Datsue-Ba, by Chad A. Clark
The last thing Lorenzo remembered was being on the boat. That his own death could have happened so quickly, and that he had taken so little note of it was astounding to him.
He was now standing in a small group of people, none of whom he recognized. They were of various ages and sizes, different ethnicities. They might have been fellow passengers from the boat, but there was no way to know for sure. They all milled around, waiting.
In the clearing ahead, there was a wide, raging river, and standing next to it was one of the oldest women he had ever seen, dressed in rotting rags of clothing and waving a large walking stick around at the crowd. One by one, members of the group would come forward to face her. He had no idea what she was saying, but she shrieked at them and gestured at a small, pathetic looking tree growing along the river’s bank. The people would then disrobe and hang their clothes from the branches. The woman scrutinized the clothing as it hung and the punishment would soon follow.
One man had held out his hands, as if in offering. She had taken hold of them and twisted as she crushed, snapping both of the wrists as well as his fingers. He screamed out in agony, clutching his hands to his chest as the woman jerked her head back, gesturing for him to cross the river. Another person was burned until their eyes were nothing but charred flesh. Still another was beaten cruelly by her walking stick until he was left huddled and quivering on the ground.
“She sits in judgment over all of us.” The man on his right had spoken, sensing Lorenzo’s confusion at the scene. “In order to cross over the Sanzu river, you must first be judged for your sins in life. She uses your clothes, examines how much the branches bend under the weight of your sin and punishes you accordingly.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at the revelation, now recalling the fiery explosion on the boat that had burned his clothes away. She would have nothing to use for him. When the woman gestured for him, he stepped forward quickly, ready to be permitted to pass over the river.
His confidence quickly slackened at the caricatured expression of joy he saw on her face as she began to cackle and leap around the riverbank, as if in celebration. He looked back at his source of information in the crowd, the man who was now avoiding eye contact and shifting uncomfortably.
“Datsue-ba says that, since you are lacking clothing, she will be happy to use your skin as a substitute.”
For more short fiction, check out Chad’s books : A SHADE FOR EVERY SEASON (available in paperback, eBook and audiobook) and TWO BELLS AT DAWN (available in paperback and eBook)