This week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge was about trying to make sense from the combination of two random well-known properties and write a short story about it.
I got Jurassic Park and The Hunger Games, a pretty interesting mixture I would say.
This is the first time I have written such a long fiction story in English without the help of Google Translator. I usually write the text in Spanish, then use a translator, and then I have a starting point where I can then make corrections and include my own expressions.
That helps me to save a lot of time, and I obviously express myself much better in Spanish, so it allows me to capture the essence of what I want to convey much better.
This time, however, I started writing in English from scratch, which easily took me about twice the time I would have needed if I had written in Spanish, something frustrating when you have a time limit, but at the same time, really helpful to improve, because it pushes you to use less the dictionary and keep on writing.
The result too wasn’t as satisfactory as if I had written in my own language, but I think it’s an entertaining reading anyway. So here we go:
1. The Game starts
After drifting in a pleasant state of self-consciousness in which she had felt no pain and had no worries, Ilona opened her eyes.
And very soon she wished she hadn’t. Because that meant that she would have to face reality. A grim reality. At last it was grim for her, who had been kind and cautious all her life, and whose only mistake had been drawing the wrong number at the last Raffle.
She hadn’t believed it at first. She had held the number high in front of the steely gazes of the people from the citadel, doing her best to hold her own, trying to give the impression that the result hadn’t impressed her much. But then her strength had magically ebbed away, and the ball had slipped through her fingers rolling down the square up to the grandstand, where the nearest spectators had moved away as if it was going to transmit them a mortal disease.
Now she regretted having made such a fool of herself. She should have imagined it. That all that compliments her neighbours had always paid to her, all that flattery, was nothing but a smoke screen. Even her father had agreed to send her into exile if that was what The Rules dictated.
She covered her eyes with her hand and got a glimpse of the crystal blue sky beyond the palm trees.
It was so hot there! Much hotter than in the citadel, that was for sure. But she didn’t mind. She didn’t mind being alone, either, and she didn’t regret having left Alise and Tom behind. They had probably thought that she would stand with them, agreeing to everything Alise said, being continuously remembered how much stronger and braver and beautiful she was than she, as it always happened. But that wouldn’t happen anymore.
She would take the survivor kit and the spear they had given her, she would win The Game, and then they would realise how wrong they had been and how special she was. Because this time, she had a plan.
Ilona smiled with confidence and bent down to pick up the satchel, but then she heard something and froze. She realised that sound had always been there, only that it had been so soft at first and she had been so distracted by her own thoughts, that she hadn’t noticed it.
But the sound was louder now, and she was more alert too, so she could hear it with clarity.
It was a breath.
A wet deep breath that was awakening right by her side.
The air thickened and she couldn’t breathe anymore. Sweat poured down her forehead and soon she couldn’t see anymore either. She tried to remember where she had left the spear, and she thought it was somewhere behind her, probably leant against a tree. Probably out of her reach.
The breath stopped because it had felt her too, and two big yellow eyes opened.
2. Setting things up
Alise raised the compass and shook it but it wouldn’t work, so she threw it over the vegetation, as far as she could.
“What do they give us this shit for? Just to play with us!” she exclaimed.
Tom dropped his machete aside and sat down. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his sweat from his forehead.
“Come on, Alise, don’t start with the same thing. And don’t tell me you are still in a bad mood because of Ilona.”
“I’m not in a bad mood because of her. It’s just that I can’t understand why she went her way.”
“Stop thinking about it, it’s worthless. You probably think she did it because she doesn’t like you or something like that, but I don’t think that’s the case. Anyway, I don’t know why you are so surprised. People get nervous, take wrong decisions. That’s the least you can expect in a situation like this.”
“Yeah, yeah, but finding the exit will be far more difficult if there’s only two of us. That’s a fact,” said Alise, examining a bamboo plant.
“¿Finding the exit? Are you serious? We don’t even know if there is an exit.”
“Of course we do! There should be one!”
“Why don’t we just follow The Rules? It’s only twenty-four hours, right? Then they will accept us back at the citadel.”
It was Alise who chuckled now, but she didn’t elaborate. Tom seemed to have forgotten that only one participant would be allowed to come back through the gates of the citadel, and that was in the unlikely case that he survived to the unknown but certain dangers that lied inside the jungle.
