Posted in Ghosts & Gowns, Short Stories

A Crisis of Faith

The general consensus in Devon College had been that everyone expected the Chaplain to be the greatest issue about Professor Richards’ refusal to accept Death as a good excuse to stop working.

They were correct in this belief, but not perhaps in the form events happened to take effect.

Ch.4 - A Crisis of Faith - small

‘Has anyone told the Chaplain about this? I really think someone needs to call the Chaplain about this.’

‘What? No, why would we? He’s nice and safe in the South of France on the choir tour, there’s no need to confront the poor man with the undead in his workplace ahead of time.’

‘Are you mad? Of course we should bother him with this! He’s the ideal person to deal with it – or at the very least give us guidance on dealing with this.’

‘Martin! We absolutely are not exorcizing the Master of the College! There’re rules about that!’

‘There are rules about exorcism? Really?’

‘Not now, Frank. Let’s not get diverted from the main issue, please’

‘No, really, has anyone ever thought half-way through an exorcism, “Well, this is rude and discourteous”?’

‘There are rules about not killing people off to get them out of the way! I’m pretty sure that covers exorcism somewhere…’

‘Brian, don’t go and look it up right now, leave it until later, can you?’

‘I wasn’t suggesting an exorcism to get the old boy out of the way -‘

‘You absolutely were! What else do you need a chaplain for with a ghost?’

‘I just mean that the Master might need someone to talk to about all this. I mean, it can’t be easy coming back from the dead. And let’s face it; the Chaplain’s got to be the College expert in people suddenly coming back from the dead against all reason. The Master must be having all sorts of questions about his future and what his life means if he’s doomed to wander as a ghost…’

There was a long pause, likely caused by the sheer force of three deeply sceptical Looks from his companions. Finally one fellow found the strength to make the obvious enquiry.

‘Does the Master look like he’s mid-existential crisis to you?’

‘No…’

‘Has the Master ever looked like he would have a crisis about himself?’

‘Well, I suppose I have to hand that to you; not even a little bit.’

‘And even if he did have any such concerns, do you really feel that Lawrence – Good Man though he may be – would be of any use whatsoever in his coming to terms with the Afterlife?’

Another silence, this time more tactfully contemplative.

‘He’s a dab-hand with the tea and biscuits, got to give the man credit where it’s due.’

‘And picks all the old favourites for the hymns on Sundays.’

Another pause.

‘However I do concede the point that the Master may not require any of the Chaplain’s gifts in this instance.’

The matter seemingly settled, there was a general relieved exhaling of men glad to turn to more Serious Topics, such as the upcoming Boat Race and the undoubted poor form of the opposition, before a plaintive wail rang out.

‘I didn’t mean we should kill the old boy off to get him out of the way!’

‘Now, now, Martin, there’s no need to get yourself worked up about these things.’

‘It isn’t as if no one else has been thinking it after all, we understand how you feel. But Standards really Must Be Maintained around the place.’

‘Stop planning the demise of the old man, Martin, there’s a good chap. Especially via the Chaplain; the poor man’s already on retreat and all he’s had to face is students; we can’t throw ghosts and subsequent exorcism-requests at him until his Inner Strength has been recovered. Leave the man alone. In fact, leave both of them alone.’

*

It may have surprised his colleagues to discover that Professor Richards himself was a little unsure about how the Chaplain might take the news that he would henceforth be working with the undead.

While not a man to beat around the bush in the Ordinary Course of Events, Richards was on this occasion planning on … easing him in to the knowledge as it were…

Unfortunately, Margaret was having none of it.

‘Ah, Professor, there you are.’ Richards stopped in his (floating) tracks and immediately took on a hunted expression, ‘I have arranged for the Chaplain to see you first-thing on his return to the college.’

Richards closed his eyes, prayed briefly for strength and protection in his next actions and then asked,

‘Do you really think that’s wise, Margaret?’

Silence. Richards was unreasonably proud of himself for not fleeing for his Non-Life when Margaret slowly raised one eyebrow.

‘I’m afraid that I don’t quite take your meaning, Professor?’

Oh dear. That was the Tone of Mild Enquiry. Few who had heard it Lived to Tell the Tale…

‘Well, I mean the man’s only just arrived back in the country, he’ll be wanting to catch up on emails and the like…’ Richards recognised full well the shaky ground upon which he stood in suggesting that a fellow of the college (with rare and decidedly strange exceptions) would be eager to read their emails under any circumstance. ‘I shouldn’t want to put him out of his way like this?’

