The Fear Trials

'Hello. My name is Shal. I’m ten years old, and I need to tell this before I either die, or curl up in a ball and never move again.'

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    Hello. My name is Shal. I’m ten years old, and I need to tell this before I either die, or curl up in a ball and never move again.

    That happened to one of us last week. The Fear Trials were too much for her. She curled up, and didn’t move again. When they checked her pulse, she was dead. Her heart had just stopped. That left ten of us.

    Most would have thought I would have gone by now. The girl that died was two years older than me. None of us are older than sixteen, and none of us are younger than me. I’m the littlest. The youngest. Out of all of us.

    All of us are girls. For some reason, the people that did this to us didn’t take any boys. There were originally fifteen of us. So far, five of us have died, gone insane, or curled up in a ball, never to move again.

    Now there are two questions I have to answer. Who are ‘we’ and who are ‘they’. I’ll start with the ‘they’. They’re officials, who keep an eye on us and run the Fear Trials.

    I know each statement leads to a new question. Bear with me. I’ll get there.

    Now the ‘us’. There were originally fifteen. All girls, who are kept in this strange building. As far as I know, we were raised here. Taught how to read and write by teachers, and then, once we were old enough, we were thrown into the Fear Trials.

    Promptly, we started dying. I don’t know what killed the others. If you die in the Fear Trials, you usually wake up. But those girls didn’t. I think that fear might have stopped their hearts. So far, five are dead. The most recent one was Kate. Her heart stopped while she was in the Fear Trials- or so they said. I guess we have no proof either way of how she died.

    The ten of us that are left stick together. We’re the only family we’ve got, after all.

    We’re not exactly treated the best. We each have a room, with a single bed, a dresser for the clothes they give us, and a small table with two chairs, one for us, and another for when somebody is allowed a visit. We can only ever have two in the rooms at once.

    In our ‘rooms’ we don’t have walls. Instead we have cage bars. The door is always locked, unless they let us out. The plus side of that is that we can talk. We just can’t reach each other.

    The only times they let us out are mealtimes and visits. Meals are forty minutes long, and you have to finish by then. Visits can be up to half an hour, and only one person can visit another person at a time. Otherwise, we’re in the Trials or in our rooms. The most number of Trials we have a day is two. Any more than that and it would probably kill us. The rotation changes. Sometimes we’re alone, sometimes we have a Trial partner- someone who is on the same level as us. I’m at the lowest level right now, and I’m happy to stay there. The higher you go, the more terrifying it gets.

    Our cages, sorry, ‘rooms’ were in a line in a long hallway in the main center of the building. The cages shifted each day, the entire box being moved, and placed in a new spot in the line. One day I could be next to one person, then I could be next to another the next day. Today I was at the end of the line. To my delight, Sim was next to me, and Jess was next to Sim.

    Sim and Jess are best friends. They’re both thirteen- as far as we can tell. Ages aren’t always exact with us. We’re all close to each other, but those two are closer than most. Sim is like a human carrot, with orange hair and green eyes. She’s quick to laugh, and quicker to make a joke. She’s small and quick, and she claims she can outrun most things in the Fear Trials. I’m not sure if I believe her or not. Those things are fast. Either way, I doubt we’d make it without her. She’s the reason most of us haven’t gone insane already.

    Jess is a little more moderate than Sim, but she has a wonderful sense of humor. She likes singing, and doesn’t have that bad of a voice. She always says that she and Sim are soulmates, and I don’t doubt her.

    When I woke up, Jess and Sim were singing something about Fearlings. Fearlings are what we call some of the monsters in the Fear Trials. They’re nothing to laugh at, but Sim and Jess were busy making fun of them. They could make even the terrifying stuff seem funny.  Sim and Jess finished a verse, and launched into the chorus, both doubling over with laughter as they did so.

    Most of us hadn’t woken up yet. It was impressive, considering the racket the two of them were making. When they saw I was awake, they cut off their song, both waving to me.

    “Morning Shal,” they chorused. If those two are siblings, or twins, it wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe they’re even clones with the same brain. Why not?

    “Hey guys,” I replied softly.

