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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Dust and Sand – Chapter 11 – By Sean P. Wallace

He rubbed a hand through his damp hair. The dream could only be a product of his guilt; he’d witnessed the dark man – and Father Kilkenny was convinced that it had been a man, not a demon – kill those soldiers and done nothing to save them or the woman they’d escorted. The fact that he would have gotten himself killed was beside the point; he felt as though he should have stepped in, should have done something.

He sighed. The Irish weren’t supposed to be afflicted with unnecessary guilt. It’s more of an English thing. Guilt for Original Sin, yes, but not for sensible inaction. Yet here he was feeling awful for another’s failure.

Or maybe he was misplacing the guilt? Perhaps its roots were in his role in bringing on the troubles? He considered this for a second, prodded the possibility thoughtfully, and decided he’d made the right decision on that matter. Could it have stemmed instead from his pride in going into the Badlands as he had, the arrogance to think that he could make a difference?

“That’s probably it, Kieran, you bloody fool that you are,” he said after some reflection.

His silent room didn’t disagree.

To compound this sin, Father Kilkenny had followed the dark man and his prize after the killing was done. Somehow, he’d convinced himself that the dark man was related to the troubles, that he might find something that would help his flock if he followed. So he’d trailed them north-west to a valley between two tall outcrops of rock. Either there were caves down there or a passage, a way into the true Hell that provided the demons succour, because it was a dead end they had not left as he watched.

Thankfully, he’d had the sense not to follow them further.

With a shake of his head, the Father stood and started his day. He washed, knelt before the painting of Jesus above his bed and then collected his washing. After a moment’s debate, he added his sheets and some clothes in the pile; last night, they’d been assaulted by a mere smattering of demons so he could use time he’d normally spend repairing the church to see to his own needs. He was nearly out of black shirts anyway.

Once dressed, the Father grabbed his wash tub and went to the well. He found the sun halfway to setting and Crucifix still, silent, as people preferred to stay indoors. Melting tar from the tavern’s roof scented the air; it had been a warm day and would probably be a warm night.

Because it had been at the mercy of the demons all through the troubles, many shunned the well, preferring whatever rainwater or dew they could collect. It didn’t rain too often in Crucifix so there wasn’t a great deal of washing happening. People had stopped noticing their own smells, had stopped complaining about being dirty, as they understood survival was more important.

Everyone except Father Kilkenny; a man of the cloth couldn’t stink like a leper. He had to keep himself clean and his clothes and so used the well, trusting that God would protect him. So far, He had done so.

Father Kilkenny took stock of Crucifix’s buildings as he walked to the well, tub in hand. Most had been worried at in some form or another; little scratches or smashed windows, bullet holes or burn marks. Nothing that would drive a man to poverty but plenty to send him to distraction, especially if he were house proud. And many in Crucifix were so, if only because all they had was the roof over their heads.

Many of his sermons had warned his flock against caring too much for worldly possessions, these brief flickers in an endless existence, but it was like fighting the tide with his wash tub; people liked to feel proud of what they had. Pride was the most comfortable sin.

The Father chastised himself for hypocrisy; he’d shown how easy pride was to slip into last Sunday.

Further down the street was the telegraph line, which lolled into the store then back out the other side. That rekindled his guilt; he should have sent warning about the dark man earlier but he’d been weak, afflicted with shock, and threw himself into reinforcing the church instead. It hadn’t been working by the time he’d gone…

His guilt was so great that he walked straight into the pump, bashed his hip against the warm pig iron. The pump was maybe three feet tall and solid enough to give him a good thump. The handle had been mostly ripped off by something – maybe even bitten off – but there was still enough of a stub to work with.

Rubbing his bruised hip, Father Kilkenny put the tub under the pump and got started.

It was then that someone approached him. Father Kilkenny wasn’t yet so old that he didn’t notice someone coming up on him so he stopped, put on a smile and turned in time to see a fist coming his way.

His instincts took over and he leant to one side. The sun behind his attacker meant he couldn’t see who it was, only their dark outline. Another attack came in and he caught it, grabbed the attacker by the arm and throwing him to the ground. Only when they tumbled in the dust could the Father tell who it was.

“Emmett?”

The town drunk rolled over and glared at him from under a greasy mop of black hair. Emmett had been a farmer once but he’d lost everything long before the troubles. He hadn’t joined them in the chapel for a couple of days; Father Kilkenny had assumed he’d taken to his heels, tried his luck in the Badlands. But here he was, thick of beard and thin of face. And Lord did he look angry.

“Kieran,” Emmett said in a mocking tone.

“I’d thought you dead Emmett. I wasn’t the only one.”

“Not that you were concerning yourself with me, hey, Kieran?”

Emmett slowly got to his feet, which was not a quick endeavour. The Father noted his shaking hands and unfettered concentration and made a note to have a word with Jimmy; Emmett shouldn’t be getting hold of liquor.

When Emmett got to his feet again, he staggered at Father Kilkenny with his fists balled.

Father Kilkenny took a step back. “How much have you drunk Emmett?”

“How can a damned Mick ask me a question like that?”

The Father stiffened. “I won’t be having you using that kind of language Emmett. Now how much have you had to drink?”

SeanPWallace
SeanPWallace
Sean is an editor, writer, and podcast host at Geek Pride, as well as a novelist. His self-published works can be found at all good eBook stores.

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