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STEMfest Sci-Fi Writing Competition- Second Place Winner!

The Hounds by Dessa Leonard

“This is a Code 42. I repeat, Code 42. Begin sealing the building.”

 “No! Let us out!!”

“The building has been sealed commander.”

 

            “This is a Code 42. I repeat, Code 42. Begin sealing the building.”

 

            “No! Let us out!!”

 

            “The building has been sealed commander.”

           

            “Keep the citizens clear, is that understood. Under no circumstances will ANYONE enter this building.”

 

            “Commander...”

 

            “Yes, what is it?”

 

            “Five students are missing.”

 

Jerome Fletcher sighed. That memory would haunt him forever. “No! Let us out!!” He wished he could push that pleading, screaming voice from his mind. He never decided which girl it was, Callie or Ashleigh who was crying that day, and he didn't care to reflect.

            “I m so sorry...to all of you. I am so sorry.” He squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled sharply. He had done this too them. He had created those...those things. He never wanted to...but the money he had been offered was just too good to say no. He had studied the faces of those five kids until he was sure he'd never forget. Angrily, he stood up, his blue eyes filled with rage as he swatted his laptop across the room. He knocked over anything he could find- beakers, research papers, anything to do with this place.

            Commander Grant ran into the room.

            “I quit Grant!” Jerome howled. “All of the research is gone! I quit and I would rather live on the streets than do this again!!”

            As the biologist left the commander with a shocked expression, he decided it was Callie. She begged for help, for him to open a door and he never even thought of her.

- -

            “Wake up!” Sam shouted, giving my shoulder a rough push. So rough I fell out of my little nest of blankets piled up on the table and hit the ground with a thump loud enough to wake the other 4 in the room.

            “Sam! Leave her alone. It's not her fault she has nightmares, considering what we're in right now!” Cameron's voice, scratchier than usual called through the darkness.

            “Of course, English boy to the rescue. Why don't you just run along and have some tea and crumpets?” Sam rolled his eyes, holding out his pinkie finger and took a sip from an imaginary tea cup.

            “Grow up Sam.” I sighed, rubbing my arm to get rid of the stinging. In the dim light, I saw him wipe his blond hair from his face and roll back over in his 'bed'.

            “Whatever.” He sighed, clearly ready to go back to ignoring us all.

            “Are you alright Callie?” Ashleigh asked, hopping down from her 'bed' and offering  a hand to help me up.

            “I'm okay, just a bruise,” I smiled. “Thanks.”

            I heard Cameron hop down, and gently walk over to us.

            “I take it Bryce is still asleep?” Cameron asked, looking at the both of us.

            Ashleigh and I frowned, looking down at the ground. Ashleigh choked back a small cry while I looked at Cameron. Bryce is gone. He left in the middle of the night, and he never came back. We heard-” I stopped and looked at Ashleigh. “You know, howling.”

            Cameron walked over to Ashleigh and put an arm around her. “We have to make the best of what we have. Bryce did a lot for us, remember that.” He said, looking down as his dark hair fell into his eyes.

            Ashleigh didn't reply, but instead kept looking down.

            “You called?” A weak voice asked, leaning in on the door. He wobbled a bit, no doubt he was injured, but he was alive.

            “Bryce!!” Ashleigh yelped, running into the arms of her lifelong friend. Bryce laughed and wrapped his arms around her.

            Cameron gently nudged my arm. “Let's go get everyone some food, hm?” He asked, nodding his head at the door.

I felt my stomach rumble and nodded, giving a small smile. “Good idea.” I followed him outside into the hall, squinting at the light. My eyes couldn't help but wander to the plastic tiles on the ground, and the claw marks, worn down into them. I shivered and closed my eyes.

            “Callie, don't think about it. The Hounds sleep during the day, remember?”

            “But what if they change Cameron? They've come this far, why not become diurnal?” I half-snapped at him, then frowned. “Sorry Cameron.” The guy had never been anything but nice to me, but I was just so...worried I guess the word could be.

            Cameron gave a small smile. “Because we know they're not. Remember the first night? We got caught out in the hall with them, and Ashleigh's flashlight scared them off. They hate light, and right now they're all asleep in a dark corner.” He said softly.

            “You're right.” I hesitated. “Go ahead to the kitchen, there's something I need to do first.”

