Serena drove around the circular drive asking herself again what she had gotten herself into when she'd agreed to the plan.
She had left her apartment an hour ago after the final instructions had been slipped inside of her mailbox. All part of some silly assignment given out as part of sorority pledge week, the one that would test her worthiness as a future member of the order. All the challenges she had been issued so far, she had passed with flying colors. She had rappelled up the Carillon bell tower and transverse the steam tunnels that created a labyrinth underneath the campus.
Even camping out overnight in the cemetery, the final resting place for distinguished and tenured faculty for over 100 years hadn't fazed her. Not even when some frat guys showed up to scare them in ways that elicited more laughter than tears. No, Serena had decided on day one of pledge week that she could handle anything dished out to test her will. After all, in her 19 years she had never shrunk from anything, and had survived her parents' divorce and her constant relocation from being shuttled between two adults constantly trying to one up each other.
She looked for some place to park her car and decided a shady spot beneath an ancient Oak tree would do just fine. After doing that, she locked it and walked up to what looked like a stone building as old as the trees around it. But what looked intriguing proved to be a funky looking aqua colored door, made out of wood and metal but the color! Not what she would have chosen for her own décor but the designs etched into the wood intrigued her. She saw a handle and decided to give it a try, figuring it must be part of the test.
"Hey wait a minute there. What do you think you're doing?"
Serena turned around suddenly. Some young woman dressed only in black down to her knee high boots approached her, her face etched in disapproval.
Not what she expected but okay, she could handle whatever obstacles were thrust at her.
"I'm here for the challenge."
The woman eyed her carefully.
"Who are you?"
Serena blinked her eyes. She wondered the same thing about this woman, not recognizing her.
"I could ask the same question."
The woman pinched her lips and folded her arms.
"I'm the one who asks questions here," she said, "and who are you again?"
Serena bit back a tart response and nodded instead.
"I'm one of the pledges, Serena," she said, "I received instructions to come out here for the next challenge."
The woman's mouth curved into a smile.
"Ah yes, you're the first one which is both good and bad," she said, "You'll soon find out which when you go inside."
"What do you mean?"
The woman rubbed her sleek arms.
"As I said, you'll find out when you go inside," she said, "Show me a copy of the message and I'll open the door."
Serena dug around for it in her purse, easy enough and produced it to the woman.
"Okay, you have gained admittance," she said, "When you walk inside, you'll know what to do."
Serena furrowed her brow.
"No further instructions, no secret pledges or trivia questions?"
The woman shook her head with some amusement.
"Nothing like that," she said, "This challenge is different from the rest. It's the final one."
Serena nodded agreeably.
"Cool. Guess I better get started then," she said, "I have a study session later this afternoon."
The woman smiled.
"Oh it will take as long as it takes," she said, "It all depends on him."
That sounded cryptic to Serena but then she found this woman a bit strange.
"Whatever. I'll see you later."
The woman just nodded and moved away as Serena pulled on the handle and the door swung open.
She peeked inside but that told her nothing as it appeared shrouded in darkness. So she walked inside and saw halos of light ahead like lanterns that had been lit to show the way. Looking around her, she saw dimly outlined shapes of what looked like jagged rocks, rather than the smooth walls she expected.
Maybe she was still outside and hadn't gotten to the house.
But wait, ahead was what looked like a table etched out of stone. As she grew closer, she could see the finite details on it. She found what looked like a wine bottle and a crystal glass. The slip of paper told her to pour herself a glass and drink it, in calligraphic script.
What they thought she was crazy, what with all the warnings posted everywhere to only drink what could be trusted, not what was offered by strangers. But then again, the sorority sisters wouldn't ever hurt her or any pledge, even if they pushed the envelope a bit with the carillon tower challenge.
"Oh come on Serena, take one sip of the wine," a voice said, "It will make you feel wonderful."
She spun around quickly, where had that voice come from, had it been inside her head? The voice had been gentle if cajoling, and definitely masculine. Ahead of her she saw a set of double doors.
"Welcome Serena," the voice continued, "just walk through those doors and I'll be waiting."
Okay, definitely not inside her head but who was it, where was he and how...
"My name, how do you know it," she asked.
"Come inside and see me Serena for yourself but try the wine first."
She looked down at it and shrugged, pouring herself a glass and taking a sip. Delicious and pungent, she swallowed it down quickly, feeling a headiness rush through her body.
The doors opened and her eyes widened because she saw a dimly lit corridor, cloaked in warmth and humidity almost as if there was water nearby. She gingerly stepped through the doors and saw a lagoon surrounded by craggy rock and with water cascading down from a rocky surface all the way up. Around here there was warm sand that coated her feet soothing the aches out of them. She slipped off her shoes and the sand massaged her toes.
But where was the voice coming from?
She saw a shallow shelf near her, with a couple inches of water and then it grew deeper and simmered an aqua blue yet it seemed translucent and the faint scent of wild flowers wafted towards her.
Then she saw a man floating in the middle of the water, his dark hair slicked back and his eyes on her.
"Serena, come on in the water's perfect."
She looked at him warily.
"I'm perfectly fine here and who are you anyway? How do you know my name?"
A throaty laugh answered.
"I know all about you," he said, "Everything, including what you like."
Now that confused her, but this must be part of the test, right? She just had to stick to the plan and follow the instructions he gave her so she could pass this final assignment.
But the way he looked at her made her skin tingle, whether due to nerves she didn't know.
"I'm here to face the final challenge."
"You came here because I invited you. Now get in the water."
His voice was silky smooth and quiet but with an edge to it that hinted of danger. She saw him out there and she looked at the water lapping close to her. Something about it it didn't look right.
"Why, I'm not dressed for it and besides we swam in the fountain outside the library two challenges ago."
.... There is more of this story ...