Thorns of Sacrilege — part one
… When the grimace of the bullet rain cultivating the soils around us quieted down for a moment, I tiredly opened my eyes and cast my pupils over the face sleeping peacefully in my lap. It had halted its long sighs a few moments ago. I did not want to witness another work of Death, so I played dead myself. I envied him. I reminisced the only other incident during my life where I myself longed to embrace death. Another life it was, extinguished and gone, just like this soulless body of my newest friend. Within the radius of exploding RPGs, which I learnt how to anticipate, and sniper rounds which had different sounds than heavy machine gun fire, I was the last one alive in a bunker of piled up bodies. The smell of death, the exploded lives and rot was sickening, it almost pushed me out into the open. My options were either asphyxiation by the scent of death itself, or valiantly provide my neighbors a target practice. And I shall be dubbed martyr. And my tribe would orchestrate the legend of me. Here lies a martyr, a son of our cancer — the curse of motherhood- who perished defending the land against its citizens. Stories will be told. Only one will live; often that which mentions my father’s religion. But in my people’s eyes I will be martyr, as per my epitaph. They will arrange a funeral, and pray before my carcass under a roof of God. If there is a God, I wonder if he’s hence mine or theirs. Are we the martyrs or the infidels? Given all the possibilities, the probability of me going straight to heaven according to the words of an ancient belief, were almost negligible. Death by scent it is.
These were my recollections of the last night I spent at war with everyone else and myself. After several nights of blackout, I woke up in a hospital, and was reborn into a world of fragile peace that won’t last. I was pondering the days of blood and un-shed tears while pouring another whiskey glass for my unannounced guest. Despite the enormous misery that accompanied his presence, and all the bludgeoning memories that he brought back, I was honestly a tad bit relieved that he asked for alcohol. My hidden joy that he’s given up his stance on minor sin was of an extreme significance to me, and I think he knew.
‘Do you still like burning paperplanes?’ he asked.
‘It was my way of resorting to pragmatism. My dreams of flying planes were impossible.’
‘I know’, he coughed and laughed. ‘You really wanted to be a pilot and we all kept your ambitions in line.’
‘It was kept in line alright.’
‘Do you think if you were born somewhere else, you would have made it? ‘
‘Do you wish you were born in some other country? Do you wish you’ve never met me?’
His tone changed. I knew we were about to talk about it. He sent me knocking on the gates of the abyss and peeking into it through a glory hole.
‘What’s done is done. No point in asking these rhetoric questions.’
I gave him a terse answer implying my unwillingness to reopen my wounds tonight. I’d much rather we finish this whiskey bottle and go our separate ways.
After a break of silence, he cried. First came down the one tear slowly rolling down his right cheek and I pretended not to have noticed it. It’s always the breaker of steel; that first tear. Then came a huge sigh, which nearly emptied the room of oxygen molecules, and he sobbed once. Then twice. And he broke down like feather. My awkwardness and recent inexperience with anything remotely emotional kept my indifference to what I’m seeing fully functional. I didn’t wish to say anything, even if I could. I didn’t feel like soothing his relentless crying or tapping his shoulder like brothers in arms did when in distress. I let him have his fit by himself and did not interfere with fake sympathy. I know that will definitely make him feel better when it’s over. Everyone needs to cry at some point. Crying is therapy. And if I were him, I’d want the same.
‘I kept it.. Inside.. me for.. Twentyfff.. ouryears.’ He slipped his words bravely in between uncontrolled sobbing. It all felt like we didn’t have much time left and he had to let it all out. ‘I couldn’t.. I cant tell them. I.. Cant talk… to anyone bout it. It’s all in me. Their blood runs in my head. And you. I am. I’m so sorry. Im so sorry.’
They used to call him ‘The Purifier’. He was a tall thin man with a long face and long slim fingers. His unwavering and irrevocable mental strength was the anchor of our small community. The Purifier’s religion knew not how to compromise in favor of modernization. Many years later when I came across the myth of Slenderman I had an immediate flashback to my childhood. The resemblance with the purifier was more than just physical, it was also metaphorical. I drew a faint smile on my face that whole day. I often considered the personality of man to be on par with the way he looked. Your perspective over the world and the way you react to it is the mold that shapes your features. I believe that someone who’s been through a similar league of hardship to yours will be able to recognize it through your eyes; the true windows to your soul.
