Mr. Smith's new science fiction thriller Dream Challenge is currently under consideration by publishers. Below is the first chapter. Enjoy...
The Ice Monkeys
Tony Blackwell stood in the middle of a room with two other young adults, one man and a woman. He was wearing a pair of Levi jeans, one of his favorite Boston Red Sox tee shirts, and a pair of black sneakers. Everyone else in the room was sitting at their chairs and busily writing on notepads that resembled college essay test books. The room was painted solid white, floor to ceiling, and contained steel metal tables and chairs, all in metallic titanium silver. Across the hallway, another man sat at a smaller room at a table alone, but not writing – just sitting as if he’d been punished for something. The stranger sensed that he was being watched, raised his eyebrows, and provided Tony with a steely glare.
I wonder what that guy did thought Tony without actually uttering the words out loud as he turned his head to disengage the stranger’s glance.
“Have a seat Mr. Blackwell,” said a tall man hovering in the center of the room who seemed to appear out of thin air. Before Tony could get his question out, the man answered almost instinctively “I am Mr. Y and I’m your host,” he continued.
“Host of what?” replied Tony.
“Please sit. I’ll explain all of the rules in a moment,” replied Mr. Y as he gestured toward the open chair. Tony quietly took a seat and looked around the table at the others. As Tony made eye contact with them, they all looked away, mostly down at their notepads. “What are we doing here? What rules?” questioned Tony softly. Mr. Y moved towards the doorway near the hallway and turned back to the others. He was dressed in a full-length white robe, adorned with a twisted golden rope, tied around his waist. He doesn’t have any feet Tony thought to himself. Why can’t I see his feet? Mr. Y resembled the look of an ancient profit or holy man, appeared to float as he moved across the room. No lower extremities were visible, just his pure white robe dusting across the white tiled floor.
“Please follow me,” commanded the host. Mr. Y raised snapped his fingers and instantly, Tony and the others were transported to another location. Mr. Y was positioned to the left of an entrance to a slate blue granite cave that had two tunnels, one branching hard left and the other slightly bent to the right.
“You will each have sixty seconds to get to the end of the tunnel, turn around and come back, where you’ll cross the white line before me,” stated Mr. Y. “The rules are as follows. One - if you do not reach the end of the tunnel, you fail the challenge,” he bluntly stated. “Two - if you do not cross this white finish line within sixty seconds, you fail the challenge,” he continued as he pointed down to the six-inch thick white line just outside the cave’s entrance. “And three – if you succeed at the challenge and discuss any aspect of it with another group member, you’ll be disqualified and thereby fail the challenge,” he concluded. “Young lady – you’re first,” stated the magical host as he peered directly into the eyes of the only female contestant.
After a brief pause that showed the right side of his smile rise above the other in a sinister look, Mr. Y snapped his fingers. Instantly, Alison Watson stood ready on hard packed snow just under the cave’s rocky threshold, clothed in a red and white stripped full-length ski outfit and bolted onto a pair of cross-country skis with two poles encased within in her tight grip. She pumped her legs in opposite rhythm upward and downward and raised the front of her skis off the snow. She was prepping for a race.
“What the hell is happening?” Tony said softly with one eyebrow slightly raised above the other.
Ready, set, go!” shouted Mr. Y as he clicked the start button on the stopwatch in his left hand. The time instrument also had a twisted gold rope hanging from it, which matched the one around his waist. Still no feet thought Tony as he glanced down. The group that remained outside the cave’s entrance focused their attention and leaned in to hear the distant swooshing sounds coming from inside as the young woman disappeared into the tunnel. Within ten seconds, the sounds emanating from the cave went quiet and a look of concern and anticipation appeared on the group member’s faces. Thirty-five seconds later, the silence broke by the distant sound of the racer returning from her round trip. Right before the finish line, the young woman stretched her arms forward and gave one last push with her left leg as she simultaneously pushed down with her poles to propel her across the finish line.
“Oh - too long Ms. Watson,” announced Mr. Y as he viewed the stopped clock in his hand. “Sixty-five seconds. You fail,” he concluded. The young woman collapsed to the ground in disappointment and subsequently passed out. Tony and the other male contestant stood in silence. Two men in sterile white uniforms and gas masks appeared from the right entrance of the cave, lifted the collapsed woman up, and carried her away back into the tunnel.
“Where are they taking her?” asked Tony.
“You’re next Mr. Blackwell. Good luck,” calmly stated Mr. Y as he reset the stopwatch. Instantly, Tony stood outside the entrance to the cave and was poised to take on a challenge that he didn’t quite understand. He peered into the cave looking first left, then right at both tunnel options. Should I take the left since she almost passed the challenge or should I go to the right entrance he thought to himself as his heart raced with anticipation? With a sign of trepidation, Tony turned back to ask the other contestant a question, but he was gone. The cave’s entrance was replaced with an oval shaped hatched door positioned six inches above the ground that stood about five feet tall.
“Can I ask the other guy a question?” asked Tony of Mr. Y.
“You can ask, but he may not tell you much. Just open the door,” replied the host as he pointed to the copper colored metal door. Tony turned the wheel handle on the door until it released the seal and pushed it open. He expected to see the other contestant standing in confusion, but instead saw only clouds with winds blowing heavily away from the door. The wind was so strong that he had a hard time keeping the door open. It was as if he was in some kind of an airplane moving forward at well over two hundred miles an hour! Tony moved a bit closer towards the slightly open door and looked down, only to see the ground a mile below. How is this possible?
