Only Sixteen by A. L. Hawthorn
Cassandra sat on the tattered, beige sofa, looking back and forth between the contest rules sheet and Kevin, who was fiddling with a piece of hay in his mouth. “Kevin, I honestly just don’t see the logic in entering a life or death competition for an unknown prize. It could be literally anything. Besides, this sheet is ripped at the bottom, what if the missing part listed something important? And why does it say fight to the death. Why is the to the’ crossed out?” Cassandra said, glaring at her twin brother.
Kevin gave her a quick glance. “And I honestly don’t understand why you have to suck the fun out of everything. Besides, I’m Sixteen, I can make my own decisions. And I’m sure it was nothing important.”
“And I’m however old you are plus 15 seconds. Clearly I took a majority of the oxygen with me when we were in the womb”
“I mean, that would explain why your oxygen-filled head is almost as big as your ego,” Kevin said, grinning.
Cassandra opened her mouth before slowly closing it, her eyes softening. “Look, I made a promise to mom and dad that I’d always look after you. If I let you do this, I’d be breaking that promise.”
Kevin looked down at the coffee stained carpet. “Cass, I understand, but I also think that mom and dad would want us to live a little. Ever since they died you’ve kept me from doing anything even remotely fun. I promise I’ll be careful. And if I die, so what? I’d rather die doing something exciting than working odd jobs day in and day out for the rest of my life.”
Cassandra’s eyes widened, as her face turned red. “Mom and dad didn’t sacrifice their lives just so that you could die playing cowboy. You need to listen to me.”
Kevin stared at Cassandra, with a stubborn look on his face. After a moment, he turned to the table next to him where a framed picture of their parents sat. He started at it a moment before turning back to Cassandra. “I’m sorry Cass, but I’m going through with this.”
Cassandra turned towards the broken, wooden door, tears welling up in her eyes as she opened it and left towards town.
“I don’t understand how he could be so selfish, Mary. I just don’t. He’s risking everything for nothing”
Mary, gave her a sympathetic smile as they walked past a foul-smelling tavern. “Well I reckon he’s got a bit of an adventure bug in him. Pretty common around these here parts. I suppose your little bro always had some southern in his blood. Despite you being as sophisticated and proper as they come.”
Cassandra lightly tugged on one of her perfectly braided blonde pig tails. “I get that, but mom and dad moved here to create a better life for us. Away from the war back east. They also died protecting us from the very sort of thing Kevin is seeking out with this contest.”
Mary took Cassandra’s hand. “Cass, as much sense as you’re making, we can’t stop him. But as your best friend, if ya need me to, I’ll tie him up tighter than bark on a tree” Cassandra let out a snort before a cart full of papers in the distance caught her gaze. Mary stared questioningly as Cass walked with a brisk pace towards the cart, before following her.
“Lookin for a fun, thrillin time? Then all ya need to do is enter the gatling gun games!”
Yelled the blue-eyed man.
“Subtlety ain’t never really been our forté,” whispered Mary, to Cassandra, who seemed to be paying razor-sharp attention to the man.
“All those without a weapon handy will be provided with their own pistol and rope lasso”
Cassandra let out an indignant laugh. “Oh wonderful! So you’re at least providing the weapons that will inevitably lead to death and destruction. How generous of you.”
The rest of the amassed townspeople gave her a baffled look. The announcer scanned Cassandra up and down before shooting her a crocodile-like smile. Cassandra held his gaze. “Well aren’t you a sharp-tongued sugar plum. I reckon you won’t be entering the games then?”
“I won’t, but my idiot brother is planning on.”
The announcer’s cocked an eyebrow. “Is that so? And how old might your brother be?” Cassandra stared questioningly. “He’s sixteen.”
The announcer’s lips curled upwards. “And how old might you be?”
Cassandra turned to Mary who looked as puzzled as she was. “Sixteen.”
The announcer revealed a theatrical smile. “My, my, I’m surprised you didn’t wanna join the games with your brother. I reckon he’d have a much better chance of surviving that way.” Cassandra’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean with?”
“Well take a look at the contest sheet, honeysuckle,” said the announcer, holding out a sheet as Cassandra swiftly snatched it. Cassandra’s eyes widened as they reached the bottom of the sheet.
“Well don’t keep me waitin, what does it say?” said Mary, impatiently.
