“How much longer will we wait?” John asked. His round figure stood uneasily in the open doorway to the church. A fog had settled into the small valley below him, laying thick on the small hay meadow and binding itself to the surrounding pines. Calls from unseen mother cows to their calves rang up into the morning. The fog seemed to boil like the top of a witch’s cauldron full of a wicked brew. The rising sun pulled minarets of steam from the cauldron and they dissipated into the bluebird morning. John didn’t see any of it. He was picking on a sharp piece of skin at the edge of a crack on the end of his thumb. He knew this was a bad idea. Leave it be; he could hear his mother’s voice. You’ll just make it worse. You just can’t help yourself, can you? Have patience and it will heal. John damned patience. He loathed it and always had. Why wait? “Just get it done now” was his motto. Don’t worry about the small stuff. Move forward with what you have and the rest will fall into place. But, too many small things had been left unattended. They had grown into tender, infected issues running with puss. John was well aware of the current circumstance and how his unintended neglect of the details had gotten them all here. No, it was time to stay calm. This was not the time to charge in, siren wailing and lights flashing. No, this was a time for patience, and he was annoyed with it all; the waiting and the collaboration and the yes, the patience. It was like a scratch on his eye that dug at him with every involuntary blink.
“Patience, John,” a distracted Scottish voice echoed from deep inside the small, ancient church. “For all your doing…” there was a pause while the eyes zeroed in on a smudge, “you still have much to get done, but it all must get done in its own time and manner. Forcing your optimistic will on the situation will not result in an effective end. This work of yours will require you to surrender. Surrender to other peoples and forces.” The voice ended in a satisfied upturn, and the smudge was annihilated.
John surrendered to the inner voice of his mother and let his thumb be. He turned from the dissipating fog and said. “I know, Father, but my instincts are telling me we have waited too long. That the current situation has gone on too long and there could be no turning back.”
“This could be so, and if so, we will then forge on with our new reality. Not much we can do about that.”
“Yes, Accepting our new reality. I get it. The future is not obligated to continue as did the past. But?” John took a few steps into the church and stared at a stain glass window brilliantly lit up in the morning sun. Mother Teresa was standing among a thrall of children while the never-ending war of adults waged on behind her. He thought this a curiously modern scene for such an ancient church. “I know we will do what we must, but I do not have full confidence in the heathens. How can we trust them to hold up their side of the bargain? They are so swayed by superstition and inconsequential signs, that if so much as one bird flies across their path in the wrong direction this whole endeavor could be thrown off course. Especially that one called the Regulator. He seems to take great stock in the signs from the gods. He is Thor-favored, I have heard them say. I find it strange, their beliefs in the old gods.”
“Well, the gods of Asgard have treated him and his family well. Not all that shocking, really.”
John turned his head away from Mother Teresa and saw the priest inspecting an area of carved wood lattice. The priest crooked his head in an attempt to eliminate the glare from the windows. His rag held ready to pounce on an unexpecting patch of dust.
“I already cleaned that area yesterday afternoon,” John said with a bit of annoyance.
“Ah, yes. I watched you wave your rag over it, step back and admire your handy work. But, as you said, that was yesterday afternoon. It is now morning. The light has changed and with it the shadows. Who knows what was hidden in those shadows yesterday? You never can underestimate what a closer look under a different light will expose. The dance between light and dark must always be watched. And, as far as the Regulator goes, Nagli has informed him of his role, just like we planned.”
“Knowing his role and playing it are two different things, Father. Let’s face it, the heathens are a fickle bunch and prone to distraction. Hell, I am not even convinced that they truly believe in their gods.”
The priest lowered his cloth and sighed. “Ah, for fuck’s sake man, we don’t even believe in our one true God. And watch your mouth, this is a house of the Lord.” His voice was showing signs of exasperation after three days of cleaning the old church alongside the agitated man and his questioning. He took a deep breath and collected himself. “We have gone over it all, many times. The heathens are pivotal in fixing the problems we created and when I say we, I do mean you.” This last part bit at John’s ego. He found his thumb again and picked at the dead skin. The priest had gotten down on his knees to inspect the underside of the communion railing. “Now, you will be happy to know, the alpha wolves have reunited. They are in motion to set their mortal world right and secure their family’s reign. They are preparing to hunt.”
Johns’ eyes perked up, and he moved down through the pews. “Well, why didn’t you say so. This is splendid news!” But, even in a spark of hope, John could not shake his distrust. “After they have secured their family rights and vanquished their enemies, how do we know they will repair the issues in the spiritual world as well? They have historically been motivated by personal gain. Maybe after they get everything under control, they will forget about the long view and settle into comfort.”
