Chapter no 43 – THE END?


When the roundabout came to a standstill, CJ and Tanya felt a hammering of devastation. Crying had become the new norm. The fresh streaks of tears they sprouted weren’t only for Bobby, but also for Isaac.

They remembered a different version of their big brother. One that existed before the evil and unflinching threats had tarnished him. At times, Bobby had been a prick and a bit of a bully, but nothing the likes of what they’d witnessed in the playground. They each mourned the mostly positive sentiments they knew him to harbor.

There was one other feeling that neither CJ nor Tanya would ever dare admit; not to themselves and not to each other. It gnawed at their hearts, but they ignored it. They each felt a certain measure of relief in knowing that Bobby was gone. His unpredictability and anger issues had made each of them periodically wonder if he would think twice about sacrificing his own family if he could ensure his own survival by doing so.

A single day had changed so much. The dark alterations were glaring. It was as if the playground amplified the absolute best or worst traits of the children imprisoned within it.

On the other hand, Isaac couldn’t be overlooked either. After all CJ and Tanya had been through with him, there was no doubt that they’d bonded. Isaac held a similar set of morals. He wasn’t above putting others first. He had acted selflessly and abided by their initial agreement. His decency, intelligence, and flashes of unexpected bravery helped to push them toward their common goal of group survival.

Now he was gone.

Isaac had been cast out of existence in horrific fashion, a gruesome fate CJ and Tanya knew he didn’t deserve. They could only hope they wouldn’t end up victims of a similar exodus. At the juncture they’d arrived at, death by natural causes or old age sounded like winning the lottery.

CJ saddled his sentiments and coughed. The harsh fumes continued to weaken him. He looked forward to the door in the distance that read ‘THE END?’

“How do we get off this…”

The exhaustion in CJ’s voice wouldn’t let him get the words out, but it didn’t matter. His question was about to be answered.

The area between the merry-go-round and the progress point rumbled. Through the murky death slime rose a single, straightforward section of the platform that led directly to the last door.

Despite her arms feeling like jelly, Tanya could monkey herself around the roundabout to the section that aligned with the newly exposed pathway. However, there was good reason for caution; the pathway had no barriers on either side. One false move and they could end up dissolving away in the pinkish pool of discoloration surrounding Isaac and Bobby.

“I’m so dizzy,” she said.

CJ thought more as he guided Donnie toward the escape route. He shimmied over slowly until they were directly beside Tanya.

“Be careful. Try to stay on your feet, I think there’s some of that slime on the ground still,” CJ said.

Tanya took his suggestion. She hopped off slowly and landed flat on her heels. Thankfully, there wasn’t enough of the toxic liquid remaining to impact her. She held her arms open, and CJ lowered Donnie into them.

“I got him,” she said.

Tanya took a few steps back to allow her brother some space to work with. Then she watched CJ drop without issue.

The gases continued to wear on them, burning their lungs each time they inhaled. The trio of survivors urgently pushed forward until they were in front of the ominous doorway that they hoped would be their last.

“You really think it’s the end?” Tanya asked.

“Does it even matter? Either way, we’ve gotta find out,” CJ replied.

As they entered the next room, they found it was much tighter than any prior area of the playground. Almost the entire room was occupied by one giant seesaw that extended nearly ten feet in length.

The seats attached to the structure were unconventional. Unlike any traditional seesaw they’d ever encountered, this one offered cushy back support. Below each of the bulky seats sat a large, red coil spring. Should the bottom of the seesaw connect, it would serve to increase the momentum. In the center of the seesaw stood a long metal bar that sprouted up several feet into the air. Affixed to the very top of the pole were two long, chrome propellers that extended the width of the entire seesaw.

Affixed to the wall hung a red digital readout that was currently populated with two zeros. Under the scoreboard display, hung another familiar sign. Unsurprisingly, it read: ‘PLAYGROUND RULES.’

Tanya sighed, growing more than weary of reading the riddles that offered them a set of veiled instructions.

“Up and down till the count strikes ten, but not too high to keep your friend. Should you avoid an untimely end, then your parents may see your faces again.”

Tanya thought about her father. Would she even want to see him again? His actions were every bit as selfish as she remembered. But it was one thing to be selfish with his time, it was something completely different to coach Bobby into taking lives. The disturbing colors that lay beneath his surface had suddenly bled out. For the first time, she realized, her perception of the man had changed entirely.

