Box Number 916
We go to the metal square and start taking our usual route looking for anything to do. That’s when I feel like something’s off. I scan the area and realize that the guards who usually secure our neighbouring metal box aren’t there.
“Oh no, I know that look,” Jack suddenly says, “What is it, what’d you see?”
I point towards the door to the other metal box, “Look, no guards.”
“Oh? They’re always there, how’re they not standing today?”
“We’re already late, El, come on.”
“Pleaaaaaase, you’re leaving anyway, there’s no punishment worse than that.”
“Yeah, for me, not you,” he replies with a sigh, ” I don’t want you getting in trouble when I’m gone.”
“Please let’s just have a little look.”
He sighs in defeat and I don’t wait for an answer before running back to the door.
“Ellie!” he hisses behind me, “Wait! Stop running!”
We reach the door in seconds and even though Jack opposed the idea, I know he wants to do this more than I do. I don’t blame him. We always dreaded the idea of going to fight, we won’t be able to see each other again and even if we do, it won’t be the same. There’s something about going to war that changes a person. We’ve seen soldiers before and they look hollow as if nothing in the world matters anymore. I shiver as I picture Jack’s brown eyes empty of life.
“915 to Ellie! Come on we have to go quickly.”
“Yeah sure let’s go, should I go first.”
Jack shakes his head going before me, I roll my eyes and chuckle, even though we’re not related Jacklinso’s very protective of me, just like a big brother. We quickly slide through the door and find ourselves in a metal hall, how exciting, however, this hallway has actual windows. Windows that look on to space. I dart to one of the windows.
“Wow,” I hear Jack’s voice beside me, “How come we live here and yet this is the first time I see this?”
“It’s not that beautiful.”
“Look at the stars, look at how they’re twinkling all around us and the other planets. Look! they’re moving!” Jack states excitedly.
“It’s so pretty,” he sighs then mutters something that ends with, “I don’t get it.”
“You don’t get what?”
“Nothing,” then looking at the door across the hall, he asks, “Do you think it’s open?”
“Only one way to find out,” I answer, “It might have guards though.”
He smiles mischievously, “Let’s just knock and see what happens, if the door opens, we bolt.”
“Sure, but I’ll knock.”
We cautiously move to the door and I start knocking. We wait for a few seconds.
“Nothing. That’s strange.”
“I guess we’re really lucky today, careful, El.”
I open the door and instantly gasp.
“Oh god... what h-... how?” I can hear JC’s voice in the distance.
The first obvious thing is the huge sign with the numbers 916 barely hanging on. Then there’s the box itself, which is in devastating shape. Everything is in pieces or melting and there’s absolutely no sign of life. A few metres from us is a small crater, probably from one of the smaller bombs used by the durmies.
“They said the boxes were safe,” I whisper, “they said-”
“That we won’t get targeted,” Jack continues, “How did they even do that? How did we not hear this?! A bombing this close to us, Ellie something’s wrong here.”
“We’re not safe! This is probably why there were no guards, everyone who lived here probably DIED! Oh god, oh god, what’re we going to do?”
“Ellie, let’s go back. Calm down, ok, don’t tell anyone about this.”
We quickly go back through the door making sure to close it behind us and run through the hall to our box.
“’sarn it, we’ve missed curfew,” Jack groans as we enter through our door, “Madam Bindles will kill us.”
We quickly dash across the box to the P.O.C.F.
“There you are, where have you been? I thought I told you to come back 10 minutes BEFORE curfew.”
I start to argue before Jack cuts in, “Sorry, it’s just this is my last month’s end here and we wanted to make the most of it.”
“Well,” she sighs sadly. If I wasn’t terrified to death I’d curse her for pitying us, as if she actually cares, “Got to your beds, goodnight.”
Bidding Jack goodnight, I head to my room and find that my 3 roommates are all awake.
“Hey, Ellie,” Kathryn, probably the kindest one of us, greets me.
“So, Jacklinso’s going too?” I look at her questioningly and she continues, “Liz is going,” she states nodding toward Liz.
“I didn’t know you turned 18, Liz.”
