FIGHTING IN THE BRONZE TRIAL
“This is it, Jodie,” I think to myself, inhaling and exhaling quickly, pumping my legs up and down. “This is your last chance to make a good impression. And if you lose, you’re not going to make it to the finals. You got this Jodie McCallister.” The siren blares and I start to run, feeling the wind blowing into my face, my hair flying as my legs work, back and forth, back and forth.
“KYLIE DEBLANC IS IN FIRST, JODIE MCCALLISTER IS IN SECOND BUT OH! WHAT’S THIS? JODIE MCCALLISTER OVERTAKES FIRST AND WHIZZES PAST THE FINISH LINE A WHOLE SIX SECONDS BEFORE KYLIE DEBLANC!” The announcer yells, and I pant, leaning down onto my knees, race done. My best friend, and second-place winner, Kylie, grins and gives me a thumbs-up as we line up in order, from first to last.
“Well done Jodie,” My coach, Hayley smiles and hands me the first place ribbon. She claps me on the back and tells me to go take a break in the stands. I wait for Kylie to get her ribbon, and then we link arms, walking back to our seats.
“I swear to Usain Bolt, Jodie, you sped past me right at the last second! Well... six seconds but man, that was cray to the z. Awesome work Jo,” Kylie gives me a high five and leads us back to our school’s stall.
A woman comes over to us, as we take our seats, handing me a piece of paper.
“Jodie McCallister? This is for you. Take care, young one, you will need as much luck on your side.”
“Thanks?” I take the paper and read it slowly and a grin slides across my face. It’s so familiar to see the certificate marking my place in the finals.
“You’re so lucky,” Kylie whispers so quietly, I almost don't hear her.
“I wish you could come with me, Ky. I know you worked just as hard as me,” I hug my best friend and Kylie gives me a soft smile.
“I’ll be with you in spirit,” She winks, returning the hug. “You better win for us, Jodie McCallister.”
~ One month later ~
“Good luck Jodie!” My mum grins, handing me my water bottle. “I’m so sorry your dad and I can’t go and watch you, but I’m sure you’ll win! This is the seventh time you’ve been placed in the finals, isn’t that exciting?!” I nod enthusiastically, stretching my legs on the floorboards. “Have a wonderful day Jo, when you come home, we’ll make you your favourite dinner!” My dad waves as I walk out the door to school.
I arrive at school and notice everyone else who made it to the finals isn't standing outside where the bus should be. Don’t tell me I’m late; that would be disastrous. A shady looking car pulls up in the bus parking lot, and the windows are so tinted I can’t see through them. A window rolls down and a deep voice suddenly speaks.
“Jodie McCallister. You have been selected to participate in The Trial of Ages. Hurry, your day of judgement has arrived, you must compete in this contest, no questions asked.” I hear the doors unlock and one of the back doors opens. If this is not a ride to my death, I’m not sure what it is.
“Hold on, hold on. I can’t just hop into this suspicious car. I have a finals race to win! How am I supposed to know if you’re trustworthy? For all I know, you could be a kidnapper and-” A force pushes me into the back seat. I try to sit up and get out again, but the door slams shut too. No one's out there. Great, now the wind is playing tricks on me.
“You may not understand now, Jodie McCallister, but you have been greatly honoured. You have been Selected to run in this year’s tournament to prove your worth. If you fail, you will perish.” The man tells me, and the rest of the car trip is in silence. I fidget with my seatbelt and then the leather seat’s stitching. He can’t be serious? I’ve never heard of anyone dying because of a running race but then… I’ve never heard of this contest before. I suppose that’s why they call it ‘hush-hush’. About forty-five minutes later, the car stops and the door opens once more. I hop out of the car and I’m greeted by an enormous door that leads into an even bigger stadium.
“You must enter with great haste Jodie McCallister. Being punctual is vital in this contest. Make your way to Door 94. They will explain the rules to you there.” I nod at the man, who’s finally come out of the car. He towers over me, has the classic sunglasses and black and white suit.
“Um, thank you for all your assistance,” I thank him and he nods, pushing me slightly in the direction of Door 94. I stride over to the ninety-fourth door, and hesitantly grab the handle, pushing the door open. Light floods my senses, and I look in to see an immaculate room. Everything is in order, with weapons and devices organised in shelves. In the right-hand corner, there is a small desk, with a tiny note placed on top. I pick it up gingerly, hoping it won’t turn into some lethal machine. I think I might’ve read too many spy books.
