Author : Thomas Desrochers

Father Leibowitz gingerly placed the surplus sacrament back in the tabernacle. He turned to his congregation and sighed. It was a congregation of one: an old Jewish man named Schell.

Leibowitz pursed his lips. He and Schell had been the only ones at any mass for more than a year now. He quietly said his final prayers and went through the final movements, concluding service by sitting down with the wizened and hoary old man in a back row of pews. For some time they both sat in silent contemplation.

After a while Schell, ninety-eight years old and twenty years Leibowitz’s senior, started to talk. “You know, when the rabbi died and the synagogue closed I didn’t know what to do with myself. For a long while I stayed in my apartment, thinking and wasting way. Then, one day, I realized that I still have a place I may go to think and contemplate and talk to God.” He chuckled. “For all I care you are simply one of Judaism’s children. We are family.”

“Catholics are Judaism’s children?” The father chuckled. “You crazy old man.”

“I may be crazy, yet here I am. In times of trouble family must band together, don’t you agree?”

Leibowitz smiled a weary, tired smile. “I believe, Schell, that the times of trouble have passed. This is simply the end.”

The old Jew looked around at the aged, cracking walls of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The massive glass windows were dim because of the building’s position at the bottom of the New Rome Sprawl. Above them were kilometers of towers, roadways, tram-ways, walkways, and on and on and on in the perpetual twilight of the sub-city. The only light was cast by hidden diodes within the building, and ever these were failing. Shadows were rampant in this empty place. It was too quiet for even death to bother stalking the halls.

“You may have a point,” he conceded. “Yet I see no horsemen.”

The priest scoffed. “Apathy and desolation are surer heralds of the end than any cataclysm could ever hope to be.”

Off in a far corner a rusting maintenance bot fought back against the barbarian hordes of decrepitude brought on by time, a broken joint occasionally shrieking as only metal can. Dust swirled about in the shadows.

The priest coughed. “For us, at least, it is the end.”

“I’m sure there will always be those like us, tucked away in the corners of the world.”

“As if keeping some dark secret.”

“Like all humans do.” Schell checked his ancient brass watch. “It’s getting late, father. Would you care to join me at dinner this evening? It is Christmas Eve, after all.”

“I suppose you must be celebrating something Hannukah related as well,” said Leibowitz.

“Of course. Traditions aside, I don’t see what we can’t celebrate our own ways in each other’s company.”

Leibowitz mulled this over. “True enough.” He stood up, his joints cracking and protesting. Once he was upright he helped Schell up, and the two left the Basilica for the under city night. They walked with no fear because the local superstitions were more powerful than the fear of God ever was. They were regarded with curiosity, an oddity in a modern, noisy world. The old Jew, immortal and frail, and the tall, proud, and withering Leibowitz, the last priest and technical Pope of the Catholic Faith.

Back in the Basilica machinery screamed and dust settled unto dust as it always had and always would.


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