My latest short story is based on the writing prompt Safety in Numbers. It’s a little more gruesome than my usual stories, but I feel it fits in with the subject matter, and it’s not as though I’m a children’s author. My next story Suncatcher will be a lot more wholesome, promise.
As ever if you prefer to read offline, you can download a PDF here:
Let the Bodies Hit the Floor – Short Story
The dropship flew over powerful green ocean waves towards the raised platform that was to be the site of this month’s Game. The platform was a hundred feet above the surface, supported by four thick legs, one on each corner. The platform was rectangular, about the size of a tennis court.
The dropship reached the platform. It hovered over one end and the pilot lowered the ship’s boarding ramp until it touched the metal platform with a clang. Soldiers armed with pulse rifles led thirteen hooded, yellow jumpsuit wearing, contestants out onto the slick surface. They walked the contestants to marked spots on the metal. Twelve around the edge, four to each side, and one in the centre. The soldier with the contestant in the middle removed a wicked-looking knife from his leg scabbard. The knife was a foot long and curved with a serrated blade on one side. He placed the knife in the contender’s hand. The soldiers returned to the dropship. The ramp raised and the ship flew off in a cloud of spray.
Harvel Carbin stood breathing heavily through the hood as he listened to the dropship take off and the crash of the waves against the legs of the platform. They hadn’t been told where the Game would take place. Are we at the beach? He asked himself. He was shaking with fear and adrenaline. He cursed at himself for being here although he was excited at the prospect. He could have dropped out at any stage. His parents had begged him to do so. He had decided the risk was worth the reward.
“Contestants, please remove your hoods,” the announcer called out through hidden speakers in the platform.
Harvel jumped at the sound, the volume made it feel like it was shouted in his ear. He reached for the top of the nylon hood and tugged. It caught on his neck and he struggled with the pullcord that the soldiers had tightened to keep it in place. He worked it free and removed the hood. He blinked at the daylight and gradually took in his surroundings as his eyes adapted to the change. He saw they were standing on a metal deck, rectangular. Around each side was a three-foot-high wall. Holographic lasers extended the wall into a gridded cage that went twelve—maybe fifteen-foot over Harvel’s head. Harvel could hear the electric buzz of the yellow lines. Harvel was standing in one of the corners of the court. There were contestants on either side of him. Each one about twenty foot away from him. He looked along the line counting his opponents, finishing at the one in the middle. Twelve. He was relieved by the number. He’d seen other Games on the vidiscreen growing up ranging from numbers of five going up to over a thousand in a massive pitched battle. Armour, swords, and horses. That was a spectacle to behold. The Games with the smaller numbers were normally less gruesome to watch though and ended quicker.
He didn’t recognise any of the contestants, but that didn’t surprise him. The Game was open across the whole world and contestants flown in from whatever country they hailed from. At the staging area, they were kept separate from each other so there was no opportunity to collude or bond. They were then hooded and bundled into the dropship.
Harvel watched as the woman in the centre of them slowly turned around, and watched as everyone she looked at, looked down at her waist. When she turned towards him, he could see the fear on her face, her eyes wide and mouth wider, in the shape of an ‘O’. Like the others, he looked down to her waist and saw the knife in her hands, pointed down to the ground. Its tip quivered. He looked back at her face. Kinda pretty in a middle-aged shopkeeper kinda way. He thought. She had a lined round face, too kind looking for this place. Her hair was dark and cut in a shoulder-length bob, that reminded Harvel of Miss Micheaux, his teacher at school.
Harvel was nineteen. He’d left school seven years ago to join his father in the cobalt mine on the outskirts of his town. He was judged not to be academically gifted after the year eleven examinations. Justifiably so, in Harvel’s opinion. He was taken out of the school system and mining was the only option available to him. He was too young to join the army. He was going to sign up on his twentieth birthday until he won the opportunity to join the Game. He was always tall as a kid, working in the mines had given him a stoop as he got older, but had also given him muscles as he pounded away at the walls with a hammer.
A fanfare blasted from the speakers and Harvel jumped.
“Welcome to the Game,” the speaker’s voice said. Piped applause and cheering followed the announcement. “Today’s Game is simple. You have sixty minutes, or until only one of you is left.”
Above each contestant, a hologram photo of their face and name appeared. A mix of young and old, male and female. Harvel was possibly the youngest one there. The middle contestant’s name was Agnes, in her photo she looked even more homely. Square rimmed spectacles and hair that was longer. Harvel looked behind him and saw the picture they used for him was the same one he had on his identification card. The cards were used for access to the mine, for access to the shops in the town, and to prove who he was to the heavily armed soldiers that patrolled the town in pairs looking for trouble, and often causing it.
The photos wiped away, and along all four sides of the court a digital clock display appeared stating ’60:00’.
The digital displays changed to 59:59, then 59:58, 59:57 and so on.
