This story was previously published in The Big Book of Blasphemy from Necro Publications. If you enjoy its fusion of horror, religious iconography, and sexuality, you may also like my book Saint Sadist, which was a Splatterpunk Award finalist.
Nick crashed his ambulance between the battlefield and the triage area. In the church with the bleeding walls, Sister Scar waited. Nick crawled from the wreckage. The church loomed across the muddy wasteland. He was sure it hadn’t been there before his ambulance rolled over. He must have somehow missed it. Even as he thought this, he knew he was wrong. How could he have not seen it? With its brick walls dusted with ash, stained glass windows that shone brilliantly in the midday sun, and the red door adorned with a black cross, it immediately drew his gaze. There were no other structures in sight. If not for the searing agony in his left leg, he’d think this was a dream.
Nick tried to press himself to his feet, but the pain made him collapse. The leg was broken. He squirmed through the muck to check if his ambulance and the young burn victim it transported could be salvaged. Beyond the wrecked vehicle, the front had disappeared. Since he hadn’t lost consciousness, this couldn’t be possible. Yet, only the church and the ambulance occupied this place. Countless miles of wet dirt stretched in all directions
Nick dragged himself to the vehicle’s rear. The stretcher that had carried the wounded man lay broken and twisted. The young soldier lay in a tangled heap, blue eyes wide open. Swollen yellow and red patches of mustard gas burns ruined his otherwise baby-smooth skin. His silver crucifix had lodged itself between two blisters near his collarbone, one the size of a quarter, the other the size of an average man’s fist. Christ’s body had mostly melted away.
Nick’s hand went to his own medallion and squeezed. It was an image of St. Christopher given to him by his father. He didn’t bother checking the dead man’s vitals. He pulled himself to a sitting position and faced the strange structure. Overhead, the clouds hung like weary ghosts. The sun burned with primordial rage. If he stayed out here too long, he would die of exposure. Moving hurt too badly. He needed someone to be in the church. He needed someone to see him.
He wondered how his father would feel if he died. Would the old man grieve or would he beam with pride? His father couldn’t feel two things at once. Sometimes Nick thought he couldn’t feel at all. He also thought about Hadley. They’d broken up prior to his enlistment. Sometimes he still dreamed of the way her cool skin felt against his the nights they made love, St. Christopher swaying between their naked, moon-bathed bodies as Nick thrust into her. He thought of his mother, who’d begged him not to go, and how he’d wondered if Hadley also rued his departure, even as she lay underneath a man Nick had never met.
He didn’t want to die. He didn’t even want the inevitable sunburn he could already feel the beginnings of on his nose and cheeks. The church stood far enough away for him to doubt anyone would hear him if he screamed. He tried anyway. He hollered for help until his throat went scratchy and tears of frustration fell.
Nick dragged himself back to the ambulance’s cab. He drank some water from his canteen and tried the radio. Only static replied. The young dead man was starting to smell bad. Nick glared up at the indifferent sky and clutched his medallion so tight he thought his palm might bleed.
God was always silent, yet he’d never stopped praying, and he attended mass up until the Sunday before he shipped out. Now, as he roasted in the sun, he wondered why he ever bothered. He’d only felt anything close to spiritual while Hadley’s warm wetness ensconced his manhood, or the times he sat alone in his wooded backyard, his pulse in sync with the sounds of the night, cheap whiskey making his head buzz and throb.
This church that stood before him now and the muddy emptiness that contained it defied rational explanation. The cross on its door and on the steeple suggested sacred rather than satanic origins. Despite this, he felt a near-crippling fear in its presence. As its shadow crept closer to him, the sun made its westward journey faster than Nick felt was normal. The divine frightened him and always had. He recalled learning as a boy that death would bring him to God. As a happy child, he thought only an impossibly cruel god could take his life away.
Nick thought it was a trick of shadows when the church door opened. Only when Sister Scar descended the front steps , her black cloak flowing behind her in wind he couldn’t feel, did he accept what he saw. He tried again to call for help. His voice came out ragged, scratchy and not loud enough. As the nun drew closer, she seemed to float across the air. It could have been the diminishing daylight or it could have been her robes obscuring her feet, but he was sure she levitated towards him.
The nun reached the place where Nick lay wasted against the wrecked ambulance. She lowered her face so he could see her. A twisted scar distorted her otherwise youthful features. The left side of her face looked like she’d used a landmine for a pillow. Black craters pocked melted pale skin. Her left eye was a milky cataract and her nose was gone. Upon seeing her, Nick grew nauseous. Then he grew faint. His consciousness slipped away.
Nick came awake seated in a wheelchair at the head of a large, rectangular table. Nuns filled the other chairs. Sister Scar sat opposite him. A large albino snake with yellow markings stretched from one end of the table to the other. It lay on a bed of vibrant green leaves, and crimson pomegranates lined its sides. Nick was sure it was dead, but he still used his one good leg to push back in his chair. He didn’t like being so close to the reptile’s head and the soulless eyes it housed. As he rolled away, he bumped his elevated broken leg and cried out. No one reacted. They sat as silent as God himself.
He glanced around. No religious iconography decorated the room, but fresh blood spatters glistened in various places along the walls. He searched the black-and-white checkerboard floor for a corpse. He faced Sister Scar.
“What is this place?”
