Chapter One ~Maddie~

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I'm staring at my fingers soaked in red blood. I almost want to laugh out of pure hysteria. I've started my period and the impossibility of the situation hits me. A million thoughts fight for the forefront of my mind, yet I can't seem to grasp a single one.

I take a deep breath and try to calm my mind. Lowering my body to the ground, I take a seat on my bathroom floor and close my eyes. I can feel my body shaking, rocking back and forth. What the hell am I going to do? All odds say this shouldn't be happening, yet here I am.

What I feel most in this moment is fear. I'm terrified. Terrified of what this means for me, for my family. It feels as though my life is slipping through my fingers, and I know with the conviction of every bone in my body that my only option is to run.

The Militia will be doing their routine sweeps of our city any day now, and that means I have to act fast. I can't risk being found out. One quick test and they'll know. They're looking for girls just like me, the ones who can reproduce, the "Breeders." I won't let that be my life.

Some girls go willingly, families sacrificing them for the greater good; others are taken and a few have even run, but the circumstances don't change the result. None of the girls are ever seen or heard from again. It's a fact, but we've been raised to turn a blind eye. No one wants to talk about it, but I've heard rumors. Rumors that the runners don't survive, rumors that the Breeders are locked up, free will stripped away. The rumors that I'm hoping, praying, are true are the ones of a free nation, a community without government control, free of forced breeding. I have to believe that this is true, because it's my only plan.

I'm already making a mental list of everything I need to do before I can go, what I need to pack, when I suddenly realize I can't say goodbye. Not to my family, not even Travis, my best friend. Tears threaten to fall, but I hold them in, reminding myself to be strong. If I'm going to do this, make it on my own, I have to be brave. The Militia will immediately question my family and friends about my disappearance. If they know anything, their lives are at risk and I can't do that to them.

I wish I could ask Travis to come with me, but he has his mother and sister to look after. Putting him in that position, to choose between them and me, is out of the question.

A loud pounding pulls me out of my thoughts. "Maddie, are you okay? Dinner's ready." It's my mom at the door. I tell myself again that this is my only option. I have to suck it up and make it so that they don't know the life altering decision I'm about to make.

I take another deep breath and relax my shoulders. I can do this. I can do this. "Yeah Mom, I'll be right out." I push myself up from the bathroom floor and get to my feet.

I quickly fix myself up and wash my hands, drying them on my pants. I move to open the door, but my hand pauses on the handle. I just need one more second to compose myself. My heart is pounding, but I paste on the best smile I can muster and open the door.

My mom is waiting for me and wraps an arm around my shoulders, guiding me down the hall. I take the time to look over at her, really look at her, and observe the things I will miss, things I realize I have taken for granted. Like the kind smile and loving eyes she is giving me right now. She squeezes me closer, and I wrap my arm around her, hugging her back. We round the corner into the kitchen, and my dad is sitting in the dimly lit room holding a candle. As we move closer, I see that he is actually holding a cupcake with a single lit candle on top.

My mouth opens wide, "What is this for?"

"Happy birthday Maddie!" They say together.

That's right, I'm turning seventeen. Wait. I look from my dad to my mom, "My birthday isn't until tomorrow."

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