10 Nov The Devils Game
“The Devils Game”Written by Fiona King Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 52 minutes
This whole thing started with a Rubik’s Cube. Once I learned the algorithm and figured it out, I was able to solve it in record time. I competed in a tournament or two, but eventually, I started to get bored. It became too easy for me, so I started seeking more challenging and exciting puzzles to solve. That’s how my YouTube channel was born. You may be familiar with Glen’s Games; I would take challenge requests and solve the Rubik’s Cube blindfolded or drunk, with one hand, etc. Soon, my followers started sending me more challenging requests and turning me on to different and more complicated puzzles. My following snowballed, and I soon had every puzzle and brain teaser on my channel.
I solved every one of them with ease.
I loved it. I won’t lie. I got to solve problems and play games, all while making a little bit of money. It made me feel good and gave me a level of confidence that I’d never known before. I was a scrawny college kid just trying to figure out my way through life, just like every other twenty-one-year-old kid. But once Glen’s Games was launched and saw some success, I didn’t feel so invisible behind my messy hair and wire-rimmed glasses. I felt important. I had a following that craved every video, and they were excited each time I solved a new puzzle or beat a new game. My fans called me a genius, a savant, a force to be reckoned with.
Other YouTubers would challenge me here and there, but I was always able to rise to the challenge and come out on top. Not until I was sent that package. People were baffled by my problem-solving skills and intent on finding the puzzle that would finally stump me, but they never could.
Christ, if only I had known…
That was nine months ago; my little rise to fame. Here, now; the way things are… I’d have never started this. I’d never have touched that god damned puzzle. I’d give anything to go back to being that scrawny little loser. But that’s hindsight, and it can be a vicious thing.
It was early on a Tuesday morning. The rain pattered and trickled gloomily down my kitchen window, inviting me to stay indoors for the day. I’d gotten up early to get a head start on my class work, but as the minutes ticked by, I realized that I had no desire to write a paper or to attend my classes. I decided to email my professors later and treat myself to a mental health day.
Kyle, my roommate and best friend, was still asleep, so I worked quietly in the darkened kitchen. Pushing myself away from the creaking Ikea dining room set, I padded across my kitchen to start my second pot of coffee. It was a breakfast blend from my favorite local coffee shop, and as the dark liquid brewed, my tiny apartment filled with the rich, sweet scent of my favorite morning beverage. I chose my favorite mug and filled it up, pausing for a moment as I decided between regular creamer or adding a bit of Bailey’s. I decided on the latter, convincing myself that it was okay since I was staying home and taking it easy today.
“Opting for a liquid breakfast this morning?” Kyle startled me as he shuffled into the kitchen, wiping sleep from his eyes. I screwed the cap back on and shoved the bottle back into the fridge, embarrassed that I’d been caught. I wasn’t usually a morning drinker or much of a drinker, but something felt different today.
I flashed him a sheepish grin. “I guess so. Not going to classes today, so why not?”
“Well, spread the wealth, brother!” He grabbed a mug and filled it halfway with coffee, expecting me to fill the other half with the sweet, creamy alcohol. I handed him the bottle and slid back into my seat at the kitchen table, opening up my laptop. Kyle took a seat across from me, took a generous sip from his mug, and finished it with an exaggerated sigh. “Nothing like coffee and Bailey’s, am I right?”
Kyle was chatting away about a girl he’d met at the bar as I opened up my private messages and clicked on one from a user I’d never heard of. I ignored him, typing my way through my computer password and into the depths of the internet. I pulled up my YouTube channel and started scrolling through my notifications and comments from my most recent post.
HAVE YOU PLAYED THE DEVIL’S GAME?
That was it. No description, no challenge, no further information. Just that one question. I clicked on the user name to check out their channel, but nothing was there. No uploads. No photo. No subscribers. Nothing. They were subscribed to only one account, and it was mine. I felt an unsettling cold run through my spine and settle into my stomach, but I didn’t recognize it as anything other than the alcohol making its way through my bloodstream. I shrugged it off and opened up Google, entering The Devil’s Game into my search engine. Nothing came up, and I mean nothing. Zero search results were found. Odd. I typed it again, assuming I’d made a typo and hit enter—still, nothing. I was confused but unconcerned. Whatever, I thought, snapping my laptop shut and turning my attention back to Kyle, who was still chattering away about his endeavors the previous night.
“I’m telling you, man. You have to come out with me next time. It was a night I’ll never forget!” He downed his mug and went to the counter for a second drink.
“We’ll see,” I muttered. I wasn’t much for going out to clubs or bars. As I said, I was scrawny, quite shy and typically didn’t do very well in the dating scene. Kyle rolled his eyes as he slid back into his seat.
“Glen, you’ll never meet someone if you don’t get out there. I’m going back tonight. You should come with me. In fact, I’m not giving you a choice. You’re coming.”
I groaned. “Kyle…”
“I’m not taking no for an answer! We never go out together. This is going to be great!”
I stared at him, knowing he was being serious. He wasn’t going to let me get out of this. If I knew anything about Kyle, it was that he didn’t take no for an answer. He was strong-willed, popular, athletic, and handsome. Everything that I wasn’t. “Well,” I exhaled, “I suppose I don’t have a choice.”
“That’s my guy!” He cheered excitedly before bursting out of his chair and heading toward his bedroom. “I’ll catch you later, bud, be ready at nine!” At that, he skipped off to do whatever he did during the day.
Nine? Christ, I’m normally settling in for the night by that time. I took a hearty swig from my mug and resigned myself to whatever would follow once nighttime hit.
I lazed about for most of the morning, delving deep into the internet and the fractured world of social media. I watched a few episodes of The Office before peeling myself from the couch and venturing out to get some lunch. The rain was still coming down in sheets, washing the earth with natural tears. I wasn’t normally one to brandish an umbrella, but today I really wished I’d owned one as the constant rain poured over me, soaking my hair and clothes. My small college town was normally bustling and alive, but the bad weather cast a gray film over my world, alluding to the despair and pain that truly existed on the streets. People who were normally friendly and talkative rushed from cafes to their cars and didn’t stop for idle chit-chat. It was rare for a rainstorm like this, and the entire city seemed to recede into itself when it happened. As I returned from my favorite Mexican joint, I glanced at the University student union and found that the parking lot was nearly empty. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to abandon my academic responsibilities today. I felt better about my choice and my guilt faded. I chuckled at the thought of my professor standing before an empty lecture hall. I pulled my clunker of a car into my shared driveway and braced myself before the short walk to my duplex home. Barely able to keep my burrito from the watery assault, I tucked it into my jacket and made a mad dash from my car to the front steps.
I almost didn’t notice the small brown parcel sitting on the steps, and I wished I hadn’t. But I did. Just as I was cursing the lack of gutters on the house and stepping through an onslaught of falling water, I noticed the package. It was small, maybe the size of an orange, and the brown packaging that wrapped it looked like it had seen better days. I hesitated and found that my first name was scrawled on the paper in loose, curly handwriting. I pushed inside my house, cursing Kyle for not locking the door, and went to the living room. I plopped the parcel on the coffee table, no longer interested in my burrito. I turned it over in my hands, looking for a return address, but nothing else was written on it—only my first name. Not even any postage, so I had to assume that it had been hand-delivered. I felt that familiar cold sensation run down my back into the pit of my stomach once again, and this time I found it much harder to ignore.
Just open it.
But, what if…
Come on, pussy, just open the damned thing.
I screwed my eyes shut and pressed my fingers into my temples. I felt a growing ball of anxiety forming in my stomach. It was only a package, and yet something about it unnerved me. It felt like every horror movie I’d ever seen had trained me for this, yet I wanted, no, I needed to open it despite my fears. I snatched the small, brown antagonizer from my coffee table and held it in both hands. I rolled it around, examining every last inch of the old and dried packaging, and finally, I took a breath. I tore at the paper like it was Christmas, desperate to learn the mystery inside.
Once it had been stripped of its wrapping, I had no idea what I saw. It was a dull, clay brown, almost flesh-colored. As I turned it over in my hands, I found that it had odd glyphs and symbols scratched all over it in a sickly yellow. It was… a ball, maybe? I gasped and realized that I’d been holding my breath.
“What’s that?” I jumped so hard I nearly fell off the couch. My heart was pounding, and I pressed a hand to my chest, mumbling a series of curses under my breath.
“That’s the second time today, Kyle. You trying to give me a heart attack?” I snapped.
Kyle, calm and relaxed as ever, chuckled as he crossed the room to join me on the couch. “Relax, dude. You need some weed to calm those nerves.”
