Priscilla felt lost.
Not literally lost, not anymore, of course; now she walked, loaded with the bundle she would not trust anyone else and rested inside her backpack, by the side of the massive Security Executive member François Olympe.
They had walked together for days along those dusty roads and alley-like spaces between the bright green tents provided by successive Logistics Work Group teams that had been dropping them at the camp. There were many hundreds of people living there at that time, most of them stopping to rest for the night and tend to their sick and their wounded. And some of those were troublemakers.
Any troublemaker in the camp, sooner or later, got to meet François Olympe.
The man checked on everything and everyone to make certain nothing was out of place; not a trivial matter, and not one that any one person could take on single-handedly. In a camp that active, with so many people coming and going after stops of one or two nights, dozens of petty crimes happened at any given moment of the day. The worst part was that crimes that would embarrass any police force in the world, were to happen in cities of a 'developed' country, piled here without ever being reported.
Olympe seemed to think that his patrols made refugees feel both safer and secure, and he had reasons to think so. Her sixth day on the camp, Priss had seen him maul a recidivist rapist and child molester into the dirt and deliver him to the Laascaanood council of elders with evidence, witnesses and — after pummeling the fiend against the dust just three times — a confession; she found his methods expeditious and effective.
"I am a violent man, yes," he had told her then. "I have always been violent. But I am not hunting down other violent people. I'm hunting down harmful parasites before they can keep hurting people."
Priscilla understood and sympathized immediately. That was a revelation for her; she could actually relate to what people felt here.
She could be a part of the world.
Despite her lifelong experience and the impact of what Westinghouse had come to call "white supremacist indoctrination" — like she was some sort of cultist —, Priss was at least finding Olympe a very enjoyable company. It was not that he was a particularly amicable fellow; he was quiet most of the time. That was what made him such soothing company, probably. She could go on patrol with him, remain "safe" as an auditor while she did "her job" and learned more about the whole bunch of people that worked with them.
Or try to, anyways. Actually, she only understood Olympe and sort of knew what Westinghouse came from most of times. Torres still felt slightly creepy, with that squirrely smile he used every time he glanced at someone and that grave expression he had when he thought he was alone. The satanists had revealed themselves to be quite a congenial bunch as well, once you got through their many, weird customs; and Priss would never be able to look Mirra — or roosters in general — in the eye, of course.
She would never understand Opal, though.
But after sixteen days in the MCF Laascaanood camp, Priscilla Locke was starting to feel settled. True, the nightmares came and went, and some mornings she had to make efforts to not strangle that damned gnome of a woman as she woke everyone up by using the infernal cube intercom, but most of that was inconsequential. She probably would even grow fond of it, eventually.
She would make herself at home.
And, as she thought that, she saw a small kid, with that brown-black skin color, that black-black hair and those black-black-black eyes over the impossible white-white-white-white of her teeth. She was four or five years old, stark naked, and carried a short stick. She had pensively placed her fingers inside her mouth and seemed to be manually inspecting her little teeth.
Priss felt herself pitying her and saying, in a somewhat friendly tone:
"Get outta my way, little monkey."
The girl opened her eyes run away, apparently scared. Priss cussed to herself.
"Hey, you know English? I didn't wanna-"
"What did you call her, Locke?"
Priss turned to Olympe.
The man radiated something between suspicion and unbridled anger. Priss could feel it as he came to her.
"It was just a-I mean. Um."
The imposing giant looked at her, projecting her shape on her. "Yes. I hope so."
And then, as a passing storm cloud, Olympe moved on, checking on every tent. Priss felt weak in her knees; the world she thought she would be part of reminded her again of how little she could fit in it.
She beheld Olympe as he raised a hand, smiling, to salute one of the new MCF volunteers from Logistics that had arrived in the camp last night with supplies. Priss knew, thanks to trifling, inconsequential minutiae shared between them in the long hours of patrol, that he loved a certain brand of chewing gum and they had just restocked his stash.
