Crypt by Jinapher J. Hoffman
An Original Short Story
Crypt sits undisturbed on the blackened soil of medieval magic and poverty. It’s a beacon of fear for most who live here, constantly waiting for the day they are Fated by the old witch Milda. Milda raised this town from the ashes of her burned ancestors after the Rebellion. That’s where this place gets its name. We call it Crypt, because that’s what it is: a home for those who will sooner die than see the day they’ll make it to Cale.
Happiness, they say, starts with the day a girl and boy are Fated. For most, this could mean marrying at seventeen, as I will. For others, depending on their position in Crypt, will be Fated at a much younger age. Those lucky few are in most eyes the rich and spoiled, but really, they are just less poor. Either way, if someone is lucky enough to be Fated, then they are lucky enough to make the jump to Cale. Cale is Crypt’s sister city and the citizens of Crypt’s final destination. I don’t know the whole story behind Milda and her brother Maysion. I know they do not get along, but must if either of their cities are to survive. In history, which is usually held in a small room of huddled up diseased teenagers, they taught us about Cale. It’s supposed to be this grand richness of the sea; a palace submerged in water. It’s supposed to make people around here happy that we will one day leave this poverty stricken graveyard and swim to a place so wonderful it’s comparable to Heaven, but it really just fills most of us with pent up anger. Why must we live in disease, decay, and constant fear of death when there’s a whole city with everything we need at the bottom of the ocean?
I grip the strap of my falling apart canvas pouch and keep my footsteps in sync with the beat of my failing heart. “Double Syndrome,” Milda had diagnosed me a few years ago, “You’ll be a tricky one to Fate.” That stands true now three years later as my heart is failing to keep up with the whirling of questions in my brain. “What’s Double Syndrome?” I had asked the witch, who was brewing a pot of water. We drink lots of hot water in the winter. It’s the closest warm substance we have to the wonderful drinks of Cale, like coffee or something called hot-chocolate. “You remember your studies about the Fated system, do you not? Recall the lesson on your heart,” Milda had said. She did that a lot: returning my questions with more questions or statements instead of answers. However, that time I had known what she meant. When Milda created Crypt, she reformed the first people of her city to have a “dying heart”. One’s heart would be healthy until it came time to be Fated. Then, their heartbeat could not be renewed until they combined spirits with the one they are being Fated with. It’s all very confusing, really, and I still don’t know, as I enter the building Milda lives in, how my failing heart is any different from all of the other girls who’ve just turned seventeen.
“Ana, my dear child!” Milda appears at the top of the elaborate staircase, her long colorful robes trailing behind her as she comes to greet me. I used to envy Milda’s wealth, but then she taught me of all the prices she had to pay to earn it, and now, I know her grand mansion and striking outfits are all well-deserved. Milda grips me into a hug, kissing each cheek before looking at my face. She does this every time I come to see her, peering through her fake lashes and charcoal covered eyes to search my face for what she calls my “presence”. Apparently, one can learn everything about me if they look close enough. It’s pretty disturbing. “You look fatigued!” Milda exclaims. Then, after a closer look, “Not only that, but you seem depressed. Dear, what’s the matter? You should be celebrating!” Milda pushes me toward one of her many silk covered cushions and places a tray of treats on the table, even though she knows I won’t take them. I don’t take anything she offers me because I think it’s unfair for me to get special treatment over the others in Crypt. “I’ve been working very hard on deciding your Fate,” Milda sighs, changing her mood to match mine. I think she believes that being like someone will comfort them. For me, it’s just weird and, again, disturbing…
“I’m not well, Aunt Milda,” I relax into the soft cushioning of the couch and let my eyes close, “I don’t have much time left to be Fated.”
Milda is my mother’s sister, which kind-of makes me royalty around here. I keep my direct line to Crypt and Cale a secret, because I don’t want to be sticking out like a sore thumb among the crowd. I’ve never met my Uncle Maysion before, and after my mother passed away, the few letters I did get from him stopped coming. Instead, Milda took care of me. She raised me like I was her own. However, I branched away from her when I was fourteen, around the same time Milda told me I was dying faster than I should be. You’d think the witch could cure me, but apparently death is incurable.
“Then, I’m glad you came over today, Ana,” Milda claps her hands excitedly, “I know I should have talked to you first, but I knew how bad your situation was getting. So, when I found him, I thought I should get you both together as soon as possible.”
It’s against tradition to see your Fated one until the day you’re supposed to meet up with them on the Cliff, which is literally a giant cliff.
