Home of The Brave [[ON HOLD]]

[STARRING YOU! YES YOU!]

You wake up to a world that is vastly different to the one that you fall asleep to. There are no 'adults' - everyone over the age of 25 has suddenly disappeared.

It's a teen-eat-teen world out there. Some people are creating new countries - new teen led clans. You and your friends become involved in a clan conflict, wanting to unite the new 'adults' and teenagers together. However, some mysteries have popped up around the globe.

Can you find out what's happened before they take you too? Time's ticking.

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3. the beginning: iii

You all collapse sluggishly on the booth, groaning in pain. Somehow, in the past hour, you all manage to put yourselves into horrific food comas. The food coma of ’09 comes back to haunt you as you remember how you stayed on your sofa, following your mother’s Christmas dinner. You remember as you struggled to sit upright, feeling as if you had eaten three horses in one day. Your mother coerced you into eating more food than you thought was possible, in order to please your elderly grandmother. You wonder why your grandmother couldn’t feel appreciated if you just skipped one meal.

“How much did we eat?” Jax groans, clutching his stomach.

You can only groan in response. You look at the empty space next to Ruby, now registering that Theo had left in the middle of your food fest. Ruby follows your eyes and knits her eyebrows, only just realising that Theo had left.

“Where’s Theo?”

Jason groans as he lifts his head from the table. “She left to go get a drink, she said she’d be back soon.”

Ruby starts to say something, but she retches instead. Her eyes widen before she scampers out of the booth, her feet moving faster than your mind can register. She disappears behind some fake palm  trees before you can ask her what’s wrong. Jax looks at you and shrugs, telling you that you probably shouldn’t ask.

After a while of complaining to your friends, you hear footsteps walking towards your booth and table. You use your hands to lift your head off the table, especially as it feels a lot heavier than it usually does – just another consequence of the dreaded food coma. Theo sips on her drink, while a brown-skinned girl talks animatedly. You assume that she’s telling Theo a joke because Theo spits out her drink in mid-laughter. The girl’s wide grin revealed the bronze glow at her cheeks, as she laughed loudly.

“Jax! Carina’s here!” Theo almost shouts excitedly, using her spare hand to gesture to her.

Jax’s expressions change immediately. The consequences of the food coma are long forgotten as he both rush up to greet her. Jax tries to squeeze past your legs while trying to be quick. He apologises profusely, to which you tell him that it’s okay multiple times. When he finally makes it past, everyone in the seating area is looking at him. There’s a slight shade of red building up in his cheeks, as he ducks to hide his cheeks.

“Jax! I haven’t seen you in forever!” Carina babbles on.

You and Jason sit at the booth awkwardly, while your friends chat with their long-lost friend. You open your mouth to make uncomfortable small talk to pass the time but each time you attempt, Jason turns his head from you or is distracted. After a few attempts, you give up, letting your mind wander.

Theo sits at your booth, still sipping on her drink through the straw. She coughs suddenly, clearing her throat a few times as she pats her chest a few times.

“Don’t tell me jokes while I’m drinking Cari!” She croaks.

“I said I was sorry!” She says, through fits of laughter.

Theo smiles, then meets your gaze. “Oh shit, I’m completely sorry. This is Carina, we used to go to the same school.”

She waves politely, before readjusting her shoulder bag. From the corner of your eye, you see Ruby’s ponytail swinging in your direction. She does a double take as she realises that Carina is here.

“Cari? Hey! What are you doing around these parts?” They both high-five each other.

“I’m here with friends. They heard about some new sushi shop that they wanted me to check out. Plus, we’re here for the Starlight Festival.” She places the poster on the table in front of you.

It looks exactly the same, except hers has a few new artists added on it. Jason snatches it away before you can recognise any of the artists. You almost want to snatch it back from him, but you see that he’s concentrated on the poster. His grey-blue eyes followed each word carefully, as if the poster would disappear at any moment, even though the piece of paper was a couple of centimeters away from his face.

You return back to the conversation, just in time to see Theo throw her drink in the nearest bin. She returns back, but instead of sitting back down, she grabs her bag and takes her keys back out.

“We’re gonna head to the Starlight Festival with Cari and her friends. You wanna come?” She asks.

You nod. Although, you mostly want to go back home and watch Netflix, you tell yourself that this is an opportunity to meet some new people and listen to some new artists. You grab your bag and tap Jason on the shoulder, gesturing to him that it’s time to go.

