The Luther Paradox

Or the story that finally breaks my writing drought after three months.

I was sitting in my History of Christian Churches classes last year, learning about the Reformation, when a story idea came to me. What if Martin Luther had been prevented from posting his 95 Thesis? What if there was a time travel element – if the person who stopped Luther was from the future… if he was a time traveling mercenary?  I played with the first draft during National Novel Writing Month in November and got to about 20,000 words before I realized my story wasn’t going anywhere plot wise. I had focused far too much on my protagonist, giving him a back story that was quickly turning him into a Mary Sue character. There is a reason why I never bothered posting anything I wrote back then.

I decided to reboot my own story and start again, playing around with the plot until I picked a starting point that would just jump right in. I don’t want to give too much away in case of spoilers but I’m hoping to weave a tale that combines religion – the Catholic Church specifically – and Time Travel.

Finally writing again after the summer drought feels good, but my confidence is shaky (actually, that’s nothing new). I have decided to post the first two thousand words for feedback.

~~~~

Sim awoke to find himself lying on his back looking up at a dark alleyway. The sky was full of clouds that reflected an eerie glow from the lights of the city. He was dimly aware of a crowd surrounding him but he couldn’t tell how many or who they were. A voice called out simply “He’s stirring.”

A hand shot out and almost roughly grasped him on his shoulder. “Take it easy,” another, deeper voice said. “Don’t get up too quickly.”

The hand shifted to underneath Sim as its owner helped him sit up. He fought off a wave of dizziness before he managed to get a look at his surroundings.

The alleyway was virtually indistinguishable from the all the other alleys that Sim had seen in his lifetime. Puddles dotted about reflected the scene above. The group of men who had circled him respectively kept their distance, except for the one who had helped Sim sit up. He crouched in front of him, his face highlighted by the sickly yellow light. “I’m Octavian, and these are my disciples,” he offered a wallet. “We needed to find out who you were.”

Sim took the item, surprised at its heaviness. “Find anything good?”

“Not much – it seems you don’t have a lot of info on file, but we did get your name at least, Father Peters. Could you tell us what happened?”

Sim’s eyes widened. He hoped Octavian didn’t catch it in the spotty light. When did he become a Father? He could only remember a group of very angry, very German faces looking at him as they pinned him down. He had been found out, something that had never happened before.

“Honestly, everything is a bit hazy, you know? I can barely remember an angry group attacking me.” Sim decided for now at least to leave out certain details, such as the German catcalls of witchcraft that he still heard.

Octavian stood straight and paced around in between his men and Sim. “We couldn’t find anyone, we even looked in a two block radius or so. The area’s pretty clean.” He stopped and looked down at Sim. “If you don’t mind me asking, Father, what are you wearing?”

Sim looked down. It was a long black cassock, obviously clerical, but ancient looking. He had know idea what exactly it was or why he was wearing it, but he had to give an answer. “It was for a costume party.” He kept his voice even.

“Really? Hate to ask this, but were you drinking?”

“No.”

Octavian’s eyebrows rose. Sim shook his head, “It was party for the children of the parish,” he pulled out of thin air.

The man who stood in front of him began to shuffle his feet, but held out his hand. “Well since we can’t figure out what happened, and you can’t remember much yet, we might as well return you to your parish.”

Sim took the hand and hoisted himself up. “Right.” For a moment the alleyway and men doubled and blurred before righting themselves. He stood in place slowly getting his bearings.

“You do remember where your parish is right?”

“Uh-huh.” Sim faced one end of the alleyway, peering down to the end. Abruptly, before Octavian could say anything, he turned around and faced the other direction. “It’s this way,” he said more to himself than Octavian.

“Christopher, take Father Peters to his rectory. Make sure there is someone to look after him.” Before Sim could protest, he said “Father, you probably have a head injury, with the memory loss, you shouldn’t be alone. We’ll let you know if we find anything else, but if you could give us a call once your memory returns.”

Sim simply nodded his farewell and allowed Christopher to escort him to a car. “Do I have to sit in the back?” he asked, trying to infuse a little levity into this bizarre experience.

Christopher unlocked the vehicle and locked around, startled. “What? Oh, I suppose not,” he said finally.

The streets did not look familiar at all and at several points, Sim was convinced that they were either lost or at least driving in circles. Yet Christopher did not look worried, finally stopping in front of a church that was tucked in between several mis-matched buildings of similar height. A sight posted on the church itself gave the name of St. Thomas as well as mass times in three separate languages. Sim squinted in the streetlight and spotted characters of some sort of aisan language.

“Chinese?” he mused out loud. “Who gives mass in Chinese?”

Christopher looked at him sharply as he joined him on the sidewalk. “You do, Father,” he said. The young disciple led the priest to the rectory, which was latched onto the left side of the church.

Sim knew enough to fake some recognition, “Oh of course. Are there- Are there other priests here at St. Thomas?”

“One other, but he is retired for the most part.” Christopher answered as he rang the doorbell.

“Great.” Sim said under his breath.

From the stoop, he couldn’t hear the doorbell from inside the rectory, yet too quickly for the late hour of the night, the door opened, and a tall, thin woman appeared. Her face was almost as narrow as her body but she looked to be pushing sixty. “Father Peters! Oh thank goodness you’re okay.” She noticed Christopher standing awkwardly behind Sim. “Thank you for bringing him home. Would you like to come in and have some tea?”

Christopher smiled slightly. “I’m afraid I can’t ma’am, my superior needs me.” He nodded at the two of them. “You take care of yourself, Father.”

