Greetings readers and followers! Here is a story that I wrote in '98. It was never published, despite my best efforts. Maybe the writing is a little off, or maybe the story didn't appeal to editors. Funnily, though, I've always really liked it. At the time, the piece represented me at my best. I had been reading Robert Nye, and had been down to Kerry for a weekend with Richie and Marky, both of which influenced the style and course of the story.
Father Michael and the Little Fellah.
Peter C. Loftus.
...it is said that of witches, they can effect multiple nefarious transformations upon their denigrators, harassers and inquisitors. Manifold are the properties purchased by their dark art - lycantrophy, transvection, divination, animal magnetism, sortilege, enchantment, scotomancy, oneiromancy, prestidigitation, necromancy, thaumaturgy and others- too foul and insidious to list. The Hag can prepare philtres, read the Mystic Tarot, bedevil the poor dumb beasts of the forest, milk the axe, effect translocation and commune with the black goat himself. They drink the blood of the innocent, and Satan and all the Sabbath lap the milk from their breasts.
Be it also known that witches can vomit at will swarms of frogs and flies, and all manner of pins, needles and insects. They collect the hair of the newborn to line their bonnets. Insulted, or rebuffed in their sluttish pursuits, they have the power to remove the membrum virile of a man, and to transport it, squeaking like a hatchling, to the nest of one of their familiars. The membrum, then, is thought to have a life of it’s own independent of either witch or victim...
From the writings of St. Theobald the Lame, circa 1665 A.D.
Bautregaum, Dingle Peninsula, 1934.
Father Michael awoke at some unearthly hour. Gofannon Mab Don was going hell for leather somewhere between the plates of his narrow skull. His mouth was like the inside of a shoe with a corpse’s foot in it. He tried to look around, but his eyes were forged shut as if he’d been the three rounds with Trousers McGinty.
So, Father Michael stayed there for most of the morning... right where he was. His thin body curled on the bed like that of a whipped greyhound, spindle-shouldered and shivering. Thin hair plastered itself across his mottled scalp like an afterthought. Between the greasy clumps, his head looked like the bloated stomach of a drowned rat.
“Eeeehhhhhh,” he moaned, his voice straining from his head, breezing from within, through the broken windows of his teeth. He sat upright on his squalid cot, wondering if his throat was bleeding or was that a twig of bracken he’d swallowed. He smelt sour, used, defeated.
Goat-eyed, he surveyed the desolation. A chamber pot lay on it’s side, its contents strewn across the wooden floor and halfway under the rug. Gagging, Micheal rose and sprayed detritus between his fingers as he ran for the door.
The outhouse wall was cool against his burning temple. The mountain towered behind, weathered shoulders of granite showing through the brown wash of heather and beards of scree. Clouds that were neither rain nor fog rested on these shoulders, looking for all the world as if they’d no intention of ever moving on. Steady drizzle descended.
Micheal felt the call of nature for the morning water and reached down into his breeches for the little fellah. The salty tang of a trapped sea-breeze wafted by, rattling the shutters. He felt around. He dropped his trousers and bared his skinny weasel’s arse to the world. Absence! Nullity! Holy Father! The little fellah was gone! Micheal slipped gratefully into the warm abyss that rose to greet him...
When first Micheal awoke, he had things to be doing. He had to groan a bit, and sleep a bit and get sick and faint in the outhouse, with his skinny weasel’s arse on show to all the world.
Now he’s asleep, and Mrs. Kielty is dragging him back into the house, muttering imprecations to seven saints, two angels and the Holy Mother Herself. Now we get to see why Micheal fainted, which is to say, what happened to him last night and where the little fellah went. We’ll leave Mrs. Kielty there, berating the Virgin of Knock and the various powers and thrones. We’ll leave Father Micheal there too, slumped on the floor like an empty glove puppet and we’ll have a look at last night.
The shebeen was pounding to the music of fiddle, pipes and bodhran. Porter swilled from swung mugs and washed to the floor to be trampled with laughter. Smoke palled heavily from pipe and peat.
Father Micheal sat beside The O’Dowd on a high stool. The O’Dowd, red with good cheer, was wiping the counter-top.
“...if you could just see your way son, just a drop for to take that damp out of me,” and here Father Micheal wrapped the collapsed ruin of his gob about a toitin, “...sure you’d be saving the life of me, and you can be sure that I of all people can have accounts squared up for you bf...” Father Micheal coughed, sending up a great consecrated wreath of spittle, smoke and consumptive particles.
