(1 of 1. Originally posted on 04/14/2023 for the prompt “Sacred Spaces.”)
Talya stood in a line with the other nine initiates, shifting her weight back and forth between her bare feet. Sheer willpower kept her arms still at her sides, rather than tugging at the stiff white robe they all wore for the ceremony. So much of her energy went toward remaining calm and appearing to pay attention that she had little left for actual listening to Mother Embar’s instructions.
Thankfully, Mother Embar did not become head of the Order without learning a thing or two about teenage attention spans. The sharp crack of her walking stick against stone restored her disciple’s focus long enough to summarize the important points.
“Remember your lessons. Stay on the path until you find the Sacred Space. Leave all else behind. You will know you’ve found it, when you hear the voice of God. Then you will be a full member of the Order of the Chosen. Go with God, children.”
With Maria on her left and Josiah on her right, Talya followed the cobblestone path into the tangled forest. The path curved, cutting off sight of the open field they’d started in. Soon after, the brush thinned, and they walked past tables loaded with the richest foods. Men and women dressed in the bright robes of the Chosen feasted at those tables. As the initiates passed, the feasters called out congratulations to the initiates.
“Welcome, newest members! Join us in celebration!”
Talya’s stomach reminded her of yesterday’s meal of bread and water, the last in a long line of identical daily rations. The scent of roasted meat and ripe fruits set a hook in her gut and pulled. Several initiates ran to the tables and began to feast.
Stay on the path until you find the Sacred Space.
“This can’t be right. Come on.” Talya linked arms with Maria and pushed forward. Josiah took hold of her right hand, with a smile that made her heart flutter. Together with a diminished group of initiates, they left the tables behind.
The forest ended, opening into a community of beautiful cottages, all with doors standing open to reveal cozy, romantic interiors. Two by two, couples began to break off from the group to go to the cottages.
Near the end of the village, Josiah put a hand on Talya’s shoulder and pulled her to a stop. “Talya, I heard the voice of God. We’ve made it! He told me this cottage is for us, that he brought us here to raise a family for his glory. This is what we’ve been made for. This is the Sacred Space.”
Josiah’s touch sent shivers through her. She’d dreamed of this, from the first day. A flood of emotion set a hook in her heart, and pulled.
You will know you’ve found it, when you hear the voice of God.
Talya gripped Maria’s arm hard enough to elicit a squeak of pain. She pulled away from Josiah. “God may have told you that, but he didn’t tell me. I have to keep going.”
“Talya, don’t leave me. We were meant for each other. I have nothing without you. Don’t throw all this away!”
Talya pressed on, half leaning on Maria, tears streaming down her face, until the sound of Josiah’s pleading faded behind them. She barely noticed that they were the only two still on the path. As the cottages disappeared behind them, the way ahead grew steep and rocky. Together they climbed for what felt like hours. Talya’s breath grew ragged, and her feet ached. She could do no more than focus on the path just in front of her and take one step at a time.
“I have to rest.” Maria stopped walking. “Just for a little while.”
“I don’t think we’re supposed to.” Talya struggled to remember the instructions. She felt like there was something about this, but couldn’t remember exactly what.
“Just for a few minutes. Then I’ll keep going, I promise.” Maria limped toward a half-buried boulder three feet off the path. Thick moss covered its flat top, low and wide enough to make a perfect resting place.
The thought of rest set a hook in Talya’s exhausted muscles, and pulled. “The path, Maria…I can’t…I have to follow…please don’t stop. I can’t do this alone.”
Maria stepped off the path. She collapsed onto the boulder, sprawled across the top of it with her legs hanging down the side.
Talya looked from her friend, to the path ahead that continued as far as she could see. “I can’t. I don’t want to do this. Don’t make me go alone.”
Leave all else behind. She’d accepted this, mentally. But somehow, her heart had never accepted that she might actually have to do it. Not all else. She felt it now. Recognizing the choice, naming it to herself, made it easier to decide. Talya turned her face forward, and took another step.
The path turned level under her feet, and the rocks ahead transformed into a forest. She stood at the start of the path. Mother Embar stood before her, smiling.
Talya collapsed on the ground, weeping. All her effort, all her sacrifice, and she’d gone nowhere. She had not found the Sacred Space.
But you have found it, child. The Sacred Space is not a place. The Sacred Space is your heart, cleared of all the distractions that kept me locked out.
Talya caught her breath in shock. Was that…?
Mother Embar leaned down to take her hand, and lifted her into a hug. “Congratulations, Sister Talya. Welcome to the Order of the Chosen.”