“Yeah it’s not exactly something to be celebrated,” she sighs, “I’m going to sleep.”
As if I wasn’t already terrified because of 916, now I’m annoyed. This is exactly why I don’t talk to anyone other than Jack, it’s always awkward. It’s not like I blame them, though. The war creates tension between us all. It doesn’t exactly allow us to create blooming friendships. I try to sleep but I can’t get the image of Box 916 out of my head. We’re right next to them, how did we not hear it? What if someone decides to blow this box next? Will they even care enough to evacuate us? We’re just a bunch of insignificant people living in just another box. As if worrying about Jack fighting wasn’t enough, he’s probably going to die before he goes to Planet-E. We all will. I force myself to stop thinking about all of the crap happening around us and go to sleep, which obviously didn’t work and I spent the night tossing and turning.
The next few days go by quickly. The thought that we’ll get blown up at any second (along with Jack leaving) occupies my mind the whole week.
“What do you think, Ellie?” Lyra’s voice brings me back to reality.
“I think Liz will last at least 10 days,” Kathryn states matter-of-factly.
“Oh come on, give me more credit than that, I’ll last at least a month,” Liz answers her.
“I’d say a month too, Liz is fierce,” I say half-heartedly.
It’s then that I realize that it’s JC’s birthday, and I’ve no gift. Great. What type of friend am I?
“Do you guys have any idea what I should give Jack for his 18th birthday?” I ask cautiously, keeping in mind that I haven’t gotten Liz anything. It’s just that we’re not close, plus 18th birthdays are the worst.
“Would he even want something?” Lyra asks.
“I don’t know, maybe,” I sigh, “I can’t believe this, how am I supposed to survive this place without him.”
“Yeah, I can’t believe Liz is going too,” Kathryn states, “This sucks.”
“You know I’ve been thinking,” Liz suddenly pipes in, “A reasonable number of people last a very long time there yeah? So I’ll be able to do it too, I’m the best at sniping so maybe I won’t even be that close to the durmies.”
“Yeah, Liz, hopefully, you won’t,” Kathryn answers optimistically.
“You know what, Kat, I’ll stay alive for at least one year, until I can see you again, how about that?”
Kathryn’s eyes water and she sprints across the room into Liz’s arms. Lyra and I just sit awkwardly. It’s not like we can just join into the hug, these things don’t happen here.
“Maybe you can give him something of sentimental value, Ellie,” Lyra whispers to me.
“Yeah, maybe,” I whisper back.
“Breakfast!” Madam Bindle’s voice from downstairs grabs our attention. I dash out of the room, leaving the crying girls and going to find JC. However, he wasn’t down at the dining table. Weird. JC always comes downstairs earlier than he should. I decide to go to his room since that’s probably where he is.
“Long time no see, Ellie. You should visit me more, you know,” of course I’m greeted by Hank’s snide comment.
“Shut up, Hank. Is Jack here?”
“You really should treat me better, after all, Jack’s leaving,” he smirks, “I’ll have to embrace the big brother act.”
“You’ve got a pretty thick skull, don’t you Hank,” I snap back, “I am NOT interested.”
“Hank, there are pancakes today!” another boy shouts.
“Later, sweets,” Hank says while walking away.
“Oh, hey Ellie,” he answers glumly, making me wish even more that I’d brought him a gift.
“Come on, we still have about 23 days together, don’t act this way.”
“I’m just worried about you,” he groans, ” You can’t stay away from trouble Ellie. You were almost cast away once. What’ll you do when I go.”
“I’ll wait until I leave too so I can meet you on Planet-E.”
He snickers, “Yeah right, cause surely I’m staying alive down there for three whole years.”
“You can try. You’re intelligent, strong and skilled, Jack.”
“Well, don’t get your hopes up,” he murmurs.
“Jack, I don’t care what you have to do, escape the army, don’t fight, go into hiding. Just stay alive when I come down there.”
“I’m not a coward,” he snaps.
“It’s not cowardice to want to live a full life, ok,” I snap back, “We didn’t choose this hell of a life. Why is it bad to want to live happily?”
“Let’s just go to breakfast.”
Great, I haven’t even wished him a happy birthday.