The Cheating Contestants

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Flash Fiction
Tarragona Arena Cheating Contestants

I shouldn’t admit this, but I recently re-watched (guilty pleasure) Bring It On. Just to show that inspiration can come from anywhere, there was a line said in the movie by one of the cheerleaders that struck a chord with me. It was said after Torrance (the new cheer captain), revealed to the squad that their former captain had been stealing cheers from a different squad and teaching the routines to them. When Torrance tries to do the right thing and suggests not taking the stolen routine to a regional competition, one cheerleader disagrees. She says,

“I hate to be predictable, but I don’t give a shit! We learned that routine fair and square. We logged the man-hours. Don’t punish the squad for Big Red’s mistake. This isn’t about cheating. This is about winning. Everyone in favor of winning?”

So off those last several lines, I decided to build an impromptu scene called The Contestants:

“It’s not about cheating. This is about winning,” Celeste said. She started buckling her life jacket, steadying herself. The current was unusually rough and knocking against the pontoon.

“I didn’t cheat,” Matt said. Well, he did, but she didn’t need to know.

“Doesn’t matter. Whether you did it or not, I need you to be in 1st place. We need the prize. So do what you did last time and we’ll win this.”

Celeste grabbed up a waterproof bag that was on the floor of the boat. He looked behind her to the rough current on the lake. He didn’t know what to tell her.

“I’ll see you on the other side,” she said. He nodded, not pulling his gaze back to her. Instead, the sunset’s orange haze infusing the horizon captured his attention. He wondered if this would be the last time he’d see one.

Celeste dove in the water, and Matt felt the spray sprinkle on his now red skin. It was soothing. When he looked over the edge, she was gone. He could just leave really. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about cheating again. But it would only be temporary; the other contestants would hunt him down.

He sighed and hopped over the side of the boat, plunging down in the water. He wasn’t going anywhere with his life jacket’s buoyancy. Or so it seemed at first. The water rushed past his ears as he was pulled below. The sudden jolt downward brought a flood of water into his nose and eyes. After all the times he did this, he still wasn’t used to it. His eyes burned slightly as the water flushed through his eyelids. Pressure weighed on his ears and head heavily. His body reoriented before it became unbearable. Instead of being pulled down, he was floating up. He kicked his feet and thrashed the water down to his side. He broke the surface to a sea of golden water. He sputtered out the water with a couple of coughs and some slithered out of his nose. For all its shimmering beauty, the water had a tart taste.

Celeste was already swimming to the shoreline that was about 200 feet away. He followed suit, kicking his feet hard. He brought his arms over his head and into the water, one at a time. He tried to keep his body as straight as possible while he alternated diving his arms into the water. It had been a long day of trying to find the entrance, and he was drained.

The icy water relieved his sunburns. It felt great on his lower back, which was just below the surface. After his palms had sliced through the water at a mostly flat angle several times, he got lost in the mechanics of the motion. It wasn’t long before his feet pressed down into sand. He always thought they were too large for his body, but they were perfect for swimming.

“What happened to the buddy system?”

Celeste grimaced. “How old are you again?”

“We need to always be careful.”

“I think we can take care of ourselves now. This isn’t our first rodeo.” She bent over and rolled her hair, squeezing out the water which rained on to the sleek black shoreline. The ground looked like a sheet of glass, but left imprints from their feet just like the sand back home. It carried bits of blue crystals that sparkled dimly, glowing in and out of existence. Celeste shed her life jacket and Matt turned around. He kept his eyes on the blue sparkles, waiting for Celeste to change. There were little specks of green in them that Matt had seen when he held them up close the first time they found this place. He felt her tap his shoulder.

He turned around and she shoved a bag into his arms. Her red hair seemed to enhance the sense of her impatience. He picked his clothes out of the bag and pulled out a black leotard. That’s what it looked like to Matt at least. The Rushas could call it combat wear all they wanted, but their standard contestant uniform made him look like an over glorified ballerina with none of the grace. He changed and packed all his stuff back into the bag and left it there. Nobody would steal it. Everyone here thought human things were cursed despite their infatuation with them.

“Look, Matt—”

“I know. I know. We’re going to win,” he said. He wasn’t quite sure how, but they were going to win.

She placed a hand on his shoulder and rubbed her thumb across it. “I know I’ve been crazy lately. But we need this. If we don’t win, we’re trapped here forever.”

He was about to smile, but the makings of it vanished as a Rusha appeared out on the edge of the berm. The berm was sprinkled with sand dunes and blue-orbed flowers that sported menacing looking thorns.

“Contestants, you’re late. Come quickly or your tardiness will disqualify you,” it said. Matt could never tell the females and males apart. They both sported a gritty coating that seemed as black as tar. He touched them once, and it felt something along the lines of heated sand paper.

“Your worthiness, I’m sorry,” Celeste said, bowing her head down deeply.

It blinked its pair of long vertical slits that held blue eyes. “Quiet human. Do not speak unless asked a question. Follow me. The other contestants are waiting,” the Rusha said, making Matt wonder where its mouth was.

They jogged up the beach toward the Rusha, and dread slushed around in his stomach. If they didn’t win, they were pretty much dead.

[Featured photo credit: Beetlelaaf at nl.wikipedia]

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