I look up from my slowly dying phone and see that we have already made it to Milwaukee. Time really does fly by when you’re have fun… or when you get lost in the depths of Youtube and are rewatching classic videos from ten years ago. I turn off my phone in the middle of the full video of LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE, and just as I take my earbuds out of my ears, Oliver’s phone chimes yet again.
“It’s from the site,” He says. “A video by the looks of it.”
“Why are you the one who gets all the notifications?” I ask.
“Probably because I was chosen as the team leader. But I like it better as we’re doing it right now: a triumvirate of sorts.”
“You do know both Roman triumvirates failed miserably, right?”
“Well, yeah, but we aren’t a bunch of snotty old senators.”
“And fate doesn’t discriminate. Not saying we’re destined to fail, but… you know what, no, I’m gonna be positive about this.” I gesture to his phone. “Play the video.”
Oliver shifts around awkwardly in his seat to face me. He holds his phone so we both can see it, clicks the play button, and Souhait appears on the screen.
“Hello, everyone.” He says in a somber sort of tone. He takes a deep breath, and lets it out in a lengthy sigh. “I’ve never had to do anything of this magnitude in my game before, and I really hope I will never have to again. Thirty-six, yes, thirty-six teams—” He pauses as he sorts through his words, and then speaks again. “Have been eliminated from the game.”
“Holy crap…” I hear Rory say under his breath. Oliver and I glance up at each other in a bit of shock, and then down to the screen again, not wanting to miss anything.
“Eighteen teams were reported for interfering with searches. As in rule 6, which was one the rule sheet that is in each team’s supplies, any teams reported interfering with searches in any way, will be eliminated from the game, along with the victims of the interference.
I have to be honest and say that I am very disappointed in the teams that I had to eliminate not only for breaking rules, but for ruining the chances of those who did nothing wrong. My game is not about who can beat who can beat who, but about something greater than oneself, and I hope the remaining thirty teams understand that.”
“And speaking of remaining teams,” Souhait picks up a small stack of papers, squares them up on the table, lays them back down, and then does that one gross thing adults do where they lick their finger to grab a paper or flip a page in a book. He picks one up and reads from it. “Good luck to the teams on their timed hunts today: Mauve and Aquamarine in Milwaukee, Vermillion and Cyber in Indianapolis, and Goldenrod and Cerulean in Bismarck.”
He puts a hand to his chest gently like a well-mannered victorian lady and, in the most dainty, feminine voice I’ve ever heard a guy speak in, he quotes Effie Trinket from the Hunger Games. “May the odds be ever in your favor. And remember this,” He reverts to his regular voice, “If you lose the hunt, you are out of the game. This isn’t to inspire any feuds or rivalries, but to up the ante a bit and make things a little more exciting.”
He smiles, as if he is trying to get everyone to agree from the other side of a computer screen. “For the rest of the teams,” He resumes, “When you find your fifth item is when you will start your timed hunt. Your opponents are predetermined and now because of the eliminations have been shifted around some, but it’s ultimately up to you to determine when you will move ahead.”
The video ends right then, Souhait with his mouth open, tongue against teeth.”The stakes are high.” Oliver says, pointing out the obvious. “The stakes are really high.”
“And we’re flying into this thing practically blind with only a single, minute or so long video about what it is exactly we’re supposed to be doing.” Rory states as he turns us onto another stretch of interstate.
I clench my hand into a fist and feel my nails digging into my palm. A nervous tick of sorts. “Guys, this probably sounds selfish, but I really don’t want to lose. Not when we’ve come so far.”
“That’s not selfish. Everyone’s probably feeling that right now.” Oliver says, turning back around and putting his phone on the dashboard. I see him look over at Rory with a “You feel that, right?” kind of expression. Rory, from my view of the top half of his head in the rearview mirror, confirms with the same sort of face.
I decide to break the nervous tension by asking a question that somehow nobody has asked in the past four days. Probably because we are able to manage ourselves pretty well. “Does anyone have a charger? My phone’s almost dead.”
The car comes to a stop in the parking lot of the museum. “You guys ready?” Oliver says in a tone that makes him sound like he’s trying to take his leadership a bit more seriously. Or maybe I just scared him with the ancient Roman knowledge. Kudos to you, Shakespeare.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Rory takes a deep breath as he unbuckles his seatbelt and gets out of the car.
