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The Cost of Survival

This Story May be Disturbing to Some Readers, Reader Discretion is Advised

By Donna Fox (HKB)Published 2 years ago Updated 7 months ago 24 min read
The Cost of Survival
Photo by Amine rock hoovr on Unsplash

** This Story May be Disturbing to Some Readers, Reader Discretion is Advised **

Jaya awoke with a start.

Finding herself on a hard, unforgiving mattress. A top a creaky old cot.

The room was filled mostly with darkness as she lay on the bed, taking in her surroundings. The only light source was a tinted window on the far side of the room.

Attempting to stand up and orient herself, Jaya walked to the window with hesitation. Struggling on unsteady legs, as the room felt like it was swaying back and forth. In some form of unfamiliar motion. Something like how she imagined being on a train or fishing vessel.

The room was blanketed in silence. Making it hard to decipher any external sounds that might give her a hint of where she was.

Standing at the window ledge, Jaya wasn’t able to make out anything except a train track below. The colours of the scenery rushed passed too fast, she had no idea where she was or where she was going. All she knew now was that she was on a train.

Turning away from the window, she tried to decipher anything she could from the room around her. Jaya’s eyes found the outline of what looked like a door.

Not missing a beat, she strode over and began blindly feeling for a handle. To no avail.

Suddenly a static type of sound began to fill the room with its soft buzz.

“We would like to congratulate you, Miss Jaya Barron, on winning the selection.” A nondescript woman’s voice rang out over an old speaker system. “In order to accept your prize, you must complete three challenges. Or suffer the consequences of failure.” the monotone voice paused for emphasis.

Almost like she were emotionlessly reading a bad script and waiting for the next cue.

“The rules are as such. Do as you are told without hesitation and you will be rewarded handsomely. Failure to do so will result in punishment. The longer it takes to follow instructions and complete the task. The more severe the punishment. Do not ask any questions. Your first challenge will take place tomorrow. Get some rest.” she finished with a loud click, followed by the soft buzz again and then eery silence.

Then an electric blind began to slide down the window. Dismissing any remnants of light that graced the room. Making a whiney motor sound as it did so, ending in a gear grinding type of sound. Again, followed by deafening silence.

Jaya stood dumbfounded by the door, trying to process current events.

Suddenly hit by the memory of how this came to be.

Every spring, as the last bit of snow thawed and flowers began to sprout. The people of her village would gather in the square. All those over 18 years of age would be subjected to being part of the selection.

A tradition that has taken place since the dawn of time. Or at least as long as anyone present could remember.

The selection takes place with their village leader holding a bag of stones. About ten in total. Nine of which are white and the other black onyx. The leader will go first and draw a stone, allowing nine others to follow after him. Then they all reveal their stones. Those with the black stone must stand aside and wait for the next round. Which won’t begin until everyone has drawn at least once.

Then they draw again and again, until they are at the final ten. Which usually only takes two rounds to accomplish.

Once the last onyx is revealed, the person in possession will be escorted to the train station. Made to board the one way locomotive and never seen again.

This was Jaya’s first year participating in the selection. Now to be known as her last.

Before stepping on to the train, she was allowed to say good bye to her family. Her father’s last words to her were Do whatever it takes to survive. No matter the cost.

Coming back to the present, Jaya gave herself a shake. As panic started to set in, she needed to find a way out of this room and off this train.

But in the dark room, nothing could be seen. Not even a path back to her bed, if she wanted to follow orders and get some rest.

As if able to read her mind, a strip of small lights lit up the floor in a straight line. Directly to her bed. Which was presented with dim white lights, a glow from underneath.

A piece of her wondered if this was part of the challenges. Just blindly doing as she was supposed to. It was in the instructions but even things like this might be put into consideration later on.

Not wanting to chance it, she followed the lights and climbed onto the bed. Laying down somewhat begrudgingly.

The lights that had suddenly appeared, disappeared just as quickly. Leaving her in complete darkness, again.

