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Alex inspected her fingernails and tried to pick out the dirt she’d accumulated underneath them. 

“That’s useless you know,” Stella said as she stretched out on the bed on the other side of the room. “You’ll be working the fields again in less than an hour.”

“You can give up on personal hygiene,” Alex said, “but I’m going to do my best to stay clean.”

Stella laughed. “You know, your half clean nails really accent your eyes, you are just so beautiful.” 

“Shut up,” Alex said with a tired smile as she got out of bed. She quickly got ready for the day and went to stand by the door. It opened slowly with a sound like nails on a chalkboard. 

“See ya at dinner,” Stella called as Alex walked out for her morning shift. She made her way down the narrow hall until she entered the stream of people going to their different jobs. Finally she got to the field. 

“Section 4B, back corner,” the guard boredly said reading off a clipboard. 

Alex trudged through the mud and systematically dug the root vegetables out of the ground--placed them in her basket--then moved from row to row. Suddenly a bell rang and Alex sighed and stood on her achy legs. As she walked to the door she wished she could go back to sleep. When she got to the guard she placed the basket by the door and waited for him to check her off his list.


“What,” Alex said and ran her hand through her hair.

“You are to immediately report to the Director's office.”

“What,” she repeated.

“Off you go,” he said and waved her away.

Alex walked into the corridor and followed the signs up to the director's office. As she came up to the door she paused before knocking--she pulled her hair behind her ear and combed her fingers through it--then knocked twice.

“Come in.” 

Alex tentatively opened the door; she closed it behind her and sat in a chair.

“Hi,” she said.

The director looked down at Alex through her oval glasses.

“Hello Alex,” she said as she typed on her laptop. “You’re probably wondering why I called you here.”

“Yeah, I am,” Alex said.

The director laughed, “Recently we’ve started a program for our less troubled youth. It’s kind of like probation. You’re cleared to enter the program.”

“How do I count as less troubled?” Alex asked, “I murdered someone.”

“Eh, most of the youths here have done much worse. We’ve done research on you, and your mentally stable--the counselor said you show signs of regret. That’s enough for me.”

“You’re serious,” Alex asked.

The director leaned back in her leather office chair. “It will require some effort on your part, but it would mean a full acquittal.”

Alex stared at the director; she must be joking, she thought. 

“Yes, of course,” Alex said and bit her lip. “Who else will be entered?”

“We’re doing this on a case by case basis; we’re still ruling out candidates.” The director smiled and leaned forward on her desk. “To complete the program, you have one test. You will have to do what is hardest for you. It might mean the severing of a friendship, but you’ll know what’s right to do. If you don’t, you will be stuck here forever.”

“What do you mean I’ll know what to do?”

The director waved her out of the office.



“What the,” Alex muttered as she walked down the hallway. She ran her hand through her hair. Her footsteps echoed off the walls as she walked down the halls and stairs until she reached the cafeteria. She snatched a tray off the stack and filled a plate. Then she went to sit by Stella. 

“Hi,” Alex said.

“Hey,” Stella said with a wave -shrug.

“How’s your dinner?” Alex asked.


“What?” Alex asked.

“It’s my vocabulary word of the day.”

“That’s random.”

“Very phantasmagoric of you,” Stella replied.

“I don’t think that’s how the word is supposed to be used.”

Stella laughed and shoveled a pile of mashed potatoes into her mouth.

“So here’s the scoop,” Stella said--she raised her eyebrows, and raised a spoon full of potatoes as she shrugged. “I’ve been talking around for awhile, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, you know with us being such good friends and all.”

“Get on with it,” Alex said.

“Well, I think I can get us both out of this hell hole.”

Alex felt like the room around her fell away. She knew what the director meant now, and she knew she couldn’t do it. 

“I’d say you’ve gone as plain as a ghost,” Stella said deadpan, “but that would be cliche.” 

“Um,” Alex said, “it’s nothing to worry about, I um just realized I forgot to um fill in my timesheet for today.”

“Oh no, not that,” Stella said with an eye roll, “I guess if you don’t do it soon, you’ll be out of time.

Alex swallowed and tried to smile. “What’s with all the jokes.”

“Got to be positive,” Stella said, “I need to be lucky for everything to work out.”

“Yeah,” Alex agreed and stood. “See you tonight.”

She picked up her tray; she slid it into the wall slot and walked out of the cafeteria. When she got back to the cell she slumped onto her bed. She covered her face with her hands and groaned. Why did this have to happen to her; why did she have to be in this dilemma; why did she have to face this ultimatum. Then she realized that’s why the director waited until now to test Alex. The director thought she would be willing to do this, to have the moral strength. But Alex knew she couldn’t betray her only friend like that--she wouldn’t. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. She would help Stella; she would have her cake and eat it too. She wouldn’t let the director rip Stella and her apart. She waited there until Stella came in the cell.

“I need to tell you something,” Alex said determinedly.

“Ok, but why do people always say, ‘I need to tell you something,’ instead of just saying it.”

Alex sighed. “The director called me to her office today. She said they would pardon me, let me out.”

