Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1) (6 page)

BOOK: Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)
13.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Next thing I got is a birthday party in two months,” Greggor said.

“Two months?” Baggs said a little too loudly. His voice echoed throughout the room. His heart was flooded with adrenaline and began to pound against his rib cage.

Greggor looked up at Baggs. “Is that a problem?”

“Yeah, it kind of is! I need work, Greggor.”
We’ll be out of CreditCoins long before two months are up.
“You don’t have anything sooner?”

“No. I’m not the one who was running through London with my daughter on my back and broke my wrist! Look, I did a lot for you as far as rescheduling when you couldn’t play, so don’t use a tone with me, or you can get the hell out of here! Got it?”

Baggs swallowed. His mouth was dry. He thought of the McKesson family. Greggor had a temper, and if Baggs made him mad now, he’d be out of work for good. Greggor didn’t need Baggs, but Baggs needed Greggor. “Yeah. I understand. Just, ahhhh, if something comes up, maybe you could pass it along to me. Like, I don’t know, if someone breaks their wrist or something like that.” Baggs smiled. He had meant it as a joke, but Greggor was scowling at him.

“I’ve got work to do, Baggs. Do you need anything else or are you just here to chinwag?”

Baggs wanted to say,
you weren’t busy when Jacque was here, chatting you up, touching your upper thigh,
but he held his tongue. He said, “I actually wanted to get some practice time in.”

Greggor went behind his desk and typed a few keys on his keyboard. “Just opened room 14. Go on ahead.”

“Thanks, Greggor.” Baggs opened up the door to the staircase and began to walk upstairs.

As he was on the lower steps, he heard from the HoloVision Box: “If you’re interested in a 20,000 CreditCoin reward, and would like to enter into the next episode of Outlive, contact us online at
, or stop by your local media studio and meet with us in person.”

              Baggs thought,
I bet most applicants just show up. I bet that not many people with internet would want to enter into such a lethal agreement.

Baggs continued to climb. Greggor called angrily behind him: “And I’m going to listen to you before I send you away to this birthday party. You’ll lose your spot if you can’t play with that hand of yours.”

“Sure,” Baggs called back.

He was perspiring lightly as he opened the door to room 14 and entered.

The piano rooms had always been a place where Baggs found himself relaxing. The plastic black and white keys had always felt good under Baggs’s fingers. He had always had good associations with the smell of disinfectant. To Baggs, it had always felt and smelled like home.

Now, the keys looked threatening, like the exposed teeth of a feral dog. The smell stung his nostrils.

He pulled back the chair, squeezed his body in between the seat and the keyboard, and sat down. The keyboard rooms were no bigger than closets, and they filled the hallways of the building’s second floor. Each of the compartments was sound proof, which Baggs was thankful for. He didn’t know if he would be able to experiment on the keyboard if he thought that Greggor might hear.

He was also thankful that the room was soundproof so that he didn’t hear any more noises from the Outlive rerun drifting up the stairs.

Baggs looked behind himself to see if the door was shut properly and then, knowing that no one could hear him, began to talk to himself. He sometimes liked to do this in the keyboard rooms; he found that it helped him to gather his thoughts.

“Okay, before I start,
am I seriously considering signing up for Outlive?”

The big man just breathed for a moment, thinking. He recalled the terrified expression on the hairy man’s face as they ripped him apart with their blades. He kept his hands on his lap, as though if he put them on the keys the keyboard might bite him.

“How much will the birthday party pay? Greggor didn’t say. Maybe fifty. Maybe less. Enough to eat for ten days, probably. But that’s in
two months!
We’ll be completely out of capital in
two weeks,
three at the most.”

He breathed some more. He couldn’t believe that he was actually having this conversation with himself. He felt like the walls were moving in on him, slowly, until they were the size of a coffin. He tried to calm down. His throat felt tight. His chest felt heavy.

The Baggers had been in economic jams before, but nothing like this. They had one hundred and five CreditCoins in their account and literally no way to get more for two more months. The cheapest calories they could buy were in noodles. A pack of dried noodles cost them 4.99 CCs, which was cheaper than buying a single apple. The noodle package suggested that it contained four servings. The four Baggers were able to make a package last a day, but that was if they demonstrated a lot of self control and remained hungry at all times.

And what is eating only noodles every day doing to all our bodies?
Baggs wondered. When money was good, he and Tessa would buy peanut butter and each of the Baggers would eat one bite after their dinner of plain, gray noodles.

The thought of eating any more noodles made Baggs’s stomach do a flip. He had been eating the same thing every day for years, and his body was sick of it.

But then another, more awful thought than having to eat noodles again slipped into his mind:
If I don’t enter Outlive, in three weeks my kids won’t have even noodles to eat.

Baggs closed his eyes for five seconds and was tempted to cry. He opened his eyes and gritted his teeth.

