“The Monsignor”

Pictures and story by Kevin Brewer


The call bounced off of the stone walls, out the large door frame and down the hall. It finally landed, faint and out of breath on the shoulders of Monsignor Fray. He sighed heavily, opened his eyes and rolled them toward the ceiling. He carefully closed his large journal and returned it to its drawer. He locked it and deftly tucked the key away inside his robes.

“The insufferable oaf,” he muttered to himself as he hoisted his body to its feet and shuffled down the hall set to give the warden a stern lecture about disturbing his time alone with God.

His hopes of a good verbal spar were dashed when he entered the darkened office and met not the steady eyes of the dungeon keeper, but the scared, beady ones of one of the prison guards, a haphazard man known as Mutt. Behind him, the warden was standing, looking out the lone barred window.

“Monsignor,” Mutt began hastily. “We have a problem with a new prisoner. He is starting trouble, shouting, and carrying on and fear he brings and…”

“That’s enough, Mutt,” the warden silenced him. “You can go now. The Monsignor and I will handle this from here. Return to your post. Tell the head watchman to put the prisoner in Quarantine until we get there.”

“Yes…yes sir,” Mutt stuttered. “Monsignor, could I have a blessing sir? The prisoner, he has been taken by a demon and I need protection.”

“Mutt!” The warden bellowed.

“Go, my son,” Fray said laying his hands quietly on Mutt’s shaking head. “God is with you.”

Mutt thanked him and left quickly, running down the hall toward the cells.

The warden’s short, stocky frame continued to stand silently by the window. Fray arranged his robes quickly and assumed his favorite stance, arms crossed and his right hand slowly caressing the gold cross around his neck.

“Damn that sheriff,” the warden said. “What business does he have sending me that pagan Celt. He did it just to spite me. He wants to make me look like a fool so he can curry more favor from the duke. He’s trying to make it look like I’m not doing my job.”

“Be wary, my son. The Lord’s gaze is long, and his ways are wise. A vengeful heart will find no place at the table of heaven. This is but a test for you, disguised behind the petty works of simple man.”

“Simple,” he snorted. “That is true. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.

“Nonetheless, I’m sorry to bother you, it being your Holy Time and all, but Mutt would have no rest for his meek heart ‘til he knew the Lord’s servant was to the matter. We do have a… situation. The Celt is not crazy save by words alone if they be believed. He speaks our tongue and knows our customs. He came to us bathed and groomed, walking proud. A most imposing man he is. I saw him, but once as they brought him to us in irons. Had to stoop to get under the doorway.

“I very much doubt he has been doing any yelling, most likely whispering into the ears of the guards, but I fancy what that his words do echo loudly inside their empty skulls. I have heard little but that which rolls around in the dark, festering and growing as it is passed from ear to ear.”

The warden reached up absently and grasped one of the iron bars.

“Could you go and speak to him. Maybe the words of the Almighty will stir some sense in him or at the very least fill him with the fear of eternal punishment should he continue to spread his blasphemy.”

“Of course, I will go to him,” he said, still caressing his cross, “and the Lord will guide my tongue to save this man. My more pressing concern, however, lies with you. Does your heart wander from the way of the Good Book? Does this man’s words test your faith in the Lord, our Savior?”

“Me? No, of course not! That is absurd!”

“Then meet the eyes of your master’s servant. Turn away from those bars and let me see into your soul.”

The warden started, realizing he was staring out the window. He turned around defiantly and locked eyes with the holy man, but only for a moment and they fell away.

“As I thought,” he said softly. “I’ll see to your prisoner, then I’ll hear your confession and we’ll put you back on the road to righteousness. Now tell me what you have heard of this man.”

Into the Dungeon…

The air in the lower dungeon positively sagged with cold English fog. The prisoners were quiet as if too heavily weighted by the moisture in the air. A lone cough slithered off the walls while Monsignor Fray made his way to the bowels of the dungeon.

The lowest level held but three cells dug into the dark earth and lined with stone and mortar. They were known as Quarantine, but they were not for the sick or infirm. They were solitary cells where the disobedient or dangerous prisoners could be locked up and forgotten about until they repented and saw the Light. It was an odd notion for a place with no windows.

