|This is a story from Satan's past, from before he had God figured out, back when he behaved like the Devil is supposed to. It's also about a priest. |
It's always dark in churches.
They're supposed to be the place evil can't reach, where God's light shineth in the darkness, but there are so many columns, so many shadowy recesses..
And then there's the box. I bless the day the box was invented. Or I would, if I ever blessed anything.
This church has three priests. Two are old bald long-haulers, fat, pious, self-righteous, clean-shaven and as desirable as mouldy apples. One day when I'm bored I might come back here and chat to them about money, or power, or women in short skirts... or little boys. Yes, it'll be little boys this time. I love the idea of Jehovah's priests, whom children can supposedly trust above all others, betraying them that way. No-one ever knows. No-one ever tells. And it keeps on happening. I wish I could say I invented paedophile priests, but they were around long before I started playing with them and they'll be here long after I stop. I take the blame for them, of course. But every thing God thinks I'm doing to corrupt his humans is another step in the right direction. The old hypocrite.
So it is that I'm here on the edge, walking through one of Jehovah's sacred places. If he spots me here, he'll kill me, finish the job he started back when...
But no. He won't. Because there are shadows in a church and I know where they are.
The third priest is new. The acolyte or neophyte or whatever they call them. Young, uncertain in his faith. And very, very desirable. I will have him. I will.
But first we will play the box game.
From behind my column I watch him light the candles on the altar and then kneel before it to pray. Pray to God to for the patience to hear the confessions of others, for the wisdom to advise others well, for the power to give them absolution for their sins, for the will to keep his faith strong. I'd like to laugh - human faith is such a fragile thing. Especially when faced with the truth.
My boy-priest crosses himself one more time, then goes into his side of the box. Open for business.
I'm about to cross the patch of light that separates my column from his box when I hear a mortal enter the church. This goodly soul processes up the nave with agonising slowness, then stops and hovers, scarcely two metres from where I stand.
I've learned from bitter experience that as a satyr I no longer possess the aura of benign invisibility I had as an angel. Mortals can see me, not as easily as they might another mortal, but well enough. So it is that every breath I take sounds in my ears like the storm winds on Mount Olympus and my heart like the thunder as I wait. The mortal's not keen on confessing her sins either, wondering, no doubt, whether she can skip confession this time. But she probably skipped it last time too. Finally she goes in and I allow myself to breathe out in the silence of the empty church.
* * *
She's taking a while and I'm getting impatient. How many sins can one mortal think she's committed? Doth she not know the Prince of Darkness awaiteth her departure from yonder box? No doubt she does, which is why she's taking so long, the pious little worm...
Finally she emerges in better spirits than she entered, counting off Hail Marys on her fingers and trots back to the real world.
It's dark in the box, too. Boxes are even darker than churches, and for good reason. It's here that all the sordid little secrets the mortals have been saving up get whispered to sweat-palmed priests through a grille in the wall. Where people bare their souls to God, or so they like to imagine.
"Bless me, father," I say to the grille, "I've sinned."
"How long since your last confession, my son?" asks the grille in reply.
He's new, he's nervous. He doesn't like calling men who sound twenty years his senior "my son". What else can I get from his voice in this first stage of the box game?
"Too long, father. Much too long."
"What sins have you committed, my son?" he asks. He doesn't want to know, really, he's just doing his job. He hasn't yet acquired that perverted fascination with other people's sins some of the middle-aged ones have, or learned to let them all wash past him.
"Dreadful ones, father," I tell him. "Too dreadful to speak aloud."
"If you were to say them quickly, my son, the pain of transgression would be over sooner..."
He really doesn't like the box. Pity, that.
"I can't say."
Priest's guessing-game time.
"Have you had lascivious thoughts, my son?"
Heh. This is always the first thing they ask, and I'd say it says more about them than about me. Look what's always at the top of their minds, lurking there, forbidden. And the only way they can express it is by asking others about their own "lascivious thoughts".
Well, I'm not about to disappoint.
"They torment my every waking hour, father! And they torture me so I can't sleep! Sometimes I have to... take matters into my own hands." I like that phrase.
"Are your thoughts about women, my son?" asks the priest.
I let the silence hang, until the priest thinks I'm not going to reply, then I say: "No."
"Truly?" says the priest. There is a very very faint undertone of hope in his voice.
