The truck stop diner was nearly deserted. It was Christmas Eve, and most of the road warriors would either be taking advantage of the equally deserted interstates or heading home to be with their families. But there were those stalwart few who had neither home nor family, whose life was and always would be the road. These little places served as the only family and home many of them would admit to, so they stayed open throughout to give them just some small feel of home.
But John Amos was not a son of the road but a son of God. He was a balding, middle–aged man that couldn’t believe he was sitting here instead of leading his parish in Christmas Eve services. He'd turned that duty over to his younger assistant and had couched it as a chance for the younger to get a taste of how maddening the preparations and the service itself could be. Father Amos’ church was small by many standards, but he’d never let the size of the congregation dictate the importance of the service. He’d never missed a Christmas mass, even through his bout with the flu a few years before. It would take an act of God to make him miss any of it. But then, he was here after all, wasn’t he?
Father Amos stirred his coffee and thought back to the vision he’d had just a week before. He'd just gotten off the phone with the florist to arrange for the poinsettias that would decorate the foyer leading into the sanctuary when his office filled with a bright, warm light. Too startled to speak he could only watch as the glow intensified just a few feet from his desk and slowly took on the shape of a man. The rest of the room faded away, leaving only the gently–glowing man before him. He was incredibly tall, well–made, and as naked as the day he was born. It took several moments before Father Amos realized the huge gossamer wings that stood out from his shoulders. At that he fell from his chair in supplication and made the sign of the cross reverently against his head and chest.
“Do not kneel before me, Servant of the Lord,” the angel said, for it that was the only thing he could be. “I am not your master, though we serve the same One.” Just remembering the angel and his sweet voice caused Amos's heart to stir with joy. He'd never had such a vision in nearly 20 years with the Church. But he had always believed and had always carried the faith both in his words and heart. It was a vindication for him; real, tangible proof that not only was there a God but that He had not forgotten Man.
Amos had tried to speak but found the words simply would not come. What could one such as he have to say to an angel? He remembered the angel’s perfect, warm, loving smile. But he also remembered the angel’s eyes. With his body and face such perfect, unblemished specimens, Amos would've expected a pair of equally bright, warm eyes. Instead, he had no eyes of any color beneath his lids. Where the colors and whites should have been was nothing but small, black voids. While disconcerting, the sight wasn’t enough to reduce his awe in the presence of the holy creature.
“Rise and take heart, Father John Amos," the angel said. "In recognition of your constant faith and loyalty I come as a herald, to give you a most important labor. On the celebrated eve of the birth of the Son, you will meet with a man named Morté. Once one of pure evil, he has seen the light and love that is our Lord and Master and seeks asylum and absolution from those he once served. Meet with him and bear witness to his confession, and know that the ear of the Lord shall ride at your shoulder. Take strength in that, Father Amos. You may need it for the trials ahead. You will find him on that night near to hand, in a place that never sleeps and feeds those on their own journeys. Go with God, Father Amos.”
With those words the angel had disappeared. Amos kneeled there on his office floor for nearly an hour in prayer. His knees finally protesting, he had gotten up and looked around. The office seemed dimmer than it ever had now that the light from the herald was gone. But while Father Amos was a spiritual and faithful man, he was also a rational one. For a moment, he started to doubt that what he had seen was nothing more than a vision. Perhaps he had been working too hard trying to prepare for Christmas. He'd walked to the spot where the angel had appeared to him. There on the floor was a single, perfect white feather.
Amos fingered the edges on that same feather as he sat in the barely–clean booth, trying to decide if this was merely a test of faith. He had told Father James, his apprentice, that he'd promised to make rounds at a local hospital on Christmas Eve and he simply couldn’t be in both places at once. It wasn’t necessarily a lie since he had gone earlier in the day to fulfill his obligations. Amos only hoped that whatever it was he had been sent here to do could be accomplished quickly. If he hurried he might even make the midnight mass.
Without knowing who or what to look for, or even if he was truly in the right place, Amos sat and sipped at the too–strong coffee and waited. He'd been there for an hour now and had finally decided to order a piece of pie when the door open behind him. A moment later he felt the weight of a body move into the booth behind him. Amos stuttered as he finished ordering his slice of lemon pie as a dark weight settled squarely on his shoulders. He got through his order and watched the swirling black coffee as it poured into his cup like the feeling that poured into his gut. For good or ill, Father Amos knew he'd found the right place. And, the right person.
The waitress moved to the next booth and asked the stranger for his order. Amos heard the man's order for ice water and the waitress's that he couldn’t take up space even in the deserted dining room for only water. Then he heard the distinct sound of a crisp, new bill being peeled from a wallet and overheard the man tell her to keep the change. With his booth rental secured, both man and priest waited for their orders. The man’s voice was perfectly pitched with absolutely no trace of an accent. Without any other reason the priest felt it was the single darkest, most ominous voice he'd ever heard. The man seated to his back practically reeked of evil. Father Amos had never experienced anything like it before. His breath came in shallow bursts as he tried to calm himself from fleeing from the site. No. He had been sent here to do something; something obviously very important and with the will of God Himself. How could Amos run from that duty now?
The waitress came back to the pair and went to Amos first. She set down his pie with one hand and carried a tray with a large pitcher of ice water and a tall glass in the other. Amos listened to the tinkling of the ice as the man poured his glass full. He could just hear the man swallow, his own ears being so close to the man’s throat, then a long, satisfying sigh. That sigh grated across his nerves like a rasp.
“It really is true, Father Amos. We really do want this.” the man said without turning around. “I do so appreciate you meeting with me tonight. I must admit, though; when I am in your world I usually insist on far better accommodations. Being the holiday and all I decided that this would have to do. Besides. This is the closest I could come to a confessional on such short notice.”
“Are you Morté? What are you?” Father Amos managed to ask, his voice heavy and soft. He didn’t turn around. He didn’t think he could face the man if he tried.
“Me? Just another face in the crowd, Father Amos. Just another lost soul in a world chock full of them. You see them everyday, you just don’t realize it,” Morte said.
“No…not like you…you…you’re…”
“Pure evil? It is all right, Father. Not but a few decades ago I would have not only agreed with you but would have thanked you for the compliment. Of course, I would have disemboweled you soon afterwards. But always with respect and never with malice, though I will say I took a great deal of pride in my work. Some would even say joy, if there truly is such a concept.”
