I look in the mirror as I pull my hair back. I don’t look at myself very often. The only time I even look at the mirror is when I do my hair. I don’t care how others see me, so I shouldn’t worry about my looks. Even then, my mother is the one who usually does it. She’s busy getting herself ready for today, so I have to get ready on my own.
Today is the day of the Induction Ceremony. The day the Primeapian Elders will choose one of us who are of age to fight next week. They will fight against the other five races for dominance over the Pride Land.
I’m a year shy of competing, my brother however, is now twenty and eligible to be chosen. I can only hope that he isn’t.
“Ashley, go get your brother up. He needs to get ready soon,” my mother says.
I take the bobby pins stuck in my mouth, and pin loose strands of hair away from my face. I sit on my lumpy, handmade bed and look at the big shard of glass that hangs above it that acts as my mirror. I study myself, from my round face and thin nose, to green eyes and auburn hair.
My eyes stray from the mirror, and follow the green vines out of the hole in the stone wall I call a window.
I watch two monkeys scale a broken wall outside. The older one climbs up first, a younger one- probably its offspring, following close behind. It catches up to her, and it scurries up around her, clinging to her back.
I like watching the monkeys play every morning. Something about the way they frantically play about, not having a care in the world intrigues me. I wish I can be as carefree. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in the Primeapian race.
We have three class layers to our society; lower, middle and upper. The higher you go, the less you have to work. My family and I are stuck at the lower end. We work, tirelessly for our food, while the people in the upper class- the Elders- don’t have to work for anything.
Also, the lower the class, the higher the chance of being picked to fight.
I hear my mom call my name again from downstairs. I jump out of my bed and run downstairs. I pop my head into my brothers room. It’s empty.
He’s probably sleeping outside in the hand made hammock. I wove it out of tree vines that hang low from the trees. He has always hangs between two low, broken walls. It’s the perfect spot for him to sleep, the trees bare enough shade during the day to keep him cool.
I trot down the stair to the public floor. We live in a temple that has been abandoned for centuries by our ancestors. Throughout the years, before we claimed this as our home, the plants infest the area. They break down the walls, and infest our rooms. We learn to live with it. The Elders say it gives us a better connection with Mother Earth.
I round the stone wall. Two children run past me, almost knocking me down. I stumble, grabbing a hold of the corner to stop me from falling. I turn my head, and watch them run down the room, and weave through the cement pillars. Instead of scolding them, I smile. It’s like they always say: kids will be kids.
I find Micah, my brother’s best friend, helping rebuild a wall. I wave to him, and he smiles.
“Hey, Ashley. What’s up?”
“Hey! Have you seen Cole?”
“Yeah. He’s set up his hammock outside.”
I scoff. “I’m surprised he isn’t here working with you.”
Cole and Micah’s friendship is a never ending pissing contest. Whatever Micah does, Cole has to try and do it better.
I wave goodbye to Micah, and soon after I spot my brother stretching out on the hammock between two broken down walls. The cracks in the middle are perfect for shoving the constrictor ropes in between to hold the hammock in place.
I crouch low to the ground, and creep underneath him. This is the perfect moment to scare him. I stay low to the ground, his snoring drowns out the shuffling sound my feet make.
I close in on him.
“HEY COLE, TIME TO WAKE UP!”
Cole jumps, and the hammock flips over. He falls to the ground on his hands and knees. He looks up at me with an irritated look. I can’t help but laugh at his misfortune.
“I was sleeping, Ash!”
“Yeah, but mom says it’s time to get ready. Let’s go.”
I am dressed in my nicest dress. It’s a cream color. The top and bottom are separated by a thick blue ribbon tied around my stomach. The bottom half is ruffled, while the top half is plain with no sleeves covering my shoulders. It’s not the prettiest dress, but it’s the cleanest, and cheapest one we could find.
Cole wears a nice grey suit. One of the Elder’s sold it to him in exchange for some menial labor around the village. The suit looks good on him. It works well with his bright blond hair.
