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The Dark Church’s Secret
?The church gave off a foreboding air as I walked along the path towards its hallowed depths. Its grey stone walls were stark against the darkening deep blue sky. The wind began to blow, and I hurried along, trying to keep my long skirts from blowing up. The flowers at my side bobbed their heads in acknowledgment of my passing. I sighed. It had been a trying month since my mother’s demise. My feet began to plod slower, becoming heavy with grief the nearer I came to her graveside. A sob escaped my pursed lips, echoing against the stone of the grand church. It was a sorrowful noise, full of the longing I had for my mother’s comforting embrace. I could almost imagine her now, standing in front of me, enveloping me in her arms. It gave me strength anew to push on.
When at last I came upon the marble angel that marked her resting place, the grief overwhelmed me, and I fell to my knees. The hurt and loss overflowed like a tide that spilled over the precipice of my eyes, and made its way to the ground, giving life to my sorrow.
A small noise, and a movement out of the corner of my eye quickly dried up my tears and dredged my sorrow, giving rise to fear. The church and cemetery were closed. The caretaker had given me a key because of the many times I had stood at the gate, staring longingly at the place where my mother lay. The gate and fence that surrounded the perimeter towered over everything, no person could find their way across. Whoever was watching me…had to have been here waiting. But who? Who would wait for the moment when I would visit? The caretaker made careful routines before locking the gate to make sure no one remained.
I saw a movement again, just on the edge of my peripheral vision, just out of sight.
“Wh-wh-who’s there?” I warily called to the weakening light. No voice replied. “Show yourself!” I commanded, with a slight nervous shiver in my voice. No one complied. I gathered my skirts and stood up. Stumbling forward, I picked up the small basket I had carried, and quickly grabbed the small bundle of wildflowers I had meant to lay at the foot of the angel.
After they were neatly placed, I stood back to look at the marker of my mother’s final resting place. The angel was turned slightly towards the gate of the cemetery, not in its original place. Before, it had been facing the church directly. But who would have moved it? Was it the same person who had been watching me?
I saw movement again, and quickly turned towards where I had last seen it. There was no one. I gathered my basket and made haste towards the small wooden door that led into the church. I shakily pulled the key out of the pocket in my skirt and shoved it crudely into the lock. I fumbled around with my trembling hands trying to turn it before I heard a distant click, and stumbled inside, pushing the ancient door closed behind me. I groped my way through the dark to where I knew there would be matches next to a candle. Before I could get there, I sensed movement from behind me, and heard the shuffle of feet on the wooden floor.
Opening my mouth to let loose a shriek, I tried to run away, but not before a hand came from the darkness and clamped over my mouth. I jumped when a young, male voice whispered in my ear, “Don’t scream! I’m here to help. I’m going to let go now, don’t run, and don’t scream. Is that clear?” came the heavily accented French. I nodded. “Okay,” he replied.
The man slowly unclamped his fingers, and I felt him move to stand in front of me. I clenched my eyes shut as light suddenly penetrated the darkness as the mysterious stranger lit a match. He had dark brown hair that flopped casually over his forehead and deep brown eyes. He looked young, but older than me, having no more than 20 years. He was taller than I, standing about a head higher. His eyes were wary and cautious, but filled with concern.
“Are you the one who has been following me?” I asked.
“No, I’ve been following your follower,” he replied in the same heavy accent as before.
“Who are you? Why do you speak so strange?” I queried.
“Who I am doesn’t matter. But if you must know, I am a traveler. In response to your second question, I am from Britain, and speak French very little.”
“Who have you been following? Who has been following me?” I asked rapidly.
He sighed, as if the knowledge was sacred, and he didn’t want to part with it. He finally murmured, “If you really need to know…” He sighed, and then continued, “They are shadows. They keep to the darkness, and you can only see them at the edge of your vision.”
“Liar! There is no such thing!” I said bluntly. As if in contradiction, a slight breeze ruffled at my hair, and put out the match, plunging us into darkness once more. I jumped as something brushed against my arm.
“Stranger?” I called out carefully.
“I’m here,” he replied from my other side.
I jumped, realizing that there was something else in that room with us.
“I felt something.” I whimpered.
“I know. I did too,” he replied cautiously.
“Can you do something?” I pleaded.
“Not without them retaliating. I can’t light another match without the shadows blowing it out again,” he replied tersely.
“Can we leave through the door?” I asked.
“We can try.” he replied. I heard him shuffle towards the door, and a clang as he tried to wrench it open, but no light penetrated the darkness. The door wouldn’t open.
“What are we going to do?” I wailed.
“Keep quiet!” he hissed. I heard him rustling with something before the candle was lit again, a shining beacon in the darkness. I didn’t have enough time to look around before the flame disappeared, leaving the two of us stranded in the blinding darkness.
I felt warm breath tickle my ear before the stranger whispered, “I saw a door in the corner. Maybe it will lead to the main part of the church, and we can find a way out from there.” He tugged on my arm, and we inched towards where there was the supposed opening.
As we approached the wall, the stranger brought life to a flame with a match and an old wooden door arched in front of us.
