Episode 008 - The Chase June, 1989 Rich Williams ran like hell. There was nowhere he could hide. They knew him too well. Pete had been his best friend since they first got high together in 9th grade. He knew every secret spot in town where the two of them would go to smoke or drink. Rich had no option now, but to run. If he’d been smart he would have grabbed his keys before they started the lottery, but he didn’t think his number was up. He thought for sure that Mike was going to be the next one to go. Stupid, his luck had run out. Or Pete had screwed him. The game started right after their last day of high school. Back then there had been seven of them. Rich, Pete, Ron, Dirt, Mark, Mooch, and Mike. Mooch was the first to fall. Ron took him out with a hunting knife. Of course he did. Ron was a total psycho. He took the game more seriously than the others did. It sounded like a joke at first when Mike had proposed it right there in Pete’s driveway. “Hey, let’s play tag.” he had said, leaning on the hood of Rich’s ‘76 Mustang. “Sure.” said Rich, not giving a fuck if Mike was serious or not. “What’s the prize when I win?” said Ron. “Isn’t bragging rights enough?” said Mike. “No way. I’m not chasing you all around the neighborhood like a pansy unless I get something out of it once I catch you all.” “Oh, not that kind of tag.” said Mike, “A real game, like, to the death.” “That’s fucked up, man.” said Dirt. “Tag to the death. Heh. That would be awesome.” “So you’re in?” said Mike. “Yeah, but ’m with Ron,” said Dirt, “There ought to be a prize.” “Well,” said Mike, “if a prize is needed, then what about this?” He reached into his backpack and pulled out a small wooden box. “What the fuck is that?” asked Pete, already sparking up a bowl, in the shotgun seat of the Mustang. Mike held the box up for everyone to see. It was a three inch cube with a hinged lid and carved with arcane symbols all around it. “It’s a second chance.” said Mike. “Whoever opens it gets a do-over.” “Fuck you.” said Mark. “I’m not playing kill-tag with you nut-jobs for a magic box.” “It’s not a joke.” said Mike. “My uncle Ted got it from Barry’s Occult Shop. It’s the real deal.” “Come on. You had a magic box all this time and you never told us about it?” said Pete, incredulously. The gang all laughed because it was silly. All of it. The idea of playing a kid’s game at their age, playing to the death, no less. Most of all, the nonchalant way that Mike suddenly claimed to have an honest-to-god magical artifact in his possession. Then Ron got serious. “Prove it.” He said, “Show us what your box can do and I’ll kill all of you for it.” “Ok, but we need some ground rules before we start.” Mike said. “Rules are for pussies.” “Rules are what makes it a GAME.” “Fine,” said Ron. “What kind of rules?” “Well, for one, we pick one person to be It. Then we chase that person down. We can pick at random so it’s fair. Once that person is captured and taken out we wait twenty-four hours to pick the next person. That way we all have time to rest up between chases.” “This sounds pretty brutal.” said Rich. “I like it.” “Yeah. Murder tag.” said Pete as he took a long toke, “It could be the newest trend.” Mooch pulled a cigarette out of Ron’s pack that was sitting on the hood of the car. “What the fuck, you gonna ask for one?” said Ron. “Why bother, you always say yes.” replied Mooch. “I’m killing you first.” “You can't, we haven't drawn straws yet or whatever.” “Lemee see that magic box.” said Dirt, reaching for it. “Oh naw.” said Mike. “I’ll be keeping it until the game is over.” “What if someone takes you out?” asked Ron. “Well, then that person gets to be the box keeper.” “What if I kill someone and they’re not It?” asked Pete. “Then you’re out of the game. It wouldn’t be fair to kill another hunter.” said Mike, but then he added, “Of course, if you’re It then you can kill the hunters without being disqualified. That should make it sporting.” “Can we use weapons?” asked Mark. “Sure. Whatever is at your disposal. And once we pick who’s It the rest of us have to hide our eyes and count for ten seconds.” “That’s not a long time,” said Mark. “No, but if we gave them any longer it wouldn’t be fun.” “What if one of us goes to the cops?” Mark asked. “Then that person is immediately It. As a matter of fact, anyone who talks about it outside of the group replaces the current target.” “Sounds fair,” said Ron. “Now show us what the box does.” Mike picked up a brick from the side of the driveway and approached the Mustang. “What the fuck!” shouted Rich as Mike smashed the brick through the rear passenger window. “Relax.” said Mike. “I’ve done this before.” Mike reached into the broken glass and found a piece large enough to cut his finger on. It wasn’t a big cut, just enough for a trickle of blood. “Are you fucking kidding me?” spat Rich. His usual demeanor of not giving a fuck ended when it came to his car. Mike opened the little box in his left hand and allowed a drop of blood from