Short Story|Sin

Sin is a comedic, historical fantasy short fiction by Alex Bright. Alex is a non-binary freelance and fiction writer who specialises in queer and LGBTQ+ topics. They are currently working on their first novel, a queer historical drama centred around archaeology set between the wars.


Sin

I

Thomas Trenowden was startled awake. He sat up rapidly, gasping for air and nearly choking on it, before he was able to gulp and breathe more easily, catching his breath. He was in a forest; the forest not far from Baragwanath Manor, where he worked as a farmhand. He recognised it almost instantly, despite his aching head and painful neck. His throat was sore too, and felt as though it had been held tight for a long time. He stood up, shaking slightly, and attempted to steady himself with the aid of a nearby tree. He grunted and furrowed his brows in pain. His whole body ached and his bones felt as though they hadn’t moved for centuries. He brushed the leaves off his clothes, catching sight of his hands as he did so. He stood there, staring at them, his hazel eyes wide with alarm.

His hands looked most unnatural, and his veins were almost completely visible through the translucent, greyish white skin. He rolled his sleeves up to check that his arms were the same, suddenly feeling the ice cold touch of his own skin and shivered. He was freezing cold, and almost completely numb in some places. His arms were the same unhealthy pigment as his hands. Baffled and alarmed, he walked towards the nearest pool of water. He knew this forest like the back of his hand and it didn’t take long for Thomas to get his bearings.

He found the pool. It was still and calm in the crisp autumn morning. He assumed it to be morning anyway. A few brown and orange leaves were resting tranquilly on the surface of the water, with an occasional bubble rising to the top from a fish or insect. He peered into the pool, half not wanting to, and gazed at his reflection. The once tanned, slightly rugged skin of a hardworking farmhand had disappeared and been replaced by a ghoulish complexion. His lips were a purplish-blue colour, and freezing cold to touch; no longer the warm pink lips of a healthy young man. His hair remained the same, only it was now dishevelled and mostly escaping from the neat ponytail that had previously contained it. It was still its usual colouring, a rich golden blonde. A most unusual but attractive colour. It was possibly the only part of himself he recognised. His eyes were still hazel brown but were no longer bright, instead they were muted by the dark rings.

He shook his head in disbelief. ‘I look like death,’ he said to himself, before a sudden and most unwanted flashback took a violent hold of his mind. He was cast back to a couple of days ago: he was sat at his writing desk in Baragwanath Manor, which was most unusual for a farmhand. He was literate, and had been since he was a boy. He had been taught by a wealthy gentleman who came to the manor for business opportunities and became particularly impressed with young Thomas. He gifted him with a writing desk that the young boy placed in his chamber and used nearly every day.

He was there, busy working on his latest piece. He looked out the window, bewildered to find a number of faces pressed up angrily against it, staring straight back at him. They were carrying pitchforks and lit torches. Before he could do anything about it, they were breaking and entering, attacking the manor guards and making their way straight for him. They barged through his chamber doors and surrounded him. A group of six or seven villagers, including two women, and one individual who made his stomach churn with fear as soon as he laid eyes on him – the witchfinder general.

The witchfinder placed his hands on his hips smugly as he approached Thomas, who rose from his chair and took a few steps back. ‘What be thy business?’ he asked, panicked, glaring at the general.

‘Oh, I think you know,’ was the man’s response.

Thomas furrowed his brows and shook his head in confusion. The witchfinder gave him the most irritated expression he could imagine, as though to say that Thomas should know why he was surrounded by a mob of angry villagers with blazing torches and sharpened pitchforks. ‘Communication with the Devil!’ he shouted accusingly, pointing a finger at Thomas. The villagers chorused a few curse words in response. Thomas’ eyes widened and he shook his head again, but he was unable to respond as he suddenly found his hands tied behind his back and was being viciously pulled out of the manor. He had to walk quickly else he would fall down.

He barely had time to think before he was pulled into the centre of the village and ushered onto a stage-like platform. His audience: the entire population of the village. His crimes: communicating with the Devil. He did not remember communicating with anyone other than the young men who worked the fields with him, unless one of them was Satan in disguise. This was all a horrible mistake, surely, but people never got out of mistakes alive. If they were accused, they were accused, and then they died. His life flashed before him as he was pushed onto a wooden step, a noose hanging directly in his line of vision. When he had attended executions (which he did not enjoy doing), most people had been screaming and yelling that they were innocent, which made their brutal deaths even more tragic. Thomas didn’t say anything and he didn’t even struggle. He allowed them to push him around and he knew he was going to die. He was terrified. So terrified that he was frozen still, eyes wide with fright and tears brimming. A few of the villagers laughed at his skittish response, teasing him for his inability to fight back. They enjoyed a fight. The executor pulled the noose over his head. It was heavy, like death, making his neck and shoulders ache.

