A fountain of lava spewed from the volcano, lighting up the night sky in a burst of crimson light. Chunks of debris rained down around us like flaming hail. Pumice floated to the ground, covering it with a white fluffy layer. We were sitting on a hill overlooking the volcano, the landscape around us a burning and hazardous field of rocks.
Suddenly, I heard a deeper rumble from the earth under us. A crack in the stone appeared and the ground began to shake, a fissure forming in the ground. It widened steadily, sucking in everything it could. I couldn’t see the bottom. The crack continued to open. It was almost under us. We tried to run, to avoid the inevitable, but it was closing the distance quickly. Oscar and Kendra had been slower than me, and they had fallen in. Within seconds, I too had been devoured by the earth.
When I awoke, I found myself in a small cave. Light was coming in from a narrow crack in the rock above, where we had fallen in. My friends were lying on the floor next to me. I crawled over to them, checking their pulses. They were alive, even though Oscar’s body was badly bruised with innumerable cuts on his arms, legs, and face. Kendra had been injured even before we fell into the giant fissure, and now it was even worse. Her left arm was bent at an unnatural angle and her pulse was irregular. For now, we were alive. I breathed a sigh of relief. I slumped to the cave floor, exhausted even though I had just been asleep. It was just this morning! Or was it afternoon? I had no idea how long I had been unconscious. The more important thing was getting us out of here and getting some food and water. I breathed heavily. This was going to be interesting.
I pulled myself up, using the cave wall as a handhold. I let out a cry of pain. When I had fallen into this cave, my leg must have hit first. I sat back down on the damp floor, looking around for something that might help make a splint for my leg. Some of our stuff had fallen in as well, but the items didn’t look very useful.
“Is anybody there?” I asked. I heard a groan from behind me, and someone spoke.
I turned around, finding that Kendra was conscious. “Kendra! How are you?”
“I ache all over. Any idea how far we are from our campsite? We need to get back there.”
That was Kendra, all right. “Listen, Kendra, we’re going to get out of here. Just give me some time to figure it out.”
Kendra nodded skeptically. “Yeah, right. Because your plans have definitely worked before.”
I sighed and crawled over to the pile of junk sitting in the middle of the cave. By the faint light coming through the cave ceiling, I saw a flashlight sitting upon the pile of debris. This looked like the one in my backpack before we fell in this cave. Hopefully it still works, I thought to myself. I pressed the power button and the beat-up flashlight flickered to life. I shone it around and saw that the cave was much larger than I had thought before.
“I never thought it would be this big,” she gasped.
“Neither did I,” I replied. Scanning the rest of the pile, I found a sturdy foam roll that I used to put under my sleeping bag. I wrapped it around my broken leg and used the rope in my backpack to tie it together as a makeshift splint. Once that was done, I walked over to Oscar to see how he was doing. I tapped him on the arm and he groaned. “Are you hurt?” I asked.
“Yep,” he responded. “I hurt my left wrist when we fell. It’s a good thing I’m right-handed. Nothing more, though. I’m with Kendra on this. Simon, we should find a way to the surface.”
We walked the circumference of the cave and only found one exit, an out-of-place door that was made of steel. On the door was a dilapidated sign that may have once been legible. I tried to push the door open and failed. I tried again, this time getting a running start and hitting it with my shoulder. It opened with a loud creak. We walked inside carefully, not sure what to expect. The walls were made of a smooth white stone that did not look familiar to me. In seemingly random places, though, the siding changed to a copper plating that reflected our images throughout the corridor. This seemed like the only way out.
As I looked around the next room, I spotted a table with broken equipment that looked like it hadn’t been touched for decades. Dust swirled up from the floor around my feet like a fog machine. I coughed, stopping my slow pace. Although I did not know why, I tried to stifle my cough. This place seemed like there shouldn’t be any disturbances. We slowly crept through the long corridor. Every so often I stopped to look around, seeing no sign of any life. Battered electronics lined the walls, some of it still blinking and beeping.
Suddenly, large white lights flashed on, making me recoil and squint. “Bright! Bright!” screamed Kendra. The sound of many motors whining filled the air. The floor under our feet shifted, revealing a pit of sizzling liquid. On the wall to the left of us, the white paneling moved to the sides and an illuminated sign crackling with energy emerged that read: Floor 1. Below it, in smaller print, I read aloud:
“There are various hazards throughout the room: The liquid sizzling behind you is acutely toxic, and in a room beyond you are lethal spheres comprised purely of compressed energy. Your objective is to survive through the chamber to get to the elevator at the far end of the many rooms and you will be let out to the surface. Good luck.” I looked away from the sign. Behind us, the toxic pit had increased in size and was now too far across to jump over and return to the cave.