"No, not about women," I say again. "Does that shock you?"
Too fast, like it's rote-learned, he says: "No sin can shock me, only inspire pity and the desire to pass on God's forgiveness."
No sin, perhaps. What about the sinner himself?
"Do you think God will forgive me? I mean, really?"
"You can only ask Him."
"No," I say, and lean closer to the grille so the priest can make out the outline of my face. "I mean: really."
Then I teleport, which I know leaves an interesting cloud of red vapour behind. My new location - one of the rafters, high up in the roof of the church.
I watch from the dusty shadows as the priest emerges wide-eyed from the box and looks around in disbelief. He wonders, no doubt, whether anyone will believe the Devil came to confession, if he believes it himself. He kneels to pray again and I get an irrational stab of fear. What if God's actually listening this time?
So I depart.
Round one to me.
* * *
The next evening I'm back for round two, like some single-minded beast trying to steal the meat from a trap. I start out on the dusty rafter and then, when the priest's safely inside the box, drop to the floor as silently as my wings allow.
"Get thee gone," he says as I enter. "I have souls to confess."
"Why," I say, "what about my confession?"
"The lies of the Devil have no place here."
"I think you'll find I haven't lied to you."
"The Devil always lies!" he says, his voice nervous and too loud. It's probably my god energy overflowing and affecting him. It tends to do that when I'm tempting. Or in the mood..
"I do not," I tell him. "In my experience, God tells more lies than I do. Bigger ones, too. The bigger the head, the bigger the lies."
"You will not test my faith," he says more firmly.
"I will, priest. In time. I test everyone's."
"You will not," he repeats with conviction, and opens the grille, no doubt with some heroic intention of looking evil in the eye and taking its measure.
I fold my arms and stare him down as his expression cycles though surprise, puzzlement, incredulity, uncertainty and back to resolution.
It amuses me to be the first supernatural being most Christians see. They expect some sort of intangible mist, a bright light, a Voice Which Speaketh in Tones of Thunder. What they get is me, a fairly ordinary-looking satyr, albeit with wings, which can be impressive out in the open. But a solid, breathing, hairy beast very like themselves. And it makes them wonder whether God is just another such hairy breathing beast, like themselves, like this demon. After all, it says in the Bible...
"What you expected?" I ask the priest.
"Something like it." He's watching the little gold sparks fall off my wings, so I shake them to create a cascade.
"Apart from the special effects," I say to him, "it's terribly mundane, isn't it?"
"Yes," he says, and I can feel the distinction in his head between him and me begin to fade away as he speaks.
"Gods in general," I say, "are very mundane people. Though we have a lot of... lascivious thoughts."
"You dare class yourself as a god?" he asks.
Oh yes, if I can, so can you, mortal.
"Divine beings, then. Immortals. All of us. Lots of sparks, a few thunderclaps, animal body parts, a halo or two, egos the size of Mount Olympus.."
Hardly worth worshipping, now, is it? Go on, think.
"You're very good," says the priest, "but you will not test my faith."
"Tell me," I counter, crossing my arms on the edge of the grille window so I can lean forward, "what is your faith?"
"Why, that the Lord God is our creator, loving father and saviour and that we must toil on this earth to be worthy of Him in Heaven."
"Oh yes? What else, priest?"
"It says that you are the enemy, the Father of Lies, the destroyer of all things good and righteous. You are not," he adds, fixing his eyes on mine, "under any circumstances to be trusted."
It's stupid, but this hurts.
I've heard it a thousand times from a thousand people, divine and mortal. I've heard it whispered by angels and shouted by mobs in the streets. I've heard it taught by preachers and learned by children. I've seen it written in a book they call the Word of God. And now I've had it said to my face by a boy who knows nothing, but believes every word.
Lucifer is not to be trusted. That's why we call him Satan, the Enemy, the Adversary, the Fallen One. The liar.
Fuck you all! I want to shout. It wasn't me that lied, it was your precious Jehovah! It was never me!
But they'll never believe me while my wings are black and I wear horns on my head. Demon, monster, liar. Enemy.
And that's what I've become.
That's what I'll be forever - the walker in the shadows, the one we don't talk about, the one that possesses the children of deranged fundamentalist parents.
And I have to break the priest's gaze and look away.
