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Ever since the Everly girl’s body had been found there three years ago, the beauty and serenity of the place was spoiled for him. It was bad enough she had been murdered, but murdered in so brutal and grisly a manner. That was what he found so disturbing. For weeks the papers screamed ritual sacrifice and satanic cult, turning a local tragedy into a national sensation.
Father Stephan was almost past the grave yard. He could see the marble sarcophagus where the girl’s remains were found. A screech owl’s call startled him forcing him to look up. That’s when the moon peeped from behind a cloud revealing a hooded figure standing in the church’s shadow. “Can I help you?” Stephan asked in a scared, broken voice. The figure stood there silent. “The church is closed.” Stephan added.
The man drew closer. When he was close enough to touch he said, “You have something of mine.”
In the moonlight, Stephan could just make out the stranger’s face. A gaunt, sharp face heavily scarred. The man had a small beard around his mouth. That style of beard had a name but the name escaped the frightened priest. “You have something of mine, a relic, I want it.” The man grabbed the front of Stephan’s robe and twisted it. “I want it,” he repeated.
“Y...you must be mistaken,” the priest stammered. “St Mary’s h...has no relics.”
“Don’t argue with me little man. You have the key, go back inside and bring it to me.”
“Bring what to you?” Stephan asked almost pleading.
“The nail. Bring me the nail. I know it’s here.” The man tried to sound friendly but it only made things worse.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I know of no nail, no relic. Look, here is the key, come with me, I’ll show you there’s no nail.” The priest turned his back on the stranger and hurried back along the path to the front of the church. He didn’t need to look, he could sense a dark presence behind him. Just then the name of the beard popped into his mind, a goatee.
The great oaken doors rose up before him. He fumbled with the key and when the lock snapped open it sounded like a rifle shot, startling the screech owl from its roost. Stephan was about to push the door open when he felt an iron grip on his arm. The man stood directly behind him, his breath was as cold as the stones in the grave yard. “I cannot enter,” he breathed in the priest’s ear. “You must bring it to me.”
“I don’t know where it is.”
“I will guide you.” The grip tightened even more. Stephan thought his arm would snap in two. “Under the altar, there is a loose stone. Pull it up and bring me what you find. Go. Now.”
“I cannot. Bring me the nail.” And Stephan made his way down the aisle to the altar. As he walked, Stephan crossed himself repeatedly and mumbled one prayer after another. There at the end of the long nave stood the stone altar. Stephan knew it was as old as the original church. The first church, before it was St Mary’s, before it was even a Christian church. The altar was ancient with roots in pagan worship and the early days of Christianity. The great wooden crucifix loomed over him. So realistic. Whoever made it took special care with the details of blood and wounds. It had always been a comfort to Stephan but tonight it looked vaguely foreboding.
When he got to the altar he heard the man say, “Go to the apse. Look under the altar for a loose stone. Bring me what’s there.” The voice sounded like it was inches away although the man stood at the church door a hundred yards away. On his knees, Stephan groped around under the altar until his fingers felt a stone move. He scraped his fingernails in the old mortar and pulled. He moved the stone aside and felt a void. In the hole was a wooden box. He brought it out into the dim light.
The box was so old, the wooden lid crumpled into dust when he tried to open it. Inside laid a single spike about six inches long. It was square and crudely made, obviously hand forged. It had the patina of ancient iron with dark stains and patches of rust. A nail? Stephan looked up at the crucifix and back to the spike in the box. Could it be? Could this be one of the nails that fixed Christ to the cross? And if it was, what power would such a relic have? Could he, a priest and a believer, allow so powerful an object to fall into evil hands? For surely the stranger was evil. Wasn’t that why he couldn’t enter this consecrated ground? Some forces were stronger. The church held many mysteries.
Stephan had no time to think. The voice was at his ear, inside his head, “Bring it to me.” The voice compelled him forward against his will as if he was being dragged down the long aisle of the nave. The priest tried to fight against the force but his own body betrayed him. Step by step his legs propelled him forward. The ancient box with its precious contents held out stiffly pulling him along. “BRING IT TO ME!” There was a hunger in the voice. The distance closed—100 feet, 60 feet, 30. The hooded figure held out a bony hand as Stephan entered the narthex or entryway of St Mary’s.
Like many churches, St Mary’s narthex contained little but a rack of votive candles and the stoups, the holy water fonts. Desperate to halt his forward progress, Stephan reached for anything that would give him a moment to think. He grabbed a slender column one of a dozen that separated the narthex from the nave. He didn’t have enough strength to halt his forward motion but did manage to alter his arrow straight course. The column swung him to his right where he crashed into a long rack of sputtering votive candles sending them crashing and rolling across the stone floor. Some rolled toward the open door and Stephan could feel the stranger’s hesitation. The noise of the crash must have distracted the stranger, for Stephan felt the spell ease for an instant.
When he looked up he was only inches away from the stoup, the holy water font. Quickly he dipped the wooden box into the holy water and scooped up a cupful of liquid. When the compelling force turned him around he was face to face with the figure. Mustering all his will, Stephan heaved the water filled box and the relic at the apparition. The results were both instant and dramatic. The flesh melted from the scarred face; skin and beard ran like melted wax down the front of the stranger’s robe. His mouth opened as if to scream but only choking, gasping sounds emerged followed by smoke and steam.
When it was over, there was nothing left of the figure but a few scraps of charred cloth and a piece of metal in the shape of a spike. Stephan picked up the spike and carried it back to the altar. He replaced the object in the hollow and moved the stone into place. Then he went looking for his mortar and trowel. Some things are best kept hidden he thought.
micheledutcher - rtornello wrote: Like any good mystery it initially points the mind somewhere else, but that same pointing finger has three pointing back. Nicely done.
micheledutcher - jessbaum wrote: "You have something of mine." Those words sent chills down my spine. This story has a great flow, and gives the reader all the fears they should have when reading good horror.
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