Holy Men In Unholy Times – Part Four
Gothic Short Stories
Early morning light cast intimidating beams of shadow through the mist laden forest. This was nothing than a distraction to John, who had already been up for hours. His eyelids pulled defiantly towards sleep, but he could not afford such a leisure; he was getting close. How many hours had he slept in the past week? He decided not to focus on the topic, it would just dishearten him more than his weary body could handle. This was by far the most difficult thing he has done in his entire life. He felt empty, like a shell of his former self. Still there was something that drove him forward past the horizon. It was an emotion he could no longer identify.
Yesterday, hunger had finally overcame him. He figured he would be able to move faster if he rekindled the remaining strength he had left. He grumbled to himself as he doubled back a few miles toward a muddy trail, connecting a farm to a village. As he finally reached the path he realized he had no idea which direction would lead toward the closest village, or if he would even find one soon enough to satiate his hunger. He spent a few moments debating to himself. This way was running downhill, maybe that would lead him toward the village, or perhaps it was the other way as the ruts in the road appeared more worn. As he took a step to his left a dull pain filled his gut. His instincts knew more than he had expected. This troubled him greatly.
The dull pain that grew in his stomach had originated back in the village where Thomas had died, but since then John had learned to read it, like a supernatural road map, giving him directions and perhaps warnings. He had decided to attribute this to his instincts. He felt more comfortable if he believed he had some semblance of control over this troubling compass. The thought that his instincts were beyond his control terrified him. It had kept him awake for more than one night. At first he attributed it to divine intervention, but he quickly dismissed it, or may be his instinct dismissed it for him. He had thought less and less of God lately. He would eventually look back, realizing that his lack of faith was his greatest weakness. It is what would eventually bring his own destruction.
John followed the path for hours, wondering if his instinct had been wrong, that he should have trusted his first guess. He knew that wasn’t true, his instinct had been nothing but accurate. It had led him to shelter in the rain, and cool streams when the heat of the sun started to overwhelm him. It was as if his instinct had been leading John, and not John leading his instincts. A thought that would have terrified him, if his instincts would have ever allowed it. Finally, in the distance he made out the form of a lone farmstead. If he hadn’t removed himself from the thoughts of anger long ago he would have been furious at himself. Or perhaps it was his instinct he would be angry at? It mattered not, he was too weak for emotions.
By the time he reached the door to the small house occupying the unimpressive farmstead, John already knew what he would find inside. The stench of death was overpowering, he would have vomited if had the capacity. With a lack of guilt that was not becoming of him he greedily pushed his way into the accursed home. On the floor lay the forms of two children, laying in a pool of what would once have been blood. They had been left alone as such for days. Their caretaker had left long ago.
John wondered why they had been abandoned like this, but his instinct could tell him the tale. It had been fear that drove these two to abandonment. Stepping emotionless over their decaying bodies, he spied the remains of stale bread. He snatched up the bread and did his best to eat it, but time had hardened it to rock, nearly impossible to consume. The saliva left in him softened the bread to something more consumable, and finally he ate. The bread was nauseating, but he cherished it all the same. The dead children had all but passed from his mind. As his strength returned the smell of decay shocked him out of his delirium. Realizing his indifference he sent out a prayer of repentance, asking the Lord for forgiveness. His instincts reminded him it was not sincere.
previous: Holy Men in Unholy Times – Part Three
more by BEN SHEARER
photograph by Brandon Wentland