The Priest's Answer

The Priest's Answer

A Story by Zorrin86


There was once a humble, middle-aged porter that lived in a small village. One day, as it sometimes happens, he fell into a kind of reverie and listless torpor. He was essentially in a coma, like a vegetable. In one moment he stared vaguely off into the distance, in another he was a drooling mess, completely absent-minded and unresponsive. The medicine being in a primitive stage at that time, nobody knew what to make of it.


The doctor could not see him, for he choked to death the previous night on a fish bone. The porter had no family or anyone that particularly cared for him, so his patrons and employers sent him off in a cart like a piece of dumb cargo to a priest in a nearby parish that was rumored to practice medicine in his spare time.


When they arrived in the nearby village of Shadenburg, the men wasted no time in wheeling the poor porter in his rickety old cart straightaway into the priest's chamber.


“Will you heal this man?” of them asked in bored droll without greeting or standing on ceremony.


The Priest disregarded them at first and mumbled something unintelligible, hoping they would see reason and go away. He occupied himself at his desk with his books. He was a rather tall, pale man with a long sallow face and a long white and well starched pointed hat that resembled a magician's hat. He scoffed and at last looked up from under his spectacles. “What's wrong with him?”


“Seems to be in a coma,” said the other, wiping his mouth and fixing his eyes on the dusty floor.


“Oh, will you pay?” the priest asked the intruders.


The errand men could not, or most probably would not pay. They were getting a paltry sum for this adventure as it was for their trouble. They promptly left without waiting for an answer, considering the matter had wasted enough of their time already. The priest, equally unconcerned, stood up, as though this stricken man's presence was merely a strange form of a dinner bell sent by his god, or perhaps even a mirage, a kind of play on the light.


In the candlelight under the arched ceilings the priest sauntered past the sick man. “What would you like for dinner?” he asked in a very casual tone of voice not without irony. Having received and expected no answer, he simply walked out of the room and left the man to his wretched fate in the cart.


This priest turned out to be less of an armchair doctor than a conniving rogue, as everyone was soon to see. For some time behind his studying and clerical duties he had been plotting, like a spider in a cellar scheming his web, on breaking out into a scene of inspired revelry and mischief. This he would furnish and fund using the church plate offerings that dreary deacons with cobwebs in their hair passed around every Sunday. He took the stricken man's arrival as a sort of further sign from his god to commence with this plan straightaway.


That very hour he went about seeing to the preparations. The feast was to be immense and unprecedented in the village. Cows were slaughtered en-mass on site to assure fresh meat, and the peasant girls were furnished lavishly with expensive wines, chocolates, coffee, cakes, treats, and delicacies of all kinds. With the priest at the helm goading them on, famously drunk himself, the revelers continued to feast and drink all throughout the night, pausing only to dance, gamble, or move easily in all manners of mischief and debauchery, not unlike the old Bacchanalian Festivals or ancient Carnivals of Italy.


When the priest finally returned to his office after a good three days of perpetual feasting and drinking, he finally got an answer to his question that he had proposed to the sick man in his mockery. The answer, of course, was nothing. He was dead, bent double in his miserable cart where he was left.


The priest's first reaction was to hold his nose and wonder how he was going to inconvenience himself by getting this deceased loafer out of his office. At length he wheeled him out into the hallway, rang his bell to summon the custodian staff, and shut his door behind him. He considered the matter finished. Let someone else see to it!


The old spider went about his daily work, which consisted of reading his ancient books, hardly giving the matter a second thought, only pausing once to glance up at the door as he heard people wheeling the man away.


That night the priest had a dream. He opened his eyes from his bed and saw the porter in the cart a few feet in front of him by the surreal light of the large window behind him. He was hunched over in the cart much like he had been when he had been found dead, his head down with chin nestled into his sternum. But who the devil had wheeled him into his bed chamber? The priest stared at the man and gripped the covers with a malignant wrenching. His heart beat in rhythm to the war drums, but his face remained obstinate and hard, as though spiting him with callousness even in his dreams.


Then the porter showed signs of life and craned his head back ever so slowly. His eyes glinted like savage pearls in the unreal light of the room, and he smiled mischievously not unlike a demon. The priest threw himself back against his headboard in horror, his face as white as his sheets. The spectral porter left his cart with mechanical mannequin-like movements and walked over to the priest's bed, slowly at first, and then faster, his strides getting longer and more eager. He swayed to and fro and at first like a drunken man, and then, just as the moon light dimmed and vanished entirely from the priest's eyes from the near approach, the porter again smiled his ugly smile and charged full throttle like a mad bull.


