Chapter 2: Astrid
I blink my eyes open as blurry images come into focus. I see a girl with dirty blonde hair leaning over me.
“Astrid? Are you okay?” Iris asks me.
“Yeah, I think so.” I say. I begin to sit up and notice the sharp pain in my head. I reach up to grab at it, but Iris pushes my arm down.
“Don’t touch it. I just cleaned it.” she says. She gives me a bottle of water that I take small sips from. My eyes flit to the pair of dead bodies on the ground. The previous days events play in my head.
“How long was I out?”
“Almost a day. You scared me. I tried to stop the flow of blood, but it seemed like it just bled more.” She points at my head. I nod and try to collect my thoughts.
“We need to take the bodies somewhere.” I say and stand up too quickly. I hold out my arms as the room stops spinning.
“You need to take it easy.” Iris says.
“No. If I don’t get the bodies out it’ll start stinking and bring rats or worse, others.” I say. I grab one of the dudes arms and pull him to the door. Iris jumps up and grabs his legs. We carry him over to one of the closets I used to put bodies in. We hold our breath and throw him in the room. We shut the door and run back to our room. We breath in a deep breath and do the same with the other guy. When our room is cleaned of unwanted bodies. We sit and take a breather. I notice that my backpack is wide open. I grab it and look through the contents.
“I had to use some to trade for bandages and ointment.” Iris says.
“That’s fine, but we need to keep this hidden even though we split up the packets, most of the packets were never turned in and we had to split the little portion that they gave us back.” she nods. I riffle through the pack and see a couple packs of Kool-Aid. I look at them and get a great idea. I grab four packs and grab Iris’s hand.
“Where are we going?” she asks.
I take her to the bathroom down the hall and hold the Kool-Aid packets up. I grin and realize this is the first time in a while that I’ve smiled and actually felt somewhat happy. I feel the sink up with warm water and put a sheet of plastic in the bottom to keep the drain closed.
“Bend over.” I say. She bends at the waist and I pull her shoulder length hair into the sink. I wet the last couple of inches of hair and add the powder. The sink turns a dark blue. We wait for almost 30 minutes. When I think it should be dyed enough, I pull her over to the next sink and wash out the excess. I pull her over to the hand dryer and dry the ends of her hair. When she stands up fully, she smiles at me and looks in the mirror.
“Is it crazy that I’ve dreamed of having blue hair. Obviously not this way, but I love it. Your turn.” she says. We repeat the process until two blonde half blue haired girls are staring back into the mirror. Me with my blue eyes and her with her dark chocolate brown ones. Our eyes shine and then reality hits. We make our way back to the classroom after our fun has run out. That night, we snack on canned peaches and water. As I slip into a deep sleep, I remind myself to clean the floor of the splatters of blood before I head to guard duty.
The next morning, I find a pill sitting beside a bottle of water. I grab it and take it without much thought because my head is spinning and throbbing. I look over at Iris’s bed and see her bed made and Iris nowhere to be seen. I get out of bed and gently brush through my hair with my fingers. I take a rag from one of the cleaning kits and scrub the floor with a bit of bleach. When the floor is back to its original color, I head towards the gymnasium. I crack open the door and see Peter with his head in Rena’s lap. She runs her fingers through her hair as she whispers to him. I clear my throat hoping to ruin their moment. I don’t want to see someone else’s happiness. They look over. Rena gives me a mean look. Peter sits up like Rena’s lap is on fire.
“What are we doing today?” I ask.
“Nice hair.” Peter answers.
“Thanks. Thought I needed a new look.”
“It suits you.” He stares at me before getting back to business. I stare at him for a minute longer before I stare at the floor. “Today we are going to do a training session. Except this time, we’re calling it a test. General Bardot, Lieutenant Brody and Colonel George are going to judge whether you belong in this Squad or if you need to go find a different group to survive in. Yesterday showed us that we need to have our forces stronger than all the groups combined. We can’t have what happened yesterday happen again. So let us begin.” he says. The first group of ten come up and begin doing sit ups. “Today we are going to push you through the brink of yourselves. If you can’t go beyond what your limit is, you don’t need to be in this Squad. Don’t worry. Some of you may be wondering why the General, Lieutenant and Colonel aren’t having to do this, but don’t worry. They will. After we see which ones of you are weak.” he continues talking, but something from the last year resurfaces.
