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Sever the Wicked, Part I: Clemont

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

How Mrs. Kowalski was still alive, Father Clemont could only guess.

She smoked constantly, and when she didn't have a cigarette between her lips, she was either crunching on a Werther's or packing her gums with dip. He knew for a fact she would not touch a hamburger that had been left on the grill for any longer than it took to brown the meat.

"Wound mine and bring it to the table, Father," she'd always tell him at the annual church picnic, usually while tilting a bottle of light beer in his direction.

At first he'd thought it was simply good genetics, but Mrs. Kowalski's parents had died in quick succession in their mid-fifties - a bit younger than Clemont, as it happened, and an unwelcome observation which the somewhat pudgy priest eagerly shoved aside.

Over time, he'd given in to the notion that perhaps Mrs. Kowalski's longevity had to do with living life with a clear conscience: for the twenty years Clemont had served Perkins Diocese, she'd shown up for Saturday confessional every week: rain or shine, snow or sleet, serpents, locusts, or otherwise.

The only time she'd ever missed an in-person confession had been while she was battling COVID, though Clemont supposed it was more like COVID had been battling Mrs. Kowalski. But even then, she'd phoned him that Saturday for her confessional. Zoom was a non-starter.

He knew almost everything there was to know about this woman. And yet, here she sat on the other side of the confessional's divider, holding on to her coin purse with shaking, withered hands, and confessing to the theft of a single package of Trident gum that week.

"I just don't know how it fell into my purse, Father," she said. The woman spoke slowly and deliberately, as if she had another sixty years ahead of her. The way she was going, she probably did. "The coating they put on those packages now, they're just so darn slippery."

Clemont sighed as quietly as he could manage, leaning his back against the wall and shifting his weight on the bench slightly. His ass was tired. He wanted a sandwich and a Miller.

He'd picked up a sixer the other day from the same corner store where Mrs. Kowalski always shoplifted. The owner, Gordon Gripchek, was also a parishioner, and well aware of Kowalski's peculiar habit. Each week, Clemont attempted to pay for the pack of gum Mrs. Kowalski stole, and each week, Gripchek turned him down, so the priest would put the difference into the Juvenile Diabetes ("diabeetus", to hear most of Perkins Township say it) Tootsie Roll bank on the counter instead.

Things moved on a track in Perkins, and that was exactly how Clemont liked it. There were times where he wondered if he might have done more with his faith, but the little voice that'd called him to the service of God in the first place had been quiet ever since his ordination and assignment to St. Paul's.

So when he'd given Mrs. Kowalski her penance (five Hail Marys) and sent her on her way, he was surprised to see someone new standing at the foot of the sanctuary.

The stranger was alarmingly tall and wore a filthy raincoat which made him look like an enormous, overripe banana. Rainwater from the afternoon's storm dripped from the coat, pooling onto the church's new stone floor. The priest allowed himself a small frown before clearing his expression and approaching the man.

"Hello, there," he called, doing his best to ignore the muddy bootprints leading to the altar from the narthex. Getting everything cleaned up before the next service was going to be a sonofabitch. "Something I could help you with? Our next Mass starts at four thirty, if you --"

Clemont stopped short as the man turned, and found himself fighting back a grimace. The stranger had a long, hooked nose, and strands of scraggly black hair hung about his face, also dripping with rainwater. Pallid skin seemed to hang loose on his bones, and there was a faint smell of rotten meat about him.

But the worst was his eyes: the pupils were so dilated Clemont wondered whether he'd be sucked right into the man's skull if he stared into them long enough. He pushed aside the notion: if he turned away every gruff-looking weirdo who came into his church, he'd ... well, he'd still have about the same number of people in his congregation, but that wasn't the point.

"I won't be staying for Mass," the stranger rasped. "I'm a long-haul driver. Gotta get back on th' road."

"What a shame," Clemont replied, his voice taut. The interstate was fifty miles away. "Perhaps you have something to confess?"

"Mmm. Confession." The stranger grinned, revealing chipped, blackened teeth. "I could curl your toes, Father." He chuckled, and a part of Clemont withered and died. When the priest didn't offer anything further, the stranger continued. "I hear tell you've got an Incorruptible here, and since my route brought me close, I thought I'd have me a look-see."

Clemont wrung his hands. He knew he ought to say, "Why yes, of course, let's add another corpse to this party," and that there was every possibility this man spent most of his days being ostracized simply because he looked like he'd stepped out of a slasher movie poster. Then again, Clemont had watched enough John Carpenter films to know that there was probably a reason for the alarm bells going off in his head right now - not the least of which being that the body had arrived only a couple days prior. Gossip was about the only thing that moved quickly in Perkins, but it was often slow to leave the town.

Of course, if he said "no," besides it being a violation of his creed, there was a nonzero chance this man would beat him to death anyway.

He sighed.

"Of course. Follow me." The priest stepped quickly around the man and led him to the far side of the church, where an unnamed woman lay in repose in a glass coffin, lit on all sides by LED panels.

