As Anna stepped out of the house she was in, she sighted lots of people, probably hundreds of them, standing at a large clearing at the back of the house. Black and white; big and small; old and young all stood before her as they hummed an unknown ferocious melody.
Then, Sara approached Anna from Anna’s right and stretched out her hand towards Anna with a smile on her pale brown face. “Hello, Anna. I’m Sara.”
Anna’s brown eyes went a little wide as she recalled the role of Sara in this cursed town according to the stories her ladies-in-waiting had gossiped about.
“I’m sure you must have heard the tales of why this town is like this, right?”
“That’s very good. Now”—she shook her hand, silently telling Anna to take it—“come with me.”
Anna took her hand nervously. She honestly wanted to know how this whole ritual would unfold and if it would work, nevertheless doubts about if this was the right thing to do for Ava still lingered in thoughts.
Sara glanced towards the crowd and nodded.
Immediately, Anna heard loud footsteps, causing her to glance at the crowd too. She saw them creating a pathway as they chanted, “By the four elements we were cursed; by the four elements we shall be released. Death is the end; life is the beginning. A pure soul shall redeem us for now we shall no more be impure.”
Sara then stepped towards the pathway with her right hand stretched out. Anna followed her as she still held Sara’s hand. Sara raised the hand which held Anna up, aligning it with her right hand. They walked slowly along the pathway while everyone else kept chanting.
At the sight of a gallows, Anna’s heartbeat quickly raced. She was going to die by hanging, she thought. At this point she wanted to let go of Sara and find any way she could run away. However, aside the fact that Sara’s grip was damn too tight, Anna decided to stay put as she chose herself to be here.
Once they reached the gallows and climbed it, Sara turned to face Anna. “Anna, it is time for the first purification.”
Anna slowly nodded before Sara helped her climb a stool and also put the knotted rope over her head onto her neck. Right after she adjusted the rope on Anna’s neck, she said, “By air you were first cursed, by air you will be first redeemed,” while facing the crowd whom had formed a spiral round the gallows.
They replied her with the chant before Anna felt a push at her back, making her to fall off the stool to hang in the air.
Air suddenly stopped flowing freely down her throat. She wanted to reach for her neck but stopped herself. If her dying, she thought, would make Ava live then so be it. She choked, trying to catch her breath although knowing that it would be fruitless.
Slowly, her eyes fluttered close till all she saw was darkness.
The same ferocious melody she heard when she stepped out of the house after her nap filled her ears, bringing her out of the darkness and unconsciousness. Anna gradually opened her eyes to behold the life after death. Rather, she beheld the same dark brown eyes she last saw as well as the broad smile before taking her last breath.
“Anna, it is time for the second purification,” Sara said to Anna.
“Huh?” said Anna, seeming confused of what was going on. Hadn’t she just died? How was she before Sara again?
The humming that had gotten her out of unconsciousness became louder, making her remove her gaze from Sara to where she believed the melody came from. There stood the townspeople again, appearing to still be in the same spiral position they took when she was at the gallows.
The gallows, she wondered where they were now. She glanced around, not minding the people around but searching for the change in the environment. She couldn’t sight the gallows anymore. Instead, when she stared at the floor, she sighted a rectangular pit, in the shape fit for a coffin.
Anna glanced at Sara. “What’s going on?”
Sara smiled at her then turned to face the crowd her hands stretched out. “By earth you were secondly cursed, by earth you will be secondly redeemed.”
Sara was replied by the chant as she turned to face Anna again. She smiled at the teenager before pushing her into the pit. A sharp cry escaped Anna’s lips as she fell into the hole she couldn’t climb out of.
Just as she was about to scream for explanation of what was going on and how she was alive again—if she were ever dead—Sara’s words echoed in her ears: “Anna, it is time for the second purification.”
As the realization that she was supposed to be buried alive hit her like massive wave of cool air, she sat on the floor.
