Wednesday 2 December 2015

The Monastery - A Short Story By David Kempf

Father Hitchens knew that the monastery he was looking for was hidden behind several mountains. It would be many a long day and night’s journey from the civilized part of England. This superior, the leader of these Jesuits was Father Superior Darrow. He was an odd man with some strange methods. The Jesuits would never be this popular if it hadn’t been for the protestant revolution brought on by Martin Luther.

 This particular group was either to be left out here in the middle of nowhere or they would be hanged. Reports of these men sleeping with the wives of local peasants and even with other men had built up Darrow’s sorry lot’s dreadful reputation. The worst part was that now that they seemed to have rid themselves of sexual deviants, the few families who lived in the mountains were being torn to shreds by some kind of animal or animals. The Christian brothers would soon face the music in this particular brotherhood. Father Hitchens had to be bringing fifty men with food so this group of pathetic folks wouldn’t starve to death or simply die from their own stupidity.

“Who is it?
“It’s Father Hitchens,” Darrow answered his fellow monk.
“What does he want?”
“He wants to show the spirit of the inquisition is still alive.”

There were very few younger men here anymore. Mostly they were well over forty years of age. Hitchens and Darrow were both overweight, unattractive men in their early fifties. They were both blessed with great intellects and cursed with stubborn wills. This was one of the poorest monasteries but their monsignor Aragon demanded that it be that way.

“Father Hitchens, I presume.”
“I assume I don’t need an introduction.”
“We have brought food and supplies. Courtesy of our master Aragon, may God bless him and save him.”
“No doubt,” said Darrow.
The visiting priest was shown to his quarters. It wasn’t very much but then again, he wasn’t expecting all that much. The best they had to offer always went to their guests. When a guest had the power of life and death over them, there was particular attention to detail.

“Why are you really here?” asked Darrow.
“You’re a man who gets to the point, I admire that, Father.”
“Thank you.”
“Now, the church is very clear about the rules of celibacy.”
“I know.”
“No one must have sex with a woman or a man.”
“I understand and we are in total agreement, Father Hitchens.”
“God help us if our monks are accused of touching children again.”
“No. They are not, I assure you.”

“I mean what kind of reputation would the church have if it was known for having and protecting perverts. Everyone would be Lutheran tomorrow!”
The two men smiled at one another in a very uncomfortable and formal way. There was great distrust between them. It was almost as if they were looking at one another and trying desperately to read the other’s mind. They were not clairvoyant so treading lightly and carefully choosing words was the correct path for them.

“Sir, you needn’t worry.”
“There is another matter and it’s delicate and not nearly as important as the others we are discussing.”
“Aragon is very strict about church law and does not dissent on one single matter. Do you understand, Father?”
“Yes, Father Hitchens.”
“What is it then?”
“If the men are in good standing and are truly celibate, then they need not worry for their lives. Barring starvation or these damned animals that keep killing villagers that is.”
“Understood, Father Hitchens, I understand.”

“Anyway, true celibacy requires that they don’t even touch themselves or provide for their own sexual gratification. It’s forbidden by church law.”
“I assure you that none of that is going on either.”
“Father, you can’t assure these men that they won’t be eaten by wild beasts in the middle of the night. How can you assure me this behavior isn’t going on?”

“Trust me, I can.”
“Oh, you mean the loophole?”
“I know you think that when men confess their sexual sins to one another then they are washed clean. It’s like they are receiving baptism all over again!”
“No, actually….”
“That won’t work with our master. He’s sick of men who use the confessional to justify mortal sins.”

There was a certain level of decency and rationality that was coming from Hitchens. Darrow had to admit to himself that he was partially incorrect on his assumptions on the man’s nature. He thought he had a fanatic who was ready to feed all who dwelled in the monastery to the beasts of the night. He was a coward but he was in his own sad way trying to make the peace and satisfy a bloodthirsty master without a drop of blood being shed.

“These men are as pure as the snow that comes to this place. Incidentally, you’ve come in the early winter. In a month’s time, you may not be able to make the travel back. You’re horses will freeze to death.”

