The Second Coming
By Jack Haigh
Crimson bloomed across the altar cover as metaphorical blood ran from the fallen chalice.
"Balls," said Carol. With a grunt, she wrestled herself from between the arms of her chair and began trying to mop up the mess with her cassock. There was another knock at the door. It creaked open and a lady with spray paint black hair stuck her head into the church.
"Reverend," said the lady making short work of the syllables.
Carol picked up the chalice and tipped it on its side, inspecting the contents with a sigh.
"Yep?" she said.
Outside branches scratched at the windows, brightly coloured things cheerfully depicting the gruesome deaths of noteworthy saints, they rattled in the wind. On the far wall sat a poster of a spaceman looking down on earth, the caption next to him read “Man walked on the moon… Big deal Jesus walked on the earth”. There were tracks of mould running under the poster and spreading out across patches of the yellow-white walls.
The lady made her way down the chancel accompanied by the tattoo of her heels on the flag floor. "Cynthia Mutton," she said when she reached the sanctuary. "You’re not busy."
Carol picked up the decanter and filled her chalice to the brim.
"A bit at the moment."
"Good, I need a talk," said Miss Mutton, little bubbles of spittle simmered at the corners of her mouth as she spoke, "It’s my husband. I’m having problems."
"…Perhaps you’d like to talk to the warden, she should be in around nine-ish tomorrow."
"You were supposed to be leading his funeral this Wednesday."
The chalice stopped halfway to Carol’s mouth, which fell open for a second before morphing into a grimace.
"Ah, yes, sorry to hear about that."
"You’ll need to cancel it."
Carol quickly turned over her mind looking for an appropriate response, she decided to go for the slow nod whilst sucking on her bottom lip.
"He turned up last night," said Miss Mutton, "halfway through Downton. Scared Andrea half to death."
The nod ground to a halt.
"Who are we talking about here?"
Miss Mutton rolled her eyes.
"She hasn’t even bothered listening," she said addressing the empty church, outside there was muffled cry.
"No, no, I just lost--"
"Okay," said Carol, the word made its way past her lips like seeping gas. She ran her eyes over Miss Mutton. The eyes that glared back were bright and aware. There was no lipstick on her teeth. All her clothes matched. Her shoes were from the same pair. Her cardigan was buttoned up in the correct order. She even smelt of lavender oil and talcum powder.
"Miss Mutton, it’s not unusual for people who’ve lost someone to feel as if the spirit of their loved one is still with them, watching over."
Miss Mutton rolled her eyes.
"It’s not his spirit I’m having trouble with."
A cold breeze blew its way through the church, despite the shut door. Goosebumps erupted down the back of Carol’s neck.
"I’m really sorry," she said slowly, "but people, they don’t come back."
Miss Mutton looked up at the cross hanging on the wall and then turned to Carol with an arched eyebrow.
Wine spilled over the edge of the chalice as Carol plonked it down on the altar. After taking in a deep breath she bent down and softly grabbed Miss Mutton’s shoulders and stared into her eyes.
"Miss Mutton, it’s a metaphor, a story. People don’t come back from the dead, they don’t walk on water, they don’t treat others as they wish to be treated."
Miss Mutton’s lips pursed. She looked down at the hands on her shoulders and then brought her eyes up to meet Carol’s, giving her a glare that could have frozen flame. Carol removed her hands and threw them behind her back.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
"I’ll bring him in shall I?" said Miss Mutton.
"Of course he’s here. I left him tied to the drainpipe."
With a sigh Miss Mutton turned and marched her way towards the door, muttering all the way.
Carol picked up her wine and downed half in one gulp. She looked up at Jesus who, bedecked in thorns, nails in hands, looked down on her with puppy dog eyes. She shook her head and turned away.
There was quite a commotion outside the church.
"Come on, don’t play silly buggers," said Miss Mutton walking through the door holding a leash, "the Reverend wants to have a word with you."
There was a noise like a gurgling sink being fed through a distortion peddle. The few surviving strands of Miss Mutton’s husband’s hair flapped up and down across his skull as he lurched into the church. His grey arms thrashed around him as he went.
Carol stood stuck to the spot as the two made their way up to the sanctuary. Her bottom lip dropped. If she couldn’t believe her eyes, she could definitely believe her nose, the closer the couple got the more Carol felt that it was going to crumple in on itself. Holding the chalice of wine to her face, she took in a deep breath.
"I know," said Miss Mutton coming to a halt, "he’s been out of the freezer for a while."
With surge of speed Miss Mutton’s husband fell towards Carol. The leash snapped tight.
"Derek," said Miss Mutton pulling her dribbling husband back, "be civil. Now, this is Reverend Oates. Reverend this was my husband, Mr Caldershaw."
Miss Mutton held up her hand, there was a faint strip of paler skin around the bottom of her left finger.
