“Hurry along now, Sam. It’s time to play the game.”
Sam Hutchinson is an average man. He is not spectacularly wealthy, nor is he destitute. He lives in a very nice two story suburban home with a bay window, and drives a mini van. His wife, Trish, loves him dearly and together they have a daughter named Sarah, who is five years old. Sam works as the manager of Cornell Grocers, a statewide chain, a job he neither loves, nor hates, but provides him with the lifestyle he has always wanted.
He is an average man. He is only six feet tall, with sandy blonde hair and blue eyes. He dresses well and takes care of himself. He is not ripped and cut, but neither is he flabby. Today, he is coming home from work and wears a white shirt with a blue tie and black denim jeans. He has an average life and he is very happy with it, never thinking for a moment of what might lurk beyond his perceptions.
When he enters his home, he does not sense that something is amiss. It is like any other day he comes home from work. Trish should be in the kitchen setting up for dinner, Sarah in her room playing. Everything should be ordinary, and nothing impossible should be about to happen to him.
In his living room, however, there sits a man. He is a very strange man, dressed head to toe in black. The suit looks very expensive, possibly Lloyd’s of London or Armani. He appears to be a tall man, easily six and half feet tall as he lounges in Sam’s favorite easy chair. His hair is long and black, hanging down almost to the floor in a sleek pony-tail held in place by a black ribbon. He is smoking a cigar that Sam’s limited experience tells him is Cuban. At a second glance, Sam sees there is one spot of color in the mans attire. A blood red tie, obviously silk.
“Who are you?” Sam asks.
“Dikata,” he replies, not looking up.
“Are you selling my wife something?”
“What are you doing in my house then?”
At last, the man, Dikata, turns to face him, expression splitting into a wide and somewhat frightening grin. “Why, waiting for you, Sam.”
He doesn’t know why, but the man frightens him, badly. There is something feral about him, something that makes the hair on the back of Sam’s neck stand up in warning. This man, this Dikata, is dangerous, of that he is certain.
“I’m calling the police,” Sam says, dropping his coat and reaching for the phone.
“An excellent opening move, Sam. However, there is a problem with that.”
Sam finds the phone is dead. The comforting hum of the open line not present, a dead and unnerving silence left in its wake. Sam is now afraid as he faces the stranger.
“Who ever said you got to go first?”
Sam drops the phone and steps away. “Trish? Trish, where are you?”
“I’m afraid Trish is busy at the moment, as is Sarah. We have the house all to ourselves, Sam. Why don’t you have a seat, I believe it’s my turn again.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sam snaps. “Where are my wife and daughter?”
Dikata seems confused for a moment. “Sam, relax. I told you, they are fine. They are occupied elsewhere at the moment, so please, just have a seat. It’s your turn, after all.”
“Fuck you!” Sam barks. “I might not be able to call out, but I sure as hell can go get a cop. I don’t know who you think you are, but you cannot just walk into somebody’s house without getting in a lot of trouble, buddy.”
“Dikata,” he calls as Sam heads for the door.
Angry now, and afraid, Sam yanks the door open, expecting to find his porch beyond. Outside, he knows he will see his front yard, with its white picket fence and manicured lawn. He will see the street, and his neighbors homes, and the mini-van sitting in the drive, sparkling in the late day sun.
None of that is there however, with the exception of the porch. It remains, but the beyond is simply gone. No yard, no fence, no street, no houses, and no mini-van. Just blackness. An empty yawning chasm of darkness that swallows the light. Only, it is not truly empty. Sam sees this after a moment, after the shock has had a chance to set in. There is something in the darkness, something that moves.
He slams the door shut, eyes wide, as shock turns to terror. His mind refuses to accept that what he has seen is real, but he cannot deny it either. He backs away until he hits the wall, where he slowly slides to the floor, wanting to cover his eyes, but fearing that he will see that movement even in that simple darkness.
“A nice move, Sam,” Dikata says from where he still sits. “But very amateur. Everyone does that. While it is my turn again, I think I will pass on my move and go back to you. I’m very interested to see what you do in this situation. Can you accept what you have seen, or will you simply fall apart.
“I hope you can handle it. I would hate for our game to end after only two moves.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Sam demands
“Oh, good. You’re back. I was beginning to worry.”
“Damn you, I asked a question and I expect an answer.”
“Yes, but it isn’t your turn, now is it?”
