Prayers pass between silent lips. The hushed whispers filled my ears as the murmurs blur together.
“Please Mother,” I whisper. “Please bring the rain, let the crops be plentiful this year.”
I gaze up at the wooden statue of our Mother. I once asked my parents why she wasn’t carved from gold like the statues in the history books. They said it was because our Mother would want to be carved from nature.
Her palms are open wide, beckoning me to come.
I stand up from my place next to my parents and brother, and slowly move down the side of the pews. I always sit on the edge so I can get to our Mother easily. We’re supposed to come when our Mother calls. I feel her summoning me. My brother won't move until she calls him personally, and neither will my parents. It seems she hasn’t spoken to anyone from my family yet.
I feel my heart beat with pride as I kneel down before her, next to three other people she has beckoned, and scatter my flowers at her feet. A perfectly round spot of oil on her left foot catches my eye. I frown, but ignore it. If our Mother is pleased with us and our gifts, the crops will be abundant this year, and we will survive the harsh winter that comes.
This spring the flowers spread in vibrant blooms. After every winter, something is bestowed upon us, this year it was flowers, last it was the honey from the bees, and every year we give it to our Mother, and every year she blesses us.
I make my way back to the pew and just as I sit down, my brother Easton leaves for his turn with our Mother.
My birth mother puts her palm on the cap of my knee, which is covered by the thin cotton dress I wear. “I love you, Calantha.” My mother says as she presses her lips to my dark curls. “Our Mother is proud.” and then she gets up and walks down the aisle to join my brother at the feet of our Mother.
Easton sighs when we get home, his shoulders relax. Why would he be tense? “Are you alright?” I ask. At first I think it’s because of our cousin, Lark, who had died two months before. He has been awfully quiet since then, but then he starts talking.
“Yeah,” He nods, changing from his pale green shirt and into a deep blue one. “I’m just relieved to get home. There is so much pressure this year with the Chosen Child prophecy, and as much as I love our Mother, I don’t want to be chosen.”
Oh, right. The Chosen Child.
The year before, as the priests drizzled their honey over our Mother’s feet, they all stiffened and started to speak in cold voices.
Come the next harvest, the flowers will bloom,
Come the spring service, the child will be chosen
That service, written in neumes,
The priests will recite the words once more,
Mother will come,
The world will implore,
The Chosen Child will make things right,
Least all life impedes the light.
I remembered that day clearly, I was on my way to the altar when they started chanting in their apathetic voices. They gave no indication as to whom this Child might be, other than they would be favored by our Mother.
The prophecy was clear, something bad would happen if the Child didn’t mend whatever had shattered. Most everyone was confused, what had we done to anger our Mother?
We would have to wait and see what happens. The full spring service ends tomorrow. The service lasts three days. The first to council with your family, the second the prayers at the chapel, and the third day we would all meet beneath her statue in the center of the city and the priests would give their gifts to our Mother. After that we feast on the last of the harvest, and there is much dancing and celebrating.
I look forward to the spring service every year, who wouldn’t?
“I guess you’re right.” I smile at Easton. “It is a lot to worry about.”
Easton is a year older than me, but we share similar features. We have the same nose and lips, the same color of hair my father has, but where his eyes are distant and reserved, mine are always full of light.
“Easton, Cala, come for supper!” I hear our mother call. Easton leaves and I quickly slip out of my dress and I hang it in the back of my closet, before slipping into a burgundy shirt and dark blue jeans.
I make my way to the dining room, and slide on the bench, right in front of my plate which my mother has piled high with greens and mashed potatoes. My father will carve the meat and dish it out once we give thanks to our Mother.
We take hands again and all silently thank Her for this meal.
I spoon my potatoes into my mouth as my father puts a slice of meat onto my plate.
Easton eats nothing and my parents both look at him, then me.
“Are you alright, Easton?” My mother finally asks him, seeming to notice his forlorn aura today. He gives her the same excuse that he gave me.
After supper, I lay down. I don’t feel like reading, or sketching. I can hear my brother already asleep in the bed next to mine. He’s smart. We’re going to want all the sleep we can get for tomorrow’s festivities.
I shut my eyes and pull the blankets up to my chin. Slowly, my breathing evens, and my mind is filled with dreams.
