A SAW-universe Short Story (#5)
Tick tick tick.
A light flickered on, the buzz of power eerily coinciding with a strange ticking. Laura blinked several times, wondering if drinking too much could make time appear to go faster. She shook her head, trying to clear the drowsiness. No, she was not usually prone to such silly thoughts. Her clock was probably broken. She tried to roll out of bed.
The chair she was restrained in rocked to the side.
Searing pain bit into her fingertips, banishing the remnants of her torpor in an instant of blinding agony. When she flinched, the chair had resettled itself. She wept hard, trying to find a breath, trying to cradle the hand and its throbbing fingers. She could not.
Tick tick tick.
Almost meaningless only a moment ago, the sound now held an undeniable attachment to danger in her mind. She sniffed furiously, and finally blinked through her tears. She saw a figure seated opposite her, partially cloaked in shadow.
“Hello, Laura Boatman,” they said. She couldn’t tell if the voice belonged to a man or a woman. Laura gave in to her sobs, realising what was happening. The mysterious person let her subside before starting again..
“Hello, Laura. I want to play a game.”
She swore at them, and struggled in her restraints. Once again, her chair rocked, the movement seeming to coincide with an upswing in the malevolent ticking sound. She stilled herself, her heart simultaneously thundering and trying not to move too much. The noise subsided.
“I’ll get right to the matter,” they said. “I’m the game master. You know what’s happening to you. I believe you also know why.”
“I’m an insurance provider!” she shot at them. “What on Earth — ”
The figure held up a gloved hand. “Please. You should hear me out, and you don’t have much time.”
Laura heard these words with an appalling sense of dread. For the first time, she swallowed her tears and took a proper look at her surroundings. First and most obviously, there was the chair she was shackled to. It was made of a sturdy sort of wood she was sure a person of her stature could not break. The ugly protruding metal that curled around her wrists didn’t seem cheap either.
“On either side of you is a switch. You’ll need to push one of them completely before the machine disengages. If you succeed, you have my oath you will live. I will deliver you to the hospital myself. If not…” they trailed off.
“That’s not helpful!” she gasped, frantically flitting between their face and the ‘switches’ they had mentioned.
“You’ve received a more straightforward version of the information you provide your clients,” they said patiently. “However, unlike most of your clients, you are quite capable of adapting to the situation. That is not an advantage I can strip from you.”
A switch had to be pushed down all the way, that’s what they said. She looked around and saw a massive circular saw resting slightly off to her left. She looked away quickly.
That was probably the implied, ‘or what.’
Tick tick tick.
“I can’t reach the switches from here,” she said.
“You can, and you have.” The figure nodded towards her bleeding fingers. “You know how the game must work. It is not as simple as making the decision to save yourself, it will cost you to follow through.”
She panted, desperately stamping down the horror caused by those words and the realisation of what must be done. She forced herself to make a decision. One hand was already damaged, maybe it would be best to just get it over with.
Laura shifted her weight, ever conscious of the mechanism’s noise. The chair rocked onto two legs once again, her burning fingers seeking purchase on the deceptively innocuous pressure plate. The chain on the other side also kept her from falling too far and dooming herself. She shivered.
The plate dropped perhaps a millimetre before she heard the TICKTICKTICKTICK and several small, delicate blades appeared through its grooves. She screamed and kicked, but forced herself to keep going, forcing her fingertips to take the damage and enough of her weight to keep the switch moving down.
Any moment now, she thought through the red haze. The game master watched her unblinkingly. As tests went, this was rather simple, and the simplicity held an edge against their own life as well, given the different rules they abided by. The original game master had his end game set before he ever began testing the purity of humanity with his games.
This game master set the rules of their own destruction in motion with every game, every decision to taper off the difficulty of a room, every part of their disguise they discarded. The game master had an irrepressible need for the thrill of outfoxing others amidst carnage, but this was always held in contempt by their conservative Catholic upbringing. They had even considered the shame of suicide.
That was before the previous games had hit the news, however. When they stopped, there had been a void; the city began to renew its comfort in its evils. And the new game master took the reins, with deliberate steps to ensure their own eventual penance.
Laura had heard their voice. She could see their approximate height and build. There was nothing resembling so much as make-up, let alone a mask on their face, though the poor lighting provided some cover.
If she escaped, she would likely lead the detectives on their predecessor’s tail right to their doorstep.
They watched Laura scream and pull away. They watched her weep messily with fearful glances at the large saw which still remained dormant. Her left hand was a mess, the tips of her fingers sheared apart. She should have pushed harder. The more she bled, the more she would slip on successive attempts.
Every now and then, Laura threw the game master a look of purest loathing from behind the wailing. Oh yes, this one would do her utmost to see the game master face the lethal injection, and wish for the privilege of doing it herself.
The game master couldn’t quite blame her. After all, all of this was their own penance as well. Inevitably, it would come to an end. A survivor from another game had already told the police how the game master had let slip that they were native to this city. Too many had failed their test, though. Enough that Laura had more clues to the game master’s identity than any other player before her.
