By John Mara
“The end of the world is nigh, bajesus!” the good Sister O’Hennehey bellows to the heavens from the creaky porch of a run-down farmhouse. The farm lies in the middle of Megiddo, a sleepy town in the wheat fields of Kansas. With its golden fields touching the horizon at every point of the compass, Megiddo and Kansas may very well lie at the center of God’s creation itself.
On this summer evening, the warm wind howls, not from one direction, but from every direction at once, and Megiddo is the target of Zephyr and his three mates. “What in hell’s fire is going on?” the good Sister howls back at the puffing gods.
The mystery of the strange winds doesn’t keep Sister O’Hennehey from her pre-dinner constitutional pleasure. The nun grabs the bottle of Irish whiskey tucked in her girdle and with a healthy pour, fortifies a ‘cuppa tay.’ “Let the world end! For all I care, you can blow this hell hole all the way to the devil himself!” Having blended her motherland’s two liquid pastimes, she taunts Zephyr with a toast, “Slainte!” and tosses back the fiery ‘cuppa’ in a single gulp.
After forty years of Saint Theresa-like devotion to her chosen flock—or so she feels—Sister O’Hennehey is about to shutter her mission in Kansas. She’s ready to hang up the frayed black habit and retire to the rolling hills of Ireland’s West Cork.
In 1980, the good Sister O was ‘put out’ of a convent in suburban Chicago “for reasons unknown,” the Mother Superior delicately stated. But a smirking Novice in the know cited “the devilish Sister’s transgressions of the chastity vow, may Mary help the evil sinner.”
Undeterred, the not-so-good Sister O’Hennehey doubled-down on the shattered chastity vow by trampling the poverty vow with equal gusto. The scheming nun hatched a lucrative and one-sided business deal with the Mother Superior to set up shop in the fruited central plains. Sister O came to know that the Mother Superior needed a faraway place to hide—for more ‘reasons delicately unknown’—the offspring of wealthy teenage mothers in her St. Brigid’s Parish, soon after their lengthy vacations with aunts.
That’s when the entrepreneurial and suddenly contrite Sister O’Hennehey found her true calling. “Is there a better religious upbringing on God’s green earth, I ask you Mother Superior, than strict and proper schooling in the fertile fields of Kansas?” she’d said, with eyes beseeching the heavens and hands imploring her would-be benefactress for some dough to finance the enterprise. The two nuns knelt in solemn prayer, and the sun shone through the convent’s stained glass. At that celestial moment, Sister O’Hennehey’s eternal soul was blessedly redeemed, and her surefire evangelical gold mine was launched—with a round of angel funding, no less.
Every month and to this day, to fulfill the sacred mission of St. Brigid’s Kansas outpost, the hoodwinked Mother Superior siphons funds from the donation plates of St. Brigid’s Parish and wires them into a certain Megiddo bank account. “Ahh, ‘tis manna sprinkled from heaven,” the pious Sister O’Hennehey says of the holy covenant she struck.
Mother Superior leavens the loaf of heavenly manna to maintain the farmhouse, supply the youthful scholars, and pay the field workers, with a morsel left for the superintending Sister. “For the simple needs of me humble body,” she professes. Through divine accounting, though, the good Sister’s morsel always outsizes the communal loaf, and every morsel miraculously finds its way to Sister O’Hennehey’s hidden account at The Bank of Ireland. Never has a farmworker graced her fields for pay; the children in her care are schooled in the blessed sacrifice of earthly toil instead. Nor has a crumb ever spilled from the Chicago donation plates into the farmhouse’s capital upkeep account. Paint chips fall like rain from the rotting clapboards, and the roof leaks real rain into the attic where the sacred wards in O’Hennehey’s flock sleep.
