THE WEIGHT OF SIN

This old man, he played one…Oh, and his power compels thee.

Flora opened the screen door for her guest.

The front door was already open, as it was getting hot and muggy toward the end of June. It was also open due to the fact that she had been expecting her guest for a while now, a little over three hours, in fact.

The old man that stood before her was supposed to be over a hundred if the rumors were true. Nevertheless, those rumors were well-grounded, because he was a withered old thing whose dark-brown skin was so wrinkled that Flora figured it had the texture of an old boot.

This man wore a black preacher’s outfit, though she knew he was not any kind of preacher she had ever met before. He had a pair of dark shades over his eyes, the spectacles large and round in the glass, and on his bald head was a fine black boater hat made of beaver felt rather than the traditional stiff sennit straw such hats were normally woven from. In his withered right hand was a straight black wooden cane topped by a silver serpent’s head, the serpent’s mouth open to showcase two large silver fangs.

His outfit, all in all, along with his age, shone him an aura of both spiritual darkness and venerable respect.

“You must be Flora,” said the old man in a confident tone. “It is a pleasure to meet you, young lady, though it’s a shame it’s under these circumstances.”

Flora was nearing fifty, so being called “young lady” sparked in her a twinge of confusion, but in comparison to the old man she had made an emergency call to, she was a toddler. This man had to be at least twice her age.

“Let me help you in,” she said with a vocal urgency.

“No, no,” said the old man as he walked into her living room on his own accord. “I can move about just fine…Now…where is the young man in desperate need?”

“Tavon is in his old bedroom,” said Flora. “He’s taken something, I know it. It’s like he’s asleep but he’s not at the same time. Sometimes he says things, but he’s delirious. He’s not making any sense.”

“Then show me the way,” said the old man. “However, I will need some more information to work with before I can do anything. Fill me in, Miss…”

“Flora,” she replied. “Just follow me, and you’ll see, Mr…uhhh…What should I call you?”

“Folks call me Elijah the Sin Walker,” said the old man matter-of-factly. “But you can just call me Elijah. That’ll do just fine.”

Flora had honestly thought that name, “Elijah the Sin Walker,” was just a figure from a folktale, an old African American folktale, something that her mother had heard from her grandmother, but apparently there was more fact than fiction to her late grandma’s tales than she had taken into account.

Flora had called her aging mother to ask for help with Tavon, and the older woman had pointed her in the direction of a supposed myth, but now that myth was an actual reality, because the literal old man from the story was now following her to her son’s old bedroom.

The only thing she knew about this “Elijah the Sin Walker” was that his religious practice was not something like New Orleans Voodoo, or Haitian Vodou, or even Jamaican Obeah; it was some kind of faith healing, though she did not know the exact details of said practice, nor had she ever heard of such a thing outside of her own family circle.

Nevertheless, the old man was here, and he’d arrived fairly quickly, considering that he lived two-and-a-half-hours away. He must have gathered himself immediately after receiving the call, and Flora came to the only conclusion that his immediate response was because this “Elijah the Sin Walker” had known her grandmother, so it was a personal matter for him; it had to be.

Even so, she was going to follow his instructions to the letter. Flora did not trust the official help offered to the public by the State of Georgia, so there would be no 911 call, no call to any psychiatric facility, and certainly no call to the police. She was afraid that something would go terribly wrong with any of these people, and Tavon might end up dead by the end of the day because of them.

“He abandoned his classes this week and came home from college,” explained Flora. “Tavon’s always been so studious, so I knew something was wrong right away. When he showed up at the door, I thought, ‘Maybe he’s just burnt out,’ but no, he was talking crazy as soon as he walked in.”

“Uh, huh…Uh, huh,” responded the old man.

Elijah followed her by use of his cane, the solid stick thumping upon the old wooden floor as he stopped to stand by her in front of Tavon’s room.

“What was he saying?” he asked.

“Something happened to him at school,” replied Flora. “I don’t know what exactly, but he came home talking about how, ‘He could see it all so clearly now,’ and how, ‘He had seen Hell, looked into the fires there, and seen the damned.’ I think he’s on something, or he’s coming down from something.”

“So why did you call me?” asked the old man.

His shaded gaze looked upon her in expectation of an answer, but she didn’t really have one to give, at least, not one he wanted to hear. The truth was that she didn’t want her son to get arrested for doing drugs, and in his current delirious state, he was defenseless to any questioning that might come his way.

But there was something about this “Elijah the Sin Walker” that made her not want to lie, so she decided to just tell him the truth.

