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    drsawzall
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
This tale owes a debt of thanks to Shirly Jackson’s 1948 short story called The Lottery.  It is well worth the time to check out.

La Tombola - 5. Chapter 5

That we haven’t uncovered the unexplainable, does not preclude scientific reasoning has failed. Simply stated, it is not an unsolvable problem defying reason or logic, it simply requires further study”.
Buck Rogers addressing the Galactic Consortium in ‘Buck Rogers and the Mystery of the Sentient Planet circa 2134 AD

Ned Boone 3

As they were lost in their thoughts, no one was hungry for their own reasons. Halfheartedly partaking of a meager breakfast and what was left of the tea, what little talk there was, lingered inconsequentially in the chill of the early morning. The dew and low-lying mist were just becoming visible as the day was beginning to break. As if to announce the finality of the day that was upon them, song birds began to discuss their plans among themselves. There was no going back Ned sighed. Shortly it would be time to begin the walk up to the cliff face.

Billy had brewed another pot of the tea they were supposed to drink, Tom was of collecting some smaller bits of firewood for that last fire up on the cliffs. Peter was off to the necessary and the pond for a quick wash. If Billy had to put a word to how he was feeling, forlorn would be as good as any. Bringing a cup of the freshly brewed liquid to share with Ned, he asked if he was holding up, “Drink this Ned, it’ll help to settle your nerves and dispel your doubts. I was speaking to Tom earlier; we want you to know we’ll be standing beside you all the way.”

Pulling out a small cloth, holding it up for Ned to see, “There ain’t any way to put this pleasantly Ned, I’ve seen what happens when a knife is used in that way, it takes a few seconds for the heart to stop pumping blood. Do us all a favor, when you draw the knife, let me put this cloth over the cut.”

Nodding his head grimly, averting his weeping eyes from the cloth Billy was holding, looking up he only saw the depths of compassion in Billy’s eyes. Ned could see the enormity of the day was weighing just as heavily on Billy as he. Reaching out, Billy welcomed Ned’s arms as they both grasped on to one another, comforting each other with tender touches. Billy, not quite fully able to guard his feelings, pulled his head back and placed his hands on either side of Ned’s face, “If you ever find yourself alone and hurting, find me, if you need someone to lay with, ask me. We’re brothers now, not by relation but by shared obligation. All I am and have are yours, I know we aren’t alike in that way and one day I’ll have children…a family, but I will always…I will always…be there for you.” The words Billy found so hard to say resonated deeply in Ned, he could see that truth plainly, what stunned him was the loving ferocity of Billy’s kiss.

The moment broken by the sound of Tom entering the sleeping area, “Ned, know that Billy speaks for the both of us,” Tom choked out, a tenuous hold on his emotions, his eyes red, barely able to hold back the tears, the sorrow for what Ned and for that matter, what they were all feeling. Looking every bit as lost as Ned had been feeling, he soon found himself amid a bone crushing three-way hug. “I don’t need to tell you Ned, the truth of what Billy told you, we have an unbreakable bond now, if one of us is hurting, we all will be hurting.’’

As earnestly as he could state it, “Like Billy told you, we’re brothers of duty now, we’ve been charged to look after one another, while no one had told us this, it’s plain to see. Know we are both here, however you need us, when you need us.”

Once more they hugged tightly, words no longer necessary. Breaking apart, their moods had been partially lifted. While they would be stopping back down here later that afternoon, there was a need to clean and somewhat organize as they most likely, would be drained, both emotionally and physically from their afternoon on the cliffs. By the time Peter was back from the pond, all was ready for the next stage of their journey. The rest of the tea was passed around with Peter finishing most of it. Ensuring the fire was out, the boys shouldering their packs set off for the cliffs.

The morning was warming up, it was still a tad cool with light breezes as they found the trail. This last portion of the hike, a half day’s walk up a series of switchbacks moderating the steep elevation gain. For most of the remaining hike, they would be in an ancient forest. The trees rumored to be among some of the oldest living things on the planet. There was an eerie stillness as they walked among the forest giants, almost a soothing quiet, conversation between them as they hiked upwards, was more whispered than not. The more they hiked, the easier it seemed. The tension the three boys were feeling had dissipated, in large part due to the herbs and mushrooms, in the tea and water they carried, reinforcing their responsibilities. There would be one last pot made when they arrived up at the cliffs and ledge face.