Except the fact that she was not WPhO, Olympe knew nothing of her. Nothing truthful, just petty lies. And, due to a insignificant moment of relaxation on her part, he had just seen a flash of who she had always been behind all the lies. Priscilla Locke looked around her, wanting to find again that peace, the corner were she had felt at ease for a second, the place she could be a part of, the people she could learn to love. That part of herself that could have all those people be part of her.
The voice from her backpack reminded her how out of place they all were.
As Priscilla arrived in the MCF side camp, she was as tired as she had been every night for the past two weeks. Walking up and down the camp in the stiffling summer was exhausting, and somehow Olympe always managed to laugh at the end of the day and carry a pair of kids around, a couple of brothers that had taken a particular liking to the silent giant. She had watched them every time, feeling silently uplifted as the man placed them, one after another, in his shoulders and allowed them to climb his impressive frame without moving or even flinching.
Tonight, however, he had stayed back to help their parents, since they had had some sort of problem… or so he had told Priss.
She advanced between the cubes, entering the circle they traced around a slab of Vestan concrete where they lit a bonfire every night. There was nobody at the place. At that time of the evening, every person was either working and grabbing a light dinner or already asleep, preparing for a night shift in the clinic or the growing hospital.
Priscilla looked at the shape of the tall tarpauline fences that surrounded the top of the hill. It would be open to business any day now.
She took her backpack off and eyed it, feigning ignorance of what whispers she could hear from it.
"And then the three kids just run away, like as if I was some sort of monster!"
Priscilla jolted in surprise as she noticed she was not alone. The three satanists and Alba Escudero, the Work Group teacher, had just entered the ring of cubes. They laughed lightly at the recounting of Garziel's day.
"It's your jaw, Ziel," Mirra said.
"It's not!," Garziel argued. "It's just that I look much more imposing having shaved my head than other people around!"
"You've not noticed how many people around here cut their hair short just to make certain they don't get lice, right?" That was Poitriburg, the third Satanist. Alba happily giggled.
"Most of them aren't from the Charitable! Ah, shut up, you are all a bunch of hypocrites who won't even follow the prescriptions of the church… I can even see your hair growing back, Poitri!"
"That's what happens when I don't have the time nor the tools to cut it, Ziel!" And she noticed Priss, who was hurriedly hauling the backpack to her cube room. "Ah, hello, miss Locke."
All of them fell silent when they realized she was there. Priss almost felt vindicated by that reaction.
"Everything fine there, miss?"
"Just call me Locke, Garziel. Have to sleep, round of contacts with town elders tomorrow and in the evening we'll be starting the first Koons crop. Have to be rested. G'night."
"Wait, um," Mirra started. As she stepped towards her, Priss looked at the small, pale woman, practically a girl, who stopped a meter from her, then went on to stutter, "I-Iwantedto-"
Mirra looked back at the other three. Despite their collective timidness, they seemed to encourage her with slow, gentle gestures and soothing mono-syllables, as they often did.
The woman turned to Priss again and blurted out: "I'mverysorryabouttherooster."
Priscilla blinked a couple of times, surprised. "But that was-"
"Like a year ago, yeah?," Garziel said, coming up to them with a smile from ear to ear. "That's what we kept telling her, that you were a professional and you wouldn't even remember. See, Mirra?"
"Oh, I remember," Priss complained. "I just didn't know what a rooster eye tasted like, and it shocked me."
Garziel and Poitriburg laughed out loud, but between their larger frames, Mirra looked like she was stewing in her own guilt. Priss finally gave in and added, in a dry tone: "But I am a professional, so don't worry."
Mirra timidly nodded and smiled. For some reason, that irritated Priscilla. She would have spouted something outrageous right there and then if not for the shouts meant for them from the concrete slab.
Alba was calling for their attention. "You four, let's get the fire going!"
