Below is a Recollection–this is not a review, but rather a full spoiler walkthrough of the author’s experience in Cracked vs. Heretic’s RELAX, an extreme haunt by Cracked and Heretic. As RELAX will not be remounted, it is safe to read this and not be concerned with spoilers. For recollection of both nights with fewer spoilers, please click here.
A towering figure emerges coated in a white hazmat suit, his face covered by a gas mask.
He stands before me as I kneel on the cold floor, submitting myself to him, relinquishing control, transporting myself into this lucid nightmare. Degraded, dehumanized, I am no longer a person.
I am Subject #3.
This is the end, this has always been the end.
I know him, he knows me.
His name is Blake.
Minutes before, I am standing against a concrete wall—dumpster in front of me, a gate behind—waiting for the clock to strike eight. Each time the door cracks open, my heart rate increases. Anticipation swelters in my veins, slithering through my organs. I can hear soft, peaceful tunes from within, a perfect juxtaposition to the horrors awaiting our group of fifteen. When the door slightly opens, a red light bathes the concrete like blood pouring out from within.
I breathe to relax my muscles, stretch my legs to ease the pain, and talk to other participants in hopes of distancing my mind from an amalgamation of negative thoughts.
“Please enter; it’s time.”
Nothing in my power could have prepared myself mentally and physically from what happened inside. My dignity was stripped, my name was erased, and I found something sinister inside me.
We slowly walk towards our demise, one by one passing through the door dividing the beauty of Los Angeles from the relentless amount of pure torture we are about to endure. I see somebody I recognize, somebody whose art I hold dear to my heart, inspiring me to create short stories, delivering escapes from this deteriorating planet. I see the man who birthed that symbolic knife, that mythological object I yearn to encounter whenever I purchase a ticket.
I see Adrian Marcato, Heretic’s father.
He instructs our group to kneel down. Fog pulsates through the surrounding darkness, cutting through the air as a tall figure emerges from the distance. He wears a white lab coat, clutches onto a machine gun, yet I cannot seem to recognize his appearance.
“You took him away from me. You killed him. Now you have to pay,” the man with the machine gun screams at us. He continues: “You think you know what true suffering feels like? You know nothing. But tonight… tonight, you will finally come face to face with horror.”
Adrian paces throughout the room, lighting a cigarette, the only source of light in this chaotic world we find ourselves in.
“I want to die. I want to die. I want to die” Adrian whispers
But the man with the machine gun is not willing to afford him that pleasure, at least not yet. He forces Adrian to kneel down, smashing his face against concrete as we hold our breaths, unable to do much other than watch from a close distance. Screams manifest themselves into echoes of torment as blood pours down Adrian’s stark white shirt.
Adrian turns towards us, his shirt now covered in a neon colored liquid reminiscent of a surrealist blood taken straight from a nightmare, and smiles.
Everything seems like it might be okay, at least for the time being.
Lead by Blake himself, around ten massive tormentors storm through the door. Their appearance is slightly different, male and female, their goal alike: break us down, tear us to shreds. These are his minions. They lack sympathy, empathy, the emotions that make us human. One by one, they line up.
“When I call your name, you pick up your shirt. You are no longer people. You are subjects and you will refer to yourselves as numbers.”
Blake calls our names, reducing us to mere guinea pigs taking part in his depraved experiment. We grab our shirts and the tormentors secure them onto us.
I am no longer Fernando. I am now Subject #3.
Blake and his tormentors lead us into a dilapidated warehouse room with concrete walls. An overweight woman wearing a surgical face mask grabs my arm, demanding that Subject #1 and I line up with our backs against the concrete wall. But this wall isn’t solid concrete; it has large cracks with steel bars in between them. Somebody grabs my hands from behind, tying them together, restraining my wrists with a metal padlock.
Blake then assigns us partners. My partner is Subject #4.
I notice some subjects are in stress positons, some with their hands tied over their shoulders, while others have their hands tied below their waists. The remaining stand with their foreheads pressed against concrete, their arms raised in the air, their feet resting on their toes as tormentors watch to make sure nobody stops.
“You must find a key inside this room to unlock your partner. The longer you take, the more severe punishment will be.”
