Amara Chowdhury ∙ 07/01/2020 ∙ Quarantine Issue Two
Jocks and nerds looking for extra credit, rejoice! During the next two weeks, you can get a guaranteed perfect grade in gym. However, there are risks to getting this insane profit. If you desire the challenge, go down to the basement and walk into the dean’s office. Any office will suffice, as long as the door is open and you can see a lady with a streak of white in her dark, curly hair and eyes that shine like crystals. You should be able to spot her immediately because she sits in a chair near the far wall, as seen from the door. Before stepping into the room, knock against the surface of the door with three quick taps. She will look up, give you a nod, then shift her gaze back to her computer. She has given you permission to enter. Walk in without this rite and her eyes will flash brighter than before, permanently blinding you. Walk into the room until you come to a green-tinted full-length locker, one that definitely wasn’t in the room before today. Don’t touch it, but instead, in the quietest voice you can manage, say, “Excuse me.” The office woman will hear you and turn her head like an owl in your direction. Ignore the cracking sound her neck makes. A polite smile will spread on her face. As quickly and concisely as possible, ask for extra credit for Physical Education. Do not stutter or pause, for when her mouth is open so wide, her teeth become as thin and sharp as needles.
If what you’ve said satisfied her, her mouth will close into a thin line. She will fish a tiny, silver key from the biggest key chain you’ve ever seen. Hold out your hand and she will drop the key into your palm. Use the key to open the locker, turning it to the right until you hear a faint click. At this point, you should pray to every deity you know of. There is no going back now. Hold your breath. When you enter, you don’t want anything to go up your nose, because when you walk through, you'll be submerged in water. Swim through or wait long enough and the water levels will lower. Hopefully, you can hold your breath that long.
Once you’ve survived the water, you’ll find yourself in a study. It will have a desk, chair, and a couple of bookcases. You’d think that there’d be a secret door behind the bookcases. You wouldn’t be wrong. But those doors lead to nowhere you want to end up, so ignore them and the leaden thuds against wood.
Push the desk to the side, and you will see a trapdoor. While it looks heavy and made of thick wood and metal, you should be able to lift it easily. Jump down before you have more regrets.
At the bottom, it will be completely dark. You may hear some whispering or similar noises, but you should focus on what you can see. After a few minutes, the darkness should lift, and you will see a running track ahead of you. It stretches on as far as you can see.
You will hear a deep voice as you get closer. It will get louder as you realize you can actually hear bits of what it’s saying. It’s speaking in every tongue, human or otherwise. But it’s always the same thing, no matter who you are: “...is a multistage aerobic capacity test that progressively gets more difficult…” You’ve done this before, so you’ve got it in the bag, right? Well, you shouldn’t be so proud. The rules down here are very different. “...begin in 30 seconds. Line up at the start…” Go on, get into a running position! It’s only so long before it starts. “...gets faster… after you hear this signal.” You hear a shrill beep echo, and you can hear some… distressed screeching? At this point, you don’t even know what’s real. “Remember to run in a straight line, and run as long as possible.” The audio is getting clearer, but it keeps getting interrupted by a very loud screech. It seems to be coming from the walls, which are so far away you can’t see them. The only thing that confirms their existence is an echo completely independent from the initial noises. “...your test is over. The test will begin on the word start. On your mark, get ready, start.” Run. Run as far as your legs can carry you. Then run more. Do not slow down. If you slow or stop, you’ll have bigger problems than a side stitch. The voice overhead announces numbers, one after another. For each number, there’s a screech or growl, followed by the noise of what you hope is nails on a chalkboard. At one or two, it’s bearable. The bigger the numbers get, the louder the sounds get.
Don’t turn back. There are things chasing you, and the consequence for looking at them would be far worse than stopping.
Your legs will feel like they’re on fire from the pain, but your worries are just beginning. As you continue, your path may thin out, or holes may appear. Just be careful you don’t fall off the edge, because if you thought the monstrosities behind you were terrible, it will be even worse to understand they’re just the minions.
Just run in a straight line, and don’t stop—even if you see malicious glints of light from the walls that seem to be closing in. Even when parts of the ceiling start falling right beside you. Even when the most ear-shattering scream comes from nearby, rattling you to your very core. Just run.
By the quadruple digits, you shouldn’t even be feeling pain, but rather deep-seated exhaustion and a sense of apathy. You’ll start to question everything, from why you went here, to this school, to why you came here, to this demonic realm. And none of your questions will have clear answers. You’re now on the last leg of your adventure and I have a confession: I lied to you. The track isn’t straight. It’s a circle, and you have been running the same path while those terrible things have been chasing you. The only way to leave this behind is to deny your way of thinking.
You do know why you came to this school: its name and prestige.
You do know why you came up to this challenge: you thought your grades were more valuable than your life.
Why do you even care about grades? That’s because good grades get you into a good college, which gets you a good job, which gets you a good family, which is supposed to bring you happiness.
Why do so many steps for something you can try to achieve right now? Think about what you love most in the world. Is it your parents? Your dog? Your crush? Your report cards, with every grade a gleaming A? Now dig deeper. Why? Because as soon as you can accept what truly drives you, the quicker you can leave this worn path of your mind with all its doubts and fears.
Once your mind is clear and tranquil, you’ll stop hearing those horrible noises. As the path continues, you can walk without fear. After you’ve caught your breath, though it may be eons later, you’ll come to a door. Open it and you’ll find yourself back in the study from before, but it will have changed. Maybe the windows are open, or maybe the room is cleaner. Maybe there are no books, more books, or art on the walls. It’s reflecting you, your goals, hopes, and aspirations. Hopefully, it’s a better place for you. Sit on the chair. You deserve a rest.
Look back at the door and you’ll see yourself, but more successful. Maybe you found love, wealth, or the meaning of happiness. Ask yourself the single question: “How can I achieve this?”
You will feel a great weight on your shoulders, the materialized weight of burdens you will face. Prove you are worthy by holding your head high and keeping a smile on your face. Slowly, surely, the pain will feel like less of a burden. Continue smiling and tell the image, “Thank you. You are dismissed.”
Now your challenge is over. Feel free to take a nap, or leaf through a relaxing book. This study contains all you could ever want, so stay as long as you like. Don’t worry about how much time passes.
Before you go, check the bottom left drawer on the desk, if you have not already. There should be a bag, emblazoned with the school logo. Pick it up, but do not open it here. Some things don’t translate well across dimensions.
Open the door and leave. You should be back in the dean’s office, at the end of the school day. Don’t worry; you won’t be marked absent if you missed any classes. And yes, time will revert if you started later than 3:35. The lady will not be there anymore, but the bag will still be in your hands.
Open it. It will be a gym lock, exactly like the kind that you already bought for gym class. At first glance, it’s totally normal, but the numbers go all the way to one hundred. The instructions will be clipped to the lock, but you’ll know how to work it without looking at it.
As long as you have the lock in your possession, you will be capable of amazing feats during gym class. You won’t need to exercise, but you’ll still be able to lift enough to get a 100 with no pain. After all, you’ve experienced the most ultimate pain.
This lock is object 1 of 6. What will you do now, with your extra time and unused effort?