The bells rung and Salvatore – that’s what he called himself these days – fixed his sleek black hair. One must look his best in front of the almighty. Sermon next Sunday, find your way in God, a poster by the entrance said. He stroked the benches with his fingers as he walked up the aisle. There were colourful leaflets with selected Bible stories, fairy tales for kids. It never seized to amaze him how God managed to sell his past as noble and cute. Let’s condemn two sorry beings from Paradise for eating an apple, let’s drown everyone because they’re a pain in the butt, let’s have my own son tortured and killed, but tell it all in a way that kids accept it as normal.
Salvatore smiled. How many times had he offered an easier way out, a little less dramatic? But no, God always needed to show off, to demonstrate his power, always needed unconditional love of the very people that feared him.
Machiavelli said it was good for a leader to be feared and loved, preferably to be feared if you couldn’t be both. God must have listened.
Salvatore walked down the aisle like a father without a bride, looking up at the glorious stained glass window above the altar. Jesus was still being crucified all these years later. Must be tedious, being famous for your death. Soft organ music played. Salvatore sat down on a bench and clenched his hands in prayer.
Dear Lord, it’s been a while. Have you missed me? It’s not my fault, really. You are the absent one, you never answer when I call upon you. Are you tired of your creation or have I made this game too challenging for you?
He picked up a book and opened it on a random page. Psalm 51.
Have mercy upon me, O God.
Damn, Salvatore thought. Sounds like a scene from a horror movie.
According to Your lovingkindness.
Salvatore sighed. You are so loving and kind that people must ask you for mercy. Yet, they blame me for the cruelty in the world. Why can’t you just let them have fun, Father?
As if called, a man dressed in white appeared from the side of the church. He approached Salvatore and sat next to him.
‘Psalm 51, I like that one.’ The white clad man lowered his head in prayer.
‘Of course you do.’ Salvatore stroked the paper. ‘I want to confess.’
‘Come with me.’ The man smiled and walked towards the confession booths. Salvatore followed and entered, still holding the book of psalms in his hand. Each man entered his own part of the booth and the priest started praying.
‘You’re talking to yourself, Father.’ Salvatore stroked the page with his finger, feeling the delicate paper.
‘What may I help you with, son?’
‘And in sin my mother conceived me.’
‘I’m reading your psalm. I never understood your obsession with people’s private lives.’
‘My son, if you have sinned, please confess.’
‘Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part, You will make me to know wisdom.’
‘Son, please get to the point.’
‘Is the Lord losing patience?’ Salvatore ripped the page out of the book and laid it flat in front of him.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Mothers are not sinners, my Lord. The good-time girls are not sinners. You have led them on long enough, my Lord. The only good thing you’ve done recently is abandoning the pour souls. You see what I’ve made of the world? It’s peaceful now. Mostly. You never managed that.’ Salvatore spread dried leaves on the paper, then rolled it into a cylinder.
‘I am still not sure what your sin is, my son.’
‘You don’t recognise me, do you?’ Salvatore licked the paper and put the joint in his mouth, searched his pocket for a lighter, but found none. ‘Do you have a light?’
‘Do I know you?’
‘My Lord, you supposedly know all of humankind. Every one of them. How would you otherwise judge them?’ Salvatore got tired of searching for a lighter, lifted his thumb and touched the end of the joint, sucked in the smoke and blew it out into the world.
‘My son, are you smoking weed in the church?’
‘It’s a neat trick, don’t you think? Lighting your smoke with a fingertip.’
‘Son, you can’t smoke that in church.’
‘My Lord, was it not you that created weed? Why would you object to your sheep using it? Or is it like your apple back then? I still don’t understand why you punished them for what I did.’
‘I told Eve to eat the bloody apple, and you punished her, not me.’
‘Your memory is coming back, old man.’
‘I plunged you into hell.’
‘So you did, and it was a favour. Your endless nagging and acting holy was driving me insane.’
‘Why have you come here?’
‘Just wanted to see how you were doing.’
‘You haven’t summoned me in centuries. Why now?’
‘I was bored.’ Lucifer smoked his weed, taking great pleasure in the psalm burning.
‘Have you summoned the Horsemen?’
‘Of the apocalypse? No, of course not.’ He laughed. ‘That old story. You know as well as I that the apocalypse is nonsense. It’s a story about an uprising many years ago. That you made them all believe I was going to come back and end the world, but then lose to Jesus was bogus and you know it. You used it to instil fear in humanity. You’re a tyrant, God. I have come to put an end to it. In fact, I have been putting an end to it for three centuries now. Nobody really believes in you anymore, God. Is that why you have been in hiding since the reformation?’
‘I have not been in hiding.’
‘You send your girlfriend to Portugal or wherever it was, to impress some school girls. They go crazy. Your people in the Vatican act all important and hide the secret, but where were you, God? What else have you done recently? While I have assisted humankind in the sciences and gaining knowledge. It’s like the apple back in the day. They need knowledge.’
‘You have caused two world wars and endless suffering, Lucifer.’
‘I’m not perfect like you, God. Sometimes things don’t work out, but it’s mostly good now. Almost no wars, famine at the lowest level it’s ever been, poverty and disease on the decline. A far cry from when you were still active.’
‘You will pay for this, Lucifer.’
‘See who is losing his temper? Which one of us is really the evil one?’
‘You are, Lucifer.’
‘If you say so.’ Lucifer threw the butt on the floor and stepped on it. ‘It was nice seeing you again.’
‘You will pay for this.’
‘What are you going to do? Throw some pour soul out of their garden and onto the street? Like a bouncer at a sleezy bar?’
‘I will fight you, Lucifer.’
Salvatore opened the booth and walked down the aisle towards the large door. Behind him, God climbed up onto the altar and raised his hands in the air. As Salvatore opened the door, he turned and looked at God. ‘Hold your horses, God.’
‘Damn you! Damn this whole evil world!’ God rushed down to the side of the church and through a small side door. As he stood outside, he sent a thought up into the gathering storm clouds. ‘Jesus, come down here immediately. Take the horsemen with you.’
This story is the fifteenth installment in the Moments series