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Devils Due

devils due

Estimated reading time — 88 minutes

Part one.
A melancholy recollection
of traumatic events.

I hate bullies. Bullies have set the course of my fairly chaotic life, since day one. My father was a bully. My Mother wasn’t much better, if I’m being honest. My parents were very religious, and I don’t mean just go to church every Sunday, but they were crazy religious. I was little less than a demon, haunting their precious household, in my father’s eyes. They never wanted children. They were never shy about sharing that little fact. I have no doubt that if it wasn’t for their devotion to their faith, they would have aborted me before I ever had a shot at life. I spent a lot of time, in my youth, wishing for just that. My father was also a drinker. Seems he would pick and choose which of his god’s lessons he would obey or dismiss. He would drink, and get pissed at this shit or that, and take every bit of it out on me. He would beat and belittle me for any thing that struck his fancy. My mother would, for the most part, turn a blind eye to my suffering. Hell, she would join in on the day’s session of mockery and finger pointing, when she felt the need. Regardless of how much they regretted my birth, they loved each other dearly. To the neighbors and friends of the family, and such, theirs was a romance to be envied. Some would tell them how much they wished they could find something special, like what they had. This would genuinely make me queasy. I hated them both with a passion. They had never shown me anything but pain and anguish, but I knew that if I exposed the truth of our happy little family, my life would become an even bigger hell than it already was. So, I remained quiet when they would explain to the neighbors and teachers todays excuse for my bruises and cuts, though my father always tried his best to make sure the wounds were hidden. Rarely did he hit me in the face, unless his aim was completely fucked from his inebriation. Oh yeah, life was rough for little Michael Bourdon. That would be me, by the way. My apologies. I completely forgot to introduce myself. The only time I ever saw any sort of affection, was if we were around others. They would quickly send me away to “play” when folks would come over, though. Like I had anything to play with. Enough hand me down, flea market shit to save face, should anyone happen to see my bedroom, but most of it was more likely to give me tetanus than a good time.

When my mother became pregnant again, my father did not pull his punches. I was kept out of school “sick” for the next two weeks, until my face was fit to be seen in public. They could not stand to even look at me, almost as if they blamed me because dear old daddy forgot to fucking pull out. I was five at the time. Five years old, and little less than pure evil in my folks eyes. The next six months were complete hell. I won’t get into the details, but I missed a lot of school over those months. My mother went into premature labor at six and a half months and my little brother was born weighing only four pounds. My mother did not survive the labor. When my father arrived home, he actually grabbed me and pulled me into the only hug I would ever receive from him. He held me close and sobbed and wailed. I actually felt shell shocked, both at the loss of my mother, as awful a human being as she was, and at the sudden affection from my father. I cried with him. We held each other and cried until our eyes hurt. After what felt like hours, he backed up from me, still holding me by the shoulders. He just looked at me. I’d never seen the expression on his face before. He looked broken, but somehow kind. We stared at each other for quite some time. It actually caught me off guard when his expression changed from apathy to rage. Rage at me. It was as if he thought I had somehow seduced him into this brief moment of bonding. I winced as his grip tightened on my shoulders. I tried to pull back and get free from his grasp, but at my first effort he picked me up and threw me against the wall. I knew something was broken, but I was in too much shock to figure out what. He screamed a mess of words I could not make out intermingled with bible verses. It was as if he was trying to exorcise the demon he saw me as, from his house. He grabbed me by my collar and started dragging me up the stairs. I was in so much agony and shock, I could barely form words myself, but I begged him as much as I could to let me go. We got to my bedroom and he dropped me on the floor. I tried to get up, to run away, but I couldn’t move my legs. I didn’t know if it was the shock of everything, or that I was seriously messed up. I wasn’t anymore well versed in physical ailments than the ones I had experienced in my few years of life. I started to drag myself out of the room as my father opened my bedroom window. He grabbed me again and started dragging me to the window. “NO DADDY!!! LET ME GOOOOO!!!” I screamed, though it hurt like hell. “ Want me to let you go? Ok, you little shit. Got your fucking wish” I don’t remember anything after going out of the window. I’m not sure if the impact knocked me out, or I passed out before I hit.


Apparently three weeks had gone by when I awakened in a hospital bed. My left arm and leg were broken, and my back had undergone some significant damage. Fortunately, I was going to be in the hospital for quite some time. My memories of what had happened were shaky, at best. My father told the police and the hospital staff that I had leapt from the window out of despair over my mother’s death. I was assigned a counselor, in addition to my physical therapy crew. Apparently, my little brother was still in the hospital as well, due to underdevelopment from being so premature. He was still in an incubator, grasping on to life more so than myself. Thankfully, he would be kept away from my father for the time being. The thought of a newborn going to the house from hell scared me even more than my own eventual return.
Over the following months, after my back and limbs had recovered enough, I went through daily physical therapy. It didn’t take me long to be able to walk again, though not particularly well. I also had been getting counseling twice a week. I tried to explain the truth to my therapist, but he chalked it up to memories altered by the trauma of attempting suicide, especially at such a young age. My father, after all, was a very respected individual in my small town. Nobody would believe anything negative about him. Between losing my mother and having a complete ‘nervous breakdown’, I was hard pressed to find anyone who would listen. I was able to visit my little brother regularly. He was such a tiny little guy, but I loved him from the first second. When he was finally allowed to leave the incubator, I got to spend some time playing with him, before he was to be sent home. Fortunately, my aunt was going to take him in for a while, until my father was up to the task of caring for an infant. That would be never, in my opinion, but I knew it would happen eventually. I hadn’t spent much time with my aunt over the years, but she had always seemed a kind sort. Of course, so did my parents to the rest of the world. She was my mother’s older sister. She lived in another state, but was renting an apartment nearby to be able to be close to the family. She was still mourning her sister, and it seemed to do her good to be around her new nephew. She would even bring him by the hospital every couple of days to see me.

After six weeks of recovery, I was ready to leave the hospital. My father showed up with my aunt and little brother, who had since been named Tommy, after my grandfather on my mother’s side. Dear old daddy had been signed off by his grievance counselor to be fit to care for his children, and had claimed he had worked on my bedroom to make it fit for two. I would soon see that he just replaced my bed with bunk beds. My aunt said her teary goodbyes at the hospital, and headed on her way back to her home. We would not see her again for many years. As soon as father of the year pulled his truck out of the hospital parking lot, he wasted no time in letting us know he was still the same ignorant bastard that had put me in the hospital in the first place. He spilled the gospel and plenty of curses all the way back home. He bitched about the hospital bills and blamed us for every wrong this world had to offer. I was to be homeschooled from now until the foreseeable future, so I would be able to ‘help’ take care of my brother. This, pretty much, translated to, I would be raising my brother while he drank himself to sleep every night after working all day while we made do at home by ourselves. Honestly, I was ok with it. I actually had a companion for the first time in my life.

The next few years went by fairly quickly, it seemed. I was ten years old now, and Tommy was five. We were best friends, and did just about everything together. Yeah, there had still been plenty of beatings and lectures over time. Tommy had, unfortunately, gained a few scars of his own. We would compare from time to time. Tally who got the worst of it, and all. My father decided it was time to send us back to physical school. Basically, it boiled down to he had changed shifts at his job. He had been promoted to the night shift manager, and did not want to be stuck alone with us during the day. Time passed by some more. My brother was small for his age, even at twelve years old now, he looked about nine at most. Being five grades below me, I wasn’t always able to be there to watch out for him when the bullies would swarm, and boy would they swarm. Since we had started school years before, I had joined every athletic class I was able to, someday, show my father a thing or two, should the opportunity arise. I was in pretty solid physical shape by this point, and my father would barely even speak to me anymore. At times, he’d try to lay into Tommy, but if I was near, it wouldn’t take much to get him to back down. Though, I couldn’t always be around. I hated to think what my father put him through when they were alone together. He was in his fifties now, and years of drinking and not taking any sort of care of himself had left him far from the intimidating specimen from my youth. I had plans to move out when I turned eighteen and take Tommy with me. I was the closest thing he had to a dad, and I would be damned if I was going to leave him at home without me there to look out for him.
About a month before my eighteenth birthday, my life, once more, took a turn for the worse. I got called to the nurse’s office at school to come and get my brother. Poor kid was bloody and bruised and sitting outside the nurse’s office, hanging his head. He had been patched up, but he was a mess. I asked the nurse what had happened, and she explained that three bigger kids took turns laying into Tommy. He had refused to give up the Casio digital watch I had given him for his birthday. He was still wearing it, though they had smashed its face. I wanted to beat the shit out of those little bastards, but they were currently residing in the principal’s office. I took Tommy home, to my father’s dismay. He had the day off and did not want to bother with his demon spawn. I waved my hand in the best ‘fuck off, dad’ way that I could and took Tommy up to the bedroom. I made him some sandwiches and let him play with my Gameboy. I told him I’d be back in a little while, just lock the door and stay away from dad. Even though I wasn’t quite eighteen yet, I wasn’t intending to actually fight the bullying little shits, but I was sure going to scare the hell out of them. I parked outside the school, and waited for them to leave. After a while, they came strolling out, laughing their heads off, apparently quite proud of the mess they had made of my brother’s face. Ok. Maybe I will do a little more than just scare them. I followed them off of school property into the woods and ran up behind them and pushed them on the ground. Though I was boiling over with rage, I managed to not actually strike any of them, but I did pick up the bigger one of them, and push him against the nearest tree. I pulled out my pocket knife and held it to his throat. I made it clear to them that Tommy was never to be touched, mocked or even approached by them again. Given the pool of urine that flowed from his pant legs, I think I got my point across.

As soon as I arrived back home, I went to check on Tommy to find my father laying into him, the door open, having been knocked off its hinges.”You’re just as fucking weak, no, you’re way fucking more weak than your piece of shit brother was when he was your age!” He was screaming at him and slapping his face. I grabbed him by the collar and pulled him away from my brother. “Don’t you ever fucking touch him again!” I yelled as I slammed him against the wall. Tommy was screaming and crying. Blood streamed down his face along with the tears. He ran down the stairs and out into the yard. I dropped my father and chased after him. I got out of the front door to find him standing next to the road. “Tommy, come back, kiddo. I ain’t gonna let him hurt you anymore” I pleaded, holding my arms out. My father charged out behind me and pushed me out of the way. “Go on then! Keep goin’. You ain’t wanted here no more” he said, almost matter of factly. Just a little louder than a whisper, so none of the neighbors who had walked out of their doors to see the commotion, would hear his words. Cars were whipping by the house. We lived just off of a main road, so many were not even paying attention as they drove by. I gathered myself back up, and started to head towards my sobbing little brother. My father, of course, was still staring knives at the poor kid, while spilling jeers from his lips. I was about halfway across the lawn, trying to talk him into coming away from the road, when his tears just stopped. He looked up at me, eyes red and puffy, and calmly said “I love you, big brother” before stepping backwards into the road, just in time to meet a fairly large pick up truck. The driver slammed on his brakes, but that only served to drag poor Tommy, who had instantly wedged under the grill of the truck. The truck, then, blew a tire and flipped onto its side, dragging the ground for a good twenty feet before coming to a halt. Everything became foggy. I ran to the road, to my dear brother’s body. There wasn’t much left of him, but I grabbed him and pulled him towards me. I was wailing and crying. This couldn’t be happening! He was a happy kid, for the most part. My thoughts were erratic. I just knew my father was to blame. What was he saying to him when I wasn’t around!? He came strolling up behind me, almost nonchalantly. “He shouldn’t have been playing so close to the road, ” he shrugged. What happened next is still something of a blur to me. I charged him, pushed him down to the road and started punching him as hard as I could. Neighbors ran up and tried to pull me off, but there was no stopping me. I kept punching and punching until I just physically couldn’t anymore, though I still tried. Blood spattered me in the face with every swing. I was yelling and cursing and screaming out in all the pain he had caused through my life, and then something hit me across the head and everything went dark.

It seems, what struck me and left me unconscious was a police officers club. I was so blind to everything else around me at the time, I didn’t even see the blue lights approaching. My father was dead. Dead, quite literally, by my hands. The trial was short. As I was so close to my eighteenth birthday, I was tried as an adult. As many witnesses as there were, it was pretty cut and dry. The judge did take a little leniency on me, as I’d just witnessed my brother commit very brutal suicide. I was sentenced to ten years, without the possibility of parole. Strangely, it wasn’t hard to adjust to prison life. It wasn’t overly different from my home life since birth. Guards pushed us around and took great pleasure in talking as much shit as they could to a daddy killer such as myself. Though I continued to work out every chance I got, and had become quite of the intimidating stature, I kept my head down and did my time in silence, for the most part. For the first two years, I actually had a cell to myself. It was quite nice, if I’m being honest. I had never been an especially social person. I didn’t mess with anyone, and nobody messed with me. Well, after my first week when I put two shit talking inmates in stitches after they tried to force me into, well, activities I held no interest in. I spent the next week in the hole, which was ironic considering where on my body my attackers were hoping to spend a little time.

Two years in, I got my first cellmate. I wasn’t happy about this at first. He was a skinny kid. Long, stringy blonde hair. Probably weighed about a buck fifteen, soaking wet. Looked like he’d seen the wrong end of some hard drugs in his time. I say ‘kid’, but he was only a year or two younger than me. He looked a lot younger, or I felt a lot older, anyway. He actually turned out to be a hell of a good guy, and we would go on to become very close. Truthfully, he was probably the only real friend I’d ever had, aside from my brother. He was actually a real life English kid. His name was Grant Bailey, from a little town in Liverpool that I can’t recall the name of for the life of me. He told me all about life across the pond and how he managed to end up arrested only three months after getting his American citizenship. I asked him several times, over the years, what he was arrested for. He would always just smile and say “that’s a conversation for another time, mate”. I just assumed it was drug related, given his demeanor when he first arrived, and the following month or so of detox he seemed to go through. Maybe something else embarrassing that he just didn’t want to talk about. Either way, I’d still keep asking, every couple of months or so, and he’d keep giving me the same answer. It almost became a ritual over time. Being both scrawny and foreign, he would have fellow prisoners try to push him around from time to time, but I was no stranger to stepping in to try to protect someone. It actually felt nice to have someone to have under my wing again. He could be cocky as hell, though, so he would bring a lot of it on himself. In the end, that would just lead to a lot of laughs between us. He knew I had his back, and he would get a little overly confident in that. I did, one time, let a fairly hefty skinhead asshole take one good swing at him after he fucked with him about being a nazi prick. Not at all did I support said Nazi prick, but I thought one good jab would show him there’s just some folks you shouldn’t fuck with. After said jab caught him across the jaw and landed him on the floor, I knelt down beside him, and clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll take it from here, bud” I said right before I took it upon myself to break the nazi’s nose. He was, apparently, pretty high ranking among the white supremacists of our particular prison, so this could have gone very badly for me and Grant. As it turns out, it went better than expected. We had, or I had gained the respect of this sect of awful fucking human beings. I guess better respect than the hatred they’re known for. I wouldn’t let Grant too far out of my sight when they were around, still. Just to be safe, I suggested to Grant that he consider trying to put on some muscle. He looked too much of an easy target. Plus, I couldn’t promise I’d always be around to have his back. He reluctantly agreed. He had little interest in working out, but he was deceptively strong for his size.


