God's Shoehorn (Chapter II)
'And now we hear from an ex priest of the Catholic church!' came the radio talk show's host enthusiastically. Paul looked from the expectantly grinning Atheist to the red-faced creationist guest and back. A little bubble of nervous pressure gurgled in his belly but was outweighed by the rebellious excitement that he had grown to expect from these moments.
'Of course there is no God' he lied to the nodding Atheist. 'Think of all the suffering in the world!' he decried. His speech had been memorized verbatim from a 'free thinkers' website on the 'Atheists-for-truth' network. 'What kind of 'merciful' God goes around starving people in Africa, causing plagues, disease, cancer, natural disasters? It just doesn't match up with this so-called 'loving' God's character description in the bible? What are we meant to believe? That he is as he says, or actually do we take these instances of cruelty as proof that he isn't there at all?!'
'You're missing the poi...'
'Aaaand that's all we have time for folks!' said the presenter cheerfully running roughshod over the evangelical Christian's opinion, 'Thanks for tunin' in, and make sure you turn those radios on to catch us at the same time next week on... Free Thinkers verses the World of Faith!' The pre-recorded applause track roared and the grinning dj leaned around the table to pat Paul's shoulder in appreciation.
'Cheers pal' he said over the Christian's sputtering objections in broad Geordie, 'Ye ganin doon toon for tha game?'
'I think I'm going for a walk' Paul replied giving the wheezing evangelist a commiserating pat on the shoulder. He didn't have anything against the man after all. It was the deity he represented that ticked Paul off so much. Paul knew He'd heard the show. He didn't miss anything. Only had himself to blame on that front as far as Paul was concerned.
Paul left the tiny Studio behind him and hopped on the Metro to the coast. He disembarked at Whitley bay, taking intense pleasure from the salty sea-smell of the crashing waters that percolated through the air here. He breathed deeply and set off down to the water-front.
As was so often the case, Paul found that the weather was suiting his mood admirably. The sunshine streamed down on his mop of unkempt brown hair and warmed his cranium pleasantly. He was walking at the ambling pace of one who has recently discovered that he doesn't actually have to go where he is going, but was rather travelling purely on a whim. He whistled a little ditty which earned him a resentful glare from a passing salesmen who was sweating profusely. Paul gave the fellow an annoyingly happy grin.
'Lovely day isn't it?!' he said with the joy of freedom in his voice.
'Twat' muttered the unhappy worker bitterly. Why did the obnoxiously chirpy ones always have to accost him on his lunch breaks.
Paul chuckled to himself and wandered on along the seafront. He did find that people found him more offensive now that he had freed himself from the shackles of his former existence. It was odd, because he was, as far as he could tell, a lot nicer to people and certainly smiled a whole lot more. Perhaps it was one of God's petty attempts to make him rescind his decision to leave the church and his relationship with the almighty behind him. If that was the best the bugger could do, Paul was willing to let it slide. He was having a whale of a time.
Glancing to his left Paul felt his amble slow suddenly to a full stop. He stared at the calmly smiling figure in the coffee shop window in surprise. A sparkling blue eye winked at him and a perfectly manicured hand.beckoned solicitously. Paul felt his feet begin to move again, though this time not at his behest.
'It's been a while, hasn't it Paul?' said Lucifer with a warm smile. Paul sat stiffly in the orange plastic chair opposite the Adversary with reluctance.
'It has' he answered shortly. He stared at the handsome face across from him as the devil poured him a cup of tea. He looked at it in disappointment. Tea in a coffee shop. It just never seemed right. It was probably Ginseng or some other 'new-age' thing. Satan liked all that stuff as Paul recalled.
'How are you getting on with your new job?' asked the eternally damned king of hell pleasantly. He nudged the cup across the table. 'It's Lady Grey' he said nodding at the cup.
'Lovely' answered Paul with a false smile of gratitude. The poncy git.
'It costs, pulling those sorts of strings you know...' sighed Lucifer regretfully and Paul gave him a look.
'It had nothing to do with you' he said flatly and the devil chuckled.
'It was worth a try' he said with a shrug. 'Look, there's something big coming up in my diary and I was wondering if you could do me a favor.'
'A what?' gaped Paul.
'You heard' sighed Lucifer rolling his eyes, 'See... I've got to hang around up here and get some things done for a bit' he continued in a bored tone, 'and I need someone to look after the old place while I'm busy.' Paul looked at him with a glazed over expression.
'And by old place you mean...'
'That's right' nodded Lucifer, 'I need you to house-sit Hell for me.' Paul tried to get up and leave but his trousers seemed to have been glued to the chair. 'I can't trust my lot to look after it, of course' Lucifer drawled in breezy tones, 'They're pretty much untrustworthy by design, and any of His lot are out of the question. Conflict of interest and all that. No. I'm afraid, since you're the only person I know who isn't necessarily in support of either side and since I've read your soul and know you could do it if you decided you wanted to... it just had to be you!'
Paul took a deep gulp of tepid Lady Grey and winced. 'Horrid isn't it' smiled Lucifer nodding at the cup. 'That one is the handy-work of Beelzebub's niece, Fifi - she's one of the new 'in-crowd' downstairs, as it were.'
'Why in Hel... I mean, for G... why me?' he tried lamely. Lucifer's dark, slim eyebrow lifted in amusement.
'I just told you why' he said and pulled a contract out of a Prada valise that was quite suddenly on the table without having gone through the inconvenient in between stages of having to be put there. 'Read this through' said Lucifer airily and stood, 'I need an answer by Thursday.' Paul gaped dumbly at the thick wadge of legal waffle on clean white A4. It was in a funky patterned ring-binder that bore the legend, "Try nailing me to a tree!" in faux graffiti style lettering.
'I'm supposed to believe you'll stick to this?' he called after Lucifer who was almost at the door.
'I have to darling boy' his words drifted back, 'It's in the rules!' The words echoed oddly for a moment as the dark figure evaporated like so much mist. Paul turned to find the cafe owner staring fixedly at the door space with a fat-drenched spatula in one hand. Ash crumbled from his lip-affixed cigarette stub into the burnt remains of a spinach omelette. The only other customer in the cafe snored in a stupor with his head on the table. Paul smiled at the cafe proprietor apologetically and dumped a handful of loose change on the table for the tea.
'Sorry about that' he told the staring chef miserably, 'He does it a lot' and hared out onto the pavement and down the street. He didn't realize until he got into his dilapidated bedsit and collapsed onto the bed, that he'd forgotten the legal manuscript. He needn't have worried. By the time he returned from a swift shower, the ugly colored folder was sat proudly in the center of his bed waiting for him.
'So it's like that is it?' he muttered irritably and walked up to the offensive item wrapping his towel about himself firmly. On it was a small post it note bearing the words: 'Yes, it is.' Paul crumpled up the note with a growled epithet and plonked himself on the bed. Grabbing the folder with one hand he tugged it towards him, and opening the cover, began to read...
'Bloody Heeeeeeeeeeelll!' yelled Mrs Parsonage through gritted teeth. The bitterly cold northeast winds battered against her winter coat as she descended rapidly through the thickening clouds over Lindesfarne. The words of the demon Samhael had sent a shiver of horrid fear up her spine. Mrs Parsonage was not one to let any old nonsense give her the willies and she intended to check the veracity of her source's statement. She had heard the ring of truth in his words, and though she took pleasure in making him believe his news was old... she had internally let loose a little wail of panic when he'd let slip his news of the world's impending doom. She'd only just had the curtains done for goodness sake! She couldn't have the world go and end on her now! It was terribly inconvenient!
She landed with a loud thump on the turf to the leeward side of the old Abbey. Rain began to patter down about her. Putting up her umbrella with a satisfied smirk she stepped forth with a haughty chuckle. Still got it, she thought proudly. A nearby sparrow squawked and took off in a cloud of moist feathers that fell unnoticed to the grass.
Mrs Parsonage ignored the small gaggle of damp Japanese tourists who were huddling around the plaque at the Abbey gates. One of them was drinking Lindesfarne Mead from the bottle which was never a good sign. No one had mentioned the weather in the tour adverts then? No surprise there.
She paid her five pounds to gain entry, though she grumbled at the inflation. The last time she'd visited it had only cost her three and sixpence! Mrs Parsonage pretended to listen to the tour guide as she followed a group round all snapping away with their cameras. The ruins were still pretty impressive. Stupid bloody place to build an Abbey though. At least, it was stupid of the monks who'd lived here to rebuild the place from smoking ashes when they had to know the vikings would come back; which they did repeatedly.