Frustrated, I jammed the odd sphere into my jacket pocket and turned my attention to my now cold and forgotten burrito. I snatched it off the table and headed to the kitchen to reheat it. I rummaged loudly through the cabinets, searching for a clean plate, obscenities still falling past my lips before I could get my thoughts in order.
“Kyle, where are all our dishes?” I slammed a cabinet shut before resigning to wrapping the food log in aluminum foil and setting it up in the toaster oven.
“What’s with you today?” Kyle said from the couch, wide-eyed and confused. His typical grin was replaced by worry rippling over his dark features.
I sat next to him and buried my head in my hands. “I don’t know. I’m just on edge today. I got this weird package, and it’s just distracting me.” I handed him the odd sphere from my jacket pocket, and he examined it quickly before handing it back over.
“Isn’t this just another one of your puzzles?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. It was on the doorstep when I came home.” I set the sphere back on the table, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. That chill in my stomach lingered and worsened each time I looked at the mysterious object.
“You let these things stress you out too much, man.” In one swift motion, he swiped it from the table and dropped it into the trash can. “Problem solved.” His grin was back.
I shoved my growing anxiety deep inside myself and met his grin. He was right. It was just a puzzle—a game. And I didn’t need it if it was causing me stress. “Okay, okay. I’ll nap if you’re gonna make me come out tonight.”
“That’s my guy!” Kyle cheered. I grabbed my burrito and retreated to my bedroom, trying to clear my spinning mind.
We’d only been at the bar an hour, and I was already yearning to get back home. I sipped my beer with disinterest as I watched Kyle flirt and schmoozed every beautiful woman that met his eyes. I wish I had what he had, but it just wasn’t in my blood. I was no virgin, but I certainly didn’t have the game that he did. He was leaning on the bar ordering a refill when I noticed he had two beautiful women on each arm. He turned and caught my eye, flashing me his pearly whites and one of his infamous winks. I blushed as the girls followed his gaze, and the brunette gave me a little wave.
God damnit, Kyle.
I downed my beer quickly as he returned with a pitcher of beer, the girls following him in youthful excitement. Before I knew it, the three of them were sliding into the empty chairs around my table, and I hungrily refilled my glass as the brunette sat next to me, pushing her chair closer. This was his world, not mine, and I felt my pulse quickening.
“Ladies, this is my boy, Glen,” Kyle slurred, “And Glen, this is Sarah and Rachel.”
I flashed a crooked and forced smile as I took another sip of my drink.
“Kyle tells me you’re a gamer.” The brunette, Sarah, said to me.
“Oh,” I stammered, “No-no, not quite. I run a YouTube channel where I solve puzzles and challenging games.”
She grabbed my arm suddenly, startling me. “Oh my god, so you can, like, solve Sudoku puzzles and stuff?” Her voice was smooth and silky and hid her intoxicated state almost completely.
I laughed. “Something like that, yeah.”
“Oh, come on,” Kyle nearly shouted, “Don’t be so modest. You solve Rubik’s Cubes like they were made for you. Girls, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Immediately, my thoughts returned to the odd puzzle sitting in my trash can at home. I’d nearly forgotten about it, but now it enveloped my thoughts. I felt Sarah rubbing my bicep next to me, and I couldn’t focus on her as much as I wanted to. I suddenly felt an unquenchable thirst to get back to my apartment. I wanted to get that sphere, that thing, back into my hands, and I needed to figure out what exactly it was. I needed to solve it.
“I think smart guys are so hot,” Sarah whispered into my ear, and it was all I could do not to brush her away. I turned my face away from her, feeling hot with aggravation.
“I need some air.” I finished my drink and pushed away from the table and from my group. Fumbling with my pack of cigarettes, I pushed my way out the bar’s front door and sucked in a lungful of cool October air. I lit my smoke and exhaled. My mind was spinning at the mention of a Rubik’s Cube. I didn’t understand how this anger originated. Sarah was cute. Really cute, and I may as well have just blown it with her. I found a nearby bench and sat down, hardly noticing the water that soaked it from this morning’s storm. I took a few more puffs of my smoke before stomping it out. As I stood to go back inside, I was nearly knocked back on my ass as Kyle stormed over to me.
“What was that about!?” He hissed. Kyle never got angry unless he was drunk. He was drunk.
I groaned and spread my hands. “I’m sorry. I’m stressed out and a little… distracted. Sarah’s great, but I-”
“Oh no. You’re not leaving now. She likes you, dude. Man up and get in there.”
I thought about turning on my heel and running the six blocks home for a moment. Instead, I found myself walking back inside the bar. Kyle was right behind me, his hand slapping excitedly at my shoulder and chattering away about god knows what.
I didn’t understand what had Sarah so infatuated with me. I’d been an ass to her the entire night. All I could think about was that sphere. And that message I’d gotten this morning.
The Devils Game
I decided to reach out to that unknown user when I got home. Hopefully, that will be in the very near future. I checked my watch, and it was all I could do, not to roll my eyes and groan. It was only 10:30, so Kyle had no plans to leave soon.
“Glen?” A soft, gentle voice broke me out of my trance. I looked around the table and found that Kyle, Sarah, and Rachel all had their eyes trained on me, expecting something.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I was spacing out.” I muttered. My cheeks were growing hot as I felt aggravation from both Kyle and Sarah.
“The girls would like to return to our place,” Kyle said, offering a less subtle wink.
“Oh, absolutely.” I agreed, forcing enthusiasm. I could work with that.
It was a long night. I couldn’t get a moment alone, and the second I thought I did, Sarah walked in on me, digging through the trash for that damned sphere. I made some excuse about dropping my phone in there, but I was certain she thought I was insane at this point. Finally, at nearly 1:00 am, the girls left, and Kyle went to bed. Despite everything, Sarah still gave me her number and told me that she really hoped I’d call. I had forgotten about the puzzle for a few sweet moments, but that bliss was short-lived.
When they shut the door behind them, I was on my laptop, typing furiously into my Google search bar. I tried every single variation, including three different languages, of the phrase The Devil’s Game but absolutely nothing was coming up. Frustrated, I navigated my way to YouTube and pulled up the strange message from this morning. I clicked on the user but found they had deleted their account just hours ago. I slammed my fists down, confused and getting angrier by the moment. I returned to the kitchen and began tearing through the trash can. That sphere had to be in there somewhere. I watched Kyle throw it away. I felt my blood getting hot and realized that this thing was driving me insane. I stood up and took a few steps away from the can. This wasn’t me. Feeling like an absolute idiot, I took the long walk of shame to my bedroom. Alone, when I could have had the company of Sarah if I wanted.
I poured myself a glass of water and shuffled miserably down the hallway and into my room. I shrugged off my clothes and collapsed into my bed, feeling an immediate shock of pain in my rib cage.
“Son of a-” I hissed as I jumped up and fumbled for the source of my now throbbing side. I couldn’t believe it. It was the puzzle, sitting right there on my bed. My mouth went dry, and my heart started thundering in my chest. I knew Kyle threw it away. I watched him do it.
Kyle. He was messing with me. That had to be it. I buried my face in my hands, hiding an involuntary smile from myself, and I could feel the blood returning to my face. It was just like him to pull something like that. I shook my head and allowed the tension and anxiety in my body to dissolve. After a short moment, my attention was back on the puzzle. The symbols along the surface of it now seemed to be glowing. The surface was smooth, other than the symbols, which were slightly indented. I fumbled with it for a moment, turning it over in my hands and examining every inch of the thing. Like a harmful drug, I was sucked right back in, and yet I didn’t know where to start. If this was The Devil’s Game, I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of it.
You know you want to solve it.
No. I shook my head, trying to get rid of that voice. I didn’t. I loved a good puzzle, but this wasn’t worth the stress or that growing pit of fear in my stomach.
It’s just a game. Solve it and post it. You know you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
I sat up and planted my feet on the floor, fishing a cigarette from my abandoned jeans. Lighting it up and keeping it firmly between my lips, I started examining the puzzle more closely. There was nothing I couldn’t solve. I’d been able to figure out some of the most puzzling of games and brain teasers. I had a way around these things, and I wasn’t going to let this little ball be my endgame. Regardless of its haunting name, I was going to solve this damned thing, put it on my channel, and earn myself another badge. Maybe even take Sarah out on a proper date.
As I imagined all the possibilities, I realized the sphere had moved. I snapped to attention and realized that I had put the slightest pressure on two of the symbols, causing the sphere to adjust slightly. I couldn’t feel it move physically, and it didn’t look like it had changed. I was more like I could feel it. It didn’t make any sense. The glowing yellow symbols pulsed at me, urging me to play on. An exciting wave of adrenaline washed over me as I scooted back and immersed myself into its world. My cigarette sat forgotten between my lips until I burned myself. I didn’t care, though. I’d made two more moves and felt on top of the world. How many people have solved this thing?
