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

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Drama Science Fiction Teens & Young Adult

Sometimes I dream about winning.

Early in the morning, when my brain is supposed to think of absolutely nothing at all, when my eyes are supposed to be closed and I’m supposed to be lying still on the padded table I rest on, my brain fantasizes. 

Upon the black canvas of nothingness they prompt our consciousness into, my brain draws shapes while I sleep. It creates colors and sounds and I can feel everything. Every night it’s different; sometimes my mom is there, or Jack, my sister, or my girlfriend Dera. But every night, one thing is the same: I win. 

I’m standing in the center of the Hangar, as moderators and staff all around me cheer. Officiator claps me on the back and I grin. The crowd around us celebrates. 

I wake up sweating. 

I swing my legs tensely over the side of the table they tell us is a bed. I’m already dressed—I sleep in my clothes, although it’s discouraged—so I’ve only to grab my bag and I’m out. 

I see the time on the clockish device embedded into the wall in my small room. It’s just before six. I’ve got a half hour before the girl who checks the monitors realizes I’m gone. 

And that I was dreaming. Again. 

I creep my way along the hall to the stairwell at the end, then descend two flights until I’m in the girls’ wing. I’m not supposed to be here, of course, but Dera sneaks into my room all the time; and besides, it’s not like they enforce it, anyways. 

I’ve always found that ironic. 

I quietly exit the stairwell and count the doors on my left to Dera’s room. It’s the seventh. I don’t bother knocking and slip in. 

Dera’s lying down, eyes closed, on her table in the middle of the room, but I know she’s not asleep. “Shh,” she whispers lowly without moving an inch. “I’ve got two more minutes until the monitors clear.”

While I wait for her, I take a seat on the floor and glance around. I’ve been here a million times, and it isn’t any different from my room; but I’ve got nothing else to do, so I look. 

The room is lined with an unidentified white substance almost like slime in a form of hardened plasma. The walls are dark navy. A metal rack stands in one corner, and it’s supposed to be hanging Dera’s clothes, but they’re strewn along the bottom of the walls like dust. A mirror is in the ceiling, directly above the “bed,” so it’s the first and last thing you see every day. 

Yourself. 

Psychology is messed up. 

I sigh, lean against the wall, and wait for Dera to finish pretending to be asleep. Once she’s done, she slides off the table and joins me on the floor. “Hey,” she says, taking my hand and locking her fingers in between mine. 

“Hey,” I respond. “Ready for the day?”

“Yeah, right.”

“Stop pretending.”

Suddenly there’s a stillness in the air. 

At the beginning of our relationship, we both agreed that we’d be transparent with each other. No secrets, no miscommunication. Only clarity. 

And yet we’ve been holding things back from one another, and we know it. Our telepathic powers are still underdeveloped—that’s kind of why we’re here—but even if no one knew our mental capabilities, we could still feel it, I know we could.

I stare straight ahead, at the wall. “I know you’re going to win.”

Dera screams.

Startled, I jump and look at her. She’s retracted her hand from mine and is clutching, grabbing at her hair, rocking back and forth on the ground.

“What’s wrong?”

Dera looks up at me, her face clouded with a thousand emotions. “What’s wrong?” she spits. “What’s wrong?” Dera stands up and paces rapidly around the room. “What’s wrong?” She hisses. “I love you, Remmer. I freaking love you. I freaking love you, Remmer.”

“Dera--”

She screams again. I fall silent.

“I was friends with the girl from fourteen. Sometimes we were partners for Sensory Tappult. I remember, once, a week ago; I ate lunch with her.

“Two days ago, as we were coming out of the chambers after twelve, she won. I wasn’t paired with anyone that day, thank god, but I interfered with one of the matches and got away with it. Suspicion was cast, of course, but no one outright blamed me.

We met outside the chambers. I talked as she got her new tally. She had eight, total.” Dera stops pacing to look at the inside of her arm. “Now I’ve got thirteen.”

Dera continues walking frantically around the small room. “Even though they know they’re not supposed to tell, she asked the moderator who she’d won against. The moderator hesitated, then responded, ‘H-28.’”

Dera looks at me, her face distorted with the effort not to cry. “That was her brother.”