“I…I don’t want the law involved,” she said carefully. “I don’t know what he’s done, but he believes he’s going to Hell for some reason, and all he talks about is seeing the damned and hearing them call his name…I…I just can’t trust anyone else with this…Please…I just want my son to be okay.”

“Let us have a look, then,” said Elijah.

She opened the door to Tavon’s old bedroom and ushered him in.

The young man was laying on his bed beneath the covers, muttering to himself. His eyes were shut, but he squeezed them shut even tighter and grimaced as he cried out with a loud, “No!,” shivering as if freezing from some terrible chill.

Flora could not stand to see her boy this way, and she sensed the old man knew this.

“He is definitely on something,” said Elijah. “Have you checked his pockets?”

“N…No,” stammered Flora. “I got him to come to his room and lay down on his bed, but that was the best I could do. He’s been here this whole time, but he doesn’t seem to be doing any better…Please, can’t you do something?”

“I have seen this before,” nodded the old man. “Believe it or not, I’ve seen the same thing with your granddaddy, Floyd. I believe I know what is going on here, but I need to look around for some proof of my suspicions.”

The old man was truly old if he’d treated Flora’s grandfather, Floyd. Floyd had passed away thirty years ago, though he’d only been sixty at the time.

“Check his pockets,” ordered Elijah. “Normally, I would check his coat or jacket, but it’s too hot this time of year for that. Also, if he’s come home from educating, then he might have a backpack or something like that. These college kids have access to all kinds of drugs, but I need to be sure.”

Flora nodded as she pulled back the covers over her son. She searched his right jeans pocket as her boy shivered and shook in his delirious state, and her left-hand fingers pulled forth a small plastic baggie a moment later.

She held up the small baggie for closer inspection. Inside it were a couple of pieces of what looked like crumbling stems of brown-and-white dried mushrooms.

“As I suspected,” said the old man. “He’s gotten himself into the magic mushrooms.”

Flora turned to her elderly guest for advice, because she was finding herself in a state of near panic. She was already beside herself with motherly worry.

“So, what can be done?” she asked. “Should I take him to the hospital anyway? Did he overdose?”

“No,” said the old man in curt reply. “He doesn’t need a hospital.”

“Is there anything you can do?” she asked, desperation in her voice. “What should I do?”

“I can help you,” nodded Elijah. “The boy has seen himself the truth, just like your granddaddy had seen it so many years ago. Some people are born with the burden to see the things people should not see, to see the truth inside themselves, but the truth is a bitter pill to swallow, so they either go crazy, or they learn to live with it.”

He nodded once to her in what she assumed to be recognition of his own belief, but honestly?…it all sounded crazy to her. Still, she had brought him here because she was desperate, and desperate people were willing to do anything, even believe in something crazy, so she listened to the old man with rapt attention, hanging on his every word.

“Now some people, they’re born with the burden, but it’s stunted, locked away,” continued Elijah. “For those people, like your grandfather and your boy, it takes a strong drug to see it, like the magic mushrooms, the peyote, or the ayahuasca…but it takes a soul time to learn how to deal with the truth. You can’t just force it on yourself if you’ve never had the sight.”

“What does that mean?” asked Flora in nervous reply. “I don’t understand.”

“It means Tavon’s sins are weighing heavily upon him,” explained the old man. “Now, I’m used to walking out sins that eat away at people’s consciences, but they turn out to be petty, minor things with no bite…but something must be awful wrong for him to be seeing the flames of perdition with the sight…Oh, yes…Something is awful wrong with your boy; that much I can say.”

“No!” cried Tavon. “No! Keep away! Stay back! Don’t come near me!”

Flora covered her shaking, shivering son back up with his blankets and then hugged his head, pressing her right cheek to his clammy forehead, her own dark eyes welling up with tears.

“Momma’s here, baby!” she cried. “I’m here!”

She held him for a few more seconds before releasing him. She stood, wiped at her dark eyes, and looked toward her elderly guest for help.

“Please…” she begged. “Please, help him…”

Elijah nodded once.

“I will force out his sin,” he said firmly. “I will force it out, but once I do, it doesn’t just go away. It goes walking. Someone else must take it upon themselves, or it will return to Tavon. That person must willingly take on the sin of another, or the sin will return to the original owner of the sin. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said Flora as she wiped away at her remaining tears.

“Then do you accept this boy’s sin?” asked the old man.

There was no other answer to this question but the obvious, and there was no moral or mental struggle over that answer, either.