You could be the first one.
I kept going.
Before I knew it, vibrant orange rays of sunlight peeked in through my blinds, and I hadn’t made any more progress. I wasn’t concerned about my lack of sleep; I couldn’t figure out more of the puzzle. I’d lost an entire night to that thing only to land a few moves. I heard Kyle bouncing around the kitchen, slamming cabinets and drawers shut and humming loudly as if it wasn’t six o’clock in the morning.
“Asshole.” I hissed. I stomped into last night’s jeans and grabbed a flannel as I trudged out into the world. I found Kyle standing before an array of fresh fruit, knife in hand. I noticed the blender on the counter next to him and wondered what the occasion was. I asked him as much, and as he turned to me, his eyes went wide. I’d never seen him make a smoothie in his life.
“Dude, what happened to you? You look like… shit.”
I was a bit taken aback but not offended. I forced a laugh as I helped myself to some coffee. “Yeah, I didn’t get any sleep last night. At all.”
“Oh? Studying or talking to Sarah all night?” He seemed to relax, and his face brightened at the mention of my new friend.
“Studying?” I cocked my head at him and then felt all the color drain from my face. “Oh no.”
“You forgot!? Oh, you are fucked.” Kyle laughed as he tossed his fruit concoction into the blender. He turned to me, a wide smile plastered over his face.
“I can’t believe I let myself get so distracted.” I buried my face in my hands.
“You’ll be fine. You’ve never failed a test in your life.”
“Kyle, I failed one last week.”
At that, he cackled and smacked me on the shoulder. I wanted to hit him, but I sulked as he poured me a large glass of his purple breakfast drink.
“Come on, you and I worked on this the other night. Drink this, and you’ll feel better.” He took a sip from his glass before something amused him, and he spoke again. “Probably won’t hurt to hit the books before we leave, though.”
I studied for an hour, but it didn’t matter. All I could think about was the Devils Game. Kyle talked the entire way to the science hall, but I didn’t hear a word of it. Even when we got to class and the exam was placed in front of me, I couldn’t stop thinking about that puzzle. All I wanted was to get back home and continue working on solving it. I dazed my way through the exam. I don’t remember a single question, and I’m certain I failed. Halfway through the period, I noticed a girl sitting across the room staring at me. She had a distant and blank look on her face, but her eyes never left me. She wore a tattered green hoodie that looked about three sizes too big for her, and her messy brown hair was tied in a knot on top of her head. She looked like she hadn’t bathed or slept for weeks, yet her focus was entirely on me. I was unnerved and scribbled my way through the rest of the exam, turning it in and making my way outside, where I would wait for Kyle until he finished.
I had a message in my inbox waiting for me when I got home. I noticed it was from the user who had initially messaged me, and I opened it with haste. Immediately, I was disappointed, as it was a completely blank message. I noticed that the user’s account was still active, so I sent a message to them.
I NEED SOME INFORMATION. WHAT IS THE DEVIL’S GAME?
I felt that familiar ice rushing through my body as familiar pulsing dots appeared on the screen. Whoever this person was was typing out a response. I tried waiting patiently, but I couldn’t. I tapped furiously on my keyboard, asking every question I could possibly think of. Minutes passed, but they felt like hours. I was desperate for any information I could get, but this person seemed content with their little bread crumb clues that were getting me nowhere. Again, they appeared to be typing, but I never received a response—only those three pulsing dots.
I nearly threw my computer across the room. “Well, that’s just fantastic. What am I supposed to do? Who the fuck are you?” I realized I was screaming at my computer and quickly straightened myself. I stared at the puzzle and decided I needed a shower and some food in my stomach before getting sucked back into that world.
I forced my way through a microwave dinner and barely remembered taking a shower. All I could think about was solving that puzzle. Nothing else seemed to matter. Still wrapped in my towel, I sat on my bedroom floor furiously, examining the strange sphere and testing every combination fathomable. It worked as if it had pressure points; the previous moves I’d been able to solve were the result of pressing my fingers into the glowing symbols. I figured out that it was a code, so I started writing down every combination that worked and every one that didn’t.
It was painfully tedious. At some point, Kyle came into my room to tell me he was ordering the fight and having some friends over for wings, but I wasn’t interested. He told me that I looked terrible, and in an uncharacteristic moment, I wanted to smash his head. As he stalked off, clearly upset with me, I followed him to the door and slammed it shut. I looked back at the puzzle and shook my head.
This thing is killing you.
“Shit.” I breathed. My skin felt hot, and my adrenaline was pulsing. I stared at the intrusive orb on my bed, and the violence in my head stirred again.
Get rid of it.
No. I have to solve it. With more intention and speed than was necessary, I marched over to my bed and snatched the puzzle up in one hand, pulling my phone from my pocket with the other. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this sooner. I took photos of every single symbol on the puzzle and quickly uploaded them to my computer. I got out my notebook as I began my reverse search on the symbols.
The ice in my stomach returned, and I knew I’d stumbled onto something I shouldn’t have. I found that they were runic symbols, an ancient language used by Norse Gods. I suppose the name should have given that away, but again with that vicious hindsight. And what college student pays attention to details like that anyway?
Not me, at least.
What a smart guy.
I scribbled down each of the symbols with their names and meanings before snapping my computer shut and nervously pacing my room. This wasn’t right. I had to stop this right now. I never had the stomach for anything paranormal or occult, and I wasn’t about to start now. I couldn’t even muster up the courage to decipher the pieces I’d already solved. I’d come back to this later. I desperately needed some rest. Later.
No, idiot, destroy that thing and be done with it.
I shook off the thought and put the puzzle in my desk drawer before collapsing onto my bed and opening up a book I’d meant to read.
“Hey, you want some wings before we finish these off?” Kyle’s voice snapped me out of my trance, and I nearly fell off the bed when I realized that I was holding the puzzle. I put that away… I was reading.
It’s already got you hooked. Now you’re stuck.
“No.” I hissed. Kyle put his hands up, and confusion rippled across his face.
“Fine, dude. Just offering.”
“No, wait. I do.” I slid off my bed, allowing the damned thing to tumble to the floor. “I’m just struggling with this stupid thing.”
He laughed, a bit of relief flashing through his eyes. “Well, maybe some spicy food will knock you out of that trance.” He patted my shoulder and began to turn into the hallway. Before either of us knew what was happening, I swung back and punched him in the jaw. His head jerked sideways, blood and drool flying from his lips. His eyes were wide with shock and hurt. And then I punched him again. And again. And before I knew it, I was on top of him and being dragged off him by his friends.
“YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!” I was screaming. He was nearly unconscious, his face a broken mess, and yet I was like an animal, desperate to pull myself free and get my hands back on him.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I heard one of his friends say as they tightened their grip on my squirming body. Even as my mind caught up with my actions and dreaded what I’d done, my body wouldn’t stop. I felt possessed. My arm jerked back, and I felt the blow of my elbow colliding with someone’s nose. I heard a crunch and felt a sharp pain that I registered but didn’t care about. I took two steps, felt something meaty smack me on the back of the head, followed by intense and agonizing pain, and then suddenly there was blackness. I heard a loud gasp and then more yelling. I was determined, though. I struggled hard and finally felt their grasp loosen. I was free, and I couldn’t stop myself from moving back toward my roommate. Despite myself and what I really wanted, I was intent on taking more of his blood.
I woke up at some point in the middle of the night. My head swam and ached, and my mouth tasted like I’d been chewing on dirt. I willed myself to open my eyes, but my body was still not quite listening. I sat up, forcing my eyelids to part. My room was pitch black. Even the sky was so clouded that the moon’s light was nothing more than a white haze over an ebony backdrop. The icy pit in my stomach remained, a sensation I wasn’t thrilled about getting used to. An eerie yellow glow in the room made me sick, and I realized I was experiencing more terror than I’d ever felt. My eyes cast down to the floor to find the source of the glow, the puzzle. The runes were glowing and pulsing brighter than ever as if inviting me in to play.
Don’t do it.
I balled my fists and screwed my eyes shut.
You’ll be sucked right back in if you pick that thing up. Who knows what it will make you do next? Unless you enjoyed beating Kyle to a pulp?