“What the hell?” muttered Tony as he tightened his grip on the door handle and positioned his left hand against the side of the frame to steady himself as he continued to look down at the moving ground below him.
“Ready Mr. Blackwell?” asked Mr. Y with somewhat of an impatient look on his face, stopwatch cleared and poised to click. Tony paused briefly, and then closed the hatch returning to the starting position.
“What am I doing here!” screamed Tony at Mr. Y, but he did not get a response. Instead, Mr. Y simply raised the stopwatch to where he could clearly see the timer’s face out of his peripheral vision – while he looked directly on Tony.
“Ready, set, go!” he shouted after an awkward three second pause. Tony sprinted down the left path of the tunnel, his heart racing and arms pumping with clinched fists as he increased his speed while slightly leaning to the right to follow the gradual bend in the cave’s pathway. The ceiling and walls were carved out of dirt and stone and were a bit jagged, making it dangerous to move at high speeds. Regardless, Tony raced as fast as he possibly could. Simple light fixtures hung from the ceiling at intervals of ten to fifteen feet in order to provide a dim but necessary light. He arrived at the end of the tunnel, which connected the cave to a large auditorium room with a very high ceiling. At the far end of the room was an elevated stage positioned about five feet above the floor. It was made of lacquered dark mahogany wood, but showed the typical wear of a schoolroom auditorium. Black curtains were drawn closed, leaving a narrow runway section of the stage exposed. This must be the end of the tunnel, thought Tony. He walked into the room, initially at a brisk pace and towards the stage.
“Just touch the stage and get the hell out of here,” he spoke softly as he canvassed the rest of the room with his eyes. There were more than a hundred people inside the room, most of who were sitting at long tables suitable for an elementary school lunchroom.
“B – 9,” announced a man who was sitting at a table at the front left side of the room. The announcement echoed over the room’s speaker system. They’re all playing Bingo thought Tony.
“Stay focused and just get to the end,” he muttered to himself as he continued toward the end of the hall. As he got closer to the stage, he looked up to see four to five people hanging from the ceiling from what appeared to be ropes tied around one of their ankles. The white ropes linked to a complicated and interconnected series of pulleys mounted on the ceiling.
“What the…” stated Tony as he slowed his pace. Something is wrong. “Now!” shouted a man at the main microphone table, who moments before called the Bingo game. Tony firmly slapped his hand on the stage, turned and ran out of the room. The floor suddenly became covered with a series of ropes that were intertwined like slithering albino snakes in a large confined box. Monkeys strategically located on three sides of the room instantly pulled on large ropes that connected to the ceiling-based pulley system. Tony ran.
“Pull faster!” called the announcer to the monkeys. The monkeys responded immediately and pulled down harder and faster on the ropes hanging in front of them. As Tony ran, he noticed that the ropes began to rise off the floor in an attempt to snare him.
“Those bastards are trying to trap me!” shouted Tony with disbelief in his tone. One of the ropes snared Tony’s right ankle and caused him to trip.
“Not today boys,” he muttered as he quickly used both hands to free his foot. The Bingo participants all cheered in support of the monkeys. Once he broke free of the snare, Tony sprinted out of the room like a football player running through a tire drill, knees pumping high to avoid being caught by the ropes. The volume in the room rose to an almost deafening level as the chaos unfolded. When Tony reached the tunnel again, he stopped briefly looking at both entrances - one left, one right. In an instant, he turned right and started to run through the tunnel that he had used before. This time it was different. The entire tunnel was cut out of ice and the floor was covered in packed snow.
“What the hell is going on?” he shouted as he sprinted, frequently slipping as he increased his speed. As he made his way back, he noticed that the tunnel was narrowing.
“Go get him!” ordered the man behind the microphone to the army of monkeys. As he moved through the tunnel, Tony heard the announcement, but didn’t know if he could out run the well-adapted mammals. The monkeys raced into the tunnel behind him and expertly maneuvered over the snow by using arm-length ice pick axes in both hands like professional skiers use poles during a slalom race. The primates were full-grown males and stood approximately three feet tall when fully erect. They were covered in thick dark brown hair and oddly enough, wore matching purple shorts, vests and fez hats with black accents. Many of them exposed their teeth as they screeched in pursuit of their human target. The tunnel narrowed and Tony was forced to drop to his knees and crawl. He could hear the monkeys gaining on him!
“Come on Blackwell,” he grunted as he used every bit of energy to keep moving through the narrowing tunnel as fast as he could. The sound of the monkeys in the tunnel got louder. They were closing in on him. He could hear the metal ice picks piercing the packed snow like a well-timed symphony below the muffled frenzy of shrieks. Chaos...
“Damn it!” shouted Tony as he was forced to move from a crawl to a horizontal position, now lying flat on his stomach. He used his arms and hands to reach out as far as possible forward and then pull his outstretched body, dangling legs and all, through the tunnel a foot at a time. The tunnel was only about two feet high now and still narrowing. He could no longer see any light at the end of the tunnel. Tony turned to look back, only to see the ice monkeys approaching quickly. A dozen of them were only twenty feet away. The dangling lights above flickered, infusing even more stress on Tony. His eyes lit up in panic as splashes of light and darkness played out like an old black-and-white silent film.
“Shit!” Tony continued to pull his almost lifeless body through the tunnel a foot at a time. They’ll be here in seconds, he thought as he struggled to keep moving forward. Pull, pull…
To contact Gregory S. Smith for speaking engagements and interviews, just complete the form on the contact section of this web site. Mr. Smith's IT specialities include:
IT Strategic Planning and Financial Management
Cloud Computing and Integration
Software Development and Architecture Alternatives