In the beginning of 2015, if you had said the world as we knew it was going to end you would be labeled insane. By the end of the same year those who labeled you would be dead.
Shay Claire ran her fingers through her blonde hair, examining her reflection to approve she looked presentable. Straight hair still stopped just below her chest and makeup was done as usual, even if the events of the day were nothing to primp for. A look of displeasure was withheld in her dark brown eyes, a frown pressed across her lips as she swiped away a dusting of shadow from low cheekbones. She puffed up her cheeks as her cellphone vibrated against the counter, reminding her of the text message she had yet to answer.
Quickly she tapped in her four number lock code onto the touchscreen of the phone, trying to hurry down the stairs as she read the message. The sender was Marena McGrew, her best friend of many years.
Yay, field trip!
Those three words were enough for her to sense, even hear, Marena's voice dripping with sarcasm on the other end. Nobody in the entire freshman body was excited for the day's field trip, which was already destined to drown every last one of them in boredom. She took one final glance in the mirror and slipped out of the bathroom.
"Shay, sweetie, you have ten minutes before the bus comes!" Her mother shouted from the kitchen, voice accompanied by the wafting smell of waffles. She wouldn't even have time to eat them at this rate.
"I'm coming!" She snapped, distracted by the task of responding to another text message. She'd no idea they would be the last words she'd say to her mother for a very long time.
In less than two hours she found herself surrounded by a sea of white. The walls, tiles and occasional health poster were all bland and colorless, the very definition of bland. Even the tour guide that was leading the group around the snaking hallways could fit into the classification- everything about him was just as dull as the environment and his voice was one that could lull even the largest coffee addict to sleep. Shay, whom lacked an attention span of great length, felt like she could fall asleep every time she leaned up against the wall. Anything was certainly better than this.
The guide halted in the middle of a long hallway. The group of about thirty freshman paused in front of him, waiting for his next few sentences to be droned out. She and a few other students drifted away from the group, gravitating towards the wall on the opposite side. She rested her back up against it and crossed her arms, gazing on in an unimpressed manner while she popped a mint-flavored gum bubble. Her mother would have told her she looked like a snob.
"Here is where they examine viruses," the guide spoke, his voice causing her to roll her eyes in exasperation. At least try to make it interesting. The guide gestured to three windows that spanned the length from the ceiling to the floor, provoking the students to gather around. She couldn't see much over the tops of their heads but could faintly make out human forms, clothed in full body uniforms hard at work inside. She could only guess what kinds of deadly things were contained within- certainly not possibilities she wanted to explore.
Her phone, nestled firmly in the denim of her back pocket, vibrated. She watchfully eyed her teacher, checking to be sure she was just as absorbed in what the windows withheld as the other students were. Once the coast was clear she slipped out her phone with utmost caution, never peeling her eyes away from the teacher. One more detention and she could kiss a car goodbye.
I'm starting a game of hide and seek. Owen's counting. You have forty seconds. (;
The sender was no other than the infamous Katrina Odell, who was probably the crudest and wildest person Shay had ever met- which had instantly sparked a friendship between the two. Katrina had troublesome tendencies, yes, but misbehaving on field trips was a new one for her. Usually her misadventures occurred when nobody was around to reprimand her. She reread the message just to make sure her eyes weren't fooling her- unfortunately, they were not.
"Should we do it?" A voice whispered into her ear. She twisted her neck around to see the speaker, which revealed the familiar face of her boyfriend.
Carson Bradley was a scrawny kid, who probably didn't weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds. He was a little short, probably around five nine. His dusky brown hair was spiked neatly in the front as usual, the messy tufts a sign he needed to get it trimmed. She didn't really care, though, as she liked his hair a little longer. He had rather large dark brown eyes, darker than her own, and a dappling of freckles across high cheekbones and a narrow nose. She was drawn to him because of his sarcastic sense of humor, much like her own- looks were just a bonus.
However, hearing a question like that from him surprised her. Carson was anything but a troublemaker. The rare occasion he'd be reprimanded would earn him a simple "This is your warning, Mr. Bradley." He wasn't one to walk the line.
"No!" She snapped back, firing an angry glance in his direction. He smirked, seemingly reading his girlfriend's unhappiness.
