Jack turned around. A slasher wearing skull mask with an American flag painted on it was glaring down at him. The killing intent coming off of this guy was insane. Jack found himself paralysed with fear.
The slasher had a deep Texan accent. ‘Get out of my way, boy.’
Jack stepped aside instantly. ‘Yes, sir! Sorry to inconvenience you, sir! Won’t happen again, sir!’
The slasher stomped forwards. He must have been at least 7-foot-tall, with a jungle camouflage United States Army uniform and a buzzsaw strapped to his back. All of the other slashers made way for him too.
Puck leant close to Jack. ‘That’s Colonel Ripper. He’s a Vietnam War veteran. Lost his entire division in the Tet Offensive. Came home shellshocked. When he saw some college kid walking around wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt in Austin, he snapped and stabbed him to death with a fork. He’s been killing commies across the US ever since. Apparently, he’s found a way to lick the commies once and for all, but no one knows what he’s up to. The reason he’s so dangerous is because unlike the rest of us, he actually has wartime combat experience.’
‘Huh,’ said Jack. ‘I wonder how he differentiates between advocacy for social equality and advocacy for social equity?’
Puck tilted her head. ‘What?’
Jack grinned. He liked being the smart one for once. ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I guess a layman such as yourself wouldn’t understand. Not everyone has a Political Science degree like yours truly after all. I’m asking how he can tell if someone is a communist.’
Puck shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe he starts communes and murders anyone that shows up. Who cares? The important thing is we shouldn’t cross him until we’re a hundred percent ready for him.’
Mezu jerked his head. ‘Will you two shut up? It’s starting.’
Atop the roof of the Alamo, figures in dark purple hooded robes were lining up. Each of them wore a unique Venetian carnival mask.
One wearing a sun mask at the centre of the line stepped forwards. His voice was ridiculously deep and booming. ‘GREETINGS, SLASHERS. I AM THE VOICE OF THE MASQUERADE. YOU HAVE BEEN SUMMONED HERE ON THE BEHEST OF HIS MAJESTY THE KING IN YELLOW. HE GROWS WEARY OF THIS LITTLE WORLD AND WISHES TO RETURN TO HIS HOME PLANET. BEFORE HE DEPARTS, HOWEVER, HE SHALL IMPART A FAREWELL GIFT TO THE GREATEST OF HIS DISCIPLES. WHOMSOEVER VANQUISHES ALL OF HIS RIVALS SHALL RECEIVE THE DAGGER OF LIFE AND DEATH.’
Colonel Ripper chuckled. ‘And we’re just supposed to take your word for it, huh, sunshine?’
This got a laugh out of everyone.
The Voice of the Masquerade shook with anger. ‘INSOLENCE. THE KING IN YELLOW HAS NOTHING TO PROVE TO WORMS LIKE—'
From the darkness of the night, a yellow hooded robe descended behind the Voice of the Masquerade and towered over him. The figure wore a white Venetian carnival mask decorated with gold.
The King in Yellow.
The evil aura coming off whatever it was struck such instinctual terror into Jack’s heart that he considered turning tail and running.
A dark green dagger in the shape of a twisted tentacle emerged from the King in Yellow’s sleeve.
The Dagger of Life and Death.
The King in Yellow swung it. Then all the members of the Masquerade fell, blood oozing from their masks.
The King in Yellow reached out a hand bound in cloth. He balled it into a fist, stuck out his thumb to the side, and slowly turned it downwards. Jack remembered this from his Political Science course. This was the signal a Roman Emperor would use to tell gladiators to put their defeated rivals to death.
The King in Yellow ascended into the night’s sky.
All the slashers slowly reached for their slashing weapons. Everyone was waiting to see who would draw first. It was like a Mexican standoff.
‘What’s the plan?’ said Jack to Puck and Mezu.
‘Um….’ said Puck. ‘Have either of you ever played hockey? All I know is hockey formations.’
‘Baka gaijins,’ said Mezu. ‘We can’t kill all of them out in the open like this. We’ll fight back-to-back and move towards the Alamo. Then we can fight them a few at a time at the door.’
‘Hey, that’s smart,’ said Puck. ‘How’d you think of that, Mezu?’
‘My family comes from a long line of samurai.’ He looked around. ‘Whoever makes the first move will set off the entire battle. Remain vigilant….’
The slashers exploded into motion. Colonel Ripper jumped straight for the Cosmonaut. Pigskin charged Fubsy the Clown and Loco Lobo. The dark shape of Shark Man burst out of the water fountain and dragged a group of slashers in. The news network helicopters swarmed around for better camera angles.
The slasher wearing the golden bear skin and his slasher gang rushed at Jack, Puck, and Mezu.
‘Watch out!’ said Puck. ‘It’s Golden Bear and the Fifty Acre Wood!’
The three of them got into a back-to-back formation.
Golden Bear locked his claws with Jack’s fire axe as the Fifty Acre Wood attacked Puck and Mezu.
Golden Bear’s voice was manic. ‘I saw you looking at me, Lumberjack! You want to cut down the Fifty Acre Wood, don’t you?! But we won’t let you! Mother Earth would be very upset! I’m going to lather you in honey and eat—’
Jack bashed Golden Bear in the face with the butt of his fire axe and cut off his head with the blade.
