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.'


4. 4.


It started in the same place as last time, the room with doors. Great. I hated this place. All the doors just made me more afraid. Anything could be behind them.

I went up to the first door, and tapped on it five times, like Lilli had said. A soft hiss emitted from it. I nearly tripped over my own feet backing up. A fearling. I shuddered, and kept going.

The next two doors were the same, but the fourth one was safe. I opened it, and followed it down the hallway. I found myself in the room where I had died last time.

It’s rare that we end up in the same Trial landscape twice. In this case, at least, I would have a slight advantage.

I thought about the strategies Lili had given me for finding out when a door had a fearling behind it. Go for fives. I moved around, tapping lightly on the doors. A few hisses, but one of them made a hollow thud, like there was something else behind it. It sounded like a passage.

I pressed my hand to the crack at the bottom, and felt a faint breeze. That was good. A breeze meant it was empty. Slowly, I opened it, already jumping back in case there was a fearling hiding. But no, it was empty, except for a metal tube. I took a deep breath. It could go straight down. I could die. But I had to go for it.

I leapt onto the shaft, and shot forwards. Almost instantly, I hit a series of turns. Behind me I heard loud, metallic thuds, and I looked back. Spikes were impaling themselves in the wall behind me. I caught my breath, and folded my arms to my chest, speeding up. The spikes continued behind me, but they never got close. Like most things here, their purpose just seemed to be to scare me. But I wasn’t going to take any chances. I made myself as aerodynamic as possible and closed my eyes, praying that the spikes were just to scare me, not to kill me. If I died this early, I was sure my punishment would be worse than last time.

I fell out of the shaft into a third room. It was smaller than the others, and had several doors. Each one was painted a different color. That was probably some kind of code. Lilli could have guessed it, but I didn’t have her mind. I’d have to rely on my ears.

I closed my eyes again, and then I heard an unexpected sound. Faint sobs echoed from somewhere inside the wall.

It could have been a trap. It probably was a trap. But there was something… off about it. Apart from the fearlings, there are rarely any living things in the Fear Trials. Those sobs sounded very alive and very human. What was happening?

Lilli always tells me that curiosity is the best way to get you killed in the Fear Trials. But I couldn’t help thinking of a story that Mar had told me. In the Fear Trials, Mar is impulsive and reckless, and takes a lot of unnecessary risks. But once she had gone through a dangerous looking section and found a secret passageway. Maybe that’s what this was. Or maybe it was like the time with Star, who had gone towards what sounded like voices and run straight into a trap that dumped acid on her. Her death hadn’t been pleasant that time.

But if it was something useful…

Cautiously, I walked toward the sound. I reached one of the walls. I was expected it to be solid, or have a door. But when I touched it, it rippled like water, gelling around my hand. I let out a soft yelp, and drew back my hand. The wall solidified again.

Once more, I touched it. The same thing happened.

Either this was some kind of passage, or something was going wrong with my Fear Trial. That thought was enough to make my pulse spike. What if it was? When a Fear Trial crashes, there aren’t any survivors. If this was the Trial unraveling, I had to get out fast. But the ripples weren’t spreading. So tentatively I reached forwards again. There was air beyond. I took a deep breath, and stepped through the wall.


The room beyond was definitely not the Fear Trials. It looked like every other room in the main building. Black walls, covered in screens and monitors. There was even the chair in the center. It looked like a Trial room. But the chair was occupied. A girl was tied to it, head down, sobbing softly. Her blond hair covered her face, and she wore a ragged outfit that looked similar to mine.

My eyes widened, as a memory sparked. A connection with this girl. Somehow, I knew her.

“Becca?” I said softly.

The girl’s sobbing was cut off, and she looked up at me. “Sh-Shal?”

I immediately knew it was her. Her eyes were two different colors. One was blue, and the other brown. We had always joked that it made her head look lopsided. She and Star had called themselves the weirdos of the group. Star said they had each been born with half of each other’s bodies. That was before she had gone into a Fear Trial and never returned. They told us the Trial crashed, and that she was…

    They had told us she was dead.

“I thought you were-” I began, struggling to make sense of this crazy scene.

Before I could finish she cut me off, shaking her head wildly. “No! Sh! They’ll hear you! Shal, nobody has done what you did! Nobody has ever found this place!”

And what is this place? I wondered. I took a step closer.

“How can I get you out of here?” I asked, lowering my voice to a whisper. “And how did you survive?”

It can’t be right. They said she was dead, and why would they lie to us?

“You can’t get me free, Shal. There isn’t a way we can both escape.” Becca was avoiding my eyes. She was clearly terrified. That just made me want to help her more.

“But-” I protested.

She interrupted me again. “Let me answer your second question, Shal. I… don’t know what happened. It was dark… and cold… and then I was here. But it’s not what you think. That’s not why they took me, Shal. I found out the truth. And they didn’t want any of us to know.”

Cold and dark… Had she really been dead?

I stare at her. “What truth?”

“I can’t tell you.”

    “But Becca, you should be dead!”

    “I told you, I don’t know. They did… they did something,” she insisted.

    “That’s just…” I started. Then I stopped. I had been about to say wrong, but was it really wrong to save a life? To bring Becca back? Could I really say that was wrong? They had saved her. How was that bad? Wrong? Could I really say that they should have let Becca die? I shook my head, hopelessly confused. How could she have been brought back? It didn’t make any sense.


She shook her head. “They’ll kill you if they find out. I can’t tell you. I can’t put your life in danger. You have to go. Now.”

“But Becca-”

“Please. Go,” she insisted. “Don’t come back. Don’t look back. Just go. Forget you saw me.”

“No! You’re one of us. We are all we’ve got!” I protested.

Becca stared at the ground. “Shal, you have to leave!” Her tone was pleading now, desperate.

“Why?!” I protested.

“Shal, they’ll punish you if they find you here! You have to go now!” Becca insisted, looking around at the monitors. “You have to go before they find you!”

“I’m not leaving you!” I insisted. “Becca, I’ll go, but you have to come with me!”

Tears began to shine in Becca’s eyes. “No Shal. Please go. Leave me. It’s all you can do. Just… go. Before they find you here!”

I could feel stubborn tears in my own eyes, threatening to fall. “Becca… no. Please, don’t say that! I won’t leave you. I can’t leave you!”

Becca began to cry softly. “No! Shal, please, I don’t want them to do things to you! Just go. Please.”

I continued to hesitate. “Becca, you can’t just stay here!”

“GO!” she screamed at me, tears streaming down her face like rain. “They’re coming!”

I looked around, but there was no sign of anyone. How she knew, I had no idea. I backed towards the wall, but when I touched it, the wall was solid.

“Close your eyes,” Becca told me. “And think about it. And… Shal?”


Becca closed her eyes and spoke softly and quickly. “The door with the burn marks on it. Then go straight through the passage, third door, fifth door, the door with the moon on it, and straight on, no matter what happens. That’s how you pass.”

I stared at her silently. I wanted to ask how she knew. But now wasn’t the time.

I nodded. “Thank you, Becca.” I closed my eyes, and focused on the room with doors. The wall behind me became more like gelatin. Holding my breath and praying this would work, I stepped back, and into the Fear Trials.

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