Harsh streaks of morning sunlight break through the thick grove of oak trees, casting bright lines across the towering ancient building before me. My time has run out. My final act will be incomplete. It seems fitting.
My hands, raw from rubbing the chalk into the rough stone of the cathedral steps, shake wildly. I ball them into fists and find they don’t fully close anymore. Everything hurts.
Drops of blood from my nose escape onto the concrete, spoiling my act of redemption, and I dab at them with the dirty hem of my dress. They transform into dark red smears polluting the ground and my art. Poisoning it.
Father Rudolph will be here any minute to make sure I’m gone before his beautiful parishioners arrive for Easter Sunday services. Nobody wants to smell the decay already clinging to my young ragged body. It’s a day for resurrection and lilies, not ashes and death. I’m not what anyone wants to see.
For three days I’ve knelt here, drawing and redrawing these images of the afterlife. I thought if I depicted heaven with as much detail as possible I’d be allowed in. If I got it right, the churchgoers would love it and I’d be saved. I’ve gone without food, water, or rest. My last desperate act. A final plea for forgiveness.
I doubt it will work. Some deeds are unforgivable. Blood can be washed from your fingers, even scraped out from under your nails with a wire brush, but the stain remains forever. At least for those like me.
A ticking sound fills the courtyard, loud enough to drown out the chittering of the birds. The sickness I caught when I arrived here three weeks ago has progressed faster and faster. My breathing has become slow and painful. It won’t be much longer.
Closing my eyes I see the face of the one I thought to be my true love and protector—Cyrus. The curve of his thin nose, the thick pink of his lips, and the soft blue of his uneven eyes. His heart beat strong and clear, but the love he had was for himself not for me. I figured it out too late.
He promised me life would be different after we smashed my mother’s head in with a shovel and buried her in the dark soil of the garden. It proved only true for him. He was praised as the “Witch Killer.” I was shunned as her filthy daughter.
I’ve been living in a small wooden house behind the church. The women in the black robes pray over me and tell me it’s never too late to love God, but they don’t see the darkness inside me—lust, hatred, and jealousy. They don’t understand the truth. I wish I was wrong.
The last time I saw Cyrus he stood smiling and holding hands with his pretty, pregnant wife—his thick fingers covered with gold rings. He glowed brightly with rebirth, his soul cleansed by the God of second chances. While I remain soiled—polluted and corrupted by my birthright of pain. My thin fingers are covered in scratches and dirt.
Opening my eyes, I see a large hawk circle above my masterpiece. It casts its winged shadow over the colorful chalk images as if it knows the truth about me. It caws and I hear the demon of my mother’s shadow call out to me.
“You are nothing but a sponge soaking in the evil of the world.”
I escaped the prison of my childhood only to be sentenced to another. The badness inside me, the parts inherited from her, wriggling alive and venomous, make it impossible for me to expect anything but unhappiness. It’s hopeless.
This last-minute grand gesture, this final Hail Mary, will do nothing. I’m unredeemable. Unloveable. Tainted.
The truth lies in my fractured heart. This attempt at worship, a sacrifice worthy of wiping away my sins, have failed because at some point it morphed into vanity. It’s a ploy to get recognized and blessed.
Cyrus and his wife will be forced to walk through my images. The chalk will stick to their shoes and follow them home. He will have to see what he left behind. What he did.
I’m not truly sorry for what I’ve done. My mother was evil and deserved to die. I did what was right. We both did, but I’m the one who has to pay the price. I’m the sacrificial lamb.
Fatigue throbs at my temple, a relentless steel hammer pounding my brain. I can’t stop blinking. My back has become a cord knotted tight—rigid and unmoving. I’m unable to straighten or fully stand. Pain sings through every cell. The end is near.
Leaning back on my heels, I smile at my army of chalk angels covering every step; playing instruments, sitting, standing, wings outstretched, praising, and praying. I wanted to add a sheep in the meadow, more flowers along the picket fence, a parakeet in the hollow of the eucalyptus tree, variation to the clouds, and more feathers on the wings of the final angel. I wanted to do so much more.
Mother taught me to draw before I could speak. My thoughts have always been colorful pictures I could channel through a pencil or pen to make come alive. Chalk proved a bit harder to use, but perhaps it’s because the stakes are much higher. This time I hoped my images would buy me a seat at the heavenly table.
With a loud creak and a bang, the ornate double doors of the church open. I wrap my chalk into a burlap cloth and gather my sketches and rags. Throwing them into my tattered grey bag, I stumble to the bottom step and fall to my knees gasping for air.
Footsteps and voices head toward me but I don’t look. I’m a statue, the patron saint of “I’m sorry”—a pile of broken glass. Two shadows cover my body, shielding me from the world. A man speaks low, almost in a whisper. He’s close enough I can feel his warmth.
Father Rudolph answers. He smells of fresh bread, coffee and frankincense.
