📅 Published on December 10, 2023


Written by Cesly1987
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.33/10. From 3 votes.
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“Do you play video games, Terrance?” The devil asked as he sat perched atop the podium.

I held my wife’s dying body in my arms, tears streamed from my face, and her blood covered my bare chest. I looked up with a mixture of hate and incredulity. “What?”

The devil stared back intently. In an instant, he flashed from the podium to appear two feet in front of me, kneeling over to look me in the eyes.

“You have to be a gamer. What are you? A white male in your mid-twenties? You’re the target demographic.” The devil stood straight and adjusted his pin-striped suit. “Regardless, let me tell you the rules, my boy.”

I looked around me desperately, trying to find an exit to escape with my wife. I realized the chapel around me had vanished. Only a thick dark fog surrounded us. The only thing I could see clearly was the podium and the well-dressed devil.

“Dark Souls! Ah, yes, a game for true patrons of the arts. You know of it?” The devil noticed I wasn’t paying attention and flicked his hand at me. An unseen force jerked my head around to look at him.

“Y-yes! I’ve seen videos of it online!” I stammered fearfully. The devil’s dirty yellow eyes stared back at me. Then he smiled, showing his sharpened teeth.

“Good. The devil walked back behind the podium like he was about to give a lecture. But let me explain how the game works. Just for transparencies sake.”

“Dying repeatedly is a main gameplay mechanic in Dark Souls.” The devil spoke in a monotone voice while combing his hair around his horns. “ Your character revives, hopefully having learned how to be a better player. Hopefully, you learn from your mistake as you traverse back into the abyss. Every path you open stays open. Every item you find, you keep after death. But dying also causes all of the enemies you killed to return to life. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I mumbled. I still couldn’t turn my head to look away from him. Why was one of hell’s minions giving me a breakdown on a video game?

“Good. The thing I most enjoy about the game is its lack of hand-holding. So for now, all you get is this.” He approached me and produced a large scarlet red key from his pocket. “Only this key will unlock the outside gate. Unlocking the gate is the only way to stop the cycle from resetting. The only way to free yourself.”

The devil let out a sigh and returned the key to his pocket. “That’s enough for now. Do better this time, will you.”

He made a ‘go away’ gesture with his hand, and I felt myself falling. An immense heat enveloped me, and I cried out in pain. My dying wife and I tumbled into infinite blackness. The podium and the devil raced away from us.

I awoke in the dark basement. The same one I had just left. My mind was foggy, like I had been drugged. I looked to my side and saw my wife lying there naked beside me.

It was a serious case of deja vu. I had just been here. We had awoken in this basement. We had just traveled up the stairs. That’s where the man in a robe attacked me.

I looked down at myself. Something was different now. I had pants. The first time I was naked like my wife. I had taken the pants from the robed man after he fell down the basement stairway.

My wife had found a blue tarp to cover herself the first time. It was quickly abandoned for being too noisy to sneak with.

I reached over to shake her. “Jenni, wake up.”

Wait! Jenni had been stabbed, hadn’t she?! I launched myself over next to her. I rolled her over to inspect her injury. Nothing was there. No deep wound from the knife. She was fine.

“T-terry?” She spoke groggily. Her eyes fluttered open, and she sat up to look around. “Where are we?”

“We are back in the basement. That thing brought us back here!”

“What thing?” She asked. She quickly realized she was naked and covered herself with her arms. She looked to her side to see a ratty blue tarp hanging over some junk. She snatched it and pulled it around herself. “What is going on here!” She gasped.

I stared at her momentarily before asking in a measured voice, “What do you remember last?”

Jenni blinked. I could see the cogs beginning to turn in her head. “ We were at Michelle’s and David’s wedding rehersal.” She squinted and tilted her head. “We were walking to our car. You had to park in a different parking lot away from the venue.” She paused, “I don’t remember getting to the car.” I waited for her to continue. But she just looked around the dusty basement.

