Day of the Choosing
© 2019 Lily Alexander. All characters are property of the author. Do not distribute without copyright notices and disclaimers intact.
This cursed day has come again. Every ten years without fail. It's gone on for as long as any of us can guess. Has it been decades? Centuries? Millennia? We don't know.
I was only 3 on my first Choosing. We don't know what else to call it. Thankfully I was Chosen, and so were both my parents. But my brother... He wasn't so fortunate.
Then I was 13 on the next Choosing. I was Chosen again, but neither of my parents were. My uncle took care of me after that.
Then I turned 23, and once again I was Chosen. By this point I didn't know whether to consider myself lucky or not. On the one hand, I was given another ten years. But on the other, it meant another ten years of dread, of not knowing what happened to those of us who weren't chosen... another ten years... of not knowing what lied in waiting outside the city.
I'm 33 now.
It was impossible for anyone to forget the day of the Choosing. Not with that god-forsaken crystal looming over our heads. The crystal loomed over everything, sitting atop a giant, stone pillar in the middle of the city, far larger than any of the buildings. The crystal and its pillar cast a constant shadow over us all, forever reminding us of what was to come. For ten years, the crystal is pitch-black, as if cut from obsidian, but whenever the Choosing comes, it turns a deep, horrifying red, almost like a sleeping eye that suddenly opens to peer down on all of us. And there was only one thing any of us could do when that time came.
I walked down the streets along with my wife and our 8-year-old daughter. I cursed myself for bringing this girl into our world, for putting her in this hell, constantly fearing the thought she might not be Chosen, the very same fear I had to experience my entire life. We saw others walking just like ourselves, down the stone streets of our city. We had to, as we were guaranteed to not be Chosen if we failed to arrive in time.
Farmers neglected their crops, woodcutters abandoned their axes, and shop-owners left their doors open, not daring to be late.
"Does being Chosen hurt, dad?" my child asked me.
I forced myself to give her a smile. "Just a bit, child. But not much."
I looked to my wife as we kept walking. I could see a slight tremble in her lip, and her throat was clearly choking up. I put one hand on her back. "Be strong, my love," I told her. It was all I could do.
But the more we walked, the more we saw others sporting looks of dread and uncertainty. We could see families crying in each other's arms, or old friends saying their goodbyes to each other; one could swear the Choosing had already happened. It couldn't be helped, really. If you weren't Chosen, you were still highly likely to lose a loved one. It was Hell for all of us, having to spend ten years at a time pretending nothing is wrong, only to face having everything taken away from us at once. Many have claimed they learned the "secret" as to how to ensure you were Chosen, such as how much you contribute to society or whether you gave devotion to this-or-that god, but the poor fools are always proven wrong. I don't think there is a pattern, I'm convinced that whoever, or whatever, oversees the Choosing makes completely random selections, that this whole thing is nothing but a game to them. It doesn't matter anyway.
We reached our destination, a massive stone circle at the base of the crystal's pillar. We had no name for the circle besides "the Auditorium", because that was its effective purpose. The Auditorium spanned outwards with a radius of half a kilometer from the pillar, giving it plenty of surface for our whole population to stand on. We gathered ever-so tighter into the circle. Many tried forcing their way into the center, as if that would somehow give them a better chance. Others were yelling at each other, unable to handle the pressure any longer and lashing out at whoever they could. You'd swear the whole city was a mad house. There were several thousands, maybe even tens of thousands all gathered together. There comes a point when you give up on counting,
The crystal's evil, red glow pulsated as the time grew closer, almost like a heartbeat in its rhythm. Whatever bickering remained among the citizens fell silent as we all stared up at the glow. I could feel my hands sweating as my body grew hot, the sensation of my stomach lurching deep down. I had to fight back the lump in my throat, certain I would vomit otherwise. I held my wife and daughter by the hands, feeling them both clamp tight. My child said nothing, but she grabbed onto my leg, trying as tightly as she could as if I would float away otherwise.
My wife turned her head towards me. She didn't say anything, but the tears in her eyes spoke for her.
"I love you both very much," I said.
She struggled for a moment with her throat, then said, "I lo-" before a single, short, but defining ring emitted from the crystal high above us, echoing through the entire city.
We all looked up to see that the crystal had turned a solid white, just like it always had. There was a brief pause; it couldn't have lasted more than two seconds, and yet it felt like several minutes, enough time for my entire life to flash before my eyes. I could see my parents trying to comfort me when I was 13, meeting my wife, my daughter's birth… I could see my 4-year-old daughter asking me why we had to live in such a scary world, and myself telling her that I honestly had no answer.
After the short silence, thousands of white projectiles erupted from the crystal all at once. They circled above our heads and around the crystal, leaving small trails of blue light. They could almost be considered beautiful, gliding through the air almost like a dance of thousands of small creatures, but the cruel reminder of their purpose only instilled dread into our hearts. After several seconds of dancing, the projectiles came down like a great swarm. All around, citizens were Chosen, having a projectile strike their heads, freezing them in place and leaving a small white mark on their foreheads. Hundreds, if not thousands of desperate people tried reaching for one of the small missiles, but it was pointless, as they were much too fast to be caught, and would only mark those specifically Chosen to stay.
"Dad!" I heard my daughter cry, clinging tighter than ever to my leg. A missile struck her on the forehead, branding her with the white mark. She froze just like the others, and I couldn't help but feel a small twinge of relief; at least my girl was safe for now.
The projectiles continued their assault, one-by-one marking and freezing their targets. On and on they went, slowly dwindling with time. I felt my heart racing faster and faster, silently praying for mercy, another ten years to be with my family. A missile struck my wife and she froze while holding my hand, this eased me a little more. There weren't many projectiles left now, only a few hundred, I'd wager. I started to panic, desperately hoping against all odds. And then the last of the missiles hit their marks, and I stood there, unbranded. I had not been Chosen.
I stood in horror, too shocked to move at first. I barely heard the wails from thousands of others around me, no doubt in despair over their not being Chosen as well. What to come of me? What lies beyond? I turned to look at my wife, but she was still frozen in place with that mark on her head, as was my daughter clinging to my leg. But I knew they could both still see and hear their surroundings. I knew because I remembered my past experiences with being Chosen, standing helpless and unable to move a finger as the remaining citizens, including my own parents, were taken away. No doubt they were both panicking in their minds as they realized I was to leave forever. I desperately wanted to say my goodbyes, but before I knew it, the next phase began.
The crystal had turned red again, a much darker and uglier red than before. The glow was almost sickening; in fact, the longer I looked at it, the more I felt as if I really was going to be sick. A sharp pain shot through my head, I put a hand up to it, but it wouldn't subside. It felt like a sharp needle had pierced the back of my skull. My surroundings became less clear, the world around me became less focused and images all started to blur together; I could hardly even make out my own hand in front of my face. The only thing I could see with any clarity that evil, fucking crystal. The glow almost seemed to be taunting me at this point, as if it found the whole thing amusing. I could feel my body acting of its own accord. My arms and legs had broken free of my family's grasps, and I started walking away, with all the rest who had not been Chosen, all in a similar trance-like state as I was. Mentally, I cried out to my family, desperately wanting to give some last words, but my mouth refused to do what I told it to.
We all marched off against our wills, leaving the Auditorium and our loved ones behind. My vision returned somewhat, enough to at least make out my immediate surroundings. There had to be thousands of us, men, women, and even children. The youngest I could see among us were either three or four, just old enough to be able to walk on their own. We were walking to the eastern section of the city, through the open streets and past several houses built from stone or wood. We passed the old schoolhouse, the one I attended… the one my child is attending… my child who will never see her father again… I wanted to cry, but even my tear ducts refused to respond. We kept walking, none of showing the slightest sign of resistance.
We came to the eastern wall, a large, towering structure made from stone and metal, so grand that it cast a mighty shadow for several blocks; even our largest temples failed to reach a quarter of the monster's height. And we stood at the only gate leading out of the city, a gate forged from the strongest steel, just as grand as the wall itself. None of us could ever open it, it was simply far too heavy. The gate was adorned with images of hideous beasts, ferocious guardians that intimidated many of us from even coming near the thing. Each monster on the gate had jewels for eyes, giving them a menacing glint when the sun hit them. It was only now that I understood the true significance of the jewels. I could only watch in horror, trapped inside my own mind, as hundreds of jewels all glowed the same red as the giant crystal in the center of our city, There was a loud clank, and the massive gate slowly began to open, split down the middle and swinging outwards with loud, heavy grinding that shook the ground beneath our feet. After what felt like an eternity, the gate had opened completely, and our bodies continued walking forward regardless of our wishes. The open gateway was so wide that hundreds of us could step through at a time without bumping into each other. The thought of leaving the city completely terrified me on the inside, and yet my control over my body was so lost that I couldn't even feel my own heartbeat escalate. Following behind several others, I eventually stepped through the gate.