“All contestants under the age of eighteen may sign up with a blood relative, as long as they are sixteen or older.” Mary’s mouth opened as she looked at Cassandra, worriedly. Cassandra turned to the announcer. “So, when’s the sign up?”
Night fell across the old town as Cassandra came home to see Kevin on the floor doing push-ups, floorboard creaking with each one.
“Kevin. I’ve changed my mind.”
Kevin fell to the floor, his wide chest slamming against the floorboards.
Cassandra stifled a laugh. “I just figured that you’re right. You’re sixteen and I shouldn’t stop you from living your life no matter how stupid and reckless your life choices are,” Cassandra said, in a sincere tone.
“Um, thanks? I think…” Kevin said, with a confused look on his face.
“No problem, little brother. Sleep well.”
Sunlight bled through the wooden blinds as Kevin sat sprawled out on his bed, snoring away.
“Wake up sleepy-head!” said Cassandra, exploding through the door energetically, with a brown cloth bag in her hand.
“Geez sis, isn’t it a little early for groceries?”
Cassandra smiled coyly as she tossed a revolver on the bed next to a wide-eyed Kevin.
“What the heck? What are you doing with a-” Kevin’s eyes widened. “No. You did not do what I think you did.” Kevin said, in disbelief.
“If you mean lying to my only sister about a somewhat important fact regarding these games, then no. I didn’t do anything as awful as that.”
Kevin turned his gaze toward the revolver then back to Cassandra. “Look, I didn’t tell you because…”
“Because you didn’t want me to die. Just like how I didn’t want you to die.”
Kevin shook his head. “It’s not just about you dying Cass, it’s about what you have to live for! I’m not like you. I don’t see a future for myself anywhere. You can make something of your life. You’re smart, capable, strong. You can move back east when the war is over.” He hesitated for a moment before looking down. “You can live a life that mom and dad would be proud of,” Kevin said, voice shaking.
Cassandra walked over and grabbed his hand. “Kevin. Mom and dad are proud of you. If they were here, they’d be so happy to see the person you’ve become. Besides, you’re only sixteen. Once we win these games, you’re going to be able to make them even prouder.”
Kevin wiped a tear from his eye. “So, sis, we’re really going to do this?”
Cassandra smiled. “Sleep tight, partner.”
Cassandra wore jeans with a brown leather belt and silver buckle. Her cowhide boots making tracks in the sandy terrain as her and Kevin walked to the starting point a few minutes away from town.
“Cute bandana Cass, maybe I should’ve worn one too.”
Cassandra scowled at him. “It absorbs sweat. But clearly you weren’t thinking practically given the fact that you cut out your freaking sleeves.”
Kevin replied with a smirk. “That, my dear sister, was nothing but a strategic decision. You see, when the lady competitors see my rippling muscles, they’ll be so distracted we won’t even have to do anything.”
Cassandra snorted. “Kevin, I know we’ve talked a lot about us dying, but what about killing other people. We’re not actually going to, right?”
Kevin looked the other direction. “I’m sure we’ll be fine disarming them. We won’t hurt anyone unless we have to.”
Cassandra stared at his holster, worryingly. As they arrived at their starting point, Cassandra saw the same electric-blue eyed announcer, waiting for them.
“Why hello there sugarplum. It’s awfully nice to see you again.”
Kevin stood in front of Cassandra protectively. “What did you just call my sister?” Cassandra put a hand to his shoulder.
The announcer smirked. “Well ain’t that sweet.” The announcer looked at each of them for a few seconds with an unreadable expression. “I assume ya’ll have read the rules, but just to clarify, the first contestant or contestants in this case,” he said looking up with a smile, “to reach the prize at the end will be declared the victor or victors.”
Cassandra looked at him, eyes narrowed. “So, since there’s at least one pair in this competition, does that mean there are two prizes to be won for that pair?”
The announcer gave her a sly smile. “Oh, I can assure you, the reward at the end will be worthwhile for both of you.”
The twins looked at each other from the corner of their eyes.
“You’ll start in exactly ten minutes from now” said the announcer, as he dropped an hourglass on the floor in front of them. “Good luck” He said, revealing another slimy smile, before walking north-east of where they were standing.
