Not for the first time in his life, the Reverend Simon Abernathy was alone on his birthday. Usually he had the village round for a birthday meal, but due to COVID that was now impossible. So he was alone in his living room, in front of a pile of cards and presents given to him from his friends and family.
Simon didn’t mind that he was celebrating his birthday this way, your 50th tends to be a bigger birthday that your 52nd, and he’d turned 50 before the pandemic, where he had a massive meal with the village. If anything a break from them was what he needed at this time.
Simon had already opened most of his presents, some obvious (a bottle of Champagne from Paul, a bottle of Throckmorton Ale from Robert, a new bible from John) some not (a special 45th anniversary edition of the Omen from The Petersons, a digitally remastered edition of the Exorcist from Bruce, a crucifix that was an exact replica of the one owned by Margaret White in the original 1976 film version of Carrie from Hans) but he loved them all dearly.
But then something took him by surprise, the worst thing he could possibly imagine. It was an envelope, and a rather formal envelope at that. Simon’s address was neatly written in cursive using gold ink. So far, so good. But then he noticed a drawing; two keys crossed over each other tied by a ribbon underneath a mitre, the logo of the Vatican.
Simon gasped and began to sweat. It could only be bad news if the Pope had written to him specifically. He tentatively opened the envelope and slowly took out the letter. The letter was written in gold cursive, and the same logo was in the top left hand corner over the address of the Vatican. This definitely was from the Pope. Hesitantly, he began to read.
Dear Rev. Abernathy. First of all, may we wish you a very happy birthday.
Simon shuddered, somehow the thought of the Pope knowing his birthday was very chilling. He may struggle to sleep tonight. Composing himself, Simon continued to read.
Secondly, we are very saddened to hear of your numerous but fortunately failed attempts to have the statue of the Virgin Mary removed from Lower Strangling Botanic Garden despite our agreement to keep it there.
Simon didn’t know what was worse, the fact that the Vatican somehow knew about his attempts to have the statue removed or that the fact they did could only mean that his own personal Judas Iscariot was seated on the Village Council. Trying not to think about it or further compare himself to Jesus Christ, Simon persevered with the letter.
As such, we no longer trust that you will keep to our agreement. Therefore, you shall receive a visit from the Spanish Inquisition to inspect the statue and the village in general. We will not specify the date or time they will visit. After all, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Simon was now dripping with sweat. He thought the Inquisition had been dissolved in 1834, but then he remembered seeing on the news a few days ago that the Pope had decided to bring it back after believing that they were necessary once more. Simon’s heart pounded as he finished reading the letter.
Once again, we hope you have a very happy birthday. Sincerely, the Vatican.
Simon threw the dreaded letter across the floor and sat in his chair in a cold sweat. Any day, at any time, the Spanish Inquisition could be paying him a visit. Half expecting them to bang on the Vicarage door that very second, Simon got up to place his new creepy crucifix onto the mantelpiece.
“So, we have a Catholic spy in our midst,” Simon said to Jesus whilst staring into his creepy white eyes. He then went over to the window and looked out onto Lower Strangling. “The question is…who?”
Deciding that the presents from his family and his former colleagues from the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin in Lindisfarne could wait, Simon put on his coat, gloves, and woolly hat and stepped out into the snowy mist.