Footprints – Part III

by Gaston Prereth

The Deacon’s sermon was long and dry. He spoke of Human frailty and the strength of God’s creation. He spoke of the eternal nature of the world, compared to the fleeting moments the Human form could survive. He spoke of the infinite universe and the finite space in which Human’s could inhabit. He spoke on all these things, and yet, to Frederick it felt like white noise. How could a man speak of so many marvellous things and yet say so little.

To Frederick, the approach the Deacon took to understanding the universe was like attempting to explore mathematics by learning the times tables by rote. The size of the the universe compared to the size of their village, the lifespan of a human body compared to the longevity of a rock. These were facts, but knowing them did not mean you understood them. Without any deeper knowledge, the facts themselves were just paintings of the world, flat and unchanging.

As Frederick’s mouth had wrapped around the words to the final prayer, his mind wandered through the cloister, seeing the peach tree’s branches sway elegantly in the breeze, watching the the yellow flowers push their way up through the grass, proudly rearing their heads, before crumbling back into the ground. There was something more to the world than wires and lights. There was something deeper, that simply basking in God’s magnificence would never allow them to see.

Finally the prayers were over. The congregation stood and trooped towards the chapel’s exit with their arms held rigidly at their sides. The occasional scratch of a chair leg or the rasp of a long held cough were the only sounds that echoed around the large room as the monks made their way back to their cells. Frederick remained seated. Despite spending the whole length of the Deacon’s sermon wishing to be somewhere else, Frederick disliked the automatic nature in which the rest of the monks seemed to leave the chapel,and refused to join the silent river of habits.

“Has something I’ve said finally reached you, Brother Frederick?” The crackling voice snapped Frederick’s consciousness awake and he looked up to see the Deacon standing over him, his hands held reverently pressed into his sides.

“I’m sorry?” Said Frederick, blinking before remembering himself and adding “Deacon Anderson”

“You seemed to be dwelling on my sermon more than you’re Brothers today. I trust you found wisdom in my words and were taking the time to absorb them?”

“Yes, Deacon Anderson” Said Frederick with a little too much haste. The Deacon raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The stillness of the chapel covered them like a thick blanket. Frederick searched his mind for something to add, but could find no thoughts on the Deacon’s sermons that were safe for him to mention. His fingers toyed absent-mindedly with his habit, dragging it from his leg then smoothing it back down. The Deacon stared at him, his gaze unwavering as the familiar click of the air conditioning cracked the silence.

“I saw you were sat in the cloister again this morning.” It was a rebuke rather than a statement but Frederick only managed a mild shrug in reply. This was familiar territory. There was no point arguing with the Deacon. Anything he could say would fall on the old man’s ears with as much impact as a nylon thread tapping at the crystalline dome.

“Walk with me, Brother Frederick.” Said the Deacon suddenly, turning towards the now vacant doorway without waiting for a reply.

Outside the chapel, the street was lined with the usual clutter of villagers passing the day away. They sat on portable chairs, most of them acquired from the chapel itself, discussing the recent gossip and passing stories of their forbearers between them. The day was matted with the usual warmth, but the humidity felt unnaturally high. Frederick could see speckles of sweat crusting most of the villager’s foreheads as he wandered beside the Deacon.

Each villager, as they passed, gave the Deacon a respectful nod, many drawing their arms to their sides in reverence. This overt respect always made Frederick feel uncomfortable but, at least when he was with the Deacon, all their attention was directed to the old man rather than himself. The Deacon would occasionally dip his head in acknowledgement of the villagers’ respect, but he ignored most of the younger men and women and audibly tutted as they passed anyone younger than sixteen who attempted to ingratiate themselves to the holy man.

The village had been designed on a grid pattern around a central square which housed the chapel and cloister. The four main roads which formed the central square continued their way away from the Chapel creating the other eight segments of the village. If a man had been able to climb the outside of the great dome and looked down upon the village, these roads would have looked like a giant noughts and crosses board with the Chapel and cloister in the centre.

Each of the other squares were filled with rows of small houses running along two paths that bisected all of the outer squares. To the man on the dome, these probably made the whole village look like a web created by a geometrically excited spider. Around the circumference of the village were the long rectangular mess halls and two medical bays. All of their windows faced into the village, their outside walls blank and faceless.

