“I think it is the evening I like best, when the candles are burning low, and the last worshipers begin to pack up and leave for the night. When the birds are still singing in the trees, and the sun has begun its final descent, that is when I feel closest to our lord. ” With that, Bishop Julian O’Connor finished his monologue and, feeling pleased with himself, looked expectantly up at the worried face of Mrs. Maria Cabrini. The woman, dressed in the black regalia of mourning, had baggy eyes and a puffy face. Bishop O’Connor could see that she still clutched a handkerchief close to her in dramatic flagellation, but the self-absorbed priest found none of the stunned admiration he was looking for. Maria Cabrini had come to him that day for guidance on what to do with her wayward teenage son, Peter. The one-time altar boy had shed his sunny disposition and became a sullen teenager. Worse still, he was beginning to exhibit delinquent and even violent behavior. Mrs. Cabrini, the long-suffering widow of a recently departed husband and steadfast mother of four children, was a lifelong Catholic, and in the face of this new tragedy, she had done the only thing she could think of and sought out her priest. Unfortunately for the widow Cabrini, there were no good priests to be found.
Bishop Julian O’Connor may have been a man of God, but he was also a prideful man who was overfond of his own voice and far more interested in soliloquizing than he was in helping any of his congregation. He had, of course, begun his lecture to Mrs. Cabrini by addressing the matter of her son, but he had soon meandered into matters of parochial doctrine and condescending moralism. Now, nearly an hour after she had made the mistake of walking into O’Connor’s parish office, Maria finally heard the end of his lecture. Unfortunately for the widow, the Bishop’s inane commentary on birds in the evening would do nothing to help her son, and unfortunately for the bishop, the uselessness of his advice had been revealed in his congregant’s still worried expression. The old priest sat in the stench of his self-absorption. Seeing that he would have to offer something else to get the widow out of his office, he gave a little cough and spoke again. “You have done your motherly duties well, Maria. See to it that Peter comes to my office tomorrow night. I will speak to him, and we can see what can be done about rectifying his wayward path.”
With that promise of help for her son, Maria Cabrini burst into tears. She, at last, believed that she had found what she was looking for: help for her son. She thanked the Priest and went to shake his hand, which she did for an uninterrupted minute as she sobbed and thanked him some more. It took another five minutes of praising God and giving reassurances before the old man was finally able to usher the woman out of his office. When the door shut and she was finally gone, Bishop O’Connor let out a sigh. He had thought that woman would never leave him alone.
The Bishop had little sympathy for the unenlightened masses to which he ministered. “These people know nothing of true grace,” he thought to himself as he walked over to his window. The parish offices looked out on the beautiful gardens of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral. This was Bishop Julian O’Connor’s cathedral, his gardens, and his domain, and it was glorious. The birds were chirping in the evening, the trees rustling with the life of spring. The priest took a deep breath of the sweet April air. He had meant what he said to the widow. This was his favorite time of day. Bishop O’Connor took one last look out his window before turning away. The flowering garden in the last light of dusk, the cathedral spires towering over the oak trees and newly-planted shrubbery alike. The picture was nearly perfect, but there was something deeply wrong. There was terrible sin afoot in this holy place, a snake in the garden.
Beneath the window of the Bishop’s office, there crouched a man. His name was Michael McAllister. He was of average height and weight and had the pasty complexion characteristic of a perfectly average office worker. Despite all appearances, Michael Mcallister was no ordinary man. He was a sinner and one of the worst kinds of all.
In the three years that he had been there, Michael had killed twelve people in his little city. Tonight, he would kill his thirteenth. The man had been watching Bishop O’Connor for three weeks. He had painstakingly figured out the old man’s daily routine and learned all that there was to know of the man. Micahel knew what town the Bishop had been born in, learned the names of his parents, and what seminary he had been educated in. The hunter had even estimated O’Connor’s height and weight. He had been with the old man day in and day out for two long weeks, waiting, watching, and planning. In all the time Michael had spent observing the bishop, he had found the old man to be the very ideal of a priest, which was, to say sanctimonious, hypocritical, and utterly useless.
