A BEAUTIFUL KIND OF TWISTED: CHAPTER THREE

A BEAUTIFUL KIND OF TWISTED: CHAPTER THREE

The day dawned bright and clear, a very good day for the pursuit of one’s endeavours. Or, in the case of the contestants of The Ultimate Superstar, a day for grueling hikes and climbs in their search for whatever clues and artefacts were required to move them into the next stage. The contestants all broke camp from the forest clearing they’d been ensconced in for the past four days and packed their things, to meet their host, Mister K, who, as always, looked like he’d just stepped out of the pages of a high fashion magazine into the real world.

They’d spent the past four days hiking to the clearing where they made camp and further got acquainted with each other, everyone assessing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They’d also been split into teams of two persons per team, a male and female in each team. The contestants were now eager to get things going. For some, it was a readiness to proceed with the competition and go ahead to win, while for others, it was a readiness to return to civilization and the real world.

Nonso and Nelo were paired together as a team. Nonso initially acted affronted by the pairing but really was pleased with it. In addition to his physical strength and hers as well, guaranteed by her lack of feminine daintiness, there was also the combination of his brains and hers; Nelo may not be supermodel-attractive, but he’d heard enough about her in campus to know she was whip-smart. The only downside he could foresee was that he’d have to put up with her till the show was over, because he was certain they’d be the final team standing. He definitely wasn’t bothered by the pairing of Ella and CJ, or that of Gozie and Vivica. At least, his scheming had paid off; the budding alliance had fallen apart under his subtle machinations during the four-day period they’d been camping, and an upset Ella had immediately accosted Mister K when he came to join them, urgently asking not to be paired with Gozie. Nonso had tried not to enjoy the crestfallen look that eclipsed Gozie’s face when Mister K announced that the daintily-beautiful Ella would be teaming up with CJ. Nonso wasn’t also bothered that that obnoxious Tega had landed the Mercy girl he’d been eyeing on Orientation Day and been courting throughout the camping period.

In fact, with the arrangement of teams, Nonso thought the producers might as well end this entire charade right now and usher him and Nelo straight to the finals, where he’d beat her to be the winner. No one, absolutely no one, could take him here. Of that he was certain.

On his own part, Tega was not as interested in his partner’s abilities as he was in her sex appeal. If you got past her feminazi haircut and the initial austerity of her personality, she was actually very fuckable. Besides, his joining up for this competition wasn’t just to win, but to get new girls, and maybe, just maybe, make new friends among the guys. Already, he’d gotten for himself the reputation of the camp’s friendliest guy and resident lothario. He was the go-to guy for laughs, comic antics and all-round fun. Knowing tempers were always going to be high the further they progressed in the competition, Tega believed he had made a shield for himself with his constant fun-poking and flirtation.

If only he knew.

***

“Your first task will be to decipher the clues that will be given to you in a few minutes,” Mister K’s crisp voice rang out from the middle of the clearing where the different teams had gathered amidst a motley of camera crew and directors. Each team had two camera crew members assigned to them, to cover their every move throughout their impending assignment.

“Each team will be given a different clue that will lead to a destination peculiar to them. There, you will have to find your next clue, and when you have deciphered it, it will lead you to the next location, and so on. This is not at all going to be an easy task, and at the end of the day, only the teams that find the scrolls will proceed to the next level of the competition.”

Nonso smiled inwardly, making sure to keep his face blank. He prided himself on his easy understanding of complex and intricate puzzles and riddles.

This is going to be very easy, he thought. Hopefully, Nelo wouldn’t be a drag on him during this first round. He’d give anything to finish first and have their team win the bonus points for doing so. He refocused on the competition when he heard Mister K speak again.

“There are a couple of catches, however. While each of the first three clues will take your teams to different locations, the fourth and final clue will lead you to the scrolls or to empty boxes. Now, to make the competition fair for all of you, the boxes are scattered around in the same location. You’d have to really understand your clue by the time you get to the location, take a box from there and return to your starting point, which is here” – he pointed downward – “where I’ll open each individual box.”

