Part 1: The Visit to the Countryside
It was one of those hinterlands winters: cold, but not excessively so, such that one would be jolted into action by the frigid wind or biting hail. Enervating, moist, and altogether uncomfortable. It was the type of winter that left men lethargic, that let their red blood curdle, slow and stop, that made their balls shrivel up into their stomachs as their sex drives and passions would simmer and die into stagnant introspection. Winter in the hinterlands was short, but just long enough to force the populace indoors for the night and quell the people’s incessant saturnaliania; paper mache lost its novelty when soaked by puddles of slush and subsequently frozen by icy gusts. It was a time where the seas around St. Louis would almost nearly freeze, and drifts of salt and snow would blow over the water and enshroud the horizon so completely that even the algae panners, the ever-industrious energy mongers and mongrels of dago town, would be forced inland and too would retreat in doors to let their balls shrivel up into their stomachs. The people would dream of vacationing in the Antarctic rainforests, but they did not have the money to afford the city rail cars, much less nuclear boats.
But the Deacon Paine did not have red blood to curdle nor balls to shrivel; rather, his blue, copper-based blood flowed with renewed gusto and power through his veins as the winter wind nibbled at his pale white skin and dried up the moisture around his obsidian black corneas. The pain reminded him of the cost of freedom, it brought him closer to the sacrifice of the General Father Washington, the pain of the martyr Yankee Doodle, the passion of the Holy Pontificator Thomas Paine, and of course, the bliss that was the divine Lady Liberty herself, the mistress-shepherd of freedom and rugged individualism. It brought him closer to his gods, the founding fathers of the Confederacy of Usono.
With his Constitution firmly in hand, the deacon marched proudly through the hinterlands, wading through slushy bogs and snow-covered fields to get to a tiny, inconsequential town in the middle of no where, where he had an appointment. He was a mouthpiece for the General Father Washington, one of the rare few in Usono who could hear the General Father’s voice and could interpret their archaic texts and bring that wisdom to the people. It was for this reason, precisely, that he was wandering through the cold hinterlands. He had an appointment with several other Methuselahs who were visiting the tiny inconsequential town to conduct a goodwill tour and charity mission; as a ranking member of the Missouri clergy, he saw the trip as a perfect excuse to do good for the people of Usono, as was his duty, and more importantly, to spread and clarify the teachings of the General Father. The others whom he would be meeting there came to lecture the children about the Rompopolis, the bastion of freedom that remained one of the only cities in Usono to still be governed by syndicates and businessmen, not government; in this way, it was truly free, with no regulation, no condescending, father-knows-best legislation, and best of all, complete and unbounded opportunity. Success and riches were ripe for the picking, and even hinterlands runts had the power to grasp at it, if only futilely.
They, the Methuselahs he would be meeting up with, were all female. There was nothing special about female Methuselahs, despite the prevailing “hinterlands wisdom” that only men could be of the holy, blue bloodline of the General Father himself, whose sapphire seed has perpetuated for generations. Female Methuselahs were simply less common; however, they were no less or more poorly regarded than their male counterparts, could freely congregate amongst themselves, and even had a degree of political power if their mates allowed. For the most part, however, their duty was that of slothful housewives, relishing in their cooking and housekeeping skills, shunning power and intelligence (for such was the realm of the males) and keeping to more pleasant occupations like eating and stimulating their sexual organs and taking walks in the countryside.
The female Methuselahs the deacon met would often lament his being a eunuch, but the deacon would always make clear, in a very forced and high-minded way, that his only love could be for the Lady Liberty herself, and that he was capable of loving no other; this was his duty, this was in his genes. On the other hand, he had often caught neophyte zealots, uncut and extreme in their passions and their ignorance, masturbating to the alter of the Lady Liberty, whose breasts were small and bare and who would often be the subject of much ridicule to the heretic masses of red-bloods who visited the deacon’s chapel to use the restroom and drink from the communal wine vat. The neophytes, in their depraved ecstasy, would call it holy rapture, a pure bliss of communion; the deacon viewed it more as an act of vulgar, misdirected passion from ignorant youths badly in need of a purge. Just then, in the slush-rain, he thought to himself, “Members of our order must be cut from birth; otherwise how can we stem, how can be quell the passions that inevitably surface in our youthful neophytes? I must bring this up with the clergy.”
Soon, however, the deacon’s attention was drawn to a dilapidated building with holes in the roof and massive cracks in the wall. He had only been walking for half a day, and, for the past three hours, he had been wandering rather aimlessly, in deep thought.
“Shameless fool,” he chastised himself.
He peered into to dank, narrow atrium of the closest building. At the center, illuminated with the sun that seeped through the shattered ceiling, he saw the keys of a player piano vacillate upwards and downwards with the pitch of a sad, slow melody, a melody that made the cold blue blood running through his veins warm and churn and almost turn crimson, the color of humanity and feeling… but alas, humanity was against his nature, his design. He tempered his beating half-heart to its level baseline, not allowing the sounds to force up any unnecessary emotions within him that would force him to reconcile with, perhaps even defy his genetic nature.
He could not purge then, he was far from the city and all its facilities, its services and servants that would attend to every need and quell every excess; so, he thought a rational thought to himself, “Such a sad, pretty picture for such a horrid, dead world.”
His thoughts were simple then, streamlined, like those of a robot.
But only for a moment, for he was on a schedule. Despondently, he walked quietly past the still-playing piano until the sounds faded and he could hear the music no more.
And then he hit himself forcefully on the head with his palm and exclaimed, “Shameless fool!” for though he had not realized it before, he had indeed reached the tiny, inconsequential town where he was to have his rendezvous.
In front of him, he saw two Methuselahs, both from the St. Louis Wive’s Society, who were already giving a lesson in the town center to any children and impressionable youths within earshot.
Another had taken a group of teenagers to the side, and was moving her mouth around in a contorted and exaggerated fashion. As the deacon approached the group, he heard the woman mouthing out, in between spasms of her lips, something along the lines of: “This how you pronounce such-and such word, with this twisting of the tongue and this curling of the lips and this guttural, primal clicking and hocking. This is the language of Usono, not your tribal, brutal banter and sign language and cuneiform, so learn it well and talk well and you will no longer look like a bunch of fruit-eating simians to the businessmen who you will need to impress when you get jobs.” The whole tirade was given with such sincerity, such pureness of spirit that the deacon decided that she had not intended to be sarcastic or even caustic, and that she truly believed in the goodness and necessity of what she was teaching those children. Because of that, he did not reproach her, nor did he attempt to subtly tell her that she should avoid insulting the vernacular of the townsfolk, lest some particularly brutish man, with aping fists and a gorilla’s temple, attack them; he simply let her and her “class” be, though it pained him to listen to how she underestimated and downplayed the intelligence of the village folk.
He called out to of the other women, who were in the middle of teaching any townspeople who would care to listen, about the Rompopolis.
“I apologize for my lateness!” he shouted, but the Methuselahs were too absorbed in their lecture to notice the deacon.
