He stood in front of the whole park, on his soapbox and took a deep breath. He knew people thought he was crazy but he had to spread God's word. Straightening his white collar he stood on the makeshift box and cleared his throat.
He observed the couple kissing on the bench, and the young teens sat around smoking. The only person who might make it to heaven at this rate would be that old man feeding the pigeons & himself. He looked up to the skies which were greying and mentally thanked the lord. The clouds circled above him like vultures ready to pick on sinners flesh. Flesh, flesh, flesh of that girl Father. I saw you. But my Son…
'The rapture is coming!' He shouted above the crowds. Brief silence embodied the park as all heads turned to the preacher. The teens stared incredulously, some laughing and others looking bored.
'God is coming for you sinners. Repent now and thou shalt make it to heaven. Carry on sinning and meet Satan himself!' Eternal rot and pain in the fiery pits of hell awaits you!' The end is nigh!'
The young couple on the bench had looked at him momentarily before resuming their kissing. He knew they weren't wed by the lack of rings on their wandering fingers and had probably consummated their relationship already, like so many other young people nowadays. Get out Son, Father, Our Lord is fucking in the eyes of the church, amen!
The teens were all laughing now and giggling. Passing roll-ups around that he assumed were drugs. God, please let them see the light.
'THE END IS NIGH!' he bellowed louder as people started to look away and resume their activities.
' It's coming for us all! The clouds will gather, storms will rage above our heads, and those that have sinned will meet the rapture'.
He felt his anger start to boil at the ignorance of the people in front of him. The clouds above became darker and rain looked imminent. The first drops began to fall lightly, but he carried on.
'He will fight for 1000 years and non-believers will be executed! Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy & pride. These sins must be changed now or forever be worshipping Satan!'
'Worship this!', a young teenage boy stuck his middle finger up at the preacher and their group bent over laughing. The preachers scowl nearly silenced them all but they carried on.
The couple on the bench began to leave the park, the man holding his jacket over both their heads as the rain picked up speed. The teens began to huddle under the trees for shelter but jumped when a boom of thunder broke their reverie. They scarpered as the heavens opened with an almighty crash, laughing and squealing after each other. The girls pretending to be frightened to get the boys attention. But you'll get the men when you sing. Sing hallelujah! The sound of the rain had gotten so great that it drowned out his voice. The preacher looked up through blinking eyes to see black clouds growing overhead and felt his hairs stand on end in the electric air.
It came down relentlessly and the sky continued to change into various colours. All the colours of a deep bruise. I'll tan your hide My Father, My Son! Wash your eyes with the salt of the Earth, body of Christ! He stood getting wetter and wished that rain could wash everyone's sins away. The only remaining person in the park was the old man feeding the birds. They were all beginning to fly away for cover in the trees. The two men caught each others eye and gave a brief smile.
The old man surrendered the contents of his seed bag to the ground, acknowledging the birds departure and began to walk slowly towards the preacher. He was wearing non-descript neutral clothing, and though old seemed robust under the layers. Like Santa Claus, the preacher thought. His white hair was wiry on his head and his beard, and he brushed off bird seed from his fingertips.
'Quite the weather ey?', he spoke louder over the rain and looked up to the preacher on his makeshift box.
'Indeed, but it'll be raining fire when the Rapture comes'. He sounded like a salesman to a customer.
'Indeed it will. It'll start with heavy storms, much like this one I'll bet. Christ himself will return to Earth and all those believers will go to heaven. Non-believers stay on Earth whilst he fights for 1000 years.' But this customer already owned it.
'Are you a holy man Sir?'. He knew he didn't have a new customer on his hands and inwardly sighed.
'Oh yes, yes I am'. He smiled and held his palm upwards at the rain, watching how it splashed on his skin.
The rain continued and the sky was now turning into the colour of a blood orange. Pink edges around the clouds. He looked towards the sky risers in the city and saw light shooting onto them.
He pointed at them, 'What the devil is that?'. He spoke more for himself than for the old man in front of him. The lights began to speed up and he was sure he could see smoke and fire. Someone seemed to have turned up the volume on the city streets as he heard car horns, people shouting, crashing of rocks and alarms going off. It was like he was stood on Main Street in rush hour.
'Greed. Greed is a dangerous sin is it not preacher? Does greed not lead to other sins? Lust of the flesh?'. The old man has ignored the preachers cries and frightened pointing, almost as if nothing was happening.
'What?', he continued staring in awe at the lights and smoke. 'Yes, it's unacceptable. Live simply and unjustly Sir but don't you see what's happening in the city? Look, I think we should seek shelter immediately. Something's very wrong!'.
'But you yourself have succumb to greed have you not Father?'
The preacher froze as the words sunk down through his body like coins into a jukebox and looked at this old man as the record began to play. What a peculiar thing to say? He felt a flood of anger rise in his chest.
'What do you mean Sir? We don't have time for this… this nonsense! We must flee!'. He jumped off the box and made to run.
'I mean that you have succumb to Greed.' The old man continued and grabbed the preacher by the shoulders. 'When the collection plate is full do you not take the peoples money from it in the Church? Do you not, Father, put that money in your own personal safe for your own personal use? Like Father like Son?' he bellowed into the preachers face.
