[The Heretic, 4,168 words, Genre: Horror]
* Image courtesy of Dirk de Bruyn
They were all kneeling at the congregation. Kneeling and praying. The mass had attended the church every Sunday, some of the attendees; every Sunday of their lives. The wooden seats were set in rows, all set-up and lined up to witness the great figure of Christ that was hung in the centre of the hall. There the Saviour hung on a cross, with nails in his wrist and a stream of blood coming from each nail. The row of seats each had a copy of the Bible at their back. A copy of the bible, for each individual who attended mass so that they could recite their prayers in unity.
Donald knelt, in a row with other attendees. The priest at the centre, at the altar of the congregation, guided the mass. Donald, without wife or family, looked from side to side. He saw them all. All of the attendees being guided in their prayers. Donald was not a true believer or a believer in any sense of the word. He saw these people and thought to himself that they were simply throwing their words to the wind.
The priest led the congregation in the recital of the lord’s prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The congregation’s heads bobbed up and down. It was a sea of people who gathered around. Some of them read the prayer directly from their Bibles, while others knew it by heart.
At the end of the prayer Donald and all the other attendees took their seats. There was the sound of a great shuffling. As everyone in unison rose from their knees to their seats every sound of the small movement was amplified by the great mass of people that had gathered in the church. The cracking of the knees, the yawns of those who had just awakened and the rubbing of people’s clothing materials rubbing against the wooden seats as they sat down. All of these sounds were amplified for those who had sense enough to listen, to those who had keen and astute ears.
Everyone in the congregation was in unison. Unison of movement, unison of prayer and this all compounded in unison of mind. As Donald sat in his seat, next to the row of other people, he thought about it. That aspect. The unison of mind. The consciousness of a single individual would often be ignored when offering a plea to the Gods, or the Great God. One could just walk down the street of any metropolis and see that this was the case. Come across a beggar in the street with his torn clothes, his rotting teeth and enamoured in a stench that signalled that he hadn’t bathed in days. Yes, it was only too easy to tell why people had their crises of faith. But gather them in a place like this, a building constructed with its gothic architecture, surrounded by people of good health with their white teeth. All directing their minds to a single task or objective. Surely then their prayers would be heard. It wasn’t that their prayers were formed out of some great or desperate need. It was that their prayers were formed from the masses, a sea of voices sent out to the great unconsciousness of the human race. The great unconscious, that sea of thought that existed below the surface of every individual’s level of surface thinking. It was like the primordial ooze that was cooking slowly away beneath the minds of every individual on planet Earth. And then sometimes it would bubble up and a new task or objective would come into fruition. Prayers of vengeance, prayers of blessing, prayers of contriteness and prayers of reflection. All of these ideas, thoughts and feelings getting sent out to the Great God. One would often wonder if people were praying to a God, or if they were simply praying to the human race as a whole.
Donald sat in his seat and lazed. He did not press his back hard up against the wooden boards that were there to correct form and posture. There was a gap the shape of a triangle between the wooden board that lay as a back rest and the platform where his buttocks rested. He looked on as the priest delivered his sermon.
“Proverbs twenty-six: sixteen. ‘The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.’” Donald scratched his knee as the urge to itch had arisen. He looked from side to side. All the other members of the congregation looked at the priest with unflinching attention. He turned his head towards the back of the hall. There he witnessed a group of three teenage boys. They were all whispering to themselves. They had phones that they were playing with. They were not paying the priest any mind. They all stared at their phones: text messaging; scrolling through mixed media on the internet; and playing games. For a moment they all looked up from their mobile phones and returned the glare that Donald had initiated. When Donald realised that they weren’t going to put their mobile devices down anytime soon, he returned his own attentions to the priest at the head of the hall delivering his sermon. “Can a lazy person be proud? We have a saying: ‘Poor but humble.’ According to God’s Word, all too frequently a reason that a person is poor is because he is proud. The truth is often just the opposite of the saying.” Donald turned his head once more to the three teenage boys at the back of the hall playing with their mobile devices. The one in the middle nudged the other two to his side. It caught their attention and then he pointed to Donald staring at them again. The three boys laughed to one another and then returned to playing with their mobile phones.
