Battle of the Killers

Seventeen-year-old Betinia "Tini" Woods has never had a normal life. As a child, she has always been categorized as weird, or odd, or a freak. But after a horrific event in her childhood, she makes a promise to herself to always act normal, which causes her to completely change herself and her personality.

Ten years later, she wakes up in an abandoned room with an ankle monitor and no memory of how she got there. As she tries to escape, memories of her childhood start to weigh on her psyche, and when she thinks she might've finally escaped her prison, she's wrong.

She actually just entered into a game where she'll have to fight to survive.

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4. 04 - The Nitty Gritty

 

A reality show? What?

I glanced at the grinning man below before looking at the faces of the other prisoners. Expressions varied from outright disbelief to complete blankness to scorching rage. 

If this was a joke, none of us were in on it.  

Filtering through the last moments of my life, things started to become clear. The memory loss. The bolted windows. The ankle monitor. The cages. The televisions and cameras. Who would invest all this money into a practical joke? 

No one. 

No one sane anyway. 

Slick beads of sweat formed on my hairline, sliding down my filthy face until they dripped onto the steel floor of the cage. This was real. All of it. 

My face must have reflected my realization because the flamboyant man below smiled at me, spreading his cheeks so wide that I swore his cheeks would burst. 

"I'm Jookie!" the man said, spreading out his arms. He wore a peacock colored jacket with tight skinny jeans and blue diamond cowboy boots. "And I'll be your host." With hair the color of fresh ash, he slicked it up into a high pony-tail as he paraded around below. 

"Welcome — " Jookie started. 

"What the fuck is this?" A masculine voice barked from one of the cages. "Are you fucking with me?" 

Jookie cleared his throat, raw irritation colored his purple eyes. "Silence, contestant. Questions will be — " 

"Fuck you, dude! Do you knowwho I am?" the guy said from the cage, the bass in his voice harsh. 

Jookie didn't even seemed fazed by the outburst. Instead, he let out a high-pitched chuckle. 

This angered the guy even more. "Listen you ugly freak — " A low-pitched yell released from his throat, cutting off the rest of his words. 

Jookie pulled a black phone from his jacket pocket, tapping on the glass screen several times. Each tap brought upon another yell from the rude guy. 

"Threats and insults will notbe tolerated," Jookie said, losing his creepy-happy demeanor. "If you disobey, you will be punished." This time he held his finger against the phone. 

The rude guy screamed this time, long and high, until Jookie released his finger. 

"The anklet attached to you is pierced into your skin — a direct connection to your nerves," Jookie said. "If you get out of line, I will send bolts of electricity through your ass. Got that, dude?" 

The rude guy yelled again, breathy and low this time. 

Jookie's creepy smile returned. "Your punishment might not always be electricity. Death is an option as well." His eyes danced under the florescent lights. "With just a simple tap, that anklet can inject a lethal dose of poison into your system, which can kill you within seconds." 

My eyes flickered to my anklet, seeing it in a new light. Death within seconds? 

"Would you like to help me demonstrate the poison button, dude?"Jookie asked, talking to the rude guy again.

Silence hung in the air. 

"Good. So, for your safety, don't fuck with me or try to escape," Jookie said with a light laugh. "Because I get trigger happy really easily, everyone." 

A heavy sob hit the air, disrupting the silence. I couldn't tell who it came from, but I didn't blame her. We were fucked right now, and all I could think about was eating. I needed comfort food — Hot Cheetos and peanut butter. Just a little bit. 

"Now!" Jookie clapped his hands together, putting on a goofy smile. "Let's get down to business. Welcome!" 

No one returned his enthusiasm. 

Jookie started to pace around. "I know you must be wondering how you got here. You probably think we just randomly kidnapped you off the street or something, right?" 

No. This was planned. How else would they have known about Piggy and my family picture? This wasn't some random kidnapping. 

"Yeah, we did kidnap you, but it wasn't random," he said, confirming my thoughts. "You guys were lucky enough to be sponsored." 