“Yes,” replied Flora without hesitation. “I will. I do.”

“Good,” said Elijah. “But first, a warning.”

“What?” asked Flora. “What is it?”

“The sin won’t just come to you willingly,” said the old man. “You have to catch it, and it won’t just let you. You have to force it into yourself, or it will return to your boy. Do you understand?”

At this point, she didn’t care what had to be done. All of this sounded like pure fantasy, but she would try it anyway if it meant saving her son without involving the authorities. Tavon would lose his scholarship if he were arrested for drugs, and once he was in jail, she’d never get him out. That was just the way the system worked.

“I understand,” she nodded.

“Once you have taken on the boy’s sin, it is yours from then on,” said Elijah. “That means whatever it is that holds him so, it will hold you instead.”

“I…understand,” said Flora uncertainly. “I…I’ll do it. I just need my boy to get better.”

“Good,” said the old man. “Then let us begin.”

He motioned for her to step around to the foot of Tavon’s bed, and she readily complied. He then stepped past her with a tap, tap of his ebon cane on the wooden floor below and shut fast Tavon’s bedroom door.

“I will drive the sin out toward you,” he said firmly, “but you must be quick to catch it. Understand?”

“Yes,” replied Flora.

She was ready for anything at this point.

“Then we shall begin,” he said firmly.

The old man walked back toward the side of the bed and raised both hands, his black cane held high in the air at a downward angle.

“I call forth the seed of the forbidden fruit!” he said in a loud, firm voice. “Come forth, oh child of the serpent!”

The daylight streaming through the window darkened as thunder rolled outside. Flora knew this to be a coincidence—it had to be—but her adrenaline spiked anyway as a cold fear wrapped its dark arms around her.

“No!” cried Tavon. “No!”

Her son jerked and spasmed in his bed, and Flora moved forward to help him, but Elijah waved her back with his serpent-topped cane. She reluctantly stayed put as the old man went back to his performance of ritual, whatever that was going to be.

“I call forth the seed of the forbidden fruit!” said Elijah once more. “Come forth, oh child of the serpent! The flaming sword turns you!”

Lightning visibly struck outside, and thunder rolled. The room was darker now, as if the light inside were being sucked out through the window or just absorbed into the walls.

“No!” cried Tavon again. “NO!”

His head turned left and right and then left and right again as he shook and shivered under his covers.

A roaring of wind picked up around the room, a rush of something supernatural that spooked Flora and caused her to tremble in fear.

“This is a powerful sin!” yelled Elijah. “I do not know what your boy has done, but this is a powerful sin!…But it shall not defy the will of God! It cannot defy the will of God!…I call forth the seed of the forbidden fruit! Come forth, oh child of the serpent! The flaming sword turns you! You are forced from the Garden Gate!”

“NO!” screamed Tavon. “NOOOOO!”

“The flaming sword turns you!” cried Elijah. “You are forced from the Garden Gate! Begone from this boy! The flaming sword turns you! Begone from the Garden Gate!”

Flora trembled as the old man’s silver-serpent-topped cane glowed with a red light, specifically the serpent’s narrow, beady eyes, those eyes beaming two bright pinpoints in a steadily growing darkness around the room, and then his cane burst into flames, terrible, orange flames with an equally terrible accompanying heat.

Her son jerked once as if being pulled up by the chest by an unknown force, then twice, and then a third time, higher and higher each time, and then the light in the room was extinguished altogether, all except for the line of flame produced by Elijah’s onyx-wood cane.

Flora backed away as a monstrous figure formed before her. This figure, this monstrous thing, was of a vague humanoid shape, but it was made of a crimson light, a vermillion glow of ambiguous features, just a gorilla-like body, a glowing lump for a head, and stocky limbs to it, but it was covered in bright-orange spikes, decorated with that danger, an orange glow of molten, sharp, and terrible stakes pointing from it in all directions.

There was no time to think on anything. There was no time to stall out due to the conclusion that all of this was real, not a delusion, because her son’s life was on the line, so Flora reacted without heed to her own safety.

“Leave my son alone!” she screeched as she impaled herself upon the monstrous light before her.

She screamed from a burning, horrendous pain as she struggled with the creature. They stood in the darkness, arms locked in a wrestler’s stance, but grappling with it was pure, unmitigated torture. Touching this thing was like gripping a glowing-hot iron, but Flora would not let go, even as the creature pulled backwards to escape her, to go back inside her only child.