Nonso almost burst out laughing at this. He couldn’t wait to see the expressions of despondence and shock on the faces of those whose boxes would turn out to be empty.

Tega, for the first time since arriving at the clearing, took his eyes off Mister K and focused on his partner, taking her hand. He needed to reassure, not just her, but himself that they would do well in this first round.

Mister K continued, “There are ten teams here. And we only have…” He paused for a considerable amount of time pass to accentuate the drama and suspense the contestants were feeling, all the while performing for the cameras, before continuing, “…5 boxes with scrolls. So, yes, half of you will be going home today.”

Almost immediately, Tega felt those same hostile eyes upon him again and without thinking, he took his eyes off Mister K and his gaze clashed with Nonso’s. Nonso Ekwueme – the one person in the camp who he’d been unable to charm. The malevolence clearly written on the guy’s face told Tega all he needed to know. And it was what he needed to steel his spine.

Nonso continued to stare at Tega, an undeniably hostile stare, while wishing and praying like he never had that Tega and Mercy would not find a right box. He couldn’t care less that Tega was looking right back at him. If anything, he wanted him to realise that he wanted him out. Hopefully, that happy-go-lucky façade of his would crack and his composure would fail, ensuring that he would mess up this challenge and pick the wrong box.

Both men were totally caught up in their stares – one cold, calculating and positively menacing, and the other flustered yet determined and dogged – that they almost missed the last proviso that left Mister K’s lips.

“Final catch! You all only have one hour to start and finish the tasks. Your time will start after I distribute the first set of clues to you and I say the word ‘Start’. And please, when I give you the clues, do not open them till I say Start. If you open them, you will be summarily disqualified from the show and sent home with your team member.”

That said, Mister K reached into the very large envelope he had propped up by his left leg and withdrew a set of smaller envelopes and proceeded to lay them all out on the ground in front of him in a straight line. He checked his wristwatch and found it was exactly 11:52 am.

Then he announced, “Now, can a member of each team come and pick an envelope? Quickly, quickly!”

The contestants surged forward as one body, each one hoping to pick an easily decipherable clue. Tega got one and returned to his partner. Ella got one for her team, as well as Gozie. Nonso got his and immediately began trying to rip it open. Those around him stared at him in stupefaction. Mister K, whose attention had been riveted by the ongoing bustle to pick envelopes, was surprised by the sudden hush that fell upon the crowd and turned to see what had gotten their attention.

Swift as a lightning strike, Nelo snatched the envelope from Nonso’s hands and said in a quiet yet vicious hiss, “Are you insane? Did you not hear what Mister K said about not opening the envelopes till he has given the go-ahead?”

Nonso instantly wilted inside. For the first time in his life, he wished the earth could open up and swallow him whole. He’d almost thrown away this opportunity. And all because he’d been so focused on his dislike for Tega, he’d paid little attention to what their host had instructed.

Tega smirked at the chagrined look on Nonso’s face. Not one to be unnecessarily petty, he derived momentary joy from Nonso’s obvious discomfort. It was easy for him to enjoy the other man’s mortification, because of how he had treated him the past four days. Ever since they got acquainted, Nonso had either summarily ignored him or kept shooting daggers at him with his glares. He had wondered frequently over the previous days whether there was something he’d done to annoy the guy in the past, but nothing seemed to jump out to him from his memory. Besides, he really didn’t know the guy. So why was he being such as asshole to him? Observing his discomfiture now filled him with deep satisfaction.

Seeing nothing amiss, Mister K asked the contestants to step forward to their start-up line. As soon as his watch struck the noon time of the day, he said, “Start.”

There was an instant rustling of paper as the envelopes were ripped apart to reveal their content to the eager eyes of the contestants. Each clue was different, leading the team bearing it to a different location. As soon as a team had gotten what they figured was their location, they sped off in that direction.

Ella and CJ figured out their location within a minute of unveiling their clue and immediately took off. Tega got a vague idea of the landmark that marked their location barely half a minute after Ella and CJ’s departure, and hastened Mercy along with him as they raced off, their camera crew hurrying after them. Almost immediately, Gozie and Vivica sped off too. Nonso spared a quick glance at the remaining teams, feeling an immense shame over the fact that he was still here and had no idea where their location was. His mind was already a mess after his near mistake with the envelope and this wasn’t helping his case. His self-confidence was taking a beating.

