Footprints – Part V

by Gaston Prereth

The sun glowed over the top of the cloister, crowning the eastern roof in a band of polished gold. Frederick’s eyes were stung by the brightness as he looked from the shadowed walkway towards the peach tree. It felt like a warning from the universe. Now was not the time to yield to the embrace of nature. He needed to think, but his stone bench was not the place for these types of thoughts. He skirted round the square patch of grass, keeping his eyes on the inner wall of the cloister. It was made of the same material as the rest of the village, two metre square panels framed by thin metal strips that held the structure’s shape. The panels of most of the village were a dull grey, but the inner cloister alternated between the standard grey and panels that were decorated in friezes depicting the twenty one stages of creation.

In the middle of each wall was a doorway, one that led to the outside world, the others leading to a thin inner walkway that allowed access to all of the Monk’s cells. Forty two of them in all. All occupied.

Frederick entered the doorway in the far wall and turned towards his own cell. The air was cool in the narrow corridor and he felt his hairs tingle along his arms. Save for the ever present hum of the universe, the passageway was silent. Even the bees seemed to be sleeping in their nest above. Frederick was therefore surprised when he saw the shadow of Brother Compton sitting cross legged on the floor next to the closed door of his cell. Frederick straightened himself and clamped his arms to his side. Brother Compton had been a member of their order for over thirty years and while he held no particular office in the church, he had taken it upon himself to be the chief enforcer of Frederick’s righteous habits. Frederick’s scarred back wined in dismay, and the air sat on his skin in heavy foreboding.

“Brother Compton.” Frederick said as he neared the figure. The monk had had his eyes closed, his lips moving to a silent prayer, but his eyes snapped open at Frederick’s greeting and he looked up with placid glazed eyes.

“Brother Frederick, you should be at personal prayer, where have you been?”

“Deacon Anderson requested some of my time, I was returning now to make up for the unavoidable delay.”

“You cannot make up time, young Brother, you can only lose it. However, to lose one prayer to put yourself at the service of the Deacon is a noble personal sacrifice. No doubt God will approve of this and look favourably on you.”

“Why are you sat in the corridor?”

“Because this is where God wants me to be.”

“But why?” Frederick asked again. Brother Compton’s glazed eyes remained inert, but his face tightened into an intractable calm. A calm before a storm.

“It is not our place to question the plans of God, Brother, it is our duty to adhere to his will and put ourselves as his service. If God wishes to keep me from my cell, then I shall sit in the corridor until it is right for me to be allowed back in.” The monk dropped his head and closed his eyes, returning to his silent prayers. Frederick stood staring at him, his muscles still taught. His knees felt as if they were being forced from his legs.

“Why do you think God wishes you to sit in the corridor?” Brother Compton’s eyes flashed open again, they sparkled for a moment with what could have been frustration, but in one blink all hint of emotion was wiped clean. “Has he sent you a sign?”

“The strongest of signs. The technician’s would do well to speak to me rather than pawing at those mute lights.” Frederick felt his cheeks flush. A sign from God. His legs trembled as he tried to straighten further, all thoughts of peach trees and yellow flowers banished from his mind.

“What sort of sign? Have you had a vision?” Visions had used to be common amongst the order, either in dreams or waking hallucinations. Flashes of giant villages with towering buildings reaching up into the sky. Their bases crawling with colonies of machines and a dome so big that it was not even visible in the sky. The land of God.

The history of the order was littered with Monk’s who had been graced with such visions, powerful men who had risen to the highest ranks of the church. That had been centuries ago, though, and now they were very rare. Not one Monk in Frederick’s life time had seen the towers of God’s world, and only one Monk had claimed to have had such a vision in the last century and even then no one had believed him. The Church would believe Brother Compton though, everyone would believe him.

“Is it not obvious?” Said the Monk with an uncharacteristically sharp tone.

“You’ve seen the Land of God?” Brother Compton let out a loud howl of laughter that bounded round the corridors and spread into the cloister’s open square, bouncing back to them in heaving echoes.

“And that would tell me what? You young Monks are so caught up in mysticism you’ve forgotten the simplicity of faith. To see the land of God would be a great honour, something of which I could never hope to be worthy, but the accounts of those great men who have seen it would have to be wildly inaccurate for me to decide it meant I should make my prayers in the corridor.” Brother Compton shook his head, and the amusement drained from him as if it were water dripping from his white hair. Fredrick felt like a child whose ignorance had just been exposed. He looked away down the corridor towards his own cell door. A loud bang snatched his attention back to the Monk seated before him and he saw him rapping the metal door of his cell. “The door won’t open. As a sign it might not be as impressive as visions of the land of God, but it is far more explicit in its meaning. God wishes me not to pray in my room, so he has shut the door so I may not enter.”

Frederick felt his stomach drop like a stone from the crystalline dome. Suddenly he wanted to feel the grass between his toes and smell the sweet scent of peach blossom on the wind The Deacon had said little to him on their walk back to the chapel, but the few words came back to him now as loud and clear as Brother Compton’s knocking on his cell door. “God’s world is failing. There are some things that the spiders seem to refuse to repair. A single light here, a squeaking door there. It is nothing big, nothing important, but it is unnatural. The church will say that it is part of God’s plan. Things that are no longer needed are no longer getting repaired. This is what I must believe, it is what your Brother’s must believe, but I hope it is something that you are unable to.”

Frederick stared at Brother Compton’s door. The world swayed around him, but the door stayed steady, staring back.

“I should get back to my prayers” he said in a bee’s drone of a whisper and then stepped round Brother Compton without waiting or looking at him for a response. The world felt empty or out of focus. Everything around him felt like it was a long way off, out of his reach. Even his footsteps on the corridor’s floor bled away from him leaving only a shadow of a sound in his subconscious. Frederick pushed the door of his Cell open and stopped. He glanced at the number on the door, then back into his room.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Continued in Part VI

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