CW: Brief descriptions of violence, death
This seat is too rough. You think if they have a nice assembly room, the best thing they can do is give us chairs that don’t feel like splinters. I guess when you’re in this place, you can’t ask for anything.
My eyes immediately drift to the lights. They seem to be fading, almost, a little too broken. They’ll probably make a new labor station for lightbulb repairs. Maybe I’ll get put in it. The walls look shiny as can be, though. I’m not surprised by that. Painting is one of the easiest “jobs” they can force you to do, so it makes sense that the people doing it would be relatively enthusiastic.
“Why do you think we’re here today?” I whisper to Imogen. Morning meetings only happen on Mondays. Being here every single week is exhausting as hell.
“No idea,” she said. “I heard Erik was captured. Maybe they want to show us the consequences of getting out and being caught again.”
That’s a punch in the gut. I never knew Erik personally, but after they captured all of us, he was one of the first to get out of this awful place. I heard his plan. He’d pretend to be a guardian, and hopefully cross the border. He’s pretty tall. I guess he can pass as an adult.
A ringing fills the auditorium. All hundreds of people sit down and turn towards the front. The signal sound, telling us all to sit down, is truly one of the worst things about here. The door in the back opens, and everyone seems to freeze a little bit more. Genevieve enters, with a bunch of guardians around her. Maybe Erik is in one of those suits.
As she walks to the front, the guardians start to spread around the auditorium. I guess something important is happening today, and they don’t want anyone escaping. Maybe I should have used my bathroom pass before this.
“It’ll be okay, Kris.”
Just because they don’t want anyone escaping doesn’t mean anything bad is going to happen. Maybe it’s just a mandatory presentation. But despite the words of reassurance, I can’t shake the pit laying in my stomach.
She finally steps to the podium, a tight smile on her face. “Good morning, citizens,” she announces, and a spike of feedback bounces around the room. I cringe. “Hopefully our IT guys can get that fixed. We’re glad you’re all here for our morning meeting!”
“We’re glad to be here too,” everyone around me mutters. All five hundred of them, all in unison.
Imogen gives me a punch in the side. “You have to say it, too.”
“I’m not going to,” I mutter. She rolls her eyes.
“We have a very special video to show you today,” Genevieve says, her face as flat as the air in the room. “Hit the lights, please.”
I hear a click in the back, and the lights shut off. It’s practically pitch black where I am. I want a hand to grab for support. Usually I’d grab my mom’s. But she’s not here. It still hurts to even think about.
A projector screen rolls down at the front, almost hitting Genevieve. I bite back a laugh. With humor, that’s practically the best you can get here. The video projects, leaving an overexcited man at the front. “Hello, Citizens of Walmour! Congrats on reaching your first year here! We’ve been overjoyed to have a conservative society.”
“It’s been a year already?” I say to Imogen. She shushes me almost immediately. Every day here seems to blend into each other, feeling super long and short at the same time. I guess after we reached a month, I just lost count.
The screen flashes different shots of people around the island, doing their jobs. “We’ve had amazing work from multiple people around the island, exceeding their standard.” A clip flashes from the Outerlands, which causes me to cringe. All you do there is shovel coal and dirt. You’re sent there if you aren’t performing well, acting badly, or all of the above. Death or illness is the most common route. My friend Mikah was sent there after he smuggled food to someone there. I remember the threat of the guardian. “If you care about the Outerlands so much, we can send you there.” Something tells me that him not being in the video is a bad sign.
“However, not all has been perfect here,” the man says. “We’ve had many people who think they can get away with breaking the rules.” A clip flashes, making my heart stop. It’s Erik, getting thrown to the ground. There’s no way that isn’t him. He looks exhausted. Desperate.
Murmurs begin to erupt around the auditorium, probably due to the same reason I’m shocked. “Is that him?” Imogen whispers.
“It has to be,” I say. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. They’re probably torturing him right now.”
“Silence!” Genevieve screams, and the majority of people freeze again.
The clip finally disappears. “Many people think that they’re able to just get away with their theatrics. We’re not tolerating it, though. So, we have implemented a new system to hopefully improve this! Your president will explain it in detail.”
The video stops, and only about half of the people clap. Usually it’s everyone, but there’s no way anyone’s in line after seeing that clip. What was even the point of that 30 second video? It had to be to fuck our minds up after showing us Erik, proving that no one can get out. She could have said everything herself, but she needed to do that.
The lights finally come back on, revealing everyone’s terrified faces. The kids at the front, like usual, look mortified. How could they do this to children? Genevieve steps back to the podium. “Guardians, please bring them to the stage.”
Three guardians run backstage, like the little puppets they are. Sometimes I wonder how they got their jobs. Did they simply do their work and get promoted? Were they supporters of the regime? I’ll never know. There’s a lot of things I will never know about Walmour.
