This was one of those ones where, I had to rewrite it cos the first one sucked. I think in future if that happens I’m just going to chuck it and write something new, because even though it’s much improved, its still… not quite right. Then again, maybe I’m being harsh – it has it’s moments… and there were times when I felt kind of wrong for writing it, and that has to be a good sign.
Gary Mathers was woken first by the cold, and second by the tight clamps on his wrists and ankles. As his disorientation began to clear, he realised he was horizontal, but elevated: he was eye level with the open window to his right. The panes were being blown open and shut by a chaotic wind. The sky outside was grey, and the view revealed nothing for miles around but rolling green hills.
He watched the scene for a while, mesmerised, letting the haze hang over him for as long as it wanted to. He was in a bad place, he thought distantly. He didn’t want to be there, but soon this dope would wear out and he’d have to be. So he watched the window and waited.
The first stab of fear came after a few minutes, when he felt an itch on his shoulder and was unable to scratch it. Only then did he dare lift his head and take a look at where he was. After a few seconds, he let it drop back down again. This was not good.
He was lying on a table in a long, narrow room at the top of what must be a very rickety wooden house. Two or three stories tall, judging from the view. The more the haze wore off, the more he felt the sway and creak of the place beneath him, as if a strong enough wind could blow it all over. He was to a table which, while also made of wood, was much thicker and sturdier than the rest of the house. Oak, maybe. It was smooth under his back, maybe reinforced.
None of these things were what really grabbed his attention, though – they were all background noise. No, what really got him when he lifted his head had been the opposite wall. It was like one of those walls in a tool shed, full of hooks and shelves. Only this wall didn’t have tools hanging from the hooks – or if it did, they weren’t the kind a carpenter might use, but more the kind a surgeon would. Then again, was that a saw? Was that a bone saw?
He groaned and struggled weakly, but it was no good.
‘Hello,’ a voice said.
Gary’s head sprung up again and he saw a man standing by the wall of weapons. He hadn’t heard the door open, hadn’t seen anyone a second before, but there he was. The man was slim and tall, and he was wearing a neat suit. Just by the way he’d said ‘hello’, Gary could tell he was Russian.
‘H… Hi?’ Gary said. ‘Listen, I don’t… I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’
Why had he said that? That was ridiculous. He had a brief flash of two words, but he couldn’t remember where he’d seen them: real murder. Was that it? There was much more, but he couldn’t recall. He swore.
‘Shall we begin?’ The Russian said, turning to look at the wall behind him. Gary watched him with wide eyes, hypnotised. The man would reach for something, then shake his head and take it away again, all the while muttering to himself.
The drug haze was all gone now. Now everything was too real, right up in his face. He could smell the varnish of the table he lay on. The cold sweat cooling in the wind on his forehead. His heart was beating so hard his vision was shaking.
The Russian reached for the bone saw, hesitated… and selected a steak knife. He looked at it, smiling. It was rusted but sturdy.
‘Oooooh no. Oooooh NO. I’m gonna need a tetanus shot for that one,’ Gary said, giggling madly. His body was electrified with fear, now. He struggled against the bonds with fresh energy, even felt the table move a few inches over the floor boards. Maybe that was the way, he thought. What if he could get over to the window and tip himself through it? But no, the table was nowhere near big enough.
The Russian approached him, and now his excitement was evident. His eyes had an almost Mongolian squint to them, and they glinted. Lightning flashed off them, and a moment later the thunder followed, drowning out Gary’s scream.
The Russian took the steak knife and placed it right over his solar plexus, the point poking into his skin. ‘I think I like this game, don’t you?’ The Russian said. ‘It is very exciting.’
‘No. Nooooo please don’t, please don’t! NOOOO –’
But his cries were cut short as the Russian put all his weight on the handle of the knife and it plunged into him. Grimacing, he twisted the blade and then ripped it out, and only then did Gary find the breath to scream.
For a moment he could only stare at the ceiling and watch fountains of blood fly up with every pump of his thundering heart.
‘JESUS!’ he shouted, half out of surprise. ‘Stop!’
But the Russian had no intention of stopping. He climbed onto the table so that he was straddling Gary, the knife held in both hands. He brought his face close, oblivious of the warm blood spurting up and soaking into his new suit.
‘How does it feel?’ he asked. ‘Is it really bad? I am the murderer, but maybe one day I’ll be the victim, what do you think?’