These cells had been unoccupied for a great while. In fact, since Warden Fitzpatrick had taken charge., they had not been used for longer than a few hours at a time. As simple as he was, he ran a tight crew and kept the place in line. He had a good heart and did his job well. He would never condone any brutality above what was necessary for peace.

Though Fitzpatrick had many times ordered Quarantine scrubbed down, it had done little to chase away the ghosts that couldn’t escape the gloom. Fray had been here before Fitzpatrick when men who were far less noble ran the rows. He had many times personally ended the suffering of beaten and bloodied men who had crossed the wrong guard. He had freed them of their pain, but heaven was still not open to the wicked.

As there was no light in Quarantine, the Monsignor carried a large oil lamp, which in a normal room would have cast a warm amber glow, but here the flame sputtered and bobbed, suffocated by the darkness. Though he knew that even in this shadow of death he had nothing to fear, he also knew that sometimes these dead had nowhere else to go.

Quarantine did however have the benefit of being totally soundproof. A screaming madman could not be heard even one level up. For that reason, Fray favored it for counsel, as he occasionally had the need for conversations that no one should hear. That was why the new prisoner had been sent down here.

He came at last to the door and drew forth a single iron key from his vestments. Inside the cell, the prisoner would be against the wall seated but chained, as all prisoners counseled by Fray in Quarantine were ordered to be. He turned the key and pulled at the heavy door. It stuck for a moment, but then gave way. The smell of death and pain that had so saturated the walls flew out. Even scrubbing had not long removed it. Fray steeled himself and stepped inside.

The oil lamp did little to push back the gloom. The prisoner was indeed seated against the wall, silhouetted by the dull light. Fray nodded approvingly and turned around, closed the door, and locked it from the inside. He brought the light over, set it on the table and arranged himself and his robes in the chair. Only then did he turn his attention back to the large man.

He pounced to his feet, startled. The light reflected on the chains that were supposed to be holding the man’s arms. They were not. Instead, they dangled loosely from the wall. Fray started for the door.

“Please, Father,” the prisoner spoke. “Sit and be well. A man of the cloth shall have nothing to fear from me.”

He gestured to the chains.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I saw fit to give myself a bit more comfort. If you like, I can put them back on.”

Fray regained his stately composure.

“No, I suppose that will be for the best. Had you intended me harm or to escape, you would have done so by now.”

“Oh, if you could do that,” the prisoner replied, “you would be a great man indeed. I so long for salvation. The bounds and confines of this body are indeed heavy to bear. However, I have a feeling that the lessons and advice you would give to me from the Bible would no more help me than they have done before.”

“Exactly. You catch on quick.”

The Monsignor resettled himself in the chair and began, absently fingering his cross.

“I have been asked to come and speak with you about your behavior. From what I have been told, you are nothing less than the devil. My experience has taught me that people like you are probably much more than that to those I serve. Nonetheless, I am here to see what I can do about setting straight your path to eternal salvation.”

“My son,” Fray said, now comfortably well within his specialty, “Though you may have heard lessons from the Good Book before, my experience has taught me that receiving teachings is sometimes a risky business, for you can get a man preaching that never really understood the Bible in the first place and is just giving you his own opinion of heaven.”

“No one has taught me the Bible. I have read it myself a great many times.”

Fray jerked his head back slightly, stunned at this admission. “How did you gain access to the Bible? You are not a man of the cloth.”

“Oh, I have been a great many things in my search for answers. Far and wide have I journeyed, looking for the path that indeed leads to freedom.”

“You are not a Celt then, my son?”

“No, I am not a Celt, and you may call me Peter. I did just spend some time with them learning their truths and making a study of their answers. They are on the right path, as many religions of this world are, but they lack something. They believe we are spiritual in nature, but most people know that inherently. The soul, as you call it, is indeed key to this problem. The mystery is a why. Why are we here?”

