OMG, so sorry for posting so late! Enjoy this new chapter!
The first thing I did the next morning was check outside my door for a package, which I'm glad I did because three boxes sat outside my door, all with my name on it. I feel giddiness rise inside me as I bring each package into my room. I crack my knuckles, getting ready to tear into the first package. My nails eagerly pierce the tape and open the package. Inside is an outdoor backpack a military green color. When I rifle through the bag I find a multi-tool, hunting knife, water purification kit, and a compass attached to a string. This could be useful. The second package has some dried food like apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and jerky. The third package contains a thermal sleeping bag and a thermal jacket. I decide to stuff the items from the other packages into my bag in case I need it.
I jump when I hear a thump on my door. "Get up and start packing! Pack whatever you need because you're not coming home tonight!"
I frown at the last statement. I'm not going home. Period. I slip the gi on and hoist the bag onto my back. I let a breath of air escape me as the pack bounces on my back. It doesn't weigh that much for me but it's not exactly easy to be flexible in either. Heading downstairs, I'm the only one there. Five minutes later, Olivia comes down with a hot pink, school backpack with sequins decorating hers. I raise an eyebrow. She eyes my backpack and releases a snort.
"At least my backpack is fashionable." she sneers.
"At least I won't be found because of my backpack." I retort.
She scowls and sits the farthest away from me. A little while later, more people come down with varying backpacks. Some were made for outdoor camoflauge, some made to be fashionable, others were more of pouches. So our 'sponsors' do know something's up. I muse to myself. The scenery around me reminds me of the Hunger Games where they place 24 kids to kill each other in an arena. I'm not sure if we're going to kill each other, because this is a tournament. Soon the hosts come into the living room. The same routine as always except White Mask stands in front of the camera.
"Good morning humans. I am Masky." White mask, Masky, says.
Masky? What an odd name. I think to myself.
"And today we have an...interesting competition for our contestants. We sent a small notice about what is going to happen so you guys can prepare our contestants for their upcoming debut. They're going to survive in the Slender Woods for two days. As in, two days and two nights. We're going to dump them somewhere deep within the forest so they can't find their way back and have to defend themselves against the wilderness. Yesterday, you saw us insert some sort of serum into them. That was for the simulation as well as a tracking device. It tells us if they are alive, healthy, and where they are so once four of them die. We can then retrieve the others.
"Now you may be wondering why four contestants die. This test was created by two of us. Me and Hoodie, which you'll get to see later, and we had designed it for 16 contestants, eight competitions. It works for both of us. The things hunting them will be Smile Dog," Masky makes a noise and pats his thigh, motioning for a dog to come to him. The dog looks like a husky, but instead of a black and white coat, it has a black and red coat. The black looks like hair on the animal and it has a wide smile like Jeff's. "This is Smile Dog. He will be taking out our dear contenders. And whatever other creatures lurk in the forests." Masky then looks over to his comrades and nods. "Get ready for the hunt to begin!"
And like clockwork, all the lights turn out. A little too cliche if you ask me. Gripping my backpack, I wait for whatever they have in store for me, trying to peer through the blackness. I can't see anything. I smell something that makes my head light and dizzy. Sleeping gas! I feel my eyes droop as my breath quickens and I stand on shaky legs. Stop panicking. Stop breathing! I tell myself. Taking a deep breath, I hold it. But taking a deep breath itself was a big mistake as my head suddenly spins. Collapsing to the floor, still clutching my bag, I faintly hear footsteps coming closer to me. I see converse shoes come into my view. Squinting, I peer up through hazy eyes but can't see who they belong to. Letting out a long, overdue yawn, I fall into the abyss as I feel someone's hands on me. They were leathery to the touch.
My eyes flutter open and the first thing I see is the blue sky and leafless trees. Groaning, I sit up. I feel weak and my heat has a gentle throb. My backpack is still clutched in my fingers. When I release it, my fingers feel stiff. I get to my feet and stretch. First things first, make sure my bag has everything. I get to my knees, rifling through my pack. Knife? Check. Multi-tool? Check. Thermal jacket? Check. I slip the thermal jacket around my waist. Thermal sleeping bag? Check. Water purification? Check. Get water asap. After going through the bag, I hike it over my shoulder. The compass dangling from around my neck. I look up and find the sun just a little over the horizon. It must be about seven-thirty or something. I try to think where the sun was when I was on the mansion roof but can't quite recall it.
"Shit," I curse. "Guess I'll just have to survive. But first, I need water." I check the compass and decide to head north. Maybe there will be some water there. Nothing eventful happens. Just a lot of walking and checking the compass. My stomach growls but I ignore the hunger gnawing inside me. Leaves crunch under my shoes as I enjoy the scenery around me. Today is a beautiful day. The wind gently caresses my cheeks while the sun shines through the branches, warming my body. It is late autumn, so it is natural for a day like this. But the leaves should still be falling. I shrug it off anyway.