Another thought struck her; Tanya heard from several of the parents during their venture through the playground but not from her mother. She wondered if something had happened to her. Tanya hadn’t even heard her mother say anything in the background like the other parents. That was very unlike her. She normally always had something to say.

She didn’t always see eye-to-eye with her mother; more times than not they were at odds. But despite her flaws, Tanya knew that her mother was a good woman. The idea that she might never see her again left an unsettled feeling rumbling in her stomach.

“Looks like we’re gonna get to seesaw after all,” CJ said.

He was too worn out to properly inflect the dread or cynicism he felt into his tone.

Tanya let out a muffled groan of angst. “You think Mom’s alright?” CJ asked.

It almost felt like her brother was reading her mind. “I hope so,” Tanya replied.

She tried not to get emotional. She understood that with such a daunting task at hand, letting her feelings blur her concentration could result in a fatal error.

“I can’t believe they’re all gone,” CJ said. “Are you ready for this?” Tanya asked.

Her lip quivered as she intentionally tried changing the subject. “Do I have a choice?”

Tanya looked over to Donnie. He was far too little and unpredictable to be trusted.

“I guess not.”

CJ nodded his head.

Taking Donnie by the hand, CJ led him over to the corner of the room. As he guided the boy down into a seated position, he patted him on the head. CJ felt compelled to recognize him. Donnie was the smallest and disabled to some extent, but the boy had still somehow made it that far. It was an accomplishment too incredible to overlook.

“You’re the toughest kid I know. There aren’t many kids—heck, there aren’t many people that could’ve made it this far. Just let us do this last one, okay, buddy?”

Just as Donnie had done the entire time, he stared forward, void of expression. The fact that he remained seated was good enough for CJ. He rubbed his head one more time before moving back to the intimidating seesaw.

CJ grabbed hold of the diagonally angled support beam of the structure and pulled down on it. It was more difficult to level than he’d assumed it to be, but as he applied more of his weight, he noticed that the lengthy chrome propellers at the top were turning.

“So that’s the trick,” CJ said. “What is it?” Tanya asked.

“I guess as we go up and down, that sharp blade at the top is gonna spin even quicker. And if we aren’t really careful with how high we go, well… you know.”

Tanya bit her lip hard, reconsidering her eagerness to get through the task.

“I really don’t feel good about this. Maybe help will come if we just wait here?” Tanya asked.

“The way this has been, more than likely it’ll be snakes, or gas, or ants that come for us before any help. I don’t wanna do this anymore than you do, but I’m pretty sure something worse is gonna happen if we don’t. What do you say?”

Tears welled up in Tanya’s eyes again. “It’ll be okay—”

“What if it’s not?!” Tanya screamed. The pressure had found her.

“I—I can’t lose you too.”

CJ moved in and wrapped his arms around his sister.

“No matter what happens, we tried our best. And no matter what happens, I’ll always love you,” CJ whispered.

“I love you too.”

Tanya let the water leak out, trying to get past the hurt. Moving onto the task at hand wasn’t easy. Once her breathing calmed a bit, the two siblings parted.

“We can do this,” CJ said.

He moved toward the seesaw and placed both of his arms on his seat to steady it as best he could.

“Go ahead,” he said with a nod.

Tanya mounted the seesaw by slipping her right leg over the handlebars; the elevated seat support at the back was too tall for her to reach over. Once she mounted it, she placed her feet on the metal platform below and stabilized the other end for CJ.

Her brother soon followed her lead, lifting his leg over the handlebars and securing a steady balance between the two of them.

“So, I guess we just—”

Before CJ could finish his thought, two hooks ejected from the back support on the seating behind them. Their speed and curves were equally extreme. The steel extensions of the sadistic seesaw twisted and pierced into the soft flesh under both Tanya and CJ’s shoulders.

The metal moved inside each of them, and they felt a targeted stabbing pain as the hooks set in deep under their armpits. The blood oozed just as sure as their movement had been restricted.

“Ahh!” CJ cried.

The backboards on their seats retracted downward, aligning with the height the hooks emerged from. There was no support directly behind their

heads any longer. It stopped at the back of their necks, surely offering a path of success for the propellers above.