I still vividly remember his two kids. They also had the same features, like they were made in his, and only his, image. It made me wonder if their mother’s genes were totally conquered and overshadowed by his dominance, or if she was a first cousin to him. Of course, I had no way of confirming my doubts for she was covered in a permanent black veil, from head to toe. A sign of absolute obedience to husband and God. Nonetheless, that still didn’t make her immune to the sexual jokes that our gang of barely-teenagers exchanged in the back alleys of the neighborhood, where we often convened, and conspired, and revealed secrets of contact with girls. At that age, being able to man up and send a few words to a female was a huge triumph over the other boys who fantasized about the same girls during the day and masturbated at night. This congregation always preceded a football match; if we actually agreed to overthrow our differences in skills and wants and managed to convince two boys to be goalkeepers. Sometimes, The Purifier’s kids visited our make shift field, where weed grew taller than ankles and pebbles bruised our feet, and watched us in jealousy — or at least that’s what the other players saw. I saw misery in their eyes and a need for attention. I saw a need to be recognized as part of us. They wanted to renounce their skin and be reborn as joyful boys who are entitled to a childhood. But there were no compromises in their household.
No matter who your parents were, it was harsh for all of us. I witnessed the monstrosity and brutality of a society that does not tolerate aspiration and demands absolute submission to a thousand years old code. Each one of us had to wage his own battles against his rebellious nature and slowly tame himself to fall in line. To be a good lad in the eyes of his elders. To be ready to get married at 20 and to choose the path of religion, a stable job, and the most beautiful wife and children. The expectations of our families were too high for us to entertain. Occasionally, we had to be reminded with the phrase ‘You’re totally spoiled — If my parents were yours, you would truly know what hardships we endured’, followed by the list of sacrifices that they made for us to be here today, showering in hot water and owning two pairs of shoes. The immense pressure that was laden upon us on a daily basis was enough to crush our dreams before they were even born. You are to support your parents when they’re of age, when they can’t wipe their own asses. You are to raise a family, of as many kids as possible. You are to get higher grades than your cousins and your neighbor’s children, or face the wrath of your angry mother when she comes back from a ladies gossip session. You are to be able to pay your bride’s worth in jewelry, wedding extravaganza, a house of your own, and a car that shines. We all failed our families.
The older we grew, the more frustrated and violently aggressive we became. During high school, we had just discovered how expendable we were. How small and unseen we will always be. We lived in a zone that was hugely underdeveloped and unrecognized by the government’s already corrupted system. The few times we were remembered, were once every four years during the parliamentary elections. Politicians, who were often of the same party color, flocked to us, bribing religious men to mention their names during prayers, and buying the balconies on higher floors to post their colored pictures. Their campaigns, of course, also included frequent promises of free education and a functional power grid. No one ever believed a word they said, and no one ever had faith in the system, but they voted for them anyway. No matter how substantial the amounts paid were, why reject it? It could buy a new school bag. In short, we were nobodies. A layer of dust that the hierarchy wished to wipe off their cardboard box.
And so we were introduced to the ouroboros of despair that suffocated the lives of our ancestors since the day they claimed independence. What independence? Independence from what? Our country was the most dependent on others, with our leaders licking the shoes of other presidents for a few extra years on payroll. The figure of a snake devouring its tail hanged like an ax above our lives reminding us of a recurrent life pattern that was entirely set up for us. It was inherited and passed along to us through the suffering of living; and having to live it because running away from your cradle is shameful. We were born with debt and a one way ticket to the mutual destination of underachievers. My early dreams of being a pilot soon proved futile after realizing how little to non-existent support I had from high school onward. It was the same for everyone. Nothing ever changed.
