Dying isn't a game — or is it? Laura and Marti will find out the answer to that question on one particular night when things get a lot scarier than these two girls ever imagined.
Laura jabbed Marti’s leg with her foot. “Okay, now it’s my turn.
“You wake up. You’re strapped to a cold, hard, metal table. You can’t move anything. You can’t even turn your head. You’re held down by tape and straps. There’s even tape across your mouth holding it closed. The only things you can move are your eyes. You’re scared. You don’t know how you got here. There’s a big light just above you, like in an operating room. ‘Oh, my God,’ you think, ‘was I in an accident? Are they going to operate on me?’ Then a man walks up and stands next to you. You can’t see his face, the light is just above him and it’s so bright it hurts to look, so you close your eyes.
“Now he’s doing something to your face, he’s putting some sort of frame over your eyes. You know it’s metal because it’s cold where it touches your face. He pulls up your left eyelid and attaches something to it. Oh, God, that hurts! You try to scream but you can’t because of the tape on your mouth. All that comes out is a little whimpering sound from your throat. Your eyelid hurts so much! And you can’t close it. Why is he doing this to you?
“He walks around to the right side of the operating table. You know what he’s going to do, so you close your right eye as hard as you can. But it doesn’t do any good, he squeezes across your eye with one hand then pries your eyelid open with the other. That hurts, but not as much as when he attaches the mechanism to your eyelid and it’s held open.
“You realize that a woman is standing on the other side of the operating table. She moves her head so she’s looking right down at you, but you can’t see what she looks like. She’s just a dark shadow in front of the bright light above her. She turns and you hear a rustling of metal on metal, like something’s being moved on a metal tray. Then she turns back to you and you see she’s holding a long, thin needle. She pinches your cheek under your left eye, hard, and that hurts. Then she points the needle at your eye. She moves it around a little, like she’s aiming it, and slowly moves it down to your eye. Oh, please, God, don’t let her... you try to scream, but you can’t. She pushes the needle right into the corner of your eyeball! You’ve never felt such horrible pain in your entire life. Tears are flowing from your eye. And there’s blood, too, it’s flowing across your eye and you’re looking through the blood so the bright light is pink. You can still see out of that eye, but it hurts like hell. You’re making little ‘uh-uh-uh-uh’ sounds because that’s all you can do.
“You hear that metal-on-metal sound again, and she has another needle and pushes it into the other corner of your eye. Then again, then again, then again. You pass out from the horrible pain.
“A while later you wake up. The woman is on your left side you feel her pulling a hypodermic needle out of your arm. The man is looking down at you on your right side, and he is holding a needle. Somehow, you can see his mouth, just a little. He has a horrible grin, like he knows what he’s going to do is cause you excruciating pain — oh, I love that word, ‘excruciating’ — and very, very, very slowly he pushes the needle into your eye. You pass out again.
“When you wake up, you’re drenched in sweat. That’s when you realize that you’re naked. You’ve been naked all along, but never thought about that. The pain in your eyes is so horrible! You can still see out of them, but everything is blurred and strange and pinkish. They’d put the needles all around in each eyeball. You can still see, but what you see is like looking through a forest of long needles and in a heavy pink fog. It hurts so bad! It’s the most pain you’ve ever felt. You want to pass out, but you can’t.
“The woman is there, again. This time you can’t see what she’s doing until you feel pain right in the center of your left eye, and then you can’t see out of it anymore. You don’t pass out. You want to, but you don’t pass out. You’re making little screeching sounds now, over and over and over and over. Now she’s doing something with the needle. She’s pushing it in further. Now there’s a horrible pain inside your head! She’s pushing a needle, a long, long needle, through your eyeball into your brain.
“The man is on the other side, and he does the same thing. The pain is worse than excruciating, you don’t even have a word for it, it’s so bad. You don’t even make any sounds anymore. You’re beyond screaming. Then you feel both needles, the needles in your brain, being pushed in, ever so slowly, further into your brain.
“Everything goes black. You’re dead.”
Laura turned to Marti and grinned. Marti had such a wonderful, horrific, expression. Laura knew the story was a good one. It had scared Marti, and Marti never got scared from Dying Game stories. Laura rubbed Marti’s arm and it was covered with goosebumps, and even a little sweat. And she was shivering, just a little.
“Did you like my dying story? I think it’s the best one yet!”
“Oh, shit, Laura. It was awful. It was wonderful. I hated it! I loved it! I can’t ever tell one any better than that. I give up. You win. I’m done. I’ll probably have nightmares and wake up screaming and that’ll wake you up and it’ll be your fault for telling such a horrid, scary, awful, wonderful, delicious dying story. I absolutely loved it! How’d you ever think that up? Ewww, no! I don’t want to know!”
