“How does one quantify a life?”
A crowd of black clad mourners stands in the pouring rain, taking in the words of the soaking priest with blank expressions. The rheumy eyed man drones on, the lower half of his cassock clinging to his body and water hammering his umbrella, drowning out his words. That the woman had been murdered in the rain and was now about to be buried in the same circumstances escaped no one present, least of all the man delivering her eulogy.
God works in mysterious ways.
“In second Corinthians four, verses seventeen and eighteen, the scripture tells us not to focus on the struggles of the flesh, “for light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
“And so we entrust our sister’s body to the earth, not in sadness, but in joy. For we here gathered understand and believe wholeheartedly that the world to which she will now be commended, the unseen world for which all true believers are bound, is eternal. It is a place of peace and rest. A place where she may lay her many labours aside and rejoice in the glory of the Lord!”
Scanning the crowd, the father’s face begins to constrict. He is met with indifference and boredom. They no more believe in the salvation of God than magic or fairy tales, these servants of gold and earthly riches. They stand before this grave a mockery, spitting in the face of the Almighty.
Their fallen companion was no better. She had been baptised in his church many years ago but had not attended in nearly 10 years. The moment the choice had become hers she ceased to turn up. Only on holidays where the rest of the family came together did she deem God worthy of her time. She had chosen the rewards of the flesh and now she would lie with the maggots. Opening his pale hands to them and narrowing his eyes he continues, struggling to contain the true words he wished to unleash upon these charlatans.
Lukewarm. You are all lukewarm and will be spewed from the mouth of the Saviour. Spewed like the self-serving sycophants you are. Filth.
“As for ourselves, we must take comfort in first Thessalonians four, verses seventeen and eighteen, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
The hymn was sung after and the burial ceremony began. The priest stood with his bony hands clasped before him, starting at the gathered crowd from his pale, hallowed face, and wondering if they had caught the subtle message he sent in his last words. He highly doubted it. Sinners that they were they could not raise themselves up from the filth long enough to understand the true magnificence of God. This lot was the very reason he had had to struggle so mightily to build his church. The congregation had money enough to go around, and yet the tithes had always come back short of expectation. Why? Because tangible sin is so much more enjoyable than the intangible promise of salvation.
A slow smile spread from his lips and his gray eyes narrowed.
Great shall be my reward. I cannot say the same for the likes of you.
The crowd began to disburse and the priest stood long, allowing the taint of vanity and selfishness to wash away before he could perform his final duty. He would need one final conversation with the woman before he could be satisfied that the work of his station had been fulfilled. When the last of the attendees were out of sight he began.
“Alone now, I shall take your final confession,” he began in a voice laced with hate. “As you are unable to give it of your own accord I shall have to make assumptions as to what you may have said.
“Forgive me father, for I have abandoned the Lord and made my own self master. Pride and greed are my sins and I have revelled in them like a pig in shit. I have spat on your name and sought my own rewards here on earth, caring nothing for the heavenly riches I should have striven for whole heartedly. I shared the temple you created of my flesh with any man willing to worship it and I disregarded almost every commandment you laid forth, casting off the burden of righteous living and choosing instead the path of least resistance and greatest worldly pleasure.”
The priest took a deep breath and his lip began to twitch into a snarl. The next part he could not twist or allow to be tainted. It would make him as guilty as she and he would not allow her sins to drag him into hell. He would see the face of God, even if this selfish whore would not.
“You are forgiven, child. Now go with God.”
The priest’s tongue felt heavy and he licked at the roof of his mouth as if the words he had spoken were distasteful to him. Staring down at the woman’s grave he found himself filled with rage and hate. It was people like her who had forced him to do the things he had done. Her sins had brought him down. If she had given as she should have, none of it would have happened.
Lost in thought, the priest never heard the man approaching from the rear. He registered a sudden swift whooshing sound and then the world exploded in a firework of pain and colour. He fell to his knees in the sloppy mud, felt the back of his skull cracking open like an egg shell, and his brain began misfiring hundreds of millions of last second messages. He needed to know that he was in pain, that his head had been caved in from behind, and that several pieces of skull bone had pierced his brain. He needed to know he was dying there in the mud.
Only God knows if he understood.
A man clad in all black stepped around the priest, a piece of carbon steel piping in his gloved hand. He carried a black umbrella in the other hand and he stared down at the dying priest in disgust.
“Sanctimonious falsifier. You cast your eyes down upon others, but it will be you who stands first in line for the great lake.”
The priest’s mouth hung slack and his eyes glassed over. Drool began to run down his chin and onto the soaking ground as the man with the umbrella leaned in closer.
“You are not forgiven, wolf. Now go to hell.”
The priest breathed his last breath, collapsing face first into the mud and the muck. The man with the umbrella tossed the steel pipe down on top of the fallen priest before disappearing into the gathering storm, whistling the tune to A Lake Without Water as he went.
To the loyal readers of this series, welcome back and sorry for the delay. Life, as they say, got in the way. I also had a mighty struggle over who my black clad friend would kill next. It took me a while to be satisfied with the target and now I am. Thoroughly.
Update on scheduling:
Downfall is one of two series I am developing on this site and a new episode will be released every other Friday on what will now be entitled, “Fiction Friday.” Posts on Fridays will alternate between Downfall and Othersiders from now on.
Next Friday (February 12th) will be the next episode of Othersiders. The next instalment of Downfall, in which our faithful friend the detective finally finds a large clue that will help to unravel the true motive of our umbrella buddy, will be released on the 19th of February.
Thank you so much for reading and, as always, I appreciate your feedback and support!