Sins of the Father
T. Allan Bishop
Started: 26 Feb 04
Last Updated: 21 May 05
Father William felt the thin stream of blood trickle from his nose. His newly split lip stung from the thick coat of sweat that covered his face, and his torn priest’s collar hung loosely from his neck. He sat down, worn out from the fight and looked across at the body of the soldier he had just killed. He hung his head in grief.
He killed someone. He had sinned. It didn’t matter that it was self-defense. Or that he had likely prevented a brutal rape against Sister Anna and who knows whom else in the future.
He felt sick to his stomach and turned away from the body. Holding off the nausea, he hurried off into the thick undergrowth of the forest farther from the mission. In just a few hundred feet, he could no longer see or hear anything other than jungle noise, and he could no longer hold back. Acrid fluids spewed from his mouth, urged on by the convulsions of his stomach until he was empty. All that remained were the spasms that caused empty bouts of vomiting.
Today was the hottest they’d suffered in the last two years. The massive growth of the jungle sheltered them from the worst of it, but when one added in the humidity, it was still nothing short of stifling, which further sickened him. The sweat that covered his body was more from the heat than the deadly scuffle.
Dizziness overcame him and he rocked back onto his bottom, lowered his head between his knees, and waited for it to clear.
When he first started down this road of life in the service of God, he never once imagined he’d be in such a forsaken environment, much less that he’d kill a man with his bare hands. Yet here he was sitting on his rear in the heart of a jungle, a senseless civil war surrounding him, in the middle of nowhere, with his faith wavering.
There would be more. He knew that. And the dead body of one of their own would only invite an even worse fate upon the mission. They had to leave, or get rid of the body, or both.
Father William was still deeply troubled over his transgressions, but promptly put them from his mind; he couldn’t afford to waste time now on self-recrimination. The deep, rumbling growl was so low and gutturally inhuman that it froze Father William’s thoughts along with his heart. His guilt and despair over his actions were washed away by a wave of terror that swept through him at the speed of sound. He turned slowly, and stared into the eyes of a jaguar.
The hairs on his arms seemed to rise despite the thick layer of sweat weighing them down. He trembled from the cold chill coursing through his body. Despite the fact that he knew his best chance of survival would be to stand and make himself appear as large as possible, he remained sitting on the jungle floor.
So this was it. God’s retribution was coming swiftly and harshly. He lowered his head and prepared for his inevitable demise. The growls grew louder, their raw power thrumming through his body as if the sounds themselves were alive. The jaguar was now mere inches from him, breathing warm, threatening puffs of air down his neck. The cat’s hot breath seemed to scorch his neck like liquid fire. It was so close now that he felt its slick, hard teeth brush his skin. Death was here, there was no escape.
Father William began to pray. He prayed for forgiveness; he prayed for the lost souls of the jungle; he prayed for the world; he even prayed for the jaguar. The warm puffs of air continued to pulse against his neck as the large cat sniffed it’s prey. Praying quietly in the muggy jungle afternoon, he remained extremely motionless. Then the warm, pulsing sensation of the animal’s breath on his neck stopped. Father William waited a few moments, then slowly turned his head.
The jaguar was gone. He’d received a stay of execution. The putrid smell of vomit surrounded him, likely responsible for the jaguar’s disinterest after inspecting the potential meal. Slowly he stood, his legs trembling with uncertainty.
He made his way back to the mission slowly, where Sister Anna knelt over the dead soldier with a wild-eyed look of fear and loathing in her eyes, swelling with tears. The look said everything to Father William, and he diverted his eyes from hers in shame. The look said to him, “Why?” But it meant much more than that. Despite looking away, he could still feel the tearful eyes of Sister Anna bearing down on him. They seemed to speak to him. He knew they were no longer safe here, yet he had no intentions of letting the rebels desecrate the mission he’d dedicated almost all of his adult life to.
Still avoiding eye contact with Sister Anna, he grabbed the soldier’s feet and began dragging the corpse into the jungle where it would be devoured in no time. It tugged back with its weight, making the task cumbersome and tiring.
She cried out to him as he dragged the body away, “You can’t just hide this! At least not from God!” Her voice was shaky as she screamed her pleas.
He ignored her appeal, and continued pulling the corpse. The arduous task caused Father William’s temper to again begin to overtake him. It was this man that had caused him to sin. This man was a tool of the devil, and as such should burn in hell for eternity. When he felt the corpse was sufficiently far enough away from the mission, he picked up the soldier’s pistol and rifle, turned and left, deliberately not giving the man his last rites.
Once he was back at the mission he walked past Sister Anna’s protests, “What are you thinking? You know this isn’t right! God should damn you to hell for this! We can’t just pretend it didn’t happen! This is not acceptable! I can’t forgive this! Not this!”
Again he ignored her, stepping into the chapel, knelt and prayed at the altar. No divine inspiration came, and that wasn’t really surprising to him. He’d entered a downward spiral and it seemed to him that no amount of faith could stop his descent.
