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Grace Hammond

Australia

These words
that are my own
Are my blood and
are my bones.

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An Innocent Love

February 19, 2015

When she dies, the baby screams. As the floor crashes open and the rope loses its slack, the child wails in protest against the thudding noise. It tears its gaze away from the warmth of the mother’s chest and raises its eyes to the swaying body displayed before the crowd. The dangling limbs and the spine protruding through neck. The piece of bloodied meat strung up in the butcher’s window.
“Hush now, sweet one,” the mother sings, and ushers the baby’s head away from the broken woman. She glances with distaste down the line of swinging bodies as she bobs the baby up and down on her hip. The deathly row of wooden planks upon which stand the instruments of peace. A seemingly endless line of those necklaces that silence. Around her the swelling crowd shouts and cheers, and the stones and rotten fruit thrown by those closest thump against still warm flesh. The mother observes with dull eyes as the body is yanked from the lead and another Degenerate is pushed forth to wear the collar. She sighs when the boy struggles and cries, and flicks her eyes to the clock tower above them. The seconds slowly creep until the boy’s pleas are irrevocably silenced. The mother allows her thoughts to drift to occupy the time.

At last the final row of Degenerates are wrenched from the rope’s strangling grip and tossed upon the bulging pile. The mother’s back straightens as the white-haired man feebly climbs onto the podium. Taking care to avoid the patches of crimson-stained wood, he shuffles to the center of the stage. He meets the eyes of the audience and a dutiful silence falls upon the crowd. His hunched shoulders draped with golden robes shudder as he clears his throat.
“My good people,” he begins, his raspy voice heard by all. “Today we celebrate the completion of another successful ritual. The very ritual that has been handed to us through many generations. Each of the bodies presented to you today have been stripped of their souls, and now here they lie, devoid of life.” The man is forced to pause as a universal cheer erupts from the mass of people. He adjusts the miter perched precariously upon his head as he waits for the ovation to cease.
“Yes, as always the ceremony is one deserving of exultation. We have freed the souls from sin, and now we gather here to rid the world of that sin.” He bends to receive a single torch handed to him by a robed man on ground level. He holds the flame high above his head and turns to the heaping mass of shattered bodies from which twisted limbs jut out at unnatural angles.
“And now takes place the most important element of our ceremony. Behold the light which scatters darkness; the fire that blazes within the eyes of the divine. We extend our prayers for a sinless world and offer ourselves to command. We unite today to vanquish the sin that has plagued the hearts of those before us. We pray for their forgiveness; for the almighty can see how the innocence of spirit is detached from the immorality of human bones. Now the holy light will burn away the sins of flesh, and leave the spirits clean and pure. Let the Cleansing of the Souls begin!”
The baby whines as the hell-like odor floods its mouth, and the mother watches while the climbing flames devour the wicked.

She does not linger with the rejoicing crowd after the ceremony ends. Her shoes tap incessantly against the cobblestones and she struggles against the baby’s flailing arms as it shrieks and cries. She throws apologetic glances to strangers as she passes their frowning faces. The mother pleads with the baby to hush, and wipes at its tear stained cheeks. She takes detours through empty streets so as to not disturb any dispersed huddles of mirthful people. As she comes to meet the last corner before home, she notices that the baby’s cries now mingle with that of another. Sighing, she rounds the bend, and beholds the crumpled form before her. Stripped of all dignity, the woman wallows on the dirt-coated ground, her wails now drowning those of the child. The woman casts her swollen eyes up to the mother looming above her. The mother looks down her nose at the black-rimmed sockets and flushed cheeks streaked with salt water and grime. The woman raises her head.

“My… my boy. My –“ She chokes on the violence of her own sob. The mother rolls her eyes.

“Come now. There is no need for tears. You know it had to be done.” The woman rises to her knees, her eyes screaming with pain.

“No, not my boy… Not my boy.” Her body quakes with each ragged breath.

“You’re being silly. You mustn’t mourn him. In his flesh he was a Degenerate. But now he is free.”
“Free!” The woman’s glare pierces deep within the mother’s heart. “How… how can you say this? You knew him! He was a… good boy. He was innocent.”

“He is now.” The mother turns, leaving the broken woman alone on the street.

“No.” The woman whispers, falling forward onto her hands. “Now he is dead.”

At home, the baby is at last calm, and the mother fawns over it as she washes its cheeks. It giggles merrily as she covers her face before quickly removing them and crying, “Found you!” She removes its shoes and tickles its toes, laughing as it frowns and recoils. She sings it a lullaby and places it gently in its crib, its hand resting beside its face. She pulls aside the living room curtain to find that the woman on the street is gone.
“Good.” She mumbles, and relaxes into a chair to pick up her knitting. She sighs as she remembers the never-ending line of condemned Degenerates. She knows now more than ever that the whispers were true. There was something different about this year. The population of the squalid increased, and with it the dread of the people. Fear of contamination pulses within their hearts, driving them to uncover the sickly among them. The mother shudders at the thought of passing one in the street, oblivious to the degeneracy running through their veins. The thought of her baby being exposed to their depravity. She knows it is only right to deliver their souls to a place devoid of such evil. They are told that it is the only moral solution.
“May the sins of the flesh be burned away.” She murmurs, nodding.

Later that night, as the lay sprawled on her bed, the moonlight tricking through the open window, she hears a rapping. Unsteadily she rises and walks groggily to the front door. She opens it, and all traces of sleep are gone immediately.

“No.” She whispers, her eyes slowly widening, her lips quivering. “I am not one of them! I have a baby!” The white-haired man clears his throat.

“We are not here for you.”

Her screaming seems to shake the house. Her mind, consumed by a blinding rage, is cleansed of all prior thoughts. She pleads and begs, assuring them that her baby has never committed any sins of the flesh. Desperately she asks them how they could possibly know. Their ignorance drives her into a frenzy. Her racing mind conjures the memory of the scowling faces she passed that day. No. there is no sign plastered onto her baby’s face reading “UNCLEAN.” No way to distinguish her lovely child from the rest of humanity. Disapproving eyes stare her down as she collapses onto her knees.
“Please!” Her shrill voice cuts the stillness of the night. “It is a baby you are killing! A baby, who is the very sigil of innocence!”
The baby howls at the touch of the man, whose eternally grim eyes meet those of its mother.

“There is no innocence to be found in the immoral.” And when they leave, only one soul among them is pure.

There is no light to be found in the mother’s eyes as she watches the rising flame. No reflection of the great inferno billowing in the wind. Hunched and trembling, she lowers her reddened eyes to the filthy ground. Sensing movement beside her, she raises her head in a slow, grudging motion.

“Do you see now?” The woman’s face, scrubbed of dirt, appears hollow to the mother. Her eyes alone bear the anguish and turmoil buried beneath. “There is no single innocence which is of the greatest innocence. For there is no innocence sweeter than this of love.” 

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