Chapter 1: Matchmaking
Cameron Marsh left his English class in the foulest of moods. D? That bitch gave me a D? For the first time all year he actually busted his ass on a paper, and this was how he was repaid. As he traversed the halls, he looked so unpleasant that nobody got in his way.
When he finally got to his locker and exchanged some books, he slammed it with an audible “Dammit!”
“Language,” a passing teacher reprimanded lazily.
Upon reaching his Biology class, Cameron threw himself onto his chair and groaned.
“I take it that Sullivan screwed you over?” Mike said next to him.
“Yup,” Cameron replied gruffly.
“Again, Cam?” Jules sighed, taking her seat behind him. “Let me take a look.” Too peeved to say anything, Cameron took out his paper and thrust it in her direction. Jules took it, and as her eyes scanned downward the frown on her face became more pronounced. “Really?”
“What?” he demanded.
“What the hell is the point of having me look over your paper if you don’t fix it?” Jules admonished, slapping his paper down on her desk.
“What are you talking about? Of course I fixed it! Where didn’t I fix it?”
Letting out an exasperated breath, she said, “Where should I start? Oh I know, let’s talk about the first concluding paragraph you wrote out, and how I went over with you in excruciating detail why it was bad.”
“So I changed it like you told me to,” Cameron retorted, ignoring Mike’s snickering.
“Replacing that bullshit conclusion with another bullshit conclusion isn’t gonna make it any better!”
“It wasn’t bullshit!”
“You were supposed to be writing about Shakespeare’s sonnets,” she huffed.
“And?” he shot back.
“And in your last sentence you more or less said that in ten years no one’s gonna give a damn about that—” Jules looked down at the paper and then back up again with her fingers up to do air quotations—“‘nonsense’.”
“I’m right, though,” Cameron claimed stubbornly.
Jules groaned in disbelief. “Cam, Shakespeare’s been relevant for over four hundred years. What the hell is gonna happen in the next ten that’ll change that?”
Mike was now covering his mouth to stifle the laughter. “Wow, Jules, if you ever do become a teacher I hope you don’t end up with students as brain dead as Cam.”
“With my luck I probably will.”
“Know what? Fuck you both,” Cameron told his so-called friends.
But Jules chuckled, saying, “Relax, Cam, for what it’s worth, you’ll have no problem graduating as long as you bomb finals.”
The teacher walked into the classroom right before the bell rang, and he called for attention before he began to talk about the cell cycle.
Cameron could not have been more grateful when the end of the school day arrived. His anger subsided somewhat, and it made him feel better to get in his Toyota and make his way home. It also made Cameron feel better that his parents wouldn’t be home to ride his ass about his grades.
Conveniently they were in Hawaii trying to spice their marriage back up, so Cameron had the house all to himself.
Making the relatively short drive back to his house, Cameron began to think of all the things he hasn’t already done. His party wasn’t until Friday, he broke practically every rule that didn’t involve smashing something, and he blasted his music to its maximum volume.
Then something that grew increasingly loud brought him out of his reverie. In his rearview mirror he saw no less than six police cars racing closer and closer to him. Slowing down and pulling to this side, Cameron witnessed them simply speed on farther north, sirens blaring.
He was about to put it out of his mind when two ambulances and a fire truck soon followed the police cars. What the hell happened? Cameron lived not too far south of Chicago, so he could only imagine that the emergency vehicles were heading downtown.
Cameron eventually turned off from the main road onto his street and parked on the curb. After letting himself in the house, Cameron tossed his backpack on the couch and turned on the TV. He flipped the channels until he got to the first news report he came across, and found that they were in the middle of an emergency broadcast.
“—complete pandemonium,” the reporter said, his back to a police barricade. “People are scared, emergency services are overwhelmed, and nothing seems to be able to stop this.” He looked away from the camera at someone, and then said, “We’re being told that we need to back away. I’ll be back on air in a few minutes.”
A chime sounded from his pocket, and Cameron flipped open his cell phone to see a text message from Mike: “Go on.”
Sighing, Cameron turned off the TV and went to his room. This was another reason that he was glad his parents weren’t around. Normally, when Cameron brought home a bad grade, they’d remove the power cord from his Xbox.
