Everyone tells me I’m beautiful. I’m serious, everyone. Strangers strolling down the street will drop their coffee on the sidewalk and gawk at me, then ask how my complexion is so clear. All of the girls at Wilmington Academy beg me to style their hair and apply their makeup. All of the boys practically drool whenever I pass them by in the halls. Everyone wants to be me. Which is why I decided to enter into the Life or Death Beauty Pageant.
The Annual Life or Death Beauty Pageant - or ALDB Pageant for short - is a contest watched worldwide. It was created by some billionaire who wanted entertainment yet didn’t know what to do with his money. 20 girls compete for a chance to win 5 million dollars. The girls are placed in a large dome, each given a weapon of their choice, and then they fight to the death. The contest will usually last a week or so and the winner is presented with the money and a golden trophy.
But this is a beauty pageant, so they had to find a way to involve the girls’ looks. Before the contest, the girls are interviewed to show off their appearance and personality. 50 Supporters will be watching, and each Supporter gets to decide independently who they think is the most beautiful or whose personality they adore. While in the dome, they send that girl protective armor, food, more weapons, and supplies. The prettiest girl always gets the most Supporters, and regardless of her talent, usually wins the contest.
If I entered, I wouldn’t have any trouble winning. One, I’m knock-out gorgeous. My hair is the color of a teddy bear my mother made for me when I was a child. My skin is tanned perfectly and clear of freckles, and it naturally makes my jade eyes sparkle. I could undoubtedly win this.
The frigid air in my bedroom tears me away from my thoughts. I roll myself up in the quilt that my mother stitched together for me, hoping to get some warmth, but I don’t succeed. Instead, I pull a knitted wool sweater - another craft my mother made for me - over my head as another attempt to be heated. This works better, but I’m still freezing. I reapply my run-down maeve lipstick, a used hand-me-down from my mother and one of the only things I can afford, and place it in its exact spot on my tattered nightstand. Even though I don’t have much, I try to be organized.
I stumble down the staircase, searching blindly for the light switch as I go down. I feel a raised piece of plastic on the peeling wall. I push it, and it provides me with immediate lighting. My pace quickens as I hurry to my garage, hoping to make it out before my mother wakes. I plop myself into the ripped seat of our old truck, plunge the keys into their proper hole, and turn them to the right, praying it will turn on.
After a few failed attempts, the old engine roars to life, and I slowly back it out of the garage, the noise making me cringe. I see my mother opening the window to her room and letting the sunlight stream in like she does each morning. We share a few similarities, such as our long brown hair and tan skin. But I’m told that my green eyes come from my dad. I wouldn’t know. He abandoned my family when I was just a baby.
When Mother notices the car pulling out of the driveway, her expression fluctuates entirely. Her jaw drops. She knows I’m going to sign up for the pageant. I mentioned it to her a week ago and pleaded with her to let me take part in it. My family needs money. Our shack of a home could use an upgrade and our beat-up truck has to be replaced. She refused to let me do anything that could possibly injure me. I kept arguing with her but she wouldn’t oblige to my request no matter how hard I tried to convince her. I got so mad I wouldn’t talk to her for days.
Mother rushes out of her bedroom, and I can picture her sprinting down the stairs right as I pull the vehicle out of the garage. The door is flung open when the truck reaches the street. She mouths something multiple times, and it takes me a second to realize she is saying, “Please.” For a second my heart sinks, but then I ignore the feeling. I’m going to win this. And when I come back with 5 million dollars she’ll understand why I did this. I think to myself. Those other girls don’t stand a chance against me. A smug smile makes an appearance on my face at the thought of beating all of the other losers in the pageant.
* * *
I arrive at a sleek skyscraper with over twenty floors, the words “ALDB” in massive letters at the very top of the building. I plant my feet on the concrete sidewalk next to the street and softly shut the door closed, fearing that if I slam it, it might fall off of its hinges. I walk up to the large door of the building, and it slides away at my appearance, as if I am a queen and it is merely somebody constructed to serve me. I step into the building and my jaw drops.
The place probably created the phrase, “Money is no object.” White luxury diamond-encrusted sofas are placed in the back, and glass tables with gold rims are in the center. Beautiful greenery is sitting in the corners, and massive lights are hanging from the ceiling, reflecting off of all of the bejeweled items in the room - which is nearly everything. There’s a quartz table placed right in front of me, and placed on it is a professional sign reading, “Annual Life or Death Beauty Pageant Sign-Ups” in large gold letters.
A woman about as old as my mother is sitting on a chair behind the table, scrolling through a square device - I’m nearly positive it’s called a phone - not paying any attention to my presence. A sign-up sheet rests in front of her, a black and gold pen resting on top of it, beckoning me to pick it up and swirl it in large letters. I notice approximately 20 signatures. After counting, I realize there are 19 other signatures. I’ll be the last one. I pick up the pen and make swirling motions to produce my name - Savannah Oaks.
The woman - deemed Laura Berks from her nametag - looks up at me, then plasters a fake smile on her face. “Good morning.” she says to me in an accent that I can’t quite place the origin of. “Oh, another sign-up! This will be the last one! I’ll direct you to your chambers.”
Chambers? I thought to myself. This is all going so fast. Doesn’t matter. I know I will win, no matter when the contest is or how it goes. I smiled to myself, yearning for my moment of victory.