By Luke Cantone, ’23
Two weeks ago, Michael received a letter. The letter read:
You have been randomly selected among all the 16 year olds in the nation to partake in a game. This game will be held on a private cruise ship rented out by my company. I cannot specify the rules of this game over this message to prevent cheating, but I assure you it will be very entertaining. As motivation to compete in this game, upon arrival at the cruise ship, you will receive $10,000! Isn’t that fun? Also, to prove this is not fake or a scam, if you text the number at the bottom of this letter with the link to your PayPal, I will instantly send you $500. The game will be held in two weeks and you must be accompanied on the ship with a parental guardian. If this piques your interest then I will see you in two weeks! Please bring this letter along with you as proof of your invite.
Of course Michael was skeptical when he opened the letter, who wouldn’t be? It seemed about as legit as a message from a Nigerian Prince asking for money he’ll eventually “double.” But he really had nothing to lose texting the number the link to his PayPal with the small chance of actually getting a 500 free dollars. To his disbelief, he immediately got sent back a text from the PayPal company saying he received a payment of $500. In shock, he ran straight to his parents to tell them about the letter. His parents were also skeptical upon reading the letter, but once they saw that Michael had actually gotten the money, they started to loosen up.
“This has to be some sort of scam,” Michael’s dad said, skeptical.
“But don’t scams normally take money from you, not give it?” Michael responded.
“Did you enter a giveaway or something like that?” Michael’s mom asked.
“None that I can remember,” Michael told her, wracking his brain for any sort of memory.
“There’s no way that this is legit, especially with how anonymous the whole thing is,” Michael’s dad stated.
At this point, Michael being a very impulsive person, had already made up his mind that he was going to go. He saw no real harm in driving to the dock. If it was real, he would get to go on a free cruise, and if it was fake, then they would turn around and drive back home. The address to the dock was only 30 minutes away from where he lived anyway.
“But there’s also a chance it might be, and I could win some real money!” Michael told them, the strain in his voice obvious.
“And besides, it’s summer and Mom’s a teacher so she has the time off to take me and her on the cruise. I get that it looks sketchy, but I don’t see any reason other than that not to go.”
“I don’t mind taking him,” Michael’s mom piped in. “I’ve been getting pretty bored cooped up in
this house lately.”
Michael’s mom was the same as him, too impulsive to make wise decisions. Their minds thought the same, reacted to situations the same. They were basically on identical brainwaves.
“Are you sure? I really don’t like this whole ‘free cruise’ idea,” Michael’s dad refuted.
“Yeah, I don’t see any harm in driving out 30 minutes. If it’s fake, we’ll come back home.”
With those final words, it was settled. Michael and his mom would be going on the cruise.
Two weeks later, Michael was on the ship. To both his and his mother’s surprise, the cruise was real. When they boarded, they were greeted by a silver-haired old man in a butler uniform. He had given them the $10,000 in hard cash as promised. Michael’s mom had struggled to cram it all in her purse.
They were led to their room, and were so dazzled by the grand ship that they didn’t notice three huge things.
One, the ship had taken off and was already a solid 500 feet away from the dock by the time they reached their room. Two, they had no idea where the ship was going, a major detail that the airheaded pair had somehow missed. And finally, three, they didn’t pass any other people on their way to their room, which a cruise ship should be abundant of. Their room was huge, even bigger than the master bedroom back at their house. There were two king size beds next to each other, a huge flat screen TV on the opposite wall of the beds and a large private bathroom. Michael and his mom were in awe, thinking how the heck did they get here? They tossed their bags into a corner of the room and laid down on their beds.
“What now?” Michael asked.
“I’m honestly not sure,” Michael’s mom responded, looking around the room in shock. “Aren’t we here for you to compete in a game?”
“Yeah, but who knows when that’s going to start.” Almost as if on cue, the TV screen flashed on. The screen showcased the same silver-haired butler that had led them onto the boat.
“Now that our final passengers have arrived, I have been asked to invite the parents down to the ship’s bar for endless margaritas on the house. The game will begin soon and we can’t have the parental figures helping out the contestants. On the dressers next to your beds there should be maps of the ship. Please parents, feel free to take one to help yourselves down to the bar. Don’t worry, there are security cameras all over the ship so if you get lost we will send an employee to help you make your way to the bar. Once at the bar, feel free to relax and watch your children compete in the game we have prepared. There’s a lot of money to win in this game, so we wouldn’t want anyone to cheat. We will see you soon, parents. Children, please stay put until further notice.” Right as he finished talking, the TV screen turned black.
“I don’t know if I feel comfortable leaving you alone right now, Michael. We just got on this ship and they’re expecting me to leave you alone while I’m supposed to be at a bar?” Michael’s mom questioned.
