The Golden Games

[The following is the transcript of a recording found on the deep web. It is narrated by a man speaking in a slight American South accent.]

Week 1: First Blood

I've spent the last week digging up weapons and practicing techniques, but I know it won't be enough. My cousin Sam's noticed my odd behavior, but she keeps her distance. Just as well, because I've got a bad feeling about where this is all heading.

Milo Archer here, and I've got both good and bad news. The good news is I've been getting back into shape, both physically and mentally. Old, forgotten techniques rush back into my head like a breaking dam. I remember the old fighting stances I trained in, from frantic boxing footwork to an aikido hanmi to defense from a relaxed stance. That last one is the one I've been focusing on the most, since I'm not sure where they'll be coming from. Even those old weapons drills I practiced, like the tomahawk and knife, are still there. The bad news? I know it won't matter one bit when they come for me again.

I made quite the training area in my cousin's garage. It moved boxes up to the attic, clearing it out until I had enough space to train without damaging anything. Sam lit up like a radiator with excitement, as I hauled off that mound of old boxes that grew like a jungle. I set out my hand-weights and a small bench for calisthenics. I knew a week would not be enough time, but it's the best I could manage without a training partner or school.

I scoured nearby stores for any other weapons, for what little good I knew they'd do. All I found was a shady pawn shop offering a few items: A Bowie knife, a Barnett hunting crossbow, and a broken shotgun. I bought the first two, as the third was rusted beyond repair. I zeroed the crossbow's sights, and I drilled my life would depend on it. For all I knew, it would.

Exactly a week after my first incident, they came again. I saw the two strange figures from before, sledgehammers still clasped in their hands. They appeared wordlessly out of the corner of my vision, with their smirking faces telling me that their voices weren't. The tall one appeared to my left, his hammer across his chest as to deter any futile attempts at resistance. The shorter one appeared on my right, that shit-eating grin marching across his rat-like face like a fecal parade. This time, my hands reached for the knife and tomahawk I'd hidden in my belt, but they didn't get there before I went black.

I found myself at the trailer park from before, presiding over a motley assemblage of freaks. I noticed a few from last week, like Sergeant Dubois in his body armor and that weirdo with the bag, Xenophanes. There was also the black-clad Hispanic goth girl, resting against that massive razor-lined club. I didn't recognize the rest. Some openly carried weapons, ranging from guns to axes to swords to stranger. Some had no visible weapons, but carried themselves in a way that suggested they'd rip me apart with their bare hands.

"Our first true match is between combatants of many contrasts, from wealth to weapons. I'd like to open this battle between Christine Hunt and Ralph Landon," I said, my own voice controlled by some unseen puppet-master.

Two fighters stepped forth from that morass of maniacs, each looking the part. The first one was a thirty-some blonde woman clad in a blue tracksuit and smarmy grin. On her hip was a sword with curves in it, which I instantly identified as a southeast Asian kris or keris. From the way she moved and the mock strikes she made with her weapon, I presumed she came from silat or eskrima background. She pranced around the edge of the cellophane arena like a matador before a bull, dismissing her foe before even seeing him.

Her adversary stepped forwards with none of her flamboyant antics. Ralph Landon was a tall, heavyset man that loomed like a headsman's blade. He had greasy, brown hair that looked like a shedding cat, with a dead, empty gaze like a porcelain doll. He was clad in homemade garments made from a thick blanket, although wrapped tighter around his chest. From the angular bulges on the edges of his chest, I surmised he was thinner than I thought, clad in some form of homemade body armor.

"Shall we meet our two contestants?" I asked.

The crowd cheered, and I raised my hand. "Let's start with Christine Hunt, the Witch of Wall Street."

I pointed at Christine, and then the world I knew vanished. I found myself with a lower center of gravity, minus the weight I'd put on since I'd stopped regular training. I felt myself in a lithe, lean form, like a stiletto made of flesh. As this body moved without my commands, I realized it was never mine to begin with. The woman I saw in the mirror only hammered home the point.

Christine preened herself like a prancing peacock, but underneath the appearance was a martial musculature. At some point in the near future, she sparred with a man with light brown skin, weaving like a mongoose dodging a cobra. The man came in with a plastic machete, but she wove around to this back and placed the practice blade at the base of his spine. The instructor, looking more than a little intimidated, nervously congratulated Christine on her reflexes.

