Chapter 4: Astrid
I stand in the middle of the gymnasium. Again. It feels like Deja vu. I know I must prove my worth over again. Just like I did last time. I have bigger muscles and more endurance than I did last time, but so does Brody, George and Kathy. Brody and George have bulked up since the last testing. I can only hope that I do better than them to hold my position.
“This time, we’ll be doing something different. This time we’re going to compete in an obstacle course. The girls will go against the girls and the guys will go against the guys. Let’s have Astrid and Kathy go first. Brody and George you’ll be next and then Cody and Will and Mary and Sydney.” Peter says. He points us to the farthest corner in the gym. “This is the route you will take. I have guards positioned around the school. They each have a different color flag. A blue and a red. Astrid you’ll be blue and Kathy you’ll be red. When you reach their position, grab the flag and hold on to it. When you return the person with the most flags wins. Don’t think this will be a breeze in the park. I’ve had the Know-it-alls set up a little something for you. They were all too happy to comply. Now when I say go, you go.” I take a deep breath and get ready. “Each guard member has a flashlight or some kind of beacon that will show you which way to go. Good luck. On your mark. Get set.” he waits for us to nod and then he shouts go. I run out of the gym room with Kathy right on my heels. We split off. I go right and she goes left. I grab the first flag as soon as I turn the corner. A long hallway stands in front of me with a guard at the far end. I can’t make out the guard, but I can see the small blue light. I take off at a run, but don’t get very far. I realize that the hall is filled with booby traps. I slow down just as I step on a trigger and a piece of tile comes flying out of the nearest locker almost cutting my throat. I duck and almost lose my balance. When I feel like it’s safe to move, I glance up and see the blue light farther away. I take my next step and wait for the trigger to spring. Nothing happens so I continue moving slowly. I brush my fingertips on the lockers as I walk closer to the blue light. I feel a fishing thread and duck underneath it, but end up tripping over a different one. I curl up into a ball as the ceiling falls all around me. When everything settles down, I get up on my knees and wipe my sweaty palms against my pants. I get up and continue walking. The blue light comes closer. I can make out the guard who is holding it. He watches in fascination as I clear the booby traps and step up to take the flag. I turn and run down the stairs. The last step crumbles and I tumble with the concrete. I steady myself with my hands and push the door open. The next guard stands with a flashlight pointing to the left. I take the flag and push it into my jean pocket. I walk down the hallway waiting for something to pop out. When nothing does, I release a sigh. That’s when I hear the breathing. I turn quickly enough to block the guy’s punch. I didn’t think to bring my knife with me so I have to rely on my hands and feet. I find myself fighting three of my fellow guards that are almost three times bigger than I am. I kick the first guy in the stomach hard enough that he stumbles back. The second one comes in and grabs a handful of my hair. I cry out and elbow him in the stomach. He holds on, but loosens his grip. I slip out of his hold just as the first one kicks me in the stomach. All the air in my lungs wizzes out and I’m back to that night in my room, having to fight off three guys by myself. Except this time, I don’t have my knife. I punch the first guy in the face and end up punching him in the nose. He curses me as his nose begins to drip blood. He steps back and lets the other two take care of me. The third kid isn’t as experienced as me and I quickly finish him off. He lays on the ground moaning in pain. The second one is the most trained. I can tell he’s almost as old as me. I sweep my leg and he falls to the ground. I take that opportunity to push him down on the ground, when I land a punch to his trachea. He puts his hands on his throat and starts coughing. He waves me onwards and hands me a flag. I take it and lean down to kiss his cheek in apology. He coughs again as I run away. I turn the corner and see two guards in front of the elevator. I walk up to the blue one and ask where I’m supposed to go. He tells me to head back to the gym. I run up the stairs and walk through the hall that contains the booby traps. I realize halfway through that someone must have terminated them. I continue to the gym doors and see Kathy running down the hall behind me. I throw open the doors and run to the starting spot. Kathy comes over huffing and puffing. Peter comes over with his hand out. I hand him all of my flags and watch as he counts them.
“Four.” he yells and I realize that a lot of kids are sitting on the bleachers watching. He moves over to Kathy and picks up her flags. “Three.” Kathy looks at me with disgust. “Not to worry, ladies, we’ve got one more challenge. See that wall over there?” We both look. The far wall has little pieces of wood nailed into it. “Whoever gets to the top first, gets an extra point, like a flag.” he says. We face the wall and wait for him to tell us to go. I wipe my mind clean. I don’t worry about anything. I just have to get up the wall first. “Go.” I sprint to the wall and get there after Kathy does. She starts up the wall at a fast pace. I grab a block above me and begin the climb. I go slower and I’m thankful I do because Kathy grabs onto a block of wood and slides down the wall. She curses and starts up the wall again slower. I watch my feet as I climb. I grab the next block in front of me and almost fall back when the block twists. I grab on tighter and grab for the next block. I move my feet and hands as I make my way up to the wall. I look up and see that I’m ⅔ of the way through. I take a small break and look down to see Kathy struggling at the same spot she was at when she fell. Tears are running down her face. I watch her for a bit as I let her catch up. When her hands reach my feet, I begin to climb again. When I reach the top, Kathy has already stopped and looks up at me. I make my way back down the wall and jump to the ground. She holds out her hand and I shake it. She still has a position on the team, even if it isn’t one of the highest ones. We sit on the bleachers and watch as the next group goes. I catch Rena looking at me. I stare at her until she looks away. I don’t think that she wanted me to get this far with being a part of the guard. I glance at Peter and realize that he’s making his way to where I am sitting.
“Hi Peter.” I say and keep my eyes trained on the gym floor.
“You did good Astrid. I knew I could count on you.” He says and sits right beside me.
“Thank you. I work hard for the things I want.” I tell him.