“What the hell are you talking about? My turn, your turn. We aren’t playing any god damn game here.”
“Oh, yes we are, Sam. And you are doing rather poorly. Although, you did manage to stand up and come in here coherent, so I suppose you should get points for that.”
Sam throws his hands in the air in disgust. “How did you do that?”
“That outside, that’s what!”
“Oh, that. My will.”
“Your will? What’s that suppose to mean?”
“I willed it, and it was so.” Dikata smiles at that.
“And I’m suppose to believe this?”
“Do you have another choice?”
Sam stops at that. Dikata has a point. He doesn’t have any other alternative right now. He spots a picture of Trish and Sarah on the coffee table and begins to think.
“Where are my wife and daughter?”
“Sam, please, try to stay with me, here. It is my turn, not yours.”
“I don’t understand this. Why are you doing this? How are you doing this? What do you want from me?”
Dikata holds up a hand for silence, the same hand he holds the cigar in. “In good time, Sam. Right now, I have to make my move, then you will be free to ask me anything you want. Now, please, have a seat.”
Frustrated, afraid, Sam sits nevertheless, loosening his tie as he does. Dikata is quiet for a long moment, lost in thought it seems. Then, he smiles. Sam is beginning to feel it may be better to humor the madman for the moment, until he can find a way to deal with him.
“Now it’s your turn.”
“You didn’t do anything.”
“Yes, I did. You just haven’t seen it yet.”
“What do I do? How to I make my move?”
“Make an action, ask a question, anything you want.”
“Right. Okay. So what’s the point of the game?”
“How do I do that?”
“By beating me.”
Sam sighs. “Look, I’m trying very hard to understand this. I’m scared, I admit. I’m worried about my family, and you are not making a bit of sense here.”
“Really? I thought I was being quite clear. The object of the game is to win, which is done by beating your opponent. Is that not the object of every game?”
“Yeah, okay, but what are the rules?”
“Ahhh, now I see.” Dikata smiles and puffs on his cigar for a moment. “The rules are best learned by playing, Sam. They stick with you easier that way.”
“Okay. So how do I make my move?”
“You already have.”
Sam frowns. “No, no I didn’t.”
“I told you, Sam, a move can be anything, even asking a question. How many questions have you asked me now since I made my move? I counted six, and I think that reflects on my patience with you.”
Sam opens his mouth to ask another question, then thinks better of it and tries to grope for some sort of sense to all of this. It eludes him easily enough.
Dikata sighs softly, a sound that does not sound familiar to him. “Well, I suppose I really should have some pity on you. After all, it isn’t as if you knew I was coming, is it? And you are asking the right questions, as well. Most people just beg and offer me anything to go away.”
Sam laughs bitterly. “I don’t have anything you could possibly want.”
“Really? What makes you think that?”
“You’re too well dressed to want anything of mine.”
Dikata thinks that over for a moment, lips pursed. “Yes, I see your point. Regardless, you do have something I want, or I wouldn’t be here, now would I? However, this will have to wait, as it is my turn again.”
“Will you let me ask one more question before you do?”
Dikata hesitated. “Very well, Sam. One more question, but you understand the rules now and I will not be lenient in the future.”
“What will happen if I loose?”
“Best not to worry over that, Sam. It will only distract you.”
“I would like to ask several questions, all around the same topic.”
“Very well, but try to keep it only to three, please.”
“Who are you?”
“What are you?”
“Where do you come from?”
“Ahhh. Now that is a first rate question,Sam. Very well done.”
“You’ll answer it?”
“Yes, but please give me a moment to collect my thoughts. It is hardly an easy question to answer. I do see what you are doing, as well, and it is an excellent tactic. Know your foe. I applaud you, Sam, I really do. I’m starting to like you very much.”
Dikata settles back in his chair, puffing the cigar again as he thinks about how to answer Sam’s question. “I come from a place that does not exist, Sam. It never has. It does not exist because the very laws of reality will not allow it. Before you begin to think of angels and demons, let me assure you I am neither, nor have I ever met any. To my knowledge, they do not exist. Only I do.
“I am unique, to my knowledge, as well. The only member of my species ever birthed, though I cannot say I recall being born. I can remember when the stars were fresh and new, having just exploded forth from their long winters nap. I can recall countless species having come and gone since then, but I cannot recall where I come from, or even how I came to be. Ironic, don’t you think?