            “Alright.” Cameron nodded, going left down the hall, while I went right. I pried the library door open and sat down at a table nearest the window. Sliding aside a copy of the World Atlas, I picked up  my notebook.

            “Day 20.” I wrote, and sighed.

“I had a nightmare again today, but nothing new about that I guess. Bryce went off last night to do something, and was attacked. We thought we heard the Hounds, but he got away. How, I will never know. I've decided today I can finally work up the courage to tell you about the Hounds.

  1. 1.      Think “Hound of the Baskervilles” only twice as terrifying. And these Hounds are not a hoax. The bit marks on Bryce can prove that.
  2. 2.      Their paws are on average 4 inches across. Ashleigh and I measured a paw print one left in some clay we found in the art rooms.
  3. 3.      They're nocturnal. They run from the light. Unfortunately, there's no working lights in the school. So we're confined to one room at night. We took the fire blankets from around to make beds in the biology labs.(It's mostly a pile of blankets on lab tables)
  4. 4.      The Hounds themselves are about 5 feet tall, and about 4 feet long from snout to tail. (This is a guess. I never plan on getting close enough to actually find out.)
  5. 5.      They're carnivores, like most canines. They have claws strong enough to scratch the tile just by walking. But, they normally don't howl, unless they find live prey, which doesn't happen often.

Like I've said, there are fie students right now:

            Samuel Bently- 16 years old, Sophomore. He's a baseball player, but I don't remember if he's varsity or not... He's kind of a jerk,and he acts like we all get on his nerves. He's a total bully. The 'use and abuse you' kind of person. It's really weird, because everyone on the basebal team is really nice, except him.

            Ashleigh Fryer- 15, also Sophomore. She loves fashion, and believe it or not, has been making fresh clothes in the school's fashion room for us. She's terrified of the dark, and you can see why this isn't helping. Her best friend since the age of like, 3 is Bryce Hampton.

            Bryce Hampton- Junior, age 16. Looking at him, you'd think he was a football player, but actually, he's the best actor in the entire school. He's really nice, but can sometimes do stupid things. Because of him, we found the camping club's stash of sleeping bags.

            Cameron Cox- (Personally, I think that's the best name ever) 18, Senior. Cameron and his parents moved here from England about a year ago. He's the closest thing to a leader, and it keeping us from going all “Lord of the Flies” on each other.* He likes math and science, and he's so smart he kind of scares me sometimes.

            *Lord of the Flies is a book by William Golding, about some boys who get stuck on an island alone and basically go nuts. Good book.

            And me- Callie Anderson- 17, Senior. I like history and literature. I was also the first one of us to get a good look at the Hounds. I'll talk about that another day.

            The five of us have been locked in this school for 20 days. For different reasons, we were late evacuating the school, and we were SEALED INSIDE with a group of genetically engineered super wolves. Thanks to Cameron, he explained how it works, we found that out.

            “Do you want me to write in that bit?” Cameron asked, sitting down next to me.

            “As long as you don't laugh or be sarcastic or anything. I want someone to know what happened to us.” I sighed, sliding the pen over and blushing a little. I didn't tell anyone about this, because I wasn't sure they'd see it as good idea.

            “No! I think it's a brilliant idea.” He clicked the pen and started to write:

Gene splicing is the act of taking a specific gene from one organism and putting it into another. For example, taking the luminescence gene from a lightning bug, and inserting it into a mouse- ta da! Glow in the dark mouse! In our case, these canines were given traits from several different  creatures. Superb night vision, high stability joints to support their massive size and incredible running speed. Large cat-like canine teeth for hunting. I could literally go on for hours, but I'll spare you. These Hounds were highly likely artificially bred as well. Any Hounds that favored these traits were allowed to breed, producing offspring with the best display of desired traits. For example, the hound with the largest canine teeth, size and best senses was bred only with other Hounds with these traits, until offspring with the best senses, most powerful bones, largest size and canine teeth were born.

            “Should I write more?” Cameron asked, looking up and clicking the pen a few times. I could see a happy sparkle in his eyes. He was having fun, a lot of fun.

            “Go for it.” I smiled, nodding.

            Cameron beamed and went back to it. When he was finished, I was fairly sure my journal was now a biology report. Cameron was still smiling.

