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How I won a Broadway ticket lottery ... twice

If you’ve seen my Musical Theater Bucket List here at, you already know that I'm a theater fan. Whenever I am in New York, I like to see a Broadway show or two. A few years ago, I learned about the online Broadway ticket lotteries. These lotteries aren't a chance to win free tickets to Broadway shows. Instead, people enter to win the opportunity to purchase deeply-discounted last-minute tickets to top Broadway shows.

There are multiple sites that run online Broadway ticket lotteries, including Telecharge, Lucky Seat, Broadway Direct, and TodayTix. At the time of this writing, Telecharge runs the lotteries for Ain't Too Proud, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Beetlejuice, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Oklahoma, and The Phantom of the Opera. Aladdin, Hamilton, The Lion King, Wicked, and Tootsie are with Broadway Direct. The Book of Mormon, Frozen, Mean Girls, Hadestown, and Moulin Rogue! The Musical are with Lucky Seat. TodayTix runs the Friday Forty lottery ($40 tickets ($20 per part)) for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is a play rather than a musical, but landed on my Harry Potter Bucket List. ( has a page that lists Broadway shows and their discount ticket policies. Information on each individual show's lottery and rush policies is generally also available on the show's official webpage.)

A portion of the page that lists Broadway shows and their discount ticket policies.

If you've read my story here on about what it's like to enter the Broadway ticket lotteries, you know that my mom and I entered the lotteries many times over the past few years and never won. I was beginning to think that it was downright impossible to win. But then something happened to change my thinking about the Broadway ticket lotteries completely ... I won.

It was September 2019, and I was visiting New York for an entire month. My mom and I planned to enter the Broadway ticket lotteries every day for Hadestown, Frozen, Hamilton, and Mean Girls. On the Friday before I arrived in New York, we entered the lotteries for the Sunday shows. As I expected, we lost. Undeterred, we entered for the shows on Tuesday. At 11:23 AM on Monday morning, I heard the ping of a text message on my cellphone. I checked my phone and was shocked to see: "You won Lucky Seats to Frozen ... Check your email for details." (Note: Not all lotteries offer the option of receiving a text message if you win.) I couldn't believe it. I'd finally won a Broadway ticket lottery!

Bursting with happiness, I opened my email account and saw a message from Frozen Lottery. The subject: "You won the FROZEN ticket lottery!"

A portion of the email I received from Lucky Seat.

I clicked on the link in the email to purchase tickets. The total purchase price for 2 tickets to the show the next day was $70 ($60.00 for the tickets plus a $10.00 service fee). There was no indication of which seats in the theater we would receive, but a quick look at the ticket availability for the Tuesday show on revealed that there were still plenty of orchestra and mezzanine seats available, so we took a leap of faith. After I submitted my credit card information, I received an immediate email receipt from Lucky Seat Frozen. Our tickets would be waiting for us at the box office tomorrow evening.

On Tuesday evening, about an hour before showtime, Mom and I arrived at the St. James Theatre to claim our tickets. I presented my driver license to the woman at the box office, telling her that I was a lottery winner. She plucked a small stack of envelopes from her desk, opened one, and handed me the tickets inside. Our seats were in the Balcony, Row H, Seats 1 and 3. (A bit of research revealed that the cost of these seats for members of the general public on (or at the box office) was $57.50 each.)

The next day, I decided to purchase regularly-priced tickets to Hadestown, since Hadestown was a must-see show for me. (Due to the show's popularity, discount tickets and promo codes for Hadestown were not available.) I considered continuing to enter the lottery to try to win discount tickets to Hadestown, but I figured that our chance of winning the Hadestown lottery was low because the show was so popular.

At the Walter Kerr Theatre box office, I purchased two tickets for a matinee of Hadestown the following week. As I stepped away from the ticket window, two women approached it. "We're lottery winners," one of the women said to the woman behind the glass. After they retrieved their tickets for that evening's show, I asked them the general location of the their tickets. Their seats were not together, they told me. One was in a box and one in the mezzanine.

Mom and I continued to enter the lottery for Hamilton and Mean Girls, but we weren't having any luck. Early one Sunday morning, we decided on a whim to enter the lotteries for the Aladdin and The Lion King shows that day. It was the first time either of us had entered for either of these shows. Just after the lottery closed (at exactly 9AM that morning), I checked my email. I was shocked to see the subject on my email from Broadway Direct Lottery: "ALADDIN (NY) ... Lottery Results - YOU WON!"

