I oversaw the preparations for Sunday, but in truth, Father Hansen was the leader. He knew what had to be done and he knew how to do it. I owned the church legally, but he owned it in every other respect, and I was willing to acknowledge that. Throughout the week I tried talking to him about my vision, but he refused to speak of it until he was more certain. The way he disregarded the subject gave me the impression that he wouldn’t budge until the pope, an angel, and the lord himself all convened to confirm my claims.
Bill was more willing to speak with me. I told him about my youth, and how my friend Danny used to play the guitar with his brother and a bunch of hooligans before finding the lord. In turn, Bill told me about The Kingdom of the Redeemed, and all of the people who had been helped because of it. I asked Bill about Father Hansen, but he was reluctant to say anything. I asked him about the gang Bruce was a part of, and he showed the same hesitance. Still, of all the people I spoke to, Bill was the most informative and the most charismatic.
There was only one thing I went out of my way to accomplish before Sunday. I left the routine things to Father Hansen and those who adored him, but there was one thing about the church which I had to change, and Father Hansen would have opposed the change more than anyone. I did some poking around, made some calls, and had some people come by the church late on Saturday night, when nobody was around.
When the people arrived on Sunday, there were a few conversations I kept overhearing traces of. There was plenty of talk about how an Irishman abroad had materialized out of nowhere and purchased the church. Sitting with Danny in the frontmost pew, I also heard a fair amount of whispering about what my motivations might be. But the thing on everybody’s mind, whether they said it or not, was the veil. It hung behind the pulpit, covering what had once been a stained glass rendition of an angel.
I smiled to myself, because that Sunday morning, I was the only one who knew several things. And before noon on that same Sunday, my secrets would be known to the masses.
Father Hansen stood at the pulpit and gave his sermon. As the name of the church would suggest, his sermon was on redemption. He went over instances of biblical figures being saved by the lord’s grace, and he also spoke of people in San Samarra being saved by the same divine force. In closing, he addressed the topic on the minds of many that day.
“As you’re no doubt aware, a man has come to help save us all. Just as all was lost, and The Kingdom of the Redeemed was in the fell clutch of unholy men, a man came and rescued us. But he comes with more than just an earthly fortune; he brings with him the word of the lord himself.”
Here the congregation fell silent, and Father Hansen let that silence linger. His face may have hid it, but his soul reveled in the still moment he had created. When he spoke again I expected him to qualify my message. To say it might not be true. But he only left it at, “Aidan O’Moran, I implore you to tell these people what the lord has told you.”
Supported by my cane, I stood up and made my way to the pulpit. Danny walked beside me, and Apollyon rested in my pocket. Before The Kingdom of the Redeemed stood a priest, a spirit, an angel, and a prophet; before The Kingdom of the Redeemed stood the monarchs of humanity’s last great revolution.
“There is a storm upon us!” I bellowed, pushing myself to muster even a fraction of the power I’d felt from the angel Gabriel. “This storm, as the lord almighty has told unto me, has the power to bring about the end of days!”
I paused, only to hear several murmurs from the congregation. Slamming my cane down upon the pulpit caused a sharp thwack to ring through the room, making those who spoke to hold their tongues.
“Looking out upon every one of your souls, I see a great many reasons to pay attention. This may be The Kingdom of the Redeemed, but even so, sin is running rampant. If this storm were to be unleashed today, not a single person in this room would find himself in Heaven by the end of it. Live your lives well, for when they end, your souls shall be handed down to a place that will make wellness a distant memory.
“However, the lord has also given us a reason to hope. If your souls are worth saving, then the storm will divert from its course, and the world may carry on. But I ask you, as the lord asked me; is humanity worth saving? People of The Kingdom of the Redeemed, I’ve seen humanity at its most loving, I’ve seen humanity at its most cruel, and I’ve seen humanity at its most pure. And even having seen humanity from every possible angle, I still have no answer to this question.
“So, people of The Kingdom of the Redeemed, I ask that you join me in answering this question, because in three years the lord will require an answer. As of now, I haven’t an answer to give him. If you believe every word I’ve said, then I ask that you stand. If not, I ask that you leave this church immediately, because this is no longer The Kingdom of the Redeemed. From this moment forward, we stand for something greater. From this moment forward, we seek not to redeem individuals, but to redeem humanity. From this moment forward, we are Church of Apollyon!”
