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
The man and Cameron had removed the bodies of Burgess, Anderson and McPherson. They now lay in the morgue within the hospital wing of Kimble. Cameron busied himself on his tablet. The man sat on the edge of an undressed hospital bed and contemplated. How things would play out from here was still unclear. The man knew that by now, the boys would have used social media to alert the world to what had happened. He could still deactivate all their accounts with the touch of a button, but the damage had been done. It was just a matter of how quickly the authorities got here. Borrowing Cameron’s tablet, he deactivated their accounts anyway, partly because he could and partly because there was always a slim chance that the police would be tardy in showing up. He hadn’t finished with the others yet. He had to get to them before the authorities, or worse, the three grey men in grey suits. The man feared those old men more than anything else. His career in television was hanging by a precarious thread, but if he acted right, he might yet save it.
Did he need Cameron to help him? He’d certainly been useful when removing the bodies. And he might be useful later, if the room – the bloody scene of three senseless crimes – required sterilising. But he was so annoying, right there by his side all the time. He’d had loose intentions of moulding Cameron into a version of himself, but he’d quickly thought better of that idea. The boy was too trigger-happy, too eager to fire at will rather than treat each hunt as sport. And he wasn’t that great a marksman either. Truth be told, he was a bit of a liability, was Cameron. He would have to go.
The man needed to get the other boys back under his control. This whole event could be explained with a bit of collaboration and creative storytelling from the boys, he rationalised. If they all colluded, there was still a chance that the show might continue. Three eliminated contestants instead of one could be explained, he theorised, but that would require a story that they would all stick to. He could promise to make it up to the boys, maybe syphon off some of those Elements shares he had been given and pay the boys in cold, hard cash; silence money, bribery, whatever you chose to call it -he could buy both their silence and his future. He thought of Zimmerman. How he hated that man, but he did have a manner that the boys connected with. The professor might be the difference between getting the boys back on side or this whole thing imploding. He took satisfaction in dialling his number, knowing that Zimmerman was an early bedder, imaging the look on his face when the shambling professor saw the caller ID of who was calling.
It was Alan who first realised his accounts had been deactivated and his service cut. One by one, all the boys realised that they were now disconnected from the world. The hope was that someone, somewhere had by now acted on their pleas.
“They know,” said Harrison. “They know we’ve sent messages, so they’ve killed our phones. They’ll be coming to get us right now.” Harrison stared into the dark, eyes trained on the inside of Fowler’s door. The others sat in silence, replaying the night’s events, praying that some sort of rescue operation was underway.
Wilbur Arkwright quickly got dressed. He didn’t want to wake his sleeping wife, so he’d taken his grey three-piece suit out onto the freshly painted hall landing and was getting dressed there when his phone lit up for the second time. It was another message from Zimmerman. The psychologist’s first text had been straight to the point – he thought he should know that the man had flipped, that he and Cameron had been running around Kimble with guns and that some of the boys ‘might have been hurt’. The second message conveyed the news that there was a good chance that some of the boys were in fact dead, that the man wasn’t finished and that maybe he should get himself along to Kimble.
As he tightened his belt on his new made-to-measure suit trousers, he cursed himself for not terminating the man’s contract long before now. He’d easily been the best man for the job, but once he’d got to grips with its demands, his true personality began to take hold. At first, Wilbur and the others turned a blind eye. The show was generating more money than anyone had ever imagined, and, with a new house and two new cars to show for it, greed quickly got in the way of ethics.
Wilbur headed down the creaky stairs – ‘quaint’, the estate agent had called them, hoping that his wife would remain sleeping. In his kitchen he straightened his tie and set up a video call.
“John,” he said croakily. “Joseph. We have a problem.”
John and Joseph listened carefully as Wilbur outlined the situation as he knew it.
“I expect the police will be involved by this point,” he said. “Which is why we need to get down there before they do.”
Self-preservation made greedy people do irrational things. The simplest, most straightforward, most honest thing to do would have been to call the police themselves, give them the keys to Kimble and let them do their job. But being neither honest nor straightforward, this wasn’t quite what Wilbur, John and Joseph did.
Zimmerman padded through the corridors from his sleeping quarters to his office. He locked the door behind himself and logged into his computer. Singing unselfconsciously, he found the application he was looking for, opened it up and, using the application’s thermal imaging capabilities, set about trying to locate the boys. It didn’t take long for him to find them, the bright orange and red glow emanating from one of the boys’ rooms giving them up. He made a mental note of the room number, logged off his computer and left his office, locking the door before heading to Fowler’s room.
As he walked, he messaged Arkwright.
How far away are you?
He then messaged the man.
I haven’t been able to find them, yet. Still working on it. Arty.
This would buy him time, but not a lot. The man was impatient at the best of times. His phone vibrated gently.
We’ll be there in 20 minutes. W.
Zimmerman returned a thumbs up emoji and continued on his way. His phone vibrated a second time. Seeing it was another text from the man, he chose to ignore it. Zimmerman busied his way through the softly lit corridors, crossed the middle figure-of-eight point and arrived at Fowler’s door.
He stood outside and listened. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought the room was empty. Zimmerman had a master key. It allowed him to access certain areas without anyone ever need knowing. He considered using it now but feared for what might await on the other side of the door. The boys were running scared. They were expecting the man and Cameron to show up at any time. They could be waiting behind the door to ambush anyone who might burst in. He didn’t fancy receiving a crack on the head from that boy Harrison.
Zimmerman knocked gently. Silence. He knocked again and spoke.
“Boys. It’s Arty Zimmerman. I’m here by myself. Can I come in?”
Shuffling and muffled voices could be heard. They spoke for a bit before answering.
“How do we know you’re alone?” spoke a voice. It was dull and far-off sounding from the other side of the thick door, but Zimmerman recognised it as Stewart’s.
“You must believe me, Connor Stewart.”
Zimmerman spoke again.
“Give me your mobile number and I will call you on video. I can show you that no-one else is with me.”
More muffled voices. A pause. Then Connor spoke, giving Zimmerman his number. Asking him to repeat it, Zimmerman keyed the number directly into his phone and pressed the ‘video call’ option. His own sporadically whiskered face filled the screen. Connor, surrounded by the other boys, accepted the call. Zimmerman’s face now filled his screen. Connor spoke.
“Show your camera up and down the corridor, please, Professor Zimmerman.”
Zimmerman turned his phone one way and another, confirming that he was alone. The call was disconnected, more discussion took place between the boys and eventually, Fowler slid open the door.
Zimmerman stepped through, aware of Harrison holding a lamp above his head, ready to put it into action should he do anything sudden and unexpected. He raised his hands out in front of himself.
“Please, boys. I am on your side. I want to help you.”
(more to follow in the future)