Rite to Life

In a future, yet illusive world, society is divided into three factions. No one ever speaks of Faction One since the feud between people and the king. Nara is from Faction Two. She has survived sixteen years under the care of volunteers. Sixteen years of living in Faction Two is like living in eighteenth century London, although that place doesn’t exist any more. Nara has dreamed of life in Faction Three, a safe, prosperous haven, a sanctuary, where her birth parents wait for her. Only the Rite separates them. Every citizen at aged sixteen must undergo the Rite to gain access into Faction Three, the land of the perfect beings. The Rite corrects all imperfections and flaws, gives people the Third Eye. A higher level of consciousness. When she finally gets to Faction Three, cracks begin to show. Secrets are soon revealed to Nara and she must do everything in her power to expose them to the population. Faction Three is not what it seems. It is a dark, cryptic place


7. Chapter Six - Nara

The morning sunlight gleamed through the gap in the curtains, casting a ray of light across the wall. Silently, I stretched my arms and legs and yawned. With the patchwork blanket still tightly wrapped around my small form, I rose from my bed, traipsed across the floor, feeling the rough carpet against my feet, and yanked the thin curtains back. I had to squint from the light that poured in through the window, the sun casted its shadows across the lands, like it did every day, and greeted good morning to the citizens. Sheep and other farm animals were dotted across the few fields that we had in Faction Two. We lacked farmland, therefore lacked in decent meat. All other meat was imported from Faction Three, they sent us whatever they had leftover. So I guessed the King did care about us in some form, he did not wish for us to starve. That had to count for something.
            Creeping out of my room, I padded downstairs and into the kitchen in search for something suitable to eat for breakfast. In all honesty, I had had enough of eating buttered bread every morning, not that I had a choice. Rummaging through the cupboards, I searched for some cereal. After five minutes of looking through the cupboard, I gave up and decided to settle with bread again. Living in Faction Two meant you were constantly low on food. The only way out of starvation was to either have a good paying job, or pass the Rite and live in Faction Three, like I had said so many times before. 
            After scoffing down my breakfast, I nervously chewed my nails as I watched the TV. In all honestly, I wasn’t actually paying much attention to the programme, but rather thinking about the Rite. Again. I felt incredibly guilty for getting Blaze’s hopes up, and then turning my back on him. I had thought that staying here with him would be the best thing to do, but I had been awfully wrong. Although I did not want to say goodbye to my best friend who I felt deeply passionate about, something compelled me to Faction Three. Maybe it had been all the TV advertisements I had seen, or even the hope that bubbled inside me, the hope of seeing my parents, meeting them for the first time since birth. All my previous thoughts about what they would be like, whirled around in my mind. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it all again. And I had to clear my mind in time for tomorrow.
            I had not heard from Blaze since yesterday. My betrayal had dug deep inside him, and probably had ripped him apart. I knew well how he felt about me, and I abused it. My words had been cold and vicious. They echoed in my mind. 
            Well I don’t need you. You will never be good enough for me.
It must have been like a punch to the stomach. I’d seen in his eyes the pain he had felt as the strings of his heart were ripped apart and the rest shattered into tiny fragments of broken love. I must have cut him too deep for me to repair. He would never forgive me now.
I shook my head. I had given him the opportunity to find someone else though, right? He had to think open-mindedly, I was definitely not the best human being in Faction Two; there were plenty of other girls in our age range that might be suitable for him. He would find her soon. And he would thank me. Right?
            Biting my lip, I forced myself to shove my guilt away. I could not think about that now. I had to clear my mind and think of the future. I had to think about myself. But that’s all I ever do though, right? I couldn’t stop myself from contradicting myself. The guilt was too much. Squeezing my eyes shut, I imagined a plain, empty room, and shoved all thoughts about Blaze into it and locked the door. Then, I imagined several chest of drawers, wardrobes and chairs, blocking the door. From now on, I would focus solely on the Rite. I could not afford to mess it up. My future depended on it.
            Heading to the kitchen, I turned the tap on, cupped my hands and let the water pour into them. When the water filled my palms, I splashed it across my face and rubbed my skin. The icy water, harsh against my face, woke me up.
            Get a hold of yourself, a shaky voice ordered inside my mind.
