God and the Devil had played this game of chess for thousands of years. The Devil’s playing was clever and cunning, but gradually his pieces were being taken, one by one. God was patient, biding His time, knowing He would triumph in the end. It was all part of His plan. The Devil knew he was methodically being beaten after working so hard for the power he craved, and in a fit of rage, he dashed the chesspieces. They fell in all directions, unleashing his fury. He would yet have his day.
Joe stared at his reflection in the mirror, and hazel eyes stared back. He dressed in his costume quickly. He combed and styled his Mohawk into perfect spikes, as he had many times before. He applied his makeup; this took the longest, as it covered not only his face but his head. He took the horns, and mounted them to his head. He pulled on thick gloves, and put on protective knee pads. He stuffed his feet into a pair of steel-toed boots. He was ready for another day.
He strode across the asphalt with long, powerful strides, the kind that often made people back off or rush to get out of his way. That wasn’t part of his act. That was his natural walk; yet another reason why he was perfectly suited for his job. The amusement park was always pretty quiet before the gates opened. It looked bare without the throngs of ogling onlookers. The only people around were his coworkers, and other integral personnel. A man, his face disfigured with the look of rotting flesh, walked towards Joe from the opposite direction.
"Billy! No way, man. You work here too?" Joe grinned. He greeted him the same way every day; it was a running joke between them. Billy glared at him through flaming red eyes, not breaking his stride. "Whoa, since when did you get those contacts?" The man brushed past, ignoring him.
Joe internally shrugged. If Billy wanted to be that way, no skin off his nose. People stunk. He was used to it by now.
"Krex!" somebody called, and Joe turned. All of the actors at the park had character names; Krex was his.
"What’s up?" he replied, seeing Tim approaching. His six-foot frame, made taller by stilts in costume, towered over Joe even with horns and liberty spikes.
"Do you know what’s gotten into Murr? He just passed me, and it was like he didn’t even see me," Tim asked.
Joe quirked an eyebrow. Tim always insisted that somebody in character should go by their character name, even when the public wasn’t around. Why couldn’t he just say Billy, instead of Murr? "Yeah, I got that too. Don’t know what his problem is."
"Maybe he’s just having a bad day," Tim suggested.
"He should keep it to himself," Joe retorted, his voice emotionless. "See ya, man. I’ve got stuff to do before the hoards congregate."
"Knock ‘em dead."
People glutted the amusement park this Halloween season. It would be a busy day. Never a people-person, Joe sighed. He’d be happy to scare the pants off them. That was his favorite part of the job.
His second favorite part of the job was being a slider. He would take a charging run, then fall to his knees and slide up to twenty feet, jumping up right in a person’s face. This would always elicit a crowd response, and he would often be asked to do it again, to which he always said "no". It was protocol; if you did it for one person, you would have to do it for all of them.
At the day’s end, Joe was beat. Being a slider was fun, but strenuous. He took off his costume, glad to be done for the day. As he walked to his car, he saw Harry, another actor, walking to his own. In or out of costume, Harry was the kind to make you look twice. A contortionist, he could turn either his head or his whole torso completely around to stare at somebody. Even doing simple things like reaching for his car-keys, he would naturally move in ways most people would find uncomfortable or impossible. He waved to Joe as he pulled out.
Joe got in his car, clicked the seatbelt on, and turned the key. Instantly the car was filled with the booming of his $1,100 subwoofer in the trunk, Darude’s "Sandstorm" nearly drowning out the humming engine. Joe glanced back at the parking lot as he pulled out, noting that he was among the last to leave. Of the few cars left, he spotted Billy’s ’08 Mustang still sitting there. Odd, he was usually one of the first to leave. Joe shrugged it off. None of his business. He drove home, not thinking twice about it.
The next day, Joe was trying to talk an idiot spectator out of sliding across the pavement without any protective gear, when he noticed something unusual in the background. Billy was at the top of his game; with fangs, red eyes, costume, and snarl, he could easily scare the wings off a gnat. The fangs were also a new addition, Joe noted. He must be really upping his game. However, when Joe saw Billy grab somebody and disappear behind a building, he frowned. Not cool. "Never touch the public," was rule numero uno.
Walking away from the still-talking wannabe-slider, Joe approached the place he had last seen Billy, only to discover nothing there. No person, and no Billy. Just uneven ground covered with lush grass. Nowhere to have gone so quickly, and nowhere to hide.
Joe was incredulous. Not one to doubt his senses, he knew what he’d seen, and he was loath to believe it hadn’t happened. However, the proof that it hadn’t happened was even more blatant than the knowledge that it had, and he told himself he was mistaken. It had happened so fast, there was the chance he was wrong. He took one last look at the grass behind the building, shook his head, and went back to work. He couldn’t waste time on nonsense. There was enough real stuff to worry about.
