Author is an old chap living in St Andrews, Scotland. Enjoys exploring themes of limits and longings.
The Preacher and his Companion.
Better move on! '' he thinks. Aware that the street preacher is frequently looking in his direction Michael, a man in early and still vigorous old age, turns, and briskly resumes his walk through the rain towards his favorite cafe. As the sound of the preacher barking the message of his vengeful god fades into the grind of the morning traffic, a smile momentarily flickers across Michael’s normally severe countenance. Perhaps he imagines that I am in need of saving. Ironic!
“Go away!” he mutters under his breath, as some thirty minutes later he abruptly becomes aware that the preacher has entered the cafe. He surreptitiously watches the man as he orders a coffee then heads to an adjacent table.
Choosing the seat diagonally opposite Michael the preacher nods and smiles broadly, his perfectly even, very white teeth, flashing below a sharply clipped, fiercely black moustache above a neatly sculpted equally dark goatee beard. "Good morning, wet day, isn’t it?”
Was a reasonable enough day until now, Michael inwardly grumbles as he nods agreement and returns his attention to his morning paper. He becomes uncomfortably aware that the preacher is studying him.
“I think I saw you observing our meeting just now and listening to my sermon.” The preacher pauses. “I am always keen to know what attracts people's interest. Feedback is always welcome."
Feedback from me. The last thing you want, Michael thinks while attempting a faint smile. "I was not particularly interested in what you were saying. I am sorry that I gave that impression."
The preacher seems puzzled. "Forgive me but you certainly seemed to be interested."
Michael slowly inclines his gaze to his newspaper hoping that this will convey his reluctance to engage in conversation, but a moment later surrenders to the impulse to be polite. "I was interested in you rather than in what you were saying." He’s being nudged in my direction, given his chance. Can’t deny him that.
"You really have aroused MY interest now,” the preacher exclaims, still smiling, though beneath the dark eyebrows his grey eyes have widened in astonishment. “I think that you DO owe me a bit of an explanation.”
Well, we’ll see, Michael thinks. He glances around the nearly empty cafe, satisfies himself that any conversation will not be overheard then says quietly: “I was interested because I believe that you are being stalked." Now you're committed! For the moment, no escape.
"Stalked! Who is stalking me?" the preacher exclaims.
Perhaps he’ll think I’m a bit crazy and go away. Michael sighs inwardly hoping that the preacher’s quick departure will allow him to return to his coffee, cake and an easy morning. Ah well, press on. "Actually, not a 'who' but a 'what'."
The preacher sits back in his seat. The smile broadens.
"You DO really need to tell me what you mean."
Michael notes the emphasis the preacher is placing on certain words. A street preacher’s trick or a habit? A bit like hammering nails into wood. He broadens his assessment of the man opposite. Intelligent but savagely blinkered, arrogant, articulate - a forceful personality, persuasively appealing to anyone needing certainty and direction in their lives. A good catch for an entity.
Michael draws breath and determined to keep his tone gentle takes the first step in his usual procedure. "Before I say anything, I need you to accept - and to accept without reservation - that I did not approach you. You approached me. I also need you to accept that I do not ask you to believe me, and...” He pauses and shrugs “...to be brutally frank, I do not care whether you believe me or not.” Not quite true, he thinks. But duty and caring have their limits. “Do you wish me to continue?”
The preacher frowns, seems taken aback by the assertive note in Michael’s voice then in a perfunctory manner nods.
“OK. I said that you are being stalked by an entity.” Michael smiles inwardly. Use the language he understands. “I guess that given your convictions you might prefer to use the term, ‘demon’.” He finds himself taking momentary pleasure from the conflicting emotions playing across the preacher's broad face. At the same time, he senses that the entity now hovering in the street is uneasy. In a class of its own, that one, he thinks. Confident but wary, cunning, patient and very determined.
“WHERE is this demon - this entity - now,” demands the preacher, his expression now beginning to morph into a sneer.
Michael casually extends a finger towards the street. “It’s waiting for you to leave. It won’t approach me.”
The sneer on the preacher’s broad face is developing. “May I ask, why exactly is that?”
“Because of what I am,” Michael answers quietly.
“And what is that?”
Michael smiles. “That’s a very long story. But the short version: I am a threat to its ambitions. I guess I am what in modern parlance is called ‘neurologically divergent’. My wiring is a bit mixed up. I am aware of them - to a certain extent see them - and that is one of several reasons I threaten them. I know what they’re up to.”
The preacher’s even white teeth are again displayed as he grins. “One of the reasons?”
Michael becomes aware of a flash of irritation and lets it fade. Just, give him the talk. After that it’s up to him! “Entities are everywhere. They are a part of the natural order of things. Think of them as leeches feeding on the energy arising from emotion, animal but chiefly human. A few really clever ones, the bolder sort - like the entity that’s taking an interest in you - wait for their big chance to invade and then control their host, use their talents to manipulate thought to generate conflict, division, and above all strong negative emotions - rage, fear, hate, jealousy. They absorb the energy and draw followers to the feast.” And you, with your noble vision of an angry god, are a great target. You and your would-be chum are the perfect match.
“So, you claim to be some sort of seer, an exorcist perhaps?” The preacher’s voice is now oozing with condescension.
“I claim nothing,” Michael answers mildly. “I see what I see. I know what I know. And if you need reminding, I am merely responding to your wish that I should explain my interest in you. You were nudged in my direction, given your chance.”
“Nudged! By other entities? Angels perhaps?" the preacher laughs.
“I really don’t know. Some basic instinct perhaps. All I know is that people who are threatened are nudged, thoughts occur, coincidences seem to happen. They're gently directed, wafted - nudged. Do you want me to continue?”
Smiling in a superior way the preacher signals assent with a small nonchalant flick of a thumb.
"I teach people how to resist.” Michael pauses to satisfy himself that the preacher is still adequately engaged. “Self-awareness - being alert to your feelings, to the currents and strength of your emotions - is the first task in the business of resistance.”
“The first step?” the preacher repeats slowly.
“When people become sufficiently self-aware the warrior within them will awaken and, then if necessary, and if asked, I will stand with them - help them. But all that comes later.”
The preacher is silent for a long moment then seems to come to a decision. He reaches for his briefcase and draws out a bible, one of the bigger versions, Michael notes, black with worn, synthetic leather covers. He flicks it open, points to a passage highlighted in yellow then looks meaningfully at Michael who immediately raises both hands in a firm gesture. “No sermons please,” he says firmly.” Central to your view of yourself is your pride in your preaching skills. You are shackled to your words and to the conviction that they pave a path to salvation. But I am talking about the here and now, about a special challenge, about an inner struggle.” He points at the bible. “I should also say that I know what’s in there much better than you might imagine.”
The preacher is silent for a long moment then replaces the bible in his briefcase. Looking at Michael he shakes his head in an exaggerated attempt to convey pity. “I do not need an exorcist, or a teacher or a seer. I have all the comfort I need from my faith and from the true word." He pauses. "I will pray for you.”
“Remember this,” Michael says quietly as the preacher stands to go. “First seek self-awareness. Then perhaps the warrior within you will awaken. Then you will understand the threat and prepare for the struggle. Then seek me out.”
Michael watches the preacher exit into the rain. He has given the preacher his chance and he is pleased to see him go.
He senses that the entity is also pleased.
Some days later Michael and the preacher pass each other in the street. Beneath the black moustache and above the goatee beard the preacher’s teeth, as grins, seem very white. His grey eyes glitter strangely.
The entity has disappeared!