Ben looked at himself in the mirror, he was talking slow breaths to try and keep calm, but the nerves were getting the better of him. He could run, no one would notice for at least twenty minutes, that would give him a good head start. He’d be able to disappear into the forest and they’d never be able to find him. He shook his head, no that was silly, no one had ever escaped before and even if he did he would bring so much shame onto his family and they would be used in his place. He took another deep breath. A year ago he would have been thrilled to do this, if anything, he had been looking forward to it. It was such a huge honour to be chosen, and from birth no less, ordained by the Gods themselves. He had wanted it so badly, until he had snuck in and witnessed it himself. That was the day he stopped believing in the Gods. They wouldn’t allow something so awful, so cruel, would they? He had contemplated running away before but any time there was a chance he always lost his nerve. He had seen what had happened, he didn’t want his family subjected to that. He didn’t understand how his people could worship something so ghastly. Sure, most people didn’t know the true nature of it, but the priests did, why didn’t they speak up against it, try to warn people away? The only conclusion Ben could come to was that they were greedy and wanted power. Sure, it gave them delicious fruits and medicines, but it wasn’t like it was the only food source they had and there were other medicines, albeit weaker and less effective. Sure the medicine had saved lives, but at what cost?
Ben closed his eyes and saw it again, that gaping maw, the way it thrashed and writhed as it tore the girl apart. The eerie silence after her screams finally stopped, the gurgling of its stomach. He understood why no one but the priests were allowed see. He had already said his goodbyes to his family and friends the night before at his celebration. He should have slipped away then. He was afraid his absence would be quickly noted but after people said goodbye and gave him a hug they disappeared into the crowd. After a short while there was no one left but his family and they were all so proud and revelling in the praise from those around them that they wouldn’t have noticed either. He could have slipped away afterwards, in the night while everyone was drunk or still drinking. He had lain awake in bed, unable to sleep but too terrified to run. There was no way out. He knew that he was going to die. Looking back it was horrifying how eager he had been for this, how eager he would still be had he not seen the truth. It looked so beautiful during the weekly worship, no doubt it was in a calm and dormant state during those times. There was never a sign of the sickening creature it became. He had been raised his entire life knowing this was coming, and he longed for it. The day he would be fully cleansed and returned to the heaves once more. Lies. All of it. It had to be. No one would do that to someone they loved, so how could a God?
Ben knew what he had to do. There was only one solution. He was going to die, but he had to stop it, stop anyone else going through what he was about to go through. He needed to kill it. There was still about ten minutes before he would be brought for the cleansing ceremony, where they would strip him naked and wash his body. He hoped that would be enough time.
When he arrived he was panting and out of breath, “Are you ok Ben?”
“Yes, I’m fine, I was praying and forgot the time.”
“Ah, not to worry, soon you’ll be talking to the Gods directly.”
Ben nodded and forced a smile, “It truly is a glorious day.”
“Are you nervous?”
“Um, a little.”
He smiled at Ben, “Everyone is, don’t worry, some fear that they are not holy enough, that the gods might reject them, but there is no worry, no fear, you were chosen by them and they will welcome you with open arms.”
Ben nodded, he felt like he was going to throw up, the back of his throat felt like it was burning.
“May I please have a glass of water?”
“Of course, of course.”
He handed Ben a full glass, “Here you are.”
Ben drank some, that was better, it helped ease his throat. He didn’t pause to consider why there was already water there.
“There is also some food if you are hungry.”
“Oh, no thank you, I’m fine.”
“If you’re sure.”
Ben sipped his water it was so cold and refreshing. He drained the glass and handed it back.
“If you’ll just come this way, we’ll get you ready.”
Ben nodded and followed him down the hallway.
The cleansing took longer than Ben expected. They washed him slowly and carefully, he had expected to be anointed with oils and perfumes, but there was none of that. As they washed him Ben found himself relaxing more and more, becoming calm. His body felt strange, almost like it wasn’t his body, his limbs felt light, almost detached from him. As the cleansing went on he found himself moving more and more under the power of other people rather than controlling his movements himself. The pain in his throat was gone, as was the churning in his stomach. He felt calm, relaxed, more than he had at any point during the last year. Finally, when the cleansing was done they lead him out onto the ledge. He looked down at it, writing, its mouth wide open. He felt a faint pang of something, but it was far away and indistinguishable, then, before he could form another thought, someone gently nudged him. Ben fell forward, tumbling over and over in the air.
He landed with a squelch, there was a brief pause, then the pain started. He started to scream, over and over until he could no longer take in a breath deep enough to continue. What ever they had given him to calm him was replaced by sheer agony. The only thought he had left, the only comfort he had was that he would be the last. Before the cleansing he had run to the storage area, there he had found what he was looking for. Poison. He remembered a few years back a little boy had drank some accidently, no one knew until seven hours later when he started screaming. Ben knew the boy hadn’t drank all that much, Ben had managed to finish off most of the bottle. Everyone had been talking about it, how deadly the poison was, how it could kill anything.
Darkness closed in and the pain finally stopped.