The Ritual

September 30, 2007
By Matt Reynolds, Carlsbad, CA

A shadow looked around his village.

“How could this happen?” said the shadow. “All I did was vote for my father… and the next thing I know, the village is in turmoil.”

Beside the street, he saw rows of graves. There were flowers on them, but they were all weeds. There were no real flowers anymore. There were some teenagers smoking, beside them some old men drunk of beer. The air was filled with a lingering scent of feces, and the air tasted like death.

Then, all of a sudden, voices rushed through his head.

“IT’S YOUR FAULT!” They cried. “YOU WERE THE ONE WHO CAST THIS PLAGUE!” Their Voices came like hands, choking him and sending him into a cremating pity.

“HAWK!” cried a voice. The voice echoed in his ears like a cry from above.

“HAWK, WAKE UP!” it cried again, desperately trying to save this poor soul..

The darkness faded, and a sliver of light shone through. The hands were wiped away like curtains, and a blurry image of his father appeared.

Hawk opened his eyes to find his father above him, shocked. “Son… are you all right? You turned pale in your sleep.”

Hawk yawned. “Yeah… I’m fine,” Hawk whispered. “Just a vision,”

Hawk was a young man at the age of thirty five. He lived in an Indian reservation in Arizona, just fifteen miles away from the city. In this city was a university, in which Hawk taught the art of story writing. He had been gifted at storytelling as a child.

Hawk was filled with a soft, beating confusion. In waves it came, slithering over his whole body like the desert wind. Why had this vision come? Hawk tossed the question aside and got dressed in his usual white button shirt, Indian beaded jacket, and leather hide pants. Hawk fixed his hair, smoothing it back and applying hair spray.

Hawk patted his father on the back. “Let’s go,” He said.

His father let out laugh in his crackly old voice.

“Always in a hurry, my boy. Why can’t you ever relax?”

Hawk smiled and shook his head. He helped his elderly father to the front door. He smelled like soft leather and mint.

“Welcome to a new day, Hawk!” Hawk’s hand reached for the door, but his father swatted it away. “Let me do it,” He said.

It was a calm, sunny morning. The grass-bugs were chirping and buzzing, and the buzzards were flying overhead looking for their afternoon meal. The buzzards seemed confused. Instead of flying in circles, they flew straight and swayed back and forth, as if trying to decide on an old rat or a shiny lizard.

“Must be the heat,” Hawk thought.

Hawk helped his father down the stairs, and they proceeded on their morning walk. Every so often Hawk got out his handkerchief and whipped the sweat from his father’s face. His father walked with a gait not common to a seventy-year-old man. Instead of hobbling to and fro, he tried as best he could to stand up straight and walked calmly, almost as if he was using the pride of his village to help him.

Hawk shook his head. His father was a sweet old man, and had been running for the head chief of the village since he was twenty. He never left the village except for the doctor, and even then his visits were brief. He had won, once when he was thirty five. Back then, things weren’t very orderly. Ever since he had wanted to try it again, but afterwards only winning third place or runner-up. He was an old man now, and Hawk was starting to question his father’s ability to govern.

Hawk saw some children playing in front of their house, making tepees out of sticks and strips of cowhide, and playing marbles. Some of the older boys were playing role-play with hand-made figurines and a few cheap dice. Hawk always used to love role-playing. Being a good storyteller, he always used to be the Game Master, the mastermind behind the game’s dramatic storyline and various rules. He played them still, buying rulebooks and dice for his nephews and his favorite village children. Before he knew it, Hawk and his father were at the kitchen. He helped his father up the stairs, and let him open the door.

The kitchen was round in shape, having various stoves and other modern cooking tools around the edge, and in the center was a stage and a cooking fire. The floor was bowl-shaped so that everyone had a perfect view of the stage. Today, the kitchen smelled like sweet bread and juicy chicken. In the center, he saw the other candidate for the village chief, Horse. He was cooking some sort of soup over the fire.

“What’re you making now, Horse?” Hawk said with a smile.

It took Horse a while to react, as he was so concentrated on his cooking, leading all of the various ingredients at his disposal to make the perfect medley. Horse was much better at cooking then his father.