Priscilla had tried. She had really tried, and now she was feeling stupidly ashamed about it, but it was pointless. The women around the bonfire waited for an answer.
They had broken her, and thus, there was no choice but to answer truthfully.
"I never rode a motorbike. Happy?"
The three Satanist sisters made different faces of outrage. "That's impossible!" Garziel managed to articulate, but Alba drowned in her typical guffaws any other response. The volunteers had been conferring about their past lives, and Priss's cover was too limited to include most of the intimacies they had been sharing. She felt she had only escaped this scene for days thanks to Westinghouse's ungodly working hours and Olympe's preference for patrols before socializing.
"Goddamit, Garziel, it's not so strange!," Alba laughed. "Not everyone has a bike, or even likes it!"
"Whatever. It should be a tenet of the Church," the Satanist Scientist said with a snicker. "Of every Church. But really, Locke, never? Ever?"
"No. My-", Priss coughed. "My family was really, really strict."
And Alba added, in a fake solemn tone: "There ain't justice."
Priscilla finally breathed as she saw them laughing. The tension partly dissipated. That had been a very useful excuse for all the more puzzling differences between herself and the locals — that was, every person in the universe, her coworkers included —; one of the few times Westinghouse had really come through with a suggestion.
Mirra and Garziel kept laughing, albeit softly, while Poitriburg nodded and answered. "My family was sort of serious like that, yes. They never understood what our philosophy means, what our beliefs actually entail. It's not all animal sacrifice and orgies," she shrugged and smiled sweetly. "Don't worry, Locke, you are among friends here. And, were we to find a motorcycle, you'll be the first to give it a try!"
Alba looked mildly alarmed and came ahead of Priscilla herself in pointing out how imprudent that acually sounded. "Uh, Poitri, if she is not used to it-"
"Nonsense, it's all practice! She would be great at it, I'm sure."
As Priss recognized the voice, she suddenly felt out of place again. Not him.
The women looked up and happily raised to greet the newcomer, with the exception of Priscilla herself, who suddenly felt sullen. As she dedicated a vacuous look at the screen of her phone to fake some urgent business, Priss noticed how tired and irritable she was. The four volunteers had made her forget for the past minutes.
The Rabbi came closer. He was saying something. Priss's reaction was shutting off and to try not to listen, and felt as bad as she expected to when she realized it.
The man had appeared between two of the cubes closer to the hospital, where he worked all day, and was carrying several boxes. Following him closely, a couple of local volunteers who were heading towards the closed 'mess cube', as they had come to call Afwerki's prefab kitchen, with a large crate they carried together. He seemed to be in a hurry to go back to the hospital, which was in its final stages of growth and took all his attention.
However, Escudero seemed positively ecstatic by his visit. And that was what made him take a seat along the five who were already there, as the two other volunteers busied themselves with boxes and Afwerki's kitchen.
Priscilla stood up. "Well, it's been a lovely evening-"
"Oh please, Locke, don't go!" That was Mirra. The little freak was taking a liking to her. "Just a while longer-"
"I need to sleep."
"It is okay, miss Locke. But I heard you were telling tales!," Torres said, with that jumpy smile of his, as he got comfortable a seat away from Priss, with the small shape of Mirra between them. "I'd like to get to know you, these past days… well, we haven't been able to meet at all these past days! I heard you were on patrol with Olympe?"
"And I'm tired, and Westinghouse is taking me on a ride tomorrow, can't you get it?," she snapped. There was a short silence.
The Rabbi, shocked, answered in a stuttering tone. "Oh. Oh, sure. It is kind of late-"
"That was uncalled for, Locke."
Westinghouse came out from his cube. "Skipper, you've been there the whole time?," Mirra, who apparently could not get a clue, still was trying to mount a party. "Come here and talk with us!"
"Sure! Our little expedition leaves tomorrow in the afternoon, after all," he said, Priscilla trying to murder him with a look. The man looked at her, looking amused. "What, didn't I mention that part?"
