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Like A Lamb

Tags: horror, lamb, faith

Day One

She smelled like strawberries. He didn't know if it was her shampoo or perfume or just some natural mysterious scent from her skin, but she smelled sweet and hugged him so hard that he could feel her heart racing against his own. And right before she pulled away he couldn't help but try to remember the last time someone had embraced him like this even though they were very familiar with one another. This was different. 

He just couldn't remember, it had been too long so he let himself stay lost in the warmth. A hug can say so many things words couldn't. Even if she had the words, he didn't want to know them right now. This said more than enough from the brightest and darkest corners of her heart.

"Thank you." she whispered so faintly that he could barely hear it above the night's steady cool wind creeping through the trees and through his front yard. 

She stepped back now and he smiled a little even though he could see from the streetlamp's soft glow reflecting that she was about to well up with tears. It hurt him to see a pretty girl cry and he couldn't tell if the tears were sad, grateful, or a combination of both. 

"It's ok." he said, nodding, still smiling a little, taking a deep breath.

She nodded and her legs planted a wide stance, raising a big revolver and slowly thumbing the hammer back. The gunshot was pure thunder obliterating part of his skull with such a sudden sharp fire that he tried to scream but was already falling back. He barely remembered the cool grass meeting his back, seeing the clear silver points of stars in the vast above. 

He remembered thinking it was ok. He'd be back here tomorrow for the next one.

Day Two

"No anaesthesia?" he asked.

Strapped to the flat metal table in his basement, his head lifted a little, looking for the doctor. The doctor was a small man, almost fragile, but his pale green eyes were sharp, flicking in his direction and there was something so very cold there that the man had never seen before. It's always been there, just hidden.

"That would somewhat defeat the purpose, don't you think?" the doctor asked.

"I guess so." he said, nodding towards the bottle of whiskey on the small stainless steel table close by.

He could see a scalpel and forceps and all other shiny medical tools he didn't know the names of.

"Fair enough." the doctor said with a humorless smile. 

He filled a small paper cup and helped the man tilt his head up as he took the fiery smooth liquid down in one big gulp, his stomach instantly warm, his body calming. 

"Ready." he said, not really ready at all.

Lying his head back down, he could hear the doctor shuffling around, plugging in the surgical saw. It came to life with a loud clean whirring and he could feel the air pushing as it got closer to his bare chest. He was about to say something but never remembered what. 

Seconds later, his screams made the doctor laugh louder than everything else, louder than the saw splitting his sternum open and bones cracking from its relentless mechanical force and precision. He was still screaming when the doctor pulled his heart out and showed it to him, fat and red and gleaming, blood still dripping. The doctor sang to himself as he began to remove other organs.

He remembered only one thought before passing out.

So this is what it's like to be heartless. 

Day Three

He woke up to something splashing all over him, a sharp odor he immediately recognized as he sat up in the near dark of a shed in the woods. Once used as a still, now it was just one of many scattered throughout the woods beyond the edge of their isolated town. All that was here now was a cot, him, and the two girls dousing him with kerosene. 

"Really?" he asked them, eyebrows raised.

"Momma said it burns better." one of them said, shining a flashlight around.

He knew the twins well, even went to grade school with their mother. He knew their voices but they were identical, both wearing all black, faces obscured by odd masks that were partially translucent to almost look like a fading face of a ghost settled on their own.

"Is that ok?" the other asked, holding up a Zippo and flicking it open, arm shaky with anticipation. 

He nodded and they giggled, backing away to the shed's crooked wooden door. The flint struck, the lighter's dull orange yellow glow flickering and shiny off of their faceless masks.

"Like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth." the girl's said in unison. "Like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth....."

They repeated the verse over and over as the lighter was tossed. The cot was already towering with waves of fire before it caught his skin. The girls repeated the verse, louder and louder, heard over the churning flames crackling the wood and he wanted to run but knew he couldn't. Even through his screams, the verse continued, a distant chanting that he eventually drowned out when the flames began to peel off his skin and fall and splatter like lumps of wax. 

