Those Who Play The Most Dangerous Game

Grim Wolf
Joined: November 9th, 2009, 5:39 am

August 13th, 2016, 10:56 pm #1

(G024 Lizzie Luz START)

She climbed, because she had to see the place she was going to die.

Yeah, there was a map in their bags, but maps were less than representations—they were assurances, signs of what was out there. They were another way for people to cling to the illusion of control. You can understand a map—rigidly divided into classifications and categories that made sense. Nature wasn't like that. The world wasn't like that. If you wanted to get the whole picture, you had to see it for yourself.

The cliffs were rugged and difficult to climb, and it didn't help that she'd gone off the beaten path a bit, heading for the highest point she could see, slipping beneath a ragged cut in the fence. Still, this wasn't the most difficult climb she'd ever done—she'd spent time on Mount Hualapai and a few others during her trips around the Southwest and the West Coast. One memorable winter, her father had taken her to a ski resort on Mt. Rainier up on Washington. Lizzie had spent most of that trip hiking by herself around its snowy slopes (much to the panic and exasperation of her family).

So the climb—that exhilarating, exhausting fight against rocky terrain inhospitable to men, that sense of having gravity work against you in a profound and subtle way—was familiar. But there was more adrenaline here than she knew what to do with; her skin was tingling, her heart racing, and every chance shift of the wind or scrabble of pebbles sent her head whirling.

Collars on their necks. Mr. Graham shot and killed. How many more dead, before all was said and done?

For all she'd done, Lizzie Luz had never been here before. She had never felt so completely terrified.

She giggled to herself, then lifted a hand to her mouth. That wasn't right. You didn't laugh when you were going to die. You cried. You froze like a deer in the headlights. You didn't laugh. Why would you laugh? Who laughed at the idea of dying?

She snickered, tried to stop herself, and as a result whinnied like a horse.

Scared. So scared. Her skin was tingling with it, butterflies in her stomach fluttering with dreadful wings. She could feel the weight of her past on her back, all the things she'd done, and the future she'd never see yawning before her, an abyss that could devour her. She felt the vertigo that came from standing in a tall place, staring down and knowing how easy it would be to fall and break.

It made you feel so fragile. It made you feel so alive.

She giggled again. Why not? Who was there to judge her? She felt the shadow of death looming around her. She stood on a tightwire and felt it sway and knew that in just a moment she would fall, but...

But she could still relish the sway and the step and the sheer exhilaration of being alive. She could still relish the heavy weight of the sword strapped to her back, even if she couldn't believe she would ever use it.

So she climbed to the highest point she could, relishing every ache and every harsh breath. And when she reached her goal, she found she was not alone.

(G012 Tara Behzad START)

Tara Behzad had been standing here for a long time.

She'd awoken on the wrong side of the fence, the ocean pounding beneath her. So close to the edge, so close to a precipitious and breaking drop. Had anyone ever died here before? Would more people die here, before this was over?

She thought of another drop, another island, another video. She wondered.

Are you there, God? It's me, Tara.

She remembered the death of Mr. Graham. That more than anything: a man stirring in his chair out of the corner of her eye, with another man just behind him. She remembered the gunshot, the man slumping forward to a chorus of startled shrieks and sudden silence, his blood dripping from that ragged wound in his head.

She had known even before that, she thought. She knew. They had been taken. Hadn't she seen it, half a dozen times before? Watched her careful torrents in the dark, where she could trust that no one else would ever see? Hadn't she dug through the survivors' accounts? Who knew better than Tara Behzad?

She supposed she had made her choice long before she ever reached this place. Now was the time to make it.

She help up the map of their lunatic game, felt the winds whip over her from the sea, and traced her choice with one finger, linking the symbol together. Her last chance to leave a mark on this world.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

Ah, but there was so much evil to fear. Tara knew that well. Men were sinister things, so filled with sin and indifference. Herself included.

