“Unnecessary” Excerpt – the Thankfulness ceremony

So I have decided on making “Unnecessary” into a novel.  I thought it’d be interesting if I told it in first person, but different chapters would be from different characters’ point-of-view.  There are four main characters:

Bao Long Wei – (from the initial short story) the 24 who is dealing with trying to find a mate.

Hao Hong – a 39 who is only a few months away for becoming a 40, and thus being killed in the next Thankfulness ceremony.  She, however, is proud of that fact.

Yingpei Wu – an 8 who is getting his state education

and finally

Changpu Chou – a 36 Imperial soldier (who is assigned to smoke out rebels by pretending to be one of them but begins to sympathize with their ideology.)

This excerpt is told from the point of view of Hao Hong as she attends the last Thankfulness ceremony before her own.  Please let me know what you think about it.

————-

Chapter 2

 

Hao Hong/ the Thankfulness ceremony – Ming Yu District

I had arrived early to the courtyard where the ceremony was about to start.  It seemed many others had the same idea and the entranceway into the viewing area was tightly packed.  Most of them were fellow 39s.  I noticed that all of the 39s from Ming Yu district were in attendance.  There were others with the 39s’ insignia on their black suits, but I did not recognize them.  They were probably from Xiu Mei Chen district or Pei Yun district.

The Thankfulness ceremonies were always the most attended of all the civic ceremonies.  They were held four times yearly, one for every season.  The 39s who became 40s in those seasons would be immortalized at their respective Thankfulness ceremonies.

I saw some 28s and some 29s but most of those in attendance were in the later 30s.

“Ping Te is among the 40s,” A fellow 39 turned to me.  She looked visibly anxious and I could see the perspiration running along her hairline.  “She is a good, productive woman and has produced eight healthy humans for Grand Emperor Fei Min Sheng.  Long life to Fei Min Sheng.” She lowered her head slightly and closed her eyes.

“Long life to Fei Min Sheng,” I said, lowering my head and closing my eyes in reverence.

“I have produced seven, but I still have one more year,” As she talked I noticed she was distracted, looking over the heads in the crowd.

“I become a 40 at the summer Thankfulness ceremony,” I said.

The 39 looked at me and just nodded.

“I am pleased that I could give what I could,” I said, reciting from the Deng Yu Sheng.

“We are grateful that you gave,” was her appropriate response.

The 39 then disappeared into the crowd.

There was a loud, resonant ting as the gong signaled the entrance of the 40s.

A loud shout came from the audience as the 40s marched into the courtyard in single file.  Those who watched, bowed to the 40s as they took their spots on the pedestal before the Gan Xie wall, which was pockmarked from the bullets of past Thankfulness ceremonies and stained with the blood of the immortals.  I shifted in my place in the crowd, trying to get a good view of the 40s.  I could not see Jiahui Ma.

The gong rang out again and the audience sat down cross-legged on the stone tiles of the courtyard.

An Imperial cleric, dressed in a red and white suit with gold trim, stepped forward in front of the 40s on the pedestal.

The Imperial cleric was holding a stick of incense, which he lit with the flames from one of the infinity candles that lined the courtyard.  He walked back to the pedestal and gently placed the stick inside the bronze cauldron at the feet of the 40s.

“On this,” the Imperial cleric began, “the Spring Thankfulness ceremony, we gather to show our gratitude to the men and women who have helped strengthen the Empire with robust and healthy offspring.”

A lower-level Imperial cleric stepped up alongside the other – his suit did not have the gold trim the other’s did – and handed him a scroll, secured by a black silk ribbon.  The Imperial cleric took the scroll respectfully and thoughtfully untied the silk ribbon.  He passed the ribbon to the other cleric who, bowed, took the ribbon away, and disappeared behind the row of cherry trees flanking either side of the courtyard.

The Imperial cleric rolled out the scroll and began reading:

“Our gratefulness for your efforts in our Imperial society shall be expressed in granting your names immortality,” the cleric stopped for a moment and cleared his throat, “Jiahui Kao . . .”

