5/09/2016

Space Without God (Short Story)

Space Without God
by Chris Huber

If you’re wondering where I was when I heard about them, I’ll tell you. I was having dinner in my apartment, watching the evening news, just like any other day. In fact, I had just come from afternoon mass, and stopped at the grocery store on my way home. I always spend a long while at the grocery store, because I like to pick only the best apples. On an average night, I’ll stand there in the produce section deciding between two red delicious apples for upwards of ten minutes, turning them over in my hands, feeling their weight, examining them closely for tiny grooves and imperfections. It’s foolish, I know, especially considering the fact that I’m a priest, and all the while I’m doing this I’m still wearing my robe, having come straight from mass. I’m getting off track, though.

What I really wanted to say was that mass was pretty normal that night, so nobody must have heard about them yet. My sermon was normal, too —a few verses from Genesis, then my handy dandy Matthew with just a splash of Luke. Then of course the miracle of Lazarus and since it was Friday night, some bits about Mary Mag, just to spice things up. Of course, I would never tell the people at church that I chose those stories about a woman who is considered by many to be a whore simply because it was a Friday night, but the implication made everything much more entertaining for me.

To tell you the truth, I stopped believing in God a long time ago. I won’t tell you why, because then you might stop listening to my story, because you might be offended, so just take it at face value. I am a priest who does not believe in God. When I stopped believing I decided to remain a priest because it was the easiest way to keep on living my life. It was already my job, and I had already broken the no-sex rule anyway, so I saw no point in quitting. Plus, there are a lot of positives to being a priest, many of them obvious: People respect you. You get a lot of free food. You can borrow from the donation box. I would keep going, but I would rather just tell you about Reconciliation. Confession is my absolute favorite thing about being a priest. I guess I should say it was my favorite thing about being a priest, because for reasons you’ll find out later, I’m not really a priest anymore.

I’ll start with Martha-Ann. She was this little old lady who lived all by herself and couldn’t wait to die. She never had sex or took drugs or cursed anybody out or anything, so she was pretty sure that she was going to heaven. I knew this because she told me through the screen, where she would confess the dumbest little things, as if God were concerned with her menial daily life.

“I fed Mister Snuffles three times yesterday, and I knew it was wrong but I still did it. I didn’t care that he might become unhealthy, I just wanted to see him wag his little tail.”

It was sweet, really. I would assign her two Hail Marys, and she would be very thankful and then launch into her next incident. This would go on for hours if I didn’t invent my personal rule to cut her off after three or four, depending on how many other people were waiting. Her concerned voice telling me about the little things was very soothing to me, and although I usually stopped listening after her first confession, it was not the words themselves but the way she spoke that did it for me, and I will miss her very dearly.

Not everybody’s confessions were as innocent was old Martha-Ann’s. Oh no. Earl Slater, now there’s a guy who really gives me the creeps.

So, before I tell you about this one, I want to make something clear. I was kind of bound by the church and the vows I took not to tell anyone about anything that anybody confessed to me, unless it was really, really bad. That being said, I probably should have told somebody about this Earl Slater guy, but I didn’t. Slater’s a middle school football coach and science teacher in the town that I lived in. West Rulesbury, if you really need to know.

His confessions started out fairly innocent, things like how he gave the quarterback an A when he really deserved a C, or being too hard on one of the kids at practice. But after a while, when he became more comfortable with me, shit started getting pretty weird. The first thing that freaked me out was when he told me about the “private exams” he would give his starters, in which they would come into his office alone and flex their muscles, and he said it kind of turned him on, but he didn’t touch them or anything. That one cost him ten Hail Marys and two Our Fathers. I probably should have given him more, and called the school, but he was a nice guy and by nice guy I mean that he always put a lot of money in the donation box. He said he knew that it was wrong, but he couldn’t stop doing it, and his confessions kept getting worse and worse.

I guess I never told anyone because I think it makes him feel better to talk to me, or at least that’s what I know I should tell you to make me not look like an asshole. But you probably already know that I’m an asshole and you’re still listening, so by this point it’s safe to assume that you don’t care.

You must be just like me.

Now that I’ve sufficiently creeped you out, I want to get to the main point of my story — the aftermath of that news report.

So, I’m eating my apples and peanut butter and out of nowhere the T.V. flashes to BREAKING NEWS: EXTRATERRESTRIAL CONTACT HAS BEEN MADE, and then appeared a map of The Milky Way with all the intelligent life bearing planets and all that, but you probably saw the same news report so we can skip that part.