Yes, he's won, scored a point, but right this second it doesn't matter.
"You're ashamed of your sins," he says, recognising the victory and following it up. Great old Christian tradition, that, kicking a man when he's down.
I meet his eyes again, not caring what he reads in mine. "Christian priest, I am not ashamed of my 'sins' because I have committed none."
"Hah!" he says, but whatever he's seen there has made him less certain.
"Anyway, it's clearly of no interest to you. You're not here to confess the Devil, there are souls waiting outside for your services."
I rise and leave the way the humans do. There are one or two of them out here, too, waiting, but I flick my tail and stride straight down the centre of the church. Let them think this church is cursed. All churches are. All God's buildings and people are.
* * *
There are hot springs in Hell, which is nice, because there's always a bath if you want one. But the sulfur-scented heat of the water's not doing its job tonight, because I can still hear my own thoughts above the fog.
I hate that priest. I will smack him across the face and throw him against the wall of the church and bite the back of his neck with my demonic teeth while I fuck him from behind. How dare he remind me of who I was, who they think I am, who I pretend to be and who I'm not! I hate him. I want him dead, or humiliated, brought down to the same level as myself.
And I'd go and do it right now if I could get out of this pool.
* * *
It seems tomorrow really is another day, because when I return to the church, the priest's assertions of my untrustworthiness have melted into the background noise, gone to join the angels and the street mobs and the preachers and the children in the past.
I bang on the grille. "Open!"
The priest opens and looks at me resentfully. "I thought I'd gotten rid of you."
"They should have named you 'the Nuisance', not 'the Adversary'," grumbles the priest. "You've taken to bothering my churchgoers, so I hear. I had three people in here after you left swearing they'd seen a demon. I had to assure them it was impossible."
"Ooh, you liar!"
The priest ignores this. "So why do I have the pleasure of your divine company in my confessional again? You're drawn to the light of God and can't keep away? Still burning to confess the sins weighing on your soul?"
"The light of God holds very little appeal for me, since he wants me dead. And I told you about my so-called sins. I've committed none, because I don't believe in sin. Ironic, isn't it?"
"As the incarnation of all things godless, I wouldn't expect you to believe in anything," says the priest, eyeing me critically.
"You're wrong there. I have more morals, principles and beliefs than you can shake a stick at. Difference is, my convictions are my own. Yours are second-hand."
"They're shared with other people, yes."
"They're rote-learned! Mindless parroting! And half of them are wrong anyway."
"They are not! They're the word of God! The morals of God!"
"Hah! By definition good, then?"
"Yes, of course."
Obvious example to the contrary: "Tell me, what does your church do to poofters? Is that good and kind and in keeping with the character of your loving Father?"
"Homosexual practice is a sin," says the priest hopefully.
"They beat that into you at boarding school after they caught you in the broom cupboard with your best friend, did they?"
Now it's the priest's turn to look away. Yes! Balance restored!
I lean on the edge of the window and say to him: "Your faith might give you a feeling of security and a neat map of the cosmos to keep in your head. But I'll tell you the one thing it can't give you - freedom. That's the difference between us, really. I'm free to live my life. You're not."
"This is the path I've chosen and I chose it freely!" he retorts.
"What, shut up in a church reciting dusty old prayers? No life, no sex, listening to other people whine about the mortal sins they think they've committed? Hell, you can't even masturbate without looking over your shoulder in case the Virgin Mary's coming to smack your hairy palms! What sort of life is that?"
"It's the life I've chosen," repeats the priest, but he's looking guilty now.
"I think," I say, "that it's the life you've chosen because no-one's offered you any alternatives."
"There is no alternative to God," he says.
"There are hundreds. Hundreds of gods you could worship instead."
"You, you mean."
"No, not me. The gods of other belief systems. The Greco-Romans, the Hindus, the Norse gods. The Aztecs, even, if you're into that sort of thing."
"They do not exist," declares the priest. "They're the invention of superstitious pagans in the dark parts of the world."
I allow myself to smile. "I'd like to see you walk up to Zeus and say that."
"You really believe in them.." Either the priest's not thinking about what he's saying, or the mortal/immortal divide is coming close to collapsing. He forgets who he's talking to. Just to make the game a bit more challenging, I decide to remind him: "Do you believe in me?"
