Forbidden City, Beijing, China
9:00 AM Beijing Time.
Enter, and The Game will begin. Turn away, and you will lose. William McAllister repeated these words to himself as his parents, their best friends from college, their daughter Amy, and he stepped out of a taxi and faced the entrance to the most famous building in the mega-city of Beijing, the capital of China: 故宫, Gu Gong, or the Forbidden City. Even though he had already been to the Shanghai tower, whose sheer size dwarfed any building in the capital, the huge, red 午门, or Wumen, or the Meridian Gate.
“Construction on the Forbidden City began in 1406 and ended in 1420. It was commissioned by Emperor Yongle when he moved the capital of the Ming Dynasty from its historical location in Nanjing to Beijing,” Mr. Wang was saying as the entourage stepped out of the taxi. The Wangs were extremely influential people, in the city. After they graduated from Stanford with business degrees, the couple founded one of the largest private corporations in China: Wang Financial Industries. Even though his parents never mentioned it, the Wangs were probably multi-billionaires.
“Using a combination of rare wood from the jungles of South China, marble from nearby quarries, and ‘golden bricks’ made in Suzhou, the Palace boasted of the supremacy and power of the Ming Dynasty,” Mrs. Wang added on, just as Will’s phone pinged; the sound of the bells rang and dissipated behind the cacophony of city sounds.
“U have no idea how excited my parents are,” Amy had texted Will, “Get ready when we go in. They will dump so much info into your brains you could teach a whole college course on the palace. I've gotten the exact same lecture, word for word, when I first visited when I was eight”
“I’m ready” he texted back, even though the emoji’s didn’t reflect his mood, which was far from happy or delighted. He was on the trip of his life, yet it was already ruined. This morning, when he woke up at 5 to go down to the gym in the hotel they were staying at, he found this note pinned to his door: “Enter, and The Game will begin. Turn away, and you will lose.”
“Willy, what are you doing, standing on the road. C’mon, Mr. Wang wants to explain the meaning behind the Meridian gate,” Will's Mom called. Taking a deep breath, Will stepped from the black asphalt onto the stark white cement, as if he could feel the slight temperature change, from the warm asphalt to the cold cement. The heat of the Beijing summer sent sweat down his back, but inside he felt cold, as if an arctic chill has crept through him.
His phone pinged again. It was from an unknown number, and Amy. A shiver ran up his spine as he saw Amy turn and look at him with a questioning look on her face.
“Go to the Solemn tower and await your next instruction,” was all the message said. The tower to his left, the Solemn tower, suddenly seemed more solemn, dark against the rising sun. The crowd had begun to swell as tourists flooded the cement pavilion surrounded on three sides by bright red, wooden walls. As his second foot landed on the cement, Amy grabbed him and pushed into down, just as the sound of a gunshot echoed around the gate. Time stopped, as the bullet flew and passed over his eyes, and struck Mr. Wang right in the head. Blood splattered everywhere, as Mr. Wang toppled, striking the cement, his color staining the ground the same colors as the walls. Then the screams began