Just in case you were thinking I was enjoying myself too much in Tenerife, here’s a short story I wrote while I was there!
GORY, GLORY, HALLELUJAH!
BY PETER S. O’NEIL
Pastor Gwilym Rhys, magnificently broad-shouldered and resplendently side-burned, folded away his round spectacles as the last note of the hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ echoed around the high, raftered ceiling of the Bethlehem Welsh Non-Conformist Chapel. He nodded to Mrs. Margaret Jenkins, the large-bosomed chapel matriarch, as she led the children of the congregation past the front pews and into the side annex for their Sunday School lessons.
Dafydd Parry, the pianist, coughed loudly and Pastor Gwilym frowned. The hollow-chested man had coughed all through prayers and had even hit a few wrong notes during the last hymn because of it. If he was to persist during the sermon, the Pastor decided that he would have to ask the man to leave. He didn’t want his warnings of God’s wrath in the form of fire and brimstone to be drowned out by the sounds of bubbling, bronchial discharge.
He waited for Mrs. Jenkins to close the annex door behind the last of the children, puffed out his bear-like chest and was about to launch into his sermon when Dafydd Parry suffered a further, severe bout.
“Dafydd,” Pastor Rhys glowered beneath his bushy, black mono-brow, “perhaps you should get yourself a glass of water?”
Nodding and coughing, Dafydd scuttled across the chapel from his stool at the upright piano, passing in front of the pulpit and into the annex which contained a small kitchen area in addition to the tables, chairs and blackboard on an easel which constituted the Sunday School. There was a square, stone sink with a wooden draining board, a cupboard on the wall above it and a wood-stove in the corner on which sat a huge iron kettle. A tray with cups, saucers and a large, round, ceramic teapot lay on a small table between the sink and the stove.
The nine Sunday School children, varying in age from four to fourteen, and Mrs. Jenkins jumped in alarm as Dafydd Parry, bent almost double, coughed his way through the door over to the square sink and turned on the tap. The pipes gurgled and clanked and, eventually, pale brown water sputtered from the faucet. Dafydd splashed water over his face then cupped his hands under the cold flow and drank handful after handful as Mrs. Jenkins and the children watched in fascinated silence.
Suddenly, the pianist gave a cough and a circle of red spots appeared on the whitewashed wall beneath the cupboard above the sink. His audience uttered a subdued gasp. He coughed again, this time covering his mouth with his hands. He stared, bewildered, at the little pools of blood in his palms then emitted a small, frightened, animal-like sound before a long fit of hard, hoarse, painful coughs wracked his body and speckled the white wall with more polka-dot patches.
The pianist sank to his knees, his hands gripping the edge of the sink. Mrs. Jenkins ventured slowly towards him, softly whispering “Lord, have mercy” over and over. She laid a podgy, sausage-fingered hand on Dafydd’s shoulder and he looked up at her with eyes that were blood-shot and seemed to have sunk backwards into his skull. His mouth and nose were covered in thick, viscous, syrupy blood.
“Oh, hello Mrs. Jenkins,” he said in a high, falsetto voice, “you know, I think I’d better be going now.” His eyeballs rolled up, his body went limp and he sagged to the stone floor.
Mrs. Jenkins turned to her startled but incredibly well-behaved pupils. “Ivor Pugh,” she said, addressing the eldest boy, a lanky, ginger-headed lad of fourteen and pointed to the door at the far end of the annex, “go quickly into the chapel through the front now and ask Doctor Llewelyn to step into the annex.” Ivor Pugh nodded in understanding. “Quickly now!” Mrs. Jenkins added.
As Ivor opened the far door which led into the entrance-way at the front of the chapel, the voice of Pastor Gwilym Rhys boomed: “Exodus, chapter nine, verse fifteen: ‘For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence…’” The door closed and silence returned to the annex. The group of children had huddled closer together and had shuffled a little further away from the twitching body of Dafydd Parry, the chapel pianist.
Mrs. Jenkins stepped carefully over him and filled the big iron kettle at the sink, trying not to stare at the blood-spattered wall in front of her. It was an unpleasant task but, she figured, at some point in the very near future, a cup of tea was going to be required.
The front door opened and Doctor Llewelyn slipped quickly in, closely followed by Ivor Pugh. Ivor re-joined his huddled classmates while the doctor, a short, rotund man with a tonsured pate and a bulbous, roseate nose, hurried towards the prone figure of the pianist.
“Mr. Parry is taken poorly, Doctor Llewelyn.” Mrs. Jenkins explained. “Would you like a cup of tea? The kettle is on.”
The Doctor peered at the wall behind the sink, wrinkling his nose, then, standing directly over the pianist, said sternly: “Come now, Dafydd Parry, up you get. Stop alarming the children. Mrs. Jenkins will make you a nice cup of tea and we’ll have a little look at you, is it?”
Very slowly, Dafydd Parry began to move, pushing himself stiffly to his feet, his joints crackling like wet firewood. Standing, his shoulders slouched and his chin resting on his collar-bone, his head lolled to one side and his bloody eyes stared as the Doctor took his wrist and felt for his pulse.
“Where is your pulse, Dafydd Parry?” The Doctor asked with a little smile. “If you weren’t standing right in front of me, I’d have to pronounce you dead, boy!”
Dafydd opened his mouth as if to speak but, instead of words, dark crimson, almost black slime slid from between his lips, slipped down his chin and dropped to the stone floor with a sickeningly moist splat.
A few of the children started to whimper. Mrs. Jenkins shot them a withering look then beckoned again to Ivor Pugh. “Ivor Pugh,” she said, “I think it best to fetch Pastor Rhys as well.”