Jaya lay there, motionless. Unable to settle herself as she thought about what the woman on the speaker said. Do as you are told … you will be rewarded handsomely. Failure … will result in punishment. The longer it takes … the more severe the punishment. Do not ask … questions.

It became ever more clear, the longer she lay there, that failure would not be an option. She needed to do everything she could to survive.

No matter the cost. The words of her father echoed in her mind.

Steeling herself for whatever challenges she would face in the morning. Jaya forced herself into a dreamless sleep. Allowing the swaying of the train to create a hypnotic sort of feeling, as she did so.

Hours later Jaya would be woken by the gear grinding and whiney motor sounds of the electric blind on the window. As it began to slide upwards, allowing dim morning light to cascade in and reveal unexpected details of the room.

For instance, a random plate of food that sat on the floor by the door.

Feeling her stomach growl, Jaya sprang from her bed and waddled over.

Fighting the sway of the train as she did so.

The plate contained toast with butter and jam, as well as a scrambled eggs. With a note resting on top that read Finish to begin the first challenge.

Remembering the promise she made to herself last night, Jaya began shovelling in the food. Not another thought, other than to consume everything on that plate. Licking it clean at the end as she waited for more instructions.

Then a small flap on the door opened and a bottle of water rolled to her feet. Sliding the plate through the flap, she grabbed the water and slurped down the entire bottle. Tossing it back under the flap before it closed again.

Followed by the staticky buzzing sound of the speaker being turned on. “Good.” the woman’s monotone voice spoke. “Now for your first challenge.” she began, pausing as the whining sound of the window closing interrupted. Only ending with the grinding sound and Jaya being engulfed in darkness again. Followed by the buzz and click of the speaker turning off.

Panicking, she immediately got to her feet. Expecting the door to open and the fight of her life to take place.

Instead, a strip of light lit up the floor again. Showing her where to go.

Obediently, she followed. Finding herself standing at the wall opposite the window. The strip of lights climbed the wall and pulsated in a revolving motion around a small rectangle.

Jaya immediately began to touch and tap around it. Waiting for something to happen.

Suddenly the flap opened and out popped a butchers knife.

Jaya’s stomach immediately sank as she could only imagine what the woman was about to tell her to do. But without hesitation, she grabbed the knife and held it at the ready.

The flap closed and all was complete darkness, again.

The silence interrupted by muffled screams and the sounds of a struggle. Coming through the flap, from the other side of the wall.

Jaya pressed her ear against the wall, trying to hear what was happening.

Only to be interrupted by the flap opening abruptly and the sounds of a man screaming no over and over. Followed by an arm, up to the elbow coming out of the flap. With a tray underneath it, as the hand squirmed and wiggled wildly.

The speaker buzz began again. “Cut it off.” the cold voice of the woman demanded. Before the buzz ended and the speaker shut off again.

Jaya immediately felt like she was about to hurl. Clutching her stomach in fear as she looked at the hand flailing in a panic. The man attached to it screaming in terror.

The command rang out in her mind again, cut it off. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be cutting off. But she knew better than to wait for the instructions to be repeated.

Stepping forward she grasped the flailing hand in her free one.

The man tried to shake her off and pleaded through the flap. “Please no, please.” He repeated over and over, as Jaya struggled to keep it under control. The sweat from fear on both of them made his hand extremely slippery.

Jaya used her shirt to dry off her own hand, hoping it would help her get a better hold.

Pinning it down, “I’m sorry.” she whispered, raising the cleaver above her head and bringing it down with as much force as possible.

Landing with a solid thud as moisture began to flow out of his arm. Spattering her face, arm and surrounding area.

The smell of iron filled her nostrils. Causing her stomach to start doing summersaults and tie itself in knots. In the most nauseating way possible.

The man screamed in agony, begging and pleading with her in desperation. But Jaya ignored it, knowing she needed to do this.

Do whatever it takes to survive. No matter the cost.

She raised the cleaver again and continued hacking at the poor mans hand, over and over. Drowning out the sounds of his screams until, finally they stopped.