“There was this old movie on TV the other night, ‘Clockwork Orange’, and it had this creepy, terrible scene where some doctors in some sort of institution are doing some kind of therapy to convert this kid who’s a really nasty, evil delinquent, and they have this mechanism they strap to his head to keep his eyes open so he can’t sleep. There’s a bright overhead light, and they keep dripping some sort of drops in his eyes. That made me think of using pins instead of eye drops.”
“Ack! I told you I didn’t want to know!” Marti looked over at the clock and yawned. “I’m not sure I wanta go to sleep. But it’s almost two a.m. and I’m tired.”
“Hey, you’re not getting away without telling a Dying Game story! It’s your turn. Come on, I want a story. Then we can go to sleep.”
“Okay, okay. Let’s see. Okay, here’s one. There’s this girl, she’s you, and you’re in bed and it’s dark. You hear a scraping sound from your closet, like there’s someone in there. You grab the flashlight you keep in the drawer of the nightstand next to your bed, and when the closet door slides open you point the flashlight at it and turn it on. You let out a bloodcurdling scream because there’s a huge, hairy monster standing there. Orange pus is dripping off his long, sharp fangs, and his eyes are all glowing red, all twelve of them, he’s got gigantic claws that are covered in blood, and he’s looking at you with this hungry look, like you’re dinner. You scream again and push yourself up against the head of your bed. The monster stomps across the floor toward you. You roll off the bed onto the floor on the other side from the monster. You slide under the bed and bump into something. It’s your softball bat! You’d forgotten about it. You grab it. You can see the monster’s feet and ankles, so you swing the bat really hard just above the floor and smash it into his ankle. He screeches and falls down. There’s green monster blood spurting all over out of his ankle. You slide back to the other side of the bed, stand up on the bed, and swinging the bat down, you jump and smash the monster’s head with...”
“...the bat and it bursts like....”
“Shhh! Be quiet!” Laura jabbed Marti’s side.
“Ow! Hey, what’d you poke me for? That hurt!”
“Quiet for a minute! I think I heard something downstairs like someone’s trying to break into the house.”
“Hey, I didn’t interrupt you telling your story....”
“No, no! Really! I heard something like a banging noise. Keep quiet for a minute!”
The two girls laid still, making no sound except their nervous breathing. There was a rattling noise from downstairs, then the sound of glass breaking, followed by the sound of a door being forced open.
“Oh, my God! There IS someone breaking in! That was the back door in the kitchen.”
“Maybe it’s your brother. Maybe he forgot his key.”
“Yeah, so instead of ringing the doorbell or hollering, he breaks into the house? I think it’s a burglar!”
“Call the cops!”
Laura reached over and picked up the phone on her nightstand, and dialed 9-1-1. After two rings it was answered.
“Emergency services. Is there a problem at 156 Pauley Court?”
“Yes, yes, someone broke into our house. We heard the glass on the back door being broken and the door smashed in. They’re in the house now!”
“Where are you?”
“In my bedroom. Upstairs.”
“Laura Whaley. My folks are out and so’s my brother. I’m here with my friend Marti Ellis. We’re having a sleepover. Please send someone, right away!”
“All right. Can you lock your bedroom door? Or move a heavy piece of furniture in front of it?”
“Yes. I’ll lock it now.”
Laura got out of bed and ran to the door, quietly closed it, and clicked the lock. Their house was old. Unlike the newer houses most of her friends lived in, there were real locks, sturdy locks, on the bedroom doors that required a key to unlock, and the doors were heavy, made from solid wood. “Marti, quick! Go lock the hall door in Tim’s bedroom, and when you come back, lock the door on his side of our bathroom.”
Laura picked up the phone. “Okay, the doors are locked.”
“How many doors are there?”
“Do you have something you can push in front of the doors, like a dresser or desk?”
“No, everything’s either too big and heavy to move or is bolted to the walls or doesn’t weigh enough to keep anyone out.”
“What about your bed?”
“It’s got wheels, so it rolls around too easy. Oh, God, I’m so scared! When will the police get here?”
“Alright, you keep calm. I’ve dispatched a squad car, and they should be there in about ten minutes.”
“Please have them hurry, I don’t....”
A man’s voice, a voice Laura didn’t recognize, interrupted the conversation. “Excuse me! Who’s on this line? Laura, who are you talking to? What game do you think....”
