Jesse Toler is a program coordinator for Game Changer, a non-profit in association with the Orange County library system. He produces a podcast called Wubbalubbadubcast, a Rick and Morty close watch. It can be found on Itunes and Soundcloud. He is currently furthering his education at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.
OF TEA AND BLOOD
Their waitress, a plump, curvy woman with a child’s smile asked the two men, "What’ll we be having tonight?"
The priest nodded, "Tea, Earl gray, if you have it?"
The vampire said, "You, if you have the notion." Then laughed directly into the glare of the priest.
Johanna, her name tag read, blushed and giggled before losing her curves within the sea of patrons in the hotel bar. It was early for the evening. To the vampire it was still morning. He yawned as if to institute the point and scratched the side of his rib cage. "What?" He asked the priest. "Can't take a poke at the natives?"
"I believe that was a poke at me."
"Is that what you believe?"
The priest said nothing. Neither men resembled their title from the outside. The priest without white collar over a simple black suit. The vampire without the pale skin made popular by eight-dollar paper backs. Their dress was causal and simple and neither matched the other, nor the rest of the crowd, teeming with the promises of life
Johanna returned with a steaming cup of water, two tea bags and a small tray of assortments. The priest thanked her and dropped the bag into the water. It bled through the porous shell like an open wound. Her, "Anything else?”, was returned with silence and so she left. The vampire burned two eye shaped holes into her backside.
"Don't stare." The priest bounced the tag bag in and out of the water. "It's unnerving."
"Can't I savor the meal 'for I taste it?"
"You're not having her."
The vampire traced an invisible line over the left side of his face. "Haven't decided yet."
"No, you do not understand my meaning,” He whispered. "You are not having her."
"Look at you, shepherding your flock. Even though she doesn't give two shits for your God."
"She doesn't have to, to be spared your...kinds intentions."
"Judgment from a catholic priest, It’s all the familiar favorites tonight."
The priest took out the bag and poured one packet of sugar into the tea. He mixed with a tiny spoon absently clattering it against the porcine. The sharpness of sound hurt the vampire’s sensitive ears, but he did nothing to show it.
"I would rather we not talk through this. We didn't the last times. Let’s stand on tradition." The priest said.
"You started, padre.” Then it looked as if the vampire was going to end it there. It went this way the last elven times, this being the twelfth time they met at the same hotel bar. A few barbs and then hours of silence watching the crowd. “Tradition is overrated, let me tell you about your flock. I’ll list out the sins I smell floating ‘round in her bag of flesh. Pot, latex, spermicide, and cherry flavored lube from her backside.” He leaned forward, dodging the broad side of a jet-black purse strung on the arm of a youthful twenty something pushing through the crowd to meet her friends. “I bet she even eats meat on Friday."
"It is for God to judge..."
"You did a fine job of passing judgment on me."
"You aren't one of his children."
"I was once upon a time. That's was always her point to you, if I recall.”
The priest took a sip of his tea. "I like to forget why you and I meet like this."
"Death bed promises will do that."
"Excuse me." The priest stood out of his chair.
"Don't let me stop you."
"I am only going to relieve myself. An activity I'm sure you've forgotten." He left before the vampire could respond and both men were glad for it. The priest wanted to put cold water to his neck to cool his anger, just as the vampire wanted no witnesses as self-loathing twisted lines into his face.
The crowd thickened like a stew simmering over a hot stove. The priest couldn’t see the vampire from the bathroom door and allowed himself to hope that in the time he was in the bathroom, the monster had left. He didn’t.
"Since you have the intention of talking through this evening." The priest sat down in is chair, crossing his legs and bringing the tea to his lips. "I have some rules."
"Oh, you have all my attentions." The edge of one fang poked from a smirk.
"One, none of your base natures will reveal themselves while you are in this building. Two, you will not mention her again. Not by name, nor will you not even infer her memory."
"Is that all?"
The priest nodded.
The vampire took his time to properly find ways to manipulate both clauses of the verbal contract while the men shared seconds of silence.