I know in my subconsciousness, something doesn’t feel right. I'm cold. My eyelids flutter open, I would guess it’s about three in the morning. My blanket has somehow fallen to the floor, so I reach down, feeling for my blanket on our floors. Instead of the plush fabric, I feel hard wood, so I roll over and feel the other side. My fingers connect with the edge of my cherished blanket, but as I look up, I realize another thing I cherish is missing. My brother’s bed is empty, but a small piece of paper that wasn’t there before rests on his night table.
He’s probably just going to the bathroom, or maybe getting some water from the kitchen.
I dismiss my worries and tuck myself back under my covers and fall right back asleep.
My mother is gently nudging me awake. “It’s almost noon,” She says. My parents always let us sleep in on the third day, they know we will be up all night. “It’s time to get up, Easton left early and said he would meet up with friends for the gifting ceremony. We are meeting Lilly's family at the front gates in an hour."
She leaves and I get dressed in my ceremonial gown. I have been saving it for a special occasion, and this certainly qualifies. It's an amethyst floor length dress, with a sweetheart neckline and spaghetti straps, and a bunch of tiny sliver gems acting as a belt around my waist.
I brush a darker purple powder on my eyelids, but I leave my eyes free of kohl.
My mother comes in and she sits on my bed. “Is everything alright with Easton?” She asks. “Do you know?”
I turn from my vanity. “No, I don’t. Although he has been acting strange recently hasn’t he?”
“I’m worried about him.” My mother sighs.
“It’s probably just the impending stress of our Mother choosing the Child today.” I shrug.
“Yes, but you aren’t acting any different.” She points out.
I consider this for a moment. “We all handle stress differently.”
“I guess you’re right.” She says. “I guess I will wait until after today to question him. I know that it’s supposed to be a family day, but I am hoping that his friends will cheer him up a bit.”
I get up and hug my mother. “He will be alright.” When I pull away from the embrace, she is smiling.
Lilly takes my hand as we walk through the crowds, our parents talking and her little siblings running in front of us. People laugh and cheer as they wait for the priests to come and give their gifts to our Mother.
“Who do you think will be the Chosen Child?” She asks me, straightening her skirt. Her dress looks quite similar to mine, most of the ceremonial dresses do, but instead of amethyst, hers is a deep green, and the silver gems boarder her neckline and slowly fall down her dress, thinning out at her waist, then finally dissipating at her knees
“Oh,” I realize that I haven't given as much thought to it as everyone else has. “I have no idea.”
Our family chooses to stay where we are. It’s a respectable distance away from our Mother, but it's close enough that the little ones can see her. My eyes sweep the groups of people to see if I can spot my Easton or his friends. No such luck.
Suddenly we hear cheering, and the hoards of people part down the middle, letting five men walk towards our Mother in their green robes.
They form a circle around our Mother and raise their hands and we all bow our heads in respect.
“Mother,” one of the priests shouts, directing his booming voice to the idol. “We are gathered here today to celebrate you and ask for a bountiful harvest. For my gift, I give you the previous year's ceremony recorded in neumes.” He placed the tablet with symbols and letters at our Mothers feet.
It could have been my imagination, but I thought I saw a black dot of oil on our Mother’s foot. I squinted at the statue, but my view was obscured by the next priest who placed a bouquet of flowers at her feet, covering the dot.
The other three priests placed their gifts and her feet and then we sang to honor our great Mother. Goddess of Man, Mother of Nature.
I feel a tug in my chest as our Mother’s statue seems to glow. I close my eyes and savor the feeling. Like honey and milk in my chest. Like love, or how I imagine it, but better.
A wave of gasps ring through the air, and my eyes fly open.
What’s going on?
I feel Lilly’s grip on my hand tighten and she points to the flowers at the feet of our Mother’s statue.
The flowers the second priest placed at her feet rise in a small breeze. The air is still, but this single draft of wind picks up the flowers and undoes the tie that keeps them together. A few petals fall, but the flowers travel in looping patterns over the crowd, they turn sharply, and head directly over to me.
My heart thrums.
Am I the Chosen Child? How can it be? Why me?
The people watch silently as the flowers weave themselves into a crown. Lilly’s grip becomes tighter. I had almost forgotten she was there.
The crown blows closer, an elegant tumbleweed, tipping and swaying and then settling on Lilly’s head.
What? It was my initial thought, but then I realized how relieved I am. I’m not the Chosen Child.
My family members and hers are the first to cheer. “Behold, our Mother’s Chosen Child!” The priest exclaimed.
