Thousands upon thousands of people of all ages were entering Salanda’s Grand Auditorium
Thousands upon thousands of people of all ages were entering Salanda’s Grand Auditorium, filling each and every seat. You could see everyone in the room were filled with anxiety and sweat. It didn’t matter if they were prestigious or poor. Everyone was frightened for their life and no money or status could help you avoid Sacrifice Day. Or that is what has been told.
Thea sat in the back of the room. Her blonde hair was styled in tight ringlets around her face. She let her eyes wander throughout the room as an escape from what is about to happen. She saw many people scared for their dear life. The most frightened people were the ones who tried to be as far away from the stage as possible. They were in the highest floor above the stage or near the exits. They hope that they can find this sense of safety even though it wasn’t really there.
Commander Valle then walked up on stage to the podium. His confident smile and waving to the people suggested that this was the best day of the year, which it was not. Commander Valle is said to be fifty-three years old and has been commander for over twenty years. Anyone who was able to live through Sacrifice Day for that long was seen as either lucky or is rumored to have an in, which allows them to hack the system. The large screen then lit up, showing an empty, numbered list up to one thousand and fifty. This was Thea’s greatest fear, and it comes back every year.
Thea glanced at the number on her left index finger which read 5388205. She’s had this tattoo since she was three years old. Everyone in the room had one too, even Commander Valle. Everyone had a different arrangement of numbers tattooed on their left index finger.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen”, said Commander Valle. His voice echoed throughout the entire auditorium. “Welcome to the twentieth anniversary of Sacrifice Day.”
Thea then gripped the armrests of her chair and began tapping her left foot on the floor. She began to fill up with even more anxiety than before. She began to feel so worried for her dear life. Everyone in the room didn’t think about anyone sitting next to them, they only thought about themselves.
“I created this enactment to ensure that we will grow to be a better country. Those who are chosen today will give us the ability to grow and prosper.” Commander Valle paused for a breath and gave a reassuring smile to the crowd. As he continued his required speech with, “And soon, we will live in a country without the need for population control. So if your name is called, please come to the stage and accept your medal on becoming a part of the Sacrifice. Those in the audience, please applaud them as they walk on stage.”
At this point in his speech, Thea has become consumed with her own thoughts what would happen if one of her loved ones or herself were chosen. What would life be without them? The harsh reality that her future depended on that list and on this day. Thea always thought of these things every year during this part of the speech. It was one of those fearful thoughts in her head that are always in your head and you could not stop. All she could do is grip the armrests tighter, tap her foot more rapidly, and pray her fears would be just fears and not a reality.
“Number 4828777”, said Commander Valle. It was beginning.
Applause blasted from the people all around her. Thea’s hands clapped together, almost as if it was muscle memory. Every piece of her rejected the movement, but her muscle memory acted and not her mind. Kiran Celestine, age twenty-five by his description, walked to his death, and Thea Porter clapped.
Kiran reached the stage. He maintained a stoic expression all the while Commander Valle gave him a gold medal of sacrifice around his neck. Thea watched, wondering why her commander bothered with a medal as if this was a big achievement that you’ve earned. It would be decorating a corpse within twenty-four hours.
Commander Valle continued, “Number 3856117.”
Eighty-seven names were called, yet Thea was no less fearful than before. If anything, applauding dozens of people to their deaths had only increased her panic. It was eating her alive. She only hoped that she would be able to complain about this system when she returned home from this instead of dying because of it. She prayed to be able to live another day.
By the hundredth number called, she then started to guess how the next person will react to being called. There were only three reactions to expect. The first was a detached, sort of nonchalance reaction. The second was of both panic and tears. And finally, the third was one of resistance, which was people trying to run, fight, or even attempt to talk their way out of the execution. If Thea had to guess her category, the second seemed the most rational.
But, most reactions were not from the one chosen, but from their family. The guards often intervened by restraining family members as they reach for their child’s hand. Anyone who tried to stop or interfere with the ceremony would be penalized. Thea knew that didn’t matter, to her and to that person’s family. How could any punishment compare to losing a child?
“Number 6117285,” Commander Valle said.
Thea’s hands froze mid-clap. She did not need to see the screen to know who belonged to that number. In a world where tattooed numbers were the things between life and death, it was hard not to engrain people’s numbers to memory. That was Dallas Citalalli’s number. Dallas Citalalli was Thea’s neighbor since forever. The thought of never seeing him again made Thea sick to her stomach. “He’s too good to die,” croaked Thea, her voice barely leaving her mouth.
She received a stern look from her father, so she began to start clapping again. Dallas Citalalli walked down the long aisle. Not far behind him, his mother screamed, helpless in the arms of the vicious guard. Dallas Citalalli did not look back. He mounted the stage and stood there staring out at the crowd. The crowd screamed and cried, and Thea realized she was not the only one hurting. In fact, her pain didn’t seem anywhere near the pain of the rest of the crowd. She had never witnessed such an outroar. But this was as expected. How could a population remain silent as they just lost their golden boy?
As Thea said, Dallas Citalalli was too good to die, not that any of the others deserved death, but he especially did not. He was the perfect student. He was jaw-droppingly handsome, smart, and athletic. But on top of that, he was respectful to others and kind. He’s the one that would help you when you dropped your books even though he doesn’t know who you are. He’s the one that you see in the newspaper about the honorary volunteer work he did. Thea didn’t know him well. They used to be childhood friends, but now they only rarely saw each other. But, she knew something about him that many people didn’t.
Commander Valle patted Dallas’s shoulder and signaled for his guards to lead him away. Dallas suddenly swung at one of the guards, hitting the man in the chest. The crowd gasped in disbelief that he would ever attack anyone. Thea was not among them. She knew Dallas would be the third reaction type. The Citalalli’s family did well in keeping his secret, but not from Thea. She knew how aggressive he was, not from personal experience, but from multiple occasions of seeing him come home bloodied and beaten.
“Number 9787447,” Commander Valle saying this broke Thea’s daydream.
Dallas Citalallis was gone. He had disappeared off the stage and into the Entrance of Doom. His years of self-defense and karate were no match for the guards. Dallas Citalallis was gone, and Thea hadn’t even watched him go.
The numbers continued to be read off, and hope surely began to swell in the hearts of many. Thea was not among them. Her eyes locked to the projection screen, flinching every time a new name was added to the list. The screaming and wailing embedded their way into her pores, lodging themselves deeper with each new victim. She continued to pray and hope that she would not have to see another familiar number flash across the screen.
“Number 5388205,” Commander Valle said.
For a moment, the number did not register in her mind. But when it did, the world seemed to stop.