Only the best will survive.
“You have one minute.”
I ran around the obscenely grand mansion, barrelling into several other kids as we each scrambled for the best position. One pudgy kid about four years old locked himself in the pantry. Too obvious. He won’t last long.
Up the stairs and back down again—nothing but bedrooms and bathrooms up there. Too obvious. Gotta be clever, gotta think.
The voice over the speakers began counting backwards from twenty seconds. I didn’t have time to be picky, but I’d take the time to be smart.
I skirted into the laundry, my bare feet slapping on the cool, white tiles. I caught one kid folding herself into the top-loader washing machine, a pink fuzzy towel over her head. Camouflage. Clever.
I opened the slatted wooden doors of the linen closet and my heart leapt when I found it empty. Perfect. I chose the shelf up from the ground—below eye level—and rolled myself in. The cupboard was so large that lying flat, I only crossed half of its width. The multi-coloured towels on my level made for perfect cover—as opposed to the perfectly folded sheets above.
“Seven. Six. Five.”
I slipped behind the towels, my back pressed against the wall. I made a slight gap in my camouflage so I could see snippets through the door now that I’d closed it. The washing machine to my left, and before me the hallway to the sunken lounge—generously covered with plush grey carpet. Beyond that was the infinity pool, and I saw one final frantic kid duck behind a large pot plant. I cursed. Why hadn’t I thought to go outside?
“Three. Two. One.”
Silence in the house.
Then the front door creaked open.
The house was so coated in carpet that I only heard his first few steps in the foyer. He moved slowly, taking his time, searching.
“The game ends when only twenty-five remain.”
Twenty-five—that was half of us. Was I really smarter than twenty-five other kids? I swallowed hard, straining my ears for any hint of sound. My only solace was that I would be able to see him coming. I may even be able to run for it if I played my cards right. But this wasn’t chasey. This was hide and seek. I wouldn’t get far.
A footstep. He must be in the kitchen.
A gunshot. Then a whimper. Then silence. Twenty-four to go.
I heard a scream upstairs and mentally chastised the person. Screaming was the quickest way to die. Soon after there were two more gunshots.
The scrawny boy behind the flower pot risked a glance out, right as I hear the click of the external door. He knew he was done for. But the man took his time, dawdling around the pool as if he had nothing better to do. It drove the boy mad. He darted from his hiding place and the man shot, missing him to hit and destroy the ceramic pot. The kid leapt into the pool. The man took aim—more carefully this time—and let off another round. I couldn’t see the water, but I also didn’t see the kid come back out.
Four down, twenty-one to go.
The next ten shots came from upstairs, each in quick succession. From my restricted view I could only assume that either the man was getting better, or the other children were getting stupid.
The man crossed the entrance of the hallway once. He was covered in black clothing from head to toe, with one gun at his hip and another in his hand. His face was masked with a balaclava and tinted black goggles—every inch of his skin covered, the effect quite alien.
A shiver went down my spine as he turned his head to look into the laundry. I held my breath, unable and unwilling to move. I cursed my heart, the steady beat too loud to my ears. It wasn’t until he moved on to the loungeroom that I breathed again—shallow, quiet breaths.
Two more shots—muffled this time. Into the couch. He must’ve struck true, since a pained squeal rang in the air. A final shot ended the noise.
Twelve to go.
He was so close to me now that I started to sweat. Then suddenly he moved away, and I heard him back in the foyer, leaving through the main door. I held a hopeful breath when the instructions came again.
“You have one chance. The Seeker has left the building. You have two choices: stay where you are, confident in the choice you’ve made, or change your hiding place. You have three minutes to decide and move. Start.”
A flurry of squeals and movement erupted. There were thirty-seven of us left, enough to make a lot of noise. I considered it for a moment, wrestling with the doubt that clawed at my chest. But I decided to stay. I couldn’t think of anywhere safer than here. The washing machine girl also stayed. I saw one dark-haired girl leap into the sunken lounge area and disappear, and two boys fled outside and lowered themselves over the edge of the infinity pool. Were they escaping? Was that possible? Before I could take a better look, a curly-haired boy rounded the laundry corner and opened the linen closet doors.
“Psst! Get outta here, it’s taken!” I hissed, and the boy bent down, his already terrified eyes widening as he saw me.
“Aww man, you’re really good at this!”
The voice over the speakers began counting down from thirty, and the boy looked ready to wet himself.
“Sorry man, I’ve got nowhere else to go!” He leapt up onto one of the higher shelves, the wood creaking beneath his weight.
“Get out! Get out!” I cried, swatting at his dangling foot. “You’re going to get me killed, you idiot!”