“What’s going on!” she wailed.

Tanya’s screams and groans meshed with CJ’s.

The siblings squirmed fighting like a pair of trout being reeled in. But the more they moved the faster they realized the hooks were set too deep to free themselves.

They weren’t going anywhere.

“We—We just need to play! Just make sure you go slow!” CJ yelled.

Fighting through the agony, Tanya found a way to gently push up with her legs. She slowly ascended as the propeller above her head gained speed.

When CJ pushed his seat closer toward the spring on the ground, he looked over at the wall-mounted counter.

“It’s still at zero, you have to go higher!” he yelled.

As CJ applied further pressure on the seating, the top of Tanya’s skull inched closer to the fierce, spinning blades that were now self-propelling themselves at a blurring rate.

A droplet of sweat drizzled off the tip of Tanya’s nose. She watched the scoreboard sign intently, feeling the push of wind from above. The breeze was a constant reminder of the horror that awaited should a mistake be made.

“I’m getting really close!” Tanya cried. “I think it’s almost there,” CJ responded.

Now with the top of her cranium just mere inches from being shredded into oblivion, the sign was finally updated. To their unrivaled relief, the number one revealed itself.

“Okay, it’s there!” CJ yelled.

“Bring me down! Bring me down!” Tanya begged.

“Sorry, I know it’s scary, but it wasn’t too bad. I—I think we can do this!”

“I hope you’re right!”

Luckily for CJ, despite being two years older than his sister, she’d had an early growth spurt. The advantage of their body weights being close to equal would allow them to angle each other up methodically. If there had been a large discrepancy between them, his strategy wouldn’t be possible. They’d have been forced to rely on a far more dangerous variable— momentum.

Tanya followed CJ’s instructions and used the same method he’d found success with. She achieved an identical result, and the counter increased to two.

Then three.

Then four.

Then five.

“We’re almost there!” Tanya said.

She elevated CJ again, but as she continued to push him higher, the real challenge was suddenly revealed.

Without warning, flames erupted from the discreetly placed steel gridding attached to the bottom of the seesaw. Fire flooded out toward Tanya’s ankles in flamethrower fashion. Not only was it coming from the pivot point on her side of the seesaw, it was also on CJ’s side as well.

The flurry of flames was angled low and reached close enough to her feet and ankles that the hairs singed.

“Oh my God! Fire!” Tanya cried.

She reacted to the hazard before thinking it through. Tanya immediately pushed off and vaulted her body upward to escape the horrific heat.

As his sister ascended, CJ was forced to come down and be greeted by the scorching flames on his side. He knew, fire or not, they couldn’t escape with the hooks set deep in their armpits. They still had five more revolutions to reach the goal of ten that the Playground Rules specified. A long road of agony lay ahead.

CJ tried to tolerate the heat and block out the pain. The fire didn’t hit his flesh, but it was just close enough that his leg hairs turned to dust and his skin dried.

The blazing discomfort that covered his shins didn’t force CJ to lose his concentration. He kept on and continued his effort. As he angled his sister closer toward the top, he released intermittent grunts of agony.

CJ juggled his focus. He kept one eye on the top of Tanya’s head, ensuring the sharp propeller was far enough away to avoid decapitating her. The other eye remained on the makeshift scoreboard affixed to the wall.

Sweat beaded off his face as he cried out, “C’mon!” “CJ, be careful!” Tanya begged.

Donnie watched from the corner, mystified by the ungodly seesaw. He remained frozen, in awe as he watched the number on the wall increase.


When the count jumped a tick, CJ finally hopped up off the ground, allowing his scorched shins a much-needed rest. But as he watched his sister sinking closer to the inferno on the floor, he could already sense that his breather would be short-lived.

Tanya planted her ankles firmly and held her breath. But as she angled her brother up toward the propeller blade, the anguish on her legs became too distracting.

“I—I can’t do it! I can’t take it!” she cried.

Tanya tried to squirm out of her seat, but the metallic hooks cinched in deep under her armpits screeched the action to a halt.

“Yes, you can! I know you can! You—You have to!” CJ responded, trying to motivate his sister as best he could.

“I’m sorry, CJ.”

Tanya continued to cry and pushed herself back up from the flames licking at her legs.

