A thick, cracking sound splintered Emily’s thoughts.
She snapped closed her eyes and pressed her palms hard against her ears. But it only made the sound sharper, heavier. An image of a long, dark whip materialised in her mind. Someone was holding it. She stretched the vision and saw a pot-bellied man, dressed in black pants, a matching top hat and a red, long-tailed coat.
He was task number three.
A strong sense of quietude and incredible lightness feathered through her, spiriting her away, so peaceful and gentle.
Emily opened her eyes.
Crisscrossed before her were tapered sheets of bright, blinding lights. Boisterous laughter blasted from all directions, and a skin-shivering muddle of peculiar smells, some mildly bearable, others so vile, they made her body convulse.
It was if someone had just declared war on her senses.
As her rapidly blinking eyes adjusted, muddied forms began to take shape. Tumbling aimlessly inside a large oval arena, were fuzzy-haired characters in gaudy, oversized clothes. Up above, a slim girl, in a white, sparkling leotard balanced precariously along a thin wire.
What was this place?
This place of arresting colour and obnoxious smells, of brazenly adulating humans. Another thunderous whip cracked Emily back towards the round-bellied man. He was now guiding a march of horses with cerulean blue plumes.
Concentrate, Emily, concentrate on your task.
The world around her fell into a deaf silence and her body into a robotic measure.
She inched closer to the old man, holding her breath. With all the incongruous smells, they weren’t enough to smother an ‘old man’s’ stench. When she was mere millimetres from him, she popped a silver sphere into the flared, opened pocket of his pants.
She then stepped away.
Take it back.
Who said that?
She searched, a completely useless task amongst such a swollen conglomerate of alien faces. Nearby, the round-bellied man clutched his chest and then collapsed on his knees, expelling a long, painful groan. He raised his heavily-lidded eyes to the girl on the wire. Emily studied both their facial features, noticed their unique similarities.
What did this mean?
It means for him to survive he has to let his daughter die.
Emily felt her throat constrict.
You need to take back the sphere…now.
She wanted to ask why… who? But communicating was against the rules.
Her head yo-yoed with possibilities of what to do. But it was too late. The girl’s tightly curled foot faltered.
And she fell.
Within seconds, the world became a mass of infectious screams and panicky thuds and crashes. Had Emily caused this with the seemingly innocuous sphere? Something dark and ugly twisted her insides.
It’s not your fault, Emily. They are controlling your mind.
A boy, tall and lean with kind, green eyes and straw-coloured hair appeared. “I can help you,” he said in a warming voice. “Trust me.”
Why should she? He was, after all, human.
The boy smiled sadly. “And once, Emily, so were you.”
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