Thursday, August 26, 2010

Heaven Help Us....Chapter One (part 2)

Brothers Carlos and Roberto loved their job. Clerical Monks in the Vatican’s little-known Office of Historical Continuity, they were charged with what they were told was the single most important job in the whole of Christendom and maybe even in the history of the world.

For generations, a few lucky Vatican servants had been the chosen guardians of a gem the size of a large fist.  For the past 55 years the task had been theirs and theirs alone.

“Don’t take your eyes off it for a second,” said the ageing Cardinal David Carlotta, who had sat down with them on that joyous first day in his Vatican apartment all those years ago, and told them of their glorious and highly secret appointment.

“There are no two like you,” he said, full of gravity and importance. “The  families of Castanada and Lupi have been chosen to be guardians of the single most important item in the whole of the Vatican’s history.”

The brothers looked at each other, each wondering what could be so important... and why they hadn’t heard of it before. He looked at them sternly, then stood. “Come with me.”                        

Walking out through the door behind the old man, Carlos whispered to Roberto, “You see! I knew we were destined for great things.”
After half an hour’s walking through endless corridors and down countless flights of stairs, the three arrived at the largest and oldest-looking wooden door Carlos and Roberto had ever seen.

The Cardinal reached out a bony fist and knocked twice on the dark, ancient wood. Nothing happened. He looked at the two young men, frowned, coughed and knocked twice again.
“What’s all the noise about,” said a frail, croaky voice from the other side of the door and, after a jangling of keys and sliding of bolts, it opened to reveal possibly the oldest, most wrinkled and misshapen monk the two young men had ever seen.
“Good evening, Brother Dominic,” said the Cardinal, almost reverentially. “These are the next two.”
“Thank God,” said Monk, exhaustion written all over his face. “Does that mean we can get a decent night’s sleep now?”
“It does,” said the Cardinal, patting the old man on the shoulder.
“’Bout time. It’s been 74 years and I could do with a bit of a lie-in.”
The Cardinal gestured for the two young monks to enter the small, cell-like room, sparsely furnished with two old beds, one armchair and a small dining table with chair. Another uncomfortable-looking chair sat in front of a round table which held a glass box.
In the armchair sat another equally ancient monk, snoring. At the sound of the trio entering the room, the second priest awoke with a start. “Who are you?”
“That’s not very hospitable,” said Brother Dominic. “Our time’s up. These are the lucky two who get to take over.”
He walked slowly over to his old companion and helped him to his feet, leaving the newcomers to watch as the pair painfully shuffled out of the room.
“My sons,” said the Cardinal, gesturing to the glass box, “what you see before you is nothing less than the most important item the Vatican possesses. The biggest discovery in the history of mankind.”
“What...more important than the holy cross,"  blurted Carlos, astonished.

The Cardinal nodded slowly.
The young men looked at each other.
Roberto was the elder of the two and, as such, was in theory the more responsible and sensible. Tall and slender, he had a broad face, intelligent eyes and, some said, intelligent ears, too. “More important than the sacred Arc or the Image of our Lord on that bit of cloth?” he asked, softly.
“Hard to believe, but yes, even more important than those.”
Carlos gasped. He was the younger of the two and, in theory, the more easily led and headstrong. He was a slightly undersized member of the brown-robed bretheren, with jet black hair and a hook nose that made him look distinctly like a human-vulture hybrid.
“Holy shit of God,” he blurted.
“If we had that, it would be even more important than that, too” said the Cardinal. “The Holy Father himself has deemed this so important and so secret that even though you will be its’ guardians from now on, you cannot know what it is.”
“It’s a crystal,” said Carlos, shrugging his shoulders and wondering what the fuss was all about.
“Very observant,” said the Cardinal. “But it’s a lot more that just that.”
Roberto slapped Carlos on the back of the head. “Slug!” he hissed. “It doesn’t matter what it is. If ‘Papa’ wants us to look after it till the ends of the earth, then that’s just what we will do!”
“Shit!” the smaller monk exclaimed, and rubbed his head furiously.
Roberto took the Cardinal’s hand and kissed the holy ring on his middle finger. “I apologise for the rudeness and stupidity of my brother.”
The Cardinal’s face darkened. “This is your task.  You will each, in turn, watch the crystal. You will not take your eyes off it. Not for a second. You can eat, sleep and rest in shifts. And you will do this until you are either relieved or...until the dark heart of the crystal changes shape.”
“Pardon your Eminence, but what shape will it change into?” asked Roberto, trying to imagine what wonders there were locked inside this mysterious gem.
“That I cannot say,” said the Cardinal. “But if it ever happens...the second it will press that button over there on the wall.”
He pointed to a red button on the wall next to the door.
“Is all that clear?” he asked.
“What about eating know....the other?” enquired Carlos, almost too embarrassed to ask.
“There’s a kitchen through that door over there, for snacks and tea and coffee,” said the Cardinal, pointing to a door on the far wall. “Your meals will be brought to you every day. And as for ‘the other’ if you look behind that screen over there, you’ll find another door. Open it and you’ll find the toilet, washbasin and shower. Any more questions?”
The two silently shook their heads.
The Cardinal looked at them both for long seconds, then did something totally unexpected. He stepped forwards and hugged each one in turn, almost paternally, patting their backs softly.
Then he crossed himself and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him, leaving the two young monks in a silence that clawed at them through their garments.
“ first,” said Carlos.
“Bugger that for a lark. You take first watch!”
Carlos looked at his friend, smiled and sat down on the chair in front of the crystal. “Six hours on, six hours off,” he said. “That ok with you?”
“Peachy,” said Roberto, settling down in the armchair and closing his eyes.
Carlos looked at the black heart of the crystal and tried to clear his mind. 
Fifty five years later he screamed.
Roberto leapt up from his sleep, upending the half-finished coffee sitting precariously on the arm of the chair. “Whooooa.....”
Whatever word he was thinking of saying didn’t even get the chance to finish itself off. He looked over to Carlos, who by now was up off the chair and pacing back and forth, stopping regularly to look at the crystal, muttering, “shit” repeatedly.
Carlos looked at him. “The damned thing looked at me!”
Roberto sighed, “I think you’ve been looking at it for too long my friend.”
“No...No...” said Carlos, grabbing Roberto’s sleeve and dragging him over to the table.

