The Final Torture
Another cold blast of air hits Alex like a steel beam forcing from her what little heat she has stored since the last blow only seconds earlier. She takes a deep breath as she moves her leaden-like legs once more up the mountain, her feet ankle deep in snow. She knows snow is supposed to be light, fluffy, full of fun, but this stuff is hard and heavy and scraps her ankles, leaving ice scratches with every excruciation step.
The searing sting of the wind and snow pierces her and she reaches to pull her down-filled coat closer to her body, maybe button the top button, pull up the collar. But wait! Her coat is not there. She feels so exposed, naked! Her stomach begins to bubble like lava and her mind is as frozen as the snow that is impeding her journey. She looks around frantically to either side and behind her. Has the wind blown her only source of heat off her? Has her coat dropped from her shoulders without her noticing? How can this be?
She must sit and think. What to do now? The warnings about freezing to death flash in her mind like the red light on a police car. She’s a Minnesotan. She knows the danger of stopping and hypothermia—-frozen digits, even death. But all the lessons she’d had in health classes can’t outweigh her need to sit.
As she does, the snow beneath her feels more like chilly linoleum, like the high-school floor too long in air conditioning. Her hip begins to ache with the cold. Her head has hit something smooth and hard, uncomfortable. Alex feels her head throbbing. Her blood vessels near her temple and left cheek are beating like a heavy-metal song. She hates heavy metal. It always gives her a headache. And she’s numb like someone has given her a shot of novocaine.
Wait! What is this? She’s not on a snowy mountain! It’s not even a snowy day! Alex shivers with the knowledge. It’s late May. The chill she feels is the air conditioning piped up to intolerable levels.
She forces her eyes open and until they adjust from her sleeping she sees only a blurry white.
She focuses harder. Ah, yes familiar concrete blocks painted that grayish white. Of course, she’s in the counselor’s conference room—-that claustrophobic den of the derided and devious students. Must have fallen asleep. But why is she here? What has she done this time? The bubble of dread gurgles in her stomach as reality riddles her body. Why had she decided to miss the calculus final? Why had she pretended to be sick so she could have one more day to study? Why had she squandered most of the day watching reruns of American Idol? Now she’s secluded in this raunchy room to take the test. She feels the cry in her chest vault to her throat, but she keeps it locked there. She won’t let it out.
Slowly, Alex rouses herself and grabs onto the cheap, plastic gray chair sitting askew at the graffitied brown table in the center of the room. She must have dozed off and fallen from the chair. Who is the idiot who decided to put those chairs with the slick runners in the rooms with linoleum? Kids are always falling off those things, especially if they tip back a bit. Why hasn’t somebody sued? Maybe she has a head injury or brain damage now. Maybe she can be the one to sue! Nah, that’d never be her luck.
As she lifts herself a bit more, Alex notices the door at the end of the small room. Her chance at freedom. Her only means of escape. The desire to run to it and fling it open, to smell the air of freedom rushes over her like the cold winter wind she felt in her dream. But she knows before she can feel that freedom, she must finish the taunting task at hand—-the calculus final!
Trembling once again, Alex sits in the gray chair, her thighs feeling the chill of the over-air-conditioned plastic and slides the dreaded pieces of paper waiting for her on the table into her view. Her chest contracts as she tries to breathe. She shuts her eyes and forces herself to calm down by counting backward from ten, a method Mrs. Jenson, the school counselor. has taught all the students to do before they take standardized tests. After she calms a bit, she breathes deeply and opens her eyes. She picks up her pencil and writes “Alex Winters, Block 3” in the top right-hand corner and begins. The only way to escape this hell is to endure one “final torture.”