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Monday, December 24, 2012

SPECIAL EXCERPT: The Book Of Thomas: Heaven by Robert Boyczuk

My father is dead, I thought, shivering in the thin nightshirt I still wore, the one I’d been in when they’d seized me. And I am to blame.

Yesterday, I’d turned ten. At least I thought it was yesterday. But it was hard to tell how much time had passed in the dank, windowless cells beneath the monastery. Four days? Five?

I will never see him again—not in this life.

Or in the one after, if the Bishop was to be believed. Heretics, the Bishop had told me, were condemned to eternal damnation. But if I were to confirm my father’s sins, my father could no longer deny them. He would be allowed to confess and repent—and to live. So I had nodded numb affirmation to all the Bishop’s strange questions. Muttered the answers I thought the Bishop wanted to hear even when the questions baffled me. But I was, and still am, a bad liar. The Bishop didn’t believe me, so my father had died unrepentant, while I bore witness. After, the Bishop had made me confess my lies. The ones the Bishop had forced me to make. My penance was light—two days of prayer and fasting chained in darkness. Improbably, the Bishop believed my soul could still be saved. But I knew better.

I killed my father.

After my penance, a silent Friar had unlocked my shackles and, with a crooked walking stick, prodded me up and through a small kitchen into open air. When I had been brought to the monastery it had been the dead of night. And now, as we emerged, it was night again. Or perhaps it had remained night the whole time. For all I knew, this might be a Sphere of perpetual night where the suns never kindled. I’d heard of such things. Perhaps that’s why the Black Friars had built their monastery down here, because the darkness suited their work.

We followed a footpath through rocky fields and denuded trees, the Friar whacking me smartly across the back of my legs whenever I slowed. I lost a slipper—but it didn’t matter, really, because my slippers were falling apart. A short while later I kicked o" the other one. Once, we paused and I was allowed to go to my knees to scoop water from a small spring that crossed our path. My stomach rumbled; it had been two days since I’d last gnawed on a mouldy hind of bread.

At some point the path had become a rutted waggon track, and we walked past cultivated fields, the shapes of farmhouses and barns in the distance. Which meant people. And where there were people and fields, there were regular cycles of day and night. The kind that would allow those people to work and their crops to grow. There would be a dawn.

This knowledge failed to hearten me.

The path widened, became hard-packed dirt. We crossed a stone bridge over a fetid river that seemed nothing more than an enormous open sewer, and immediately trod a broad street paved with crumbling bricks. On either side of the bridge I saw that earthworks had recently been erected and that a crude tower was being raised, as if to defend the crossing. But the tower was only half-finished and seemed unoccupied—at least no one came out to challenge us. Even so, I took it as a sign of a bad place expecting worse.

As we walked, bits of crumbled brick bit into my soles. Houses stood shoulder to shoulder now, their porticoes set back a dozen paces from the thoroughfare. Here and there light leaked out around the edges of a shuttered window. The street narrowed, and the Friar and I turned, and turned again. The houses became taller and shabbier, pressing in on the street. None had porticoes, only doors and barred windows overhanging the lanes. There was no river here to carry away excrement, and the foul smell of fresh night soil in the gutters made me gag. Narrower back streets branched o" ours, from which emanated the sounds of furtive movements. If the Friar heard anything, he ignored it, herding me impatiently through the labyrinthine alleys and finally down this last claustrophobic lane, no wider than my outstretched arms.

Rough hands shoved me; I stumbled over broken bricks and into a wooden wall that loomed out of the darkness. A dead end. I stood completely still, felt the wood damp against my cheek and under my fingers. Not sure what to do. I stiffened at a touch on my arm, but it was only a frayed hempen rope, suspended from something in the darkness above. For a time I waited, for a wordless kick or a blow, for whatever might come. When nothing did, I turned, but the nameless Black Friar who’d brought me here had already faded away into the barrio. Without ever saying a word.

I had no idea where I was, nor why I’d been brought here. Until this moment I’d been stumbling through the night, not thinking. Numb. My father was dead. What point was there to anything beyond that fact?

A shuffling sound from the impenetrable darkness.

It occurred to me, then, that perhaps the Friar hadn’t abandoned me. Perhaps he’d gone around the corner to relieve himself. . . . But then I heard a retch and the sound of gobbing. A small, gaunt shadow congealed at the foot of the alley, ambled forward. “Yer a pretty one, ain’t you?” A drunken voice, the kind that promised pain. And instantly, sickeningly, I knew why the Friar had left me here: to die. Not by the Friar’s own hand—that would have been a mortal sin—but at another’s.

A man reeled forward, emerging from the shadows—an indigent in ragged clothes, his face pocked, his left eye socket empty and scabbed. I snatched up a chunk of brick. The indigent took stock of the brick with his good eye. “Now, now, boy. No need fer that.” He o"ered a gap-toothed smile. “As God is me witness, I intend you no harm. I was just thinking, you being so young an pretty, and me knowing them what like that, there was a brass deacon or two to be made between us. . . .” As he spoke, the man patted his own clothing, absentmindedly, feeling for something.

A knife!

I retreated a step, felt something between my back and the wooden wall. The rope. In one motion I whipped the brick at the indigent and spun around, grabbing the rope with both hands. I heard feet pound behind me as I hauled myself up with all my might—the rope gave way and I landed hard on my arse, a bell tolling once, loud enough to wake the dead.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert Boyczuk has published short stories in various magazines and anthologies. He also has two books out: a collection of his short work,  Horror Story and Other Horror Stories, and a novel, Nexus: Ascension.
Order the book HERE

Official Book Blurb: "The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." - John Milton, Paradise Lost.

In the beginning, the Church ruled all the Spheres of the Apostles. But that was millennia ago, before the origins of this massive, artificial realm were forgotten. Now, drought, plague and war afflict the Spheres that make up the world of Man, fragmenting society into antagonistic sects that carry out ruthless pogroms. A young orphan, Thomas, is thrust into the midst of this upheaval and embarks on a journey to the highest of all Spheres, Heaven.

As he struggles through his chaotic, crumbling world, Thomas witnesses cruelty and violence beyond measure-and chances upon unexpected moments of courage and self-sacrifice. In this turmoil, his belief becomes doubt as he is forced to make soul-rending choices between what his faith tells him he should do, and what he must do to survive.

The Book of Thomas: Heaven is the unflinching, deeply affecting tale of the battle that reason and religion wage for a boy's soul.



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