I rummage through a pile of books on my desk.
“Madison! Have you seen my Psychology of Death book? I can’t find it.”
“You’ve lost something again, Olivia?” Meg asks turning from her packing. Quinlyn just laughs.
“Nope. No clue where it is.” Madison responds not even looking up.
I turn back to my backpack slipping in my essay on ancient torture practices. You never know what you might need going into Fourth year...the last year.
“Oh dear,” I mumble.
Shelly stumbles into the room, hair flying.
“I FOUND YOUR BOOK ON MY SIDE OF THE BOOKSHELF!”
I smile. I love Shelly’s dramatic outbursts. “I’m sorry! I know I need to be more organized.”
Shelly thrusts the book at me and seems quite annoyed, but if there is anything I have learned over the last three years, it is that Shelly doesn’t feel how she acts. Swinging my backpack up onto my shoulder I follow the other girls down the flight of stairs to the car below. I wonder what our fourth year home will look like. Every year the conditions have gotten better, and the schedule has gotten stricter. What will this year be like?
Our Jr. Inspector waves at us as we load up into the car. This might sound weird, but I almost got to know her a little. The five of us talk aimlessly, letting ourselves just have fun. Over the years, the terror of what is coming has slightly worn off, or at least we have gotten used to the idea. Our preparation in the system has probably helped too. In first year, we went to execution every day. It was quite traumatizing, but it succeeded in dulling our minds to it. Soon, we barely even noticed the bodies dragged off the stage. As horrible as it seems, it was a part of daily life.
Second and third year went by like a blur. Second year was a series of exercises built to stretch our pain tolerance. It was awful in some ways, but Shelly and I thrived. Each day we would dare ourselves to see how much pain we could take. Our lessons even included some combat training. Now that our minds had been desensitized, we could give or receive a hard blow with a laugh.
This past year included more academic learning. We were given books and made to write essays on them. We were also shown how much pain and fear are merely figments of the human psyche.
For the last three years, we have been in city-like environments. Now, the car pulls us out into the country. It is so green! The rolling hills and the scattered trees are so beautiful. I’d forgotten such colors existed. Meg and Quinlyn just gaze out the windows oohing and ahhing. Madison is writing in her journal, and Shelly is sleeping.
What’s going to happen to us this year? It’s hard to believe this is our last year. These last few years went by so fast. Soon we will be facing execution...and I know that’ll be rough, but at least the five of us will be together.
The car slows as we round up a green hill and come in view of a beautiful mansion. We all gasp, our mouths open in awe. I bump Shelly's elbow hard, waking her up, and even her eyes grow wide. The majestic columns and the deep, dark wood give this place an aura of grandeur. We drive through the gate and around the circular driveway to the broad steps. A lady stands there with a welcoming smile and waves to us as we stop. Piling out, we slowly approach her. Her short, black hair waves softly around her caramel complexion.
“Good day, Ladies! My name is Melanie, and I will be your Jr. Instructor here in your fourth year. Please, come in!”
Our mouths open, a shock seeming to run through us all. The kind tone and gracious movements surprise us. She even comes and wraps us in a motherly hug. Shelly, however, jerks back, pushing her away. Melanie does not mind but seems to understand. We stare as she leads us through our new home. Its richness and splendor is beyond what we have ever experienced. We ascend a sweeping wood staircase to the upper level, the level we will be occupying. We each get our own room. I think none is as pleased to have that luxury as Shelly. She immediately takes over the first room we enter with a simple, “It’s mine,” and makes herself at home. Again habit takes over and I claim the last room on the hallway, the room on the far right of the building.
Before we go, Melanie puts one stipulation on us. We are not to enter her personal room and office on any condition. That’s easy. Without another thought, we all eagerly head down the stairs. Passing through the extravagant living room, we pass to the dining hall. A spread of food is already prepared and waiting for us. Most of us again stop, shocked, but Shelly doesn’t even hesitate. Plopping down onto the nearest seat, she begins devouring the food without even a pause.
We all turn, surprised by the command in Melanie’s voice. Shelly stops.
“No one is allowed to eat until everyone is seated.”
And so that is how our fourth year begins. We have rules now. Before we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted...but things are different now.