“Mom, I’ll be fine. It’s not like I’m gonna leave this room. The dude on the TV told me to stay put and that’s what I’m gonna do. There’s no way I’m gonna ruin my chance at a possible fortune,” Michael claimed, filled with a sudden determination to win a game he knew nothing about.
“I know but still…” his mom persisted.
“Mom, it’s fine, go down to the bar and have a drink or two. You’ll be able to watch me compete so you’ll have a constant eye on me.”
“Yeah… I guess you’re right. I’m probably worrying over nothing.” She grabbed her pursed and her phone. “I know you’re gonna kill it at whatever this game is.”
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll try my best to win for the two of us.” Michael’s mom gave him a hug and looked back at him one last time before she left.
“If anything goes wrong, I’ll find you immediately, okay?”
“Yup, sounds good to me.”
Michael’s mom closed the door behind her, leaving Michael alone in the room. Michael laid on his bed, mindlessly playing mobile games on his phone, not being able to go on Instagram or Snapchat with bad reception on the sea. After about an hour of waiting, the TV screen finally flashed on. Again, it was the same silver-haired butler.
“Boys and girls, the game will now begin.”
Michael’s heart started racing. He wondered what the game could possibly be about. He also wondered who his competition would be since he didn’t see anyone else on the boat.
Suddenly, a piece of the wall below the TV popped out like a drawer. Michael hadn’t even noticed a single crease in the wall to signify it was there in the first place. Confused, Michael peaked inside the wall-drawer and saw something that resembled a headset. Attached to it were two long wires that led to two different colored buttons. One button was green and the other was red.
“Please place the headsets on your head, but do not click either button.”
Reluctantly, Michael picked up the headset and placed it tightly around his head. Was it some sort of trivia game where you had to pick between two choices? But how would that explain the headset?
As Michael ran through all the possibilities in his head, the screen suddenly flashed off then on again, revealing a figure replacing the butler. The figure had a mask on, it was of what appeared to be the devil crying. The body was almost completely blacked out, blending in with the already black background. It was unclear the gender of this figure, but Michael could feel an ominous aura around them.
“You seven have been chosen by random draw to compete in my game.” Their voice was deep and robotic. Whoever was behind that mask clearly didn’t want Michael to know their real identity.
“The rules of my game are simple: one of you must kill and get away with it to escape this ship.”
Kill? Kill who? Kill what? There’s no way this was real! He could never kill anything, he felt bad every time he ate a burger! Michael couldn’t stop thinking about it, but everything stopped as the anonymous figure continued speaking.
“I’m sure you’re all thinking to yourselves ‘no way is this real,’ but I assure you, it is indeed very real. I am a very wealthy person with connections beyond your wildest dreams. Myself and my company are above the law and have the ability to cover up anything. I need a strong-minded person, or people, to become heirs to my wealth. I do not have any offspring of my own, so I had to resort to choosing seven youths from around the nation. The winner, or winners, of this game will inherit all my money and possessions after I die, which will be sooner rather than later.”
Money’s great and all, but Michael knew he could never kill another human for it. No way, never.
“Now, I realize that most of you will try to refuse my game, you will try to escape this ship or retaliate, but to that, I say think again.”
The screen blacked out for a brief moment, only to turn back on to show a dimly lit room. In the middle of that room was Michael’s mother. She was on the ground on her knees, hands tied behind her back, eyes covered by a blindfold.
“Hello? Michael? Anyone?” She looked around frantically. “Help!” she screamed. “Help me! Someone? Anyone?”
Michael’s heart dropped. He needed to let her know he was there. He needed to save her.
“Mom, I’m here!”
The screen cut out. It flickered back to the masked figure.
“Now, you can hopefully grasp the realness of the situation you are currently in. If you try to escape or refuse my game, not only will you pay the price, but your loved ones will too.”
Michael stared at the screen, body quivering. He was trapped. There was nothing he could do. He had to get out of here. He had to save his mom. But he couldn’t do either. He was alone. He looked back up at the screen.
“There are very few rules to my game. One, there will be constant security camera footage watching your every move, if you break any cameras at any point you will pay the price. Two, innocents may not kill at any point, once you make your choice, that choice is final. Three, the killer may use anything they want to murder a fellow passenger. Four, the killer may only kill one other passenger and will have a time limit of 24 hours to do so. Five, once a murdered passenger has been discovered, you will have a brief period of time to investigate. Six, you must all gather together and cast your votes for who you think the killer is. If the group is wrong then they will all get killed along with their loved ones and the killer will inherit my fortune along with the safety of their loved one. But if the group guesses right, then the killer will be killed along with their loved one, and the group will split my fortune among themselves.”
