“A few hours later, I am pacing around the house when the perfect idea pops up and makes its way into my central thinking system.”
Beep beep beep, goes my text tone.
“If London texts me again, I will throw my phone out of the window.”
Madeline Kate O’Brian
You have been selected for a game challenge.
You will have five days to complete this challenge.
If you don’t complete it in five days, there will be consequences.
If you accept, write back immediately.
Well, that is out of the blue. And who calls me by my full name (except for my parents when I get in trouble, of course)? Oh great, and now there is a five minute countdown. In red. This is definitely big. Very big.
I accept. Give me more details.
Immediately, the thing texts back.
Good, you accepted. Come to York Street, go to building number 33, and ring the buzzer three times. Come on September first at exactly 11:31 AM. Do NOT BE LATE!
“Well, that’s weird. 11:31? Who can pull that off?”
That is London, my very annoying twin sister who is also a gamer, and who thinks that she can do anything and everything, which isn’t all bad. But it is really annoying. Please don’t let her have gotten the same text as me, I think.
“Hey, little sis, what are you concocting now?”
“None of your beeswax,” I snap.
“Ohhhhh, someone’s in a bad mood.”
“I am not in a bad mood! I am just stuck. But why are you in here?”
“One, this is my room, too; and two, I think that something is up with you. You haven’t sent me an annoyed text in like 15 minutes.”
“So something is up.”
“No, I am down, I can’t think of a game, and… ”
“And I entered a contest with a deadline of three days.”
London walks over to my desk.
“Oh, so you’re making a game about random kids who have to ‘find their superpowers.’”
“Don’t you see that one is crumpled?” I say as I pick up the paper and throw it onto the soft, fluffy carpet.
Great, there goes my great idea. But now it probably isn’t my idea anymore because copycat London got it in her evil, evil clutches.
“Go bother Ryan or something,” I say to London.
“Oh, am I bothering you?” she asks in fake surprise.
“Yes,” I say through my gritted teeth. My fingernails are digging into my palms. I feel my anger rising and boiling up.
“Fine! I will leave. But keep in mind that I will come back, because this is my room too.” And with that, she slams the door.
I put my head down on the wood of my desk. Then, there comes another beep beep beep.
Here are the other people involved with this challenge:
And Beatrice Becomler.
Hmm. Those are interesting people. Really interesting. So, back to my thinking stage.
Ugh! Dinner again. Ohhh! But it smells really good. I meet my older brother Ryan on the stairs.
“London told me you told her to bother me.”
“Well, yeah, because she was in my — our room, bothering me, and I am very, very busy.”
“Oh. Are you working on the other game?”
“Can I test it?”
“Umm, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“It’s for a competition, and I am not sure on the rules.”
“Oh. Okay, then.”
When we get to the dinner table, London is already there.
“Mom called dinner two and a half minutes ago. You’re late. Funny! That’s how much older I am than you.”
“Stop it, London.”
“Oh, London, why don’t you just run away,” Ryan asks rhetorically.
“If I ran away, Mom and Dad would miss me too much. They would make a reward for anyone who found me, and I would turn myself in and get the reward, which would be pretty high.”
“Umm… London?” I say. “I am not sure that’s how it works.”
“Girls, could we have at least one dinner without you two arguing about something or someone?” Mom says angrily.
“Probably not,” mumbles Ryan.
“What did you say?” asks London, her face growing pink.
“I said that you couldn’t not argue.”
“I accept your challenge.”
“I didn’t challenge you.”
“Five bucks if I don’t argue.”
I whisper to Ryan, “You just earned a free five bucks.”
“So, did anyone do anything fun today?” asks Dad.
“I went to the skatepark,” offers Ryan.
“You skate?” asks Dad.
“Well, kind of. I actually went to the skatepark in a video game.”
“That makes more sense,” Mom says.
At that moment, our neighbor, Mrs. Sweetson, (nicknamed Mrs. Grump by London and me, one of the only things we agree about) appears by our sliding glass door.
“Kids, did you do something?” Mom asks cautiously before she opens the door.
“Nope!” is our very speedy reply.
Mom gives us a cold, knowing look before opening the door.
“Did I see a For Sale sign on your front lawn?” she asks excitedly.
“I don’t think so. Do you feel okay, Mrs. Sweetson?”
“Yes,” she snaps, trying to hide her disappointment. “Well, I am sure that it’s there. I will show you.”
