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I am eight the year the village chooses me. I walk to the fruit market to find my mother. I think she might like to say goodbye. The market is the last place I saw her but she is not here today. I don't care. She's been gone a long time. The man thinks I am trying to Be a Big Boy for the Cameras. But I'm not.

They give me my equipment and supplies. It is not much. It all fits in my hands. They tell me to look inside the tackle box, so I look. There is water but no food. The judges are beside themselves, hyper, falling over to see my reaction. So I give them none. They are too excited to be disappointed. They have changed the rules since last year - no food, no goggles.

The first rule is that you must accept all the other rules before knowing what they are. I accept. Contestants from past years do not share the details of the trip. It is a secure system. When they come back from the ocean, they do not want to talk at all. They move away soon. Nobody knows where they go, they go away in the night. I should have said If  they come back. Most don't.


I do not know the procedure until the morning I will leave. It is about an hour before dawn. We are on the beach. When the sun comes up, I am to throw this metal rod as far as I can, along a pre-set trajectory. If I do not throw it far enough, I am disqualified. I am not allowed to practice.

The rod is connected to a long silver string. If the ocean accepts what I have given it, it will suck the rod down and out to sea, pulling the thread, pulling me on the end of it. The silver will slice through my hands, they say, and the salt will burn in the cuts.

I will be dragged. That is all the judges know for sure. They have never seen the process from a further vantage point than the last edge of dry sand. They bring special glasses to cut the glare, and binoculars, but they never go out on boats to watch what happens. They tried it one year and the ocean would not cooperate - all the waves stopped rolling and the whole thing became a still lake until they got out of it, then it woke back up. That year, the boy washed up in pieces.

The judges have the sense to leave me alone in this last hour. Even the cameraman has backed up to the dunes. He is still filming but it is not so obvious, I can ignore him. It is good practice I suppose.

The sand is so warm and firm under me. I sit down in it, it is soft. Warm, firm, soft, sitting; I try to enjoy my last moments of these things. I try to keep thinking about it but of course I am racing, planning. I am already gone.

The sun is coming soon. I check my box again. Two vials of water. I lift one and look at it. I do not know how many days I will be gone. The average is two weeks. I try to do the math and figure out the water ration per day, while I am still coherent and safe. I know my brain is in for a metamorphosis. The vial is cool and smooth in my hand, a slim silver bullet. I know it will be the focus of my life soon. I wonder how many things will happen in me while my hand is curled around this smoothness. I wonder how much it will hurt. Drinking from this vial, I will have to be very careful not to take too much, and not to drop it. I will have to be careful all the time. I am suddenly very tired. Suddenly I remember I am only eight.

The sky is lightening up with pink and orange. A judge tells me that there is room in the box, if there is anything I'd like to bring. I think, A book, but don't say it out loud. I say, Food, and he laughs and slaps me on the back, says he admires my attitude. I also do not mention that I have noticed the seals on the water vials are far from watertight. This means my store of water will be polluted by salt almost immediately. I was very young the year the last boy came back alive, but I remember the obvious public disappointment, the lack of media coverage. Possibly they have made it impossible. This does not bother me. I have made up my mind to disappoint them.

We have an edge of sun now. Searing up gold out of the silver ocean like a blade. I will be flying toward that light, until I go under. I have no goggles but I will watch the sun as long as I can. One boy came home blind for making the sun his constant checkpoint. This sun already beckons me. It is steady. I do not think it is a bad way to go blind. I stand up and dust off the sand, leave it warm and dry behind me. I start to think, That sand is lucky, but I realize I no longer feel that way.

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