The first woman at the end of row of 40s stepped forward.   She marched, with impeccable form and accuracy, in the appropriate way laid out in the Deng Yu Sheng.

That will be me in a few months. I thought, proudly.

The Imperial cleric took out a large piece of red chalk.

Jiahui Kao spoke: “I am pleased that I could give what I could.”

The whole crowd in attendance replied: “We are grateful that you gave.”

The Imperial cleric raised his hand and drew a long line down the left side of the woman’s face, completing the symbol with two red dots on the right side of the line. Jiahui Kao stepped past the Imperial cleric and marched to the other end of the single file row of 40s.

The Imperial cleric went through the 40s one at a time.  They marched out, recited the words, and each time the crowd echoed their response.  When every 40 had recited and received the mark of eternity, another lower-level cleric entered the courtyard, this time with a scroll secured by a white ribbon made of coarse fabric.

The whole audience jumped to their feet and booed, stopping only to spit on the ground intermittently before continuing to boo.

The Imperial cleric received the scroll and raised a hand for us to quiet down.

He tore the ribbon off and threw it to the ground.  He spit on it.

The whole audience joined him in spitting on the ground.

“Woe, that we would have persons in our Empire who would disgrace our society so,” he opened the scroll further.  “Of these dishonorable 40s, none live.”

A cheer rose from the crowd.

“Their names will join those of the traitorous, vile, rodents in whose footsteps these damned souls follow.”

He listed off the names on the scroll and I heard a name that caused my heart to sink.

Jiahui Ma.

No, it could not be.  She would not disgrace the Empire in such a way.  Why, I had only just talked with her a few days ago at the market.  I had no idea she was going to try to flee.  Those who flee are cowards, and dishonorable, and I could not believe that Jiahui Ma would be one of those.

“These disgraced names will stand for time immemorial in the scrolls of Dai Liu.”

The scroll of those who flee.

The crowd spit again, and the gong was struck twice.

Imperial soldiers flooded in from both ends of the courtyard and began to surround the 40s.

The Imperial cleric signaled the soldiers to ready their weapons.

“Shi Jei embraces you,” the cleric said and swung his arm down.

The courtyard exploded in a wave of riotous gunfire.  The bodies of the 40s were thrown this way and that from the impacts of the bullets, landing entangled.

I saw that one or two still moved.

I shook my head, pityingly.  If they had not been killed in the initial gunfire it meant that their souls were disgraced by some action during their life which they had hidden from the Empire.  Their names would be removed from the scroll of immortality: the Shu Wu.

Another cleric came around with a piece of black chalk and drew a line with one dot on the right cheek of those who were deceivers.  A procession of women, mostly 29s by the looks of the insignias, attended to the righteous and removed their bodies.

For the deceivers, however, the audience was required to spit on them, in contempt of their acts toward the Empire.  The crowd was getting themselves into formation and the line began to move.  I found myself at the end of the line.  I heard the spitting and the shouts of outrage directed toward the deceivers.

As I neared, I recognized Qingling Huang.

My heart sunk even lower.

Not Qingling Huang.

She could not be a deceiver, could she?

It was my turn.

Qingling Huang was still not dead.  A bullet had gone through her shoulder and I could see that ragged edges of skin peeling back away from the wound.  I could make out the white bone underneath the thick blood that ran down the pedestal beneath her and pooled in the uneven areas of the stone tiles.

“Hao Hong,” she looked up at me with confused, pleading eyes, “how can this be?”

I could feel the sadness welling up inside me but I could not cry.  No, she was a deceiver.  She had disgraced all of the Empire and deserved her place in the scrolls of the Dai Liu.

I gritted my teeth together, forced the feelings to the back of my mind, and let my logic control my next actions.

She was a deceiver, and should be treated as such.

I spat on her and it caught her on the nose and ran down her cheek.

She looked at me with expression that I cannot explain.

But it made me feel anxious and . . .

The soldier next to me fired a round into Qingling Huang’s head and she lay still, her eyes open, staring upward in that expression I cannot explain.

——————-

 

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