“It’s simple. The band and their wives will play and we’ll go drink some more.”
Not much left to do, Gerard thought bitterly. Right.
Despite LynZ insisting that this was the case, the past 2 hours had been spent ironing, sweeping, dusting, flushing toilets and pouring packets of crisps into bowls and now Gerard was totally exhausted. Bandit was crying again and his wife was screaming into the phone, her hair escaped from its ponytail, face red and panting. Whatever it was wasn’t going well and Gerard was only too happy to comply when she yelled at him to get out of the house and buy “something fun”.
Gerard had no idea what “something fun” might mean, unless it was bottled and alcoholic. But they already had a rather large stash of alcohol lying in the bathtub on a bed of ice and no one so much as dared to mention the word “drugs” anymore so no going there. He picked his way into town slowly carefully, making sure that he was taking as much time as LynZ would forgive him for. He didn’t want to go back any earlier than he absolutely had to.
After a while of peering hopefully into several shop windows one store in particular caught Gerard’s eye. It looked old, very old, and pretty derelict. In fact, Gerard was almost sure that it was abandoned when he noticed a flicker of movement from behind the counter. Just that tiny realisation stirred up the curiosity in Gerard’s mind and glancing cautiously over his shoulder he pulled open the door and stepped inside.
As the door swung shut and the little bell rang to signify his entrance, Gerard had the ominous feeling that there was no going back now. But he wasn’t sure that he wanted to. The products were beckoning in their bright, colourful wrappings, drawing him in. One brightly wrapped box stood out to him more than the others and he approached it, dreamlike, as if in a trance.
It was a board game. It felt light in Gerard’s hands as he turned it over to read the instructions, lighter than it should have done.
Welcome to the Nightmare Game, where fear is your worst enemy. Each player journeys around the board to face their own most marish terrors and must conquer each one to get out alive. But be warned, at the first roll of the dice there is no going back and the fight for survival will begin.
Gerard snorted. Please, he thought. Cheesy much? And yet he was intrigued as to how the hell this game would work. How would it cause him to face his worst fear? It couldn’t possibly. It just sounded good on a commercial. And yet...a delicious thought crept into his mind. What would LynZ think when he presented it to her, as morbid and macabre as it sounded? She’d probably be scared away from board games for the rest of her life and Jesus they all knew that could only be an improvement.
Convinced, he placed the box atop the dusty counter and forked out the money from his pocket.
“Will there be anything else, sir?” said a soft voice.
He looked up and withdrew a sharp breath. He was staring into the bluest, coldest eyes he had ever seen. The eyes completely dominated the rest of her pretty but pale face, giving them the look of hard chips of ice in a frosty landscape. Jet black hair hung down her back, so dark it seemed impossibly natural and she had a most austere air about her, however, something about her was also frustratingly familiar but he couldn’t place it.
“No, nothing else,” Gerard shook his head, coming back to earth. “Thanks.”
“Pleasure,” a cold smile sent his skin crawling. “Hope to see you soon.”
He left the shop hurriedly, feeling for some bizarre reason that he had just made quite a big mistake. But the thought left him as quickly as it had come. Christ, he told himself irritably. I just bought a freaking board game. What the hell is so sinister about that? Never the less, he was pleased to arrive back home with that shop far behind him and made a big deal of hiding the box from LynZ at the bottom of his wardrobe.
Evening came quickly, faster than Gerard would have liked. Soon there were knocks on the door and exclamations of delight as each one was invited inside. Of the band itself Ray came first, on time as always with his wife Christa followed by Mikey and Alicia. Gerard greeted them most warmly of all the guests; it had been a long time since he had last seen them.
“Hey,” Mikey grinned when he saw him. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m good,” Gerard grinned back. “Great even. What about you? And you, Ray?”
“Pretty okay,” Ray replied. “Except that on the way here I heard these English chicks talking about us. And they totally couldn’t remember my name. And that was a bummer-”
“-Is Frank coming?” Mikey cut across him quickly. “I know Jamia is because she and Alicia just spent the last three hours discussing hair products over the phone.”
“Erm...yeah,” said Gerard awkwardly. “Yeah, he is actually. He phoned me earlier today and...yeah he is.”
Mikey’s eyes widened. “Holy shit.”
Not long after Mikey and Ray’s arrival, Jamia came bursting through the door and practically threw herself into LynZ’s arms, sending a glass of champagne flying out of her hands and crashing to the floor.
“It’s been way too long,” she said thickly after releasing her friend. “We really should have arranged to meet up sooner after...you know...” she sniffed. “The divorce.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” said LynZ sympathetically. “Things weren’t working out, it’s not you’re fault anymore than-”
“-Oh I know it’s not my fault,” Jamia interrupted. “All the fault’s his. He never, ever made time to sit down and have a rational discussion you know, always fucking off to some bar or another whenever it got tough...”
