It took me until I was three years old to find out I was different.
I mean, a lot of kids are different. Some parents say their toddlers are geniuses that will be joining groups like Mensa, or musical protégés whose fingers will lead them down the path of being the next Beethoven.
These kids usually illustrate their talents fairly early on life through school or some weird happenstance. Regardless of how it comes about, it’s a fantastic part of their personality, the kind that parents like to brag on and on about.
That’s the good kind of different.
There’s a lot of bad kinds too, I guess. There’s the 'he’s not good with his words' kind of different, or the socially anxious, autistic, and ADHD kinds of different. There’s even the whole, 'I probably shouldn’t have slept with my brother because now my son looks like a koala' different—personally, that’s my favourite.
These signs—well, especially the whole koala kid thing—are also caught early on. Oddly enough, they’re bragged about at parties just as often as the good kind; nothing screams P.T.A. mom like a woman hosting a Tupperware party who can’t stop blabbing about their kid with Downs. The only thing that could make them sound like a better parent—more successful, envied and worshipped, of course—would be if the Downs kid could also play like Beethoven.
Thankfully, I never had to worry about impressing those kind of moms, or even moms in general. The priests that took me in may have liked children just as much, but there wasn’t any 'my kid’s worse off than yours' competition going on there.
There never could be.
It had been years since dropping babies off at monasteries was considered appropriate. For the most part, child services were called, and, for better or worse, the kid was shipped off to some foster home. Whether or not the kid grew up properly was neither here nor there.
A question I had found was common for people who were new to Sacred Meadows—not that that was very often—was why the monastery had even bothered. There was already a system in place, after all; why go through the hassle of raising a baby when you’re clearly not equipped to deal with it?
The question only become more absurd as the years went by.
I was seven when I asked it myself. Something along the lines of, 'Why don’t I just go to another home with other kids?'
Father Boniface—only in his forties at the time—had nearly choked on his blessed bread. Of course he did. Who could blame him? I wasn’t like other kids, after all, though seven-year-old me had only begun to suspect it.
“Because,” he had answered, his words measured, “God feels that your place is here.”
What Father Boniface didn’t say—what no one at Sacred Meadows ever said—was that the day I was dropped off, naked, covered in blood, and in the snow, was the day that the priests stopped having to pay for pest control.
Monasteries were generally in some old building—usually a castle-like thing. I'm sure it's not that difficult to envision; huge, stone walls cracked with age with deathly dark corners lit only by the candles lit by the Brothers. Given the nature of the building, mice and other undesirables could gain access a little more easily than your run-of-the mill house. Some droppings and the odd dead rat, mouse, and fly was nothing to bat an eye at—please excuse the pun—and certainly nothing to be concerned about.
It only became concerning when the droppings stopped.
The morning I had been brought into the monastery, Father Boniface thought I was some miracle child sent from God to keep their home free of any pests, leaving them to worship and study in peace.
By dinner time, I think he probably changed his mind.
Petite, even for a three-year-old, my feet stuck out when I sat on the bench to eat my first bland meal of many with the priests. If the brothers were shocked by some raw-faced toddler—well, you can’t let a kid have dinner when they’re caked in blood, can you?—they didn’t say anything.
Instead, everyone made the sign of the cross wordlessly as Father Gregory lead them in a grace-before-meal sort of prayer. I didn’t know the words then, though I mumble along with them now.
Bless us, oh Lord
For these, Thy gifts
Which we are about to receive
From Thy bounty,
Through Christ, our Lord.
Well, there certainly was a bountiful amount of spiders.
Just as everyone had finished with the sign of the cross, hundreds of them dropped from the ceiling. Ordinarily, spiders weren’t a huge deal to priests—every life is from God, and whatnot—but the sheer volume of all shapes and sizes that fell down into their food was horrifying.
It wasn’t just spiders, either. In the mix were a bunch of flies, silverfish, mosquitoes, and precisely sixteen mice and five pigeons.
All dead, all raining down from the cathedral ceiling.
There were quite a few screams—some more manly than others—as people dodged the heavy stuff as best they could while scraping the other stuff from their hair and clothes.
All in all, quite the show.
As the dead pests began to peter-off—just the odd centipede here and there—Father Gregory silenced everyone. “Please, please, calm down,” he said in his old, I-could-keel-over-at-any-time-but-I’m-actually-living-out-of-spite voice.
“It must be a sign from God!” one of the other priests whimpered. At the time, his shiny bald head completely distracted me from his words.
Another one nodded in agreement, his corpulent cheeks hypnotically jiggling. “It must have been poisoned,” he suggested, flicking another dead spider off his wrist. “The Lord wouldn’t want us to eat tainted food!”
“That’s not it! He’s angry!”
“You must have done something—”
“Me?! The speck in my eye is nothing compared to the log in yours!”
“Silence!” Father Gregory snapped, his voice booming over everyone else’s. It was enough to make anyone shit their pants, and as a toddler, I’m pretty sure I did. The brothers’ murmuring died down as they drew their attention to their leader.
I took the opportunity to pluck a really sad looking daddy-long-legs from the edge of the table, and—as you do—popped it into my mouth. As I chewed it, I looked around and did the same with a millipede.
Most of the priests paid my actions no mind—after all, I was just a wee tot—attributing it all to kids being kids. But quite a few of the looked at me nervously.
Father Boniface squeaked in reply. “Y-Yes?”
“Would you mind terribly explaining why this young child is here?” Father Gregory asked, his long, grey eyebrow cocked. How he had gone that whole time without noticing me was a mystery.
