finleigh

United States of America

Hey, I'm Finleigh, and I don't know what to put in my bio! Well, except that I'm working on a novel (none of you are allowed to read it until it's done), and I do not like writing non-fiction.

Message to Readers

Anything helps, honestly. (read the footnote thingy I ranted there)

The Hostage Game - Chapter One

April 6, 2018

FREE WRITING

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Max slowed his pace to a walk as he rounded the corner, turning into his driveway. He stopped his watch and put his hands on his head to catch his breath. He watched it puff out in front of him, matching the snow on the ground. For some reason, he always liked running in the winter better than running in the summer. There was something about breathing in the frigid air that just calmed him down, like an odd sort of drug.
    He made his way inside and was greeted by his mother, a short, Japanese woman who was bustling around the kitchen. This wasn’t normal for her. Her place was usually in front of the giant monitors in her office, typing away on some secret project that she wouldn’t tell him about. His dad was the one who made dinner, but he was away on some sort of business trip. Max didn’t know why he was gone either. Every time he asked about his parent’s work, he always got the same response - you’ll find out when you’re old enough. But Max was fifteen. Surely he was old enough now to know what they did behind their closed doors.
    His mom yelled at him to go shower, that his dad would be home soon, so he went upstairs to do so. He peeled off his shirt, stuck to his skin with sweat, and caught his reflection in the mirror. His dark hair was sticking out all over the place, cheeks still flushed from his run. He had been told a thousand times that he had his mother’s eyes, but he really had a mixture of both of his parents’ - his dad’s hazel coloring and his mom’s almond shape. Max stripped the rest of the way and got in the shower, the warm water making him realize how cold he actually was.
    When he got out of the shower, he collapsed on his bed, looking around his room. A rickety bookshelf stacked with every Sherlock Holmes book in existence as well as his favorite Hardy Boys novels and even a few Nancy Drew novels hiding in the back of the shelf. Pictures were haphazardly taped all around the room - ones of him on family vacations, and much more of him with his two best friends - Wyatt and Jennica. Pictures of the three of them at Wyatt and Jennica’s basketball games, Max squished between the other two taller, sweatier kids. Candid shots of the three of them dressed up for homecoming. All three of them were smiling in every single picture. And why wouldn’t they? These were his best friends, he was their best friend. At least, they had used to be.
    He felt his phone vibrate from the other side of the bed, and rolled over to pick it up. It was Wyatt. He wanted to know if he could study. Max would have said yes, but he didn’t feel like moving much more than he already had. Besides, it was almost dinner time, which meant that his dad would be home soon. So he made the smart move of continuing to lay on his bed until his mom yelled at him to actually move and put on some sort of clothing.
    He had just gone downstairs when the front door opened, letting in a cold rush of air before his dad shut the door tight behind him. Max ran up to him like a little kid on Christmas morning, and his dad turned just in time to give him a hug.
    “I missed you,” Max admitted.
    “You always say that,” his dad chuckled.
    ‘Because I do!” he replied as he wrought himself out of his dad’s grasp. His mom came over as well, and the usual hugs and kisses were exchanged. Now, his dad was finally able to set down his suitcase and collapse on the couch. His mom went to go get the dinner she had cooked (pasta, because that was basically the only thing she could cook) and left Max and his father in the living room.
    “How was your trip?” Max asked.
    “Good,” his dad replied. That was the only thing he ever said when he went on trips like these. He reached into the front pocket of his suitcase and pulled out a letter, slightly crumpled from travel. To Max’s surprise, he handed it to him. “They told me to give this to you. Remember how I always told you-” Max already knew what he was going to say. He ripped open the envelope, pulling out a letter.
    “You have been accepted as an Incoming at Hazelhavers Academy?” Max asked incredulously. His mother had stopped what she was doing to come over and join them.
    “I forgot that this was the year,” she admitted. “What was your score?”
    Max’s eyes flitted to the bottom of the paper. “15?”
    “Everyone said that the competition for Premiership was tough this year,” his father admitted. “That score would have gotten you all the way there just last year.”
    “What’s a Premier?” Max asked, but both of his parents brushed it off.
