The dust tickled Tonya’s nose. The damp smell of the underground chilled her as her hearing returned. There was shuffling of feet and the grunting of voices; one male and one female. Tonya’s vision was the last to join the party and slow to focus. The cave-like room possessed a muted glow from recessed lighting in the walls. A foot stomped her hand into the dirt, jolting her awake with a curse of pain.
Beth’s face was full of concentration as she risked a glance down at Tonya showing her split lip. “Get up!”
Tonya rolled away and brushed off the dirt from her face and eyes. “Where are we?”
“Still in the Race. We need to get past him.” Standing opposite them was Greg.
His unblinking stare penetrated deep into the women. The burning fire in Tonya oxidized white hot as the thought of Jerk-face winning the Race and laughing at her materialized. She prowled to the left while Beth kept her ground. Greg’s focus split between the two as Tonya sandwiched him between them.
“My brothers tried this on me when I was younger. It never works.” Greg said.
Beth’s words stabbed at him, “We’ll see.”
The women charged him with flying fists and kicks. He focused on Tonya as her kicks did little more than generate noise against his legs. Greg tried to keep Beth in view, but each time he did Tonya connected with a kick to his head. Beth landed a heel kick to the middle of his back throwing him forward into Tonya. He grasped at Tonya, but only managed a handful of air. Beth closed in, grabbing his wrist and spinning her body around it, desperate to lock in an arm-bar. She hung upside down, fighting for control of his arm while Tonya continued pounding his legs and ribs.
Greg’s arm trembled as his attention shifted to Tonya. He grabbed her ponytail after taking a kick to the thigh. Her feet left the ground as she yelled and flailed her legs at him. A loud pop resonated through the room when Beth locked out his elbow and blasted it past the normal range of motion, crashing it into her chest.
He screamed in pain and all three dropped to the ground in a heap.
Greg lay there powerless, lamenting over his arm as a still-born child.
Beth led Tonya deeper into the room as the air closed around them.
“What happened? How did you find me?” Tonya asked.
“Once we started, I fell behind trying to find the right rope to go down. Then the different rooms took me forever to get through. I didn’t know how far ahead everyone was until I found him carrying you over his shoulder. I managed to knock him down. We fought. He split my lip. And the rest you know.”
“That was a sweet arm-bar by the way.”
“I know, right. I’ve been doing mixed martial arts for years. I never did it that bad to anyone though. He’s going to hurt for a while after that. Oh, look. Do you see it?” A hole in the wall was the only visible way to go. Beth crawled in as Tonya took one last look at Greg still lying on the ground.
Ouch. This is getting tight. I hope I don’t get stuck. I’m glad Beth can’t see my big butt dragging the ceiling. This camera isn’t helping me any. I doubt anyone can see anything anyway.
The women contorted and twisted their way through the small tunnel with the only conversation being grunting and panting from the two.
Tonya bumped into Beth’s shoes. “What is it?”
“We’re at the next room.”
“Then go. I’m getting claustrophobic.”
Beth was slow to exit the tunnel. Light poured in as Beth stayed in a crouched position left of the tunnel as Tonya stuck her head out. The room was well lit and void of anything except a taught steel bridge spanning the length between the ledges. Danger writhed its way along the length of the bridge with its missing handrails and narrow footpath.
Standing on the other side was the man in the red jersey.
His face lit up when the two women stood and made eye contact with him. “Hello, ladies. Long time no see. I didn’t know if you would make it past Greg or not. I hoped you wouldn’t, but not all investments go the way you want them to.”
“Why are you hanging back? Why not go win the race?” Beth asked.
“New game plan. By the way, two people already beat you here. What? You look surprised. Turn around. See all those tunnels? They connect to different rooms of the Race, you just have to find them.”
“Where are they then?”
He stepped closer to the edge and peered into the darkness below. “One fell on their own. The other, I helped.” He held up his hands and shrugged. “Winning takes on many forms.”
Tonya spoke, “Then maybe you need to change tactics, because you haven’t won yet.”
“Yet.” His face darkened. “I’ll leave you to it then. I’m curious to see how it goes.” He backed up and leaned against the wall. “Have fun.”
Beth faced Tonya. “Let me go first.”
Tonya glared at the guy, “I don’t trust him.”
“Neither do I. But do you see another way across? I got this. Watch my lead and I’ll keep him busy when I get over.”
Beth approached the edge of the bridge. Two taught cables thicker than her arms held foot-long steel planks at regular intervals before disappearing into the wall sides. When her foot touched the first steel plank, green lasers webbed across the span. “What the…?” She looked to Tonya before continuing on, stepping over beams and crawling under others. She was halfway across and facing a green spider web of laser beams. “How am I suppose to get through?”
“Very carefully.” The man said.
“What happens if I touch one?”
“You don’t want to.”
“How did you get past them?”
“I didn’t step on the activator at the beginning.”
Beth stared at him. “You’re a real shithead, you know that?” The insult rolled off him.
She took a deep breath before bolting forward. When her body broke through the first beam, a mechanical whirring noise preceded the bridge tension slacking and bowing the middle.
“Beth! Hold on.” Tonya’s words were lost in the noise.
Beth managed a few steps before the plummeting of the bridge had her dangling by her fingers in between the planks as she sank with the bridge. The movement slowed and paused with the bottom of the bridge forty feet below. Another whirring noise sounded deep in the walls as it grew in intensity. A high-pitched, metal squeal brought the slack out of the bridge, snapping it taught and flinging Beth into the air. Tonya’s scream synced with Beth’s. Gravity accelerated her to the bridge and forced any air from her lungs. Her body bounced and came to a stop near the edge with her lower right side hanging over.
“Beth! Beth! Get up.” Her body shifted as the dangling weight dragged her off the surface and she fell to the depths, quiet and limp.
“NO!” Tonya watched as Beth disappeared.
The man pushed off the wall and came closer to the edge. “If she doesn’t land on her head, she should live.”
Tonya’s eyes only saw a blur of red where he stood. She clinched her eyes and jaw, “What’s down there?”
His voice was distant, “An airbag to catch people if they fall. All the pits are that way.” A hissing noise came from the bridge as it reset and the lasers vanished. “The first plank activates the lasers and you’ve seen what happens after that.”
“Why didn’t you warn her?”
“She wasn’t part of the deal. My orders now are to bring you to the end. Just you.” His voice was mute for several moments. “Step on the second plank.”
“What if I don’t? What if I choose to fall?”
“Then they’ll recover you and bring you to the end anyway. Just listen to me and I’ll get you across.”
I’m screwed no matter what I do.
Tonya hopped to the second plank and waited for something to happen.
“Now, jump over the third and fourth and you’re home free.”
“Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest.”
Then I still have a chance to save Jimmy. I just have to cross this bridge.
Tonya’s legs flexed and launched her over the two steps. The bridge remained taught and nothing else happened. At the middle, she looked down, -trying to see Beth- but the darkness concealed its possessions.
“Come on. They’re waiting on us.”
Her eyes snapped up. Her steps were slow as she divided her attention between her feet and the man. Tonya reached the end and transferred her weight to solid ground.
“Now do you trust me?” He asked with a lifted eyebrow.
“Ouch. I suppose I deserve that.”
The two walked through the wide opening into a tunnel split by light from the top to the bottom, each claiming a side.
Tonya broke the silence, “You got a name?”
“Does it matter?”
His steps stalled and his head dropped. “I think you’ll find out soon enough.”
TO BE CONTINUED…