He decided to listen in on the lesson until they were finished, and caught the taller of two extolling the virtues of city life away from the hinterlands. “There is opportunity in the city! There are jobs, there are homes, there is comfort. Most importantly, there is freedom. That is the way things are away from these parts, you must understand, everything you could ever want is possible, because this is a free country! There are many possible paths for you to follow… for example, on the one hand you could choose to be a lawyer, or on the other hand, you could perhaps enlist to become a justiciar…”
Most of the time, Methuselahs who came to teach hinterlands peasants would do only that: teach. Beyond that, they were giving too much, spoon-feeding and undermining the freedom of a free and happy people. They would give enough to allow the children to recognize and take hold of opportunities (or at least make the attempt). But the children would never be given happiness. That was fringing upon anarchy. That was not the Usonian way.
The deacon continued to nod his head in approval to what the Methuselahs were espousing. Finally, the lesson came to an end, and rather than shouting again, the deacon approached the two teachers surreptitiously, and in a spirit of good humor, gently slapped them both on backs so as to scare them.
The taller one, the one who had been talking about the “many possible paths”, gave a subdued “Yelp!”, while the other simply turned around and gave a look of loathing, or perhaps something more tame, like discomfort.
“I apologize,” the deacon smiled wryly, but wryly in a pure, childish way, such that his intent in always making others happy before himself was made known and all wrongdoing or doubt of character were washing away by the smile’s pureness. “I tried to call out earlier, but you were giving such an enrapturing speech that I simply did not want to interrupt and instead hid in the crowd.”
The deacon’s frankness softened the Methuselahs’ expressions a bit, and so did his youthful demeanor and pleasant face. Deacon Paine was quite young for a methuselah, having only been born 200 odd years before, and so though he had seen the birth of the Confederacy of Usono and several other major historical events, he was still considered, by Methuselah standards, a “young man”. This youthful physiognomy was made even more acute with the knowledge that the Deacon had never once succumbed to the life hunger. His two hearts were in pristine condition, and so were his lungs, his stomach, his kidneys, and so on. In fact, he was the picture of health, as they say.
“Why deacon!” the taller one spoke first. “You’re finally here! I was worried you would get delayed by the snow, but it seems you made it here in spite of the bad weather. Don’t tell me, did you walk here? Through the blizzard?” she asked with genuine surprise.
“It’s too much to call that hailstorm a blizzard. I would never let a trifling dusting of slush get in between my congregation and I,” the deacon replied demurely.
“But your congregation is in St. Louis!” the shorter one, who had simply been nodding mutely in affirmation the whole time, burst out.
As if expecting, or rather eagerly anticipating this response, the deacon proudly proclaimed, with again that pureness of intent, “My congregation is Usono, sister. It is my duty to bring to the people the word of General Father Washington, the warm embrace of Lady Liberty, no matter what borders or geography or walls people may put up to convince my order otherwise.”
“Sister?” the taller Methuselah butted in, with mock indignation. “Please, I am Aristocrat Jessamine, and our ‘sister’, here, she is Aristocrat Steiner,” she continued, gesturing towards the shorter Methuselah by her side, who was still quietly processing the deacon’s response to her initial question.
“Shameless fools,” the deacon muttered. Though he admired their desire to do good, he was constantly taken aback by his kind’s (the Methuselahs) own ignorance, selfishness, and depraved nature. “Aristocrats,” he muttered to himself again. Methuselahs were rational creatures, and base, human emotions were against their nature. Greed and power-lust, however, must transcend human nature and be present in all living creatures, even General Father Washington, for the Methuselahs were his progeny. Still, he shook his head and convinced himself, inwardly, to remain optimistic and to shun cynicism and prejudgment.
“Do you two know where the local clergy are? I believe I passed by the local church, but there was no one inside. I am here on official church business, as you know.”
“But of course!” Steiner, the shorter one, shouted, eager to shift the conversation away from topics related to that statement which still was giving her so much mental anguish. “There is a priest of Washington in this town, a white-eye. He was just listening intently to Jessamine’s lecture. I think he was heading back to the parish over there,” she pointed over towards the dilapidated building with the player piano.
“Thank you, Aristocrat Steiner.” The deacon forced out the last two words with great anguish, but remained calm and polite all the same. He bowed, with that same pureness of intent as before, and walked back towards the old parish.
Inside, the player piano was still playing, but now it was a happier, more frivolous tune that did not tug at his two hearts. Within, the white-eye priest was carefully skimming a manual of some sort, which was hand written and quiet worn; it was not faded or yellowed, and so must obviously have been a new book, or more likely, some personal notes of his.
“Is that player piano yours?” the deacon asked.
The priest started, and looked up from his book to the deacon with wide, glazed eyes. The deacon noted that the eyes were trustworthy, genuine, but like a dogs… without any strength of individual conviction. Rather, the priest must have lived on the conviction of others for his entire life, subsisting and deriving pleasure from following iconoclasts and nodding his head silently to established thinkers.
“Why no, it is the town’s piano,” the priest finally replied, after much hesitation.
“It was playing a very beautiful tune earlier,” the deacon casually remarked.
The priest’s brow suddenly wrinkled, and his eyes widened, revealing red veins, once hidden underneath his lids. His mouth fell slightly agape. The deacon immediately regretted having commented on the tune, and blurted out something to rectify his misstep.
“…Or, at least, that is what one of the children said as I was passing by. I would not know. Forgive me, I was merely making small talk,” the deacon said.
The priest’s expression noticeable relaxed, and he even sat down. The priest continued. “The piano has been with this town since the days of my predecessor. He was a Methuselah, as you are, sir. Back in those days, things were so much easier. As a Methuselah, he would not have to consult holy treatises and monthly interpretations to give his sermons. As a man of red blood, I cannot interpret the constitution, nor can I hear the soft whispers of the General Father,” he reminisced.
“I am sure you do just fine, priest…”
“Tubby Priest, sir,” the priest interjected, anticipating the deacon’s question.
“A good, wholesome name,” the deacon commented and smiled purely, which relaxed the priest’s behavior considerably. He laid back into the seat back of his chair and let his hands rest on his belly.
“A wholesome name,” the deacon muttered. “Not like ‘aristocrat’, or ‘Jessamine.’”
“What was that?” the priest asked.
“Oh nothing,” said the deacon. After waiting through a few seconds of mutual silence, the deacon extended his hand to the seated priest, and introduced himself.
“I am Deacon Paine of St. Louis, good priest.”
Immediately the priest bolted out of his seat and rushed at the open hand, eager to ingratiate himself on a man whom he so conspicuously, ardently admired. “D-d-deacon Paine!” he stammered. “I have read all your treatises, your interpretations. I was greatly moved by your rejection of the Western Canon with regards to the role of Lady Liberty in the lives of lay folk. The notion that Lady Liberty is not omnipotent, not omniscient, but in fact just as much relies on our good deeds, our sacrifice, our faith as we do hers, it’s not only inspiring, it is revolutionary! Simple revolutionary! I cannot describe it any other way, oh, if only I could share with you the bliss I received upon reading your words. The people must have a responsibility, all of us, to do good, even without understanding the words of the Constitution. However I was quite miffed by your stipulation that, in fact, the Constitution was merely a vague set of guidelines, and that in fact the word of Washington is embedded in our collective natures, and that to simply do good and follow a good conscience is enough for salvation. Wouldn’t then any dumb heathen too stupid to commit evil, or any bandit who simply has never had a chance to steal, be saved if they died before they were to commit their evil? All the rest I loved ardently, but it was that one point that I was troubled by.”
