Caged in a Maze

by Ian Worrall 11 months ago in fiction

A short story for your enjoyment

Caged in a Maze

Arrgh, I woke up on this cold steel floor thinking, where in blazes was I? I didn’t have my normal clothes on, I wasn’t naked, but it was bath robe or something like that. I couldn’t quite place what it was that I was wearing.

I got up from the floor and grabbed my head. I suddenly had a splitting headache. You know the kind that feels like John Bonham’s slamming his foot in the bass drum in Led Zeppelin’s song "When The Levee Breaks? "

It was so bad I fell to my knees and pressed my head into the floor, thinking that maybe the coldness of the steel would give some sort of relief. Since I had no idea where I was, I couldn’t exactly go find a first aid kit, or infirmary to give me some Tylenol or Advil.

While pressing my head into the floor, I tapped a finger into it. No echo sound like you’d get at the Grand Canyon. The sound was like tapping on your hand or a pillow. A dead sound.

After a few minutes, the headache died down enough for me to get to my feet. Thinking again as to where was I? The floor made of cold steel that sounded like a mattress? Come to think of it the floor actually felt like a mattress or gym mat.

Squishy underneath my feet. It was all so weird. Was I in some kind of experiment? I didn’t recall ever agreeing to be part of any scientific study. Did one of my cell phone apps do so without me knowing? I remember reading about how various tech companies would use people’s personal information without their knowledge and consent. Maybe I signed up for some sort of bait and switch type thing without knowing that I was going to be part of something.

I scanned my memory for anything I signed up for both online and offline, and for the life of me, nothing came to mind.

Or could it be one of my coworkers was angered with me getting the promotion over him? That’s one thing I do remember. I got the promotion and James didn’t. we both worked so hard to get it, but in the end, I won and got the twenty thousand dollar raise.

I supposed I would be angry too if the positions were reversed. But put someone somewhere like this? No, I’d never do that.

I took a few steps down a hall. And the lights got so bright I had to shove my arm against me eyes to shield myself from being blinded. It was like those interrogation lights that would shine in people’s faces. As I walked down the hall I had to look down at the floor before my eyes would adjust to the light.

When they did, I looked up and saw a barred window at the end. A hacksaw was lying on the floor. Freedom maybe? With that thought I suddenly heard a beeping sound. Beep, beep, beep. It was all around me, in my head coming from the walls and from the other side of the window.

I couldn’t quite place what the sound was. My memory was suffering from the brain fog of waking up after very little sleep. I ran down to the window, my heart racing like a speed metal guitar riff.

The second I picked up the hacksaw, the damn window moved up a foot, just out of my reach. A cruel joke or a dream? I grabbed my left bicep and squeezed as hard as I could. Gritting my teeth against the pain I counted sixty seconds in my head, but I didn’t wake up.

How long was I supposed to hold a pinch or anything like that to wake from a dream? Never read it anywhere, or maybe that was a lie.

I squatted down, my butt to my heels, and jumped as high as I could. I almost reached the bar on the window, but it moved another foot, just out of reach again. A few more attempts to jump to grab the bar and saw my way to freedom met with failure. The window didn’t move, I just couldn’t reach it.

Pounding my hand against the wall, I found it was stone. I actually felt lucky that I hadn’t broken my hand, which furthered the weirdness of the situation. Cold steel that felt squishy, a moving window and then stone walls that don’t break your hand when you punch them.

I stood there for a few minutes, wondering again as to what could have put me in this situation. The beeping sound would come and go, sometimes in my head, sometimes in the wall and sometimes coming from the window.

And then I heard a soft voice crying out, “Help me, help me!”

The voice sounded so familiar. I decided to follow where they voice was coming from. But when I tried to move my feet, I was stuck to the floor. Stuck like someone had super glued my feet. My hands grew cold and started shaking in full panic mode.

“Help me, help me, I’m begging you to save me!” the voice was louder. Almost right in front of me. And then the vision of what happened years ago. I was only six at the time. My neighbor, Jenny, was six too. We were told never to go near the pond without our parents with us.

