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"Where are you going?"
Finnegan had seen Edna Costello apply makeup many times, but usually it didn't involve her glaring ferociously at the mirror and lining her light brown eyes like she was applying war paint.
"Out," she replied.
"'Course you are. Who puts on makeup at home?" Finnegan kept his eyes on the television, scooping a fistful of trail mix into his mouth, but out of the corner of his eye he could see Edna glaring daggers at his reflection in the mirror. He wisely kept his eyes straight ahead and kept chewing. A man jumping in joy because he'd just won a few thousand dollars after catching balloons blindfolded was nothing compared to a sixty-eight year-old Edna Costello painting her face, but there was no point picking a fight.
Before she could tear apart his flippant remark, the doorbell rang. Finnegan was about to set the snack bowl aside and get up to answer it when Edna sharply raised her palm at him.
"Don't get that," she said. Finnegan cocked his head sideways and raised an eyebrow, but stayed put.
The doorbell chimed repeatedly, the same three-note tune sounding with increasing urgency and frequency until the chimes overlapped and ding-dong cacophony replaced stately melody. The television had been quite loud to accommodate Edna's hearing, but now the doorbell drowned it out.
"Jenova's Witnesses," Edna answered. The chiming cut off shortly after.
After waiting a moment to make sure the reprieve wasn't just a brief pause before the encore, Finnegan asked, "Are they still at it?"
"'They've been at it for twelve years, just showing up to their sermons in a flash of light and glory and telling them to run along home isn't going to deter them any time soon." Edna recapped her eyeliner and reached for the lipstick. "They've had a thousand years to spread their word. Where the hell were you?"
Finnegan looked at his sock-clad feet. "I was busy," he mumbled, picking aimlessly through the trail mix.
"That's bad parenting right there, young man." Edna tsked. "First it's too busy to spend time with your child; next they've fallen into bad company; and before you know it they're running around completely out of control and they don't even recognize you anymore. I've seen it happen to so many absentee parents: they think they can just stroll back in and everything will be fine. I hate to break it to you, but it takes time to build up a relationship of trust and support with a child. You need dedication and patience, and you can't be afraid of hard work."
Finnegan shot a returning glare. "If you want out you can just say so, you know."
Edna pursed her bright red lips at her reflection before grabbing her handbag, keys, and a small stack of papers and strolling purposefully toward the door. "When I'm on a roll? Why would I do that?" Just before reaching the doorknob, she looked over her shoulder with a sultry smirk.
"Do you want to see your prophet preach?"
Finnegan briefly considered staying on the couch with his snack food, but he was curious. He turned off the television, set the nearly-empty bowl on the coffee table, and grabbed his jacket lying on the couch armrest.
The Church of Jenova's Witnesses' Restday services were regularly attended by upwards of two hundred true believers in heavy black robes, a tradition dating back a thousand years. While the image of two hundred people in identical black cloaks with their faces hidden by concealing hoods might have terrified the uninitiated, it made figuring what to wear for service much easier. The Church of Jenova's Witnesses promoted unity in uniformity and promised a quick painless death for its followers, compared to the brutal torment they promised would be the fate of those who did not believe. In fact, Finnegan did not care what anyone on his planet did or believed as long as nobody marched up to his front door and tried to murder him, which went a long way toward explaining why he hadn't employed a prophet from the beginning.
"A prophet does the dirty work so that you don't have to be at your people's beck and call answering their prayers. People need to know that you are their creator and you are to be feared and respected, not their genie."
Hadaly The Droid God had given him that advice soon after he'd became god, but Finnegan had left it on the backburner and forgotten about it until a Jenova's Witness had somehow reached the Vaticanny Place and tried to impale Finnegan with a long sword while shouting , "Praise Sephiroth!", the name of their false prophet. The unknown attacker was quickly subdued with a bullet to the head, but the incident had prompted Finnegan to choose a prophet who would tell his people of their true god, in order to prevent further embarrassing incidents.
Choosing a prophet proved to be difficult: should he go with the traditional choice of a young spirited lad whom he could mold to his liking, or choose a girl and buck the trend? What about the popular choice of an elderly man? After deciding three hours was too much time to spend on a virtual mouthpiece for his world's inhabitants, he decided to advertise for the position through various channels and work with whomever he got.
He had not expected Edna Costello.
Sixty-eight year-old Edna Costello barely reached Finnegan's shoulders. Her short hair had been coloured over with copper-red dye, but her greying roots would sometimes show depending on when Finnegan visited. Her petite five-foot frame made her look younger than her actual age, allowing her to wear colourful printed frocks that made people think she was sixty, at most. After her husband's death, Edna had not remarried, instead looking forward to finally being able to do all the gardening and travelling she had planned for after retirement. With her four children living miles away and her loans fully paid up, Edna was ready to kick back and enjoy every cent of her late husband's pension.
Then, at sixty-seven, with only one year left until her long-awaited retirement, she became Finnegan's prophet.
By then his world had worshipped a nonexistent deity for a millennium while his followers were scattered with nothing to unite them save for Finnegan's name. Edna knew this, and instead of wasting her twilight years trying to bring believers together through dialogue and common understanding she opted for the easier route of waging bombastic cultural holy wars to encourage people to discover the glory of Finnegan, supreme God and Maker.
