“The Area Ceremony” Aneesha Mishra

I sat on my bed, carefully closed my eyes, and massaged them. Soon black and gray blobs filled my vision. Random images came up, only a few seconds at a time: my principal standing in front of me, shaking her head, my best friend holding a flashlight out in front of her, looking apprehensive, a flooded school building… I tried to focus my thoughts and redirect them to my goal. As many times I did this, it never got easier. I tried to focus on the question I needed to get answered.

“What Area will I get?” I asked silently. Soon images came up, grainy and slightly out of focus. It showed me in front of the Ceremony coordinator. He started talking and…

My door slammed open. I jumped and opened my eyes, losing my focus. It was my little sister, Lily.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. I sighed, but I couldn’t get mad at her. She was the only one I had trusted with my secret: I could see into the future. And don’t worry; I might be only thirteen, but I had used my power responsibly: seeing what I was going to get for Christmas, finding out whether I was going to fail a test, and trying to see if my crush liked me or not. Okay, maybe not that responsibly. But I had also tried to see if anything bad would happen to my little sister. It didn’t work for some reason. Maybe I could only see my future. Or some other reason. The same thing happened when I tried to find out if my crush liked me or not, which was infuriating.

“Were you-” my sister looked around then lowered her voice “-doing the thing?”

“Yeah.”

She sighed and flopped on my bed dramatically. “I wish I could do that.” I couldn’t help but smile. She was 7 years old, about five and a half years younger than me. We were polar opposites: I was shy and quiet, and she was loud and dramatic. We looked different too. I had our mother’s brown hair and our father’s green eyes, while she had our father’s red hair and our mother’s brown eyes.

“Well at least I’m the pretty one,” she said, making an over exaggerated face. I laughed and pushed her off the bed.

“Sure, I’ll give you that. Considering that I’m the smart one. And the special one.”

She pouted. “It’s not fair. How come you can do that and I can’t?”

“I have no idea, but don’t you dare tell anyone.”

She nodded. “Don’t worry, I won’t. Anyway, I was about to tell you that they are starting the Ceremony, so you have to hurry.” We cautiously left my room, making sure not to make any noise and wake up our mom. We walked outside and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Aria!” I heard someone call. I turned and saw my neighbor and classmate, Alexander, there.

“Hi.” I said. We had been friends for almost four years, and I had had a crush on him for almost that long. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah. And Isabella and Isaiah are waiting for you inside,” he told Lily. Isabella and Isaiah were his twin siblings who were Lily’s age. Alexander’s mom had generously offered for Lily to go to their house while we were at the Ceremony. I was so relieved. Just the thought of Lily alone with no one with my mom made me shudder.

My train of thought was lost when Alexander gently poked me on my shoulder. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”

I nodded and quickly followed him, glancing back to wave goodbye to Lily. She waved back solemnly, as if she knew what was at stake here.

I suppose I should probably explain what the ceremony is. On February 28th, there is a ceremony for thirteen-year olds to decide which Area you go to. There are five Areas. Area 1 is where people with special powers like mine go. The people in Area 1 work in the government. This makes sense, since if I was there I would be able to tell if something catastrophic were to happen in advance so we could prepare for it. The people in Area 1 live in giant mansions. Then there is Area 2 and Area 3. Area 2 is for the incredibly smart. The people there work as scientists and doctors and engineers. Area 3 is for the physically very strong people. They work in the military. Both Area 2 and Area 3 get about equal privilege, Area 2 just a miniscule amount above Area 3.

Then there’s us. Area 4. It’s known as the “average” Area, but that’s just a polite way of saying boring. We have nothing that sets us apart: average intelligence, average strength, average everything. Most of us have to find work as artists- painting, drawing, singing, and dancing. At least I wasn’t born in Area 5. That’s the Area for much below average intelligence and strength. They work as laborers and, in some cases, as servants to the people of Area 1. Anyone who is mentally or physically weak, so much they can’t even get into Area 5, are instantly put to death. I was terrified when Lily was born with a bad limp because I was afraid they were going to kill her, but it has gotten better over the years and it’s barely noticeable now.

“What Area do you want to go to?” Alexander asked, breaking the silence.

I pursed my lips. “I just want to stay in Area 4,” I admitted. “I don’t want to leave Lily and everything here.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I can’t imagine leaving my family, but… I kind of want to go to Area 2.” My stomach lurched slightly. He would probably get in and I might too. The two of us were the smartest ones in our class. But if he went to Area 2, I would never see him again. Interaction between different Areas was absolutely forbidden.

We walked into the school. There were many students waiting for their turn, milling around. My best friend Olivia Chapman came over.

“Have you gone yet?” I asked.

“Yeah. I got Area 4.” She said. I shrieked and hugged her. I was so happy she hadn’t got Area 5 and that she was staying here.

The coordinator for the Ceremony poked his head out a door nearby. He called a list of names, and I started when I heard him say “Alexander Lane.”

        He flashed a nervous smile at us before going into the room with a bunch of other nervous students. I waited impatiently. I desperately wanted to ask Olivia what she had to do in the Ceremony, but I knew she was forbidden from answering. After what felt like forever, Alexander came out and gave us a slightly shaky smile. Before I could ask what he got, I heard the coordinator call out the next group. The last name he called was “Aria Reynolds.”

I stood there for a second, shocked, then walked shakily to the room where the Ceremony was taking place. There were about thirty of my classmates there.

The first thing we had to do was take a twenty-minute quiz with forty questions. I made sure to get some problems wrong on purpose so I wouldn’t get into Area 2, but not so many that I would get into Area 5. When the quiz was over, we were taken outside and told to finish an obstacle course as fast as we could. I hated obstacle courses, but I was a fast runner and finished in an average time.

Finally, to test if we could get into Area 1, we were blindfolded and had to listen to tortured screaming to see if we would react and use our powers. This was the test I had been dreading. If I reacted, they would immediately send me to Area 1, and Lily would have to live alone with our mom… or worse, at an orphanage. The orphanages here sucked. The kids there didn’t get any funding from the government and basically had to work like the laborers at Area 5. I tensed in my chair, trying to block out the screaming. One of the voices sounded like Lily, and as much as I wanted to help, I remembered it was just a test and besides, looking into the future wouldn’t help in any way.

The Ceremony ended soon. The coordinators told us all privately what we had got. Many kids seemed pleased, but a few couldn’t suppress their tears. Finally, it was me.

“Aria Reynolds… Area 4.” A coordinator told me.

I almost cried.

I would stay with Lily.

I would stay with Olivia.

I would stay with my secret.

I nodded, trying to remain composed and barricade my emotions: relief, hopefulness… and even a little bit of disappointment. I walked outside with the rest of the group and quickly found Olivia and Alexander.

“What did you get?” Olivia immediately demanded.

I smiled. “Area 4.”

She shrieked just like I had. “That’s all three of us!” She pulled the both of us into a group hug.

Slightly surprised, I looked into Alexander’s blue eyes. He nodded. I suddenly grinned even brighter than I was before and hugged the two of them. I was going to remain in one of the lesser Areas, yes, but more importantly I got to stay with my best friend, my crush, and my little sister.

What more could I hope for?

 

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