The Guardian

His dragged footsteps echoed in the small Gothic church of St. Abel. The lame man had been there for quite some time. One might have thought that he was employed there, or even that he lived there.

Whenever the church was empty, the clergy absent for any length of time, the man would watch over everything. Without any parochial authority, he therefore took it on himself to act as guardian of the church.

On one side of the nave was displayed a scene depicting a religious event. It was of wax figures in fourteenth century costume, all seated at a table. The colour of the figures and their costumes had faded giving the scene a ghostly appearance. By this setting a thick, off-white, cotton curtain draped heavily. It seemed to be additionally weighed down with centuries of dust and cobweb. It was attached to a metal rail secured to the triforium below a clerestory stained-glass window. A rich tasseled cord held it loosely to a wrought-iron hook on one side of an arcade leading to a small chapel.

One night the guardian sat in the shadows of the chancel, his eyes glancing affectionately at the obscure objects and paintings which seemed to become alive in the flicker of candle-light. He was also listening intently. He feared that evil spirits encouraged by the waining powers of the church were intruding to try impose their malevolence.

He limped from the chancel to the nave where there was less light. There, sure enough, he was able to discern the presence of several wraiths-fiends.
Fearing that he would be overpowered by them, he hastily made his way to a wall where he knew he could climb via plaster mouldings round a tracery window up to the triforium. As he was doing so one of the foul creatures clasped him by the ankle of his lame leg. By kicking at it as hard as he could with his other leg, he succeeded in freeing himself. At least temporarily he was thus able to climb out of reach of the heinous creatures.

But even from where he had managed to climb to, above and all about him, he knew there was still a satanic threat. According to his mission he was duty bound to protect the church. The presence of evil was very harmful indeed. It must not be tolerated.

In spite of the danger, he climbed down to face these devil's disciples. Yet he was soon overcome by them. He saved himself by leaping onto the table of the wax figures, then hauling himself up again to the triforium by way of the ancient curtain. The worn fabric shred to a powder in places as he climbed.
The night passed uncomfortably, but the danger seemed to fade as if erased by the dawn light.

When the parish priest returned to the church that morning, he was aghast by the damage and disorder that the man had been too exhausted to try to amend.
The priest discovered the trespasser fast asleep lying on a pew, his head supported by a worn, red velvet hassock. He angrily shook the man's shoulder to wake him up, curtly informing him that he had no right to be there. But instead of evicting him, he insisted on marching him to the confession box in order that he furnish some sort of explanation. The priest however, was already quite sure that there could never be any reasonable justification for such sacrilege.

The man being perfectly honest, naturally told the priest the whole truth. Consequently the priest was convinced that the weird intruder was mad, and possibly possessed by the devil.

It was therefore with grave authority that the priest implored the man to renounce Satan. Of course, he would need to be exorcised by a qualified exorcist, the priest calmly affirmed. And providing all goes well, that he is fully liberated from the devil's power and possession, and that his total cure is clearly established, only then will he be able to seek permission to re-enter a house of God.

The man patiently pointed out that his being there, and at this particular time, was absolutely necessary to defend the church against the intrusion of powerful forces of evil. Only God knows the truth of this. The man was as fully aware of this, as the priest was fully persuaded of his own ecclesiastical importance.

The priest frowned with impatience and disgust. There are no limits to sinful pretentiousness and vanity when one is weak-minded and possessed by evil, he reasoned.
As if he could read the thoughts of the priest, the man got up and limped towards the tower steps. The priest called after him then thought it best to let him go. He feared that the odd individual was unpredictable, and capable of doing something even more diabolical.

As there was naturally no question of allowing a maniac to remain in the church, the police were called to arrest him, but finally, despite their thorough searching, no trace of the curious fellow could be found anywhere. It was as though he had disappeared.

That same night the lame man perceived the presence of evil once more. He now knew why the church had become vulnerable to these evil assaults.
From a transcendent zone, he slowly descended the stone steps of the bell tower to face the unwelcome assailants.

There is no doubt that he defended the enemies of the church far beyond the limits of any human capacity. No one could ever possibly be considered more heroic, but then he felt that there was really no other choice. Not only did he succeed in completely purging the church of all evil, he discouraged all further satanic attempts to undermine and vilify St. Abel's.
The effect however, was that the church interior looked as though the devil himself had been on the wildest of nocturnal rampages.

The noise had resounded so much during the night that the police were called to intervene, but by the time they arrived the damage was done.
A warrant of arrest was issued to capture the man judged as dangerously insane. The parish clergy solemnly pronounced him as being processed by the devil.

It was all for nothing however, for unaccountably the lame man was never seen again.

The pub locals liked making fun of old Guthrie, his beer drinking bouts and his hallucinations; flying pigs and such like. Guthrie was the local pig farmer. He was never taken very seriously. But Guthrie never regretted his unique privilege, nor did he ever regret trying to describe it. For him there was no question of it ever being a hallucination.

Just as the sun rose through the dawn mists the day after the ultimate confrontation in the church of St Abel, old Guthrie saw a strange figure flying from the bell tower of the church. Silently it flew ascending majestically into the soft, morning haze then the pale mauve ribbons of sunlit clouds. Smaller and smaller it became until it finally disappeared altogether in the turquoise heavens.


This story is based on a dream. It was one of a sequence of strange dreams that I had at a certain period of time already alluded to here.
In the dream however, the 'Guardian' simply ends up interned in an asylum. The dream therefore might be considered nearer to reality than the above conscious, more romantic readaptation of it.

Text and image © Mirino (PW). November, 2013

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