The High Priest burned Mom and Dad tonight. A child of their sin, I was forcefully dragged to the front of the crowd and made to watch as they died. I screamed and cried in protest, trying to break from my captors and save them, but my attempts were worthless. The only option I had was to listen as the High Priest condemned my parents. “Standing before you tonight are a pure-skin and a desert-rat, who have committed the awful sin of fornication.”
A gasp washed over the people and the priest continued, “Not just fornication, but by giving in to the delights of the flesh, the couple before you have also given birth to a child. This child is neither pure-skin, nor desert-rat, but a mixed breed: a mutt who has been living among us the last ten years, hiding the sins of his parents in plain sight.”
All eyes turned to me. The armed men restraining me grabbed my shoulders and spun me around for everyone to see. “Rat!” a voice screamed.
I looked around frantically for a familiar face. I recognized a few of my neighbors, but when they met my gaze, they looked away, ashamed. Among those gathered, I spotted my uncle Frederick. He didn’t look away like the others; his eyes told a different story. His normally cheery smile had sunken into his cheeks. He met my stare and returned a sorrowful head shake.
A fist struck my left cheek. Handfuls of mud sailed through the air and splattered my face. My captors turned me back to face the priest and my parents. From behind, I heard the crowd chant, “Punish the mutt! Punish the mutt!”
“The gods will pass their judgment on the boy soon enough. Tonight, we offer the bodies of the fornicators as atonement for their sins.” The High Priest raised the torch in his hands to the kindling at my parents’ feet. It caught instantly and my mother shrieked. With tears streaming down his face, my father looked at me and mouthed, “Don’t look.”
I tried to turn my head away, but the men holding me snapped my neck back. My mother gave in to the flames first. Her screams transformed into an awful choking noise until all she could do was groan. Then, she fell limp. My father, quiet the entire time, held on as long as he could, in defiance of death and defiance of the law. He raised his chin to the sky, and after a long time, finally gave in. His face, not recognizable by that point, fell against his chest.
When they had both passed, the High Priest raised his hands to the skies. “Our heavenly guardians, we offer the bodies of the sinful to you and hope you will accept our humble sacrifice.”
“Kill the mutt!” an angry voice roared.
As if in response, a deep rumble of thunder rolled across the horizon. Eyes closed, the priest lowered his hands and took a deep breath. “The gods have spoken tonight. There is still sin in our midst.” The High Priest opened his eyes and pointed a wiry, gray finger at me. “Tomin, your parents have committed a grave sin by bringing you into this world. For ten years, you have lied to us by your very existence. A pure-skin you are not.” He paused and made the sign of the holy flame across his chest. “By the power vested in me by the gods, I condemn you to death. Exactly one day and one night from now, you will join your parents in the afterlife, where you may seek forgiveness for your sins.”
The men dragged me away from the spectacle. Angry citizens flung insults and mud at me as I was carted away. The guards hauled me off to the temple, where I was locked in a tiny prayer room. The night grew dark and the noise of the throng faded into the distance, but I knew my time was approaching.
Shortly after I was shown to my room, Uncle Frederick paid me a visit. He entered alone, motioning to the guard outside to leave. The door swung back, hanging open an inch or two. I took note of the unlocked door and turned my attention to my uncle.
“Tomin,” he began.
I trembled. Was he here to save me? Could this nightmare finally be over? “Uncle,” I said. I dashed across the room into his open arms.
He wrapped me in his embrace and held me tight. “You know I want to make this right as much as you do.”
“Please help me,” I begged.
“Your dad lied to both of us for years sweetie. If I had known…” he paused, “If I had known your mother was a desert-rat back then, you would not be here right now.”
“But I am here right now,” I insisted.
He patted me on the head and tried to console me. “I know. I know. You are. But tomorrow, they will do the same to you, and I can’t let that happen.”
“Please get me out of here then,” I said. I pointed to the open door. “They’ll never know.”
Uncle Frederick looked over to the door, then back at me. I saw tears welling up in his eyes. Then, he lowered his voice and continued, “Listen very closely Tomin. I want you to know that I love you, but there are rules. These rules are unfair, and they don’t always make sense, but if we don’t play by them, then we all lose.”
“What do you mean?”
“I love you, that’s what I mean.”
A hot, searing pain abruptly pierced my stomach. I stumbled back from Uncle Frederick and grabbed my belly. My uncle had shoved a knife into it before I knew what had happened. I looked up at him confused. “I thought you said you loved me?”
“I do.” He looked at me with an uncomfortable grimace. Then, he grabbed the knife from my stomach and pressed it to my neck. “This is much quicker than burning at the stake.” The knife slid across my throat and I choked.
Through a red haze, I watched as Uncle Frederick turned to leave. “Tell your mother and father I love them too.”