The Priest and the Bottle
Chad left the restaurant feeling full, but unnerved. The presence of Mrs. B’s grim yet somehow cheerful specter had left him in shock only momentarily. After a few minutes to ponder, the answer had come to him: I should have paid more attention in church. Earlier in life, Chad’s parents had been devout Catholics, attending church every Sunday, and doing their part to indoctrinate him. Of course, that had all changed on the day of his sister’s death. Just days after the funeral, they had fucked off to Florida to celebrate a new culture of nihilism and fruity drinks, and he hadn’t seen them since.
All the same, from his first taste of communion wine, Chad had known that religion was not for him. He worshipped, daily even, but the only god he ever found solace in preached from the bottom of a bottle. At least alcoholism doesn’t judge you. Chad pondered the idea of going to find a drink, but decided that for the moment, a church was more important. His logic was that some member of the clergy likely knew about the dark arts, and most priests in his experience were drunks anyway.
It didn’t take him long to find a church, after all, they were more common in south Midway than gas stations. Chad didn’t think that most people in town were religious, but having that sense of normalcy was worth spending a few hours a week in a hastily constructed wooden sweatbox. Whatever the reason, people still went, and more churches were built every day. The one he stumbled on was old, with fading bricks threatening to crumble beneath the steeple’s weight. An elderly gentleman wearing the black cloth of the priesthood stood at the top of the steps ushering passersby in.
“Come on in folks and see the miracle of salvation. God’s house is open to everyone if you’re just willing to take a few minutes.” His tone was light and had little of the exasperation that came with the repeated rejection of the public. He had short, curly white hair that had begun to thin on top and wore a friendly smile. Before Chad had even begun to mount the steps, the man spotted him. “Hello there, young man,” he beamed.
Chad smiled back at him, trying not to betray the uneasy feeling that cropped up every time he entered a church. “Good morning,” he called, with an exuberant wave.
“Do you have time for the man Jesus Christ today?” asked the priest, not missing a beat. Young folks in Midway didn’t really take to religion, so to find one on the church steps, and friendly at that, was a boon. If only he had known.
“Only if you’re willing to answer a few life questions,” joked Chad with a hearty false laugh. And tell me where I might find information on the apocalypse.
The man chuckled. “Son, if you’ve got time for Jesus, I’ve got all the time in the world for you. Come on in.” Motioning toward the large oak doors that served as the church’s entrance, the man led Chad in.
As they passed beneath the stone archways and intricately etched, but fading stained glass, Chad felt a chill sweep over him. The musty, cool air that came from places of worship whipped out of the door and made sent a prickle racing down the back of his neck. Just being in the church made him feel somehow unclean. For a moment, he hesitated. It’s just the hangover talking, he told himself and walked in.
Inside shafts of muted light cut through the dusty air, illuminating pews with a holy reverence. The stained glass glowed in the heat of the morning light, giving uncanny life to the characters it portrayed. There were a few churchgoers, but Chad expected far more. “Little light of a crowd for Sunday don’t you think?” he asked.
The priest turned around and looked at him quizzically. “It’s Tuesday, son.” He shook his head in disapproval. “Maybe you need more help than I thought.” There was an air of disappointment to his voice, but he did his best to cover it with a warm smile.
Shit, demons coming to rule the earth and I missed work again. With his string of recent absences, Chad had no doubt that if he wasn’t fired, he was at least on toilet duty. Even pizza joints had standards, and the kid manager was always looking for ways to prove his authority. Chad slipped his phone out of his pocket, sent the manager a quick lie about being so ill he couldn’t stand, and returned his attention to the priest.
“My office is this way.” The priest motioned down a short corridor that ran parallel to the church’s chapel. Together they walked down a hallway lined with pictures of saints and depictions of Christ himself. The eyes seemed to follow Chad as he walked like something out of an old mystery cartoon. From childhood he had always felt uncomfortable in places of the divine, but this day felt different. A deep chill took hold in his stomach as he made accidental eye contact with the portrait of a rather pained looking Christ.
If the priest noticed Chad’s uneasy demeanor, he made no comment. They continued down the hallway and through a door at the very end. His office was furnished lavishly with what appeared to be the entirety of the church’s library. In the middle of the room was a dark wooden desk, neatly kept with a bible in the center. Surrounding it were shelves lined top to bottom with dusty tomes and polished church relics. On the floor were clearly catalogued stacks of books that hadn’t quite been able to fit.
This is the place, thought Chad with hope. There has to be something in one of those about the apocalypse.
The priest walked behind the desk and sat down at a large plush armchair, motioning to the wooden seat on the other side for Chad. “Come, sit. Tell me what’s on your mind and what brought you to our fine church today.”
Chad shifted uncomfortably. “You’re not going to like it.”
The priest gave him a knowing wink. “I think you’ll find that I’ve seen quite a lot in my time here.”
Chad let out a long sigh. Here goes nothing. “Last night I was contacted by one of the four horseman of the apocalypse who told me judgment day is a year away, and this morning I was accosted by a prophetic dead woman during breakfast.”
The priest’s eyes first creased as though he were about to laugh, but when Chad showed no sign of joking, he stammered uncomfortably. “J-judgment day?” His voice was still disbelieving, but with a flicker of panic.
“Yes, last night a demon appeared at the foot of my bed… Well, someone else’s bed. Doesn’t matter. He was a real high-and-mighty prick on a horse, picked me up, shoved me through a portal and showed me hell. He said that because of “fair play” rules they had to tell someone, and they picked me.” Saying it aloud felt ridiculous, but if a priest wasn’t going to believe him, who would?
“And when you saw the spirit during breakfast?” the man’s hands were shaking slightly.
“She told me it was true and then got dragged back to Hell by some big fucker with horns.” Chad made a brief gesture to Heaven for Mrs. B, thought better of it and pointed it below.
“And the horseman told you one year?” The priest reached slowly into a drawer in his desk and pulled up a dusty bottle of Johnny Walker.
Chad’s eyes lit up and he felt his hand clench in anticipation. “Yeah. Hey, you going to share that?”
The priest took a hefty swig straight from the bottle and passed it to Chad. “Son, we’re going to need a lot more than this.”