After he left, the grass, no longer taking the shape of grass, moved back, exposing a partially devoured corpse underneath. And it laughed.
Each subsequent day, Joe noticed more strange goings-on, among both his coworkers and the public. People were scared. Not the normal kind of scared, but truly terrified. Each day, fewer and fewer people walked through the gates. The amusement park owners were at a loss to explain it. Didn’t these people want to be scared? Isn’t that what they paid for?
As for Joe’s coworkers, they were scared too, although they tried harder than most not to show it. Many just disappeared, not even taking the time to pack their things; at least that was the rumor, although Joe noticed more and more cars sitting stationary in the parking lot each night. They wouldn’t have left their cars behind, would they? How was that even possible?
Joe didn’t get scared. He laughed at people who did, but he was past that. However, the unexplained disappearances, the fearful atmosphere; these things began gnawing at him, eating away at the wall he placed between himself and fear. He became more cautious, more alert. Something was going on. He didn’t like not knowing what.
This particular day, even the strange-acting Billy was gone, although nobody saw him leave. It was as if the atmosphere had dissolved him, and the breeze blew him away. Seeing Tim juggling apples for some of the bold few spectators, Joe waited and approached him.
"Looks like Billy went the way of the pterodactyl. What’s happening here?" Joe questioned, not really expecting Tim to have any answers.
Tim’s expression was grave. "I don’t know, but it doesn’t feel right. I’d quit, if I didn’t need the money. I don’t like the way things are looking."
They saw Harry, one of the few remaining actors, stalking up behind somebody as if to scare her. "Ekko!" Tim called out, using his character name. He was ignored, so he called out louder. Harry didn’t turn, but the person he was stalking did, giving Harry’s presence away. As she hastily ran to catch up with her group, Harry finally turned, rotating his entire torso to face Joe and Tim. He fixed them with a fiery red glare and snarled, revealing teeth sharp and jagged. Then in one fluid motion, he was gone behind the nearest building.
Tim and Joe exchanged a look. "That settles it," Tim stated matter-of-factly. "Tomorrow I put in my resignation. I don’t know what the heck’s going on, and I don’t want to. I’m getting out while I still can. You staying?"
Joe paused a long time before answering; a trait of his that showed he was deep in thought. "I’ve been here this long, and the season’s almost over. I think I’ll wait it out." What he didn’t say, was that there was a mystery here, and against his better judgment, he wanted to get to the bottom of it.
"Suit yourself Krex, and good luck," Tim replied. He looked towards where the contortionist had gone. "You’ll need it."
When the Devil flung the chesspieces, unleashing his fury, it caused chaos in time, space, and matter, letting loose in the world things which were never meant to be. Those in power became twisted with evil, and the world broke out in nuclear war, a war which few survived. The extreme amounts of radiation from nuclear fallout were unprecedented; combined with mass usage of bio-weapons and chemical warfare, the resulting reaction caused abnormalities that none could ever have predicted.
Beasts roamed the earth, bringing death and destruction to those who lived. There was a great earthquake, the sun grew dark, and the moon shown red as blood. Bombs landed like falling stars, turning mountains to craters and cities to dust. A third of all trees and all green grass were burnt up. The water turned bitter and undrinkable; the fish were dying. The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us." But none could hide from the wrath.
When Joe next put on his costume, it felt somehow different. It was the same costume he’d worn all season, and the same motions he went through, but this time each movement was measured and deliberate. It felt like he was preparing for battle.
When he strode across the pavement, not a soul was in sight, and silence hung like a shroud. Suddenly, a scream broke the stillness, followed by another. Joe ran to the sound, his boots pounding the asphalt, the echoes of each step in tune with his racing heartbeats. The shouting sounded as though it was just ahead; the voice was Tim’s. Suddenly, it stopped. Joe slowed his pace, cautious in his advance. It was coming from behind that building. He slowly peered around the corner, forcing himself to remain composed.
Tim lay on the ground, his flesh mutilated, an arm, a leg, and half his face missing. Over him stood Harry. As Joe watched, Harry began to lose his shape, becoming a living mass without form or color. It crept over Tim, and as it came in contact with the body, it devoured it, until not even the wooden stilts remained. Bile rose in Joe’s throat, but he forced it down. This wasn’t one of those horror movies he loved watching. This was actually happening.