“How do many wealthy people become so rich? It is because they are willing to take advice and apply it. They humbly listen to the counsel of those with experience, who are already successful, and in following that advice, they themselves become successful. Their humility leads them to seek counsel and follow the advice.” Donald had the urge to look back over his shoulder, to stare at the three teenage boys. He had grown up in a world where the mobile phone revolution had just been in its beginnings. Everyone before him, countless generations stacked up high had all shown respect to their elders and followed in their footsteps. The wave of technology that had been released to the great streaming mass of people had changed all that. “On the other hand, the poor are frequently poor because they will not seek the advice, or if they do seek it, they find reasons not to apply it. God is referring to this inaction here. Laziness is a sign of pride.”
The priest conducted the rest of his sermon as the congregation paid heed to his words of wisdom. The sermon finished and the congregation separated. There were usually tea and refreshments that would be served after. These were mainly for families, something that people could do so that they could join in on the gossip about the local community. The gossip wasn’t necessarily negative, it was just that; gossip. Who was doing what? What was happening in their favourite television shows? Those sort of things. Donald did not wish to partake, so instead of making his way to the tea rooms with the others, he went outside to his car so that he could drive home, have something to eat and mow the lawn that was growing at a steady rate.
He took his steps outside. The ground was filled with little rocks and dirt. With each step that he took you could hear the crunch of those little rocks aligning themselves with the rubber soles of his boots. He was almost to his car when he heard it. Them, or rather one of them, “Why were you staring at us?”
Donald looked around. It was the three teenage boys. They had gathered outside and they had waited for him. “Because you were goddamned playing on your phones when you should have been paying attention to the minister!”
“We don’t see how that’s any business of yours’.” The three teenage boys approached Donald in unison. Donald took a step back and raised his hands to a defensive position. One of the boys put a foot forward and then pushed Donald in the centre of his chest. Donald stumbled backwards, before falling flat on his arse. As soon as Donald was on the ground, all three of the boys surrounded him and started kicking out at his person. Kicks to the head, kicks to the body and kicks to his legs. After a minute of full-on assault Donald lost consciousness.
When he regained consciousness the three boys had disappeared. He had dried blood on the side of his mouth and was seriously battered. There was a dull throb that was coming from his right side. It was a dull throbbing sensation that ached with pain, like the shock waves of an earthquake, all contained within the capacity of his human person. He stood up, and holding the right side of his body, made his way to his car. When he got to his car, he sat in it for a while. Cursing to himself as little jabs of pain came from all across his body. He turned the driver’s mirror so that he could see himself. He looked like a mess. His face had puffed up, and was all blotchy. There were marks and scratches all across his face with trails of blood throughout. After having a look at himself, he decided he better go to the hospital. He started his car and took his vehicle, a ’97 Holden VT Commodore, out onto the road.
The drive there was of little note. He did get stuck behind another car turning right at a red arrow. And as he sat there in pain with his right side throbbing, he beeped his horn and called out, “C’mon ya’ bastard! C’mon!” Unfortunately, the issuing of unheard words did not seem to speed up the process.
When he arrived at the hospital, he registered himself at the emergency ward, “I’ve just been attacked… I think they broke my ribs or something.”
“Okay, take a seat and we’ll have a look at you.” They gave him some forms to fill out to detail the nature of what had occurred and sent him to do the paperwork.
Donald sat in the emergency ward. He looked around. There were all sorts of people that made up the population of the room. All of them in some form of need or another. There was a woman in a wheelchair, she sat in the seat and mumbled about the pain. When Donald had a look at her, he noticed that her ankles were swollen. He didn’t know what was the cause, but as he sat there, looking around, he realised he would be waiting for some time.
Donald finished filling out the forms and handed them in at the registrar. And then the wait began… The pain had receded somewhat and the dull and piercing pains throughout his body lessened. And Donald waited, because that’s all he could do. He waited for the hospital staff to come and see him. Surrounded by sick and injured people of all sorts, Donald waited…
Four hours passed before the doctors had enough time to see him. A nurse called out his name and guided him to a cubicle for further observation. Donald followed her, limping along, and took a seat on a hospital bed. The bed had wheels on it, one of those that could be manoeuvred around the hospital to transport patients from one place to another. “We’ll get a doctor to see you shortly,” the nurse smiled at him and left him there to wait once more.
With every breath he took in, Donald received a jab of pain. He was wheezing through each intake of oxygen. After fifteen minutes the doctor came in. He had blue scrubs on; hospital issue. “Lay down.” The doctor instructed.
Donald lay down on the hospital bed and the doctor asked him a series of questions about what had occurred. Once the doctor had heard the full story, he instructed Donald to remove his shirt. Which he did. The doctor felt around his bare chest, attempting to locate the source of the pain. Applying slight pressure to points along the side of his chest and asking him, on a scale of one to ten, how much pain he felt.
At the end, the doctor stated, “I think you’re right, they’ve probably fractured a rib or two. We’ll do an x-ray and keep you overnight for observation.”
For a while he was stuck where he was. Laying on the bed, breathing in and out while his mind contorted with pain. They gave him some strong painkillers and he lay there. His breaths were becoming lesser and lesser as he relaxed. They gave him oxycotins administered in an oral tablet. He lay there… The pain became a background noise to the hustle and bustle of the hospital floor. Everyone was so busy, doing their thing… He lay on the bed and almost forgot about the pain, but when he attempted to roll onto his side he was sharply reminded. Eventually the hospital staff got around to completing their x-ray, and low and behold, he was right. The two bottom ribs on his right side were fractured. He would be bedridden, unable to work for the next six weeks as the healing process took place. They did what they had to, keeping him overnight. He watched television for most of the night and drifted off to sleep during minor intervals.
In the morning they arranged a script for painkillers. They arranged for a general practitioner to come and see him for in-home care. Donald was pissed off, damn near furious, for the next six weeks he wouldn’t be able to work. That would take a severe bite out of his savings. He made the phone calls to his work and informed them of what had happened. He didn’t know whether to inform the police or what? But being the good Christian that he was, he decided to forgive them somewhat. The boys needn’t suffer for the ignorance of their generation. It was an unprecedented state of world affairs that people were experiencing. And those boys, growing up in the generation that they were, would suffer more than he could imagine at an uncertain date in the future. He decided that he would approach the priest and the families of the boys, so that the families could offer their own form of discipline.
For the next six weeks Donald was confined to his home. He was on a balanced diet so that he didn’t put on too much weight, but at the same time had the energy to heal. He was house bound. Very rarely did he leave his home. He had his groceries delivered and sat in front of the television for most of the time. He channel surfed in a dull state of euphoria. The painkillers did that to him. He couldn’t really concentrate on anything. He woke up at odd times. Sometimes he would wake up at five in the afternoon and be awake all night. Night time television was a bore, so he switched to the radio. Night-time Talkback radio. You had all sorts of people calling in from all across the country. People who had seen UFOs, hard hitting news that wouldn’t be aired publicly, people wanting to bitch and moan about how life had given them a raw deal… There were all sorts of things being talked about on the overnight Talkback radio programs.
Then sometimes his body clock would readjust and he would once more be attuned to daylight hours. It made little difference to Donald whether he was awake at night or during the day. There was still very little that he could do while his ribs healed. He would often fantasize. Fantasize violent things upon the three teenage boys who had done this to him. A hammer to the hand of one of the boys, stapling their mouths shut, or (his personal favourite) the sealing of the anal cavity with industrial strength glue. He would imagine a wide array of various tortures and profanities to be hurled in the boys’ direction. But in the end, he was a Christian man and it was the Christian thing to do to forgive. So that’s what he did, over that six week interval he reprimanded his mind of violent thoughts towards the boys and learnt how to forgive them. It wasn’t easy, every time he mistakenly rubbed up against his side or bumped it, a sharp pain would ensue. Then those violent thoughts would begin. After a while he replaced those thoughts by calling them, ‘naive idiots’. And after that he took the idea that they would grow up out of those sort of patterns of behaviour or the world would punish them for it. Either way, the feelings of vengeance lessened and he contented himself with the plan to confront them via the local community and have the priest address the issue.
He had his GP visit him at least once a week. Just to check up on his health. Everything went smoothly in that department and after six weeks his ribs had healed. He was back at work and glad for it. His work colleagues had missed him terribly.
When he got back they told him all about it, “You should have seen the bloke that they got to fill in for you.”
“Why, what was wrong with him?”
“What was wrong with him? What was wrong with him! The guy was a nervous wreck, the poor bloke had schizophrenia or post traumatic stress disorder. He kept on bitching and moaning about how his parents had treated him like a child his entire life and we couldn’t say anything. We had to just sit and listen to all this verbal diarrhoea that was coming out of his mouth and keep our own closed. It was hell mate, it was hell.”
“Yes, we’re all glad to have you back Donald.” Another one of his colleagues stated, “But try and not blame that other guy. He does suffer from a mental illness after all.”
“Yeah, he said that and a dozen other things on top of that.”
Donald was back at work and glad for it. He fell back into his regular routine and before he knew it another Sunday congregation was on the horizon. He decided he best approach the issue before going to church. Tell the priest about it. Give him the information and let him decide what to do. He found his phone number through a community leaflet that the congregation had handed out, the one that had invited him into their hallowed halls in the first place.
