Joined: 12 Jun 2007
Chapter4:St.Ajmeri’s Holy Church of the United Faith[solved]
St. Ajmeri's Monastery in Grey District
It’s not raining as hard as before, but high, and long lightning throws away the shadows briefly before giving me back to the dark, empty, wet street. The thunder rolls and echoes down between the tall buildings down the dark wet streets of the old city. The cracked sidewalk is illuminated in small pockets by the dented flickering lamp posts every few meters, more out of formality than practical need. Water gushes along the gutters and down the drain, carrying trash and paper along with it – a much needed and long overdue service.
Probably because of the late hour displayed on a distant clock tower - which makes up part of what little of the brightly lit city skyline can be seen between the narrow gaps of the buildings - I can hear the sound of cars and a magnetic train shooting past a few blocks away. Boarded up and broken windows make up most of the first floor of the row-house buildings and apartments I’m passing. What few gray signs and ads are plastered about betray the fact that Intellicorp, Transcorp, and the other Wright industries are still the dominant corporations in Grey district's slummy old downtown.
I walk down the sidewalk past the abandoned buildings to where a large High-Gothic cathedral complete with flying buttresses and an old and damaged glowing stained-glass rose window sits nestled between trashy high-rise condos. It is dirty grey stone on the outside, and is without doubt very old. Pre-war I’d say. A small yellow light streams from the small open door set inside of the enormous intricately carved wooden double door portico at its front. The wood and stone relief is that strange blend of Judeo-Christian and Muslim Iconography characterized by the only corporate sanctioned-religion known as the “Holy United Faith”.
Before I decide to take a case I always follow four simple rules. First, I Never waste time on the dead-ends. Second, never get involved with the rich beautiful woman who wants to hire you. Next, never get involved in politics. And finally, never, ever, get involved with religion.
I step into the street, my foot splashing into a hidden hole masquerading as a shallow puddle. I stop for a brief second then shaking of the wet filth, continue across towards the church. I step up to the church portico, well-lit by a nearby well-intentioned street lamp. Numerous smiling posters of Senator Alexis Wright declaring "Have it the Wright way!" are here, having been plastered in a repeating pattern along the inside wall of the portico. Oh well, the damned rules just get in the way anyway.
I test the small wooden portal of the church, set inside the massive double doorway. I don’t enter though; I stop instead to glance at the sign above the door. St. Ajmeri's Holy Church of the United Faith it says, and lightening flashes causing me to jump a little at the brightness. I blink away the pain and over my shoulder from across the street, I could swear I see a man's face in a doorway, shrouded in darkness stealing a glance at me. I try to focus and turn around but the man has melted into the dark shadows and is gone. If he was ever there. I really have to get some sleep. I allow myself a brief moment of thought to stare across the street before turning back to the still open door of the cathedral and stepping inside.
It is pitch dark in the farthest reaches of the high-gothic pantheon cathedral. Central lighting, hidden among the twisted support pillars and nearby the many iconoclastic sculptures, combined with hundreds of flickering candles reveal that the interior of the church is even more ornate inside than out. Unlike the dirty street outside, this place is well kept and clean. An eerie wordless medieval chant melody winds its way through the chapel. Digital devotion for electric monks. The tall arcades and intricate stained glass windows light up with the occasional lightning flash. It casts an eerie rainbowed kaleidoscope of colors in all shapes and sizes strobing into the church. A narrow ledge with a railing hugs every wall just below the base of the high windows, where the clearstory meets the lower arcade. The high central dome and vaulted ceiling top the ornately inlaid floor of the crossing beyond the vast worship area, where double rows of highly sculpted columns with inlaid mosaic patterns break apart the long rows of numerous wooden pews. These face forward toward the great altarpiece in the apse and choir.
The massive choir centerpiece reminds me of something I saw in a book once, back when there were books. I think it was called "The Ecstasy of St. Theresa" by some dead bastard named Bernini. The mind is a strange thing, but I don’t linger on it. Either way this one is filled with mighty life-sized angelic figures clad in roman armor, engaged in a horrific battle with various writhing demonic creatures. Neither side is clearly winning this spiritual stalemate cast in stone and golden metal from what I can tell, but then I’ve never been much on theology.
The sculpture undulates from the base of the high choir windows, obscuring the walkway, down to the inlaid floor of the crossing. When the lightning flashes through the high stained glass Choir arcades, it casts the tormented angels and beasts into stark relief, giving them momentary life as they struggle and strain together.