They bring out three colorful wheels. Tiny black text remains on each slice, with a large white label on the stand. Adult. Teenager. Child. There has to be at least 300 slices on the adult wheel. As an estimate, the other ones have closer to 150 or 90. Genevieve reveals her daunting smile. “As you can see, we have three spinning wheels right here, each one labeled by age group respectively.”
She walks up to the wheel and does a casual spin on it. The ticking as it rotates is haunting enough to keep me up for nights. “Each of the slices on this wheel has a name on it. A name on the wheel represents how many times you’ve rebelled or stepped out of line. You may not have thought we were watching. But we were.”
Imogen grabs my hand and squeezes it tightly, causing it to flinch. She isn’t a very touchy person, but I don’t blame her right now.
She takes out an olive green triangle from the wheel, and adjusts her glasses to read the tiny text. “For example, this reads Penelope Wellings.”
I flick my head to this poor girl, as does the rest of the audience. I’m pretty sure she works as a surrogate. It’s an understatement to say she looks mortified. Of course, Genevieve uses this to her advantage. “Don’t worry, darling. That was just a practice round. You haven’t been selected. Yet.”
Imogen squeezes my hand a little tighter.
“Whoever the wheel lands on will be immediately brought to execution, no questions asked.”
The tone in the room immediately shifts. I thought maybe they would send them to the Outerlands, or even make them a guardian to send a message. But execution? There’s no way. This has to be some kind of joke.
But when I see the batons of the guardians extend, I know this isn’t just a joke anymore. It’s happening. It could be me.
“It’ll be okay, Kris.”
You’ve always stood in line. There’s absolutely no way it could land on you. Sure, you don’t really say the required mantra, and you’ve sometimes snuck out of your pod at night. Maybe one time I only pretended to finish in the agriculture fields. But they couldn’t be keeping track of all of that. It’s not possible.
“I suppose we should start with the adults!” Genevieve exclaims, pushing said wheel to the front. She seems excited about this. Like our existence is just some kind of game to her.
My head flicks to the back section, where the adults remain. Some of them are crying. Some are shaking. Some are even praying. But the majority of them remain completely still, watching the wheel get slower and slower.
I don’t want to watch. I want to look away. But as the ticks get less frequent, I can’t bear it anymore. I have to look. The wheel finally stands still, as the arrow points to a blood red slice. Genevieve takes it out, a flat look on her face. “Dotty Lewis, you’ve been selected.”
Dotty Lewis. That name sounds so familiar. I’m pretty sure she ran the flower shop at the island before the takeover. She was such a kind lady. I have no idea where to look, so I follow the heads of the audience. Dotty looks destroyed. She doesn’t even try to fight it as the guardians approach her, grabbing her by hand. I’m pretty sure she got sent to the outerlands. Probably for being a lesbian.
At least she’s old. She had a relatively good life on the old island. And it’s just a tad better than losing an 18 year old. She doesn’t say anything as she’s dragged out, but she clearly makes eye contact with one woman. Mouthing anything is clearly unsuccessful.
I think that’s the last time I’ll ever see Dotty.
Genevieve smiles, and clears her throat. “Well! There goes our first member. I suppose we shall go to the children now.”
She puts her hand to the wheel, when a man stands up from his seat. “Genevieve, you can’t do this!”
I gasp, as do the majority of the audience. What was he thinking standing up like that? That’s one of the biggest laws. No speaking whilell Genevieve is talking. “You’re sending a poor child to their death! They don’t know any better about staying in order or not!”
“Back to your seat, Daniel!” Genevieve barks. Two guardians shift their body his way.
“This is ridiculous! You can’t kill a child!” Tommy says. Genevieve grabs a whistle from her neck, and two guardians run to him, grabbing him by his arms. “Don’t touch me!” he shouts, but they’re already dragging him out of the room. “No! Don’t do this! You can silence them, but you can’t silence me! Get out of here, guys! It’s all slave labor!”
But he’s already gone.
“Enough!” Genevieve shouts. “I will not have anyone tell me what to do! I suppose we shall go to the teenagers now, since we have so many protests against this one.”
She walks to the spinner, her heels as loud as ever. This is it. Where she decides who it’s gonna be. I look to my left, where a tear is falling out of Imogen’s eye. “It’s not gonna be you,” I whisper. “You always follow the rules.”
“You don’t know everything,” she says.
I want to question that, but the spinner is finally slowing down.
It lands on a midnight blue slice. The silence in the room is thicker than Genevieve’s eyebrows. She clears her throat as she moves the slice to her eyes. “Imogen Greenlight.”