Not at all put off by the priest’s vacillating dissention and praise, the deacon replied, “But if a bandit has never done wrong, how do you know if he is a bandit? If a depraved man is too stupid to do wrong, then what wrong is there in his being depraved? He has a bad thought, perhaps wants to hit this one person or lash out at this other, but does not because he does not know how. Isn’t then that person as a baby, and then would it then not be our duty to coach and help that child so long as he or she remained in a child like state? Yes, I think it would be better to treat our fellows as if we only saw the good, even if the good was not conspicuous, and that we should see no bad in anyone but ourselves, for it is only in ourselves that, if the evil is not conspicuous, we can truly see inward evil,” the deacon concluded.
The priest, taken aback by the deacon’s whole-hearted and full reply, gushed out with praise even more, and would have complete taken up the entire duration of the deacon’s visit had not the deacon seen a young man waiting by the doorway, looking inquisitively, almost longingly at the two men.
“What is it, young man?” the deacon called out in the middle of the priest’s extolling.
“You are the Deacon?” the young man asked.
“I have questions for you. So many questions. I am sorry, but I cannot help but…” the boy broke off, and suddenly fell to weeping, which softened the expressions on the deacon’s and priest’s faces, and immediately the two went to go comfort the young man.
“These questions, they are… oh! Washington help me, I am depraved, I will go to the fiery pits of England when I die for sure now! These questions, they are making me doubt, they are making me into a depraved man, Washington help me,” he weeped.
The deacon motioned to the priest, who hurriedly left the parish, not wanting to get in the deacon’s way. It was for this young man, and all the other young men and women in the village like him, of course, that the deacon had come in the first place.
“Please sit,” the deacon spoke, drawing up the chair that Tubby Priest had been sitting in and setting it on one of the empty nave aisles. The young man, still sniffling from his outburst, looked at the chair meekly, then walked towards it and sat himself down.
“Now tell me what is wrong,” the deacon said in a soothing, understanding voice.
For a moment, the youth looked down at the ground and said nothing. Yet, eventually, he mustered up the confidence to speak his mind and asked, “Deacon, is it wrong for me to doubt the existence of the General Father?”
The deacon, noticeably taken aback by this question, began to reply, “In what way do you…”
“But of course it is! Of course it is depraved, and so I am depraved, for I doubt the existence of the General Father, and I cannot disperse that cancerous doubt from my mind,” the youth interrupted, beginning to weep again.
“Young man, what is your name,” the deacon asked, unfazed by this outburst.
Looking up meekly, the boy replied, “I am Blonde Tailor, Deacon.”
“Well, Blonde Tailor, to doubt the existence of the General Father is only natural. At many times, I too have doubted the existence of the General Father, have doubted the books I have read and the teachers who have taught me history and the scriptures that have taught me morality, but…”
“But you misunderstand,” the boy interrupted once again, his voice quivering with anxiety. “Deacon, I do not doubt the existence of the man George Washington. I am certain he existed, once.”
The deacon tilted his head with bewilderment. “Then why do experience doubt, if you are so sure?”
Blonde Tailor replied, “I am certain he was a man. I am not certain he is a god, Deacon. And that is the source of my depravity.”
“I do not understand. You believe he existed, yet do doubt his divinity?”
“Deacon, you are a blue blood. Have you ever heard the General Father’s voice? Please answer truthfully, I must know the truth.”
“I…” the deacon paused for a moment, and then looked up towards the crumbling parish ceiling.
“Deacon?” Tailor pressed.
“I have, in a way,” the deacon replied.
“In a way? Deacon, have you heard his voice, unequivocally, in you’re here, commanding you, giving to you the meaning of the Constitution?”
“I…” the deacon paused once more, then declared resolutely, “I have not.”
“Then in what way has the General Father communicate to you?”
The deacon replied quietly, almost as if he were afraid to speak, “I have had inklings.”
“Inklings!” Tailor exclaimed.
“From time to time,” the deacon continued.
“From time to time!” Tailor echoed once more with desperation.
“But they are strong, and they are undeniably His voice!”
“You yourself said you have merely heard inklings of a voice, and inklings are not voices, they are merely inklings. Please, Deacon, is there really hope for me, if even you cannot definitely help me comprehend how or in what state the General Father exists as he watches over Usono?”
“You must simply believe,” the deacon replied, this time with a forced appearance of pureness, almost a cop out.
“You tell a doubter to ignore? A heretic to believe? How can I? For I am depraved!”
“Stop saying that,” the deacon muttered.
“What?” Tailor asked, with shock.
“Stop always saying you are depraved! You are most certainly not depraved, and I am here to help you understand why you are not depraved, and why the General Father exists. Tell me, why do you doubt?” the deacon asked.
Tailor responded, “Oh, oh the many reasons, oh so many reasons I can barely tell you all now. But I will try, I will try. You must understand, I am not a hypocrite looking for reasons to doubt so I can wallow in the pride of being a doubter. I am genuinely aghast, confused, utterly unable to reconcile certain things. Firstly, if the General Father is omnipotent, why is there so much evil in the world? Why does my family suffer? Why do we starve and fall prey to beasts and catch diseases?”
“The General Father is omnipotent, and he has sent you misfortune to strengthen you.”
“Strengthen? How does giving our town’s children rattles and shivers from the cold, how does letting our babies suffocate on their own phlegm strengthen them? No, it kills them!”
“But those who survive are stronger,” the deacon replied shakily, almost unsure of his own words.
“And those that doubt? Were they deprave? Were they evil? Are children capable of such evil that they deserve death before they can stand?”
“And yet the General Father lets them die? He let’s his children fall prey to evil?”
“No, such is the work of England.”
“And the General Father cannot control England, though he is all powerful?”
“No, he can control England, but chooses not to.”
“So he is all powerful, and then he is also corrupted himself, and enjoys our suffering?”
“No! Certainly not. The General Father does not see it as his place to be a dictator in Elysium, just as he was not a dictator on Earth.”
“So then he is not all good, if he lets evil run rampant?”
“No, he is all good. The evil are those who refuse to see his goodness, and see his inaction as evil. His goals are to spread freedom and the word of the Constitution, nothing more. The General Father is incapable of evil. ”
At this, the deacon was a loss for words, so Tailor pressed on.
“And if he is all powerful then and wishes the word of the Constitution to spread why does he not simply command the heathens and pagans to follow his word? For that is certainly within his abilities, is it not?”
“And so why does he let the heretics and pagans remain ignorant when he could simply set them all straight with a flick of his fingers?”
“It is not the General Father’s place to determine who shall believe and who shall not.”
“And so he will let the religions fight and kill each other simply because, once again, He does not believe it to be his duty to do good?”
“He does not need to ‘do good’, to do good is in his nature, his very existence, and nothing more is required.”
“Then how do we even know if He is truly the General Father? Could I not be a pagan just as easily as the pagans are pagans and the heretics are heretics simply because the General Father does not wish to clarify to his people and children that he exists?”
“What is the harm in believing? Why trouble yourself with such questions, young man?”
