Tuesday 20 October 2015

Beyond the Wail: A Fireside Chat with Father Mahoney

Today I present another Fireside Chat for the paranormal anthology, Beyond the Wail. In this character interview our intrepid Richard Dale sits down to chat with Father Mahoney, from the story The Poltergeist and Aunt Betty by Ginger C. Mann.

And don't forget to keep scrolling down past the interview for a giveaway, book trailer, and a listing for the book's wonderful blog tour.

And now I give you...

A Fireside Chat with Father Mahoney

“Welcome everyone, to another Fireside Chat. I’m Richard Dale, your host. Today, our guest is Father Mahoney, of the St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana.” Richard nods to the man sitting opposite to him. “Welcome Father. Why don’t you begin by telling our audience a bit about yourself.”

“Thank you, Richard, and thank you for having me here. A ‘bit about myself?’ I am a son of Irish immigrants from Chicago, and now I'm the newest priest at St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It's a beautiful parish, and the church is over 100 years old. This is my fourth year to serve there.”

“As you said, you are now firmly established in your faith, but you essentially rejected the Church for some time in your younger days. Care to elaborate on the reasons for your crisis of faith?”

Father Mahoney pauses. “There was a time that I rejected the church, yes. It is difficult to remember it, but I will tell you a brief account. As a child, I was badly bullied by a minister. I was raised a strong Catholic, and my family was active. Of course, as a son in a  an active church family, I soon became an altar boy. It started out well for me, but as time passed, I discovered that the priest who advised me was not a gentle man. In fact, I now recognize that children frightened him. For any tiny mistake I made, he was careful to berate me publicly. He used other tactics, too – no, no details, but many things that kept me in fear of him. He was good at control, and he terrified me so completely that he gave me nightmares. I was too frightened of him to ask for help, so this went on for some time. One morning, after I served Mass especially poorly, he grew so angry that he began to hit  me. I was lucky that my mother was standing there to witness that, or it could have gotten much worse. She pulled me away immediately, and took action with church authorities. However, like so many abusers, this priest was not disciplined. I stopped serving on the altar, but the next week, another child was up there in the same position. That burned in my gut until it wore me down. I could not let it go, and neither could my family. We left the church over it. After awhile, I could not stand the sight of any church. My mother returned to a different one after a few years, but I was sure I would never go back.”

“Yet you did, but not before pursuing other interests, such as ghost hunting.” Richard pauses slightly. “Your first substantial paranormal encounter was at Auschwitz. How profound an experience was that, and are there any ongoing consequences?”

Father Mahoney closes his eyes, as if struggling with himself. He looks down, then gathers his strength and faces the host. “This is less of a reaction and more of a story, Richard, if we have the time?”

Richard nods. “We do.”

“First, your audience needs to know that I considered myself an Atheist before I studied the paranormal. In fact, I rejected all spirituality. God’s representative hurt me, and for me that made God a monster. So, I wrapped all spirituality in the same package with that monstrous God, and threw it out. I chose psychology as my course of study, but then I discovered parapsychology. I liked that subject  a lot, mainly because it tended to view paranormal activity as a mental condition, and nothing else.
“I was fond of ghost hunter groups back then. I found them so easy to ridicule: plenty of gadgetry, lots of heartbeat monitors and ultra sensitive cameras, and  for what? Time-lapsed, blurry melodrama. Oh, and folklore. They were great at folklore. Tell a story, find a blur in a picture frame. Tell the story again, and sell the blur.”

Not an uncommon reaction to these types of groups.” Richard murmurs sympathetically.

