Morning light filtered through the filthy basement window, illuminating the vicar at his desk of stacked crates topped with a plank of wood. By the fervent jerking of his elbow, by his raspy breaths and pained mumbles, I knew he was writing more bible stories. I tried to sleep again, to get back my dream of cramming juicy corn ears into my mouth before they morphed into crusty black buds, but it was gone. Not for the first time I regretted bringing him here - all the suffering I’d witnessed and the one person I rescued was an insane vicar. I found him a month ago, staggering among the smoke and cinders of a burning church, a long dirty cut stretching from his eye to his jaw. The years of church services, nightly prayers, my mother’s devoted worship, all bubbled to the surface. Say what you like about religion, but it’s durable. I got up from my blankets and went to piss in the sink.
The vicar looked around, startled. “You’re UP! You’re UP!” he cried. “Good, good, they’re NEARLY ready.”
I told him the only thing ready was me – for more sleep.
“YOU!” he cried, pointing his pencil stump, his eyes unfocused. “You contribute NOTHING!”
To that I replied he could be a bit more pleasant, especially as he expected me to risk my neck handing out his crappy stories when I should be concentrating on finding food.
“Crappy? CRAPPY? You need to learn some RESPECT, young man. Some RESPECT for The LORD!”
To that I said maybe I’d have more respect for The Lord if The Lord could see it within his oh so mighty powers to perhaps call time on this apocalypse and return some peace on earth. Because isn't that what He says, peace on earth and goodwill towards all men?
"We are stained with the blood of the Son," mumbled the vicar, wiping a shaking hand over his saliva-crusted beard. He turned back to his page.
Mostly to myself, I replied, "Not surprising, what with all the people being ripped open."
"What was that?"
I couldn’t get back to sleep. Besides, we needed food. I found some blackberries and a rabbit a few days ago, and we finished crunching the bones last night. While dressing in my battle suit, a knocked-up armour of saucepans and string, and sharpening my hunting knife on a concrete ledge, I tried not to think about the next few hours. The screams and madness and blood.
Before I left, the vicar shoved his stories into my hand. "I've told them,” he hissed. “They will KNOW how our lips are shaped for SIN. They will KNOW the dance of GREED, how it advances, retreats, drawing us to our KNEES!"
I rubbed my eyes and asked if he had something a bit more upbeat, perhaps about virtue, love, or kindness. The vicar grinned, his head quivering. I shoved his stories in my rucksack.
The day was brutal. A middle-aged woman outside a burnt out Toyota dealership tried to sell me the dead boy in her arms - by his pale complexion, I surmised it wasn’t her son. I didn’t know if this was better or worse. Later I fought a man with blackened skin for a bag of flour. After I pried it from his fingers, the fire went from his eyes, and when I tried to remove my knee from his neck he pulled it back down, willing me to kill him. I refused.
In the afternoon, I swapped the flour for a bag of mouldy apples with an old woman in a dark alley. She went to stab me in the back, but on instinct I spun around and put my hunting knife through her right eye. She shuddered and her legs gave way. When I lowered the knife she slid off and crumpled on the filthy floor.
By the time I got home, darkness was falling. I remembered the vicar’s stories and took them from the rucksack. They were illegible anyway, scrawled and dirty, on pieces of scrap. I threw them away then crept down to our basement. The vicar was kneeling in the centre of the room, the last light of day shining on him through the window’s dirt.
“Did they read the stories?” he asked.
I dropped the bag of apples and then collapsed in the corner, tiredly tugging off my battle suit. My head was bursting with horror.
“Did they feel the LORD inside them?”
I shut my eyes and tried to clear my head. I tried to concentrate on just breathing.
The vicar cried, “Did you SHARE the WISDOM of the LORD?”
Some time later, I might have slept.
Rupan is a short writer of tall stories who spends his spare time cowering from the rainy northern England skies. He has previous publications in Night Train, Wordriot, Everyday Fiction, and other places.