“That’s it?” I asked. “You don’t remember waking up down here. You don’t remember that asshole who attacked us and fell down the stairs. You don’t remember the devil stabbing you and giving me a speech about video games!”

“Nooo, babe,” Jenni replied. She gave me the look and tone she routinely used when she thought I was overreacting. “We’ve never been here before. Are you okay?”

What was going on? The horned bastard said something about a cycle resetting. Had he reversed time?

No. It couldn’t be. He drugged us somehow and threw us back down here. But how did Jenni’s stab wound disappear?

“Come on!” I said as I grabbed Jenni by the hand. I pulled her towards the stairs. Her blue tarp crinkled loudly. We carefully went up the stairs, and I opened the door slowly.

The same wood-paneled hallway greeted me. It smelled of old wood and mold. The short hallway stretched ten feet before turning to the left. That’s where I had run into the big man in the robe last time. I told Jen to wait and crept down the hall to peek around the corner. There he was, Again! The same big guy with an ugly face and crazy eyes. He even screamed the same damn thing.

“Your blood will flow eternal!” He screamed as he rushed me. I retreated back down the hallway. It had to be his twin or something. I didn’t struggle with him like I did the first time. I would set him up for the same move I used on him before. There is no way he would be that stupid to fall for it again.

I scampered back to the doorway by the stairs. Jen screamed and flattened herself against the wall. The idiot came barreling at me at full sprint. I caught his momentum, crossed my leg, and performed a textbook hip toss. His speed and weight caused him to become airborne before cracking hard on his head halfway down the steps and tumbling the rest of the way. He lay dead at the bottom, his leg twitching a little.

Jen screamed louder, and I stood dumbfounded. The idiot didn’t remember. I had killed him the exact same way the first time. I had fought him for longer, trying to wrestle him to the ground before I realized I was about to be pushed down the steep stairs. It was a cycle! Time had repeated!

I finally calmed down Jenni to follow me back down the hall. We turned the corner to enter the chapel’s waiting room or foyer. Two large double doors led further in. Opposite it were the doors leading outside.

Jenni went to open the exit doors, and I stopped her. “Don’t bother,” I said. “It requires a green key to unlock,” I felt like I was going to throw up. “Like a video game,” I spit.

Like before, our only option was to go deeper into the chapel. I told Jenni to wait outside. She did get stabbed the last time. I opened the double doors slowly. A familiar sight greeted me.

A small windowless chapel. Dark drapes hung from all four walls. Strange symbols and writing were spray painted all over them. Looking too long at these symbols made my head hurt and my vision blur. Three short pews on either side of the aisle. At the end of the aisle were two robed men kneeling and praying to the podium.

These are the assholes who held me down while that devil stabbed my wife in the belly. She didn’t even act like she saw him when he was upon her to kill her. He just walked up and stuck her while she screamed at the men to let me go.

“Not this time,” I said to myself as I scanned the room for something to use as a weapon. I saw a small box in the corner to my right. Wait? No way. It was a chest, like a treasure chest.

I snuck over to it. The two men continued low-mumbling prayers. I place my hands on both sides of the ornate chest. More crazy symbols were carved into its wood. I opened it slowly while leaning away. I’ve played my fair share of games with booby-trapped chests. When I finally looked in, I almost laughed.

Nestled within red soft felt fabric was a short flintlock pistol. I picked it up. It felt heavy and was already cocked back. Tiny grains of what I assumed were black gunpowder sprinkled out of the side of the gun. I had seen movies where soldiers and pirates manipulated the weapon; that didn’t make me an expert, but I hoped it was all set to fire.

I realized the praying had stopped. I looked over to see the two men standing and looking for me. Looking up put me in the view of one of the cultists. He saw me and gave a short scream. Instead of running down the aisle and turning, he was gonna be a Pentecostal and jump the pews to come straight for me.

