Chapter 64 - Hidden Identities
The three new members sat at the front pew before the stage. People were starting to shuffle in the wide worship room as a faint scratchy organ tape played from a cassette player. Every time Grant turned his head to observe the amount of people amassing, he winced. Each person wore their white mask, and every single one was unique.
Grant, Rhett, and Saraiya had theirs still resting in their laps, waiting until they were forced to wear them.
What kind of ceremony was this really? Grant did not feel surprised at all if his fate for the night was death. The three continued staring into each other’s eyes, frightened. There was no escape now, even though things seemed terrifying, Grant and Rhett had to see this through.
A weak wooden gate wrapped around the stage with an open space in the middle for the stairs. Giant cat statues surrounded the floor of the gate, giving it support. Fancy candles flickered around the poorly constructed fencing giving it the appearance of proper quality. A slightly uneven shelf wrapped around the rounded back wall upon the stage with smaller cat statues lined side by side facing the audience.
The curtain from the left side of the stage moved across as the figure walked out again. That person had to be Kale. Grant wished everyone wore the faceless getup that he wore, even with how creepy it was, the masks that writhed in pain were more frightening.
Grant’s breathing grew heavier, and he could tell Rhett and Saraiya both felt the same. The tonal shift was reminiscent of that night Ambri stood outside her car, staring into the forest.
“Everybody rise!” Kale said. “And please place your masks over your face.”
They scrambled to get on their feet and placed the masks over their faces, shaking. Kale faced away from the altar, and then stepped down off the stage, standing directly in front of the three new Lyros citizens.
“We are gathered today to welcome Grant, Rhett, and Saraiya officially into our lives. As members of the Lyros community, we will strive to help each other through whatever we may face. We will persevere as one entity. Family.”
Kale turned around, bowed to the altar, and walked up to the giant cat statue on the right. A small table sat beside it with a tray, a bottle, and cups.
“We will now drink the symbolic blood of our connection. This represents the bonds we will share as a family. Do not fear.” Kale stepped off the stage and approached the three, lowering his voice, he said, “it’s only juice.”
Kale poured the glasses to the brim, a single line of liquid escaped the glass in one cup. He passed them out after wiping the side of the glass.
“It is time. May you three tap your glasses together and drink.”
Was it really safe? Grant didn’t know anymore, he couldn’t tell. Rhett felt the same, his arms were shaking. Would Kale really do anything bad though?
“Do not fear,” Kale stated again as he walked back and grabbed a fourth cup for himself. He poured it, and drank it in one gulp, proving it was safe for consumption.
The three looked at the glasses that they held to their face. They brought the drinks together and Saraiya immediately downed her drink. Grant and Rhett however, were still extremely hesitant. They both froze, as they watched Saraiya look at them as if saying hurry up.
Was it all right to drink? Kale did just drink it… Yeah, I have no reason to be nervous, Grant thought. He drank the juice quickly before he had a chance to overthink.
Rhett looked at the other two and gave in. All three glasses were now empty.
“And with that our ceremony is complete.” Kale returned to the back of the church through the curtain.
The room erupted with applause as a sea of horrified masks bobbed up and down. Were there even this many people that lived in Lyros? Where did everyone come from? Who were all these people? Lars walked up to the front pew and escorted them out back to the car. Everyone remained standing as they watched them exit the church. The faces of agony followed their every step. The three kept their gazes on the door out of this hell.
As soon as they left the building, the three removed their masks.
“See, that wasn’t so bad right?” Lars chuckled, as the three stared back at him in horror.
“That was a lot shorter than I thought it would be,” Rhett said, voice wavering.
They all jumped back into Lars’s truck and slouched down. The nerves that Grant had felt from within the building were now gone. They drove for a few minutes in silence.
“I’m so glad that we are done with that…” Grant said. “I’m glad I can hide this mask away now. What a weird tradition though… Saraiya, I want to hear your researcher guess on why they make us wear these.”
Saraiya sat hunched over on the seat, unconscious.
“Saraiya?!” Grant yelled. “Saraiya!?”