He stood there, shaking, as the witchfinder general read out his crimes, of which there was only one. One that he did not commit. It was early evening, but autumn ensured the nights drew in quickly, and the air was bitter and cold. His breath was visible in the chill, only, it would not be for long. Soon, he would draw his last breath. He had to make every one count. He breathed deeply, in through his nose and out through his mouth as the witchfinder stopped making his announcement, finishing Thomas’ death sentence. The crowd cheered as the executor kicked the step from under his feet. The young man dangled for a while, aware of how tight the rope was around his neck, and that he was struggling to breathe, and then his vision went black.

II

‘Ah,’ Thomas said to himself as the flashback ended. Now he remembered. He was hanged. Hanged for a crime that he did not commit. This however, did not explain how he was still alive, if he was. His entire situation baffled him. He felt conscious, he was breathing and he was aware of his presence in the world, yet when he tried to feel his beating heart, he couldn’t, because it was no longer beating, and he was cold as ice. He had no blood pumping through his veins. He was… half dead. That was how it seemed. He didn’t understand how none of the villagers had noticed, unless they did, and the witch-hunt was back on. Those accused of witchcraft were never buried respectfully. They were not allowed a Christian burial, which made sense. Instead, their bodies were often just cast away, flung into the ocean or a lake, or discarded out of sight in a forest. Sometimes buried, but often just left to rot. He considered himself lucky to have only suffered a hanging. Many of the convicted suffered torturous trials, were burnt at the stake, or drawn and quartered.

His body must have been discarded in the forest, away from the village. He had no idea what day it was, nor the time, but he assumed it was some time after his hanging, perhaps a few days after. A thought struck him suddenly. If he were half dead, could he be killed twice? Was he immortal now? Would he live on for centuries and centuries? Part of being unable to die was somewhat appealing, but the thought of having to hide away from people for hundreds of years was not. It would be a terribly lonely existence, and he would not age. He would be trapped in his twenty-first year for all eternity.

He glimpsed at his reflection again. There was an ugly scar where the noose had been around his neck, a permanent reminder of that traumatic event. He sighed heavily and untied the strip of cloth holding his hair back, running his fingers through it and retying it, tucking a couple of stray strands behind his ears. His boyish young looks were still present, but they were now combined with ghastly greyish skin, sunken in eyes and a heart that refused to beat.

He supposed he should try to live in the forest somehow. He could build a shelter from wood and grass. His work on the farm proved useful sometimes, and he had knowledge on how to build a sturdy shelter, provided he had the materials. He contemplated taking some planks of wood from the farm, but a fear of being seen prevented him. Perhaps he could just shelter under the trees for the rest of his life? The threat of cold would no longer bother him. If he climbed the trees and slept in them, he’d be even safer from any unsuspected travellers. He contemplated this for a while, completely oblivious to the dark and shadowy figure behind him until he suddenly caught its reflection in the water.

III

Thomas let out a small yelp as he fell backwards into the pool, but was quickly able to grab hold of the earthy bank and pull himself out, water sodden. He wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to be back on the same land that the creature stood on, and debated getting back into the pool for safety. It was tall, around six feet tall to be exact, and almost looked human, except for the glowing eyes and two, rather dangerous looking horns sticking out of its head. It had pale skin and a curly mop of fair hair that could almost be considered pretty. It looked at him with a mildly perplexed expression, brows furrowed and a frowning mouth. ‘Who are you?’ it asked, sceptically.

Thomas made the most indescribable noise as he took a few steps back from the creature and nearly fell in the pool again. ‘I beg thy pardon,’ he said, though shakily. He swallowed, trying to speak normally. ‘I am Thomas Trenowden,’ he responded, and prompted the whatever-it-was to introduce itself also. It understood.

‘I am Alakade, and I am a Demon.’ Thomas’ eyes widened at the word, though he could hardly excuse his surprise. The creature was clearly some sort of unnatural one, most likely of the unholy kind. ‘You are a man,’ Alakade said, looking Thomas up and down, ‘but a very unusual one.’ They paused for a moment to think. ‘You are undead,’ they said, and then nodded, as though to confirm it to themselves.