I pressed my hands to my temples and brought my knees to my chest. “Shut up.” I hissed. I felt horrible. Immense guilt coursed through my body as the memory of this evening’s fight flashed through my mind. Before I had a chance to second guess it, I opened my window, scooped the ball off the ground, and chucked it outside into the bitter autumn air. I was done. I was not violent and couldn’t bear what I’d done to Kyle. That wasn’t me. I’ve never had a violent thought in my life. Hell, before today, I’d never even thrown a punch. Realizing how exhausted I felt and satisfied that the puzzle was out of my reach, I settled back into bed and shut my eyes. There was nothing else I could do right now.
A sharp pain woke me up. My bedroom was now bathed in warm sunshine, birds were chirping outside, and I could smell the rich aroma of brewing coffee. It was a moment of comfort before the rest of reality crashed into me. I quickly realized that I was sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor with my legs crossed. My back was screaming; my muscles were so stiff I thought they would tear if I moved. My entire body begged for relief, yet I seemed locked in place. My eyes were burning, having been open all night. It wasn’t the pain or the fact that I was on the floor that scared me. It almost wasn’t even that I was holding the Devil’s Game in my hands. It was the puddle of blood that spread beneath me. Dark crimson covered the floor, my pants, and a little bit on the front of my shirt, and it ran all the way up my forearms to the source. My fingers were raw, nearly to the bone. Blood poured out from my ruined hands, and yet they were still fumbling and working away at the puzzle, which was also covered in blood.
In shock, I stared at my hands as if watching a bad horror movie. I didn’t know what to do. My fingernails were cracked and bruised, some of them missing altogether. My mouth gaped as I processed the gore, and then the rush of pain came. Like hot steam, my fingers were suddenly on fire, and I couldn’t help but scream through the agony. I managed to push myself out of my seated position, but my legs may as well have been made of wood, and I went back down hard. My shattered fingertips were no use in shielding the blow, and my head bounced off the floor, a wave of stars lighting up my world.
“My hands!” I shrieked, rolling over on my back and nearing complete hysterics. I was shaking uncontrollably as waves of torment flowed through my digits. I heard Kyle muttering angrily down the hall, his heavy footsteps heading my way. I couldn’t let him find me like this. He’d have me committed. Christ, I would. I took a breath and sat up, taking it slow through the pain that existed in every fiber of my body.
What did I do to myself? And, how…?
I managed to stand up with more effort than it should have taken. Nonetheless, I did it.
“You up, asshole? We need to talk.” Kyle yelled from the hallway and pounded on my door.
Oh, no. Not yet.
Okay. Okay, I can handle this.
I grabbed the tissue box from my nightstand and made sloppy work of bandaging my wounds. My knuckles were purple, bloody, and raw from last night’s impromptu beating, so I had my hands wrapped up like a mummy. I knew I looked ridiculous, but it would have to do for now. I stripped off my ruined clothes and pulled on some new jeans and a T-shirt. Finally, I tossed a towel over the bloody mess I’d left on the carpet. I’d have to deal with that later. Taking a breath, I braced myself and opened the door to enter the harsh world, but I didn’t make it far. Kyle’s fist planted into my nose with surprising speed and power. I stumbled backward but managed to catch myself before falling back on my ass. An awful new understanding of pain exploded from the center of my face, and fresh blood poured from my nose like a crimson waterfall. I covered my face with my already destroyed hands.
“You’re lucky that’s all I have the energy for. And that I didn’t call the cops.” He appraised me with disgust. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you look like absolute garbage. Coffee’s in the kitchen.” He stomped off towards the kitchen, and I knew I was expected to follow. I grabbed a rag for my nose and cursed. At Kyle, at myself, and at that fucking puzzle. I looked down and found that a second shirt had been ruined. I cursed that too. I pulled it off, replacing it with an older one I didn’t care about. I couldn’t afford to bleed all over another good shirt. Holding the rag to my nose, I made the dreaded trek to the kitchen, where I was sure the fun would continue.
You deserve everything you get for what you did to him.
I tried shaking off the ugly voice inside my head, but it hurt to move. My head was throbbing, and my fingers ached viciously with every move I made. Slowly, I made my way towards the kitchen and found Kyle waiting at the table, sour look and all. He made eye contact with me as I crossed the room towards the cabinets. My hands shook as I tenderly grasped for a mug. It was all I could do not to scream as I steadied the porcelain mug onto the countertop.
“Hey, jackass, I poured you a cup. I saw your hands.” Kyle said through his teeth, not bothering to look up from his coffee, already half drunk.
I felt my face go red and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to do it myself. I slid into the chair across from him. “Thank you.”
I felt his heavy gaze piercing through me for a bit too long. Each time I took a sip of my coffee, he would do the same. He left his dark, brown eyes locked onto me for what seemed like hours. Surely, it was only a few minutes, but it felt like forever.
“So,” Kyle started, leaning back in his chair and allowing a frustrated grin to spread across his face. “Are you on drugs? Or what?”
“What? No, of course not!”
“Then what the fuck happened last night?” He hissed.
My heart was pounding beneath my ribs, and I felt my mouth going dry.
How are you going to explain last night?
“Kyle, I-” I took a deep breath and a deeper swig of my coffee. “This is hard to explain. This puzzle I started, no matter what I do, I can’t get rid of it, and my hands…” I held up my hands and immediately wished I hadn’t; the makeshift bandages were now caked in red and seeping through. Kyle went white, and his jaw fell open.
“What did you do to yourself?” His voice was now void of anger but rippled in worry and fear. I saw exactly what he saw. My fingers were broken and destroyed, and I could feel the agony to prove it. Before I could stop him, he was calling an ambulance for me, and I sat frozen as he told dispatch our address and asked for EMS.
I felt numb. “What do I tell them?”
“You stuck your hand in a blender. Now get your shit together.” He grabbed his mug and retreated to his bedroom. I sat in the kitchen to finish my coffee alone. Only ten minutes later, lights and sirens arrived, and I was whisked away to the hospital.
Fifty-six stitches later, a good deal of gauze and a lot of sideways glances later. I was going out of the hospital and back to my apartment. My fingers were useless, so I felt confident about not getting sucked back into that puzzle again. As for dealing with Kyle… well, that was a different story. I was not looking forward to continuing that conversation. Lucky for me, though, I arrived home to a dark apartment. Kyle must be out for the night. I pawed my way through the kitchen and got myself a glass of water without spilling half of it on the floor. Getting my prescription bottle open was a bit more of a challenge, but I managed. The pills they had given me were huge and intimidating, so I decided to talk half of one before settling onto the couch. I made it ten minutes into an episode of Cops before I fell asleep, succumbing to some much-needed rest.
It was late when I woke up. I’m not sure exactly what time it was, and I didn’t bother to look, but the moon shone brightly. The lights were off in the house, and an eerie silence made my mouth dry. I slowly pushed myself off the couch and walked across the room to peek out the window. I turned around to find that the light source was coming from my laptop, which now sat open in the middle of the living room floor. Kyle’s car wasn’t in the driveway. I was worried but quickly distracted by an unsettling glow that seemed to creep across the apartment and cloaks me in its ugly white. The ever-familiar icy dread washed its way through my bloodstream until it got to my stomach, filling it until I was nearly sick.
Just ignore it. Walk right past that thing and go to bed. IGNORE IT, Glen.
I ran my ruined fingers through my hair, the pain completely lost on me at this point, and stared at my computer. It wasn’t there before.
Leave it, Glen.
I screwed my eyes shut. This was insane. I marched over to the laptop with heavy heels and scooped it off the floor. I felt a stinging in my fingertips as I carried the computer over to the couch. But I didn’t care much about that. I didn’t have time to, anyway. I sat down on the couch and found that my YouTube account was open, and there was a message waiting from an unknown user.
The message was simple, and yet it sent a thousand rusty needles down my spine and into my gut. I wanted to throw up, but my stomach was so empty I didn’t think I could even if I wanted to. Despite the searing pain in my hands, my fingers flew across the keyboard as I typed a series of insults, questions, and then desperate pleas. I needed answers. What’s begun? Who the hell was this person, and what kind of sick game had I been caught up in? My thoughts spun wildly through my mind, a carousal of anxiety and confusion, and there were no answers to ease my worry.
Three pulsing dots appeared on the screen to indicate that whoever this person was may have been typing a response. I leaned in and waited. And waited. And then I realized that this was just another mind game. There would be no answers. This was something I was going to have to navigate on my own. I leaned back on the couch and closed my eyes, feeling an immense rush of despair and terror I had never known before.
What are you doing to yourself?
You’re obsessing over this.
