A Praying Man This

A soul that has come in search of forgiveness looks upon the scene before it and despairs of ever finding that consolation. What it sees is a tableau formed by a beautifully carved Jesus, a stained glass window depicting the stations of the cross lit by the dying sun, and a priest supplicated before both of these in an attitude of utter humility. And what the owner of the soul thinks as they devour this scene, and the meanings it feels are implicit in this fortuitous conjunction, arranged he feels just for him, is that this priest possesses something which shall be forever denied to him. But the soul is mistaken, and as the doubt which has flickered and stuttered like candle-flame in the wind of enquiry crystallises into something more final, another soul falls to the mistake which Faust serves as a warning against — not to forget that to be forgiven all you must do is ask for forgiveness.

 

The priest is not all he appears. It is not stigmata which pools in his outstretched palms, it is not the wine of the Eucharist which makes red his teeth, it is not surrender he offers but justification that he seeks. This blood-stained hypocrite is a harbinger of death for all who have sought mercy from him. It was not always so though, he once embodied all that he appears to be now; odd how drastically things can change.

 

The priest thinks that his condition is close to being discovered by the members of his church. It is his thirst which has brought him to this place, this situation where he stands to be discovered and destroyed for what he’s allowed himself to become. When one person goes missing and you were the last person to see them alive then its considered as something tragic; when the second person goes missing people will call it an unfortunate coincidence; when four or five are found with their entrails hanging out of them and you were the last person to see them then it is a different matter entirely.

 

And how has he managed to avoid being caught so far? Merely a quirk in vampire evolution that the myth-makers haven’t caught up with yet — the daywalkers. He’d been taking a confession when it happened, it was so unexpected — it erupted out of nowhere, the person in the confession box seeming so placid, torpid even. He was asking questions about why the sun didn’t burn him, why God didn’t find him so blasphemous that he’d end this eternity he’d been living through. These were, strangely enough, quite normal questions for those tormented by those dark nights of the soul that plague all of us. It was when he offered solace that he was attacked. Through the separating wall, like an exploding bomb, came an anarchy of slashing fangs and hands with a grip like iron. And it was over, and he lay there covered in his blood, frothing at the mouth, panicked but calming.

 

No-one had come that night after the stranger had pushed him out of the world of the living and made him an abomination. His reflection had not abdicated from the mirror, one thing he had been praying for as he felt the air move against the carnage that was his throat and face. An hour on and the shock subsided for long enough to allow him to clear his mind and clean himself up. The second wave of shock arrived on the back of the discovery of his newly healed visage, and following this period of shock came a thought that perhaps what had happened to him was not an act of evil.

 

The conviction, that this might be a force of good working through him, should have been shaken in the following weeks as blood-lust found satiation in the poor members of the homeless community. The Vampire in him found these unfortunates by drawing on the priest’s extensive knowledge of the homeless garnered from time with the mobile soup-kitchen. It must take a particular type of arrogance to allow someone who has just murdered people he used to go out of his way to help to reconcile being a killer with being a man of the cloth, but sadly it seemed that this was what manifested itself in him.

 

Father Duncan McClew, one-time good Samaritan, respected priest, friend to all, had always suffered the sin of pride — it had been something that he had been working on. His advisor, the Bishop, saw good things in his future: he had called Duncan a work in progress. Now the dream was blood-spattered and lost in gore, could they salvage anything from it? The priests, who Duncan had correctly identified as having discovered his secret, were thinking that the only good outcome they could hope for would be that he could be disposed of as quietly as possible.
He kept going to confession, unaware that he was destroying the confessor with the description of these sordid deeds he was carrying out. Deeds he thought that he had been successfully passing off as mere murders. His confessor, on special dispensation, was being allowed to break the seal of the confession. It was considered a matter of religious philosophical truth that the undead were not covered by this covenant with the priest. Even so it was not an easily done thing for any priest to repeat what he had heard in the confessional box. The faith of the confessor, already tried by the nature of McClew’s words, was pushed to breaking point by this further intrusion into his life.

 

He sat there, one of the members of his parish dead at his feet. There was little blood, that was all making its way through the hi-ways and by-ways of McClew’s arterial system. He looked refreshed, positively glowing. He was reciting the Lord’s prayer under his breath. The rosary made circuits through his rapidly moving fingers. His fangs, having performed the task they were designed for, slowly retracted until they were the same length as the other teeth in his upper jaw.

