Phantasmagoria

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Up, Up, And Away

''Nice to see you made it,'' I hear an Irish-accented girl say. I spin around in my hot air balloon basket and see a little ginger-haired and freckle-faced girl has joined me. She's wearing a light green jumper, denim jeans and silver and white sneakers, and her hair is tied back in a pony tail.

''Who...are you?'' I ask her.

''Cara Flynn,'' she answers as she extends her hand to be shaken. I shake it and wait for her to continue.

''I'm the gate keeper,'' she announces. The gate keeper?

''Dimple Pradesh is the gate keeper,'' I say back to her.

''There's more than one you know,'' she responds with a smile.

''More than one gate keeper?'' I ask more to myself than to her.

''Yep. Dimple's on a break now, so I've taken over. I'm to ensure you have a safe journey to the next level,'' Cara explains.

''OK. Will Dimple be coming back?'' I inquire.

''Oh, you tired of me already?'' Cara says with a mocking angry look, putting her hands on her hips.

''No...no, that's not what I meant. I mean, will she be a gate keeper for other levels, or will it be you from now on?'' I ask her, clarifying myself.

''Depends,'' Cara answers.

''Depends on what?'' I ask.

''On what Diana says. She's the one that allows who to be what in this game,'' Cara says.

''Alrighty then,'' I say aloud. I sigh outwardly as I look around the scenery. The backwards snow and sandy desert has disappeared, and I'm treated to a beautiful orange sunset extending across the whole...green sky. The ground has now become what looks like...water.

''Saya says you've been awarded 800 points,'' Cara says to me.

''Really? Wow, that's good,'' I say to her. Saya has given me 800 points? I didn't think I was that good. I mean, I nearly got knocked out of that level...three times. Why award me such a high amount? And I wonder who got 900 and 1000? Did Vaughan get the highest? Or was it Pete? Or even Drew? I wonder how many participants are left as well.

''5 participants are left in the game,'' Cara says. Read my mind again, huh?

''And what place am I?'' I ask her for confirmation.

''Currently 4th,'' Cara says.

''4th? I was 3rd before,'' I say to her. I dropped lower?

''It's because everyone's scores have been calculated. You got 200 in the first level, 1000 in the second level and 800 in the third level. So you're place in the leader board, adding up all you scores together, and those of others, has left you in fourth place. Remember, only 5 participants remain, including yourself,'' Cara explains. Oh, I see. My first level score has set me back.

''So we're on to level 4 now,'' I say aloud. I can't believe I've survived this far. I should be out by now, but I've survived. I think I've got more confidence now. But this game is still too unpredictable. I had three close shaves in the last level. I could even be in worse situations than the last one. Imagine something worse than the Geists...

''Oh yeah, did you see a strange person behind the Geists in the last level?'' I ask her. I'm not sure if she saw it at all, or could it have been my imagination.

''What did he look like?'' Cara asks me as she leans over the basket and looks towards the ground.

''He looked like- wait, how did you know the person was a man?'' I respond as I turn to look at her. I never mentioned the person was a 'he'. So she does know about it...

''I know what you're talking about,'' Cara answers.

''So then...who is he?'' I broach her for more information.

''That...is classified. Until the Information keeper says I can tell you,'' Cara replies. Great. Until the Information keeper says so.

''Is she the next level keeper?'' I ask Cara.

''She will have to let you know, I'm afraid. She might be, or she might not be,'' Cara says as she shrugs her shoulders. She's not giving away much, is she?

''So this next level keeper...is she...nice?'' I ask her. God forbid she's anything like Saya. Or worse.

''She's the nicest, if you ask me. She's also one of the oldest of the level keepers,'' Cara reveals. Well, if Cara says she's nice, then she's nice. However, I think I might believe it more if it came from Dimple. I've sort of...become friends with Dimple. That's weird, I know, but she seems to understand me more than the others. It's like...she's the daughter I never had.

The daughter...I was supposed to have...

''We're coming up soon, so get ready,'' Cara announces as she looks down. Get ready? We're nearly there? That was quick! But how does she know we are coming up to the next level soon? What is she looking down at?

DFFT-DFFT-DFFT-DFFT-DFFT-DFFT-DFFT-DFFT-TANG!

I hear bullets being shot at us in rapid succession. I duck immediately and anticipate if and when it is going to stop.

