Emilia, are you awake?”
“Yeah...unfortunately,” I grumbled, rubbing my eyes. I stared sleepily at my mom’s fuzzy outline standing in my doorway.
“Honey, c’mon get up, I-I have something important to tell you.” She walked over to me and shook my arm. She sounded upset.
I sat up, and my eyes finally focused. My mom had tears in her eyes. “Mom? What’s wrong?” I asked, suddenly very alert.
“You have to go… to School today.” She bit her lip. My heart started pounding, and I couldn’t hear what she was saying anymore. School? What? That couldn’t be possible...could it? I quickly came back to my senses and immediately started asking questions.
“Mom, what are you talking about? You said you wouldn’t make me go anymore. I thought we had a choice! I thought it was too dangerous!” ,
She shoved a crumpled, tear-stained letter at me as silent tears spilled down her face. It read;
September 19th, 3068
By order of the President, Harold Nolasname, all children between the ages of eleven and eighteen must go to School. This is only for population control. Our country must have the best, only the best. If the children do not go, they and their families will pay the price. Do not ask questions, do not try to run. We will know. The rules will start to be enforced September 20th, now and forever. Remember that we are always watching.
I skimmed through the letter quickly, tears filling my eyes. When I finished, I slammed the letter against my mattress and stood up.
“Mom, please,” I begged.
“I wish… I wish you didn’t have to go to that awful place. I wish you didn’t have to risk your life every day, but-” She lowered her voice down to a whisper, as if someone was listening, “don’t you know what the government will do to us? They’ll kill us or torture or-or!” She broke into hysterical sobs. I wiped my tears away and wrapped my arm around her.
“I won’t let that happen. I promise.” I walked to my door.
“Y-you need to get ready,” she reminded me.
“She walked to my door and gave me a quick hug before leaving. I walked over to my dresser. I needed comfortable clothes, something easy to move around in, but not noticeable. I put on plain clothes, just jeans and a gray T-shirt and then put a large faded green army jacket over me. I knelt down to my bed and peered underneath. My hand felt around until it bumped into a rough object. I slid a cardboard box out, covered in dust. I coughed and lifted the lid, revealing two daggers and a small gun.
I had never used the gun before; it was my dad’s who had died a long time ago at the hands of a government agent. The daggers were in sheaths and I slid one in each of my combat boots. I put the gun in an inside pocket of my jacket and went to look for more bullets.
Finally, when I had all of my School supplies, I kissed my mom goodbye, tied my long wavy brown hair into a low ponytail and started the walk to my possible death: School.
It was about half an hour before I finally reached the School. There was only one School in the district, and my house was far away. I stopped right outside of the gate, too scared to go inside.
What was it that made School so scary? Well, behind every corner there was another student waiting to kill you. By the end of the year, only thirty students would survive, and those thirty would be honored by the president.
I didn’t really want to be honored by the guy who made children fight for their citizenship, but… if I wasn’t honored, that meant I would be dead. And I really wanted to survive.
The students all wanted to be one of those top thirty, and they would do anything to make it. But of course, fighting each other is way too easy. No, the government wanted to make it harder. They added professional assassins called “Teachers” to hunt down the weak. They used only the most painful weapons and hid in plain sight.
But that wasn’t all. There were traps scattered all over the School. For example, the year before, a kid opened his locker and poisonous gas spilled out.
So, yeah, I was terrified. Who wouldn’t be? I had to be one of the top thirty. My mom was counting on me. At least we could go home during the dark hours of the night. School lasted 12 hours, starting and ending at 9.
I checked my watch. It was eight forty-nine. I had to go in. I took a deep breath and pressed a small button at the edge of the gate. A small trapdoor opened in the ground and I jumped through. My stomach did backflips as I fell down the dark hole.
Thump. I hit the cool dark dirt, feet first, and tumbled over. I couldn’t see anything. The tunnel was pitch-black. I moved my hand around and felt the smooth cement walls. I pushed myself to standing and felt a sharp pain in my left knee. I felt my knee throb and when I pulled my hand away, it was covered in some liquid -- blood. I wasn’t even in school yet, but I was already injured.
I took a shaky step forward, using the wall for balance. After a couple minutes, I face-planted into a door. I stepped backward and felt the rough, splintered wooden door for a handle. Finally, I got it and slowly turned it, knowing that I couldn’t turn back.
The door swung open, and I was blinded by a fierce light. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust, and then I saw a white room with twelve wooden chairs in it. A student sat in each one, except for a broken one in the corner. There was one other person standing up. She was a woman in her forties standing near another door at the front of the room. She smiled at me and beckoned me in.
“Ah, you must be Emilia D. We don’t like to use last names here -- makes things too personal.” She whispered the last par,t and her smile grew wider, like we were sharing a joke. “There’s a seat for you here.” She pointed to the broken chair in the corner.
“I’ll stand,” I offered, walking over to the chair, but stopping next to it. The door slammed behind me without anyone touching it.
“More standing for you!” She chuckled and walked back to the front of the room.
“As I was saying before our late student walked in,” she eyed me and half the group glanced at me, “this is orientation. Just a little quick summary of what will happen before you are shoved into the scary world out there.” She gestured to the door.