Interestingly enough, the priest doesn't have an immediate answer to that. Instead, he reaches out a hand and touches my arm.
Barriers fall, and I can hear his emotions, like echoes, or someone's memories. On top is a big cloud of turmoil, worry, uncertainty. I've caused that, or added to it, which I like. There's also the Catholic Guilt, mainstay of the religion, there in the mix. Guilt is a stupid emotion.
But right at the bottom is the echo I'm looking for - sexual desire. The priest is attracted to me, at some near-subconscious level. I return to the surface and find his eyes looking into mine.
"Solid enough for you?" I ask him.
"What does God look like?" he asks, suddenly desperate.
"Like the old masters painted him. He's got a halo, if that's what you're worried about."
"No, I... I don't know. Why are you here?"
"Preaching the word of truth on behalf of divine beings everywhere. Someone has to."
"No, not really. I'm here out of self-interest. For pleasure, you might say."
"You enjoy making me feel like an idiot?"
"I enjoy... making you think. Using your brain instead of playing the sheep," I tell him. "But that's not the full story."
An eddy of suspicion winds through the priest's emotions, but he still hasn't moved his hand. "What is, then?"
"This," I say, and release a tide of god energy that washes into him and sweeps his mind free of everything but my hunger. Cheating? Maybe. The priest snatches his hand away and scoots his stool back as far as possible in the narrow confines of the box, but it's too late. He's breathing too fast and his body smells very interested.
"You would consume my soul," he gasps.
"I'd rather consume your..." I begin, but then he's kissing me, his body flat against the central wall of the box, my own a mirror. The wood is cold.
It's more desirable because it's forbidden, so much more. It's small, it's dark, no-one will ever know. Feel that! I've never done this before!
They're his thoughts, his memories and I ride them, becoming a human boy in a forbidden world. Something more than I am, something less, who knows? But soon the memory of the teacher opening the door will come, and when it does...
"My God!" he says, pulling himself back, the air thick between us.
"I think you'll find," I say, "that he's not here and I am."
"Is that what God feels like?"
"What, to kiss? I've never had the pleasure."
"No, to touch, to be near. That... electricity."
"That's what His presence feels like."
"Yes," I say, watching the dawn of some dreadful realisation on his face. What he's just worked out is this: if the sensation I gave him is the one you get from a divine being's presence, then all the times he thought he was experiencing God's presence in the past, he wasn't. Alas, poor boy! In another five seconds he'll be doing a very convincing impression of an abandoned puppy.
"God," he says, "has deserted me."
"To be exact," I say, "he's never been with you. But you don't have to feel special in any way. He does that to a lot of people."
"What did he do to you?" asks the priest, as a couple of my sparks fall off him in the darkness.
"I told you already," I say. "He lied."
"The nature of the cosmos," I say slowly. I'm not here to give him my life story.
"And what is the nature of the cosmos?"
"It's made up of every belief system that ever existed. All of them, all at once, on top of each other. Interesting place. But not a good place for a god who thinks he's the centre of the universe."
"He told you He was?"
"But you found out He wasn't?"
"What did you do?" The priest seems prepared to believe my answers this time round. The fact that I'm here now and God never has been is really working in my favour. Well, if he's going to be reasonable and open-minded about it...
"I kicked down his door and belted him." But we won't mention Gabriel. "I was not in a good mood."
"You..." says the priest.
"Yup," I say, enjoying his expression.
"With your hand..."
"Yea with this very hand you do see before you," I say, presenting it for his inspection. "And yes, I'm left-handed. One of the few things you lot have got right."
The priest's still goggling, but I'm sick of showing off now.
"It's been fun, priest, but I'm sure we both have work to do," I say, rising and stretching my wings as far as they will go in the confines of the box.
The priest suddenly catches up with reality. "You're going?"
"Yup," I say.
"I can. Goodbye."
And I go.
But I'm watching from the rafters as he emerges from the box at the end of his shift, blows out the candles, changes into normal clothes and locks up the church for the night.
I follow him as he walks home through the dark streets and, by great good fortune, takes a shortcut through a park.
I come up behind him from the shadows and say: "This isn't the safest place for a priest at night, is it?"
He turns, startled, but then recognition dawns.
"I thought you'd left," he says.
"No, little priest," I say. "I've done you a service, given you your alternative, your choice, the ability to think for yourself. Now I want paying."