Five years later, Grant’s sentence had come to a close. He was pushing about a hundred and seventy pounds, now, and looked a million times healthier than he did when he arrived. He still sported the long hair, but it was a lot cleaner and no longer stringy. I hated to see him go. He had become my best friend. My only friend, for that matter. Yeah, I had plenty of respect from a lot of the inmates, but Grant was the only one who I’d call a friend. He told me to hold onto the remaining stash of cigarettes we had gathered over the years, and said he’d be in touch soon. I Would hold him to his word on it, too. I still had three years left on my sentence, but my court appointed lawyer seemed confident he could get it down to one. In all honesty, I didn’t really care, aside from being separated, now from my only friend. Prison wasn’t easy, by any means, but it was leagues better than my old home.

As it turned out, my lawyer was close to correct. I was given a chance at parole the very next year. I was released after serving eight years of my ten year sentence. Grant, who was true to his word, had stayed in touch and visited regularly over my last year. He’d even found a job, and had sung my praises to the hiring staff. I had my own Interview the next week. It wasn’t the best job, by any means. Orchid Industries was one of the country’s largest carpet manufacturers, but it was never a job you dreamed of getting one day. It paid well, and the work wasn’t hard, so I couldn’t complain there. It was hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. Of course, our direct manager was about as big of a tool as you’d expect. He was in his mid forties, had a terrible comb over and a ratty beard. He wasn’t especially big or small. Just sort of one of those people you’d never really even notice, outside of a work environment. He had obvious self esteem issues, and made sure to swing his dick around like he stood for something on a daily basis. He was a company man through and through, and we were beneath him. He made that clear. Given our shared living circumstances over the previous years, Grant and I were no strangers to belittlement from our ‘superiors’, so we let that shit roll off our shoulders, for the most part. Yeah, we’d bitch about it, like everyone in a shit job does, but life, for the most part, wasn’t bad. We had gotten an apartment together. Well, Grant had gotten it before I got out, and let me move in for a share of the bills. It was nothing fancy, but not too bad for a couple of bachelor’s nearing their thirties. Life, sort of, fell into a stride for the next few years. We had both moved up a little bit, in our place of employment, but with new managers, came new condescension. It got old, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

There had grown a lot of talk, around the plant, in recent weeks, about some special shindig that happened every few years. The Orchid Grand Festival. A big fundraiser kind of thing that corporate would do every couple of years or so. “I heard some folks can win a shit ton of money from this thing” one of the older employees told us, enthusiastically. ” ‘member Joe Rand, from plant #42?” Ron, the quality clerk, asked the older fella. “Nuh uh?, Oh wait, big old grisly fucker?” He asked, in return. ” Yeah!”, He looked at us, “he ain’t lying! Fucker was big as a goddamn moose! Big old shit kickin’ sombitch!” He told us, with wide eyes. “Yeah, he won like five million from that shit! Set his ass up for life. Mother fucker quit the next day. Never saw him again. Heard he was livin’ it up in New Orleans now!” He continued. “Fuck!”, The older guy exclaimed. ” How do you get into that thing, anyway?” He asked. Ron simply replied, “lottery, from what I hear”. Apparently it was just that. Sort of a name drawing between all of plants. Every employee, who had worked for the company for at least a year, was eligible to be entered into a drawing, but only thirty people were chosen. Completely random. Could be all from one plant, or a couple from all plants. Ron shrugged, “Y’never know”, he said, as he strolled off.

Two weeks later, Grant and I were given the news that we had both been selected to attend the event. “What’s the catch?” I asked my portly manager after he gave us the news. “No catch”, he said, “but you’re gonna be gone for a week or so”, he said, dismissively. He handed us a card with the address we had to show up to at ten O’Clock the following Thursday morning. Grant and I just shrugged to each other, and went on about our day. Sure, we couldn’t help but talk about all the things we could do with that sort of money, should that part even be true. I suggested moving to the beach and opening a bar. Grant just said, “I couldn’t give a toss. As long as I don’t have to deal with that bugger anymore”, he sneered, pointing at our screaming douche of a manager, sitting smugly in his air conditioned office, while we sweated our nuts off in the plant.
The next week dragged like hell. We were both excited and a little apprehensive about what was to come. Grant was far more outgoing than myself, but we were both not big fans of being paraded around in front of onlookers. We couldn’t know what this event would entail, mind you. Nobody seemed to know much about it, other than it was a series of games that would raise funds for charity. Yeah, there was a chance to win big money, but only for the winner. Whether there were any consolation prizes for second and third place, nobody knew, but surely everyone would get something for their time. We were assured, however, that we would be paid our full forty hour check for the week away. It was company time, all things considered. There was even talk of some extra vacation days, if we made it to the end. However things went, it didn’t seem like a no win situation, at least. Were we to be disqualified early on, we’d still be given the week off, and be compensated for our time, according to our grimacing boss. Grant and I theorized everything from silly kids games to a fight to the death situation. We laughed pretty hard at that one. We spent the next few hours talking shit to each other about we’d fuck each other up to get to the prize. “Bigger they are, the harder they fall, ya wanker!” Grant said, laughing so hard he could barely get the words out. “Fuck you, you scrawny git!” I replied in a god awful attempt at an English accent. Grant spit half of the water out he’d just chugged. “What the fuck was that supposed to be!?” He chuckled, “sounded like a bloody Aussie giving birth to a hedgehog!”. “Got nothing better to do than cut up!” Our manager yelped, red faced as he turned the corner. “You two don’t get some work done, there will be no festival” he continued, face reddening even more. “Keep this shit up, and there will be no more jobs, for that matter!” He said, almost under his breath as he walked off, in a manner that would suggest he just ate some bad tacos. Grant stood upright and gave his best military salute. I held my breath to attempt to hold back the laughter. That was about how every day went, leading up to the event. We had fun, if nothing else.


Part two.
An interesting way
to spend a summer week.

The day arrived. As instructed, we arrived at the chosen destination a little before ten am. It was a good hour long drive to get there. We thought we had gotten lost at first. Seemed as though we were heading to the middle of nowhere, but we found ourselves at, what appeared to be, an abandoned, old factory, easily twice the size of the one we worked at. It looked like a location that would be prime for a climax of a cheesy eighties action movie. There were at least a good fifteen or so cars in the parking lot when we arrived. A few more showed up while we sat and waited for ten. As soon as everyone appeared to have arrived, a horn bellowed from the old mill. We all looked at each other. Some shrugged and started towards the dilapidated building. We got into the lobby and a fairly large, muscled man was waiting for us. He was wearing a black turtleneck, a suit jacket and dress pants. His stature just screamed ‘mob enforcer’. He was easily half a foot taller than myself, and I stood a little over six feet. He was twice my bulk, too. A side effect of my youth and prison time, I had developed a need to size people up upon meeting them. I doubted I could take this guy. Even if he couldn’t fight, which I highly doubted, one swing from any one of his huge meat hooks, and I’d be spent. We all stared at him as we gathered inside. He just glared until we were all in the building and eventually spoke.

“This all of you?” He said, in a much more gentle voice than I expected. “Maybe I take him”, I thought. Grant was the only one who spoke up. “How the bloody hell are we gonna know if this is all? We weren’t exactly given a ruddy spreadsheet” he said, embracing every single bit of cocky limey he could muster. Everyone laughed. Even the goon in the nice suit. “Fair enough” he said, still chuckling, and sure enough, he pulled out a goddamn spreadsheet. He started calling names and checking off on his sheet. Everyone, it seems, had arrived. He pulled out a large suitcase. “Keys, wallets, watches, pocket knives or any other belongings in your pockets”, he said, loudly. It wasn’t a request. That wasn’t hard to figure out. We all seemed puzzled by this. Glances back and forth, and a lot of reluctance. “Safe keeping. That’s all”, his hugeness assured us. “Keep everyone on a level playing ground” he concluded. Grant looked at me and mouthed “level playing ground?” With his head cocked. The big guy handed out some fairly tough looking ziplock type bags for us to store our things in, and passed around a marker to label them. We were allowed to hold on to our luggage, though he would leaf through them and make sure the bags only contained clothing for the week. He then had us form a line to proceed and drop said bags in the case. “You won’t need any of these things for the next week. If you get disqualified, your belongings will be returned, and you’re welcome to stick around and watch the rest of the games”, he droned, as though he was reading from a script. “Meals will be provided, along with anything else you may have need of. I assure you, everything is taken care of, and your things will be kept safe”, still sounding like the teleprompter was guiding him, but we played along nonetheless. After that was taken care of, he led us back outside where a bus was waiting for us. “Why’d we have to come here if we’re goin’ somewhere else?” A stocky, middle aged man in the back of the crowd asked. “This is the location for the final event”, the goon replied. “When it’s done, there will be a banquet to celebrate the end of the games, and you are welcome to leave, at your own discretion”, he continued. There were shrugs and grunts throughout the group. Some under-breath muttering was silenced when our beefy guide piped in with ,” None of you are under any obligation to stay. Should you wish to leave now, your belongings will be returned and you can get in your vehicles. No harm done”. Some lowered their heads, some nodded, but nobody left. Nothing much more was said. We loaded onto the bus, quite a nice bus, I must say. All the creature comforts. The driver told us the trip would only last a half hour or so, but beverages would be available should we be thirsty.

We arrived at our next location. Seemed to be a local sports stadium. Grant started chuckling a bit. He looked at me, “Fucking gladiator, mate”, he scoffed and slapped me across the arm. I laughed even harder when he loudly exclaimed” We, who are about to die, salute you!”. There were giggles through the crowd, but some didn’t seem to find it funny. We were led into the field to find a lot of well dressed individuals standing in front of several rows of chairs. It seems day one was just an orientation, and a “get to know us” thing. We all sat down, and a tall, slender man in a striped polo shirt and khakis got up to the podium. I’d say he was close to fifty or so. Looked like he’d never had a cut or a bruise in his life. Definitely never done a hard day’s work. Perfectly manicured hands, perfect part in his, probably dyed, jet black hair. Perfectly shaven. Hell, he looked like he didn’t even grow facial hair. Wasn’t even a shadow. He told us he was the owner of the company, Jensen Orchid, himself. This actually caught me off guard a bit. I was not aware that owners of companies, of this nature, would ever see fit to socialize with the grunts. He did, sort of, just stare straight forward as he spoke. Almost like he was looking above our heads, as to not risk inadvertent eye contact with a lesser life form. That’s just the impression I got, anyway. He went on to explain that there were actually only three events to come, over the next week. The first of which was to start the following day.

He didn’t get into what said events were, but said we should try to be well rested. He introduced the folks standing behind him. A very average looking guy named Steve, who was some sort of human resource manager, or something. Two snooty faced, fairly tall women named Vera and Kate, who were recruitment managers. They looked very similar to each other. Same pointy nose, same fine brown hair, tied back into the same tight bun. Vera was a good couple of inches taller than Kate, but they had to be sisters or something. There were several other people, random engineers, department and plant managers. All seemed very important, and seemed to carry the same disapproving stare. None of them seemed remotely enthusiastic about being here. Orchid also introduced the security and medical team, should anyone act out or get hurt. Said team consisted of around fifteen individuals. All seemed fairly large and intimidating. Looked like they all could have been ex-military, or something of the like. Can’t say it didn’t make me feel a bit uneasy. I leaned towards Grant, and whispered, “What the actual fuck is with the goon squad” nodding to the security and medical platoon. Grant shrugged, “stuck up twats probably just want extra protection from us commoners” he replied nonchalantly. Still, it puzzled me why such ‘important’ folk would come to host something like this, themselves. God knows, we weren’t expecting such a royal committee. Feeling uneasy, I started sizing everyone up. Yeah. I could take most of them, individually. One or two would give me some trouble, not even getting into our beast of a guide from the bus, but I doubted I would last long with more than one or two at a time. Grant had gotten in pretty good shape since we first met, but he still wasn’t a fighter. I was getting a bad feeling about this whole thing.

Once the speeches were done with, Mr Orchid walked straight back and out of the stadium, without so much as a glance towards us. A couple of the midgrade manager types came and passed around forms for us to fill out. Waivers and such. Can’t say that didn’t make me a bit nervous. The company was always going on about safety, though. I’m sure it was just to save lawsuits if we tripped over and broke an ankle or something over the course of the week. After the forms were filled out, some of them shot the shit with us for a time. They seemed more down to earth, but still had a bit of superiority to them. After some time, several caterer types rolled in trolleys with heaps of food. Way more than was necessary for thirty folk and a handful of the remaining management. We weren’t complaining though. Grant and I hadn’t eaten since we left the apartment, so we were starved. It was a high quality feast, for sure. Steak, ham, fried chicken, ribs, potatoes, gravy, you name it. They had something for everyone, though Grant seemed upset there was no fish and chips. “Fuckin’ wankers”, he whined while chewing on and especially large drumstick. “Awww, poor wittle baby didn’t get what he wanted”, I said, pouting and rubbing my eyes. Grant spit half of his drumstick out as he burst into laughter. Slugged my shoulder while apologizing to the guys across the table he had almost nailed with chewed up chicken.

