Fifteen years of age. That’s when you receive your Calling. Your destiny, “bestowed upon you by the grace of the gods,” as the priests say.
There are a variety of Callings, but most common people have equally common destinies. Fighters usually end up as soldiers or guards, and Handiworkers as carpenters or seamstresses. There are also some more exciting possibilities, however.
Everyone knows the stories of commoners becoming aristocrats or even monarchs. Most kids I know dreamed of that at some point in their life. Eventually we all realized that it’s exceedingly rare to get a Calling different from those of your parents.
As the son of two Handiworkers, I was certain this would be my destiny as well. And it was. Just not in a way I could’ve ever anticipated.
I was standing in front of the temple. A large, stark white building at the center of town, that you could see from all the way down the main street, at the town gates at the south wall.
It took me a while to get here from our house at the outskirts of town, but as far as I was concerned, this was preferable to living closer to the center. Nobody I knew would ever be able to afford more than a small flat there. I had been lucky to have lived my entire life in a single-family house, with an entire room to my own.
When my father was still alive, he made good money working as a carpenter for the aristocracy, which had allowed my parents to afford our home. Nowadays, with only my mother and me, we were able to get by, but I was hoping to change that. When I would finally get my Calling, I could contribute properly. With this thought, I entered the temple through its large double doors.
I walked into the reception area, with an archway on both the left and the right of the room that led deeper into the temple. A man in a white robe stood behind a counter and was waiting for me to come closer.
“Good Morning, young man. Ritual?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“To your right. We don’t have many candidates this year, so you won’t have to wait long until we call your name.”
Entering the other room, I saw about thirty people who appeared to be waiting already. The rituals would start at noon and I guessed I had been the last to arrive.
I recognized a few of the faces here. Some neighbors I had played with when I was younger and people I met in class, when I had learned basic reading and writing years ago. There were also some considerably more well dressed men and women, who didn’t seem too pleased to be in one room with commoners.
I greeted a few of the others and then waited, staring at one of the doors at the farside of the room. The door to the ritual room, with a guard stationed on either side.
I had visited the temple in the past, as the school was here, but the only time anyone was allowed inside that room was during their Calling ritual. After a little while, a priest appeared from inside and started calling people in. They would enter, the door closed, and a minute later they came back out, with the brightest smiles I had ever seen on anyone’s face.
When you asked people what the ritual was like, they described it as a rush. Feelings of power, knowledge, and purpose flowing into you, even for the most mundane of Callings.
My mother had described it slightly differently. She said she had felt like another person’s memories had entered her mind. From one moment to the next, she knew things she had never heard about before and was able to do things she had never done. She felt as if she had been alive longer than she really had. That last part, she said, was why this is where you truly came of age. You feel differently, you act differently. You become an adult.
A priest called my name, this was it.
Walking past a few others who were still waiting and a few who were still talking with their friends about their Calling, I made my way over to the priest, as I overheard some of the chatter.
“It was amazing! There was a bright, blue light and suddenly I felt like I had been a soldier for decades!”
“I saw a figure of white light appear in the air above my head! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
I arrived at the door to the ritual room and the priest motioned for me to go inside. It was a mostly barren room, with very few decorations and almost no furniture, aside from the unmoving guards on either side of the now closed door, mirroring their colleagues, that guarded the chamber from the outside.
In the center of the room was a circular platform with scripture sigils painted on it, the platform sticking out of the floor slightly. Behind it was an altar with several stacks of papers and files on it, writing utensils, and a bowl that held white stones.
As I got closer, I saw my name on a piece of paper on the altar. Papers from the Registration Agency, which recorded every citizen and their Callings.
“Please wait a moment,” the priest instructed.
He walked past me, around the platform, and stopped in front of the altar. He took one of the stones out of the bowl and put it onto the platform.
“Please step into the marked area and stand still.”
I looked from him to the platform, stepped onto it, and waited as instructed. I didn’t see or feel anything at first, until, for a split second, there was a sharp pain in my head.
My eyes widened. Is this...!?