‘Undead?’ Thomas repeated, and the Demon nodded again.

‘You were once a man, but now you are a half dead one,’ the Demon said. ‘Your heart has stopped beating, and most of your soul is gone, but you still have a conscience and a physical body.’ Thomas gulped. He didn’t enjoy the idea of only having part of a soul left, and wanted to know where the rest of it had gone.

The Demon had started walking away from the pool, and Thomas followed for he had nowhere else to go. He studied the creature carefully as he walked beside them. The eyes, although glowing, were not particularly scary and instead of being a bloody red or fiery orange, they were bright blue. The horns were still rather intimidating, but Alakade did not particularly look as though they were hostile – at least, not at this very moment. He could not for the life of him figure out if the Demon was a man or a woman, but then decided that it didn’t matter because Demons were not men or women anyway, so it was pointless. They were unfathomably ambiguous in terms of sex, which was a sin. It was a sin to be born both male and female, or neither, but then again, so was being a Demon.

‘If I am… undead,’ Thomas began, ‘am I sinning?’ he asked. He knew that when he would die, his soul would leave his body and find its way to Purgatory. Then God would judge him and decide whether he should live on in a new and perfect body in Heaven, or whether he would be cast away to eternal damnation in Hell. He assumed that after being accused of communicating with the Devil and being hanged for it, he would suffer the latter, but now he was undead and was continuing to live on Earth. He worried that part of his soul was now existing in Hell, but if it were he did not notice and could not feel it.

Alakade picked at one of their teeth with their tongue, exposing fang-like incisors. ‘We are all sinning, all of the time,’ they said, much to Thomas’ anxiety. That would mean everyone was going to eternal torture and suffering. He stopped walking, thinking for a moment, before catching up with the Demon.

‘Nay,’ he said shaking his head, irritated and confused. ‘Nay, nay. I have worked hard most of my life. Although it was, of sorts, cut short. Kept my head down, lived humbly, just as father said we should,’ he was now almost furious. ‘And ye have the nerve to tell me I am no better than a blasphemous sinner?’

Alakade smiled calmly at Thomas, which was a little unnerving for him. ‘Since Adam and Eve, each and every one of us has sinned. We carry their sins with us, and are therefore doomed in the eyes of the God you speak of. It is the human condition, to be flawed, imperfect and sinful, and God shall do nothing about it.’

Thomas scowled at the Demon for a short time. ‘How do ye know all of this?’ he asked, unsure he wanted to know the answer or not. Alakade snickered exposing their large incisors again.

‘Because I was there, at the beginning,’ they said.

IV

Alakade invited Thomas back to a small cottage in a secluded area of the forest he had never seen before. It was surprisingly idyllic, for a Demon. He was expecting a hole in a tree or some sort of coven deep underground. Instead, the cottage was neat and clean, well lit by the low autumnal sun and not dark or dingy at all.

Alakade heated some water on a stove, asking Thomas if he would like a refreshment. To which he decided he would. It would be interesting to see how his new body would react to hot beverages. Any thought that the Demon would poison him that momentarily wavered in his mind disappeared almost immediately as he focussed on other matters. He felt oddly at home in the Demon’s cottage.

He sat on a small wooden chair. He was glad that he still seemed to have the strength and dexterity of a fit young man, even if the rest of him was partially dead. Then a question interrupted his quiet moment of reflection. ‘If ye live out here in the forest, how has the village not hunted ye down?’ he asked. The Demon turned to him and handed him a warm cup of a purplish beverage which smelt of forest berries; rich and earthy yet also sweet and tangy. They sat in the chair opposite him.

‘They are scared of me,’ the Demon began. ‘The fanged, horned creature that your mother and father warned you about as a child, the same that your grandmother and grandfather warned them about, and their forebears before them… That is I. I am the Hellish figure that looms over the village, even before it became a village. I was here when it first became a settlement, nearly a thousand years ago. I am the thing that gets sung about and written about in bards, folklore and scripture. I am the one who haunts your children at night.’

This response sent a shiver down Thomas’ spine. He quietly sipped his drink in a cautious manner. It was still hot, but the flavour was spectacular. ‘Why do ye come to haunt our children at night?’ he asked. Alakade smiled.

