A Miracles fanfic
by Laurel Wilson
Rated PG for a little grown-up language.
Pretty much the sole reason why this story was written was because the title popped in my head and I liked it too much not to give it meaning, heh. I think any story that features a board game that "comes to life" is going to, unfortunately, be instantly associated with Jumanji, so I went ahead and made my own joke. ;)
Laughter drifted out of the open window of the Lionelle home in reaction to Keith's friend, Carla, strutting around the living room and clucking.
"Uh, uhhhh... chicken!" Rob cried.
"No shit," mumbled Keith's wife, Brenda, prompting more snickers from the group.
Carla put her finger on her nose and pointed at Rob, then indicated that she was going to do the second word of the movie title.
"Movie, second word," the group said, pretty much in unison.
Carla ran in place.
"Chicken Run!" Sarah cried.
Celebrating, Carla raised her arms in triumph and danced in place. "Yes, yes!"
"Hey, is this a Halloween party or what?" Brenda asked, with more than a little sarcasm. "Are we just going to play charades all night, or are we going to get Keith to finally reveal his big spooky surprise?" She turned to her husband.
He smirked. The gang boisterously agreed with Brenda, prodding Keith to tell them what he had bought for this year's Halloween festivities. After remaining silent for several seconds just to tease everyone, Keith put up his hands to quiet them and said, "Alright, alright, you dragged it out of me." He stood with a grin. "I wanted Halloween to be really special this year, so I scoured the Internet for something really creepy and fun, and let me tell ya, there are some weird sites out there. But I finally found the perfect thing for our party." Keith pulled a box out from under the couch.
Brenda remarked, "So that's where you hid it."
He held the box up. Its cover bore images of devils and monsters cavorting among flames before a steel gate. "Damnation!"
"Not another Ouija board," Carla whined.
"It's not a Ouija board, it's a game, kinda like Monopoly," Keith explained. He put the box down on the coffee table. "The aim is to buy up sections of Hell until you become its king."
"Aww, I hate Monopoly."
"But it's evil Monopoly. Hellopoly!" The group laughed.
"I say we give it a try; could be good for a laugh." Brenda started to unpack the game, laying it out on the table.
"Oh, but that's not all... the website guarantees that the game has mystical properties." Sitting down on the other side of the table, Keith helped his wife set up the board. "See, this crystal ball goes in the middle. Sometimes, you draw cards, and stuff related to whatever you draw shows up in the crystal."
"Oh suuuure," Carla said with a roll of her eyes. She examined the crystal ball. "Where do the batteries go?"
Once they had the game set up, Keith read them the directions, and by the time he was done, they were all excited to either play it or debunk it as just a plain old board game. "Only four can play at a time, though," he added. "Why don't you sit this one out, Rob?"
"I'm not playing if Rob can't play," complained Carla.
"But you have to; see, it says here, 'There must always be four players, no less and no more, for the game to function.' So - "
"I'll sit this game out," Sarah volunteered. She sat back to simply watch, leaning on her rather quiet date, Seth.
They weren't that far into the game when the sleepy young daughter of the Lionelles wandered out of her room, rubbing her eyes. The crowd had been laughing loudly at Rob's attempts to buy up all the sexually-themed realms of Hell, and woke her up. "Mommy, I can't sleep. You're making too much noise."
Brenda looked at her child and laughed; although she wore her pink pajamas with the blue stars on them, she also had put most of her Halloween costume back on after her parents put her to bed. "I'm sorry, Lexi. What are you wearing this for?" She tried to remove the headband with the fake cat ears attached to it.
"Noooo," Lexi whined, holding the headband on her head.
"Alexis, you can't sleep in this."
Seth suddenly laughed. "She's even got the cat tail on."
"Can I have some more candy?" Not waiting for an answer, Lexi leaned over her father's lap to get into her bag of Halloween candy.
"Ah-ah, little miss, no you may not." Keith snatched her up and turned her upside-down; Lexi giggled and squirmed as he tickled her, then eventually put her down. "Alright kitten, you can stay for a few minutes, but then it's back to bed." He patted her auburn hair. "We'll try to be quieter."
Brenda glanced at the game board. "It's a good thing she can't read yet..." she mumbled to Rob, who snickered.