We went anyway, we wanted to collect salamanders. There was a foot bridge that went over the pond, so people could fish or do other things. Jenny and I were too young to know what those other things would be. We went up there to the middle of the bridge. Jenny leaned over the side and fell in.

I was too small at the time to reach in and pull her up. And I probably wouldn’t have been strong enough to pull her up anyway. I was frozen in place, too scared to know what to do. I was just a kid. I didn’t want to get in trouble by going to the pond when our parents told us not to.

Unfortunately, my friend drowned. From that day onward, I never forgave myself. But, today here and now all these years later, I thought, maybe I’m being given a chance to correct the mistake. Today I’m going to save her.

“Jenny,” I yelled, “I’m coming! I’m going to save you.”

I made the jump, my feet now unstuck, and I slammed face first into the floor. The image, seemed so real. I had even felt the splash of water on my face when Jenny had fallen in.

After I sat up on the floor, I felt my face, the pain was there, but my nose wasn’t broken or bleeding. I started crying, tears flew down my face, “Jenny, I am so sorry. If I knew how to swim at the time I would have saved you.”

I slammed the heels of my hands onto my forehead, cursing myself out. Why didn’t I run to our parents, they might have saved her? I didn’t know at the time, but there were a couple of teenagers walking down the path to the pond. Probably to do some extra-curricular activities. Had I run up the path they could have saved her.

Is there an alternative reality show in here? I only thought that because I thought about what could have become of Jenny if we had listened to our parents and not gone down to the pond. As I sat there crying and thinking about her, she was a cute little girl. But what child isn’t cute?

She’d be a stunner today, probably. She’d be the type of woman who would have her choice of probably fifty men who would want to be her husband. How many kids would she have had? That compounded the tragedy, because it wasn’t just the life of one little six-year-old girl that was lost. But the life of every other six-year-old that would have come after that. The lives that would never be lived.

If there was anything I could change about my life, that would have been one.

I lost track of time as I remembered my friend and mourned for what could have been. What should have been and wasn’t. I had cried until my eyes ran dry and I had no more tears left. How long had that been?

With the beeping getting loud and then quiet, there was another sound. Scraping or something like that. Metal on metal, or like the sound of running your finger nails down a black board. Where was it coming from?

At first, I couldn’t tell, but then it was coming from underneath me. I jumped up just in time as a spike came out of the floor right where I was sitting. More of the same sounds coming up from the floor I dodged another spike that would have impaled my foot.

And then another and another until there were eight spikes sticking out of the floor. What kind of torture was this? I’d take a couple steps and pause, the metal grinding sound came again, and again I dodged a spike.

“What do you want from me?” I screamed out to the maze. It was then that I looked up and saw, well nothing just an empty blackness. If I could find something to climb on, maybe I’d reach the top and get out of here that way.

Another spike shot out of the floor, I didn’t dodge quick enough this time and it hit the outside of my left foot. I screamed out in pain and started limping down the hall. Even though a wave of pain would shoot through me like a wave crashing into the shore with every step I took, no blood was coming out of my foot.

I shouted out to whoever was here watching me, “I no longer consent to this experiment.” I was hoping that if I had accidentally consented to an experiment, this would be enough to end it and get me out of here.

No answer came. Either no one was out there, or they didn’t care that I no longer was a willing participant. Or maybe once consent was given in this instance, it can’t be removed.

I screamed out again, “What did I do to deserve this? Whatever it is I’m sorry!”

When no answer came again I became certain I had been abducted. “James, if it’s you, I’ll turn down the promotion. You can have the job. Just please let me out of here.”

I jumped out of the way of another spike and then, about fifty feet away I saw a ledge. Maybe that would be a safe haven. If only for a short time, or until my foot didn’t hurt anymore.

Limping to the ledge, as fast as I could, a spike here, a spike there to my right and left in front of me and all over would shoot out. Someone or something didn’t want me at the ledge.

I got hit in the left hand at the last foot away before I manage to grasp the railing with my right hand and yank myself up. I collapsed on the ledge and puked down on the spikes below me.

