THE PARISH – CHAPTER FIVE

December 11, 1500

The Parish

I am laying under mom’s rotting body when they find me.

The Curates.

The sky is dark and their standard reflector uniforms glimmer like synthetic stars in the night.

The sounds of them approaching rumbles. But I lay among the dead with blood on my hands and I hardly care.
My mother is wrenched off me.

My bloody nails curl into my bloody palms and I brace myself for the impact of a bullet. Murder of a Skin Eater results in imprisonment for the lucky, and death for the rest.

“Live!” Someone shouts.

I flinch, but I can’t play dead. A beam of light sizzles against my face. “Name?”
I blink.

“Name?”

I swallow.

“Name?”

The demanding voice shudders into pieces and the darkness absorbs it.
I become heavy. The night wraps around me like black silk, enveloping me in the foggy depths.

***
I’ve become apathetic towards the agonizing numbness of my arms. They’ve been shackled above my head and the jagged metal has tattered my wrists.

This prison block is choked with people like me, people who have killed a Skin Eater. The walls around The Congregation are often breached by a few Skin Eaters. It’s illegal to kill them, even out of self-defence. The Parish Priest declared them a spiritual phenomenon and we must worship them. Compliance is mandatory. And if you question Skin Eaters’ divine rights, you’re locked into Sector Three of Incarceration.

I’m in Sector One. Everyone here dies.

They throw us into the marsh outside the walls to be devoured. Spectators come and cheer after Sunday Sermon. And when its over the Parish Priest declares; “In the end the righteous and holy prevail and the evil are swollowed by the Earth to burn!”

The Curates, the Parish Priest’s authority figures, come by on their routine patrol of the prison. They can’t be much older than me, but their eyes are of ancient souls framed in a scarred, rough skin, and I can only imagine what they’ve seen here.

One with an expression like a viper hisses at me, at my unprecedented stillness. I allow myself the pleasure of grinning back at him, through a vail of hair and filth.

He stops. Slowly he squats in front of me. I refuse to look at him, cowardice gripping me. “Look at me girl,” he commands. When I don’t he grabs a fistful of my hair at the roots and wrenches my head back. I gasp, tasting terror. “What’s your name?” He growls in a magnetic voice.

“Hitha.” I whimper, a fiery pain engulfing my brain.

“It’s nice to meet you Hitha; I’m Enoch.” I can feel his clementine-scented breath against my face as he reaches up to shake my quivering hand. “And if you ever have the audacity to look at me like that again I’ll ensure you’re fed to the Skin Eaters.”

He smacks my head back against the crag, and I cry out as orbs of colour explode in my vision. He releases me and vanishes into the labyrinth of the Incarceration.

EMMA IRVINE

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