"Till death do us part," she said.
Carol looked down at Mr Caldershaw’s hands; his ring was still there, half swallowed by puffy grey flesh.
"Err… Nice to meet you… Mr M— Caldershaw," said Carol slowly holding out a hand.
Mr Caldershaw’s leash snapped tight again.
"He’s a bit snappy at the moment," said Miss Mutton, her lips taut as she pulled her husband back.
Carol slowly retracted her hand.
"Always did hate getting up. Andrea and I had to literally pry him off the milkman this morning."
"Nrrrgh," said Mr Caldershaw.
He stood before Carol, his flesh a dull grey with the odd splash of purple thrown in for colour. His mouth hung open, little bridges of spit connecting his lips. There was a collar around his neck; the tag dangling from it read "Scooby". His eyes were the only thing that seemed alive about him, they were blue and followed Miss Mutton’s every movement.
"Are you sure he…" said Carol, "err… are you sure he died?"
Miss Mutton cheeks turned a bright red, contrasting brilliantly with her husband’s.
"The nurse was quite certain. He had a heart attack whilst having a- a sit down. They had to knock the door down to get at him, cost a fortune to get it fixed."
Carol gave her a shaky smile.
"It’s just that he, err, looks quite alive."
One of Mr Caldershaw’s ears fell off and bounced to a halt between Carol’s feet. She flinched.
"I think he might need a doctor?"
"Oh good heavens, what a marvellous idea, what a brilliant mind you have."
"Of course I took him to the doctors. The useless lump went and embarrassed himself. He sat in that waiting room dribbling over every woman that walked past. We had to leave for his own good. Anyway I thought this miracle," she made speech marks with her fingers as she said the word, "would be more your area of expertise."
The windows rattled in the wind. Carol picked up the chalice, raised it to her lips, and then stopped. Metaphorical blood didn’t seem as tempting as it once had. She looked into Miss Mutton’s eyes.
"Is this a joke?" she said.
Miss Mutton glared back at her.
"Nrrrgh," said Mr Caldershaw.
Carol stood in silence for a couple of seconds and then she folded up. Laughter reverberated throughout the church. A lot of un-godly words sneaked between her lips amidst the guffaws. After a minute she straightened up and forced down some deep breaths. It was then she noticed the near nuclear glare that was still emanating from Miss Mutton.
"Sorry…" said Carol, "but do you know what this means."
"He’s not dead, he died, he should be dead, that’s what decent dead people do."
"Mr Caldershaw is…" said Carol, she pointed at Jesus and then patted the dead man’s back, he whirled around, teeth snapping. Carol took two quick steps back. "He could be the key to making it all make sense."
"Well, I’d like to know how you intend to deal with him."
"If you could take him back home," said Carol, almost vibrating with excitement, "I’ll try and contact the deacon, no, she’ll go down the miracle route. We need a scientist, Stephen Hawking, or is he more interested in stars and stuff. We should tell the press. I think Mr Simmons works for the Courier, no, we need The Sun, the BBC."
"Okay no press, but--"
“He’s not coming home,” said Miss Mutton with one abrupt shake of her head. “Send him back.”
The flame of excitement that had been growing taller and taller in Carol’s head, burning away any irrelevant information, was suddenly snuffed out.
“Back?” she said.
“Exorcise him, or whatever it is you lot do.”
There was a pause. A few meaningless syllables stumbled out from between Carol’s lips. Her shoulders slumped.
“Miss Mutton, I don’t mean to pry, but has he done something to hurt you?”
There was a wet thud. Two yellow teeth flew from Mr Caldershaw’s mouth and landed with a plop in Carol’s wine. The dead man threw his arms around his head and let out a roar that quickly faded to a whimper. Miss Mutton stood next him rolling her eyes. She inspected her pink palm, a small chunk of matted hair and skin was trapped between her fingers. Lips curled, she walked over to the altar and wiped her hand clean on the cover.
“He wouldn’t bloody dare.”
“But, he’s your husband, he’s come back, to you, I can’t see why wouldn’t you take him in?”
“Well,” said Miss Mutton her cheeks flushing a dull red, “I would let him back if I thought I could. It’s just him and Andrea,” her eyes looked anywhere but Carol’s, “the two don’t get on.”
“A friend, and quite frankly nothing to do with you. I will not be judged by anybody.”
Like a hiker taking a winter stroll through the woods suddenly noticing the crunch of snow has been replaced by the creak of ice, Carol came to a realization; it was time to tread very carefully. She held out the chalice.
Two yellow teeth floated to the top, knocking gently into each other as they bobbed upon the surface.
“Send him back,” said Miss Mutton through clenched teeth.
“If you and Andrea are together--”
“Not in front of him.”