It’s as if time stops. Her grip loosens. No. It can’t be. There’s no way. I must have heard wrong. They can’t be taking Imogen. I whip my head to the right, where her eyes remain wide. She’s probably in shock. The guardians walk our way, and I grab her hands. “Get out!” I yell.
“Quiet, sir,” a guardian says, hooking her with his arm.
“Run away! Don’t let them get you!” I say.
“Kris! No!” she shouts, as the guardians drag her down the aisle.
When I thought about Imogen going down an aisle, I thought about it in a different way. Not this mess. I can’t let them take her. She has three siblings, and they can’t lose her. I push my way out of my seat, running down the aisle. “Don’t do this to her!”
“Christian, back to your seat,” a guardian says, pointing his long gun at me.
I initially stop at the gun, but I don’t care anymore. They can’t take Imogen away. I’d rather die than let her get executed. “Take me instead! I’ll take her place!”
“Christian, this is not the hunger games,” Genevieve says. “You may not volunteer for someone. But if you’re so enthusiastic to go, I suppose we can take you with her.”
She blows a whistle, and two guards start running towards me. “No!” I yell. “That’s not what I wanted!” I look for an escape route, but guardians surround everywhere, batons in hand. I can’t even think of a backup plan by the time the guardians reach me. They grab me with a firm grip, and bring me up to the stage. The audience all watches me with terrified eyes. However, I don’t see them long, as the guards whisk Imogen and I offstage.
The guards walk us for a minute or two, before they throw us into a room. “Get in there and stay in there!” My face hits the ground, causing a pounding pain in my head. The door slams, and I hear the click of the lock.
I open my eyes, and I’m immediately greeted with a slap from Imogen. That doesn’t help considering it feels like hammers are smashing my head. “Ow!”
“Why would you volunteer for me?” she yells, throwing her hands into her face. “That’s just got us both killed!”
“I obviously didn’t know that!” I say, finally sitting up. At first, I think my vision is blurred, but it’s clearly a product of the poor aqua lighting in this room. It looks like a prison cell, and I’m pretty sure there’s a bug on the wall. I also notice Dotty Lewis sitting in the corner, crying. I want to comfort her, but I can’t right now.
“It’ll be okay, Kris.”
I always repeat that phrase to myself to calm me down. I repeated it when I was hiding in the secret room on the old island, before they captured us. I repeated it as I got my assignment as an agricultural laborer. I repeated it as my mom got sent to the outerlands. However, at this moment, I don’t think it applies anymore.
I hear a huge smash, which makes me jump. I expect it to be a guardian coming in to give us a lethal injection. However, when I look where the sound came from, one of the awful lights comes smashing towards the ground. Luckily, none of us are sitting in the area where it smashes. However, a person comes into view from the ceiling, where the light originally smashed.
There’s no way. He was captured. How did he escape? I thought he’d be dead already. He reaches a hand out. “C’mon, take my hand!”
“Erik?” Imogen exclaims, her look of terror turning into confusion.
“Yeah, I know, you thought I was dead,” he says. “We can talk about that later. Just c’mon! We gotta get you out!”
“We can’t escape!” Dotty says, speaking for the first time. “They’ll kill us if they catch us!”
“They’re gonna kill you anyway if you’re in this room!” he says. “Quickly, now! We don’t have much time!”
Obediently, I stand up and grab his hand. Somehow, he pulls me up to the ceiling, which reveals a dark area. He does the same to Imogen and Dotty, who are more skeptical than I am. He turns on a flashlight, which reveals a much bigger space than I thought. There’s pipes and trapdoors. “Follow me! We gotta get you to a safe area!”
He starts creeping in one direction, and Imogen is the first to address all of our concerns. “I thought they caught you!”
“They did at first,” he says, pushing a pipe to the side. “I made it to the border, but I lost my ID. I got sent back to prison. They were about to send me to the outerlands, but I knocked out a guard and escaped. I’ve been hiding around the island helping people escape.”
“That’s pretty badass of you,” I say, chuckling. No one else laughs.
After a few minutes of walking, he leads us to a tiny room, covered by a black shade. Inside lies a bunch of refugees. Some are shivering, some are holding each other. I think I recognize one of them. “Stay in here for now. We’ll pick you and the other ones up in our next wave. Don’t make a sound. No talking unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
We make our way inside, and he throws a dark blanket at us. Before we can ask anything else, he’s gone. I lie down with Imogen, getting close with her to maintain our warmth. I can tell it’ll soon be freezing up here.
Is this really it? Are we finally gonna escape from Walmour? I have no way of knowing. This could be a scheme that the government planned, just to see who actually tries to escape. Then they’ll know who to keep an eye on. But for now, all we can do is wait.
I stare at the lonely clock in the corner of the room. Tick, tock, tick, tock…