Ah, Tara Behzad. God, she loved her name, and she hated it to. It fit her too well. Too filled with pretension and contradiction: male and female, east and west. She was paradox in human flesh, just trying to find a way to stay sane. A way to make her fundamental pretensions make sense to her.

It was all acting, of course. Young and old alike tried on new selves like clothes, searching for one that fit. By the time they were old, they had too many fixed ideas: they tried on not selves but traits, trying to find the one magic bullet to make their self-deceptions fit. Her mother, searching for the addiction that would justify her wretchedness. Her father, searching for the tragedy that would make his mistakes meaningful. And Tara herself, looking for the narrative that would describe the course of her life. That would make her place in this murderous game sensible.

And if that quest looked like madness, what of it? They were all mad. At least she was sane enough to admit it.

Truth was, Tara was having trouble denying her madness now. There were flashbangs in her bag, after all. And she well-remembered what flashbangs could do, in the right hands.

She chewed her pointer finger with one of her incisors, waiting to feel that bubble-bursting pop, skin giving way to let blood flow. She wanted the pain and the clarity. She wanted the blood. She wanted to make this inner chaos make sense, to reconstruct it in plain view and to try and order it. Chaos, chaos, from beginning to end, from birth to death.

She knelt on the hard ground with the map of their battleground in front of her, tracing a path. A misshapen pentagram carved out over the peculiar shape of the island. Cliche, yes, undeniably so, pretension towards power, but maybe that was what she wanted, what she needed. Pretension. Angling for a grand show. Why not? Performance of a lifetime.

She heard pebbles scattering underfoot, and looked up. Lizzie Luz stood a little ways away, staring at her with wide eyes. Beautiful woman. A bit mad in her own way, too. A bit more honest than Tara.

“Hi,” Lizzie said.

Tara blinked. “Hello,” she managed.

“What, uh...” Lizzie gestured towards the map.

“Just...sketching,” Tara said.

“Oh.” Lizzie said. “That'”

Tara sat up and put her finger back into her mouth. She'd always rather liked the taste of her blood, salty and metallic and just a little bit forbidden. Like kissing away someone's tears and pretending you don't like the taste.

"Nice sword," Tara said around her finger.

"Uh..." Lizzie said. "Thanks."

“A beautiful view and beautiful ladies to go with it!” called a bright, brash voice from behind the fence. “A silver lining for this wretched cloud.”

Lizzie and Tara whirled to face the intruder.

(ENTER: B032: Alex Tarquin)

A true actor does not inhabit a stage. Not exactly.

A true actor is aware of the fact that he is merely an actor. Yes, a Daniel Day Lewis can turn in a stellar performance by method acting in the extreme, but a true actor must do more than that. They must play their role to the hilt, inhabit the character, and always remember that they are still weaving a fiction. A true actor is a magician presenting a clever facade.

Alexander Tarquin had been required to read 1984 for one of his English classes, and the concept of doublethink had been like a revelation to him. Of course a man like Orwell—a man who had been an adamant enemy of fascism in all its forms, who had fought a hopeless war for the conviction of his ideals—found the concept of such doublethink reprehensible. But it was essential to living—understanding your weakness while moving past them, admitting practical truths and idealistic beliefs and allowing the two to reconcile into compromises by which you could live your life.

And, for the actor, understanding what he must be while using every tool at his disposal to maintain the illusion. Creating a fake garden with real frogs. And the best way to understand your stage is to see it, to feel it.

Alex Tarquin was on what could very well be the last stage of his life. He meant to use it. And to use it, he had to understand the essence of his stage; to see it in his entirety, and know what it might demand of him. So how could he do otherwise than find such a lofty view to assess his stage? Though he started out amidst wild grass, he rose at once, checked his bag with practiced ease (haha, kidnapped again, eh? Well, nothing for it but to press on! Demonstrate that, pretend you're not terrified, pretend pretend pretend), slung it over one shoulder and placing his machete easily against the other. He climbed a looping path until he reached the fence, and there discovered he was not alone.

