These are very quick 'free write' sessions without editing, planning, etc.
I invite and love feedback - criticism, praise, whatever. Just let me know what you think.
I do this equally for myself and to share.
In honor of Edgar Allan Poe's birthday today, I thought I'd do something that had some sort of strange eerie twist...unfortunately since I was just free writing very rapidly, there are more questions and loose ends than there should be and this ended up being a little disjointed in points. Still, it was fun to write and gives me some fun ideas to work with later.
A Coming of Age Celebration
Jane stood at the balcony and stared down at the crowd. More than a hundred people idly mingled around the ballroom, yet they made very little noise. A muffled din stretched to her ears. Muffled whispers. An occasional laugh. The clinking of glasses against metal trays as people took a drink from the roving servers.
The light in the ballroom was dim, but bright enough that Jane could make out individual faces. Near the head table, her parents smiled gracefully but with an awkward nervousness. Seated near them, Jane's grandfather held hands with her grandmother and whispered something in her ear that made her grandmother nod and smile.
Elsewhere in the room Jane noted other relatives, friends, acquaintances and near strangers. Her great-aunt Lara or Lana, June could never remember which, leaned against the piano, her fingers twitching softly, longing to play. June's older sister Nichole along with Nichole's boyfriend-of-the-month huddled in a corner and exchanged furtive passionate kisses when they thought no one was looking. Jane's recently divorced Girl Scout Leader, shuffled around the room beaming smiles at every man she came across . Her boss from Tasty Squeeze, Mr. MacMurry, slowly circled a pair of circular tables in a perfect figure-eight, like a bee circling a pair of flowers trying to decide the best one on which to land.
Jane took a deep breath and ran her hands down her dress, smoothing the soft, silky blue fabric and gently fingering the subtle pleats near her waist. She lightly patted her hair and stepped right up to the railing of the balcony and stared down. Even though the people were less than ten feet below her, the complete darkness of the upstairs kept her nearly invisible.
Besides, no one had any reason to look up to the second floor. There were no lights on. Nobody was upstairs except for Jane. There was no activity upstairs and nothing to attract anyone's gaze. Most of the guests weren't informed where to look for Jane's entrance and the rest expected her to enter through the front door. Jane could tell by the awkward looks and hesitant conversations that people were beginning to be concerned about Jane's late arrival. With each passing minute, more and more worry lines grew on her parents' faces and their reassuring smiles shrank in size and duration.
While Jane felt bad about causing concern for her parents and friends, she was honestly debating about whether or not to join the party at all. She knew that this party was all about her. This was the event every young girl anticipated from before she could talk. Preparations were started from the instant a girl was born. Special savings plans and collection efforts were put in place to help girls born into poor families. Girls in prestigious families (daughters of celebrities, politicians and the like) had elaborate, glamorous parties that always made the tabloids, occasionally made prime time news and on some rare occasions were publicized and televised for the world to see. Depending on the family, there was always plenty of media spin and censorship depending on the outcome of the Ritual. The actual details of the Ritual were always completely censored by the media and all party attendees became very tight lipped.
The thought of the Ritual sent a shiver up Jane's spine. Amid all the excitement and buildup regarding the coming of age party details about the Ritual were held in complete secrecy. Even the existence of the Ritual was denied until the girl was at least 12 years of age and entering middle school. At that point she would be enrolled in a special class each year to tell her something about the nature of the Ritual and train her, groom her, prepare her.
Even once she was told about the Ritual, the exact details of each individual Ritual was kept absolutely secret until the evening of the celebration. Only a small team of Social Workers were privy to the specific details of the Ritual and each member of the team was only given part of the details. Just enough to get the job done. The full details of each Ritual were stored and disseminated to the Workers on the evening of the celebration.
Jane had tried to press her Ritual Instructors for more information about the Ritual, but none of them were willing to go into any specifics. Last spring, the daughter of a Senator had failed her Ritual and a large report was printed in the weekend paper about the nature of the party. The food that was served. The music that played. Apparently there was even some outrageous daredevil style stunt show followed by a vaudeville style musical number. Nothing was said about the Ritual beyond the fact that the girl apparently failed the Ritual, whatever that meant.
A few weeks later, Jane read a story about the Senator and his family. The story included three pictures. In two of the pictures, the girl was generally occluded by shrubs, people or other objects. But in the third picture Jane noticed that the daughter's right leg was in a cast. This caused her to look closer at all the pictures. She noticed subtle scrapes and bruises partially covered up by makeup. She showed it to her teacher who brushed it aside as nothing. Totally unrelated to the Ritual, Jane's teacher assured her.
But this made Jane pay closer attention to reports on other Rituals. Comparing "before" and "after" photographs, she noted that even with successful Rituals, the "after" pictures showed evidence of injuries, some more minor than other. Jane once again confronted her parents. Her teacher. Some of her friends who had already had their parties. No one would say anything about the Ritual, either positive or negative.