“Dear Miss Jodie McCallister. Welcome to The Trials of Ages. As you’ve figured out, you have been Selected to run in this year’s race to prove your worth. The reason why you have chosen is that you have impressed us, with your agility, dedication and passion for running. Because of those qualities, you are going to run the Bronze Trial. This is the first course out of five, and if you lose, you will die. Select your weapons, devices or armour that you think might assist you in your battle. If you manage to make it to the final Trial, you will be the first one, ever. We doubt you’ll make it alive. Good luck.”
I look over to the shelves, thinking through my options. I don't want to take anything heavy or something that restricts my speed, it's a running race after all. From the corner of my eye, I notice a pair of glasses on the bottom shelf. I grab them and put them on. I blink, visuals of my heart rate, temperature and several other features appear before my eyes. My eyes widen, thinking of E.D.I.T.H from the second Spiderman movie. I spin around and stare at the piece of paper, it gives me its thickness and what brand.
“This isn't cheating, is it?” I wonder to myself, “It can't be, it was on the shelf-”
“ALL RUNNERS PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE START LINE.”
“Crap, okay, this is it! You can do this Jodie, breath in and out,” the words flow out of my mouth, my heart is starting to race and I adjust the glasses’ strap, so they're more like goggles. My hands are starting to shake, but I put them in my pockets, pretending I can't see them. I take one last look around Room 94 and step out into the bright lights of the stadium. I see other people crowding around a certain spot, the starting line. I jog over, noticing how much older most people are compared to me. There's a few around my age or younger and I take another breath in. Suddenly, my eyes widen in horror, the course is magically appearing before us, and it's terrifying. Is that a dragon?! And is that a lava pit under the obstacles!? I gasp, there are several different stages to this one level, I understand why they gave us the options of weapons. Looking around, it occurs to me I'm one of the only people out of the hundreds that don’t have a weapon. I have made a terrible mistake, deciding to get into that car and joining this contest.
“Racers, ready yourselves!” A signal starts beeping, “Five, four, three,” My heart pounds with every word. “One, go!” The signal blares like a gunshot, and I am nearly pushed to the ground, thanks to the mass of people pushing themselves forward. The glasses start to focus on the first event, it's a rope swing to another platform. The glasses pinpoint the correct physics and calculations to make the perfect jump. The little voice in my mind tells me just to follow the guide, but another is panicking.
‘We can do it! Follow the trajectory and-’
‘WE CAN’T EVEN DO MATHS OR PHYSICS! WE’RE GOING TO MISS THE JUMP!’ I continue running closer to the rope, seeing much taller and older people who have already crossed the rope, Tarzan would be proud. Suddenly, I'm faced with the rope and I grab it, putting as much weight and force into my swing. My inner voice is screeching, while the other one cheers me on.
‘WE’RE GOING TO DIE!’
‘WHOO, WE CAN DO THIS!’ Thinking back to all the rope swinging I did with Kylie in the playground, I shut my eyes, and suddenly, both my feet smack on the platform. Holy God, I’m alive.
The glasses’ sensors tell me the next obstacle is fighting the dragon, and getting a flag tied around the dragon’s horns is the goal. My senses are overloaded, there are screams of pain from people who miss the rope and sizzle in the lava. There are battle cries, swords clashing, and over everything, the dragon roaring, declaring its dominance over us humans. I watch how people are reacting, the majority of people are fearful for their life, nothing new. There's an anguished yell as someone makes it onto the dragon’s head using mechanical wings. I watch the boy untie a flag, his eyes glinting in victory until he drops it, and all gazes are on the fluorescent green flag that floats down. People collide and drop dead next to me, as everyone rushes for the flag. I assess the situation and run around the side, jumping and grabbing the ribbon before anyone else. I hear a click in my ankle as I land, and the following steps hit me with excruciating pain, but I know I have to keep going. I sprint to the next obstacle, a set of 15 doors, each with its own specific colour. I look down at the green flag and make my way to the bright emerald door. I put the flag into the letter flap and the door makes a little ‘bing!’ noise and lets me through, before slamming shut.