            “Come on, we should be getting back to the others. They're probably waiting for us. Well, Sam probably went off on his own again, but Ashleigh and Bryce are probably waiting.” He said,  brushing his hair from his eyes. I remember a while ago he said he was supposed to get a haircut the day of Lock In.

            “I brought you some breakfast.” He added, turning around backwards to toss me a small carton of milk and an apple.

            “Thanks, but watch out for the-”

            “Ow!!”

            “Door.” I laughed, as he turned around and studied the door as if it came from no where. I looked outside, across the lot where 5 small shrines were set up, dedicated to us. Our pictures were hung up on posts, with piles of stuff below them. Things that I suppose were there to make our posters feel better. Sometimes, if it was sunny outside, we could see someone standing at one of our little shrines. The first few times, we tried pounding on the doors, yelling for help, but no one ever noticed us.

            I could never help but wonder if we were really ghosts, and only thought we were still around, but I knew better.  I closed my eyes and rested my forehead against the glass. It was warm with sunlight. I missed the sun, going outside and sitting on the grass, blowing away seeds of a dandelion. I missed hearing the birds at my window in the morning, hearing my neighbor's dog barking at the mailman, I missed my cat's purring while she batted at my feet when she wanted to play. I missed my parents most of all. I wanted to see them, for them to see me, know I was still here and I wanted to be in their arms, safe from everything like when I was a little kid, simply climbing into my mom's arms or dad's lap made the monster under the bed go away.

            Cameron took my hand. “We will make it out of here. I swear, on my life that we will all get to go home.” He said softly. “Sometimes though, a good cry can make you feel better than words.”

            I didn't remember crying, but I knew he was right. He just stood there for a few minutes while I let it all out, then composed myself.

            “Better?” He whispered, giving me a tiny smile.

            “Yes. Thanks Cameron.” I said. “Look!” I said, wiping my eyes and nodding at the window. Cameron pulled his hand away, pressing his face to the glass.

            “The guy who locked us in here? Why would he come back here?!” Cameron spat, turning away. “Let's go. I don't want to see that cowards face as long as I live!” He snapped, walking away. This was the angriest I'd seen Cameron this week, and I turned back, once to look at the man standing across the street. He was simply standing there, watching us. I turned away, mimicking Cameron's movements, and his anger as he went back into the biology lab that was our room.           

            Cameron sat down on his 'bed' and I decided to leave him alone for a while. Ashleigh and most likely patched Bryce up at the nurse's office, then went to make some not ripped clothes for him to wear. Sam, of course was no where to be found. He would wake up, and disappear all day, then come back at dusk. I looked at the clock, which was battery operated, so thankfully was accurate despite the power surges that happened sometimes.

            We had about 2 hours of light left, and I was regretting sleeping in so late. Tomorrow, I decided, I would wake up earlier than noon. I buried my nose in a copy of Hamlet, giving Cameron his peace.

            Just before I got to the famous, “To be, or not to be...” quote, Cameron walked over and rested his elbows on the table and put his head in his hands.

            “What do you say we go make everyone a proper supper? We'll set a table and everything!” He asked, smiling once again.

            “Mable Mable get your elbows off the table!” I said, pushing his arms out from under him.

            He laughed and threw a pillow at me. “I'd love to, only I'm not Mable.”

            “Pity. I hear she makes wonderful pancakes.” I smirked.

            “Oh, we are not going there!” He laughed, and headed for the kitchen. I hopped down and followed him. Our old cooking class teacher was Evangeline Mable. She was probably a hundred years old and was blinder than a bat. (Which apparently, are almost never blind. Thanks, Cameron.) Once, she was showing us how to make pancakes, and nearly burned down the school. Cameron and I were in the same class, which was how we knew each other.

            He opened the kitchen door and flipped on one of the giant industrial ovens. “Let's see, we have pizza, taco meat, and something that looks like maybe chicken.”

            “Hm, I'd go with the pizza.” I said, starting to unwrap a box of cookies. “And we can heat these up and they'll taste almost good!” I added. Cameron and I were never really friends before this, we were just class friends. We talked to each other for 50 minutes during cooking, and then maybe a hello in the hallway. But as bad as it sounds, I was glad he was here. I would go mad if it wasn't for him.

            I glanced at the clock again. “So, it's five now. The pizza probably takes an hour to get done, and it gets dark around six. We should have just enough time to get back.”