They fell silent for a moment as ice clinked against glass. Morté poured another and shifted his position slightly. Amos heard a soft, rushing sound and smelled acrid smoke as he lit a thin, brown cigarette. Amos had never smelled such pungent tobacco before, nor had he heard the rasp of a match or even a lighter. He shivered slightly as his mind’s eye pictured the cigarette flaring to life on its own.
“Why are you here? And why am I? Is this a trick?” Amos asked. He tried to pick up a fork for the psychological comfort of a weapon but his trembling hands did nothing more than cause the fork to clatter to the floor.
“No trick, Father Amos. I am beyond that now, though if this were some kind of trick I daresay it would have been initiated with far more grace and aplomb. I was never sloppy in my work. As to why you are here, I would have thought you would have been told that already.”
Amos thought back to his vision. The angel had said asylum and absolution. But what of either of these things could he offer to such a… man… here, in this place? And would he even if he could? “You seek that which is not mine to give,” Amos said finally.
“But there you are wrong, Father Amos. It is indeed yours to give by the word of the Lord and Master himself, held through the millennia and wrapped steeply in your ritual and mythos. On earth, as it is in Heaven… isn’t that how that goes, father?”
The quote mixed his fear with not a small touch of anger. To hear such from Morté brinked on blaspheme. He still wasn’t sure what Morté was, but whatever he was couldn’t be one of the Lord’s children. “What would you know of it?” Amos shot back. His hands had stopped shaking. “What would you know of the word of God? What would you know of His works?”
“I know far more than you, priest. Far more. I know secrets of this world… of your God… of your existence that would drive you mad for the thinking. And I have been privy to more of His works than you could ever conceive. I know your God, because He is also mine. Even Lucifer must bend his knee if the Lord and Master wills it, though never willingly. And that is really the crux of why I am here, and why you are here… ultimately why everyone is where they are and does what they do.”
Amos was admittedly confused. The surreal situation was made all the more difficult since he could not see Morté. Then again, perhaps it was better that they not face each other. “I still don’t understand what this has to do with me.”
“Ah… the human finally comes out of the priest! What is it about your race that makes you believe everything must revolve around you, eh? Where does this grand sense of self come from that makes you think every single event that transpires around you must have you as its catalyst? Though you consider yourselves the height of all living things, you are, simply, not. There are things in the mortal world that are as far above you as you are above cattle. Many of them treat you the same way as well, whether you realize it or not.” Morte emptied his drink then poured another from the rapidly–emptying pitcher. “You are here because of me… and for me.”
Hands shaking once more, Amos picked up his tepid coffee and sipped at it to wet his dry mouth. “Then… what is it you're asking of me? You know any request from one such as you carries with it sin just in the speaking…”
“I do not seek to stain your soul, priest. You have been sent here for this purpose. I do not believe the Lord and Master would hold you to account since it is by His design that you occupy that very seat. I have done some seeking within myself over the course of the last few decades, and I have found something quite… remarkable. I have found that my heart does not truly lie in service to the Undermaster. I came to realize many of the things I had done in his service, and in all fairness thoroughly enjoyed at the time, over the course of the millennia had begun to weigh heavily upon me. I developed what you may consider a conscience of sorts. This sort of thing is frowned upon in my circles, I’m sure you understand.”
“No… I don’t…”
“Let us be frank, Father Amos. I am what you believe. Unlike many other bastard servants of the Undermaster I was born a demon unto his service. I have known no other life unlike the damned souls that populate Hell. Those had the free will to live their lives as they saw fit and to reap the rewards of their actions. Those of us born into this life, into the Pact, have little choice in our lives. Our will is limited to what we have been tasked. For most, this is enough. The power of Hell and the knowledge that you are one of the most powerful creatures to ever walk the world is a powerful aphrodisiac, Father. But alas, I am defective. A broken demon, as it were.”
“A broken demon? What sort of nonsense is that?” Amos almost turned around save for the warning hiss from Morté.
“Please father… we must preserve the sanctity of the confessional.”
“Confessional?” Amos said bewildered, though he didn’t turn around.
“I cannot tread upon hallowed ground, father. I seek absolution to purge my sins and throw myself upon the mercy of the Church. I seek to confess my sins so that they may be forgiven and that I may finally find peace. I have found that I cannot live like this any longer.”
Amos sat quietly as the words bounced back and forth between his ears. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, couldn’t even believe that this was happening. “You are a demon? A self professed, real demon?”
“And you want me to hear your confession?”
“Yes.” Morté answered. “Of all the priests in the world, Michael, you send me to a dense one…” he added, mumbling.
“This is highly… unusual…”
“Unusual? It’s bloody unheard of!” Morté almost shouted, then checked himself. “Thus is why there is also a certain… urgency… present in all this. My desire to leave the service of the Undermaster has become known. There are those that see it as, well, let us say bad publicity for one such as me to do this. I am hunted, Father Amos. I am persecuted for abandoning service to the Undermaster, Lucifer, Beelzebub… whatever name you may give him… your enemy and now mine. His agents seek me, other demons that will be far less cordial than I. If they find me and return me to Hell I will never again have the chance to shrug off the bonds that tie me. You are a man of the cloth, Father Amos. But more importantly, you are a good man. A man that I think would not consign one to the Pits if there was anything that could be done to save them.”
“You're serious about this?”
“And if I do this… if I hear your sins and grant absolution, then what? Will you live your life according to His word and law? Will you truly go forth and sin no more?”
“For what remains of it, yes, Father. Even if I am successful that does not mean the agents of the Undermaster will allow me to live. They will still come for me, if for nothing other than the principle of the thing. Demons do not simply defect, Father Amos. They exist, or they do not. Time grows short, Father. Will you do this as I have asked?”
Amos folded his hands on the table and closed his eyes. He shuddered to think of the kinds of sin that one such as Morté must carry in his soul. Just the thought of what he may hear chilled him to the bone. He weighed his options. The demon had nothing more than a bit of sport at his expense to gain from the exercise if he were not sincere, and Morté was surely what he claimed to be. Amos could feel the evil emanating from the booth behind him as surely as if Morté had hit him over the head with a brick. His summons had come on the wings of an angel, further proof there were those that desired him to carry through. But through it all, and for all the good it did him, Morté had basically been right. Amos had never denied anyone that sought the comfort of the confessional. He had heard confession from murderers and crack whores from a stint he served as a prison priest. Those stories had been enough to make him lose sleep at night when he was younger, and a few of them still haunted him to this day. Amos sighed and pushed the slice of pie away from him, all thoughts of making the midnight mass gone.