CJ gritted his teeth; he knew what needed to happen for them to survive the seesaw. When his legs once again entered the path of the fire, it was far worse for his flesh than before. As he struggled through the anguish to position his sister high enough to earn another point, his hardened casing cracked.


Watching the tissues on her brother’s legs become even more damaged pushed Tanya. The sense of responsibility for CJ’s horrific burns unleashed a shot of guilt to go along with her fear. She knew she needed to reattempt to earn a point herself. As Tanya replanted her legs on the ground, the meat on her bones braised. She ground her teeth and continued to elevate her brother.

Tanya dug deeper than she’d ever had to. She wasn’t about to watch her only remaining brother burn away in front of her. As Tanya released a hellish shriek, she found the will to hang on. She powered through the few additional seconds required to raise CJ up high enough.


By the time the counter went off, Tanya’s pain was unbearable. She shot back up from the floor, getting her extremities out of dodge as quickly as possible. But the damage had already been done; her legs were roasted.

CJ hadn’t even been able to cheer her on or offer support during the moment of superhuman ability. He was too busy trying not to pass out. His

vision had grown blurry and his body was rattled. The accumulation of his hurt had finally reached a questionable threshold. For the first time, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to continue.

As CJ’s legs were reinserted into the blaze, the barbeque continued. But as the skin began to charr over the blisters, miraculously, he harnessed the power to angle Tanya upward. The crisping over of his meat triggered a transition in color; CJ’s eyes begged for the counter to turn.


The smoke and scent of over-cooked human flesh filled the small room. CJ’s floating particles had made their way over to Donnie. The boy’s eyes watered and he let out a few coughs. He still observed the ghastly conditions without fail.

When CJ made his ascension again, his sweat-soaked head suddenly went limp. His body remained up straight because of the hooks under his arms, but for all intents and purposes, his lights had gone out.

When Tanya’s seared legs returned to the infernal atmosphere, she wasn’t ready to resume the pain. Her sensitive flesh returned to the torturous temperature, and she tried again to tough it out. But before she could get him to the proper height to register the final point needed, she vaulted back up again.

“It’s too much, CJ! I—I just need another minute! My legs feel like they’re melting!” she cried.

She’d focused on the top of CJ’s head while attempting to avoid the propeller, but not his facial expression. But as Tanya bounced back up, it suddenly became clear that her brother had fallen unconscious. The resounding bell going off in Tanya’s head knew the results were going to be horrific, but because of her panicked state, she hadn’t been able to calculate just how horrific.

CJ was going down full speed toward the one part of the demonic structure that had slipped both of their minds. The part of the device that hadn’t really been relevant since the harrowing adventure had commenced

—the massive spring coils below their seating.

Under each of their seats sat a single, thick spiral. Each time they’d descended to the surface previously, they were both planting their feet firmly on the ground and controlling the pivot. Fully aware of the menacing blade ripping through the air above their heads, neither Tanya nor CJ had let

the other person get too high too quickly. But as Tanya launched herself up with CJ incapacitated, that resistance wouldn’t be there anymore.

His dead weight was headed right for the spring.

As Tanya ascended, she quickly did the math in her head: one propeller plus her face equaled zero future. In her mind, she had only one option to leverage, and she had to act on it quickly.

Kicking her legs up on top of the handlebars, Tanya forced her body deeper into the hooks under her arms. She wailed out in horror as the stabbing, curved metal dove deeper into her gushing wounds. The cruel material was in so far that it had reached her bones. As the human hooks scraped against her skeleton, Tanya was offered a little more space to turtle her head down.

There were only a few inches of the metal backrest above her head when the chopper blade hit. The blow made the structure shake, and the balance bar hyper-extended sideways. The vibrating blow jarred the seesaw and pushed the pain in Tanya’s armpits up another notch.


As the last update occurred, suddenly, a room that appeared to not have an exit sprouted one. The wall behind the seesaw opened up. Sliding stone crumbled and a golden glow emanated at the end of the dark cove.

Donnie looked at the golden opportunity for several seconds, before returning his gaze to the huge seesaw.

Upon connecting for the second time, the propeller slid off the top of Tanya’s back support and sent her end of the seesaw rocketing back to the ground. The launch occurred with such speed, and the armpit hooks were so deep, that Tanya didn’t have a chance to readjust. When her end landed on the spring below, it lifted CJ to his pinnacle.

