The Monk

By James McCormick

Father Rosario had been praying since late afternoon. It was dark now, and the inside of the church was cold and damp. Yet still he knelt before the alter, his mind a turmoil of thoughts as his dark eyes burned with the reflection of the blood red candles before him.

Maybe now, he thought, he was ready to receive grace, forgiveness for his sins. Was he not after all worthy of such forgiveness, he, who had spent his whole life in the service of God? He could not be judged like others, like a lowly peasant.

His parched lips fell silent and he raised his eyes to the crucifix before him. He knew when he looked on the lord’s face he would know if he was saved or damned.

He stared hard, hoping for the familiar feelings of love and awe to wash over him. But there was nothing. He felt empty inside.

His handsome, still young face hardened,

‘So, be it,’ he whispered. ‘If you reject me, then I turn my back on you also.’

With this dark re birth the image of the crucifixion seemed to take on new meaning for him. No longer was it the source of divine wonder or inspiration, rather now it served as a warning. The nails that pierced the bloody flesh of the palms and feet, the terrible wound in the side and the forehead gouged with thorns all reminded him of the tortures he would undergo if the Inquisition were to lay their fanatical hands on him. That, he determined, would never happen. He would be long gone before they ever arrived.

He stood up and as he did so heard the faint sound of horse’s hooves in the distance. It begins, he thought. The sound grew steadily louder until it stopped outside the church. There was a thump as the rider dismounted and then the creak of the doors opening behind him. A moment later he felt the cold breeze around his ankles.

He turned, dropping his hood to better view the man who stood at the door way. He was little more than a silhouette,

‘Father,’ the man rasped. ‘It is Jose. Are you ready?’ The Monk nodded, inwardly detesting the presence of this little man, but realising that for the moment he needed him.

‘I am ready,’ he said, his face impassive. He stripped himself of his coenobite robes to reveal simple, Spanish peasant clothing beneath. The figure gave a small grunt,

‘And the gold and silver?’ he asked. ‘Is it safe?’

‘Yes,’ Rosario answered, ‘and as I promised, half is yours as payment for your services.’ The man laughed,

‘Good,’ he said, gesturing the other man to follow him into the night, ‘then let us be off.’


The silver rays of a full moon lit the little man’s pock marked features as he pulled open the casket he had just unearthed. His eyes lingered over the precious gold and silver artefacts and he grinned.

‘Well father,’ he said running his fingers over a gilded candelabra. ‘You’ve made me a rich man. I guess now it’s my turn to make good on my promise to get you to France.’ He turned to the still mounted Rosario and flashed his uneven yellow teeth in a smile.

The Monk was silent as he stared back at the pock marked man, hoping that the contempt he felt didn’t show too strongly in his eyes. He reminded himself once again that for the moment he needed him. He had fallen low indeed, and all because of the most basic of all sins, lust.

He had wanted Eloisa, he remembered, the moment he first laid eyes on her. The young nun’s large, child like blue eyes and innocent smile had enflamed him in a way that a more overt display of feminine sexuality could never have.

It had been an easy matter, he recalled, to seduce her. She had been too naïve to believe his carnal desires to be anything other than expressions of true love. And for the months that he enjoyed her, it suited him for her to think so.

But then came the night when she had rushed into his arms, telling him she was carrying his child, and with tears in her eyes, and between sobs, declared her love for him.

He hadn’t bothered to tell her that he cared more for his reputation, his status, than he ever could for her. She was too young, she could never have understood. He also knew that once he had rejected her, she would turn against him for ever. And that would mean his ruin.

He had strangled her with her own rosary beads, as her slim hands pawed desperately against his face and the life left those beautiful blue eyes. He knew murder was a sin, but she had, after all, left him no choice. The blame could not therefore rest with him.

He would no doubt have forgotten his foolish transgression in time if the rumours had not begun. The missing Eloisa had not run away, her prioress claimed, the girl she knew was too timid to do such a thing, and besides, she had taken nothing with her, no money, no food, no clothing. Something, she was certain, had happened to the poor girl. Rosario had tried to lend his voice against the claims, but the prioress, an old shrunken woman of iron will, was not someone to be cowed, and her suspicions soon became those of the town. It wasn’t long before rumours of murder, of rape, began to spread amongst the populace. And many fingers pointed directly at the clergy.

Rosario began to feel that people looked at him strangely while he gave his sermons, that his very presence occasioned whispered comments. He remained undaunted though until one of the church elders told him that the Inquisition was on its way. There was to be an official, Papal, investigation. Rosario had looked into the old man’s watery eyes and felt real fear for the first time in his life.

And now he was escaping to France, and the only one who could help him, who knew the country, the language, was Jose. Rosario saw the look of avarice play around the little man’s unpleasant features as he closed the casket and carried it over to his horse and realised he could not trust him.

‘How close are we to where my horse is waiting?’

He asked as Jose fastened the chest to the horse’s saddle.

‘Not far,’ the other man answered, grinning. He leapt onto the horse, in front of the Monk and stuck out a grimy finger,

‘Half a mile or so north, by the old lake. I left her tied to a tree.’

The remark caused Rosario to shudder. It went unnoticed by the rider. The lake was where he and Eloisa had met that last, fateful night. Her body would still be there, under the waters, weighted down with the heavy rocks he had placed over her.