But it’s no matter. With Sister O’Hennehey’s brim-filled coffer rivaling that of the Vatican itself, the forty-year fleecing of St. Brigid and her parish is about to end. I woulda knocked off years ago, she thinks. But why choke the goddamned golden goose while it’s still shitting cash? the crafty financier in the snug nun’s habit reasoned. With the teacup empty, she strengthens it anyway with another pour of the Bushmills whiskey.
The good Sister rests the bottle on the porch rail and calls it to order for a financial and ecumenical war council.“Plans changed, my friend, when Mother Superior up and died last month, God rest the sanctimonious bi- . . . well, never mind,” she keens. “Fact is, this shit-hole needs fixin’, and the tight-assed Bishop O’Hegarty tours this mess in September. The moment he sees this godforsaken place, the gig’s up! By then, though, I’ll be home in Skibbereen, where the wee Bishop’s short leprechaun arms can’t reach!”
Signaling a temporary recess, the good Sister stows her liquid advisor inside its tabernacular girdle. Then, a cleansing belch launches a pre-dinner grace: “Dear Lord, thank ye for the bounty ye have sprinkled on these yer p-o-o-or, poor children who–” Sister O’Hennehey’s floe of hot malarkey freezes in place. In the blink of her eye, the mist stops, the clouds crack open, and rays of sun pour forth. A rainbow forms in what must be St. Brigid’s testament to a prairie nun’s life of sacrifice.
But then O’Hennehey’s squinting eyes detect much, much more. A second gap opens beyond the clouds, this one in the blue sky itself. “The heavens are peeling back like a freakin’ Vidalia onion!” the good Sister notes. Inside this more distant gap, the sun paints the heavens gold. The holy nun stands with mouth agape, no less awestruck than the two child shepherds in their fields of Fatima.
“It’s the ozone burning up, all due to global warming!” Sister O’Hennehey eventually decides, flailing her chubby arms. “Ye greedy sons-a-bitchin’ capitalists look out for yeselves and don’t give a rat’s ass for the rest of us, bajesus!” With that bit of moral homily delivered to the world’s transgressors at large, the good Sister retreats from the apocalyptic windstorm.
At the door, though, she takes one more suspicious glance at the heavens. In the sky’s golden gap, four heads seem to take shape. Are they horses’ heads? For a second opinion, O’Hennehey recalls her advisor. This time, though, she draws straight from the bottle. Why take two steps when one will do? the Sister of thrift reasons.
“Ach, who knows?” Sister O’Hennehey concludes, and her advisor agrees. Who knows indeed, what with the gale swirling the clouds and the kaleidoscope of colors in the sky—not to mention the cuppa tay’s blurring effect. “Oohhh, ‘tis for the good Lord to divine,” she philosophizes for the bottle as she tightens its cap. Besides, her stomach is starting to growl.
Darkening the doorway, the nun works the rosary beads that circle her waist and hang at her side, not in prayer, but to clear a path wide enough for her rotund form. Ned O’Flaherty, the twelve-year-old scamp inside, takes the measure of the beads’ radius—the one bit of geometry the ‘homeschooled’ lad has absorbed under Sister O’s tutelage. After all, Sister takes on the intellectual as well as the spiritual and bodily nourishment of her charges, and this is the hour set aside for Ned’s academic instruction. “Get outta me way!” the erudite instructor says and then mutters, “Ye grimy little prick.”
Ned’s appearance lends proof to Sister’s hygienic appraisal. He’s no friend of a warm bath, even after manning the field for thirteen hours every day: “One hour for each of the Lord’s apostles, and one for the good Lord Himself,” Sister O preaches as a parable for Ned’s spiritual instruction. With the Kansas mission about to hear its last rites, dirty Neddy is the last inmate to benefit from the good Sister’s enlightenment.
Sister O’Hennehey unlocks the refrigerator door to retrieve a mound of cold pork chops. Waddling to a farm table with the plate, the nun’s headdress barely contains the plump red face bursting forth from its white cowl. At its center is a purple, bulbous nose, with two swollen lips below it and two beady green eyes above. An array of bristled chins add to the whole effect of a pregnant sow veiled in black drapery in the midst of a breech delivery of her new-born pig. The face’s grunting—and its mastication of a pork chop, no less—animate the life-giving imagery.