“No, you don’t!” she screeched. “You don’t! You won’t!”

This thing tried to shake her off, rocking her to the right and then to the left, but she would not let go. She would not surrender when her son’s life was at stake, even as the stakes upon it impaled her with searing pain, though they left no physical wounds.

It reached up with both glowing-hot, amorphous hands and gripped her head. She screamed as a burning lava flow of pain reached into her brain, but this thing had clearly underestimated her will and determination, because she now had it exactly where she wanted it.

“You…will…not…have…HIM!” screeched Flora.

She held tightly upon its arms as it jerked backwards with each forceful word she laid down upon it, but each jerk backwards was met with equal resistance, because she would not let go; she would never let go if it meant saving her beloved son.

She screamed from the pain as she fully embraced it around its now unprotected, spiky chest, screaming shrill and high and terribly loud as she did, screaming from that molten, unbearable pain. She squeezed hard, squeezing with all her might, drawing it into herself, into her own body, screaming the entire time she was impaled upon those unforgiving molten spikes.

She felt something in it give, and then that pain, that terrible, unyielding, and torturous agony, subsided until it was nothing more than a bad memory. Its crimson light died as it was drawn into her completely, and then daylight, wonderful and soothing late daylight, spilled back into the room.

Flora bent over and placed her hands on her knees, resting them over the green floral print of her white summer dress. She was suddenly exhausted from her otherworldly duel, but she had won, and that was all that mattered.

The storm outside had evaporated, disappearing as quickly as it had come.

“It is finished,” said the old man.

He lowered his hands along with his black cane, but the ebony wood of it was no longer in flames. It appeared pristine, untouched by the fires that had previously surrounded it.

Flora gathered her wits and her breath as she stood upright to study her boy.

Tavon was asleep now, a peaceful sleep, his breathing rhythmic and steady, and she could tell that he was going to be okay.

“He is free,” said Elijah. “He will have no memory of his sins, nothing to hold him down, nothing to bind him to the fires of Hell, but be warned…That burden belongs to you now.”

Flora nodded once in understanding, but that warning didn’t matter. Only one thing mattered, and that had already been accomplished…Her boy was saved.

**********

Flora swept her right hand over Tavon’s short-cut, curly black hair.

He adjusted his backpack and shot her an annoyed look over the action.

“Mom!” he said in audible irritation. “I’m fine.”

“I just want you to look nice for school,” she said unhappily.

“I know,” he sighed, “but I’m not in junior high anymore. I can take care of myself.”

“I know,” said Flora with a sad smile. “It’s just…make sure and come back occasionally, okay?”

“I’ll be seeing you over break,” he said quickly. “Seriously, though, I really have to go. I’ve been here for three days. I’ve already missed too much class. I’ve got to get back.”

“Okay, hon,” she said softly. “I’ll let you go, but you’d better give your old momma a kiss.”

He bent down and kissed her gently upon her right cheek, and then he took his leave, opening up the screen door to step out onto the porch.

“Love you!” he said as he swiftly walked to his car.

“Love you, too!” she called out in return.

She watched him go, and once his car was out of sight, she quietly closed the front door and walked back to her bedroom, because there was something pressing that demanded her attention.

There was something eating at her, something she needed to do. It had been eating at her for two days now, ever since Tavon had fully recovered, and she didn’t want to do it, but it called to her, ate at her from the inside out, and she could no longer ignore it.

Flora sat down in her desk chair to turn her attention toward her aging computer. She went online and started browsing through the various dating sites in search of an interesting hookup. She started thinking of exactly how she was going to build a profile that would attract the right kind of person, the kind of person she was looking for.

It had been some time since she had dated, and that was back in the day, a time without all of this modern convenience, so creating a profile was going to take a little work. Even so, she had already constructed a picture for online use, so that little step had been taken care of.

“Let’s see,” she said quietly to herself. “White man, age thirty…attorney at law. Looking for a woman who is faithful, kind, and…appreciates the arts…Yes, that sounds good…”

She constructed her profile until she was satisfied with it. Now it was time to look for a suitable mark.

She scrolled through the various pictures of young available women until she settled upon one attractive young beauty in particular. Yes, this young lady would do quite nicely.

Flora gave herself a grim smile. She couldn’t wait to see this upper-middle-class, harlot trash begging for mercy as she cut the little diva open in the most sensitive places, torturing the spoiled little princess to death with a variety of different knives…Oh, yes…It was going to be…entertaining.

The Weight of Sin Copyright © 2021 Matthew L. Marlott

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