It should have been an ordinary Friday night. And to most, perhaps it was. Music thumped, cars revved. Youths chattered and cheered where they gathered outside to ignore the holiday liquor ban. Here and there, very nearly in rhythm like the tock-tick of worn down clockwork, fireworks would crack and throw spears of scarlet and green between shuttered blinds. And Michael? He was busy trying not to die.
Business as usual, then.
His grip tightened around the handle of the fire axe until splinters bit into thirty year old callouses, until his knuckles stood out white on black grease and floor muck. He blessed that same muck underfoot as it muffled the thump of his boots on the tiles. Crack, bang. In the empty space between, breathing was the only sound. In, out. His, and that of an ageing building. Its ribcage creaked and groaned around him.
No sign of movement. His back peeled away from the wall as he picked out a fresh trail over the debris. Sweat, mould, and the greasy film that too many years of bad pizza left behind. He couldn’t remember which restaurant this was, but his feet did, and remembered it well.
And so did his opponent. But which of them was prey?
Or maybe he shouldn’t ask questions that he didn’t want an answer to. He stumbled, and the steel toe of his boot caught a discarded Monster can and sent it clattering across the floor.
The light of the arcade cabinet eclipsed where it fell upon the walls, and something heavy rushed to fill the darkness left behind.
Michael leapt backwards just in time to duck the hand that smashed into the plaster. Ducked again, felt the other fist graze over his head. Felt strands of hair catch in the joints and tug free as it passed.
10,000 Newtons of force—right where his face would’ve been. Too close.
Shards rained down on him, dust. There was a riiip as it tore itself free of the backing foam. Crack, bang, and red light caught the outline of a blunt muzzle and a crooked smile, and eyes that wanted to watch him die. He swung around, swung the axe. It glanced off the shadow of a raised arm. With a twist, it was pulled from his grip. Like candy from a goddamn baby.
The office wasn’t so far, he could make it if—
The sound of wood splintering chased him into the dark. Each half whizzed past. The head, then the shaft, and they hit the walls with a clang. He caught the frame of the first door he came to and swung around into the void beyond. Even his feet couldn’t tell him which room this was. Didn’t matter. They all led to the office—and the door out of here—one way or another.
Someone was hammering on that door, the one he always locked behind him. The sound echoed to him from down the corridors, bang, bang, bang.
“Come on man, open up!”
Oh god, not now. Any time but now. Just five more minutes—he was so close.
But not close enough. The sensation of falling hit him before the blow to the shins. His hands struck tiles, followed by his head. The crack knocked stars into his eyes. There, they wrote omens of doom.
Blunt force trauma detected. Assessing—
This was it, then. Fingers dug into his shoulder, into the bone. It took only one hand to wrap completely around his neck; the last scruff of flocking scratched under his nails. This was how he failed.
This was the end of the story.
His lungs burned and he couldn’t cry out. Couldn’t feel his feet touching the floor. And its—his—eyes burned into his own, watching the life there fade. They were blue, once. But the evil there was just the same. Bile rose in his throat at the sight of it, the smell. Rotting leather and desiccated meat, stewed, and seasoned with the dust of a crumbling book. Lips split in tatters in a mocking smile.
Blood oxygen at sixty percent.
Silence. Black crept in shadows and whispers around the edge of his vision. The drunk partygoers staggering past on the street outside would never know, never care. Mac would find the body, and sweep it under the carpet with all the rest. Was this how they died?
Mac. A door banging open, someone calling his name. The crunch of a discarded can underfoot. Someone had to tell Mac to get out. His eyes closed. Get out—
And then he was falling. His legs buckled underneath him. He couldn’t feel the ground, but it must have been there because it hurt when it hit him in the face. He spat blood onto the dirt, sucked in greedy lungfuls of air that burned like hot ash and smoke, and his fingers closed around splintered wood.
“Please don’t be dead, please tell me you’re not dead—come on, get up!”
Get off me. Get out. I don’t need your help. But his mouth couldn’t form the words. He went to slap away the hands that pulled him up, up, and found himself clinging onto the front of Mac’s T-shirt instead, up and onto his feet. Batman’s face swam in his vision. The fire extinguisher rolled past, dented on one side, and told him what just happened. And then the hands pulled him away.
He didn’t think Mac had it in him. If it wasn’t pissed off before, it sure as hell was now.
A glance behind him, into the dark. The animatronic lurched onto its feet, smile askew, spitting static and hatred and garbled noise. Clumsy hands felt for its muzzle and pushed the pieces back into place. In that one brief moment he glimpsed teeth, and dead skin stretched taut over an empty skull. It wasn’t smiling any more.
