Seven o'clock. The alarm, something akin to an air raid siren like they used back in the old days, peals in the distance. Even though the alarm is situated in the heart of the city, several miles away from here, you can hear it from all over the region. Some say its cry reaches as far as the mountaintops, although I cannot confirm that as I have never been there myself. I dream of making the trip to that sacred place one day.
Mother's head appears from around the doorway. "Come inside, Charles," she says. "It's time to lock up for the night."
Although she is not my real mother, I obey. Cassandra is her name and she is young and pretty and only five years older than myself. My Father married her two years ago, after Mother - my real mother - was chosen. Cassandra was only twenty then and I balked at the idea. How could Father replace the woman he held so dear for so long? So cold and thoughtless, he was. It felt like cruelty, like desecrating Mother's grave.
I now realize my thoughts were foolishness, although it took a month-long stay in the Facility to open my eyes to the truth. Even so, my skin crawls when I call that woman my mother. But it's protocol, so what can I possibly do about it?
I follow her inside as the evening sky grows darker. She types in a command on the control pad and the door slides shut with a sharp metallic hiss.
Father is already waiting at the dinner table. I take my seat down from him as Cassandra ducks into the kitchen to get dinner. Me and Father do not speak to each other, although I can feel his cruel eyes watching me. Perhaps when his gaze drifts down to the white scar marring my throat he feels a pang of guilt for shipping me off to that bad place, the Facility. More than likely not.
Cassandra comes back and sets a plate of food before each of us. We eat in silence.
And as the last glimmer of sunlight beyond the window fades, we move into the viewing room. Father turns on the television. It begins.
The apprehension with which I face this time each night tightens its dread coil. The screen displays the viewpoint of Chamber Memorial Park and its famous water fountains from the treetops, or perhaps a utility pole. At first nobody is in the shot, and for a brief moment it seems like the Night Monitors have gone easy on us - that there would be no offering tonight. My foolish hopes are dashed as a figure appears in the upper-left hand corner of the screen. It appears as though the Monitor tonight is a woman, although it could just as easily be a man with long hair tied up in a ponytail. They are dragging something in front of the fountains, in full view of the shot. They stop, place the load on the ground, and undo the knot at the top of the sack. Out spills a bundle of light hair, followed by the pale face of a young woman staring up, emotionless, into the spiral of the night sky.
The Night Monitor faces the camera, raises a clenched fist to the sky in salute. Then, he - it is a man, I can tell by now - turns back to the blonde woman. She slowly, methodically raises to her feet, shedding the burlap sack like a second skin. She stands there, fully naked, face blank, dead to the world. The black-clad Monitor lashes her suddenly across the face and she flinches without crying out or protesting. Eyelids fluttering, she struggles not to show emotion.
Dead to the world.
With the next vicious crack of the whip, she goes down hard. The Night Monitor drops the whip and reaches for something else. Moonlight catches the silvery blade of a knife and I have to look away, unable to bear witness to the horrors unfolding before me. I glance from my Father's face to Cassandra's and see their expressions are brimming with a lust for violence that only the Night Monitor can quench.
The blonde woman cries out and I glance up out of instinct. I look up to the screen and she's looking back - back at everyone, back at me - and I can see the pain in her eyes. She's blaming us. I can't look away fast enough to avoid seeing the knife plunge into her body. Her intense eyes stare up not just at the camera but through it.
Accusatory eyes fade. I feel something bitter rise in the back of my throat and I stand up and run from the room but Father and Cassandra don't move. They sit there and they watch, unflinchingly transfixed by the gore in real-time.
I am horrified.
By my family.
By life and the rules that bind us.
But these rules are the only ones that I've ever known. I can hardly stand to watch the nightly offering these days. I can't explain what's changed in me, but I am no longer the same. I think it's for the better. Maybe it's for the worst.
Father came to me after last night's viewing. He placed his hand on my shoulder and sat down next to me. He said that he's worried about me. I'm not myself lately. I'm not fitting protocol. And he warns me. He warns me that if I don't stop acting out, I'll end up like my mother.
As an offering.
Golden sunlight streams in through my bedroom window. It's morning now, and I know things are never going to change around this place. It turns out that my father was right, I suppose, because there was a pounding on the front door and now there are government officials downstairs. Father wants me to talk to them. When I first see them standing there in the hall, and the man with the long hair and the cold eyes stares back at me, I know my fate is sealed.
I will die tonight, much like the girl with the blonde hair.
I will die staring up into the camera as the rest of the world sits at home, watching and waiting, their blood lust fulfilled once again.
Written by Fleeingserpent