The helicopter glided through the night’s sky towards the glittering, golden city of San Antonio.
Jack looked at Puck and Mezu, sat opposite him, both of them looking out of their respective windows. ‘So why are you two competing in the Death Game?’
They glanced at him and then returned to looking out of their windows.
Jack frowned at Marilyn, sat next to him. ‘I think I’m being hazed.’
She smiled and flicked Puck and Mezu’s masks. ‘If you want to survive the Death Game, then you’re going to have to learn to work together. Getting to know each other is a good start.’
Puck wrinkled her snub nose but did as she was told. ‘I want to become the Number One Slasher.’
‘Why?’ said Jack.
Puck rolled her eyes, but a poke to the shoulder from Marilyn kept her going. ‘I won the Canadian Hockey Championships, I won the Canadian Skiing Championships, and I won the Canadian Skating Championships. At a certain point, I realised that I was just plain better than all the other hosers at sports and needed something more challenging.’ She beamed. ‘And man is the most dangerous game of all!’
Jack felt a shiver run down his spine.
‘Mezu?’ said Marilyn.
Mezu crossed his arms. ‘I seek the Dagger of Life and Death on the behalf of the Udon Family.’
‘Isn’t udon a type of noodle?' said Jack. 'I like noodles.’
Puck snorted with laughter. ‘You’re so stupid!’
Jack could tell Mezu was scowling at both of them beneath his Blue Oni mask. ‘The Udon Family is a chivalrous organisation in Japan.’
‘Yakuza!’ Puck gave an impish grin. ‘You’re an attack dog for the Japanese mafia, eh?’
Mezu returned to looking out of the window. ‘Better an attack dog than a feral wolf.’
Puck howled. The noise stung because of the small space. Everyone covered their ears.
‘Puck, stop that!’ said Marilyn.
Puck stopped and grinned. ‘Sorry, boss.’
Jack waited for Puck and Mezu to ask why he was competing in the Death Game. It didn’t happen. ‘Aren’t either of you curious what my reason is?!’
Their answer was simultaneous. ‘No.’
Marilyn leant close to Jack. ‘How are you feeling? Have the drugs kicked in yet?’
‘I feel great!’ Jack flexed his newly rejuvenated body and buttocks. ‘I feel like I could take on Jason, Freddy, and Michael all at once!’
Marilyn laughed and slapped his behind. ‘That’s the spirit! Go get ‘em, tiger!’ She looked out of the window. ‘Looks like we’re coming up on the Alamo now, my lovelies! Good luck, and whatever happens, remember to put on a good show for the Billy the Cameraman in the cockpit! Boring news is no news at all! If America News Network tops the rating tonight, I’ll treat you all to a big steak dinner with all the trimmings!’
‘I’m vegetarian,’ said Mezu.
Marilyn pouted. ‘You’re awkward.’
The helicopter descended towards a square of grass and trees in front of a stone chapel that Jack assumed was the Alamo. Helicopters from other news networks were buzzing around everywhere. Unlike the rest of San Antonio, there were no lights on in the surrounding buildings; the only light source in the area were the torches on the walls of the Alamo, which outlined the silhouettes of a legion of figures on the square. The helicopter landed. Jack, Puck, and Mezu fitted their masks, opened the door, and got out.
A thousand slashers eyed them ominously. All of them were wearing freakish masks and wielding a variety of slashing weapons. There was a human heart with a wooden stake, a cactus with a pair of garden shears, a velociraptor with clawed hands and feet, even a washing machine with a bladed interior.
Before he could protest to Marilyn about the additional nine hundred slashers, the helicopter had taken off again. Marilyn waved to him from the window and blew him a kiss. Jack caught the kiss. Then he realised where he was and threw it to the ground.
The slashers seemed to be waiting for something to happen.
Jack leant close to Puck and whispered. ‘I thought Marilyn said there were only a hundred slashers?’
Puck whispered back. ‘How can you be this ignorant of slasher culture? Didn’t anyone ever teach you anything?’
He didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. ‘Well, I’ve mainly been slashing in Texas, and there weren’t many other slashers here up until now.’
Puck put her hand to the forehead of her hockey mask. ‘We’ve been saddled with a country bumpkin. I thought that annoying Brooklyn accent of yours meant that you’d at least made your bones in a slasher hub like New York. Okay, bumpkin, here’s the score: you see the hosers that look meaner than most of the other slashers?’
Jack looked around and found a big slasher wearing a golden bear skin. ‘Yeah.’
‘They’re the bosses. Those were the ones invited by the Masquerade. You see the keeners gathered around them?’
Jack looked at the group of slashers around the bear and found they were all wearing animal masks. ‘Yeah.’
‘They’re the henchmen, their slasher gangs. They came along to the Death Game in the same way roadies will come along to a concert tour.’
‘So, it’s like that movie The Gang Warriors?’
Puck shrugged. ‘I guess. Most slasher gangs form around popular slashers in the slasher fanzines, The Slasher Times especially. Speaking of which, tell me you at least know your position on the Hot List?’
‘The what list?’
She sighed. ‘The Hot List. It’s a slasher’s rank based on how dangerous they are. It goes from A-list, the highest rank, to C-list, the lowest. Mezu and I are B-list. I think you’re B-list equivalent based on what the boss told me. Seventy-five percent of slashers are C-list, twenty percent are B-list, and five percent are A-list. The hosers you really have to worry about are the ones in top five of the A-list: the Big Five. Let me see if I can find them….’
Puck pointed to a giant learning against a tree. From what Jack could make out of him in the darkness, it looked like he was wearing a football uniform.
‘That’s Pigskin,’ she said. ‘Legend has it he was the star quarterback for the Houston Hogs, but he died in a mysterious incident during the Mega Bowl. Recently, he came back from the dead, and he’s been killing anyone connected with that incident ever since.’
Puck pointed to two obscure figures standing at the back of the square: what seemed to be a fat man petting a little girl. ‘That’s Fubsy the Clown and Loco Lobo. Fubsy the Clown was abused by his parents, ran away to join the circus, and was abused by the Ringmaster who took him in. Being betrayed twice like that, the sheer malevolence of it, drove him mad. He killed his entire audience one night before escaping the circus. Loco Lobo was born with hypertrichosis, a medical condition where hair grows all over your body. She was left to die in the wild by her superstitious parents because they thought she was a monster. She was raised by wolves and grew up as a maneater until the Ringmaster found her and put her in his freak show. Then she got rescued by Fubsy the Clown when he escaped the circus. I guess birds of a feather flock together. They’ve been hunting the Ringmaster and his Devil’s Circus for years now to get their revenge.’
Puck slowly nodded her head towards a nearby fountain, where a fin was slowly going in circles. Jack thought she could see her shaking. Was she scared?
‘That’s Sh-sh-sh’— she gulped—‘Shark Man. The less you know about him the better. Hopefully, another slasher can take him out for us.’
Puck pointed to someone in a space suit holding a USSR flag atop a street lamp. ‘That’s the Cosmonaut. If the conspiracy theories are to be believed, he was actually the first man in space, but he encountered something up there which warped him so badly that the USSR covered the whole thing up. Ever since he came back to Earth, he’s been slaughtering the crews and destroying the spacecraft of manned missions to space. No one knows why.’
Puck looked around. ‘The last one is Colonel Ripper. I don’t see him anywhere though. He’s the Number One Slasher, the most dangerous slasher on Earth save only the King in Yellow. I wonder where he could be?’
Jack heard a thud behind him.