The following text is an excerpt from a short story, the rough draft of which I recently completed.
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Marie-Ange Devoisin lived a long time ago. She was all alone. Her father was two years dead, a casualty of the Great War, his bones in an unknown grave far from home. Mother went a year later, a victim of the influenza that swept the world once the fighting was over. Marie-Ange's village, like most in the region, was left depopulated by the war and the plague. Her friends were gone, as were the young men she might have married. She was too old for the orphanage, and so she stayed on in the home of her parents. Her only companions were a tired sheepdog and the cats that lived in the barn.
Marie-Ange had no experience in the ways of the world, and she did not know how to maintain her family's farm. The few hands who remained left in search of other work, and the farm fell apart. So Marie-Ange, having no source of income, threw herself upon the mercy of the church. Each day she walked the road from her home to the village. It was a lonely stretch bordered with fields gone wild, lined with broken fences, and dotted with the empty cottages of families she once knew. She would go to the convent and ask the nuns if they had work for her. On most days, they did. Marie-Ange would scrub floors or wash linens or see to dirty dishes. The work was intense and often lasted the entire day. For her trouble, Marie-Ange would receive a few coins, or a meal, or both if she was lucky. The nuns were kind to her, but they made Marie-Ange ache for the warmth of her mother.
Some days, however, the nuns had nothing for Marie-Ange to do. They would shake their heads and frown at her sternly. They would tell her to go to the church and pray that God would rescue her from her plight. Marie-Ange respected the nuns, but she rarely complied with their instruction. Instead she would take the path through the forest to the shrine of Santo Christobal, and do her praying there.
All her life, Marie-Ange had heard the legend of Santo Christobal. He was a priest from Navarre, more a boy than a man, and a recent inductee into religious life. He travelled to France en route to the Holy Land, as part of the Crusades, and came upon Marie-Ange's village as it was under siege by heretics. Santo Christobal cursed the raiders in the name of the Lord, as the prophet Elisha had done, and the earth opened up and swallowed them. Santo Christobal, however, was felled by a spear, and died on the spot where the shrine now stood. He was credited with many miracles over the centuries, the most spectacular of which was his incorruptible body. For while Santo Christobal had lain in repose for some seven hundred years, he still looked as if he had died only yesterday.
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