A story as told through the Epistle of Maia.
A hunter’s moon hung low in the early evening sky. It was the first rain after the Autumnal equinox, and officially the first rain of fall. That didn’t mean much up in these parts of Maine, though, where the wet season lasted nearly 8 months out of the year.
Rev. Sean A. Doherty was just thankful it hadn’t yet turned to snow. He had only spent one other winter here and it had been brutally, bone-chilling cold. The local Mainers loved the snow. It kept the pesky tourists from Boston and New York away, and plowing and tire chains proved to be a major source of income for the locals. They’d spend their days shoveling and their nights drinking. It was a good life.
Reverend Sean, on the other hand, was a Redemptorist transplant from New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He’d take a humid mosquito-ridden Florida summer over a Maine fall or winter, any day of the week. But it was God who had called him here to Our Lady of Peace, that and his Provincial Superiors. Somehow his penchant for alcohol had rooted itself in deep, since his early days in the seminary. Having wine at mass, three times a day, everyday, hadn’t helped any. It seemed he was addicted to not only the teachings of, but the blood of, Christ as well.
Gloaming, Maine wasn’t much unlike any other small potato farming town situated in the North Eastern most continental state. Nestled somewhere between Bangor and Derry, its small population fluctuated just above and below a couple hundred… There was hardly anyone there who didn’t know everyone else.
Father Sean had felt like an outcast, at first, but just like Joel Fleischman in “Northern Exposure”, the fish-out-of-water soon became somewhat of a local celebrity. The mid-30s priest’s boyish charm, smart polished and dapper looks, and quaffed hairdo, didn’t hurt any, and the majority of the child-bearing aged female population, who outnumbered the men, were drawn to his “forbidden fruit”.
Sean found himself having another one of his inner crises, as he let the sweet drops of rainwater drip through his pomade, down across the bridge of his pronounced nose, and onto his face. He could feel another bout of depression coming on, but it wasn’t “fabricated” by a just chemical imbalance in his brain this time. There were other factors at play. He wondered if his parents had purposely chosen names that spelled out the initials S.A.D. for him, and if his decades of battling clinical depression were a result of this, or an act of tremendous foresight on their behalf.
Ever since Father Damien Nellis had arrived from the Baltimore Province to replace him during his “Sabbatical”, things had been decidedly different. It had taken him nearly a year from July 2018 to October 2019 to recover, once again, from his addiction. The parishioners had been more than supportive. Although Father Nellis had a nonconventional way of doing things, Sean did feel he meant well towards everyone. But something just didn’t sit right between the two. It was a dynamic he couldn’t quite place, but left him uneasy inside, nonetheless.
It had all started long before Damien’s arrival, just a little over a year and a half previous. Father Sean would never forget that sinking feeling he had gotten at the book drive. He had managed to sell three books that day, all of which could be considered equally inappropriate for a Catholic Church book sale. They were, Terry Pratchett’s “Equal Rites”, Abby M. Norman’s “Ask Me About My Uterus”, and Ryan North’s “Robot Erotica” compilation. Father Sean had signed each with a sharpie for an extra dollar, as a joke to help fund raising along. He had been soaking in the hilarious sweet irony of it all, when he had been approached by Eileen, the church’s resident self-proclaimed social media expert. She told him Mabel, who had helped put the book drive together, had taken a turn for the worse, and her brother Harold didn’t think she would make it much longer.
Turns out Harold was right.
Mabel’s death set off a series of unfortunate events that eventually would lead Father Sean back to nursing a bottle, and would open the door to Father Nellis’ controversial practices.
Sean had begun to have horror-filed night terrors. He dreamt of his mother, who had died a few years earlier, coming back as a half-electrocuted corpse begging him not to look at her, which of course, he couldn’t do. The lack of sleep from the nightmares eventually lead to hallucinations, dementia and paranoia. Father Sean imagined a rat infestation in the walls of the church vestibule, which eventually evolved into bees and ultimately wasps somewhere near the storeroom. His obsession with the noise of the scurrying of tiny feet, or the buzzing of a thousand winged tiny demons, eventually lead to his removal from the pulpit, giving Damien his cherished seat, front and center, in directing the flock. Sean's descriptions to parishioners, and jumbled, misspelled tweets often referenced an underworld in the walls and floor boards of Lovecraftian or Poe-like proportions.
