God works in mysterious ways. Man, the monster in his image. What a dark creature he calls to work his will.
The bathwater, warm and red, lapped pleasantly against their bodies in the dimming light. Was that the candle dying, or his eyesight fading? The Priest could no longer tell as his eyelids fluttered slowly. So slowly. It was as if the world slowed, as if time ground to a halt, but he knew it was mere perception as life trickled from his veins and into the overflowing bath. The rosewater trickled and splashed onto the tile floor, the water made rose by the lives of the two men within. Yes, the Priest thought again, God works in mysterious ways.
He recalled the first time he was commanded by the Lord to serve.
The Priest was a child, no more than 5, a yowling biting rebel, a terror to his poor parents and siblings who watched over him with the fraying patience of the most tested saints. He was a terror, that is, until one night he dreamt of desert. One he had never seen in life, of endless sand, of dunes that twisted in the wind, where piano music played in the distance, carried to his diegetically by the breeze. Satie’s 1st Gymnopedie, a favorite of his mother to play while she stroked her swollen belly where the Father-to-be waited for his moment to be born.
Come to me.
And so boy walked towards the call, in his dreams a hobbled old man with aged face and weathered hands, until he saw before him a figure. A formless shadow whose dark hands danced effortless across a piano perched delicately in sand. Its eyes were two lights that hung in the dark where a face should be, which held no other features that the Priest could see. The piece finished, though the notes lingered in the air long after its hands left the keys. The figure turned to face the Boy-cum-Old Man, who somehow knew he was in the presence of his Creator.
“Oh my God…” He whispered in a voice creakier than he remembered. Knees shaking, he fell prostrate on the sand, suddenly feeling all 70-80 of the extra years the dream had placed on him. “Oh my God. Oh my God. God. God.”
Honor thy father and mother.
Like the music, the voice seemed to come from the air. A dark and heavy thing, yet not unkind. Not demanding, but with the plainness of one who knew their commands would be obeyed.
Honor thy father and mother.
And suddenly the Priest saw himself, as the Creator saw him, as his parents and loved ones must have seen him. As ungrateful and angry, a whirlwind of destruction. He wept. Only five and already his life was so steeped in sin.
“Yes Lord,” He sobbed. “I shall. I shall obey. I will be your light in the world.”
And he woke in his bed, seeing his room, the world and himself as if for the first time. And from that time on his was the model son and sibling.
One night, ten years later, after a night of shameful fumbling with his own most private of parts, fantasizing about formless darkness, the teenager met the Lord again in his slumber. Again he was an old man, falling at once prostrate on the hot sand. Again the soft piano tremored music through the air. There was no doubt in his mind he would serve, whatever his God asked.
You must serve me and no others. The darkness commanded.
“Yes Lord,” The old man acquiesced in a phlegmy tone, as his unnaturally aged joints throbbed rheumatically. “If I may, God…” He began, not lifting his eyes.
Silence was his only answer.
Licking his lips to moisten them in the dry-heat of his dreamscape, the Priest to become continued. “If I may… how do you want me t-“
You must serve me, and no others. As the Lord responded, the Priest saw in his mind’s eye the man he was expected to become. A serious man. A somber man in the trappings of piety, who had forgone the needs of the flesh to serve the aesthetic vision of God. He was to take the sacred oath.
“I see my Lord, I see your will. And I will become it.”
And so he studied the good book, consumed Augustine, Tertullian and the exegeses of Origen. He forgot desire, or suppressed the remembering of his youthful and became a man of the cloth. One known as the most pious and most high.
And for a time, he was content. And the Lord was silent.
Then, 25 years later, a young man walked into his confessional. One he had seen in his church, lurking at the beginning of a service the week before, but had left. Something about the young man, his shock of curly black air, his soft brown eyes, his full lips, his troubled innocence, captured the Priest. He was striking, beautiful even. The color of his oak pews, and skin just as smooth as those varnished seats. He could tell by his darting expression that this young man, still mostly a boy, was in a dark place. Maybe it was a place from where he and the Lord still could pull him out. He thought of counseling the man, and something in him stirred. Something long forgotten. Desire.
Standing before a crowded congregation in that moment, the Priest was desperately glad he wore a flowing robe.
The priest tried to put the ‘man’ out of his mind then. Some dark force was testing him. Until that fateful night. When that beautiful boy walked back into his church and entered the confessional to lay bare his sins.
“Forgive me father for I have sinned. It has been… well, I’ve never confessed.”
The Priest coughed to clear his throat. “I’m listening my son. Tell me your sins.”
Tell me your sins. Why did the prospect of sin suddenly excite him so? The Priest shifted uncomfortably on the bench, needing to adjust himself. Afraid that the boy would see. Thrilled by the chance that he might.
