The religion of the village taught that God had planned the world from its glorious beginning to its needful end. Everything had been accounted for and lovingly crafted by God. The saved had been on the rolls of the saved for all eternity. The damned had likewise always been damned.
Generations ago, the villagers began to abandon ten of their own to the fires, and mark them so there could be no mistake. Those marked were the damned -- cast out and forgotten, nameless, the reprobate. The rest of the village could live content, knowing that heaven waited for them with open arms. The quota for hell had been filled.
When it was necessary to replace one of the ten, all of the ten-year-olds in the village were gathered. Each spoke to the priest individually, and then the priest performed a (private) ceremony where the name of the chosen child was revealed to him. He would walk out into the square with terrible solemnity and say the child’s name aloud for the last time.
(The holiest among them worried that ten was not enough. The tithe was set when the village was much smaller, and ten was a goodly number. Now it was possible not to know the child, or their family’s name. But they looked at their neighbors and their own children, and couldn’t bring themselves to speak.)
The chosen child was branded and cast out. They rarely lived more than a dozen years. Sometimes they slipped into the wilderness around the village and simply disappeared. (After three months they were declared gone, and a replacement was chosen.) Some simply couldn’t survive in isolation. Some became great difficulties for the village, for if you’re already damned, what is there you cannot do? The village bore the wild ones as best they could; knowing that it was part of their sacrifice.
The one who had been Thomas was different. He was nearly 30 years old, and lived quietly in a clearing near the village. When he was cast out a similarly marked teenage boy had explained the rules they now lived under, and taught him to hunt and care for himself. The Man saw grace in that action, which confused him mightily for years. He had been a pious child, and knew that it was right that some be damned so others could be saved. But how could a damned man, for whom there was no hope, be so kind? The Man began to doubt.
The Man followed the rules, showing himself to the village once a week so they knew he was still present, still bearing their burden. But he also took in those newly marked, and taught them what he could. He hunted well, and left meat for his parents and the priest. He tried to be the best person he could possibly be under the circumstances. And the doubt that had begun years before grew in his heart.
After all, the choices of men are not the choices of God. Are they?
@@@This is my entry for week 8 of LJ Idol - the topic is “reprobate”. I will post a link to the poll once it is up on Sunday. Thank you for reading.@@@