by River Rivers
$7.25 an hour doesn’t pay the bills.
At least it couldn’t when Tully was a school Janitor. Years passed since those days. He had since moved up in the world, finding respectable work in his trade. His current employer, Immaculate Worship Church, hired him $15.00 at full time with all the included benefits. It was dirty, repetitive, thankless work, but it allowed him to support a large family and spend time with them too.
This morning Tully and his trainee Henry weren’t upkeeping the church grounds, they would be taking the company van out to the worship’s privately owned warehouse. Tully was surprised the boy was ever hired. Henry was a self-proclaimed Protestant, who believed Mary wasn’t an eternal virgin and had natural born children before Christ. Tully reminded Henry when he began to keep his beliefs private. The Immaculate Worship didn’t tolerate such hearsay among its affiliates. Tully learned fast to keep his thoughts to himself. He’d be fired if he told the Elders that the idea of virginity is sexist and promotes slut shaming.
“Be respectful when entering this place,” Tully warned Henry upon arrival. “It’s on these site grounds that the Vestal apprentices who failed to keep their hymens intact before they age to thirty are buried alive under stones to preserve the order’s sanctity.” The Vestals, also called the Roman Women, were virgin priestesses honored among the Immaculate Elders. They attended to the many properties and practices of the church.
The boy nodded his head as he listened, reassuring him with an, “I will, I will.”
They gathered their cleaning supplies into a cart. When allowed inside the warehouse the two Janitors were made welcome by several Vestals. Practicing nudists, the vestals saw the naked form as a non-sexual entity. They were permitted no clothing when performing duties. The common vestal was known for their white cotton masks and pearl jewelry. Their nakedness made Henry uncomfortable. Tully, a married man, took no issue with this and was used to their eerie presence. Only a Lead Mary was allowed to speak on the group’s behalf. Any other Vestals were wraiths that waited in silence, otherwise, they moved about their tasks almost unseen.
The Lead Mary, a tall woman who Tully recognized, greeted them with standard prayers and asked them to drink from the cups her apprentices offered. It was ‘Elders Brew’ a blisteringly hot and bitter tasting liquid which was custom for church hosts to offer their guests. Tully always had to pee minutes after drinking it and would need to use the restroom before getting to work. Henry didn’t feel the need and waited. Upon return he noticed the Lead Mary was carrying a strainer with water miraculously held within, not a single drop had fallen through the mesh holes. She said nothing of it and led them where they needed to be.
The main room was locked and it took an elder’s own key for the Lead Mary to open it. She blessed them with a bow and left. “Is it true that come Armageddon the Elders will sell the Vestals to powerful men in order to secure assets? Virgins go for a high bride price.” The Trainee asked him the moment she was out of earshot.
“What did I say about respect, boy? The Elders could be listening.”
They opened the door to a warm blast of stinking air. Enough to make any man vomit. A poor ventilation system and smoke coming from a recently abandoned fire pit worsened the smell. The scene was pure gore. They walked to the table over lily flowers that covered the floor from corner to corner. By the bust of Athena displayed in the center, he determined this warehouse room was set up to mimic the Parthenon Dining Hall of the main church building. He pictured the Elders in here during the twilight hours clinking their dinnerware and casting spells.
We are cleaning after a Conception Feast. Henry is not ready to see this, thought Tully.
The sins of the cult needed to be washed away. The dinner remains were left a bloody mess as if a giant had spilled a cup of deep red wine onto the room’s contents. Blood didn’t simply stain the symbolic marriage-bed-sheets hung up like tapestries. It stuck to the dinner plates, congealed together in pools on the tablecloth, splattered onto silverware, filled bowls to the brim, even the glasses contained foggy fingerprints. There were too many knives to count and a tattered white dress tossed aside to be forgotten. Strange symbols and words spread out and written in a language he could not read. The evidence of virginal sacrifice and spiritual consumption were obvious. Nothing Tully hadn’t seen or cleaned after before.
However, the boy wasn’t expecting this, he was in shock and trying to process the scene before him. Tully informed Henry they would need more than what was brought in the cart if the task was to be completed in time. Sending him to the van for supplies would save him from viewing the nearby body. Henry would have no idea that the girl’s sacrifice would allow a Vestal, most like the Lead Mary, to become pregnant with a future Master and Elder. That a Vestal was prophesied this century to give birth to the next Prophet, the next Saviour.
Tully then remembered that Conception Feasts came in pairs and a male virgin was more valuable than a female in the eyes of the Immaculate. This sin was forgiven, but soon another will be committed. Suddenly he feared for his trainee Henry. That was a stain he didn’t want to scrub out.