“The Counting” by Nat Russo

by E.V. Jacob on October 21, 2013

Tonight’s frightening fable is brought to you by the letter A and the number 6.  And readers like you!  But mostly, it’s brought to us by Nat Russo (@NatRusso)!


Sandy waited for Monsignor Thomas at the corner cafe, sipping her latte and watching the people as they ate their muffins and drank their coffee. Mindless drones. If they knew why she was here they wouldn’t look so complacent. All their lives would change after today.

A man in black walked up the sidewalk and entered the courtyard where she was sitting. As he turned she saw the collar and waved him over.

“You’re Sandy?” Monsignor Thomas said. His voice was high-pitched and almost accusatory. He sat and poured himself a cup of coffee from a carafe on the table.

She looked into his squinting eyes, so narrow she couldn’t tell which way he was looking. But those cold eyes were in there somewhere. His face and mannerisms created an aura of piety that hid the blackness within. She knew him to be a master of disguise, changing masks with the changing tides of conversation and company. She had watched him spend so many years perfecting his camouflage that she doubted he knew himself anymore. This would be all too easy.

“I read the announcement,” Sandy said. “It’s Bishop Thomas now, is it? The death of Bishop James was such a loss.”

“Indeed. I’m sorry, did we meet at St. Bart’s? I’m pretty good with faces, though it’s been a while since I was assigned there. I know I’ve seen you before, though.”

Bishop Thomas adjusted the large gold cross that was pinned to his chest.

“Six years, to be exact,” Sandy said. “Your pectoral cross uncomfortable?”

“It’s a temporary. The memorial mass of Bishop James? No, it was before then. Long before, if I’m not mistaken. Something about your eyes, but…no that was a man.”

“Bishop James was such a holy man. Some would go so far as to call him a living saint.”

“That he was. I know…you worked at the seminary, didn’t you?”

“You will accomplish things beyond anything your predecessor envisioned in his lifetime.”

“Kind of you. Look, Sandy is it? I’m very busy at the chancery. My assistant told me this was important, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I’d appreciate it if you’d get to the point. I have an installation mass to prepare for.”

“Patience was a virtue Bishop James held in spades, among his many others. I myself am quite patient too. I have been waiting for this day for a very long time. You’re going to have to work on your patience if you wish to succeed in the world of politics.”

“Now you confuse me, madam. Or else you have me confused with someone else.”

“There’ll be no confusion after today. You were in the seminary for six years, weren’t you? Most spend at least eight or nine.”

His body stiffened. “Yes. What does that–”

“Please, Bishop,” Sandy said. “Humor me. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

Bishop Thomas sipped his coffee. “I had some college prior to entering, so I graduated a little sooner than most. Why do you bring it up?”

“Sooner and with higher grades. First in your class, if I’m not mistaken.”

“I wasn’t counting. Who are you?”

“We’re getting to the counting part. You were particularly fond of Eschatology, were you not? The study of the four last things?”

“Death, Judgment, Heaven–”

“And Hell.”

Bishop Thomas took another sip. “That’s the ultimate mystery, isn’t it? What happens at the end of all things?”

“Interesting question for a bishop. Perhaps you’d know the answer if you were more spiritually focused.”

Bishop Thomas stood. “Forgive my rudeness, but as I said, I’m very busy. If you call the chancery we can schedule a longer–”

“In such a hurry to kill again, Bishop?” Sandy said.

Bishop Thomas stopped and adjusted his black suit jacket.

Sandy pushed the empty chair toward him with her black stiletto heel. “We haven’t yet spoken about what you’re hiding in the basement of the episcopal mansion. It would be a scandal beyond anything the Church has known this century if the news became public knowledge.”

The bishop’s face drained of color. He glanced around furtively and sat in the chair. “What you think you know–”

“Oh I’ve got your number. After your time as associate pastor of St. Bart’s, you were appointed pastor of St. Jerome’s. Then, after a meteoric rise to the position of Episcopal Vicar in a matter of three years, the Pope himself appointed you Bishop of this diocese, after the untimely demise of Bishop James. They never found the murder weapon, though we both know where it is.”

“What do you want?”

Sandy chuckled. “Employ that wisdom and understanding of yours, Bishop.”

“Money? I have plenty.”

“Let’s get on with the counting, shall we?”

“Property? It can be arranged.”

“Six years in the seminary.”

A bead of sweat formed on his brow. “Please. No one can know.”

“Six years as an associate pastor.”

“My God. I have seen your face before!”

“And a murder weapon hidden behind six inches of brick.”

“Sandy. Bishop James Sandy Moynlin. This isn’t possible!”

“Six, Six, and Six. Come now, Bishop. Eschatology is your specialty. You should know what that means.”

“I killed you!”

With an act of will, Sandy transformed into the ghost of Bishop James. The end of a spectral butcher’s knife protruded from her chest, next to a ghostly pectoral cross. The same cross Bishop Thomas was wearing.

“You’re the Antichrist, dear Bishop,” Sandy said.

Screams rose in the courtyard as people scrambled away, toppling tables and chairs.

“I spent my life witnessing for God,” Sandy said. “As has the man you seek to kill now in your rise to power.”

“I can’t be.”

“But you know it’s true. And today the world will know your identity.”

Bishop Thomas turned and ran.

Sandy glanced at the three sixes imprinted on her palm in Greek and laughed.

And now to build my empire.

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