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20. triage

HILDA LEEK

And then, at long last, the branding iron is hot enough. I lift it from contact with the heating element, holding it out in front of me. I feel like that woman in the stories who came out of the lake, except I’m holding fire. A tiny dot of fire in the blackness. Fire that’s the symbol of rebirth. I put the branding iron close to Friedrich’s face. The way it colors what little I can see of his skin makes me think of a Christmas postcard. And then I lower the iron and push it forward against the skin of Friedrich’s neck. He convulses feebly in the restraining chair, moaning as if he were a sad drunk. The drugs dull some of the pain, yes — but I know my grandson can still feel what I’m doing to him. As he must. Because this is what has to happen. This is what has to be. The ritual was made clear — in the Bellbrun texts. How blind the people are not to see it. How blind not to understand what they’ve been told. “‘We must believe,'” I say through my tears. Friedrich’s flesh sizzles. “‘And have no doubt. He’s caught in-between … and he just can’t get out.'” I push the brand a little harder against Friedrich’s skin, holding it there. “‘He’s lived out a life filled with love and with hate,'” I say. My voice is ragged with sobs of joy. Friedrich’s coming out from under the influence of the chemicals now. I gave him so much less than the two men. He’ll need the full use of his muscles. “‘For The Nine to make good, we must give from The Eight.'” I pull the brand away, and Friedrich’s head flops forward. The smell is nearly unbearable, and I’m glad for the lime oil and the ozone machines. “‘Five must be animals,'” I continue, as the room gets even colder. “‘Four must be men.'” I nod to myself as I recite the words, reaching out and squeezing the fingers of Friedrich’s restrained hands as he shivers and jerks from the pain. “‘Three drops of poison, for two of your ken!  Whatever the order, for that matters not, you must give what’s been asked ’til you get what you’ve sought.'” Friedrich’s unrestrained head lolls forward and he blubbers unintelligibly, his lips and cheeks tremoring. Then I finish the words: “Let this be a promise. Let this be a pact. Like a truth is a truth — and a fact is a fact!'” I barely get to the end before my sobs begin in earnest. But I’m not sad, even with the sounds of Friedrich’s agony. Even with the smell of his burning skin in my nose. My sobs are from joy. I’m overcome. I see my work before me. The perfect image of a ‘9’ seared into the flesh on the right side of Friedrich’s neck. The side of justice. The holiest of holy sides for both body and spirit.  This is now and always will be my truth, as I have vowed and will continue to vow for eternity.  “‘My right, good heart beats for Bellbrun.  My right, good hand beats for Bellbrun,'” — I recite this dedication to my gods of god of gods in order to complete the spoken part of the ritual.  I walk over to the work bench and I retrieve the knife.  And then I sit down on the floor, in front of Friedrich, on my knees.  Eight times I’ve done this, over the last ten years, and the waiting never gets any easier.  Each time, it has taken longer for the ritual to take full effect.  But even now, I can see my breath from how cold it’s gotten, and my heartbeat quickens.  I’m shivering, both from the chill and from excitement.  My old bones hurt as I kneel on the floor, but my pain is secondary.  Friedrich’s pain is secondary.  Everything is secondary to the ritual.  And this is the final time — the ninth and last time I’ll ever be able to do this.  Which is why I had to be so certain in my own faith.  And to have had to do this mostly alone, save for those eight prior times.  Over ten years, eight moments of real companionship just haven’t been enought —  wouldn’t be enough for anyone.  It isn’t just me.  It isn’t a fault in my character.  I’ve had to be strong for myself, for Friedrich, for all of us.  But that kind of loneliness — days into weeks into months into years — it’s just far too much to ask someone.  Alone and alone and alone again and again.  But I’ve endured it to now.  I’ve survived it — so that I’ll never have to be alone again.  I’ve had to make sacrifices, too, in just the same way that I’ve demanded sacrifices from others.  It’s my turn to reap the rewards now.  It’s my turn to impress my holy will on the world and be rewarded.  I won’t wait for the endless sameness of worship.  I won’t wait to endure some whim of some god who wants me to bow or to suffer.  I matter.  I’m important to the world’s story, and I’m going to be given what I desire for a change.  Soon.  So soon.  No movement from Friedrich yet.  He just lies there, head lolled forward.  His fingers and toes aren’t even twitching any more.  But I look in that special way, and I see the glowing beloved light spreading in that special way, from the core of Friedrich’s body out to the extremities, like a pulsating skeleton inside of him, building its network through bones and flesh.  And, yes, I know that all I can do is wait, and watch him as my eyes get more and more used to the dark even as the glow of spirit stuff from Friedrich becomes near-blinding.  I want to reach out and embrace Friedrich’s body, but I know I have to wait.  I know I can’t give in to my needs.  I know I must be patient.  So I remind myself that I’ve gone through the steps, taken the appropriate actions.  The chill in the room is growing, so I know the ritual is working.  Colder and colder until I feel like my eyes are going to freeze in the moments between when I blink.  My eyes feel like they’re hardening in the sockets when I’m not closing them.  But I keep them open, even though the cold is burning me.  I want to see the precise moment when the ritual reaches fruition.  I want to see the exact second when my wishes are granted to me again.  I don’t want to be distracted.  I want to write about it.  I want to sing about it.  And then Friedrich’s head jerks upward, and his eyes open, and he lets out a ferocious howl of agony.  His hands and feet pull against the restraints until his skin breaks and he begins to bleed.  And then — all at once — the cold is gone, and he speaks to me at so so so so so long last and too long gone and all is well as he opens eyes that have been washed over with the blessed milk of possession and he says ‘HIIIIILDAAAAA!’ in a voice that isn’t Friedrich’s, as if cursing and praising and savoring my name all at once.  I raise my right hand skyward in praise to Bellbrun, knowing that my beautiful Cameron has come back to me once again, and that my faith — and yes, I decide, let them call it my religion! — is at last on the verge of taking hold of this world.

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Published inpart 2

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