Death’s Game 11: Ally Jones

My eyes slowly open as the alarm clock goes off. I’m lying in a warm blanket on top of a warm bed, a gentle breeze wafting in from an open window on the other side of what looks to be a meticulously clean bedroom.

Whatever this new life is, it can wait a minute. A warm bed is so rare these days.         

Buzz.

It’s the phone on the bedside table. Ignore it. Just let it go.

Buzz.

“Ugh…”

Buzz.

Finally, I roll over to check it. It’s a text from a blocked number. Exactly like I knew it would be. I can tell you the gist before I even read it: Gerard being an asshole. Gerard criticizing how I’m playing his game. Gerard being Gerard.

“I’m impressed with your perseverance. You’ve been lasting longer and longer almost every time and going to see Deane was a development I honestly didn’t expect.”

Was that supposed to be a compliment? Didn’t really get me anywhere, did it?

“But, alas, investigating my associates won’t give me what I want. If Deane Turner knew who hired you, this would already be over.”

You think I don’t want it to be over? You want something I don’t have, you son of a bitch.

“Chop, chop. You don’t want to become like your friend now, do you?”

Javier. Sweet, soft, never-cut-out-for-this-line-of-work Javier. Tortured into oblivion.

Just take what they throw at you and keep going, Rebecca says. Use it as fuel for your revenge.

Isabel scoffs. If she’s focused on revenge, she’s no better than they are.

No, get your revenge. It’s a new voice I don’t recognize. Punish them for this.

Who’s there? I question.

The owner of this body, the woman says. Ally Jones.

You seem… unsurprised by all this, Isabel says as I get out of bed. There’s a framed image of a young, pretty, ddark-skinned woman and her family on the nightstand. They’re in the nosebleeds of a football game; two loving parents and a brother who looks to be a handful of years her junior, pearly white teeth, the whole family decked out in team gear over Carhart jackets, each holding an overpriced but no doubt refreshing beer.

Oh, I was surprised, Ally says, I was surprised for the first few hours laying here unable to move while he controlled my body, waiting to put you in it. I was surprised when he told me it was ‘for the good of the world’. I was surprised when he told me I’d never see my family again and that my body was no longer my own. You’re goddamn right I was surprised.

I’m still gazing at the picture. This woman could be Victoria Simone. Happier times. The Good Old Days. The days where life’s purpose was to simply enjoy it any way you could, even if that meant stealing a little something from someone else to make it happen. There was an amorality in it, sure, but never enough for me to deserve this.

I’m so sorry he did this to you. I take the picture from the nightstand. I’ve been going through it for a week.

Don’t apologize, Ally says. Punish them for what they’ve done to me.

You’re going to lose yourself if you start doing things out of anger, Isabel says. This whole time, no matter who’s in your head, you’ve still been Victoria. But hurting other people isn’t you.

Ally scoffs. Who cares if it’s ‘her’ or not? This guy—what’s his name?—he’s torturing you, right? He’s having his goons hunt you down and kill you? All bets are off with this kind of shit. You’re going to get killed anyway. Get yours first.

No, Victoria, listen to Isabel, Rebecca says, you’re barely holding your head above water right now, but you’re not a bad person. You start going out for revenge and you start losing even more of yourself than you’ve already lost.

Look, I’ve got a gun-safe in my closet, Ally says. If you can find them, you can punish them.

I wordlessly walk to the closet and see a large, black safe sitting behind a row of hanging dresses. You know, at this point, I don’t really know what else to do. Every lead I’ve followed has been a dead end, and the only thing I have left other than waiting for the Guilty Man is to try to question one of the hunters. I run my fingers along the smooth, dark surface of the safe, noting its standard, single-dial lock. I could use a gun if I wanted to question one of them.

Who’s the Guilty Man? Ally says.

He was there when I died and seems to follow me around here and there. I saw him on the rail, he went inside my brother and told me not to risk my own family. I think he’s trying to help me without getting caught, like he’s on Gerard’s team.

Victoria, don’t do this, Isabel urges.

The combination is 7-13-11, Ally says, almost giddily.

I spin the dial and the safe door pops open. There’s a row of rifles nestled neatly inside, with a pistol on the bottom. I reach down and pick it up

 I don’t need to inflict any real damage, I say, turning the pistol over in my hand. I just need to make them think I’ll really do it and maybe they’ll talk.

_________________________

I rummage through Ally’s house for supplies. It’s a fairly normal place for older construction; two floors, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, some chipped paint here and there, a large but not exactly modern kitchen. There are knives in the drawers, a baseball bat in the closet, and, according to her at least, a bundle of rope in the detached garage out back.