But Mabel’s death seemed to also manifest a similar chain of events, equally as disturbing. Young Erin McClusky, whom Sean had treated like a daughter, went missing and was eventually presumed deceased at a vigil ceremony in the Waxahatchee Creep Park. The Sanderson family, still grieving from their father Bill’s loss, a year to the week earlier, also lost their beloved Eileen. From now on every time Sean logged on to the Church’s new website, or the Gloaming Grinner’s Youth Theatre Group Facebook page, he would be reminded of his precious Eileen, and all of her efforts.
Father Sean started to spiral downward into a series of unacceptable behavior, especially for a man of the cloth. He would often log on-line and mistakenly, or perhaps subconsciously, make inappropriate posts, often profanity laced or referencing lewd sexual acts as ways to achieve “enlightenment”. He went back and forth from singing the Lord’s praises, to sometimes referencing actual pornography. He engaged in unhealthy on-line disputes with Gail Walden and nurtured an unhealthy obsession with AOC. His key to the wine and liquor cabinet had to be commandeered and were entrusted, instead, to Mr. Mark Douglass, a Eucharistic Minister of nearly a decade.
All these were almost forgivable, except for perhaps his biggest faux pas. He had started a rather public, and more than friendly, relationship with Anita Ramanujan, a Desi single mom originally from Chennai, who had often hosted Speed Dating nights at the “Tap and Spile” down on 4th and Quarter. The same place father Sean had self-imposed a new AA chapter, led by himself, in hopes of fighting his own addiction. It had started simply enough, as the two exchanged his Cromwell Aunt’s mince pie recipes. Innocent talks of “Obby Oss” Festivals soon led to all out flirting, and references to her “jam tarts”, and inappropriate chatting on social media. Anita couldn’t quite resist Sean’s newfound desire to dance on the edge of the sacrilegious envelope. It all spelled trouble, and the parishioners became increasingly incensed.
Father Sean followed this up with several more social media posts and incoherent rants, covering topics ranging from “Donkey Kong”, Nellis’ place as both savior and Devil’s advocate, Willie Muse’s college humor, and the return of the dead alongside Jesus Christ Himself, amongst other topics. He was clearly quickly spiraling into becoming full-on deranged.
By the time the Blue Harvest Moon of Halloween arrived, Sean was in a full downward nosedive. He continued to make posts about the ever-looming threat of Wasps, and the need for evacuation in order to faciliate the townsfolk’s survival. He even sent his nephew Bradley, who in later stages of dementia he referred to as his grandson "Jason" (even though priests were never allowed to have children), down to the sacristy armed with a sledgehammer to tear down the walls, in hopes of finding the hive, or better yet, the Queen.
It was at an All Hallow’s Eve ball that Father Nellis first got the news of Sean’s tirade, and his instruction to cause physical damage to the nearly two centuries old church. It was indeed the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, and he vowed right then and there to demand that the Province take action towards the wayward priest’s trajectory, and remove Father Sean from his station there, if not excommunicate him altogether.
Little did Rev. Damien Nellis, C. Ss.R. realize that his plan would ultimately backfire.
That night, the same night that it's said, the souls of the dead can cross over to the land of the living, that is in fact, exactly what happened. Whether known as Halloween, Dia De Los Muertos, All Saints Day, or any other moniker, the end result was, nevertheless, the same. The dead started to reappear, and on that night Gloaming was like no other little farming community anywhere in Maine, much less the entire World.
The next day at the Gloaming Town Park, Mabel showed up at the Church bazaar, causing locals to refer to it as “The Church Bizarre!”, henceforward. Along with her, returned Little Erin McClusky and not one, but both formerly deceased Sanderson parents, causing Father Sean to exclaim “sack the coroner!” Even animals crawled their ways out of shallow graves from pet cemeteries.
The town of Gloaming and its inhabitants were ecstatic. Gloaming Town Hall was decorated for festivities around the clock leading up to the holiday season. Suddenly, Father Sean’s eccentricities and indiscretions seemed pale in comparison to any perceived transgressions, and he was once again hailed as a hero!
Father Nellis, who had been Sean’s biggest neigh-sayer -- “just like a horse” as Sean had so eloquently put it with his signature humor -- soon, himself, became a social pariah. Although Sean tried to protect Nellis from the same mob-mentality that was so willing to ostracize him, it soon became apparent that there was no place for the elder Priest any longer amongst the parish. Many referred to him as the Devil incarnate for ever even doubting Sean in the first place, and some seemed to have a bloodlust not seen since the Salem days. The literal return of the dead had changed everything.
