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.'


7. 7


Breakfast the next morning was completely silent. I ate my food mechanically, barely tasting it. The others were mostly the same. Mar had bags under her eyes, and I was guessing she hadn’t slept for most of the night. She only stared at her food. She couldn’t seem to be motivated to eat, or really to do much of anything. I watched her quietly, wanting to help but not sure what to do. Finally, I got up and moved to sit next to her.

She didn’t even look at me. She stayed where she was, head down, fingers tapping slowly on the table.

That was odd. Mar never fidgeted. She could sit as still as a statue, lost in thought. But now her fingers tapped, drumming out an endless rhythm.

I put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey.”

She shrugged, and my hand fell off her shoulder. The message was clear. I should have just gone away, but I wasn’t about to give up that easily.

“I know you miss her,” I whispered, wishing I could say something better than that. “We all do. But you’ve got to keep your strength up. You can’t let yourself waste away just because you’re sad.”

Mar turned to look at me. Her eyes were blank and lifeless. None of her usual passion shone in them. It was almost like looking at a completely different person.

“Why should I?” she replied in a low monotone. “Why can’t I mourn my friend?”

“You can mourn her,” I replied. “But you can’t punish yourself just because you’re sad. It isn’t right, Mar. You’ve got to stay strong for her. I know that seems harsh. But… our lives aren’t easy. We need to hold together.”

Mar shook her head miserably, letting her eyes drop back to her endlessly tapping fingers.

“Leave her, Shal…”

Lilli moved across from me. I stared at her. Even Lilli, with her endlessly bright eyes, had been dimmed by Kira’s death. She shook her head at me. “She’s been like this since yesterday. I can barely get a response out of her.”

I sighed. Lilli studied Mar with sadness in her eyes. “It’s probably some kind of mental trauma… most likely induced by the shock… at the moment she’s still processing. I can’t be totally sure, but it might be her brain’s way of coping with tragedy, and shutting down her outer communications as sort of a protective shield against further hurt, and keeping her from being emotionally damaged again until she’s fully come to terms with this disaster and is ready to move on…” Lilli frowned thoughtfully, her fingers beginning to tap at twice the tempo of Mar’s. Lilli was a good friend, and very caring, but she was always looking for some kind of technical explanation for everything. Sometimes that led her to forget what was important.

“Lilli…” Ala joined us. Lilli looked over, and Ala shook her head slightly. Lilli blushed, staring at the ground.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Lilli. You’re right that we need to give her time to cope.”

Lilli gave me a helpless little shrug, and turned to Ala. “But here’s the thing. I was thinking… I mean, obviously she’s suffering from the effects of strong negative emotion. But maybe if we found a way to give her a strong feeling of joy or happiness or even laughing or something like that, it might counteract the negative feeling, and then the two would sort of average each other out, right?”

Ala put an arm around Lilli’s shoulders. “So you’re saying that in order to counteract her sadness, we should make her happy?”

“Yeah! Then her sadness would be negated by-” Lilli stopped, and then blushed, her entire face turning tomato red. “Oh. Yeah… It sounded smarter in my head.”

“Sometimes we need simple ideas,” Ala replied.  “At least you’re trying to help.”

Lilli nodded, her face embarrassed as Ala turned back to Mar.

“You need to eat,” she said gently. “You need your strength.”

“Why.” Mar’s voice was still the same monotone.

“Eat,” Ala replied firmly. She pushed Mar’s bowl towards her. “Now.”

Somehow, Ala’s firm tone jolted Mar into action. Mechanically, she began to scoop at her food, shoveling it into her mouth with sullen obedience. Ala watched her until she was finished, and then turned away. I watched her go. Her shoulders were so stiff. How did she always keep herself together like that? It was almost inhuman.

A sharp clang alerted us to the door, which was opening. Quickly all of us leapt up, shoving our trays through the chute. Mar forced the last bite of food into her mouth and followed.

I was about to leave when Ala caught my arm, gently pulling me back. I turned to face her.

“It’s okay that you couldn’t make her feel better, Shal,” Ala promised. “You tried to help, and even if it doesn’t seem like it now, she’ll remember.”

“I just want to help,” I muttered.

“I know,” she whispered soothingly. “I know.”

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