“I’ll be out in a sec, I just gotta ring my parents.” You say as you take out of your phone.

“Why don’t you just text them?” Ruby advises, “That’s what I do. They don’t seem to have a problem with it.”

“Good idea, I’ll do that.” You agree, scolding yourself for not thinking of that sooner.

Your parents wouldn’t mind. Although they weren’t the best with technology, your parents could do the basics. Text, call, browse Youtube – anything else, and they had to call you in. You didn’t mind though, unless you were in the middle of doing something.

Dad, I have no lessons so I’m going to the Starlight Festival with some friends, I’ll be home late. You text. You place your phone into your bag and swing it over your shoulder. You send a thumbs up to Theo, who then smiles and starts to make her way to the door. There’s a lot more people here with you than you realised – you assume that they’re Carina’s friends.

“Cari, we’ll meet you at the festival?” Theo calls out before opening her car door.

She nods. “I’ll call you once we’ve got there!”

*

It takes longer than you expected to get to the festival, mostly because of Theo’s incessant road rage at certain traffic lights. Your drive to town was a lot more calmer than you drive to the festival. Theo almost slams her door, but instead closes it gently. She must have remembered that it was her car and not her bedroom door. A lock sounds as she’s walking towards the entrance.

“He could clearly see that I WAS INDICATING TO GO RIGHT. WHY THE FUCK DID HE THINK IT WAS OKAY TO GO AT THE EXACT SAME TIME I WAS GOING TO GO?!” She rants, stomping in the direction of the entrance.

“Calm-” Jason  starts to say, but you shoot him a sharp glance.

It was best not to disturb her when she was angry. You know from personal experience; it was better to let her keep on ranting until her anger fizzled out or she gets distracted. Getting her distracted is the easy part but keeping her distracted is where the problem lies.

“I WAS WAITING PAITENTLY. THIS FOOL COULD’VE TURNED AT ANY TIME.”

You turn to Jax. “Do you wanna check out some of the stalls?” You ask.

“Sure, I’ll text Cari to meet us there.” He answers.

He pulls out his phone and makes some complicated swipes to unlock his screen. You peer over to see that his background picture is of him and a girl that you recognise but you can’t seem to place the name to the face. You wonder whether to ask him but decide not to, against your better judgement. He quickly texts Cari and puts his phone back in his pocket. You quickly avert your eyes, looking towards one of the concert stages in the near distance.

Loud EDM music blares from the stage while the DJ interacts with the crowd. People have clearly started to drink early as they’re staggering as they dance. A girl dressed in bohemian-inspired clothes falls to the floor as she giggles. The people around also laugh and somebody attempts to help her up, but they also fall to the floor. The girl’s body convulses in a laughing fit, clutching her stomach as she pants for her breath. A couple of other people on the floor guffaw loudly, their loud laughs are starting to get on your nerves.

“It’s 11am, how can you be trashed right now?” You frown.

Jason points at the badly-hidden bottles of vodka near the bins. “There’s your answer.”

Ruby tutted. “At least if you’re going to sneak vodka in, hide them properly.”

“Are we going to the stall? Cari says that they’re near the carousel horses!” Theo yells before running in the direction of the carousel horses.

Your friends follow suit, including Jason. You jogged, not wanting to get too breathless. Jason is sprinting towards the carousels but doesn’t seem to be out of breath. He runs a hand through his hair, brushing his hair back.

In the distance, you can hear Cari’s excited squeals mixed with a couple of other deeper voices. It’s clear that Cari is quite close with all of your friends, barring Jason and you. There’s a pang of jealousy in your heart – not so much jealous of Carina but you’re jealous of the friendships they have with each other. It’s not as if you didn’t have a lot of friends, you just kept yourself to yourself. If it wasn’t for college, you’re certain that you would be alone.

The rumble of voices becomes clearer as you quicken your pace. You notice that other people are avoiding the path of your group, going completely out of their way to avoid your group by taking different paths to the stalls that you’re blocking. Feeling guilty, you move out of the way just enough to create a clear pathway for the group of younger teenagers who are too shy to ask your friends to move. They smile politely and shuffle past, apologising profusely when they brush past you roughly.

“Most of the stalls are empty.” A gruff voice states.

