I turned off the TV and stood up, Josh and Aaron looking at me angrily.
“What the hell, man, we were watching that!” Aaron yelled at me, his eyebrows furrowed in anger.
“Come on, let’s do something,” I pleaded, getting tired of watching reruns of whatever the hell was on TV at the time. We were 19 years old wasting our lives doing absolutely nothing. “We’ve been lying on the couch for hours.”
A heavy knock came at the door, pulling our attention. We waited a few seconds before creeping over to the front room. The knock came again, this time followed by a deep voice; “Open up. Department of Population Control.”
I crept over to the door, trying to look through the peephole. I couldn’t see who it was, so I turned to Josh and Aaron, asking what to do.
“How am I supposed to know? It’s not like you’ve pissed them off by not answering your damn door,” Aaron spat, his voice filled with toxicity. He spoke just barely above a whisper. “Open the door you idiot.”
I rolled my eyes and opened the door. Next thing I knew, multiple suited men came in, forced Josh and Aaron to the ground and put a gun to my head. I was stunned in fear, my only instinct telling me to fight like hell to get out of there. I fought against the urge, suppressing my desire to knock one of these guys clean out.
“Alright, get them into the back,” one of them told the rest, his voice being the same one that called for me to open the door. Josh and Aaron were led out first, me being the last one out. They brought me to a black van, the Department of Population Control logo on the side. I looked back before the door closed to see one of the men spray painting a giant triangle on the door. Once the door was shut, it was almost pitch black in the truck, the only light coming from the small holes leading to the cab of the van. Eventually, my eyes adjusted and I could see the outlines of numerous people in the van, all seeming like they had no idea what was going on. I hadn’t seen them when I was first put in the van.
After what seemed like hours, the door opened again, this time leading to a closed garage door. I stepped out, the others in the van following suit. Once everyone was out, I found Josh and Aaron.
“Everyone, before we go in, I want you to know why you’re here,” one of the suited men called over the confusion we all felt. “You’re here because this world is becoming overpopulated. None of you lived in the cities. You didn’t know how crowded it was. People were literally sleeping in the middle of the streets. People would break into other people’s houses, kill them and take over their house. We can’t have that, so we’re taking people and moving them here whether it’s voluntary or with force. Behind this door will be your home for however long it takes to get the population under control. Do not fight back, you won’t make much of a difference.”
We all looked to the garage door as it started to shift upwards. The door opened to reveal a large warehouse, rusted metal cages lining the walls, people filling the vast majority of them. Only a few on the top remained open, the ones on the bottom filled with living corpses. Some were tearing at their own skin, going completely mental. Infection seemed to be ravaging the place, tearing the people apart from the inside out. Some of the bottom cages seemed to be buckling under the weight of the top ones, the people inside waiting for the cage to just collapse, crushing them to death. The walls were covered in different coloured pastes, blood and piss making up the majority of it. I looked at the people around me, trying to picture what they’d look like in the cages. I couldn’t bear to picture Aaron and Josh.
After a second, we were pushed into the warehouse by the suited men. We were dragged into a corner where a chair stood, a man, his white lab coat covered in blood and ink, was bent down with a tattoo gun. His hair was black with streaks of grey, looking like he was in his mid 50’s. He turned and looked at us. His face had clear worry lines, his mouth bent into an eternal scowl. He wore black round-framed glasses, taking them off to wipe the sweat from his brow. His eyes showed anger, fury towards us for even existing. He seemed like he wanted to just kill us all right then and there and, had he had the means to do it, probably would have. He turned back to his current specimen and finished hastily defacing the man’s wrist with the Department of Population Controls logo, going over his lines so many times it looked like he’d been scarring rather than tattooing. He pulled the man up off the chair, not covering the tattoo with any sort of plastic or anything and let the suited men drag him away. He repeated this for everyone that’d just came in with me. I was dragged off into another corner where we wrote our names on small slips of paper and put them into a large, clear box. The box was full with 10 people still waiting to write their names.
“The lottery is closed. No more names can be put in,” the man overseeing the process boomed. No one knew what the lottery was for. The man acknowledged this and explained what we put our names in for. “These slips will be pulled. As you can tell, we have a major overcrowding problem here and we can’t take new arrivals. The names that are pulled in this lottery will be put on a train out of here. Only 50 names will be called. There are 537 people in here at this moment and our maximum is 550. Obviously, we can’t kill people as we’re a government agency, so we picked the next best option.”
The people still waiting to put their names in started bawling, screeching about how unfair it was. These people were grabbed and stuffed into the smaller cages with a sign over them that read “punishment.” No one said a word after that.
After a few hours, they started to call names. My name was called, but Josh and Aaron weren’t.
“Nick, I swear to God, don’t go. Please,” Josh begged, tears rolling down his face. “At least we’d be in here together.”
“I can’t,” I told him, hugging him. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
Aaron stood next to Josh, anger in his eyes. His face was emotionless. I tried to hug him, but he pushed me away.
“Get the hell away from me.”
Aaron stormed off, leading Josh behind him. I lowered my head in shame.
“Alright, everyone whose name was called, come here.”
I considered staying. I was being tested. I stood still, contemplating what to do. Eventually, I decided that, no matter what, they’d never accept me again. I ended up on the train. The others were forced to watch as the ”lucky” ones boarded the train. I was the last one on. I looked through the crowd before the door was shut. I picked out Aaron, his face twisted in disgust and rage at everything I’d just done. I spent the train ride having an existential crisis. Was I really this selfish? Why did I place myself before them? I cried the entire ride.
I stepped off the train, my outing coming to an end. It was done. But what did I have to show for it? My friends were trapped in a hellscape that I was one of the few lucky enough to actually escape. A tear rolled down my cheek as I fell to my knees. My chest started to ache, not a physical pain, but emotional. I know I’ll never see Josh again. Nor will I see Aaron. I’ll never experience Josh’s amazing hugs that, no matter the situation, no matter the pain, would leave you feeling just that one bit warmer inside. I’ll never get to experience the long conversations on our front doorstep as we drink a beer and forget about the world around us that we dreamt of as kids. I’ll never see Aaron’s smile as he finally beat me in chess. I’ll never hear his cry the same. I’ll never remember his face in any way but in the contorted, disturbed fashion it was bent in as he watched me take the last seat on the train. As he knew I was too selfish to risk my own life for the sake of someone else. I’ll never see him again, but somehow, I realized that it was okay. I realized that I’ll remember them. I’ll see them in a different light than before. I’ll not remember them as background noise, I’ll remember them as the sound that broke the static. The sound that helped me realize everything. I now know. I know I’ll not be the same, I know that I’ve learned from these people. I know they’ve given me a clear message. They showed me the error of my ways.
Now all I have to do is listen.
Written by Rhyveee