The Breaking of the Bread

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A Sin-Eater comes to a village to do his grim work.

He walked through the small village with purpose, his dark eyes on the road ahead of him, never focusing on any of the people he passed.

Those people gave the man a wide berth. Many made the sign of the cross as he walked by, a small gesture to protect them from any sickness that may flake off his blackened soul.

But the man paid none of them any mind. He had been summoned, and he had a duty to attend to.

"Monster!" a child called out to him. "My father says you will burn in hell!" The child said no more, for his mother ushered him away. The man looked briefly at them, but did not slow his stride.

Many of the people he passed exchanged glances. They agreed with the child, and with the words of the child's father, but what shamed them was that those thoughts had been spoken aloud publicly.

However, aside from that one brief glance, the man did not react to the child's cruel words. He simply kept walking.

At last, he came to a stop in front of a small house. Black smoke rose from the chimney, though it was not winter and the air was not cold. The man knocked on the door, and waited.

A woman of middle age opened the door. When she saw the man, she took a step back, but did not move to keep him out of her home. She was, after all, the one who summoned him.

The man stepped across the threshold. As he did, his body came close to the woman's, and she jumped away from him, making a cry of disgust and crossing herself.

The man bowed slightly to her, then looked out over the small home.

It was only one room, for the people who lived here were poor and could afford little else. The fire burned in the hearth, and before it, cast in a flickering orange glow and bundled in many furs and blankets, lay an old woman.

Her face was not dissimilar to that of the middle aged woman who had allowed the man into her home, but she was wrinkled with age, with eyes like milk, and her slow breathing was labored and painful. This woman was not long for this world.

He knelt beside her and looked down at her old withered face. She did not look at him, but she did react to his presence.

"Sin Eater," she said. "My daughter said she had sent for you."

"Your daughter is no liar," the man replied, his voice soft.

The old woman laughed, but soon that laughter turned to violent coughing.

"Easy," the Sin Eater said. "I have not yet eaten."

The old woman smiled, and her daughter knelt beside her, on the opposite side of the Sin Eater, and placed a piece of bread on her mother's heart. The daughter then retreated hastily.

"I spit on you, once," the old woman said. "And you come here to aid me. Tell me, Sin Eater, why do you continue to serve us when we treat you so harshly?"

It was a question he had heard many times before. He answered it as he always did: "somebody must."

"Must they?" The old woman asked. "Must they?"

"They must," the Sin Eater told her. "Otherwise, countless souls would be condemned."

The old woman frowned, but said nothing. The Sin Eater placed a hand upon the bread that lay on her chest.

When he removed his hand, the bread had become pitch black. Slowly, deliberately, the Sin Eater lifted the bread from the woman.

He tore a piece from it, and the inside of the bread was just as black as the outside. The Sin Eater placed the piece upon his tongue, and chewed.

His body shook, and water fell from his eyes, but still he made himself swallow. And then he tore off another piece, and did the same.

And so it continued. The Sin Eater shook and wept and one point he heaved, but still he kept the black bread within him, and ate.

Eventually, his ordeal ended, and he swallowed the last of the bread.

"I feel as though a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders," the old woman said.

"One has," the Sin Eater told her.

"Sin Eater?" The old woman asked. "When I am seated with the Lord? Will I look down and you see you in a lake of fire? Are you to be condemned for the things I have done?"

The Sin Eater stood. "I ask that you not think if such things," he said. "I have removed the stains on your soul and freed you from guilt. Please do not add more guilt, now that you are innocent again."

He turned, and the woman's daughter went to her side.

The Sin Eater let himself out.

Submitted: June 20, 2018

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