I studied the group around me. The oldest looked eighteen , and the youngest thirteen. I was fifteen, just in the middle. Half of them looked like they wanted to kill me, and the other half looked too terrified to do anything.
“So, you’ve probably noticed our small group today,” the annoying lady went on. “There are twenty other groups of twelve around the school, and in fifteen minutes, you will all be let loose to kill each other. That means there are 240 students in the school and only thirty will survive, but don’t worry: about half of you will be dead by nine pm tonight!” She giggled.
The eighteen-year-old looked like she was ready to cry, but the thirteen year-old was ready to be the one to kill half the school. I would have laughed if not for the circumstances.
“I guess I’ve gone through everything.” The lady looked at her watch, and I started freaking out. I had barely heard anything she had said!
“Time to die! Oops, I mean time to go to school!” She giggled again. She seemed way too happy about this arrangement.
She walked to the door in her tall pink heels that matched the pink polka dots on her ruffly blue dress. She opened the door, and I tried to get a look at what was behind it, but all the other students had gotten up and crowded by the door too, except for a couple students who had backed away, too scared to look at the danger that awaited them.
“One at a time. I’ll call your names. Back away, please!” the lady called, but I couldn’t see her. She was so short that she had been swallowed up by the crowd.
But the group listened and backed away. The lady whipped out a small blue notebook from her pink handbag. Was everything this lady owned blue or pink?
“Kayley A.” A tall girl with long blonde hair took a deep gulp and slowly walked out the door, out of my view.
“Sofia A.” And so the list continued; after Sophia, it was Danielle B, and then Jackson C, and then Alex D. Finally, I held my breath because I knew my name was about to be called.
“Emilia D.” I let my breath go and walked unsteadily to the door, then passed through into a large room full of tables.
Suddenly, I was alone. I guessed the first students had immediately just run out of the other hallways that opened into the large room. The tables were covered in dust and mold. This room hadn’t been used in a long time, but I didn’t understand why the other students had run.
After barely five seconds, another student from my room entered the table room. She was the thirteen year-old. I walked over to her, thinking I could make an alliance.
“Hi, I’m-” I started to say.
“RUN!” She screamed, looking paralyzed. She wasn’t looking at me, I realized. I turned around and saw spiders. I was terrified of spiders, but these weren’t your average spiders. They were seven feet long and much taller than I was. There were three of them approaching diagonally across the room from us. And fast. I quickly looked around. There were three hallways leading out of here, not including the door we just came out of. I ran to the one closest to me, but the girl ran to the one across the room.
“No!” I screamed, but it was too late. The spiders surrounded the girl, and she was gone. My legs couldn’t move. I was stuck just outside the hallway that could lead to my safety.
One of the spiders had heard my cry and looked over at me with its big eight eyes. That made me run. I ran down the hallway and to the right. I passed some lockers, but remembered the kid from last year, and kept on running. I passed multiple rooms and heard lots of screaming, but I didn’t stop running. I ran and ran until the hallway just stopped. It went on no further. There was just a bookcase in front of me. I sunk to my knees. I was so tired and scared. I had just seen a little girl die! I started to cry.
“Hey, are you okay?” A student poked his head out of a nearby classroom.
“Yeah.” I wiped my eyes. I didn’t want to appear weak.
“I’m hiding in here -- it seems safe,” he said. I took a step closer, slightly wary, but looking for someone I could trust.
“Nowhere is safe,” I responded.
“You’re smart. Want to form an alliance? I’m sure my friends won’t mind.” Suddenly, he stepped out of the classroom, but so did two other students. They all smiled and held weapons. The student I was talking to had a gun. I reached for mine when he spoke again.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Reach for your weapon, and we’ll kill you.” He took a step forward, and I took a step back. I kept taking slow steps back as he talked.
“Sorry I have to kill you. You were so sad. I’ll put you out of your misery.” He smiled.
“Wait, I want to!” the girl next to him complained. She had curly red hair and held a sword in her right hand.
“No, I do!” the boy to his right said. He had long black hair and held a gun in each hand.
The student I had talked to quieted them both.
“No, I’m gonna kill her. She’ll have the honor of being my first kill of the year.” He smiled.
“Not. So. Fast.” A woman’s voice from down the hall said. All three of them turned around.
“A teacher!” The curly-haired girl cried. They tried to run, but were blocked. I ran down the hallway to the bookcase. I felt all the books trying to make a door appear, but that was impossible. I slammed my fist against the bookcase and a door opened. The bookcase did have a secret door.
I looked behind me. The teacher had already killed the student who had talked to me. I took a deep breath and walked through the door. It slammed behind me.
I gasped as I looked around me. I knew this was a place I shouldn’t be. Computers lined the empty room and the wall in front of me was covered in monitors. I could see the entire school. I saw the teacher in the hallway kill the last of the three students who had taunted me. I saw the spiders had moved to another room with lots of books in it. They were terrorizing a group of students, who were unable to move. I saw five students in a classroom pulling out their weapons, ready for a fight. I guessed that the place I was in was the control room and wondered what to do. Could I stop it? Could I stop the teachers, and the killings, and the entire school? There was only one way to find out.