The Assassin Game@Kirsty McKay Page 0,1

I hear a rumble to my left, a rumble to my right. More wheelbarrows? Yes, without doubt, and we’re racing. I’m not the only one who has been taken, and that’s reassuring. The race is almost fun at first—apart from the sheer terror, of course—but it’s exhilarating at least. Just when I’m thinking I can no longer hold on, my knees are burning and my feet are turning to ice, I sense my kidnappers are tiring as well, and we slow. There’s more panting, unabashed and unconcealed this time. Someone mutters, but I can’t hear what’s said. Almost there. The fear comes back.

We stop again, this time for good. I’m lowered with a thud, pulled out of the wheelbarrow and on to my cold, bare feet. Blood wells up into my face, and I sway a little. I squeeze my toes, trying to find my balance.

I’m standing on sand. Cool but not damp. And yet, no sound of the waves hitting the rocks…where are we? There’s a smell too, but it’s not of salty air—at least, no more than this whole island smells of the sea. It’s an acrid, oily smell. Something is burning.

I dare to open my eyes, and through the pillowcase, there’s light out there. Orange, glowing balls of light, suspended off the ground. Of course. Suddenly, I know exactly where we are.

My hood is whipped off. Shadows slink away into shadow. I squint and try to stop the ground from spinning.

An amphitheater, carved into the side of a hill, and I am onstage. Oil lanterns hang from stands, lighting the scene. There’s also the full blood moon—but it only winks at us as blue-gray clouds blow across it, obscuring its light. My kidnappers gone. I turn around to see my fellow captives, blinking and swiveling their heads, all of us nodding dogs, taking it in.

Martin Parish is next to me, bent over, panting and grinning his goofy, gap-toothed grin. He’s just stoked to be selected; he doesn’t care what they might do to us. Tesha Quinn stands to his right, eyes wide and also swaying on her bare feet, her dark-blond corkscrew curls standing out in shock from her head. She doesn’t look at me—trying to hold the panic down—because if she does, she might break. Both kids have tied hands, both in night attire. I thank luck and good judgment that I’m wearing modest pajamas; Martin is shivering in boxers and Tesha’s not much better off in underwear and a cami. They’re cold and vulnerable. At least I have flannel to hide behind.

Only three of us harvested tonight? The final selection for this year. The Game can begin.

I rub my chin on my shoulder and try to see the shadows moving on the tiered seats, but I can’t focus that far yet. Two kids were harvested on Monday, or so it was rumored. Two kids were taken on Tuesday, and then none on Wednesday and Thursday, so we thought that tonight would be big. But only us three?

A figure moves into view above us on the steps of the auditorium. He’s wearing a long cloak, which ripples in the night breeze. The hood is pulled low over his face, revealing only a square jaw and a hint of thin lips with a Cupid’s bow.

“Fresh meat!”

He raises his face, and he is wearing a black half mask. There was never any doubt it was him. The grunt, the voice in my ear. Alexander Morgan, alpha male of the senior class, and the one who is running this show.

“Welcome to the Game, apprentices.” Alex walks down the steps and onto the sand, smiling at us. “Be happy. You are the chosen few.”

I allow myself to relax slightly. We have this weird dynamic, Alex and I. He’s nice enough to me when he remembers to be—basically because of my family owning this island—but I’m not inner-circle cool, so most of the time he ignores me. Well, apart from that one time we kissed, but few people know about that. It certainly wouldn’t improve my popularity here; most of the girls and a handful of the boys go gooey for Alex. He’s blond and tall and good-looking in a screwed-up Hitler Youth kind of way, and that’s obviously not my type on a typical day. It just wouldn’t fit in with my admittedly half-baked idea of who I am. But…for all the smooth breeding and athlete OCD neatness about Alex, there’s something feral there too. He’s like a wolf: he