Taking a few moments to familiarize himself with the weapons, he vowed to himself to stay and defend the mission against these insane aggressions. Stepping back outside he finally looked at the nun staring at him determinedly and spoke, “You should prepare to leave for a while.”
“I’m doing no such thing! I’m staying right here where the Lord needs my help.”
“I said you should prepare to leave for a while. I’ll send word to you when its safe to return.”
“Don’t argue with me! I know how stubborn you can be, but you won’t be doing much of the Lord’s work when you’re dead, now will you?”
She looked in horror at the pistol he’d raised and pointed at her head. Her watery eyes released and the tears began to flow. “What has happened to you? To the mission? To your faith?”
“Leave,” he calmly replied.
A week later, he was alone at the mission. Sister Anna had left despite her protests. He had even resorted to threats of violence. Now he sat on a bench looking down the narrow jungle road. The rifle lay across his lap, ready for action.
He didn’t bother to fix the broken collar; simply left it dangling as it hung after the fight. Neither had he bothered to bathe, and now the flies were more bothersome than the heat. But he ignored them, and kept watching the road.
His faith had steadily deteriorated since he’d killed the soldier. He’d have expected that inside he would be all tight and anxiety would rule his stomach. But it was strangely not that way at all. Everything was calm inside him, and he was fine with it.
The only thing that bothered him was the wait. He thought it strange that a week had passed with no more soldiers visiting the mission. He couldn’t even hear the sounds of fire-fights in the distance anymore. The strange eerie quietness somehow seemed appropriate for his wait.
The vaporous haze of heat shimmered off the road in the distance, serving to hide anything that approached, though nothing ever did. He sat, waiting for the soldier that wasn’t approaching.
He sat there, day and night, night and day. He only left the seat for food. When he became too tired, he slept there on the bench. He didn’t even leave to relieve himself. He concentrated on the road, on the soldiers he knew were coming.
Finally, he saw the two soldiers approaching. His heart skipped a beat. He was lucky this time. Only two. Next time would be different. But this time, he knew he was to be victorious. This time, he’d survive.
He raised the rifle and took aim. He hadn’t fired a gun since he was a child and he was forced to go ‘coon hunting with his father. He hated it then, and he hated it more now, especially since the targets were human.
The enemy was now fully visible to his eyes. He remembered his dad teaching him as a kid, “Remember Billy, BRASS. Breathe, Relax, Aim, Squeeze, and let it Shoot.”
So he did just that. He took in a breath and held it so that the motion of his breathing wouldn’t skew his aim. Then he let the tension drop from his body. He took careful aim, then slowly squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out, echoing in Father William’s ears.
One of the soldiers dropped immediately. The second soldier, rather than taking cover or returning fire, dropped to his knees and began to administer aid to the other soldier.
Father William waited to see what would happen. If the other soldier retreated, he would live. If he approached or took offensive action, he would die. Father William prayed the man would leave, but his prayers fell on unwilling ears. The man started running towards him.
He followed the same calm and collected method of firing, and the second soldier dropped. He casually walked toward the closest of the soldiers, his eyes growing wide in shock and horror as he saw what he had done. Fear gripped him, and it seemed all of his senses left him for an eternity.
The words sputtered from the dying soldier’s lips, but to Father William’s amazement, the voice sounded strangely familiar, “The war is over.”
The words echoed through his head as he struggled to place the voice. Then he noticed the odd twitch of the lips and crumpled brow that was so remarkably like that of Sister Anna when she was stressed or concerned. Just as this feeling hit him, the young soldier’s face seemed to change into that of Sister Anna before his eyes. The uniform on the soldier was no longer a uniform, but the habit of Sister Anna, and realization finally set in upon Father William.
Tears streamed down his cheeks as she closed her eyes. He dropped to his knees trying desperately to save her but it was too late. He’d killed her. And this time there was no justification for it. This time it was murder.
He glanced over to the other body. It was a police officer. Father William pondered why Sister Anna would bring a police officer with her. He hadn’t committed any crimes, at least not until now.
He administered last rites to both, then got up and wandered about aimlessly for a while. How is it that his mind saw them as soldiers? Why had she brought a police officer with her? Then it came to him, and he set off into the jungle to the spot where he’d dragged the body of the soldier that had started this madness.
It was still there, but the pungent odor of decay was vastly overpowering. Much of the body had been ravaged by the minions of the jungle, but the soldier’s head was still in tact. Father William dropped to his knees when he saw and recognized the face. He was a soldier all right, but not a generic faceless one like he’d imagined before.
It was Juan, Sister Anna’s only son from her days before the church.
How long had his mind been playing these tricks on him? Could he trust any of his memories? Could he trust any of his senses?
He administered last rites to Juan and prayed for himself. Father, forgive me. He could feel the comfort sliding over him like a warm blanket. The relief of God’s forgiveness swept through his body, as the wrath of God’s judgment stepped back into the clearing and pounced on the praying priest.
Father William never sensed the jaguar, and died almost instantly, receiving the forgiveness that he needed to stop his madness from spiraling further downward. He’d regained his faith the instant before he died.