Soon we learn that our days are strictly regimented. We have a set wake-up and lights out as well as a weekly inspection. Every Friday a group of three Inspectors, yes Inspectors, come and check our rooms to make sure they are neat and tidy. They also make sure we have no contraband. We are not allowed to have any media, music, weapons, alcohol, junk food, pets, plants, and a whole list of other things. Most of us don’t mind, but Shelly nearly died when the pocket knife she snuck out of second year got confiscated.
Each day we even have exercises. At first we complain, but then we decide it gives us something to keep our minds off of our future. It is the one thing we really have that can be used as a distraction. Here, it seems, they desire us to not forget our future. They even have a countdown till our execution posted. The system even demands we write a paragraph periodically on our mental and emotional state at the speed of our approaching execution. To be perfectly honest, I just try to ignore that my execution exists.
Quickly, I shut my door and race down the hall. I love how the soft carpet makes my footsteps silent.
I abruptly slide to a halt. The door to Melanie’s quarters is open. It never is. Peering inside, I see a silhouette gazing out a large window. Shelly!
“What do you think you’re doing?” I whisper harshly.
Shelly glances back over her shoulder. I have never seen her so contemplative. Her arms are folded across her chest, and her eyes have an intense focus.
“What if we weren’t chosen randomly?”
“What?” I really do not understand why she is asking this.
“How were we chosen? The government says people are randomly selected to be put into the system. What if this isn’t true? What if there is something different about us that caused us to be chosen?”
I stand there shocked. This has never crossed my mind. Does it even matter? What if we are put through this education system for a purpose? What if this isn’t a mere random selection, but a targeted attempt to assassinate certain members of society for some reason? My mind whirls. Am I different somehow? I place my hand on the door frame to steady myself. Shelly and I lock eyes, both understand the import of her words.
NO! My mind snaps. I will not allow myself to go through a rabbit hole of emotion. A part of me thanks my education in the system for helping me control waves of feelings. I feel the dizziness in my head start to clear.
“But Shelly! What does that have to do with you being in Melanie’s office? You know you’re not supposed to be in here. You could be killed.”
A smirk slides across Shelly’s face.
“Not much of a threat, I’m afraid. I’m doing something proactive. If this wasn’t random, we should find evidence. Why else would Melanie not allow us in here? Come on, help me.”
“Thankfully, I’m not stupid. Melanie could come at any time.”
“Oh...right, I’m sorry, I forgot. You aren’t stupid; you’re just not really sane. Come on! This could be your only chance to know the truth.”
This really isn’t smart. I feel the controversy in my heart. I really want answers, and Shelly does have a point. All they can do is kill us sooner or...torture. I shake my head to discard the notion. Setting aside my better sense, I...step into the room. Shelly smiles.
“Stop being such a tempter.” I growl.
“It was your decision. I never forced you.”
We glance around. What should we do first? Shelly grabs a stack of papers lying on the desk.
“Well, we can start searching here.”
I turn to look for more files when I freeze. Deep in my intuition...I sense.
“What are you ladies looking for?”
A cold shiver runs through my spine. How can I be this mindless? I glance over and see Shelly’s face harden. Mustering up every last ounce of courage, I turn to face the door. Melanie stands in the entryway, and to my shock and relief, her face does not appear angry. All I want to do is disappear into the floor. Shelly, however, is not in the least deterred.
“Jr. Inspector Melanie, is the selection for the system truly random?”
To our surprise, a small smile lifts the corners of her mouth. Moving over to the desk, Melanie gently turns on the computer. The screen comes alive, and an application opens. Melanie sits down and begins explaining the procedure.
“Ladies, the country is divided into small blocks, each with a population of 10,000. Each block is systematically put into a computer system and every day 5 people are randomly selected by the computer program.”
I watch as different numbers flash across the screen. 221,100….60,000.
The hugeness of the system hits me. Everyday a group is being killed, and everyday another 5 are taken. Melanie continues.
“If you notice, Olivia, when you were taken into Derevitle, your group of five were all members of your individual block.”
She focuses in on my area. I see five little red dots representing our original locations. Blonde Beard had lived close to me? How had I never known him? Had I known him? Everything seems muddled. Melanie zooms back out again.
“You were held in Derevitle until the four others in your group were selected and brought into Derevitle. Once five young girls were in Derevitle, we put you into a group and started your time in the system.”
Shelly still looks skeptical, but she doesn’t argue. With a simple, “Thanks.” She walks away, and I follow close behind. It all truly was random, yet at the same time the five of us are all together. I would not want it any different, so I guess randomness worked in my favor this time.