Just five more minutes! ‘Exit’ glared at him in green and white. He never thought he’d be so glad to see one in his life. But he still had one thing left to do. “I can walk!” Michael rasped, the words scratching at blood and bruises, both inside and out. He pushed Mac away, forward. Through the door he so recklessly left open—idiot!—and out into the cool night air.
He stopped on the threshold and turned. For a moment, a freeze frame, the world turned with him Everything pivoted on this, on the death-white lights that lunged at him from the dark. Then he slammed the door and something heavy crashed into it from the other side.
“What—what the hell was that?”
Michael didn’t answer as he wedged the axe handle into the latch of the door. It rattled against the obstruction. But that wouldn’t hold for long. His eyes landed on the skip, one of the smaller ones on wheels, currently overflowing with pizza boxes and the rotten cutoffs of salvaged timber. It would have to do.
“Stop standing there and help me!” He pushed, pulled. “fucking—MOVE!” The edge of the skip dug into his fingers, and his heels into the earth. On loose, crumbling soil, it was reluctant to give. But Mac scurried to do as he was told, and with two people it began to move. Up onto the concrete and against the door, and with the wheels locked and wood from inside forced underneath, there was no way it would shift any time soon.
Blood oxygen at eighty percent.
The rattle of the door against the barricade was the only sound that cut through the fog. They stood in silence, alone with their shadows, backs to the world—and eyes on the loaded gun. But nothing came bursting through that door, and in time, even it faded. Then… stopped.
For now, they were safe.
“What… what about the other door?” Mac puffed, mopping the sweat from his face with the hem of his shirt—Michael never wanted to see that pasty beer belly again.
“Welded shut.” He tested the front windows too, just to be sure. No, those boards weren’t going anywhere. Of course. He installed them—it was one of Mac’s few good ideas and one he was happy to oblige, albeit for different reasons than ‘it’d be totally spooky, man.’ “Which I would’ve done to this one too, if everything went according to plan.”
“Plan…? You, like, knew about this… this thing?”
The silence was deafening. Mac gaped at him like a fish out of water. Michael glared back, then turned once more to the cage he built out of salvage and ruin. It took days to assemble, carefully, in the sliver of half-light between day and night, between Mac and the monster. Sharp eyes scoured the façade, checking for gaps in its armour, checking again. Why were Freddy’s restaurants always so… grey? At least on the outside. And this was definitely a Freddy Fazbear’s, once, he could see the outlines where the letters would have been. An F, an E, a D and Y together, marked out in paler shades of concrete. It stooped there, sagging in the middle under the weight of time, windows like eyes scrunched closed. Damp streaked tears down the walls. Over time, the rain would scrub those away too.
He always did wonder if a building knew what went on behind its doors, and hated what it had become.
“What am I supposed to do now, man?” Mac groused at him from his makeshift seat on an upturned crate, as he wrapped his fist in his jacket and smashed out one of the lower panes left uncovered. “We’re opening on Monday. But I can’t—with that thing in there—what do I do?”
“You consider it a lesson learned and go the fuck home. You should’ve left it where you found it.”
“Why… why do you stink of gas? What are you—”
“I’m ending this.” The wheel of the lighter was familiar under his thumb, tooth digging into the skin. The click, the crackle. The flame springing to life threw shadows over the hollows of his face, under his eyes, where the years and the hate etched themselves in lines and dark bruises. He stepped back, lit a cigarette from the inner pocket of his jacket, and dragged. Savoured the way it killed him just a little more inside. This was a moment a lifetime in the making.
A cage, a trap. An end to the story.
With a flick, the cigarette sailed through the broken window pane. Right into the trail of gasoline he left inside.
The building screamed. Agony, the pain of countless tiny lives, cut short too soon, and purged from its walls. The fire ripped along the line like a knife and gutted its carcass from the inside. It all spilled forth in plumes of smoke, dark, acrid, rushing out and then upwards into a waiting sky. And he breathed it in, all of it, watched the sparks and embers dance above him. Breathe in, breathe out.
“You’re crazy!” Mac scrambled to his feet, watched his investment, his savings, his hopes and dreams, everything go up in flames. They were reflected in firelight in wide eyes. He backed away. “YOU’RE CRAZY!”
Michael let him go, let him storm off into the night. Ignored the way his words cut at him as they were shouted back from beyond where his eyes could reach. He stayed there, watching those embers flit like spirits into a blackened sky. Charred paper came drifting down, and Freddy’s face smiled up at him in tatters from the ground.