He lifted the knife and brought it down again, this one landing in Gary’s shoulder. That was a nasty one, but somehow it wasn’t as bad as it should have been. He was losing too much blood, going into shock.
The Russian wrinkled his face as more blood sprayed onto him, but then he was grinning.
Only then, seeing the look on his face, did Gary truly believe he was going to die. In that instant, there was no going back, and the stomach dropped out of him the way it did on the world’s scariest roller coaster.
The Russian grinned at him, showing blood spattered teeth, as he tore the blade form Gary’s shoulder. The pain rushed through him again, sending goose bumps all over his skin. He watched the blade rise higher and higher, the slit eyes open wider and wider, and there was a second when the fear disappeared and he was almost calm.
Then everything was chaos. The Russian brought the knife down again and again, screaming with joy, severing the arteries in his neck, destroying his right eye, widening his smile, digging a hole in his chest.
To Gary, it felt like being punched over and over, but with each stab he felt his heart rate weaken, his skin run cold. His arms and legs relaxed.
As his vision began to fade, he was only aware of the patter of rain on the window sill, and the distant rustling of the trees in the field. Then everything went black.
The black lasted a very long time. At some point, he realised he was still thinking. For a minute, he was struck with a horrible idea: what if this was death? An eternity of blackness, nothing but your own consciousness, floating in the void forever? But then, something unplugged his ears and he heard his own breathing.
A voice spoke to him from the void: ‘How we feeling, Mr. Mathers? Heart still beating there?’
With the voice came a name – Doctor Hagman, and then something else unplugged and there he was, the stocky bald doctor, smiling down at him and fiddling with something above his head.
‘Don’t panic, now, the memory should come back by the minute. All is well, no injuries. You’re not dead, my friend.’
He was in a kind of hospital room, but as the doctor himself had told him when he entered, it wasn’t so much a real hospital as an arcade. Real Murder, inc. Or Limited, or whatever. He was beginning to remember.
Hagman took out another two needles and placed them on a tray beside Gary’s head, followed by a third and a fourth. At last, the odd numbness he’d been feeling receded, leaving all the skin on his body tingling. His heart was still beating like crazy, though, and he turned to the doctor with wide eyes. ‘That was incredible,’ he said.
Hagman beamed and extended his hand. ‘Glad to be of service.’
Gary shook it vigorously, for the first time truly glad to be alive.
‘Now, a couple of things, just mandatory questions seeing as how this was a test run.’
‘Really good. Dial it down a little, maybe, but not too much – otherwise it wouldn’t be as real, you know?’
‘Excellent,’ he whipped out a clipboard and pen and began to scribble notes.
‘I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with heart problems.’
‘Right, right,’ Hagman said, nodding. ‘No one over say, fifty, or younger than eighteen, of course. –’
‘Because that was damned scary.’
Hagman laughed. ‘How’d you like the setting?’
‘Brilliant. A little cliché, maybe, but man, I wasn’t thinking of any of that stuff at the time. I was just like, where am I, whose that guy, what are those…’
‘Ah, yes, about that. We gave you something to confuse you temporarily, how did that work? Obviously, the thrill isn’t as good if you remember me.’
‘Sure, yeah. Worked fine. Listen, I gotta tell you, Doctor. I’ve been skydiving, bungee jumping, you name it. Nothing, I mean nothing, has ever given me a rush like that. Look at my hand, it’s still shaking.’
Hagman laughed again, clearly pleased. ‘Well I’m glad, Mr. Mathers. We were worried about how the victims would experience it, even if they had volunteered. Was there anything else?’
Gary thought for a minute. ‘Yeah, who was that guy? Did you pull him from a mental institution? Prison?’
But Hagman shook his head, bemused. ‘No, actually he was playing you from the adjoining room. Just your average Joe. Physicist, I think.’
Gary got up off the chair, which was very much like one you’d find in a dentistry. Except for the odd contraption hanging above it, which looked like some kind of robotic octopus.
‘We’ll need you to answer a few questions for review in the next room,’ Hagman was saying. ‘It’ll help us get it up to standard before the official release.’
‘Sure, no problem. Oh, yeah, just one more thing, doc,’ he said, hand on the doorknob.
‘Can I be the killer next time?’
Hagman laughed and winked. ‘Sure, why not?’