“We’re going to play a game.” Jason explained eagerly. “Just a little bit of pretend fun.” He pulled out an orange bandana and tied it around his neck, smiling broadly as he flared it out in a puff before half-digging it into his collar. “We’re going to be the Scooby gang, and before the night is out, we’re going to solve ourselves a mystery.”
The rest of them groaned.
There were eight of us gathered around the old graveyard’s gate that night. Jason had wrangled three guys and three girls, six strangers in all, to join us in tonight’s activities. A few of them I recognized from the factory. Worked with them once or twice, or talked over lunch. Warehouse hands, like me, but no one I’d be able to name offhand. One or two, I thought, were younger still. Kids a year or two short the legal drinking age, and so Jason had tempted them along with promises of flowing booze, and maybe more, for the night.
I looked around nervously at each face, and I imagined the life drained from them. Blank, unseeing eyes. Blue lips. A trickle of blood. And their expressions frozen in that last fleeting emotion that so often looked like faint surprise.
I thought often about what the thoughts behind that expression must be.
Is this how I die?
Is this how it feels to go?
Is it like falling asleep? Does it hurt? Does it feel good to drop away from the flesh and bone and hurt, and become freed toward… whatever it is that follows?
As I looked from face to face, a concentrated pressure began pounding at my temples to the beat of my heart, increasing in frequency and pain, until I couldn’t bear it any longer. I took a long drag of my cig and turned away.
Yesterday’s dread had now had twenty four hours to gestate, and so it had matured into a physical sickness upon me. My guts roiled and churned as shame and terror and disgust and hate (and excitement) waged their alchemical war in my conscious. I had vomited earlier, and would certainly again before the end of the night. A cold sweat lined my brow in large dollop beads. My hands were clammy and white, my palms bleeding from how tight I’d balled my fists. I had not slept the night before, nor would I tonight and probably many nights to come.
I never did following Jason’s games.
I couldn’t control the shiver that jerked out of me then.
(of fear, definitely not excitement, I was afraid, not eager no no noo)
This year would mark the fifteenth of our long friendship, and in that time, the number of… participants of Jason’s games had increased… but never had there been seven. It had started with one, naturally. Five years later, when we were older, more capable, nearing the anniversary of that first game, Jason had begun inviting two. Clinically, I’d realized there was something ritualistic to the timing. Another five years later, that number had increased to three. And now, five years later from that point, I had been expecting an increase, to four, but six… SIX.
I licked my lips and pitched the cigarette butt, stepping on it. I dug my shaking hands into my jacket’s pockets, feeling the familiar handle of the old kitchen knife hidden inside.
That helped. The sensation of the handle in my palm, two fingers stroking down the chipped blade. It calmed and comforted me. Centered me, really. It pushed the terror and self-hatred away. What will happen will happen, as it happened before and will happen again. And again. There was no stopping it, so why spend time worrying about it? It brought to mind something like the promise of salvation, but not quite. Salvation meant safety and peace, and this certainly was not that. Not even close. This was something more like the promise of relief. The end of something. Of suffering. Of hate.
(And the promised start of a different kind of suffering and hate, but that would be for later.)
Jason was passing around a little bag. The players this time around, they gathered around him and retrieved little colored pieces of paper from inside.
Don’t go spilling your role, he said, chidingly. Keep it secret from everyone, until we’re in the park. Until the game is on. Then you can tell each other, if you want. But you can’t show your paper to anyone else. That ruins the fun of lying. Read it. Remember your role. Remember your color. Then stick it deep in your pocket.
When it was my turn to reach into the bag, Jason beamed down at me and stopped me from reaching in. He shoved a piece of paper into my hand instead, and then turned away.
I unfurled the red paper and read the name, SCOOBY.
The rules were simple. Eight players. Four would be part of the Scooby Gang, and three would be bad guys. The Scooby Gang was trying to find four items Jason had hidden earlier in the graveyard. Velma’s glasses, Daphne’s heels, Shaggy’s snacks, Scooby’s collar. Find them all and bring them to Jason—tonight’s Fred, the referee—to win. The bad guys, meanwhile, were trying to eliminate the Scooby Gang. A person was “killed” and eliminated from the game if two people tagged them at the same time. They would enter the graveyard in pairs, decided by color, trying to work out who was who.
So a dumber version of Mafia, really.
Not that it mattered to the rest of them. Most of them were drunk or high or both, or already a good portion of the way there. They scratched their heads and nodded along to only half-understood rules, eager enough to play.
We split off into our respective colored pairings then. I sidled up next to the guy crying out red. One of those almost familiar warehouse hands. We’d worked together. We’d eaten lunch together. Maybe I’d chuckled politely at some terrible joke. Maybe I’d parked my beater next to his in the parking lot countless times. Maybe we even went further back than that. It was a small town after all. We couldn’t have been part of the same class or grade, his face would have been more remarkable in that case, but maybe he’d been a year younger or older than me in school. Maybe I’d sat at the same desk in class that he had or would later sit.
And now we were here together, on this night, and he would never see another morning again.
But I would, I thought, and HATED myself for it.
It was monstrous.
It was evil.
But it was the truth, a nasty voice in my head insisted.
Regardless of how broken and pathetic and disgusting you are, you are going to walk away from this game tonight with your heart beating, and he is not.
This moment was decreed upon in the grand volume of the universe. The Big Bang. The stars formed. The oceans receded. The dinosaurs died. You were born. He was born. You suffered. He didn’t. You cried. He laughed.
And then this moment arrived.
This beautiful, glorious moment.
And you lived.
And he died.
And that wasn’t enough—could never be enough, to account for all the anguish and loathing and terror that you have been subjected to. But it was a start. It was something. It was more than anyone else had ever given you.
That’s what Jason offered you.
NOT justice in the sense of right and wrong, good and evil.
(The games you played with him, the things you had done, how could it be anything but evil?)
But Justice in the sense that the universal, cosmic scales of suffering and hurt had been tipped against you all your pathetic life, always in fact would be tipped against you, but in this moment, and every moment like tonight that had preceded or would follow, those universal, cosmically divine fucking scales were finally tipped in your direction.
Just one night. Just one moment.
I thought and saw all this looking into the eyes of my partner.
My chosen victim.
And I burned in a queasy sick kind of self-loathing and primal satisfaction. I studied him closely, like someone might study an expensive meal at a restaurant that they couldn’t really afford, but hadn’t been able to help themselves from ordering when the haughty waiter had rolled his eyes in their direction. The crew cut red hair, the freckles splatted on his cheeks, the eyes set a little too close together. Who was he? What was his name? What had he hoped his life might one day lead to? Where had he suspected it might end?
I felt sick to my stomach with grief for him.
He didn’t deserve what was going to happen to him. No one did—
Then I saw him roll his eyes after he looked me up and down. Annoyance blanched his features. Clearly, he’d been hoping to get paired up with one of the other girls.
That made it easier.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in