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
Arkwright pressed a button on his dashboard and the huge metal gates of Kimble parted. Once through, they closed again to the outside world. The silver saloon crunched smoothly past the fountain and parked outside the large black storm doors that opened into Kimble. He and John and Joseph emerged from the car as one. The doors slammed shut at the same time and they marched in time to the steps leading to Kimble’s doors. Crunch crunch crunch. Arkwright looked the length and breadth of the building as he walked. Most of the lights were out, as they should be at this time, but one or two lit windows here and there suggested activity. Staff offices, the hospital, the management area; all bathed the shrubbery outside in shallow yellow and white light.
John was first at the door and it was his fingerprint that opened it. The three stepped inside and stood in the hallway. There was no sign here of any wrongdoing. Arkwright nodded to his companions and they followed him up the staircase. At the top they turned a sharp right and headed straight for their shared office, the soles of Arkwright’s Italian leather shoes echoing through the glossy white corridor. Only once inside did they speak.
“Joseph, get the monitors up and running, will you? And override the main function – I want to see and hear into every room until we find out what’s been going on.”
Joseph set to work and within a minute, four large TV screens on the wall mirrored what he had on his laptop. The three of them studied what they could see.
On the first screen, remote video cameras showed images from every corner in Kimble. Camera 17b was the most interesting. It was located in the small anteroom behind the meeting room. Joseph zoomed in. Even in black and white, it wasn’t difficult to make out the flickering pictures of the bloody mess that was still there.
On the second screen, the thermal imaging showed activity inside one of the contestant’s rooms. The image quickly changed back and forth, the thermal glow intermittently replaced by dark grey night vision, like that of a nature programme showing badger activity. The boys’ eyes – it was hard to make out how many were in there – were little white dots. Occasionally the dots would flash. A quick tap on the keyboard confirmed the room belonged to Fowler, number 2. Using the overridden microphone, they could hear voices – they had no idea which voice belonged to who, but they did recognise the American twang of Zimmerman. He was in the room with them. This puzzled them somewhat.
On the third screen, Camera 48 had picked up the presence of the man and Cameron in the hospital. They were each sitting on the edge of a bed, heads down and engrossed in their phones. The hidden microphone picked up no voices.
On the fourth screen, The Elements social media feeds scrolled past in real time. Every post – currently around 8,000 a minute, according to the digital clicker in the corner of the screen, related to horror and chaos and rumours of killing. The police were tagged into many of the posts, so it wouldn’t be long before they showed up. Parents too would at this very moment be speeding in cars on motorways to Kimble, most travelling south, a few from the east. Not that they’d find it easily, even if they were in the general area of Kimble within an hour or two. Arkwright, John and Joseph would worry about them when the time came.
“Gentlemen,” Arwkright spoke. “What is your take on all of this?”
John answered immediately.
“It looks to me as though our man and his apprentice have spooked the boys and their shrink into sharing a room for the night. And I reckon the spooking might be due to what Camera 17b is showing us. Not only that, but it seems the public knows about it too. In fact, it appears that they might know more about this than us!”
Joseph had no more to add.
“So who do we speak to first? The man or the boys?”
There followed a grumbling, animated debate until it was decided. They’d speak to the boys first.
Zimmerman explained the man’s plan. The man, he said, had asked him to find them. He wanted to strike a deal – Financial, boys! Big money! – that would see everyone – Zimmerman included – complete The Elements with no more threat of death. Yes, the boys would still be eliminated after each round until only one remained, but no-one, he promised, would die. For this to work, though, there would need to be an understanding that none of them could ever tell the true version of what had happened here tonight.
There followed much discussion and toing and froing between the boys and Zimmerman. Why hadn’t the man come down here to tell them this himself, they asked? Why should they trust him? Did the man think they were all stupid?! The Elements was finished, as far as they could see, said Alan, so they should just sit it out here until the authorities arrived. Tell the man that you can’t find us or something.
In the middle of the debate, Zimmerman’s phone rang. The room fell silent as he answered.
“No…not yet. I think I’ve located some thermal activity in the dormitories though. Yes…the boys’ rooms…no, I haven’t pinpointed which one. It won’t take me long. Yes, I will call you as soon as I have them.”
“What’d you tell him that for?!” shouted Fowler. “They’ll be halfway here by now.”
Zimmerman spoke, but no-one was listening. Panic ensued, boys clattering into one another in the dark, some wanting to take their chances and run. Reilly and Alan hid in the bathroom. Harrison remained focused on the door.
“Boys,” spoke Zimmerman over the chaos. “BOYS! I have already stalled the man for 20 minutes. You are lucky he is not at the door already.” He waited until the room had calmed once more. “Whether you really want to or not, I will message him and tell him you wish to discuss his offer. I can say that I will take you all to him. This might buy us more time, but not a lot. In the meantime, assuming you do not want to go through with the man’s idea, we need to think of a plan.”
Just as Arty finished up, there was a loud knock on the door. The room froze.