While Bishop Julian O’Connor may have been, in most ways, utterly typical of his profession, to Michael, there was one way in which he stood out. Throughout all the time he had spent stalking the old man, he had never once seen him return home at night. The Bishop did have a home to go back to. Michael had visited the place twice. It was a modest but classy colonial home on the edge of town. It was the kind of house that one should be proud to call home, but despite this, the old priest was never there. Instead, when all of the clergy had long departed the hallowed halls of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, the Bishop would steal back into the great church. The priest would remain inside until sunrise when he would sneak out a back door and return to the parish office as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Michael had watched this happen each and every night since the day he had chosen the old priest as his target. Michael had no idea what the old man did at that time, but after two weeks of waiting, the hunter was giddy in anticipation of finding out.
The sun was beginning to set, and all around the cathedral grounds, Michael could hear the priests and nuns begin to leave for the day. The hunter settled down for a long vigil. He knew that the Bishop was always the last to leave his office. It would be hours until the old man stole back into the cathedral. Michael didn’t mind. He loved his work and was perfectly happy to wait. This patience was just one of the many qualities he believed set him apart from other murderers. As he waited, the hunter turned his thoughts towards the priest, who sat a few feet above him, unaware in his office. Despite the hunter’s great estimation of his own patience, he soon grew restless. He was eager to kill this priest and for far more than the love of his work.
In the past few months, a new serial killer had begun a practice in the very same city where Michael had been operating for years. This newcomer had snatched both the attention and the condemnation of the local press. The upstart had killed eight children in the span of two months. The scattered remains of these unfortunate youths had been found discarded all around the city.
As far as Michael was concerned, this behavior was amateurish. Children were not a challenge. He had discovered early in his career that it was all too easy to lure a child into a trunk, even under the nose of their seldom-vigilant parents. This hunter was a discriminating killer, and over his years of work, he had developed something of a philosophy for himself. Michael believed that his murders served a greater purpose. He killed those wretched men whose arrogance most offended him. He killed the hypocrites, the cheaters, and the dullards. This hunter regarded himself as a refined killer. These post-hoc justifications were, of course, a mask for the murderer’s lust. Like all of his kind, Michael killed for one reason: brutal dominance over another human. His objections to the child murderer were those of a wounded ego. Grieving parents, horrified headlines, and a terrified public, these things were accolades, and they were owed to Michael’s superior workmanship. This resentment was more than enough to occupy the hunter as he waited, and after just a few more hours, it was time.
Midnight hung over the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, the Worker. The singing of birds had been silenced, and buzzing street lights cast shadows across the garden. Michael heard the door to the parish office creak open and saw the figure of Bishop Julian O’Connor step out into the night. The old priest locked the door behind him and began to make his way towards the towering cathedral.
The hunter was still for a moment as he watched his quarry walk down the garden path towards the church. When he saw that the priest had reached the halfway point, Michael slipped from his hiding place. He began to shadow the old man, staying at a distance of at least ten feet. O’Connor never seemed to notice his pursuer. He never stopped walking or even turned around. When the priest at last reached the great iron-bound doors of the cathedral, a wicked grin spread across the plain features of the hunter. The priest pulled open the double doors and slipped within. Michael, for his part, bounded forward as quietly as he could and slipped his foot in front of the closing door.
The hunter lingered on the doorstep. Somewhere in his predatory mind, misgivings had begun to bubble up. He knew that it was worth another minute before going inside. If he alerted the priest too early, there might be a struggle. His prey might even escape. It was best to wait. Michael ignored these thoughts. He was now sure of his mastery. He was the lion, and O’Connor was nothing more than a lamb. A thought entered his mind: “It is time I grant the Good Priest deliverance from this unworthy earth.” He smiled; the killer was sure nothing could stop him now, and so he pushed open the door and entered the cathedral.
