We all picked fragments of skull out of the sand, knowing that God had come to save us.

The Pilgrimage had brought us here to these muddy shores. It used to be a beach with shining sand, pinkish at a glance. Now the sand was rough and snaggletooth stones bit chunks out of our heels. Blood smeared on the rocks and we prayed.

“Here’s one,” shouted a girl, holding a sun-bleached skull.

“I’ve found one too,” said a boy, praising the sky with a rack of white ribs.

They were so loyal to God. I could see Him dancing in their eyes. When they spoke I heard the answers to prayers in their voices. Hundreds of us worked underneath the morning sun, leaving our barefoot blood on the beach. The pain that burned in our heels was our sacrifice; this was the end of our journey.

“Those bones,” I said to the children, “are your ancestors.”

“They’re people?” said the girl.

“They’re God’s children,” said the boy.

I said, “They once lived like us.”

The girl’s nose curled up like a white prune. She rolled the skull between her palms, alleviating her boredom. “It stinks here.”

“The path of God is not pleasant,” I reminded her. “We must endure and remain resilient to our journey’s end.”

“But we’re here. We’re done.”

“Not yet,” I said.

Behind us a spire of rotting bodies burned, casting black smoke into the dawn. I imagined it the souls of the children of God. I sucked in the reek of scorched flesh and hair, yearning to be a part of it.

As we burned the corpses of last year’s pilgrims and praised the bones of pilgrims a hundred years deceased, I knew our deaths would be most beautiful of all.

God would be pleased.

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