A portion of the email I received from Broadway Direct.

The email contained all the details. The total purchase price for 2 tickets to that night's show was $66 ($60.00 for the tickets plus a $6.00 handling fee). I needed to claim my tickets no later than 10AM that day or they would be released. There was no indication of where in the theater the tickets would be. A quick check of the ticket availability on Ticketmaster showed excellent ticket availability for that night's show but, based on our experience with Frozen, I knew that ticket availability was no indication of what type of seats the lottery winners receive. I decided to take another leap of faith. I clicked the link to pay for our tickets and received a confirmation email.

That evening, we arrived at the New Amsterdam Theatre box office to pick up our tickets for Aladdin. When I presented my driver license to the man at the ticket window, he plucked an envelope from a small stack and handed me two tickets. The seats were in the Right Mezzanine, Row KK, Seats 14 and 16. (Checking online, I found that the cost of our seats for members of the general public on or at the box office was $87.50 each.)

For the remainder of my month-long stay, we continued to enter the lotteries for Hamilton and Mean Girls every day, but we didn't win either of these lotteries.

I did, however, have a lucky moment, the luckiest of the entire trip ...

I wanted to see Waitress before it closed on Broadway (Waitress was scheduled to close in January 2020), and so this trip was my last chance. The show was not offering an online lottery. In the past, the show had offered $40 in-person rush tickets (discounted same-day tickets offered to people who line up at the box office before it opens) but, when I checked online for information on the show's current rush policy, there was no information. Even though the show's official website offered no information about a current rush policy, I decided to stop by the Brooks Atkinson Theatre to ask whether rush tickets were still offered.

The Waitress box office opened at 10AM, but I arrived at 11AM, a time when rush tickets are generally long gone. I asked the woman at the box office if they had a single rush ticket for that evening's show. I fully expected her to say no, or that the show no longer offers rush tickets. Instead, the woman said with a smile, "As a matter of fact, I do!" "Can you tell me where the seat is?" I asked. "Row C, seat 7, in the Orchestra," she replied pointing out the location on the theater map. I couldn't believe my eyes or ears. Excitedly, I purchased that rush ticket for $40 (there were no additional service or handling fees). Afterward, I learned that the regular price for this seat for members of the general public on or at the box office was $159! (As I was leaving the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, another woman came to inquire about a single rush ticket for that night's performance. She was offered Orchestra Row M, seat 1.) I spent that Tuesday afternoon at the nearby Intrepid Museum, my heart swimming with delighted anticipation of the evening to come, feeling like I'd won the lottery!

The view from my rush seat for Waitress.

What I learned about the Broadway ticket lotteries:

1. It is not impossible to win the Broadway ticket lotteries. Real people actually do win.

2. You can win Broadway ticket lotteries on the very first try (as I did for Aladdin).

3. It isn't easy to win the Broadway ticket lotteries. (My mom entered every lottery that I did and she lost every time.)

4. If you do win a Broadway ticket lottery, you may have to pay for your tickets without knowing your seat locations.

Other lottery winners' Broadway ticket lottery experiences:

My mom's friend, who lives in New York, played the Hamilton Broadway ticket lottery almost every day for 2 years and 1 day, until she finally won. Her tickets were worth the wait: second row of the orchestra, on the aisle.

Do you have a recent Broadway ticket lottery experience to share? Let me know the name of the show, approximate date of the performance, approximate location of your tickets, and how long you entered before you won, and I'll share it here on

Broadway theater ticket tips based on my experiences:

1. If you MUST see a particular show, buy your tickets in advance. To purchase tickets, visit the show's official website. The official website will likely send you to Ticketmaster or Telecharge to actually purchase the tickets. You can also buy tickets in-person at the theater's box office.

2. Sometimes there are discounts available for advance-purchase tickets. Here at, we’ve had success with finding discount codes at Grab these coupon codes and enter them on the Telecharge or Ticketmaster website to receive an instant savings. Note that promo codes are not available for all shows.

3. You can try your luck at scoring discounted, same-day “rush” tickets by heading to the theater before the box office opens. lists the "rush ticket" policies for current shows. You can also find information about rush tickets on the individual show's official website. Not all shows offer rush tickets. Note that if you aren’t one of the first few people in line when the box office opens, you may not get tickets. People queue up in the early hours of the morning for some shows. Even though people generally line up for rush tickets long before the box office opens, it doesn't hurt to ask if you arrive later, especially if you only need one ticket.