“Would you like to meet the artist?”
“I’d be honored.”
I raise my face to them, but their white robes blur my vision and I focus on the opulent gold cords around their necks. Outstretched hands reach to touch mine and I present my palms, a rainbow of scrapes and colors. A pauper of the pavement.
“This is Amelia, the girl I told you about.”
The man sighs and covers his mouth. I wonder what he’s been told about me. He touches my shoulder gently and I see his hands are covered in bright gold rings.
“You’ve done a remarkable job.”
Warmth fills my heart for a brief moment—the sin of pride. I should not be so pleased with myself. Tears fill my eyes.
A hoarse croak. Did I speak the words or think them? Panic strikes my heart as the enormous bronze bell dances in the tower striking its thunderous note for all to hear. The time has come. This is no place to die.
The mothers in wide-brimmed hats covered in colorful flowers will be here soon with their children. Little girls in lacy pink dresses with bright, clean braids. Little boys in pressed suits of baby blue with shiny black shoes. Fathers with handfuls of crisp dollar bills for the collection plate. All smiling and forgiven.
I gather my bundle into my tired arms and run. The bell chases me, thundering loudly the way my heart did when Cyrus touched me for the first time. As a missionary visiting our lands, he taught me about beauty and love. He told me we could be together in a place where my talent would be celebrated and appreciated. He showed me another way.
As I run through the manicured gardens, pain coursing through my chest, my thoughts are only of him. When he sees my drawings will he remember our night together under the stars? Will he remember the love we shared? Will he be sorry?
I make it to the garden behind the church, but my legs falter. Weakness forces me to collapse in a heap—a rag thrown onto the bricks of a crumbling stone statue. Is it Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes? Or Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children?
A bystander with deep blue eyes and large soft hands touches my head gently. Is it Cyrus? Has he come to say goodbye?
No. I don’t recognize the man trying to lift me, but I see the distress on his face. I’m a horror, a terrible nightmare made real. I don’t want him to watch me die. A tiny voice escapes through my dry cracked lips.
His eyes widen in surprise as mine flutter shut. Pain swallows me whole. I surrender to its tightening grip.
I couldn’t outrun or trick my way into a different destiny. Time always wins. The sky fills with clouds and I feel the raindrops on my closed eyelids. Does this render my army of chalk angels irrelevant? Am I truly not capable of being saved? As the breath leaves my body I realize the truth—I know nothing.
Author’s note: The young girl of this bleak story, Amelia, chases the enemy of time. Her last shot at redemption washes away in the rain, but she realizes it meant nothing. In the end, it’s not up to her to decide what happens. I hope you found something interesting or redeeming here. I’m incredibly thankful to everyone who reads my blog and comments. Thanks for believing in me even on the days I do not.
Short Story Challenge | Week 47
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about chasing the enemy. We had to include the words demon, bystander, escaped, parakeet, destiny, hammer, singing, ash, cathedral, and heels.
Write With Us
Prompt: A day in the life
Include: identical, pot roast, decorate, sign, abuse, library, amnesia, butcher, submit and sensation
My 52-Week Challenge Journey
- What is the 52-week challenge?
- Week 1: The Heart and the Stone
- Week 2: The Biggest Little Gift
- Week 3: It Bearly Fits
- Week 4: The Claire in Clarity
- Week 5: The Family Tree
- Week 6: Through the Glass Windshield
- Week 7: The Final Goodbye
- Week 8: Sunset, Sunrise
- Week 9: Returning Home
- Week 10: The Water
- Week 11: Aw, Phooey!
- Week 12: Meeting Time
- Week 13: The Old Man
- Week 14: Dani and the Queen
- Week 15: The Golden Muse
- Week 16: Honeymoon Treasure Hunt
- Week 17: The Red-Haired Beauty
- Week 18: Playing Games
- Week 19: One Thing
- Week 20: The Child
- Week 21: The Carrot
- Week 22: Apple Stars
- Week 23: Something in the Water
- Week 24: Midnight Wedding Vows
- Week 25: Chocolate Kisses
- Week 26: The Island
- Week 27: Take Me By the Hand
- Week 28: When the Snow Falls
- Week 29: Stitches in the Woods
- Week 30: The Peacock Effect
- Week 31: New Experiences
- Week 32: Blood Moon Messenger
- Week 33: The Masterpiece
- Week 34: The Blackberry Quest
- Week 35: The Broken Shell
- Week 36: The Octopus in the Room
- Week 37: With a Touch of the Tapestry
- Week 38: Meet Me at the Elephant Ears
- Week 39: The Wheels on the Bus
- Week 40: Room 313
- Week 41: The Cornfield
- Week 42: Afraid of the Dark
- Week 43: The Abandoned Church
- Week 44: Let’s Go to the Ocean
- Week 45: A Night at the Carnival
- Week 46: Late Night Visitor