Father Martin stood with Henry’s friends in the original, though much older nave, talking about the most unusual services he had presided over during his four decades as the parish priest at Saint-Catherine’s, and one thing became clear as he spoke: there had been something a little peculiar about Claire and the memorial she’d devised – once upon a time. And the event had taken on mythical proportions over time, because, he seemed to imply, many strange things had happened since.
It had been, at least in the beginning, hard to put a finger on exactly what it was about Claire that had seemed so unusual to him. An ethereal quality, he told them, that had captivated everyone she met. She had possessed, after all, a surreal beauty – beauty that had captivated everyone who saw her.
But then there was her sense of time, and of her place in it, that had struck him as wise beyond her years. And that had led the way, he wanted to say.
Then there was her last instructions, of sending her ashes to be spread at sea.
“But perhaps not so unusual a request,” Father Martin said, though looking at Rolf as he thought of the eternal nature of the sea, “until you consider that this last wish was to be in the sea so that she could be with Henry. And, I think, to rest together – when his time came.”
Dina was wiping her eyes as Father Martin spoke now, realizing for the first time that she’d never really had a chance to be close to Henry, at least not in the way she’d wanted – the way any wife would want to be. There’d never been room in his heart she understood now, for anyone but this girl none of them had known. Well, all but Edith, yet she was a perilously narcissistic woman – even if she didn’t know her all that well.
“And one other aspect of the event, this spreading of her ashes at sea, has captured my imagination ever since. It was that Henry carry her out into the sea. That he placed her there – so she could wait for him there – for his return.”
“Do you mean to say,” Rolf asked, “that Henry swam out into the sea from here? With her ashes?”
“He did,” Father Martin replied. “And as it is now, he did so on a Christmas Eve many, many years ago.” The priest looked around the group, at their upturned faces and at their dawning comprehension, then his eyes rested on Edith’s. “You were here that night, were you not?”
But Edith only nodded.
“Claire wrote to me before she passed,” the priest continued. “She wrote in that letter that you are evil, that you would do evil things to Henry. I ask you now, before God…did you do such things?”
Again, Edith only nodded, though she began to cry openly now.
“Your heart is not pure,” Father Martin added, his voice full of pity. “Confess tonight before God or leave this place forever!”
Edith seemed thunderstruck, her eyes blinking uncontrollably as the import of the priest’s words ripped through her soul, but then she stood and walked out into the night.
“Dina Bauer?” the priest said now, his voice suddenly growing tired – as if worn down by decades of deceit and all the empty words of false penitence spoken by unbelievers professing their belief. “You professed Love before God when you had none in your heart. Why are you here in this place, if not to mock what is to happen tonight?”
“I found Love, Father. It took walking away from Henry to find it, but I know I will always love him, now and forever.”
“Truly?” the priest said. “That is not what I feel in your heart, physician, or in your soul. I feel Wrath borne of Greed, but no Love do I see or feel…so again I must ask…why are you here?”
“To be with Henry when he…”
“That will not be, physician. Such emptiness may never become truth.”
“Might I confess…?”
But the priest shook his head. “You are beyond the reach of such things, physician. Your grasp is for things beyond my understanding, so I must ask you to leave us now.”
“But I want to stay? Please…?”
Father Martin pointed at the door and gently spoke. “Leave us now. Perhaps you will rejoin us in the fullness of time, but tonight is only for the pure of heart – and so not for the likes of you.”
Furious at this rejection, Dina stormed down the nave and out into the night.
“The rest of you may stay,” Father Martin stated, “but I must warn you…there are things you will find in this night that you will not understand, and that you might not accept, so come with me only if you dare to seek the truth.”
“The truth?” Anton said, his voice full of natural suspicion. “What truth do you speak of? God’s truth?”
But the priest shook his head. “No, Anton. We will speak only of Henry’s truth tonight. And perhaps a pinch of Claire’s, as well,” he added, smiling impishly.
“What are you not telling us,” Tracy asked.
“You are Tracy, are you not? The physician of the mind?”
“And so, you are the door, our entry. Will you stand with us in this night?”
“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”
“Yes or no, physician of the mind. Will you stand with us, and not work against us. Speak the truth or leave us.”
“Yes, of course I will stand with you.”
“Speak the truth, physician of the mind, for there is no turning back after you cross the threshold.”
Tracy looked at the priest again, not sure what he was or what he was warning her about, but she looked at Rolf and knew instinctively that she had to protect the boy. “I am with you,” she promised – as she reached for Rolf’s hand.
“Then follow me,” the priest said as he turned and walked towards a small chapel off the main nave. Once there he placed a fingertip on a serpent’s eye carved in wood, and a small closet opened. The priest reached inside and took out a walking staff, and Tracy gasped at the sheer beauty of the wood. Rosewood, she knew, shining with the glow of countless centuries of beeswax. And what was that she saw? Bolts of lightning made of inlaid silver?
Then the priest reached inside his closet and produced three more staffs, one each for Anton and Rolf, and then one last staff – for her – and this staff had more complex lightning bolts than the other two.
She took the staff when the priest offered it to her, and as soon as her skin touched the ancient wood she felt a mesmerizing tingle spread from her hand up her arm…
“What is this?” she asked. “What is happening to me?”
“You will need this for strength, physician of the mind. You will find things in the night ahead that might easily overcome you without such strength to aid you, so let go of your staff only at your peril.”
“You said something about a door, about crossing a threshold. What are you talking about?”
“I am speaking of the journey we must take tonight. It is a perilous journey, physician of the mind, and it is one which will require all your strength to complete.”
“A journey? What are you talking about?”
But the priest turned and walked away. To the organ beyond the altar, and there he stopped.
“Our journey begins here, so if you are unsure of yourself you may yet leave us.” The priest looked at Anton, then at Rolf, and he smiled when they nodded at him. “You, physician of the mind, are you ready?”
“Ready for what? A journey? Where? Where are you taking us?”
“We seek Henry, and we seek Claire…and their truth.”
“What?” Tracy cried. “What are you talking about!”
“Place your hands on me now!” the priest commanded, and when he felt their hands on his tunic he slammed his staff down with one hand while he played a chord on the organ. When the silver tip of the priest’s staff hit the ancient stone lightning erupted from the head of the staff and Tracy gasped when she realized the music and the lightning were becoming one…
“What is this?” she cried as lightning began crawling over her skin. “What’s happening to me?”
“This is the threshold, physician of the mind. We cross into the world of the Eighty-eighth Key, so hold your staff close, and do not let go of me…!”
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.
Perhaps a little music to help you on your way?