by Bill Kowaleski
The High Priest draped the holy scarf over his neck and walked up the three steps to the Tabernacle. Below him, in the dozen or so folding chairs scattered haphazardly through the tiny room behind his butcher shop buried deep in the warren of lanes within Joliet Enclave, sat the acolytes. Only one of them would rise to his position, but he had to choose soon, for his eighty-eight years weighed heavier every day.
The scarf was a leftover from old Roman Catholic church rites, complete with a cross and elaborate silver embroidery on what had once been a pure white background. But the scarf was soiled and dingy now. The High Priest often wondered why they had to keep their rites so secret, their finances so meager. But one did not question the Authority, for he had been promised that the day would come when they would perform the Liberation of the Holy Chalice not just as a ceremony, but for real. Then, the true purpose would become clear to all. He prayed he would see that day, but doubted it more and more.
“Acolytes, behold the Holy Chalice. It must be kept always locked in the Tabernacle, held only before you, and no one else. You must deny its existence if questioned. You must be willing to die to protect it.”
He turned the dial with the Sacred Combination and pulled back the door of the air-conditioned safe. It was small, only the height of a small child, and of equal width and depth. Inside was a gunmetal grey box. It felt cold when he touched it, and heavy. He pulled it out slowly, turned, held it high, and intoned the holy words:
Behold that which ensures the continuity of our society. Behold that which can conquer all. Behold that which you must fear. Behold that which you must protect with your life.
He stepped to the right and took his place behind the Podium of Tradition. There he recited the history of the Church of the Holy Chalice, a history to which each High Priest, in his turn, added.
“In the beginning, brothers, there was William. He led our small congregation for twenty-eight years before he passed the Chalice to Michael, leader for thirty-two years. Michael passed the Chalice to Brother DeWayne, leader for fourteen years. DeWayne left us suddenly, and I took up the Chalice and have protected it with your help for forty-seven long years.
“In all that time we’ve waited. Waited for the word that it was time to liberate the Chalice to save our world. The Holy Writings tell us that the Chalice will be liberated during a time of great confusion and despair. We all sense that that time comes closer every day. When the Authority gives us the word we must be ready. Always be prepared, my brothers. The word may come at any time.”
He turned back to the tabernacle, slid the box back inside it, sealed it shut, and stepped down the stairs. The ceremony was over.
Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski