I Dare You

©Molly Looby Shortlisted for the Young Sony Movellist of the Year Competition. NaNoWriMo'12 Winner! . . .
Havengore was the beginning and the end of the entire universe. Yeah, like I could believe that. Havengore is my world surrounded by a single boundary wall. It's been there for generations, but don't ask us why, no one seems to know. There must be something out there though right? There must be a reason for it, I mean, it wouldn't just be there . . . would it? Why? That was what I wanted to know. Just that: why? You’d think I’d be granted that. It was the only question in the universe I needed to be answered, but no. No one knew.

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4. DAY THREE

I stirred at the sound of Lucien’s voice and accompanying kick, not hard, but never pleasant, let alone very first thing in the morning.  “Wake up!”

I groaned and rolled over as Lucien went round everyone else, waking us up in turn.  Harrison shot up into a sitting position, eyes wide.  “What?  What? What?”

“I’ve found something cool.”

“I thought we were in danger or something – god!”

“No, there’s nothing out here Brains, what danger could we possibly be in?”

“Well I don’t know do I?  But there has to be something.”

Lucien shrugged.  “There wasn’t, but there is now.”

When I dragged myself to sit up, I found that I was the last one to do so and everyone was waiting for me.  “God, what’s the rush?”

Lucien grabbed my arm and hauled me to my feet.  “Come on!  Come on!”  He was like a small child on Christmas morning.  He couldn’t seem to move me fast enough.  What the hell was going on?  And what the hell could make Lucien this excitable?  Did I even want to know the answer to that question?

The answer was a dead body.  Yeah, makes sense.  A few metres out into the trees was a body of an animal not even Harrison could identify.  It hadn’t been dead long and it looked like it’d just dropped down there and died.  There was nothing wrong with it as far as we could tell.  It didn’t seem to have any wounds and it didn’t look old or anything.  But what did we know?  We didn’t even know what it was.

“Cool isn’t it?”

“No!”  Saffron had her hand covering her mouth, although it didn’t smell of anything – well not yet.  I didn’t want to stick around to find out how long it took.  “It’s gross!  What’s wrong with you?”

“I agree with Lucien on this one actually.”  Harrison tiptoed closer to the thing to inspect it.  “It hasn’t been dead very long, which means that it’s been surviving in this place.”

“Well duh!”

“Yeah, but that means if this thing’s been surviving, that maybe we can too.”

“Yeah, but Harri.  This thing’s just died for no apparent reason.  It just, I don’t know, stopped living.  Explain that.”

“Well . . . I can’t.  I really don’t understand.”

“If we don’t eat soon we’ll just stop living,” Lucien said.  “Who’s up for eating it?”

“Well I can answer that.  Do you really want me to go into it?”

“Yes Brains, I do.  I’ll need a pretty good reason seeing as I’m dying of starvation.”

I shot Harrison a look which he ignored.  “Well, to start off, we don’t even know what it died of.  It’s probably diseased as we can’t see what killed it.  We can’t eat it, we’ll die of whatever this thing died of.  Secondly, we don’t know if it’s safe to eat and we don’t know what parts of it are safe to eat.  That might kill us.  I have more.  Do I need to go on?”

“Alright Brains, shut up.”

“It’s weird though isn’t it,” I crept a little closer.  “I mean, it must have had something.”

“That worries me.”  Harrison hitched his bag onto his back and began walking back to the field again.  “If it’s something contagious we’ll probably catch it.”  The rest of us backed away from the thing and followed Harrison back into the field that we’d slept in.

“Well you lot should be eating these berries,” Saffron chatted away in better spirits this morning.  “There’s nothing wrong with them.  I’m fine.  I feel great actually.”

“Oh it’s alright for some.”  Lucien muttered.  “Give me some of those, I feel like I’m dying anyway.”

“Wait,” Harrison dropped his bag on the floor and pulled out various packets of stuff.

“What!”  Saffron shrieked.

Again!  Okay, I’ve had enough of this.  Who votes Brains shows us everything that he’s got in that bag of his?”  Lucien’s own hand shot up followed by Saffron’s, my own, Maisie’s, and Linc’s.

“Alright, alright.”  Harrison started emptying the bag.  “I was only trying to keep us alive.  If I hadn’t we’d have no food left by now.”