What was left of the arm was withdrawn into the flap again. Leaving behind the hand she now held, in her own.

Jaya did her best not to look at her handy work, but a small detail caught her eye as she let go. The hand had a small gold band on its ring finger, a wedding band. And not unlike the one her father wore. Her finger unconsciously traced the ring, where it sat as her fathers voice rang in her ears.

No matter the cost.

Jaya gave herself a shake and removed her hand from the severed one. Leaving it on the board that began to retract into the flap, as well.

Jaya felt numb as her ears began to ring with the realization of what she had done. She stood in place, frozen with the overwhelming urge to vomit. Her hands and face felt sticky with the mans drying blood.

It was a good thing she was shrouded in darkness, not having to see what she had done. Almost grateful she didn’t truly have to watch herself commit the act. But still feeling the guilt of it.

The buzzing of the speaker interrupted her thoughts. Silencing the ringing in her ears.

“Now put your hand in.” the woman voice instructed, before buzzing again and turning off.

That same flap opened and waited for her.

Jaya’s stomach did flips again. But she took no time to hesitate. Immediately shoving her hand into the slot and saying a silent good bye to it.

Only to have another hand from the outside, rotate it to be palm side up and place something inside.

Jaya paused, waiting for instructions.

On cue the speaker clicked on, “Eat it.” the woman’s voice spoke then fell to silence as they awaited Jaya to follow instructions.

Followed by the whining sound of the electric blind on the window starting to open. Blanketing the room in unwanted light as Jaya retracted her hand back into the room.

Enclosed in her palm was a small chocolate chip cookie.

Confused but not wanting to hesitate too long, Jaya shoved it in her mouth. Regrettably getting some dried blood on her lips and having to lick the irony paste off.

“We are pleased with your work in the first challenge. Your reward is the cookie. Congratulations on passing. Your second challenge will follow shortly.” the woman explained, followed by the click, buzz and silence again.

Then the flap at the door opened and a shallow bucket slid through it. Something similar to an old washing basin.

Dropping her knife where she stood. Jaya drunkenly approached, to find the bucket full of soap and water. Next came a wash cloth with a note beneath it, which read Clean up for dinner.

Reading it twice over, she did as instructed. Wanting to wash away the memory and guilt of what she had done.

She watched the water in the basin, turn a murky red as she rinsed the cloth out after each wipe. Cleaning her hands, face and doing her best to scrub the stains from her shirt.

Once finished, she couldn’t help but allow her eyes to wander the room. Falling upon the pools of blood that began to congeal on the floor and wall. Outside the flap where she previously stood.

Unable to stand the sight, she carried the basin over to the area and began scrubbing it clean. Only allowing her mind to wander far enough to focus on where she would clean next. But not to dwell on how the mess came to be.

Soon Jaya was interrupted by the buzz of the speaker turning on again. “The second task will begin shortly. Prepare yourself.” the woman’s emotionless voice echoed through the hollow chamber.

Doing as instructed, Jaya took the basin back to the door and placed it in front of the flap. Pushing it through and waiting by the door for instructions.

Feeling something like a trained dog awaiting its masters command.

“This task you will be required to eat everything we give you. Once it enters the chamber you will have a limited amount of time to consume it and present an empty mouth. Failure will result in punishment. Keeping the contents down will result in larger rewards.” the woman reported, “Let the second task begin.” she commanded and immediately a bowl containing an egg slid into the room.

“You may abstain from eating the shell, you have one minute.” the woman instructed, then a timer appeared above the door and started counting down.

Not giving it another thought, Jaya cracked open the egg. Part of its contents oozed into the bowl and the rest was solid. Feathers, a beak and other parts of a small chicken were visible. This was a fertilized egg, with a chick growing inside.

Shaking the shock from her system, Jaya immediately began to devour the egg. Feeling the greasy feathers pass over her tongue and the crunch of baby chicken in her teeth.

She closed her eyes and focused on chewing as fast as she could before swallowing and taking the next bites. Until there was nothing left.

After which she stood up and opened her eyes to see the timer coming to an end.

