01 Feb The 24 Hour Game 04:00-05:00
The three of us went below deck about twenty minutes after our rescue, although Wayne took the longest as he had to scrub some blood out of his number 13 jersey.
Once in the rec room; the woman in charge asked us all to sit and then told us it would be only a few minutes before we had to wait to get the answers we needed.
Wayne asked me briefly what I was doing.
“Logging everything. Posting it online for the world to know.”
“Seems like a waste of time to me. You should focus on the here and now,” he muttered.
“What do you mean by that? Why do we have to wait?” Melissa asked.
Her phone chirped with the response.
She looked at the phone in confusion and then tossed it down.
“How the fuck are they doing that?”
“Trackers on the burners. They monitor your every move and know if you have failed to complete a task,” the woman answered as she pulled out her own phone and tossed it to me.
“It’s the same way that I knew where to find you. They provided me a photo and a name. Melissa Walker. Daniel Stratton. Wayne Salsby. Lionel Garland.”
She bit her lip and sighed before adding, “Except it looks like I didn’t fulfill my task at least not 100%. I’ll probably have to pay for that later in the day.”
“That’s all well and good but you still haven’t told us who you are and how you know so much about this game,” Wayne pointed out.
“Yeah… and I thought the challenges were supposed to be difficult. What’s hard about just talking?” I muttered as I slid her phone back to her.
“You might change your tune after you listen to what I have to say,” our rescuer said as she motioned for me to dim the lights and then turned on some sort of projector.
The machine whirled to life and a few static covered images came up one by one on screen. Eventually there were twelve of them.
“This is the team that played the 24 Hour Game in 2013, twelve strangers that were strung together on an online forum with the premise that completing the game would land them the prize of a life time,” she explained.
The next slide showed eight of the same group except badly bruised, bloodied or suffering from what looked like third degree burns. Wayne covered his mouth in disgust.
“These are the ones that made it out alive, if you call being in a medically induced coma a life that is,” she said.
“What happened to the others?” Melissa asked nervously.
“Disappeared. Vanished off the face of this earth. Most likely dead.”
The next slide came up and showed another group of twelve. Melissa got up in a rush and ran outside to vomit at the sight of their brutal injuries.
“None of this group came back alive. They made it to challenge 10 and never any farther. I’ve done my best to try and string together what happened… but none of it is very comforting.”
“And you? Why are you here?” I asked.
“2016 group. These were the best of the best and myself included among them. We thought we had everything worked out because we planned ahead. Brought supplies and food. But every time we thought we were ready, the game just pushed back and showed us who was boss,” she paused and looked toward her stump where her arm had been surgically removed and added, “I don’t have to tell you what I lost last year.”
“Bloody hell,” Wayne muttered.
“This is insane. Who are these people??” I asked angrily.
“That’s what I’m hoping to find out. I volunteered on this round to finish it and to stop the game for good,” she told us.
“You can’t be that naive. Clearly these people have power! They’ll kill you once they realize what you’re doing!” Melissa said as she came back inside.
“Call it stupidity or bravery. I don’t care which. The only thing that does matter is if you want to win this, you’re going to need my help,” she said.
“Did the game tell you that too?” Melissa sneered.
“No. Lionel did,” the woman snapped back.
The room went silent for a moment as the three of us that had been drawn there considered the gravity of the situation that we were in.
The same question on all of our minds.
“What happens if we try to walk away?” Wayne asked.
“I would think you already knew that, Mister Salsby. Whoever or whatever they did to you to make you get this far, they’ll take it away. Forever.”
I thought about my family.
“Do you really think we have a shot at winning?” I asked nervously.
“If we work together… we can certainly try. I’ve only got as far as the 14th round though. That’s when I had to take my losses,” the woman answered as she looked toward the others.
“Now maybe you see why it’s not so easy to talk,” she added.
Melissa got up and walked out again, clearly disturbed by this sudden turn of events.
“Well. I’m in, definitely. I want to honor Lionel and see this thing through to the end,” Wayne said.
“Me too. I have a family that they took from me and I’m not going down without a fight,” I said.
“Don’t expect it to get any easier once we reach the north bank. That’s where our first cache will likely be waiting,” the woman added.
Wayne nodded and said he was going to go change clothes leaving just me and our rescuer alone for a moment.
“You know an awful lot about what is going to happen next,” I pointed out.
“It’s not all blind luck, Mister Stratton. The Game is coordinated from the very beginning to ensure every step can be accomplished if the contestants are willing to do so. Typically the people they dupe into becoming participants all are around the same area, same time zone to keep the schedule organized. That means that they’ll likely be using the Appalachian Mountains as the staging ground for whatever happens next,” she told me.
“Sounds fun,” I quipped.
“Most likely not,” she said in no mood for jokes and then added, “Heather Bradley by the way. I hope I can count on you and the others in the hours to come.”