Sitting in her father's lap, Lexi played with some of the gold coins players used to buy feral property, then got into the little figurines of demons one could place on realms they had bought up. She giggled at one demon with big bugged-out eyes. "Cookie Monster. Ahm nom nom nom nom!" Lexi made the figurine pretend to eat the gold coin in her hand as if it was a cookie.
Keith took his turn; he landed on the space to pick a card.
"You know Keith, we haven't seen this game do anything mystical yet," Brenda pointed out. "We may be asking for our money back."
"Aw, but it's so cool. The Monopoly man has horns and everything," Rob chuckled.
Keith, laughing too, read his card aloud. "Go straight to Hell, do not pass 'Go,' do not collect $200."
The others broke out in rowdy laughter, which turned to confused exclamations and finally gasps as the crystal ball first glowed with a dark purple light, then seemed to open up into a formless portal, about five feet in diameter, almost circular if the edges didn't constantly ooze out of shape. Beyond, they could see nothing but darkness, but a great deal of sounds came from it. Screams, growls, metal scraping against metal - all accompanied by the smell of burning sulphur.
They all gaped at it as the smell filled the room. "Um... is that mystical enough for you?"
Lexi looked into the portal. "Cookie Monster!" she cried, and curiously crawled up on the table.
This brought Keith out of his shock. "LEXI!" He grabbed for her, but found himself with a handful of fake cat tail instead of his daughter; she disappeared into the darkness of the portal.
"What is it?!" Rob yelled.
Keith started to get up to go after Lexi. A horrible, monstrous growl came out of the portal. Scared, Rob jumped up and ran halfway across the room, clearly not in the game anymore. The portal closed, the crystal ball returning to its original form. Except that now, it glowed at its core with a purple light.
"NO!" Keith picked up the crystal ball and shook it. "Open up! Lexi!"
"What was that?" Rob asked from across the room.
Her voice shaking, Brenda said, "Where did Lexi go?"
"Didn't you see?" Keith cried. He held out the crystal ball. "She went in here! Through the portal to... that was Hell, wasn't it? 'Go straight to Hell'?"
Obviously, Brenda was beginning to panic. "There's no such thing! Little girls don't disappear into portals to Hell." She grabbed Carla's arm. "She's got to be in the house somewhere. You'll help me look for her? Please, please?"
"Of course." The woman looked at Rob nervously. What the hell had just happened?
"No, no! You don't understand. The game... the game is real." Keith tried to get anyone to listen to him. "We've got to get her out before something happens to her." He glanced at the crystal ball. "Wait, it's saying something..."
Words formed in the crystal like phantom alphabet soup, tumbling into place on the curve of its surface.
There is no way
That Damnation can
"That's it! Guys, to get her back, we have to keep playing." He followed his wife and friends down the hall; they were in Lexi's room, looking for her. "We have to keep playing!"
Brenda turned on him. "Stop prattling on about that damn game and help us find Alexis!"
"But she's in here!"
Sarah came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Keith, I saw it. I saw Lexi go into the portal. I believe you."
"Why won't they listen?" He looked helplessly at Sarah. "We need four."
Behind them, Seth backed toward the door. "I, uh, better go." He bounded for the door, not wishing to get involved in this whole bizarre scene.
"Because people can't handle stuff like this," Sarah replied, gesturing toward her retreating date. "Most people. But we've got to stay calm so we can save Lexi."
"Of course." Nodding, Keith realized he still had the fake cat tail in his hand. He cradled it to his chest. "But we need others to play." Thinking a moment, the answer showed in his eyes. "While I was searching the 'net for this game, I stumbled across a website for this group of people who investigate weird things. Soda... litmus? Quarters? It was Latin, or Spanish, or something. Maybe they can help. I know it's a long shot, but maybe they see things like this every day."
Sarah looked from the others, running about the house calling "Lexi!", to Keith. "Maybe they do. Let's gather up the game."
Walking into the main office with a tray, Alva again adjusted the skirt of his Roman soldier costume. "Happy Halloween," he said as he offered one of the mugs of red beer to Paul, then to Evie. She was not dressed up for the holiday, but Paul wore the Ghost Face costume from the Scream movies, though he'd pushed the mask up on top of his head so he could now see.