 

‘Mrs Smythe, Mrs Smythe, what a good Samaritan you were, and for it all to end like this.’

 

His eyes were like red welts, bleeding human sorrow from inhuman eyes. The priest in this body, for a moment, taking primacy over the haemophagist. He was wondering how to kill himself, though he knew that suicide was a sin, but thinking that perhaps this thing inside him would change the nature of the act — he would be destroying evil. He feared that he had already lost his eternal soul but perhaps he could save what little was left of himself. And then all these thoughts, the thoughts of a good, though proud, man battling against something he barely comprehended, were torn to shreds as a riptide of predatory urges surged through him and blotted out the thoughts of this mortal shadow. He pulled the late Mrs Smythe to pieces, squeezing out what remaining blood coloured her corpse. The thing in him was sated and, protective of what it thought of as itself, it moved to get the rather messy remains concealed as best as possible.

 

McClew was always cautious, making sure that there would be no-one around to witness these deaths. But on some level, the human level – there still was such a layer to his personality – on the human level, he wanted to be discovered. The conscious battle was not apparent, but that something was wrong, was obvious to all who knew him. Without this thing in him he would never have done such terrible deeds. Those who would have the task of killing him understood that as well as freeing the community from a monster’s grip, they were also to be freeing the captive priest from the torment which his existence must be to him.

 

McClew the Vampire defiled the font with his urine, mixed the blood of those he had killed with sacramental wine, licked all of the wafers, the body of Christ. He scrawled pentagrams all over the pages of the prayer-books, recited passages of the bible backwards. He didn’t know whether anything that he was doing had any power, but he knew that it had significance: it represented his corruption, how far he had turned from the ways of the priesthood (from the ways of the faithful). He did this on a regular basis, repeating each act as if it were laid out in some rule-book in his head as to which order the acts should be performed. Those who knew his predicament, knew what he had become, knew what was going to be done to him — they all tidied up after him: though they found it difficult to dispose of things that had once been holy (water, wine and wafers), they were under strict orders not to confront him. It brought most of them to tears, to see what had become of this man.
The gardener, tender of the graves, the trees and the flowers, had been excluded from the inner circle who had been watching the Vampire Priest. He knew about it now though. He was an old man, wise in the ways of the world, not given to superstition but open minded enough to have read about all the strange things they suspected walked upon the earth, and before him, feasting on the considerable wound in the girl’s chest, with its bloody maw and razor-sharp fangs, could be nothing other than a Vampire. He knew that the girl was a lost cause — he was no coward, and if he had thought he could save her he would have done, but she was too far gone. Sense made him take flight, age-weakened legs betrayed him. McClew, after beheading the teenager, was up and on him in a flash.

 

The impact, as he hit the ground, busted a couple of his ribs, and McClew’s knees in his back made the discs in his lower back grind painfully. McClew got off of him, turned him over, lifted him off his feet, his hands around his neck. The gardener thought that the priest was taller than he had been before, and he knew that he was dead when he looked into those furious red eyes.

 

‘Jacob, my son, the Lord Jesus Christ gives of his blood for us to drink, would you deny me the same? You who are nothing?’
‘I forgive you, Father McClew, I know that you are not yourself. May God be merciful on your eternal soul and forget this monster.’
‘I never realised you had such eloquence in you, Jacob, what a shame that only I shall hear it, and that I care nothing for it.’

 

The gardener was stronger than he looked, and he took a long time to die. His heart pumped hard, the blood rushing into the mouth clamped about his neck. A man who had once talked him through the grief of losing his wife was now a Vampire ushering him into the next world. The humour in the situation did not escape him and Jacob let out a laugh. McClew paused, the laughter had disturbed him, what a strange time to laugh, he thought — even when this thing is being snuffed out it can laugh. The lapse in concentration was brief, a momentary respite for the old man, but the brevity did not allow hope to enter his thoughts — he knew that he was going to die. Eventually, with such great blood loss it was inevitable, he weakened, the world began to fade. The gardener Jacob left the world with the unfinished Lord’s Prayer lodged half-spoken in his ebbing mind. McClew never even heard it.
The human in the Vampire wondered why no-one had yet moved against him. How many more innocents would have to suffer at the hands of this abomination before it was brought low and made to cower before the might of the Lord? How much longer must he share flesh with this interloper? Was this limbo to be a never-ending prison? Was this not a punishment too severe for the sin of pride? He was not proud now: he may be submerged under the tide of blood that was being pulled into what was once his body, but he was humble, and he wished to repent and be forgiven. Could God not hear him, even though his lips did not move?