"Forgive me Father for I have sinned." The vampire began in earnest. "It has been six months since my last confession."
The priest almost choked on his tea. "You can't be serious."
"As a heart attack, padre. If you don't take my confession-listen up, because this bit’s crucial, if you rob me of absolution, I will kill somebody in this room tonight in her memory and leave the corpse to rot on your bed." He picked at a tooth next to a fang with his pinky nail. "Just so you know exactly who you didn't save."
One finger halted the priests conjecture. "That's my deal."
The priest sank into his chair as deep as it would have him. Humbled by a devil was this servant of God.
"I'd like to be saved now."
"Six months?" the priest asked.
"I knew you'd play." The vampire clapped his hands together and laughed as one would imagine a spider laughs when its web pulls from the struggles of a captured fly.
"What on earth brought you to confession six months ago?"
A quiet came upon the vampire. His body became a statue, so much that the priest felt every part of his living body from the sudden comparison. Those subtle nervous jerks that otherwise went unnoticed. The way his chest moved to make room for each breath. And the crowd, they sped through their motions as if somebody hit fast forward on a movie. It was a reminder that before him was a dead thing walking that the priest knew the vampire to be, in spite of the intelligence gleaming inside.
"This is different. I have something else to confess tonight."
"It's your soul."
The vampire laughed again and his stillness left him. Akin to a predator letting fauna collapse back over his stalk. "So good of you to notice. My confession," He inhaled as if he were moments from submerging in water. "This took place during the first campaign at Bull Run, where Jackson got his nom de guerre. I was sixteen and, like the rest of the Union, unbloodied. Lucky Luke was the platoon corporal, named for the notches he left on bed boards all over. This is how I killed that son of a whore."
The priest listened. The words made him forget the tea cooling in front of him, the hotel bottled with the fresh wines of life, and the Earth as it turned ever on it axis.
The war sprang high in our minds. When the call broke out and we were to get arms and march, it was with a sigh of relief. The history books talk of such things though. What they never get right is how much Manassas smelled like hot pig shit that summer. Tell that to the Civil War buffs. Takes the civil right out of it, don’t you think?
We'd marched south through small townships on roads with no names. I expected it to be like the tales of my great grandfathers, only we were quelling the thirst for revolution. We were damning confederated to hell. Our righteousness made us strong.
Two days marching under that prick McDowell and we couldn't even quell the upheaval in our own minds, let alone South of us. He had no idea what he was doing, not that I knew that then. Green as a blade of grass and just as thin, my brothers in blue said that they couldn't make me out under the sun if I turned sideways and stopped shivering. It wasn't the cold. It was the nerves I couldn't stop.
Luke saw it too. He'd known a lot about me just by looking, more then I knew about myself. That's how he got me to turncoat. Oh, it wasn't hard, I lacked spine back then. Sixteen really isn't long enough to develop one. One whisper here and a word there and a mile out from Fort Sumpter I was convinced the North was foolhardy. Not just me either, a few other boys. Little did we know; Lucky Luke was getting ten dollars a head for any folk he could get to trade blue for grey. They had a few like that in the ranks, real bastards you could imagine.
When a great blue wall five abreast started down that final night march, we were already leagues ahead. There were six of us; Johnny Smit, Bradley O'Brian, Able Johnson, Edward Black, Lucky Luke, and I. Yonder west from where we laid rest, we could survey the whole field soon to be covered with blood and smoke. I remember thinking that it didn't look like Washington's days at all.
In the time, we doodled and twiddled and slept and waited and we did this all alone mind you, while the first shots were fired. See, Luke's contact never showed up and he didn't really know the rank from the file on the South side. Black and O'Brian bickered with the others for a time before heading into the conflict. They helped mow down Griffin's crew or so I heard.
The rest of us waited and we watched the war. Front row seats, all we were missing was a pot filled kettle cooked corn. We had was water and dry rations and should have been enough, but there was this nagging feeling in our bellies that we'd done wrong that day and we'd surely pay for it, somehow. Men like that get irritable. They look for itches to scratch.