            I tried my best to listen to that voice and to help distract myself; I flung open the cutlery draw and started polishing the silverware. They had never been replaced, and it wasn’t like we could afford to anyway. Jonathon and Tallulah had bought them when they were given me as a child. They had been excited to have a child, believe it or not, in the beginning, but as I grew older, their resentment began to shine through. They saw how bright I was, how well I did in school, and with what little recourses I had, I past all my tests I sat in December. Their affection had not lasted long. I had taken it on the chin, however, and had done all these years. I would not let their bitterness rub off on me, or affect my chances of going home. It had been their fault that they had not passed, not mine. I would not let them blame me for their own failure. All the volunteers registered on the database, had not even shown up to sit the Rite. I guessed King Aldwyn did not care about this to any great length, if someone did not attend the Rite, it was tough luck to them as they would be stuck in Faction Two forever. In a way, the King was doing us a kindness by providing us with an escape out of poverty. Faction Three was out escape route. This boosted my confidence. I would not give up for Blaze's benefit. 
            Turning off the tap, I marched outside, flung my head back, and felt the harsh wind against my face. Spring drawing nearer, and for some strange reason, I wanted to soak up all that was left of winter before I moved to Faction Three. The trees rustled and as the icy wind whistled, a tune played against the leaves that had sprouted just before spring started. I watched as a squirrel climbed up along a stick thin branch that entwined itself with other branches. A few weeks back, the trees around here had been covered in an inch and a half of snow, making it difficult for squirrels to climb, although the birds had done them a favour by kicking off the blanket of snow. 
            Entering the kitchen, I scraped off the damp grass that clung to my wet, bare feet and poured myself some water. Rummaging around in the cupboard, I hunted for some orange squash. If I were lucky, Tallulah would invest in a bottle of squash every once in a while, but more often than not, their money went into paying for the foods that they loved and would not share with me. I never really took offence by this, perhaps I had gotten used to it over time. Finally finding a bottle with about enough squash in to add to my water, I unscrewed the cap and poured it in and swirled it about.
            The icy liquid cooled my throat and quenched my thirst as I drunk from the plastic cup. Eyeing the biscuit tin, that had always been strictly off limits to me; I questioned whether or not I should steal one. Would I get caught? Probably not, my carers would not be up any time soon, would they even notice if one of their biscuits had disappeared? Feeling slightly rebellious, I grabbed the lid of the tin and yanked it off, the china felt cold under my skin. The tin had been in the family for years, most of the furniture here, had years on me. 
Sneakily, I fumbled around in the tin for a biscuit I liked, and decided on a custard crème. Popping it in my mouth, I put the lid on top of the tin and pushed it aside. I turned around and stared down the hallway in silence. Phew, at least I had not been caught. Now it was time for a shower. 
            Once upstairs, securely locked in the bathroom, I stripped out of my pyjamas and scrambled into the shower. The warm water melted away my fears and worries, like it did every time I stepped into it. It felt soothing against my bare skin, it felt comforting. Afterwards, I shut off the water, stepped out, and wrapped myself up with the towel. I hunched my showers and sighed, the towel always felt soft against my skin, no matter how many times I used it and washed it. It always had that furriness to it, that luscious texture that compelled you to buy it in the first place.
            I trailed back to my room, and had the feeling, somewhere deep inside my stomach, of excitement for what tomorrow held for me and many others my age. Some people around here say that you are born twice, the second time, is when you pass the Rite and move to Faction Three. That’s because a person will always have a better life there, what with the more life chances, opportunities, jobs available and the luxuries and food. Everything about Faction Three screamed new beginning. That had been the only part out of this process that I thought made sense. The rest still felt jumbled up inside my head, even to this day. 
            I wondered what the people would be like, would they be stubborn and arrogant? Or would they be proud monarchists that supported the Rite and the division of the people? Blaze had once said that it had been the King’s way of brainwashing us all, controlling us. I guessed his idea kind of made sense. But if you were actually brainwashed, you’d never question it, would you? Would a Faction Three citizen be so hypnotised by the eye, that they forget who they really are? I knew for sure that, even though we had been through a lot of tough times together, I did not want to forget any of the memories I shared with Blaze. They were too important to me. I had tried to lock them away forever, within the walls of an empty room, but I guessed they had seeped out through the tiny cracks I had not noticed. Maybe it was just too hard to forget. Maybe, somewhere deep within, a part of me did not want to forget. There would always be a part of me that loved Blaze. No matter the circumstances. He would always be in my heart.
            I collapsed on the bed, with my novel in my hand, and began reading the third chapter. The cocoon sealed around me, and I began to forget the outside world. All that existed was me and the book. Nothing else mattered. I focussed all my attention the words that were printed on the pages. Compelled by the story, the time past quickly, and when lunch approached, I had read almost a quarter of the book. I decided not to prepare lunch, I was not hungry anyway. Instead, I carried on reading, unable to put the addictive thing down. It would never be as good as the previous book I had read, but it had been pretty close. The storyline compelled me straight away, the language used mesmerised me, although some of the vocabulary had been a challenge. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every moment spent reading it. I carried on turning the pages, reading every word, wondering what each of them meant. And like I did every time I read a book, I felt a mixture of emotion swirl around in my mind, and felt the warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach whenever the protagonist and her lover shared a cute scene. Moments like that surely made a book amazing, right? I could not see how a book could work properly without a little romance. 
