This story was written by Ron Ching Chun-long, a 17-year-old student from CCC Ming Kei College.
This story is one of the finalists of Young Post’s 2017 Winter Short Story Competition. Each week during the holidays, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on April 7.
The "Elite" scheme
I pulled the trigger, seething with anger. It was over. In that moment, I became the only one left in the game. That meant … I had won. Suddenly feeling weak, I fell to the ground and lost consciousness.
“E for Elite” was a scheme implemented by the Education Bureau to seek out Hong Kong’s most extraordinary students. Those who have been selected are subjected to a month of rigorous training at Hong Kong Police College.
Once their training is complete, students are then sent to a remote island, where they must compete in a three-day survival contest. Those who survive are recognised as Elites. Elites can skip the HKDSE and apply to university directly. It’s an enticing prize, but very few students selected for the scheme make it out the other side.
My name is Mark Chung. I’m a secondary student. When I was offered a place on “E for Elite”, I took it. I wanted that ticket to university. I knew the game was tough, but life without that ticket seemed even tougher.
By the time I realised the full weight of my decision, and how it would change my life forever, it was too late. It started as a game, but it didn’t end that way.
I was thrilled as I headed to the Police Academy in Wong Chuk Hang. I couldn’t wait to finish the game and get a huge head-start on my career. This was going to set me up for life, I was certain. I was wrong.
It was an imposing-looking place, all grey concrete and very few windows. A sergeant led me to a room where the other nine participants were waiting for instructions. I looked around and noticed that I was the weakest among them. They were all tall, broad and muscular. They must have trained hard before signing up for the Academy. I was clever, but it didn’t seem like that would be enough.
“Attention!” An inspector walked in. His voice reverberated in my ears.
“Your training begins first thing tomorrow. Forget your family and friends. Forget entertainment. From here onwards, it’s nothing but training, training and training! If you can’t make it through this, you can forget the island. Now everyone go to their rooms. You must be back here at 5am tomorrow!”
At first, I truly thought this game, if not exactly easy, would nevertheless be better than studying at school. But that inspector was not messing around, and the month of training was hell.
“Climb! Climb! Come on! Move it, Mark! I have never seen such a slow and clumsy Elite before! Hurry up, Mark Chung! Or you’ll be sent home in disgrace!”
That 10-metre-high wall was too high for me. The 20-kilometre run was too far. And 100 push-ups a day? I simply couldn’t. We were being drilled like US Seals. My body was nearly ruined.
Rivals and friends
“What’s up? Little Mark? Feeling tired? Maybe you better go home and study!” Jim was the tallest and strongest among the participants. He was already confident that he would win this game. I was sick of him.
“It’s okay Mark. Just try it again!” Edward was patient and encouraging. Every time I failed (which was constantly) he was by my side.
“Oh come on, Edward, he’s a failure!” Jim never let up.
“Knock it off, Jim!” Edward glared at Jim angrily.
“Fine, Edward. I tell you, he’s gonna die on that island.” Jim returned to his training reluctantly. I thought he was joking.
“Forget him, he just cares about winning,” Edward said to me, and I felt like I had made a friend.
Luckily, after the first week of training, I felt a little stronger than I used to be. Tasks felt easier than during the first week. By the last day of training, I realised that I wasn’t the weakling I had thought I was. I believed that I could survive for three days.
“Well done, candidates!” the game overseer exclaimed. “What you have learned in the past month will be tested on Lo Chau island.”
The overseer went over the guidelines of the game several times and in great detail. But in essence, the rules were:
1. Do whatever it takes to survive
2. Do not attempt to escape
3. Items such as food and tools will be distributed at the beginning of the game
4. Two supply boxes will be deployed at noon every day
5. Enjoy the game
I didn’t know what to make of rule number five at the time, but I now think it can only have been some cruel joke at our expense.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp, sudden jab in the arm, then, nothing at all. I lost consciousness.
When I awoke, I was lying on the shores of the island. Next to me was a small bag. I quickly opened it and rummaged inside to see what I had been given. Another cruel joke: a packet of biscuits and a letter with the words “good luck!” were not going to help me survive. I decided to search for the other players. Just then, a round of gunshots ripped through the night sky. Panicking, I ran wildly to see what was going on.
A patrol ship was swiftly steering away, leaving in its wake some lifeless form floating in the water. It was a body.
For a moment, I was paralysed with shock. I knew this game was going to put us to the test – but it was a game. Had a student really just been killed? How could this be possible? I sunk to my knees.
Not just a game
“Poor Nick, he could have survived if he stayed in the game.” I looked up and saw Edward. He reached down and pulled me up from the ground. “Cheer up! At least you’re still alive.”
“Perhaps we should search for water?” I suggested weakly.
“That’s more like it,” replied Edward. And so we headed into the unknown jungle. It was humid and the trees were dense. The hum of nighttime insects grew louder the further we walked.
Luckily, it wasn’t long before we found a small waterfall. We drank gratefully, and decided to make that spot our camp for the night. Somewhere in the distance, we heard more gun shots. Someone else must have been foolish enough to try to escape. I knew it was the second rule. But I did not know it was punishable by death.
