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 two officers in the patrol car had been asked to investigate a disturbance at somewhere called Kimble. The sat nav in the squad car was no use. It was either outdated, they reasoned, like most of their equipment, and couldn’t show them directions to a place it didn’t know existed, or the signal to the sat nav was poor.
Using his own phone, the officer in the passenger seat called up the co-ordinates but it too couldn’t pinpoint Kimble. It seemed strange that they shouldn’t know about the place, given that it was seemingly local and responsible for the TV show that was the subject of almost all conversation in the squad cars and station staff room. Repeated requests to recheck the co-ordinates had been met with the same answer – ‘those are the co-ordinates we have…Kimble must be around there somewhere.’ The driver continued to drive fruitlessly, returning to roads he had previously driven, passing the same landmarks from different directions, squinting in the dark for some place he’d never seen before.
The man had his master key and after entering the first three rooms they’d come to – McPherson’s, Stewart’s and Campbell’s – was convinced that Zimmerman had lied to them. It was in the next room that his opinion began to change. The boys had definitely been here recently. Harrison’s room was just as untidy as the others, but the drawers had been left gaping and open and as the man rattled one of them in anger, he saw that they were all empty. There were no clothes there at all. Cameron confirmed that the wardrobe too was empty, save for the two pairs of boots at the bottom.
By the time they’d left Reilly’s room and then Alan’s, it became clear that the boys had packed up and run off. They checked the others. Burgess’s room was tidy. There were clothes in the drawers and wardrobe. Given that Burgess lay dead in the hospital morgue, this was no surprise. It was the same in Anderson’s.
Rounding the corner, they were surprised to find Fowler’s door open. They were even more surprised to find Zimmerman sitting on the bed, his back to the open door. The man, ready to go for Zimmerman, hastily recoiled when he heard the voice of Arkwright speaking from within.
“As soon as John and Joseph return, we’ll retire to the board room, all of us, and sort this mess out.”
The mention of the board room set the man’s teeth on edge. The scene of his most humiliating backtracks, it was in there that he’d been told he must vet all questions ahead of press conferences. It was in there too that he’d been told he must return the boy Stewart’s phone. The man had no respect for Arkwright and the others’ authority, but for his own good, he grudgingly did as he was told. If he could get his story straight tonight, there was a faint chance that he might leave here unscathed and still as rich.
He stepped inside Fowler’s room, followed closely by Cameron who had one hand on the butt of the gun inside his trouser pocket.
“Mr Arkwright, sir! Professor Zimmerman!”
They turned, as surprised to see the man as he had been to see them.
The man turned on his best charm. “You know Cameron, don’t you? We’ve been looking everywhere for the contestants. I had hoped to calm them after the events from earlier on.” Scanning the room, he put on an exaggerated expression of dismay. “Have they gone?!”
“It appears so,” said Arkwright. “By the looks of it, they left in a hurry too. Almost as if they were extremely frightened…”
The man looked at Arkwright, trying to work him out.
“I know what happened, y’know. It’s all on CCTV.”
The man continued looking at Arkwright. Was he bluffing?
“Three young boys dead. Two shot, one beaten on your instructions. This is a catastrophe of untold proportions, man!”
Arkwright’s voice was steady, quiet and measured.
The man began to talk until Arkwright held up a hand to silence him.
“We will talk in the board room. We must get a story straight before the authorities arrive. Whatever we decide, though, one thing is certain. You will need to disappear.”
There was an inference in the last word that the man didn’t like. It seemed to him that he was about to be hung out to dry, or worse. The three grey men in the grey suits would hold their hands up in despair and somehow salvage the show. He though, it seemed, would never be seen again.
As the squad car drove aimlessly in ever-widening circles, the officer in the driving seat peered out into one of the dark country lanes they’d driven up a short while ago.
“Is that someone running?” he asked his partner.
“It certainly looks like it,” came the reply. “At this time of night?”
The car soon caught up with whatever was ahead, and sure enough, it was someone running. As the police car approached, the runner turned his head in surprise. His hair gave him away.
“Hey!” said the driver. “That’s that Harrison boy from the show!”
The Elements-branded backpack and clothing confirmed it. Harrison stopped running and, picked out by the yellowy twin beam of the headlights, bent over, panting and catching his breath. Clouds of his breath puffed out into the cold night air before evaporating around his head. He stood straight, exhaling, hands on his lower back as the two officers approached him.
“Alright, sir?” said the first officer. He had an accent that Harrison had heard before but couldn’t place.
“Is everything OK?”
Harrison wasn’t sure how to answer. The second officer spoke. He had the same accent.
