There were screams. A frightening din unlike anything he’d ever heard.
He lay on the altar.
The Elder, a priest, an old priest, an old man, the red and gold of his robes familiar and strange, stood over him.
Another dream, yes, the young priest turning to push his face into the pillow, the sheets clenched in his fists, the sunlight of a Paris day blocked by the heavy curtains, his desperation for rest, for escape, having chased him from the dark of night into the light of day as he fought for sleep.
The Darkness was here. In the dream. The Darkness was coming near. In the dream. The Darkness would rob him of his humanity. Would make him a monster. One trapped by time. Like a mist, a fog, it was, the Darkness. A black cloud sprouting fingers and toes and teeth, it slid along the blood-drenched floor of the altar, the crowd bellowing for his death below, their appetite endless.
In the wine was salvation. The wine the Elder, this skeletal man with the dead eyes who loomed over him, was holding, was offering. In the wine was the poison that would offer relief.
The warmth was around him now, in the dream. The steamy heat of the Darkness. The priest, in the here and now of Paris, trapped in sleep sitting up in his bed, falling from the mattress to the floor, dragging the sheets behind him as he crawled to escape. The Darkness in the dream wound ’round his ankles, his calves blushing red, the sickening steam slithering up his legs to his torso, this ancient evil drawn back like a snake, ready to strike and force its way down his screaming throat.
And that’s how he was discovered, this young priest, his neighbors breaking down the door to find him asleep and screaming at the window, his face pressed against the glass, the sheets wound ’round his legs.
“You need to rest,” the neighbor, an older woman with a kind face, had insisted as he sat later, sipping water and ignoring the remnants of this new nightmare still echoing in his mind.
“Take a vacation,” the second neighbor, a younger man, fashionable, handsome, professionally patient, had urged in accented English, his strong hand resting on his arm. “You will be no good to anyone if you do not have the sleep, no?”
He shook his head. No, no vacation. He needed to be at the church. Needed to be there when the stranger would return. He needed …
He didn’t know what he needed. Answers, probably. Answers he may never get.
And he needed sleep. Yes. Sleep without dreams.
No, he assured them, a smile on his face as he politely ushered them to the door. He was fine. It was stress. Lack of sleep. He was fine, he then said again, closing the door and clicking the lock.
The bed waited, calling his exhaustion, the dreams waiting.
He ignored it, his body stretched on the floor, no pillow, the sheets left by the window.
The stranger would come, he told himself, a tumble of images rumbling near as the Darkness pulled him back to the world of altars and priests and a screaming that felt as if it would never stop.
He would come.
(excerpt from the upcoming Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche)