Vixenscratch

Short stories and serials by Alexandra Herakai

Sanctuary

It took Judas some time to gather the courage to walk up to the church’s doorway; for minutes that dragged on he stood on the sidewalk and merely looked at the white stone building and its painted-black door. Once there, between a pair of discreet square pillars that flanked the entrance, it took him another few minutes to raise his left hand to the door handle. He still clutched his undershirt to his bloodied nose with the other hand, not knowing whether the bleeding had stopped or not during his walk, or when he’d stood hesitating.

The first thing he noticed, as he pulled the door open and stepped inside, was how cool the building was. The walls were smooth white plaster broken up by stained-glass windows that painted colorful patches of light across the empty pews, and when those walls started curving into ceiling, the rough-smooth surface gave way to delicate plasterwork. The floor was dark, undecorated stone. Marble, Judas thought. Between them, they probably did their part to keep the air temperature down, and the slight chill seemed to add to the silence, only broken by the click of his claws against the floor, bouncing against the walls before fading.

He looked up the narrow walkway between the rows of wooden seats, and felt his heart calm down somewhat as his eyes found the stylized Son on his cross. Like in so many churches, the Lord’s face was somewhere between several species, vague enough that He could have been anyone. Like in so many churches, the blood-stained carved-wood folds of His robe covered His feet and any tail He might have. The symbolism was clear, something Judas had known since childhood: Jesus was God’s son, and God had created them all in His image. In ways incomprehensible to man, God was just as much an otter, like Judas’s family, as He was a bear, like Judas’s roommate, as He shared a species with every last one of His children. 

Some part of the battered polecat wished he could have gone up there, and that the wooden figure of the Lord would step down from His cross to comfort His lost child. At least he felt lost, more so now than ever. It was true that he had sought his own sins, in the past and in the present, and not solely for his own survival. Maybe what had happened, had happened to remind him to seek God’s forgiveness for his sins?

In silence, he found a seat a few rows back from the front of the church. For several long minutes, he looked up in Jesus’s blank, unpainted face, and he imagined he saw love there. God’s love for His children. Then, he bowed his head and prayed. It was only right – after the events of the afternoon, he felt lucky to be alive. He was not God’s best child, a tempter and a lover of men, but God had come through and delivered him from horrors he could only guess at.

The sound of steps, of hooves on stone, roused him out of his introspective act of devotion, and he raised his head, allowing the hand holding his bloodied shirt to sink to his lap. The priest, wearing a long, white robe along with his black-and-white collar and a green stole draped across the back of his neck, wasn’t looking his way, but rather busy lighting candles up near the altar. For a moment, Judas considered attempting to leave quietly and leave the boar to his calling without drawing attention to himself. Two things stopped him.

Firstly, if he thought about it there was little likelihood the clergyman hadn’t already seen him, though he had been polite enough to not disturb Judas in his worship. While the young male held no doubt the priest would let him leave quietly, the realization that he had already been seen made the option of departing without acknowledging the man’s presence seem almost deceitful. Maybe not on par with the disciple he had been named after, but if he was thanking God, Judas might as well show some basic respect for His messengers on Earth, as well.

Secondly, it would be better for the priest to see him in his current state, than to return home like this and face Ian.

Moving slowly, still sore, the polecat rose and walked over towards the priest. The boar turned to meet him as he came closer, offering a kind, paternal smile. The kind Judas had never seen on his father’s face.

“Father…” Judas began. He couldn’t lie to a priest, could he? He wasn’t sure if the priest was required by law to report him if he found out what errand had indirectly brought Judas to his church. It didn’t seem prudent to risk it. What he could tell a smaller truth, that would obscure the bigger picture. “I ran into some bad company. I don’t suppose… Is there somewhere I could clean up a bit, before I go home?”

The boar touched his arm, still smiling his calm smile, but pulled his hand back without a word when Judas flinched away from the contact. “Come with me, my child. Are you hurt?”

Judas shook his head, carefully. “A bit sore. A bloody nose. It’s stopped bleeding now.” He forced the corners of his mouth to twitch in a sketch of a smile. “Looks worse than it is, I’m sure.”

The priest showed him to a small washroom, and gave him privacy to wash the blood from his fur – he used that privacy to work the matted stains out of his tail, as well. A little more presentable, and convinced, with the priest’s kind actions despite Judas’s lack of proper explanations, that God still loved His children, Judas finally set his course back towards campus.

The evening darkness had the same comforting, quiet chill as the church. Embraced by it, Judas was able to carry that sanctuary from his troubles with him, all the way home.



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