"What do you mean your house?" The words floated through my head but it Per who managed to voice them.
"Oh my," Maize's laugh was cruel and I instinctively shrank back from it. "So the great detective didn't even bother to check who lived here before she dragged you into this." He continued chuckling to himself. "Classic. Really, I couldn't have planned for a better result."
"But...." I could tell Per was as confused as I was. None of this made sense. If this was Maize's house and the flowers where here then.... No it wasn't possible. I shook myself to think straight.
"It seems you are as clever as your sister. More brawn than brains both of you. Good thing all you Parfait's are good looking." He gestured lazily with his hand the gun gleaming dully in the light. My eyes fixated on it and he followed my gaze. "I think it's time we wrapped this up now, don't you? On you go now, into the basement. I do hope you're not claustrophobic, but then you won't have to worry about that for long." He smiled and I shivered snapped out of my trance.
"What the Berry are you doing Maize! This isn't you. I know you, you couldn't hurt a fly."
"You don't know me," he scoffed voice dripping with venom. "You never took the time to know me. The only thing you've cared about is the latest fancy in that pretty little head of yours. I should have let Flax have you, the two of you were perfect for each other." A sneer crossed his face and he pulled back from me as if I had just spent a week sleeping at the dump.
I surged forward unable to stand that look on his face. "Let him have me! LET him have me! Do I have no say in this?" My blood boiled and I didn't even try to control the rage. With each thump of my heart I could feel it surging through me, giving me strength and demanding release.
"Mint?" Per's voice trembled in my ear but I ignored him. Whatever his issue was it would have to wait.
"Yes let him!" Maize was not so calm now. He bit back at me with all the force that I had thrown at him. "He wanted you, you know. Wanted you badly and nothing stopped Flax from getting what he wanted. That alone was enough to make me want to take you for myself. The fact that I got a little pleasure out of it didn't hurt either." His eyes travelled the length of my body and my skin crawl.
Where was the man that had stolen my heart and caressed my soul? With each gesture, each word, this monster in front of me killed the man I loved. My hands flew to my stomach and I felt a jolt of fear as I stared into his lifeless eyes. Stubbornly I clung to the one thing I knew to be true ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
"No! I know you Maize. I know your favourite colour, I know what you wore on the first day of school. I know that you smile at the sunset and cry at romantic movies. I've known you my whole life and there is no way you would do anything to hurt your brother. You idolize him!"
"Mint!" Per's voice was more insistent now and he tugged at my arm in his urgency. I hushed him not taking my eyes of Maize.
His were as unwavering as my own. It was as if there was an invisible rope connecting us and if either of us were to look away we would fall. Slowly, savouring every word he said, "Once again you have proven my point better than I could myself. You knew me Mint. Knew not know. That boy you grew up with is dead. Killed by his own brother." His face grew dark and as the shadows fell over it they took away the last traces of his humanity leaving me cold and afraid.
"There was a time when I worshipped Flax. I went everywhere he did, whether he wanted me to or not. Mostly he let me only rarely getting annoyed even listening to what I had to say on occasion. His whole my body is a temple thing came from me in a way. After his first album was released he went into a downward spiral nearly over dosing on the variety of drugs he pumped into his system. I got him into rehab, got him cleaned up but when when he came out everything changed."
I nodded dumbly to myself. I remembered Flax's downfall, his rehabilitation and his come back. It had sent shock waves through the industry some of which were still felt today.
"The signs were there throughout his rehab and by the time he got out it was clear, his voice was shot. Most people would have given up then, or found another way to make music but not Flax. In his desperation to remain a star he came up with the idea of having me sing the songs for him. We've always sounded alike, so much so that even our parents couldn't tell us apart on the phone, but I never thought it would work. After endless begging I agreed to give it a shot. I recorded a song for him and we sent it of to the producers as a sample of the next album. No one was more shocked that I was when they came back and said Flax sounded better than ever."
"A Flax's urgings I signed a contract saying I would never to tell anyone I was the voice on this album. I was already writing most of the song by that point anyway but music wasn't my passion so I agreed. It would just be one album he said, just one," Maize's lip curled in a sneer as he shook his head. "Flax never could settle for just one of anything and one turned into two and then a tour."
He took on a pleading look, eyes wide as if begging me to listen and understand what was in his heart. For a moment I saw the man behind the monster. "I had no passion for music. I may have been good at it but it wasn't what got me up in the morning, it wasn't what drove me. In secret and away from prying eyes I had started my own business breeding rare flowers. It thrived and as it grew so did my certainty that I had found my calling. Knowing I could never devote myself to is as fully as I wanted I went to Flax and pleaded my case."
"He didn't take it well. I stormed out and not an hour had gone by when Malt found me and ended all my dreams."