I grab the GPS and Oliver grabs some cash from under the seat. “What's that for?” I ask.
“In case we have to pay to get in? Duh.” He explains with utter sarcasm.
I do that little thing where you tap your head with your finger and then point at the person you're talking to with a little half-cocked but well meaning grin. Whatever you call that. “Smart!”
In front of the museum are a few yellow school busses, and on the lawn are groups of people anywhere from little newborn babies to old people so wrinkly that if they were shirts, ironing them would do absolutely nothing. The majority are rowdy elementary school kids, which we find out as soon as we get on the sidewalk to the front. A few little girls are loudly shout-singing Baby Shark and stomping around in their twinkle toes. A boy spills milk on another’s shirt, and the victim runs to a teacher and pulls on her skirt, bawling. A girl with too-big glasses and a sparkly cat shirt is ripping grass out of the ground and shoving it in her tiny mouth, screaming “MOO!” over and over.
A chubby girl with pigtails runs (or more fittingly, waddles) over to us. “Are you a fairy princess?” She asks me with a toothy, little kid smile.
“Cause my sissy tol’ me fairy princessesses hab pretty colory hairs. My sissy likes to eat cheerios with almon’ milk also.”
I look at Rory and Oliver behind me, who look very uncomfortable around all the small children, and look back at the little girl.
“Sorry, sweetie… I really wish I was. That would be super cool. But I’m not.” I bend down so I can look her in the face. I can see her eyes tearing up, and I suddenly feel really bad. Just as I’m about to take it back, Rory speaks up behind me.
“I’m a fairy princess!”
I look back at him and have the sudden urge to laugh and say ‘awww’ at the same time.
“And this guy,” he points to Oliver, “Is a fairy knight, and she is a fairy queen!”
The girl's eyes light up. “Boys can be fairy princesses too?!”
“Of course! You can be whatever you wanna be!”
The girl stares wide eyed, gasps, and then screeches, “I wanna be a STEGOSAURUS!” She runs off back to the other kids, laughing and screaming, hands in the air, as the flustered teachers try to get a head count of kids that may or may not be theirs.
“That was cute, Rory!” I don’t want to squeal about it like a weird superfan, but I somehow manage to do just that, to my dismay.
“Thanks.” He says, taking off his hat and holding it by the bill in both hands. “I do that kind of stuff and most people find it crazy that I actually don’t like little kids.”
I can’t help but gawk. “R-really? I’m sorry but that’s very hard to believe.”
“It’s true. Ask Oliver sometime and he’ll tell you how I purposefully flat tired some preschooler kids’ shoe when he was walking away from me, cause before that he came up and started talking to me and there was snot running down his face and it was nasty. He was rubbing it on his pants and everything, and then he asked me for a high five with one of his booger hands. So gross.”
“Yep. The snot was absolutely everywhere,” Oliver agrees.
“But no. I don’t like kids, but I at least treat them nicely. I like when people are happy and so I try hard to make everyone happy, no matter who they are.” At that, the light seems to leave his eyes for a moment, and his gaze seems to shift slightly to the right, where Oliver stands, but he blinks, and the light reappears. Maybe I’m just imagining things. “And I also have younger siblings.” He adds.
I turn to see the kids forming what might be straight lines, but what also might be the conditions of people they talk about on the Statue of Liberty. “Should we head in before we get caught in a flood of snot nosed kindergarteners?”
“Probably a good idea.” Oliver says, and turns to leave. Just as he does, his phone chimes.
We exchange glances simultaneously and then say in unison, “The site.” Sure enough, that’s exactly what it is.
A little black window pops up when the site loads up all the way. “Both teams have arrived at the timed hunt location! Countdown to start set for fifteen minutes.” Says the top of the window, and the bottom boasts a little orange timer counting slowly down, second by second.
We walk up to the museum doors, which of course are those spinny ones that are at hotels and hospitals, and go inside. It’s kind of cold, practical for an art museum, and I sort of wish I brought a jacket. Another notification and another window make themselves known right as we set foot in the lobby. This time it’s a little slideshow of pictures and captions explaining the rules of the timed hunt.
Welcome to the SØMNIUM Timed Hunt, Team Aquamarine. Here’s how to play.
The goal of the hunt is to find the item before the other team. Both teams are looking for the same item.
This item is hidden in plain sight. Use your team’s collective skills to decode the clue and find the item.