 

A parishioner a night was despatched at the hand of the blood-drinking Father. people unaware of the secret — victims of the Church’s indecision as much as the Nosferatu. There would be one less person to ring the bells on Sunday, and there would be one less person to do the flowers for the festivals. How many more days would the slaughter continue before they sent somebody in who could deal with the problem? McClew, and those in the know, counted the days by the number of dead; tried not to think of vengeance though it was foremost in their minds.
Some felt that this place was no longer holy, instead, that it was reduced to a satanic shell: a state that had been brought about by the unwitting collusion of the priests who had stayed their hands thus far. Burn it down, said some. Lock him in and burn it down, said others. Still nothing seemed to move them to action. Was it lethargy or fear which now prevented them from killing this killer? This ungodly creature had been allowed free reign for too long now and it must come to an end — at the rate that they were moving they might as well give it succour and provide the people it needed to feed on willingly, because it took them anyway.

 

It was just taking a while to get an expert in killing the undead to come. Vampire killers were few and far between in this part of the world and those with experience of the daywalkers, for that knowledge had come to them, was numbered even fewer. Part of the problem lay in the fact that those in this line of work seemed to be extremely busy at the moment — a huge increase in the number of nests being discovered was causing great concern. The mutation: the daywalkers, had made the job that much more difficult too … absolutely no-one had even thought of Vampires as having an evolutionary arc let alone what might be the result of such a process. What had been the primary weakness of Vampires? Extreme allergic reactions to sunlight — the kind of problem that evolution always strove to correct in its movements through the lines of a creature’s blood.

 

The priest still fought within the stolen body he had once owned — how he managed to do so against such a strong influence was a wonder. The weapons which he would usually use were denied to him however: he could not bless water and make it holy for the hands he would lay upon the water were shared with an abomination, he could not bring the rebellious flesh to pick up crosses, though he knew that these modern blood-drinkers were not as susceptible to faith’s powers of command. He had only that merest smudge of self-hood with which to smear the perfection of the Vampire’s state, but he made the effort and tried. He would not have his goodness erased like this — and he knew that there had been goodness, and he recognised that it was not pride that made him think this: there was proof enough if you looked to where he had touched the world.

 

Why did the vampire choose to stay where it was, not to venture forth from the church? It must surely know that it couldn’t stay here forever now that it was discovered? McClew wondered whether it might have something to do with the fact that Vampire in him was young: perhaps it was incapable of reasoning, but then it had avoided capture thus far. Was it relying on cunning, instinct, something buried in itself that directed it how to act? The drives which a new-born were controlled by could be difficult to combat, that was true of any species, but it was also a weakness — he had to seize upon any opportunity that was afforded to him. While the creature rested, which it must do, even if it were a daywalker, McClew used the time to think, to plan; he was too weak at present to do any more than this, but it was better than being passive and not trying to do anything at all. He would not give up: though they didn’t know that he was fighting alongside them, he would try to make his efforts count. He was afraid, being where he was, he felt further from God than he ever had in the past; this was surely a great test of faith: to be buried alive in yourself.

 

What sustenance would be sought tonight? The Vampire wanted to stretch its legs, explore the place of its birth. It was as if McClew’s question as to why it was staying put had registered in its mind as some kind of subconscious impulse. Did this mean what he thought it meant? He didn’t want to get his hopes up too much, he could be dreaming in vain. He would wait and see — there was a lot of that going on, but the others who were doing the waiting were in more of a position to move and act than he was at present; he couldn’t blame them though, their fear had a lot to do with their inaction (he just wanted to believe that they weren’t cowards).
As eyes that saw only prey looked at the crowds that passed it, the father peered out also, sorrow almost overwhelming him — to see God’s children so vulnerable; shielded by his faith, he had never seen the world stripped down its bare essentials like this before: it was a shock, a revelation, something he had not prepared himself for. The father’s body, in the control of the beast, was wearing the clothing of one of the victims: a hooded top, loose jeans, baggy ill-fitting t-shirt. It chuckled at the disguise, laughed at how easy these humans were to fool; thought smugly to itself, no wonder we are at the top of the food-chain. It didn’t hear McClew’s reply to it, it didn’t care to listen to something which would die inside this body that it had taken as its own. It would feed — it would drown him in the gore of others, wash him away in blood.

