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The gargoyles on the gothic church had watched over the affairs of mankind for as long as anyone could remember. The official stance was that the dozen monsters carved into the timeworn, stone façade were merely waterspouts. And yet, their fearsome appearance, like the church itself, didn’t quite fit into the community surrounding it.
bronze plaque on the cornerstone dated the building’s construction at 1902, but
the earliest maps of the city showed the sanctuary already standing in
1807. It was as if the structure had always been there, perched on the
corner of third and Broadway, awaiting mankind’s arrival. It seemed that
Mary Louise didn’t notice the decorative demons towering over her as she pushed her wicker baby carriage towards the sanctuary. She wore a bright yellow dress with a matching pillbox hat. The hat had taken too large a chunk out of her meager budget, but it was in vogue now that Jackie Kennedy was the first lady. Camelot reigned supreme on this bright, blissful morning.
Deacon Walters and his wife had paid the lonely, unwed mother a home visit earlier in the week. They explained they were knocking on doors in the neighborhood and extended a special invitation to the young woman and her year-old son. There was to be a pancake breakfast preceding the main service, and all first time visitors would eat free, out of friendliness.
So she was here, at the steps of the church, with her son dressed in his best clothes and wrapped in blue receiving blankets to protect him from the morning chill. “It’s going to be a beautiful morning,” she told her sleeping son beneath his blankets.
“Mary Louise,” shouted a friendly male voice from the front doors of the church. Deacon Walters happily raced down the steps to help her carry the wicker baby carriage inside.
She lovingly picked up Stephen, rocking him gently in her arms. She placed a tiny baseball cap on his fuzzy head.
“We’ll just leave this right here,” said Mrs. Walters, parking the carriage in a corner of the foyer. “It’ll be safe, I assure you.” The deacon and his wife then took the mother and her baby into the fellowship hall for the promised meal.
Later that morning, the newcomers were ushered into the sanctuary proper. As they were seated, an usher handed her a red tag made of construction paper, identifying her as a ‘visitor’. The young woman was overwhelmed with the elaborateness of the meeting area. The ceiling was a vast medieval dome, towering over the worshippers below. Carved beams intertwined overhead like a huge tree offering the safety of its branches.
Everywhere she looked, statues and crosses were heavily embossed with gold. The seven stained-glass windows were aflame with color, each of them being over two stories high. In the center of all this opulence, at its focal point, was a pipe organ thirty-feet tall. As its music began softly and then swelled, the young woman’s heart began to beat faster, as though sprouting wings and rising towards heaven.
But the baby didn’t share her innocent enthusiasm and he began to whimper.
“I can take him to the nursery, if you’d like,” said Mrs. Walters kindly. “That way, you can concentrate on the pastor’s sermon.”
“Of course,” whispered the mother, handing her son to the conservatively dressed matron. As a new visitor, Mary Louise wanted very much to concentrate on the sermon. “Be good,” she cooed to Stephen.
“He’s such a doll,” whispered the deacon’s wife as she took the baby into her arms. “Look at that, he has one blue eye and one green one.”
The unwed mother settled in to enjoy the sermon.
Forty-five minutes later, she was at the nursery’s door, but where was Stephen? She pulled the blankets aside in the six cribs as other mothers carried their babies out the door. “He has one blue eye and one green eye,” she stammered fiercely at the attendant. “Mrs. Walters brought him in.”
“I haven’t seen Mrs. Walters at all today,” the attendant informed her. “But Deacon Walters is probably at the entrance door, shaking hands.”
Mary raced down the hallways towards the huge bronze doors. She saw him, smiling to parishioners as they chatted happily.
“Deacon Walters! Thank God I found you! It’s Stephen, my baby. I can’t find him!”
“Your baby,” he asked uncertainly. “What baby?” He gently led her away from the other people in line.
“Stephen, my son. I can’t find him.”
“You didn’t bring a baby with you.” He began to loose his thin black tie, placing his hands on his hips. “You must be mistaken.”
“Yes I did! You helped me carry his baby carriage up the steps this morning. We left his baby carriage right there.” The mother twirled around pointing, but nothing was there, under the steps in the foyer, but a wheelchair.
“Now calm down,” insisted the deacon, motioning to some other men from the congregation. Most of the people in the receiving line had left, so they began to escort her down the marble steps.
“I won’t calm down! I want my baby!” Suddenly, against everything she wanted to do, she fainted.
The stone gargoyles watched mutely as the four men took the woman to a shade tree, placing her beneath it. They methodically re-entered the stone building, closing the twelve-foot bronze doors behind them.
[ 1964 ]
It was Stephen’s third birthday, but there would be no cake, no candles. There would be no friends and family wearing party hats and bringing presents. Mary Louise was alone, completely alone. She would spend the morning where she spent most of her mornings – there, outside the stone walls where Stephen had disappeared.
The police department hadn’t believed her, all those desperate long years ago. Why would Deacon Walters and his dear wife be lying, they had asked her repeatedly. Stephen’s father had bolted as soon as she had told him about the pregnancy. Her mom and dad were both dead.
Maybe they were right, maybe she was crazy. The young woman put her crumpled clothes on and began walking towards the church.
As she turned the corner of Third and Broadway, she could hear a woman pleading, shouting, whimpering. The woman was banging on the wooden door on the side of the church, by the offices. “Give me back my baby,” she begged. “Give me back my baby.”
The woman turned to face Mary Louise and she realized that they were the same woman. She was, indeed, going insane. She looked at her hands and her fists were covered in warm, red blood from pounding on the door until the flesh was raw and jagged.
