Story also on Youtube: https://youtu.be/8n9Np-sLzVc
The competition occurred three times a year, and many from across the country and world came for the opportunity to participate and to watch. It began with 16 elite players after a batch of semifinals, then 8, then 4… 2 and then to the ultimate 1. A mental and athletic competition that taxed the mind, body, and nerves. One must have nerves of steel to battle the rounds of elimination. It was as calculating as chess, and skillful and physical as a boxing match. Sarah had made it to every final 16, since the age of 15.
She remembered as a girl connecting the dots together, and contemplating technique to outwit her opponent. Her first competition was easily won, and she knew this is what she wanted. Fifteen years later, she wasn’t sure she would make it another year.
Now, her body ached in pain from the very same movements that brought joy in her younger years. Contemplation meant nothing if she could no longer respond in a timely manner. Her mind, not as sharp as the younger competitors, who seemed to be getting younger and younger. Or was she getting older? The walls would crumble beneath her, if her body could not cope with the punishment and stamina needed to perform the moves in her head.
Did she still even want this? She was having an awakening of a sort. It was beyond sport and medals. It was no longer the joy she remembered, but it was her life though, even though the meaning of the game meant nothing anymore. Her biggest fear was knowing nothing else, but this.
8 pm tomorrow. It was 25 hours and 7 minutes away. She looked over her plan again in detail, and went over it in her head, and then performed the moves. Tomorrow would be the day of all days. A totality of training, hard work, and perseverance that got her this far. She grabbed her shoulder, a nagging issue that had been developing, and would eventually affect her game plan in the long run. The only question was when.
Her husband usually called around 7 pm, but he hadn’t as of yet. How strange? He always called her around this time. She left a short message, Give me a call.
She began folding some laundry, when she heard the door slam downstairs, and she stopped.
“John. Is that you?,” and she curiously headed downstairs. The front door of her house was open and the wind was blowing in leaves. She quickly closed it, shocked. Had she left it open? She made sure it was locked.
She texted her husband again, Any words of encouragement for tomorrow.
As she took out the trash, she caught her next door neighbor with frosted white hair staring out to the darkening sky, and waived hi.
“Better go inside, it’s gonna storm,” she said excitedly.
“Yep,” and she looked toward the sky. “Hopefully it doesn’t get too bad, I’m waiting up for my husband”.
“Oh, I thought I saw him.”
“No, he’s at work right now, probably in traffic, and soon to be in this storm.”
“But I saw a man inside your house all day brooding,” and Sarah looked at her curiously. “Sorry to be nosy, but I can see you kitchen window. He was right behind you when you were washing dishes earlier.”
Sarah immediately turned, looking back at her house, and at every window. Each one was empty.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t wearing my glasses though,” and she chuckled. Sarah gave a slight worried smile back at her.
“Don’t scare me.”
Sarah looked through her house, opening and closing doors, and underneath beds. She would never underestimate the power of a nosy old lady, and she made sure to do a full sweep of her house.
She texted her husband again, Why haven’t you called? Are you okay?
The wind began to pick up even more, and she could see streaks of lightning. She heard creaking in the attic, and quickly ran up the stairs. She gave the attic door a full stare, before slowly pulling the rope down, and climbed the stairs, that led up to the tall corner of the house. She crawled in, her heart beating a little faster. She thought her training would have fixed this, and was surprised at how fast it was thumping. She found nothing, but shadows, an empty room, with a sliver of light from a small window, but it was getting dark, and she saw specks of rain lightly dot the glass.
She saw a bright blue streak, almost white flash, and then a thunderous sound that caught her off guard, and momentarily scared her. The whole house shook, the windows vibrated, and she crawled down the stairs, and saw that her power had gone out with one thunderous lightning bolt from Zeus.
She could immediately feel the drop in temperature in her house, and she grabbed bits of firewood stacked near the chimney, and threw them in the fireplace. The bright yellow sparkle melted away the cold from her face, and she warmed her hands a bit. It had gotten dark already, as it was late and the storm darkened the clouds. The wind howled louder, a light show brought momentary light in the house, along with a thunderous applause.
She walked through the house, timing her movements with the sparks of lightning, and found a flashlight in a drawer
She texted him again, It’s really bad here, please tell me your okay, but only if you can.
