Chapter One: Sloane is mesmerized with the release of someone she doesn't know.
| The box is made of bamboo, they always are. It’s exactly long enough and wide enough to fit its contents with no access room and the top is always concealed before its taken for release. Its concealed during the guardian’s only and final viewing. I’m not sure what happens when there isn’t a living guardian.
The release is held at the cliffs away from the court, quiet and off course with its own passage for the box to be carried through. It's one of the prettier passages with the tallest of trees curling over the top, branches intertwining only allowing minimal pieces of sun rays to shine through.
Others begin gathering around, all wearing their standard black robes. I watch everyone as they link hands making a half circle bowing their heads. Her guardians stand in front of the others holding their cross. That is how I know he or she is at least twelve. The cross is given to a child at twelve years alive while a promise to the heavens is made that our bodies, and hearts will be saved for the chosen one. I heard about the ceremony and like to watch them from a distance. I use one of the passage nearby that hovers over the release point.
Minister Hail stands in front of the box facing the guardians and calls upon the angels to help direct the girl’s soul to the heavens. I’ve had only one person close to me die. My sir guardian, but I was too young to be at the final viewing. I don’t know how it would feel. From the looks of it, it doesn’t seem to be as peaceful as the Isle makes it out to be. Saying goodbye to a body without a soul? I do not find any peace in that.
At the bell tower-the tallest point of the castle, the bell rings one time signaling for the box to be lowered to the boat below. I run as fast as I can to the top of North Passage. I can see better from up there. I get to the top just as the second bell rings. This signals the boats clearance and the sailors row to the drop which takes another fifteen minutes. I climb the rock that hangs on the wall of the cliff and find a place to sit allowing my legs to dangle over the edge. The waves crash against the stone wall far below me, the sound has somehow always been relaxing. The running of the wave, the crash into the stone wall, then the exhale as the water recedes back out. The ocean has always had a way of calming me and exciting me all at the same time. I watch the boat travel getting smaller the closer it gets to the drop. I’ve never been out on a boat-it's forbidden for the commoners. You must be a sailor which is who conducts the drops. Or Royalty, but what the Queen ventures out for is a mystery. I have never been interested in military positions. Not that it matters if I was, I’m a girl so I would never be permitted or chosen for a military position. At least it has never happened in the past.
Over the next few minutes I watch the water run its course several more times while I wait for the third bell to ring. The boat is too far out now to be able to see the actual drop, that’s what the sail is for. It represents the citizen of the Isle whose life is no more, a form of respect, and to tell the Isle they have reached the dropping point. The Isle rings the third bell to signal those of us back on the Isle, and then, it's dropped. Dropped into the waters never to be seen again. Markings on the boxes are forbidden. One is the same as all rest. Once you are released, you are, no more. You are simply a collection of bones that lay in a box deep in the sea piled alongside all the others without distinction, nothing identifying your box and bones from anyone else.
I hear footsteps getting close, sounding like someone is running, running fast. I hear heavy breathing just as he appears around the path. His hands placed on his thighs while he drops his head in front of his legs gasping for air. Normally I would stand and be polite but I’m still waiting for the drop and I don’t want to miss it. I’m not sure why it consumes so much of me. How I can be so selfish to my own desires or interests-especially with death. Sometimes I feel like I lose a part of myself every time I watch a release and drop, and somehow gain strength at the same time. It does something deep inside me that I can’t explain and have given up trying to understand.
He sits next to me on the rock. Saying nothing, the silence grows to a roar. We wait. Side by side. Breathing now, in sync- once his breathing slowed to a normal pace.
He knew the person.
He was close to them.
It’s the only way we are permitted to be at the release during a ceremony. The black robe is worn as respect. Black is the symbol for transformation-the end of one life-beginning of another. The soul leaves us here on the Isle and begins a new life in the heavens.
Why is he here and not at the release?
His hood covers his head and blocks his face so I can't see him, which means he hopefully didn’t see me looking at him. My stomach twists inside thinking of how he must feel.
His hands are folded in his lap and he is tense. They look strong, his hands. Like working hands. They show strength and are large when I think of how big they would be next to mine. He seems tall-his legs are much longer than mine. I’m as tall as five foot and one inch. Not a centimeter below or above the one inch mark. My hands reflect my height-small. Fingers short and narrow. My hair is just above my waist and usually pulled back in a tight wrapped bun. The older I get the darker it seems to get. It's on the verge of being black. My eyes are the same, dark and boring. I wonder what color his eyes are? His hair? I wonder who he is.
The bell rings startling me and I look out to the boat to see the sail raised. He quickly unfolds his arms and stands to his feet. I stay seated feeling like standing would be inappropriate, this is his family, whoever it was. His moment, his goodbye. Standing would interrupt… something, whatever that something is. A few moments later he is gone. I stand up and look around, but he is gone.