“Don’t worry! I will!” The woman called out as Christopher returned to his car. “Let’s get you inside. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Oh I can’t let you sleep too long, if they think you have a concussion.” She closed the door behind them and ferried Sim into the kitchen with out letting him answer.

The rectory was very narrow but extremely deep, it probably spanned the length of the church itself. Sim was led past several dark rooms, most of which looked like they were offices, as they walked down the long hallway.

“How about a cuppa tea, Father? It’ll be decaf of course. Just sit yourself down.”

As she filled the brass looking kettle and put it on the range, Sim noticed it wasn’t the most mordern kitchen appliance. Though he hadn’t seen many stoves, he was surprised to see a burner with flames tickling the underside of the kettle.

“Is that gas?” he found himself asking.

She spun around from the cupboard to face him. “Of course it is, Father. You know we can’t afford an electric stove.” Before she could continute the hiss of the kettle signaled that the water had boiled. She deftly poured two cups with the teabags waiting before carrying them over to the table.

Sim mumbled an apology, feeling stupid as he dunked his teabag. But she shrugged his mistake off. “Don’t worry about it. I knew you hit your head, lost some memories, just didn’t realize how much.” She paused as she added milk and sugar to her tea. “So do you remember my name?”

The questioned startled him for some reason. Slowly he shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

It took longer for her to shrug this one off. But after a few sips of her tea, she smiled. “My name is Mrs. Humphrey and I’ve been working here for the last ten years.”

“As housekeeper?”

“Business Manager, Secretry, Housekeeper, you name it I’ve probably done it. I’ve even been known to cook every once in a while.”

A chuckle escaped from Sim’s mouth as he felt the corners tug into his own smile. It was his first real smile of the evening. However, even that felt slightly uncomfortable and ingenuine. He finished the rest of his tea in silence. “Thanks.”

“No problem Father.” Mrs. Humphrey slowly got to her feet and collected both tea cups. “Why don’t I show you to your room?” She quickly stashed the empty cups in the deep sink, leaving them for the morning.

They walked back down the length of the hallway and accended the staircase that was tucked near the front of the rectory. The building only had two floors, and the second one was almost as long as the first. However the room at the end that the hallway opened up into was not nearly as large as the kitchen downstairs. Sim could make out a few couches and large recliners in the little light that came through from outside.

Instead of walking the entire length, Mrs. Humphrey stopped infront of an old door whose wood nearly matched that in the stair case. She took out a ring of keys and carefully examined them until she saw the correct key which she inserted into the lock and struggled to turn. “It’s always been finicky. Sometimes you have to jostle it and try again.”

With a loud squeak, the door opened and Mrs. Humphrey quickly turned on the lights.

Sim walked further into his room and slowly looked around. He had a small desk that was crammed with several books, Bibles, dictionaries as well as loose papers strewn about. Even his chair was covered with stuff. On the other side of the room was a small kneeler that looked upon a cruicifix. He walked up to it and saw another book lay open on the kneeler. The only other things in his were a small bureau and a bed.

Mrs. Humphrey pointed to a door that was open beyond Sim’s bed. “You’re lucky you have a bathroom, Father. It isn’t much, but it’s all yours. There should be a clean towel in there if you would like to wash up. Do you need anything else?”

Sim shook his head. He suddenly want nothing more than to change out of his costume and into whatever form of pajamas he had.

“I’ll check in a few hours though – can’t let you sleep too long I’m ‘fraid.”

“Where will you sleep?”

“There’s a cot downstairs in one of the offices. And one of the couches in the living room is a pullout as well.” She flashed her smile agian. “Just holler if you need me. Good night Father.”

Sim nodded goodnight as the older woman closed the door behind him. Thankful for the peace and quiet at long last, he slowly stripped before fishing out some old school pajamas from the top drawer. He didn’t know where to leave his clothes, so he just put them in the bathroom.

Before plopping into bed, Sim inspected the books in his room. It didn’t quite make sense that he would need three different Bibles. Besides a traditional English dictionary, he also discovered one manadarin to english and one cantonese to english as well. So much for using the internet. He stood there hovering in front of his desk for a moment, trying to recall any chinese. Not a single word came to his mind, unless he counted a feeble nihao. he might be in more trouble than he originally thought.

The book on the kneeler turned out to be a well worn prayer book, or Breviary as it said on the cover. There were several ribbons, and prayer cards saving places spread throughout the book. Sim didn’t bother flipping through it, worried he might disturb the haphazard organizational system.

There was only one item left in the room that Sim had not noticed right away. Hanging on the walk above his desk, was a diploma. From the Pontifical College in Rome with a Bachelors in Theology and a concentration in Pastoral Studies. As Sim stared at the italian script, he couldn’t help but rub his eyes, incase he misread something. He did not remember studying in Rome at all. Maybe it was a local satelite campus but the diploma was from the main school in Rome. All he could remember from college was several science labs complete with graphing calculators and computer programs. It didn’t make sense.

Finally after making a few more circuits of his room to make sure nothing else was out of place, Sim jumped into bed. As he made himself comfortable, he took care not to be facing the wall with the cruicifix. The height it was at made it a perfect line of sight into the figureine’s eyes if he propped his head up a little. Knowing there was someone in the room, even if he were only made out of plastic or wood, freaked him out almost as much as the diploma he didn’t remember earning.

It wasn’t until he had turned out the light and was nearly asleep when he realized something had gone horribly wrong and he was missing his Vortex bracelet.

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