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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3. DAY TWO

I awoke first, groggy as hell and aching all over.  It was gross to feel my top stuck to me from sweat and dirt.  As soon as I got home, I was going to throw it away and have the longest shower of my life.  I pulled myself into a sitting position and looked around.  The sun was up shinning bright and I had to shield my eyes for at least a minute.  When my eyes adjusted, I looked around to find everyone had crept closer together in the night, for warmth or protection I didn’t know, but I was sure Lucien wouldn’t be happy about it.  Brilliant.  I forced myself up to stand and walk around for a few minutes, trying to make my muscles agree with me.  I’d never felt quite so exhausted in my entire life.  After having a drink from the river, I soon sat down against a tree to wait for the others to wake up, thinking about after everything, at least we got the day off school.

Harrison was the first to awake after me and he groaned as he sat up.  “Ugh, we’re still here?”

“Yep, ‘fraid so.”

“I thought maybe I’d made it up.”

“Your imagination isn’t that good.”

“Hey!”  He came to sit next to me.  “God I’m hungry.”

“Tell me about it.  I feel like my stomach is eating itself.”

“I really don’t know what we’re going to eat.  There doesn’t seem to be anything here.  But right now I’m all up for eating grass.”

“God, same here.  Anything.  I’d eat you.”

“That doesn’t make sense.  I’m an asset to the team.”

“How come?”

He raised his eyebrows.  “I have the knowledge.”

“Fat lot of good that’s done so far.”

“Fine.  Eat me, you’ll be sorry.”

“To be fair I’d rather see Lucien go.”

“Saffron’s more pointless.”

“Oi!”  She sat up.  “You morons.  No one’s eating anyone.”

“Thanks for joining us.”  I couldn’t help but smile.  Her hair was sticking up.  Saffron Fletcher’s hair wasn’t perfect.  This really was a different world.

She flattened it down as though she’d heard me and complained when she caught her reflection in the river.  It didn’t take the others long to wake up with all that noise, and soon enough we were all standing around the failure of a fire ready to go.

“Today it’s my turn,” I announced.  “Lucien’s had his turn, so now it’s mine.”

“How come you get to choose?”

“Because it’s my responsibility the majority of us are out here.  Lucien and I are the reason so we’re the first ones to attempt to get us home.  Although I will get us home.  I’ll do it even if it’s the last thing I bloody do.  You will all get home and we will all be fine.  So nobody worry or panic, it’ll make us slower.  Got it?”  I turned and led the group in the direction that was our best shot at getting home.  My direction.

We had only walked for a few minutes when Saffron brought the hunger back into our heads.  “I feel like I’m dying!  I’m so hungry!”

“And you think we’re not, Saffy?”  Lucien snapped.  “Drop it, okay?  If you shut up maybe it won’t be so bad.”

“But we’ll die if we don’t eat soon.”

“Not strictly true,” Harrison interjected.  “You can go for two to three weeks without eating if you stay hydrated.”

“Okay, who brought this guy?”

“Hey I brought myself, and I seem to be the only one thinking around here.”

“What?”

“Did any of you bring anything?  I don’t think so.  We’re not going to die because of me.”

“Way to lighten the mood, Harri.”  I caught Maisie’s expression, it was not good.  “We’re not going to die.”

“Of course we are, Lea,” Linc chuckled.

“Why the hell is that funny!”  Saffron shrieked.

“Bloody hell, calm down.  It’s funny because everyone dies.  We’re not going to die today, what’s wrong with all of you?  Overdramatic.”

“I think you’ll find the only one freaking out is Saffron, Linc.  And maybe she should shut up.”  She glared at me but I couldn’t help but grin.  It didn’t help that both Linc and Lucien were laughing.  She looked like she wanted to tear my hair out, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Saffron sulked for a while until she spotted a bush covered in red berries.  “Hey!  What about those?”

We stopped to have a closer look.  The berries were rounded and bright red.  They were about the size of my finger nail.

“I wouldn’t,” Harrison began.

“Oh what do you know?  You don’t know everything.”

