Into The Wilds

Submitted into Contest #66 in response to: Write about a contest with life or death stakes.... view prompt

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Fiction Science Fiction Thriller

Each person in line walked tied together by the chains around their wrists. Each link of chain that circled her skin outlined the scars that got Dinah into this contest. She dared not take her eyes off the feet in front of her, but heard each shuffle of bare feet on hard ground behind her as they walked in silence. She hardly breathed as they were led into the huge arena that would decide their fate. The metal barred double doors loomed like an armory. 

The guards instructed them to stand in a line next to each other against the wall as they locked the doors behind them. Dinah intertwined her fingers and grazed over the raised scar on her right thumb. The day that wound appeared was the day that brought her to this day that spanned out in front of her. Thirteen other contestants, as they called them, all convicted of different unforgivable crimes. After the chains were removed from their wrists and the rounds began, they would be fighting for the same goal. 

Life. 

“You are all disgusting excuses for citizens of Aromia.” A deep voice boomed from in front of the line. Still, no one dared look up. “Today, you fight for our enjoyment. Those who lose will either die here or out there, in the Wilds.” 

A shiver shot through Dinah. She feared the Wilds more than a swift death. Those creatures roamed there and ruled with claws longer than knives and teeth as sharp as them. A life sentence in the Wilds was a death sentence. 

“Your punishment will be banishment to hunt the Youllee. They nest in dens that threaten our thriving civilization. But you threatened it from the inside. For that, you must pay with your lives. There will be one winner, if one can survive until the end.” A chuckle rolled through the other guards.

“That winner will be allowed to rejoin the society that you betrayed. But, that person will be part of the elite team that organizes hunts. Never asked to participate, but organizing each contest as they see fit. So, contestants. You’ll want to do everything you can to stay inside Armonia’s gracious walls.” 

Two guards moved down the line unlocking the chains. Dinah’s wrists showed discoloration from how long the chains were constricting her arms. She turned her eyes to the side as far as she could and saw dirty concrete, littered with unknown stains. Though she could only guess. 

“Contestants, look at me.” 

Dinah finally peeled her gaze from the ground. The man that stood in the front of the line was tall and lean. He held a gun in his right hand and had a rifle slung across his shoulder. He either buzzed his hair or was naturally bald, for he had no hair to cover the sickening tattoos that adorned his scalp. Six other guards stood around them with guns at the ready. 

The arena was large enough where she couldn’t see the other end. Black tinted glass lined the top, circling around the walls containing them. Concrete spanned over the entirety of the floor. The only door was the entrance they came through, and it was heavily barred to not allow anyone out. 

“You will start the contest in five minutes. How you spend the duration of it is up to you, but remember, all but one will see the Wilds.” 

The black tint on the glass disappeared, revealing rows upon rows of spectators. Their noises were also heard, and it came down to them as bloodthirsty lust. They stood in their seats throwing fists in the air and pointing at contestants. Each contest was open to the public to watch. Dinah had attended one when she was seven, and thought it was amusing. 

The guards gathered in a loose half circle and exchanged bills as they watched the contestants. 

“Great, they’re betting on us,” a voice from beside Dinah said. 

Dinah turned to see a young looking woman with cocoa skin and sun colored hair standing with her arms crossed in defiance. 

“I’m Marta.” 

Dinah nodded her greeting, “Dinah.” 

“What got you here?” 

Dinah shrugged and crossed her own arms. “Does it matter now?”

Marta nodded and upturned her top lip, “I like the way you think. What do you think it’ll be this time?” 

The rules of the contests changed with every one that was held. Since there were so many, the elite planning committee was constantly getting updated with new members. 

Dinah scratched her throat and scanned the empty arena. “The last six or so have been battles with weapons.” 

“Sword, dagger, bow, throwing knives, axe, and baton.” Marta put in. “I find it funny that they give us weapons but send us to the Wilds if we actually kill anyone. We die in here or out there and I’d rather die in here.” 

“Yeah, real funny.” Dinah shook her head. 

“So they’ll either start something new or continue on with weapons.” 

A horn sounded, signaling the soon start of the contest. The guards filed out of the only door in the arena and it shook with the heavy locks that were placed on it. 