“What is… the harm… the harm is war! Death! Destruction! Disease! We fight the heretics, the anarchists, the pagans, we give up our lives, our souls for our General Father, and yet we receive nothing! Nothing but vague platitudes and pithy moral statements. This is my depravity: if there were no General Father, there would be kindness, there would be happiness, there would be peace for pagans as heretics are too capable of kindness and happiness and peace. But there would be no more wars based on ludicrous differences of who killed such and such and who rose from the dead on such and such day and whether or not we eat our toast with butter or jam or whether we read books up and down or left to right. What is the harm in believing? I say, everything is the harm, and without belief, the world would be better! And that is why I weep, for I know these thoughts to be deprave and heretical, and yet I cannot reconcile them with what I know to be right.”
“Young man, just know that all believers, even I, have had these very same thoughts… I understand, just know that I understand…”
“Understand? What could you possibly understand?” Tailor blurted out, his despair turning to rage.
“Your doubt is not unique to you, nor is it unfounded, but know that others have also walked this path and…”
“You are a blue blood, a damned blue blood. You have heard the General Father’s words from birth, you have lived in sapphire towers at the top of the world with servants and private baths and fancy machines… have you ever tasted the dirt? The dirt of the hinterlands, so bitter, so acrid that it makes your face curl up and wither, yet you cannot avoid it as it seeps into your water, your food, your babies and mothers and sisters and friends, the all consuming waste of it all! What would you understand? Have you ever listened to the silence, the overwhelming silence of poverty, of empty prayer? I pray and prostrate and disembowel myself before Lady Liberty, yet our sisters and brothers die of sickness and starvation all the same, we are rounded up by mercenaries and sent into wars with our friends over petty, ideological differences that mean nothing to us, and you people ask us to pray and believe and wait! I will die before I have children, I know this, that I will die because of the necrosludge and the kiss of the sun… but you? You, you hypocrite! You will live an easy life for hundreds of years, walking through gardens as we lay the cobble and dirt beneath your feet, sipping on liquors as we pour the glasses and toil in mines for your diamond glasses, and you tell me to believe? That you understand? This doubt it not mine, it is the doubt of my family, my town, of all in Usono who have not led the life of a blue blood!” Tailor spat out, spraying spittle everywhere as his lips quivered with impotent fury. Then, all his rage seemed to fizzle out like air and he once again began to sob and cry uncontrollably.
Deacon was at a loss for words. He did not know how to question this tumultuous youth, yet also, he himself was using every ounce of his mental stamina to suppress his own doubts, to reconcile his own dissatisfaction. His lips moved to form words, but none came out. He could barely look the young man in the eye, for he knew that the longer he remained silent, the longer he would be conceding that the youth’s doubt was in fact founded, and that the deacon himself surreptitiously shared that doubt. Then, with not a modicum of the confidence and purity of purpose and motive from earlier, he muttered softly, almost to himself, “You must believe, that is all, believe.”
The deacon hurriedly scampered out the parish doors in extreme mental anguish, leaving Blonde Tailor in his chair, his mouth agape with confusion.
Outside, the deacon, who was disoriented, his mind filled with a cancerous doubt that he could not dispel, walked nervously towards the center of town, towards a bench. He sat down, took a deep breath, and looked up at the now clear, purple, dimming sky.
“Father Washington, please, speak to me. Help me. Help me help this youth. Dispel the doubt, I beseech you,” he whispered, closing his eyes.
And he heard nothing.
Just then, he heard a bell ringing from the town schoolhouse, a severely damaged building with not a single window, not a single complete wall, not a single working door. The Methuselahs from the St. Louis Wive’s Society were gathering the villagers for an evening address, no doubt. The deacon approached the growing crowd.
Aristocrat Jessamine began, “Townspeople of Clay, we hope we have provided you all with sufficient means of self-betterment. They say that food is costly in the hinterlands, but wisdom is priceless.”
Aristocrat Steiner and several of her cohorts nodded demurely, with pursed smiles, at Jessamine’s pithy display profound intelligence and experience. Some of then even offered limp, airy claps of approval for their “sister”. The deacon, on the other hand, clenched his fists till his pale knuckles turned bone white and his nails dug into his palms, drawing blue blood. He felt a visceral, unfamiliar feeling welling up from deep underneath his stomach, causing his hearts to beat faster and his brow to wrinkle. Perhaps this was disgust, or perhaps anger, he did not know. Regardless, he quickly muttered a hymnal to himself and quelled the unfamiliar, unwanted feeling.
“I must purge, or these hypocrites will get the better of me” he thought to himself.
He saw, in the back of the crowd, the young Blonde Tailor, his eyes still puffy from weeping, listening to the Methuselahs intently. Suddenly, Aristocrat Steiner caught sight of the deacon and motioned for him to come towards her, slapping her fat, swollen fingers back and forth through the air to mimic motion. The deacon obliged and approached the women.
“Deacon,” she whispered, “You really must deliver a sermon! Once Jessamine and Candy are done, I think you had better follow. There would be no better way to conclude the day, I believe, than a few words about the virtue of personal responsibility, of the price of freedom, perhaps, and duty. I think that would be very appropriate given today’s lectures.”
The deacon, however, was preoccupied with something far more intriguing, to listen to Steiner. He was watching the gaze of Jessamine, fixed firmly on the rosy-cheeked, sniffling Blonde Tailor. Another Methuselah was speaking now, yet Jessamine hardly blinked or turned her head, much less paid attention to the speaker. Her pupils, black and difficult to discern in the background her of her black corneas, widened to an enormous, unnatural size.
He saw it: the life hunger, in those depraved eyes. They were there to help those people, to indulge in the one remaining emotion they had left, self-righteousness. But it was there, that vulgar stare with an undeniable sexual aspect that would always make his stomach churn, that would throw his self-control out of balance and send shivers through his fists and his jaw. Resolutely, he walked past Steiner, who, herself, was so absorbed by her own talking that she barely noticed him leave. He approached Aristocrat Jessamine, and much to everyone’s surprise (the Methuselahs and the crowd), he placed a firm, almost furious hand, like a vice, on her shoulder, and squeezed down hard to the point of causing her pain. She almost yet out a yelp of discomfort, but she stifled it, and, surprised, she turned around to see who had grabbed her. Aristocrat Candy (as she was introduced by Steiner) was speaking, but could not help but allow her voice to falter and fizzle out as she caught a glimpse of the deacon arresting Jessamine with such force, such purpose, such gravity.
The deacon commanded: “No.”
Aristocrat Jessamine looked the deacon straight in the eyes. She twisted her ugly, pale lips into something resembling disgust, the disgust of a criminal plotting some evil, depraved deed, who thought that she was completely safe and that none suspected her depravity, and then was directly and unashamedly addressed and exposed as a deprave beast.
“No, what?” she asked, tongue dripping with scorn, with none of the forced optimism and bubbly jubilation of earlier.
“You can wait for the city,” the deacon growled through his clenched teeth. “There are organs enough for you there,” he barked, raising his voice so that the Methuselahs and crowd around them could no longer feign ignorance of the event that was unfolding before them.
“Are you sick? Are you ailing? Are your hearts failing?” he rattled off, his voice becoming quiet, but barely so, once more.
“I thought not. You have no need to satiate that thing, that monstrous sin you call a necessity. I will not have you fall into gluttony in the presence of people who we are here to aid and guide to the General Father’s light. I do not want to see you looking at that boy again.”
