Who Art In Heaven?
He awoke in total darkness, something cold in his hand, something heavy across his face, something sharp at his throat. Unable to move, he simply waited for enough of the feeling to return, aware only of the soft drip, drip, drip of the rain at the window and the howling of the wind through the bell tower’s open windows. Somewhere, a clock struck midnight.
Midnight. It had been no later than eight when he had relented, had conceded the sermon unwritable and reached all-too-eagerly for the bottle that now weighed his hand to the floor, and whose contents rendered him unable to think. The sin, so small, had been so easy.
Slowly, in time measured only by the raindrops, he regained feeling through his body and was able to reach up and paw desperately at the thing that lay across his face. His free hand reached it, clawed at it, felt the leather cover and instantly muttering a prayer for forgiveness, irreverently shoving the Bible’s dry pages from his face before his tears could wet them.
His hand then went down, seemingly of its own accord, and seized at the cold, sharp metal on his throat. The four limbs of the crucifix all seemed to spear him, each a reminder of a vice too distant to recall. He had wronged, and this was all he knew.
Climbing slowly to his feet, leaning to the oak desk for support, he allowed the chilled midnight air to blow through him, awakening, energising, bracing. All the while, prayers flew from his lips, prayers of forgiveness and protection and confession. Words uttered silently and carried away on that same wind that blasted through the church.
After he had recovered enough to walk, or rather stumble, he found himself drawn to the wooden door that opened to the tower, and then on and on up the narrow winding stairs that looped upwards for what seemed like for ever. He stumbled on the seventy-fifth step as he remembered doing before, steadying himself on the stone wall for a minute before going on.
The steps slowly became steeper and eventually spilled him out onto the belfry, into the full force of the midnight storm. Through a break in the clouds a narrow band of stars peered through, but it was a pebble against the tide, and all-too-soon swallowed up. Below him, the town lights were a sparkling vista; the soft yellows of muffled houselights, the orange glow of streetlamps, even the blue flash of a siren tearing the night apart was strangely captivating.
He looked out over this view, and only after an age did it become apparent why he stood there, soaked to the bone, storm-tossed and unthinking. This was what he had dedicated his life to. His eyes traced the path of the siren, as it chased down one street and through the next, before coming to halt at the scene of an unseen but ear-shatteringly loud altercation.
Closer still, he could see two late-night partygoers, staggering back home, faces beneath hoods illuminated and fading in the cigarette glow. A car swerved dangerously towards them, the icy road taking control, and a withering fusillade of abuse was returned. The driver merely dimmed his lights and continued, but not before countering with a curse of his own. He recognised the voice from the Sunday congregation, he would sit on the front left of the hall, his lips barely parted in song.
These people, who could stand before him and say their prayers and beg forgiveness leniently granted, were godless. Every time he looked deeper, he became more convinced. The two walkers passed a man begging change on the street corner, and only a still-burning butt was casually thrown his way. The voices near the siren raised, and again he knew them, their words transplanted into hymns in the back of his mind.
And if they were so lost, what purpose did he serve? To grant them the true forgiveness they would squander daily? No, that was The Lord’s role. To provide a channel for them to be heard? No, their voices raised, whether in prayer or blasphemy, would accomplish that. To turn a blind eye that their sins might be forgotten? No, for God saw all.
All he could do was give them what they begged and wasted, for there was no other way. He had no choice but to forgive them that they might one day repent; he had no choice but to hear their lies, pretend they were sincere, and bless them in the name of a God that would surely not. He turned his face up at the storm, and began to call out, louder than the wind and rain, that he would be heard above it.
“Oh Father, have I not been your faithful servant? Have I not loved as you taught, and taught to love as you did?” He paused for breath, the wind snatching the air from him, and resumed. “Oh Father, have I not forgiven those who ask it, though they repeat their sins? Have I not prayed forgiveness myself that my sins may be absolved? Am I not your true servant?”
There was no answer, only the wind rushing through the belfry that threatened to take him, hurl him from the edge and down and down to the ground so far below. Rain became tears that fell in droves, and without thinking, his hand reached for the crucifix, the points digging deep into his palm and drawing blood. A second later he had torn it away and flung it from the edge, out into oblivion.
The silence, he concluded, was answer enough, and in that second, the terrible truth became apparent. It was him, not them, that had chosen the wrong path, and if God would not answer now, everything he taught and had been taught was a lie. And after that, there was no point to any of it. No God, no Heaven, no Hell.
For some reason, the thought was comforting. Because it meant what he was about to do was no sin, what he had done was not either, and that the only certainty was annihilation and an eternity of nothingness. With that thought etched into his mind like the Commandments on the tablets, he placed first one foot then the other on the edge, and waited that long wait for the whistling wind to whisk him away…
- The first thing to be said about this piece, that also applies to everything I write, is that there is no agenda to it beyond telling a compelling story. I do not mean to criticise the concept of religion nor argue against it, simply to capture this scene in writing.
- The brief with this one was to create a character who is without love, despite being loving themselves. While at first glance this appears to be the priest, I suppose it could also refer to God depending on which way you take the ending. Quite a lot of this piece, including the title, is deliberately ambiguous, so I will avoid explaining it too much; I'd rather you draw your own conclusions.
As always, thanks for reading.and feel free to leave a comment.