Sin Corazon
by Victor Giannini
forum: Sin Corazon
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..  

Sin Corazon


          "What kind of bird is that?" Alex asked. She pointed to the great white shadow circling over the grey church.

          "Looks like an albatross," Chris said.

          He put his arm around Alex's waist and pulled her closer. She didn't resist, but she did tense. His skin felt like a damp sweater, and smelled the same. All around them, the congregation shuffled toward the church, a teeming mass of brown and dull white flickering in the half-light of a dying sun. The church's cold shadow crawled out across the small, fenced cemetery that lay beside it. The smell of incense and wax wafted through the great oak doors and into the crowd.

          Traces of morning commerce danced in the cool air behind them. Vendors pushed their carts out into the town square, great heated wagons with salted meats and herbs, roasted nuts and cherry sodas. Neon signs shuddered on down the street, a parade of flash and longing, letting the town know it was free to peruse the aisles for fancy shoes and breath mints once more.

          "Devils! Fools!" an old voice cried out. It was like sand sifting on paper.

          Chris stared straight ahead to the church, tugging at Alex's hand. Alex looked over her shoulder. She saw the old woman screeching at the mass. The same, lone hag, who heckled them from the ancient stone cemetery, every Sunday, every week.

          Her coat was a little dirtier, a little more torn. Rosemary beads clacked together beneath the great wobbling goiter hanging from her mole speckled neck. Her cloudy eyes flared beneath bushy white brows, they themselves shrouded by a moldy wool hood. A great purple goiter wobbled beneath her neck as she shouted.

          "Dead walkers! There is no God waiting in your temple! Look into your hearts and find the true Lord!" the old woman cried. The shouts came in short bursts, before collapsing into fits of chest wracking coughs.

          "Ignore that crazy bitch," Chris said without looking back. "Every god damned service she's out there, busting our chops. You'd think the old bat would come inside and try worshiping for once, instead of bothering us all the time."

          His foot bumped into a bottle, hidden in the grass beside the gravel path. It clattered across the rocks.

          "Jesus, you'd think people would have more respect around a place of worship," Chris said. He reached down to pick up the bottle. He stared at it for a moment as the crowd brushed past, then hurled it into the woods beside the street. The sound of it shattering was drowned out by the old woman shouting again.

          "I wonder why she doesn't come in," Alex said.

          "Forget her. Mother Terry is about to start," Chris said. "I don't want to miss her sermon again."

          The young couple crossed the threshold, into the serene, dark church. The doors swung shut. A final click signaled that the lock was thrown, the outside cut off. The lack of wind and steady breath made the church as silent, cool, and calm as a tomb.

          Outside, the old woman stopped yelling and slowly sat down upon a moss covered gravestone. She lit a cigarette and hung her head while the traffic crept by.

          Inside, Alex and Chris took their pews and began to pray. The church pews were arranged in a circle, with Mother Terry sitting in a chipped ivory seat at the center. Little wisps of moss crept through the cracks in the church floor and stretched up the sides of the ivory chair.

          As they sat, Mother Terry stood up in the center of the church. Purple and red light cascaded through the stained glass, creating deep pools of shadow under the sharp angles of her face. She wore a red robe, with gold trim and a deep hood that she let hang down her back. Her grey hair was tied back tight, like weeds trampled against cracked clay. Her white eyes peered out from the depths of their sockets like twin owls.

          "Oh Lord above us, who has seen fit to grant us your most divine gift," Mother Terry began. The circular seating around her rang out with the solemn chorus of fifty men and women, repeating each line with her. "Thou who hath chosen to grant us a second life, a second chance to fulfill your great purpose... Thou who hath delivered us from the soil, and the worms, to revel in your glory yet again… We thank thee for your many blessings, but still ask for a sign. What work would you have us do, now that we are strapped to this Earth without end, waiting our reward in your Heavenly Kingdom?"

          Alex sat silently while Chris dutifully chanted along. He turned to look at her, his one good eye glinting in the glow of a thousand candles that flickered across the stained glass windows.

          "What's wrong?" Chris whispered.

          "I just feel weird, being on this side," Alex whispered, lowering her head and turning away from the sea of grey faces that filled the pews. "You said we'd sit on the other side this time. I belong over there."