The O’Dowd, in a good humour because the wife was sick in bed with the ague, obliged.
O’Herlihy, the thin-lipped school-master (more widely known as That Bastard), sent over a large one, in the hope that Father Micheal would advance more rapidly in his cups, and thus advance more rapidly to his bed. O’Herlihy was a great lover of logic. Unluckily for him, Father Micheal was a great lover of rhetoric, and he had the ear of God and the turned backs of O’Shea and his sons to practise on. Eventually, however, Father Micheal took it outside and staggered off slantwards towards “the best bed in Ireland.”
“I hope he doesn’t feckin’ mean my bed,” shouted Tommy Ryan, “the feckin’ Missus will kill him!” The shebeen was swallowed in an uproar of laughter.
Father Micheal sloped off into the night on legs that wouldn’t straighten fully when he walked, lurching like a circus dog. A great cosmic bone dangled before him.
The night was like the inside of a cauldron. Seething rain boiled up the sides of the mountain, vaporous and wild. It whipped, flogged and lashed at the poor Father as he made his way along the road. Poor auld Father Micheal was feeling the rain, the night, the drink, the whole thing with an extraordinary sensitivity, a sensitivity that can only be found in an empty vessel, in a cup which calls unceasingly for refilling. Micheal was that cup. Drives, impulses, desires and hunger warred across the holy man like the demons of Saint Anthony. But Father Micheal was no saint, and deep within, a deadly and devious adversary was shaking off the mantle of sleep and girding itself for battle.
The widow Casey sat there, like a spider in a web, with woolen threads depending from her in every direction. One long foot tapped at the floor as she worked and her pointed, waxwork head rocked back and forth on top of a stiff black collar. Grey strands spiralled her head, as she, a gossamer crowned dowager of all Arachnia worked her weave.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
The room reverberated. The door shook on its hinges. Dark creatures scuttled in the creases and features of the widow. Eyes, suddenly feral, swung in cadaverous sockets. Shadows, massive and threatening shifted. The light in the room now flowed freely, unhindered by unnatural means as time realigned.
“SSSssshhhh!” said the widow, an alabaster finger to thorny lips. Familiars settled, with much grunting and farting.
“For the love of God woman, will you ever let a good Christian man in out of the rain before he drops with exhaustion?”
“Maybe not,” she whispered, a smile that is deadlier than a plague on her face. Tiny titters sounded from the corners.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
The widow rose from her chair. Lenghts of wool floated from her hands, shorn. In one silent surge she stepped across the room, ripped open the door and had the priest inside. Father Micheal stood there, dumbfound, soaked and inebriated. Flaxen Tom farted gently from under a chair, and titters echoed in the shadows.
“What is it, Father?” asked the widow.
“Sweet Lord above, I nearly drowned down below there on the road,” answered Micheal. “I had to get in to the warmth for a second before the life was sucked from me.”
“Indeed,” replied the widow, having decided that the least that she deserved for her troubles was a bit of fun. “And can I offer you a quick dram to help the cold away?”
“B’God ye could, and thanks.” Father Micheal had slowly come to his senses. The warmth of the room and the exertion of the night came together to make him feel woozy and light-headed. As he sank into a chair, the widow shoved a rough mug into his gnarled talon. He drank deeply, liquor running down either side of his mouth in a trailing moustache.
The widow watched, her eyes a mirthful bridge across twin pools of pure spite as the sodden priest slipped deeper into oblivion. For Father Micheal the battle had been joined. Soused, he tried to make small-talk with the widow, trying to ignore what he and the widow could both see. On the mantlepiece, Frank shifted in his jar; a toad that was once a man.
“I thought, y’see that I might drop in to see how you were doing of late.” He was trying in vain to distract himself from what he was about to do. He was trying in vain to dress it up for her so she wouldn’t know what he was about. But she did. And she poured. And Father Micheal slipped closer and closer to the demon’s stinking maw. He poured his heart out. He poured his tears out. He took his beads out. And then, when Widow Casey turned her back to fetch the jug, he took his dick out. Drunk to the gills and weeping with self-hatred he bared himself of all. She turned around, and there he was, holding the little fellah in the cradle of his hand like a tiny fledging. He looked at it, sobbed meaningfully, once, and then looked at her, his eyes brimming like those of the Lord Jesus himself. Forgive us our sins. He had lost the battle. The widow grinned like an unsheathed dagger. Sprouts and Ginger giggled in the shadows.