The man, eager to unburden himself, started right from the beginning. “Well, as a child, I was terrible to my parents. I lied often. I stole. I-“
The Priest, he tried to listen, but was too captivated by the hint of the boy he could see through the wooden slats. His well-formed body. His mouth that listed a litany of horrors, yet beckoned him toward unknown pleasures. He closed his eyes, and felt himself back in the heat. In the dying wind. The quiet notes of Satie called to him on the breeze. Unlike in his previous dreams, it was night, and the soothing music took on an ominous lilt in the darkness.
The night sky held no stars, and it was almost impossible to see the Lord, a shadow against absolute black. The music this time, it felt like a parting, a mournful goodbye to the dreams that had come before.
The aged priest, still so far from the man in his dreams, yet much older than the boy who first became God’s servant, took to his knees. “What would you have me do? Are you… testing me my Lord? How can I serve you? How do you want me to serve you?”
The shadow did not stop playing, yet the music grew more distant. The sand between them seemed to stretch and grow, an expanse of death—the gulf, so vast, that has always separated God from humankind. The Priest never felt it more acutely than he did in that moment.
“I want to serve you, oh God. But I also want-“
Sin. The desert grew so wide between the two that the Priest could no longer see the dark God he served. So much sin. You humans steep yourself in it, bathe in the filth like fleas. You want to serve, boy?
The world grew so dark, the Priest could not see his own hands pass in front of his face. The music faded, the only notes those of his breath—ragged and shallow. “Yes, God, you know it.”
Then purge yourself. And suddenly the Priest saw a window into the asked-for future, he and the boy embracing. First in the church, then unclothed in bed, then in the bath… their eyes vacant and unseeing. Crimson water spilling out from the bath all around them, pooling around them on the floor. Flooding the room with their spent lives.
Purge yourself of sin, and come to me.
The Priest opened his eyes, and shook his head, back in the world, back swimming in his latent desires.
“Father? Did you hear what I just said?”
“Sorry my child, please say that again.”
The Priest could see through the slats as the young man licked his full lips in fear, trepidation… anticipation. The man of God knew what was coming, he feared it. But knew he dare not defy the Lord All Mighty, the darkness who directed his light.
“I was speaking, Father, of my most recent sin.”
“Go on, my son.”
“One of desire… forbidden desire.”
“And who did you desire, my son?” The Priest asked, hearing the answer before it was spoken. A Man of God.
“A Man of God, Father.” The young man, the boy, was now quite boldly meeting the Priest’s gaze through the lattice slats of the confessional. And somehow the Priest knew without looking in a mirror that the hunger he saw there was reflected by the need in his own. He rose, left the confessional, walking back through the oak pews to his door of quarters hidden behind the altar. He ignored the judgmental gazes of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the silent admonition of the Mother and the Whore. He did not need to look back to know the boy followed; he could hear his steps echo on the stone.
They entered the small room, empty but for a desk and small mattress that lay on the floor covered in fraying, threadbare sheets. The boy closed the door behind them and for a while they did not speak, staring at each other, consuming each other. Silent but for heavy breaths.
Then they came together, and, after a fashion, came—together.
They lay together on the bed, and The Priest savored this moment. The glow he felt unmatched by anything except that first moment in the Desert with his Dark God: who spun Satie gently into the air; who spoke him into a humble life of devoted service. One of servile delight that now found a dark end. He rose, still naked and still tumescent, and led the boy by the hand, docile after their coupling. Perhaps in awe of a man of God who could ravish him thus. Perhaps at some level aware that he was but an offering.
He led him down a corridor and into the bathroom. He filled the tub with hot steaming water; got in, and beckoned the young man to sit in the scalding water. And as he did so took him into his arms. The boy’s eyes were closed, lips spread into a grin of guileless bliss. As if he too had been unburdened of his sins. His eyes were still closed when the Father picked up the straight razor he always left by the tub so he could shave as he watched. His body barely jolted as the Priest drew a wider, redder smile into the soft brown flesh of his neck. The boy shook only a few times before lying still in his Father’s arms, his life quickly spent in the dirtied bath water.
“I’m sorry my boy,” He whispered, running the razor up the veins in both his arms, spilling his redness into the water, which quickly ran the color of the darkest rose. The waters-displaced by their slackened bodies—tumbled over the tub’s edge, staining the church bathroom’s tile with his final sin.
As he lay there, as time flattened and wound to a halt, as his days of service came to their close, again he heard the music. It drowned out all other sound, that quiet piano, that holy musing of Satie, that call of his dark Lord
What a dark creature he calls to work his will. Man, the monster in his image.
Yes. The Priest thought. God works in mysterious ways.
Then at last, he closed his eyes.