    “Nothing you need to worry about,” his mother admitted, leaning over to read over Max’s shoulder. “I see you’re following in our footsteps with that CS specialty,”
    “And with the Wells family line with that Strategy specialty,” his dad added.
    “What does that mean?” Max laughed, confused. And so his parents explained, finally explained. That they worked for a top-secret intelligence agency called HazelHavers Inc; that all future operatives were required to attend three years at HazelHavers Academy and one as an Agent. They explained how the Academy had been the best three years of their lives, and their jobs today - his mom as a hacker, working from home, and his father as one of the leaders of the Computer Science division at HazelHavers Academy
    “I can’t wait,” and he truly meant it, because he was extremely excited to be seeing this side of his family for the first time ever.
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    Joseph stared down at the letter in his hands. It was still unopened, but Joseph already knew what it was. He knew what it was because his brother had told him. But he had to know for sure, and that was why he had retreated to his room to open it. If it wasn’t what his brother thought it was, he didn’t want to see their reaction. At least, not until he had prepared himself.
    He sat down on his bed, took a deep breath, and began tearing at the envelope addressed to Joseph Crowley, with no return address. He took out the letter with shaky fingers and opened it. It was only one page, and wouldn’t have taken long to read, but there was only one thing Joseph needed to read that was in this letter. Only one word.
    Joseph’s face broke out into a grin. Sure enough, there it was. Premier. The status everyone at HazelHavers Academy fought for. And he had earned it from the three measly days of the Thievery Game, without even knowing what he was doing.
    He had continued reading the letter subconsciously, and his daydream was interrupted when he saw his Specialty Aptitude. Two specialties, two things that Joseph was good at, that they had also learned from the Thievery Game. But there were three, and he wasn’t even sure that one of them was a Specialty. It was bolded for a reason, Joseph assumed, but he stood up from his bed and walked to his door, adjusting his glasses.
    It didn’t surprise him that his family was camped outside his door, waiting to ambush him. “Well?” his mom asked, a hopeful expression on her face.
    “Well, I got in,” Joseph joked, but when his family didn’t react, he cleared his throat and pushed his glasses back up his nose. “I’m a Premier,” he told them, and that was when they broke out into cheers. Joseph couldn’t help smiling as his parents and brother all embraced him at the same time. When they finally let him go, Joseph pushed up his glasses again and turned the letter around so they could see as he asked them what the specialty Captain meant. If he had thought that their reaction was extreme before then he didn’t know what to call it now. It was as though he had won the lottery, but a lottery that they had known he would win.
    When the excitement finally died down, his mother spoke up again. But Joseph tuned her out as she said how proud she was of him. And then it was his father’s turn. After that was through, he excused himself back to his room, “to pack”, he explained, and they finally left him alone. And he did pack, but he mainly thought about what he had done to earn the role of Premier, to earn the role of Captain. He had never really been a leader, but he had never really been a follower, either. The only sport he ever did as a kid was rock climbing, a sport you only needed yourself and a will to win in order to succeed. And even during the Thievery Game, he hadn’t really been the leader. He had always had the others, Ash, Phillip, Jasper, and Violet to lean on.
    Violet. The name tugged at something in Joseph’s gut. The name that used to mean so much to him now barely meant anything. The name of his girlfriend, now a girl who just wanted to be his friend. And he knew it was his fault. His fault for pushing her away when she needed him, his fault for blaming his mistakes on her.
    But there had been some good to come out of the Thievery Game. He had met Jasper, who had actually gone to his school beforehand. Like Joseph, he was quiet, but Jasper had a new definition of quiet, only opening up to people he knew he could trust. How did he ever get a girl like Ash’s attention? Ash was the one who should really be Captain, Joseph thought. With her sharp mind and even sharper will, there was nothing that girl couldn’t do. Well, except run. But she couldn’t help that, she only had one leg to begin with. He had also become quite good friends with a boy named Phillip, who had gone from a privileged country-club boy into someone Joseph could trust, even if it had cost him a concussion. And these were only some of the kids who would be entering HazelHavers     Academy that year. Why him? Did they see something in him that he didn’t?