4. If today's performance is sold out, you can try your luck at scoring same-day standing-room-only tickets (SRO tickets) by heading to the theater before the box office opens. lists the "standing-room-only ticket" policies for current shows. Not all shows offer standing-room-only tickets, and these tickets are only offered for sold-out performances. You must be willing to stand in the back of the orchestra for the entire performance. Note that if you aren’t one of the first few people in line when the box office opens, you may not get tickets. People queue up in the early hours of the morning for some shows.

5. If you're still looking for same-day tickets and it’s just hours before showtime, head to one of the Theater Development Fund’s same-day ticket booths (TKTS). In the past, I’ve visited the Time Square TKTS booth and found fifty-percent-off deals on great orchestra and mezzanine seats. When the booths are open, Theater Development Fund’s official website lists available shows, discount percentages, and live prices. You cannot buy these tickets online or over the phone. If they have tickets for a show you want to see, go to one of their booths and buy your tickets in person. Note that discount tickets are not available for all shows.

**Shows all over the world (including Appleton, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, London, Los Angeles, Madison, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tulsa, and Woodinville) sometimes offer online ticket lotteries. If you want to see a local show at a deeply-discounted bargain price, check out Lucky Seat, the show's official website, or the venue's official website to see if there is a lottery offered.

Will I be playing the Broadway ticket lotteries next time I’m in New York? I sure will! I'm planning to play in Los Angeles as well. Hopefully I’ll win tickets and have more information to share with you here at!
I did this in September and October 2019.
Thanks for reading!
Check out my novels at!
~ Jen (California, USA)
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Eighteen-year-old Seven and her best friend, Ten, live where all is peaceful ... except for the violent war raging above the sky. Lifelike humanoid robots and self-operated drones tend to everyone's needs, leaving people free to spend their time stimulating their minds and enjoying life's pleasures. But there are strict rules and few choices.

Every year, on Assignment Day, the path of each eighteen-year-old's life is laid out. Some are given the jobs for which they have shown exceptional aptitude and are "paired" for mating. The others are sent off to fight in The War and never return.

When Assignment Day comes for Seven, the assignments shatter everything she's ever believed. The rules force everyone to accept their fates, but Seven decides to do something unprecedented: to go against the Decision Makers' wishes.

Check out Above the Sky, the unforgettable novel that is captivating readers with shocking twists they never saw coming!

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Above the Sky

Chapter One

Our teacher, Professor Adam, doesn’t know we’re just going through the motions. He doesn’t understand that nothing he’s saying really matters anymore. This classroom, and everything that happens inside it, once seemed big and important. Now it all seems silly and insignificant. I try to pay attention, because we’re supposed to, but my mind can’t focus on the present. It’s too busy thinking about the future. A future where every life in this room is in jeopardy.

Every one of the eighteen years I’ve been alive has been leading up to what’s going to happen in less than forty-eight hours—on Assignment Day—when the path of the rest of my life will be determined, just as it has been for every eighteen-year-old for as long as anyone can say. On Assignment Day, my classmates and I will find out what our adult jobs will be. Some of us will become computer technologists, or doctors, or agriculturists. But some of us will become warriors. Warriors are sent above the sky—to fight in The War—to defend us. They will never return.

The professor stands stiffly at the podium. From this distance, he appears human, but like all professors, he’s a robot. The twenty-eight students at the twenty-eight individual desks arranged in four semi-circular rows in front of him sit facing straight ahead. Everything in the room is plain white, except for the blue letters and numbers on the screen behind the professor’s head that illustrate what he’s saying. There are no distractions, except for the thoughts running through my brain.

To my right is my sister. We’re identical twins. She was born twenty-two minutes before me. Because our names are determined by our birth order, she is Two Thousand Six, and I am Two Thousand Seven. Six and I have the same shade of light-brown hair and the same tiny flecks of gold in our hazel eyes, and we’re both exactly five feet three inches tall. But we’re far from alike. Her eyes are intensely focused on the lecture.

I glance at my best friend, Ten. I can tell by the glassiness of his eyes that his mind isn’t on the lecture at all. Even without looking at my navigator, I know it’s almost the end of the school day because Ten’s short brown hair, just a bit darker than mine, which starts every day neatly combed flat and parted to one side like all of the other boys, is as tousled as the rules will allow. I think it’s because the waves in his hair stage a daily rebellion against the gel used to try to control them. My hair is wavy too, but wavy hair is easier to manage for girls; once hair is gelled and secured in a tight bun—as it is required to be whenever we are in public—it more or less stays there.