Then he remembered the smug grin on Tega’s face after he made that mistake and he got angry. He snatched the paper from Nelo’s hand and scanned it one more time. And it was as though his anger drove clarity through. He suddenly knew where they had to go.

“Come with me,” he barked at his partner.

And off they went.

***

The time was 12:37 pm and Mister K was at the clearing, bantering with the on-site producer, both men snacking and speculating on which team they’d put their money on to get to the finals. They wondered which team would be smart enough to figure out that the boxes that held the scrolls were the ones that were farthest from the entrance to the cave where the boxes were kept.

Their final clue read thus:

Victory lies farthest from your grasp

Hidden in the midst of dark rocks

You’ll find your way marked

By a tough climb all the way to the top.

Mister K had been impressed by the work their content development team had done with the development and placement of the clues. Everything was top notch and he was letting the producer know how positive he felt about the efforts expended on the show when the first team to return stumbled into the clearing. It was 12: 40 pm. Fatigued and drenched with sweat, Ada and Jerry dropped to the ground, taking shelter under the shade of a tree as soon as they got to the clearing.

Upon sighting them, Mister K immediately transformed from the genial person he’d been with the producer to the cool and collected professional that he needed to be for the cameras. He stepped into his spot in the middle of the clearing and gestured the team forward. He quizzed them about their search and how confident they were that they’d win. While this was going on, Ella and CJ ran in at exactly 12: 47 pm, sweating and panting heavily.

Mister K waved them over and dismissed the first team before moving on to interview the second team. At 12: 53, Tega and Nonso ran into the clearing, having sprinted all the way from the cave in their furious struggle to beat each other to the clearing. They’d arrived with their partners at the cave at the same time, and as soon as Nonso and Tega locked eyes, they both began to run the last few metres into the cave. On getting there, they jostled their way through, each of them grabbing a box. Then they dashed back out, so intent on getting to the clearing first that they forgot their partners. Nelo and Mercy trailed behind them, trying to keep up, but fell further behind, as they weren’t pushed by the same fiercely competitive drive that was pumping through the adrenaline-shot veins of their male partners.

In the clearing now, Nonso and Tega stood apart, out of breath, glaring at each other, only then realizing that they’d left their partners behind. When Tega spotted Nelo tiredly jogging up to the clearing, he groaned. The victorious look he saw flash across Nonso’s face seemed so out of place that he burst out laughing. Perplexed by his odd behaviour, Nonso looked back to see if Mercy had suddenly come up on the horizon and was about to overtake Nelo, but he saw only Nelo walking towards them.

Why are you laughing, you fool? He thought furiously as he turned a blistering look back to Tega.

He was startled however when he saw Tega begin to walk toward him. When Tega stopped in front of him, he gave him a deeply distrustful look and said in a low, hissing tone, “What do you think you are doing?”

Tega took another step forward and took his hand. Nonso stiffened, but Tega was already pulling him close into a half hug. They were both sweaty, so he kept the hug very brief, slapping his other hand lightly on Nonso’s back.

Then he whispered the word “Congratulations” in Nonso’s ear, before parting from him and returning to where he’d been standing.

“What was that about?” Nelo asked.

But Nonso was momentarily unable to answer. He stood there, wondering what he was more shocked at: the fact that Tega had so forcefully invaded his personal space, or the genuine warmth he’d heard in that single word Tega said to him.

Congratulations.

Like he meant it. Like he wished Nonso would get all the good he deserved. Nonso suddenly found himself wondering if perhaps he’d judged Tega too harshly.

But I’m here to win.

The intrusive thought lashed some of the softening out of his system. He couldn’t afford to get sentimental now. He was here to win.

However, when he glanced in Tega’s direction, as aware as he was that his glare no longer packed as much antagonism it usually had, he knew something had definitely changed between them.