          She nodded toward the other side of the circle, to Mother Terry's right. There the faces were rich pinks, healthy browns, where the eyes held souls, and where the sound of breathing created a noticeably different air.

          "No, you belong over here with me," Chris said.

          "It's not right though, I'm not dead yet," Alex whispered.

          "Well, your kind wouldn't react so well if I sat on their side," Chris hissed. "At least you're accepted over here. You said you would stick by me."

          "I did, and I am," Alex said. "I like that Mother Terry accepts both kinds, but it's just so awkward to be split like this. It makes me think about how you and I—"

          "Would you mind keeping it down," a man next to Alex whispered. The skin around his lips had peeled away, leaving his teeth permanently exposed in a grimace. His blonde hair hung from his scalp in clumps. A great scar crossed his neck, where his throat was stitched shut. Alex stared at it, as if it were a huge centipede.

          "Is there a problem?" the man asked.

          "No, I just—"

          "If you're going to be so noisy, go sit with the breathers," the man said, turning away to resume his chant. "Try showing a little respect."

          Chris ceased watching from the corner of his good eye, and turned to the man.

          "You start showing respect, or I'll take care of you outside," he said. Alex slunk down between them.

          He laughed in Chris's face, shaking the concentration of those around them. Chris let it go, but Alex saw the tension in his knotty dried muscles, clenched beneath his skin like an old rope in a dirty plastic bag.

          The sermon went on without disturbance. Mother Terry led the congregation in questioning, but accepting, the glorious new world God had delivered them. At the closing, living and dead alike lined up to receive bread and wine from Mother Terry, before switching sides of the church, the dead sitting where the living had, and living where the dead had. Once all were seated, Mother Terry closed the morning the same as she had every week.

          "If there are any among the living who wish to cross the threshold, please rise now."

          Everyone sat silently, waiting to see if any of the warm bodies would stand up and request an early transition. Chris looked at Alex, but she was just staring ahead with all the others.

          And so once more, the sermon ended in an uneasy silence, as those alive claimed to accept their dead brothers, yet quietly declined a chance to join their ranks.

          "You know, Alex, there are a lot of advantages to being dead," Chris said as they milled out into the open air. "In fact, I'm starting to really wonder if saying 'dead' is the right word."

          "I know, I know," Alex said. "But don't you miss anything? Doesn't everything feel different?"

          "Yeah, everything's muted," Chris said, looking down at the mass of shuffling feet. "But it's only like that because I can still remember what being alive felt like. My dad told me that once you're dead for a few years, you can't even remember anymore, so it becomes normal. And breathing is such a pain in the ass. Trust me, you'll be surprised by how much effort it really took."

          Alex grabbed Chris' clammy hand and pulled him out of the crowd, stopping behind a large tree in front of the church. The living and dead moved on to join the rest of the town for daily life.

          "I'm not ready yet," Alex said.

          "Just hear me out," Chris said. "It's not so bad. Hell, it's better. Seriously. Next week, you really should go for an early transition."

          "You mean kill myself," Alex said. She looked away. "You know that's a sin in the eyes of…"

          Chris reached out and cupped her chin softly, gently guiding her face back to his. "I won't let you commit a sin," he said. "Don't worry, babe. I'll take care of it for you. We can do it very quick, no pain. And best of all, we can transition you without any real damage."

          "I don't know…"

          "Think of it this way, babe," Chris said. "We're in love, right?"

          "Yeah," she said. A smile crept across her downcast face. She nestled in close to Chris, relaxing enough to feel the familiar shape of his arms wrapped around her back.

          "What's it going to be like if you don't die for another twenty or thirty years? What if you're old by the time you bite it? How are you going to feel when I'm still running around looking like I'm eighteen, and you're all haggard and wrinkled like her?"

          Alex looked at him in puzzlement, then turned around to see that Chris was talking about the old woman in the cemetery, who was watching them through the tangle of dead tree limbs and sinking tombstones. She sucked on her cigarette slowly.

          "That's a good point," Alex said, giving a small laugh. "But we have to talk about this later. I have to take over at the video store in a half hour and I want to eat something first."