Eventually the woods began to thin out, the wind and sun they had been sheltered from, began to appear through the growing breaks between the trees. They were able to, on occasion, glimpse the other side of the valley. Not much further on the trees were giving way to rocky outcrops, they were getting close. What little grew there was squat and compact, hugging what soil their roots were growing in. Farther on most of what they were walking on, were enormous horizontal plates of solid rock. It looked like a jumbled multitude of scrambled rocks till finally they had reached the top. Interspersed among the large rock table tops were grassy mounds and remnants of old, sheltered firepits.

"Hey guys," Peter called out, "I can see the Gnos, they look like tiny bugs from up here. It's gonna be awhile before they get here." He said looking over the cliff face. "Anyone want to have some more fun while we wait?" he said, wiggling his hips suggestively.

Standing behind Peter, Ned called out, "Just a moment…I'm in…let me have your pack." Talking the pack off Peter's outstretched arms and tossing it aside, "Wow, they really do look like bugs, don't they!" As he placed a hand on the small of Peter's back and pushed him to the side, momentarily startling Peter, “Come on now, we’ve got to set up for the ceremony.”

Across the valley, the storm clouds that had gathered, obscuring the high peaks once again. There was a storm of prodigious intensity brewing. Lightning traversed the length of those peaks followed by the loud rumbles of thunder. Rain fell in sheets as the storm moved across the wide valley towards them. The light breezes were becoming strident, blowing the warmer air of the rain-soaked valley across the ledges they were gathered on. Tom and Billy with a great deal of effort were able to get a fire started and a small pot of water boiling while they waited for the Gnos. Ned took a moment to look the area over, he found a spot where they could keep their clothing out of the weather, making sure everyone knew where it was as he stripped off, quickly followed by the others.

Walking over to the age-old rock table, where the ceremony would take place, Ned couldn’t help but stare at it in incredulity. The surface had been worn smooth over the many years of use. Running the length of the table was a person-sized depression and a bowl like indentation, where a person’s head would lay. Separating the two was a small ridge in the rock, ensuring the neck would be fully exposed when the head rested in the bowl for the ceremony.

Ned wondered how many people were gifted here, over a thousand of the citizens of New Boston, and a countless number of Gnos. Looking closer to the surface he noticed that the feet would be elevated, higher than the rest of the body lying there. The bowl where the head would lay, had a small channel carved that allowed the blood to drain down the side of the table, where it would disappear into the rocky ground.

Off in the distance the color of the sky grew more and more ominous. There was an intensity unique to the boy’s previous life experiences. They stood fascinated as the electrical storm raged, coming ever so slowly coming closer, its fury unabated. So fierce was the storm they failed to notice the arrival of the Gnos, until Bahet walked up to them. Looking back the boys noticed that the rest of the Gnos were focused as they set up for their portion of the ritual. Standing with Bahet were Manat and Dosan, two boys of similar age to Ned and his companions. Introductions were made all around as Dosan would stand for Manet and Ned would stand for Peter.

Bahet took over making the ceremonial concoction adding the herbs and mushrooms. With the arrival of the Gnos the storm looked to have abated a bit and the boys watched as dappled sunlight played across the rock formations. Ned watched as the tea was passed around and finally passed to him. As he was partaking of the beverage, Bahet told all of them that soon they would all be immersed in Mithras’ light.

Ned soon felt relaxed, his nerves had settled, he felt a calm serenity, a certainty of purpose and a deeper connection to those around him. He was no longer alone with his feelings nor were his companions. He hadn’t any explanation for the way he felt, he was clear-headed, not drowsy or acting slow. Everything in his field of vision was unobscured and he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

It was if there was a path forward out of the gloom he had been feeling. Watching as Manat and Dosan shared their bodies with each other, the métier of their connection drove him to seek Peter out. Quickly, Ned found himself in Peters embrace on one of the grassy mounds, sharing their uniqueness. The intensity of the boy’s connections was only rivaled by the approaching storm, for no sooner had they finished, a bright flash of lightning went off followed by an equally loud clap of thunder. The sky around them further darkened, releasing a cloudburst of wind and rain. So close was the storm, it wasn’t possible see past the edges of the ledge face they were standing on. Ned had no doubt that the storm would soon be over them and as he looked back over to the Gnos, they appeared not to be worried as they completed their arrangements. Everyone had another drink from the pot of tea that was passed around, before leading Manat over to the age worn rock table.

