“May God have mercy on your souls.”

Several ‘souls’ slouched in the ramshackle pews. Summer, sweaty and halcyon by opposing measures eked on, throwing long shadows across the tiled floor. The very air was heavy, incense cloying as it wound its way along the nave. Once bright tapestries donated by “christians for youth” now hung lank and grimy, beyond repair.

A death rattle bubbled from the priest’s lips, his body lurching forwards as he hacked viciously. At length he gasped for breath, slamming the bible down as he lifted a silver flask. Burning relief slipped down his upturned throat, muffling the concluding coughs. A few in the congregation shifted but none sought to help him.

Beside the pulpit Mrs. Moore hunched over the organ, it’s final notes long since wheezed into silence. Carmine crept from the buttons of her one pink cardigan. It didn’t matter though, none of it mattered any more.

In his younger years the priest had been a firebrand, fighting his congregation from Satan’s grasp with the pure power of his oratory. Now? Now he was here, in this forsaken place. As he shambled to the font to bless the water he looked out upon the work ahead. Miscreants, the unwashed and the unworthy. Teenagers sent by their families to learn the humility of Jesus Christ by the end of camp.

“The devil’s claws reach out into this world…”

A mumble, a dull groan. The priest chose to accept it as recognition. No sermon could save this flock. Mobile phones, the internet… every one of them connected to a direct portal to hell. Even rough justice couldn’t save these sinners now. 

In the long grass, beyond the church a cicada rasped.

Leaning his weight onto the font a grimy hand swiped his unshaven chin. A tongue wiggled out, soaking liquor sweet lips with saliva. Yes, how sweet and righteous those years had been, when the Lord had given him the strength and the power to administer his justice. How he would love to show them now. If only he could, hands tight around carved stone. 

God had set him to this purpose, that could be the only answer.

A sharp creak beckoned one of God’s fingers into the gloom. A glorious shaft of luminance cutting through the open doorway as a new lamb stumbled into his flock.The rope was dry, it hissed across the priest’s wizened hands as he coiled it. There was little need for haste, teeth clacking from the pews as he lurched towards the newcomer.

Their dance was brief, the stench of rot barely a distraction now, festering as the priest was in their filth. Bodies collided, a wet squelch following, her cool intestines colliding with his hip and dragging down his thigh. Rope twisted into a noose around her slender neck, wrinkling flesh with the heavy force of his weight as he dragged her into the bowels of the church.

The priest liked to think they meekly accepted their fate as he  fixed this new one to the pew nearest to the organ. Arms flailed, nails cracked and discoloured gouging out her distress on the pew in front.

“God bless and keep you.”

Shaking hands drew the sign of the cross above her head, welcoming her into his congregation.

In the long grass the cicada was silent. 

Arms reached from the pews as the priest shuffled by, toeing the door closed so he could resume his ministry. 

“May God have mercy on your souls.”

Eyes glazed, mouths open with inexorable hunger, his congregation found no mercy.

The priest took another draft from his flask.

The summer was the longest that anyone could remember.

It was the summer of the living dead.

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