“I hear they’re changing up the system this year.”
I turned to my friend in the seat next to me. The guy behind me screamed as my mortarboard poked him in the eye. “What do you mean?”
“The format,” Sam replied. “Graduation’s not gonna be the same as normal. Yeah, we’re all sat here with our parents like normal now, but rumour has it Gilani’s making an announcement soon. Plus, the Uni’s been stockpiling a lot of weapons. I mean, more than usual. “
“You’d have thought I would notice that. But I haven’t heard anything. All I know is that because of budget cuts they aren’t letting as many people graduate this year.”
The packed hall was hushed into silence as various members of staff took to the stage. A chair from the Union had been painted to look like a throne in the centre of the platform, but it was more an off yellow than gold, and looked a bit sad.
A man in the corner turned on a speaker system. “Please stand, for your Union President.”
David Gilani entered the hall on a blazing chariot pulled by eight horses, wearing a magnificent cloak sparkling with hundreds of diamonds and an enormous headdress in university colours. Dismounting the chariot, he made his way to the podium, which his fourteen-inch high heels made somewhat difficult.
“Good afternoon, students, and welcome,” he said. “It seems like none of the other staff got my memo, we were supposed to be dressing up for the occasion. I’m feeling let down, guys, and a little lightheaded. That’s probably more this corset’s fault, though.”
The assembled university staff looked a bit sheepish. One looked around and half-heartedly shook a festive maraca. He was quickly silenced.
“Some of you may know that the university has been having money problems all year, and that the job market is saturated with graduates. We’ve decided to kill two birds with one stone. Only one student from each subject is going to graduate. That way we have one great candidate for each type of job out there, and save a bunch on certificates and free champagne. So now, you’re all going to fight each other for it.”
Sam and I looked at each other. We both knew where this was headed. We’d seen that movie where kids fought to the death until only one remained to win a televised competition.
“Without further ado, welcome to the first annual Graduation Hunger Games!” Gilani continued. “Of the 30 of you here, only one will survive and use their Film and English degree to…write film reviews, or…teach Film and English. You have ten minutes to say goodbye to your friends and loved ones before assembling outside the Union. May the odds be ever in your favour.”
“Huh. At least he didn’t turn into a giant snake” I said.
Sam was starting to panic. “I can’t do this! I’m just a mediocre writer! How can I kill someone, I can’t even take criticism!”
“It’s ok, we’ll stay together and try to outlast everyone else,” I reassured him. “Who knows, maybe they’ll two people win. That always seems to happen despite it being expressly against the rules.”
Sam shuffled off to find his family. He wouldn’t last, I knew it. He was weak, and had poor social skills.
A nervous tap on the back turned me around to face my own parents, who seemed pretty blasé about the whole thing, considering.
“It’s ok, son,” said my Dad cheerfully. “We’ll still be proud of you, even if you don’t graduate.”
“Yes, we’ll take lots of pictures” chimed in Mum.
“Are neither of you at ALL concerned about this? I might die!”
“I thought I’d die when I saw the prices in your pub,” said Dad. “£2.20 for a pint, I must be in heaven. Isn’t that right, Janice?”
Mum laughed uproariously. I felt like they were taking this really well.
I tried again. “They said fight to the death. You guys know I might not see you again? I’m…I’m actually pretty scared, and I just want to say-“
“Sorry, honey, did you say something?” asked Mum. “Your father was showing me an Instagram of some food he took. Anything important?”
“No,” I replied with tears in my eyes, shaking.
“Ok!” she said brightly. “We’ll be waiting in the car.”
The 30 Film and English students stood in a circle outside the Union, facing inwards. In the centre was a pile of weapons and items. Staff and parents had gathered around to watch: some in the shop, some in the Stag’s. David Gilani appeared on top of the Union with a megaphone, and the baying crowd fell silent. He had changed into a shiny black leotard with orange stripes down the side.
“Seriously, guys, I brought, like, five outfits for today. Did NONE of you see my email? I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Anyways, students! The games will begin in less than a minute on my whistle. The campus area has been cordoned off: nobody’s coming in, and you’re not getting out. Play to the crowd, because we’re allowing parents to sponsor you. We had to pay for the sports hall refurbishment somehow. Spectators, please clear the area.”
I tensed, ready to run in. One student, in a blind panic, tried to escape. He didn’t get far before he ran straight into the arms of VP Pain Education David Mendoza-Wolfson. I shut my eyes, but I couldn’t shut out the screaming. Only 29 students now.
I could feel the sweat running down the inside of my gown. A clock above the Union said we had ten seconds. I focused on the weapon I was going for: a bill receipt spike from the Bridge Bar. The whistle rang out, and all hell broke loose. I ran for the centre, dodging flailing limbs and confused bodies. A Stag’s pint glass hit the side of my head and I fell, grabbing the first weapon I could reach: a bow, kindly donated by archery society. Sprinting out of the mass, avoiding attacks and one flying severed head, I ran for the sports centre to begin planning my defence.
TO BE CONTINUED…