01 Feb The 24 Hour Game 10:00 – 11:00
“He had to win this time. That’s why I joined… to make sure I could help him. But the game. It knew what we were doing. I don’t know how but it knew!!”
That was the last thing that Melissa told me before we had to get on the move again. Heather and Celeste both were certain that it wasn’t safe anymore near to the grove where we found the three men.
I could tell that Melissa barely had the strength to walk, let alone answer the rest of the questions I had.
But I knew that some of those answers had to be on the flash drive we had just extracted from her dead father’s stomach.
I voiced those concerns out loud and muttered, “What do you think is on the drive?”
“I don’t know,” Celeste responded, looking to Melissa for a response.
“It’s almost 10:30. We need to take a minute to rest before we get our next task,” Heather told all of us as we stopped near a babbling brook.
None of us objected and I got down on my hands and knees scooping up fresh clean water as I washed the blood from my hands and then took a drink.
The burner phone we had taken from the helicopter pilot chirped as I kept washing my arms.
“What does it say?” Wayne asked.
“Shit.” Heather was the one that said that, and it immediately got me worried.
I stood up and checked the message myself.
“I don’t think I want to know what that means,” I muttered.
The five of us looked around the quiet woods again, trying to anticipate some sort of danger.
“Which way do we go?” Wayne asked.
I was about to make a suggestion when I heard a noise from the east the way we had come. It sounded like a gentle rumble, and then I saw smoke rising slowly over the tops of the trees. There were helicopters moving off in the distance.
“It’s a fire!!” Celeste realized.
Heather grabbed up the backpack as Wayne and I got our supply crate.
Melissa just stood there again, still numb from the sudden loss of her dad.
I dropped the crate as I heard the roar of the flames getting closer and moved to tug at her arm.
“We have to go.”
“Why? What does it matter?” she said angrily.
“Don’t do this again, not now!” I urged her.
The fire was almost to us.
“I don’t have any reason to keep going. Same as before really. It’s ironic… I waited six months to get my dad back… and then only for a few minutes to watch him die,” Melissa laughed.
“Just leave her,” Wayne complained.
I shook my head and looked toward Heather who was already bounding over the next ridge.
“Your dad wouldn’t want you to die out here in this place. He would want you to keep going. To fight this for as long as you possibly can!!” I told her.
She was staring toward the raging inferno like she was enticed by the death that it offered. But as soon as a tree smashed down near to her face, she was broken out of her reverie and grabbed at my arm.
We had wasted enough time, and the blaze was surrounding us as I grabbed up the supply crate alongside Wayne. We moved forward to the north, my eyes searching the forest for Celeste and her partner up ahead.
The inferno got stronger, pushing out toward the exterior of our trail. Somewhere above I heard the roar of engines. More helicopters? Maybe part of the team that the young soldier had been on? They were the ones dropping fire bombs on us ahead and as our five-some grouped up again near a ridge, I wondered just how many people this game had manipulated into being played.
“We’re going to have to climb,” Heather realized as she slung the backpack over her good arm and slowly pulled up the side of the rocks.
Celeste was right there alongside her, doing her best to help her partner with each precarious foothold as the inferno surrounded us near the ground.
“We can’t get that crate up there,” I realized as I dropped it and started to rummage through the supplies and see what was left that we could carry on our own.
I grabbed a rope and another knife and then motioned for Melissa to climb alongside me. Then I passed the rope to Wayne as he seemed the most agile to get to the top first.
I could feel the fire scorching my skin as we climbed. I heard Heather scream out as she nearly lost her grip. Then Wayne reached the top and tossed the rope over to the rest of us.
Celeste made sure that her partner went first. Then I hoisted Melissa above me as the raging inferno singed my back.
I closed my eyes, flashes of Marcy and Michael crossing my mind as I thought that this was the end. Only sheer will power kept me going. I climbed because of them. Their lives depended on my success.
I stumbled over the edge as I reached the flat surface of the rock face and Heather helped me the rest of the way, the two of us collapsing as we caught our breath.
No one said a word for a long moment as we recovered and watched the blaze rage below.
Then the phone chirped again.
Another impossible task.
“Fuck. Can’t we ever get a fucking break?” I asked as I turned to the others to ask what it might be.
But none of them seemed willing to even make a sound.
“Well? What is it this time? Please someone speak up!” I shouted.
“Step 12. Congratulations on making it halfway through the day. Now it’s time to take things to the next level. Eliminate one of your competition,” Celeste said reading the message aloud.
I stood there looking toward all of them and knew immediately what the message meant. One of us wasn’t leaving that ridge.