The ferry glided ashore. A bus waited on the hill. Rain came down in silver sheets against the velvet darkness of the endless night. It was like the opening to a horror movie.
Damien didn’t like wearing the hood over his head and had managed to peek out from beneath it several times in the last hour. It was uncomfortable being in the dark, unable to see, unable to even hear properly.
Damien’s hosts had told him that the hood was necessary – that the location of the island must be kept secret. The only information they had divulged willingly was that his destination was somewhere off the northern coast of Scotland. The atmosphere’s cold, penetrating bite made it easy to believe that Damien had been taken north. He rubbed at his shoulders.
Freezing my bloody knob off here.
Not wanting to push his luck, Damien pulled the hood back down over his face and engaged his hearing. It sounded like the captain of the small passenger ferry was about to give orders.
“Okay, everybody. I’m afraid you will have to leave your hoods on for just a little while longer. The house is just over a mile inland. A bus will take you there now, and then you can finally take the hoods off and settle in.”
There were sighs of relief from all around. Damien wasn’t sure how many other people were on the ferry with him, but he estimated there was at least ten; definitely enough bodies to constitute a crowd. They were all wearing hoods the same as his.
So I have about a dozen competitors. That puts my odds of winning pretty low.
Near the ferry’s bow, a man had begun ushering everybody ashore, barking orders at them in a clipped tone. Damien stumbled past the gruff gentleman and was hustled along onto what felt like a wooden jetty beneath his feet. The freezing rain made him shudder as he left the shelter of the boat.
Remind me never to come to Scotland again if this is what it’s like.
Damien started up an incline, towards where he imagined the bus was parked. An engine idled nearby and the acrid odour of spent petrol mingled with the scent of wet soil. An owl hooted.
When Damien finally stepped onto the waiting bus, the warmth was heavenly. It must have been several hours since his journey had begun and he was starting to feel the weariness in his bones.
They had collected Damien from a train station in Sheffield, where he had then been driven even further north for almost three hours. That was when he had been told to put the hood on. He transferred onto a coach, along with several other people, and got going again on yet another leg of the journey. The hood prevented him from seeing who his companions were, but he heard some of them chatting to whoever was closest to them.
Time became a blur. Weariness and boredom had led to a dazed passing of seconds and minutes and hours until, finally, Damien and his companions were boarded onto a ferry, which had taken them on the short trip to where they were now.
Damien was glad to hear he was now only a mile away from his final destination.
Thought I’d never get there.
He groped his way along the aisle of the stationary bus and found himself a seat on his left. He sat down and relaxed back into the soft cushion.
Oh, yeah. That feels better.
Just another twenty minutes and this wretched trip will be over.
Not long now until this whole thing begins.
Nerves began to tickle at Damien’s psyche as he sat there and waited for the bus to get moving. The bizarre nature of the situation he was in began to sink in. It was something he never would have got himself into usually, but…
When needs must…
The Devil drives.
Damien felt someone dump down on the seat behind him as the bus grumbled into gear and started moving. The rain continued falling heavy outside, thudding against the window panels on both sides of the vehicle.
Damien closed his eyes beneath his hood and allowed himself to rest. He had a worry that rest would be hard to come by during the days ahead.
The bus sped up, jerking and hopping as it traversed uneven terrain. A couple of times it felt as though the vehicle had gone off road completely, so bad was the rocking and tilting. There were no sounds coming from outside: no noise from other traffic, no grinding steel of industrial buildings. Wherever the bus was heading, it was seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
The stranger on the seat behind Damien leant forward and whispered to him. “Pretty exciting, huh?”
With the hood still over his head, Damien was unsure if the woman’s question had been directed at him. After a few seconds he decided that it was and gave a reply. “I don’t know if ‘exciting’ is the word I would use.”
The stranger huffed. “Really, then how would you describe it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this is all a bit dramatic. We’ve been whisked away in the dead of night under the cover of darkness to a destination we know nothing about. Is it really necessary?”
“It’s just part of the experience. Putting on a good show.”
Damien sighed. “It’s stupid.” He pulled the hood off his head and blinked his eyes. He’d had enough of being in the dark. The whole thing was ridiculous. He understood the need for privacy, to a certain degree, but he was done feeling like a prisoner of war.
“Sir, please put your hood back on!”
Damien looked over at the front of the bus to see that the driver was twisting around to study him. The man was skeletal with cheekbones that leapt out at right-angles. Beside him stood a colleague: a burly man in a set of black overalls and work boots.
“Sir,” said the burly man beside the driver. His dark eyes had narrowed and were targeted at Damien. “Put your hood back on or you will be disqualified. You must obey the rules at all times. That is what you agreed when you signed up for the show.”
Damien stared out of the rain-soaked window. A flash of lightning lit up the sky and the landscape came briefly into view. The entire area was marked by grassy hills and craggy outcroppings, and not a great deal else.
“Sir, I am going to give you three seconds…”
Damien rolled his eyes and sighed. “Fine! But this is getting stupid.” He tugged the hood back over his head and cursed beneath it.
Why the hell did I agree to this? I feel like a right dickhead.
The bus continued its journey for another five minutes before slowing down and eventually stopping. Everybody sat in silence while they waited to be summoned.
“Can everybody please shuffle to the front of the bus,” said a voice that Damien recognised as belonging to the burly man in the black overalls.
Damien got to his feet and felt his way down the aisle. He immediately bumped into someone in front of him and had to wait for them to get moving. Once they did, he followed after them.
At the front of the bus, someone placed a hand on Damien’s shoulder and manoeuvred him down the steps. His feet planted down on wet, crunching gravel. Someone bumped into him from behind and sent him stumbling forward. It wasn’t long before he was standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of his unknown companions as they were corralled into a group.
“Okay, everybody. You can now take off your hoods.”
Damien ripped his off and let it fall to the floor. He couldn’t help himself from stomping it into the mud. Everybody else in the crowd seemed equally relieved and there was a collective sigh among them.
The man in the black overalls stood in front of the assembled crowd and had been joined by several other men. They all wore jeans and dark sweaters. The sweaters had a logo of a great staring eye on the left shoulder. It looked the type of symbol the Mason’s would use, or maybe a little like hieroglyphics.
Several yards ahead lay a vast complex which resembled a factory unit in many ways. Barbed wire lined the edges of a ten-foot steel fence which ran around the sides and back of the complex. Giant floodlights lit up the entire area. It reminded Damien of a concentration camp.
“Now,” said the man in black overalls. “You are about to enter our specially designed facility. You will spend up to ten days inside; some of you, not so long. In order to remain inside, you must obey all rules at all times. Failure to follow rules will result in expulsion from the house. Failure to follow commands will result in expulsion from the house. Failure to participate will result in expulsion from the house. Do all of you understand?”
The crowd mumbled affirmably.
The man continued. “Each day inside the house will include a group task followed by a vote to eliminate one member of the household. The winner or winners of the group task will be immune from receiving votes. Each evening will feature an elimination task between the two members of the group who received the most votes. The loser of the elimination task will be expelled from the house. Is that clear?”
The crowd mumbled agreement once more.
“After all contestants, bar two, are eliminated, the prize money will have been won. Two million pounds split between the final two housemates. Those housemates will then have a choice – they can leave with a million each, or wage it against one another in a final elimination task. The winner of the task will then leave the house with two million pounds in their bank account, while the loser will receive nothing.”
The group got excited and began looking around at one another as if to weigh up their competition.
They look like a bunch of rabid hyenas, Damien thought. Am I the same as them?
The man in the black overalls clapped his hands together, regaining everybody’s attention. “Okay, my friends,” he said. “Welcome to the house and let the games begin.”