"It seemed the contract I had signed was a bit more than just a non-disclosure agreement. There was a small clause that I hadn't bothered to read trusting my brother to look after me. It tied me to him to for ten albums and all the tours that went with them or until Flax retired. I was devastated. I couldn't leave and I couldn't tell anyone either."
"No matter how much fame he got it was never enough. He always wanted more, wanted what he didn't or couldn't have. We argued constantly and it soon became clear that there was never going to be an end."
The pleading was gone now, rage filling his face and the moment of memory had passed. "He stole my life," Maize growled lips pulling back and teeth bared. "He stole my hopes, my dreams, my chance at living a normal life. All I had was his. When he planned yet another tour delaying 'his' next album I realised the truth. It was him or me. As long as he lived I could not. He would never let me go." His eyes narrowed as if challenging me to deny that fact.
The house was silent, even the night outside seemed to be hushed in waiting. The tension of the moment was causing beads of sweat to form on my brow. I could hear the crackle of Per's clothes as he moved behind me but still I ignored him. As if reading my thoughts he pulled at me once again, this time not a gentle tug but a forceful gesture causing me to sway off balance.
"Mint!" His voice was sharp and there was an edge of fear there.
"What?!" Exasperated I half turned yanking my arm away from him.
"For Berry's sake Mint the house is on fire! I don't care what's going on with Maize it's time to get out of here!"
Now that he said it I could feel the heat in the room. The dryness of my throat that I had taken to be simple nerves took on a new and more sinister meaning. "Fire." I breathed searching for an exit. The kitchen was ablaze the flames consuming everything in their path. Even now the flames were lapping at the walls to the hall eagerly seeking a way to extend their reach. That left only one way out but to get to that we had to go through....
"Maize!" I said desperation. "What ever happened between you and Flax it's over now. Flax is gone and you can have your life. Just...just let us by you. Let us go." I licked my lips nervously trying to keep some moisture in them. The air seemed to be sucking everything dry and I could feel the burning threat growing ever closer.
"Let you go." He said the words slowly trying them as the rolled in his mouth. "Let you go? No, no I don't think so. You see there is too much at stake if you go. You know too much now and if you were to go telling your tales to eager ears then everything I worked so hard to achieve would be lost. Better if you stay. Better if you and the evidence against me disappear forever."
"You can't just leave us here." Per gasped in horror.
"Can't I?" he mused. "You know, I really think I can." With that he lunged out and shoved me to the open basement door. I stumbled down the steps barely catching myself before Per came hurtling after me. Maize stood at the top of the stairs waving phones in our faces. My hand went to my pocket in reflex and came away empty. When had he grabbed those? "I don't think you'll be needed these." His voice was mocking and made it seem as if he was about to burst into laughter.
"We'll die down here!" Per shouted up to him.
Maize gave a long suffering sigh. "That rather is the point isn't it."
"Murderer," I whispered tears streaming down my cheeks. I had been taken in, let myself fall in love even, and it had all been a lie. There was no good in him, I could see that now, perhaps there never was. Nothing we could say would save us. The knowledge game me strength and I found my voice. "Murderer!" I shrieked the words sounding shrill even to my ears.
"No!" he snapped. "Not murder. This is self-defense. Once more it comes down to you or me and as delicious as you are Mint frankly it's going to be me." Looking hastily over his shoulder at the raging inferno behind him slammed the door sealing us in darkness.
As one Per and I bolted up the stairs and pounded on the door. Heavy scraping could be heard from the other side as Maize moved something to block our exit. Per slammed his shoulder repeatedly against the heavy wooden frame but after a half dozen attempts all he managed was to injure himself. The door remained as steadfast as before.
In despair I sank to the floor. I could feel the heat even through the heat of the door and smoke began to curl around my feet as it sought a way through. My mind went over every little action, every word that had passed between Maize and myself searching for some clue that could have prevented all of this. There was none. Was I so blind that I could not see the corruption in front of me? And what did it say of me that I was in love with a murderer? I could not deny it for even now, ready to die at his hands, I still loved him. Shock settled in and I pulled my knees to my chest weeping.
A strong arm wrapped around me and pushed me forwards. "Come on Mint. We can't stay up here. The air will be better down below and maybe we can find a way out."
The darkness was nearly complete in the depths of the basement with only a bare bulb in one corner to hold it back. I had no hope of another way out, not really, but on seeing the lack of light from a window or door made my heart sink lower. Per felt it too. "Maybe the fire won't get down here." he said bravely but I could tell by his tone that he didn't believe it.
The smoke continued to roll down the stairs. No longer hesitant it came in great black clouds. It was the end and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Resigned I lay on the floor curled up in my misery.
After a time I could feel Per lay down next to me his hands barely touching mine in a gesture of comfort. We lay in silence and waited to die.