‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

To Fight Fear


Jake and I reached the top of the staircase, stumbling our way onto level five. Jake said that he had already been up here, but the traps had been so heavy and so terrifying that they had forced him back down to level four again. That was not encouraging.

There was a huge light high above in the ceiling, stretching right across the Run. That at least gave us some vague idea of our orientation, but the fact that it was perfectly circular and symmetrical did not help much. Other than that, level five was not so different from any of the previous levels.

‘Which way?’ I asked. From here, we had the options of going left, right or straight ahead. ‘Do you recognise it?’

‘No,’ he said definitely. ‘I would recognise it if I was in the same place.’

‘Really?’ I asked, surprised. The Run looked the same all over to me; there had been no point during our time in here when I’d been certain that I’d already visited that place before.

‘The place I was in earlier had a bridge,’ Jake explained.

‘A bridge?' I didn’t usually see such specific obstacles in here—a bridge was unusual. The whole point of the Run, after all, was to be confusing. But then I remembered the day when I’d witnessed Jake’s minor fear of heights. Minor, yes, but fear was fear all the same.

So they were playing with our fears then? Well, that could be interesting.

But, as Jake headed straight ahead cautiously, and I followed, wincing in pain, I couldn’t help but think about it: what was I scared of, really? The Operation, of course, but I was already being threatened with that. Death, not as such. Sure, I didn’t like the thought of it, but I wouldn’t say I was truly scared of it. Pain, well that was the same: I didn’t exactly enjoy it, but I wouldn’t say it made me afraid.

My friends’ deaths...well, yes, the thought of that did scare me, but once again, I was already being threatened with worse—if Jake failed, he was in for the Operation. Death would be pleasant compared with the horrors of having part of his brain removed.

I didn’t really have any trivial fears that I could think of. I wasn’t scared of spiders, or heights, or the dark. The last few years of my life had been so consumed with fear of the Operation and the Institution that I hadn’t had time for so-called ‘ordinary’ fears. So what fear was I going to have to fight?

Without warning, the loudest scream that I had ever heard shot out of nothingness from behind me.

Instinctively, I spun round, crying out in pain as a burned bit of skin on my leg rubbed against my trousers, but other than that, there was silence. The scream was one that you only heard in the worst kinds of horror movies—female most likely, long, high-pitched, drawn out, absolutely agonised. A person would only make a noise like that if they were facing truly excruciating pain. The scream was so sickening that it chilled me right through to the core, making my blood freeze in horror.

And what was more, it had been so close. It had been like the woman emitting it had been standing just a few steps behind me. It couldn’t just be a projection; it was too realistic, surely.

Jake stared at me in horror.

‘What was that?’ he whispered in dread. How had they got that voice? Surely to even get a recording like that, the designers of the Run would have had to torture someone first. It was a disgusting, sickening thought.

It wasn’t a scream I recognised, though, and for that, I was grateful. If it had been the voice of one of my friends, I wasn’t sure I would have been able to bear it. I remembered one man who had been in the Run less than a year ago; he’d seemed weak right from the start, and we all knew he wasn’t going to make it out, but as soon as he got to the second level, they’d started playing a woman’s scream, and he absolutely went crazy. He started shouting out a name; Sarah; presumably the name of a girl he loved. We all assumed that the scream was her scream; a manipulation of her voice, and it sent the poor guy insane. He ended up having a complete breakdown, crying, hurting himself, stammering this poor girl’s name in helpless desperation, but the bastards who controlled the Run did not stop; they just kept playing Sarah’s scream, louder, more often, completely surrounding him. It was, without a doubt, the most disturbing thing I’d ever seen on TV. It was sick even for the Maze’s standards.

After the initial scream, nothing else happened, so, delicately, Jake and I continued on. I was paranoid. I was constantly alert. With every step, I expected some kind of trap to spring out. Every time I turned a corner, I imagined that my worst nightmare...whatever that was...would be lurking round the other side.