I covered my face with my hands, stifling an immature groan and trying to stuff the intrusive thoughts back where they belonged. For a bit too long, I sat in miserable silence. I realized I was afraid, and that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid that if I moved from this couch, I would pick that puzzle up, and then…
I was afraid to think much further on that notion, but I didn’t have the time to, even if I wanted. An offensively loud buzzing sound shocked me out of my trance, and I nearly fell off the couch. My heart was pounding, and my blood rushed through my body with uncomfortable heat. I snapped my eyes open and whipped my head around to find the source of the mind-numbing racket, but the apartment was still dark. I discovered that the sound was coming from my computer, and as my gaze made its way to the screen, I felt the blood drain my face, and I felt dizzy.
Playing on my laptop was a horrifically graphic video of a woman lowering her hand into a blender while it was running. The whirring hum of the appliance went from a steady buzz to a shrieking resistance as her fingers met the metal blades. A mess of blood and flesh spat and flew about the blender as she lowered her hand deeper still, obliterating her fingers. I looked at my gored hand and couldn’t help but make a comparison. What had Kyle said earlier? “Tell them you stuck your hand in a blender.” She didn’t scream or react. She held a steady gaze, her blue eyes piercing the camera as she gored herself. She sunk her hand deeper into the mess of spinning blades, and the last of her fingers were separated from her arm. Still, she stuck her hand deeper until there was nothing but red and ruin.
A wave of adrenaline took over, and I sprang from the couch, raking my hands through my hair and trying to force myself to calm down. Those images were stuck in my head like a catchy pop song, and I felt traumatized.
“Jesus Christ.” I hissed through my teeth. I was now pacing my living room and muttering obscenities. What’s happening to me?
You know what’s happening to you.
I shook my head and barely noticed myself sinking back into the couch. I was done with this game. I wanted out. If I could have cried at that moment, I probably would have, but I felt completely raw. All I could focus on was the genuine terror I was feeling, and the possibility of being stuck with this thing shook me to my core. I took a breath.
When I opened my eyes, I noticed the woman staring at the camera through her blood-splattered face. I jumped, and my heart rate flew upon seeing her sapphire blue eyes staring into my soul, but what scared me worse than anything was the sudden recognition I felt for her. I’d seen her before. I knew that face because I’d felt this exact wave of discomfort.
She was the woman staring at me in the lecture hall that day.
I slammed my computer shut and buried my face in my hands. What was I supposed to do with that? I paced about my living room, sweat and raw fear pouring from every inch of my body. I tried to remember if she had both hands when I saw her at the university, but I was too distracted. I didn’t pay her enough attention. It had to be fake.
You know it’s real.
No. No, it can’t be.
Those weren’t special effects, dude.
Before I could process much more, an angry and ear-splitting groan came from my bedroom. It was as if the audio from an awful car accident were slowed down to reveal the metal grinding and crushing into itself. I immediately covered my ears and turned toward the offensive screeching. It stopped for a few seconds and then started up again louder this time. I felt myself screaming but couldn’t hear over the paralyzing racket. I cautiously staggered towards my bedroom, where I found the sphere on my desk glowing a brilliant orange. It seemed to be the noise source as the symbols flared in conjunction with the grinding report.
“I’VE HAD IT WITH THIS GODDAMNED THING!” I yelled once the sound paused. I picked it up and held it with shaking hands, anxiously anticipating the next deafening round. I cringed right as I expected it to start, but nothing happened. The game was still glowing, but hardly as brightly as it previously was. Now that I had it in my hands, it seemed to calm down. I stared at the thing with horrified fascination. It could sense when it was being handled or touched. I looked around my dark apartment, feeling more alone than I ever had. Clutching the game to my chest, I made my way out of my bedroom. I felt an ugly presence in there, and it felt like the walls would begin closing in on me at any moment.
Back in the living room, I had thrown on a late-night sitcom and settled in to appraise the enigma I held in my hands. I wondered if that grinding noise would start every time I left the game alone for too long.
How are you even going to play with your busted-up fingers?
I felt my heart surge as the thought intruded my mind. I had no idea how this thing worked, why I couldn’t get rid of it, or what that horrible sound was. I felt lost and confused. And so afraid. I didn’t know where Kyle was, which also unsettled me. I didn’t know what to do, so I leaned back and kept the game firmly in my grasp. I wouldn’t let it go, but I didn’t want to play tonight. I didn’t even want it in this apartment, but I wasn’t sure what would happen if I tried getting rid of it again. It didn’t take long before I felt my eyelids getting heavy. I allowed them to fall shut as I sank deep into a world of unaware slumber.
I was freezing when I woke up. I reached for a blanket but quickly felt my blood drain when I found mud and grass where there should have been a soft cushion. My eyes opened, and I found myself sitting against a tree in the middle of a cemetery. Ominous, aged gravestones lined my vision in every direction I looked. I looked down to find the puzzle sitting on my lap. I’d solved a few more moves. I wasn’t sure how I knew, but I just did. The puzzle never changed in appearance, save for the color of the glowing runic symbols. Instead of moving pieces like a Rubik’s Cube, it was like I was gaining knowledge and unlocking something forbidden within my own mind.
I felt a piercing ache rocket through my head, and I cursed. I took a deep breath and tried not to panic, but it was a difficult task. I was almost halfway across the city without a jacket, shoes, or a cell phone. I had no idea what time it was or how long I’d been out here. An eerie chill shot through my body, and I decided it was time to head back home. I thought about finding a pay phone or borrowing strangers but quickly resented modern technology and my lack of ability to remember anyone’s phone number. I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with anyone, and we certainly didn’t own a landline on which for me to leave a message. I pushed myself to my feet and scanned my surroundings. It was morning, I assumed early, as there was a frost still painting the tips of each blade of grass. I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered, groaning at the long walk I had ahead of me.
I’d only been walking for about twenty minutes when I noticed a figure sitting at the cemetery’s edge. As I got closer, I slowed my pace and kept my eyes trained on the person. I realized it was a woman huddled with her knees to her chest. I felt my panic recede a bit as my stride picked back up. Once I got close enough, I recognized her as the woman from the lecture hall and from that horrible video.
“I’ve been waiting for you for hours.” She spoke without looking up at me. Her face was hidden behind a tangle of mousy brown hair, and the hood of her oversized sweatshirt was pulled up. She looked like she’d seen better days. My eyes drifted down, and I realized one of the sleeves of her sweatshirt was especially baggy and loose. She tried hiding it with her other arm, but it was clear that her arm was gone from the elbow down. I gasped, unable to hide my shock.
“Who are you?” I asked through trembling lips.
“I’m Ash. I’m not really anyone. Just a curious girl who made an incredible mistake.” She shifted her gaze, and her eyes traveled up to meet mine. “It’s not important. What matters is that you solve that puzzle.”
My jaw fell slack. “You were the one who gave it to me? You’re the unknown YouTuber who started all of this…” I felt rage boiling inside me.
“I’m sorry.” She turned her eyes downward once again. “I truly didn’t want to get you involved in this, but I didn’t have any other options.”
“What are you talking about?”
She sighed. “Can I give you a ride home, and I’ll explain as much as possible?”
I reluctantly agreed. I was more than hesitant to get in a car with her, but I was otherwise stranded, and she had some answers that I desperately craved. I followed her to the parking lot, where she led me to a surprisingly nice car. I slid into the front seat and felt my body sigh at the warmth and comfort of her car. She soon got in next to me and gave me a weary look before starting the vehicle.
“I know what you must think.” She finally said.
I stared at her, wracking my brain. “I honestly don’t even know what I’m supposed to think anymore.”
She let out a breathy laugh. It was refreshing to see her relax, even for a moment. “Yeah, I get that. I was exactly where you were only two months ago.” She must have caught the alarm in my eyes and allowed herself another smile. “I know how I look. I’ve never coped well, and I guess I get a bit… obsessed. That’s why I sent the game to you.”
“Why? So you could pass off the anxiety and torture of the thing to someone else?” I felt my skin getting hot.
We came to a stop light, and she turned to me. “No! No, it’s not like that at all. Once you start the game, it has to be finished. I knew I had no chance of solving it. And, well… they say you’re the best.”
I groaned. I was exhausted. “What about that video? Your arm?”
I saw hurt and pain ripple across her face before she returned it to stone. The light turned green, and she stomped on the gas pedal. “It needs blood. If you can’t solve it, it takes from you.” I thought I heard a faint sob escape her lips. “Glen, you have to solve this thing. I know you’ve experienced its ways. It’s only going to keep getting worse, and Christ, look at me. Look at my arm! I don’t want that to happen to you or anyone else. We have to end this thing.”
I didn’t know what to say for a long time. After a few minutes, she pulled up in front of my apartment, and I didn’t have the energy to ask her how she knew where I lived. I turned to her after some time. “Can’t we just destroy it?”
