The Game

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The third story I've been working on; The Cat's Game is the grueling story of Cassandra, her father, and their Bengal cat, Neko. *There is a tiny use of language"

Submitted: December 15, 2015

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Submitted: December 15, 2015

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The world outside was on fire; like a roaring furnace, the dusk-red sun illuminated the sky in brilliant hues, turning away all curious eyes and leaving the thinly dispersed clouds a muted violet shade. Nonetheless, four clouds trailed lazily high above Lilliton and a gentle breeze carried the faint sound of an ambulance through the cool autumn air. Twelve trees swayed to this unnatural wailing tune; a black car waltzed in and out of traffic as ten houses spectated on the other side of the four-lane street.

Cassandra knew all these numbers because she had counted them - counted and recounted them every time she visited her father in his small private hospital room, just as she had counted down every day since the doom-bearing prediction.

The doctor had said he had two months left, and while at the time everyone assured her it was the worst-case scenario, Mr. Aanenson had still begun to write his will - write what Cassandra viewed as his resignation to the news. When she first found out, she had smiled at the irony of that piece of paper. A will was supposed to be what her father left to the world, his legacy - but where was his love for her? Where were the paragraphs that documented all the memories they had created together?

And so one night in the darkness of her room, in the middle of crying her eyes swollen and cursing God, she had secretly pulled up the calendar on her phone and scrolled down sixty days, marking the date with one word: Armageddon.

She had felt like she was betraying her dad - as if she did not expect him to get better - but she was so devastated that she really didn’t care either way. Nevertheless, she had still erased the reminder first thing in the morning, but the date, October 10th, remained, burning behind her eyelids every time she closed her eyes.

Three days left. Perhaps the doctors were wrong - stuff like this happened all the time. Perhaps her father would survive, beat the cancer and take her out for ice cream in their blue pickup truck again... or take her home.

In fact, she thought, she’d be happy if the two of them would just drive - drive and drive, far away from the damned, sterile, cold hospital, from the doctors who treated her father like an experiment, from the nurses with their flowery uniforms and fake smiles as if saying, “Oh, I’m not really sorry that this happened to your father, but I must look like I am because I get paid to do this.”

Two months were too short. Hell, she had gotten her cat only three months ago, and she could still remember the face of the old lady they had adopted Neko from. Normally, the hospital was a pet-free zone, but in this building the rules were relaxed, a fact that Cassandra hated because it meant the patients were all close to kicking the bucket.

Thinking this overwhelmed Cassandra with a flood of emotions and she whimpered involuntarily. Neko looked up from beside her feet but soon lost interest and went back to grooming himself. She was secretly glad for his company and figured so was her dad, as he always grunted when he saw Cassandra hold the cat.

Her blurry eyes focused now on her dad. He was gaunt, his breathing shallow. Lying there sleeping, Mr. Aanenson looked so deathly pale compared to the fresh pink tulips she had placed by his bedside an hour ago. The pillow swallowed him, and his withered, bony hands made him look far older than forty-nine.  It must have been God’s cruel joke to put his birthday in four days.

Cassandra glanced back down at her Calculus notebook, willing herself to finish the questions due tomorrow in class. A tear splashed onto the page and Cassandra quickly wiped it away, swearing that she would not cry in front of her dad.

She didn’t understand the problem at all. It had been a pretty shitty Wednesday, she thought, and she had missed so much class she couldn’t even draw a proper integral sign, let alone finish a problem. It made her head swim, so after ten minutes of fruitless attempts she hurled the binder across the small rectangular room where it cracked against the wall and threw up its contents.

Neko went over to investigate, tentatively clawing at the edges and drawing his paw over the pages, but Cassandra didn’t care. She curled up on her chair and tucked her legs against her chest, pulling her hood over her head to sulk.

It was already dark outside and she could no longer see the trees or the clouds, but another ambulance shrieked its own fanfare. That’s what you get when you practically live in a hospital, she thought bitterly to herself. By and by, she grew numb to her own thoughts, to the pulsing of the ambulance, and to the sorrows of the outside world.

She was an eagle - or a hawk, she didn’t know. She also didn’t why she suspected her own identity, or why it bothered her so much. But for now the wings were there, and so were the feathers, and she was soaring - soaring high over Lilliton and Holsing General Hospital on invisible thermals that caressed her wings and enveloped her in their protective embrace as she scanned the scenery below. She found that she could focus on minute details, like the intricate circular patterns embroidered on a lady’s purse or the digits etched on a car’s license plate with more acuity than she knew was possible.

