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Living a lie

by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 01 January 2017
Word Count: 1486
Summary: A Cautionary tale

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Tall and erect, Arnold grasped the lectern as he surveyed his flock.   His eyes misted and he exulted as a blur of rapt faces gazed back at him.  They were drinking in his words like thirsty nomads at an oasis.  His heart beat a joyful tune and he flung out his arms to embrace them all as his voice soared.   He had been charged by God to preach His Holy Word, to convert the heathen, to rescue man from evil and wrest them from the sins of the flesh and to his dying day, nothing would deter him from that task.
            His tone dipped as his sermon drew to a close.   The powerful notes of the organ thundered in his ears and he stood transfixed, gazing heavenwards, or at least, towards the rafters.   At that moment, a pigeon, rudely awaked from its doze, shuffled along a beam took aim and fired.  Adroitly the vicar stepped to one side and the glistening projectile missed him by millimetres.   A benign smile spread over his face and he wagged a finger at the bird.   Laughter rippled along the pews and the vicar’s smile broadened.   He always liked to end his service with a little humour.
            Outside, a gentle breeze stirred his fine white hair as he greeted members of his congregation filing past.  He made a point of paying particular attention to families with small children, knowing well their load was heavy.
            ‘And how is little Tommy today.  Better I hope.’   Gently, he laid a hand on the peachy thigh of an infant nestled in his mother’s arms, and then patted his brother’s flaxen curls.   ‘And, how old is this little chap, eh?   Nearly six?   My goodness.   I expect he will be joining our Cub pack soon.   We’ll have great fun there, my boy.’   The child smiled shyly and clutched at his mother’s skirt.
With his finely chiselled features and unlined skin, the Reverend Arnold Turvey didn’t look his three score years and ten and the villagers supposed it was because his virtue shone through.   Unfailingly kind to the elderly and ailing, his door was open to all, although he did seem to have a special affinity with the young and everyone thought it was a great pity he’d never married.  He practically ran the Cubs and the Scouts.  What’s more, if any child showed musical promise, he was coaxed into making full use of the piano at the vicarage and the vicar was always very willing to give individual tuition.   Everyone thought his heart was truly made of gold and if his sermons went over the top at times,  - well  that was just the vicar’s way.    
            At last the congregation dispersed and Arnold wandered back to the vicarage, his benign smile still in place.   Would that every day was a Sunday, he thought and especially Sunday afternoons, when he could be alone at last.    Immediately after passing through his front door he made straight for his computer where he sat in his usual place.    With hands that shook only slightly, he switched it on and scrolled down the screen, pausing now and again to make sure his eyes hadn’t deceived him. Sorrowfully, he pursed his mouth.
            ‘Those poor, dear children’, he whispered, ‘it really shouldn’t be allowed.’
* * *
            ‘You’re going to Hell, you know.’
Arnold’s eyes fluttered then rolled back into his head as he sank back into his dream.   He reached for a tumble of golden curls and sighed as the sheets whispered against his bare flesh.   Then he heard the words again, a bit louder this time.
            ‘You’re going to Hell, you know.’ 
            With a start, Arnold woke up and lay gasping.  He couldn’t breathe.  There was a leaden weight in the middle of his chest.   Wretched cat!
            He flailed with one arm and felt, not fur, but something rough and leathery.  There was a clumsy, scrambling movement and his chest felt lighter.  He took a deep breath, drawing air deep into his lungs.  Now, fully awake, he sat up and peered around.   The room was in semi-darkness, its furniture spectral in the half light, but as his eyes adjusted, a black and deformed shape gradually materialized.  It clung to the bedpost with gnarled hands, its monstrous body ending in a tail that twined around the bedstead’s ornamental brass flowers.
            Again, Arnold had difficulty breathing.  His eyes popped and clutching a twist of sheets, he lay back and tried to slide down under the covers.   The creature whisked its tail and its crimson eyes blazed.   It opened its mouth and Arnold interrupted hastily.   He was pretty sure what it was going to say.   It seemed to have just one topic of conversation.
