Boom. Boom. Boom. The tap of Sydney's feet as she walked along the sidewalk. Boom. Boom. Boom. Her loud indie music, pouring into her ears from her metallic purple headphones. She pivoted her foot and started across the crosswalk, rudely shoving past an old lady walking her dog. The sign had switched as soon as she had arrived. Her music stopped all of a sudden and she pulled out her phone to see what was wrong. It was dead. She sighed and looked up at the tall office building on the other side of the crosswalk. Schreeeeeeeeechhhhhh. Boom.
Sydney woke up, although she was confused because she didn't remember falling asleep. Or how she had come to be in the place she was in. The place in question was not a place really, it wasn't a location you could find even if you wanted to. She was in a forest. Soft moss brushed her fingertips as she sat up and looked at the trees surrounding her. Tall Junipers mixed with Quaking Aspens swayed together in the wind, almost creating a melodic harmony. She tried to think back to the last thing that had happened, although she could only remember the Boom Boom of her music still faintly ringing in her ears.
Her headphones, phone, and backpack were noticeably gone, as was her watch, and strangely, her shoes. She pushed herself all the way up from the ground, wincing slightly as a sharp stick impaled her naked foot.
Having dusted herself off completely, she took a better look around her. There wasn't a path leading to the clearing she was in, which seemed to be the only gap in her line of sight. Then she noticed something off about the forest. Although she wasn't an expert on nature, as she had grown up in a city, she knew forests were supposed to be loud. Sydney felt that she should at least hear cicadas, or deer, or birds, or running water. To test her theory, she picked up a rock from the ground and threw it into the bushes about ten feet away. Nothing but the melodic harmonies of the swaying trees filled her ears. They reminded her of her mom's windchimes that hung on the deck, that were always pushed around in the strangest random manner but still made beautiful music with a hint of danger.
"Hello, Sydney," Sydney jumped slightly, startled, and took a deep breath preparing to see what had managed to sneak up on her unnoticed. She didn't prepare herself enough. Floating in front of her, about seven feet off the ground, was a swirling ball of something. The texture couldn't be described, as it seemed to be a mix of crashing waves and soft clouds with a hint of wood. The color was also hard to determine, it was like a rainbow swirling around like clothes in a washing machine, but tendrils of black crept through it, just enough to cancel out some of the colors.
A gust of wind swept past, but instead of moving her hair slightly and creating more music in the branches of the trees, it chilled her, and the noise that was previously comforting her didn't seem so tame anymore.
"What are you?" Sydney stuttered at the strange whatever-it-was.
"I am the Ultimatum. This forest is called the In-Between, where I will administer the final test that will determine your fate."
"Uhh… what?" Although Sydney knew now was not the best time for her sense of humor to emerge, she couldn't help but be slightly amused. She picked at her thumbnail, something she did when she was nervous.
"I am going to ask you a question of a moral dilemma. You are going to answer the question, and based on your answer, you will be prosperous in Heaven or spend eternity in Hell. There is one correct answer, and based on your record, Sydney Elizabeth Donahue, I wouldn't be surprised if you ended up with eternal damnation,"
"Excuse me? I am a good person!" Sydney exclaimed although she wasn't entirely sure at this point.
"Really?" The colors changed in the Ultimatum, swirling to form pictures of things Sydney barely remembered, she had pushed them in the back of her mind because they were all of the bad things she had done in the past, like pushing that old lady. Her self-confidence plummeted.
"Just ask me the question, okay?" Sydney pleaded. The Ultimatum complied.
"Alright. There are two mining shafts, and the tunnel connected to them is starting to flood. There is a group of miners in one of the shafts, Shaft A or Shaft B, but you don't know which one. You only have enough sandbags to block off one of the shafts, so you have to make a guess. You have a 50/50 shot of either saving or killing all the miners. Or, there is a third option. You can do nothing, and let both shafts fill halfway with water, although one miner will die no matter what else you do in this situation because he is a bad swimmer. What is your choice?" Sydney bit her lip in concentration. Not only would this question decided her fate, but she didn't know the answer! Would it be better to let someone die but save the others or attempt to save them all but possibly sentence them all to death by drowning? And then she knew.
"There is always another option. I would yell down the shaft, or through the wall, and figure out which shaft the miners were in, or place the sandbags equally across both so the shafts only fill up a quarter. I would save them all. There is always another way. Always."