The ceremony was about to begin. The entire village had shown up to watch. It was a rite of passage, the ritual that would make me a man, proving a place among my people. Today, my sixteenth birthday, I would be given the choice of whether I would rather take my place within our society, or leave, never to see my family again. Scanning the crowds from the back of the auditorium, I could spot my family, seated up front in the honorary seats given to the mother, father and sibling of The Chosen. My parents are somber, as is everyone else in the congregation. My sister, sweet Deeli, is sitting gazing at everything and everyone, taking in everything she can with her large brown eyes. She is just fourteen, and in two years it will be her turn. She will be The Chosen. My eyes sweep to my grandparents who sit on top of the stage behind where the village leader has taken his place at the podium. They are holding hands, a rare display of affection in our society. Usually, it would be frowned upon, but today of all days it is accepted. Especially for them.
“Elias Tanner Common,” the leader’s voice booms over the crowd, “if you have accepted your place as The Chosen and have made your choice, please come forward.” My village stays silent, and my footsteps echo as I walk steadfastly forward. My eyes stay focused straight ahead, and bore into the eyes of our leader. I know I am being rude, but I cannot make myself care. Only a slight stumbling of foot displays how unsure I really am. I recover quickly, and I can tell Deeli is the only one to notice. I do not walk up to the stage but stand in front of it, so that I do not stand on equal footing as our leader. I have seen this ritual many times, so there is no need to question the steps I make. I take a knee, but before bowing my head, I steal a look at my grandfather.
He is staring straight at me, a shadow of a smile in his eyes. I know that he understands the choice I have to make and I know he does not judge me. It does not make the choosing easier. The silence that suspends our meeting becomes awkward as I realize that I am supposed to say something. How could I forget? I had been over this many times, but the words had escaped my head. I grasp for a moment before it all comes back to me.
“I kneel before you, Leader Bradshaw, with the decision I have made,” My voice is strong. It echoes in the silent auditorium. I know that no one knows the tremble that is in my heart except for me. To everyone else, I must seem strong as if there is no shadow of doubt in what I am about to do. “I beseech you, Leader, to allow me to stay and become a part of this society you had made out of the ashes of a world too weak to survive.” The words are a memorization, a speech made too many times to count. And so, our leader responds in kind.
“Are you aware of why the old world failed?” He replies, and I hear in his voice what I have heard too many times before: a cold, calculation.
“The human race grew too fast to sustain its basic needs,” I reply as if I am reading a script.
“And so you understand what your choice entails?”
“I do.” The last words reverberate through the assembly.
“Then proceed.” At this, my grandfather stands and retrieves something from an old cupboard beside him. I cannot see it, but I know what it is. As he turns, light hits the gun and makes it gleam though it is covered in dust. My grandmother, with unshed tears in her eyes takes the gun from my grandfather and begins to disassemble it. She then pulls a rod from the kit that had been sitting at her side and attaches a bronze brush. With a startling steadiness, she soaks the brush in solvent and begins to run it through the barrel.
There is not much within the barrel to clean, because this gun is only taken out for The Chosen rituals. But it is a part of the ritual. It must be done to show the village that this is the kind of society we are. That we all do things for the greater good, regardless of the pain it may cause us. Having my grandmother clean the gun is just another way to show the world this.
She removes the brush from the end of the rod, and I see her hand shake a little. She attaches the patch, and begins to clean the barrel of the solvents she had just administered. She runs numerous patches through until it comes out as white as it had going in. Another lesson to our society: cleanliness is next to godliness. It may be cliché and from the old world, but we live by it.
After assembling the gun, she lightly coats the outer with oil to make it gleam. She pulls out a shiny new bullet to place in the small revolver. She hands it to my grandfather. He gives her one last look, and it is a look so full of love that I am sure everyone can feel it. He then turns and walks down to where I am. I stand and look straight into his eyes.
“By passing down this tool, I recognize you as fit to take your role in this society,” he says the words that had been said so many times before. There is no controlling my fear now. I shake as I remove the gun from his hands. I hesitate, rethinking my choice. But now it is too late. I have already spoken, I have already been accepted. There are no more words to be said.
I raise the gun to my grandfather’s head. Looking at his eyes for one last time, he winks at me. I pull the trigger.