“There’s a storm coming, Jack!”
I was brought back to wakefulness by a familiar voice and hand on my shoulder, shaking me hard. My eyes opened to the sight of black clouds rolling in. Father Michael stood over me, looking concerned.
It was getting dark. “Father? What time is it?” I asked.
“Nearly five. Your mother said I would find you here.”
I’d been asleep for over two hours. “I need to get home,” I told him.
“I told your parents you will be coming to the rectory for a chat,” he reassured me.
“I had a dream..”
He cut me off. “We will talk over tea.” The first drops of rain landed on my head. “And in the dry. Come.”
We hurried the short distance to the rectory, arriving just before the first lightning flash lit up the sky. The rectory was a little more than cottage on the edge of the church grounds, the sort you might expect to be without running water or electricity. We were drenched by the time we got there. I removed my sodden jacket and hung it on a coat hook. My shirt was only mildly damp, but rainwater was dripping from my hair and my trousers were soaked through.
Father Michael rummaged in a cupboard and pulled out a heavy looking blanket. “I have no clothes to offer, I am afraid. Our sizes,” he looked me up and down, “differ, somewhat.” He was a good seven or eight inches taller than me, and significantly rounder. “But this will keep you from catching a cold.”
He showed me into the small but homely living room, beckoning for me to sit in a comfy looking armchair. I wrapped the blanket around myself and sat. Before long he had the fireplace lit, the crackling of logs and aroma of pine filling the room. He disappeared then, presumably to the kitchen. The living room was furnished much the way I would have expected; old and well-worn furniture, either bought cheap or it came with the cottage. A crucifix hung above the fireplace, a bookcase filled with bibles and countless religious texts stood against the opposite wall. A desk sat in the corner.
He returned with a tray bearing a steaming teapot and two mugs, as well as milk and sugar. Resting the tray on the coffee table in front of me went to a small cabinet in the corner, producing a dusty, corked bottle and placing it alongside the tray.
“Please, help yourself,” he gestured to the teapot. I did so, pouring myself some tea and stirring in three sugar lumps. “Milk?” he asked.
“No thanks,” I replied, sipping on the hot drink.
“Alright then.” He filled his own mug with tea, adding milk, sugar and a fair amount of liquid from the dusty bottle. I assumed it to be more of his finest Scottish whiskey. “You have questions.” It was more statement than anything else, but I took it to be an invitation.
“Did Father Francis know about the Whispers?” I blurted it out before I even realised. “I told him about them, once, and he looked worried. But then smiled and said it’s just a vivid imagination.”
“I expect he did,” Father Michael sighed. “And I would imagine he knew himself to be the wolf of which you were warned.”
“I could’ve stopped him then… what he did to those other boys…” I shook my head, pangs of guilt stabbing me.
“No!” He brought his fist down on the coffee table with a bang. I was startled. “I am sorry, Jack,” he said, noting my reaction. “You must not take any blame upon yourself. You were a child with no idea that such things could even happen.”
“But…” I tried to argue.
“We all have our own cross to bear. Be strong.” He took a few sips of tea to calm himself. “What else would you like to know?”
“What are they?” I asked. “The Whispers, I mean.”
“In truth, nobody knows for certain. Some have claimed them to be angels, some the spirits of the dead. One theory is that they are echoes of a future we must not let come to pass.” He paused. “But they refuse to reveal who they really are, so between us we can just call them Whispers.”
“Why me?” I couldn’t hold that one back any longer.
“Their reasons, I am sure, will become apparent in time. I simply cannot answer that.”
“But I’m not a Christian,” I countered. “I don’t believe in God or any of that crap! I never did.” I expected him to be at least a little annoyed at my outburst. “Sorry,” I said, meekly.
He chuckled. “Believe me, I have heard much worse. From your grandfather, no less.”
I took another sip of tea. “So what do I do, Father?”
“They have shown faith in you, Jack, now you must have faith in them.”