Anyway, I wasn’t really surprised to learn that aliens exist. I had suspected alien life for many years, but I knew that a whole lot of people would be completely shocked. I didn’t know what a ruckus it would cause at the church, though, for Christ’s sake. I thought that most people would go about their daily lives as usual. I should have known how wrong I was, but how could I have? I already didn’t believe in God, so the whole aliens thing didn’t make me think too much about God. I went to sleep glad, and looking forward to what we would learn about our new intragalactic friends in the future.

Morning mass changed everything. It was 8:30am, thirty whole minutes before mass even started, and half the regulars were already gathered outside waiting for me, all of them looking deeply concerned. They could have went inside, as the doors were unlocked, but for some reason none of them did. I drove right past them and into my usual parking spot, and immediately a few of them were coming towards me. I got out of my car and rushed to the side door, fumbling with my keys and pretending not to see them, even after one of them shouted my name.

Once inside the church I went straight to the bathroom to stare at myself in the mirror. It usually helps me to calm down during fits of panic, but this time it was useless. I knew the churchgoers would have a whole lot of questions for me; questions to which I really didn’t know the answers. The thought of having to help my congregation figure out a new direction in life made me sick. I went into a stall and expelled the contents of my stomach into the toilet bowl. Luckily none of my vomit missed the bowl, or got on my robe. I only had eighteen minutes left before mass, so at least some of the chunks of bacon, egg, and cheese would have had to remain where they were. I flushed the toilet and hurried to grab the bread and wine from the fridge, took a swig, then placed them below the altar and waited for the people to file in.

I remained at my bunker that was the altar and hoped to God, or whoever— that they would all just go sit in the pews and let me conduct a normal mass and go home. At first I was relieved to see that they all sat in silence, staring at me, waiting for me to speak, just like every other day. But this time was different. They were all bug-eyed and the air was tense, and I could tell that their brains were about to explode. They really hoped that I would have answers for them, as if I had a personal meeting with God, and I was just going to report back to them. I decided to avoid the subject that everyone was so obviously waiting for me to address.

“Good morning, everybody,” I gave my usual greeting. “Hope you all had a restful evening.”

Silence. I knew I should say something about the aliens, but I really didn’t want to.

“As we grow closer to the season of advent, we must remember the suffering that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ endured so that we could be here today.”

More silence.

“We must give thanks to Jesus and remember keep him in our hearts and prayers during this special time, and all throughout our daily lives. We must bear the cross, just as Christ had to bear his cross. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy—”

“What about the aliens?” Finally, a voice in the crowd.

“Yeah, what does the Bible say about aliens?” Another voice.

I pulled at my collar, trying think of something — anything at all — that I could say to help these people. Nothing came to mind.

“Martha-Ann hung herself last night,” sounded one more.

“So did Wyatt Adams.”

“My brother-in-law blew his brains out. He was a Jew.”

It was at that point I realized that the crowd was much smaller than usual, that the people waiting outside half an hour early were the only people who showed up for mass.
I wondered how many of those people must have gone the way of Martha-Ann.

“Where is everybody else?” I asked.

“Johnny Simmons and his wife said they don’t believe anymore.”

“Annie Dawson said it was a waste of time, and instead she was going to sleep ’til noon.”

“Holy shit, what am I doing here?” Earl Slater asked. “There’s a soccer game at the middle school, if anybody’s interested. Starts at ten.”

I cringed, looking around. Nobody else seemed to have noticed Slater’s exclamation, probably because they didn’t know what I knew about Earl Slater.

“Nobody?” he asked, looking around. “Alright, I’ll go alone. But y’all are missing a great game.”

I didn’t feel at ease until the door shut behind him.

“Father, what are we going to do?”

I shrugged.

“I really don’t know.”

“We need a savior!”

“Wait a minute. I’ll show you what to do.”

I paused for a minute, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. I knew what I was going to do, and the thought alone brought me endless relaxation.

I opened my eyes with a grin and said, “Bread and wine is up for grabs, if anyone wants it. And I think there’s some cheese in the fridge.”

“But the body and blood!”

On my way out, I opened the safe and grabbed the cash from the donations box. There was about ten thousand dollars in there that was supposed to be spent on church events, or given to charity. But I didn’t plan on coming back to the church any time soon. I took it all and here I am, two hours later on the first plane to Mexico.

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