Silence, and shame. Then, something like defiance bubbled out, and Jessamine said loudly and proudly, “Mind your tone around your flock, deacon. The people are listening. How do you think the people would view a mere two-year century whelp like you lecturing a pillar of the St. Louis community?”
“I am the voice of God!” he barked with uncharacteristically unrestrained fury. However, he soon relented, and turned his back on the group.
“I look forward to hosting you for dinner tonight, deacon!” Jessamine yelled out with a sardonic, forced amicability. “We’re having lamb! You’re going to a need a place to sleep won’t you? Or do men of the Constitution not need to sleep?”
The deacon stormed off into the night, leaving the Methuselahs rattled and the crowd of people confused and curious.
The deacon was staying in a tiny hostel at the edge of town, near the parish. His own room was scantily furnished with a tiny tea table, a small cot, and a sink. A man of his rank would have been entitled to much more, at a better quality, but he had ardently requested that he receive no special treatment with regards to the the town amenities. Just as he was preparing to sleep, the groundskeeper came to knock on his door.
“Deacon Paine!” the groundskeeper called out from the hallway.
The deacon went to open the door, and addressed the groundskeeper, a stout, bearded man with a dark, ruddy complexion and a metal right arm. The deacon asked, “Good evening, am I wanted?”
“Indeed you are, good deacon. Aristocrat Jessamine has requested your presence
at dinner at her chateau not half a mile from town,” the groundkeeper replied, choking out the last few words with an exhaustion that indicated he had been attempting to keep every word and syllable in his memory since the time of his being ordered to deliver the message until the time of the message’s deliverance.
“Tell her I am tired,” the deacon replied dryly, rubbing his eyes together in a conspicuous display of fatigue. “Tell her that I wish to be alone so that I may pray.”
“Sir,” the groundskeeper muttered irresolutely, “I cannot do so.” He uttered this last phrase with a barely stifled quiver in his voice, a shudder in his jowls. His eyes were fixed firmly on the ground.
The deacon cocked his head, and asked, “Cannot do so? Or will not do so.”
Suddenly, the groundskeeper turned his head away from the ground and looked at the deacon directly; the deacon saw a flash of fear in the groundskeeper’s eyes, and he understood all.
“Very well,” the deacon said, smiling that pure smile once again, disarming the rattled groundskeeper. “I will go to the chateau. All I ask is that you keep the remainder of my payment for the tentative duration of my stay here at this inn that I will no longer be honoring. And please, if at all possible, might I be able to purchase a cane from you? I intend to walk to the chateau tonight, but you see, I’ve been walking all day already through the hinterlands and I don’t think I’ll be able to complete the journey without a walking stick of some sort.”
Jubilant, the groundskeeper bubbled out, “Of course good deacon! Of course! Whatever you wish, you may have the cane free of charge!” And before the deacon had a chance to protest the groundskeeper’s generosity, the groundskeeper was gone. In just a few minutes, the deacon heard footsteps on stairs and the clanking of a metal arm; the groundskeeper appeared once more, now with a delicately whittled, wooden cane with a curved handle: a humble design that no doubt would satisfy the deacon’s humble tastes.
The deacon accepted the cane gracefully, put on his clerical robes, and left the inn with haste.
Like many Methuselahs, Aristocrat Jessamine owned a pied-a-terre in the hinterlands around St. Louis where she and members of her society would stay during goodwill tours; the “chateau”, as it was so quaintly called by the townspeople, was actually quite an architecturally advanced building, as Deacon Paine soon discovered. Its exterior was littered with translucent viewing rooms that followed the many towers of the residence upwards high into the clouds. Around those viewing rooms, blue crystal seemed to spread and sprout from every corner and dark spot and bright spot and wall like a cancer, the avant-garde of Methuselah architecture. At the very center of the whole complex, a translucent, glass orb that he discerned to be a bedroom almost floated, propped up by several thin, sapphire rods. As the people of the hinterlands called it, it was the style of the “future people”, those who no longer lived in brick and mortar and wood. They could enjoy luxury of glass houses in a world where the mob new not to throw stones lest they be eaten alive and gassed.
“Detestable greed,” the deacon muttered as he approached the front gate of the “welcome gardens”, a complex in itself, designed to impress visitors with geometrically planned contortions of horticulture. The deacon stood in front of the gate, staring at the hovering eyes that blinked and stared all around him, looking for insecurities, flaws… and danger.
But they found none, and soon he heard the mule-like voice of Aristocrat Jessamine bellow out from the dark, gray sky, “I’m so glad you could make it, deacon. I hope we aren’t interrupting any fasting, or self-flagellation, or whatever it is you clergy do in the evening. Dinner is still warm. I’m sending out Petty Maidservant to guide you to my dining room.”
Shortly after Jessamine’s disembodied voice addressed the deacon, a gaunt, almost skeletal woman hobbled out from the house: she might have been pretty once, and might have been still. She was undoubtedly young, barely an adult, and yet her skin clung so horribly to her bones that she looked several decades older than she really was. She was pale, almost as pale as a Methuselah; she barely had any muscles apart from two tiny lumps on her bare, boney arms that the deacon deduced to be biceps, and two more tiny ovals visible on her calves that the deacon also deduced to be some kind of leg muscles. He shuddered with a familiar, yet indescribable feeling; however, he quickly stifled the inklings of emotion as the wisp of a woman approached.
“Petty Maidservant, is that your name?” the deacon called out as she hobbled towards him.
She did not answer, and merely hobbled towards him slowly, taking each step with care, obviously making a conscious effort to not stumble and fall over, or collapse on her own weight. The deacon, however, suddenly could not help himself and bolted forward, throwing his arms out almost unconsciously to arrest the wavering silhouette of a human being. Petty Maidservant, abashed, ashamed, confused, or perhaps, angered, said nothing at the deacon’s physical gesture of care, and merely cast her gaze towards his pale, ivory-like fingers. The deacon, abandoning all sense of propriety and proper decorum, put one hand under her armpit, and let her other arm rest on his shoulder. With his free hand, he took his cane and placed it in her palm. He fingers, however, lay limp, and she made no attempt to grasp the cane. Despite the deacon’s best efforts, she was in fact struggling, now with greater effort, to prop herself up in spite of the deacon’s physical support. The deacon gave a look of confusion and stared at her bloodshot eyes, which, apparently, startled her, as her pale face colored and she muttered, as if reciting scripture, “Please, Bishop, you are acting heretically. The free hand will support the weak, or the weak will fall. You must not supersede the will of the General Father, or I will be damned.”
Suddenly, with an uncharacteristically savage, clumsy diction, the deacon blurted out, “If you will be damned then damn the General Father! I will help you walk back to the house and you will keep my cane, whether or not you choose to use it. And you will call me by my proper title, Deacon, Deacon Paine, not Bishop!”
