A Superficial War

June 19, 2012
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No one comes back from the war. Especially if you’re ugly.
We, the citizens of Pyra fall into line before the Capitol Building. There is a perfect climate for the city located at the center of the nation. However this is not a time for relaxing. This is the day of the August Draft.

I stand at the front of the line, feet away from the steps that lead to the architectural feat that has served as the center point of our great nation for two hundred years. My family stands at my side, our shoulders back and our heads up. We embody perfect Pyran citizens; confident, beautiful.

The President steps to the podium placed at the top of the steps. There are gasps as the city takes in his appearance; bronze skin that shimmers in sunlight, bringing out the brilliance of his blue eyes more than usual. His chiseled features are swoon-worthy, as usual. He is gorgeous as ever.

“Welcome!” he greets the crowd. “Today is the day we bind together again for our August Draft!” Applause. “Thank you.” The President takes a moment to pause as he dazzles everyone with his trademark smile.

“Before we begin, let us take a moment to remember why we are here. Long ago, when our nation was fighting for its independence from the ruthless Continent, we knew that the only way to sustain our military was to set into motion a draft where we select the strongest citizens of Pyra to serve our country. Today, the four cities of our island will participate in this event as well, and then the courageous troops will be shipped to the front lines. Now, let us bow our heads in remembrance of the brave lives we have lost during our ongoing struggle for our way of life.”

I cast my gaze down and pretend to honor all the dead draftees. When I was younger I would silently thank them for their service to our country, but as I grew older I became occupied with more important thoughts such as the body makeup the President is wearing. He outshines us. I just know his appearance will be the talk of the city for the next month. Maybe once all this is done I can catch up to him and ask.

We raise our heads and fix our sights on the President once more. He lifts his arms triumphantly. “Let the choosing begin!”

On cue, twenty-five men and women in Pyran colors emerge from the Capitol building. They make their way down the steps and branch off through the crowd, skipping the front row. Those likely to be drafted will be hiding in the center or the back. In the past they’ve tried to escape but now the street is blocked at all exits. No one leaves until the draft is over and no one is exempt unless you’re on your death bed. I can’t imagine anyone not attending though. How could you not want to honor your country? Besides, the after parties are always the greatest of the year.

I begin to get antsy waiting for the first draftee to be pulled to the steps and shown off to the crowd. I know I’ll never be picked. It’s customary that only the most hideous of the population are chosen. Since all major jobs on Pyra are appearance-based, the Draft offers those less fortunate a way to take pride in themselves, and it ensures we can continue to live in bliss the way we do.

The first draftee is brought up. A girl with eyes that seem to protrude from her skull, too many freckles, disproportionate lips, overly frizzy hair, and a body that’s on the verge of anorexic. The woman who has chosen her holds up the girl’s hand and announces her name, but I don’t hear it because I’m too busy laughing and exclaiming, “Can you imagine the freak they’ll bring up next?!” My family joins in the laughter.

As the rest of the draftees are presented, we all take turns at commenting. It’s part of the fun.

When the final person has disappeared into the building, the guards surrounding us disperse and we’re free to go about our day. However, I continue to talk with my family about those chosen today. We make pig noises for some and gag for others.

Then I feel a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I find one of the women who chose the draftees. “Yeah?”

“I’m sorry. It appears I made a mistake today. Come with me,” she says.

“What?” I can hardly believe it. She can’t actually be drafting me!

She tugs on my arm. I try to resist but she’s too strong. My family just looks on in stunned silence. I shout to them, “Don’t just stand there! Do something!”

“Come on, dear,” the woman says, turning me around on the steps and raising my hand. “Thecla Norwell!” She drops my arm and nudges the rest of the way.

I halt, refuse to go farther. “I won’t. I’m not meant to. Only ugly people are.” I know this won’t win me any favor but it needs to be said. Doesn’t she know how our society works? Beauty is everything and those who have it are rewarded.

“I understand the system,” she says. “And I know I’m making the right decision.”

“Look at me! I’m beautiful! Clearly you don’t get it,” I tell her.

She throws her head back in laughter. “Miss Thecla… Beauty is only skin deep, but ugliness is rooted at the core.”

The woman prods me forward like cattle. When we reach the door to the building I pause as it opens, moving to the side. My jaw drops as I take in the image of the first girl who was chosen strolls out, flashing a smile in my direction before running off.

I barely have time to react completely because in a second the woman forces me inside and down a hall where I stand next to the other draftees. They stare at me like I’m the oddity, and as I look around I realize I am. Everyone is flawed except me… or am I? What did that woman say?

“Take ‘em out,” she says. We are led down another hall and through a nondescript metal door that leads to a beach I have never seen. My heart races as we are pushed in to the surf and turned to face the way we came.

I see the President standing guard in front of the door, looking on in silence. I want to call out to him to ask what’s happening, but there’s no time because now the people who chose the draftees… us… are lifting handguns from their belts. What’s going on? What’s—

The first of the guns are fired and several people collapse to the sand. My heart pounds in my chest.

I look up at the woman in front of me. It’s the same one who tapped my shoulder.
No… not me…

Her finger eases down slightly and that’s when I realize there’s no war.
She’s grinning as smoke erupts from the gun in a silent shot.

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