    Before we could keep talking, A loud buzzer went off, probably waking everyone, and shutting up Sim and Jess. Our doors slid open with a clang, and another door across the hallway slid open. We all hurried. You never want to miss breakfast, or not be done when breakfast is over.

    We all filed into the door, and sat down at one long table. Then, one by one, we went into another room, where we each had our separate trays with our individual breakfasts. We all had our own separate diets. It was rarely enough food, but it kept us alive, so I suppose it was good enough.

    Everyone got their food, and we ate. As usual, Ala did her routine check to make sure we were all done. We all were.

Ala is like our mother. She’s sixteen- tall, athletic, and pretty in a stubborn sort of way. She’s brave, and is the highest level in the Fear Trials. She looks after all of us, and ensures that we’re doing okay.

With her, as usual, was Talia. Talia is 15, and Ala’s right hand girl. She’s brave, strong, and very calm. I’ve heard she’s very good at the Fear Trials, because she can rationalize everything she sees around her. Her hair is a deep black, and she has the most piercing grey eyes you’ve ever seen. She’s brave and strong, but a little bit fierce as well. I never would want to get on her bad side.

“Morning Shal,” she said, giving my shoulder a little friendly slap. “Ready for another big day?”

“Morning Fear Trial,” I muttered. “Talia, I’m scared.”

Talia stopped and kent next to me, bringing her eyes level with mine. “We all are,” she said softly. “That’s what makes the Trials hard. But just focus once you’re in there. You can do this, kiddo.” She stood and ruffled my hair, before moving on.

I watched her go. Ala had stopped at Mar and Kira for the fifth time this week. Those two were best friends as well, though they are about as opposite as they can get. Mar has stringy brown hair and a heavily freckled face. She’s outspoken, aggressive, and highly opinionated. She’s short for her age- 13- and packs a whole ton of aggression into her small form.

Kira, on the other hand, is much gentler and quieter. She’s spindly, with long arms and fingers that Sim says were meant for music, but she’s short and small, like some magic creature. Her eyes are a softer brown, and she has reddish hair that spills over her shoulders in a curly mess, more often than not covering her face. She’s shy and gentle, but she and Mar are close to each other. Kira is 12, but she’s often mistaken for ten because she’s so quiet and small.  They tend to spend most of breakfast talking, though I can’t imagine what they might be discussing.

Ala gives them a few sharp words and moves on. Once Ala is past, the girl across from them kicks them in the shins. They glare at her, and she grins, winking with her two-colored eyes.

Star is the second youngest. She’s 11, and has all of Mar’s fiery temper. She has mismatched eyes- one blue, and one green. She’s very passionate, which makes her a terrifying person to argue with. But if you can get past her aggressive attitude, she’s a real sweetheart. She’s good at the Fear Trials for a kid, channeling most of her fear into anger. One side effect of that, though, is that it makes her have a serious temper.

She saw me looking at her and winked again. I smiled back. I liked Star, even if she drove some of the others crazy.

Thanks to Ala and Talia, by the time the end-of-breakfast buzzer went off, we were all done. We slid our trays into the recycling chute, and headed out the door again. Most of us went back to our cage rooms. But not me. Today was my day for a morning Fear Trial.

As usual, one of the officials in a dark suit gestured down the hallway. I walked soundlessly down the hall. I was alone. No Trial partner. Good. I did better alone. It was less terrifying when there was nobody to look after.

The official led me into another wing of the building. I followed them down the hallway. If I tried to run, I’d hit a dead end, and they’d catch me. Then I would be punished, and the Fear Trials are punishment enough for me.

    We entered another room. It was small and compact. The wall was a clear glass monitor, but there was nothing beyond it. It was obviously a testing room, but it looked new. I hadn’t seen it before. Then again, they’re always adding new rooms. One thing was the same as always though- the chair in the center of the room, where I would enter the Trial. The official gestured to the chair. I sighed. Might as well get this over with. I sat in the chair.

The official took a needle, and plunged it into my wrist. The flare of pain surprised me, but not as much as it used to. It only stung for a second, and then a weird bubbly sensation burst inside of me. The world began to fade away, like it always did. The last voice I heard was the official’s.

    “Welcome to the Fear Trials.”

 
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