The Cleansing

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Trumpets sounded in the distance behind the shutters blocking the cold of winter. It was that time of year again. The time of year when people smiled in fear and celebrated one last time, hoping their loved ones would stay alive through the night. It was The Day of Judgment, and this was the most unsure Jesse had ever been in his short life.

He removed his wool blanket from over his bushy hair, and gazed depressingly into the sunlight bursting through the cracks of the shutters. He closed his eyes and sighed. Slowly, he slid his leg to the edge of his bed, not wanting to wake up. If he woke up, then the day would proceed. One woman stayed on his mind. She was beautiful, young, and full of energy. The thought of her made him smile, but it was overshadowed by fear rising in his soul.

He rolled the blanket to the foot of the bed and sat up. He stood, allowing his feet to touch cold, wooden floor. He rose and stretched his arms. He could smell the sizzling bacon from the kitchen downstairs. He walked over to the shutters and opened them. The cold air rushed in and encased him in the winter’s bite. He leaned out the window and watched as sloppily-dressed neighbors hurried from one end of the stone street to the other. All were panicky.

The Day of Judgment brought the city together, literally. Houses were built attached to each other and at the same two-story height. Neighborhoods were usually two long buildings taking up one big block. Building a taller or separate house meant that the owner felt entitled and thus was subject to more judgment than the neighbors. The last time someone built their house in such a fashion found trails of blood running from their doorstep to the Trees of Shame.

The Trees of Shame are only trees in material. They are crosses, where the slain are displayed in gruesome fashion with their arms stretched to the sides. Kids were never allowed to see the aftermath of The Day of Judgment. They could only hear about it. The only reason Jesse knew of the man slain over his obnoxious house was because his father told him. The man and his family hung the same year they built their extravagant home, letting everyone know it was wrong of them to do so. People were quick to demolish the house. What was left was an empty lot and a sad memory.

Another gust of wind encouraged him to close the shutters. The blanket of warmth from his body heat left him. The closing of the shutters gave way to the opening of his bedroom door. His father peeped in and stared at him. His big, bushy eyebrows stood out in contrast to his chocolate skin. Jesse looked at him troubled. His massive hands held much strength in them, but his eyes held much fear. Every year, it troubled him to watch his father in this state. He was so big, you would expect nothing to frighten him, but not even he was without fear on this day.

“Breakfast is ready,” his father squeezed out.

Jesse nodded and got dressed. His green wool shirt and dark brown, cotton pants laid on the foot of the bed. He put them on and then shoved his feet into his brown, leather boots. He remembered the first time he wore these boots. Sandra made them for him. It was the first time he ever wore leather in his life. He told his parents he earned them by doing chores for a rich man. They lectured him about owning things he couldn’t afford. Their family was poor, and their father stressed minimalism. Gaudy outfits and obnoxious behavior led to the Trees of Shame. There was no way around it. If not for his hard work, his father would’ve cast them into the fire.

Still, he kept the boots she gave him. He enjoyed the power in the sound of his heel stomping on the floor as he walked down the hall to the stairs. It made his presence known, and dared anyone to call him a man. It made him feel as strong as his father.

He went downstairs to the dining room. His mother held pots in her hands as she set the table. Jesse kissed her good morning and pulled out a chair to sit. His brother shoved him in the arm and ran past him.

“Ready to die?” he teased as he ran to their mother.

Jesse tried to hit him. “That’s not funny-.”

“No one’s going to be dying today, you hear me!?” their father said sternly from the kitchen.

“That’s not a joke! You know better than that!” their mother followed. She grabbed David’s ear and walked him back to Jesse. “Apologize, now.”

Little David looked embarrassed. He looked up into Jesse’s eyes, “I’m sorry.”

“Now sit down!” his father continued as he approached the table. “I don’t know why I have to tell you boys this every year. This is not the day for jokes. This is not the day to mock or speak ill of anyone! I don’t care if they’ve murdered someone. You know what happens.”

Jesse sat down at the table across from his father. His father’s solemn attitude was in full effect. He never liked The Day of Judgment. He had lost several family members to it over the years. It seemed as if no one could contain their desire to sin. His family was cursed for failure.

After they took a minute to calm down, the food was served. They bowed their heads and their father prayed. Jesse’s father was stern. Jesse couldn’t wait for tomorrow, when he’d be the happiest man on earth instead of dismal. Jesse hadn’t fully understood the workings of The Day of Judgment. He only knew the screams echoing through the night until the sun rose once again to reveal the many tears shed and the blood painted on doors, streets, and windows.