As he got to the last pew, all I could see was the crazy in his eyes. When I leveled the pistol and fired, he was coiled like a spring to jump at me. A blast of smoke and noise rocked my senses, followed by a loud thump. When my vision cleared, the man had toppled off sideways to land headfirst in a crumpled pile beside me.

I didn’t have time to think as the other man was on me instantly, screaming and swiping at me with a small knife. As he got closer reared back to stab me in the gut. I held my arms elbows outwards to defend myself. I felt quick slashes across my arms.

I whacked him across the head with the barrel of the pistol. It was a heavy smack that stumbled him backward. As he looked at me, trying to regain focus, I saw red lines of blood begin running down his face. He screamed again and came in with the lunge.

That’s when I saw Jenni knock him in the ribs from behind with a bat. He stumbled sideways into the pew and dropped his knife. He was bent over and barely holding himself up with his hands. I launched to deliver a tremendous elbow to the side of his head, laying him on the stone floor.

I looked up at Jen. She had dropped the tarp to help me. Now she stood there terrified and naked, cradling the bat.

“Where did you get the bat?” I asked.

“On the opposite side of the room. It was just lying on a table,” she replied. Then her eyes widened, “You’re bleeding!”

“It’s nothing!” I said as I moved to pick up her tarp. I ripped off a strip to wrap around my forearms. She covered herself again and followed me to the podium up at the front.

“If I know video games, there is something important here,” I said as I walked around it. I kneeled closer to look at a small wooden box carved with the same head-throbbing symbols. I opened it and let out a laugh.

It was an ornate green key.

“Come on,” I said as I snatched the key and marched back down the aisle to the foyer. When I got to the double doors, the ornate key slid in smoothly. Jenni crinkled noisily behind me with her tarp.

“We are making progress,” I said, looking back at Jenni. “We need to find you some clothes next.”

Jenni’s face filled with terror as I felt the door being ripped open. I looked back to be staring at someone’s well-muscled chest. I looked up to see a face shrouded with a clear plastic tarp. A rope was tied tightly around the thing’s neck. Fog from the thing’s breath sucked the bag in and out.

I tried to step back from the giant. He swung down on me with a meat cleaver, biting onto the side of my neck. He then grabbed me by the head and launched me outside past him. I flew off the small front porch to land face-first in the dirt.

I tried to get up but didn’t have the strength to push myself up. I could see my lifeblood pooling out before me. I heard a scream as Jenni landed on the ground in front of me. I reached out to her, and she to me.

The giant stomped over to tower over Jenni. I tried to call her name but only gurgled out blood. The cleaver came down to bury itself in her head. Her eyes bulged, and she shook slightly.

Then everything paused. Jenni froze in her spasms, and the giant froze, bent over. My pain stopped, and I realized I was no longer choking. A pair of shiny dress shoes walked to stand in front of me.

“Get up!” said the devil as he looked down on me, disappointed. I sat up and stared at my wife.

“Don’t worry about her, you dunce! She will be alive next cycle!” the devil said with exasperation. “I need to tell you about this giant that just killed both of you!” He waved both hands over to the leaning giant.

“Every time you reset the cycle, nobody will remember a thing except for your nemesis here! He will remember everything and be able to hunt you through every cycle.”

I stared in awe at the muscled giant with a plastic bag over his head. How unfair could this get? Fighting to save both of us was already hard enough!

“I know I’m pulling from other games, but I love the concept of an arch-enemy,” the devil prattled on. “If you want the game to stop, you can either escape or pledge your soul to me,” he offered.

“Never, you freak!” I yelled back. “I’ll beat your game!”

The devil sighed,” Then do better this time, will you.” He snapped his fingers, and the world went blank.

I woke up back in the basement, feeling like I had been drugged.

The cycle repeated over and over and over. I’d wake up in the basement, make a little progress, just to be murdered. Over and over.

The concept of time faded as my suffering grew within this cruel game. The last I counted was cycle 452, which was a long, long time ago.