“What if we ate less?” he said out loud. He could hear that his own voice was shaking, but he ignored it. “We could cut down on how much food we all eat.” He stared at the wall, doing quick math in his head. “If we each eat only a third of what we have been…”

He stopped, shaking his head. The uncomfortable lump in his throat had grown to the size of a tennis ball. Cutting back on food wasn’t an option. It would stunt their children’s growth. The amount they were eating was the bare minimum. And, there were other expenses, too. They had to buy soap, toothpaste, and would have to buy more clothes when Olive and Tessa grew more. Rent, water and electricity were free, thanks to the Gates Initiative, which was a charity started long ago that helped poorer people attain some commonly needed items. The Gates Initiative helped, but it couldn’t do everything. It was illegal to give such items as food to the poor. As the legislation said, “This law is enacted to prevent the growth of ‘social parasites’ among the impoverished.”

Baggs looked down at his malformed left wrist. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. He had walked all the way to this side of town to practice just to be told that it didn’t matter. There was nothing left to consider. The amount of money they had wouldn’t last two more months, and they couldn’t get more for two more months.

Baggs blinked. He knew that there was no other way to make money. He had spent the past six weeks trying desperately to find some other way, while his wrist was broken and he couldn’t play piano.

He sat there, staring at the chipped paint on the wall, breathing in the smell of the piano room. He thought,
I love my life; I don’t want it to be over.

A dull fear was tugging at his throat and chest. He pushed it away and turned to the piano.

His fingers came up to the keys and he lost himself for a time, pressing on the white and black plastic and listening to the sound bounce back to him. As he had expected, the pointer finger and thumb on his left hand were useless, but it didn’t matter. He couldn’t be a pianist anymore anyways. The math just didn’t add up.

Baggs played for another hour, missing notes occasionally because of his deformity. He didn’t mind that he was missing notes. He wasn’t lying to himself anymore, and was purely playing for pleasure. He played a lot of different songs, but kept coming back to
Moonlight Sonata.
When he was done, he turned off the piano, and headed downstairs. Greggor was not in the entryway, and he slipped out the front door into the London night.





Baggs was on his fourth cigarette by the time he reached Rolling Gardens. His eyes were bloodshot. He was exhausted from being terrified all day, and that awful, clawing mix of horror and grief in his throat just wouldn’t stop gnawing at him.

This time, he didn’t pause and finish his cigarette before entering the nicer neighborhood. Baggs’s feet didn’t miss a beat as they continued to walk into Rolling Gardens in his threadbare old shoes and the shirt that his wife had found in the public library.

He could now see that he was facing a no-win scenario. He was in an awful situation with no way out. There were no charities or organizations to help people like Baggs. Charities like that were illegal. As people argued, lifting the poor out of poverty disturbed
the natural order of things.
Baggs wondered if the legislation was just to ensure that people kept entering Outlive.

He inhaled angrily from his cigarette.

If he didn’t do something desperate, his family would die like the McKesson family.

When faced with a no-win scenario, the only option is to take the road with the least amount of loss. If Baggs and Tessa tried to feed Olive and Maggie one third the amount of food they were currently eating and coast by for two more months, Baggs felt sure that Olive simply would go to bed one night and not wake up in the morning.
Then how would I feel? Pretty damn terrible.

He had made up his mind that he would wake up early next morning and present himself to the media studio as a contestant for Outlive. He would probably die on the sand.

“But first, I’m going to have one more good night with my family.”

The sky was dark, and the clouds drifted in wispy formations high above as Baggs came to the front of the giant, grey, rock home where he had seen the woman throw the cake away into the garbage bin earlier. His plan was to tread slowly up the walkway, open up the garbage bin, and examine the cake. If the desert wasn’t obtusely moldy, he would take it, and tonight, as he spent his last hours with his daughters, he would watch Olive take her first bites of cake. If he caught a glimpse of the lady he had seen earlier, he would run. It had worked last time.

Baggs dropped his cigarette on the street, stomped it out, and began to walk on the rocky stepping-stones that led to the side yard where the bins were kept. The lawn was utterly void of weeds, and as Baggs looked upon the purple, yellow, and red flowers that sprang up from the black soil in the various gardens, he compared the unnatural plant life in front of the home to the plastic-surgery ridden face of the housewife he had seen throwing the cake away. He thought of his current situation, and of how for the price of one of that woman’s aesthetic, elective surgeries, he could feed his family for the next two decades and not have to enter Outlive.

But she doesn’t see me as a fellow human,
Baggs thought. He remembered how her eyes had widened as he held up his hands to her, as though he was some beast that had escaped from the zoo and wandered into the neighborhood.

Baggs took a quick scan around and saw that no neighbors were watching him. It was dark, and so he was well hidden, outside of the glow cast by the porch light. He was thankful that it was still early enough in the night that security systems probably weren’t turned on yet.

Then came a loud, mechanical roar from Baggs right, and he jumped back so fast that he almost fell over. He whipped his head around and saw with relief that the noise was only someone in a nearby house leaving in their helicopter.

A cold wind kissed Baggs’s sweat-drenched face. He watched the helicopter rising higher into the sky, and for a moment considered turning around and just heading home.

BOOK: Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)
13.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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