With a flourish I turned and pulled down the veil, revealing not a stained glass angel, but instead a stained glass rat. The morning sun shone through its dark, soulless eyes, illuminating the congregation as they made their decisions. Some did leave, and looking at their souls, I wasn’t sad to see them go. But many more stayed and held on to those beside them, their souls teeming with everything from fear to fervor.
I returned the pulpit to Father Hansen, who shook my hand as we passed. While the congregation lapsed into disorder over my revelations, Danny took it as an opportunity to say, “You did good mate, or at least, you did a whole lot better than I would’ve bet on. At this rate, I might get to see Sarah again after all.”
Rather than trying to calm the congregation, Father Hansen merely shouted over them, spitting the fire and brimstone I’d first seen when he went after Apollyon. “You heard the prophet! In three years we will not only have the correct answer, but we will have the best of humanity on display to back it up! No matter what we’re called, I ask that you never forget what we stand for! Your days of sinning will soon be behind you! Go now, and decide what really matters: your earthly tethers, or your eternal souls!”
Father Hansen stepped down from the pulpit and took me by the arm. He led me to the steeple, where we climbed the narrow winding stairs. At the top, we could see over much of downtown San Samarra, and even from overhead, it wasn’t a great sight to behold. I could see my penthouse off in the distance, in a much nicer part of the city.
“Sorry about the climb,” Father Hansen said, nodding at my cane. “I like to come up here after a sermon and watch the people as they leave. I thought you might like to join me.”
One man waved up to us from the street, and Father Hansen waved back, with a smile spread across his face. I started waving along with him.
“So you got word back that there was some truth to my vision after all.”
“Actually, no,” Father Hansen admitted, still smiling and waving. “The bishop overseeing me refused to entertain the notion that a demon such as Apollyon could ever be redeemed. Going against my better judgment, I sent a letter straight to the archbishop above him, but he wouldn’t consider it either. Make no mistake; the Catholic Church will disown us after that display we just made. But can I be honest with you Aidan? I think the Catholic Church has lost sight of what really matters, and they’re not the only ones. They’ve all forgotten about something that Church of Apollyon is bringing back: a purpose.”
“Thank you Father,” I said, looking upon our people. “If you didn’t declare your faith in me, not one of them would have listened to a single word of what I said. If we won’t have the support of the world then so be it, but all the same, I’m sorry to get you in trouble with the church Father.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t choose the life of priesthood because I enjoy being part of a system that’s been flawed for centuries. I chose it because I love the lord, and I love the people. I may have had my hesitations, but you don’t need to apologize to me, because this is what I’ve been waiting half a lifetime for. This is the purpose that matters, and if the rest of the church is too deaf to even hear the idea of it, then I’m glad to be rid of them.”
“All the same father, I’m sorry to drag you into it.”
Up on the steeple, we conversed about how the day had gone, and what our plans for next week were. He complimented my quick work in getting the window changed, and I thanked him again for his faith in me. Danny was with us atop the steeple as well, but he kept to himself, fascinated by this view of the city. He leaned farther off the edge than I was comfortable with, but I trusted that even if he could die, he wouldn’t want to after what had happened that morning.
“Turning to me, Father Hansen asked, “Is Apollyon with you today?”
“She is,” I answered, reaching into my pocket. “Would you care to see her?”
He nodded, and I retrieved the rat. She was docile in that moment, and sat still in my hand as I held her out. Father Hansen knelt down and got on her level. He stared into her eyes, but I doubt if he saw much in them, because there wasn’t much to see. He raised a hand to her, and ran a thumb down her back. She leaned against him, and he continued to stroke her back, smiling.
“So this is the one destined to end the world. The king of the locust, the angel of the abyss. The fate of humanity lies her tiny, tiny paws. Come on now, she’s adorable.”
“Thank you!” Danny exclaimed, finally engaging us. “Glad I’m not the only one who thinks so. Aidan hates bringing her everywhere, and for the life of me, I don’t see why.”
