by R. R. Brooks
Father Thomas collapsed into a pew, crushed by his loss. Filled with forbidden thoughts, the priest watched the sun’s last rays illumine what he now knew were silly stained-glass images: the fallen Lucifer, Eve eating forbidden fruit, the doubting apostle whose name he bore touching the wounds of the risen master.
In the dim Waskaganish church, red-glass votive candles painted blood on the mawkish crucified Christ above as the last vestiges of Thomas’ faith seeped away. For thirty years he’d comforted his Cree flock with the good and nonexistent news. For a lifetime he had thought he knew reality. Now, without faith’s certainty, Thomas sagged with sadness. Exhausted, he half-closed his eyes.
A transient flash in the darkening nave banished sleep. He assumed it was his imagination, but his shadow-encrusted mind registered the next light as real. The priest stood, grasping for a rational explanation. The reflection of a street light, perhaps. Maybe a small stroke, the affliction that had transformed his brother from a vibrant and sarcastic athlete to a dribbling slack-jawed puppet.
Another flicker. Thomas crept toward the railing that guarded the altar. A flash led him into the chancel and up the pulpit stairs to the thick Bible. He’d rejected the tome’s message of a personal, interventionist God. The truth he now favored was deism: some creative being started the universe in motion and never interfered again. If he was being given a sign, it wasn’t clear from whom, either the hands-off starter God or the Abrahamic God of Genesis. How could one decide?
“Damn.” He pounded the Bible as illumination touched his peripheral vision.
Thomas faced the stone pillar beside the pulpit. A white beam burst from a crevice at the column’s base and pushed away dust motes. Slowly the glow decayed, reminding him of the Big Bang, the universe’s explosive origin when nothing became something and all was set in outward motion, the very act of the creator that a deist envisioned and accepted.
After the Big Bang, matter expanded, was still expanding, unfolding according to the laws of nature without further heavenly intervention. Was he supposed to take this fading glow as evidence for such a belief? Well, it was a belief. Perhaps the only one left for him.
The column had always fascinated Thomas. Not because it was massive or particularly beautiful. What drew him was the stone, quarried from Nuuvuagittuq greenstone now known to be ancient: billions of years old. He descended from the pulpit and examined the pillar base. The crack he’d worried about for years had become a loose chunk. He grasped the edge and pulled out a slab the size of his hand. With a novel sense of sacredness, he carried it to the sacristy and flipped on the light.
Ribbons of quartz and magnetite decorated the rock face and, as he watched, markings appeared. The priest blinked and held his breath. Random black squiggles became moving lines that formed letters clearly visible against the greenish-gray stone. He released his breath. When the letters became words in a language he knew, he gasped.
Narro illa lacuna: reverto quod intereo.
Latin. He struggled to remember lessons learned a lifetime ago. He recognized the imperative mood of the verb “Narro” and his ecclesiastical vocabulary gave him half the command: Say these words.
What followed were two imperatives linked by “quod,” which could be translated as “and.” But who or what they commanded was not clear. He searched for the meaning and found one. Maybe not perfect, but clear enough and disturbing enough.
The priest began to pace, sensing he’d been given a task. Was this the sign he’d requested? Was the creator breaking his silence? To a faithless priest on James Bay? Maybe he was being told to say the last three words because he’d shed one belief to embrace another. His heart raced as he considered the possibility.
Then came panic. Was he hallucinating? He willed calm. They were only words, even if they appeared on a four billion year-old piece of rock. Magically appeared. As if from a god. Or from a demon. But if he no longer believed in angels... He was being ridiculous and could prove his sanity by saying the words. That’s all it would take. Just say the damn words. And he did.
“Reverto quod intereo. Return and die.”
A wind roared from the church vestibule to the chancel and rattled the sacristy door. Thomas sank down against the wall, feeling heavy, crushed, and full of faith. In something.
At one edge of the universe, a wisp of gas, the matter that had traveled farthest from the point of the Big Bang, reversed direction. Some 156 billion light-years away, at creation’s opposite edge, another tiny cloud did the same and the molecules began an accelerating journey toward each other. Returning.
Copyright © 2010 by R. R. Brooks