“Brains, I’m all in favour of you doing the rationing because you’re right, it makes total sense.  But you can’t just keep hiding stuff from us!”

“Well here you go, it’s all here.”  The contents were laid out in front of us.  Harrison had brought a packet of crisps, a chocolate bar and some sort of energy bar thing for each person.  My mouth started watering as I set my eyes on them.  I could eat everyone’s portion of everything in a second and still be nowhere near satisfied or to mention the slightest bit guilty.  There was also a torch, some matches, a pocket knife, a first aid kit, and what looked like a rather large blanket.  No wonder the bag looked packed tight but was easy enough for Harrison to carry, it was just all blanket.  We also had, of course, our water bottles from the day before.

“Are you sure that’s everything?”  Lucien marched over and checked the bag himself.

“Yes, it’s everything.  Happy now?  I was only keeping the food away from you as a precaution.  Forty-eight hours without food won’t kill you.”

“No, but we might kill you.”

“Shut up Custer, that’s not funny.  Harrison, write everyone’s names on their portions and keep it to yourself.  You can decide when we eat.”

It was done and decided to eat now.  I chose the chocolate bar.  I tried to make it last as long as possible, but as the flavour caressed my tongue I couldn’t help myself.  It was soon gone.  In all honesty, I was saddened when I was left with just a wrapper.  I’m not even ashamed to say I licked the entire thing until there was not a dot of chocolate remaining in existence.  The others showed similar behaviours.

“Why do I feel worse,” Linc chuckled.  “We so need to get out of here.”  I laughed with him, a sort of nervous laughter to begin with, but it turned into true laughter after a few moments.  All of a sudden, it was hilarious that we were stranded out here because of our own mistakes.  We’d just climbed over the wall and started walking.  How stupid had that been?  Did we not even think?  It was hysterical, my idiocy.

“What the hell is wrong with them?”  Saffron asked.

Lucien shrugged.  “They’re just crazy.”

Harrison grinned but nodded.  “Agreed.”

Linc and I remained like that for a couple of minutes before our stomachs were screaming out in the agony of being empty.

“Are you quite done?”  Lucien had a smirk on his face.  I nodded once as I pulled myself together.  “Good, because I believe it is my turn to lead again.”

“Whoa,” Saffron shook her head.  “This is not just between you two.  We’re all stuck here.  Come on.  I say it’s my turn.”

“I don’t trust your direction Saffy, look at you!”

“Oi Custer, be fair.  Why shouldn’t everyone get a go at leading?  They’ll do a better job than we did, I mean, they can’t do any worse.  I vote Saffron today seeing as she seems to want to do it.”

“Yeah, me too,” Harrison agreed, followed by Linc.

“Majority vote, Custer.  Saffron you lead.”

“With pleasure.”

We followed behind Saffron, today feeling the same as yesterday, except it wasn’t hot.  In fact, I could’ve used another layer to be honest.  Today, Maisie’s jacket was zipped up.  But apart from that, the day felt much the same.  I started to feel as though I was losing sense of where we were going.  I knew we were trying to get home, but it seemed so hopeless.  I wondered why we were even trying.  I had a sinking feeling in the bottom of my heart that we were all going to die out here.  It was just a matter of time.  It felt inevitable.

Saffron babbled away about feeling unclean, the rest of us not even commenting.  Of course we were filthy, that was a given, but none of us wanted to bring that to the front of our awareness, but Saffron couldn’t seem to do anything else, she couldn’t help herself.  “I can’t believe how disgusting my hair is!”  By this point it was pulled back off her face as though just the sight of a strand would bring her to tears.  “And my clothes, they’re ruined.  This is the longest I’ve ever been without being clean.  I’ve never even been slightly filthy.  Ugh!”  There was a lot more to her monologue but it all sounded the same to me.  Yes, we were gross, but the rest of us seemed to be dealing with it.  I was sure it was going to get much worse.

“Saffy, give it a rest would you.  It’s not the end of the frigging world!  If your biggest worry is how you look right now, there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

She huffed and crossed her arms.  “Don’t you care?”