his right to drip into it. There was a woosh of air as the brick flew out of the car and landed back where it had been in the driveway. With it, the glass instantly rushed back into the doorframe of the Mustang. Everyone was silent. Mooch examined the brick. Rich felt the window on his car. Mark, Dirt, and Ron stood with mouths agape. Pete set down his bowl and turned toward the back seat. “What the fuck just happened? Did somebody break a window?” “You honestly didn’t see what just happened?” asked Rich. “Jesus Christ. I never thought I’d say this but maybe you smoke too much.” “Yeah.” laughed Pete. “Should be doing shrooms more often.” Everyone chuckled, but they were still in shock. Mike wasn’t making it up. He had in his possession a thing that broke all of their understanding of how the world worked. Ron went to grab it out of his hand, but Mike was swift. “Nuh-uh!” said Mike, “One more rule. Anyone who tries to steal the box is subject to the same penalties as someone who rats us out. You immediately become it.” They all nodded in agreement. Except it wasn’t just agreement. It was compulsion. Every rule that Mike spoke felt like a bond that they could not break even if they wanted to. Each and every one of them knew that they would adhere to these rules and therefore had to take what originally felt like a joke as something deadly serious. Rich popped open his trunk and pulled out a bingo set with a pouch full of tiles. “Why do you have bingo in your car?” asked Mooch. “I stole it when I was doing community service at the church.” “Why?” “Because it was there.” Rich held out the pouch of tiles and said, “Each of you pick a number from one to...seventy-five.” he said, “I call sixty-nine!” They all groused about him choosing the most desirable integer, but each called out a number. Pete chose forty-two. Ron called one. Mark went with twenty-three. Mike called seventy-five. Dirt tried to choose zero in an attempt at cleverness, but the group shot it down and so he went with fifty-seven. Mooch went last and called lucky number seven. They tossed all of the other tiles out of the pouch. Mike waved his hand over the bag dramatically and pulled one out. As it turned out, seven was not such a lucky number after all. “Well, fuck me.” said Mooch as the others covered their eyes and began to count out loud. “TEN!” said the group in unison. “Are we really doing this?” Mooch asked, nervously. “NINE!” they chanted. “You fucking-” “EIGHT!” Mooch ran. He was by far the least physically fit of the gang and didn’t stand a chance out in the open, so he dashed into Pete’s backyard and hid behind the shed. When the countdown ended the hunters looked around. Rich got into his car and started the engine. Mike glanced around the neighborhood. Pete put his bowl away. Dirt, Mark, and Ron started beating the bushes that lined Pete’s yard. Rich drove off in search of Mooch with Pete in the passenger seat. “He must be hiding,” said Mark. “He’s too fat to run.” Ron was the one who found him. Cowering between the toolshed and the chain link fence. He’d tried to scale it but was not athletic enough. “Aww fuck.” said Mooch. “You caught me. Game over now, right?” Ron grabbed him by his shirt collar and dragged Mooch out into the backyard. “Lemme go, dick.” Mooch said to his captor. “Game over. You win. I’m going home now.” “That’s not the rule,” said Mike. “You lose, you die.” “Yeah, but. I didn’t know we were being serious.” said Mooch. “We were,” said Mark. “And you know it. I don’t know why, but we all know it. We’re locked into this somehow. This shit is real.” Ron pinned Mooch down on the ground and pulled a massive knife out of god knows where. “I told you I’d kill you first.” he said as he plunged the knife into Mooch’s chest. “No-no!” was all the poor bastard could say before his life was cut off. The yard was immensely silent for a long while. “Umm.” said Dirt. “What do we do with his body?” “Leave it.” Mike said. “We’re going to get the electric chair if anyone sees it.” said Mark. “Don’t worry,” said Mike. “Arrangements have been made.” They all regarded Mike with a bit of fear. This wasn’t just some spur-of-the-moment thing. He’d been planning this. He had made...arrangements. “We have twenty-four hours to rest up. We can meet here again tomorrow at this time to draw another tile.” They all went home for the night, except Mike who stayed behind to inform Rich and Pete when they got back from their fruitless search. The next day they reconvened at Pete’s house. They examined the yard and saw no sign of Mooch’s corpse. “How did you get rid of him?” asked Mark. “Don’t worry about that. Just know that as long as none of us talks there is no way to trace it back to us.” said Mike. “Is that a band-aid on your finger?” asked Rich. “Yeah,” Mike said. “I cut it on the glass yesterday, during my demonstration.” “What?” Rich asked. “Your magic box didn’t fix it?” “It doesn’t rewind time. Not exactly.” It just undoes one event. Fixing the window