(part 1 of Choosing Week can be found here.)
Jonah moaned again in his sleep, jolting Eli back to the present. Eli rose from his own bed and stood over his little brother. Jonah, born only a few months after the last Choosing, was nearly four years old, much older than Alice or Noah had been. The heat of the room and the internal effort of whatever dream Jonah was experiencing had plastered his hair to his temples. Eli gazed down at his flushed cheeks and worried.
This time would be much harder than the last.
Eli’s first choosing sorted itself out without any help from him. Alice, born when Eli was about three, had too many many strikes against her: she was a girl, she was colicky, and she had been born with a club foot. There was no doubt in the minds of her parents or the townsfolk as to which of them—nine-month-old, sickly Alice or nearly-four-year-old Eli, strong, healthy and clearly clever—would be a better recipient of the village’s scant resources.
The vote happened without discussion and the unanimous verdict was carried out swiftly and without incident. Eli’s parents, although subdued at Eli’s celebration afterward, were resigned to the inevitable. They were young, after all, and they still had Eli.
Eli’s second Choosing, at almost eight years of age, felt very different. Now Eli had a little brother, Noah. At two and a half years old, Noah was an established part of the family. He wasn’t just a crying infant that kept Eli awake at night, he was a real person with things to like and dislike about him. Noah liked oranges and running and any game involving a ball. He hated mushrooms and would do anything to avoid a bath.
By the time that Choosing Year started, Eli and his classmates had worked out the reality of the situation in a series of hushed conversations with older, more experienced boys. Skeptical, Eli brought it up with his parents one night after Noah went to bed.
“What happens to the kids who aren’t Chosen?” All he could remember from his own Choosing was lots of ice cream and getting to stay up way past his bedtime.
“They leave the village,” his mother said.
“But where do they go?”
His father cleared his throat. “That’s not something you need to know yet, Eli.”
“When will I know?”
“When they time is right.”
“The older boys at school said—”
His father’s face went stern. “The older boys should know better than to spread rumors and lies.”
“But they said—”
“That’s enough.” His father’s voice was gruff. “Go do your homework.”
Eli stopped at the doorway and turned back to where his parents sat in the bright kitchen light. “Mom?”
“Who will you Choose?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer, but he couldn’t stop himself from asking. “I … I don’t want to leave the village.”
“Don’t worry, Eli,” his mother said.
Eli wanted to believe that was an answer, but he saw the look that passed between his parents.
After that night, Eli watched their interactions with Noah carefully. Noah, deep in his “terrible twos”, could be difficult. His first word was “no”. He resisted all attempts to control his behavior, causing scenes while getting dressed, while eating, and when tucked into bed.
At first this gave Eli a sense of relief. After all, he never argued or fought with his parents. Eli did his chores without reminding and got good grades in school. He kept himself out of trouble, usually curled up somewhere with a book.
Despite this, there was something unsettling about the enthusiasm in his father’s response when Noah asked to play catch. Eli had never managed to develop those rough and tumble skills. Even more troubling was the unease he felt when he watched his mother rock a sleepy, hiccoughing Noah to sleep after a temper tantrum. She hadn’t held Eli like that in a very long time.
Out of fear and uncertainty he’d hatched a plan.