As if on que, there are a series of knocks coming from the front door of Milda’s mansion. Milda gathers her skirts and rushes to answer, opening the door to an unfamiliar face. A small part of me hoped that perhaps my Fated one would be someone I’ve stumbled upon somehow. This boy in front of me, however, is as strange and unfamiliar as I’m sure Cale will be when I finally arrive.
“Jason!” Milda exclaims, “Come in, dear boy, come in!”
Jason steps inside and away from the shadows. I watch him as he confidently strolls inside, dark hair and dark eyes reaching mine. An expression of realization crosses his face as he sees me, and with it comes an easy, charming smile. “You must be Ana,” Jason interprets, closing the distance between the two of us and wrapping his arms around me as if it’s second nature. I awkwardly hug him back until he finally lets go.
“Here,” Milda pulls a pair of matching rings from a small box and hands one to each of us. I roll the thin band of gold between my fingers as Jason slips his on. Something keeps me from putting mine on. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never seen Jason in my entire life, which seems almost impossible with the close quarters of Crypt. It also could be his radiating confidence. People in Crypt don’t carry themselves the way he does. It’s as if he’s not from here at all.
“You two know the rules,” Milda’s voice darkens.
I can’t believe my moment to be Fated has finally arrived.
“Together, you will walk to the Cliff. When the rain starts to fall, as it will within the hour, you will seal your fate with a kiss. As soon as you kiss, you must make the jump,” Milda glances at the ring I’m still playing with, “with both of your rings on.”
I hesitantly slide mine on. For a moment, something strange happens. Something within me brightens, lightens, and becomes more of the young girl I used to be. I look over at Jason, my mouth slightly agape. Does he feel what I feel? Milda must notice my reaction because she smiles.
“The rings are the first step in uniting you two,” she pushes us towards the door, “the kiss will do the rest. Now, go, before it’s too late.”
Jason and I step outside and I can’t help but glance back at Milda. She gives me a sad wave. Will this be the last time I ever see her?
Jason grabs my wrist, obviously sensing my hesitation, and drags me toward the edge of Crypt were the Cliff is.
“You’re hurting me,” I whimper as he tugs me harshly up the rocky path to the Cliff. I can hear the water beneath the Cliff roaring and can sense rain on its way.
Jason instantly lets go, staring down at my now red wrist. “Sorry,” he grumbles, barely looking me in the eyes. All the confidence I had seen in him before has vanished. Now, he just seems like a boy ready to get this all over with. I can’t say I don’t feel the same.
We reach the edge of the Cliff and I can’t help but peek over the edge. My stomach turns as roughly as the waves do and I suddenly regret looking.
“The rain’s coming,” Jason sighs, staring up at the clouded sky.
“Have we ever met?” I ask him, because how can I not? It’s not often I meet an unfamiliar face.
“No,” he states plainly, tapping his finger impatiently on his jeans, “I’m not from around here.”
“Wait, what?” I’m caught of guard. Of course, I noticed he was different, and in my head I thought maybe he wasn’t from Crypt, but I didn’t think it was actually true.
Jason gives me a strange look, “Do I look like I belong here with you?”
He’s right, I realize. He doesn’t belong with his perfectly cut hair style, brand new jeans and clean t-shirt. There’s no way he could be from Crypt.
“Then, where?” I watch him carefully, looking for any sign of a lie.
“Cale,” he shrugs, as if it’s everyday that I see someone from freaking Cale.
I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I cross my arms and glare at him, “What’s going on? Why am I Fated with a boy from Cale?”
“Father said you have a thick head,” Jason scoffs, “but I didn’t think it was that thick.”
“I-I don’t understand,” I stumble on my words. What’s going on?
“My father, King Maysion, your Uncle,” Jason says these words slowly, as if communicating to a five year old, “Your mother was his sister.”
“I know that!” I exclaim, still not following.
“Aunt Milda really never told you anything, did she?” Jason asks, lifting his eyebrows in surprise.
“Aunt Milda?” I stare at him in disbelief. I’ve connected the dots now, and I’m disgusted. “You’re my cousin?” I cry.
“Well, yeah, they keep the lineage within the family. Something about keeping our powers to ourselves. I don’t know. I told Dad it was gross, but he doesn’t care. He just needs us married before his reign comes to an end,” Jason says, a few droplets of rain starting to spatter from the clouds above.
“You can’t be my Fated!” I cry in anguish, “We share the same blood!”
“You actually believe in all that Fated crap?” Jason asks as if it’s all very laughable.