“Speak, my childe…” Amos said in the practiced, modulated tone. It was a voice designed to comfort to those seeking confession. Here, it served more to comfort him than his subject. A small attempt to normalize an abnormal situation.
“Bless me, Father, for I have truly sinned…” Morté began. “I have never sought the release of Confession, father, and for that I am remiss. I have committed every sin known to both man and God, and do not know where it is that I should begin.”
“At the beginning, my childe… where else?” The stock line he used with ne’er –do–wells or teenage girls that felt guilty for fooling around seemed less appropriate in these circumstances, but it seemed the right thing to say.
“Father, I doubt we have that kind of time.”
“If you seek absolution of a sin, you must confess it.”
“As you wish, Father.”
Amos blinked into the sudden, strong light. It was a bright day and high summer if the sudden heat was any indication. He was standing on a field of sand and surrounded by thousands of screaming people. Trumpets blared as the sudden thunder of hooves filled his ears and shook the soles off his feet.
“Ah! Roma!” Morté sighed. He was standing back to back with Amos in the center of the arena. “Can’t you just smell the excitement, father?”
Amos looked to each side and found a chariot bearing down on them from both directions. His legs froze with fear as the horses barreled towards them. “Morté… Morté!” Amos raised his hands over his head as the chariot to his right barreled through them, veering just in time to avoid a crash and allowing the gladiators to attack each other as they careened past. Amos looked down at his shaking hands and almost turned completely around to face the sinner.
“They can’t see, hear or harm you, Father. Look! Over there, by the gates!”
Amos looked across the field through the heat waves rising from the hot sand and saw a young man dressed in the armor of the emperor with a long whip lashing another man dressed in rags. “My first assignment outside of Hell. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I possessed a man that trained lions for the Circus… and one of the first to gleefully release the beasts in my charge on the Christians the emperor chose to persecute. This was still the days where the Undermaster would whisper to lords and kings and potentates in their beds, making them believe it was the voice of the Lord and Master commanding them.” The past Morté whipped the slave several more times before he finally pulled a long lever on the wall. Two different gates opened across the field from each other. From one spilled a group of ragged men with long beards and wild hair stumbling and squinting up into the unfamiliar sun. The men stayed together and came onto the field warily as the crowd hissed and hurled insults and offal into the arena. A chorus of great roars came from the gloom behind the other gate, followed by three full-grown lions bursting from the nether regions of the coliseum. The crowd went wild as the bewildered men screamed and tried to run.
“I watched scores of men die like this, Father Amos. More than watch as I typically had an active part in their deaths. These were devout men, men that believed in God. I’m sure they were also good fathers and sons and husbands as well. But do you know one thing that I never saw here, father? I never saw a single one throw himself down and renounce his faith, even with the impending doom of the lion’s maw. Perhaps even here I began to see the power of faith Man held in the Lord and Master. Of course, I would not have admitted that to myself back then. Mostly, I saw them as fools, sacrificing themselves for something they could not see or hear or even feel. But you are a learned man, Father. I wouldn’t bore you with the details of the time.”
Amos watched in horror as two lions fell upon the same man. They tore into him and devoured his entrails while he screamed and prayed through the bubbling blood that poured from his mouth. Through it all, Amos never heard anything but praise for their God. Amos slammed his eyes shut and nearly screamed as the cries of the dying men filled his ears. Suddenly, all was still and quiet. The air turned chill and carried a hint of wood smoke.
The priest opened his eyes and found himself by a wide, rushing stream. Several dozen men, women and children stood silently on the opposite bank. They were dressed mostly in blacks and browns with only a grey shawl or cloak amongst them. In the distance he could hear a woman’s muffled screams.
“Morté… where are we…”
“Ssshhh! You’ll miss the best part. Watch… there I am.” Amos looked up to the top of a small hill that led down to the opposite bank just as an incredibly tall, thin man crested it and started down the other side. Moments later, two men with a bound and gagged woman between them followed down the hill and joined the other man on the bank. Amos looked into the tall man’s eyes. The man stared back for several long moments, almost as if he knew Amos was there. There was a pure, malicious evil in the man’s eyes. It took no guessing to deduce which of the somberly–clad people across the stream was Morté. He stared more closely and saw the trappings of a man of God on the past Morté.
“I thought you said you couldn’t stand on hallowed ground? How did you come to play the part of a minister?”
“I showed up in town one day and claimed to be their new preacher, as they called me. Of course, since I had slain the real thing on the road a day before and assumed his form they had little cause to doubt me. They had just built their little hovel they called a church, and as my first official duty I was called upon to sanctify it. The rubes worshipped at an altar given over to the Undermaster for nearly 20 years without ever realizing it. Quite a feather in my cap at the time. I also introduced the concept of witch trials to this sleepy little burgh. It was all the rage in Salem, you see. Quite a stroke, really. With each innocent led to slaughter they believed not only in God but in the power of the Undermaster as well. With the proper theatrics, these poor, simple bastards could be led to believe their own mothers danced with the Devil and dunk them in the waters accordingly. If I’m not mistaken, this one I tried to convert to the Undermaster myself. Green eyes and red hair are rare, Father Amos. The Undermaster especially prizes anything rare in his service.” Amos could tell by his voice that Morté had turned around to face the back of his head, but he was determined not to break the ritual of confession, even in this most unorthodox case.
Amos listened as the past Morté said a few words and gave the conditions by which the young girl would be judged as well as the specific charges she faced. Suspected fornication with the Devil was not a matter taken lightly in this day and age, regardless of the ridiculousness of the evidence at hand. Green froth started to leak out from around the girl’s gag as her eyes went wide with pure terror. “A bit of the theatrics on my part, I’m sorry to say. There are certain weeds available in the bogs around the area that froth and foam when in contact with human saliva. A liberal dose on the gag and the excitement of the day made for a rather potent visual effect, don’t you think, Father Amos?”
The people gasped and backed away as the girl started thrashed about, throwing the green froth this way and that. At a nod from the preacher the men at arms threw her into the ice–cold autumn waters. After she'd completely submerged, several of the onlookers became bolder and stepped closer to the water and peered in, trying to see the accused. After several minutes of intense silence, the girl did not surface. The past Morté declared her a witch and announced that she had, in fact, admitted her sins before the trial and would go on to her final reward free of the devil’s influence.
“Barbaric… absolutely barbaric,” Amos whispered. “Why didn’t she float?”
“Lead weights sewn into her cloak. That, and her hands and feet bound with three days of fasting makes a body virtually unable to gather the strength to swim or even tread water. I doubt she felt much of anything though, the water had to be near to freezing. More like as not she went into shock as soon as her head was submerged and the water gripped her heart in ice.”
