(Originally published in The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 9, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, 2010)
1870, Annam, French Indochina
The church of Dak Rede was a small wattle-and-plaster affair, perched inconveniently on the crest of a hill, just beyond the reach of the humid clutches of the jungle. Its placement, however, afforded the cool morning and evening breezes so dismally lacking down in the village below.
The young, recently ordained Jesuit priest surveyed his meagre and apathetic congregation with a sigh. Kissing the surplice in his hands, he draped it over his narrow shoulders. There were only five congregants: two he had bribed to attend with a promise of rice, and one was asleep and snoring, even before Father Jean-Michel had intoned the first few words of the Latin mass.
He’d been sent to the Kon Tum highlands of central Annam, to this poor, insignificant village, to bring the word of Christ to these wretched natives, to save their ignorant souls from eternal damnation. But as far as he could tell, they were all – and he included himself in this – already there.
No amount of coaxing would induce the attendees to participate in any of the proscribed responses; he’d given up trying to make them do it. So he simply said them himself. He quickly finished the reading of the gospel and skipped the sermon altogether. Father Jean-Michel didn’t speak Vietnamese and the only person in the village who spoke French with any real fluency was a Chinese apothecary who resolutely refused to attend mass.
As he launched with as much vigour as he could muster into the Credo, somewhere, close by, a late-sleeping cockerel woke up and began screeching its existence to the whole village. As the priest invited the worshipers to the table of Christ, in Latin, the chicken was calling out, “Here I am, I’m dinner! Come and get me,” in a language much more familiar to the souls he was attempting, and failing miserably, to save.
He turned, as proscribed, and opened the little doors of the tabernacle, to retrieve the communion implements. He deftly flicked a dead cockroach off the tarnished silver salver, before turning back to place the things on the altar.
To his surprise, he realized that while his back had been turned, his congregation had grown. Three young, almost identical women had slipped into the back of the church and seated themselves in the last pew. Pretty maids all in a row, mused Father Jean-Michel vaguely, as he performed the transubstantiation – changing the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
At the appropriate time, he perfunctorily invited his congregation to take the host, assuming no one was listening, and no one would come up to the altar to receive it. They never did. But to his amazement, the three girls, for what else could he call them, filed up to the front and presented themselves in a line. It took Father Jean-Michel a moment to get over the shock. He quickly took up the plate and went to the rail, unable to take his eyes off the trio. Each wore the same dark silk tunic over white silken pants, each wore their hair in identically long and neatly plaited braids, each looked up at him from under epicanthic lidded, almond-shaped eyes.
“The body of Christ,” he said, holding a small round wafer out to the first one. She took it in the palm of her hand and placed it on her tongue discreetly, giving him, he was almost positive, a hint of a smile.
“Body of Christ,” he repeated, stepping before the second girl. No – not a girl – for at close range their superficial samenesses evaporated. This one was a little shorter and more rounded of body. In fact, her breasts were remarkably large for a native of the Indochine, where most women possessed boyish, androgynous figures by European standards. Father Jean-Michel gave himself a mental chastisement and held out the host. This girl did not hold up her hands for it, but opened her mouth instead, offering the tip of an impossibly red, betel-stained tongue. Despite his best efforts, the priest’s heart began to race as he placed the wafer on her tongue and watched it disappear into that dark, velvety interior. Her lips closed, shutting him out, and she whispered, “Amen.” The priest shook himself out of his reverie and moved on.
The third was the tallest. He looked into her face, expecting the same lowered eyes as the other two, but this one’s gaze did not waver from his – it pushed back as if having substance and power in its own right. He had the sensation of having something thick, black and viscous forced down his throat.
“Body of Christ,” he managed, after freeing his gaze from her eyes. He stared at her mouth.
The woman’s lips were almost obscenely plump. Like a ripe purple plum, squeezed and split in two along its cleft, they parted to reveal an almost serpentine tongue. It slithered out, curling at the tip like a whore beckoning a client. It required all the willpower the priest had to raise the host and lay it upon that profane altar. His fingers shook as he did and brushed against her open lips.
In that instant, he felt a needle-like sting that made him snatch his hand back. Glancing down, he noticed a small drop of blood had budded like a carnal pearl from a tiny wound at the tip of his index finger. Father Jean-Michel returned his gaze to the woman’s mouth, confused. But it had already closed, her luxuriant lips curved into a smile.