He called out to them, begging for help. He called out for his sister and mother even though they weren't here. He called out a holy name, one most never know or can pronounce and can be invoked for the best and most horrible things. No one would hear the calling. He never meant to cry for help but he was just a passenger right now, a structure melting and collapsing in the face of one of nature's oldest and most unstable violent means of destroying and cleansing. 

He would wake up long after, unsure of how many days had passed but it was near dawn, the woods still dark but tinged with faint blue. 

He was naked and shivering from the cold, sitting up. Looking around, the shed was no more, just a huge ring of dark ash and melted glass all around him reminiscent of cooled tar. The cot was nearby, the flimsy mattress gone, the small steel frame remaining but permanently charred. He rested there for a while, touching his skin and hair every now and then. He didn't know what day it was but had to get up soon. There was always more work to be carried out. For now, he just rested and kept thinking that the first thing he would do after putting on clothes would be smoking a few cigarettes. 

Day Four

He was in a more comfortable place the next night, a small warm motel room. He watched the woman slowly disrobe, sundress fluttering to the floor, bra and panties next. He patiently sat there as she walked to the edge bed, her pale skin almost gleaming from the room's single lamp. She began telling him about her scars. 

The ones on her arms were the most obvious, ones he already knew about from a time long ago where she drew a warm bath and opened the veins of her delicate wrists with a single razor blade. She had let her arms sink in the water, turning the clean waters crimson within minutes. She had been found that night, barely clinging to whatever tether keeps us here, and rushed to an emergency room. 

While she never tried that again, she found that it was an act she could mostly conceal, cutting places that were almost always covered by clothing. She couldn't resist the arm at times, cutting the bicep. Some were on her back where she could reach with a blade. The scars on her inner thighs were hard to notice unless you peered in close, the marks faint and criss crossing and reminded him of the pattern made when prisoners carve out lines on walls to note the passage of time in a place where time seemed to stay forever suspended. 

She told him about each one, remembering most of the dates they were created and even what kind of blade she used. She didn't have to explain that a big part of such a ritual most would find inexplicable was about having the control. He knew about that too well. She also explained how deep to go and how she can do it without making scars but the ones that leave permanent marks belong to her and each tell a story with a map made of unique terrain only she could travel. 

"You never made any new ones when it was just us." he said when she finished and she smiled sweetly and in this light with her skin and long auburn hair and evergreen eyes lighting up with a warm flash of history, she was even more beautiful than before.

"I never did then." she confirmed.

He didn't ask her about now, though, where and why so many were etched in. She didn't talk about the bruises he saw on her ribs and upper back, mostly faded but tinged with enough purple to tell their own story as well. 

She stepped close enough for him to breathe in her skin, a subtle lavender and vanilla he remembered years ago still there. She took his hand and placed it over breast. Bare and full and soft, calm and rhythmic thudding beneath the flesh. She tells him that the cuts never really hurt, the real scar tissue is here where it always hurts. She lightly traces his left arm high up, smiling. He still has it, the tattoo. It always remains no matter what happens to him, no matter what rips him apart and puts him back together. Some names really do have power over us. She still has her tattoo as well, a different name. A life they once made and lost too quickly.

She whispered words into his ears and it was almost like music. Her voice always did calm everything that once raged inside him in another life. It was the breeze over bodies after love made. The sound he would drift off to in the late night for years. It was still beautiful.

It was still beautiful even when she climbed on the bed behind him and snared a plastic dry cleaning bag over his head. 

Oxygen quickly cut off, he instinctively clawed at the bag, which only made her hold it tighter. Weakening, he fell back on the bed, her legs opening and locking around him in a primal embrace. She was screaming. Not at him, but at the other in her life. 

His head can barely process anything, vision dotted and blackening. He kept replaying what she whispered, words she had once memorized for him.

"Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart."

Even though he wouldn't remember, she held his body long after he stopped breathing.

Day Five

Did I give you too much?" she asked, taking a sip of his blood from a crystal wine glass.