            “Sounds about right.” Cameron nodded, sitting on the ground near the oven. “Now we just have to wait.” He patted the ground next to him for me to come and sit, so I did, crossing my legs.

            “So, would you rather eat a worm, or take a sip of sour milk?” He smirked, leaning back against the oven.

            “Ew...probably the milk. At least it won't wiggle while I drink it. Would you rather eat a slice of roadkill pot pie, or chew gum off a hobo's shoe for an hour?” I smirked, watching his face while he tried to decide.

            We played Cameron's game of would-you-rather until the pizza was done. He and I took the two pizzas from the oven and transferred them to a couple plastic trays, then did the same with the cookies.

            “It's been a few days since we ate a warm dinner.” Cameron said, glancing out a passing window at the twilight.

“Do you think there are other creatures out there? Like the Hounds, I mean?” I asked, hoping he didn't mind that I changed the subject.

            “Probably. I'd be surprised if there weren't. I don't think we'll ever know how the Hounds got here, but the government is probably stocked with hundreds more by now. They didn't want anyone to find out, so they sealed the Hounds up in here, probably saying there was a gas leak or something. Our school gets closed and no one is the wiser.” He said somberly, setting down the tray of pizza to open the door to our rooms.

            “It's locked!” He said, pushing on the door with more force.

            “You're not coming in. I've decided to live alone, so you should move out.” Sam called tiredly from inside.

            “Sam, quit being stupid and unlock the door!! It's nearly dark!!” Cameron called, pounding on the door. I realized what I must have looked like when I was pounding on the door, screaming for them to unlock it, let us out. Looking at that stupid man's face while I cried, begged, for help. The Hounds were on the hunt, and I could hear them. I was nearly devoured, but thanks to Cameron and Ashleigh who chased them away, I got out alive with only a bite mark or two. When I laid down every night, I hoped that jerk laid awake in his fluffy little bed, the image of me being dragged to the ground by Hounds played over and over in his head. We actually killed one of the Hounds that night, when I hit it over the head with a fire extinguisher.

            “SAM!!” Cameron shouted, kicking the door in frustration.

            “Cameron, what's going on?” Bryce asked, as Ashleigh kept looking over her shoulder at the darkness creeping down the hall.

            “Sam locked us out of the room! I'm gonna kill 'im when I get this door open.” Cameron growled.

            “There's not time tonight! We need to get to the library, and we can lock ourselves in there.” I said, trying to keep everyone calm, while in reality, I never wanted to take another step from that spot.

            “G-guys!” Ashleigh cried, pointing off into the darkness as we heard Hounds growling and sniffing at our trail in the darkness.

            “GO!” Cameron shouted. “Keep together!” He added, taking off down the hallway towards the library. We could make it, it was only past the front doors, a one minute run. I repeated that in my head, every time I heard a snarl or gnashing teeth at our heels, I reminded   myself we could make it. But the thing about Hounds was they were smart. They knew the cut off routes.

            “We're trapped!” Ashleigh bawled, about one step away from hysteria. We had all been backed up against the wall next to the front door. Half way to the library.

            “We were so close.” I whispered. “So close.”

            Cameron too looked panicked. I forced myself to look at the Hounds. They had grown in number, I could even see small ones. They were even smart enough to breed into a big enough group to hunt us efficiently. They began to circle us like sharks, purely, we knew to mess with our minds.

            “What a way to go.” Bryce said suddenly, with a half chortle. “Taken down by the ultimate predator.”

            “D-do you think, after they eat us, this story will make it's way out into the world and we'll become the poster children of why people shouldn't play with nature?” Ashleigh whispered.

            Cameron decided to answer. “That will be the beginning. Soon, they'll find Callie's journal, and make it into a book. Then a hit movie. Finally, we'll become a story people tell around a campfire. A hundred years from now, people will be eating marshmallows while they hear about The Five Teenagers and the Hounds.” Cameron said, with a small smile.

            “We'll all probably have scholarships and charities named after us!” I added.

            “No way. A whole museum. Kids will do reports on us one day.” Ashleigh smiled a little. There was nothing to do but wait, we had maybe a minute.

            “T-shirts that say, “I don't make the rules of nature, I just follow them.” Bryce laughed. What we thought would be the last time we'd get to laugh, we all laughed along.