“That’s my affair, Father Darrow.”
“Now onto less important matters, perhaps not to you or me but from the perspective or Aragon and the church these are lesser matters.”
“What are we supposed to do about these damned animals?”
“They’re wolves, Father.”
“How many wolves is there, Father Darrow.”
“There are as many wolves as there are monks.”
“I see.”

Father Hitchens knew the Jesuits would always be an order in trouble. He didn’t think little problems either but rather an order fighting to exist almost all of the time. The kind of group that made it’s members wonder if all of this aggravation was worth it just so they could be the most intellectually gifted. They were known as the intellectuals of the church and often times the rebels. They were humble enough to communicate with the peasants and bright enough to discuss philosophy with kings. If it wasn’t for Luther, the radical order known as Jesuits may not ever have existed. There would be popes who were Jesuit sympathizers but Darrow always felt that there would never be a Jesuit Pope.

“These wolves are not as much as a problem as your master thinks,” said Darrow.
“I think we have things under control.”

“Father, with all due respect, you have wild beasts that come out in the middle of the night to devour peasants. This is a serious problem. The church needs these folks to reproduce as much as possible. When folks get eaten alive, it spoils the romantic mood and they cannot pro create.”
“I see.”

“Do you?”
“Yes, I do sir.”
“What’s to be done?”
“My master wants to hire hunters to kill these beasts off.”
“I must disagree with that.”
“I believe there is no need for that.”
“These aren’t imaginary ghosts. These are real monsters.”
“Well, let’s kill them and make the problem stop.”
“We will defeat them with the help of the very best slayers. My master recommends them most highly.”
Hitchens really hated the fact that Darrow was showing all the signs of not wanting to win the game over the beasts. He deeply wondered why he was not thrilled with the excitement of eradicating the problem forever.

“Do you have some special attachment to these wolves?”
“We can discuss that later.”
“I would prefer now.”
“I see.”
The conversation was cut short by a huge, grey wolf that knocked Hitchens down and ran away quickly. The fellow monks of this strange place were not at all shocked by what they saw. This was more disturbing to him than the wild animal running lose. He shook his head and looked at Darrow.

“Does this happen often, Father?”
“It happens more often than you might think; it’s not however what one would call an everyday occurrence.”
“I see.”

Father Hitchens ran to the highest window and watched the wolf run like hell. He saw the thing grab a little boy by the throat. What he saw next was simply unspeakable. The boy was destroyed and the blood splattered all around. There were no spectators to the creature’s blood sport. They had all ran away and hid from the four legged monster.
“We must go now,” said Hitchens.
“Why?” asked Father Darrow.
“The final…..”
“You may serve him but he’s obviously already dead. What difference does it make now?”

“I must go to him.”
“So be it.”

The good priest prayed for the soul of the young boy. He started to weep uncontrollably. The young one was so new to the world and life itself. He had so much more time to spend on this earth so he could prepare himself for the joys of eternal life with God. All of his potential was destroyed by some ignorant, bloodthirsty beast. Hitchens didn’t seem upset at all. It was almost as if death and anarchy were the expected order of things here at the monastery of banned lunatics.
“How can you not cry?”
“I see a lot of death here, Father Hitchens.”
“I see.”
“You know, I also witness, and we all see very strange things here. We have grown accustomed to living with things that others simply could not tolerate.”

“I see.”
“I hope so. The longer you stay here, the stranger things will get for you. The more nights you live among us, the more your eyes will be opened to the darkness of this dreaded place.”
“Are you trying to frighten me away so I won’t finish my inquiry?”
“Then why tell me these stories?”

The howling noises were all around Father Hitchens now. He was growing increasingly more frightened. The sense of menace was increasing. He thought that watching a wolf kill a young boy would be more terrifying than strange noises. He was wrong.
“The wolves are not going away. They would not have enough to feed on if the peasants didn’t have so many children. I’m sure you know they have far more children than they could ever hope to afford. That’s another matter of church law though, isn’t it?”
“For God’s sake, what are babbling about now?”
“Nothing at all, Father.”
“Exactly, nothing of consequence at all is coming from your mouth.”