By December 14 of that year, Nellis had been banished and Sean took his full place once again, front and center, in the pulpit… Leading the proverbial flock. One thing that he would never let go, however, was his insistence on the infestation of wasps in the old Church. It became so overwhelming that it physically manifested itself in the form of loud buzzing, so that several members of the Church claimed to have heard it themselves. Whether a case of mass auditory hallucinations, or if they actually existed was not yet known, but the case remained that several large fans were brought in during sermons and church functions in order to drown out the buzzing, even in the oncoming cold winter months. Father Sean was clear that absolutely no pesticides could be used to counter the alleged infestation and cited “Thou shall not kill” as his adamant logic.
With cult leader-like status, Father Sean A. Doherty led the charge. He vowed to his parishioners, both living and formerly deceased, that he would get to the bottom of the wasp infestation, even if it meant decimating the old Church down to its very foundations. He even crudely remarked “Our Lady of Pieces, am I right?!”, in one Sunday sermon, to thunderous applause.
Sean’s presence on social media returned to normal as did his sense of humor. He was no longer drinking, and rather than bawdry posts about “firing in spurts” or finding cheap alcohol, they turned to more mundane things like bath towels from Bed, Bath and Beyond or the virtues of “Christ over Game Boys” for Christmas. His faith had never wavered throughout his entire ordeal. The town was even willing to accept he and Anita’s open relationship. Sure priest weren’t supposed to have sex, but the dead were supposed to stay dead, too! The loving couple took little Erin in, like their own daughter, and enjoyed a very public romantic relationship with each other, as if in a surrogate family.
It goes without saying that the "Tap and Spile" stayed hustling and bustling until the wee hours of the morning, or until the alcohol ran dry, whichever came first. There was certainly much cause for celebration and Christmas had been fast approaching.
The town had decided to keep their resurrecting members a secret from the general public. Despite the implausibility of it all, if they had indeed somehow managed to stumble on immortality they would much rather keep it to themselves… at least until they properly understood it. That’s what they told themselves, anyway. Secrecy would be easy to do in a town of 200 people, especially during the winter months, before the onslaught of tourists came with the first rain, and consequent thaw, of the following spring.
But one man knew, and that was the Very Reverend Damien Nellis. He immediately had reported his findings to the Baltimore Provincial, along with all of Reverend Doherty’s indiscretions, of which there was a myriad of digital bread crumbs left on-line. He immediately requested a tribunal, which in turn launched an official query, that eventually led to a full investigation, which then warranted a trip to Gloaming, Maine.
Christmas had been a blast in the small town. The Grinners had put on “A Christmas Festival With a Twist”, and indeed having the undead partake, certainly was a strange one. There hadn’t been celebrations that rocked that town in its entire history since its American colonization. Even N.I.S.T., itself, was encouraged by father Sean’s on-line ebullience and helped the town ring in the New Year, to the exact minute.
But as the Cold Moon of January descended upon the small town, so did the reality that the natural cycle of life would have to, as well. Balance would have to be restored, and the unnatural, and perhaps immoral, consequences of bringing the dead back to life, would have to be set right, once and for all. Just like the reset every 27 years in Stephen King’s “IT”, the natural order must be restored, and the piper must be paid.
When the Provincial rolled up in his stretch Lincoln Town Car, despite his vows of Chastity, Obedience and yes, Poverty, the old Church had been leveled, its walls pockmarked with holes, and the town abandoned.
All that was left were the unnatural bloated corpses of the townsfolk. Their stomachs ripe like Zeppelins, hollowed out, with millions of honeycombs inside of them, with nests fashioned out of chewed wood pulp and saliva. Each one wore the expression of bulged eyes, the corners of its mouth turned sharply downward, as if death had brought on agonizing pain.
A strange stillness purveyed the land. Not a cricket, butterfly or even ant was in sight, or could be heard for miles. The smell of damp and musty wood penetrated the air.
The Provincial finally reached the bloated corpse of Rev. Sean A. Doherty. Its grayish-blue claw-like hand grasped a note in the rigor mortis of death. The Superior used his patent leather black shoes to pry the fingers apart. As the sole of the shoe pressed downward, the sickening sound of cracking bones finally released the death grip.
Damien Nellis, accompanying the entourage, bent down to pick it up. A devilish smile suddenly split across his face. He handed the tattered parchment to his elder, eliciting a similar reaction. They understood it would be easy to keep this a secret in such a small hamlet, well off the beaten path.
It read a single word in the deceased Reverend’s shaky hand-written scrawl…