I frown, “Why wouldn’t I? It’s true.”
“Oh, please,” Jason chuckles, “You must also believe that everyone who jumps off the Cliff makes it to Cale?”
“Well, of course,” I nod, “I mean, if they’ve been Fated.”
He shakes his head, “None of them make it to Cale, Ana.”
I stare at him in disbelief, “What do you mean?”
“They’re dead,” Jason flat out says, his voice level.
“What?” I shriek, starting to back away.
“Aunt Milda and Uncle Maysion have been enemies for years. Dad thought that making Aunt Milda believe she was sending people from Crypt to a haven would be the best way to slowly kill off her kingdom. She “Fates” them. They jump. They die. Cale prevails,” Jason shrugs, as if it’s nothing.
“You’re sick!” I shout, “I’ve known wonderful people who made that jump, great people, thinking they were finally going someplace where they could be comforted. And instead…instead they were all jumping to their deaths!”
It’s started raining now, droplets coming down in large amounts. My hair plasters to my body along with my dirty rags and I instantly feel the urge to runaway. I start backing away, but Jason grabs my wrist.
“You can’t run, Ana, even if being Fated isn’t all you thought it would be, you’re still heading in the right direction. The portal will actually open for us unlike it did for the others. It opens for those who have been granted permission by the King,” Jason plasters fake sympathy on his face, “I know this must be hard for you, but we don’t have much time. We have to go.”
I take a good look back at the crumbling city of Crypt. I should run back to Aunt Milda. I should tell her everything before she sends another happy Fated couple to their deaths. I also know that this will be my only opportunity to go to Cale. I want so badly to go to this paradise, but now I wonder if it is just a replica of Crypt. I know that can’t be true just by the way Jason is dressed, but then again, he is the King’s son.
“Ana, we have to go, now,” Jason tugs me toward the very edge of the Cliff.
Maybe going to Cale will be for the best. If I choose to stay in Crypt, I can’t do anything but crush people’s dreams with the truth. However, if I go to Cale, maybe I can sway Uncle Maysion into opening the portal to Crypt’s people. Maybe I can give them the paradise they thought they were jumping towards all these years. Then, I remember something…
“If being Fated isn’t real, then why do I feel better?” I question Jason, who is urgently trying to get me to make the jump, “I was dying before I put this ring on. Now, I’m starting to heal. Try explaining that.”
Jason closes his eyes in frustration, “You were never dying, Ana. Just forget what you’ve been told and I’ll explain everything when we’re in Cale, but for now, we have to jump.”
I don’t want to wait for answers, but I know that Jason won’t budge on this until he’s safely home. I glance back at Crypt, saying my last goodbyes before turning to Jason.
“Alright, ready?” Jason asks.
“What about the kiss?” I wonder.
“That was fake too,” Jason rolls his eyes, “If the rings are fake, the kiss is fake. Now, let’s go.”
The rings are fake?
Suddenly, without warning, I’m plummeting down towards the roaring sea. I scream and Jason tugs me close as we pick up speed. Just as the waves are a few feet away, and I’m sure we’re about to die, a bright light surrounds us and my screams are swallowed back as we fall to the hard surface of tile. Jason stands up, helping me as he does so, and then immediately dips into a large bow. I blink a few times, adjusting my eyes to the light around me. It’s an eerie light. It’s dark but not too dark, and bright, but in that weird cloudy day bright. It’s also blue, so, that’s a little strange. But as my eyes adjust and I look around me, seeing all of the faces staring back, I suddenly shake in fear. Why are they all watching me?
“Princess Ana,” a voice booms in front of me and I turn to find a man sitting on a throne. I wouldn’t recognize him or know who he is if he didn’t carry so many similarities to Aunt Milda. They have the same pointed jaw and the same hair that looks slightly disheveled on the King but fashionably acceptable on Milda. King Maysion gives me a small nod and I just stare, unable to comprehend what is happening.
“We’ve waited a long time for you to join us, Princess,” King Maysion announces, “We’re glad the time has finally come.” Applause erupts from the crowd around me and I jump in surprise. I look around at the palace surrounding me and at the large glass windows. It takes me a moment to make sense of it all until I realize that this is it. This is Cale. I’m standing in the underwater palace Crypt people know as paradise.
This short story was brought to you by Jinapher J. Hoffman for her Short Story Thursday segment. All rights are reserved to the author. If you wish to share the story, all credit for the writing must be given to Jinapher J. Hoffman. Thank-you for reading and be sure to come back on Thursdays for more short stories by this author.