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The Interview

Newtown was a community in a dry but fertile place, and at the age of 10, children would be interviewed to judge their purity.

Story by Thor Benson - thorbenson@gmail.com Photos by Alberto Trucco
 Photo © Alberto Trucco

Photo © Alberto Trucco

Adley ran the sharp edge of his freshly cleaned knife along his forearm and watched as the blood tricked into the sand. He did this every time he killed a child who had almost escaped him. This was the sixth mark that would scab and scar, always reminding him of his failures. Adley had been purifying the children of Newtown for almost 16 years, and he had never lost a child.

Newtown was a community in a dry but fertile place, and at the age of 10, children would be interviewed to judge their purity. It was the opinion of the Patriarch that one impure child could compromise the liberation of the entire town. Their god would find it just to remove the stains that marked their town. It was their duty to maintain a clean environment, or risk infecting the minds of the citizens. Adley was employed as the executioner.

This girl had been particularly tainted. She had been caught, after passing her interview, pleasuring herself. She was on her way to Adley, by the hands of the Patriarch, when she shook loose and escaped. She ran for three miles before Adley caught up with her in his wagon. The dust from the charging wagon seemed to rush ahead of him, towards her. He cut her off down the road and chased her on foot. He pulled her by the hair, dragging her into the sand on that sweltering day, and thrust his knife into her jugular. She bled out in the ditch. He had hesitated briefly, which worried him. Adley was not one to hesitate.

He never hesitated because he believed in the cause. He felt that someday they would be judged and his work would have been worth it. He started to find himself questioning this over the years, and he cut a line across one of his legs every time he did. He was beginning to have more scar tissue than unaltered skin on his legs, and it made him hesitate now. He wondered how this girl could have passed the test.

He remembered his own interview. It seemed thorough, sitting in the dark basement room in the church with only one uncovered bulb above them. The basement was meticulously clean and very gray. The Patriarch had looked to be in mourning as he asked questions like: “What would you do to protect your community?” Eight years later, he became the defender of their purity.

He returned to town after the purifying, leaving the girl in the ditch. She would not be buried with the town’s people. Before he stepped back into his wagon, a rattlesnake appeared from underneath. Adley stared the snake in the eyes and moved on. He went straight to the office of the Patriarch to confirm he had done his job. The Patriarch looked at him with expecting eyes. “She’s gone now,” Adley said. “Very good, Adley. Very good.”

Adley returned to his family afterward. His wife Margaret could see the distress in his eyes. “She passed the interview,” she said. “I know.” It was getting dark outside and Adley took his two sons to bed. They prayed in-line next to their beds. A candle on the nightstand flickered because of the partially open window. Adley prayed to be relieved of the impure thoughts he believed he was having. He prayed that he might find the strength to continue his work unencumbered. He asked his mother above to forgive him.

The next day, Adley took part in the routine daily tasks of a citizen. He took his wagon to the field and helped harvest wheat. “Peace be with you,” a young girl said as he arrived, putting her hands together, as if in prayer. He pulled his scythe from the wagon and began cutting down tall bunches of wheat. The wheat seemed to fall as if it was fainting. Adley became more aggressive as he went on, grunting and making large horizontal swings with his sharp instrument. He almost swung it into Jeremiah as he approached Adley silently.

“Whoa there,” Adley said.
“Hmm-hmm,” Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah was a man without a tongue. He had cut it off when the Patriarch could not decide how to punish him for raising his voice to him. The Patriarch was pleased with Jeremiah’s sacrifice. Without a tongue, he became one of Adley’s favorite people, because he could speak to him and not worry about the words escaping. Adley had told Jeremiah some of his innermost fears and predicaments.

“Did you hear about that girl almost getting away from me yesterday?” Adley asked, still reaping the wheat.
“Hmmm,” Jeremiah said with a smirk.
“Dang near the closest one’s gotten to escaping me.”
“Mmmm.”
“I’m starting to wonder if I’m losing my touch, or maybe there’s just something wrong with this whole—,” Adley stopped.

