She wrinkled her hands together, beads of sweat pooling on her forehead. She couldn’t stand her face being sweaty but at this point, she didn’t mind. Bella stared at the invitation card in front of her. sometimes she gave into her nervous habit, unclasped her hands and scratched her arms till welts with streaks of blood were decorated on her skin. She’d already been to the bathroom thrice in the last thirty minutes, scrubbing her palms till they were raw and sore. And still, she stared at the card, refusing to open it. “Not yet,” she kept whispering to herself. “Not yet.”
Seven times she had applied to “Geheimnis” (meaning mystery in German). Six times she’d been rejected. Bella refused to open this last one just yet for a reason no one could know. This was what would determine if she’d see the next day or not. That’s right. Bella Smith had sworn that if she was denied entry into Geheimnis one more time, she’d end her life.
You may ask what was so special about Geheimnis, the truth of it was that she did not know too but she knew that attending that event would change her life forever. It was weird because it was a VVIP event where even senators and other “big people” in the world still had to be on the wait-list. The event was for the elite of the elites yet no one knew anything about it. No one talked about it. And the two women that she’d seen their email address from, talking about how it changed lives were never seen again.
Rumours were that out of the forty-nine elites that were chosen each year, they added one “commoner” to complete the ensemble and she wanted to be that commoner. Just once. And so for seven years, she’d tried, sending emails and hoping and wishing that they’d accept her. And for six of those seven years, hair whipping around her face, hands shaking with excitement, and toes curling in anticipation, she’d rip open the fancy, gold-embroidered invitation card, with the letter ‘G’ beautifully calligraphed in the middle to see just one word. REJECTED.
Bella’s life had been a mess in those seven years. In her eyes, she was more or less a failure. And so, she wanted answers. She didn’t know or care if she was on a wild goose chase, but so help her God, she would get those answers even if it killed her. Staring at the card in front of her, hands clasping and unclasping for the umpteenth time, she took a deep breath, picked the card from the table and ripped it open.
You know that feeling where you’ve wanted something so long and so hard that when you eventually get it, you just stare at it. Numb. That’s how Bella felt as she looked at the single word. ACCEPTED. She had imagined a thousand times how she’d react seeing those words but she couldn’t do any now. There was a little RSVP card that showed vague descriptions of where to go and the time to appear. 5 pm.
Following the descriptions, Bella was confused when she arrived at the place. It was just an empty, incomplete building that she’d passed a hundred times. And she wondered how such a prestigious event would be held in such a characterless place. She clasped her hands together to prevent herself from itching her arms. She took a kerchief to mop off the beads of perspiration that were beginning to appear on her brow. Had she been hoodwinked? Was it all a farce? But at exactly 5 pm, Bella let out an ear-splitting shriek as the ground gave way under her and she was plunged deep into what may or may not change her life forever.
In what she supposed was an elevator, a single robot hand emerged, with a mask in its palm. Betty hesitated but something told her that the door wouldn’t open if she didn’t put on the mask. And so she did, and the doors opened. There were lights, bright lights that greeted her and made her wince and shut her eyes to shield herself from the impact.
As she opened her eyes, she met a desk in what she felt was the event’s colours, maroon and gold. And behind it, was a masked lady that had a bright smile plastered on her face. The smile was too bright in Bella’s books but she was not one to judge. The woman opened her mouth to speak in a voice that sounded more machine-like than human.
“Welcome to Geheimnis. Where all your dreams come true.”
“Really? My dreams?” An overly excited Bella asked. But the lady continued as no one had spoken.
“To the right of this table is a nondisclosure contract as well as some questions that are necessary to ensure you have a hitch and drama-free stay here.” Bella waited for her to keep speaking but the woman was done. The smile, however, remained firmly fixed on her heavily made-up face.
Bella looked over the contract. It was “simple.”
DO NOT SPEAK, HINT AT OR EVEN BREATHE ANYTHING YOU WITNESS OR PARTAKE IN AT THIS FUNCTION. BREACH OF THIS MAY LEAD TO DIRE CONSEQUENCES.
The pen shook in her hands as she went to the next part.
DURING YOUR STAY AT THIS EVENT, YOU SPEAK ONLY WHEN SPOKEN TO. UNNECESSARY OR CARELESS STATEMENTS OR ACTIONS MAY LEAD TO DIRE CONSEQUENCES.
Bella swallowed noisily and turned to the receptionist to apologize for her lack of discretion but the lady still gazed at her with that same sickly-sweet smile. She was tempted to ask her if her cheeks didn’t hurt but she didn’t need a seer to tell her that her question wouldn’t be dignified with as much as an eyebrow twitch. Turning to the contract with a sigh, she looked at the last part.
YOU WILL WITNESS AND PARTICIPATE IN A LOT OF THINGS THAT MAY MAKE OR MAR YOUR LIFE FOREVER. BUT FOR EVERYTHING YOU WITNESS OR PARTICIPATE IN, WE WOULD NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR MENTAL, PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING, DURING OR AFTER THE EVENT.
The contract stated that if she agreed with the rules and signed accordingly, she may go in. Bella wondered where the door was but she reasoned that she didn’t even see a door initially but here she was. She knew she couldn’t go back. Too much was at stake. So with a heart beating as loudly as galloping horses and the feeling of the pulse pounding rapidly in her wrist, she signed the paper.
The receptionist promptly pressed a button she didn’t even notice and a door appeared at the far end of the room. She looked at the receptionist for the last time before she started walking towards the door and just felt that her smile was different somehow. Like it was infused with a slight sneer. But it was gone before she knew it so Bella felt like it was all her imagination.
Her feet glided warily to the door. She shuddered with that rush in her veins that communicated to her that her life was about to change forever but exhaling one last sigh, she opened the door. Whatever would happen, should happen.