By Christopher Cruz
After much hesitation, I decide to attend my ten year high school reunion. I was not a notably important person while in school. Or even notable for that matter. I had two friends, both named Jacob, and a slew of acquaintances who thought much less of me than I did of them. I took part in no extracurricular activities, no after school programs. The principal did not know me by name. My teachers barely remembered my face. I was the quintessential wallflower. An apparition of the New York City Public School System. None the less, it seemed that I had become easy enough to track down to warrant an invitation for the event.
My initial reaction at the time of receiving the letter was an immediate denial of its existence, followed by a denial of my ability to go, then a denial of my desire, then just blatant denial fueled by alcohol. The second of my friends Jacob also received his invitation, and contacted me electronically with a plea to attend. The first Jacob was not invited because he did not graduate, but we do not hold that against him. After much convincing I decide to honor my old friends request and offer to meet him at the festivity. The weeks in between pass slowly, like the anticipation of spring, and the day arrives with little fanfare.
I reach the Gramercy Park Hotel 46 minutes late. My hope is to be in and out quickly, remaining as unnoticeable as I did in years past. I enter the ballroom and stare out among the sea of vaguely familiar faces. I recognize the prom queen and the valedictorian right away. Squinting makes one person resemble the girl voted most funny, but the weight gain makes it difficult to be sure. My algebra teacher is in the back of the room talking to my principle. I can smell the alcohol on both of their breaths from the entrance. My tenth grade crush is sitting at a table with a man I do not recognize. Their faces are mostly blank and their hands seem occupied beneath the off-white linen of the table cloth. Having arrived alone and finding no indications of the second of my friends Jacob, an immediate flush of anxiety rolls through my body. I make my way to a darkened corner behind the punch bowl, looking for safety in the seclusion.
It seems that I am still very difficult to notice, and manage to stay tucked away from the other alumni for nearly half of one hour. While watching the others, I observe the commencement of a particularly bizarre trend, one that both horrifies and intrigues me simultaneously. Several of the former students have formed a fairly ordered line in front of a plain wooden table near the opposing corner from myself. Perched atop the table is a most unusual vase with gilded impressions of foreign pictographs and texts. It is impractically tall, approximately three feet high, and appears to be constructed of a material similar to porcelain or bone. Beside the vase sits a pair of sharpened shears that gleam under the fluorescent chandeliers of the ball room.
With utter disbelief, I watch the guests approach the table one by one, picking up the shears in their right hand and, with surgical precision, truncating their left hand ring fingers with little difficulty. The extradited digits are then dropped into the mouth of the vase, creating a most discomforting splut sound. Not a single person seems offended by any facet of the ritual. The prom queen, the principle, and the portly superlative all queue up with little concern for their fingers and soon the faux maple flooring is littered with spots of blood and human tissue. As the line reaches its end, an unfamiliar person approaches a microphone at the far side of the room. She announces with great conviction that the vase is apparently short one finger, and encourages the other patrons to locate the final participant. I cower in the poorly lit corner as I watch the main doors being sealed shut. I go on all fours and scurry underneath a table. The voices beyond its linen walls suggest a fairly organized search party is being formed and the rustling of salad plates and wine glasses clearly indicate my hiding place is not fool-proof. It is clear that action must be taken.
I manage to secure a butter knife without garnering any attention, and begin the arduous task of removing my finger with the imperceptibly blunt tool. The process is dreadfully slow and incredibly painful, but the voices closing in on my refuge encourage me to continue. I manage to reach bone but the knife proves too dull to even scratch the stained and mired surface. Sitting in a pool of my own fluid, I hear the whispers of strangers slowly surrounding the table. The loss of blood finally catches up with me and I start to feel faint. My vision goes blurry and my eyes water but I press on, chipping away at the bone with an almost euphoric delight.
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Christopher Cruz is a graduate student of International Relations in Richmond, Virginia. He generally writes short fiction pieces between term papers. He is married and has a dog named Liam.
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