Happy Friday, everyone! I follow a wonderful blog by writer Chuck Wendig called Terribleminds. It’s actually more hilariously inappropriate and blunt than anything, and he’s written some books, well on writing, and they’re on the nose.
Anyway, he sent out a challenge for people to choose from a list of titles, first lines, and last lines. I chose three and started brainstorming, writing, and editing this week. It’s posted below and I’d really love to hear what you think because I didn’t get the chance to workshop it like I usually do.
I tend to write more on the “dark” and murder side rather than the puppy and kitten side. I guess that’s what happens when Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft are your favorite authors. I took the title literally, but you’ll see.
I Held Your Heart Once
No one had ever bothered to tell her about this part. The details of the initiation ritual were kept secret even though Circe’s mother was a cult Elder. However, she did know that it occurred every year during the winter solstice before midnight. Her mother headed the group of initiates and led them into the center of the field where the rest of the Elders awaited their arrival. Frost and snow covered the meadow, which smothered the weeds and daisies underneath, but glistened in the moonlight.
Each initiate and Elder held a candle, dressed in ceremonial white robes to shield them from the cold. While the rest of the ground was blanketed, the members walked into a barren circle. Nothing had grown in this spot for the last few centuries. Their ancestors were buried here on top of one another, their bodies poisoning the soil with the power of the undead.
The group reached the edge of the circle, filling in the gaps between the Elders until the formation was complete.
“Welcome everyone, to your awakening,” a figure said as it stepped in the center and pulled down its hood. Leona was the Elder who oversaw the ritual which brought young members of the cult into adulthood where they came into full power. Circe’s heart pounded in her chest and against her ribs.
Her time was here.
Leona walked around the inner circle as she looked into the eyes of each initiate. “When your name is called, go to the altar and perform the ritual.” She pointed past the group into a dark object in the distance. “The altar will then be cleansed, made ready, and the next member will go.” She continued around the circle as she inspected their faces until she stopped in front of Circe. “You will go first.”
Circe’s heart thumped, jumped, and dropped.
“Leona, I think it would be best if another member went first. One of the older girls, maybe?” Circe’s mother removed her hood and moved closer to her daughter, but addressed her equal.
“Celeste,” Leona narrowed her eyes and raised her hand. “The other Elders and I think it would be best if the strongest went first to demonstrate real power to the others.” She looked to Circe with the same superior stare.
“She’s also much younger than the others…”
Leona raised her voice and enunciated every word. “It’s decided and you’re outnumbered.” She turned to address the rest of the cult. “Together, we will lead this war against Zeus. The Cult of Hades will show the other gods and their worshipers their place here and in the Underworld.” She pointed to the barren earth and everyone shouted into the night.
After the voices faded, Leona said, “Come with me, Circe.” Celeste lowered her head and lifted her hood to hide her face as she stepped back into the outer ring of the circle. Leona led Circe to the dark object in the distance as snow crunched beneath their feet. The monolith towered over the figures in the snow: a black reflective marble altar carved with flames which licked the night sky. Moonlight bounced from the top, but clouds were creeping in until the reflection was gone.
“Take this,” Leona said as she unsheathed a large dagger from her robe and extended it to Circe. The girl grabbed the handle and examined the long blade and bone-carved handle. The carvings on the blade matched the altar, flames rising into the steel.
A marble table laid at the base of the structure, surrounded by wine and food offerings from other cult members. On the slab, a teenage boy struggled against his rope restraints which stretched over the table and into the ground. He wasn’t dressed in their robes, only a cloth wrapped around his bottom half which exposed him to the cold. Leona and Circe moved closer.
“August!” Circe reached out to touch his face, but Leona grabbed her wrist and pulled her away from the table. She stared at his mouth sewn shut with a dark thread woven into the swollen flesh.
“Do not touch him or get too close,” Leona said lowering her voice. “You have to perform the ritual correctly or all of this effort will be wasted.”
“Why him?” Circe looked back to the table as August grunted, tugging at his bindings. “He’s one of us and he’s done nothing wrong.” Her face heated as blood rushed to her cheeks and tears collected in her eyes. August had played with her as a child, and while all of the initiates this year were women, he would be part of next year’s rituals.
“He’s not one of us.” Leona placed the back of her hand on Circe’s cheek and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “He was born a human, not descended from Hades himself. We accepted him knowing that one day he would serve a purpose. This purpose.” She straightened and took the dagger from Circe’s hands. “All of the sacrifices are followers of our enemies or they aren’t capable of our abilities. We have no use for them.”
Leona pointed the blade tip at August’s chest and dragged it from his throat to his breastbone. “Now,” she continued, “you’re going to remove his heart after we recite the incantation. You will ingest it along with his energy and sacrifice him to Hades. Only then will you become whole and your powers will be at full strength. Then, we can prepare for battle.”
Snow floated down while Leona spoke and Circe found herself wishing she was still a child. Human sacrifice wasn’t unheard of in her culture, but she never imagined doing it so soon. Especially to a friend.
Leona gave the dagger back to Circe and stepped away from the table. She looked back at the group, raising the dagger above her head to cut past the skin and bone. The cult began to chant the guttural words, raising their voices louder and louder, but the snow muffled the sounds to the outside world.
August’s sutures prevented his cries and his body laid still as he tired and shivered.
He accepted his fate.
Circe would not accept hers.
Her scream pierced the air as she drove the dagger into the slab, cracking the marble. Lightning exploded from the point of contact, sending bolts through the center of each Elder and initiate, leaving a seared hole of electricity and innards. No one had a chance to scream before their bodies fell to the ground. August stopped struggling, looking up at Circe with horror.
The table and altar did not shatter entirely and he remained bound. Circe wedged the dagger from the stone and examined the unbroken blade before slitting the stitches holding his lips together. August swallowed as much air as he could and croaked, “Thank you, Circe,” before his eyes darted to the rope around his hands. The fibers caused his skin to blister and bruise.
“Actually, it’s Persephone.”
She kept still. “Well, reborn. I figured it out some time ago from my mother, my real mother, but thought I would keep it secret until now.”
“Thank you for saving me, Circe. I mean, Persephone. What will we tell everyone else when they see what happened?”
She plunged the blade into August’s stomach, twisting it until August coughed blood. He tried to scream, but choked and sent red mist into the air, spraying onto his chest.
“Oh, I didn’t save you.” Persephone smiled. “I just wanted you all to myself. I’m still going to complete the ritual, just not for the reasons Leona and Celeste intended.” She twisted the blade again, prompting more choking noises from her victim. “With my power, I’ll start with that bastard Hades and take the power of the Underworld to raise souls and the undead.”
She pulled the dripping dagger from his stomach and licked the blade from the handle to the tip. “Then, I’ll move onto my father Zeus. He sold me to his brother like a cow.”
Persephone held out her hand, collecting snowflakes in her palm. “My real mother misses me.”
She leaned down and caressed August’s face, tracing the outer lines of his cool lips, her breath now visible. “Hades held my heart once. Now I’ll rip his from his body. Like this.” She forced her hand into his chest past the bone and muscle to pluck her treasure from its home.
She held the heart high above her head as blood streamed down her hand and arm, soaking her white robes before seeping into the snow.
Silence blanketed the meadow.