She finally lost the guide and his flock of wide-eyed tourists as he rounded a stone archway with the words 'brave' and 'martyr' on his lips. Mrs Parsonage shook her head and ducked behind a tumbled down wall of age-yellowed stone. A secret symbol flared up in green conflagration on the half-buried flagstone beneath her feet. She blinked and coughed delicately in the sudden gloom of the Abbey crypt. She didn't much approve of such methods of travel (called 'Etheriperation' by those who wrote in publications like 'New Occultist' and The Newt's Eye). It was a sort of occult version of the star trek transporter beam. She was always worried she might leave something important behind; her lungs, for instance. Ethiriperation had been known to go horribly wrong for the careless (or drunk, as was more often the case) magic user.
The crypt glowed with a soft baleful orange light that was emanating primarily from the knave end of the chamber. Mrs Parsonage brushed settling dust from her coat lapels and strode up to the glowing tomb in a business like manner.
' Ahem' she said politely, pausing a scant foot from the glowing catacomb which was emitting an odd humming noise. As she had expected... no response. Mrs Parsonage took a step and with a titanic shove, toppled the tomb's lid off. Glaring orange light blazed up and her and she squinted in irritation. A flock of illusory demons leaped roaring from the casket to gouge out her soul. She shooed them away with a tolerant mutter. Those Medieval monks did love their pageantry!
As the ancient and rather weak warding spells faded, the light dimmed with it and Mrs Parsonage was left blinking glowing after images from her after-vision. When finally her sight had adjusted to the resumed gloom, Mrs Parsonage finally beheld her goal. She nodded to herself and gathered it up. It was its own light source - she needed no torches to read to words on this particular artifact. Unbeknownst to the Catholic church of the sixteen hundreds, the Monks of Lindesfarne had secretly turned to the worship of the beast. Mrs Parsonage didn't blame them after all of that raiding from the vikings and Rome keep telling them to go back and start over. They'd made a deal with his darkness from downstairs and had never been raided again. The Abbot of the time had been one Alwin Croller of York and he had been a collector of things occult long before he convinced his fellow brothers to convert. What Mrs Parsonage held in her hands, was none other than his most prized possession. The prophetic words of the Great Goat, as transcribed by Jalius Plinius in 4000 B.C.
The story went that Jalius, a young priest of Dionysis in Rome, had been instructed in a vision to seek out a burning goat with secrets in its mouth. He had leaped from his slumber and run to the place where sacrificed animals were burned as offerings. There he had come across a burning goat, somehow, to the astonishment and irritation of those who'd hoped to eat it, still alive and bleating. Jalius put out the fire and escaped the irate priests with the goat in his arms. He was chased from the town by enraged holy men and fled into the mountains whereupon he hid in a cave. There over many days, he transcribed the words that the miraculous goat spake onto his own skin, fixing the ink with a pin so that it remained tattooed there. On his death some days later, the priests of the holy temples had him flayed but before they could destroy the heresy on his skin, a great host of bats flew down and spirited the gory parchment away.
It all sounded like bunkum to Mrs Parsonage. Or at least, it had until she held it in her own hands. On its glowing surface the prophecy of end times according to the word of the great Goat were writ. The dowdy old witch sniffed and having read it through a couple of times, rolled up the prophecy and tucked it under her arm.
'Well really" she huffed, 'How silly!!'
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter III)
In this continuation of God's Shoehorn, Paul has an altercation at the supermarket, and Mrs Parsonage meets an old friend who is acting a wee bit suspiciously.
Links to other relevant hubbers
- God Forks and Fetlocks
A short story born out of a real world fantasy scenario generated from a fellow hubbers creative writing exercise.
- Gods, Myths and Ocelots
A real world fantasy story in which the protagonist faces many of the themes which we are being bombarded with in our daily lives. Apocalyptic, historical, and scientifically factually correct, with a touch of humour.
- 5 Humorous Writers: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Pat McManus, Douglas Adams, and Roger Zelazny.
Here are 5 guys, plus two, that I find amusing. Between these writers, you'll be amused for hours or even years. Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Patrick F. McManus, Douglas Adams, Roger Zelazny, as well as Gary Larson, and Bill Watterson are all worth
- The Book Corner: Funny Fantasy (A. Lee Martinez and Eoin Colfer)"
Previous hubs in this series
- God's Shoehorn
In this hub inspired by my 'activities to inspire your creative writing hub' (pats self on back in egotistical self-aggrandizement) - Father Paul falls out with God and Mrs Parsonage communes with dark forces. Read on to find out how these things tra