He didn’t want to wake up this morning. He had spent the night staring at the rotting wood ceiling, watching the small white lights the stars provided. He wondered if the stars only roamed on his father’s land, leaving light for the night workers that cleaned blood off of knives until the blades shone brightly again.
His mother had left his school clothes on the rocking chair in the corner, the black pieces of cloth folded into perfect squares. The clothes stiffness now suffocated him as he stood in place, the Father glancing at each pupil coldly, his eyes lingering on the smallest one. The boy cowered at the stare, black curls falling into his eyes. The Father smiled complacently at his meekness, walking into the middle of the child-made circle. Each child was clothed in black, the small boy the palest of them all.
The Father stood tall amongst them, the bright-eyed infants watching his every move hungrily. The Father moved his head slowly, his icy gaze landing on the tallest one, a boy the small one knew to help with the garden. He was tan and a ruffian, perking up excitedly when the Father raised an arm, his hand in the shape of a gun. The small boy suppressed a twitch when the Father lowered his calloused thumb.
The classroom became mechanic. The farmboy’s hands came together with a loud clap, fingers and palms aligned perfectly before swinging them to his left. The blond girl next to him caught them, mimicking his clasp before sending it down the circle. The children worked quickly, passing the bullet from hand to hand. The small boy jumped when it reached him, closing his eyes when the brunette next to him’s hands met his own, quickly passing it off to the blond next to him.
The bullet returned to the farm boy, who fell to his knees, his forehead grazing the floor while his palms laid exposed. The Father was now expressionless, walking over slowly to the boy, his black, metal-clad boots clicking across the wooden floor. He stopped in front of the boy on the ground, searching his hands. He let out a heavy sigh, raising his boot before slamming it on the boy’s hands. The small boy tensed and the Father’s gaze instantly found his.
“What’s wrong, Joshua?” All eyes found their way to him, making his pale skin color red. The Father stared expectantly, twisting his foot further onto the young boy’s hands. The boy made no sound, his eyes closed and his body still.
“W-why did you—?” The Father’s foot stilled, walking over to his son. He offered his hand to the small boy, walking him over to the farmboy’s bruising hands. Joshua stared down at the sight, his vision growing hazy. The Father watched him carefully.
“Can you see it?” the Father asked. Joshua examined the marred hands until a light finally flickered.
“The bullet. It’s—”
“Bloody. Good job, enlightened one.” The Father dismissed him with a look and the boy scurried back in place. The Father stood silent, looking at each child’s face menacingly. “You want to tell me that in the face of death you plan to bleed?” The room remained silent, not an inch of movement made. “Answer when your Father speaks to you.”
“Bleeding is for the weak. Blood is the sign of humanity, the sign of weakness. You must be more than human to survive,” the room chanted, their voices monotonous. The Father said nothing, not even with his face. Joshua could no longer breath, fear tightening its grip around his lungs.
The Father looked down at the forgotten farmboy. “Get off the floor, you foolish sheep,” he snarled, walking out of the circle while the boy scurried back to his feet. He was paler than before now, his warm brown eyes glazed over. Joshua forced himself to look away. The Father gave two claps and a dance commenced.
1, 2, 3, 4
Father have mercy
5, 6 , 7, 8
I’m at your mercy
1, 2, 3, 4
Please have mercy
5, 6, 7, 8—
“Mercy on my bones,” the smallest boy whispered, following his class as they all collapsed to the ground. The children moved quickly, lying down in formation, their limbs outstretched for examination. The Father then walked round the circle, a wooden staff in hand, the end grazing the legs of the school children. His gaze was critical, eyes searching endlessly for flaws in his beautiful machines. His steps slowed to a stop. Joshua let his eyes close.
“Up.” A girl with a long braid flowing down to her feet rose, leaving the others to systematically rising from the floor, folding their legs and placing their palms in the middle, right over left. The girl stood strong, her face stoic as the Father circled around her. “What had you said, Sister?”
The girl spoke not, sensing her own fate. Joshua did not have to open his eyes to know that.
“‘Mercy on my soul?’ Sister, what did I say about the word soul?” Joshua suppressed a twitch at the question. His father said many things, so many things he wasn’t sure what was anymore.
“Souls are for the mortals. You cannot have a soul and be enlightened. You cannot have a soul and be the Father’s child,” she said plainly, staring straight-ahead. The Father smiled complacently at this before swiftly raising the stick and ramming it into the back of her head. The girl fell to the ground, her head meeting the wood floors with a crack, blood leaking alongside her beautiful braid. She let out a horrid cry, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. Joshua’s hands shot up to cover his ears, pressing his palms into his skull.
“You should have asked for mercy on what’s there, Sister.”
The Father beat the girl with the staff, streams of blood flowing from her braid. The girl’s body convulsed with pain, her hands making haphazard efforts to protect her skull. The Father however was not kind in this moment; he used every muscle in his body to swing the makeshift bat at the young girl’s skull.
Joshua finally opened his eyes only to stare into the eyes of the dying girl. He remembered playing with her by the cliff when the sun released itself from the angry grasp of the horizon. He remembered being privileged with the task of braiding her warrior hair. He remembered how she taught him how to fight and win even with his tiny figure. She was destined for enlightenment, but now he was watching her die in front of him.
He was watching a little girl die. And while she was two years his elder, his six years of life didn’t matter all of a sudden. His throat suddenly opened as air rushed into his lungs and he started screaming. He screamed and ran to her, ignoring the fear-stricken looks of his classmates as he cradled the girl’s beaten head into his arms. Large hands found him and wrestled him away, throwing him off to the side violently.
“Father! Father! Papa don’t do this!” The smallest one sobbed, reaching out for his papa, the man who decided life and death. Alas, his papa was not there in this moment. Only his Father remained.
The Father took him up by the arm and shoved the staff into his small hands. Joshua tried to break free, albeit freedom hadn’t been with him since the day he was born. His father huffed, giving his eldest child a look of finality to an extent the boy would never fully comprehend. He turned to his pupils before grandly announcing, “The Enlightened One has decided to protest against the punishment. The Enlightened One thinks he’s above his Father.” Joshua shook his head in violent protest, tears streaming down his cheeks once again. The Father grinned at his own malice.
The children’s eyes brightened, a tangible excitement fermenting in their bones. The Father walked to the door, complacent. “Remind him of his place, children.” The children nodded sweetly as the Father walked out, closing the door shut. Joshua looked into their glowing eyes, hungry and savage, waiting to tear away the final remnants of his soul.