Tara Behzad, half-seen half-known figure of mystery from his theater days, working on make-up while he helped construct sets. He'd always found her a little alluring, but also rather daunting. He'd never spoken with her. Lizzie Luz he knew only as a terse and silent girl in classes, fleeing to the door the moment the day ended.

Two practical strangers, sharing his opening debut. Well, there was something there. Perhaps a hint of symbolism. Knowing truths only on death's doorstep...

And Alex found he was trembling, so much that his very heart seemed to shake with fear.

He was going to die, wasn't he? Maybe right here, right now. Maybe one of these strange women would draw their weapon and shoot him down, or Lizzie Luz would cross and draw that absurd sword, cleave the fence (and me and me and me!) in two. Maybe he would never see his killer's face as they emerged from some concealment and dragged a blade across his throat. Maybe he would simply fall from this tall place and plunge to his death.

No. Unacceptable. It was unacceptable to imagine that Alexander god damn Tarquin would die so innocuously, so ignobly. He refused.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to find that clear space right in his solar plexus, the fixed point in you that never shook and never dreaded and was never anxious when you stood on a stage before the judgment of the massed shadows beyond the stagelights. Just another performance, that was the key. A performance where Alex Tarquin would be a hero. Where he would be larger than life.

His eyes opened. A grin spread easily across his face. His hands no longer shook, though it still felt as though ice was dripping through his veins.

“A beautiful view and beautiful ladies to go with it!” he called. “A silver lining for this wretched cloud.”

The two women whirled to face him. Alex laughed and dropped his bag and sword, holding his hands up. "I mean no harm!"

“What are you doing here, Alex?” Tara asked. There was blood dripping from her finger, slow red syrupy drips forming an oozing droplet at the tip of her finger onto to slip to the ground. Rather cinematic, really.

“Getting a sense for my stage,” Alex answers.

“Stage?” Lizzie repeated.

“We are supposed to perform, no?” Alex asked. “I have to make sure I'm ready.”

Lizzie frowned. “Perform?” she said. “That's can you think that way?” She understood the weird vertigo elation, but she didn't like to think about the cameras. She didn't like to thing about what they were all expected to do.

“All we do is play roles,” Tara said. “We've been kids and students all our lives. Now they want us to be killers.”

Alex grinned. “You understand!” he exclaimed.

“I guess,” Tara said.

“That's not...” Lizzie shook her head. “That's not right.”

“No,” Tara and Alex said together, and gave each other surprised glances.

“No?” Tara said quizzically.

“No,” Alex affirmed.

“Why not?” Tara asked.

Alex smiled. “I am Alexander David Tarquin,” he said. Butterflies were fluttering in his stomach, but he had his focus now. He had his stage set out before him. He knew how to turn his anxiety into a tool to sharpen his focus. “I always exceed expectations.”

Tara grunted and rolled her eyes. “Ego,” she muttered. “That's your answer.”

“Ego?” Alex said. “Oh no. I am bigger than this stage. I am bigger than this cage.”

Tara shook her head. “You're small,” she said, and her words were a sharp jolt to Alex's heart, disrupting his focus.

“You're not?” Alex retorted, hating the pettiness in his voice.

“Maybe smaller than you,” Tara said. “But I'm not their puppet. I don't dance on their strings. If they want me to play a role, I get to choose the role.”

“Are you guys stupid?” Lizzie demanded. Their gazes snapped towards her: she was staring between them aghast. “You wanna...what, play roles? How is that...why?”

She shook her head, and felt the tightrope sway.

“We're gonna die,” Lizzie said. “You get that? We aren't...why would you want to pretend?”

“That's all we ever do,” Tara said.

“It's not!” Lizzie said.

“It is,” Tara said. “We were students, or we were actors, or we were children. But it was just people trying on clothes, seeing what fits.” She looked around them. “Betcha there's a couple people out here who like these new clothes. Betcha people are out there who feel freer than they ever have.”

