“This is a test of your ability to survive! This is a test of your ability to survive! There is neither drinkable water nor any food source in the mud pit. Good luck!”
Sally bit her lower lip and looked around her. The eyes of her pit-mates seemed cold, calculating. Despite her desperate situation, she shook her head and chuckled inwardly. She muttered, barely audible. “Not exactly what I thought alien abduction would look like. How about you folks?”
A few eyes glanced at her warily. Most of the people in the mud pit were desperately trying to clamber up the sides. A few however, like Sally, watched the others carefully, trying to assess which strategies worked best. Some went to one side of the pit and sprinted across the bottom and then jumped as high as they could. Some attempted to dig hand holes and footholds in the slimy mud. A few not too far away, had knocked out some of their companions and were trying to scramble on top of them.
It was clear to Sally that none of the strategies worked. It was maddening. The top rim of the pit was only fifteen feet up. This was no ordinary mud. It was the slickest she had ever seen or felt. Handholds quickly disappeared. Climbing up the steep sides rarely allowed anyone to get more than two or three feet off the floor of the pit and even that progress was immediately erased as they slipped back down.
She remembered a hike along the Napoli Coast and then a movie image flashed into her mind from My Cousin Vinny. The Alabama mud had gotten Vinny’s car stuck after a rain. This was like that. Only worse. Another image flashed into her mind. Naked women dancing in the mud at a folk festival. Oh, yes. She had been one of them. Good times.
Again, the unearthly metallic sounds of the aliens echoed loudly over the speakers. “This is a test of your ability to survive. This is a test of your ability to survive.”
She muttered to herself, “Go screw yourself, octopus heads. Humanity doesn’t need your help. We were doing just fine destroying ourselves without your help.” Then, she took a deep breath and another. She thought: They are trying to panic us. People aren’t going to starve or even die of thirst right away. Let’s think.
Almost too late, she saw a huge burly man hurl himself directly at her. She dodged out of the way lightly slapping his back as he passed by her. He jammed his head into the muddy wall behind her and fell to his knees unmoving. She stared and wondered: Had he broken his neck?
She hated being the center of attention, but people panicked and screamed all around her. Someone had to do something. She stuck her fingers in the sides of her mouth and let out an astonishingly loud whistle.
“Listen up! We can all get out of here! We just need to work together! Stop trying to climb up by yourselves! You! You! Get over here! And you! Sally pointed to and called out the six strongest and biggest among them. Here. Interlock your arms…”
One of the biggest men objected. “What are you talking about? You’re not the boss! You heard the aliens! It’s every man for themselves! It’s a test of survival!”
There were murmurs of agreement in the crowd. Sally shook her head vigorously. “Listen! Yes, a test of survival! That’s not the same thing as ‘Every man for themselves.’ We can work together and get some people out. Once they’re out, they can get or make ropes and help the rest get out. Trying to climb out on your own won’t work. We have to work together.”
There were a few murmurs of assent. Sally picked out four more strong but lighter folks to form the second layer of the pyramid.
Sally sighed. The pyramid was shaky. It would have been a lot easier if most of the people hadn’t already gotten themselves slathered in mud.
“OK. OK. Stay as steady as you can. Come on. I’m going to climb up and out. I will … “
Someone shouted in a loud voice: “How come you get to go out first! Let me go!”
“Listen! We’ll all get out of here! I’m going first because I’m light. I’m one of the lightest people here but still agile.”
The awkward pyramid fell twice. Each time, there was another argument about what to do. Some people went back to trying to race up the walls on their own. At last, when it was apparent that nothing else was even close to working, the third pyramid held. Sally carefully climbed up the lattice of bodies and was able to reach up beyond the rim. The ground beyond the rim was solid. Sally’s fingers grabbed the ground, some grass, some roots. She was able to swing one leg up over the rim.
A long low trumpeting sound vibrated the ground around her. She looked up and saw that a rough amphitheater surrounded the rim of the mud pit. A few hundred of the squidish aliens stared through their giant triangle of eyes while making their weird murmurs. She looked back down into the pit.
“I got out! Good work! I’m going to go look for ropes or vines. There may be a few more who can climb out and help me! We’re going to get through this!”
A few more teens were able to climb out as well, but the only tools they could find were some sharp rocks. It took most of the day to use the rocks to saw and chop through nearby grape vines, but by the end of the day they had done it. Soon everyone was out except for the man who had charged her. Apparently he had broken his neck. No-one could rouse him. He had no pulse. Apart from that, and a few minor sprains, the entire mud pit crew had escaped unharmed.
The squid-like creatures hooted a higher pitched kind of trumpeting sound when the last of Sally’s pit-mates had been hauled up out of the pit. Then, the squids raised up their tentacles in parallel lines and seemed to ride on invisible rays into their hovering ship. When all the squid creatures had left the grandstand and re-entered their silvery ship, it began to spin, slowly at first and then faster and faster. It rose slowly and then, quite suddenly sped away in a flash of blue light and an incredibly loud bang.
Sally and her pit-mates had no idea where on earth they were. They were happy to be alive. They had no idea how close they had come to failing the test of survival or had that happened, just how quickly the alien squids would have destroyed all of humanity.