She smiled, grotesquely creasing the skin on the ruined side of her face. Nick looked at the other nuns at the table. Three sat on either side with their heads bowed. Rosary beads hung from their folded hands. He reached for his own medallion, but it was gone. All the nuns looked the same. He thought it had to do with the way they were dressed, but it wasn’t just that. They all looked about the same age. All had hard, masculine faces. Their hands were rough and meaty.
“Are you the Mother Superior?” he asked Sister Scar.
Her smile faded, which made her scar somewhat less awful to behold.
“Mother Malaise was relieved of her spiritual obligations. We have no mother now.”
The other sisters moaned without opening their lips. The collective sound made every part of Nick tighten. He wanted to leave, but he wouldn’t get very far in the mud with his broken leg. He wouldn’t even make it down the stairs from the front door. Even if he did, where would he go from there? The muddy wasteland seemed to stretch forever in all directions. A terrible feeling came over him. What if this place wasn’t on any map? What if it was somewhere otherworldly? It occurred to him he might be in Hell, but he silenced the notion. He was a good Catholic. He went to confession, took communion, and did all the other things he was supposed to do. The memory of Hadley underneath him, her skin cool, but her sex warm and wet around him surfaced. That was no sin; that was just natural. She’d been hesitant the first time, but he’d persisted. She’d relented and afterwards, she cried. Sometimes he still felt bad about that, but he’d confessed it to Father Jacob back home and done his penance.
“If only it were as simple as Heaven and Hell, Nick,” Sister Scar said and the other nuns moaned through their tightly sealed lips.
“Are you talking about Purgatory? And how do you know my name?”
Sister Scar turned her palms to the ceiling and lifted her hands as if commanding a congregation to stand. Nick watched the other nuns to see what they did. If they stood, he’d not be joining them. His leg had seen to that. The other nuns remained still, heads bowed and hands folded. Sister Scar turned her hands over and lowered them. The sisters reached forward, keeping the rosary beads laced between their fingers. They pressed their fingertips into the snake’s scaly flesh. The skin gave way, spilling serpent’s blood over their hands and the beads. Hunks of meat tore free from the snake’s body. Nick’s gaze flicked to the snake’s dead staring eyes.
Flecks of blood splattered the white table cloth, the pomegranates, and the leafy greens. The sisters brought the meat to their mouths and bit into it. Gristle and blood dribbled down their chins. They moaned with pleasure as they devoured pieces of the snake and they reached for more helpings. All through the feast, they kept the beads wrapped around their fingers. Sometimes they clattered against the sisters’ teeth. Nausea churned in Nick’s guts.
When the nuns finished their feast, only the head and stray stringy bits of meat remained on the snake’s skeleton. Nick sucked in a series of ragged breaths to regain his composure. He couldn’t take his gaze away from the snake’s eyes. Across the table, Sister Scar rose and approached.
She reached Nick’s end of the table and took the snake’s head in her hands. The other sisters held down the snake’s stripped body. She twisted. The crunch of the neck bones sounded wet. She tore the snake’s head free and held it out to Nick.
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” she said.
Nick shook his head. Hands of unseen assailants grabbed his arms from behind, pinning him to the wheelchair. Sister Scar straddled him as one set of fingers forced his mouth open. He cried out against the sensation and the fear of inevitable violation. Sister Scar rammed the serpent’s head into Nick’s mouth. She shoved it between his teeth until he gagged and spewed. She shoved it further into him. When the tip touched the back of his throat, he thought he’d choke. He struggled against the restraining hands.
Unable to break free, Nick bit down on the snake’s head and started to chew, crying as his teeth shredded flesh and crunched bone, as warm hunks of brain sprayed his cheeks and the roof of his mouth. He saw his life in moving pictures through the ruined eye of Sister Scar.
The next day, Nick’s genitalia turned gray and wrinkled with flaky dead skin. He told the nun who brought him breakfast in his room that he needed to see a doctor. The nun only smiled and left him. Nick was scared. Despite his medical training, he’d never seen anything like what was happening to his penis and testicles. With every hour, they shriveled more and more, shedding dead skin in his undershorts that he shook out and watched fall like snow into the toilet, while he braced himself against the wall to keep weight off his broken leg.
Exactly thirteen hours from the feast of the snake, something heavy shifted in his pants. He felt no pain, just a terrible vacancy where his genitals used to be. Their remains rested, detached between his legs. He wheeled himself to the bathroom and struggled to stand on one leg. He dropped his pants and saw what looked like a wrinkled bundle of grapes sitting in his shorts. His crotch had become a pink, white, and gray cavity. A scream lodged in his throat, threatening to bring vomit with it.
He collapsed into his wheelchair, neglecting to put his pants back on. The withered dick and balls had fallen out of his discarded shorts and now lay on the floor. He touched the hole where the pieces had once been attached. He fingered the crusty lips and reached into the hole until he found the wet wall of his bowels. Now, he did scream and the vomit came hot on its tail. The puke sprayed his crotch, legs and the floor. He screamed through it, making high-pitched gurgles like he was gargling salt water to remedy a bad case of strep throat.
The nuns rushed into his room and stood around him in a circle. They lifted their skirts, revealing concave crotches like Nick’s, only healed over. They’d all been men, all but Sister Scar who stood at the door, watching. This was her convent, her church, and her world. Here, she was the god, the punisher, the one who caused hurt.
Later, Nick donned the habit, and laced rosary beads between his fingers. He sat across from Sister Scar. Another dead albino python stretched between them. This time, no one forced him to eat its head. He resigned to violation.