After we were all successfully stuffed with food, we were, once more, led to the bus. After about a five minute trip, this time, we ended up at our hotel, which would be our residence for the next week. It was a nice, semi fancy, place. Basic roadside hotel design, but quite large rooms with separate living and bedrooms. Free cable, free room service, pool, gym, laundry, the works. We were all assigned our own rooms as we were the only residents. The company, it seems, had bought out the whole hotel for the week. Our previous guide, the friendly goon, seemed to read from a new script as he pointed out nearby attractions within walking distance. We were welcome to come and go as we pleased, but we’re required to be back to the rooms by midnight, as we were going to have some early mornings over the next week. With that said, he headed out for the night and left us to our own devices. Some of the guys headed out in a group to check out the sights, and others just settled in for the night. It was already sevenish, and it had been a long day. Grant and I took a stroll to the nearby liquor store. We picked up a case of beer and some whiskey and coke, and headed back to the hotel. Though we had our own rooms, Grant ended up crashing on my couch, as we got a little more tipsy than we intended. I staggered to my bed and passed out for the night.
We were awoken by a heavy knock to the door. Well, it seemed heavy to my hungover head. It was around nine thirty and we were to be ready to head out by ten. Grant headed back to his room to shower, and I did the same.

Once more, we all loaded onto the bus and headed to the next location. This would be round one. We were all eager to find out what the deal was, and maybe a little nervous. After another half hour on the bus, we arrived at a parking lot, next to a fairly dense forest. Nothing else was around. Just the bus, two black SUVs, and a whole lot of trees. The rear window lowered on the closest SUV to us. Sure enough, there was good old Jensen Orchid again. He did not get out of the vehicle, though. He had our favorite goon gather us all together, and proceeded to tell us, in a very bored sounding voice, “This will be the location of round one, of the week’s festivities. I will ask you to follow Mr. Green through this forest, to the other side. You will be allowed three hours to complete the task, once it has begun. Any breaking of the rules and you shall be disqualified. We have cameras set up to watch from a different location, plus, you will each be fitted with go pros. You must complete the task, or you will not move on to the next challenge. The winner, should there be one, will be rewarded. There is no prize for runner ups, other than moving on. Thank you, and have fun!” Aside from a lot of apprehension about what this task was to be, I had just realized our bulky guide finally had a name. Mr. Green. Whether this was his real name, or just a nod to the old murder mystery board game, who knew? Mr. Green bellowed for us to form a single file line, and follow him. “Should any of you get separated, give a shout and we’ll stop and wait for you to catch up”, he continued in his best monotone, scripted voice. So, we formed our line and followed him towards the woods. There was a thin trail, nothing particularly fancy, but enough to be able to have a clear route to follow. The landscape of these woods was very tricky to navigate. Lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. Some of the ups were bordering on full-fledged hills. After walking for close to an hour, we cleared the woods and arrived on the other side. Another parking lot with several vehicles already parked.

One of which was a large, glossy black moving truck. Like a classy U-Haul or something. Green gathered us all at the back of the truck and several people in Orchid printed polo shirts started fitting us with what felt like tactical vests. These vests were, apparently, fitted with small cameras on the front and back. Also with GPS, should we get lost and have to be found. “Get lost?” I asked. Green just smiled. ” Don’t worry,” he said, calmly, “This is the easy one.” With a smile. Grant looked at me with a questioning expression. “What the fuck?” He mouthed. I shrugged. I wasn’t feeling great about this, but I’m sure there was no danger. Orchid was a pretty respectable company, and preached safety like the gospel. They surely weren’t going to put us in harm’s way.After the vests were fitted, and cameras tested, Green told us what we were facing. “This one is as simple as it comes. You will all be blindfolded. A helmet will then be placed on your head that will muffle your ears. You will have some hearing, but a bit limited. You will have no vision until reaching the end. Should any of you remove your helmet or blindfold, you will be eliminated. Should any of you not finish, you will be eliminated. Should any of you speak, more than a whisper, in any way that will guide or assist any of your competition, aside from your partner, you will be eliminated!” He seemed to be smiling more as his speech went on, “the task is simple. Get back to the bus.” He said, as though this was the easiest thing in the world. A small, thin older man from the back of the group shouted out, “We have to get through these woods blindfolded and muffled!? What if we get hurt!?” He said, with light panic in his voice. “Yes sir!” Green exclaimed, “that’s all you have to do to proceed to the next event”. He clearly did not understand that this was no easy task. “Should any of you wish, you are still welcome to bow out and be disqualified”, he said with a very condescending tone to his voice. There were mutters through the crowd, but nobody backed out. “In teams of two, you will enter into the woods every two minutes until everyone is in. Your individual time begins as soon as you pass the first tree” he continued,” no two teams will enter at the same spot”. He then had us spread across the face of the forest, each team ten feet apart. “Starting from the furthest from me, you will enter when I blow this whistle”, he blew the whistle as if to introduce us to what a whistle sounded like. “There will be a final horn to indicate the end of the event. It will signify the end of the time limit for the last team to enter to have exited.” He looked across the line at us and asked,”Any questions?”. Nobody said a word. We stood in silence as the crew from the truck blinded and behelmeted us. Once they were convinced everything was in place, and we couldn’t see a goddamn thing, the whistle sounded.

Grant and I were in about the middle of the pack. The whistle sounded every two minutes, so it would be a good half hour before we entered. Grant whispered, “Oy! Can you hear me?” He asked. “Yeah”, I replied, though it wasn’t easy to hear through the helmet. “The trail wasn’t straight”, he said, “We took several wide turns” he continued, “it’s not a straight shot. You with me?” He asked again. “I think so”, I answered hesitantly. “By my reckoning”, he proceeded, “this is the same parking lot we parked in, just further down. If we enter the woods, and stay to the right, we should find our way back”, he finished. “Are you sure?” I questioned. He hesitated for a minute. “Do you trust me?” He asked. “With my life”, I replied. “Stay close. I’ll snap my fingers every minute or so. I’ll get us there. You fall back or anything, clap your hands”, he said. “We got this, mate” he finished. I just replied “ok”. I was unsure, but I did trust him. More than I had ever trusted anyone. Our whistle sounded and we entered without hesitation. Sure enough, Grant started snapping his fingers, once every minute or so. The ground was very uneven. I had to fight to stay on my feet, stumbling against trees from time to time. I had to listen closely to tell his snaps from twigs and branches breaking. The first twenty minutes or so, as far as I could tell, went quite smoothly. I heard others stomping in the distance. Most seemed further off than I would have thought for only a two minute gap between us, but other players were not my concern. I only cared that Grant and I made it to the end. He was far more confident than me, but his confidence made me feel better. My confidence, however, took a turn for the worse when I heard a scream from far off, followed by scuffling and multiple branches breaking. Was there wildlife out here? Did someone just freak out? No telling, but a voice came across speakers apparently mounted in the trees.

“Two players have been disqualified”, echoed from a tree to our left. “Disqualified players, please remain where you are until you can be removed from the field” the speaker finished. Through the confusion, I realized I had not heard a snap for several minutes. “Grant?” I whispered as loud as I thought I could. No reply. I clapped my hands and was starting to panic. I was following his lead and paying no attention to anything other than keeping upright. I started flailing my arms around, trying to grasp anything. I brushed trees with my fingers and almost busted my ass a couple of times after kicking branches on the ground. I heard more scuffling off in the distance, which caused me to whip around. There was a yell and some loud cursing from nearby. I know it wasn’t Grant’s voice. He was easily recognizable. There was a loud slam which sounded like someone hitting a tree with a large limb. The voice came back over the speakers.” Two players have been disqualified. Please remain in place until you can be removed from the game” the same monotone voice spoke. I had become sure it was Mr. Green himself. He seemed heavily involved in these games. Surely he was getting paid a shit ton for this. Way more than we got paid. That’s for sure. Distractions. I didn’t need these fucking distractions. Where the fuck was I!? Where the fuck was Grant? I had gotten myself turned around. I had no idea where I was or where to go, at this point. I was beginning to feel incredibly claustrophobic. Panic was setting in. My heart was racing and I was sweating buckets. “Fuck it” I said under my breath. As I was reaching up to remove my helmet, and forfeit the game, I felt a hand grab my wrist. “I got you, mate” the familiar whisper of my dear friend spoke. I sighed in relief. “Thank fucking god” I whispered. ‘`Nah” Grant said, “not quite” he chuckled. Once more, we were back on course. Another half hour went by fairly uneventfully, aside from another two players being disqualified.

We didn’t hear much this time, aside from the speakers. “Not far off now, I think,” Grant said after another fifteen minutes or so. Almost right after he said that, a blood curdling scream echoed through the woods. I whipped around. I heard what sounded like several people running, maybe thirty yards away. A loud ‘thunk’, which I assumed was someone running into a tree. “Get up!”, A panicked voice yelled. more scuffling, followed by a scream, “NO! STOP!” Muffled voices now sounded as if they were being forced into silence. A loud snapping sound, much more than just a tree branch echoed, and then silence. My heart was racing again. “What the fuck was that?” I whispered, louder than intended. “No clue” Grant said, sounding flustered himself. “We gotta keep going, mate” he said, seemingly trying to sound calmer than he felt. “Two players have been disqualified” the voice spoke over the speakers. “Ninety minutes remain to complete the task” it finished. The fact he did not ask for the eliminated players to stay in place, combined with the commotion we had just heard made me even more uneasy than I was before. “They’re fucking with us, mate” Grant insisted. “Trying to throw us off,” he continued. “We’re close now. I just know it.”. Not ten minutes later, the air around us seemed to become fresher, somehow. The ground evened out and became solid. Concrete! That was fucking concrete! “Congratulations” a familiar voice said as our helmets were removed. The blindfold was pulled from our heads giving way to light that felt so bright it would burn my eyes out. “Give it a minute. Let your eyes adjust slowly” Green said. “Holy shit!” I said, heart still thumping, “we fucking did it!” I laughed. Grant just smiled and gave me a wink. After we regained our bearings, I asked Green what those noises were.

“Random obstacles and actors were staged throughout to have a bit of fun with anyone who came across them” he snickered like a kid who just got away from stealing a candy bar from the local pharmacy. “You two got lucky. You weren’t the first to make it out, but you did well” he said, still smiling. Grant seemed to be studying Green. He had an expression I had never seen from him. Somewhere between doubt and frustration, with a side of ‘fuck you’. “You alright, mate?” I asked, knowing well how ridiculous I sounded when I tried to throw ‘mate’ into a sentence. Normally, Grant would mock me when I tried, but this time he just gave me a half smile and said “alright, mate” with very little emotion. He was spooked, or something. Maybe he was just tired and hurting. I noticed several scratches and cuts on his arms from the blind journey. Perhaps he was just annoyed by the situation. I was scratched up pretty good, myself, but I was just too excited to be out of there and able to see again. I would even say I felt a little exhilarated from the experience. Another group came staggering from the woods, which finally broke Grant’s stare down of Mr Green. “I wonder how many are left?” I asked, almost to myself. “No telling, really.” Grant replied, sounding more himself again, “I’m ready for a bloody pint, though” he continued, laughing a little bit. I looked at him for a moment. He tilted his head as if to ask why. “Thank you, Grant. I wouldn’t have made it through without you” I said, sincerely. “About time I had your back, for once. Lost count of how many times you’ve had mine” he laughed and slugged me.on the arm. “How the hell do you have such a good sense of direction, anyway?” I asked, still laughing a little. “That’s a conversation for another time, mate,” he said with a wink. He smiled and nodded in the direction of two more stumbling out of the woods. They were in rough shape. Torn clothes, blood trickling down from their arms and legs and they were both covered in dirt. One of them had a nasty gash on the side of their neck. Two of the polo shirts came running up and started cleaning their wounds. “Guess this is what the waiver was for” I stated, shrugging my shoulders. Grant pulled out a couple of cigarettes and lit them both. Handed me one and said “this is just round one” as he strolled away from the curb.

After some time, a loud buzzer sounded, signalling the end of the game, or at least the end for the last team who entered. A total of fourteen players had emerged from the woods, including myself and Grant. Aside from the nine who were disqualified, another seven never made it out. A group of the polos headed in with GPS devices to track them down, and lead them out, along with the other disqualified nine. Green instructed us ‘survivors’ to get on the bus. When I asked about the others, he pointed at another, far less pretty bus across the parking lot. He told us they were free to stick around and watch the rest of the games, but would no longer be staying in the hotel. They’d have to find new lodgings should they wish to stay. They’d be taken back to their vehicles for the time being. Grant still seemed distant. He seemed to be studying Green again as we loaded up. By the time we got back to the hotel, he seemed back to himself. Green told us the rest of the night and tomorrow, we were free to do whatever we wanted. The next event would not commence until the following day. Grant looked at me with an intense, serious look on his face. Caught me off guard, until he said, in a dramatically serious tone “let’s get pissed”, then he burst into laughter, as did I. We asked the other contestants if they’d like to get in on said pissing. Four of them were up for it, while the other ten chose to just head back to their rooms. We hadn’t really had a chance to get to know anyone, so this would be our chance. We hit up the liquor store again, with our new friends Brandon, Chuck, Dwayne and Larry. We brought our drinks to the pool at the hotel, and just shot the shit for the remainder of the evening. Brandon and Dwayne both worked at the same plant. Chuck and Larry both worked at separate plants. Brandon and Dwayne were pretty tight. They’d worked together for years, ever since they got out of prison some six years ago. Grant and I were struck by the coincidence, at first, but brushed it off to try to enjoy the evening. That was, until Chuck spoke about his prison time, at which point Larry mentioned he was an ex con too.