    Joseph was startled out of his thoughts by a knock at his door. Nick, his brother poked his head inside. “Can I come in?” he asked with a reassuring smile, telling Joseph he wasn’t here to smother him in praise.
    “Yeah,” Joseph said, sitting down on his bed in the exact spot he had opened the letter earlier. Nick sat down beside him.
    “If it makes you feel any better, that’s exactly how they reacted when I got my letter.”
    “You weren’t Captain at first though, were you?” Nick shook his head.
    “No, they didn’t tell me until I got to school. So I didn’t get the reaction.”
    “Lucky.”
    “What even is a Captain?” Joseph asked. “All of this talk about Premiers, Premier this, Premier that, but never Captain.”
    “It’ll make sense once you get to school,” Nick assured him, “but basically, you are the leader of your class. The one who calls all the shots. But no one knows it’s you until this big ceremony called the Reveal, which is after the first Tournament.”
    “Speak English,” Joseph said, and Nick snickered.
    “The English version is that you’ll figure it out when you get there. Everything about HazelHavers Academy is hard to explain.”
    “But-”
    “If you need my help, I’ll always be here,” Nick placed a hand on his shoulder.
    “What if you’re on Mission?” Joseph asked.
    Nick winced. “Even I forget that I’m an Agent sometimes.” But then his face lit up. “You’ll have my captain’s logs. The admins will give them to you when you arrive.”
    “But-”
    “You’re going to great, Joey,” Nick said. “I don’t know anyone else I’d serve under.”
    “You don’t know anyone else in my grade.”
    “You’re so hard to please these days,” Nick joked, standing up. “Dinner’s ready, by the way.” Joseph stood up, following Nick downstairs. Just like how he would be following in his brother’s footsteps for what seemed to be the rest of his life.
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    James Hazel was the kind of person you wouldn’t think was very athletic. He was slight, not bony but not muscular either. His face made him look even younger, framed by reddish-brown hair and punctuated with the blue eyes that marked him as a Hazel, accented with a sprinkling of freckles.
    But somehow, he managed to shoot a longbow, with a draw weight heavier than himself, with startling accuracy. Ever since he had picked one up for the first time, he had craved the feel of the bow in his hands, the soft whoosh the arrow made as he released it and the louder thunk of it as it hit the target. The pull in his shoulders, the thwap of the bowstring on his arm guard and sometimes his arm when he was too lazy. He lived for it, so he kept doing it. That was what he was doing now, shooting arrows into targets while walking across the range. A lifetime of archery meant that just standing still was too easy for him.
    He heard Alex enter before she announced herself, turning to point his next arrow at her, a smirk on his face, teasing her. She put her hands up in mock fear, laughing a little. Alex wasn’t the fighting type, preferring to spend her days in the library, sucking up every bit of knowledge she could. But her dad didn’t think that that was the best use of her time. Sure, Alex was a good fighter, and she could even beat him in a fight if he didn’t have his bow, but she didn’t like it. She was one of those people who would rather discover something amazing instead of just being the infantry. But being a Havers meant she had a lot to live up to, and her dad thought that meant training his daughter, against her will, to be a fighter, and not a researcher.
    Katrina Volkovsky entered next. She was the exact opposite of Alex, a Combat Specialty, and a Strategist, not to mention 1st Premier for as long as anyone could remember. Plus, she was two years older than them and treated James and Alex like she was a queen and they were peasants. She didn’t look too happy, though, warming up with a grim look on her face. James didn’t think too much of that for two reasons - One, that was what Katrina usually looked and acted like, and two, he hated her, so why would he give her a second thought?
    Casper Heron was the one who did that. Cared about her, that was. They weren’t “official”, but everyone knew that Casper had a thing for her. It was so obvious, Katrina even knew, and it was also obvious (at least to James and Alex) that she felt the same way. But Katrina was the last person on earth to admit she even had feelings, let alone for another person, and Casper was the complete opposite. He always had something good to say, when he said anything at all. It was surprising that he could wield his gun, a Glock 34 with incredible accuracy, compared to his personality. But, he could.