            30 seconds.

            “We may even get a cartoon someday.” Cameron laughed. We could see the Hounds clearly now. We could smell their putrid breath as their circle grew smaller. Our laughter died as Bryce took Ashleigh's hand, then she took Cameron's, and then he took mine.

            “At least...at least we didn't go down crying.” Cameron whispered, “We were brave.”

I noticed they hadn't turned away either. They were facing the Hounds, together. We were facing them.

            We watched the Hounds prepare to lunge, when there was the loudest, but most beautiful noise I'd ever heard. A blue Ford truck came bursting in the doors, using a snowplow as a battering ram. The Hounds scattered, then a few seconds later were back in formation.

            “Out!! Get out!” Someone howled, throwing something at the Hounds. A second later, foul smelling, thick gas hit the air. We bolted for the door. I stopped behind the truck, next to Ashleigh and Bryce, when I realized Cameron was gone.

            “He went back for Sam!!” I shouted, as more gas bombs went off. I saw the smallest Hound fall to the ground, suffocating in the gas.

            “I'm going back!” I shouted, running past the guy who sealed us in here in the first place. My hero in the blue truck.

            “Don't! You'll suffocate!” He shouted, as Ashleigh and Bryce watched from the grass.

            I didn't answer, I didn't want to, as I pulled my shirt over my nose and ran back towards the rooms.

            Sam, who I guess heard the commotion ran out into the hall. “What's going on?!” He shouted, tripping over something in the doorway.

            “Front doors, get out!! Watch the gas!” I shouted, trying to breathe as little as possible as the bright green gas spread around us. Sam looked down to see what he has tripped on, and I realized it was an unconscious Cameron. I ran over to him and tried to move him, but he was tall and heavy.

            “Sam, help!!” I begged him, and then watched as he took off running for the door.

            “Sorry Cameron.” I whispered, grabbing his arms and dragging him towards the door. It was the only way I could move him. The harder I worked, the more my head started to swim. Black spots began to worm their way into my eyes. I could see the headlights of the truck, but they never seemed to get any closer. I tripped over a Hound, and I just couldn't get up again. I was too tired and my body too heavy. I kept Cameron's arms in my hands as I laid awkwardly over the body of a dead Hound, it's once sharp and cold eyes now hollow.

            “No you don't!” The man said, running over and pulling me by my arms. “Hold onto him!” He added, dragging us across the floor.

            He didn't stop pulling until there was grass underneath us. By now, there was a crowd gathered near the Shrines, watching in stunned silence.

            Almost right away, my head cleared as the cool night air filled my lungs and I sat up.

            “Cameron?!” I yelped, looking down at him. I gave a shaky breath, and watched as the man covered him, then me with a blanket.

            “I'm Jerome, but don't worry about that right now.” He whispered, then walked off. I sat there for what seemed like forever, we all did, until Cameron opened his eyes. I looked back at Ashleigh and Bryce, who smiled. I noticed, Sam was gone. We would never see, or hear from Sam again. In fact, most everyone would forget he was even involved.

            “Am I alive?” Cameron asked, rubbing his face groggily.

            “I think we all are.” I answered with a nod. “Barely, but we are.”

            Cameron sat up and hugged me. I smiled and hugged him. “It's over...it's finally over.” He whispered, closing his eyes.

            “20 days.” I nodded back, resting my forehead on his shoulder. “20 days.”

            Cameron stood up and dropped his blanket. “20 DAYS!!!!” He screamed, as if he had gone mad. Ashleigh and Bryce threw their blankets up in the air like graduation caps.

            “20 Days!!”

            “20 Days!!”

            “20 DAYS!!!!” I shouted, throwing my blanket into the air.

            Slowly, from across the street, clapping, then cheering and crying began from the crowd. The four of us just stood there, holding hands until our parents arrived. And in that moment, we decided that even though it was over, we would never let go.

Bibliography

http://www.biotechnologyonline.gov.au/popups/int_splicing.html

DNA Splicing. N.d. Photograph. n.p. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://www.biotechnologyonline.gov.au/popups/int_splicing.html>.

 

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_30  

Understanding Evolution. N.d. Infographic. n.p. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_30>.

 

Special thanks to my Biology teacher, Ryan Marsh who taught me about genetic engineering and gene splicing!