I’ve done almost a hundred sit ups since Peter told us that we were being tested. I won’t fall under. I will prove myself. Those are the two sentences I repeat over and over in my head with each breath. Cally, Conner and Levi stand in front of us watching, scoring, keeping tabs on us. Peter tells us we can stop. I release a sigh when I think that we are finished. We stay seated for 30 seconds and then Peter tells us to flip over and do push-ups. Clare and I match our rhythm. I keep up and wait for further instructions. I take deep breaths as I push my body past what I’m comfortable with. My arms shake with each downward motion. Peter tells us to stop. When we’ve rested for the same amount of time, he tells us to begin the plank. All these different sets makes me remember gym class. It brings me back to the past, when scores that you received didn’t mean life or death. I breathe through my nose and rock back and forth as my arms begin to numb. One of the guys on my right side falls out of the plank. I hear a scrape of pens against paper as his final score is written down. The boy swears and sits on the bleachers. When I don’t think I can hold it any longer, Peter tells us we can rest. This time he lets us rest for almost a minute before he tells us to get up and start doing laps. I run behind Claire and watch her dark brown hair swish in it’s ponytail. I keep my eyes on her ponytail as Peter comes over and tells a handful of kids to follow him. I keep watching the ponytail swish back and forth. Peter makes the handful of kids hold on to a rope and climb until they hit the high ceiling. When they get to the top, they’re supposed to hold it for a minute and then they can continue running. The first kid makes it to the top, but as he holds it, his grip loosens and he slides down the thick rope. The kid lets his head fall as he walks over to the bleachers to watch. The next kid climbs up and holds it for a full minute and then slides down and gets behind me to continue running. The next kid, a girl, who I’ve seen sit in the back of my history class, climbs the rope and makes it for a couple of seconds before she loses her grip and falls to the gym floor. A sickening thunk is heard throughout the whole gym. When she doesn’t move, Peter drags her over to the doors and continues with the next kid. When Peter taps on my shoulder and then Claire’s shoulder, we move with him to the rope. Claire goes first and makes it to the top, where she finishes the minute and continues to run. I grab onto the rope and begin pulling myself up with my shaky arms. When I get to the top, I hold on for dear life and cross my legs. Peter yells up at me after what feels like years passing and I slide down. I get behind Claire and continue running behind her. After the first half of the morning, only half of us are still sitting in the room as part of the Squad. A fourth of the kids died and the other fourth are sitting miserably as they watch the rest of us continue. After we eat a small lunch, Peter makes us stand in a row and do jumping jacks. Then he makes us go through butterfly kicks, bicycle crunches and extra crunches to test our abs. Two more kids pass out from overexertion. By the time we are down to 20 members, most of the whole school is watching from the bleachers or the windows. Peter makes us stand in a line as he calls us forward to do one last thing that will determine our loyalty. He holds out a silver butter knife from the kitchen to the first kid. He grabs onto the butter knife and stares at Peter. I realize just as the kid steps out of the crowd what we are going to have to do. We’re going to have to kill our own guard members. One kid steps out and starts saying no over and over. I hold my position. The kid with the knife slits the kids throat and looks away.
“Congrats. Go stand over there.” Peter says. Claire gasps beside me when she sees who it is stepping up for her. It’s Tyler. One of her best friends. The guy she fell in love with. He watches her as he takes his place in front of Peter. Claire grabs the butter knife from Peter that has the blood from the other kid on it. She grasps it and stares at Tyler. She watches Tyler with tearful eyes and then I see something in her eyes. She pulls her arm back and turns. She aims for Peter’s heart, but Peter is faster. He ducks and pulls the knife out of her hand. He jabs her in the stomach. Tyler screams a hysterical scream. It echoes throughout the gymnasium. Claire slips to the floor as Tyler holds onto her head and whispers to her. He looks up at Peter with hatred in his eyes. Peter motions for me to come. I walk towards Peter and take the knife from his hand. The hilt is warm from his body heat. I look down at Claire’s lifeless eyes. I know what I must do. Tyler stands up and watches me. I step forward and grab the back of his head. I whisper into his ear as I stab him in the gut. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” he whispers back as he falls to the floor. He holds Claire’s hand as his eyes fall lifeless. I hand Peter the knife and walk over to the other kid. I don’t show my emotions. I promised myself from then on that I won’t kill although I know I’m lying to myself.
I shake out of my memory and watch as the same thing happens over again. I take deep breaths and dig my nails into my palms as I try to block out the unwanted memories. This time the Guard Squad is more prepared than we were a year ago. More are standing by the end. We place them over specific groups and determine Captains for each group. When the new groups are together, Peter tells everyone to rest and tells the three of us that we are going to do ours tomorrow. I walk out into the hall as quickly as I can. One tear escapes my eye and I quickly wipe it away. It’s bad to show emotion. Emotion gets you killed.