It was another pep rally.
“Another one?” had come the despondent reply of my best friend, Ram. Ram was funny, as usual. She always complained about having pep rallies. I never blamed her.
The pep rallies were often dead and degrading. The cheering from the laid back, half-awake teenagers ranged from quiet to mute. The only thing that was consistently loud was the bad choice of music exploding from the speakers and the overly enthusiastic voice of Deven, the school council president. His smile was radiant, blinding his sleepy eyed peers.
My English teacher had kept my class a little longer as she explained “tragedy in literature.” I knew a bit about it already, as my dad is the Latin teacher at this school, and I had heard of Sophocles and Euripides when I was still a toddler.
So, I came in a little late to this silent pep rally, and scanned the stands.
Ram and I had split up. She had to sit with her homeroom, and I could see her plopping herself down next to a girl with long blond hair, like mine. She was another one of my friends, though I didn’t know her that well.
Ram winked at me. She sure has a sense of humor. That’s how she got her nickname, after all. She just barges into things, all proud and stuff. For goodness sake.
I smile and shake my head, before taking my place next to a girl whose face was familiar but whose name was as foreign as Ethiopia. I smiled. She smiled back, the light of friendliness nowhere to be seen.
So, the pep rally began.
It wasn’t like I had been expecting much. In fact, I hadn’t been expecting anything at all.
So when the music stopped rumbling, and Deven stopped screaming, and the one or two people who were actually cheering shut up, I opened my eyes to see what was going on (because at some point, I decided I was going to take a nap.)
When I had blinked my blurring vision clear, my eyes widened in shock.
At first, I thought this was just another part of the pep rally. Yeah, this was just someone’s sick idea of a joke.
But when I looked around at the completely shocked faces of the teachers and Deven, I knew this wasn’t planned.
Three men dressed completely in black and wearing balaclavas had rushed into the gym, brandishing machine guns. They were yelling, but what they were yelling I couldn’t tell. It was just a string of screams, merging together in a terrifying shriek.
People started screaming. Teachers shouted. Students were attempting to flee.
One of the masked men tore the microphone from a shell shocked Deven.
Everyone fell silent.
The man hefted his gun, pointing it at the stands. Everyone shrunk away, scared out of their wits. My heart started to thud. If he just shifted his shoulder a little bit to the left, it would be pointed in my direction…
This was not happening.
“YOU SHITS- SIT DOWN!”
The people trying to leave the gym scrambled back to their seats. The teachers sat down, faces paler than marble.
“Now then,” he wasn’t shouting anymore. His voice was actually handsomely deep, I observed half consciously, as if that mattered. “Let’s explain what’s going on here, and no one gets hurt.”
I was shivering. The girl next to me was stock still. The entire gym was incredibly, stifling silent.
My heart thudded, loud and rabbit fast. Fear ate me. This wasn’t happening.
This was NOT happening.
“Alright, we’re going through a little bit of an experiment here. Yeah, yeah this is an experiment. A test. If you don’t follow the rules, ten people die, got it?”
Everyone nods, silent.
Some people are crying. I feel my own eyes beginning to water. I swallow the tears back. I am a loud crier. They will shoot me if I make any noise.
I glance over at Ram. Her proud, stuck up face is hidden from me, as I somehow ended up in a higher row than her. But I can tell.
She’s crying too.
“Alright, so this experiment doesn’t include any of you damn teachers. If you try to stop us, ten people die, got it?”
The teachers nod. Some teachers are in tears too. I find my dad in the crowd.
His eyes are cold and serious, as if he’s done this before, and he knows what to do. But I can see it in the way he rakes his gaze through the crowd. He’s scared. He’s searching for me.
“I need one of you damn kids. You here? Just one! We’re going to kill you, right here, in front of all your friends. You’re gonna die. The condition though is this- if one of you dies, we leave and the rest of you can go home safe and sound. You just got to volunteer your life. That’s all.”
I can practically here the smirk in his voice, despite the fact that his expression is masked.
My heart is pounding. I keep staring at my dad. His eyes have yet to find me.
“Oh yeah, and every two minutes we have no volunteers, ten people die.”
My eyes met my fathers.
But soon, he quickly glanced away.
It is only then that the man’s words sink in.
One child volunteers to die?
And in two minutes-wait no, it’s only about a minute and a half now- ten people die. Ten random people die.
The other two men are circling below the stands, eyeing us from behind their blackness.
This was not happening.
At first, I was too scared to be angry, but then I got really mad. We were high schoolers! You can’t just ask us to give up our lives!
At the same time I couldn’t believe this was happening, I could.
This sort of thing had become a trade mark of the news. Yeah, this sort of thing happened all the time. Whenever I had seen those stories of terrorists coming and shooting people down, I had always just pulled on a sad face and said how sorry I was for such a tragedy. Yes, I was sorry for the families, of course.
I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that it was happening to me.
Before I knew it, I was standing up.
Standing up meant volunteering. Standing up meant death.
