Rite of Passage, Chapters 6–8

Rite of Passage Illustration #1

6.

Memory comes slowly. James’s eyes flutter, and at first he thinks he’s emerging from a bad dream. In that moment, he’s sure his mom will call him down to the kitchen and tell him breakfast is ready. Then he feels the hard surface beneath his back that’s so unlike his comfortable mattress at home.

He comes fully awake then. He leaps to his feet, ignores the dull pain radiating from the small of his back, and when he turns, sitting across from him is a creature only vaguely resembling a man.

In the dim light, he can tell that the creature is old. He has brown leathery skin caked with dirt and pebbles. A monster.

James shrieks and stumbles back until he bumps into the wall and can stumble no further.

“You’re awake.” The creature’s voice is low, gravelly.

“Don’t hurt me,” James begs, and he starts to cry. “Please, don’t hurt me.”

“What’s your name?”

“Mom says not to talk to strangers.” James says this as if the words are a talisman that will protect him from harm.

The creature gazes at him for a moment without answering. Eventually he shrugs, gets up and begins to walk away.

“I want to go home!” shouts James, and a dozen other Jameses echo their protests beyond the chamber.

“Take me home!”

The creature sighs. “I have work to do.” He turns away. He reaches for the handle of a massive metal door, opens it and is about to step through.

“Wait!” cries James, “Come back!” But the creature is already gone.

7.

Gol is in his study. It is another room carved into the bowels of the Earth, one of millions. He sits on a chair of stone, holds in his right hand a thick leather-bound volume in a language that was ancient when the world was new. But he isn’t paying attention to the words. Instead, he’s thinking about the boy.

Why does he feel guilty? The emotion gnaws at him. He did what had to be done. The lineage must not die with him. It is imperative that the work of his ancestors continue, even if he himself cannot remember why. Reverently, he gazes down at the book in his hands. His home is littered with books of all kinds, books from every race and every age, histories, stories, treatises on science and math, magic, religion and mysticism. But there is no book more important than this one.

Contained within its hundreds of pages is the Rite of Passage, the means by which he was reborn, the means by which the boy will also be reborn. It is a complex ritual of arcane powers designed to induce change. It is a conjuring of entities not entirely living, entities whose names have been lost through the ages to all but he and his ancestors.

Gol remembers through their eyes the hundreds of humans who were sacrificed when they first attempted the Change, humans who suffered and, if they were very lucky, eventually died, all so that this book could be written to instruct future generations.

His master, the one who came before him, taught him the ritual just after Gol’s own Changing, and he’s been studying it ever since. He knows the contents backwards and forwards, yet now that the time has finally come, he finds he’s still nervous and unsure.

Gol thinks of the boy again, and he realizes it’s been a few hours since they arrived. The boy must be hungry and thirsty. Gol decides to fetch food and water.

He sets the book aside, places it delicately atop a wrought iron desk. Then he glances up, toward one of the many holes connecting him to the outside world. He grabs hold of the stone and the dirt and claws his way to the surface.

8.

James shivers. Wherever he is, it’s cold. His stomach is rumbling and his throat is dry. His eyes are red and puffy from crying, though now all he feels is numb and cold.

He hears the shuffle of footsteps. The door opens. He looks up.

In the dim light, he can see the creature standing in the doorway, holding something.

“Food,” the creature says, and he throws it down onto the ground beside him.

James stares at it, uncertain. Hunger has turned him inside out, but still he hesitates.

“Meat,” the creature clarifies. “It’s cooked.”

The creature sets a pitcher down as well, and motions for James to drink. This James takes and gulps greedily. Water. It reconstitutes the tissues at the back of his throat. It feels cool and smooth going down.

“What’s your name?” asks the creature.

James just looks at him, too scared to speak.

“Gol,” says the creature, and he gestures to himself with a large stumpy hand.

“I want to go home,” says James by way of reply.

The creature doesn’t respond.

“Where am I?”

“Home,” says the creature.

“This isn’t my home,” argues James.

Again, the creature says nothing.

A crushing weight settles onto James’s chest, and he finds it hard to breathe again. He wants his mom, his dad, even his annoying little brother who always steals his iPod and hits him when his parents aren’t watching.

“Eat,” says the creature, and he gestures at the cooked carcass lying on the floor.

James considers it. His stomach is crying out for food. But he’s too frightened, too scared he’ll never see his family again.

The creature begins to move, and James bolts from the floor, again backing into the stone wall.

“Leave me alone,” he says. “Stay away from me.”

“I won’t hurt you,” says the creature, but James doesn’t believe him. On TV, the bad guys always say that before they kill you.

Finally, the creature slumps his shoulders and heads back to the door.

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