The Long Walk
PART ONE: STARTING OUT
"Say the secret word and win a hundred dollars. George, who are our first contestants? George...? Are you there, George?"
You Bet Your Life
An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard tun. One of the guards, an expressionless young man in a khaki uniform and a Sam Browne belt, asked to see the blue plastic ID card. The boy in the back seat handed it to his mother. His mother handed it to the guard. The guard took it to a computer terminal that looked strange and out of place in the rural stillness. The computer terminal ate the card and flashed this on its screen:
GARRATY RAYMOND DAVIS
RD 1 POWNAL MAINE
ID NUMBER 49-801-89
The guard punched another button and all of this disappeared, leaving the terminal screen smooth and green and blank again. He waved them forward.
"Don't they give the card back?" Mrs. Garraty asked. "Don't they-"
"No, Mom," Garraty said patiently.
"Well, I don't like it," she said, pulling forward into an empty space. She had been saying it ever since they set out in the dark of two in the morning. She had been moaning it, actually.
"Don't worry," he said without hearing himself. He was occupied with looking and with his own confusion of anticipation and fear. He was out of the car almost before the engine's last asthmatic wheeze-a tall, well-built boy wearing a faded army fatigue jacket against the eight o'clock spring chill.
His mother was also tall, but too thin. Her br**sts were almost nonexistent: token nubs. Her eyes were wandering and unsure, somehow shocked. Her face was an invalid's face. Her iron-colored hair had gone awry under the complication of clips that was supposed to hold it in place. Her dress hung badly on her body as if she had recently lost a lot of weight.
"Ray," she said in that whispery conspirator's voice that he had come to dread. "Ray, listen-"
He ducked his head and pretended to tuck in his shirt. One of the guards was eating C-rations from a can and reading a comic book. Garraty watched the guard eating and reading and thought for the ten thousandth time: It's all real. And now, at last, the thought began to swing some weight.
"There's still time to change your mind-"
The fear and anticipation cranked up a notch.
"No, there's no time for that," he said. "The backout date was yesterday."
Still in that low conspirator's voice that he hated: "They'd understand, I know they would. The Major-
"The Major would-" Garraty began, and saw his mother wince. "You know what the Major would do, Mom."
Another car had finished the small ritual at the gate and had parked. A boy with dark hair got out. His parents followed and for a moment the three of them stood in conference like worried baseball players. He, like some of the other boys, was wearing a light packsack. Garraty wondered if he hadn't been a little stupid not to bring one himself.
"You won't change your mind?"
It was guilt, guilt taking the face of anxiety. Although he was only sixteen, Ray Garraty knew something about guilt. She felt that she had been too dry, too tired, or maybe just too taken up with her older sorrows to halt her son's madness in its seedling stage-to halt it before the cumbersome machinery of the State with its guards in khaki and its computer terminals had taken over, binding himself more tightly to its insensate self with each passing day, until yesterday, when the lid had come down with a final bang.
He put a hand on her shoulder. "This is my idea, Mom. I know it wasn't yours. I-" He glanced around. No one was paying the slightest attention to them. "I love you, but this way is best, one way or the other."
"It's not," she said, now verging on tears. "Ray, it's not, if your father was here, he'd put a stop to-"
"Well, he's not, is he?" He was brutal, hoping to stave off her tears... what if they had to drag her off? He had heard that sometimes that happened. The thought made him feel cold. In a softer voice he said, "Let it go now, Mom. Okay?" He forced a grin. "Okay," he answered for her.
Her chin was still trembling, but she nodded. Not all right, but too late. There was nothing anyone could do.
A light wind soughed through the pines. The sky was pure blue. The road was just ahead and the simple stone post that marked the border between America and Canada. Suddenly his anticipation was greater than his fear, and he wanted to get going, get the show on the road.
"I made these. You can take them, can't you? They're not too heavy, are they?" She thrust a foil-wrapped package of cookies at him.