No. How could you feel free? Even Lizzie didn't feel free, with the vertigo exhilaration of looking down from the edge and seeing...

Were there people who were happy to be here? Not just laughing, but happy? Why? Why would they...

So much she didn't know. So much she'd never know, and so much she'd never see. Here she was, in the last place she'd ever be.

She snickered again, then clasped a hand to her face. The other two—the players, looking for their strange roles—stared at her, confused and slightly astonished.

“I'm sorry!” she said. “I'm sorry! It's just-just-just-” laughing again, laughing harder, laughing too hard, so she was breathless with it, so suddenly she was on the ground scraping her knees and her palms.

“It's so stupid!” she said.

“Stupid?” repeated Alex.

“Stupid!” Lizzie said. “We're gonna...gonna...!”

Die. Every one of them would. So what did roles matter? Happy, sad, desperate? What matter swords or guns or strings or stages or cages? What matter the collars around their necks?

Her laughter died at once, and she lifted her hand to the collar on her throat. There it was, reminder that there was no freedom, no choice. Reminder of the leash pulling them according to the wills of...

Tara and Alex lifted their fingers to their own collars. Alex felt it choking him, choking out any delusion of standing beyond his circumstances. Tara felt fractures of pain spreading out from it, down her spine and up into her skull, a web of potential hurt. If there were roles, the roles were in some sense assigned to them. Puppets on strings, and now those strings were coiled tight like a noose.

“So,” Lizzie said. “Don'”

“No,” Alex said. “No, I don't think I can afford to.”

“None of us can.” But there was an awful clarity to Tara's voice, and the other two both looked towards her. She was almost smiling, and she turned back to the cliff, and turned to face them, her heels braced just against the edge of oblivion.

"What are you doing!" Alex shouted, rattling the fence, eying the barbed wire above him, trying to calculate how quickly he could move to rescue her, and Lizzie stared and stared and wondered if this was the moment she would see someone else die, just like Mr. Graham, wondered if this was the moment that it all started, someone broken and hopeless, and the tightrope seemed to sway all the harder and her stomach ached with fear and bile crawled up her throat.

Tara was smiling, her arms wide, swaying back and forth, rocking on the balls of her feet.

“One nice thing about dangling from the cliff,” Tara said, loudly. “It's clear, isn't it?”

Dangling from a cliff, that was the exact term. Teetering on the edge of free fall, fingers digging in for all you were worth. Would you pull yourself upright and survive? Would you fail, and fall? Or would you let go, and embrace the plunge?

“Yeah,” Lizzie said. “Yeah.” So many kids, just like them, just so scared, just so strange, just so unsure. What was going to happen out there? Who would fall, and who would rise, and who would kill?

Suddenly the sword on her back felt very heavy.

With disgust, Lizzie clawed at the straps tethering the sword to her back. Tara blinked, watched as the girl tore the sword from her and flung it to the ground.

Lizzie felt so light now. She could hardly feel the tightrope swaying at all.

"Um...?" Tara said quizzically.

“I'm not a killer,” she said. “I won't be one. I'm not playing. They don't tell me who I am.”

“Never?” Tara asked

“Never,” Lizzie said.

Tara stepped away from the cliff, and cocked her head. "Interesting," she said

“Lofty aspirations!” Alex said. “I will aspire still higher!”

“What do you mean?” Lizzie asked.

“If you will never be a killer,” Alex said. “Then I will put a stop to the killing.”

Tara snorted. "Good luck."

Alex's eyes widened, and he held up his hand defensively. "Tara, please!" he said. "You know better!"

She stared at him through narrowed eyes. "You really want me to wish you 'break a leg' here?" she asked.

"Ah," Alex said, shaking his head. "No, that's...even worse."

Tara approached the fence, moving past Lizzie as though she weren't even there. She was face-to-face with him, though the grid wire of the fence separated them. "You aren't gonna stop them," Tara said. "You can't stop'em. Just gotta find a way to make dying worth your time."

There was an awful certainty in those dark eyes, and Alex felt his false bravado wavering again, felt the desperate panic bucking at his throat. He remembered Mr. Graham. He remembered blood, and terror. He remembered the video, the boy shot so ignobly from the back. He did not want to die, but more than that, he did not want to die like that. He wanted meaning.

So he let his fear show, and he said, "I have to try. What else can I do?"

Tara shrugged and turned away. Alex's eyes flickered down to the heavy sword on the ground. He swallowed against the sudden dryness of his throat and said, “May I take it?”

“Why do ya need it?” Lizzie asked.

“I've always had a certain weakness for the grandiose,” Alex said, letting that false bravado return to him. “I know my stage. Now I must make myself a character worthy of it.”

Lizzie shrugged. "If you want to come over the fence," she said.

Alex looked up at the barbed wire. "Not particularly."

"Oh, fine," Tara growled, and grabbed the massive sword. She staggered under its weight and relished the feeling of her muscles burning. "Clear the way!" she shouted, and hurled it over the side of the fence. It hit the ground with a weighty thump, sending pebbles rattling down the way Alex had come.

He jerked back as the blade landed, sweat standing out on his forehead. He recovered his composure, gave a shaky, "Thank you!" and moved to take it. He pulled the massive sheathed blade around, adjusting its straps so it hung a little more comfortably against his back. He had a knack for it: from where Tara and Lizzie were standing, it looked almost natural.

“What were you doing?” Alex asked, looking towards Tara and gesturing towards the cliff behind her

“What do you mean?" Tara asked.

“What are you thinking, from the cliff's edge?”

Tara considered for a moment, then said, “I think I want to make sure I die happy.”

Lizzie and Alex stared at her. She was smiling properly now. It softened her whole face.

“Well I hope you don't die,” Lizzie said, all in one great rush so it could barely be understood.

Tara blinked, her smile flickering like a candle before widening. “Well hey,” she said. “Thanks.”

A moment's companionable silence, the three of them looking between each other. Tara's thumb still bleeding in slow oozing droplets, Alex with two blades and a promise that felt empty even to his lips, and Lizzie, unarmed and precarious, a leash around her neck and feeling somehow freer than she'd ever been.

Lizzie snickered, and made no move to cover her mouth. Tara's smile widened, because it was ridiculous even if it was heartbreaking and horrifying, and Alex laughed because he was so scared and so alive and so unsure and he did not know what else to do.

They turned away from each other, and though they did not look back at each other, they all froze. Suddenly they were all sharing the same memory, the same video of the boy shooting his friend. They all wondered if they'd made a mistake. They all fought the urge to whirl back around and face each other with fear in their eyes.

How can I exceed their stage, if I am such an ignoble wretch?

How can I die happy, if I'm what they want me to be?

I can't. I have to believe. I have to.

The moment's temptation passed. They parted ways, not looking back at each other.

(Tara Behzad continued in Prepare to Burn
Eliza Luz continued in Thirteen Steps
Want to buy my book? See my short stories? Read my fanfiction? Visit my website!

V6 Players

Tara Behzad: "They don't get to decide how I die."

Lizzie Luz: "I don't want to go."

Alex Tarquin: "No more masks."
[+] Spoiler

G053 Karen Idel, DECEASED: Game over.

B040 Tyler Lucas, DECEASED: I had fun. You?

B046 Xavier Contel, DECEASED : " people, Arthur. G-g-gotta try. C-can't be afraid."
[+] Spoiler

B054 Raidon Naoko (DECEASED): "Dying like this isn't so bad..."

B072 Simon Grey (DECEASED): "I never was a hero, but, God help me, I tried."

B079 David Meramac (DECEASED): "Running towards nothing. Running from nothing."

G072 Mirabelle Nesa (DECEASED): "I'm a weak little girl who couldn't save anyone, even myself, but god damn it I beat you and god damn it you are going to remember that because I am Mirabelle Nesa and I am a hardened goddamn warrior and I am not going to fucking give up now!"