“You should come join us!” my sister says, so full of excitement and joy.
I feel hesitant to join her, especially when the people she wants me to join worships something that isn’t real at all.
“I really think that you should open your eyes, Aliah,” I say. “Just think about it. They worship Mother Earth… Is that red flag not enough?”
Aliah is my responsibility, especially since I’m the older sister. Our parents bestowed upon me that responsibility. That was the last thing they ever spoke to us before they died. And ever since, I’ve been so protective of Ali.
But she still insists. “Come on, Iris. Just try it. I’ll bring you to them and give you a little tour. Their place is so spectacular. They have water fountains, different activities… Oh, and the gardens. Their gardens are the biggest in the entire city! You love planting right? Well, they worship them! You’ll feel like you’d want to join them. Like you belong there. Like this was your purpose all along.”
“Aliah, that’s exactly what they did to you! They lured you and you fell into their trap!” I shout, but I instantly lower my tone. I hate arguing with my sister. I let go a sigh. “Let me ask you this. How did you find out about this group in the first place?”
My sister takes a seat in our small crumpling apartment in New Jersey. It’s the only place that we could afford, given our circumstances. She sits on a small second-hand chair. I don’t know if it was the floor or the chair that creaks. Maybe both.
“Well… It was two week ago, around 10pm,” my sister tells me. “It was very dark, with the only lights coming from the street lamps. And… as I was walking home, I noticed a strange woman on the streets, begging. I felt pity for her because it reminded me of us, Iris, when we were like that not some time ago. So, I had some extra change in my pockets and I gave it to her. And I kid you not as soon as I placed the money in the cup, the woman’s rags transformed into a clean green toga, greener as the healthiest tree. And I felt somehow… safe. It was like this woman was Mother Nature Herself. Oh, Iris, if only you know how it felt.”
“Aliah…” I say as I place a hand on my face. “I think you were drugged… Where did you come from before you were heading home?”
“What are you talking about? I can obviously tell if I was drugged, which I wasn’t by the way. Plus, if I was in fact drugged, then I would have been kidnapped. But here I am, in front of you and in one piece.”
“Were you at a party before walking home?” I repeat my question.
My sister rolls her eyes. “I was at work, Iris. I didn’t attend any parties. I haven’t been to any for some time, not since mom and dad…” My sister doesn’t meet my gaze at the mention of our parents. They were caught in the crossfire, two years ago. Wrong place, wrong time, the cops said. We didn’t have any other relatives that we could seek refuge from.
Aliah sniffles as she wipes away her tears. “Hey,” I say as I take the space next to her. I wrap my arm around her and she rests her head on my shoulder. “We’re going to be fine. Look, we may be living in an ugly apartment right now, but I’m saving up for a bigger, better one.”
“You know, they have a nice place. I think they have some spare rooms for us. We’re only two. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to take us in. Come on, just give it one chance,” My sister says, finally staring into my eyes. There’s something different in her eyes.
“I don’t know, Aliah. We barely even know them. They could be drug addicts for all we know! And what if they harvest marijuana? And they’re secretly a cartel. We’ll be labeled as criminals and we’ll never get another job.”
“No, Iris. I promise you that they’re entirely peaceful. They’re like what mom and dad used to be in the… what year was that? The seventies? They’re like quokkas. Completely harmless. One shot, Iris. What do you say?”
I furrow my brows, contemplating whether or now this will end in us finally leaving the life of hardship, or deepening the already deep hole that we’re in. I release another heavy sigh as I finally agree.
“Fine. One shot, Aliah. Just one.”
I wake up in a sheen of sweat, jerking up so fast I almost fall off the bed if not for the chains holding me back.
Restrains on my hands and feet stop me from going any further. They spread my arms and legs. I survey my surroundings, but a wave of pain washes over me. My head aches like hell. The room is dark, with only the light coming from a hole in the ceiling. A beam of moonlight happens to shine directly over me, the circle of light over my chest. I lie in the center of the room. There are no doors or windows that I can see, only walls.
I notice that my clothes are different as well. No longer are they the casual jeans and blouse that I last remember wearing. They are replaced by a bright green toga with a golden sash across my chest. In the reflection of the light of the moon, I catch a glint of light from a golden tiara on my hair braided into intricate ties. I struggle in hopes to set myself free when my mind drifts to sister.
Aliah, what have you gotten us into?
I struggle harder, clenching my jaw and jerking at the chains but they don’t budge. With each attempt to set myself free, I feel weaker. My arms and legs numb.
I last remember Aliah bringing us into the rich side of the city, into a modern mansion bigger than any of us has seen before. I recall white and green walls, dabbed with a bit of gold. Then a face flashes in my mind. A man probably the age of sixty, with silver hair and wrinkles littering his forehead, greeting us. He was dressed in a similar style as what I’m wearing now, but his was a white robe with a green sash. His warm smile had something that screamed hospitality. Too much hospitality.
“Ah, you’re awake.” I feel my heart skip a beat. I didn’t even hear him enter. It’s the same man, still wearing the same clothes, his voice so vile and maleficent.
“What have you done with my sister?” is the first thing I ask.
“Oh, don’t worry about her. She’s fine, although she needs to accomplish one more task before she can become one of us.”
“One of you? What? My sister is sane enough not to believe anything you people tell her.”
“I would rethink that if I were you. Aliah will soon earn her place in our ranks as soon as the moon hits its highest peak. She will draw blood from her beloved. Mother Gaea will be pleased.”
“What are you talking about? Mother Earth is a myth! She’s fake! Y- you’re insane!”
Slowly, the thin lines on the man’s mouth forms into a malicious grin. “Insane? Mm, not quite. Loyal followers of the Earth Queen Mother?” The old man comes nearer and caresses my cheek with the back of his fingers. I force my face away from his touch. He leans, showing pearly white teeth, razor sharp enough to be considered fangs. “Abso-fucking-lutely.”
I resist his touch but that doesn’t stop him. He continues to fix a stray strand of blond hair. Then, like a rabid animal, I lunge, attempting to bite his stupid fingers off. The sounds of metal chains clanking echo along the walls. The lucky bastard keeps his fingers. He only tsks while waving the finger I want so desperately to be bitten off.
“Where is my sister?!”
“Don’t be so eager. She will be here soon. And you should respect Queen Gaea. She is not so merciful, you know–”
The screeches of bricks against each other draws our attention. From the opening, enters my sister, dressed in a white toga and a green sash. On her head lies a diadem made of plants, intricately woven making it seem like it grew like that. An entourage follows her in, all of them cloaked in green, hiding their faces in the safety of their hoods.
I catch my sister’s gaze. “Aliah! Oh my gosh, are you okay? Help me out of here. We’re leaving now.”
“I’m afraid she won’t. You’re her key into this locked community,” the man says.
The entourage encircles me, interlocking their hands as they do so. They start to chant. I can’t make up anything they say.
“The moon is nearly at her highest peak,” the man turns to my sister. “It is time.”
The man hands her something I can’t see. Something I don’t think I want to see.
“Aliah…? Aliah! Snap out of it! It’s me, Iris! Your sister. Your only sister,” I scream through the chants of the entourage.
“These people are my brother and sisters now,” my sister says, her voice a totally different person.
I don’t even recognize her anymore.
“One less sister…” the man says, grinning. He places a hand on my sister’s shoulder. “For the Earth Queen Mother. For the one who will wake soon enough.”
“For the Earth Queen Mother,” my sister repeats, never meeting my gaze.
She raises the jagged blade over my chest, it’s silver edge glinting. I don’t feel a thing.