Between football matches, struggles for acquiring a living, and family pressure, we had conclusively built bridges among each others. I was friendly with everyone and they all told me stories that couldn’t be shared otherwise at that time. Samir, the hopeless romantic of our group had told me about his failed trials to contact Wael’s sister. Wael was the oldest and strongest in our midst and to be discovered in league with his sister meant your definite bone breaking. He also told me about that other girl that he followed and tried to converse with, but was greeted with the humiliating question ‘How old are you?’. I always knew Samir will end up either beaten to pieces for trespassing the borders of honor frequently, or severely depressed and unable to go on with a broken heart. Each one of my friends had something special that shapes his body and demeanor together. There was Khaled, the most elegant and modern of the bunch. He always knew exactly what to wear and when to wear it, and he made us all look outdated and outlandish. There was Bader, the clever boy with ambitions that exceeded our limit of imagination. His unmatched sharpness came at a price: he was never contempt with what he — with what we all — had. He knew things we didn’t, and read things we don’t understand and he kept himself exposed to foreign communities as if he longed to discover every social alternative in the country there is. His appearances were short and his interactions limited by the long curfew hours imposed by his extremely strict parents. Bader too told me secrets no one should know. He spoke to me of the time his father shaved his long hair which he loved so much, because he caught him peeking from his window at a neighbor’s bedroom. He recited to me the venomous words and insults that were thrown at him for missing the dawn’s prayer in the mosque. It never stopped there, indeed, it was often followed by a brutal beating. He spoke to me of the time his ruthless father knocked him out and then stomped his foot over his head on the marble floor. His skull resonated with an agonizing frequency and he felt the world flash before his eyes and change forever.These were our untold secrets. Almost everything else was widely known. The whole neighborhood actually witnessed his family’s violence at one point: One afternoon when he was walking a few steps behind his father, the ugly man suddenly turned around and knocked his kid down. Kid got up in astonishment, not knowing where to hide his embarrassment from everyone observing the scene, wishing the earth could swallow him right at that moment, only to be punched again, and again. Bader turned around, looked around, as if willing to leave everything behind and start running, but his father reminded him he had no other place to go, and scolded him to go straight home and wait for him there. I wished he left back then, but he only did when it was too late, and he was damaged beyond repair. The next day I had to ask him what happened. How did he provoke his father that much. Bader asked his father for permission to work part time to be able to afford an Internet connection so he could get better and faster research results. Sacrilege.
Then there was Ali. Ali held the special place in my heart. I later discovered he was an Amadat, which is a rival sect to ours, and I only knew because of the warnings we got from others about the bloody history of wars waged between the two sects. He was the most humble, pure and true friend I could ever find. I knew I could ask him for anything and he won’t falter. Our friendship was the beginning of my realization that the world was simply a pile of dirty hay I wish to burn one day.
“… but fear no evil my brethren. God, The Great, recognizes your devotion and shall reward you in the afterlife. We will ascend the seven skies, escorted by kind angels. And when the angels reach the gates, announcing your return to the heavens, your name will echo across the vast creations of God, and God upon hearing thy name, will thus command :That is my slave, bring him to me.
They weave. They conspire. While you, the bearers of absolute truths, and blessed souls that drank liquids from heavens, go to work everyday to feed young mouths and raise future soldiers. The enemies of Allah in every corner of the world, led by the Cruins and the Breets alike, will never rest and will never leave a stone unturned until the last true words of our Prophet, Allah’s prayers be upon him, be cleansed and removed from our souls. They fear us, brethren. They dread the undying flame in the hearts of us, the Onedeiters .
This earth belongs to us. The soil longs for the word of God, for everything is created by Allah for Allah. Let it not be forgotten, that our Prophet, Allah’s prayers be upon him, had promised us a grand and final victory over the Cruins in Halmeira. When trees and stones call upon our legions: Soldiers of Allah, a Cruin hides in my refuge, march forth and slay him.
But we will never be victorious, until we completely remove ourselves from sin. Until we free our communities from infidels, whether crusaders or blasphemers hiding in our veils. The Breets, the rejectors of true Onedeite, and their allies the Amadats, are insulting our Prophet’s wives and Prophet’s comrades whom he fought for and eternally loved. They thrive to conquer our regions and establish their disgusting state. There is no state but the Kalifat. There is no God but Allah. The fake Stimians who refused to believe the prophecy of Deit, Allah’s prayers be upon him, which was originally preached by our true Stimian, have allied themselves with the super powers of the world and brought their daily sins to our doorsteps. You only need to drive a few miles out of here to witness the imbalance and injustice that had befallen us by the government. Our society suffers neglect and indifference in the eyes of our elected leaders. The citizens of this infidel country, begotten by a non-Onedeiter law, are pissing over our praying rugs, while the national army protects them and ignores our hardships; our struggle to find the bread of today.