“You know your mouth has a considerable size to it, Father Darrow.”
Father Hitchens was startled beyond belief. He felt a cold hand on his shoulder. He turned around. It was an older man who had some strange disease of the eyes. He appeared as if he was going blind.
“Father Hitchens, I’m Father Dawkins, we need to get you back safely inside.”

The old man frightened Hitchens but the idea of being outside and vulnerable was much more terrifying. Still, the damned thing did manage to run wild in the monastery prior to killing the boy.
“I must rest, this night has been truly exhausting,” said Hitchens. He walked to his guest quarters and looked at the two lit candles on both sides of his bed. He would not be blowing them out. The frightening older monk shut the door behind him.
“Good dreams sleep well,” said Father Dawkins.

Hitchens experienced neither. He did not fall asleep for a matter of hours. The sounds of wolves howling went on all night long. When he did fall asleep, he dreamt of the damned wolves again. He was beginning to seriously wonder how any man, even those who had taken vows of chastity or silence could live here and remain sane. It was too much to ask of ordinary men. This was an endless nightmare; it would be far less to painful to pay for one’s sins in purgatory than to live among the foul things of the night. He was starting to think that the monastery itself was damned.

“Good morning, Father,” said Darrow.
“Hello Father, good day to you,” Hitchens answered.
The following day was lovely and Hitchens saw what a hard working, cooperative community resided at the monastery. He regretted his uncharitable assumption that these men were more bad than good. The idea of a cursed monastery seemed absurd by the beautiful light of day.

“When you need to rest from your inquiry, we must discuss our favorite books, Father.”
“Yes, Father Dawkins, we shall do that.”
“I can still see a few words; I’m not completely blind yet.”
“Good to hear it.”
“Well, my hearing is still fine,” he said, laughing.
“Very amusing,” Hitchens responded.
“I enjoy the great comedies. The Greeks wrote them and they are to be enjoyed by educated men such as us.”
“Does your master enjoy them?”
“No, my master burns them.”

It was at this moment that Hitchens and Dawkins realized they had something in common. They hated the censorship of the ones who would try and control the minds of all men. Aragon hated laughter almost as much as he despised anyone who dared to question church authority. He was the kind of man who would not have merely burned someone like Martin Luther at the stake. That would have been too good for him. He would have had him tortured and humiliated for days. This was something that simply had to be done to prevent any future Martin Luthers from rising up and questioning the sacred authority of God’s holy institution.

“We enjoy them although we do not have many, Father Hitchens.”
“I see.”
“I hope you find no need to tell your master about them.”
“I see no reason why these mattes are important when people are being eaten alive by evil animals in the night.”
“Well, they are also eaten in the day.”
“It does not matter so much to me anymore, I suppose.”
“I know.”
“I was speaking for future generations. It would seem that by the time you returned from your journey to report our books to your master, I will have already lost my eyesight.”

“I hope not.”
“It is inevitable but there are many ways to be blind, Father.”
“Indeed, there are, Father Dawkins.”
Father Hitchens took a walk around the monastery. The sun was so lovely and so welcome after a sleepless night, his heart filled with joy. The glorious of God’s creation were all around him. It was moments like this when he felt closer to God than when he was doing the will of his master. Sometimes it was damned near impossible to think that Aragon’s wishes had one blessed thing in common with the Jewish Rabbi who taught men to love others unconditionally. Burning people at the stake or torturing them for hours did not seem to fall in line with any of the lord’s teachings.

