The night was dark and starless. The wind screamed and pounded against the doors of the pub. Great grey clouds filled the sky and snow whirled about in thick sheets. Yet the Golden Goose was crowded and raucous laughter echoed across the walls. Despite the storm tearing apart the front of the shop, the chattering din never ceased. It was February the sixteenth, a time of year where people were just getting over Valentine’s Day craze and falling back into the grasp of banality.
But nothing about the sixteenth of February was normal this year. People talked nervously, eyeing their televisions. Second Chances was about to come on.
Lucas Galeman sat alone in a far table of the pub, a glass of beer in hand. He rubbed his thumb dejectedly against the glass.
“And scores, what a play!” A voice from the TV cried.
Lucas had sat at that table every night for nearly a year since his sister died. He had no clue why the pub was so packed tonight. Was it the Superbowl? No, that had already passed, hadn’t it?
He shrugged and took another sip of beer.
“Another!” He drawled at the waitress passing by.
Her smile was dripping with false sweetness. “Sure, hon. Anything else?”
He frowned and waved the waitress away, but not before glancing at her name tag. Rose. When Rose turned away from him, however, a deep scowl crossed her face. She hated working at the pub because of drunks like that. They experience a little loss and decide to make everyone else as miserable as them.
She whisked empty glasses from table four and took them into the kitchen. While clearing the dishes, she eyed Lucas warily. He was one to keep an eye on. He had caused a dozen brawls in the last year and tonight seemed like another one was brewing.
And that was the last thing they needed now. Second Chances may be twisted, but it was good for business when it came on.
Nonetheless, like nearly everyone else in the pub, Rose found that her hands were shaking in anticipation.
Apprehensive. That was how to describe the tension in the room. Apprehensive.
Static crackled from the TV above him. Then, like wolves echoing a howl, the televisions across the pub changed too. Along with every single one across the States.
“We’re a go, Pike.”
Pike Redvale dusted his cheek with the last bit of powder and stepped out onto the stage.
He wore a ghastly suit of bloodred with a leopard print tie covered in glitter. The stage lights were blinding, and the cold was intense. They didn’t have the budget for heating systems, apparently.
His stride was purposeful and his teeth were like sharks. “Welcome everyone, to Second Chances! I’m your host, Pike Redvale! Let’s get twisted!”
When he was younger, he hated his name. The kids at school would always call him Fishboy, but he would always insist that he was named after the weapon. The type of pike you would stick a head on, the type of pike that would be stained red. Now, nearly fifty years later, he was in front of the nation. No one would make fun of his name now. If they did, he could bring their family onto the show. That would shut them up.
The stage was set with mechanical contraptions of strange sorts. There wasn’t an audience- all the seats of the auditorium were deserted. Bright red curtains and LEDs lined the stage. Ten skeletons hung from ropes so that they swung eerily in the middle of the stage, covered in crusty, crimson blood, and casting long shadows as they swung.
“Last time, we got twisted with fire, and boy did things get heated up! Jane and Leroy joined the
skeletons and Hitte got away,” Pike informed the camera, waving up at two of the skeletons.
“Before we get started, let’s explain the rules for our contestants! Every week, we go out and find candidates for our program, and put them through challenges! But the risk is high...for if you lose, you join the skeletons. But if you win...you go free! If you win a challenge, you get an advantage in the next one. If you fail a challenge, you get a second chance. You lose when both chances have run out… and you lose a challenge.”
Pike spread his arms out in an extravagant gesture.
“Let’s meet our contestants.”
The camera panned to a blonde girl about twenty with chocolate brown eyes. She trembled head to foot, standing next to Pike on the stage.
“Our first contestant is from Denver, Colorado! Milady, tell us your name and occupation,” Pike requested.
“M-my name is R-Riley Wallace, and I’m a student at Colorado S-State.” Riley kept glancing to her right, where a vintage Winchester rifle pointed at her temple, hidden by the curtains.
“Superb!” Pike cried. “Et...tu?” He turned to the contestants on his left.
