Tales of Eerie Terror
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...?
Divinity lies hidden from the world of
men. What theology then can limn this deep mystery?
about the author
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
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
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
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 story is
copyright the author.
may not be copied or used for
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