“Father Dawkins, I think that our guest needs to speak with me for a little while. I mean no disrespect but he is here on official business and not to discuss great works of literature.”
“I see.”
“We shall see you at supper.”
“You know, we have the best wine here,” said Father Dawkins.
“Okay, off you go then,” said Darrow to Dawkins.
“Sorry about that.”
“That’s fine; he seems like a decent man.”
“He is.”
“How would you like to continue this investigation of yours?”
“My men should be well fed soon,” said Hitchens.
“We brought a great deal of food and supplies.”
“We have little to offer you except the fine wine that our near blind brother was so quick to discuss. We all have our vices, yes?”
“I know that your master happens to feel that some are worse than others.”
“I would agree. How exactly did Father Dawkins go blind?”
“We should probably discuss that later.”
The two men discussed the everyday running of the order and the ways that daily work was accomplished. Father Hitchens apologized and asked if he could take a nap. The other priest had no objections.
“I would like to sleep under this tree but I’m afraid of the damned wolves.”
“Then we shall have two men stand guard on each side of the tree. Its okay, they’ve taken a vow of silence. They won’t disturb your sleep.”
“Thank you.”
“Sleep well, Father Hitchens.”

Father Darrow was very unhappy with the man who was investigating them. He looked all around the monastery with its lovely trees and bright blue sky. The reason he did this was because he had been transferred before. He had the obligation to go wherever his superiors decided he should be. That was the way of life he chose but he wanted to live out the rest of his days at this monastery. The secrets kept here could never be revealed to the outside world or there would literally be hell to pay. Hitchens was an obvious skeptic and could not be convinced the monastery was what it appeared to be on the surface. The quicker he left with his men back to Aragon, the better for all who dwelled in the monastery.

“I thought of another great story to discuss,” said Father Dawkins.
“He’s sleeping and that means less time to ask questions.”
“Very well then, Father Darrow, I understand.”
“Do you?”
“He just asked me how you lost your eyesight.”
“I’ll go then.”

The priest walked away quickly. The subject of how he lost or was losing his vision was too painful. It was also a hideous secret that could get him into great peril with someone in a position of authority. Someone like Father Hitchens could bring ruin and shame upon him. His vision was nearly gone but Father Dawkins’s hearing was as acute as ever. He wasn’t quite a stone’s throw away from their feared guest when he literally heard stones being thrown.
“It’s them, it’s the priest!”
Hitchens woke up screaming. Someone had struck the back of his head with a rather large stone. His head was bleeding.

“The priests and the wolves are….”
“What?” the priest asked.
“You, you don’t know what’s going on here.”

It was a young boy. He was the one who struck Father Hitchens over the head with a stone. He was dressed in filthy rags and peaking behind a nearby tree, desperately trying to get his full attention.
“One of them killed my younger brother yesterday. You performed the final rites on him. Stop these monsters, please for God’s sake…..”
“This order, this monastery is cursed! Stop these things before….”

The creatures came out of nowhere. The wolves ran behind the boy. He looked up at them and showed little signs of fear.
“We are a poor, suffering, starving people. I don’t fear you.”
The wolves looked at him. They almost seemed to anticipate what he would say next.
“What manner of beasts are these wolves?” asked Hitchens.
“I shall tell you.”
A wolf bit the boy’s hair and grabbed onto it. He walked backwards slowly and the boy was dragged with him.

“Stop!” screamed Father Darrow.
“You can’t command these beasts,” said Father Hitchens.
The amazing thing was that Father Darrow could do just that.
“Put the boy down, now.”
The wolf let go of the boy.
“Boy, go back to your home and run like hell.”
“Father, the truth shall set you free,” the boy answered.
“The truth is not to be revealed today.”
“The truth will get you torn to shreds, lad. Please run home.
“Fine, Father but….”

The boy ran as fast as he could deep into the woods. The wolves stood still in front of the priest who commanded them. Father Hitchens could not believe this absurd nightmare taking place in the light of day. The night was supposed to contain the living testament of evil things.
“Father, what manner of beasts is this?”
“We have no time to talk about such matters, Father Hitchens. Not now. These creatures must be dealt with. Later, we will discuss this. I beg you to leave as soon as you can. The idea of staying here is very foolish.”
“Father, you leave me little choice. Men! Now is the time!”
The wolves found themselves surrounded by men. They were the fearless, armed wolf slayers that the priest had promised earlier.
“These are the men I brought. This was their purpose, to kill your wolves. There must be a hundred wolves here now,” said Father Hitchens.