“Do you understand?” they asked on a whim. She swore profusely again.
“Understand why you put me here, you monster? Me and all the other poor souls you’ve tortured.” Privately she had known some of those poor souls and thought nothing more than good riddance before going about her day as usual.
“Please don’t pretend. You may not have much time left. At least spend your last moments with some honesty.”
Tick tick tick.
She said nothing, eyeing the plate on her right.
“I found you at Elphias Meecham’s wake,” said the game master, tossing out another, more damning clue to their identity.
“Elphias?” she said, aghast, remembering a few pointed things she had carelessly said about the late Meecham. This snake had targeted her for that?
“Indeed. You weren’t on my list, originally. It took only a couple of weeks of investigation to change that, though.”
She tried to block their voice out, and leaned almost all the way to their right, eyes screwed up tight, fingers quivering yet firm. Almost. As soon as she felt her fingers brush the cool metal, her body convulsed away from it. She breathed in and out, hard.
“I didn’t find out how you started ripping off your customers,” said the game master conversationally. Curiosity, and the knowledge that the woman was running out of time, made them push for answers. They rubbed a hand absentmindedly against the lever next to them.
“What’s that?” asked Laura at once.
“An emergency measure,” the game master replied smoothly. “If you’re not going to commit yourself, the least you could do is let me know how you came to be so callous with those that placed their trust in you.”
“Go to hell,” she snarled. She was right-handed, and destroying it felt abhorrent to her. The left hurt far too much to think straight, though. She had trouble working up the nerve to try that one again.
But then the words made it through her foggy mind.
“An emergency measure,” she repeated under her breath. Was that a kill switch for this infernal machine? She had played her career on her instincts in crucial moments, and it looked like this would be no different. It had to be a kill switch. She just had to get them to pu —
The change in tone made her glance up. Her pupils dilated as she watched the large sawblade all but jump up a notch. There weren’t many notches to go, and as she watched it began to climb the next.
“I do understand why you do this,” said Laura again feverishly, unable to look away. The others had laid significant though petty rips into the tips of her fingers, but this one would cut through her temples. She leaned left, tried to push the pressure plates once more but her digits protested in agony.
“You’ve said that,” said the game master softly. Their voice was unmodulated, as it had been for the past several games, though she didn’t know that. Laura could also see their features in shadowy detail. Certainly enough for a police sketch artist worth half the name.
Still. The game master didn’t think this would be the last game.
“You want me to come out and say it?” she shrieked. “Fine! We’re monsters, the lot of us. We prey on the weak and helpless, we take our opportunities where we see them and be damned the consequences as long as they happen to someone else.” She writhed in her shackles, flicking glances between the game master and the winch moving inexorably to its sheath.
Maybe a minute left.
“Your words, not mine,” said the game master. They flicked a glance at the lever on their left. “Yet accurate.”
Laura saw the glance and seized on it. “Yes. Yes! I admit it. I’m really sorry.” Then a calculated line. “I deserve to pay for what I’ve done. All of them do. If I were in your place I’d do no different. They deserve to pay with their lives.” The switch would kill the mechanism, she knew it. It had been let slip while they talked. It could kill it before it killed her.
“You do,” said the game master, but it didn’t sound like their heart was in the statement. “I’m glad you agree.” Their hand twitched.
The gears were nearly done winding. In mere moments, they’d fire. Laura played her last gambit.
“Let me work with you!” she cried. “As penance. I’ll do anything to make up for my mistakes.”
The game master stared hard at her, mulling it over. A hand rose, then rested lightly with indecision.
“Pull,” she urged, relief flooding through her. “Pull it!”
A loud ratcheting came from the machine, as the blade began its lethal revolutions and then screamed against its housing. She had a moment to gasp as realisation struck. Then it was over.
“Laura,” said the game master, crossing themselves. “You were successful, and you were beautiful, but your penchant for selling hope like snake oil to those that needed your help was what fueled the former. You know my reputation. You should have remembered that those more successful and beautiful than you have been in my games.”
The corpse did not answer. The game master pulled the lever and walked to her body, running a thumb over the bridge of her nose. Red pooled down into their palm, fueled by the slowing revolutions of the blade.
“You could have suffered as you claimed to deserve, but you chose to beg for hope. And hope is all you bought yourself.”
The game master wiped off their fingers on a rusty red cloth, pulled a cord to turn off the light, and left the room.
Outside, they took a breath and walked to the door adjoining that one. They opened it, and the occupant who had just slept off their injection began screaming and struggling harder.
“Hello,” nodded the game master. They waited till the noise subsided.
“I want to play a game.”
Note: My aim here was to recreate the allure of the SAW series (or the first 3 movies, at least). I’d appreciate comments letting me know if I succeeded.
The picture is a sketch; I didn’t really put much effort into it. Just didn’t want to use someone else’s work as I did with my 007 piece.
-The ‘game master’s’ thoughts on suicide are not indicative of my own.