The Crimson Pact Volume 2 (2011)
“Body or Soul” is a direct sequel to “In the Shadow of Metéora” by Chanté McCoy featured in The Crimson Pact Volume 1.
Body or Soul
by Chanté McCoy
An earthquake rips through my body. I gasp, my breath taken away. Never before have I felt such pain. I’m afraid it will rip me apart. Is the time already so near? Will I find Darrius Papadas before the blessed event?
The pain recedes. Slowly, my lungs work again, and I push off from the wall of the tall rocky tower to continue down the etched steps, each footfall hesitant until I feel the stone beneath me. The stairs are too steep for my short legs. They shake. And my mind still spins from being sent from my home atop the mountain and the vision of Deacon Stefanou lying bloody at the feet of the Reverend Abbot. How quickly the world changed after years of sameness.
The village, my destination, sprawls in the shadowed triangular plain below. From above, with their white walls and red clay-tiled roofs, the houses look like a cluster of square-cut revani almond cake. My empty stomach gurgles at the thought. I’m thirsty too from the climb down. I suck the insides of my cheeks.
It feels like I’ll never reach the bottom, though I near the canopy of sycamores and laurels reaching toward the sky. On the narrow stairway with its long drop, I feel suspended between the ground and the open blue above, an odd purgatory bridging heaven and earth. The winter wind sliding around the mountain side threatens to push me earthward. At its calmest, the wind chills me, billowing my loose tunic cinched at the waist. My thin leggings do little against the cold. I wish I’d had time to grab my heavy cloak.
Another tremor ripples through me. Not as bad as before. I stay upright, although it is harder with the growing child inside. No longer a quickening, it pushes out my sides and kicks and shoves within. When it stretches, my skin grows taut, and bumps rise and fall along my left side. I walk lopsided, increasingly hunched from the sharing of my body with another.
I should have told the Abbot about the baby. I know that. But, when I first realized it, I was scared. What could I say? Was it blasphemy or a blessing? I couldn’t decide. I can read the Holy Book, taught by the monks. I studied it at night, after my chores, hoping to find a clue as to what was happening. The scriptures that rang true, speaking to what can only be a miracle, were the stories of Mary and the miraculous conception of Christ. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had also visited me.
Before I approached the Abbot to tell him all, time ran out. He sent me fleeing from the monastery. Now I wonder whether I will ever see home again.
Finally, I walk in the shade of the trees, where the steep Metéora spire slopes gently to meet the ground. It is peaceful. No more gusting wind. I’m grateful to leave the narrow rocky path and touch dirt. Broad, solid earth. I almost stop to kiss it.
When I leave the deep shade, olive trees appear, their trunks growing gnarled and twisted in the sun-drenched spots. I’m happy to find them. As it is winter, their ripened green and black fruits hang heavy on the branches. My mouth waters at the sight.
I eat them greedily. After ten minutes of olives from branch to mouth, I collect two handfuls and sit down. I need to rest. My short legs are tired. My side aches. And I’m still thirsty.
Sitting back, I look up the sheer sides of the mountain towering above me. From here, it looks like a fat thumb pushed up from the earth. I can see the stone wall of my home on the summit, seemingly planted from heaven above. From atop, I’ve been looking down my whole life. Strange now to be at the bottom.
Perhaps I sit too long and sitting is uncomfortable to the child. Or I need a reminder to keep moving. I do not know. The earthquakes begin again. One after another, with no rest in between, a sensation of fire and stabbing radiating throughout me. I scream. Then blackness saves me. A break from the pain.
(read the rest in The Crimson Pact Volume 2)