Sep 03
Alex Baker's picture

Igniting Writing ‘Explore’ Contest 2019, Submission by Alex from Igniting Writing

We’re up to 15 entries for our ‘Explore’ themed teen creative writing competition, led in tandem by Igniting Writing, Lake Erie Ink, Fighting Words and young Writers Project. This submission was sent in by Alex, one of our newest members of Igniting Writing but despite only recently joining she’s really shown her writing talent. Her entry is titled ‘Us and Our Game’ and is an unsettling read, with a slow build up of tension that creates a threatening atmosphere without ever explicitly revealing where the threat comes from. It’s well worth a read, so check it out for yourself below:

Looking at the list, half of the names had been crossed off. Was it truly an entire two years, seven months and three days since this began? Looking at the calendar I had meant to get rid of approximately two years, seven months and two days ago on the back of the door, I sighed. It seemed so. If only he hadn’t been quite so proud that day, all this could have been avoided. But I would not back down now – no, I was better than that. I would win, if it took eliminating every name on that list and more.

Restless, I stood and tossed the stained napkin back onto my bedside table, where the only other furniture was a dust-veiled lamp that probably held a blown bulb. A cloud of particles rose, dancing and swirling in the beam of light that cut across the room from beneath the broken blinds, catching my attention with their vivacious energy. Such a peculiar oxymoron; molecules of death being lively. Rather bizarre.

But not for immediate contemplation. If I am to catch up, immediate action is to be taken. The next name is my focus now. Sheila McCarthy. A stranger who happened to be walking by that day. So unfortunate she scared those pigeons the old lady beside us had been feeding crumbs. But he didn’t really like that, so her fate was decided.

And she was only one among many; from the park and the café, the cinema and the lemonade stand, the mall and the traffic jam that we sat in for hours. As we collected the names – pickpocketing for driver’s licenses only to return them shyly, accidentally tripping over our feet and knocking their phones out of their hands, already apologising as we fell – we didn’t count. 42 people, it turned out, not counting each other, all over the age of 15 and three months.

We were on the 21st person, only having crossed off 10 each. It was taking forever, but I suppose the suspense only makes my eventual victory over him all the sweeter.

In Ireland for the first time in my life, as well. Who said the games weren’t beneficial to my lifestyle? I certainly would never have travelled to Ireland for long enough to take the mostly lovely tour around Trinity College, hanging on the words of the sweet student herself. And she was so wonderful, I almost couldn’t believe it; a better part of our game couldn’t have been found. None of the others were half as interesting. At least this one had some sense of self-preservation. It was so boring when they did the job for you and all you could do was claim the prize.

The last one of mine had been like that. A few taunting letters and it had been over, no anticipation. I had to fly all the way to Australia for that turn as well! Such a waste.

Hopefully, this would turn out to be more of a challenge.

A few brisk strides took me into the corridor, lifting the dust that had resettled as I reminisced. Truly, you would think a flat so many people had occupied in such a short amount of time would be slightly less dirty, but apparently not. Humans these days; such useless creatures.

My watch said 15:27, my phone said 3:29. Which to believe? Probably the phone – room for human error was much smaller, as I had never set it myself. So, one minute before I must exit the building once again. Turning to lock the door as I waited for the time to be right, I ducked my head, watching a middle-aged couple walk by, not touching.

The man had a ring, very shiny – new or well-tended to – whilst the woman had no rings at all. Stiff body language and avoiding each other’s eyes; a lovers’ spat whilst on holiday? The woman was naturally tanned, as the faint tan line around the back of her neck showed, no doubt from a bathing costume, but the man was a true Irish, pale and freckled, without a hint of sunburn.

She was abroad alone recently and was now without her ring. An affair that they were attempting to move past with a holiday? It wasn’t working very well if that were the case. Such fickle emotions as love and loyalty were quite pointless to me. I didn’t know why so many chose to torture themselves so, but each to their own, even if their own is entirely moronic.

But realising I had gotten caught up in my silent ramblings, I quickly returned the key to my pocket and strode towards the stairs. No point trying the lift; the probability of it being broken was too high. Glancing at my phone, I decided that it actually wasn’t correct, as the more accurate thing to do would be to find the average, meaning I had about half a minute before I was to be crossing the threshold.

Luckily, the way down was clear, leaving me to stride into the foyer and out the doors just before my phone said another minute had passed. That was close.

But now look here! The McCarthy heiress herself, scurrying past with a pile of books hugged close to her rather flat chest. Coming from the direction of the library… meaning she would be going back to her flat now! She wouldn’t carry all those old tomes around the whole day, would she? No, obviously not. But why had she surfaced now? I had hardly managed to catch a glimpse of her recently, no doubt because her paranoia had shot higher than the clouds after my first – admittedly sloppy – attempt at contact. Time to rectify that poor first impression.