I will have to admit I gave up for a while. The cycle broke me. I would sit in the basement, unresponsive to my surroundings, ignoring Jennie’s questions, until the giant freak found me.

The first dozen times, he went straight for the kill, walking me across my head with many different weapons. Usually, something new every time he came in. That wasn’t so bad. It was almost peaceful. I used that time to clear my mind.

I got so good I could block out everything. Even block out my nagging wife. Since I couldn’t sleep, I used the time in the quiet basement to think before he stormed in and murder me.

But he got wise to my plan. He wouldn’t go for the kill. He would torture Jennie. He would pull her apart and let me listen to her screams. I would try to shut them out! It was only temporary! The cycle would reset, and she would be fine again!

Then he started torturing me. He would bring a bag full of tools to cause me pain. This had more of an effect on me. How selfish was I to put Jennie through this when I couldn’t handle it?

And then there was the insistence ponderings of the suit-wearing devil. He explained he hadn’t frozen time, but a microsecond would have passed every time the cycle repeated. He took me into the foggy purgatory every time I died before the cycle repeated.

He told me the tragic story of his un-life. How the day of judgment awaited him and his kind at the end of time. The devil expressed his abject horror at this. So he used his powers to reverse time as much as he could, but time still ticked forward slowly but surely.

When I went into my state of depression, just sitting there doing nothing, he didn’t react at first. He said a lot of his playthings hit this wall at some point. But when I refused to snap out of it for cycles, he told me lack of activity would forfeit my soul.

“This has happened to a couple of my playthings, too!” he chided me. “There are more ways to agree to defeat than giving verbal confirmation. I had one plaything who would take his life every cycle. Used a bag to suffocate himself.”

These words took a while to breach the fog in my brain. “Wait? The nemesis was another player?” I asked.

“Aww, yes! Very much so. I’m not as cruel as my brethren, though. Just like you have a chance to escape, he still has one.”

“How?” I almost screamed.

The devil smiled and put his hand over his mouth. “I only give players information, not quitters.”

“Then I’ll play!” I yelled at him.

A warm smile washed over his pointy face, and he sighed, relieved. “Oh good, good. Just remember, please do better this time.”

The cycle restarted, and I sat up straight. I immediately grabbed a set of handcuffs I had acquired from one of my cycles and scooted to an unconscious Jennie. I cuffed her hand to a metal pole running down the middle of the room. She was now in a long robe I had found for her, but I couldn’t have her following me.

I stood up and ran to the trick wall I had discovered in the basement. I pushed it open to reveal a short set of stairs leading up into the night sky. As I took the first step, I heard Jennie call after me. I ignored her.

I stepped out into the estate property and looked around. I had the entire estate mapped out in my head. The chapel held the green key, which unlocked the graveyard. The graveyard held the blue key, which led to the cellar of the giant manor. The manor held the black key, Which led into the actual manor. And I hoped the manor held the scarlet key, my chance to escape.

I sprinted towards the mansion’s cellar in the middle of everything. I wore a pair of overalls with a utility belt, a crossbow, and a nap sack over my shoulder. I was still barefoot. None of the shoes I scavenged fit me.

Like clockwork, the rottweiler caught my scent and came barreling out of the bushes of the house. I had wrapped straps of leather around my left arm. I bent low and offered the dog my arm. He bit down on it and tried to shake me off my feet.

Like a million times before, I pulled a K-bar knife from my pocket and jammed it up through the dog’s head. The dog whimpered and convulsed. I had felt terrible the first time I had done it. Worse than having to kill humans. But now I felt nothing, just cold.

I slung the dog off to fall dead to the ground and began walking to the cellar doors. I flung them back to release the same bats that always escaped into the night sky. The stairs went down into darkness. I ignored the torch on the wall; I had found a flashlight already.