"Why is it red?" Paul asked. He had just come from taking several of the kids from St. Jerome's trick-or-treating. "Are we evoking blood?" He raised his arms and made a spooky face, like the stereotype of a vampire.
"Yes," Alva simply replied, taking his own mug and sitting down.
"Lovely," Evie laughed. She had also just come from trick-or-treating with Matty; he was home with her mother now, asleep. "And why are we drinking the blood beer? I know there's a story."
"You know me well, my dear. By the way..." Alva pretended to look over her outfit. "...I love your costume. What are you supposed to be?"
Grinning, she answered, "I'm going as a paranormal investigator."
Paul and Alva both chuckled.
"I thought since this is the night when the veil between our world and the other side is supposed to be the thinnest that we should honor the guardians who watch over our psychomantium. Ancient gods and goddesses alike walk the earth tonight." Alva pointed to the self-contained little room. "The incense I'm burning in there is for Ma'at, and the red beer is for Hathor."
"There's more to this," Evie said, and held up her mug.
With a grin, Alva began, "This is the story of how Ra, the Egyptian sun god, dealt with mankind when some of their rank plotted against him. He called in a counsel of gods and goddesses for advice on how to handle this - they suggested he send Hathor out into the desert in pursuit of these men to show them what happens to those who conspire against gods. But she should not go in her own guise, they said, because Hathor was known as Ra's Eye, and mankind had been born of Ra's tears. They were afraid the Eye would feel too sorry for its 'children' to teach them a proper lesson."
"I remember some of this from college," Paul commented. "The mythology stuff, but not this story."
"Some goddesses are given more lip service than others." Alva continued the tale. "To assure that Hathor could do the job, she transformed herself into a fierce lioness. She performed the slaughter with such enthusiasm that Ra himself became worried that she would not stop. The goddess grew absolutely bloodthirsty - she refused to abandon her carnage. Hathor told Ra that she enjoyed her victory over mankind so much that she merited a new name, Sekhmet, 'She Who Prevails.' She planned to finish us all off, you see.
"This is not what Ra wanted; he had only desired for them to be taught a lesson, not wiped from the face of the Earth. He concocted a plan to stop Hathor before she completed the slaying of mankind. Ra had red ochre brought from Elephantine, and barley beer brewed up by his maidservants, and the two were mixed together. Some 7,000 jars were made. The mixture resembled blood." Alva held up his mug, examining the color and texture of the drink. "Those jars were poured over the fields before Hathor arrived. When she saw the flooded lands, she thought they ran with human blood, drenched with it, and the goddess smacked her lips insatiably. She immediately began drinking of the 'blood,' becoming so drunk that she forgot all about slaying the remainder of mankind."
Evie chuckled, remarking, "I've had a few nights like that."
"Me too," Paul added sheepishly.
Finishing up the story, Alva went on, "Ra was saddened by mankind's transgressions against him, so he left mankind to themselves. Many noticed this and blamed the transgressors for it, as well they should. Man took up weapons and separated themselves on opposite sides. This is how war was born. And Sekhmet became its goddess.
"This is why we sit here with our mugs of red beer, which were colored by much more modern methods than using powdered iron ore..."
"Thankfully," Paul grinned.
"...yes... We drink this in honor of Hathor, who was given realm over intoxication because of this incident. In ancient times, they held great festivals for her where everyone got drunk on this concoction." Alva held his mug out. "To Hathor."
They knocked their glasses together. "To our lady of the frat party." Paul and Evie took a swig while Alva glared scoldingly, but playfully, at Paul.
"Do you really think it's a good idea to make fun of her after hearing that story?" A small grin touched his lips, and he took his own gulp of beer.
Paul stopped, looked at the red beer, and started shaking his head in amusement, when there came an urgent knock at the outer door that quickly turned into a loud, persistent banging.
"Should we get that? It's probably just teenagers," Evie said, reminding them, "It is Halloween."
"Please open up! I need your help!" a muffled voice pleaded from the other side of the door.
"I think we better check that." Paul got to his feet.
Evie thought it still could be teenagers playing a prank, but she put her beer down and followed him halfway to the door. As soon as he opened it, Keith Lionelle rushed in. "You gotta help me! My little girl!"