‘What is going on...?’
Oh no... no no no no!
With a slight panic in my eyes I looked at the priest, who appeared to assume the ritual was over, as he stepped closer.
“I didn’t notice any signs indicating what Calling you received, but the shard has disappeared and the look on your face tells me the ritual is over. Please tell me the Calling the gods saw fit to bestow upon you.”
I didn’t know what to do. If I told him what had just happened, I would be in trouble. But there hadn’t been a sign. There are no known Callings without one. Wait... there was no sign at all?
First and foremost, I had to get out of this room. I looked at the priest and did my best to act confused. “I don’t feel any different. I... know something is supposed to happen, so I was surprised when it didn’t. W-was the ritual really a success?”
The priest furrowed his brows and looked me up and down. This was not supposed to happen. As far as I knew, this had never happened. I didn’t know what he would do now, about a “failed” ritual, but it couldn’t be worse than the alternative.
“You don’t feel anything at all? I find that hard to believe. Your Calling becomes a part of yourself, like finding true purpose for the first time in your life. It was a revelation to anyone I ever administered this ritual to, as was it for myself.”
It was to be expected that he wouldn’t just believe me, but his reaction was still friendly enough. More curious than inquisitive. I might have a chance.
“I have read a little bit about the ritual. The books said there would be a divine sign indicating my Calling, but I didn’t see anything. Was that normal, father?” I switched from confusion to worry. “Did I not receive a Calling? Will I not be able to help out my mother now!?”
At this, he visibly relaxed, as he placed his hand on my shoulder and tried to calm me.
“Please don’t worry. There is not a person in the world without a Calling, and you will receive one as well. Say, are you certain you are of age?”
A mistake... is this the conclusion he had come to? Once you’re of age, you receive your Calling... if you’re not of age, you don’t. He thinks I’m too young!
“My last birthday was in spring, father. It was supposed to have been my fifteenth. Do you think my parents made a mistake?”
“That would appear to be the case, otherwise the ritual could not have failed. Unfortunately, this means you will not receive your Calling just yet. It will apparently take a while longer. I would advise you to talk to your parents. They need to visit the registration office to correct your birth data immediately, as it’s illegal to provide incorrect information.”
I lowered my head and nodded. “Thank you, father.”
As he walked over to the door, I turned around and stepped off the platform.
“Have a good day. I’ll see you again once you are of age,” he said and opened the door for me. I walked out of the room, past the guards and the other candidates, and left the temple as fast as I could.
‘What the fuck!?’
My mind was racing. I had received my Calling. The one truly problematic Calling in the world. What do I do...?
By a stroke of luck I had made it out of the temple. The priest believed in an error, but this would not hold up to scrutiny. He didn’t know me, but others did. And a lot of them knew my true age, having known me since birth.
Providing incorrect information to the authorities was not just frowned upon, it was illegal and came with harsh punishments if done on purpose. And people who knew about such lies might be seen as accessories. I would get reported as soon as anyone found out.
I made my way across the main square, in the direction of my home, but I didn’t make it far before I ducked into an alleyway and sat down on the floor, leaning against a wall.
‘Hey! Can anyone hear me!?’
There’s the headache again...
I was at a loss what to do. I was supposed to receive my Calling and start my life as an adult today. Instead, I got a death sentence. I got out of the temple somehow, but that didn’t matter much.
After a few minutes of sitting there, I stood back up and left the alley. I have to tell Mother. She was waiting for me, and my only hope now was that she would have some idea that would save me.
I walked slowly down the main street, eventually going down a winding side street, up to our house in the southeastern part of town. With how slow I went, it took me twice as long as usual to arrive home, the small wooden building my late father had built for our family. After taking a deep breath, I opened the front door and stepped inside.
“... I’m back.”
My mother came out of the kitchen, a bright smile on her face. She had been even more curious than me about what Calling I would receive. But when she saw the look on my face, her own expression changed to one of worry.
“Tomar? What’s wrong?”
“What happened? Please talk to me.”