“Not all motivation is wrapped up in greed and family honor. Sometimes personal salvation can outweigh all other motivations in one’s life.” The priest sat down on the steps to the altar with a soft moan. He was old, very old. Countless generations of old and he was starting to look it. He slapped his hands on his knees, took in the view of the now clean church and let out a satisfying sigh. “It has been a long time since this church has seen the loving hand of a human with a dust rag.” John was standing halfway down the center aisle. The sun poured in through the double doors behind him and the priest could only see his outline, but he could feel John’s disquieted energy. “The Regulator has unfinished business in the afterlife. He has scores to settle beyond this world that can’t wait for his natural demise. Say, would it make you feel better if you were close at hand with the heathens?”
“Would that mean leaving this church and getting to do something besides dust? I would be very grateful for any opportunity to be productive and doing something, pretty much anything!”
“Well then, how about you join the heathens in their quest? Give them a hand and in the process keep an eye on them.” The priest knew this was a risk. John was not one to sit by and simply watch. He had an “I’ll do it myself” mode of operation, but, it would be better than him moping around here. Besides, his cleaning skills were worthless at best.
John was quiet for a bit while he pondered this opportunity. He did want to leave the old church. He always considered himself a man of action, not waiting. “What exactly do you mean by “Giving them a hand’? I am no wolf, no killer. I am a man of God, and I spread the Holy Word. I am a converter to the faith. I don’t kill. I spread love. I don’t see where I could possibly be of any help to them.” He sounded very dignified, and he was also right. John was by no means a killer.
“Well, maybe it is time you learned. Learned the ways of death, that is. Or a least get familiar with it. You do realize that death is the main reason you have your job? If all those blasphemous, non-believers didn’t die, you would have no one to convert in the afterlife. No one to show the way to true eternal peace, even if you have been doing a so-so job at it. Maybe learning more about how all those people end up in the hells we create, could up your game.” There was a long silence after the priest stopped talking. He could see the gears in John’s head turning. He could see the calculations. He could feel the discomfort.
“You can’t be serious? I am not a killer. I am not a hunter. I don’t know the first thing about taking a life. Keep an eye on them, now that I can see doing. But…” John’s voice trailed off and he dug for more excuses. “Besides, they would never want me along. They would see me as a weak link, an anchor to slow them down.” He sounded very confident now. “Yes, I should just follow them and make sure all is going well.”
“Suit yourself. I am going to start cleaning in the upper pews. When they get here, you can explain how you just want to watch from afar. Tell them how killing is not your game and saving souls, especially pagan souls, would be of no help to them along their quest. I am sure the Regulator will understand. After all, he is a man who lives with diligence and no loose ends. He drinks every drink to the last drop then wipes out the glass, cleans it and sets it back on the shelf. It is as if he never had a drink at all.” The old priest made a theatrical gesture with his for forefingure and thumb on his chin. “Come to think of it, you could stand to learn a few things from the Regulator.” The priest smiled and let out a little giggle as he pulled himself up from the steps and walked towards John.
“Wait a minute. When they get here?” John’s disquietedness had just ramped up to full-on astonishment. “Here? The heathens are coming here, for me? What is this all about?”
The priest put his hands on John’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. John was now very uncomfortable. He spoke slowly and very clearly, “He wants you to join them. He needs you to join them.”
“Because you can do what they cannot. You can send their victims’ souls to hell. Not their icy Hel, but our inferno-y hell. Their enemies shall not be permitted to enter into the old god’s spiritual realm. They will not be allowed into Valhalla to drink and fight. They will rot in our Hell, and that is our part in cleaning this mess up. This is your part in cleaning this up.” The priest’s eyes were now wide and intense. There was no getting away from their meaning and John knew it.
John lowered his eyes and shook his head. “I won’t kill. I will do all I can to send their enemies souls to Hell, but I will not kill.”
“You, my son, will do whatever it takes to make right what you have made wrong.” The priest took his hands from John’s shoulders and started walking towards the stairs. He put his hands together in prayer, shook them at the ceiling and looked up. “Hey, big guy! Give this one strength. He is going to need it. Thanks.”
John stood in silence, looked up and to himself he said, “Yeah, big guy and don’t you even think of skipping out on me, like that time in Brazil. I know you got a big kick out of that one, but I for one didn’t think it was so funny. Voodoo doctors are one thing, but these heathens are the real deal.”