“I’ve tried. I burned it. I ran it over with my car and sank it into the ocean. It always comes back. There’s only one way, Glen, and I need your help.” She had desperation in her voice, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t say no to her.
“So what do we do?”
“Let’s meet at the park tonight at ten o’clock, the same place. I have an idea.”
I reluctantly agreed. I pushed the car door open and slid out into the cool autumn morning.
“Glen.” She called as I was turning towards my home.
“What?” I growled. I was exhausted and confused and absolutely in need of a shower, some food, and some decent rest.
Her eyes darted back and forth, and she lowered her voice. “Make sure you come alone.”
“Right.” I nodded and turned my back to her, trudging miserably up my walkway. I was grateful to see Kyle’s car parked in the driveway, but my relief faded when I walked into the house.
Kyle was in the kitchen with Rachel and Sarah, sitting at the table with a stack of pancakes and coffee spread out before them. Kyle was mid-story, and the girls laughed at his antics so hard they almost didn’t hear me enter the house. I shut the door a bit too hard, and Kyle’s gaze snapped up to meet mine.
“What happened to you?” His voice was only a few decibels over a whisper.
I kept moving, scanning the room anxiously, meeting Kyle’s eyes all too often. I met Sarah’s eyes, and she had confusion written all over them. I just wanted to go to bed.
You’re blowing it with her over a game.
“Shut up.” I hissed, pressing my palms into my temples.
“Glen! Hey!” Kyle was on me instantly, snapping his fingers in my face.
“WHAT?” I didn’t mean to scream at him, but I did. He stepped back at a pace but didn’t waver from my sudden explosion. He stood there but didn’t say a word to me. His face was written in shock, fear, and confusion. “I’ve had a long night, and I just want to go to bed.” I stared at him with an intensity that I didn’t know I had. When he didn’t respond, I turned my back on him and headed to my bedroom.
Behind the closed door, I felt a sudden urge to cry. The weight of everything seemed to sink in finally, and I felt helpless against the pressure. I dove into the safety of my bed and let myself process and feel. I allowed myself to cry and shake, the gravity of my situation settling in with every passing second.
Sleep came like an absent parent; far too late, far too brief, and with much disappointment. In those brief moments of quiet and darkness, I experienced many wild and unsettling nightmares. Nothing I could even try to describe, but it was enough to disturb me when I finally woke up. The sun was still up when I peeled myself away from my bed. I checked my phone and found that it had only been a few hours. I rolled my eyes as I journeyed out into the apartment. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had until ten o’clock tonight, and it was only 11 AM.
Upon entering the kitchen, Kyle had written me a note explaining that he and the girls had gone out for a bit and would be back later. I wasn’t looking forward to that. I wanted to be alone in the worst way.
I was absolutely starving. Realizing I still hadn’t eaten anything, I made some eggs and coffee, sat at the table to eat, and tried to take my mind off the situation. I shoveled the food in my face and quickly returned to the fridge for more. After another round of eggs, some avocado toast, and three oranges, my stomach still screamed for more, but I resisted. Instead, I got in the shower and let the hot water wash over my body, wishing it would wash away the terror that reeled in my mind. I scored a few moments of peace before I heard Kyle come back home. Once I was dried off and dressed, I crept quietly from the bathroom to my bedroom, where I spent the rest of my day staring at the puzzle.
The day slogged on, and I spent it in anxious misery. I certainly would have if I could have slept through until ten o’clock tonight. My mind was far too busy for that, to my dismay.
At some point, I emerged from my room to use the bathroom. On my way out, I was hijacked by a very concerned Kyle.
“Dude, we need to talk. I’m worried about you.”
“I don’t have time for this today.” Even I was taken aback by the venom and grit that existed in my voice.
Do you even know who you are anymore?
“Then make some. You haven’t been yourself since you started messing with that thing. And not to mention the impromptu fight night.”
“Kyle,” I hissed through my teeth, interrupting him. “Please. Not today.”
“No, Glen, this is happening whether you like it. You need to tell me what’s happening because if not, I will have to start looking for another roommate.”
I wanted to hit him again. I wanted to break his fucking jaw.
“Let’s go.” He said with ice in his voice. He made his way to the kitchen, and I reluctantly followed. I was grateful to find that he’d made us a plate of nachos and poured some beers. I was still starving and could eat, so I sat across from him and filled a plate. He took a heavy sip of his beer before appraising me with exhaustion and worry. Finally, he spoke. “Look me in the eyes and tell me honestly that you’re not using hard drugs.”
“Oh, come on, not this again.”
“Look at my fucking face! You did that! And last I checked, you were a quiet nerd that had never been in a fight before, so you tell me how that happens.” He screamed, standing abruptly at the end of his sentence. I felt my face going red, and for once, it wasn’t born from rage. I felt horrible. Kyle was my best friend, and I was destroying our relationship.
I buried my head in my hands and took a deep breath. “Kyle, I promise I’m not on drugs. There’s been something weird going on.” I didn’t know what else to say or how else to explain it. I saw the disappointment on his face and felt myself deflating. He couldn’t possibly understand. I popped a few nachos in my mouth and took a few timid drink sips.
And then I told him everything. I told him about the strange events surrounding the puzzle and how I’d tried to get rid of it. I told him about the anger and violence I’d been feeling and the horrific video. Finally, I told him about Ash, the girl in the park.
When I finished telling Kyle everything, his jaw was slack, and he looked at me with a fearful intensity. He was speechless, but he seemed to believe me. The silence was a bit too long for comfort, but it gave me some time to scarf down half the nachos and finish my beer.
“So what now?” He asked, finally.
I shrugged, debating whether or not I should tell him I was going back to the park tonight. Deciding that keeping secrets wasn’t doing me any good, I answered him.
“Well, Ash asked me to meet her back in the park tonight. She said she had an idea, and I don’t know what else to do.”
“Well,” he turned and glanced at the microwave clock, “that’s in just a few hours. We’d better rest up before heading out.”
“You think I’m going to let you go alone?” He scoffed.
“Kyle, she told me to come alone.”
“Yeah, and that’s exactly why I don’t want you going alone. You have no idea who this girl is. After everything you just told me, that sounds like a suicide mission. You need some backup on this, and now I’m involved.”
After a bit more bickering, I finally agreed. I was silently grateful that I wouldn’t be alone, as I was starting to dread the rendezvous more and more with each passing second. While Kyle had a heart of gold, he was an intimidating man by appearance, and he could hold his own when needed. I felt a little safer having him on my side, but I couldn’t stave off the pit in my stomach. I didn’t want to put him in danger, and I had no idea what I was walking into.
He went to his room to take a nap while I spent the rest of the evening fiddling with the puzzle. I managed to solve a bit more of it and noticed that the symbols were now glowing crimson red. I cringed, somehow knowing that couldn’t be good. I put it down but found it back in my hands only a few moments later. I was never one for praying, but I found myself staring at the moon and begging whatever gods existed up there to help me through this. The sky stayed as it was, the apartment remained still and quiet, and I remembered exactly why I wasn’t a religious man.
Once nine o’clock rolled around, I couldn’t take my eyes away from the clock. Every second that passed seemed to be an eternity, and I just wanted to get it over with. I had already changed my clothes three times and packed a small backpack with water, a knife, and a puzzle. I paced until I couldn’t stand it anymore and burst into Kyle’s room.
He jumped, snapping his laptop shut quickly. “Ugh, yeah… we have like forty-five minutes, though.”
“Well, I’m anxious. And I want to get this shit over with.”
“Alright, just give me a few minutes to get dressed and ready.” In normal circumstances, I might have laughed when I saw his naked ass roll out from under the covers. Whatever that may be. Tonight, though, I couldn’t focus on anything other than what lay ahead of me.
We rode in near silence the entire forty-minute ride to the park. Neither of us knew what to say. Kyle suggested stopping for food a few times, but neither of us was hungry. He was just stalling. I could feel the nervous energy in the air, but I didn’t have it in me to try and calm it. My heart was pounding in my chest, and my ears were ringing. I don’t think I’d ever been so nervous, no— terrified, in my life. More than a few times during the commute, I thought I would have to tell Kyle to pull over so I could throw up. Thankfully, I managed to stave off nausea.
The whirring headlights, the fast food restaurants, and the shopping plazas diminished in frequency as we drove. Instead of the bright lights and vibrancy of the city, we found ourselves surrounded by dark forests and untreated roads. The silence grew as Kyle’s car crept down the road. I didn’t remember it being so dark and abandoned out here, but then again, it was morning last I’d been out here.