"Woah, woah - what's going on?" He looked at Sarah, standing behind Keith with the game box in her arms.
"I'm sorry, he's a bit upset. Something's happened, and we think you may be able to help," she filled in. "His little girl is in danger."
"Why do you think we'll be able to help?"
Sarah showed him the board game. "She disappeared into this."
After Paul had let them in, even Alva was on his feet, glancing at the box Sarah held. "How can we help you?"
"We were playing this game, and this thing, this portal opened up, and Lexi went in before I could stop her. We need four! We should get her out as quickly as possible," Keith babbled, looking from one person to another. "You guys take care of strange things?"
"Yes, we do." Paul led them over to the short table, where he encouraged Sarah to put the game down, so they could all look it over. "Keel?" Alva was already on it, examining the box. "What are your names?"
"I'm Sarah Tanner, and this is Keith Lionelle. His daughter Alexis is the one who went into the game."
"This isn't your wife?"
Keith shook his head. "No, she's just a friend. My wife is back at home looking for our daughter." He fumbled nervously with his coat buttons. "She denied that Lexi disappeared into the game. But I saw it."
"I saw it too," Sarah added.
"Sometimes, people deny strange things that happen right in front of them, whether they actually see it or not." Paul knew that he himself could be guilty of this. "They can't deal with the unknown."
"But you guys can, right? You'll help me save my little girl?"
Without missing a beat, Paul replied, "Of course."
"We'll do what we can," Alva said in clarification. Always the realist, he knew they might not be able to do what this man was asking. Alva had opened the box and was looking over the pieces, especially the glowing crystal ball. "First, tell us exactly what happened in detail."
Keith and Sarah gave them the quickest but most detailed version they could muster. While they spoke, Alva set the game up, looking curiously over each item as he laid them out. He took a long look at the crystal ball and its purple core before setting it on its stand in the middle of the game. Alva was too interested in the board to notice Evie staring intently at the cover of the box with an alarmed look on her face.
"There must always be four players?"
"That's what the rules say, that the game will not function unless there are four. To get the portal to open again, we have to continue the game," Keith said desperately.
"Can you remember where you left off?"
"Uhhhh..." He put a hand to his forehead, tapping his fingers there nervously. "Rob was buying up the sex properties..."
Sarah filled in, "And you had this one, and that one..."
"I... I can't remember them all. Damn it!" Keith angrily pounded his hands on the table; the demon figurines bounced, some falling over.
Alva held up a hand. "It's alright. Perhaps we can start a new game."
"Then you'll play? Because we should get started. Lexi's already been in there for over 45 minutes!"
Alva glanced at Paul briefly, then asked, "May I see a picture of your daughter?"
Keith produced an Easter picture of the smiling, redheaded child from his wallet. After looking at it, Alva passed it on to Paul, who did not say a word; he knew from Alva's mannerisms that he was just making sure this wasn't a trick, a hoax, that the child really existed. If this was a hoax, the man had gone to a lot of trouble, even making sure he brought a wallet full of pictures. Alva finally declared, "Alright, we'll play."
Paul and Alva assembled around the board, while Keith took the third seat. Sarah moved to sit on the fourth side of the board. "No, I'd rather have people with experience in the supernatural in as many positions as possible. Evie?"
Evie was startled by him calling her; she swallowed hard and looked at Alva. "It leads to Hell, doesn't it?" Her eyes widened. "A portal to Hell."
"It seems so." He simply looked back at her. "Would you like to see a photograph of the little girl who's trapped there?"
At first, Evie glared at Alva for that one. Then she took a deep breath and sat down. "Been there, done that. Let's play."
Evie having taken her seat, the game reacted dramatically. The pieces began setting themselves up as they had been where the game left off, like they were being moved by an unseen force. Evie and Keith gasped and jumped back in their chairs, Paul gaped, and Alva's eyes widened in surprise. The gold coins rolled back and forth across the board until they had been properly distributed, and everyone had the share that the player they represented had previously owned. Finally, the last coin fell on its side before Paul.
Words floated from the dark depths of the crystal ball. Let us continue, they said.
"What about Alexis?" Keith asked the ball directly. "Where is she?"
The crystal ball replied with another message.
