The Sponsors

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Chapter 12

Is Charlie a man? He talks about being with Chris, as a relationship? Could you make their relationship a bit clearer. Are they gay?

Early the next day, Charlie was woken up again by the alarm. Since Chris had left, things had slowly shifted into a new routine. The teams that knew their own meditation schedules managed to create self-led groups, so while no leaders were available, an equality settled onto the camp. The previous leaders who were still in the camp reluctantly fell in line with the rest of the teams, and began their own meditations, sometimes teaching the groups again, or going into their own private classes, exploring their previous learning and expanding their knowledge in their final days. The food remained the same and the shirts never changed colour, the new arrivals simply put into random groups with second hand t-shirts as the order slowly fell apart, with only one leader to manage the whole camp, it was a miracle that people remained calm. But really, there was nothing else they could do but wait for everything to be over. The alarm bells still rang at the same time each day, so Charlie woke from his dreamless night into the regularity of new day. Every day he met Annie on the stairs and they walked down to breakfast together. They played their usual game of twenty questions, even though they knew most of the answers from before; knowledge about each other was extensive, but consequently the questions were running dry. Joined at the hip as they were, they spent their days in the garden together, watching the sun set and walking around aimlessly.

‘So…twenty questions again?’ Charlie asked, throwing a ball made out of leaves up into the air, catching it effortlessly. Annie laughed.

‘Again? What more is there to ask?’

‘How about…if they could leave this place and start again, what would you do? If food wasn’t an issue.’

‘Oh…’ Annie paused for a second, rolling ungraciously onto her front, body joggling before settling down again on the grass. ‘I would probably want to be a musician. I’ve loved the piano since forever…it would be a great thing to be able to entertain people, to make them love him through music.’ Charlie smiled at this, the soft tension breaking when he failed to catch the ball, hitting him on his cheek so he had to turn away, wincing as he did so. Annie laughed at him. ‘What about you, dummy? What would you be?’

‘I think I’d be nicer to people.’

‘That’s not fair! That’s not a life career goal at all. You must have more dreams than that,’ Annie replied incredulously.

‘Well…’ Charlie choked on his words before getting them out. ‘Before his fiancée died,he always wanted to travel the world with her. they were going to see everything and do everything together. they wanted a family. That’s what they dreamed of.’ Annie smiled in return.

‘That sounds nice actually…would you want that with Chris now?’ Her warm smile turned to him, the topic of Chris barely one bought up in conversation since he left. Charlie thought harder about it for a minute.

‘…You know what, yeah…I would want that with Chris now. I make him happy, and he has’t been that since before I got here.’ The conversation ended as the tent for dinner opened up, and they walked together across the lawn to the tent. Two guards emerged from behind the tent opening. New faces in the allotment, they carried on towards the tent. Unbeknownst to them, the guards had set up and carried away the first batch of people to the city centre, where they were to be held until it was their time to be killed. The second truck whirred towards them, seats with a capacity for eight people to cram on board, plus a caravan-like trailer on the back in order to be efficient and move people over in a short amount of time. They were told they were to be part of a mass retreat resettlement, moving further away past the city to one new improved camp. Sitting down for dinner anyway, they were allowed their meal as they waited for the next van to arrive. As Annie and Charlie were one of the first people to arrive for dinner from the next batch of people, they were able to relax, laughing and joking over their meal before securing seats in the front of the truck. They had a view out of the window, watching the landscape roll by down the dirt track towards the city. Bigger build up. The short journey by car to the city took a lot less time than it took to walk, making Charlie envious, reminded of his weary feet after his travels. Charlie soon recognised the area from when he took his trip past the city and onto the farm a few weeks before. He grabbed Annie’s hand, as he knew they were not headed towards retreat territory. The comfort the girl gave him was immense, her thumb stroking the back of his hand gently as he moved his palm so their fingers interlaced, his boney hand contrasting the fleshy fingers of hers, creating a soft comfort that enveloped him. He couldn’t say anything out loud due to the driver right in front of him, but Annie picked up his anxiety in the flexed veins sticking up from his joints, every hair on his head standing up due to the danger he sensed. The truck stopped around the back of a building, in line with a few others who had also returned.

‘Quick pit stop before they travel on guys, go ahead and get out, they’re keeping you in the warm until they travel.’ They all stepped out of the car and huddled in a group together as armed guards came out of the door, hurrying from escorting the group that had arrived minutes before, the last purple shirt seen climbing the stairs towards a room on the top floor, as the door stood ajar behind them. One guard with a gun marched forwards, and told them the directions they were to take when inside the building. Following on from one another, they climbed the stairs to the first floor. Annie had never let go of Charlie’s hand as they were led with the other white shirt people. They climbed the stairs in an orderly fashion, unable to escape or doanything else due to the contracts they’d signed. The Company was in complete control of their fate. Charlie thought back to the way Moria and Richard looked happy in their house, the huge bump protruding from Moria, the new life he’s given his up for. His brain jumped in tangents to the beginning of his journey, his hated boss firing him and his empty apartment; no one to call or tell anything to. The loneliness of that life was not worth thinking about, but the past few months led him to a set of friends, Annie and Chris filling up his life, the good food and meditation keeping him happy. These past few months were better than the quality of life he had in the real world. It was worth every second. Soon, the sounds of a construction project filled his ears, and he was overwhelmed by the closeness of the whirring saws, like it was just outside the window he was climbing against. He went into a room with the other sponsors, each still standing in coloured sections, the groups and friends easily recognisable by this segregation. As such, he stood with the white t-shirts, a circle of them standing round in silence, occasionally muttering about their predictions for the Company’s next move. In groups of five, people were called out of the room. Annie predicted that they were processing us for leadership and they were going to different retreats based on our personalities. She hoped they would be together, and nodded to a few other white t-shirts, her friends that she stayed with whenheused to hang out with Chris. No word from him made him anxious as it was, but the thought of moving and not being able to contact him again seemed incomprehensible. Finally,he was called out with Annie and a few others, but not the few who Annie has predicted. Her face fell slightly, but she still clung onto me, glad that they were together. Instead of a governor or head of office, they were brought into a chamber of metal, the smell of heated metal complimented the metallic taste of blood that seemed to float in the air, as they saw slabs of minced meat wrapped in brown paper and sorted into a bounty of boxes lined up at the end of the long cold room. A guard stood behind each of us and they were powerless as they were given tablets to eat, each one of us drowsy and compliant. The first one of us was taken off, stripped, and placed on the conveyor belt, metal nail piercing through her skill. Annie was constantly shaking as she stood beside me. they saw her body tense and release, guttural moans gurgling at her throat as she hung upside down, a heavy hissing unloaded her once her body as limp. As soon as the container opened, the body was shunted forward onto a tray, and a series of people began a tireless process of stripping them of their skin. he was resigned to his fate, although he didn’t know if this was in his contract. While the pandemic and poverty was spreading, there must have been another way than the desecration of human bodies. he looked around and saw that he was the only one taking this well, one man on the floor writhed in emotional agony and lay in the urine of the adjacent person, shock shutting down her body and causing the violent reaction. he took his arms out of his sleeves, lifting his shirt over his head as he was instructed to do so. his mind went to the thought of Chris, everything he had tried for him at least may have led him to have a happy life, wherever he escaped to. The thought of Moria and Richard’s happiness motivated him to undo his trousers, and strip right down to his bare skin in the freezing cold. he smiled a little before the nail went through his head, eyes shutting as the pain took over. he felt the tightness of the chain around his feet, and savoured his last exhale before it all went black.

*****

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