Thanks to MusicalLuna for being the beta on this one. I would like to claim that all remaining mistakes are, by logic, hers, but I know I won't get away with it. They're all mine, but without her wonderful job there would have been lots and loads more.
"The Challenge" by psychologist over at Psychfic (dot) com: An evil Psycho is challenging Shawn. It's a game to him, conjuring up impossible challenges that stretches Shawn's ability to the limit, and if he fails? His friends and family could be caught in the crossfire.
Catch Me If You Can
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning: There is some bad language in this story. Nothing that's not covered by the rating, in my opinion, but I just thought I'd let you know.
Chapter 1 – 04.00am: The Call
From somewhere, there came music.
Groggily, Shawn turned around in his bed and pulled the pillow over his head. To no avail.
The music continued playing, a slightly metallic sound that penetrated even through the fabric and downs of the pillow. And then he recognised it.
Shawn groaned and slowly sat up in his bed. La Cucaracha was his ring tone for unknown callers. Shawn ran a hand over his face as he blindly groped for his cell phone on the bedside table. He checked his alarm clock. 04.01 am. He groaned again. If this was his father calling with his number suppressed to get him out of bed for a stupid fishing trip, or for an early morning exercise in mowing the lawn, he would kill him. He was fairly sure that patricide was a crime punishable by law, but he was sure that calls at 4.00am were a very good reason to plead temporary insanity.
His fingers closed around the phone and he sank back into his pillow as he answered the call.
"Hello?" he croaked out.
"Good morning, Shawn", a raspy, somewhat metallic voice said. Something about that voice was off, and Shawn sat up in his bed, heart beating fast in his chest all of a sudden.
"Who is this?"
"Your wake up call", the voice continued with a cheerful undertone. But that metallic distortion was still there. That was it, Shawn realised. That voice was distorted, the caller was using some sort of device to disguise his voice.
"Yeah, really funny. I'm going to hang up now."
The voice chuckled. "You do that. But maybe you should check your mail before you go back to bed. I'm sure you'll be more in a mood to talk after that."
And the line was dead. Shawn kept sitting on his bed for a few more moments, trying to make sense of that strange phone call. His first instinct was to just ignore it and go back to sleep, just for the sake of not doing what some unknown midnight caller wanted of him. But curiosity got the better of him, like it always did. One day, it would get him killed like the proverbial cat, that's what his father had always told him, but Shawn couldn't help himself.
He got out of bed and crossed the bedroom. Carefully, he went out into the hall and slowly opened his apartment's front door.
There was nobody out in the hallway, and Shawn's heartbeat slowed down a little.
Then his eyes fell onto the manila envelope that was lying on his doormat. Shawn checked to make sure that there truly wasn't anybody out there in the hall, then he grabbed the envelope and withdrew back into the apartment. He locked the door and put on the chain, then he went back into his bedroom and sat down on his bed.
His rational voice – which sounded annoyingly like his father – told him not to open the envelope. It could be anything, really. In the worst case a bomb or something. But Shawn figured that the envelope was too thin for that, and without thinking further about it he tore open the flap.
The envelope contained a letter and a photo that was printed out on a letter-sized piece of paper. Shawn already had the letter in his hand, but then his eyes fell on the photograph and he froze. It was a printed out copy, enlarged so that it filled nearly the entire sheet of paper. It was black and white, and it was grainy, but still it was clear enough to make out all the necessary details.
The picture showed his father, on his way from his truck to the front door of his house. He was carrying a newspaper and some groceries under his arm, so the picture had to have been taken in the morning. Henry Spencer had his head turned away slightly from the camera, but his profile was clearly visible. But that wasn't what caused Shawn's heart to beat faster in his chest and his throat to suddenly feel dry.
No, that reaction was caused solely by the crosshairs somebody had hand-drawn over his father's head with black marker.
Shawn didn't know for how long he stared at the grainy photograph, but finally he tore his eyes away and put the picture down. He didn't know what kind of sick joke was being played on him, but he would find out who was behind it. He unfolded the second sheet of paper and started to read.
Catch me if you can, Shawn Spencer.
The game is on, and it's your turn to move.
The rules are simple:
1. No police. You will not go to the police station. You will not call any officers, active or retired. You will not allow the police to involve you in the official investigation.
2. You will not tell anybody that you're partaking in this game.
3. You will not warn your father or anybody else.
4. At the appropriate time, you will be given instructions as to what the next challenge of the game will be. You will follow all instructions to the letter. You will perform the tasks you're given in this game within the time you are given.
