So this morning I was actually good and got up earlier than usual to do thirty minutes of Zumba. And now I’m putting up a second post today! This momentum is pretty awesome, and I’m hoping it carries me through the rest of the week. I’m really trying to be more disciplined (I’ve lost counts of the attempts, really, but it’s persistence that counts!) so maybe we’ll see an uptick of posts on here as well as more mentions of my Zumba adventures. I just hope I don’t twist my ankle again.
Inspiration for this post comes, as usual, courtesy of yet another perfect prompt from the Master Class Series over at Our Write Side. Seriously, I just couldn’t pass this up (again) and had to write it out. Like I said last week, I wanted to find a way to work in some background on Marcus, and I’ve been handed the perfect opportunity in the form of the “Triggered Penance” prompt. It serves as inspiration, theme, and title for the piece.
Brace yourself – this one’s a bit on the longer side.
TW: Mentions of rape, and violent themes.
I’m not sure whether I’m grateful for the distraction of extra work, or annoyed at having to pick up the slack as a result of my grandmother’s demon-killing spree. Apparently the turn-around for finding replacements is much longer than anticipated, leaving me to do three demon’s worth of tasks. Guess I took all that time spent reading in Marcus’ living room for granted.
When I’m not with him, I try to keep from thinking about Marcus – hence why I’m at least a bit grateful for all the work. If my mind’s occupied with my tasks, then I don’t risk letting slip how I feel about my partner. It’s his turn to watch over my mother – in the meantime, I’ve been sent to relieve someone from punishment duty.
“So what did this guy do?” This is the first time I’m on an assignment like this. I never really thought about the mechanics of divine punishment, and it didn’t occur to me until after my transformation into a demon that it makes sense we’re the ones that dish it out.
“Rape, murder, etc.” I don’t spend a lot of time with other demons, but sometimes I wish I did if only to help me adjust. The demon in front of me now, Ana, looks like she made the transition around the same age I did. That’s about all we have in common, though. Unlike me, she’s fully embraced her role and doesn’t use a glamour to cover her mark – a gap in her chest filled with a tar-looking substance that undulates like water in a pool. Even though it would have been easy to simply wear something that covers the mark, she’s gone out of her way to wear a low-cut, crimson red blouse. “Is this your first time on punishment duty?”
“Yeah.” I look back down to the pit where the man lies naked in agony, angry gashes marking every inch of his skin. It’s a cringe-worthy sight, but the idea that people like him get this kind of punishment is comforting.
“Well it’s pretty simple – you can basically do whatever you want. Make him see things, physically torture him – get creative.” She hands me a clipboard with all of the man’s information – rape and murder were just the tips of the ice berg as far as his crimes go. With a twitch of her wrist, she triggers a cry in the man, and I watch as another cut appears across his torso. Ana smirks, but looks bored. “Like that.”
“Alright.” My stomach turns, and I’m not quite sure what I’m more disgusted with – the man, or how desensitized Ana is to the torture. I wonder how long she’s been doing it.
“The next shift should be here in a few hours to relieve you.” Ana yawns, clearly tired – I imagine Lucifer is overworking us all.
When I get back to the house, it’s like all I can hear is the sound of the man’s screams. How many times would I have to do this before I’m like Ana and it doesn’t bother me? I kept telling myself that the man deserves every bit of what I was doing to him – because of course he did or he wouldn’t be there – but it did little to help how I felt – still feel – about being the punisher. Ana seemed to have enjoyed the torture – will I be like that some day?
I barely realize when I’ve stepped foot in the living room again. I’m by the door, and catch a glimpse of Marcus standing by himself at the window, the mirror he’d been using to watch my mother on the other side of the room. She’s sitting at work, diligently sifting through some files.
Marcus is holding something in his hand – from where I stand it looks like a piece of paper. Suddenly nervous, I knock lightly on the door frame. Even though the sound is soft, it seems to startle Marcus into a small jump.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to…” I walk into the room, making my way to the couch so I can settle in with a book, legs tucked under me, while I watch my mother.
“It’s alright. Just a little distracted.” He pockets the paper in his hand without much of a fuss. I’m unable to help the curiosity about whatever is on that sheet of paper. “How did the assignment go?”
At the mention of the man’s torture, I flinch. “I dealt with it.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Something about his voice sounds far away – mournful, almost. He walks around the couch to sit at the edge less than a foot from me. Despite the proximity, he’s careful not to touch me.
“Not really.” Again, all I can hear is that man’s cries. He deserves it. “Anything interesting happen while I was out?”
“No – just the usual. Your grandmother hasn’t gone back to see her yet, either.” I should be relieved but the news only worsens my anxiety. My mother and grandmother haven’t spoken since that time in the park. We haven’t heard anything as far as unusual activity from the other demons’ reports, but that just feels like all the more reason to be suspicious. I’ve never known my grandmother to stand down easily, and it’s been almost a month since we paid her our little visit.
Marcus removes his glasses to rub his eyes – he’s as tired as Ana and me – and catches me staring at his mark. An array of emotions flit through the orbs – I’m still not quite sure how the almost black pools are so expressive – and I manage to catch a glimpse of shame and guilt before he puts the glasses back. When I realize he’s noticed, I quickly turn away but the damage is done. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to stare.”
“It’s okay.” He sighs. “Even for us, they’re particularly unusual.”
“Usually, our marks are simply indicators of our demon nature. In my case, it’s also my punishment for what I did to get here.” This is the closest he’s ever gotten to telling me why he’s a demon. My heart speeds up, and I find myself readjusting my position on the couch.
“What do you mean?”
“Back when I was human…I used to conduct experiments. My younger sister, she would help me. She’d do anything if it meant helping me. One day, one of my experiments nearly led to her death, and left her sickly and blind. I sold my soul in exchange for the restoration of her eyesight and health.” He stops for a moment, as if hesitant to say whatever is next. “Do you remember how you got your marks?”
I nod, too numbed by his words to speak. My transition consisted of killing someone, leaving her blood permanently dripping and stained on my skin.
“Well, I gouged out my eyes for her.” He removes his glasses, revealing his mark again. “Lucifer restored her sight with my eyes and she lived a long life. I’m no good to him blind, so he replaced them.” Marcus points at his eyes.
We sit in silence for a while – I guess he’s giving me time to process what he’s said. I think back to when I said he didn’t have a moral compass, so quick to assume he’d sold his soul for a selfish reason. Of course, I know him better now but that doesn’t stop the guilt from creeping up on me. I never apologized. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be. If I’m honest, I haven’t thought about it in a very long time.” Glasses back on, he leans back, sitting deeper into the couch before turning his attention to my mother. She’s on her way out of work now.
“Why bring it up now?”
“I just…needed to tell you. Like a confession, maybe?” The way he speaks, it seems like he’s trying to understand the impulse himself. “I don’t know.”
In the mirror, my mother picks Eva up from school.
I have some ideas swimming around about how I might be able to get Videl to interact with Eva. Another perfect prompt might lead us into that – who knows?
Anyway, remember to check out the responses at the prompt. There’s always neat stuff to read! If you’re a writer, consider checking out the rest of Our Write Side’s prompts, too. At least one is bound to catch your eye!
As always, think happy thoughts!