"Not sure what too much is?" he asked, head swimming, a light laugh escaping.

"Well, if you're a junkie, ain't such a thing. For you, darling, I administered the morphine going by age, weight, health, and a little extra, considering the situation." she said, lighting a cigarette.

He did the same and she smiled politely. Being the mayor, she was used to putting on a polite warm face. He had grown up with her and knew she actually was a warm person. Bright, friendly, truly caring about the town and the secrets it kept close to the vest. We all have ours. Hers was here in the dining room.

The table set with a silk cover over fine oak, china plates and actual silverware, cloth napkins, crystal glasses. He wasn't eating, though, only drinking some red wine to make his blood sweeter. 

She had given him a shot of morphine minutes before slitting his right wrist. The dark and thick red river flowed off of him into a clean metal bucket. She had taken her time filling the first glass a little while ago, using a silver ladle to fill the glass, constantly asking if he was okay, if he needed anything. He said he was fine and actually meant it. 

It didn't even hurt soon after when she removed his liver and cooked it with onions. She added a little milk and butter and flour to the mix, light salt and pepper for the seasoning. It was a quick dish, she had explained, and you never wanted to overcook liver. She had explained it with the same casual tone that a celebrity chef would to a camera. 

"You have an exquisite flavor, by the way." she said after savoring the last piece, sipping from the crystal.

"Thank you?" he said and they both chuckled.

He genuinely liked her. When she laughed, her dark eyes and hazel hair, kept neat in a bun, gleamed in the candlelight setting she had put together. Everything about her radiated warmth. When charming a crowd of constituents, that warmth and openness bloomed outwards among people. Here, alone, it was almost intoxicating.

Of course, that could also be from the blood loss, morphine, and wine. He laughed to himself and took a deep pull off his cigarette. 

"Well, your company has been a pleasure. An honor, really."

"Likewise." he said.

"Are you ready for some more morphine?" 

"I suppose so. What's next?" he asked.

"Well, darling, I want you floating in a painless sweet river of a haze for this next bit." she said with that same smile. "I'm fixing to cut your heart out and eat it."

Day Six

The trail wound past the woods and lake. As they quietly walked and leaves crunched beneath their boots, he looked at the still waters in the distance to the right and how they shimmered against the moonlight like beautiful dark glass. He remembered swimming there years ago. He also remembered being drowned there at least nine times. 

He briefly wondered if that's what every place would eventually become to him. A catalog, a familiar map of deaths. He wondered if that's all he'd see in people now, too, if he'd reach a point where every face was just a killer, just their sins and nothing more. He can feel them all.

Sometimes it's far too much to take, too many impulses screaming like sirens, pathways trying to decode too much information at once. Wanting to hurt, kill, lust, and every dark want they may be too weak to keep knotted inside. Something always gives. Something always breaks us. He's always understood that the body and mind are a vessel, even his unique one. It can only take so much.

It's much easier at night when bodies quiet and sleep. It can be jarring at first, like a radio dial turning and hearing scattered pieces from every station before suddenly landing on a silent dead zone.

It's a time when he's both at peace and knows what needs to be done. 

The path sloped high for a while, becoming nothing more than a narrow hill in the near dark that it almost seemed to stretch up to the moon. The man ahead of him said nothing this whole time on the walk, only lighting cigarettes every now and then or opening a can of beer. His silhouette steadily moved higher, grunting, finally talking.

"Almost there."

"Yay." he said, flat.

"You gonna pussy out on me?" 

"Nah, just hoping you don't have a heart attack before we get there." he said.

The silhouette laughed and he couldn't help but wonder if the man also laughs that way when he makes bruises, friendly and loud with an undercurrent, something cold and angry and ugly.

