The Harsh Light of Day
As much as she tried to fight it, tried to sink back into unconsciousness, Patsy was waking up. She was tired, just so tired.
They never seemed to give you enough time to fully recuperate, so you were always running on empty. Slowly becoming aware
of her physical discomfort, she opened her eyes to see where she was. Arms. Legs. Faces. All around. Nobody moving. Nobody
breathing. Patsy gasped, wanting to scream. No, can’t scream. If you scream they’ll find you. With a quivering
chin, she stifled her tears. She had to be able to see to figure out where she was and whether there was anyone else around.
Trying to look around without moving too much, she saw nothing but blue skies through the trees. There were no noises but
those of the birds. When reasonably convinced that there was no one lurking about, Patsy began to disentangle herself from
the heap. Her muscles were stiff and she was trembling. She couldn’t let herself be distracted by the grimness of her
surroundings. Think. Strategize. But this, this was something new. Usually when someone was shot with a blaster, they disappeared.
Her blaster! Where was it? She looked around frantically, then realized that not only did she not have one she couldn’t
see a blaster on any of the bodies. Her shoulders sagged as she wondered what new torments they’d devised for this game.
She didn’t like the alone games. It was so much easier when you knew there was someone on your side.
For right now though, she was alone. She needed to think but being this close to the heap of bodies wasn’t helping,
so she walked a few yards away and sat down with her back against a tree. First she needed water, food too, but water was
more important. She needed to figure out where she was and what she was supposed to do. And without a blaster, she needed
some way to defend herself. Patsy looked around. There weren’t many options beyond a pointy stick. So she found a branch
about as big as her arm, broke off the excess twigs, and did what she could to file the end against a rock. Then she started
moving in the direction of the downward slope of the land – because water flows down. She smiled faintly. It was funny
the things she had picked up from people back at the mall. Jack and Dal especially had been so full of practical knowledge.
Sometimes she wished she had paid more attention to them or to Amber. It would have been a lot more useful than the time she’d
spent mixed up with Trudy. She wondered if there was anyone left at the mall. Had the people who’d captured her made
everyone their prisoner? Had they taken over the city? She had to stop thinking about this or the longing for friends and
home would overwhelm her. Besides, who knew if she’d even make it out of this game.
After walking for a while, the trees started to thin out and Patsy finally came across a stream. She scooped the water up
in her hands, first drinking then splashing it on her face and arms. Refreshed for now she took a good look around. There,
not too far away, was a plume of smoke rising from the trees. Her heart leapt a little, first with hope then with doubt. Could
it be people who could help her? Or, since in most games there was an object being sought, were they the ones she had to overcome?
She took a deep breath – no choice but to find out.
As Patsy neared the area the smoke had been coming from, she kept inside the tree line moving slowly and quietly. The quiet
was abruptly broken by a clanging of bells. Immediately there were shouts and movement in her direction. She must’ve
hit a trip wire. She turned and tried to run but it was too late.
When they brought her back to the camp, everyone gathered around. There appeared to be around twenty of them. They didn’t
seem overly hostile but they wanted to know who she was and what she was doing.
“I don’t know. I’ve never played this before. I think maybe this game’s new. Do you know what we’re
supposed to be doing?” Patsy looked at the people surrounding her who were eyeing each other uneasily.
One girl spoke up. “I’m not sure what you mean. Can you tell us where you came from?”
I just woke up back in the woods a while ago with,” Patsy’s voice drooped, “a bunch of bodies. Usually there’s
someone here with instructions or at least they tell you what you’re supposed to do before they put you in the game.”
The whispers were growing more pronounced. “Umm, we don’t know what you mean you mean by a game, but if you say
you woke up… Well, we’ve seen the trucks, and we know that someone’s been dumping bodies in the woods. It
seems like they may have thought you were dead.”
“You mean… this isn’t a game?” Patsy’s world tilted and then went black. When she came to, she
was given food and treated with gentleness. The girl she’d been speaking to, whose name was Ivy, held her hand and tried
to comfort her as she struggled to come to terms with the fact that she was free. But what now? Night was falling and it was
time for sleep but with so much in her head all Patsy managed was a fitful, dream-filled doze.
As the dark sky began to lighten and there were stirrings around the camp, she sought out Ivy. There were some things she
needed to find out. “I was captured in the city,” she told her, “but I don’t know where I am now.
Are we far?”
Ivy shook her head. “No, in fact if you climb to the top of the ridge over there you can see the city. Come on.”
Grabbing Patsy’s hand, Ivy led the way as the sun began to rise. At the top of the ridge she gestured off to the west.
Patsy strained to see in the direction she was pointing. She couldn’t help but feel a flutter of hope. Maybe everyone
was still at the mall. Maybe she could get back to the life she knew. Maybe… The sun rose higher behind her, banishing
the darkness, until she could clearly see an unfamiliar skyline.