They ate quietly. His father kept looking at him. Jesse felt pressured. He just turned sixteen a month ago. He knew his father was worried, but he didn’t know how to accept it himself. His father finished quickly and pushed his plate aside. He rested his elbows on the table and planted his head onto his folded hands. He watched Jesse eat.

“How you feelin’, son?” he asked.

Jesse finished a biscuit, “Fine… I guess.”

His dad chuckled, “Well… now that you’re subject to the Judgment, it’s time for you to prepare.” Jesse chewed slowly. “So that means you’ll be getting the lamb’s blood this morning.”

His father looked for a moment of uncertainty. Jesse simply nodded, swallowing one mouthful and instantly stuffing in the next mouthful.

“Are you going to the chapel, hun?” his mother asked.

“Yeah…” his father sighed. “I’ll see if I can get a few prayers in. Been hearing some awful things from the men in the fields. They play too loosely with their souls.”

“A prayer a day keeps death away,” his mother cited. He nodded. “I’ll give you my prayer list before you go. Things are much different for our ladies. A lot of youth in those sins.”

His father grunted. “Seems the city gets worse every year. It’s almost like they don’t believe we’ve been going through this every year since before I can even remember…” Jesse finished his plate and stacked it on top of his father’s plate. “Better go get that blood, son.” His father ordered. Still, he studied his face. “I know you have some friends you might need to see, but be brief. Lamb’s blood’ll be off the market by noon. Lots of panicky buyers will buy up everything. Alls that’ll left is tainted blood or goat blood. You’ll put our lives in danger if you take too long, but buy too early and you risk thieving. It’s like I showed you last year. Play it right. Not too early. Not too late.”

“Yes, sir,” Jesse acknowledged.

Jesse took his father’s plate and placed it with the pots on the stove. He got his coat off of the hanger, and left for the market. A few kids ran past the front door towards the center of the city. He looked across the street to an old man sweeping his entry mat. The man swept the mat clean and then dipped the broom into a bucket of blood he already purchased – no doubt bought from the market. He took the blood-soaked broom from the metal bucket and brushed the blood across his door post. Jesse watched the man work diligently, avoiding all chances of blood being spilled. He turned back to the bucket and caught the eyes of Jesse upon him. He nodded and then went to coat the window frames as well.

Jesse lowered his head and walked to the right towards the market which was east of his home. Many houses were already covered in blood, and the day was just beginning. Jesse knew he’d better hurry. He passed three neighborhoods, nearly a mile in total, before reaching the center of the city. The streets widened and the houses began to break up only by a few inches. The market was close.

The bustle of the market echoed off the walls of the inner city. He was still a few blocks away. Many people rushed to and fro down the street, trying to make it before noon. Jesse, however, took his time. He had to get the right blood. His father told him about merchants with fake or tainted blood. Now those merchants’ voices rang in his ears.

“Get your blood! Get your blood here!”

“Cheap blood! Cheap blood for sale! It may not keep them out, but it may make them think twice!”

“Rich blood! Made from the purest of lambs!”

“Get your lamb chops here!”

Jesse ignored as much as he could. His father told him the blood should be the purest: bright red, not crimson. It should be neither too dark, nor too light. He also suggested Jesse prick his finger to compare his blood to the blood he’ll purchase. If it’s not the same color, the blood is fake or too cheap. He also had to be aware of blood mixed with water. Blood didn’t flow like water. It was a bit slower. It did not creep either, so be aware of blood that flowed like the blacksmith’s heated metal.

His father’s words circled in his mind as he went down the line of merchants. Just as his father predicted, the blood at each stand was different. Jesse didn’t know whose blood to choose. Then, he saw one stand with some of the richest blood. The salesman came to him.

“You’re young. First time shopping?” the man asked, smiling.

“Where does your blood come from?” Jesse asked blatantly, looking in his eyes.

“From the first male of the mother lambs. Without blemish. Just as the Holy Book commands.”

“How much?”

“Five shekels of copper.”

“That’s a little cheap.”

“Just so that people get the right blood. These other merchants with their cheap blood are trying to turn this grave day into a quick piece of gold. I’m just trying to make sure no one gets hurt.” He smiled.

Soft hands grazed across Jesse’s hair and face, and then covered his eyes. He froze, trying to figure out what was going on, but then he figured her out. It was no mistake. He remembered how it felt to have her hands gliding across his skin. No one had ever done it so gently before her.

