“Long day, man?”
Jarred stares ahead at the clerk, unaware that he was even just asked anything. After a twelve hour shift on a short amount of sleep, small talk was the last thing on his mind. Mindlessly he gives a half smile by instinct and nods his head. The dark-haired clerk doesn’t respond to his action, instead she swipes loose strands of hair away exposing purple undertones dyed near the base. She grabs a pack of Wilson cigarettes and slides them across the counter. “You should get some rest.”
He looks at her name tag, it read: Hello, my name is Ceilidh.
“Yeah.” His response is short and to the point. She says nothing else but the total of his purchase, taking the hint. Jarred steps out packing his smokes into his palm before tearing open the top and pulling one out pinched between his teeth. “Life is only beautiful when you add ugly habits to it.” He chuckles and gets into his car. Jarred wasn’t a miserable person, he didn’t suffer from depression or anxiety, he was simply just growing bored with life. His wife, Rebecca, was sweet as syrup, and his daughter, Tabitha, was his pride and joy, yet over time the mundane repeating cycle of working/sleeping in-between family dinners and get-togethers had grown stale. Pointless even. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them, he was just tired of rinse and repeat. His smoking habit was a dirty secret, he told Rebecca he quit smoking a year ago, which was true at the time, but idle hands have to find something to keep them from turning into the devil’s playground. So after work for the past three months he would stop by a park a few blocks away from home, strike a match and inhale the alluring chemicals that tickled his lungs.
Putting his car in park, he turns the volume up on a radio station for background noise and reclines his seat back. He sits behind an overgrown bush in a small parking lot just behind the park. The park is old and unused, faded graffiti and gang signs cover the decrepit slides, there is only one swing and the chain was broken on one end, this was no haven for children. Homeless people could be spotted sleeping underneath the structure at times, although they never seemed to pose a threat to Jarred. Abandoned railroad tracks laid nearby going over a bridge that hovered above a creek, the entire setting seemed to shout despair. This section of town was surely an eyesore, yet it was isolated.
“In other news today, after having a search party for a month the missing teenager, Kaity Veeler, was found today in the woods. Police suspect foul play-”
Jarred switches stations and pokes another cigarette between his lips.
“Witnesses claim the body was partially eaten-”
He changes stations until music whizzes on. “This town is ridiculous.” Fumbling his pockets for his box of matches, he leans sideways to dig into his pants and notices someone walking down the street. Not that was usual, except she was in a hospital gown and barefoot. “What the f…”
She fidgets with a bundled up cluster in her hands, mumbling to herself. Her hair is entangled on one side, red stains are nestled in her blonde streaks. The green gown is dirty and loose-fitting. Wind carries it up for a second revealing that she wore nothing beneath, but more disturbing was what was on her body. Bruises, and not just barely noticeable ones. Jarred pulls his phone out and debates on whether he should call his wife or the police. “Wait,” he says aloud. “I’m not sure if she’s even in danger, what if she’s on drugs or homeless? She could be dangerous even?”
She turns past the park and begins to step onto the railroad tracks, broken glass and rocks drive into the soles of her feet, yet it was as if she either couldn’t feel it, or she didn’t care. Now in a better view, Jarred sees the clump of rope in her hands. One end was tied off creating a loop, she places it over her head and gives it a tug, still mumbling to herself.
Jarred drops his phone in the passenger seat and flings his door open, “Hey, do you need help?”
She continues talking, kneeling down she ties one end to a chunk of wood extending over the edge and fastens it. Standing back up she pulls on the rope, constricting it around her throat. Running now, he begins to yell, “Wait! Don’t do it!”
Finally acknowledging his presence, she looks to him, her right eye socket is cavernous, dry blood crusted around the rim. A darkened spiral winded into grooves within one cheek leading to her ear, it looked like the mark of an oven burner. “Please, I beg you, do not get involved. This is my game, let me be.”
Slowing down he stops near the creek and starts to ease his way up the side of the tracks, both arms extended openly. “Hey, we can talk about this. I’ll hear you out I-”
“You don’t understand, please leave!” Her remaining eye tearing up, she no longer looked insane or on drugs. She genuinely looked terrified. Jarred takes another step forward, the woman turns and looks down the road from which she walked from, then back to him. “Your fate has been sealed. I wish you luck.”
He stops and stares in confusion. “My fate? What are you talking about?”
The woman leans forward and allows gravity to pull her down near the murky waters and moss-covered rocks. A loud crack is heard, like a board snapping in half. Jarred screams and runs over to where she stood, there was nothing he could do yet his conscience told him to try. Her body dangles aimlessly like a morbid Halloween decoration. He looks around and yells for help after realizing his phone was still in the car. He gets up to run back to it and stops halfway, bending over to hurl his lunch. He had never seen anything like this, after adrenalin began to fade it was time for fear and shock to violate his senses. He wipes the dribble onto his sleeve and picks his head up in time to catch a black van driving by slowly, from the direction she was walking from. “Hey, stop I need help!” He waves his arms while frantically yelling. The vehicle continues to drive away.
He makes it to his car and grabs his phone, quickly dialing 911. The ordeal last longer than he expects, answering police questions and of course having to explain to his wife why he was there in the first place, although she wasn’t necessarily that concerned after what he went through. He hugged his daughter and wife tightly that night, not wanting to let them go. They all slept together in his and Rebecca’s bed, something they never did. The morning sun glares its ugly head through the window forcing him to wake up earlier than he wanted to. Rolling over he flings his arm and it lands on a pillow. Letting out a groan, he stretches and sits up to see he’s in bed alone. “Rebecca?” He calls out but no response, no sound of cartoons, no smell of anything cooking.
Maybe they went to the store? He looks for his phone and picks up his jeans from the night before, his phone was still in the pocket. He opens it and sees a text message from an unknown number. Clicking on the message, it reads: Hello, Jarred. You have been selected to be our next contestant, there are no questions. There are no second chances. The rules are simple. No cops, you must complete each task within one hour. If you refuse, you lose. There is always a chance to win, as long as you don’t say no.
Jarred stares into his screen and squints his eyes for a minute. “Is this a f*****g joke? Hey, Rebecca are you here?”
He starts to get out of bed when his phone blinks with a new notification. A message from the unknown number again. He opens the message to see Rebecca and Tabitha, both blind folded with duct tape over their mouths.