At this, Petty Maidservant colored once more with shock at the deacon’s blasphemous words. The deacon saw her reaction yet decided it best to leave his blasphemes uncorrected. He thought to himself, “This child has been bashed and lashed by Book, it would be best, no doubt, if she see the Book bashed and lashed itself. I of all people should know the General Father’s will, and today, it is his will that I blaspheme out my…” (he paused, before his craze led him to curse as well as to blaspheme), “so that this child may learn that the kindness of the General Father’s touch comes to the mortal realm not through a harsh master’s whip but an honest soul’s touch.” At this thought, he rallied himself once more and, childishly, he roared out and charged (slowly, so that Petty Maidservant would not slip or trip on a stone) towards the towering, sapphire blue complex covered in glass and gemstones. Encouraged by the deacon’s zeal, Petty Maidservant did her best to keep up her pace so as not to slow him down (she did not know that the deacon was trying to slow his pace so has not to force her to speed up), and the pair, led by the deacon, arrived at entirely the wrong entrance in relatively good spirits, with the deacon letting out childish, laughably put-on sighs of false exhaustion, and Petty Maidservant stifling wispy chuckles at the ridiculousness of the deacon’s comportment and terrible sense of direction.
Suddenly, a voice from the sky shrieked out, “Petty! You cur, how dare you lead our guest astray!”
Petty Maidservant suddenly lost all the color of moments before and instinctively pulled away from the deacon, in fear. The deacon, however, kept one hand firmly on her shoulder and spoke resolutely, “Let me deal with Aristocrat Jessamine. I am the voice of God. She will not treat you poorly so long as I am a guest in this house.”
With a strident, almost pitiful desperation that did not match her fragile frame and disposition, Petty Maidservant shouted out, in a shaking voice, “And when you leave? Will your beneficence, will your version of the General Father protect me when you are gone? When I am once again solely under the fist of my Aristocrat?”
At this, the deacon became terrible ashamed at his own shortsightedness and selfish naiveté. His disposition fell silent, and as his grip loosened, Petty Maidservant seemed to be once again cast into gloomy, solitary despair. Her eyes fell down to the ground beneath her, and she began to shake, and the deacon’s cane fell out of her hands; she had been gripping it tightly while they were running, so tightly that her pale knuckles had turned snow white and the wood had dug its wavy form into her palm. Her eyes, her expression, reminded the deacon of the despairing youth, Blonde Tailor, and at once, he was jolted back into action. He picked up his cane, and all in one lightning-fast motion, so fast that she could not even protest, he clasped her hands together around the cane and looked fixatedly at her face, with a determination he had not shown the young boy who had confessed to him at the parish, and he said, “Know this, Petty, that I will not abandon or forget you here even I leave, and that I will do something… Something! Something to ensure that you will be treated justly and fairly after my departure, as is the will of the General Father.”
Petty Maidservant’s expression noticeably softened, but still her gaze fell towards the ground. She motioned quietly for him to follow her, and, using the cane the prop up her own weight, began walking towards the correct entrance. The deacon released his grip immediately, and followed the hobbling Petty Maidservant quietly, solemnly, without uttering a word, almost as if ashamed of his vacillating moods and all around impotency, until the two entered the chateau through a large, dilating circular door that waxed open as soon as nearby hovering eyes caught a glimpse of the deacon’s ebony black eyes.
Upon entering the chateau atrium, the deacon was immediately taken aback by the absolute excess of Aristocrat Jessamine’s tastes. Sharp red’s, violet’s, and gold’s painted abstract tapestries that hung from every wall. Old war battle armor, arranged menacingly on mannequins, lined every hallway in every direction; each piece of armor was framed by several, expensive looking, gilded old war guns, along with medals and trophies that the Aristocrat had no doubt bought and stolen from those who had earned them. The layout of the castle itself was like that of a tree, with the central, wide “trunk” leading to a grandiose dining hall the size of a large battleship in width, breadth, and height, and countless other branches and branches of branches sprouting out left and right whichever way the deacon looked. Petty Maidservant led the deacon down the “trunk”, and the two soon entered the dining hall. An aureate glow immediately rained down upon them, from a grandiose chandelier hanging form the ceiling. However, apart from the chandelier, the room seemed conspicuously empty, with the only other notable furniture being a long dining table at the center of the room, at the head of which sat the piggish, pugnacious, fetid Aristocrat Jessamine, licking her plump, red lips (red, as in the color of blood that seeps out of an anal fissure) as she chewed loudly on tender, red meat, who, upon seeing Petty Maidservant holding the deacon’s cane and looking slightly less downtrodden and completely broken than usual, almost exploded with rage, as hands began to shake as she gripped her fork so hard the metal might bend and her teeth clenched down so hard she might bite through her own skull (the deacon almost hoped). Seeing the deacon, however, whose gaze was fixated firmly now, almost furiously, now, on her, Aristocrat Jessamine relaxed her grip and her expression, stifled her fury and, mouth full of food, croaked out, as would a cow who has just been prodded by an electric baton, “Deacon! How good of you to finally arrive! The table has just been set. Join us!” At her sides sat Aristocrat Steiner and several other society members from earlier, but the deacon could not take his eyes off Jessamine chewing her cud.
“Petty! Be gone!” Jessamine shrieked. “I will tend to you later…” she paused, letting a disgusting disingenuous sentiment simmer in her black soul, before letting out a torturous, “Dear.”
Petty bowed low to the ground, and quickly scurried out of the room as fast as her thin, stilt-like legs, aided by the deacon's cane, could carry her. Meanwhile, the deacon walked to the table and sat at the only remaining seat with untouched food laid out.
“Jessamine,” the deacon addressed his host, “thank you for your…” here, he paused and ruminated over his words for a moment, and then, he proceeded: “hospitality.”
Aristocrat Jessamine smiled toothily and chuckled, almost innocently, “Oh deacon, you are too formal. Please sit. The table has just been set.”
As she uttered the word, “set”, Aristocrat Steiner made a pig-like grunt and swallowed a whole chunk of meat, leaving only greens on her plate.
The deacon took a glance at some hors d’oeuvres near the center of the table; seeing the object of his gaze, Aristocrat Steiner shoved the plate of gelatinous white ovals towards the deacon. The deacon plucked several of the ovals and put them neatly on his plate; his meal consisted of a slab of bright, red meat, sliced thinly, on top of garnishes of hydroponic lettuce and other greens. He picked up his fork grudgingly, and sank its prongs into one of the slices of slimy, almost bubbling crimson meat.
Jessamine grinned widely as the Deacon took his first bite.
“Bon appetite, Deacon Paine.”
Once the meal was well underway for all parties, Jessamine bubbled out, in between slurps and sputters, “I hope you found the town pleasing, today, deacon.”
“Indeed, I did,” the deacon replied after swallowing a bite of food.
“And the local amenities?”
“You really must reconsider staying at the chateau, deacon, we have such wonderful, supple, silk sheets… they would tickle your toes!”
Aristocrat Candy began laughing uncontrollably at the image of sheets tickling the deacon’s toes.
The deacon, however, did not break his gaze from his plate, and after moving a slice of meat around the lettuce in a circle for several seconds, he put the meat in his mouth and, in one continuous motion, he chewed, swallowed, and before he knew it, he was playing with his food and entertaining the Aristocrats’ vacuous questions once more.
“How do the gardens suit you, deacon?” Jessamine began once more.
“Pleasant as well,” he muttered.
“The paintings? The tapestries? My armor collection? My plates? My forks? My dress? My chairs? The food? The forks?”
