A short story
The cold. She tasted the sweet and salty remnants of her blood as she licked her bitter, flaking lips. It wasn't the lack of contact with another person that seemed to tear at her so harshly; it was the freezing cold. She never imagined how deeply the cold penetrated her bones. As though she was being licked by flames, her skin was burning. With every ragged breath, it penetrated her entire body, cutting through her flesh.
Amara dared not cry, somehow aware that the wetness of her tears would bring the cold down upon her like an angry predator. Clearly, she needed to think. There was something about the entire situation that pulled at her mind. She had to think, but that cold... that bitter and seemingly eternal cold wouldn't let her. Standing up, Amara looked out over the ice and snow toward the dual suns. Her heart sank with fear. Although she wasn't sure how much time she had left, she desperately needed to find shelter. She knew this because if those were suns, the night would bring a cold so fierce she could not survive.
Around her neck, a black button attached a fur-lined hood. Besides a long sleeve hide, she wore an overshirt with brown fur. There was a pocket on the left breast that held three flints and a pocket knife. Her hips were covered with loose, but stiff, leather belts. Several small items were stuffed into a makeshift pouch, while an old canteen lay on the other side. A sword-like tip of the climber's claw stood up from her shoulder as she held her icepick and first aid satchel tightly. The woman felt around for a wound with her hands. She checked her sealskin gloves for blood after removing her hands. With a few steps forward, she tightened the hood. It took her a few meters to realize that her feet were well insulated from the cold. Glistening sealskin leather boots drew her attention.
There were massive bones littering the plains of the tundra from horizon to horizon. Miles of ice lay before her. There were some rib cages protruding over thirty feet from the ice. A glimpse of the carcass gave Amara a sense of how massive these creatures once were. Amara shook her head and ventured further into the tundra. There was some test here. It had to be. Nothing felt familiar, and her heart was not void of hope. She knew that an environment of this caliber would not be long in robbing anyone of their hope.
Wading through the snowdrifts, she could feel her hands freezing. She needed shelter and warmth. Since the terrain was flat, it was impossible to miss the vast wasteland ahead. When all she had for fuel was giant animal bones, Amara knew that fire couldn't keep her warm. First, she needed to burn wood, fur, or debris to heat the bones to a temperature that could burn the fat and sustain the flame. Since she couldn't sacrifice any of her known gear to start the fire for one night's survival, her eyes were drawn to the strange icicle fingers that appeared to grow from the drifts. She could check her bags too, but she needed shelter for that.
Amara began to move forward. Her knees kicked high enough to warm her up and push her to one of the strange icicle growths. Once she started walking, she realized she must have been traversing some mountain. The land was riddled with sharp divots and steep sloops where the wind raged like a machete across exposed skin. Getting to the icicle fingers she wanted meant crossing a massive ancient skeleton. Just past the icicles, Amara noticed the snow folded perfectly, creating a thick grey fold. That might indicate a winding path or even a cave, she thought. Shadows grew longer across the snow, amplifying the horror when accompanied with the taste of blood in her mouth and the haunting sounds emanating from the snow dunes.
Having reached an ice finger, Amara pulled at the satchel on her hip, exploring its contents for the first time. She needed something to break the ice. She was in a race against time and in a fight for her life that required her to preserve as much energy as she could. Her makeshift pouch was filled with useful items. It contained a compass, a firestick, a set of quick starter bundles, a small flashlight, a satchel of dried meats and berries, two pieces of crusty bread, a filter straw, and two mirror blankets.
Amara smiled bitterly. She recognized each item immediately and knew its purpose. Pulling the flint out of her breast pocket she tucked it in the pouch with the firestick. With these items, a fire would be easier to start. She pulled the climber claw from her back and flipped it in her palm to maximize the effectiveness of her swing. Hammer-side down she powered through a strike on the icicle finger, shattering the ice and sending the broken piece sliding forward ten feet over the snow. Amara watched it sink and started running toward it.
As her hand clasped around the severed piece, she heard low cracks of ice under her. The vibration of the sound reverberated through the snow as she lifted the icicle. Petrified by the unknown, she stood frozen in place. It seemed as if the crack had passed under her and continued. As it traveled around the mountain and out of her hearing, the sound was distorted and muffled by distance and snow. Amara held her breath and dared not move as she waited a moment to see if the danger had passed.
As Amara exhaled, she looked at her shard of the icicle. A three-foot length of tree branch could be found inside the shard. She frantically tapped the teeth of her climber's claw against the ice crust, revealing more of the wooden surface. Once more, the mountain roared, reverberating the cracking sound underfoot, and the earth beneath Amara's feet began to move and rumble. The shaking grew more violent, and the cracking sound echoed the chorus of icy death. Amara started running toward the fold in the snow, each step launching her into ever longer and more desperate strides.
After the earth fell under her feet, Amara kept running. The desire to reach stable ground motivated her strides. The snow and earth beneath her churned into a brown meat grinder, and she pumped her legs harder as if to fly. At the moment she realized she couldn't, she fell and her arms flailed desperately. Her claw digging into a crevice was the last thing she heard before her ears started to ring. Her body dangled above an active cavern that swallowed everything in its path.