“We are here to serve the Way of the Lord and to do His Good Works that we may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“Is that what is supposed to happen?” Peter asked, getting up, pulling his chair over to the table and sitting directly across from Fray, who straightened up and looked into the prisoner’s eyes. Behind the thick beard they glared, hard yet with a certain tenderness. His face, nearly fully lit now by the lamp, stuck solidly then in his mind, a small glow of familiarity beginning to form.

“Well, of course,” he said stalling. “You read the Bible. Is there any question that is what the Lord says?”


“When what?”

“When do we get to dine at the Table of the Lord?”

“Your reward will come at the end of a life spent serving the Lord,” he said. Peter leaned forward, breathing heavily, anticipating this answer. “When you die,” Fray continued, parrying the man’s intentions, “then you will be taken to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“John,” Peter said, leaning forward even more heavily on the little wooden table. “I didn’t come here to discuss the useless writings of deluded men, propagated by the power mad to keep an illiterate population under control.”

The small glow blazed up when Peter and became a fire of understanding. Fray knew just then exactly who it was that sat across from him. His years of interrogating people had taught him to hide well what he knew and so his face remained puzzled.


“That’s right, John. You know as well as I do that this Church does little with the Bible save to use it as a boot on the neck of the masses. Everyone is afraid of death, and they use that fear. They say, ‘If you are good and follow the Way, pay your tithes and never question the Mother Church or her servants, you will be rewarded when you die with a place in Heaven. However, if you are not good, the fiery pit of Hell awaits you.’

“But that’s not right, is it John?”

“No,” he said slowly, sitting back.

“We come back when we die,” Peter continued. “You have the same types of memories that I do. Memories of lives lived before, people you were. There is no heaven. That answer is hollow, and it sticks in your throat when you give it.

“It is no accident that you wound up in this prison. You are as much a prisoner as the poor souls behind those bars. More so maybe, for though you may be able to leave, you will never again be able to speak of the truth you know. You tried that once, didn’t you? They sent you here to keep you quiet. You know it was not because they didn’t believe you, they probably knew all about it. You got sent here because you talk too much. Going around telling people that they come back after they die, how stupid can you be? Did you honestly think that the Church would sit back and let the hold it has over these simple people be destroyed? Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue?”

Fray let his anger begin to grow. He answered the question.

“Social order would crumble. If any of these criminals believed they did not face the fires of Hell, there would be no control. No threat of death would ever be enough to keep them from committing evil acts. We do have a civilization now, which is more than we had before. I can still remember dying in the teeth of a lion while crowds cheered. This may not be perfect, but it works.”

“I have no desire to argue that point with you. I have no desire to overthrow the Church or any other government. All I want is out. I have been good, I have been bad, but every time I must come back and try again. What are we looking for? How will we know when we find it?”

“I have no answers,” the monsignor sighed. “You have wandered the world searching for them. I have worked with countless people who remember living before. There are no answers. I have no idea why we are here and what it will take to get out. Maybe this is all there is. You live, you die, and you live again and that is it. We have been doing it for a long time, maybe forever.

“One guess that might help is that there truly is a heaven, and this is just a test, a test that we must keep on taking until we pass. Maybe there is no Hell, only a reward when you finally are a righteous person.

“Then again, maybe this is Hell and we have already been tested and found wanting.”

He began to finger the cross around his neck, fumbling at it with both hands, not even aware that he was.

Peter sat back in his chair and brushed his dark hair back away from his eyes.

“You have been in this dungeon over ten years, talking and listening to hundreds of men. In that time have you discovered nothing new? These are the same pat answers you gave in your presentation to the council.”

Fray let himself recoil as if hit.

“You were there?”

“I was there, my friend, sitting in the alcove, watching and listening.”

“That was a closed meeting!”

“Rumor had spread, whispered among the Holy that you were to give a talk to the elder members about things you had discovered while counseling the inmates in the Greenbrook Asylum. For so long, I had wanted someone to at least talk about the things I could remember. I had tried to convince myself that they were just dreams, but then you spoke. You spoke directly to me, and I threw away any thought that what I saw was not real.

“I saw what they did to you, how they broke you down and threatened to throw you into the very asylum you had tended.”