Her attention drifted away from the bustle of humans toward a small gray mouse. It poked its nose around someone’s backyard garden, probing its nose around for tender buds. She wondered if the garden owner knew that the mouse was the perpetrator, not the deer he had installed the fence for. The thought made her chuckle to herself as she dipped her left wing and turned her back to the blinding sun.

A sudden electric urge seized her body, starting from the pit of her stomach and shooting outwards to the tips of her wings. It consumed her, forcing her to take action with one thought in mind: kill the mouse - consume it while its blood was warm and heart still pounding. She hungered for it, and instinct - not the raptor’s, but her own - sent her into a nosedive. Her talons closed around the helpless mouse and she flapped her great wings again, climbing back up high into the pale sky amid its desperate squeaks.

A mischievous thought stole across her mind and she dived again, dropping the mouse in the middle of an empty street. It was bleeding, and she found a strange amusement in watching its slow struggle towards the curb on either side. Each time it almost succeeded, she would peck at its eyes and drag it back by the tail into the middle of the road. The coarse asphalt soon received new blood-red tattoos, until finally Cassandra ruthlessly snatched the dead mouse up with her claws again and carried it away. The hawk looked back down at its limp prey, and for a split second her talons transformed into pink, fat fingers -

She woke with a groan. Her lips stuck together and her mouth tasted awful. Cassandra checked her phone and saw it was one thirty-seven in the morning; a growing rumble in her stomach reminded her she had missed dinner. She rubbed her eyes and her gaze fell onto the scattered notebook as she groaned again, not because she had failed to complete her homework for the fifth day in a row, but because there would not be any more restaurants open. She crawled over and half-heartedly gathered up the strewn papers, piling them on top of each other.

Cassandra uttered a deep sigh. Her only source of food then, fell to the row of vending machines four stories below. Neko was nowhere in sight as she kissed her father gently on the forehead and said, “Hang in there old man, I’ll be back soon.” She rearranged the thin white cover and quietly left the room, closing the heavy birch door with a barely audible click.

Outside the lights were dimmed, and the only other person she saw was the nightshift nurse, Ms. Temple, sitting at the receptionist chair playing a game of Solitaire on the computer. She quickly closed the window and nodded at Cassandra as she walked past the desk toward the elevators. Cassandra pondered the fate of the little mouse as she waited, bouncing her weight around on two feet. She was interrupted by the elevator door, which slid open noiselessly and invited her in.

The mirrors on the walls of the elevator showed her an image of a pale, thin-faced girl, a little taller than average, wearing a black hoodie too large for her and gray sweatpants that dragged on the floor. The girl would have been relatively pretty, with straight, dark brown hair, freckles, and olive green eyes had she not been only half awake. The usual makeup and ponytail were missing; Cassandra had long ago forsaken even her eyeliner when she resolved to go straight from school to the hospital and back five days ago.

For now, she was satisfied with her image given the circumstances - she had been through worse. The ding of the elevator as she descended to the third floor roused her from her still half-asleep trance and she tore her eyes away from her reflection.

When the door opened, a wave of cold air cascaded in, drenching her in shivers. Cassandra squirmed inside her hoodie as she walked in front of the row of vending machines. She frowned at the stupid predicament she found herself in - either pay two dollars for a bag filled with more air than chips, or go hungry for five more hours until she went to school. In the end, she inserted two dollar bills and grudging punched in the code A23 for a bag of barbecue chips, mentally scolding her stomach for being so weak.

Her business finished, she turned around and began to walk back down the long hallway, but the young teenager stopped as she heard a long, drawn out screech. It was not the cry of any animal, but the screech old metal makes against metal. She began to worry, and her mind flicked through every horror movie involving hospitals she had seen. She looked behind her, half-expecting to see a little girl with wet black hair partially covering her face and a bloody white gown.

Nothing moved - she was alone on the floor. She looked back toward where she had come earlier, but as soon as she decided to make a run for the elevator, a black, humanoid shadow walked through - or detached itself from - the wall.

Cassandra’s eyes widened and she screamed a curse. What she thought was a shadow was actually a figure dressed in a tattered cloak; scintillating yellow slits shone under its deep cowl, as if barely containing a burning fire within. It wielded a crimson spear and immediately began to slink slowly toward her, steadily pointing a lance at her thumping heart.

Her first thought was that she had seen Death, but the iconic scythe was missing.  As it marched closer she noticed its blood-red spear was in fact, just that - a moonsilver spear, intricately made, dripping with blood. Either way, she turned to sprint toward the steel doors that led to the exit, but her knees only partially responded and she frantically limped toward the stairs.

