It has been four weeks now and Ivan has finally found a comfortable schedule. The first week was exciting and full of puzzles. The second week was worrisome and Ivan had wondered if his dedication would get him killed. The third week came and Ivan had to battle his mind most of all. But now, he is resigned and determined at the same time.


It is a lonely existence to live in a treehouse by oneself. But this was never meant to be long term. Hopefully, Shannon will give up soon. She is the only other one left. Ivan was honestly surprised the game had even gone on this long. Of course, all his friends were crazy and this wasn’t totally unexpected.


It had taken a long time to even set things up. Of the five friends, each was given a few days to prepare their own treehouse in the local woods. Treehouses were not hard to find in the Golden Forest as their building was encouraged by the owners and open to anyone. But finding good houses to support living conditions was choosier. After every contestant chose a house, then they outfitted it with everything they thought they would need. Ivan had over-prepared. Or so he thought. Now he wasn’t so sure.


The rules were a bit tricky to enforce. Nobody was going to watch them for hours or days, so how would you know when an individual messed up? Alvin’s nerdiness came in handy here and general location trackers were set up. Ivan had even been the one to insist on using two on each person. And now he hated the tightness on both ankles.


Rations had run out and Ivan had to make do in other ways. There was a public garden with blueberries ripening to the south. But Ivan was sick of blueberries today and needed something more substantial. He got out his ropes and climbing gear and planned a path. The first tree was easy to jump to with large branches. The second was a pine tree and left prickly sap all over his body. Ivan wondered for the millionth time if pine tree sap was edible, but wasn’t ready to start eating bark just yet.


The third jump was the scariest as Ivan couldn’t get his hook to actually cling to anything. He ended up literally jumping from branch to branch with no security. The tree shook and almost knocked him out, but Ivan managed to cling to the trunk. He spent a long time recovering and debated the value of risking his life for a game. But pride kept him going. It was too late to turn back.


Ivan did make it to the park area of the forest before all the food trucks left. But while the smell of roasting meat was delicious, the open space before him was the hardest test of all. How did he get to the food trucks? Ivan climbed to the lower branches of his birch and debated. He was fairly good at walking on his hands, but the closest bench was at least fifteen feet away. And he would have to jump on top of a trash can after that.


It seemed difficult, but not impossible. And there seemed to be no other way. Even if Ivan was willing to break another rule while his friends couldn’t see him, the park was mostly empty today. There was no one to ask. So Ivan dumped his tree climbing gear and began before he could think himself out of his decision.


He started slow to keep his balance, but his arms quickly got sore. Ivan hurried his hands but lost his balance halfway there. Panicked, Ivan curled himself into a ball and used all his strength to keep his feet from coming anywhere near the ground. He held himself in that awkward position and did not hear any beeps coming from his trackers. He was still safe then. Could he perhaps inch his way to the bench on his back? It would be slower, but steadier.


It seemed to take forever, but Ivan made it to the bench and crawled on top of it. Huffing and puffing, he ogled the food truck with boasted pictures of tacos and fajitas. The cook was staring at him incredulously and Ivan disregarded trying to jump to the trash can closer to the food. Instead, Ivan called out and ordered his food remotely. The cook questioned him but obliged. Once the steaming plate of Mexican heaven was in Ivan’s hands, he gobbled three up before explaining things to the cook.


Before finishing his explanation, Ivan’s phone rang. He glanced at it and answered hurriedly. His smiled stretched as wide as one of his tacos. Ivan stood up and jumped for joy on the solid ground for the first time in weeks. He had won. Shannon had gone home and Ivan was now titled the king in the ultimate game of “The Ground is Lava”.


Photo by David Lundgren

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