by Christopher Spanel
part 1 of 2
Grace watched the black bird soar between her world and the sun. She was one among many watching it fly gracefully across the sky, keeping her mind off the moment at hand. Grace looked down the long line of coming-of-age teenagers. She fidgeted with worry and excitement; there was no knowing what fulfillment she would be given for the rest of her life.
Grace could even tell that her sister Jade was becoming tense with apprehension. Their lives were in the air, although very much unlike that bird. They had no choice of direction, no will of their own, and so all they could do was listen to the sound of chattering that filled the worn-down, tattered road that lay outside their town.
Grace grabbed her sister’s arm and squeezed it, digging her fingernail into cool flesh.
“Damn it Grace! If you don’t watch it I’ll squeeze you through those bars up ahead,” said Jade.
Grace flung her arm to her side and made sure it was clamped there. “Sorry Jade, I’m just nervous.”
“Don’t be, ” said Jade, “It’ll be over before you know it, and then you can carry out the deed you’ve been given.”
“Oh Jade, don’t act like you’re not even a little bit scared, who knows what it’ll show you—”
“Quiet. Whether it tells me to run to the oceans, jump off of a cliff, or work as a digger for the rest of my life, I’ll do it, and never will I complain.”
Grace kept her mouth shut as her sister went on with her rant. It was just her sister being strong, bold, and mighty. Although Jade had expressed her intentions for her duty aloud, Grace too had her own. She was no slacker, and so she intended to get it over with, whatever it was, and however long it would take.
Grace lost herself in the thought until a nudge brought her back. The line had moved.She looked at the boy behind her and smiled weakly as she stepped forward.
“You know,” he said, “for being twins, you two sure are different.”
“Well, tell us something we don’t know, little guy,” said Jade. The boy was shorter than they but was cute in his own way. He had straggly blond hair and bright blue eyes that mirrored the sky on a summer day.
“You may call me Kad. But I’ll tell you that maybe you’ll end up like my older brother last year, who was shown to kill himself.”
“That was your brother?” asked Grace.
“Yeah... it was,” muttered Kad. “I had to sit there with him for thirty days, begging him not to do it. I watched his struggle, whether to fulfill his duty or to live an unfulfilled life. In the end... Well, I think we all know what happened.”
Grace and Jade looked down; it was obvious they were hoping the same wouldn’t happen to them.
“I’m really sorry Kad,” said Grace. “This year’s Showing will be better. I guarantee it.”
“We’ll see about that,” said Kad. “Every year the Showings are getting weirder and weirder. Two years ago a boy had to feed his arm to a dog. Or three years ago, when a boy had to tear down his home and then rebuild it. It’s just a joke.”
“And what about the girl who had to run a thousand miles away?” Jade asked. “I don’t even believe she ever came back. What happened to all of the normal duties that were always shown?”
“Exactly,” Kad replied. “And I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Most of us are given duties, normal duties. Take a look at this year: since our Owner is going to die any time now, a new Owner will be chosen to rule our town.”
Grace’s ears perked up to the sound of that. It was true; perhaps she would be shown to be the Owner of the town. To oversee it and have many maids and servants, giving her the grandest of feasts and the best entertainment in the town. The thought dwindled for a moment and then she returned her gaze to Kad, who continued.
“But there aren’t enough duties for all of us. Whatever that creature is in there, barred in that stone building, it’s bored and is having its fun with us. Maybe it doesn’t care anymore, or it simply doesn’t want to think of duties for all of us.”
Silence fell upon them. With each step forward, tension built up within Grace. She could see the small stone building now, and could even make out the square window that was barred, letting them see in, but caging the creature in at the same time.
Grace had heard stories, though, many stories about the creature that dwelt within that blocked building. According to one story, the creature was actually able to escape at any time and watch the town. It could slip through the cracks of closed doors, fly above the highest of the stone buildings and take the form of any person in the town. That was just a myth, Grace thought, and today she would experience the reality of the creature behind bars, the ancient creature that defined their bustling town of hard working people.
