Authors: David Niall Wilson
Tags: #miracles, #stigmata, #priests, #thriller
By David Niall Wilson
"FIRST DIGITAL EDITION
©2009 Macabre Ink Digital
All rights reserved. No part of this document can be reprinted, distributed, or resold without the express written consent of the author.
The moon hung high in the sky and lit the empty streets with a white, hazy glow. The radiance was painful to Father Prescott's eyes, so brilliant that it cut through his senses and prevented focus on anything but the dirt of the street before him and a brighter light ahead.
He stumbled forward, though the sensation was of floating, not walking. The street was longer than he remembered, longer than it should be. He felt the weight of their eyes. They stood in doorways, between the homes, in the windows of stables and on the steps of the small adobe schoolhouse.
They followed him with their collective, accusing gaze. Every face was chiseled into a frown of disapproval, or of hatred. They stared at him like the liberated characters in an ancient painting of loss or damnation. They stared at him and he moved on, fighting to look away from their bitter faces, only to face them again in whatever direction he turned.
Ahead the light grew in intensity until it shone like a small sun, or a captured star. It sparked from the base of the chapel, leaped brightly to the sky and washed away the encroaching figures. Father Prescott wanted to hurry forward. He wanted to move into that brighter light, away from the eyes and the stares and the ancient pain that dogged his steps, but his progress was not his own to control.
As he drew nearer, he saw the statue. It pulsed like neon, or white hot metal, molded into the form of a man. Rays of light slashed from a gash in the side of the figure's skull. Something beautiful and overpowering poured from that small hole and Father Prescott wanted to drop to his knees before it, but he couldn’t. He was held, prevented from drawing too near to the statue itself; prevented from escaping those who closed in now on all sides.
Shadow forms, their features clear, but their bodies obscured, melted into the light. He had the impression that they were pressing their features into the exterior of that light, pressing inward but unable to penetrate the glow.
He tried to cry out, tried to call to them, but he had no voice. He tried to raise a hand to his lips, but found that he couldn’t move his limbs, except in that inexorable march forward.
He came at last to a point in the road parallel with the leading edge of the chapel. The light surrounded him on all sides, and there was a SNAP of energy. He stood within the light, firmly rooted on the ground and able to walk.
The statue gleamed and glittered, flickering now with multi-colored beams of light. The radiance still emanated from the gash in the figure's head. Father Prescott drew closer, and knelt in the hard packed dirt of the street. The eyes of the statue glared at him in dead, unfeeling anguish.
He noticed, a leather thong had been hung about the throat beneath that glowing head, and from this a pouch dangled. There was no radiance where the pouch touched - it was the single shadowed thing, and Father Prescott recognized it with a gasp.
It was not possible, he knew. This pouch could not be hanging here, and it was so long ago that any of this had happened and yet...
He reached out gently and tried to cup the leather bag in his fingers. It was slick and rubbery, and where he touched it, it grew damp. Frowning, Father Prescott pulled the thing away from the throat of the beautiful, glowing statue, but as he did so, something dripped from the interior of the bag onto his fingers, and from there to the ground at his feet.
He jerked his hand back, but it was too late. The sack began to leak, slowly at first, and then in a steady stream that poured over the white figure, washed down the statue’s body and leaked into Father Prescott’s skin. It spread rapidly upward, like a coffee-stain on paper leaking from the center outward until the entire statue grew dark - all but that hole in the side of its head. Where the dagger should be. Where the light poured out.
Father Prescott cried out and reached toward that light, tried to catch it in the palm of his hand, and failed. The brilliant illumination filtered through his fingers and splintered, fragmenting in all directions and then - very suddenly - went dark.
* * *
Father Prescott sat bolt upright on his cot. His skin was clammy and the sheets clung to him damply. His entire frame shook in the aftermath of the dream - vision?
It was still dark, hours before the sun would peek over the jungle and slip in his window. He drew the rough blanket at his feet back over himself, rolled into a ball, and pressed his back solidly into the stone wall of the room.
There was a rustle in the back of his mind. Something unfolded that was as familiar as his own voice, but spoken in another's. It echoed through his mind, as he lay shivering and waiting for the dawn.
Just four words.
"I believe in God."
~ One ~
The late afternoon sun filtered through the heavy blinds of Bishop Michaels’ office, striped the walls and angled just over the heads of the two men seated on either side of the ornate mahogany desk. Tapestries hung on the wall, and the deep pile carpet was thick and soft. The wooden furniture was polished to a high gloss and the sunlight gave each surface the aspect of mellow, glowing flame. Nothing in the office was new. It whispered of ancient times, and power.