That is the case
But she went in
And took your place
For the sake of the game,
You are in Hell
When you escape,
only time will tell
Paul took a quick peek at the directions. "You can't get out of Hell unless you have $500 or a 'Get out of Hell free' card."
Frustrated, Keith glowered over his lack of money. "I was building up my properties..."
"Don't worry, you'll make it back when we start landing on them." Evie picked up the black dice, which felt as if they were made of some sort of bone. The indentations that formed the numbers on each side had been emphasized with gold paint.
While she took her turn, Paul looked over the board and its realms. "It's a mix of various mythologies and Christianity. The river Styx winds all around the board, some of the realms of Hell that you can buy are Violation, Sin, Lust, Loneliness, Jealousy, Guilt..." He stopped, a small laugh popping from his mouth. "Retail?"
"You never worked retail on Black Friday, did you Paul?" asked Evie with amusement.
"No, but... okay, Trigonometry? Nevermind, I agree with that one. One of the hardest classes I took in college." Sighing, he read some of the names off the little pedestals on which the demon figures sat. "Asmodeus, Mammon, Beelzebub, Leviathan, Belphegor, Avnus... huh. Whoever designed this game did their homework."
"Did you notice what the coins say on them?" remarked Alva.
Paul looked. "'An obolus in payment to Charon.' So we really are buying our way through the Underworld."
After several turns, Keith had collected enough money to get out of Hell. His turn came around, and he paid $500 to the bank. "I buy my way out."
The portal that had opened up before expanded again. Everyone gasped and leaned back in their chairs, startled, except for Keith. He had seen this earlier that night. The sounds, the smells that came out of it - it all made Evie begin to shake her head. "Oh God... I'm not going back in there..."
"Alexis!" Keith sprang to his feet, obviously meaning to jump right in.
"Wait!" Paul stood too; they should tie a rope around Keith, or maybe one of them should go - they couldn't just let him jump right in there, unarmed, unprepared. But Keith was already entering the portal, so when Paul grabbed him, he felt the intense pull of it, yanking him in. He couldn't let this man face such a thing alone, and so, he simply gave in to that pull and leapt in also.
"Paul, let go!" Alva shouted, but the two men had already disappeared into the darkness.
He didn't have time to even look for a rope to throw to Paul, because Evie suddenly screeched, "I won't go back!" and bolted from the table, knocking over her chair in her haste to get away. The portal shut itself.
"No!" Alva yelled. He gaped at Evie's retreating back until she stopped on the other side of the office, leaning on a window and breathing so hard that she might be hyperventilating.
Sarah also stared with her mouth open at Evie; she had been simply watching them up until now, but may have to join in play herself at this point. "What are we going to do?" she asked Alva.
He understood that the mere idea of Damnation was enough to bring back horrible memories for Evie, but... "We need four."
Evie had to play.
Sitting up, Paul looked around to see where he and Keith had landed. Beyond the darkness of the portal was only a yellow mist, thick, with the odor of rotten eggs. Something lay beyond this fog, in the distance; they could hear the activity there.
That is where the screams came from.
"Keith, you okay?"
"We're here." Keith tried to peer through the mists. "The smell is the same... the sounds... let's find Lexi."
"You think we're really in Hell?"
As if to punctuate Paul's question, someone let out a bloodcurdling, pain-filled scream from the same direction of the other noises. "I hope that's not where Lexi went..."
Paul remembered his mask, the mask that went with the rest of the Ghost Face costume. "If this really is Hell, maybe it's better if I look like one of the locals. At least, I can assume this is how they might look... stay behind me. We can hope no one comes near enough to see us up close." He pulled the mask down over his face. "Come on, let's go look for your daughter."
"But once we find her, how do we get out of here?" Keith asked with desperation.
Through the mask, Paul replied, "I... I'm not sure." He looked back from where they had come. "Keel will find a way."
Alva carefully approached Evie with a paper bag in his hand. "Evie? Are you alright? Do you need this?"
Her breath still came shallow and shrill, but she sounded better than she had a minute before. Evie refused the bag. "I'm fine."
Alva paused before he said, "You have to come back to the game and play."
"Don't say it!" She raised a finger to him. "Alva, I can't."
"You have to."
"I won't go back there!"