Mom goes outside, and we follow her. Mrs. Sweetson hates us because when we were six, we accidently told the petting zoo that we ordered for our birthday to go to her house. She still hasn’t forgiven us, six whole years later! Like, seriously, doesn’t she know the saying “forgive and forget”? Well, when we get to the sign, there really is a sign. I have a feeling Mrs. Grumps planted it there.
“I am very sorry, Mrs. Sweetson, but we are not moving. Kids, is this your version of a joke?”
“No. We aren’t that mean,” London says sweetly.
“I don’t think that that should be legal, because it is very confusing,” I say.
“We wouldn’t do such a thing. On top of that, we like our house and don’t want to leave if we don’t have to. Right?” says Ryan.
“Right,” London and I say.
“Fine,” Mom says and goes back inside.
“Okay, kids, you’ll get away with it this time. But next time, you won’t be so lucky, because next time I will have evidence. Now, get out of my sight,” Mrs. Sweetson says.
We all trudge back to the house and grab our favorite popsicles (mine is lemon cream) and walk upstairs. When I get back to our rooms, the thing had texted me a lot.
Start thinking of game ideas.
Unless you want consequences.
I am putting you in the blueish-gray room.
You have to make your game out of the materials we give you and you get three extras.
All I am thinking is, What is this thing I got myself into? Blueish-grey room. Consequences. They give you materials. What is this, Chopped?
“Hmmm, what is this?” London asks slyly.
“Do you need to know?”
“I entered a board game competition. Nothing new.”
“Did you tell Mom? Do you need parent permission?”
“No and no. And please do something for me for once, and don’t tell Mom.”
“Okay. I won’t tell Mom. But you have to tell me more about this contest.”
“Okay, it’s not a contest. It’s more of a challenge.”
“Fine! A challenge. Tell me more.”
“I don’t know more.”
“Uh , yes you do.”
“Uh, no I don’t.”
At that moment, Ryan walks into the room. Thank goodness, I think.
“What is going on here?”
“She won’t tell me about her challenge.”
“I don’t know enough to tell her without lying.”
“Okay,” Ryan says, “I will treat you to something… ”
“Anything?” asks London.
“Anything, if you leave Maddie alone.”
“Thank you,” I whisper as Ryan walks out the door. He nods and walks off.
A few hours later, I am pacing around the house when the perfect idea pops up and makes its way into my central thinking system.
Why. That is a question I ask myself a lot. Like, why does London have to be my twin? And why do ideas just pop in my mind? And why do they not come to me when I really, really need them? But most of all, why am I in this challenge? I didn’t do anything to get in.
Later that night, I go to Ryan’s room. It’s the 24th of August, and school will start on the 10th of September. (It’s starting later because of technical difficulties with the sprinkler system.) I need help with getting to the place for the contest without my parents getting suspicious. And with kids like London, Ryan, and me, there is always a need for suspicion. I tell this to Ryan, and he doesn’t seem too worried.
“Maddie, keep in mind that I am sixteen,” he says.
“So, what do you get when you turn sixteen?”
“Umm… a driver’s license?”
“Exactly!” he says. “And what can you do with a driver’s license?”
“And what do you drive?”
I glare at him. “Ryan, stop. A car, obviously.”
How could I forget? Ryan is sixteen, and a few weeks ago, he got a used red sports car with money from his job as a caddy at one of the country clubs, even though he knows nothing about golf.
“Okay, so I have a way to get there now. I need an excuse.”
Ryan looks at me as if it is obvious. “Maddie, I provide the transportation, and you do the excuses. Okay?”
I go back to my room to find London doing her normal nightly routine. Laying out her outfit, while checking the weather and her calendar to make sure that it is perfect for the next day. I roll my eyes. Shorts and a T-shirt work for me.
It is the night before the first day at the contest, and I still don’t have an excuse. Wait, London always has excuses. So, I ask London.
“Hmmm, I see your struggle,” says London. “I have the perfect thing. Say that you are going to get things for school.”
“That’s great! But remember, this is a five day contest.”
“Okay, go to a friend’s house on the second day, a movie on the third day, the park on the fourth day, and a drive on the fifth. Then you just have to leave at different times so you don’t create suspicion, which you should get an award for because you are really good at not creating suspicion,” she says sarcastically.
“Wait, Maddie. My services have a price.”
“What do you mean, it has a price?”
“I mean, you have to pay. Two dollars.