“Harrison, isn’t it? Have you come from Kimble? Are you running from there?”
“We’re responding to reports of a disturbance. Would you know anything about it, at all?”
“Would you like to sit in the car, sir, and tell us what you know?”
Harrison, tired and cold and desperately missing his parents told them everything.
The officers, not expecting a story quite like the one they were hearing, sat in silence as Harrison’s version of events unravelled from the back seat of the police car.
“I think,” said the first officer, not entirely without reason, “that we may need some assistance.”
The second officer sparked the radio into life. He requested back-up, asking that they locate them in the country lane where they were currently parked. Harrison had offered to show the officers where Kimble was, but the officers weren’t going anywhere near the place until they had help from their colleagues. Even then, they feared, that might not be enough.
John and Joseph had searched high and low for the man and Cameron. They hadn’t cleared it with Arkwright – hadn’t needed to clear it – but they’d intended to kill them both wherever they found them. Once they’d done that, they’d sit down, the three of them, and concoct a story that explained all of the deaths and, crucially, keep their names out of it. With them nowhere to be found, John and Joseph had returned to Fowler’s room.
They were surprised to find Arkwright and Zimmerman chatting with the man and the boy Cameron. The atmosphere was tense, but neither side wanted to appear irritable or aggressive. On seeing John and Joseph return, Arkwright broke into a smile.
“Ah, gentlemen! It seems everyone is here at last. Shall we head to the boardroom and get down to the business of getting our stories straight?”
“No time for that,” said Cameron. He hadn’t spoken in the entire time they’d been in Fowler’s room and was getting anxious and trigger-happy. Without warning, he pulled his gun and shot at Arkwright. Arkwright fell, clutching his neck and shoulder. He was dead before he hit the floor. John and Joseph pulled their guns at the same time as the man and all three fired.
Poor Zimmerman was caught in the crossfire and flopped dead on the bed. One of the other bullets, Joseph’s, as the ballistics team confirmed afterwards, shot the man in the head, instantly dead. Cameron shot again and Joseph keeled over awkwardly, blood oozing onto his grey waistcoat from the neat hole in his stomach. Cameron was quick on the draw but as he reloaded and fired a third time, a bullet from John shot him through the chest. The bullet from Cameron’s own gun had already left the chamber and, just as John registered his hit on Cameron, he was killed by Cameron’s last bullet.
The whole episode lasted a few seconds. As the walls rang to silence, the tendril smell of gunpowder crept around and out of the room. In the room, all five occupants lay dead. At that precise moment in time, no-one inside Kimble was alive.
Outside, the boys’ meditative silence was broken.
“Is that gunfire?” asked Reilly.
No sooner had he asked than the firing stopped.
“Sounded like it,” said Fowler. He was keeping his voice low. “Maybe three shots. D’you think anyone else has been shot?
“I think there were more than three shots,” said Alan, sounding worried.
The boys slunk into the shrubbery behind them. They barely noticed the cobwebs on their faces or the waxy damp leaves on their necks. They stayed huddled and silent, listening for any other signs of activity inside the house.
“I wonder who shot who…it’s very quiet,” pointed out Alan once more. “D’you think anyone else is dead?”
They remained hidden in the bushes, afraid to step out and check for signs of movement from the house, unsure of what to do.
“We sit it out and wait,” implored Connor. “We’ve made it this far. The police can’t be far off.”
The police weren’t far off. Three squad cars and an unmarked saloon carrying two senior officers had met the two officers and Harrison. Giving directions from the back seat of the front squad car, Harrison led the convoy to the house.
The boys, cold, damp and hiding in the undergrowth, were ecstatic to see the tell-tale flash of blue lights illuminate between the trees. Their flickers briefly lit up the surrounding area in a strobing flash of electric blue, shadows distorting and bending grotesquely as the police cars sped, siren-free, towards the entrance to Kimble.
It took half a dozen officers to disable the locked gates through brute force and, as the cars swept towards the main door, the boys stepped out from the shrubbery. A blinding flashlight shone in their faces and a voice from behind it asked if they were safe. Connor stepped forward, hands open in front of him.
“We’re safe, yes, but we heard gunfire a little while ago from inside the house. There were about four or five shots. It’s been quiet since.”
A female officer and two older men wearing dark suits rather than uniforms came towards them with blankets and wrapped them around each of the boys’ shoulders. As they fussed over the boys, asking if they were hurt or had any injuries, telling them that everything was going to be OK and that their parents would be on their way, half a dozen police officers broke the door down and entered Kimble. Their job was just beginning.
(more to follow in the future)