There was no light in the cathedral, but Michael could see, from across the endless rows of empty pews, the distant silhouette of Bishop O’Connor kneeling before the altar. Blood was pounding in the hunter’s ears, and he began to move faster. Michael’s heart beat faster and faster, and he could feel his control over himself begin to slip. The ecstasy of the kill had taken hold prematurely. Michael began to run, heedless of alerting his prey. The hunter’s frenzied footfalls echoed off the stone flagstones, but he heard nothing over the pounding in his blood. The priest did not move, even as the hunter was within reach. Michael realized as he was almost upon the priest that he was cold, unnaturally so for the April night. He pushed that realization away and reached for his knife. The killer was smiling as he readied himself to strike at the kneeling man, but as he came close enough to make his kill, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Michael whipped around, but it was too late; something heavy collided with his head. The hunter’s world began to fall to black. As his consciousness began to desert him, the killer heard distant voices. Michael couldn’t make out the words. The last thing the hunter fixed his attention on before the world fell to black was the shadowed space behind the altar. There, where the morning sun would soon break through the stained glass, Michael saw something massive moving in the shadowed rafters.
When the hunter awoke again, it was in darkness. He blinked and knew immediately that something had been pulled over his head, obscuring his vision. As the memories of what had preceded the loss of consciousness began to flood back into his pounding head, Michael started to panic. He tried to bring his hand to his face to rip off whatever had been placed over his head, but when he found that his arms had been bound. Michael could feel the surface he had been tied to begin to rattle against a stone floor as he tried to move, but no matter how hard he pulled against his restraints, he could not break free. The hunter felt a scream begin to well up in his chest, but he pushed it down. He would not give his captors the satisfaction of hearing his fear. The hunter fought back the instinctive fear that threatened to overwhelm him. He stopped struggling and fell silent.
After a moment without sound, a voice rose in the cold darkness. It was the warm, self-assured voice of Bishop Julian O’Connor. “I welcome you to our congregation, Michael. Though you cannot know the reasons why, I consider it a gift from the Almighty that you have visited our temple tonight.” At that, the hunter felt his fear resurge like never before, and all thoughts in his mind fled before the one question: How did this priest know his name? The hunter heard something move above him. Michael felt something touch his side.
It felt like the grasp of tiny, impossibly cold hands. He felt another grab hold of his leg, and then another, much larger hand began to close softly around his neck. An unholy chill took hold around the hunter, and he almost let slip his scream, but something seemed to hold his lips still, and he stayed silent. The bishop went on, “I’m sure you recall my conversation earlier today with the Widow Cabrini. It may be of cold comfort to you now, but you have saved her son from a terrible fate.” Michael felt claws begin to tear into his flesh, and something long and wet wrapped around his legs. The priest continued, his voice taking on a rhythmic quality and rising in intensity as if he were, even now, preaching from the pulpit. “The feeble forms of children are no proper host for our lord. The meek have no place on the earth that belongs to he who is Legion.” The probing appendage continued to inch up the hunter’s leg. It wrapped about his thigh and seemed to linger, perversely, sensually around his thigh.
Michael felt more cold hands press against his skin as whatever held his neck tightened its grip. The terrible wet thing then shot up between the hunter’s legs, and he felt it, pulsating and warm against his chin as it played at the fringes of the hood that had been placed over his head. The unseen priest continued his sermon, his voice rising to a deafening yell. “Just as the enemy was borne of woman to delude the weak, so too will the son of the great spirit of the waste be borne of man to bring the faithful our deliverance!” With that, the priest finished his sermon, and a chanting began from somewhere in the darkness. Michael felt his heart go cold as the growth slipped beneath his hood and began to caress his face. The hunter struggled mightily against the hands that bound him, but to no effect. The wet and probing appendage had at last found its mark. The end of whatever it was brushed against Michael’s lips, and then, in an instant, it struck. The thing pushed its way into the hunter’s throat. He felt at last as if he could scream, but it was too late. The crushing force of the invading growth had filled his windpipe and continued to rush ever downward.
Tears filled Michael’s unseeing eyes, and visions filled his mind. He saw a man, bleeding and wretched, crucified upon a hill at dusk. He saw the serpent with the head of a lion that wrapped itself around the sufferer. He heard the offer it whispered and listened as the sufferer accepted the deal. Michael saw more things he could not understand. Beings from beyond the stars that a strange voice told him were called Archons. Then Michael saw his previous victims. Twelve had been each a sacrifice to his own power. As the thing filled his insides with churning bile, Micahel understood that he was the hunter no longer. He had found a higher power, and he was at once its prey, its bride, and its most faithful devotee.
Michael tried again to scream, but no air escaped his lungs. It did not matter. He had found his own deliverance.
Credit: B. Boethius
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