“Father. I have sinned.”
“Ok Frederick, please list your sins for me.”
Fred winced inwardly at the name. It was only ever used when he was getting in trouble, well, he was in trouble now. Maybe he could just fudge things a bit, so they wouldn’t know. Surely that would work right? He didn’t want everyone to know.
“Well father, I had impure thoughts last week.”
The priest started to write it down, “And who were these impure thoughts about?”
“Um do I have to?”
“You know you do Frederick.”
“Christina, Josephine and Robert.”
What kind of impure thoughts were these?”
Fred felt his cheeks burning. He didn’t want to discuss this with anyone.
“Do you care to elaborate?”
Fred shook his head violently.
“Ok, though you realise I will have to assume the worst.”
Fred nodded, it would be worth it to be spared that embarrassment.
“I said I had a migraine. It was just a headache.”
The priest tutted and wrote it down.
“No father, that’s it.”
The priest looked at him.
“Are you sure?”
“You may go.”
Fred stood and moved around the soft chair he was sitting on. He stopped at the wood door and turned to the priest, then he knelt. The priest didn’t look up from his papers. Fred rushed through the ceremony, then he fled the room. The priest jotted down a few more notes, then tallied something in the corner of the page. When he was done, he closed the ledger and moved to another.
“Next.” A young woman came in, visibly shaking. The priest tried not to grin. This would be interesting, no doubt she had done something terrible.
“Please, sit and unburden your soul of all your sins.”
The young woman nodded her head lightly and sat. The priest frowned. She paled and jumped up before bowing again, this time her hand moved upwards and gestured at the priest. He nodded subtly, she sat down again and as she did so, he scribbled something into the ledger.
Fred passed the short line of people on his way out. Most looked nervous, a few looked smug. There were similar short lines scattered about the church, it was the fastest way to get everyone done before Mass that evening. Now he was to go home and reflect on what he had done. At least that was what he was supposed to do officially. No one really did that. Most wandered the streets in embarrassed silence. You would think that after years of enduring this, people would cease to care, but they hadn’t. Somehow the church had managed to make the sins seem worse, even though everyone did them. He passed by a priest, dressed in bright red, deep lines of black running along the edges of his garments, Fred nodded and gestured at the priest who looked through him.
Outside in the fresh air, Fred felt his shoulders relax. He still had the mass to look forward to, but one of the worst parts were over. He had gotten away with it, well, at least he believed he had. It was a fifty-fifty chance. Sometimes the priests knew you were holding back, they were able to find out what the sin was, but sometimes they were unable and just gave the usual number for a withheld sin. Fred didn’t know how the priests would be able to figure out what he had done, so he should be fine. It might be a little more painful tonight, but it would be best for that to remain a secret.
Fred walked down the street, away from the large church. It was in his designated section, each church could have five hundred worshippers and no more. The rule had become enforced when services lasted for days. The record was six. Now that there was only five hundred, the mass could be over and done with in a few hours, depending on the sins committed. Others milled about the streets, a few talked to each other, but most wandered. No one really wanted to talk to other people today. There was nothing to do as all the shops and businesses were closed. Fred liked to walk through the botanical gardens, they were usually pretty and for the most part, empty.
It was an overcast day, but still quite warm. He walked through the winding paths of the gardens, avoiding the religious statues that popped up here and there. If anyone asked, he could easily say he was walking at random. He liked walking through the gardens as he could shut of his brain and stop thinking and though there were the statues, they were easy to avoid, after all he didn’t want constant reminders of what he was trying to forget. A small river ran through the gardens, lazily flowing in an endless circle. A few fish swam in the clear waters, most resided in the pool that was in the centre of the gardens. He sometimes wondered if they knew about their captivity. He and everyone else in the city was just like them, stuck in one place forever with the illusion of freedom. Sure, he could travel, but only if he could provide the reasons for it and “just because” wasn’t a valid reason. Then of course he needed the paperwork done and that cost a surprisingly large amount. He would never leave the city. There was nothing really stopping him, nothing physical at least. He could leave anytime he wanted, technically. There were no walls locking him in, but if he was missing, they’d send a hunt after him and he wouldn’t get far. The punishment for abandoning the city was severe. There were rumours of small villages, living silently outside the cities and towns, but they were just rumours. Fred half suspected that they were an invention of the church, an easy way to root out those who wanted true freedom.
The bells started to ring, giving the hour warning. Fred walked back to the church slowly, he was in no particular rush and it wasn’t like someone could take his seat.
He entered the church and walked along the chairs until he found his number. He would have to wait a while before going up. That was always the worst part of the whole thing. He sat down, one of the last to do so. After a few minutes the doors were closed. He glanced around, as far as he could tell, everyone had made it.
The first sinner was called up, Fred watched, trying to stay calm. After a few moments, he allowed himself to zone out. It wasn’t like there would be a quiz on what was happening. All too quickly it was his turn. He stood and made his way up to the stage, to the side the previous three people were undergoing cleansing still. Their whimpers couldn’t be heard from his seat, but he could hear them clearly now. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. He didn’t bother wiping them away.
“Here before us stands Brother Frederick Smith, the sins he confessed are that he had impure thoughts of a sexual nature about the following people:
And Robert Bennett.
He did not disclose the exact thoughts, therefore he has to be given twenty.
He confessed to lying, however this lie was minor, claiming he had a migraine when he had in fact only a mild headache. He will receive three.
He however, did not confess”
Fred felt like he was going to throw up.
“That he had stolen from Nancy and Jacob Smith.”
The fear was replaced by confusion, he hadn’t stolen anything from his parents, he hadn’t even spoken to them in six months.
“He has taken their love, their food and their time. He had not given anything in return. As such, this is seen as theft. The theft of the worst kind. He will receive fifty in total for the theft and the omission. Brother Frederick, please move to the cleansing station.”
He walked towards the newly free priest in a daze. He and his parents had never gotten along and they were all happy when he left. They told him to never contact them again. He had never thought them particularly cruel or vindictive, but this proved otherwise. To use the church in such an underhanded way. He could picture them, his mother crying into a handkerchief in a priest’s office somewhere. Well. He would have to return the favour to them next week.
The station was small, a raised basin stood in front of him. Fred raised his sleeve, revealing a pale arm that was crisscrossed with scars. The priest gestured impatiently and Fred moved it over the basin. The priest gripped his knife firmly and started to make shallow cuts. Fred tried to remain stoic during this, but after the sixth cut a hiss of pain escaped. Occasionally the priest would cut deeper into his arm, allowing a fresh spurt of blood to run down fred’s fingers and drip into the basin.
When the priest had finished cutting, thirty people had already been up and most had received their cleansing. The priest used a cloth to wipe away the worst of the blood, then gestured for Fred to move on. He walked across the stage to the final station. He put his arm into the hole and braced himself. There was a brief, burning sensation, then his arm was cold. He gritted his teeth as something probed at the wounds, then something pushed back against his arm. He pulled it out, his arm had a thin layer of lotion on it. Fred released a breath. He had been cleansed and accepted by the lord. He turned from the wall and went back to his seat, his arm throbbing dully. It was over for this week. The wounds would close in a day or two, leaving behind nothing but silvery lines. It would leave his arm fresh for next week. He shuddered at the thought and looked up at the stage. Soon the ceremony would end and everyone would shuffle carefully out of the church.