An emaciated house cat and her kitten catch a whiff of the chops and sidle up to Sister O’Hennehey. Under the table, a black 1970s-style nun’s shoe emerges from beneath the black habit. With practiced athleticism, and still chomping a pork chop, the merciful follower of St. Brigid anoints the mangy mother cat with a swift kick. The feline arches airborne across the room. Before the stunned kitten can beat a retreat, the black shoe’s twin emerges and tumbles the baby across the linoleum floor in its mother’s wake.
Aping the instruction of his holy role model, dirty Neddy grabs the two cats by the napes of their necks and flings them across the floor. The felines skid along the linoleum—filthy as Neddy—until they slam into the far wall and each other, much to the merriment of the dirty one himself. Even the bone-gnawing instructor pauses to flare a greasy grin of approval.
“Meeoow!” the mother cat protests. She bares fangs and brandishes sharp claws, her only earthly weapons of retaliation. “Meow,” tries the kitty, nodding its head in alliance with its one living parent. Its tomcat father is buried in the field, the victim of an especially angry black shoe.
The mother cat circles the shoe-wielding murderess. “Ssssss!!” The feline flashes fierce, penetrating eyes as if to hiss, “Is this how you humans lord over the creatures God assigned to your care? Your day of reckoning is nigh! Ssssss!”
The miserable she-cat and her murdered tom suffer not alone. Legions of their feline ancestors lie beneath the fertile fields of Megiddo and beyond, all around God’s green earth, with their own catalog of oppressions to redeem. And neither does the race of felines suffer alone. Up, down, and across the taxonomic tree, members of every phylum branch in the animal kingdom lie alongside them. Beneath the green earth they wait, wait for the humans’ day of reckoning for their depravity, whenever and however that redemption may come.
Adding to the breadth of human callousness, the villainous Ned O’Flaherty grabs a quivering pet hamster from its cage and plops it into a frying pan on the stove. Soon after he turns the heat to low, the hamster lifts one paw and then another. On medium heat, the pace of the hamster’s dance quickens and so does the twelve-year-old’s merriment. “Hee, hee, hee,” the cerebral Ned says of the scientific experiment. With the knob on high, the performance reaches its crescendo. Like a Russian ballerina, the hamster’s sizzling toes hardly alight before the dancer soars to an even greater height. Neddy, now a student of the arts, dances in harmony and laughs uproariously with the hamster’s every jump.
The sound of a pork chop expelled from the gullet of Sister O’Hennehey abruptly ends the spontaneous dance recital. The purple flushes from the nun’s puffed jowls as she overcomes the existential danger of eating while guffawing. On the hamster’s next axel turn, Ned slaps the little creature back into its cage.
Meanwhile, in taxonomic allegiance, the cats take note of the unending human cruelty.
Ned notices the sun getting low, the signal to meet his fellow urchins in the town square for some good ol’ animal torture. It’s an annual summer solstice event, and Ned’s pirouetting hamster is sure to take first prize around the bonfire.
With the designated hour of lessons over, the providing nun tosses Ned a half-dozen pork chop bones, thus attending to his bodily needs. “Don’t be late now, ye miserable little sh-” the concerned guardian begins as a warm adieu. But Ned is already out the door with the bones, the hamster cage, and the frying pan in tow.
Sister wobbles to the door to check on Ned’s direction. Outside, every guttersnipe in town is heading to the square. Each of the young rogues carries its favorite means of animal maltreatment. Frogs with firecrackers, cats swung by tails, and bunnies about to donate their lucky paws are among the favorites.
