Angelica is a Bristol based writer and musician. She spent her childhood between Russia and Hungary. She is inspired by folk songs and folk tales of various cultures and has an interest in science, especially in physics and astronomy. Her writing explores alienation within society and its roots, which she presents in tales with fantastic and sci-fi elements. Her work has previously been published in Brooklyn based magazine Quail Bell and in literary magazine The Bard.
Partonia is a happy place. Every member of its society is useful and appreciated according to their abilities. Of course, their abilities and, ultimately, their destinies, are given to them at birth by the Gods and at the age of sixteen, revealed to them during The Ceremony; a celebration that lasts for one day and one night in the Padoga Garden. Here, they will search for their Destiny hidden within an Iridescent Egg.
On the day of Zee’s Ceremony his excitement is tempered by sadness at his brother’s absence on this most important of days.
Lissian’s mysterious disappearance three years ago left Zee searching for answers. He is sure his brother knew things. Secrets. And Zee is determined to discover the truth.
The Iridescent Egg
Short story excerpt
It’s the morning of Zee’s Ceremony. In about ten hours he will enter the Padoga Garden where he will find his Iridescent Egg and within it, his Destiny.
Just like every Partonian, he has been training for this all his life – sixteen years in all. But in reality, it is something no one is ever ready for. The Ceremony marks the transition from a child into an adult, an invisible line that inevitably must be crossed in order to continue existing. A certain level of fear is understandable for everyone, but Zee’s family isn’t like other families. A tragedy has touched them, and in doing so has marked them. Not for sympathy or extra help, but marked them out as different, somehow broken. And this difference is there, no matter how hard they try to pretend it isn’t.
Zee can’t help thinking about his older brother, and he knows his parents too are thinking of Lissian today.
‘What are you hoping to find in your Egg?’ Zee had asked his brother all those years ago, the night before Lissian’s Ceremony.
‘I’m not hoping for anything. I know exactly what I’ll find there. I just can’t wait for the Egg to officially confirm what I already know.’
The air had been fresh that night as they lay in their beds, dreaming about the future. They opened the window to let some cool air blow in and, in the distance, they could hear the unmistakable cry of an Icebird.
‘That could be the one that just laid your Egg.’ Zee was so excited his voice was breaking.
‘I very much doubt it.’ Lissian chuckled. ‘My Egg was laid a few days ago and has been brewing under the Suns since.’
All this was such a long time ago, he was still a kid then, only twelve. Today, he’ll become a man. Soon his relatives and friends will arrive, and the thirty-two-hour celebration will begin.
The first time Zee spent the night alone in their bedroom was the night when Lissian was in the Garden in search of his Egg. Zee couldn’t sleep. Of course not. How could he when the anticipation to talk to Lissian, to hear everything about his adventures in the Garden of Adulthood was so immense? Zee was the first to get up in the morning and was ready to leave for the Greeting Ceremony before the rest of the household was even awake. He wished he could be the first one to talk to Lissian when he emerged from the Garden, but Zee knew such an opportunity wouldn’t present itself until the evening, when they would be alone in their bedroom again.
When a worn-out Lissian came out from the garden, he smiled at the crowd. All eyes were on him, and according to tradition he announced the Gods’ decision out loud for everyone to hear:
‘I’m a CREATOR!’
If he said anything further no-one heard it, for the crowd’s roar of joy had masked it. Admiration was burning in Zee’s eyes. Father was beaming with pride, and Mother was crying. Lissian, on the other hand, just looked tired. Zee decided not to disturb him with questions that night.
Lissian had always known he would become a Creator, a designer and builder of things. From a young age he had been constantly building, improving and mending things. He worked confidently and without effort and over the years he became known in his Quatrium as something of a prodigy. Therefore, when the time came to become a professional Creator, a useful member of the society, his family were pleased, but not at all surprised. Having a Creator in the family was a blessing and the envy of everyone around them. Had their pride permitted it, his parents would have noticed that Lissian no longer shared their enthusiasm after the Ceremony. Something had changed. Lissian had changed.
Of course, the first day of his new life was exciting enough – he was shown to a small office he would share with a fellow-Creator and everyone seemed very nice. Lissian did the rounds, politely introducing himself and getting to know the people he was to spend his working life with.
When Lissian got home from work that first night, he went straight to his room and went to bed without a word to anyone. The next day he did the same, and again the day after. Soon it became routine. If anyone tried talking to him, he would say that he was fine, just a bit tired. His parents accepted this as a valid excuse. Zee, however, knew better and was determined to find out the truth.
‘Tell me about the Garden,’ he asked Lissian one evening, when he judged he had waited long enough.
‘It’s just how they teach us: you go in, wander around a bit, smell the flowers, look at the animals, then you find your Egg, open it, and puff! – there’s your Destiny, in the shape of a symbol that you can’t miss. Because it’s obvious, and also because you’ve been drilled about it for years and years until it all started pouring out of your ears, because there’s no room for it in your head anymore.’
