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The Lake and the Locket

Trial by Fire

By Lynn JordanPublished 3 years ago 10 min read
2
The Lake and the Locket
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

What did he have to lose?

It was almost two years since The Event, and he knew he had to get out of this current existence.

He was lucky; when The Event happened, he was able to get by. He had resources and was resourceful enough to avoid detection, slipping under the radar. But it was only a matter of time before he was spotted and tagged. He wanted out.

But how?

When The Concourse advised it would soon allow passage into the New Realm for a few select individuals, he was sure that he would have no chance. Indeed, the masses would be anxious for an opportunity to escape the current hell and would be willing to fight for it. But to his surprise, this did not happen. The masses were too frightened or content with being tagged, numbered, at the mercy of The Concourse for everything. Food. Water. Decent shelter. However, the Concourse, clearly bored with their usual means of entertainment, decided to up the ante.

They ordered anyone without a valuable skill to be evaporated within the year without actually defining what they considered valuable. However, those who were willing to make a substantial sacrifice would have a chance to move up to the next dimension called the New Realm. Not a guarantee, but a chance.

Moses was down for this, although no one was sure what the New Realm contained or if it even existed. Anyone who had gone (and strangely, no one ever knew anyone personally that went) never returned or sent a message. Many thought the New Realm was a lie to keep the people in check with either fear or false hope. Others thought it was The Concourse just killing people for nefarious reasons, and they needed a cover story. Others - albeit very few - thought it was paradise. One friend who worked for The Concourse confided that he witnessed the return of one Elder from the New Realm, but he was dying. The happiness and peace the Elder had on his face emanated from his body with an ethereal glow that filled the room. He said how he reconnected with loved ones and dear friends he had lost contact with during The Event, and they were alive and well. The friend said that those few minutes of euphoria just being in the presence of someone that had witnessed the New Realm would be worth the risk. Moses didn’t care about euphoria; he was more interested in eating real food, not the mash he ate three times a day from his stash of mason jars, and he was running low. The thought of fighting others for bugs and vermin did not appeal. He was over it. The lore and lure of gourmet meals, good furniture, fresh clothing, and running water rumored to be abundant in the New Realm were too tempting, and he was going to go for it. He was old enough to remember when living like that was typical daily life, even for the working poor.

A few weeks later, Moses picked up a discarded flyer from The Concourse that contained the rules for New Realm candidates. He expected a list, but there were only two: Give up something precious and provide a phrase of three words that is not positive, negative, or a riddle; that was impersonal and showed endless possibilities.

Moses watched people laugh, cry or stomp the flyer to bits in anger. Moses understood their reactions but could not understand why they thought it would be easy. He doubted many had anything precious left that had not been sold or traded for necessities. But, if they did, they did not want to risk it for a chance and not a promise. The puzzled look on the faces of those who may have had something to sacrifice collapsed into despair when they realized they had to develop a fitting phrase, which required work and thought. They had already given up.

That evening, sitting on his shabby mattress, Moses held a heart-shaped locket given to him by his mother. It contained a picture of their family with locks of hair from her, his father, grandfather, and baby brother. The locket belonged to Grandma, to whom Moses was very close. It was his most treasured possession. It had no real value to anyone but him, but to him, it was everything good in his life until The Event. After that, he lost contact with all of them and had no idea where they were, so this was the only way for him to find solace and hold on to hope that he would see them again. Perhaps this chance was it. And he was going to take it.

Moses, his friend, and 28 other candidates gathered at a giant pit at the city's edge. It was built to mimic a volcano complete with an incendiary fiery liquid and was a football field's length and width. The Concourse was televising the event, and people crowded in front of every screen available in town.

After an overblown opening ceremony, The Concourse Elders appeared on the opposite side of the pit’s seething opening. They gave rambling speeches about how awesome life was under their rule, and no one dared to show disagreement for fear of retaliation. Moses had tuned them out; he was too busy assessing his environment. Guards surrounded the 30 candidates, and when one of the candidates tried to run, the guards stopped him and pushed him back into his spot. He and his friend exchanged a tense glance. “Well, it’s on now,” Moses said to himself.

At that moment, A brilliant portal of white and gold appeared over the Elders' heads and began to open. It had to be the width of two buses and as tall as a two-story building. The sound it made pierced Moses to his core. The guards directed the 30 to form a line, and Moses managed to position himself at the end of it. He wanted to have every opportunity to change or fine-tune his posture and tone of his voice based on how the others fared.

