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First Communion

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Vanessa never minded the long services. The Latin pleased her - it felt like a gateway to something sacred, special, something magical that she could hold whenever she wanted to. She would murmur it to herself sometimes, when she was upset. Salve Reginay, Mater misericordiae. Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae. Ad te Suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle.

She knew some of the other children hated mass - and who could blame them, they were dreadfully long - but she found them meditative. Almost never a meditation on the sermon, but rather on things like the animals back in the taxidermy lab; what their lives were, if the beasts could have a savior, their own saints and betrayers, what their suffering meant. That was what it always came down to - suffering. Suffering, and the promise of transformation. The hard wooden pews, and the looming crucified Christ would be there to remind her, if she ever forgot. She never did.

It was particularly relevant today, as she sat in her crisp white dress with its high lace collar and her stiff white veil, her back straight, her hands in white lace gloves primly folded over her lap. Mina had been so envious of her dress. She'd begged to try it on, but Vanessa's mother had heard, and it infuriated her.

“No, Mina! It's only for children accepting the sacrament of communion!”

Mina had pouted, as she was so wont to do, making Vanessa hide a smile. “We have communion too.”

“Yes, of course, dear,” her mother had retorted, “but the way your people do it is...symbolic.” Ours is real, hanging implied in the silence. “Vanessa is preparing for a holy ritual.”

And here Vanessa was, prepared. Ready for a transformation. But had she suffered enough? She felt stuffed. Stuffed into her stiff dress, like the filling in her animals. Were her eyes shining enough to look alive? She looked into the eyes of the saints, sun streaming through the stained glass, making them look alive with fire. Is that what it was like to be touched and consumed by the Lord? To have your insides alight with fire, to let the pain and passion purify you? She felt that passion, and sometimes, in a strange way, something inside her yearned for the pain. Pain marked you, gave you something to be cleansed of, proved that you were stronger than the world, stronger than sin. Her patron saint, Vivian, had been beaten to death with a lead whip, and left for the dogs to eat, but the dogs refused to touch her, because she was so holy. That was transformation - to be so marked that animals could sense you were not to be touched.

The cantor’s chant broke through her reverie. Accípite et bíbite ex eo omnes: hic est enim calix Sánguinis mei novi et ætérni testaménti, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundétur in remissiónem peccatórum. Hoc fácite in meam commemoratiónem. Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be poured out for you and for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.

She walked to the altar, almost in a trance, letting the colored light bathe her. She approached the priest, hands outstretched. Sanguis Christi, he solemnly intoned.

Amen. Vanessa took the beautiful chalice in her hands. It was heavy, a worthy vessel. She raised it to her lips, tentatively, wanting to mark the occasion, and finally, she drank. The taste was familiar, and for one second, having never drunk wine, she could not understand why. She looked up to the Blessed Virgin, the light streaming through her copper halo, resonating with the copper taste on Vanessa’s tongue. Vanessa stared at the light, and swallowed the mouthful of blood.