Dera screams again and punches the wall. Her fist goes straight through. She’s shaking.

“Yesterday, she taught a kid--a literal nine-year-old--how to do cerebral probation. She told him it was just practice. It gave him a migraine. It took five minutes.”

Dera breathes in raggedly. “Yesterday, my friend, the girl from fourteen, made a child make her brain collapse.

“How many did we start with? Five hundred and thirty? And how many do we have now? Seventy-two?”

Dera falls to the floor. “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE, REMMER.”

“Dera--”

“NO!” she screams. “LISTEN!” 

After a pause, she continues. “I don’t care if it’s for the people. I don’t care if I need to win. I don’t care if I’m smarter or stronger or better at whatever the heck it is they’re making our brains do, I don’t care. I can’t do this anymore, Remmer.”

“Dera, please,” I beg. “We can figure out how to cheat. We can get out of this. Just trust me, we can win. Both of us.”

Dera laughs. “And kill the rest of them? Will their hearts to stop beating, their lungs to stop filling, their brains to stop thinking? Will their death? So we, the two of us, can win?”

I hear footsteps outside. “Moderator--what’s going on in there?”

“Dera, please.” I’m crying. “I have a sister. We both have families.”

The door begins to open.

“We can’t just--”

Dera spits in my face.

Someone comes in, pushes her out the door. As they take her away, I hear her say, “Goodbye, Remmer.”

Twelve p.m. My twentieth round of head-to-head has started. Alone in the closet-like chamber, my body vibrates, my head feels like it’s being split open, but I reach beyond the wall separating me from my opponent, out of my heart to remove emotion. I tell myself to stop feeling. Just do it. They say it’s not that painful, really.

A few minutes later, and I hear the thud of a body hitting the metal floor.

They lead me out. “Congratulations.” A moderator smiles. “Record time. One more opponent down. I’m surprised you took that one out; we thought she was going to be the winner.”

As a monitor burns one more tally into the flesh of my arm, I find myself asking, “Who was it?”

The other monitor checks his clipboard. “Well, technically, we’re not supposed to say, but I’ll let this one slide. It was D-7. Did you know her?”

November 07, 2020 01:24

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10 comments

N. N.
06:24 Nov 07, 2020

Hey Ink! (Is it alright if I call you that?) This was a great read! The irony of the beginning and ending of the story is so perfectly placed and I think I'm in love with this description of a dream: "Upon the black canvas of nothingness they prompt our consciousness into, my brain draws shapes while I sleep. It creates colors and sounds and I can feel everything." Just a tiny edit: 'Dera’s lying down, eyes closed, on her table in the middle of the room, but I know she’s not asleep. “Shh,” she whispers lowly...' --> I think you me...

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20:03 Nov 07, 2020

Yes, thank you!! :))))

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Salom :)
03:22 Nov 13, 2020

This story is amazing, and you can really feel the emotion in this piece, especially from Dera. The ending though! That's a really good ending but omg it was so sad, Ink! I love this story, and can't wait to see your next one!

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17:23 Nov 13, 2020

Tysm!! Im really glad you enjoyed it. The worldbuilding is a bit iffy but I’m sure i could make it into something better with time. thanks again!

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Salom :)
01:52 Nov 14, 2020

I think you did good with the worldbuilding. I mean, there's always work to be done but overall this is amazing. I'm writing a story for next week's prompt and I'm personally finding it really hard to squeeze the necessary info into 1-3 thousand words!

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20:29 Nov 14, 2020

ugh, i feel you!! a few that i’ve written in the past i was practically crying as i cut out each word but sometimes i’m like “i am unable to can” to meet the 1k requirement lol. my story for this week though, it’s less than a quarter done but i can already feel it’s gonna be waaay longer than 3k. personally i think a short story should be classified as 500-5000 words but that’s just my two cents

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Salom :)
03:39 Nov 15, 2020

I'm really excited to see it then! My story is at 400 or so words, and I'm roughly 1/3 done I think. I'd agree with you though, 500-5000 would be the perfect numbers

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Salom :)
04:25 Nov 19, 2020

Hi Ink! How's your story for this week going?

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Unknown User
17:01 Dec 15, 2020

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19:14 Dec 15, 2020

thank you!!

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