From the Malafarina files, ‘Bait And Switch,’ a short story by master of horror Thomas M. Malafarina

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By: Thomas M. Malafarina © 2019

“Bait the hook well. The fish will bite.” – William Shakespeare

“Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it.” –  Thomas Jefferson

“Look up ahead. There’s bait active around that bend. We’re bound to catch something good up there.” The young girl said to her friend.

They were in the process of playing the latest and hottest augmented reality game known as Monster Mayhem. The game was just one of a dozen such games attracting a worldwide audience of gamers and making its developers millions of dollars. It required its players to go out into parks and other such places of interest to digitally capture a variety of monsters that appeared randomly. The couple was presently playing in a local museum part and the sun was sinking low in the western sky.

Thereof course were all sorts of rules and regulations as well as a variety of weapons available to help in the capture of monsters. One such tool was called “setting bait”. This allowed the player to place bait around one of the digital markers to attract monsters to that particular location.

“Yeah, but look around Jill. It’s really getting dark and there’ are no lights out this far.”

“Seriously, Seth? Are you trying to tell me you’re afraid of the dark?”

Seth found himself in a quandary. He liked Jill a lot. He was hoping someday soon she might stop thinking of him as just a friend and maybe allow their relationship to take a more romantic turn. Maybe this was just another teenage fantasy but he was really attracted to Jill. However, if he showed signs of being anything less than manly or protective that opportunity might never come.

“Of course, I’m not! I’m not afraid of anything. It’s just getting harder to see the path with just the limited light from our phones. We left the blacktop a while back and this path is nothing but dirt and gravel. I’m concerned you might trip, fall and hurt yourself.”

“I’ll be fine Seth. Don’t worry about me. Look, this is a city park and there are dozens of people around here playing the game just like we are.”

“I know but they’re far behind us now in the main part of the park where the light is. Nobody’s way out here.”

“Somebody obviously is. Look at that bait on the screen Seth. That means someone had to set it up and he’s likely out there right now getting tons of great monsters while we’re standing here in the dark arguing. The clock is ticking Seth. Baits are only good for like a half-hour and we have no idea how long this one has been running.”

Seth looked at his cell phone, “Oh, great!”

“What?”

“Look at the name of the guy who set up the bait.”

Jill looked at her phone and said, “It says ‘Player Slayer’. So what?”

“Doesn’t that nickname bother you? I mean, if this was a horror movie, we’d be screaming at the screen for the characters to turn tail and run. That name doesn’t concern you even a little bit?”

“No, of course not. We all have goofy nicknames. Yours is ‘Ultra Balls 2’. Tell me that isn’t just a little bit vain.”

“You know it isn’t. I just took the name from the Ultra Balls we use in the game. That’s all.”

“Sure, you did. Now stop being so weird, Seth. Now let’s go over there and see what we can catch.”

“Fine, fine. But as soon as we get our share of monsters we’re heading back to civilization. Deal?”

“Sure, it’s a deal. Now let’s hurry.”

Using the light from the screens on their cell phones the pair made their way along the path toward the area where the program’s GPS screen showed the bait to be located. As they followed a curve in the path, they came upon an area with a wooden bench. There was no one in sight.

“This is the spot. Let’s see what shows up.” Jill suggested.

“Nobody’s here Jill. I wonder why ‘Player Slayer’ set the bait and then didn’t stick around?”

“Geese, Seth. Stop worrying about dumb stuff. He could have set them up and gotten bored waiting for monsters to show up and just left. You know some people have no patience and sometimes it seems to take forever for monsters to be attracted to the bait. Look at your sightings bar and you can see there are a couple of them nearby.”

Seth looked down at his phone and said sarcastically. “Oh, wow. Big deal! A Mogadon, a Sykill, and a Wolyhump. Boring! No wonder the guy abandoned this location. You can get those things all over the place and without wasting a single bait chip.”

“Whatever, Seth. We’re here so let’s give it a few minutes and see what else shows up?”

“Alright. But as soon as the bait runs down, we head back. Ok.”

“Ok, fine. Just stop bugging me about it. You’re really starting to work on my nerves.”

Seth didn’t reply. He knew Jill well enough to understand she was about to lose her temper and she did have quite a temper indeed. He was starting to wonder if maybe his idea about making Jill his girlfriend was a bad idea after all. He had known her since they were toddlers. They had been together in every grade in school. That closeness combined with his raging hormones and Jill’s blossoming figure and good looks had been the reason for his thoughts to turn to romance in the first place. But maybe he needed to rethink this course of action. She could be a real pain in the butt sometimes.

“Come on Jill. This is a waste of time. Let’s go.”

“Ok, but just give it a minute. Something’s bound to show up. I mean come on. That’s the whole purpose of setting bait in the first place.”

“That’s only partially true.” A voice suddenly said from out of the darkness.

Instinctively, Jill reached over and grabbed Seth’s hand. He felt warmth spread throughout his body at the excitement of her touch. Yet the fear, which was simultaneously shooting through him, overshadowed his momentary pleasure. He lifted his phone in the direction of the voice for light but couldn’t see anyone there.

The voice continued, “Yes. Bait can be set up to attract monsters for you to hunt in your game. But bait can also serve other purposes.”

A pair of legs clothed in dark black jeans and dark boots stepped into the light of Seth’s phone. Seth raised the light slowly along the stranger’s body and saw the man was likewise dressed in a black tee-shirt and a long black leather coat. He wore a dark black wide-brimmed hat, which shielded his downturned face. But Seth could see the man had a heavy black beard.

“You know a lot of people think this whole Monster Mayhem game is just a fad and is stupid and ridiculous. In some ways, they may be right. However, I’ve discovered these sorts of games can serve many good purposes. They get people, especially kids off the sofa. You can’t be a couch potato and play these games. You have to get up and get out of the house. I’m sure you’re aware we have become such a sedentary society. The players get to walk around and get good exercise while enjoying an interesting game. They also get to meet and interact with other players in real life, face-to-face rather than sitting at home in front of some video screen talking to unseen players over a headset. I think those are all good things. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Neither of them responded. Jill squeezed Seth’s hand even tighter. The man raised his head an

d Seth heard Jill gasp next to him. The stranger’s face was badly rippled and scarred as if he had survived a bad burn and his eyes seemed to glow with an intensity that suggested a madness living somewhere deep within him. He opened his mouth in a deranged smile revealing a maw filled with brown and rotting teeth. He barely looked human at all. He was more like one of the monsters from the game.

“But you see, bait can also serve another purpose. They can be used to attract game players like you both. And as my game name, ‘Player Slayer’ suggests, I enjoy hunting you much more than the fictional game characters.”

The last thing Jill and Seth saw in their young lives was the long, sharp sword blade glimmering in the light from their cell phones as it came slashing down toward them.

 

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