"Great," Alba said. "'Cause I have to know, what were you guys carrying down?"
"Oh! Bread!" Torres went for one of the boxes and pulled out a small bun of what, for all intents and purposes, looked like a perfectly round piece of bread. It even smelled of recently baked bread. Mirra fished for it and took a tentative bite. Torres smiled when she happily hummed her approval, and took other pieces of bread out. "We've been working on a formula that allows us to extract the Laviano Grid out of the Mason Mold cell and introduce it into other cells. I hope our benefactors don't mind, but this process allowed us to obtain a leavening agent-"
"Wait, Jacob." Mirra said. "What am I eating?"
"A single, overgrown, dead cell of Saccharomyces cerevisiae from which we extracted the Grid organelle. With two grams of wheat."
"Ah, alright. For a moment I was afraid I was eating mold or something." She kept nomming. Poitriburg and Garziel took tentative bites, enjoying them as much as their younger sister in Satan did. Alba just glanced at it.
"Rabbi, you are telling us these are made of… yeast?"
"Baker's yeast. Not even that, really, think of it as an analogy for cooked meat-" Torres stopped as Frank moved away from the bread. "What? You gluten intolerant?"
"I'd handle two grams of wheat in a three hundred grams loaf of bread, Jacob," the ex-agent stated. "It's just that I don't like the Mason Mold enough to eat it. Actually, I feel disgusted enough to puke when I-"
And then Priscilla noticed something in the Rabbi's look. The way he moved his eyes, that she always found unpleasant. Shifty, but not doubtful. Squirrel-like.
Like a rat.
Torres nervously laughed at Frank's comment, bringing her back to the conversation.
"Ah, you have a point there. But in contact with human beings, the Grid becomes completely inert. Consumption itself is no problem."
"Are you sure?"
"Pardon?" Torres looked at Priscilla, confused and clearly nervous. Shifty. She gently pushed again.
"Are you sure it is inert, Rabbi?"
The Satanist Scientists, the young teacher and even the two volunteers who had carried the boxes down were now listening closely. Priscilla had gotten used to that. She reported to an organisation with a seat in the International Board and connections all across the UN. Her word was not law, but it would be whispered to ears that certainly belonged to it.
The Rabbi, squirrely as ever, looked stranged and anguished under that scrutiny. "Oh, of course it is. The World Parahealth Organisation Focus Research Group did its work on that one, did you not? I base that one statement on their findings!"
"Findings that you might have furthered, like, let's say, turning a builder mold into a baker mold, is that not correct?"
"Completely different. Besides, the yeast is not even a saprophyte, unless you have AIDS or a missing spleen, you'd be fine!"
"What are you hiding, Jacob?"
"I don't know what you're-"
Priss looked at Westinghouse. He had his legs crossed in a neat, comfortable position and had taken Alba's loaf. He was staring at it intently.
And then he stared at her. Intently.
"Think for a moment. Do you really think that is necessary? I hope you're not trying to cover for some mistake the Focus Group made, back in the day…"
Priscilla noticed how the ambiance had changed. The three robed sisters looked at her as if it was the first day she arrived in the camp, still a stranger. Alba looked at her, pensive. The two volunteers, Ahmad and Haji, every part of their bodies standing in all but open hostility.
She stood up, carrying her backpack with her, and uttering a small apology she left to her cube.
"What was that about?" Ahmad asked.
Frank figured it was her turn to cover for Locke. "A bit of an old habit of hers. See, she used to be a Wolf Hunter."
Garziel made a grimace. "Oh, dear, she doesn't know about Lila, does she?"
"I don't think so. It's just that old habits die hard, you know. They are a honestly disturbing bunch, Parahealthers, but they try."
Frank looked at the Rabbi. He was trembling.
