302 readings

36

FINALIST
Jury Selection

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Nolan had gotten up early that day. This was unusual enough in itself.
He had grabbed the bag lying on his desk chair. He had only decided to leave a few hours earlier. He had resolved to do it tonight. To chance his luck. Today was the beginning of a new life.
He made no noise as he went down the stairs. He passed his parents’ bedrooms , and those of his brothers and his sister, this last one empty. In the hall, he picked up his jacket and went out. He had tentatively thought of slamming the door in a final gesture of rebellion, but in the end desisted. There was no point worrying his mother straightaway. She didn’t deserve that.
An icy cold stopped him in his tracks. He turned up his jacket collar and put up the hood to protect himself from the wind and snowflakes whipping his face. He had chosen the day well. The young man with the black hair shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the imposing family home which he could no longer stand. 
The hours passed, gradually bringing him closer to his objective. Perhaps it was only a myth, but if it was true, this was the chance of his life. He just had to make sure he didn’t die of cold first. He sniggered.
At the fringe of the forest, a sign rose up in front of him, bearing a short message:

“Membership of the Elite must be earned.
Prove your courage, whatever your age.
Forget your pain, show your courage.”

What on earth was... Two silhouettes moved out from the trees. Black hooded jumpsuits and black masks with two slits for the eyes. Their arms were crossed and even without seeing their faces, Nolan was not reassured. One of the two people threw him an object which he only just caught, his fingers numb from the cold.

“Once you have reached the end of this road, you will be given three minutes. When they are up, you must have gotten away from us. If you are caught, you will be killed. If you reach HQ, you will be accepted.”

Running through the woods to escape from the two silhouettes? He had to give it his all. This was his chance. Nolan put his bag down by the roadside. After a gulp of water, he found himself at the end of the road, ready to flee. He took a deep breath, mustered all the courage he could find and sped away, glancing briefly at the two figures. They watched him run off, their arms still crossed. Shivers ran down the young man’s back as he jumped easily over a tree trunk lying on the ground.
He did not know how far he had to travel and the two men who were going to start chasing him must be in much better shape than he was. He was not only running to join the Elite, he was running for his life.
It was not a mere track to reach the HQ, but a real obstacle course that he had to face. That was Nolan’s conclusion as he came up against a stone wall some thirty feet high. He would have to climb without any safety gear and with his fingers frozen with cold. He would do it. He didn’t know what miracle would help him, but he would do it.
Nolan began his ascent. He clung on carefully removing his gloves which were more of a hindrance than anything else. Twice he nearly fell, once only just recovering himself, cutting his hand on the stone in the process. When he reached the top, he caught his breath and turned around. Perhaps he would see his pursuers from here. His eyes widened when he saw them at the foot of the wall. Already?! 
He gulped and turned to face the next challenge on his journey. The track did not go back down to solid ground. It stayed up high. There were gaps between each platform. The young man had no trouble crossing the first ones. But the further he went, the bigger the gaps became. The distance between him and his pursuers, however, was steadily reducing. In the distance, Nolan could see his objective. It was not very far now. He had to give it his all.
The following obstacle was going to be difficult. A slope would lead him down a few meters then he would fall into nothingness, unless he caught the rope hanging there to reach the next platform, and with his injured hand as well. One last backward glance made up his mind for him. If he had to die, he preferred it to be because he had given it his all and failed and not because he had been caught. He threw himself forward and slid faster and faster. The edge was approaching. At the last moment, he jumped as well as he could. 
The rope flashed before his eyes without him managing to grasp it. The tips of his fingers brushed against it and he screamed as he fell.
The crash was not as hard as he had expected. The boy with the black hair looked around him. A carpet. He had fallen onto a carpet? In front of him, standing at the edge, a blonde man was holding out his hand and smiling.

“No-one has ever got this far,” he told him. “Congratulations. And welcome to the Elite.”

Nolan took the hand which helped him stand up. The next moment, the two pursuers landed on the carpet with deft professionalism. Their heads were bowed.

“As for you two, you will undergo remedial training,” the man continued. “What kept you?” 
“Someone had stretched a rope across the road, I caught my foot in it and by the time I got free, he had managed to get way ahead,” said one of them in self-justification.

Nolan also bowed his head, trying to hide the satisfied little smile that had appeared on his lips. His ambush training had evidently paid off. And he had wasted less time than they had on this business. It had been double or nothing. The man must have noticed his reaction as he burst out laughing.

“We have a very promising new recruit! I would have made you leader of a group right now if you had caught that rope. Nevertheless, it was excellent. Come to HQ, we’ll patch you up. And my name is Eneko. Creator and Leader of the Elite. I am delighted you have come this far, Nolan Knight.”

Translated by Wendy Cross

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36

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