PROSE: Sin Eater (the original short story)

She lit the cigarette. Put it to her lips. Took a pull, long, savouring it. Pressed the glowing end against her freckled forearm and let it sear.

“Hey.”

She dropped her leg down from the wooden crate serving as her seat, and blew a stream of smoke at him as she turned.

“What’s up, Brock?” She tossed her cigarette to the ground, and beat the heel of her boot against the box. “Ready to hit some bars?”

“Yeah, kid.”

She wrinkled her small nose at him. “Older’n you, new blood.”

He gave her a rakish smile, one that twisted to the right and let flash his white teeth. “Sure, but you’re so little.”

“‘Can still beat your ass.” She wrinkled her nose again, and hopped down from her box. “C’mon dickhead, let’s get some booze.”

Small place, sure, and dark to boot, lit by small gas lamps on tables and hanging from hooks on the walls. No one wanted to pay the power bill.

Down a small sidestreet, the flight of concrete stairs almost invisible at night and incongruous by day, the music some low god-awful drone only there to give the night some texture. Grim had grown to like it. Comfortable like a favourite drink.

She ordered one now: dark rum, no ice, slice of lime. The bartender grinned at their old joke and slid the glass across the table. No limes here.

She and Brock found a corner table, the gas lamp glowing pathetically between them as they sipped their drinks in silence.

“What are you doing for it tonight?” he asked, low voice, his lips perched on the rim of his glass.”

She shrugged, lifted a hand to adjust the suspender over her shoulder. “Dunno. Find a fight, tear someone’s heart out, who cares?”

He swirled his drink in the glass. No ice here, either. “Drug den over on 44th. Might find someone on their last breath.”

She shrugged again. Hated discussing this. Wished he would leave it be.

His eyes were downcast, on his drink, picking apart the colours there.

“You eaten?”

Nod.

“What’d you do for it?” She took a mouthful and held it on her tongue, against her cheeks. It burned and she swallowed.

“Kid on 4th street.” He shifted his broad shoulders, as if resettling the load. “Young.”

Grim didn’t ask what had happened to the child. Brock had an affinity for them, though the younger they were the less to eat. He liked being there at the end so at least someone was.

She ran a hand through her hair, spiking it up with her fingers. “Not really hungry,” she said, but Brock waved this aside with one large hand.

“You’ll eat,” he said, and she knew it to be true.

He followed her when she left, disgruntled with the nature of things, wondering how much simpler life would be if eating involved actual food.

Bugger mortality. She’d tried it once. It didn’t take.

They didn’t make it to 44th. A teenager on 23rd, swearing and scrambling in the dirt with a hand pressed against his side. Life was leaving him. Leaking onto the asphalt too fast to stop.

Grim knelt a metre or two from him and raised her hand to her temple in a lazy salute.

“Hey kid.”

“Get fucked,” he spat at her with fear in his eyes. He knew he was done for.

“All right. Not now, though. You get shot?”

“Stabbed.” His eyes were slate grey and fixed down at the blood seeping through his fingers. “Fuck it. Fuck it, fuck it.”

“Yeah.” She settled back on the curb and offered him a cigarette.

He took it in his free hand and slumped back against the brick wall as she lit it for him. They sat, smoking, silent, until he was gone and she stubbed out the rest of his cigarette and pressed her forehead against his.

As the last breath eased through his lips she took it, and his sins.

He’d had a lot of them, sour and greasy, small sins and middle-sized sins but none big and red and juicy. Just a street kid with a normal life.

“Enough?” Brock asked from the far corner, back against the corner of the building and one booted foot crossed against the other.

She nodded, and closed the boy’s eyes before she stood. Slate grey.

It was a good city for sin-eating. People fell and didn’t get up, and they all had sins, though most of them weren’t so big. The higher up you went in society, the bigger the sins, and these were the dregs, street kids and drug addicts and people without a prayer.

They fell. So she ate.

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