"We can't get Paul, the child, or her father back without you. I might be able to force the portal open with various mystical methods, but I'd rather not try - it could be dangerous. It's better to do this the natural way. The portal willingly opens in reaction to gameplay." Knowing that he had to be tough with her to get this done, Alva held up the little snapshot of Alexis. "She's about Matty's age. Can you leave this child in a place that you're so afraid of? What about Paul?"
"Stop it!" Evie screamed at him. "Just... don't."
Alva took a deep breath and sighed. "Evelyn, you were a policewoman. You've seen people at their absolute worst, you've walked right into Hell on Earth and wrestled dregs of humanity twice your size into submission... why does this vision of Hell scare you so badly?"
She did not pause long before answering. "Because it represents eternity."
"What do you mean?"
"If my NDE was real, it means I'm going to Hell when I die. For all time. That's what the Bible says, right?" Evie chuckled with a bit of hysteria in her voice. "Eternity. You don't get out, you don't stay for a week and then go home like some sort of camp. It's forever. Do you have any idea how it feels to have that hanging over your head? Other people, they live their lives thinking they are going to a good place when they die. When all else fails, they have that to fall back on. I don't. God has given up on me." A long sigh escaped her lips as she ran a hand slowly through her hair. "Some days, it is so hard just to get out of bed."
"It seems pointless," Alva finished.
"Yes. Because what's the point in trying when your fate is already decided?"
Alva asked, "But you do get out of bed. Why?"
Evie knew he was getting her to talk so she could work this out; it made her mad because he was right, and she wanted to strike out at him for it. "For Matty. Because maybe fate can be changed. Maybe there's an answer out there for how I can repent and reverse this decision. I was given a second child; perhaps fate has changed its mind already. I want to know."
"And maybe fate doesn't know what it's talking about. Who are they to decide the future of your soul?" Alva's eyes became intense as he attempted to psyche Evie up for the rest of the game. "Maybe they need to be shown that they were wrong about Evelyn Santos, that she doesn't deserve to spend eternity in Hell for something she did while she was still just a child herself. Perhaps you need to reach down inside yourself and pull out that strength that makes you get out of bed every day, look into the gaping maw of Hell, and scream, 'You will not have me, I am not yours!'" He slapped his hand down on the nearest bookcase.
Across the room, Sarah had been waiting for them to come back, fidgeting in her chair. When Alva smacked the piece of furniture, she nearly jumped ten feet out of her seat with a choked squeal.
Evie did not jump; she had seen him like this before. She knew Alva was right about it all. No matter how frightening the idea of eternal torment was, Evie had to face that portal to Hell again - not just for Paul and the Lionelles, but for herself. "Don't you ever get tired of being right all the time?"
"Not if you'll remember this conversation the next time I'm wrong." Alva grinned at her, and she couldn't help but grin back. "You know how I feel about this, Evie. The only repenting you need to do is to forgive yourself. But what matters is how you feel about it. I know the idea of Hell has become humongous and scary to you; I'm not asking you not to be scared. I just need you to help me get our impetuous coworker back."
Letting out a laugh, Evie commented, "Only Paul would jump right into Hell without a second thought."
"That's why we have to watch his back." Alva patted her shoulder. "I don't think it's safe to leave anyone in there for too long. Shall we play?"
Evie, sighing, tried to smile again. "Okay."
They walked back over to the table. She looked at Alva, then Sarah, and growled, "You gave me that big speech and we only have three people?!"
Alva put up his hands in surrender. "Neither Paul nor Keith was supposed to go in. They were not stuck in Hell at the time they went in according to the game. It's a loophole we can probably use to our advantage." He sat down. Evie did too.
Alva spoke directly to the crystal ball. "Two of our players have gone inside your portal. How do we continue play?"
One word appeared in the crystal. Substitutes.
"Others can play on behalf of our missing players; good. Sarah, you've already volunteered to play for Keith. What if we don't have a substitute for Paul?" he asked.
"It's not like he'd been banished to Hell by the game. Surely there are special rules in this case."
After a pause, the crystal ball replied...
Is that what you meant?
Alva, shaking his head, said firmly, "Oh no, no no, you send no one. I don't even want to see who you'd send. No, I want to know if I can play twice. May I play for Paul and myself?"
