THE BOILER ROOM

"Ye'll shovel coal into that boiler downstairs until your hands bleed, young Davey!" The priest was furious. His hands raised above his head, lifted to smack David across the face.

"Yes Father!," David yelped, "I'll do it! I will shovel the coal, I will do anything you ask. Just please, don't hit me again."

Young Davey had been hit several times by Father O'Malley that day. The first time was when he refused to clean the new sisters' soiled gowns. Father O'Malley yelled at the top of his lungs, "When women cloister together in one place, they become unclean at the same time, boy! That dirty blood soils their gowns and pollutes the sanctuary of God!" He took David by the neck and lifted him till they were eye to eye. "Why is it the Lord requires ye wash them clean, Davey?" the priest whispered, "because a man such as meself would never be asked to approach the stain of womanhood! It is you, young Davey, you who bend your knees and soil yer hands! You who will toil with the excretions from the nether regions! You who will scrub the garments until yer own fingers bleed!" When David hesitated, and was about to refuse, Father O'Malley struck him accross the face with his right hand. David remembered this as he touched his cheek to feel the imprint of the crucifix, left by the priest's ring.

"Get down to the devil's cellar, boy!" O'Malley's voice shook David out of his drifting thoughts.

They walked to the great gilded doorway that led to the cellar. The priest opened it and pushed David down the stairs. He tumbled and slid down the long flight of stairs until his head struck a statue at the bottom step. Rolling out onto the mildewed floor, he could hear the lock turn at the top of the stair. The voice of the priest drifted away, humming an old Irish song, 'the pipes are callin'.. Young Davey found his feet and made his way to the old boiler room.

As he was walking, he thought about the time when Father O'Malley locked him in this very basement for nearly 3 days. That was when he discovered the secret room. He thought Father O'Malley intended him to find it, to draw him further into the insane world created at the expense of his own innocence. He would never forget the low moans coming from behind the old dungeon door. Father O'Malley explained later, "Every house of God should have a dungeon, boy! There ain't a saner place to make peace with your Lord than in a darkened cellar, chained to a wall, or strapped to a prayer board!" David had asked him about the prayer board, and Father O'Malley hesitated, but replied, "Ye'll never know what it is until you have been placed in one, Davey! Placed in a fashion where your chin can't move and your eyes are locked in position by the bones of saints, locked till ye stare and can stare no longer at the virgin mother's insufferable figure! It's only when you pray to her and fall at her feet and worship her, it is only when you lay naked on the prayer-board in your own feces that you can beg the virgin for forgiveness for even the most menial trangression." David was confused about this. "Don't look confused boy! Ye saw the sister suspended by her thumbs! She's been in that position because she let her blood flow in the sanctuary! She'll stay that way until her next cycle, and receive naught but the drip drop liquid of stone water that falls upon her lips!" David was horrified. When he first opened the door to find the source of that low moaning, he half expected to find the demon he had seen in the kitchen well. But it was a woman there. Hanging by her thumbs. Long chains ran to the ceiling, and her naked body was balanced only by her toes. Cockroaches and worms covered the floor of that dank cell. He remembered the woman's voice, pleading.. "please... boy, some food... water.." she was filthy, covered in blood and mildew, clothed in dust and grime from the solitary world in which she had been placed. "Wh.. who are you" David breathed. The woman rasped and breathed, she coughed, "The Father's daughter lad... from.. from the" just as she was about to finish, she stopped. David saw the shadow of Father O'Malley crawl across the floor below his feet. "So, lad... ye've found the whore of God." The priest's voice sent a shiver down his spine. "The virgin's bitch! The slut of Saint Sommersby, and the cock-tease of the congregation of courtship!" Father O'Malley grabbed David by the shirt collar and pulled him out of the room. He slammed the door, despite the woman's pitiful moaning protests.

David was remembering all of these things as he was shoveling coal into the furnace. Each shovel throw brought a blaze of fire out from the old clay furnace, and with each blaze, David felt the heat of each awful memory forged within the confines of his very soul! He shoveled and shoveled until he lost all strength, and passed out there on the floor next to the boiler.

His sleep was long, and when he woke.. he could swear he had been moved. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and found that his head was buried in a large book. Looking around he could see that he was in the great Cathedral Library. Closing the book, he noticed the title, "The Catechism 1744." He got up, and placed the book back on the shelf where it belonged.

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