Signing into Xbox Live, Cameron saw that Mike was already in Halo, so he popped in his disk and soon joined Mike’s party.
“You hear about the crazy shit going on?” Mike immediately asked as they went into matchmaking.
“Yeah,” Cameron responded. “That must have been where all those cops I saw were going. Think its terrorists?”
“Hell if I know.”
That was the end of the conversation as they were put into a match. Five minutes later Cameron found himself in the ass end of an ass kicking. That’s what he hated about playing sometimes. A lot of people are so damn obsessed with the game that you don’t stand a chance, making him virtually give up on ever ranking up.
“Shit!” he yelled in frustration, being killed less than ten seconds after spawning.
The game ended with a final score of 35-50.
“We’ll win the next game,” Mike said with assurance.
“Hey,” Cameron said, suddenly remembering “doesn’t your mom work downtown?”
“Yeah I called her,” he answered without any worry. “She said that whatever is going on is happening far enough away from her.”
“That’s good,” said Cameron, the conversation ending again when they found another match. Then both Cameron and Mike burst out laughing.
“pwnmaster67!” Mike blurted out, laughing uncontrollably on his end.
Cameron was laughing just as hard, banging his knees and trying to get his breath back. “That’s one of the stupidest names I’ve ever seen!” he said. “Get a life, little kid.” Only a ten-year-old would have such a stupid name. Cameron almost felt sorry for the guest that had to play under the same stupid name.
“Shut up,” what was undoubtedly a little kid’s voice said over the headset. “What?” the kid said to someone one his side. There was the sound of the headset being moved and then silence.
“Hey, the game is starting!” Mike protested. But too late, the people on the other side left.
And so the game started with Cameron and Mike’s two teammates standing around, just waiting to be killed. What made it even worse was that they were once again getting their asses handed to them. The other team moved with such precision that there was no way they had lives outside of Halo.
Less than five minutes later Cameron was already six kills away from losing.
“Hello?” a timid voice said over the headset.
“About fucking time!” Cameron exclaimed, barely registering that it was a different voice from before. “You might as well get some kills in before we lose.”
“Help,” the person on the other side said.
“You need help with a retarded name like pwnmaster67,” Mike replied angrily. “Fuck!” They were now five kills away from losing.
“She got him,” the voice said.
That caused Cameron to raise an eyebrow. “Who got who?”
“My friend was attacked by his mom.”
“And why would she do that?” Mike asked skeptically.
“I don’t know,” he answered, sobbing. “She came home scared saying we had to leave somewhere…. Then she got sick, fell down, and got back up…then—then she got him.” The kid went on sobbing.
“Bullshit,” Mike said.
“NO!” the kid yelled. “Then he got up too, and the two of them tried to get me—so I locked myself in this room!”
The game came to an end, and Cameron decided to send the kid an invite to party up with him and Mike. Whether or not his story was true, it was clear that something was wrong—nobody with any dignity would openly cry over the internet.
“So what exactly happened again?” asked Cameron when they left the matchmaking lobby.
“My friend and his mom are outside my door, trying to get in, so they can get me!” the kid screamed. “I need help!”
“Well where do you live?” Mike asked, obviously playing along.
“Well then you’re boned,” Mike replied casually.
“Do you have a cell phone?” Cameron asked. The kid made a sound of acknowledgment. “Did you try calling the cops yet?”
“Then what’re you waiting for?” he said indignantly.
“Okay.” There was silence for a minute.
“C’mon, Cam, why are you going along with this?” asked Mike.
“He’s obviously in some kind of trouble. I’m just trying to—”
“They aren’t answering!” the kid said. “There’s only a busy signal.”
“Let’s see if I can do something,” Cameron said, taking his cell phone out. Hoping to be able to get through to the Buffalo PD or something, he dialed 911.
There was only a busy signal that caused a shiver to travel up and down Cameron’s back.
“I’m…I’m not getting through,” Cameron said, mystified.
“Really?” Mike asked, sounding perked up and falling silent for a few seconds. “Holy shit, me neither.”
Right on cue, outside Cameron heard the screeching of tires and a crash.