I'm facing him now in the darkness and he plants his hand on my chest as if to push me away. I feel his desire rising up past the jumble of everything else, but he still manages to say "I have vows. Of celibacy."
His face is inches from my own. I drop my voice as deep as it will go: "Make. a. choice."
So he does. It's not so hard.
But we can't stay here.
* * *
In the shadows against the back wall of the public toilets I take him, as I swore I would. His arse is new and tight, and I can taste his pain, but I can also feel his pleasure. I can add to it, too, if I move like this, or tighten my hand like this, or shower him with sparks like this...
"More," he grunts, his hand on mine, pushing it up and down. Now would be a good time to look out for the Virgin Mary.
She doesn't come, but my priest does: new white paint on the grey bricks.
Inside him, with his emotions inside me, I need make no effort to follow him off the edge. But as the waves rise up, I lean forwards, towards his ear.
"Bless me, father!" I say; then, as the waves break, "We've sinned!"
Lost in the orgasm, I can feel the fury rising inside him, but I haven't a hope of responding effectively. His hand smashes into the side of my face, snapping my jaw shut, my teeth carving through the inside of my cheek. The force of the blow shoves me out of him and on to the ground, the mud. My vision's obscured by blackness, the ground spins, my mouth's on fire. Then the blackness recedes and I can see the priest standing above me.
"You bastard!" he screams. "You utter bastard! How dare you use me like that!"
I go to speak, but the blood spills over my front teeth. So I swallow and say nothing.
The priest falls silent too, but I hold his gaze and rise to my feet, wings half open for balance. I need them, too, as I stand and the blackness threatens at the edges of my vision. But my eyes don't leave the priest's.
You knew who I was. You knew I wasn't to be trusted. But you let me kiss you. You let me fuck you. You let me tell you the truth.
Now you're sorry, aren't you? Now you can't decide what's real and what isn't. Now more than anything you fear the wrath of your precious God. You hate him, you hate me, you hate yourself. You've fallen from grace in a big way, little priest, in your search for the truth. Now you've lost it all. You've got nothing but yourself and an uncertain faith and a sore bleeding arse.
Welcome to Hell.
The priest falls to his knees in the mud as he reads the emptiness in my eyes. No, we're not the same. We're nothing alike. I'm a demon, you're a mortal. We share nothing.
"Goodbye, priest," I say, and turn and walk away.
* * *
In the darkness behind me I hear them approach the toilet block. I hear their snorts, their bestial grunts.
"Get up, poof."
"On your feet! Now!"
I hear the priest's voice: terror. "No! I'm not... Please! No!"
There is a thud.
There is another thud.
There is a snap.
There is a scream.
"Shut it, you!" growls one of them and the scream fades to a whimper.
The thuds continue, and at last there is silence.
I keep walking.
When they come for me, I'll be long gone. They'll never find me, though I know I should wait for them, let them do to me what I let them do to the priest. Make the scores even again. Make it all fair.
But it's not fair and it's not my job to make it fair. To encourage a paedophile, to incite murders in God's name, to make a devout man doubt until he dies of shame, to fuck up all God's people, that's what I'm here for. Someone has to keep the old bastard on his toes. There's dried blood on the back of my hand where I used it to wipe my chin, but I let it stay there. Tomorrow it'll be gone, as will the memory of the priest's eyes, his hands, his dick, his arse... But not yet.
The park is utterly silent at this time of night, and empty. Empty, dark, silent, expectant. Waiting for someone to make a sound. To shout, to scream, to die. Or to confess. To confess how much they hate what they've become, what others have made them, what they've made themselves. To wonder if there's another way to be, an alternative, a choice. One that doesn't have God at the bottom. To hope for more than a fuck against a dirty stone wall with a stranger they hate.
What is the difference between you and me, priest? I told you I was free, owned my own thoughts and actions. But maybe I was lying. Maybe I'm chained to God as much as you were. Maybe I'll never be free and the Enemy of God is all I'll ever be.
A breeze stirs the leaves of the trees above me and I wonder if it knows where it's going and where it's been. I could follow it, see where it goes. It might take me somewhere else. Somewhere interesting. I open my wings in the shadows.
But then the breeze dies and the silence returns.
And I'm walking once again through the shadows of a darkened church.