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Controlled by Anna
I had always dreaded my twelfth birthday.
Why did we have to get tattoos on that day? Every time I thought about it, a tingling sensation would prickle across my neck, the area that would soon become the canvas for the black outline of the circle, whether or not I wanted it.
Of course, there was another option, but that was one I didn’t want to consider. Staring at the white tiled floor, I dragged the heel of my boot across it, leaving a black scuff mark. Surprised, I jerked my head up to be sure no one had noticed. With white chairs lined against the white walls, the room was spotless besides the blemish I’d just caused.
Bending down, I rubbed my finger over the black mark. Crumbling under the pressure of my fingertip, the black gunk vanished from the floor.
“Mara, are you alright?” Helen asked, resting her hand on my back.
Straightening, I nodded and pushed my hair from my face. “It’s nothing.”
My sister smiled at me, but I didn’t have the stomach to return the grin. My insides were fluttering, and my heart had to be beating twice as fast as normal. Biting my lip, I allowed my gaze to wander to a closed door. If only the tattoo were the only thing awaiting behind it. I couldn’t decide what I was more afraid of. The test or the tattoo.
Taking my hand, Helen applied pressure and smiled down at me. At fifteen, she was three years my superior, and my only sibling. Through her waves of light brown hair, her tattoo, which I kept trying to imagine on myself, was visible. I squeezed Helen’s hand back, my sweaty palm touching hers, which was cool and reassuring.
“What if I fail?” I whispered, though the only other occupant in the room was an elderly government official, his focus on the tablet resting on his legs.
“You won’t fail,” Helen said. “Don’t worry.”
I won’t fail? Of course she said that. I couldn’t fail. If I did…I shook my head. No, I wouldn’t flunk the test. Although I couldn’t help wishing someone would have at least told me the questions I was going to be asked.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to calm my nerves. Useless. My legs bounced up and down, the only way to release my pent up energy that came from anxiety. Sinking further into my seat, I released Helen’s hand and grasped the cold metal arms of my chair.
Turning my head towards my sister, her gaze drew my attention toward the government official. She had that look on her face. The one that would suddenly appear whenever she’d been around an official more than a few seconds. Narrowing my eyes, I tried once again to read her face. Was it fear? No, not fear. At least, not completely. There was anxiety in her eyes, a look like she expected to be yelled at at any moment by the elderly man. Why would she be afraid of an official? What could the man do to her?
Above the closed door, the digital clock’s numbers switched to four pm. At the same moment, the speakers in the four corners of the room crackled to life. “Mara Hadden, please step through the door.”
On cue, the door slid open, revealing a room. Helen stood and extended her hand towards me. “Ready, Mara?”
No. But I’d never be ready. Swallowing as the butterflies in my stomach, which had begun moving around at an alarming speed, I rose to my feet. But I didn’t take Helen’s hand. In a short while, I would become a citizen of Althalos, expected to do my part. I couldn’t act like a child any longer.
Less brightly lit than the waiting area, the room we entered was small, with white walls and the government symbol painted on the wall opposite the doorway. In the center of the room a chair was situated, with an extension that allowed a person to raise their feet from the ground.
Seated near a desk, which had a computer on top of it, a woman watched us for a moment in silence. A government official, which was evident by her visible tattoo, the woman appeared to be in her early forties. Frown lines creased her forehead, and she kept her plain brown hair pulled back into an unpleasantly tight bun. I twirled my finger through my own hair, relieved that only a few adult women were required to wear styles like this woman’s.
Finally, after she had examined me with a searching gaze, the official spoke. “I suppose you are Mara?”
I nodded. Should I talk, or just let the woman keep asking questions?
Turning her chair towards the table, the official then typed something onto the computer’s keyboard, which made sharp clicking noises. A recent picture of my face flashed on the screen, and the official turned back toward me. After pushing her chair back from the table, the woman stood and stared downwards so her gaze met mine. I shifted from one foot to the other, trying not to be intimidated by her stare.
The official cleared her throat. “My name is Agnes,” she said. “Are you ready for your test, Mara Hadden?”
Once again, I nodded, though my instincts told me to say no. But I couldn’t refuse. To refuse would be the worst decision I could ever make. Squaring my shoulders, I took a deep breath and awaited the first question.
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