"Hey, Mirra," the ecSec said, "do you still have that cocoa powder? Now would be a good time to-"
"Right, yeah." She left to the cube she shared with the other two Satanist Scientists.
"Are you sure it was just that, Frank?," Alba casually asked.
"Mostly, yes," Frank answered. "But I'm almost certain there are other reasons why she's so tense. Might have to do with family." Well, that's not an outright lie.
"Family?," Jacob raised his head in confusion. "I heard she was Rhiannon Locke's sister."
Frank silently cursed. The others in the small circle of volunteers started to talk, fast and concerned.
"Rhia's sister? No way!"
"That Rhia? How did they turn so different?"
"They were separated at an early age, people." Frank gritted his teeth. He would have to update Rhiannon on that development. "Not an easy life for Priscilla. Not that I know the details."
"Ah, but it's tough all over." Haji said, angrily, as Mirra run past by him with a mug and a little plastic bag. "My mother died when I was seven, and Ahmad's sister stepped on a landmine when she was eight. Why does she have to suspect the good Rabbi because she had a hard life?"
"Yes, why?," Ahmad echoed his friend. "He helped us all when we needed him! He is a good man!"
"Not so good, Ahmad."
Jacob looked a bit calmer, but he still trembled. Frank could see his impending beard, of a very clear grey, emerging from his grave semblance in the light of the bonfire.
"Not so good. You don't know where I come from, I believe."
"Argentina?" Haji said. Jacob smiled at him.
"Sure, sure, Argentina. That is the place. The events, though, are the place from which we grow into who we are. I was born in Argentina, but who I am now comes from a different place."
"I think I've heard this story," Poitriburg said, raising a hand. She smiled at the Rabbi. "And you don't have to do this, Jacob, you're part of us and we don't care who you were."
Alba nodded slightly, and Garziel kept silent, looking into the fire. Ahmad and Haji, albeit nervous, placed their hands on Jacob's shoulders, supportive of his friend and mentor.
However, Frank felt like he was very far away. "Let him tell them."
"No, no, everybody has a right to choose their own tales," he said, "to whoever they need to. He needs to tell his tale to make sure they know who he was. It will eat him away otherwise."
All of them looked at him. Frank shrugged. "Believe me. I would know."
Mirra arrived then, with a mug filled to the edge from which a sickly sweet smell emanated. The bright red mug, Frank saw, had a classic Satanist pentacle with the word "SCIENCE" printed underneath it. Jacob took it, seemingly resigning to talk.
"Oh, well… dear, it's not a pleasant story, are you sure you want to hear it?"
"It's your story, sir!" Haji said. In his child-like tone of voice, Frank saw admiration. "We want to know it!"
Jacob offered him a sad smile.
"Never lose that attitude, child. Well, here we go… Once there was a good man, a Rabbi, by the holy name of Jacob. He was a normal man. A family man. His daughters grew up, went to school and graduated. His wife passed away, her untimely death chalked up to God's choices. He was not a particularly lively man, but he was alive, and he was happy."
He took a sip of the burning hot cocoa. He blew over it for an instant, but quickly filled the attentive silence anew.
"And then, he heard of the miracles. Of the voice of God. Of the broken idols and living demons that plagued the land. And he chose to fight them alongside others like him. The man was a savant. A man with many secrets even before he joined the Horizon Initiative. You've heard of them, I'm sure! Well, this man was not a great warrior, but a savant, a scholar. A scientist. And he was called to serve God as an adviser on the many of God's lesser creatures. Moss. Bacteria. Protozoa. Viruses. So on, so forth."
He sipped from the mug again.
"He found his place with them. A place where he belonged. He kept his oaths of secrecy and learned to enjoy knowledge and praise God in His wisdom, for He had placed all of us, His servants together so that we may better serve Him and His children. That is, Haji, where I 'come' from."
"I sounds wonderful, Rabbi!," the young Somali said. Frank had the decency to stay quiet.