 Photo © Alberto Trucco

Photo © Alberto Trucco

Jeremiah nodded silently, already aware of what had been passing through Adley’s mind. He put his hand on Adley’s shoulder and squeezed it firmly. Adley stopped reaping and looked Jeremiah in his eyes. His face was painted with sympathy. The lines on his face expressed enough, without use of words. Jeremiah looked down and saw Adley’s ankle, where a fresh scar was showing. Adley quickly adjusted his pants and went back to reaping.

Adley kept the scars on his legs covered at all times. It was as if he thought people would know why they were there if they saw them. They were impure thoughts loosely wrapped in cotton. He had spent nights tossing and turning—thinking about the Patriarch and what must be outside of Newtown. He wanted to know more about the town and why things were the way they were, but he knew it was not his place to know such things. His wife had been woken up in her adjoining room on some nights, when he would yell in his sleep.

Adley finished his harvesting for the day and loaded the wheat into his wagon. He took the wheat to the market and unloaded it onto the palettes behind the baker’s building. The baker arrived and thanked Adley for his work. “You always give me the most,” he said. Adley nodded at the baker and said, “Peace be with you.” There was a hint of reluctance in his voice.

He went to the church next. He couldn’t find the Patriarch, and then remembered that there was another interview taking place that day. Adley waited for some time until the Patriarch came up from the basement with a young boy. “He’s a good boy,” the Patriarch said. “You run along and play with your friends now, and tell your mother she raised a good boy.” The boy hesitated to pass Adley for the door, and then ran into the sunshine and around the corner of the blacksmith’s store.

“I guess my work for the day is done then,” Adley said.
“Yes. You can say your prayers and return home if you wish,” the Patriarch said.
“I’ll pray at home if that’s alright.”
“I would prefer if you prayed here, Adley. There is much to pray for in this time.”
“I must see my wife.”
“As you wish.”

Adley returned home and found that the kids were still at school. His wife was in the kitchen washing the dishes. “No more work for the day?” she asked. “No more,” he replied, “and when is dinner?” “Soon after the kids are home,” she replied. He went to his study and sat in his worn, wooden chair beside the desk. The sunlight barely peaked into the room, past the thick wool cloth he had hung over the window to keep his privacy. A single ray of light lit up a section of the dusty floor—making the particles shine like diamonds. Adley began to write in his journal that he kept under the false bottom of one of his desk drawers.

May 16 – I think people are starting to notice the difference in my behavior. I have always been a reserved and serious man, but I don’t get involved with the community anymore. I don’t feel a part of it any longer, but I must not cause people to talk.

I think the girl I purified yesterday may have been an indiscretion of the Patriarch. I have seen the way he acts with some of the girls. I think he is using me as a way to clean his tracks. I have only killed young girls for the past year now…

Adley ripped the page out of the journal and took a match from the desk drawer. He struck the match and set the page aflame. He sat at his desk and watched the fresh words coil and blacken. When the flame extinguished, he used a brush to sweep the remains into a waste bin. The waste bin had several inches of ash at the bottom by then. He opened the window and poured the collection of ashes out onto a bush.

That evening would be the celebration of the wheat harvest. He knew his family would have to attend. When the children returned from school, Margaret was making dinner. Adley sat at the table and listened absently as the children explained their days at school. He lit the candles while they spoke and simply replied, “very good” and “interesting.” Margaret watched this from the kitchen and scowled as she began to mix the potatoes more vigorously. She wanted to ask him why he was behaving so strangely, but she assumed it was the girl, and she knew he would not respond well to an inquiry about his work. Poor boy, she thought.

