The sun began to set. Father Kieran Kilkenny watched that wonderful source of light and warmth, the Lord’s love and strength made material, start the long process of nestling into the horizon for a well-deserved rest.
Another night of the troubles was about to start.
As it had for a few weeks now, sunset heralded a flurry of activity in Crucifix; huddled folk emptied their homes, the tavern and the other places of work quickly, though there were precious few employers in Crucifix. They made their way to the chapel, the only safe place in town of a night. Most were old; the town’s young tended to leave when they hit their teens to find work and fortunes elsewhere, braving the Badlands in hope of a better life. A few children walked among the fleeing people, remnants and reminders of innocence. Pale, scared, Crucifix moved as quickly as they could to their tall wooden haven. None wanted to be outside it when the sun eventually set. Though it was a horrible scene, Father Kilkenny couldn’t help but think there was something right about people coming to the Lord when they needed protection.
The Father watched this exodus from atop the town chapel, one arm draped round the rough wooden crucifix above its entrance. The chapel roof was his thinking place and where he felt he did his best praying. After all, it was the part of Crucifix closest to God. Of course the townspeople had found this preference unusual at first but they had become so used to his being there that they didn’t even look up any more.
The exodus wasn’ta great one. Crucifix was tiny, had only one road and that ended at the chapel. They had only the tavern for entertainment – a place whose hospitality Father Kilkenny wanted to enjoy but knew he couldn’t – and a trading post and a bank for honest work. A dozen homes sat between and around these but that was all there. His flock were penned in by poverty and demons.
Before the recent troubles, the townspeople had subsisted by farming the few fields that the Father had been able to make safe and drinking heavily at night. It wasn’t much of a life. But it was a life Father Kilkenny was determined to preserve, even if he had to do so alone. It didn’t seem like anyone else would be coming to help.
Crucifix wasn’t usually so isolated; the telegraph line in the bank, which went south-west and north-east to places that truly mattered to this country, kept them in touch with the world. But the line hadn’t been working lately, which cut them off entirely. A fact which seemed too coincidental with all that’d been happening.
Father Kilkenny looked along the dipping telegraph line, followed it to the horizon, then looked back at the sun. They had maybe an hour until darkness would come over them, which meant only an hour and a half before the troubles would start again. There was still a lot to be done; the chapel needed reinforcing, to be prepared for the draining night ahead.
The thought made him feel tired. Perhaps it was too much for one man to protect a town against the forces of Hell, even a man of God; every morning for the past month, he’d gone to bed with the voice of the Devil asking him why he didn’t just pack up and go somewhere safer. Not that the thought lasted long. The Lord didn’t have a lot of time for what was easy for those who dedicated their lives to Him. But He did care a lot about what needed to be done to for His followers; His son learned that the hard way. And as the Father had given his life to God, he would do whatever He expected. So he would prepare Crucifix for another night, stand firm in the face of evil.
But not quite yet. For now Father Kilkenny wanted to watch his flock. Seeing them, seeing their clear need, reminded him why he became a Father. These people looked to him for guidance and protection, spiritual and otherwise. So he indulged himself a moment longer before getting to his feet.
Tall and broad by birth, Father Kilkenny knew he looked every inch an Irish immigrant; a mess of untameable red hair atop a freckle-covered and work-worn face, rough hands and a drinker’s eye. If not for his dark preacher’s uniform and knowledge of the Bible, he’d be mistaken for another Mick ranch hand or railroad worker.
He climbed down from the roof using a ladder he’d made himself; if Jesus had seen fit to be a carpenter then any Father should at least have a taste of the trade himself. Old Hamish, a Crucifix local of Scottish heritage, had shown him how a few years back. In return, the Father’d said prayers over the old man when the demon drink finally gutted him. Thanks to Old Hamish, the ladder was firm and good. It barely creaked under his bulk as he descended.
No-one talked to him as he entered his chapel. There was little his flock could say now; sheltering in the chapel had become routine and their probing questions had been worn to indifferent nubs over the weeks. They weren’t quite at the stage where they might gossip during the night but they were getting close to it. Even the children, those Walter boys and the Finn and Christian girls, had become so settled that they could sleep through the night. Crucifix had adapted and was becoming accustomed to the troubles. Father Kilkenny supposed that was good as it meant they did not suffer as badly. But he couldn’t get used to it, not when they needed him to be on his guard.