“I can see that you do,” he says. His thigh presses against mine. I want so badly to move, but I stay still.
“Is there something you wanted?” I ask.
“Yes. Will you meet me at the classroom marked 304? I have a job for you to do there.”
“Sure. What time?”
“Later tonight after everyone is asleep,” he says. He gets up and makes his way down to Rena. He hugs her around the waist as she rests her head on his chest. He looks up at me and doesn’t look away. I break my gaze and stare up at the ceiling. A figure catches my attention and I squint my eyes to see who is standing above the stage. I can’t make out much and give up when I can’t recognize the dude. Then I realize it could just be the shadows playing tricks on my eyes. When I look back a second time, I don’t see anything.
The day passes as everyone gets a new assignment except for me. Peter tells everyone that I exceeded all his expectations. I should feel happy, but I don’t. I never wanted to become a guard. I walk back to my room for my backpack. I take it with me down towards the gym and head to the girls locker room. I hang up a black piece of cloth over the two pillars that separate me from the rest of the locker room and turn on the shower head. I make sure that no one else is in the room before I take out a small bar of soap and begin washing my body. I hear a pair of footsteps walk in and listen carefully. The Guard is allowed to use the showers whenever they feel like it, but I haven’t taken one. It’s too risky, but I decided that I deserved one after today. I probably should have locked the door, but anyone could have the key to the door so it’s better that I didn’t. I scrub harder on my body before all the dust and dirt is off and I can see the actual color of my skin again. I wash my hair and relax under the cool stream of water. It feels like rain. Or what I imagine rain to feel like. I haven’t felt the rain since I was at home. I stop that thought process because it makes me homesick.
“I can’t believe she’s that good. When I volunteered her for becoming a guard, I thought that she’d be terrible and die or fall into the Know-it-all group.” a very familiar voice says, loudly. I strain my ears over the water.
“Yeah. I wonder if she’s taking drugs or something. She was so scrawny. Not to mention her flat chest, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not like any guy’s going to like her anyways. With all the people she’s killed.” That’s when I realize these girls are talking about me. I keep quiet and listen as Rena responds.
“Yeah, she never was very athletic. I’d hate to think she’s taking drugs now. Did you see her hair? It definitely wasn’t done by a professional.” Rena says.
“I know.” her friend says. “Did you see the way Peter was snuggling up to her earlier. You better watch her. She might take him from you.”
“I know her better. She wouldn’t do that I don’t think. And anyways after her last boyfriend cheated on her with me, which she doesn’t know about, she hasn’t dated anyone since.” I stand under the stream as shock courses through my body. My ex-boyfriend cheated on me with my ex-best friend. They stand there talking about me for a couple more minutes before they walk out and leave. The steam of the water has gone ice cold. I know that if I don’t shut the water off now, I might get sick, but I want to wash off what Rena just said away. I squeeze my eyes shut as I try to remember how I found out that my ex-boyfriend was cheating. And then I remember.
It was at a party. His party. I was walking around downstairs looking for my boyfriend. He had told me that he was going to get us a drink, but had been gone for more than half an hour. I remember making my way upstairs and opening his bedroom door. Then I saw him, half naked kissing some girl who was moaning loudly. I remember stepping farther into the room and noticing that the girl was wearing nothing, but her underclothes and that she had brown hair and then I ran out of the room. Ran out of the house as fast as I could as my ex called out to me.
I turn off the water and stand in the shower stall, shaking. It makes since. I want to punch something. I want to kill someone. I dry off with the sheet and redress in my shorts and crop top. It’s late, but I’m not sure how late as I walk through the halls with my dripping hair. I open the door to my room and see Iris curled up on her bed. I quietly take my things and drop them on my bed. I braid my hair back into a ponytail and tie it off. I slink through the halls until I find room 304. I stand outside and wonder if I should go in the room. Before I have a chance to look around, Peter is walking down the hall. He grabs my hand and leads me into the classroom. Before I can take my hand away from his, he shuts the door and leans into me. He kisses my neck. I try to pull away, but stop myself. What’s the harm? Rena made my boyfriend cheat on me. I could do the same so easily. I feel his arm snake around my waist and pull me closer as his lips find my ear.
“You’re just like me.” he whispers in my ear. “Both survivors.”
I haven’t had someone touch me since we got trapped in this place. It feels nice. He slips his hand underneath my shirt. I open my eyes and drop back into reality.
“I can’t.” I whisper and push against his chest. He doesn’t back away. He moves his lips closer to mine. “Stop.” I say louder and push against him. He’s strong. So much stronger than I am. I won’t be like Rena. I won’t do that to her. I push against his chest again, but he doesn’t move away. If anything he gets closer. I am trapped. I can’t fight him with my back pressed against the door of the room and his body. Right before his lips touch mine, he is suddenly gone. I hear a grunt and then a curse rip through the air. I suck in a deep breath and open the classroom door. I hear Peter yell my name, but I am already out of the room, running. Heavy footsteps are right behind mine. A hand grips my waist and stops me. I turn and punch the guy. A moan comes from somewhere beside me. I step back, but the guy comes closer. He holds up both of his arms in the air.
“It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.” he says.
“How do I know that?” I ask, thinking about how I can get out of this situation.
“Trust me. If I wanted to hurt you I could have. I wouldn’t have stopped that guy from trying to get in your pants if I had wanted to see you get hurt.”
“Why are you helping me?”
“Because no girl should have to deal with a man like Peter.” he says. I nod even though I know he can’t see me. “Come with me. I’ll take you somewhere you can get your thoughts in order.”
He takes my hand and leads me to a set of lockers on the far hallway. He opens the door and I notice that the far wall has been blown out. He pulls me into the dark locker and I follow him through the dark opening.