No one moved, apart from Agnes in the middle who spun around on her axis, wildly waving the knife and screaming “keep away.” She turned in circles. Frantic jerking movements. Harvel stayed in his corner. Glancing at the contestants on either side of him to make sure they don’t get the jump on him, however, most of his attention was on Agnes.
She kept turning. A minute passed. Then another. Her movements grew slower as she tired. She lowered the knife and her rotations ended with her facing Harvel. He could see her shoulders drop in resignation. From behind her, the opposite corner to Harvel, an elderly woman screamed and ran towards Agnes. Agnes jerked around and held out the knife. The old woman kept running and as she neared Agnes, she tripped over one of her feet. A look of surprise crossed her face as she fell into Agnes’ legs. Agnes fell and as her hand struck the hard surface, she let go of the knife and it skittered away towards the contestant to Harvel’s right.
This one was a middle-aged Asian man, his hair was greying and slicked back. He watched the knife slide towards him. As it neared, he bent down it pick it up. He didn’t see the contestant to his right run up towards him, a six-foot-something flabby mess of a man. His belly strained the jumpsuit and wobbled as he ran. The Asian man caught a knee to the side of his head and dropped. Flabby grabbed up the knife and sunk it into the Asian’s chest. The Asian man screamed out as the blade entered. And again, as the fat man pulled the knife and thrust again. And again.
The contestant who was to the other side of the lard ass entered the game. She pounced like a wildcat onto the fat man’s back and clawed at his face with her fingernails. Harvel watched as she snarled and tore bloody chunks. The fat man struggled to his feet with her still on his back. He blind-poked the knife over his head scoring her with the edge of the blade along the edge of her face. She squealed in pain and the fat man pushed himself back into the grid wall. The woman blocked him from touching the electric gridlines. She caught the full force of the energy beams and wailed in pain. Her jumpsuit and hair caught fire. Then the rest of her. She fell from the fat man’s back to the ground as the flames devoured her.
The man to Harvel’s left, ran past Harvel towards the fat man, and as he got within reaching distance ducked down and shoulder tackled the fat man at the waist, pushing him into the beams. The man kept hold of the fat man’s waist and pumped his legs like he was climbing a steep hill on all fours. The fat man screamed a high pitch scream, that got higher the longer he was in the beams. The knife dropped from his hand, and the tackler groped for it. The fat man was held in place like a fly in a bug-zapper. Greasy black smoke started pouring out of his mouth, then flames.
As the knife touched the deck, trumpets blared from the speakers and the announcer declared “one down, eleven to go.”
There was a grinding noise and the platform began to rock. It jerked Harvel from his feet and he landed hard on his right elbow. The pain jolted the arm and travelled up to his shoulder, neck, then head. He clasped his head with his left hand and squeezed. Trying to push the push back down. As he did this the fiery girl slid towards him, flames dying. Her skin blackened and smouldering. Harvel scrambled away while still on the ground. His heels pushing against the surface. Pushing, slipping, scraping. The platform slowed its movements. Harvel breathing hard struggled to his feet.
Trumpets and the announcer again, “three down, nine to go.” The platform did its dance again. Harvel was back on the deck again.
The rocking was more powerful this time and Harvel found himself bouncing towards the blistered, crispy woman. He tried to push away and she followed, bouncing in time with him. He was back in his corner. The sides of the wall held him in place as his body was jostled by the platform. The woman pushed up against him. He could smell the smoke, the singe, the char. Harvel could feel the heat still coming from her. The platform dropped and they both hung in the air weightlessly. The deck rose again and caught them. Harvel put his right hand down to protect his elbow from hitting the surface. His hand touched the side of her face and sank into the brittle flesh. He recoiled away. Retching. He rubbed his hand on his jumpsuit. Rubbed and rubbed. The retching stopped as he looked down and saw the woman beside him. He held his hand to his mouth to stop the vomit. It didn’t work. It splattered over him. And her, which made it worse. The stream became a flood. The smell stung his eyes, made them water. He screwed his eyes up tight. He couldn’t see. He didn’t want to see. Harvel pushed himself away along the wall. The other contestants forgotten about. He had to get away from her. The platform jolted. He had missed the announcement. He kept going, even when his head hit the wall sending bright flashes of pain throughout his skull. He had to get away.
He reached the adjacent corner of the court. Tears still streaming down his face. He wiped them away with his sleeve and slowly opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was the countdown on the fat man’s wall. 55:4-. The final digit was obscured by the fat man still stick to the grid. Unmoving, still smoking. Were only five minutes gone? Harvel thought. The prize wasn’t worth this. I quit. Let me out.
