Chapter 15: Astrid
After leaving the basement, I hurry to the gym to sign in. I shouldn’t have a rotation until the day after tomorrow. I see Red as soon as I walk in, but turn the other way and realize I’m headed in Rena’s direction. I sigh and stand beside her. She gives me a look, but ignores me. I glance over at the middle of the gym and remember the first day I became General.
The whole school sits on the bleachers as Peter stands in front of the crowd. I’m standing in the girls locker room with three other girls. Two Darlings turned Guard. They keep checking their makeup in the mirror as though they’re afraid their mascara’s come off or their lipstick is smudged. I roll my eyes as they dote upon themselves for the third time. I turn back towards Peter’s voice as he talks to the crowd of kids about how each rank is. General, Colonel, Major, Capitan, First lieutenant, and Second Lieutenant. He talks about what each roll means and then begins calling out names.
“Second Lieutenant, Jaina. First Lieutenant, Brody. Capitan, Jane. Major, Blake. Colonel, George. And last but not least, General, Astrid.” After each name is called we step out of the locker room and stand in front of the crowd. To show our ranks, Peter had the Know-it-alls make a small jacket with the position stitched onto the back. Peter presents them to us and shakes our hands. I feel almost as though I’m standing on the stage and receiving my diploma. The longing towards a piece of paper overwhelms me. I shrug my jacket over my t-shirt and release a sigh of relief that I worked my way to the top. I’m the very best here and now everyone knows it. I stare out at the crowd with happiness and see my sister smiling at me from across the room. I smile back and release a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Peter’s voice wakes me from my memories. “Listen up…It has come to my attention that after getting your numbers yesterday, you received a tattoo on your shoulder. From now on, you keep your shoulder on display. Cut off all sleeves so that we can identify you. Today you will go out and tell each group. I’ve assigned each guard group a group to tell and make sure they do it. Here’s the list. Now… one more thing. Someone in this room or out of this room has set up a...well, I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not funny. Stop trying to kill your fellow leader. Now I have my suspicions, but so far they’re clean. If you have any news of who’s trying to kill me, come to me whenever and tell me. Dismissed.” Peter walks towards Rena and glances my way. He glares at me before kissing Rena’s neck. I gag and make my way towards my group. I happen to be in a group with Tom and Jerry. I glance at Red who sits across the room with The Varsity, listening to what they say and laughing. I shake my head and order my group to follow me. We got assigned to The Dorks. We head to the auditorium with knives and scissors. When we get to the auditorium, I knock on the double doors and wait for someone to open up.
“Who is it?” a boy asks.
“The Guard. Open up. We’ve got an announcement.” I say.
The door unlocks and we file into the dark auditorium one by one. I stand on the stage with my knife in hand and wait to get The Dorks attention.
“Quiet. QUIET!!” I yell. Everyone shushes each other before the room falls into silence. “We’ve got new orders! From now on, everyone will have to show their shoulders.”
“WHY!?” someone yells.
“Because Peter wants to know how many days you have left. If you haven’t noticed, you have a new tattoo on your shoulder of how many days you have left. Each day it changes. From now on, Peter wants all shoulders exposed.”
“This is dumb!”
“We shouldn’t have to do this!”
“It’s our life. We shouldn’t have to show it off like some trophy!”
Shouts erupt from the center of the room. I stand on the stage and face the crowd head on. “It wasn’t my decision. If you have a problem, go to Peter.” I say. After a long time of consideration and thinking over the best possibility of getting away with wearing sleeves, The Dorks line up before The Guard members. We cut off each sleeve and double check that all clothes have no arms to it. Most of The Dorks get back to work, but some stand around and talk quietly underneath their voices. I finish with the last person and gather up the scraps of clothes before tossing them into a huge trash bag.
“Hey, Astrid.” I hear someone say behind me. I turn and see Jeremy standing on the stage in the shadows.
“Hey. Jeremy, right?” I ask, unsure.
“Yeah. Hey, I was wondering if I could talk to you, quietly.” he says with a look around.
“Sure. Hold on. Let me tell Peter that I’m finished for the day. Lets meet up in room...150.”
“Okay.” he says and walks into the shadows behind him. I walk out with the rest of the Guard with my thoughts in the clouds. We walk into the gym and most of the Guard take a seat on the bleachers, but I walk up to Peter and brace myself for the onslaught.
“I’m finished for the day.” I say.
“F...finished?” Peter asks with a shocked expression on his face.
“Yes. I worked all day and night yesterday and I’m going to catch up on some rest.”
“Okay, Sleeping Beauty. Have a great rest of the day off, Princess. See you bright and early in the morning.” Peter says, with another laugh.
I turn and head in the direction of the 100 hall. When I’ve gotten to room 150, I pace up and down the hall waiting for Jeremy. I hear footsteps from down the hall and hurry to stand in the shadows of room 150. I wait until Jeremy’s face comes into view before turning and pulling him in. When I close and lock the door, I turn and face him. “What’s up?” I ask.
“Umm, this is a little hard to explain. The other day, when you asked me to go get Peter, I...I saw something.”
“You saw something? What did you see?” I ask, patently. I can’t imagine what he could have seen that could have him this scared to tell me.
“I saw P...Peter and I...Iris together.”
“Yeah. She’s staying with The Darlings and The Varsity right now.” I say, with a roll of my eyes.
