The smell hit him first. That metallic taint was the first sign that something was wrong. Joe walked a little further into the room and nearly vomited. It wasn’t her body with its clothes already stained red from lying in a pool of blood. It was her severed head staring back at him from the kitchen table. Joe’s wife had been murdered. And the only clues were the [[bloody axe]] they’d use to chop off her head. And the [[muddy footprints]] leading out the back door. Which path does he choose?
When Joe picked up the axe he saw the initials R.R. engraved on the handle. But that’s not possible, Joe thought. He’s been in jail for the last seven years. And yet that didn’t change the fact that Joe’s wife was growing cold on the laminate floor.
Joe knew what he had to do. He headed out into the forest following a trail long since covered with weeds and briar bushes. He’d worried that he had forgotten the way. A fact that became painfully clear when he came to a fork in the road. Both were marked with rusted signs. One read [[“DEAD END AHEAD”]]. The other said [[“NO TRESPASSING”| R.R.'s house]]. Which path does he choose?
The muddy footprints lead out into Joe’s and Sue’s garden. His wife had been trying to grow tomato plants for the past two months but no matter how much she tended to the limp green things, they never produced any tomatoes. And now without Sue, Joe thought darkly, they never will.
He followed the trail up to the garden’s gate. Here he found a swath of torn fabric stuck in between the slats. He saw there was a monogram on the cloth and nearly fell to his knees when he realized who’s it was. R.R. But that’s not possible, Joe thought. He’s been in jail for the last seven years. And yet that didn’t change the fact that Joe’s wife was growing cold on the laminate floor.
Joe steeled himself to go to [[R.R.'s house| R.R.'s house]] but before he could make that first step, he heard the sound of terrified screaming coming from the [[opposite direction]]. Which path does he take?
Joe thought the dead end sign might have been a ruse to throw him off. But as his path began to fade away he realized he had made a mistake. The path truly did lead to a dead end that left Joe peering over the edge of a cliff. He was about to turn around and go the other way when he realized there was a lake at the bottom of the cliff. But that’s not what caught Joe’s eye. It was the sail boat speeding across the water. Along the side of it were the bright red letters R.R.
Joe’s time in the military prepared him for nearly any situation. He even knew how to make a parachute if he had to. If he timed his [[jump]] perfectly he knew he could land on the boat and catch R.R. before he took anymore lives. But there was the chance he’d miss and land on the jagged rocks below. Maybe it would be best if he [[turned around|lake]] and tried to catch the killer another way. What does he do?
In a matter of minutes Joe was able to make his parachute out of twigs and leaves and tree sap. He hesitated at the edge for only a second. It wasn’t too late. He could still turn back and go home. But his wife was home. His wife with her cold dead eyes staring at nothing. Joe jumped.
For a split second, his plan was working perfectly.
Until a strap broke.
And then Joe became brutally aware of how quickly he was falling. Fortunately, he still had enough control of the parachute that he could aim where he landed. Unfortunately, his options were land on the [[boat|woods]] and risk breaking his legs, or land in the [[water]] and risk getting eaten by god knows what. Where does he land?
Joe pulled hard on the last remaining cord. And instantly he knew he’d over corrected. But there was nothing he could do. He veered too far to the left and overshot the water. He overshot the sandy shore. His flight came to a stop when he smacked into the side of the cliff. There was a sickening crunch. The searing pain lasted for only a moment before everything faded to black. His only comfort was the knowledge that soon he’d be reunited with his wife.Fearing the worst, Joe followed the screams. Visions of bloody dismembered bodies flooded his imagination and he ran faster. But then he realized where the screams were coming from and he almost laughed out loud. The carnival was in town. Children with fists full of cotton candy were screaming on the rollercoasters even on the Ferris wheel.