A grey-haired man and a tall boy stood to his left. The man looked about sixty and had piercing blue eyes. He looked pretty determined, Pike thought. Maybe he could win, despite his age.
“Our second contestant is from Morgue, California! Tell us your name and occupation.”
“My name is John Whitby and I’m a Marine Corps veteran.” The man said, a bead of sweat the only betrayal of his fear.
“Fantastic! Our third contestant is from a place not far from here. Esceleter, Wyoming! Tell us your name, please!”
The boy had forest green eyes and caramel brown hair lined with heavy acne. He was sobbing profusely, shaking in his shoes. “Don’t kill me! I’m only twelve! Please!”
Pike heard a click from left stage, behind the curtain. Probably the other gun, a revolver, suspended by a series of pressure-activated cords. All Pike had to do was tap his left foot and the boy’s brains would be out on live television. Tap the right foot and Riley would prematurely join the skeletons. Wave his fingers and the gunman crouching in the rafters above would put a bullet in John’s head. Pike shrugged mentally. Well, he couldn’t have everything automated.
“Please tell us. We don’t want to end before the games have begun, right?” His voice was deceptively soft, like poisoned honey slipping down a jar.
“D-D-Dewey Abbott, sir, don’t shoot me!”
“Good, good,” Pike said calmly, relaxing his foot, which had been tensed to activate the gun.
He grinned like a shark. “Let’s begin.”
Rose’s eyes were fixed on the screen. Everyone in the Golden Goose must realize it, she thought. It was so silent. The only sound was Pike Redvale’s honeyed bass tones echoing through the pub. Dewey Abbot was the kid who went missing yesterday. She had gotten the Amber alert, had seen him on the news. He went missing in Esceleter, the next town over.
Tears of fear threatened her eyes. Second Chances was nearby.
Part of her wanted to go find the site, crash the party. But then she came to her senses. She was just a waitress. The most she could do was call the police. But Pike and his crew would probably vanish.
They had hacked into public television systems five times already. They hadn’t been caught yet. They weren’t about to be caught now.
Rose watched as Lucas, that drunk bastard, rose from his seat and stumbled for the door. A sick feeling settled in her stomach.
Lucas had heard too much. He had remembered why the pub was so crowded and it was because of that terrorist show or junk like that. He had known Dewey. It reminded him of what he was like before his sister Sam had died. So bright-eyed and ignorant.
Now it seemed like every memory of his past life was fading.
“The first challenge is called Track and Shield!” Pike called, grinning brightly at the camera.
“We’ve gifted all of our contestants shields, and they must use them make it from one end of the stage to the other!” He explained as the stagehands equipped Riley, John, and Dewey with heavy, round shields the size of a truck tire. They looked ancient, like they had been sitting in a closet for a century. They were nearly falling apart. Pike smirked. The producers didn’t have the budget, or they just didn’t care.
“Alright, athletes!” Pike positioned the contestants at the start line. Then he positioned himself onto his next spot, marked with blue tape on the floor. Pressure pads connected to cords and wires were located in various locations about the stage, waiting for him to activate the traps.
“On your marks, set, GO!”
Cheering tracks echoed in the empty auditorium. They started to run, their legs pounding against the stage, sending it vibrating. Their breath fogged into the crisp air. Pike gave a sideways smile. Let’s get twisted, he thought.
Left foot, left stomp. Right foot, right stomp. It was like the Cha Cha Slide, Pike noticed. Heavy darts shot out of holes in the walls surrounding the track. John, the ex-Marine, was in the lead, trudging on apparently unbothered by the heavy shield strapped to his arm. Darts whizzed past his ears, and John raised his shield rhythmically to block them.
Right foot, left foot, bang! Right foot, left foot, bang!
It was such a hypnotic rhythm, Pike thought. John’s feet were so swift, and his bulging muscles were unhampered by age. His eyes still seemed young. Pike shook himself. John was his favorite to win, that’s all he was saying, he told himself.
Riley was behind him, her stride hampered by fatigue. She didn’t seem to be hit by a dart yet.