    They were all here for Training. Since Katrina and Casper were both at the top of their class, reigning First Premiers ever since their incoming year, they stayed at HazelHavers Academy even when the school year was over, living in the Agent Year’s dorms with teenagers a few years older than them. But the two of them didn’t really care, because they were always the young kids pushed up because they were so good at everything. James and Alex were here because their dads ran the place. One Hazel, one Havers, the two sacred lines that were the head of HazelHavers Inc, and therefore, the admins of HazelHavers Academy. Alex was a born leader, but she was just that. The one behind the scenes and not on stage. James couldn’t wait until the two of them were admins, when they could right all the wrongs that were still painstakingly present in this agency.
    James and Alex had just finished sparring, Alex sitting on top of his chest, both of them breathing deeply, when the door to the training center banged open again. James’s back was to the door but he could tell just from Alex’s expression who it was. Her father, Ian Havers. His father, John Hazel, was easy going and kind, the very picture of a benevolent leader. However, Ian Havers was harsh, especially with his daughter Alex, always saying that she could be better, work harder, act stronger than she was or ever could be. He never usually came to their training sessions, unless he was running them. Alex scrambled off of his chest, and James scrambled to his feet, standing at attention as if he was a soldier in the military. Because Ian was the drill sergeant everyone dreaded.
    “I have some unfortunate news for you two,” he started, not showing any sympathy in the slightest. “Well, actually just Alexandra, since James here was demoted in order for Joseph Crowley and Phillip Divide to take the empty Premier slots.” He turned to Alex, and James knew she was doing everything in her power not to break under his stare. “Alexandra, you are also no longer a Premier.”
    “Who’s taking my place?” she demanded, which surprised James even more than her father’s appearance had.  Alex usually bent to her father’s will, with whatever he asked. Not today, apparently.
    “Her name’s Ashlynn Parisian,” he said. “Intelligent, and brave. A perfect fit for the Premier Position.”
    “And she’s taking my place because?”
    “That was the council’s decision,” her father said, turning away, his deed done.
    “But you’re on the goddamn council,” Alex added, almost as an afterthought. She put her head in her hands, taking in this news. James sidled over to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
    “It’s going to be okay,” James reassured her, and they stood like that for a long time.
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    Ben hurriedly placed his violin and bow back in his case mere seconds before his parents opened the door, which was locked. But even locked doors were no problem for his parents, who had both graduated as Premiers from HazelHavers Academy. His mother stormed through the door, hitting the wall with a slam behind her as she approached him.
    “What have you been doing?” she asked, crossing her arms and staring him down. Her dark eyes, set into ebony skin, were a thing of nightmares. It took all of his willpower to not break under the pressure of her stare.
    “What do you mean?” he responded, staring back, hoping his own grey-eyed stare was enough to get her to go away.
    “Your door has been locked for the past month. What are you doing in here?” Ben didn’t flinch. Even though this was the first time ever that they had confronted him about his violin, this wasn’t the first time they had interrogated him about something like this. He had strategies, not to conquer these interrogations, just to escape them to fight another day.
    Ben was about to open his mouth to say something when his father appeared in the doorway. “You know you can tell us, Ben,” he said, softer than his mother, smiling reassuringly. “It’s not like we’re going to call the police on you for doing something illegal.”
    Ben smirked at that. But his music wasn’t the type of thing his parents would tolerate. Especially his mom. She would think of it as a weakness, a parasite, something to get rid of. Because they would rather have him doing something illegal than creating something beautiful.
    “It’s - nothing you need to worry about.” It wasn’t, not really, as long as he locked his door, which engaged the soundproof walls and prevented the sound of his violin from escaping, and made sure to hide the case before they entered his room. But Ben had his system down now, and he wasn’t going to get caught.
    “Very well then,” she said, spinning on her heels like a changing of the guard and marching away from his room. “Training starts in a few minutes,” she called over her shoulder, and Ben fell into step behind her, his father following behind him. Ben felt like a prisoner, being transported from his cell to a rec yard. The HazelHavers Base sure felt like a prison, with pristine white walls and uniforms everywhere. The uniform for all of the kids here was just a t-shirt and shorts, and it didn’t really feel like a uniform until he was with the other kids.
