The Wolf That Leads the Flock 1
I gave a poorly attended sermon today on stewardship. Ms. Viola Mather was present, as always, and sought me after. “Pastor Phillips,” she always calls me, despite knowing me as Paul in our many years together in school. She requested a sermon about the Parable of the Lost Sheep, probably with the intention of bringing her sister Hazel, poor thing. I tried not to wince and suggested the Parable of the Lost Coin instead, but to no avail. She wanted the metaphor of the flock, for her family’s sake. I will grant her request, for she is a devout woman.
The Wolf That Leads the Flock 2
I dreamt of Father’s abattoir, as I know I would. The lambs’ bleating, the sound of the offal hitting the floor with a slap. The smell. Is it any wonder that he descended into drink? I do not expect Viola to know the horrors of that place and how they haunt me. I thank God she does not. Besides, I must overcome this aversion to the Good Book’s lambs and sheep, shepherds and flocks. The very word “pastor” means “shepherd.” Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David – all shepherds. The angel told the Messiah’s birth not to kings but to shepherds.
The Wolf That Leads the Flock 3
I awoke and resolved to write Viola’s sermon, but the words would not come. I decided to consult the family Bible, which always inspires me. But as I approached the old ebony bookstand, I spotted the edge of a page in a seam above its cabinet. I extracted it and the queerest sense of dread enveloped me. On it, a profane diagram covered with eldritch runes. At its center, the image of an eye with a flat pupil – a sheep’s eye! I dashed it into the fire. It did not burn like paper but shrank and crackled. Parchment! How ancient could it have been?
The Wolf That Leads the Flock 4
My nightmares have worsened since | touched that unholy parchment within the lectern. A perverse prank? | have no enemies. No one enters my rooms. The Book describes Damnation with flame: lake of fire, unquenchable fire, furnace of fire. But the Hell of my nightmares—flesh ripped from sinew, wet crunch of bones, viscera writhing and steaming —it makes fire seem a mercy. I must banish these visions and write the sermon! But the Parable of the Lost Sheep vexes me. If the sheep need the shepherd, then what becomes of the 99 neglected to find the 1 lost?
The Wolf That Leads the Flock 5
The flock needs me. I bring them together. I comfort them. I make them feel safe. The sheep fear the wolves. But the shepherd is the slow wolf. The one from whom they do not run. Raising, carrying, guiding, killing. Psalm 49 states it plain: the sheep are destined for Sheol. Bleat, bleak, weep, barren, gaunt, white, dirty white. The bleeding heart bleats. Even the good shepherd culls the sheep. Why would the flock follow? Who culls us? Who calls us? Oh, dutiful Viola. I know what I must do. I know what I will write.
The Wolf That Leads the Flock 6
I have procured the Prussic acid and stirred it into the jug that fills the Cup. The sheep’s eye watched me from the fire. I will begin with the Parable, then ask the flock to pass the Cup. “The new testament is my blood.” Then to Revelation 7:14, their robes washed white in the blood of the lamb. And at last to Revelation 8:11, to explain the bitter juice in the Cup and to assure them that it cannot harm those who are washed white. I shall drink, too, as is my duty. Hazel won’t, unfortunately. Poor thing.