The ground underneath the tires turned from pavement to dirt quickly. My stomach dropped. We were at the park. Kyle seemed to know we were close as he shot me a few wide-eyed glances. He was scared. I’d never seen him like that; he was my strongest friend. Seeing him so freaked out shook me, but I knew I had to stay focused. I directed him into a parking lot and spotted Ash’s car. I looked hard into Kyle’s eyes and took a deep breath. I had no idea what would happen next, but I could only hope it would fix things. I swung open the car door and heard Kyle following me. Before we made it halfway to Ash’s car, she was already storming toward me.
“I told you to come alone!” She hissed, her eyes wide. She wasn’t looking good tonight. She had dark circles around her eyes and seemed more fidgety and paranoid than average.
“I didn’t know what I was coming into.” I met her with a stony gaze, unimpressed by her intimidation. Although, deep down, I was terrified. Her eyes shot to Kyle and pierced him with venom. His wide eyes narrowed back at her, but I could tell that he was as afraid as I was. After a few moments, she huffed.
“Fine,” Her eyes locked into mine, and I thought I saw hatred in them. “Let’s go.”
She led us down a long dirt bike path. We walked for nearly an hour, and my feet were screaming by the end of it. I wasn’t exactly the hiking type. If the darkness and silence weren’t enough to drive me mad, the Devil’s Game sat in my pocket, vibrating and pulsing with its evil glow. After some time, my ears started ringing. I knew this was going to be bad. The further we walked, the more dread I felt. The ringing in my ears turned into an awful screech, and my hands shook beyond control.
Do you really think you can fix this?
I have to.
But you’re nothing. You play with games for a living.
I wanted to scream, but I didn’t have time for my own thoughts. Ash had stopped. She stood before a cluster of large stones and boulders. It was seemingly nothing to the naked eye, but it held dark and vicious energy to it that sank into my stomach.
“This is it,” Ash said flatly. She pushed ahead of Kyle and me, focusing on the dirt just in front of the towering masses of stone. “Come on, Glen.”
Kyle and I exchanged glances for the first time since we’d begun our trek, and I stepped ahead of him, approaching Ash. He was close behind me, unwilling to let me shoulder this alone. It made me feel better. I didn’t think this girl could, or would, actually hurt me, but I couldn’t be sure of anything anymore.
“So…” My voice shook when I spoke. “Now what?”
Before either of us could prevent it, she had pulled a pistol out of her baggy sweatshirt pocket and shoved it into my temple. She pressed hard into the side of my head until I fell to my knees and my hands went up. The barrel was cold against my skin; all I could think about was how easily she could end everything for me. I was shaking, and it was all I could do to keep my composure. She started screaming at me.
“I TOLD YOU to come alone, and now you fucked this all up.” Spit flew from her lips and onto my face as she yelled. “Why? Why couldn’t you just listen to ONE THING?” She suddenly swung the butt of the pistol across my jaw, and I instantly tasted blood pooling in my mouth. I was too afraid and filled with adrenaline to feel the pain, though, and I spit out more blood than I’d liked.
I hung my jaw open, letting the blood drain from my mouth and tried to stand. Before I knew it, Kyle was on Ash with all of his strength, wrapping his muscular arms around her.
“Drop the gun! Now!” He screamed. Despite having only one arm, Ash squirmed and struggled against his hold. She bucked her body forward, and with all of the strength in her frail body, she slammed the back of her head right into Kyle’s nose. He let go and backed up a few paces while holding his hands to his face. I saw the anger in his eyes, and he was ready to grab her again when she slammed the pistol into the side of his head. She was stronger than she looked, and he went down quickly. He was out cold, and now I was alone with this stranger with a pension for violence. She had one arm but was managing to dominate two full-grown men.
“Okay, okay,” I had my hands up and breathed heavily. “What do you want?”
“What I wanted,” she hissed, “was for you to come alone. But I think I can work with this.” Her focus turned to Kyle, who was clutching his face and slowly coming back to consciousness. As his eyes drifted up to meet hers, she planted her foot into his crotch, causing a painful whimper to escape Kyle’s blood-soaked lips. He buckled over, and she pushed her pistol into his face as he did. The gun barrel was pressed against his cheek, and I saw his eyes widen and then search for mine as the weight of his fear took hold. My stomach lurched, unable to process the intensity of our situation.
“Ash, stop!” I screamed, absolutely terrified for my friend’s life. Kyle’s breath hitched in his throat as he tried to breathe through his fear.
Her eyes locked on mine, and I saw pure hatred in them. “Whatever happens to him tonight is on you. Now let’s go.” She held the gun aimed at Kyle’s head and urged us forward. I wasn’t sure where we were going, and it was too dark to make sense of my surroundings. We were going deeper into the woods. I knew that much, at least. After some time, we stopped in a small clearing, and Ash seemed to be getting more nervous by the moment. She scanned the area before setting down her bag and turning back to Kyle and me, pistol still firmly in her grasp and aimed at my best friend.
“Where’s the game?” She snapped.
Flustered, I fumbled for the zipper of my pack and rushed to grab the puzzle and show it to her. Out of breath and raging with adrenaline, I was able to muster a response. “Here. It’s here.”
“Good. Now fucking solve it.” She forced Kyle to sit down as she pressed the gun into his lips. My stomach rolled when she sat down on his lap and began playing with his hair. She had the barrel firmly in his mouth, and I could hear him mumbling something around the cold metal. When I didn’t move or respond to her in due time, her eyes snapped over to mine, and violence grew over her features. “NOW! Before I kill him.”
I nearly dropped the damned thing as I fumbled to place my fingers around it. I found that I was shaking profusely. The pulsing glow of the runic symbols seemed to react to my touch, and they cast an unsettling red across the clearing. I had never seen it glow so brightly, and it almost hurt my eyes to focus on it for too long. I fumbled with it and pressed my fingers into all the familiar pressure points of the puzzle. Beyond everything I’ve ever believed in, I invested every ounce of my energy into solving the puzzle and being done with this nightmare. I don’t know how long I’d been tinkering with the thing when Kyle finally found his voice again. I guessed she pulled the gun out of his mouth because his nose was bleeding so badly and soaking her precious metal with the crimson gore.
“Get OFF of me!” He screamed. When my eyes found him, Ash traced the gun down his chest and landed at his crotch.
“Shut up, pig.” I heard her mutter. That was it. I was done. I let the puzzle slip out of my hands; I tackled her to the ground before I knew it. Shocked and confused, she let out a scream that almost broke my heart, but I quickly remembered that she had a gun in Kyle’s face only moments ago. I had her pinned beneath me, but after that, I was lost. I didn’t want to hurt her. I couldn’t. It went against everything I stood for. But she had broken both of us, and now I was at a stalemate. I felt Kyle standing behind me, and fear rocketed through my stomach once again. I felt him push me away from her as he replaced me, landing a meaty fist on her small, bony face.
“How do you like it? How do you like it, you fucking BITCH!?” He was screaming now, but that awful grinding noise quickly shadowed the sounds of his voice. It was loud and intrusive, and my hands quickly slapped against my ears, a weak attempt at blocking out the screeching noise. I noticed the puzzle glowing and pulsing erratically as if it were upset. I crawled my way over to it. The sound of the grinding metal was now splitting my ears into an unbearable headache. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ash writhing on the ground, clutching her face in pain and rage. I ignored her and grabbed the puzzle with desperation and quickly began fidgeting with it, praying to a god I never believed in to please make this end.
I pressed my fingers around the smooth surface of the sphere and the grinding screech intensified. I didn’t think Kyle could hear it, as he was still grappling with Ash, the two of them screaming profanities and threats at each other. I spun the game around in my hands, hoping for anything when suddenly I felt something. I’d done it. I figured it out. In disbelief, I stared down at the puzzle as the glow of the symbols gradually changed from dark crimson to a soft yellow. It was…satisfied? The horrible grinding stopped but was replaced by the deafening bang of a fired gun. I turned and instantly felt the blood drain from my face. Kyle was lying on the ground, his face gored and pouring blood from a fresh gunshot wound. Ash stood over him, panting and wiping splatters of my best friend’s blood from her face.
This is all your fault.
I screamed something wicked. It was a noise I didn’t know the human body could possibly produce, but it was beyond my control of myself. Ash had killed him, and now she had her sights on me.
“What did you do? What the fuck did you do?” I screamed, spit flying between my lips as I completely lost control of myself. Ash stared at me through her black eyes with hate and a glimmer of arrogance. Before I could say anything else, though, the sound of grinding metal returned, and this time, she heard it, too. We both pressed our hands against our ears and screamed over the noise, but it was no use. It was louder than anything I’d ever heard in my life. Ash stared at me, saying something I couldn’t hear or understand beneath the deafening shrieks. She seemed to be instructing me to do something, but I couldn’t even begin to understand. Suddenly, we both looked at the sphere and noticed that it was moving on its own, rolling around in the dirt and pulsing desperately. It seemed to be rolling towards Kyle’s dead body. Towards his blood.