Unable to quell a sudden and overpowering vertigo, the priest stepped back, jostling and almost upsetting the altar.
“Go…go in peace,” he croaked, and stumbled toward the back door of the church.
* * *
Every muscle ached, as if he’d been caught like prey in the coils of a boa constrictor. Father Jean-Michel had, like everyone else in Indochina, suffered numerous bouts of fever, but this felt like none he’d ever had before. He groaned pitifully, pulling himself free of his miserable, sweat soaked sheets. Lethargy dragged at his shoulders and it was only after what felt like a monstrous battle that he managed to sit up and hang his legs over the side of the cot.
It was late afternoon and the rains had started. The murky green light that always accompanied the monsoon storms gave his room and the view of the village beyond his window an underwater quality. Nothing could be done, nothing accomplished until the downpour was over, and Father Jean-Michel granted himself the refuge of curling back up on the mean pallet and retreating into fevered dreams.
He dreamed of dragons, huge and sinuous, moving through the ebony waters in a river gorge. There were three of them; iridescent scales breached the placid surface here and there, meeting to intertwine before dispersing to pursue their solitary frolics again. The dreams left uncomfortable erotic echoes that coiled like the dragons themselves in the pit of his stomach and groin. The priest rolled over, struggling to purge himself of the afterimages, and stared at the wall beside the bed. The paint had peeled back and flaked away to reveal a conspiracy of black mould. In his fevered state, the stains on the wall took on ominous shapes. Someone – the last priest to be posted to the village, Jean-Michel assumed – had scratched the word ‘merde’ into the soft, crumbling plaster with a fingernail.
Oh, God, what had he done to deserve this?
What had possessed him to say those things to the Bishop of Ruen? Why couldn’t he have kept his mouth shut? This posting in the deepest of all hells had been his Dantean punishment for remarking that if the Church really cared about its flock, it might consider spending less money on itself and more on the poor. Two months after the quip had been made, he’d found himself struggling up the muddy hill track to the village with a coolie behind him carrying his few possessions. He had been assured that the priest he was replacing would be there to help him settle in, but the Church and the crumbling residence had been abandoned for more than a month.
Father Jean-Michel groaned again and rolled over.
He sat up, clutching the damp sheet around him, head spinning, nausea overwhelming him.
His servant, Hai, hovered at the threshold to the priest’s room. “There is a woman asking for you.”
He felt so ill, the priest considered telling Hai to ask her to come back another time. But in nine months, no one had ever come to see him, no one had ever called him to perform last rites, or officiate at a wedding. How would it play out in the village if, the first time anyone bothered to ask for his help, he sent them away?
“Tell her I will come shortly. Just give me a moment to get dressed.”
He waited until Hai retreated back into the shadow of the hallway, and forced himself to get up. At first his legs felt so weak, he was unsure he could keep himself upright, but he took a few deep breaths and blinked, and stumbled over to where his underclothes and his cassock lay, draped over the back of a chair.
* * *
Hai brought tea for the visitor, as Father Jean-Michel hobbled into the reception room. Like everywhere else in the house, it smelled of damp and rot. No matter how thoroughly he tried to air it out. The climate’s corrupting influence was everywhere, and would not be defeated.
His visitor sat on the hard mahogany bench that served as a sofa. It was impossible to see her, for a heavy black veil almost entirely covered her head. She wore a loose, dusty black tunic that exposed only a pair of almost bone-white hands, as if two dead albino spiders had crawled up and died in her lap.
“Madam?” he said, cordially, wincing soundlessly when he lowered his aching bones into the chair opposite hers. The priest nodded his head at Hai, who hovered in the shadows of the room, waiting. “Will you take tea, Madam?”
“No…Father. I won’t.” The voice rustled and hissed like dry leaves on a stone path.
Although the rain was still pouring down in sheets, and the room was very dim, Father Jean-Michel looked into the tunnel of the woman’s headscarf, and almost recoiled at the sight. His guest’s face stared out from the surrounding layers. Two shiny black eyes set into a hideous face. Pale skin stretched tautly over her bones in such a way that it was impossible not to think he was looking into the eyes of a cadaver. But the oddest thing was that the woman had a dreadful skin complaint. The skin itself was seamed in such a way as to give her the appearance of having scales instead of human skin. A lipless slit of a mouth smiled at him, revealing a toothless black maw. “Today you met my daughters, I think.”