“Since the revival, however, I have been forced to return to my place of non being, or suffer great and terrible agonies, the likes of which you could not understand. I am growing weary of this, now, and have decided to play one final game before I go. With you, Sam.”
“This makes it your turn, then,” Sam replies, mind reeling. If even half of what Dikata told him was true, the implications were horrific.
“True enough, Sam, and thank you.”
A moment later and Dikata smiles, motioning to Sam with a gentle gesture.
“Oh, I don’t know, Sam. I was walking down the street and just liked the look of your house, I suppose. Random chance in action. Could as easily have been your next door neighbor or someone on the other side of the world.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t blame you, Sam. I wouldn’t believe me either. However it is my turn again and I think its time we began this game in earnest. I’ve told you about myself, all there really is to know, and made my preparations. I think you will agree that opening gambits are over now.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Good. Round two will now begin. Shall I start it off?”
Dikata takes a pocket watch from his jacket and glances at it. “Excellent. Sam, I will give you two hours to find your way back here to the house. If you fail, I win. If you succeed, it will be your turn again.”
“What do mean, if I find my way back to the house?”
But Sam is not talking to Dikata anymore. He is no longer in the living room. He is outside, in the darkness, with the things that move when they have no right to. In the distance, he thinks he sees a light. He tries not to panic, but he can hear them in the dark, almost see them as they slither across the ground towards him.
Sam begins to run.
Dikata is looking at his pocket watch when the front door opens and slams behind him. There are only five minutes left and he admits to being rather surprised that Sam returned. He had his doubts that Sam would be strong enough to survive in his realm, but Sam is stronger than he suspected. This is good.
Sam storms into the living room. His shirt is torn and he is covered in blood. His face, arms, chest and back have been heavily clawed. Dikata knows well what did it, and credits Sam for still having all of his limbs intact.
Sam on the other hand, looks enraged. He grabs Dikata by the expensive jacket and jerks him up. His face is contorted into a mask of half mad fury, again forcing Dikata to re evaluate his opinion of Sam.
“How dare you throw me out there with those things? I don’t give a damn who or what you are, if you try that again, there won’t be enough left of you to scrape up off the fucking floor!”
Dikata suddenly wishes he could call the statements Sam’s turn, but he knows he cannot.
“Of course, Sam. I have no intention of doing so. I believe it is now your turn.”
Sam lets go of him and paces the room. He is hanging onto his sanity by mere threads and he is aware of it. He tries to think clearly, but cannot get the images he has witnessed out of his mind. The pain that throbs in his body clouds his thoughts further and only one thing is now crystal clear him. Dikata is not a lunatic. Whatever he is, he is very real, very powerful, and very dangerous.
Again, he sees the picture of Sarah and Trish. It is all he needs to clear his mind, to regain focus.
“I need a rules clarification.”
“Very well, play is suspended.”
“If I ask you to do something, will you do it?”
“To the very best of my ability, yes.”
“Get out of my house. Make it like you were never here.”
Dikata frowns. “I’m sorry, Sam. That is not within my ability.”
Sam laughs a bit maniacally. “Of course. You can take my house to some hellish place, force me to fight for my very life against what ever the hell those things were, but you can’t just go away. What was I thinking?”
“Actually, that was an inspired move, Sam. I applaud you. However, it is not within my ability to undo what has been done. I can manipulate space, but not time, or human thought. I truly am sorry, for I admire your thinking.”
“Okay.” Sam sits on the couch, staring at Dikata. “You can manipulate space, but not time or human thought. Got it. So I may as well forget all the old horror movies I’ve seen is what you are telling me.”
Sam thinks long and hard. He knows he must win this game with Dikata, though he cannot conceive of why or what is transpiring here. His next move must be something that helps him to that end, and only one thing comes to mind. Only one thing that can keep him going.
“Show me my daughter.”
Dikata holds up the picture and points her out.
“That is not what I meant.”
“I know. I just thought a little comic relief might lighten the mood.”
“Very well. Sarah is behind you.”
Sam looks and sees her there. His Sarah. His beautiful daughter. His reason for living. He goes to her, gathering her in his arms, burying his face in her hair and inhaling the scent of her. She hugs him back, crying to him.
“It’s okay honey, daddy’s here.”
“I know,” she tells him.