“Not really.  Normally, at home, yeah.  But here?  Are you kidding?  We don’t know if we’ll ever get home.  My hair is the least of my worries.  Hell, Ginge over here didn’t even care when we were at home.”  Great, I was so glad that kept coming up.

“Don’t make me sound ridiculous.”  Saffron’s eyes darkened.

“But you are ridiculous.  How can you care about a shallow little thing like that!  What is the matter with you?  Was your head screwed on wrong?  What about the whole food and water situation?  What about the fact that we’re probably miles away from Havengore at this point!  Not even to mention that we’re all gonna to die out here!”

I saw Maisie burry her head in Linc’s chest and he stopped to hold her tight.  I wanted to comfort her, but, for once, I was with Lucien.  Our future was short and bleak.

“Shut up Lucien,” Saffron fought to keep herself together.  “We’re not going to die out here.  We’re going to get home and everything’s going to be fine again.”

“Mindless optimism.”

“I don’t care.  Bear in mind I probably won’t speak to you ever again after this.”

“That’s fine by me.  I think I’ll move into Terriford myself.  You can’t even see the wall from there.  I can forget that all this, and all of you, even exist.”

“Well what a lovely thought,” I muttered.  “It may be completely hopeless but we have to try, don’t we?”

Harrison looked to me and shrugged.  “I don’t know.  It won’t be long until the police will stop looking for us and start looking for six bodies.  How long would you search?  South Edwards isn’t that big.  Havengore isn’t that big compared to all this.  They’re never going to fine us.”

“Excellent.  Thanks Harri.  But we still have to try.  They may not have a chance of finding us, but we have a chance of finding them.  We all have a survival instinct right?”

“Don’t be stupid Ginge, of course we do.  I’m just trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to die out here.”

“That’s stupid.”  Saffron didn’t sound convinced.

Again I was with Lucien, but I wasn’t stupid enough to announce that.  “Let’s just keep going and forget this shall we.  I’m getting cold not moving, come on Saffron.”  I shoved her forwards a little and we were soon back to walking, although now in silence.  It had poked its head through, the idea of death.  We were sure to think of it, and now seemed like the proper time.  What else could we do but run, walk or crawl away from it and at last make peace with the world?  We didn’t really have another choice.  Beginning the day with death had made us all confront our own mortality.  I was wrong before, today was different.  Yesterday we had a little life, a little hope.  Today it was being drained.

“Saffron,” Harrison called to the front of the, I don’t know, pack.  “You do realise we’re walking through a dead field right?”

“Yes!  I can see that thank you!”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit ominous and we should get out?”

“No, I can do this myself!  I don’t need you!”

A chill whipped up from nowhere made me wrap my arms around myself to keep as much heat in as possible.  It was bloody cold.  How could the days be so very different in weather?  It was never this adverse back home.  Was that the big problem over here, the weather being unpredictable?  If that was the case, we didn’t have anything much to worry about.  At least there was that, if anything.  Soon enough the hair on my arms was standing up and I had goose bumps.  A shudder travelled its way across my body and my teeth began chattering.  Linc and Maisie were walking close together and not showing signs of cold like I was.  Harrison looked pissed off enough to be warm, as did Lucien.  Saffron however, was with me.  Of course she was.  She was wearing a frigging skirt.  We couldn’t stop shivering.  We carried on regardless for a while until I stopped dead as I noticed something.  “What the hell?”  I held out my palm as the cold mite touched my hand.  “It’s not snowing is it?”  I’d noticed the tiny blobs dot around me.

Harrison screwed up his nose.  “It looks more like sleet to me.”

“No wonder I’m freezing!”  Saffron had her arms wrapped around herself and was hunched over to try and keep the remaining warmth that she had.

“Saffy, what the hell were you thinking going this way?”

“It’s the direction I thought home was.  Big deal, I was wrong, so were you.”

“You knew we’d never been through this field before.  And Brains warned you that it was dead.  It’s probably frozen to death!  How are we going to get out of this?”

“How am I supposed to know?  It’s not my fault it’s snowing!”

“Um guys?”

“And you Brains!  You’ve been no help!”

“Hey, I’ve been more help than you that’s for sure.  You haven’t helped us.”

“Well at least I wasn’t hiding food from everyone and keeping it all to myself.”

“That’s not fair.  I’m only trying to keep us all alive.”