Your item coordinates must be spot on. There is no distance buffer in this hunt. Use the Coordinate finder on the site for this, as it is more specific.
“Guess we don’t need the GPS, then.” I say.
You have three attempts to find the item and enter the correct coordinates. After three tries, your team will be eliminated from the game.
There is exactly one hour to find the item. The first team to find the item wins the hunt. If neither team finds the item, both teams are eliminated from the game.
At the end of the slideshow is a box of orange text that reads “Your competing team is 20 yards away. Go say hi!” Oliver moves forward a bit, budging through a small crowd of people. “It says 21 now.” He shows us his phone and then moves back to where we stand. The dial moves back down to twenty.
I look at the crowds of people in front of us and the whimsical design of the soaring ceiling as Rory and Oliver start talking about the mechanics of the little distance dial on the site and how cool it is.
In a break between people, I spot someone that looks vaguely familiar. She is turned away from me so I can only see that she is of average height and has dirty blonde hair. I know lots of people that have those two things, but something about this one sets me a bit on edge. I look over at Oliver, who has made it up to the admissions desk and is paying for the three of us to get in.
I turn my gaze back and I am about to brush it off as nothing when the girl turns around. It takes a fraction of a second to register in my mind, but I know her. I so know her. She could have been anyone else in the world, but her eyes, an insane shade of green, are a dead giveaway.
I put a hand to my face, remembering the blood covering it on the day she told me she lied. My heart drops to my feet, and I mutter just loud enough that Oliver and Rory turn to me. “No. Dear god, no.” I take a few quick and frightened steps backward, and she turns away.
“Avril?” Rory says.
“This can’t be happening.” I can feel tears welling up in my eyes and my back meeting the glass by the doors. An almost violent tremble travels down my arms and makes my hands shake wildly.
“Avril, what’s wrong?” Oliver says. Or maybe it’s Rory. I’m not exactly sure. My head is ringing and throbbing at the same time. I can’t hear anything, and I can’t take my eyes off her. My head begins to scream at me, telling me I’m a screw up, that something along the way ruined what we had. Dayna looks over again, her gaze passing right over my head. I sink to the floor, and I feel my heart racing. I’m muttering the only word I can think of as I feel my eyes empty of tears and fill right back up, only to spill them again. No.
“Avril!” Rory. That’s Rory.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!” I
“No what?” Oliver.
I wipe at my eyes with the backs of my hands, and the tears die away enough that I can see the two of them bending down in front of me, and a few people in the crowds snagging a glance at this mess of a scene I’m causing. My vision clouds back over quicker than it cleared.
My breathing is shaky and rapid, matching my heartbeat almost exactly. I shake my head. “No. This c-can’t be hap-happening at all!”
“Hey,” Oliver says almost urgently. He puts a hand on my shoulder. “Take a deep breath, okay?”
I manage to calm myself enough to suck in some air. My mouth is dry and my head hurts and I just can’t believe it. I exhale, the only thing slowing being my heart.
“What’s wrong, Avril?” Rory asks, his tone parallel to Oliver’s.
I lick my lips and take in another trembling breath. I lift up an arm and point to the space in between the crowd, assuming the arrow is hitting its target from my vantage point. It’s as if my entire body doesn’t want to believe what I saw, especially my voice. It croaks and wavers and is interrupted by the gasps for air. “Her.” I slide back up the wall, afraid I’ll fall if I try to stand on my own. “It’s h-her!”
“What? Who?” Oliver leans to the side to look through the crowd while Rory grabs my hand and holds it tight.
“It’s her!” A sudden realization hits me, and I swear I feel like I might puke. “O-oh my god, is that Mauve? Oh my god! Oh my god no!” I want so badly to fold in on myself. Just disappear from view and forget everything that happened and is happening.
“The blonde one?” Oliver turns to me.
“Yes! Th-that’s her!”
“Who is her?”
“That can’t be her but it’s her!”
“Avril, who is she?” Rory asks.
“She-sh...that’s her. No. No, no, no!” I grab some of my hair with my other hand and tug on it, trying to ground myself so I don’t break down completely.
“Who is she?!” Oliver pushes.
“I… agh!” I choke on my thoughts, which are all trying to come out at once.
“Avril!” He is growing a little impatient.
“Th-that’s-” I can feel my voice breaking as my mind finally accepts the facts, and the name leaves my mouth like the sound of a deflated balloon, “Dayna.”