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“No. I’m fine. I’m a little hungry, though.”
“This will all be over soon, honey, I promise.”
Sam begins to have a strange feeling come over him. “How do you know that, honey?”
She points to Dikata. “He told me so.”
Dikata waves at her.
“When?” Sam asks.
“Up in my room. He’s been playing with me.”
“She really does make the most excellent tea,” Dikata intones.
“Shut up,” Sam snaps. “Listen to me, Sarah. Mr. Dikata and I have some business to attend to, but when we are done, you, me and mommy are going to be okay, alright? I promise.”
“It’s okay, daddy. I understand.”
Then she is gone. Simply no longer in his arms. Sam closes his fingers on the empty air and tries not to cry. He knew he was loosing his grip on reality now, that his sanity was slipping, but he claws at it desperately, fighting with all he has to stay together.
“I’m sorry, Sam, but time was up. If it’s any comfort to you, I promise I will not harm a hair on her head. She will walk away from this.”
“She’s everything to me, you bastard. If you hurt her, I swear I’ll kill you.”
“Hardly a concern, Sam. As I said, you have my word she will not be hurt. Besides, I am already dying.”
“It is now my turn,” Dikata says quietly. He has given Sam an hour to pull himself together. This really is a terrible ordeal, and it will get worse before it’s over. However, there was no reason not to allow Sam a rest.
“Go ahead. Do your worst.”
Dikata stops suddenly. “Pardon me?”
“Do your worst.”
“Are you certain?”
“Very well, but this will speed us up by quite a bit.”
“Your point being?”
“Well, I made certain preparations that I would be very sad to not see played out in the game.”
“I don’t really care.”
“No, I suppose you don’t. Very well, Sam, I will do my worst. Then you will have your turn and we will reach the end of the second round.”
“Let’s just get this madness over with so you can crawl back into your fucking hole and die.”
Dikata seems honestly offended by that. “Do you hate me so much, Sam?”
“You have to ask?”
“I’m merely doing what I must, Sam. I want to survive as well, you know. I do not wish to die, even though it is inevitable, I suspect. I do not do this out of malice, you see, but necessity.”
“Just make your move.”
“Very well. I simply can’t stand the thought of you hating me, that’s all. I really do like you.” Dikata says as he removes his pocket watch a second time, glancing at it curiously.
“Sam, you have five minutes to find Trish, or she will die most horribly.”
“I suggest you go now, Sam if you wish to save your wife’s life.”
Sam wastes no more time, but jumps to his feet and begins to run. He runs through the kitchen and the dining room, calling her name. He runs through the den and even looks in the garage. He runs through the music room, the ballroom, and the garden, pausing only briefly to wonder where they came from, as his house does not possess these rooms.
He runs up the stairs, screaming for her, checking every door on the hallway as it stretches out before him, seemingly endless. He screams her name as he moves through endless rooms filled with endless items he does not own. He feels dizzy as he searches, finding nothing, hearing nothing.
Finally he comes to the bedroom he shares with Trish. Throwing the door wide, he sees her on the bed. She is sitting and staring at the floor, hands in her lap. Dikata stands in the corner, holding his pocket watch. Silently, he lifts it for Sam to see.
Seven minutes have passed.
“No. It’s not fair. You made my house bigger than it really is. I couldn’t find my way through all those rooms. You cheated.”
“Sam. Please. What did you really think I was doing with my turns while you were asking me all those questions? What I have done is perfectly fair and hardly my fault that you didn’t ask me to make your house as it was before.”
“I did ask that!”
“No, Sam. You asked me to make it as if I had never been here. That is different.”
Sam clutches for some argument, some loophole and finds none. He has failed.
“I will give you a few moments to say goodby. I am sorry Sam. I really was pulling for you this time.” With that, Dikata exits the room, closing the door behind him.
Trish looks to him in fear and he understands it. They have been married long enough that no words need to be shared. They simply hold each other as the last seconds tick away until Dikata returns.
When he does, Trish stands. “I’m ready,” she tells him.
Dikata steps back, making way for her to leave the room. Sam clutches at her desperately, trying to stop her, crying her name. Trish soothes him, pulling him up and holding him.
“Do not let him win, Sam. I’m willing to die if I must to prevent him from winning. Stop him. I’m counting on you.”
