“Think about what you’re doing, Lilith.”
“It’s all I’ve thought about, Mom.”
“You’re throwing everything away. Everything your father and I have worked for.”
“What my father has worked for. Mom, I’ve never completed a service.”
“You will, darling. It will come.”
Mom turned, her robe billowing as she gazed out the windows, to the fires of Sanzor. I was about to go start packing when she looked back to me. This time when she spoke, her voice was lower, deeper. The voice of a woman who had completed hundreds of services. “He won’t be happy.”
It set me back a step. But I was determined to hold my own. “That’s his problem.”
“It’s the boy, isn’t it? What’s his name again? Benedict? You should not be seeing him. It’s forbidden.”
“Benny. And no, it’s me, Mom. Please leave him out of this.”
She pounced on my fear, eyes blazed, smoke trailing her steps. “You don’t think we’ll let you go that easily, do you? Oh child, what? You just wander off and cross the border. They’ll never accept you.”
“I’m crossing tonight.”
“Very well. It’s time you complete a service.”
My mother’s eyes flamed. “Wait until your father hears of this.
“To your chambers,” she shrieked. Her voice was strong. But she looked like she’d just been shot down by a thousand arrows.
I left. Maybe she let me. Maybe she didn’t think I had the courage. That night I met Benny in the rock yard, where the souls toiled. We traveled for miles, through the screams and up to the checkpoints with the guards. Beasts armed with swords and snakes. I could feel Benny’s fear. I pulled him through, kept his hood down to hide his light.
I did most of the talking, sticking to the script. We were leaving to do work. Traveling to perform services. And because of my father’s rank, they bought it. They laughed, told me to bring one back.
Once we were through, Benny looked at me. “Lilith, what is a service?”
I shook my head. “It’s sort of a rite of passage. We are required to take a soul before adulthood.”
“And, have you?”
We’d never spoken of this. I found I couldn’t look into his eyes and talk about it. “No. The one time I tried, I… I couldn’t do it.”
“Because you’re good.”
Good. The word like a secret my whole life. My red eyes and fiery soul said otherwise.
Benny stopped me. He turned me by my shoulders. “No they don’t. Have you ever thought about how we met?”
Only millions of times. I nodded. “At the border. You were lost.”
“No, I wasn’t. I mean, I was, but… Lilith, I was turning. I was coming…”
“Wait. You were turning?”
“Yes, but…” He nodded to the distance. “Then I met you.”
I followed his eyes to the steeples. The arches and windows of the grand cathedral. I never knew why my father was so intent on burning down such beauty.
The Bishops took us in. I was led down a corridor and held down as Benny protested. I knew it was part of the test. They looked into my eyes—some backing away, chanting prayers. I awaited my judgement.
Prayers like wind on a flame. I submerged an instinctual need fight, lash out. I squirmed and moaned but Benny never left my side. Then they brought me in, to the sanctuary. A soprano wailed from someplace I couldn’t see. But my instincts failed me. I felt at peace. The soft glow of the candles. The smoke. The priest with a book. Beads. This was it.
The boom of my father’s voice hit the walls. I wasn’t sure how he got through. “Lilith, listen to me.”
The guards glanced at each other, a crack of fear in their eyes. A demon in the sanctuary, my father roared. The windows shook. I stepped forward, calling to the arched ceilings, the murals of angels. “Dad, I have to do this.”
“You will not!”
A piece of plaster fell to the floor. I took the deepest breath of my life. I looked at Benny. Thought of all the good I wanted to do. The choice I had to make. I screamed. I shut my eyes and screamed until the fire left my insides. I screamed my father away.
When I fell, the Deacons and archbishop let their hands fall from their ears, I felt a hand take mine. I looked up, into the light of Benny’s eyes. My father was gone. I could feel it. He’d let me go.
And I cried my first tears.
The priest stepped forward, stripped of the caution he’d held earlier. “I think we can help this one.”
*In response to Writer’s Digest Prompt – The Elusive Demon – https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts
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