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Fantasy Fiction Teens & Young Adult

Her throat was overtaken by the taste of a childhood skill. The unmistakable tang of blood and mucus, clot against the back wall of it. Hot air travels up and down its pipe with every pant. She’s tired. She’s been running for hours. But she can’t stop, because she remembered her.

Her was the woman from the house, called Elizabeth. Elizabeth was forty three, and worked in an office before she worked here. Her life devoted to milk colored blouses, and coal colored pencil skirts, and red wine lip stain, and whitening strips stapled to her teeth. Her nails, ruby red, desperate to kiss the keys of an ash-gray keyboard. Her lips, hungry to leave invisible imprints on the hips of her employers, in hopes of the raise she so obviously deserved. But somehow, even after everything, she still ended up here, working for Mr. Shepherd. 

Lenox remembered the mirror next, because she stared at it for a long while, so to tune Elizabeth out. If this was the last time she should see a mirror, she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. A girl stood in the glass, staring back at her. Seventeen, black wavy hair, brown eyes, brown skin, plump lips. It’s good she didn’t win the eyes, she thought. Then she’d be one of those girls who focus on every pore. She wondered then, what her mother was like. Did she look like her? Did her mother fuss over every spec and pore? Did her mother—?

“Elizabeth,” she finally interrupted, agitated. She swallowed, “tell me about my parents again. For the last time.”

“Not the last time,” Elizabeth scolded. “Your mother was an African American woman, maybe twenty-two when she met your father. He was about twenty six. Filipino. That's all we know.”

Elizabeth swallows hard, whenever she talks about Lenox’s parents. It often made Lenox wonder if Elizabeth were really her mother, or the sister of her mother. Did she know them some how? But she never asked, for fear the truth would cut deeper than the unknown. Still. Even the little she was given, felt like a lullaby.

The injection hurt; the injection always hurts. You get the first whenever they bring you here; it makes you turn invisible, at will of course, in order to successfully play the game. The more rounds you win, the more they reward you, with new needles. New abilities, to give you new advantages over the other players. Last round, Tommy got the strength of a dog’s nose. This week, Lenox got bat ears.

“. . . Chameleon Tag,” she caught.

She nod in response to it, but she didn’t listen. Lenox didn’t need Elizabeth to explain Chameleon Tag to her. She’s been an expert since the day they brought her here. She knows the game, like she knows herself, like she knows an old friend. Better an old drug. It’s always fun when it starts. And then it ruins your life.

“Whenever you need to go ghost, grab whatever’s closest to you and focus on your surroundings,” Elizabeth explained, again, as if she were only starting out. “Once you get good, it should only take you a few seconds. Once you master it, the transition should be instant.”

Lenox mastered it last year, before they even started playing. She mastered it in training.

“Tommy’s ‘It’ this round. Don't let him tag you.”

She knew that too. . . She didn’t want to know that. Whomever is ‘It’ at the end of the round, is to be exterminated. It would suck if it was Tommy who tagged her. . . Presently, Lenox squints. A futile attempt to throw the sun from her eyes, or blink away the rolling sweat that stuck to her lashes. Her cheeks begin to salivate, and her throat bobs up and down. Her stomach bubbles, forcing up the vile through her pipes, and to her mouth. She swallows it. 

His mind was overtaken, by the memory of a sound. The sound of the man named Michael. “Tommy,” he said. “Do you understand?”

Tommy, like Lenox, nod his head yes. He wondered why it made sense. Neither Michael nor Elizabeth have ever played Chameleon Tag, so what made them qualified to train anybody? Whatever, he thought. So long as he won the rounds, it didn’t matter who did the training. 

Only five people get to win the game, despite being a class of forty-three. It was stupid, Tommy thought. Why Shepherd would waste so much time hosting round after round, when he could just pick who he wanted and be done with it. The rounds aren’t even based on strength. Only pure luck. Of course the stronger of the bunch had the higher chance of surviving, but, not a guaranteed result. He supposes it’s entertainment. Or an excuse, to keep them alive. 

