Chanting—red fabric twirling before dancing legs—the sun is at high noon, and they are beginning the sacrifice. Your heart beats heavily in your chest. You cannot speak behind the ceremonial mask. You can hardly breathe. The hands gripping your shoulders and ankles are tight yet impersonal—metal clasps. They carry you forward, up.
Thumping swells as palms hit the drums. It is searingly hot by your toes. They are carrying you feet first. Through the slits in the mask you catch a glimpse of a lizard scurrying across the porous rock. Sulfur sits back on its haunches, choking you. You feel dizzy.
Silence—then a shout! The high priest grits out the foreign tongue, unnatural to him. There has been no need of sacrifice in so long.
You are jarred as they lower your ankles in trembling grips. A swing back—your heart catches in your throat—and you are tossed! Forwards you fall, and down, down down…
Distantly you hear the chanting and your eyes see phantom dancers as they close in serenity. You only sense the wind, and the heat.
You are not thinking, yet vaguely you expect a plunge. There is lava here and you expect to land within it. The heat will engulf you and perhaps you will die before you are completely burnt—if the gods are being kind, that is. You do not expect it. You are not the ideal sacrifice.
You feel the plunge. You are engulfed. Liquid seeps its way around your shoulders and up your neck, creeping, sliding. It is warm, but not searing.
Your lungs expand automatically just before the liquid covers your face. The mask drifts off, but your eyes are squeezed shut. None of this is significant, it is only the moments before your ending. Your mind is running through your life; highs and lows flash amidst faces of your loved ones and the pretty places you’ve seen on the island. You do not register the bindings loosening on your wrists and ankles until you feel the ties brushing your stomach.
You have been breathing unconsciously. You are suddenly aware of it. The warm liquid becomes cool, like a balm.
Everything around you pops as a bubble. You are standing upon a great, thick leaf. You sway—the sun is too bright—somehow you remain upright. Pain flashes through your head and you catch a bitter taste in your mouth. Your skin is stained like charred meat. Sights begin to filter through—faces, and colors. A hum of noise grows louder. A breath of wind hits your face and you are aware.
The high priest stares into your face from behind his mask. His eyes are frightened.
You look down. Your feet are on the edge of the volcano. You don’t dare to look farther back. Stumbling and gasping for breath, you fall forward and into the arms of the elders. It is poisonous—what was once virile and chattering becomes stillness and silence like a dead bird’s feather. Your lungs cough out ash.
They did not know. They only assumed. You feel the high priest’s hand tug your head back by your hair. He stares into your flushed face. The crowd’s eyes pierce you like arrows.
“Why?” he whispers. His grip tightens.
Your eyes feel too dry and out of focus. Your muscles are weak and overused. His voice sounds like that of a small animal to you.
It was the gods, you try to say. All that comes out is a strangled coughing. Your lungs are still burnt on the inside. They did not accept me.
Why? they would ask.
Because I am not a maiden.