Father Micheal stirred, and tried to sit up. As sudden as a rapture it had come to him... the shebeen, the drink, the rain, the lust, the widow, the lust, the drink...and then... Father Micheal leapt up, pushed the protesting Mrs. Kielty off and dashed back to his room as if all the sins of a thousand sinning, fornicating priests were after him. He pounded up the staircase. He kicked at the dog like a lunatic as it capered down the hall towards him. He stamped into the bedroom, slammed the door like a madman and dropped his trousers. Oh yes- the sacred scepter was gone! Micheal’s face crumpled, and became a crying theatre mask with eyes the shape of upside-down bananas and a mouth like the rip in a mother’s heart with the loss of an only child. His body shook as he stood there and shivered, keening without sound or water.
High on the side of Bautregaum mountain was a nest, tucked into a crevice in the lichened rocks. Three hungry mouths wailed there, day and night. Hail, sleet or shine, the mother worked, ferrying back gobbets of fish flesh. Three hungry mouths waited there ,day and night. Three hungry mouths agape. Three hungry mouths and one fleshy gobbet that was not of fish or bird, but man. Four hungry mouths, chirping and mewling, high on the side of the mountain.
Racking coughs siezed the little priest. He lay there, on the floor of his room, with his hands between his legs, ingnoring the entreaties from without. He was completely bald there, bald as an egg. The skin there was smooth and it curved slightly between his legs. The delerium tremens convulsed his frame as he rose and squatted to pee, from his arse into his chamber pot. His head swam. His vision became a conjuror, at once beguiling and elucidating.
“Oh Jesus, God,” he croaked. “I never meant to touch her...it was the drink!”
Father Micheal spent the afternoon and night in a daze, as his enfeebled body tried to burn out months, probably years of alcohol abuse. Drop by drop, with each tear of sorrow, and each welling of sweat, it came out. And as it came out, each drop became a victim, a sin or a demon, and each drop tormented and tortured him to the very limits of his endurance. He fell asleep.
At ten past four in the morning, Mrs. Kielty awoke abruptly. Pat leapt up out of bed, his arse bare, and grabbed a rake from the wall. Inside in the big house there was a hoarse scream. “Jesusgodi’monlyflesh!!!”
“Well, Jez, he must be taking a right auld turn above there,” said Pat. Then, looking down, he saw where the missus’ hand was, grinned and jumped back into bed.
Father Micheal awoke in a tangle of sheets, glassy-eyed and glaring. A slick sweat covered his whole body. He knew now how Jesus had felt for those forty days in the desert. Torment reached levels where it became a fantasy, pain and pleasure ground together under the one heel.
Father Micheal was there now; sexless, palsied, hallucinating... disbelieving his fate. If he had really once been a man, well then the widow could help him, perhaps restore him. He would go to the widow and ask her forgiveness.
Crows wheeled above the steep incline of the valley, almost motionless in the still air. The sky was a uniform grey. Stirring sea-breezes toyed with the bracken by the rutted roadside, along which the tiny figure of a man was making his way. In a nest on the mountainside, hungry hatchlings mewed.
The road swam and blurred before Father Micheal’s eyes. Mumbled snatches of the Breastplate of St. Patrick played along his lips. Before long, the little priest reached the turn off to the widow’s. How innocous her house looked, nestled there between the granite scree and patches of heather. Smoke unfurled lazily from the chimney.
“There you are!”
He hadn’t noticed her there in the field above the road. At her side, a white goat watched him sagely, chewing a wad of nettles.
“Er... yes, er, good morning, Widow Casey.”
“Well, well, aren’t we the mannered one today, Father?”
“Er... well now, I’m sorry about all that messing and whatever, but could I have the little fellah back by any chance?”
Her laughter sang like garotte-wire. “Is that what you call it in the church, then Father?”
“Er... well, ‘tis.”
Again she laughed. “Well I suppose that’s as good a name for it as any.”
“Well? Could you see your way clear to restoring the little fellah to me by any chance?”
“Sure didn’t you come all the way up here in the first place to give it to me?”
Father Micheal wasn’t too sure that he was actually having this conversation, but he answered anyway. “I did.” It was a very straight answer.
“And now you say that you want it back already after only two days? Is it mad ye are?”
“Yes you’re mad, or yes you want it back?”
“Yes I want it back.”
“And what would you do with it if I gave it back to you?”
