A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.
Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.
I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.
You can read previous chapters here.
by Craig McAllister
Connor hadn’t been prepared for the greeting that awaited them. A tanned, smiling man in a tight suit and ridiculously tall hair shoved a microphone to his face as he stepped into the daylight. The man said something, but Connor failed to notice. Three, maybe four females with clipboards and mobile phones hovered around the boys, guiding them where they had to go. They were dressed identically; box-fresh white trainers, faded blue jeans, black cap-sleeved t-shirts bearing the logo of the TV company and green baseball caps. To the side a man with a television camera filmed this way and that. As he turned, Connor realised the cameraman had been filming him in profile since he’d alighted from the train. At the back, on some sort of raised platform, there was another, bigger TV camera. It filmed the whole scene from above.
In the melee, Connor had been separated from Grayson and Alan and was now being herded towards a sandstone wall by one of the girls. She smelled of Juicy Fruit. Two of the other boys were already there, one of whom was the sulky, ginger-haired boy.
“And you must be Connor Stewart,” she said with a toothy smile. Connor placed her accent as Australian. “You look just like your picture! Here, I’ll take your bag for you.” Passing Connor’s bag to a man in a bomber jacket, she scribbled something onto her clipboard, tapped into her phone and spoke into an unseen headset.
“Hi…yes….hi! Hi? HI?!? Can you hear me?…..Yes, it is awfully noisy!…..Yes, that’s right. Uh huh…..Yep…..Yes. I have my three here now, yes…….OK, wilco. Thanks.”
She turned to look at Connor and the other two boys.
“This is exciting isn’t it?! You brave, brave boys!” She squealed a little bit and brought her shoulders up to meet her fake-tanned jawline.
“Now, just so you know, the limo will be along in a minute or two. Give the camera a wave!”
She turned, pouted and waved an over-friendly wave straight down the lens of the television camera. The bearded man operating it lifted his eye from the viewfinder to give her a wink before swinging the camera in the boys’ direction. All three stared at it with a mixture of squint-eyed awkwardness and wide-eyed wonder.
The girl’s long eyelashes batted rapidly.
“Don’t be shy! You’ll soon get used to it! Pretty soon you’ll not even notice they’re there at all.”
She turned her attention back to the camera and was blowing kisses to it by the time the limousine had appeared. It was white with brilliant black tyres. The TV company logo was embossed on each door. From somewhere inside, a door slid open to reveal long sofa-type seating. Pulsing neon lights ran along the top edge. An ice bucket sat on a small round table, bottle tops jutting jaggedly out of it.
“In we go my heroes, in we go!” She stood by the door as the three boys awkwardly bent inside. “Shuffle along, don’t be shy! Room for one more?” She slid in right next to Connor, invading more of his personal space than he was willing to concede. “It’s OK honey, I don’t bite!” she said, reading his mind. “Coke?”
A shellshocked, speechless Connor was still trying to work out what exactly was going on.
“Or Sprite. Would you prefer a Sprite?” The girl reached for a bottle from the ice bucket and pulled it loose. She handed it to Connor.
“And what about you two? Rhys? Stephen? What would you like to drink? Coke or Sprite?”
All three boys sat drinking in silence while their companion? chaperone? named adult? kept the conversation in full flow.
“Well! My name’s Pamela. My job is to look after you today and make sure you get settled in all right. I’ve only been here a few weeks myself, but I know you’re gonna love this place! Everyone is soooo friendly! And the show is going to be really great, I can just tell! Imagine – you’re the first contestants! Isn’t that just the best?! Do you three know each other? Oh, of course you don’t! Silly me. Well….there’ll be plenty of time over the next few weeks, don’t you worry about that.”
Connor and the other boys sat in self-conscious silence. Trees flashed past the darkened windows. An occasional building. More trees. Greenery. Connor had no idea where he was. None of them had drank more than half their bottle when the limousine turned sharply from the highway and onto a bumpier road. The sound of tyres on gravel signified the end of the journey.
“Just leave your bottles there and follow me,” said Pamela with another honeyed smile. All stepped out of the limousine. They were in the countryside. A large modern building was set between the rustling trees in front of them. A fountain – more modern art than anything – sprayed with a bubbling hiss at its front. Two other limousines had already parked nearby and the other boys from the train stood beside them. The girl, Pamela, left Connor, Rhys and Stephen and joined the other two girls in the middle of this semicircle with an older man in a suit but no tie. He stood with his hands behind his back, surveying the scene. There were no cameras.
“Boys,” he began. He had a nasal whine to his voice and an English accent. He had to shout slightly, given that they were outdoors.