“Guess who.” A soft voice demanded.

“Sandra.”

“How’d you know?” she asked surprised, uncovering his eyes.

“There aren’t softer hands in the world.” He turned to her and kissed her, but she put a finger to his lips.

“I’m with my father,” she explained. She looked around the marketplace. “Come, this way.”

She took him by the hand and led him away from the merchant. He apologized to the merchant, who smiled at the young love, as he was dragged away. She led him to a street just outside of the marketplace to the north. He eyed her leather belt wrapped around the waist of her overcoat as they ran. He enjoyed the allure of her slender frame.

They hurried past a few houses and many citizens to stop by a closed fabric store on the left end of the street. She stopped and checked for spying eyes. She pushed him against the wall of stone and kissed him frequently with her soft, rosy lips. She then pulled back and stared into his brown eyes. He gazed into her hazel eyes and lost focus.

“And how does my love fair on this grave day?” she asked.

Jesse looked at the eyes walking past them. “Fine. How are you?”

“A lot better than you sound.” She reached into the bosom of her coat and pulled out two leather gloves. “Here. These might cheer you up.”

Jesse smiled as he looked at the brown leather gloves with intricate designs. “You shower me in your love and I can barely afford blood for the ritual.”

“It’s not about what you can afford, but what you have. And we have each other.”

He blushed. “When will you let me meet your father?”

She backed away and turned. “I’m just getting my father to be open about me being courted. I don’t think it wise to meet him just yet.”

Jesse nodded. “I hope we don’t have to keep this a secret much longer. It’s hard to look in my mother’s eyes and not tell her I’m in love.”

She grasped his hands. “Soon, my love, soon.”

She encased herself in his arms and rested her head on his chest. He wanted to ask why she had been prolonging this meeting for the past several months. He felt more like her sin than her boyfriend. They had been in love for a long time, but it was a love that was formed in the shadows. She told him it was his age that troubled her, so he spent months maturing himself to meet her strict father, Priest Lazarus.

Lazarus was a high priest in The Order of the Lord’s Chapel. The Order dedicated their lives to appeasing God, whom they believed started the Day of Judgment. They remind all citizens of the costs of their sins and the impending doom that follows those sins on the Day of Judgment. They built the chapel as a memorial and a library. In its walls are the archives of the sins committed before the judges came. There are also archives of the lives lost every year in the Day of Judgment.

Outside their chapel stood six crosses, or Trees of Shame, where the victims hung after the annual ritual. On side of the road leading up to the door stand three Trees. Last year, a thief, a murderer, two adulterers, and two alcoholics hung on the Trees. Jesse heard rumors of the victims from other kids. The victims’ faces were forever frozen with fear before their hearts were ripped from their ribcages and their intestines scrambled from their bellies. God made it a point to be gruesome.

The Order was in charge of removing the bodies from the Trees of Shame. Priest Lazarus took each body down and threw each one into a fire. As the people watched, Lazarus read transcripts of past letters from former high priests condemning all foul acts to hell. The high priests tried to warn the people about sin and the results of their actions. Somehow, every year, they managed to forget these letters.

Priest Lazarus took no pride in his work, but merely found it necessary to keep the people warned of the incoming doom from their unforgiven sins. Sandra was born to this man many seasons ago. Sandra was this man’s responsibility. If Jesse didn’t meet the standard, Lazarus would send judgment down upon him like lightning. Every time he thought of this, his heart thumped.

“What’s troubling you?” Sandra asked, looking into his fearful eyes. He shook his head and looked away. “Oh right, it’s your first Judgment…” She moved her ears to his heart. “Know what I hear?”

He chuckled. “What’s that?”

She gazed back into his eyes. “I hear the heart of a strong man, favored by God.” He smiled and kissed her curly, black hair. She stepped away from him. “We can’t be long today. We must prepare for Judgment,” she warned.

He nodded as he took her by the hand and led her back to the market. The market was even more active. Sandra slipped her hand from his in case her father saw them. Jesse helped her look for him as many scrambled from stand to stand to buy pure blood. It didn’t take them long to find him. Lazarus suddenly brushed by Jesse and reached for Sandra.

“Where have you been child!?” he asked.

“I-I- was looking at some of the merchandise the merchants were selling.”

Her feigned innocence dissuaded his anger. Jesse stood silent and unnoticed as she about her whereabouts. Priest Lazarus was much smaller than Jesse’s father, but you couldn’t tell in his white robe. It stretched further than his shoulders and hung down to his ankles. Priest Lazarus grabbed his daughter’s hand and lectured her as he pulled her away. Neither of them acknowledged Jesse thereafter. They left him with the hoard of consumers around him.

