"Miriam! Miriam, wake up!" Blearily I opened my eyes; I could feel the force of soft hands pushing against my shoulders.
"Miriam, it's time, they're choosing who goes! You have to get up!"
I bolted upright and clasped onto one of the hands that had been shaking me.
"Lane, are you sure?"
The younger girl nodded her head rapidly, her eyes wide with fear.
"What do we do?" Her eyes now downcast as her voice returned to its usual meekness.
A sigh escaped my lips and my eyes rested on our joint hands.
"We go, we have to. Hopefully it will not be us." But my heart was heavy and I knew we couldn't escape it for much longer. My free hand swept over Lane's head smoothing down her hair.
"Let's get ready."
Lane nodded and set off toward her bed pulling out her day clothes and swiftly changing. I watched her with growing despair as she tucked her tiny rag doll into the waistband her pants, patting it on the head before obscuring it from view with her shirt. Somehow I knew it was going to be last time I would see her do this.
I quickly changed out of my night clothes and joined Lane and a few of the other children. I was amongst the oldest, being a lanky thirteen year old. It seems my parents were somewhat tall, and passed their genes onto me. All the girls were between ten and twelve, except for around a couple hundred or so.
Jatta raised her finger to her lips and the room immediately fell silent. She motioned for us to leave and so we did, moving through the doorway as a chorus of shuffling feet and bent heads.
All too soon we arrived at the main hall where the soldiers would point at our respective groups and send us to the armory.
My hands were clammy with sweat as Lane grasped them, and all I could think was let it not be us. But as fate would have it, we were lucky no more. A particularly burly looking man pointed at us and scowled, barking at us to follow him. We hurried after him, silent tears making tracks across many of our cheeks. He stopped in front of a heavy wooden door, and the girls gasped. Scowling at us again the man pushed it open and moved though it. He then returned and started to roughly shove guns into our hands, screaming at us to go back to the hall once we had one.
The cold metal was thrust into my hands and in a blink of an eye I was running back down the halls with it still in my arms. My stomach dropped at the thought of having to use it.
"You will all be sent out tonight. Stay within your respective quadrants; do not leave the area you have been assigned to. Do as you have been instructed and do not under any circumstance speak with anybody." The head soldier stood in front of the massive crowd of children and barked his passage several times, drumming the already known orders into our heads once again.
Soon enough three armed men were herding us through multiple corridors before stopping us. We stood before another heavy wooden door and the girls and I looked up at it in fear. We knew that whatever was on that other side decided our fate.
The soldiers stood in front of the door and waited. We had been waiting for over five minutes before I felt a tug on my hand. I looked down at Lane and saw the tears in her eyes.
"Hush, it'll be alright Lane. Think of the stars. We'll finally get to see them." I smiled softly at her, my voice barely above a whisper, but I knew she heard me. Seeing the stars was a wish we both shared, they were the most beautiful things. She moved closer, wrapped her arms around her middle and nodded. I could tell she didn't believe me. My heart dropped as I realised she'll never have her childhood back.
The soldiers at the door suddenly turned and glared at us all.
"Do as we say. Never disobey us. You know the consequences." Their gravelly voices rang out over the silence and chills ran through my body. Punishment was worse when you were a girl, so many of us have died inside this prison from 'punishment'.
The doors were pushed open and we filed out into the dimming sunlight. My head swung around trying to catch glimpses of where we were when a rough hand clasped my upper arm. I stilled a shriek and lifted my head to see one of the soldiers behind me.
"You'll not be dead tonight girl. It's your turn tomorrow." With a final leer he laughed cruelly and shoved me forwards, the other girls scuttling out of the way as I tripped past them. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure it would explode from my chest. My turn was tomorrow? I met the eyes of several sympathetic girls and knew that our punishments were not only a form of consequence for disobeying our leaders. They used them as an excuse to get what they wanted. A shudder ran through my body and I felt sick. Maybe death would be better than this life.
A softer, smaller hand slipped into my own and this time I did not feel the chills of fear. I looked down to see Lane once again and knew that for her sake, I had to stay alive.
Soon we were ordered to crouch and we were split of into smaller groups of about twenty or so. The soldier appointed to my group motioned with his hands to follow him and we wove through out the partly ruined houses. After what seemed like an hour or more, he motioned for us to stop and told us to inspect the houses and if we found any children we were to bring them back here to him. If anyone were to refuse we were to shoot them. The cold metal in my hands seemed even more evil and I loathed having to hold it. He then glared at us all and sent us off.
The girls began running around ducking behind crumbling walls on high alert as we were told to do during our courses in the palace. I lost Lane in the fray and hoped that she would be ok. Silently I began entering houses. The first few houses were empty, only rats lived there now. My hopes died when I realised that if I didn't find a child, I would most likely be punished for failing. My heart sunk as I realised I had no choice but to capture a child, I couldn't endure another day of torture and pain again. What was this world coming to I wonder? When a young girl has no choice but to ruin the dreams of another, most likely sentencing each to their own horrible deaths.
Tears ran down my face as I entered a house that looked a lot more stable than the rest. I walked through the front room and found a doll on the floor. It was so similar to Lanes, and it took all my effort to suppress the scream bubbling up inside of me. I walked through the only other door in the house and there they were. A family of three. Mother, Father and daughter all lay in the one bed, arms around each other. I moved quickly over to the child, she looked to be around nine, and tugged on her arm. She didn't wake and I pulled her out of bed. Her body hit the floor with a thump and her eyes snapped open. I jumped forward to cover her mouth but her squeak of alarm woke her parents.
Her father started shouting words that the soldiers used when they were angry and the mother started screaming and wailing uncontrollably. I froze with the gun in my hand and looked at them fearfully.
"Please," I begged, "Please be quiet so we can go. I do not want to shoot. Please!" but the mothers screams became louder still and fear made my heart pound erratically.
"Shut up!" I yelled, "Shut up!" I grabbed the girls arm and pulled her to her feet, dragging her out of the room. Moving out onto the street I could hear her father behind us. He grabbed my arms and pulled me from her.
"No!" he shouted, over and over.
I hit his stomach with the gun and he swore at me again, grabbing it from my hands. I screamed at him and jumped on him, trying to pull it from his grasp, but he threw me off. I stared up at him as he aimed the gun and cried. I was going to die. The soldiers would find another girl, maybe Lane, to satisfy them, and this girl would be punished horribly for her resistance, for surely they had heard the screams of her parents.
I opened my mouth to plead with him again, but a loud crack filled the air, air that had been suddenly sucked out of my body. My head hit the ground as I looked up at the dark night sky. A final thought whizzed past my head as my soul left my body.
At least I got to see the stars.