I grasped the handle and wrenched it open, feeling cool air soothe my burning, frightened face. I knew where we were from coming here often, so taking the lead, I followed the winding corridors and hallways from memory, leading us to where I knew moonlight would colorfully shine through the stained glass windows in the main chapel.
I sensed a grayer darkness before it fully gave way to clear vision. The moon shone bright, casting silver shadows on the ground beneath.
“Will the shadows find us here?” I whispered cautiously.
“No, they can’t tread where shadows don’t fall.” The stranger replied, gesturing to the moon. He lit a candle, and set it on the floor. “If we sit between two light sources, they can’t get at us.”
I glanced around at the stone walls and figurines that lay around the room. I noticed two angel figurines with wings outstretched. Usually, they faced the altar with arms open, and faces downcast, but they faced me, with hands clasped, and wings folded behind.
“Stranger? Can the shadows embody stone?” I asked nervously.
“No,” he said, turning to face me. “Why do you as-” he stopped dead, noticing the angels that faced me. “Turn away slowly, and don’t take your eyes off of them. I’m going to get another candle.” Just as he said not to blink, I did. The angels moved fast, extremely fast, because one now stood directly in front of me. It stared right at me, a bemused expression on its lips and wings again outstretched, but hands still clasped in front.
“Stranger!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. He was at my side in an instant. “What should we do?” I wailed.
“I don’t know.” He answered. “I just don’t know.”
I kept my eyes on the angels, just in case they decided to move again. I only closed one eye at a time, so my gaze was on them always. “Can you think of anything?” I screamed.
“No, but-” he stopped, pondering something in his mind. “I thought of something.” He stated in his heavy accent. “If we can trap them in here, we might be able to burn down the church, with them, and the shadows inside.” He said rapidly.
“Would the fire burn the stone?” I asked incredulously.
“No.” he replied. “But they might get frightened enough that they might flee.”
“And the shadows?”
“They’re not invulnerable, and will be defeated. They die with too much light exposure. That’s why they like churches like this one, many nooks and crannies to hide in when the sun shines.”
He explained what was required of me, and I agreed. We each held two candles on either side of ourselves to scare away the shadows, and made our way to opposite sides of the chapel.
“Ready!” I called out to the stranger.
“Now!” he replied. At his mark we both threw down our candles to the wooden floor underneath us. The floors were dry, and caught like tinder, sending flames towering over my head. I cried in pain as they licked the side of my face, and burned my hands as I threw them up for protection. My dress went up in flames also as the fire gained ground, racing over the floor in every direction.
The crackling and roaring of the blaze filled my ears as I stumbled around in fright wearing my gown of brilliance. I heard a shout, as the stranger came through the flames near me. His eyes went wide as he took in my predicament, and reaching beside him, brought up a wooden pail filled to the brim with clear, cold, water.
The last thing I remember was hearing the sizzle of dying flames and feeling relief as the water splashed my burning body, then there was darkness.
I awoke to the dawn, as rays of gold and purple shot across the sky, bringing a new day. Disoriented, I sat up on the long grass I lay in, and cried in pain as my movements angered burns from the night before. I looked around cringing, and spotted the Stranger crouched at my mother’s grave. He had his head bent as if in prayer, and seemed to be murmuring something by the way his lips trembled and moved. The marble angel was still there, but covered her eyes as if weeping. I tried to stand, but screeched as my legs gave out under me.
The Stranger turned, and rushed over once he saw I was awake.
“Are you okay?” He asked, concern showing in the crease of his eyebrows.
“My burns hurt!” I grimaced.
“I tried to bind the one on your face arms, and legs, but thought a… uh… proper doctor or healer would patch the rest up, once you woke up.”
“It really hurts!” I cried. “Do you think you can help me up? I need to get home! My father is probably sick with worry!” I struggled to stand up, but the Stranger gently sat me back down.
“If you don’t mind, I think it would be better if I carried you. That is… If it’s okay with you?” he said uncomfortably.
I sighed. “If that’s what you think is best.”
He bent down and gestured for me to put my arms around his neck. Gently, he put his arms around my shoulders and legs. He hefted me up, and almost set me back down when I grimaced.
“I’m okay.” I groaned.
“Are you sure? I can get the doctor here if you’re in too much pain.” He said.
“No. I’ll get used to it after awhile.” I grimaced.
The Stranger looked unconvinced but set of at a speed that was fast but not bouncy as not to jostle my wounds.
“Say, sir. You never did tell me who you are.” I asked in between cringes.
“I am the D-John Smith. And you Madame? You never did tell me your name.” he replied.
“My name is Rosalina. But most just call me Rose.” I said simply.
John got a faraway look in his eyes, as if remembering a sorrow long forgotten. He shook his head, then smiled down at me.
I never did see John after that day. He disappeared from my life as quickly as he had come, leaving no trace. Once, I thought I caught a glimpse of him in the town square, but the wind whooshed unnaturally, blowing my hair in front of my eyes. By the time I looked to where I had seen him, he was gone.