The Climb to Calvary

Discussion in 'The Shadows' started by Anonymous, Jun 7, 2019.

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  1. Anonymous

    Anonymous New Member

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    Vincenzo was young and fervent. He had wanted to be, been called to be, was fated to be a priest his entire life. After years of study, philosophy, theology, and other studies, he was ready, he was ordained. At his first Mass, his mother and father looked on with pride and joy as their son celebrated the Holy Sacrifice. Vincenzo had felt blessed as he had placed the Holy Wafers on his parents' tongues.

    He had long been practicing his language skills in the company of a famous professor, an old sage who had escaped the land of his birth in search of something he'd always been taught was fictional but knew in his heart was Real. The professor felt much love for Vincenzo and others who were learning what he could pass on to them as they prepared for their mission.

    Vincenzo put away his cassock and other priestly garments. He would not be wearing them where he was going; indeed, they would make him a marked man. While he had no fear of martyrdom, his mission was minister to those faithful he could find in the fleshpots of Babylon. He packed his bags and took up his plane ticket for Beautancus...
     
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  2. Anonymous

    Anonymous New Member

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    The plane touched down, smoke surrounding the tires as they made contact with the tarmac. Vincenzo in economy class smiled with relief and said something to the woman he was seated next to about air travel these days. His first instinct had been to utter a prayer of thanks. His teachers had worked long and hard to stop such thinking in their students. God would understand.

    In the terminal, the young man waited for his bags at the luggage claim carousel. He looked around at the people with interest, so different from those back home. Would he be able to reach them? Did they, could they reason as he did, people who thought of him and those like him as "fictionals?" Vincenzo would be finding out soon.
     
  3. Anonymous

    Anonymous New Member

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    The taxi cab drove slowly down the street, allowing Vincenzo to look at the people. He had learned as much as he could about Cussian beliefs and folkways, but he still had a hard time wrapping his mind around the alien concepts of Nativism. His teachers had suggested that as Christ had done during His earthly ministry, so to should the young priest: seek out the poor, the marginalized, those on the fringes of society.

    The cab pulled up in front of the men's hotel. Collecting his bag and paying off the driver, he went inside to the lobby. It was mostly dark, with light bulbs hidden behind dingy and dusty globes covering the fixtures. In the shadows sat old men, some playing cards with other, some just sitting, a bottle for company while they waited to die. The clerk at the counter, with oily hair and wearing a wifebeater and ratty old trousers, had "Vincent" sign the guest book and directed him to his room on the first floor.

    The priest went up and stuck his head into the shared bathroom just a moment, his nose wrinkling at the smell. Then he went into his room and closed the door, making sure the lock actually worked. It was a spartan room, but at least the bed looked clean. He sat down and dug out from his bag a small smart phone from Eiffelland. Powering the device up, he opened an app. It was a breviary disguised as some popular game. Today he would fortify himself with prayer before beginning his work in the morning.
     
  4. Anonymous

    Anonymous New Member

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    There was no way for the priest to know the history of the building he'd selected to make his temporary home within, but if he had, the irony would not have been lost on him. Constructed to serve as a small manufactory, a hair more than 120 years beforehand, at a time when the Old Confederacy had opened its arms to the human wreckage of the Industrial Revolution - now growling along at full bore - almost all of whom had been Fictionals. As a factory, most of the people to work the floors had even been counted among those teeming masses of Fictionals, at least to begin with. Until the Fictional Troubles, at least.

    History now remembered "the Troubles" as the most ill-advised international conspiracy ever to be hatched, when Fictionals from half a dozen different Christian denominations and fully a dozen nations had seized upon the notion that they might seize a country of their own from Beautancus through force of arms and more than a little providence. Nobody knew how many the Cussians had killed and crucified, in putting it down, even to this day, but the best estimates stretched well into the tens of thousands.

    That had been 105 years ago itself now, but somehow it remained as firmly affixed in the consciousness of the nation as if it had taken place in living memory. The bitterly reinforced disgust of a conquering people over treacherous thieves they'd invited into their country, to share in its limitless bounty. Among so much else, this was the sentiment that permeated the streets and country roads of Beautancus, even more than the self-assured superiority of the properly raised Nativist.

    Those People were as deluded as they were ungrateful and treacherous, and they always would be.

    Nativism taught much, for those with the fortitude and will to make their life in it. That wasn't always how it went for Cussians though, some of them possessed too much of what was often called "the lingering Fictional demeanor." A softness, an inclination to conciliation or non-confrontation - a lack of courage and moral fiber that their grandparents had covered with fairy tales. A justification for poverty in a nation where none should exist, or so the well and widely read thinkers of the day insisted.