“What do you think I’m trying to do?”

I heard Linc mutter from behind me.  “I think I see what Harrison was about to tell us.”  I turned around to him, ignoring the others for a moment.  “Can’t you see it Lea?”

I looked around.  “No.  See what?”

He pointed to the sky.  “It’s getting heavier.”  He was right.  It was no longer a dance but more like a moshpit and everyone was fighting to get to us, but there were millions of them.  As I looked up, several of them stuck to my eyelashes.  We needed to get out of here.  Fast.

“Hey!”  No one listened.  “Hey!  The snow’s getting heavier!  Come on!  We have to get out of here!”

“Don’t even get me started on you, Ginge!”

“There’s no time for this now!  Have you not looked around?”

“What?”

“Look around you!”  Even in the past few seconds the amount and the speed and the size of the flakes had increased and it was getting harder to see anything.  The sky was white.  The ground was turning that way.  We were freezing to death.

“What’s happening?”  Maisie squeaked.  “Where do we go?”

“Which way, Saffron?”  I looked around.  “Saffron?”  All I could see now was the dead of the ground and white everywhere else.  It was even a struggle to see my own hand in front of my face.  My face was numb anyway, as were my hands, the freeze edging its way up my arm, biting into my flesh.  “Saffron?”  I couldn’t see anyone.  My eyes saw nothing.  I turned around.  Linc wasn’t there.  “Linc?”  Nothing.  No one.  Oh my god.  What was I going to do?  This was it.  I was going to die here.  “Linc!  Harrison!  Maisie!”

“Ginge!”

“Lucien!”  I whipped my head back and forth but I couldn’t see him anywhere.  “Where are you?  I can’t see you anywhere!”

“Ginge!”

“Lucien!”

“Stay there!  Keep shouting!”

For once, I did what he said without question.  There was no time for that.  I called his name over and over again, just willing him to step out of the white everywhere and be right there in front of me.  I squeezed my eyes tight shut and opened them, expecting him to appear when I did so over and over.  No wonder it was such a shock to me when I felt hands on my back.  I cried out and heard other voices in reply as I spun round and found myself in Lucien’s arms.  I would’ve protested but I was freezing to death.  He held me close to his body and I’m not afraid to say I snuggled up to the warmth.

“Bloody hell Ginge, you’re freezing!”

“Tell me about it, genius.”

“I could always let go, you know.”

“Alright, I’ll shut up.”

We called for the others, straining our voices never giving up.  But there was only a certain amount of time we could stay there before we endangered our lives further.  I wasn’t sure we’d get back to a place that wasn’t all white anyway.  Only one thing was for sure though, and that was that we had to try.

“Leanne!”

“Saffron?”

“Leanne!  Help me!”

“Over here!  Follow my voice!”

She found us a minute or so later and threw herself into Lucien’s arms, even though I was occupying that spot.  “Thank god I found you!”

“Miss me, Saffy?”

“Don’t push it.”

Saffron, Lucien and I made a sort of warmth bundle and got as close together as we could, as we shouted for the others.  My friends – my only friends at that.  I couldn’t lose one of them, let alone all three.  It would be all my fault.

Harrison appeared, trembling from head to foot and I broke the circle, flinging my arms around his neck and squeezing him so tight he protested.  I could only whisper “thank god.”

“Where are Linc and Maisie?”

“I don’t know.”  I would’ve had tears in my eyes if my body was able to form them.  I was so cold I couldn’t function.  I felt like I was about to go into some form of shut down.  I couldn’t control the way my body shuddered and shook underneath me, beyond my conscious control.

Harrison and I joined Lucien and Saffron again and we held each other tight, screaming for Linc and Maisie.  I couldn’t believe it when they appeared out of the white, covered in it themselves, hair wet through from it.  It was a miracle and nothing less.  My heart jumped out of my chest but soon retreated, finding it bitter cold and able to murder it.  Again I broke the huddle to hurl myself into their arms.

“We need to get out of here!” Harrison called.

“Which way?”  Saffron asked.

This time, we all pointed in the exact same direction more or less.  Right or wrong, we made our way towards the white of this direction, having no idea if we were walking in a straight line, or if we were going to make it, or if we were going to pass out, or . . . well, we had no idea about anything.

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