“I know enough.”

“But there are loads!  We can’t just walk by and not eat some.”

“Oh yes we can.  Don’t you know anything about nature?”

She ignored him and began pulling berries off the bush and collecting them in her hand.

“Red is the colour of danger.  They’re probably poisonous.”

Or it’s just a camouflage to stop you eating them.”

“Why would it need to protect itself?  It’s not an animal.  It’s a freaking plant!”

She shrugged.  “Whatever.”  She popped one in her mouth and pulled a face at Harrison as she did it.  “They taste great, you should have one,” she offered him her hand.

“Not on my life.  If you want to get sick that’s up to you.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I just told you.  You’re going to get sick.”

“Well Leanne here thinks we’ll be back in Havengore later, in which case I can be ill at home which is fine by me.”

“Alright.  If you want to vomit everywhere, be my guest.”

“With pleasure.”

I hadn’t realised that the rest of us had just been watching them.  Lucien had a smirk on his face.  “Well, after that lovers spat don’t you think we should keep it going, Ginge?  I mean, you want to beat my mountain, right?”

“Volcano.  And I will beat you, Custer, patience is key.”

“Alright, whatever you say.”

I must admit, I knew we weren’t heading towards home.  As well as nothing looking familiar and then everything looking the same, I just had that feeling.  But I couldn’t say that.  I couldn’t lose.  I’d already proved that with a spectacular cock-up.  But I doubted anyone knew which way home was by this point anyway.  We were too lost.  Way too deep in this . . . jungle.  That was the word I was looking for.  It was more like a jungle than a forest.  Everything was bright green, way too bright.  And it was hot too.  I felt sweat beading on my forehead and Maisie had her jacket tied round her waist.

We came to a break in the trees and my heart felt as though it jumped right out of my chest and ran to freedom.  It soon got sucked back as we emerged from the trees just to see the biggest expanse of water I’d ever seen and would ever see.  The ground changed here, it was lighter in colour and softer.  It sunk and shifted a little as we moved on it.  The water went on for as far as I could see.  As far as I was aware, there was a place way into the distance where the water met the sky and they gripped onto each other, terrified to let go or the universe would rip in half.

As we got closer, I could see that it was moving backwards and forwards as though it had a mind of its own but no care in the world.  It was more relaxed than a river but much mightier.  It had a weight of importance and I didn’t even know what it was or why it was here.  We stood at the very edge just so the tips of our shoes were missed by the tongue of the water.

“O . . . kay,” Lucien said after an immeasurable time.  “What the hell is this?”

“The sea.”

“How come, Brains, you seem to know everything?”

“I assumed you knew that, seeing as you gave me that nickname.”

“But seriously.  It’s creepy.”

“I read a lot.  I want to know about stuff.”

“So what is this ‘sea’ about then?”

“Well, it’s just a massive expanse of water.”

“Well I understood that much.”

“There’s not that much to understand.  At least we have another marker of place.  First the volcano, now the sea.  Now we have more than one thing to refer back to.”

“Yeah but Harri,” I added.  “We can’t even see the volcano anymore because of these trees, otherwise I would’ve led us back there.”

“I think the volcano is better than the sea.”  Lucien grinned.

“What?  This is so not a competition.  But if it was the sea would win.  It’s bigger than your volcano and mine moves.”

“Please, mine could kill you.”

Harrison laughed.  “You don’t think the sea could kill you?”

“Not intentionally.  I don’t much fancy going for a swim.  It can’t kill me over here now can it?”

“But what about . . .”

I failed to listen to the rest of Lucien and Harrison’s conversation and instead went to sit with Linc and Maisie who had collapsed onto this soft kind of ground.

“It sure is hot today, Lea.”  Linc wiped the back of his hand across his forehead.  “I don’t know about you, but that ‘sea’ is looking pretty good.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “I don’t much fancy walking around in soggy clothes though.”

“Nah, I guess not.”  He laid down on the ground and shut his eyes.  “I just wish there was a way to get cool.  It’s killing me.  I mean, even the hunger’s gone just a little bit because I’m so damn hot.”