‘I do not, it is…’ they paused, trying to work out how to phrase what they wanted to say correctly. ‘It is an old wives’ fable. A legend or myth. The settlement elders, the village constable and watchmen, the witchfinder general; old women who tattle. They have all known about me. They create stories and lore about me which is most often incorrect.’

Thomas thought about this for a little while. ‘But why?’ he asked, perplexed by this behaviour.

‘Because me existing here defies the perfection of your God.’ Alakade replied sternly. ‘If he were perfect, I would no longer exist. I was made by God, just as Lucifer was and all the other Angels, or as some call my kind, “Fallen Angels”. I was there at the beginning, at the Garden of Eden, witnessing the first man and woman fall to sin. Because to be human is to sin; to be perfectly imperfect.’

For Thomas, this begged the question of why God created man and woman in the first placeif they were so terribly flawed. All his life, he had been taught that everything God created was perfect and that any imperfections were the cause of Satan, but now he wasn’t so sure. He wanted to know something. ‘Why did ye choose to follow the Devil instead of God?’ He asked, and then became unsure whether it was an offensive question or not.

‘In a way, I did not,’ Alakade began, seemingly unfazed. ‘At first I did, and that was because I saw how flawed humans were, and understood that creating them would result in catastrophe. I, along with some other Angels, were right. Lucifer understood the natural flaws of man, and of Angels himself.’ They paused, looking somber. ‘I had my heart broken once by a human before I was cast out of Heaven and cursed to be a Demon. It encouraged my following.’

Thomas felt a sudden, strong empathy for the Demon wash over him. He knew how it felt to have one’s heart broken. He had experienced it before and he knew how it felt to be betrayed by those around you and judged wrongfully. Perhaps Alakade’s demonic form was not entirely their fault. Everyone made mistakes, as they had pointed out, even – although it was hard to believe – supernatural and supposedly omnibenevolent beings.

‘I will stay with you,’ he said quickly, and then regretted his statement almost immediately. Alakade shot him a confused look.

‘Pardon?’ they said. He stared at the floor, gripping his cup in his hands, embarrassed. He was glad that the heat no longer rose in his cheeks. He cleared his throat awkwardly.

‘Please forgive me,’ he said, his lips quivering into a nervous smile. ‘I meant that, I would gladly take thee as a friend, if ye would take me…’ he paused, feeling uncomfortable with his own forwardness. Alakade looked at the young man for a while, though Thomas was unable to read their facial expression.

‘Do you write?’ the Demon asked. Thomas’ eyes shot up to glance at Alakade, before he pulled his vision back down to the floor, still coy.

‘How… did ye know that?’ he asked, wondering if Demons had some sort of intuitive sense.

‘Your hands’, they said, looking at them. ‘You have a callus on the left side of your right middle finger. This suggests that you use a quill often, which causes friction, hardening the skin because of usage.’

Thomas nodded his head, neither amazed or alarmed, but instead, oddly content.

‘I have a writing desk,’ the Demon said. ‘I have a writing room,’ and now Alakade stared at the floor, their cheeks reddened. ‘Of sorts,’ they continued. ‘A very small cupboard space through that door,’ they pointed to a short and wide door opposite Thomas. ‘I don’t use it much anymore. I haven’t touched it for a long time. It will need cleaning out, but it’s yours, if you want it.’

Thomas looked up at Alakade in the most emotional, grateful way that an undead man could. He stood up abruptly, much to the Demon’s surprise, and attempted to neaten his hair a little before standing in front of them. Alakade stared at him, anticipating what he might do. The young man offered them his hand and the Demon took it, hesitantly at first, but then wrapped their own fingers around his soft skin. It was cold, but it soon warmed up in the Demon’s hand. Thomas’ skin prickled with delight.

‘My hands are soft for a farmhand,’ he said shyly, his eyes flitting to Alakade and then to the floor again. To Thomas’ surprise, the Demon didn’t try to let go, though he wasn’t particularly phased by this. ‘I wanted to thank ye,’ he said, his hand remaining firmly in place over theirs. ‘I want to thank ye for helping me to come to terms with this new life I will be living… of sorts. I want to thank ye for helping me realise the truth – that we have all sinned.’

Alakade smiled softly, raising their cup in their other hand to make a mock toast. ‘To sin,’ they said, grinning. Thomas couldn’t contain a boyish laugh. He did the same with his cup. ‘To sin,’ he said as their cups clinked together.


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