The rocks poke into the soles of his boots, as he tramples across the forest grounds. He could smell the pigeons, as they flew lower than usual across the skyline, and the squawking was ever so annoying as per usual. They always fly away during a round. It was almost like they knew. 

The ground smells like last night's rain, and the bark smelled wet and like cold. And he could taste the air, like fresh powdered snow. He didn’t run. He swiped his hands across the wet leaves, bouncing water droplets from the green to the dirt. He walked as if it bored him. It didn’t make sense to tag someone, when there was still so much time left in the game. He’d only have to spend that much more, running away. It wasn’t like he saw her, anyway. Usually the goal is to get someone while you can, whomever it takes to take the target off your back. Today, his goal is her. Today, he’d tag Lenox.

Only Hall D plays Chameleon Tag. Hall A plays Hide and Seek. 

Hall B, plays a Game of Brains; tasks to be completed, solely by only the strength of mind. Hall C plays Cops and Robbers, and if the robber lost they’d be exterminated, but if they won, one of the other kids are snatched at random. They say it’s scariest, living in Hall C.

Hall E plays Rock, Paper, Scissors. It’s harder than it sounds. 

Mr. Shepherd owns the house. The children only ever see him at dinner, because he only leaves his office, for dinner. He says it’s his favorite meal of the day. It’s the only time they’re allowed to bother him, unless it’s something serious. He—.

Her thoughts were broken by the sound of a snapping twig. Instinctively, she grabs the side of the nearest tree, going ghost in an instant. She stares at the sky, until the sun pierces her eyes. She forces her head down, and covers her forehead with her arm, and closes her eyes. Bright blobs of color infect the black, and shine over the trees and the grass when she opens her eyes to look. Eventually, the blobs fade away, and the space is empty again. 

Empty. Aside from the trees, it’s been nothing but empty space. No runners, hardly any rustling, hardly any breath. Just her and the empty space. Where did everyone go? North, she thinks.

The mountains are the best place to hide. 

She could get there in twenty minutes if she ran. There isn’t even twenty minutes left in the game, if even ten, but it’d be safest to aim for the mountains. She’d make it in twenty minutes if she ran; but her pace is slowing down. She can’t slow down, because she knows he’s gunning for her. They promised to never go for each other. That they wouldn’t let Shepherd’s game take away the years they’d spent together. He was her best friend. And now, he’s gunning for her.

She won’t make it if she goes on like this — she knows it. She’s been running for two hours now, and then some more. He’ll catch her at this rate.

With a quick jerk to her right, Lenox forces her palm to bark of another tree, going ghost again. If she couldn’t run, she’d have to hide. 

She tries to calm her breathing. There’d be no use in hiding, if Tommy could hear her panting. At this rate, he’d have to rely on sound alone, and luckily for her he’s got bad ears. And despite his nose, she’d already diluted her scent a thousand times over, rolling in the mud, and bathing in the forest leaves, and scraping against the trees. If he wanted her, he’d have to hear her. If he wanted her, he’d— there.

He’d gotten here quicker than she thought he would. 

He thinks he can smell her; either that or the one tree has a particularly overwhelming musk of saps, bark, and wet leaves. They’re nose to nose now. They would be, nose to nose, had Lenox not’ve covered her own to mask her breathing, and sucked her stomach far to the back of her, to prevent them from touching. If he’d taken the next step, he would’ve found her. . . But he didn’t take the next step. He rolled his eyes because he couldn’t smell her, and he gave the place a good once over before deciding it wasn’t worth his time. He’s already wasted enough walking around, doing nothing.

Lenox could feel her heart beating in her nose. She ripped her hand away from her face, tired of smelling the maple and oak. She ripped her hand away from the tree, regaining visibility. Now that she knows where he’s going, she could confidently run down the opposite path. She rolls her eyes this time. What was even the point? The only thing she gets out of surviving this round, is the starting mark of another. Wouldn’t it be best to—

Crack

The scream of a broken twig being crushed between the forest grounds and the sole of a running shoe. She doesn’t move. He found her.

