The boys stared at the large basalt box under the cherry tree, but none dared take the first step. Impatience grew within the older boys as the day of their ceremony approached. But it was still high summer, and their fathers warned them against taking a peek before their time.
Antonius, the tallest of the group, had seen his brothers’ ceremonies from a distance and dreamed of the day he’d be in their place — shivering, barefoot over the cold soil covered with yellow leaves, his head shaved, saying the ancient words and looking inside the box. What kind of man would he grow up to be? Would he have the adventures he dreamt of? He longed for an ocean he had never seen, for the worlds he had only read about in books, for the brotherhood of soldiers and explorers from the old stories.
That day, he stared at the box, feeding off the shared anticipation.
“Well? No one’s brave enough to do it?”, taunted an older boy.
“I’ll go first,” shrugged Antonius, trying to look brave.
He knew what to do — kneeled and popped his head inside the box. Immediately, the ground melted under his knees, and the darkness turned into a blinding light. He shut his eyes in terror and held on to the carved edges of the box.
After a few minutes in a free fall, the ground below him steadied enough for him to open his eyes. The smell of smoke overpowered him. Around him, he saw flames consuming the very houses in his street, and the silhouette of the cathedral on fire raged behind the curtain of black smoke that obscured the sky. He saw himself but much taller, looking at his city burn with terrifying glee. Exhilaration washed over him, and he couldn’t help but smile. For the first time, he was no longer unimportant, an afterthought. The corpses on the street, the charred buildings, and the victorious screams of the men following him filled him with an addictive delight.
He pulled back in horror and fell on the grass. The silence around him brought him back to reality — it was normal a summer day, and he was 13, and he didn’t want to kill anyone.
“Well?” Another boy asked. Suddenly, he felt the weight of all the stares on him. He stood up.
“Nothing,” he whispered. He stood up, hoping his friends wouldn’t notice his hands shake. From a distance, a group of men shouted at the boys. All hurried back to their homes — all except Antonius. His heavy legs anchored him to the ground.
“Help me,” he sobbed, as the men grabbed him.