Fray looked away for the first time.

“They called you insane, John!” The thundering statement echoed off the walls and then silence. Fray hung his head and dropped the cross. It bounced and turned and the end of its chain and then lay still against his robes.

“Leave this place,” Peter said finally. “You have much work to do. You need to finish what you started. I will go with you, so you don’t have to be alone.”

Fray breathed in and out several times. He had just laid for Peter, quite successfully, the trap that so many fools he counseled had fallen into. But each time he did, he felt a little smaller for he knew they were right. Heaven was just a hoax. The line that he had walked his entire life was not blurred, it was solid and black. The question was, which side was he truly on? Serving the idiots above him had made him rich, but he had been rich before. This man, if he knew everything that Fray knew, could indeed set them free. With one more thick and heavy breath, Fray straightened up.

“You are right. I can’t keep living this lie. We cannot leave now, however. It is daylight and they have brought extra guards to keep watch over you. You scared them so.”

“I had thought you might have gotten to them. I am sorry for speaking to them so, but I had to find out what kind of hold you had here.”

“Of course. I will go to them and say you have repented and seek to make good your way to the Lord. They will believe me for I do have a tremendous hold here…as the Lord’s servant. I will go and get you some food. It won’t be much, a meager portion, but hearty food for our journey.”

“That will be well received, my friend.”

Both men rose to their feet. Peter went around the table and threw his arms around the shorter man. Fray returned the embrace with much strength and felt the gold cross pressing into his chest. He smiled as Peter pulled away.

“Soon, my friend,” Fray said, “all will be well with us.”

“Indeed,” Peter smiled and slapped the Monsignor on the back.

“I must send a man with your food to not arouse suspicion. Return your chains to your arms until he is gone. Then it will be safe.”

“As you wish,” he said, pulling the chair over to the wall. He sat down and went about chaining himself up again. Fray went to him and helped him with the last cuff Then he turned and shuffled over to the door. He unlocked it and pulled it open.

“Something weighs heavy on your heart, Monsignor.”

Fray, his back still to Peter closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.

“Yes, there is much work to do, and I am an old man. The way is clear and my duty is clear. I am not overjoyed at the task before me, but I know what I must do.”

“I will be with you.”

“Of course, you will,” he said and walked out.

In the kitchen he prepared a meal. It was well after the midday meal, so he had solitude to do what he needed to. He gathered a small heel of bread, a bit of cheese and some leftover gruel then he poured a mug of wine. It wasn’t a meal out of the ordinary for a prisoner here. The warden found that the wine kept the prisoners quiet. This meal would not raise any eyebrows.

He placed all the items on a tray. He paused a moment and then lifted the gold cross from around his neck. He took it in his hands and unscrewed the bottom. It separated just below the arms. He tapped the bottom over the mug of wine and a fair amount of white powder fell into the red liquid. It dissolved quickly and Fray stirred it with a spoon to ensure it was all gone from sight.

He left the kitchen and sent the first guard he met for Mutt, requesting he meet him at the landing above the stairs to Quarantine. He had to wait a few minutes for him there. When he arrived, he looked white with fear.

“My son,” Fray said to the shaking man. “He is well now. I have spoken to him, and he saw the error of his ways. No more will he trouble you. Take this meal to him. Make sure he finishes it. do not leave the cell until he does.”

“Yes, Monsignor.”

Fray handed him the tray and the oil lamp. Mutt moved quickly down the stairs. Fray stood at the landing until he heard the door open below. He then turned and went upstairs.

Inside the cell, Peter waited patiently as Mutt set the tray on the extra chair and then pulled the table over to where he was sitting. As he set the tray on the table a smile crept across Peter’s face.

“Wine, eh? A meager meal indeed.”

“Beggin’ your pardon sir?” Mutt asked, bewildered.

“Seems a grand meal for a prisoner.”

“Oh. Warden Fitzpatrick keeps the bellies full, and the wine is to keep the mind happy. You’ll get this all the time. You are treated well here. We are given orders not to mistreat the prisoners…I mean the inmates. The wine can be rather sour from time the time, bet it’s better than water.”