“Nothing!” The widow was genuinely amused, and her eyes twinkled as she spoke. “Are you sure you wouldn’t just try to give it to somebody else, now, somebody like young Lucy Kirwin? Are you sure you wouldn’t try to give it to her and her abed with the consumption? Or maybe you’d want to give it Mrs. Kielty’s niece, what’s her name... Maggie?”
Father Micheal’s mind reeled. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing... Lucy Kirwin... Maggie... how did this woman come by such knowledge?
“I never,” he said, and felt like a child lying, when your father’s eyes bore into you and you know he knows the truth. The widow threw back her head and released a gale of laughter that startled the goat. It threw her a sulky glance and went off to find some dock leaves.
“Father, I’ll be honest with you. I gave your little treasure to one of my friends above on the mountain, to repay her for a favour she did for me. If you want to climb up there and ask her for it, you can. You have my permission. She’s up there to the left beside that clump of rocks. She’s a blackheaded gull. I have to tell you though, it’s not worth the bother. You’re a better man without that thing.” So saying, she turned her back and glided off into the house.
Father Micheal took one look at the mountain, screwed tight his resolve, and set off. The place that the widow had indicated was about two hundred feet above the road, perched atop a rocky slope. Father Micheal spat out his toitin, put his hands in his pockets and set off.
The going was relatively easy for the first hundred feet or so. After that, however, Father Micheal grew short of breath and it seemed as if the rounded granite shoulders of exposed rock towered above him. His chest heaved and laboured, a punctured bellows in infirm hands. The breath wheezing out of him tasted coppery, and he had to spit to make sure the was no blood in it.
Eventually, he reached the top, and was surprised and enlightened by what he found there. Hidden from view from below by a ring of erratics was a perfectly calm corrie. He scrambled across the lichened rocks, losing his footing in his haste to get to the miniature lake. A brief scurry across a narrow stretch of water logged grass, and there it was.
Jagged walls rose on three sides from the perfectly still water. From twenty feet or so up, they were covered with veils of pristine cloud. With muted tones, several small inlets fed the tarn, causing not a ripple on its still surface. Father Micheal felt elated, exhalted to have found such a place. It proved without a doubt the glory of God’s creation. How could the world below toil on in such mealy-mouthed pettiness, when such rapture abounded, such beauty to be found on one’s door step?
“Jaysus above, I must be going mad for the want of drink,” he mused to himself. “Where’s that feckin’ bird?”
In the end, it was the bird that found him. It had been watching him from above on the misty rock face, as he puttered about, stumbling and cursing. Eventually, something had to be done.
Father Micheal was looking up at the cloud layer when it happened. One minute he was minding his business, and the next, he was on his arse in the icy waters of the lake, with something cawing and pecking and clawing at his scalp. He screamed, once, briefly, and was rewarded by the receding sound of flapping wings. The shout rebounded at him from the rocks on every side. Freezing water was licking at places it could no longer harm, the reflections of the craggy peak above torn and scattered. Father Micheal watched as the gull alighted on an out of reach spur of granite, preening itself with a smug air. It flapped it’s wings twice, in a strange, victorious little dance, then dissappeared, back into some unseen crevice. Father Micheal surged from the pool.
“Ye feckin’ hoor! Ye dirty bastard! Ye dirty feckin’ hoorin’ bastard!”
Flecks of spittle flew from his thin lips as he roared, unmercifully, and rose from the waters like a geriatric titan. Weeds and mud decked him from waist to foot. Stones flicked from his hands to crack and skip about the rockface. Arcs of dull water flew from his arms as he threw. But it was too late. The surrogate mother of his penis was safe inside.
Father Micheal scrabbled his way back down the mountainside, his bony behind bouncing from boulder to boulder. He was soaked through to the skin, in doubt as to his own sanity, three days without a drop and short one virile member. Something was very wrong.
Over the next few days Father Micheal stayed on the dry, and some semblance of normality began to return to things. Now that he was sober, he was able to get up at a reasonable hour, and the parishoners were astonished to receive house calls from him. They were amazed at the change that had come over their hitherto derelict man of the cloth. He was a man transformed. They talked in low voices over hedgerows about how he had brought old Maisy a basket of turf, and about how he had visited poor sick Sean McGiolla every single day. They talked about his all new shaven face, his fresh white collar and his warm and sympathetic way. They also talked about his pasty complexion. And his eyes, the eyes of an insomniac, hollow and haunted. When he stood still, he shook like a reed in the wind. Something, they said had happened to that man. Something indeed, and only Father Micheal knew it, but the whole story was far from an end.