She reached the doors to the staircase but found them locked. The girl quickly shook the door handlebar, rattling it so forcibly that it buckled, but the door did not bulge. In the small rectangular window of the metal door, she saw the Thing’s reflection calmly bearing down on her. Cassandra realized, with a sinking feeling, that today may very well be her last night on Earth. She defiantly turned around, preparing to put up a fight.

It transfixed her eyes as it strolled calmly forward. Just then, wisps of green, smoky light began to gather between Cassandra and the phantom. The demon paused in its confident step as the swirls crackled, taking on a vague human shape and flashing golden. Her father’s figure emerged - not the sick, deathly Mr. Aanenson upstairs but the Mr. Aanenson as Cassandra had known him, full of life and love.

He spoke to the demon in a harsh, foreign tongue, paying Cassandra no attention. The demon snarled, momentarily revealing a grotesque, marred face from behind its hood - yet the golden figure continued talking, keeping a steady pitch but raising its commanding voice in volume.

Finally, Mr. Aanenson’s apparition walked forward, holding out two fingers at Cassandra to remain still while it forced the demon back. Shadows danced on the walls and Cassandra dropped her bag of chips as the low humming of the vending machines rose to a roar, causing them to overload and grow dark.

The demon threw its serrated spear through the golden ghost in a last-ditched shot at Cassandra, who was now curled up with her back against the door, but with superhuman reflexes Mr. Aanenson intercepted it as it passed through his body, turning the tip around and ramming the slender weapon up through the spectre’s ribs.

Its screech was ear-piercing, a bloodcurdling scream that raised the hair on Cassandra’s neck. The demon staggered, the spear embedded in its chest, and finally fell backwards through the floor with its arms spread wide.

“What the fuck­ was that?” Her hand trembled as she slowly stood up, using the door for support. She walked a few tentative paces forward as her glowing father turned to face her and spoke in a deep, gravelly voice.

“Regizaar - an upper demon. He feeds on the pain and souls of humans, taking with force what he cannot naturally acquire. This hospital has become his feeding ground, and the hundreds of souls he has harvested here have made him bold.”

“Is he dead now?” Cassandra asked. A moment later she hastily corrected her word choice and added, “- gone forever?”

Mr. Aanenson face was grim.

“No. Unfortunately, he’s only gone for a few hours at most. The excess energy in this hospital will draw him back, revive him.” Here the elevator door slid open again, and a boy in a black suit and red tie not much older than Cassandra walked out.

Cassandra instinctively recoiled, but her dad placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and gave her a sad smile. “Don’t worry Cassie, he’s a friend.”

“Who is he - how come I’ve never seen him before - can he see us?” She was instantly self-conscious and wearily ran a hand through her hair. Her questions flowed into a string of syllables; she kept her eyes on the boy and did not pause between questions. The boy shoved his hands in his pocket and leaned against the wall, waiting.

“Death.” Her father responded after a moment.

Cassandra began to understand, and a look of horror stole across her face. She scrambled backwards, curling up and putting her back against the locked door.

“No. No NO! Get away from me, both of you!” She screamed.

Her father gently knelt down beside her. “Relax Cassie; it’ll be a long time before he comes to find you. He’s here for me. I cannot stay much longer, but remember, I’ll be with you, protecting my little girl - always. Thank you for the years together Cassie, and for staying at my side every day. Watching you grow up into a beautiful young woman was the best thing that ever happened to me - I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’m so proud to be your father, Cassie - I don’t know how else I can express it. I love you.”

Her father walked past her and effortlessly opened the door behind her, motioning for her to take the stairs back up to the seventh floor. Cassandra slowly stood up. “Is this the last time I’ll see you?” She inquired.

“Yes, I’m afraid so, Cassie.”

“Dad,” She began tearfully. Violent sobs racked her chest but she forced herself to continue, working up emotion as she progressed. “I wished you didn’t have to go. Christ, it’s only been seventeen years! I-I-I’m so sorry, for all the times I made you mad - so sorry for the times I was angry and yelled that Mom left us because it was your fault. God, I’m such a terrible person - I love you so much Dad, I’ll never forget you. Thank you so much for taking care of me, I wouldn’t have chosen anyone else to be my father - no one would ever come close.”

Her father smiled again, this time a little happier. “I love you too Cassie. Neko’s on the fifth floor - take good care of him for me.”