I step gingerly past the wooden threshold as lightning flashes briefly lighting up the wet street through the dark hole behind me. The wooden door creaks closed and I hear my shoe squeak painfully as I step in the direction of the central aisle of the cathedral.
Some day maybe I'll learn to follow the rules, but it won’t be today. Instead, I take another squeaky step inside and stand in the entranceway proper, removing my wet hat with my left hand. I scan the length of the Nave facing the magnificent sculpture at the far end of the central walkway of inlaid grey stone that makes up the floor.
“Do you seek refuge from the storm my son?” a soft-spoken voice from the shadows says. I turn on it, half surprise reaction, half relief. A man steps into the weak light from the shadows near the doorway behind where I’m standing. He is a short dark-skinned man in his 30's. His trim jet-black beard frames his handsome Middle-Eastern features that compliment his thick Middle-Eastern accent. He wears a flowing purple priest's robe with golden trim inside of which his crossed arms hide.
“Among other things.” I say, squaring up my shoulders.
“Other things?” He says
“The answer to a mystery.” I say. “I'm looking for a priest. Father Beck. Is he here?”
“Ahh... a pilgrim!” He says, his round face breaking into a crisp white smile. “Come pilgrim. We shall attempt to find your truth.” He gives me a knowing glance before gliding towards the front of the cathedral. I look around the entryway, peering deep into the dark shadows for whatever else might have slipped my notice, but there is nothing. So I turn and follow the Priest down the long stone nave.
“Truth? Does the church still deal in truth?” I say “I was under the impression that the media had exclusive rights nowadays.” The priest casts me a whimsical smile and chuckles.
“Do you not know the nature of the truth?” he asks. “The truth is spherical pilgrim. All truth perspectives are viable when we realize that Yahweh-Allah-God reveals himself to each of us in a way that we can best understand.”
“I'm Sorry, what are you talking about?” I say.
“I mean that to me you are merely a pilgrim, another in a long line of truth-seekers.” He explains. “But to yourself you are many things. What I can not say, I am but a humble servant of Deus.”
“Are you Father Beck or not?” I’m talking louder than I mean to, partially because he is walking faster than me. He stops and turns, allowing me to catch up. We stand there silently for a minute as the priest sizes me up.”
“No.” he says flatly. “I am Father Ziod.” His smile comes back and he says. “Tell me pilgrim, why do you seek the dead among the living?”
“So he is dead then... How and when?”
“Come, I will show you,” says Ziod, and he resumes his walk towards the front of the church. He walks quickly for such a small man. It takes an effort for me to stay at his side, my coat-tails brushing past the many rows of pews until we finally reach the wide open central crossing of the cathedral, below the great dome of the church to where the base of the monstrous sculpture meets the stone floor.
“Yahweh-Allah-God loves all creatures infinitely,” he tells me. “It is for this reason that we have such diversity on our terrestrial plain.”
“Yahweh-Allah-God?” I say, “What happened to just-plain-God?”
He Smiles at this. “Yes my son, the one true god is too big for any one name, his love is in all mankind. All things, all creation, even ‘the fallen’, though the Virgin Saint Dairine of the Blue Veil did teach us that we must also-”
“What fallen?” I say. I know he’s toying with me, but something in my gut tells me that I’m getting closer.
“Er, yes. Some of us fall, others of us have fallen. Yet others do not survive the fall... Such it was with Father Beck.”
Bingo. “You speak in riddles.” I say. “Did Father Beck... Fall?”
“You are now seeing the truth behind the truth aren't you?” He says.
“What are you telling me? That he literally fell? That he died by falling from a great height?” As I’m saying it some trick of the light draws my attention and I glance up to where the furthest of the epic statues struggle against one another in their permanent wrestling rage. Right on cue the lightning flashes behind the high clerestory stained glass, casting a long horrible shadow of the two topmost statues merging and spreading them all the way down the slope in a strobing flash of colors. The shadow betrays itself as the shape of a man not unlike how one might appear if he should he lose his footing up on the places where the walkway is hidden by the writhing stone creatures and fall to his death below.
For a moment I can see him there in the split second flash of dancing light and colors. The fiery red-haired effeminate dead Father Beck lies at the base of the sculpture. His expression is that of surprise. Blood pools near his head. I feel like I’ve seen it all before somewhere. I rub the light from my eyes and look away. Father Ziod is beaming from ear to ear, he too peers up at the massive sculptural scene looming before us. I suddenly feel both puzzled and uncomfortable. It’s definitely time to leave this place. It occurs to me that I don’t know the last time I slept.