We all became silent for a moment. “What are the odds that six cons got randomly picked for this little shindig? ”, Grant asked. “Pretty good, it seems,” Chuck said, and started laughing. He was a big country boy. Seemed a good sort, though perhaps not the sharpest tack in the room. Brandon, a tall, stocky African American said, “No. The odds are not good at all.” He was a very intelligent sounding guy, though somewhat soft spoken. “If we were to ask the others if they had done time, what do you think the odds are on that?” He continued. I started to stand up, to go ask that very question. Grant put his hand on my shoulder, “Another time, mate”. He said, somberly. “We earned a bit of relaxation tonight,” he concluded. Given the head rush I experienced upon attempting to stand, I had to agree. The day’s events, combined with the healthy amount of alcohol we’d already put away, made me happy to just chill right where I was. Grant reached into the bag from the liquor store and pulled out a handful of cigars. “Who wants one?” He exclaimed to the group. We all happily received one. For the rest of the night, we smoked, drank and laughed. Grant ‘accidentally’ nudged me into the pool at one point causing a lot of drunk laughter to echo our private hotel experience. He reached his hand to help me up. Of course I had to pull him in. At that, everyone jumped in. Brandon was the only one that had the sense to at least take off his shirt first. This was the happiest and most relaxed I’d felt since this whole thing started. As the night of drinking took its toll, we all said our goodnights and headed back to our rooms.

Today’s hangover was not as bad as the last. Maybe no wake up call allowed me to sleep it off better. Maybe I just had the sense to eat more this time. Either way, I decided to just take our free day to lounge a bit. About an hour or so after I woke up, Grant came strolling in and flopped down on the couch. Didn’t say much, just gave a quick nod of acknowledgement and settled into watching the cheesy action movie I had playing on the TV. We sat there for a while in silence. When the credits started to roll on the movie, Grant spoke up. “Reckon we should talk to the others?” He asked. I had completely forgotten about the coincidence from the previous night. I suddenly felt my neck tense up. I felt like something wasn’t right about all this. I think I had felt that from the start, but something was off. I could hear it in his voice. “Yeah” I answered. Didn’t feel like elaborating any more than that. I think I wasn’t prepared to find out. We headed out of the room. Decided to go to each door together. Of course, we had no idea which room was which, and which rooms were now empty, so we just went door to door like we were selling bibles. Grant enjoyed that metaphor, so he started asking every occupant who answered the door if we could come in for a moment and talk about Christ. It added a bit of fun to an otherwise awkward subject matter. Most rooms were currently empty. We never came across the guys from the previous night. We assumed they had headed out for the day. Five rooms were occupied, though. And each of its residents were, indeed, ex cons. We didn’t feel the need to grill anyone else, regardless of when they showed back up. Couldn’t argue with the math at this point. Grant also remarked “not only is it only cons that were ‘randomly’ drawn for this, but all blokes too”. Another point I hadn’t even thought of until now.

“It’s a bloody purge” he said, matter of factly. We got back to my room and picked up the phone to call the front desk. Nobody answered. It just rang. Not even any voicemail or answering machine. So, we headed down to the front desk on foot. They, likely, didn’t have any answers for us, but surely they could contact those that may. We were not surprised to find the lobby deserted. “They rented out the hotel for the whole week. Maybe they didn’t feel they had to staff it?” I said in a half question. Grant shrugged. “We’re not getting anywhere today,” he said, lighting a cigarette. He offered me one, and I was happy to accept. We decided to go for a walk. “Can’t just sit here,” Grant said firmly. I had no idea where we were going, but I was going to follow his lead. Somehow, I had a feeling there was a fight coming for us. Round two was tomorrow. “We could just leave”, Grant suggested. “We could,” I replied. “Yeah. I need to know, too” he said, not even looking at me. We knew we were on the same page. If this was going where we thought, we had nowhere safe to go back to. We could be overreacting. It could just be the biggest coincidence in history. Hell, maybe former inmates made up a bigger portion of Orchid than we knew. Either way. We were getting answers tomorrow. We walked the streets until night fell. Grant suggested we should get an early night. We needed to be well rested if a fight was coming. Oh yeah. We were gonna sleep great tonight, I thought.

We awoke early the next morning. Can’t say it had been the best night’s sleep, but it was something. There was still a couple of hours until Green would show up, so we decided we had to try to talk with the others. To our surprise, everyone else was down by the pool when we got outside. As we approached, we could tell we were all of similar minds about this. ” I say, we confront them. If they won’t give us answers, like real fucking answers, we all bail.” Brandon said. “But we’ll be disqualified”, Chuck replied. “Fuck this game!”, One of the others said, “you really think there’s a prize at the end of this?” He continued. Things went on like this for a while. Finally Grant spoke up, having more authority in his voice than I’d ever heard, “We have to be on the same page, boys. We ask our questions, if we don’t like what we hear, we bail out. Together, yeah?”. “What if they won’t let us leave?” Chuck asked. “Then we make them let us leave” I said. Most agreed. There was still a bit of back and forth, but we were set with purpose. Chuck, and another portly guy seemed very apprehensive, but we were prepared to protect them, if we could. As if to put a nail in the conversation, the bus came rolling in around nine thirty, followed by one of the black SUVs from the previous task. They parked, and Green came strolling out of the bus, as the rear door on the SUV opened to reveal Jensen Orchid once again, in all his glory. He was wearing a very nice suit, like he’d just come from an important meeting or something. Green was still rocking the black turtleneck and suit jacket. Orchid came walking up beside Green, adjusting his cufflinks like he was posing for a poster for the next big spy movie. “It would seem we have a problem,” he said calmly.

Orchid stood there, staring at us with his head held high, looking down at us. Green said “speak up, then”. We stared in silence for a moment. “It’s no coincidence we’re all ex cons, is it?” I demanded, breaking the awkward silence. “Well, this thing is not quite as random as we may have previously suggested”, Orchid said, with a small smile. “What’s really going on here?” Brandon asked. “Nothing quite as nefarious as you are thinking, dear boy” Orchid said with a strong tone of condescension. “Oh, you are so much better than us, aren’t you Mr. O?” Grant sneered. Orchid laughed. Even his fucking laugh had a heir of superiority to it. “My boy, that is not the question here. The question is, are you still interested in becoming a rich man?” He said, arrogantly. There were murmurs through the crowd. “What are you saying?” Chuck asked in a squeak. He seemed quite meek for such a big guy. Orchid gave Green a nod. Green walked over to the SUV, as another suited individual in the back seat handed out a large leather bag. He brought it over and handed it to Orchid. “Given the misunderstanding, we have decided to skip to the final event. The winner of which will win this bag.” He said with a slight levity to his voice. “Do you know what’s in the bag?” He asked, as though speaking to a class of first graders. “How the fuck are we gonna know what’s in the bloody bag” Grant belted. “You mind your fucking tone!” Green snapped. Orchid placed his hand on Green’s shoulder. “Now-now, Clive.” He said, like he was speaking to his favorite puppy. He unzipped the bag to reveal it was packed to the rim with hundred dollar bills. “Within this bag lies fifteen million dollars, tax free, which could still belong to the winner, should you choose to compete” he droned on. You could hear a pin drop. “Prizes like that aren’t won without spilling some blood,” Grant said, calmly. “Do you have the guts to find out?” Asked Orchid. “Tell you what. Everyone load up onto the bus. We’ll take you back to your vehicles, which is also where the final event is to take place. Talk about it on the ride. Should you choose to compete, the event will continue as planned. If not, you’ll be at your vehicles and may leave at your discretion. We shall only allow the event to proceed if at least half of you choose to continue. If not, we part ways upon arriving. Your choice” he said, smiling the whole time. “What do you say?” He asked. We quickly discussed and agreed to board the bus. Afterall, we needed to get back to our rides either way. We talked a lot on the ride back to the old factory. Ultimately, we decided to opt out when we got there. The prize was tempting, but we were not willing to get blood on our hands for it. We’d all done time for previous mistakes and this wasn’t going to be a fight we could win.

We arrived at the old building. Mr Green ushered us into the lobby, once more. The place looked different, somehow. Darker and more, I don’t know, sinister almost. I could have just been seeing shit, though. He pointed us to a stairway to our left. One I had not noticed the first time. “We’re not going to play,” I said. “You told us we part ways here if we choose not to continue.” I insisted. “Please”, he said, holding his hand towards the stairs. Chuck headed for the door only to find it had locked behind us. “What the fuck is this!?” He yelped. “Please”, Green said again, standing like a statue next to the stairs. “Let us out, Green” I ordered. As two men came from a room to the right, another location I had not previously noticed. They drew guns from their hips. “Please”, Green said once more, with a slight grin. “Sod it”, Grant barked and headed up the stairs. I followed, as did the others. It was a long flight of stairs. Longer than seems possible, even with the height of the building from the outside. We were walking for, easily, a good ten minutes. I was feeling quite winded by the time we reached the top. The stairs led to a large, ornate door that opened into a huge, cathedral type room. The walls were lined with large chairs, each with well dressed individuals sitting upon them. Maybe a hundred, in all. Men and women all in their best suits and dresses. You could almost smell the money on them. The room was quite dark, only lit by candles that lined the room, mounted to the walls. At the far end of the room stood an altar with a large book resting on it.

There was a statue of a half man half goat against the far wall. Orchid, himself, stood by the altar, surrounded by our old security crew, all armed with semi auto weapons. “Fuck me”, Grant said, loudly. The audience laughed and jeered. They started yelling and cheering as we entered. Green lined us up in front of the altar. It was very ornate as the gunmen approached us and took their place behind us. The gold and jeweled altar looked like it set them back a few million. The bag of cash was sitting on one of the large chairs next to where Orchid stood. “Welcome”, he said, arms outstretched. “Y-you said we could leave”, Chuck stuttered. “Of course you can, my boy”, Orchid said, proudly. “T-then, I-I’m leaving. “You sure you don’t want to try for the prize?” Orchid said. His eyes were wide, and he had a crazy smile on his face. “F-fuck the money!” Chuck said. The crowd roared with laughter. One older woman, wearing about forty pounds of jewelry was laughing so hard, she started to choke. The older gent beside her, presumably her husband, started smacking her on the back which only caused more laughter from the crowd. Orchid, still chuckling, said “very well then. Allow me to shake your hand before we send you on your way” he said, hand outstretched. “Don’t do it, Chuck”, I said, grabbing his arm. He shook my arm off and yelped “fuck you!”, Spitting with the words. He walked towards the altar, legs shaking. You could tell he was terrified, but just wanted to get as far as he could from here. Orchid grabbed his hand and pulled him into an embrace. He pulled back, still holding Chuck’s hand. “We certainly do hate to see you go, dear boy” he said, with a very fake pout in his face, “but these good people paid for entertainment!” He spat.

He whipped his other hand from his back, holding a large, ornate knife. He swung it down onto Chuck’s wrist, separating it from his hand. Chuck screamed in pain and shock. I stood there slack jawed as Grant started to head towards the screaming Chuck. “No!” I yelled and grabbed him. He was trying to struggle free, but I wouldn’t let him. The gunmen raised their weapons to the back of our heads as Green calmly said, “stay doggies” with a sneer. Orchid waved Chuck’s hand above his head, spraying blood all over himself, “Give the man a hand!” He screamed madly, while the crowd roared. Chuck was trying to get back on his feet as Orchid picked him up by his hair and spun him around to look at us. “One player has been disqualified” he said softly through gritted teeth while holding his laughter. He quickly pulled his blade across Chuck’s midsection, spilling his insides to the floor. Chuck was screaming and wailing. Grant was fighting hard to break free of my grasp, but I wouldn’t let him go. “They’ll fucking kill you!” I demanded. Orchid then proceeded to slice through Chuck’s neck. Back and forth until he hit bone. He started twisting the head from side to side until the bone finally gave way, and Chuck’s head was held high above his, blood spewing down on him.

Grant finally stopped trying to get to them. His body gave out and we both fell to our knees. We were all shook. Was this really happening? Brandon was shaking his head from side to side, muttering “This ain’t real. This shit ain’t real…” the crowd was cheering and yelling their praises for the show. Orchid finally dropped Chuck’s head to the floor. Grabbed a towel from the floor and wiped his face off. He was still drenched in Chuck’s blood, and it was now smeared across his face. He signalled to one of the remaining guards beside him, who brought him a wet towel to wipe off with. He wiped his face and hair down, and tossed the towel back at the guard, who walked off with the bloodied rag. Orchid, then, did something very strange. After he was sure his hands were clean enough, he opened the large book that was on the altar. He pulled a fountain pen, with a long black feather from a small drawer and dipped the tip into the bloodied stump from where Chuck’s head used to reside. He then wrote something in the book and blew on the page. He then looked towards us again. “Do you know what this is?” He asked, sounding far less maniacal than before. Nobody answered. We were all still stunned by what we had just seen. “This is Lucifer’s Bible” he said matter of factly. “You see, not only are these good people to your sides placing bets on this week’s festivities, but every name we enter into this unholy book is another soul we offer to the dark lord himself. For which we are immensely rewarded!” He held his arms out wide and his head high. “You’re taking a fucking piss!” Grant belted out.

Green smacked him across the back of his head with the butt a gun he pulled from his shoulder holster. “Show some respect you fucking maggot!” He barked. Grant looked ready to burst. “You mock me, boy?” Orchid sneered. “You mind your tongue in front of your betters’ ‘. That sent a chill up my spine, as I saw my father looking down at me through his eyes. Same arrogance and superiority. I could tell Grant wanted to say more, but he chose to stay silent, to my relief. We would have both ended up bloody and dead next to Chuck if he kept up. “Now. As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, this bible has been part of the Orchid family for generations. It is only by my generous nature, I choose to include all of these good people” he said, proudly, gesturing to his adoring crowd. “I only allow the best breed to be part of this venture, and we have all flourished from this endeavor”. “You’re barking”, Grand said under his breath. Green moved towards him again. Orchid held his hand up to signal Green to stand down. He regarded Grant. “You’re a brave one”, he stated. “I can respect that,” he said, nodding his head and staring deep into Grant’s eyes. They stared at each other for a moment. “One more word from you, and I’ll have your friend’s hands cut off, and he’ll still be expected to compete in the final task” he said, coldly. “We’ve been watching all of you, these past few days. We know where your allegiances lie. We have become quite familiar with who and what you are” he continued. “Do we understand each other?”