Adley left the table while the kids were talking amongst themselves and went to the back yard to smoke his pipe. He grabbed the pipe, tobacco and matches off of his desk, and went out through the door. He lit the pipe and gazed into the field where fireflies were starting to light up. He thought he saw someone rustling through his crops in the distance and put his hand on his knife, but then the disturbance vanished. He examined the field for some time, but nothing arose. He looked at the bush covered in ashes, beneath his study window. Adley picked up a bucket of water that was sitting near the door and poured it over the bush to clean off the ashes.

 Photo © Alberto Trucco

Photo © Alberto Trucco

As his pipe was running out of tobacco, Margaret called that dinner was ready. He returned to the dining room, and served potatoes and steak onto a plate. The potatoes were bland and the steak was rarer than he liked it. Adley listlessly picked away at the food and looked at the children, who were eight and nine respectively. The eldest son would be in line for his interview soon. He wondered what he would do if his son was judged impure.

“Let’s eat quickly—the festival will be starting soon,” Margaret said.
“I’m going to wear my new shoes,” the eldest boy said.
“Don’t get them too dirty,” Margaret replied.

When they finished dinner, Margaret took the dishes to the sink and left them there. The family went to their rooms and changed outfits for the event. Once everyone was ready, they loaded into the wagon, and Adley whipped the horses to get going. The sun had set and there were people walking along the side of the road towards the festival. Adley tried to elevate his mood in order to not seem suspicious among the townspeople.

They arrived at the festival as it was just beginning, and Adley placed the wagon beneath a dying tree. The Patriarch welcomed them and led them to a group of children, where they could leave the boys to play. Once the boys were amongst their friends, Margaret and Adley joined a group of their friends and grabbed some juice to drink. Margaret acted more loquacious than usual to balance out Adley’s stoic demeanor.

“I heard about the girl,” a man said.
“Yes. She was a strange case,” Adley replied.
“I’m sure it won’t ever happen again. It couldn’t ever happen again.”
“Let’s hope not.”
“Peace be with you, Adley.”

Adley looked over to the Patriarch, who was talking to the children. “The lord will judge us all,” he heard him say. Adley finished his juice and went back for more. He didn’t want to talk to the other adults anymore, so he lit his pipe and watched the kids for a while. He looked his juice over and then poured the rest onto the ground. Eventually, he noticed that the Patriarch was gone. He walked the grounds, wondering where the man could have gone off to. The Patriarch was nowhere to be found among the adults or children, and he couldn’t find him in the church down the way. It was then that Adley heard some voices in the church’s shed.

“We’re not going to tell anyone about this, okay?” someone said.
“No. I understand,” a girl’s voice replied.
Adley opened the door to the shed and saw a young girl he knew with the Patriarch. The Patriarch looked at him in fear, and then his expression turned to stubbornness. The little girl ran out of the shed, and Adley unbuttoned the holster for his knife. He took slow and calculated steps toward the Patriarch.

“This is just a misunderstanding Adley. Please step away from me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. This seems innocent enough to me.”
“Yes, innocent. That’s exactly what this is. I was just going to punish the girl for—hitting one of the boys—by making her stay in the shed… for the night.”
“Were you going to stay with her?”
“Don’t be absurd Adley. Why would I—“

The Patriarch’s explanation was interrupted by Adley’s blade. It was deep inside the abdomen of the Patriarch. The Patriarch looked him straight in the eyes, his deep breaths moving the hairs on Adley’s mustache. Neither of them spoke, and the blood ran onto Adley’s hand as he held the knife in place for several moments. “Peace be with you. You will face judgement for this,” the Patriarch finally said, before collapsing.

Adley cleaned his blade and made one last mark on his arm with the knife. He grabbed a cloth and cleaned the new wound. He sat in a chair and looked at the Patriarch, whose eyes finally closed. Flooded coughs came from the dying man until there was complete silence, outside of the dull noises in the distance from the festival. He grabbed a scrap of paper from the table, and a pen, and wrote a note to his family. He tried to light the paper with a match when he was done, but the blood on it prevented it from burning. Adley looked his long knife over, put the point of the blade between his chin and his jugular, and thrusted the blade in.

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