Joan knew there was something different about this day; she felt it the moment she woke up . Something unusual was going to happen; she felt it in her gut, like a sixth sense. The morning air was crisp that morning, but to be expected for early November. Their trek through the woods was daily habit.
To get to the high school from her neighborhood, the trail was the way. When the community was built, a path was cut through for this purpose. There was no way around worth walking, the wood itself was less than a mile in depth, but spread far in length. If one trailed in either left or right direction, they would walk for miles before reaching the end.
Driving around it, still took longer and not worth the trouble. It took less than ten minutes to cut through the trail if you walked slowly; five if you almost ran. The wood was far from dense, but nor was it scantly either, running through would not be recommended.
Joan had felt the tug right from the start and it held strong all the way; even as Mattie educated her with theories as to why Jonathan had stared at her all during lunch yesterday. She spotted the path right away, her focus had long since left her friend's chatter by the time they reached it a few yards later.
Trees and overgrowth lay on either side of their trail, but today and Joan felt only today; she saw her path. It was narrow and broke off from their own. She called this path hers, because when she had asked Mattie if she saw it, her friend said she did not.
“I’m going to check it out, ok.” She told her friend.
“Alone?” Mattie asked responsibly as they stepped aside to let a group of girls pass by.
“I’ll be ok; I’ll catch up in a minute….” She assured her, already heading off.
“I’ll just wait here, instead!” her friend called back, as she picked up Joan's discarded backpack.
Joan followed her trail far down. Mattie’s protests followed along as she did, until even the echoes of her friend’s protests go lost amongst the trees. Not long after that, Joan started to think her choice had been an unwise one; as she became fully aware on just how isolated she had become.
She looked back and saw nothing, no Mattie, no trail and began to feel very uneasy. Just as she was about to give up and turn back, a voice called out to her; “Are you here to sign up?” a gruffly male voice asked her.
She turned around and found a man behind a wooden booth similar to what you would find at a carnival a few yards ahead of her. The booth had not been there just a second before. Joan froze in her place, stupefied and unsure.
“Are you here to register?” he asked her again. His frown was unwelcoming and enhanced the wrinkles of his face even more. He was thin, stick thin and every bit of him was unwelcoming as that frown.
He gave her an exasperated look and pointed his boney finger to the poster above his head. “Girl, are you here to register for the Arcogon or not?” he snapped.
She shook her head and then quickly changed her mind and nodded. He rolled his eyes to her behavior and held out a clipboard and a pencil to her. She had not realized she had already started approaching, until her hand reached out and took the pencil.
He shoved the board into her other hand and crouched down behind the booth. Joan looked down at the sheet, which was filled with eleven names. She recognized none, until the very last one; Jonathan Parker.
“Jonathan Parker is in the competition? Does he come from around here?” she asked him.
He popped up, looked at her and snatched the board out of her hand. He peered down at the page and a second later, nodded.
“Yeah, he signed in just before you. He’s going to be your partner.” He informed her and handed the board back. He then returned back down into his crouch behind the counter. “Only two from each sector; I’m surprised you both signed up. It’s been a long time since any from your sector has.” He spoke up to her.
“How so?” she asked him.
He stood back up with a small leather bound book in his hand and a couple of sheets of paper. “You ask too many questions girl, I’m not the informer, only the registrar!” He snapped and tapped his finger on the register sheet.
Joan nodded and signed her name, right underneath Jonathan Parker’s, becoming the twelfth and final registered
“Oh… good!” He snapped and grabbed the clipboard. He then handed her the leather book. “Here is your rulebook, read every page of it. Rules are to be strictly followed inside the arena.” His stare clearly stated his stance on that and she quickly nodded her compliance. He handed her the first of the three papers, “This is your map around the arena; the only one you will be given, so I would be careful not to lose it until you have learned your way about.” He instructed her.
She nodded again and he eyed her, unconvinced. He handed her the second paper, “This is the list of your opponents; I would get to know them well if I were you.” He told her. She nodded, his intruding stare returned. “This game is only fair in the arena girl, what your opponents choose to do outside of it, is free from authority.” He warned her.
“You make it sound as if I’m a threat to my competitors.” She challenged him.
His bushy brows scrunched, “Every chosen player is a threat.” He told her and handed her the last sheet. “This is a list of your assigned advisors. I would listen to everything they tell you.” He advised and crouched back down behind the counter before she could respond. Joan waited for him to return.
“Why are you still standing there?” his voice grumbled up.
“I thought you had something more for me.” She answered him.
He popped up, “I have given you all that you need, proceed to your right.” His annoyance shamelessly played across his face.
She looked to the right of the booth and only saw the empty woods beyond it. Her eyes darted back to him for any further explanation, but his expression made clear there would be none. She shrugged her shoulders and walked over to the right side of the booth.
“Well…here goes…” she spoke and took a step forward. Instantly the woods that had once stood before her vanished and a vast open field filled with many different sized tents appeared before her. The transition was flawless! She had felt absolutely nothing! She took a step backwards and the woods returned. “Amazing!” flew from her mouth.
“What are you doing girl?” the grumpy registrar asked her. She turned and looked over to him; he frowned.
“That was amazing!” She told him.
He rolled his eyes, “Quit playing around girl, they are waiting for you.” He scolded her and shooed her away with the wave of his hand.
Joan laughed and took a step forward again. The tent homed field returned and her little woods and the grumpy registrar in his booth, disappeared from her sight and pressed far back from her thoughts as she walked towards the arena. Joan looked to her newly acquired map and read the labels across the pictured tents.
The tents were set up in a circular arrangement. The smaller ones on the outside were labeled “sector resident”. Inside of resident circle were three larger tents, spread out. One was the chow tent, the other two were labeled “advisors tent”. One large tent made up the hub of it; it was labeled “Arena”.
Joan headed over towards the advisors tents figuring someone there could “advise” her on where to go from there.
YOU ARE READING
There is a trail between the community and the high school the students use to cut through. Joan Morgan walks this trail every morning to get to school. A short walk, with nothing exiting in between it besides trees and dirt. Today however, somethin...