author’s note: This is a collaboration with Orenda, who is as beautiful as she is chaotic. Is this story coherent and sensible? Probably not. Did we have a blast writing it? Heck yeah. So please take this with a grain of salt. 😙
It’s three in the morning when the doorbell jolts Risa lucid. Another sleepless Saturday night had prompted her to grab a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and drown her insomnia binging the entirety of Black Mirror on Netflix; she’d almost collapsed face-first onto the carpet from dehydration and enervation. She told her doctor she'd been spending most of her time completing her assignments and binge watching Netflix later on. And since she left her house on rare occasions, she was a vegetable; a cute radish preferably.
Risa skids down the stairs and looks through the peephole only to see no one waiting on the other side of the door. And when the doorbell already disrupted her sleep, she ambles to the kitchen and plucks out a coke can from the stand in the refrigerator, chugging it down.
Who could ever imagine drinking coke instead of water first thing in the morning? It was definitely Risa.
She reclaims her spot on the bed, cross-legged, eyes glued to the screen that has been the only light source in the room for… how many years has it been since the incident?
She hits the spacebar. A minute passes. She rewinds that minute. Another minute passes, another rewind. Not a single moment of the episode is sinking in. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t peel her thoughts away from her porch, which was empty when it shouldn’t have been. It gnaws at her composure, not knowing who that was. Or why anyone would visit at three in the morning.
Please be a dream, she pleads inwardly. Please please please.
The illusion shatters when a frantic banging noise erupts through the house and burrows through all her layers. She flinches, heart rattling in her ribcage. Her mind goes on autopilot; she wraps herself in the soothing darkness of three blankets, performs the breathing exercises her doctor taught her.
Bang bang bang.
She kicks off the sheets, gathers the dregs of courage she has remaining, and rushes downstairs. The last thing she needs is a confrontation. But she’ll go crazy if the noise doesn’t stop.
Risa is reverberating as much as the back door is as she readies her voice. It comes out cracked and dry from disuse, so she takes a few gulps of saliva.
“Whoever that is, please stop!”
Well, that did the trick. After a few heartbeats of stillness, a muffled voice, decidedly male, resounds from outside:
“Do not ignore me, Risa.”
Risa’s heart soars into a crescendo of panic. Her breaths become rapid and shallow.
“Who are you? And how do you know my name?”
The silence hangs thick in the air. Is he gone? And what did he mean by… ?
Risa heads to the front door. This mystery man must have been the one ringing the bell before growing impatient and trying to come in through the back. She checks the peephole again, in case she can catch a glimpse of her tormentor. Nothing.
She takes a deep breath. She has to do it. She unfastens all nine locks and creaks the door open. The breeze invading her nostrils is a foreign, alien scent. Holding the half-open door close like a shield, she glances across her driveway and garden; ugly and overgrown, but otherwise empty.
Empty? No, there’s something on the first step of the front porch. Risa grunts as she remains in place and reaches out with a single arm; for someone like her, one step outside is setting foot in lava. She drags the knee-high cardboard box inside and locks the door behind her.
Five minutes pulse in her ears before she regains something resembling her composure. How long has it been since someone acknowledged her existence? Or since she unlocked the door?
Risa hauls the package onto the kitchen table and stares at it, hoping that if she concentrates hard enough, she can will it out of existence, and then her life can continue on its unassuming, uneventful way. But the thought of the man returning makes her grab a boxcutter and slice it open.
Packing peanuts greet her. A piece of paper rests atop them. Her gaze tiptoes over the words scrawled on it:
My dear Risa,
Your parents may have left you, but I will always be here. As family, I fear that this lifestyle of yours does not bode well for your future. Granted, it is not always a simple matter to be coaxed out of one’s shell; hence, I have prepared an impetus that should suffice. The reward for your cooperation: your overdue inheritance.
Please begin by pressing the chip to your neck, right beneath your earlobe.
Your Uncle Dallas
A metal square the size of a thumbnail is taped below the extravagant signature. Is this the “chip” the letter mentioned? And just who is this Uncle Dallas, anyway? The last family gathering Risa remotely remembers happened an eternity ago, and there were too many faces to count, let alone recall.
She rips the chip off and does as the letter instructs. A hiss exudes her thin lips as she lines the tip of the swiss knife across the skin, making a shallow incision and inserting the chip into the flesh. Wiping off the warm blood that dribbles down her neck, Risa hauls out another letter from the box and glides through its contents that read:
Instructions to the real matter: navigate to the pink gnome in the yard where you shall get hold of another box. You are advised not to hesitate, but take it home, lest someone else discovers it. Make sure no one notices you with it.