I felt glimpses of Christine's training with others, with and without that blade in her hand. She wrapped around joints, locked limbs, and positioned herself directly beneath the vitals of larger opponents. Their weight became their doom as she honed the many, many ways to down opponents. Each time, I felt an unnerving smirk cross her face. She was an ophidian predator, but with a single favored fang.

With the kris in her hand, her lethality increased exponentially. I was largely unfamiliar with the unarmed movements she drilled, but the other weapons gave me a better idea of her style. I recalled a few instances of practice grappling foes with a raptor-talonlike knife, the kerambit, so I presumed it was silat, the martial art of Malaysia and Indonesia. From the way she held the kris, though, it was several weapons in one. In her hands, it slashed like a saber, thrust like a dagger, hit like a hammer, and grappled like a kerambit. Her investment of skills was for more than fitness and self-defense.

The other pillar of Christine's life was one I half-forgot about, but it was logical enough given her title. I saw her in a suit, heading a meeting in some corporate skyscraper. Middle-aged men and women, easily twice her age, stepped away from her when she walked by. She held their lives and livelihoods in her hands, and she was always keen to remind her. When a client began showing her disrespect, she pulled out a business card that had her name, and the name "Snow Financial" on it. The client immediately starting apologizing, as though he'd struck the ire of an insane god. After that meeting, Christine framed him for insider trading.

Unwanted memories of white collar malfeasance, and the attendant methods, settled in my mind like filthy dishwater. Families were cheated out of their homes with fraudulent foreclosures. Illegal surveillance was used to silence critics and blacklist whistleblowers. Small companies were acquired and gutted. Lobbying firms were hired to ensure no one was ever sent to jail for the most blatant of crimes. But I felt Christine's boredom. She wanted more, something not even legal impunity and endless, ill-gotten wealth could sate.

I felt Christine as she walked the Manhattan streets at night. She walked alone through those darkened alleyways and benighted boulevards, armed with more than a predatory confidence. She saw a homeless man sleeping beneath a shopping cart, and drew something sharp, metal, and familiar from her coat. She plunged it into the side of his neck and dragged it forwards through his spine, opening his throat and arteries in the process. He was dead by the time the blade emerged, but I felt her body shiver with orgasmic delight. I felt dirty, like I'd become part of something shameful. I cannot describe the orgy of blood that followed, but those skills proved to be the doom of countless people unlucky to cross her path.

I found myself back in the present, stating at the edge of the cellophane between the two parties. The larger man stepped forwards confidently, as I imagined he'd never had much reason to fall back.

"And now, I introduce Ralph Landon, or Sawtooth, as you might have known him," I heard my stolen voice say.

I found myself once more trapped in another's body, but this was a tall and lumbering form that immediately reminded me of the Tower of Tarot arcana. I remembered my first glance at him, and his blank, empty stare. If the eyes were the window to the soul, he'd be an abandoned skyscraper. As I sat behind his eyes, I found myself rifling through happier times like a burglar ransacking personal mementos. He was very much the opposite of the serpentine woman I'd just skimmed through the life of.

Ralph Landon was a man of humble beginnings and modest means, originating in a no-name Ohio town. He spent his youth wandering the woods with his dog. He worked as a mechanic in between other odd jobs, but his sole luxuries were occasional books and games he'd share with his younger brother and friends. He helped a woman by the side of the road, and the two became married after a whirlwind romance. Despite my hopes to the contrary, things got worse.

It started when his boss died, leaving the garage under new management. Ralph only met the new owner once, but he gathered his days of employment were numbered. The auto shop was unprofitable, and the new owner was a branch manager for an investment firm. Ralph took it all in stride, up until the hit-and-run killed his pregnant wife. He recognized the luxury car as belonging to the man that fired him, and he knew the police wouldn't help him. From law enforcement's persistent refusal came a slow-burning fury, a fire stoked within.

Ralph turned from a jocose, relaxed man to a sullen introvert. His old reputation for timely, quality work turned towards other ends. He spent his last paycheck on an online shopping spree of miscellaneous items. What his family did not realize was how he intended to take revenge.