By night fall it was clear nobody was showing to take us in their arms. We'd been glorious deserters for a day. By sunset, we'd been forgotten. No money, except what we could fit in our boots. Couple packets of lead rocks and some black powder that wouldn't fetch two nights on inn cots. So, Luke had an idea that would save us all.
See there were rows of onlookers watching the battle, nobles, pretty folk and the like. For the world, I didn't understand what they saw in the mayhem, but Luke sure sowed his resentment over them. In his mind, they were the reason why his contact never showed. All the shiny things they had, he told us this under moon light, belonged to us. He was made mad by the notion.
You see how these things go. Forgotten in dusk and at midnight, I was a renegade. It had been a long day. We followed a small carriage back through the trails, picked our time and ran-sacked them. It was over pretty quick. I even got to play menacing for a minute to a girl barely older than me. She had some plump goodies though, like Johanna's. Gave her a sense of being old enough that somehow made what we'd done next not as bad.
The boys didn't take turns. They were uncivil toward her. For my horror and weakness, they made me stand watch, until available...accommodations could be made. I looked out to the smoke from the battlefield above the trees. In between gasps of breath and muffled screams caught between fingers, I could hear errant rifle fire. I imagined I’d accustom to the sound eventually.
Maybe this next part was mercy of a type, but she died before I got mine. Poor little creature was frightened into a hellish death. Luke took me aside and tried to make this alright the best way he knew how. He said, "Girlie was so used in the end, she'd hardly feel your pecker. We'll get you a nice tight hole in town, son." And he laughed.
In a man’s life, there are times when you can hear a snap between the ears. In those moments, a soundless decision is made. What strikes me now is that I didn't get much a say in the matter. It all went down before I could think on it. Luke turned his back on me and I cut his throat with my bayonet. His blood wasn't as black as I’d figured.
Smit and Johnson froze. So, I gave them an ear full. The general thesis of which, no man would take from me what was mine again, Ever.
They seemed inclined to agree. Went on as renegades for a time. Smit got caught with a blade in between his shoulder blades and Johnson got caught AWOL by a few blues. He did time in a quarry. I joined up with the South after working as a hand for a farm in Lexington. The rest, that’s something else.
"What happens next?" the vampire asked.
When the priest spoke, it was as though his last air of breath was ripped out. "How do you mean?"
"I gave you my sin. Isn't there a job or something you tell me to do?"
"Act of contrition."
"That's it, make me contrite something."
"It's not a Band-Aid." The priest took a sip from his tea. He squeezed some lemon juice into the cup. The night needed more bitterness. "It's penance."
"Oh, I mean it. I want to do something to make it right. There is justice to be had by Sally and I'm going to do-"
The vampire gave pause. Then he smiled so wide his jaw almost unhinged, two fine porcelain fangs dripping to a point.
The priest didn't know why anybody else didn't see them as clear as he did. He thought, maybe I’ve finally gone insane from this. "Tell me, vampire, of which sin are you confessing? Murder? What about your cowardliness? A severe want of spine as you said, which could be considered apathy. Which sin would you like absolution from?"
"You reckon sins carry an individual weight?”
The priest could see the bartender pocket ten dollars from the till through the mirror. He looked up to see if anybody was looking and didn’t seem to notice the priest staring back at him. “It’s not weight-this isn’t about your heart vs. feather on the scale of things. When you sin, it’s stains your soul.”
“Is there a discount on cleaning if I bundle all three?”
“You make fun-”
“It’s in jest.” The vampire put up his hands to show surrender and smacked the smacked the leg of an older, suited gentlemen to focuses on his gin and conversation to car.
“It’s deadly serious,” The priest said. “When you die, and you will die eventually beast, the sins you commit will find your soul already burning in hell. This consciousness, this intelligence you carry will join it there for eternal suffering.”
"So, you find my confession lacks an honest melody?”
"No amount of faith could make me believe you, for an instant, would want save your soul from its torments."
"Explain to me how it’s possible to love without a soul, Padre? Your sandal wearing hippy, Christ, was all about love. He went on and on, we could figure it’s what he meant when he said, made in God’s image."