“There are almost as many men,” said Father Darrow.
“Yes,” Father Hitchens answered.
“What do you have to say to the wolves now, Father?”
“Kill them all, quickly and with mercy, please,” said Father Darrow.
Father Hitchens could not believe his own ears. Who was this man who commanded the beasts to fight according to his own will?
“Fight the wolves and win,” screamed Father Hitchens.
“They will not win,” said Father Darrow confidently.
“How do you know this?”
“I know it.”
“How do you it?” he asked.
“You are not the first or the hundred and first men who have attempted to kill us.”

The wolves and the men fought for hours. Father Hitchens could not believe how quickly his slayers were being slain. Father Darrow could not believe how bravely these good men fought the wolves. They were the most noble and daring creatures he had ever seen before. The fighting seemed to never end.
“This is madness, Father,” said Hitchens.
“How long must this go on?”
“It will go on until the death of one side. There will be no compromise or treaty from today.”
“How can wolves, werewolves come out during the day like this?”
“We are not werewolves, not exactly, Father Hitchens.”
“What are you then?”
“When you find out, it will be the last thing you ever know.”

A young peasant girl peaked behind the trees to watch the fighting. The wolves all left the men and chased after her. The men were confused and were at a loss for words. Suddenly, one of them caught the girl. He ripped her to pieces with his teeth. When his bloodlusts was satisfied, he changed back into a man. The naked monk ran into the woods before anyone could catch up to him.
“Why?” asked Father Hitchens.
“Don’t you mean how?”

“Soon you will know our little secret, I promise.”
“I don’t like secrets, Father.”
“Come now, Father Hitchens. You kept a secret from us as well. Fifty men were hidden and ready for battle with these creatures. Now you plead for honesty from us.”
“At least I’m still human and I’ll die that way.”
There were now more peasants looking on behind the trees. The remainder of the wolves chased after them. There were three men and what appeared to be a nearly blind grey wolf left behind. The men got ready to stab the wolf with their spears and swords. He pulled a sword from one of the slayers. The old wolf killed the men in a matter of less than a single minute. He slit there throats and they seemed to die almost instantly.
“It’s you, isn’t it?”
The wolf looked at Hitchens.
“Father Dawkins?”

He was amazed at how quickly the wolf had become a man. These were not terrible, slow agonizing transformations like the gypsies told in their oral traditions. The changes took place so rapidly they appeared to be almost natural.
“We change quickly,” said Father Dawkins. He put his monastic clothing on and smiled at Hitchens.
“How did this come to be?” Father Hitchens asked.
“How do you think it happened?”
“It was the gypsies by moonlight; they put a curse on you.”
“You are partially correct, Father,” said Hitchens.
“What then?”
“There was a gypsy but she was asked to do this to us. The ultimate one who is responsible for our condition is your master.”
“No,” said Father Dawkins.
“Oh, you mean?”
“Yes, the church itself created us.”
“The laws of the church, natural law in particular.”
“You mean?”
“Yes,” said Father Hitchens.

Father Dawkins looked at Hitchens and Darrow and began to break out into uncontrollable laughter. The other men started to come back from the woods, naked and appearing absolutely exhausted. The monastery of shape shifting monks had come home to roost. A few of the men joined in the laughter. The ones who took a vow of silence did not do so.
“How do you think I went blind?”
“You become wolves, you turn into those damned fiends when you….”
“I think you’re beginning to discover the truth all on your own, Father,” said Father

“When you….”
“You must say it, Father. Speak the truth,” said Father Darrow.
“When you…”
“Spit it out, Father,” said Father Dawkins.
“When you…masturbate…you turn into those monsters!”
“Yes,” answered Father Hitchens.
“That’s insane!”

The sad truth for these monks was that it was in fact church dogma that drove man into madness. Sexuality when guided with a moral compass never actually hurt anyone. The monks who desired women went after them. The few but fierce ones who preferred young boys would mutilate them. The secrets of celibacy came at a very high price for the peasants who lived in the surrounding areas. They were starving because there was hardly anyone left to tend to growing food and the hunt. They became the hunted in the dreadful dark woods where blood was spilled because semen could not ever be allowed to be.

