(published 19th March 2018)
CHAPTER EIGHT-HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN
Concerning the communion of souls with the Forces Eldritch, and the means through which a Sister of the Three-Eyed Outcast can determine if a layperson has attained it
In light of the apparitions that have begun proliferating in the bowels of our Western Abbey, it is only proper that we turn our attention towards the treatment of those unstuck from time, and the means through which their souls may be reunited with their bodies. But before we end our discussion of otherworldly communion, I would like to offer you an anecdote illustrating the capacity of laypeople to touch the Wild and Strange, and how it often amounts to more than clergy-members are apt to give it credit.
In the darkest depths of the gypsum mines that wind through the Festering Mountain, the corpse of a large and malevolent Something curls against the first bend of the Whispering River. The means of its demise are unclear. It’s obvious that the sword protruding from the largest of its fourteen eye-sockets pierced something vital, but the blade is thirty feet long and five feet wide. It’s several times larger than anything that could be wielded by known humanoids, and raises more questions than answers. From its wound oozes a mucus that alternates between puce and lavender. It has been draining into the river for centuries, and is the reason why the squirrels inhabiting the forest at the Festering’s base differ so drastically from their foreign brethren. Without it, they wouldn’t have thought to master fire, agriculture, and infrastructure.
Even though the Festering Mountain doesn’t belong to any parish recognised by the church, the Sisters have been ministering to the region for the past one-hundred-and-thirty-three fortnights. Of late, I was descending the southern trail with Sister Gemma, on one of those summer evenings when night fails and the sun bruises the sky for all hours of the day. She was the one who first spotted the mother lingering at the threshold of the cave.
“I suppose we should help her,” she said, listlessly.
“Oh, come now. A Sister of the Three-Eyed Outcast should be able to conjure more excitement about helping the helpless than that.”
“Forgive me, Mother, but I don’t see how we could.”
“And forgive me, child, but you’ve only been a clergywoman for six months. Your world-weary cynicism is unearned, and impresses no one. Now, onward.”
By that point in my career, I’d met the mother on several occasions. On some, she would consent to be consoled; on others, she would accuse me of being a wicked witch with a heart of coal. But I make it a point to seek her out whenever the opportunity presents itself. For all her calumny, she bears a load under which most would buckle.
“How d’you fare, good lady?” Sister Gemma started to hear me speak in the common tongue, but I paid her no mind. “Why, I would wager that it’s been three harvests since we last met.”
The mother didn’t look at me. Instead, she opted to rub her nose against her sleeve and examine the resulting mucus-trail. “My daughter’s just given birth, if you must know.”
“Wonderful! Is it a boy or a girl?”
“That has yet to be determined.”
“Ah, well. I’ve no doubt the Outcast will guide the child to their proper path.”
The mother made no reply. Stiffly, she stepped into the shallowest reaches of the Whispering, and then said: “If you would leave me to my own devices, Mother Superior, ‘twould be appreciated. —But don’t stray too far, if you catch my meaning. Sometimes, he gets testy.”
“Of course, child. We’ll be in the nearby woods.”
Gemma coughed. “Mother, perhaps we should return—”
When I first met the mother, she stood cringing in the shadow of her ex-husband. Over her protests, he was immersing their son in the Whispering’s waters. A closer look revealed that the boy suffered from palsy of the limbs, a condition that his father presumably hoped to cure by forcing a miracle upon him. —But the problem with miracles is that you never know what you’re going to get.
When the boy sprouted gills and slipped into the river, I tried to comfort them. I told them that the Wild and Strange could have responded to an affinity their son had for the aquatic, and that the nearby Squirrels were peaceable. In all likelihood, no harm would befall him. By way of reply, his father threatened to decapitate me.
Him, I haven’t seen since. Her, however: she returns whenever she can. As far as I can tell, she never begs her son to come back to her. Instead, she contents herself with sitting beside him on the riverbank. She is aware of the risks, and has found herself on the wrong end of his claws on more than a few occasions: but she has yet to encounter anything that would genuinely deter her. Without fail, she keeps her appointments. Their signal to meet is the reverberation of her footsteps throughout the Whispering’s depths.
I like to think that, in quiet moments, she can feel the grace of the Wild and Strange. It pleases me to imagine that she finds solace in the fact her son has found a place in the cosmos more awe-filled than anything she could’ve imagined for him.
Sister Gemma is considerably more sceptical about this than I am: but she is young, and still has time to let the Wild and Strange strip away her pretensions.
Now onto time, and how to stick someone to it.
T. Rios is a writer. Recently, she saw a deer. She has spent enough time in urban centres to consider this a magical experience. She blogs at www.teenagecrusade.com, and can be found on Twitter @InSetsofThree.