Free Fiction Tuesday?: The Parish by Crystal Connor

The Parish

by Crystal Connor

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness.

It was the middle of winter, the power was out, and it wasn’t coming back on. Father McAllister was troubled. He dipped his finger in the baptismal font and crossed himself. As he walked through the nave, he began to pray.

“My Lord God, through whom strength is made perfect in weakness, I pray to you, give me the strength I need.”

Though there was a town sheriff, the people of Mount Springwalk had always looked to Father McAllister for the law.

It wasn’t an angel that flung the earth into darkness. It was the sun. The geomagnetic storm was the largest ever. Most of the electronics on the planet had been wiped out.

Only the oldest of cars would start, but that was the least of the problems, as all the gas pumps were controlled electronically. No one could make any phone calls, and the Internet was fried.

The records stored at banks, which depend on both power and telecommunication to synch ATMs were forever inaccessible, the money within never again to be recovered. Commerce came to a screeching halt.

Though Christ had yet to return, this digital disaster was nothing short of a technological Armageddon. It was predicted that within a year, the vast majority of world’s population would freeze, starve, or die from disease. Father McAllister began to weep.

His tears were for humanity as a whole, but his heart was breaking for those in his parish. His back was in constant pain from being bent in supplication and his fingers were chapped from the speed with which the prayer beads moved through them.

On the third day of darkness, at the town meeting, the pharmacist was moved to tears when she explained how quickly her inventory would become dangerously low. Young Billy Johnston needed insulin, and dear Martha needed medical-grade oxygen. She breathed more easily in the winter but seasons change.

Father McAllister stopped at the ambry and removed the first of the three sacred oils: the oil of catechumens. He anointed himself with strength and courage.

“You have said, that for your children who have no might, you will increase strength. I am weak. Bless me with a measure of strength as may be sufficient for me.” pleaded the cleric.

Unfortunately, and luckily for Billy, his diabetes was type two. The doctor calmed the pharmacist’s fears by explaining that Billy should be OK now that his access to high- fructose corn syrup and chocolate was cut off, and Martha would be ok too, because no more cars, combines, tractors, or factories meant no more greenhouse gases. And whether you believed in the science or not, he challenged everyone (but mostly Fred), you couldn’t deny that the air already felt cleaner. With an involuntary deep breath, everyone silently agreed.

There were others at Mount Springwalk’s town meeting. The mayor from the neighboring town of West Fortbury and his wife were in attendance as well.

There was a problem. The teenaged and young adult population of Mount Springwalk was mostly girls, whereas in West Fortbury, they were boys. “If we wish to survive beyond the winter,” the mayor suggested with a flushed face, “we need to let nature take its course. After the laughter stopped, the direness of their situation settled in.

Their concerns were for more than just the children. They had no more water. The mayor explained that their high school science teacher warned that drinking reclaimed water from snow was dangerous but no one believed him until people got sick.

Mount Springwalk had a creek with enough semi-fresh mountain water to share.

The new housing development on the other side of Main Street had been completed last year, but due to the economy, 80% of those homes remained unoccupied. More importantly, all those homes were built with wood-burning fireplaces. With a yea or nay vote, it was decided that the entire populous of West Fortbury would be relocated. On the ninth day of darkness, Mount Springwalk, Father McAllister’s parish, would be the home for 2,100 residents.

The canned meat and fish would only last three months, while the charcoal for the grills would be gone in three days. Rita LaRowe, the owner of the general store, said that she had enough canned goods to ensure that every family, including the newest members from West Fortbury, would be able to have one can of vegetables or one can of fruit to go with one meal for the next 18 months.

One can of vegetables for an average family of four. The well from which Father McAllister’s tears flowed was self-replenishing.

The pastor once again thanked God that the woods surrounding them had game – deer and pheasant – and that the Emmit girls were so sinfully accurate with an arrow. The three of them liked to call themselves Amazonian goddesses. Father McAllister voiced his concerns about the paganism but was more than grateful for the meat.

Two years ago, the Anderson and Copper families tore down the fence that separated their properties, and together planted a large vegetable garden. The Amish, who descended upon Mount Springwalk with heavy quilts on the eve of the second frozen night, promised to show the community how to can food if they made it to the spring.

Though Father McAllister was hurt that the Amish, whose way of life was not devastated by the storm from the sun, refused to integrate his parish within their community, he was more than thankful for their blankets and the promise of knowledge.

The loyal servant of God once again thanked the Lord for the creek.

His congregation was able to use that water to flush the toilets and, after boiling it, to bathe and cook with.

The charcoal wasn’t really a problem either, as the stronger men in the community began to harvest the alpines around them and deliver bundles of wood to the residents as if they were the morning papers. If they could just get through the winter. Please, dear God, Father McAllister prayed, grant us another spring.