“Two Thousand Seven!” Professor Adam calls out.

Hearing my full name rips me to attention.

“Pay attention please, Seven,” he scolds.

I turn my focus to the professor and will myself to think about calculus.

But before Professor Adam starts to speak again … the room begins to shake.

Just like it has done many times before.

“Down. Down. Duck and cover,” Professor Adam says in the type of singsong voice usually reserved for small children.

I slide to the ground and kneel underneath my desk with my hands over my head. The desks don’t move, because they are bolted to the floor, but the lights above us tremble at the ends of the skinny wires that suspend them. There is a soft boom, boom, boom

We all know why everything is shaking. It’s because of The War. Above the sky, a battle is raging. Every once in a while, The War intensifies so horribly that everything shakes and we feel how very close we are to danger. Even though the shaking has happened many times in my life, my pulse still quickens, wondering if this will be the time that The War will break through the sky and make everything crumble into dust.

I don’t like that The War is intensifying so close to Assignment Day.

“Psst,” I hear someone say.

I cringe and turn my head just enough to confirm what I already know: the “psst” is from Twelve. As always, every strand of his thick, black hair is in perfect position.

“Don’t ‘psst’ me,” I hiss at him.

Twelve’s gaze moves over my body. Suddenly, I feel self-conscious about the way my white jumpsuit hugs the curves of my chest, my hips, and my bottom. The jumpsuits hug everyone’s bodies just as tightly as they hug mine, but other people don’t look at one another the way Twelve is looking at me now. It isn’t allowed.

Twelve has been tormenting me ever since kindergarten. On the first day of class, he sat down next to me and watched me cut a circle from a piece of pink colored paper. Him staring at me made me so nervous that my hands shook. But when I finally finished cutting, I was proud of my little circle.

Twelve looked at my circle and smirked. “You cut yucky.”

I stared at the pink circle that I held in my hand. Twelve was right: it was ugly. The edges were raggedy and jagged. It certainly didn’t look like the pretty orange circle that Twelve had just finished cutting out. I felt my cheeks redden. I felt inadequate. I wanted to cry, but somehow I knew that I shouldn’t let the tears flow in front of Twelve. As I turned away from him, Ten caught my eye. He wrinkled his nose at Twelve. Fortunately, Twelve didn’t see it, but unfortunately, I giggled.

“What’s so funny?” Twelve demanded.

“Nothing,” I said.

Twelve grabbed my pathetic paper circle and ripped it into a bunch of tiny pink pieces. I started crying. Twelve laughed so hard that I thought he might pee himself, but sadly, he didn’t.

That was the beginning of the worst relationship I’ve ever had. Over the years, Twelve has continued to tear me down every chance he gets. Ten says I shouldn’t let Twelve get to me. And he’s right. But I can’t help it.

Twelve creeps closer to me. We’re still under our desks because the room is still shaking, and so Professor Adam can’t see us.

Twelve smiles. “I was just thinking about what it would be like if you and I get paired together.”

My stomach tightens. On Assignment Day, after we receive our jobs, every eighteen-year-old will be paired with someone of the opposite gender—except for the warriors; warriors are not paired. Each pair is given a domicile, where they must live together for the rest of their lives and raise their children. Being paired with Twelve would be torture.

“If we get paired,” I growl to Twelve, “I’ll volunteer to be a warrior.”

He rolls his eyes at me, as if I just said the stupidest thing ever, “You can’t volunteer to become a warrior. You have to get chosen. Besides, you know what happens to warriors, don’t you?”

I do. At least I think I do. No one knows for sure.

“They die,” Twelve says. “All of them die.”

“Being dead would be better than being paired with you,” I shoot back.

I don’t want to die, but I don’t think I could survive living in the same domicile as Twelve. Or raising a child with him.

And, if am paired with Twelve, we’ll be expected to fall in love with each other.

I could never make myself love Twelve, no matter how hard I tried.


* * *

When the chimes indicate the end of the school day, I jump to my feet and race out of the classroom. I go to the place where only one person will come looking for me. And he does.

“What’d Twelve say this time?” Ten asks as he slides into our little hiding spot, inside the aerial drone tunnel under the tenth floor walkway, high above the plaza garden, close to the sky. Drones carrying small brown packages whiz through the air above our heads.