Our partners scurry throughout the room like rats lost inside a labyrinth. As time passes, my arms wear down. The woman wearing a surgeon’s mask inserts a metal hook into Subject #1’s mouth, threatening him with electrocution if he drops it. The tormentors become more violent as time passes. The woman moves around the room, electrocuting those trying to find the key
Subject #4 finds the key to relieve me, and I sigh audibly. The relief can’t come soon enough as my arms are already sore. But relief doesn’t last long as Blake forces us both into another stress position, even more painful than the last. The woman watches us closely, electrocuting anyone who wavers from the prescribed position.
My arms grow heavy. I watch the tormentors to learn their patterns. When they look away, I lower my arms for a moment before someone notices. I cannot take it anymore. I then notice that we are holding this position because the last key has not been found yet. Sweat drips from my forehead, I close my eyes to ease the sense of suffering, using breathing exercises to ease the mental stress.
Once the final key is found, Blake lines subjects up against a claustrophobic room composed of brownish walls that have been torn apart, instructing everyone to stand still. Tormentors throw a hood over our heads and wrap tape around our eyes. The lights are shut off. Blake’s instructions are simple:
“I’m going to set a timer for 20 minutes. When you think 20 minutes have passed, raise both of your arms. I don’t care if it feels like your fucking arms are going to fall off, you keep them up. Don’t think you can take a break, there are people watching you.”
I hear the timer start. I use my fingers when counting to refrain from speaking out loud. About five minutes in, subjects release heavy breaths. When my counting reaches fifteen minutes, I can hear subjects gasping for breath. I count to twenty-five, in hopes of making sure I gave myself enough time—and raise my arms into the air.
After about three minutes, my arms begin to shake, already sore from the previous exercise. I lower them against my head, but realize Blake wasn’t lying. People are watching. I feel a slight tug; a tormentor raises my arms up to the sky perfectly straight.
After what feels like an eternity, I feel hands on my own, lowering them. Those same hands guide me somewhere colder, pressing my forehead against the wall. I notice red hues penetrating my hood.
The tormentors release the tape from our eyes then pull off the hood protecting us from the light.
Crimson lasers slice through the darkness, centerpieces of this desolate landscape. Silhouettes of black creatures, demons ripped straight from horrid nightmares, lumber across the horizon. Adrian paces around the room saying:
“This is my death. These are my personal demons. Welcome to my hell.”
One by one, guests are dragged off by the gargantuan creatures. I hear harsh screams. I look back, yet the laser beams are no longer there. Instead, all I can see is darkness.
A bald man wearing opaque sunglasses wraps his arms around my throat, slowly walking towards somebody I recognize as a previous subject.
“What should I do with him? Let him go or make him suffer” the bald man asks.
“Make him fucking suffer” the previous subject demands.
“What the fuck. I haven’t done anything to you. Please don’t do this; torture her instead.”
I plead with him, but the bald man pays no attention. He pulls a knife from his pocket, testing its sharpness by slowly pressing the blade against my skin. He brings it closer to my throat, pressing it against my neck. He presses it into my skin; the pain is blinding. His blade continues exploring the skin of my neck, leaving red marks in its trail. I close my eyes to erase my mind from the overwhelming sense of pain. Tears drip down my cheek. He is not done with me… not yet.
He calls the man with the machine gun from earlier. Hands grab at me, ripping my t-shirt, exposing my chest. I struggle to release myself from his grasp, but am unsuccessful.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
The noise of the gun going off is deafening—but the pain is worse. Airsoft pellets hit my bare chest. I scream and I shout, but that does not matter. I can no longer take the unbearable amount of pain and I go limp. My body collapses as I crash onto the floor, hitting my head against the concrete.
I lie on the floor, cautious not to move a muscle or make a sound. The man with the machine gun approaches me, whispering into my ear:
“Pain is power. Pain is power. Repeat it.”
“Pain is power,” I respond with a whimper.
He nods back then leaves to torture another victim.
As I wait on the floor, I ponder what brought me here; why I would submit myself to pure torture if I’m not masochistic; the reasoning behind exploring such emotionally dark places—but I don’t find an answer because I hear something animalistic approaching.
When it comes into view, it appears to be a mutant, his facial features distorted, his humanity long gone.