What was the point of all those spikes shooting out of the floor to impale me? I couldn’t figure out what lesson I was supposed to learn. I got to thinking as to how James would have ever known about Jenny? A simple Google search would do the trick of course.

Maybe this was an alien abduction. This was the first time I had come to believe that would have ever happened. All those stories about aliens conducting experiments on people always seemed good for a laugh. No so funny now.

As I lay on the ledge, the beeping sound pierced my ears like a banshee wail, it felt as though my ear drums would explode. And then a sharp pain on my chest like I had been struck by lightning. A wave of electricity shot through me like a tsunami wave.

I froze in position on the ledge. And then fell, then another jolt and I couldn’t move again. “Stop it please, stop it.”

After about five jolts, whoever was doing this to me must have felt bad, or more likely grew tired and bored. This round of torture had ended.

I had lost my breath from all the jolts and had trouble recovering. It took almost twenty breaths of five seconds in and out to get my breathing back under control.

“What planet did you take me to?” I yelled out. Either I had lost my mind or alien abductions were true. “I want to go home to my family. You have no right to keep me here.”

What reason would aliens have to abduct me anyway? They must have seen something. But I have no military or government job, so they wouldn’t get any secrets from me. And they wouldn’t need to abduct people anyway to get them, would they?

After all, when you think about it, let’s pretend for a minute that faster than light travel is really possible like what you see on Star Trek, Star Wars or any other sci fi show or movie. Any civilization that is that advanced, would they even care that we exist?

Most likely, they would just look at us a bunch of idiots. Either that or a bunch of lab rats. Maybe that’s why aliens abduct humans. Is there a disease on their planet they’re trying to cure?

That wouldn’t make sense though. Would human DNA be compatible with aliens? No way, unless, humans evolved or were created on some other planet as well.

These are the ramblings of some poor fool who has been trapped in a maze. Next to me on the wall came the sound like elevator doors opening. I looked over and there was this opening that led to a tunnel. I would have to crawl through it.

No way was I going to do that. I even yelled that out to the maze and the people or aliens that held me captive.

Then from inside the tunnel I heard her voice, “Follow me, follow me.”

It was Jenny, again. “Jenny, you died forty years ago. I’m sorry, but you’re not real.”

“You must follow me, quickly.”

“No way, Jenny,” I told her, “I’m staying right where I am.”

Then the banging, wham, wham, wham, it came from outside in the maze. Like the sound of the garbage truck setting the dumpster down on the ground. I looked out in the maze and the spikes were being eaten by the wall as it was closing in on me.

Six inches from the ledge, I turned, and she was still standing there. Still the six year old girl, short enough to stand in the place and not whack her head on the ceiling. “Fine, Jenny, you win,” I said.

I crawled into the hole and as soon as I was in the opening closed and Jenny disappeared. Exasperated I started crawling through the tunnel. I could see only six inches ahead of me and then it was all blackness.

I kept a slow pace, with everything that happened so far, I figured there would be some sort of drop off into a pit of snakes or something.

The ‘or something’ wasn’t a pit of snakes. I ended up in some kind of bubble, floating underwater. Then, I saw the sharks surrounding me. But they weren’t like any shark species I had ever seen pictures of. Maybe I was on an alien ship, or planet.

One of the sharks took a liking to me and started circling the bubble. Not good, not good. Sensing impending doom, my throat and stomach tightened to where I could barely breathe. And then when the shark swam straight for me, its mouth wide open to swallow me whole, my breathing stopped.

I tried to scream but couldn’t. That’s why aliens abduct humans. To be food for their pet sharks.

The shark crashed into the bubble. I got sent rolling through the water. Somehow the bubble didn’t burst. The bubble would roll for I estimated twenty feet, then another shark would crash into the bubble sending me another twenty feet.

Again, and again. Over and over, sharks would crash into the bubble sending me rolling head over heels in the water.

Maybe then I wasn’t brought here to be food for their pet sharks, just a toy for their pet sharks. It’s a miracle I didn’t fill the bubble with puke. But then I didn’t remember the last time I had eaten a meal.

