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I sat up, stretched, and looked out at the beautiful morning sky before I realized what day it was. It was The Day. The day twenty of us would make it out of this trash heap of a town. Would live.
Of course, I was on my own. My family had long since passed on. So I wasn’t invested in anyone who would probably soon die. They were all gone. Just thinking of them made my throat swell. You’d think I’d be tough after all I’d been through, but I was still my sensitive self.
I’d gotten over the creepiness of living in my once-fully-occupied house all alone. Sure, I still got the chills once in a while, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I hoped. After depressingly hopping down the stairs without my usual canter, I made myself breakfast, something light, because I was afraid I might lose it later. Cooking was the easy part of taking care of myself. I downed my fruit and oatmeal and scrambled out the door, afraid I’d miss him.
See, when I said I wasn’t emotionally invested, I’d neglected to think of Stevie. He had always been the little toddler next door, but now he relied on me. Sure, he was 8, but he still needed someone to look after him. His father was one of the few that hadn’t been killed by the Bomb, but he wasn’t around much. And Stevie stayed away when he was.
He was standing at the end of our street, by the rock that was our meeting place. “Hey Tess.”
“What’s up, man?” But even he wouldn’t follow pleasantries on this day.
“Ready?” He said with a burden that no 8 year old should have to carry. As I’ll ever be, I thought silently, but I didn’t say it because it would darken the mood even more.
We began the 3 mile walk toward the Center, one that I’d taken far too often. We were silent. What was there to say? We knew there was a one in five hundred chance that we’d be liberated, so why hope? And the chance that we’d both be selected was infinitesimal.
When I looked up, we had arrived at the center. Time was unpredictable today. There was already a small crowd forming outside the doors, but the Advisors weren’t letting anyone in. I looked around for a familiar face, but everyone blended into the crowd today. Except for Loon. We didn’t know her real name, but that was what everyone called her. She was ranting, as usual. “This is the day of finality! I see a number! 20!” Well obviously, I thought. Twenty would be chosen. But what worried me was the tone of her voice. She said twenty like it was a horrible fate. But everyone wanted to get out of here and go…well, wherever the Twenty went each year. Why was I even listening to a crazy? I was just too paranoid today.
I steered Stevie away from her. “You don’t need to hear that,” I said soothingly, but knowing he had heard much worse. We went to an old, decrepit bench and waited. Finally:
“Citizens, you may enter,” an Advisor bellowed. I couldn’t tell those people apart, but I had never seen this one before. Maybe he was a new recruit. We shuffled in like the rest of the crowd. I couldn’t help but think how sheep-like our community had become. Citizens, go here, Citizens, do this. And we followed their every word.
I gripped Stevie’s hand tight as we entered the huge Gathering Hall. “Ouch,” he complained.
An Advisor began to speak into a crackly microphone. “Citizens, we are gathered here today for something special. Something that only happens every twenty years. Never forget this day. We will begin the Selection shortly. If you are selected, make your way through these doors to a van that will take you to the City. Now….,” he said with a pause that was supposed to be dramatic, “let the Selection begin!”
Another advisor stepped to the mic and began the madness. “This Selection was done randomly by computer.” There was a little murmuring about the fairness of this. “Any objections?” the Advisor said, challengingly. I looked around, and realized there were two Advisors at the door, holding strange instruments that I thought were called tasers. Nobody said anything.
“The list of the Selected is as follows.” She continued. She began reading the names. “Amos Livingston. George Jewel.” She went on and on, but I didn’t hear anything good. Loon screamed. I guess her name had been called. The crowd was getting more and more anxious. There had to be only a few spots left. I looked at Stevie, but he had his eyes closed.
“And the last of the selected- Theresa Harding.” Darn, I thought, then….
“That’s me!” I screamed. Everyone around me gave me a dirty look. Then I remembered Stevie. He was standing there- his body an anchor against his pain. Yet I knew he’d feel much worse if he’d been Selected instead of me. Gosh, I was such a jerk! I rushed to his side. “Stevie?”
“Just go.” He muttered.
“But how will you take care of yourself?” He didn’t answer. Suddenly, I had an idea, one that sickened me, but I knew it was right. I rushed up to the Advisor at the microphone. “Are we allowed to let someone take our place?” I questioned.
She looked like she was about to say yes, but another Advisor hurried over. He was the one I’d never seen before. “NO.” he said forcefully, and walked away.
I raced back to Stevie and gave him a tight hug. He was the closest thing I’d had to family after the Bomb. There were tears in my eyes as I walked away. As I said, toughness isn’t my strong suit.
I walked through the doors, excited about my future.
Immediately, I knew something was wrong. The rest of the Selected sat gagged in the van. An Advisor quickly gagged me too. I was shoved into the van with the rest. The doors slammed shut, and we began to drive. There was no contact between us Selected aside from the occasional nervous glance. Loon was moaning about “the end.”
We could have driven for 5 minutes, or an hour. I didn’t really care. This strange turn of events upset me, but in a way, I wasn’t surprised. Why should I trust these people who Bombed my world and ruined my life? I just hoped we wouldn’t be tortured. I didn’t know if I could handle that.
The van came to a sudden, jolting stop. The doors were pushed open, and the light blinded me. The Advisors shoved us into a building that looked like a warehouse. And closed the doors.
I almost expected it when the gas started hissing in. I began to laugh. They had tried to contain us in so many ways. They had Bombed our community, and now they were killing our people methodically. But for some strange reason, I felt finally free. Loon gripped my hand. And I closed my eyes.