The Ritual


by Rebecca House

Moira stepped over the carcass of a dead animal, her hands clenched beneath the heavy cloak. The smell did not bother her that much anymore, it was the eyes of the carcasses that she could not bear. The blackened oftentimes engorged, sightless eyes of the cattle, horses and other livestock seemed like empty vessels. No matter how many times she led the three of them across these death fields instead of looking down, she looked ahead to the village on the other side. The taste of the red berries smeared across her lips and chin was sweet but pierced her dry cracked lips. She hoped it was not smeared.

“Moira, how much further?” Her youngest sister, Mahara whined from a few feet behind her. It was only her fifth or sixth time participating in tonight’s ritual but each time she still complained like a small child about each and every step. Since mother died it had been up to Moira to lead three women from her family at the start of every new moon to the village for the ceremony. It was a heavy responsibility.

“Just across these fields. See the light in the distance? That is the fire. They wait for us.”

“It is disgusting this field. Why do they leave these poor creatures here?”

Moira sighed leading them away from what appeared to be a large pile of hogs left out to rot.

“These are the death fields Mahara. Remember? The villagers believe that the animal’s souls will rest easier here in the open graves. In truth, these animals were not fit to eat but died of illness or old age.”

“But that is ridiculous.” 

“I know. But it is always been that way.”

They stopped walking and Moira turned to face her sisters.

“Mirren? What is it?”

Mirren was the chosen seer of their group. Which meant she was also the selected mute. Mirren drew out a pale hand and pointed towards the sky. The hood of her cloak fell back revealing her beautiful pale face, deep dark brown eyes and cascade of black hair. The bottom part of her face was painted dark red, like Moira and Mahara. With similar features, there was one main difference, their eye colour. Brown for wisdom, blue for leadership and green for passion.

Moira glanced up and her heart quickened. The cloud cover parted above and she winced at the outline of the new moon against the dark sky. She beckoned to her sisters.

“Come, we are much too late.”

“They cannot start without us.” Mahara stated. Her hood slid further off her face revealing the cracked lines of the red dye as she smiled.

Mirren looked over Mahara’s shoulder and nodded in agreement. She was a touch shorter in stature than her rather tall sisters, frailer.

Moira sighed. “Pull your hoods back on. You know we are to remain hidden in shadows. No more talking, your face paint will flake away into the night. Just walk faster.  In order Mahara.”

 As they walked in silence, Moira’s thoughts swirled although she tried to focus on the task ahead. How to explain to her sisters the importance of the old ritual marking the first new moon of spring not to speak of the massive importance of the agreement between their family and the village? They could not be late. Already the beast stirred deep within her belly. Did not the same hints swirl within each of them? Perhaps they were too young still. Mother had taught her to control the change, at least for a while.

Moira stepped in front of her sisters, taking her inherited place. The dead grass cracked beneath her bare feet. She hoped the other two were falling into their respective places and keeping pace. The stench of rotting meat lessened as they reached the edge of the death fields. They would take a different route home after the ceremony. Nobody cared how the sisters left the village, just how they arrived.

The chanting voices of the villagers drifted over the quiet night. Their songs of renewal and spring were joyful but yet, tinged with notes of sorrow. Moira knew it had been a hard winter for them. A dreadful illness had spread amongst the people, something similar that had killed so much of the livestock this year. Many of their elders and very young had died. The small plot of land designated as a burial ground on the other side of the village held many more graves than last spring. In a way, the village’s survival was her responsibility as well and she was saddened to hear so much grief and loss in the renewal song.

Moira glanced over her shoulder back at her sisters. Both of them followed her lead, their brisk steps soundless. She knew beneath the heavy canvas robes they had started to struggle, holding back the rush of the beast overtaking them. She felt it herself, the burning inside her veins as they approached the edge of the village. Soon they would feed on the village sacrifices, one for each of them. Blood given to her family each spring, at the first new moon to seal the oath made by their ancestors, the promise of her family to protect the village.

“Moira…it burns.” Mahara’s voice was strained.

“I know.”  The smell of blood grew stronger the closer they walked. The sharp points of Moira’s fangs dug into her lips.

“Hold fast sisters. Stay in control and focus your minds on the steps you take. We are almost there.”

 

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Writers Bio

Rebecca House is a freelance writer with a fascination for the macabre that was encouraged long ago while attending York University. With a B.A. (Hons.) in Psychology and History, she is an aspiring short story author, novelist and blogger. She is a member of the Writers Community of Durham Region (WCDR) and is currently working on a number of projects.

When not exploring the darker sides of the natural and supernatural worlds, she is CEO of a busy family in Oakville, Ontario and building her personal blogs at threeormore.wordpress.com and ladyreflections.blogspot.ca. 


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