“There’s no going back, guys,” I said to Oscar and Kendra. “The pit is too large. I guess we’ll just have to do whatever this creepy place wants us to do. It probably even had sensors that used the volcano’s tremors to trap us here.”
“I refuse!” shouted Kendra, taking a running start at the wall in front of us.. “I will not be trapped by a few stupid signs saying we can’t go back!” She ran toward it, but before she collided with the wall, an invisible barrier activated, creating a wall of intense, concentrated flame. She jumped back in alarm, but not before she was horribly burned. The skin of her right arm, which had been the first part of her to touch the fire, was dry, flaky and blackened because it had been charred so badly. We rushed over to her, checking her pulse to make sure she was still alive.
“With that much of a burn, if she is alive, she won’t be in a very good condition to get through this horrible place,” I told Oscar worriedly.
“We shouldn’t just leave her here!”
“We have to, Simon, or none of us will make it to the surface!”
Kendra’s arm quivered, and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “What are you doing just sitting there like idiots?” she said weakly. “Get out of here, because I would only hold you back,” she said defiantly, but her voice cracked nonetheless. “I’ll just be in your way. Go!” She leaned against the wall, closing her eyes and slipping into unconsciousness.
I saw that Kendra had been hit by an invisible barrier in the middle of the walkway, but not on the far sides. I put my back to the wall and moved slowly forward. After I had successfully avoided it, I turned and walked toward the next room with Oscar, trying not to look back.
The next room looked exactly like the first, except for the small brown table in the back corner. We walked over to it cautiously, wary to not set off any hidden traps. On it rested two small wooden objects that resembled ping-pong paddles. The sides were coated in a hard layer of metal and the grip was of a rubber that was very easy to hold. I picked one up and Oscar did the same. Something new appeared out of thin air-a sphere, glowing with intense heat and crackling with energy. It looked to be about the size of a tennis ball and it was hovering six feet above the floor in the exact center of the room. A sign emerged from the wall in a similar fashion to the sign that had told us about the hazards. In a small, peeling print, it read: Only one shall escape victorious. Only one shall escape alive.
“Do you think they want us to kill each other?” I asked Oscar, but he didn’t respond. His eyes had gained some strange shade in the irises, like his eyes had gone in the shade but no other part of him had. He was staring at me intently, gripping his ping-pong paddle firmly, his knuckles turning white. I took my paddle, my adrenaline rising. I was unnerved by Oscar’s quick change to ferocity. “Oscar?”
“What?” he asked with a snarl. Just as quickly, he launched himself at the sphere of energy, making a loud crack as his paddle collided with it firmly. My reflexes kicking in, I dove under the table next to me as the sphere charred the spot where I had just been.
“Oscar! What is wrong with you? You could have killed me!”
“I know. Whoops.”
As it came back to him, he swatted it again in my direction. I rolled out from under the table, this time so close that I could feel the heat of the blast char my neck hairs. The table under which I was hiding exploded, some of the shrapnel grazing my left arm. I messed up my recovery from the roll, landing hard on my back. I let out a cry of pain and collapsed to the floor on my back.
“Oscar! What are you thinking?”
“That I’m going to kill you. What fun, isn’t it?”
A robotic voice spoke in my head. He’s mine now. I have control of him, and he’s going to kill you.
“NO!” I concentrated, trying to rid the voice from my brain. The voice cried in pain and Oscar’s eyes lost their strange shade.
“What happened?” He looked confused. Just as suddenly, he went back into his hypnotized mode. As the ball bounced back to him, he swung his paddle forcefully, sending it rocketing across the room. I sidestepped it, but the orb grazed my arm and I yelled in agony. It burned, but I was not giving up yet. I regained my balance and some of my composure. Suddenly, something I had not anticipated happened. Oscar began rushing at me like a linebacker. He tackled me and I felt the air rush out of my lungs as I landed against the cold white floor. As I gasped for breath, Oscar took control of the energy orb and balanced it on his ping-pong paddle with surprising coordination. Something must be possessing him, because the Oscar I knew was certainly not that talented at feats of physical ability. He knelt to my side with one knee on my chest.
“Oscar, I know you’re better than this! Get a grip!”
He slowly began tilting his paddle, the ball rolling to the side. In seconds it would fall off onto my chest and that would mean the end of me.
