They gathered in a circle, their feet sinking into the muddy ground at the centre of the clearing. Overhead, clouds loomed, as if closing in to hear the passing of the judgement.
“Brethren, it is a dark day,” said Marita. “Once again, the Lord has punished us with this tempest. Do you not see the fruits of your doings? Must we keep suffering for all our sins?”
She glared at the group of wretched individuals who hung their heads as she spoke.
“Unclean we are; unclean, pitiful things. You leave me no choice. Offerings must be given, more sacrifices must be made.”
In the centre of the group, Lorna was listening dutifully. But in her chest, a weighty breath bounded about and she could hold it no longer.
“How can we have sinned?” she blurted. “Do we not do everything you ask of us?”
Marita’s arm shot out like an arrow.
“How dare you question God’s judgement?”
For a moment, Lorna faltered as all eyes turned on her. But her anguish was unabated.
“We have nothing left, can’t you see?” she replied, clutching at her ragged clothing. “Why would a just God want us to live this way, in the dirt?” This last word, she hurled, and it echoed about the clearing like a thunderclap.
Before Marita could respond, another member of the group spoke up.
“Yeah, what have we done?” said Victor from behind curtains of white, matted hair. “Everyday, I work the fields. Anything that’s harvested I share with the villagers. I’ve never taken anything for myself, only given, yet still you say I’ve sinned.”
“Behold these blasphemers,” bellowed Marita, throwing her arms wide. “They choose to go against the one true word. Tell me, brethren; what punishment should befall them before they bring about even greater sufferance?”
But now, a steady murmur was passing amongst the group as others voiced their own grievances. Marita continued to declare and gesticulate, but her commandments were drowned out as collective anger boiled over into hysteria.
With gnashing teeth and wild eyes, the mob advanced on Marita. Her screams were brief as a hail of hands and feet fell upon her body. When she no longer resisted the blows, the crowd erupted in jubilation.
Lorna danced among her fellow villagers, as they clasped each other by the arms and celebrated their actions. Despite the dark skies, she looked to them, thanking the heavens for an end to their misery.
Once the excitement had died down, the villagers looked again at the ravaged body of their former leader lying on the ground. Lorna stood with them, waiting for some sense of righteousness to emerge, a sign that justice had been served.
“We’ve done it. We’re free!” she cried, grabbing the sleeve of her nearest neighbour. But her words seemed hollow and out of place. A few others echoed her cry, but their jubilations also fell flat, like a summer fete in a rainstorm.
Lorna let her hand fall by her side as the last whispers of joy left her. Then there was only the sound of the wind and the beating of her heart.