“ look at it and tell me what you see.”
Roberto, frowing, sat down in the chair and stared into the crystal. “Holy Mother of God!” he shouted. “Is that an eye?”
Carlos crossed himself and looked upwards. “ Thank you God...thank you for keeping our minds clear for this moment. Thank you for choosing us to be the instruments of your miracle!” He turned to Roberto. “What the hell do we do now?”            
“The bell,” said Roberto. “Push the bell button!”
You push’re taller!” exclaimed the younger monk. “I’m too small for that kind of responsibility.” In fact he was too scared for that kind of responsibility. 
Roberto grunted, raced to the door and pushed the large red button on the box halfway up the wall.
Nothing happened.
He pounded the button with his fist. “Fine! Sit around for fifty five years waiting
for something we don’t know anything about to happen and then when it does happen...we can’t tell anyone!”
Suddenly, they became aware of running feet. Lots of them. The sound got closer and closer and then stopped outside the door. Then there was lots of gasping, coughing  and wheezing.
Roberto opened the door and was met by a crowd of monks, priests, nuns, cardinals, archbishops and assorted Vatican employees, all in various states of undress. A small, self-important looking, bespectacled priest at the front of the crowd looked at him and demanded: “Well...where’s the fire?”
“Fire?” said Roberto, “what fire?”
“You heard the fire bell, didn’t you? This is our gathering point. It has been for the last ten years. Don’t tell me somebody set off the bloody fire alarm by mistake?”
There were groans from the crowd behind him and a very tall, half-dressed cleric hissed, “If this is another one of your ruses, Father Scarpetta, and something funny’s hapened to my poker hand when we get back, may you die of syphillis and go to hell!”
Fire alarm? What fire alarm? And who are you?” said Roberto, looking at the small priest.

“Father David Munroe, Head Researcher for the office of Cardinal Alfredo Bonetti, Chief Vatican Historian,” the priest said, rather pompously.
“Well...Head Researcher,” said Roberto, grabbing him by his arm and dragging him into the room, “you come with me. The rest of you, stay there!”  He slammed the door closed and pulled the squealing, protesting priest over to the table with the crystal.
“Right,” he said, pointing to the crystal.  “We’ve been guarding this for the past fifty five years and now the damned thing’s changed and we were told to ring that bell if it ever did change and now it has and we rung the bell and we don’t know what to do now. Okay?”
Munroe reached inside his pocket and took out a handkerchief. He took off his glasses, breathed on and wiped the lenses, put them back on again and looked closely at the crystal.
He abruptly backed away, knocking over the chair and was only stopped from falling over by Roberto who caught him from behind.
“Oh,” he said, a mixture of surprise and panic in his voice.
“Oh exactly!” exclaimed Carlos. “Oh as in ...’Oh bugger what happens now?’  We don’t know what the thing is or what it does. But we’ve been thinking about it for fifty five years and we think that you should at least call the Pope!”
“Well...I know what it is,” said the priest, gulping and beginning to turn a whiter shade of pale. “And if we don’t act really, really fast, we’re all up the creek!”


Browneyegirl145 said...

ok, I know it's an eye, but what is it really? post Bryce. Nice way to leave me

Tami Snow said...

I really am loving this story. It's shockingly funny. I find myself periodically saying WTF, really? And Holy shit of God? WTF, really? Haha.

Bryce Main said...

Thank you guys so much....keep spreading the word!!!