“When I am tempted by evil, deliver me by granting me the power to overcome it. When my daily work is too hard for me, give me the strength to be able to do it.”

He prayed as his lit the first candle flanking the ambo. Fighting the perils of winter was the biggest obstacle his parish faced.

Until last night.

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? John the Disciple once asked.

The Godless people of Brunspark had shown no pity. They crossed the boarder of Mount Springwalk with guns and pitchforks and fire.

Though he had not known it then, God had answered his constant prayer for strength by sending him the men of West Fortbury.

From the moment the Fortburys, as they were referred to by his original parish, arrived in Mount Springwalk, they began to fortify the town.

After adding what they had brought from their store and private pantries to Rita’s inventory, they began boarding up the windows of the general store and pharmacy from both the inside and out. All the weapons from the gun store were moved to the sheriff’s house, and they began patrols of the woods and water.

Armed patrols.

The pastor was alarmed at how quickly even the youngest Fortbury could become rowdy and belligerent. Father McAllister now understood the reservations felt by the Amish and wondered if his quiet and polite parish seemed just as barbaric in the eyes of their leaders as the Fortburys seemed in his.

“If my burden oppresses me beyond my bearing, lighten my load, that my strength may be equal to it. You have helped many; I beg you to help me.” The second candle was lit.

The town of West Fortbury was a military town with generations upon generations of veterans and at least two alleged war criminals. Those who did not fight abroad brawled in the bar.

The looters of Brunspark were unprepared to face a force with prior military experience and were now being held as prisoners in the barn. The men hung naked from the rafters and had been swinging there all night. Father McAllister understood their anger, God knew he did, but he reminded the members of his parish of the freezing temperature and suggested that they be clothed.

Even though there was a sheriff, the community of Mount Springwalk looked to Father McAllister for the law.

The former mayor of West Fortbury explained that terrorists, both foreign and domestic, did not get to enjoy the protection of the Geneva Convention. The sheriff agreed.

Father McAllister stepped up onto the ambo, comforted that from this elevated state, he would be nourished by the word of Christ. His silent prayer intertwined with his tears.

It was then that God whispered into Father McAllister’s ear.

“Gentle shepherd be at peace.”

The breath of the parish leader froze in his chest. Just as Gideon, Moses, Noah, and the others God had called before him, he was doubtful that the voice he heard was divine.

“Hesitant warrior, I am the Lord your Go. It is I who upholds your right hand and says to you do not be afraid; I will help you.” Father McAllister’s right hand rose above his head. He fell, trembling, to his knees. His vision was blurred with tears of gratitude.

“The wrongdoers, the thieves, and the covetous, will not inherit this kingdom that I have reserved for you. The wicked peoples of West Fortbury have built a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Father McAllister’s heart shattered for he knew the sins of Sodom were not sexual sins but sins of selfishness.

“Weep not,” said the Lord. “You are washed, sanctified, justified in the name of my son, your Lord Jesus Christ.”

Father McAllister could not carry a note in a bucket, but as he knelt weak with joy and overcome with comfort before his savior, the priest broke out into an old Negro hymn he had heard as a boy while walking past a black Christian church.

Until I die, I am gonna serve the Lord anyhow…

The rhythmic way in which the worshipers used their clapping hands and stomping feet as instruments sounded like the beating of African drums.

At eight years old, Father McAllister, just Joshua at the time, had never been inside a church. But that was the first time God had whispered into Father McAllister’s ear, and Joshua walked down the aisle of that church and was baptized: his first step in a lifelong journey of commitment and discipleship.

“I will deliver you from this domain of darkness,” God continued, “and transfer you to the kingdom of my beloved son. Let him who steals steal no longer; from the town of Brunspark, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Send them to stand before me so that they may be judged and sentenced.”

His tears were no more. His fervent prayers had been answered. He had been told what to do. Like the ancient Jewish leader marching toward the Promised Land Father McAllister knew that his parish would remain safe, as he would be more than able to defeat any enemy that dared challenge the army of the living God.

Armed with faith Father McAllister rose with Christ – and marched from the cathedral with the unbridled power of the word of God.

***

I got so much feed back from this story that I pulled it from the anthology (not really but figuratively) on the back burner with the goal of expanding this story. I got the opportunity a year later when another author (Lori Titus) and I joined forces to co-write a book. That didn’t happen, but what did was we created one universe and then wrote two stand alone books that takes place in that setting, in a town called Fates Keep, Mt. Empyreal. My version is called: In the foothills of Mt. Empyreal The End is Now  and the reviews can be read here:

http://www.amazon.com/In-The-Foothills-Mt-Empyreal/dp/1494964198/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

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