The priest invited Donald to his home. There they discussed what had happened over a cup of tea.
“Yes Donald, I know the boys that you’re talking about.”
“Well minister, they’re the reason why I haven’t been able to attend mass for the past six weeks.”
“Really, how so?”
“I went outside and they cornered me, then beat the absolute shit out of me. I had to go to the hospital, they fractured a couple of my ribs.”
“I see… Did you report this to the police?”
“No, I thought you could address the issue. Y’know, talk to their families and figure something out.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
With that statement Donald thought that he had resolved the issue. He finished his cup of tea and let the priest handle what had to be done.
Donald felt good about himself after that. He felt accomplished, like he was taking care of business. It was hot weather, in the middle of summer. So he decided to treat himself to an ice-cream. Not just an ice-cream from one of those convenience stores. No, Donald found himself an ice-cream parlour. One of those places that served ice-cream out of a tub and scooped it into waffle cones.
“I’ll have… I’ll have…” Donald looked through the perspex glass, trying to make up his mind on what flavour he would decide upon. The attendee waited patiently. The attendee was an odd looking man with red eyes, who looked hung over. “I’ll have bubblegum and honeycomb please.”
The attendee did not say anything. He scooped the ice-cream into the cone and took Donald’s money. Donald sat outside as the sun set. The heat still permeated throughout the city. He bit into his ice-cream, enjoying the flavours.
Then his phone rang. It was the priest. The priest informed Donald that he was going to sort this mess out and had organized a meeting between Donald and his attackers. Donald was reluctant at first, but then agreed to attend the intervention styled meeting.
Donald drove to the location. It was at the church. It was a Thursday. Mass wouldn’t be for another few days yet. He sat in his car and gathered his breath. This would be the first time he confronted his attackers. When he was ready, he exited his car and made his way over towards the building.
Donald made his way over to the building. Each of his steps crunching the dirt and little stones that lay beneath them. He opened the door to the building and entered the church. “Hello…” He called out. “Hello…” He called out again. “Hel”, and then from an unknown direction boiling water was thrown onto his face. Donald began screaming. Screaming out in searing pain. The boiling water had honey mixed into it. The boiling water did not simply pass over his flesh, but the melted honey infused with his skin, scalding and searing his flesh. He screamed out in agonising pain, “Ahhhhrrrr!!!”
“You’ve been selling crystal methamphetamine to these boys!” It was the priest.
Donald had no sensible reply to the absurdity. He was still screaming out in pain. He dropped to his knees and attempted to get the melted honey out of his skin that was burning into him. “Ahhhhhrrr!!!”
“These boys showed me the drugs that you’ve been selling them. They showed them to me and said you’ve been selling it to them you piece of shit!”
The three boys emerged from the darkness, equipped with various implements that they held as weapons. A cricket bat, a hockey stick and a shovel. They all surrounded Donald and started beating him with their tools. Inbetween the hits Donald called out, “I didn’t do that! I didn’t do that!”
“Don’t lie to me you piece of shit! They showed me the drugs… That’s why you never reported them to the police. Because if you did, they’d find out about all of this shit!” The priest and the three boys dragged the battered Donald out to the back garden where there was a stake and wooden pyre set up.
“I didn’t do that! I didn’t do that!” Donald called out, attempting to reason with them.
“Sure you did…” One of the boys said with a thin smile covering his lips.
“They also said that you’ve been offering them sexual favours!” The priest said as he hauled Donald on top of the wooden pyre and tied him to the wooden stake.
“I didn’t do that! I didn’t do that!” Donald screamed out into the night.
“Sure you did…” One of the other boys said.
“They also said you’ve been showing them photos of naked children in lude sex acts!” The priest said as he lit the wooden pyre on fire.
“I didn’t do that! I didn’t do that!” The wooden pyre was alight. Gasoline had been poured over the wood beforehand. The fire kicked up at a gallop. It engulfed Donald and the fire started to melt his flesh and cook him raw as he screamed out, “I didn’t do that!!! I didn’t do that!!! I didn’t do that!!!”
“Sure you did…” The final boy stated as he looked on, the fire playing as a reflection in his own eyes.
The fire burnt and the three boys and the priest all stood and watched Donald burn away and fade into nothing more than ashes. When it was done and the fire was coming to a simmer, they all pissed on the remaining flames to extinguish what was left of Donald.