"I'm a hunter, boy. I know every inch of these woods. Every path, animal, brook, tree, and its soil. I could walk through this whole place in the dark. Got my first buck less than a mile from here with my dad when was just shy of nine years old. Loved the taste of venison since then. Ain't all about the meat, though, you know that. It's always the hunt. The patience and stealth. Besting an animal in their own territory. I got better at it. Started heading out here alone to hunt, but would go slow. Would wound them first. Watch them hobble around. Sometimes another round to finish it. Or I'd skulk up close and knife it right through the neck. Don't matter how because they all get that look after the wounds. Folks get it, too, eyeballs all glassed over shiny because they know it's done. Ain't just bucks." the silhouette said.

"Probably all kinds of things buried out here." he said. 

He remembered the stories years ago, how girls from other towns had vanished from places like bar parking lots and alleys. How some authorities believed they were snatched by someone from out of town, close enough to do it but far away enough to not be suspected. But these were only theories, speculation with no actual tangible threads to follow anywhere.

"Wouldn't know nothing about that." the silhouette said with that same virtually humorless chuckle.

"I bet." he said, remaining neutral for now but also couldn't help but wonder how many trips have been made to this isolated stretch, how many bodies may be buried in secret out here, how many were just scared animals. 'rere

We're all kinda just scared animals in the end, he thought. 

They finally reach the top of the slope and stand next to each other. For a at least a mile ahead lies the quarry, just an ocean of misshapen rocks, all blunt or jagged and almost pitch black in the moonlight. 

"Always wanted to ask you if it really works." the silhouette said. "When it happens, you really see in people and all they done?" 

"It's not an exact thing or like seeing pictures or a movie on a screen, but, yeah. I kinda see it, but I feel it more." he said. "Good and bad." 

He was going to say something then but couldn't quite remember what later on, only that it had to do with the bruises he saw days ago.

The hunting knife went inside and exited so fast through the sternum that he didn't even feel it at first, not until he felt his lungs suddenly blazing, his breath filling his throat with blood.

"I know we're supposed to only do you one way, but I figured what's the harm? You're about to die, anyway." the man said to him, cleaning the knife with the sleeve of his camoflague jacket

"You fucking prick." he managed to gurgle, spitting a wad of fresh blood at the man, connecting mostly on the forehead and between the eyes.

The man flinched back, disgusted, and he couldn't help but laugh at the mess, an overwhelming giddy delirium taking over at the sight. He kept laughing even though he was already internally drowning in his own blood. 

He was still laughing even when thrown over the edge and he couldn't hear or feel anything else but the fire in his chest and the rush of cold night air sailing as his body raced faster and faster. 

When his body hit the quarry and bones instantly shattered and tore through organs, tissue, and skin, he wasn't laughing. He was only awake for moments, unable to scream or even breathe, his eyes only able to see the rocks all around him painted with so much blood. Some part of him, whatever was left inside that could be called sentient, may have still been laughing. 

He knew everything he needed to know now.

Day Seven

By the morning, he's already restored, whole at home and in the shower. He takes his time, watching a faint river of red washed away, blood swirling down the drain. He can still feel the aches, echoes of his bones splintering from the high velocity impact. He even touches random areas of his body from time to time, convinced he'll touch a broken limb or split open skin, but it's nothing. 

Each time is this way, his first hour or two still sensing everything. Each leave an impression like this and could simply be memory adjusting. Part of him believes it's something more, that each impression is something too intimate to be fully erased, as intimate as a letter or trinket given by a lover, a keepsake kept forever secret.

He kept things simple today, faded jeans and a black shirt. Looking in the mirror, on this day every week he took in his own reflection and wondered what made him so different. Normal height and weight, dark eyes and short hair and stubble, handsome but nothing notable. He was bright but never top of his class. He could work with his hands well. Anything with an engine came naturally but he never specialized in anything. 

Before all of this, he was just drifting through the years in town. He never used to believe in something as looming and nebulous as destiny. He believed we're supposed to meet certain people but never in a grand purpose.

What he's capable of now, though, something that defies science yet is explained by the town's faith, says otherwise. 

Later his forehead is still warm from her kiss, the same spot that her revolver had obliterated days ago. She's tracing it now with a fingertip, dark eyes fascinated, like he's some kind of exotic species just discovered. Maybe he is.

