The door burst open and in the dim light, I saw the shadows of other children scurrying to get a place under the tables. The men entered and as the circles of their flashlights passed over the aisles, here and there a leg or an arm was pulled further under and whenever the owner of the arm or leg was too slow, the man with the flashlight would grab and pull the kid out.
The war was never supposed to touch us. We were the children of the elite, the successors to the world’s most powerful people. The war was everywhere but here we lived as if it had never started. Then one day, when there was nowhere else for the war to destroy, the war came to us. It came in the middle of the day, and when it did we were put here in the cafeteria “to keep us safe”.
No one thought the soldiers would stay. No one thought that the food would run out. No one thought that the hiding place that was supposed to keep us safe would become a pantry.
I felt more than saw the panic of the others and we all pressed closer. Sometimes we pushed one out and he or she was grabbed. Somewhere we felt bad but mostly we were glad it wasn’t us. The men were dragging the kids out and up and down the aisles. They liked to hear the us screaming and pleading, and they liked to keep us terrified.
The last kid pulled was someone I knew. They pulled him down the aisle, kicking and screaming and begging for his mother. They dragged him past me so closely I could see his eyes in the circle of the flashlight. I would never forget the fear I saw there. The boy they were taking was Tony, or as we used to call him “Two-Ton Tony”.
We called him that because of his size. He was by far the fattest kid in the school and it was easier to direct our collective teenage hatred and disgust at him than at each other, or anywhere constructive.
We had a ritual here, an unspoken initiation I suppose, for every girl who wanted to rise through the ranks of popularity. Ever girl had to have a legitimate reason to believe Two-Ton Tony liked her, and she had to publicly humiliate and reject him. We never talked about it but every girl knew, it was just something that had to be done. One day an opportunity to take my turn presented itself, it had happened in this very lunchroom.
Tony was walking to his place in the corner where he ate alone. His head was down, he always walked with his head down, and he bumped into me. His tray fell, spilling food everywhere and I just stared at him, torn between helping the poor boy or making a fool of him. I regretfully chose the latter.
“Ew! Creep!”, I yelled it and let my face twist into disgust.
He mumbled a response, probably an apology, but I wouldn’t hear it. I think he knew what was coming.
“Yeah you better be sorry! Don’t you ever touch me again! Creep!” I turned back to my friends and gave them the “I can’t believe this idiot thought he could touch me.” look. They returned it and as he shuffled off we all giggled at him for being pathetic and recounted stories of the times each of us had been crept on by creepy Two-Ton Tony.
They dragged Tony and four others out that day and it wouldn’t be long before we would smell the meat cooking. As he’d gone past I’d given him an apology with my eyes and I hoped he had seen it. I knew he hadn’t though.
The others around me were moving about, trying to find their friends, or a new group to hide with. Tony had been alone in the world, alone in fear, and now he was alone in death. I looked out over the dark shadows of the others and realized that here in the dark we all looked alike. The soldiers didn’t care was popular and who wasn’t.
I wondered how we would feel when we got out of here? I wondered if I was going to dream about Tony for the rest of my life, about what I had done to him and what he had looked like before they took him. I hoped Tony forgave me, wherever he was.
And deep down, where I was barely aware of it, where I was exhausted by my fear, I hoped the soldiers would take me next.
Author’s note: The plan for this challenge was to post small pieces of fiction that read more like excerpts rather than stories with a true beginning, middle, and end. I think instead, these have turned into something in between, some more, some less. Please bear with me, these are my first attempts at writing fiction. You can find them all under my AtoZ2016 tag.