Ivor complied and went to the door again, admitting more of the Pastor’s sermon: “First Corinthians, fifteen, twenty-one: ‘For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead…’” Ivor left the door slightly ajar and the sermon continued: “Verse thirty-five: ‘But some man will say, How are the dead raised up?..’”
Dafydd Parry yanked his arm away from the Doctor and gave the man a shove which caught him by surprise and sent him reeling into Mrs. Jenkins, knocking her over. Mrs. Jenkins landed on her back with her stockinged legs akimbo and the Doctor fell, face down, with his head in her crotch.
Dafydd twisted his body in the direction of the group of children and lurched towards them. Even as Ivor Pugh was reaching out a hand at the side of the pulpit, Pastor Gwilym was bellowing: “‘They grope in the dark without light, and he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man’ Job, twelve, twenty-five.”
One of the Sunday School boys, the son of the local bank manager, pulled a fine pocket-watch from his Sunday-best jacket, looked at it and declared: “Get me the fuck out of here. William Evans, twelve thirty!”
Mrs. Jenkins leapt from the floor, covered the short distance between them in two long strides, grabbed the boy by the collar of his jacket and marched him to the sink. “William Gethin Ezekiel Evans,” she blustered, “you’re going to wash out your mouth with soap and then we’re all going to pray for your hell-bound soul!”
Doctor Llewelyn, back on his feet and mopping at his brow with a neatly folded, white handkerchief, slowly started after Dafydd Parry. The rest of the children had shuffled right back to the open door and were about to sidle out of the annex only to find their escape route blocked by the broad, menacing figure of Pastor Gwilym Rhys.
With a Bible firmly clasped in one hand, he held out the other to shepherd his young flock towards him. “‘What shall we say then to these things?’” He quoted. “‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’” He raised the Bible above his head and roared: “Mrs. Jenkins! The kettle is boiling!”
The Sunday School teacher tutted at her own forgetfulness, grabbed a tea-towel and lifted the heavy kettle from the top of the wood-stove, giving William Evans a slap on the back of the head for good measure. She filled the teapot, replaced the kettle at the back of the stove, off the heat and returned her attention to the bank manager’s son’s vile, disgusting mouth.
Dafydd Pugh, still spewing up red, gelatinous goop, staggered towards the Pastor who had now positioned himself in front of all the children. All, except William, who was spewing soapy water into the sink. Mrs. Jenkins stirred the brew in the teapot with one hand while firmly holding on to William’s jacket collar with the other.
Dafydd stalked forwards. The restless children were caught between their fear of the shambling, blood-leaking pianist and their fear of the Bible-wielding Pastor himself. Running away had ceased to be an option.
The Pastor stepped in front of the pianist, the Bible held up in front of him: “Matthew, thirteen, verse forty-nine,” he began, “‘So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just.’”
Doctor Llewelyn, standing behind the pianist, shook his head in earnest: “No, Pastor Rhys,” he pleaded, “don’t go near him!” But the Pastor stood his ground, resolute in his faith, without the slightest contemplation of retreat in his mind.
Dafydd Parry swung an arm and bashed the bible from the Pastor’s grip, then blundered into him, knocking the surprised bigger man to the ground. The pastor’s head cracked against the stone floor, leaving him dazed. The pianist’s hands tore open the Pastor’s waistcoat, ripped through the white shirt beneath and clawed at the soft skin of the man’s exposed belly.
Pastor Rhys cried out in terror and pain as fingers and teeth tore at his abdomen and ripped out his innards. Shocked, he lifted his head and stared down at himself: “‘And after my skin has been thus destroyed…’” he wailed, “‘yet in my flesh I shall see God!’ Job…” his voice weakened, “chapter… nine…teen,.. verse…” His lips stopped moving and his head lolled lifelessly to one side.
The children remained rooted to the spot. Behind them, the curious, inquisitive faces of other members of the congregation, including their parents, had appeared at the doorway.
Doctor Llewelyn stepped back towards the kitchen area: “Mrs. Jenkins,” he said, “pass me the kettle, please.”
Mrs. Jenkins regarded the Doctor with a perplexed expression: “But it’s empty, Doctor Llewelyn.” She stated.
“Nonetheless, Mrs. Jenkins.” the Doctor said sternly, holding out his hand until Mrs. Jenkins finally, reluctantly, placed the handle of the kettle in his grasp. “Children,” he continued, “close your eyes.” He waited until the children had done as he had asked then swung the big iron kettle up over his head and smashed it down onto the back of Dafydd Parry’s skull.
The pianist lifted his gore-streaked face from the Pastor’s partially-devoured intestines and glared, glassy-eyed, at the Doctor.
“Keep them shut!” The Doctor shouted as he swung again. This time, the kettle hit the pianist full in the face with a resounding clang. Dafydd, his nose spread across his face, began to rise, enraged by the attack. The Doctor turned the kettle around and swung it sideways. The metallic clang was preceded by a soft, almost inaudible “thlok!” as the kettle’s spout went through the pianist’s eye-socket and into his brain.
The gathered chapel-goers at the door uttered a united gasp of “Ooooh, now then!” causing a few of the children to open their eyes without being told to do so. Two of the younger boys fainted. The youngest child, four-year-old Elspeth Morgan, began to giggle hysterically. Mrs. Jenkins started to arrange cups and saucers on the tray and poured some tea while it was still hot. She wasn’t going to be using the kettle again anytime soon.
William Gethin Ezekiel Evans wiped his mouth on his jacket sleeve and scowled. He had missed it all.
Doctor Llewelyn finally let go of the kettle’s handle and stepped back as Dafydd Parry’s body slumped to the floor for the second, and final, time. “Right then,” he said, looking around at all the stunned faces of the Bethlehem Welsh Non-Conformist Chapel’s congregation, “does anyone else have a cough?”