Ralph spent all his hours in the garage, stripping down and modifying a stripped-down chainsaw. He added gas ports to the bar, the "blade" of the chainsaw. The gas ports fed to the forward portion, nearest to the cutting components. Around the edge of the bar, he placed electrodes. He replaced the chain to be interspersed with an alternating series of diamond teeth, insulating spacers, and secondary electrodes. He added a rebalanced gas and power supply to the handle, making it easier to maneuver and cut with. The reasons for his modifications were apparent once he turned it on.

Ralph essentially turned the chainsaw into a rotary wielding torch. Blades flared to life near the end of the weapon, creating thermal lances that sliced through anything in his way. Even if he didn't activate the plasma wielding electrodes, the diamond teeth were sufficient to cut through metal. As he tested it on fresh stakes, I shuddered to think it would do to human flesh. He noted the inefficiency of his device as a weapon, but he was nevertheless satisfied with how it handled. It cut through a reinforced metal door with trivial ease, and he shifted towards other projects.

Ralph made other equipment for his grim mission. He made a homemade body armor vest, complete with military grade plates on his torso, and custom-fitted boron carbide armor for his arms and legs. He wrapped them in a robe made from a welder's blanket, complete with an insulating layer beneath it. It was topped by a hood with two holes cut for his eye, and three vertical slits for his mouth. The whole getup made it look like he wore a giant burlap sack. He wore a belt covered in homemade grenades, made from beer cans, nails, and firecrackers. On the side of his belt was a sheath for his trusty machete.

Ralph looked himself in the mirror before changing into his grim suit. He used to look goofy, with his unruly brown hair, lazy brown eyes, and slight overbite. He was tall and hulking, having some muscle but not being a bodybuilder. Since his insane plans started, his bloodshot eyes became like opaque glass. His frame was still imposing, but now as pale and ghoulish. His hair was greasier, and it now fell out in clumps. He looked older than he was, due to the stress on him. As he vanished beneath that all-consuming suit, he looked like the bastard offspring of a medieval monk and a scarecrow.

For all his trade skills and manic focus, Ralph had no formal martial arts training. He'd done a few practice swings with his machete and chainsaw, and he occasionally threw some wild punches at a disused punching bag dangling from his garage. He did online research on bodyguards, cops, and their tactics, and he planned his approach accordingly. With help of an online tutorial, he built a backpack mounted cellphone and radio jammer. Hesitation vanished as he prepared for his mission.

Ralph meticulously researched his target, James Morgan. He learned where the middle-aged, beady-eyed bean-counter lived from cyberstalking and social engineering. He put his things into a duffel bag, and he hotwired a car from a nearby truck stop. He took the car down the interstate, until the houses got as big as the cars that stopped off at nearby exits. Having memorized his route, he drove up to the rural manor where Morgan lived. Much to his delight, his target thought physical isolation was a sufficient enough deterrent to unwanted guests.

Ralph parked down the road, and he headed into the woods as the sun sank behind the woods. The light of the setting sun filtered through the trees with sanguine light like arterial blood. He observed the mansion with his binoculars, and he saw a swing-set, pool, and sandbox in the backyard. He hesitated for a moment, but remembered seeing the love of his life run down like roadkill. He counted the windows, looked for moving figures, and he moved closer to the house. While brought camping supplies for a long haul, he hoped Morgan returned soon.

When a familiar red luxury car returned, Ralph smiled to himself. He slipped on his outfit as he cautiously approached the house. As the sun sank behind the trees, he sabotaged the cars parked out front and phone lines before moving in. He hurled the firebombs into the front windows and through the back door. The remoteness of the dwelling, he reflected, would serve to cut off his prey from flight. The smoke alarm's scream made him smile as he saw people file out of the front. Morgan was dragged by a wife easily two decades younger than him, and a boy that sprinted to the nearest car. The businessman coughed like a chain-smoker as he walked to the car. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a phone.