"You and I both know even hide and seek with Katrina is better than this," he fired back smoothly as he gestured his head towards the group. She found the way he emphasized Katrina's name as odd, like it tasted foul in his mouth.
"You make it sound like Katrina isn't fun to be around," she said back, smirking at him. Carson pursed his lips as her words flew out of her mouth, struggling to hide his wry grin.
"Come on, she's… obnoxious, to put it nicely," he replied, no longer trying to hide his smirk.
"I don't want to get in trouble, Carson. We could just stay here and let her get caught, but when she does she'll throw us all under the bus. She sent a group message, so everyone involved will get in trouble." She tried to sound as serious as possible yet Carson did nothing but laugh, only raising her anger.
"Oooooo, she sent a group message! Shit got serious!" He snickered back. A couple heads across the hallway turned. She shot them a quick glare and they turned away. Nobody enjoyed the results of pissing Shay Claire off.
"Oh grow up! I'll get Marena to do it!" Carson shrugged, as if he didn't care, still chuckling at his own sarcastic comeback. It wasn't even your best, babe.
A tall, very skinny blonde turned her head. This was Marena McGrew, the girl who had been her best friend for twelve years. Her arms and legs were long and lanky- even size zero jeans were baggy. She was twirling a lock of her hair between her fingers in obvious boredom, thin lips pursed into a tight frown.
"What?" she whispered as she slipped away from the group of students, covering the space between herself and the couple in a few seconds. Shay blatantly thrust her phone into her face. Marena's eyes darted across the screen before looking back up, humor glimmering in her hazel eyes.
"Well, you're screwed." Marena chuckled, grinning widely.
"Yeah, about that… I was wondering if you could go get her. If she's caught everyone will get in trouble," She informed her, trying to ask her favor as smoothly as possible. Instead of nodding and gladly offering her assistance she broke out into hushed chuckles. Dammit.
"Remember the time I told you if I got in trouble, even if you were involved or not, I was taking you down with me? Sure, I'll go herd her back- if you and Carson agree to go along," she said quickly. She shook her head but was laughing all the same. Some promises, even if they were made in seventh grade, could never be forgotten.
"Marena, please, if I get in trouble one more time I'll be screwed." She pleaded, knowing all the same it wouldn't make a difference.
"Oh no, you are coming with me. It shall be an adventure," Marena crowed with a childish grin. A few other kids turned to look, curious.
"What do you think you're looking at?" She spat. The heads that turned around twisted back just as quickly.
As soon as she finished someone came barreling into Marena with a squeal of shock. She stumbled forwards, softly cursing as she struggled to keep her feet planted on the slick flooring.
"Watch where you're going!" Marena spat as she straightened her posture. The girl who'd run into her was a familiar one, the bouncy blonde girls and round blue eyes hard to miss.
"Sorry," Kyleigh Abercrombie hissed back. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm trying to hide!" She barked, trying to shoulder her way past Marena. Nobody moved. "I'm serio-"
"You're it!" a male voice cut her off as he playfully tapped her on the shoulder. Kyleigh sighed slowly, pursing her lips in obvious frustration. She slowly turned, shooting the shaggy-haired boy a look as sharp as knives. He rolled his oversized blue eyes in annoyance.
"Oh, and you, and you, and you," Owen crowed, pointing to Shay, Carson, and Marena in their respective turns. She and Carson both rolled their eyes, clearly unimpressed by his childish musings. Seriously, she thought. Who plays hide and seek in high school? Right, Katrina does.
"Look what happened because of you three!" Kyleigh whined, shooting her old friends furious glares.
"Oh bummer, Kyleigh. Nobody's it- I'm officially ending the game." She said firmly. "Do any of you want to get in trouble?" She looked to Kyleigh and Owen specifically, who both shook their heads. "Good. Now, we're all going to find Katrina before she gets caught and avoid an end-of-the-year detention, got it?" The two nodded in begrudging obedience.
"Whatever." Kyleigh spat, crossing her arms across her chest.
A sudden retching came from the group behind Marena, followed by several disgusted squeals. The other students were fanning out, leaving one poor boy surrounded as he was doubled over vomiting. The teacher and guide instantly rushed to his aid, gesturing to students to back away.