‘But what was it like for you? What did you feel? How did you find the Egg?’
‘I told you already how I found it, don’t know what else you want me to say.’
‘I want you to tell me the truth.’
The silence that followed was filled with unspoken words. Lissian could keep his thoughts hidden from his parents, but he could not conceal them from his brother.
‘It’s not right, Zee,’ he replied after a long pause.
‘All of it. Our lives, our existence.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Let me ask you this: How do you know there isn’t something better out there?’
‘Anywhere. What if we didn’t go to the Garden? What if we just lived our lives as we saw fit? What if we were allowed to do things our own way? Make monstrous mistakes and fail, and others would congratulate us for even trying and then encourage us to try again or do something else. Imagine that!’
‘What kind of things?’
‘I don’t know, things no one else has done before. What if we tried going to the Moons, for example?’
‘I don’t like where this is going. People don’t come back from there, you know that. When they go to the Moons. They never…’
‘I don’t mean like that, all the pious lies we tell ourselves. Like when someone’s body is gone and they are not coming back and we say that they’re with the Gods on the Moons now, so that we ease the pain of their absence. No. I mean really going to the Moons. More like… I don’t know… okay, imagine this: what if I could build something, a vessel of some sort, that could take our physical bodies to the Moons.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that, Liss. It sounds very unlikely. And risky too!’
‘No one has ever tried. Not in our time. Not with what we know today. Can’t you see? I’m supposed to be a Creator but all I’m creating is something that has been created by someone else first. I just continue their work. I’m not a Creator. Not really. I’m a… I’m… a Replicator. I want to create something truly new!’
‘In school we’re told that everything there is to know is already known.’
‘They lie to us, Zee! In school. Not out of malice but out of sheer ignorance. They lie, because they don’t know the truth and are too scared to go in search of it and so they lie to us, so that we are scared too; not even aware of what they’re doing, just lying, one lie after another…’
‘But the Gods…’
‘TRALSCH THE GODS!’
This time the silence was real. There were no soundless words spoken. Zee was shocked to hear his brother use such language. Fat tears were rolling down his face and it broke his brother’s heart knowing that he’d caused them.
‘It’s alright, Zee. I’m sorry. Please, forget everything I said. I was being stupid.’
‘If only your brother could be here… what a shame, what a shame,’ says uncle Bronnan as a means of greeting. He never misses the opportunity to talk about Lissian. As if Zee wasn’t carrying his brother’s memory in his chest every waking hour.
‘He’s with the Gods now. On the Moons.’
‘That’s true, that’s true. And I’m sure he can see you and is proud of you. So, what do you expect to find in your Egg, son?’
‘I was thinking, a Goodwiller or maybe a Sophist.’ Zee knows what the adults want to hear. He isn’t lying either, he thinks if he can become a Goodwiller maybe one day, he will be able to help someone like his brother.
‘Helping people get better is honourable indeed. So is giving them knowledge. But then, you know, it’s not up to you. It has been decided by the Gods of the Moons,’ says uncle Bronnan pointing a fat index finger at the ceiling. ‘So just relax and enjoy the journey. You’ll find out soon enough what Destiny the Gods have in mind for you.’
He pats Zee on the shoulder before disappearing into the other room where they have just brought out the food.
Uncle Bronnan is one of the true believers. Like the majority of his generation, and the generations that came before him, he believes everyone’s Destiny is determined by the Gods, and that when the time is right, the Gods’ messengers – the Icebirds – bring the good news to the children of Partonia. The fact that, more often than not, their Destiny turns out to be something that was expected anyway only goes to show that the Gods gave this ability to Partonians at birth, and that their Destiny is inevitable.
However, a different approach has been gaining popularity in the past decades, that suggests that one’s Destiny is not set in ice but created from the individual’s own desire. An argument against this theory points out that, had this been the case, it would render the whole Ceremony, and the laying of the Eggs, and consequently the Gods themselves – useless. One could just simply decide what to do with one’s life and then proceed to do it without the traditions of the Ceremony and the approval of the Gods! And that is obviously unheard of and ridiculous and, in any case, would be simply impossible. What would they do without the central event in any Partonian’s life?
The Ceremony has always been. The Ceremony is. The Ceremony shall always exist.
So Zee’s celebration is loud and cheerful and he plays his part well, telling everyone that, in spite of being excited and slightly nervous, he knows what he has to do and that no one should be worried about him. He thanks everyone for the presents and the good advice – in the manner of the usual pre-Ceremony customs – and when the time finally arrives, they all leave the house in a procession, singing traditional songs and waving Zarnons. Other Partonians they meet on the way join in and wish Zee good luck in the Garden. Shy children offer him flowers and handmade replicas of Iridescent Eggs and Icebirds, and every time he accepts their offerings their faces light up with joy and pride. Zee is the hero of the day.