Crystal goblets surrounded a carafe that rested on a sumptuous buffet along one wall. The leather of both chairs creaked with each slight motion, and the air hung thick with silence.
Bishop Anthony Michaels sat in his dark, comfortable chair, and regarded the young priest across the desk from him over steepled fingers. The Bishop was the epitome of decorum. He had light blue eyes and a ruggedly handsome face. His hair was dark, graying at the temples – a look that was very distinguished when taken in conjunction with the carefully pressed vestments and the manicured nails. No hair was out of place. No crease or fold of material was out of order. Ordered, in fact, was the word to describe it all, ordered and proper. Immaculate.
On the desk before him sat an array of documents. Some were clipped from newspapers, others were photocopies and faxes, and all were arrayed like a silent army readying itself for the attack. The Bishop didn’t look at them, but the tips of his fingers rested on the papers firmly.
Seated across from him, Father Quentin Thomas leaned in toward the Bishop’s desk. He had tousled brown hair, matching eyes, and a trim, athletic build. He was not as “immaculate” as the Bishop, but perhaps a bit more honest. His eyes had a dark, haunted aspect that spoke of weariness beyond his thirty-four years.
“So,” Bishop Michaels said at last, “what you are asking me to believe, in essence, is that you have experienced The Stigmata.”
It wasn’t a question, but a statement, as though the older man were gathering his thoughts.
Father Thomas replied, his voice quiet and strained.
“I’m not sure what I’m asking you to believe. I’m not even sure what I believe.”
“There is certainly no doubt what these -- people -- believe.” the Bishop replied, flipping the ordered papers into a jumbled mess with a quick slash of one hand. “People are easily manipulated, Quentin, as I’m sure you have come to know in your own right. The question is, to what are they being led?”
Father Thomas didn’t glance at the papers. He knew well enough what they were. Letters to the Editor. Headlines from “The Rooftop,” a local tabloid newspaper. Faxes from Quentin’s own parishioners, and from The Vatican, and a small paper clipped pile of requests from the local television station. All of them wanted the same thing. Answers.
Bishop Michaels slowly swiveled his chair and gazed out the large, curtained window into the blue sky beyond. He rubbed the fingers of his left hand along the bridge of his nose, and then curled them under his chin. He remained that way for a few moments, and then he spoke.
“I have been a part of the church since I was a young man, Quentin. I have seen a lot of things over those years, and borne witness to a great many – experiences -- that I can neither explain, nor understand.”
Father Thomas sat forward expectantly, hanging on the Bishop’s words. His hands trembled.
Then, without warning, Bishop Michaels spun back to face Father Thomas, slammed his hands down onto the desk and scowled at the younger priest.
heard anything like this.”
He hesitated to let his words sink in. His expression slipped from its austere, almost fatherly aspect to an expression of deep disdain. He continued, biting off each sentence as if he was having a hard time passing the words.
“Your hands itched. You felt something trickle down your forehead in the heat of Easter Mass. You had a stitch in your side – and your feet hurt. Do I really need to tell you, Father Thomas, that these hardly constitute a miracle? You’d be hard pressed to find a priest in Mother Church who has not experienced each and every one of these symptoms during a Mass.”
Father Thomas sat back as if he’d been slapped. His eyes were wide in shock, and his mouth fell open, though it took him several attempts to form words.
“Surely,” he said at last, “you don’t believe I would make something like this up? I know you heard what I said. I did not have itchy palms; I bled in front of my congregation. It ran down my arms – my face.”
He fell silent for a few moments, and then he went on, the tone of his voice far away and bitter. He choked back anger – or tears – but when he spoke, it was controlled.
“I came to you for help.”
Bishop Michael’s countenance remained icy, but he leaned forward over his desk. His hands gripped the edge of the wooden surface so tightly his knuckles were white spots of tension.
“Then I will grant you that help,” he replied. “Make no mistake; I will put this nonsense to rest.”
Father Thomas sat still as stone. His face was trapped halfway between confused anger and hope. He had never seen the Bishop so angry, never seen him lose his calm demeanor, even for a moment. He didn’t recognize the man facing him across the desk, but he very much wanted to be able to trust him.
Bishop Michaels caught that glimmer of hope, and stomped on it quickly and viciously.
“Don’t mistake me, Father Thomas, I see through you. I don’t know how you did what you did, or why. I don’t know what you think you saw or felt, or what you sold to those appointed to your care, nor does it concern me. If I had the slightest inkling that you had experienced a miracle that inkling died when you told me, not more than a few minutes ago, that you don’t even know what you believe.