***

At exactly 1: 15 pm, the last team made it back to the clearing. Mister K looked at all of the teams, standing with their individual boxes, and began to run through the entire hurdle they’d been made to undergo. When he was done, he called on the first team to get back. Ada and Jerry stepped forward with their box. Mister K produced the key to the box and opened it. The two contestants peered into the box to find it empty. Ada gasped, her face instantly crumpling. Jerry looked miserable, blinking rapidly to stop his tears from flowing before the cameras. They had lost. And they were going to be evicted.

Ella and CJ were next. Their box was opened and there was a scroll in it. Teams Nonso/Nelo and Tega/Mercy also had scrolls in their boxes. The next team to step forward was Dera and Tayo and they had a scroll in their box.

At this point, only one scroll remained to be found and there were still 5 teams to go. Nonso found himself fervently hoping Gozie’s team would have the right box. Somehow, between the beginning of this day and just now, he had lost his edge. He no longer wanted to win while wishing for his friend to get evicted.

Sly and Maya were next and they had an empty box. After them, Jennifer and Dili had an empty box, as did Hakeem and Esther.

Austin and Amina stepped forward next, and when their box was opened, they had in it the last scroll. Seeing his close friend get ousted from the competition nearly crushed Nonso. The guilt that he might have somehow wished this misfortune on Gozie had him fighting back tears, even though Gozie had on a game smile.

Ella’s team got a box with a scroll… What if I hadn’t meddled… If I’d just let her be with Gozie, surely Gozie would be on a winning team… The thoughts crowded Nonso’s mind, wreaking a deep remorse inside him.

After the last scroll was found, the winning teams were asked to wait behind for further instructions while the other teams made their way back to the camp. They would pick up their stuff and be conveyed back to civilization where they’d carry on with their lives. When the episode would air, perhaps they would acquire some notoriety, however brief their stint on television had been.

Upon their departure, Mister K congratulated the teams now before him and told them their next challenge would take place in three days’ time. Each team was to safely guard their scroll and come with it on that day, as it would be opened to reveal the exercise for the next stage of the competition. With that, he invited them to sit at the table arranged under a shade for lunch. A very sumptuous repast was rolled out as the remaining ten contestants spread out at the table. Conversation flowed amongst them, as they recounted their ordeals during the day’s task. Nonso found it hard to participate as he was still feeling dispirited over Gozie’s eviction. As he listlessly waded through his plate of fried rice, creamed salad and fried plantain with a fork, he looked up and caught Tega’s eyes on him.

For the first time since they started their eye battle days ago, he flushed and hurriedly looked away.

Tega had noticed Nonso’s gloominess the moment Austin and Amina were found to have the last scroll. He knew Gozie was the only person Nonso had as a friend in the camp, so he understood – sort of – how alone he must be feeling. He kept his gaze on Nonso while holding an animated conversation with some of the other contestants. When Nonso looked up and caught his gaze, he didn’t look away. Instead, he flashed a friendly smile at him and winked at him. And to his surprise, the man who’d never been one to back down from a “look me, I look you” fight, hastened his gaze away.

But he looked up again. Met his gaze again and smiled back at him. And as the conversation and food flowed around them, they kept occasionally glancing at each other, sometimes blatantly staring, other times, breaking off with a shared smile. No one else noticed what was going on between them. What was going on was a confusing newness for both of them. For the man who’d had nothing but loathing for the other man. And for the other man who’d never felt an attraction for any man before.

One thing was however clear to them: they were way over whatever animosity they entered the competition with. They were not friends, not by a long shot. But they both knew something had changed between them.

They just had no idea how much.

Written by Mitch

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5 Comments

  1. Mandy
    November 16, 09:11 Reply

    I’m getting Gulder Ultimate Search vibes from this episode. (Whatever happened to that reality show?)
    All this antagonism and tension… The explosion this story is racing toward had better be boner-giving, wank-worthy good. 😀😀

  2. Omiete
    November 16, 13:10 Reply

    Wait oh. All this back and forth eye contact and nobody was noticing not even the camera ahh. How?

  3. Leon
    November 18, 10:30 Reply

    Been following up, wonderful story…and once again a new love story begins

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