"It was, wasn't it?" Jacob sounded nostalgic for a moment. "So many faiths, so many wise and lively people, all of them strong-willed and dedicated and willing to help each other out. And so it came to be that the Wolves called at my door."
He sipped again, but the sweet drink couldn't erase the sour appearance that crept into his face. Jacob's voice turned to be as the one Frank first heard from him: cold, unyielding, cruel.
A sharp rock slammed into a sinner's face.
"I had heard so much of the Wolves, but believed so little. Let's just say that they were violent. Brutal, even. And they had a purpose. They called it 'cleansing', but as I watched their work… well, I came to know better."
He took one more sip. Garziel and Poitriburg were held each other's hands as the story went on.
"The Wolves wanted to murder a colony populated by the members of a small sect. Heretics at best, and I would have called them pagans outright, but mostly a harmless bunch who payed the bills and tried their best not to mess with others' lives. The Wolves found them to be abominable bags of sleaze and sin who were just trying to talk to their God in the same way that I tried to honor mine; by studying and growing as a scientist. True, I am a biologist, and they were not, but when I learned what they did, I could not understand the reason why the Wolves hated them so much and not hate me too. In the end, I can only guess they were afraid of them being right."
He drank for a second and caught his breath to keep going.
"They butchered them. Entire families lived in that tiny village, and they all died. And the Wolves did it, may He have mercy on my soul, with my help. I gave them a way to kill them silently, as they all slept. An airborne agent," he explained, matter-of-factly. "Simple, painless, quick — and, when I came back to my daily life, and all of those I had met and thought I respected, when they all knew what they, what we had done… they chose to ignore it."
Jacob's eyes looked at the fire. He sounded like if he was day-dreaming; Frank knew him enough to know that was his way to cope. It was all a dream, he had to be thinking; it is okay to tell it, because it was only a dream.
"They tried to do as if I had never done anything. 'Don't be silly, Jacob, you would not hurt a fly. It was the Wolves that did it.'" Jacob closed his eyes as he spoke, gently shaking his head. "Would they have succeeded, without my help? I killed three hundred people in one night. I did it because they asked me to do it, so they would not have to go guns ablaze and set everything on fire. Calling too much attention on the Malleus Project would have been a foul move for the Tribunal, I suppose."
"Hmm, Jacob." Garziel said. "I have been meaning to ask. That colony… was it the Order of the Mirror God?"
"Yes, those were them. You knew them, Garziel?"
"Only in passing remarks on modern thaumaturgic works. They were connected to the Church, too… their search for a naturally occurring Aspect Scale was admirable."
"Aspect Particles… yes, that sounds like something the Wolves might find abominable." He grimly smirked. "Dead because they believed in a God that reflected itself upon every atom. Every quark. Even the unholy 'Aspect Radiation' the witches of today talk about. A colony of physicists and mathematicians trying to find God in God's work… it doesn't sound so far away from what most religious people do, each one on their own ways, correct?"
Jacob took another sip from the mug.
"After that, I left," he kept talking in that chilling tone of his. "The Wolves did not complain. They had their clean massacre, so I could leave. No evidence would tie it to them. But I didn't know how to go on. It is, you see, that I killed them," he said, calmly, almost uncaring. "There is no good ending for the man I used to be, friends. I had to go die in shame in a corner and hope that my name was cleared or smeared after my death. Or go on and live my shame every day."
He glanced up, to his protegees' faces.
"Christians would call me a penitent. I'm just tired of thinking that my prayers feel polluted. I can't talk to God like I did before. I can't stand to think he would listen and would repudiate me."
The man shivered slightly. Frank felt it too; that night carried a dry chill. In a way, it refreshed the man as he drank one more time from the mug. His voice sounded tired instead of cold now.
"The rest is the story of a new beginning, I suppose. I heard that the Initiative had decided to fully support the Charitable, back in the days when they got their seat in the International Board. An old friend of mine, an ex-Wolf no less, sent me a short letter and an MCF brochure, pointing out that they would need people with my experience. My daughters supported my choice, thinking it would be a short tour."