Jesse looked around at the tents and wooden stands filled with desperate customers. He shook his head and went to shop for blood once more. A loud clang brought all to silence. Jesse looked and saw a man looking down at his red-soaked gown and his bucket of blood slowly seeping onto the ground from his dropped metal bucket. He screamed and reached for the young culprit who bumped into him.

“You little monster!!!! Don’t you watch where you’re going!?” the man shouted with the boy’s shirt in his grasp.

The boy tried to escape, but the man’s grasp was too strong. He struck the boy in the face. The boy fell to the ground with blood leaking from his eye. The man reached for the boy again but many men held him back. He fought against them but they held him down and calmed him. Another set the bucket upright, and then ripped his clothes to soak up whatever blood he could. Jesse watched as men knelt around the man soaked in blood to clean up the mess. Normally, spilt blood on the Day of Judgment was a bad omen, but they didn’t seem to care. They only wanted to make sure the boy was safe and that the man had no reason to strike again.

Priest Lazarus pushed through the crowd and investigated. Once the men explained the situation, Priest Lazarus chastised the man for striking the child so hard. The man and Priest Lazarus bickered for a moment, Priest Lazarus defending the uselessness of fighting on such a day, and the man over whether or not the boy caused a bad omen to come upon him and his loved ones. But then, the other men handed the sour man his bucket of blood, full of their ripped clothes soaked in blood.

“If that is not enough to cover your household, then maybe your doors are too large for your own good,” Lazarus accused.

“I thank these men for reversing the bad omen from this spilt blood, but you, Priest Lazarus! To curse me like that… What gives you the right!?” the man argued.

“You struck a child as if he were a man! You are not right in God’s eyes!”

“God’s eyes!? You see as He sees!? Foolishness!!”

“You are not the boy’s father and therefore have no right to strike him so!”

“Bah!”

The man dismissed Priest Lazarus’s statement with the wave of a hand. He took his bucket and angrily walked away. The stain of blood on the stone path reminded Jesse of his own task. He looked for the first merchant he met. To his dismay, he was already gone. Jesse then went from stall to stall, trying to see if there was any blood similar to the description his father gave, but all of the pure blood had been sold. His father’s words faded haunted him.

“Get yer blood here! Get yer blood!” a man shouted.

Jesse walked over to the man. “You’re selling blood, yes?”

“Ai, lad. Finest blood there is.” He winked.

Jesse looked at the buckets and analyzed them. “It’s lamb’s blood right?”

The man hesitated. “Goat’s blood… but I’m told it works the same for you lot.”

“Goat’s blood?” He asked dejected.

“Ai, lad. It be written in the holy letters.”

Jesse studied the man. “Where are you from?”

He smiled. “I be from the southern cities off the coastline. Where the sun always sets on the ocean floor and the breeze keeps a man’s body cool.”

Jesse hesitated. “Where were these goats from?”

“None other than the mountains to the east. Traded for them after hearing of yer Day of Judgment.”

“Your cities aren’t subject to the Day of Judgment?”

“Aye, but our methods be a wee different lad, and we call that day by a different name.”

“What is it?”

“The Day of Wrath, my boy. Now! How about this fine goat’s blood. Whadaya say?”

Jesse pondered. He watched as stands began to close, and people began to cover their storefronts in blood. He looked at the southern man with his long leather boots. The sun above him silently uttered, “I told you so,” in his father’s voice. All the pure blood had been sold by noon.

Discomforted, he agreed, “I’ll take it.” Jesse paid the man his copper shekels and took the bucket of blood from the stand. The bucket nearly brought him to his knees, but he slung the bucket onto his shoulder. A splash of blood tainted his clothes. The merchant stuffed the shekels into his pouch and waved Jesse off. He then went back to selling more goats’ blood.

Jesse headed home, doing his best to not spill the blood. He had enough of a bad omen using goat’s blood. He didn’t need extra tension from spilling it. He walked carefully as orphans ran across the rooftops above him, their sandals clanking against the clay designs. Jesse remembered when life used to be that carefree for him. He remembered the times he sat from his neighbor’s rooftop and watched the people in panic below. At the time, they seemed silly and entertaining, but now he knew why they were so distressed.