“It’s hard to think Armageddon is finally upon us,” Father Hansen sighed. “In just three years, all of these buildings will crumble, demons will emerge from the abyss, all who bear the mark of the holy will watch as those around them wish for death. We can’t let that happen you know. If there’s a chance to stop it—if this great convergence can at least postpone the apocalypse—we have to take advantage of it. To save humanity.”
“What’s there to save?” Danny countered. “If a beautiful soul such as Sarah’s can wither while a wicked creature like Leonard prospers, then why bother to save something that no number of balance keepers could salvage? If it really is a choice, then I say we put humanity out of its collective misery.”
I shook my head. “Both sides are valid. It’s what makes this choice so difficult.”
“Have faith,” Father Hansen said, beginning his descent down the steeple steps. “And not just in God. Also, if it’s not too much trouble, we should find some time to go over next Sunday’s sermon.”
I agreed that we should, and he disappeared down into the church. I stayed up on the steeple for an hour at least, trying to wrap my head around the totality of what could occur. Everything and everyone I’d ever known, washed from the earth. It wasn’t an easy thought to process. I’d seen plenty of things go away, but never all at once, and never so completely.
When I did leave the church, I was met outside by a stranger. He said he’d stayed behind to speak with me, and displaying a toothy grin, he introduced himself as a journalist for a local paper. He asked if I could answer a few questions. I told him that if he didn’t mind walking with me, then I didn’t mind the company. After all, with the network of people in San Samarra who were looking for a reason to kill me, it felt safer to travel with as many people as possible.
The journalist made an effort to get as much of my story as he could, and at first I wasn’t bothered, because there were parts I was glad to share with the public. If the world was ending, they deserved to know about it. But other things, I was careful to avoid entirely. The world didn’t need to know that I was a murderer, no matter how justified.
When we arrived at my building he thanked me for my time, and I told him that I was just glad to be getting the word out. At the time, I didn’t quite realize the impact that brief exchange would have.
I rode the lift up to my penthouse as always. Yet when the doors opened, I was startled by a familiar nuisance. He stood at the center of the lounge, wearing a baseball cap and holding a glass of liquor. There was no doubt as to where he’d stolen his drink from. Raising the glass in my direction, he greeted, “Top of the morning Aidan!”
“Piss off!” Danny shouted, taking a step forward. He stood ready to tear our guest limb from limb. Apollyon remained in my pocket however, and Danny remained bound to her side, never able to leave the rat.
Not in any rush to exit the lift, I asked, “Leonard, what are you doing in my penthouse?”
“Well to tell you the truth, I just had this nasty itch. I was back in Belwyn, going about my business as usual, when I happened to walk by a certain building. You know the one; it’s where a certain someone was said to have died, and a certain someone else gained a fortune because of it. And as I walked by, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what that janitor ever did with all of that blood money?’ So I asked around, talked to a few friends, but nothing. Nobody had any sort of idea as to where you’d run off to.”
“Get to the point,” Danny grumbled, chomping at the bit for a chance to charge.
“Of course, you’re busy people, sorry for being a waste of time,” Leonard said, nodding at Danny. “The point is that I found you, and if I don’t walk out of here with a mere million of your American dollars, I’ll have to show you why your old mate Jack flinches at the very mention of my name.”
Danny spit at Leonard. “Piss. The fuck. Off!”
Leonard finished off his drink and tossed it to the ground, shattering the glass upon the floor as he sprinted at us, and Danny lowered his stance, ready to meet him head on. If I had still been in good health, I’m sure I would have joined them. But with the condition of my back, there was no way I could scrape with Leonard for a second time. I raised my cane. But rather than using it to smash in Leonard’s teeth, I used it to press the button for the first floor.
The lift doors glided shut. Danny’s soul hissed.
“How could you be such a fucking coward‽” he demanded, thrashing against the doors. “You’ve been face to face with an angel among angels and a demon among demons, yet you run like a bualadh craicinn soith from a mortal fucking man‽ Ní mórán thú!”
“Danny!” I shouted, grasping him. I stared into his soul. It burned with such a passion that he didn’t even realize what he’d done. As we looked at each other, his wits returned to him with each heavy breath, and his rage subsided. Not entirely, but enough for him to pay attention to what I had to ask him. “Where did you learn to curse like that?”
He gave no answer.
“abair é!” I implored, dropping my cane and grabbing both of his shoulders. “Cén chaoi a bhfuil a fhios agat an teanga seo?”
“Níl fhios agam,” he stammered, retreating up against the back wall of the lift. He slid down against its polished surface until he was sitting in the corner. With his hands pressed to his forehead, he repeated, “I don’t know. Maybe… maybe I picked it up listening to you. But I don’t know.”
When the doors opened on the ground floor, I marched to the front desk and explained that somebody had broken into my penthouse. After giving a brief description of what happened, two men in uniforms were sent up to apprehend Leonard. Meanwhile, I was instructed to wait in the lobby.
Ten minutes passed. Danny sat in silence as he contemplated where he’d learned to curse in Gaelic. Twenty minutes. He mumbled to himself, stringing sentences together in a language he shouldn’t have known. After thirty minutes, the uniformed men returned to the lobby. They told me that they’d found nobody in the penthouse, no signs of forced entry, and no glass shattered on the lounge’s floor. Leonard cleaned up quickly.
They asked if I wanted to file a police report, but with a scoff, Danny said, “Don’t bother. If he shows up again, I want him all to myself.”
With Danny’s sentiment in mind, I told them that a police report wouldn’t be necessary. I walked outside. Danny followed, asking where I was off to.
“To get a drink,” I told him. “And since I’d rather not get it from the penthouse where a criminal might be lurking about, I’m going to a bar.”
“Ah, brilliant, because we know there aren’t any criminals here on the streets of San Samarra.”
I ignored him and continued walking. There were countless places to get a drink, but I sought out one building in particular. It boasted a large decorative barrel beside the door, which was the mark I was looking for. Inside The Cask, I sat down and ordered a drink.
“What are you hoping to accomplish?” Danny asked. His footsteps paced back and forth behind me.
“I’m trying not to think,” I told him, and I told him truthfully at that.
““You’re fucking what?” he demanded. Apparently the truth wasn’t what he’d hoped for. “How could you not want to think right now? You—”
“Shut up for once.”
“You’re the only one sayin’ anything,” a janitor commented as he strolled by. I glanced back at him. He just shrugged and continued walking, saying, “Hey, it’s none of my business, sorry to bother you.”
Danny sat down beside me, and said, “To be fair, you were talking quite loud. And quite rude. And—”
“I get it.”
“Get what now?” The janitor asked, turning to face me and Danny once again. Neither of us answered him. With another shrug, he smiled and said, “It’ll come back to you, don’t worry.”
Danny leaned closer to me, and whispered, “Christ, this whole city is filled with lunatics. I think I actually feel at home for once.”
I did my best to stifle the laugh, useless as the effort may have been. With an amused sigh, I reached for my drink. If Leonard thought he could upset me by staking out in my penthouse, he was mistaken.
Four drinks later, somebody else entered The Cask, and daylight followed her inside as she opened the door. I’m not sure why I thought the time of day mattered; tattooed hooligans seemed more than comfortable working at any time of the day or night, and Leonard was no connoisseur of subtlety himself. But all the same, when she opened the door, I was glad to see that there was still light in San Samarra.
Her name was Charlotte. She walked into The Cask that day and sat right down beside me, where she ordered a drink from the bartender and asked me if she could borrow a cigarette. When I told her I didn’t smoke, she walked over to the man further down the bar. Truly, it was love at first sight.
More people arrived, and as each one opened the door, the daylight outside grew dimmer and dimmer. Danny and I kept to ourselves, aside from occasional interruption from the janitor, who would walk by every few minutes just to impart upon us some nonsensical bullocks.
Charlotte drifted around the room, taking cigarettes in exchange for her company. Her hand was bandaged, her voice was off, and her soul was simply drenched in unpleasant circumstances. And yet, despite offering nothing to the world, she continued to find people willing to hand her a cigarette. It was strange to me, and I felt that Danny must have been right; the city must have been filled with lunatics.