The man looked at the mug, amused by the drawing. "For the past twelve years, I have been with Opal and her Group. Most of us have quit Mission Branch to join Continental, or died or left for other teams. Usually their own new Work Groups. But we are committed. I love the Charitable in the same way a flower would love the ground it grew upon, friends. I was an agonizing man once and, when the seeds that could be saved from that man were placed here, they bloomed. I was reborn, and my works are good."
Jacob downed the rest of the now lukewarm cocoa and placed the mug on the slab.
Noticing how mesmerized he had been by the story, Frank saw Ahmad was crying silently. His and Haji's hand were placed on the Rabbi's shoulders; Garzia and Poitriburg looked at the fire, perhaps trying to evade themselves from the truths of the tale and how they might resonate with her own experience. At some point of the story, Alba had embraced Mirra, who sobbed. And, for the first time in the soiree, Frank noticed Priss' door was open, her face partly showing behind it. He forced himself to look back at the Rabbi, who was ending his story.
"I must be here. I must do what I do. It is guilt that I feel, yes, guilt and a measure of desperation. I see those I killed in every person I fail to save, and every day we fail to save so many. I have to run away from them, but I keep forcing myself to go to them. And yet, what else would I be doing? How else could I live with myself?"
The Rabbi sighed.
"Evidently, I wouldn't."
Priss closed the door and laid her back against it, her eyes covered by one hand.
Why can't I like these people?, she wondered. Why do I hate them?
As her own questions did, night went by, but answers didn't. The morn found her out of tears.
In Laascaanood, an early riser had waken up just to find a street dog in his doorstep.
The man, a rather poor construction worker, had not had a nice month. All his contractors had left, scared away by the tensions between Somaliland and Puntaland, so he had had no chances for a well-paid job in a while. Most people around him were cruel, unfair and unpleasant to him. He had not gotten any earnings for the last few works he had done, his clients had all but disappeared for the past few days and the elders did nothing about it. He had not been feeling so well for the past few days, coughing and headaches weighing him down. And his wife was starting to get really angry at him for the general lack of income that should be feeding their two children.
The last straw was the humiliation of having to go and beg for the help of the foreigners working for the Charitable. But even he understood that his family depended on it, so he would go.
So, when he found a dog in his doorstep, at first his impulse was a cruel one. Wishing to vent his frustration, he wanted to kick it away, ready to beat the little stray if it tried to bite back. He held back, and that was the reason why he noticed it was nibbling at one of its own front legs. As hungry as I am, aren't you, mutt?, he innerly asked.
The animal whined slightly and, with a powerful bite, tore its leg from its body.
The man recoiled. Yes, he had seen dogs chewing on their legs, or carrying their young by the neck with a gentle bite; but this was certainly a whole other level of biting.
He tried to get away from the dog, but it limped behind him, following him. When he turned back to try to shoo it away he met its eyes, wide open, calm and slightly wetter than normal. It was hypnotizing, in a way.
When the animal reached him, he dropped the leg at his feet, sat in front of him and happily panted. After staring at each other for a moment, the dog barked softly and lapped at his fingers.
The man saw the bloodied stump. In the growing light of dawn, he noticed how skin and flesh slowly crept down from it, how the white bone underneath grew without a noise, and wondered…
An hour later, his wife woke up and saw him in the yard by the house, a fire burning a piece of meat. "What are you doing? Is that meat I smell?," she asked. "Did you get meat from the Charitable? I did not know they had any."
The man looked at his wife. He had a manic look in his face that scared her. "Oh, my love. We have been granted a miracle from God."
Inside its cage, the mutilated mutt was missing its two hind legs and a piece of liver, but they were growing back already. It merrily yawned at the new Sun, unaware of the trouble its mere existence would bring about.