 

It entered a club, not an eyelid batted — the bouncers were happy to mind their own business, self-assured in the fact that no-one would bother messing about with them because everybody knew how hard they were. The creature had taken money from everybody that it had killed and so was fairly flush, it could afford to be generous and spring for a few drinks for the intended blood donor. It read their minds, told them exactly what they wanted hear, seduced them into going into the shadows, into the nooks and crannies where courting couples made out. The small amount of thrashing that accompanied a kill was just put down to amorous drunks by those who witnessed it. No-one cared enough to wonder why the man got up and left after he had had his wicked way and then returned to the bar to pick another one for the same treatment; no-one thought too much about the girls and boys laying supine in these alcoves — it was all put down to too much alcohol. What a perfect hunting ground, it thought.

 

McClew recoiled in horror from what he was forced to see — wasn’t too much of this kind of thing supposed to numb you? Where was that numbness? Would God not grant him this one favour? To make it all go away? No, and he knew why — God was making him witness this so that he would be forced to do something: he would be forced to act, forced to fight for his body. If he were allowed to close himself off from the acts which this creature was using his earthly form for then he would be able to excuse himself from doing anything: God wanted to rub his nose in it and make him sick of it, so he would do anything to get away from it or to stop it. His mind flared inside the crowded skull after this flurry of thought: flared so high that the thing reeled for a moment, and for the first time it was on the back foot — the it turned on him.

 

The dying girl and those about him in the pub looked on with wide eyes as he began to attack himself, punching and clawing at his face, possessed by a madness which frightened them all; frightened them even more when they realised suddenly what he had been doing to the girl. And as they advanced on the form that had once been Father McClew and was now, at this moment, both a hybrid of him and something alien, the thing struck at him with a psychic force which turned the world into blackness, and all clarity was lost. The blow which the thing had dealt inside its stolen head was mirrored by physical blows that it began to rain down upon its attackers. It punched, sliced with its razor-sharp nails, tore out throats with its teeth: it was a furious tornado of violence, glorying in the blood which splashed into its face and open mouth. It did not notice, or did not feel, the blows which were directed against its person. It was possessed with the idea that it must flee, that it must return to the warmth of that womb-like place it remembered being born in — the confession box. The bouncers which tried to pounce on it as it ran towards the exit were not killed, but each of them was so seriously injured that that unshakeable confidence that each of them had evaporated and never reappeared — what they saw stayed with each of them and, much more than the physical scars, damaged something inside each of them beyond repair. Most of the people who had been involved in the incident suffered the same, to greater or lesser degrees.

 

The hijacked body of Father McClew, suffused with more energy than it had ever had to contain, had made it back to the church, had made it back to the confession box. The thing was scared … it was confused. It was, for the moment, alone inside this shell, and it felt the entire universe bearing down upon it with such weight that it thought it would die there and then. Vampires do not like the feeling that death is so close, they are born with the knowledge that they will outlast suns, that mortality need never trouble them if they are careful — that this thing, so young, had managed to bring itself so close to the abyss so soon, meant that it was more afraid than it had ever expected to be. It did not like the sensation of fear, its own fear: if there was a place for fear in this world it was in the breast of the thing that was being hunted by it; fear had no right to weaken it, make it like the bags of bones that it fed off — how dare it presume to do that to this magnificent creature, this lord over everything? It screamed, a rending noise that froze the blood of any who were close enough to hear it: froze the blood of those experts who had finally come to kill it. Halted them in their already hesitant passage to this now cursed place. They crossed themselves, looked to each other, swallowed the words which were about to give voice to their fears, and proceeded, one foot in front of the other; moving as slow as the sluggish fearful thoughts which curled snake-like around the primitive animal parts of the brain that were preparing them for fight or flight.

