Dice and Daggers

The world ended over a hundred years ago. Now, we must abide by the rules of The Nameless or we will be sacrificed to the river demons. Few who have managed to survive all this time from Nameless tyranny remain in fear of the day we are discovered. Our wisdom of the world outside the city walls would completely shatter the current government structure and send all those loyal to ONE (The Nameless Leader), crumbling to their knees.

My childhood feels like eons ago. I was captured seven – no eight- years ago. Torture by my ‘merciful’ hosts have all but numbed me to pain. Every single friend that I grew up with had either escaped that night succumbed to our captor’s unspeakable acts. But the numbness only covers my physical wounds because there is a haunting guilt that drags me down. And, no matter how hard I try to push it out of my head, I will never forget that day.

***

“Ten, eleven, TWELVE,” I shouted as the yellow piece on the game board moved to the end of the line. “I win again.”

“I don’t even think you know how to play this stupid thing,” Christine huffed and crossed her arms. “Does anyone here even know all the rules except Peter?”

“The rules were probably destroyed by The Nameless,” Ethan said. “So Pete makes them up.”

“Are you having fun or not?” I whispered loudly and looked around the abandoned Laundromat.

“I don’t even know why I hang out with you guys,” Mark sneered. “We don’t ever do anything fun.”

Sandy threw a couple pieces at an old dryer, a ting of metal echoed through the room. “How can we have fun when it’s impossible to win. Whenever one of us gets close to the end, you change it up and we lose. And you win.”

Her brother, Randy was always the loudest. He could never keep his voice down. “No more game. I want a new one. We make the rules or -“

The threat was cut short. Just outside the paper-covered windows was the sound of screaming and footprints.

Nameless, Rebecca mouthed as we skidded to the back room. Our feet squeaked loudly from the puddles we had just walked through. Josh slipped to his back but Randy and I managed to pull him into the bathroom to wait. Eight of us were crammed in the little room, hoping and praying that they didn’t hear us. Eight thirteen-year-olds.

Randy, Sandy, Rebecca, Josh, Ethan, Christine, Mark, and me in the humid, smelly bathroom of an ancient building. A single window supplied some fresh air. We were all silent, craning to hear the sound of broken glass or nearby footsteps. All of our parents made us swear that, even if we heard them scream, we would run the opposite direction. If we were caught, we would be sacrificed to the river demons.

My mother always told me that the myth of the river demons came from the “Nameless’ ignorance to science”. “Apparently, knowledge has been lost to those who live in the cities,” she would say. “Willow River was tainted by poison long ago. Either sewage or something like this. It must seep into the skin and destroy your insides. Regardless, Pete, it isn’t a demon. There are no such things in another world. The only demons are the here and now… The Nameless.”

I don’t care what my mother says. The thought of being tied and weighed down by cement up to your neck is more terrifying than being stabbed to death by one of their Dalheim Daggers. And those things give me nightmares. Somewhere overseas makes them and ships them through the caravans. Heavily guarded. The weapons themselves? Only a handful of survivors but the same explanation each time – sharp going in and tearing going out. Something inside the mechanism explodes open and tears chunks out of the skin, only to reform into a normal-looking dagger. Outcasts like me have only heard stories, but they probably aren’t far off.

***

An hour must have passed before any of us moved a muscle. We were sore, but it beat whatever hell the Nameless would unleash if they found us. I hopped off the toilet as quietly as I could and pressed my ear against the door. I thought I heard something. Or maybe it was my tired mind playing tricks again.

“So?” Christine whispered. “Are they gone?”

I just motioned for them to follow me out of the swiveling door and into the laundromat. The shadowy silhouettes of armored men and women pacing back and forth caught our eye. I started to feel sick. Everyone else was freaking out behind me.

“Where do we go?”

“What do we do?”

“This is it. We’re going to die.”

“I don’t want to be sacrificed to the Willow River demons.”

Randy and Sandy were crying softly. Christine’s face was ghost white. The only one who had their wits about them besides me was Rebecca. She was looking right at me, awaiting further instruction. Her face gave me the push I needed to get us all out of here.

Inhaling sharp, tension-filled air, I grabbed Ethan by the arm and started pushing everyone towards the back of the building. Crouching and zigzagging between the rows of washers, driers, and tables, they fled. When everyone was safely outside in the alleyway, I took one final look over my shoulder and tried to sprint towards the others.

I slipped.

The sound of board game pieces exploded from underneath my feet and shot towards the rusted metal appliances. Banging, followed by the boom of the board itself immediately made my heart race. I was sweating. I was terrified. I was frozen.

I couldn’t move.

***

I must have broken my leg. To this day, that’s what I tell myself. Needless to say, our story didn’t end with a happy ending. The Nameless busted through the door almost immediately and tackled me and Rebecca, who had turned back for me. Sandy, Mark, and Ethan fell to the Dalheim Daggers. Their screams haunt every second of my life. The sheer pain of which I cannot imagine. Randy, Christine, and Josh were dragged away with me. But Rebecca… my near savior… somehow managed to fight her way out of that god-forsaken laundromat.

