She lit an old candle in the carved turnip, and placed it by the cracked window, causing shadows to dance across the log walls. She squinted through the glass. A cold wind was pushing dying red leaves across the stone path. It was getting late!

She’d heard whispers of a mandatory town meeting. Dressing in layers, she hoped to ward off the cold, and the gazes of her unfriendly neighbors. She knew what they would be discussing tonight…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

The music of Tchaikovsky played softly as Etel carefully worked on her puzzle. She had been alone in the same house for thirty years, since Domas was selected. All that kept her going was a picture of their wedding day, and the hope that she would once again be with him. She had just finished placing the last piece of the puzzle when the town bells rang out. “I have to be selected, it’s my turn. I can just feel it.”
Etel went to the closet and picked out a sweater. She never could handle the cold; Domas had always teased her about it. She let her mind wander to this day thirty years ago. Her husband standing in front of her with tears in his eyes. He embraced her, knowing it would be the last time they would touch for awhile. She rubbed the tear from the top of his cheek and laughed.

“Domas, you are not supposed to cry.”

“I love you my dear Etel.” He whispered as he placed his hand on her face and softly kissed her forehead.

“We will be together again in the New Lands.” She stepped away from him and watched as the light centered in the middle of the town square and, within an instant, he and the light were gone.

“I love you,” she whispered as the winds carried her voice away.

A knock on the door brought her back to reality.

“Etel, it’s a wonderful day for the Selection isn’t it?” She barely got the door open before Cline greeted her.

“Yes, I have waited so long. I am the last one from the original town, I am sure it’s my time.” Cline did not share her thoughts.

The rest of the walk was a quiet one. Etel allowed herself to relax and take in the town one last time. The trees bowing to the wind, red leaves dancing past her feet on the ground. Anthiel stood before the name board and called attention to the meeting.

“Hello and welcome to the yearly Selection Ceremony. Each year one of us is selected to leave this town and go to the New Lands, and I have the pleasure of hosting my third ceremony since Mayor Levit was selected to go to the New Lands. I will now reveal the name of the selected one.”

Etel dug her shoes into the cobblestone. The beating in her chest was almost too much to bear as Anthiel removed the cover. She closed her eyes for a moment and held her breath. This is the moment she waited for, she earned this, she deserved this.

“Congratulations, Cline!” The crowd seemed to freeze in place.

Etel still heard the cheers, but no one moved or spoke. She began feeling lightheaded. Nothing made sense to her.

“It was my turn….” she whispered as she walked alone back to her house, broken and defeated.

The road seemed longer than usual and she was left to her thoughts. She began to turn sorrow into anger. Etel let her mind race with ideas.

<i>What if she was dead? I could just take her place right?</i> She began to grin, perhaps the happiest she had been in a while.

Etel knocked heavily on Cline’s door.

“Etel? We were so worried about you. It’s been hours since we saw you. Are you alright?” Cline stepped into the open and glanced at the delicately wrapped pie. “Is that mine? Oh good, I thought you were mad.”

“Not at all, Cline. Congratulations.” She wasted no time scurrying away.

It had been hours since she had given Cline the pie. Etel tried to calm her mind and not think of what became of her. Darkness had swallowed the sun and the air became still. She stood in the middle of town square, silent, waiting for the light to shine down. The light began to show. Etel stepped toward it, feeling her face warm as she touched the light. “Here I come Domas !” And, just like that, she was gone.

Etel began to hear Tchaikovsky as she slowly opened her eyes. She was high above the ground on a wooden shelf. Unable to move, unable to scream. The shelf held all of the people selected before her. Each remaining still. Only their eyes could move. Her new home now overlooked the town, an exact replica. It was the only thing in the room. An overhead lamp sent light into the middle of the town. A fan blew gently overhead, but the trees remained stiff. All of the townspeople tucked into their beds. A man stood above the town, looking at its contents.

He picked Anthiel up and placed him on the bench near the park.

“Perfect. I know you like to watch the birds. Oh wait, I forgot your newspaper.” He place the newspaper in his lap and turned toward the shelf.

“Hello, Etel. I am glad you could join us. I placed you next to Domas and all of your friends. I hope you like your new home.” The man appeared before her, His glasses gleaming in the light. “I made you a hat, I know you get cold easily.” He placed the hat on her head and smiled. “Goodnight my little dolls.”

Etel watched as he exited the room, and the light slowly faded.