And for a while, nothing happened. Jake had told me how he’d been physically unable to continue through level five, and I could only assume that that had been because they wanted to drive him back down towards me. No doubt, it would make for interesting viewing if two best friends came face to face in the Run.

Just when I was beginning to lure myself into a false sense of security, the lights all went out.

It was about to begin.

The scream came again—even louder than before, so loud that it felt like it was right inside my head, and so much closer. I spun round, staggering backwards, and calling out Jake’s name.

‘Sim!’ he cried, and I could hear him staggering in the darkness. My physical pain momentarily forgotten, I focused on keeping my mental health intact.

The footsteps came back again, like they had done earlier. As I heard Jake begin moving towards me, more footsteps ran at me from the opposite direction. They were getting closer, and I instinctively lashed my hands out, fully expecting to make contact with something solid. But there was nothing. Nothing there. The footsteps were just artificial noises.

And then they were coming from the other direction too. They were coming from both directions at the same time.

‘Sim!’ Jake cried.

Sim!’ his voice echoed, a perfect copy of itself, from the other direction. It was such a perfect imitation of Jake’s that I turned, in the blackness, towards it.

‘Sim!’ It was coming from all directions now, repeated over and over again as though Jake uttering the word had set off a chain reaction. It came from in front, behind, my left, my right, even above me. It was all around, repeated thousands of times.

The footsteps got louder; they were not normal footsteps anymore. They were colossal, each one thundering down on the ground to make the floor physically shudder...or was that inside my head?

Something hot and clammy gripped my wrist. Whipping round, I made to lash out, unsure whether it was Jake or any other potential nightmare.

‘Jake?’ I asked.




It came from three different directions, one straight after the other, each a perfect likeness of the last. I used my free hand to feel what had gripped me; it seemed to be Jake. It had an arm and a shoulder, and it was breathing heavily.

‘Simeon,’ it said again.

‘Jake,’ I said, relieved that it was nothing else.

From the opposite direction, something grabbed me.

I screamed out loud, jerking my hand away, but it gripped tightly round my wrist like, well, like Jake’s hand would have done, only it was colder, and smoother, and didn’t feel quite like any human hand.

The lights flashed back on then; a flash of lightning; and I caught a glimpse of what was gripping me.

It looked like a reanimated skeleton.

The lights plunged us back into darkness again and I cried out, wrenching my hand out of Jake’s and kicking out with both my feet to get rid of the thing...whatever it was. The thing gripped tighter, tighter, and as the lights flashed again, I was staring straight into the empty sockets where its eyes should have been.

Jake screamed from behind me and I could only assume, as I heard a crashing sound, that he had also been gripped by one of the freakish things. I reached out for him, giving the skeleton the hardest kick yet. It released its grip from me, and I heard a loud clatter as it hopefully collapsed onto the metal ground.

I turned and ran blindly to where Jake should have been.

‘Jake!’ I called out. He seemed to have moved further away. I thought he was less than a metre behind me, but I swung my arms round and could feel only empty air.




My voice was perfectly and flawlessly duplicated over and over again, hundreds of times, coming from every possible direction.

‘Sim!’ His voice was repeated just as many times as mine, to the point where, every time either of us called out, it was like an entire choir of identical voices were calling it back to us.

And then the lights flashed back on. We were given a little more than a second in sudden brightness, and then they went dim again—dim, but not quite out completely. I staggered forwards, seeing two shadows wrestling in the gloom, and the lights began flickering on and off like crazy strobe lighting.

And then they came back on, just in time for Jake to wrench something off of him and stumble backwards, screaming. His back crashed into me and he blindly lashed out with both arms, swinging them round so that one caught me in the face, and then swearing loudly when he realised what he’d done.

