The Cleansing

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Deep red patterns swirled around me. Orbs of light floated above the candles. I lifted my hands in front of my face and watched them drift back and forth, hundreds of fingers twitching and trembling. I shook my head to clear my vision but it just made things worse. Animal skulls watched me from the altar and the dream catchers on the walls writhed like snakes tangled together. My body felt light as a feather. My arms wanted to float toward the ceiling as if someone was controlling me.

I didn’t notice Rhema peel away her garments at first. Her robes blended with the red walls until all I could see was a mass of swirling red material. Oshema drifted across the room, her pale skin bold and stark against the blood-red mist that clouded my vision. I remember laughing at one point when I realised the priestess was naked. A small gem adorned her navel and another glinted from between her eyes. They shone like a lighthouse beacon. I gazed at her and tried to apologise for staring but what came out of my mouth was gibberish. I tried to concentrate on something solid, anything that wasn’t moving around.

The dark bowl.

It was a heavy object unmoved by a tornado of red.

Rhema was on her feet. Her massive body shimmered before my eyes. It didn’t seem natural for a woman of such size to be suddenly so agile. She danced before the altar with Oshema beside her, handing her candles and chanting. The crack of gunfire filled my ears.

Someone was screaming.

My heart hammered and my instincts fought to rid my head of intoxication. Blood soaked faces rushed toward me. I screamed and dove into the mountain of cushions.

Overhead I saw missiles whizz through the air. Flames and debris shattered my vision and I closed my eyes to block out the sudden chaos raging around me. In the solitude of darkness a moment of calm filled me.

Strong hands grabbed my wrists and I was dragged from the battlefield. I kicked but I was too weak. I could smell the infected clawing at me, biting, scratching, eating my flesh. I screamed until my throat burned.

“Open you eyes, chile.”

Rhema sat in front of me. The sweat on her dark fat body twinkled like drops of rain on smoked glass. I glanced up and saw Linford holding my arms above my head. He gave me a grim smile.

“Warrior too strong, lady,” he said. “No good come of this.”

One white eye stared at me. “Chile, hear my words. The blossom make memories attack you. They force you to slip. Don’t hold back. Must let them free. Fear them not, strong warrior, they be cleansed soon.”

I tried to answer but my throat wouldn’t work.

The war I had tried so hard to forget exploded before my eyes. The bodies of the infected marched toward me, torn, bloody, angry and snarling their hatred.

I was back on the battlefield.

Which one I couldn’t tell, they all looked the same. The only difference was Rhema sat in front of me, watching me with her white eye. Behind her the armies of infected trudged by, shaking and shambling, groaning and howling as the world around us exploded in a rain of gunfire and blood.

A river of white poured out of Rhema's white eye.

I sensed rather than saw Oshema kneel beside the dark lady. Rhema’s chunky arms swished and moulded vast dark globes. Oshema held the bowl between us as it was filled. Rhema faded in and out of my vision. Clods of earth dashed into the air as mortars smashed into the ground.

Bodies were torn apart.

I saw faces of fear and anger as the infected staggered all around us. In the distance I could hear my regiment calling for me.

I tried to move.

The bloody hands of an infected man held me tight.

I lashed out at him and shouted for help.

None came. I was trapped on the battlefield of my nightmares.

It was only a matter of time before the infected found me. I had seen my share of people eaten alive or pulled limb from limb to know the terror that waited for me. Maybe this was what Rhema meant by fear. Maybe I deserved this. I’d followed my orders and slaughtered entire villages and towns where the plague raped innocent victims. Even after I knew my family were dead I continued to fight. I felt no guilt or remorse. I used to tell myself I fought to protect my family but after the Green Park massacre I fought to kill the plague for what it had done to my loved ones.

Anyone leaving a quarantined zone paid the price with violence and bloodshed. I hated myself for being there. Every day I put myself in harm’s way, hoping the infected would take their revenge and rip me to shreds.

Maybe I deserved to die for what I had done.

The pain in my mind intensified.

My memories wanted out.

They wanted to punish me and I was prepared to let them.

Oshema held the bowl up to my face. White liquid curdled in a miniature whirlpool.

I gaped at her as she appeared on the battlefield, her beautiful stark white skin in contrast to the dirt and gore of the violence. Rhema appeared alongside Oshema, her bulky frame monstrous and frightening.

“Chile, hear my voice. No let your fear of memory take control. Face them.”

I didn’t want to. The pain in my head was too much to bear.

“Push them.”

Every memory I had of the war appeared before me. Every dismembered body, every wounded soldier, the screaming masses crowded around me. Flames and smoke roared over the crowds. Gunfire and the sound of heavy artillery boomed inside my rib cage.

I was on the cusp of losing my mind.

I could feel it cracking.

My sanity was being stretched like a plastic bag before it finally split open from the pressure. My eyes burned and for a moment I thought they were going to melt out of my skull.

Then I saw the silver spoon.

It hovered in the air before me.

Rhema’s pudgy fingers gripped the handle.

I couldn’t see her face, the battle obscured everything except the spoon.

“Let memory out.” Rhema’s disembodied voice called to me.

In that moment I knew what was going to happen. I knew where the spoon was going. I tensed as it slipped under my right eye, a scream ready to hammer out of my mouth as madness finally overwhelmed me.

The cold metal scooped behind my eye. I felt a tug and I thought my brain was going to be sucked out through my eye socket. Rhema was right. I had every right to be afraid. The spoon dug in further and I stopped struggling.

The battle field had gone silent.

My vision flipped back and forth between the spoon and the infected who were stood still and silent.

Bullets hung in the air.

Fire froze.

The screaming had stopped.

I heard a splash.

With my one remaining eye I looked down at the bowl.

My left eye floated in the white liquid. In seconds the pupil faded away leaving a sphere of pale gristle.

Rhema raised the bowl and drank until it was empty. She shuddered, her heavy breasts wobbled on her stomach. I watched her expression shift from serene concentration to fear and repulsion. Oshema reached out and carefully took the bowl with my eye in it. We watched Rhema shake and writhe as my memories were absorbed.

The flames were fading. One by one the hordes of infected slipped away and the dark red walls reappeared. I could no longer smell charred flesh and smoke.

Rhema breathed deeply and composed herself. She plucked my eye out of the bowl and held it up. Linford released my hands. I took it and frowned at her. With a shaking hand she pointed at me.

I had to push my eye back into my socket.

I couldn’t do that.

“You must,” Oshema said. “To complete the ritual your eye must belong to you.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Do it or Rhema dies.”

I stared at Rhema. She lay back against her armchair, chest rising and falling, skin drenched with sweat.

I looked at my featureless eye-ball. I had to do it quick like pulling a plaster from a cut. With my left hand I pulled open my eye lid, took a deep breath and pushed my eye-ball back into my socket. I felt no pain. There was a sound like air escaping through jelly. I closed both eyes then blinked. I could see perfectly.

“I’m not blind.”

Oshema pulled on her robes. “You see better than before.”

Rhema smiled at me. “You are cleansed.”

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