That’s how that stupid game worked. The one that would keep them entertained and relieve them from the stark fact that they would be forever stuck between that four walls, in the middle of a vast domain they would never be able to explore.
But discouraging Tom with an additional dose of reality was the last thing she wanted to do, so she didn’t mention anything about The Rules.
“We won’t do that simply because nobody who plays The Game comes back to the citadel. Nobody survives. Or ir they do, they go somewhere else. So there has to be another way, and I will find it.”
Alise kept walking and Tom hit the floor with his fist, but eventually picked up his machete and followed her. He was quite certain he would die no matter what, but there was still some room for his instinct of self-preservation.
3. A design of Destiny
“You know what, Tom? You are making it even more difficult.”
Tom turned around and stared at her struggling for breath.
“What do you mean?” he managed to say.
“You are wasting your energies. Give me that,” she said, and grabbed the machete.
“You have to cut diagonally. Like this, you see?”
She moved along clearing the path in a good pace, and Tom followed her throughout the bamboo plants, starting back any time a cane fell on him.
“Jesus, can you slow down a little bit? Where did you learn to do that?”
“I taught myself,” she said, and Tom was behind her, so he couldn’t see it, but she smiled.
In such a hostile land, under such a suffocating sky, the memory was now distant and blurry, almost as a dream. But even so, it made her happy.
When she was a child, she would gather around the fireplace with her father, who would tell her
stories about how the world was before the wall was built. Of course, all of them were invented legends or chronicles of doubtful veracity, as nobody who had left the citadel had come back to tell about it, but she believed them anyway.
She had taken it so serious that she was soon determined to master the art of exploration, and threw herself into the learning of diverse disciplines such as cartography, martial arts, and of course, machete handling.
Of course she could have seen her dream come truth easily, as The Game admitted voluntaries that would join the chosen ones into every year’s mortal expeditions. But her father died soon after she had reached adulthood, and leaving her mother all by her own was not an option.
Now she had had to leave her anyway, but doing so not because her own decision, but because somebody else’s, had made her feel relieved. When she had seen her number in The Raffle, she had considered it to be a design of Destiny finally acknowledging that she was ready to get where others hadn’t arrived.
4. Escaping and finding
As time went by, the heat increased, and hunger too became almost unbearable.
“What time is it?” Tom asked.
“It’s been ten hours since The Game started.”
“That’s not even half the time! I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”
“Come on, don’t be such a whiner. Be thankful that anything bad has happened yet.”
“¿What do you mean with yet?”
Alise sighted and left her backpack on the floor. She came closer to a big oak tree, examined its trunk, and then looked up to the top. Something white sparkled between the branches.
“I think I found something,” she said, and removed her belt with a quick movement.
“W-what are you doing?” Tom asked, looking away.
“Hunting,” she said, and then she slided the belt around the trunk, gripped one end with each hand, and using the weight of her own body to maintain it firmly held to the wood grain, she started going up step by step.
“Jesus. Who taught you that?”
“I told you!” she yelled from above, “I taught myself!”
When she got to the branch, she reached out with her hand and pushed aside the foliage until she saw them.
Alise had obviously seen many eggs throughout her life. Eggs of many kinds and many sizes. She had even seen ostrich eggs at the citadel market, which were already remarkably big. But these were just colossal. She could had thrown down a thick wall with one of them.
But there was something else. As she became less intimidated by its size, she came closer and squinted to notice a red inscription printed over each shell.
The blood rushed into her head. These weren’t just accidental stains or any kind of mark that could have arrived there naturally. There was a clear purpose to communicate a message in them. And even though she couldn’t understand what they stood for, she immediately knew what they meant. That there was somebody else out there.
A sudden gust of wind ruffled Alise’s hair, which blind her and made her losing her balance when she tried to remove it from her face. She realised too late that her fastening system had been compromised and now she was quickly slipping down the trunk.
She halt the fall by grabbing the trunk with her arms, and it was only after she had managed to control her breathing and her heartbeat that she heard Tom’s voice calling her from the ground. His yells, however, stopped all at once, and were substituted by intermittent blasts that sounded like… wings?
She turned away and faced two perfectly rounded staring yellow eyes.
