“WELCOME TO DEREVITLE”
A shudder runs down my spine as I see the dreaded words engraved on the arch. I had heard of its deathly greeting, but only in the stories Grandfather used to tell to scare the children. Now, the words come over my head as I pass through into the trial beyond.
Dust fills the air, the product of hundreds of continuously walking feet. Languid faces turn to me, seeming not to understand that they are seeing anything. Some people strut. Some people crawl...but all have the same blank faces. Each face is dead. Each face understands what is ahead and dies, long before its owner falls to the fateful bullet. We are all destined to die.
I stare at the four other people around me. One is an old man, his eyes watery and grey. He might not even last the four years. Another is a stocky man, maybe forty, who just comes to about my shoulders. His skin is permanently burned red, making his scruffy blonde beard painfully prominent. Is he sane? Wiped across his face is a weird, almost deranged, smile. In his expression though, there is no joy. The other two in my group barely look at me. I think they believe that if they ignore everyone’s existence, they will be ignoring their fate.
The Pre-Inspector leads us through the dusty camp to a small, concrete building. A wooden door hangs crookedly on its rusty hinges. My OCD goes crazy. I envision the door being straightened… that’s better. Inside are a few slabs of wood exactly like the door. You can tell the government is not liberal on materials. The Pre-Inspector points to a pile of blankets on the floor and then leaves. Never once does he speak a word to any of us. We stand there unmoving. What are we supposed to do? The old man finally collapses in exhaustion onto the nearest slab...I should say cot. I scuttle off to a sl- cot in the corner.
Who had this last? Sketched into its surface are hundreds of initials. The walls are covered with tally marks and dates. How long will we be here? I know we are destined to four years in the system...but how long till a group could be found for me? With one group killed a day...it should not take too long for more girls my age to come in. How were we chosen anyway? Is it truly random? If so, then it might be a while until four girls like me were also picked. I might as well sleep, though. Nothing else will stop this misery.
Mother is laughing, her bright cheeks matching the pink of her dress. She pulls me even tighter into her big hug. “I love you! No matter what happens...you’ll always be my precious little girl.” I grin. The sun is so bright; the sky so blue. Spring is beautiful at home. Father quietly picks up his violin and begins playing.
A lightning bolt shatters the day. Suddenly, the rain is slashing against us. Father’s violin lies smashed on the now muddy grass. “Mother! Father! What’s going on? I don’t understand!” I turn, desperate to find them. Around me, instead of the loving arms of my mother, are the formed arms of a porcelain statue. My mother’s bright cheeks are now reduced to pink paint on white china. “Mother!” I yell. My hands reach out to touch even her image, but strong arms pull back...back into the darkness. The hard face of a government official is pressed near my own. “You have been chosen.” his rough voice booms. It echoes over and over and over. I hear someone screaming, “No!” Is it me? My mouth is closed. A flash of light reflects off a gun. Slowly, it points towards me. I hear the click as it is loaded. Shaking, my mind silently screams. I’m going to die….
I pop up, sweating profusely. Closing my eyes, I try to steady myself. Nothing, however, can stop my hands from shaking. I pull the blanket up to my face and wipe the sweat away. I feel something. Jumping to the side I press into the wall, my heart beating a million miles per hour. The man with the blonde beard takes his hand off my arm. His face is touched with sympathy. He places his hand on my head for a moment before getting up and laying back down on his cot. I take a deep breath. I need to process before I go to bed. If I don’t, I probably will have tons of nightmares over the next few years. As much as I don’t want to think about what is happening to me, probably the only way to live is to come to terms with it. I shiver.
Why was I chosen? I had a happy life...I could have been a writer, a teacher, a great historian, a politician. I had my whole life ahead of me, but now it has been snatched from my grasp. A spark of anger springs up within me. How can I live under the hand of this government, this government that has chosen my destruction. Remorse floods me as I realize that I lived for so long without appreciating it completely. I took life so for granted. Now, my time is in an hourglass. Each second slips by and is not replaced. Soon the time for me will run out. No matter how much I hate what I am going through, I must make use of every precious second. I lay my head on my knees. I let the echo of my mother’s voice resound in my mind. Exhaustion overwhelms me, and I sink back down onto my cot.
I wake up to someone shaking me. One of the two who would not look at me yesterday is bending over me.
“We need to talk.”
I glance around the room. Everyone else is already awake. Look-not #1 leaves my side and stands in the middle of the room.
“If we are going to escape, we need to do it soon. Once we’ve been put in the system it’s too late.”
Anger swells in my heart. Why does Look-not #1 still have hope? There is none. Besides, what is the hope offered? Escape? Everyone in our homes and towns knows we have been chosen. If we try to go back, the government will only retrieve us and shoot us on the spot. Four years of life, even life in the system, is better than an immediate death. The other option would be to flee to some remote forest or desert where the government would not follow, but what type of life is that? Hidden for life in the middle of nowhere with nobody is no way to live. I think I’ll choose death, thank you.
Look-not #1 continues despite the blank or hostile stares we give, “I’m not sure how they keep track of people at this stage, but I have heard of a few people escaping. We must at least try.”
Look-not #2 nods a ready assent. “Yes! Yes! We must!”
I glance at Old Man and Blonde Beard. Both seem apathetic. Look-not #2 turns from the window and motions us all quiet. A Pre-Inspector walks in with a clipboard in his hand.
“Please submit your shoes for inspection.”
Inspection? For our shoes? The Pre-Inspector walks up to me, and I slowly take mine off. He glances at them, takes down their brand, size, and color, and then marks them with a big number: 73125A. Without another remark, he throws them back to me. One by one he goes to each one of us. We each get a different number and letter. Realization dawns on me. I must be the 73,125th group, and the five who will be in my group are A,B,C,D, and E. As the Pre-Inspector leaves, Look-not #1 laughs. I can already see a plan brewing. I just hope the two Look-nots don’t get us all in trouble.
A blaring signal is blown throughout the camp, and we all go out to see what is going on. Pre-Inspectors are everywhere.
“To the track! To the track! Move along now! You there! Stay off the side!”
We let ourselves be pulled with the masses onto a beaten path that lies between the perimeter of the houses and the perimeter of the fence. Slowly, we move forward. A distinction is made. The strong, motivated ones begin to shuffle to the left, while the slower, weaker ones begin to shuffle to the right. The stories I have heard are true. Grandfather always said that in Derevitle there is no rest. All day the inhabitants are forced to walk...walk the perimeter of the camp. No stopping...no sitting. The sound of footfalls fills the place. Maybe it’s best we walk. It will definitely keep our minds off other things…
Despite the many people, I still am wedged between Blonde Beard and Old Man. We quickly press to the far right, letting the fast ones rush on. The Look-nots notice, and slow their pace to match ours. Why are they so protective? They make me feel claustrophobic.
As we come around the loop to the front of the camp, two Inspectors stand with clipboards checking the numbers. Here, the group bottlenecks slightly, and for now we are forced to go two by two. After we make it through, the Look-nots accost us again.
“This is our plan.” Look-not #1 whispers to us. “Each morning, we’ll hang our shoes out in front of the house. The three of you will put on a pair of shoes and walk around, once you are done one loop, you’ll switch into the next pair. My friend and I will then check for a way of escape, and the Inspectors will see all the shoes go around.”
Look-not #2 nods, seemingly delighted. I do not agree, but I will not protest.