Three

Cassim gasped himself awake. His heart was pounding in his sleep and he gasped. He breathed rapidly for a moment until he came again to his senses.

He paused a moment, then threw his hands over his face and began to sob.

The memory of the young woman’s pyre dominated his head. Cassim recalled a lack of sound during the Passing. It was what saddened him so much during this particular ceremony. Previous Passings saw the end of many horn players. The roar of the pyre grew more intimidating and impressive as the proceeding ceremonies grew quieter.

Never did Cassim weep when the Passing ceremony was conducted. It was almost archaic. He was not supposed to cry. But watching the young woman’s body disappear into the pyre filled him with dread. He knew the birds would chirp and the wind would blow.

And then nothing.

Some days he mistakenly hoped to see someone who Passed, until he realized it was impossible. Not until he himself passe would he be able to re-experience the company of those who had gone through the pyre.

The pyre waned, and Cassim realized he would truly miss her.

•     •     •

     At this point it seemed as if he was just going through the motion. Even in this case Cassim felt very little as the torches set the mound ablaze. He watched as the flames consumed two men who once bared torches for the Passing ceremonies.

Besides the village priest these men were considered the holiest among the villagers. They conducted each Passing and were the final link between the village and afterlife. These men showed no emotion, only did they proceed the dead on to meet their gods.

Cassim felt the eerie feeling he had felt before. Everything was quiet, save for the crackling from the pyre. There were two villagers left. Another man in a robe still survived, but his time seemed near its end. The man had a crippled walk. Not a limp or a hunch from his age, but a jerkiness that seemed to come from deep inside. A tick, or a twitch. Cassim witnessed the man’s mind deteriorate over the previous months. Some illness forced its way to the man’s brain and appeared to be taking him over, like he was going through an odd transformation.

The man knelt at the base of the pyre and drew a heavenly symbol in the sand. He placed his beads from his neck on the symbol, clapped his hands together, and uttered a prayer.

Shaking his head, Cassim turned away from the kneeling man.

He stood a moment listening to the birds and wind. Their sound grew in a short time, and

Cassim shuddered.

He swallowed and took a deep breath. He turned back and knelt next to the robed man and prayed.

The whispering pyre grew low and turned to ember.The two men stood and looked at each other, both with a worried expression on their faces. Each had a similar thought and realization in that moment.

Having been through so many ceremonies in the past, they witnessed the obvious but never noticed until now. Each Passing was conducted by the robed men, but when they themselves were Passed, they had to be passed by someone else.

So at this point the question was clear: who would not be Passed?

•     •     •

The End

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