Carrying the torch is supposed to be a monumental moment. When we were younger, we’d watch these men and women carry a fire that represented the life in all and the beauty of our perseverance as a people. Now, it doesn’t mean that anymore. Like all things that came before, the ever-changing world tainted this tradition, and this summer, as I ready myself as the next torchbearer, it represents something far worse than probably even the most malevolent mind can imagine.
The stadium is full of people as I stand waiting for the current runner to reach me. The tangerine and strawberry sky left behind by the dying sun allowed the shadows to descend upon those in the ranks of spectators. Now they aren’t cheering people but writhing specters watching with deliciously venomous hunger as the torch grows ever closer to me.
Ralph is the man that carries the light. He is a good runner. I watched him on last week’s broadcast, and he was a strong carrier then, is one now. The fire illuminates his face, which contorts with both determination, focus, and terror as he passes the row of 16 terrified faces, the solemn and grieving, those whom wait in fear wondering if one of us will fail and forfeit their lives.
They’re the reason I’m terrified. Four years ago, before the world fell to darkness, I would have found carrying the torch frightening for very different reasons, but now that carrying the torch means a very different thing, I’m scared I’ll let these people down. They depend on me for survival. If I fail, each one of them will die, and that weight is something I don’t want to bear.
As Ralph closes the gap, I check to make sure my running garbs aren’t going to cause me any trouble. I pull up my socks, tighten my laces, and tuck in my shirt.
10 feet… he grows closer.
The torch passes between our hands as slick as oil passes between the mechanisms of a machine. I turn, poised to make it to the next runner. I will not fail them.
I take four steps. Seven. The crowd roars with disappointment, and then my feet tangle below me. I stumble forward, trying to recapture my footing, but there’s too much inertia. A second later, my face plants in the dirt, and the crowd cheers.
“No!” I scream as I scramble to my feet.
Pop, pop, pop, pop, I hear as each of my fellow prisoners heads explode. Flesh and bone and blood splatter the wood posts to which they were tied and sprinkle the dirt ground below. With each successive boom, the crowd grows louder.
When the final prisoner dies, I look around. Ralph’s face appears dissonant, though it has shades of sorrow painted upon it. He is no doubt glad it isn’t him that failed, but also sad that I am so unfortunate.
A voice comes over the intercoms. It is one I know well because in these games, where runners go 24 hours a day, failure is inevitable. It says, “You have failed.”
The crowd cheers. New runners line up. A guard grabs me. Tomorrow, a new runner will determined my fate.