The Sin Eater let his boot hit the puddles of the road …

… water splashing on to the hem of his trousers. He didn’t worry that the water was probably more shit than rain. He’d been around humans so long their barbaric and primitive practices no longer shocked him. He accepted it. That’s why whenever he was in London his trousers were only worn once and discarded; left for a chamber maid or concierge to wear if they wished. After all, the fabric was fine and expensive, and if they could sell them it was as good as a tip.

He just didn’t want to wear pants with shit on them.

The hovel in his sights was a pathetic structure, listing to one side, lucky to be propped up between two stone structures with much stronger foundations. It looked as though a squatter had put a front door on someone’s garden and then stretched a thatched roof overhead. It just didn’t fit. And neither did the dying man inside.

The Sin Eater could smell the man’s fear from across the street. It never ceased to amaze him how people could suddenly find their God and faith at the exact moment they got a whiff of the fact that they were not much longer for this world. For all their disgusting behaviours and rough manners, humans were delightfully hypocritical, hence his wealth and purpose in this life.

Or was this all just a slow, meandering death? It was hard to tell. His employer, after all, took delight in not always sharing the whys and ways of the immortality He bestowed on souls. The contingencies were always an uncomfortable surprise.

When the Sin Eater reached the door of the shanty he knocked for outward appearances’ sake, then let himself in as though invited.

The room stank not only of death but also of sin; the mingling smell of moldy onion and rotten meat. Not everyone could smell it that way, but the Sin Eater could. He could sense many things strictly by smell. Anger, fear, sorrow, frustration, deceit … even evil. And over the smell of death, it was the smell of evil that brought him to this house.

A small man was wasting away on a straw mattress, mumbling “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …”

The Sin Eater shook his head, pulling a wooden stool across the floor loudly and sitting at the man’s bedside. That’s when the man noticed he was there, and as though sensing the load the Sin Eater carried, he shrunk away from him.

“Who … who art thou?”

“Worry yourself not about who I am. Worry about the why of what I am.”

The man clearly wasn’t up for riddles, and frowned, his hands forming feeble claws and pulling at the thin, filthy blanket covering him. “I have no wealth, no money, no gold. Take what you want, but I am dying and know that it is a sin to steal.”

The Sin Eater barked a laugh at that. “Believe me, old man. I can tell you what is sin and what is not.”

The man looked back to the ceiling. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures …”

The Sin Eater shrugged, not caring if the man needed to know why he was here or not. It wasn’t necessary for his job. And no amount of praying could change what he was about to do anyway.

He closed his eyes, made a steeple of his fingers and rested his forefingers on his forehead. It wasn’t necessary, but he always did it for some reason. The … ritual of it made him feel one with these human animals.

With his mind he reached out to the man’s brain, his stream of consciousness touching at the man’s thoughts like phantom fingers. The man seemed to sense it and tried to physically pull back from it, but once the Sin Eater was in your head it was already too late.

He rifled through the useless blue sky and white clouds and golden gates drivel the man was concentrating on and reached deeper, through years of memories and back to the past; his terrible, terrible past.

Back when the man had been young, strong, and handsome. Before disease had weakened him and addled his mind. Syphilis, the Sin Eater recognized it immediately. There was always syphilis these days. Obviously, it was due to the whores.

But this man had done more than lay with them, and that was the other stench the Sin Eater could recognize; the stench of garbage and sulfur. The smell of evil.

He found the episodes the man was trying to hide from him, now that he wanted God as his savior and master and desired to arrive at St. Peter’s gate as innocent as the day he was born. But he wasn’t … he was just as drenched in as much filth as the Sin Eater. That’s what had brought the Sin Eater to his door, wasn’t it?

The Sin Eater found the sins as sure as he’d put them there himself. He immersed in them up to his optic nerves, dipping his very being into the squalid depths of this man’s past depravity.

As far as sinners went, this man was pretty standard. Not the worst by a long shot.

The memories came back as fully-encompassing revelations, taking over the Sin Eater’s senses and putting him in the moment as though he had been in the man’s body. But of course he had no control over what that body was doing, because humans all had free will and this had all been in the past.

The man had paid whores to lay with him, and the whores hadn’t minded the looks of him, even though he never presented himself as wealthy. He had been strapping and comely, they had been pleased to service someone that wasn’t old, ugly, drunk or malodorous.

But when the man had them alone in an alley or back walkway he had slaughtered them. He kept a blade hidden in his sleeve, and it wasn’t very sharp either. It was startling how the man had been able to carve these women into macabre art exhibits of hatred without anyone noticing. It had taken time to skin their heads, shred their faces, and then fuck their dead bodies.

In all, he found thirteen slayings. It was hard to be completely sure if that was all of them, since the man had lost his mind and the Sin Eater also picked up visions of the women as demons who wanted to consume his soul. The Sin Eater may have used the man’s point of view, but he could still recognize delusion over reality. The insanity sat like an uncomfortable coat, it brought distaste to the Sin Eater’s mouth. He hated the insanity. It was disorienting, like stumbling into someone else’s nightmare.

The man was weeping. That was another side effect of the Sin Eater’s ability. No matter how the man fought to keep the memory at bay, he saw exactly what the Sin Eater saw and realized that because of it, he was damned.

The Sin Eater laid his hand on the man’s chest, his own skin crawling at contact with that filthy flesh. But this was the important part; this is what his employer paid him for.

The man drew a deep breath, and the Sin Eater sent him a warm, cleansing sensation that took the sin and replaced it with … nothing. The events were erased.

The man calmed, he stopped scrabbling his hands against the blanket and his chest, and his face went slack … almost peaceful. Then he fell into a deep sleep. Judging by how his various diseases had progressed, this would likely be his last rest. The Sin Eater had arrived just in time.

When sins were admitted and divinely forgiven they vanished. Washed away by faith and purity. But when the Sin Eater worked, the sins were not gone. They were still here. They didn’t stay with the Sin Eater; they just stayed on the human plane to find another … host? Carrier? The more down here that was dark and evil, the more ground the good guys lost. Plus, it sure pissed off the guy upstairs when someone else was running around, removing sins; encroaching on His territory, so to speak.

These souls that the Sin Eater sought out were never admitted to heaven anyway. With or without their sins present, evil was evil and could not abide. It was the potential, not the deeds. Damned souls were damned. The sin was either wiped clear by the hand of ultimate power, or, after the Sin Eater’s visit, left to fester elsewhere.

From the Prologue to Book One: “Sin Eater”

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