“Why would pay you money?”
“Because… I just helped you a lot.”
“In other words, no.”
And with that, I storm out of the room, and I go out in the yard. A second later, Mom’s head peeks out of our sliding glass door. Ugh, I think I can never be alone in this house.
“Maddie, a girl named Rose Aperad is coming over in about five minutes. Do you know her?” I hesitate for half of a millisecond. Right! One of the other contestants.
“Okay,” I say. “But can you keep London very busy while she’s here?”
“Sure. I guess that not all of these things that you do have to involve London.”
“Thank you,” I say, then Mom pops back in the house.
A few minutes later, a girl named Rose Aperad comes. She has olive skin, brown wavy hair that tumbles down her back, and exotic looking green eyes.
“Hi,” the girl says. “You must be Madeline.”
“Yes, I am. Rose, right?” I ask.
“Come on in.”
“Thank you,” she says. “But I can only stay for a few minutes. I am warning you that this challenge is very challenging and very dangerous. Good luck.”
And with that, she turns on her heel, gets on her bike, and leaves.
And for the second time that day, I ask myself what I had gotten myself into. And why would Rose, who I don’t even know, warn me?
Stunned, I walk into the kitchen. Mom notices and comes over. “Is everything alright?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I just don’t feel very well.”
“Oh,” she says. “Well, then I hope you feel better. Why don’t you go get some rest? Call me if you need anything.”
“Wait,” I say when she is halfway up the stairs. “Where’s London?”
“Oh, I was busy, so I sent Ryan to go take her for ice cream or something.”
It is the day of the first day of the contest. I am so nervous. So nervous. I get out of bed, and I play a one person game of Quiet-as-a-Mouse as I tiptoe up the stairs to the loft, also known as Ryan’s room. “Ryan, Ryan!” I exclaim. He rolls over and looks groggily at me.
“London, go away.”
“Ryan, I am not London!” This happens a lot with us being identical and all. Even with our older brother.
“So sorry, Maddie. I am just tired.”
“It’s fine,” I say. He rolls over again to look at his alarm clock.
“Madeline Kate O’Brian, how dare you wake me up at 6:20. Let me sleep for at least three more hours.”
I head back to my room. I need something to do, so I find a piece of paper and write out my game.
A Race to the Deadline.
Rules: There are at least three characters. You are each either a movie director, a writer, or a reporter. You all have a deadline that you have to meet. On different spaces you pick a card. It is either good or bad. It will either set you back or get you closer…
Then, London wakes up, and she is mad. “You turned on the light and woke me up.”
“Sorry,” I say.
“Maddie, since you choose to be up at this hour, where is that sleeping mask Ryan gave to me for my birthday?”
“Yeah,” I say, pulling it out of my desk drawer. Now I am glad that I saved this thing, because I was going to use it for a game, but I didn’t.
It is a few hours later, and I am putting on jeans and a Harry Potter T-shirt. I am racing downstairs, grabbing a bag of gummy bears (for stress eating), a bag of sea salt and vinegar chips (for a snack), and a bottle of water. I take my game idea and my mom’s old phone (also known as my new phone) out to the front stoop and into the front seat of Ryan’s car.
“Ready to go,” I say.
We get to York Street, and there are a lot of numbered houses: 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, but no 33. I am very confused. Then, I spot Rose going through the side wall. A hidden door. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I get out of the car and walk around the side door, my heart thumping like a drum. I check the time: 11:30. I look for cracks in the wall. Finally, I find the crack and push. Overhead, I hear a computerized voice say: “Welcome, Madeline Kate O’Brian.”
“You can call me Madeline,” I say, even though the computer probably can’t hear me.
“Yes, Madeline, and you can call me Viola.”
“Umm… okay,” I answer, not exactly sure what to say.
“Go down the hall, and take two rights. Then you will be at the blueish grey room, and then you will answer the riddle.” Oh great, I think. A riddle.
I walk down that hall and take my first right. I see a light pinkish-grey room with the names Aaron Icer and Rose Aperad. Then, I take another right and see the yellowish-grey room with the names Belle Mersa and Jack Canfor. I walk a little further, and I finally see the blueish-grey room with names Madeline O’Brian and Beatrice Becomler.
I step through the door, and a cranky old man’s voice says: “You will answer this riddle, and you will find that the password is the answer to this riddle. Here is the riddle: a cowboy rides his horse into town on Friday, two days later the cowboy leaves on Friday. How could this happen?”
I sit down on the cool tile floor. I think better when I sit down. Friday, cowboys ride horses. He rode a horse.
“Got it,” I exclaim. “The cowboy rode in on a horse named Friday.”
“Very good,” the cranky old man says. “You may enter.”
The door swings open to reveal two desks with fluffy roller chairs and a blueish carpet that probably used to be fluffy but was worn out by years of use, along with two hammocks with pillows and blankets, two bright green baskets, and a girl with dirty blond hair that is in beach waves. She wears thick black rimmed glass and a cheery smile.
“Hello,” the girl says. “I am Beatrice Becomler, and you are probably Madeline.”
Just then, Viola’s voice blares through the speakers.
“Attention! The contest will start in two minutes. In the first round, you will have to draw out the plan for your game. With only the materials that we give you in the box. Then if the Master accepts your plan, you will move onto the next round. If not, then you will meet your fate.”
Beatrice and I freeze.
“Okay,” she says. “That was freaky.” I nod in agreement.
“Let’s open our baskets.”
My basket: One sheet of construction paper, a piece of charcoal, and a twenty-four count box of crayons. And a note: Try, Try, Try. Hun. Sounds like I have heard that before.
I get another text right as I am starting to draw out the cards for my game.
You have to work if you don’t want to meet your fate.
Great! Another creepy text.
I start working again. I look up at the wall. Ten minutes left.
Before I know it, the timer is going off. Beeee boooooo beeeeeeeep.
Then, Viola says: “Come to the front hall. Your work will be judged there.”
We all file into the hall. First up is Rose Aperad. Her work gets passed. Then Aaron Icer. His work is denied. A young woman leads a scared looking Aaron out of the room. Then everyone else goes, and then it is my turn. I walk up to the stand on shaky legs, where I put my work under a screen so that our judge can judge it.
“Your work is denied.”
I just stand there. I don’t move. The young woman comes back out and leads me to a small room where a girl about my age is standing. She looks just like me. She turns, and it’s…
“What the heck have you done?!”
“I made a contest. Nothing new.”
“Why would you do this?
“I am trying really hard to make you happy.”
“Are you judging our work?!”
“No. My friend Viola is.”
“Is this thing fake?!”
“Definitely not. You know that I don’t do the fake thing. I do the real thing.”
“London, you will never be able to repay me.”
“Madeline. Try me.”
“No wonder I never thought we were actually twins.”
“Oh, but we are.”
“I know that! But seriously, Why would you do this me?”
“I know how competitive you are, and that you needed a challenge. You were kind of on a gamer’s block all summer, and I wanted your creative juices to start flowing.”
“Thanks, I guess. But, wait, where is Aaron?”
“Safe and sound at home.”
“You know what, London, I actually kind of want to thank you. But now I know I will not read strange texts.”
“Yeah, did you set her up?”
“Sure, I did. I felt bad, so I wanted you to back down.”
“You did, did you?”
“Yes. Listen, Maddie, I am very sorry. I didn’t mean for you to take it that way. I was just trying to help.”
“I still do not forgive you. But I thank you.”
“Remember that story that Mom used to tell us about how on the first day of kindergarten, we wouldn’t separate, and our teachers had to come and literally pull us apart?“ London recalls.
“Yeah. Why don’t we get Ryan to pick us up and go home,” I suggest.
I am sitting in my room, or at least my side of it. My side of the carpet is the fluffiest, and better for sitting on, whereas London’s side is worn from many years of practicing gymnastics and her horrible hip-hop. My bed is neat and cozy-looking, and London’s is the opposite. I am sitting on the fluffy carpet, bouncing a ball and eating a bowl of ice cream while mulling over yesterday’s events. (I am very good at multitasking.) I am still upset at London. I am wondering why I hadn’t picked up on how she knew about the 11:31 thing. Or how all of the texts mostly came when she was not in the same room as me. I look over at London’s bed. She had already done her silly ritual. Laying out her clothes. A scoop of ice cream trickles down my favorite Mickey Mouse T-shirt. Oh come on, I think. I hear London’s soft footsteps across the hall. Great, I think. London is going to barge in here and totally be rude. That will really drive me off the edge. Instead, London comes in and sits down next to me. Her eyes are full of remorse. We look at each other and go in for a hug. I look at London. Her clothes have smudges of my chocolate ice cream. She looks down and glares at me. We both giggle.