“Yeah, I could use a drink.  I should’ve just followed the river.”

“Fat lot of good that would’ve done.”  Oh good, Saffron had an opinion.  “We’d never seen it before.  Following it wasn’t going to get us back to Havengore.”

“At least we’d have water then.”

“Have you not seen this thing here?  It’s made of water.”

“You can’t drink it though,” Harrison had been listening in.

“Me and you are never going to get on,” Saffron forced through gritted teeth.  “Do you always have to do that?”

“It’s salt water.  You can’t drink it.”

“Oh yes I can.”  She stomped over to the sea.

“Well yes, technically you can.  But I wouldn’t.  It’s pretty bad.”

“Sod you.”  Saffron made sure her skirt didn’t get wet as she knelt down and began drinking the sea water.

“Nobody copy her stupid behaviour.”

“I’m always with you, Harri.  You’re the one with the facts.”

“Aww sweet,” Lucien came and sat with us as we watched Saffron spit out the water and attempt not to vomit.

“Eww!  That’s revolting!”

“I warned you.”  Harrison was smiling.  He turned to me.  “So where now, Lea?”

I shrugged.  “It’s so hot.  I think we should stop for a while.”

“It’ll take longer to get home,” Lucien taunted.

“That’s okay.  Do you really want to go trekking through the jungle right now?”

“Jungle?”

I smirked.  “Yeah.  You know what a jungle is, right?”

He didn’t want to admit it, but I saw the look on his face.  Harrison went about explaining and I saw that Lucien couldn’t be further away from not listening.  I didn’t know what we’d do without Harrison.  Although his facts hadn’t helped us yet, just given us more knowledge.  I was sure they would help though.  The rest of us didn’t know a thing.  We were useless.

“Ugh!  This weather is suffocating!”  Saffron was attempting to fan herself with her hand.

“Heat wave,” Harrison commented.

“Oh thanks for the heads up.”

“Yeah, I think we could work that one out by ourselves actually, Brains.”

We all sheltered under the shade of a tree, leaning up against it or just lying on the ground baking from the inside out.  No one wanted to get up, let alone walk.  It was enough energy just to stay awake.  My day so far had sucked.  It was long past midday and we hadn’t gone very far at all.  We were never going to get out of here with the weather like this, which meant I wasn’t going to be the one to get us home.  Typical.

“Whoa,” Linc sat up and put his hand to his head.  “Man I don’t feel good.”

“You’re not the only one,” Saffron muttered.

Linc shut his eyes and opened them again in an exaggerated manner.  “God, is everything spinning to you guys?”

“No,” Maisie’s hands were there on his arms as worry attempted and failed to drain the red from her face.  “Linc, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.  I feel kinda sick.  Something feels wrong.”  He pulled himself up but staggered, having to hold onto the tree for support.  I could see his entire body shaking.

“Linc,” I was by his side at once.  “Linc, look at me.”

He tried but his eyes drifted over me, unable to focus on my face.  “Lea?  I can’t see you?”

“Linc, I’m right in front of you.”

“Lea, I can’t see.  I can’t see anything!”

“Linc, it’s okay.”  I ran my hand over his back and tried to calm him.  Maisie was beside me, also shushing Linc, trying not to become overwhelmed herself.

“I feel like I’m going to pass out.”

I looked to Harrison.  A look was all it took.  Harrison’s head disappeared into his bag and somehow he pulled out a bottle of water.

“Hey!”  Saffron shrieked.

“What the hell!”  Lucien yelled, he was up too.

Harrison threw me the bottle as Linc’s legs gave out and he landed on the floor, all the air escaping his body.

“I couldn’t let you all just scoff it could I?  This is about survival.”

“You let me drink the frigging salt water!”

I drowned them out as they argued over it some more.  I couldn’t be angry with Harrison, not yet.  That would come later.  “Linc, we have some water.  Drink this.”

He groped for the bottle with shaking hands as we helped him find and grip it and bring the bottle to his lips.  “Wow,” he gasped.

