The Penitent smiled too much for a man in his position. His body was bound in the marks of murder and torture, yet he smiled as his bare feet crunched the stones he walked on. Penance should be quiet, somber, and reflective, at least in most views of the act.
Bonnie was not faithful, but she still couldn’t help but feel the man she was escorting was doing it wrong.
Their journey was meant to be a march. No vehicle was to be used by the Penitent. He had to walk. To feel the stone and dirt beneath his bloodied feet. They could stop, but he was not to indulge in anything beyond the bare necessities to survive his journey.
Even then, he didn’t eat or drink, at least where Bonnie could see. He never slept in a bed, if he did sleep. At times, Bonnie wasn’t sure if he even breathed.
There were those that were dead yet walked. Revenants, most were called, though they looked different. More rotted. Revs were like varcs, creatures of decay.
The Penitent did not rot. He was odious though. Reviled.
If dogs barked in his presence, that might have been one thing. They didn’t though. They just stared, watching with contempt. Things didn’t react with hostility, just disgust.
People sneered to see him. Animals stopped to watch him walk. The grass bent away from his steps.
It wasn’t until she saw that the sun didn’t shine on him that Bonnie knew what it was to look upon the truly damned. There was nothing that paid him kindness, nothing that regarded him with anything less than pure revulsion.
And all the while, he smiled just the same. If it were a rictus, she might have understood why it existed, but he moved those sew lips of his, giving greetings, of all things.
Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening.
Every greeting garnered a sneer. One man looked as though the Penitent had cursed his entire family line with two simple words, his hand inching towards the revolver at his hip as though “good afternoon” was reason enough to kill. If the Penitent noticed, he didn’t care.
At one point, he began to whistle. It felt wrong. It wasn’t unpleasant to hear, that wasn’t the problem. It was that the mere act felt wrong. Like a man like him shouldn’t whistle. That such a human action did not belong to this…thing.
Yet his humanity was undeniable and that was the atrocious part. That he was human and not a monster hit in a deeply uncomfortable way. A man who wore the murder of children on his back should not be human. Yet he was.
Bonnie’s hand itched. Instinct compelled her to shoot him. That there would be a consequence for it wasn’t why she didn’t though. Punishment for actions never really stopped action from being taken.
No, she held back out of the same disgust that made her want him dead to begin with. The feeling that he wasn’t worth it overrode what desire there was to put him in the dirt. Though even if she had, she doubted the dirt would take him.
She asked. She couldn’t quite help it, but one night, around the campfire, she asked what he was doing this for. Why would he even try to redeem himself after diving into the depths of human depravity?
“Have you seen the corpse of God? It lies on this Earth of yours. It is Flesh undone, the never rotting landscape of sinews and muscle strewn across what was once called holy land. Now it is, most truly of all. His bones are mountains. His eyes are lakes. The whole of the ocean could not contain the meat of His corpse. Parasites feast on arteries and bloom in the veins. What things eat the meat of a god? No devil, no. It is Nature. God stripped the skin from Nature and wore it as a pelt for He would not bow to what mothered Him, and now her children eat their fill of meat that will never decay.
“That is where I will walk. The valley of meat. I will march to the Heart of God and supplicate. That is my mission. No more. No less.”
Her hand itched.