The detached garage is more of a shed than anything else. Its construction is wobbly, almost flaccid, its roof caving in between the trusses, the siding rotten and crumbling near the bottom. The gutters empty straight onto the ground next to the structure, pooling up and seeping back into the cinderblocks that support the walls. At one point it was red, but the paint is now so chipped you could be forgiven for thinking it a brown building with specs of red here and there instead. When I look it over, I envision a particularly strong gust of wind sweeping through and knocking the entire building to the ground.

You pay all cash for this? It’s hard to keep the mocking from my voice. I remember seeing a similar place when I was going to buy a house a few years ago. How’d you get this thing financed?

Shut up, I worked my ass off for this house, she says after some hesitation.

Hey, the house is great, I say as I gently kick the bottom of the siding, my toe going straight through the wood, this shed is dangerous, though.

You’re holding a baseball bat in one hand and a pistol in the other. Isn’t danger what you want?

I concur. Danger is what I want, and all I need from this are four walls and a door.

Please, Victoria, don’t do something here you can’t take back, Rebecca pleads.

Don’t worry, I’m in control. The bat and gun are just for intimidation.

Ally moans her annoyance. It’s obvious she really wants to inflict pain, which I suppose makes sense given that she’s just recently died, but I’m the one calling the shots and all I need is intimidation. All my leads have turned up empty: Javier and his apartment, Deane Turner, the building I died in. I can either wait for the Guilty Man to show up and hope he helps me out, or I can lure a hunter back here, tie them up, and question them.

The interior of the shed is as shoddy as the exterior. It’s dark, dank, and cold. A moist, earthy, and stale musk fills the room. The lone light above the concrete-slab floor is swaying in the wind; a gentle breeze must be slipping through the holes in the ceiling and walls. Various power tools hang off the walls above old, rotting, wooden work benches. It looks as though the previous tenant set up this garage with the idea of housing their tools while they planned out their first big project—building a permanent garage—and then just never followed through.

It’s hard to believe this building was ever supposed to be permanent, Rebecca says. I worked in buildings that were a hundred years old and they felt newer than this place.

I’m going to—I was going to tear it down. Ally started with authority and then finished with a whisper after catching herself.

Where’s the rope? I ask.

I don’t remember. I think it’s out here though.

After a few minutes of searching, I find the rope along the wall next to a pile of power tools that are covered in dust. There’s a chair in the corner opposite the rope. I put the rope in the chair and leave them both in the center of the room.

So what’s your endgame here, Victoria? Isabel questions.

I’m going to lure one of the hunters back here and question them.

Not going to use the gun, then? she asks.

No, just here for getting the message across.

Then why did you load it?

Just in case we need it, Ally says, which, of course, we won’t.

I like Ally already. We won’t need it, but just in case we do, why not be prepared?

Isabel stammers for something and I can already tell that for how much I like Ally she can’t stand her. While they’re bickering in my head, I place both the bat and pistol on the workbench closest to the door.

Look, ladies, I’m not a monster. I’m just going to tie someone up and interrogate them under the threat of inflicting huge amounts of pain.

Yes, exactly, Ally says.

Exactly, Isabel echoes. I think they both think it proves their point.

What now, then? Rebecca asks after a rare moment of silence.

Now we wait until they find us.

_________________________

Hours pass while I sit around Ally’s house. Since I’m not outside, I have no worries about getting caught off-guard, and the only way they’ll find me is if they ask Gerard where I am. I figure that will take a while, and relish my rare opportunity to sit and do nothing.

Finally, somewhere in early afternoon, I can ignore my situation no longer. I wipe the chip crumbs from my belly, turn off the third trashy talk-show I’ve watched in a row, and head toward the back door.

Is this what you do every time you’re brought back? Ally says. It’s so boring.

No, but today is different. If I had any leads left, I’d be out there pursuing them.

Well, Ally says, here’s to getting the information we need so we never have to watch another midday soap.

The wind has picked up since we were outside and the small door on the side of the garage, which I distinctly remember latching when I left, is hanging open. I approach slowly, noticing that the hook lock is still attached to the loop and the loop has been ripped from the rotting doorframe. Apprehensive, I peak my head around the door into the garage, which is not lit by any lights but which is fairly well illuminated from the holes in the roof. After glancing around the interior, I finally decide no one is there.

Ally, did the wind break open the door? Rebecca says, almost laughing.

It would appear that way, Ally mutters. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore anyway.

What do you mean? Isabel questions.

Ally pauses, as though choosing her words. Sorry, you three just don’t exude confidence, is all. Victoria, you’ve been killed how many times now?

Six or seven, I say through clenched teeth as I use the bat as a cane. Depends on whether you count killing myself as ‘getting killed’ or not.

Exactly, Ally says, and now that I’m here telling you to really fight back, you grab the bat instead of the pistol.

