Friar Jair looked about him, fear mounting steadily as he tried to pierce the darkness. His efforts were fruitless. A pale light glistened in the corner, but it appeared eerie to him. Somehow he knew, though he did not know how he knew for there were no signs or figures, that this light was the path to Death; that the illumination would lead him to the afterlife of which he had no knowledge. It frightened him, as it always did, for Death to him always appeared as a hunched figure with a cynical air, face concealed beneath a dark hood. Though only thick darkness swirled behind him, he began to retreat, terrified of what moving forward would mean. No, he couldn’t do it! No!
Suddenly, a light appeared, but this wasn’t the pale, mystical glow of Death. It was different. It flicked lazily, casting his surroundings in a golden haze. Jair moved towards it, though how he did so he did not know, for he had no legs, no way of pushing himself along. Yet forward he went, squinting into the light to determine what was causing it. Everything was still dark but he was aware. He had control of his senses: he was seeing the firelight, hearing the soft crackle of a tiny flame, feeling the cold air of an unheated room. It was like awaking from a vivid dream and having to reorient yourself to your surroundings.
He gazed around, realizing that he was surrounded by lit candles. The fires were steady on their wicks, as if in reverent solemnity. They cast a low glow about the room, making it easier for him to determine where he was. The floor was made of sturdy stone, the walls tall and sheltering, holding up the high-arched ceiling. The windows were shattered, layering the floor with shards of coloured art. The thin eastern light that shone in through the jagged glass that still remained was stained red, blue, purple, and gold. All around him stood wooden benches, all facing in the same direction, lined up to accommodate hundreds of people. And over there before him stood an altar, the white cloth stained red by the wine spilt from the silver chalice. The Church, Jair realized with a start; he was back in God’s house.
Dark figures littered the ground, yet they were not moving. Frowning, he moved toward a young man propped against a stone pillar. As he inspected the face of the man, he was filled with a terrible fear and a cold dread. Eyes open, tongue poking out of a slack jaw, this was a pale, cold corpse. There was no fire burning that vessel into life. Jair looked around, noting that each one had been sacrificed. Each and every one was dead, slashed or beaten or shot with a dark-feathered arrow. There were so many! Families had collapsed over pews, newcomers lay on the ground, and a few were stretched out across the steps of the altar, hands before them as if they had been pleading with the Lord for protection, for salvation.
He began to pant, terribly afraid, and though he had no heart he could feel the anxiety pulsing within him. Memories came back to him, of corruption and double-crossers, of greed and deceit. He remembered city men dressed for battle, galloping in atop stout war horses. Their swords rang through the air, their arrows whistled in through the windows. They didn’t care who met their weapons; they were a vicious force leaving destruction behind them. They had been brought to this small town on a witch hunt, and a witch they would get. If they had to burn an entire town to get to the devious being, so be it.
And he had seen it, had watched by. He, the witch the King’s guard had spent such a force searching for, had gotten out unscathed because he had huddled in a corner. Men, women, children, all innocent, all murdered because he had chosen to hide rather than confront the enemy. What sort of holy man did that make him? Oh, if he could go back and right his wrongs! He had preached before the townsfolk, had gotten fat from the wine and bread, yet he had failed to follow in his Savior’s footsteps. Shame coursed through him as his eyes fell upon the image of his Lord, Jesus Christ, hanging upon the crucifix. It was still upright where it always stood.
Dejected and ashamed of himself, Jair moved to sit on one of the pews. Yet no sooner had he placed his buttocks on the wood than he jumped up, startled. For he had not sat on the pew but sat through it! He inspected himself, shocked to find that he was translucent, a silvery essence reflecting his mortal image. He was, Jair concluded, without his material body and simply a visual soul allowed to walk upon the earth. It would seem the pillagers did not leave him unharmed. And for whatever reason, the Lord had allowed him to return to earth, to stay amongst the living.
He was not proud of the craven life he had lived. If you could even call it living, for a coward spends his time hidden in his room, avoiding any and all struggles. He had forsaken Paradise; he had not gone on to meet his Creator. Instead, he had been granted a second chance, a new start. Puffing out his chest, he vowed to be a coward no longer. This time he would see justice done; this time, he would make sure to spread the Lord’s message of mercy and love. Damn the perpetrators! Damn the murderers and rapists and all else who sought to bring misery and agony to the people of God! For 26 years he had dressed as a servant of God and done nothing. Well, now he had a second start at life.
As he glided through the thick wooden doors of the Church, he vowed to be a coward no longer.