The hairs on the back of the priest neck stretched out as if an electrical charge went through them. "I do not believe you love anything. Least of which, yourself."
The vampire forced a laugh through his throat. He could never seem to fake the sound of joy. It’s infectious, communal, like flies buzzing in chorus around a mound of dog shit. "Were that true, if I didn't love on occasion, you'd be dead where you stood."
The air in the room passed through too many mouths. It’s was all carbon and no oxide. The priest ached for the time to pass, for the night to be over.
“What do you want?” He asked the vampire.
The vampire considered this. He had a point to prove, but search him if he knew what it was. He let his tongue taste the smells of the air, sensing menstrual blood from two different sources. “A parable of love,” he went. “You being the authority on it. Tell me of your love.”
The priest could taste bile in his throat. "We agreed not to bring her up."
"I'm not. I want to hear the about her mother. What knocked you out of the seminary for a time? I want to hear your sin of love, padre.”
"I've done my penance. I'd rather not relive it."
"What you’d rather do is continue conversing. I've some mighty pangs in my belly." He rubbed his stomach. "Come now. Sing or supper? You pick."
Johanna returned to the table and the priest order another hot glass of water for his second tea bag. They both waited until she returned with the hot cup. Through lines of steam the priest could see eagerness in the vampire’s eyes.
"She was a nun..." he began.
Although not fully a Nun. She was a path to complete devotion to God. I was as well, in my way. It was this mindfulness of the Holy Spirit that attracted us to each other, I think. At the time, it felt as if we were the only ones speaking on Gospels truth. We felt singular in a crowded room.
The first time we met I hadn't seen her face. I only got to know her voice during mock confessions. The bishop had decreed this type of training to be essential for the priesthood. To prepare us for hearing horrible and even humorous stories to come through the grate. We were given index cards at random and had to read them to each other. The nuns participated. All of it was to be real world training. It was a required class.
I came to the seminary in the first place because of the education. I wanted a knowing of God. Inspired by tales of a family friend, Cardinal Sam Kenny, I came to think of the vows as a price I had to pay to have a direct line with Him. I thought there were secrets. By the time mock confessions started, I had been heartily disillusioned by this point of view. So, when her voice almost sung these words through the grate, "I stabbed my son with a rock on a mountain because God told me to do it," I couldn't contain my laughter. It was the height of absurdity. Through the partition I could make out one blue eye, but I didn't see her face.
The event took a quiet obsession in the background of my thoughts. I wasn't much aware of it until I heard her in the library a week later. She was sitting with one of her fellows, lecturing him on how Job was a victim of Satan’s jealously rather than someone tested by God. I asked her, all but ignoring her friend, "Did you really kill your son?" I could have had the wrong woman, sure, but I was driven by forces I didn't understand. She didn't hesitate, looked up with me with those blue eyes and spoke with the voice likened to the Holy Spirit, "That’s what the card said."
Angelica and I developed a seamless friendship from then on. The library became our place, our sanctuary. It gave us reason to explain the simple truth that our bodies and hearts had known from the start. We were courting each other. Through discussions of God’s love, we could discover things about mortal love that we thought we already knew. The levels of intimacy from a casual touch. How one could dream of another’s laugh and wake smiling. An honest heart is the perfect spiritual aphrodisiac.
It came as little surprise to our fellows and teachers when we were caught kissing in the stacks. To the end I maintained that she kissed me first as hard as she said that I was the first offender. This was brought upon by great conversations in which both of us were made to feel guilty the transgression. After hearing how we met, the bishop reversed his decree that nuns had to take part in the mock confessions.
We were both torn by our love of God and love of each other and neither of us could explain to the rest how the two weren't mutually exclusive. My roommate eventually got it in my head that she was my test. If I didn't let her go I'd never know God like I wanted to. That those realms of secrets about the nature of life would remain hidden. That old apples core did rot away in my soul.
I ended it with her, using much the same argument, and she said that I didn't really believe that. She was right of course. She always was.