The dispatcher broke in. “This is the Oakhurst Police dispatcher. Who are you sir, how did you get on this call?”
“I’m Laura’s father. She’s....”
“HE IS NOT MY DAD! HE MUST BE THE ROBBER ON A PHONE DOWNSTAIRS! HELP US....”
“I am Laura Whaley’s father, Ralph Whaley. Laura’s been a bad girl, I grounded her, and she’s trying to get back at me.”
“HE’S LYING! HE’S NOT MY DAD. OH MY GOD, PLEASE HAVE THE POLICE COME BEFORE HE KILLS ME!”
“Sir, can you provide any other identification to prove you are who you say you are?”
“NO! NO! DON’T BELIEVE HIM!”
“I don’t know what I could do over the phone, but I assure you I’m her father.”
“Is her mother....”
“MY MOM AND DAD ARE HAVING DINNER AT THE CROSSWELL’S, JAMES CROSSWELL, CALL THEM, YOU’LL SEE!”
Laura turned to Marti. “He must have cut the phone wire. The line went dead.”
“What are we going to do? He could break in here before the police arrive.”
“If they come. The dispatcher woman might have believed the guy and told them not to come. I don’t know what to do! Oh, God!”
“Wait a minute... I saw something in Tim’s room... I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t unlock the bathroom door....”
It was too late, Marti was through the connecting bathroom, unlocked the door on Tim’s side, and ran into his bedroom. Laura couldn’t hear anything. What if the killer — and she was certain that whoever he was that he was a killer — was in Tim’s room already? She was startled by a loud knocking on her bedroom door.
“Oh, Lauuuu-ra! Little Lauuuu-ra! Unlock the door, Lauuuu-ra! I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your door dow-ow-n, and then I’ll be maa-ad. You don’ wanna make me maa-ad cuz that’ll be very baa-ad for you, Lauuuu-ra.”
More pounding on the door with the noise of the doorknob being turned and jiggled, then thumping like he was trying to force open the door with his shoulder.
Marti came back from Tim’s bedroom. She was grinning. “See what I....”
Laura waved her hand and put her index finger over her mouth as she rushed over to Marti and whispered in her ear. “Shhhh! Just whisper, he’s right outside my door. I don’t think he knows you’re here. You can hide in Tim’s closet if he breaks in.” She finally noticed what Marti was carrying. “What’s that for?”
“I won’t need to hide in Tim’s closet. I found this baseball bat in his bedroom.”
It was Tim’s aluminum baseball bat. He played first base for the Hillcrest High varsity.
“Lauuuu-ra! Open your dooo-or. You don’ wanna make your Saaaamie ma-aad, so beeee a little sweeee-tee and open the dooo-or!”
“Oh my God! I remember him, the name and that voice. It’s that old weirdo Sam guy who was one of the landscaping people my folks had here a couple months ago. He talked to me like that, sort of sing-songy. He kept trying to get me to talk to him but I wouldn’t and I told him to leave me alone and I think he got pissed at me. I knew he was a pervert or something. What are we going to do? Marti, I’m scared!”
“Look, Laura, if he gets in here I’m gonna bash his brains out with this.” Marti swung the bat hard, and it created a whistling sound as it swung around.
There was pounding on Laura’s door again. “Lauuuu-ra. I’m getting really ma-aad! Let me ih-in!”
“Why don’t those cops get here? Wait a minute. Jeez, what a dumbbell! Our cells! Marti, go into my closet and close the door and call your dad on your cell. Have him call the cops!”
“My cell’s in my backpack. In your family room. Downstairs.”
“Oh shit! Mine’s in my backpack down there too.”
Now there were scraping and prying noises accompanied by hammering sounds at Laura’s door, and the doorknob was rattling and the door was shaking with each bang.
“He’s trying to take off the doorknob. Oh, God, he’s going to get in! Marti, what’re we going to do?”
“I told you, I’m going to bash in his brains with this bat.”
“Yeah, sure. Like you could do that.”
“Yeah, sure, like I can do that. You forget, I played softball and I was the leading hitter. Seventeen home runs last semester, most ever for a sophomore. Not bad for a girl. I for sure will make that bastard hurt like he’s never hurt before. Just like the monster in my story.”
“Oh, God, I forgot about your monster story. It’s like it’s coming true!”
“How big’s this guy? Maybe I better stand on something next to the door so I have better leverage to smash his brains out.” Marti grinned. Laura stared at her, thinking that it was about the nastiest grin she’d ever seen.
“You’re really getting into this, aren’t you?”
Marti looked at Laura for a couple of seconds, then grinned. “Yeah, I am, aren’t I. So... how tall’s this guy?”