“You do not sound at all repentant, Morté. The act of confession is hollow if you do not recognize the sin and harm caused by your transgressions.”
“Oh, but I do, father. I realize the pain and grief I have caused and the sheer volume of souls that now resides in Hell due to the direct course of my actions. Do not think I boast of these deeds. I rather explain them so that you not only grasp the seriousness of my former depravity but also so that you can see how easily humanity can be misled by the simplest of tactics. The agents of the Undermaster are everywhere, Father Amos. I am merely attempting to give insight into their methods so that you may recognize them if you should happen upon them.”
“I know of the duplicity of your master, Morté,” Amos said.
“Former master, father. Former.”
“I guess that is what I am to decide though, isn’t it? If you are truly repentant, that is.”
“Your Master knows full-well that I am repentant at the very least, Father Amos.”
“Yes,” Amos said softly, a sudden light of understanding suddenly filling his mind. “On earth as it is in heaven, isn’t that what you quoted earlier, Morté? I see now. You must still be absolved of your sins the same as anyone else. If I do not grant you absolution you cannot enter Heaven, no matter whom or what you may know,” Amos’ words were cut off as he was hit with a sudden, sharp chemical stench.
The world around Father Amos suddenly went dark as the impression of walls and ceiling came up around him. He closed his eyes as a sickly nausea slid across his stomach. When it passed, he opened his eyes and found himself in a dark corner of a large room. There were several tables and even cages that ran in an orderly row down the center of the room, each with a few bright lights mounted on a moveable arm above them. These lights were the only ones in the place. The chemical smell pervaded everything and made him somewhat light–headed. Along with the chemical smell though, he got the impression of other scents around him. Sweat and blood and fear mixed with the chemical tang so thickly Amos could taste them. He nearly choked on his first full breath and made every effort to breath shallow and through his mouth. “Where are we?” he managed to gag out.
“Buchwalden, Auschwitz, Treblinka… all the same, really. One of any number of places the Nazis founded for their research. Here the masters of the Third Reich sought to reinvent Man into the little dictator’s version of perfection. Ironic, really, considering that the little weasel himself would have been one of the first to be exterminated under his doctrine of Aryan perfection.”
A tall, thin man dressed in a perfectly–tailored grey military uniform with two others in white lab coats trailing behind came into the room through a door lost in darkness and into the light from the first table. They spoke in low, murmuring voices and poured over a chart that hung from the side of the table.
“You would be the military man, I assume?”
“Correct, Father. I oversaw not only the extermination of thousands but also the depravity in the guise of science you see around you. With each death and experiment, I pulled all those that found the blood of the Chosen People on their hands into their own private Hell, both on earth and in their proper reward. It is utterly astounding the level of faith some humans place in mortal rule, to the point those they support can seem to be a god themselves. Oh, but I was not the only one. Just one of several, to be sure. But I made sure that each had a heart as dark and foul as my own before I was done with them.”
The man on the table was covered with a thin sheet. One of the white–coated men pulled the sheet away to reveal a human face that had been stripped of its flesh. The subject on the table still breathed but was in such obvious pain he couldn’t even gather the breath to scream. Amos winced as the past Morté jammed a pencil into the mass of muscle on the tortured man’s cheek. This time the man did scream, a hoarse, harsh sound that rattled every nerve in the priest’s body. The body jerked and the man even managed to lift his head from the table. But he must have been strapped well beneath the sheet, keeping him from moving off the table.
“Why do you show me these things, Morté? Why not simply tell me of them? You must know that actually seeing your sins enacted before my eyes and hearing your passionless narration lends no credence to your claims to seek absolution.”
“Aside from my flair for the dramatic? I show you these things so you may see what ultimately turned me against all that I have held dear for eons. In fact, it was my time spent in that accursed uniform that started my revelation and revulsion to the things I had been a party to and supported throughout the ages. These men did not need me to turn them towards the service of the Undermaster. They did quite well with that on their own. I daresay they even taught me a trick or two about the torture of not only the human body but of the mind as well.”
The men had moved on past the next table to a cage built to nearly human proportion. The past Morté rapped on the cage with his uniform crop and held his ground as a woman more animal than human ran at the bars. The doctors stepped back several paces as the officer laughed at them out loud.
“Human genetics are so easily manipulated once you learn the simplest of their secrets. The Reich knew decades before anyone else about such things. You people really are one of the simplest constructs ever made by the Lord and Master. You’d never see any mortal able to manipulate demon or fey in such a way.”
“You still don't seem as repulsed as you claim to have been.” Amos pointed out as the past Morté laughed and jabbed his crop between the bars and poked the raging woman in the forehead.
“On the contrary. I could not reveal the level of my discontent in front of these. You see, there were many others of my ilk operating at this time in your history and on both sides. Don’t believe that your vaunted United States or the other Allied powers had a corner on the market of either good or evil. If I were to have revealed my state of mind at the time it would have been reported to others and I would have been hunted from that day forth. I would not have survived long enough to sit with you now. But it was at this time that I initiated contact with holier powers about my eventual intentions to leave the service of the Undermaster. The stakes were high for both sides at this time in history and it was decided that, for good or ill, it was far too delicate a time for such a thing. So, I was forced to wait.” The thing in the cage screeched, a sound like nails on a chalkboard as it suddenly rammed itself into the cage with an arm extended between the bars. Long, chipped yet sharp nails raked past Morté’s left cheek and left deep, ragged and bloody furrows across it. He stepped back quickly and raised his crop out of reflex, then lowered it and put a gloved hand to his face.
“Serves you right,” Amos mumbled. The whitecoats produced long, black sticks from a side table and rushed toward the cage. Blue arcs of electricity jumped from the prongs at the ends of the weapons. But instead of jamming them into the cage and the pitiful beast beyond they were stopped short as the riding crop swung in a vicious arc and caught them both across the chest. They flew back and crashed into the table behind them, ending up on the floor at past-Morté’s feet. Confused, the priest watched as Morté reached down and took a ring of keys from the belt of one of the doctors. Amos could see the face clearly now, the same face that had graced the laughing Roman centurion and then the fire-and-brimstone preacher centuries later. The ragged wounds on his face bled forcefully beneath his glove, leaving the front of his uniform a shocking red in contrast to the drab grey and black. Morte selected a key from the ring and unlocked the cage. Without hesitation, he swung the cage door wide and stood off to the side. Morté whispered to the beast, and though Amos couldn’t hear those words uttered more than half a century before he could see they had a calming effect on the tortured soul within. It slipped past him nervously and out of the cage, looking over its shoulder only once as it screeched and ran for the door.
