“Of course, Stephan. We all have. Tell me what is weighing on you so. You look a mess.”
“Yes Tomas,” Father Stephan bowed his head as he sat hunched in the chair close to Father Tomas, “I cannot sleep.”
Father Tomas looked at his friend with a frown.
“Whenever I close my eyes I see her. This woman.”
Stephan looked up into the eyes of compassion. He could not tell Tomas all of it. Of how she came to him in his room, waking him from sleep, standing before him in absolute beauty. The beauty only a woman can possess. He could not tell him about her eyes, dark, unknowable, about her skin, smooth, the color of an almond broken cleanly.
“What woman, Stephan? What is her name?”
“I don't know her name. It was a dream.” He lied. “She came in my sleep a few nights ago and now I cannot be rid of her.”
Her very words fell from his mouth and he dropped his head into his hands.
“You must have seen someone, Stephan. You have built a fantasy, an obsession.”
“I am so frightened.” He held his still bowed head with his hands covering his face.
“But why, Stephan? It’s only a fantasy.”
He lifted his head and looked at his friend, his fellow clergy.
He is a priest, like me, but maybe not like me.
Stephan considered his true confession. Dare he utter it aloud? Let those terrible unforgiving words pass his lips? Should he come out, to his only real friend?
“There is no God, Tomas.” He stated it flatly. He shook his head in realization. “There is evil. And there is good. But there is no God. There is no Satan. All of the good and evil in this world, all of it, is man.”
Father Tomas sat stunned. He looked as if his friend had slapped him across his face. His mouth open in astonishment, he could not speak. He only stared at the priest before him in disbelief.
“That is what I truly believed before three nights ago. In my heart I knew it to be certain. But I held to this cloth and recited the words, thinking I was doing something to make this world around me better, better for all those people who believed, who needed to believe.”
Stephan leaned in to place his hand on the shoulder of his stunned friend. He pulled him closer so that they faced each other only inches apart.
“Three nights ago this woman came to me, she woke me, she was beautiful. But she was not a woman Tomas, she was not human. And I knew, as I cowered in her presence, that she could have me and use me in any unholy way she wished.”
Tomas twisted in his chair, increasingly disturbed. He looked away and pulled back to escape Stephan’s grasp.
Stephan held him tight and stood in earnest, shifting, keeping them face-to-face.
“It was because I desired her so, Tomas, I still desire her. She is a demon. I know now evil exists, it is real. I can see its shinning face on so many around me, around us, Tomas.”
Stephan searched the face of his still speechless friend.
“But you cannot believe me. You cannot understand or accept.”
Stephan stepped back from his friend and released his grip.
“She left me something, to remember her, so that I would know I was truly living my nightmare.”
He reached to his neck, releasing the top most button and working the stiff white collar from his neck. Holding the collar in his hand he unbuttoned his priest cassock, exposing his t-shirt covered chest.
Tomas stood in protest.
“Please Stephan, leave your cassock on. This is quite enough. Really! Please!”
Stephan pulled his t-shirt down strongly from the neck; exposing the deep red mark Lilith had given him three nights before. The skin covered with the mark quivered and undulated as if possessed of some living thing beneath.
The two men parted uneasily. Tomas said he would pray for guidance and asked Stephan to do the same. They agreed to meet again Sunday night, after the last mass, for dinner.
"I will stop you."
He thought it. Clearly. He felt himself possessed of purpose, like never before. He knew she had heard him. He could see it in her black eyes hiding behind the sunglasses.
So much was clear now. His hand reached for the mark on his chest, rubbing it, feeling the tender skin pulsate beneath his fingertips. He took his eyes away and continued, after a pause, with his prepared sermon.
He had so much to say now. But he dared not say it. He looked out into the assembled and saw them as if for the first time. The sorrowful eyes, false smiles, pretended pious, regretful, hopeful, afraid, alone, damned and saved. He saw them all.
He turned away from them, returning to the altar, to remembered liturgy, devoid.
She was shocked. He had addressed her, challenged her, and then turned away without a care for what was coming for him. She had read this priest badly. She was too certain, too sure of herself. She had forgotten the lessons of long ago.
After giving him the mark, he should be hers. At her beckon call. It is sure he is transforming. He has to. She gave him a small piece of herself.
But he is still a man, a human, possessed of a body and, like all creatures, herself included, possessed of a pure essence, a soul. He could not harm her. She could destroy him. What was happening to him? What had she done to his soul?
The thoughts poured quickly, overcoming the cool reserve she had honed over centuries. An ancient fear crawled into the back of her throat. Suddenly the statues and images surrounding her, arranged against the walls of this ornate cavern, were verily alive. They looked down on her, knowingly, seeing her for what she was.
“You cannot stop me human!” She spewed forth her venomous thought, hurling it at the priest. His back was turned as he faced the altar, preparing to bring forth the living body of the risen savior.
“Yes I can, Lilith,” was all he said. It rang inside her head in a furious echo.
He raised his arms in benediction and turned to face the assembled, presenting communion with their Christ.