There are thousands of pearls intricately binding her throat. Thoughts of envy roll off the seaside and fog up my mind as I stare at her flawless necklace. My mind is daring me to reach out and snatch it. The flick of her wrist and snap of her fingers lure me out of my impregnable imagination. I notice she is having trouble cutting her meat and as predicted she commands for me to do it, “Avox cut my meat.” I give her a silent nod of recognition, then proceed to fulfill the current order. Both her husband and presumed son watch me intensely. Their peering pairs of eyes burn holes into the outer shell of my hollow body. I feel the immense pressure build up after every cut I make. Knowing that even the smallest of mistakes will be worthy of severe punishment.
But as long as I serve their food and cater to their every need, they will spare me. But this is their ingenious plan, as long as the Capitol still evoke fear into the heart of the districts, no one will fight back. We will follow their every order, and our reward is surviving to live another day. As long as the Capitol has their bombs and their weapons, the districts and their people will skulk back to their corners and cower. The Capitol is the predator and we are the prey.
“That’s enough!” she says, as if she is displeased with my effort. I display a plastic smile to the entire family, then skulk back to my corner of the room and cower. Their opulent glass table is the feature point of the room. It’s coated in trays of lavish foods, silver cutlery and fine dining wear. There is a baby blue silk table cloth that runs along the table, it drapes perfectly down to their marble floor without seam out of place or a crease in sight. Their marble floor is a sea of bleach. The white waves lap at the walls, dulling their bright colours with the incoming tide. Although the marble floor soaks up the room colours, my mistress’ hair makes up for what is lost. Its extremely red, not like a rose but like a fire. The inner layers of her hair blend in with the orange colour of her tips. This hairstyle is very much in vogue. Everyone is wearing flames. I heard this style was created after a plucky tribute in this years Hunger Games. The Capitol loves an underdog.
I watch resentfully as the redhead picks at her roast chicken with her glossy nails. She makes a great effort to extract the undesirable parts of the bird. Even those undesirable parts that she so imprudently avoids, are luxuries that we could not afford back in 12. The sight reminds me of the chicken I stole back in District 12. Although in retrospect I didn’t think that poultry would determine my life as a slave to the very people who mutilated my tongue and condemned me to a world of silence. “You are dismissed,” the man says. I trudge back to my closet bedroom and lie down upon the floor. Shards of light shine through the cracks in my curtains revealing my drab room. I watch the sunset paint red and orange smears on blossomed clouds, and then transform into the dark nightsky. I see Mockingjays nestling down in a tree outside my window. My covetous eyes watch the birds, the freedom they display. I yearn to mimic the Mockingjays, to leave this place and glide upon the wind; as far as my wings will take me, to an unknown location. But this is my life, it won’t be any other way because the Capitol’s the predator and I am the prey.
Anna takes us on an adventure, but where does it lead?
When he was young, Jamie once heard the saying “never judge a book by it cover”. After hearing this, his 10-year-old imagination feasted on the idea that the old pipe out at sea by his island house may not just be some pointless damaged duct. Some days after school he would kick off his clunky black school shoes and investigate the pipe by rowing out in “Betty”, the small rowboat with peeled lettering his family kept leaning against their garage. The pipe was an ancient looking 5 by 5 concrete ring filled with water jutting roughly one metre out of the surface of the sea, like a splinter shattering a mirror. So out of place in such a tranquil setting, solitary, alone. The idea tickled the back of Jamie’s mind that there was something more to that pipe, something that it was not letting on.
The small island town where Jamie lived was relatively modern. All houses well kept and they even had a small apartment building further inland. Two houses from Jamie’s was a little beach side shack which once would of looked beautiful enough to print on post cards, but now, dwarfed by twenty-first-century homes, it looked as weathered as drift wood. This was where Old-Man-Holder lived. No one was really sure how old Old-Man-Holder really was, nor how long he had been living in his petite shack. Some said his family lived on the island for many generations, far before the settlers moved in, but no one knew for sure. No one on the island could remember a time when Old-Man-Holder was not around telling stories about the past to the youth. He was as much part of the island as the white beaches and as curious to Jamie as the pipe.
Despite his mother’s many warnings, Jamie would go see Old-Man-Holder with his friend Ants who lived further inland. He was the best storyteller Jamie knew and the two friends would listen for hours before having to go home for tea. His favourite story Old-Man-Holder told was the one of Atlantis. He would always refer to the lost city during other stories; as if it was an old memory he was particularly fond of. Of course, Atlantis wasn’t real. Jamie knew that. But it was a really great story.
