I can’t stop shaking as the siren goes off.
We’re supposed to drop whatever we’re doing and lay on our stomachs. Even if we’re using the latrine. Spread our limbs out the way I’m doing now. And perform the intonation.
“In service to our Nation,” it begins, “we beg to be let back in.”
And the Guards, who are Citizens, will reply in unison. “No.”
The answer is the same for everyone, except for those who get to leave the camp. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours, too: of the prisoners who actually Earn their Citizenship. They get to go free: even ride in the Camp Commandant’s personal vehicle.
Get their own houses: their own spouses, sometimes. And all the food they can eat. They don’t even have to pay rent for a whole year.
Am I bad person to want that? To NEED that?
Above all else: survive.
But the day’s work is over. We’ve built the fence. You’d be surprised how efficient people can be when stopping means being clubbed to death.
I had to make one of those improvised maces the Guards sometimes carry. They use rusty nails on purpose.
The day’s work is over and the machine-gun turrets have been built. Someone’s going to die.
“On your feet, rats.”
They call us rats. You’ll see the irony of that later, I promise.
We’re on our feet before our minds even realize we’re not on the ground any more.
Everyone’s presentable. Each prisoner worked as hard as they were supposed to. No one let our work party down. That’s what worries me.
Am I a bad person for wishing someone had been stubborn today? For wishing another person in brown had snapped: maybe tried to attack a Guard and had to be restrained?
Because that would have made the next few minutes a lot easier to handle. If you KNOW who’s going to die, you make your peace with it. But if you don’t...the Guards will have more fun than they’re supposed to.
Sadistic pieces of-
No...no no no…
We’re lined up with our hands at our sides. I tried to breathe a little bit and my cough started up again. I’ve caught it in my throat: suppressed it...and some of the saliva’s gone down my windpipe.
I’m about to choke. And the Guards are eyeing us in threes. Trying to see who isn’t behaving.
They’re making us present our hands: it’s come down to cleanliness. We’ve been digging in the dirt all day, and whoever has filth under their fingernails will die.
Above all else: survive.
My hands can’t stop shaking. I can’t see them any more: there are tears in my eyes. And we’re all too terrified to whisper to one another.
“What’s your problem?” A Guard asks.
He’s right in front of me: I risk blinking. Two more tears run down my cheeks.
“Look at this one,” he sounds more amused than angry now. “Crying like a baby.”
I do it: cough. And spit. Bend over so I can keep hawking as my lungs clear themselves out.
By the time I’m done my chest is heaving. And I know I’m done for.
“I believe our choice has been made, Gentlemen,” the Guard’s punchline is delivered, and those in grey laugh themselves silly.
“Would you rather go to the hospital instead?”
A slow, painful, torturous death versus a quick, painful, torturous death.
I always said I would fight. If they ever came for me: if a situation like this arose. That I would take as many of them down as I could.
But my limbs are slack. This is what happens when you live in a Reform Village for years: your body thinks, gives up its autonomy, does what it’s told: and your brain panics.
I don’t even move my legs when the Guards drag me to the fence: that’s how scared I am.
They think it’s hilarious.
Everyone else in my work detail stays riveted to the spot. They’re not even looking. Not unless they’re told to watch. And even if that order comes, they won’t really see me.
We’ve learned to look through each other when we’re being executed. Doing otherwise would drive anyone mad.
There are still machine guns to test. Will have a body when the fence is done with me, so they can shoot that. But they’d get a second “volunteer” if a prisoner caused displeasure.
I wonder if anyone else would be this stiff when the Guards kick them to the ground. When six men in grey lift them up, like a wooden board. And begin to play.
“One...” they giggle as they count “two...”
The point is for all six Guards to toss me when their game is over. And to make it worse: they’re counting up, instead of down. To add an element of surprise to the process: and to freak me out.
It’s working. I’m terrified.
The siren goes off again. It’s a different kind: unexpected, and we soon see why.
Dust storms are not something to mess around with. Especially when they travel at several kilometres per hour and can literally strip the skin off an unprotected person.
The electricity has to be turned off to make sure the charged particles don’t cause explosions. And all humans have to take cover indoors until it passes.
Even the one about to be electrocuted.
I’m still stiff, but the other prisoners drag me along anyway.
At first I’m touched: then I remember someone else will have to be picked for the tests when the storm is over. And no one wants to go through that line-up again.
I was chosen: it’s only fair I see things through.
Them’s the rules.
- NEXT CHAPTER -D