~ Uncle Dallas
What kind of dare is this? Risa thinks to herself, baffled out of her senses. And who in the Dead Sea is this Uncle Dallas? He's the mastermind, the man behind the computer, drifting his fingers over the keyboard and hacking computers for hours on end. Did she ever have such a relative? As far as she knew, Java and coding puzzles never fit well with her family. They'd rather do carpentry, stitch and sing songs in a nomadic pack.
Risa steps out of her house and hugs herself as she strides toward her yard. Her legs and feet are feeble, might shatter into pieces if struck once. It's brass monkey weather today and the frosty breeze caresses her skin as it swirls through her silk red hair.
Picking up the box which is heavier than the first, she hurries inside and opens it with tentative fingers.
The air in her windpipe freezes. A pistol sits in the container like a coiled rattlesnake, as if merely touching it might lead to a grievous injury.
She’s befuddled as to what’s to be done with the gun. But another letter greets her from the box as she picks it up, rips off the envelope and reads the content.
I know how annoyed you must be with this sickly game. I empathize with you. But I swear this is the last letter.
You know the State Bank a few miles down the road, don’t you? Get out, carry the gun and connect the dots yourself.
Sickly game? This supposed haggard, probably polishing his bald head, knows this is a game he’s playing? And he empathizes?
Well, dad jokes on him!
Risa’s heart is still banging hard and fierce against her chest, she’s afraid of the unknown. Even though she’s clueless of what’s happening, she dreads the next few seconds and knows she’s in peril if the task’s not accomplished.
Throwing a trench coat over her shoulder and tucking away the Bryco Arm in the backpocket of her jeans, she heads out. Not even a few moments have passed since the world is exposed to her, when her eyes grow wide and transfix with horror. Anxiety thoughts are akin to driving around the block over and over, faster and faster. It’s pointless.
Stop, she repeats to herself. You’re sober, so let your thoughts be as a car on a good road.
A handful of minutes later, a huge building, the bank, comes into view and she tries suppressing her thoughts as if possessed and trying to push down the demon to the unbounded pit. It’s working, at least for a little while.
Risa doesn’t know how she manages to put one foot in front of the other and lock eyes with the teller. She didn’t think she could leave her house, and yet here she is, on the verge of breaking a few laws along with her sanity. It’s not too late to go back, maybe call the cops, she figures.
She flinches when a stinging pain blooms in her neck. A bystander asks if she’s okay. She plays it off.
How could she forget? It’s as if he’s watching her every move. Well, there’s no going back.
Her arm is a wet noodle as she raises the gun.
“Give… me… money.” It takes a mountain of strength and then some to push each syllable out.
He never said how much. Not that she cares. She just wants this nightmare to be over and done with.
Things happen quickly afterwards. Panic blossoming bright and fresh in the bank as her surroundings register the threat. The teller’s eyes inflating like pufferfish. A warm stream rushing down one of Risa’s pant legs to pool around her shoes.
She tunes all of that out until her trench coat is stuffed with green notes.
She doesn’t know how she makes it back out, but she does. In the fleeting comfort of an alleyway, she does her breathing exercises. She’s about to shatter like the bottles littered at her feet.
Her phone buzzes. She stares down the text like it’s about to jump out and strike her.
Enjoy your inheritance.
Sirens wail in the distance. Is this some cruel, twisted joke at her expense? Divine punishment? A nightmare?
Risa darts into the lane, her hands secured around her coat pockets and hurtles away from the police car. Thanks to her athletic feet or she'd be counting days in prison. Sprinting drains her energy and as much as she wants to keep at it, she can’t. She’s been defeated: that’s what she thinks, but a ray of hope alights in her body when a van comes forth and opens its door as if calling out to her.
The little quirk of her lips that blooms on her face feels foreign, but it’s involuntary. She hurtles toward it, often turning back to see if or how far the police car’s advanced.
Her smile is the petal of a marigold when it wilts when not exposed to sunshine and it’s hope for her that’s been pricked.
The man that had been trying to break into her house glares daggers into her soul, piercing through the layers and stabbing the dainty heart right in the centre.
“You…” her voice trails off as another man exposes himself. In a finely tailored brown suit and black hair gelled back into a manbun, is seated Uncle Dallas.
Realization slaps too late. She never had a relative named Dallas. She finds herself swimming in the cold blue waters of his eyes. It’s enthralling, yet unnerving.
Something’s not right. And before Risa can process anything, a deafening boom reiterates through the walls of the car. A body slumps on the ground, the gun slips from the jean pocket.
It was a sickly game, hadn't Uncle D said?