We are all alone. Only God, the strongest of allies, will never let go of us. Purify your souls. Renounce the devil and be prepared for a reckoning. Arm yourselves with submission and Du’a to Allah. Our day, which is not far from here, will come. And the call to arms is a must. Every man who is able to stand on his feet shall join Allah’s cause. Now join me in a Du’a.”
The purifier turned his back to a few hundred men, raised his hands high and started Friday’s Du’a. Every Friday, all the households in the vicinity of the mosque could hear his preaching on speakers. Of course, only women stayed home during Friday prayers. Me, my friends — who always glanced at each others and giggled as if there’s an ongoing inside joke — the little kids, and everyone with a penis on him must attend this weekly ceremony of death worship. Except Ali, the Amadat. Amadats had different religious rules that I never understood. They had a very closed community — an actual stronghold — a few blocks away from our neighborhood, where rumors say they possessed tanks and missiles and a huge arsenal left over for them by the Aegian army.
‘O God, be generous with your mercy upon us’ ‘Amin’
‘O God, protect Onedeiters from thy enemies’ ‘Amin’
‘O God, give us the privilege of witnessing your wrath, when it mercilessly befalls them’ ‘Amin’
‘O God, orphan their children, widow their wives, and let us capture their lands’ ‘Amin’
‘Allah, our savior on the mighty throne, our creator and master, we come for you in humble clothes and teary eyes, and on this holy day we only ask of you a death in your name. Our bodies will soak up the bullets of your enemies, and destroy their homes. Spare us the torment in the grave and the fires of hell. Spare us your devils in human form and the attachment to life on earth.’ ‘Amin’
And he cries every time. We know these words by heart. We know when he will start crying and when everyone else will start forcing a tear.
My playground consisted of many seven-story buildings all huddled up really close together. It was a huge compound that suffered a lot of electric and water outages. We lay at the very northern end of our town, and beyond us a road stretched long and far into the mountains. To the south there was a massive military outpost where they conducted training drills for new recruits. The Amadat territory embraced the western side. We rarely ever went there. My solitary refuge conquered the eastern side. I spent a lot of time on my balcony looking at the endless barren fields to the east and it filled my bones with an exquisite numbness. It was really a very peculiar terrain of spiritual significance, which no one else ever cared to pause and consider. A thin country dirt road split the fields in half and it all looked like an abandoned farmland reclaimed by nature, and in the middle of it all rose an ancient tree, like the lone survivor of a nuclear catastrophe.
Just before the several fronts war, I was having a recurring dream of being that tree. It was the beginning of a long journey with sleep paralysis that still persists today. I saw myself vividly possessed by that tree, or was it I that possessed the tree? I felt its branches as my own hands, and my feet extended into beautiful red soils like roots. I breathed in the purest airs through its leaves as my senses exponentially strengthened and I could almost hear and feel the pains of every sleeping soul. One of them wailed and screamed louder than most. I could still hear her when I woke up in the morning; her moaning echoed in my head.
I didn’t know what all of this meant. I’m not the type to give in to myths and the supernatural. The only reason I was still attending prayers was because I feared for my own life. Being an apostate was obviously the highest level of sin, and it was punishable by death, so I kept my thoughts to myself and let my double personality invade every aspect of my life. This caused a very deep trench between me and my reality. Implications were harsh, as I grew up in terrible silence and tried to avoid confrontation as much as possible. In turn, I neglected myself and destroyed whatever tried to reason with me, and I got used to being passive with a very low profile.
Shortly after I finished my high school exams, I received the shocking telltale that was going to change the course of many lives. I was having a beer with Samir on a late afternoon and he seemed to be so jittery like he’s trying to get rid of a worm in his butt. I asked him about it and he hesitated at first, but knowing he could trust me, he spilled everything he had. I wish he didn’t.
‘I’ve been sleeping with his daughter’.
‘Whose?’ I asked.
‘Sheikh Abdulrahman, our purifier of sin.’
I almost chocked on my beer. ‘What?’
He gazed towards their window like a mother mourning a child.
‘Wait what? His daughter? He doesn’t have a daughter.’ I continued with astonishment.
‘He does. A very pretty seventeen year old girl. She’s never been seen on the streets is all. Everyday she wakes up earlier than anyone, gets in her cab and goes to the institute of religious sciences, then comes back in the same cab. And that’s it.’
