by Matt Shaner
I found out in a phone call.
“They’re tearing it down, the old church,” my father said. “They lost all their money.”
I had no real emotional connection with the building since it was years from my last visit. My parents were married there. I was baptized there. The place held standing in the community for more then a century.
So it was more out of sentiment than obligation that I made a mental note of the date for demolition and decided to drive by on the night before to wish it one last goodbye.
The building sat on a hilltop in town, presenting a gray exterior and a series of stained glass windows. The windows were pockmarked with cardboard placeholders covering the broken panes. The scenes were incomplete; their original beauty damaged to no recognition.
The night was an exit between winter and spring. The air held the first wisps of faint and distant summer. Bugs danced around the streetlight. I left my coat in the car and stood in front of the church.
The bell tower extended a lit white cross into the sky. Two sets of doors were at the corner. I walked around the exterior and was making my way back to the car when I heard something crash. I had seen no obvious signs of forced entry on my walk and was about to open my car door when the sound cut the night air once again.
The banging infuriated me. The building was victim enough. It’s once regal frame decimated by kids looking for a good time. Items were stolen and the organ damaged. I decided to put a stop to things if I could. I turned on my cell phone and made sure it was within easy reach. Almost in response, another crash broke through the night even louder.
It took a few minutes to find the entry; they’d broken into a lower side entrance. The glass door ran spider web cracks across its entire surface. The lower pane of the door fell out completely and I reached under to engage the lock. The door opened at a slight pressure and I went inside.
The hallways were lit with dim orange security bulbs. I knew, from childhood, of a back stairwell that led to the sanctuary. Hearing more noise, I stepped up the wooden stairs cringing at the creaks. I finally made it to the doorway and could see candlelight flickering inside. I inched the door open, with a desire to see my foes before my attack. The sight made me lose breath.
The sanctuary was lit with hundreds of candles, all in place of the electric lights. Bodies were in the pews—some solid and some vaporous. They were dressed in period clothes spanning the time of the church’s existence. They all held their heads in solemn concentration. I jumped at a pounding noise from the pulpit. The door opened of its own accord and, to my surprise, no one looked back at me.
The altar and pulpit were lit with torch size candles. A row of wooden seats behind the pulpit was filled with men in pastoral garb. The pulpit itself was occupied with a large man, slamming his fist down. He spoke, still not noticing me in the back. I felt as if I was seeing a part of history until I caught his phrases.
“We cannot submit to this abomination! We cannot allow this place to be torn from its home. We, the pure of heart, cannot lose the battle!” The specters watched and some nodded their approval. I walked slowly around the back of the pews. The candle flames danced with the wind of the dead. The voice of the preacher rose to a crescendo and another preacher came to his side. He sat the man down.
“Everyone, please, consider our options.” I recognized the face. It was the man who baptized me, Pastor Davis. He died two months back.
A man in the pews stood up. “What can we do? What can we possibly do?”
“I’ve called for help,” the pastor replied and raised his hand. He looked in my direction with empty eyes. I realized they were only sockets. He was blind at the end of his life and the malady followed him into the grave. The figures in the pews all turned, showing me their ghastly faces. The older ones were no more then skeletons. The younger ones were in various states of decomposition. The building had called back its dead to come to its protection.
I realized that the preachers up front corresponded to the portraits in the hall downstairs, picturing each church leader throughout our history. Their flock had also called them back. It made sense at a level but no level near sanity.
Before my mind gave out and I ran for my life, the doors on the other side of the sanctuary flew open with a crash. The glass shattered and the pieces littered the ground. Lit by the candles, the shards reflected small bits of fire. A figure walked in and the attention of the people shifted.
It looked like a man, wearing black from head to toe. His face was strikingly handsome; his outfit impeccable. His shoes reflected the candlelight. He smiled.
“You should be thanking me,” he said. His voice rolled over the room and kissed my ear. It sounded seductive and I could not place his tone. He owned no accent.
“Leave this ground!” The first pastor spoke from his position by the pulpit. He yelled through his skeleton mouth.
“I’ve kept these seats full over the years. I’ve built this place.” He was in the center of the group now, waving his hands to the sky. I caught a slight grimace from his face. His features moved as liquid.
“Faith has built this place.” It was another pastor, rising to the fight.
“They listen to me,” he pointed to those in the pews. They instinctively pulled away. “And they run to you for comfort. We have a good thing going. You know my influence. I’m here to make you an offer.”
“Never!” the first pastor said.
“Do you want this building to fall? Do you all want to be homeless? Do you want to wander forever? It’s simple, give it to me. I’ll save you if you give it to me. I could use this place in many ways.” Conversation broke out throughout the room. The evil thing locked its gaze onto me.
“What is your business, human?” His eyes bored into mine. I found no strength to speak. He started to walk towards me. “Do you want to join them?” My legs went weak. His eyes went red. I saw the reflection of fire, a great fire, inside his being. He stopped before he reached me and turned to face the others. My eyes cleared with the break of his hold.
The pastors were surrounding him, their spirits glowing with the combined energy of their faith. The congregants joined the clergy. A bright energy pulse lit up the altar. The organ pipes shined and a chorus of voices rose from the void of space. The demon bellowed a scream that cracked the windows. I saw its true form for a second until the light energy moved to encompass it. The horror of reality caused me to faint dead away.
A diesel engine woke me up. The windows shattered glass down onto me and I cringed as the teeth of a demolition machine bit into the nearest wall. I looked down and realized I could see through me. Then I noticed that the spirits were filing forlornly out the exit door. Pastor Davis stopped. He walked to me and reached out a hand.
“Come my child. Our time here is complete.” I tried to fight and flail. I tried to yell but my voice faded to a whisper. I gave up and followed. We walked through the doors as the building fell.
“You’ve done an excellent job, giving them reason to fight. We needed new life.” He put his arm around my shoulder and smiled.
The sun ushered us to a different plane that turned our sorrow into victory. We started the search for a new home, as a community; and I realized the structure only supported us. Our intangible faith gave us a bond that transcended time and space.
I smiled at Pastor Davis as we faded away into the morning light.
© 2007 by Matt Shaner
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens.
Matt Shaner is a writer from outside of Philadelphia. He spends his days at a financial company where he faces enough horror and absurdity to inspire his nightly journeys into the land of fiction. His influences range from H.P. Lovecraft to Bret Ellis, Clive Barker, and Chuck Palahniuk. He has five short stories published in online outlets and is in the process of shopping a novella and two full length novels for publication.