Entertainingly Evil

The Sin Collector By Sarina Dorie

“Have you any sins?” the old man’ creaky squeak of a voice largely went unheard in the chaos of the market. He shuffled his twisted frame past the basket makers and fruit venders, one hand on his cane, the other holding out his cup for money. “Penance for sale. Has anyone any sins for me?”

A woman backed her bustle into the baker in her hurry to be out of his path. The couple selling their pottery and the man purchasing, it cast their gaze down as though the horse droppings at their feet were of far more interest. The sin collector’s scanned the crowd, his vision dimmed and blurred by cataracts.

“I have a sin,” a young woman said, one child propped on a hip, another clinging to her dingy apron. She leaned in close so that only he might hear. “I’ve got myself with child again.”

“Yes,” said the old man, squinting at her through a mop of uneven hair. “That is no sin in itself.”

The young woman bit her lip, absent-mindedly prying the child’s hand from tugging at her cap. “The child is not my husband’s. How much is penance for that?”

“It’ll cost you five shillings.”

She glanced over her shoulder before she counted out the coins and discretely placed them in the cup. The other market-goers went about their business, eyes averted.

The man bid his patron to lean closer. She shifted the child to her other hip and bent down so that her face was even with his. The man placed a hand on her forehead, whispering words of prayer in his hoarse voice. Gray mist swirled out of the woman’s nose and mouth. As the man removed his hand, the vapors followed his movement, drifting closer to him. They danced over his tattered clothes, finally sinking into his flesh. New liver spots appeared on the sagging skin of his wrist. An addition of wrinkles marred his fingers.

The woman slipped off.

The man called out in his hoarse voice, “Have you any sins for me to collect? Anyone?” He shook the money in his cup, the sound carrying farther than his voice.

A man in a fashionable new waistcoat strode forward. He stopped before the crippled old man and studied his pocket watch, not making eye contact, lest he be associated with the man. “How much is it for murder?” he asked under his breath.

“Depends. Was it intentional?”

He cleared his throat. “That is to say, ahem, not exactly. I simply meant to, ahem, restore my honor.”

“So you knew this man?” The sin collector knew a falsehood when he heard one. He didn’t know what the man was withholding about this sin, but it would be worth something. “A pound, then.”

The man in fine clothes tisked, as though the price were too high. Still, he quickly shoved the pound note into the stranger’s cup, then turned the other way to show he wasn’t speaking to the collector.

The old man was used to this. He grabbed the rich man’s sleeve and muttered his words of prayer. Stretching as high as his hunched body could, he touched his fingers to the bare flesh above the man’s cravat and waited for the sins to rise up. Oily, inky vapors drifted out from the rich man’s nose, mouth and eyes. A mild stench of rotting cabbage rose up from his pores and mingled in the air before sinking down onto the old man and settling over his frame. The old man grunted in pain as another twist was added to his spine. The mild hunch in his shoulder became a pronounced bulge and he leaned more heavily against his cane.

The sin collector shuffled along, calling out his services. No one met his eyes. It was custom not to stare. A young man marred with soot, begged to have his sin of stealing cleared so that his soul would be clean enough for heaven once again. Individuals waited at a respectful distance for this new patron to leave before another stepped forward for his services.

The baker waited for a lull in the patronage. “What did you do to deserve such a sentence, old man?” He called out, wiping dusty fingers against his clothes.

“I committed no crime. It was simply my calling. Just as you have yours, baker. Have you a sin for me to collect?”

The baker shook his head, dark eyes sparkling. “No. I am an honest man. I have no need of your services.” He held out a roll from his basket.

The old man’s eyebrow quirked upward. “Is that so? If it isn’t, you’ve just added a lie to your soul—that’s only few pennies to remove.”

The baker patted his round belly and chuckled. He met the sin collector’s eyes. “You’ll get no sins out of me.”

The old man shuffled closer to accept the bread. A puff of dust from the baker’s clothes clouded up in the air. One paying close attention would have noticed the shimmer in the sediment of flour; a gold vapor that drifted up from his pores, from his breath, and circled the old man, as if trying to decide where to land. It settled in his eyes, the milky white cataracts disappearing.

The old man took in a deep breath, smiled and bowed his head in thanks.

Sarina Dorie has sold over 85 short stories to markets like Daily Science Fiction, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s IGMS, and Cosmos. Her novels include: SILENT MOON, DAWN OF THE MORNING STAR, and URBAN CHANGELING. You can find info about her short stories and novels on her website: www.sarinadorie.com

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