"Father Xavier is dying! Come quickly Brother Stephan. The white of his eyes are crystal. He is white, ashen white." The Brothers withdraw on tiptoe.
"Last rites anyone?" The joker quips.
"You should be ashamed of yourself Brother Robert! It's serious you know!"
"The man's an Indian ... Once a pagan, forever a ... All that civilizing and it all boils down to nothing and after all WE have done for him."
" Must send him on his way as a Christian or else the scandal, if it leaks out to the village people, will be horrific. Can't really put a knife to his throat. Time is running out. Try try try your best to persuade him Brother Stephan. He asked you to stay alone with him until the end. Maybe 'cause you are the youngest. God knows why."
The monks file out. Stephan stays and thinks to himself.
"Hush hush . No one with us. Brother Xavier going about the business of dying in an old English monastery. Wonder how he got here from the wilds of India. Why he left. I know I wouldn't. The silence of the deathbed room roars over us, saps the blood from my cheek, coils like a worm beneath my eyes, pumps up ears at the slightest noise, even the twittering of a thrush. Night coming. Night here. Brother Xavier scratching his chest as on a hot summer day. Won't remove the night shirt. What can an emaciated monk's chest hold of such importance ? Brother Xavier. Dark face against white pillow. Motions me over."
"No Brother Stephan, not to the writing table. You are no schoolboy taking dictation. Just listen. Perhaps understand."
"In the shadow of the mountain Sri Pade. In Ceylan. No, I am no Indian ., a Singhalese, son of a spice merchant. Hindu splendour. Marriage at fifteen. Monkeys decked in trinkets and garlanded elephants. Happiness with wife and sons playing at fountains rearing up like cobras. The green lawn before my father's house. My sari-ed wife's silky smiles. The tingling sweet odour of jasmine at the decline of day. The son of the spice merchant looks beyond the Naga shaped garden wall. Fierce demons to smite. Dreams of horny skinned many headed Rakshasas. Rakshasas grinning evil grins. Climbs the wall of the garden to see the river. The river wending must be one of the arms of an asura. Where does it lead ? Not to the mountain. Not to the holy man of the pricking worms. The Rakta Pade."
"The Rakta Pade crystal white with eyes unbroken by colour. Rakta Pade the leader of the clan. A holy man. Suckles leeches at his breast. Bloated little worms become big worms and drain holy man of blood. Needle teeth pricking. Needling teeth pumping. Needle teeth giving back. Needle teeth put poison slime into holy man's veins. Holy man has powers, no passions. Holy man needs pricking pumping needle worms. Holy man lives forever."
"The son of the merchant must have the holy man's blessing to leave the garden. A big order of spice coming in from the capital. The merchant trusts him to leave the garden where the Naga wall runs counter to the river. First time with the British Sahibs. Promises wife and mother he will not drink. The transaction goes well. The son of the spice merchant returns with coffers full of gold, silver, spices and crystals of salt. The son of spice merchant will take the train in Colombo that wends its way back to Sri Pade and a servant is to meet him with a carriage. Dressed like a young Englishman. Elegant in spats and a bowler hat. Not elegant, not bowler hat, not Englishman enough to go first class. Elegant Ceylan Sahib must travel third class but at the station a Sahib priest sees the son of the spice merchant and knows what he is feeling. The sahib priest ashamed about his countrymen, the drunken British soldiers allowed to ride first class. The friendly Sahib priest breaks ranks and joins the son of the spice merchant in third class."
"The Sahib priest knows of the Rakta Pade. The one who has no blood, the one who is forever wise and good. The one who lives forever. Interesting says the Sahib priest. Interesting. Indeed. Blood the Sahib priest says cleanses the world. Sin is among us. Sin will be throttled like an asura by the Son of God. No rakhasas, no asuras. Heaven is not here on earth. But it was once. And it could be again. Not the Heaven of father's perfumed garden. Not the Heaven of sons' bubbly laughter when a bouncing ball escapes their fingers. Not the Heaven in his wife's smile as she serves an almond cake. Not Heaven says the Sahib priest even as the son of the merchant dreams of his father's perfumed garden, his sons' squealing laughter and his wife's smile. Only the Blood of the Lamb will save the earth. The sacrifice of man, the sacrifice of the Son, the sacrifice of the Son of Man. Here take this Sahib Bible. The Truth within. The train stops. The son of the spice merchant alights."