Before the porter could take his revenge, the priest woke up in his bed screaming. In a perspiring mess of palpitations he boxed around his wild bed sheets and pillows and threw his head into his hands. A deep shadow from a large decaying tree outside his window covered him like a shroud, concealing his infamy from the world and appeared to symbolically mark him for the hereafter.


He breathed at irregular intervals, though slowly gathered himself. “I don't...regret it,” he muttered, an evil smirk on his pale face. “Any of it...any of it...any of it!” he shrieked.


He dragged his claws lazily across his heart to attempt to stay the pounding. “How could I? I had a lovely time those three days. That man probably couldn't have been saved anyway had I tried. And the poor? Well those devils are of such a constitution that they will soon be dead anyway, with or without their charity money!”


The priest darted his suspicious eyes around the room and then fixed them into the distance on nothing particular, assuming an ironical expression. “But I feel that porter will torture me to my grave for not trying.”


The days came and went somehow, but they were no more pleasant. The nightmares repeated each night, and the priest got to the point that was too afraid to go to sleep at all. In desperation he tried to keep awake. He experimented with a variety of methods to this end, with drinking exorbitant amounts of coffee late into the night, submerging his head in cold water for long intervals, reading his old dusty books until his eyes hurt and bled, even paying the town prostitutes to tax them of their amorous favors. Being a man of small means, he once again funded his debauchery with the church coffers. The poor be damned!


The nightmares continued with exacerbating intensity every night with clockwork, torturous precision. The priest could neither sleep, and keeping awake was a pain as well, for being sleep deprived and laced up on coffee all the time made him a jittery mess. He even began to hallucinate and see the porter in his office or when at the tavern. The ghostly man would be in his cart where he was left, smiling at him with his depraved smile, eyes glowing in expectation of his special purpose, ironically only showing signs of life in death. 


One evening while pacing back and forth in his office, the priest considered that if he came clean of his crimes maybe the nightmares would cease. If he confessed and absolved his conscious, it stood to reason that the dream things would go back to the devil where they belonged. Why else were they torturing him, for fun?


But if he really considered it and prod the depths of his murky soul he knew that this was something he could never do. Never! The shame of it all would too much for him. He considered himself to be a man of some social standing after all, and that confession would muddy his reputation forever. Such were the dubious natures of his crimes they may even execute him, or worse, work him like a slave to death in the mines or some horrible thing.


“No,” he muttered with a tremble. “Some things must be taken to the grave!”


That night, falling victim to a particularly horrible dream brought on by the specter of the man he let die, the priest woke up flailing his arms violently and screaming like a savage. Either from inspired madness or just at the end of his rope, the man of god jolted from his bed and ran screaming to his window. He threw himself and his wretched life through it with an implacable shattering, like some beast hurling away a burdensome sack of flour in disgust.


Another porter nearby heard the loud crunch of his bones as he hit the pavement below. He slept in a barn with his wife not far away from the priest's upper floor room. In nights to come the memory of the sound of his body's death rattle when it smashed into the pavement would provide little consolation to him or his nettlesome wife.


Because the porter lived so unfortunately close by to hear it, he felt it necessary to inconvenience himself enough to drag  himself out of his bed at that godless hour of the night. When he arrived on the scene and looked at the priest's mangled corpse, a feeling more akin to morbid curiosity and annoyance quickly overcame his initial disgust. Though not a doctor or even a learned man, he took a knee and checked the priest's vitals, or at least his wrist and neck. It was an easy case, of course. He made the decision to declare him dead on the spot. Why had the priest done it? Well that wasn't his immediate concern. Beyond his 'expert' diagnosis, considering that he could do nothing for him now, he turned away and went back to bed. The priest wasn't well liked in the village. It was a small matter whether or not his body was collected in the night or in the morning for the market folk and early risers to haplessly find.


As sure as death, the next day the priest's body was found, by a startled fisherman's widow of all people. A more proper diagnosis of fatality was performed by a bored looking authority that twisted his mustaches whenever he became uneasy. 