When they get to the gates of the Garden the crowd calms down and Zee is expected to say a few words he has prepared. The gist of his speech should be that he is honoured and exuberant to be going in to find his Egg, and that he thanks the Gods for sending his Destiny from the frozen Moon of Glacierum. Regardless of his true belief this is what he’s going to say. Speaking your mind is not part of ceremonial speeches. And even though occasionally a rebellious young Partonian chooses to express their personal belief, it is considered to be social suicide and is fiercely frowned upon. Zee knows better than this and he gives the crowd what they want, after which he enters the Garden leaving the crowd to celebrate.
As soon as the Garden gate closes behind him the outside world stops existing. No sounds get through the gate. The Garden has its own sound, and that’s all Zee can hear now. He can hear every plant growing and every animal digesting its food, as if he suddenly has supernatural hearing. But he knows it’s the Garden that is truly magical. The scent of the flowers in the Garden is like no scent he’s ever experienced. Yet, it feels reassuring, familiar, like finally arriving home after a long, long journey spent in a foreign land. Not only does he feel each and every living creature’s presence, but he also feels the presence of everyone who’s walked these Gardens before him: his ancestors, his parents, and Lissian. The Garden is a pulsating living organism and he’s been offered to be a part of it for a night.
Zee has always felt a strong connection with his brother, now he feels it even more. Lissian had told Zee things he wouldn’t have told anybody else. Crazy things, some might say, but Zee knows better than to betray his brother’s trust.
He knows that behind the crazy words there was truth. He was sure of that the last time they had met too, when Zee visited his brother at the Resort. Had he known this would be the last time they would meet, he would have told someone, asked someone for help, someone more responsible than him, an adult, a Goodwiller.
‘I want you to have this,’ said Lissian. He took off the chain and pendant he had been wearing around his neck and handed it to Zee. ‘Think of it as a talisman, something to protect you. As long as you wear it, it’s like I’m with you. Promise you will never take it off.’
‘I promise,’ said Zee, though he didn’t really understand what he was promising. Why would he need protection and who from? Zee noticed that adults sometimes said things that meant nothing and he developed a habit of not asking them questions as they never answered the right way anyway. But Lissian wasn’t an adult, not completely, not yet, so Zee liked asking him questions even though recently, Lissian started to answer more often like adults do. As if Zee was stupid, rather than just young. Sometimes. Not always.
‘Why are you giving this to me?’ Zee asked Lissian.
‘I don’t need it… I want you to have it.’
It sounded like a good enough explanation, so Zee pulled the chain over his head and let the cold green metal dangle on his chest. The pendant was a perfect sphere with a delicate filigree design and it was made from Grion, one of the most affordable precious metals in Partonia. Zee never had anything precious before, and even though Grion was quite common he had always liked its bright green colour and preferred it to the much more valuable and rare metals that adults were so obsessed with.
‘Why are you saying you don’t need it anymore?’
‘Well, I can’t tame birds at the Resort, so I might as well give it to you.’
Training birds was one of Lissian’s obsessions. He believed if he could tame birds and in particular Icebirds, he could learn more about flying and could eventually fly to the Moons and come back from there. It was, of course, a completely crazy idea and had it not been Lissian telling him about it, Zee would definitely think it was a joke. But he saw his brother with smaller birds and he seemed to have a way with them. Of course, it is much harder to tame an Icebird, and as far as Zee was concerned no one has ever managed to achieved that. Icebirds are wild creatures and can be dangerous if they feel threatened. They wouldn’t harm anyone, however, unless provoked.
‘What does this pendant have to do with birds?’
‘It helps. To tame them, I mean. If you ever need to tame a bird, use this pendant.’
Zee could not think of a scenario where he would need to tame a bird but the pendant was nonetheless precious to him for it had belonged to his brother.
‘Thank you,’ said Zee.
‘One more thing, don’t tell Mum and Dad about the pendant and what I was working on. They wouldn’t understand and it would lead to unnecessary conflict. Do you understand what I’m saying?’
This was the last time they met. The next day they received a call from the Resort. Lissian had disappeared overnight despite of the Resort’s strict security. A search party has been assembled to find him. They searched the whole territory of the Resort and found Lissian’s boots and heavy fur coat by the lake. After a few days the search was called off. A joint report issued by the Resort and the Regulators stated that Lissian had gone for a swim, and not realising the lake was colder than usual for the time of year, had drowned in the icy water. The report concluded that the drowning was an accident as assuming anything else would have shed a bad light on the Resort, whose primary aim is to provide therapy and help to troubled minds. This was an explanation that Lissian’s family accepted too, as the shame of the alternative was too great.
Zee knew, however, that it was all lies. Why would Lissian go for a swim in the middle of the night in freezing water? It just didn’t make any sense. For months afterwards, whenever he entered his room, Zee expected Lissian to be there waiting for him. But with time he had to accept what everyone else had accepted a long time ago: Lissian was gone.
He refused, however, to believe that it was an accident.