The whole thing looked so normal. And nothing at all like the scene waiting for him back at his house. Joe turned to [[leave]] but someone bumped into him. Joe started to apologize to the retreating figure but stopped. That smell. That sickeningly sweet cologne. Joe only knew one [[man]] who wore that scent. But then again, seven years is a long time to remember a smell. And Joe has been wrong before. What does Joe do?
The sky had been clouded over all day. It wasn’t until Joe began the trek that it finally began to rain. At first, it started out as a drizzle. But soon it was raining bullets. There was no refuge from the storm. Joe couldn’t see where he was going. He was letting the fury in his heart guide him. But it’s dangerous using your emotions as a compass.
Joe’s compass had led him into the middle of a street. A blaring car horn was the only warning he had before headlights came barreling straight for him. He was able to jump out of the way. But just barely. By the time he picked himself up, the car was gone and Joe had lost all sense of direction. His only options were to continue cutting through the [[woods]] or to walk along the [[road|car]] and see where that takes him. Which way does he go?
By some miracle, Joe made it to the boat. But his excitement was short lived. There was not a single soul aboard that ship. No captain. No passengers. And worst of all? No R.R. All hope seemed lost. But just as Joe was about to steer the ship to shore, he heard a mysterious ticking noise. It was coming from the boat’s lower deck. Joe pulled back one of the panels and froze. Underneath was a bundle of wires, dynamite, and a clock counting down from five seconds. What does Joe do?
[[Throw the bomb]] or [[abandon ship|get out]]?
Joe threw the bomb as far away from the ship as he could but he still felt the impact of the explosion. The boat rocked furiously from the waves but eventually slowed. As Joe got up, he noticed the explosion had reached part of the boat and weakened its side. As Joe crept closer to inspect the damage the wood gave way and water came flooding in. The boat was sinking, and Joe had gotten his foot tangled up in rope. He pulled and pulled but there was no escape. Joe went down with the ship.Joe was getting discouraged. His wife was dead. The killer still at large and no matter what Joe did he still felt like he was running in circles. The best lead he had was R.R’s house and that was a complete bust. The only clue he found there was a missing car with a bread-crumb oil trail leading him into the city. And as Joe walked in between the skyscrapers he felt more hopeless than ever. But then he saw it. R.R.’s car. It was stopped at a stop light about to turn green. Joe could either chase him down on [[foot]] and use the various short cuts he knew or he could hot wire a [[car]] and try to chase him down that way. What does Joe do?Joe followed the man all throughout the carnival, but he could never get a good look at him. Joe saw him walk into the Hall of Mirrors and knew now was his chance to confront him. He walked inside and was immediately disoriented. Flashing lights blinded him and he kept bumping into walls that weren’t there. A broken laugh track kept playing on loop as Joe squeezed down too narrow hallways. He came face to face with a million disfigured versions of himself and not one image of the man he was chasing.
Accepting defeat Joe turned to leave. And then somebody pushed him. Joe hit the mirror and it shattered into a million pieces. Before Joe could even pick himself off the ground, his attacker picked up one of the shards of glass and slashed Joe’s throat. Joe never even saw the man’s face before his lungs flooded with blood and he expired.
Joe was only able to follow the car for about a block before a piano fell on him. He saw the movers transporting it to an upper story apartment, but he never thought the ropes would break as he ran under it. He was wrong.Joe’s life could have gone very differently. But the paths he chose led him to this point. He found his way to the city. Even spotted R.R.’s car. And now he’d chasing down his wife’s killer in a hot-wired car.
R.R. turned left and Joe was hot on his tail. In just a few blocks Joe was inches away from ramming into R.R.’s bumper. But then the other man made an abrupt u-turn that left Joe reeling. By the time Joe caught up to the car again, R.R. had already split. Joe could either [[get out]] and start looking for him on foot or [[stay in]] the car and try and cover more ground that way. What does Joe do?