“He’s a little skinny old guy, about my height, five-four or five.”
With that, Marti dragged a long, low bench from the foot of Laura’s bed, pushed it against the wall next to the bedroom door, and stood up on it. She took a couple of practice swings.
The banging and scraping noises had continued while Marti made her preparations. There was a metallic screeching sound, and the inside doorknob fell onto the floor.
Sam’s voice could be heard from the other side of the door. “Okay, Lauuu-ra, no more fun and games-zies. It’s serious now-oow. Heeeeeer comes... SAMIE!”
Laura moved back from the door as far as she could get. She was leaning against her dressing table. As her hand pressed against the top of the table she felt her hairbrush. She grabbed it and held it in front of herself, like it was a weapon.
There was some more noise at the door and the lock and latch clicked. The door slowly swung open, and Sam stood there, a hammer in one hand and a long butcher knife in the other. He looked in at Laura, and licked his lips.
“Hi, little Lauuuu-ra.” He looked at the hairbrush Laura was holding. “Oh, that’s swee-eet, little Lauuuu-ra. Making yourself pret-ty for your Saaaa-mie.”
Sam took one step into the bedroom, and stopped because he saw a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye. That was the last thing he saw. Marti’s swing was perfect. It would have been a sure home run if she’d been playing softball. Instead it connected just below Sam’s forehead, across the bridge of his nose and his eye sockets. There was the sound of bone shattering, and Sam slumped to the floor, unconscious, and the hammer and knife flew in opposite directions.
Marti jumped down from the bench. She raised the bat above her head, and swung it downward and it connected with the top of Sam’s head with a satisfying CRACK sound. Sam’s body jerked once, then once again. There was no further movement or sound from the intruder.
Marti pushed on Sam’s leg with her foot. “Looks like our little Saaaamie is gonna be out for a while.” She grinned, turned, and looked at Laura who was still leaning against the dressing table, holding the hairbrush. Laura was as white as a sheet, her eyes were as wide as saucers, tears were running down her cheeks, and she was breathing hard. The hairbrush slid out of her hand onto the floor, and she covered her face with her hands and started sobbing.
Marti tossed the bat onto the bed and walked over to Laura and pulled her into a hug. Laura’s sobs changed to sniffling sounds. After a few seconds, Laura stepped back and rubbed her eyes with her forearm and her nose with the back of her other hand.
“Come on Laura, let’s get out of here and go downstairs. We can get my cell and call the police.”
“No? Why not?”
“We gotta make sure he can’t move, can’t get at us, can’t get away. You stay here and guard him, I’m gonna get some duct tape from downstairs.”
With that Laura ran past Sam and out of the bedroom. Marti picked up the bat and stood guard, far enough away that if he came to he wouldn’t be able to grab her. Laura returned with a large roll of silver-colored duct tape and a pair of scissors.
“Give me a hand. I want to tie him up really good.”
She started by cutting long pieces of tape which they wrapped tightly around and around Sam’s ankles and knees. “Help me roll him onto his stomach. That way we can tape his hands and wrists together in back of him.” When that was done, Laura stood and looked down at Sam. “I think that’ll hold him. Let’s roll him on his back.”
“Ewww! There’s blood all over your rug, Laura. His nose is bleeding... I’ll bet I broke his nose! Sweet!” Marti grinned again, and Laura saw it was the same nasty grin she’d seen earlier.
There was an almost inaudible gasp of breath from Sam. Both girls jumped back, and Marti grabbed the bat and raised it, ready to strike.
“Don’t hit him again. He can’t hurt us or get up or get away all tied up like this.”
They watched Sam, this time from a distance. He didn’t seem to be conscious. He didn’t seem to be alive.
“I want to go downstairs and call Mom and Dad and call the cops and make sure they’re coming.”
“Okay. I’ll stay here and watch him so he doesn’t go anywhere.”
Laura started to walk toward her bedroom door — and Sam.
“NO! Don’t go that way. Don’t go near him. I don’t trust him. He could be awake and faking it. Go through the bathroom.”
Laura stopped and looked at the unconscious body of Sam, then back at Marti, shook her head, turned, and left through the bathroom.
Marti looked down at the body. The bleeding had slowed, and a dark bruise was forming around Sam’s nose and eyes. She grinned as she remembered one of her grandmother’s favorite sayings: ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish.’
It was hard to tell if he was breathing. He was a skinny old guy just like Laura said. He was wearing an oversize hoodie so she couldn’t see if his chest was moving in and out. ‘Maybe he is dead. Maybe I killed him. That’s pretty scary. And pretty cool.’