“Stop!” I said it so loudly it even startled me. I guess it was the adrenaline coursing through me. I noticed that for some reason, Oscar seemed to be concentrating very hard. Sweat was dripping down his face and his arms were shaking. He clenched his fists and leveled out the paddle. Gradually, the red glow subsided from his eyes. He stood up and walked over to the center of the room and held up his paddle, where the orb of energy floated back to its original spot, suspended about six feet above the ground. A small metal robot-bug crawled off his neck and onto the floor, where he angrily stomped it with the heel of his shoe until it was nothing more than scraps.
He turned in my direction. “I’m really sorry. That thing was turning my own brain against me.”
“It’s okay, Oscar. I know it wasn’t your fault. When we were playing ping-pong to the death, I heard a distinct voice in my head. It may have been the same thing that mind-controlled you. Let’s go.” I stood up and we walked to the next room.
When I opened the door and peeked inside, I was amazed by the vastness of the room. It may have been around forty feet long, with a ceiling that appeared to be fifteen feet high. Another unique aspect of this room was the fact that the only wall paneling here was the simple white panel, unlike the mixture of white panel and copper plating found in the other rooms we had seen in this strange place. I looked across the room and noticed an exit at the opposite end of the room.
“Come on,” I told Oscar. “Let’s go.”
“It just seems too easy,” he told me. “Isn’t there a catch?”
“No,” I replied. “Just come on.”
There was indeed a catch. As we were walking toward the exit, a hatch popped open in the floor a few paces in front of us. Inside, I saw two devices that looked like tablets. I picked one up and the screen flickered on. It showed a detailed image of the room we were in, as well as two dots. One was green and the other was red. I tried tapping them. Nothing happened. I tried swiping my finger across them. Again, nothing happened. Finally, Oscar took the tablet out of my hands and tried dragging the dot to a different point on the room. As soon as he took his finger off the screen, he fell to the ground right in front of the exit. Above Oscar, an open blue door had appeared on the ceiling. I ran over to him and looked at the screen. He had moved the green dot to the exact location at which the door was.
“It must be some kind of teleporter,” he said excitedly. “Whichever door you go through, you come out the other one.” He stood up and began eagerly testing the capabilities of the device, randomly opening door-portals.
I dashed to the cubby with the tablets and started practicing with the tablet for a while.Oscar teleported to me and I jumped back. “I’m still adjusting to this new principle of teleportation,” I told him, laughing. “Let’s keep going.”
“Yep.” As we neared the elevator, it disappeared from sight, reappearing ten feet higher.
“How are we gonna get up there?” Oscar asked me, shocked.
“I think I know how. Have you figured out that when you go through the doors, your momentum carries through?” He shook his head. “Well, I’m thinking that if we open a portal on the wall opposite the elevator, close to the ceiling, then make a door-portal on the floor that we can jump in, we’ll come out the high portal. then, we can measure how far we go with just that momentum. We’ll make a portal right at that spot, so when we go in that wall portal, we will just gain momentum. We’ll repeat the process until we can gain enough momentum that when we go through the cloud on the wall, we will be flung to the elevator.”
“Why can’t we just teleport inside the elevator?”
“Because it doesn’t appear on the tablet, so we can’t drag any of the dots to it. Whoever designed this kept that in mind.
“Ok, we’ll try your plan. If it doesn’t work, we’ll find out soon.”
We tried it out, first me going through the clouds and Oscar marking the spots to which I should drag the next dot. It was a challenge, but eventually I managed to jump to the elevator platform. In the process, I had received a bruised kneecap, a sore thumb, and wounded pride. We had used the ping-pong paddles from the last room to mark the intervals where we should change the location of our red clouds.
“C’mon!” I called encouragingly to Oscar. “It’s actually fun. Just don’t overthink it.”
“Okay, it’s just weird thinking about being flung across a room.” He worked up his courage and jumped. With the skill of someone who has exercised his thumbs extensively on a TV remote, he moved the dots on the screen around to launch himself further toward the elevator. After three different jumps, he got close enough that I could reach his wrist to pull him up. We coughed and wheezed from the dank air and the strain, but I managed to pull him up.
“Thanks, Simon,” Oscar told me in between breaths.
“No problemo,” I responded.
Together, we walked into the elevator. I pressed the up button and I felt the cable jerk as it started up. As the doors opened, we saw a staircase leading to a forest. The sun was shining brightly as it began to lower beneath the horizon, illuminating the same volcano that we had been watching as this whole mess was just beginning. I breathed a sigh of relief and we started running up the grand staircase toward our campsite.