After a few near-death experiences, Joe’s path finally seemed to be coming to an end when R.R.’s trail lead Joe into a crowded subway platform. A decade ago, Joe never would have imagined he would be hunting down someone who Joe use to consider his best friend. But the military changed them. Joe grew into the idealized American hero. And R.R. found a sinister way of making money. Joe thought he was doing the right thing by reporting R.R. and his illegal trading. But R.R. retaliated. And Joe’s still not sure if it was worth it.
Thinking of that fateful day seven years ago reminded Joe of where he and R.R. had their final stand off. And because R.R. always did have a flair for the dramatic, Joe knew that’s where he’d be again. Joe was getting ready to get on the subway when someone ran past him. Joe tried to ignore them but his paranoia told him it had something to do with R.R. Should he [[chase after him]] or [[go with his gut]]?
Joe was backing the car up so he could search for R.R. but he didn’t see the tractor trailer that ran a red light. He didn’t even see all the pedestrians trying to warn him. The last thing he did see before his skull cracked against the steering wheel was a little girl’s red balloon as it floated into the sky.Joe stepped back onto the platform and instantly knew he’d made a mistake. The running man got lost in the crowd and Joe could feel himself being jostled by all the people surrounding him. He was getting ready to climb back onto the subway car when he felt a sharp pain in his side. He turned to see what happened, but nobody was there. When he looked down he saw a knife sticking out of his body. Joe heard somebody screamed before the world turned black and he collapsed.Joe took the subway up town. He got off at the tallest skyscraper in Sticksville. Joe hadn’t been back since he’d last led the cops here all those years ago. As Joe rode the elevator to the top floor and climbed the last few steps to the roof, he was flooded with old fears and sorrows.
R.R. had trusted him with his secret. But Joe’s conscious couldn’t handle the guilt of knowing what his friend was doing was wrong. Never in a million years would Joe think R.R. capable of doing what he had done. But now Joe knows better.
Joe opened the door to the roof. There standing at the edge of the roof was Rolly Roy, a.k.a. R.R. The man turned to Joe and had the audacity to smile. Joe was overcome with rage. Seven years ago, Joe lost his son to this man. Today, he lost his wife. As far as Joe was concerned, he didn’t have anything left to lose. Joe had planned on just [[turning R.R. in to the cops]] but now that he was here, it would be so easy to just [[push him off the edge]]. And then Joe would never have to worry about R.R. hurting him ever again. If only Joe could live with the guilt. What does Joe do?
Joe calls the cops and they show up a few minutes later. Joe has nothing to say to R.R. and so he settles for glaring at the man as he is put under arrest. R.R. gets sentenced to life in prison, but he gets shot attempting to escape a few weeks later. Meanwhile Joe goes to therapy and learns to start over. His life is never the same but at least he’s able to live with himself.Joe ran at him. R.R. didn’t even put up a fight. Joe couldn’t even hear the body hit the ground. He just saw all the pedestrians run away like ants. Cops showed up a few minutes later. They found Joe still standing at the ledge of the building. He confessed everything right then and there. In the following days, Joe was sentenced to live in prison. Not that it mattered. Joe had nothing now. No home. No family. And no friends. Joe lived a long and miserable life until the age of 76 when he was shanked in a prison riot.Joe’s heart beat faster and faster as he neared the house. He still remembered the day they hauled that monster to jail. Joe made the mistake of letting his guard does after that day. He’d thought their fight was finally over. He’d thought wrong.
The house slowly came into view the way a body slowly floats to the top of a lake. The place looked abandoned. And a hasty, terror-fueled inspection of the place proved this observation to be true. The place looked exactly as Joe last remembered it. The only two things that seemed to be missing were R.R.’s car and his boat. The car must have had something wrong with it because there was a trail of oil leading in the direction of the [[city|leave]]. But the [[lake]] was closer if R.R was out on his boat. Both paths lead in completely opposite directions. And every moment Joe stood there trying to decide, his wife’s murderer got further and further away. Which way does Joe go?