“Man fights battles all around himself.” The priest says. “The spiritual war wages with the physical struggle. Sometimes we win these battles, and sometimes we do not.”
“Uh huh.” I say “Can you show me where he slept?” Moments later I’m standing by a tiny half circle window with bars at the top of a small and simple monastic cell. I can see nothing out of it except more rain – if you can call it that – floating down in waves of eerie grey mist. Ziod stands in the doorway holding a single candlestick in a little tin candle holder.
The walls of the cell are bare save the unusual Crucifix/Star of-David hybrid hanging on the wall above the humble sheetless cot. A well-used little wooden study desk, barely big enough for a man to sit at, is opposite. On it is a single large book, a half-used unlit candle and a strand of prayer beads. The candlelight from Father Ziod's single candlestick casts an eerie dancing yellow glow over everything in the room including me.
I gaze out of the little window at the blackness beyond strangely fascinated by the silent lightning somewhere in the distance, before beginning my slow search of the room. I decide the cot is as good a place to start as any. Ziod is still talking in riddles. I decide he’s either a really great preacher or a really lonely one.
“The man you seek struggled with a fallen self, he died to himself many times, and Yahweh-Allah-God took him and gave him a new life each time. In his final life he came to be with us here, knowing that the world had no place for him anymore.” I give him a courtesy glance, he has an almost wax-like benevolent expression, and I half expect it to melt away like the candle he’s holding. “We took him as one of our own and called him as Yahweh-Allah-God would have us call him.” He motions to the crucifix on the wall. I’m holding the mattress end up in the air, but glance at the crucifix doubtfully, to show him that I’m not completely ignoring him.
Nothing. I lower the mattress, and run my hand along the bare walls, testing for anything unusual. Ziod continues. “Then some fifteen days ago as of this night, while dutifully cleaning the effigy of the spirits for evening mass, he fell in a different way than he had before, and was taken from us in body and in spirit.” I flick a glance at him but say nothing. I stroll over to the little wooden desk instead. “He found his place among us serving the wretched and the poor, and sharing his truth to those who would hear it. Many times did I hear him tell of his new life in Yahweh-Allah-God. And many times did others seek his truth. Many of the brothers here miss his truth. I am one of them.”
I scan the surface of the desk and brush my left hand across it. I finger the beads and then pick up the unlit candlestick holder in my left hand by its tiny tin handle. It’s just like the other one, standard issue I suppose. As I’m about to set it down though, I see it. Something carefully scratched into the surface of the desk where the candle was sitting. Ziod is too busy listening to himself to notice. “For it is a new truth in science and logic that Yahweh-Allah God gives to those who seek a new identity in him, if they know where to look. We must always strive to be observant to see the truth about those around us.” I replace the candle holder and continue my search, of the desk but it’s a formality at this point. I have what I came for.
“A new identity?” I say. I fish the tiny subcue chip from the depths of his deep trench coat pocket, holding it between the first finger and thumb of my left hand and lock eyes with Ziod. “Like this one?”
Ziod stares across the glowing yellow room at the miniscule device between my thick fingers. His benevolent smile melts into a tight frown. He speaks firmly but gently. “I believe it is time for you to go now. I can not help you any further… Detective.”
* * *
I step from the small doorway of the enormous cathedral portico where yellow light from inside pours out onto the sidewalk in front of the church. Standing at the edge of the light I close my coat tightly around me, preparing to melt into the night. A thick dark mist sucks away all light mere inches away from the portico's protective cover.
I step from the cathedral onto the sidewalk and begin the long walk down the deserted ghetto street of flickering streetlights and the wet gutters from the direction I originally came. For the first few seconds it’s so quiet that my footfalls and the buzzing of an old halogen bulb are the only sounds, until they are drowned out slowly by the rain picking up again, plopping harder and faster onto the shiny wet concrete jungle. As I pass under a street lamp it goes out with a flash and a pop-hiss then after I pass it, inexplicably flickers back on. A conspiracy of light and darkness against me.
I allow myself an indulgent smile at the thought as I stop for a moment and look both directions down the street, but it is completely empty of anything living. Only swirling papers and trash getting pummeled by the storm’s renewed vigor. I raise my trench coat’s collar, pull down my hat, and quicken my pace, splashing past the boarded up buildings of Old Downtown. I’m eager now to get back to Sam’s and find out what Bishop has dug up about the phrase that seems to be the common thread in an otherwise random series of events. The phrase scratched into a wooden desk by a dead priest.
Deus Ex Machina
"God From the Machine"