My hand closed on the curtain leading to the stage. This was it. The big moment. Before I’d been a part of the audience, this time, the devue had come for me. At fourteen, I’d longed for the year I’d be chosen. My chance to escape from this nightmarish world. Death would be welcome, a gift from being a food for one of the hellish creatures, who roamed the American Republic. I shivered as a shove came from behind and literally tripped onto the theater floor.
A woman, most likely a pet of the Society that ran these auditions, dressed in an all-black costume that looked like something out of a long-ago, whispered fairytale. I’d been a first-grader when the third world war struck, two years later, the monsters had attacked. Now the Society ran the 1/3 of the country not governed by the enemy factions. Slowly, they were working their way into the military areas as well.
I could hear the children in the cages below, begging, pleading to be me. I’d been in their shoes many a time. First when I watched my Momma and then my Daddy take that chair, draw their chance at a lottery to be free. No more feeding pigs to an army of darkness. I’d gazed at their broken, weary bodies and wished I were them. To have it all end. I couldn’t stand the sucking, the slurping, or the chewing. Most of all, looking into a face so—human—it was eerie.
Picking myself up from the platform, I staggered thanks to a twisted ankle, over to the chair in the center. Tears clung to my eyelashes. Would they turn me away? Repulsed by an offering not perfect? There came no warning bells, no whistles and I breathed a sigh of relief. I sat down, braced myself, and waited.
I heard the sound of ropes swaying above, imagining which of the creatures would descend on her. The dark lady in the costume introduced me. “Mereketh, everyone. She looks to be a fine morsel indeed.” She cued the buckets of blood to be dropped on me. Hisses and yowls came from around me in the faces of a human population gone wrong.
I waited for just the right moment, balling my fists, as they crept toward me. It would be so easy—to let go—but I continued to let them surround me. As they began to fight among one another to see who would be leader of the pack, I drew my hands forward and uncurled my fingers. The toxic fumes reached into their midst and slashed the flesh from their bones as they’d done to many of ours.
I heard the children cry out and then cheer, something they hadn’t done in forever. When I hobbled from the chair, not a monster was standing, they’d all succumbed to magic they’d long forgotten. A magic not always grown on the Akara Mountains, but sometimes, in the heart of people everywhere.
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