I must have spent hours down here and didn’t feel any hunger pangs. And my stomach never growled once. I kept my eyes closed the whole time the sharks were bouncing me around. If a beach ball had feelings, this is what it must have felt like to be bounced around the nose of a seal.

After what must have been at least fifty sharks kicking me around with their noses, I flew out of the water onto a sandy shore. The hard landing caused the bubble to burst. And soaked to the bone, despite being in the bubble, I got covered in sand.

Now what were my options? Go for a swim and get the sand off me? No way, with all those sharks in the water. I looked around and there was the beech shower. But I would have to dry the clothes off and sit around nude.

Or, would they really be that cruel to make me go around the rest of the maze naked? Of course they would. So just take the shower and then leave the robe I was wearing on. I wasn’t about to give them a porno show.

I let the water from the shower wash over me and get all the sand off. After I was finished I stood down at the shore about a foot from the water. I wanted the sun, or what looked like the sun to dry me and the robe off.

No heat was coming from the sun. Was it really the sun of this planet? Or was it a flood light beaming down on me? It was going to take a while for the clothes to dry. Whoever had me here just couldn’t show some sort of mercy and give me some dry clothes.

My two options were to walk, run and crawl around in wet clothes or do it all naked. In other words, one option, do it all soaked to the bone and hope it wouldn’t be too long before I got dry. For all I knew, my situation was being broadcast to a live audience.

A few minutes or longer, I couldn’t really tell the passage of time, and I noticed the water was starting to touch my feet. And it was getting higher. In a few seconds it was at my ankles.

I turned and started walking further into shore, but the water kept following me until I got back up to the beech shower. And there she was again.

My friend Jenny. I crouched down so my eyes were level with hers. “What am I doing here, Jenny? Why am I here?”

She giggled like I remembered she always used to and said, “Follow me, and I’ll show you.”

“I want some answers,” I said. “I won’t follow you unless you tell me.”

“Yes, you will follow me,” she said.

“No, I won’t,” I said. I reached out to grab her and she disappeared and then reappeared ten feet away.

“Follow me,” she repeated her command.

“Why should I follow you?”

She pointed to the water and said, “Look behind you.”

I turned and saw the water was now less than a foot from the shower. “Okay fine, I’ll follow you.”

She let me catch up to her and took my hand and led me into a forest. Like the one we used to play hide and seek in. Up until she died.

“Please don’t put me through seeing you die again, Jenny.”

She looked up and giggled, “At least you didn’t have to experience dying at the age of six.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. And then she disappeared again. “Where are you?” I cried out. But there was no answer.

The sound of the forest was, well, no sound at all. Just a slight breeze rustling the leaves of the trees. I kept looking around me half expecting a pack of wolves to charge out and attack. The other half of me was expecting a bear to grab me.

I took a couple steps further into the forest and, the twigs kept sticking into my feet. Every few feet I had to stop to pull one out of my foot. Throwing my arms up I shouted out to my captors, “You couldn’t at least let me have a pair of shoes or boots?”

No, of course they couldn’t. I trudged on and on until one of my fears was about to come true. Fifty feet ahead of me was a pack of six wolves. All six of them licking their chops. I was to be their next meal. I looked around and found a tree that had a low enough branch that I could reach it. Assuming the branch didn’t disappear when I jumped for it.

But the tree was 40 feet away. Can I outrun a pack of hungry wolves? No. again I looked around for anything I could use as a weapon. But no sticks big enough to use as a club. No rocks big enough to cave in a wolf’s skull. I would have given anything for a 12 gauge shot gun right about now.

Plan A then, run. I took off running, my life depended on ignoring the twigs and pebbles that would stick in my feet. The wolves ran after me. Gaining ground, inch by inch and foot by foot. I let another scream out to my captors, “Please let me live! I’m begging you, I want to live.”

By some miracle, or maybe mercy on the part of my captors, I got to the tree with seconds to spare. I jumped up and grabbed the tree branch and pulled myself to safety. All those years doing pull ups paid off right now.