I never her again.

And here I am. Randy was the first to go. Didn’t even make it a week. Poor guy. Next was Josh… I saw his final breath. Tied to a chair and I watched as they performed ‘experiments’ on the both of us. It was to test our pain threshold. The Nameless that Josh fell victim was slightly too proud of his job and took it too far. That kid would never see sixteen.

Christine and I shared adjacent prison cells and became very close friends. One day, about two years ago, she got sick from the slop they feed us. Well, that’s what she said, but it could’ve also been the deplorable conditions we are forced to live in. Either way, I felt worse for her long, drawn-out death than the others. She suffered immensely for twenty five days, moaning from the pain.

“Do you think there is an afterlife?” We had talked about it. Considered whether our friends were in a good place. I hoped they were. They didn’t deserve what they got.

“Yeah,” I truly believed it. “Anywhere has to be better than hear. Growing up wherever they are has to be better than growing up like we did.”

I saw her hand come around the other cell. I reached out and held it. Her skin was cold and clammy. My stomach churned in guilt and sadness as I began to cry softly for her and the others.

She snickered. “Ain’t that the truth. I bet it’s a nice place where you just get to do what you want. No rules but no fear. Beautiful mountains with the ocean not too far. Always sunny with a slight breeze. Delicious food…”

Now she was becoming my rock. “Do you think the rest of them are there too?”

“Absolutely.” She tore her hand away to cough until she nearly fell unconscious. “Sorry man. I don’t think I’m going to be here for much longer. But at least I have a nice place to go.”

Death was her release.

“I’ll see you on the other side Pete,” she said.

The following morning, she was dead.

Today is my final day. My fate is the Willow River. I have endured so much pain and torture that I was ‘chosen’ by ONE as a sacrifice to appease the demons. They tore me out of my cell, instructed me to dress in a white robe and ushered me out the door of the prisons, blindfolded.

The ride was long, but we made it within and hour or so. I became accustomed to guessing how much time had passed in my years as a prisoner. To be honest, I wasn’t scared at all. Christine’s words gave me hope. Anywhere had to be better than here anyway. But it was the shock of what I saw when my eyes adjusted to the light that scared the soul right out of me.

It wasn’t a ‘what’. It was a ‘who’.

It was Rebecca.

I didn’t recognize her at first. She had not aged as much as I had imagined. Because it had been so long, my last vision of her was at thirteen. Now, she was nearing twenty. Clad in the same white dress that I was, she stood facing the crowd that had gathered. She instantly recognized me.

“P-P-Pete?” she choked. I could see the tears welling in her eyes. “I-I-I-… I thought you were -.”

“Dead?” I wiped my eyes as they untied my bonds. “Same here. You okay?”

We were pushed near the water’s edge. “Yeah. You?”

“I’m about to be,” he smiled. “Sorry about back then… I still feel so indescribably awful.”

“Don’t you blame this on yourself Peter McMillan,” she scolded with a tearful smile. “Please. This world isn’t meant for us… but maybe the next is.”

She reminded me of Christine. I had almost forgotten that they were cousins. Two Nameless on either side of us, tying our arms to heavy blocks on a platform that dropped at our feet. Just below us was the clear water of the Willow River. Bones of countless victims strewn just under the surface.

“Rebecca,” I called to her. She turned. “Thanks for coming back for me when the other’s didn’t.”

“How could I not?” she laughed. “You were always the cutest one!”

With that, the lever was pulled and I felt the cold water splash over me. Then, it began to burn. I relived the day that led up to this one last time and looked over at Rebecca. A tinge of fear in her eyes as she gazed back at me. I felt a lurching sensation in my chest, as if my heart was trying to keep up with the water dissolving it. Then, I started to get tunneled vision, blackness encroached on me. Finally, I felt lighter than air as the last ray of sunlight disappeared in front of my eyes…

I’ll see you on the other side, Pete

My apologies for the dark prompt today. I hope you enjoyed it though! 🙂

I don’t have a prompt that I made today, but hopefully you can use the one above for your own story.

“I met her there…”

Superheroes are bull – y’know. No one exists like Spiderman or Wonder Woman. Well, that’s what I was told when I was younger. My parents aren’t – weren’t – special. Is anyone really? If we are all unique, then are any of us?

That’s what I struggle with on the daily. Wondering if there is anyone who has a shred of understanding as to what I am. Even if you would or could call me a Superhero… I wouldn’t be a very good one. Nah… I’d be pretty crappy at best. I wouldn’t even get a comic strip in the newspaper.

I stopped telling people what I see when I was a kid. No one believed me anyway. I actually considered standing in a nursing home to perform my gift, but that would be way too dark. Plus, I’d probably be arrested anyway. Loitering or Soliciting probably.