“Pleasant… humble… or rather, not humble in the least… pleasing… exquisite…”
The deacon dropped his fork, letting out a sudden “clang” that seemed to echo throughout the dining hall. He picked up a handkerchief, wiped his lips, and, looking up to gaze into Aristocrat Jessamine’s black eyes for the first time since he had began his meal, he said, slowly, “She was very accommodating.”
Aristocrat Candy turned to another Methuselah sitting next to her, as did Steiner, each echoing “accommodating” in whisper and mock gossip. Jessamine’s void-like eyes narrowed, and she hissed, “Does the deacon… fancy… the maid?”
“I am a eunuch, Aristocrat,” he replied, dryly.
“Perhaps you are only half-cut, good deacon,” she goaded.
“I fancy her good temperament and honest nature.”
“And…” the deacon said, wiping his lips once more and placing his forks at the side of his plate, “I am curious as to the reason for her being named ‘Petty’ Maidservant. Now, I have heard of many ‘Bad Cobblers’ and ‘Ambidextrous Bums’ and ‘Skillful Diggers’, but ‘Petty’? The name in itself, the word, is subjective, carrying subtle conations about the nature of her character, not her job. Now, a Methuselah in need for, say, a man to shovel horse manure, would readily accept a ‘Clumsy Manservant’… how coordinated do you need to be to shovel manure? But ‘Petty’? ‘Petty’ suggests of the character, something beyond work ethic and skill, something inherently flawed… something incurable… something silent, almost cancerous, and altogether… undesirable. So, I ask you, Aristocrat, why ‘Petty’?”
Aristocrat Jessamine, miffed at having had the direction of the conversation pulled away from her by the deacon, wiped her prudish lips, shook her head from side to side with an air of indignation at the deacon’s direct and informal address, looked down upon him condescendingly, and replied:
“Petty Maidservant was a little, starving urchin when I found her on the streets of dago town. She was a little gem, young, too young to remember that day, surrounded by such a frothing, dirty morass of humans I saw it my duty to pick her up and polish her; now, while other Methuselahs have taken children from the Rompopolis and given them new homes in the upper city and the clergy, I decided to make the child my own, and employ her, and give her reason to live. It was a supreme act of generosity on my part, an act I have never since been able to match. The feeling of bliss, of righteousness that I felt as I gave the rat a life of a human, it was beyond the pleasure of food or any entertainment I have had since. It was the reason that I founded the Wive’s Society. In a way, the child, that rat, made me who I am. But the ungrateful runt, the urchin, could not abandon that selfish dago blood and soon the savagery surfaced. It was all at once, and it was all one day; it was the day she helped me see that she was nothing to me.
She was about half her height now, barely ten. It was such a warm, bright day I almost felt happiness looking at the sun and the clouds as they floated around throughout the sky like large white fish. I was overseeing the gardeners, taking inventory of my millennium wines, ensuring the happiness and prosperity of all whose very existences depended on my goodwill. But that child, one day she overheard from the other maids gossiping about her… her lies, her sludgy, false past, how she was found one day and brought here, how she was not Methuselah, and how she could never be my equal, she could never be anything close to my equal. ‘Equal’… the child desired to be an equal, to me, to us, a mere human. Her vainglorious aspirations, her corruption, was stifled in but a few words overheard from a maidservant, and that made her ten-year-old hair turn frizzy and her hands clench with rage, the rat, and she bellowed out at me, she screamed, ’So I am not a treasure but instead a piece of trash picked up out of pity? Taken from my real caretakers, my mother, my father, my sisters and brothers?’
And at this I struck her square between her eyes with a shovel, and, realizing her true nature, her true, depraved, evil nature, I swear I nearly killed that beast. But I am a generous, forgiving, good Methuselah, and so I spared her worthless life. From that day on, she would never be anything close to my daughter ever again. And I gave her a new name. A fitting name. ‘Petty’.”
The deacon’s cold expression softened a little at the striking flickers of humanity in Jessamine’s story, but then, recalling Petty Maidservant’s emaciated frame, a fury bubbled up within him once more, and he asked, “And as punishment, you have not been feeding her?”
All the lingering remembrance, the warmth that had flickered briefly in Jessamine’s eyes, eyes that for a moment reminded him of his own, turned cold, to that characteristic, sick rationality of the Methuselah. Her lips once again twisted into a demented grin, and she replied, “I have been feeding her… she eats rats, and meat and vegetables that have spoiled.”
“She’s goading me… provoking me… I will not indulge her,” the deacon thought to himself, clenching his fists. He leveled his soul, and spoke calmly, “And all this, for a child’s despair? At having been told that she was a stranger in her own home, having been told that she was kidnapped, that she was taken from her family, that her caretaker was merely using her to stimulate her senses, her emotions, her sense of self-righteousness…”
Jessamine’s brows furrowed, her eyes widened to the size of plums, her fingers dug into the table cloth and began tearing at the fabric.
The deacon harbored an ugly thought within him for a moment, and deciding against his better nature, he finished, “Having been told the truth.”
A loud snapping was heard as Jessamine broke her own index finger from the pressure of pressing down onto the tabletop. The other Methuselahs, who had been listening to the discussion with voyeuristic pleasure now grew deathly silent as they saw Aristocrat Jessamine, their host, their paragon of Methuselah virtue, crumple and peel away to reveal her black, vacuous soul.
“Or perhaps, it was your jealously. I can see it, just as well as you must have seen it that day when you disavowed the child. In just ten minutes with Petty, I was able to discern that she had a purer and more generous character than you will ever have, for all your empty deeds and works of faith. Its something you will never be able to change, no matter how many children you ‘help’, no matter how many hearts you devour and make your own, no matter how many lives you pretend to save… you are a black, blasphemous, hedonistic parasite. And she…” the deacon said, pointing towards the door behind him, the door through which Petty had exited earlier that night, “…without lifting a finger, is already ten times the creature you are.”
Jessamine trembled with a terrifying emotion, something that even struck a chord of fear in the deacon’s pure soul. “Rage,” he thought. He had heard of the emotion before, but this was his first time seeing it. His eyes narrowed with gravity.
“Jessamine,” he muttered quietly, almost as if each syllable he uttered were being shoved, pushed back towards his throat by some wind, or some terrifying force of nature. However, against all odds, he continued, asking, “When was the last time you purged?”
Suddenly, the Aristocrat Jessamine let out a wicked cackle, stretching her mouth open to an unnatural size, so that the bottoms and tops of her teeth could both be seen by all in the room, and light from the chandeliers above glistened off of strings of saliva and blood frothing and clinging to her lips. Like a banshee, her laugh, almost a cry of ecstasy, shook the walls of the room and left the other Aristocrats trembling in fear. The deacon tried his best to remain calm. He muttered, “Don’t tell me…”
Now, Jessamine fell silent. She collected herself, picking up the shattered pieces of character and composure which just now she had flung all around the room as if in a tempest, and she crooned, “Good deacon, I do not purge.”
The deacon’s eyes widened with surprise. With a low, judgmental voice, he declared, “The life bohemian does not suit you.”
Jessamine twisted her mouth into a half smile once again, and seeing that her outbursts were having an effect on the deacon’s composure, she pressed, “And you, deacon? What are the aspects of your purge? What does a deacon need to flush out of his gut, his mind…” a grin pulled itself across her pale white face and hung limply from her cheeks. She finished, “… his balls?”