I guess he must have been C-list.
Puck and Mezu dispatched Hare and Rat just as easily. They moved together towards the Alamo. However, as they progressed, the sheer number of the Fifty Acre Wood began to overwhelm them. Tiger and Pig clawed and hoofed apart Jack’s wooden mask and fire axe as he cut them down. Kangaroo and Wallaby kicked Puck’s hockey mask and bladed hockey stick to pieces before she could even get near them. Donkey took Mezu’s ridiculously long samurai sword down with him as he was impaled. By the time they reached the Alamo, they were in tatters.
They hobbled inside. Mezu threw his ruined blue oni mask at the Fifty Acre Wood to stall them as Jack and Puck pushed the double doors shut. Jack barred the doors, and they all slumped down against them to the floor.
‘What now?’ said Jack, pain all over his front. ‘Our slashing weapons are gone.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Mezu, his face a bloody mess. ‘I didn’t think we’d do this badly.’
Puck spat out a tooth. ‘I think Wallaby gave me brain damage.’
The stone chapel-turned museum offered no answer.
A policewoman popped up from behind an overturned table and shot three times with a revolver. The bullets hit inches above their heads.
‘Don’t move!’ said the police officer, tears streaming down her face. ‘I’m armed and dangerooous!’
Jack froze. They were doomed. He hadn’t counted on anyone with a gun being in the area. Though thinking about it, that probably exactly why the King in Yellow had decided to hold the Death Game in Texas: everyone had guns, so it would be more challenging for slashers.
Puck put her hands up. ‘Don’t shoot! We’re not slashers! We were just walking out front and got caught up in the chaos!’
Clever! Because our masks and slashing weapons got destroyed, we look like civilians! You shouldn’t lie, but if you have to, make it count!
‘Oh yeah?!’ said the policewoman. ‘Say something only a normal person would say!’
Jack, Puck, and Mezu looked at each other. They were far from normal.
Jack decided to gamble and say something he often heard his best friend Ed say. ‘I’m an American by birth, but I’m a Texan by the grace of God.’
Puck and Mezu stared at him.
The policewoman put her revolver down. ‘I’m sorry! You’re good people!’ She broke down sobbing on the floor. ‘I don’t know what’s going on! Me and my squad were just patrolling the Alamo like we do every night, but we got attacked by men in hoods with daggers! I hid in the broom closet like a coward while my squad got butchered!’ She hit the floor ‘Damn it! I waited for hours hoping the men in hoods would just leave! Then I heard helicopters and came outside hoping to be rescued, but there was an army of slashers outside!’
Blades ripped through the wooden double doors above Jack, Puck, and Mezu’s heads. The policewoman screamed. The slashers were trying to break down the door! Jack, Puck, and Mezu scrambled out of the way.
Mezu shook his head. ‘If we don’t think of something soon, we’re sushi.’
Puck whispered to Jack and Mezu ‘This Mountie, she seems to be a good shot, if a coward. Let’s see if we can convince her to gun down as many slashers as she can while we make our escape into the city, eh?’
Jack and Mezu nodded. They all moved to where the policewoman was sitting on the floor.
‘What’s your name?’ said Puck to the policewoman.
The policewoman was a skinny Mexican-American with a messy hair bun. She sniffled. ‘Sam Jacinto.’
‘Sam. There are a thousand slashers outside. Could you shoot them all, please?’
‘No! I’m scared!’
‘Remember the Alamo,’ said Jack, parroting something he’d read on a postcard.
This made Sam cry even harder. ‘All the Texans got killed at the Alamo!’
Puck and Mezu slapped the back of Jack’s head.
‘Let me handle this,’ said Puck. ‘Sam, do you have any young relatives?’
‘Yeah. My little brother Miguel.’
‘Where does he live?’
‘Here in San Antonio. Why?’
‘From what we just heard the men in hoods say before the chaos started, the slashers are having a tournament which they’re planning on spreading across Texas, across San Antonio. Right now, though, they’re all in one place. If you do nothing, Miguel may well die, but if you kill them all now, he’ll live.’
Sam stopped crying. Her eyes hardened. She got up and walked through a door with ARMORY written above it. ‘Wait here!’
‘That was amazing!’ said Jack to Puck. ‘How did you do that?’
Puck shrugged. ‘Female psychology. Women don’t fight for nations or friends or even themselves, but they’ll fight for family.’
The slashers outside were starting to break through the double doors with their blades. Jack, Puck, and Mezu picked up chairs. Sam still hadn’t come back.
‘God damn!’ said Puck. ‘My psychology sucks! The coward abandoned us!’
The Fifty Acre Wood broke through the double doors.
Barn Owl flexed his talons. ‘Twit twoo! I’m coming for you!’
Sam returned armed to the teeth.
She fired an AK47 into the Fifty Acre Wood and turned them into red mist. ‘Don’t mess with Texaaas!’
She continued on to the square outside and lit up all the slashers in sight with her arsenal of guns. AK47, revolver, pump action shotgun, bolt-action sniper rifle; she was a one-woman war!
Caught off guard by the sudden onslaught, the slashers fled.
Puck grinned. ‘Sigmund Freud, eat your heart out!’