There was a feeling in the air that day. I know it seems silly, but there was a feeling and believe me or not, I knew it was coming. The walls seemed to radiate the tension, and it wasn't just that the others were restless. Maybe they were more restless than usual, but what else would they be, on a day like that?
From somewhere down the hall, we heard the stomping footfalls of our keeper. He was a heavy man and almost always in a bad mood. I don't think he ever went anywhere without stomping on the way. Instead of bringing us food like he usually did, our keeper banged on the bars of each cell with an empty metal can. It made an awful noise - half clatter, half screech. The can was rusty, I think. Or else he was doing it on purpose. It was hard to imagine him putting extra effort into making noise, but who knew what was going through the mind behind those mean, piggy eyes?
"Alright, my slugs!" It must have been a bad day. On a good day, he would call us his "birdies." The keeper banged on the bars of the nearest cell again, even though all of us were looking at him already.
"Alright my slugs!" he bellowed again, and bared all of his yellowing teeth in a grimace. "Today you're going up. If you're lucky, you won't come back down. If you're not lucky, well... " He trailed off meaningfully, and rattled the can again. In a moment, he had the keys off the hook on his belt and in his hand. It was a great big ring, so laden with keys it was impossible to tell which ones went to what locks, or even if they belonged to locks at all. It was my private theory that most of the keys didn't open anything at all, and he just kept them to make it harder for anyone who stole them to find the right ones.
"There's a bucket by the stairs. Each of you will dunk your whole head in it before you go up the stairs. If I come up the stairs and find that one of you doesn't have wet hair all over your empty little heads, I'm gonna make sure that one is coming back down. You got it?" He was answered by a chorus of "aye" and "yessir." That seemed good enough for him, because he started to unlock the doors then. Four cells in all. Four of us in each cell.
I think I probably knew then. If he was making us wash, someone wanted to buy us. If he cared about how we looked (or smelled) then it was probably someone who was going to pay a decent price. And the only ones that paid any price at all for a group were the Arenas.
We were all going to die one way or another, but in the Arena wasn't a good way to go.