Sam tries to understand what she was saying, but it makes no sense. None of this makes sense. All he knows is his wife is leaving with a monster he can’t fathom, so she can die for a reason he can’t grasp.
Dikata closes the door behind them as they go, leaving Sam alone in the room. Moments later, he hears her scream. It doesn’t stop for almost ten minutes.
“Are you alright, Sam?”
“You just slaughtered my wife, and you want to know if I am alright?”
“Yes. I am concerned about your ability to proceed.”
“Let’s finish this.”
“Very well. It is your turn, Sam.”
“Final turn of the second round?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Return my house to normal.”
Dikata pauses. “Are you certain?”
“As you wish.”
A moment later and light filters through the windows once more. Late day sunlight. Sam turns his face up to it, feeling it’s warmth spread across him, soaking it in and believing for a minute in the possibility of a return to normal.
“We now enter the final round.”
“How does it work?”
“We both have a single move left. We will take it as one, and whoever is left standing wins.”
“I don’t follow.”
“You may make a single request of me, which I must grant. At the same time, I take my final turn. Who wins will become evident within moments.”
“Okay, then.” Sam has an idea suddenly. A faint glimmer of hope.
“Make your request.”
“I want a nice, sharp fire axe.”
Dikata seems surprised, but nods his head and Sam finds he is holding a fire axe. Just as suddenly, the house is engulfed in flame.
“I don’t know how you guessed my final move, Sam, but I applaud you. It has been a most fabulous game,” Dikata is saying.
Sam doesn’t hear him, though. Sam has only one focus. He buries the axe in Dikata’s head with a single move, splitting the things skull wide open. The blade stops somewhere around the mans nose. Dikata has a moment to look shocked, then slumps in the chair, his cigar falling from between his fingers.
The roar of the flames comes to him now. He thinks of Sarah and races from the room, heading up the stairs. The hallway is as it should be, as he requested it. Either that, or Dikata’s manipulations died with him. Either way, Sam doesn’t care.
He moves to Sarah’s room and kicks in the door, desperate to reach her and get out of the house. He doesn’t have long, and he knows it. However, Sarah’s room is empty. She is not anywhere to be found and Sam searches the room quickly, but thoroughly.
The fire is burning high now, and he finds he is trapped in Sarah’s room. He can’t escape. Quickly, he searches and sees the window. He has no other choice. Sarah is not here and he doesn’t know where she is, possibly elsewhere in the house. He dives for the window and crashes through it, hitting the slope of the bay window beyond, rolling across it and hitting the ground.
Slowly, he pulls himself up and sees Sarah standing on the lawn, holding Dikata’s hand. Then the gas main explodes, blowing the house apart and throwing him across the yard. He knew it would happen, knew Dikata would have made certain it happened. Why else would he have set the fire?
Sam climbs to his knees, looking at Dikata. “How?”
“Sam, come now. I’ve existed since at least the dawn of time. Did you really think an axe would do me in? A nice move, I must say. Innovative and clever, but I do believe that at this moment, I am the only one standing.”
“What happens now?”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“I don’t understand. What did you win?”
Dikata laughs. “Why, Sarah, of course.”
“We were playing for your daughter.”
“I won’t let you.”
Dikata held out a single hand, stopping Sam from moving. “I would not recommend you do what you plan to do, Sam. I can still manipulate the fabric of reality and I would hate to hurt you. I really do like you very much.”
“Give me my daughter.”
“I can’t do that, Sam. She’s my daughter now. I have much to teach her in the time I have left.”
“No. Damn you, you monster, don’t do this. I played your fucking game.”
“Yes. And very well, too. Trish knew what was at stake, Sam. She died hoping you would win. I rather admit to having hoped you would win, as well. But you did not. You failed. I have won the game and now I will depart.”
Sam struggles against the invisible bonds that hold him, screaming in pain and rage.
“Do not think me a monster, Sam. I am not. Usually, I do not play for such high stakes. However, I rather like the thought of passing my legacy on to another. Sarah is a bright girl, and I hope someday she will be able to fill me shoes. I truly am sorry for your loss, Sam. Goodbye”
Dikata pauses, looking at Sam with curiosity. “Yes?”
“Tell me. What will she become? Will I ever see her again?”
“That will be her choice, Sam, not mine. As for what she will become, well Sam, why don’t we ask Sarah? What will you become, my dear?”
Sarah smiles at him, then looks at Sam. “Dikata.”