Rite of Passage, Chapters 1–5

Rite of Passage Illustration #1

“His name is Gol. He is not an ogre or a troll, a gnome, a fairy or a centaur. There are no stories written of his kind. He was once human like the boy, but he is human no longer.”

Gol, a creature of the Earth yet apart from it, a creature of arcane powers with an ancient mission not even he fully understands. He cannot propagate, yet he must sire offspring to continue his life’s work.

James, a boy who lives in dreams and the imagination, a boy inebriated with the wonders and mysteries of life. He will learn too soon that the world harbors darker secrets.

A bittersweet tale of loss and regret, death and rebirth, growth and transformation, Rite of Passage will remind you why you were once afraid of the dark, and will call to mind the mystical innocence of childhood that was forever stolen from each of us.

1.

He sees the boy, pumping his legs as he soars through the air on a swing, and he almost smiles. How carefree and innocent the boy is, not yet aware of the world’s cruel designs. His own childhood is a distant thing, far removed from who and what he is today.

The boy releases the chains. He leans forward, and when the swing is at its apex, he slips from the seat. He hurtles through the air, lands on his hands and knees, and grins.

Play. It’s a concept he’s thought about a lot. In the small hours of the night, when he lays awake unable to sleep, he stares beyond the ceiling, pondering its manifold mysteries. The imagination of a child, he thinks, is a thing of boundless possibilities, a grasp toward the infinite, an exploration of a vast, unformed world filled with all the things that might yet be. It is an art, he thinks, a special kind of magic that he lost the moment he was Changed.

He brushes the thought aside. There will be time for reflection later. Right now he’s focused on the boy. He stares at him from behind a broad oak tree, shrouded in shadow.

Today, the boy will be his.

2.

His name is Gol. He is not an ogre or a troll, a gnome, a fairy or a centaur. There are no stories written of his kind. To the best of his knowledge, he’s the only one of his kind. He was once human like the boy, but he is human no longer.

He is the latest incarnation of an ancient lineage, a succession stretching back beyond the foundation of the world. He cannot reproduce, but like humans he’s compelled to propagate, to continue the work of his ancestors. Though he’s lived for thousands of years, has witnessed the rise and fall of long-forgotten civilizations, in the end, like all living things, he too must die.

He’s spent a great deal of time pondering his origins. The memories of his ancestors are a part of him, but they’re so numerous and convoluted by the ravages of time that the secrets of the distant past remain shrouded in mystery. Someday, before the stars have burned up all their hydrogen, before the world is an icy ball of lifeless stone, before the universe is a tepid mass of eternal darkness, he hopes his progeny will solve that riddle, that perhaps they’ll even find a way home. But that will be a task for the boy and his descendants.

His own days are nearly at an end.

3.

Gol waits for the boy outside his school. He’s kept tabs, has spent most of his afternoons watching from the shadows, studying the boy’s routine. He must be careful. In planning for this day, he consulted the collective memories of his ancestors, and he knows that humans don’t give up their offspring easily.

He leans against the oak, shaded by the branches and the leaves, his skin the color of the bark, and he watches as one by one, the other children filter out of the playground. The boy lingers. Though most of his third grade classmates can’t wait to leave, he likes to stay behind and play alone. He prefers the company of his imagination to that of other children, and it is this unique trait, the sign of an introspective mind, that makes him so admirably suited for the continuation of Gol’s work.

He watches as the boy tromps around in the otherworldly stillness of the empty playground, transforming the ground before him with his imagination.

Gol is fascinated by the boy’s power, and he takes a moment to mourn him and the world he’s about to lose.

4.

James stands tall and proud atop the dizzying heights of the cylindrical monkey bars. From there he surveys the whole of his kingdom, silent and peaceful. He watches the peasants who are hard at work in the fields, harvesting wheat. He moves on to the sandy dunes of the distant desert, briefly considers a pilgrimage through the swirling sands.

The wind tugs at the corners of his robes so that they flap majestically, and he thinks that it’s good to be king.

Eventually he climbs down, careful to avoid scraping his hands and knees, and he leads an invisible procession toward the swings.

The instant he sits down he’s an astronaut blasting off into space, absorbed by the colossal momentum of the rocket packs as they rumble and burn, sending him soaring toward the stars. But something goes wrong. A light beeps on his center console. There’s been a leak, he realizes, and his oxygen levels have gone critical. He has no choice but to abandon ship. He sucks in a gulp of air and holds his breath, wondering if the desperate gesture will sustain him, and he jumps, out of the swing, through the stars, and plummets back to Earth.

He brushes himself off, dons his royal robes once again and moves on toward the old oak, intrigued by recent rumors of buried treasure.

James hears a sound.

He stops.

Turns.

Looks over his shoulder.

Suddenly the playground is filled with sinister shadows. He gets ready to run, and that’s when he feels something grab his shoulder.

James opens his mouth to scream, but before any sound can escape his lips the figure behind him has covered his mouth. Whoever he is, he’s wet and smells of rot and decay. James’s eyes bulge and he gags from the stench. He chomps down hard, hoping to be released, and his teeth tear deep into a sinewy mass. But it makes no difference. The thing over his mouth does not move, not an inch, and before James knows what’s happening he’s falling, tumbling, down into the Earth. He watches as the light of the sun recedes, transfigures into a tiny solitary star in an ocean of black, and that’s when he realizes it’s difficult to breathe.

5.

Gol sees the boy coming. He turns his head to make sure no one’s watching, first in one direction then the other. When the boy is standing beside him he grabs him, covering his mouth so that he can’t scream. The boy bites, but it does not hurt.

He opens one of the many hidden entrances to his home, and he and the boy slide down together, pulled by gravity through a narrow loamy tube. They fall through the bowels of the Earth, through layer upon layer of fossilized plants and animals, each only a footnote in the history of the world.

Eventually, the Earth opens. He positions himself, holds the boy close to make sure he’s secure, and when they finally land in a broad stone antechamber illuminated dimly but evenly by a light source unknown even to Gol, he bends his knees and braces for impact.

He lands in a low crouch, the boy positioned safely in the crook of his arms. He rises to his feet, takes a moment to find his balance and glances down. The boy’s eyes are closed and he’s breathing shallowly. Gol sets him down on the rough stone floor and waits for him to wake.

The first 14 chapters of this short story are available online for free.

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