It wasn’t her face that his eyes kept coming back to, and it certainly wasn’t his face. The boy could hardly bring himself to raise his gaze to meet his father’s. His real father, that was, not the Father. The child — for he had only very recently taken a few unsteady footsteps along the path towards manhood — knew that if he didn’t look Papa in the eyes, he may never do so again.
And yet, he couldn’t.
His face burned with shame, even though the capillaries that lined his cheeks could scarce afford the blood. Shame, shame, chanted the silent congregation. Their stares were all locked on him, for he was the spectacle. He could sense their judgement, could hear their thoughts. Shame, shame, live in shame. They looked at him, noses upturned at the Hell-bound boy. Shame, shame, die in shame.
And his eye returned to the brooch on his mother’s collar, again and again. It was made of metal, twisted into the delicate trinitarian symbol — a triquetra enclosed within an overlapping circle and triangle. Mama always kept it on the nightstand beside the marital bed she shared with Papa, safely locked within a box. The box and its contents were the only things of any considerable value that she possessed. She wears it on special occasions, he thought, inanely. Today is a special occasion. Even though he knew he was damning his soul for all eternity, he prayed for it to be over faster. Cythraul, he begged, take me now.
He could smell blood, and something inside his skull was beginning to slide. The dizzying, disorienting way that the church swam before his eyes caused his innards to roll with nausea, but if there was one thing he could control, it was his mouth. Even if he had to bite his lips together, he would not retch in the house of God, he would not vomit on the day of his death.
He knew something had gone wrong almost immediately, and the congregation realised pretty soon after. The world around him had swayed and greyed, seemingly having the colour drained from it. His head lolled from one side to the other, reminding him of the time that he’d partaken too much of the consecrated wine. There were a few gasps and disapproving mutterings from the observing crowd. Oh, the shame!
The Father was looming behind. The boy knew he was there, could see the shadow that his form cut in the watery grey light that was trickling in via the great window at the rear of the chancel. The gloom that fell across the child was oppressively cold and dark; it felt as if all things withered and retreated within that shadow.
The other two boys were kneeling either side of him. The child wondered whether or not they’d been as foolish as he. He’d seen the crimson trickling down the cold and hard steps, but knew that he should not glance in either direction. He had already spat in the very face of Duw himself with his actions; to be so rude as to allow his eyes to wander like an infant’s would be akin to rubbing that spittle into His divine features. No, he could not verify their health. He supposed he’d find out, in due time. Whether he would face the road to Uffern alone or with company would be a fact he’d learn after dying. The boy tried to quash the hope that the other boys had done the same — to kill yourself was one thing, to wish for the suicides of two others was something else entirely. He pushed the intruding notion away, and pretended that the thought had never come to him, praying that the Heavenly Father had not spied the ink-black stain that was spreading inside his soul. Not that it particularly mattered, at this point. Nevertheless, if he could lessen the sins he must carry in the Ar Ôl, then perhaps he might not burn for all eternity.
Oh, but how he wanted to speak to the other boys! He had considered them to be friends, up until that very morning. He had to know. Were they in it together? Had it gone wrong for them, too? Were they experiencing the same thoughts as he, feeling the burning shame of failure, anticipating the searing fires that awaited them?
Or was he alone in his mistake, leaving them with two-thirds of a watch?
The brooch on his mother’s lapel caught his eye again, glinting in the dim grey light. Motes of dust floated lethargically in the musty air of the church. Three. Three points, three men. Three. A holy trinity.
The thought now came to him, suddenly and immediately. Suppose they hadn’t failed as he had; would the other two be left one man short? Would they be forced to occupy Castell Boddi Craig as a duo? Or would he be replaced? Was there a backup, in case of such an event? Had this ever happened before? Was he the first to fall from grace? He wanted to know, needed to know, as the warm blood trickled down his neck, chin and cheek.
