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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The familiar landscape of the Fear Trials did nothing to make me feel better. What I had seen… Becca… she was alive. She should be dead. This was important. I had to tell someone! If I told the others, maybe they could help me figure it out! Or-

No.

I stopped cold.

If I told my friends, then the officials would know that I had found out their secret. Becca had made it clear that I would be punished if I was found with her. I was guessing the punishment would be extra harsh.

What if there was an ‘accident’ in the Fear Trials while I was in them? What if I was the next one who died? They wouldn’t really kill me, would they? But I couldn't be sure.

I would have to keep this to myself.

I took a deep breath. I had to follow Becca’s instructions and get out of here as soon as possible.

I surveyed the doors. One of them was blackened. Normally I would think it was an obvious trap, but Becca had said it was safe. I took a deep breath, and pushed it open. Nothing. Just a long hallway. I started forwards, heart pounding.

The air was getting cold. It was pitch black, and I could barely see my own face. I could hear skittering sounds, which made me shiver. What if there were fearlings waiting off in the dark, ready to kill me?

Keep going. I thought firmly.

I reached a lighted section. A skeleton lay in the corner. I shook, and looked away. It’s not real… it is not real… It couldn’t be. There was nothing living in the Trials.

The hall beyond that was lined with doors. I looked at the doors, then remembered Becca’s instructions. Third door.

I obeyed the instructions. I opened the third door, safe, fortunately, and found stairs going down. Down into blackness. Like an open mouth.

Oh please no… I thought. I began to have hesitations. What if-

We are all we’ve got. I thought firmly. Becca wouldn’t lead me into a trap like that. Her instructions have been safe so far.

I kept walking. Once, my foot slipped over the edge of the stairway. I shrieked, as my pulse skyrocketed. Then, it relaxed again. I proceeded more carefully after that.

At the bottom was a large arch made of dark metal. Looking at it made me shudder, but I kept going. I walked beneath the mouth-like arch, and it slammed shut behind me. Immediately, a hum filled the air around me. There were clicking sounds, and a grinding noise. My heart nearly leapt out of my throat.

Was it just me, or were the walls moving closer?!

I tried to calm my nerves.

Trick of the light. Just a trick of the light… calm down. Get a grip on yourself, Shal.

I stumbled forwards. The passage shook under my feet and nearly knocked me to the ground. I almost stayed there. Fear was draining my strength. But I had to get out of here.

I forced myself to my feet and kept going. The walls were definitely moving. Slowly. Unstoppably, like they knew it was a given that I would be crushed to death.

There are lots of unpleasant ways to die in the Fear Trials, but the slow ones are the worst. I bolted forwards. The hallway was endless. The metal floor was bending under my feet. I hated this Trial! I closed my eyes and kept going. Let it be over. Just please, let it be done! If I’m going to die, then let it happen!

I tripped over something and fell to the ground. A weak little sob echoed in my throat. But in a moment, when nothing happened, I risked opening my eyes. They widened. I was out of the hallway, in a large room, with five doors. They were made of wood again, ringed with iron. Each one had a face above it, staring at me with cold, lifeless eyes. Immediately, I went towards the fifth, like Becca had instructed. The face above it stared down at me, and I hesitated before throwing the door open.

Through the door was a long metal shaft. I took a deep breath, and slowly inched myself onto it.

Immediately, metal cuffs locked around my arms and legs. I went to scream, but another plate of metal locked over my mouth. Then the gears started turning, and the machine that I was in started up. The plate below me moved, dragging me deeper into the tube, like a massive throat.

I’m going to die. I’m going to die. It’s going to rip me to pieces. I’m going to die. What if this isn’t the Fear Trials anymore? What if I did something wrong? What if this is a security thing? I’m going to die!

Panic filled my mind. White spots danced before my eyes. What breathing I could manage around the metal plate was breathless and panicked. I shook violently, wishing I could die, wishing I was already dead. It was getting darker. I was still moving down, towards whatever awful fate waited below for me.

And then it dropped me.

I screamed, but I only fell for a second before hitting a floor. I lay there, too exhausted to move, my breath coming in ragged and terrified sobs. Finally, I realized that I hadn’t died. The machine hadn’t killed me. It had been to scare me. To even… make it too much. But I was alive.

But my mind was racing with paranoia. There was still a part of me that didn’t believe it. The small part of me that still believed that I was going to die. The part of me that believed I had left the wrong way, and now I was in real life. Where a single mistake could kill me. Permanently.