The woman’s French was accented, but understandable. It was the slurry, rasping sound that was disconcerting. “Ah,” said the priest. “Yes, yes. They came to mass. Your daughters?” Impossible that three such exquisite creatures had come from the womb of this… atrocity.
“Indeed. And they have asked me to come to you, and make a petition on their behalf.”
Father Jean-Michel nodded, still unable to stop himself from staring into the shadowed ruin of her face. “A petition? Of course, I would be happy to accommodate you in any way I can, Madam. If I can,” he added, remembering when a parishioner had asked him to bless his pigs for luck. “What can I do for them?”
“They want to be baptised.”
The priest was shocked into silence for some moments. My God, he thought, perhaps all my efforts to bring the Gospel to this place of spiritual emptiness had finally born fruit. Then he remembered the morning’s mass. “Baptised? But they took communion this morning. They acted as if…” He hesitated a moment. “One is not supposed to take communion without first undergoing conversion, and being baptised,” he said. The words came out quickly, like an outrage or an admonishment. This wasn’t the way to attract people to the faith, he thought. “Well, it’s not usual,” he added, in a softer tone.
An uncanny, bubbling noise emerged from the old woman sitting opposite and her small, black frame twitched. It took Jean-Michel a moment to realize she was laughing. “Forgive them Father. In everything my daughters are impulsive and over-eager. It was youthful exuberance, and not a lack of respect.”
“And you, Madam, are you a Christian?”
“I would be honoured if you would allow me to perform the sacrament of baptism for you as well.”
Again the little black form shook, and the bubbling returned. “No-no. I am far too old for all that.”
“But for that very reason, Madam. Baptism would ensure your place in God’s everlasting kingdom. It is never too late.”
With the sound of clicking bones, the heavily covered woman got to her feet. “Oh, it is far too late for me, Priest. A different kingdom awaits me. ” The finality in her words would tolerate no argument. She shuffled on small, hidden feet to the entrance, opened the door before Hai could reach it for her, and stepped out into the torrential rain.
* * *
“I do not like that lady, Father.”
“A baptism,” the priest said, clasping his hands together, his illness and fever forgotten. “Three baptisms in fact! This is wonderful. Wonderful!”
“I shall…I think…” Father Jean-Michel paced around the reception room in a high state of excitement. Suddenly he stopped and tilted his head towards the ceiling. “Oh, thank you. Thank you, Lord! You won’t be sorry. I’ll bring your Gospels to this wilderness yet!”
The priest glanced at Hai with annoyance. “What? What? Can’t you see? This is the beginning of everything. And in this place… I shall honour the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not in a mean little font like they do in Ruen, but like St. John did, in the river. I will baptize these women in the river!”
Hai shrugged. “Take care, mon Pere. I do not like that woman.”
It brought the priest to a halt. “What do you mean you don’t like her? How ridiculous! What’s the matter with you?”
Shrugging again, Hai collected the teapot and the cups neatly back onto the tray, and picked it up. “She’s ugly…very ugly.”
“And so you don’t like her! Typical of the outrageous ignorance and lack of Christian compassion among your countrymen. The poor woman is obviously suffering from an illness. That’s no reason to dislike her.”
The servant lowered his head and shuffled towards the scullery with the tea tray. “Inside herself, she is very ugly.”
“One should not paint others with one’s own sins, Hai,” called the priest. “After all, God has forgiven you the sin of sodomy.”
* * *
By the following Saturday, Father Jean-Michel had ensured that everything was prepared. He had sent word to the daughters through the apothecary in the village that they should meet him by the bank of the river at nine o’clock in the morning, and that they should bring towels and dress in white. At first the old Chinaman had refused, but the priest had nagged and bullied and nagged again until the apothecary had finally relented, for a twenty Piastre bribe.
“And tell the rest of the village,” Father Jean-Michel had said, “they can come and witness the sacrament if they want to. Perhaps if they see it, they won’t be so reluctant to participate.”
The day dawned humid and overcast, but the weather could not dampen the priest’s spirits. He performed his own ablutions and devotions, taking his special white cassock out of mothballs and slipping it over his naked body. He would go to the river barefoot, as John the Baptist had done.