“He wants to be paired with me,” I say, hugging my knees against my chest to make room for Ten.

Ten sits down opposite me. “There’s no way they’ll pair you with Twelve. They monitor us for compatibility. I’m sure they’ve noticed that the two of you don’t get along. They’ll most likely pair you with …”

I raise my eyebrows, holding back a smile. “Who?”

Ten looks away. “Who do you think?”


“Yeah, I guess.”

My cheeks flush with heat. “You’re probably right.”

Ten and I have been best friends ever since we were babies. My first memory of him is from when we were three years old. It’s actually my first memory of anything. I was standing at the window of my family’s domicile. I looked far across the way and saw little Ten standing at his family’s window. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but he was so far away that I couldn’t. I pressed my palms against the glass of my window. Ten smiled and put his palms up against his window. And I felt him. I felt the warmth of his hands through the cold glass. Or I imagined I did.

My next memory of Ten is from when we were in preschool. I was sitting on a pillow in the story circle of the four-year-olds’ classroom, looking at an old-fashioned picture book with cardboard pages that you turn with your hands. When I looked up, I noticed Ten sitting on the floor by the craft table, all alone. He looked so miserable. I wanted to make him feel better. I put down the book and walked over to him.

I stopped right in front of Ten and held up my hands, palms facing him, as if there were an imaginary window between us. He put his hands up too, palms facing mine.

Very slowly, we moved our hands closer and closer together. Until … they touched. Ever so gently. A warm, tingly feeling traveled from my fingers, through my arms, to my heart. All of the sadness drained from Ten’s face. His expression became one of pure delight.

Suddenly, a robot hand grabbed my arm and yanked us apart. “You must not touch,” our preschool teacher, Miss Barbara, admonished.

Ten’s face fell. His happiness instantly transforming into hurt.

I never forgave Miss Barbara for that, but I guess I should. She was just following the rules. We’re not allowed to touch non-family members, unless we’re paired with them. And even then, only in private.

If Ten and I are paired, we’ll be allowed to touch each other. A tingle springs from my chest and dances over my body. I take a breath to make the feeling go away and slide close to the end of the tunnel. Just centimeters separate me from a ten-story drop to the plaza garden below.

“You’re such a daredevil,” Ten says moving up next to me. “Better watch out or they’ll make you a warrior.”

I look toward the sky. It’s already starting to turn that orange-red color that means the day is fading. “I wonder what it’s like above the sky,” I say hesitantly. We’re not supposed to talk about Up There, but it’s hard not to think about it given that, soon, some of the people who I’ve grown up with will be going there. “Aren’t you even curious?” I ask. Ten is curious about everything.

“I know what it’s like,” he says, shifting uncomfortably. “There’s The War.”

“But what is The War? What does it look like?” I keep my voice soft. We shouldn’t be talking about this.

Ten squeezes his hands together tightly. “Do you remember when Mr. Fifty-three fell off the walkway?”

“I think he jumped—”

“It doesn’t matter whether he fell or jumped. Remember what he looked like afterward? Bloody and deformed?”

I try not to picture it, but my mind instantly calls up the image of Mr. Fifty-three lying on a flowerbed. His flesh torn. His head at a right angle to his body. The red of his blood nearly matched the red of the roses. I remember staring at him as my mom tried to pull me away.

“Mommy, aren’t you going to take him to the hospital and fix him?” I asked her. My mom is a doctor. Even at five years old, I’d already heard countless stories of the sick people she helped make all better. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t helping Mr. Fifty-three.

“I can’t, Seven,” she said. “I wish I could. But he’s just too broken. He has to stay dead.”

I’d never seen a dead person before.

I shake away the memory and look back at Ten.

That’s what The War looks like,” he says roughly. He scoots back from the edge and gets to his feet. “We’re going to be late for evening recreation.”

I look down at the roses far below us. Beautiful and lush. Wetted years ago by the blood of Mr. Fifty-three.

Suddenly, I feel the danger of being so close to the edge. I slide back and follow Ten up to the safety of the walkway.


* * *

“Today, we are going to play a game called War,” a deep-voiced man says. He is big and muscular, and his skin is dark, almost black. I don’t recall having seen him before. I wonder if he’s a human or a robot until I notice beads of sweat on his forehead. Robots don’t sweat.

