WEP Challenge April 2020: Antique Vase
This story will serve as a chapter in Team Netherworld's forthcoming novel or collection of connected stories (however readers prefer to view it), The Ballad of Gerry Clifford, which is part of the Yadira Chronicles. Full critique is welcome, providing you use the Hamburger Method. Or Veggie Burger Method. Or Egg Salad Sandwich method. I ain't picky, providing your criticisms are palatable and wrapped in compliments.
Lotus Clifford is the adopted elder sister of Gerry and Paul Clifford, who appeared in the Cafe Terrace tale.
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Genre: Cthulhu Mythos fiction/Paranormal Romance
(Or, for those of you who are really picky, this particular chapter of a book falling within those genres could be construed as strictly romance.)
Word Count: 1000 Words
On a cold November day in 2014, a rangy priest with thinning dark-brown hair was pricing items for a rummage sale to benefit his parish. The Chapel of Loaves and Fishes was a small Catholic sanctuary in London’s Crouch End borough. The door opened, and a small, swarthy woman dressed in black, her graying black hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, entered. A smile brightened the cadaverous cleric’s pale face.
“Did you enjoy your birthday celebration, Sister Lotus?” Father William Kroger inquired.
Sister Lotus Clifford smiled, but the smile did not reach her sad dark eyes.
“Bit of a shambles, I’m afraid,” she replied as she hung up her coat. “Poor Gerry couldn’t recall whose birthday it was, and he grew quite tired and irritable. I’d just as soon have stopped in for tea like any ordinary day, but our dear Paul always tries to recreate the way things were when we were young. Gerry’s dementia is a stark reminder that our youth is well behind us.”
Father William gently patted Sister Lotus’ shoulder. She gazed affectionately into his kindly blue-gray eyes, and squeezed his long, thin fingers.
Lotus noticed an antique vase sitting on a table behind Father William.
“Oh, you fixed it!” she exclaimed. “I still regret breaking it in a fit of temper.”
“Robert Fitzgerald could test the patience of a saint,” Father William observed.
“Well, I’m hardly a saint,” Lotus laughed, picking up the vase.
“I’ll take it to Anwar Seti at the curio shop” she proposed. “I’m certain it was made by the fish people. Look how the sea dragon forms the handles, and the fish’s face pushes forth from the rim as if it were emerging from water. I’ll be back in a tick.”
Lotus walked to the curiosity shop diagonally across from the chapel. The bell gave a merry jingle and an elderly bald man with gray, wrinkled skin, milky blue eyes, small ears, and a fishlike mouth poked his head out of the back.
“Lotus!” Anwar greeted. “I’ll put the kettle on. Then you must tell me everything!”
“I want you to see this wonderful vase, Anwar,” Lotus explained. “I broke it, but Father Will repaired it. It looks like something made by your people.”
Anwar returned with a tea tray. He admired the vase as Lotus poured the tea.
“It came back together nicely,” he observed. “You fumbled it you say?”
“I threw it at Robert Fitzgerald’s head.”
“He must have done something dreadful to prompt you to crack his coconut with this weighty urn. Care to fill an old friend in?”
“At the Halloween party last week, Rob was drunk as a skunk and telling John Michael that it was time to pack the old bald skeleton off to the churchyard and replace him with a newer model.”
“After everything that Father Will has done for him.”
“Indeed. I said ‘Mr. Fitzgerald, you seem to forget how Father Will saved you from spending a year in the clink for drink driving. A bit of gratitude is in order.’ The blackguard slurred out: ‘it might do the good sister to remember her vows to the Lord.’”
Anwar laughed at Sister Lotus’ imitation of a drunken Robert Fitzgerald as he nibbled a bit of dried seaweed.
“Blimey! What did you say then?”
“I said: ‘Mr. Fitzgerald, I remember my vows to the Lord whenever I recall that I must be charitable even to the most vulgar of philistines.’ Then that rogue had the temerity to say: ‘What I’m sayin’, Sister, is that it ain’t right for you to throw yer love at Father Skeleton when yer married ter the Lord.’ The thought that those hearing him might believe that Father Will was anything but righteous made me see red.”
“John Michael stepped to my defense,” Lotus continued. “He said ‘Rob, you owe Sister Lotus an apology. ‘Course she loves Father Will. She loves us all as Jaysus ‘imself commanded us to do. Sister Lotus, I know you loves Father Will in the Christian spirit, not dirty like he’s implying.’ Bless John Michael and his innocent heart.”
Anwar squeezed Lotus’ hand.
“I am grateful for the vase, Dear. I intend to pay for it.”
“Anwar, please. It’s a gift.”
“Not another word. I shall donate to the chapel and throw in a morsel of advice for a friend whom I love as my own niece. Rob Fitzgerald has rubbish for brains, but he is not wrong in this case. You know that I will be migrating to the sea soon. Do an old fishman’s heart good before he departs and allow your love to bloom as it has been wanting to for close to forty years. You and Will could still serve your God and community as husband and wife.”
Lotus embraced Anwar and hurried back to the chapel. She found Father William still sorting items for the rummage sale.
“Ah, Sister Lotus!” Father William greeted. “The community has been generous, although I can’t for the life of me figure out what purpose some of these creations serve. Sister, you’re trembling! Whatever is troubling you?”
“It’s Lotus, William. Simply Lotus, hoping that she isn’t chucking forty years of hard work and solid friendship to the wind. Robert Fitzgerald’s lurid conjecture enraged me because I was embarrassed to have my secret exposed. I do love you, but if you don’t feel the same, I…”
“Oh, Lotus, dear, brave, Lotus,” Father William sighed. “I feared I’d go to my eternal rest without you knowing how I felt. Thank the Lord for Rob Fitzgerald’s big mouth!”
“You can also thank that odd vase and Anwar’s wise counsel,” Lotus said with a smile that reached her eyes.
“Well, God bless Anwar and God bless that beautiful, hideous vase!” Father William laughed.
Father William tilted Sister Lotus’ chin and bent to press his lips to hers, melting into an embrace that had been hoping to happen since the moment the pair met in the summer of 1976.
Cie for Team Netherworld Creations/Naughty Netherworld Press
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When I was eighteen and still clinging to the last vestiges of my Catholic faith, I attended the St. Thomas Moore Church in Boulder, Colorado. One of the priests there, a kind gentleman in his thirties, was leaving the priesthood because he had fallen in love and was getting married. The idea I came up with for this story echoes that incident from my past, although there were no Deep One hybrids involved.
In Other Words/Shameless Self-Promotion
Dear Fans of Lovecraftian fiction, the first book in The Yadira Chronicles is the novella Tales from the Dreamlands: Ketil and Yitzy's Adventure in the Xura Dream House. This buddy story features an unlikely group of heroes on a quest to save the Cosmos from destruction by the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods and their myriad of sometimes not-too-bright minions. Pick up a copy here! You know you want to!
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