“I... I received the Mad Calling, mom.”
Silence. My mother just stood there, staring at me with wide eyes and open lips for what felt like an eternity. She lowered her head and stared at the floor, clearly at a loss what to say. Eventually, she looked at me again, confusion in her eyes.
“... how are you still alive?”
It hadn’t even been an hour since the ritual, but it felt like an eternity had passed, while I had walked home in a daze. I recalled what had happened.
“There was no visible sign during the ritual... the priest thought there had been a mistake. That I had been too young, and that the ritual had failed because of that. I just... left.”
My mother thought my words over. The Mad Calling had been something I was scared of as a kid, but my mother had always assured me that I wouldn’t receive it. That there hadn’t been a Mad One in our town for a hundred years, with some people going so far as to say that it’s just stories. But she knew that it was a possibility. Everyone knew.
“No sign?” she finally said. “But if you received that Calling, you would’ve become mad! That would’ve been the sign! Maybe you didn’t actually—”
“Mom... I’m hearing a voice in my head...”
Just as my mother became quiet again, there was a sharp pain in my head.
‘You can hear me!? Please talk to me, what is going on here!?’
“I don’t know why I’m not going crazy right now... but I’m sure.”
The telltale signs of the Mad Calling are strong headaches and hearing voices in your head that nobody else can hear. They’re said to drive you mad in a matter of seconds, making you a danger to others, as you lash out against anything and everything in sight, in the futile attempt to make the voices stop.
“What is the voice saying?”, my mother asked.
“He seems confused... he’s asking what’s going on.”
‘Damn right I’m confused! Why are you ignoring me!?”
My mother came closer and looked me in the eyes, as if searching for something.
“Are you still my Tomar?”
Her question stunned me for a moment. I was having headaches... I was hearing a voice... but I wasn’t going crazy. And I hadn’t changed at all. Based on everything I knew I should’ve changed somehow. I was also fairly certain this had to be the Mad Calling, but I felt mostly fine.
“I think I am. I feel like myself, I’m just—”
‘Talk to me!!’
“Hearing that voice. And every time he speaks I feel a sharp pain in my head. Mom, what am I to do now...?”
At this, my mother fell into thought. It appeared that the initial shock of me not being dead after receiving this Calling was starting to fade, and the question of “what now” was entering her mind.
“The priest will report the failed ritual to the authorities,” she said. “Once that happens, they will come to us for confirmation. We can’t fake your age, our neighbors know how old you are. You played with their children when you were young.”
The priest would report the failed ritual. I hadn’t thought about that possibility. I figured we would have time to come up with some plan, but if the priest was going to report this, the authorities would come to see us soon, wouldn’t they?
“Right... the priest will report it...” I said, crestfallen.
What would happen to me? What if the books were wrong and it might just take a few hours for me to go mad? What if there was some kind of test they could do? Would they just kill me on the spot once they knew? Would they lock me away? Various scenarios ran through my mind until my mother broke my train of thought, with an expression of curiosity on her face.
“The voice,” she started.
“Have you tried talking to it?”
I hadn’t. It hadn’t even occurred to me. The voice was trying to talk to me, but my mind was occupied with trying to come to terms with my life being over and what would come next. Would talking to it be safe?
“You think I should talk to the voice? But... what if that’s what drives people insane?”
My mother always had a curious streak. Father had been laid back and didn’t care much about anything outside of work, while I was the shy and careful type. Mother on the other hand would openly embrace anything new with an open mind and encourage me to do so as well. But this seemed like an unnecessary risk.
“You hear it, you understand it, and you acknowledge it. If it was going to drive you insane, would it not have happened by now?”
She usually turned out to be right when she started asking me questions like that. But the thought of something bad happening still terrified me.
“Can the voice hear me?” she asked.
‘Yes! I can!’
“... it says yes.”
“Would you let me ask it something?”
Nothing had happened so far. She was right, I was already acknowledging the voice. And just now I had essentially interacted with it, by forwarding what it had said to my mother. It should be fine... right?