Nothing could dampen his spirits as he rushed around the residence, packing his special bible – the one he’d been given at his ordination – a small envelope of salt, and a vial of holy water into a basket.
“Come now, Hai. You can help me. You can assist me in the administration of the sacrament.”
The servant looked pale, as if he’d had no sleep the night before. “No, mon Pere,” he said, in a very odd voice. “It’s not an auspicious day for this. Please don’t go to the river. Do it some other time.”
Jean-Michel stared at him angrily. “Don’t be a superstitious fool! Any day is a good day for a baptism. Come along now.”
“Father, I… I do not feel well. I cannot go with you. Please don’t make me.”
“Idiot!” the priest said, shaking his head. “Fine then, you lazy, good-for-nothing sinner. Don’t come!” He walked out of the residence, making sure to slam the door behind him.
As he began his walk down to the river, his anger at Hai smoldered like a stick of incense, but then he reasoned that it would not be pleasing to God if he performed the Baptisms with bitterness in his heart. Silently he mouthed a prayer as he picked his way through the jungle scrub and approached the edge of the river.
They were there waiting for him, and dressed just as he had instructed in pure, virginal white. Joy surged in Father Jean-Michel’s heart. They looked like three incarnations of the blessed Virgin Mary, with their lustrous dark hair loose and hanging about their shoulders.
“Good morning,” he called, as he approached them. All three turned in his direction and, almost as one, gave him a slight bow.
“Children, beautiful children of Christ! This is a wonderful day. God has brought a miracle to this wilderness.” The priest spoke with his arms held wide. “Today you will be reborn into everlasting life!”
The priest put down the basket, after retrieving the vial of holy water. He turned towards the river, uncorking the vial, and let the liquid drain upon the wet riverbank, asking God to bless this place as a site of rebirth for the three young women.
He turned and beckoned the women down to the water, glancing around in the hope that some of the other villagers had come to watch, but they were alone. He shook off his disappointment and, picking up his bible and the small twist of salt, said: “I have taken the liberty of choosing your Christian names. These will be the names by which you are called to the Catholic faith.”
The priest was not altogether sure they understood everything he said, but it mattered not; he was saving their souls and, after all, that’s what counted. Wading out deeper into the water, he stopped only when it reached his waist.
The cool liquid seeped through his cassock and it billowed out around him in the gentle current. “Come,” he said to the tallest, reaching out his hand. “Don’t be afraid, Christ is with us.”
The girl he’d beckoned smiled and stepped into the water. As she approached him, it seemed to Father Jean-Michel that she was changing already; her face shone with an unearthly radiance.
To his amusement, the other girls followed their sister. “One at a time,” he said and chuckled. “I cannot baptize you all at once.” But they didn’t seem to understand, and came towards him, gliding as if free of earthly gravity.
The tallest girl put her hand on his arm. “My sisters want to be near me, Father. Please allow them.”
The priest smiled, and nodded, paging his bible open to the page. “Alright then. We must begin.” He turned to the tallest girl. “Do you renounce all other faiths and give yourself wilfully to the holy mother church?”
She inclined her head and smiled. “Of course.”
Father Jean-Michel unwrapped the twist of paper containing the salt and pinched a few grains with his fingers. “Open your mouth, child.”
The girl before him lurched in the water. It seemed she lost her footing in the current, because before he could stop her, she’d pressed herself up against him, her dark red mouth open, her face too close to his. He stepped backwards to allow himself the room to administer the salt, but there was someone behind him. He turned to look, and was confronted with her smiling, rounder sister. “Oh… I’m…”
Hands touched him in the water. He turned again, only to be faced with the third girl, who pulled the bible from his hand and stretched out her arm, casually letting it float away on the current.
“No…no,” he said, confused. “This is not how it…”
A pair of slender arms slipped under his own and embraced him from behind, and the other two were suddenly on him, pressing their ripe lips to his face, his neck, his mouth. He felt the combined weight of the sisters pulling him down into the water, and further into the middle of the stream.
Sinuous bare legs entwined with his beneath the surface. Hands slithered and caressed his bare flesh. “No,” he cried out. “No…”
They did not stop. The one he had been planning to name Mary lifted her robe over her head and, smiling the same impassive smile as the other sister, released it to the river’s hunger. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him lewdly, mouth open, her curved tongue working its way into his mouth.