“Better?”

“A little.”

“Drink it all.”

“But what about you guys?”

“Linc, I don’t care.  Drink it all.”

“But–”

“Linc, for god’s sake just drink it!”  Maisie squealed.

“Now, Linc.”

He obeyed and Maisie breathed out a sigh of relief as he finished off the bottle.  “I’m sorry, Lea, Maze.  I just don’t know what happened.  I feel much better now.  It was so weird.  As I drank the water my vision came back.  What the hell was that?”

“Dehydration,” Harrison commented as though it was the most harmless thing in the world.  “I won’t let it happen again.  Did everyone have a drink from the river before we left this morning?” Everyone nodded except Linc.  “There’s your answer.  It was dehydration.”

“Harrison,” I made my way over to him.  “What the hell were you thinking?”

“I’ve just had this argument with these two, not you too!”

“Harrison, I was a little busy keeping Linc conscious.”

“Yeah, thanks to me.”

“More like no thanks to you!  You had water and you didn’t even tell us!  We’re cooking alive out here!”

“But once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

“Yeah, but once we’re dead, we’re dead.  We were by a river this morning, we know there’s water around here.  You can always fill them up.”

“Yeah, but who knows when we’re going to be by the river again?”

I felt my blood bubbling up inside me as I fought not to outright scream.  “We need to be a team out here.  We need to work together.”

“Yes, exactly.  My role is rationing.”

“No Harrison, it was wrong.”

“Lea, cut it out.”

“No!  I can’t!  God!  I –” I put my hand to my head.  I didn’t know where I was going with that.  I was struggling to form a coherent sentence.  I couldn’t even think straight.

“Alright Lea, alright.  I brought enough water bottles for everyone.  How about we each keep one and can be in charge of our own water?”

“That sounds fair.”  I was surprised to hear Maisie’s voice.  “Then no one can blame anyone for anything.”

“Lea, are you in?”

I took a deep breath.  “Yeah, that’s fair.  Yeah.  Let’s do that.”

“Hang on a minute.”  Saffron crossed her arms.  “That’s never going to work because someone’s going to finish theirs and then be after the rest of ours.  Yes, I’m looking at you Lucien.”

“Hey, I don’t want your water.  You keep to your own.  We all have our own bottles and be done with it.  If you finish yours it’s your own damn fault.”

“Damn,” Linc muttered.  “If only I’d thought to drink from the bloody river this morning.”

Harrison rummaged through his bag and found the remaining five bottles of water.  Saffron handed him a pen which Lucien snatched off her and began writing the names on the bottles himself.  I had no doubt what mine would say.

“It’s okay, Linc,” Maisie smiled and my heart swelled to see it.  “You can share mine.”

“Maze, I couldn’t.  It’s yours.  We all need it.”

“It’s mine to do with as I wish.”  Harrison threw her it and she missed.  Unusual for her, but we were hot and stupid from thirst.  She bent down and tutted as she picked it up.  Written in huge letters in Saffron’s marker was the word ‘Mouse’.  As predicted, we all had written on our bottles the nicknames given to us by Lucien.  Linc’s was the new edition of ‘Twat’.

“Hey Lucien,” Linc called.  “Why’s mine so uninventive?  You didn’t even try.”

“I didn’t have to.”  He came over to us.  “You’re just a twat.  No thought needed.”

“Why am I a twat?  That was our nickname for you, wasn’t it Lea?”

“Yep,” I grinned.  “Since the day we met you.”

“Ha, ha.  Very funny.  You want me to change it?  Fine, give it here.”

Linc just shrugged before handing him the bottle back.  “What the hell?”

The bottle now had ‘Twat’ crossed out and ‘Chuckles’ written underneath it.  Lucien handed it back to him.  “Better?”

Linc laughed as he saw it.  “Loads better.  Thanks.”

“Well I’m glad you like it.”

“Out of nothing but curiosity,” I put my hands on my hips.  “What did you write on yours, Custer?”  He held it up for us to see.  He’d drawn a crown above the words ‘The King’.  Linc laughed again and I just shook my head.  “Well that couldn’t sum you up any better.”