‘What the hell were they?’ he gasped in horror, looking down at the two crumpled skeletons on the ground. I was too shocked to even speak. I’d seen living things, or fake living things, or non-living but moving things, or things that were somewhere in between living and dead in the Maze before, but never skeletons. That had to be a first. Of course, they couldn’t really have been reanimated corpses—they had to be some kind of robot—but that didn’t make them any less scary. We’d been attacked, something had grabbed out at me in the dark, and it put every one of my nerves on edge. I was ready to implode if I so much as saw a shadow. Martyr’s Run’s physical obstacles were painful and annoying and sometimes scary, but they were nothing, absolutely nothing, to the fear we were fighting. It was the human mind; it did crazy things in the dark, in the unknown. The screams weren’t real screams, the footsteps weren’t real footsteps, if we really tried hard enough, we could probably work out which were our own voices and which were computerised, but none of that seemed to matter. Inside the Run, it felt real. And that was what the designers had been counting on since the first ever episode.

I hadn’t even fully recovered—I had taken a few uneven, staggering steps towards Jake, when the tops of the walls began making a whirring sound.

The walls began closing in on us like they had done when we first met up, but faster this time. In a blind panic, I charged on, straight past Jake, screaming at him to run. They were moving towards us, the pathway was getting narrower, and just when I reached the end and thought I was out of it, the walls in the next path started doing it too. And this time, the ceiling began to lower too...or did the floor begin rising? That great, high ceiling embedded with a huge light disappeared as a much lower roof slid over the top of the pathway, trapping us like mice, making the entire thing seem like a narrow tube that we had to squeeze through. The path was long, but as I turned to return back the other way, a wall slid into place, trapping us in this path. It meant we had to run to the far end.

Jake shot past me like a bullet, but as the walls and ceiling began to close in on us, my legs were frozen. I was totally paralysed, petrified with fear, unable to move or even think. I was feeling dizzy and faint and I was going to be sick...

A hand grabbed me roughly and dragged me forward. After the fear I had felt at being grabbed by the skeleton creature, my initial thought was to lash out, but as Jake screamed at me to run, it seemed to reanimate me. Realising that the path was now barely three feet wide, and the ceiling was almost touching my head, and all were still closing in further, I bolted, charging forward, seeing the end of the long tunnel. It was so far away! When had the path become so long? Jake never let go of me, realising I couldn’t be trusted, realising that I was a danger to myself, realising that, if we stayed too long, we would be trapped like rats.

Blind and confused and feeling sicker and sicker, I staggered forwards. My legs begged for mercy, and every burn on my body from the gas earlier bellowed at me to slow down, but my brain seemed detached from the rest of my body. Whatever my limbs were telling it, it was ignoring them, and was forcing me to sprint on relentlessly. The ceiling was beginning to push down on the top of my head and I was forced to bend over, crouching down awkwardly as I ran. I could feel the walls either side of me, and a moment later, they were almost touching my shoulders. The ceiling came lower still, and I eventually succumbed to crawling. Jake was only a couple of paces ahead of me, and he went as fast as he could, but the path now felt like some kind of narrow tube, and we were going to get trapped, and we weren’t going to be able to get out, and we were going to suffocate...

And I burst out the other end. Falling forward as the walls pressed against my shoulders on other side, I rolled onto my side, breathing heavily and raggedly. I was allowed no respite; the lights above flickered ominously, warning of more obstacles to come, but I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. I was too weak. My limbs had gone limp beneath me; I doubted I was even able to walk. I was sweating, even though the crawling hadn’t exactly been my most physical ordeal since being in the run. It wasn’t the exercise that was making me sweat. It was the fear.

I had to fight the fear. It was the only way I would make it out. But no one ever said that facing up to your fears was so hard.

I hadn’t realised I had such a huge fear of enclosed spaces. Maybe I was claustrophobic, although I’d never noticed it before. But then again, I hadn’t spent much of my life crawling through a tube that was growing smaller with every second.
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Well, my internet's finally back up and running, so that hopefully means some slightly more frequent updates.

Oh, and comments would be very very much appreciated. :D