“You’ll never be good enough.” My dad’s words rang loudly in my ears as I slammed my bedroom door and fell on my bed. I grabbed a pillow and hugged it tightly, my fingers digging into the soft fluff and wishing it was flesh that I could rip and tear in anger. I buried my face into the pillow and screamed my frustration out before hurling the pillow against the wall on the other side of the room. It bounced harmlessly and fell to the floor, unaware of the violence I had just committed upon it.
I glared at the pillow for not feeling the pain of my throw. Obviously, it wasn’t the pillow I was angry at. I glowered and pulled my knees to my chest, hugging them. My vision blurred as tears began to well up and I shook my head, forcing the tears back. I refused to cry. It would just prove him right. No, I was going to be stronger than that. I was good enough!
I pushed myself off the bed and began pacing in the small space that was my room. I needed to prove I was good enough. I was a part of this family and I deserve to be a part of our family traditions!
I smacked my door, hoping the sound of it echoed down to my family. They were probably downstairs enjoying themselves. Today was a special day. Most of the world celebrated normal events like birthdays, anniversaries, and any number of holidays both religious and not. Not my family. We had our own special day, and of course they were all celebrating it. Without me.
Despite the grudge I was holding against my family, I knew it wasn’t really their fault either. My shoulders slumped as I admitted to myself that my dad might have been right. Maybe I won’t ever be good enough. I tried. Oh man, did I try. I wanted so badly to be part of the ceremonial proceedings. I had practiced so much. It was almost like a dance recital, but without the music. Movements had to be perfect, words had to be enunciated.
I sighed and sat on the edge of my bed. Leaning forward, I rested my elbow on my knee with my chin in my hand and sat thinking. It wasn’t too late. Maybe I could still prove myself. I glanced at the clock on my nightstand. It was only a little past six and a quick look out the window showed that the sun was setting, but wasn’t below the horizon yet.
Determined, I slid down onto the floor so that I was on my knees. I positioned myself so that I was sitting on my calves, my back straight and my hands held out, palms up. I closed my eyes and began whispering. The words I spoke were in my family’s native tongue. It was an old dialect that most scholars thought to be dead, but my family kept it alive. I spoke each word deliberately, making sure I pronounced everything correctly.
As I spoke, I moved, first bringing my hands together and up, then sitting up and finally bringing one foot forward, planting it firmly so I could stand. I then began moving through a choreographed set I had practiced hundreds of times. It wasn’t a dance, but more akin to perhaps tai chi. The movements were slow but rhythmic, almost punctuating the words I was whispering. I went to slide one foot forward and my toe caught on some clothing I had left on my floor and I stumbled, my balance lost and the fluidity of the ritual broken.
I stopped whispering and stomped my foot in anger, then kicked the mess away. I was never going to get through this! Tears welled up in my eyes again. I thought of my younger brother. Two years younger than me, but he managed to demonstrate his ability to perform the ceremony perfectly. This was my last chance. If I couldn’t participate today, I was never going to get to. I needed to earn the respect of my family and show my parents I could do this.
Gritting my teeth, I started again from the seated position, speaking louder this time so I could really hear the words and knew that I was saying them clearly. This time, I tripped over my own foot even sooner than my last mistake and I growled to myself. I was not giving up. I started again.
This went on for about an hour and the sun was nearly gone, the light draining from the sky. The first stars began to peek out from behind the veil of day, and my room was cast in a dark gloom. I did not bother with turning the light on. In fact, I barely noticed the changes as I went through the motions of the ceremony over and over.
I lost count of how many times I tried to get everything right, but once I finally reached the end of the verses I had been speaking, I stopped. It took me a moment to realize I had finally gotten through the whole thing without issue. I felt ecstatic!
I looked outside just as the last of the sun dipped below the horizon. I was out of time! The ceremony would start soon! Grabbing my shoes from where I’d tossed them in a corner of the room, I quickly threw my door open. I dashed downstairs, but the house was quiet. Damn it, they already left. Growling to myself, I slipped my shoes on and snatched my cloak out of the closet. If I ran, I could maybe catch up to them.
There was very little daylight left in the sky, and a full moon was rising in the east. I ran down the sidewalk towards the harbor that lay a few blocks away.
“Dad!” I yelled, hoping maybe he would hear me and my family would wait for me. “Dad, I did it! I can do this!” I ran faster, a stitch forming in my side as I sprinted around the corner of the local grocery store and caught sight of the docks. I slowed as I saw a boat gliding in the moonlight out to sea. Leaning forward, I put my hands on my knees trying to catch my breath. If I could have, I would have screamed my frustration, but my lungs clung to the air I was sucking in and refused to let it out.
My breathing finally slowed, and I stood straight. Anger filled me and I stomped the rest of the way to the docks and sat on a bench outside the bait hut. The smell of rotten fish and chum filled my nose. I gagged, but didn’t move. I worked so hard to be a part of this. My family has waited generations for this night to come. I was so lucky to be alive to see centuries of history finally converge into a single moment.
Sighing, I stood and walked over to a statue that stood before the docks. I looked up at it. My ancestors had carved it a long time ago. It stood ten feet tall. My hand reached forward and my fingers traced the smooth stone that portrayed a creature that so many had come to believe was a myth. He stood tall, bursting from waves that were made to look small to show his size. His arms reached for the sky. Two large wings billowed behind him and his face was a mass of long tentacles. Too many to count. A placard below his visage was written in a tongue long forgotten by modern society, but I could read it. “He will awaken and all will serve him.”
So many tourists had come to visit this statue. People who had read stories written by a man who had visited our island years ago. Most of his stories were made up, but he did get one thing right; our god was sleeping, and tonight my family meant to awaken him under the full moon.
I looked back out to sea, but the boat was barely a speck on the dark horizon. Maybe I couldn’t be with my family, but I could still perform the rite here. Turning back to the statue, I took a step back and crouched into the sitting position. I took several deep breaths and closed my eyes feeling a sense of calm wash over me.
I opened my eyes and began to speak clearly into the chilly night, my eyes fixated on the face that towered over me. “Hai yar mgep l' nog nafl'fhtagn r'luhhor. H' ahf' fhtagn…” I continued to chant, moving to the rhythm of my own voice. My feet drew old symbols into the sand around me and my hands punctuated them with gestures in the air. I felt my voice echoing into the quiet harbor as I continued the ceremony. My voice rose to a crescendo as I neared the end, and with a final word and a stomp into the center of the elaborate rune I now stood on, I yelled, “Nafl'fhtagn!”
My chest rose and fell with my hard breathing, but I didn’t move. I stood there, my eyes still locked onto the statue. I wasn’t sure what I expected to happen. The ceremony was supposed to be performed with the whole family above where our lord slept. However, something felt right about my performance. Something felt powerful. The air itself almost felt electric and the whole world seemed to hold its breath.
Just as I was about to move, breaking the tension, I felt a rumble in the earth below my feet. I waited a moment, wondering if I had imagined it, but it came again. A stronger tremor rippled through the sand and stone and I turned to look at the ocean. The boat was nowhere to be seen, but the waves had grown taller and wilder.
I gasped, my breath quickening, and my heart pounding in my chest. I stood, waiting. The ocean tide began to pull away, shrinking back like the bathwater in a tub when you finally get out. I squinted my eyes into the darkness, but all I could see was the glitter of the stars and moon on the roiling waves.
Frozen, I stood with bated breath, and then I heard it. A deep, rumbling voice that carried over the wind. “Y' ah geb.”
A tear of happiness drifted down my cheek and I whispered the translation to myself. “I am here…”