 

It had instinct, they had faith. What it did required no thought: it was hardwired into its very fundamentals; what they did came from thought, was borne from beliefs that they felt ran deep in their souls — they did it because of a calling. It sensed that there were three of them: three experts. It itemised them according to how difficult they would be to dispatch, and it was happy to note that none of them would present any particular problems. The fat one was asthmatic and suffered from angina, called itself Bogart Trojan, and brought up the rear. The one that had taken point was close to seven foot, wore the dress of a wilfully eccentric professor from one of the more esteemed colleges, called itself Eustace Trilby, and carried itself with great dignity and bearing. The third member of the group, calling itself at the moment, piggy in the middle, but named Bill Johns, was indiscriminate, a muddy mix of the qualities that made up the other two. They were in the church; it exited the confession box to meet them.

 

They had all been shown photographs of Father McClew and, though they knew this to be the body of the Father, it most definitely was not him that stood before them. The abomination had transformed the raw materials which it had infected into a muscular, hulking, killing machine: a monster. It was covered in the gore of those that it had butchered earlier in the club (victims that the experts knew nothing about). It sickened each of them to see a holy man brought so low. They were here to save a soul and destroy an embodiment of pure evil. Trilby stepped forward to address what was to be his foe.

 

‘Hello, what do you call yourself then?’ he said in a rather jaunty manner.
‘Fuck you, lackey,’ was the less than jaunty reply.
‘You know why we are here.’
‘I know.’

 

The thing felt confident now — it had control of this body, and what had seemed like a prison now felt like a precision tool which it could wield against these ill-prepared idiots. They wasted time with idle chit-chat, they stank of fear, and they brought their puny weapons to bear on something that it felt they didn’t truly understand. It swelled with thoughts of its own greatness, grew larger before their eyes: the shadow it cast reaching out long fingers down the aisle, trying to marry them with the darkness which it seemed to shed and stand out from like a beacon. It’s eyes blazed like rubies lit by an unnatural fire; it was monstrous to behold. It began to advance toward them.

 

It closed its hand into a fist, smiling at Trojan all the while, and Trojan collapsed to his knees clutching his chest, barely able to squeeze a word out to tell his comrades that his heart was about to give. His heart lurched, his head swam — he died thinking about the pills which he shouldn’t have left at home on his wife’s dresser. His friends barely noticed his passing, concerned as they were with the battle in hand. Johns had been knocked from his feet and every time he tried to rise an invisible force, directed by the blood sucker, pushed him back to the ground. The creature was primarily concerned with attacking and ridding itself of Trilby, and that was where its main efforts were concentrated. Its hands held his wrists and tried to bring him close enough so that it could tear out his throat, but Eustace fought with all his strength and while he was no match for the Vampire, he at least delayed it from attaching itself to his jugular. It didn’t just want to kill him, it seemed, but to steal his strength as well. The garlic didn’t deter it, the holy water ran off its fevered flesh, the stake that he reached for from his work-belt was knocked from his hand the instant that it was espied. It appeared that Trilby was doomed, all his expertise of no help to him at that moment, only his waning strength, and how long would that stave off the advances of the monster?
And then the Vampire halted, froze: a look in its eyes of amazement. Its hands released Eustace Trilby and clasped the side of its head and it let rip with that deafening scream once more. Johns struggling against the unseen was suddenly stood bolt upright and galvanised into action — he struck the beast on the side of the head, kicked its legs away from under it, and it was so preoccupied with the pain which seemed to be coursing through it that it didn’t retaliate. Trilby had regained his composure enough to join Johns in his attacks, but both of them were unsure as to how much damage what they were doing was actually causing.

 

McClew had clawed his way back from the dark waters which his mind had been thrust into, the deep reservoir of all the Vampire’s ancestry like a lake beneath the thin skin of consciousness which this entity had. McClew had felt as if he was drowning, pulled under by the clawing nightmares that were somehow conjoined with his body’s other occupant. He had ignored their sussurating voices as they tried to insinuate themselves into his consciousness, to drain his willpower: they were after stealing his psychic energy as the beast at large in the world in his body had stole his life from him — he would not allow it. Charged with faith and the belief that he could end this once and for all he broke the surface of that blood ocean and began to wrestle the beast for control of what was rightfully his. The only way to free himself and rid the world of this leech, he had now realised, was to destroy the body which they were both co-existing in.