Arkwright, John and Joseph had headed straight for the boys’ dormitories. Arkwright suggested that he alone do all the talking. They’d reached the door and
Joseph had knocked loudly. Not waiting for a reaction, Arkwright stepped closer to the door and raised his voice.
“Professor Zimmerman. This is Arkwright. Please allow me to enter.”
At the mention of Arkwright’s name, Zimmerman’s mood instantly lightened. “Boys,” he whispered excitedly. “Mr Arkwright is the boss of all of this. He hates the man even more than I do. He’ll know exactly what to do!”
The professor replied.
“Mr Arkwright! I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Professor Zimmerman. May we come in, please?”
The professor whispered once more to the boys, convincing them that opening the door to Arkwright would be a safe thing to do. On the others’ say so, Fowler opened his door. The three men entered. One of them tapped some numbers into the keypad by the door and the room was once again illuminated in sterile lighting.
The boys blinked, squinted and looked at the three strangers who now made the room very cramped indeed.
“Professor Zimmerman,” nodded Arkwright. “Boys. My name is Wilbur Arkwright. I run Kimble Productions, the company responsible for The Elements show. I understand there’s been a bit of, eh, an issue this evening?”
Everyone spoke at once until Connor was delegated to do all the talking. Silence fell once more as he explained through tears how the events had unfolded, from the three nominations to Stephen being voted out first, then the talk from the man that explained that each of them would batter Stephen to death, to the boys and Stephen being taken in to the room with the baseball bats and the shooting of Burgess, then Grayson when they refused to participate, to the ritualistic clubbing to death of a boy by his friends, before the man telling them to leave. Explained in detail, it made for a horrific true story.
“Here’s what I propose we do,” said Arkwright after quiet deliberation. “John and Joseph here will find the man and his accomplice, that Cameron boy, and will see to it that they are properly dealt with. None of you should be here. It is not safe. I will open the doors of Kimble right now and allow you to leave. Go to your rooms, pack what you need and meet back in here as soon as you can.
The six boys were gone no longer than a few minutes before they were all once again in Fowler’s room. Only Zimmerman and Arkwright remained, with John and Joseph presumably having gone to find the man and Cameron. With clothes and possessions quickly stuffed into either luggage or Elements backpacks, they stood expectantly, awaiting Arkwright’s instructions.
“Ready?” He looked at them individually until each acknowledged him in the affirmative. “Follow me then. Professor Zimmerman? Will you accompany the boys and myself?”
With Arkwright leading and Zimmerman at the rear, the group made their way quickly through the corridors and into the reception hall at the main front doors.
As they did this, Cameron and the man, fed up with Zimmerman’s stalling and half-baked attempts to locate the boys, were making their way from the hospital wing to the dormitory area. If the boys were here, all they had to do, the man reasoned, was check each room until they found them.
“This is where we bid farewell, boys,” said Arkwright with encouragement. “Go! Run! There is a village a few kilometres beyond the trees. It has a railway station. I suggest you board the first train that passes through and get yourselves to safety.”
With this, he pushed wide the doors and opened his arms.
“Go! While you still can!”
The boys looked at Arkwright. They looked at Zimmerman.
“Go, boys! Please! This is the safest way,” said Zimmerman, reinforcing Arkwright’s instructions.
As they left, walking, not running, confused rather than committed, Connor turned to speak to them. He had no words to say. ‘Thanks’ would have been the obvious thing, but this didn’t feel like a ‘thanks’ sort of situation. They were being abandoned, thrown out, left to fend for themselves. Surely there was a safe area inside Kimble where they could be kept until the police arrived?
Connor turned his back on the men and quickened his step to catch up with the others. As he did so, the heavy wooden doors of Kimble shut with a dull thud behind him.
“Guys, this isn’t right.” Connor addressed the boys with a confident voice. “They shouldn’t be throwing us out and asking us to run away. I say we sit here, on the steps, until the police get here.”
The boys’ conversation became animated and heated. No way was Harrison staying here, he said. He was heading straight for the train station. Reilly was concerned, quite rightly, with the man and Cameron. They would find them, he reasoned, and when they did, they’d kill them all. Escape was the best idea. Alan and Fowler sided with Connor. Staying here, outside the house, where there was plenty of woodland and shrubbery to hide in should they need to, was the best idea. The police would be here at some point, at which they’d be safe. Campbell reasoned that staying together as a group was a far better idea than everyone going off individually, a theory heartily agreed by Alan and Fowler. After discussing the pros and cons, only Harrison remained unconvinced.
“I’ll see you pussies somewhere down the road, then,” he said. He waited a second or two longer, perhaps to see if anyone might talk him out of leaving, or even join him, before turning on his heels and jogging off. He was swallowed up by the black of the night and quickly, even his gravelly footsteps faded to nothingness too. Harrison was gone.
The others looked around, identified an area in the shadows and regrouped there. It was only then that the enormity of everything that had happened began to take hold. Conversation ceased and each boy was left in his own thoughts. We’ve murdered someone, realised Connor with increasing horror. He broke down once more and quietly sobbed, the silence around him seeming to magnify each incoherent gasp.
(more to follow in the future)