Sponsored? That would mean someone had to pay for us to be here, right? Who would do that to me?

A gorgeous girl with plastic glasses snorted next to me. "Lucky, me," she whispered under her breath. 

"We started with forty of you, but only twenty of you passed the first test," Jookie said. 

Test? Then, my mind grasped onto the answer. Escaping the room. That's why the book bag had a lighter in it, a way for me to escape. 

"This is a show of survival," Jookie said. "You must complete challenges — bloody challenges that'll test every aspect of yourself. Completing these challenges will get you points. The four people with the most points will get to leave the building." 

Four? That struck me as an odd number choice. Don't these games usually only have one winner or like first, second or third place? 

"Of course, the top winner of each challenge will receive the most points with everyone else receiving lower, unequal amounts," Jookie said. "But challenges aren't the only way to receive points." 

By the happy glint in his eyes and the grin on his lips, we weren't going to like his next statements. 

"Killing each other is another option," he said, clapping his hands together. "If you kill another contestant and the other contestants don't figure it out, you'll be awarded 5,000 points. If you get caught, you'll only be awarded 3,000 points. Winning first place in challenges only gets you 2,000 points." 

A bubble of thunderous dread swam through my pores, causing my eye to twitch. They wanted us to kill each other. The point difference proved that. 

"Killing does come with some drawbacks — outright killing anyway." Jookie pointed a finger at us. "You'll be living with your fellow contestants for weeks. You might need allies when it comes to voting." 

Voting? 

"After each challenge, a voting session will commence," Jookie said in a joyous tone. "Out of three people — the Bloody Doe Three as I like to call them, one will be voted off and killed." 

I closed my eyes. This couldn't be happening. Challenges, killing, voting. This was literally like a game show, but with an eerie, murderous edge. 

Jookie nodded toward us. "The winner of a challenge has the right to put any contestant in the Doe three. The other two will be chosen by the challenge — the two lowest scoring people." 

He paused for a second, for dramatic effect. "Watch who you vote off. Challenges will get harder and sometimes you need to work together or you might want to form an alliance."

Jookie shrugged. "Who knows? The same with killing. Killing someone outright might seem alright, but think of the consequences. You might kill someone's ally or friend and then they'll kill you or vote you off."

The more he talked, the more it felt like I was slowly drowning in a dusky pit of darkness. Could I do this? Was Betinia capable of this?I don't know.Tini?Maybe. 

With that thought, my insides hummed and a rabid forbidden sensation shocked my senses. Closing my eyes with a soft sigh, Betinia became just an outer shell as Tini burst forward with a shiver. 

A feeling of sweet harmony rang through me as Tini stayed upfront. Now, the competition tugged at my curiosity, instead of filling me with dread. Minor burst of excitement plagued my mind — stop. 

No. 

That box would remain closed. Stuffing Tini back into her box, Betinia stood front and center again. 

Tini was my mother or that's what my therapist used to say when I first got to the psych ward. But wouldn't being like my mother be beneficial in this situation? Murder — blood — mayhem — she did it all. Evil was what everyone called her. 

I didn't want to be like her, even if my life was at stake. What if I submerged too deep and couldn't come back? 

"Be smart, everyone," Jookie said, interrupting my thoughts. "Millions will be watching, just like they are now." 

I stared at the television with my face on it, watching it change angles while still keeping me front and center. Knowing that others could see me — watch me, made me feel odd. 

Where were they watching me from? What network would broadcast this murderous show? Nothing public, which meant the dark web.  

"At the start of the show, you have nothing. Just a room to sleep in," Jookie said, looking at us. "But people can choose to send you gifts and other items, like weapons or clothes or whatever the hell you want. But you better be likeable and put on a good show so you can rack up those die-hard fans." 

"This is crazy. This must be a prank," a feminine southern voice said from afar. "Did my ex set this up? I know I cheated with his brother, but this is ridiculous."  

An annoying expression sketched its way onto Jookie's face, and he brought out his phone again. 