Sand soon filled the pit where she was. She brought her knees to her chest and hugged her legs as tears fell down her cheeks. Memories of her childhood flooded her mind. She thought of Ava, Bruce, and her parents. Her friends at school didn’t escape her mind as she wondered how Ash, her best friend, would feel if she heard that she was dead.
As the sand covered her head, oxygen became low for her. The more sand that was poured, the lower the air she had. She couldn’t struggle like when she was being strangled. She simply stared at the darkness beneath her eyelids and pretended she was going to sleep.
Again, the ferocious melody softly filled her ears. But just before Anna opened her eyes she felt wet from her waist down. She fluttered her eyes open.
Once again, her eyes met Sara’s who still smiled sweetly at her.
“Anna,” Sara said, “it’s time for the third purification.”
Oh crap! Anna thought, wondering if she was actually dying all those times or actually coming back to life. She looked below herself just for her to see that she was in water. She raised her head and glanced around. The townspeople still were around her and Sara in a spiral position, only this time some of them had some little children in their hands or sitting on their shoulders. She looked past the townspeople, noticing that they all were in a pool of water, probably a lake or stream, she had no idea. She only knew that it didn’t flow or even if it did it was very slowly.
Then she heard Sara repeat the same thing she had said to them—just that now water replace earth and air. They replied her with the chant, making her understand what they meant about the four elements. The town was cursed by air first, then earth, water, and finally fire. That meant if she were ‘supposedly’ dying again, it’d have to be by water and at last, fire.
While she still tried to understand her predicament, Sara held Anna by her waist and chest before pushing her into the water in the manner Ash had told her she was dipped in the water when she was baptized.
However, instead of getting out of the water immediately she was dipped in, Sara held Anna in the water.
Part of Anna wanted to struggle to get out of the water, nonetheless a stronger part of her resisted doing that. If she was meant to be a perfect sacrifice she had to willingly give herself to death—that is if she were actually dying. After all, she thought, that was what sacrifices were about, right?
The same procedure as the last ‘purifications’ occurred: choking; embracing the darkness; unconsciousness. If she really weren’t dying, then she’d be lucky because she could survive the fire purification and if things wouldn’t get complicated with Sara and the townspeople still get to be with Ava.
Anna hoped this ritual process would not be for nothing.
The stake was on fire after the usual drill of chanting and invocation or whatever the people of Strangeville had been doing since the beginning of the ‘last stage of the ritual’, and Anna was once again in a state of uncertainty about several things.
If this last purification would be like the others, then she’d probably come back to life. But what if she didn’t get the chance to be with her siblings and other people that cared about her? Would her death be worth it: having to save an entire town at the heartbreak of her family and friends?
What spiked her uncertainties was when she saw Beck breathless at the far end of the spiral. She recalled his name being mentioned in the stories of how the town got cursed but didn’t pay much attention to that as she believed he had already told the true story of how the town got cursed—actually, how the woods became haunted.
As the flames grew and got closer to her, tickling her legs, she couldn’t pinpoint which of the stories were actually true. If the story of Sara were true, then the ritual would make sense. But, if Beck’s was true, which at the time he said it she thought to be just for horrific entertainment, then who was the ghost? Did the townspeople really know the woods to be haunted, or was this some ritualistic way of them being cannibalistic? At the thought of them being cannibals, she understood why fire was the so called last element they would purify.
She looked at Beck, and the look of guilt and pity in his eyes confirmed all her speculations.
Immediately, she began to struggle with the ropes screaming to be set free. As if the flames understood she didn’t want to get through with the ritual, they burned faster, setting her on fire already. Anna screamed out of pain and for freedom. This purification was more painful than the others because it lasted longer and she struggled to make the burning on her skin disappear.
Anna prayed within herself that she could be alive after this. Then, she’d make Beck pay for being so inhumane to some innocent souls.
So what do you think about the ritual? Do you think Anna would be alive after the last purification or she might end up like the other failures? Tell me what you think; perhaps I can include your idea in future chapters.
If any song or quote came to mind while reading this chapter or any other chapter, comment and Iʼd be sure to to give you a shout out.
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Until Monday, my lovelies. Peace!