"The spice merchant laughs at the spats and the bowler hat the kid has brought back from Colombo. You won't need them here. You won't need the Sahib Bible here. The Bible of the Truth Within, a Sahib book. All due respect, not ours. Wife slips her silent way into the room. She bears aromatic oils and wants to massage his back. The whisper of the fountain in the garden. The jasmine a little fetid from the heat but still sweet. The coming night. The windows are open. Fear not the cobras. What more can you need, Sahib son? Give honour to the Rakta Pade the spice merchant says. The next day he will ascend the mountain with an offering for the sage who wants nothing."
"The Rakta Pade is asleep on his back. The cave is lit by an eternal flame that wards off spirits. But not enough. The Rakta Pade needs no guards. He is trusting of all men's needs for him. But the Rakta Pade must sleep as the worms replete their blood and sleep is merciful. The son of the merchant does not want to waken the Rakta Pade. But he is impatient. There is so much world to see and the Blood of the Lamb has made it safer with no asuras to combat. The world is like his father's garden but a little more interesting, a little less fearful. He paces up and down waiting for the sage to open his white crystal eyes and bless him. But the sage is asleep. The son of the merchant wonders if he is not dead. He steals silently over to him and looks down at the rug where the sage is laid out. He is breathing slightly and smiling as if the son of the merchant was going to tickle him. The son of the merchant is amused by this irreverence that he does not push out of his mind. Why not? His odd notion becomes more than a passing roguish thought. The son of the merchant lifts up the sage's shirt and recoils in horror. The two flat spatula worms are making forward and backward movements together. Copulating. They are truly hideous. But fascinating. Now, a humorous demon had taken hold of the son of the merchant's spirit. Suppose he tried to remove these horrors. What would happen? He sees this is impossible. No leech can be removed by the setting on of human hands. Dangerous. Leeches will suck him dry in minutes No business of yours his good demon says, cover the body. The playful demon says, no. Maybe it's the blood of the Lamb. There is only one way to find out."
"Something convinces the son of the merchant to open the small coffer where his father has placed the expressions of gratitude. The son of the merchant turns the small key and beholds salt crystals. Small pointed spires of the whitest crystal. Now the son of the merchant knows that herdsmen apply salt when misfortune leads their cattle into leech infested ponds. The son of the merchant takes a handful of crystals. They're the size of knucklestones and they are fun to throw around. Up in the air then back down. Catch them all. Try a more perilous movement. Up in the air from a cupped hand. Turn it over and they land on the back of the hand. Up in the air. Catch in the cupped palm. The son of the merchant has a precise hand . It twists and turns like a string puppet. Once. Twice. More excitement when done over the worms. What if the blood of the sage dissolves the milk white salt crystals? Knucklestones on the worms. They cease their copulating. They writhe. Amusing. Fascinating. They froth over the prong of their loose Y shapes. The top of the prongs bursts exuding an odour of jasmine, fetid jasmine, jasmine mixed with the slime of their poisons that have not yet entered the sage. They squirm. Death by bursting. Death by frothing. Shrivel in a pool of Blood of the Lamb. The sage opens his milk crystal eyes. No sound from his lips despite pain that must be inhuman. He smiles at the son of the merchant. He knows this is a boyhood prank but one which he will pay dearly. When he smiles, the fetid odour of evening jasmine escapes his mouth. A trickle of red and yellow blood-slime from his mouth runs down over his heart where the leeches once pressed heavily against his hollow chest. The son of the merchant runs from the cave."
"Where to run now? The prank is over, not his boyhood. Who will take him in? He steals back to his father's house and luckily his father is away. His wife in the garden rushes up to him. He runs from her smiling beauty and her dish of almond cakes. He looks at his sons playing ball. He will not see them anymore. He discards his Singhalese attire and dons his black spats and bowler hat. He calls the family coachman and orders him to drive to the railway station. He buys a third class ticket for Colombo. He is afraid."
"He finds the Sahib priest. He says he believes in the Blood of the Lamb. Only the Sahib priest can help him. The Sahib priest sends him to England for instruction and now he is here. He has spent his life away from his father's garden because of a joke. And now he is going home. The son of the spice merchant needs no last rites. Last rites going on under his night shirt. Last rites... look! Two needle pricking worms about the heart. Do not touch them or I will take you with me! My eyes blur a milk crystal white. Like the sage of the mountain. The mountain Sri Pade."
Diana Pollin studied writing, French and History at New York University and at the Sorbonne University in Paris. After a career in ESL teaching and translating in France, she is devoting most of her spare time to writing. She lives in Marseilles which, like her native New York, is a crucible of cultures. She has been published in MicroHorror Fiction, Bewildering Stories, 63 channels and Abjective and is finishing a first novel.