Father Boniface cleared his throat and stared at me, though at the time, I was too busy stuffing my face with more handfuls of delicious spiders to notice. Why waste a perfectly good meal, after all?
“He… He was dropped off to us this morning.”
Quite a few eyes were on me now, their lips quivering, legs ready to run.
“Yes, Father. I believe he was surrendered to us from one of the neighbouring farm houses down at Englee,” he replied honestly, getting to his feet.
“Tell me, Father Boniface. Is it normally within our nature to allow young children into our monastery? I was under the impression we were here as men to study and learn the ways of God, not run a crèche.”
Father Boniface placed his hands on my tiny shoulders. “The boy looked like he had been through a lot,” he explained, nodding. “There weren’t any open cuts on him, but he was covered in blood, just here with a note.”
“Blood?” whispered one of the other brothers. “You mean he killed someone?”
After that, it was safe to say that all hell broke loose. People slammed into one another, trying to escape the large dining hall, screaming a whole slew of profanities that I had yet to grasp a hold on yet. I heard my very first F-Bomb that day, though it would be the first of many from the lips of men sworn to be pious.
Fathers Gregory and Boniface were the only two that remained calm throughout the whole scene. As everyone darted out into the halls to get away, the three of us were left in silence.
“This is clearly a sign of God, yes, but one that indicates that the Devil is still alive and well, ready to make fools of our belief. You will deliver him to the Leighton-Bayley orphanage tomorrow morning. Do I make myself clear?” Father Gregory asked, sounding far more irritated than scared.
Father Boniface, non-confrontational as always, bowed his head to his superior. “Yes, Father.” Then, offering out a hand, he turned to me. “Come child, let’s get you to bed.”
Gently, he took my hand and helped me down from the bench. My bare feet padded along the stone floor as we walked past Father Gregory. The older man’s eyes were like charcoal, burning into me as we got closer to him. I don’t remember what had sparked the reaction in me at the time, but as soon as we were within a foot of him, I started screaming.
Nothing Father Boniface could do would console me, and I was no doubt a red-faced, snot-nosed brat with nothing but what seemed like teething pain.
“On second thought,” Father Gregory interrupted, cutting in between us, “I think I’ll mind him for tonight. You need to rest up for tomorrow if you’re leading the congregation in prayer, and I hardly think a screaming child would do you any good.”
“Oh,” an innocent Father Boniface replied dropping his grip on my hand. It was replaced with Father Gregory’s, which was only received with more intense screaming. “Thank you. I’ll make sure to return him to the town after breakfast.”
“Yes, please do.” With that, Father Gregory swept me up into his arms and strut out of the room, leaving Father Boniface alone with the spiders.
“Hungry,” I had said, pausing my screams briefly, reaching a cherubic hand toward the table as it got further and further away. “Hungry!”
Father Gregory’s feet barely made a sound on the floors; he seemed to glide his way back to his suite, not speaking to anyone that passed us in the hall.
“Don’t worry, child,” he whispered softly in my ear. He dropped me down onto the bed and allowed me a few bounces before he swung his legs atop me. “I’ll give you something to eat.”
He was dead the next morning.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Father Gregory had silently slipped from his bed and tore all of the sheets from it. He had twisted the cotton materials tightly, forming a makeshift rope, and fashioned it into the saddest—yet no less effective—noose anyone would ever see.
I don’t remember much from that night—even to this day—but what I do recall is feeling a pleasant sense of satisfaction as he stepped down from the bed. There was no resounding crack of anything breaking as he let the noose do its job; he hung there, twitching wildly as the breath was slowly stolen from his crushed throat, only able to gasp for help that would never come.
Father Gregory’s brutal death left a lot of questions.
Like why would such a devoutly religious man commit suicide when it was clear as day that it was a sin? Had something provoked him, something evil? And why was there a bruised, naked child in his bare bed?
Despite Father Boniface trying to keep the situation under wraps, gossip spread like wildfire. Suddenly, the events lined up easily in front of all their eyes.
Weird, naked kid arrives one morning at their monastery.
Weird, clothed kid ruins dinner and sprinkles dead things everywhere like glitter, and Father Gregory is angry.
Father Gregory commits suicide, and weird kid is naked again.
“Calm down,” Father Boniface insisted, pushing me behind him. Not for the first time that week, a few brothers had visited him, telling him how I was haunting their dreams, suggesting the various ways to deal with me. “All of this is probably some strange coincidence. Father Gregory wouldn’t want us to turn to such violence just because—”
“But Father Gregory is dead!” Father Slan insisted, gritting his teeth. “If it had been you who was stuck with that thing, he would have wanted it taken care of right away!”
I gripped Father Boniface’s habit, a little unnerved and confused by the reaction of the men. After all, I was still young and innocent way back then.
Father Boniface placed a hand gently on the top of my head. “He’s just a child. If anyone is so bothered by the fact that he’s staying here, they can pray to God and ask for the correct answer themselves. I truly believe God wants this child to stay where we can help him.”
Father Slan stared at him, his eyes bulging from his scrawny face. “So you mean to tell me,” he began incredulously, shaking his head, “That you realize full well what this thing is, yet you still intend on keeping it?”
“God only gives us what we can handle. If this demon thought it would be easy to pull apart this brotherhood with a child, he’s wrong. We’ll save this child and keep the public safe, all while doing God’s work.”
“Have a pleasant night, Father Slan, Father Gabriel.”
God certainly does work in mysterious ways.