 

Trilby and Johns had both got a hold of their stakes and were preparing to drive them home with the hammers they had brought for just that purpose when the stakes were snatched from them. They heard a voice different to the one which had greeted them when they had first met their quarry protesting loudly, a voice they would have recognised if they had ever had the chance to meet Father Duncan McClew. McClew moved the hands which had once been wholly his, moved the hands which both held stakes and, like an oriental committing hara-kiri, he fell upon the sharpened bits of wood and they pierced his body, driven home by the force of his weight upon them. McClew groaned in pain, while the Vampire screeched out its death knell: a noise worse than its scream, a sound which nearly stopped the hearts of the two men, questioning their own expertise, wondering at the strength of the man whose plight they had come to end, pondering the quiet death of the blood-sucker. But it was not dead; not yet.

 

Trilby and Johns saw before them a tableau formed by a beautifully carved Jesus, a stained glass window depicting the stations of the cross lit by the dying sun, and a former priest in the grip of a Vampire supplicated before both of these in what appeared to be an attitude of utter humility. And what they thought as they witnessed the scene was that this represented a final blasphemy wrought by something that cared nothing for the man it had destroyed. But they were mistaken, Father Duncan McClew had not fallen to the mistake which Faust serves as a warning against — not to forget that to be forgiven all you must do is ask for forgiveness. He was asking God now to forgive him for what he had allowed to happen and for what he was about to do.

 

The Vampire was not all it appeared to be to the two Vampire Killers. McClew made those hands reach toward the cross, knowing in his heart of hearts that the purification which he had asked for was to be his — as he fell backwards, clutching the cross to his chest, not a sound escaped his lips. He burst into flame, a flame brighter than either Trilby or Johns had ever seen before or were likely to see ever again, and before that infected vessel burnt up, for a moment (just a short moment) they both saw what they thought was the peaceful sleeping form of Father McClew. And it was: the Father was finally at rest, and both of them recognised that the priest whom they had thought to be vanquished had, through faith, finally and ultimately triumphed.

 

Sadness

It preys on those without,

Slowly attacking within,

With the covers of his bed drawn about

Him he looks ill and thin —

Sunken in a deep depression,

Society fades in the shade of recession.

The soul dwindles

As the fire poverty kindles

Burns him like misery in flames

Of prolonged obsession,

He’s forgotten all his friend’s names,

All of them just a faceless procession.

He slips into gloom,

Only seeing doom —

He’s trapped in a room

Where he’s lost the key

And the man with the broom

Has swept away the free.

Seconds are seeds for long minutes,

Which branch out and turn into hours,

From hours the long day flowers,

The month is a trunk

Which all the junk

Of depression falls in,

And even when he tries to begin

Again the year quickly sours,

Sadness sits in one of its ivory towers,

Unassailable to all it appears —

Nothing gets through to the bringer of tears.

PCP Lethal Injection

His gravity gets him down,
From his cage he’s looking out —
Trapped in a habit in another town,
In the vicious circle of the ring it’s another bout.
He steals because they deal in notes,
Resting on their opium floats
In their deep hulled cocaine boats,
Over the addict the dealer gloats —
Watching them slip into overdose,
Being careful not to get too close.
A temporary hypodermic heaven,
Better than to live a life unleaven:
He’s rising like yeast
Through the chemical diversion
Into a recess where there’s a primal beast
Waiting to be fed
In his emptying head,
Then the condition begins to worsen.
They all start to deny
The fact that they rely
Upon their daily fix,
Blindness is up to its usual tricks.
Humanity and ethics are up for dissection,
Under the pressure of the lethal injection,
We can see PCP as a retina spot in the eye,The high is a lie and they come down to die.

Blue Days Black Nights

I sit back and watch the
mill of the world
turn on its axis,
grinding life in its full circle,
crushed ears hear
bad old times and bad new times
just the same —
it’s fear
to blame.

On the back of the causal flow
we drift along, no need to row:
we either start to try
and make a stand,
or relax, drift through,
then curl up and die.

Man’s ultimate futility
makes him show no humility.
Those without are covered up
and slip into statistical haze:
blue days.
Those forced to flight
sleep a dark disturbed night,
the colour divide
compounds the plight
and onwards we rideinto the black night.