“You let her go. Why?”
“I told you, priest, I simply couldn’t bear to see her held like that any longer. She knew from previous encounters that to lash out like that would mean severe punishment. And yet she found the strength and bravery to attack, to show us though we had broken her body we could not break her spirit. In that moment, I knew that there was hope if I could only keep my strength and bide my time. With such hope, faith and luck, perhaps someone else from an unexpected corner would come along and release me from my own Hell as I did for her.”
Amos watched as the past Morté stepped into the cage and gripped two of the bars. With no visible effort he pulled, bending them until they made a passage large enough for a human to fit. Then, he hit himself smartly with the end of his crop on his right temple. Of course the blow had no true effect on the demon. But the human shell he inhabited produced a bleeding and nasty head wound that for him would amount to mere theatrics. Then he lay down opposite the doctors and waited to be discovered.
“Your vaunted theatrical talents again?” Amos asked.
“I could ill afford to let these humans think I was anything other than what I appeared to be, Father.”
“And what of that poor woman? What became of her?”
“Unfortunately, she never made it out of the compound. She did reach the fence though and managed to kill almost a dozen guards on her way. After my human commanders learned of the security breach they shut down all such testing and experiments permanently. If word got out through loose–lipped guards that such monstrosities were running about there would be a great deal to explain to history. This was in the waning years of the war, when most sensible people realized the Fuhrer had finished his descent into madness. With defeat imminent, no one involved wanted to have to explain to the Allies the atrocities they had committed in the name of science. The ovens and chambers would be enough to defend against. There would be no defense for such things as the woman.”
The world went dark and the nausea slipped over Father Amos once more. “After my time in the Reich, I took a long sabbatical. I needed to make sure what I had felt before was not merely a passing thing. I traveled your world in many guises. Where I would usually do this with a possessed body, this time I created one from my own power. This meant I was limited and could be harmed as any other body could be, to an extent. My point in this was to try and experience your world from your perspective. I wanted to see, hear, even feel your world as one of you.”
“To what end?” Father Amos said into the still void around him. “You were still immortal and the spawn of Hell. You could never feel the same way that humans do. You would always know that any problem that came about could be handled far more easily by one such as you than by any mortal.”
“Ah! That is where you are wrong, Father Amos. I placed a geis on myself that limited my power more than even my physical body did for a score of your years. True, I could not die in the conventional sense. But I was still be able to suffer the same ailments and feel the same things as any human. My thought was that if I turned out to be an evil and unscrupulous human, then my emotional state could only be described as a passing thing. A quirk, if you will. But, if my time spent as a mortal showed I had the inclination to morality and all the trappings valued so highly in the race then I would never be able to return to the service of the Undermaster with, well, a clean conscience, if you will.”
Several images slid by, only a minute or so spent with each one. Always placed behind the past Mortés’, Father Amos watched as a veritable slide show of the demon’s time spent on earth slipped past. He saw Morté in Berlin as columns of American and British armor trundle down the streets accompanied by the cheers of the people. He was there when the demon made a point to visit many of the landmarks of Europe, most still showing the after–effects of the war all around them. Amos watched as Morté marveled at the collected works of human art in museums across Europe. In their side conversations, he learned art and music more than anything had laid the groundwork for many of his human leanings. Such things had few examples in his home world. Those that did exist invariably involved either the activities or the pure psyche of a demon, something that no human should ever be forced to see.
Seasons flew by. He watched as Morté spent time with Tibetan monks and other Eastern mystics. He was there when Morté lived in Ireland for a year and became one of the most famous patrons to three different pubs. Morte had wisely left a good metabolism for his human form, it seemed. He watched as Morté lived a decade in the span of minutes. But it was not all for the good. Amos saw Morté get robbed and beaten. He watched as Morte stepped in to stop the same thing from happening to a young woman in Poland just a few months later and receive a beating that would have killed a normal man for his trouble. He was there when Morté received life–threatening injuries from a fall as he helped rebuild a war–torn hospital in Italy and almost sympathized with the demon as he dealt with pain far greater than any he had been dealt in his previous misadventures. But through it all, Morté did nothing that seemed even remotely on par with his demonic nature, though he was sure that the demon wasn’t showing him everything that had occurred.
Almost as if he sensed the priest’s unanswered question, images of Morté the thief slid past them. First stealing bread then money from merchants and street vendors in Paris. Morté explained he had to commit such acts to prove to himself he was indeed a changed being. He even subjected Amos to a violent rape scene involving the man–demon and what appeared to be a prostitute in London. Though he did physical harm to her for several moments he backed away with obvious self–loathing in the end. Morte had even offered to turn himself in, but the young woman didn’t want such attention. It didn’t stop her from taking the several pound notes he offered her by way of apology, though. Amos had been prepared to dismiss the entire thing as nothing more than a creation, to fool him into believing the demon to be a better creature than he was, that he was greater than the sum of his being. But if he was anything, Father Amos believed himself an excellent judge of character and an even greater judge of the truth. He was almost ready to believe the demon was what he claimed. Almost.
The year was 1962. He could tell as much by peering over the past Morté’s shoulder as he read a newspaper at a sunlit street café. The paper was in Italian, though he wasn’t sure where in the country they were. A truly stunning woman sat down at a table nearby, causing Morté to gaze at her over the edge of his paper. After a moment, the paper and cappuccino were forgotten. He didn’t need to see Morté’s face to know he had been smitten.
“It was bound to happen, wasn’t it?” the current Morté asked from somewhere behind him. “It’s not as if I hadn’t known the touch of a woman in my years as a mortal. But up to this point it had more been to experience the sensation of the physical act.” Morte sighed and fell silent as the two watched his past for nearly a minute. “Theresa Aldozza…” he said reverently in a breathy whisper. “There was never a more perfect woman then or since, nor will there ever be.”
The young lady in question had all the best attributes of her stock. Long, thick black hair pulled back just enough to keep it from nuisance. Her eyes were large and dark and seemed to laugh of their own accord. The baggy, heavy sweater she wore did little to disguise her near–perfect form as she scanned a newspaper of her own and sipped on her coffee. Past and present Morté could do little else but stare. After more than a minute the woman seemed to feel his stare and looked back at him with her clear, laughing eyes. She smiled slightly and nodded at him then went back to her paper. After several more minutes of torture for poor Morté she signaled for a waiter, paid her check and left. All the Mortés’ could do was stare after her. “She was absolutely perfect. And playful.” Morté said more to himself than to the priest as if he had forgotten that Amos was with him. They watched as the past Morté got up from his table and walked to where she had sat. There on her discarded newspaper was a matchbook from a local establishment.