didn’t change the fact that I cut my finger. “But you couldn’t cut your finger without the glass.” “Try not to think about it too hard. It will break your brain if you get too into it.” “Whatever.” said Rich, reverting to his usual uncaring stance. “So I guess, we gotta do another one?” asked Pete. “Yeah.” said Ron, “Let’s get this over with.” Mike laid the tiles out on the concrete in front of the shed and removed the number seven before tossing the other six tiles into the bag. This time Mark’s number was up. They repeated the ritual covering of the eyes and the chanting countdown. Mark ran much faster than Mooch and made it out of the house and took off on a bike he’d stashed just for that purpose. None of them saw him again for three days. They checked his house of course, several times, but his mom said he hadn’t been home for days. They searched all of the usual haunts including the alley behind Discount Gary’s, the trestle, and the pit. All had come up empty. On Friday, Pete was working a shift at the Burger King when his co-worker, Marie, told him that some weird guy was creeping in the men’s room. Pete went in to investigate and found Mark hiding in the stall. Pete was overcome with rage. His eyes bulged out of his head as he spasmed. Mark tried to get away but was cornered. Pete smashed the stall door against Mark’s head repeatedly. Mark fell to the ground. Pete picked him up and bashed his head into the toilet over and over in a burst of violence. After a long while it was done. Mark’s body lay motionless on the bathroom floor, blood pooling on the tile. When he came to his senses Pete began to panic. He spun around to make sure Marie nor anyone else had heard or seen anything. The dining area of the Burger King was empty. When Pete checked the bathroom stall once more, it was empty too. No blood. No brains splattered. No sign of Mark. He left work early. Just walked home and called Rich. The two of them sat in the Mustang for a long while. “I don’t know what came over me.” Pete said, “I was like a beast.” “Mike did something to us,” said Rich. “That box of his or something is controlling us all. He turned us all into killers.” “I don’t know though.” Pete countered. “It’s not like I haven’t ever wanted to kill someone before. This is just the first time I’ve acted on it. Like, that rage is always there. This game just brought it up.” “Well, the way this is going, only one of us can survive,” said Rich. “ I don’t believe we really thought this all the way through.” “Yeah,” said Pete, pulling out a pack of smokes and searching for a lighter. Unable to find one on his person he opened Rich’s glove compartment. Out popped a bingo tile. Number sixty-nine. “What the fuck, man?” Pete said. “You’ve been fucking cheating!” Rich flashed his knife-like smile. “Well, duh. Do you think I wanted to end up like Mooch and Mark?” “Well, fuck. Now we have to make you It, don’t we?” “No way. There’s no rule against cheating. He laid all of it out on the first day. We pick a person to be It. We chase that person. If anyone goes to the authorities they’re immediately It. Nowhere did Mike say anything about calling a number that isn’t in the bag.” “Son of a bitch.” said Pete. “You see what this puts me in? Either I lie to everyone else to protect your sorry ass or I rat you out to them and they’ll all want you dead right then and there.” “No. It doesn’t matter.” “What do you mean?” “I pulled the sixty-nine out of the bingo kit long before we even talked about this stupid game. It was never in the bag. That’s why I called it, sure. I knew I would never have to be It that way.” “Son of a bitch.” said Pete. “But that’s the thing,” said Rich. “When Mike was counting the tiles after he tossed out Mooch’s there was a sixty-nine in the pouch.” “So there’s more than one sixty-nine tile?” “No. I looked when I first got the bingo kit. I went through all of the numbers, one through seventy-five. There was only one sixty-nine.” “Why did you do that?” “Because man, sixty-nine!” “So...” started Pete. “Mike planted another bingo tile?” “Or something else is going on. Either way we’re cursed. No matter what we do our number will be up soon. I don’t know if Mike rigged the game in his favor or if it’s fucking magic or some shit. We don’t know how Mike is getting rid of the bodies. You said Mark just disappeared. Maybe Mike’s fucking with us. Maybe it’s not even him controlling the game. I don’t know. All I know is it’s just a matter of time until we’re all dead.” “Well ok,” said Pete. “This time I’ll do the drawing.” “What difference will that make?” Rich asked. “The seventy-five tile had a crack in it. That was Mike’s. When I reach into the bag I’ll feel around for the one with the crack and that will be the one I draw. If he’s the one doing this then at least we can take him out. Maybe after that we can quit this stupid game.” “Are you sure Ron won’t just stab us all for fun? Prize or no prize?” “Yeah, but he’s always like that.” chortled