You look in the direction of the voice to see a boy standing with his arms crossed. His button up shirt is tight around his arm muscles, and the outline of a black tribal tattoo runs up the length of his arm.

“What do you mean?” Theo asks, rubbing the back of her neck with her hand.

“Out of fifty stalls, only ten are running.” He starts to stretch out his hand in the direction of the stalls, but a girl with short cropped blonde hair stops him.

“It’s rude to point.”

He glares at her, shaking her hand off his arms. He clenches his jaw and continues to point in the direction. She grins anyway, as if her main intention was just to make him annoyed. You follow suit with the group, noticing the remaining stalls were overflowing with customers. The stalls next to them, however, looks abandoned – haunted even. The bright titles of the gaming stalls contrast with the dull insides of the stall – there are even empty alcohol bottles on the counters, slowly building up.

“Aren’t there supposed to be security guards and cleaners around?” You ask, thinking that you’ve said it in your mind.

A sea of eyes return back to you, some people blink rapidly – maybe noticing that you’re there for the first time. Some people blatantly check you out, looking at you up and down. You pretend not to notice, and focus on some of the friendlier faces.

The girl with the short, cropped, blonde hair smiles at you. “Yeah. At least, that’s what I thought.”

“Then where are they?” Jason asks the question that is on everyone’s minds.

The bad feeling that you felt earlier in your gut returns, except a lot worse than last time. It begins in the bottom of your gut, spreading through the rest of your body. There’s something wrong – you knew that it was too much of a coincidence that two of your strictest teachers were absent on the same day. Worry fills your mind as your thoughts go straight to the welfare of your parents.

You’re pretty close with your parents. Your older brother was out of the country since he’s attending university outside the country. You don’t see him much and you never had a close relationship anyway so it doesn’t bother you. He only comes back for major holidays like Christmas and the summer holidays and even then he doesn’t stay for a long time. Your mother sometimes gets upset, you once heard her sniffling in the kitchen after an argument with your brother. It was about not spending enough time at home, or something along the lines of that. You remember telling her not to worry, reassuring her that he didn’t mean any of the things he said. You knew that he didn’t but you knew it still hurt your mother. Your mother never mentioned the argument to your dad and brushed it under the carpet. You could still feel the tension between your mother and your brother but you didn’t think it was necessary to point it out.

“I’m pretty sure we’re making a bigger deal out of this. Maybe they’re not ready.” Ruby reassures everyone, leaning against one of the counters of the stalls.

“But it opened at 9. The poster says that everyone would be ready by 9am. It’s,” Jax looks at his watch, pausing to read the time, “11:25 right now.”

“Well, that crosses out what I said.” She mumbles.

A slow panic fills the air, even the nearby teenagers that can hear your conversation edge frown. They edge closer to your conversation, failing badly to hide their worries. As more people surround you, you’re somehow pushed to middle of the group, next to Theo and Carina. Theo casts you a worried glance, knowing exactly what she’s thinking about – the welfare of her parents. Like you, Theo was pretty close to her parents, especially since she was an only child. Carina bites her semi-manicured nails nervously.

You pipe up. “Okay, before we all freak out, maybe we should call our parents. Just to figure out if it’s just the concert.”

A murmur of agreement ripples throughout the crowd. The crowd slowly disperses as people step away to ring their parents. You realise that your parents’ phones would be off, since your parents were the type of people to switch off all distractions in order to do some work.

“They’re probably fine.” You say, smiling as you do so.

You don’t believe yourself though. You’re just saying things to lessen the feeling of panic in the air.

“They’re not picking up. It’s keeps going straight to voicemail.” A panicked voice whispers.

“Mine too. I’ll try again.”

“Maybe they’re doing something?” Someone suggests.

“That’s a bit of a stretch. All of our parents, not answering at the same time is a bit more than a coincidence.” Jason says, with a hint of sarcasm in his tone.

Nobody responds to him, not even Theo, who normally would have a quick witty response, responds. She just keeps looking down at her phone, expecting her phone to ring at any moment.  He looks uneasy, as if his intention was to lift the mood.

Suddenly, everyone turns their direction to you. Their eyes are expecting, although you don’t know exactly what they’re expecting. Your phone rings out of the blue, and you can hear the sharp intake of breath from the people surrounding you. Digging deep in your shoulder bag, you finally find your vibrating phone. Your shaking hands struggle to unlock the screen but you manage to do so even though your heartbeat is racing. The name ‘Eric’ flashes on your screen.