As Amara climbed despite the ringing, she discovered a cave formed by separation and vibration. She climbed onto a ledge and back into it until there was no further left to go. Before the darkness of her concussion overtook her, she wrapped herself in a mirrored blanket and tucked her possessions into the deeper portion of the cave.
The cold and darkness greeted Amara as she awoke. After checking her gear, she was relieved that nothing had been lost. To stay warm, Amara needed to eat and build a fire. Despite knowing that her knuckles were bloodied and bruised, she feared removing the gloves because a broken hand would swell, making it impossible to glove it again. While wearing her gloves, she made a fire and took a few bites of bread and meat. Even the act of chewing hurt her sore muscles and took effort.
She broke the branch into five pieces, placing them around the small quick-starter bundle she had. Amara opened her first aid bag, seeking a way to soothe the pain of her injuries as the warmth grew in her small cave.
Amara was pulled into a blinding light. She was thrust into a room surrounded by familiar faces. Each was smiling and applauding the other. The room was jovial as Amara listened to her teeth chatter.
“We need to get her body temperature up sir, but her vitals are stable.”
“Perfect, perfect,” an older woman repeated more to herself as she glanced down at a tablet in her hand. The glow from the screen gave her an angelic glow, her silver grey hair in sharp and beautiful contrast to her sun-kissed skin. She looked up from the tablet pining Amara to the gurney with her golden brown eyes. Her smile was warm and oddly comforting. “You have only two tests left, Amara. You cannot go back, your past is past. But you can go forward or die trying. We all celebrate your championing each challenge.”
Amara just stared. The woman left the room, each lab coat and blurred face turning on heel and following the other out. This left Amara in a room of bright lights and rhythmic beeping. Amara drifted off to sleep, completely at a loss for whatever was happening, but her eyes felt heavy and her mind felt delightfully empty. It was only then, just briefly, she noticed the nurse still in the room pulling the needle from the IV bag attached to her arm.
“Dr. Amara will just be adjusting your prefrontal cortex. Don’t worry, Ms.Williams. Your husband and family will be very excited to welcome you home as soon as we’ve cured your hysteria.” A fair-framed nurse with a calf-length white dress comfortingly spoke to the patient. The muffled sobs of a woman caught Amara's attention. Looking around the dimly lit operating room, Amara noticed the two nurses meeting the glance. The reflection in the mirror showed a tall middle-aged man, greying around his temples, staring directly at Amara. His name tag read Dr. Timothy Amara, Psychosurgeon, and he knew who he was at that moment.
Tied to the operating table was a young woman whose hair was disheveled from struggling and her eyes were wide in terror. Her mouth was strapped closed preventing her from articulating any words, and the nurses had securely belted her body to the bed.
“Dr. Amara" the older nurse called his attention, "we have three lobotomies scheduled for this afternoon. We should get started.”
“Oh, you worry too much, Nurse Rebecka.” Dr. Amara said although he was feeling more as if he were being tested. As if his every action was some game being scrutinized, and he was the key player. “Give me her chart. Let’s see what landed Mrs. Williams in my office this afternoon and what I need to do to correct her behavior."
His smile was genuine, but his brows furrowed, more because, as real as it felt to be Dr. Amara, a 40-year-old leading psychosurgeon in upstate New York, everything also felt wrong.
Nurse Rebecka held out the chart, and he took it. Reading over the chart, Dr. Amara found himself laughing and absentmindedly walking toward the patient. The terrified eyes of the patient met Dr. Amara's glance. She was pleading with him, struggling and wailing, but the straps were bruising her skin, and nothing she said could be understood.
Dr. Amara reached for her gag, but Nurse Rebecka caught his hand. “Doctor,” she met his eyes, “we have several procedures to complete today.” Her eyes were compelling him to fall in line and perform the procedure. With her free hand, she showed him a syringe prepped and ready to sedate the frantic patient.
Dr. Amara found his personality to be in sharp contrast with the nurses’ general experiences with him, but something was pulling at him to investigate further. “From the notes in this chart, it seems to me there is more to be learned from Mrs. Williams' story.” He shrugged the nurse off and swiftly removed the gag.
“Please doctor, he strikes my boys. Please. I just asked him to stop. I don’t want this!” she wailed.
Dr. Amara spoke, “So it seems you are being punished, having found yourself to have an opinion where one isn’t requested.” Dr. Amara noticed that his professional internal consciousness was shrinking away from his comments, but his moral consciousness was finally alive with excitement and elated by the energy in the room building momentum. In his heart, he knew a lobotomy was not what this woman needed. She needed a divorce.
Nurse Rebecka stared at the doctor and turned and left the room. Quick on the heels of Nurse Rebecka, the younger Nurse who he knew to be Nurse Lucy scurried out of the room. It was at that moment, as the door slowly closed, that Dr. Amara realized he had only moments to save this woman because if the director made it down to the operating room before then, they would both be having a lobotomy. His stomach sank at the thought. Dr. Amara straightened, more out of conscious confirmation that he was not disposable and would not ever be on the operating table for a lobotomy.