The group should have the advantage in numbers, Michael thought, but they also had to deal with constant paranoia and the 1 in 6 chance of getting picked off. While on the other hand the killer has numbers working against them, but only have to worry about pulling off the perfect crime…
“You have already placed your electrifying headsets on your heads,” the masked figure continued. “You will now be given the decision to become a killer or an innocent. If you press the red button, you will be the killer and will be given 24 hours to kill another passenger. If you press green, you will be innocent and must survive until one of your fellow passengers is killed. If everyone chooses to press the green button then you all will be electrified and killed on the spot. If more than one person chooses to press the red button then all except one will be electrified and will die. Now that you understand the rules of the game, I wish you all the best of luck. This will not be the last time you hear from me.”
Michael couldn’t stop shaking. The button that he presses in the next few seconds could determine whether or not he lives or dies. He stared at both the buttons, never before had he seen the massive contrast between the two colors. One could make him a killer, the other a victim. He made up his mind. He had to get off this ship and he had to save his mom. He closed his eyes as tight as he could and chose the button that he knew he needed to press. He waited 5 seconds. His palms were sweaty. He could feel his heart beating out of his chest. And… nothing. He waited another 15 seconds… nothing. He was alive! Never before had he appreciated being alive as much as he did in that moment. He let out all the air that he had unknowingly been holding in.
Light headed, he got up and took off the death headset. He never wanted to touch that thing again. Michael started to get all the blood rushing back to his head. The masked figure said there were six other people on this ship. Michael knew that although he was terrified of those other people, he was going to need to find them eventually.
He crept up to the door and creaked it open. To his surprise, there were five other kids doing the same thing from the rooms across the hall and on either side of him. They all nervously stepped outside, not leaving their eyes from one another. They all stood there in silence for about 15 seconds until one boy piped up.
“So, did you guys just see the same thing I just saw?” he asked. He was shorter than the rest and wore a blue t-shirt with a cactus on it.
“I think so. Was there some crazy masked person on your TVs?” a girl responded. She had curly black hair and wore a purple hoodie.
“Hell yeah. I saw that dude, he has my dad held hostage!” a taller muscular boy responded.
“We need to like call the police or something!” a girl dressed top to bottom in all pink exclaimed.
“I already tried, but we don’t get any reception out here,” a girl with short brown hair and glasses responded.
“Did you guys have to put on that death headset too?” Michael asked
“Yeah. I think my heart stopped when I pressed the green button,” the purple hoodie girl said.
“So you guys got the same choices as me…” the short boy trailed off.
“That means…” the girl in all pink said as her eyes widened in terror.
“One of us is going to be a killer,” Michael finished, his full body shaking again.
“I think it would be best if we all introduced ourselves, maybe it will lighten the mood a little bit,” the girl with glasses chirped in.
“Fine. I’ll go first. My name’s Brock,” the muscular boy announced.
“My name’s Michael,” Michael said.
“Hi, I’m Liz,” the girl in all pink said.
“My name’s Tina,” the girl in the purple hoodie said.
“The name’s Benny,” the short kid announced.
“I guess that leaves me. My name’s Rae,” the girl with glasses told the group.
“Wait a minute,” Tina said, “Didn’t the masked person say there were seven of us?”
“Oh, you’re right,” Rae spoke up. “I only count six of us.”
There was a long pause between the group. All their heads turned to the last door in the hall. It was the only one unopened.
“I think that we should go check that door,” Benny said. “Whoever’s in there is probably just shy.”
“Shouldn’t we just like, leave them alone? If they don’t want to come out with the rest of us that’s their problem,” Liz stated.
“No, I think Benny’s right,” Michael said. “We are going to need safety in numbers if we want to survive this.”
“Ok. So who’s gonna go get them?” asked Tina.
“I’m no baby, I’ll go grab ‘em,” Brock stated. He marched over to the seventh door and pounded on the door. “Open up! We’re all out here so you gotta join us.”
There was no response.
“Hey! I said open up!”
Again there was no response.
“Alright, that’s it, I’m coming in!”
Brock barged into the room. There was a small pause. Then Brock let out a blood curdling scream, one of pure fear. The five others ran straight to the seventh room to see what Brock was freaking out about. None of them could have been prepared for what they were about to see.
On the floor, in front of the TV was a scrawny blonde-haired boy. He had foam coming from his mouth and nostrils. He was just laying there as the foam frothed and poured out of his mouth. The headset around him was sparking from overuse. The boy was dead. His finger on the red button, he laid there…lifeless.
They would never get to know that boy’s hobbies, his likes, dislikes, or even his name. They would never get to know why he pressed the red button, for his family or his own greed. None of that mattered, he was dead. He was dead because of one of them. One of them had also hit the red button, one of them had already become a killer. The game had already begun.