Evie looked at him doubtfully. "What does that mean?"
Split in two
Alva furrowed his brow. "How would such a thing be accomplished?"
And you will see
"Alva, it's too dangerous. Don't do it," Evie warned.
"What choice do we have? Either we let the game bring in God knows what or we drag some poor inexperienced sod in here off the street and convince them to play a game that opens a portal to Hell. That's far more dangerous. We already have one novice playing. No offense, Sarah." He braced himself. "It's the only way. I agree."
A beam of luminous purple light shot out of the crystal ball, hitting Alva squarely between the eyes. He grunted with discomfort.
"Holy crap!" Sarah cried.
Evie cringed and reached for his arm. "Are you alr - "
The air around them rippled violently. Evie recoiled and threw her hands in front of her face. When the surge passed over the chair Paul had occupied, it left behind another Alva, identical in appearance to the first.
Evie and Sarah both gaped at the two Alvas. "You gotta be kidding me..." his astonished female partner exclaimed.
The new Alva said, "Alright then, let's play."
"Yes. We've got to get Paul out of there," the first Alva commented.
"Of course," the second Alva said, and added, "And find out what else this game can do. I mean, look at this! There's two of us."
"It is amazing, isn't it?"
Rolling her eyes, Evie cut in, "Okay, Alva, hush. You too... Alva. Wait, you're Alva." She pointed to the original one. "And you're Keel." That nickname was reserved for the new Alva. "There, we can keep you straight. Now, whose turn is it?"
"We're never going to find her in all this pea soup," said Keith in frustration.
"We'll find her." Paul almost snapped it, but he knew how determined he could be, and Keith did not. He would never leave without the innocent little girl. "Alexis!"
Another loud roar came from some distance to their left. "That doesn't sound like any animal I've ever heard."
"Maybe we should go the other way," Paul suggested.
"But what if Lexi went that way?"
"Keith, I'm not even sure where we've been and where we haven't been. It's too easy to get lost in here." Paul sighed. "If we could get her to answer us, we'd have some point of reference."
"Every time we yell, that thing out there hears us too... but what choice do - " Keith jumped against Paul's back as a similar roaring sound came much closer. "It's found us!"
Paul, putting a hand on his arm, listened intently to the sounds coming closer. "No, that sound is different. I think it's a motorcycle."
The deep roar did sound like a Harley-Davidson revving up; the source seemed to be parked several yards away in the fog. Paul and Keith heard someone talking faintly in that area, and then Lexi's voice drifted toward them. "Daddy, Daddy!" She ran out of the mist.
Keith opened his arms and scooped her up. "Lexi! Oh, I'm so glad you're okay!" He hugged her and kissed her cheeks.
"I took a ride on a bike," the child reported happily. "A man gave me the ride. He told me to stay away from portals. Daddy, what's a portal?"
"What you came through to get here." Looking over Lexi's shoulder, he said to Paul, "A man on a bike? Out here?"
The noise of the motorcycle moved away from them then. "Wait!" called Keith. "I want to thank you for looking after my daughter!"
Whoever rode the 'cycle did not answer, but the roaring beast did, and it moved closer at a growing rate of speed.
"Cookie Monster!" Lexi squealed.
Paul turned to Keith, and raised the mask so he could see better. His eyes were wide. "Run!"
"Where are we going?!"
"Anywhere that monster isn't!"
Evie and Sarah exchanged worried glances when Keel paid to have yet another demon put on one of his realms of Hell. "I'm winning, hehhehheh. I'm becoming King of Hell."
"He's enjoying this," Evie remarked to Sarah, then gasped when she looked back at him. "My God, Keel. You have horns!"
The Alva who was overly concerned with winning the game (Keel) had indeed grown red, curved horns from either side of his head, near his temples. Apparently, the game had physical effects on players too! Keel felt at them. "Isn't that fascinating?"
"You're losing your focus," scolded Alva. "The important thing here is to rescue Paul and the others, not to win this infernal game."
"Speak for yourself."
Sarah and Evie took their turns; they both landed on realms owned by Keel. He cackled maniacally as he collected the money from them. Sighing at his twin, Alva rolled the dice and also landed on one of Keel's properties. He looked over at his celebrating mirror image. "What? You actually expect me to pay you?"