She resigned herself to the couch, in front of the fireplace, clutching her phone and flashlight. 22 hours now, 23 minutes now, and for the first time since she began competing, she had forgotten about it. She didn’t feel like looking over her plan, and her muscles felt too stiff from the cold to practice. She felt a complete numbness, she had wanted for a long time, and she closed her eyes. What if she couldn’t do it again?
She heard breathing next to her and she opened her eyes. No, it was the wind. She heard a thumping sound coming from the attic, but it was probably the hail that had started raining down with the rain. She then heard the floor creak above her, and she looked up, but it was pitch black. She turned her flashlight on, but she didn’t see any movement. Maybe it was a raccoon above her roof, trying to find shelter. Then a loud thunder, which shook the house, and she heard something hit the floor above her.
She slowly got up and climbed the stairs, and headed toward the attic again, bringing down the stairs and climbing up, but it was as she had left it. Empty. Then her flashlight went off and it dark.
She heard breathing sounds, and she nearly fell back. She grabbed her shoulder in pain.
“Who’s there?” she said.
She heard the clanking noises again, and she could feel her heart beat rise again. She heard the floor creek around her. All the noises culminated, along with the storm outside. Her thoughts landed in every direction, with every fear amplified, and every doubt imprinted in her stream of consciousness. She nearly felt a panic attack, and she began breathing hard and closed her eyes.
Until she heard her name, “Sarah.” It was coming from downstairs. She felt her way to the ladder, and slowly climbed down.
“Sarah,” she heard again, and she looked down toward the fireplace. Off to the dark corner of the living room was a figure sitting down. She first saw the eyes. Were those eyes? Were they staring at her? She came down the stairs, and found her way to the couch. She was slightly afraid of it.
“What do you seek?” it said. The Figure’s words were stern and compassionate.
“Glory, of time past,” she said.
The rain and crackling of the firewood drifted into the background, and all was his voice.
“But do you want it?”
She did not answer. He had asked her this before.
“Why do you always ask me this?” she said
“I see the life and death and the in between… and I hear the same stories of men and women. The story of wishes and intentions, and the future.”
“Will I win tomorrow?”
“You cannot change what I tell you. Those who win, also lose Sarah, and those who have lost may have won. Do not worry about such things.”
“I do not know if my body and mind can take the competition.”
“You are still a young woman, do not mourn the next phase. Do not mourn of what you used to be be. How long will you bask in the glory of your first steps when you were a toddler? How much accomplishment do you get from learning to read.”
“Those are things every child just needs to do.”
“They are necessary. What you have been doing is what you needed to do before you moved on.”
“Your future is tomorrow. Your work is today, and your past is the weight that keeps you down.”
“You want an intense and singular experience to embrace your remembrance.”
“Is that wrong?”
“You want a perpetuity of wins at your fingertips, you ask for what is impossible and which no one has power over this”
“I at least have this year, maybe more.”
“Your body is slowly breaking down, and compartmentalizing, as you break down ideas into singular statements that will get you through the next and the next.”
“That will get me through tomorrow.”
“Do not hesitate for the necessity of ambiguity to reach your potential.”
“I don’t need you.”
“But I am you. And you still do not know what you want. I will disappear the moment clarity is pushed forward.”
She saw herself in the arena with thousands of spectators, and then saw herself through their eyes, as she was them. Then they were gone, and she was a shadow, drifting among them, no longer the object of interest, but a grain of sand among many, with time dwindling away. This thought did not bring her sadness, but joy.
“Sarah! Sarah!” she heard her name in the audience.
Her thoughts were driven away, and he was gone again, sure to be back in her moments of weakness. She sat on her couch, and she would now listen to the ever present rain, wind, and crackling of firewood, which had now drifted back to the forefront of her consciousness.
She awoke at around 7am with her husband next to her in her bed.
“You got a big day today,” and he grabbed her hand. “Sorry, I was in traffic, and my battery died. I didn’t want to wake you this morning. You need your sleep.”
It was almost 8 and she felt instantly calm as the sea.
“It’s a mind game. Don’t psyche yourself out too much.”
“I never do,” she told him.
She looked at the ceiling and heard the audience cheering.
13 hours, 13 minutes.
A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work. — John Lubbock
Quote from John Lubbock in “The Use of Life” that got me started on this story: https://amzn.to/2QX0dso
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