    They were all gathered in the central plaza for the daily Training session, run by one of the operatives that lived here. Sometimes it was a parent he recognized, sometimes it wasn’t. Luckily, today’s instructor wasn’t his mother or his father, but someone he didn’t recognize. He split them up by specialties; Combat and Weaponry were set to sparring, Strategy, Computer Science, and Research were all sent to the library along with Deception, leaving Breaking & Entering, the Wheels and the Spiders alone with the instructor, who still hadn’t introduced himself. He set the Spiders outside to scale the building, and since Ben was one of them, he followed the group of teens out.
    The Spiders consisted of him, a girl his age named November, and a few older kids he didn’t know but seemed to know each other very well, joking around and teasing. They all lined up on the wall and one of the older kids counted down. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!” he shouted, and they all took off.
    The building was pretty smooth, and it was hard to find hand and footholds, but Ben was a Spider, and he could hold onto the tiniest ledge with just his fingertips as he vaulted up the wall. He was staying with everyone else, but a few of the better kids took the lead early. The sun was directly overhead, and it burned Ben’s eyes as he gazed up the wall. But he never stopped moving, because if he stopped, he would wobble and fall, and even though there was a net built into the wall of the building for just this purpose, Ben hated falling. It was like failing, a sign that he wasn’t good enough, and even though he loved climbing up the walls, he would rather be inside, playing his violin, with no Training to worry about and no parents constantly looking over his shoulder.
    Ben and the others finally arrived at the roof, pulling themselves up and bending over, catching their breath. Ben was dripping sweat, and he wiped one hand across his face.
    Finally, November pulled herself up, the rest of the group hooting and hollering, clapping as she sat down, exhausted, on the roof. Two other girls hoisted her up, and the whole group huddled up, the boy who had counted down the start talking to them, but all Ben really wanted to do was go back to his room and his violin. But he didn’t resist when the others pulled him into the circle, or when they decided to race back down, instead of taking the stairs which were just too boring for the other Spiders. Even though Ben loved being a Spider as much as the others, he longed for his violin, and it pounded into him like a second heartbeat.
    Maybe that’s why Ben won on the way down, because that second heartbeat pumped adrenaline through his body, or maybe because he was scared of falling so he made his legs and arms move faster because the longer he stayed on the wall the better chance he had of losing his grip. But soon, he was on the ground, his two feet planted firmly in the grass. It was disorienting, like a sailor setting foot on land after months at sea. But it didn’t disorient him for long, because the hooting and hollering started again, as the older kids finished and congratulated him for his speedy descent.
    “Man, I don’t think I’ve seen someone move that fast since Nick Crowley spent a winter here,” one of the guys told him. Ben had no clue who Nick Crowley was, but apparently, he was good.
    “His brother’s an Incoming, right?” one of the girls asked, wiping the sweat from her forehead. “I saw something about how he was a Premier or something like that.”
    “Figures. That whole family’s been Premiers for as long as anyone can remember,” a different guy responded. Of course, Ben had no clue who these people were, but he made a mental note to find the family’s file in the HazelHavers Database. After he played his violin, obviously.
    He bid his goodbyes to his Spider friends, and headed back to his room, locked the door behind him, pulled out his beloved violin, set the bow to the strings, began to play, and suddenly, nothing else mattered.
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    November Aymie stepped out of her father’s car onto the tarmac that seemed to stretch for miles. It wasn’t an airport, at least, not an official one. There was only the seemingly endless tarmac and a collection of planes parked along one side of the runway. Not many people even knew that this place existed in the first place. Only the operatives of HazelHavers Inc, and still only most of them remembered the exact location and how to get there.
    Her father had already popped the trunk and taken out her suitcase, now hurrying towards the plane closest to him. November wondered why he was in such a rush. They were so early, they were the only ones there. But, nevertheless, she extended the handle on her suitcase and followed her father.
    When November arrived at the plane, she saw that the ramp leading to the boarding entrance was already down. Whoever was flying this plane must have accounted for the early birds, like her. Her father had already turned to face her, and gave her a long hug and a kiss on the forehead before telling her how proud he was of her, and then scuttled off back to his car. He was acting strange, and November didn’t like it.
    She started up the stairs, lugging the suitcase behind her, and when she was at the top, she turned, thinking she had heard something, but it was just her dad, starting his car and driving away. She raised an eyebrow at that before turning back to the plane and walking inside.
