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The ear-piercing horn that signifies the beginning of another miserable day draws me out of my sleep.
I hear the footsteps of my peers getting out of their rock hard mattresses and walking towards the dining cavern for a disgusting breakfast. I suck in my breath whenever the sharp crack of a whip snaps. They only whip the people who refuse to get up and start moving. From the girl’s bunks, it’s usually Carmen, Jetta, Katry, Myla, Paz, Katha, Rabbit, Maysii, Jan, and Layta who take the beatings.
Even though I’m expecting it, the painful crack on my arm jerks me awake. I look at the guard wielding the whip that has been stained with the blood of hundreds of different Manipulators. She wears the standard uniform of a Misery guard: leather leggings and jacket, with a belt of miscellaneous devices used to make us miserable. Her mousy brown hair is done up in a clean and simple bun, and she is all points and angles.
“Wake up,” she commands, grabbing me by the collar of my worn down coat. She yanks me out of bed and shoves me towards the steady stream of people being herded towards the dining cavern. My sharp black ponytail swishes behind me as I join the herd.
“Do you think Andi made it?” whispers Jade from beside me. Jade and I aren’t friends. I only have one friend in the Misery, and that is Andi. Jade, however, is as close as you can get to a friend.
When she asks if I think Andi made it, she is referring to how yesterday, after lights out, Andi made an escape attempt, one of many. It’s funny how everyone knew about the attempt except the Evils and the guards. Everyone in the Misery knows each other by name and number of escape attempts. Jade has made 6. Andi and I have made too many to keep track of. Who wouldn’t want to escape the miserable underground prison that I am forced to call my home?
Andi has taken me on all the attempts except this one. This is because I refused to go. I want, more than anything, for Andi to be able to go see the green carpet. And I always hold her back. I am typically the reason we get caught.
Weather or not Andi was caught, we will know at breakfast. If she isn’t there, then she has made it. “I don’t know,” I say to Jade.
We walk through the dark hallways of the Misery, guards flanking either side of our giant herd, until we reach the dining cavern. The boys are already there, sitting at tables, surrounded by male guards.
After waiting 20 minutes in the line for food, I take my plate of stinking gruel and sit by Jade. We sit at the tiny corner table where Jade, Andi, and we always sit with no one else but each other.
Sitting across from Jade is Andi, the left side of her face bloodied and bruised.
“Oh,” I whisper. I take my usual seat between Jade and Andi. “What happened, Andi?”
“I… I was almost there. I could see the door. The door that leads out to the real world. I thought I made it. I thought I was alone. But…” She shakes her head. “They came. The guards. And they knocked me out.”
“Hey,” I whisper. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it someday.”
“Impossible!” cries Andi. “I’ve had it! There is no way out of the Misery! This hellhole is inescapable!”
“Gillian did it,” Jade offers. “She escaped. If she did, why can’t we? If the guards can hit us, why can’t we hit them back? And the people aboveground. If they can live, why can’t we?”
“Exactly!” I agree. “I refuse to believe that you’re actually giving up, Andi! Gillian escaped. We can too.”
“And how did the famous Gillian do it? Luck! She said it herself, people! She just happened to be escaping at a time where the guard was in the bathroom! She is the reason we have two guards at every door now!” Andi argues.
An argument with Andi is one you will not win. I know this better than anyone.
I scoop some foul tasting gruel into my mouth, grimacing as it hits my tongue.
Suddenly, I hear light footfalls pattering towards our table. Oh, no, I think, we’re about to get beaten for not eating enough.
Although the person who sits down at our table is not a bloodthirsty guard.
It is Gillian in the flesh.
Speaking to Gillian is a privilege. She normally doesn’t talk to 14 year olds like me or Jade, or even 16 year olds like Andi. Normally she speaks only to the prisoners 21 and older.
“You failed.” She nods at Andi, who pokes at her gruel, clearly infuriated at Gillian for acknowledging her failure. Gillian, like all of us, is thin and bony. She is a strongheaded woman in her early 30s or so. Beneath the layer of grime and dust, you can make out bits and pieces of her curling red hair. And beneath the layer of cloudiness and exhaustion, you can see her emerald green eyes. Gillian isn’t one to believe in failure.
“Will you be trying again?” she asks, looking at both Andi and I.
“Of course,” I firmly say. “To give up is to fail.”
Gillian smiles a twinkling smile. “A wonderful philosophy to live by, if I do say so myself, young Wolf.” I nod, grateful that she called me by name. When people call me by name, it makes me feel like they recognize me as their equal.