“No. I saw them k...kissing. Like as a couple. Peter told me not to say anything and that if I did I’d find myself dead. I just… Iris said some things and it made me curious. She sounded like...not herself.” he says.
“Wait. You’re saying that you saw my sister, Iris, kissing Peter?”
“Yes.” he says without looking at me.
“Umm…” My brain feels like it’s exploded. I pace up and down the room thinking about how I could bring this up to Iris. Then I remember that Peter was just kissing on Rena. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. I swear. I walked in and they were going at it.” he says.
“Oh, God.” I whisper. This is serious. My sister. My sweet innocent sister has fallen into a trap. Oh, God. “Thank you for telling me, Jeremy. I won’t say anything. You can go.” Jeremy watches me for a second before turning and walking off. After cooling down for almost an hour, I make my way back to the classroom with the kids who don’t have long left. I glance over and see a girl taking her last breaths. Miranda. I walk up to her and grab her hand. She looks over at me and gives me a small smile. Her lips move and I bend over to hear what she has to say.
“I’m not scared. I’m ready to leave this place. I think it’ll be...better up there.” I nod and watch as she takes in a breath. “Thank you.” she says as her eyes glaze over and her arm slackens. I step away from the body and watch as a group of four guards walk over and pick her up. They carry her out of the room without as much of a glance at the girl’s face. I run to catch up.
“Let me.” I say. The guys glance at me before handing over the girl. I take her in my arms and walk down the hall. I open up the classroom that we’ve been putting the bodies in. I place Miranda on the ground, close her eyes and arrange her body into a sleeping position, before flipping the lights off and walking out. Another group of guards tote in a boy not much older than me. I watch as they throw his body on top of the mound and leave for the next one. Before I shut the door, I notice the boy’s shoulder. I step closer and look at the markings. His shoulder has a pink 0. As I watch the markings eventually fade away until his arm looks the same as it did before. I glance down at Miranda’s arm and see that her marking is beginning to fade. I walk out before my eyes begin to water from the terrible smell of decomposing bodies. When I’m back in the room, I look around and see sorrowful faces all around. My heart breaks knowing that in a couple days, I’ll be in here too. I sit down on the floor and begin telling a story. Everyone turns towards me and watches with rapt attention as I tell the story of my life. I start from very young and work my way up. No one says a thing, as I open up and watch as every face forgets about why they are here. Even the guards who are on duty listen and laugh at certain parts.
The next couple of hours fly by as I answer questions and make up funny stories about pigs and goats and a boy named Peter who peed himself. As night falls, kids’ heads slowly lay back on pillows as I hum songs that I can’t remember. I know I don’t have the best voice in the world, but it’s something. Kids are taken out and disposed of and other kids are brought in. I stay with them for another day as I try to keep their minds off of the pain and the knowledge that they’re going to die soon and no one can help them. After waking up on the cold floor with my muscles aching and decide it’s time to search and find Iris and Peter. I leave the kids with a goodbye before walking towards the boys bathroom. If I were them, I’d be here because Rena wouldn’t dare come in. I step through the door of the boys locker room and hear a sound I never thought I’d hear. A moan, coming from my sister. I slip into a shower stall and see my sister and Peter through the mirror. I watch as Peter slides his hands down my sister’s body. My anger replaces what sadness I felt earlier and my head pounds with blood. I take a step towards Peter and Iris, but something stops me. I turn and see Chris standing behind me with a finger at his lips. I glare at him as Iris and Peter leave the bathroom with a giggle and a laugh.
“Why did you stop me?” I ask.
“Because you wouldn’t have been thinking straight. I saw you. You would have killed them both.” he says in a calm voice. I stomp my foot and walk towards the locker room door. I yank the handle and almost walk into Peter. He gives me a look up and down and steps out of the way.
“Next time you want to kill me, do it with more people around.” he says with a glare before walking into the locker room with Chris. I stand in the hallway for a while before moving. I walk without a purpose. Without a need to be anywhere. I walk until my legs hurt from climbing stairs and walking through empty halls. I look down at my watch and see that it’s already night time. I look down at my shoulder and sigh when I see the big numbers. 15. Nothing like seeing a reminder every time I look down. I turn when I hear a sound to my left, but before I can turn something slams into my head. I see stars before slamming down on my knees. I blink a veil of black out of my vision and turn just in time to see a fist coming at my face. I raise my arm to block, but my arm is too slow. The fist slams into my nose. My vision turns blurry as I take another hit to the ear. I hear ringing and can’t seem to get my bearings. I breathe in and feel something wet slide down my neck. I ball my hand and punch the person beside me with as much strength as I can. I hear a pop and hear someone slam down on the ground next to me. I hit again as my vision clears and see a face I recognize. Red. Jared. I hit him across the nose and rain down punches on his face until I can’t see his face anymore. Blood drips down onto the tile as Red groans in pain. I slam my palm into his neck and watch as his face turns purple. I laugh with glee as he struggles underneath me. Red reaches a hand up and grabs my hand as I squeeze his windpipe. He lets out a sound from his mouth as his eyeballs pop out of his head. Something in the back of my head tells me that if I don’t stop I’ll kill him. I loosen my grip and watch Red take a breath in through his lungs as he passes out. I slide onto the ground beside him and try to get up. I demand my legs to get up and run. After running with my head pulsing and my ear ringing, I open the locker door and run through the passage. I fall onto the floor and let myself feel pain as the adrenaline rushes away. I faint as blood drips down my head from my nose and ear.
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