Riverside was beautiful at night. The moonlight reflecting off of Lake Lady Bird, the surrounding trees blowing in the wind, the boardwalk snaking through the water and the greenery. It was enough to make even a slasher forget his worries, for a time.
Jack strolled down the boardwalk to his lakeside motel, tiptoed up the stairs to his second-floor room, unlocked the door, and turned the lights on.
‘Honey, I’m home,’ he said to no one.
His room was a bachelor’s pad. Empty cups of instant noodles littered every surface, the walls were covered in movie posters ranging from Thursday the 13th to Star Battles to Dungeons and Drakes, and a Street Brawlers arcade cabinet took up a good eighth of the living space. Yawning, Jack kicked the door shut behind him, placed his fire axe against the wall, and headed for the bathroom to wash his face. He took off his wooden mask and put it down in front of the mirror. He was met with a mop of blonde hair and angry blue eyes. He splashed the blood and sweat off his face before heading to the kitchen for some instant noodles. Just then, the phone rang. He picked it up.
‘Hello?’ he said.
The nasal whine of his mom’s voice blasted through the receiver. ‘Finally! He picks up! I’ve been calling you for three hours, Jack! You had me worried sick! What have you been doing all night?’
Jack sighed. He usually called his mom on a Sunday, but today’s events had gotten him so riled up that he’d forgotten. Now he was going to get an earful because of it. He loved his mom dearly, but like all Ashkenazi mothers, she was overprotective to a fault. He tried to sit down on the bed, but his bullet wound shot pain through his right cheek, so he settled for lying on his side.
‘Sorry, mom,’ he said. ‘Me and Ed were watching horror movies at the store after work. I guess I lost track of time.’
‘That’s no excuse! You should always call me at 6 P.M. on a Sunday! You shouldn’t be coming home after dark anyway! What if you get murdered by one of those slashers on the news?!’
Jack almost burst out laughing. ‘It’s fine, mom. I’m a big guy; I can handle myself.’
His mom tutted. ‘I’ll believe that when I see it. Honestly, Jack, I wish you’d come back to Brooklyn where I can keep an eye on you. You’re such a silly boy sometimes. I worry about you. I still don’t understand why you moved to Texas of all places. I know you get along with that friend of yours, but you’re wasting your potential at Flickbuster. You know that, don’t you? You were such a high achiever right up until you graduated. You should use that Political Science degree to get a proper job here in New York. Your uncle Ben works for the GOP. I’m sure he could get you a job you’d like.’
Jack yawned. He was too tired to argue with her. ‘Alright, I’ll think about it.’
‘Okay, sweety, I’ll let you go to sleep. I’m just glad you’re okay. I’ll call you tomorrow. I love you. Take care of yourself. Make sure you’re eating well. None of that instant noodle bupkis.’
‘Sure, mom. Love you too. Bye.’
Jack hung up the phone. He turned around and crawled to the top of the bed so he could collapse. Then he noticed something strange on his pillow: it was a black envelope with a blood red wax seal in the shape of a skull. If his landlady had gone on holiday and wanted him to feed the cat, this was a funny way of letting him know. He fingered open the envelope and read the letter inside.
YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN TO TAKE PART IN THE DEATH GAME. THE PRIZE IS THE DAGGER OF LIFE AND DEATH. COME TO THE ALAMO AT 12 P.M. TONIGHT.
Jack started eating the letter. He’d been found out. The feds had discovered his secret identity and were now trying to lure him into a trap. He may have been crazy, but he wasn’t stupid. He had to escape to Mexico while he still had the chance. He would jump the border and start a new life as Juan Carnicero, humble English teacher. Suddenly energised, he leapt to the wardrobe so he could start packing his clothes.
A knock on the door.
Jack froze, paralysed with fear. What should he do? Hide? Run? Fight? It could have been a Mormon missionary or SWAT team outside for all he knew.
Another knock on the door.
He shook himself back to his senses and grabbed his fire axe. Hiding and running wasn’t his style. He was a Schretcher after all. He’d face whatever was out there head on, like a man!
Jack put on the squawk of a little old lady. ‘Who is it?’
A feminine English accent answered: ‘Room service.’
Now he was intrigued. He’d been at the motel for three years, and the closest thing he’d ever gotten room service was finding a raccoon in his room making breakfast out of his trash can. He peeped through the peephole.
There was a fox in human form on the other side of the door.
Her hair was the orange of flame, more a fox tail than a ponytail. Her eyes were wild green. Her lips were cherry red. Her skin was ivory white. The bright orange suit she more barely contained her curves.
If this was a trap, he wanted to spring it.
The fox crossed her arms and pouted. ‘Well? Are you going to let me in or not?’
He instantly opened the door, and she stepped into his world with the sweet scent of jasmine. The fox looked him over, reminding him that he was wearing the red and black plaid pattern flannel jacket, blue overalls, and steel toe cap boots of the Lumberjack. If she was concerned by the costume, the blood, or the fire axe, she didn’t show it. Gently, she moved his hair out of the way of his face. Her touch was the soft kiss of velvet.
The fox scrunched up her face and put a hand to her chin. ‘Not bad, in a rugged sort of way.’ She looked around the room. ‘The décor could use a woman’s touch, though. Oh, but where are my manners?’ She withdrew her hand from his face and held it out for a handshake. ‘Marilyn Fox. I’m a reporter for America News Network, your sponsors in the Death Game.’
Jack shook her hand with a smile. ‘Jack Schrechter! Charmed to meet you!’
What the hell is she talking about?! Man, she’s pretty!
‘Did you get the letter?’ said Marilyn.
‘I ate it!’
She giggled. ‘Well, that’s one way to digest information I suppose. Do you mind if I sit down?’
‘Of course not!’
Jack quickly pushed the door shut, placed the fire axe back in its broken glass cabinet, shoved every empty cup of instant noodles in the trash can, kicked the box of men’s magazines under his bed, poured them both a glass orange juice, wished he wasn’t a teetotaller so he didn’t have to serve her orange juice like an idiot, and sat down on the sofa. ‘Mi casa es tu casa.’
Marilyn sat down beside him, crossed her shapely legs, and took the glass of orange juice. ‘My thanks. What does that mean?’
‘My house is on fire…. The Mexicans are a very…poetic people.’
Marilyn sipped her orange juice with a raised eyebrow, put the glass down, and placed her fingers together. ‘To business! The letter was a little cryptic, so I’ll tell you as much as I know, and hopefully that’ll at least give you the gist of the situation. A week ago, one hundred of America’s biggest news networks were approached by an organisation called the Masquerade. They wanted to put on a sort of gladiatorial game between one hundred of America’s most dangerous slashers, and they wanted the whole of Texas to be the gladiatorial arena. The news networks would financially back whichever slashers they could woo to their side and get exclusive rights to the footage of their exploits. The winning slasher would get the Dagger of Life and Death.’
Marilyn shrugged. ‘Whatever that is. The winning news network, on the other hand, would get a trillion dollars. Naturally, the boys at the office and I had a good laugh about all this…that was until the Masquerade provided the down payment.’ She leant into Jack’s personal space. ‘So my question to you is this, Mr Screchter:’—her eyes went wide—‘how would you like to become my champion?! How would you like to become the Number One Slasher?!’
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