But he knew there was no quitting. Once you’re in the Game, you’re in the Game to the end. Dropouts happened before but never during. Would-be contestants found their courage waver and left with shame, and the knowledge they had blown their chance. Friends and family placated them with empty words but giving up the opportunity was forever a black mark on their character. And their life, which was already shit, became that ever-so-bleaker. Was it better than dying here? Harvel asked himself. He couldn’t answer his own question.
He shook his head to clear the thoughts, and wearily got to his feet, using the wall for support. He looked around him. There were no contestants near him. Agnes and the old woman were fighting in the middle. Agnes was straddled the old woman’s back and had her hands gripped in the old woman’s grey hair. She was banging the woman’s head into the metal deck. The man who had tackled the fat man was in the opposite corner slashing away with the knife at a black girl, who looked just a few years older than Harvel, and a skinny white man with bulging eyes, who looked like a manager. In the other corner, along the same wall as Harvel, was a Hispanic looking man, a tattoo of a snake on his neck. Watching the man fight happening down from him. Harvel looked at the ground between him and the Hispanic, there were four bodies. A man and three women. All not moving.
The skinny man caught the blade in his shoulder and pulled backwards. The tackler, still holding the knife, was pulled with him, and the black girl took advantage. She punched the tackler in the face, which made him let go of the knife handle, and she pushed him into the grid behind him. His back arched and he cried out. He fell to the ground, and the girl leapt on him. She grabbed his hair and kept pulling his face towards her as she punched it backwards. After a few of these, the hair ripped off and the back of his head banged off the metal floor. She kept punching. A growing puddle of blood expanded beneath his head.
As this was happening, the Hispanic man ran to the skinny man and grabbed him from behind. His arm wrapped around the man’s neck. Harvel heard the crack as the Hispanic man broke the skinny neck. The Hispanic man jerked the knife out of the man’s shoulder and approached the black girl, still punching the unmoving tackler.
Trumpets rang out and the announcer called out, “Nine down, three to go.”
Harvel braced himself for the platform shakes, the old woman mustn’t have made it. The force of the platform moving brought Harvel to his knees. He watched the Hispanic man walk towards the black girl. He placed his feet on the surface with care, maintaining his balance. The black girl was shaken from the tackler and lay beside him panting. The Hispanic man reached her and cut her throat as she clawed at his hands. He watched as she bled out. Her blood joining the tacklers.
The Hispanic man turned towards Harvel. He raised the knife and made a cutting motion across his throat with it. As he did this the announcer piped up. “Ten down, two to go.”
The platform rocked and the Hispanic man fought to maintain his balance. His shoe slipped in the blood and he went down hard on the metal deck. Harvel watched as the man didn’t get up. Blood crept out from underneath him.
“Eleven down, one to go. The winner will be known very soon.”
The platform bucked and the Hispanic man was tossed in the air. Harvel could see the knife buried in the man’s neck. The snake tattoo cut in half. The platform returned to its steady state.
Harvel could see Agnes still moving. Very sluggishly. He watched as she crawled to the Hispanic man. She took the knife from his throat. Still on her knees, she slowly turned around. He watched her look at the bodies on the floor in turn until her gaze reached him. Harvel could see the countdown behind her 52:12, 52:11, 52:10. Agnes got to her feet. She looked wild. Her black hair was plastered across her face. She was baring her teeth and her eyes were wide. She held up the knife in one hand and pointed it at Harvel. She began to walk towards him, her left leg must have been hurting her, possibly from when the old woman smacked into it all those long minutes ago, as she dragged it rather than stepped with it.
Harvel considered his options. He knew he was stronger. The mines had seen to that. But she had the knife. And had that look. She’d killed the old woman. Harvel had acted like an even older woman. Keeping out of the fight. Keeping safe. Like a pussy. He stood up straighter. He wanted this to end. Right now. No more killing. He took a couple of steps towards the burnt woman and watched as Agnes adjusted her course. Closing in. Slowly. Taking her time. Regaining her strength. Strengthening her resolve. The clock clicked past the fifties and showed 49:58. It is too long. I can’t keep her away for that long. I don’t want to kill her. I can’t kill Miss Micheaux. He thought back to what the announcer had said at the start. ‘You have sixty minutes, or until only one of you is left.’ Sixty minutes. An hour. Too long. A lifetime. Wait.
Harvel held his hands out in front of him, palms up and facing Agnes. “We don’t have to do this,” he said. She moved closer. The knife in front of her. Her hand steady.
“They said sixty minutes or until one of us is left. That is two options. Kill each other or wait until the time counts down. No one had to die. If we had all sat down and waited, we all would have won.”
Agnes continued her advance. Harvel looked into her eyes. “Please, don’t,” he pleaded. “We can both win.”
She raised the knife. The blade was bloody, but the edge was still as sharp as it was at the beginning.
I hope you enjoyed this story, thank you for taking the time to read it.
Twenty-seven of my other short stories can be found in my short story collection A Few Hours After This on Amazon – mybook.to/FewHoursEbook.