The Culling

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Chapter II

When we slowed about ten miles later, it was to pass through a security gate, another forty foot wall, this time with armed guards.

“Davis,” the guard greeted with familiarity, “fresh batch?”

“Yeah, five of them,” the driver jerked a thumb in our direction. I was the only one paying any attention; the other kids were staring into nothing again.

“Alright, get em out of here.”

We pulled through the gate. The woman turned in her seat to address us.

“We will be dropping you at predetermined sites around the arena, area five if you remember the projection from the presentation.” I did. I said nothing. “Each of you will get off at different points in one mile intervals to ensure an even spread at the start of the day tomorrow.”

Davis turned the windshield wipers on and cursed under his breath. “Snow.”

I looked between the front seats at the pristine white falling and blanketing everything. Just like every year, without fail, the snow showed up before sunset on my birthday.

“When I call your name,” the woman continued, after an annoyed glance at her partner, “exit the vehicle. First point, Melinda Reaves.”

The aristocrat’s daughter looked up with wide eyes as the van slowed. Hurriedly, she shrugged her pack onto her shoulders and opened the sliding door with shaking hands.

“Hurry up,” the woman snapped.

Melinda flinched, nearly falling on her face into the frost. Carefully, she stepped off onto the cold dirt and with scared eyes, pulled the door shut. That was the last time I saw her alive.

“Next up….”

And so it went for the next couple of miles, until only me and Alex were left. I would be getting off before him, and that’s when the reality hit me hardest. I’d be getting off the van, heading out into the middle of who-knows-where to try and survive for the next ten years. I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t ready for this. I missed my family, my horse, my home. Before I knew it, it was my turn, and I had to disembark in the middle of a frozen road.

I watched the van drive off, leaving clouds of exhaust in the frigid air. Vaguely, I wondered if Alex and the others would make it out. I wondered if I would make it. I picked up my survival bag, my lifeline for the time being, and hefted in onto my shoulders.

“Happy birthday to me…” I sang under my breath as the tears started to well up. I kicked a rock hard and heard it hit a tree with a hollow knock. I started to make my way into the brush, legs shaking as the weight of the situation hit me. Suddenly the shooting stars didn’t look so foolish. “Happy birthday, Elysia, happy birthday to me.”

I made it maybe a mile into the dense forest before I collapsed into a heaving pile. I threw up. I screamed. I kicked at a rock and nearly broke my numb toes. After I’d calmed into quiet sobs, I wiped away the snot that was running down my face, spitting the stale saliva onto the ground. My mouth was dry, and I could hear my father’s voice in my head telling me that I’d have to find water soon.

I wiped at the remaining tears and sniffed. I eyed my bag dejectedly and picked it up again. It seemed heavier and heavier each time I put it down. I should stop putting it down, I thought to myself. And then I remembered the box that I had received at reception. I hadn’t opened it then, because I saw some kids, who were clearly previously coached by someone (a parent, maybe?) eyeing the goods that other kids had gotten, probably keeping tabs in their heads and plotting to use their hunting knives for something sinister.

I shivered and checked over my shoulder; nothing. I was truly alone.

I grabbed the lid with numb fingers and pulled it off, feeling the slight resistance of a vacuum. Inside, an egg was nestled next to it was a lighter, something even more precious. I felt like crying all over. An egg? How was that supposed to help me survive? I felt like cursing, but held myself in check. If anything, it would prove to be useful if I failed to find food.

I placed it back in the box and put the box back into my pack, taking care to not jostle it too much. Padded carefully between a tarp and a sweatshirt, I was satisfied enough to heave my bag up again. It seemed lighter this time. I trudged along on the virgin snow, beginning the longest journey of my life.

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