As Captain Reynolds noted in his journals, Ned could hear a host of voices that all appeared to be singing, before becoming one single song of loving comfort. After being prepared, Manat was affectionately laid upon the table. Ned could hear the interconnections of gratitude for the gift Manat so willingly give.

A multitude of hands fondly caressed a naked Manat, as Dosan holding one of Manat’s hands and obsidian knife in the other, stood by his head. They all heard Manat’s silent cry to Mithras, that he was ready, tilting his head backwards, before meeting the sharp edge of the blade.

Once it was over, his lifeless body was gently placed in wrapping and brought over to the cliff face and let over the edge.

Moving over to the boys, Bahet asked Ned to prepare Peter so he could be brought to the table. Ned knew that by now, Peter had to understand what was about to happen, when he simply declined the offer to clean the surface Manat had just laid on.

Ned was worried, Peter had watched without reaction, to Manat being made ready, then as he was led to the rock table, and tenderly laid upon it. Looking for a response from Peter, he saw none, he was holding him close as the cut, swift, sure, and deep, was made.

But now, Ned could hear the multitude of voices once again; they were calling to him. Drawing them closer to the table, they blended into one harmonious melodic voice, softly calling to him as he guided Peter up and on to the table. Tom, Billy, and Ned laid their hands on him kneading his flesh, seeking to show their love, reinforcing they were there for him, a reminder they were by his side.

Ned heard Mithras accept this gift of Peter, her voice shaking him to his core, the abstract was now a reality. Peter, bending his head back, silently crying out his readiness to join her, as he awaited the edge of the obsidian blade that would slice across his neck. Tom steadied his head as Billy readied the cloth he had been carrying. Ned reluctantly pressed the keen edge to Peter’s neck. Time seemed to move slowly as Ned reluctantly, ready to draw the blade across the exposed bare flesh.

Peter, placing his hand on Ned’s, astonishing him, helping to hold the blade against his neck. A thin line of blood appearing where the edge broke the skin. Taking a deep breath, his chest expanding, he whispered the words of thanks and friendship to Tom and Billy. Looking to Ned, their eyes connecting, a wan smile appearing on his face, he increased pressure on Ned’s hand, pressing it firmly down.

The pain of the cut was fleeting, the blade sliced deep as if on its own accord. The cloth then quickly covering the fatal wound, as Peter’s life was tendered for his community. Ned continued to holding Peter’s hand, feeling the life ebbing away as the grip slackened. Tom noted the slowing of Peter’s beating heart as the blood spilled under the cloth, until it did no longer, the chest no longer rising in breath. Billy confirmed for Ned that it was over; the benefaction had been made.

Closing Peter’s lifeless eyes, Ned tenderly kissed him on the lips with tears he could not stop.

They gently wrapped Peter in his sleeping blanket and carried him to the cliff face, where the three teary eyed companions watching the body fall towards the ground, saw a flash of light and the Peter they knew was no more.

It was done.

Peter was gone.

Ned felt the void, the blackness overtaking him.

He was empty inside.

A silent wail of anguish to the sky above, his arms raised in supplication.

The enormity, hitting him like a herd of gruntlings, his torment unleashed.

Tom and Billy gathered by his side, holding him, bringing him back from the edge as Mithras spoke to the three of them. Allowing them to see both Manat and Peter happily sitting by her side. She was pleased with the gift in the name of the settler’s clan and the clans of the Gnos. To remember they were her family and they would all prosper. To think of the selfness of Peter and to honor this day, now and in the future.

A warm gentle, soaking rain began to fall, drenching them as the storms around them dissipated, cleansing not only themselves but the rock table as well, Mithras would have all her due.

The rain showers soon ended; a brilliant clear blue sky emerged from the retreating storm clouds. The three boys gathered their belongings and walked over to Bahet with their gifts of the oregano, clasping hands they bade each other well.