Below me, the wolves tried to jump, and they put their paws up on the tree trunk hoping to be able to climb. Thankfully they weren’t hungry cats. I estimated they spent thirty minutes trying to get up the tree before realizing they couldn’t. If only they would go away and leave me alone in search of another meal. But they lay down near the tree. Obviously, they were smart enough to know I wouldn’t be able to stay up here forever. They were playing the waiting game.

I sat on the tree branch and started picking out the twigs and pebbles that got embedded in my feet. And then louder than ever, beep! Beep! Beep! The sound ripped through my head at the same time I heard a chainsaw.

The panic that went through my head now was like nothing else I had ever experienced in my life. My throat so tight I couldn’t breathe. I was almost dry heave puking. All my extremities had gone cold. They gave me a tree to save myself only to have it cut down and leave me to the wolves.

I managed to look down and saw that there was no lumberjack or anyone else cutting at the tree. But then this awful searing pain shot through my chest.

I grabbed the tree with one of my arms trying to keep my balance and stop myself from falling off the branch. I barely managing to choke out, “Please stop this, please, I’m begging you.” Tears started flowing again, and, and everything went black.

I don’t know how long I was out, but I woke up lying on the tree branch. I have no idea how I didn’t fall off to become the meal of the day for the wolves. But, I figured that wasn’t in their plans. I had fallen asleep or been knocked unconscious and left to lie straddling the branch.

The beeping in my head had settled into a dull tapping. But now there were three distinct beeping sounds. “Jenny, I’m sorry. Or if it’s you James, I already told you I’ll give up the promotion. Just please let me out of here.”

Maybe, I thought, Jenny and her parents are the aliens who had abducted me. It would make sense wouldn’t it? How else could she be here? Aliens who could travel throughout the planets would have better medical care than we would and would therefore be able to revive someone who died after a longer time than we would.

But it was forty years ago, and she hasn’t aged a day. Of course, aliens would be able to do that. Maybe they found the fountain of youth.

Or maybe I was just losing my mind. At this point, even though I had just woken up, I felt so tired. Exhausted to the point of surrendering to whatever they had planned for me.

But no. No. I thought as I clenched my fists. I will not surrender to whatever it is you want. “I did nothing wrong, you hear me?” I yelled out to my captors. “I got that promotion fair and square James and you know it. And Jenny, I just a kid like you were. I was scared. Do you have any room in your heart for forgiveness?”

When I was done shouting I felt the tree move. It was sinking into the ground. I tried climbing higher and higher, but the tree kept sinking. It was like the tree was trying to drag me into the ground. I looked up to see where the top of the tree was. And just like when I was inside there was only blackness about fifty feet up. I looked down and the wolves had left. Hopefully they found another meal that was tastier than I would have been.

This was then something like a holodeck on Star Trek. I was now more convinced than ever aliens had taken me. They were running me through their sick experiment.

My attempts to climb further up the tree were futile, I hit the ground and started running. Despite the fact the wolves were gone, I had a feeling they’d be back. They would want their meal, even if I did taste like crap.

I ran and ran, but my exhaustion was getting the better of me and I had to slow down. I was confused, I never got winded by a run before. Was it age catching up to me or did the aliens give me something to make my problems worse?

The only thing I knew was that I had to keep moving. Something inside me was telling me that. Or just the common sense of the situation. I had escaped spikes shooting up through a floor, escaped wolves who wanted to eat me.

Maybe, just maybe if I played along, I would get out of this place.

After running through the forest as fast as I could for what seemed like almost an hour, I reached an open field and collapsed into the grass. The blades of the grass were almost four feet tall, but still had that smell of fresh cut grass.

I might have thought that was weird, but with everything else I had gone through, this was rather tame. That was until I heard that tell-tale sound of a rattle and a hiss.

I looked up and two feet away from my face was probably the biggest rattle snake ever. I had seen them in the wild, none were ever more than three feet long. This one was the size of a python, or even bigger.