            Today would be my last Sunday I would spend in Faction Two. I would do everything in my power to make sure that tomorrow evening would be spent in a better, happier place. A place where peace was in our genes, war didn’t exist. A little voice in the back of my mind told me that war never happened in Faction Three because you had been brainwashed and controlled. Peace was forced upon you. Sounded like a positive and great life to live, but you would not really have any control over your own brain, would you? I just hoped to God, that my memories would not be taken away. It would be totally unjust if I had to forget everything from my past as price for my new one. I would happily forget about my carers, but everything else, I would keep them locked within the dark and sinister walls of my mind forever. I would refuse to let anyone take them away from me, even if it was the King. 
            After I had spent hours reading, I closed the book and sighed. There had to be something I could do other than reading. Padding downstairs, I curled up on the sofa after shoving an old film into the player we had managed to get second hand. It would be rare that we got luxuries, but when we did, I made sure I used it as much as possible. The rest of the day dragged my painfully slowly, my carers never once coming downstairs. They had stayed in their rooms all day. After preparing my own dinner, Tallulah stuck her head around the kitchen door, her eyes red and watery.
            “Nara, put some pasta on for me,” she snivelled, clutching her faded dressing gown around her. 
            “Are you okay?” I asked nonchalantly as I scoffed down the remains of my tomato and pasta dinner. 
            “Just a little argument with Jonathon,” she reassured. “It is nothing for you to worry about.”
            To be quite frank, I did not think it would be possible for me to ever worry about them. Why should I? They had never given a damn about me. They only ever cared about the food in the fridge and the channels on the TV. I had never been of any concern. My wellbeing had not been of any importance to them, and considering it was the last night I would spend in Faction Two, it never would be. I prayed to God, if he existed of course, that Faction Three would turn out the way I had been expecting it to.
            I had never been a believer of any religion, if there truly was a God, then why did the King control us? Why did he get away with it? Surely, God would make sure that everyone was fair and just and the world was peaceful. God would not let this happen. He would not let the devil overtake and control the good. I wondered if the King had been possessed my some evil devil, he sure wanted everyone under his thumb. A far-fetched idea, I know.
I looked at Tallulah oddly. She stood in the doorway, looking at me expectantly. I sighed, dropped my plate in the sink and began preparing her meal. Why couldn’t she have made it herself? 
            “Nara,” she said finally, stepping over the threshold and into the kitchen. “I will miss you, truly.”
            I turned to look at her. Hah, I found that hard to believe. She had said that to me a few nights ago, I did not believe her then, and I sure to hell wasn’t going to believe her now. But then I saw a glimpse of sadness in her eyes and I began to question myself. Had she always wanted children? Why else would she look so upset? 
            “Tallulah,” I started, thinking whether or not to question her, but deciding what the hell. “Have you ever wanted children?”
            As soon as I said it, her eyes widened and she gasped. Probably because she knew as well as I did that children had to be born inside the walls of Faction Three, from pure, perfect parents and seeming as Tallulah didn’t bother with the Rite when it was her time, she sacrificed her chance of having a proper family.
            “That’s none of your business, Nara,” she rushed through the words, fumbling around in the kitchen, moving objects, searching for a clean fork. “Why would you even ask such a ridiculous question?”
            I had not expected her to be so defensive. This only made me even more curious. Had she been hiding something this whole time?
            “I’m just curious,” I explained, smiling at her as I stirred in a sachet of tomato mix into the pot half full of pasta. “You seem a bit upset, you know, because I’m leaving.” 
            “I will live,” she snapped. 
            Staring at her, slightly shocked, I tried to think of how to respond. Did she actually care about me and was now trying to cover it up?
            “Tallulah, talk to me.”
            For a few moments, she avoided eye contact with me, but finally gave in and lifted her eyes to mine. I saw the emotion behind them almost instantly.
            “I may not have shown it, Nara,” she began, nervously. “But I have always cared about you. I am stuck in a marriage I cannot get out of. We have not had any arguments in a while but I have always seen the tension between Jonathon and I. It’s not what it used to be, he is not the man I fell in love with. You kept me sane, Nara. Your presence comforted me and I thought of you as my own child. I will miss you very much, and I know I have not treated you very fairly and I wished I had. If I could do it all over again, I would, and I would treat you like an angel.”