Eric is your brother and he never normally called unless he was in trouble or he needed something. You always came to his aid, despite not being that close, because at the end of the day, he was your only brother. You press the green answer button.

“Eric ? You okay?” You ask him hesitatingly.

There’s a faint ruffle of papers on the other end of the line, as well as some garbled voices that you can’t make out. Your brother lets out a big sigh of relief, which you know is never a good sign.

“Oh, thank fuck.” You no longer cringe at your brother’s choice of words. It’s abnormal for your brother to not say a sentence that included swearing. “Something really fucking weird is going on. I can’t get through to anyone, at least anyone over the age of twenty-five- Can you shut the fuck up? Sorry, that was my flatmates.”

“It’s alright. What’s wrong?”

“Who is it?” Theo mouths.

“My brother.” You mouth back. You decide to put him on loudspeaker instead, seeing as he’s about to explain his situation. “Eric, you’re on loudspeaker so be careful of what you say.”

Everyone listens intently and you glance around to see that the crowd’s size has increased, again. Something is definitely wrong. Maybe people are just curious, you tell yourself.

“Fuck. Okay. My professor isn’t in. I know that doesn’t sound weird but I came back home to find everyone gathered at my dorm. Apparently, nobody’s professors are in. The weird elderly receptionist isn’t even in, you know the one that hits on every single guy that goes to her? Yeah, she’s not even in. Nobody can reach their parents either – it either goes straight to voicemail or it has that weird disconnected tone. What the fuck do you mean that there are stationary cars about? Just in the middle of the street? Sorry, I gotta go.”

With that, the line goes dead.

“This is so creepy.” Someone mutters.

Everyone turns to you, including your friends from school, obviously expecting you to come up with a plan. You feel utterly useless but you also feel guilty, especially since you have no idea what you do. You’ve inherited your mother’s pride so you keep your face neutral, not showing your doubts in your expression.

“What if we go home and meet up at some place tomorrow, then figure out what to do.” You say, just throwing the first idea that comes into your head.

“I don’t want to go home alone.” Cari mumbles.

Murmurs of agreement, again, ripple through the crowd. You look over at the worried and clueless expressions of your friends. The mood has completely changed – nobody is excited anymore, and nobody’s smiling anymore.

“To stay safe, what if we…stay in big groups tonight?” The girl with short, cropped blonde hair suggests.

“How are we going to keep in contact with everyone? There’s a lot of people here.” Theo asks, finally taking a glance over the crowd.

“What if we get a few key people to keep in contact with everyone?” You suggest, waving your phone around as an example. “One person has a group of people’s numbers, then another person would have their number and another groups numbers and so on. Team leaders, kinda.”

A few people nod but most people look unsure, you can see the fear and panic in their movements and expressions. It’s the only idea you have, that includes you going home and making sure that your friends are safe. You just want to go home and have a nap, and hopefully wake up from this horrible dream in the morning.

Some people gravitate towards you, taking out their phones to give you their numbers. You can do nothing except pass your phone along for people to put in their numbers. It gets harder to track where your phone is as more people input your phone. By the time that you actually get your phone back, your contacts are overflowing with numbers as it takes you longer to scroll down. You give halfway through, finally feeling the pressure of having so many people depend on you. In some way, you don’t mind – in fact, you actually start to like this feeling. You’ve never been much of leader, but you’d consider yourself a better team player. Then again, you’ve never really had much opportunity to be a team leader, your friends always volunteered themselves first.

“We’ll meet here, this field. About 1pm, tomorrow then we’ll figure what on earth is going on.” You raise your voice, making sure it reaches the edges of the crowd.

Theo grabs hold of you as people start to form their own little groups. Soon, the crowd disperses completely and you’re left with your original friends as well as Cari’s friends. You count around fifteen people in your group, which is a lot larger than you realise.

“I guess we’re going home with you then.” Theo says as she walks in the direction of your house.

When you start to protest, she turns around and looks at you like you’ve said the dumbest thing ever. “Out of all of us here, your house is the nearest and it’s the biggest.”

You falter. She’s right, your house is the biggest but you struggle to comprehend how you’re going to fit everyone comfortably in your house. ­­You shrug, it’s the best solution – maybe not one that you’d prefer.

At least you’d be returning to your bed, finally.

 

 

 

 

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