He submitted. Grant nodded slowly. “Good boy”, Orchid said with a smirk, patting Grant on the head. My heart was racing, and I could tell Grants was too. He was breathing heavily. I knew it was taking all of his self control to stay silent. I had to admit, I was feeling the same way. I wanted to charge the mother fucker right here and now, but I knew the goon squad would drop me before I even got close. Orchid looked at me and smiled widely. I got the feeling he knew exactly what I was thinking. He tilted his head as if to say “Go on then”. I just stared back with all the contempt I could fit into my gaze. I never thought I could hate anybody more than my father. With an expression of grandeur, Orchid spoke once more, “Now, onto today’s festivities, unless anyone has any more interruptions” he smirked at Grant, daring him to speak up. Grant just turned his head to the side in disgust. We looked at each other for a moment. I’m not entirely sure what was in my friend’s eyes as he looked back at me. It was something I’d never seen before. Something determined and filled with anguish. I strangely got the feeling he could rip Orchids head off right now without batting an eye. Luckily, he chose to remain still. For now. You fourteen. Well. Thirteen now, will be separated throughout this quite remarkable building. You will not have any clue to your competition’s whereabouts, but that is not your concern.” He stopped and smiled for a moment. “You see” he continued, “All you have to do is find your way back here. This is not much different from your previous task” He smiled wider. We looked at each other. We knew, now, that the disqualified players from the last game now had their bloody name in his precious book. “Along the way, you will find traps, surprises and some things that your mind will not be able to grasp,” he laughed, and continued, ” you will also find weapons. Weapons with which you may choose to lessen the playing field. Remove some of your competition. Either way, you will not make it out of this challenge unscathed. The building, you see, demands blood. You will not be able to find your way back here until it’s had its fill. That being said, If more than one makes it back to this room, we shall be forced to have, shall we call it a tie breaker.” He stopped and looked at each of us, one by one. “There can only be one winner. No prize for second best.” His smile faded.” I think I already know who to put my money on.” He said softly, glaring into Grant’s eyes. “Do not let me down.” The crowd roared. The guards behind us put bags over our heads. We struggled to break free as they stuck needles in our arms. Everything went dark.


Part three.
Blood, bodies and door knobs.


I awoke some time later to the bellowing sound of a voice emitting from a speaker on the wall. “As promised, you have been randomly scattered throughout the building. We will be watching your adventure from now until it’s completion, so please make it entertaining.” The disembodied voice of Jensen Orchid laughed. “Welcome to Hell. Do try to enjoy your stay.” He laughed maniacally and the speaker went silent. My head was spinning. Having been put to sleep in one location, and awakening in another, one very unfamiliar, I was having some trouble finding my bearings. After a few minutes, I finally started taking in my surroundings. I surprisingly found myself in what appeared to be a very nice bedroom. A large bay window to the left of the incredibly comfortable bed I was laying on. The room was well lit, yet there were no physical lights. No lamps, no overhead light, and the light in the room did not feel like artificial light, somehow. If that makes any sense. I approached the large window and swung open the curtains to reveal a window staring out onto a gorgeous beach. “Are we still in the factory?” I thought out loud. I opened the window, which unlatched and opened like a brand new window. No stiffness, no paint chipping. The ocean breeze hit me like a literal breath of fresh air. I could hear the waves crashing against the rocks at the far end of the shore line. It was warm, and very inviting. “Hallucinogens”, I said aloud. I glanced up at the speaker on the wall, as if I was actually making contact with another person. “You gave us fucking hallucinogens.” I stared out into the ocean a little longer before the voice returned. “No, Mr Bourdon. No drugs in your system, other than a simple anesthetic that you have since recovered from” the voice spoke. The speaker went silent again. The beach was hypnotic. I wanted so badly to leap from my window and jump into the inviting ocean. “Nope.” I said to myself. “I ain’t that gullible.” I turned away from the beautiful scenery. I had to get out of this room, and not through the window. The rest of the room was very nice. Hardwood floor, with a very classy rug splayed across it. The walls were wooden, also. They almost appeared to be walls you would expect to see in a pleasant log cabin on a mountain side. There were framed pictures on the wall of, what I assumed, was a representation of the hotel I was supposed to believe I was in at the moment. It was a large, gothic looking building fit with gargoyles on the roof and the works. Big eerie looking mother fucker, but looked like a place only the wealthy could afford to stay for the weekend. There were five framed pictures all together, showing this hotel through five different generations.

The last, and oldest of which appeared to be an old west setting, though the hotel itself did not appear to fit in a western setting. I still wasn’t convinced this wasn’t the drugs, but I was sure this wasn’t real. Whether it was drugs or an elaborate set and some nifty special effects, it wasn’t real. Looking closer at the pictures, the building looked exactly the same in every one, though it appeared larger in each image. Not like the image was blown up or anything. It looked the same, but was significantly larger compared to people, trees and vehicles and such. The most recent image, or the one that appeared more recent, almost looked like toy trucks and cars were parked outside of it. It just didn’t scale like real things do. “Mind fuck” I mumbled. The more I studied the framed pictures, I noticed the surroundings were not the same from image to image. Yes, they were through different generations, but the landscape wasn’t the same, whether other buildings and parking lots were present or not. Also, not one of the photos showed a beach. I turned to look out the window again, almost to assure myself that there was indeed a beach. “Fuck this”, I said aloud, once more. I had decided to get the hell out of this room. There was a door almost parallel to the window on the other side of the room. As I approached, and outstretched my hand to grab the door knob, my hand bumped into the wall. What I assumed to be a door was just a very realistic painting of a door. More realistic and three dimensional than any I had ever seen.

Even holding my hand to the image of the door knob, it felt real. It felt like I could just wrap my fingers around it. I pounded on the wall/door. It was solid. It felt and sounded like I was hitting a concrete block, but I rubbed my hand across it and it felt like smooth wood. This made no fucking sense. None at all. I scanned the room for any sign of an exit point. Nothing. Four flat walls, one with a large window and one with a goddamn picture of a door. “Window it is” I sighed.

I leaned out of the window to see I appeared to be on the second floor. Not too bad. I climbed out of the window and hung from the ledge. I dropped straight down, right into the sand. The beach came directly up to the hotel. No paving or sidewalk. Just the beach and building. To be honest, I was quite surprised to actually hit the beach I had seen from the window. I was halfway expecting it to be an illusion, and I’d fall to my death from twenty floors up, or even land on spikes cleverly hidden by the illusion. I took my shoes off and rolled up my pant legs. For one, I didn’t want sand in my shoes. Two, I couldn’t resist feeling the sand between my toes. It felt heavenly. I know I had to figure out my way back. Truthfully, I would be happy to stay here, wherever here was, for a bit longer, but I had to find Grant. Who knows what sort of situation he was in. Orchid clearly did not care for his ‘disrespect’, and I had no doubt he would want to make an example of him. Even with that in mind, I still took a moment to walk down to the shore. To feel the waves rush over my feet and just breathe the ocean air. My head felt clearer now. As the waves rushed over my feet, I started to realize how quiet it was. No seagulls squawking above. No rustling of leaves on the trees. No trees, for that matter. I turned to look back at the hotel I had dropped from. This was not the hotel in the pictures on the wall. It was four floors. An elegant looking beachfront hotel, but nothing gothic or eerie. Just a regular building. I walked back towards the hotel, and hoped to find the entrance. I started walking along the outside walls. I passed the windows of the ground floor rooms. All locked and with curtains drawn. I tried to pry a couple open along the way. I walked maybe fifty feet until I found the end of the rear side of the building, and followed it around. More windows. More rooms. After a while, I had successfully walked the entire length of the building on all sides. No doors. No entrance. Just rooms and windows. I made more effort to open some of the windows. I found some large rocks and tried to smash some of them when they all proved to be locked. Nothing. Not a scratch. It reminded me of the painting of the door. It felt like I was slamming rock to boulder, not glass. Clearly I was meant to escape this place. Not to re-enter. I scanned the surrounding area, back from what I assumed to be the front of this structure, though that was impossible to tell. Sand surrounded me. It was like this place was erected right in the center of the beach. The only landmark I had was the ocean.” Can’t walk that way”, I thought.

So I chose to walk straight in the direction away from the water. The far end of the shore line on each side gave way to rocks. I could possibly traverse them, but I assumed they were more of a sign saying ‘not this way’. So I started walking. About ten minutes into my stroll, I noticed I could still hear the waves as clear as before. I turned back, expecting to see the hotel right behind me still, but no. I could still see it in the distance. Seemed farther off than I would have thought after ten minutes of waking, but I didn’t question it. Just shrugged it off as one of the lesser parts of today’s dose of what the fuck. I continued walking. It wasn’t hot, well, not overly. It felt nice, if I’m being honest. Pleasant breeze, sand between my toes. If it wasn’t for everything else this day had shown me, I’d actually be enjoying myself. After about an hour, I started to make out a shape in the distance ahead of me. I picked up the pace to a light jog. Not the easiest thing in sand, but I made better time. As I got closer, sand gave way to gravel. I brushed the sand off my feet with my hand, and put my shoes back on and stopped for a moment. It was at this moment that I realized how much I could use a smoke. My cigarettes were still in my pocket. I drew one from the pack and gave it a sniff. Paranoid, perhaps, but a laced cigarette would be a shitty way to go after all this. Everything checked out, so I lit it and dragged it deeply. As the smoke cleared from the first deep inhale, I looked towards the shape I was nearing. This was the building from the images lining the wall of the hotel room. It was still a good distance off, but I knew that was it.

I started walking again. Somewhat slower than before, but I suddenly did not feel in a rush to reach my destination. The closer I got, the larger the building appeared. Still the length of a football field away, this monstrosity looked larger than if I was standing right at it’s door. My heart started racing again. I had no idea what was coming, but it was not going to be remotely as pleasant as my classy hotel room at the beach. I reached what appeared to be the entrance. Two ginormous doors stood closed in front of me. I must have looked like a kid’s doll next to this place. The doors were maybe thirty feet tall, and as many wide, between the two. What caught me even more by surprise were the doorknobs. Two regularly sized door knobs protruded from the doors just as far from the ground as a regular doors knobs would have. I wanted to get to Grant. I wanted to know he was safe. I couldn’t know if he was even here. Perhaps all of us were scattered to different hotels from different sections of wherever the fuck this place was. I walked backwards from the doors and glanced from side to side. I needed to scope this place out. Lighting another smoke, I started to walk the length of the building to the left of the doors. I don’t think huge is a big enough word to describe this mammoth. I kept glancing up as I walked forward. The architecture of this place was amazing, to my untrained eye, anyway. I couldn’t even tell what it was made of. Didn’t look like brick and mortar. Sure as shit wasn’t wood or sheetrock and siding. It almost seemed… Nope. Not ready to think that out loud. My thoughts were so busy, I didn’t even realize a half hour had passed since I started spanning the face of this building. There was still no end in sight. Had it looked this wide from a distance? I could have sworn it just looked like it did in the photographs from way off. I turned back around to see the double doors still right behind me. “Yep”, I said out loud. Exactly what I was expecting at the hotel. They got me with this one. I momentarily considered walking to the right, and trying again, but I knew that wouldn’t work. I took one last drag from one last cigarette, dropped it to the ground and squashed the cherry with my shoe. “Here goes nothing'”, I sighed, reaching out to grab the door knob.

The knob turned a lot easier than I expected. The door felt lighter than I would have thought as I swung it open. I stepped through to find a wide open room. Darkly lit and large winding staircase on either side. The coloring and design of the place was very reminiscent of the room we are meant to return to. Strangely, everything was more in line with normal scale. I stepped backwards out of the door and looked up to see the same giant one I had opened. I walked back in to find a normal sized door behind me. Had I grown larger upon stepping through? Did the building shrink to fit me when I entered? I shook my head and walked all the way in. The door slammed behind me, louder than such a small door would sound. “Yep” I said again, sighing loudly. I wandered on. The room was massive, even at normal building scale. I could only imagine how large it would be if it compared to how it looked from the outside. The walls were the same glossy black as the exterior, though it did not resemble any paint or material I was familiar with. There were subtle sounds from all around me. Creaks and hums, almost as if the walls were breathing and expanding and contracting as it’s lungs filled and deflated. My footsteps cause a strange sort of echo. Not quite like sound vibrations bouncing off the walls, but hard to pinpoint quite was was off about them. The air seemed stale and there was a scent of something unnatural. It wasn’t unpleasant, mind you. I didn’t recoil from the odor in disgust, but I didn’t like it either. Maybe like an old library, filled with thousands of tomes from ages gone by. There were rooms to either side of me, but something told me the stairs were to be my destination.

As I stepped towards the staircase to my left, I looked up to see what was ahead of me. It seemed to go on forever! The staircase led to the next level, which in turn had its own staircase that led to the next, and so on. It was impossible to get a read on how many floors there were. It just kept going up until my eyes could not register anything else. I let out another heavy sigh. There was no telling how many stairs I’d have to climb to get where I needed to go. Not to mention I had no fucking clue where Grant or anyone else may be. I had just raised my foot to the first step when I heard a blood curdling scream, made even more unnerving due to the strange echo. I stepped back. Where did that even come from? I gave it a few minutes before I tried again. Before I could even raise my foot, the scream came again. As I would soon discover, this was not just one scream, but three. They belonged to the three people that came falling from one of the higher floors. I looked up and saw them flailing towards me. I ran and jumped to one side as the first landed with a loud splat. Two more followed directly after. I shuffled back on my ass, as far away as I could get from the mess of corpses that had just fallen on top of each other. I started hyperventilating. Gasping for breath, I was still trying to slide away from the bloody mound of human flesh and bone. My back hit a wall and I tried my best to slow my breathing back down. Last thing I needed was to pass out in a place like this. It took a moment, but I managed to regulate my breathing. Tried to steady my shaking limbs. I had to know who these three were. “Please don’t be Grant” I muttered to myself over and over. My legs shaking, I edged closer to what was left of the lump in the center of the room. They had fallen from high. Very high, by the look of what was left of them. I couldn’t make out faces, but hair, perhaps. The clothes they were wearing, maybe. I was still dressed the same as I was before we boarded the bus this morning. Surely everyone else was still dressed as they were before too. Brown hair. Red hair, and blonde. “Fuck” I thought. Grant has blonde hair. His hair is long, though. He had it tied into a ponytail today. This was short hair. The ginger and the brunette, both had shaggy hair, from what I could tell. Red hair was James, I realized. I hadn’t talked to him much, but he was the only redhead. Blonde had to be Clancy, going by the blue t-shirt. It had a painted hotrod in it. Yeah. That was Clancy. He was pretty quiet. Seemed a nice guy. Young though. Couldn’t have been more than early twenties.

