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.
All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 18 & 19
The boys didn’t go to their rooms. They made their way instead to the recreation area. Seated on the sofas, in the dark and bathed in the glow of the expectant arcade machines, the six of them tried to make sense of what had happened and what might happen next. Three of them were dead. The rest of them might be dead before the morning. On Rhys’s suggestion, they decided to hideout in one of their rooms. It was possible that the man might assume they’d followed his instructions. If they were out of sight, they may be out of mind too. If they were caught in the recreation room, Rhys said, there’d be hell to pay. It was likely he’d catch up with them before long – a quick check of the hidden cameras would reveal their whereabouts – which meant that this time right now was precious and shouldn’t be wasted.
Jumpy and alert, they made their way back along the familiar white corridors. Lights out had been and gone, so their way was lit not by the usual crisp light but by subtle uplighters at regular intervals on the floor. They arrived at Fowler’s room first and he ushered them all inside.
“Good evening, Andrew Fowler. It is now after lights out, so I do not have the authority to illuminate the room. Your alarm is set for 0730. Please be ready for breakfast at 0815.”
Andy flicked the middle finger into thin air. With the six boys inside, the room felt tiny and instantly too warm. Connor spoke.
“Hi. Is it possible for you to deauthorise the camera and microphones in the room, please?”
Five heads turned in the dark to look at him.
“What d’you mean, mate?” asked Fowler quizzically.
“You’re being filmed in here. I’ve asked her to turn the cameras and microphones off.”
“What?!? You can’t do that, can you?!?”
“Then how come she hasn’t acknowledged your request?”
“Because she probably responds only to your voice. Go on, ask her. And be quick. We don’t want anyone listening in to us.”
Fowler looked up at the ceiling, towards the general area of the central light.
“Hello again. It’s me, Andrew. Can you please deauthorise the camera in the room, please?”
“All cameras and microphones,” interrupted Connor.
“Sorry, hello again. It’s me, Andrew, again. Can you please deauthorise all the cameras and all the microphones in the room, please? Thank you.”
Fowler turned to look at Connor as if to say, see, it doesn’t work, when the unseen voice replied.
“Deauthorising camera 1 and mic 1 now. Deauthorising camera 2 and mic 2 now. Deauthorising camera 3 and mic 3 now. Deauthorising camera 4 and mic 4 now.”
She continued until all eight cameras and microphones were turned off. The room was silent again.
“I had no idea you could do that,” uttered Fowler, mainly to himself. Nor, it appeared, did anyone else. Even in the dark, Connor could see the realisation dawn on all their faces. The possibilities this would have given them over the past month or so!
“Right. Now no-one can hear or see us…for the time being. Does anyone have a plan?”
Of all people, it was Harrison who hatched a sensible idea. He recommended they bombard their social media accounts with pleas for help. Every boy had his phone out and was tapping online before he’d even finished what he had to say.
“Tell the world exactly what’s going on!” he encouraged. “Someone somewhere must be able to do something.”
“No names though!” interrupted Reilly. “We can’t have Anderson’s parents finding out online that their son has been murdered. Or Burgess’s. Choose your words carefully.”
A frenzy of thumbs and fingers sent multiple messages out into the ether. Messages begging for help, initially, and then once those had been sent out, more detailed ones outlining what was really going on at Kimble.
“Turn on your location services too,” commanded Connor. “And send out a new picture – any picture, even from here in the dark. The co-ordinates of the picture will let everyone know exactly where we are.”
There was a collective wha…? amongst the boys at Connor’s brilliance.
“That’s Rhys’s idea – clever, innit?”
Rhys gave Connor an approving nod, an unspoken thanks for giving him credit. The replies were coming in rapidly. Every boy’s mobile device was receiving messages far quicker than they could read them.
As the replies mounted up, the boys started sending out location-tagged selfies. Grey, fuzzy and impossible to make out, the important part was the geographic tag at the bottom. After ten or so minutes, the frenzied posting abated.
“Might be worth sending your folks a message too,” suggested Alan. “You could call, but…” he looked around, “…there’s not much in the way of privacy.”
The boys quietly tapped away on their phones, sending messages of love alongside pleas for help that were direct but not too upsetting for their parents. In the midst of it all, Campbell’s phone rang. Every boy jumped, spooked at the sudden and unexpected loudness of it.
“It’s OK – it’s my mum!”
He answered and the room fell silent. Rhys turned his back for privacy, but the boys listened in any way.
“Yes…listen…yes, I’m alright…yes, honestly, I am…Listen to me. Listen! (pause) You need to tell the police. We are in danger here. We’re OK for now….Listen, mum, don’t interrupt…We’re hiding, we’re safe. We’ve been sending out pictures. The pictures are all tagged with the location of Kimble….Kimble… K-I-M-B-L-E…Kimble mum, it’s where we are just now, it’s where the TV show is made. Yes….yes…uh-huh…no…ye -listen! LISTEN! SEND FOR HELP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE…. I love you too. Please hurry. Love you. Love you.”
Rhys hung up.
“Jeez. She’s hysterical.”
“Is she getting help though?” Fowler asked.
“Yes, she’s phoned the police.”
“What do we do now?” asked Alan to no-one in particular.
“We wait,” snarled Harrison. “If they try to take us, we go down fighting.”
The switchboard operator at the Police Headquarters had never had a night quite like it. Normally she’d deal with 3 or 4 calls an hour. Tonight, her phone was red hot. The system couldn’t cope. Lights flashed on panels, indicating multiple calls waiting. No sooner had she answered a call than her headset announced another one incoming on another line. All the calls were of the same nature. Something about a disturbance at a place called Kimble, the place where that Elements TV show was being made. She enjoyed watching The Elements. Her favourites were Alan and McPherson. She wanted to mother poor Alan and she laughed at McPherson’s stupid humour. She’d sat on the sofa just last night after the flag had been won and sent Stephen a message saying she hoped he was alright and not too sore from falling in the hole. He hadn’t yet replied, but he’d have been tired last night, she reasoned. Maybe when he had more time, she’d get a message back from him. The operator’s husband had tutted at her. Reality TV, he said, was not for him, even if he’d watched The Elements every night right there beside her on the leather sofa.
After 20 or so calls, the operator put the line on hold. All calls, including one from Alan and one from Connor were backed up in a queueing system. The operator hesitated before calling her superior this late at night, but she thought he should know about this. He had the authority to send a couple of policemen round to check things out and it sounded as if they might be needed on this occasion.
Her superior tried not to sound irritated by her call. He told her she’d done the right thing and that he’d take it from here. Right away, he said, they’d send a car out to check up on things. Actually, he said, they’d probably need to try and locate Kimble on a map first. He’d never heard of the place until this Elements show had started. Did she have a postcode for the sat-nav, he wondered? The operator didn’t, but she wasn’t to mind, her superior told her. It surely wouldn’t be too hard to find.
(more to follow in the future)