The Pontiff Scarlata drew his ornate white robes about him and scrambled from the library of the ancient chapel. His hurried footsteps could nearly be heard from outside of the old monolith. Her spires twisted and wove to the clouds, daunting the small hamlet below. The town itself bustled with the customary exchange between local farms and craftsmen, haggling and peddling. Who could know the dreadful circumstances brewing within the austere church. Its golden bell stood, tarnished, atop the steeple. Ne’er once had she rang, not since the marble building was stark white. Now the house was crusted with black sludge and abandon. Only the holy men within kept up their appearance. And Scarlata’s golden trim on his robes shone as brightly as on the day the vestments were tailored. His gilded staff glimmered in the waning candlelight. The ivory cross atop was clearly recently polished.
The Pontiff scurried through the dark corridors. No attempt was ever made to modernize the church, so the halls were lit only with wax candles. Only his heavy breathing carried over the sound of his swift footfalls. He pulled open the heavy doors to the ceremonial chapel. Colored light filtered from the regal stained glass down onto the chestnut pews and carpeted floors. The elderly clergyman stared in horror down the aisle between the pews. One hundred yards stood between the heavily-garmented elderly Pontiff and the altar. There, Deacon Charles was entranced. Every candle surrounding the pedestal was lit, flickering upon the face of the deacon. His prayers were subdued and ominous.
Scarlata trudged forward, each step far more labored than the next. His bald head glistened with sweat and his wrinkled face screwed with torment. The stress of the events transpiring before him and the trying task of reaching the altar were taking their toll on the elderly minister. What little light reverberated in the hall dimmed as the deacon continued his dark prayer:
The warmth of blood in which the Child bathes, blood of self-inflicted woe
boils under the torment of the sacrificial matron
To cleanse her breast of spiritual foes.
The Child shall be soothed by her milk of flesh
And shall be calmed by the still and stained fabric
Of her ceremonial and blessed dress.
The filament, conduit and conductor of souls
Shall bring the Child up on high who once was low.
The Pontiff’s eyes widened as he heard the final words of this unholy sacrament. In all his wisdom, he could not imagine what unholy beast the corrupted Deacon Charles had attempted to summon. The walls seemed to shudder as the young man reached his hands into the font normally reserved for baptism. As he reached his hands deeper into the cauldron, his sleeves and robes were drenched in a liquid of a red hue particular to blood. And then the robes darkened, as though the blood had coagulated into black.
“There is yet no ceremony which has such darkness that it can to resist the light of the Lord.” Father Scarlata spoke in a panicked and desperate tone.
He tore the ivory cross from his staff and brought it to his lips.
“May God’s strength save us, may your depravity be thwarted and the demon which you have attempted to unleash upon us be Damned as he once was. With His power, no dark spirit shall cross the threshold. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”
Thus, the fervent father blessed the cross, which he cast into the swirling black liquid within the now unholy dais. He brought himself up the stairs of the altar and stood in confrontation with the deacon.
“If only you had arrived moments before, my great mentor, you may have succeeded. Instead you have fulfilled the potency of my summoning. With the might of God, the Child may climb from the Deep and raze this ruin we call Earth. Admit it, Pontiff, the decadence of the people among whom we reside has risen to a point of catastrophe.”
At this point, black smoke, heavier than air, billowed from the basin and crawled along the floor of the place of worship. From the altar rose a skeleton, wrapped tightly within shrunken skin. Black as night, this sinewed creature pulled himself from the basin and held the two monks to himself. He drained the men of their lives. One resisted in horror, the other embraced the service in reverence.
A shadow was cast across the village below, and the people glanced at the sky with no particular urgency. Death was on the wind, yet they could not perceive the dread preparing to consume them. Absorbed, had the creature, the knowledge and strength of the clergymen whom he had accosted. Conflict tore at the newly born beast; salvation and damnation formed a whirlwind in its psyche. Finally, the bell of the chapel shook free of its corrosion and rang. The sound reverberated for miles. Finally, the townsfolk and surrounding farmers found their terror. Travelers reversed the direction of their carriages. Those who were able abandoned the town, as if escape was possible. Like rats abandoning a sinking ship, they fled from the dark church.
But the creature chuckled to himself, knowing his disease would spread. He knew that plague would strike farther than these miserable insects could imagine. In its mind, the creature could sense their puzzlement at the foreboding chime of the long-silent bell. He shivered with excitement and delight. His ghastly smile was more of a grimace. Sludge and fog emanated from the outer walls of the church. With knowledge perhaps two hundred years too prescient, the skeletal figure quoted Donne:
“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”