Street corner: the loud beats of a famous pop song can be heard, the singerâ€™s voice like a blur. Evening: the part of the sky not covered by clouds was lit up by the moon. Trouble: A man, well-dressed and professional-looking, approaches; heâ€™s holding a small, leather briefcase. Behind him, a police cruiser wheeled up toward us.
I figured there was a very small chance Iâ€™d get chosen for Judgment. Really, you turn eighteen just once. I didnâ€™t even know my father was eligible for it.
He was in police custody for a small dispute after he and some dude had it out in a bar. He was supposed to be out the next afternoon. Well, the registration for the Judgment is both automated and compulsory. He was eligible, and the computer didnâ€™t care who it picked.
What luck, eh?
So instead of walking home the following afternoon, heâ€™s bound to stay in a maximum security facility for however long I survive. If I die, he gets executed. If I go through the whole three years, he get out and gets whatever is left of his son back, too.
Bargain of the Century, eh?
Oh, and one last thing. Though no one can say for sure - no one has gone all the way yet - thereâ€™s no provision in the rules that safeguards you from it, either. This means, if I get through the whole three years and then later on get jailed, I could be eligible for Judgment if I have a son or daughter of age.
Iâ€™m just about dying with anticipation.
The buzz sounds, and I rise from my seat. The door opens and I shield my eyes from the sudden brightness. The sun was high overhead; apparently, itâ€™s noon.
I walk out to the field as soon as the door locks in place - no oneâ€™s ever been cut in half by it, but better be safe than sorry - and stop at the starting spot; kind of ironic, that. I ignored the disturbed area of grass just before it.
I look around as the door slides close. A few feet further forward, the wall on my left-hand side was splattered with blood - and something else. The blood was still fresh, though it wasnâ€™t runny any more. I cringe a little at the sight.
Most people would look at the field for the first round of elimination - a plain, rectangular grass-covered surface - and dismiss it. The wall, which surrounded the entire thing - twenty feet high, with sentries hidden all along the perimeter - was deadly, as proven here.
The door behind me clicked close. I looked straight ahead, some strange sort of anticipation building inside me.
I canâ€™t be getting excited about thisâ€¦ can I?
â€œThis is the fourth match in the first round of elimination. Let Judgment begin.â€
I step forward, my pace steady. The other participant - a nondescript black kid who was about the same size as me - circled to his left. Ignoring him, I went straight for the wall; the better to see the blood with.
The â€œsomething elseâ€ turns out to be strands of hair, and a few bloody fragments; that were probably bits of skull and brain. Guess whoever it was that met the wall head-to-head isnâ€™t getting an open casket funeral. I cringe again.
I turned back around. The other kid was angling toward me now. He had a queer look on his face. Probably thought my interest on the wall was morbid.
Well, just about anything in the Judgment is morbid anyway. I went straight at him, hands held out in front of me. He mirrored my motion, and we headed into a collision course.
We stopped when we were just outside each othersâ€™ reach. We circle, both of us on the edge, ready to pounce.
I faked him with an abrupt step forward, intercepting his circling pattern. He skipped back, arms flailing. He landed, slightly out of balance.
I explode, closing the minor distance between the two of us. I wrap my arms around his midsection and plant my feet to the ground, trying to find enough leverage to send him down.
My back gets hammered as he lashes out with both hands at whatever part of me he can hit. Grunting, I push as hard as I dared to. I got nothing.
He wonâ€™t give up his position. Iâ€™ve ducked my head well enough away from his onslaught, but my back was taking a beating. Desperate, I release my hold and push him away.
He stumbles a bit as he reels backward. Finally steadying himself, he makes to move back toward me. We stared off again, hands held out before us, ready for the next skirmish.
This time he made the first move. No feint or anything, just a straight rush at me. I bat his hands away and sidestepped his attack.
Grunting, he tried to turn. He misplaced the foot he was going to pivot on, twisting his ankle. He went down with a gut-wrenching roar.
I look down at him as he clutched his left foot. Well now, isnâ€™t that sad? I hadnâ€™t even really done anything to hurt him.