“Guess we’ll find out soon enough.” Dinah uncrossed her arms and stood ready. 

The concrete in front of them started to change shape. Chair and desks materialized from the ground, tile was placed over the concrete, and walls sprouted from the ground. The empty arena unfolded into the hallways and classrooms of a school. No roof was placed over the top so the spectators could see. A timer lower from the ceiling with a 10 second countdown flashing on the screen. 

The other contestants braced themselves, not daring to enter any rooms until the countdown hit zero or else face disqualification. The crowd joined the countdown, shouting louder with every number that went by. 

“Five!” Dinah dug her toes into the tiles. 

“Four!” She clenched her fists at her side. 

“Three!” The Timer flashed red. 

“Two!” Each contestant held their breath.

“One!” 

A few contestants took off into the hallways and opened up lockers while some ran into classrooms. Dinah stayed at the starting line and scanned the hallway. A single flyer hung on the wall with writing too small to read from where she was standing. She cast a side glance to either side of her and went to the lockers next to the poster. As she opened the lockers and pretended to look inside, she read the poster on the wall. 

Welcome to the Contest, where your chances of death are more likely than anything else. You will embark on a scavenger hunt of sorts after receiving clues on where to go to find the next one. The last person to find a clue will lose that round and be sent to the Wilds. I would wish you luck, but I couldn’t care less. Only the stars will shine green after today.” 

Dinah furrowed her eyebrows and read it again. She shut the locker and walked into the nearest classroom. Other contestants were opening drawers and rifling through papers on the desks. Only the stars will shine green after today....that must be the clue. But what does it mean? The walls of this classroom were decorated with squares and math equations on how to find the dimensions of cubes. Dinah left this room and hurried across the hall. Another contestant was reading the poster, she had to hurry. 

This classroom was littered with history textbooks and timelines written in chalk on the board in the front of the room. She read it, but nothing stood out to her. One contestant was squatted in front of the board reading each line and moving her finger up and down. Dinah shook her head and turned back toward the door, but stopped short underneath it. Littered across the walls were triangles of different colors. Like the square classroom. She gasped, then covered her mouth. 

She took off down the hall, peeking into every classroom. Hearts, circles, rectangles. More people were starting to notice the poster. Dinah walked into a classroom near the end of the hall and saw stars of different color scattered across the walls. The green star was small and high on the wall above the window that showed nothing but spectators. She stood on the cabinets built into the wall and read what was on the green star. 

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. 

“That’s it?” Dinah blurted out loud. 

“Is it ambiguous as all hell?” Marta appeared in the doorway of the classroom. 

“Uh, no. I got it.” 

Marta rolled her eyes and walked toward the window, “Uh huh.” 

Dinah jumped down from the cabinets and left the room without another word to Marta. More contestants were heading her way, while some still looked confused. Marta left the classroom and walked down the hall. She didn’t look frazzled, but also knew to hide any knowledge she knew. Dinah walked to the supply closet and opened it while Marta continued down the hall. She slightly swung her head from side to side, searching. 

Then, Dinah got it. She slammed the closet shut and ran down the hall behind Marta. She skidded to a halt in front of locker number 1492 and tossed it open. 

“Hey!” Marta started toward her. 

Dinah grabbed the binger that was inside and ducked into the open classroom next door and shut the door. Marta slammed against the door and jiggled the lock. Dinah dropped the binder on a desk and threw it open. Graded tests were hole-punched in the binder. She shuffled through them looking for the clue. Where is it? She shuffled through the papers again. One of the last names on a test was Columbus, this must be it!

The tester had failed, with a 53 percentile. Another thud sounded against the door. Dinah dropped the binder on the floor and opened the door. Three people rushed past her and dove for the binder. 

A loud, thundering sound rang through the arena. Then, a cheer went up through the spectators. The contestants in the room stopped short as a scream echoed through the halls. The timer hanging from the ceiling had been turned into a counter, and clocked down from fourteen to thirteen. Marta tore pages from the binder and scanned them over. 

Dinah stood in the hallway as people pushed past her, in and out of the classroom. 53 what? Classroom number? The classrooms were numbers one through eighteen, so that wasn’t it. Marta pushed her in the back, sending her staggering forward, and hurried into a classroom across the hall, only to come back out and into another one moments later. Dinah rushed to the end of the hall, the first classroom, and started again. Searching for anything to do with 53. 