Bahet, an ancient…wizened Gno, asked for a private moment with Ned, a rare honor from the titular head of the Gnos clans, to approach…a mere boy. “It is a terrible price to pay for one in love such as you, the cry of your heart was strong, I heard it powerfully but remember this, each day Mithras gives us what we need to survive, it is she who feeds and clothes us with her bounty…that she allows us to harvest. All she needs in turn for what we take from her…what she needs from us, is this small gift of thanks and sustenance, one day out of our cycle of days. It ensures that we both prosper.”

Continuing, holding Ned close, his hands on his shoulders, “She gives us a home when we cross the great river at the end of our days, her valleys and gardens await us. Know this young Ned, she heard your cry…she knows of your love…feels and understands the pain of your loss…of the great gift you have bestowed upon her, for it is the rarest there is…you will be favored in her house…and your love returned when it is your time to cross the great river.”

As they parted Bahet, his eyes rheumy with age and wisdom, had one last comment, “She has great plans for you young Ned, and in time you will understand. Go with my blessings, go not in sorrow, for your love is not lost…he awaits you. I hope that one day we meet again on this side of the great river, and that I can walk beside the fine man you will become. Until we meet again my son.”

It was time to head home, back to their lives and the beginning of another cycle. While Ned was in a deep conversation with Bahet, having retrieved their clothing, Billy carefully placed the cloth in one of the cups they had used for drinking and secreted it in Ned’s backpack. He’d let Ned know before they returned to the village.

When Ned’s conversation was over, he found himself back at the ancient, age worn rock table. Of what had happened there was no trace, the rain had cleansed what evidence of the day remained. Placing the flat of his palms on the table as difficult as it was, he let his grief go. Peter wasn’t gone, just away for now. He couldn’t dwell in the past, no matter the pain, his future was ahead of him, there were challenges he would need to face, and many steps to be taken before he could hold Peter in his arms again.

Not much was said as the boys redressed themselves. The Gnos, grateful for the gift of the oregano had quietly slipped away, they could hear them softly chanting their song of thanks as they wound their way back down to return to their clans.

As always, thanks for reading. Your thoughts and comments are welcomed and appreciated!!
Copyright © 2022 drsawzall; All Rights Reserved.
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Thanks for reading, your comments and thoughts are appreciated. Please take a moment to let me know your impressions.
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Wow, this chapters was told with such a balance of grief and hope. I'm not much of a crier but you got a bit from me. 

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The tragedy that love can be... made softer by assurances they will see each other again. You did good, buddy. I was a little sad, but it lifted after the act. Cheers!

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On 3/23/2022 at 12:45 AM, Mrsgnomie said:

Wow, this chapters was told with such a balance of grief and hope. I'm not much of a crier but you got a bit from me. 

Somehow, some way I missed this comment from you...most likely I was thinking of a pithy rejoinder to one of your later chapters...I truly appreciate your taking the time to comment and is high praise indeed and hope to see your reactions to the rest of the story!!!

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11 hours ago, Headstall said:

The tragedy that love can be... made softer by assurances they will see each other again. You did good, buddy. I was a little sad, but it lifted after the act. Cheers!

Thanks Gary...It is appreciated and stay tuned, there's a bit more to go!!

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I cried.

For the love that was just starting. For the love that ended. For the love that was foretold.

And mostly for the human condition that these recollections seems to dim with time.

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@Al Norris, That's high praise and deeply appreciated, it was a difficult chapter to write, I only hope I did it justice.

Edited by drsawzall
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16 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

Love and hope. They will have to sustain Ned for a long time.

Ned will find the faith to carry on..

As they parted Bahet, his eyes rheumy with age and wisdom, had one last comment, “She has great plans for you young Ned, and in time you will understand. Go with my blessings, go not in sorrow, for your love is not lost…he awaits you. I hope that one day we meet again on this side of the great river, and that I can walk beside the fine man you will become. Until we meet again my son.”

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I was deeply saddened by this tableau of Gnos and Humans. And its Ned's powerful love for Peter is like some power magic which is so overpowering! This story is so well thought out and perfect and so dark at times. That I can't wait to see where all of this may lead.

Thanks for sharing!:yes:

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3 hours ago, Albert1434 said:

I was deeply saddened by this tableau of Gnos and Humans. And its Ned's powerful love for Peter is like some power magic which is so overpowering! This story is so well thought out and perfect and so dark at times. That I can't wait to see where all of this may lead.

Thanks for sharing!:yes:

Your welcome...read on my friend!!

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