For the past year, one day per week, our evening recreation period has been decidedly different. Instead of the usual physical fitness activities, like jogging, push-ups and pull-ups, we’ve been doing tasks that involve intricate problem solving, like fixing a malfunctioning computer or building an aerial drone. Of course, we all know why. We’re being tested to determine our assignments. Once assignments are given, they cannot be changed, and so the Decision Makers need to be sure they’re making the right choices.

Although my classmates and I are standing in the entry room for the gymnasium, it’s obvious that this evening we’ll be doing another test.  It sounds like we’re going to be tested for warrior skills. It seems strange that they would wait so late to test us for warrior aptitude.

The man tells us that we’ve each been assigned to one of two teams: blue or green. There are fourteen people on each team. We are already wearing colored jumpsuits over our white ones. Mine is green. Ten is next to me in a blue jumpsuit. Six is on my other side, also in blue.

The man holds up a thick, black, L-shaped object, about twice the size of his hand. My curiosity ignites, cooled by apprehension.

This is a weapon,” the man says, offering it to me.

I hold out my hands, and he places the weapon onto them. I almost drop it. It’s much heavier than I expected. I finally get control of it, gripping it tightly, awkwardly with both hands. My cheeks burn with embarrassment.

Some people give a stifled giggle.

“Quiet,” the man growls, instantly silencing them. He turns to me. “Hold it like this,” he says, grasping a make-believe weapon in the air. I hold the weapon the way he demonstrates, both hands on the shorter bottom piece. Then he points to a tiny, glowing, green dot on the wall in front of me. “That light is coming from your weapon.” He draws an imaginary circle over the center of Twelve’s chest with his finger and says, “This is a ‘vital area.’ Shine your light on this boy’s vital area.”

I move the weapon so that the light hits Twelve in the center of his chest. Twelve cocks his head, trying to look brave, but I see uneasiness rising on his face.

“Finger on the trigger.” The man flicks my right index finger down with his finger. For a split second, I feel his skin against mine. My face flushes, hot and numb. My heart pounds in my throat. This man TOUCHED me.

The mouths of my classmates gape, their eyes shift uneasily, and their bodies are as stiff as if the touch happened to them instead of me.

It was just his finger touching my finger, but non-family members are not allowed to touch. That’s a rule. This man is the first adult I’ve ever seen break that rule. I wait for a security drone to come swallow him up and take him away to be punished, but nothing happens.

I feel less safe now than a moment ago. I slip my trembling index finger into the little opening in the base of the weapon, and rest it against a piece of metal sticking out there.

“Press the trigger,” the man says so softly that I’m not sure whether I heard him right.

“What happens when she presses the trigger?” Twelve squeaks.

The man shakes his head abruptly, dismissing Twelve’s question. “PRESS THE TRIGGER!” he bellows.

His voice sends a jolt into me so unexpected that I tighten my grip on the weapon. White light shoots out of the front of it, heading toward Twelve. At the same time, the weapon shoves itself back at me, almost hitting me in the face. The chest of Twelve’s jumpsuit illuminates with gushes of red light, like blood flowing from a large, invisible wound, as Twelve’s body slams into the wall with so much force that there is a loud metallic boom when he hits it. He slides to the floor, his eyes wide open.

“What happened to him?” I ask, my heart racing.

“You killed him. He’s dead,” the man says calmly.

“What?” Twelve croaks.

The man rolls his eyes. “Relax, it’s only a game.” He pushes a button and the gymnasium door opens. The light extinguishes from Twelve’s jumpsuit. It’s plain blue again. “Get up, Two Thousand Twelve.”

The man turns to the rest of us and gestures to the rack inside the gymnasium door. “Everyone take a weapon and proceed into the arena. Your objective is to kill as many people on the opposite team as you can. If you don’t hit a vital area, they don’t die.” He looks at Twelve and continues, “Once you’re dead, you’re useless, so try not to die.”

The testing sessions are always like this. We’re given very little instruction, and then we’re thrown into the task. They’re evaluating us to see how well we can figure things out on our own.

I throw an uncertain glance to Ten and Six and race into the arena. I already have a weapon, and so I take this opportunity to get a head start.

The gymnasium is dark, but I can distinguish panels of portable wall scattered about and piles of cardboard boxes. I run deep into the room and hide behind some boxes. Far away, I hear people yelling. Squeals of pain. Bodies slamming into things. The sounds are getting closer. I peek around the edge of a box and see a girl in a blue jumpsuit “kill” a boy in a green jumpsuit. I’m not sure who they are. I can’t make out their faces in the darkness. The boy moans in pain and crumples onto the floor. The girl steps over the boy’s body as if he’s a discarded object and heads toward me.