She looked young enough to be Clemont's granddaughter, had his life taken a different path. She was beautiful, in a rough sort of way. Besides the large scar on her cheek, she bore no marks or blemishes: as an Incorruptible, her body miraculously refused to decay. Her hands were crossed over a cane, which seemed odd, given her apparent youth. She was dressed as a nun, but of which order, Clemont couldn't say. When he'd pressed the Diocese for more information -- about the woman, where she'd come from, and why she'd been abruptly shuttled to southern Illinois -- he'd received only the name of a church, which Google told him was on the outskirts of Prague.

So when they arrived at the side of the coffin, he spread his hands in silent apology. "Here she is. I wish I could even tell you her name, but, alas."

The stranger took a deep breath, as if savoring the scent at one of those candle stores Clemont's niece was always going on about.

"Her name is Revka."

"What did you - ooof!" The stranger swatted Clemont aside with the barest of gestures, sending the priest tumbling backward on the stone floor.

"I'll deal with you next, mortal," the man growled, reaching for the coffin. "It's a long ride to my next stop, and I'll need a snack before I skip town."

Clemont's world was spinning, but two thoughts remained clear to him. First, he should've frigging listened to John Carpenter. Second, he had to stop this maniac, even if it meant a trip to the hospital - or worse. He pulled out his phone, meaning to call the cops, but he must've landed on it: the screen was smashed and useless.

A dull thrumming filled his ears. The stranger was pounding on the coffin with great, hammering blows, but seemed to be making no headway. Clemont briefly wondered what the coffin was made out of to withstand such abuse, then grabbed a candelabra and rushed the monstrous stranger.

Crying out, he swung with the candelabra, connecting with it across the man's back. The stranger turned, his hideous mouth peeled back in a snarl. Clemont knew immediately he'd created a Big Problem for himself, but raised the candelabra for another swing anyway. He wasn't going to let this ... whatever-it-was defile a centuries-old relic on his watch. He brought the candelabra down, but the stranger caught it easily, wrenching it out of Clemont's clammy hands.

Clemont backpedaled, then cried out as he tripped over the altar's small staircase, falling back on his ass, which was still sore from the confessional. As the stranger lumbered toward him, he lamented that he was about to die with a sore ass, and then wondered if that was really about to be his last sentient thought.

The stranger started to laugh as he reached for Clemont, and it was about the most awful sound the priest had ever heard. But just before those thick fingers closed around Clemont's throat, the stranger grunted. A moment later, the tip of a blade burst through his chest, then vanished just as quickly, leaving a small wound that oozed an acrid black ichor.

The stranger spun to face his assailant, and Clemont leaned over to get a look as well.

The woman from the coffin stood there, the bladed tip of her cane dripping with the stranger's blood. She was smiling.

Clemont couldn't believe what he was seeing. Surely, the stranger was actually throttling him, and this was just the last deluded fantasy of his oxygen-starved brain. But it was real.

The reanimated nun whirled aside as the stranger swung a clumsy haymaker at her. She seemed to glide across the floor, coming to a stop just in front of the pews. Lots of late-night kung fu movies had taught Clemont how to recognize a fighting stance, and she definitely had one. The stranger howled and swung for her again. She dodged once more, and he crashed through the front row of pews, sending splintering wood everywhere. Clemont threw an arm up in front of his face.

"Please don't destroy my church! We just paid off our renovation loan!"

The woman called Revka snapped her head toward Clemont, chattering at him in a language he didn't understand. The stranger took his chance, grasping the nun by the neck and hurling her into the pews.

She cried out as she thudded into one. The cane clattered to the floor. The stranger let out another of his horrid laughs and started toward Revka. Under the pews, Clemont could see her struggling to get to her feet.

He had to buy her time. So, he did something that, in a more sane situation, he would have never contemplated. He yanked off the crucifix that hung around his neck, and rushed the stranger, pressing it into the man's flesh. It hissed and crackled as soon as it made contact.

The stranger shrieked, reaching around his back and grasping at Clemont. But the priest stumbled backward just in time to avoid the hand. The stranger whirled to face him.

"I was going to make your death quick, priest," he snarled. "But now I'm going to spread your guts all over this altar." He reached for Clemont, and for the second time that day, Revka saved the priest's life.

The stranger gasped as a series of serrated blades wrapped itself around his neck. Each contained dozens of tiny barbs that bit further into his flesh with each movement. Clemont's gaze followed the blades back to their source: the reanimated nun's cane had become some kind of bladed whip. Black ichor ran freely from the stranger's mouth. He snapped something at Revka in her native tongue. The smile returned to her face. She spat back a few more words, then yanked on the whip.

The stranger's head tumbled from his shoulders, thudding onto the floor and rolling to a stop, face-down, in a muddy bootprint.

Revka turned immediately to Father Clemont and began gabbling at him, but his focus was mostly on the stranger’s lifeless body, which had slumped forward, spraying ichor all over the priest from its gaping neck hole. As the corpse erupted into a heatless blue flame, all Clemont could do was laugh.

What the Hell had he just survived? And how was he supposed to explain all this to his parishioners, who'd be arriving soon for Saturday evening mass?

He didn't have long to ponder it: darkness crept in around the edges of his vision, and then the floor rushed up to meet him.


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