With that Mr. Aanenson closed the door and Cassandra backed out into the staircase, breaking eye contact as the door locked in place. She watched as her father walked up to the black-haired boy. They conversed briefly and then walked to the elevator together. Mr. Aanenson turned around and gave one final, parting wave as both men were swallowed up by the metal doors.

Cassandra realized, with sudden despair, that she was well and truly alone. She grew sadder with each mounting step she took, and soon the miniature star-shaped tears splashed so frequently onto the cold stone steps that black, dotted constellations painted her trail.

She ascended toward the fourth floor, whimpering and sniffling to herself until the lights flickered once. She froze, but after a minute nothing else happened so she continued upstairs. She heard a soft meow once she passed the fourth floor and spotted Neko sitting on the fifth landing. She smiled and cooed at him, calling his name. He remained where he was, but cocked his feline head and regarded the girl with unblinking yellow eyes.

Cassandra raced up to him. As she was five steps away, the lights blacked out with an electric crackle, leaving her stranded in a suffocating darkness. The next moment the lights flooded back on with a powerful buzz. Standing directly where Neko was a moment ago was the hooded figure. Without speaking or delay, he thrusted his lance forward, impaling Cassandra through her chest. She uttered a soft, wet gurgle - involuntarily - as the jagged blade pierced her lungs. A slight twist of the spear and a rough yank backwards made her body tumble down the steps where it broke, the neck twisted at an impossible angle. A large fissure on her head began to ooze blood, painting the wall crimson.

Cassandra was still impaled on the spear. She thrashed, grabbing at it and trying to free it from her chest, but her fingers kept sliding off. She struggled a moment longer, kicking her legs at Regizaar’s chest and at the air, but she could not move. Looking into his eyes, with the horrible flames licking out the sides, she slowly succumbed and her spirit faded away.

The lights flickered again. Cat, demon, and girl were all gone, leaving nothing but a lifeless body slumped against the wall at the bottom of the landing and a pinprick of silvery-blue light that soon began to crackle and fade. It fizzed once more at the top of the stairs, and at the light’s next flicker even that had disappeared.

Upstairs on the seventh floor, Mr. Aanenson awoke in a coughing fit. He was too weak to turn his head, so he rolled his eyeballs as far as he could to the left. He could not see Cassandra and this made him very nervous. He assured himself that she would be back from the bathroom any moment, until he saw the cat sitting in the armchair where Cassandra usually dozed.

A feeling of intense terror, stronger than how he felt when he was diagnosed, rose out from behind his head and consumed him. This was fear - a primal, instinctive dread that burned a massive crevice down the length of his spine and left him paralyzed with no escape. His windpipe began to constrict and his heart pumped faster, as if sensing its impending demise and powering through the last lap of its race with the futile denial of the doomed.

The cat regarded him with fierce yellow eyes. They both knew his time had come. Mr. Aanenson cursed the day he brought the Bengal home. Now he knew why the lady had given such an expensive, purebred cat away, and had been so eager to do it. He had tried to warn Cassie when he figured it out two days ago, but she did not understand his grunts.

Neko jumped down from the chair and transformed into the cloaked wraith with one fluid motion. Mr. Aanenson swallowed with immense difficulty. “Where... Cassie?”

Regizaar’s deep laughter conjured up a black abyss that opened up and swallowed Mr. Aanenson’s fragile mind. He leaned down so his face was an inch away, revealing pointed, rotten teeth and snarled.

Aaask her laaterrr.”  He rasped.

Mr. Aanenson’s slowly closed his eyes as he realized his daughter was dead. A heavy sadness weighted on his heart as he struggled to remain conscious against the suppressing aura that promised oblivion. In the end, he managed to gather his last ounce of strength and spat at the demon, “Curse you, Regizaar. Burn in Hell forever!”

The demon’s shape flickered between the exact clone of Mr. Aanenson Cassandra had seen earlier and the dark entity. He stabbed his spear point-first into the ground with an electric crack. Suddenly, five clawed fingers shot out through the deep folds of his cloak, curling around the doomed man’s throat and digging into around his essence. A moment later a fiery conflagration ignited down the length of the sick body, causing Mr. Aanenson to scream in agony.  His spirit was viciously ripped out and it dangled in the air, trying to pry the demon's fingers away from its throat to no avail.

Regizaar hissed and studied the struggling man with the cunning eyes of a cat, curiously observing the similarity between the father’s pose now and Cassandra’s a few minutes ago.  He glanced at the charred remains left on the bed and then back to Mr. Aanenson’s spirit, softly purring,

“That’s the thing you never guessed, Aanenson... I am Hell.


© Copyright 2019 Golden Ponyboy. All rights reserved.

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