This story is by Tobi Needling and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Fifteen to change a life. Or ruin one. What’s it matter after five-eight-ten shots and a few friendly taps? Fifteen minutes in the closet. In heaven they call it. They said twenty at the start, but there’s so many of them and too many are fading away to last much longer. It’s the last game of the night.
Laramie “Mouse” Wolff doesn’t want it to happen at all.
She’s a girl of time. Math, not so much numbers and really walks away before you try to hand her any science, but time? She likes counting down the seconds, because that’s all she’s had. Sixty seconds. One hundred and twenty. One hundred and eighty. A collection of tens, twenties, thirties.
What else does a girl have other than time on her hands?
Fifteen minutes shouldn’t be a lifetime. It shouldn’t stretch for years or logically any longer than nine hundred seconds.
This the longest first minute of fourteen more in her lifespan?
“Relax.” The boy is Adam Paloma, a new one from somewhere out in Fuck Town, Pennsylvania. A recruit they called him, shoved onto Mouse to be “shown the ropes” of Kairos Theos Academy. The school isn’t the worst on the outside, typically private with kids barely making the tuition, but still somehow holding on. The parties are another thing; if private school kids know how to do one thing other than complain, it’s party.
He’s a baby-faced freshman, shivering in his new trainers with his proactive covered face cringing at the slightest hint of rejection. He’s for the weak of hearts, the kind that tries for the crowd and really, Mouse is afraid of his short downfall as it’s sure to come. They’re high school students, the true monsters of the world. The weak, like this tiny boy, are thrown at them to be shredded up and sprinkled on the others.
That’s why Mouse doesn’t want this to happen.
“What, uh….” he trails off, a nervous tongue poking out to whip across cracked lips. He sinks his bitten nails into the soft flesh of his palm and it takes Mouse a solid seventeen seconds to calm her racing heart. She bites the inside of her cheek until the metallic taste of blood overflows her other senses and wipes the sweat of her palms onto her pants. They’re in the back closet of Fiona Jane’s house. She feels the hungry eyes of all those sweet, sweet angels and is all too aware of each passing second draining one of their lives. There are monsters outside, and they’re thirsty for blood.
His or hers? They’ll choose if she does not.
“Relax,” she repeats, trying desperately to mimic the soothing effect of a mother’s voice. She runs her hand down his arm and bats her eyes, praying they will not reveal all that is about to happen. Slowly, her other hand slips down and skims along the edge of the blade tucked neatly in the pocket of one of the hanging coats.
They prepared everything for the feast. She lets the weapon go and taps to make sure his attention does not stray from her. She’s always been a regular girl; average height, white, waist length hair with brown roots, grey eyes, and dark makeup. She’s dressed in a see-through jacket, rainbow tee, ripped jeggings and doodled on converse. Average to any glances, not someone to worry about in any which way.
It’s why they love to make her do this. Her or them and she’s always been too much of a coward to choose anything, anyone, but herself.
“How does this work?” he awkwardly questions, slipping his hands into his pockets. Her eyes flash back to the innocent coat, brief panic settling into her bones. What if he’s the same? It’s a set-up for sure, a monster on monster fight. He knows.
She takes several deep breaths and locks her shaking hands behind her back. She studies him now; his too long dark hair, the set of deep blue eyes he possesses and that single dimple that appears within each skittish half-smile. Is he another player of the game like them? A forced coward like herself? They’re all too good, too deep in this game to tell until the end of it all.
When is the end?
There’s a little knock, audible only to her ears and quickly shushed giggling. The boy hears the end of it and skips his gaze to the silver doorknob. They wait together for a turn, though Mouse holds her breath longer than any. She knows they won’t ruin it, not until her time is up. They’ll only allow one out, that’s the game.
Who’s going to heaven tonight?
“They won’t,” she reassures him. She tugs at his arm, bringing blue eyes back. She plasters on her best smile, thankful for the dim light through the cracks in their only escape. The only way in, the only way out. She’s never lost before, but if she does will they even let the boy continue?
She goes for the coat pocket. “Positive.”
He sighs in misplaced relief and slowly, painfully leans a bit closer. He smells of strong mints and something that hasn’t been released yet. Blood. The sting of metal it releases in the air. She can hear the beat in his veins, the dark tale that they’re all craving for her to give them.
One or the other. Really, it’s not her fault he doesn’t understand the rules. He should, they said only one would leave. Her or him.
“We better hurry,” she says. He nods and runs a hand through his mussed-up hair. He produces another shaken up smile, that tiny dimple appearing. “You want to start?”
“Uh, I guess?” He glances at the door again, pauses and waits for a prank. He’s a child, not much younger than her truthfully, but she feels so much older. More experienced in what’s to come. When his eyes slide back to her, she is sorrier that the last image in his head will be her and then that it will be the end for him.
“It’s okay.” She’s not sure if she’s speaking to herself, or him anymore. A bit of both, perhaps.
“I’m sorry, if uh-” he stops, mouth agape. The panic settles in slowly, worms past the shock of pain and triggers shouting off in his racked brain.
“It’s not my fault,” she tries to reason. Red leaks through their clothes, slips under her nails and ruptures in spurts when she twists. She catches back a sob and shakily shoves the knife at him again. “It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault.”
He falls faster than her brain can comprehend. There…and then not.
He chokes on whatever his last words would’ve been. Too much shock, too much pain. He’s been sheltered for too long, not yet exposed to the harshness of reality. His first taste of the true monster of the world will be his very last.
She falls too. Not out of guilt anymore, but the numbers are spinning to fast in her head and he’s still breathing. She grits her teeth in anger and raises the weapon again, eyes flashing. Why is he still breathing?
There’s another knock, slightly louder this time around. A warning. She shoves the weapon into the poor boy’s guts again, hot tears dripping down her cheeks. She wants it over. He weakly scratches at her, a part of him wanting to end it faster.
Still moving. She angrily grinds her teeth together, slips her hand into the gaping hole in his body. He can’t be moving a muscle when the doors open. If he’s not dead, if he even thinks about still breathing.
“Come on, come on,” she pleads. She stops and closes her eyes to breathe.