By Martina Kontos
“It’s time to eat, Cherry,” said my supervisor, Stella, with a grin. She placed before me a full plate of beef, mash, and roasted vegetables. “Your last meal before you’re twenty-one, that’s special, isn’t it?”
“You don’t say,” I replied. I looked down at my plate and shook my head. “I don’t think I can eat.”
“But, Cherry,” Stella said, pushing the plate closer to me, “it’s only one little plate of food. C’mon, you love to eat.”
“Eating was okay when it wasn’t the day before you were planning on harvesting me for my meat.”
Stella pouted. “You shouldn’t put it like that.”
“Well, what do you want me to say? That I’m donating myself for the greater good when this institution solely exists for rich middle-aged men fond of the bloody taste of tartare humain? No, thank you.” I pushed the plate away, stood up, and proceeded to leave the dining hall. Stella jumped up to block the exit, smiling sweetly. I saw that she had a few strands of grey hair, and my stomach lurched with envy at the fact that I would never live to experience old age myself.
“You know we’ve treated you very well,” Stella said. “We fed you. We supplied you with any entertainment you desired. So, why can’t you just accept the fact that it’s time for you to take your place in society?”
“Screw society,” I said, pushing her out of the way and going to my dorm room. I slammed the door behind me, went to the bathroom, and splashed water onto my face. Pulling off my t-shirt and shorts, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Citizens would call me overweight, but at the Institution, or what is better known as the Farm, I was just right. I shuddered as I imagined myself on a spit, my skin crackling as I rotated with an apple in my mouth.
“You shouldn’t let them get to you,” called out my roommate, Olive, from the bedroom. Olive and I were born on the same day; therefore, our harvesting day was the same. Cursed with a high metabolism, she was a lot slenderer than me. As a result, supervisors forced her to eat twice as much as everyone else. Being close friends, I secretly ate her food if she couldn’t finish it.
“How are you so calm?” I said, entering the bedroom. Somehow, Olive always kept her cool in the situations I couldn’t help but fret over. “Unless we think of something, we will die tomorrow because we had crap parents that agreed for lifetime compensation in exchange for their babies.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“I mean no, we will not die tomorrow. I have a plan.”
“What?” I said, taken aback. “You know what happened when Kobe tried esca—”
“There was no Kobe,” Olive said, eyes glued on the television as she tapped away on her gaming controller. “Those were just stories to scare us. I overheard the supervisors talking about it last week.”
“If there is a way out of here, then why haven’t you tried escaping yet?”
“Because it’s all about timing.” Olive put down her controller and turned to me. “Once we’re a day older than twenty-one, we’re tough meat. They can’t distribute our parts anymore, because no one will want us.”
My heart beat faster. “So you’re saying that—”
“All we need to do is escape for long enough that, when they find us, they won’t know what to do with us.”
“And we’ll finally be Citizens?”
“Well, we’ll probably have to scrub toilets for the rest of our lives. But at least we’ll be alive.”
“When do we leave?”
“Ten to midnight,” Olive said, tossing me a backpack full of supplies. She was always prepared for every situation, unlike my scatterbrained self. “Get dressed in black, and when we leave, I’ll let you know the plan. For now, the least amount of details, the better.”
I ransacked my wardrobe and followed Olive’s instructions to dress in black. Together, we patiently sat on our beds, waiting for the right time. Olive gamed, while I sat chewing my nails.
As soon as the clock hit eleven-fifty, I jumped up from my bed. “It’s time, Olive.” Olive looked up at the wall clock and nodded, her face paling.
“Let’s go,” she said.
Olive and I tiptoed out of our room, gently closing the door behind us. I followed her as she navigated the winding halls. Within a few minutes, she had led me to the kitchens. “There’s an exit from the back of the kitchens,” she whispered. “We will trip the alarm, but the distance to the fence is the shortest from here. We’ll out-sprint the dogs until we reach the fence, then scale it, dodging the barbed wire, and we’ll be on our way to freedom.”
I nodded, but the plan didn’t eliminate my anxiety. Even though she had put a lot of thought into it, its execution was a completely different thing.
“On three,” Olive said, placing a hand on the kitchen door handle. “One, two, three!”
Olive opened the door and we came face to face with three butchers wearing their trademark red aprons.
“Olive, run!” I screamed, but she looked at me sadly as she locked the kitchen door behind me. “What are you doing? What’s going on?” I turned to face the butchers, shaking. “What’s happening?”
The first butcher spoke up. “Your friend is too skinny to be harvested. She agreed for a spot as a supervisor in return for ensuring that you didn’t try escaping.”
“You’ll fetch us at least three thousand dollars,” piped in another butcher.
I felt the blood drain from my face. Olive stood in the corner, avoiding eye contact. The three butchers approached me. Before I could do anything, they bound up my limbs and gagged me. The last thing I saw was my chubby reflection in an upraised butcher’s knife.