The flashlight did little to show the way down the forty-foot descent. It didn’t matter; I knew the way through the wine cellar maze. I turned its corners and dodged its traps. I walk right up to cultists hiding in wait to kill me, only to kill them with brutal efficiency.

The first one always jumped down from behind me with a fearsome yell. I would quickly turn and put my K-bar in his neck before he could lift his heavy axe. The next one would wait for me to pass a dark alcove between the shelves before shooting me in the back with a crossbow. I snuck up to reach through the shelf behind her and grabbed her by her throat to knife her too. I knew how to avoid the other five hiding in the dark. Then I would come to the door that led up to the house.

Two big bastards guarded it. I had fought them enough to learn who was the slower of the two. The slower one pulls a sharp hand scythe from his robes to meet my charge. My crossbow zips right into the middle of the quicker one’s dark hoodie, and he collapses like a sack of bricks.

I scream his name at him,” Teddy!” He freezes for an instant for me to slice across his weapon hand. He drops the scythe with a yelp and steps back. Too late, I’m inside his reach and slash him across the throat with a brutal swipe. He dies quicker than usual. It must be because I’m angry.

I run up to the locked door, produce the black key from my nap sack, and open the door into the manor. It gets harder from here, like cultists in armor with poison knives. Maybe I could unlock the front door to the manor and save myself the trip through the cellar.

A thunderous explosion erupts behind me. I turn to see the giant, with overalls and a plastic bag tied over his face, storming through a destroyed wine rack he just busted through. He delivers a crushing fist to the center of my chest, sending me busting through the unlocked door. I struggle for breath as he stalks up to stand over me. I dig the k-bar into his foot. He grunts out anger and reaches down to seize me by the neck and yanks me up to eye level.

“Kill me, you son of a bitch!” I wheeze at him. The sack on his face expanded and deflated rapidly with his angry huffing. “I’m never going to give up like you, Sack Boy!” I spit.

This makes him mad. He reaches up, puts his nasty hand around my mouth, and painfully snaps my head to the side with a jerk.

I awake in the basement. Damnit! Time to try again.

I use the next couple of cycles to map out the manor. I eventually unlock the front door and get a sweet shortcut past the cellar. I kill a bastard with full plate armor. Now I’m wearing partial plate armor to not slow me down.

Somehow the giant is in the manor now! He must have a skeleton key. I don’t know how he bypasses all the locked doors. I can’t outmaneuver him. He cheats so bad!

He cheats! Maybe I should cheat. I go back into meditation for a couple of cycles. Jennie screams at me from her handcuffed position, but I ignore her and plan.

When the giant asshole finds me, I don’t give him the satisfaction of an easy kill. I taunt him about his plastic sack and how he gave up, and I’m still going.

He makes me pay for it. But I take a piece out of him each time! I never kill him, but I make him bleed. I learn his tactics. I seek him out and go straight for him.

Finally, I prepare to enact my plan when I think I’ve seen every move and counter.

“If I open the gate door, I’m free, right?” I ask the devil in purgatory between cycles. He turns to me, curious.

“Yes, Terrance. Those are the rules.”

“I mean no BS; I don’t need the key; I just want to get through?”

The devil laughs, “Sure, my boy. But you know it’s electrified. You can’t climb it.”

“I need your word!” I yell at him. “I just need to get through the scarlet door!”

A sly look crosses the devil’s face. “You have my word. I dare say; you have my attention. The fire in your eyes is delicious!”

“Let’s restart the cycle,” I say, cutting him off. He humphs at me and waves for the cycle to repeat.

When I was a kid, my father had a chess game on the family computer. He taught me to play, and I could only make progress against the enemy AI when it was set to very easy.

I would challenge myself by playing against the computer when it was set to expert. The AI knew all my moves in advance, no matter how hard I tried. I wouldn’t make it more than five turns before I was defeated.

You see, it was programmed to react to well-thought-out and measured moves. But I discovered I could last much longer if I randomly placed a piece every other turn. The computer would try to make sense out of nonsense. It would throw its whole plan off.