The next obstacle is based entirely on proper running. I race down the track, hearing the snarling and cries of anger of the other contestants as if they are hunting me down, which they probably are; since everyone wants to win. I just want to get out of here, preferably alive. I make it past the fourth obstacle with ease, and whimper at the sight of the fifth. It’s a giant rock climb, with what looks like traps scattered around the course. There’s only one harness in sight and no helmet or any other safety gear. I guess I’m going in blind. I grab the thick rope, attach it to the buckle, which I then place around my waist. And so, I begin the climb. With every grab, I hoist myself up, and five minutes in, I’m only halfway. Suddenly, my foot slips and a hard force drags me down several metres.
“Puny girl, get out of the way!” A cat-like woman hisses, crawling up the wall with ease as if pulling me down caused her no trouble. I shakily breathe in, climbing back up the wall, making it to the top, then proceed to jump off it. My heart races as my feet collides with the trampoline.
I make it past the next two obstacles, six and seven. Six is a set of rings, evenly distributed, hanging from a metal structure. You have to propel yourself from each set of rings, and luckily for me, I practised those kinds of things with my dad, when he trained to be a ‘Ninja Warrior’. With every transition, my arms burn and I want to scream in pain, my ankle is burning but people are catching up to me every second. The seventh is more running, only you’re being chased by feral dogs whose mouths drip with snow-white foam. I think that was when I finally understood the saying, ‘running like your life is on the line’. I make it to the eighth challenge, panting and gasping for breath. A giant towers over me, a thick wooden club in one of its hands, and a shield in its other. The ugly brute swings at me, I dodge at the last second, and the giant hits a man near me, who’s knocked out immediately. I make it past the giant, running away is cowardly, I know, but you also need to keep moving to stay in the game. I sigh in relief as I make it to the second last one, which is a fire maze, surrounding the entrance to the final challenge.
"Ah! Stop, stop, stop!" I shout at the spark that's caught on my hair, and I blow it out before all of my hair is burned off.
Now, I’m here. The final obstacle of the Bronze Trial. After this, I’ll be the next person to move onto the Silver Trial. I take a deep breathe in, steady myself and push open the heavy wooden doors. As I enter, I notice the room is pitch black, and I can’t even see my hand in front of me. The advanced glasses are useless this time, I know what they’re trying to do. Rob us of our senses, so we can only work on gut instinct, which can sometimes lead to wrong decisions, and then death. I tiptoe through the room, keeping my hands out in front, so I don’t bump into anything.
“Jodie McCallister, it has appeared you have made it to the final challenge. Aren’t you scared little one?”
“No, not at all!” I shout to the darkness and in return, I get a laugh from the mysterious voice.
“Then, I’m sure you’ll enjoy what I have in store for you,” the voice fades out, replaced with voices… Voices of my parents, Kylie and surprisingly, my own.
“You should be afraid, Jodie,” My mother whispers, the echoes of her voice is so lifelike, it’s like she’s right there, whispering in my ear.
“You’re not going to make it out alive, Jodie,” My dad’s voice calls out, surrounding me. “N-no! I can do this,” I reassure them, even though I’m just reassuring myself.
“You’re going to lose,” Kylie growls and I realise what’s happening. My worst fears… they’re being spoken aloud by my loved ones, it’s a trap.
“We know we’re not good enough. We know it should’ve been Kylie who won that day. You just wanted to prove you were better than her, you always have. We’re not going to win every time, which includes right now.” My own voice cackles and I shake my head.
“You’re wrong! I never wanted to be better than Kylie or anyone but myself. I have a passion for running, I do it for the sun rises, the cold early mornings, quenching my thirst after accomplishing a new distance, it’s what I love about running. And I know in my heart that I can get through this, but only if I try, and if I shut out these fears.” I cry out, silencing my phobias and inner voices, and suddenly, light floods the room and a loud cheer goes off as the sirens declare the winner for the Bronze Trial.
“Jodie McCallister has completed the first trial!” The announcer goes off and I crumple to my knees. I stare down at my battered, bruised and aching body, because this contest has challenged me so hard, and put my life on the verge of life and death. It’s only a matter of time until I start the Silver Trial, but for now, I am happy with my accomplishment. Grateful I made it through the Bronze Trial.
... To be continued?