She looked on page 53 of the history textbooks. Nothing. Wrote out the words and rearranged them, still nothing. Counted the shapes on the walls, but they never exceeded 37. She noticed the string of contestants to be getting smaller, with only two more numbers on the counter going down. They must be figuring it out. 

She walked past the classroom with a math equation on the chalkboard and stopped in her tracks. Written on the board was a word problem; Thomas has 53 watermelons and gives 16 to Kathy. How many does Thomas have now? 

Dinah took off down the hall toward the end, where she hadn't been yet. She turned the corner, nearly slipping on the tiles, and came to a halt in the cafeteria. Watermelons were smashed on the floor as contestants stood over them searching for clues. Another contestant ran in behind her, so she pushed him and rushed to the bin of watermelons. Marta was standing in the bin turning melons over in her hand. 

“Took ya long enough, huh?” 

Dinah ignored her petty jabs and pushed melons around. There was no writing on any of them, no papers inside ones that lay smashed on the floor. A few contestants had walked into the cafeteria, looked around, and left without examining the melons. Dinah took a step back and scanned the room. The bin the watermelons were contained in, a cardboard box with pictures of melons on the side, had a phrase written on the side of it. “Rounder than a dodgeball!” 

Oh my God, that’s not even clever. Dinah turned and pushed out of the cafeteria doors. Across the hall was the gymnasium with racks of different balls placed around the room. A few were turned over, some ripped open, and the rest just floating around the room as contestants threw them every which way. The gymnasium was a chaotic mess. 

She picked up a ball as it rolled her way and turned it over in her hands. Nothing stood out, no writing, nothing rattling inside. Dinah dropped it to the floor and moved to stand on the bleachers. The last few contestants scurried into the room, meaning they figured out the clue in the cafeteria. They spread out throughout the large gymnasium and claimed territories to search through. 

The sound of the crowd watching them fight for their lives grew louder the higher Dinah climbed on the bleachers that overlooked the wooden floor. The ceiling was glass, allowing the contestants to see the counter and spectators. She looked through it at the rows of civilians shouting from their seats. They had screens to watch each contestant below scramble, and Dinah assumed they could see the clues as well. Her eyes scanned over kids, adults, rich, poor, everyone who made it a point to come out tonight to watch them fall. 

The thundering horn sounded from above, snapping Dinah back to the gymnasium. It was emptying, with the other contestants moving out of the room. She gasped and jumped over the bleacher seat in front of her, falling to her knees as she landed. 

“No.” 

A door materialized behind her and a guard stepped through with those familiar chains in his hand. 

“No!” Dinah threw herself forward down the bleachers. 

Another guard appeared at the bottom of the bleachers, making Dinah stop short as she calculated an escape route. She felt a hand wrap around her wrist and twist her arm back. The cold iron weight slapped itself across both her wrists and dragged her backwards. Her mind went blank and her eyes hardly saw the dark hallway she was led down, the transport vehicle shutting closed with her inside it, the woods grow thicker with every squeal of the tire. 

Dinah stepped out from behind the shadow of a tree, automatic rifle in hand. She was alone, surrounded by green leaves and trees taller than most houses enclosed in the walls of Aromia. Every tick of a bug, breeze through the hanging vines, snap of a twig made her skin crawl like ants were running up and down it. 

Each step she took was deliberately placed on a solid stretch of ground. The Wilds smelled fresh, but Dinah knew death hid behind every corner. The Youllee weren’t the only predators that crept in the endless forest. She tried to calm her ragged breathing, but was unsuccessful as fear continued to swarm her senses. 

Her boots splashed into a wet marsh area and she stumbled forward. A low, throaty growl reminded her of her worst nightmares. She slowly looked up to face the beast in front of her. Black, leathery skin stretched over jagged bones. Its arms swung down past its knees. Water dripped from its open mouth, flowing out from behind the slender teeth. 

Dinah’s whole body shook as she raised the rifle in front of her body like a protective shield. The Youllee let out a screech that echoed off the tree trunks and through her brain. She shut her eyes before the darkness overtook her. 

November 05, 2020 00:13

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