The next morning , things hadn’t improved.
“Morning! Mark!” Edward greeted me. “Let’s go and find some food or tools. I’m hungry!”
But as we rose, a strange metallic smell filled our noses. It smelled like … blood?
“What’s happening?” I asked, confused. We scrambled up and searched around us.
“Mark, look!” Edward pointed at something buried among the bushes. I ran towards it and found a body. “It’s Daniel,” muttered Edward, his face screwed up in a grimace. And it was Daniel. With a hole in his head.
“Who did this?” I asked. “Did he fight with someone over food? But how did they get a gun?”
I quickly realised the rules of the game weren’t so clear after all.
A dangerous supply drop
Just then, we saw an aircraft overhead, and boxes floated down on parachutes. We weren’t sure where they landed, but they couldn’t be more than 10 kilometres away.
“Should we find them?” Edward asked nervously.
“We need to be careful. We won’t be the only ones going after these packages.”
We began walking in the direction we had seen the supplies being dropped, always aware of our surroundings.
An hour or so passed. We were getting close. We could see the box … and someone else. It was Jim. We froze. Jim began rummaging through the box. Then another boy appeared. It was Tom. We said nothing for a moment.
“Mark, can you see?” hissed Edward. “Is that blood on Jim’s face? Also, he’s holding a … a pistol. Did he … did he kill Daniel?”
I felt my stomach flip. Was Jim going to kill Tom?
I was dazed, but vaguely aware that Edward was getting up and walking towards the supplies box.
“Hey Jim! What’s up?” he called, trying to sound as casual as possible.
But it was too late. Jim aimed the gun at Tom’s chest and pulled the trigger. I flinched.
“Jim, what are you doing?” yelled Edward. “This is a survival game!”
“And I intend to survive” was Jim’s only response. He hastily snatched a handful of supplies from the box, then disappeared.
We stared down at Tom’s lifeless body.
I didn’t understand. I thought this was a wilderness survival game. “How … why?” I mumbled. Forcing myself not to look away from Tom, I finally understood the meaning of survival. It meant being the last man standing.
Next to me, I could hear Edward quietly sobbing. He turned to me.
“I’m leaving, Mark. I’m sorry.” He began walking away, back into the jungle.
“Where are you going?” I asked, the panic rising in my voice.
“I must kill Jim. It’s for Tom and Daniel.”
I wanted to follow, but I was frozen to the spot. I didn’t want Edward to leave me, but I didn’t want to go in search of Jim.
Instead, I returned to the waterfall, and waited. I was hungry and afraid. I wasn’t a hero; I just … I just wanted to stay alive.
Finally, the third and last day arrived. Finally, I could venture back to the shore.
But I wasn’t ready for what I found there. Edward’s body. His arms and legs were missing. Fortunately, I hadn’t eaten anything for some time; otherwise, I would have been sick.
A thirst for vengence
Suddenly, I didn’t care any more. I raced across the beach to the nearest supply box, not caring who saw me. I saw what a wanted. A shiny black pistol. I grabbed it, and went looking for Jim.
“Jim!” I screeched, burning with white-hot rage. “Jim!”
I raced around in search of him. I was sure he had to be close. He would be waiting to be picked up. He probably thought he was the last one. He probably thought I had died of thirst by now.
I found him by some rocks. The sun was high in the sky now. It glistened on the water. This was almost over.
I marched towards Jim, feeling no fear.
“It’s all over, Mark! We survived!” Jim exclaimed, a wild look in his eyes. He didn’t notice the gun in my hand.
“It’s plain sailing for us now,” he continued. “What a marvellous game.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why did you kill James and Edward?” My voice rose with every word, until I was screaming. “Why?”
“Simple. I wanted to win. And I have. We have.”
I glanced up for a second. The patrol ship was approaching to pick us up. I turned back to Jim.
“No Jim, not we,” I said. “I won.” I pulled the trigger, seething with anger. It was over. In that moment, I became the only one left in the game. That meant … I had won. Suddenly feeling weak, dizzy with relief – and remorse – I fell to the ground and lost consciousness.
The final winner
“Bravo, Mr Chung, that’s what we are looking for!” I woke up in a bright, white hospital room. A man in a suit was leaning over me, smiling.
“Please tell me,” I croaked. “Why did you design such a cold-blooded game?”
“For choosing the elites,” he replied. “Don’t you see? That’s how things work. The rest of the world is no different from the island.”
I didn’t know how to process this. I refused to believe this could be justified.
“It’s too much for a game! We are just …we are just secondary students! How could you …”
“Life isn’t a game, Mark! Every day, people are fighting for survival. They fight their whole lives. You only had to do it for three days, and now you can have any future you want. You
are an elite.”
The worst part was, in some ways, he was right.
What happened on the island still haunts me. But then again everyone in the world is haunted by something. Everyone has had to make some sort of sacrifice to survive in this world.
It started as a game.
But it turned out to be real life.