I think about Lucas. I hope he survives. Of all the four I wish dead, I wish it were Olivia. Judging by her attitude, appearance, and overall personality, she won't survive long. She'll probably complain about her broken nails or that there's no soft bed for her to sleep on. No silky blankets to put her precious ass on. I chuckle to myself as the image of her whining comes to mind. Noon slowly approaches and the day gets warmer. I'd say it's about seventy degrees at most. It's still a little chilly, but my gi protects me from it. I sometimes wonder what my gi is made of. Cotton? Possibly. Cotton could be one of the ingredients. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about fabric and fashion to properly dissect my gi. In fact, I don't even know how many stitches it holds. All I know is that it has stitches that blend into the uniform. Sophie would know the answer though. She's taking an honors course for it. She wished to be a designer when she grows up.
The thought of Sophie sends a jolt of pain through my body. Family… I think sadly to myself. But I have to push those feelings of longing aside if I want to survive long enough to see them. Sucking it up, I press forth. I'm happy that my father, brothers and I went on survival trips. We learned how to basically survive in the wilderness. All we packed was water purification, sleeping bag, matches, and a hunting knife. A little less than what I've been blessed with. We'd drive somewhere remote and walk a mile or two away from the vehicle where we'd set up camp. When I was seven, Dad showed me and Shay how to fish with a stick, some wild berries, vines, and a piece of bark. As I turned ten, we learned how to shoot a gun. We would practice on pinecones or whatever miscellaneous objects were lying around for target practice. He taught us gun safety then shooting. I was always the best shooter between me and my brother even though he's been shooting longer.
Eventually, I got to actually hunt pray. This time, I was crouched in the tall grass in a field. A healthy-looking buck in the distance about 20 yards away. With the rifle in hand and my Dad's words in mind, I shot down the buck. I first hit the hindquarters, injuring it from running away. I then hit it in the head and it fell down. It felt so good hunting my first pray. And such a large one at that. That day, we feasted on the buck. I remember Shay's jealous muttering as he only caught a fish. Even though Dad was the one who taught me to hunt, Shay was the one who taught me to shoot and combat. He's been in fighting class since he was seven and thought he could teach me, since his twin was such a wuss. He taught me self defense, how to throw knives and properly use a couple of weapons. Some of those weapons include a knife, a staff, and my personal favorite, the haladie. On my spare time, I took up weapon training to learn some more weapons like a whip, sword, nunchucks, and a bow. But I always loved the haladie. I don't know why.
Unfortunately, the survival training was to my detriment, ironically. My bullies would constantly call me a freak for not being a girly girl on top of my strange appearance. Really, there is nothing I could do about my appearance. I once thought of stealing my sister's pink hair dye just to get them to leave me alone, but they teased me more when I turned it hot pink. After that, I never dyed my hair since. I thought about getting contacts, but what's the point? Everybody knows what I look like, why hide it? They would probably make fun of whatever eye color I chose anyway.
When the sun hit high noon, I slumped against a tree, a little exhausted from the constant trekking. I lick my lips, eager for some water to come pouring, even though none came. Sighing, I got up and kept going. At one point, a blackberry bush crossed my path and I eagerly picked them. Squishing the berries between my fingers, I made sure they were, indeed blackberries. Once I was positive, I popped them into my mouth. The tartness exploded across my tongue, the juice water I wanted badly. Sighing in content, I picked some more, and more until I couldn't hold anymore. I walked on, with a pocket full of blackberries as I popped them into my mouth. As the sun started to set, my mouth and hands were covered in dark red juice. I should probably set up camp.
Finding a tall tree, I start climbing. Shay hated the fact that I was always more nimble than him, complaining about his "muscles" being too big. With my backpack secured on my back, I found the tallest, sturdy branch to keep me safe for the night. I was just about to unpack for the night when a scream interrupted me. Looking around, I spot a figure running quickly toward my tree. Squinting, I try to make out the shape when I realize it is Lucas, his black gi a spot against the orange forest floor. Why is Lucas running? I think to myself, quietly observing. I notice nothing is chasing him, which makes me curious. He soon collapses at the base of my tree, so I climb down to help him. When I get down to him, I gently shake his shoulder. He doesn't respond. I shake him harder. He still doesn't respond.
Deciding he's out cold, I decided to figure out what's wrong with him. My mother used to be a nurse before she switched jobs. Unfortunately, I was too young to remember it but she would make us take health and nursing courses in case of emergencies. I try and bring up the instructions she would tell us about a certain scenario. The problem was, I don't know what's wrong with Lucas when the first instruction comes to mind.
"See if they're conscious." her voice said, crisp and clear.
He isn't conscious, I think. So step one is done.
"If they are not conscious, check their pulse."
