Maybe. Maybe not.
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Gray Suit – by Tyler
Carson licked his lips, staring at a platter of sizzling pork ribs. His senses tingled, immersed in the heavenly smell of barbecue sauce and greasy steam. The fork quivered in his fingers, itching to stab into the sumptuous meal.
A bell gonged in the distance, snapping Carson from his daydream. Sighing in forlorn, he glanced down at a slimy bowl of brown sludge… something the Chef had “cooked up,” no doubt.
Resolving himself to his fate, Carson drove his spoon into the muck, excavating a dripping mulch filled with tiny, unidentifiable chunks. Grimacing, he lifted it to his lips, downing the murky substance in one fell swoop. It slid down his throat, gelatinous and clingy, leaving behind a sickly sweet aftertaste.
He looked up at Joel, who sat across from him. Carson’s childhood friend currently found himself in a similar, revolting predicament.
“Have you seen the schedule yet?” Joel asked through a mouthful of glop.
Carson shook his head. “No… but I hear we have an assessment today.”
“Really? I wonder what that’s about.”
Shrugging, Carson leaned back in his seat, staring up at the gleaming, blue sky. Not a cloud was in sight. It was a picture of perfection, contrasting with the wretched taste in the backs of their throats.
The bell gonged twice, its dull tone vibrating the ground. A thousand teenagers rose to their feet as one, responding to the sinister toll. Their gray suits blended in with the stone courtyard in which they stood.
The voice of the head Thrall, whom they knew as Tinsel, boomed throughout the valley.
“GOOD MORNING, CADETS. PLEASE PROCEED TO THE EAST PLAZA FOR YOUR ASSESSMENT IN SINGLE FILE.”
Carson hid his disappointment as he marched with the others along a wide, stone pathway. His squadron’s home, South Plaza, was rarely chosen for important gatherings. They were the least popular, consisting of a diverse mixture ranging from high-ranking cadets to the least of the least.
Carson felt someone pinch his arm. He turned slightly, seeing Joel’s shaggy mop of red hair.
“You’re supposed to be with Ernest!” He rasped through his teeth. “What are you doing?!”
Joel peered up at his friend, his mouth a solemn line across his face. “We need to go, Carson. We need to go now.”
Carson scrunched his eyebrows together. “What do you mean?! We can’t go! We have the assessment!” He stared straight ahead, marching in time with the other gray suits. A jagged building loomed to their right, signaling their rapid approach to the East Plaza.
“I… I’ve seen something,” Joel muttered, his eyes flicking back and forth.
“What?! Stop being so enigmatic!”
“I can’t tell you here,” Joel whispered, tugging on Carson’s sleeve. “You have to come with me.”
“But how? They’ll see us!”
Joel tilted his head, a glimmer in his eye. “No… they won’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“You see that window on the Felix Building? The one with no panes?”
“Yeah… what about it?”
“If we move at just the right time, we can make it in. They won’t see us… I promise!”
Carson shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut. What am I doing? He thought angrily. Why am I actually considering this?!
The realization hit him like jab to the throat… it was the Thralls. Deep in the back of his mind, he’d always known something was wrong with his life. There was something eerily strange about the methodical patterns the cadets followed, under the supervision of the mysterious Thrall named Tinsel. There were others too… whole hordes of them, he had heard. No one knew exactly who… or what… they were… just that they were in control.
Carson tightened his fists, sweat soaking into the fabric of his gray suit. He took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
“Alright…” he murmured. “When do we have to go?”
A hint of a grin appeared on Joel’s face, and he grabbed Carson’s arm, yanking him through the mass of marching cadets.
Carson’s heart pounded in his chest as he and Joel raced toward the gloomy window. Tucking in his head, he threw his body forward. His hands slapped against moist concrete, burning from the impact. He yelped when a stray stone stabbed through his trousers.
Rubbing his knee, Carson rose, peering into the darkness of this new room. He turned around, watching the steady stream of gray cadets march past in unison.
The confused youth flinched as a black shield slammed across the window’s opening, cutting off the dim source of light.
Shivering in these new surroundings, Carson tried to see something… anything… that would give him direction.
“Joel?” He called out. “Are you in here?”
He strained his eyes, trying to see into the pitch black. Hugging his arms across his chest, Carson turned around.
Mere inches from his face, two malicious, silver eyes glinted with glee.
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