The Transit Games
They all tried to stop me, told me it was impossible, said I was crazy to even consider it. My friends. My family. The guy with the thing who does stuff at the place. Hey, I don’t blame them. They were only looking out for me.
But, despite the warnings, despite the dangers, I wanted to do it. I had to do it. The people I loved had suffered enough, had gone without for too long, and there was only one way to end their misery. I had to enter the Transit Games.
Every year, 24 teenagers are chosen to compete in the Transit Games. They’re called the Passengers. Their goal is to cross National City by bus within 24 hours. Sounds easy, right? Well, it would be, except for one thing. The buses are controlled by the Drivers.
Their job is to thwart the Passengers’ progress, to ensure they never reach their destination on time, if at all. And they excel at their work. Last year, only one Passenger completed the trip, a clever 13-year-old boy from the High-tech District.
What happens to Passengers who lose in the Transit Games? Nobody knows for sure. Some people say they are chained to desks in cubicles, forced to fill out spreadsheets and memorize corporate mission statements. Others say losers spend the rest of their lives in Barrhaven, a wasteland south of the city.
I knew my chances of winning were minuscule, but I volunteered anyway. Why? For the prize, of course. All victors in the Transit Games receive $20 Starbucks gift cards. I will win for my mother, who hasn’t had a skinny caramel macchiato in days. I will win for my sister, who likes those cake-on-a-stick things.
The day of the Transit Games arrives and I board a bus with the other Passengers in the city’s west end. A few minutes after the bus pulls away from the station, I sense that something is wrong. Then the bus begins to swerve all over the road. I approach the Driver and discover the problem. He is talking on a cellphone.
I have to get off this bus. Now. I run to the rear doors but can’t figure out how to open them. Do I push a button, a bar or the doors? Is there a motion sensor? A pressure mat?
“They’re dance-activated,” a female Passenger says, pushing me aside and breaking into a jig.
The doors burst open and we both jump out. Before any of the other Passengers have time to escape, the bus plunges off a bridge into National City River. The Transit Games have barely begun, and yet, already, only two remain.
“I’m Petra,” I say to my sole opponent and potential love interest.
“I’m Kerria,” she says, smiling. “Nice to save you.” “Yeah, thanks for that,” I say. Another bus arrives before I can compliment Kerria on her dance moves. The front door opens and the Driver tells us to get in. Kerria boards first, and as I follow her inside I look at the Driver and say, “Hi.”
“Shut your freaking cake-hole!” the Driver shouts. “Don’t say another freaking word!” “What’s a cake-hole?” I ask. “I don’t have to answer your questions,” he grumbles, grabbing his jacket and storming off the bus.
The Drivers’ job is to thwart the Passengers’ progress, to ensure they never reach their destination on time, if at all. And they excel at their work. Last year, only one Passenger completed the trip, a clever 13-year-old.
Great. Just great. We exit the bus, sit on the road and wait. An hour passes. Then another. Finally, a bus comes and picks us up. I’m careful to keep quiet, not wanting to tick off this Driver, too.
As we speed along the bus route, I allow myself to imagine that the Transit Games will have two winners this year. But then, as if on cue to destroy that dream, the unimaginable happens. The Driver starts singing.
“Near, far, wherever you are,” he warbles. “I believe that the heart does go on.”
No. Not Céline Dion. Even a Driver couldn’t be so cruel. I cover my ears but the lyrics seep through my fingers. Kerria falls on the floor, writhing and screaming. I reach into my pocket and pull out my ipod.
“Here, use this to drown it out,” I say, handing it to Kerria. “What about you?” she asks. “I’ll be fine,” I say as I Macarena the rear doors open. “Have a frappuccino for me.”
I leap into the evening air, my hands and face hitting cold pavement a nanosecond after my feet. But the pain evaporates, horror rushing in to take its place, when I notice the sign to my left. “Welcome to Barrhaven,” it reads. “Enjoy your stay.”