“You haven’t made any escape attempts since that one where you made it,” I slowly say. “Why?”
“It’s complicated. But the moment I stepped out of the Misery, all I could think about was everyone locked up inside.” Gillian shrugs. “With me, it’s one of us or none of us.”
Self survival is the only thing that matters, I think. Look out for Number One, and Number Two- if possible. Number Two is Andi.
“Do you know how I got caught?” Gillian asks. “How the guards found me?”
I shake my head.
“I didn’t,” she says. My jaw drops 20 feet, although Gillian doesn’t seem to care. She keeps talking as if what she says doesn’t go against everything I believe. “I turned myself in after realizing how blatantly selfish I was being.”
“Selfish?” I snap. “Every person here would trade their voices to make it out of here! You had the very opportunity to leave, and you passed it up as if it were some kind of… whatever! But…” I can’t seem to find the right words to express myself.
Gillian weakly smiles. “I know it. I know that I had the chance, but I don’t regret anything I did.
“Wha-” I sputter, but Gillian has already stood up and left. “Moron,” I mutter. Any respect I might’ve had for Gillian is gone. To abandon such an opportunity… all because of a stinking conscience.
A guard backhands me in the back of the head. My neck snaps forward, although it isn’t painful. I’m too used to it for it to hurt.
“What was that for?” I grunt.
“You aren’t eating,” the guard says from behind me. I roll my eyes at Andi, who stifles a laugh. She always seems to be in brighter spirits after seeing me agitated. She claims it’s just funny to watch me sputter.
I force myself to shove another mouthful of gunk into my mouth. “Delicious,” I sarcastically mutter to the guard. “Is this fresh from the dumpster?” I turn to look at the guard.
He sends a stinging slap across my cheek, then walks away. “Good to talk to you!” I trill.
For the rest of the breakfast, we eat in silence.
I hear the horn that signifies the end of breakfast.
Everyone goes silent, waiting for the List. Every day, 10 people are randomly picked to be experimented on by the Evils themselves. Andi’s been drawn once, but she never tells us anything about what happens. I am one of the few people who has had the good fortune not to be drawn.
A guard reads the list outloud in a clear voice that suggests that everything he says is final. I wait with baited breath, knowing that I am bound to be drawn sooner or later. “Today’s experiments are: Jogo, Mark, Adan, Lia, Saye, Mateo, Undoo, Wolf…”
I don’t hear the rest of the list over the sound of my heart doing a summersault.
Andi takes my hand in hers. “You’ll be okay. It only hurts a little.”
After the guard has read the list, he says, “If your names were called, you will report to me right now.” I am too scared to rebel right now. I obediently stride towards the guard, followed by the other 9 unlucky people. There is one girl- Lia- who is a mere eight year old.
“Everyone here will follow me,” the guard says. This close, I can see the patch on his breast that signifies him as a Head Guard.
Biting my bottom lip, I follow the guard through the halls lit by dim lamps. We walk into a part of the Misery I have never seen before- a narrow hallway lined with doors.
One by one, the guard shoves each of us into a room. I place myself at the back of the group so that I don’t have to go first.
Eventually, he takes me by the sleeve and tugs me towards a door. Panic sets in, and I skillfully tamper with his thoughts, Manipulating him. I know it won’t do anything but earn me a beating, because all the guards are trained to recognize and fight Manipulations.
For a second, his expression is blank as my Manipulation sets in. Then he sneers viciously and shoves me into the room. “Nice try, freak,” he snarls.
He shuts the door behind him, leaving me alone in the room.
It is a small, whitewashed room with a wall made entirely of what I am sure is one way glass. I’m being watched.
In the center of a room is a table. A simple table. “Lie down,” calls a voice. Speakers?
Too terrified to disobey, I take a seat on the cool metal table. I then lie down and try to even out my breaths.
With a click, shackles shoot out from the table and close around my wrists and ankles. I struggle against the binds, but it does me no good. No. No no no no. No!
I watch in horror as a white smoke fills the room. “What is this?” I cry. “Huh?” The stuff flies in my nose and smells like a fresh batch of gruel… that is, to say, disgusting.
“Just relax,” the voice says. “It will be faster.”
The smoke dulls my senses to a point where I don’t even feel like arguing. I relax against the shackles and fight to keep my consciousness.
I am finally forced to close my eyes.
I feel tired, then scared, then nothing.
Nothing at all.
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