The library proved useless to Eli. The librarian denied any knowledge of the communities or their history, so he ended up just leaving without a book.
Even all of the local newspapers, that libraries usually keep archived, were lost in a fire a few years ago.
Eli knew it sounded convenient, but the community meeting in one day. He had to go if he was going to incur the favor of the locals, and Anna was going, too.
This was the time for him to embrace the culture of the locale.
Much of the day was spent making his property look perfect. Trimming greens within inches of measurement, repainting the sides of the house, ensuring the blue lantern was clean and off.
It was a day of labor, but it should be all worth it once the community saw that he followed their silly rules and let him and Anna be.
Eli even placed a framed picture of himself atop wooden pole at the front of his property, like the rest of the community, as some preparation for the big meeting.
He didn’t like it, but as alway, it was what everyone else did. Along every street, faces of the residents faced the road like gaudy scarecrows.
But, no matter how much he did, they kept coming.
The neighbors were relentless, and Eli couldn’t help but wonder if it was because the community meeting was in a day or because he was truly ruining everything he tried.
He didn’t paint the house one of this years approved colors, he had used one from last year. The yard work was cut an inch too short. The lantern should be polished for tomorrow night.
The bowl of meat should have now have specific cuts of red meat and be completely fresh. Fox traps should be along the back perimeter of everyone’s home.
Fences should be sharpened to fine, handsome point.
The rules kept coming and Eli couldn’t help but feel like giving up. He was trying so hard, to be what the community wanted so he and Anna could live in quiet, but nothing he did seemed to help.
The neighbors just continued to stop by, every hour or so, and told him he was wrong. Everything was wrong.
He just pushed on until the the night of the meeting. Eli even found his fairly unused suit and ironed it specifically for the occasion.
He left the blue lantern on as he left his home, though he felt odd finally being told to actually turn it on, and walked to the community center, like the rest of the residents.
He was going to do this right, and when he got to the community center, he found that he didn’t look so out of place. The men were all in their suits and the women wore tasteful dresses.
A few of the neighbors that found their ways to house everyday even waved to him as he arrived.
Eli found Anna walking into the center, and ran up to her, calling her name for her attention. Her eyes grew wide and suspicious of those around them though.
The girl pulled him aside and told him in hushed tones that they shouldn’t go in together or the other might hold it against him tonight.
They were still so critical of both of them, that being together may prove a narrative.
He said he understood, but truthfully Eli just wanted to be by her side. Her presence was the reason he was staying here, and without it he felt the little confidence he had wane.
But, he persevered. Eli still found his way into the long, low building, where everything was lighted with dim, blue lights. To his understanding, there would be food, but Eli didn’t see any.
There were ten, long tables stretching across the large room, with a single table lying perpendicular to them on a raised platform and a smaller table was between the two.
On each of the long tables were name tags signaling where each person in the community’s place was.
Eli searched for his, but didn’t find it. He continued wandering between the tables, past the other residents, looking for his place, long after everyone had already been seated.
Anna and his eyes connected across the room and he couldn’t hide the anxiety building.
“Boy.” A woman called from the raised platform, her voice booming over the room. “Sit.”
It was the woman who had accompanied the guard to his house when it was broken into. She looked exactly the same, though covered in blue light.
Her harsh, sharp features studied him like a hawk and then she gestured to the small table that sat just in front of the long tables and before the raised platform.
Eli walked hastily the table, hating the attention that followed as he kept trying desperately to just fit in.
But, his stomach dropped when he saw only two other sat at the table facing the woman.
He sat beside them, feeling the scrutiny of the entire community on his back as the apparent leader of the community watched over them.
“We join today for annual community meeting.” The woman’s voice was less commanding, but just as loud.
“As you all know, we have had three new members this year, and we must, as every year, decide whether they have been accepted.
Eli’s stomach dropped. He didn’t know what the meeting’s were about exactly, but he didn’t think that they were a popularity contest to see if he could stay.
“Sarah Wilkinson.” The woman spoke the name, then asked the community. “Do you accept her presence?”
Then Eli felt more than heard the ten rows of the community begin to bang on the tables over and over, creating a monstrous heartbeat that melded with his own. They continued, beating.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Until the woman finally raised her hand and they instantly fell silent.
“Mrs. Wilkinson, you are accepted.” She nodded her head at the woman seated beside me and gestured for her to stand. The Mrs.
Wilkinson did so and walked to the back of the room, leaving only myself and the other man at the table.
“Peter Harvey.” The woman began again. “Do you accept his presence.”
And, again, the community slammed on the tables, sending shock waves through the very air. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
The woman stopped the banging.
“Mr. Harvey, you are accepted.” She said, and the man fan followed the actions of Mrs. Wilkinson, leaving the assembly silence.
Finally, the woman focused on Eli, with a predatory stare. Eli wanted to shrink back into safety, but he was exposed as he could be.
“Eli Fry.” The leader spoke his name and a shiver ran through his body, both physical and visceral. “Do you accept his presence.”
Eli’s heartbeat slammed in his chest. Boom. Boom. Boom.
But, the room remained silent. No slamming of the fists, just deadly silence.
Twisting in his seat, Eli scanned the room, looking for Anna. But, once he discovered her place, she just sat staring her hands in her lap.
He pleaded with her silently to vote for him, to slam her fists, to be the one person saying he was alright, but she didn’t move.
“You have not been accepted.”
Eli stood up and wasn’t quite sure where to go. The woman did not gesture to him, or say a word. She merely stared down on him from her perch.
Her dark eyes bore into his, and he feared if should move at all.
A man grabbed his arm, tugging Eli to the side. Eli’s lit nerves excited and he pulled the limb from the man’s grasp, but two more nearby residents stood. They stood as if to intimidate him.
He was, but he was not going to let them just handle him like a bag garbage.
But, as he tried to walk away, more of the community members stood and blocked his way. They all maintained a visage of duty. This was meant to be.
“You will now be exiled.” The leader spoke from behind Eli, her voice echoing off the far walls.
Eli turned and stood by his previous chair. He found the woman’s face and attempted to maintain his own front of confidence.
“I’ll just leave then.” He spoke, hoping to portray a man in charge, but his voice broke on the last word.
“Yes, you will.” She said, and nodded to someone behind him.
Eli quickly spun around to see who she was gesturing to, and found a man in the far back of the room pull out a rifle. His gut sank and his heart felt ready to burst.
Without thinking, he began to ran.
The residents burst into a mob of grabbing hands, but Eli evaded them for a moment, taking advantage of their momentary surprise. However, they began to coalesce on him.
He knew the would easily overpower him. So, he jumped onto one of the tables and sprinted as fast as his legs would allow.
The fact that the tables held none of the food he expected allowed him to use them as an open runway and he easily made his way to the end of the large hall without the members finding a hold
Eli was ready, he was going to tackle the man with the gun, take the weapon threaten some people and leave. Then he was going to go home, jump in his car and never come back to this place again.
But, then he saw Anna. She wasn’t positioned to attack him like the others, but she wasn’t happy to see him either. Eli’s body stopped without his volition.
The others were closing in, but he found himself focused on her.
“Anna, come with me.” He pleaded, no, begged her.
He tried to connect eyes with her to feel that connection again, but she wouldn’t allow it. There was only hesitation in her.
“It’s Ms. Jones.” She replied quietly, turning her head.