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Father Nicholas clawed his way out of sleep, and was certain he was choking. What he was choking on he did not know–a dream substance of some sort or other. The dream was already fading from him, impossible to grasp beyond the terror of the nightmare racing through him, pulse dizzying, cloaked in sweat. He forced himself to breathe, finally succeeding with a massive, heaving gasp, coughing and gagging and heaving but nothing came up–which was a surprise itself, given the meal he had enjoyed last night, at the monks’ insistence. He concentrated, forced his breathing and his heart to settle, reaching for some sort of serenity that he knew had to be somewhere inside him–because God was inside him, after all.
As he came down from the nightmare, he tried to recall what he could of the dream, but there was nothing. No images at least–just a cascade of feelings. Terror, mostly. A good dose of shame. Regret, maybe, or something similar, colored with a bit of self-loathing. A hunger. There was hunger too, which seemed absurd to him, to awake hungry after…after that. How strange. How unchristian, really. He could see it, lit by candlelight still, the great hall of the abbey, the long table dressed in a deep red, the chair at the head conspicuously empty but still set, the entire length set with a massive feast, one of the largest that Nicholas had ever seen, perhaps outside of the Vatican on rare occasions. The monks, seated around the table, tearing into the flesh of beasts with such vigor and gluttony and…it was abnormal to say the least. Verging on heresy in its own fashion, in how the monks of this monastery had so readily discarded the vows of chastity and restraint that they were allegedly bound to by God.
Or perhaps, just a feast to celebrate a visitor from Rome. Perhaps just a well meant, but ill advised, celebration, given what he was here to do. Perhaps innocent, all the same. He had approached it with that in mind, assuming that the monks were doing their best to just be kind to him, with perhaps a tinge of bribery–which itself was not unusual, but of all of his temptations, greed had never been him. And so he’d sat there, next to the prior on one side, and one of the many monks on the other, trying to be an island of temperance in a building storm of indulgence and gluttony. It hadn’t lasted, obviously, between the monks urging more and more food on him, one of them even heaping his plate full when he saw he wasn’t helping himself to seconds. Another kept his wine glass full to the brim, though he never managed to catch who was pouring it for him. Without the wine, perhaps he could have controlled himself, but between the drink, and some of the most luscious, simple and delicious fare of the table, he’d…relented, obviously. And now here he was, with a still hard gut packed with food, a headache from the wine, feeling like a fool for giving in like that. It was not a good first impression in either case. He looked like a man who could be swayed with wine and good favor. And they, well, they didn’t look particularly good for it either. He could still see the prior beside him, tearing into the thigh of a chicken with his teeth, the grease coating his lips as he laughed at some joke, eyes on him, and…
He hoped it was all innocent, he did, but something told him that there was more here. A voice, he often called God, but never to anyone else. Believing one had a direct line, in this era, was considered hubris. But inside himself, he felt it all the same. There was something here, something more than the rumors that had brought him here. Something rotten inside this monastery. Fraud and embezzlement, most likely. Something boringly human. The curse of them all, really, and why they needed God more than anything.
Father Nicholas was something between an envoy and a spy. The monks knew full well why he was here–sent by Rome in order to investigate the claims that had been made against the monks by the villagers who lived near the monastery. The villagers had complained that the monks–usually a quiet and chaste order–had in recent months taken to rather…extreme behaviors, the monks passing through town shouting speeches in the square verging on heresy, one of them even going so far as to extoll the virtues of gluttonous appetites. It didn’t help that every single monk had given into corpulence–he hadn’t seen a single monk here under 300 pounds, and several seemed to be pushing closer to 500, in all honesty. And so, Rome had sent him to investigate, and if necessary, determine what steps might be necessary to bring the rogue monks into line. But all he had done so far, in his first day here, was apparently eat and drink himself sick with nightmares.
He shuddered as he slipped out of the bed, his sheets damp with his sweat. The quarters where he found himself were small and modest, most likely identical to those where the monks reside themselves. There was a desk along the wall, a bed, a window full of morning sunshine (he would have missed laud service already–though how any of the monks could get through a service at dawn after the night before mystified him anyway–had they not also missed vespers and compline the night before?) and his luggage stacked neatly in a corner. He took a while to unpack, dress himself in new clothes, but the dream continued to haunt him–he felt…dirty, really. Sinful. He shouldn’t have given into such excess, it was uncharacteristic of him, and brought back rather awful memories that were best left in the dust of the past…
What sorts of horrors lurk in the monastery for our priest to discover? Find out in a week, or help keep my writing going, and support me on Patreon!