Over the next ten days we will be publishing the ten finalists from the 2023 Voorheesville Short Story Contest. The theme of this year’s contest was “A Roll of the Dice.” This, the third of our ten finalist stories, made it to the final round of judging with our guest judge, Laurin Jefferson. Today, enjoy Jenna Romani’s story, “The Game.”
I spit the slippery white dice out of my shaking hands. Life starts to slow as the dice roll onto the bloodied floor, I feel my heart colliding with my ribs. I breathe in, deep, the dice dive into the red sea of blood, they start to slow, struggling to keep turning over, they stop. Six. Shit. I squirm up the wall, kicking my legs as he walks towards me. He grabs me by my blood stained shirt and drags my limp body to the dark room. The dark room is located next to the game room, in between the two rooms is a gray steel door. The dark room is concrete and the length and width of my arms, barely enough room for anyone to sit with their legs out. He throws me in and slams the door, I hear it lock. I drag myself up so my back is against the cold wall so I’m sitting up.
I was walking to the river bank with Anna after school got out. We stopped at the corner store on Wilm Street to get bubble gum and orange soda for our trip down to the river. When we were halfway to the river on the trail in the woods, we noticed a tall, slender man with greasy slicked back gray hair, his face looked young with soft eyes. It didn’t surprise us however as there are usually people on this trail going to and from town but he was different. He stood out in an odd way, but I couldn’t put my finger on it and neither could Anna. He looked like a normal man but something about him just made me uncomfortable. I could feel his eyes still watching us after we walked by him. Staring, watching, following. I looked behind my shoulder, trying to ease my nerves but I caught him staring. When we made eye contact he immediately turned his head forward. Uneasy, I turned my head back, and stepped closer to Anna for comfort, trying to shake it off. After Anna and I reached the river bank we made our way down to the picnic table with one broken bench to watch the smooth water run over the small cliff and land into a circular pond. Ten minutes passed before Anna nudged me on the shoulder, looking at me and then moving her eyes to something in the woods. This is her way of telling me to look at something so I followed her eyes into the woods. At first I couldn’t tell what Anna was looking at but then a dark figure formed at the bottom of a big oak tree about twenty feet from where we were sitting. My eyes moved from the bottom of the figure to the top. I couldn’t make out what the dark shadow in the woods looked like but the hair on my arms raised, a chill crept down my spine with the thought that it could be the man from earlier.
It’s been three days since I’ve seen Anna and four since we first arrived here. I try to tell myself that she’s still alive, but deep down I know she isn’t. On our second night, the man came into the dark room where he kept me. He told me Anna didn’t win the game, he stood over me telling me every detail of what he did to her. Shoving the knife into her chest, pulling it out, shoving it back in, pulling it out, waiting for the blood to fill her lungs because it’s his favorite part when it starts to drain out of the mouth. I just sat there helpless, letting the tears fall out of my eyes and my lungs started to shrivel, I gasped for air. He stood there watching, smiling down at me with his deep black eyes. He watched me struggle until he was satisfied and then closed the door, locking me inside. At first I just told myself he’s trying to get to me, but I felt her presence fade that night before he came to the dark room. I felt my heart become heavy and my stomach start to dig itself a hole. Anna is my best friend. We met in kindergarten, she came up to me the first day of school and asked me if I wanted to be her best friend forever, I said no at first, but when I came home from school that day and told my mom, she told me it wasn’t nice to reject someone who wanted to be your friend, and made me go back the next day and be her best friend. From then on we were inseparable, our families are basically one. If we weren’t having a sleepover at my house we were at hers. She’s the only person who I can really open up to, she understands me. My thoughts are interrupted as the man opens the door and the light seeps in. He grabs me by my arm and forces me to my feet. My head starts to spin with thoughts as he pulls me into the game room, it’s my turn in the game. I can’t lose, I can’t die, I can’t be killed. I have to win, I have to live, for my family, for Anna.