“Poor kid” I sighed. The brown hair, though. Several of the guys had brown hair. Green shirt. Red stripes? Or is that blood? I pulled the shirt a bit with my foot, fighting against the lump that formed in my throat due to the sound the pile made when my foot made contact. Green and red. That’s what Chuck was wearing. “What the fuck?” I said aloud. Maybe they threw his body over the rail? I started to walk away from this mess, and just assumed it was body disposal of a sort, when I noticed the stitches. The bodies had basically exploded on top of each other. Which one was which was impossible to tell, but it looked as though Chuck’s head had been stitched back on to his body. “Nope. Hell fucking no!” I said, backing away from the bodies. I made for the stairs again, as I heard an awful sound. It was a bubbling, squelching sound. I turned to see the bodies wriggling and bubbling. They seemed to be shrinking, almost. I realized they were dissolving into the floor. “The building demands blood” I whispered, echoing Orchids words from earlier. I turned and sprinted up the steps without so much a thought of looking back.

I was about four floors up before I stopped to take a breath. I was dying for a smoke, but didn’t think the building would like that too much, as preposterous as that was to even think. I heard voices maybe two floors up. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they sounded somewhat familiar from what I could hear. I started to head towards the next flight, when my mind went crazy with thoughts of what had happened to the guys that hit the floor. Was there a fight? Were they trying to ‘lessen the competition’? Was something else attacking them? Orchid said surprises, and nothing I have seen since awakening in the hotel by the beach made any fucking sense at all. “Surprises”, I said aloud. “You ain’t fucking lying!” I exclaimed. I decided to head towards the voices. They didn’t seem to be in any sort of argument. The talking sounded calm, from what I could make out. “Yeah” I thought. The idea of having someone, anyone to talk to about all this craziness set my mind at ease a little. I headed for the steps. I hurried up the first flight and onto the next. I leapt two steps at a time to try to reach them quicker. Three more floors up now, and the voices still seemed higher up. “Of course!” I barked, “God forbid anything be fucking easy in this goddamn place!” I yelled, loudly. The voices stopped. “Fuck” I thought. “Scared them off”.

I continued up the stairs. Two more floors up, the voices started again. They sounded much closer now. The very next floor, they seemed to be coming from a room to the right of the stairs. They definitely sounded familiar. I knew those voices. My heart raced quicker than it had since I experienced death from above. My hand was shaking as I raised it to the door knob. I turned it and opened the door. I don’t remember entering the room. I only recall opening the door. I found myself standing inside the room with the door closed to my back. My jaw hung agape as, in front of me, my parents stood. It was them. I knew it was them, but they looked different, somehow. Younger and less worn down by life than I had ever seen them. They turned to look at me. I suddenly realized that they towered above me as they came closer. I looked at my hands and gasped as the hands of a child lay before my gaze. “What….the….fuuuuuck!?” I cried aloud in a voice that almost made me want to laugh for a moment. It was the voice of a child.

I was a kid again! I felt my face and my hair. I looked at my holy socks on my tiny feet. This couldn’t be real, could it? My father bore down on me, so much larger than I ever remembered him being. His features were contorting in unnatural ways. It was his face, but it almost seemed stretched over a larger skull or something. He looked young and happy when I first came in. What was this? He picked me up by my shoulders. A feeling I remembered all too well. “Do you see what you fucking did to us!?!” He screamed in my face. His breath was foul. A smell like I had never encountered. It almost burned my nostrils and my eyes. I had to fight from throwing up in his face. My mother came staggering up beside him, the same stretched and contorted face, “We were so happy before YOU!” She said, calmly before screaming the last word. Her breath was as bad as her husband’s. Spit flew out of her mouth and into my slack jawed, gaping mouth. I gagged. I didn’t want to taste it, but I couldn’t not. It tasted so much worse than the smell would have suggested. I puked. I threw up all over my parents and my father threw me against the wall, causing a large dent and crack to form across the whole wall. “You demon! You disgusting fucking demon!” He screamed. The skull seemed to be growing as the skin stayed the same. He staggered over to where he had tossed me. His movements were as unnatural as his face. Cracking and shifting as he moved. One leg had grown larger than the other and twisted this way and that. His left finger bones had started to tear through the tips of his fingers. He picked me up with his right hand, which was still the same size, but had grown two more fingers and a second thumb, both of which had no skin. Just bone and muscle tissue. These bony fingers pierced my shoulder as he lifted me from where I lay at the base of the wall which was still forming cracks across it.

He lifted me level with his face. “You tore our dreams away!” He screamed as his words became more muffled from his skull pushing its way through his skin. His lower jaw burst through the skin and detached on the right side of his face. He was still yelling at me and trying to say words, but they were just gurgles and pops now as his half detached lower jaw flipped around, trying desperately to form speech. His tongue detached as his jaw flailed. It launched from his gaping maw and slapped me in the face. I wanted to gag again, but before I got the chance, his enlarged, bony hand started punching me once, and once again. I couldn’t tell if the blood spraying the walls was mine or his, as more and more of his flesh gave way. My mother, just as disgustingly fucked up as my father, was cheering him on from the sidelines. Her jaw completely detached as she jumped up and down singing his praises in gargles, pops and whines. I had to break free. I had to get loose! The wall formed a giant crack just above where my feet were hanging. I lodged my heels into it, and pushed up as hard as I could. I squealed as the finger bones penetrating my shoulder pulled free. My now mostly skeletal father punched the wall as I got loose, fully intending to have made contact with my face. His wrist broke as his hand made contact. As his hand fell to the floor, an even bigger crack formed where he had just connected. I knew that would have been the fatal blow had I not broken free. As I made for the door, my mutated parents bore down on me. I almost made it to the door knob when I heard a loud banging on the door from the other side. “Fuck!” I thought. Was I heading to something better or worse. My parents were moving slower now. They were both significantly larger on one side than the other. The smaller side still held some flesh, some resemblance of something human. The other side was just enlarged, deformed bone and muscle tissue. Whatever was on the other side of the door had to be better than this. I got to the door, grabbed the knob and tried to turn it. Nothing. Wouldn’t budge. They moved closer. The smell was rancid! Every move they made, something else fell off of them. Smacking and splashing sounds as bits and pieces hit the floor. I was fucked and I knew it. My father reached out to grab me with his arm that no longer had a hand. He stopped and looked at his broken wrist bone. He started laughing? I think it was laughter. It was a howling sound of madness. He held his wrist in front of what was left of my mother and she echoed his wailing. It was horrible to hear. I was stunned. Nowhere to go. No way out. They’d stop laughing and get back to me in a moment. The slams on the door grew louder and louder. Finally a giant axe slit the door in the center. My parents looked up and screamed. Two hands reached through and pulled the door apart. Another hand grabbed my shirt collar and pulled me back, just in time to avoid my father’s foot. As soon as I was freed from the room, the door reformed itself as I heard the screams of what remained of my parents become silent once more. I looked at the door and noticed my feet. Man sized feet. In shoes, no less. I looked up. Grant and Brandon looked down on me. “Thought we’d lost you, mate”, he said with a long sigh.

“Goddamn, it’s good to see you, man!” I said with a smile I never thought I’d feel form on my face again, “Both of you, for that matter”, I said pulling both of them in for a hug. We all held each other for what felt like several minutes. They were both shaking as much as I was. “Did you see them?” I asked, voice still trembling. Brandon nodded, apparently having trouble finding his voice. “Yeah, mate. We saw. What the fuck was that?” He asked. “My parents!” I said, laughing slightly at the madness of it all. “And you didn’t even introduce your best friend!” Grand said in an alarmed tone. “Fucking wanker”, he said dismissively, turning his back to me. He couldn’t hold back the laughter he was trying to muffle. I started laughing too, then Brandon joined in. I dropped back onto the floor. Brandon and Grant followed. We slid out backs to the wall, and took a moment to recover our senses. After a while of silence, other than the unnerving sounds of the building, I asked “So what have you guys been into?” Truth be told, I was afraid of the answer, but I needed to know, still. “It was bad, man. Real fucking bad”, Brandon said, voice still shaky. “If Grant hadn’t come along, I don’t…” his voice trailed off as tears began to stream down his face. Grant put his hand on Brandon’s shoulder and lightly massaged it, “it’s alright, mate” he said. They were both bloody and beaten. As Brandon raised his hands to cover his face, I noticed a torn piece of Grant’s shirt was wrapped around his left hand, covering what appeared to be bloody stumps where his ring and pinky fingers used to reside.

Grant had a large gash across his forehead. A small chunk of his earlobe was missing, and his left eye was swollen and almost shut. He gestured to the gash across his forehead, “fucking tosser tried to scalp me!” He said, sounding shocked. “What the fuck? Who?” I asked. “Fucking Chuck!” He replied. He went on to explain that he woke up in a flea ridden dirty hotel room next to a deserted trailer park. He seemed genuinely irritated after I told him where I awoke. The rest of his experience was similar, but when he entered the building, he found himself on one of the higher floors. He started to fill me in on Brandons situation, but when Brandon started to shudder and cry again, he cut himself off. “He had a bit of a worse trip than us, mate.” He left it at that. He told me how he found me was similar to how he found Brandon. Disturbing noises and screams coming from one of the many rooms. He had apparently taken the axe from Daniel, one of the other contestants who had seemed under a spell or something. He tried to save him, but after unsuccessfully attacking Grant with the ax, he became enraged. He held the axe, blade towards him against the wall and started headbutting it. “He kept slamming his head into it, even after it was split in two!” Grant said, eyes wide. He started shaking again, “Eventually he wasn’t even hitting the axe. Just both sides of his head beating into the wall on either side until there wasn’t much left.” He finished, staring straight forward in a blank stare. We sat for a while in silence. We weren’t sure what our next steps would be, or where any of the other players were, or if any remained. Brandon had finally regained his composure, “So, what do you think, guys?” He asked, “Where do we go from here?” We all looked at each other. “I say we continue up”, I suggested. “I started about five floors up. Don’t know what else is up there. Just thought I should head down.” Grant said. “I came in through the lobby, like you.” Brandon said, nodding his head at me. “Then we’ve covered from five floors above, down to the ground” I stated. “Did you notice if there was a lower level?” Grant asked. I felt stupid, for a moment. “Fuck, man. I didn’t even think to look”. I sighed. “Then we have two options”, Grant said. “We know things are, well somewhat, easy going from here to the ground. We have no bloody idea how ruddy high this goes?” He said, craning his neck to look as high as he could. “So, it couldn’t hurt to rule out any lower floors before we head for the stars.” I concluded, looking high above me. “Sounds like we got a plan, gents.” Brandon said. We all sat still, for a moment, showing no motivation to get moving.

After we had successfully put our asses to sleep from sitting for so long, we all silently decided to get moving. The staircase was wide enough for us to walk down side by side. We wanted to be able to keep each other easily in view. I, for one, had seen enough horror movies to know the guy in the back could easily be pulled away before anyone was the wiser. We kept a fast pace as we descended the steps. We had cleared at least four floors before we knew it. “You hear that?” Brandon asked, hesitantly. Grant and I looked at each other and around us. “Yeah, mate,” Grant replied. I nodded, signifying I had also noticed the walls ‘breathing’ had become considerably louder. We quickened our place, almost jogging down the stairs. The walls were much more visible in their movement now. They looked as though there was something trying to push its way through them. There was a moaning sound that accompanied the heaving now. As we approached the ground floor, the walls were intensely shaking. The breathing sound had become heavier, and we could almost feel it like actual breath on the back of our necks. The moaning had become a constant wailing. We stepped onto the floor after the final step and the ground was trembling beneath our feet. Whatever the grand finale was to be, it was coming soon. This summer, at a theater near us, it would seem. As before, there were two rooms joined to the ground floor. One on either side. Grant pulled a coin from his pocket. “Heads left, tails right.” He suggested, looking at each of us for approval. We nodded. He tossed the coin and held his hand out to catch it. The quarter spun in the air and suddenly dropped faster. Like a bullet it shot to the ground, through Grant’s outstretched hand. “Fuck!” Grant screamed, grabbing his hand with the other. I tore a strip of cloth from the bottom of my shirt and quickly tied it around his hand. “It fucking doesn’t let up!” He yelled. The coin had stuck into the floor. No answer to the heads or tails debate in sight. Grant looked down and remarked that heads side was facing us, while tails pointed towards the door. “Good enough,” he stated. We agreed and we made for the left.

“Are you taking a fucking piss!?” Grant belted as we passed through the open door to find a large room with one door at the rear with all of our fallen teammates standing in a line in front of it. Every one of them looked as though they had been through hell. Some had limbs missing, others faces were torn to shreds with gashes and cuts across their bodies in all directions. Chuck, himself stood in front. His head was still halfway stitched on one side with the other side leaning wide open, blood steadily flowing from it. Each of our former competitor’s held a weapon. Axes, swords, and other dealt blades. Daniel had a fucking set of nunchucks! Grant offered the axe he was still holding to Brandon. He looked at me and I nodded my approval. Grant wasn’t always the best fighter, but we had trained a lot over the years. Frankly, I had gotten tired of having to fight mother fuckers off him, and lightly suggested it was time for him to learn. Yeah. We could scrap. Even armed, these bastards didn’t all have, well, both of their arms. We could get a weapon off of at least one of them each. Brandon accepted the axe and held it with both hands. I didn’t know if he could fight. I know he was a con, like us, but that didn’t mean he was violent, or even knew how to be violent. “We got this,” I said. More to convince myself than the others, I think.