Ralph lunged from cover with his machete raised, shouting like a man possessed. Morgan only turned to look at him a second before the blade cleaved his head. The imminence of his death barely registered after the blade sank deep into his neck. Adrenaline took over as he saw the wife and kid run for the nearest car, a minivan parked beside the luxury car. She ripped the door opened and threw her son inside, desperately fumbling for the keys. She tried to start the car, but Ralph knew it was pointless. He'd disconnected the battery before his assault. He slowly approached the door, considering how he'd end them.

Ralph wiped the blood from his machete and slipped the chainsaw back into the sheath he'd made for it. He'd already decided which of the dead family's cars to take, and he already worked out how to dump it. He helped himself to their remaining cash and personal effects, which would be enough to get him at least to the next state over. He knew he'd be a fugitive from now on, but he felt a sense of achievement behind him. Examining the Snow Financial business card of his victim, he'd gotten revenge on the soulless bastard that ruined his life. He considered who else deserved it, and he knew they'd not be the last. That was the birth of the serial killer the media would call Sawtooth, despite only using his namesake weapon sparingly.

I found myself back outside of Ralph Landon's memories, seething in his simmering fury. Despite resembling a lumbering lunkhead, he was a vicious and intelligent murder machine. He stood opposite Christine, clad in his makeshift suit. His outfit was more torn and tattered since it was made, with bullet holes and scorch-marks on it. He revved the motor to his chainsaw, and I saw the terrifying machine come to life like a raging hell-beast. Colored flames ignited near the edge, plumes of hellfire able to separate steel. Christine, to her credit, looked unimpressed.

"Apart from the opening sacrifice, each bout of the Golden Games is paired specifically to give each combatant an equal chance of winning," I said. "Our first match is one of contrasts: man and woman, trained and untrained, rich and poor, urban and rural. Which will advance?"

I heard Sawtooth mumble in a low-childlike voice beneath his sackcloth mask. Christine stepped forwards with her kris ready. "Each of you, step back three paces."

Both shot me a glance like they wanted to rip me apart, but they begrudgingly acknowledged me. If one advanced far enough, they would get a chance to rip me up. The two Hammer Brothers nodded at me. "Begin!"

With that, the two charged. I honestly thought that Sawtooth would win quickly. Christine was strong and trained, but she was over a head shorter and had less reach than Landon. She was a businesswoman with a long knife. He was an armored chainsaw maniac. These two were made for each other, in more ways than one. Despite my earnest hopes to look away, I found myself forced to watch.

Much to my surprise, Sawtooth didn't just cut Christine in half with his saw. He raised the weapon above his head, but Christine slashed towards his hips. Even though his ragged outfit concealed the armor plate, joints were always a weakness. She drew blood with a quick jab and stepped back, as the chainsaw came down where she was standing just a second earlier. I heard gasps from the crowd, followed by cheering.

With a quick sidestep, I saw Christine pivot away from the arena's edge. She jabbed again and stepped back, narrowly dodging another wild swing. A red line appeared on Landon's other thigh, as the fearsome weapon once more struck nothing but air. She continued her matador act once more, and the crowd went while. As desperate as I thought Christine's odds were, I recognized her strategy. She wasn't trying to wear out Sawtooth, but his gas-guzzling, spark-vomiting weapon. Without the cacophonous saw, he'd have to use his machete, which would limit his reach.

Christine's plan might have worked, had Sawtooth not tried another method of attack. While he was no martial artist, he did know how to close the distance. He stormed in with his saw, pressing Christine into the rim of the arena. Beneath his hood erupted a litany of insane babbling and nonsensical murmurs. He hacked and slashed with the alacrity of a bipedal blender, forcing Christine on the defensive. She brought her short sword up with two hands, until the maniac cleaved it in half. Beads of molten metal dripped off the weapon as the torch flares ate through it. He drove he forwards, easily pushing Christine outside the ring. The crowd around them stepped back, as though a ring-out would bring down some divine cataclysm on them.

I wasn't sure if such an occurrence would disqualify Christine, and from his slight hesitation, so was Sawtooth. I'd find it ironic if a match between two deranged serial killers ended on a non-violent technicality. Christine, however, did not care to wait for me to pronounce a winner. Instead, she twisted to the side, allowing Sawtooth's momentum send him sprawling. She knocked the saw away from his hands, before planting her heel on his throat. Her sword was damaged, but the tip still looked intact enough to plunge into the maniac's eyes.

