Competition. Short Story.

There was only so much of all this that she could take. Janice let out a shaky breath, then breathed in deeply. She could do it, she had to do it. It was almost over. She just needed to focus, remain calm. Breathe. She glanced at the scoreboard, six contestants left. That was all she had to beat, five other people and she had won. Just five more to go. Hell, she was doing amazingly well, she had already beaten the other twenty four contestants. Well, technically she didn’t beat them all, but the point still stood. They were gone and she was still here. She was sure the people at home were going crazy, she had seen her odds and so far she was doing far better than anyone expected.

Next up was the water challenge. She knew she would do well in that, Janice loved to swim. Not to say the others didn’t, but she was confident in the water, much more confident than on land. She stood in the small cubicle and stripped out of her clothes. She knew people were watching her, but she didn’t feel embarrassed. Janice had spent the last few months in isolation with the other contestants, monitored by cameras constantly. It just wasn’t a big deal anymore. In the beginning she had even showered with her clothes on. The nudity ensured that there were no weapons brought in or illegal tricks pulled. It also seemed to help viewership a bit too. The countdown started, the big red numbers flicking backwards. When it struck zero, the floor beneath her collapsed and she plunged into the cold water below.

Janice opened her eyes and looked around, spotting two of the other contestants. There were walls, blocking her view of everything. One of them, a young man, was thrashing wildly in the water. It didn’t look like he could swim. Stupid bastard. Janice looked away from him, she had to focus. She swam upwards, her hands slammed into the ceiling. Ok, well, it was a long shot. She started to swim, moving past the columns and walls. It was getting harder to breathe now, her lungs screaming at her. There was a low, high angry buzz in the water. Janice didn’t stop, she just kept going. She had to find it. There was a small tunnel up ahead, Janice looked around quickly, then swam for it. It was a risk, but if she was right it would pay off. She swam down the tunnel, fear started to grow in her chest. What if she chose wrong? If this dead ended she was completely screwed. The tunnel turned upwards, at least Janice thought it was upwards, she swam, her legs growing tired and sore. Almost. Janice burst through the surface of the water and gulped down the air. She dragged herself from the hole with protesting arms and collapsed onto the slippery ground. She panted for a moment, getting her breath back, then she stood and looked around, there was no sign of any of the others in the small room, maybe they had drowned. Janice felt hope begin to bubble into her chest before she squashed it down again. Focus.

There.

A small gold glint caught her eye, Janice ran towards the small gold orb and grabbed it. A faint sired went off. Ok, good, now what? She looked around again, there was supposed to be a slot to put it into. Where was it? Wait. The drowning boy, it had been behind him, she hadn’t noticed at the time. Stupid. She moved to the water and after taking a few deep breaths, dove in. It took her a moment to get back into the main room, and another minute to orientate herself and start swimming. To her left floated the body of a woman, blood slowly drifting from her wounds. That had been the first siren, someone had killed her and even worse, they had been caught. Well, probably better for Janice. There. The dead boy. Perfect. She swam towards him then pushed him out of the way and slammed the gold ball into one of the slots. A panel in the wall slid upwards, Janice swam towards it and up the short tunnel onto dry land.

She stood, towel wrapped around her as people screamed and cheered. It was down to three now and she had been the first person out of the water. As she waited, she began to hope that maybe the others had died. Gotten trapped or lost. The water level was usually the hardest if the contestants made it that far. A minute later a man popped out of the water, gasping for breath. He tried to drag himself from the water but he kept slipping back. After a few tries he gave up and just clung to the ledge, breathing deeply. A few seconds after he was pulled out a woman burst from the water, she neatly pulled herself up. Janice felt a faint thrill of fear up her spine. That was Sarahbell, the favourite from the start. She wasn’t even breathing all that hard. Shit.

The next was the ropes. Janice wasn’t amazing at them, but she wasn’t too bad. She wouldn’t fall off them. She suspected the man might, she couldn’t remember his name. He had never really stood out. Kind of middling. They all stood on platforms in clear view of one another. Ropes stretched across the room. The man looked nervous, Sarahbell looked bored. The alarm went, Sarahbell took off running across the ropes, it was like she had been doing it all her life. Janice started slowly, testing them, getting used to it. The man stood where he was.

Janice moved carefully, methodically. She didn’t want to miss anything. A siren blared somewhere, signalling that Sarahbell had finished. Bitch. Janice needed to focus, hurry. Sarahbell would be allowed to roam the ropes now. If she grabbed another ball it would leave only one. Even worse, Sarahbell could simply push them off the ropes.

It took Janice another five minutes to find the orb, when she did an alarm blared and she let out a sigh of relief. A moment later another one blared. Janice moved back to the platform. Sarahbell was standing there, glaring at her. The man was gone. It was just the two of them.

The final round.

This was the tough part. It was just the two of them. Sarahbell no doubt had some tricks up her sleeve. The labyrinth was by far the worst level. Janice always hated watching it. It was a maze filled with traps. Who ever got to the centre first won. The loser would be sent away if, and only if, they could make it to the centre themselves.

Janice moved along the tunnels slowly, scanning every inch, it might take her longer but it would ensure she didn’t end up mangled like some of the previous contestants had. She brought her foot down gently and before she could pull it back she felt it depress. A switch. She jumped backwards as a pit opened in front of her. The pit was filled with sharp, red hot metal spikes. Janice shuddered. What a horrible way to go. The wounds would be cauterised as the spikes went deeper. Janice stood again, trying to decide if she could jump it when there was a faint noise behind her, she spun around, expecting another trap. Sarahbell stood there, smiling. Sarahbell stepped forward and before Janice could get herself ready, Sarahbell pushed her, hard, and Janice let out one shrill shriek as she fell into the pit.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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2 Responses to Competition. Short Story.

  1. This is a great narrative, really visceral. This really grabs the attention. I think the ending would have been so much more emotionally gripping if we got to know the protagonist and identify with her more, or if she was humanized. Although I see the advantages in the angle you took where all the characters were purposely and extensively dehumanized.

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I wasn’t sure about the ending myself in regards to expanding it further, but I thought it was the only real ending of the story. I’m kind of interested in exploring the entire situation further, so I might end up writing something based in the same kind of world. Or even editing this to go back a little further to explain exactly why she is in this situation.

      Also, sorry about the delay in replying!

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