“Apologies, Richard, I am being unkind. It's an echo of who I was back then, and I hope I am not the same now. I often cringe at how callous I used to be. Well, there was a group of ghost hunters who tolerated me, even though I was a young Ph. D. student who “knew it all,” and talked to them like they were idiots. However, they were thick-skinned and refused to take it personally. They dismissed my ideas about as thoroughly as I dismissed theirs, and then we would go out for beers afterward. I enjoyed giving the “logical rebuttal” speech in the middle of their films – the kind  that set their entire premise on its ear. They enjoyed pipping me  the rest of the time, and so we called it even.
“So I was happy when they approached me with a “special project”. They wanted to film a sequence on location at Auschwitz. (Don't even ask me how they worked that out with the bean counters  at the University.) Before I knew it, we were there on site, hunting for disembodied spirits and fog wisps. They set up their thousands of wires and their beep-boop machines and started crawling the place dressed in jumpsuits and night vision goggles. Comical. Then, it happened.
“I didn't follow the troop, I just sat there in the middle of the courtyard. Looked to be the same one where prisoners were brought for mass meetings by the Nazi keepers. As an abused child, my heart breaks for the oppressed. I found myself remembering the victims of the slaughter, thinking on them solemnly. I told myself I might have said a prayer, back when I believed in anything. Instead, I grabbed my sketchbook. I had pasted a  list of Auschwitz victims inside the front cover. I studied it for a minute, thinking about how their lives ended. Then, on a whim, I began to mention them out loud.  Right there in the middle of the courtyard, I spoke about about ten names at random.
“I paused and looked up from my book for a moment. A  skinny man stood there, staring me down. I thought for a moment that he was with us, but then I noticed that he was almost naked. His face and form faded back and forth, as if he were made out of mist. His eyes sagged like pits. Before I could react, another man came forward. Both of them stared at me in the same way, as if they were trying to make up their minds about something. The first one spoke. He said, “Do you see us?” All I could do was nod.
“Then, I noticed something else, Richard: looking around that courtyard, I saw no fewer than ten wispy forms  wandering the grounds. I watched them walk right through the ghost hunters, who ignored them. On a hunch, I began to speak again, reading the same ten names from that list in my book. One by one, they wandered in my direction. When I passed their names, they wandered off again. Most of them sat down, hugging their legs. Some of them stood up on occasion, and they would begin to flail as if they were taking a beating. I was looking at suffering people, but never once did I see any of their oppressors. Furthermore, my colleagues continued to turn a blind eye, and so did their equipment. Not so much as a “blip” registered  on the paranormal tracking devices. Looked like another folklore-telling, smudge-selling outing for them. I was the only witness to this scene, or so I believed.
“The place was dark and dank, and the people looked to be in hell. I witnessed them there, still in their torture chamber, as if their souls languished here after their bodies left them behind. I wept openly, casting about for something to do, some way to help. I focused, not with my eyes, but with my heart. I concentrated on my connection with them. As I did so, their forms grew clearer.  I sat there beside them, watching their agony and weeping tears of grief.
“It was then that I looked up. Above the scene, misty like the spirits around me, I saw a radiant light in the sky. Something felt . . .  alive in it. To look at it filled me with joy. I turned to the man next to me and tapped him on the shoulder. I pointed up, trying to ask him what it was. He stared at the ground and hugged his knees. I tried again, he shook his head and wailed. I sat and cried with him. It was all I could do.
“I moved on to the woman next to him. I sat by her and said, “I see you.” She was startled – so startled that she looked straight at me. One of her eyes was missing, and the other was streaming,  either with tears or disease. I reached out my hand, and she took it. Felt like a downy feather, her touch. I said, “There is something up there. A beautiful light. What is it?”
“It was then that I witnessed my first miracle, Richard. She raised her face and looked straight into the sky. As she looked, the eye that had been missing reformed itself in her skull. Her flesh filled out and hair grew on her head. She was suddenly young and beautiful. She stared back at me, two crisp blue eyes wide with surprise. “I don't hurt anymore,” that is what her face said. She turned away, and I saw her take the hand of the man next to her. He tossed her off initially, but she shook him until he looked up angrily, with war on his face. Then, he caught sight of her, all new and restored like she was. He said, “Schlomit?” Then, he looked past her and froze in place. As the light in the sky bathed his eyes, his body straightened into a handsome young man. He gazed at Schlomit, who I assumed was his wife, and they embraced each other.
“The two of them walked away after that, hand in hand. They were headed toward the light that healed them, but I honestly can't say where they went. For my part, I gazed for a moment on that spectral light. Nothing logical about this, but for the first time since my own abuse, I thought I might be worthy of love.
“Now, we scientists like to have cross-validators in these little field experiments, so imagine my surprise when I caught the tour guide staring straight at me. This was no university educated “paranormal specialist.” It was a minimum wage adult, babysitting a few college kids on a ghost safari. He didn't speak, he just pointed to each and every spirit who remained on the grounds, and then up to the sky. He saw exactly what I saw. We locked eyes. Knowing that my German was as rusty as his English, I chose not to speak out loud; but eyeing each other, we made a gentlemen’s pact nonetheless. One by one, we approached every spirit and encouraged them to look up; look away from their private hell. Some of them listened. Some of them did not.
“We had to leave, and I could not give my debunking speech on the ghost video. I took all kinds of snark for it, but I didn't care. Instead, I buckled down, focused on trying to help the victims I could still see. In the end, I could not force any decision on them. I could just show them and watch the healing, or respect their decision to suffer. If they suffered, I would sit next to them, hold them, and cry. That changed a man's mind once. Just one man, but it was enough to make me keep trying. I stayed in that same courtyard until my colleagues dragged me out.”
Father Mahoney pauses, visibly upset. “Someday, Richard, I will go back. I will sit with those souls for an eternity in that squalid place, if there is a chance of saving even one more of them from hell.”

There is a moment of silence before Richard speaks. “Well. A profound experience indeed. I’m not quite certain what to ask as my next question—wait, I believe it’s time for some refreshment.” They are interrupted by the arrival of a gentleman carrying a tray with shot glasses and a decanter. “I see Jenkins has brought the whiskey. Wonderful. I believe it’s just the thing we need.” Richard smiles as Jenkins sets the tray down and waits. “Care for a nip? It’s an excellent Irish whiskey. Jameson I believe.”

“Jameson is a fine whiskey, thank you Richard. I'm still an Irishman to the core. I do love a nip from time to time.”

