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A Fitting Sin

Behold, there did appear a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, and verily did it give me an idea for a story which was set in a universe of medieval horror.

The church door opened, admitting a ragged figure and a burst of wet wind from the storm which had been impotently lashing the stone walls all afternoon. The priest came out of his sanctuary at the back in response to the noise, nose wrinkling in anticipation when he saw the figure limping in; wet peasant smelled worse than a wet hound, in his opinion anyway, and the stench tended to linger. Still, though, he had his duty and he would do it. “Have you come for confession, my son?” he called out. “Or just shelter from the storm?”

“Neither, Father.” The man limped nearer, right leg dragging a muddy streak on the flagstones, pushing back his sodden hood as he came. “I’ve been cursed.”

The priest almost drew back in spite of himself on seeing the bandaged, disfigured face. “That you have,” he agreed. There’d been a plague of it going around, and nothing he or the Church could do save encourage the afflicted to repent their sins. Very, very specific sins, and this particular was one of the worst – the grossest excesses of Gluttony paled in comparison to those of Lust. “You know confession won’t save you from…this, correct?”

In truth, he didn’t want to hear this man’s confession, so the terse shake of the bound head was a relief. “They say the Church can break it, Father. God is all-powerful, they say. So I come to God’s house to ask Him about the matter directly.”

“Blasphemy is a sin also,” the priest scolded, but without much heat. He’d been hearing that particular type of blasphemy quite often lately, and ‘God is all-powerful’ had become a rather hateful phrase in the mouths of those afflicted. “All I can tell you is to repent. God does not waste his power on the unfaithful, or the unrepentant.”

The man cocked his head. “Has he wasted it on anyone? Anyone at all?”

“Are you compounding your blasphemy by questioning the Almighty?” The priest stepped aside, indicating the carved wooden altar with its gold-embroidered silk cloth gleaming in the soft light of the tall beeswax candles. “I won’t stop you from trying, but with that attitude I doubt you’ll come away with more than sore knees.”

“Mine’s a match for yours, Father.” The man limped past him, dragging left leg catching on the hem of the priest’s thick robes, putting them both off balance. Only one of them ended up on the floor, however, the other straightening to stand over him instead of reaching to help him up. “I’m sorry, Father, this leg of mine…oh wait, it’s a miracle! My leg is fine now, just from touching the hem of your robe!”

The man actually started to do a little jig right there in the center of the aisle, and the priest began to worry that he was either in the company of a madman or a robber. “This is not appropriate behavior for the House of the Lord!” he insisted, trying to regain his feet but unable to because the dancing feet in their heavy boots kept landing on his robes and pulling him back down – although he’d have had no little difficulty rising even had they not been. “Stop that at once!”

“Well, if you want me to, I will,” the man agreed, and did so, muddy boots planted firmly on the priest’s robes. “Father, I believe I’ve had a vision. And as I’m here in this church and you’ve just healed me of my limp, I believe it’s from the Lord God himself.”

So the man was mad; no doubt he’d been driven there by the curse, which he’d brought on himself by his own sinful ways. Still, humoring him wasn’t a bad idea. “Tell me this vision, my son,” the priest said, doing his best to sound calm and authoritative as befitting a man in his position – his current position on the floor notwithstanding. “The Lord works in mysterious ways sometimes. Perhaps I can…perhaps I can help you make sense of it.”

“I’ve no doubt you can, Father, no doubt at all. For the Lord shows me the workings of the Church. I see fat priests in rich robes of silk and velvet coming together in a marble hall to discuss the state of things in their bailiwicks. And the food is plentiful and the wine flows freely, and by the by the talk turns to sin, and how rife it is among the peasantry and even those somewhat higher, and how little those sinners care for the commands of the Church, which are only meant to keep them close to the bosom of God. And that is when one of them, drunk on new wine, proposes that they should perhaps show these ungrateful wretches what the price of sin truly is. A curse! he cries. A curse to mark them for all to see, and to kill them if they will not repent! And the others find this quite to their liking in the shared flush of gluttony and drunkenness so out they stagger to the golden altar and call upon God, loudly and with many imprecations. And when He fails to answer in a timely manner one decides he must want a sacrifice as in the olden days, so they bring in a serving girl who had so far managed to escape their carnal attentions and bleed her like a slaughtered lamb on the altar…and do you know what happened then, Father?” The horrified priest shook his head. “God answered them, that’s what happened. They’d begged Him with blood sacrifice and he was apparently happy to get it, because the curse flowed down from the altar like water and they themselves were afflicted first, and two died of it that very hour.”

The priest swallowed. In truth all but one were now dead, and that one only living because he spent each day on his knees before the blood-blackened altar, wailing to the Lord for mercy which was not forthcoming. The true origin of the curse on the Seven Sins was indeed known to the servants of the Church…but no others were supposed to know aught of the shame and horror of it. “B-blasphemy! The Lord gives you no vision! How do you know these things?”

And the man smiled at him, baring sharp teeth. “Why I was there, Father. I saw it with my own eyes.” He unwound the dirty bandages which covered most of his face, and the priest saw that they had been cleverly wrapped and colored to make him appear as one afflicted by the Curse of Lust; his bare face beneath them was marked only with scars as made by the slashes of a beast’s claws…and when he lifted a hand and took off the mitten which had covered it, those selfsame claws could be seen adorning his fingers. “Wrath is one of the Seven Sins, Father, and it is certainly a deadly one. The Church killed my only love to cast this curse…so I think it only fitting that I use the curse to make the Church pay for it.”

It was the priest’s bad luck that the storm was making so much noise no one could hear his screams, and that the cold rain washed the blood from his killer even as it necessitated the hood which concealed that man’s scarred face from view and the mitts which hid his clawed hands. Or perhaps this was not due to luck at all, as the storm cleared to a golden sunset immediately as the man was gone from the area. In truth, had the priest been alive to see it, he might have been given cause to wonder if Wrath was a sin as equally beloved by a vengeful God as it was condemned by Him.

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