Lilly is whisked away by the crowd, hoards of people cheering. She will save us from whatever looms ahead. Our Mother has given us a solution to our future problems; Lilly.
I hear the call of a bird, I’m sure it’s a sign that our Mother is pleased, that is, until the next sound. A gunshot rings through the air, and my best friend’s green dress is tainted with blood. She wore the color of life today, but was rewarded with death.
Of course I can’t be sure she is dead, but as I push through the people and I take her hand, I stare into her eyes. Her soul has left us for our Mother.
The tears stream hot and steady down my cheeks and I feel myself being pulled away by the strong hands of my father. Through my tears I see the shapes of Lilly’s family take my place. I dry my eyes with the back of my hand and wipe them on my amethyst dress. I look around, who did this?
At the top of a building, I see a flash of color.
Could that be the person who shot at Lilly?
I push myself out of my father’s arms and run to that building. I hear him calling after me, but I ignore him.
This is an idiotic idea, I think, but I don't care. Quickly I send a prayer up to our Mother. She will protect me.
I throw open the doors to the structure, It seems to be an apartment building. I run up the stairs as fast as I can. Four stories later I reach the top, and the colorful personage is on the far side talking to himself. I can tell the person is male, his voice is deep, and his build is similar to Easton’s.
Is my brother alright? I knew he and Lilly liked each other. It wasn’t just a one sided love on Lilly’s part, I often saw his gaze flit over to her during dinner. He would be heartbroken.
“The target—” as I crept closer, ther person paused and there was a slight shift in his tone. “The target has been hit.” He turned to walk down the stairs, and that's when I came face to face with him. Lilly’s murderer.
My heart stops. “E— Easton?” I stutter.
“Calantha? You're not supposed to be here.”
“You killed her?”
“I killed the Chosen Child.” He says coldly.
“It was Lilly!” I cry. “You killed her!”
“But you loved her.” Tears once again sting my eyes. My best friend, gone, my brother a traitor. “How could you kill Lilly, let alone the Chosen Child?”
“I do love her. And I will forever,” His voice breaks. “But none of that matters. She was meant to die. I’m to retrieve her body, and from here, Cala, you will not follow. I’m sorry, this is just the way it is.”
“No. No it doesn’t. Why do you need her body?” I ask. I can’t even discern what I feel. Despair is apparent, but what am I supposed to perceive?
“They killed Lark,” he says, speaking of our cousin. “I must kill her, and burn her in oil.” Then he jumps off the flat roof.
The images of the perfectly round dot of oil on our Mother’s foot flood into my mind. Oil. The sick ritual from our past comes to mind.
I run to the edge of the roof where he was standing not two seconds before, he has jumped onto the fire escape and is running down the stairs.
I consider chasing after him, but decide against it. I must get back to Lilly before he reaches her. I dash back into the apartment building and down the stairs, out into the mass of people surrounding her. I see my brother weaving through just as I am. He is faster than me, but took the longer route to get here. I push onwards.
If I threw myself onto her body, he couldn’t take it right? I would tell everyone what he has done, no matter how much it hurts to give my brother away. To know he will be executed, I know it's the right thing to do.
I snap back into my senses, and I drop next to Lilly, crawling in front of her just as Easton emerges and cocks his gun.
When he speaks, his voice is different. It’s like he wants to hide himself from my parents, but it's too late. He knows I will tell them. There is no way I could live with the person who murdered my best friend. There is no way anyone would live among the person who murdered the Chosen Child.
“You can’t have her.” I scream at him.
“I must take her, or they will kill me. You don’t want me dead as well as your best friend in one day, do you? He speaks softly as he holds the gun.
“You're dead to me already.” I bite out. It’s true. I want nothing to do with him. As much as it hurts, I can’t have anything to do with him.
He looks wounded, but I don’t care, he hurt my best friend in an irreversible way.
We stare at each other, his agonized look and my hateful one. Nobody moves. Everything has come to a standstill. Silence, not even the priests know whats going on, and everyone is trying to understand.
Rather than a gunshot, this time an arrow slices through the reticence, with a note attached, and buries it into my brother’s chest. It’s as clean and true as Easton’s shot at Lilly, and as soon as I see it go in, he drops to the ground.
I let out another scream.
I scramble over to him and unfold the note.
Burn the bodies in oil, or else.
The note was close to the arrowhead, and the fine white paper is covered in my brother's blood. I understand the true message.
I must burn them in oil; unless I want to die, too.