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All Souls

Free online fiction by Alex Draven

Father Pete sat vigil. On the eve of All Souls, in a little place like this, the parishioners liked to see the chapel lights glowing against the night and to know that one of their priests was inside, praying for the souls of the dead and the protection of the living. Father Mortimer was elderly now, too old for a long night on his knees when there was a curate to take his place. So Father Pete sat vigil, by candlelight.

All the better for reflection, Father Mortimer had said, as well as for the comforting smell of warm wax and old incense. Father Mortimer had handed Father Pete a small, smooth hip flask, which Father Pete knew would be full of the thick sweet port which flavoured Father Mortimer's benedictions, and then Father Mortimer had swung the door to the vestry shut, and Father Pete had been left alone with the wind and the candles and with God.

So Father Pete prayed.

He prayed for the recently departed; for old Mrs Bertram, who had been buried last week, with the cemetery nothing but mud and her widower curled in on himself under a well-worn great coat: for Mr Bertram, who was closer to dead than alive himself, now; for Ben and Dean and Susie, killed coming home from the city, when a truck lost it's brakes and pinned Ben's little car against the rock; for their families and their friends and their class mates at college. He prayed for the first child he ever buried, a tiny still-born child, christened and committed to God in one ceremony, in the hospital chapel - Mary Elizabeth Catherine Cartwright - with her mother sobbing, and her father staring at the world with empty eyes. He prayed for his own mother, gone before she could see her youngest take the cloth, just a handful of memories for her son, and most of those of hospitals and doctors and him mam being in pain. He prayed for his sisters, spread out now all over the world, and his dad, sat at home with a wall full of photographs instead of a family, and for himself, trying to make a life out of his mother's last wishes, on his knees in the half-dark, where the wind struck the church like a banshees scream and the candlelight danced with it.

And then the wind dropped, leaving an eerie silence. Father Pete shivered, and pressed his hands tighter together, before forcing himself to take a long, deep breath and to roll his shoulders back. Just the wind.

And then someone knocked on the church door, and the sound rolled around the little stone chapel, and Father Pete startled, his hand flying to the cross he wore under his cassock.

And then the knock came again, and Father Pete shock his head at his own reaction and whispered 'forgive me, Father' under his breath, as he stood up on stiff legs, and turned and walked towards the back of the church.

And then the knock came for a third time, and Father Pete called out 'I'm just coming,' and reached first for the bank of light switches, filling the nave with bright, flat, yellow light, and then for the heavy iron of the latch handle.

And then there was no one in the porch.

And there was no one in the church.

And when Father Mortimer came in through the vestry to prepare for morning service, the candles had guttered, and the lights were all on, and the church door stood open, and there was no sign at all of young Father Pete.

Father Mortimer crossed himself, and pulled a flask from the pocket of his cassock, taking a considered sip of the contents.

"It's never seven years already," he muttered to himself, and glanced up at the wooden board by the door where the priests that had served this community were remembered in gold-filled letters giving names and dates. "But there it is."

And then he set about the business of preparing for a mass, as though All Souls was any other morning.

** end **

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Author's note: Written for Halloween, 2006.

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All Souls by Alex Draven is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
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