The Game of Life
Beads of sweat emphasized the early night’s chill along his exposed neck and brow. The Policeman stood on their stoop, shifting his weight as much for warmth as from impatience. After a few brisk moments, a man answered the door.
“Oh… hello, Officer,” the homeowner said, greeting him with large, hesitant eyes. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“I’m terribly sorry to bother you, Sir,” the officer replied. “We have a criminal on the run in this neighborhood, so for everyone’s safety, we’re performing house to house searches. Would you mind?”
“No, not at all. Please, come in.” The man stepped back and ushered the policeman into his home.
The house was warm and full of light. Two faces peered at him from an adjoining dinning room. The officer could smell Christmas dinner before he saw the mouthwatering spread.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “We’re just taking precautions.”
Then, turning to the father, he asked in a hushed tone, “Is there anyone else in the house?”
The man shook his head, “No, no one.”
The officer nodded and turned back to the family, “Please carry on with your meal. I won’t be long.”
Wide eyes followed the officer as he stalked down the hall, hand on his pistol, weapon at the ready. Room by room, he searched and after a few moments, he confirmed the house was clear.
Returning to the dining area, Officer Mitcheltree stood for a moment. He watched the holiday scene—the small, happy family sharing home cooked food that clung to their souls, laughing as they created a memory for future cherishment; bad puns spoken over poured gravy and steaming roast turkey nestled snug against blended potatoes and acceptable gluttony.
Watching the interaction, hearing the high-pitched innocence of their young daughter, nearly caused the officer to flinch.
The mother was the first to notice the police officer standing there. “Is… everything alright, Officer?”
A silent moment passed, his non-reply thickening the tension in the air.
“W—would you like to join us for dinner?” the father asked.
Sweat collected along the cop’s chin and dripped to the floor. His gaze lingered on each member of the family, their kind offer drowned out by the hammering of his own heartbeat.
With each passing second, concern and confusion creased their expressions further.
Officer Mitcheltree raised his gun, pointing the weapon point blank at the father’s head. Half-lidded eyes unfurled into wide disbelieving orbs. Before any of them could do more than inhale, the officer pulled the trigger.
Blood, skull fragments, and gray matter splattered the table, desecrating the partially carved turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, holiday linens, and the terrified faces. A scream hurled free from the mother’s throat, but the gun’s second bullet deprived her lament of its longevity, jolting her head backward with such force that it dislocated vertebrae in her neck. Dangling, her head hung at an unnatural angle.
When the young girl’s gaze shifted from her dead mother back to the murderous police officer through the haze of fresh tears and fading gun smoke, she found the weapon pointed at her.
Her eyes climbed the barrel to meet his. Tears streamed down their cheeks in unison. The officer squeezed his eyes shut as he squeezed the trigger for the third time.
His face contorted as the hard-clamped humorless grin broke open under the pressure of raw emotion. A loud, guttural yell seemed to burst from every pore, reverberating throughout his body. He fell to his hands and knees and wept in oxygen-starved fits. Many minutes passed until he managed a semblance of composure.
Electronic music chimed from his waist.
He fished a cell phone from his pocket and looked down at the screen:‘Unknown. No Caller ID’.
Officer Mitcheltree touched the answer prompt and waited.
Neither party spoke. Soft sounds of calm breathing and a distant, continuous rumble came across the line – nothing else.
“It’s done,” the officer said, breaking the stalemate. Then, as he fought back another bought of emotion with gritted teeth, he added, “A life for a life.”
“Hmm… Show me.”
“Now, now, Officer Mitcheltree. Be civil.”
“Civil? I did what you asked, now give me back my family, you son of a bitch!” the officer said, spitting into the phone.
“Of course, but first, I need proof of your efforts.”
The officer opened the camera app on his phone and snapped a photo of the morbid scene, then sent it to the number provided.
“I see,” the voice on the other end said. “A life for a life it shall be. We can finalize our exchange in the bowels of Reformation Chapel.”
The policeman’s eyes shifted back and forth as he dug through his memory.
“The abandoned chapel off Farmstead Road? That’s two hours outside of town!”
“And if you hurry, you’ll arrive just in time.”
“Just in time for what?” the officer shouted, but the call had already ended.
Officer Mitcheltree stalked down the steps of the old chapel. With the aid of flashing lights and a wailing siren, he was able to make the trek with six minutes to spare; the use of caution was now an option. Gun raised, he reached the bottom to find a narrow walk-through pantry that opened up to a larger room. He padded across the shelf-lined hallway, his eyes searching for movement.
Entering the main room, the officer stalked to the table at its center while twisting and turning to check for threats. The room was still, silent, hot.
He wiped sweat from his brow with a quick brush of his forearm.
“Where are you?” He shouted. “Where’s my family?”
No answer came except for the echo of his own desperate pleas and the clanking of mason jars as he bumped into the table.
Electronic music chimed from his hip.
Again, the screen read: ‘Unknown. No Caller ID’.
Officer Mitcheltree answered the call, “Where’s my family?”
“I have returned them to you in accordance with our arrangement.”
The cop whirled around, searching for his wife and daughter, but there was still no sign of them. “No more games! Where are they?”
“Your answer is on the table.”
Mitcheltree wiped the sweat from his eyes and inspected the items on the table. At first glance, they seemed nothing more than simple canning supplies left out from when the pantry was in operation many years ago, but focused attention revealed that they weren’t covered in dust. One large Mason jar was sealed and full of a gray powdered substance. The other was significantly smaller, open and empty—unused.
The policeman picked up the large jar, hoping to find a note or some kind of clue, but there was nothing else on the table but the two jars. As he brought the phone back up to his ear, prepared to unleash a flurry of threats, something caught his eye.
A piece of masking tape labeled the far side of the tall jar. He read the name as he turned it in his hands, “Mrs. Mitcheltree & Daughter.”
“What the Fuck is this?” he said, breathing the words into the phone—his chest suddenly feeling hotter than the rest of him, his throat tightening. He put the jar down with a loud thunk and backed away.
“A life for a life, Officer.” the kidnapper stated firmly. “I asked for life. A life to save a life. You misinterpreted and provided death.”
The cop’s head swam, the room began to spin; the heat not helping his focus. He stumbled further away from the table. That’s when he spotted the small metal door in the opposite wall. The source of all the heat—a crematory.
“You misunderstood my request, Officer Mitcheltree. You chose death. You killed your family.”
“Oh, God. No!” the policeman cried out; reeling. He fell backward into the shelves. Glass jars clanked together. He turned on instinct; looked with wavering vision at the objects before him.
“If it makes you feel better, you’re not the only one who’s made that mistake.”
Shelf after shelf carried large ash-filled Mason jars with masking tape labels. He couldn’t quite make out the letters, but he knew they were names. Then, he realized each one was paired with a smaller jar also filled and labeled.
“I have a lovely collection, don’t you think?”
This time, the voice echoed—sounding in both ears.
The policeman turned and the last thing he saw was a smiling face and a descending sledgehammer.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.