The only one of his kind, Deacon recalls thousands of years existing yet he has no memory of why. He can’t profess to living in seclusion because he greedily pursues pleasure in arms of so many men, he never lacks companionship. All those arms, lips, and asses, none feed his true desire. Deacon yearns for someone to make in his own image by introducing them to a hunger so vile, they will detest him forever.
Father Merck Hallowell stands at a crossroad of conscience and faith. His convictions, no longer satisfying, leave him searching for reasons to persevere. Befriending a handsome but strange parishioner opens a doorway Merck longs to enter and explore. Discovering Deacon’s secret, he realizes not only his life hangs in balance—so does his soul!
Shadows caused by clouds scuttling across the moon played over stained glass presenting faces of heavenly creatures which magically came to life as silhouettes waxed and waned.
Deacon wasn’t there to observe this—he came for Merck Hallowell.
Having watched the holy man circumvent alleyways and side streets nightly in an effort to recapture something he’d lost and would never find again, Deacon decided, by sharing his affliction, Merck was the only person capable of subsisting with him.
Deacon sustained his life on the blood of others and, frankly, he didn’t care anymore if they lived or died though, that decision was usually made in the process of draining them of their most prized possession.
Some deserved to die instantly but he made them suffer more by showing a kaleidoscope of deviousness they’d lived with but hid deep in scarred psyches. He let them see a thousand-year-old visage of bone with peeling gray, shriveled skin. Those not so bad, he left to bleed out on their own or, if they were lucky, some derelict would happen along and save them.
He’d viewed that scenario often where the person finding them rolled the individual taking everything of value including their shoes. Enduring on these mean streets was hard. Before absconding with everything scavenged, they’d call out loud enough to attract attention to the dying before scurrying away in the dark to gloat over new prizes.
Many more were nothing but sustenance and they remained none the wiser as not even a tell-tale mark indicated why they felt slightly fatigued. Perhaps this group didn’t deserve to know Deacon at all but they did. Recently, no feeling other than being satiated before they were drained saved their lives.
These reminded him of a verse he’d read, reread, and memorized wishing to find something he, himself, lost millennia ago—Deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to wine nor greedy for dishonest gain. They will hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Let them also be tested first then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
The rest of the verse didn’t mean much as Deacon never appreciated lying with women so he’d surely never be the husband of one wife nor did he wish to bring children into his world. Neither did he recollect serving anyone well but himself.
Deacon desired remembering why he was at all, why he’d lost his graciousness and faith.
Could one as lost as the priest help him find what went missing?
Still not too late in the evening, Father Hallowell, whom Deacon had observed for enough months to know his schedule inside out, would be in residence.
Having enjoyed a leisurely meal of rare prime rib at a swanky restaurant not far away, Deacon waited outside the cathedral to see the moon begin its slide into the sky, to watch cloud play on glass and illuminate the cross stretching skyward.
He entered the church and moved quietly down the aisle to take a seat in the row second from the front. Big mistake. The woman in the first pew, who still believed in covering her head in God’s presence, left her neck bare where a frantic pulse beaconed him as if a bright light flashed off and on beneath her skin with each beat of her heart.
The door beside a thick pillar squeaked open and voices preceded Father Hallowell and another, much older, priest. Deacon spotted the elder man arrive two days ago, knew he’d be in residence for at least four days as he helped out until a new priest could be assigned to the parish.
I should have taken your blood. Had he ingested a tiny bit, he’d know more about Merck and what machinations went on in his mind even though the mystery intrigued him. What he was able to glean came from a slight brush of hands between both men at a nearby market.
That momentous day sealed Father Merck Hallowell’s fate.
Had he been a pure holy man, Deacon would not have given him a moment’s thought.
The men were unaware he could hear every word they whispered.
“We all have crises of faith, Merck. It is expected especially in a parish such as yours.”
“You mean one without enough funds to carry out needed programs?”
“You can’t save them all.”
“Why? They sit in wealth at many surrounding parishes. Can they not share their abundance?”
The older man stopped to scrutinize Merck. “You feel the more you save the more it will appease your own soul.” Twisting away, he continued. “Faith should be something we carry daily and not be measured by how many we rescue from their quagmire of…”
“Of hunger? Of too little housing and not nearly enough public services to assist them? Rescuing them from knowledge they’ll be poor and destitute until the day they die?”
“We pray for their souls. You also have sisters helping with your shelter which provides housing and meals for the more unfortunate.”
Merck no longer attempted to modify his voice. “Jesus Christ, you speak of no more than twenty when there are hundreds who go hungry with no roof over their head daily!”
“Rest well, I must see to confession.”
“Are you not going to change?”
“No, I’m not.” A labored sigh rattled from his throat. “See yourself out in the morning as I’ll be tired from scouring streets tonight in hopes of bringing in those who suffer most.” Hands jammed in his pockets, Merck watched the man walk away.
Turning, he touched his throat, made sure his stiff collar remained straight in his black dress shirt. When he faced pews, Deacon noticed something about the man he’d not paid attention to before. Sans vestments he wore every Sunday and for midweek service, not wearing the wool jacket he donned at night, Merck’s body appeared athletically fit in a pair of well-worn black jeans. All those nights walking.
Dark lashes fluttered up and down over light brown eyes which didn’t seem to take note of three parishioners, including the woman in front of Deacon, walk out. Merck ran a hand through waves of chocolate brown hair before he stroked it over a day’s growth covering cheeks and chin giving accent to a thin mustache he always wore.
Shit! Broodingly beautiful.
Left alone with Father Hallowell, Deacon stood, brushed down the front of his black pinstriped jacket, he straightened his fashionable tie, and pinched razor-sharp creases in perfectly fitting trousers. He left the pew and headed to the confessional.
Tonight, Deacon planned to open Father Hallowell’s eyes.
Life is complicated, it’s loud, death arrives silently. – J. Hali Steele (from Twice the Burn)