Now I can see the killer girl well enough to identify her by her dark skin, black hair, and hooked nose; she’s Three. I shine the light of my weapon on her chest and quickly press the trigger. In that same instant, Three whips her weapon toward me. As red light spills across Three’s chest, a sharp sting hits my left arm and red light streams down it. I grit my teeth to prevent a scream from alerting other people to my location. I’ve been hurt, but I’m not dead. Three is.

Three stares up at me as I move past her, her face contorted with pain. Other than her rapid breathing, she lies completely motionless.

A weapon appears from around the edge of a wall. And then a boy’s face. It’s Ten.

“Ten!” I whisper.

He gestures for me to join him. I run to him, keeping my eye out for danger, and slip behind his wall.

Red light is dripping down both of Ten’s legs.

“Does it hurt a lot?” I ask him, gesturing to his legs.

“When it first happened, it felt almost as bad as breaking my ankle when I was a kid,” he says. “Now it’s just throbbing. The worst part is, the red light makes me easier to spot.”

I show him my arm. It’s throbbing too. I think the jumpsuit is producing the throbbing by intermittently constricting around my upper arm, never quite releasing its grip on me.

“It’s only red on one side,” Ten says. “Try to keep the light hidden against your body.”

I smile. “You’re not supposed to give me helpful tips. I’m on the other team.”

“I guess I missed that rule. The only rule I heard was that you’re supposed to kill as many people on the other team as you can.”

“Then I guess we should try to kill each other.” My heart speeds up, anticipating the pain.

Ten shakes his head. “Are you kidding? I’m not going to kill you.”

“The game probably won’t end until one of us is dead.” If I have to die, I want Ten to kill me. Then he’ll be there to comfort me when I’m hurting.

“I’ll see you at dinner.” Ten turns away, heading back into the game.

“You’re not going to try to kill me?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t already try to kill me. You’re the one who wants to be a warrior.”

I wanted to know what it’s like Up There, and now I do. This is what it’s like: people killing one another with weapons. And when they kill someone, they really die, like Mr. Fifty-three.

“I don’t want to be a warrior,” I say, finally certain of that.

“Good,” Ten says. He glances around the edge of the wall and then disappears past it. I peer around the wall and watch him. He gets safely to another hiding spot, and I exhale. I didn’t want to see him die.

I go in the other direction. I don’t want to risk encountering Ten again in this game. We’re already probably going to be scolded for not killing each other when we had the chance.

The gymnasium is quiet, except for soft sounds of pain, I assume from the dead. I pass a whimpering blond-haired boy in a green jumpsuit, Nine. Red light spills from his chest. His left leg lies at an awkward angle, bent at the knee and stuck beneath his other leg.

“My leg. It hurts,” he whispers.

I crouch down next to him. “Is it broken?”

“I don’t think so, but I can’t move,” he says, worried.

“I’ll get help for you,” I say.

Panic floods his face. “Look behind you!” Nine shouts.

I turn and see Twelve standing just a few feet away, his weapon raised. I spin toward him and shine my light on his vital area, but he kicks the weapon from my hand before I can press the trigger. I curl my body into a ball, so he can’t get his light on my vital area, and reach for my fallen weapon. It’s just outside my grasp.

“Take mine,” Nine moans.

Nine’s weapon is close enough to reach, but I notice something. On my weapon there is a little red light on the base. It’s lit. On Nine’s weapon, the light is off. His weapon is dead, just like him.

Twelve smiles. “Go ahead, take Nine’s weapon.”

Twelve must know that Nine’s weapon is dead. I shake my head.

“Well, you’d better do something,” Twelve says.

“Why?” I ask, feeling bolder than usual. “You can’t get to my vital area when I’m like this.”

“No.” Twelve shines his light on my left leg. My pulse races. “But I can get you in the leg. And that’ll hurt. A lot. Eventually, I’m going to kill you. Why don’t you save yourself some pain? Just lie down, and I’ll kill you nice and easy and quick.”

“No,” I say, my eyes fixed on his.

Light erupts from Twelve’s weapon.

Pain, worse than any I’ve experienced, grips my right arm. “Ow!” I yell. “I thought … you were going to … get my leg.”