The good Sister O’Hennehey steps out onto the porch to check on that troublesome ozone gap in the heavens. “Ach, bless me baby Jesus! ‘Twasn’t global warming after all! The apocalypse is nigh upon us!” the oracle divines. “‘Tis doomsday . . . today!”
The four horses, dismissed earlier by the diviner, are now in full gallop. Their four riders tear through the break in the heavens and then the break in the clouds, striding apace—for Megiddo. “Ach, ‘tis the end of time, and they’re comin’ right for me!” Behind them cascade the oppressed souls of the animal kingdom—save any humans—a hundred abreast and grouped by their station on the taxonomic tree. The phalanx stretches on and on with no end. “Where they headed? Heaven’s t’other way!”
In answer, the mortal remains of the once-murdered tomcat saunter past his murderess on the porch. The cat stands fully erect on two feet. He flashes the deadly shoe dent in his skull and plainly says, “Is this how you humans lord over the creatures God assigned to your care? Your day of reckoning is nigh!” Holding a torch, the resurrected cat marches on to the town square.
Sister O’Hennehey takes a deep pull of the Bushmills to steady her trembling hands. But the tremors resume when she looks to the fields. The legs and arms, and then the heads and bodies, of every animal tormented through the ages poke up from their resting places in the earth. Dogs and cats, chickens and pigs, wild game, hamsters and frogs, birds of every stripe, extinct or not, they all stand tall on two sturdy legs. They all join in the march to the town square.
Sister O tucks the whiskey bottle into her girdle, hoists her skirts, and works her way through the ranks of marching animal corpses—Frogger style—to the other side of the county road. To reconnoiter the doomsday events, she climbs a hillock, the only elevation on the plain.
She looks down onto the town square, where the eternal souls of the animal oppressed are reuniting with the mortal remains they left behind. Frogs hold boys and light firecrackers in their mouths. Rabbits stroke severed human legs, all for good luck. Fireflies, caterpillars, worms, and bugs stuff squirming humans into jars—with breathing holes, of course. Cows and horses brand hogtied men. Sheep sheer women. It’s all clean summer fun around the bonfire.
From the hill, Sister O’Hennehey spots Ned O’Flaherty among the assembled throng. “Oohhh, I always had a warm spot in me heart for ya lad!” she proclaims. But dirty Neddy and his heart need little warming. He dances and sizzles in a hot frying pan, with a roistering ring of hamsters kindling the fire. Neddy’s hot-footed pirouettes are sure to draw a prize.
Safe on the hilltop perch, Sister O spins around. At every point of the compass, she sees legions of animals on the move. They all carry torches and march toward Megiddo, buffeted by Zephyr and his three mates.
Behind the good Sister, a horseman dismounts. “What are you doing up . . . oh, sorry Ma’am, I thought you were a waddling penguin. Their souls and remains aren’t due ‘til later.”
“And who might you be?” Sister O’Hennehey says.
“Don’t you read your bible, Ma’am?” the horseman says with a scan of the black habit. “Why, I’m the head horseman! Of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” The strapping horseman puffs his chest with masculine pride. “What’re you doing up on this hill, Ma’am?”
“And what’s wrong with this hill? It’s like any hill in Ireland, bajes-“
“Oh, it’s not just any hill, Ma’am. Don’t you read your bible? Today is Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil.”
“And what’s Megiddo got to do with Armageddon, young man?”
“In the bible, Megiddo means Armageddon. We’re standing upon the biblical Hill of Megiddo!”
“All’s I see is animals getting their day of reckoning. What about the humans and our resurrection?
“Don’t you read the bible, Ma’am? Luke told us, ‘They will come from East and West, North and South.’” The horseman points to the legions marching from every direction.
“Right, right, ye convinced me. But what about the HUMANS?!”
“Don’t you read the bible, Ma’am? ‘Those who are first shall be last, and those who are last shall be first. They will enter the kingdom of the Lord,’ so Luke said.” Having Luke’s back, the horseman points to the animal souls pouring forth from heaven.