          "No, no, we're going to finish this talk all the way this time," Chris said, cupping her arm. "Look, I know it's scary. No one's figured out why we're all coming back, but that's really not such a bad thing, right? Who cares? We don't know why we're born in the first place. The important thing is that we're still together. And everyone is coming back. Everyone. So that must make it ok. Just imagine, all the fear and uncertainty of when you're going to die could just go away. You can take control. No fear of a car accident, or getting shot, or a wasting away from cancer. And best of all, we could do it very controlled, with poison or something. I mean, seriously, what if you end up getting shot in the face, or hit by a train or eaten by a shark or something? What if you have to come back as one of the Incompletes?"

          "I know, Chris. I've heard all this before," Alex said. "It makes sense but I don't see the point in rushing it, if it's going to happen anyway."

          "You'll only be dead for about a minute," Chris said. "There's never been a case of someone staying down for more than two minutes, tops. Seriously. And don't even worry about whatever happens in that minute. Nobody's ever remembered, so you don't have to be scared about that. I'm telling you, it's—"

          "Listen not to the temptations of evil and the weakness of fear!" the old woman growled. She slid off the tombstone and hobbled out of the cemetery, toward the young couple. "Cast him out now while you can, girl!"

          "You need shut the hell up and mind your own business," Chris said. "No one asked you to butt in."

          "God has rejected you!" the old woman said. Thick clouds of smoke puffed out between her blistered lips and trailed behind her. "All of you! It is the hour of judgment, and God has rejected you! He rejects you because you don't truly love him in your hearts!"

          The crowd had almost completely dispersed by then, and only a handful of stragglers stood in the shade beneath the trees at the edge of the town square. Few turned to look at the woman.

          "That's total bullshit," Chris said. He pulled Alex against his chest slowly.

          "We just came out of church," Alex said. "How can you say we don't believe in God?"

          "I didn't question your belief in him. I said you didn't love him!" the woman said. She began hacking again, doubled over with her hands on her knees.

          "Man, go bother someone else," Chris said. "We're having a serious conversation here."

          "I believe how serious it is," the woman said. Her eyes rolled up to stare at him. "You're asking this girl to throw herself into Hell with you."

          "I'm getting really sick of this!" Chris shouted. He let go of Alex, who stumbled back. Chris pointed his dry finger in the woman's face. "Get the Hell out of here! I'm warning you!"

          "Chris, relax, babe," Alex said putting her hands on his shoulders.

          He shook her off.

          "No, I'm not going to stand for this old loon having the nerve to tell me my life is Hell, or that I'm trying to hurt you, or that God doesn't love us!" Chris shouted.

          "You'd be wise not to hassle those who've managed to live so long," a familiar voice said from behind them. It was soft, and measured, each word carefully considered and measured against the others.

          Alex and Chris turned to see Mother Terry standing before them, her hands clasped gently before her, the sun casting a warm glow around her robe.

          "Mother Terry," Chris said. "I'm sorry I was shouting in front of the church, but this woman is—"

          "Relax. Chris, isn't it?" Mother Terry said.

          Alex took a step back. Something caught her eye. Something grand and white perched atop the roof's cross. It was the albatross, with great white wings tipped in black. It arched its back and spread it's wings, taking to the air and catching the nearby sea breeze. Back and forth, it traced a wide path in the sky over them.

          Lost in the bird's flight, Alex envied the view it must have, gliding peacefully over the trees, out over the town square, through the market district, to the wharf, and then out to the sea. She thought of how the edge of the sea only looked so beautiful from the shore. If she were to follow the albatross out into the blue, she'd find only nothing, a vast expanse all around, longing for the shore once more.

          The albatross drifted out of view. Alex slowly sunk back to reality and the argument before the great stone steps of the church.

          "We come here to find peace and understanding, but she's always out here attacking us!" Chris said. His arm was stretched out, pointing at the old woman, who was leaning against the cemetery fence. She lit another cigarette, resting her chin on her swollen goiter.

          "How can you expect her to understand our gift if we ourselves have such trouble understanding it?" Mother Terry said. She reached her bony hand out and rested it on Chris's forehead. "You know that fear can be a powerful motivator. It is fear that keeps her out here. Think of how afraid she must be of death, knowing she'll find no rest. She's damned to that old and withered form, until God decides to let us into his grace once more."

          Chris looked at the old woman who was calmly smoking another cigarette while openly glaring at the other three.