“Thank you, guard, then. You do your job well. I am sorry for any confusion I created earlier. I was tired and angry at having been caught. My heart lies well now.”

Mutt smiled and visibly relaxed.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he said and undid the cuff around Peter’s right arm so he could eat, which he did quickly. He saved the wine for last and drained it all in one drink.

“Sour indeed! Maybe next time just the water.”

“I can ask,” Mutt said refastening the chain to his arm. He pulled the table away, grabbed the tray and opened the door to leave. As he walked out the into the hall he stepped back quickly.

“Monsignor,” he said, nearly dropping the tray.

“It is alright, my son. take the tray back to the kitchen, clean it and then report back to your station.”

Mutt left quickly. Fray walked back inside the cell, leaving the door open.

“So soon, John?” Peter asked.

“Yes. It will be over soon.

“You know when I first realized it was you that had come here, I was really shocked. I thought you had left for good this time. I guess something inside of you cannot seem to escape my call. You need me. I have come to be at peace with who I am and live my life in service. I live well and am rewarded justly. My home is lavish, and I have all the pleasures of this life. That seems to be all there is. None of you inmates either here or at the Asylum has ever told me anything more than you live again and again, and I do not remember anything else but that. It lets one rest easy and enjoy what it is, and endless game where there is no ultimate winning or losing. You just get to play again.”

Sweat started to appear on Peter’s brow and then almost imperceptibly, he started to shake.

“It won’t be long now, Peter, if you still want to be called that.”

“What have you done to me?” Peter cried and lunged forward straining at the chains. He sat down quickly and fumbled at the cuffs, angrily frustrated as if he expected them to fall off.

“It’s called Hellebore, a drug from the East. I first discovered it in the Asylum. The doctors there used it a bit too much for my taste. They wanted to keep everyone docile and quiet. Turned them into idiots is what it did. I prefer a man who can work. That’s why I use the Good Book. The fear of God usually puts most of you to the right path. The medicine is just for those that don’t get it. You know, the guy who won’t put in an honest day’s work and people like you, who just plain know too much.

“It won’t kill you, though I’ve heard it might feel that way. But I have found that it does a wonderful job of getting rid of all those nasty memories.

“Everything will be alright soon. You and I will make fine friends then.”

“You’ll never…never be rid of me,” Peter said. “Don’t you know who I am? Your ‘Good Book’ is all about me. I have lived many lives. My stories fill that book. So help me, next time you see me, I won’t be just a servant of God, or an angel of God, or even the Son of God. I will be God!”

The convulsions began to take effect.

“My brother, I have always known who you are. You see, I was there too in those stories, right by your side. It is almost comical how you have never seen that, yet you always put your faith in me.

“To tell you the truth, I almost bit this time. I doubt anyone will write anything of this particular meeting at all. There isn’t much to this story as it has taken you so long to get to me. I can’t imagine solving this riddle with a body like this. I am comfortable right now, so next time, let’s get it together a little sooner. I’ll keep my journal and when we are young and ready, I will let you see it and we will see where it takes us. We will make a grand tale and they will write well of us.”

“You betrayed me?” Peter’s face turned a much darker red.

“Still a little slow on the draw? You remember the meeting at the Order. I leaked that information to you and ensured you would be there to hear my ‘testimony.’ Those mad priests used that ploy many times to flush out people like you who represent a real threat to their structure of things. Usually, the poor fools come to me straight away and confess they were on my side and lament how horrible I had been treated. Bringing rogue priests under control paid a lot more than a few bits of silver. You, however, left the order right after that without even saying good-bye. My big fish got away, but you’re back now, like a moth to a flame “

Peter’s eyes grew wide, and the convulsions began to throw his body around.

“Judas?” he panted. “Why again?” He gritted his teeth against the tremors. “I am only what I am. So why, my friend? It isn’t as if there is another side, not even for you.”

Fray walked over, drew a small cloth from his robes and wiped the sweat from Peter’s brow.

“Now, I must go. I must hear the confession of the Warden.”