She's always his visitor on this day, their time together meant as a gift of earthly comfort and kept between them although all they really do is lie in his bed for hours. Sometimes with a movie or the radio on, but often in quiet this way. It's the only time in the last few years that he's comfortably shared silence with someone. 

"Does it hurt." she asked, still tracing, a question he's never been asked.

"Every time. I think it's supposed to." he said and her other hand squeezed his. 

"I'm so sorry." she whispered, unable to quite meet his eyes. 

"Did it help like it was supposed to?" he asked, knowing what led her to the other day, how her husband was killed years ago in a mugging and how she had all this rage, all that concentrated wrath and nowhere to put it. 

"More than anyone can know." she said, eyes glassy, but not crying.

"Nothing to be sorry for, then." he said and smiled and his heart cracked a little from seeing someone genuinely at peace. 

They stayed that way for a while before everyone arrived and gathered outside.

A short while later the small metal pail gleams in the day's bright cloudless day as the pastor inspects its contents, the man's blood gathered over the six days of the town's ritual. He watches from the porch, smoking. He looks at them.

The woman, the doctor, the twins, his former love, her husband, and the mayor. 

They stand in a close row on the lawn, all dressed up, the men in suits, the women in modest dresses. The pastor dips two fingers in, blood shiny and dark, and begins, painting a cross on each of their foreheads.

"Praise to the sacrament and he who provides it." the pastor says each time, the words repeated back to him in unison. 

Once finished, they all join hands as the pastor sets the pail down and holds their holy book, one extremely rare with passages most have never seen or even know how to read the language of. 

"We gather here weekly for it has been made hallowed ground by our town and it is always a privilege to be here with our Brother." the pastor said, nodding at him and he nodded back. "We gather to pay tribute to the sacrament so selflessly provided to ensure that what was once dark inside you may forever walk in the light clean. We take our sins. We take all of our forbidden trespasses to our Brother and carry them out so that we may be exalted, never hiding what we are for we are all born with the darkest marks inside. Our Brother, like all those who have come before him and will come after him, was chosen to give those marks life, to snuff them with light. We carry out those trespasses upon his body for he is our Lamb, able to absorb our deeds and only judge when the time is right. Our people are truly blessed because of this and in return we provide our Brother shelter and our unwavering trust. Faith can make one dangerous and it is up to us and our Brother to ensure our way remains unbroken. We now return home to our nightly prayer to give thanks as the next six are selected. Let the sacrament remain upon your skin until the morning. Praise to the sacrament and he who provides it." 

They repeated the last part in unison as he took the last pull off his cigarette, blowing a large cloud and he could feel the tears welling up. They may have been for them, for everyone.For himself. For what's to come. For what work always needs to be done. For the gratitude he always felt on this day. For all those reasons and more. 

"Have you made a decision yet? Are there any that remain unclean? " the pastor asked him later after they all left, passing him a flask.

He took a good pull of whiskey, grateful for once that it was to relax instead of numbing him to something about to happen. He nodded.

"The town will be pleased. It's been a long while since you've picked one. It binds the faith even tighter to them when you do." the pastor said, taking a pull as well. " As usual, contact me when everything is finished. May I ask, will this one be swift or does it require more?" 

He took another pull and thought about it. He thought about the man who made bruises clouding the skin, marking a woman that a part of him will always love. He thought about that walk in the woods. The knife used not for the ritual, but simply because the man wanted to. He thought about how many missing girls from other towns he brought there and hunted, how he skinned a few of them after being inside them. How he made it last as long as he could because that look in the eyes was what he wanted to preserve, an invisible trophy he could always carry with him and admire. 

He thought about what to use. He had different tools for different situations. There was a backpack in his trunk for times like this, though. Simple items. A crowbar, duct tape,a flashlight, zip tie cuffs, a hunting knife and a ball peen hammer.

"More." he said, nodding to himself. " And very slowly." 

"Praise to the sacrament and he who provides it." the pastor said, taking another swing. 

He repeated the words again for the last time that night, allowing himself just the faintest smile.

 

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