13 Jan

“It’s got to be done,” growled a bishop as he and several others in their white and damask robes and ridiculous hats sat round the table, smoking fine cigars and sipping ecclesiastical port.
“You say we’ve been afraid of it for ever?” ased a dusky faced and pompously clad African cleric, nodding quietly to himself.
“We’ve been aware of the possibility for some time,” claimed the first bishop. “Ever since our founders conceived the present system we’ve known someone, some day, would see though it and get at the truth and then go beyond it.”
“But what is the truth?” demanded a wizened old archbishop. “I mean, I’ve been in orders all my life, made a damned good living from it, that’s true, but I’ve never been privy to what you call the truth.”
“It’s the preservation of our faith,” snapped the original bishop, glancing at the Pontiff who sat on a higher chair at the head of the table. “We’ve had to have a few tricks up or sleeves over the centuries,” he added.
“Tricks?” queried the ancient archbishop.
The Bishop clicked his teeth irritably. “Of course,” he said,”like sex.”
“We don’t … we’re celibate, have been for centuries,” pointed out one of the other clerics.
“That’s what we tell them,” rumbled the Pope. “Me, I’ve always had an eye for the ladies! And I believe, Bishop, that you have more housekeepers than is reasonable even for your palace…” he added.
The Bishop blushed. “It’s a know thy enemy policy,” he spluttered. “And a pleasing diversion when there seems every possibility that the next prayer might repeat the last one, so to speak”
“Well, then claiming celibacy is a little trick. Harmless in itself when we keep schtum, but when put together with a few other little bits and pieces it might lead a bright spark to think there’s something amiss in our order,” breathed the Pontiff.
“And a bright spark’s emerged from the shadows?” asked the dusky cleric.
“From another faith?” asked the Archbishop.
“Don’t be more senile than you have to be!” snapped the Pontiff, his voice suddenly rising above the rumbling hiss he preferred. “We all know that all faiths are as one with our little tricks. After all, all faiths sprang from the same spring in the first place, so to speak.”
“Then who…” wavered a fresh voice, a tiny figure lost in the crowd of clerical costumes.
“And Atheist?” asked the Bishop.
The Pontiff shook his wrinkled old head. “There are many atheists around and they don’t bother us,” he said, reverting to his rumbling style. “There always have been, little men with little ideas that can easily be confounded by specious questions and a charming lack of reason. No, this is more serious.”
“It is?” whimpered the little man, paling.
“Where does the danger come from, then?” asked the Archbishop, irritably.
“I know the answer to that,” murmured the original Bishop. “We have been waiting for it long enough! It has been forecast times many, and not occurred though centuries have passed. But now it is nigh, on our very doorstep, and one of us will have to deal with it, for it threatens to overturn our cosy little system and probably make most of us redundant in the bargain!”
The Pontiff cleared his throat, a lengthy and somewhat unpleasant series of hicks and hocks and spits and spats.
“I am the one who must stop the buck,” he announced, and stood up. It was no easy task because he was badly in need of a knee replacement but had long lacked the courage to agree to the surgery, preferring to turn to prayer instead. Prayer hadn’t worked and consequently he spent most of every day in pain.
“But what is the buck?” asked the dusky cleric.
The Pontiff majestically flowed towards the door. “It is the Second Coming,” he rumbled, “and we can’t have it wrecking our cosy plans! Now where is the wretch?”
“In the foyer….” ventured the Bishop. “I suggested he wait there…”
The Pontiff pushed his way out of the room and the door swished to behind him. The meeting of bishops and other ranks became deadly silent.
Moments later there came a deafening crack, and then the buck-stopper returned.
“That’s him sorted,” he grinned, blowing a wisp of smoke from the barrel of a jewelled pistol before retaking his place at the head of the table.
© Peter Rogerson 13.01.16


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