a pile of pink stickers.
It was about half past two when the lights went out. A loud *BZZZZT* echoed through the house, accompanied by a feeble «Aaak!»
Everyone fumbled around in the dark for a few minutes before someone found the first torch. After that, slowly more beams of torchlight came on, until someone had the wit to light emergency gas burners in the hall. Triggs and Curtis crept down to the basement to investigate the cause of the damage, with Beth, Tiff, Swiss and Rain joining them on the way. As they opened the door to the electricity room, a horrid burnt smell wafted towards them. Curtis and Triggs exchanged looks of dismay, before Triggs busied himself at a small panel beside the door.
Finally, the lights flickered back on and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Until they saw what lay in the centre of the room.
On the main electricity control panel, Christy and Ata lay sprawled over the buttons. Both their clothes were singed beyond repair and the skin that was visible beneath their overalls was blackened. A single bolt of electricity fizzed from Christy's hair to the circuit board. They were indisputably dead, a clear consequence of the 230 Volts coursing through the system.
The minions wasted no time in running upstairs to break the news to the others.
They were all seated in the common room of the TMP house. A few members still had puffy eyes from crying about Christy, Ata and Rjay. They had been close to family, after all.
«What shall we do?» cried someone from the back.
«It's a bad omen,» said Tiff ominously from somewhere on the floor.
«Hush,» said Sarah. «There's nothing much we can do. But I want you all to be doubly careful from now on. Only go places in pairs if you can. Don't go outside without your glasses. Wear Sloth-protective gear, I don't know! Just… take care, minions.» And the minions snuggled together for protection in the warmth of the lounge. It had to be just a bad day.
The first day of the minions being trapped in the house dawned to a bleak grey morning. The odd leaf skittered around the wide clearing the house was set in, but otherwise few traces remained of the wild storm that had shaken the house the night before. Bleary-eyed TMP'ers traipsed down from their upstairs rooms to get an early breakfast in the kitchen. No one spoke about the night before, and it seemed from the idle chatter over slices of toast and jam that it would only be a matter of time before the keys could be found. Suddenly a choked scream, followed by a fading gurgle, came through the outside windows. All the TMP'ers looked at each other in shock. What was happening out there?
Without wasting a single word, all the minions rushed out to the small back yard, a brown square of ground fenced off from the vampire and meepit guards by a tall mesh and barbed wire fence and the only part of the outside not blocked by the locked front door. Before they stepped out the side door, all of them grabbed a pair of dark reflective sunglasses from the rack. Outside, it was clear where the scream had come from. Rjay lay face down on the ground, sprawled against the mesh. Gingerly, someone turned him over with a pole to expose a mask of horror on him face. It was clear that he had died, his bare face was proof that something terrible had caused it. His bare face... he wasn't wearing any sunglasses.
«The sparkly vampires must have got him» , Si whispered, shocked. Murmured sounds of sympathy came from the surrounding minions as they tried to imagine such a horrible death.
«But how could he forget to take her sunglasses? We were told from day one never to go out without our protective glasses.»
«Maybe something took his glasses away...» Zoe suggested.
And sure enough, flung into the far corner of the yard was a trampled pair of black sunglasses.
«Maybe one of the vampires reached in and stole them...»
«Well, there's no point in speculating,» Hayden said firmly. «Let's get poor Rjay's body inside.»
The minions shuffled back into the house, whispering and glancing back at the place where Rjay had lain.
A small group of about five minions half-heartedly resumed trying to find the key, but no one succeeded. Everyone's thoughts were with what had happened in the morning. How could she have got out there?
Finally, a slightly more cheerful troop gathered around the table for lunch. Amid the munching of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, plans were made to search the house from top to bottom to find the key, or at least a spare copy.
However, despite plenty of rummaging, the keys could not be found. A number of other things were found instead, and so the minions spent the evening playing with a miniature ray gun, a DIY space shuttle kit, patented coffee stain remover (non-removable) and a whole box of strange items. The morning's murder was far from their minds as they all tucked themselves into their beds in the early hours of the morning, yawning sleepily from having played too long. No doubt they would find the keys tomorrow.
A chill wind howled in the stormy night and whirled dead leaves around the porch of the house. Darkness enveloped the building and only a few dead trees sheltered it from the vicious storm.
Inside, two frantic girls tugged at the latch of the front door.
«It's not opening!»
«The door's locked!
«We're locked in!»
Only a few minutes earlier, the minions of TMP had been quietly sitting around the the table in the lounge and drinking tea (or coffee). With Mutant Day just past and the month of Grundo Independence Day finally overcome, they all felt it was cause for celebration. All 20 members were gathered in the kitchen and toasted the health of their leader, of each other, and even of – dare we say – Dr. Sloth. As it grew late, however, and the chatter petered out, it was time to go home, and the first few minions said goodbye and made for the door. All seemed peaceful as a comfortable evening drew to an end.
Suddenly the air was split by a cry. «We're locked in! Help!»
Bree and Steph rushed back into the lounge and threw themselves onto Sarah, nearly making her spill her hot chocolate. «We can't get out! Someone's locked the door!»
Sarah waved her hands around for quiet.
«Calm down,» she said, «I'm sure we can find the keys. Now, who last saw the keys? Has anyone got them in their pocket?»
Nineteen pairs of hands dug in their pockets or turned out their bags. Nineteen pairs of eyes stared back at Sarah with the same puzzled look. Where were the keys?
«Well, I'm sure they'll turn up somewhere,» she said practically to break the silence as everyone started to panic a little. «We'll stay here overnight and have a proper look tomorrow, okay?»
«I think we've got air mattresses upstairs,» volunteered Beth.
«And there are blankets in one of the boxes!» exclaimed Rain.
«Well, that's settled then,» said Sarah. «Everyone go and get something to make a bed and move into the upstairs rooms. There should be a room for every one or two people.»
«And don't panic, I'm sure we'll find the keys tomorrow.»
The storm whooshed and thundered outside the windows, rattling the shutters of the TMP house. The minions shivered in their makeshift beds and tried to make do with what they had.
Jay reached out into the frozen night and wrestled the shutters into their locked positions, tying them down with some rope from his backpack. Tiff dug some thick curtains from out of a box and hauled them across the windows to mask the flashes of lightning. Triggs found some Virtupets All-Purpose Window Blinds in his pack and attached those to the window, plunging the room into perfect silence and dark.
The minions huddled into their beds, and waited for the next morning.
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