Time passed, and the fidgeting line continued to fill the air with sounds. Grace was close, so close that she could see light emitting from the square window, flashing images only known to the viewer, a boy now. She wondered what it was showing him. Would he have a good duty, one that fulfilled his life well?
Again, Grace’s eyes drifted to the building itself. It was old, too old. The stone was cracked and worn, just like the road they stood upon. It was like being in a different world from that of their well-polished town: it was dull and lifeless. She had grown accustomed to it though in the last couple of hours. Her gaze drifted back to the boy, now walking away from the stone building.
Jade turned to her. “Well, it looks like I’m up next. Wish me luck, Grace!” She smiled uneasily.
Grace watched her walk forward down the old, tattered road until she planted her feet before the open space of the stone building. She watched her stand still as a tree trunk. Grace knew, in just moments she would be taking Jade’s place. It was as if everything in life came to this moment.
The land behind the building stretched on for miles on end. It was a dry, barren land full of shrubs begging for a replenishing rain. And so this building, a beacon in this weary scene, was the life of the land, issuing decrees about the lives of others no matter how lifeless it looked.
The few moments passed and Jade walked away from the barred window. Grace tried to catch her attention, but Jade cut through the terrain back to town without looking at her. Grace stared, motionless, wondering what images had befallen her sister. Once again, a nudge pushed her forward. It was Kad.
“Move it, friend,” said Kad. “I want to get this over with, too, you know.” He was smiling from ear to ear. “Good luck.”
“Thanks, Kad, maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Maybe you will.”
At that instant Grace’s cheeks became a rosy red and her body felt as if an anvil weighing her down for hours had been lifted by the gods. She turned her head away. She had never thought she would approach her Showing with this kind of feeling.
She made her first steps toward the building. She was amazed at the silence that quickly encompassed her, save that of the scuffing of her sandals on the old road. Her gaze was drawn to the window, and it grew larger with each step.
She took one last step and stopped, now standing as close as she could, peering through the old rusty bars. She noticed that nothing was there; it was a blank and dull room. A breeze passed through her then, and all of a sudden it seemed that the very dust in the air began to illuminate. A swirl of motion filled the room, and then the light flashed like none other, blinding her for a moment.
Grace’s eyes came back into focus. On the other side of the bar she saw herself wearing the exact same garment she was wearing now. Grace looked into the eyes of the creature that had formed to be her likeness. It was like looking into a mirror or perhaps simply looking into the same deep, green eyes of her sister.
Grace raised her hand and placed it between the bars, wanting the creature to do the same, to make peace, but all it did was smirk and move to the side, revealing someone behind her.
It was Jade. But it wasn’t. Her head was bowed; she was wearing the same garment she had been wearing that very day. Grace looked back to the creature imitating herself, who began to shift her gaze from her to Jade. One word was formed from her imitator’s lips: it was thin as ice, and pierced her ears like a blizzard wind. “Kill...” was all it said. Again a smirk stretched across its face.
Grace was disgusted at the sight of it, never thinking her own face could portray something so evil. It all happened so fast, Grace almost didn’t see it with the blink of her eye. The creature lunged at Jade, a glimmering shine arcing through the air.
Quickly Grace realized just what the shine was. Blood began to flow, spatter, and spurt with the slice of the knife. She turned away and ran, the last thing she heard was that same horrid word being screamed at her. And then she heard the deep breaths of her body. Her mind was racing, her heart carrying the ocean of blood coursing through her. What was she to do?
She glanced behind her, seeing the line of kids like her, waiting to receive their duty. She wondered if they would receive anything like hers. Why couldn’t hers be normal, like most others? All she wanted was a normal task to fulfill her life. Instead, she was faced with one of the worst tasks ever to befall anyone from her town.
