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Ansley Coleman slowly and carefully put on the gorgeous, flowing white gown her mother had given her earlier today. She then walked down the creaky stairs of her home, passing countless pieces of religious iconography: artwork of the Virgin Mary, statues of a bloody Christ on the cross, and crosses of thorns all hanging on the walls and over the doors of her home.
Her mother, Monica, sat on a wooden stool in her prayer room with a hairbrush in her hand. She wore a beautiful red dress that flowed down to her ankles and jet black heels that made a “clip-clop” noise every step she took. This was her special dress that Father had given to her years ago. She motioned for Ansley to sit on the floor in front of her.
“Oh, sweetie, you look beautiful,” said her mother.
“Can I see?” asked Ansley, expecting a “no” as her mother’s answer. Both of her parents disapproved of self-indulgence and personal beauty in any sense.
“After I finish brushing your hair, you can look in the mirror. I think today counts as a special occasion.”
Her mother slowly moved the brush through her long, brown hair. Ansley focused on the image on the wall: a painting of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross. She always felt disturbed by this image as it seemed as if the Savior was peering directly into her soul. His eyes seemed to cry out in agony, his body was covered in blood, and his forehead bore a crown of sharp thorns that carved into the skin.
“Done,” said her mother, rising. She then told Ansley to follow her. Both walked towards the cupboard under the stairs, and Ansley’s mother took a key from out of her pocket, placed it in the keyhole, and slowly opened the door. A cracked mirror hung on the other side, and in it, Ansley saw a gorgeous girl in the reflection. It was her. This was the first time in her twelve years of life that Ansley had ever been allowed to look into the mirror. Suddenly, her mother slammed the door shut and began the pray:
“Lord, forgive Ansley for her sin of pride and indulgence. Let us remember to never indulge in our own self, and to teach others to do the same. Amen,” prayed her religiously fanatic mother.
“Ansley, you look gorgeous,” boomed her father, Chase, who was wearing an expensive looking-suit. She only saw him wear it once a year, when he and her mother went to Midnight Mass. Usually, she wasn’t allowed to go with them, but this year, they said she was old enough.
“Thank you, Father,” she replied.
“Monica, are we ready to go? It’s getting late, almost ten,” said her father.
Her mother silently nodded and they all left the home, and got into the family’s seven year-old Subaru Forester.
The Subaru pulled into an an almost empty parking lot behind an abandoned factory on the outskirts of town. As Ansley got out, she noticed a faint light in the middle of the dark forest that surrounded them.
Her father led them down a dark path in the woods that headed towards that light. After what seemed like ages of walking, they reached the light: a circle of candles that encased three rows of wooden benches, a preacher’s pulpit, and a large, wooden cross with the word, “SIN,” written in large, red block-letters. Four people were already seated on some of the benches: Mr. Alverson, Dr. Felder, and Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez. All of them were members of her family’s very small church, Our Lady of Sin.
Her father motioned for them to take a seat in the front row on the right side. Ansley turned around to see three more people, Mr. and Mrs. Strinati and Ms. Hart, all walking down the same path from which she had come.
She noticed that all the women wore the same red dresses as her mother, and that the men all wore the same suit and loafers as her father did. Ansley nervously tugged at her mother’s dress:
“Mother, I’m not dressed right. I’m the only one wearing white!” she silently whimpered.
“Don’t worry, honey. You’re wearing that for a very, very special reason. You’ll understand soon, trust me,” her mother said with a sly smile that made Ansley worry even more.
Suddenly, she felt a strong hand grab her shoulder from behind. Ansley immediately turned around, and almost screamed, but realized it was just her church’s assistant minister, Minister Morgan. Her leaned down, and whispered into her ear:
“I need you to come with me. We have a very important job for you today,” he said. She quickly rose from her seat and followed the minister. He took her farther into the woods, and as she turned around, all she could see were her parents solemnly waving at her and Minister Duncan walking towards the pulpit.
“We gather here once a year to celebrate our Lord and Savior,” exclaimed Minister Duncan to his congregation of ten, which is all the members of his church, “We gather here to cleanse our souls of sin. We are not perfect. We were once all destined for Hell. But, God sent his son as a sacrificial lamb to save us from eternal damnation,” he boomed.