Pete. “Better the devil we know.” The next night they met up in Pete’s backyard once more. Mike repeated the action of pulling out the tiles and removing number twenty-three before replacing the other five into the pouch. Before he could pull one out Pete stepped in. “Hey, just to make it fair, maybe one of us should pull from the bag this time.” Mike paused for a moment then said, “Yeah, of course.” before handing the bag to Pete. Pete didn’t have the dramatic flare that Mike did, but he reached in the bag and fished around for several seconds. A quick smirk appeared on his face when he grasped the tile with the crack in it. “Ok! Here it is! “ He said, “Number...sixty-nine?” “What the fuck!” shouted Rich. But the rest had already covered their eyes and started counting. “Ten!” Rich ran to the Mustang. “Nine!” He reached for his keys, but they weren’t in his pocket. Shit. He thought. He’d left them in his jean vest back in the yard with his smokes. Stupid. Fucking Idiot. He thought. Rich ran across the street and into the neighbor’s yard. He ran through to the fence at the rear of the yard and jumped it into the adjoining property. Hoping to lose them by hiding in the endless suburbs, Rich zigged and zagged throughout the neighborhood until he found an unlocked shed to hold out through the night. He found an old tarp to sleep on and tried his best to get comfortable. He really wished he’d brought his smokes. Eventually the exhaustion took over and Rich collapsed into unconsciousness. He had no clue how long he’d slept, but he was awakened very late by the sound of the shed door opening. Reaching for a pair of garden shears in the darkness, Rich prepared to pounce on whoever entered his hiding spot. A flashlight shined on him. “Motherfucker!” yelled Rich as he thrust the shears at the intruder. “Gahh!” screamed the old woman that he slashed with the tool. He’d caught her in the shoulder and she bled. “Why?” she gasped as she fell to her knees. Rich dropped the shears and leapt around the bleeding woman. Running out into the street, Rich paused to catch his breath. He was terrified by a familiar sight. His Mustang silhouetted in the moonlight. The headlights staring directly at him. The engine revved. Rich tried to run, but it was too late. The car accelerated, devouring the road like a beast as it roared toward him. Rich dashed down the sidewalk, but the Mustang slammed into him and threw him into the air. He hit the ground with a sickening thud, and then everything went black. He came to with blurred vision and a world of pain. Rich tried to sit up but both of his legs were bent at odd angles to one another. The grill of his car was smashed in. It had hit him hard. The four remaining hunters clamored out of the vehicle and ran to surround Rich’s broken form. “Is he dead?” he heard Pete ask. “No.” said Ron. “He’s still twitchin’” “Aw man.” said Dirt. “This ain’t right. We should just shoot him or something. Put him out of his misery.” “Do you have a gun?” asked Mike. “No.” “I’ll do it.” said Ron, leaning in close with his knife out. “One more kill for me.” Rich could barely remain conscious as the tip of Ron’s knife poked at his chest. “Sorry, dude.” said Ron, “Them’s the rules.” Rich shouted in pain as the knife slowly pierced his chest. His arms thrashed about, trying to stop Ron from killing him, but the larger teen swatted them away and continued his grisly work. Rich’s flailing arm brushed against something hard and square. He grasped it in his hand and in a last ditch effort to save himself smashed it against Ron’s head. “Ow! You dick.” said Ron. “That fucking hurt.” “How the fuck did he get that!” said Mike, regarding the object in Rich’s hand. “It must have fallen out of your jacket when you got out of the car,” said Dirt. Realizing what he was holding, Rich closed his eyes and focused. He thought about the Mustang and his broken legs, about the knife entering him. About Mooch, and Mark. He flicked the box open with his thumb. When Mike had done it, he offered blood to the artifact. Rich had plenty of that to give. Dipping his bleeding fingers into the box Rich pictured his car missing him on the street and smashing into a tree. There was another woosh as the figures around him were violently pulled back into the car by an unseen force. The Mustang reversed then paused for a split second before speeding forward into a massive oak. The car wrapped itself around the trunk of the tree. None of his friends had been wearing seatbelts. Pete and Ron were thrown through the windshield, their skulls bashed on the sidewalk next to Rich. Mike and Dirt were in the back seat, their bodies battered by the impact, their heads lolling. Rich breathed a sigh of relief before realizing that the power of the box had only reversed the action of the car, killing all of his friends. It did nothing to repair his shattered body. By the time the neighbors from the surrounding houses made it outside, all five teens were dead on the street.