“Sorry, but what we were talking about, it’s fine, the church is not here to judge.”
Miss Mutton snorted.
“I was under the impression that was its sole purpose in life.”
Carol’s cheeks began turning red. “Some of my closest friends are--” she noticed Miss Mutton’s pursed lips, “I’m sure Leslie Johnson’s son, isn’t he?”
“The matter is not up for discussion.”
“No, no, are sure you wouldn’t like any wine, it’s not the nicest I’m afraid,” said Carol the pitch of her voice rising as the words began to tumble out faster and faster, “I’ve always thought why does Jesus’ blood taste like a mix of anti-freeze and vinegar, he’s the son of god, shouldn’t his blood be nice. I mean, you can get a decent bottle of merlot from co-op for less than a tenner. Maybe that’s the point, you’re not supposed to enjoy drinking someone’s blood.”
She stopped, looked up at Miss Mutton and pushed out a creaky smile. Silence bloomed around them. The smile began to falter. Carol reached up and began scratching the back of her neck. She sucked in a deep breath.
“The bread’s even worse.”
“Reverend, I do not care about the culinary defects of communion wafers.”
Carol sighed. She looked from Miss Mutton to her ex-husband.
“I don’t understand what you want me to do.”
“Well, how did they send Jesus back?”
“It’s just a story. Religion, it’s not really about miracles.”
“Have you even seen a bible?”
“I find it’s best not to take it too literally.”
“So you’re refusing to help?”
Carol looked at up at the cross hanging on the wall, what would Jesus really do? Lay his hands on Mr Caldershaw and cure him with divine magic or spout pop-psychology? She ransacked her mind looking for an appropriate bible tale, “The good Samaritan”, “The Man who built his House on Sand”, why weren’t there any parables that told you what to do if your husband came back to life as a zombie?
“Look,” said Carol, “Mr Caldershaw… he obviously… can’t lay his soul to rest. Perhaps there is something troubling him.” She gave herself a mental high five, it may have been the solution for pretty much every ghost story ever written, but it transferred pretty well. “Did he know about you and Andrea?”
“Not in front of my husband, please!” said Miss Mutton stamping her foot.
“He might need to know the truth before he can move on.”
“I knew all I’d get from the church would be a load a lot of smug nonsense. I don’t see why you can’t try and exorcise him.”
Carol’s cheeks flushed red.
“Miss Mutton, I’m not a magician. I’ve given you the only response I can think of. If you don’t dare tell him, fine, just go and take him with you, leave me with my wine, because I, well, I think you are slightly rude.”
Miss Mutton’s mouth gaped open, the beginnings of counter arguments stalled on her lips. She let out a sigh and turned to face Mr Caldershaw, a creaky smile made its way across his face. She grabbed his shoulders and stared into his blue eyes. He let out a soft groan.
“Derek, since you’ve been away, I have moved on, well with a woman. This doesn’t mean I never loved you. I was with you for well over thirty years, and if we’re going to be honest, I think you knew all along. Well I’m with Andrea now, and I don’t think you should be upset because frankly it is no longer of any of your business.”
Mr Caldershaw reached out to touch her hand. Their fingers closed around each other’s. There was a moment of silence.
Miss Mutton’s shoulders slumped. She bit her lip as it began to tremble. “I-- if it seems as if I may have led you on I-- I realize it must hurt you a little and well, I didn’t mean to.” She leaned in and undid her ex-husband’s dog collar. “You’re free.”
Carol walked over and patted Miss Mutton on the shoulder, giving her a solemn nod. They turned to face Mr Caldershaw, who was still smiling, and smiled right back at him. The wind dropped, the windows stopped rattling and a feeling of calm spread throughout the church. Mr Caldershaw stared at the two women, his head tilted slightly to the side. After a couple of seconds, he straightened up. His smile began to falter. The black of his eyes began to grow, covering the blue and then the white. Then the smile disappeared. He let out a roar that echoed through the belly of the church and began to advance on the ladies.
Miss Mutton turned and grabbed Carol, pulling her between what was once Mr Caldershaw and herself. “Any more clever suggestions?”
The black eyed Zombie advanced on them like some creature of wrath from the Old Testament, spit dripping between its lips, arms flailing. As it closed in on Carol only one solution showed itself to her. She closed her eyes, clasped her hands and did something she hadn’t done in a very long time, she prayed.
A couple of years ago Jack Haigh took a writing course where his tutors described his work as "okay" and "not completely flawed". Buoyed by such praise he decided to try and become a writer. The first steps he took on his path were to throw his computer in the bath and hide in his bedroom. It soon became apparent that this was not the best way to get published, and so he began sending his stories out. "The Second Coming" is the first one he sent. His website is www.jackhaighfantasy.com.
"The Second Coming" Copyright © 2016 by J.ack Haigh