The sun was halfway through its downfall when Jesse reached his front door. He prepared to knock but his father opened the door and rushed to take the bucket of blood. He sat it down on the pavement. He took his finger and swirled the blood around. He examined it thoroughly. He took a cloth and wiped the blood off of his fingers. He turned to Jesse, who had been praying to God that he didn’t discover it wasn’t lamb’s blood, and let out a deep exhale.

“Goat’s blood. You bought- goat’s blood.” He said sternly.

“I-I-I-I…” he stuttered.

His father rose to his maximum height and looked down at the nervous Jesse with a face so gruesome. “I don’t want to hear it! I specifically told you lamb’s blood and you give me goat’s blood!?” He turned to the wall and pounded his fist against it. “Do you even know if it’s the purest of its kind?”

“The-the, the man said it was pure…” He held his head down in shame.

“Oh, Jesse! Jesse Jesse Jesse!” He took the cloth and bathed it in the blood. “Next time I tell you lamb’s blood, you listen. The neighbors tried goat’s blood several years ago and they lost someone! You put this entire family at jeopardy, and why?” He waited for an answer.

“I… I, don’t, know. I couldn’t tell the difference and there were so many people and I didn’t want to seem like an idiot.”

His father grunted. “Inside now…. And repent for this disobedience, you hear?”

His mother came to the door and looked at the aftermath of disappointment. Jesse walked through the door with mixed feelings and his head hung low. He had done wrong by his father – by his whole family. He stopped at a portrait hanging on the wall by the doorway. It was a picture of his father’s family. Many of them were lost over the years. The Day of Judgment claimed them. He couldn’t help but wonder if he had just added to that list. He walked to his room, shut the door, and stood in the silence.

He could hear his father and mother arguing over the blood below. The crack in the shutters allowed for such hearing. He stood by the crack with his ear fixed to the wind’s touch. He listened.

“I know it’s his first time, but he has to get it right!” his father complained.

“You didn’t get it right the fifth time!” his mother accused.

“And look what happened!? First it was Kyle, then Jenna, and then Gregory!” He explained. “I’ve lost so many people to this-…” He stopped mid-sentence.

“Oh baby,” his mother said, caving.

All that was left in the wind was the whimpers of a broken man. Jesse stepped away from the shutters and knelt. Reality hit him hard as he thought of the possibility of losing his mother or father, or even his own life. All because he was caught up by Sandra and missed his opportunity to buy blood. She didn’t even help him look for a good vendor, and she was the priest’s daughter. She could’ve helped him.

Instead, she gave him leather gloves. He took those gloves out and held them tight. He smelt her fragrance on their skin. She must’ve put on perfume today; right between the breasts, where the scent was the strongest. He discovered that only a few weeks ago, and its revelation still lured his thoughts to her. Now he remembered them naked and together.

He closed his eyes and prayed. Much was needed to repent for, especially all those romantic nights. He was in love, that’s for certain, but the order of things was overlooked. He whispered his prayer to the wind, and waited for a reply, but received none. He opened his eyes and looked up to the crack. He opened the shutters and saw his father below, covering the door and windows in goat’s blood, not lamb’s blood. His father looked up. Jesse cowered behind the window seal.

“You know that I love you, son?” he called.

Jesse leaned back over the seal and looked at the big man standing with bloody rags in his hands. Jesse nodded. His father’s broad frame seemed so small in this chaos, but his spirit felt immense. It was so compelling, that Jesse went back downstairs to help him finish.

His father stretched a bloody broom to Jesse’s shutters and began to brush along the outer frame. He looked down at Jesse to see him staring at the goat’s blood.

“It’ll do, son. I’m not angry.”

“I jus-…” He took the cloth floating inside the bucket and picked it up. “It’s real this time… I’m actually responsible for our lives.”

His father chuckled. “It’s a big step, and I know it’s hard to comprehend. But you will see. You’re going to be in the living room with us tonight.” He looked around the work he already finished. “Touch up on the left side of the door for me,” he asked.

Jesse pointed to the left side of the door where some of the blood dried, and his father nodded. Jesse rubbed the cloth against the wood and stone, and watched the blood soak in. The excess seeped onto his hands, making it all the more real for him. With each stroke, he was rooted into the foundation of this day.

The two men finished covering their entryways in goat’s blood. There was not a drop of blood left in the bucket when they were done. His mother came outside and checked their work. All seemed content with their preventative measure. Then, his father, his mother, and Jesse cleaned themselves. Afterwards, they shared a feast together. They did not speak much. Only Jesse’s father spoke, giving advice to Jesse on occasion.