The scene suddenly changed to a lively Italian bistro. It was night now as they watched Morté walk into the dining room and look around. There at a quiet table near the back sat the lovely Theresa, quite alone but with a table set for two.
“I was completely and totally smitten,” Morté said from behind him. “I remember this night as if it were yesterday. I remember that I considered waiting for awhile, to make sure the whole thing wasn’t a fluke, that she wasn’t waiting for her escort for the evening. But then, it has never been in my nature to wait, human or otherwise.”
Past Morté squared his shoulders and walked slowly across the busy dining room and to the lady’s table. Amos didn’t need to hear the conversation to know she'd fully expected him to come that night. Her eyes and equally laughing smile were all he needed to see to prove that out.
“Theresa was everything to me, Father,” Morté said as the world slipped into darkness. This time though, the nausea stayed at bay. Perhaps it was the demon’s thoughts and feelings that had affected him before. It was obvious by his voice he was happy to relive these particular memories. “Perfection in flesh. But not just her physical beauty, Father. No. She had a beautiful mind and a spiritual soul. If it was possible, we believed we had found our soul mates, if that concept does not sound so ridiculously romantic and sappy.”
“I don’t believe so. I have long held there is someone for everyone that deems to look.” Amos added.
“Ah, but Father Amos… I mean no offense but a man of the cloth could never possibly understand such a strong yet delicate bond between a man and a woman.”
“But you are not a man. Even there.”
“Yes. You are right, of course,” Morté said darkly. Then brighter, “Most of the time I spent with Theresa, I forgot about my past, about what I truly was. My only thought was spending time with her and making her as happy as she had made me.”
Light filtered back into Amos’ world. They found themselves standing in a church. Morté and Theresa stood at the altar before a priest and a packed house, taking their vows as husband and wife. “I thought you couldn’t stand on holy ground?” Father Amos said.
“Oh, I can’t. Not without great pain at any rate. I am barely conscious as you see me before the altar. I remember it took every ounce of my being not to cry out, to fall writhing to the ground. But church rites were very important to my Theresa. How could I deny her that? I believe that I had lived as a human so long the effects were not as devastating as they could have been, that I had perhaps grown more accustomed to such things. At any rate, we were married. I can’t begin to describe how truly special that day was.”
The light faded back to the void then slipped back again as many small images flickered past. The two of them living, laughing, and loving. A small cottage with a garden behind, large dinners with what Amos could only guess was with her family and a host of other times and places. “I’m sorry, Father. But it is my way to only remember the best of times when I was with her, for I truly believe that we had no ill ones. At least, not until the end.”
The light faded again, followed by the strongest feeling of discomfort Amos had experienced yet. He winced through it and put a hand to his stomach as the bile rose up in his throat.
“My twenty years came and went far too quickly, Father Amos,” Morté said from the void. His voice was deep and hollow, almost what one would expect to hear from a demon. Amos shivered at that and fought down his gorge as the feeling subsided. “In truth, I often forgot everything about my true nature. The only real reminder was when Theresa and I discussed children. I had included sterility in my personal geis. It is possible under the right conditions for human and demon to mate, and I did not wish to unleash such a beast on the world. It was the only thing she wanted that I could not give, and it pained me to no end that I could not provide something so simple that any man should be able to give to his wife.”
Morte's voice though still void took on an odd, quivering quality. If Amos didn’t know better he would've believed the demon was crying. “If nothing else, I applaud your foresight in making sure that none of your spawn came into the world,” Amos said more roughly than he had intended.
“You have every right to believe or disbelieve my sincerity, Father. After all, I am borne of Hell. Who is to say I am not lying to you even now? Yes… I understand, Father. I would look upon the reverse situation with as jaundiced an eye, to be sure.” More scenes of their lives together flashed by. It seemed the couple lived an idyllic life with little to trouble them. “Her father maintained a small winery that had survived the war. We both worked there; her in the small shop and me in the vineyards. Our cottage was on the grounds as well, a wedding gift from her father. He was a very proud and intelligent man and quickly earned my respect. Even in my true form I doubt I could ever have been moved to harm him.”
“Devout. I professed to the religion but usually found ways to avoid Mass by being in the vines. The few times I went were… trying at best. Ironic, isn’t it? Or perhaps a great joke by the Lord and Master that my one true mortal love would be one of His own followers. Who’s to say?”
“So, what happened?”
“As with all good things, it ended.” The slideshow of images abruptly halted. Amos found himself in their small cottage. Morté was sitting on a small sofa before a roaring fire, his darling Theresa fast asleep couched against his shoulder. Morté sipped a glass of wine and watched the fire. The flames suddenly leaped and danced, shooting a few feet from the hearth and forming the figure of a man. As the flames died away another demon stood, skin still smoldering from his entrance. “Valklasha…” both Mortés’ hissed.
“Koroshinklas… or should I call you Morté?” the demon said with a sneer. His skin was as red as the flames that bore him, with cloven hooves and long horns that jutted straight out from his forehead. Though only Morté’s memory, the thing’s voice still made the priest’s knees weak. “Your ‘holiday’ is at an end. The Undermaster has called for your return.” The demon looked around the room and laughed. “With so much you could have done, you wasted your time like this?”
Slowly, their voices faded away from Amos’ ears. “Why can’t I hear the two of you anymore and why is it that Theresa hasn’t woken up?”
“There are things being said that are best not heard by mortal ears. Many names and times were discussed. Names are powerful things, Father Amos, especially the true name of a demon. It is best that you not hear much of this exchange.”
“Then what is happening?”
“Valk' was sent to retrieve me. I had not realized that my time with Theresa was at an end. We argued, the very nature of us keeping our words from Theresa’s sleeping ears. I told him I was not ready to return,” Morté stopped short his reminiscing when the demon produced a flaming scroll and offered it to his remembered self.
“My official orders to destroy all trace of my mortal life and return to my expected duties.” Past Morté gently moved Theresa from his shoulder and lay her down on the sofa then turned back to the demon. He took the burning parchment, read it slowly and then continued to argue with the demon. “I had been ordered to slay Theresa and her entire family and lay waste to the vineyard and grounds, more a show to my loyalty to the Undermaster than any fear of detection. And here, Father Amos, I will profess that I actually considered it. But only for a moment. Even if it would not have been Theresa, I knew in my heart that I could not comply, that I could not slay those whose only crime was their ill–fortune to have welcomed me into their hearts and lives.”