The night continued on peacefully enough, until something in my guts began to twist. The room tilted as I staggered between the people, which didn’t help my churning stomach in the least. I bolted through the bathroom door, dove into the first open stall, and began the less than graceful process of turning my stomach inside out.
When the slew slowed down, I realized there was somebody in the adjacent stall. It sounded like they were in my same predicament. Between her coughing and her cursing, she was easy enough to identify.
“One of us seems to have gotten lost,” I commented. “I was in a hurry, but I do recall seeing a pair of urinals on the way in here.”
“Fuck off, ya—”
She was cut off with another fit of gagging, and the mere sound of it sent me reeling once again. Danny held my hair back as an all too familiar pungency filled my nose.
“Just fuck off,” she told me. “I’ve had a lot to deal with and you’re not doing anything to make it better, so just fuck off.”
“You don’t sound American. Tell me, where are you from?”
“I’m from Fuck Off, now fu—”
Once again she was unable to finish her thought.
“What a shame,” Danny commented, “now we never will know where she was going with that one. Could’ve been anywhere really.”
“What are you laughing about?” she questioned.
“Nothing clever,” I assured her. “I want to say you’re from England, but that’s not quite right, is it?”
There was a moment of hesitation, and then, “I was raised in London. I spent the last thirty years in Australia. You don’t sound American either. Where are you from?”
“Raised in Northern Ireland, spent most of my life in plain ol’ Ireland, moved to this lunatic harboring city about a year ago. How are you liking it here?”
“Better than where I came from.”
“Aye, same. My name is Aidan.”
“I heard. I also heard you end every conversation tonight by saying that you’ve been sleeping on the streets, trying to hide from men with black crown tattoos.”
“So it’s a piss poor hiding spot; the streets are exactly where those men are. I know a place that’s safe from them.”
“Oh, do you now? They were in Gillinport, they’re here in San Samarra, and they were on the boat ride in befuckingtween. Why should I believe that you know of the one place where they aren’t?”
“Because that one place is my penthouse, and they gave me their word they wouldn’t break in again.”
She made a sound, and at first I thought she was getting sick again. But as she continued, I realized that she wasn’t sick at all—she was laughing.
“Fuck it, I’ll follow some stranger to his alleged penthouse if it means I don’t have to get killed in my sleep. Wouldn’t be my worst decision this week.”
“Fair warning, there might be an extortionist sociopath lurking about up there.”
“Just one? I’ll knock his head in myself.”
Danny chuckled, and said, “I like her already. If you two can manage to stop spewing out so much disgustingness, we should really get back there. It’s getting late.”
We heeded Danny’s advice and left The Cask, stumbling all the while. The cane helped quite a bit. It almost made me wish I’d thought to bring one drinking all my life. When we made it to my building, Clarence was standing in the lobby. I didn’t have any desire to speak with the false man, but he approached as soon as we entered, and so I was left with little choice.
“Mister O’Moran, you have my sincerest apologies. I can’t begin to speculate as to how an intruder may have—”
It got another chuckle out of Danny, who noted, “Her vocabulary truly is remarkable.”
Clarence didn’t say another word. He just let us pass through to the lift. Once inside, I asked Charlotte why it didn’t bother her that I was serious about the sociopath.
“Because I didn’t think you were joking about it in the first place,” she answered. “That was the most believable part of what you said. I’m just impressed that you actually have a penthouse.”
The doors opened, and I gave Charlotte her pick of guest rooms. She settled on the room which once held the questions. Thankfully, Danny and I had thought to return it to its original state, more or less. Perhaps her choosing that room was meant to be a sign. A sign as to what, I was too drunk to say. But all the same, I suspected that it meant something.
I may have been under a couple of influences, but after releasing Apollyon and retiring to my room, I still made it a point to pray. It was a prayer of thanks. I thanked the lord for guiding me towards forming Church of Apollyon. I thanked Him for helping Father Hansen to see the truth, despite the others within the church having their doubts. Lastly, I thanked Him for Charlotte, and for whatever role she was meant to play in all of this.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, July 2015