The row of corpses stood up straight and bowed to us. “How respectful,” I said and smiled at Grant. He nodded, and we charged while they were still bent over. Brandon followed and instantly sunk the axe into James’ lowered head. He dropped to the floor. Grant and I shoulder rammed the two closest to the left. They hit the ground and we kicked and stomped their heads. I picked up the sword that had dropped from my victims hand and Grant found himself, once more, holding an axe. By this point the others were charging us. Brandon had already separated another’s head from their body. Four more rushed Grant and I. I dodged to the side as a sword swung by my face. It still dug into my right shoulder, but I pulled away before it could get too deep. Still hurt like a son of a bitch. Grant had blocked another axe and a sword that came at him with his axe handle, though his hand was spewing blood. He screamed in pain as he kicked one of them back. He spun his axe around and buried it deep into Dwayne’s neck. Larry, whose sword had just attempted to take my arm off, swung around after I had diverted his swipe. He raised his arm, the only one he had at this point, and made to swing it at me again. I swiped my blade across his neck before he had the chance to bring his weapon down. He staggered back, and before he could find his bearings, I swung again. It didn’t take his head off, but it tore through enough of his neck to stop him. He dropped to his knees and down to the floor. Only two remained, as well as Chuck, who was still just standing there, watching. One came at me as Grant slammed his axe head into his gut. I swung my sword down across his neck as he bent over from the axe blow. The other made for Grant. Before he could get close, Brandon dropped his axe blade into the center of the top of the attackers head. His arms dropped limp, and he crumbled to the floor. I yanked my blade out of our victim’s neck and he dropped to the ground too. Grant let his axe stay in the guy’s stomach, and he reached down and picked up the sword that still had my blood dripping from it.

Chuck paced back and forth swinging his sword. It was the same ornate one that had removed his head. He swung it back and forth as he glared at us. He started moving his mouth as though he meant to speak to us, but all we heard was a gargled bubbling whine from where his neck was split open. He stopped pacing and looked at us dejectedly. His sword arm dropped to his side and he grabbed the top of his head with the other hand, pushing his head back down to his neck. “Sorry about that” he said, smiling on the one side of his face that wasn’t hanging limp. His voice was strained, but audible. “As I was saying,” he said lightly, “You let him fucking kill me you bastards!” In a much more rage filled, yet scratchy voice, “You just fucking stood there and let it happen!” He continued. “What the fuck could we do!?” Brandon insisted, “We had twenty guns pointed at us! You’re the dumb fuck that just walked up to the son of a bitch!” He finished, arms outstretched. “You could ha…” Chuck yelled before his words returned to wheezing gargles as he released his head to wave his arms in anger. He dropped his arms to his side, appearing defeated for a moment. He grabbed his head once more, and angrily squashed it back down. “You could have done something!” He barked, barely missing a beat. Grant stepped forward and dropped his sword to the floor. “I’m sorry, mate. I truly am. None of us wanted this for you, but if you let us go, I swear we’ll make the bastard pay for what he did to you,” he pleaded. Chuck studied him for a moment. He raised his sword arm and jammed the blade into the wall with the blade pointing sideways towards himself. “The only way that door will open”, he said diverting his eyes to the large door at the back of the room, “is if I’m dead.” He concluded. He stared at us for a moment. “Give ’em hell, boys”, he said before slamming his neck against the blade sticking out of the wall, severing the remaining stitches holding his head in place. He slumped to the ground for the last time. “Goodbye, Chuck.” I said, saluting him. The door creaked open behind us. Grant crouched down beside Chuck’s body. He reached his hand over the eyes of his severed head and closed them. He stood up and turned towards us. There was something very different about his demeanor. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but he wasn’t himself. I supposed none of us were after what we’d been through, though. “Shall we?” he asked, gesturing to the open door. He walked forward and we followed him through.


The door had opened to a long hallway. The walls lining the hall were of the same decor as the rest of the building, but they did not seem to harbor life, as the rest of the walls had. Grant walked at a steady pace without slowing or speeding. He remained silent and didn’t look back at us. I stayed in the back to be able to watch out for the other two. I felt safer with myself exposed to the rule of the guy in the back. I would glance behind me from time to time, mind you. The hallway carried on for some time. Nothing changed as we strolled on. The walls were mostly Barr, and there was nothing to signify we were even making progress. On my regular glances to my rear, I could tell we were moving far away from the room filled with the bodies of our former teammates. After walking for what felt like a half hour or so, we reached an old fashioned elevator door. One of those with the gate in the front and the half circle spindle at the top, that would indicate what floor the elevator had reached. There were no floors numbered, though, and the spindle lay still at the bottom left. Grant opened the gate and looked in. He seemed assured that all was safe, and beckoned us inside. Brandon entered first and I followed. Finally Grant walked in and turned to face the outside without making eye contact with either of us. I looked around the elevator and saw no sign of any floor numbers. Just one single button marked with an upwards arrow. “Looks like we’re going up, after all.” I said. Grant pulled the gate shut and pushed the button without hesitation. The fairly spacious elevator shook a little and then started heading upwards and a decent rate of speed.

I think we all knew this was going to be a long trip, regardless of how fast we were traveling. Grant pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and held it, splayed open towards me. I pulled one out and he offered it to Brandon. He received a slightly crumpled smoke, himself. Grant pulled another out and lit it, taking a deep drag as he handed me the lighter. I handed it to Brandon after I lit mine. I guess there was no sense worrying about hurting the building’s feelings now. I did not expect us to leave this place alive, even if we could reach a goddamn exit. The elevator started to slow as our smokes were reaching their end. “Do you trust me, Michael?” Grant spoke in a voice that did not sound like his normal speaking voice. Somehow more sophisticated than he normally sounded. This would not be a voice that questioned whether someone was taking a piss or not. “With my life.” I replied. He wasn’t himself at the moment, but how could he be? I did trust him. Nothing could change that. “Brandon?” Grant asked. Brandon looked at me, as if for affirmation. “Yeah, man. I trust you.” He said. By the sincerity of his words, I could tell he genuinely did, with or without my nod. Grant took one final deep drag from his cigarette, and dropped it to the floor, smearing it out with his foot.

The elevator came to a halt. I dropped my smoke, as did Brandon. There was no gate on this end. Just a short hallway that had one opening on the right and a large door straight ahead. Grant stepped off and headed forward. I started to ask which way we should go as we passed the opening on the right. It led to a stairway. It actually looked to be the stairway we first walked up to the large cathedral room, though I don’t remember a left from that flight of stairs. Grant kept walking and took no hesitation in pushing the large door open in front of us. It did, indeed, lead to the enormous room from before and we were greeted with cheers from the crowd. Applause roared as we walked by the rows of seats with so many of our ‘betters’ still perched upon them. I noticed they seemed to be dressed differently than before. How long had we been out there? Hours? Days? Surely not weeks. Orchid stood by the Altar still. His arms were outstretched and he was singing his praises for “one of the best performances he’d seen in years!” Grant stopped just feet from Orchid.

The gunmen were now lined up behind Orchid and they raised their weapons and trained them on Grant. Brandon and I moved up on either side of him. “What, in the name of hell, was that!?” Grant demanded staring down Orchid with pure hatred in his eyes. “The name of Hell, indeed” Orchid replied as his eyes filled with contempt. “And your final task!” He declared, “Which you performed beautifully!” He raised his arms higher as the crowd roared louder. “What now?” Grant asked smugly. Orchid smiled and waved a hand at Green, who had been standing off to the side, by the row of guards. “The tie breaker” Orchid sneered. Without warning, Green pulled a gun from his shoulder holster and shot Brandon twice in the chest. “NO!” Grant and I both screamed. Brandon dropped to the floor, gripping his chest and gasping for air. We surrounded him. I grabbed his hand. Green signaled two of the guards to come down. They each grabbed Grant and I and pulled us off of Brandon. They held us in place, facing Orchid. Brandon was coughing and fighting to hold onto life while the audience applauded and cheered. We were forced to watch as our friend fought for a few moments more until he fell silent and still. “You’ll pay for that.” Grant said through gritted teeth. “There can be only one winner, dear boy” Orchid insisted as though it were a fact. He held his hand out towards Green, who placed his pistol into it. ‘`Now” Orchid said, “We choose a winner” he smiled and pointed the gun towards us. We were both fighting to break free of the guards grasp, but fuck, they were strong.

“Eenie meenie miney mo!” Orchid recited in a childlike voice swapping the gun’s aim between us with each word. “Catch a PEASANT..” he shouted that last word, “By the toe.” He stopped with the gun trained on Grant. He smiled wide. I knew what was coming. I rammed my heel into the guard’s left shin. He buckled enough for me to break free. I threw myself in front of Grant as Orchid pulled the trigger. “MICHAEL, NO!” Grant yelled. The bullet hit me in the stomach. The pain was insane! I dropped to the floor buckled over in agony. I hoped this would be enough to quench Orchids thirst. Grant would be the winner and I could be left to die. I had to save my friend. He was all I cared about anymore. I never expected to leave here alive. As soon as we arrived in this room the first time, I already had my mind made up. I knew this was it, and I was ok with it. He was the only friend I’d known in so long. I controlled the pain as well as I was able to as I looked up at my friend.

I nodded to him. “It’s ok, mate.” I smiled. “Oh, Michael.” He said. He was shaking his head as tears started to stream down his face. “Awww. How touching” Orchid said. The mob on either side laughed as though this was the funniest joke they’d ever heard. “The thing is..” he continued, “That bullet was to choose the winner!” He laughed as he raised the gun and pointed at Grant once more. “No!” I whispered. Grant smirked down at me. There was that look again. He raised his head up to meet Orchids gaze. For a moment they stared at each other. There was something in Grant’s eyes while he stared into Orchids. I swear. For a second there, Orchid looked scared. The room fell silent as the two looked upon each other. Grant’s mouth slowly turned into a more sinister smile than I thought he was capable of. Four gunshots in succession broke the silence, all landing in Grant’s chest. “I hung my head and pounded the ground with my fists. “You son of a BITCH!” I screamed, though it hurt like a mother fucker. Tears now streamed from my eyes as Orchid strolled down from his high fucking horse. He walked towards Grant who was still staring at him with that smile. Not even wincing from the pain or shock. He held the barrel of the gun right against Grant’s forehead. The skin started to sizzle as the barrel was still burning from the previous shots. Grant still didn’t wince. Orchid looked down his nose at my friend with sheer hatred. “I had my money on you!” He said, raising his eyebrows. One last shot ended the silence as the back of my best friend’s head blew onto the ground and the crowd roared.

Orchid handed the gun back to Green and he raised his arms once more, turning his gaze to his adoring fans. “There you have it, good people! Another successful venture, and here’s to our winner!” He grabbed my arm and pulled it up to signify my victory. I coughed and gagged from the pain. He dropped my arm to the floor. “Congratulations to those who made out well, though I lost much due to this ignorant fool!” He said, in disgust as he kicked me in the stomach. I buckled more and coughed a chunk of thick dark blood onto the floor. “Ugh” Orchid sighed, dropping his shoulders as he saw my blood smeared on his shoe. He pulled Green towards him by his shirt collar. “Disgusting” he muttered while wiping his shoe on Green’s pants. I couldn’t help finding this a little funny considering how not too long ago, he was showering himself in the essence of Chuck. He mumbled something to Green and his hulking bodyguard walked back to the altar. He returned moments later holding up the large suitcase, which Orchid unzipped to reveal it still held the fifteen million worth of hundred dollar bills. He dropped it beside me, spilling funds onto the floor. “Here is your prize, should you live long enough to enjoy it,” he smirked. “Green will be back in the morning to check in on you. I have a feeling he’ll be returning this bag to me soon after. Make back up some of the money I lost on your friend.”

That last part he said with pure hatred in his voice. He then walked towards the altar and pulled the pen out once more. He dipped the tip into Brandon’s blood, and wrote his name in the book, then did the same with Grant. He blew on the page again before walking away from the altar towards the door, waving his hand in the air to prompt his guests to start gathering towards the back. As they got out of the chairs and made towards the exit, the row of gunmen came down from the altar to follow. As everyone shuffled off in the direction of the door, I felt a hand gently touch my stomach. I winced. Even a light touch hurt like hell. “I’ll take it from here, Michael,” a familiar voice spoke. “Grant!?” I said, quietly, but still shocked. He slid over to Brandon’s body and laid a hand on his chest. As Brandon’s corpse began to twitch. I felt almost unbearable agony in my stomach and shoulder. Grant got to his feet and called out, toward the group heading for the exit. “Allow me, if you will, to clear a few things up….” He said, in a very calm, and slightly arrogant tone. The crowd whipped around. The guards quickly raised their guns and began to fire. A barrage of bullets drilled into Grant. They kept firing until Orchid raised a hand to encourage them to stop firing. Grant, to my surprise, still stood in place.

“As I was saying..” he began again, “To clear things up. Firstly, these two men” he gestured to Brandon and I, “Are a thousand times the man that you are, Mr Orchid,” he stared, coldly at the slack jawed benefactor of the week’s games. “And secondly..,” he continued, turning to me briefly with an apologetic look on his face before turning his gaze back to the group, “I have never written a Bible.” Everyone was stunned, including myself. “I’m not remotely as pompous as my father.” He said bluntly. The room remained silent for a moment as Orchid and Grant continued to stare each other down. I winced as a sharp pain shot through my stomach and shoulder. I grabbed at my midsection and, to my surprise, I found that my wound was closed. There wasn’t even a mark, just residual blood still covering my shirt and pants. I glanced to the side to see Brandon, still laying on the floor, beginning to move slightly. I was distracted again as Grant began to speak, once more. “So, my question to you, Mr. Orchid. What exactly is that book?” He asked, pointing back towards the large tome, still resting on the altar. The book had begun to smoke slightly. Orchid tried to regain his composure. “It’s as I said, boy. Lucifer’s bible!” He barked, holding his head high, as though he had just won a prize for giving a correct answer. He then waved his hand to signal the guards to commence firing. “That’s enough of that,” Grant said as he quickly outstretched the fingers on his right hand. Immediately, the gunmen screamed in agony as their fingers on both hands suddenly flipped backwards, almost making a reverse fist. The skin tore and sprayed dark blood from where the knuckles ripped through the skin and tissue. Green dropped his gun to the floor and started to back away from Orchid, who had begun to wear the expression of a small child who had just been caught smoking by his parents. “You’re not….” Orchid stammered, “You can’t be….” He was shaking his head from side to side as if this would make the scary man go away. A fresh puddle formed at his feet as his bladder gave way to fear. “M-money!” He almost yelled out, as if he’d just solved the equation to make all things right., “I-I’ll give you all I have!” He swung around to face the crowd, who were all in various stages of shock, and whipped back around, “All they have too!” He belted. Grant started to walk, slowly, towards them. He rolled his shoulders slightly and his wounds all closed and the blood faded away while clothes started to flake off of his body in fiery cinders to reveal a very nice three piece suit. His hair whipped back, like it was being blown by the wind, and it braided itself into a ponytail. He approached Orchid, who had dropped to the floor, right into his own fresh puddle of fear induced lemonade. Grant crouched down in front of the whimpering manchild. “Do I look like a man who is in dire need of funds?” He said softly, in an arrogant tone. He tilted his head to the side, almost daring Orchid to speak. ” I didn’t know, I didn’t know…” Orchid was repeating over and over like a prayer, still shaking his head from side to side as if the monster under his bed was preparing to pounce. “You didn’t answer my question,” Grant stated as he stood back up. He placed his hands behind his back, lightly placing his left hand in his right. He stared down at the quivering heap of a man. “I t-told you the t-truth…” he spoke, unable to control his newly developed stutter, “I-it’s been in m-my f-family for generations!” He continued, tears flowing down his face. Green still stood a ways behind him, holding his hands in the air as if the swat team had him pinned. “M-my f-father told me it was the dev…il’s’ bible!”