“My thoughts exactly, Ginge.”

“So,” Harrison reclaimed our attention, his fingers were fidgeting, as though dying to squeeze themselves into his palm.  “Do you think we should move, Lea?  We’ve spent most of the day here.”

I looked to Linc.  “Are you alright if we move?”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “I don’t think we’ll get very far though.  Not because of me, just because everyone’s so exhausted.”

“It’s worth a try though isn’t it?”  I looked up at the sky.  “It’s going to rain again anyway.  The air’s just getting heavier and heavier.  It feels like we should be choking on it.  Might as well wander about under cover.”

“Wander, Ginge?  That doesn’t sound like you know where you’re going.”

“It would be a lie if I told you I knew exactly where we were going, but my guess is as good as yours.  Well, maybe better seeing as yours was shit.”

“I can’t wait for the end of the day when we all have to stop again.  Then you’ll see you’ve done no better.”

“Shut up you two!”  Saffron moaned.  “I’ve had enough of this.”

“Like you don’t argue with everyone, Saffy.”  Lucien laughed.  “Ginge and I are always like this.  Aren’t we, Ginge?  It’s called a love-hate relationship.”

I full out laughed, cringing at the tensing of my empty stomach.  “You can call it whatever you like, Custer.  I’m flattered.”

He shook his head at me as I led the way back into the jungle.  Our pace was slower than before.  I couldn’t help but think about food the entire time and it was killing me.

“Hey Harri?”

He appeared at my side.  “Yeah?”

“Do you happen to have any food in there?”  I whispered the words.  I didn’t want to imagine what would happen if there was food and it wasn’t handled with thought.

“Of course I do,” he hissed back.

“How are you not eating all of it right this second?”

“Because I know it won’t kill us to go twenty-four hours without food.  We’re not touching any of it until at least tomorrow morning.”

“But it’s been over twenty-four hours already.  We haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday.”

“Believe me, Lea, you’ll be glad I held back when the food lasts longer.”

We carried on walking.  The time passed weird.  It felt like we’d been walking for eternity, we were exhausted, but time dragged.  I noted Saffron picking berries as she walked, both eating them and storing more in her bag for later.  I wondered how many more hours it was going to be until we were all eating them.  Harrison’s words of danger still rung in my head, but Saffron seemed fine.  I didn’t know how long my will would hold out.  Not much longer, I imagined.

The ground and the sky gave a gentle rumble like our stomachs’ as the rain started to pour down.

“What was that?”  Maisie’s hand jumped to Linc’s.

“It’s just thunder, Maze.”

“It’s sounded too loud.”

“We are outside.”

“I don’t like this.”

“It’s okay, we’ll stop.”

“Lea, with all due respect, are you crazy?”  I was starting to see what Saffron was talking about.  “Where there’s thunder, there’ll be lightening.  We can’t stay under the trees, it’s too dangerous.  We need to be out in the open.”

“And get rained on?”  Saffron asked.  “Are you kidding?”

“Do you want to get hit by lightening?  We have to keep going.”

“Alright, it’s my day and I say we keep going.”

Nobody protested after the words from Harrison and we just kept going.  The only luck we’d had so far was that we came across the field in the next . . . I don’t know, what I guessed was ten minutes.  Time was messed up so it could’ve been less or more, but that was my guess.  We all collapsed in the centre of the field, not complaining about the rain, not even Saffron, as it cooled our baking bodies.  Harrison was right, there was lightening.  But we were as safe as we could be here, even if we were wet through.  We all sat with our bottles open trying to catch rain in them to raise the water level inside.  Once the storm had passed, it soon grew dark, and then one by one, we dropped off to sleep.

I was starting to let go of my hope.  We didn’t know where we were, we couldn’t locate any previous places we’d been and we didn’t even have a clue of how to get back.  How were we ever going to get through this?  But over all the worrying, the one thing that bothered me most was always that the whole thing was my fault.

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