Years on, on a particularly hot afternoon, Jamie slumped into the kitchen after a long day of school. Practically ripping off his clip-on striped school tie he poured himself a glass of milk, half of which didn’t make it into the plastic Nemo cup Ants gave him as a joke after he won swimming sports. He wandered into the living room and fell into a well-loved couch still gripping his school photo he had received at the end of school. For the second time he glanced at the image, and grimaced. After a moment of thought he downed his milk and stood up deciding he ought to do something, anything, preferably far away to escape the humiliating photo. He turned on his heel and jogged out to Betty, letting his year 10 school photo glide to the ground. The freeze frame of his face, bright red and scrunched up, preparing to sneeze facing the ceiling.
He hadn’t been out to the pipe in years, but the concrete ring piercing out of the water had hardly changed. He smiled as the saw his name carved out in block letters around the top, his mark on the history he created when he was 11. Kneeling in the small rowboat he peered over the side of the pipe, a stance that brought back old memories. The boy staring back at him from the water looked so much better than the one in the school photo. He leaned a little closer until his nose almost touched the water, marvelling the parallel world the undisturbed surface displayed. That is when the key to his house fell out of his breast pocket into the void. As if in slow motion, he watched it break the surface of the water, fracturing his mirror perfect reflection with ripples, and begin its long decent.
On an impulse, Jamie jumped in, his mind not thinking about the consequences and his body keen to oblige. In a streamed lined position, perfected by years of swimming, he cut through the water with ease. Two metres down he realised he make a bad decision. What if the water was poisonous? He had never thought of that. After all, he had never been in the pipe before. Five metres down he knew something was wrong. Jamie stopped swimming, the house key forgotten. The dying light of the day from above illuminated Jamie’s white school shirt billowing around his still stature, giving him a ghost like effect. The water was pulling him down. Faster and faster. His head began to ring with panic unsure what to do. His scared and confused mind was now desperately grasping straws. Faster and faster. His ears painfully popped. He did not know if he was moving, he couldn’t concentrate. Faster the water pulled him into its depths. In the climax of his panic he suddenly remembered a story Old-Man-Holder had once told him. Atlantis.
What Jamie than did then may of been the outcome of extreme curiosity or more probably, a disorientated mind. He began to swim down, trying to find the lost city. As the air left his lungs it became easier. Finally the passage opened up. His eyes widened as the last bit of air escaped from his mouth. This was no Atlantis.
“You have two hours to live, if you don’t find the map,” shouts the frightening man standing in front of me. “If you don’t find the map then I will have to kill you.” “I can’t do that,” I replied with, and let out a little chuckle. He brings his fist up and gives me a huge slap across my beaten face. My face was now pounding with my arms unable to move, due to them being tied up. The tall man standing in front of me was medium height, and was as thin as a pin. His long curly hair covered his face, so I was unable to see his eyes. He had kidnapped me an hour ago from my street, and brought me this horrible and cold building. I think it used to be an old car sales building. Since he has brought me here, he told me I have to find a map. I’m not sure why he wants it though. As a 16 year old agent who works for M16 I have done many missions before, but not one that I’ve been kidnapped in. I don’t know who he is and who he works for.
He has told me a place and given me some letters which he doesn’t know what they mean. He repeated to me, “Don’t be rude to me, whatever you say to me, won’t change my mind.” Then he started to un tie my hands and tells me, “You have two hours to find the map, I have a tracker on you. So if you fail to do what I ask, I will have to kill you.”
I begin to run out of the building and onto the street. The piece of paper tells me I have to go to the waterfront, where the jetty is. I follow the long, rough road to the waterfront. When I get there, I stand there thinking where I go know. The sound of the clock ticking down runs through my mind. This makes me panic even more. I look down on the piece of paper and see letters, and know they are there for a reason. Then it came to me, backwards the letters spelt hole in water. I look around and over the edge of the jetty. Soon I see the thing I was looking for, and the frown on my face turns into a cheerful smile. For their setting in the water was the hole below the jetty. The hole was made up of smooth concrete and just rose above the wavy water.
The circle was clear; this is where I found it. I just hadn’t expected that I’d have to get wet. Reluctantly, I swam out to the giant concrete circle. I looked down into it but couldn’t see the bottom. I signed, took a deep breath, and dove in. My arms took big strokes. The only way to find the map was down. I could feel the tension building up in my head. The pressure was starting to get to my head, and I almost gave up. But then hope come, I saw the map and grabbed it off the bottom, scraping my hand on the uneven stones. I began to rise rapidly, only to find a tall man standing up the top. Then I felt the fresh air break through my skin and into my lungs.