It had happened about a week after the lake episode. Father Micheal was relaxing in his easy chair after a hard day of visiting the needy, and planning his Sunday Mass. A good pipe was clutched in his right hand. Through the open window, he could hear some boys laughing and slagging as they walked past, on their way home from an afternoon of fishing. Hand lines and hooks rattled against tin tobacco boxes.
He was jerked from his reverie by the sound of something hitting the window. He jumped from his seat, and leaped to the window, expecting to find a fish from the boys there. The boys were gone however, lost against the brown of the mountain side. There, stuck like a slug to the windowpane was the little fellah. Micheal staggered back with a gasp, cracking the back of his skull against the window frame. Bare inches from his face, his erstwhile appendage clung, it’s black slot glistening wetly. A bonnet of foreskin waved like the fronds of a sea anemone. Jaw agape, Father Micheal looked on in a kind of curious outrage. Was the thing trying to communicate with him?
In a sudden burst of speed, the phallus bunched itself and darted past the astonished priest, and into the room. He turned and grasped at it, as it shot past him and under the table. As he reached for it, his head struck the hanging lamp above the table. It jarred, shook, and juddered from side to side, throwing the room into a disarray of warring light and dark geometries. In a flash of presience, that spoke of their shared past, Father Micheal lurched forward, to slam the door to the hallway. The boom echoed through the house, as he leaned back against the door, catching his breath with relief. The light began to return to an even keel.
And there it was. Between his feet. A glistening slug-trail, leading from the room.
The next few days were a nightmare. Father Micheal couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t break wind without an appearance by the phantom phallus. It was systematically haunting him. On Wednesday, it had slimed up his brogues, and left a web of snotty tracks across his kitchen window. On Thursday, it had hitched a ride to Sean McGiolla’s in his pocket, darting out furtively when he reached for his handkerchief. It had still made it home before him to have a bath in his milk jug. Mrs. Kielty had nearly had an anuerism when it spurted her, and Father Micheal had spent an hour trying to calm her down before he’d sent her home.
Every time that he sat down to plan Sunday’s Mass, the mickey would arrive and begin it’s mischief, overturning the ink pot or dripping from the cieling down onto his neck. Whenever he tried to catch, crush or kill it, it displayed a clairvoyant skill in strategic withdrawal. The two, priest and prick settled quickly into a routine. Hour after hour the impeturbable member tirelessly improvised new ways to harass the priest, who stubbornly fought back by one; pretending not to notice, two; pretending not to care and three; by working himself to distraction on Sunday’s sermon.
Through the course of the last week, Father Micheal had gone through a lot of changes. Reality had changed completely for him. Father Micheal was, to be honest, a wreck from the whole thing. The Sunday sermon loomed large on his agenda. He was going to clear the slate. He was going to clear his conscience.
He was going to talk about sin. Sin, and humanity, and the humanity of sin. He was going to talk about forgiveness, the heavenly boon. He wanted to talk about rejoining the flock, and prodigal offspring and great celestial letting off. Why, why, WHY had God let this happen to him? He was one of the boys, a soldier of light. Why had God forsaken him? He was sorry. He’d been punished by the widow, and was ready to go back to normal. As he wrote, a drop of sticky drool hit the back of his hand. He was sorry.
In the end, it became obvious to the little priest that he wasn’t going to get the sermon written. He’d just have to wing it.
Sunday came, bright and airy. There was a fresh breeze coming up form the sea and clouds sped quickly across a sky the colour of eggshell.
Father Micheal rose with the dawn and rode off towards the chapel with his head up and his knees out, his black bessie creaking and complaining.
In the silence of his room behind the nave he washed and robed, blessed himself and prayed. From a shadowy rafter the penis watched, uncertain. He’d never seen his old master so composed. The little priest gave no indication that he noticed his observer. The murmur of people began to grow out in the hall.
When Father Micheal took to the altar, it felt like his first time all over again. The crowd hushed like a sea becalmed, and watched expectantly. Almost all of the village was there, except of course for the bedridden and a certain widow. The whole of the Kielty clan was there, and the O’Dowds, with a dozen young boys, all red-faced like their old man. The O’Herlihy was there with a gob on him that would sour cream, and Tommy and all the rest of the Ryans were there. Off to the left were the Kirwins, Lucy staring up at him, wide-eyed and consumptive.