5. If you breach any of the rules above, or if you do not perform the tasks given to you within the time you're given, the game is over and you lose.
The reward for winning the game is a one-on-one meeting amongst equals.
The punishment for losing the game will be severe for your father. Take a look at the picture I enclosed to this letter if you need further motivation to put all your abilities and focus into the tasks you will be given.
You will be called with instructions for the first round of the game.
Catch me if you can, Shawn Spencer!
Shawn read the letter, then he read it again and again, until the words blurred in front of his eyes.
A game? What kind of sick joke was that? Somebody dropped off letters in front of his apartment in the middle of the night, then woke him up and wanted to play a sick little game? With his father as a pawn who'd be punished if Shawn broke one of the stupid little rules? It was much too early for shit like that, that's what it was.
Shawn tossed the letter and the picture of his father to the floor, lay back on the bed and pinched the bridge of his nose with thumb and index finger. But no matter how much he strained his brain, he could not come up with an idea as to who the mysterious letter writer was.
Or why he was taking pictures of his father.
Or why he wanted to play a game with Shawn in the first place.
And why was a "meeting amongst equals" the prize for winning the game? Meeting against equal what? Psychics? Fake psychics? Sleuths? Aries? People who like America's Next Top Model? It just didn't make sense.
Shawn's cell phone rang again.
For a moment, Shawn contemplated not answering, but then the feeling won out that he couldn't stand not to know what this was all about and he answered it.
"I take it you've had time to read the letter that was left for you?" It was the same voice as before, with the same mechanical distortion that rendered it unrecognisable.
"Yes I did", Shawn said carefully.
"Then you know what this is all about."
Shawn shook his head and got up from the bed. "No, I don't know what this is all about, all right? And I don't want to know. I'm not playing any stupid games just because somebody thinks it's a fun idea to leave letters on my doorstep in the middle of the night! I don't know what's going on in that head of yours, but I won't be a part of it."
"I'm afraid that not partaking in the game is not an option for you right now, Shawn."
"Listen, I don't
care what you think my options are, all right?", Shawn yelled.
"I'm not playing your stupid game!"
"If you don't participate in the game, you're forcing me to start the game with a punishment. Didn't the letter tell you what would happen if you break a rule?" The voice was snarling now, the caller's patience clearly wearing thin. Well, Shawn could compete with that.
"Listen, you sick fuck, I don't give a damn about your stupid game. I wont play along, and there's not a thing you can do about it."
There was a sigh, metallically distorted. "Then your father will pay the price."
"You will keep your sick hands off my father, do you understand? There is no game, understand me? Find somebody else to play with, and if you don't just go ahead and play with yourself!"
"I see. Maybe it takes a little more for the importance of all this to sink in."
"You know what? Let it sink in somewhere else, all right?", Shawn yelled and snapped the phone shut.
Angrily, he tossed it onto the bedside table and sank back down on the bed. He knew he should be a little worried about somebody who got off on trying to scare people in the middle of the night, but right now he was mainly angry.
He wasn't so much scared for his father right now. Henry Spencer was probably lying in bed, fast asleep, all doors and windows of his house locked securely and his gun within reach in the bedroom. His father knew how to take care of himself. But Shawn didn't want to be forced into playing along with somebody else's game. He didn't want to be forced into anything. Not by people he knew, and most certainly not by somebody he didn't even know.
Shawn angrily slammed his palm against the light switch and pulled the covers back up over himself. He was far too wired to sleep again, he knew that, but still. He would just close his eyes and sleep would come, later rather than sooner. He wouldn't let a crazed guy who didn't know what else to do with his time interfere with his sleep. The American Medical Association clearly advised seven to eight hours of sleep at night as healthy.
But sleep didn't come.
After what felt like an eternity, Shawn checked the alarm clock again. 5.04am. Eternity had only lasted about twenty-five minutes. He could as well get up, take a shower and start the day. The thing about going back to sleep was not going to work out, anyway.
Then his cell phone rang again.
It was only the sound announcing a new text message, not his ring tone, but it was enough to have Shawn sit up bolt upright in his bed, heart beating fast in his chest.
This wasn't normal, he shouldn't let some stupid prank call by a madman get to him like that. But still his fingers were shaking slightly as he reached for his cell phone.
It could be something completely harmless.
It could be a message from somebody else.
A message from Gus, that could be it. Yeah, right. Because Gus so often sent him text messages at five in the morning.
Shawn sat on the edge of the bed and opened his cell phone.
He had one new text message, from an unknown sender. It was short, only two words long in fact. But those two words were terrifying enough to send Shawn's pulse racing again.