That’s where the AI failed. It didn’t account for random human stupidity. It had plans and counter plans for everything. But not for a ten-year-old boy having fun.

I needed to start having fun.

I found what I needed in the back of the chapel. I had to kill the three guys again and search further back behind the podium.

I had to backtrack back to the graveyard. I found a dirty red gas container sloshing around about half full. It wasn’t enough, but it was a start.

When I had first come through the graveyard, I had ignored the shed at the corner of the property. The first time I came through, I focused on the giant angel statue where multiple baddies guarded the key to the cellar. But now I was back at the shed, looking for what I needed. I saw it was guarded by a creepy guy, hunched over, eating something.

The hunched-over man took a cross bolt to the back. The creature stood up and spun to face me. That’s when I realized I was wrong; it was a woman, a saggy balding woman. She ran towards me with blood and spittle foaming out of her mouth. She was eating a possum.

The sight of her ugliness sent me reeling back, but she latched onto me and took a bite out of my shoulder. I stabbed her repeatedly in the gut with my k-bar. After a good minute of thrashing, kicking, and scratching, she fell off me dead. I was bloodied and beaten. Whatever she was guarding had better be worth it! She had been a tough one.

I kicked open the shed door with my knife raised to stab. It was a dusty shed covered with cobwebs, boxes of crap everywhere. I started searching, and I came across two treasures. One was a machete, sharp and slick with oil, and the other was a full can of lighter fluid.

I stored it in my knapsack and looped the machete in my belt. I was briskly walking back to the chapel to drop off my loot. I exited the graveyard’s gates to see a familiar figure, the giant. I brandish my new machete in front of me. Time to try out my fancy new weapon.

I let out a haggard cough that doubles me over. I threw up on the ground. My whole body shook, and I broke out in a cold sweat. Oh God! The woman had poisoned me.

The giant saw this and began stalking me with his massive shovel. A deep chuckle emitted as a rumble from his throat.

I wouldn’t let the monster have his way with me in my weakened state. I fired my crossbow into his crotch; the giant turned just before the bolt stuck into his thigh. I often did this to him, so he expected me to attempt a nut shot.

He roared at me and began to sprint the rest of the distance between us. I pulled out my k-bar and ran it across my neck. I fell to my knees as my life’s blood flowed out of me. The giant was upon me, his shovel raised to cave head in.

I could breathe again, and the bleeding stopped. But he froze as I entered the smokey purgatory. I turned to see the devil standing behind me, looking disappointed.

“Are you going to start killing yourself every time your nemesis shows up?” he asked.

“No, I’m just not letting him butcher me when I’m half dead already!” I said back. “Can you spare me the pep talk and just restart the cycle?”

“Ooow!” He whispered to me. “Does plaything have a little plan?”

“Come on! Let’s do it!” I tell him.

I sat up in the basement. I was nervous. I had been working on my plan for hundreds of cycles. Now that it was time to do it, the fear of failure was overwhelming.

I gathered up my things. The knapsack with the gas canisters, the kbar, and the machete. I dropped everything else, like the crossbow, bolts, tape, hammer, and my plate armor. I did get the duck tape and taped it all around my torso, neck, arms, groin, and legs. It was uncomfortable as hell, but It would keep my body running in times of trauma.

Another thing I remembered from my past. I came down with a cold in high school. It was a three-day cold. I milked for five days. My parents suspected I was faking by the fifth day, but I would not relent the truth. With a promise to catch up on schoolwork over the weekend, they agreed to let me stay home. But no video games, or Cartoon Network, only History Channel.

This was back when History Channel was no joke. Reenactment of biblical battles, Jack the Ripper, mafia shootouts, WW2 raids, and battles from the very current War on Terror.

It was one of these War on Terror documentaries that got my attention. The show made a short history of suicide fighters throughout history. Of course, they mentioned Kamikaze pilots and suicide bombers, but they went even deeper into the Crusades.

