The box...that's what I'm here for, isn't it? Well, I guess that I came for the box’s contents more than the box itself. Inside that blue and orange container, which pops brightly against the
black hues of the abandoned building, is five million dollars. Five million dollars of hospital debt, health insurance, and house mortgage. My mom doesn't know that I'm here today, but she's
the whole reason I'm sitting in this makeshift lobby, half shivering to death with nerves alone.
Her surgery sent us plunging into debt, and I'm not sure how else to pay off the loans. They just keep piling up and piling up, and I think I'm drowning, but I still have time to get my sister in the
raft. Even if I'm gone, she'll at least have a house and food and a debt-less mother. So, when I signed up for this competition, I guess I never really considered the fear factor. I mean, sure,
Slaughterhouse isn't the most reassuring name for a competition, but I slapped my name on the waiver in cursive, packed my bags, and showed up. And now, here I am, reading the instructions
as if anyone would join this game without knowing the risks.
The first paragraph tells me the basic information, most of which I already know: "This is Slaughterhouse, the most popular live game show, in which eight to ten participants compete for five million dollars. In this game, players will fight to discover the code that unlocks The Box. I glance up at the blue and orange
death trap and peer down at the page again. The catch? One player has been chosen at random and sent in with the code. So, how will he or she win? If he or she is able to keep the knowledge a secret or refrain from sharing the password with the other players, he or she will receive the five million dollars. The first person to unlock The Box using the code they find from either another player or in the building receives the five million dollars OR the player who withholds the information for the entirety of the allotted time (five hours) receives the five million dollars. But, if a player types in the incorrect code...it is game over. There can be only one winner, and
the money cannot be divided between participants."
Gulping, I rub my fingertips against the implant in my shoulder. The doctors I met at the entrance injected small metal pieces that, based on the waiver I scribbled my name on, lead to the whole “game over” thing. No alliances. No help. No rules. I think that that's what so many people love about Slaughterhouse - the “no rules” part. That has got to be my very least favorite part; the part that makes this whole game so entertaining for the audience, and so terribly dangerous for me.
With sweaty hands, I flatten the paper against the metal bench and examine my predators...or are they my prey? One girl about
my age twirls a knife around her fingers absent- mindedly. I imagine what she plans to use it for. Will its next home be the sheath or human flesh? Next to her, a man with arms the size of tree trunks cracks his knuckles one by one. As he flexes his biceps, my mind whirls to analyze whether he is a righty or a lefty; that could be important information to know in the very near
future. And although I have a gun in my hand and it's locked and loaded and full of bullets, I can't help but think of the reasons they're here. Do they have an ill parent? Or maybe they have
children...children at home who they need to feed just like I need to feed my little sister. Whatever the reason they’ve come, it's game time, and I can't afford to feel sorry. I know that there is no room for sympathy inside of me. And most importantly, there are no rules.
A deafening buzz silences my thoughts. I would be lying if I said I didn't jump a little - okay, a lot - at the noise, but it's only the elevator. A man steps out; he's rubbing his hands
together, blowing on his palms because - I was so right - it is freezing in here. His face and hair remind me of this river behind my house that my little sister Maya and I used to run to at
midnight. It was dark and quiet, and we couldn't see past the surface. That's when I realize he's trouble. He might be my biggest competition, and I can't really tell why. Maybe it's because he's
not the sort of river you skip rocks on...he's the sort your parents warn you to stay away from because the current is so strong.
The host comes and goes quickly to announce the commencement of the game. I hear the cameras slide into place, and when the locks on the doors click open, the stampede starts. I'm off.
My legs are pump pump pumping and I'm up, up, up the stairs. My hands graze the walls, and I feel a little light headed. My breathing is taut like rope, short and quick, tight. I hear someone
stumble. I keep moving. Six doors to my left. Three to my right. Two up ahead. I throw my shoulder into the second door on my right. The lock shatters. I'm in. The walls are all boards,
brown and green and green and brown. A mechanic sound fills the room - a camera is focusing on me. I start peeling the boards back from the walls; the code could be behind the wood. I take
out my gun, realizing I can use the heel of it to rip off the boards. I think my fingers are bleeding: I can smell metal. There's a loud a shot across the hallway. A scream. The door behind me bursts
open. I swing around, gun ready. It's river-man. He holds his hands up, relaxed, open. I can't help but think about how I have a clear shot right now. Why isn't he searching like me? He must have
the code...he needs to.
“What is it?” I step forward, one foot in front of the other, pointing my gun right where I think his heart must be thumping. “Give me the code. I'll...I’ll shoot you, I swear.”
Another shout in the distance. Footsteps. Thuds. Two more shots. I think I'm losing it. I stumble to the camera, grab it on either side, and point it right at my face. “Mom - Mom, I have something to tell you. Maya's birthday gift...it's in the cabinet
above the fridge. I couldn't get her that bicycle, but it's still important and I - I need you to -”
The door slams open behind me. The man has a big gun, silver and sleek, pointed straight at my chest. I silently pray that Maya isn't watching. I turn, look into the gunman's eyes, dark
gray, rocks in the river. I bring my gun up. Who will shoot first? Who will shoot first? Who will shoot first?!
But can I even shoot? I mean, I can, but would I? He shuffles closer. He has a smile on his face. My forearms tighten. I brace myself for the kickback. Point at his heart, pull the trigger.
It becomes a mantra: heart, trigger, heart, trigger, heart, trigI
sense that he's about to fire. Diving away, I crash to the floor.
River-guy shoots. Gunman dips out of his aim. Glass sprays over his head; raindrops on the pavement, dewdrops
on grass, splashes from the river. His bullet shatters the camera, but all I can think of is how grateful I am that Maya can't watch me anymore. Another shot. Maybe I can make him waste his
magazine. He's so close now, and I don't want to die, I really don't want to die, and if I stay here, I will die. So I charge. I knock into the gunman with full force. River-guy takes a sharp breath.
Gunman falls. I crash on top of him. I take the knife from my back pocket. Pressing it to his throat, I see that his stupid smile is gone, wiped clean away with the glint of my dagger. I've got
a new mantra: kill him, kill him, kill him.
I can't. I roll away from him. I take his gun from where he dropped it.
“Get out.” I don't mean to whisper it.
He has no weapons, and he's not stupid. He leaves.
River guy looks at me. He's shocked, because how could a scrawny eighteen year old like
me do this? And then I think the ice on the river cracks a little. He pulls me up.
And he whispers in my ear, “78523. Get her the bike.”