The first thing I saw, which the others had to have seen as well, was dead land. All around us, in any direction, were miles upon miles of nothing but barren dirt. There were some hills to the south and flat terrain to the north and east, but not a single blade of grass could be spotted anywhere. It was as if all life had just vanished from the outside world, and not even the smallest, most durable creatures could make their homes out here. But of course, our bodies paid no mind, we just kept marching east without any sign of hesitation. To be trapped in my own mind like this, unable to even speak, was a Hell I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemies.
And further we walked.
Several hours passed. My legs felt like they would crumple after walking for several miles without rest, but my body continued onwards. I saw the young children around me, marching at the same, continuous pace. What must they be feeling in their own minds at the moment? If this was unbearable for me, I couldn't even imagine… Wait, what was that?
I just saw it in the corner of my eye. I couldn't turn my head to properly look, but I know what I saw! It was another city, just like ours! I saw the same grand walls that were impossible to climb, and I saw the same kind of giant crystal sitting on top of the same kind of stone pillar. It was north of us, several miles away, but it was definitely real. I couldn't believe it. There were other cities in this world, and they were all facing the same Hell as us. We continued east, our bodies not paying any mind to the distant city in the north and eventually passing it. And so, we kept walking…
Night came. My legs felt as if they were on fire. I mentally prayed to whatever god would listen to free me from this torture. We were walking up a hill, to what destination I still had no idea. There had been no signs of life through this entire journey, not even the smallest of plants could be found in this landscape. Higher and higher we rose, until finally we came to the top of the hill. If I could gasp, I would.
Just beyond the hill we stood on, a hideous… thing waited for us. I didn't know how to properly describe it. There seemed to be a gigantic mound that blanketed the valley below, easily stretching several miles in any direction. The mound was reddish pink and misshapen, with disgusting, uneven lumps all over. It stood high, towering above us even as we stood at the top of the hill. Was it… pulsating? Even as I made my observations, we all continued moving, our bodies seemingly ignoring the sight. We made our way down the hill, steadily getting closer to the base of the horrible mound. The closer I got, the more I noticed that the mount seemed to be… alive. It was as if the entire thing was made from deformed flesh, and it gave me the disturbing visual of a giant, cancerous tumor sticking out of the land itself.
As we came to the base, the fleshy mound began moving, parting ways for us to continue. What the hell was this thing? We kept moving, the mound pulsating and breathing all around us. If I had any control over my body, I would surely vomit. We moved deeper, entering a cavern inside the tumor. It was unbearably warm, agonizingly so, but our bodies once again moved on. The fleshy passage was rather straightforward, leading us in whatever direction the force controlling us was pushing towards. I was so exhausted, I felt myself no longer caring what happened to me, so long as it ended with a merciful death. Nothing could be worse than the fear I'd lived through, the agony of my body making this journey… I… What the hell is that?!
The corridor had opened up into a much larger chamber, still made of the same fleshy walls, but wide enough for the thousands of us who made this journey to all fit inside. There, in the very center of the chamber, was a large, red, pulsating sphere. The orb was easily as large as a house, looming over us all and giving off a horrific glow, through which I could see hideous, black veins all around it. The sphere was connected to the tumorous mound at the top and bottom, where they seemed to blend together like a parasite. There was no doubt about it, now. This mound was definitely alive, and that orb was its core. I had never seen anything so disgusting or horrifying in my life.
My body then collapsed, and I fell forward, catching myself on the squishy ground beneath. I shook my head and rubbed my aching legs, which were practically liquid after such an agonizing journey. I looked all around. All the others had collapsed as well, their bodies giving out on them the instant control was returned to them. What the hell was going on? Why were we brought here? "What the hell is going on?!" I shouted among the others who were similarly vocal.
A rumble seemed to answer us, and the flesh walls and ceiling quivered for a moment before small holes began appearing. Hundreds, thousands, no, millions of holes were suddenly opening up, each roughly a few inches wide. They appeared on the floor as well, like sores in the flesh. We tried scrambling to avoid touching them, but our legs refused to respond. The best we could do was crawl pathetically on the ground. I tried to right myself, but then the most horrifying sound far beyond what I could ever imagine echoed in the chamber. "At last, my next meal has arrived." It was the sound of countless voices, men, women, and children, all speaking together in unison. The voices seemed to come from all around us, with no source in sight. "Come now, join your loved ones in eternal suffering!" This time, I saw the source. Those weren't holes in the corridor, they were mouths! Millions of mouths, all lining the walls of this creature moving and speaking as one.