Sawtooth was not so easily felled. He twisted out from Christine's leg, causing his adversary to stumble backwards for a bit. A wallet tumbled out of her pocket, which spilled its contents on the ground. Christine's business card fluttered to the ground, mesmerizing Landon as it fell. Christine lunged in for that instant, only for Landon to sidestep the half-hearted attack. He looked once more at the Snow Financial logo, and he drew the machete. His eyes radiated an inhuman malevolence, and I saw fear on the banker's face.

Landon wailed on Christine with a flurry of mad blows, his barrage arriving with a supernal alacrity she couldn't counter. Bloody gashes crossed her arms, cutting deep into the bone. Christine fell back into the crowd, until she came up against a shipping container behind her. The blood from her injuries led Sawtooth right to her, bloody weapon raised for the deathblow. With nowhere to run, she turned to face Ralph with her blade held in a feeble, weakening grip. She launched herself in a desperate, final blow.

The tip of that blade would've felled Landon, had he not reacted. He twisted to the side at the last instant, letting his armor harmlessly deflect the weapon. Seeing an opening, he trapped Christine's hand and ripped the weapon from her grasp, before chucking it into the crowd behind them. He threw her to the ground, cut into her kneecaps with his machete, and retrieved his chainsaw. I wish I could have looked away.

Landon returned with the weapon ready. Christine kept trying to crawl away, but in her battered state, it was useless. He opened a valve on his weapon, pouring gasoline onto her torso. He then activated the weapon, bringing the front onto her chest. Sparks struck the gasoline and ignited, setting her on fire. She screamed as blood mingled with burning gasoline. She burnt like a human candle, and I smelt the singed flesh. I wanted to puke.

Ever the mutilation artist, Ralph was not done. As Christine burned for a few seconds, he brought his foot down on her neck. He brought the weapon down, and he crudely sawed her skull in half. Ralph ripped the bloody mess from her neck, and he held a chunk of her head in each hand. He waved his macabre trophies, shouting in orgasmic ecstasy as he threw them to his feet. He stomped on them and cheered. The fracas ceased once the Hammer Brothers clapped.

"Despite his name, you can see why more of Sawtooth's murders were committed with his machete," I said. "And despite the crudity of his fighting style, it was enough to win."

Ralph raised his machete above his head, like barbarian warlord. Our would-be Cimmerian nevertheless listened when I spoke again.

"But next week, we shall meet two fighters driven by desperation, rather than bloodlust," I said, looking at Ralph. "Not all participants in the Golden Games are slavering maniacs. In fact, not all combatants are fully human, although some would contest it."

Ralph lowered his weapon, and he vanished behind a shipping container. I couldn't see the look on his face, but I wondered if my words drove him away like a whipped dog. Even though I was someone else's ventriloquist meat-puppet, I at least felt proud enough to cause someone like Landon to turn tail. The two brothers bowed to me, and everything went black.

So, I woke up exactly where I saw them before. I checked my watch, and barely a few seconds elapsed. Instead of feeling exhausted or disgusted, I felt invigorated. I could practically move like Christine can, using those serpentine silat strikes. I've never practiced silat before, but I feel like I've studied it for years. When I looked up kris combat techniques online, I could recognize what the instructor was doing before they explained it. I'm not quite sure what's happening, but part of me likes it.

Oh, remember that creepy poem from last week? I did some research on that. It was published in a small anthology, That Fickle Muse, by a guy from Ohio named Rick Landon. Same last name as the chainsaw maniac. I did some online work, but I didn't find anything on Ralph "Sawtooth" Landon or Christine Hunt. Snow Financial exists, but they're primarily based in Delaware, not New York City. It doesn't preclude them from having a Manhattan office, but it's just weird.

That's all I have for you this week. No more creepy poetry, but just questions with no answers. Whatever the Golden Games are, I've can't help but feel I'm a mouthpiece for whatever organizes them. Perhaps it needs me to explore human minds and motivations. Perhaps it uses me as a disposable vessel. I know this is not going to end well, but it's just started. I need to keep training, because I'm going to face whoever, or whatever, wins the Games.

See you all next week.

[Transcript ends.]