A Rock Through the Window of the Future (short story)

12/27/2020

1

The priest went down the red-robed steps that led up to the altar, the folds of his alb gliding over them like clouds over the horizon. He began walking across the room, his strides a gentling lapping current, the slap of his sandals echoing alone off the stone walls.

The cries outside were becoming more desperate now, though no one had tried to come in as yet. Even so, when he reached arched wooden doors at the far end, he double checked the main lock and the metal bolts.

Hanging by the door was a soft round globe, the symbol of that division of the church, punctured all over with burning sticks of incense like multiple markers for a single grave. He plucked several out, gathered them into a bunch and bore them above his head as he walked back down the aisle between the empty pews, his hands swaying gently above him.

Something struck one of the stained-glass windows high us to his right, shattering an iron-framed piece inwards to rain red onto the clay tiles below a second later. The entwined lines of smoke rising from the priest's hands wavered briefly, then calmed.

He ascended the steps once more, moved behind the pulpit, and turned to face the empty room. Lowering the incense to his chest before and closing his eyes, he swallowed hard before speaking.

"See...," he began, but his voice faltered.

He stopped and closed his eyes, focusing for a moment just on breathing. Then, steeling himself, he cleared his throat and began again.

"See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariot is like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord." He stopped again, the final word bouncing weakly off the walls, prolonging the silence. Then, almost to himself, he added: "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you."

The breath of a breeze stirred the incense smoke, stinging his eyes. He blinked away the tears this brought then, as if for the first time, he saw the empty room he'd been speaking to. And he knew that, before long, it and everything in it would be gone. Laughter began rising then, beginning as a smile that became a suppressed giggle, and growing until soon his whole body shook with the outpouring and he had to grip the edges of the pulpit to keep balance. Tears were squeezed from his eyes, and the lines that marked his faces soon became flowing streambeds. He collapsed forward onto the pulpit, his body now shaking more slowly but more heavily as the laughter became sobs. Then it was as if the pulpit itself was greased and he could not keep a grip, sinking to the floor and coming to rest cross-legged with his face in his hands.

The church door rattled in its frames, the sound clattering about the space like machine gun fire. The priest felt this more than heard it, the clamour shaking his heart. He scrambled over and took shelter behind the altar.

He clasped his hands over his ears as he continued to sob.