Update (13/11): Somehow (I don’t know how), I got this Lesson right (despite the procrastination and the endless rounds of doubt) and it was selected to represent the Madeleine L’Engle Room in the F2K Contest 🙂 What happens next is that members will read all 9 stories selected and then vote for their favourite. To even be selected is such a humbling experience.
Finally, the last F2K lesson is upon us.
Write a complete story between 500 and 1500 words,using the following elements.
1. An opening conflict
2. Complication 1
3. Complication 2
4. Complication 3 (optional)
5. Complication 4 (optional)
7. Falling action (optional)
With those instructions in mind, I hesitated to write about Toby and Chase only because there wasn’t a scene in their story that had all the elements the Lesson required. So, I decided to write about Jessana, a character that has been brewing in me for a while now. This character was inspired by stories I heard growing up about the different paranormal heritage present in both sides of my family. And I wondered what would happen if the eldest daughter of the family wanted to forsake that heritage because she feared it. And so, Jessana was born.
This morning, I wake up awash in jubilance. Today, I start a new job. I’m finally finding my place in this world and the ground beneath me feels steady. Most importantly, I’m in a city thousands of kilometres away from the bane of my life – my family. They make the Addams family seem suburban.
I hum as I rush around my kitchenette, snatch up my keys and coffee-filled travel mug; ready to race out the door. Suddenly, Grandfather appears in a shimmering, sparkly fog smelling suspiciously of exhaust fumes. I stifle a cough.
This shouldn’t surprise me. His funeral was a week ago. On his deathbed he told me that there was something important I should know. Of course, he didn’t have the courtesy to tell me what it was because he started wheezing, shook his fist skywards then slumped deeper into the mattress emitting an overly-exaggerated sigh. For a nano-second, everyone in the garishly-decorated room was silent. Then applause broke out over Grandfather’s dramatic exit from this plane. Melodrama – it runs rampant in my family.
“Jessana…it’s time to discuss your future.” Grandfather’s thin voice pulls me back to the present.
I glance at the clock and realise that I was going to be late for my first day. Great. What a way to make a first impression. But I know the longer I delay this discussion, the higher the chance Grandfather would appear in my office which would spark a mass hysteria. And since I didn’t feel like being responsible for yet another paranormal-related emergency evacuation, I put down my oversized tote, keys, travel mug and sit down on the stool at the kitchen counter. I cross my arms over my not so ample chest and say, “Okay Gramps, spill.”
After he left, I stand in my living room for a long moment, softly cursing under my breath, trembling at Grandfather’s announcement. He had always been manipulative. Even in death, he still insists on navigating his family’s lives.
The bombshell Grandfather dropped was the grandmother of all bombshells. I thought that my disinterest in the family `business’ meant that I was disqualified for consideration to be Manang, the tribal spiritual leader/ seer.
“One does not walk away from one’s heritage, Jessana,” he declared haughtily when I protested. “One may move away but one’s heritage is with them always.” Darn it.
Grandfather reluctantly admitted that according to tribal law I had to want to be Manang. I had to choose it. As his spirit wavered and the smell of tobacco that constantly emanated from him dissipated, he made it clear with this visit that I was his choice. And that coming from the previous Manang was an endorsement not to be taken lightly.
I’m on my knees in the basement of Grandfather’s house, peeling away the board from the fifteenth step. I am pretty sure that my Levis are covered with grime and other stains I leave unidentified. Jeez, why did he have to hide that darn thing in here! Wouldn’t a safe be a better choice?
Sweat trickles down my face and neck. My make-up had melted an hour ago. I’m sure that my carefully coiffed black hair is matted to my forehead. I had long ago called in sick at work. They weren’t impressed that I had bailed on the first day. Maybe I should start looking for another job, I muse.
Being the eldest of the cousins, Grandfather said that I was tasked to locate the Ancestral Ring and this responsibility I could not evade. Should I choose to take up the mantle of being Manang, all I had to do was slip it on my finger and the ring would claim me. If I chose otherwise, I was required to forsake the hereditary role and pass the ring to the next eldest, Cass, my younger sister.