I took another shaky breath, then stood.

Come on. I’m so close. I mentally reviewed Becca’s instructions again. Door with burn marks. Check. Straight, check. Third door, check. Fifth door, check. Now I just had to keep going. I was almost finished! I might even win this time. But first I had to fight back the fear. And that was the hardest part.

I tried to calm myself. I thought of good things. Sim’s jokes. Ala’s voice, her comforting us. But each time I did, I could only see Becca. Who I had left behind.

I rose from my hands and knees, and studied the area around me. The floor, which I had thought was even, was actually bumpy, laid out in a series of overlapping trenches. Each one contained a mess of electric wires. Most were just limp black pieces of metal, but some glowed red. I was careful not to touch any of those.

What had Becca’s next instruction been?

For a moment, panic seized me. If I did not remember, then I could die. Simple as that.

Then it came back. Door with the moon on it.

I sighed in relief, and stumbled forwards, then flinched back as I almost stepped on one of the heated wires in my lack of caution. I reared back, pulse speeding up. I didn’t know what it would do- cause me pain or kill me- but I didn’t want to fin dout.

Okay, calm down Shal. Think. Look for that door.

And that was when I realized.

There were no doors.  

I looked about frantically. No. No. This can’t be happening. This can’t be possible. There are supposed to be doors! I’m going to be stuck here! Maybe the route has changed. Maybe there are no ways out!

I forced those thoughts away. There was always a way out. There had to be.

I studied the underside of my hands. There were imprints of lines on them from the wires and- a tiny imprint of a boat.

I looked at the wires beneath me, dropping into a crouch. I had falled beside one of the trenches. There was a smooth plate of metal. And engraved in it, the symbol of a boat.

Oh no.

Each trench had that same plate. Not counting the one I had fallen near, there were at least thirty.

Door with the moon.

That is going to take forever to find…

And so began my endless search. After what seemed like years of this terrible place, I found the metal plate with the moon design on it. Relieved, I touched it.

There was a clicking sound, and across the room a door opened. At the same time, there was a humming sound, and bright lights flooded from either side of the room. And then, like winding snakes, the wires began to glow red, steadily advancing towards me and the door.

Once again, I almost panicked. I jumped to my feet, and bolted for the door. I leapt over the glowing red wires, and just made it to the door as the floor became a motif of red lines, crossing over each other again and again in an endless pattern.

I stepped inside the door, and it slammed shut behind me, entombing me in total blackness.

I hesitated. I got the feeling that one wrong step would end everything for me, and when I was so close…

Then I was suddenly bathed in light.

I flinched instinctively, looking around for the source of light, which seemed to be hovering above me. Yet there was nothing above my head but blackness. And yet around me, in a perfect circle, there was a bright light.

I took a step forwards, and the light followed me.

Gaining confidence, I started forwards. I was close. Maybe they were done with the fear. Maybe I could just… be calm, for once.

Then the grinding noise started.

I whirled, assessing the danger behind me.

It was bad.

A huge machine was coming from behind, grinding up the solid metal of the pathway that I was on. If I was too slow, I would be crushed, and ground into a hundred pieces.

And I would die.

I started forwards, but was met with a horrifying sight.

The metal in front of me was simply… falling away. Into total blackness. Soon I would be trapped between falling, and getting ground up.

I ran forwards, intent on getting away. My heart was speeding up to dangerous levels, I knew. Too much of this, and I would die. I had seen it happen before. I forced myself to breathe, and I sped up. I was almost to the edge of the metal now.

And then I leaped.

I almost landed on the other side, but I slipped, and just managed to clamp my hands on to the slick metal, just in time to keep myself from falling.

I hesitated. Falling right now would almost seem like a mercy. Just down down down… and then it would be over.

No, I had almost won.

I called on all of my reserves of strength, using them to haul myself up, and over the edge. I lay there for a moment, breathing hard, but the metal shook under me, reminding me that I wasn’t finished. I leapt to my feet and jumped, just as the metal beneath me fell away. I bolted forwards, hearing metal groan behind me. Ahead of me was a metal capsule, shaped like a large egg. I reached out and touched the door. It swung open, revealing a small room. I stepped inside, and the door closed behind me. The air around me was a strange milky color- or maybe that was just my overtaxed mind. There was a beeping sound, and my legs gave out. The world went white.

 
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