‘But how did you know? How are you sleeping with her? Aren’t you worried about losing your head already?’
‘Yes I am. We believe she’s pregnant.’
I was speechless. I tried to calmly comprehend what’s being told to me.
‘She’s been ditching her school and coming to meet me at my dead grandparents’ house. I stole the keys from my father. Things got heated between us a few months ago, and I took her virginity through unprotected sex. She’s stopped having her period since then.’
‘That doesn’t necessarily mean she’s pregnant yet. But what’s your plan if she was?’
‘I’m leaving in two days. I found a job in the capital. Please don’t tell anyone. My parents think that I found a job and I’m moving, but I gave them a fake address.’
‘So you’re running away. What will happen to her?’
‘I don’t know. But she asked me to leave. She said she has a plan that will keep her alive. But I must disappear and never come back.’
I didn’t know how to feel about this. Part of me was sad I wasn’t going to see him again, but to be honest, I didn’t count him as a friend I’d feel bad to lose. I was also angry that she’s going to suffer for their mistake alone, while he finds himself a new life. As always, I kept my feelings to myself and avoided a pointless argument.
Three days later, Samir was gone. Our friends were confused, and they asked me and his parents if we knew anything. His parents told the lie that he told them, and I said nothing. I kept myself busy and my mind occupied with college coming next fall. I had to figure out how to afford my own studies. Samir and his nonsense were the least of my concerns. I was still curious about how she was going to handle it, and how did she have the courage to fall in love in the first place. Life was full of cliche answers to my questions: Love is blind, love is stupid. But I wasn’t the one to be taken by overused quotes and melodrama.
One week after Samir’s great escape, I woke up at my dad’s loud chattering with mum. It was the very early hours, he must’ve just came back from dawn’s prayer in the mosque. I tiptoed into the kitchen then made my presence known.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked him.
‘A group of Amadat boys raped Sheikh Abdulrahman’s daughter.’
War is the hand of divinity. Holy-wars. Divine-Wars. The lie precedes the crime. A lie tongued by the first pagans, breaking down totems of wood and stone for their own and true totems. A crime ushered by the first imbalance of power and dreams of immortality. The lie precedes the crime. A teenager trying to protect herself and her lover from the wrath of God, will show the world exactly where it hurts.
There is hate, everywhere, emanating from our veins that long for a better afterlife; the only consolation of our disappointments, and our feelings of crushing injustices. We ache and long for an omnipotent being to acknowledge our pains and look down upon us with mercy. A never-happening afterlife is the scariest concept known to man. Will our deeds go unnoticed, and our suppressors unpunished? Are we not meeting again with our loved ones, to whom we dedicated and ended our lives? We all need a shapeless lap that will embrace our tears.
Not me. I am not a hero, and I don’t wish to be one. I desire nothing than being left alone. If I will be able to overcome my enormous anxiety and gather enough strength to tell everyone that it was Samir’s child, and I knew and I let him go, the girl will definitely be executed with her child, along with Samir’s entire family. I chose the coward’s way out and I buried my head in the sand like an ostrich. ‘Let me wait it out. It will pass.’ I told myself. The lives at stake seemed more important to me at that time than exposing a lie. I went on with my life and tried to get over it. But I didn’t take into consideration the entombed desire for vengeance between the two sects. A mountain of gasoline was built up over the years since the first civil war, awaiting the strike of a match. It was either the generation of war dies out and we live in peace and forgiveness, or we give them a chance to rekindle their purgatory and pass their blood pact to our generation.
It was almost time for another round of parliamentary elections and we could feel the tension rising everywhere. The politicians in our town heard about the incident and their campaigns were fueled by religious propaganda. They were leeches feeding on the emotions of the poor, and this time, the poor were scared of each other and they needed protection. No one wanted to relive the horrors of being overpowered by the zealots of the other sect. Thus began the race to arms, and surprisingly, the politicians delivered on their promises. They saw a great potential for an everlasting loyalty by arming both sides and letting them succumb into muddy years. Suddenly, everyone had at least one weapon in their bedrooms. Loaded and ready to kill. Protection, they said. Furthermore, ammunition were secretly smuggled by the tons. It came in the form of political speeches, religious propaganda, and live rounds of bullets. Anyone who lived there at the time could see the violence coming from miles away. It was just a matter of who lights the match first.