    As no one was there yet, she assumed she would have her pick of seats, but they were all labeled alphabetically, and hers was in an aisle seat in the front of the plane. She stowed her suitcase in the overhead compartment and collapsed in her seat to start waiting.
    The letter had said that the plane would depart at noon, and it was currently 10:30. November expected that it would only be about thirty minutes until the rest of the Incomings started to show up, forty-five minutes at the latest.
    She decided to close her eyes, to try and get some rest, even though she was the worst napper in the world. But suddenly, she felt a prick in the side of her neck. She opened her eyes, to try and see what had happened, but all she could see was blackness. She reached up, to touch her face, to see what had happened, but she was yanked up and her hands snatched back behind her and tied with a coarse rope. November was too stunned to scream, but she did kick out with her legs, trying to struggle. If this was some person’s idea of a prank, she wanted to get back at them. If this wasn’t a prank, she wanted to get out of these bonds and fight back. But then her eyes drifted shut, and her legs suddenly felt like spaghetti. Whatever they had pricked in her neck must be causing her to fall asleep. Now on the ground, defenseless, whoever had done this picked her up, and began walking, then down the stairs, and that swaying motion finally lulled November into a reluctant sleep.
    When November finally woke up, she was in a dark room. She stumbled to her feet and began looking around, taking in her surroundings. There wasn’t much to take in; the only other thing in the room was a single, ratty blanket. She was about to go to the blanket, curl up in it and try and forget what had happened, but then a door banged open.
    Light streamed through, and it enveloped the person who had entered in some sort of halo. Whoever it was was dressed in all black, a mask covering the upper half of their face, so November couldn’t identify them.
    “Is this some sort of joke?” She called out, standing firm. “Some sort of sadistic initiation ritual?”
    The man chuckled, for it was clearly a man, his deep voice resounding in the room. And it wasn’t a happy chuckle, either. Something along the line of ‘I stole your phone and you don’t know where it is’. No, it was more like ‘I stole you and you don’t know where you are.’
    Then the man spoke. “No, this is not a joke. It is very serious. And if you don’t cooperate, then, well, we’ll get to that when we come there. Which we won’t, hopefully.”
    “Then why am I here?” November asked. “Why did you take me?” She thought of stories, how young girls had been kidnapped, forced to the will of their male captors.
    “I’m afraid that I can’t say that right now,” he responded.
    “Then what are you planning to do to me?” November was trying her best to keep the fear out of her voice, but it still shone through. She just hoped the man didn’t pick up on it.
    “Are you sure you want to know that?” he asked. “Rest assured, you will not be harmed beyond repair. At least, your body won’t be.” November’s mind began racing about what would happen to her. What he meant by those words.
    “How long am I going to be here?” she asked, hoping he would say only for one night and not for eternity.
    “As long as it takes for them to find you.”
    “So it is some sort of initiation.”
    “Not in what you think.” The man was pacing now. “I advise you to get some rest. But then again, I don’t know why you would need it. If you need anything, feel free to ask, but I guarantee we probably won’t give it to you.” And with that, he spun dramatically and walked out of the room, back through the door from which he came.
    November sat down to wait, not knowing how long she would be there.
    Meanwhile, back at the plane, someone was taking role. They called out the name November Aymie. No one answered, and the plane took off.
Hey guys! So, I've been working on this book since like a year ago? And I'm like finishing up the last few chapters (This is draft 2 btw), and I've got this little problem that none of my friends will read it and give me feedback. Like, they'll either read it and give me no feedback, read it and give me feedback but won't let me ask them questions about it (like do you think this will fix this problem, etc) or they'll be like yeah! I'll read your book and I'll send it to them... and they never read it. (My friends don't read... often.) So basically my point is I REALLY need feedback on this stuff because I'm at this stage where I know I need another draft (to be attacked after a much-needed break) but I don't really know what to change? So yeah any feedback will be GREATLY appreciated and yes this is just the first chapter, I'll probably post the second one after a few people read this one. (And if you want me to look at your draft in exchange I'm glad to do so I just need more eyes on this book baby.) THANKS IN ADVANCE

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