When the sun touched the horizon, David, the youngest, was wrapped in his blanket and locked away in a closet beneath several sheets blanketed in various odors. His mother caressed his head until his nerves quieted and he was asleep. It was his first time sleeping in the closet alone. He didn’t realize how terrifying it would be to not know if any of his family would be alive come morning. However, his mother reassured him they’d be there, and her words carried him off to sleep.

A couple of hours later, Jesse and his parents knelt before each other in the living room. The wind picked up in the night, whispering judgment throughout the village. His father grabbed their hands and held them tight. It was strange to see such a stout man and woman on the verge of tears and panic. Any other night would’ve sped by, but this night dragged on like a horse with a shattered leg carrying a dead man.

The weight of the day was finally visible to him, and he hated it the further it went. His mouth dried and his grip tightened with his father’s. It didn’t matter how sweaty their palms had become. Something was coming, and though it felt like they should be preparing to battle, they instead were preparing to cower. Jesse’s heart thumped against his rib cage.

“I will start the prayer, and your mother will continue,” his father explained. “You pick up after her, and then I’ll end the prayer after you’re done.”

Jesse nodded and looked at his mother. She was concerned, but confident it would help. The room darkened and an eerie howl echoed in the distance. It was not a wolf, a lion, an owl, an ox, a bear, or any other normal creature. Its howl sounded almost sounded human, but one in great pain. Following its howl was the howl of others. Their numbers were unidentifiable.

What was identifiable were the slight screams of children, women, and men in the neighborhood. It left an ominous feel in the air, and made Jesse fully aware as to why their mother had been putting them to bed in soundproof rooms all these years. He was terrified, but did not show it for their sake, even with the lump protruding in his throat.

“The judges have come… It has begun,” his father said looking towards the direction of the howls. Jesse and his mother followed his gaze. Jesse’s heart began to race. His father bowed his head and said, “Let us pray.”

Jesse bowed his head and listened to the confessions and wishes of his father being expressed to a God he didn’t know for himself. The wind began to rattle the door as his father continued to pray. Jesse looked up to the door in anticipation. The howls could be heard again. His father gripped Jesse’s hand tighter.

“Focus on me, son,” he ordered. “Don’t worry about the sounds outside. They won’t come in.”

Jesse nodded and bowed his head again. He closed his eyes as cries and guttural screams were heard. His mother gripped his hand tighter as his father continued praying. The pressure was building with each scream. Following the judges by the massacre of the people was unnerving. His father began praying louder and louder as if it was a shouting competition.

“I pray for forgiveness!” his father shouted. “I pray for mercy O’ God!”

His mother began to pray as well, no longer wanting her hand over his hand, but she moved to place her fingers in between his fingers. Jesse opened his eyes and saw the frantic desperation on their faces. This was real. This was happening. His father looked up at him with fierce eyes.

“Pray, son,” his father commanded in the midst of his prayer. “Pass over us, God!”

Life depended on this moment, but all Jesse could think about was Sandra. What started as concern for her safety soon turned into the desire to hold her through this, just like he held her when they were making love. The images had come. She had a small mole slightly to the left of her spine at the bottom of her upper back. It was so insignificant and yet everything beautiful in his knowledge of her body. Suddenly, his mind was flooded with her moans attached to the feel of her hair in his firm grasp. The images kept any mention to God from his mouth.

“Son!?” his father called.

The judges were down the street, or next door. He couldn’t tell. He closed his eyes shut and tried to think of what one says to an almighty God who is full of wrath and about to destroy. He opened his mouth and managed an “uh” just as the door was shattered and an unfamiliar beast of a wolf entered with rage in its eyes.

Jesse paused before the ferocious beast. It stood on its hind legs like a werewolf. Its claws stretched six inches, its snout reeked of blood, and its red eyes were full of bloodlust. It lunged at him and pinned him high against the corner of the wall and ceiling with a hand on his throat and his snout at his cheek. His mother leaped to his defense but his father held her down.

“No!” she screamed in terror, reaching for him.

“God, please!” his father wept.

The beast snarled at Jesse as he held onto its unmovable forearm. Jesse closed his eyes, but its breath called for him, causing him to inadvertently reopen his eyes and stare. The beast looked back into his eyes. Its red, glowing eyes were as red as lamb’s blood – people’s blood. Whatever thing was, it was not of God. Jesse was sure of that.

He held himself up, with its claws digging into his shoulders and chest. He noticed the blood dripping from its snout and the further evidence of blood being grasped by his hands on its forearm. The creature looked deep into his eyes and growled with its mouth opening wide. Jesse turned his face away.

