Emerging Writer Member Profile
My name is Ciaran Ferriter and am living in rural Mayo, which affords plenty of space for thinking. I have been writing for five years and have attended a number of writing courses in both Galway and Mayo. To date I have been long listed for the 'Over the Edge ' new writer competition for 2017, been invited to read an extract from my now completed book at the 'over the edge' readings which are held monthly in Galway City Library.
Recently I have been asked to submit further material from my book to the Cuirt 2018 emerging writer section for the festival held annually in Galway City. I am currently working on far too many writing projects. After all it is an all consuming passion. One which demands attention. The piece of writing I have here is one of the pivotal chapters of my book. I hope you find it enjoyable.
The Haunting of Cardinal Josef Tulu
The helicopter flight to the Vatican was the longest twelve minutes of Cardinal Josef Tulu’s life. He could smell Joel Stravinsky beside him. It wasn’t a body smell, but a smell of war. A fusion of life and death, all combined into a scent. As the rotors thumped their percussive rhythm, he closed his eyes and the memory damn burst once more. Stravinsky saw his nose twitch.
“You are there again my friend, back in the jungles. You can hear the gunfire my friend, you see the fires. They haunt you, Josef. Can you see the dead? You are blind if you cannot see the bodies of the raped and burnt women, do you remember the bonfire of children’s bodies? That is over now. You did what you had to do.”
Joel Stravinsky’s harsh Afrikaans accent cut through the throbbing. Josef looked down over the city of Rome, confirming he wasn’t on a rescue flight with missionaries evacuating the jungle. Escaping local militia who hated any other form of organisation other than their own rule of terror. They were protecting wealth, natural resources that kept them in their constant supply of opium and alcohol. Resources that bought them weapons, created wealth and manufactured power. His accent, his words, took him right back, deep into the jungle.
* * *
The sound of the Bell Huey was unmistakeable. The tall grass was pushed down by the force of the rotors. Stravinsky leaned out trying to grab a hold of the priest. He wouldn’t take his hand, forcing the helicopter to touch down. “I am not leaving them behind, they come with us like we agreed” the priest shouted. “That’s what you are being paid to do soldier, now let’s go and get them out of here before more blood runs on top of more blood.”
“Damn you priest, you will get us all killed. These animals will kill us all. We go now.”
“Look soldier, over there, they are coming, come let us help them.”
Through the trees Joel Stravinsky could see a line of people moving into the clearing. The priest ran to them just as more gunfire thundered all around them. The helicopter rose above them and Fr Josef watched as the mercenary known as Stravinsky took aim with a rocket launcher. He watched in slow motion the trace of the RPG as it appeared to smile at its freedom before it exploded in glee, turning human bodies to char in just a few seconds. Where once was green and life, now black and painful death. Their withering screams did not last too long, as the fire quenched their agony. Stravinsky indicated the pilot should land again and this time he jumped out of the chopper before it touched down. Three more followed him out and ran towards the missionaries. Another volley of gunfire blazed at them from behind the treeline. Two mercenaries went down. Killed instantly, both of their skulls pierced by bullets, shattered beyond recognition and dead before they hit the ground one last time.
“Fuck you, black cunts, fuck you all “Stravinsky shouted as he turned his AK towards the treeline and willed every speeding bullet to kill and maim. His eyes followed every bullet as it settled into its final resting place. He gestured for all the missionaries to lie low as they approached the chopper.
“Move, move, move. Let’s go. Lie down on the floor when you get in. Priest, take that soldiers weapon.” Stravinsky gestured at one of his dead colleagues. An AK47 lay on the ground beside him.
“I am a priest, a man of God. I have never held such a thing.”
Stravinsky bent down and picked up the weapon and pushed it in to Fr Josef’s chest.
“If you don’t take it my friend, you will die. And all the others die with you. As soon as the bird flies, they will come out of the trees to bring it down. Now there are only two of us, and you. We can all die here doing what you call the work of God or you can live and continue to do the work of your God. You now have a responsibility, friend. You bring people into the jungle to spread the word of God, now you bring them out. Simple, now let’s go.
As the chopper started to lift, Stravinsky gestured for Fr Josef to copy him as he took the safety off the machine gun. He did so and Stravinsky nodded his approval. Stravinsky shouted and there they were. Streaming out of the jungle were the militia. Some ran fast and got to just under the ascending chopper. Fr Josef could see the whites of their eyes as their stench of madness rose and penetrated his nostrils. One smiled as he raised his gun at Fr Josef. Red spatters started to erupt from his body as he fell, more falling behind him. Before he realised what he was doing he had emptied the gun into as many as he could. He felt Stravinsky pull the empty gun away from him.
“That gun can kill no more Fr, it is empty, now give it to me. You have done what you had no choice but to do my friend. These people owe you now. You truly are their saviour. You are their God.”
