“Okay kids, it’s time!” Mother’s voice joyfully rang out, filling the house and yard with her beckoning call. Delighted tiny humans popped out of hiding places, and abandoned games to answer her. What she was calling them for was much better, and way more fun, than anything they were currently up to.
This was a very long-held family tradition. Going back to a time long before even the grandparents were young. Every child grew up hearing about the game, getting more and more excited for the year they’d finally be allowed to join in. Eagerly awaiting a chance to be the winner, though nobody would ever really be a loser – that’s not how the game worked.
“You all know what to do!” Mom took out a whistle, smiled softly when every little body tensed, preparing. One short blast of sound, and the frenzy began.
Thirteen was the last year a kid could participate. The family rules about this were twofold. One, it made room for the younger ones to have a chance – and in a very large family this was important to do. And two, the blood was just not as pure past then. There had been a couple of seasons over time where the older children had been allowed to take part, wholly due to the lack of younger ones, and it had taken far more effort.
Four was the youngest a member of the game could be. They could find earlier than that, but they couldn’t maneuver the knife. Additionally, there was a lack of real comprehension of what had to be done. Movements could be mimicked, however the understanding was key. It was highly crucial that they recognize the ceremony of it, and equally required that they be capable of using the blade. Trial and error had brought the family to four as a starting age, though that trial and error had gone on many generations back.
Piece by piece, excited wee ones returned to Mom with what they’d found. She gathered the first bits into a basket until there was enough for her to assemble. When the shape was stable, the children were able to begin to puzzle the fragments together themselves, while Mother and Father stood aside and watched, only gently advising when somebody looked to be struggling.
Experience guided them all, resulting in the Finding being the most challenging portion of the game. The prize took form quickly, though haphazardly. When one big section could be joined with another, cheers burst out of every body, and the search gained momentum. Frantic movement, giggles, and excited shrieks chorused, guiding the sun to its bed.
It was not long at all before the last segment went into its proper spot. Every found portion smeared with the blood of its finder before placement, each child giving the gifts of youth and life to the whole, a tapestry of red, woven of flesh and bone, sat in the parlor, waiting for the finale. A solitary eye was pushed gently into a socket to finish off the build.
“It looks like Lisa and Danny found the most this year.” Father announced after inspecting the form he’d been filling in. “Lisa, your numbers are higher. You choose.”
“Brain.” Came the slight voice with sure answer.
“Then Danny gets the heart!” Mom clapped.
With her simple pen knife, Lisa opened a new cut on her arm. The blood that welled was spread like lotion over delicate hands, then rubbed into a soft grey mass on a platter. Lisa picked it up, gently as she could, to set it in the bowl of the skull. When the cap was placed back on top, the air electrified. A chain reaction began, from the crown of the head, to the toes, the seams between each found piece disappeared, making the puzzle into a singular work of art.
Next, it was Danny’s turn. He was presented with an ornate box. Stunned that Lisa would grant him this privilege, not take it for herself, Danny mirrored her movements with the heart that rested within. A main difference being that when his blood met the muscle, it came to life. Beating strong and steady as he picked it up.
Softly illuminated from within, the heart needed no urging to sink into the chest, moving through skin, muscle, and bone to get to the hollow spot where it belonged. The red that had coated the exterior sank in, vanishing as if it had never been there. Miniature bloodied hands worked themselves with the anticipation. Collective breath was held, waiting, only released when the eyes of the figure opened, and a smile appeared.
“My family.” The slightly-rough voice cooed at them all.
“Now we can eat!” Dad exclaimed.
“Come, Aunt Anna.” Mom held out her hand. “Join us for our meal.”
Aunt Anna assessed herself, taking in how she’d been put together, the blood used, the love that surrounded her. “It will be a good winter.” Anna declared. She would stay until Easter this year.