Striding towards her, I put a bit of a swing in my step and relaxed my shoulders as much as I could manage, mimicking the laidback amiability of almost everyone on campus. Pasting a smile onto my lips, I fought to keep it from twisting into a smirk. That would definitely tip her off… but then so would too much intensity or enthusiasm. Mentally looking myself over, I stuck my left hand in the pocket of my slacks, keeping my right free for whatever was needed.

Deeming myself presentable, I crossed the last few metres broadly unnoticed by the girl, until I was matching her pace, walking just inside her peripheral vision. It took a second, but seeing the shadow stretching past her own finally alerted her to my presence, gaining a most amusing reaction. She flinched away from me, spinning as she went, so she was looking me in the eye. Upon seeing me her face paled visibly and her arm shot up, presumably to point at me, although what that would’ve accomplished was anyone’s guess.

Instead, before she had time to gather her thoughts and perform the more suitable actions when faced with a threat in a public place, I grabbed her half-outstretched hand in a handshake, subtly stepping closer as the books finally slipped from her grasp and scattered over the ground in a painful heap.

Widening my smile a little to bring her attention back to my face, I pronounced loudly enough for those closest to us to catch, “It’s lovely to see you again, Sheila, and so soon. I’m sorry about your dad.”

It was partially to assure those around us that we weren’t in need of interruptions, and to remind the target that I was quite serious about what I said last time, despite the messiness of that meeting. Watching her jaw literally drop for a second was amusing, but I was already crouching down to help her with the books, not releasing her hand, compelling her to lower herself with me. I caught a glimpse of a ring that hadn’t been there before, and a flash of indecision stilled me, but its dullness soothed my concerns.

Once we were even closer on the ground, I finally allowed the smirk to form, so she was the only one who could see.

“But it truly is so good to meet you; properly this time, I should hope,” I commented cordially, stacking the books on my arm, leaving her crouching unrestrained as I went about the task. Luckily, she didn’t quite look up to putting up a fight, but I watched her body for any sudden tension that would forewarn me of foolhardy thoughts that she might attempt to act upon.

“Perhaps you would allow me to be hosted in a more private area? Your home would be suitable,” I prompted gently, as if I were asking her honest opinion, “don’t you think?”

Finally, she seemed to break from her panic induced daze, instead lending her adrenaline to jerking herself back to her feet and speaking, voice rough, as if she suddenly remembered her desperate need for a drink. Another common trait in targets that were only just learning of their participation in our game. I would think they were so honoured by the knowledge that their emotions overwhelmed them, but the few times I had asked, trying to prolong my turn, they disagreed rather strongly.

“I really don’t think that’s necessary –” she started, fingers tangled with one another as she fidgeted, not daring to look away from me.

Looking ever so innocent, I stood, books in my arms. “But I do, my dear. And what did we learn last time?”

“Maybe we should start walking, then,” she gritted out, hands trembling now but otherwise still. “Would you…?” she trailed off as she gestured weakly to the books.

“No thank you, lovely. I’m quite alright how we are.”

She looked frustrated for a second, no doubt wondering what I was planning, but fear quickly clouded her eyes as I started walking the same way she had been headed before I halted her progress. Hesitating, she watched me dubiously for a moment, but when I kept walking, simply turning my head to beckon her, she finally unrooted her feet from the ground and followed after, footsteps heavy on the path.

After a few minutes we reached the building I knew she lived in, so with a polite sidestep and slight bow I pushed her ahead of myself, letting her lead the way like a good host. She tried to deceive me exactly three times on the way to her home but I caught each one and either gently corrected or let it go with a click of my tongue, as the attempt was doomed to fail anyway, even without my intervention. I almost giggled at her flinches whenever I made a noise or moved too close. It was just so silly! Why would I do anything to her here, where anyone could come upon us? And here I had been thinking she had a few brain cells inside that aesthetically pleasing head of hers.

But we got there eventually, and after a hesitation from her and the due chastising from myself, she unlocked the door and we entered.

To see a shadowy figure on her little balcony, identity hidden by the curtains and low afternoon sun. She seemed startled by a person having access despite the locked door, but after I assured her that I was the biggest threat to her being in the immediate vicinity, she seemed to be less interested in the mystery invader.

Until he spoke in that silky tone of his; the one that would quickly twist into the rope you’d hang by if he was displeased, or smother you with words if you dared to be boring. You would never breathe again.

“My friend, I have decided this is taking too long. My patience has run thin, and I have learnt, once again, that strangers are not nearly as interesting as you. She will be the last piece in our game. Tonight, we will decide who wins.” 
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