Oh, I guess I should tell you about my ‘gift’. It’s simple really. Clocks… not clocks. Timers on people’s heads. I can see them. They tell me how much longer you have to live. Found out that meaning the hard way. My younger brother… Thought it was odd that his timer was so short. My mom heard the scream from the yard and ran outside. EMS claimed he fell out of a tree playing with friends. To this day, I think he was pushed. Evil intent of a five-year-old? Probably not, but possible…. It’s things like that that make me want to intervene and sometimes I want to tell people. But like I said, who would believe a teenage kid like me? Even if they did, I’d probably freak them out.

And by the way, I don’t like coffee. I’m more of a soda-drinker. But I get coffee every day now. The coffee shop a few blocks from my dorm, called Bean and Leaves (they sell tea too), is where I spend a good portion of my morning. Most of the time only about an hour and a half.

There’s this girl… Now, I know what you’re thinking but it isn’t like that. Jeez. I may be a teenager but I’m not stalking anyone because I like them. I’ve never even seen her face. And why would I even bother telling you about my gift if it was not relevant to the story? Okay.

No matter when I show up to B&N, she’s already there. And she always leaves before me – strategically before me. I mean that, when she leaves, there’s always a crowd that she can disappear into. Like she knows I’m there, watching. But if she knows, then why hasn’t she said anything? She must know why I come there each day. Unless she thinks I really like coffee. Or I’m a stalker.

I’m starting to think that my gift does not work on her. But then questions of why began to pop up. Each day that I see her, sitting in the corner of the shop with her back turned, typing away on her computer, I glance right above her head. The timer doesn’t have a number. Just a sign that you hear about in math class but never can truly reach. “∞”

Impossible. That’s what I thought at first. That’s what I still think. Monday, October 24th was the day I finally got the courage to sit right behind her. She wasn’t as kind as I had imagined.

“Don’t speak to me,” she said without flinching. “I know you’ve been watching me. Every day. Every single damned day. I don’t care what you want. Know this, you are in a very dangerous situation following me.”

“No.” I swallowed a lump in my throat. It hurt. My stomach was in knots. “You don’t understand why I’m here. I’m curious.”

“Curiosity killed the cat,” she whispered and took a sip of her tea. Herbal – every day. “And you too, if this conversation continues.”

I turned around to face the back of her head. She scolded me almost instantaneously and I spun around the armchair. “You want answers? Come with me. Wait five minutes after I get up and meet me in the parking garage behind the old shoe warehouse.”

This is it! I’m going to die. Too bad I can’t see my own timer because then my heart wouldn’t be beating so fast. She stood up, packed up her laptop, and left. Five minutes went by in a flash and I stood up, tossed my barely-touched coffee in the bin, and started the ten block journey to what could be my demise. “Demise” sounds better than “death” anyway. Makes me feel like I’m in a movie.

Okay now I really feel like I’m in a movie. The parking garage she was talking about has been deserted for decades. Vandals spray their ‘tags’ on the walls and those who believe the ghost stories of the shoe warehouse and surrounding area may show up here from time to time. But it’s otherwise desolate. Today, only one car parked at the very top of the lot. Tinted windows, blacked out rims. Nothing inconspicuous about that! (Yes, I’m being sarcastic! I’m trying to diffuse the tension).

And then, the window rolls down and I come face-to-face with the mysterious woman for the first time. The only thing that draws me to her face are three scars equally spaced sliced across her face. But it isn’t grotesquely distorting anything, just lighter lines of skin extending up into her hairline.

“Get in,” she demands. I oblige.

The car’s nice, very nice. I wonder what she does for a living? What gave her that scar? I’m sure I was about to find out.

Silence. I broke it. I usually do. But I don’t usually blurt out something stupid like I did… “I can see your lifespan above your head. Yours must be wrong. It says -.”

“I’m immortal,” she replied.

I laughed, half nervously, half in disbelief.

“Do you laugh because you already know this?” she turned to me as I slid into the back seat. “Or because you do not believe your own eyes?”

“Okay then,” I was still laughing. Tearing up at this point. “How in the hell are you immortal? That’s impossible.”

“How are you able to see another’s lifespan?” she inquired. Question with a question. It stopped me from laughing, that’s for sure. “That’s impossible. Come back to the coffee shop to meet more of us.”

“But I don’t understand.”

“You will. Oh, and I’m Vanessa by the way.”

“Steven.”

That was my first experience with the group I called the “Infinities” (I’m not very creative). They say that they’re just a different type of human, but I don’t know if I will ever believe that. In the United States alone, there are only about a thousand of them. The World? Maybe 100,000.

I’m sympathetic to them. Each one has their own abilities, like me. Vanessa can manipulate objects with her mind. Before my classes, we gather together and hang out. The first friends I’ve ever really had. A few months go by and they ask me to do them a favor. To meet them in the same parking lot as before. All they tell me is that it is a “test to prove my loyalty.” and that “they’ll answer my question when it’s over.” The question that I’ve been asking since I first met Vanessa – Am I an “Infinity?”

Here I go. Just a few more hours and it’s ‘test’ time with them. I hear familiar and unfamiliar voices and I can see a bonfire flickering at the top of the parking garage…