Cassandra turned to Kevin. “Okay, what’s our strategy? We’re at an advantage since there’s two of us. I’m thinking since we’re all starting an equal distance away from prize, it must be right in the center. If we just move forward at a fast pace, we can reach the prize without engaging with any of the other competitors.”
“We should split up,” said Kevin, surely.
“Why on earth would we split up? We haven’t even started yet?”
“Well, for one, they always do that in the movies, and two, I may die of boredom listening to you before the other competitors even have a swing at me”
Cassandra’s eyes narrowed. “You’re incorrigible!” She looked down at the hourglass.
“Oh, look at that, the hourglass is up. Smell ya latter, sis!” He ran forward.
“Kevin stop, we have to pace ourselves!”
The scorching desert was dry as bone, with the only signs of life being an occasional scorpion wandering aimlessly and few cacti scattered around. “Well, this is lovely. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my Saturday afternoon than trudging through a desert for potentially nothing, ” Cassandra said.
“Man, you have got to lighten up. We haven’t even seen anyone else yet. This is going to be a cake walk.”
Cassandra looked down at Kevin’s gun and began to fiddle with her lasso. “Kevin, if I do die out here-
“Cass, stop. There’s no way I’m going to let that happen.”
“But if I do. You need to know, I’ve been putting aside money with Mary and her family in case anything ever happened to me. She also has mom and dad’s safe deposit. I knew after what happened, it may not be safe with us at our home. If something happens to me, go to Mary and she’ll look after you.”
“Cass, I’ve told you so many times, I don’t…”
“You don’t need someone to look after you, I know. But you’re my little brother.”
Kevin began to protest.
“And in case you ever do need someone, you have Mary.”
Kevin opened his mouth just as heard sand shuffling behind him.
“Hope I’m not interruptin something. Sounds like you two were having a good heart to heart.” A middle-aged woman in a pink and blue plaid shirt walked towards them slowly, gun in holster. Cassandra put an arm in front of Kevin, trying to force him behind her.
“You’re outnumbered,” Cassandra said, voice showing the slightest hesitation. “Leave us alone and we won’t hurt you.”
The woman let out a patronizing laugh. “Aren’t we a confident. Not to mention a little young to be playing these games to fight death”
Kevin snapped out of his reverie. “Damn right we’re young. Young enough to out run and kill you in an instant so why don’t you take my sister’s advice and leave us alone.”
Cassandra took her sight off of the woman and stared at Kevin, stunned.
“Very well, cowboy. If you insist.”
Cassandra and Kevin shot each other a confused look. Kevin looked at her holster. “And leave the gun.”
The woman’s shot him an amused look. “Greedy, too, eh?” she said, as she threw her holster towards Cassandra who swiftly picked it up without taking her eyes off the woman. The woman’s eyes were shifting between the two siblings.
“Best of luck, cowboy,” said the woman, not acknowledging Cassandra, as she turned and walked away.
Kevin stood, mouth slightly open staring in the direction the woman walked away from. “Well, that was easy.”
Cassandra shot him a worried look. “A little too easy don’t you think. I suppose she did realize she was out-numbered but still, why give up so easily?”
“Yea, I’ll let you ponder over that. Let’s keep moving.”
The twins trudged through the desert for another hour, sweat soaking their bodies. Kevin was looking at a focused Cassandra, whose eyes were constantly looking around them for other competitors.
“Cass. Back there when I said I’d kill her, I was just scared. I didn’t actually want to hurt her.”
Cassandra gave him a sympathetic nod. “I know Kevin. But just know, if she hurt you, I wouldn’t have hesitated to kill her myself.”
Kevin smiled. “Wow Cass, I didn’t realize you had it in you.”
Cassandra began to open her mouth when she saw a silver gleam on Kevin’s neck which began to move down slowly to the left of his chest. “Move!” Cassandra screamed as she jumped in front of Kevin just as a silver bullet struck her squarely in the middle of her forehead.
Kevin let out a scream of horror as she fell to the ground. “Cass!” Kevin swiped up his gun and began to blindly fire shots in the direction of the bullet. After hearing several impacts and no other noise, he looked down to see an unconscious Cass with a large welt on her forehead.
“Mom, I don’t like this book, the words are too simple.”
Cassandra’s mother stared down at her eleven-year old daughter, endearingly. “I’ll be sure to get you a book that’s more up to your level next time.”