He started to twist around, unable to quash the questions that burned within. The congregation listed dangerously before his eyes, the plane of existence off which he’d soon shuffle starting to tilt like a set of scales. Before he’d even rotated even a quarter of the way around, two firm hands grasped his head and forced him to face the crowd. The hot poker that was lodged in his ear wobbled and the child helplessly screamed in agony. “No,” hissed the Father, whispering into his one good ear. “Look. See.” The hands remained, gripping his head painfully, pressing him to face his miserable failure. The tears had already welled up in his eyes, and now — as if on cue — they started to overflow, spilling down his cheeks, hot and dishonourable. He was no man, he was not one of the Three, it was ridiculous to have dreamt that he could have ever been appointed to such a prestigious role.
Araf, he thought, you utter fool.
As the last moments of his life ebbed and trickled away, the corners of his vision blurring and greying, his body cold, his spirit fading, Araf forced himself to look his parents in the eyes; first Mama, then Papa. He tried to smile at them, to reassure them, to let them know that it was all right, but the look he gave them came out all gnarled and twisted, and felt more like a grimace on his pallid countenance.
“I’m sor—” he gasped, and then slumped forward.
A few minutes ticked by before anybody spoke, and even then it was only in relation to the cleaning of the church steps.
7th April 2020
Written for the April 2020 #BlogBattle
6 thoughts on “Two-Thirds of a Watch”
Oh, the vivid and twisted imagery in this one! It brings me to mind of another short story that (darn it!) I can’t remember the title of, but it was about the last few second’s in the life of a man about to be hung, during which he had a vivid fantasy of escaping. Poor Araf doesn’t even get that fantasy, but I got the sense his demise was quicker than his experience of it, time ticking slower in his moment of death. I’m glad you revisited the little community of Castell Boddi Craig and regaled us with the story you referenced last month. Hope to see more!
Thanks, A.E.! 🙂 I was worried that it was a bit too bleak, but I hope to balance that out and explore more of this little island — both the dark and the light — in future BB prompts. I have a feeling I’ll be jumping back and forth in time, depending on where the prompts push me… Thanks again! 🙂
Bleak it was Joshua, notes from your reply to Abe! And yet not so, haunted man, or boy in this case, facing a fate from which escape isn’t possible. Except in religious aspect there “is.” Do it without shame, or do it with shame. Same outcome with different connotations etched on congregation minds. I often ponder thoughts on individual end games from witch trials to Templar’s. What is right and proper usurped to sate religious dogma. We are right because God decrees it, you are wrong because you have free will. Bit of a travesty there given a certain apple in a certain garden. Not even touched on war and power struggles….yet….
Splendid story and certainly enhancing the Bodi Craig (sp error?) world build, or is that island build ha, ha! Two thirds of a watch is an excellent title given Araf’s thought process…the shame. Fascinating that even in the end lap he’s still focusing on that aspect… stupid &£#*ers, I’m coming back as Old Strittie to consume your children as payback….would be floating through me 😳
The bleak comes from no hope. Abe touched that too with the escape fantasy. I think here he’s almost in disbelief that even his own parents do nothing apart from proffer the chant of shame….
This sacrifice “honour” has been played out to Gods many times in ancient history all over the globe. How many suddenly found faith die when they honour fell upon their shoulders? A chilling tale for a modern audience and yet…real people have lived it previously….
Definitely a world build that works well here!
Thanks, Gary! It’s very much appreciated. 🙂 I’m very much enjoying exploring this twisted island — as mentioned elsewhere, I find conspiracy theories fascinating, and religion — especially when warped — to be equally as interesting. I think there’s horror enough there to be explored by itself, even without a Big Bad!
Speaking of Old Strittie, I’ve been wondering whether I could tie her into this, perhaps even the witch from the Which Heart? tale. Hmm, we’ll see!
The thought of indoctrinating children through twisted dogma is really a terrifying thought — it brings to mind child soldiers fighting for causes which they may neither agree with nor understand, it’s just what they’re “meant” to do. I think the reality of such things lend their horrific brutality quite easily — although I also hope to entertain and provide enjoyment, at the same time! 😀 Don’t want it to be nothing but bleakness and darkness!