Nobody had to say anything- they all knew this would be their one sole opportunity to get away. Shay moved first, quickly slipping past the student body and heading back down the hallway in the opposite direction. The others understood and followed, moving swiftly.
The further she found herself away from the group she belonged to the more nervous she began to feel. Another behavioral incident could ruin everything she had going for her. In a matter of weeks she would turn sixteen. She was so close to getting that car and finding herself in a pit of trouble would ruin it. What would her parents think? Caught ditching on a field trip inside of a CDC? Her mother would lose it- she was a doctor. She probably had a very good idea of what lethal things were contained inside. She could kiss the car goodbye.
Her phone vibrated again. She quickly cast her eyes downwards to see yet another message from Katrina, whom seemed to be causing all of her problems. She sighed mournfully as the read the text, knowing she was about to be in over her head.
Take the next turn in the hallway and go down. I already know Owen's found you all.
She turned her head to the right and found it. A sharp whistle gathered the others' attention and they turned as well, following the blonde down the hallway. She couldn't shake the apprehension growing in her stomach but she could try to ignore it. Her focus was on reigning in Katrina anyways.
A few more minutes the silence grew unbearable. Thankfully Carson struck up a tune, whistling loudly to a song she didn't recognize. Truth is he was an awful whistler, but at least it kept the silence at bay.
"You're a terrible whistler." She froze mid-stride, her heart skipping a beat. Busted already. Shit.
Instead of a teacher she found two girls sitting right out in the open, instantly recognizing her classmates. Neither of them was in her circle of friends, but Laylia Perry's long, black brown hair had always been hard to miss. She felt Laylia's gaze settle on her and pursed her lips, trying to bite back a rude remark. Now's not the time to be a bitch. Jaycee's nice, anyways. All I have to do is ignore Laylia.
"What are you doing here?" Kyleigh butted in, her voice laced with disgust. "Katrina invited us, not you. She doesn't like you guys. Nobody likes you guys."
Laylia chucked, amused. "More people like us than you, Kyleigh," she retorted. Kyleigh instantly shut up, a look of hurt clouding her features.
"Well, we aren't playing- we're going to find Katrina before she gets everyone in trouble," Shay butted in; stopping the conversation before any more insults were fired around. Surely Kyleigh could find another time to be a brat. "And, obviously, as you are part of the game, you two have to come with us."
Laylia and Jaycee slowly stood up, maintaining their distance from the others. The teens said nothing more to each other but all could feel the intense tension in the air- someone was going to say something, it was only a matter of time. She prayed they would find Katrina soon and the group could disband. It was getting a little too awkward for her liking.
The hallway's end seemed to just pop up, almost as if it had appeared out of thin air. The long stretch of tile and wall ended in two large, heavy blue doors that looked highly out of place next to the whites. She better not be in there or I swear to God I'm kicking her ass when I find her.
I see you. Go in the doors.
She sighed as she read another one of Katrina's texts, knowing it would all be downhill from there. She wrapped her hand around the metal handle and pulled back, surprised when the door refused to budge. Slipping her phone in her pocket she tried again with both hands but was unsuccessful. She cursed with frustration and yanked back harder.
"Here, let me try," Carson scoffed as he playfully shoved his girlfriend out of the way. "You're probably just weak," he crowed sarcastically, winking at her as he did. He too tried his hand at the door, but it still did not budge. Just weak my ass.
"Please show identification."
They looked around, expecting to find a woman standing behind them. They were alone. Her eyes scanned the wall until she found a touchscreen secured onto it, the outline of a handprint glowing on the translucent screen.
"Carson, you have big hands. You try it; otherwise we won't be able to get in. It's locked." Marena piped in, taking a step towards the screen. She hovered her fingers over it for a few moments, almost as if she planned to touch it.
"Thanks, Captain Obvious," Carson said, shooting her an angry glare.
"Welcome, Sargent Smartass," Marena shot back, smirking. The group instantly burst out into laughter- even Laylia was chucking a little.
It's locked. How the hell did you get in?
She sent the text although she feared the answer. This door was locked and required identification to get in- whatever antic she pulled to get inside wasn't going to create anything good.
Slipped past a worker (;
She felt her stomach plummet to her feet as she read Katrina's message. Well, we're fucked.
She turned her back to the doors, releasing a string of profanities under her breath. A few seconds after the doors began to open with a metallic whine. Look who's finally admitted defeat, she thought as she turned, rearing to go off on her troublesome friend. The person standing in the doorway was not Katrina- she was small and golden-haired, the total opposite of the person they'd come here for.
Cassie Willis was just another pawn in Katrina's little game- friend for a year or not. It made sense she was here- Katrina needed another sidekick besides Owen.
"Come on in. Katrina says to find her," Cassie replied with a silly grin. She doesn't know how much trouble we could be in for being here, she thought as she filed in through the doorway. Or she doesn't care, the pessimist in her hissed.
The room they entered was large and square, the ceiling towering twenty feet above their heads. With the hallways so tight and stuffy the room seemed cavernous. The walls were lined with steel desks, touchscreens displaying various different images on each. A number was projected on the wall- 10,214,093,788, and it was growing almost as fast as she was blinking.
"Welcome to my lair," a voice echoed around the massive room, startling the teens and pulling Shay's attention away from the number. She turned to see Katrina standing there, rubbing her hands together like an evil scientist. Dark reddish-brown hair was covering part of her round face as she walked towards them, only one of her light brown eyes visible.
"It's beautiful Katrina, we were just leaving." Shay hissed as she prowled towards her friend. Katrina's cocky grin was instantly wiped from her face, replaced with a genuine look of surprise. She snatched her arm and began to pull her towards the door, trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. "And so were you," she continued, a hard edge to her tone. The room gave her negative vibes. She wanted to leave as soon as she could.
"What is this?" Owen said, pointing to a large glass structure in the center of the room. She froze mid-stride, her curiosity instantly sparked. She knew this was no place to be exploring yet she couldn't help but be intrigued. Something was finally interesting- it seemed silly to not just check it out first.
Shay approached the box alongside Katrina, both of them obviously curious. Laylia, Kyleigh and Jaycee followed, each naturally doing so. Carson and Marena remained, both looking skeptical.
"You know we shouldn't be here, Katrina." she said, taking a step towards her.
"I just want to look, Shay." Katrina replied, shooting her a glance. She sighed and followed, knowing she was making a bad choice. Carson and Marena followed her. It will only be for a few minutes.
"Are we really gonna go in there?" Marena muttered under her breath to him, her voice just loud enough for Shay to hear.
"If Shay thinks it's okay to then why not?" Carson responded, shrugging his shoulders. "I trust her."
She bit her lip. She was giving in to peer pressure herself, something she almost never did. If I can't stop them I might as well make sure they don't jack anything up.
"Look but don't touch!" She ordered as she shuffled inside the box, instantly knowing she made a poor decision. Nine bodies were crammed together in the tight space, the ceiling no more than three feet above Marena's head. It was going to get hot inside very fast.
"Get out of my way, freak," Kyleigh snarled as Jaycee accidentally bumped into her. She watched on as Jaycee looked up, round brown eyes clouded with hurt, as Kyleigh roughly shouldered her into a touchscreen projected on the back of the glass wall. The moment her body touched it the screen changed, flashing words Jaycee's figure blocked out. It went dark seconds later.
"Doors closing. Please prepare for infection." A robotic voice informed them, identical to the one they'd heard earlier. All nine heads whipped around to face the direction in which they'd come to find the door was now securely shut. A rush of panic overtook her as the words repeated over and over again in her mind. Something was seriously wrong.
"What the hell does that mean?" Carson shouted as he shoved his way through the crowd. He instantly began catapulting his entire body against the door, aiming to force it open or shatter the glass. Others soon followed his suit, first Marena, then Owen and lastly Shay, all moving in sync against the door. No matter how much force they put against it the glass did not break, nor did the door move. Eventually they gave up. They were trapped.
"Shay, are we going to die?" Katrina asked, voice cracking from panic as she stood in the corner, back pressed up against the glance. She looked as terrified as Shay felt.
She didn't have time to respond, for the robotic voice cut her off the moment she parted her lips.