          "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine," the old woman grunted.

          "Go home Chris, and take young Alex with you," Mother Terry said, placing her other bony hand in the small of Alex's back and gently pushing them together. "I know how troubled you must be, trying to find your way in a newly divided world. It won't be that way for long, my children. When you've made your choice, come speak to me, and I will help."

          Mother Terry turned away, closing the great oak doors of the church behind her. When the couple turned back to face the town, the old woman was already halfway back to her perch in the cemetery, lumbering along at her own pace.

          A shadow flittered across the gravel path. Alex looked up to see the Albatross above once more.

          "You think that damned thing would head back out to sea," Chris said.

          "Maybe it's afraid," Alex said. "Think of what it must be like, full of all those dead whales, and fish, still swimming around. Think of what it must smell like."

          "Well anyway, Mother Terry's right. We can't let that old bat's fear influence us," Chris said.

          "Right," Alex muttered.

          "It'll be great, I'm telling you. Eating is still nice, but you don't have to base your whole day around it. Everything is slower, more relaxed. And we'll finally be able to … you know, do it again. Legally."

          "Yeah, that's true," Alex said.

          "Trust me, you'll like it again when we're both cold," Chris said. "You really do grow to like it, just like it's still nice for you to be warm."

          "Rotten betrayer! Seducer of darkness! Let that girl go before you damn both your souls!" the old suddenly woman screamed from the cemetery.

          Chris tensed up again, and for a moment Alex saw life pulsing in him once more. But she held on to him, trying to drag him on, into the marketplace.

          "Let it go, Chris," she said.

          "No, the hell with this. I'm not going to let her spoil every Sunday walk for us," Chris said. He wrenched himself free of Alex's hold and marched toward the cemetery.

          The old woman continued to jeer and taunt him as he got closer. His pace quickened, and he saw the reflection of the albatross floating overhead in a brown bottle, lying with its brothers in the yellow grass beside the rusted cemetery fence. Chris snatched it up, letting the old beer drip down onto his shoes as he stepped past the gate.

          "Keep talking, you old bitch, keep talking," he said.

          "Chris, stop! What are you doing? Mother Terry!" Alex cried out, the panic overrunning her voice and alarming the small crowd around them.

          "God has rejected you just as you have rejected Him!" the old woman shouted.

          Chris smashed the bottle against a gravestone, hanging on to the jagged remains. The old woman was still spewing her words defiantly as Chris raised the broken bottle into the air. He plunged it directly into the giant goiter that hung from her throat. Only the faintest whisper of pain escaped her lips as he twisted it, then struck the end with his palm. He left it resting there as she slumped off the tombstone and into the grass.

          Chris turned around slowly, triumphantly. A small crowd of living and dead had formed around the rusty graveyard fence, watching in silent awe. Alex was biting her hand, her eyes swollen and red.

          "Chris, why did you do that?"

          "It's nothing," Chris said. "She's going to get up in a minute, just like everyone else. Then she'll see that we're right. She'll have to leave us alone. Just watch."

          There was a murmur in the crowd, as rotted faces turned toward pristine ones to exchange curious glances.

          "Always going on about how we're evil and damned," Chris said. "What the hell was wrong with her? How could she really think that everyone in the world is so bad? Jesus…"

          The crowd waited, and they watched. The sounds of daily life wafted over them, and the scent of fried meat and candy danced around the faces of living and dead. The traffic continued to creep by slowly, the odd horn calling out to break the steady rhythm of life. Wind spun through the cemetery, making the leaves dance and fall around Chris, as he continued to stand at the old woman's side, waiting for her rise.

          Sagging faces looked down to check their watches. A murmur began to ripple through the audience.

          Alex stepped into the graveyard and stood at arms' length from Chris. He was not looking at her. His one good eye was fixed on the silent, grey lump as the wind danced over her wool coat and grey hair. Alex expected to see Mother Terry, standing in the open door of the church, watching from the steps. And she looked up through the trees, expecting to see the albatross overhead, waiting to meet the wind and glide across the grey sky.

          But the church doors were closed, and the sky was empty. She turned to Chris, who was still watching the body, biting his lip, waiting.



copyright 2006 Victor Giannini.

Victor Giannini
You must read to survive!
Climb buildings and punch open windows to find books!