01 Feb The 24 Hour Game 07:00-08:00
Wayne was the first to run toward the blaze, despite his recent brush with death he scrambled through the wreckage trying to find the pilot.
“Holy shit!! Holy shit! Did you see that??” Melissa screamed as I did my best to help Wayne.
I pushed aside debris feeling the inferno rising as I searched for whoever had been forced to complete this impossible task.
There pinned down to the cockpit was a young soldier wearing his uniform, pinned to the flaming metal by a long sharp piece of shrapnel.
There was no way I could see to get him free.
The young soldier grabbed at my arm, beneath his mask I could see he was shaking with fear though he tried to hide it.
“We’re going to get you out of here,” I said even though I knew it was a lie.
He reached into his other pocket in his suit and pulled out the cracked cellphone that displayed his next set of instructions from the Game.
“Go,” he ordered as he pushed me away. Wayne tugged me away and the flames grew higher and higher.
I knew there was nothing that I could do and yet I still wanted to try.
That point became moot a few seconds later as the rest of the helicopter went up in a rising explosion. Wayne and I were knocked back by the force of the blast.
I coughed and covered my face, desperate to crawl away from the disaster and toward the others.
Heather and Celeste were just calmly moving the trunk across to our small beach camp, seemingly unfazed by the events that had just transpired.
“What did he give you?” Celeste asked.
I raised the phone up for them to see and tossed it toward Heather.
“That… oh and let’s not forget his life!!” I screamed at them.
Celeste nodded soberly while her partner just kept sorting through the supplies that the man had given us.
“You are just a piece of work. A real cold hearted bitch,” I said shaking my head in disbelief.
“Look. We all made sacrifices to get this far. Some of them greater than others. Trust me when this is over we can mourn for each and every one of them. But right now we need to keep moving,” Heather responded as she showed me what was on the soldier’s phone.
It was hard to determine exactly what it was except that it was a photo and it looked like a tree.
Melissa looked over my shoulder to get a good look. “Is that an 8?” She guessed.
“Our next waypoint. There is no telling how far or which direction except of course the way that his helicopter flew in from. Are you able to walk? I don’t want stragglers.” she said, glancing at my leg and then toward Wayne.
“We’re fine. Let’s go,” he insisted.
Heather didn’t bother to ask twice and marched straight toward a rugged trail that led toward the vast forest.
Celeste pulled back from keeping up with her partner to walk alongside me and apparently have a heart to heart.
“Let me guess, Heather is really deep down a good person,” I muttered under my breath.
“She used to be,” Celeste said which actually takes me by surprise.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The Game happened. Back then she thought it was just a simple run, dangerous tasks that got harder and harder as you progressed. That’s what all the online forums said anyway,” she explained.
“Yeah I read those too. It doesn’t make sense. Why would those people lie when they risked life and limb or sometimes worse?” I asked.
“They didn’t. Those responses that she found… they were all computer generated. Each and every one of them. Designed to lure people to sign up. To play this twisted game.”
A few things in my brain were clicking together. But it only made my stomach twist more and more.
“So I take it you didn’t go with her these last two runs?” I asked.
“I didn’t. And she won’t talk about what happened. But I know it changed her in more than just a physical way. Took her six and a half damn weeks to be able to walk again after physical therapy last year though,” Celeste said.
“If she lost so much why is she here now? This is the third time she has tried to finish,” I realized.
“I don’t know. But I told her she couldn’t do it without me,” Celeste responded.
Deep down I know that’s another lie. A person like Heather wouldn’t have stopped simply because of something so small.
She is like Captain Ahab and this game is her white whale, I realize.
I can’t even fathom what that means for us, her humble Pequad crew.
“Hey I think I found something!” Melissa shouted from behind.
Our little entourage stopped its march and Heather walked over to where the red headed girl was standing.
Sure enough there was a tree with the correct Roman numeral on it.
“Good work,” Heather says but before we even get a chance to celebrate Wayne calls out in the opposite direction.
“Hey I think it’s over here!”
I frown and rush over to him to get a good look.
“Which one is it?” Celeste asks nervously.
Heather took out her burner and snapped a picture of the marker. A simple message tells us what our task really is.
“We have to find the right one,” I said.
The five of us move over toward the other tree and snap another photo but with the same message.
“Shit,” Melissa said worriedly.
“Spread out. We’ve got nineteen minutes to find the right one!” Heather yelled.
This time none of us question her instructions. But as each passing minute slipped by, I started to feel a cold lump grow in my stomach again.
There are at least thirty trees spread across three football fields length of acreage. None of them were the right one.
Then as we only had two minutes to spare I heard Melissa scream.
I dropped everything and ran to her aid.
But it wasn’t her that needed saving at all.
There in a tree marked with the same Roman numeral we were searching for were three men, dangling upside down from branches with their bodies exposed to the elements.
I held my breath as the burner I was holding chimed again and I saw our new task.
IX. LET THEM DIE.