Click here to read the previous chapter
Click here for a recap of the previous chapter
Cross marched up to Maughan and threw a rope around his neck.
His fingers worked quickly, pulling it into a hangman’s noose.
He gave a hard pull, making the hapless teenager gag and grab at the rope.
Cross looked around and saw a hole that had been dug in the dirt in preparation for a funeral later that day.
He stripped Maughan and threw him in the hole.
‘Preacher Kelly, can you please bring me these items?’ he said, pulling out a small sheet of paper and shoving it into his top pocket.
Preacher Kelly looked over the note and nodded.
Cross turned back to the gathered crowd.
‘While we wait for Preacher Kelly to return, join me in prayer for this young man’s stained soul.’
Preacher Kelly returned with a trolley full of things.
One was a giant vat of boiling water, steam rising from it in clouds.
There was an industrial-sized bottle of bleach.
Several packs of sandpaper.
‘Now, this young man has been caught fornicating, which as we all know is against the law in Serenity. It is usually punishable by death, but I will grant this young man his life, as I am going to allow him to benefit from the lesson that I am about to teach him.’
Preacher Kelly went over to the boy and ran a knife up the back of his clothes.
He resisted weakly until Preacher Kelly hit him hard in the side of the neck.
His legs buckled and he landed on his back in the dirt.
‘May the Lord cleanse the stains on your soul,’ Cross said, twisting the cap off the bleach bottle.
Maughan fought, but Preacher Kelly inserted his foot beneath his throat and applied pressure until he began to gag.
Cross made the sign of the cross in the air with the brimming bleach bottle.
Then he nodded and began to pour it over the terrified boy.
His screams hit the villager’s ears, but they were once more under Cross’s spell.
When the bottle was empty – it had held enough for a couple of thick layers on the boy’s skin, it turned out – Cross donned a pair of rubber gloves and picked up one of the wire brushes.
There were half a dozen more.
‘Who wants to help me erase the sin from this young man?’ he beamed.
The villagers fought for the wire brushes.
Cross let all but one of the brushes go, but told the villagers to wait.
His eyes cast over the assembled crowd.
Finally, his face lit up in a rapist’s grin. ‘You, young lady. What’s your name?’
The short, brunette girl, who was of a similar age to Maughan, muttered something.
‘I can tell by your body language that you are uncomfortable. Are you perhaps, Mr Maughan’s lover?’
The girl blushed.
‘You little whore!’ Cross spat. ‘Preacher Kelly, bring her to me.’
Preacher Kelly did as he was told.
The girl looked on the verge of tears, too scared to do or say anything.
‘Please don’t hurt him. I love him,’ she managed.
‘I beg your pardon?’ Cross said, enraged. ‘You love him? If you loved him you would not have corrupted him with your forbidden fruit.’
The girl shrunk.
‘But don’t worry, there is salvation at hand for you too, my child,’ Cross said, grabbing the girl’s chin surprisingly gently and tipping her head up so she could look at him. ‘I’m not going to kill you. I’m not even going to hurt you. All I ask is that you take this brush,’ he pressed the brush into her hand. ‘And help to remove the sin from your young lover.’
The girl burst into tears at the realisation of what she had to do.
‘Do it, or I’ll have Preacher Kelly put a bullet in your skull.’
The girl looked up, saw Preacher Kelly lining up a shot on her head.
The red dot danced over her forehead.
‘Is he really worth dying for?’ Cross said.
The girl’s body shook, racked with sobs.
He held the brush out at arm’s length, waiting for her to grab it.
He was amazed when she shook her head and dived into the pit with her lover.
‘So, I see the devil’s pull is stronger than mine,’ Cross said, nodding, his face drawn in a grim smile. ‘Have it your way. Preacher Kelly, the water please.’
Preacher Kelly shoved the water to the edge of the hole.
Steam rose from the top of the vessel as he took the lid off.
The girl laid on top of her boyfriend, trying to shield him from the boiling water, but it rained down on them like liquid fire.
Their screams rose up out of the pit.
Preacher Kelly upended the last of the barrel.
Steam rose from the pit, bringing with it a repugnant cocktail of bleach and scalded flesh.
‘This is all for their own good,’ Cross said, his tone firm but kind. ‘We simply cannot allow our young to follow the path to sin.’
He glanced down in the pit where the pair were writhing in agony.
Their skin was dripping from their bodies like wax from a melted candle.
‘Get in there with those brushes,’ Cross said.
The pair were dragged out with the rope.
They lay, unmoving but still screaming, on the perfect lawn.
The villagers moved in with the wire brushes, eager to strip the skin from their young bodies.
‘I think they’ve got the message,’ Cross grinned.
The young pair were scrubbed raw from head to toe.
Their flesh oozed blood and pus.
Their mouths seeped the sounds of their agony.
Their souls were cleansed now, judging by the agony scarred into every inch of their bodies.
The girl was still moving, weakly, but Maughan was unconscious.
Still the girl clung to him.
‘If only you had shown the same dedication to your faith,’ Cross said. ‘None of this would have had to happen.’
Cross let the furore over the brutal cleansing of the young lovers die down a little.
Maughan had died.
The girl was unconscious, her arms still wrapped tight around his corpse.
‘This is the price of laxness. This is the price of corruption. This is the price of sin. We must not allow sin to enter Serenity. In my absence the leadership has been weak. Under my eye there would never have been a deal made with the heathens in the Freelands.
‘I know some of you opposed it.’ Cross nodded to Preacher Kelly, who mirrored the gesture. ‘And I appreciate it. As I also appreciate you all obeying my instructions regarding my successor. I wanted to test my wife as I feared there were… weaknesses in her that my late brother and I did not share. But now it is time for me to take back the reins. In the short time she has been at the head of Serenity the place has already begun to go downhill. Who knows where the place might have ended up were I not here to take back control.
‘Now, under my watchful eye, Serenity is returning to its former glories. And I insist we wait no longer before we show the Freelands heathens our true feelings towards them.
‘There is no need for fear. There is no need for mercy. We have God on our side and we cannot fail. We must smite the heathens and get ourselves back into God’s good graces. Gather your arms, dear guardians of Serenity, and prepare for war.’
Next chapter is here