William frantically searched the dark recesses of his mind. He couldn’t fathom why he was given such a cruel fate. Had he offended an unknown god? Had he squished a ladybug in his youth? No, he didn’t deserve this. He had done nothing wrong. Peering down the row of fellow wayward souls, William could see some familiarity. They were all nearly the same age, all young adventurers. Some were budding entomologists or botanists; others dreamed of a life of soldiering. The common denominator was their current predicament. They had all been taken in broad daylight and brought into captivity.
William was fifth in line. He wished he was first. Watching those ahead of him be led off by those devilish guards in khaki pants took a toll. They didn’t even use restraints; captor and captive alike knew there was nowhere to run in that environment. One-by-one they were nudged toward a well-lit makeshift wall set up inside an area at some point utilized for calisthenics. It disgusted William how business like and unemotional the guards were.
While sentinels looked on, the first victim was propped up in front of that ugly wall. He seemed to find some acceptance as to his fate. He couldn’t look at the man tasked with preparing the black contraption locked onto a tripod and faced toward him- the first unfortunate in the van of the doomed. The man seemed overly happy and energetic for such a job. He even casually talked to his prey as he prepared his demonic instrument, forcing the young man to look at him.
William was behind a partition as the mechanism was triggered. He heard it go off three or four times and when he steeled himself enough to look up the second victim was already moved around the corner and into position. The first poor soul was nowhere to be seen, but William could see an area of black curtains. He assumed that he had been drug off in a special area so others would not bolt and run. It was like building in turns to the alleys in a slaughter house so the cows further back didn’t panic and try to jump over the rails.
But if they were nothing more than cattle to these people then he was perplexed as to why they were forced to groom for such an event. To William it seemed to make it more grotesque to be forced to slick back their hair or for the girls to be given ribbons. There seemed no point to their methods except cruelty. They had the capabilities to shoot the thirty-some unfortunates all at once. To be forced to go one at a time proved the oppressors’ sadistic traits.
As William resolutely moved forward he convinced himself to accept his fate with a silent grace. He had watched a few before him panic and struggle against the inevitable, and that was not for him. He did not go forward quietly for the sake of cooperation with the hated guards; rather he wished to go with some semblance of self-respect and a stiff upper lip for his own sake.
William was now next in line. Despite his best efforts, panic began to creep in. Sweaty palms and darting eyes exposed his breakdown. He had not looked forward since the second lamb had been pushed through. His heart began to contract tighter and expand farther than it had ever done before; as if it was trying to make up for a lifetime of blood circulation in the next thirty seconds. Ol’ Will wondered if his ribcage could yet contain that pounding organ. Any semblance of composure left him as he listened to the mechanism fire and charge, fire and charge, over and over. He began to blink hard with each sound and willed the eyelids open during each charge when the others had gone. Now the Sadists led him up to the flimsy wall and squared him up in front of the… device. Looking into its eye and then at its master’s toothy grin provided the final fatal crack in William’s emotional dike. Sweaty palms violently crashed into clammy forehead. Fingers clenched and pulled at neatly combed hair. Body wrenched and twisted. Eyebrows furled and eyelids sealed tightly. Preempting the evil sound, William let out an undignified screech and then….
“Billy, stop fidgeting and fix your hair! You know picture day is only once a school year. Do you want your mother to be upset because you didn’t take a good picture?”