Coral Savary knew she was going to Hell. She learned of that inevitable doom one summer night at the age of six.
It had been a Wheatling night like most: dark, warm, and inviting. Her mother had tucked her into bed and read to her from The Big Book of Bible Stories for Children, as tradition ran. The tactile addiction of scratching at her blanket’s stitching accompanied each rise and fall in her mother’s melodious retelling of the tale of Jonah. The comforting scent and lighting of her room cradled her, lulling her toward sleep’s precipitous edge.
Perhaps noticing a shift in Coral’s breathing, her mother stopped two-thirds of the way through the story. “I guess we can finish tomorrow,” she said. “Goodnight, honey.” She knelt close and planted a kiss on Coral’s forehead before standing and making her way toward the door, the thick children’s book under one arm.
Coral licked her lips, peeled skin and chapstick raking the tip of her tongue. Her fingers nervously began to rub at the scabbed scratch on her thumb. The question had been bubbling in her throat for weeks, and she’d resolved not to let the opportunity pass her by this time. “Mom?” she asked, making it one step farther than her previous attempts.
Her mother paused at the door, one hand on the threshold. “Yes?”
She hesitated. The question at last overflowed. “Can hemos go to Heaven?” Her fingers wrapped tighter in the folds of her cotton security blanket, hoping the question had sounded innocent.
A warm chuckle flowed from the door. Her mother drifted back to the side of the bed and lowered herself to her knees once more. “Of course they can’t, honey.”
Her heart sank, but she tried not to show it.
“And do you know why that is?”
Coral shook her head.
Her mother began to play with Coral’s hair, brushing it back in what was meant to be a comforting gesture. “Because hemomancers can’t perform good deeds. They’re the servants of Satan, and that means they can only do wicked things like hurt people. And you know what that means? God will send them all to Hell to punish them.”
Coral didn’t know what she’d been expecting to hear. Though it was not a surprise, the answer was still a snakebite in her soul.
Her mother gave another warm chuckle and kissed her forehead again. “You don’t need to worry about those kinds of things, dear. Fear is something for this world only. There won’t be any hemos in Heaven, alright? I promise.”
Her head slumped to face the wall, away from her mother. “Okay.” She tried to keep her voice level and her eyes dry.
“Now, no more talk about hemos.” Her mother stood up and headed for the door again. “It’s time for sleep. Big day of studying tomorrow. Good night.”
The lights went off, and the door rattled shut. The glow-in-the-dark stars pasted on the walls and ceiling glowed to life. Coral shuddered. It was impossible not to imagine them as the watchful gaze of the angels. She couldn’t breathe. Her eyes were burning. She felt her blood coursing from head to foot, flowing in subtle patterns her mind invented.
How was it fair? She wasn’t a bad person. She had never hurt anyone. How could God punish her for something she had never even done? The faith her mother had tried desperately to instill in her young mind fractured, splintered. The idea that God didn’t exist wouldn’t cross her mind until years later, but the thought that God was not worthy of praise grew roots and bloomed in a single damned moment of alienation.
Her focus lapsed, and the scabbed scratch on her thumb began to peel open and weep. The warmth of blood running and pooling in her palm absorbed the entirety of her thoughts. It was the feeling of life lived on borrowed time. Rejecting the taste of her mother’s answer, but still forced to believe it, Coral began to knead the blood into a perfect sphere that floated inches above her palm and bobbed as her mental energy ran through it in uneven waves. The phosphorescent light of the angel-stars glinted dimly off the rippling reflective surface. Hemomancers. She hadn’t chosen to be born this way. How could just being able to move around some sticky red liquid make her evil? She didn’t understand at all.
Eyes burning, she tried to distract herself. The orb in her palm broke apart, loose chunks of liquid forming clumsy petals around a smooth center. The shape gleamed, a wet sheen painting its contours. It didn’t look anything like the rose she’d thought to sculpt from her blood. She wasn’t any good at drawing either, she realized, so it was no wonder blood was no easier a medium to work with.
Blood. Hemomancy. Hell. The triangle between her, her mother, and God sickened her. She let her poorly sculpted flower melt back into liquid and directed it back into the cut along her thumb. And when the air was dry and the stains on her palm had likewise been extracted and reinserted into her bloodstream, she put her focus on re-staunching the wound.
Coral went to sleep that night teetering on the brink of tears, unaware of how heavily her mother’s answer would linger in her mind. The landscape of her worldview had been tilled. Even at the age of six, she was afraid of what would grow.