Suddenly, past Morté’s body exploded into white–hot flames. Amos’ vision blurred as he tried to watch the metamorphosis from man to demon. While both were obviously born of the eternal flames, Morté seemed far more dignified and graceful in his true form, if such a thing could be said. His skin was far darker, the color of blood, and his horns arced back in the style of an antelope and black as coal. He sported no tail as the other did but was built far more powerfully. The fire in the hearth reacted with explosive, almost joyous force as the two infernal creatures locked in combat.
The two exchanged blows that would have felled most adult trees as the flames in the hearth left their boundaries and rushed across the carpeted floor. Within moments the entire room was in flames. The other demon’s attentions occupied, the spell he must have laid on Theresa died away. Amos watched as she shot up from the couch, her screams lost in the roar of the fire as it reached the ceiling.
“We fought for only a few moments, until I realized the danger in which I had placed Theresa. I tried to reach her, but with my mind so distracted Valk’ was able to keep me from aiding her.” Amos threw up his arms out of instinct as a large beam burned free of its moorings high in the ceiling and crashed through him, its other end landing squarely on Theresa. He crossed himself and mumbled a prayer as the burning timber crushed her under its weight, her screams forever gone from the world. Amos’ vision went black as a feeling even darker slid across his soul. He was feeling the emotions of the demon now through his memories, and though Amos was far from a stranger to the pain of others this was something far different. He almost felt as if it were his own life that had been extinguished.
“I killed Theresa that night. Not directly, but I might as well have crushed the life from her with my hands as what happened.” Morté’s voice was thick and filled with pain. There was no doubt the demon was being truthful. Amos knew genuine emotion, and what he felt from him was as great as or greater than any other he had ever experienced. It was honest, real, searing and filled with agony. “I could have resurrected her, you know. But what she would have been forced to become would have been anathema to everything that she had held so dear. Though I would have moved heaven and earth to restore her to my side, I would not allow my selfishness to damn her soul to Hell along with mine.”
“And what happened to the other demon, this Valk’?”
“I killed him,” Morté said this so plainly that Amos wasn’t sure he heard him. “Yes, Father, it is possible to kill a demon. If you know how. And oh! How I know those secrets. As I said, I am powerful even for one of my own kind, and Valk’ was no match for me. Once my geis lifted I had access to my full power and fury. And I am not ashamed to say I used every ounce of it and thoroughly enjoyed his destruction. But this is another story whose details are best left to the imagination and not the ears of mortals.”
Amos looked down just as the waitress filled his cup. His hands were balled into fists and it took several seconds for him to stretch his fingers and get blood to flow through them again.
“Father, are you okay?” the waitress asked him. “You’re as white as a sheet.”
“What? Oh, yes… I’m fine. Just getting over the flu.” As she walked away Amos heard ice clink against glass from the booth behind him.
“I would have confessed more, father, but I fear that my pursuers are near. I can feel them.”
“I think that will be enough.” A sudden, stabbing pain shot through Amos’ head. He gripped the side of the table for a moment until the feeling subsided. How long had their journey through the demon’s memories lasted? He checked the clock and found that less than fifteen minutes had passed since he last noted the time before Morté sat down. Amos rubbed his temple slowly with his free hand and sipped his coffee.
“And what of it all, father?”
“You have lived a sinful life and worked directly as one of the devil’s own children. But I do respect the time you spent as a man, and I think you have experienced enough pain to be sympathetic to those you have harmed. Still, this does not atone for sin, only that you have faced it and recognized the agony and heartache you caused over the years.” He sipped his coffee again and realized he still had hold of the table. “I would say it is a good start.”
“Father Amos, I have no time for starts. They will be coming for me soon. If they catch me, they will take me back with them to hell.”
Amos contemplated his coffee then checked the time again. He could still make the midnight mass if he hurried. “This is far too grave a decision for me to make alone. Come with me to the church. If you can pass the threshold and enter the house of God, I will accept that as a sign of His forgiveness of your sin. Then together we can seek out how best you can atone.”
“If you insist.”
Both men stood and slowly turned to face each other for the first time in their current place in history. Of course, the demon’s human visage would be timeless. He looked just as he had when in the guise of the holy man sending the young woman to her watery grave. Except for one glaring, almost shocking exception; his cold, hard aquiline features were marred by four long scars down his cheek.
“You seem surprised, Father.”
“I would have thought you would be able to make those scars disappear.”
“I could do that quite easily, Father. I consider them a reminder of the things I have done. It is more a testament to Theresa than me that she fell in love with me despite the marks.” Morté pulled two fifties from his pocket and laid one each on their tables. “You will have to drive. I took alternate means.” Demon and priest left the diner, got in Amos’ car and drove off into the night. Neither saw the long, black and lightless sedan that eased soundlessly onto the road behind them.
The trip to the church ha dbeen a silent one with priest and demon each lost in their own thoughts. They parked and walked up the stone stairs to the church doors where they paused as Morté readied himself.
“Do you feel anything?” Amos asked.
“Dread… nervousness… but no pain.”
The sound of several car doors opening and closing turned their attentions back to the deserted Christmas Eve street. Five men dressed in black suits and sunglasses stood at the base of the stairs staring up at them.
“Morté,” one of them said, his voice as deep and resonating as the other demonic examples Amos had heard through the night. “You have led us on quite a chase. We have spent more than forty years in search of you. It is time to return. Come quietly.”
Amos suddenly grasped his chest. It was as if a vice had tightened around his heart. He gasped for air and fell against the doors. Morté cast a worried glance at him then looked back to the hunters.
“No,” Morte said simply and reached out a hand to steady the priest.
“Our patience is at an end. You will come with us. Now.”
Amos grasped the door handle and let his weight swing the tall door open. Morté gripped the priest’s arm tightly out of reflex and the falling priest’s weight pulled him through the open door. The pair fell into the foyer to a chorus of howls and hissing. Morté kept his feet and managed to shut the door behind them. Organ music wafted out from the sanctuary as Amos got to his feet and took several deep breaths.
“Father Amos, are you well?”
“Yes,” Amos whispered. “Their power obviously stops at the door.” They stood for a moment while Amos caught his breath. “But the real question is, are you well?”
Morté suddenly remembered where he was then started to laugh. “I don’t feel anything, Father! No pain! Nothing!”
