This story is by Tammi Martin and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My feet hit the ground, my knees buckling from the fall. Pure darkness encircled me. Blinking, I rubbed my eyes with shaking hands. Stars flashed in my eyes from rubbing so hard, but I still couldn’t see. Was I blind? Where was I? My knees were wet and my hands felt slimy. Knees cracking, I stood, moving my hands up my legs for support. As my hand grazed my thigh I felt something wrapped around my leg. I frowned, running my hand over smooth wood, and then sharp stone. My heart skipped a beat as an image formed in my mind. Heart pounding, cold sweat dripped between my breasts. But how? The question reverberated in my mind. My breath caught in my throat as I struggled to remember where I was before I was here.
Think, Cora, think.
A foggy image began to form in my mind. Bundles of fresh-cut flowers, piles of green beans, tomatoes. A farmers market! Yes, in SoHo. I was with Sarah. We had decided at the last minute to go to the market because it was such a gorgeous day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the market was bursting with life. Squeezing my eyes shut as hard as I could, Sarah’s terror-stricken face filled my mind as she looked at something behind me.
The memory disappeared, and like an elastic band, my mind snapped back to the present. What happened? If I was here, where was Sarah? I swallowed, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth. “Sarah!” I called out in a hoarse whisper. No. I swallowed again, trying to work up some moisture. “Sarah!” I yelled this time. I heard a faint echo, but nothing else. I started feeling all over my body. Maybe something more useful than a wooden spear had appeared. Running my hands over my stomach I felt canvas. I worked my fingers over the fabric finding several pockets. I probed each pocket until – click. A shining beam of light flooded from a pocket-sized flashlight. My eyes watered and burned, but I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I wasn’t blind. Doing a three-sixty, I found my only company to be nothing but trees. Above was a cloud filled sky; below, muddy leaves. With sweaty palms, I squatted down to take inventory of the rest of my vest. It appeared that most of the pockets were empty. A crease formed between my eyebrows. Why such a big vest with so little in it? Shaking my head, I laid out what I’d been ‘given’. A four-foot-long spear. Cocking my head, I peered at it from the corner of my eye, wondering. My eyes glazed over the flashlight and a single bottle of water. I opened the water bottle, hearing a satisfying click as I broke the seal.
Tipping the bottle back, I looked all around. Should I just start walking? To where? In what direction? I put my head between my legs trying to stop the world from spinning. I can’t stay here. I could hear my father whispering in my ear, “failure is not an option, Cora.” I clenched my teeth, attempting to swallow every ounce of fear. I strapped the spear back to my thigh and shoved the water back in my vest. Every direction looked the same as the one before it.
Picking a direction, I charged ahead thinking of nothing but escape and finding my friend. Keeping a brisk pace, I tried to stay on a straight path the best I could. Until
My head whipped around, my eyes wide. My heart pounded in my throat. Survive. Fight. The thoughts pushed their way to the front of my head and screamed, louder than ever. I clenched my fists together, waiting to feel my nails digging into my skin. Instead, I felt something long and smooth in my right hand. The spear. Skin crawling, I tried to drop it, but I couldn’t let go. I began shaking my hand violently.
My eyes snapped up and met the gaze of a tiger a mere ten feet from me. With a mighty roar, the tiger leapt toward me, teeth bared and claws extended. It would’ve had me for a snack; except it fell backward with a spear between its eyes. Mouth gaping open in horror, I fell backward, tripping over a tree root. I clawed at a tree branch with my right hand. The hand that wouldn’t let go of the spear ten seconds earlier. The hand that had grabbed the spear without my conscious direction. The hand that somehow had saved my life.
I collapsed on the muddy ground, tears streaming down my face. None of this made sense. Things don’t just appear. People don’t just appear or disappear for that matter. And yet, here I was. Laying my head on my knees, I let my hands fall to my sides. Where was Sarah? She always knew exactly what to do.
Hunching over my knees, my fingers brushed against something dry, leathery. My eyes froze in place as I leaned back against the tree. It was a journal. The cover and sides were plain. I opened the book to the first page. Hello, Cora. I dropped the journal as though it had burned me. The words looped up and down in beautiful calligraphy. As I stared at it lying there on the ground, an invisible hand began writing again.
Welcome to Eridell. In this place, you will always have everything you need, but many that you don’t. Your time here will be full of choices.
I flipped the page, uncertain if I wanted to see more, or if I wanted the writing to stop. Not considering my desires, the journal began writing.
Your frivolous and self-centered choices have made this trial necessary. To pass, you must prove that you are able to choose correctly and wisely; knowing what you truly need, and leaving everything else behind. You will then be returned to your life as a changed woman.
However, if you fail, your time on earth will end.
Gulping, I turned the page again with trembling hands.
Many will face this same trial, but each of you will be tested alone. Like your time on earth, your time here is finite. You have twenty-four hours to prove yourself.
Your time starts now.
An hourglass appeared on the page and imaginary sand began to fall to the bottom.
Panic filled every inch of my being, my breathing became labored. It seemed a judgment had befallen mankind, and I was far from ready.
Biting my lip, my eyes filled with tears. I’d lived my whole adult life jumping from one thing to the next; I’d been frivolous and I was aware of it; I just didn’t care. Everything I bought, everything I did, I justified, if only to myself. Now I was being tried for those poor choices and lack of self control.
Closing my eyes and inhaling deeply through my nose, I pictured my Nonnie. Her head enveloped in a cloud of gray curls, a smile bright as a thousand spotlights lit up her face. She was the most selfless woman I knew. I could change. I had to.
Lifting my eyes from the journal, an archway appeared in the woods ahead of me. I stood, tucking the journal under my arm. Placing one foot in front of the other and holding firm to the memory of my Nonnie, I walked towards the archway.
Taking a jagged breath, my eyes narrowed as I gazed into the clearing that lay before me. In it sat two, seemingly innocuous, chairs. Exhaling, I stepped through the archway, determined to prove myself, to change. Head held high, I boldly turned my fear into my battle cry. Speaking aloud to whoever was watching, I raised my voice to the treetops. “Let the trial begin!”