This story is by TrueTheory and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
3 days, he thought to himself. The wool sheets beneath him should have brought him comfort on cold nights, but tonight it only irritated him. Flipping from side to side, the prickles of each fiber made his skin itch. The pillow he laid on felt flat and empty as his head made a crater in the center. Unable to find a satisfying position, he sprawled his arms and legs across the small bed looking up at the wooden ceiling above him. Slowly exhaling through his nostrils, he closed his eyes slowly as he began to replay the events of earlier today.
“Stop moving!” The guard yelled. His bulging chest and piercing eyes shook the child. In his right hand he held a wide spear that seemed as thick as the branches in the ancient forest. He spat on the ground next to him with a subtle shake of disgust and disappointment. The boy sat and watched in anger and frustration. They had caught him. Not only that, but the entire village had been called to watch. Behind him hundreds of children, parents, and elderly murmured amongst themselves at the spectacle that was about to unfold. He was sitting in the center of the village, with two guards standing on both sides of him. The ground beneath him felt crusty and the air was heavy. Before him was a wide platform and on it sat seven masked individuals. The 7 elders, he thought. Their masks had a distinct color that blended with the cloaks that they wore. Each mask had two slits for their eyes, and a small opening for their mouths for them to breath. As far as he could tell, the colors matched their personalities perfectly. Each elder looked intimidating enough, without the blazing bonfire behind them making their shadows look like dark blades pointed towards him.
From the far left, the elder with the red mask stared at him heatedly. What are you looking at old man, the boy thought. Next to the red masked elder, sat the purple and black masked elders. Their eyes weren’t as intimidating as the red masked elder, however they also didn’t look as empathetic. In the center of the elders sat the tallest one, the silver mask. From as far as he could see his eyes were closed. The three elders sitting on his left side wore the white, green, and blue mask. He looked down in an attempt to not meet there eyes, however he could still feel the power of each of their gazes.
“Kiani,” The silver masked elder spoke as the crowd behind the child started to settle down. He opened his gray eyes slowly as picked up his staff laying beside him. “You have been brought before us today Kiani. Do you know why?” he asked.
The elder waited for Kiani’s answer, much to his annoyance. “I know,” he muttered under his breath.
“Now I ask you Kiani, to be honest and true.” He said placing his staff on his lap, “What became of you today to break the statue of the previous keeper?”
“I don’t know,” he answered quickly.
“Oh Kiani,” muttered the white masked elder shaking his head in disappointed. His voice was calm and warm. Kiani immediately feeling a tinge of regret.
“Don’t pity him,” The red masked elder spat. “He has been a pain in our backs long enough!” Kiani could hear the disdain in the mans fiery tone.
“True, that may be.” The purple masked elder interjected. “However, is it wise to make an event of this before The Choosing?”.
“If not now, then when!” The red mask elder replied. “The Choosing is almost upon us, my fellow brethren. The other villages have already chosen their keepers, and here we are dealing with this… this nonsense!” The villagers behind Kiani grew restless, as the elder continued to berate him. “Out of all the children in this village, not one,” he raised his claw like finger in the air as he pointed down towards Kiani, “not one is as vile, disrespectful, and foolish as what I see sitting before us today.”
Kiani could hear the whispers and comments of the people behind him.
He’s right! He heard.
What’s wrong with that child?
Maybe he’s been possessed?
Kiani stayed silent as their words continued to strike him like razor blades to the back.
The red masked elder rose to his feet, “My people, Kaya would turn in her grave if she could see this – ”
“Don’t!!!” Kiani yelled, silencing the crowd. The bonfire behind them crackled as the child slowly rose his head up to face the red masked elder. “Don’t,” he said as he inhaled through his flared nostrils. Tears streaming down his cheeks, “Don’t… you dare, say her name in front of me!” His neck tightened as his blood began to boil with each passing second. The guards crossed both of their spears in front of the child’s face. He could feel the rage, burning inside of him. His heart grew louder with each beat. Their comments, their whispers, their existence. He had grown tired of it all.