Specialized Arab forces, literally the first guys to be called assassins, knew they didn’t stand a chance against the heavily armored knights and cavalry of the invading Christians.

So the Arabs would wrap up fighters tightly in cloth-like mummies and give them copious amounts of drugs. The drugs pump energy and dulling pain, and the tightly wrapped cloth holds the body together and reduces bleeding. These soldiers would barrel into the heathen Christian forces with a holy berserker fury, taking fatal hits to just continue fighting. So you see where I am going with this.

I clasped the handcuffs around Jenni’s hand and secured it to the pole. She woke up and looked at me questioningly. I took the time to lean in and smile at her.

“Remember when we lived in that shitty apartment complex together?” I asked her. She looked around her surroundings in confusion, like she had done hundreds of times before. “Remember, we came up with a code word. A word that communicated something bad was happening, and we needed to either run, fight, or call the cops. Do you remember what word that was, Jen?”

She blinked at me before answering, “Uh, it was ‘pineapple,’” she said.”We would say something about pineapples.”

I smiled again and caressed her face. “That’s right, babe. This is definitely a ‘pineapple’ situation. I’ll explain everything to you when we get out of here. I love you!” And with that, I left through the secret passage out into the night.

I killed the dog for the hundredth time and found the giant manor. I circled around it, pouring out the gas and lighter fluid.

In a shed behind the house was a broke down riding lawnmower. The first time I approached it, I had stepped into the bear trap hidden under the hay. I walked around it to stick a cloth into the gas tank this time. I pushed the old mower out to park it on top of a hidden exit from the manor.

Next came the fire. For a bunch of cultists obsessed with lighting spooky candles, it was relatively easy to gather matches. I lit small fires around the house, eventually causing the whole thing to be inflamed. The shed went up easily with the dry hay, and so did the lawnmower. Only the front door was left alone.

Now I waited by the scarlet gate. The doors to freedom were ornately carved obsidian double doors with melting demon faces and those mind-numbing symbols. The brick wall around the property stood ten feet high, with electrified razor wire at the top. A giant scarlet circle sat in the middle with a keyhole in the center.

I sat down by it and watched the manor burn in the distance. Nobody left the building; those inside stayed to burn alive. That’s how committed they were to the game. I learned this from trying to coax them out of their designated zones often.

And here he comes, the limping giant. His left leg is bleeding and mangled. It seems somebody put the bear trap by the front door for the giant to step into while trying to escape the flames.

I stood up to face him, unsheathing my machete as he got within thirty feet. I fished a small village out of my pocket. The cultists in the manor would snort this before running at me like maniacs. Remember my suicide mummy plan?

I popped the cork off the vial and slammed the thing down my nose. I felt a million stars of electricity rush throughout my body. I felt warm, I felt good, I felt alive!

I quickly drew the flintlock pistol and aimed at his groin, he put his hands down to cover himself, and I aimed upwards to shoot him in the face. A small hole appeared in the plastic covering his face. He sucked in and out wetly as blood filled the sack.

He came rushing towards me with a meat tenderizer, and I dodged every lumbering swing he threw at me. The ones he did land on me were only glancing blows that barely phased me. I had learned all his moves for the last hundreds of cycles. I had thrown every crazy attack I could think of to see his reaction. And best of all, I had let him kill me every time, to think he was still better than me.

I thanked a blow to the shoulder to slice off his fingers for him to drop the meat mallet; I cut his Achilles tendon and sliced the soft bends in his elbows. He struggled to keep up with me but eventually fell to his knees. Eventually, he gave up, just sagged his shoulders and gurgled in his blood-filled sack.

I feel disgusted towards him. How many times had he killed me? How many times did I fight till the very end? Now that I have the upper hand, he gives up! I see now why he never escaped the cycle.