I climbed out of the concrete circle and onto the jetty. Then the man I could see standing at the top of the circle, which was the man who kidnapped me, snatched the map out of my beaten hand and ran down the jetty towards the town. I stood there, watching him, trying to make my body move, but it just wouldn’t. Now every day, I look for him, trying to stop the man that kidnapped me.
Tamara has written a really compelling story from the prompt.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com etc
Dear One Million People Worldwide
I’m going to assume you can all read this- I’m supposing most of the millions of people on this planet who own computers, also speak English. After all, English’s the language of the internet. Please, don’t delete this. Forward it on.
I can’t tell you my real name- this email couldn’t leave the ‘base’ if it had my name on it, but I’ll tell you what they call me- Hector, after the Trojan prince, a doomed hero- and maybe I’ll describe what my family was like, so if you know them, forward this on, please.
I’m in the ‘base’ because I have this weird thing going on. I don’t know how many of you remember some of the wars that damaged the world and made the Southern half inhospitable? I guess almost all of you. Well, I can live in the South- am here right now, in fact, on the smouldering (yeah, they’re still burning) ruins of the St James bridge, which, in case you were born after 2029, is a bridge crossing between New Zealand and Australia. I haven’t died yet, either, although I’m dying by degrees, the doctors say. Just living longer.
I’ve been here for 9 years, on this bridge, being delivered food via helicopter. This laptop, which only connects to ‘base’ internet, is my only contact to my doctor and the only other human being I really know anymore. I’m a bit socially awkward, because of that.
Whenever I stand up to look around, all I can see are melted metal stores, and patches of melting tarmac, and rough concrete poking through. The ocean’s a foul brown close in, but further out? You can see how blue it once was, even though it was probably more blue-green.
The furthest I’ve ever walked down it was about… hmm… twelve miles? It gets too hot if you go too far from ‘base’, and my boots still have melted soles. Further down, there’s more human remains. Which is disgusting, and they’re all blackened. I found a kid’s skull which I called Yorick, and he lives up on the shelf above my bed. I talk to Yorick a lot. Um, and it’s cold, where I live, right now, at this time of year- frigid, in fact. The construction which excretes gases all the time, goes cool, and the gases become this oily fog which stains clothing. I don’t have a single solitary item that isn’t got a yellow stain on it from the fog. This time of year, if you want to go out, you need a mask and goggles, and they’re so heavy. So I stay in, in ‘base’, which is this tiny metal hut.
I suppose you lot in the North don’t really have any war damage anymore. They claim on basenet that you’ve fixed it. Have you? You can’t tell me, but I like to pretend that it was fixed, and your kids are growing up without side-effects.
I have a side effect, which is this weird ability to live in the point zero impact zone. It’s killing me, I’ve got… exactly a month, if my doctors are correct and I don’t get pulled out. I get blood tests pretty regularly from some of the machines in base.
Before I was the sole occupant of base, I had a little brother, who’s name was… J something. Jared, maybe, and an older sister called Lou, Louise, Lucy? I’m not sure. Don’t know my mother or father’s names; I was six when I “left”, they’re just Mum and Dad. Will always be Mum and Dad. My last name, as I said, I can’t tell you, but it started with an F. And my first name’s a R.
Maybe I have a grave somewhere.
It’s getting close to the time I’m most terrified of, the time when things come out at night. They aren’t people, but they’re not dogs, and they ate the guardian I had until I was ten. They ate all of him.
I locked all the doors before I opened this email, but if they sense any light, or any electronics, they go insane and batter open the metal. I have to go- I’m so sorry, I can’t stay any longer.
PS: Don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, that this is happening, the doctors tell me I’m a miracle kid who’ll give a cure to radiation poisoning.
PSS: Want to know the truth? I’m fifteen, and I don’t want to die before my sixteenth birthday. Really. I don’t want to. I’m sorry, but I’m scared.
PSSS: Love you, Mum. Love you Dad, J, Lou.
Ryder, is that you?
It’s me, your mum. Please, please, email me if you survived, Ryder. Your brother’s name is Jared and your sister is Louise. We’re British, and there’s no war damage anymore. Please, please, Ryder.
We love you
Mum and Dad, Jared and Louise.