Welcome to Wonderfall

the part in which our hero faces the bear test

        The holoroom was completely dark as the platform rose through the hole in the floor. Connor used to love the simulation room tests, but he had grown to despise them, mostly because they were so unpredictable, but also because he failed in the holoroom a lot. His ego had been bruised more times than he could remember and he was beginning to detest every simulation, though he still couldn’t help the almost morbid curiosity he had in wanting to know what was next. And as he stood in the dark, wondering what surprise awaited him, he felt the all-too-familiar twist of anxiety in his shoulders while he waited.
        Just then, another hole in the floor opened twenty feet away from him, another figure rising into the room. Connor froze. It was the first time he had ever had someone else with him in the holoroom and for a moment, he wondered if the person might actually be just another hologram—a part of the program.
        As the lights came up, he immediately recognized the long blond ponytail and longer legs of the girl he had raced on his first day—the same girl who had beaten him. She glanced at him, her expression falling slightly as she looked from him to the rest of the room. The only other thing in the room as far as Connor could tell, was a tall, slender box, maybe about six feet in height and three feet square at the base. It was silver, was outfitted with a door, and looked a lot like the refrigerator he had in his apartment.
        “Elise,” Connor said, noticing the feathery native grass appearing under their feet, then the blue sky as it appeared overhead, and in less than a second they stood in plains as far as the eye could see.
        “Hey,” she replied without giving him even another instant of attention as she whirled in her spot taking in everything. A forest appeared off to Connor’s left, then the shimmer of a glass barrier appeared between them and the forest about fifteen feet away. But as soon as it popped into view, an enormous hairy beast charged out of the trees toward them.
        Connor stumbled back a step, quickly recognizing the beast as a bear and in the second it took for it to cross the grass, it stood on its back legs, smashing into the glass and causing the ground, the air—probably even the heavens as far as Connor knew—to shake. Connor fell back into the grass, stunned, trying to breathe. The beast roared, foam dripping from its jowls as it wrenched its head to the side.
        Connor jumped back up to his feet. At only fifteen feet away, but easily that tall, the bear was terrifying, but Connor huffed a sigh of relief in seeing that the glass had stopped the monster.
        He heard a click off to his side and looked just in time to see Elise step into the box, closing the door behind her.
        The bear roared again.
        Connor looked back at the beast.
        The bear smashed through the glass and charged.
        Connor screamed.
        The bear reared like a tidal wave over him.
        Connor closed his eyes.
        “You have been mauled by a bear.”
        Connor opened one eye and then the other, pulling his hands away from his face. He felt his bladder about to let go and it was all he could do to keep his groin clenched. The bear was gone, and standing not ten feet from him was a holoprojection of Artemis, looking straight at him, her white coat and pants giving her a heavenly glow, her smoldering stare burning a hole in his retinas. He heard a click to his side, turned and saw Elise emerge from her box, laughing and pointing at him.
        “What the hell was that?” Connor said looking back at Artemis.
        “Elise, one. Connor, zero,” Artemis said, vanishing instantly.
        Connor whipped his head around to see the girl’s expression change, her eyes bulging as they both realized that they were actually competing against one another.
        Another crash and Connor jerked his head to the side to see yet another bear smashing into the glass. He heard the click of the door, jerking his head back just in time to see Elise duck back inside the box.
        Connor panicked. “Wait!” he screamed, launching himself toward the box.
        Another roar and he looked to his side to see the bear coming through the glass again, charging straight for him.
        “Let me in!” he screamed, slapping the box and then he screamed again as the bear was on him.
        “You have been mauled by a bear,” Artemis said over the intercom this time, obviously directing her comment to Connor alone, again.
        “Are you kidding me?” Connor shouted at the sky, only to hear the snickering laugh of Elise inside the safety of her box.
        “Elise, two. Connor, zero,” Artemis said, updating the score.
        “Looks like I’m going to beat you again, Connor,” Elise taunted from inside. Connor’s heart raced as he realized he had already lost once to the blond on the track. Feeling like he couldn’t afford to lose again, he slapped the metal with his hand, sending a stinging sensation through his hand.
        “Please return to your starting position,” Artemis said.
        “Not a chance!” Connor shouted at the sky, stomping his foot for effect.
        Another crash and Connor knew what was coming. He looked to his left, saw the bear, heard the second crash, and hung his head.
        “You have been mauled by a bear.”
        Connor shuffled his way through the grass back to his spot, but as soon as he got there, he had an idea.
        “Elise, three. Connor, zero.”
        In his peripheral vision, he saw Elise step out of the box and no sooner had she turned to look at the forest than Connor bolted toward her.
        It took only a second for her to see him and she whirled around.
        The bear crashed into the glass and roared.
        Elise stepped into the box but before she could close the door, Connor was there, grabbing the edge of the door with his fingertips. “Ha!” he yelled. Elated, he jerked it open, saw the look of alarm on the girl’s face as he threw himself in the cramped box with her and slammed the door behind him, shrouding them in darkness.
        The bear crashed through the glass, and then Connor felt the sickening thud of the girl’s knee in his groin. He gasped, his stomach knotting and head caving in simultaneously. The door behind him clicked open. He felt Elise’s hand on his forehead as she shoved him backward through the door, and then fell helpless into the grass.
        “You have been incapacitated by your opponent, and you have been mauled by a bear.”
        Connor couldn’t think straight, clutching his groin and rolling in the grass.
        “Elise, five. Connor, zero.”
        He couldn’t be certain, but he was pretty sure the score was three to zero after the last round. Apparently, being mugged in the crotch counted against him as well. He was in no position to complain, though—he couldn’t even breathe.
        “Please return to your starting positions.”
        Connor didn’t move.
        Crash. Roar. Crash.
        “You have been mauled by a bear.”
        Elise started laughing so hard that Connor was sure she was going to wet her pants.
        “Elise, six. Connor, zero.”
        “Come on, Elise,” he groaned.
        “This is the best game, ever!” she shouted back, obviously not to him in particular, but to everything with ears in the whole universe that would listen.
        “Please return to your starting positions.”
        Connor stumbled to his feet.
        He looked at the box.
        He started to climb up the side.
        “What are you doing tuber?” Elise shouted from inside, the box rocking under his weight.
        “I’m trying not to die,” Connor mumbled, still sick from the knee she had planted between his legs. And just as he got to the top, he looked to his left in time to see the enormous head of the raging bear at eye level. Though he knew by now it was just a hologram, and he had been desensitized to it a little bit, the sight of the snarling beast so close took him by surprise. He lost his footing and tumbled backwards to the earth, sending the box with Elise in it falling the other direction.
        Everything and everyone smashed into the ground.
        “You have been mauled by a bear,” Elise cackled through the walls of the metal box in perfect rhythm with Artemis, and then burst into a laughter Connor hoped might rupture her groin in sympathy with his own.
        “Elise, seven. Connor, zero. This concludes your testing for the day. Please exit the holoroom immediately.”
        Connor lay in the holograss.
        The box opened and Elise stood and stepped out. Leaning over him, she slapped his chest. “Good game, Connor … let me know if you want a rematch … my other knee could use a workout too.”
        Connor watched from the fetal position as the girl sauntered back to her platform, the holograms disappearing around them. She lowered through the floor, glancing at him over her shoulder and bursting into laughter again.
        Elise, two, Connor, zero, he thought as the girl disappeared from view, taking with her any hope he had that he might actually survive the summer.


  1. Susan Kopala says:

    Very intense! I want to smack Elise in her head haha

    1. trwoodman says:

      Thanks, Susan! That’s exactly the reaction I was going for. 🙂

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