    The building was full of them. The street outside was full of more. All of them were prey, for they were not the only sort of people stalking the concrete jungle of this city. Anywhere you could find sheep, unguarded, you would find hungry wolves.

    Persephone was one of the former kind. She came from a good enough family - they'd taken her to Community Services every Sunday morning. She'd been able to sing East of West, Our Stars before she was five...but she'd never understood it. Neither had her parents, even if they had been able to mimic going through the motions more successfully.

    No, there'd been too much pressure for her, to maximize her biological potential and fortify her determination. She'd grown up to be a pretty girl though, and well spoken, so a career as a courtesan had still been an option. And it had remained a good one for a decade, until her tits started to sag and she found herself becoming a little too attached to one of her regular customers. A married man.

    It had been his wife that had ruined Persephone's face, after he'd tried for a divorce. Persephone had never seen him again, after that. She still cried looking in the mirror sometimes.

    She kept going though, despite herself. It wasn't a papermill, and she could still get high as she pleased. A sort of apathetic ignorance was her blanket now, and one she was loathe to let slip from her shoulders. Ricky was a good pimp too, he rarely beat her and always made sure she got something to eat, or a ride to the Health Office when it was necessary.

    There was nothing else to be had in a life like this, for someone like her, was there?
     
  5. Anonymous

    Anonymous New Member

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    Vincent began to walk among the people. So many of them looked like they were living lives of quiet desperation. Especially one, a disfigured woman. Clearly a prostitute, she worked the street near the men's hotel. Sometimes he saw her emerge from one of the rooms of the hotel. One of these days he would approach her...

    Meanwhile, he worked steadily, getting to know the life of his adopted neighborhood. Already he saw them as his parishioners (even if they didn't know it yet). When someone needed a hand with someone or looked down, he was there to help out or offer a kind word. Living out the Virtues and doing his best to perform works of mercy, the young priest forged ahead, setting an example that others might notice.
     
  6. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Vincent was sitting in the local restaurant. He had become a regular in the night, coming in for something to drink and a pastry. Often Persephone would come in around the same time to get something to eat. He would give her a nod when she came in and ordered something to eat and drink. Tonight, the woman looked especially tired. Vincent frowned; as she walked by on her way out, he caught her eye and said, "You look like you could use a break."
     
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  7. Beautancus

    Beautancus Well-Known Member

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    Persephone's scar creased, obviously, when she smiled. It added a further sense of pain to the expression that it wouldn't have required anyway.

    "A break? Baby, ain't you never heard nobody say there ain't no such thing as rest for the wicked?"

    She'd been sizing Vincenzo up, from the second she laid eyes on him. It'd been long enough now that she was sure he was "on some game."

    She shrugged the darker possibilities that might be born from giving this boy the time of day and leaned on a chair across the table from him.

    She made sure to present her assets from their best angle, such as they were at this age, and fished a Roanoke Slim from her ratty little purse. Cheap, more tobacco stalk than leaf - and likely more fiberglass and artificial menthol flavoring than that besides. And they smelled like it.

    With an exaggerated wink and purse of the lips, likely more comical than anything, she exhaled a cloud of greasy smoke and got to the point. "So, what can I let you do to me tonight?"
     
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  8. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Vincent did his best to keep his gaze away from the woman's "assets" and on her face as she smoked her drug of choice while ignoring the start of an erection. It wasn't too hard; at some point that kind of thing just became just part of the landscape, unlike back home.

    He also ignored the offer of doing things to her and answered with another question, "You can at least sit for a moment, right? Does your wickedness include talking to people?" He pushed against the chair on the opposite side of the little table with his foot, inviting Persephone to sit down.
     
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  9. Beautancus

    Beautancus Well-Known Member

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    She was obviously reluctant, still far from having her mind made up on what this guy was playing at exactly. "Sure, I guess I got a minute to kill."

    She sat, after angling her chair for a bit better view of their surroundings. "And you wouldn't believe the kinda things people pay me to say in a day's time Baby."

    She sucked in the last of her cheap cigarette and stubbed it out on the corner of the table nearest to her. From the mostly bubbled finish there, she was far from the first to do that.

    "So uh, I'm Persie, or that's what folks around here call me. Seen you out and about some here lately, but you don't seem all that much like a local...you ain't some badge are you, running some scheme? I can maybe tell you some stuff - but for not for free, that's for f@%!ing sure!" She winked, showing she was only half joking.

