The hands of the clock, carefully and diligently wound all these years, read 4:00 am. The end of my story is approaching rapidly. I consider a rosary, but there isn’t enough time.
“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Ie...” I choke for a moment “...sus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.”
I rise from my knees. Seven years of praying and meditation have led to this. Seven years; one year for each of my victims. Today Father Abelard and Abbot Mirken will pray for my soul and then condemn it to Hell. Some sins cannot be remitted.
I emerge from my cell as my “brothers” are beginning to make the sounds of waking. I am forbidden from praying with them. I understand: the temptation to add to my toll of victims would be too great.
As I approach the chapel I see a wavering amber glow dancing in the corridor. This will be done by candlelight. It’s somehow fitting. There is a formless robe standing in the hallway; from the aroma of Italian food and the obvious girth I can guess it’s Brother Thomas. He confirms it as I approach.
“Brother Kataramenos, I am glad you’re here.” There’s relief in his voice; he knows what he would have had to do if I hadn’t come.
He’s holding a tray with two objects on it. One is a stout hammer with a golden head and a wooden haft. The other is a jeweled chalice. Trust the Church to make a simple choice ostentatious and ritualized. I point to the chalice, as I have every day for the last seven years.
Brother Thomas nods. But this time, he does something different. He steps aside and nods toward the door of the chapel.
“Enter freely, and of your own will.”
I push open the doors and step into the nave. I feel as if spikes have been driven into my wrists and ankles and a yawning gash opened in my side. The pain is nigh-unbearable, but I bear it anyway. It is what Our Lord did, and perhaps this is a sign that I may meet Him today.
Abbot Mirken calls from the sanctuary. “Come forward, Brother.”
I do. I can feel liquid running along the edge of my eyebrow. I don’t need to see it to know it is blood. I resist the urge to take some of it on my finger.
I stop at the altar rail. Once I would have been on the other side, but my days as a priest ended the night I was attacked and left for dead. Like Our Lord I descended into Hell for three days; unlike Our Lord I did not emerge unscathed. Seven people paid the price for my resurrection. I remember each and every face as its colour drained away, and the life with it.
I pray with the priests through the Liturgy of the Word, and of the Eucharist, each ‘Amen’ driving nails into my chest. I am not sure how I can go on, but I do. I offer the pain to God; there is no surcease, but the tiny reminders of His presence tell me that even now I am not totally beyond hope.
“Hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei,”
I fight not to scream as my fangs emerge. Blood! I will tear out their throats and feast! My claws dig into the rail as I fight not to rise, even as fire burns at me. Eternities of torment rip at my soul as I struggle, my will against the beast. It is somehow enough, yet somehow not my will alone.
They place a wafer on my tongue that tastes like ashes. I swallow it anyway, though it catches in my throat.
I tear the chalice from Father Abelard’s hand and down it, letting the wine flow over and past my fangs and down my throat. I can feel the flames consuming my body from the inside, but I don’t care. This will either cure me or kill me; I know that whichever it does the choice will be that of the Lord.
Three days later.
I stare up at the setting sun, that brilliant fire which has been my nemesis these past seven years. Three days. I spent three days lying in the ground before rising as undead; now I spend three days in the sun before dying again. It is enough.
I thank the Lord for each of these days. May he watch over you and bless you always.
Father Justin Depardieux, Brother Kataramenos, damned no more.