You haven’t been here long, Isabel says, so you don’t know what happened to Javier, but he was a broken man rambling to the voices in his head when Victoria found him. Do you want that to be her, too? Do you want to just be a voice inside a listless mass, or do you want to be a voice inside someone who can actually try to end this? Because fully giving into this revenge fantasy you have is only going to make things worse.

Ally laughs coldly. Seems like she’s already halfway there.

Isabel begins to speak but I cut her off. Look, everyone, I appreciate what you’re doing, but I didn’t get this far by torturing the people who hurt me, whether it be in my natural life or since my death. This all just for intimidation.

Maybe that’s why you only got this far, Ally says. Maybe that’s why you got killed to begin with.

It’s not worth arguing so I just grit my teeth and let it go. Maybe she has a point. Maybe I am too weak, but I’d rather be too weak and get myself killed than the cruel menace she seems to want me to be.

My head falls almost blissfully silent as I stand there waiting. A half hour passes. Maybe an hour. I lose track of time, my knees and back beginning to ache from the inaction. I suppose I could have thought this out longer and hidden somewhere more comfortable, but there were too many windows in Ally’s house and getting myself caught off her property would put me at a disadvantage.

Finally, I hear a car pull up in Ally’s gravel driveway. A door opens, and after a moment or two the sound of one set of footsteps filters in through the loosely hanging backdoor of Ally’s garage. My grip tightens around the handle of the bat. My palms are sweating with anticipation.

“Ally?” a woman calls. “Ally?”

Her footsteps continue faintly, drifting away from me toward the front of the house until they hit the hard wood of the front porch. She knocks on the front door and calls Ally’s name again.

Do you recognize that voice? I ask, trying to peek my head around the door just far enough to get a look outside.

What if this is someone who’s genuinely looking for her? Rebecca says. It’s a Monday. Are you supposed to be at work? Did you have plans with someone who might be here looking for you?

My grip on the bat loosens as a cold chill runs over me. What if this isn’t the Sadistic Woman, but just some well-meaning civilian here to find a friend who hasn’t responded all day?

I feel down my leg for Ally’s phone and curse myself when I realize I left it inside on her couch. Ally, I ask again, do you recognize that woman’s voice?

No… I don’t think so, she says after a pause, sounding more unsure of herself with every word.

After knocking again and getting no response, the woman walks back down the steps and onto the gravel driveway.

Okay, Ally says, if she comes this far then we’ll know she’s coming here to kill us.

What? Isabel says. No, she could just be worried about you.

Someone whose voice I don’t recognize is going to come all the way to my house and then go snooping around my property looking for me? That sounds like someone sent here to kill me.

Isabel falls silent. The gravel crunches periodically in a path toward the woman’s car, which is still ticking every so often as it cools down. The footsteps slow and meander in a circle around where I think the car is, but I’ll confess from my vantage I can’t see anything through windows and I’m too scared of being seen to peek my head out.

“Ally, if you can hear me, I’m just trying to help,” the woman calls out.

I don’t know about this, Rebecca mutters as my grip on the bat loosens to the point that the handle is laying slack between my thumb and index finger. It seems like she’s just here to help you.

And if she sees me, then she’s in just as much danger as we are, I say.

There’s a small gust of wind, and the rotten door thuds against the doorframe.

The woman gasps in the distance as the door bounces off the frame twice more. The gravel crunches in my direction.

Oh shit, here she comes, Isabel says.

She’s here to kill us, Ally says. Like I said, there’s no way someone whose voice I don’t recognize would go through this much trouble.

Isabel and Rebecca grunt their disagreement, but it’s hard to argue with Ally’s logic. Someone she doesn’t immediately recognize knows where she lives and comes looking for her? It could be a coworker sent by the company to check up on her, but then wouldn’t they still send someone she knows?

Rebecca’s voice is trembling. I’m telling you, I don’t like this.

The footsteps get closer.

I thought this was all intimidation, Isabel says as I raise the bat, ready to strike.

Victoria, she’s coming here to kill me, Ally says.

The woman’s footsteps get closer.

No, Isabel pleads, she’s just worried about you.

The woman’s footsteps get closer.

“Ally, are you in there?” the woman calls out. “If you are, I’m trying to help you.”

Help me from what? Ally questions. How does she know I’m in danger?

The woman’s footsteps slow when she reaches the door. I can barely see her through the gaps in the frame. She’s fair-skinned, blonde, wearing sneakers and business-casual clothes, but her face is hidden just out of eyesight. She takes a step forward into the garage.

Victoria! She’s here to kill me!

She’s only trying to help!

“All—oh!”

It’s as far as she gets before I jump out and kneecap her. She tumbles to the concrete floor, shrieking in pain and throwing the knife I didn’t even realize was in her hand a few feet away. I watch it slide to a rest between two stagnant puddles of rainwater.

Holy shit, Isabel says. We would have died.

Chapter 10 here.

Chapter 12 here.

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