I swore, as did others. Everyone desperately tried to crawl away, to somehow escape this monster, but it was useless without our legs. I saw a woman crying, trying to shield her weeping son. The ground seemed to be lowering beneath them, as if trying to swallow them. The gave a piercing scream as she and her son slowly sank downwards. But then I noticed were she had been leaning her hand on the floor. Her hand was gone, and her arm had fused into the floor. They weren't sinking… They were melting, becoming part of the room itself, and by extension this entire cancerous growth!
Then I finally understood the truth. I knew the reason for the Choosing, for our existence of misery, and for the purpose we were brought here. Those Chosen to stay in the city were kept as livestock, serving only to reproduce and grow in numbers, while all the rest were herded away to serve as food for this monster, and become one with it. All the Rest… an appropriate name as any I suppose. That meant that the large, red core had to be All the Rest's true body, while the mound of flesh was made from the victims it had taken into itself. Everyone screamed, crawling faster than before. I crawled as well, hoping to somehow reach the entrance we came through, even though I knew it was hopeless. "No!" I yelled. "This isn't real!" I couldn't fool myself, but you'll say anything to assure yourself in a panic.
"Ah, this is my favorite part: watching you all wriggle around against my might even when you have no chance!" All the Rest's many voices boomed throughout, drowning out the screams as more and more of us melted into its flesh. "Keep struggling! Keep fighting for your survival! Just as the ones who came before, and the ones who will come after!"
At that, I was reminded of my daughter. My little girl, separated from her father just hours ago. Was this to be her fate? No! I refuse to allow it! I won't let it happen! Adrenaline pumped through me. I felt the pain in my legs dull. With great effort, I pushed myself up, getting to my knees. I focused my breathing and grunted as I put a foot forward. I stumbled, but caught myself. With another heave, I forced myself onto both feet. My legs still felt like they were on fire, but considerably less so. I limped, shuffling one foot in front of the other. I couldn't sprint, or even run, but it was still considerably faster than dragging my body along the ground. I commanded my body forward, even against its own protests. I had to warn my child! I was so close to the corridor we came through. If I could just leave the chamber.
I stretched out my hand to reach through the corridor, but then the whole thing sealed up, right around my wrist! I howled in pain, struggling as I felt my hand begin melting away within the fleshy prison. I could feel my very bones corrode as if drenched in acid. My adrenaline faded, and my legs gave out once again. I fell, but with my hand trapped in front, I swung forward, slamming face-first into the wall. Instantly my face had fused with the wall and began melting in. The pain was beyond anything I could ever imagine, even worse than if my entire body had been engulfed in flames. I couldn't pull away, I couldn't even move anymore. Within seconds, my torso had merged with the wall. Then, my own mouth spoke. "Fool. Did you honestly think you had a chance to escape? Nothing escapes my gaze." There was doubt it was my own voice, but those weren't my words.
I snarled and screamed back. "I won't let you hurt my daughter!"
All the Rest spoke using my own voice again. "Do you think boasting makes you a hero? I've consumed entire worlds! What could an insignificant amoeba like yourself possibly accomplish against me?"
I tried to scream back one more time, but my mouth had already merged into the wall. I could only see for a brief moment before I fused entirely with All the Rest's prison. All I saw were the thousands of other victims like myself, screaming or writhing in unbearable agony as they were absorbed. My vision darkened, but new images flooded my mind. I could see into the memories of billions of past victims, all torn from their families. Some of these memories had to be thousands of years old; were those victims still alive, still suffering excruciating pain after all this time? Then I saw even deeper. I could see into the memories of All the Rest itself. I saw the red orb travelling among the stars, invading distant world from our own. I saw it consuming all life, gorging itself and relishing in the suffering of countless innocents. I saw it whittling down the survivors to just a few cities, trapping them inside and beginning the process of the Choosing. For our world, there were twenty cities, and every half-a-year All the Rest would cycle through them, leaving just enough civilians to keep our populations stable. It did this with every world it conquered, keeping a steady supply of food while it searched the stars for a new world to devour. Then, and only then, would the suffering end. Only then would it consume the rest of the world it currently resided in and gorge on its reserves.
The revelation of it all finally broke me. There truly was no hope. No solace. This pain was unrelenting, and it wouldn't let up until All the Rest finished us off to leave for the next world. "Don't worry, you pathetic creatures. I won't entirely consume your minds. No, I'll leave just enough individuality so you can suffer in silent agony for a very, very long time."