Jenkins pours two glasses of liquor, serves both men, and then retreats. Richard Dale takes a sip of whiskey and asks, “As someone with a gift for interacting with the otherworldly, what most fascinates you regarding the paranormal and ghosts in particular?”

“I think the most fascinating, and also confusing, aspect of spirits is the fact that they are well aware of what they are. It's cliché to imagine them wandering the earth believing they are still alive – as if they ignored their death somehow. However, I find that rarely happens. Death is a major event, and the dead are even more aware of it than the living. Now that I am attuned to them, I see them frequently. Most of them pass on to wherever they are going. But some stay. It is rare, but they have their reasons. Those reasons are as individual as they are.”

“On a different subject, do you have any hobbies outside the Church?”

He smiles. “I love a good game of chess. I was once a tournament champ all across the Midwest. Care for a match, Richard?” He turns his head. “Or perhaps you, Jenkins?”

Jenkins blinks, and replies. “I shall have to decline, sir. I don’t play. But thank you.”

Richard smirks somewhat. “Yes, I believe Jenkins is a bridge man. I’d be happy to take you up on your offer of a game, after the interview. And speaking of such, what is your idea of perfect happiness?”

“I have seen and felt perfect happiness. It is in that Presence that I saw for the first time in Germany, and still see today. I dream of spending every moment in that eternal Light.”

“And admirable sentiment, Father.” Richard finishes his whiskey and sets down the glass. “What is your fondest memory?”

“Ah, this is where I can tell you about Her.
“After some time in Auschwitz, I began to remember my own mornings of hell, when I was beaten down by my tormentor. They paled in comparison to what the wailing spirits of Auschwitz had seen, but somehow my stay there made my monster rear its ugly head again, and so my nightmares returned. I found myself crouched in a ball, an eleven-year-old boy sniveling, waiting for a troubled priest to beat me up again. I would not uncurl for anything or anyone, because he was as real to me as you are Richard: standing above me, holding a stick. My instinct was  to protect myself.
“I felt a touch on my shoulder. Downy, like the touch of Schlomit. The wind blew my hair, and I smelled roses. The touches persisted, they would not leave me alone. I finally peeked out through my fingers, the way kids do sometimes. A woman looked back at me. I never saw her face clearly – its form kept shifting; but I saw she was a spirit. She was made of light, though, not the misty, grey, filmy stuff I saw in the other ones. She pointed with her hand, inviting me to stand and look at something. I was too frightened, so I hid my face again.
“She did not leave me. Instead, I was surrounded by the fragrance of roses, and little downy feathers seemed to fall all over my skin. I peeked through my fingers again. Her face was still there, out of focus, but . . . I could tell she was weeping. She surrounded me with herself, light and fragrance and feathers. Wind through my hair, and soft melodies in my ears. I struggled between self-defense and enchantment, determined to keep safe, but wishing I could look at her longer. Finally, I dropped my hands. Fingers made of light lifted my chin, feathers in the breeze caressed my face and urged it up, up, up. Without knowing what I was doing, I looked straight into the sky and gazed on that radiant light. She held me there while I took it all in. The love, Richard, it was indescribable. Nothing hurt me anymore, not even my most secret fears. I fell for Her that day, and She has been with me ever since, an adorable Presence by my side.
“You see, priesthood is a logical vocation for a man like me. There is not a woman alive who could take Her place.”

“Quite amazing. As to your vocation, what is the most rewarding aspect of being a priest?”

“It continues to reward me when I see the healing of a broken soul. One does not have to be a ghost to suffer, Richard. I lost my love of the Catholic Church because someone's bad actions defaced God. I strive every day to right that wrong, and represent God with kindness. Sometimes, one of the sufferers listens, “looks up,” and sees the love that waits for them. Those are good days, Richard. Very good days.”

“One last question. Have you ever met anyone else with your particular gift for seeing ghosts?”

“A relevant question! The answer will surprise you. I find that almost everyone has this “gift”. It's just a question of focus. Some minds are especially attuned to the unseen. I find that these are people whose minds are not burdened by expectations of “real” and “normal”. I notice that many children and animals see exactly what I see.
“Other minds are sensitive as well: people who are diagnosed “mentally ill” sometimes are seeing spirits that walk the earth. Where it gets dicey is when they can see actual spirits, but then hallucinate others. I find that I can sometimes guide these types, and help them to tell the real from the imagined, and do some good. Spirits usually want to be seen by someone, and they often gather around a living person who can discern them.”

Well thank you Father Mahoney, for agreeing to this interview. It was a distinct pleasure. Now for that game of chess…

What is it about fear and the unknown that pulls so passionately at the human heart? Perhaps we are drawn not to the darkness itself, but to the resolution, the overcoming of what we most deeply dread. After all, the more terrible the struggle, the greater the victory when it comes at last. Presented in this anthology are twelve remarkable stories of the darkness that overshadows us, and the resolution that may be found beyond them. They are stories of fear and oppression, but ultimately stories of hope, stories that will take you BEYOND THE WAIL.

Beyond the Wail is available at Amazon

BEYOND THE WAIL: 12 Grave Stories of Love and Loss

Book Release Blog Tour

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