Margaret softened in the face of his hopeful expression and her lips curled slightly in a small smile. Her grey eyes twinkled over the tops of her glasses and Richards had a moment to hope, to believe that maybe, just maybe he would be reprieved –

‘Now Professor, I promise you faithfully that I will not allow him to bring out the bells, books or candles at any time during the interview. After gaining a Master of the College who listens so nicely and the prospect of not needing to replace him with a new model, I should be Highly Displeased if the Chaplain were to attempt to remove him.’

‘But what if -?’

Richards got no further before the twinkling eyes turned stern and he forced himself to actually picture any sort of confrontation between Margaret and the Chaplin; a slight, willowy man prone to clearing his throat in odd moments when speaking, with shoulders hunched to disguise his height. It would be a bloodbath, he was sure, and Richards was equally certain that the Good Lord Himself would blench from the prospect of reprimanding Margaret for devouring one of His shepherds.

‘Yes, Margaret. I’ll see him when he arrives.’

Margaret favoured him then with a fond smile.

‘Very good, Professor. You’ll be meeting him in his office, which as I’m sure you remember is next to the Chapel, yes?’

Richards forbore to argue further. Margaret would protect him if necessary…

*

To the amazement of all (except possibly Margaret), when the Chaplain arrived back from his vacation he took one look at the ghostly form of the Master, and then a wide grin split his face.

Richards looked at the man in front of him cautiously. The Chaplain looked indeed ready to explode with some Great Emotion and he was wary of becoming the focus of An Episode.

‘Professor Richards! Why, this is wonderful!’

Richards blinked. ‘It is?’

The Chaplain was advancing on him now and Richards briefly wished to run. It was too late however, as the Chaplain merrily grasped his chilled hand his both of his own and began to shake it vigorously.

‘Oh my dear Professor Richards, but of course it is! This is a most wonderful moment indeed! Absolutely wonderful! An Irrefutable Sign that death is not the end for us all, people will be so pleased!’

Richards had a moment of terror that he was about to be embraced by the enthused man, but the Chaplain managed, barely, to restrain himself.

‘I’m, ah, very pleased to see that you are so comfortable with my Alternative State of Health, Lawrence,’ he hazarded.

The Reverend Lawrence Hargreaves Beamed at him. Then his smile dimmed, and was replaced by Profound Concern. Richards eyed the walls and windows in Readiness of Escape.

‘Oh my goodness, Professor! You must forgive me, I had not even considered!’

Richards had a feeling that his bewilderment was showing. The Chaplain took him firmly by the shoulders and sat him down in an empty pew, patting his arm comfortingly.

‘Professor, I understand that this of course will be a great shock and period of terrible change for you. How are you feeling about all this? Are you handling this well? Should I see about getting someone to speak to you, if you don’t feel comfortable speaking to me about your concerns? Although of course, I should be happy to listen to anything you might wish to confide?’

Richards sighed in both relief and weariness. A Chaplain wishing to Provide Comfort was a Tricky Thing to shake off. Bluster was the quickest way out, he judged, pulling himself up to his full, if midling translucent height.

‘Really Lawrence, I must protest! Have you ever had the impression from me that mere Death would uproot my State of Calm? My sense of purpose? Never! I assure you that I am Perfectly Well, both in Mind and in – well, not in Body, quite, I grant you this – but I am as sound all through as any Member of the Spectral Community has any right to be! I have no need of Guidance through This Trouble Time!’

If Richards had hoped his outrage would curb the Chaplain’s enthusiasm, he was sadly mistaken. Now assured of Richards’ comfort with his own State, Lawrence returned to congratulating him on his Great Achievement, on his Pushing the Boundaries of What We Know of Our Existence.

Richards faded out to contemplate, idly, whether the view from the Chaplin’s office weren’t more attractive than his own, eventually conceding that it was not and that no shifting of offices needed to be attempted.

After a few moments, Richards tuned back into what his companion was saying. ‘… And of course this will do wonders for our efforts in inclusivity! No one can doubt the seriousness of our intentions that we truly welcome all forms of life when even those of Alternative Lives play an important role in the College…’

The Master of Devon College desperately wished that his assistant was as omniscient as she had always appeared and that Margaret would Come to His Rescue soon…

Missed a chapter? Find the whole series so far here.

Author:

Writer. Crafter. Nerd.

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