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David

Sunday Morning in Jasper City

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I wrote this short story, I hope you like it. Comments and criticisms are welcome, thanks! Also, if anyone could tell me how to indent an entire paragraph in a forum post, that would be great. Post formatting is not my forte

 

The preacher wasn’t smiling as he stepped up to the pulpit of the dusty little church house that Sunday mornin’. In fact, it seemed like it hadn’t been since before they could remember that the congregation had seen their shepherd smile. Instead, he wore an ever present and rather serious expression, a countenance he shared with the few members of his flock who still came and sat in the pews every week. A look that said too many thoughts were runnin’ around inside their heads.

Maybe the preacher was sombered by memory of his past deeds. Before he became a man of the cloth, he had been a shotgun messenger on a stagecoach. While it had been savage natives he had felled with his gun, and far from innocents, a man of conscience might still demure over lives taken. Still haunted by the faces of widows and fatherless children rising up in judgement before him every time he sought to do a good deed.

Or maybe the good shepherd was mournin’ with his people problems not only spiritual, but physical too. Like the growing portion of his congregation that was missing from the weekly meeting.

First there were the young men who went away to throw in their lot with the confederates, James, the dentist’s oldest, and Andrew, son of the innkeeper. Then there were the Hendersons, the whole lot of them  ‘scripted by the Union. Both sets of boys off to a fight that they couldn’t both come back from. The Union soldiers eventually did come back to town, but not the boys the preacher had known, not the young members of the shepherd’s flock.

After the war it had been claims of utopia that had culled the sheep next. It had started with labourers from town being hired to go help build up the next town over, one as had been earmarked to become a “Promethean Complex”. Some of the men from the church had returned from their work there, only to take their families back with them, enticed away by promises of better living through “Enlightened” technology. Thomas Smith and his family would make visits back in to the church on occasion at first, but of late, no one for miles had seen a soul out of that big, smoke-belching monster of a city.

Perhaps it was more immediate concerns that soured his face. Such as the growing fear in town, about how brother Ned’s cattle were turnin’ up mutilated, and with increasing frequency, too. Or how some folks had simply vanished from their beds in the night, only to turn up wanderin’ the waste days later with strange scars, and no memories of what had happened to them, or in some cases no memories of who they had even been.

Maybe it was the thought of how Earl and Mary Hicks’ boy had made up his mind two weeks ago to run off with the Wilson gang. How, when confronted about it, he had shot his father with his six-gun before robbing his own mother and makin’ off for what his new “friends” promised was easier living. And how Ned’s brother, the sheriff, had taken off with his deputies in pursuit of the outlaw posse that same day, with no word of either since.

It’s possible the serious look was due to how, just yesterday, the Mastersons’ boy woke up from a dream in which he claimed an angel had talked to him. At behest of his vision, the youth had begun to inscribe strange markings into a sabre that had been passed down in the blacksmith’s family for generations. As confused as his parents had been that morning, the more so was everyone horrified when their boy took the finished sabre up in the middle of the night, and went and plunged it into the heart of old MacIntyre, the seedy drunk who lived on the edge of town.

In the end, it could have been any of those things, or even all of them, that was weighing on the preacher’s mind that morning. At last setting his Bible down on the pulpit, and opening to a page near the back, the preacher began to read, breaking the heavy silence.

“And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”

As the preacher read, and the congregation murmured its agreement, the door at the back of the room swung open, and a man rushed inside in a panic.

“Shepherd! oh Lord God! someone help me, something aweful and unholy is afoot!”

It was Jim Wuthrup, the undertaker, and as he hurried to throw himself down before the pulpit he shared with horror what he had witnessed.

“It’s MacIntyre, he’s got up and started to walk again!”

As the men of the congregation jumped to their feet astir, Mr. Wuthrup babbled on to the shepherd, about how the body of the town drunk, which had been put in a coffin last night to await burial this morning, had begun to stir. Finally it had climbed out and set its still-dead eyes on the undertaker, who had wasted no time in fleeing for the church, the sickening sounds of wrenching joints and dragging wet flesh behind him spurring him on.

It was only a moment later, as the Shepherd tried to console his frightened lamb, that the door to the church burst open for the second time that morning. Brother Ned’s wife screamed and passed out in his arms as a monstrous form threw itself malevolently into the church-house.

The… “thing” ...that had once been the town drunk, was now a club-footed and hunchbacked lump of flesh and boils, and what once had been its fingers had split to make way for long talons of sharpened bone. Even as the men of the congregation tried to maintain an orderly retreat of the women and children to the far end of the room, the flesh of the creature continued to warp sickeningly, the boils that covered it giving off an eerie red glow.

Amidst the chaos of the fleeing flock, a few brave men had begun to pelt the creature with hymn books, candlesticks, anything on hand, taunting the beast and trying to keep it away from the women and children.

The old shepherd ran to the pulpit, tearing the small cross from around his neck and pushing it into a matching depression on the old wooden stand. With a click, the side of the pulpit fell off, revealing an old coach gun and a line of old shells.

As the creature continued to lumber forward, crashing through the old pews and shrugging off the improvised missiles of the congregation, Mr. Masterson came up behind it and smashed a chair over top of its head. Whirling around with a speed that belied its deformities, it rent his chest with its claws and sent him flying away.

Loading a pair of shells into the breach of his weapon with a whispered prayer, the preacher lifted the worn oaken stock of the 12 gauge to his shoulder and aimed it at the beast. The gun was an old Remington, not one of those damnable newfangled weapons juiced by the devil’s own blood. Not for this man of the cloth.

As the terrifying beast closed on the men fleeing to the pulpit, the preacher raised his voice in exultation.

“And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”

At the sound of their shepherd’s voice, his fleeing lambs parted to either side to make an opening. Pulling both triggers, the shepherd sent two barrels of righteous fury straight into the maw of the beast, lifting it bodily from the ground and spinning it around. The creature hit the ground with a sickening wet slap, the boils on its flesh bursting from the impact to release a luminescent red liquid that was too bright to be blood. The church house fell silent.

“Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.”

The shepherd turned to his flock, the look on his face betraying nothing of what had just happened. As if this were the intended conclusion of his sermon all along, he sent the congregation home with a simple benediction and a prayer for Mr. Masterson, who had been taken to the doctor’s as soon as the beast was dead. Closing the doors and turning to look at the mess he’d have to clean up, the preacher thought to himself quietly. In these trying times, it was a relief to know that his ultimate destiny was secured.

As the shepherd rolled up his sleeves and set to work cleaning his church, for the first time in a long time, he allowed himself to smile.

 

 

 

 

 

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