He tried to push the image out of his mind as they rode along under the dark, star lit sky. Soon, he told himself, this nightmare would be over. When he was out of Spain and secure in France, when he had mastered the new tongue, he could build a reputation again. This time, he thought, he would choose politics. The brothers who had raised and tutored him had always told him he was special, that he was destined for great things. Even if he had turned away from their God, he still held faith in their prediction.

After a time they saw the silver glints from behind the trees that marked the edge of the Old Lake. Jose halted the horse with a quick pull of the reigns and leapt nimbly out of the saddle.

‘I tied her over there’’ he said indicating the direction with a wave of his arm. ‘Let’s get her and be off.’ He strode away into the trees and Rosario dismounted, slowly and warily. Following a man like this into such a place was a dangerous proposition.

Close to the water the trees tended to block out what little light there was, and as he got to the lake side he could see very little. From a short distance off he heard Jose suddenly call to him.

He had taken only a couple of steps to follow the voice when he heard the ripple of water. He stopped, peering out into the dimness. Through narrowed eyes he could just make out the dance of silver moonlight rippling on the surface. Something had disturbed it.

He moved off, casting an eye out across the waters from time to time but seeing nothing. Yet the sound continued. As he neared the clump of tall oak trees just ahead he realised that the sound was actually following him. No matter how quickly he walked it seemed to grow closer.

He stopped. Maybe Jose was trying to sneak up on him. For a moment there was only silence, but then something broke the surface. As he stood there a visible outline began to rise from the water.

Rosario felt his heartbeat quicken and panic swept over him. His instincts told him to run, and the muscles of his legs tensed to act, but some strange power seemed to hold him there.

As it stepped onto the bank the form took on a human outline. It began to move towards him, water dripping on the ground as it did so. Rosario tried to cry out but that too was impossible, even when it halted and stood just in front of him.

‘Rosario,’ it whispered. ‘You came.’ The figure wore some sort of hood or cowl, and it was so dark he could see nothing of the face beneath. But the voice he knew, although it was terribly distorted and harsh.

‘Eloisa?’ he managed to stammer. The figure nodded and reached out to him, taking his hand in its own clammy cold one. As soon as it had done so, Rosario realised he could move again. It was almost as if the physical contact had broken some sort of spell. But it had been broken too late. He was trapped.

His former lover began slowly, almost gently, to drag him towards the lake. Rosario resisted her with all the strength his fear gave, but his captor was too strong. He struggled for his life, but all the while he was pulled closer to the water.

They reached the lake’s edge and Rosario began to feel the cold and wet begin to encompass his body. It soon reached the top of his chest, in moments, he knew, it would cover him entirely. He tried one last desperate attempt to free himself, punching and clawing the back of his captor.

She stopped and turned in response. This time, with the reflected moonlight from the water he finally saw her face. He dearly wished he hasn’t. Then he was pulled beneath the waters. A circular ripple marked the area for a few moments, breaking apart the image of the moon, and then was gone, leaving the image in tact once more.


Jonas waited a long time, his dagger unsheathed, ready to plunge into the unsuspecting body of the monk. Now that he had the gold and silver his promise was nothing more than an inconvenience. Yet still his charge had not shown himself. He realised that one reason might be that the Monk might have suspected his intentions. In that case he would have to find him. No matter, he would die tonight.

Using the cover of the trees he headed for where he had last seen the young priest. He expected to search for the other man but was surprised to find him stood at the lake’s edge, back to him, as he gazed out on the waters. Good, he thought, this would be quick and easy.

He left his concealed position and with swift movements padded silently over the hard earth to the unsuspecting Monk. He came up behind him, holding his breath to for silence, and plunged the long blade into the man’s back. He withdrew it and repeated the action several times. But Rosario never fell. But he did turn round.

It was at that moment that Jose realised the mistake he had made in the darkness. The figure was too small to be the man he intended to kill. The figure suddenly grabbed his wrist. The strength was incredible and he winced in pain.

‘You who have brought my beloved to me,’ it said in a horrible dry voice. ‘Let me embrace you, let me kiss you.’ With this the figure lifted its free hand and pulled the hood back from its face. In the faint moonlight Jose could just make out the sheer horror of what lay before him. The face was that of a corpse. The skin was taught and mottled, the lips frayed away from the ivory teeth. There were no eyes. In their place were a host of worms and maggots.

She bent forward to kiss him and some of the creatures that wriggled and crawled within the empty sockets fell onto him. He screamed and recoiled, but he was unable to break loose of the powerful fingers.

In a wild panic he took the blade and slashed at the hand that held him. After many frenzied attempts he managed to cut through the bone and tendons of the wrist. The hand came loose. Jose stumbled back, turned and fled into the darkness. As he made his ways between the trees, a root caught his foot and he went hurtling to the ground. His head struck something hard and he lost consciousness.


Some days later a lunatic was found wandering near the Old Lake. He was a little, ugly man, his pockmarked countenance made all the less appealing by the pallid, emaciated quality that it had so recently took on. It was soon noted that he had on his person a human hand, something he clung to and which had to be forcibly taken from him.

Eventually he was identified as Jose Mendoza, a wanted thief and killer, who had escaped justice for over a decade. When the chest of stolen church artefacts was found on his horse nearby, Mendoza became suspected of the murder of the missing Father Rosario. A ring on the finger of the severed hand was also identified as belonging to a young nun who had recently disappeared.

When the Inquisition arrived, they subjected him to the most sublime of tortures before burning him at the stake. Yet he never uttered one coherent word.

The End

Copyright © 2003 by James McCormick



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