We go to the Induction Ceremony as a group. Everyone in the temple from the lower and middle class file into the meeting space. We all cram into the tall concrete columns that line the space. I stare at the floor, trying not to focus on the people crowding around me.
My eyes scan the symbol painted on the floor. It’s of the Adinkra symbols meaning knowledge. That’s the symbol that defines the Primeapian race. We are known to be able to solve problems and puzzles easier than the other races.
Each race has a symbol that defines them. Endurance defines Reptilians, peace defines Aquatica, strength defines Felinious, loyalty defines Caninus, and courage defines Avian.
A man brushes pass me to squeeze inside. I instinctively grab onto my mother’s sleeve for comfort. She rubs my head, to calm me down.
In front of the meeting place is a large screen television. The crowd dies down as Elders walk in a single file line. The three of them face the audience.
“Welcome, everyone, to the Induction Ceremony,” Elder Greyson announces.
He’s the tallest of the three, and the youngest. At only Twenty-three he was elected as an Elder. Now that he’s in his thirties he is the face of the Primeapian race. He’s very nice. I often see him out around the temple helping out people in the lower class.
“As you all know, in a week our race, along with the other five will have a chance to battle for control over the Pride Land. Today we choose someone to fight for us next week.”
“We’ve studied numerous people who could be great contestants for this fight. However one person in particular stuck out the most,” Elder Allan says.
The oldest of the Elders. In his younger years he fought in the battle for the Pride Land and won. Because he is the only one of the Elder to participate in the battle the decision on who gets picked weighs heavily on him.
The feeling of anticipation sits heavy in my chest. I clench my mother’s sleeve tighter, waiting for them to announce who they choose. The Elders spread out all over the temple, watching everyone. It’s hard to tell who they favor over the others.
“The young man we chose shows great skill, and strength. We are sure that he will lead us to victory this year. The Primeapian representative will be Cole Reed,” Elder Greyson announces.
My throat tightens as I feel all eyes point to my family. A dead silence fills the room. My mouth hangs open. Looking up at my brother, I see tears start to form in his eyes. He holds them back as my mother embraces him.
He pushes her away, and makes his way to the stage. His gait is tense, and quick. The Elders pat his back as he turns to face the rest of us. Elder Allan raises Cole’s arm, and the crowd rises to their feet in a slow, apologetic applause.
“This young man has incredible building skills, and strength. I am sure that he will lead us to victory,” Elder Allan says. “Is there anything you would like to say, Cole?”
Cole keeps quiet, looking down on the ground. The Elders exit the meeting room, and the crowd quickly disperses. The only ones left are my mother, Cole, and me.
“Cole, I’m so sorry.” He ignores me, and walks away with his head hanging.
I wish there is something I could do. Once the Elders make their choice, there’s little to no way to persuade them.
Micah stops me on the way up the stairs.
“Hey, how’s Cole doing?”
“I don’t think he’s taking it too well. I think he went back home.”
“Alright. Well, tell him I want to have a drink with him one last time before he leaves.”
He kicks a few rocks my way before heading back to work. The way one is shaped looks very similar to a heart. A few jagged and rough edges, but if I smooth it out I could make it into a necklace for him to wear. To remind him of his family. I take another rock, and head back to my room.
After hours of tirelessly chipping and smoothing the rock, it’s finally starting to resemble a heart shape. I wrap it tight with a vine that hangs low from the tree outside my window. I tie the ends together, and make it into a necklace. It seems a bit bulky for a necklace, but I’m sure he will love it anyways.
I head for the top of the temple. That’s where the Elders reside. Cole is supposed to be there to go over things before they leave in the morning. I go down the long hall from my family’s room, to the long staircase that leads to the top floor, and make my way up them, careful not to slip on the few broken steps.
I slide my hand against the wall that closes me in, tracing my finger along the cracks that have newborn grass and moss poking through. No one is allowed up these stairs unless there is an urgent matter to discuss with the Elders. I shouldn’t even be going up there, but I think they will make an exception to the sister of the man who is leaving to sacrifice his life for our race.