I only received grunts in reply as he squirmed into position, shoving a white sheet out in the process.
“Eleven. Ten. Nine.”
My heart was expanding in my throat, choking me with panic. My arm shot out and I grabbed the sheet, shoving it as discretely as possible under one of my towels. I was going to die; I knew it. This idiot was gonna get me killed.
“Five. Four. Three.”
“Close the door!!!”
“I can’t, I’m already camouflaged.”
I cursed, forced to push half of my body out of the shelf to grab the closet door. I managed to close it just as the main door opened.
“Thanks,” the kid above me murmured. If I had a gun, I would’ve shot him myself.
“Thirteen have been found so far. Twelve remain.”
I took a deep, shuddering breath as I heard the man ascend the stairs. Safe for the next few minutes at least, I rearranged my towels to ensure I wouldn’t be spotted.
To my jaw-dropping surprise and his appalling lack of sense, the curly haired kid spoke again.
“I didn’t mean to mess up your spot, man. I’m really bad at this, I freaked.” A gunshot while he was mumbling. “How are you so calm, man? I’m dying here.” Another shot—or was it two? We’d both be dying soon if he didn’t shut up. I hoped my silence would convey this, but he continued. “I made one friend here but he’s already dead, man. Maybe we’ll all die, maybe they were lying about the number and we’re just waiting to be shot.”
“This isn’t a slumber party!” I’d lost count of the shots now. I didn’t even know where the man was. “Shut up or I’ll shut you up!”
Silence, sweet silence. A gunshot close by—he was on the ground floor again. Then something else broke the silence. I didn’t know what it was at first, I thought maybe the man had made a bad shot and left a kid to die from their wound. I strained my ears to identify the muffled sounds. They were sobs. Was the curly-haired kid crying?! I clenched my teeth, about to hiss at him to harden up when I heard a boot step onto tile.
The man was in the laundry. The sobbing ceased instantly, the kid’s survival instincts finally kicking in. I couldn’t see the hunter as he was around the corner, but he was definitely there.
How many shots were left? Three? Five? I began breathing through my mouth as quietly as I could. The curly-haired kid wasn’t as smart. How had he lasted so long?
A few more steps and I caught a glimpse of the man as he approached the washing machine. No. I hadn’t heard a peep from that girl this entire time; she didn’t deserve to die.
The man drew it out. I heard him slowly sliding back the lid of the washing machine. Then the pink towel was thrown to the ground in front on me. Before he could fire, the girl stood up. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She was ready to die. But facing it head on was her final rebellious act. She didn’t flinch as he placed the tip of the handgun between her eyes.
A gunshot. Her brains splattered across the eggshell-coloured walls. Her body slumped back down into the washing machine, soaked in blood. But her mouth was still set in that hard, determined line. It was beautiful.
The confronting sight of her death made me feel sick. Shock settled into my body, and all of a sudden, the towels around me were stifling. A feverish heat wrapped around my neck and I began to sweat.
Then the man turned to the linen closet.
This was it. The useless fool above me had killed us both. Could I face my fate without fear like the girl in the washing machine? Her arms now hung over the side of the appliance, blood dribbling down her arms and dripping to the floor from her fingertips.
This was the end.
The white, slatted doors clicked open and I almost jolted out of my hiding place. I watched his thick, leather boots. They were splattered with blood, but I focused on them, unwilling to look any higher, terrified of meeting that plastic, alien face.
“P-Please, don’t kill me!”
I closed my eyes. A second later, the gunshot. I was next; I knew it. I was trembling. Could I make a break for it? If I threw myself out now, I could tackle him to the ground at least, maybe distract him for long enough to get away.
I felt something trickle across the back of my neck and I shuddered. It took a moment for me to realise what it was—curly-head’s blood. It was still warm.
The man took a step back, and an alarm sounded throughout the mansion.
“Congratulations. You have survived.”
I couldn’t release my breath while the man was still standing there, just in case. What if the curly-haired kid was right and we’d all die anyway? But the man turned on his heel and marched out of the hallway. It wasn’t until the main door slammed shut that any of us moved. I rolled myself out of the shelf, desperate to be away from the blood. I tried to wipe it off my neck, but the harsh coppery scent filled my nose anyway, making me gag.
I jumped when I saw the dark-haired girl emerge like a vampire from within the couch. She was coated in blood and shoved the corpse of another kid out of the way as she climbed out. I blinked at her and she nodded to me. Neither of us spoke, we didn’t know what to say. But her survival comforted me, because now I knew I wasn’t alone.
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while! I hope you were able to get through the whole thing. It’s got some rather obvious allegory that may be ghoulish to some but it’s realistic to children in some parts of this world.