Two vials lay before me, the fate of Ireland in my hands.
I guess it started in 1982, with that bloody awful Prince track, 1999.
By Millennium Eve it was the theme tune. A party a thousand years in the making. Apocalypse – you’re having a laugh. Get the booze in! Have a few days off. Race the time-zones by flying round the world in Concorde.
I knew differently. I’d had a vision. Alcohol poisoning can cause hallucinations, or visions, as I like to call them.
Sure, it’s not unheard of to have visions if you’re a man of the cloth, like I am. But, I’m not that type. I look in the mirror and see a chunky failure, a polystyrene man robbed of his best years.
The Millennium bug…what a con. Perfect excuse for IT contractors to make ten grand a week, right? I mean jets falling from the sky, traffic light failures, electrical blackouts and toasters exploding; everyone thought it was funny. Not me…I prepared…
• Water supplies, filters, desalination equipment
• Electricity generators, fuel, clothing
• Alcohol and ‘medicinal’ drugs
• Weapons, lots and lots of weapons
On the night, I watch; cold comfort provided by my remote detachment from the events. Armageddon filtered to me via my Millennium-silver TV set. A front-row ticket for the worst show ever seen: The Apocalypse.
As the clock struck in Australia, the planes started to fall. By time it reached Russia we’d heard the stories about the electrocuting toasters and power-cuts. Blenders and cookers, turned killer. More accidental deaths in an a few hours than a small war. Poor Mrs Kinsella and the videocassette machine.
Midnight Eastern Europe there was no more Prince music, instead their world filled with the sounds of screaming and looting. By time midnight reached Ireland the fires were our lights, the curfews our only protection.
We’re never far from our primitive routes. Neighbour killing neighbour over a bottle of ketchup.
This place is no longer a place of God. I remember the sky-gorging mountains, once topped in powdery snow, glowing in the sunset like delicate pink icing – now I only see the boarded-up stained-glass windows. My CCTV now shows the sacred mountains though a grainy filter, I only see people-shaped-shadows and burnt metal; upturned and hollowed out like shellfish.
My faith was once the very fabric of my DNA, my parishioners adored me; foolishly, they still do. They think I’ve saved them from the apocalypse – little do they know. My faith is a parasite and I detest their pathetic and mundane lives.
In one vial poison, I place it in the Chalice with the wine. In one vial harmless liquid, I place this in the other Chalice. I swirl them with extra vigour as I bless them.
I get one, my flock the other. I’ve mixed them up, I have no way of telling which is which.
For the first time in years I put my faith in God.
This was my first entry to this competition. I joined as lovely judge Rebekah Postupak (yes, of Flash! Friday fame) was the judge, having won it herself the week before.
The rules (1) Time limit of one day (2) Less than 500 words (3) Keep it clean (4) The opening line is mandatory “Two vials lay before [me], the fate of [the kingdom] in [my] hands” (5) Optional special challenge – include an accidental death.
I didn’t win (that was my new writing friend and flash champ Jamie Hershberger).
These were the comments from the judge…
You know you’re in trouble if the fate of Ireland is at stake!! This trip back to Y2K and its reinterpretation of those events/fears as well as the priest’s psychosis brought a cleverly dark turn to the vials. Your “Lady or the Tiger” ending is really well done. It’s a risky move finishing with a cliffhanger, but what I really love about your final line is it completes the story’s true tension/question, the priest’s spiritual journey. That takes an extraordinary level of sophistication, and you’ve pulled it off with panache.