What luckâ€¦ right?
I guess there are some hazards here regardless of the field itself. To think that could as easily have happened to me. What else is the Judgment hiding?
A shiver crept up my spine the longer I looked on. It wasnâ€™t fear, though.
The grim realization seemed lost to my emotions. Outside, I would have been ashamed of myself; here, it seemed unimportant. Does everyone get this way?
I decided grappling with my own senses, sensibilities and morals would do me no good. The foundation that the Judgment was built on is survival of the fittest. Iâ€™m not quite sure how thatâ€™s a logical way to see who goes free and who dies, of course.
But thatâ€™s not what Iâ€™m here for. I need to survive for me; for my father.
I looked down at the boy again. The injury seemed to be bad, as he was still clutching at his foot.
He canâ€™t stand. And that meant he couldnâ€™t really fight too well, either.
Slowly, I stretched a foot out to him. I nudged his ankle with the tip of my sneaker. He recoiled, hissing in pain, and tried to bat my foot away with his hands.
I circle him. He hasnâ€™t uttered a single sound aside from his initial roar of pain. Tough guy - too bad it doesnâ€™t change the fact that heâ€™s injured.
He shuffled around, his left foot raised about an inch, so it doesnâ€™t get dragged on the ground. He knew if I got a good enough position, he was screwed. He was understandably slower than me, though.
I was still circling, watching him as I went, when I felt the gust of wind buffet me. I staggered back, and looked around.
I saw the sky start to darken as the clouds rolled in, big, fluffy and dark, promising rain, winds and perhaps lightning. Well, this sort of weather would certainly give the first round of elimination a twist.
I shivered again. Not from the wind, which was getting stronger; no, this was adrenaline. I was excited, no sense denying it to myself now.
I looked back down at him. He was looking up as well, his expression of horror. Perhaps he was planning to tough it out, stand on his injured ankle. Rain would most certainly make that near impossible. But that was none of my concern.
I lashed my right foot out, at his face. He somehow saw it, from the corner of his eye, but couldnâ€™t avoid or shield it. His head whipped sharply to his right, and he tumbled over.
He struggled to sit back up, using his elbows for leverage. He clutched his left cheek, where my kick had hit him. It was swelling, all red.
The wind gusted again. My hair whipped around. I pushed it away from my face, my gaze never leaving the boy in front of me. Man, rather. All of us in here are of age.
â€œKill me.â€ His voice was raspy as he spoke.
Me, kill him? Certainly that was the point of the Judgment. Heâ€™s just giving up? Why?
â€œIâ€™m a goner. Even if I go on to win, the next round is the weapons round. Go and win, maybe you can go all the way,â€ he explained, as though reading my mind.
â€œHow do youâ€¦â€ I paused, unsure. â€œHow do you wish to die?â€ I asked finally.
â€œChoke me; anything, I donâ€™t care. Just please, let my mother recognize my body.â€
I moved toward him. There was no reaction from him; he didnâ€™t try to shrink away, or grab a hold of me. All he did was close his eyes, his lips moving silently, as though in prayer.
I wrapped my hands around his throat. His Adamâ€™s apple moved slightly as he swallowed, his chest heaving as he inhaled. He would not be breathing before long.
I clamped down on his airways as the rain started to fall on the two of us. I ignored his struggles. Another shiver of excitement ran up my spine, but I ignored it, ashamed.
I wondered if I would soon give in to this excitement; or indeed if I should use it to my advantage, and enjoy it. If things kept on this way, it was only a matter of time. The prospect wasnâ€™t a particularly pleasant one.
He was dead before I could figure out the answer. I released him, letting him fall down, closed his eyes as a last act of courtesy, and stepped away. I didnâ€™t give a damn about the announcement of the winner.
On my way back, I took another glance on the bloody part of the wall. The blood was slowly being washed away, and it ran down onto the grass below, with all the other fragments.
I shivered again. This time, itâ€™s the chilling wind and rain. Somehow, Iâ€™m glad.
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