Alise didn’t breath. She didn’t blink. She only opened her right hand one finger at a time until the belt loosened and she fell the few meters that separated her from the ground.
In other circumstances she might have noticed the two broken bones and wouldn’t have been able to burst out at thirteen miles per hour, but being pursued by a Pterodactyl can change your priorities.
“What was that?” she yelled, but Tom, who hadn’t exactly waited to help her waking up, was now way ahead, so he couldn’t hear her question. And he couldn’t listen to her warnings either as she saw the creature losing altitude and preparing to plummet over their heads. She bent down just in time, but for him, it was too late. It happened so quickly that he didn’t have time to scream.
That would give Alise only a minute before becoming the next prey, but she knew how to take advantage of it.
She went where the bamboo plantations seemed thicker, and stood there in silence. The creature started circling over, squawking at an unbearable volume, and there were times when it became so close she could feel its breath on her. But she somehow managed to stay away from the creature’s radar, and when it seemed to her that the wing beat sound was the farthest possible, she started running again in the opposite direction.
5. Turning point
The sound of the beating wings soon disappeared, but she didn’t feel safe at all. She couldn’t get that strange red inscriptions out of her head. They reminded her of the marks breeders made on cows with branding irons. Only that they seemed, in a strange way, more neat. She doubted very much that they might have been made with any tool from the citadel. Or by anybody from there.
Then, when Alise seemed to be the most immersed in her own thoughts, she collapsed.
It was a while until she regained consciousness and realised what had happened. She had to inspect her forehead and feel the emerging bump to find out that she had crashed with something. But what was it? She looked around, but there were only bushes and rocks. She was running like hell when she collapsed, that was truth, but she would have noticed if anything was blocking her way.
When she decided to forget about it and just go on, she stumbled upon something again, and this time she understood.
She raised her hands and touched a transparent surface that stood where there wasn’t supposed to be anything else apart from air. She walked with her hands on the glass looking for irregularities, and then she run, increasing her speed little by little. But however far she went, the wall was always there.
When she couldn’t run anymore, she stopped and bent over her knees to catch her breath. She looked up again. The crystal was perfectly transparent, and at its other side, the jungle receded in the distance.
Then she came closer until her nose touched it, and she covered it with her hands so that the light wouldn’t reflect on the surface. At first she didn’t see anything, but as she focused, she realised that there was something there.
It was so subtle she could hardly catch a glimpse of it, but at least for a second, she could distinguish a dark room with some panels and screens scattered all over. In one side, half hidden behind a monitor, was what seemed to her a human figure. Or rather a humanoid one.
She knocked on the glass with her knuckles and the figure immediately turned around fixing a pair of two opaque eyes on her. That didn’t fit her definition of a friendly looking.
Alise got to running again, and this time she didn’t try to get away from the citadel, but to get to it. She had to tell everybody there what she and probably nobody else had seen and lived enough to tell. That the land was populated with gigantic and hostile creatures. That there was a strange wall all over it that seemed transparent but was actually a tricky structure that hid the world at the other side. And that she had seen a being there that seemed a person but that had looked at her with kind of supernatural eyes.
What was that strange guy doing there, anyway? Was he watching them? Studying them?
6. The winner reception
When she arrived to the citadel, she was exhausted. There was nobody standing at the walls, so she would have to knock on the door. She checked her watch. There were still five hours until The Game ended, so they would take her for a deserter, but she had no other option.
She had finally made a great discovery, and she wouldn’t stand seeing the people from the citadel and her own mother carrying on with their lives as if they were the only ones in the world. As if there wasn’t somebody else out there watching them.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted.
“Didn’t they teach you not to turn your back on?”
Alise turned around.
Ilona was standing there,with a malicious grin on her lips, and she tried to tell her about what she had seen, but the spear that protruded on her chest was making it considerably difficult.
“Exactly. I have won,” Ilona said, and when Alise fell to her knees, she put a feet on her chest and pushed until the spear came out followed by a gush of blood. The body fell limp.
Ilona raised the spear in the air and the bloodstain shone under the sunlight. “This will look nice as I climb the podium”, she thought, so she decided not to clean it.
She knocked on the door and the citadel door opened to welcome back the new winner.