“Madness, this is madness, all of you are in league with the…..”
“Let me guess, Father Hitchens. We are in league with the devil, is that what you were about to say?”
“Yes, Father Darrow. Yes.”
“Well, very well then. If you would like to cling to your delusions I suppose no one here will fault you for that.”
“I’ve seen evil.”
“You’ve seen us. We are in league with church teaching and not Satan. This simply is not so. If your job is to investigate and not to interrogate then I suggest you learn how to do your work properly.”

Father Dawkins rolled his eyes. He started to laugh again and then opened up a bottle of wine. He drank it very fast.
“Wine and the hunt are how we work off our lusts,” said Father Darrow.
“How did this come to be?”
“We heard over and over that we were sinners who gave into our lusts. The young women here in the villages were getting pregnant from priests. Men were killed but that did not stop us from being disobedient. Then we went to see a gypsy Ceija. She said that when lusts built up inside of us and we would perform unnatural acts, we would become creatures of folly. The folly of our sinful ways, the wolves would be our new form. It was not constant, mind you. We were men most of the day and night. When our sexual attractions became overwhelming, we became the beasts.”
“Yes,” said Father Hitchens.
“The night we drank the blood of the wolf was under the darkest night sky. The moon

was appropriately bright and full. It was almost menacing. We drank deeply and transformed that same night for a few hours. The entire experience of the whole affair is quite amazing.”

“You kill these villagers, these peasants….”
“Yes but the days of our filthy self gratification are over forever.”
“We are no longer men of lusts….”
“No, you’re far, far worse. You’re blood killers!”
“We restrain ourselves because we know that we are killers. We fight the good fight over lust everyday!”

“You don’t understand, do you?” asked Father Dawkins, interrupting them.
“Perhaps we should invite you to the dance,” said Father Hitchens.
The monks were beginning to surround him. They smiled, many of them. Others outright laughed at him.
“You aren’t leaving here alive,” said Father Hitchens.
“I know, Father.”
“Aren’t you sick of giving into self gratification and lust?”
“Well, yes but killing is a far graver offense, I think that…”

“What?” he asked Father Hitchens.
“Killing isn’t so bad. I mean we have killed a lot of people as church, as a religion, have we not?”
“Well, yes but….”
“What in the hell makes you think that we value human life more than we detest sexual gratification?”

“This can’t be real,” said Father Hitchens.
“It can’t but it is,” answered Father Darrow.
“I see.”
“We must follow our dark northern star even at the expense of taking lives.”
“I see,” said Father Hitchens.

The disturbing shape that Father Darrow took was quite menacing. He must have only been half aroused because he was half man and half wolf. It was infinitely more disturbing than the sight of the wolves were. What was even more profoundly unnatural was that he could speak while in that form.
“You don’t have to die. You can be one of us. The choice, of course, is ultimately up to you.”
“Yes, Father Darrow.”
“What say you?”
“Do I get eternal life?”
“Worried about damnation?”

“We do not live forever but our life span can be quite long. Hundreds of years and in some rare instances even longer, at least that’s what I’ve heard.”
“I suppose I have no choice. I would rather live as a monster with the risk of being damned for eternity instead of facing imminent death.”
“Good choice, Father.”

The creature had the hair of a wolf on its face and bright, sharp fangs. His eyes were human and so was part of his nose. Father Hitchens closed his eyes, he couldn’t look. The monster bit right into his neck. The pain was profound but vanished almost as soon as it had come. He would not be leaving. Father Hitchens was now a part of the world’s strangest monastic community. He could not leave and return to Aragon. He would be seen as a demonic monster fit for slaughter. If Aragon did come to the monastery, there was no doubt Father Hitchens would have to kill him. Men like him should never be allowed to become shape shifting monsters. He was too evil to have such supernatural power. His wounds healed miraculously fast. He merely had to wait for his lusts to overpower him and then he would change into one of them. Father Hitchens waited for the birth of the beast within.

The Monastery - A Short Story By David Kempf