Dewey far behind and seemed to be surviving on sheer luck. He stumbled blindly through the course, the weight of the shield dragging him forward. He already had a thin line of blood across his forehead.
Left foot, left stomp. Right foot, right stomp.
John had been hit by a dart, striking him in the arm. Pike sucked in a breath. John’s piercing blue eyes cried out in agony, but he made no sound, instead slowly trudging forward towards the end. Pike nearly cheered. John had won. The relief in his eyes made a tiny grin twitch at Pike’s mouth.
Dewey was gaining on Riley now, desperation replacing his previous fear. They were both side by side, darts whizzing in every which direction. Pike was still manning the pressure pad, with faster movements now.
Left foot again. Right foot again. Left foot, left stomp. Right foot, right stomp. Crisscross! Now his feet were going in some sort of frenzied tap dance to the beat of the Cha Cha Slide.
It looked like Dewey was going to win. He was pulling ahead. Cheering tracks blared louder, and the camera panned closer. They were neck-and-neck.
Right foot again. A dart hit Riley in her side. She cried out and fell, leaving Dewey to finish.
Pike’s feet slowed to a stop and the camera shot to his face, pitiless, beaded with sweat, and carved by plastic surgery.
“John gets an advantage in the next challenge! Dewey, kid, you’re safe. And Riley...well sweetheart, you lost.” Pike grinned at the camera, pausing for dramatic effect. The producers loved that. “You’re on your...Second Chance!” The theme music blared obnoxiously from near the camera.
“The next challenge is a mental one, and I like to call it: Inches From Pinches! Here’s how it works.”
Pike frowned at Riley, who lay bleeding on the floor. “Someone clean her up, we can’t get blood on the conveyor.”
He swung his head back to the camera, waiting like the eye of an enormous fly, beady and black.
“We’ll strap each contestant to a conveyor belt, each moving at the same pace. At the end of each belt is a pit of scorpions. We’ll ask the contestants each the same question, and every correct answer slows down the belt. Every wrong answer speeds up the belt. The first one to fall in will lose, and the one farthest from the pit will win. John, because you won last time, we’re giving you a five-foot longer conveyor belt than Riley and Dewey! And Riley, next time you lose, not only will you be heinously injured, you’ll be killed.”
While Pike spoke, crew members mopped up Riley and strapped each contestant to a conveyor belt.
And on the challenges went. John fell into the scorpion pit and Riley stayed the farthest. “You’re on your Second Chance!” Then Pike and the entire nation watched as they were forced to walk over a bed of syringes. Dewey fell and had dozens of holes puncture his arms. Pike grinned. The syringes all had lethal doses of anesthetic, which would kill them in by the time the show was over. The facade of the winner escaping was just that- a facade. Pike always poisoned the contestants somehow so that there were no loose ends. “You’re on your Second Chance!”
Pike watched in glee as Riley fell into a tube of acid when she failed to answer what the name of Hitler’s wife was.
Dewey had seemed to be going mental, muttering to himself and screaming at random intervals, whereas John was his same, stoic self, hiding his fear on the inside. When Riley died, Dewey started screaming again. He ran off the stage and threw himself against the exit doors. They gave way and he ran screaming out of the building.
Pike moved to signal the gunmen, then froze, snickering. Dewey wouldn’t be running for long. The more he ran and screamed, the faster the anesthetic would work its way through his system. Pike doubted that Dewey would get out of the building, let alone find anyone.
“In a shocking turn of events, we seem to have an escapee. That means John is the default winner!” Pike announced. The crew members operating the teleprompter waited for a second, then started shaking their heads violently. Pike sighed as he read the new message as it appeared. Disappointing. He had really liked the ex-Marine.
“Or, he would be. But we’ve decided to find a new contestant to play against John. Just one moment while our teams find someone.”
Music played in the background.
“Welcome back to Second Chances!” Rose looked up. It had only been about thirty seconds. Whoever they found must have been…
Lucas was staggering onscreen, too drunk to understand what was happening.
That snake, Pike Redvale, smiled his sideways grin.
“Let’s get twisted.”