“Please! Not my son!” his father pleaded.

“Forgive me…God…” Jesse finally uttered, letting go of fear to embrace death.

The beast slammed Jesse into the floor and yelled at him. By the time Jesse breathed again, it left, leaving a cold rush of wind in its place. Jesse’s father rushed to him and embraced him. Jesse could only remember the glowing, red eyes – eyes that were filled with bloodlust and not justice – eyes that were wicked and not righteous.

His parents embraced him. The tighter they squeezed, the less he breathed. He was paralyzed with fear. They wept, praising God that he was still alive. Jesse merely stared at the gaping hole that was once the front door. Such brute strength was inhuman. Jesse knew that the beast would’ve ripped him to shreds had it not changed its mind. Upon this realization, he exhaled and wept uncontrollably…

The night carried on. Screams of terror from men, women, boys, and girls were heard in the distance. Not everyone was as lucky as Jesse. It wasn’t until silence lingered beyond the last scream that the village was filled with weeping. This… was the Day of Judgment…

Sunlight emboldened people enough to exit their homes. They walked passed and stared at Jesse’s scarred family like visitors in a museum. Onlookers observed the damage to the house, but were surprised to see no blood inside of it. Then, they gazed into the eyes of the frozen boy. The three of them sat by the wall Jesse was slammed by, near the stairwell. His father refused to let him go, and his mother kept on praying.

Instead of entering the home, they followed trails of blood down the street – one person after the other. It wasn’t until David began knocking on the locked door that they realized they lived. His father retrieved David while his mother continued to hold him. It was David’s voice that brought them out of their trance. Jesse looked to his mother and she grabbed his face.

“You are okay,” she declared. “You are alright.”

“I-.”

“Shhh.” She covered his mouth. “You don’t have to say anything. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Your father and I will take it from here. You be grateful that you’re alive, you hear me?” He nodded slowly. “Now go. I’m pretty sure you need to change, and I’m pretty sure you’ll need bandages.”

She lifted his shirt and gasped, covering her mouth. She saw four trails of blood seeping down into his pants. Jesse’s expression kept her from breaking down. Instead, she examined the gashes in his flesh and silently thanked God there were no gashes too deep to cause serious damage. His body would recover on its own.

It brought a whole new meaning to this event for Jesse. He could still feel the fur rubbing against the soft skin on his neck. He reached for his chest. The bandages stopped the bleeding, but the bruises had not healed. He sat, staring at the unfamiliar faces occasionally passing by and whispering. He did not move from his chair until he saw the pale face of Priest Lazarus.

Priest Lazarus walked by the house without acknowledging them. He kept a slow, zombie-like pace towards the Trees of Shame. His mouth hung open, and his feet dragged. He spoke to no one, causing Jesse to rise to his feet. He didn’t know whether to stay where he was, or go check on him. People whispered “Priest Lazarus” over and over again as more kept marching to the east.

He pondered on what could make Lazarus look so mortified. Perhaps this is how he responded every Day of Judgment. Perhaps he saw something that warranted this kind of response. The longer he thought on it, the sooner he realized why a father would have such an expression on the day after Day of Judgment. He then chased after Lazarus.

“Don’t leave!” his father shouted, but it was too late. His father pursued him. He turned to his wife and said, “Take David upstairs and lock the bedroom door. I’ll be back.” She did just that, without saying a word.

He chased after Jesse, who chased after Lazarus. He tackled Jesse and pressed his weight on top of him. Jesse struggled to get free, but could not move.

“Let me go! I have to ask him!” Jesse cried.

“Ask him what!? What could possibly need to ask Priest Lazarus at this ti-…?” He froze.

He raised off of Jesse and looked at him. Jesse saw that his father came to the conclusion, but he wouldn’t help him say it. His father stood to his feet and extended his hand to him. He lifted Jesse off the ground and dusted him off. Then, he grabbed Jesse by the wrist and held it tight. Jesse winced at the strength his father used.

“Don’t follow him,” his father said coldly.

“But-.”

“Trust me when I say you will save your life if you do not ask about her.” Jesse stood silently as his father glared at him. “The most violent man on this earth is a man who has just lost a daughter that he loved… Trust me when I say he will kill you if you ever mention her name or anything about her… I’ve seen that walk a hundred times. All is not well with him. If you push him, he will kill you.”

Jesse looked away from him and clinched his fist.