An imposing Elder positioned himself next to the fire pit’s opening. The heat from the boiling liquid drenched the candidates with sweat, but this Elder looked cool, dry, and fresh as a daisy. The first candidate, who Moses watched elbow his way to the front of the line, walked confidently up to the Elder, head held high. Moses could tell from the Elder's facial movements and body language that this was NOT the right approach. The Elder held out his hand and said, "present your sacrifice." The candidate gave him a handful of paper money and bellowed, “I brought money becau…”

“SILENCE!!” the Elder screamed, “YOU WILL SPEAK WHEN SPOKEN TO.”

The candidate visibly shrank back and bowed his head.

There was a long, very uncomfortable stretch of quiet before the Elder said, “whisper your phrase into my ear.”

The first candidate stepped cautiously up to the Elder and whispered in his ear. The Elder whispered something back to the candidate that no one could hear, and the candidate once again whispered back. The Elder then frowned. And with one glance, a guard threw Candidate One into that literal lake of fire.

A gasp came from the remaining candidates, including Moses. While none of them were surprised, the quickness with which it occurred shook them up. Not knowing what caused the man’s demise gave them all, especially Moses, pause. Was the man too confident? Too loud? Did his phrase not cut it? Or was it something in the exchanged whispers that sealed his fate? Moses’ plan to gather any intel on what would work had hit a terrible - and possibly fatal - snag.

One by one, the candidates faced the Elder, and all of them perished in the fiery pool. Finally, it was down to 3 candidates: a tall, regal woman, Moses’ friend, and Moses himself. Having watched all of the previous victims, the tall woman lowered her head and walked sheepishly up to the Elder and bowed. He smiled and asked for her sacrifice. The woman provided a battered photograph, stepped back, lowered her head, avoiding his gaze. The Elder asked the woman to whisper her phrase in his ear, which she did. Another smile from the Elder. He whispered in her ear, and she whispered back. Finally, with a huge grin, the Elder yelled with arms extended, “You have earned the opportunity to enter the New Realm!”

The woman turned, facing the portal, and as if by some magical force, was lifted off of the ground. As she rose higher, lining up with the portal, the Elder said, “You have succeeded where others have failed. The final test is of your faith. Should it waver, you will fall into the fire pit. If you make it, you will be welcomed into the New Realm.” With that statement, the woman began to float over the fire pit slowly. Moses, his friend, and the crowds huddled in front of video screens held their collective breath. He watched as the dancing flames on the top of the fire pit seemed to lick the soles of her feet. Her skin reddened, she lifted her dress high up her thighs to keep it from catching fire. She held herself straight and still but began to sob audibly. At the center of the pit, she suddenly dropped like a stone into the lava-like substance.

Moses and his friend cringed and gasped as screams from the city could be heard behind them.

“Holy sh-..”

“NEXT!”

Moses watched his friend go through the same process and granted his chance to pass over the fire lake. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he made it! Moses dropped to his knees and cried as the soft light enveloped his friend, who so believed in the New Realm’s existence. The screams of excitement and joy from the city reverberated through the ground.

The Elder allowed the cheers to go on for a moment, and Moses quickly gathered himself. Then, the Elder motioned to him to step forward. Timidly, with head lowered, Moses walked up to him, keeping a respectful distance.

“What is your sacrifice?”

Moses held out the opened locket. The Elder smiled.

“Come whisper your phrase to me.”

Moses stepped forward and whispered, “If. Then. Else.” The Elder’s smile became even more expansive, and he leaned in and whispered, “How do you come here?”

Moses whispered, “With unconditional love.”

With that, Moses felt his feet leave the ground. The Elder was speaking, but his words were indecipherable as Moses endured waves of relief, nausea, fear, and shock. He could hear his sweat sizzle as it hit the top of the fire pool. The bottoms of his feet grew hotter and hotter. He quickly unzipped his pants, letting them fall into the churning liquid with as little movement as possible. Finally, he reached the middle of the pool. “I am full of unconditional love, and I will not falter; my family awaits me,” he muttered to himself as he unbuttoned his tunic and let it fall.

“I am full of unconditional love, and I will not falter; my family awaits me.”

Three-quarters of the way across. Moses removed his t-shirt. Thoughts of death, doubt, and failure threw themselves against his mind.

“I am full of unconditional love, and I will not falter; my family awaits me.”

The blinding light made him squeeze his eyes shut. He could hear the screaming of the crowd, and then it began to melt away. He finally stopped moving forward and was lowered to his feet on a cool, smooth surface. He did not want to open his eyes.

“MOSES!”

When he did open his eyes, his mother was in front of him, face full of tears, holding the heart-shaped locket.

Fantasy
2

About the Creator

Lynn Jordan

Gen X writer of published music reviews now putting my fiction, non-fiction & the occasional poem out there. Every piece I write, regardless of genre, is a challenge accepted, and crafted with care and love. Sit a spell & enjoy!

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