The girl let out a teeth-shattering scream. An effervescing shiver slithered up my stomach and into my chest. 

"This is NOT a joke." Jookie continuously tapped the phone in frustration as the girl kept screaming. "Far from it, really. Our viewers and investors nominated and sponsored hundreds of contestants and we chose you guys. And don't think it's because any of you are cute or innocent. Each one of you holds something deep and dark inside of you—the ability to kill. And that's what makes this even more exciting. Who wants innocents when you can have a bunch of psychos battling it out together?" 

Murderers. All the contestants were murderers. I never murdered anyone, but my mother did. And that evilness was within me. That must be the darkness he was talking about. 

My sponsor must have known that, but how? Only a handful of people knew about my past. That unanswered question ate at my mind like a caterpillar with a delicious leaf. 

"There's also another way to earn points," Jookie said. "Every contestant here has a secret. Clues of their secrets will be spread around. If another contestant discovers your secret, they get 3,000 points." 

My secret? It must be about my past. Or maybe that I never murdered anyone before? My eyes gazed at the other cages. None of them looked like a murderous psycho. They appeared normal... like me. 

I didn't get to dwell on it much longer before Jookie started to speak again. "Welcome my little psychos — to the game of your life. Most of you will die here, and I can't waitto see it happen." 

He turned away from us as a cameraman and multiple guards entered through a side door. The cameraman zoomed in close on Jookie. 

Jookie spread his arms while speaking. "Here we are ladies and gents. Your contestants. But as you know, we asked you to vote and narrow it down to thirteen for us. Are you ready for the results?" 

Thirteen? There was twenty of us here. How was he going to —

A loud clanking noise shot through the air. A scrawny kid two cages away from me who couldn't be more than thirteen screeched as the bottom of his cage vanished underneath him. 

His body accelerated downward. A sickening thud rumbled through the room when he smashed into the floor, head first. Upon impact, thick red liquid sprayed the floor in thick ribbons, mingling with the pool of open brains. 

Multiple gasps and a high-pitched scream filtered the atmosphere. I just looked at the floor, seeing the twisted, bloody body. It reminded me of my younger brother, Asher, ten years ago. 

Memories of that time were hazy, but I remembered Asher. He rested on top of the kitchen counter, eyes open. Almost like he was sleeping, except his head had been caved in from where my mother repeatedly smashed it with a hammer. 

"Oops, guess Oliver wasn't light on his feet," Jookie said before laughing at the dead body. "Now, we're down to nineteen. Seven more to go." 

Time after time, he kept hitting his phone, causing bodies to splatter to the floor like paint balls. Sometimes, the deaths weren't so clean cut. 

A petite girl named Emma, three cages over, got it bad. With a tiny whimper, her body spilled from her cage and jagged spikes impaled her body at the bottom. Thick rivulets of blood spilled from the pointy tips, all the way to the floor and around her body, creating an almost crimson snow angel. 

One contestant fell into a shark tank. The huge sharks devoured him in only a few bites, leaving behind only bloody water and tiny muscle particles. 

Another went head-on with an anaconda. He fell into a giant glass fish bowl that reminded me of a desert-themed snow globe, but with a giant snake added in. Landing on his leg wrong, his calf bone dislocated, sticking out of his skin at an awkward ankle. 

He screeched, buckling in pain, but he was soon silenced. The snake hissed and scurried forward. He tried to throw himself back, but his leg held him back from any sudden movements. 

My eyes widened at the scurrying anaconda.

The snake latched onto his head, his wide jaws gobbling him down whole. It sounds like a fast process, but it wasn't. Bit by bit, the anaconda's jaws opened, sucking him deeper and deeper as its scaly body expanded like a vacuum. 

And then, it was over. 

Within twenty minutes, we were down to fourteen contestants. 

One more death to go. 

Jookie swirled around like a ballerina on stilts as he giggled and looked at the remaining contestants. When his eyes landed on me and he grinned, every bone in my body trembled. 

I was going to die.

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