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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9. 9

 

Beep beep beep.

I groaned. My entire body was cold. I could feel something hard around me, and I let out a scream. I tried to jerk upright, but something was holding me down. My eyes snapped open, sure I was still in that awful black grove of trees.

The room around me was white. Beds stretched in rows to either side. The one next to me was occupied. I stared in shock as I saw Star lying there. Wires were connected to her arms, and one of them was connected directly into her forehead. A monitor blinked, lines running smoothly in regular patterns. Her breathing was shallow and weak, and her eyelids twitched like she was dreaming. Straps held her down- straps that I realized were around me too. The bed I was on was like hers. Wires stuck into my arms, and I could still hear that annoying, steady beep that echoed from the monitor next to my head.

“How are you feeling.”

I turned to look, and I saw that there was a chair next to my bed. In the chair, surprisingly, was Ala, reading a book.

I stared at her, my mind scrambling to find a connection. I had never seen this room before. It was clearly some kind of hospital. But why was Ala here? And why was I here? What had happened with my Trial?

Ala seemed to read the questions off of my face. “You were lucky,” she said quietly. “They were testing a new landscape, and… there was a glitch.”

I caught my breath. The Fear Trials were well created, but sometimes something went wrong. And when a Fear Trial crashed, there were never any survivors. If that was true, Star and I should have been dead.

“Star?” My voice was weak and ragged. “Is she…”

Ala sighed, closing her book. “Star is completely unresponsive. Shal… it's been nearly twenty four hours since the two of you went in. they just managed to pull you out before the Trial crashed completely. They were sure you weren’t going to make it.”

I tried to sit up again, but the bands held me down. “Why… why can’t I move?”

“They were worried the two of you might hurt yourselves while you were unconscious.” She reached out and tapped some kind of code into the monitor next to me. With a soft click, the bands opened and retracted. I tried to sit up, but I was weak and tired. Ala gently reached down and helped me sit, then placed something in my lap. “I brought this for you. I thought… I thought it might cheer you up… when you woke up.”

I could hear the unspoken words. If you woke up.

I took it, and saw that what had I had originally thought was a book was actually a sketchbook. I recognized it, surprisingly, as Kira’s. I opened it, and stared down in shock. Somehow, Ala had managed to save this. The first picture was a self-portrait, Kira’s bright eyes shining up at me. A little smile began to cross my face. I flipped through the drawings, smiling fondly. One of them depicted Jess and Sim, caught in the middle of a song, each one doubling over with laughter. Then there was one of Talia, a rare smile on her face. Ala, going to her Fear Trial, face set and calm. I saw one of me, sleeping, looking happier than I ever did when I was awake. She had several drawings of Mar, and many of herself beside her. She had sketches of places of the Fear Trials. And one of Lilli, with her puzzle book open, face screwed up in concentration.

    I smiled even more. Her drawings caught us in happier times. Times where we didn’t suffer from fear or misery. Times where things were almost… normal

Then I froze. One drawing popped out at me. A drawing of a terrifying familiar scene.

Staring up at me from the page was a drawing of Becca. But not before. No, this was a drawing as I had seen her in the Trials. Tied to the chair. Kira’s skills were so good that I could see the tears streaming down her face. I could almost hear her voice now.

I slammed the sketch book shut. I felt a chill go down my spine.

She knew.

Just like I do.

I started to shake, cold sweat breaking out across my forehead. What if… what if her death wasn’t an accident?! What if I’m next?

Now that I was thinking of it, all of it made sense! It made so much sense! Becca had warned me. She had tried to tell me they would punish me. Kira must have heard her too. But she hadn’t been able to keep the secret to herself.

They didn’t want anybody to know about what they had done to Becca. So- they must have made something happen. Kira had figured out their secret, like I had. And because of this one drawing, they realized that she knew. So they- they killed her. Her death wasn’t an accident of the Trials.

That one realization set my mind whirling with possibilities. What if the other deaths weren’t an accident either? What if there was a reason? I was sure now- Kira died because she knew a secret that they didn’t want her to know.

A secret that now I knew too.

I froze, my hands shaking. Ala leaned forwards, frowning. “Shal, are you alright?”

I could barely speak, through my jaw trembling. “I-I’m okay. It’s just a lot to take in.”

Ala put a hand on mine, and looked deep into my eyes. “Is there something else, Shal? Something you… didn’t tell me?”

I couldn’t meet her eyes. “No.”

She had been looking through the book before me. Did she know too? How many people knew this secret?

Ala pursed her lips, but before she could ask any questions, the door opened with a soft clicking sound. Entering, I saw a stern looking woman with bleached blond hair staring down at me with an impassive expression.

“I see you’re awake.”

Ala put a protective hand on my shoulder. “She just woke up. She needs some time to heal.”

The woman gave Ala a look that was slightly softer. “This is a matter of importance. If she is awake, then there have been no lasting effects. And you’ve already missed several scheduled Trials.”

“I’m not leaving until Star is awake,” Ala said quietly. “She’s one of us. If she wakes up alone, after a Trial, strapped down, she’s going to panic. If she panics in a state like this, her heart rate is going to spike, maybe fatally. I need to be here to calm her down.”

The woman sighed, glancing over at Star’s limp form. “It would… be a shame to lose another, especially after the tragedy… very well. But I need to speak to the young one.”

The ‘young one’ has a name… I said nothing. We learned from a young age not to ask questions.

Ala tapped another code in, and with a soft, tickling sensation, the wires withdrew from my head, leaving small red marks on my heads and arms. I sat up slowly, and got up. The woman beckoned for me to follow, and I hesitated, glancing back at Ala. slowly, I handed her the sketchbook. She gave me a reassuring smile, then waved for me to go.

 
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