    The muffled reports of a brief exchange of gunfire drew her attention, coming from far closer than she seemed comfortable with. "So are you on the lamb, ducking some charge or something else juicy?" She smiled, genuinely, at her own horrible sense of humor. Her teeth weren't rotten, at least.
     
  10. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Vincent smiled and shook his head. "I'm not a badge or on the lamb. As for why I'm here, well, Persie, why are you here?" He leaned forward a bit and met the woman's eyes. "Have you ever stopped and asked yourself that question, 'Why am I here?' That's why /I/ am here, to ask questions like that and help people find the Truth."
     
  11. Beautancus

    Beautancus Well-Known Member

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    Persephone snorted. "Truth? Only truth folks find around here is the kind they wish they hadn't."

    The weight of more than two decades of the most acute disappointment passed over her features, and for a moment one could almost see the lost girl those years had swallowed.

    She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, seeming to realize it was mostly clean air, and not more cigarette smoke. Resolving to remedy that, she fished another of those horrid, extra long, extra thin, extra cheap menthol cigarettes out. Sparked to life, the pleasure she derived from it was obvious and more than a little perverse.

    Finally, she continued. "I've been here long enough I don't much remember what my Mama and Daddy's house looked like. Pretty sure they wouldn't recognize me, even if they do remember me." Other people might have choked up, having admitted such a thing.

    Persephone merely ashed her cigarette, dead-eyed as a cold fish.

    "I'm a right fine piece of ass Sugar, just about the onliest thing I ever have been good at." She winked at Vincenzo again, sure to make it clear that the offer of engaging in her high custom was still on the table, as it were.

    "I used not to look like a hamhock half carved off'n the bone. Was able to work down on the pretty part of the waterfront as a courtesan, had me a proper high-paid poon." She smiled, so sadly. "Place was called Theodora's Baths, y'know, one of those nice deals with marble poke-benches and clean pools? Worked there til, uh, this happened."

    She traced fingertips down the length of her bumpy, puckered scar. "That was a long time ago now."
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2019 at 8:05 PM
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  12. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Vincent winced as Persie spoke of herself as a fine piece of ass. He saw the hurt, the pain.

    "There is more to you than just flesh. All of us have a beauty that is not on the outside." The young priest tried to think of words this woman would understand, but for the moment, his training was failing him. For the moment, the divide between what she would understand and what he had to tell her seemed too vast. One thing did come to mind...

    "One thing I do know for sure, your mother loves you. Think of her and allow her to put her arms around her."
     
  13. Beautancus

    Beautancus Well-Known Member

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    Persephone couldn't make herself smile, at that. If you only knew, she thought to herself, her addled mind only gingerly sampling from the deep well of memory. Somewhere in those memories, two decades or more behind her, Persephone remembered her Mother being the thing that had run her away, in the first place.

    "Filthy f@#$ing slut! We've raised you better than this!!!" Persephone's mother swung their old screen door open hard enough that it popped off the hinges.

    "Too stupid to add n' subtract on your fingers an' toes, so this is how you're gonna make your grades!?" She was waving a handful of Coloroid photos, photos Persephone should never have allowed to be taken. Photos of Persephone and her school's principal, three times her own not even close to permissably legal age, in flagrante delicto. From five or six different directions, and in ways Persephone hadn't even known were possible before he'd shown her. At least he acted like she'd done it right, right? She was good at that, even if she was stupid...

    "You know who gave me these, you little whore? That poor man's wife. Did you think about her!? She's liable to slit her damn wrists tonight, and everyone will know it's your fault? How you reckon that's gonna look for us, after as hard as we've tried to make it here!?" Her Mom looked almost purple now, she was screaming so hard, so long.

    And then she'd backhanded Persie, albeit not very hard. More than anything, it shocked them both. A tiny, almost insignificant red "V" was opened just below her eye now, where the diamond had clipped her - from the wedding band Persephone's father had given her Mom so many years ago. A tiny blemish that would provide a target for another betrayed and neglected wife, many years later, promising to grow into an ugly gash of a scar that defined her whole face.


    Stopping before her mind could come to the look on her father's face, Persephone's gaze jerked up and to the street outside away from Vincenzo or anyone else.

    She stayed quiet for a long moment before speaking, but when she did it was with a cool, practiced passivity. "Close, but no cigar. My Mother might as well have marched me to this shithole and left me herself."

    And with that, Persephone stood and left the establishment, casting not so much as a glance behind her as she went.
     
  14. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    That night's prayers were offered up for Persephone.

    The next few days Vincent spent with the old and the sick of the neighborhood, running errands, offering fellowship, talking about their lives. Those who were closer to death than to birth were aware of their own mortality, what it all meant...
     

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