“Well he’s out of your life now,” LynZ nodded. “You can move on.”
“I have,” beamed Jamia. Her face shone with pride as she grabbed the tall, olive-skinned, finely-toned alpha-male beside her by the arm. “This here’s Hector. I met him three weeks ago when I was on holiday in Greece.”
Tearing his gaze away from Jamia and LynZ, Gerard eyed the door cautiously. Sure, Jamia seemed to be taking the break-up pretty well but there was no telling with that woman. Besides, that Hector looked a lot less sure about their new relationship status than she was.
Time went by and Frank still hadn’t appeared, giving Gerard the slightly optimistic impression that he wasn’t coming. As much as he wanted to see his friend he wasn’t sure just how much drama he could handle and he could feel a throbbing in his temple which meant a headache was coming on. However, just as he was starting to feel slightly more cheerful there was another knock on the door and Frank appeared out of the shadows, standing with his hands in his pockets and a rather sheepish expression on his face.
Gerard had to admit, he looked good. His shock of midnight black hair fell about his face with a sort of casual elegance as if he had thrown it back very lazily and he wore a very smart suit that contrasted violently with his lip and ear piercings. There was silence as he stepped inside and brushed the rain off of his shoulders, giving the guests a cheery wave as he did so.
“What’s up, guys?” he grinned. “How are you all?”
No one spoke. Then a sudden outburst from next to LynZ caused everyone to turn around to see Jamia with her hand over her mouth.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” she cried. “And why the fuck did you invite him?”
“Well,” Frank began, still grinning. “I am Gerard’s best friend. And I’m also the guitarist for his band if you didn’t know-“
“-Don’t fucking give me that bullshit!” Jamia screamed. “Sonofabitch, get outta here!”
“Jamia, calm down,” Gerard told her. “Please. Frank’s my guest, I invited him here tonight. And without him the album we’re celebrating wouldn’t even exist so please can you cut him some slack?”
“Cut him some slack?” Jamia roared. “After everything he’s put me through? After everything he put my family through? No fucking way.”
“It’s alright Gee,” Frank was smirking amusedly. “If it’ll make things easier I’ll leave.”
“No,” replied Gerard quickly. “You’re a member of the band, for Chrissake. You’re staying. Jamia, if you’ve got a problem with it you can leave.”
“You can’t order my friends to leave my house,” growled LynZ.
“It’s my house too and I can,” Gerard shrugged. “And I will unless she leaves Frank alone.”
Jamia looked for a second like she was going to hit him but after a few moments of hard staring she flipped her long hair over her shoulder and resumed an animated discussion about fast-food with Alicia. Gently the room began to fill up with the hum of conversation before the party was once again in full swing. Frank turned to Gerard.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, embarrassedly.
“Don’t mention it,” Gerard said gruffly. “Without you there wouldn’t be a band to celebrate. She just happens to have been married to you.”
“Yeah well,” Frank grimaced. “I feel kinda like the world’s biggest asshole right now.”
“Then you haven’t drunk enough,” said Gerard jokingly. “Come on, Mikey and Ray are around here somewhere...”
After that the party continued with little event. By now everyone was more than a little drunk and someone had turned the music up so loudly that the floorboards were vibrating from beneath them. Finally, when the food was reduced to crumbs and a few of the guests had fallen asleep on the couches everyone decided to crowd into the living room and play the mysterious game Gerard had bought. They laid it out onto the floor and then stood looking at each other awkwardly.
“There are only eight spaces,” said Frank.
“Well that’s convenient,” Mikey rolled his eyes. “Eight...what a weird number!”
“It’s simple,” said a voice from the crowd. “The band and their wives will play and we’ll go drink some more.”
They looked at each other. Frank and Jamia immediately became very interested in their own feet.
“That is so a bad idea,” Mikey concluded.
“Aw come on,” LynZ slurred brightly. “It’ll be fun! The...” she counted the faces she could see, starting again when she had got her fingers mixed up. “...Eight of us together again! Like old times!”
“I think you’ve had slightly too much to drink,” Gerard raised an eyebrow sceptically but LynZ shook her head and pulled the game towards her.
Each person took a wooden counter shaped like a little man and placed it on the starting square of the board. Ray started to look around, confused.
“There are no instructions,” he frowned.
“Whassit matter?” Frank shrugged. “We’re all too drunk to read anyway. Just roll the fucking dice, Gerard!”
So Gerard rolled the dice. As soon as it fell against the board he felt a sudden jerk from somewhere behind his navel and he was plummeting into darkness.