“How long?” he asked.

“Huh?”

“How long have you two-.” He stopped himself.

Jesse lowered his head. His father knew. There was no way around it. He didn’t want to have this conversation at this time, but he knew he couldn’t avoid it. “It’s been six months or so.”

“Six mo-.” His father became breathless at the thought. “Were you two intimate?”

Jesse refused to respond, which was all the response he father needed. He let go of Jesse and dragged his hands through his hair. He walked away for a moment and stomped the ground. He turned back to Jesse and lowered his head. He looked to Priest Lazarus, who was near the market. Then, he returned his gaze to Jesse.

He extended his hand towards him and waved him closer. “Come… You’ll have to see this. And you can’t witness it alone.” Jesse began to snivel but his father hit him in the chest, causing him to wince instead. “You will face the results of your actions like a man. You have no right to cry over it. Come.”

His father began to follow Priest Lazarus. Jesse followed close behind him, unsure of himself. As the men followed in fear, the crowds began to grow. People from all over gathered to both rebuild and gossip. Their heads turned to Priest Lazarus and whispered shady things while shaking their heads. In the entire bustle, Jesse lost them.

They looked left. They looked right. The marketplace was flooded with people spectating the results of the night, but Priest Lazarus was not speaking on any corner. He was not reassuring the people nor organizing the cleansing procedures. It was ominous not hearing his voice over the dark rumors. From the gossip nearby, many had perished last night, and some might have been related to people they knew.

They pushed through the crowd and found their way up to the Trees of Shame, to the east of the market, just in front of the sanctuary where Lazarus preached. Jesse lifted his eyes and witnessed the destruction. Each body was held up by stakes punctured into their wrists, chest, and knees. One of the victims was the man who struck the boy over spilt blood yesterday.

Their feet were drenched in blood. Their stomachs were ripped open and emptied. Their arms were stretched out to the sides as if crucified. He was mortified. The beasts were far more violent than the stories gave them credit for. Suddenly, being spared last night was a true blessing. His eyes glanced across looks of terror, sadness, and, to his surprise, peace. Some were already trying to take their fallen down.

He gazed upon the last face and froze. Her eyes were closed and resting. Her womb was ripped open and emptied. Her arms were so ravaged that they hung up by the strength of joints alone. There, at her feet, trembled her father, Priest Lazarus. He touched her naked body with much grief. Everyone sat back and watched his reaction. He grazed his hand gently up her bloodied leg, and stopped just before the ripped flesh. He wailed uncontrollably.

Jesse walked up next to him. He morbidly gazed. He went to touch her, but his father grabbed him and pull him back. Jesse struggled against him, but his father held him close.

“No, son. No,” his father pled.

“I have to! I have to!” Jesse cried.

“Calm down, son. Calm.” He pulled Jesse’s ear to his mouth. “If Priest Lazarus sees your reaction, it will not be good for any of us. Please.”

Jesse fell to his father’s feet and began to weep. His father consoled him, but he, too, found his memories of his first experience breaking him again. He began to weep with him. They held each other while everyone stared.

Priest Lazarus heard the weeping behind him. In his mind, it was far too close to be over one of the other victims, and thus, he turned around to see them. He stood in shock, trying to piece together why these two men would be weeping near his daughter. He wanted to believe they were weeping for him, but seeing Jesse’s youth made him think otherwise. He approached them calmly, but when he was within reach, he lunged at Jesse and took ahold of his throat.

“You killed her!” he screamed. “You killed my baby!”

Men wrestled with Priest Lazarus to peel him off of Jesse. They held him down and Jesse’s father stood between them as a shield. Jesse rubbed his neck as he recovered and stepped further back from him. Priest Lazarus shouted the same thing in rage over and over again. Jesse killed his daughter. Jesse killed his baby. Jesse killed Sandra.

Jesse stared remorsefully at his father. Everyone heard. Everyone saw. Jesse could not deny it even if it felt like he didn’t kill her. He merely watched as the men held Priest Lazarus to the ground. Priest Lazarus began to wail again. Jesse clutched his chest and fell to his knees.

“What did you do!?” Priest Lazarus cried. “What did you do to my baby!?”

Jesse stared blankly into the eyes of Priest Lazarus. None of the shaking, none of the screaming, and none of the ferocity in his eyes mattered. His mind was closed off to the world. His heart turned to anger, burning the image of the demon in his mind. This wasn’t the Day of Judgment. This was a massacre. Jesse looked at the naked Sandra, and wondered… why…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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