Anna looks at me, I can see the worry in her light blue eyes. I tell her we should head back home. I didn’t know what else to say, what else to do. I feel uncomfortable, his eyes glued on us. Anna grabs my hand as we stand up. She’s always been really fragile, afraid of almost everything, but this is different, her hand is shaking in mine while she squeezes it tight. Every step she takes she trembles and falls into me. I try to hold her up as we walk. Looking behind me I see he’s now closer, behind a big, thick maple tree peeking his head around it to get a good view of us. This makes my heart start to pound on my chest, he’s following us. I start to pick up the pace, pulling Anna behind me. We start to almost run before I look back again, I see him 30 feet away, now near the picnic table where we were sitting, he starts towards us, yelling at us to stop. At this point I start to sprint and so does Anna, I turn my head to her and I see tears falling from her eyes, scared. Our hands slipped from each other in an attempt to run faster. We were supposed to be running up the path back to town but we passed it in fear, not wanting to slow down, just trying to escape. The world is moving fast and so are my thoughts, I can’t comprehend what is happening to us and why. I see Anna’s body flying toward the ground like she just tripped. Do I stop? I have to stop for Anna, but what if he catches up to us? Is it better to save myself then get caught with her?
When we reach the game room, I see each of our pieces is where we left them. It’s time to finish the game. The game is on the blood stained floor. There’s no windows in the room and it’s made out of concrete just like the dark room. There’s one small light that hangs down from the middle of the room, one of those big circular metal ones you see in a warehouse. There’s also a metal chair in one of the corners, facing the wall, he says it’s for the girls who lose. He prolonged our game, making it four days. He said he likes me more than he does the other girls. He wants to keep me for longer. The thought makes my stomach turn upside down. No one has won the game before, at least that’s what he told me. I don’t think I’m going to make it out of here. Ever since we got here I knew it was over. That I’ll never get to live out my life like I’m supposed to. You always think you’re going to live a full life, it’s what you think is guaranteed, until it’s not and your life line is cut too short. I sit on the cold concrete, facing the game. The game is mouse trap. Fitting for my situation, trapped in this hell hole. It’s unsettling, a man who looks in his twenty’s kidnapping young girls to play a children’s game with him and when you lose, he tortures you, kills you from the inside out. Then he repeats the cycle, over and over. We left off at his turn yesterday, I only have one mouse left and he has all of his. He picks up the dice from the board and grabs my hand. I tried to flinch my hand back but he got to it before I could. He opens my hand and drops the dice in it. He leans close to my ear and whispers to roll for him. I throw the dice out of my hand, queasy from his words. He gets a 4, I look at the board fast, forgetting that he’s close to the turn crank space and that his mouse trap is complete. He moves his piece and lands on the turn rank space in the loop and my mouse is on the cheese wheel space. He turns the crank slowly in a clockwise direction. It sets his trap in motion. If the trap operates correctly, my mouse will be captured and I will lose.
I ran, my heart racing, not looking back, but I have to look back, what if Anna needs me? What if she didn’t get back up in time? I turn my head quickly when I feel a tightness close around my neck, he has me by my collar. I try to scream and kick but his hand is covering my mouth while the other grabs my legs. I squirm, my body struggling to release any tension, to have any chance to escape. I see Anna when he turns around with me in his grip. She’s on the ground, not moving. I scream for her but the man’s hand is still over my mouth, muffling my screams. The man screams at me to shut up or he’ll stab me right here in the woods. His hand leaves my mouth and goes into one of his pockets in his dark gray jacket and he pulls out a knife. I grew stiff and mute. He lets go of me and pushes me to the ground next to Anna. I want to curl my body around hers and make sure she’s okay but I’m too scared to move. He reaches into a different pocket in his jacket and pulls out two burlap sacks and rope. Anna’s unconscious, I see her chest moving up and down with her breathing but her eyes don’t open. He holds the knife to my neck as he grabs my arm with the other hand and twists me over so I’m laying on my stomach. I’m terrified, not knowing what to do, I’m stuck in fear. He wraps my wrists tight with the rope, digging into my skin. He then drags me up by my arm and puts the sack over my head. I try to squirm but he’s too strong. I can’t see anything. I try to think of what is going to happen next, any way to escape, but I can’t run, I have to stay with Anna. All of the sudden I’m being dragged by the man’s arm and he’s not saying a word. I can feel Anna’s foot kicking my arm, he must be carrying her over his shoulder. We walk and walk for what feels like hours. I can feel sticks and leaves crunching under my feet. I don’t know what to do, it feels like my life is about to end. I can’t think of any way to escape this. The whole time we walk I don’t say a word. Struck by fear, my words can’t leave my mouth. All I can think about is how we ended up in this situation. The man comes to a stop and I jolt back. I hear a door open, it sounds like a car. I feel him bend down and Anna’s body slams onto the car floor. Next I feel him grab my shoulders and push me in and the car door slams.