Her last strap undone, Dr. Amara reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Just that morning, he had cashed his pay rather than depositing it. Now, as he counted the twenties and hundreds, he realized fate always has a hand in the game. He had not heard a single word from the woman the entire time, even though she was still frantically rambling and crying. His mind was somewhere else, he realized, watching her hands move to support her speech.
"Mrs. Williams, take this and my keys. You must leave. If they catch you, your fate will be more terrible than death." He walked to the window and opened it. Removing his lab coat, he swung it around her shoulders. “My car is the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the shiny beast right there. The doors are rounded. You cannot miss it. I need you to leave now. Do not run to the car. You will make it.”
She was still talking as he hoisted her out of the window. She seemed grateful and was doing as instructed, looking over her shoulder with tear-streaked eyes. It seemed like she was pleading with him to follow. Dr. Amara couldn't hear anything. His mind was struggling with something else… something different. Well, two things rather. There was the acknowledgment that something terrible was about to happen. His body also felt out of place, as if he didn't belong at this moment. He felt as if this story was his, but, it was not who he was. It felt wrong.
The door clicked, he looked up at Mrs. Williams prior to addressing the threat, and was relieved to find that his car wasn't there. She had escaped. He exhaled in relief and felt the pain in his throat as it spread through his neck like fire. He stumbled and fell, but before the world went black, he saw Nurse Rebecka holding a syringe over him. There were more coats flooding into the room, and the nightmares came with them.
There were so many voices. The world faded in and out. Amara awoke sobbing. Her head pounded, and she cried inconsolably. She couldn't shake the feeling that something terrible had happened. For a long time, only a drill and murmur of voices penetrated the veil of her migraine. It felt like an eternity to Amara.
When Amara awoke, she saw a familiar face. Seeing Amara, she smiled. A safe and comforting voice said, "You passed the second test." Amara just cried. The next test awaited, and she was losing focus. She had barely escaped the first two tests. To Amara, she had barely survived. The woman beside her was Sir, the director. She wore her sterile white coat and leaned in and embraced Amara. There was a peppermint and sugar smell to her silver hair. Amara stiffened.
“This will be the hardest, longest, and most unpredictable test of your life, but Amara- you are ready.” She stroked Amara's back, giving Amara more confidence. "We can start whenever you are ready. Amara, many people die just trying to take these tests, but you are so close."
“OK.” Amara wasn't sure she was ready, but she knew she was at her limit and now was the time.
Her embracer nodded approval toward the double-sided mirror. A second later a nurse approached saying, “Sir” while she gave the woman a polite nod. Amara felt the hug relax as Sir prepared to leave.
Amara could feel the warmth of the sleeping drug flood through her veins. She could feel her eyelids getting heavy. The darkness flooded in. Many voices crescendoed in but Amara could not discern what was being said. There was excitement and panic in the energy all around her. Amara felt the embrace get tighter.
Her bones were threatened by waves of tightening. She struggled to breathe. It was impossible for Amara to lift her arms. As time progressed, the tightening became unbearable. The panic was coursing through her, there was a certainty that this was a battle for her life and …
She felt as if the darkness was consuming her. She could not breathe, she could not scream, it felt like she was being crushed under the weight of the darkness and that she was drowning in the darkest depths. She was able to feel the panic change to terror as the muffled voices grew louder. Her lungs were burning as the seconds stretched on and on. Her skin felt thousands of hit needles piercing into her simultaneously and then the cold hit her, the light blinded her, and she screamed.
Someone could be heard saying, "It is a beautiful girl". She was enveloped in warm hands that comforted her. Moving her in disorienting ways then left her struggling to settle nausea. Amarah just cried. Despite her best efforts, her energy was depleted. The restlessness calmed and Amara could move her toes, but her throat was too sore to try to speak. She opened her eyes to let her vision clear. After several blinks, she found beautiful green eyes staring down at her. The woman was sweating, exhausted, and crying. There was a faint smile on her lips that was both exhausted and satisfied.
“Amara my beautiful, today you defied all odds, you are quite the warrior princess,” her mother cried.
Thank you for reading! This was a 5000-word challenge between a mom (me) and her daughter. The Challenge rules are as follows:
Minimum of 1500 words, max of 5000 - Due in 2 weeks, (Nov. 27th)
©There are tests, doesnt matter what kind, just tests and if you fail, you disappear, if you pass you cannot tell anyone how and you are not allowed to brag of it. The world is full of training moments like this. Everyone assumes failing means you die- but when the main character fails- they find out out that they didn't dont die- They are just born.
About the Creator
Dr. Constance Quigley
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
No Advice Given. Constance Quigley, DM-OL, owns all work contained here. The work is fictional and is not based on fact.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
My daughter's story https://vocal.media/fiction/the-mineral-myth
Excellent development of details. Good job. I enjoyed this story.
A great story Constance and you made the challenge. Do we get to see your daughter's work?