Why were they here, he thought, instead of her…
“Silence,” a cold icy voice finally spoke. “You don’t have a say here child.” It was a woman’s voice. The blue masked elder on the far right raised her hand. “This meeting here is to discuss your punishment. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Kiani, suddenly feeling his rage come to a standstill, exhaled slowly as he faced towards the ground once again. He knew that tone anywhere and wouldn’t dare fight against it. He closed his eyes as he waited for their judgement.
“Now,” the blue masked elder continued as she turned towards the others, “what are we to do with him?” The others looked amongst each other and waited a few moments before they said there piece. The white masked elder rose his hand and placed it on the knee of the silver masked elder. “Might I suggest we put him to work?”
“Work?” The red masked elder repeated. “How long will you continue to coddle him before your satisfied?” He pointed at Kiani once again, “That boy is a disgrace to this village and all who came before us! He must be banished!”
“Calm yourself,” The blue masked elder said, “You let your emotions get the best of you.”
“She is right,” The green mask elder finally spoke. “Your hatred for the boy is clouding your judgement brother.”
“Hatred?! It is not hatred that drives me, but love for this village and the traditions that have kept us together for hundreds of years.”
“Which is precisely why, we must come together and deem a necessary but suitable punishment.” The silver masked elder said looking at the red mask elder. “It takes a village to raise a child my friend, and banishment will not help him nor us in this time.”
Kiani watched the elders go back and forth and grew impatient with each passing minute. He hated being there. He wanted this spectacle to be over with as quickly as possible.
“Kiani,” The silver masked elder called, silencing the other elders. “Since we have not come up with a suitable punishment for you at this time, you will be sent to the abandoned shed on the outskirts of the forest,” The silver elder said rising to his feet. The other elders followed suit, each standing beside him, making their shadows even longer and more intimidating. “The Choosing is almost upon us my people,” he boomed for the villagers to hear. “Today, at this very moment, we must remember that no man is an island. We are all one. If there is one who is hurt, we are all hurt. If there is one who is in need, we are all in need. If there is one in need of salvation, we must all reach out a helping hand. From our oldest, to our youngest. From our weakest to our strongest. This village must stand together, or…,” he hesitated looking down at his left hand, “we will fall.” He tapped the floor with his staff 3 times, as the villagers behind Kiani also stood up in unison. The guards standing next to Kiani, each grabbed him by the elbow making him groan in pain.
“3 days Kiani,” The silver masked elder repeated. “In 3 days, we will decide your punishment.”
Kiani jumped out of his bed, and placed his hands on his face. He wanted to hit something. Anything. He hated being confined to one space. Especially a small one like this. The room was dusty and cold. The floor creaked with each step he took, and the window had a gaping hole at the bottom corner, which gave the wind a clear route to his body.
The Choosing, he thought. Why do they care so much about a stupid ceremony. Who in the world wants to be given a job that they are going to have to live the rest of their lives doing. He jumped back on the old creaky bed behind him. Not me, he thought. No one is going to tell me what I’m going to do with my life. I want to be free.
He glanced at the old broken window, and watched as the light began to fade from the sky. Does no one else want to see what’s out there? What’s beyond the ancient forest.
He had always heard stories from strangers who passed through the village from time to time. Of creatures, who wings were as wide as tree trunks, and could fly over the tallest mountains. Their teeth were as sharp as a hundred freshly made spears. He had heard of islands who floated in the skies above, or castles and kingdoms that could only be found at the bottom of the sea. His mind wandered for hours until he finally found himself asleep and in the only place that brought him the solace and peace he wanted. His dreams.
A knock at the door woke him. He picked himself up from the bed and glanced towards the door. “Kiani,” a familiar voice called. “How are you doing young one?” He recognized that voice. It was the white masked elder. He sighed as he picked himself up and walked towards the door. “Why are you here grandpa?” he asked under his breath with a faint smile.
“Of course, I would come check on my silly grandson,” the elder man said with a small chuckle. “Now let me in, we need to talk.”