His trap goes down and my last mouse is captured. He looks at me and smiles. I jump up, I have to get out, this can’t be it. I run to the gray steel door that’s in between the two rooms and when I reach the handle, he grabs me from behind and throws me to the ground
“Where are you running to, I thought you wanted to play with me” He says in a sad, low voice.
“Just let me go please” I scream.
He makes a grab for me and I kick him in the chest and knock the wind out of him. I jump on top of him, I am punching him, over and over, my hands becoming red. His face is warm and stinging like hot water. He pushes me off and now he’s on top of me. He’s twice the size of me and he starts hitting me. I’m kicking my legs and flailing my arms trying to hit him, He has me pinned down, I can taste the blood in my mouth. My body is getting tired and weak. I can’t give up, I can’t die like this. I tried to fight back but he’s too strong. He doesn’t stop punching me. I turned my head to the side and see that his knife fell out of his pocket when I jumped on top of him. He’s still beating my face as I reach my hand out to the wooden handle of the knife. I start to see stars and my eyes begin to go black. I feel like giving up. I see Anna in the darkness of my eyes, I hear her whisper, kill him. I feel the knife’s handle touch the tips of my fingers and I grab onto it. Not being able to see anything I launch my arm toward him and feel the knife slip into his skin. I hear him scream in pain and I push him off of me. I try to get up as my vision comes back. I stumble but I’m up, I make my way to the gray door and all I hear is the man screaming. I find the handle and open the gray steel door.
The engine starts. Annas awake now, she woke up screaming, yelling for help. The man stops the car and hits Anna until she stops screaming. I started to cry in fear but then I felt his hands coming down on me too. Screaming shut up over and over until we were silent. The skin where he hit me has a heartbeat and it burns like a flame is close to my skin. When the car started again, he started to talk,
“The first time I saw the both of you was two weeks ago, oh god were you two beautiful. Your hair bouncing as you ran around the park, laughing, smiling. I knew I had to have you girls. I knew that you girls wouldn’t hurt me, you’d play with me unlike the other girls. I knew you were different”
Me and Anna are sitting with bags over our heads, listening to the man tell us about how he watched us for two weeks, waiting for the perfect time to take us.
On the other side of the gray steel door was freedom. It led me up a set of stairs to the man’s house. We must have been in his basement. I stumble to the front door and run out. I run out of the house and I don’t look back, I run down the street and knock on a house door. An older woman opens the door and looks at me, confused and scared. I have blood and tears dripping down my face.
“I was taken and I escaped, please, help me, please” I say frantically.
I’m taken inside the woman’s house as she calls the police. I’m safe. I made it.
The man was found by police the day I escaped. He killed twelve girls from around the country including my best friend Anna. His name is Jeffery Hillway. He escaped from a mental institution four years ago after he became reckless when girls in the institution refused to play board games with him. He was placed in the institution by his mother when he became abusive and depressed. His mother said the only thing that seemed to help him was his favorite board game, mouse trap. It’s been three years since me and Anna were taken and people sometimes ask me how I was so lucky, how my fate turned when no one else’s did, I tell them that Anna helped me. She gave me the strength to fight, to escape. Out of twelve girls, I was the only one to make it out alive. I live everyday for them, they don’t get to live out their life because of Jeffery Hillway, but I do.