He drags me by what remains of my clothing and tosses my body around as if it was some sort of emotionless ragdoll. The creature proceeds to claw at my exposed flesh, tearing my skin as the wounds intensify. The pain is strong, but I do my best to withstand it. He drools all over my face then squeezes my chest, making my breathing labored. The creature turns me on my side and puts me on a choke hold. I tap out, but this force of unfiltered malevolence refuses to let go of me. When my vision is becoming hazy, he releases his grip and covers my nose and mouth, forcing me to struggle, depriving me of something we as humans take for granted: breathing.
The creature leaves me shivering in the corner, wet with its saliva, gathering my breaths. I remind myself that none of this is real, but unconsciously acknowledge that it actually is.
A woman’s cries echo in the distance. She begs for her life, calling out for help. I want to help her, I do; but I fear making any noise that might attract another tormentor’s attention.
Another sound attracts my attention: Adrian is crawling across the floor towards me. I ask about the woman, and he suggests we try to help her. Together, we slither across the floor, as silent as snakes.
The Weight of a Choice
As we approach, we see the shadow of a figure in the distance, violently shaking as a tormentor pushes a taser into her side. Her eyes are drenched in tears.
“Adrian, please stop” she cries out. I recognize her by her number: Subject #4.
Adrian turns to me. “A person can choose to protect their friends or protect themselves. You have that choice to make: take her place or let her torture continue.”
I tell her to use the safe word, but Subject #4 refuses. Her stubbornness seals her fate, and I tell the tormentor to let her suffer.
The taser is pushed into #4’s back. The voltage causes her body to convulse, and Subject #4 screams out.
Adrian gives me the choice again: her or me.
I tell him I don’t want to be electrocuted. It has to be her.
I look at her and apologize, closing my eyes, refusing to look at the suffering I am responsible for.
Then, I broke.
I felt no remorse, I felt no pleasure, I simply felt empty, devoid of any feelings. I separated myself from my feelings; the only way I knew how to deal with my choice.
But karma is a bitch—and boy, is it.
It’s her turn, and Subject #4 whimpers:
“Make him pay for this. Make him suffer.”
Arms grab at me, restraining my extremities. I see the woman in the surgical mask, the man with the machine gun, and the bald man all towering over me. The woman removes a series of sharp tools from her pocket, gesturing at my hand. She then sticks the sharp end of a tweezer underneath my fingernails. I scream out in pain, and I wrestle against their grasp.
A voice whispers into my ear “This is what real pain feels like.”
She removes my sneakers and socks. She then takes the pincer and stabs the flesh underneath my toenails.
The bald man takes a blow torch and holds it close to my fingers. I feel a burning sensation, my flesh seared as the flames dance across them.
He stops. The woman inserts my sock into my mouth, holding my nose in the process. I cannot breathe.
They lift me to my feet, and guide me towards the wall where all remaining participants stand in a line.
Blake sits down surrounded by a semi-circle composed of fifteen chairs. A table stands in front of him, filled with unknown substances. Underneath the table, lies a large plastic bucket.
He demands each of us take a seat in numerical order.
“Here’s how this works: I will ask each of you a question. If you are correct, you pick somebody else to eat something. If you are wrong, you pick something to eat.”
Prior to our experience, Blake instructed us to memorize participant’s middle names, hospitals they were born in, and last digits of their phone numbers. But I didn’t listen—I thought it was only a game to generate paranoia. I never thought these facts might save me.
Blake introduces us to his menu: slimy worms inside of a metal tin, putrid rotten fish pieces known as surstromming, rancid black ovals with a green yolk known as century eggs, and a pile of charcoal black beetles.
In a circle, participants answer questions, some correct, others failing. They reluctantly eat their disgusting meals. Subject #5 answers a question correctly, and looks at me.
I am chosen to eat the next meal.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I exclaim “OXFORD” – the infamous safe word.
I am escorted out, left to wonder what happens next; but I have a sense of pride.
While waiting outside the warehouse, I take a second to understand why. The reason is quite simple: I branded H into the darkest recesses of my mind, wearing it as a symbol of valor. I refuse to acknowledge my shattered reflection by looking for the many scattered pieces of that transparent mirror hidden within this depraved universe, sacrificing my dignity and sense of humanity in doing so.
It is okay to be broken as long as you acknowledge what broke you.
As Adrian approaches to bid me farewell, three words torture my mind, ringing like sirens through my brain.
I am Adrian.