“Luke was talking about the HUMANS!” Sister O says and then adds more sheepishly, “Wasn’t he now, lad?”
“Ah, that’s a common misconception—within the arrogant human race. But the rest of the animal kingdom knows better. They’ve been waiting for this day of human comeuppance for a looong time.”
“Yes, it’s time for all animals to take their rightful place atop the food chain. ‘Those who are last shall be first,’ remember? You all should’ve read your bibles!” With a tip of his cap, the horseman says, “You have a wonderful day now, Ma’am.”
“Wait! Wait, don’t go yet.” She spots a congregation of caterwauling housecats looking for the murderous Sister O’Hennehey. And the conductor at the center of the concert? None other than the resurrected Mother Superior! “What’s that sanctimonious bi- . . . what’s the good Mother Superior doing down there? You said this resurrection was for animals only!”
“Ah, the good Mother Superior served well her parish, her patron Saint Brigid, and the Cardinal for seventy years. She’s a legend up above.” The horseman crosses himself. “She was given a special dispensation.”
“Hell, I’ve served forty freak- . . . forty years! Who gives these dispensations anyhow? The Cardinal?”
“Don’t say it. The pope himself?”
The head horseman of the apocalypse shows the doubting Sister a golden Book of Columns. “This column shows what Mother Superior thought was going on here in Kansas. This column is the truth she learned after she walked through St. Peter’s pearly gates.”
“The part about the pearly gates is true then, is it now?” the cagey nun says in hope of a distraction.
He waves the book. “What’s in here got the good Mother Superior a human dispensation.”
The golden book glitters and catches the eyes of the house cats and Mother Superior down below. “I’d run if I were you,” the horseman says. “Getyup!” He careens his horse down off the sacred Hill of Megiddo.
The gaggle of house cats march as one up the Hill of Megiddo, with the ninety pounds of Mother Superior hoisted on their shoulders. When they reach its crest, the felines stand back out of respect for the halo-wearing Mother Superior. She genuflects and then, leaning on a cane, charges Sister O’Hennehey.
“The end is niggghhh!!!” the corpulent Sister O’Hennehey shouts to the heavens.
As her scriptural update echoes across the plain, all the denizens of Megiddo—animals and humans alike—stop and set their gaze on the sacred mount. The four horsemen stop and so do the spirits streaming behind them from the heavens. The legions of resurrected animals stop and so do the torches, to the edges of the horizons and beyond, to the ends of the earth. Even Zephyr and his windy band stop puffing.
“What’s happening? I never read about any stopping in the bible.” The head horseman says. But stop they do, so the nearest of the multitude can witness the final battle between good and evil on the sacred Hill of Megiddo.
Along its crest, with the golden heavens as the backdrop, a black habit inches along with ninety pounds of holy woman tucked inside, buttressed by a wobbly cane. From time to time, the habit stops to brandish the cane. “The end is nigh indeed, young lady!” emanates from the tiny habit.
Ten yards ahead, another black habit puffs along, this one packed with three hundred pounds of less-than-holy woman. Weighed by its inhabitant’s forty years of pork chops and Irish whiskey, the large habit maintains its narrow gap, no more and no less. Every time the tiny habit stops to wield its cane, the super-sized habit pauses for a pull of its bottle.
The masses assembled below the hill and across the level plains look on in heavenly awe and earthly amazement. The end may be a wee less nigh than the good Sister O’Hennehey divined, bajesus. The battle between good and evil is destined to last an eternity.
About the Author: A 2020 ‘Best of the Net’ nominee, John Mara began writing fiction beside a serene New Hampshire lake after years writing business articles inside a stale New York cubicle. He writes with the creative input of his wife Holly. They never fail to attract mortified glances when they discuss dastardly characters and plot structure in restaurants.
You can find John’s short stories published in Liquid Imagination, J.J. Outre Review, Youth Imagination, and other venues.
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