Below is an extract from The Vessel by Matthew P. Copping – published October 2018 as part of Australian Speculative Fiction’s Beginnings Anthology.
Morning sunlight filtered through the curtained window. A beam caressed Maggie’s face and she stirred. Her head pounded and a dryness filled her mouth.
Blinking the weight from her eyelids, she processed what she could see. A white dress lay at the foot of her bed. Folded as it was, she could make out the blossoms embroidered into the lower bodice. Atop sat a locket of carved wood, worked into the shape of an oak tree; its branches and roots curved and weaved, forming concentric rings around the trunk and leaves.
Maggie shifted upright, dangling her feet over the edge of the bed. As if they had been waiting, two acolytes entered the room and assisted her in getting dressed. They pulled the dress over Maggie’s head, threading her hand carefully through the laced left arm. The intricate pattern of leaf and blossom fit perfectly along the length of her arm, anchoring to a ring sewn into the fabric.
“Is she getting…?” Maggie left the question unfinished, as one of the acolytes left the room. The second acolyte started combing the thicket atop Maggie’s head, offering a small smile in response. Finally, content with her efforts, she moved in front of Maggie, the locket in hand. She held the band wide, placing it over Maggie’s head without messing up her hair again.
“Grandmother used to tell me stories of when she had been chosen, but I never thought it would be so…”