“What’s wrong?” Rhett’s voice was weak as he tried but struggled to pull himself up from his relaxed position. His hands fell limp beside his body.
“Rhett!? What’s wrong?!”
But Kale drank the juice too! Grant thought. And what about me? Am I going to fall over next?! I can’t believe this!
“Lars!” Grant screamed. “WHAT HAVE YOU GUYS DONE TO THEM?!”
Lars let out a sinister smile. “It’s only a few minutes until you pass out too. I’m surprised you have enough energy to yell.”
Grant didn’t feel any ounce of fatigue. In fact the tiny bit of relaxation he felt didn’t exist anymore. His heart raced just as much as it did when he stabbed that man.
Lars froze as he turned to look at Grant, who was hovering over him from the back seat, his eyes a burning yellow. A sharp nail pricked into Lars’s neck, blood dripped down onto his shirt.
Grant’s breathing was erratic. “Pull over.”
“How… Your nail…” Lars let out a nervous gulp.
Grant pushed in deeper. Blood gushed out in larger amounts. “I said pull over! DO YOU WANT TO DIE?!” Grant’s rage was now equal to the level as if it were the night Elijah was taken. Was everything they talked about last night true?
The truck swerved and stopped on the side of the highway.
“Okay, okay. Don’t kill me. I’ll let you go.”
“You’ll let us go.”
“Yeah, yeah, just get your nail out of my neck!” Lars’s eyes appeared to bulge out of his face as veins on his forehead strained.
Grant took his nail out of his neck and immediately plunged it into Lars’s leg as he screamed.
The other cars that were coming back from the ceremony pulled over beside his truck. Grant tried to make his way out to escape, he couldn’t save Rhett or Saraiya right now, if he tried he would end up caught with them or even worse, dead. What were they planning on doing with them, anyway? Human experimentation? He pulled his bloody nail out of Lars’s leg and jumped for the door, but Lars’ hand latched onto his shoulder.
The feeling of a thousand needles dug into his shoulder as he felt his blood being siphoned away. It was as if Lars’s hand had turned into a leech itself. He was losing blood, fast. He could feel it pulsating out into Lars’s hand. Screaming, Grant grabbed onto Lars’s hand and with a sudden fierce strike, he cut through his wrist with his nail. Lars’s hand fell to the floor of the truck.
Blood emptied all over the front seat. However, Lars’s wound quickly healed over, even with his hand missing. His hand didn’t grow back, instead his arm now resembled a leech, with a mouth appearing to be at the end of his limb. Grant gasped, but had no time to analyze what was happening. The edge of his wrist opened and closed like a mouth while twisting and turning layers of needles. Lars reached forward once more, trying to latch onto Grant’s shoulder.
Grant fell out of the truck as he threw the door open, he quickly jumped to his feet and ran for the open fields. Two cars began chasing after him. Wobbling and stumbling from the amount of blood that had been taken away, Grant made his best effort to make it as far as he could.
The two cars were on both sides of him as he was running. Ambri, who was driving one of the cars, stopped and jumped out, sprinting towards Grant. He heard other doors opening and people shouting from behind as he grazed the fields like a wounded lion.
“You’re one of us Grant! You can’t leave!”
“Come back now and we won’t be too hard on you!”
Grant kept hobbling on as everyone shouted.
“Come on Grant. It won’t be that bad! How did you not pass out from the drink, anyway? It’s not like you have—” Ambri had noticed his nail.
A few tears rolled down Grant’s face. How did it come to this? What was going on? He couldn’t run much longer. His legs gave way and he fell to the ground and tried crawling. Ambri and the other three pursuers approached Grant, still wearing masks.
“Don’t come near me!” He raised his nail to her, but his blood loss made his composure shaky.
The group surrounded Grant on all sides and as he tried to slice at one of them, they in turn countered with a nail of their own. Grant couldn’t win this fight. The four people held onto each limb of his and he could no longer struggle.
“How did you get that nail? Oh well, we can figure it out later. For now I’m sorry to do this to you, but it’s for your own good.” She injected Grant with something, and as his vision faded to black he could hear Ambri screaming.
“Wait! Why isn’t he calming down!?”