Friday, 1 October 2010

THE WHISKEY PRIEST by Chris Deal

The Whiskey Priest

Pontius Pilate was missing his left eye. Father Gonzalo noticed this as he paced up and down the nave in the early hours of a Sunday, the remnants of the previous night's whiskey leaking from his pores in the humid dawn. His stomach was heavy with bile. He would have resolved the painful churning with his traditional breakfast of juevos and tortillas if he were confident he could keep them down. Turning at the entrance, as he made his way swiftly towards the altar, he saw a ray of light burning through the eye of the Pilate on the stained glass window. The sun was pooling in the seat of the fourth pew back, closest to the aisle. Black coffee would be nice, the priest thought as he watched the flow from the sun on the seat. Perhaps one of the town drunks shot it out during the night. He could not remember the window being damaged, but following his fourth drink the night before, he could not recall anything until he came to as he lurched in a ditch as an early cock crowed.

When the parishioners entered the church for Mass and Father Gonzalo stood above them at the altar all but sober, he saw Senora Angeles, a fat old woman given to gossip through her toothless mouth, was sitting where the morning's rays had shined though the Pilate's eye. The previous week, as he greeted his flock following the service, he had overheard Senora Angeles chattering with Senora Fraxedas as they passed him. "That wolf is drunk again," she said, and Father Gonzalo had to pray forgiveness for the thoughts he had. That day, however, the priest spoke his sermon beautifully, and many thanked him for the day's message.

When he closed his eyes that night, Father Gonzalo dreamed he was walking home to the rectory after a night of broken vows, passing through a forest of gnarled, leafless trees under a pregnant moon.

At a bend in the path, he came upon a ball of lightning floating above the rotting leaves of fall. He spoke to the lightning and it spoke back but he could not recall what it had said. The lightning dissolved away and in its place was the silhouette of a wolf. The dream beast lunged when the pounding began on his door, rousing the priest. He was nude and sweating on the floor. He found his robe and put it on as he went to the beating door. Passing a mirror in his bedchamber, he caught sight of his face and the scratches and dry blood on his cheeks and brow.

When he opened the door, the world was still dark but the fat moon was gone and the great star was working on passing over the horizon. It was Senora Angeles' grandson. The old gossip was in need of her Last Rites. The boy said nothing of the priest's appearance and led him to the home of the soon to be deceased.

Senora Angeles lay on a cot soaked through with blood, her chest gouged away as if by a beast, her eyes and her tongue gone. Father Gonzalo was surprised she was still alive. He swallowed a heavy lump and pretended he did not see the great ball of lightning from his dream where her eyes used to be, two glowing orbs in her sockets. His voice shook like a maraca and he was like a boy fresh from the seminary as he tried to guide Senora Angeles through her Penance and then placed the Eucharist in her empty mouth.

The moment he spoke his last Amen, the fat old gossip's breath rattled loose from her breast and she was eternally still, her form given only to rot. Father Gonzalo did his duty and comforted her family, each eye on him turned to stone. The priest asked the woman's eldest son what happened, and the man told him she had been returning home late after watching her grandchildren. Not five minutes after she left, her son had been standing by his door smoking a cornhusk cigarette and heard the fiercest of growls from where his mother was walking. He ran unthinking and found her on the ground with a great, dark beast on top of her, claws ripping and teeth gnashing.

"Mother of God," the priest said.

The beast ran into the forest the moment Senora Angeles' son screamed. Father Gonzalo asked what the animal looked like, and the dead woman's son told him it resembled a wolf, but that he had never seen one as big.

Senora Angeles' son asked the priest where he had been. He had sent his youngest boy to find him as soon as they carried her into the house and found her so close to death. It took an hour for the boy to wake him. "I'm a deep sleeper," the priest lied, before saying a last prayer and leaving the family of the departed.

The people of his village gave the priest a wide berth during the days following the death of Senora Angeles, and the first Sunday he performed his sermon before a church of only the most faithful of his congregation. As the weeks passed and there were no more sightings of the murderous beast, his people relaxed and each Mass was told before increasingly large crowds.

The dark became a thing not to be feared.

It was a month after the death of Senora Angeles that the priest was again performing his pre-Mass ritual of pacing the nave, hoping to leak out enough of the whiskey to do his job that he spotted the hole in the stained glass and the light leaking through the eye of the Pilate. It was Senora Fraxedas who sat where the sun shined, and it was her he saw the next day in need of the Last Rites, twin orbs of the full moon where her eyes used to be.

Bio:

Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina.  His debut collection of short fiction, Cienfuegos, was published by Brown Paper Publishing.  Find him at www. Chris-Deal.com

2 comments:

  1. Some beautiful imagery here Chris. The final flickers between darkness and light then darkness again is inspired.

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