From what I could see, the thing was almost six feet long, and that’s just the part I could see. It stretched out further into the grass beyond my vision.

My arms and legs frozen in place as the snake reared up and bared its fangs. More proof, in my mind that aliens had taken me here, the snake didn’t just have fangs to inject venom, it had rows of teeth on the bottom and top of his mouth. Like a cross between a shark and a snake.

The snake moved to strike, and I tried to roll out of the way, but it got me on the shoulder. Just as suddenly as I got hit, the snake slithered away into the grass. Probably to wait for me to die so it could come back and swallow me whole.

My head started spinning as the venom started to course through my body. I got to my knees, and the whole place was spinning. I stumbled to my feet and across the field, I saw a hut with the red cross symbol on it.

They just might have the anti-venom there. I just had to get to the place before I died.

I took five steps and fell over and puked. Another five steps after that and my vision blurred. I estimated the hut was about a hundred feet away. “Please let me get there in time,” I called out to whoever had me here. “Or send someone to save me please.”

I got another five steps and my legs gave out again. I resolved and made a promise to myself that I would make it to the hut. I would do everything I could to make it there, increase the number of steps I took before collapsing with each time I made a go of it.

Two hopes here, one was that I would make it to the hut before I died. Two that there would be anti-venom there. And if not, at the very least they wouldn’t let me get eaten by a snake. Bring me back to Earth and my family for a proper burial and funeral. They owed me that much at least after everything they put me through.

Six steps, then pause. Next time I made it to eight. Then ten. Then twelve, then fifteen and when I got to twenty steps I collapsed down right in front of the hut.

This time I couldn’t move my legs and had to drag myself to the door.

“Somebody help me please!” I begged as I reached for the door knob.

I got my hand clasped around the knob, surprised that they didn’t make the thing move on me this time. Or for that matter make the hut disappear altogether.

It took me three attempts to get the thing open. And I dragged myself into an almost empty room. In the middle of this room was a table with a vial of clear liquid and a syringe. Was this the anti-venom? I could only hope.

Seven minutes it took me to drag myself to the table. I dry heaved on the floor for another three before I could raise my hands to the top of the table and pull myself up. That was the hardest pull up I ever had to do.

I was tempted to lay on the table and close my eyes, but I resisted that knowing I probably wasn’t going to wake up if I did. With my hands shaking like they were trees in a hurricane, and after almost dropping and smashing the vial at least four times I managed to fill the syringe.

What a wonderful time this was to get over my fear of needles. Not much choice if had wanted to live. I stuck the needle right where the snake had bitten me and plunged the liquid into my shoulder.

And then everything went black.

The next thing I knew I heard her voice again. “Follow me this way.”

I woke up still on the table, but the hut was gone. I was in the middle of a city square, no one else but me. The place was a mixture of Time’s Square in New York and Red Square in Moscow.

“Follow me this way,” Jenny said again.

I looked around but couldn’t see her. Her voice was coming all around me. The beeping sound went off again and right in front of me the New Year’s Eve ball dropped to the floor. This was a few months early for that.

“Follow me, I’m over here.”

I looked to my right and saw her. She was standing next to the tomb of Lenin. I gave my head a shake, I thought they had removed that. But again, I was certain I was on some real-life alien version of the Star Trek holodeck.

Swinging my legs around, I got off the table and ran over to Jenny. She had that sweet smile on her face she always had. I crouched down, “Jenny I would like some answers as to where I am. What planet and why did you bring me here?”

“Follow me and you’ll get your answers.”

She turned and opened the door and into a hall of mirrors I was led. And right before she disappeared again she looked up at me and said, “Follow the mirror all the way to the end.”

“I need some answers, I want to know what I’m doing here,” I yelled out. And once more there was no answer. Just that incessant beeping sound coming from everywhere around me and inside my head.

I walked down the hall of mirrors, no point looking into the mirrors, I’d just see a thousand or million reflections of myself.

They must have figured I was going too slow because behind me I heard another hissing sound. I turned around figuring I was going to see the snake, but it was some gas or smoke billowing out into the hall and gaining on me fast.

