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THE MISSION

*

Mary hurtled into the mission, completely out of breath. She was on a mission too, entrusted with A Message. She felt very important indeed. She came to a halt in front of the preacher’s hut, puffing violently.

‘Calm down, girl,’ said father Lathaniel, ‘what in God’s name is happening?’

‘It’s Mrs. Michael!’ she gasped, ‘she saw the angels!’

The preacher’s eyes lit up. ‘What? Where? How? Tell me Mary,’ he commanded. He knew that tone of voice would get the truth out of her.

So Mary told him, the complete story, from first shudder to final hysteria, a lurid and spectacularly embroidered tale that, by now included a host of angels bearing Mrs. Michael down from the bungalow to deposit her unharmed a thousand feet below; a madman who brought the earthquake; two evil men from France. The young girl paused momentarily for breath. The spirit of the baby Jeeeeezuz hovered all around and Princess Diana was watching from heaven. The men looked over at the two of them as Mary’s description grew in passion. She had a high pitched, carrying kind of voice, a voice that cut through kava.

‘Slow down, Mary, slow down.’

Mary tried to calm herself, but it was useless. The priest noticed her breasts heaving under that cotton shift, felt his eyes wandering to those two pert nipples protruding there. She was an unattractive child, he thought as he stood there, an ugly, common little thing. Wonderful breasts though. Breasts. He groaned and checked himself; once more this unexpected slide to Satan. What is going on? He forced his eyes up from the nipples to her grubby face. Her eyes were starting to fill with tears.

‘And I saw her, all with no clothes on, praying on the floor in Number One. I saw Mrs. Michael praying hard to Je-e-e-zuz.’

Mrs. Michael? Praying with no clothes on? Impossible, thought the priest, that evil, dissolute old bitch. A miracle truly had occurred.

‘The boss says I have to bring all the men back. His house fell down.’

The priest looked over to the men and called out to the largest.

‘Jimmy! Jim! Come over here!’

The large man on the log lumbered to his feet.

‘You take the men up there now, Mary. You’ve done very well to come and see me. I’ll remember you in my prayers tonight.’

Her dusty face lit up with a pathetic pleasure.

‘Now, off you go. Father Lathaniel has something to do.’

*

Now the preacher was on a mission, hat on his head, glasses perched on that aquiline nose, bible in hand. His head was down, watching his feet. This volcanic rock was tricky, one false step and there could be a nasty gash. The priest had no idea he was being watched , no idea that an old man’s nostrils were arched, a curse rising out of his soul.

The sea breeze blew up, that same prevailing wind that had brought the missionaries here, and before them traders, enticed by the natural harbour and the prospect of slaves. This one man was the embodiment of everything that had driven Zachariah out to this hermitage on the point.

He is my enemy.

Very plain, very simple, all black, all white, no grey. Zach’s life was lived as part of an endless history, where feuds of a thousand years ago were just as strong today, where revenge and justice for deeds long done could be carried into the generations, enacting an inevitable price at vast distance. Nothing was forgotten, always stored in that wise old head.

History written on his face, etched in deep furrows slashing down his cheeks, sad eyes that lived inside wrinkled, drooping skin. His past was carved in the droop of his shoulders, in the sharp points of his spine threatening to poke out that wizened back, in the angle of his chin. Zachariah focused on the preacher as he scrambled over rocks between a huge boulder on the waterline and the eroded cliffs behind. The enemy continued over a stretch of dirty sand and across a flat shelf of slippery rock between the grasses and the sea.

The preacher’s legs slipped out from him sending him crashing to the ground on his arse. Zachariah shook with laughter.

‘Hehehehehe,’ he chuckled in a high pitched, tinny voice, ‘fall over, did you?’

*

Lathaniel stumbled to his feet, rubbing that bruised coccyx with one hand. The other clutched at the bible at his chest. His glasses were still on him and he looked around for his hat, found it where it had fallen, dusted it and crammed it on his head, his eyes squinting in the late morning glare. He continued on his way.

Zach kept his eyes on the preacher and made a tiny click with his tongue. The preacher fell forward, one foot wedged down a hole in the rock. He tumbled, dropped his bible as both hands spread out to break his fall. He landed heavily on one knee, the rest of his body continuing onto the rocks. He had injured his leg, the blood starting to flow, and that shoulder, the one he had landed so heavily on, that must be hurting too. The old man was shaking with glee. That shrill laugh increased in pitch.

Lathaniel brushed at the rocks on his shirt and continued on. He was on a mission to save a soul. Nothing could stop Lathaniel when he had a purpose. It was this rottweiler determination that had so attracted the church elders when he was young.

The priest gasped as Zachariah swung into view. Christ almighty, Mary, mother of God, this is just what I need right now. He pressed on, regardless, determined not to show the slightest flicker of emotion as he neared that vile old man. Beelzebub he called him privately and he truly thought he was the Devil. Zachariah was the preacher’s private demon. He would never know.

Zachariah hated that preacher and all he stood for with an intensity borne of a century and the loss of a clan. He was the mortal sworn enemy of this pear-shaped pissant and here, on his turf, he was unmerciful. The two men stared at each other with malevolence in their eyes, each drawing on his own separate gods to protect himself, arming themselves for fight. They were balancing each other, the preacher with his whispered prayer, the old man with sounds so secret only he could hear.

Closer now, only ten feet separating them. The priest had to pass right by to get to the shallow cliffs that led round to the resort. Six feet. The air was humming with their antagonism, but still nothing happened.

‘Morning, Zachariah,’ the priest said, affecting a cheerful swagger, but both men knew it was a lie. This man was scared. His jerky walk and startled eyes betrayed him. Zach remained silent, his eyes glazed and he looked away, over to the resort.

‘I know where you’re going, preacher man.’

But the priest was already walking away, clambering down a rocky ledge to the beach below. When he emerged he was rubbing his head. Zach was chuckling again.

*

SPECIAL PRAYERS

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