I have only used these stairs one other time. It was after a ceremony when I was younger, and I had lost my family. I climbed the stairs, and the Elders were there, and took me back home.
The stairs show their age well.
I reach the top, but something stops me from rushing into the room. I hear shouting coming from the Elder’s room. It sounds like Cole’s voice. I know I shouldn’t eaves drop, especially on the Elders. My curiosity has the best of me. Why did he raise his voice to the Elders?
I nudge closer to the room, making sure to stay out of the doorway.
“C’mon guys. I can’t fight for the Pride Land! I don’t stand a chance!” Cole says.
“Nonsense, boy! You have amazing building talent, you’re strong, and very inventive. A perfect candidate we’ve been waiting for!”
That sounds like Elder Allan.
“Honestly. My sister taught me everything about building things.”
“Little Ashley? She couldn’t possibly know how to build such contraptions.”
“It’s true! She built that hammock I use every day. When we were younger she would build these traps and hide them everywhere for me to fall into.”
Silence fills the room. Panic wells up in my throat. They found out I am spying on them. My head pounds, praying for one of them to speak again, not about them finding me. The thought of them catching me runs through my mind. The Elder’s punishments are always long, meant to teach a hard lesson.
One time, the Elders caught a young boy stealing bread to feed to the monkeys. The boy’s punishment was to work in our wheat fields for a month to show him how much work goes into making the food.
I can’t imagine what they will do to me for eavesdropping.
“I think she should take my place in the battle.”
Cole’s words resonate in my ears. My relief boils away, and a ping of anger sits in my throat. He would rather have me fight than him? He has an opportunity to take responsibility for once in his life, and instead he passes it off to me? Fighting for your race is an honorable venture, and he’s too lazy to do it I assume.
“She’s under the age to even fight. She can’t possibly fight for the Pride Land,” Elder Greyson says.
“She’s only younger than me by a year. I know she can win if she is trained just a little more.”
“I see. . .Well we will consider your offer. Are you sure you do not want to fight in favor of the Primeapian race?”
“. . .I’m sure.”
I feel my cheeks flush, and my heart pump furiously. Why is he trying so hard to convince them to replace him with me? My teeth clench. I can’t hold back any longer. I burst into the room.
“What the hell, Cole?” I yell.
“Ash, what are yo--”
“I can’t believe you would sell me out so you wouldn’t have to fight!”
“But Ash, I--”
“Save it! Why would you do this? To your own sister! Sending me out there is a death sentence! If you go fight, there will at least be a chance!”
I squeeze my fist shut, to hold back the sudden urge I have to land a right hook on his jaw. A lump sits in my hand. It’s the necklace I made for him. Seething with rage I shoved my fist in his chest, leaving the charm with him as I knock him back. I try hard to hold back the tears in my eyes as I turn away and run.
I don’t want to go home. Cole will just come back and try to cheer me up and apologize. The last person I want to see is him. I go to the only place I know would be safe. Up.
I climb up the broken wall on the outskirts of the temple. A branch hangs low. After tugging on it to make sure it's sturdy, I pull myself up. I flip over, and straddle the branch. Slowly standing up on the tip of my toes, I reach up for the next one. I climb up as high as I can, where I can’t be seen by anyone.
Climbing up is what I do when I have no where else to go. If I wanted to be alone, the trees were the best place to make sure of it. The dense foliage covers me, and any movement I make is just suspected as monkeys playing around in the tree tops. Not even Cole knows I come to the trees for solitude.
Today’s event replays in my mind a million times. No matter how many times the betrayal echoes within my, it only seems to hurt worse every time I hear it.
Anger still surges through me. My own brother betrays me for his own selfishness. But, as much as I want to hate him, I can’t. He’s still my brother, no matter what happens. I also can understand what he’s going through.
The Primeapian race has a huge disadvantage in battle. Unlike the other races we have no defining abilities to give us an edge. We are usually the first ones dead in battle.
I spend the rest of the night in the trees. Anxiety keeps me up all night. In the morning it will either be Cole or me leaving for the battle of the Pride Land.