I walk up to him and look him in the eye. I shove the K-bar through his temple with a wet “thunk.” I can see it through the blurry sack.

“Not this time, friend,” I say sarcastically. “Please do better next time, will you!” I say as I raise my machete. I mimic the devil’s voice perfectly, having heard it many times.

The giant eyes light up, and he springs forward with unnatural speed to tackle me. His one hand holds my machete arm out and away from me while his other wraps around my throat. He looms over me, the bloody sack leaking his blood all over my face.

I scream at him as I feel him crushing my throat. I can’t believe how stupid I was! I let him get ahold of me! All my planning! Now he knows my tricks! Now I die again!

Something hits the giant from the side. He grunts and loosens his grip. Another “thwack” is heard, and I see the K-bar be driven further into his head. The giant lets go of me and sits up, looking at whoever is hitting him.

I sit up and swing my machete with all my strength to embed the blade right into his face. And I see her, Jenni, scared to death and screaming at him. She swings again with the hammer, and he catches her arm. The giant let go of Jenni, and she delivered a final blow into the giant’s eye. The giant toppled backward and thumped to the ground.

I stared at the dead giant and then at Jenni. How did she get here? She didn’t have the cuffs on. She looked at me furiously.

“You don’t say pineapple and then leave me, asshole!” she screamed at me. I couldn’t help but smile. She must have found the handcuff key in all the junk I left. How dumb was I? I was protecting her this whole time, and she had saved my ass twice.

“At least you’re not naked this time!” I laughed. She looked at me, confused.

I scooted over to the giant’s dead body and began patting him down. I was beginning to panic as I found nothing in his overall pockets. Jenni questioned me, and I ignored her. Finally, I thought to check his neck, and a key was around a leather loop.

A skeleton key. Actually had a skull and crossbones on it. The devil was very obvious. Let’s just hope he lets it open the scarlet door. Even if it didn’t, the giant no longer had it, and I could speed-run the whole area.

I walked to the door. I half expected a serious shock as I placed the key in the keyhole. Click, and it opens. Jenni picked up on the importance of this moment and quieted to follow me.

The world returned to the smokey limbo. I half expected the devil to be furious, but he threw open the double doors and cheered.

“Well done, my boy! Good show!” He yelled as he clapped,” And the missus coming with the save at the end!” He gave a Chef’s kiss.

“So it’s over. We are free,” I asked.

“Well, one of you is free,” he replied.

“What? No, you said-”

“I said it ends the cycle,” he interrupted,” for one of you!” His demeanor stiffened, and he stared at me with his yellow eyes.

“Either you are free, and she dies here, or she is freed, and you become my new hunter,” he stated flatly. “Come on; I’m a devil; you knew there would be a catch.”

I would love to say I selflessly sacrificed myself for my Jenni to be free, but I had been here for ages, and all I wanted was freedom. But what was freedom without saving the woman I loved?

I sat there for the longest time. I considered every possibility. I had no doubt I could make someone quit if I was a hunter, but what sort of existence is that, damning people to hell? The devil stood by patiently, letting me decide.

I looked at Jenni, frozen and terrified. She was my hidden weapon. All I needed was her the whole time. I couldn’t abandon her.

“I reject both your offers!” I finally said. The devil raised his head to look at me, curious.

“Instead, let’s up the ette,” I said. Now I had the devil’s full attention. “Put us back in the game! Let us both play! Let us both remember!” I saw a sparkle in the devil’s eye. “Make it harder; make two hunters! Whatever! We will both get out, and you have to let us out!” I screamed at him.

The devil sat and thought, his hand to his chin. After a moment, he looked back down at me. “New game plus, huh?” He asked. “ I agree to your terms. You both remember and have to make it through the gate, but I will make it much harder!”

“Deal,” I spat.

The devil grinned and lifted his hand, “Then please do better next time, will you.”

We awoke somewhere, somewhere completely different.

Rating: 9.33/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Cesly1987
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Cesly1987

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