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The trees were towering, lush and green. There were wild flowers and berries growing all over the place. It had not been raining, but I smelled water. This told me there was a source of water nearby. I did not see any animals, with the exception of a lizard on fire running past my feet. I felt bad for the poor thing, it looked as though it had been tortured and driven insane. I straightened my back, smelled the air, and soaked in the few rays of sun that reached me through the thick canopy. I looked around and guessed that they dropped me Kauai. I only recognized it because it was the forest I had grown up in as a little girl.

I was dropped there by the Witness Protection Program. They were keeping me concealed from a murderer who had made bail and missed his court hearing, and I was scared that he would be looking for me. I had been under their watch for three months, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told them I would rather live in the wilderness than have to live a sheltered life. This angered the director of the program and he had me released and sent to an unidentified location in the wilderness. I wasn’t really concerned; I knew as I was complaining that I would be able to survive anywhere.

I was running low on sunlight and I needed to find a clearing where I could set up a shelter. As I was cutting through the thick, green brush, I saw speakers on some of the trees. I found it peculiar, but ignored it and kept moving. I came to a clearing and begin to make a fire from kindling I had found on the way there. I started to set up the tent, when I heard someone getting ready to speak.

“I hope you weren’t going to stop moving, Miss Payne. I have eyes everywhere in this forest. No matter where you go, I’ll know where you are. Unless you make it to the dead ends of the forest, but if you make it there, I’ll know you’re dead. Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Julius Cain. I’m the man you almost got arrested, but those government idiots aren’t smart enough to catch me here. I have insiders in the WPP, and I knew you would be here, so I’ve been preparing for your arrival. Be prepared, Miss Payne. I’ve never been very good at playing fair. Don’t carry anything too heavy, I move quickly. I wish you good luck, Miss Payne,” he said, and then the speakers shut off.

I had been in that forest before, so I knew every nook and cranny in the entire forest. I didn’t think I’d have too much trouble figuring out how to find the dead ends, but I had never actually been anywhere near them.

I had grown up in this forest, and I remembered people always saying the people who died in the forest were the weak ones. They were the ones who couldn’t handle living with the trees and the misty air. My grandmother would tell me those weak people would go to the dead ends, the southern-most parts of the forest, to be tortured for eternity. I decided the dead ends of this forest must be towards the south. I grabbed my compass, took a sip of water and began traveling. Before I even took my first steps out of the clearing, Mr. Cain’s voice blared through the speakers again. “You’re a very brave young woman, Miss Payne. I hope you remember the things you learned in this forest as a girl. They might help you here. I’ll be waiting,” he said, and the speakers shut off again.

I started walking south, trying to stay in a straight line. I remembered my grandmother telling me that the quickest way to get anywhere was by going in a straight line. I knew that the sooner I reached the dead ends of the forest, the sooner I could escape this crazy man’s game.
Even in the dead of night, I had perfect vision. I watched for things coming at me in all directions, but it seemed to be nothing more than a deserted forest. That was worrying me. I couldn’t help thinking that he would pop out of nowhere in a loin cloth with a spear ready to kill me.

Since it seemed there were not any threats being posed, I sat on a fallen tree trunk and took a sip of water. For the first time since I had been dropped here, I noticed a small, black lens coming from the trunk of a tree. I looked around and saw one in every tree. He was watching me. He had been tracing every one of my steps since I had come here. Suddenly, an arrow whizzed past my ear and nearly ripped it off. It shoots into a tree that was standing behind me. “Dang, I thought I had you,” Mr. Cain said through the speakers. “There’s always next time though,” he whispered, and then he turned off the speakers. I stood up and brushed the dirt off my clothes. As I looked up, I barely caught a glimpse of a man in a loin cloth with a bow and two arrows in his hand; running in the other direction, his footsteps making no noise. Before I started running, I thought, “This is war.”

I had been moving for three days, stopping on occasion to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. I had been surviving by rationing the food. There was a clean river running through the forest, so I have a never-ending supply of water. I had only had two more run-ins with Mr. Cain and his tricks after the flying arrow. He had a wild pack of wolves chase me for three miles, and he had a flaming spear sent spiraling at me. I kept wondering where he was, what he was doing, what tricks he had up his sleeve. There was another clearing about 100 feet ahead, so I walked over to it decided to rest for a minute. All of a sudden, the speakers turned on.

“I must admit, Miss Payne, you’re a lot tougher than I thought you would be. You probably don’t know this, but the dead end of the forest is about 200 feet from the end of this clearing. I must warn you, though, those 200 feet will be the deadliest feet of your life. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t give any specifics. Perhaps I’ll see you there, Miss Payne. I will applaud you for making it this far, though. I send you my congratulations. If you make it past the deadly 200, then I will willingly let you into the dead end of the forest. I hope you have fun there. See you soon, Miss Payne,” Mr. Cain says, and then he shut the speakers off.

I decided to stop delaying and walked into the deadly 200 with my head held high. I took a big gulp of water, tightened my belt, and started walking toward the end of the clearing. Not ten feet into the deadly 200, an arrow came out of nowhere and shot me in my right shoulder. I fell to the ground and screamed in pain as blood rushed from my broken skin. “Ah, you have to watch out for those pesky arrows. They’re very dangerous, especially when I accidentally drop in them in that poisonous snake venom. But don’t worry it won’t kill you, I want to handle that myself,” Mr. Cain said as he was towering over my fallen body.

I barely managed to ask, “Why are you doing this to me?” He chuckled. “Because you told on me. And nobody likes a tattle-tale,” he told me. He was holding a spear, and was about to strike, but I gathered all my strength and rolled over. Before he even knew what was happening, I was behind him. I grabbed the spear and planted it in his back in one quick motion. He fell to the ground and looked up at forest green eyes. His dark brown hair was matted down with mud from the puddle he had just fallen in. “Well, Mr. Cain, nobody really likes a murderer, either,” I said to him, and walked away.

Relieved and in pain, I walked through the brush toward the dead ends of the forest. There was a sign made of wood with red letters on it reading ‘DEAD ENDS.’ I look closer, get a whiff of the sign, and I immediately know that the letters are written in blood. It was fresh blood. I noticed speakers on the trees in that part of the forest, too. They turned on. “Welcome to the dead ends, Miss Payne. The games have just begun,” a woman’s voice told me. I looked to my left and saw a caravan of wild men carrying spears running through the woods. I felt a cold, wet wind run through my black tank top and loose cargo pants. I pulled my long brown hair into a ponytail, dropped my bag, and took a deep breath. “Great,” I thought.





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