He smirks. “Oh, sorry.” He puts his light on my left leg. “Now I’m going to get your leg.”

Light erupts from his weapon again, and pain rips into me. I clutch my leg to my chest even though it begs to extend. I can’t risk exposing my vital area.

“Twelve! What are you doing?” a girl’s voice calls out from behind me. I recognize the voice instantly. Six.

“The vital areas are on our backs also!” Twelve shouts to Six. “Kill Seven!”

“I’m not killing my sister,” she says.

He shrugs. “Then I’ll kill you both.”

As he raises his weapon toward her, Six ducks behind a tall box. She peeks her head and weapon out. Twelve scrambles behind a wall and pokes his head and weapon out too.

“You’re not supposed to kill me,” Six says to him. “We’re on the same team.”

“The instruction was to kill as many people on the other team as you can, not to ensure the survival of those on your own team,” he says.

Light erupts from Six’s weapon, heading toward Twelve. He cries out as red light splashes down his left shoulder. I use the distraction to dive forward and grab my weapon, but before I can use it, light surges toward me from Twelve’s weapon.

I collapse next to Nine, agony burning through my chest. My whole body is paralyzed, except for my head. The red light bouncing off the walls and boxes around us has doubled. I’m dead.

Six kneels by my side. “Are you okay?”

“I guess so,” I say, “but I can’t move my body. I think the jumpsuit paralyzes you when you die. That must be why the dead people just lie there.”

Suddenly, Six raises her weapon and white light blasts from it. Twelve moans in pain. I lift my head just in time to see him fall to the ground, the center of his chest glowing red.

“You killed Twelve?” I ask.

She nods.

And then she falls to the floor. Between me and Nine. Red light spilling from her back. I whip my head around to see who killed her, but the killer is already gone.

“That really hurt.” Six winces. I can tell she’s trying to move the rest of her body, but can’t. “I’m paralyzed. You’re right; something happens to the jumpsuit when you—”

A bloodcurdling scream comes from behind a pile of boxes. A girl’s scream. And then a thud. The entire gymnasium goes dark. Even the red light from our jumpsuits has been extinguished.

“I think the game is over,” I say. I have a feeling that everyone on either the green team or the blue team is now dead.

And then there is a loud click. White light floods the gymnasium. My paralysis instantly disappears. Six and I get to our feet. Nine crawls into a sitting position, appearing too weak to stand just yet. I look for Twelve and see that he has vanished.

“Proceed to the entry room for debriefing,” a male voice—that I’m sure belongs to the weapons instructor—says over the speakers.

Even with the gymnasium lights on, it’s hard to tell which way is out. The obstacles from the game are disorienting. Once Nine is standing, Six and I lead the way, walking in as straight a path as possible until we find one of the gymnasium walls. We follow the wall until we find the exit.

A few people have already gathered in the gymnasium entry room. They’re slumped against the wall, wearing just their white jumpsuits. Some of them look as if they’re still paralyzed, but I’m sure they’re merely exhausted. Twelve is among them.

I unzip my green jumpsuit and hang it on the rack next to the others. Then I sit against the wall, next to Three. I feel like I should apologize for killing her, but no one else is speaking. I give her a little nod and she nods back; apparently all is forgiven. Six sits by my side. Nine sinks down beside her.

Ten enters the room next. His eyes scan until he finds me, but his easy smile doesn’t come. He removes his blue jumpsuit and then sits next to Nine, keeping his head down.

Once everyone is back in the room, the weapons instructor enters. “As always, you are not to discuss this activity with anyone, not even each other,” he says in a low voice. “You are dismissed.”

People slowly rise to their feet.

“Aren’t you going to say which team won?” Twelve mumbles.

Everyone freezes in place.

The man walks up to Twelve and puts his large head right in front of Twelve’s face. “Did you not hear me?”

Twelve bristles. “I was just curious.”

“I said, ‘You are dismissed,’” the man growls. My skin turns cold.

Twelve nods and backs toward the door. As soon as he’s close to the exit, he gives the man one final uneasy look and then slinks out of the room.

The rest of us remain immobile.

“YOU ARE ALL DISMISSED!” the man bellows.

We rush out of the room as if our legs can’t carry us fast enough. Once I’m in the hallway, I feel my anxiety grow, rather than diminish.

The day after tomorrow, about half my class will be selected to be warriors. They will be sent to The War. A war like this game.

Only that war will be real.

End of Chapter One

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