“In books like Matthew and Revelation, God tells of the punishments we as people deserve. He tells of the fiery pits of Hell and the wickedness of man. But in John, God sent us his eternal lamb to provide us with salvation. We know that most Christians believe this is all we need, but we know the truth: that our sins are too great to bear onto Christ, that we must sacrifice our innocent lamb to save both our souls and the souls of humanity!” shouted the minister, and at that time, Minister Morgan rolled out a dolly with a snow-white sheet draped over it.
He placed the dolly right in front of the large cross, and Minister Duncan pulled the sheet off in a careful manner. Tied to the hand truck was Ansley, with her small hands bound to each of the sides of the dolly.
“This is Ansley Coleman!” bellowed Minister Duncan, “She will be our sacrificial lamb tonight. She will be a vessel for our sins. As an innocent twelve year-old, she is a pure and precious sacrifice.” Ansley, although gagged with a rag, went into a screaming fit. Tears flowed from her eyes as she looked into the unsympathetic eyes of her mother and father. Had this really been what they were doing every year at the Midnight Mass?, she thought, thousands of emotions and thoughts flying through her head, Is this why they had to move to a different state every year? Is this why all the members of the church moved with them, as well?
“Ah, it is almost midnight,” sighed the minister, as Minister Morgan rolled out a four-wheeled cart also draped in a snow-white sheet. Minister Duncan pulled off that sheet to reveal a plethora of stainless-steel weapons: knives, cleavers, machetes, hammers, scythes, and so, so much more. At the sight of this, Ansley broke down into more tears, screaming unintelligible words at the congregation.
“These tools of purification have been cleansed by Holy Water making them the perfect instruments to help cleanse our souls,” said Minister Duncan.
The associate minister then untied Ansley, but kept her restrained, until she was tied to the cross. He then removed the gag that had been previously in her mouth.
“WHAT THE F*CK ARE YOU DOING!” Ansley screamed at the congregation, who had zero response to her cry.
“Because of their generosity in allowing their daughter to be the sacrificial lamb for the night, Mr. and Mrs. Coleman, will you please join me up here to begin the cleansing? Everyone else, let us join in unity and prayer,” said the minister, calmly.
The Coleman’s rose and stood next to the pulpit, facing their furious daughter as the rest of the congregation formed a circle around the cross, joined hands, and the minister began them in a final prayer:
“Lord our God, thank you for letting us join in unity tonight to cleanse our souls of our anger, of our greed, and of our frustrations. Lord, accept this innocent lamb as a vessel for, not only our sins, but for the rest of the world’s. Thank you, O God Almighty for this holy night,” prayed the minister.
“Amen,” said everyone in the congregation, including Mr. and Mrs. Coleman.
“Mom, what are you doing?” cried Ansley as both of her parents picked up a weapon from the cart. Her mother chose a long, curved scythe, while Mr. Coleman chose a short, but jagged dagger.
Both parents turned to face Ansley as the minister whispered into their ears, “Release your sins. Cleanse your souls,” and the rest of the congregation started to slowly chant this, over and over again.
“F*CK YOU! F*CK ALL OF YOU! WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THIS?” shouted Ansley as her parents slowly approached her.
“Hush, darling, we must do this to cleanse and purify our souls from sin,” her mother said in a calm and hushed tone, “We love you, sweetie, but we must give you up to save our souls from the eternal pits of Hell.”
“Your sacrifice will not be forgotten,” whispered her dad into Ansley’s ear.
Suddenly, both of them plunged their weapons into Ansley’s body. Blood spurted from her stomach and chest as she screamed in vain for help. But, quickly, no sound emerged from her limp, lifeless body. Minister Duncan shouted for the rest of the congregation to join in, and all of them, including the parents and ministers, continued to mutilate her dead body.
Blood continued to emerge from her body as sharp knives and blunt hammers cut into and beat her already dead body. Minister Duncan screamed about salvation as the rest of the congregation kept chanting and dismembering Ansley’s almost unidentifiable corpse.
The next day, authorities arrived at the scene of the murder in response to a tip received from a hiker. All the benches, weapons, and the pulpit where gone. All that remained was the bloodied, disfigured body of a lifeless twelve year-old girl tied to a cross with the word, “SIN,”written across the front of her white dress in the girl’s dark, crimson blood.