A flap on the door opened at eye level.

“Open.” a mans deep voice demanded, as dark eyes peered through the hole.

Obeying, Jaya opened her mouth as wide as possible. Not bothering to breath as she waited for approval.

Which didn’t come as the flap slammed shut and the next dish was served.

A steaming plate of boiled eye balls.

“You have two minutes to eat five eye balls. Additional eyeballs result in additional rewards.” the woman instructed, followed by the start of the next timer.

Hearing only the beep of each second ticking off the timer. Jaya fell to her knees and began inhaling eyeballs. Not bothering to count as she did so. Sticking each in her mouth and cringing with each burst of the membrane, when she bit into them. Making her want to gag with each bite but forced herself to hold it in.

Taking long deep breaths through her nose as she soldiered on. She ate until the plate was empty and the timer ended. Finishing what was in her mouth, she stood at the door open mouthed as she waited the next inspection.

The flap opened and closed uneventfully.

The next plate slid into the room.

The eery thing was that this one smelled good. Something between boiled chicken or grilled pork.

But shock and dismay over took her as she sat horrified by what she saw.

It was the hand she had cut off, complete with the terribly familiar wedding ring.

“You must eat one finger in five minutes. Bones are not required. Additional rewards will be given for additional fingers eaten.” the woman’s voice rang through the chamber, menacingly.

Followed by the beeping of the timer starting to count down.

Jaya couldn’t help but hesitate a bit. Reeling in shock for what she was expected to do. Then again, she heard her fathers voice.

No matter the cost.

Without another thought she ran to grab her knife and chopped off the smallest finger. Immediately bringing it to her mouth, she gnawed at it, like she would a chicken foot. Which is exactly what she pretended it was. Closing her eyes and doing her best not to breath in the smell as she did so.

Finishing it with time to spare, she threw the bones back on the plate.

Jaya didn’t bother to attempt another finger. She let the time run out as she piled the dishes neatly at the flap and waited for inspection, mouth open wide.

The flap opened and nothing happened again, as it closed.

Jaya collapsed to the floor, kneeling before the door as she tried not to think of what else they might make her eat. Fearing her current stomach contents might revisit her.

“Well done.” the woman’s voice rang out, “You have earned one of the following prizes that will help you in your last challenge. The pick of opponent or choice of weapon. You have ten seconds to decide.” she stated, then proceeded to start counting down over the speaker.

“Opponent.” Jaya muttered, barely audible over the woman’s counting.

“Very well. Now tell me when to stop.” the woman then began to count upwards from one.

Dazed and confused, it took a moment for Jaya to react.

“Stop.” she finally snapped, feeling weak with exhaustion. As the woman had finished saying three.

“Very well. You shall face three opponents in the third and final challenge.” the woman explained. “The final challenge will take place tomorrow at around mid-day. You will fight to the death with your opponents until there is only one of you left. Your door will open when it is your turn to face your opponents. Good luck.” the buzz of the speaker took over and then fell to silence.

Jaya sat motionless at the door.

Her ears ringing in shock as she fought the images in her mind that wanted to replay the most recent challenge.

Only dismissed by her fathers words in her head, again. Do whatever it takes to survive. No matter the cost.

“No matter the cost.” she repeated aloud to herself as she turned and settled herself on the floor beside the door.

The flap opened and collected the plates. She watched the four fingered hand disappear. One of the bones from the eaten finger, rolling off the plate and being collected by an unseen entity.

Jaya wondered to herself if she hadn’t cut the hand off, would she still had to have eaten a finger. But before she could finish that thought, a cup of water and small dish slid into the room. Followed by another note that read As a reward for eating all the plates, a sedative to help you rest. Good luck tomorrow.

Jaya picked the small pill up in her fingers, examining it closely.

A piece of her wanted to take it right then but a better part of her knew not to. She sensed that they were counting on her to take it, for some reason.

Jaya grabbed the water, carrying both it and the pill to her bed. Popping the pill in her cheek, she downed the water and refused to swallow the pill. Placing the cup on the floor she lay down on the bed. Turning over so she could spit the pill out under the pillow and pretend to fall asleep.