“Welcome to Kimble.” He paused, revealing the name of this unknown place. The name meant nothing to any of the boys assembled.
“My name is not important, but my position is. I am the ultimate authority here, the man in charge, the one who says what goes….please know that now.” The man scanned the boys in front of him. He took a gravelly half-step forward.
“Boys. You have chosen to be here, am I correct?” Without waiting for an answer he went on.
“You have all been found guilty of crimes punishable by prison or even worse. The law, however, takes your age into account. It’s lucky for you that I am not the law, for I would have dealt out far stronger punishments than the ones you have chosen to accept, please believe me. Some of you might have gone to a juvenile detention centre. One or two of you could well have found yourselves deep in the shale pits. Some of you may even have been sent to the Northern Shires to work with the Department of Enforcement.”
He spat the ‘t’ sound when he said this. He paused before continuing.
“There are some amongst us who are lucky to have escaped far worse punishment. Isn’t that so Randolph Alan?” He paused again.
The boys chanced a glance to the side, to the man in the middle, to the other boys, in the hope that Randolph Alan might make himself known. The man was looking at a huddle of three boys next to the last car on the right. The only sounds were from the fountain and the wind in the trees.
“Isn’t that so, Randolph Alan?”
Alan, the boy who’d sat with Connor and Grayson on the train journey, nodded meekly. Not for the first time he looked like he was about to cry.
‘Randolph?!’ thought Connor. This was no time for that though.
Alan and the man eyeballed one another briefly before Alan conceded and dropped his gaze.
“Would Mr Alan care to share his story with the rest of us here today, I wonder? Or is Mr Alan’s story already known to a select few?”
Connor felt his toes curl and his stomach tighten. He looked around carefully, trying to pick out Grayson. Grayson had already found him and was looking at him with a worried look on his face.
“Perhaps Mr Alan’s two newest friends might care to help him out?” At this, the man looked directly at Connor. Connor didn’t want to eyeball him, as Alan had done, but nor did he want to drop his gaze. Connor looked over the man’s left shoulder and focused on the hair of one of the girls. Its curls blew hypnotically. The man shifted his gaze to Grayson. Grayson shifted uncomfortably in his shoes. The gravel crunched harshly below.
“Well?” The man‘s voice rose a notch slightly at this.
It fell to Grayson to speak.
“Ehm, yes, Alan, eh, Randolph, sorry, told us that, eh, he had..he had…he had set a boy on fire.” The last word came thick and fast and loud. As an afterthought, he added, “Sir!”
“Exactly. Thank you, young man. It’s Grayson Anderson, I believe, isn’t it?”
Grayson nodded, hoping that was him finished.
“Yes. It seems our Mr Alan here sets his friends on fire! Sets. His. Friends. On. Fire! Not the sort of friend you want really, is it, eh?” The man looked around. Even the girls behind him were beginning to feel uncomfortable with the situation.
“And did our good friend Mr Alan tell us how the story ended, I wonder?” The man turned to face Connor.
Alan hadn’t told them the rest of the story. They hadn’t even asked.
“Connor Stewart. A voracious reader, I’m told. Can’t get enough of magazines, they say. Am I right?” The man didn’t need an answer. Everyone there knew he was right. “Did your friend Mr Alan explain what happened to the poor fellow whom he set ablaze? No! Of course he didn’t! For he wouldn’t want you to think of him as a murderer, would he now?”
The man’s voice went slightly giddy at the word ‘murderer’.
“That’s right! Mr Alan set his friend on fire…and killed him!”
Connor glanced at Alan. His lip was quivering, his hunched shoulders trembling.
“I didn’t mean to kill him,” came the soft, strangulated reply.
“Oh! I don’t doubt you didn’t mean to kill him, young man. But the fact remains that you did in fact kill him…and kill him most horribly. And now you have accepted to be here as a punishment, am I right?”
This time the man waited for an answer.
“Yes,” replied Alan, sobbing. “I am here to accept my punishment.”
“Indeed you are. Indeed you are. As are you all….”
He surveyed them from left to right and back again.
“Here at Kimble, we treat punishment as art. As entertainment. In Roman times, the poor and the petty and the scum of society were thrown to the lions. You boys will all be thrown to the metaphorical lions. One of you will end victorious. Others may escape with their lives. Others though….”
His voice tailed away, leaving the bubbling fountain to hold its place.
“…but first! To your rooms! Your host for the day will show you your living quarters. Please, relax, get comfortable and be ready to meet in the recreation room in 45 minutes. I’d suggest perhaps a shower, a brush of the teeth, but strictly no phone calls home. There is a time and place for mobile phones, but this is neither the time nor the place, am I understood?”
(more to follow in the future)