Fear and anger swam in the preachers stomach, the rain continued to pour and the smoke was turning black in the city. 'Get your hands off me! How dare you make such accusations to a man of God!'. He wanted to flee, to run far away from this rising fear in the atmosphere around him. An animals instinct, he thought. The birds and all other animals seemed to have hid, but from what?
The preachers head began to spin, and he could smell smoke wafting on the breeze from the city. Freshly baked pie, freshly baked sinners.
'Do you Father?', the old man didn't loosen his grip on the preacher and stared at him with bright blue eyes that were full of strength.
'I don't know what you're talking about Sir!' he flapped.
'Yes you do. I've seen you. You can't hide from me, and you can't hide from them. They can smell you. Your sin, your fear. And they're coming. You were right about the Rapture.'
The old man smiled, let go of the preacher who dropped to the ground like a ragdoll and began to walk away casually through the park.
'Where are you going?' the preacher shouted after him.
'To fight!', the holler echoed through the empty park with a sickening reverberation.
Dizzy and disorientated he tried to push himself up on the wet earth. Grass seemed to stab his skin and scratch him. Punish me Oh Lord!
The flames in the sky had doubled and definite screams rang out all around him. Claustrophobia kicked in as the air seemed to become more dense.
He couldn't take this. He scrabbled to take off his collar which seemed to choke him. It was itching, burning his neck. Fumbling with his fingers which felt numb, he finally threw it off and wretched into the grass. Catching his breath he wiped his mouth and looked into the trees with a startled panic. He felt something moving, something's presence all around him. Thoughts of dollar bills in his safe, and sneaking into whore houses ran through his mind at warp speed. Like someone had hit the rewind button on his life. He saw himself as a young priest, optimistic. He saw his Father, the city's most beloved, sodomising the choir girl. He saw his nine year old body being bruised and beaten by his Father as his Mother watched from the side. Wash your eyes with salt of the Earth! Cleanse your lies with blood! Repent child, you have repulsed the Lord himself with your lies!
He tried to collect his breath but it didn't seem to calm itself. The thing in the trees was coming closer. The smoke from the now burning city mingled with something else in the air that made him want to wretch again. Adrenaline shoot through his veins alarmingly as he saw what was coming for him. It's coming for me, it's coming for me, sinners will be cleansed, and I Father am I sinner.
Four beasts lurched forwards through the shadows. They smelt of sulphur and rotting flesh, and he could sense their hunger. The death-watch beetle can be heard, as sure as hope in love, a bird. He was frozen in fear as they came closer. He started to pray fervently at the bright orange sky. The shooting lights he'd seen in the city were balls of fire. He knew this now as they hit the park, but the rain didn't put them out. They crashed down to the Earth with force of which he'd never known, setting trees and the Earth itself aflame.
Please save me Father, my Lord, my Shepherd. I repent, I repent! Oh please! The beasts!
Into his view they came, one by one. Like blimps on a parade. The first was shaped like a lion, but it had wings. It stalked on it's haunches very quietly and stared at the preacher with such a hunger in his eyes that the preacher released his bowels, crying. Its red wings looked blistered, sore and were plucked. It stood up on it's hind legs and a deep rumble crept out of it's muzzle in a growl.
The second was like a bear. It's body was enormous, and strong. It could easily be the same size as a hummer. It's fur was black, patchy and tufted with blood. In it's foaming mouth was a limb of some kind but it was so putrid he couldn't bring himself to look. It kept tossing it's head from side to side, releasing sinew from the severed limb onto it's path.
The third was so quick it took him a while to see it in it's entirety . The body of a leopard and several cats eyes glinted menacingly at him through the trees darkness. It had four heads, and four sets of wings on it's back which flexed independently. The preachers head felt like it was going to explode. It made several noises all at once, in a high pitched cackle and the noise flooded his mind. He put his hands over his ears as the noise grew louder. It's fangs were visible from 600 feet away, and he knew the end was nigh. They were closing in and yet the preacher could not move, he panted.
The fourth was keeping in the trees shadows. But it was the most frightening of all. It towered above the rest. At least 9ft tall, it had a strong and powerful body. It's skin looked burned and red-raw yet muscled from head to hoof. It's hooves were a metallic silver and made a noise loud enough on the Earth to match the thunder. It seemed to be quite calm and controlled compared to the other three and this made it the most petrifying. Almost human, almost. Yellow eyes grew larger and brighter the closer he came.
The park continued to burn all around him, the smoke clouded his vision slightly but not enough. Wake up and it will all be over. Just wake up! He coughed and wretched again as the smoke filled his lungs.
They were 10ft away, all four were surrounding his cold, wet, limp body that was lying on the floor.
The fourth beast made a low growl and smiled at the preacher with long, sharp teeth. Rows upon rows of them doubled back through his gums and throat. It's breath hit the preachers face who nearly fainted. The preacher pointed at the beast with a final breath of courage.
'You beast of Satan! Get back to Hell where you came from!' . He said it unconvincingly through cries of dread. The beast nodded it's head to the other three around him. It's pointy and elaborately sculpted horns would almost be beautiful.
The preacher felt eyes on him. Wings beat the air around his head forming mists of trepidation. Foam hit his face.
'Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.' He stuttered as teeth sank into every part of his body.