I check his pulse. It beats wildly underneath my fingers. One less thing to worry about. Next, the breaths. Licking my fingers, I place them an inch from his nose and mouth. At first, I couldn't feel anything until a steady puff of air tickles my fingers. Now, for any injuries. I check his lower body for any bleeding or bruising and find none. A few tears in his gi but that's all. I continue checking until I get to the head. I'm no medic or nurse. I'm me and I'm not a healer. I want to help him, but I'm afraid I'll only cause more harm than good. I wish Mom were here. She would know what to do.
I'm soon wrenched from my thoughts when a cough and gasp come from the boy lying on the ground. Uncovering my face, I gasp as Lucas struggles to sit up.
"What happened?" he moaned.
Quickly I grab his midsection. "You shouldn't be sitting up," I say.
He looks at me, his eyes widen in surprise. "Laila?"
"Hey, long time no see. What happened to you?"
He shakes his head. "I don't know. I just know I was running from someone and I ended up here. I have a massive headache though."
I bite my lip. "Any other injuries?" He shakes his head. "Well, we can't stay down here. Think you can climb into a tree?" I gesture upward.
He gulps and looks at me with worried eyes. "Are you sure that's our only option?"
I tap my chin. "I don't know. But it's a great tree."
Lucas wiggles out of my arms and takes a look around him. The place is full of trees and nothing else. He holds his head and groans a little as he turns.
"See anything besides trees?" I smirk.
He looks at me, looks at the tree and back again. "Don't let me fall, okay?"
"Deal." I say. Slipping my bag on my back, I help Lucas up. His backpack is smaller than mine and is a tan color. A decent enough color to hide in the trees. "Give me your bag." He slips it off and hands it to me. The bag was surprisingly light. "What do you have in here?"
He shrugs. "An extra pair of pants, matches, string, empty water bottle and a first-aid kit."
My eyes widen in surprise. "First-aid kit?"
"Yeah," he nods then his eyes widen too, realizing what I was hinting at. Digging through his bag, I feel some hard, square object knock against my hand. Grasping it, I pull out the first aid kit, the red cross glowing in the dying light. Opening the kit, I see some antiseptic, bandages, gauze, hydrogen peroxide and...pain killers. Lucas grabs the bottle of Ibuprofen and pops two of them in his mouth, dry swallowing them.
"Those do not go down easy." He coughs, struggling to swallow the pills. I nod and repack his bag.
"The pills should numb the pain in five minutes. Until then, could you climb the tree?"
He squints upwards. "How far?"
I shrug. "Twenty, maybe thirty feet?"
"Thirty feet!" he sputters.
"Yeah, I don't see the problem."
"Are you a bird or something."
I laugh. I can't help myself. Through the laughter, I nod. "Yeah, I'm a dove."
He smiles and laughs too. "Then I'm a gopher and gophers don't climb trees."
"Not with that attitude." I nudge him. "I've got your bag. Get climbing."
He nods and starts climbing. It's a little painful to watch as he slowly struggles to find the right branches and overthinking them. Standing on them for a good ten seconds before testing another one. But I'm not complaining. At least we're in a tree. I get to a fork that is a little lower than I would have liked but pointed it out to Lucas. He shakily climbs over to the indicated branch as I nimbly follow him. When he gets to the branch, he clings to the trunk of the tree as I slide past Lucas.
"How can you enjoy being so high up?" he shakily asks.
I shrug. "Dad always said I was strange."
"Strange? The only strange thing I see is how easily you've been climbing this damn thing."
"It's not that bad." I crawl onto the same branch and get out the sleeping bag. "Once you get used to it."
"Get used to it, sure." He scoffs.
"Do you mind sharing, I'm sure it's going to get cold out here," I say as I unzip it all the way. We're both small and skinny, I'm sure we could fit.
"I don't want to fall first."
"Then you'll be just fine with me," I reply. A little higher up, I spot two perfect places for our bags and place them there, testing they will stay, which they do. "What do you think?" I gesture around us.
"I wish I wasn't here."
"You have to do this if you want to survive. There are likely wolves around these parts and the hosts said they're going to hunt us. We have a better chance up here."
"Better chance? We're thirty freaking feet above the ground! How can this be better?"
"I've done a lot of climbing in my day. And a lot of falling. Thirty feet isn't all that bad if you know how to fall."
"Oh sure, talk about falling safely. Falling is always safe."
"You know, you sure are different."
His head snaps to me, eyes wide. "What?"
"You're a lot more talkative, more expressive, less tentative. Whatever was chasing you certainly changed your personality."
"O-oh. Is that bad?"
I shake my head. "Not necessarily. Now come on, get in the bag." I gently guide a scared Lucas into the sleeping bag, then following suit soon after as sunset turns to twilight. Our stomachs growl in hunger, but that's the least of our worries. It feels weird to be pressed side by side next to a boy in such a confined space. It's warm in the bag, which makes it even awkwarder. We're both tense as I shift my leg, which is between his legs. I blush deeply and mutter an apology. He moves his arm, which brushes against my chest, him muttering an apology as well. This is sure gonna be one hell of a night.