Jane was certain that the Ritual was more than a simple Coming of Age ceremony. There was something inherently dangerous about the Ritual, whatever it was. In spite of all the celebratory excitement around the party and the many wonderful gifts and opportunities that would be available to her now that she was eighteen and officially a woman, she was dreading going through whatever Ritual was required of her to make the transition to womanhood.
She stared back over the balcony. A small crowd had gathered around her parents. Voices were still subdued, but Jane could tell from the gesticulations that the conversation was heated. She watched as her father took out his cell phone and dialed a number. A wry smile crossed her face as she quickly panned her gaze over to the corner by the piano. A rapid and noisy ringtone erupted from within the piano and made her great-aunt jump so suddenly that she actually fell onto the piano bench which subsequently tumbled over and dumped her great-aunt on her backside with her skirts flying up in the air.
Jane laughed in spite of herself but quickly brought her hand to her mouth and looked around to see if anyone had heard her. With all of the commotion, it didn't appear that anyone had heard her. Jane giggled slightly under her breath as she watched a pair of men, her distant cousins, struggle to upright their mother who swatted at them with her purse. Jane's elation quickly faded as she realized she needed to face her fate.
With a sigh, she turned and started walking for the stairway leading down to the main floor. At just that moment, the front door of the ballroom burst open and a small crowd entered. Jane strained to see who it was but didn't recognize anyone apart from her Ritual Instructor. In the middle of the group stood a young woman in a dress very similar to the one Jane wore. The same general cut and pattern. The same deep shimmering blue fabric. As the young woman wriggled in the arms of the two men beside her, Jane noticed a flash of light and recognized her own bracelet clasped around the wrist of the woman. Two men held the woman tightly. A black canvas bag was draped over the girl's head.
Jane watched in horror as her teacher stepped forward and raised her arms for silence.
"The Ritual of Jane Faramore is prepared. Bring forth the Subject."
The crowd fell silent. The only sound was the struggles of the young woman being dragged forcibly a few steps forward.
"Bring forth the Ritual."
In a loud scraping of metal and wood, a huge box was wheeled out from somewhere under the balcony where Jane stood. She looked down directly at the box, an enormous black form at least eight or ten feet high and twice as wide and deep. As the box passed beneath her, she heard mechanical sounds from within and she shuddered involuntarily. She then realized that she was directly over the box and stepped back slightly for fear of being seen. Her worry was in vain as everyone was staring intently at Jane's teacher.
"Place the Subject into her Ritual."
Jane felt her heart pounding against her rib cage as the girl was pulled forward the remaining few steps. From somewhere beside the box a man appeared dressed all in black and wearing a black hood with a pair of small eye holes that allowed him to see. He removed a large key from within the folds of his dark clothing and, with a majestic flourish, opened a door in the box. He then stepped forward and placed one hand on each of the girl's shoulders and pulled her forward step by step.
Standing behind her, he positioned her directly in front of the box. He leaned down and whispered something into her ear then removed his hands from her shoulders and raised them high in the air for the crowd to see. A mumble broke out among the crowd followed by a sporadic applause that quickly became a roar that drowned out any sound. The man held out the large key dramatically and then lowered it into the girl's hand. Her hand clasped the key and Jane noticed that the girl was trembling slightly.
The horror racing through Jane's mind was suddenly subdued by the guilt she felt as she realized that this girl was being placed into the Ritual instead of Jane. Jane screamed and shouted over the balcony, frantically waving her arms for them to stop. No one heard her. She turned and sprinted for the stairs. Once she tripped over her high heels which she hurriedly kicked off before running again. In a moment she was down the stairs. No one in the crowd noticed her. They all continued to focus on the girl and the box.
Even as Jane pushed through the crowd, begging and screaming for the people to stop, the party guests continued to shout and applaud. Their shouts almost became a chant and their clapping began to take on an eerie rhythm that seemed to match the pounding of Jane's heart. She elbowed her way to the front of the crowd just in time to see the man in black yank the hood off the young girl. In a brief instant, Jane's eyes met the eyes of the girl and she recognized the terror mirrored there. Then, the man in black gave a forceful push to the back and the girl was through the door and into the box to begin the Ritual.
Jane screamed and rushed forward. The door was slowly falling closed. For the first time, the people noticed the young girl racing frantically towards the box. Jane slid across the floor and reached out for the door. Her fingertips caught the heavy metal and stopped it from closing. A gasp and murmuring burst out all around her, but Jane ignored it. Instead, she stood and stepped to the door. As she pulled it open and peered inside, her guilt and terror jumped to a new level.
Staring through the door, Jane saw nothing. The box was empty.