June 18, 2012It was Monday afternoon, at the end of another tough year for the Juniors of Colehurst Secondary School. Finals were coming up, and projects and papers were due in many classes, but today none of that mattered. Today was a day for relaxation for the students. Nobody could quite remember the origins, but Colehurst had held an annual field trip for decades. Each class had a specific day on which it took a trip to a fun destination. Today, the Juniors were going to a theme park, to have fun with roller coasters, water slides, and junk food.
The third bus, bringing up the back of the line, was not a particularly happy place. The sweltering heat was compounded by the fact that the windows were jammed and the air conditioning was broken. The odor of sweat was building, and they'd only been driving for twenty minutes. In the back of the bus, Kiel Zigelstien was lounging, eyes half closed, hat on sideways. It was keeping sweat from dribbling down off his forehead, but he sure wasn't comfortable. He was so over junior year. With any luck, he'd be out of it soon, though a lot of that depended on his midterms next week. His grades were on edge in a few courses, and doing the whole year again because of one bad math test would be torturous. He fidgeted a little, adjusting his drawers, trying not to think about math or the heat.
It took Kiel maybe two minutes to realize that the bus had slipped out of line, taking a left turn while the others continued ahead. He waited, but the driver didn't act like anything was wrong. After waiting a few more seconds, Kiel called out, "Hey, bus driver, I think we went the wrong way."
He could feel the kids sitting next to him turning to look at him. The bus driver just glanced at the mirror, though, and then said, "We've gotta get more gas and see if we can get the AC fixed. We'll only be twenty minutes late."
Kiel considered, then sighed. Perfect. Not only was the bus an oven, they were also gonna be late. They were losing some of their precious free time, spending it stuck in the bus. Still, it was interesting to hear that they were going to refuel. Kiel realized that he had never actually seen a bus stop for gas. It was obvious that they had to do so at some point, but he'd never really given it much thought before now.
The bus looped out a ways, moving towards the outskirts of Highland Beach. Kiel wasn't timing it, but the whole process felt like it took fifteen minutes on its own, meaning that the bus driver was a dick who underestimated. Finally, the bus pulled into a small building that looked like some kind of warehouse or hanger. Kiel looked around, trying to see if there were any other buses around, but it was fairly dark.
The bus stopped, and the driver switched the engine off. The front doors opened, but the man didn't get up. Instead, four figures made their way into the bus. The door closed behind them. Kiel could see that the man in front was somewhat portly, though he moved with control and confidence. The other three, two men and a woman, were harder to discern, as they wore gas masks and combat gear. They also carried assault rifles.
"What's going on?"
The one who spoke up was the teacher who'd been assigned as their chaperon. He stood, a look of concern evident on his face.
"Just a routine inspection," the unmasked man said. "McLocke, would you take the nice man outside and address his concerns?"
One of the men in the gas masks nodded, and gestured to the teacher. The doors to the bus whooshed open once more. The teacher hesitated, then followed the man identified as McLocke outside. The doors shut, twenty seconds passed, then they reopened and McLocke stepped back inside, slipping something back into his belt.
"Any complaints?" asked the unmasked man.
"None," McLocke said. "He was a very agreeable man."
Kiel frowned. Something was clearly very, very wrong here. It was evident that the others were confused as well, but before they could say anything or make any move, the unmasked man snapped his fingers three times and began to speak.
"Pay attention, children," he said. "My name is Victor Danya, and I'm the new custodian of your little field trip. It is my terrible duty to inform you that there has been a slight change of plans. Rather than going to Water World or whatever you were supposed to be doing, you're instead being kidnapped by a terrorist organization and sent to an abandoned island. There, you will be outfitted with weapons. You will wear collars around your necks, and you will kill each other. The final survivor will be allowed to return home. Are you excited?"
The bus was silent. Danya sighed.
"Tough crowd," he said.
Kiel sat in complete silence. This man had to be kidding. This was some sort of absurd prank. Surely someone would lose their job for this. Still, everything looked real. The guns and gas masks certainly were convincing.
"What the fuck?"
Kiel wasn't quite aware that he had spoken until he registered the movement of classmates turning to look at him. Danya's eyes narrowed a little, focusing on him. All of a sudden, the bus felt more stuffy than ever.
"What was that?" Danya asked. His voice was calm and level, almost disinterested.
For just a second, Kiel considered shutting up and pretending he hadn't said anything. The class was watching him, though, and he figured maybe he could get a little respect by deflating this joke right away.
"I said, what the fuck?" he said. "This isn't funny. I bet the kids on the other buses are at the park now, and you're wasting our day with this shitty prank?"
Danya smiled, a wide, friendly smile that radiated genuine warmth.
"Come here, son," he said. Kiel again paused for a second, then stood and slowly made his way to the front of the bus.
"What's your name?" Danya asked.
"Kiel," Kiel said. "Kiel Zigelstien, sir."
All of a sudden he wasn't feeling so confident.
"Well, kids, today Kiel's teaching everyone a valuable lesson. Do you know what that lesson is?"
Nobody spoke. Danya reached forward and patted Kiel on the shoulder.
"Kiel's teaching you that sometimes the best choice is to just not say anything," Danya said, and his grip tightened on Kiel's shoulder. He jerked the boy closer to him, at the same time producing a pistol from somewhere with his left hand. Kiel only had time to start a shocked gasp before Danya tucked the muzzle under his chin and pulled the trigger, blowing out the top of Kiel's skull and producing a brief spray on blood. Danya flicked a speck of blood from his cheek, then said, "Also, don't make poor fashion choices. Wearing a hat sideways? Seriously?"
Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. The silence in the bus had become a lot heavier.
"Right then," Danya said. "Where was I?
"Oh, yes. You're going to be put on an island, wearing collars around your necks. These collars will be filled with explosives. If you try to remove them, they'll detonate. Kiel here is also teaching you approximately what that will look like. If you go somewhere I tell you not to, your collars will detonate. If you try to rebel against me, your collars will detonate.
"You will each be given supplies and a weapon. You will have to kill your classmates. Before you dramatically declare that you'd never do that, weeping tears of inspired passion, consider: only one person will survive. Why not you? Your friends, well, they'll be thinking the exact same things. If you don't think you can kill, good for you. Someone else can, and you'll just be a marker on their way home. Also, just so no one tries anything cute, if twenty-four hours pass without a death, I'll detonate all the collars, and nobody gets to go home. There are cameras all around the island, so I'll be watching. Remember, nothing funny, no smashing cameras or trying to cause trouble, or your necks explode.
"Every day, at about nine in the morning, I'll make an announcement telling you who's died and who's killed. I'll also tell you some areas where you can't go, handily enough these are called danger zones, and if you stay in them, there will be lots of lovely candy. Just kidding. You explode.
"At the end, I'll meet up with whoever comes out on top, and they'll get to go home, as long as they've killed at least one person. If they somehow haven't, well, I'll just pitch them back next game and they can try again.
"Don't bother waiting and praying for a rescue. None will come. In fact, if anyone tries to save you, I'll detonate all the collars. This means it's really in your best interest to get this wrapped up as quickly as you can.
"Any questions? No?
"Good luck then. I'll talk to everyone alive a day into this. Toodles. Hit it, Kaige."
Somewhere while Danya had been speaking, the bus driver had stood and donned a gas mask of his own. The masked woman who had entered the bus reached up and twisted something out of the students' sight, as Danya, too, pulled on a mask. A hissing filled the bus, as gas poured through the air conditioning system, which now seemed perfectly operational.
Quickly, the students succumbed to the gas, slumping over and passing out. When next they opened their eyes, they would be in the game.