She lay in the bed, eyes closed as the light outside the window began to dim until it faded completely.

Only then did Jaya here sounds coming from behind the door and then the creak of it opening slowly. Opening one eye a sliver, she could see that it was dusky. Possibly late evening, approaching night.

Tomorrow at mid-day. The voice of the speaker lady rang in her ears.

This was not part of the third task. In knowing this, Jaya closed her eye and played like she were asleep. As several sets of foot steps entered the room. Stopping only feet from the foot of her bed.

“And this is Jaya Barron.” A middle aged male voice spoke, “Our most promising candidate, this year.” he continued, sounding like a tour guide in some capacity. Cheerful and eager to impart his wisdom upon all who wanted it.

“A girl?” an older male voice protested.

“She has completed tasks faster than any of the others and has not hesitated to do what is asked of her.” the original male explained. “She has also managed to keep all of her limbs and appendages, unlike most of our competitors.” he argued, sounding excited and hopeful.

“But she is so small compared to the others. Surely you can’t expect her to win in hand to hand combat.” the older man argued.

“She’s gritty and is willing to do what it takes. She’s surprised the best of us thus far, I expect nothing less from her going forward.” the other man boasted.

“I like a good front runner turned underdog.” A young woman’s voice added, “I’ll put twenty thousand down for her.” she stated, a hint of excitement in her voice.

“Thirty thousand.” the older man commented with a huff.

Obviously not wanting to be out done, by a woman none the less.

“Let’s talk numbers in the other room. Our champion needs her rest.” the original mans voice stated.

Followed by the sounds of foot steps leaving, with the door shutting silently.

Her room echoed in silence again, as Jaya absorbed the information she had just obtained.

They were betting on her, like dogs in a race. They were watching her this whole time and knew everything about her trials on this train ride.

It baffled Jaya that everything she had endured was purely for the sport of it. For gain of the wealthy. To help the rich get richer.

That thought alone made her more sick than the thought of eating another human finger.

A piece of her wished she had just obediently taken the pill and had been sleeping peacefully when they came to visit. Not allowing her to know what she knows now.

But it was too late for that and it was too late to take the pill as she might not wake up in time tomorrow.

So instead she settled herself on laying in bed. Strategizing until the first light of morning touched her eye lids.

Feeling the morning light begin to warm her body, Jaya rose from the bed. Like a zombie from it’s grave. Exhausted and hungry.

Ready to fight to the death and get off this crazy train.

“No matter the cost.” she spoke to herself, looking out the window from where she sat.

The morning passed on slowly, her breakfast came and she devoured it. Ignoring the fact that everything tasted of chicken feet, aka human flesh, in her mouth.

Soon the train began to slow until it came to a stop.

Feeling her heart beat quicken, Jaya rose to her feet and waited at the door.

The speaker buzzed as it turned on, “The third challenge is about to begin.” the woman’s voice echoed through the chamber as the electric blind began to slide down the window. Taking Jaya’s last view of the outside world with it.

Jaya stood by the door, engulfed in darkness. Waiting.

The floor lit up under her and lights lead her to a flap beside the door.

It opened to reveal a small dagger. Which she grabbed without hesitation and followed the lights back to the door.

Suddenly a loud buzzer rang out, followed by the sounds of steel doors slamming. The sound reverberating against the walls of her steel walled chamber.

But Jaya’s door didn’t move, hers stayed closed. Taking a step forward she used her free hand to push on the door but it didn’t budge.

Chaos rang out behind the door. Gun shots, screams, pleas for help and begging for mercy could be heard. The sound became deafening. It felt like time had stopped and she was destined to listen to the horrors forever.

Until all became quiet, as only shuffling noises could be heard now and the murmur of a few voices.

Then the muffled sounds of the woman’s voice rang out, “You must eliminate one more.” she spoke crisply.

Followed by the immediate sound of a gun shot and a man crying out. Then another shot and silence again.

