Exploring the attic of your dead grandmother’s old house, you find 30 pieces of candy that when eaten, transports your conciousness to another, magical world (for 3 days in theirs and 3 minutes in ours). You find the love of your life in this world, but the candies are running out…
She could punch through stone and she could cut through bone. Her hair was tossed back, cut short, and bleached the color of molding wheat.
When she walked in the arena, the crowd screamed her name. When she walked by the prisoners, they swore at her.
There was no soul behind her eyes, only the barest flicker of displeasure that she continued to exist. That nihilistic urge to quench herself, even now I can think of it.
She paused outside of my cage and stared through the narrow slits.
“And what is your crime?” asked she, her eyes slowly adjusting into slits to look over me.
I slid further into the corner. There wasn’t much point in protesting. “Illegal immigration,” I said, opening my hands.
“And they threw you here?” asked she. “Are you not angry, talking to your executioner?”
I didn’t want her eyes on me anymore. I already knew what was going to happen in three days.
But the words came from my mouth unbidden. “Seems like you’re talking to yours, doesn’t it?”
Her eyebrow quirked.
“The others have been fighting you almost constantly,” I pointed out. “One day, you’re going to slip up and they’ll slice you open.”
“I’m the champion,” she pointed out, just as dryly. “It’s my job to kill enemies of the empire. Call it an occupational hazard.”
“With an arm tied behind your back?”
“It’s sporting that way,” She said. “Would you have the spectators be bored of the criminal proceedings of this nation?”
Honestly, I’d rather be home right now, choking on dust in an attic, but the shackles they’d tied around my wrists gave me no such thing.
“You’re right,” I said. I took a shimmy back away from the bars, just in case she lashed out. “It might lower civic engagement.”
She snorted dismissively. “So why do you not swear at me?”
Because the other criminals I had been placed with were vile. They whispered of the deeds they’d done, and what they’d do if they ever got out.
Compared to them, a quick death at the hands of the arena champion would be gracious.
The other softer criminals had already been taken out. For those who didn’t fight, death came swiftly, mercifully.
I looked down at the hands I was borrowing and prayed that the soul I’d shunted out would find peace wherever it was being sent.
“Maybe I’m just stupid,” I said. Many had said that.
She laughed. “Your death will be remarkably swift. I can smell your fears and regrets.”
I swallowed, hard.
Later that day, they gave me a half rare steak and demanded I eat it. Red juices were still trickling down my chin as they marched me over to the arena.
True to her word, she made it swift. I spent three hours as a corpse, soul trapped in perforated meat, unable to feel or see the world and then abruptly I was back in the attic.
I was back.
I was back. That meant… My fingers ground together around the candies still stuck there.
I breathed, hissing air through my teeth, and tasted steak.
Felt the pain in my stomach where she’d torn out my heart and stomped on it for the audience.
Remembered the flicker in her eyes. She wasn’t looking at me when I died, she was looking at the man ordering it all.
The rest of the candies tumbled out of my hands and onto the ground, and I spent a few hours up in the burning sweltering attic pretending that I didn’t want to know what would happen if I took another one.
I had time. Nobody was going to come looking for me. The house hadn’t been disturbed in five years, dust caked every surface like thick icing and my parents wouldn’t be worried for another few months.
Hadn’t made it into school. Call it suicidal, call it nihilistic glee. Call it the fact that nobody would miss me for a few days.
Call it feeling something for the first time in months, even if it was raw terror and nausea, but I wanted to know what was happening.
I wanted to know what was going on there, why it had thrown me into the body of a prisoner, only to die. Was there any logic, any reasoning behind it? Simply random chance?
And if I came back each time… there wasn’t really a reason not to go again.
I needed to figure out what had happened to my grandmother.
I wanted to figure out why I’d died.
Call me a scientist.
So I took another candy.
I was back in the arena. Not as a murder victim, but as a spectator. My eyes flicked around. Everyone was screaming, crying out in victory or booing the bandit they threw in. He drew a dagger out of his boot, and She prowled forward, wielding a wagon wheel like a shield.
“You can’t live like this forever,” The bandit hissed.
“Try me,” she laughed. He took a swing.
She moved faster, bending his wrist back until it popped, and then she struck.
His head exploded into viscera and gore and the knife twisted away into the muck and decay that littered the killing grounds.
My heart was already pounding because I recognized one of the bodies below as my own. Saw the eyes staring up sightless, and the collapsed chest, organs removed for later haruspexy. She was still bloodied, covered in it.
Three days this time.
I had three days here. Last time, it had taken me three days to come back. I could still taste the sweet across my tongue.
The world spoke my language, and I had questions that needed answering.
and maybe, reflected in the meaninglessness and violence of this world, I could find something worth saving.
Maybe I could find something worth saving in me.
The arena slowly drained, and I went with it. Sights to see. Histories to learn.
and above all, I wanted to know about Her.