I went to take final vows soon after. She'd already left the nun’s habit and just as I knelt in front of my savior, she came through the doors and challenged my love as false. In front of everybody, she said that if I could not love her that my love of God was hollow and worthless to him. This was the sixties, you could stand on firm ground with an argument like that. They tried to remove my Angelica, of course, but she was not someone that man could move.
It was all terribly romantic and yes, I admit, I was taken in that euphoric tide. I left the church and we got a hotel room an hour outside the city. We married each other on a shoddy spring mattress with only our faith to witness. She was pregnant soon after.
I kept in touch with Cardinal Sam. He confessed jealously in knowing a love that he could never know. He didn't agree with my fellows or see rashness in my actions. He saw free will in its purest form. I sought his counsel more than once and it was him that planted certain treacherous seeds of hope in my mind. He said that I would see God in the love of my newborn daughter. That such a truth would be in her eyes. He promised this to me.
I did not. I held her cocooned in a blanket, my daughter with my brown eyes in her head did not look at me with a love of the Holy Spirit, but a stark fear. In that moment, all my worst crafted imaginations were realized. I had forsaken my calling for what was an earthly matter. It left me hollow.
Angelica would have none of it. I wasn't allowed to share my distention’s in the house or the infant would pick up on my negative energy, a term she brought home from her weekly mediation circle. A crack soon became a chasm that neither of us could fill. The simple truth became, I did not find God’s love in our child and that was the only place my dear Angelica could see it.
My daughter did not make it to her first birthday before her father abandoned her and her mother. The cardinal spoke with the bishop and they accepted me back to Holy Mother church. They made me wait a year before I completed my vows. They said, they wanted me to be sure of this commitment. They didn't understand why I came back. They didn't know how empty my heart had become.
The priest choked trying to keep the tears at bay. Those standing nearby noticed this. Some even took this as a sign to leave. The priest thought, sure witness my pain, but ignore the monster in your midst. Sheep need a Shepard.
The vampire shook his head. "Even in holy orders, it all boils down to who you know, not what you know."
A piece of metal glinted in their eyes from somewhere in the seething mass. Both the vampire and the priest looked for it, but it was gone as soon as it came.
"Oh, padre," The vampire spoke after some serious thought, to ward off the sudden pot of hot rage boiling his blood. "Were you cast as the coward or the betrayer? Can you sin twice in the same action? Seems unfair."
"I told you I already confessed these sins, all of them. My soul is intact. You wanted a story and you have one."
"Oh yes,” He gave a single clap, “A solid romp. Oscar worthy."
"Do not patronize me."
"Seems to me you're handed a love that folk write poems about, a love that I had to wait over hundred years to have, and you toss it away for some orders ain't worth the spit it'd take to shine my boots. And now you’re all confessed and cleaned by the lord. I wonder though, would you do it again the same?” The vampire sneered. “Can you bury those regrets knowing now abandoning that little girl led her on a path to me?”
"We're on dangerous ground." The priest told him.
"I don't give a mighty fuck what the ground is! After you call out my yellow belly? ‘Least I had the guts to take what I wanted in the end."
The priest noticed the remains of the crowd openly notice the vampire. It was hard not to, being the tone in his voice had raised to echo beyond the doors. The bartender reached for the phone near the bar.
The priest whispered, "If you do not calm down, we are going to be forced to leave."
And the vampire whispered back. "Nobody ain't forcing me to do anything I don't have mind to."
"In her memory."
"Remember your idle threat from earlier. You would kill in her memory. This is your epitaph for your one great love? If love drives that in man or monster, I'll die a happy man with these vows chained to my heart."
The vampire leaned back as if the comment struck him in his center.
Two men, large in the eyes of the priest, but food in the eyes of the vampire, entered into the bar area on clipped strides of purpose. They were given a wide berth by the patrons, so wide more spilled out of the bar. The bartender pointed at the corner the priest and the vampire shared. The vampire was oblivious to all of this. His focus kept on the priest until one of the men leaned over his chair and asked them both to leave.