Only interrupted by the click of Jaya’s door unlocking and swinging open precariously.

Shocked, Jaya stood in the doorway. Still hidden in the darkness that encapsulated her chambers.

Outside three men, awaited her.

A large one, holding a gun in one hand as he seemed to be missing the other. His skin tone resembled that of the hand she had cut off and eaten.

The other two were noticeably smaller and only held a small dagger each.

Jaya hovered in place, knowing they couldn’t quite see her.

“Come on out, girly.” the large man beckoned, between boarish grunts as he tried to regain his breath. Sweat dripping down his temple as his black eyes bore into her.

The buzz of the speaker interrupted, “There can be only one winner.” the woman spoke, before cutting the speaker off again.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to kill me after you’ve killed each other?” Jaya called out in a small voice.

Taking a few steps into the light as she bat her eyes at them innocently. Hoping the sweet innocent girl act, would be enough of a ploy.

The two smaller men looked to each other as if making a silent agreement, then turned to the larger man. Ready to attack, until two gunshots rang out in the steel corridor. Echoing back and forth among the walls.

The two smaller men immediately fell to the ground with two distinct thuds.

Then before the large one could turn his weapon to Jaya. She threw her knife with expert precision, at his gun wielding hand. Landing exactly in the middle, going through the back to the palm. Poking out the other side and making him drop the gun.

Jaya sprang into action, scooping it up as she knew he was now completely defenceless.

Aiming it straight for his head, as he now charged at her and she pulled the trigger.

This shot rang out louder than the others as the bullet left the gun. Landing between his eyes with an unexpected spurt of blood. Flecks landing on Jaya’s cheeks as his lifeless body crumpled to the ground.

Eyes still wide open and mouth gaping as his head rebounded off the floor.

Silence overtook the corridor as the last of the echoes from the gunshot died down.

Followed by the now welcome sound of the speaker turning on.

“Congratulations Jaya Barron on being our first female winner.” the woman’s voice rang out. Holding an emotion that resembled something like excitement.

But Jaya still felt numb and dazed from her most recent devious act. It felt like years of torment and suffering, rather than only a few days. Her ears rang from the gunshot still.

“You may now claim your prizes.” the woman continued, “You may choose between either door to do so.”

Immediately the well lit room fell into utter darkness and one door on either side lit up. A number one above one and a number two above the other.

“Door number one will take you back home. Claiming this one will free your village of ever being part of the selection again.” the woman explained, as the lights around number one blinked enthusiastically.

“Door number two will take you to a new life. A life free of worry, expenses and all other troubles. Claiming this one will not allow your village to be exempt from future selections.” she finished, as door number two also blinked enthusiastically.

“Choose wisely.” she finished, with the expected buzz and silence at the end.

As both doors swung wide open, allowing a blinding light from both to pour in. Illuminating the bodies that littered the floor on either side of her.

Although only responsible for the death and maiming of one, Jaya felt responsible for all of them. She survived because they had died.

“This is the cost.” she stated, looking to one last body before her.

The man she personally killed.

Without another moment of hesitation, Jaya turned to door number two. Stepping over the many bodies that littered the ground as she walked through the door.

Never looking back again.

Short Story

About the Creator

Donna Fox (HKB)

Thank you for stopping by!! 💚💙💜🩵

If you are interested in longer works by me, I have two books published on Amazon.

Jogger's Trail and Fox in The Hole.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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    Creative use of language & vocab

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    Well-structured & engaging content

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Comments (3)

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  • L.C. Schäfer7 months ago

    I really thought she would pick door one! Got some great Hunger Games vibes 😁

  • Whoaaaaa! This was so action packed and it reminded me of Squid Games. Jaya is a badass! The hand cutting part reminded me of Saw. The only part that shocked me was Jaya choosing door number 2. I thought she'll choose door number 1 and free her village from this thingy. I absolutely loved this story. Gore is my language!

  • Paul Levinson2 years ago

    Powerful, evocative writing! Keep writing, you have a lot of talent.

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