Despite those gruesome thoughts, Marti smiled. This was fun. A lot better than playing the Dying Game. This was REAL!
Suddenly Marti felt exhausted. She sat on the corner of the bed, and started to study the body lying on the floor. ‘I wonder if he really is dead. I don’t give a shit if he is. Oh, my God, this’ll be in all the papers and on TV.’ She thought about the headlines: “Girls Kill Intruder!”
‘Well, that’s not really accurate is it,’ she thought. ‘If he’s dead, it’s ME who killed the intruder. Me alone. Laura just stood there and didn’t do anything. It’d be “Girl Kills Intruder!” I wonder if I’d be arrested? Probably not, I’m the hero. Heroine. Whatever. I guess Laura did her part, she was the... the decoy. That’s it, that’s the word.’
Marti stared at the wall, at nothing, really. She replayed the whole incident in her mind, from the moment Laura interrupted her while she was telling her Dying Game story to when they tied up Sam with the duct tape. ‘This is the most fun I’ve ever had. I love it. I loved every second of it! This is a real Dying Game and I’m in the story. Freakin’ cool!’
She looked down at Sam, leaned forward, and stared at his face and neck. She could see a little movement in his neck, sort of an in and out movement. He was breathing. ‘So he’s still alive. Shit.’
She began thinking about what would happen with him being alive. There’d still be headlines, and TV interviews, lots of reporters. They’d take Sam away in an ambulance and he’d be locked up. They’d probably take him to the hospital first, but there’d be police guarding his room. Two police, in the hospital hallway sitting in chairs on each side of the door, making sure no one would go into or come out of Sam’s room unless they were authorized, just like on TV. There’d be a trial. Breaking and entering. She remembered that from watching CSI. Probably attempted murder, too. He was carrying a knife. Of course, he never tried to kill either of them, so maybe it wouldn’t be attempted murder. But it would still be something bad. Brandishing a weapon. She remembered that from CSI too. And she and Laura would be called as witnesses.
‘Oh, how delicious! I’ll be a key witness at his trial. He’ll have his family sitting there, crying.’ Marti paused for a moment. ‘I wonder if he has a family. A sick wife and an old mother and they depend on him. Tough shit. Laura and I’ll describe what happened, how scared we were. We’ll break down on the witness stand because remembering is so... so... traumatic! I’ll tell the jury how traumatic it was when Sam started pounding on the door, and when he broke in.’
She thought about her testimony, what she’d say and how she’d say it.
‘I just don’t know how I did it, Your Honor. He had this huge knife, and I was so scared! Oh, and a big hammer in his other hand. I just knew that he was going to rape us both, then kill us. Laura was standing on the other side of her room, by her dressing table. He kept saying all these awful things about getting in and getting us. I was so scared! Then he came in with this awful, hateful expression on his face. I just swung the bat to protect me and Laura. It was so lucky that I knocked him out. A miracle. He’s a grown man, we’re just two teenage... no... we're just two young girls.’ She smirked, and rolled her eyes so she was looking up. ‘God was watching over us. Oh, thank you, God!’
Marti chuckled. What a great line. She’d have the jury in the palm of her hand. This would be a good place to start crying. ‘Yeah, crying on the witness stand will be perfect.’
A noise interrupted her thoughts. Someone was ringing the doorbell and pounding on the front door. That must be the cops. Marti stood up, turned and looked at herself in the mirrored closet door. She looked too neat. She needed to look scared, and vulnerable, and... disheveled. She pulled at her nightie and sort of twisted it around, undid the top button and pulled the right sleeve down a little, and mussed her hair. She rubbed her eyes, pinched and twisted her eyelids and cheeks until they hurt, and blinked until there were some tears. Tears were always good. She stepped up to the mirror and looked closely at her eyes. They were red, and a little puffy. She rubbed them, hard, some more. ‘There, that’s better. After all, I’ve... we’ve been through a traumatic experience.’
She heard Laura coming upstairs, telling the police that Sam was in her bedroom, that he was tied up, and calling out to Marti that the police had come and everything was going to be okay.
It was hard to suppress her grin, but when Marti bit down hard on her tongue it took care of that little problem. ‘I don’t think we’re going to need to play the Dying Game for a while. This is going to be much better. Much better, indeed!’
Marti cleared her throat, forced some tears, and started to sob. “Oh, my God! Laura! Is that the police? In here, in here! Oh, thank God, I’m so glad you’re here! I’ve been so scared! I’m in here!”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing The Dying Game!
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