Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#79



The missionary zeal -- to bring light to the dark places, salvation to the lost souls. But be careful such zeal does not corrupt the redeemer, and conviction does not become hubris. Because then, who is the salvationer...and who the sinner...?

 

  Black Idol

By Kirk Straughen
about the author

Divinity lies hidden from the world of men. What theology then can limn this deep mystery?


JOSHUA HAWKSHEAD regarded Reverend Isaac Primm with a jaundiced eye, wondering how long he could maintain his false civility as the man waxed lyrical on his mission to convert the godless heathens.

The missionary had just disembarked from the ketch that had delivered him to Panatu island where Hawkshead’s cacao plantation was situated, and both men were now walking along the small pier towards the planter’s home – a graceful bungalow of woven bamboo walls, thatched roof and wide cool verandahs – that nestled among palms as green as emeralds.

Both men were a study of contrasts. Hawkshead, darkened by the tropical sun, was an easygoing rugged looking man in his late twenties. He towered above Primm, a diminutive intense fellow, fresh from the seminary, with an air of fanatical religiosity that the planter found as irritating as a buzzing mosquito when one is trying to sleep.

If I don’t strangle this fool before the month is out, thought Hawkshead. It’ll be a minor miracle. If it weren’t for the fact that I owe the District Commissioner a favor, I’d ship him out on the next boat bound for Manalom.

Although Hawkshead wasn’t a religious man, he wasn’t an atheist, either. Indeed, his tolerant philosophy was one of “each man to his own beliefs.” But one thing he couldn’t stand was the fanatic’s cocksure certainty that only his faith was true, and that everyone else was wrong. After all, who among us has seen the face of God? Little wonder then, that the Reverend’s denigration of native religion roused his ire.

“I hope," said Primm as both stepped within the verandah’s cooling shade, “that I can count on you to assist me with the Lord’s …”

The missionary’s bags dropped from his hands. He stared open mouthed at the young woman before him – a dusky beauty of the tropics, naked but for a brief grass skirt.

“Oh, my goodness,” gasped Primm, reddening slightly, not knowing where to look. “Oh, my …”

“My wife,” responded Hawkshead, levelly, as he slipped his arm about Melelay’s slim waist.

**********

The sun blazed with equatorial intensity in a sky of lapis lazuli, while Primm sat beneath a shady palm, brooding darkly. His meeting with Tapuna, the island’s chief, had not gone well. He’d carefully explained the nature of sin, the saving grace of Christ, and all the other tenets of theology to the fellow, hoping that if he could convert the man, others of the tribe would follow by example.

The chief, a huge fellow with the demeanor of a sleepy Buddha, had listened politely to the preacher until he’d finished; then shocked the missionary by asking Primm if he, too, would kneel in prayer before Raroa, their tribal god.

Of course Primm had refused, explaining their god was false, and that only Christ was real. Tapuna had raised an eyebrow at that remark, then calmly replied: “I, too, can say that Raroa is real, and that your Christ is false. If you are not prepared to honor our god, why should we honor yours?”

And upon this insightful note the interview was terminated.

Primm shifted his mind to the present. Raising his eyes, he gazed angrily upon the temple of Raroa – a circular dry stone wall about fifteen feet high in whose center the god’s black idol stood.

Clearly, the Devil’s presence here is strong, thought Primm. Obviously, Hawkshead hadn’t bothered introducing any Christian values to the natives, even to the extent of allowing his wife (heathen whore, more like it) to wander about in an indecent state. Primm had pointed this out to his host; only to have Hawkshead sharply reply that this was Panatu, not England, and the natives had every right to dress as they pleased.

He might be white, thought Primm, with a grimace. But he has the soul of a heathen savage.

No, no. The situation couldn’t be allowed to continue. Christianity must triumph, but how? According to Hawkshead, the black idol was the focal point of native religion, and with this, he had carefully pointed out, they were well content. But what if the icon was destroyed, would this not that prove Raroa was a powerless delusion? Primm smiled smugly at that idea …

**********

The tropic moon shone with all its fullness upon the midnight scene, illuminating the nubile maidens who sung a haunting melody as they danced before the image of their god. The women’s naked bodies glistened with palm oil, hips undulating like the azure sea, limbs swaying as gracefully as palms when caressed by the gentle breeze.

Little did they know prying and hostile eyes profaned their sacred dance, for Primm, who had scaled the temple’s outer wall, now lay flat upon its top. He saw Melelay among the dancers, felt desire rise in him as he drank in the dark beauty of her naked form.

Then the flame of anger burned. She was a temptress of the Devil. They all were! In the name of Christ this pagan licentiousness must be stopped. Tearing his gaze from the disturbing scene, blinded by prejudice to the artistry of the dance, Primm shifted his eyes to the black idol that towered above its swaying worshippers.
As tall as the temple wall it stood, crudely carved from volcanic tuff, crowned by a red fan-shaped headdress of painted stone. Yet its simple lines radiated great dignity and strength – the truncated cone that was its body, the cylindrical head, its beetling brow, the great beak of a nose, and the narrow quartz eyes that gleamed with moonlight as they stared upon the festive scene.

The dance increased its tempo; the girl’s bodies shimmering with moonlight as they twirled their graceful forms. Then the ceremony reached its climax, and with an ecstatic cry the maidens threw themselves upon the ground in adoration of their pagan god.

Slowly they recovered, and then departed; after which three stalwart men rolled back the great stone disc that sealed the temple’s entrance, for it was a sacred place, and in the night taboo to all but the priestesses of Raroa.

Primm waited several minutes; then carefully lowered himself within the temple via a rope to which a sickle had been securely tied – an improvised grappling hook by which he had scaled the outer wall.

Approaching the idol, Primm knelt before it, but not in humility. Drawing forth a stick of dynamite from his pocket (stolen along with the other implements form Hawkshead’s shed), he placed it against the statue’s base with a righteous prayer upon his narrow lips.

It never crossed Primm’s mind that he was engaged in a criminal act, for like all fanatics throughout the ages, felt certain he was doing the will of God by destroying things not conforming to the dictates of his twisted theology.

His prayer complete, Primm struck a match, was about to light the slow burning fuse when a strange shadow passed over him …

**********

They found the Reverend’s body in the morning, crushed beneath the massive headdress of the idol. There was an inquest of course, and the findings were quite sensible in their logical conclusion – Primm, fired by fanatical zeal, had attempted to destroy the idol, and had been killed by the falling headdress. But how had it fallen? Most probably, deduced the coroner, dislodged by an earth tremor to which the island was frequently subjected.

Hawkshead, who was sitting on the verandah, put down the report he had been reading by lamplight. Fireflies danced upon the dusky air of evening, and the faint sound of singing from the distant temple drifted through the palms and to his ears.

There had been no tremor that fateful evening, Hawkshead knew. Being a light sleeper, he was always awakened by the shuddering of the earth. Besides, he’d seen the statue, the mangled body of Primm. No minor quake could have toppled the massive headdress that had crushed the man.

Also, there was that frightful _expression seared upon the corps’s twisted face – as if the Reverend had looked up and seen passed the falling stone, to gaze upon a manifestation more terrible than death itself. No, something had pushed that headdress, had toppled it upon Primm; something vast and powerful that was beyond the ken of mortal men.

Looking up Hawkshead beheld heaven, and pondered its blaze of stars arching over the moonlit sea. Again, the thoughtful man heard that haunting melody, and he shivered though the night was warm.


The End



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