"How can you do that?" Alva counted his money. "I don't have enough."
"Then give me a property. I'll take..." Keel looked over the realms Alva owned. "...Loneliness."
"You're cleaning me out."
Keel laughed. "I'm going to win. Jumanji! I mean, Damnation."
His turn came up next; he landed on the space to pick a card. "'Get out of Hell free.'"
Alva instantly spat, "Use it now!"
Keel did. "I'd like to use this card now, to open the portal on Paul's behalf."
The portal almost immediately opened up.
Paul and Keith were running blindly through the fog with Lexi. They barely saw the portal open before them when they tumbled through it and right on top of Keel. Within seconds, they were a tangle of grunting men and overturned chair, with Lexi on top giggling, "Let's do that again!"
The monster's growl drifted through the opening. "We can't let it get in here!" Paul yelled, trying to scramble to his feet.
"Get your hand out of my ear," Keel complained.
"That's okay," Alva replied.
Paul stared at Alva, then looked down at the man he'd fallen upon. "Gah! There's - wha - two?!"
He felt something poking him in the back, and glanced behind him to see a red, leathery, pointed tail there, apparently attached to Keel. "Guhaaaah!"
Thinking quickly, Evie stood up and backed away from the table. This shut the game down and closed the portal. It also put Alva back together; with the game shut down, there was no need for a substitute anymore. Another ripple passed through the air, and Paul and Keith fell against the overturned chair like part of the floor had been pulled out from under them. Keel had simply disappeared. Alva jerked in his chair, blinked several times, and felt at his head. "Oh good. No more horns."
"I think I preferred falling on Keel," Paul mumbled, rubbing his side, which had connected smartly with the edge of the seat. "He was better padded."
The danger now passed, Alva turned the dormant crystal ball over in his hands. "There appears to be an opal at the heart of this."
Paul asked, "Is that significant?"
"Opals are believed to have magickal influence over communication and transportation, among other things. Most likely it was the center of the crystal ball's power. You can see the obvious implications." Alva tapped its surface. "The messages we received, relating to the game, and you were definitely transported to another realm through it."
"Question is, what were we communicating with?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe we can find out," Alva replied.
Keith walked over to them with the sleepy Alexis in his arms, her falling asleep on his shoulder. "I just want to thank you again for helping me rescue my daughter. I wouldn't have believed any of this was real if it hadn't happened right in front of my face. It was just a board game I bought off the Internet... how can they sell something so dangerous?"
"Because few would believe the truth of what Damnation can do. Do you think the Better Business Bureau would ever buy our story? It's unfortunate..." Alva sighed. "Even if we could show them what the game can do, there's not exactly a legal precedent for a thing like this. Have you ever heard of a business being shut down because they were selling portals to Hell?"
Paul slid a sheet of paper across the table toward Keith. "Can you write down the URL of the website where you got the game for us? We'll investigate it."
"Sure. Let me see if I can remember it..." He took up the pen, chewing on its cap while he tried to recall where he'd bought the game.
Evie came over with the box top in her hand. "You know, when that kid came through with those cat ears on, for a second I thought they were real. Hey, Alva had horns and a tail..."
"That had to be just an optical illusion," Alva declared.
Chuckling, Paul peeked at the box cover. "It's a painting of Hell, looks like." He took another look. "The gates... it reminds me of..."
"It is," Evie answered, almost in a confessional tone. "The image on this box matches my vision of Hell."
Paul didn't know what to say; he could only imagine how overwhelming it must be to see her own frightening vision on the cover of a game box. Like it might be real.
Keith finally pushed the paper back over to Paul. "That's it."
Alva came over to read the paper, holding the side that Paul did not have a hold of. "You're sure this is the site?"
Looking back and forth between the two men, Paul read the URL out loud. "Satanstoyshop.com?!"
(The domain used in this story was not owned by anyone at the time that I wrote it. If someone buys it later, I have no association with them; it's just a coincidence. Thanks to all who betaed this story and gave me their impressions, including Deej, Argento, and Jill.)
Go Straight to Hell, Do Not Pass 'Go,' Do Not Collect $200 (c) 2004 Demented Stuff
Miracles is (c) 2003 Spyglass Entertainment & Touchstone Television
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