“Really?” Stella asked, “that’s wonderful.”

“But,” Alex said, “they said I have to stop you. I didn’t realize what they meant then, but when you said what you did at dinner I realized.”

Stella’s eyes widened and took a deep breath.

“So what are you going to do?” Stella asked warily.

“I’m going to help you.”

Stella sighed. “Ok, good. That’s good.”

“So,” Alex asked and smiled, “what’s the plan?”

Stella walked to Alex as she sat in the courtyard during the recreation hour.

“I still can’t believe how you got everything,” Alex said.

Stella mock bowed and sat next to Alex. “It was easy.”

Alex looked sarcastically at her. 

“It was hard, but I got it done. We have five minutes.”

“Ok,” Alex said, “does everyone know what to do?”

“Yeah, they only know the briefest details, but they’ll get it done.”

“Ok,” Alex said.

They sat there together--waiting. Boom. Plaster and cement rained down everywhere as the building exploded and the structure cracked. 

“Now!” Stella yelled.

The other prisoners rioted. They ran at the guards and toppled them like a child pushing over blocks.

“C’mon,” Stella said to Alex.

They ran to the door even as the prisoners mobbed into the collapsing building. It was the only way out of the compound, to leave through the front door. Suddenly the alarm blared and creaking filled the courtyard. Alex’s eyes widened--they couldn’t do this--but the gun turrets didn’t stop turning toward them.

“Run!” Alex yelled.

Bullets rained down on the prisoners, and they fell to the grass. Alex grabbed Stella’s arm and pulled her through a side door for the guards. 

“Hey!” A guard yelled at them, “Stop!”

Alex and Stella turned away from the guard and ran the other way.

“I can’t believe they’re killing everyone,” Alex cried as they ran.

Stella glanced at Alex--her eyes were wide and panicked, “They’re crazy, we have to get out of this hell now!”

They ran towards the front gate. But it was closed.

“How do we open it,” Alex shouted.

Stella ran and tried to pry it open with her crowbar. 

“It’s not opening. We’re trapped,” Stella cried out.

“Let me try,” Alex said desperately. 

Together they pried the door open. Red light shone through.

“Yes!” Stella said with a crazed look.

Suddenly they heard the thud of footsteps, and they whirled around. Oh no, Alex thought. Two guards ran at them--the director behind them. Stella screamed and ran at them. She smashed the crowbar into a guard’s cranium. Blood splattered everywhere and he fell. The other guard grappled her to the ground. 

“No,” Alex cried and pried off the guard’s hands. “Wait, Stella don’t!”

Stella whirled around and slammed the crowbar at the guard, who crumpled to the ground like a limp doll. The director's eyes widened with surprise.

Stella panted, “You miscalculated,” and ran at her.

“Stella stop. Let’s just go,” Alex cried.

She ran at the director--then she pressed the crowbar against her neck.

“You did this,” Stella cried.

The director’s face went red. She gasped.

“No Stella,” Alex cried and pulled her away

“Let me get her! She did this,” Stella yelled as Alex tried to pull her away. 

Stella’s eyes widened with a crazed gleam. “You’re with her. You want to stop me!”

She swung the crowbar, and Alex stepped back quickly.

“No, I’m not. I’m just trying to stop you from committing murder.”

“You think I haven’t killed?” Stella screamed and lunged at Alex. 

As Alex stepped back the crowbar grazed her shoulder.

“Ow,” Alex cried. “Please Stella, I would never hurt you!”

“Cut the crap,” Stella swung again and missed.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said and wiped the tears in her eyes.

She ran forward and tackled Stella--she toppled both of them to the floor. 

“Argh,” Stella yelled as the crowbar flew away.

“I’m so sorry,” Alex said.

Suddenly more guards came rushing in. Stella stopped struggling and fell limp.

“Good job,” the director said. “You passed the challenge.” 

Alex sat in a chair across from the director. Alex felt miserable. How could this have happened, they had a path out of the building, but Stella had blown it. She wished it could have turned out better for her friend. 

“I’m sorry,” the director said. “I know that was hard for you, but you made the right choice stopping her.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You know, we’re not the murderers you think we are.”

“You killed all those prisoners how could you not be murderers?”

“Nobody stays dead in hell,” the director let it sink in.

“You mean, I could have let her kill you and you would have been fine?”

The director nodded.

Alex wept silently and put her head in her hands.

“You’re free to go, just sign here,” the director said kindly.

Alex scrawled her name on the dotted line dejectedly.

“How do I leave, I want to get out of this hell as soon as possible.”

The director smiled sadly. The room filled with red light--Alex felt like she was falling--then she slammed onto her bed. She was back home, but what was home without her best friend. She lay on the pillow and wept. At least now she had another chance to do things right this time. She turned over and the light from her window blinded her. She would do things right this time, and maybe Stella would too. Maybe they could see each other again, with their families, in paradise.

August 24, 2019 01:20

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1 comment

Margin 🌈
05:39 Oct 10, 2020

Many syllables. Very story-ish.


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