It stood over the spot where Tim had lain, and Joe watched as color and shape slowly started to return to the mass. It sprouted a head, a torso, arms, legs… even stilts upon its feet. It had become Tim. Joe stood there, his feet rooted to the ground, not able to believe what he saw. Were his meds playing tricks with his head? Was this all one big hallucination? With a sickening certainty, he knew that this was real.
Oblivious to being watched, it walked to the entrance of the building and disappeared inside. Joe’s eyes wandered to the sign above the door. It read: House of Mirrors. Only the word ‘Mirrors’ had been scratched out, and graffitied below it was a new word. It now read: House of Fears. The can of spray paint still lay on the ground below, as though dropped in great haste.
Joe didn’t have any friends. He had come to accept the fact that he was a loner. His offish, brooding ways dispelled any thoughts of friendship that others may have had. But Tim… Tim was a good guy. Tim had always been friendly. And while Joe had trouble letting people get close to him, knowing it had always bit him in the butt before, he’d found himself liking Tim.
But this wasn’t just about Tim. Many people had died, and if things continued the way they were, many more would die. Something that could take the shape of anything it wanted, something that could become malleable or solid at will, something that appeared indestructible, something with such a lust for blood, could kill off all mankind if given enough time.
Joe approached the doorway slowly. His brain searched for some sort of plan, finding none. He didn’t want to be a hero and save the world. He wasn’t even sure the world was worth saving. But this… this thing needed to disappear. And he’d be all too happy to make it happen.
Strange phenomena began to occur in the world, as though the fabric of the universe was tearing apart. There were no explanations, not even theories, for the strange things people saw, and with those around them dying and the ground crumbling beneath their feet they gave these things little thought. The laws of the universe had seemingly ceased to exist, all the rules mankind ever knew were being broken, and nothing was beyond belief. Strange creatures without faces, strange portals in the sky, these things meant little to one about to die.
Joe entered the building, every sense alert. The silence was menacing. The lighting was enough to see his way through the maze of mirrors, but dark enough to make every shadow alive. The mirrors played tricks with his vision, forcing him to rely almost entirely on touch as he felt his way forward. Specks of red dotted the mirrors and floor; Joe could only hope they were for effect. Strange, muffled echoes reached his ears. Something was moving, something was breathing. A faint greenish light began appearing in the contorted reflections, the source of which he knew must lie ahead. Suddenly, he was upon it. A glowing green hole gaped in the floor, and standing before the hole was the creature. Sensing his presence, it swung to face Joe, eyes glowing, teeth gnashing. In each of the mirrors, the frightful image was repeated, making Joe question reality. The creature had the same problem, staring from one reflection of Joe to the next, wondering at which to lunge.
As Joe watched, the creature began changing back to its natural state. Joe remembered Billy brushing past him, as solid as a person, and knew that he wouldn’t stand a chance if the creature ceased taking solid form. He took a breath, letting his mind clear, relying on his excellent memory to determine what was illusion and what was real. He backed up and went into a crouch. With a lunge, he was running, and as the creature reached out to grasp him, he fell to his knees and slid forward one last time, plunging the creature and himself through the green hole and into whatever lay beyond.
Joe got up and brushed himself off. Pieces of gravel punctured his skin, but he didn’t mind the pain. He couldn’t have been unconscious for long, yet when he came to, the monster was gone. He looked around at the lack-luster remnants of what must once have been a great city, now reduced to rubble. There were no signs of humanity. Strange vehicles that vaguely resembled cars were scattered and forgotten, like broken toys. Smoke and dust clogged the air. A piece of newspaper fluttered, caught under the debris. He snatched it up and read it. The New York Times, October 31, 2170. He blinked and read it again, to be certain. He was standing 150 years in the future.
A snarl echoed around him, bouncing off the grey skeletons of buildings and reverberating in his ears. Joe swung around, seeing nothing. A laugh followed, mocking and malevolent. He turned in a slow circle, backing away from cars, rubble and anything else that might be the creature. Only now, did he admit to himself that he had one fear. As much as he hated his life, he was afraid to die.
The laughing continued, growing louder. Joe looked for movement, trying to determine the source of the threat, but saw none. He continued backing up. His boot splashed in a puddle. He looked down, and then around him. There were no other puddles. He tried to step away, but his feet were held fast. The puddle laughed as it started to work its way up his legs. Nobody heard his screams.
It stared at its reflection in a piece of shattered glass, and red eyes stared back. It needed no costume, spikes, makeup, or horns; they were already there. Thick gloves, knee pads, and steel-toed boots were replicated to perfection. It was ready for another day.
"Checkmate," God said, as He gathered His children to His bosom. The evil was left behind on earth. Now there could be peace.
Everybody dies. The End.