Sometimes, I daydream about having absolute power over the entire world for just one day. I start plotting the path and the time line of my entire day as World Monarch, and it’s always the same. If I were God. In the morning I’d collect the snakes disguised as servants for the good of their people, and hang them high in town squares. I’d let them hang till eternity. Yes, I’d hang them until flies and worms devour their flesh and the noose around their neck dissolves with the rain of many winters. My afternoon however, will be dedicated for burning those who abused my words, their God, as beating war drums to replenish their graves with gold, and their bellies with human meat. Yes, there will be violence. But my violent day will only precede an awaited heaven on earth. For earth is heaven for those who dare to daydream.
My story as a criminal started with the torching of a mosque. We woke up one day to the wails of women lamenting the destruction of their dome of faith. The purifier claimed that he received a phone call right after waking up to his mosque in flames, and the caller was an Amadat leader. He claimed to have been threatened to stay inside the sewer pipeline like the rat he is, or there will be grave consequences. This story enraged everyone and armed groups of men started popping up in every corner like they were preparing for an invasion. In my head I was laughing out loud at their predicament, and this made me deeply question my morality later on. I shouldn’t be amused by the prospects of violence, be it deserved or undeserved. But my opinions are my own, and they are not to be shared.
Four legged fur beings with guns, who sometimes never used one actually, were all looking serious, angry, and scared at the same time. Burning down their place of worship completely annihilated their sense of reason; wisdom was gone, and in its place, there was yearning for a clandestine vengeance. The national army and the police were nowhere to be seen. It all looked like a poorly executed play by the master of puppets. Add to that the fact that their rape wounds and body marks were still fresh and they felt deeply humiliated like every man in the vicinity was raped himself. Some families fled the area into their old houses in the mountains, others stayed for they had no where else to go. My family was one of the poorest and I saw the sad look on my father’s face as he helplessly tried to calm down my mother, who was rightfully scared for my younger siblings. I wasn’t scared myself as I was lost. My suicidal tendencies appeared a long time before that, and death never scared me anymore. I told myself I should step up and tell the truth about Samir before it’s too late, but what was I supposed to say and to whom?
Winter is my solace. Two days after the rekindling fire, the soil under my tree was wet with the first autumn rain. I watched the progression of events with my eyes peeled open towards the purifier. I wanted to catch him alone, and simply walk up to him with my confession. It was judgment day and people queued up for their verdict. That afternoon, we saw a white rusty SUV with black tinted windows, making its way through the buildings and parking right under Ali’s balcony. It all happened in a flash, like we were watching a director working a film sight. Four doors opened and six men wearing masks and holding onto the most advanced rifles I’d ever seen, quickly hit the ground and went up the building. Coincidentally, or purposefully, the purifier was watching them nearby. I knew he was cooking something wicked like his face. A few moments later I heard the screams and wails of a woman and it felt like a siren in my head. Ali’s family was immediately evacuated out of their home, with their faces bludgeoned and their clothes torn. The men then torched their house and told them to go back to where they belonged. It was a scene of grief and loss beyond loss. The men of the house tried to cover up the bodies of their sister and mother, and walked away limping, crying, and cursing. I slowly walked towards Ali, who saw me coming and asked me to stop. It was obvious he wanted to get away from there as soon as possible, and I let him go. Instead, I walked up to the purifier, and intently, mockingly, told him about Samir and his daughter. His eyes started flickering like a load of ash from the burning house infiltrated his eyes, but he kept calm. Didn’t say a word. He just gazed one more time at the disgraced family, then headed back home feeling his collateral shame.
Later that evening, me and what’s left of the neighborhood gang gathered up in our usual spot to secretly drink a few beers. One needn’t be brilliant to underline our doomed future; it was clear in the eyes of everyone. During the calm of sunset, we heard a whistle in the air, and two seconds later there was a terrorizing bang right between the buildings. Some windows were shattered and we were up on our feet pretending to be men. We ran towards the bang, afraid of what we would discover there. Thankfully, no one was harmed, but there was broken glass and a hole in the wall to the side of a building. It was an RPG fired from afar, intending to cause damage.
The warning was clear. The news of Ali’s family being humiliated reached the Amadats, and they were prepared more than ever. The event ushered the start of colossal killing.
End of Part one.