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Drifter

By bradleyzimmer All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

A Short Story

Shari’s heart pounded. Where was her key? She couldn’t do anything today without that damned key.

She frantically searched left and right, under and over, in and out, but couldn’t find it anywhere. She opened cupboards and drawers and hurled their contents onto the floor of her tiny, one bedroom flat.

“Where is it?” She growled. “I don’t have time for this!”

Finally, rummaging through her latest pile of belongings, her fingers struck something cold and metallic. “Yes!” she said as her hand gripped tightly around the little iron key. “Yes yes yes!”

Still kneeling on the floor, Shari looked over her shoulder at the clock, vainly hoping to see its hands telling her anything other than “You’re late again, idiot.”

Sadly, that’s exactly what they said.

She leapt to her feet and exploded out her front door, not bothering to lock – or even close – it behind her.

Shari’s feet pounded down the pavement, as she weaved in and out of the bustling city crowds. “Sorry. Excuse me. Apologies. Whoopsie. Excuse me. Sorry. Coming through. Sorry again.”

In front of the university gates, she bowled into someone, sending both of them tangled and tumbling to the concrete. Her head hurt. “Ugh, sorry, sir, I – ” She looked up and noticed who she had run into. “Jameson!”

Jameson, lying underneath her, rubbed his chin where her forehead had obviously hit him quite hard. “Morning, Shari.” He groaned, as she clambered upright and helped him to his feet. “I see you’re just as late as I am today.”

At that, they both turned their heads toward the distinctly empty university grounds and the even more distinctly closed front door.

“Got your key?” He asked, as he gestured for Shari to lead the way through the gate.

“Yeah.” She opened her fist, where the key had been tightly clenched since she found it. “You?”

“You know it.” He said, tapping the buttoned-up front pocket of his coat. “I can’t believe it all comes down to this.”

They reached the door, Shari holding it open for Jameson, before they both slipped into into the dimly-lit, uninhabited corridor.

“Do you suppose we’re too late? That we might have, um, missed out?” Jameson asked, with more than a hint of fear in his voice, as they hurried toward the back of the building.

“They wouldn’t do that to us.” Shari said. Although, truthfully, she wasn’t sure about that. “Our whole future depends on today. The Trainers wouldn’t let twenty or so minutes get in the way of that.”

“I hope you’re right.” He looked at his watch. “And, just so you know, it’s actually closer to an hour.”

Jameson pushed open the double doors to the Wandering Hall, where about a dozen Cadets sat on the bleachers, consoling each other, their faces painted somber. Those ones must have failed.

One Cadet still stood before the trainers.

“Oh thank god.” Shari breathed a sigh of relief. They weren’t too late. Oh, they were the last ones there, by a longshot, but they weren’t too late.

“Miss Wilson. Mr. Carrick.” Trainer Grant said, as the pair approached. “You’re cutting it pretty close, don’t you think?”

“It’s called being fashionably late, sir.” Shari said with a smile.

The other Cadet, Parker, handed his key to Trainer Fisk who examined it, before passing it back and then jotting a few things down on her clipboard.

Parker took the key in hand and strutted to the red door behind the line of Trainers. How was he always so confident? Stupid, rich, annoying, snooty, charismatic Parker. Shari was pleased she wouldn’t have to deal with his cocky attitude anymore after today. He was nice to look at, though.

Parker placed his key into one of the red door’s many holes and turned it. Click. Click. Click.

He pulled the door open, and Shari could see a hint of bright blue sky, and green – probably hills – over his shoulder. There was a lot of yelling and what sounded like explosions. Parker hesitated, then stepped through the doorway without looking back. It shut behind him and the room went quiet again.

“Ahem.” Jameson coughed. “Ladies first.” He said, stepping out of the way to let Shari approach the Trainers before him.

“Gee, thanks. And whoever said chivalry was dead?” She stepped forward cautiously. Shari hadn’t actually considered what would be behind the door when it was her turn to open it. What did Parker just walk into? Was it a warzone? God only knows there were enough of those in the System right now.

“Shari Wilson.” Her reverie was interrupted by Trainer Grant. “You have been a Cadet for eight years.”

How many times had he given this speech today? About a hundred and fifty probably. Poor guy.

“You have been schooled in medicine, warfare, diplomacy, languages, history, construction, and the sciences. You have studied under many of the finest Trainers the country has to offer.” He offered her an encouraging smile. “It’s time to see if that study has paid off.”

Trainer Garcia scoffed in doubt. Shari had never liked her, and she was quite sure the feeling was mutual. Garcia made a check on her clipboard. “You will be using the green door, Miss Wilson.”

“Oh thank you ever so much, Trainer Garcia.” Shari made a mock curtsy, resulting in an angry sneer from the Trainer. She knew she probably shouldn’t provoke the Trainers, but it’s not like they could do anything to her after today.

Grant continued. “Your future as a Drifter will be determined by this final assignment. When you open the green door, whatever lies beyond it will be because of who you are and what you need to become. If there is nothing there, then you are not a drifter, and you have failed.” He paused, either for dramatic effect, or because he was bored. “If you now hand over your key to Trainer Fisk for inspection, she can give it back to you and your assignment can begin.”

Shari turned to Fisk and gingerly handed over her key. It felt strange that something so small could be so important. That key was her future. Well, technically she was her future, as the ability to Drift was innate. The key was just, well, the key to her future. Or something like that. She never realised just how literal that was.

She took back her key and shuffled nervously toward the green door. Why was she given the green door? Did it make a difference? She had probably been told a thousand times since her enrollment at the university about the significance of each of the five doors, but damned if she could remember that now.

Shari’s hand trembled as she held her key up to the door. Did it also matter which keyhole she used? Argh, why hadn’t she paid more attention in class?

She looked back at Jameson who was giving her a big double thumbs-up coupled with a goofy grin. She snorted. The sound echoed through the hall, and most of the failed students’ heads swiveled in her direction. God, how embarrassing.

Jameson silently mouthed the word “Sorry”. Either that, or he was just saying “Shari” for no reason. He was weird, but Shari knew that if she never came back, she was going to miss him the most.

She turned back to the door. “Deep breath, Shari.” She mumbled. “You’re ready for this. You’re ready for this. You’re re-”

“Today, please, Miss Wilson!” Trainer Garcia’s shrill voice rang through the hall.

Shari gulped, closed her eyes, and put her key into a random hole. She turned it. Click. Click.

Click.

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