Hundreds of wide, terrified eyes turned towards me.
“Oh, we have a volunteer already! Well hello young lady. Are you sure you want to do this?”
There was something about his voice that made me hesitate. Something genuine that made me want to answer truthfully.
Did I want to do this?
I supposed I had read too many adventure novels. Maybe I had watched one too many hero movies.
Why had I stood up in the first place?
It’s not as if I wanted to be a hero. I didn’t want to be that person forever sung in history as brave.
Yeah, she sacrificed herself for everyone else, and all that crap.
No, I didn’t want that. I didn’t want any of that. Hell, I wouldn’t be alive long enough for that.
Did I want to protect everyone here?
Well, I had my friends. Ram, of course. Somewhere in the crowd would be my tight knit group of partners in crime, as we often called ourselves jokingly, and they could have been among the ten killed. Of course, I wanted to protect them.
But what about the girl I was sitting next to. She wasn’t my friend. I didn’t know Deven well at all. What about Margaret over there? She hated my guts. She was probably glad that I had stood up. Curious, I looked over at her. Her face was that of pure horror.
Maybe I was doing it for my dad.
He had seemed so confident, so selfless, putting on a front for all those around him. Be strong, he had said with his eyes.
Was I protecting him?
I don’t know.
I nodded at the masked man. He chuckled.
“Well than, come down please.”
I straightened my uniform and stepped onto the stairs. At least I didn’t have to shuffle past people. I silently thanked my English teacher for making me late.
“YOU SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW YOUNG LADY!”
It was my father, he was screaming. Screaming so loud. My instinct was to hide. I knew he was mad when he called me a young lady. Everyone must be mad if they called me a young lady in my family.
“Dad!” I yelled, because guns were turning towards him. The masked man’s cronies take steps forward, warning.
“Now, now. What did I say?” The masked man said. His voice was low and threatening and cold. So cold.
My dad’s face turned pale.
Suddenly I was running. I was beside the masked man in a second.
“I’m ready.” I said.
I wasn’t ready.
I was as far away from ready as was physically possible.
I was not ready for this.
The masked man turned towards me.
I stared at his eyes.
His eyes were a bright blue, like mine were. They seem to glisten, almost with tears, but at the same time, they laughed at me. A rebel strand of blond hair had managed to fall half way over one of his sapphire gems. He did not seem to mind.
There was something distinctly sane and calming about his eyes that made me step closer to him. It was so familiar, yet so foreign, like some long lost relative come back from a life time of travels.
I was not ready for this.
He roughly grabs my waist and pulls me close. He is warm, and I am cold. I shiver, but he is firm.
“Are you sure?” He whispers in my ear, silky with that strange familiarity.
I am not sure.
I look around at the crying audience around me, and I stare into all of their stunned eyes. At the same time, they all seem faceless too me. They’re faces seem to become blurrier and blurrier, as if by some miracle they were all wax and today was a hot, summer day.
But soon I realize that I am crying.
Yeah, I’m crying.
I was not sure about this.
Suddenly, the microphone is shoved in front of my face.
He’s whispering again.
“Please. Don’t cry.”
There is something about the way he says it that makes me feel like I am five years old, and it’s my brother speaking to me after I’ve just fallen down. It’s alright. You’re going to be okay. Just stand up. It’s going to be fine.
“Give us some last words, my young lady.”
His breath is hot against my ear. It makes my knees quiver. My heartbeat is so loud in my ears that I can barely hear what he says to me. My thoughts are now blurrier than my sight.
What should I say?
My voice is clear, as if I wasn’t crying. As if my knees weren’t shaking. As if my heart wasn’t beating faster than the speed of light.
This is not happening.
I’m about to die and this is the best that I can do?
What should I say?
“I love my family!”
Do I want to do this?
My heart is loud in my ears. Too loud.
“I wish I had could have seen my brother again…”
Yeah, my brother. He’s long gone, far away in a place I do not know. He turned away from me and my family some time ago.
“Is that all?”
His breath seems to soothe me in that familiar way. It’s the same way his eyes are familiar. I have a feeling of nostalgia creeping down my back, and it makes me shudder.
I know him.
Yet again, I do not know him at all.
“I don’t want to die.” I whisper, but the mic fails to pick it up. Silence once more folds through the gym, as poisonous as noxious fumes.
“Bye-bye, young lady.”
He pulls back from me, and I feel cold. Cold and lonely.
A single tear slides down my cheek, like a fallen angel plummeting from heaven.
I close my eyes.
This is not happening.
I hear him sigh, and I turn around in that last moment. I’m not evading him. I’m not running away.
I want to see the look in his eyes.
Those blue eyes.
They are wide and wild. They hardened into splintering ice. I notice, though, that even those hard eyes have softened. He has tears spilling over, like demons fleeing the cold pits of hell.
It’s not like I was expecting much. When he pulled the trigger, it was when I expected him too.
Was I protecting him?
I don’t know.2: Familiar