He stated, seemingly fully believing this to be fact. Grant studied him for a moment. The crumpled Jensen still lay shaking on the floor. “And this building,” Grant spoke, still staring down at Orchid, “What, exactly, is this place?” He asked. “A gateway!” Orchid said, staring wide eyed up at Grant. His tears seemed to stop. His body became still again, and he lifted himself up slightly. “A gateway to hell.” He stated, confidently. Grant looked around the room. His eyes shifted to the ceiling and the walls. Even to the floor. “No,” he said, almost to himself. “This is not Hell,” he stated, turning his gaze back to Orchid. He crouched down again to look directly into Orchid’s eyes. “I think I would know.” He said, maybe two inches from Orchids face. He stood up once more and walked away from the huddled group of the terrified rich. “Mr, Orchid.” Grant began again, “have you ever met anyone who claimed to be me or serve me?” He asked, walking towards the altar. “No!” Orchid answered, “B-but my father did.” Grant stopped. “You know this?” He asked. “Yes!” Orchid barked, getting to his feet. ” He would meet with my father in my house. M-my father told me I would meet with him someday too, but not until he had passed” he stuttered, not only from fear any more, but from excitement he had something to offer. Something to bargain with. “Your father still lives?” Grant asked, spinning back around to meet Orchids gaze again. “Y-yes!” Orchid said, “you don’t know?” He questioned, “I assumed you kn…”, “I am not omniscient.” Grant interrupted. “Anyone who claims to know all, is a fool and a liar.” He said softly, turning his gaze upwards for a moment before turning back towards the book, which now had a light flame upon it. “I-I can take you to him…” Orchid stammered. “I can show you where he…” he was once more interrupted as Grant spun again and held his finger to his mouth. Orchid almost slammed his mouth shut. I’m not sure if this was of his own accord, or it was something similar to the guards fingers.

I looked from Grant to Orchid. To the crowd quivering on the floor. To Green still standing with his hands in the air. The room was silent again, aside from the whimpers and whispers begging for mercy. “You will not be bargaining your way out of this,” Grant said. A mischievous smile formed on his lips. “I do need the information hiding in your head…” he continued, walking towards Orchid again. He stopped in front of the, now shivering again, man, “But there are other ways to scoop it out.” He concluded. He looked into Orchid’s eyes one more time. Tears formed and began to flow for the second time. Grant pulled himself around and looked at me. I heard a voice in my head say “You’re gonna like this, mate!” As Grant gave me a smirk I knew all too well. He reached into a pocket inside his coat and pulled out a simple door knob. It looked old. Ancient even, but simple. Nothing ornate or elegant. Just an old door knob. He held it out in front of him and seemed to jab it into the air in front of him. He turned the knob and the room echoed with a loud scraping sound, ending in a bang, as if something huge and metal had been pulled out of something confining it. He pulled at the knob and reality, itself, seemed to tear around a gaping door shaped hole. The sound of centuries old hinges screamed as the door shaped hole swung open. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see what was on the other side of the doorway, but the sounds were not what I expected. It almost sounded like a bustling city. There were voices and shouting. Mechanical sounds like gears turning. Then there was the occasional blood curdling scream. “Now that, I expected to hear,” I thought. All of a sudden, the large group of people screamed in unison. They all ran for the door, pounding and yelling, begging to escape. Orchid plundered through them, pushing and punching. Trying to force himself to the front. People were getting trampled by others. I could see Green’s hand reaching out from a pile of bodies on the floor. Grant stepped to the side of the opening and placed his hands behind his back, again, facing the group. It was as if something invisible had shot itself out from the doorway and wrapped itself around the crowd of terrified people. They were all pulled into a tight wrapped macabre bouquet of bleeding flowers. I heard the tearing of flesh and fabric and breaking of bones. They were all constricted and yanked into one large mass of cloth, skin, blood and viscera. In an instant they were pulled through the door and reality slammed shut behind them.

The room fell silent, once more.

Grant looked upon the enormous streak of blood that led from the exit to where that gap between this world and another met for a moment. He turned slowly and walked towards me. “You have questions, I imagine.” He said in more of a statement than a question, as he dragged a couple of chairs from the side of the room to where I was sitting. I glanced at Brandon who was still laying on the floor seemingly sleeping it off. I noticed the fabric wrapped around his hand had separated where his two missing fingers had returned, and blood no longer poured from his chest. Grant held his hand out. I gripped it tightly without hesitation and he helped me to my feet. We both sat in the chairs facing each other. He had a look on his face that seemed almost ashamed. Trying to find words to break the silence, I asked, “You’re really….?” I couldn’t seem to finish the question, but Grant simply nodded and replied, ” I am.” With a slight half smile. His expression was more relaxed now. I knew who he was. Who he
was now, but I still only saw the face of my friend looking back at me. “Why? I asked, “Why all of this?” “Don’t suppose ‘mysterious ways’ would do the trick?” He asked, sounding more like the guy I had known for years. “Isn’t that the other guy’s thing?” I asked with a slight chuckle. “I fucking swear!” Grant blurted, “Children drown, women get cancer, crops die and civilizations fall, and everybody and their ruddy mother’s say ‘ooooh! Works in mysterious ways, don’t he’ and nobody bats a fuckin’ eye, but nooooo! I swallow a fuck ton of shitty fucking people through hole in the world and that’s not good enough!? Fuck me!” He ranted. I cracked up. I was laughing until tears were streaming down my face.

He started laughing too. Our laughter echoed through the room and I felt the first genuine smile I had felt, well, at least since this fucking week started. “Bit dramatic, don’t ya think?” I asked, still chuckling. Grant just nodded and shrugged, wiping tears from his face. We settled down and looked at each other again. “Years, Grant,” I said, “We’ve been friends for years. What was that? Was it all just, I don’t know, a con? Like a long con?” I asked, sincerely. “No, Michael,” he said, “All we shared, all of it! Everything Grant said was from me. All the music we listened to. All the laughs we had. All the times we shared. It was me,” he continued holding his hand to his heart. “But why?” I asked again. “Why all this?” I held my hands out, gesturing around me. “Prison, the factory job, all these years? Was it just about this!?” I asked. I felt a little more irritated as these questions began to dawn on me. Grant studied me for a moment. “It’s complicated,” he said. “There are things I cannot tell you, Michael. Rules. You understand?” He said rhetorically. “I don’t exactly have friends, so to speak,” he continued. “My responsibilities, as it were, do not leave much room for….” He trailed off slightly before continuing, “Hell is not a place to make friends, and my position is not one that lends itself easily to relationships with others” he seemed hesitant, in a way, “This did not begin as what it became, my friend. I truly do have my share of mysterious ways, and I have spent more time on this earth than many realize.” He went on, “I wish I could tell you everything, Michael, but I’m afraid, well, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you wouldn’t be able to understand.”

I looked at him for a minute or so. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say next, but what words arrived at my lips that I didn’t expect. “Tommy,” I said. “My brother,” I stared into Grant’s face, “Is he. Is he in Hell?” He looked taken aback, little. “They say suicides go to hell, and, I don’t know. He was a good kid!” I said, almost feeling like I was begging him to tell me what I wanted to hear and not what I feared was true. “Is he there!” I asked finally, pointing my finger to where reality was split just moments ago. “He was,” Grant replied, as a sharp pain stuck me in the chest. “For a time.” He said. I tilted my head, genuinely confused by his answer. “But Hell is eternal, right?” I asked. Grant shifted in his chair a little. “As I said. There are things I cannot tell you,” he replied once more. I felt deflated and weak. “What I will say is this,” I looked at him, unnerved. “That book, that so many cling to,” I tilted my head again, “Well it doesn’t quite account for the grey areas of things,” he looked genuinely sympathetic. “You see, Hell is for the wicked, and those who would inflict wicked upon them,” he shifted again, “A psychologically and emotionally traumatized young boy? Well, he didn’t quite fit in.” He said. My head was spinning. My father had drilled into my brain for years how I was sure to burn for eternity. Sure, I never bought the religion deal. The more they forced it, the more I resisted, but it was still there in the back of my head that it was a fact I was bound for Hell, even before I inadvertently murdered my father. Finally taking in the gravity of what he had just told me, I asked “If not in Hell, where is he now?’ Grant just smiled and said “Somewhere else.” And left it at that. “Rules.” I said, nodding my head. Grant gave a single nod, and repeated, “Rules.”. We sat again in silence for some time. We had become so close over the years, it didn’t feel like awkward silence, just silence. I thought of one last question as Grant raised up from his chair. One that sent that sharp pain across my chest again. “Will I ever see you again?” I asked, almost pleading. Grant gestured around the room, “I can safely say, Michael, that your debt to Hell is paid in full,” he smiled

“What about Brandon?” I asked. “Well, his ledger never had too much red to begin with.” He shrugged. “You should never have a need to see me again.” He said, a somewhat sad expression formed on his face. Without a second thought I said, “You’re my best friend!” Tears began to roll down my face. He looked taken aback, “Even now?” He asked, “Even with all you have learned?” Without a word I walked to him and threw my arms around him. He slowly wrapped his arms around my back. I could have been imagining it, but I think I felt a tear or two land on my shoulder where his head rested for a moment. After a time, Grant backed up and looked at me with a smile. “Perhaps we will see each other again, then,” he said, beaming. “For now, I’m afraid, I have some answers to pry from a certain benefactor of this fine event we found ourselves in.” He stated, still smiling. “What about the book?” I asked, spinning around to notice it was just a pile of smoking ash now. “Nothing to worry about there,” he remarked,” Besides,” he continued, “You’re a rich man now!” He gestured to the bag of cash I had completely forgotten about. He pulled the door knob from his pocket, again and split open reality in front of me. Before he walked towards the opening, I said “Grant?”. He turned to me, eyebrows up. “What the fuck was all this?” I asked, sincerely befuddled. He gave me one last smile and said “That truly is a question for another time, mate.” In his old, familiar voice, and disappeared through the door which slammed shut behind him. I stood there staring for a moment as reality once again seamed itself back together before I just cracked and started laughing a laugh I did not think my exhausted body was capable of. I heard a voice behind me. “What the fuck happened?” Brandon said groggily from the floor. “We’re rich, bitch!” I said laughing even harder.


Two years after a
near death experience.

Some time after the events at the old abandoned factory, Jensen Orchid was seen on TV holding a press conference. He stated that he was taking an early retirement, and was moving away to live in seclusion, having become tired of living in high society. One could have argued that he did not seem the man he was before, and even came off as someone doing a shoddy impression of the former head of Orchid Industries, but they would be no more than a passing whimsy until the next distraction came along. Brandon and I never returned to our jobs, as it was well documented and accepted by many disappointed factory managers that we had both won the big prize after our week long sabbatical. The money, as it turns out, was ours completely tax free. Our host, it seems, made sure everything was covered when it came to our reward. Whether that was the case before or after his untimely demise is not for me to say. Over the course of the two years after that day, Brandon and I had become quite close. We split the money fifty/fifty, but chose to move to a nice beach front property together. It was a healthy sized house. We even had a pool and a hot tub! Days could go by and we wouldn’t even see each other. Brandon liked my idea about opening a bar at the beach, so we became business partners in ‘The Other Side of Hell’ bar and grill. We had a great staff, and barely even had to show up for weeks at a time, if we felt the need, as they ran the place well. We still spent a good bit of time there, though. It was a fun place to spend the evenings, and Brandon, as it turned out, was quite the accomplished musician. He would spend many nights playing his guitar and singing for the crowd, and there was a regular crowd for sure. It became a popular place for residents and tourists, though we never took advantage of this by jacking up the prices. Though I never fully explained the true events of that night to Brandon, we had both decided an honest life was the best way to go. Brandon and I had become pretty tight. He was a great person and a lot of fun to spend time with, and I had grown to trust him completely. He had a girlfriend now, who had met at the bar some weeks ago. She watched him play his guitar all night from a table right next to the stage. She was a cute girl. She was pale and covered in tattoos with bright red hair and freckles. I think Brandon was in love from the first moment. She spends a lot of time at the house now. I’ve dated here and there, but nothing serious. Maybe my parents’ vast love for each other soured me on the experience. Maybe I just haven’t found the right girl. It doesn’t really matter, all things considered. I have a good life, with good friends. Something I never expected when I was younger. I do believe I will wrap this up here, though Thank you for hearing me out through my long winded story of my life. I really must get going, I’m afraid. I got a call from an old friend last night. He said he has a proposition for me. Something of a road trip apparently, so I may be gone for a bit. He told me I didn’t really have to go, if I didn’t want to, but I’d be a bloody wanker if I bailed on him.

Credit : William Rayne

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1 thought on “Devils Due”

  1. Hi guys, Will Rayne here. Thanks so much for the kind words and for checking out my story. It means more to me than I can put into words.

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