Not needing any further coaxing, it was some sort of poison, I’ve seen that movie enough times I took off running down the hall until I fell through a hole.

I fell on my butt and started sliding down the pipe. It was actually a waterslide. I knew that when I got to the bottom I would probably have to swim faster than I ever did in my life. They probably were going to drop me in a pool of piranhas. Or knowing what I’ve seen so far, something even worse.

At the bottom of the slide, it jutted up several feet and I went flying far up into the air. So far that I couldn’t see what I was going to fall into when I inevitably fell back down.

And when my ascent stopped, I pulled myself into a cannon ball hold as I started falling back to whatever waited for me below.

Faster and faster to the bottom I went, my ears were popping like I was on a plane going into land. And then… WHAM!!

I hit the water, or something like that, with such force, the wind was knocked out of me and I swore at least half of my ribs were at least cracked if not broken. Amazingly I could see how far up the water splashed, almost fifty feet into the air.

It wasn’t acid that I fell in, there wasn’t any burning of my eyes or skin. But, as I predicted, fish swarmed around me. There were at least thirty of them. They didn’t look like piranhas, from what I remembered of the pictures I saw of them. Giant gold fish. Knowing I wouldn’t have been dropped into a pool of harmless gold fish, I had to do everything I could to get myself out of there.

I could barely move my arms as I got as fast to the surface as I could. The fish were chasing me. One got a bite on my foot. Another bit my leg. Further I went to the surface they kept biting me.

My heart pounding like a speed metal drummer whaling away on double bass drums, I broke the surface, and still the fish were biting me. They must have been starved for food. I kept feeling thirty different bites almost every three to five seconds.

Thirty feet away, at the edge of the pool, Jenny was waving to me. Urging me to get out of the pool. Like I needed any urging. “You were the one who led me down here, Jenny,” I yelled. “Can you at least throw me a life ring and a rope and drag me out of here?”

With that sweet smile on her face, she shook her head. “Is this revenge for not saving you?” I yelled as I continued swimming to her. “Please forgive me, I’m sorry.”

More and more bites on my legs, arms and everywhere else before I finally made it to the edge of the pool and dragged myself out.

Four fish were hanging off each leg and arm. I brushed them off and the bleeding stopped and the chunks out of me healed in seconds. Lying on the edge of the pool I looked up at my childhood friend. “What more do you want from me?” I asked her barely able to breathe. “How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?”

“Follow me,” she said and turned away.

I breathed ten heavy breaths before I could get back to my feet and follow her. By that time, she had gotten to the wall. This was exactly like the place where I had started taken swimming lessons after she died.

When I reached her, I got to my knees and said, “If they had paid for swimming lessons before it happened, I could have, no, I would have saved you. You can’t blame that on me.”

Giving me that sweet smile again, she tilted her head side to side and tapped on the wall. A ladder appeared. “Follow me,” she said again.

“Jenny, I want answers, and I want them now.”

“You’ll get them soon.”

“I’m not following you up that ladder until you answer my question as to what the hell am I doing here?”

She covered her ears and hollered, “Don’t be a potty mouth around children!”

“Okay,” I said,” I’m still not following you up that ladder.”

“Yes, you will,” she said pointing behind me.

I turned and saw the giant gold fish were climbing out of the pool. They had sprouted legs and were lumbering over to me.

“Okay you win,” I said.

She giggled and said, “Last one to the top’s a rotten egg.”

“I guess I’ll be the rotten egg,” I muttered under my breath. I let her get a few rungs up before I got on the ladder and seconds before the gold fish, or whatever they were now had reached me.

As we would climb, I would get closer to her and have to stop and let her get ahead again. This happened three times and then the rung my feet were on disappeared. Almost losing my grip when my fingers slipped, I stopped myself from falling by wrapping my arms around the sides of the ladder.

Amazing that little girl had all the boundless energy, like the Energizer Bunny, she kept going and going and going.

My breath and my strength were starting to give out that she got so far ahead and looked down at me, “Keep following me. You have to keep moving.”