The deacon at once barked through gritted teeth, “Heresy! You know it is heresy to ask man of god about his purge!”
Unfazed, she pressed forward still, “Do you purge rage? Do you beat heretics to death with sticks and stones? Do you tear at their flesh with your teeth?”
The deacon yelled once more, voice quivering with a mix of fear and something approaching anger, “Jessamine! I’m warning you…”
But she pressed on still, “Do you drink yourself silly? Do you swallow gallons of absinthe, do you smoke cartons of Roaring cigarettes? Or perhaps you drench your eyeballs in Red-eye, drown your soul in the time dilation, forget the words of the General Father and give in to disbelief…”
Aristocrat Steiner, who was once was shaking uncontrollably with a mix of excitement and apprehension, now shook with fear as she meekly called out to Jessamine, “Please, sister, let it be.”
Ignoring the pleas of her “sister”, she bellowed, eyes wide with a crazed fury, “Or, perhaps, the good deacon fucks maids who need canes to walk.”
At this, the deacon stood up in his place, knocking his chair back, and began to bite his lips and shake with terrible anger. There it was, anger. She had won.
“Oh but the battle had just begun,” she thought. She almost screamed, “Oh but you like the weak ones deacon, the ones too skinny, too starved to fight back?”
“I will excommunicate you!” Deacon Paine yelled with unadulterated fury.
At this, Jessamine cackled once more, looking down at the Deacon Paine with a condescending, almost pitiful glare, “Oh deacon, you have the most adorable threats.”
“Do not test me, Jessamine,” Deacon Paine heaved out, almost hyperventilating with rage.
Jessamine, brushing off the deacon’s threats, turned to her sisters and asked, “Oh, sisters, doesn’t the Deacon seem irritable today?”
No one dared to answer.
“Well, you never do know how we Methuselahs might react to our first satisfaction of the life hunger.”
At the words, “life hunger”, the deacon’s hearts froze. He looked at the table, at the plates, the forks.
The taste. There was something about the hors deouvres, the meat. Those gelatinous white ovals. Suddenly, he reached out and picked up an egg, looking it up and down, staring at it, analyzing it. He threw it down in terror when it stared back.
His eyes widened with fear. His palms began to wet. He looked at the meat, he picked a slice up gingerly with his fingers, and, after just a few seconds of analysis he threw it down.
“Jessamine,” the deacon spoke, his eyes fixated firmly, furiously on the Methuselah, “What is this?”
“I told you deacon,” Jessamine sneered, “We’re having lamb.”
The deacon looked at the table up and down, peering into the eyes of each of the women. Those greedy, satiated eyes. A thought struck him with realization like a lightning bolt. He commanded, “Show me the kitchen.”
Jessamine put on a look of false confusion, tilted her head with curiosity, and replied, “But whatever would you need to see in the kitchen, Deacon?”
“Show me the kitchen,” he commanded once more.
“Deacon, this is quite unreasonable, we’re in the middle…”
“By Washington, show me the kitchen!” he screamed, almost knocking Jessamine back out of her chair with the power of his voice, a power one might not have expected from a man with such a pleasant, innocent physiognomy.
He almost seemed to grow in stature, in height, to a creature two times his size; such was the effect his rapid succumbing to rage had on the dinner guests. He stood like a wrathful titan, a god, a shadow, enveloping the now cowering, shaking rat of a figure, Jessamine. With all traces of disobedience and maliciousness now evaporated, Jessamine pointed limply, to a rectangular, wooden door behind her.
Slowly, with a measured, foreboding step, he entered the kitchen. He saw, on a white table, the flayed, dissected body of a man… a boy. His heart, along with several other of his organs had been cut out, surgically, cleanly, and placed into translucent containers of cold preservative liquid. They floated in the vats like sick trophies. His ribs opened outwards like a demented butterfly, or perhaps like arms, welcoming a defiler into his now hollowed, ready insides. His limbs were completely stripped of all skin, all tendon, all muscle… their dinner. His penis has been entirely severed, not surgically, but with a serrated, dull edge. Perhaps, it had been ripped off by force. All around on the floor, the deacon saw a depraved soup of fluids that he did not dare to register, lest his mind break from horror. The penis lay limply on the ground, as if discarded like a used handkerchief. The boy’s face, however, remained largely untouched. However, it had begun to become pale and emaciated from exsanguination. Rigor mortis had set in, and his skin was almost as hard as marble. His eyes, however, had been gouged out… the hors d’oeuvres.
“But his face… his face…” the deacon thought, “is undoubtedly that of Blonde Tailor.”
He let out a beast-like roar of anger, pushing his voice to the point of cracking. He clenched his fists into balls, stormed back into the dining room. At once, he glared menacingly at the Aristocrats, who were largely registering the scene unfolding before them. One by one, they began to leer and smile, though they all leaned in their chairs in the direction that let their bodies angle the farthest away from the deacon. A futile gesture. He would do nothing.
“I will not sin upon sin,” he said to himself. Suddenly, his knees buckled, and he begun to weep uncontrollably, through his screams of rage. Tears mixed with sweat of agony in his eyes. In what he knew to be an empty gesture, he flipped over the dinner table with remarkable ease, letting food fly all around, sending the aristocrats bolting up out of their seats shrieking with surprise. The meat and greens went flapping about on the floor, and some of the wine spilled and stained Steiner’s dress. He forced his hand in his mouth, attempting to throw up his dinner… throw up Blonde Tailor.
He frothed with rancor, “Beasts! Monsters! I… I…” but in spite of the spittle and bubbled saliva that flew out of his mouth in between curses, he was at a loss for words.
Though her body, covered with overturned plates and soggy lettuce, reclined, pathetically, in fear on the floor, Jessamine still screamed with zeal, “I have won deacon! I have won the game! I am the winner!”
The deacon stumbled weakly towards the door, desperately trying to escape the chateau. He limped through the tapestry-laden corridors, his legs and arms enervated from excess emotion. Finally, he burst out the front doors of the building, leaving the echoes of Jessamine’s cackles behind him.
He began to vomit onto the grass beneath him, straining, heaving with all his might to purge himself of the events of the night. Chaotic thoughts and images raced through his mind, and he could not stay them through sheer will power. He ripped forward through the garden like a madman, screaming incoherent phrases and fragments of the constitution, all the while closely followed by the Jessamine’s hovering eyes.
As he approached the welcome garden gates, Deacon Paine turned around to face the chateau, its viewing chambers, Jessamine’s glass bedroom, and he yelled out into the night air, “Are you satisfied, Jessamine? Have you had your fun?”
As if to answer him, an orange light, at first dim, and then slowly and slowly brighter, turned on in Jessamine’s bedroom. It was quite far away, but he could still discern the figure of Jessamine approaching her enormous bed, which looked out the translucent glass in front of her over all her land, her gardens, and the hinterlands beyond. Behind her, followed another, hobbling, wispy figure. Immediately, the deacon realized it was Petty Maidservant. He watched with horror as Jessamine ripped off the silky, white back of Petty’s meager garments, knocked her down into the floor so that her forehead was pressed against the carpet of the bedroom, as if in supplication, and proceeded to beat her bare back furiously. Though the deacon was too far away to hear Petty’s screams, he was close enough to make out the walking stick he had given her, lying in Aristocrat’s Jessamine’s pale palms.