''Who's shooting at us?!'' I yell to Cara. She kneels down and giggles profusely. Yep, she is just like Dimple. Laughing as we are getting shot at.

''Who do you think, dummy?'' Cara cusses me. The level keeper?

''I thought you said she was nice?'' I say back to her.

''Only when she wants to be,'' Cara says as she laughs. Is she bipolar or something? I think her version of nice is seriously warped.

DFFT-DFFT-DFFT-BHOOOSH!

I look up and see the balloon has been pierced by a few bullets.

''Oh no!'' I say as the balloon begins to deflate slowly. As I try to manoeuvre the balloon and try to fire it up some more, I see strange black objects dropping into the basket from the top of the balloon.

What is that?

One of the objects lands on my foot. I'm about to bend down and observe it more closely when I get a rude awakening. The object begins to move, unfurling itself. It begins to grow claws and a tail that curls in on itself. The rest of the objects in the basket begin to do the same.

''Scorpions...'' I mumble to myself as I realise what I thought were bullets are in fact...scorpions.

''Time to go!'' Cara says as I find her standing on the edge of the basket, holding onto a part of the balloon.

''Go where?'' I ask her. Instead of a reply, though, Cara smiles and leaps off from the basket to the rapid waters beneath. I gasp as I look down and see how close we are to the water. The balloon has been in rapid descent for a long time and now I have just seen that I am a few metres away from the water.

''Why do I always find myself falling?'' I say to myself as I see that I am going to crash. I look up at the balloon, which has deflated to the point that it's about to come over me. The scorpions haven't attacked me, thank God, but I'm worried they still will. I should get out before I crash.

As I climb onto the edge of the basket, I catch a glimpse of something in front of me. I see a brunette-haired woman in a dark red military trench coat hovering over the water with her weapon that she's been firing at me. It looks like a...howitzer.

A machine gun. No wonder the gunfire was rapid. No way I could escape that. But as I come slightly closer, I can see there's something wrong with her face. No, her eyes.

Oh, wonderful.

''She's a Never,'' I say aloud. Why is it always me?

No, Nash, don't focus on her. I've got to pay attention to what I've got to do. I see I have a few seconds left before I crash. So I jump into the air, and dive into the water before I hear the extremely loud noise that comes when the defeated hot air balloon impacts with the water.

SPLASH!

Water becomes my friend as I enter it and swim. I gasp for air as soon as I come up and I look back to see the hot air balloon burst into flames and gradually sink beneath the water. I turn to see the female Never still standing there with her Howitzer.

''The Challenge will begin in 5...'' I hear a female voice announce suddenly.

Wait, what? It's starting already?

''4,'' she continues. What's the challenge?

''3,'' she goes on.

''Hey, what's the challenge?!'' I yell to the Never.

''2,'' the voice carries on. The Never gives me a smirk. Then she puts her finger over her mouth as if to silence me.

''1,'' the voice says.

What do I do?

What do I do?!

''Hahahhahahahahahahah,'' I hear a girl laughing. I spin around in the water to see where it is coming from, and stop when I am confronted by a girl sitting cross-legged in the air above me. She's a black girl, wearing a yellow top and white and blue dyed leggings. She has no shoes on, and I can see her hair coming down at the back. She has her hair in 3 large corn rows, and she's holding her stomach from the laughter.

''What's so funny?'' I ask her while I try to keep my head above water.

''You! You panicked! You thought the challenge was startin'! Ahahhahhaha!'' the girl says while chuckling like mad. She has a Caribbean accent, possibly Jamaican or Saint Lucian.

''So...it hasn't started?'' I ask her. I look around to see if I can see a countdown timer, but I can't see one.

''No, of course not! I was jus' playin' wit you man,'' the girl says.

''That...was a joke,'' I say to myself.

''The challenge starts in 5,'' the girl says. Her voice...sounded like the woman who announced the countdown timer.

She...was the voice...

Oh.

I just figured out who she is.

''The Speech keeper,'' I say as I look at her. The girl stops laughing and looks at me with a sly smile.

''Amber Brown, pleasure to meet you,'' she introduces herself as she sits forward. Yeah, sure you are. But I don't think I have been pleasured to have met you. I think I'm going to hate this level.

''I know you're going to love this level!'' she says excitedly.

Oh boy.

Here we go again.


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