            Speechless. I was completely and utterly speechless. Frozen to the spot, I stared at her, jaw hanging low and eyes bulging out of their sockets. So many thoughts whizzed around in my mind. My heart hammered in my chest and tears stung my eyes. How had she managed to move me to tears? All this time I had been treated like a slave, a piece of furniture, as if my feelings and opinions did not count.
            “I don’t know what to say,” I said finally. How could I possibly respond to that? Somewhere deep within my stomach, I felt sympathy for her. Her life had no meaning, nothing keeping her going. As I chewed my lip mindlessly, the guilt swirled around in me like a wild hurricane. And the thought that there was nothing I could do to help her, sickened me.
            “Only death will free me,” she sighed, as I dished up her dinner and handed it to her. She smiled her thanks and began shovelling down the pasta. She had not eaten all day. “Do you believe that?”
            “No,” I said after some thought. “Just try to...patch some things up.”
“It’s not that easy, sweetie,” she sighed again, this time a little more desperate. “We’ve both got part time jobs, and neither of them pays very well. I can’t just get up and take off whenever I feel like it.” 
            “I am so sorry, Tallulah,” I replied honestly. “But there is nothing I can do. Thank you for your hospitality, and I mean it. But I can’t stay here.”
            Her eyes filled with tears, skin as grey as the hair that sprouted from her head. She nodded and dumped her plate on the side. I watched as she scurried back to her bedroom. Back to the man she hated. 
            I let out a deep sigh and leaned against the counter. I had not expected such a shocking confrontation. Better yet, I had not expected one altogether. Upstairs, within the walls of the bathroom, I stripped out of my clothes and climbed into the shower. Thousands upon thousands of water droplets ran down my body, warming me instantly. I ran my hands through my hair like a comb as I held the showerhead about me, letting the water soak my hair. After squirting a handful of shampoo onto my hair, I massaged it in until a thick layer of lather coated my head. I held the showerhead over me, letting the water wash away everything that had been on my mind. Once I’d scrubbed out the shampoo, I scrambled out, dried myself off and stepped into a pair of pale blue pyjamas. 
            Curled up on the sofa downstairs, I watched a baseball match. Baseball had never really been my thing, and neither had any sport, but it had practically been the only decent thing on TV. Soon afterwards, an advertisement played, a booming male voice narrated over the images and footage of Faction Three. 
            “Tomorrow, on March the first, is the forty-fifth Rite. It has been a successful forty-five years with the Rite in action. King Aldwyn, the rightful heir to the throne of Faction Two and Three, would like to wish good luck to all those who will undergo the Rite tomorrow.”             The voice said boldly before the advertisement ended and the baseball match resumed. My focus had been lost, instead of paying attention to the game, I became fixated on the advertisement I had just seen; the voice had sounded so innocent, as if there had been nothing wrong with the system. Blaze had always been right, the Rite had been invented so that the King could control his people, and he took away their freedom. But I was not in any position to rebel; he had my birth parents on the other side. I had to make it to them.
            Several hours passed before I retreated to my bedroom. Crawling onto my bed, I wrapped myself with the patchwork quilt and let the sleep consume me. I woke several times during the night. Suddenly feeling so wide awake, I climbed onto the windowsill, opened the window and stuck my feet out. The harsh cold air of the night stung my bare feet until they adjusted to it. Leaning forward, I closed my eyes and relished in the beauty of the night. The only similarity between Faction Two and Three was the sky. I bet that it would be just as pretty in Faction Three as it was here. It had been the only thing worth looking at here. Nothing else could take my breath away quite like the sky did.
            The few sounds of car engines filled my ears now and again and I watched the streetlamps flicker on and off. The house opposite belonged to a couple whose child had passed the Rite nearly two years ago. They had been close with her; her life had been completely different from mine and they had seemed truly upset to see her leave. They might have even prayed she'd change her mind about attending the Rite. They’d treated her as if she was their own child. She had even called them mother and father, and in all honesty, I did not think she truly wanted to go. I reckon she could have been happy here; her carers would have taken care of her. They would not have treated her like a slave. And in a way, I envied her. I wished that I had the childhood she had and the memories she shared with people who cared deeply about her.
            Hopefully, when I go to Faction Three, I can start fresh, and make new memories with people who will love me and accept me as a part of their family. I prayed that everything would run smoothly tomorrow. I could not afford to mess up, not even in the slightest. My entire future depended on it, and I knew I kept repeating the same thoughts over and over again in my head, but I just could not let them go.

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