Soundtrack: Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!! by Minus the Bear
It's still Tuesday for a few more hours! Today wasn't a very productive day. I sat around the house, moping about how I'll never finish a book... Yeah, it got kind of ugly. But--there is a but and it's a big one, ha-ha, two year old humor--at seven o'clock I met with two of my friends to discuss writing. It was really cool and just what I needed, thanks guys :)
Anyways, we got to talking about post-apocalyptic stories and when I got home I dug out the following, a very old opening to a story called "The Golden City". I've only been outlining for my current WIP (more like re-outlining) and fleshing out characters--nothing teaser worthy, to be honest.
So, here goes:
“Your house is burning.”
The whole table goes quiet when Travis speaks. As if his deadly serious grey eyes weren’t enough, there’s something about his voice that has me smelling smoke.
We recover quickly, and soon enough I remember that I’m in the school cafeteria with nothing endangering my life but the near-toxic macaroni and cheese. But there could be.
It’s called Survival and it’s a game that we’ve been playing since we were kids. One person thinks of a scenario and the rest of us have to come up with a way to get out of it alive. It’s training in case something like that really does happen one day, and everyone takes it seriously. But if it were a real game, I’d say Travis’s piercing gaze and steely cold voice are two majorly unfair advantages.
“Is it serious?” my best friend Pen speaks up first. Her eyes are closed and I can tell that she’s visualizing.
“Yes,” Travis says and for some reason he sounds amused, like he’s talking to a child. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like him. He talks down to Penelope just because she takes Survival so seriously. Well, hell, if she actually wants to survive then I don’t think anyone should make fun of her for it.
“The whole place is up in flames. It’s total chaos.”
“Am I injured? Any smoke inhalation?” Erin, a girl with dark curly hair and an unbelievable IQ, has to push her glasses back up after she leans in too far, eager to play.
“Nope, you’re fine,” Travis says and Erin blushes when he looks at her.
“Wait a sec,” the boy next to me speaks up. I think his name’s Christian, and he’s all muscle. I’m surprised to hear him say anything; like me he tends to listen while the others work out all of their life or death situations. “Am I actually inside the house?”
I don’t know why, but Travis is staring at me. Not just a quick glance like he sometimes sneaks in study hall when he doesn’t think I’m looking. His stone-gray eyes are locked on mine, and I put my turkey sandwich down, impossible to concentrate on anything other than him. That’s the other reason I can’t stand Travis O’Shea. The fact that I’m just a tiny bit in love with him.
Everyone else at the table clues in and follows Travis’s gaze. With all of their eyes on me, I can feel my face heating up. I think Erin is whispering something, but it’s only Travis’s voice I hear, and what he says sends a chill up my spine.
“No. But your family is.”
The table goes quiet again, but this time it’s more like the quiet before the serial killer jumps out of the closet in a horror movie. Everyone’s waiting for Travis to yell, “Just kidding!” or something. But he doesn’t, and when what he said starts to sink in. Travis crossed a line. It might not have been said out loud, but everyone knows that you don’t bring family into Survival.
Everyone’s silent, but they haven’t moved. They’re still staring right at me, some looking surprised or afraid, but a few glaring like I’m to blame for what Travis said. I don’t look at any of them, though. I’m determined to match Travis’s challenging gaze once and for all. I’d be lying if I said that the idea of having my family—especially my little brother—inside a burning building didn’t freak me out, but I don’t want him to know that.
Even though my heart is raising and I can practically hear my brother Henry’s screams, I don’t look away.
Pen clears her throat and I’m reminded of why I love her so much. “A-Are they near a window or a d-door?” she chokes, fighting back tears.
Pen has little brothers and sisters, too, but the oldest is only seven years old, not like Henry who’s in eighth grade. Travis slowly turns to look at her, reluctantly breaking eye contact, and I shoot her a grateful smile. She nods, but I know what we’re both thinking. Henry could get out—they couldn't.
Travis shakes his head. “It’s a two story house and they’re upstairs. The fire is blocking the windows.”
“Call the fire department! Get some water!” Christian says, gripping the edge of the table so tight his knuckles are white. I've never met his family, but you can tell we all have something to lose.
“With what phone?” Travis raises his eye brows. “What if you’re out in the country, no lakes or ponds anywhere...” his gaze flits back to me for barely a second, but it’s long enough. I live in the country, in a small two story house half an hour outside of town. Does Travis know more than he’s letting on?
I open my mouth to say something, but before I can someone stands up. “Stop it! Can’t you see what you’re doing—you’re just spreading fear. You stop this game right now, you... you monster!”
I’m surprised to see that it’s Erin who finally snapped and turned on Travis. She always seemed so level-headed.
“We’ve got to be prepared.” Travis says in a low voice.
"That’s your excuse? Fine then, Mr. Survival, what would you do?”
“I would...” he stops and looks around the room like he expects the answer to appear right in front of him. This time I’m looking right at him, prepared to meet his gaze when he looks over. I don’t know why, but when he speaks next, I know that it isn’t just an answer—it’s a message. “I would go back inside.”
“Then you’re dead!” Erin says but by now she’s back in her seat, under control. She sounds so tired and worn out, it’s like she’s run an emotional marathon.
Travis shrugs, “I didn’t mean that we have to be prepared to survive every situation.”
“Then what do you mean?” Erin snaps defensively and I swear it’s the most I’ve ever heard her say that isn’t in answer to a teacher’s question.
“You’ve got to be ready... to make the choice.”
That shuts her up, and she sinks down into her seat, looking defeated. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s won anything, though. I sneak a look at Pen and see that her eyes are rimmed with red, but at least she’s stopped crying. The other kids at our table—most of whom I know, at least by appearance—have all swapped their stunned looks for grim acceptance.
I look down at my sandwich, which suddenly looks horribly unappetizing. It’s an effort to bring it to my lips, but I take a bite anyways. A few kids look surprised, but after a moment everyone else starts eating, too.
If we don’t eat the teachers will get mad at us—tell us that we have to keep up our strength in case anything happens. Funny, considering the last major attack on our town was around fifteen years ago.
We don’t question it, though, we just eat. Because we have to move on.
So what do you think? Can you tell that I just finished The Hunger Games and The Forest of Hands and Teeth? It's totally unedited and UGH, I mention the color of Travis' eyes so often. *face-palm*