He still hadn’t regained his bearings when the propeller took the top of his skull off. The unflappable steel sloshed through the scatter-brained boy making him just that, absent-minded. The harsh, circular hack left the brain split into two pieces and CJ’s cranial juices erupted in every direction. He’d become the embodiment of his favorite fruit snack, Gushers. A treat he’d never enjoy during school recess again.

CJ’s young mind had been switched off permanently. An organ that had crept out of CJ’s infantile stages of life with bottomless potential, would now never reach it. Not that his mind was destined to create revolutionary

gadgets or beak barriers in the scientific realm. He was intelligent, but that wasn’t his greatest asset.

His nature was loving. His purpose was caring. His destiny was to unify.

No matter how selfish, uncooperative, frightened, or flawed a person could be, CJ always found a way. He sifted through their sins and shortcomings until he uncovered the common ground. Whether they liked it or not, CJ always brought the best out of people.

The boy who’d brought so many people together had done so until fate chose to tear him apart.



The swiftness of the propeller steel cut off another section of his head, this time at the jawline. The horror offered a momentary window into a new pink slab of runny gore, just before the final revolution came for his neck.

As the chop hit his throat, it opened up all of CJ’s major veins. The fountain of carmine fluid fled his once energetic frame, as the lower fractions of his face and neck dropped onto the fire dancing on the floor below.

Tanya screamed as an overload of dread blew up inside her. She vocalized her living hell, as a jumble of the wonderful memories she’d shared with her brother flooded into her head.

She knew how special of a person CJ was. At times she’d wondered what they might look like hanging out later in life once they were grown. Tanya never imagined that she might not find out. She’d taken that much for granted.

While she wasn’t nearly as close with Kip or Bobby as she was with CJ, Tanya found herself wondering the same about all of them. But the brain fodder was pointless now; all three of her brothers were dead.

CJ’s seat elevated to the max. This time, as the propeller connected with the metal back support, instead of just nipping the top and sliding off, it slammed into the side full-bore and knocked the entire structure over.

The power of the propeller loosened the bolts at the pivot of the seesaw, sending the end with CJ’s headless body crashing into the wall. The other end, where Tanya remained, fell back into the hell path of the ferocious flames at the base of the ride.

The sudden violence of the fall caused the hook buried in Tanya’s left armpit to dislodge. Left in its wake was a gaping slash with a blend of gummy, violet meat seeping out. While the rip had freed one side of her body, the other side was in a far more precarious situation.

As the hook in her right armpit jerked out and up, the ghastly result left another cavernous tear in her cavity. Upon exit, the steel re-hooked itself into her triceps muscle.

She was like a fish with her fin hooked. But unlike a fish that might’ve been doomed to dangle in agony, the worst part wasn’t over. The side of her face and right arm were directly in line with the flames bursting from the base of the seesaw.

When Tanya’s bloody body roasted and her hair wilted away, she screamed something fierce. She prayed and begged, but she’d already faced

the reality of her situation. If God had been planning on saving them, he’d have done it long ago.

Both her arm and face were sizzling. Fresh blisters rose as the final traces of hope escaped her. She accepted the extreme pain, understanding that it would be all that she had until the end came.

Then, out of the blue, she felt a tiny hand wrap around her wrist, and another around her elbow.

As Donnie tugged on Tanya’s leaking limb, the scorching flames burned his hands and arms too. But if there was one person who could stand the heat inside the kitchen, it was Donnie.

As Tanya continued to shriek in agony, Donnie’s eyes widened to hypnotic dimensions. His flesh still burned, but he continued. Donnie yanked at the hot, buried hook until he’d done the impossible and slipped Tanya’s arm free.

He kept hold of Tanya’s wounded arm and dragged her away from the dangerous flames.

She was in shock still, but upon stabilizing, Tanya grabbed at the dead tissue on her face. The pain was crippling, but when she looked into Donnie’s eyes, she was able to muster the gas she needed. She watched on in amazement as the young boy squatted down beside her and willed her to her feet.

As the salty tears dripped down Tanya’s burnt flesh, her gaze drifted to the golden light at the end of the tunnel.

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