I blanch. Cass. I try not to think of her often because whenever I do, a heavy weight settles in my heart, regret overwhelms me. We used to be close being only 15 months apart in age. We were each other’s confidantes. When she reached 15, she shaved her head and got a tattoo of a rose on her right arm. My parents freaked out. So did I. During one of our fights, she screamed at me that our closeness was suffocating her, that it feels she was imprisoned by my love. That day, she asked me to leave her alone. Blinded by her hurtful words, I agreed.
I return from my reminiscing to find that I had gotten the board all the way off. I look into the space below and see only darkness. I reach in but the edges of the wood snags on my gauzy blouse and I sigh again. Note to self: During retrieval of magical objects, wear old clothes.
I let my fingers roam along the bottom of the space, feeling warm gravel. I secretly pray that the space only holds the ring and not unwanted creepy-crawlies. My wandering fingers reach the corners of the space and I feel velvet. I hold my breath and pull the bundle out slowly. In my hand is a red velvet drawstring bag with the family crest.
I wipe my hands on my jeans, loosen the string and reach in. My fingers close around what feels like a simple band. I remove it and adjust the torchlight so I can have a better look. It isn’t what I imagined. It’s a flat, silver band with crude etchings or symbols scratched around it. This is the ring that will choose the Manang? I shook my head in disbelief.
I keep the ring in my hand, getting ready to walk up the steps and out of the basement when a blinding light shines in my face. Immediately, I shield my eyes. “What the…!”
A mocking voice emerges from the darkness “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the favourite daughter.” I drop my hand and adjust my eyes to the light. I recognise the voice. Cass.
I haven’t seen her in years. Her hair is still shorn close to her head but her ears have multiple piercings. She is stick thin. A far cry from the Cass with gentle curves. This Cass is dressed in black and on her feet are the tallest, sharpest stiletto boots I’d ever seen.
“Cass…,” I start.
“Don’t! Don’t call me that! My name is Cassandra!”
She holds her right hand out towards me. “Hand the ring to me, dear sis.” Her voice fills with scorn and disgust. “Go back to your dull life. You don’t want this. I do. So give it to me!” She hisses the last sentence.
I draw back in alarm and hit the banister behind me. I hear the rustling feet of mice in the walls they’d made their home.
I ask the question I should’ve asked years ago. “Why do you hate me, Cass…Cassandra?” I fumble over her full name I’d never had to use before.
She smirks. “Hate is such a mild word for what I feel for you, Jess. I DETEST you!”
“But why? I don’t understand.” If I was going to die that day, I need answers. See? Melodramatic. I grin inwardly.
“Arrgh!” She runs her fingers roughly through her raven black hair and paces the floor, her stilettos taps away like a typewriter. “Because you’re the elder! You were destined to be Manang from the second you were conceived and you didn’t want it! You hated that this was your heritage. You’re a fool! And this gift should not go to a fool! I deserve to be Manang! So, sister, say the words, relinquish your claim and hand over the ring!” It is then that I notice that she holds a knife.
In that moment, as I see the hatred burning in her eyes and hear the bitterness threading in her voice, I know that I have lost my sweet sister. In her place, is this violent and angry young woman who without hesitation will use the power of being Manang for her selfish needs.
I look at the ring in my palm. Such a small and unassuming object yet within it, power; great and destructive. I think about the life I worked hard to build. And then at Cass, at the devastation she could bring if she became Manang.
I close my hand around the ring feeling its warmth which comforts me and sigh. I am full of sighs today.
I lift my gaze to my once-beloved sister, tears and my decision shimmering in them. “All right.”
She grins jubilantly and steps toward me.
I slip the ring onto the fourth finger of my right hand and my back arches, heat races through me as my mind and the ring fuse to become one entity. My mouth opens in a silent scream.
I barely hear Cassandra’s cries of anguish; hardly feel the blade slide through my flesh.
(word count 1496)
I’m hoping I have all the required elements in the story because honestly, I have no idea myself…