Elizabeth and the Zealot

His embittered smile proclaims of an innocently senile man, but his rancid breath reeks of irreparable psychological damage.

Outside, a group of children playing tag in the playground across the street, clambering across loose gravel and joyously shrieking as outstretched hands willingly grab for their shoulders, caught unaware and simply caught.

Inside his shirt, the old crucifix his long-deceased mother gave him on the brink of her deathbed, clasp half-broken and several priceless encrusted jewels missing; a toothless grin, unfaithful gaps. The tiny metal weighs heavily against his unwashed chest, the unpleasant sensation almost burning a hole through his heart. Sometimes, he mutters a memorised creed out of reflex, though no one believes in it anymore. Perhaps not even God Himself. But him?

Mindless gazes. The chipped, mouldy statue of a weeping wooden saint in one dark nook of the living room, rotting food and dusty candles its ever-resilient offering. The mirror, barely reflective, smudged with soot and cobwebs and his tuberculosis-infected saliva. The closed window beside him like a sleepy eye, tiringly wary as it occasionally betrays a resounding laugh or a glimpse of excitedly-billowing hair. He forgets so many things nowadays, but he always remembers. The children. He must watch the children.

Or else?

Or else…

Grabbing his ragged coat from the settee, the man coughed into his fist once, twice, and absently wiped the offending knuckle onto his beige pants. He headed for the door and resolutely grabbed the tarnished doorknob with a shaky hand. The hinges squeaked. A child, perhaps the acting leader of the pack, called out for everyone’s attention as he insisted to play hide and seek.

A countdown, and the palpable air of small bodies scattering. The man decided musingly, that he would humour them and join in their little pastime. He’s always been good at hiding. Though, he sighed out in quiet lamentation, with his old age and raging rheumatism, it would not really make the job any easier for him.

But only one child would win the game that night.

No one would ever find her.

He’ll make sure of that.

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