There you are, sitting your final exam of the season. It's been a long run, and you're looking forward to some well-deserved rest, relaxation and recovery. But first, you have your final paper to complete.

You glance at the clock for what feels like the hundredth time. Ten minutes remaining. Beads of sweat trickle down your face as you try to ration out the remaining time, but deep down, you know you're running short. You aren't going to make it. You-


It isn't the time. You can't put your finger on it, but something in the crowded exam hall feels wrong. The temperature? No. It's almost a pressure, a tangible vibration filling the air. You can feel it. Nervously, you glance up, checking to see if anyone else is feeling it too. Nothing. The other candidates are all focused intently on their papers. Across the room, an invigilator watches you coldly, but you've grown used to their stares by now. Satisfied that it's all in your mind, you look down at your paper once again.

Pressing pen to paper, you slowly crank out an answer. Four lines of buzzwords, numbers, comparisons, percentages, waffle, rambling, autopilot, going nowhere, definitely not getting the correct answerFUCK!

Your hands shake as you realise by just how far you've missed the mark. But in your mind, you feel... perplexed. Why are you slipping now!? So close to the end? So close to your goal? Once again, no answer presents itself. At least you still have plenty of time left, you reason, glancing back at the ever faithful clock adorning the far wall.

But as you lower your head again, you notice it. The other students. They're still, totally still. You turn your head to get a better look at the girl to your left. Her head is bent, facing directly down onto the desk, her hands gripping it tightly. Her composure is a sculpture of cold fear. You want to reach out, to snap her out of it, to break yourself out of the stressful stupor you've sunk into, but she seems so far away. Too far away. Somehow you know that even if you were to jump up, to scream in her face, to run for the door at that very moment, it wouldn't do any good. She seems beyond help.

And besides, you have your own problems to worry about. The fucking vibrations are back, and they're stronger than before. Cold shivers ripple down your spine, and you swear you can almost hear a hum in the air, an oppressive buzz swarming around you. You wonder how to put an end to the crushing pressure. But before you can gather your thoughts, something else enters the fray. For the first time, you realise how cold you are. The room, the chair... even the pen in your hand, they're all ice cold, and your nervous shaking soon gives way to relentless shivering. The curtains are drawn, but the cracks of light beyond offer you no comfort. The light seems cold and grey, and does nothing to dispel the gloominess of your surroundings. You feel like a deer in headlights.

A few more freezing seconds pass, before you make up your mind. To hell with the paper, to hell with the students and to hell with the room. You decide to wait out the remaining minutes in silence. Endure now, pick up the pieces later. Perfect! You scan the clock-face to check the time until your salvation. Ten minutes remaining.

What the hell?

How had the time not changed? Just to make sure, you twist around and stare at the digital timer at the opposite end of the hall. Sure enough, ten minutes stare back. For the first time, you let your  panic show. Your breathing picks up and your pen clatters to the floor, but you hardly notice. You realise you have only one option left. You glance across the room to the lone invigilator and raise your hand.

No response comes. The figure returns your gaze and smiles coldly, but stays perfectly still, watching you from afar. That's when you realise. Every other exam you've taken has been watched over by a familiar face: a teacher or parent, but the man across the room seems foreign. You try to draw a connection, to match his face with a memory, but deep down you know you've never seen him before in your life. Worse still, his smile is cold, matching the pale light trickling into the dark room. His expression is filled with malice, hardly attempting to hide the fact that he's enjoying and has been enjoying every excruciating moment you've spent tethered to your desk. And then-

The clock and the wall fill your vision once again. You have ten minutes remaining.

WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING!? The question reverberates throughout your mind, but your thoughts are hopelessly lost. Desperately, you decide to retrace your steps, to determine the path you took getting into this mess. Question by question you work back through the paper, back to the start and the word: begin. Nothing. Your mind draws a single, terrifying blank. You can't remember anything beyond eagerly opening the question booklet to begin, along with the same questions over and over, like a song on repeat. But you can remember the feeling. The mixture of stress and excitement as you first set out on the home stretch. The fear as you encountered tricky question after tricky question, and all the while a strange searing sensation, beginning in your fingertips and slowly working its way to your chest, building and building, turning into a slow burn until-

Your psyche recoils as you consider the possibility. You don't want to believe it, but all the logic adds up. Could you really be…? NO!

You've had enough. You push the ridiculous thoughts out of your mind and resolve to get the hell out of the hall as soon as possible. All you need to do is ask to leave. It's that simple. You open your mouth to speak-

The clock and the wall fill your vision once again. You have ten minutes remaining.

You decide then and there to make a run for it. You tense your muscles to move-

The clock and the wall fill your vision once again. You have ten minutes remaining.

Your face begins to twist into an expression of unbridled horror-

The clock and the wall fill your vision once again. You have ten minutes remaining.

Inside, you explode into a seething mass of rage and fear. It isn’t fair! What had you done to deserve this? What had you ever done to deserve being stuck in some god forsaken room surrounded by thousands of other god damn expressionless human statues and whatever the hell is laughing at you from where the doors used to be!?

You want to cry out, to ask the question, to quench your fear, but you know it won’t do any good. Instead, you resolve to simply wait for change and hope for an end to it all. Your best option. Your only option. You hunch over your desk and grip the sides tightly, waiting for an end.

Something catches your eye. You don’t dare to look up, but out of the corner of your vision, you see a man. He’s much older than you, easily sixty or seventy years old, and seems perplexed. You watch as he flicks deliriously through page after page of papers, before finally setting them down with a sigh. You watch as his eyes flit from one motionless figure to another, before finally settling on the invigilator out of sight. You watch as his expression changes from confusion to fear to panic. You watch as he realises too.