How a six year old girl could physically outdo a 46 year old man, I couldn’t figure that one out. But oh well, with each rung disappearing at my feet, I didn’t really have any choice but to keep climbing.

Onward, up and up and finally we reached the top. She was sitting on a ledge, munching on a banana and humming Mary Had A Little Lamb. I looked down and saw nothing. Just another empty blackness. The floor of the place was nowhere to be seen.

“Maybe you could give me a banana?” I asked.

She smiled again and said, “Sorry but there was only one. You should have gotten up here before me.”

“What’s next then?” I asked

She pointed out across the ceiling and suddenly monkey bars fell.

“Let me guess,” I said, “the last one over is a rotten egg?”

She giggled and said, “No, this time a rotten potato.”

Leaping up she grabbed the first rung. Not wanting to see what would happen if I didn’t follow her I grabbed the first rung after she got four rungs ahead.

I tried to keep her at least four rungs ahead of me. Twenty rungs into our trip across the ceiling, my grip was starting to fail, and then, the run I was holding on started to fade. I swung to the next bar and gasping for breath I called out to her, “Jenny, how much further?”

“Not too far, not too far.”

The bar faded again, and I got to the next bar. The rate at which the bars I was holding on were fading and disappearing grew faster.

“Jenny, please!” I yelled. “Get me to the end.”

“We’re almost there,” she yelled back.

Almost on cue an opening like a trap door in the wall appeared with a bright light emanating from it.

“See what I told you?” she called back.

From where I was it was almost a hundred feet away. Was I going to make it. My strength was fading as I saw her make the final leap into the trap door in the wall.

It was everything I could do to keep my strength up and get to the last rung. I swung my legs back and forth and just as the bar faded and disappeared I got my leap in. Somersaulting through air I hit the wall just above the trap door and started sliding down.

One last desperate grab and I got hold of the bottom of the door. Jenny peaked her head out and smiled, “What are you waiting for?”

“Can you give me a hand?” I asked gasping for breath.

“Sorry, not allowed to do that,” she giggled.

“That didn’t stop you forty years ago.”

“And look what it got me.”

I grunted and let out a yell, like a power lifter putting his world record weight over his head and got myself up to where my shoulders were above the opening. Then I forced myself in with my waist on the threshold of the door.

Jenny had slid a few feet away from me. “Come along.”

With a heavy lump I got my whole body through the door and then, I was sliding down towards the bright light. “What next, Jenny?” I called out. But she was already through to the other side.

I slid out into a cavern falling flat on my face. When I looked up, Jenny was two feet away from me, smiling as usual. And behind her were these shockingly beautiful gates made of pearl. In front of the gates a man was seated at a marble desk, writing on a stone tablet with a feather pen.

“Get up,” Jenny said to me.

I did as she said, and she took my hand and brought me over to the man at the desk.

“Saint Peter,” she said. “I would like you to meet Dylan. We were friends until I died at the age of six.”

“I know that, Jenny, now run along and play with the other children.”

I stood there slack jawed as Saint Peter shook my hand.

“You mean…” I started.

“Yes, Dylan, you’re dead.”

“What happened?”

“You over did it at the gym and had a massive stroke.”

He went on to explain everything. It now made perfect sense. The headache was from the stroke. The beeping was from the heart rate monitors and all the other stuff in the ambulance and the hospital. Then the electric shocks from the defibrillator, and the sawing feeling in my chest was when they were cutting me open for organ donation.

“We put you through a series of tests to see if you could make it to heaven,” Saint Peter said. “And you have.”

“And why use Jenny?”

He shrugged and said, “We needed someone you would trust as a guide.”

I didn’t know whether to be thankful or cry. I only wished I could give my family that last goodbye and tell them I love them.

fiction
Ian Worrall
Ian Worrall
Read next: I See You
Ian Worrall

Ian Worrall is a lifelong fan of the Edmonton Oilers and one of the biggest fans of Iron Maiden in the world. Two novels, No Remorse No Regret and No Rest For The Vengeful, are available on Amazon

https://ckk.ai/NRNR

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