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9:50 AM, December 24, 2010.

Ten minutes till the ceremony starts; people red-faced with excitement sit shoulder-to-shoulder with no room to drag a single breath. Swarms of people—from children wearing overly decorated Christmas sweaters to frail, wrinkled grandparents wobbling in their finest hangboks—rush to find open seats before the mass starts.
Half of the youth group is missing. A virus already had decimated the high school students, causing parental grief and embarrassment—however, most churchgoers enjoyed hale health. I look up, away from my trembling chapped hands, to find three middle-aged women in the row in front of me coughing up unmentionable slurs about the absent girls to each other: they cackle at the sorrow of others. Silence slowly infects the congregants; necks twist to see the next victim. A vulnerable girl about my age with wide, dark pupils progresses to the crossing. Her vibrant pink hair, flowered headband, and rebelliously smeared eyeliner challenge the crones.
The ceremony begins. The male leader intones the usual exaggerated speech: “We must slowly eliminate outrageous children from our society to protect our own rule-abiding families from becoming corrupt. We shall overcome this together as one civilization.” The speaker, a gray-haired, dignified looking man clears his throat. ”Let us begin the ceremony with a chant.”
The assembly stands and murmurs ritual words, memorized and spoken fervently with glowering stares to the victimized girl. I cannot open my mouth. Slowly, the different whispers unify into a single hum, choking the girl like toxic air. Her skin, once fresh and glowing, puckers like a raisin while her eyes drown in white, blinding her sight completely. She struggles to breathe, clasping her brittle neck, and collapses onto the floor. She lies sprawled on the ground like used tissue, no longer useful. The leader’s scowl turns to the crowd, “We shall now finish the ceremony with some Christmas carols.” His frown resurrects into a joyous smile, signaling the auspiciousness of celebration. The congregation sings with the choir:
“Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright. . .”
The flowers from her headband entangle within her hair like a garden, still alive. The mother embraces her daughter, still unconscious yet holding a peaceful visage. Along with the mother, other relatives help carry her limp body with sorrowful expressions. All of us are fully aware that although she will be fully recovered, her soul would never be. I can no longer look at the girl. I only feel guilt and shame.





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