“I am no God, but I have to answer to one. How will I find answers for this.?”
High over the jungle, Fr Josef Tulu closed his eyes. The smell of burning human flesh, like fat from the rind of a steak, permeated the air. Screams rose from the jungle floor as more guns turned on more guns. Today, like every other day another village will get destroyed. More children murdered in front of their parents, more women raped in front of their children. Fathers would be led off into the jungle where a machete would cut them in half if they were lucky. That was the best they could hope for, a clean precise cut with the blade. As he sat on the floor of the chopper he vowed that Gods work would not be halted. He prayed to God, for the strength and the forgiveness, to accomplish what had to accomplished. There was nothing in the bible to guide one in doing God’s work in a hostile environment.
That was the first time Fr Josef removed missionaries from their work in the jungle. He saved eight people that day. It was his beginning, he found his mission, and soon his legend grew.
The Vatican came into sight as Cardinal Tulu re-focused on where he was. The smell of burning flesh never left his nostrils. He wondered was it Gods way of reminding him of the work that still needed to be done.
“When will your haunting stop Josef?” The harsh Afrikaans edge had gone off Stravinsky’s voice. His intuition telling him to go softly.
“A haunting never stops, Joel. It is always there, built into the background like a concrete wall. Noises, smells, screams, pleading, all are etched on that wall. Does it not bother you?”
“No Fr, it does not. I take a different view to life. All of us, we must earn a living. To face up to our responsibilities. Some people farm, they milk cows. I must earn money to be fair to them and give them a decent price for their milk. If I get sick, I need money to see the doctor. He needs to get a fair price because he has spent a lot of time studying and researching so he can help me. I am good at fighting. And good at killing. I don’t know how many people I have killed, but I do know that if they had the chance they would have killed me. But I do try to live my life by being fair.”
“When you face God, Joel, what will you say to him?”
“I don’t have a God Fr. I live by a set of rules that have evolved as I have gone through life. Not rules drawn up by someone else, somewhere else in some other time. “
“You refer to the bible?”
“The book of fables, is that the book you refer to? Your bible and my bible are two completely different books. Both our bibles preach doing good, trying to do the right thing. But missing from your bible are instructions on how to do it.”
“So you have read the bible.”
“I have read many, many books Fr. Books are written by different people with different views. But I don’t preach to people about what I have read or about my beliefs. I read, take something from it and move on.”
“God will judge you someday, as he will me, does that scare you.”
“I have been judged already Fr, as have you. But not by any God. By our people. You have passed judgement on me. You think I am a ruthless mercenary. I can’t change your view on that. Nor does it bother me.”
“Why are you here, here with me now Joel?”
“I am here, not because you are a man of God, but because I think you are a fair man. A man who wants to do good. And you pay a fair price. I also want to do good. I don’t like what has happened or is happening in Africa any more than you do. You have asked me to protect your church’s interests there, and that is what I do. Now you have asked me to travel with you, which I have done. I have not asked you why, nor will I. You will tell me when you are ready. If I didn’t believe in what you are doing as a person I would not be here with you, no matter what the price.”
“A mercenary with a conscience, maybe I have changed you.”
“Maybe your work has changed me.”
“Tell me Joel, am I a black cunt?”
“No Fr, you are not. That happened in a different time in a different set of circumstances. You need to forget about the jungle. Let it go. Your good work will always be compromised if you can’t let go of that day. For us to move forward we need to pull up our anchors. Pull up your anchor Fr Josef. That day will die with me; you have my word. I also know that we could all be dead if you didn’t do what you had to. All the good work you have done since. You did your Gods work that day. I don’t see how he could have done it any different.”
Stravinsky turned away and looked down, into the Vatican Gardens, and wondered, some instinct engaging within, was he sitting beside the first black Pope. Touching down in the Vatican, both nodded to each other, each understanding the other. Understanding that the past creates the person who embraces the future. They were like two birds sharing a rock, a dove and an eagle that formed a pact. Each bird knowing, they both hunt, both eat worms, no matter what their reputation.
I have just completed a book which examines how far people and organisations are willing to go in order to preserve the status quo. If I was asked to define the genre I would call it a philosophical thriller.
The Vatican face two huge challenges. How far will they go to bury secrets?
How far will people go to expose them?
Have the British security agencies cut secret deals with the IRA pre the Good Friday Agreement.
Can an ex IRA commander in London and an ageing mercenary from South Africa come together and protect the Vatican?
The book throws up some very realistic scenarios about how people can change as they get older. How they want to give something back. It weaves through parts of history and ultimately will challenge the reader to just think that little bit deeper. The possibility of having a black Pope is examined in the opening chapter. The book then winds back through thirty years of characters and their stories before a dramatic conclusion. If nothing else I have enjoyed writing it. It put me to great thought at times.
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