Taking a deep breath, Father Micheal launched himself into the mass. Now, in them days, the mass was mostly in Latin, and it took until nearly lunchtime on a good day, so that by the end the men were all dying for a pint and the women were all wriggling from side to side on arses gone flat from the wooden benches. After only forty minutes, however, Father Micheal stopped, cleared his throat, and ran a beady eye over the congregation. The men had just regained their seats, faces shaved, yet rugged from outdoor labour. Honest men. Well, some of them anyway.
Dried flowers nodded at the brims of the ladies hats and children squirmed.
“Now today,” began Father Micheal, and that was as far as he got, because there, on the back of the bench behind Lucy Kirwan was the maggot, it’s slimy eye opening and closing in imitation of Father Micheal’s mouth. An explosive cough racked the diminutive priest, booming out past the celebrants. When he looked up, the phallus was gone, and John Kirwan was staring at him with strange, stern eyes. “Today,” he resumed, “we’re going to talk about two of the most lethal mortal sins, lust and lechery. Now lust is a dark and terrible thing that can tear any sound man in two, deprive him of his senses ,and leave him...” his voice trailed off. The phallus was making it’s way from one side of the church to the other, by way of the centre aisle! Of all the brazen cheek of that bollocks! “...and leave him...” The mickey had him mesmerised. It bunched and stretched with each inch, like a maggot or centipede. He just couldn’t believe it. “...and leave h-h-...” The nerve of that thing! What if anybody saw it? He looked down at the sea of faces. He felt like a schoolmaster. They were all open mouthed. like hatchlings in a nest, all awaiting revelation. “And leave him damned and alone in the most fiery corner of the inferno.” He finished the sentence with a confidence in his voice that he didn’t actually feel. What if they couldn’t see the mickey because it didn’t really exist? What if the widow Casey had put some kind of a spell on him to make him believe that she’d stolen his lad? After all, who else had even noticed the feckin’ yoke?
He restarted his sermon with renewed vigour. “Yes, LUST! And what of the twin sister of lust which can drive any good man from the path-LECHERY!” As he spoke, he tried to keep track of the movements of the prick. At the moment, it was rattling one of the stations of the cross. Father Micheal didn’t care. It could rattle whatever it wanted.
“Now any man, being only mortal and only made of flesh, and not of stone or ice, will crave the comfort of a woman’s body...” On the top of Mrs. McGonagle’s hat were two wax plums, ripe and rosy. And from these plums there jutted such an obscenity that Father Micheal gasped. There, puffing itself upright was the erect member, standing proudly to attention.
It waggled lewdly from side to side as it tried to maintain it’s balance. Its slit was beaming.
That was it! It looked as if it was getting it’s thrill out of all this talk of lechery and lust. It was getting aroused by it! Father Micheal’s face bore the expression of one who had locked horns with a demon. Inside, he was smiling. There was only one way to outsmart the tempter. He had to face himself, and quash that part of him that was the demon.
He began again. “But what I really want to talk about is redemption, redemption and prodigality, for those who see that they have erred and are ready to make amends and return to the fold. I want to ask God now, in all his beneficience to redeem us, all of us...every one of us who has, myself included, ever broken His Laws in thought, word or dee...”
Heads turned. People shifted in sudden alarm. Eyes lifted to the rafters, not to seek the coming of the Lord but to seek the coming of an owl. Old Ma Kirwin leapt with a scream, trying to gather up all of her skirts in a hurry. Across the aisle, Maire Ni Bheolain mirrored her action, and something sleek and fleshy fled from under her heels. In one voice, a scream echoed about the small chapel. With the bump and crush of confined bodies, souls spilled out of the seats and landed in a panic in the aisles. Nobody was unaffected. Father Micheal had a silent scream frozen to his lip, all joy and terror and insanity and triumph. Legs waved like stamens from blooming corollas of underwear. Children shrieked, children cried, children laughed. Then, suddenly, with a bellow and a lurch Tommy Ryan was out of his seat. One heavy boot came down, cutting short the cry of the beast. There was a clap and a splat, and that was the end of that. Father Micheal fell to the floor, clutching himself, lost to the pain of rupture. And the rapture of pain.
Out by the door, they were crowding around Tommy. Children streamed past, out into the sunlight. They were patting Tommy on the back and shoulders.
“B’jesus,” he said, “Sure wasn’t it like a boiled rat?”