The priest stood in front of a large, gothic Cathedral that pierced the dark, starless sky. No other buildings surrounded it, it was as if it stood alone in a void. Even the ground was almost as dark as the black sky, so that it was hard to see where the ground ended and the sky began. The only way the priest was sure there even was a ground was that he could feel it beneath his feet. How strange. The priest did not remember how he got here. The last thing he remembered was feeling dizzy and…
He suddenly got the unnerving sense that he was being watched from above. Looking up, he saw a stone gargoyle peering down at him. No wonder he was unnerved, the way it seemed to be staring at him. It almost looked as if it were alive.
‘To greet thee,’ it said in a voice full of gravel.
A part of the priest was aware that he should be shocked, perhaps terrified, yet he surprised himself by remaining calm. He was pretty sure he was dreaming, anyhow. There was certainly something other-worldly about this place.
The gargoyle continued to speak.
‘To advise thee, if thou hast a need for confession, thou may do so inside. To be curious and to ask what thou wouldst confess?’
‘I have nothing to confess,’ the priest said, almost defensively. Even as he did so, however, he felt something inside him grow heavy.
‘To be surprised. To tell thee that never hast a person come to this place without great need for confession. To imagine that thou must be a man of great power to find this place without great guilt.’
The priest couldn’t think of anything to say to this, so instead he stayed silent, as the thing inside of him continued to grow. It was something hard, and cold.
‘To admit also to being envious,’ the gargoyle continued, an expression of mourning appearing on his face. ‘To have a great need to confess, but to have a duty to guard these doors. Not to be allowed inside.’
‘I am a priest,’ the priest said. ‘If you would like, I could take your confession out here.’
The expression of mourning on the gargoyle’s face was replaced by one of gratitude and relief.
‘To thank thee!’ the gargoyle exclaimed. ‘Not to know how long I’ve been waiting!
‘To turn to stone every dawn, and to come to life every dusk. To confess that this is only possible because every night, I take a life. To neglect to take a life on a night, the next night, not to come to life but remain stone forever.
‘To confess that the life I have is full of guilt, but to fear greatly to lose this life. To think to myself, every morning when the sun is rising, never to take a life for mine own gain again. Yet, every night as the sun sets, to feel life returning to this stone, to be unable to resist the hunger! To be unable to hold back the fear! To tell thee that I feel the most alive when sinking mine teeth into mine victim. To hate mine self, but to not know how to stop! To desire forgiveness above all else!’
The priest reeled at this. Not at the strange confession but how it sounded so familiar; but it was not familiar. He had never heard a confession like it before.
‘To tell thee, every night a different person comes here to confess. To be the sole purpose of this place. To tell thee that mine victims must be pure. To tell thee that as they leave the cathedral, they are pure. To be then that I strike.
‘To be curious that thou hast said that thou hast no need for confession. If thou dost not go inside to confess, tonight might be mine last night of life, regardless. However, if thou art already pure and have no need for confession, not to need, perhaps, to wait for thy confession. Not to want to kill thee, but not to be able to control mine hunger. Not to know what to do! To ask for forgiveness, to desire redemption.’
The whole thing seemed very surreal to the priest. Was this truly just a dream? Was his unconscious mind truly able to conjure up something so bizarre? He wasn’t so sure. The priest grew afraid of this monster with a conscious, yet he did not run away. Instead, he said,
‘I could forgive you for your past killings, but if you kill me after you’re forgiven, you will not be forgiven for that death.’ Would it be enough to save him?
‘To understand. To hope that maybe, redemption will take away fear of death. To die is not my fear, perhaps, but to die with sin.’
‘That is why people choose to confess; to take away sin is to take away fear of death. But I warn you, it may remove the fear, but not the hunger. That, you will still have to control.’
The gargoyle’s face fell, but only for a second. He quickly replaced it with a look of determination.
‘Not to know if I can, but to try my best.’ It did not fill the priest with confidence. Still, there was no purpose in denying the gargoyle its forgiveness. It was the best chance that the both of them had.
‘You are forgiven.’
A look of joy and relief came across the gargoyle’s face.
‘To thank thee! To feel lighter, already!
‘To feel that thou hast been so kind to me, to wish to advise thee.’
‘What is it?’ asked the priest.
‘Not to have really believed thee when thou claimed not to need forgiveness. To know that no one comes here without that need. To advise thee to acknowledge thy sin so that thou can be forgiven.
‘To promise to try mine hardest not to eat thee as thou leaves, but even if to fail at this, to know first hand that there are things worse than death.’
‘You are wrong,’ said the priest, sensing a trap. ‘I have no guilt.’ He ignored the growing feeling inside of him. He did not dare acknowledge it. He clenched his hands, they felt so dry. He looked at them. He noticed that the very little light that was there made his hands appear colourless, as if he were in an old black-and-white film.
‘To grieve for thee, then,’ said the gargoyle, ‘but to rejoice in mine own redemption. To ask thee another favour, since thou dost not wish to go inside to confess.’
‘What is it?’ asked the priest.
‘To ask to wait up here on this perch with me; to be able to carry thee up. To ask that when the sun comes up, to push me off so that the stone will break into pieces, to free me. To not wish to be trapped in dead rock forever.’
The priest was hesitant.
‘To promise not to harm thee. Not to need thy cooperation if that was mine intent. Not to believe that thou art pure, not to be tempted, even, until thou hast confessed inside. To ask to do this one last thing for me.’
The priest nodded and the gargoyle flew down from its perch, grabbed the priest around the waist and, surprising the priest at how gentle it was, carried him up to the perch where the priest sat with the gargoyle, patiently.
The priest continued to wait next to the gargoyle, leaning his head against the gargoyle’s shoulder as he grew sleepy. They did not speak again until that morning when the sun began to rise.
‘Now,’ the gargoyle only barely managed to croak through its hardening lips. ‘Hurry.’ The priest placed his hand on the back of the gargoyle and pushed him off, and the priest watched as the surprisingly brittle gargoyle shattered on the hard, tiled floor that was now visible in the sunlight. It wasn’t until the priest began to get down again when he realised exactly how high up it was; it didn’t seem that high in pitch black. He had never been afraid of heights, but how was he to get down? He would have to climb down, very carefully. He would try and get a foothold on the bricks of the cathedral. He went to move, yet his limbs were surprisingly stubborn. What was going on? He felt so heavy, so cold, and so hard. He had just enough flexibility to look down on himself. Why did his skin look so grey, even in the sunlight?
‘No,’ he tried to say, but in only came out as a tiny creaking. He tried to jump off the edge, he didn’t care if he were injured, there was no time for him to waste, he had to get inside the cathedral, but his feet, which were now claws, seemed to be welded to the building, and as he watched the sun take its place in the sky, the words of the gargoyle ringed in his head, ‘to know first hand that there are that there are things worse than death.’
The interaction between a priest and a gargoyle, set in an otherworldy plane.