To date Edna had a seventy-nine battle victory streak.
Edna walked up the marble steps of the Church of Jenova's Witnesses and stood in front of the closed teak doors, indicating service had begun. She turned around and dumped her things into Finnegan's arms, then started thumping on the door with her fists.
Finnegan's instincts said he should step in, but he decided that letting Edna do her thing would be more entertaining.
The teak doors creaked open, revealing a sliver of a black cape and a nose. The figure's face was hidden under its hood, but the soft voice was unmistakably female.
"I'm very sorry, but we are in the middle of service. If you would be so kind as to wait-"
Edna grabbed the edge of the door and threw it violently open; the black-cloaked figure was forced to quickly step aside to avoid being hit. Two hundred black hoods turned to them as Edna walked down the aisle; a tall man stepped out from the lectern and threw back his hood, his short platinum blonde hair almost white under the sunlight streaming in through the windows.
Pastor Demetrius Hojo's light blue eyes hardened at the sight of Edna. "Mrs. Costello, I've warned you about interrupting our services before. It was funny the first time and mildly inconvenient the last nine times, but this needs to stop-"
"-When your people stop popping over every day and ringing my doorbell to get me to join the lifestream, I shall," Edna interrupted, pointing accusingly at the preacher. "And since you won't call them off, I'm going to do this the hard way." She snapped her fingers. "Misty!"
On cue, a fluffy beige Pomeranian brushed past Finnegan's legs and pattered down the aisle. A few hushed 'coos' and 'awws' broke the tense silence. Demetrius cautiously stepped forward and stopped when the dog was sniffing his toes.
"...A dog?" The man was unsure what to make of it.
"A dog of war," Edna declared. She pointed at Demetrius Hojo and shouted, "ATTACK!"
The Pomeranian's jaws opened wide and clamped down onto the hem of Demetrius's robe. He tried shaking the dog off his cloak with no luck, the tiny dog merely swinging left and right. He was so fixated by the dog that he did not notice the large black shadow underneath them stretching across the floor until he was halfway into the shadow and sinking fast. Before anyone could react, Misty released his robe and Demetrius Hojo was swallowed completely.
Immediately everyone jumped out of their seats and scrambled for the exits, but Misty's shadow spread towards the walls and in no time the people yet untouched by the shadow quicksand backed away from the doors and returned to their benches, which they crowded fearfully on top of, furniture and fixtures being strangely unaffected by the quicksand shadow. Even Finnegan had to sidle up to a parishioner in the back row and nudge her to make space for him after the shadow engulfed half his shoes.
"That's better. But I can't see the people in the back. Could everyone sit down, please?"
When everyone was seated and hugging their knees in fear, Edna tapped the microphone and briefly cleared her throat before intoning: "In the beginning there was nothing, and then Finnegan our supreme God and Maker, said, 'Let there be life'..."
If anyone asked Finnegan how his prophet was coming along, the answer could take a while: Edna Costello was an old, moody, stubborn cow, but decades of experience and wisdom produced unorthodox results that made Finnegan the envy of his colleagues. Knowing she was past her prime was a huge factor since that gave Edna the courage to do anything – despite medical technology saying otherwise, she claimed she 'did not have long to live' and therefore, no fear of dying in Finnegan's service.
"How many people converted today, you think?" Finnegan lamely asked.
Edna did not look up from feeding Misty. "I don't know. Do numbers matter?"
It was not that Finnegan and Edna did not get along: Finnegan had no problem being snarky or going straight to the point when it came to work, but Edna's age had a bigger effect on him than he cared to admit – talking normally about trivial things seemed somehow disrespectful, and Edna always seemed to be a step ahead and to anticipate his questions. Perhaps it was her motherly instinct, but most non-work-related conversations died a natural death between them.
Finnegan stretched his arms, and looked at the fountain behind him before turning to the Pomeranian. Looking at it playfully licking its mistress's hand and nibbling treats, nobody would have known that it had dragged about eight people into an inky black abyss, their fates probably unknown until Edna decided what to do with them. Edna's holy war was archaic and inhumane, but Finnegan could not deny its effectiveness: They had to push through a pile of discarded black cloaks when they left the church. Now they sat at a fountain in a secluded square away from the church to catch their breaths before heading home where the media would be waiting, eager to report the latest exploits of Edna Costello, mysterious prophet of Finnegan the God. Edna had taken a centuries-long process and compressed it into a few months; that had to count for something.
"So this is what you do with the powers I give you, make a Pomeranian of War?"
"It's all right to praise people when they've done a good job, boy. That's what I tell my kids all the time." Edna calmly replied.
Finnegan looked back at the water, the ground, the sky, and his shoes before finally looking Edna in the eye. It took a few false starts before he finally blurted, "You did well, Edna Costello."
Edna petted Misty on the head. "Next time bring that blue-haired boy with you. I'm sure Misty and he would get along."
Finnegan managed a weak smile, "I'll keep that in mind."
Its tummy full, Misty gave an appreciative bark and lay down on the cobblestone ground.