Finally, Horse responded. “Just some of my Chicken Chili Verde,”

Chicken Chili Verde was an old recipe, passed down for three generations to the villages’ greatest chefs. The soup was thick, not thin, and was made of black beans, cheese, leftover chicken, corn, and other such things soaked in a luscious green Enchilada sauce. It was served best with a side of cornbread, which Hawk’s father was best at making. He made it with only the best ingredients, and kept a constant watch on it until it was ready.

Horse made a gesture with his hand, bidding them to come and try some of his chili. Hawk got some bowls and forks, while his father got out some of his cornbread. Hawk hastily made his way down to the soup, helping his father along the way.

Slowly, they each ate their breakfast. Hawk was puzzled about his dream. Why had it come on the fourth Sunday of June, the day the village decided n their chief? Had it been a warning, a sign? The election was only an hour away, at the morning assembly. During it, each adult stood up and cast their vote in front of everyone. What was Hawk to do?

Horse walked over to Hawk and sat next to him. “Something the matter, Hawk?” He asked.

“Nothing. Just a vision I had this morning,” Hawk answered.

Horse laughed. “It’s nothing to worry about. Everyone is troubled come the day of election. Just think of the choices and the risks, and then you will come to an answer.” After sensing a pause from Hawk, Horse got up and left. He probably thought he should leave him be. After breakfast, Hawk left his father to his morning prayer, and went to check on the flower garden.

The flower garden was a popular place for the village wives and unmarried women. Hawk always loved talking to his aunt in times of distress, as she always worked by the sweetest smelling fruits and gourds. It was right next to the Kitchen, and was as big as what we would call three side-by-side tour busses.

Hawk left the cafeteria, and was soon flooded with the scent of flowers. The women of the village were up to their morning duties, the young women pruning, the middle-aged women weeding, and the older women planting and harvesting fruit. His Aunt was in the far hand corner of the garden, harvesting spaghetti squash. Hawk made his way over to her.

“Aunt Sparrow!” Hawk called. His aunt looked over to him, and smiled with joy.

“Ohh, Hawk! How are you doing?” She asked, cutting off a root with a small handsaw.
“I’ve some to ask you.” He replied. Hawk explained to her the vision, and the recent trouble he had been having. Sparrow seemed to know exactly what was going on, and filled the air with the caring sense of an old relative.

“Ahh, so you are wondering whether or not to vote for your Father, yes? Here’s what you should do: when it comes time for you to vote, simply ask yourself what it is that you want to do. Not your father, not Horse, not any of the village elders, but you. And then say it! It’s that simple, honey. Now, go help the other men ready the kitchen for the ceremony.

Hawk nodded, and did as she commanded, although he somewhat doubted that it would be that easy.

Time passed, and soon the entire kitchen was filled with villagers. One at a time, people stood up and cast their vote, some voting for his father, some voting for Horse. Slowly but surely, Hawk’s turn to vote came closer and closer, the votes somehow staying tied between the two candidates. Hawk was in a panic. He started to sweat and breathe heavily. He felt as if his skin was tight, like he was covered in heavy sand, making it hard to breathe. Then, all of a sudden, he heard his name.

“Hawk,” Said the Chief. “What is your vote?”

Hawk tried to speak, but all that came was rushing wind.

“I repeat, Hawk, What is your vote.”

“C’mon, Hawk. Think about what Horse and Sparrow told you.”

He thought for a moment, and the answer came to him.

The air was hot. “I… I would love to vote for my father…”

The air was silent.

“…but, I feel that it would be best if I voted for Horse. I feel that my father is too old for this job, and I think that it would be best if he was Assistant Chief.” He could see his father smile. It was as if he suddenly thought the same.

After Hawk, there were no more votes. The Chief had been cast. After the ceremony, Hawk walked up to the center stage to talk to his father.

“You know, Hawk, I never really wanted to be chief this year. All I wanted to do was be useful to my village, just like you were today. Now if you would excuse me, I have some chiefly duties to take care of.” And just like that, he was off, walking in his same usual stride.

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