His mom had kissed him when he left. She hugged him and told him to follow the rules, and not to think about what he was in line for. She never had to think about it, never had to wait in line. She was sterile. Was sterilized after he was born sixteen years ago.
They changed the legal age from eighteen to sixteen this year, and so here he was: only sixteen and waiting; hoping like hell he will see his mother again.
He tried not to think about the inside of The Roulette, but his mind seemed trapped there. Will I make it? Will I make it?
His mom had cried when he left. He couldn’t remember what she was wearing this morning when he left. She made a big thing out of what he’d put on. The thin T-shirt, his favorite jeans with the gaping hole in the left knee, and sneakers. If he didn’t make it through, he at least wanted to be wearing something he liked.
She didn’t believe he’d make it. He could see it in her eyes. When he stepped off the porch and onto the road that led to the end of this line, she was already forgetting his face, his name, his voice. He didn’t think she meant to do it. It was just easier for her that way. He never really existed anyway. He was just a number in a long line. The taller boy thought he was going to cry. What did it matter? The tears. He would have to pass through those doors anyway, tears or not. He felt a sadness, one that could never really be lifted because nothing really existed, did it? There was only the waiting, and the scarcely seen other side. He didn’t cry. But he would have if he could.
“Hey, man.” The smaller boy tapped him on the elbow. “Hey, man. Snap out of it. We’re next.”
The taller boy looked up and saw the doors, only the doors. They had finally arrived at the beginning of the line. Or was it the end?
The smaller boy took a long drag off his cigarette, and then tamped it beneath his foot. He laid a thick, slightly trembling hand on the taller boy’s shoulder.
“Hey, man. This is it. I’m a free man. Good luck to you, man. Nice talkin’ to ya.”
The smaller boy smiled a strange smile, then turned, and stepped into The Roulette’s jaws.
The taller boy waited, holding his breath. And he heard it. The shot sounded like the crack of a whip, swift and merciless. Then it was his turn. He stepped inside. He could smell the blood and decay of many dead and even stronger, the smell of gunpowder; sharp and potent like rotten apples decomposing in the late summer sun. They put the gun to his temple. It was so cold. Somewhere in the darkness a prayer was whispered, then a pause, the sniff of fear, his mom’s long black hair, his room, the first verse of his favorite song, and his father’s voice, so harsh like the sound of a . . . gun!
He was shoved out of the way to clear the path for the next in line. He emerged out the other side. It was only a blank field, as dead as the bodies fallen behind him. No people, no family, no party. Only a road that led back to an existence that didn’t really mean anything. He wanted to laugh and cry and scream at the gray building at his back. Instead he remembered because that was the only thing that could beat The Roulette. He remembered the smaller boy. He stroked the jacket he’d given to him when he was cold. His name had been Jason. He will remember, and next year he will tell his truth to someone in line, and call himself lucky.
Part One here and Part Two here.
More short stories here.
Image Credits (stock used with permission)–
“The Other Side” (image above) is a photomanipulation created by NIKOtheOrb, using stock produced by:
Julia Star, “Open Road”
Nuno Artwork (silhouette figure from “Industrial Decay”)
Fairie GoodMother, “Statue of Liberty Park”
Funerium, “Cosmos7_0007”, distributed by Resurgere Stock