“Nothing?” Amos said cautiously.
“Nothing except the Lord and Master,” Morté corrected himself, his tone far more solemn. Amos smiled at the demon then cast a worried glance at the entryway to the sanctuary.
“They’ll be letting out soon. We’ll go to my office…” A heavy knock on the door cut off his words. The two exchanged worried glances. Amos pushed Morté away from the door and opened it just enough to see out. One of the hunters stood a few feet from the door.
“This does not concern you, priest. Give us the demon. Now.”
“He… he is under the protection of the Lord and has been granted sanctuary in His house. You hold no power here, demon,” Amos said.
“I hold no power in this House devoted to the protection of the weak of mind and heart, Father Amos. In this you are correct. But I am not without means.” The demon turned and walked down the stone steps and out of his sight. Curious, Amos opened the door wider and looked down the steps toward the street. The trunk of the car was open now and one of the demons was distributing wicked–looking rifles as well as several smaller items that could only be grenades.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Amos called out. Flames suddenly erupted across the stairs and ran out of sight in both directions. Amos threw up an arm and took a step back as the flames climbed higher than a man.
“Let us see how much value you place on the traitor, Father. In exactly ten seconds, my associates are going to throw several grenades through your beautiful stained glass and into the throng of your pathetic congregation. Those that do not perish in the explosion and try to escape must then pass through the flames. And, should any survive that, we will exterminate them like the pitiful insects they are.” The demon’s voice rang through the flames and screeched in his ears, all pretense at any sort of human modulation gone. It was as if the words were being etched on his brain rather than heard. Amos glanced back nervously at the sanctuary and then back to Morté.
“I heard him, Father,” Morté cut in. “The choice is clear, then.”
“What? After all this? After the years of running? You’re going to give up just like that? They’ll kill you!”
“No Father, they will not kill me. Killing me now only means they will chance losing my essence, my soul, to other masters. If they take me alive they will return me to Hell. That is their goal. And make no mistake, they will do exactly as he has said. The lives of your people mean nothing to them. I cannot allow any more to die because of me.”
“But… you came so far…”
Morté walked past Amos and into the open doorway. “Yes, Father. I have. But if it is to end this way, it is worth it. Perhaps this is my penance then, Father?” He looked out into the flames and chuckled. “Delicious in its irony, isn’t it? I confess my sins and have apparently been welcomed into the House of the Lord. But the penance for the sins that brought me to its very door will be the denial of the salvation I have so desperately sought. So what of it, Father Amos? Will you grant me absolution?”
Amos stepped to him and reached out, placing a hand on his forehead. He said a small blessing and crossed himself, then stepped back.
“Father? Will you do me one thing? When you get... there… will you tell Theresa I am sorry for all that I caused her? And, please, tell her that I did try.” A tear slid down Morte's face with more threatening to follow. He wiped the back of a hand across his eyes.
Amos nodded slowly and stepped into the doorway as Morté stepped through it. He turned his head to the side and gasped.
“I never knew just how hot the flames could be,” Morte said.
A sudden inspiration struck the priest like the proverbial lightning bolt. Morté had entered holy ground. He had cried and he could feel the searing heat of the flames borne of Hell; things no demon should ever be capable of feeling.
“Wait,” Amos said. As Morté turned to face him, Amos plucked a tall, heavy candlestick from a table in the foyer and struck Morte squarely across the face. The once-demon stumbled but didn’t fall. He looked at Amos, confused and in pain. Before Morte could utter another word, Amos reached out and dragged him back into the church and onto the floor. Father Amos raised the bloodied candlestick over his head in both hands then brought it down savagely on Morte’s neck. Blood and a garbled cry burst from Morte's mouth as Amos hit him again and again. His throat nearly crushed and gasping for air through blood–stained lips, Morte stared wildly at the suddenly insane priest with a silent plea to his obvious question.
“You live now! You’re not a demon anymore. You were granted absolution and life… gifts only the Lord can give and only the Lord can take away. Go, my childe… go and sin no more,” Father Amos said. With all the strength he had remaining, the priest grabbed Morté and rolled him through the open door and directly into the flames. Morté didn’t even scream as the flames lapped at him, searing him and granting him a nearly–painless death.
As soon as the body was in the flames the collected demons outside shrieked in a cacophony louder than the roar of the conflagration. The flames died away quickly, but not quick enough to leave more of Morté’s body than a few charred bits of flesh and bone. Amos stood just outside the door and looked down at the demons. Each had their weapons trained on him, a sickly red glow coming from behind their dark glasses.
“You have been denied your prize, foul creatures. Leave now and stop defiling this house of God with your presence!” Father Amos roared at them.
“You have no idea what you toy with, priest!”
“Morté’s soul is for the Lord Jesus Christ to judge now. He is as far from the clutches of you and your masters as I am from you.”
“Do not be so sure, priest.” The sound of sirens suddenly filled the night around them. Someone must have seen the flames or heard the racket the demons had made.
“We must go!” another of them hissed at the speaker.
“No! The priest must be made to pay! I will not be denied!”
“And if we are discovered? What of it then? We only have writ for Morté and any standing with him. Morté is dead. No one on earth stands with him now! We must go else we violate the Pact!”
The speaker howled in rage and threw his weapon against the sidewalk, shattering it in his hatred. He made an exaggerated motion and the rest of them quickly climbed into the car. “I will see you again, priest. This is not over!” he said as he climbed in after his fellows. The driver didn’t even wait until his door was closed to speed off into the night.
Amos released the breath he had been holding and stepped to Morté’s charred remains. He kneeled and said a small prayer over where the body had been then went back inside just as the first wave of his congregation began to file out. Amos blocked the main doors with his body and directed them around to the side doors just as the fire trucks screeched to a halt in front of the church. He told them that there had been an accident outside and the authorities had requested they all exit from the rear of the building and avoid the front. It wasn’t a complete lie, he just didn’t tell them whose authority had requested it. Father James came out to wish his flock a merry Christmas and was met by Amos.
“Father Amos, what’s going on?” the younger priest asked.
“A funny thing happened on the way to mass…” Father Amos quipped as James went and opened the front door. He saw several firemen and paramedics examining the charred remains and nearly lost his gorge.
“I’ll handle this, Father James. Just make sure that none of the congregation comes out this way.”
“But, Father Amos… what happened?”
“Remind me sometime, and I’ll tell you. Suffice it to say that the Lord does, indeed, work in his own mysterious ways.”
Thanks for reading, and, just write damn it. - Author