When she turns to face him finally, Tommy lunges his arm at her shoulder. Lenox bends her back far enough that his arm goes in a straight line over her, touching only the air. Not that he’d thrown his arm that hard, anyway. Combat’s been his specialty, since they were seven years old. He could’ve smashed her windpipe by now if he wanted to. He’s going easy on her. 

Lenox throws two missed punches at him, before throwing a spin kick. He ducks, forcing her leg in a spiral in the air where his head would’ve been, before jumping up in a false attempt to spin kick her back, only to miss. They stop. They stand at a standstill.

“I thought you were my friend!” she yells. “Go after them!”

“There’s no one else here,” Tommy says. “Haven’t you noticed?”

She swallows hard. For awhile she doesn’t say anything, rather she considers the chance that they could really be the only two. It’s against the rules, not to join a round. If you don’t leave for the rounds, Shepherd will exterminate you. There’s no way they stayed in their dorms. There’s no such thing as strength in numbers here; the whole class above them got exterminated last year, for holding a sit in. There’s no way it’s just him and her.

“You—.”

“I made a deal with Shepherd,” Tommy says, answering a question she’d never even think to ask. “I asked him to hide the others, so there’d be no distractions. I didn’t want any excuse, or doubt, or second thoughts.” He shakes his head like he said anything warranting it. “He didn’t go for it at first, he doesn’t break rules let alone his own. But we figured it was a loophole; hiding’s the point of Chameleon Tag. I guess he wants you out as much as the rest of us. . . I’m sorry Lenny. . . You're the strongest player.”

Five students get to survive Chameleon Tag. But only one, gets to graduate from each hall. No one knows what Shepherd does to the other four. Only that they don’t come home. The strongest players often helped the other strong to get ahead. It helped them build powerful alliances. The smartest players, picked off the strongest while they had the chance.

Tommy lunges for her again, but this time he taps her shoulder. He shrugged to her, as if it were all so innocent. But he stared at the ground when he said it. 

“You're it.”

She didn’t dare chase him when he ran away. What would be the point? There isn’t any time left, in the round. The big computer in the sky’s already started her song. “Twenty seconds remaining. Nineteen. Eighteen.”

Tommy’s the worst when he’s It, Lenox thinks, slumping against the nearest tree. He always waits to tag someone, until the end of the round. Doesn’t even give them a chance, to find somebody else. . . At least she can say she knew when it’d happen. All the seniors assumed, they’d only live till seventeen.

Ten. Nine.

She didn’t mind losing the round. What bothered her was it being Tommy’s fault. They always promised — There! There’s a rustling? In the tree above her. A rustling? She could see no figure slipping through the branches, no animal, no bees, no persons. But that was exactly it. No visible persons; a runner.

“Hey!” she screams into the branches.

“Shit,” mutters the invisible man. 

The runner exposes himself, becoming visible again, and he slides down the branch of the tree. He slides passed Lenox in a stupid attempt to get out while he can -- Three. Two. -- there was only a second to spare, when she caught him and deemed he be ‘It.’ She didn’t mean to smile, but she couldn’t help falling down the bark of the tree, and sighing a happy one of relief, despite what it meant for the other boy. She couldn’t focus on the other boy. She survived. Tommy rigged the stupid round, and she still survived.

“Round, Complete.”

Two stoic faces, attached to the stacked bodies of heavy guards, came to drag the other boy by his arms to the unknown place the losers go, to never return. Lenox watched him scream at them, to give him another chance. She watched him, but, she didn’t listen. One of the privileges of her rewarded ears, was she got the opportunity to choose when to turn them off. And more than anything, she wanted to care. To erase the evil mindset you never know yourself capable of falling into, until you’ve entered a round. But the only thing she could focus on, were two very important truths. She is the best player. And next round, she’s ‘It.’

October 09, 2020 15:52

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4 comments

Rajesh Patel
00:27 Oct 15, 2020

Good action sci-fi story. I enjoyed the great vocabulary used in your story.

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Ari Jackson
19:19 Oct 15, 2020

Thank you! Thanks for reading!

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Noel Pine
03:42 Oct 14, 2020

Wow, this is a very interesting story! Way to go! Held my attention the whole way!

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Ari Jackson
19:19 Oct 15, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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