Chapter Sixty-Five

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I followed along with the rest of the group, blind to what I was walking into. I didn't like the fact that all of a sudden things were changing just when we were trying to escape. I also felt a rising dread, and I couldn't exactly pinpoint why I felt so afraid.

The line began to swerve to the right down another hallway and I followed it. At some point while we were walking, I got split up from Asten and the others. I couldn't find them anywhere in the crowd, no matter how hard I looked.

As we turned down another hallway, the line began to slow and come to a stop. It was splitting off into multiple smaller lines that lead to unlabeled doors. One at a time, people started to enter the room. Every time the door opened I tried to look into the room, but it was too fast. I couldn't see anything.

Everything inside of me told me to get out. Everything told me that it wasn't safe anymore and that I had to leave. I'd already tried to leave, and it obviously hadn't worked.

But what if I didn't cooperate?

What if I just refused to walk through the doors?

I had a bad feeling that they might shoot me. I couldn't currently see any of the guards carrying a gun, but it could have just been concealed.

The line progressed until I was the next one supposed to go in. I still had no luck finding anyone else. I took deep breaths and tried to calm myself. If I blew up now, I would definitely be screwed over.

The door opened and the person in front of me stepped inside.

I could feel my heart rate increase. Anything could be behind that door. Absolutely anything. And that scared me beyond belief.

The door opened again. It was my turn.

I felt the guard next to the door place his hand on my lower back to lead me inside. I tried to prevent myself from flinching. It was time. I'd be fine. What was the worst they could do?

That was probably not a good question to ask. There was a lot they could do. And as I stepped forward in the direction of the room, I remembered the girl who had stood up and gotten shot in the middle of the cafeteria.

What if this was what she'd been talking about?

What if me walking into the room right now sentenced me to the same fate? She'd seemed passionate about what she was discussing. It could be true. And if it was, I needed to get out sooner than ever. Even the outside would be better than this. Maybe the Equator wasn't at all what I wanted. Even with the brief chance I got to go out there, and even with the electric beauty it had held, I wasn't sure it was worth it anymore. This military training requirement just to get in, seemed like way too high a cost. I wasn't sure I was ready to take a leap of faith and just do whatever they said, when I'd seen multiple times how they'd killed people.

And as I thought even more about it, I realized how desensitized I'd come to the place.

They'd shot a girl without trial. They'd set us up to be scared to death on the first day. They brought us outside to watch people getting shot to prove our need for protection. I'd grown so used to seeing horrifying instances of death in the world outside the complex, that seeing even more here didn't faze me. But maybe it should. This was an institution, where they had supplies. This place couldn't have even had too much trouble when the snow came because of that. It might have even been here since before the snow, a lasting remnant from the old world.

And if so, how had it become so cruel and cold in the matter of months? What purpose did it have in being such an exclusive group? Maybe there wasn't enough space...but even so. The Equator hadn't seemed that crowded from the glimpse I'd gotten of it.

I couldn't think about it all now. Instead, I had to focus on the room in which I now stood, where I waited for something to happen.

The door was closed and locked behind me. The room itself was a dark maroon color, a mix of the common red and black that filled the complex. It was small and enclosed, with just a single chair in the center. There was a fluorescent light bulb above the chair, so that the room was brightest in the middle, and the outer edges were washed in shadow. I had a feeling the chair was meant for me, but I wasn't sure why. It reminded me of one you'd find in a futuristic doctor's office, as it was made of metal with black padding.

There was a door on three out of the four walls, which I assumed connected the rooms so whoever was doing whatever they were could go back and forth between them. Besides all of that, I was completely alone. I took a cautious step forward. Nothing happened.

I ran my fingers along one of the chairs cold, metal armrests, trying to erase my fear. It was simply a chair. There didn't seem to be anything else to it. I tried to convince myself of this, but the more I stared at it, the more I had an urge to get as far away from it as possible. My gut was telling me that there was something off about it. I quickly took a few stumbling steps backwards. At the same time, the door on the right side of the room flung open.

A man in a dark suit walked in, holding a clipboard in his hand and looking preoccupied. Two silent guards followed behind him and stood in two of the shadowed corners of the room. I guess that was just in case there were issues. It just made me more anxious.

My anxiety at the thought of sitting in the chair was increasing, and it got to a point where I prayed he wouldn't make me, even though I knew he would. He couldn't force me to. I told myself that, even though I knew he probably could if he really wanted to. He had the guards to help him if needed.

And they were going to be needed.

Because the man's next words confirmed my fear. "Sit down," he said.

"No..." The word blurted out of my mouth before I could stop myself. It was a timid, and uncertain answer. But as he and the guards in the room heard it, I could feel the tension in the room suddenly rise. They were obviously not used to hearing such an answer.

"Excuse me?" the man asked, his eyes wide. He seemed merely annoyed by my immediate disobedience.

"No...I'm sorry...I can't...," I replied, not giving a reason for my disobedience. My reason was one that not even I could understand. I just couldn't make myself do it.

"It wasn't a question. Sit down," the man repeated. He glared at me, and I noticed the guards subtly  moving in the shadows, ready to move and force me to do what I was told.

But I couldn't.

I couldn't do it.

I didn't trust them and I knew I wouldn't allow myself to sit there. I had to trust myself. And I knew what my mind was telling me to do.

I felt my fear rise up even more in me, but I had to do it. I had to say it.

"No."

The guards removed themselves from their corners. The man stared at me, his anger gone from his eyes and replaced with cold cruelty.

"Well, that just wasn't an option," he answered.

The guards came at me together, before I had a chance to move.

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