Cassandra’s face lit up as she looked up the stairs to see her brother and dad playing cowboy.
“I got you daddy!” Kevin said, as he made a shooting noise with his finger guns.
“Ah!” Kevin’s father said, as he fell to the ground, dramatically. Before Cassandra’s mother could call them down, loud bang shook their wooden door. The parents a split second eye contact before the twin’s father picked up Kevin and brought him to the nearby room. “Stay in here and do not leave. Do you understand!”
Kevin swallowed, nodding.
“Cassandra, go upstairs with your brother, lock the door okay. And remember what we told you” her mother said, hurriedly. “Now go!”
“But mom I…”
Cassandra gave her mother one last look before running up the stairs, passing her father carrying a silver knife.
“Kevin, it’s okay, please don’t cry, we have to stay quiet” A loud crash echoed up the stairs as Cassandra held her brother tight. As she listened to what was being said.
“Just take what you want and leave,” said the father, firmly.
“We don’t want any trouble” the mother said, staring at their revolvers.
“You mustn’t be too familiar with these parts. When a family moves in from the east and starts taking business away from the locals. Well, that’s just asking for trouble. You see, we ain’t interested in your things. Well, we ain’t interested in just your things,” the man said.
Just then Cassandra heard several gunshots go off as she covered her brother’s mouth to stop him from screaming as tears streaked down her face.
“Cass, wake up! Please, wake up!”
Cassandra began to open her eyes. “Kevin?… Kevin! Are you hurt?” she said jerking herself upwards before placing her hand on her forehead.
Kevin stared at her smiling, tear stains on his face. “I’m not the one who just got shot”
Cassandra stared at him in disbelief. “Then how am I still alive?”
Kevin turned around to see the man who fired the bullet lying on the floor in pain.
“You! How come our guns aren’t real!”
“I’m just as confused as you are, munchkin.”
Kevin grabbed his gun aiming at the man’s chest.
“Besides, it looks like you two have won these games to fight death,” he said gesturing behind Cassandra, where a small platform stood.
“Kevin! We have to go!”
Kevin ran to Cassandra, hoisted her on his back and ran towards the platform. As soon as Kevin stepped foot on it, a figure started to make its way toward them in the distance. It was the announcer standing with a cart. “Congratulations!”
“Kevin, it’s okay I can stand” Cassandra said, as Kevin gently laid Cassandra on the platform next to him.
“So, what’s the big prize,” Kevin said.
The announcer smiled before opening the cart’s lid and pulling out a neon blue pretzel. Cassandra stared at him. “Is this a joke? I got shot in the head for a blue pretzel? Kevin. Before you even think of eating that, I have a few questions. First off, why weren’t the guns real guns?”
“I don’t remember the contest rules specifying what type of guns would be provided for you, sugarplum. Do you?”
Cassandra stared at him, suspiciously. “And second of all, will this pretzel kill or injure or hurt us in any way, shape or form?”
“Oh most definitely not, dear.”
“Kevin, let me have a bite first, I don’t trust this guy.”
The announcer looked back and forth between the two as Kevin held the pretzel in his hand, a hesitant look on his face. Cassandra reached forward, but before she could grab it, Kevin took a large bite.
“Kevin what are you doing!” Before he could answer, the announcer gave Cassandra one last smile before falling to the ground.
“It’s fine, Cass, I feel fine. Great actually. I’m sure they wouldn’t put on this contest just to kill us.”
Cassandra stared at the pretzel which was slowly turning from electric blue to a plain beige. She then looked to Kevin, whose sea green eyes were turning into a bright blue. “Kevin!”
65 years later
Kevin stood next to a frail looking Cassandra who laid quietly in the hospital bed. Lines of age etched her face.
“Cass, I’m so sorry. I never meant for this to happen.” Kevin sobbed.
Cassandra gave him a sad smile. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I guess we finally figured out what ‘fight death’ meant. Just when I thought that day couldn’t get any weirder, they just had to throw in an immortality-granting pretzel. I guess it’s good you took the first bite. I’d get bored of immortality pretty quickly,” she said smiling.
“Cass, I don’t want to you to go.” Kevin placed his hand on top of his sister’s
“I love you, Kevin. you’ll always be my little brother,” Cassandra said, eyes peacefully closing.