             ‘Who, who….’ He squeaked.  Then, cleared his throat.
            ‘Who are you?’  He managed at last.
            ‘I come from beyond the grave.’  The thing intoned.
            ‘Why are you here and what do you want?’
‘It’s our bicentennial stocktake.  Every half century our assets are inspected.’
Arnold didn’t like the way it looked him up and down.  Apart from that, its voice needed oiling.  A cross between a squeaky gate and nails scraped down a blackboard it made Arnold’s throat hurt.   As it spoke, it never blinked and a slender, forked tongue darted in and out of its mouth.   This didn’t help its diction and it took Arnold a few minutes to work out what it had said.   With guilty dread he remembered his dream.
            ‘Are you the Devil?’
            The thing cackled.
            ‘Oh no!  The Devil’s much worse.’
            With a sudden puff of lurid green smoke, the demon disappeared, leaving behind a strong stench of sulphur.
            Arnold lay, not daring to move.  After a while the room lightened and he heard the first tentative cheep of a sparrow.  The smell had faded and Arnold sat up.
            ‘Just a nightmare’, he muttered.  ‘Must have been the gorgonzola I had for supper.’
            By now, the birds were screaming at each other and Arnold’s head started to ache.  Uttering decidedly un-Christian expletives, he slid his bony feet into worn carpet slippers, reached for his gun and shuffled towards the window.  After a few blasts the birds fell silent and Arnold felt better.   It was time for a cup of tea.
* * *
            High above the village, the vicarage clung to the hillside as sunset flooded the sky with red and gold.   The vicar, an insomniac since his meeting with the gremlin, stood watching amber lights sprinkling the village.  One by one, they winked out except for one, defiantly holding back the night. 
 Gordon the grocer looked down at his son, asleep at last,   With loving tenderness, he smoothed his blond locks and his heart ached as he saw the silver trail of tears tracking down the boy’s cheeks.   He ground his teeth as he remembered the terrible scene earlier that evening and how his beloved child had wept and clung to him, begging not to be sent back to the vicarage for his weekly piano lesson.  A seething volcano raged inside him, threatening to erupt, as he dwelt on the reason for his son’s distress.   No mere child’s tale this, his delicate body bore the marks.  With a shuddering effort, Gordon controlled himself and when he finally felt able to look at his wife, his face was carved from stone.
            ‘I’ll kill him.’
            ‘No, Gordon.’  She placed a restraining hand on his arm.
‘We both will.’
Later that same night, when, at last, Arnold had succumbed to a fitful sleep, two wraithlike figures crept up the hill.  They stepped lightly through the chilly groundmist hugging the frozen grass and flitted through the dark bulk of rhododendrons surrounding the vicarage.  Their hoarse whispers, already muffled by the fog, trailed into silence as, with every tick of the clock, they neared their destination.    Each carried a jerry can full of petrol and each had murder in their heart.
* * *
The vicar sighed in his sleep and then coughed.   Opening his eyes, he gasped and spluttered.   He couldn’t breathe.    He remembered the demon and his heart pounded.   ‘Oh no,’ he thought, ‘not again…’  He looked around, vaguely wondering why it was so misty, but saw nothing.   Then he sat bolt upright and stared at the door with bulging eyes.   Thick curls of yellow-grey smoke were pouring through every chink, even the empty keyhole, and he heard the distant crackle of flames.  
‘Fire’ his mind screamed.   With one bound he was out of bed and clawing at the doorknob, his panicked brain failing to register its scorching heat.   At last, he wrenched it open and the heat of a furnace drove him back.   His mouth opened in a soundless howl of terror, not at the sight of the huge chrysanthemum of fire boiling up the stairs towards him, but at what lurked behind the fireball.
The demon had been right.  The Devil was much worse.

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Comments by other Members

S-Jan at 22:53 on 04 January 2017  Report this post
Hi Janet, I really enjoyed this. I like how your words paint such vivid imagery.

Chestersmummy at 15:00 on 06 January 2017  Report this post
Thank you foe reading this S-Jan.  Glad you enjoyed it.

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