IT WAS NEARLY MIDNIGHT BEFORE FATHER FLEMING was able to finally stop and take a breath. It had been a busy day at the church, with two funerals and a confessional that went on for nearly an hour. A woman had committed adultery and was carrying her lover's baby. She was terrified that her husband would leave her and wanted to abort the fetus rather than telling him. Father Fleming was quick to remind her that abortion was murder and a sin. They sat and talked for a long while, exploring alternatives. She eventually agreed to bring her husband in the next day to see Father Fleming, hoping that would make breaking the news easier. He promised her that he and the Lord would do all they could to walk them through the troubled waters. Doing the Lord's work was often tiring, but the joy that filled Father Fleming's heart with every soul he helped made it worth it.
A soft breeze tickled the back of Father Fleming's neck. He cast a glance over his shoulder and saw that the front door of the church was ajar, flapping in the evening wind. It struck him as odd because he was sure he had closed it before sweeping the empty aisles. It seemed like the older he got the more forgetful he was becoming. Using the edge of the bench he was sitting on to push to his feet, Father Fleming shuffled to the door and closed it, this time sliding the lock into place. With his chores done, he was ready to retire for the night.
When Father Fleming began heading back to the room he kept in the rear of the church, something in the middle of the aisle caught his eye. Stiffly he crouched down and picked it up to inspect it. It was a child's baseball cap that looked like it had seen better days. It was worn and dirty, with some of the stitching coming loose at the edges. Something about it rang familiar to Father Fleming, but he couldn't place it. As he turned the cap over in his hands, examining it, he noticed something dried on the brim. Blood!
"Donovan Fleming," the wind whispered softly.
Hearing his name, Father Fleming jerked his head up and scanned the dimly lit church. "Whose there?" he called out.
"Salvation," the wind replied.
There was the soft rattle of chains somewhere to Father Fleming's left, drawing his attention. At first he saw nothing, then he spotted it. In the corner, beneath the huge wooden cross mounted on the wall, something moved in the shadows ... Rather, the shadows themselves were moving.
"Demon," Father Fleming gasped, backing away.
The shadows chuckled. "To some, yes. To others I am the word of the Lord. The true word of the Lord."
Father Fleming crossed himself, and brandished the crucifix that dangled around his neck. "In the name of the Father, the Son and the—" His words were cut off when something whistled through the air, knocking the crucifix from his hand and opening up a gash on his cheek. His eyes landed on the culprit, a small metal cross with edges so sharp that it had embedded itself in the wood of the altar.
"The words only have power for those who believe, and you are no believer!" the voice accused. This time it sounded closer, almost directly behind him.
"For near thirty years I've been a faithful servant of the church and the people," Father Fleming shot back.
"Is that the script you read to gain the trust of the parents who left their children to your twisted devices? Did his parents believe you when you stood on your soapbox preaching false hope, while they grieved for their missing child?"
Father Fleming's eyes involuntarily shifted back to the baseball cap in his hand. He hadn't even realized he was still holding it. The pieces finally fell into place and he realized why the cap had been so familiar to him. The sight of the blood brought back memories Father Fleming thought long buried.
"I was sick back then," Father Fleming said, barely above a whisper. "I couldn't help myself. They were just so—"
"Tempting," the voice finished for him. "The tender flesh ... pretty pink, young lips. Children of soft and supple skin, smelling of dime-store candy and innocence."
Something stirred low in Father Fleming and he felt warmth settling in the crotch of his pants as his penis rose ever so slightly. "No, no ... That was before." He dropped to his knees in front of the altar. "The Lord has healed me and washed away my sins."
The voice laughed. There was a rush of air as a chain sprang from the darkness, tipped with a steel hook, and bit into Father Fleming's right forearm. Another followed it, this one hooking itself into the priest's left shoulder. The chains rattled as he was lifted to his feet like a puppet on strings. The pain was so intense that Father Fleming couldn't manage a scream, so he whimpered.
"Only blood can wash away sins," the voice spoke again. This time it was coming from directly in front of Father Fleming.
Through a haze of pain and tears he beheld his attacker. "Mother of God," he gasped, as cold, sharpened steel was suddenly placed against his throat.
"No, I am His justice."
Those were the last words Father Fleming heard before the blade released him from this world.
Excerpted from Black Lotus by K'wan. Copyright © 2014 K'wan. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.