The vampire spoke without looking at him. In his hand, he produced the man’s wallet. "Fuck off or I'll kill everything you've ever loved, Mr. Daniel O'Brian." Then he laughed and handed the wallet back to the man. "It's been an age since I've met an O'Brian. Good family name."
The man's face turned a shade of pale the priest understood as ghastly white. His bottom lip trembled. The stark honesty collapsed over his throat like two hands. His partner hadn't heard what the vampire said, standing off to the side. He walked over. "Danny?"
O'Brian didn't seem to hear him. "I'm...I-am gunna call the cops."
The vampire waved him off, "Do it far away.”
The two men wasted no more time. O'Brian's partner reached for the phone near the bar and the priest could see he dialed three digits into the cradle while O'Brian sat in a stool. He failed to calm his shaking hands.
"That was uncivilized."
The vampire looked at his pocket watch. "Not much left in the night to shorten anyway."
The priest nodded and drank the last of his tea. A question formed in his mind that he asked before he could think to stop it. "What did it feel like to be dead and still love?"
The vampire exhaled, almost a sigh. The priest couldn’t remember the vampire sighing before. "I never got to love when I was a living man. If there's a difference, I couldn't say much about it."
"Then how could you be certain it was love you felt?"
"How could you be sure it wasn't God in her eyes?"
The priest brought the cup to his lips only to find it empty. Only the stains remained. Johanna was nowhere to be found and would not be returning.
"Got nothing, Padre? No proverb or witty comeback? J.C. had little topical to bring to these matters?"
"The son of God," The priest began, searching for any vein of closure. "Jesus, loved when it was never convenient. He took actions out of pure love in spite of what others saw in them. He pointedly spoke of judgment only to be martyred for it, for all of us. His death and life after, studied only to prove his unconditional love."
"Tough thing to align your life with those expectations."
"I don't have to. I practice love. Some days I'm better at it then others. He was born from it."
The vampire laughed at the priest and clapped two slow claps. "Oh, you are dripping with conviction. I might slip on it were I caught following you."
The vampire leaned forward. “I reckon you are one of his favorites. His father abandoned him to the cross, just as you left her. Those are your examples of decent living."
"God never abandoned Jesus."
The vampire hit a closed fist against his heart. "Preach padre. Teach me how God watched while his son broke all earthly conventions. Tell me how wrong they were when they put nails to the wood and called him monster. Preach to me!"
Those that stayed in the bar retreated to the far corners. They'd seen the trailers for the show and knew something big would come from the nights simple celebrations.
The vampire stood, one sharp nail pointed at the priest’s chest. "Look at you, shrinking violet from words you'd never gave credence to before. Because you’re finally hearing truth. In your heart of hearts, you can see where our stories meet. Where they collide. You and I, ain't all that different."
The priest whispered so only the vampire could hear. "I do not kill."
"Cop out. A hundred years I've had that thrown at me by folk that'll take a sledgehammer to a cow’s head for a cheese burger. You'll kill to eat the same as me. I'm just higher on the food chain and its sucks to be looked down on."
"I'm a vegetarian."
"So was Hitler," the vampire said. For the first time his eyes cast out on the crowd. He no longer wanted to surprise the priest with his kill. The priest would watch. He wanted the priest to look on his victim’s face as they die. He hadn't had one yet that didn't pass without a smile.
In the far corner of the room, standing in the center of a group, was a young blond with shinning blue eyes. She fingered the silver cross around her neck in a manner that brought happier times to a painful forefront for the vampire’s memories. His feelings crawled over a barbed fence and were left bloody. He jumped to the empty stage, a place reserved for Wednesdays Blues night or Friday’s local comedy acts.
"Ladybugs and germs, my friend and I apologize. Our debates of tea and blood have spilled over your gentle evenings. Not our intention. You see, we meet here every year to keep a promise to spend a little time together in the memory of a love we shared. I married my friend daughter and she passed away some time ago.
“Now my friend, a Godly man, would confess that he did see any love in her the first time he held her in his arms. He preaches of God’s love, finds acceptance in his own failings and let that be done. He is absolved of the damage his short sightedness did. So, I aim to take a poll. How many of ya'll believe in a just and right lovin’ lord, a gospel of unconditional love?