“This has to stop,” I whispered through my grinding teeth. I stormed over to the puzzle and picked it up with hatred. I walked it over to a nearby rock and began smashing it into the boulder, destroying the puzzle and my hand. I wasn’t sure it would help, but I wasn’t done. I had noticed a large hole in the ground on our way out here, and I stormed my way over to it, throwing the pieces and shards of the Devil’s game into the black abyss. It seemed to fall for a long time, quickly being swallowed up by the pitch black of the mysterious hole.
For a short moment, the grinding stopped, leaving us in a silence that was just as unsettling. I met Ash’s eyes. For a moment, my fear had overcome my hatred for her, and I opened my mouth to speak. Before I could get a word out, the moment of silent reprieve was replaced by horrific, loud, and tortured screaming. I couldn’t tell if Ash was screaming too, but her jaw was wide open, and she seemed tortured by the shrieks. It was as if we were standing right at the mouth of hell itself, experiencing the agonized sounds of our future.
The wailing was endless and deafening. It just wouldn’t stop. I realized I’d been squeezing my eyes shut, and when I blinked them open, I noticed something that nearly brought bile into the back of my throat. Emerging from the hole that we’d thrown the game, it was a horribly deformed hand pulling its way to the surface. The hand had three fingers, and all seemed to be broken and bent at unnatural angles. Attached to the hand was a massive arm, bigger than any bodybuilder that I’d ever seen. It crawled clumsily, but it was slowly making its way out. The creature’s skin was a sickly gray and freckled with boils and blisters. A second arm emerged from the hole and slammed its deformed arm into the dirt. I felt Ash suddenly grip my arm, but I quickly shook her away. I wasn’t here to comfort her. The screaming was getting louder. The creature’s three gnarled fingers dug into the dirt and pulled itself forward, revealing something that I’ll never be able to unsee.
As it pulled itself from the hole, I realized that it didn’t have much of a head. Rather, it was a series of fangs and jaws that snapped and growled. When it opened its mouth, revealing rows of teeth all down its throat, I realized that the creature had a single, bloodshot eyeball in the back of its throat. It dragged two small, pathetic legs behind its muscular upper body, but despite that, it moved fast. I wanted to scream, run, and do anything, but I was rooted in place as if I’d grown from the earth itself. I couldn’t move. The creature snarled and gnashed its teeth together as it awkwardly crawled toward Kyle and me. Suddenly, I felt a surge of adrenaline and snatched the gun from Ash’s grip. My hands were shaking and sweating uncontrollably, and I struggled to grasp the pistol, let alone aim it. I’d never shot a gun before, but I knew this wasn’t the time to consider my qualifications.
“Shoot it, Glen! Do it now!” I heard Ash scream next to me.
I took a breath and squeezed the trigger, stunned for a moment at the enormous power I held in my hands. The creature shrieked and slowed a bit but continued moving towards us. I pulled the trigger again. And again, and again but the bullets didn’t faze the horrible beast. It continued moving towards us, despite the fresh wounds in its body. It bled a terrible white ooze and twitched horribly at each gunshot, but still, the thing was undeterred. I squeezed the trigger again but found I was out of bullets. I dropped the gun and found myself stepping backward, still unable to run or take my eyes away from the monster. I was in shock and disbelief. Ash seemed to be in shock as well, her face was pale, and her jaw hung open. Her hands reached for my arm again, and I didn’t push her away this time. I hated this woman, but we had bigger fish to fry at the moment.
“What is that thing?” I yelled over the chorus of screaming. Ash didn’t answer. She was frozen in terror. The beast opened its jaws wide and let out a gurgling moan, its single, hidden eyeball darting between the two of us as it continued dragging itself towards us. It stopped at Kyle’s dead body, inspecting it for a moment before deciding that he wasn’t worth his time. It kept crawling closer until it was only a few feet from us. I noticed that Ash was sobbing and trying to hide behind my body. I stepped aside, remembering what she’d done to Kyle. I remembered that she was the one that brought me here, and she was the one who caused all of this. I turned and grabbed her by the shoulders, looking deep into her eyes with more venom and hate than I knew I contained.
“This is your fucking fault.” I hissed. I recognized fear on her face for the first time since I’d met her, but I didn’t pity her. I shoved her small frame ahead of me, and she fell to the ground, only a foot before the monster. The creature let out another wet bellow before violently slamming one of its titanic arms down on her torso. I could almost hear her ribs break, and she shook with pain. She looked to me as if to beg and plead but didn’t have enough time to say a word. The creature slammed its great fist down on her body again, breaking her and causing a steady flow of crimson to fall from her lips. Tears and blood dripped from her face, weakly fighting the horrible creature. I wanted to look away but couldn’t. It slammed down on her one more time, completely incapacitating her. It finally sank its vicious teeth into her stomach and began to consume her with a level of violence I could never have imagined. It ripped out her organs, sucking in her intestines like spaghetti before moving upward and breaking into her chest cavity.
It took a while, but the monster had devoured every last inch of her from the inside out. Blood covered the earth around me, and I realized that the unknown screams had dissipated. Only my raw and aching throat was producing a weak scream at this point.
The beast had finished its meal and let its jaw fall open, revealing blood-soaked fangs and that terrible, red eyeball. It stared at me for a long moment, and my chest felt so tight I couldn’t breathe. I could hardly think. I felt like I was in a torture vacuum, unable to fight back or do much to help myself. It felt like an eternity; my eyes locked on the creatures with one gored eyeball. Finally, and to my absolute disbelief, it let out a subtle gargle and began turning its odd body back towards the hole. I watched the beast drag itself away from me and then disappeared into the crevice. It was gone, and so was Ash.
I stood there for eternity in uncomfortable silence, staring at Kyle’s lifeless body. I wanted to cry, but my body was so shocked that I could not do much of anything.
After some time, I numbly reached for my cell phone and called the police. I knew they’d never believe me about the game, the screaming, or the monster, but I could at least tell them about Kyle’s murder. After I hung up, I realized I’d fired the gun, and my fingerprints were all over it. Quickly, I dug through my pack for a T-shirt I’d packed and carefully wiped down every inch of the piece. Once I was satisfied, I threw it down the hole where the monster and the Game now lived. I felt confident enough that the police wouldn’t search down there; if they had, they wouldn’t find any evidence. They’d investigate and search for Ash, but I knew they’d find nothing. At least Kyle’s family could have some type of closure for his untimely death. I hoped, anyway.
The police questioned me for hours, and I couldn’t go home until late morning the next day. My story was simple: we’d met a girl and planned to light a fire out in the woods. There was an argument, and she snapped, shooting Kyle dead. I don’t know if they bought it, but they certainly weren’t going to believe the truth, and I couldn’t afford to land myself in a psychiatric hospital. During the hours I sat in the interrogation room, I couldn’t help but wonder why Ash was so adamant about me coming alone. What did it matter? It bothered me to the point where I was having trouble focusing on the officer’s questions. My story wasn’t changing, and my prints weren’t on the gun, so eventually, they had to let me go.
During my walk home, I remembered something Ash told me when I first met her.
It needs blood.
At that revelation, I felt my heart sink. She had intended to kill me that night. Once I solved the puzzle, she would shoot me dead and offer up my blood. I didn’t feel so bad about letting that thing eat her alive.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from that night. I was left with many more questions than answers, and I couldn’t sleep or even shut my eyes without seeing Kyle’s face, the screams, or seeing that monster’s awful, searching eyeball. I still don’t fully understand the Devil’s Game or even Ash’s true involvement in it. I know that you never get to escape the Devil’s Game.
The apartment was far too silent and awkward without Kyle. It was painful to stay, so I dropped out of college and found a studio apartment across town. It wasn’t much, but it worked for me. With my best friend six feet under, I struggled to find the good in life and fell deep into a depression. Nothing seemed to matter anymore except for one thing. I don’t remember when the Game found me again, but I came home from work one afternoon to find it sitting on my countertop. At first, it felt like a stab to the gut, like a life prison sentence. I was never getting rid of this thing, so I found there was no reason to hide from the Game anymore to learn more about it. If you neglect for too long, that’s when the screeching starts. The more attention you give it, the easier it is to solve. I don’t know if there is an end or a true solution. I think it just wants to be… played with. It’s been a few hours now, and I don’t want that horrible noise to start. I’m going to play my game now.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Fiona KingPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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