Peter Radcliffe didn’t suffer his wounds with the stoic reserve of a man of the cloth. He moaned in Maria’s backseat, clutching his shoulders where the beast had raked through the deacon’s chasuble. Blood leaked from his martyred muscles, and he gasped for breath in ragged sobs as the young woman chewed her lip and pushed down faster on the accelerator. Traffic, even at this hour, only caused her frustration to climb higher. And there is no siren for the Lord’s work; no flashing light that cries “Make way! For this way pass the bearers of the light of the Redeemer!”
The beaten old Chevy Cavalier screeched into the alley behind Holy Name, and Peter coughed. There was blood in it. Maria threw the parking brake on, and helped the young priest hobble into the sacristy. Fresh rain struck cold and sharp on his ravaged back, eliciting fresh cries. “Madre de Dios, sálvanos,” she muttered, and heaved the bleeding man into the waiting arms of Brother Remus. They bundled him into the back of the church, and closed the door.
The next two hours were a jumble of bandages, stitches, and the harsh smell of antiseptic. Rushed whispers in High Latin, and fervent prayers for the assistance of St. Luke, the healer who walked with Christ. Peter wondered, fuzzy from pain and exhaustion, whether Luke could hear them over the rain. The rain that God had sent…
After a while, the swelling had gone down and Peter was wrapped in a swathe of white cotton bandages stained with hydrogen peroxide. But he would live. His body now accounted for, he gestured to Maria for his bag. She retrieved it, and the wounded man retrieved his rosary, fitting it between his fingers with an ease that spoke of old habit.
His was a little unorthodox (many things about the father were), in that it held two medallions, not the traditional one. There was the crucifix, of course, the symbol of the sacrifice that He made for us. But there was also a small silver medal embossed with a golden dove, the mark of the Holy Spirit, the aspect of the all-redeeming God that was present in every facet of this imperfect world. Peter slid the beads over and between his hands with a rhythmic clicking, whispering his prayers with head bowed.
“Lord, forgive me, for I have failed you. Though I released one soul to your loving embrace, I could not save the other to be redeemed on Earth. I was not strong enough.”
Click. His hands were steady.
“Lord, forgive that man, for he knew not what he did. I saw a beast in his eyes that I had never known before. There was some horrible curse on him that robbed him of Adam’s gift and made him as an animal. I can hate him no more than I can hate a cat that kills in hunger, Lord, and I know You will accept him into Your Kingdom.”
Click. Peter’s hands trembled. His voice began to shake.
“Lord, forgive Arkady for her hate. She is so scared, I can feel it rise from her soul like a cold tide in the dark. She is drowning in frightened voices, Lord. Rescue her.”
Click. His hands shook more violently, threatening to drop the beads. A crack crept into Peter’s usually measured tone.
“Lord, forgive Dylan, for he has killed someone, and I don’t know if he will grow used to it. I won’t let him kill again, Lord, please. Forgive him this once. Don’t let him…”
Click click ka-click. The rosary hit the floor. Peter Radcliffe’s head dropped into his hands. He sobbed the last prayer.
“Don’t let him lose his soul too, Lord. Please don’t let him be like the little girl.”
Pete broke down completely, his tortured body wracked by pain and grief for the stain on a man’s soul. Blood and tears dripped on the floor of the Cathedral of the Holy Name, and his two comrades embraced him. They thought him naive, untempered. A new candle-bearer in a Vigil as old as sin. But they knew his pain. They held him in silence as dawn broke over Philadelphia, a city watched over by hundreds of monsters, witches and demons. But watched over too by a peaceful carpenter and His bloodied, weeping, brave disciples. The candle burned lower, but it did not go out.