How much does a soul weigh?
I can’t answer this question, but I can tell you how much sickness weighs. Nothing or at the least very close to nothing. My hands have touched a thousand bodies already and every time I pry illness free from the corpses that litter the cracked and abandoned roads of Bulgaria, which were cracked and looked abandoned long before the Earth ended, it came off with ease.
Yes, corruption, consumption and contagion weighed nothing.
It was the nature of the work that exhausted me. Having to kneel down, touch the rotten cadavers and feel death up close. In these moments I thank God he cast the world in darkness.
No sun or moon to illuminate the full devastation. How far we’ve fallen.
All I go on is the small island my halo’s golden land carves out of the shadows. It’s the only land I see and I prefer it that way. The halo shimmers as I pull the disease from the dead man’s mouth, tip pinched between my thumb and index fingers. It’s seamstress work what I do, sewing the grey, clammy saran-wrap-substance onto a rusted keychain. It’s slow work, too.
My life behind a keyword never prepared me for what my post-apocalyptic survival role is now – a janitor for the dead.
“A fine night for cleansing.” I hear his voice gang up on me from all sides, stretch every particle of existence, until I feel it in my skin. The voice is different as it is every time a demon comes to seduce me and yet it remains the same – crushed with diabetic sweetness.
“It’s always night,” I say, fingers still at work. Every damn time when I’m alone. Can’t I get left alone for once. I make myself sound as inhospitable as possible.
Work is what matters. Even saints have a daily quota and a glance back at Saint Marina’s flames reveals the camp has been broken and the procession will soon begin. The roads must all be decontaminated. Not a single disease has to remain. Otherwise, survivors die and more graves have to be dug. More bodies sterilized. The work never ends.
My halo pours out constant golden light. The glow cups the corpse’s face, smoothens out and erases any clue as to what the person might have been alive.
A man or a woman?
They all look like children to me. Tiny and collapsed in on themselves. Clothes tattered beyond recognition. I may even be working on a friend, a family member or an enemy.
“Now that’s not friendly.” His words slither out. I feel them as wet tongues upon my skin and a hum in my bones.
Soles scratch the grainy asphalt and the voice attaches itself to a tall figure as the demon steps into my little island of light.
He’s tall and his face is severe with a bone structure so sharp I’d bloody my hands on. Yes, rot grows in fat, yellow boils on his lips and his flesh hangs at odd angles, yet my breath still catches.
He’s here to tempt me like all the other demons before him.
“I’ve said no to fresher bodies, so say what you have to say and leave.”
Rot reaches my nostrils as the man smiles a smile full of teeth and he does so with such a charm, I almost overlook his teeth are as black as charcoal.
“You know what I want.” He plays with the words, on the verge of breaking into song, but not quite there. “Fun. Can you give it to me, Saint Haralambos?”
He then proceeds to undo his shirt. Button by button until he reaches his jeans’ fly where he hooks his finger and forces the zipper down. With the fly open, the fabric slides down hairy legs, whose flesh bears intricate tattoos. Moose, owls and bears chase each other around foliage and waves. Lumps mark the spots where his flesh twisted post-possession, but one can still see the man has a body for lust.
Desire crawls inside me; the kind I work hard to keep in check ever since the world met its end, the sun died and a holy angel hammered the halo deep in my skull like a coin too big to fit in a slot. The body I’m tending falls from my lap as I reach for my halo to burn the sickness off my fingers. I’m far from done, but the gesture sooths me when I’m in a position where I can’t do anything but wait it out.
The halo sings when I touch it and a hum dances through its metal frame, until it digs deep into my brain.
Vibrations travel down my bones and I try to remember how this sensation feels. How the light looks. Embody the sainthood. Even though I never feel like I deserve the halo. Most times I expect the angel to return and swiftly hammer the golden disk out of my skull.
I fear the darkness. Back when the world first ended and hell had trouble eating all the sinners’ souls, the corpses would moan and scream.
Not of monsters and not of tortures, but of darkness. Darkness so empty, yet so heavy, it turns mortal understanding of pain into one of non-sensation.
Keep the halo. Keep the halo and its light.
Their voices still ring in my mind, ripe with a sort of pain that can’t be relieved.
“Come on. Fuck me. A fag doesn’t belong in heaven’s ranks. Fall with me and taste real power.” His cock has somehow grown to full attention, the biology of which perplexes me, but there he is. At full mast, magnificent and tempting. Defiant of decay. On the contrary, his cock conspires with the necrosis to lure and infect indiscriminately.
His profession of lust sounds like a bad rock song. Enticing the first time you hear it, but ridiculous with each new repetition. When I remember a reply is expected, I speak.
“Power? What’s power in a dead world? Nobody has power, only burden. And let me tell you something – there’s enough to go around. We’re all interns working overtime without ever getting paid for it, yet no one ever knows better.”
His shoes’ scraping betray his approach. He inches closer and closer until I can smell his crotch – acrid with fermented sweat. The tip is dangling in front, zeroing my lips. He waits and jiggles it. I have to make the first move. It’s how temptation works.
“What happens when you find every single sickness hell sent over? Tell me. Your Jesus Christ will take your halo and cast you out. Fuck him. Show him how meaningless his mercy is.”
“Either way, you’ll still get your cock sucked and from what I hear, it’s way better when your balls are blue with anticipation.”
“Fucking cock tease,” he says and his dick is suddenly stuffed in the jeans that don’t fit any more. He moves away in defeat.
When I no longer hear him, I sigh and continue my work.
Hours pass and the roads bear no trace of bodies. The procession has no obstacles in its path. Weariness eats at my muscles and I go to lay on the road’s side, back pressed against the piles of bodies.
I fight to keep my eyes open and stare at the halo’s glow on the asphalt. Across the road, a skull’s empty eyes stare back with the depth of night.
I wrote this after I learned the stories behind the Saint’s name I’m sharing. Apparently, Saint Haralambos was the patron saint of bees, but more interestingly he’s also responsible for capturing the personifications of illnesses and linking them in a chain. This is the aspect of his abilities I’m portraying. This was weird to put out for submission, because the main character shares the same name as me (necessary for the world) and is gay, so it’s hard to argue that it’s not me entirely. Way too much of an overlap, but I so wanted to write about saints with superpowers, I couldn’t resist.