Behind, he could feel breasts pressing into him, rubbing hard, cruel nipples into his back. Unseen fingers closed around his cock and stroked it. The priest wanted to fight them, wanted to push them all away, but even as he dreamed that short dream, his will evaporated as the blood coursed into his cock, making it instantly hard.
“He is ready,” one of them whispered. “You first, older sister.”
The sensation of carnivorous, enveloping heat made him whimper, and the sister at his lips slipped a long, satisfied hissing breath into his mouth. Jean-Michel felt his soul abandon him, releasing a long-dormant beast within his heart. He reached beneath the surface and grabbed at Mary’s exquisitely formed ass, pushing her onto his cock. Her hips rolled as she rode him, holding him tight with her legs, her tight, hot passage milking him. She gave a low growl and bit into his lower lip.
Pain and pleasure bloomed in equal measure. He savoured his own blood on his lips at the same time she did. The taste triggered something inside her, for she tilted back her bloody mouth and keened as her body shuddered violently. Then just as suddenly at it had begun, she released him, wriggling free of his grasp, and floated away, licking her lips.
Almost immediately, the little round sister – the one he had called Elizabeth – took her older sister’s place. She gazed into his eyes for a moment and he saw himself reflected, distorted, in hers.
Opening her mouth, a long flat tongue flashed out and lapped at his face, picking up the blood that her older sister had left behind. Jean-Michel embraced her, lifting her higher in the water and pressing his hungry mouth to her round, firm breast. Arms encircled his head and pressed him to it.
Beneath the water, a curious caress – then arms surrounded his hips and a burning mouth took his cock, fellating him as he nursed ravenously on the breasts at his face. Not possible, he managed to think, although his mind was a riot of desire and sensation. The mouth at his cock was unbearably clever. A rough tongue writhed away at the underside, even as the gorgeous sucking continued. He pumped his hips in the water, feeling the head slip into a tight throat. Another body was at his back, rubbing frantically against his skin. The sensation was unexpectedly rough, as though the unseen girl’s flesh was as coarse as scales.
“Oh, God,” he moaned, reaching back to touch the woman who tormented him from behind.
He felt another pain, this one at his neck, sharper and deeper than the first. The mouth around his cock was gone and the girl in his arms slid down his body, impaling herself on him.
The pain didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but the sweet cunt that drew itself up and down on his rod. Thrusting upwards, he heard the girl grunt with pleasure and so he plunged into her again, and again, each time increasing the violence of his penetration. She pressed her face to his neck, feeding as he fucked. With each hungry suck, he felt his cock harden and grow until he could hardly squeeze into her passage. She left off feeding, flung back her head and groaned.
Never had Father Jean-Michel taken the Old Testament literally, but now he knew without a doubt that he was having congress with demons. The moment he realized it, the girl in front of him changed. The pale skin of her neck and breast took on a new texture. As she lowered her head, the eyes that met his were those of a serpent, and between her plump lips, needle-sharp fangs glinted in the grey, morning light.
Despite the acute pleasure, he shoved her away, but he needn’t have bothered, for she released her grip on him with a serpentine smile.
“Get thee behind me, Satan,” he shouted, backing away desperately, towards the river’s bank.
Arms surrounded him from behind, blocking his way. The thing that slithered its way between his legs was not human, but the tail of a serpent. “My little sister has not had her fill yet,” whispered a voice at his ear.
The priest tried to turn around, but the lamia clung to him. The sisters in the water swam towards him with undulating strokes. Before he could protest again, they were on him. The youngest, the one he’d planned to call Magdalen, slithered up his body. Her beautiful, inhuman form swayed hypnotically, locking him with her eyes. She mounted him with a sigh.
The fear, the revulsion, the hate, all drained away the moment she enveloped him, for hers was the most delicious of all carnal embraces. He knew in that moment that his life was over. And in that same moment, the priest surrendered. His hips arched upwards into the clutches of that deadly beauty. In only a few thrusts he was lost. Seating his cock fully, he cried out and poured his seed into the lamia’s womb. Warm, scaled bodies surrounded him even before he finished coming, pulling him under the cool waters of the river.