Without a word, the Deacon turned left down the inner encircling path, taking them past a set of identical metal framed houses. The path was deserted, with most of the villagers gathering in the square, and it was only then when they were alone, that the Deacon started to speak. Frederick kept his face like stone as the old man’s rasping voice drifted on the wind like the background hum of the universe.

“Brother Frederick, when the church first accepted you as a novice there were many dissenting voices amongst the elder Brothers. They thought that you were not of the right mind to become part of our number. There were fears that you possessed the technical mind rather than the spiritual and would detract away from our work. Many thought you would be better suited as a technician, and many more assumed that you would defect to their immature fold before you became a Brother.” The Deacon paused and Frederick noticed the old man was holding himself even more stiffly than usual. Frederick kept his mouth firm, waiting for the usual rebuke, wondering how many lashes he would have to endure this time.

“If it had not been for me, I doubt you would have been admitted.” The Deacon let out an uncharacteristic sigh and glanced towards Frederick, his face softer than the young man had ever seen it before. “I had to argue long and hard to get you your habit, and there have been times when I felt my effort was in vain.”

“I’m sorry if I have been a disappointment, Deacon Anderson.” Said Frederick in a quiet voice, hoping that humility might lessen his penance, but the Deacon nodded him into silence and Frederick could feel his impending punishment looming above him.

“You have acted as I expected.”

“Then why admit me, if you knew I would not walk as easily in God’s path as the others? Why force me to do penance for acting as myself?” Frederick swallowed, he could feel his voice getting louder, the frustration his life had grown inside him starting to leak out into his tone.

“In the times when the Treaty of Faith was being signed,” Said the Deacon with a soft smile, “a man greater than me once said that the holiest of men are the ones who have had to fight for the true path.”

“So I was a trophy? An example that you could bring anyone into the church and make them into a faithful Brother?” Bitterness oozed out of Frederick’s mouth and he felt his forehead heating with anger. He stopped walking and turned to face the Deacon, bringing his arms from his sides and twisting his hands together as if he were a Medic washing after a operation. The Deacon turned, his expressionless eyes looking at Frederick without surprise or rebuke.

“Such an exercise would be mere conceit, not beyond an old man such as myself, but not something for which I would openly strive. No, I wished you to be in our church precisely because I knew you would have to fight for the right path. A man who knows the path he is taking, never questions the twists and turns, but a man who is lost in a maze of options will endeavour to find the quickest path. The church has become too confident. We have become blind to other options, other paths. It needed someone who would question every step, debate every turning.” The deacon paused as a young girl ran into the street. Her cheeks were wet with tears and her eyes wide in panic. The Deacon stood in silence, making no acknowledgement of the child as she ran past them. Frederick called out to her but she ignored them, darting around the motionless Deacon and disappearing into one of the dwellings a few yards further down the street.

“That was the Spanners’ girl wasn’t it?” Asked Frederick in surprise, looking at the closed door. “Charlotte, I think. She looked traumatised.” The Deacon made a very slight shrug and started walking down the street the way they had been walking before. Frederick fell into step alongside him, but felt a grit of guilt as they walked past the young girl’s house.

“For all that I thought of as wisdom,” said the Deacon, as if there had been no interruption, “God has once again shown me that my feeble biological mind knows nothing. You were not brought into the church by me for such trivial things as testing our devotions. God has a greater plan. There are things happening that the Church can no longer explain and soon will not be able to hide them from the rest of the village. We suspect the technicians know, but we cannot be certain. The church has run out of ideas, we need someone to look for a better path.”

continued in Part IV

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4 Responses to “Footprints – Part III”

  1. Hi Everybody,

    I’d love to hear your feedback on the story so far… How is the pacing? Do you feel you know the character’s well enough? Are you upset that Ruben hasn’t been back yet? (He’s back in the next part, I was a little nervous about him not being in two posts in a row, but didn’t want to yoyo the posts between Frederick and Ruben). Was this post too long? Do I need to blow something up?

    Any comments at all, basically, would be very welcome. I would be delighted to hear what you think, either good or bad. (Bad in a constructive way would be best though, 🙂 )

    Thank you for reading my posts, and thank you for any comments in advance.

    Gaston

  2. I am gripped! No, not a problem that Ruben has not yet reappeared yet. I would comment that the opening scene of part one was not as clear as it could be…a little clunky. When’s the next installment?

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