She looked up to the sky. The sun was shining, like any other day. But her heart made her feel as though she were standing before a black hole. All happiness had drained from her, all life, and if the sun were doing anything at all, it was sapping more energy from her.
She walked into town, weaving her way home. Why couldn’t she just work as a gardener the rest of her life? She walked through the wooden door of her strong stony home, and found her mother kindling a fire and Jade sitting down at the table.
Grace was at a loss for words, so she simply sat down across from her sister, giving her a fake smile. She had to at least try to act like everything was okay.
“Well, how’d it go for you, Grace?” asked her mother. “Don’t make me pry it out of you.”
Grace shrugged, “It was all right.”
“Now, Grace, if you didn’t get the duty you wanted, that’s okay; it’s not your choice. I didn’t get to choose either, you know.” She paused, looking into the thin air reminiscently. “Do you think I wanted to work as a writer for the rest of my life? Writing down stories about people’s lives for hours on end?”
Grace had heard the lecture time and time again and wasn’t about to let her mother go on with it. She answered quickly, “But it’s better than being a musician.”
Her mother laughed, and Grace became perplexed. “You, too, then huh? Now isn’t that a coincidence? That creature had the heart enough to keep you two together for the rest of your lives,” her mother said as she walked toward her quarters. “Make sure you get going on your work soon. You know what they say: the longer you take to begin your work, the less your life is fulfilled and the quicker you’ll die.”
They were harsh words although they were spoken nicely, for her mother knew they would begin that very day. She had good daughters.
Grace looked at Jade. “You were shown to be a musician?”
“Well... can you keep a secret?” asked Jade.
“Yes of course, you’re my sister. I’ll do anything for you.” Grace felt guilt swelling within her.
“I wasn’t shown to be a musician.”
“What were you shown then?” said Grace. “You know mother doesn’t care what duty you receive.”
“I wasn’t shown anything. I couldn’t tell mother that, so I came up with a musician off the top of my head.”
Grace’s eyes widened in shock, it was unheard of not to have a Showing. There’d be no telling what would happen to her if people knew. Maybe sacrificed, exiled, or perhaps she would only be shunned by the town.
“Don’t worry. My lips are sealed, Jade.”
“Thanks, Grace. We can look at the bright side, like mother said. I get to work with you for the rest of my life.”
Grace’s heart began to thump, her hand began to tremble. It wasn’t hard for Jade to see something wasn’t right.
“What’s wrong, Grace?”
Grace continued to fidget and tremble, she wanted to lie, but she had never been a good liar.
“Jade, I wasn’t shown to be a musician either.”
“Then what were you shown?”
Grace thought carefully about her next words but there was no easy way to say them. “I was shown to kill you,” she whispered.
Jade remained silent for a moment. Then, as Grace expected, she exploded. “What the hell is this all about? What does that damn creature think it is? I get shown nothing and then get to hear from my twin sister that she is supposed to kill me. Listen here, Grace” — she stood up — “don’t even think about it. If you come close to me, close to me at all, don’t plan on living very much longer.”
Jade stampeded out the front door, leaving Grace alone in her quiet home. She wondered if mother had heard any of that. She didn’t care, though; nothing could get any worse.
And so Grace made her way to her room that she had constructed on her own, save that of her furry bed. Jade had helped her hunt the animals, for she was the best of hunters, and they found the softest of furs for each of them.
Remembering the day brought pain to her heart. She loved her sister so much, and it seemed that those days of laughing and joy might be over, for while Grace might not take her sister’s life, the urge would follow her forever. It had been assigned as her life-fulfilling duty. She lay her head down upon the soft furs and sprawled out, staring at the ceiling. What was she to do?
The images of the creature flashed through her head, the evil smirk, the horrid word, and the death of her sister. She closed her eyes, letting the darkness sink in. She thought of other things: trees, birds, books, anything to keep her mind from the terrible moment of the day. She thought until she thought no more, letting a serene dream take its place.
* * *
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Spanel