During the examination of the case that morning they checked the priest's room for evidence or a suicide note, and invariably they found one. However, it wasn't a note they expected to find per say. It was indeed a suicide letter, but the underlining motivation shocked everyone. The Priest had confessed everything in black and white in his scrawled hand writing. He did exactly what he swore he would never to do. In painful detail and much lamentations he admitted to stealing money out of the church coffers, the same funds that are monthly distributed to the poor and unfortunate that depend on such funds for their existence. And in one cryptic sentence at the end of his letter he wrote how he carelessly abandoned his fellow man in need to his death, preferring to drink and feast with circus women and harlots of the night.


“Some say he wrote that confession in a fit of stark madness, driven insane by an unholy mixture of the porter's haunting and his own guilt,” said a local seer, seated on a old picnic table in the town square. He squinted his eyes under gray bushy brows to spite the smoke and fireworks being shot by madcaps in every direction. “Others say that he was of such infamous stock that he never could have confessed his horrible crimes in any state of mind. But it took the possession of the spirit of the man he let die to guide his hand to write that letter.”


The village folk that feigned listen to the seer sat in a broken circle around him. Some nodded their heads, others scoffed or laughed openly and randomly in his face, and still others remained eerily silent as he told the tale they had all heard before and knew by heart, better than their own bibles or their loved one's voices. They had all seen the letter themselves; there could be no doubt of it's legitimacy. They had seen and felt the things the priest did, the scheming cellar spider, particularly those poor emaciated folks that were starkly effected by the depleted funds for their food supply.


Indifferent hatred wasn't enough for the hearty village folk of Shadenburg. To mark the Priest's death and infamy and to carve into it stone for all eternity, they celebrated it annually and made a holiday out of it on the day he died by burning effigies of his corpse and defiling it in inspired and half-crazy ways that only the most profligate and drunken foolery can inspire. Wine was given in generous quantities to the peasant girls and old men, and many would laugh as they frolicked and danced on the tables. Eventually everyone that wanted it got their fill of the wine and treats, even those worthies in the prisons. 


To cap off the night's degradation the whole village went up to the Priest's old apartment and watched in drunken glee and fanaticism as they took turns throwing his lit effigy out of the window and sent it crashing to the ground, his contorted body not unlike it had been when it landed there on that fateful night when he had cast himself headlong into the maw of eternity. They even got a clown to play the part of the porter that found him that night, while the actual porter lay in his barn not far away, trying to cozen sex out of his wife.


Where did the money come from to furnish this drunken hate festival? From the coffers of the poor and unfortunate, of course! But nobody was any the wiser for that. The people might even have sanctioned it had they known, even the poor devils that were being deprived most of their necessities. The people needed something like that, some banner to rally around and unite them from time to time, to let them purge their demons and feel at peace in their indignant hearts in a maddening world that threatened them daily with fresh hell, this earth being the only hell in existence, according to some philosophers. Sometimes the madness had to be embraced, a kind of going with the flow, or staring into the face of the Medusa, come what may of it.


During the cool dusk evening just as the hate festival was getting underway, through the smoke and fire and cacophony of drunken and ecstatic raving, sometimes the old seer would look up into the infinite heavens and laugh to himself. Should anyone ask what he was laughing at, he might look slyly at them with a shrug and go on drinking his liquor as though it was water and he was dying in a desert from thirst. Or he might say something quite outlandish to common ears, but gnomic in a certain respect to the thoughtful, to the tune of...


“We may not forgive here in this realm of chaos and suffering--but all the god's children are forgiven in death. The priest, scoundrel though he was, is probably drinking wine in heaven right now with the porter that he let die, laughing together at our folly, infinite hatreds, and burning effigies. Or they are now in oblivion. In either case, what do they have to fear ? Their troubles are over! At the end of the day, blood for blood is repaid. And here the living have enough to worry about without adding hate to their roster.”


Had the seer said this within ear shot of the most ardent and drunken revelers, it wouldn't have been inconceivable to think that he would be the next to be lit as a human effigy to satisfy the cathartic needs of the drunken mob, these children of chaos.



© 2018 Zorrin86


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This gets right to the darkness of man, providing a look at raw human thoughts and actions. Though we'd like to think these traits that you describe are inhuman-like, the fact is that these can be easily found today. Thank you for sharing!

Posted 3 Years Ago


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Zorrin86

3 Years Ago

Thank you, I appreciate the review. Yes that's a good point. The dark side of human nature can be in.. read more

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Added on May 20, 2018
Last Updated on May 22, 2018
Tags: children of chaos, short story

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Zorrin86
Zorrin86

Louisville, KY



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