Some of the crowd laughed out their nervous tension. One man even raised a hand until he saw he was alone. "They lack conviction father." The vampire told the priest.
"What would you have of me?" The priest approached the stage. "The melodrama...it's not going to accomplish anything."
"But look at them!" The vampire swept a hand across the horizon. "These folk, that wear the symbols and say their thanks before sleep, can't be bothered to stand for a silent God. They rate higher than your own daughter?”
"They don't wish to succumb to the whims of a madman."
"Not the same crowd caught dead at Sunday services? You ask me that’s a life waisted."
The priest ascended the stage, if only to help end the drama. "I do not know what you are saying."
The vampire took a knee in front of the priest. "Absolve me. Save me. Let ya'll watch and see the example of God’s love. I am a vicious beast, have no doubts about it. A nightmare to frighten nightmares. I have never asked for true forgiveness before, but tonight, after confessing my sins, I am begging that this priest give me a lion’s share." The vampire stared at the priest. "Forgive me Father, I dare you." He thought he could feel a heart a century dead, flutter with anticipation.
The priest approached. He laid one hand over the creature’s brow. A revulsion he didn't expect came from deep inside him. He’d taken confession in prisons, from men and woman with sick evil inside of them. He could feel through their words and he absolved those half-hearted in their penance even as they planned their sins while listing them. He prayed that half a heart would at once become whole. When the words were ash and his faith dried out from doubt, he found the strength to say what needed to be said. This was his calling. This was his work to do.
The same words tasted like poison in the presence of a kneeling, present vampire. He felt a sickness that sapped his strength, making his legs waver. He couldn't pull anything from inside. This didn't feel like his to do. The vampire was an abomination, a blight. Jesus would cast him out in the same breath as he cast out Legion into a valley of pigs. His love was for man, not for the dead.
He resolved to move his hand from the brow of the vampire and offer himself for the vampire’s promise of murder. He would quell the beasts rage and thirst with his own neck. After a life time of studying Gods will, he could make this choice. He would condemn.
The light was unexpected. It glared his eye, same as before, and he turned toward the crowd, only for a second. There was his daughter, as he remembered her before she brought the monster to him. She played with her cross, ignored by the group around her. The light from the cross made the priest blink and the vision of his daughter was gone, replaced by a stranger.
The question she consistently asked of him, asked again in his mind. "What would God say?" She never professed to know any secrets. When she found him as an adult, even after Angelica begged her not to seek the priest out, his daughter had only questions. She'd tell him something and then ask, "What would God say?" In his most honest moments, he would tell her he didn't know.
He asked himself, this time with his inner voice, "Lord, what would you have of me?" The words he spoke out loud were not his. To his dying day, he could not confess to know where they came from. Though, in private moments, he believed it was Gods pure light speaking through him as sure as it shined from the cross.
"In the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you. Let these sins be washed from your soul. Shed the wolf’s skin and return to the fold as you were once. Born fresh, born new in the eyes of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The priest made the sign of the cross on the vampire’s chest. The flesh under his shirt sizzled as if held to a match.
There wasn't a sound from the room. People froze in half movements, lifting glasses to mouths, whispering in ears. Under the silence, lay undercurrents of embarrassment. None knew why. Something moved in the room that they have no words for. It had become sacred.
The vampire left money at the bar for the tea and they both walked out through the hotel lobby without a word between them. Outside, a half-moon vied with the city lights still burning through square holes in the concrete. A layer of snow created a soft comforter on the ground. Flurries drifted in front of their eyes.
The priest let his tears go. The vampire felt things he didn't understand. He'd never believed he could be saved.
"Until next year."
"Until I have no more years left."
A police car pulled up. Its lights turned off. Two officers with bored looks on their faces entered the hotel. The vampire looked at the priest and started to say something, when both men broke out into a choir of laughter. It came as if freed from their chests. From afar, one could think that these two men where life-long friends, or maybe even brothers.