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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11. 11

 

The very next day I was scheduled for a Trial with Zi. after breakfast one of the officials fetched the two of us. Zi was trembling- even more so than usual. She probably was thinking about Kira. Or maybe Star, who still wasn’t conscious or responsive. I heard they had to drag Ala away from her to continue the Trials. All I could hope was that I wouldn’t end up in that dark, twisted forest again.

The Trial room we entered had two chairs. We sat, and wordlessly, I reached out. Zi did the same, and we gripped hands. I closed my eyes, and felt Zi squeeze my hand gently. I wasn’t sure who she was comforting- me or her. Either way, we held on to each other as the world spiraled away into darkness.

 

“Zi?”

“I’m here, Shal.”

The landscape of the Fear Trials was another different one. I wondered if I could find Becca again, passing through the walls like I had last time…

No. No thinking about my secret while I was here. If they could read my thoughts, it was all over. And if the Trials collapsed while I was here, right now, then Zi would die as well. I couldn’t have one of my friends die because of me.

“Okay, so let’s go,” Zi said, taking a deep breath. I followed her.

We were in a large abandoned building this time, not halls with doors. We were surrounded by silent and dead machines. Our footsteps echoed off the metal walls. I got the feeling this course was one of the easier ones. Buildings were so much easier to escape from. One way in, one way out.

The silence bothered me. It was almost too quiet, like the entire room was holding its breath. We kept walking. I could see a door high up on the other side, close to one of the catwalks that arched overhead like metal spiderwebs. There was no way it could be that easy. There was some catch, right?

A soft pounding sound suddenly echoed through the building. Zi and I both jumped, instinctively clinging to each other in fear. We should have kept going. But the sound was coming from all around, and for all I knew that convenient exit could be a trap.

Something was shifting near us. The sound of gears turning reached my ears. Too late I realized that standing still was a bad idea.

“Run,” I tried to whisper, but my voice wouldn’t come. The clicking sounds were speeding up now, a series of rapid taps, like buttons being pushed. Then a loud BANG echoed through the warehouse. Zi and I whipped around, looking for the source of the noises. Above us, on one of the catwalks, a light shone.

“Run.” I managed to force the word out between trembling lips. Zi was paralyzed, staring at the lights. She tended to freeze up during Trials. Seeing her like this just reminded me of Star, and a sick feeling began to build in the pit of my stomach. I grabbed her arm, shaking her. “Run!”

Then the entire room grated to life.

You’ve probably been scared before. Afraid. Like on a dark night, you hear strange noises around you, making your imagination run wild. That might make you afraid. Or if something jump-scares you, giving you that two-second terror kind of thing. That might count as fear.

That’s not real fear. Real fear is what my friends and I feel every day. Real fear is the kind of fear that can kill. The kind that can stop a person’s heart, or reduce them to insanity. That is real fear.

Zi suddenly focused on the world again, letting out a shriek as the first machine came at us. A rotating arm whistled over our heads. I screamed as  well as I was almost hit by one that attacked from behind.

No instructions needed this time. The two of us turned together and ran for our lives.

We bolted as across the entire warehouse, more machines grated to life, creaking and clanking, and all coming towards us. Hulking shapes moved in the darkness, the limited light catching off of blades and teeth like saws. Off of glowing red lights like eyes that came for us, stalking forwards from all directions.

We kept running, as the entire factory started up. The conveyer belts started moving, as tools and various machine parts shot over our heads. Zi ducked with a squeal as a rotating blade almost decapitated her. She nearly fell, but I caught her and we kept going.

“Let’s go! We need to find the exit!” I shouted to Zi.

She nodded, though her eyes were wide and panicked. It felt strange to be taking charge- Zi was technically older than me. But I needed to help her.

My eyes scanned the room, but I couldn’t see anything, just dark twisted moving machines. It was terrifying.

I heard a yell from beside me. I turned, to see Zi fall.

“ZI!” I screamed. I went to grab her, but a hook on the conveyor belt snagged her shirt, dragging her back and away from me.

“SHAL!” she screamed back, reaching for me. I tried to grab her hand, but she was already too far away. She looked behind her. The machines were closing in, blades whirring and traplike jaws clashing as the machines focused on their prey. She tried to pull herself up, but the conveyor belt was still moving, yanking her off balance.

One of the hardest things about the Trials was realizing when someone couldn’t be saved. I knew Zi was at that point. The conveyor belt would keep her out of my reach, and the machines would reach her before I could.

She wasn’t going to make it.

She must have realized that, because I saw grim acceptance show in her eyes. “Go.” Her soft voice somehow carried over the grinding sounds of the machines all around us. I could only stare.

I lost Star, I’m not losing you! I knew she couldn’t be saved. But she was right there, right in front of me.

“GO!” she yelled at me. Little lights shone in her eyes- tears. She was terrified. Just as terrified as I was.

“But-” I began.

She didn’t let me finish. She pulled against the hook, and I saw it begin to tear. My heart leapt into my throat. But she had a calm look on her face now.

“You won’t make it if you come back for me.”
    I stared at her helplessly. She was right. But I still couldn’t make myself leave her.

She took a step towards me. The hook tore free. She looked at me for one moment, and I thought a could see her smiling through the tears. She lifted a hand to me. “Go.”

The machines reached Zi.

“GO!”

I turned and ran. My face felt wet, and I realized I was crying too. I knew it wasn’t real. I knew I would see her soon. But I couldn’t block my ears to the sounds of the machines tearing into something. And, even worse, I could hear Zi screaming, her last moments in the Trial drawn out in extreme pain.

The silence that followed was worse, though. I knew better than to look back. I knew what I would see. I had seen it before. Zi’s body, ripped and mangled, lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood. Almost unrecognizable. But not quite.

I shivered. Keep going, Shal. She bought you some time. Now run! Get out of here.

I kept running. Tears ran freely down my face. I’m so sorry Zi. I’ll see you soon though.

I kept going. The machines were a good distance behind me now. They had been occupied with bringing her down.  Thanks to Zi, I had a good chance of escape.

Not caring if it was a trap, not caring if it was dangerous, I bolted for the catwalk. The machines gave chase, but they seemed slower, like a beast that had gorged itself. I bolted up the stairs, barely feeling the ache in my legs. The blinking, flashing sign for the exit appeared like a miracle. I let out a gasp of relief, and ran to it. I shoved the door open with all the power in my small body, and slipped inside. There was a single chair, surrounded by monitors.

Finally.

I slammed the door behind me, and closed my eyes. I felt something sharp pinch into me, and I welcomed it gladly. Then the world went white, signaling the end of the torture.

 
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