She was now cowering in a corner, crying. The young woman, at some point, got up and walked around the back of the building, past the trash bins. And there it sat. After all this time: a worn-out, ragged, wicker baby carriage. She looked inside and rummaged through the blue receiving blankets. She picked out a tiny baseball cap and brought it to her face, afraid it might disappear if she held it too tightly. For no reason at all, she smelled it. It was real, it was not a part of some delusional nightmare. She held it for a while like a lover, and then stuffed it into her blouse. She began to march home.
They had him, she had no doubts now. She would find someone to listen to her, someone to believe in her story, and together they would rescue Stephen.
The child was in the small white room with the others. He heard the pet screaming outside, but he had no idea why it was screaming. The noise had merely awakened him from his afternoon sleep.
He looked around at the other cages, but there was no movement.
“The angel comes tonight,” whispered a voice from the cage closest to him. “The angel comes tonight and he will take me to heaven.”
Stephen did not respond. He just listened to the way the words flowed together – like a chant, perhaps, like a prayer. He was too young to understand the words but he had a broad idea of their meaning.
“Maybe the angel will take me too,” said a voice on the other side of the room.
“No, no,” answered the voice beside Stephen’s cage. “You haven’t been neutered yet. He won’t choose you until you’ve been cleansed.”
Stephen raised his head up off his knees, looking around. The sides of his cage were too close together to allow the boy to lie down, so he slept sitting up, leaning against the bars. He held his knees tightly drawn into his chest.
“What is cleansed,” a fourth voice asked.
“The cleansing is when they take your pee-pee and make it so you don’t ever get big. If we stay little, the angel will love us and take us to heaven.”
Thump, swish. Thump, swish. Thump, swish. The caretaker was coming up the stairs, bringing them something to eat. There was a rustling sound in one of the two remaining cages. There was a silent anticipation as all eyes turned towards the caretaker and his plastic bucket, as he drug his body into the belfry of the church. The caretaker’s legs were crumpled beneath him, twig-like and fragile, from decades of sitting while sleeping in a cage of his own. For some reason, the angels had never taken him, so he fed and cleaned the others, but he never tried to talk with them.
He opened the cage doors, and one by one, the boys used their hands to pull their bodies forward, out of their small prisons. The caretaker poured a stew into six bowls on the floor. He then went over to the last cage and shook his head, sadly. He left the body inside the cage. He would clean it up later.
[ 1965 ]
Louise threw on her clothes and put a coffeepot on the stove to perk. She
sat there by the front window of her small, second story apartment, praying for
nightfall. The young woman with the haggard face watched the distant,
stone belfry of the
What was that? What was that up there, near the top? It looked for a moment as if a light was moving upwards, upwards towards the ever-darkening sky.
Tonight her life would be different. Tonight she would find out the truth. It had taken two years, but she had met a man she could trust to go up there with her. She poured a cup of coffee and waited for the sound of his footsteps coming up the stairs.
At 7:42 p.m., Thomas got home from work. He was late, but he was home.
“I had to make a stop, sweetheart,” he told her with no further explanation. None was needed, she trusted him completely. They both put on dark clothes, caught their breaths and stepped out the door.
It was a Monday night and no-one was around the stone church. The pair slipped into a side door after Thomas popped the lock. They seeped past the silent fellowship hall and creeped past the empty nursery. There was a light sifting into the hall in front of the pastor’s office, but there wasn’t any sound inside - except the blood racing through their ears.
Mary Louise knew the way to the sanctuary by heart, having been through these halls every night for four years in her nightmares. She grabbed Thomas’s hand to boost her courage before turning the doorknob to the main meeting room. The pair sifted through the doorway and stood there for a moment, glued to the wall leading to a staircase going up. The vaulted auditorium didn’t seem as awe inspiring in the dark as it had that ill-fated Sunday morning. The immense, domed space seemed merely empty, more like a murky pit than a house of God.
The lovers allowed their eyes to adjust to the shadows as the moonlight filtered through the stained-glass windows. Then they heard it.
Thump, swish. Thump, swish.
The sound was echoing down a staircase on the other side of the auditorium.
Thump, swish. Thump, swish.
Thomas pointed up, towards the staircase closest to them, but before they could exit the caretaker was in the auditorium, heading towards the pipe organ. Slowing he pushed his mangled body up the stairs and pulled himself onto the cushioned seat. He sat there for a moment, his crumpled legs folded beneath him, as though smelling the moment. Reams of sheet music reflected a dozen candles in a ghostly glow, but the caretaker needed no such maps as he allowed his fingers to run untamed up and down the ivory keyboard.
The sound would cover their footsteps, as the lovers took one heart-stopping carpeted stair after another. By the time they were near the top, the couple had begun to feel their way up the wall.
There was a faint light flowing down from the Belfry now.
Thomas poked his eyes above the floorboards of the landing. He saw four white walls and six small cages, arranged in a semi-circle facing a folding chair.
One of the cages whispered, “Hello”.
“Hello,” answered Thomas, squeezing Mary’s hand.
“Are you the angel,” asked a quivering voice.
“Perhaps I am,” reassured Thomas.
The pair of adults scrambled into the room, opening the doors. But the prisoners remained huddled in the back, as if frozen against the bars.
Mary Louise began examining the children huddled in each of the cages. She had to know. Was he here – here among these hopeless souls?
She started at the left side, falling to her knees in front of the fourth barred pen. The child inside had distinctive eyes: one blue and one green.
“Stephen,” she whispered frantically. “Stephen, it’s me, it’s mama.”
“What is mama,” he asked, pushing further against the bars.
“You lived with me before you came here.”
Thomas was looking at the frenzied boy now, squatting in back of Mary. “I have always been here, in this room. Always.”
Before the young woman could answer, a door slammed shut downstairs. Footsteps thundered across the balcony of the sanctuary.
“He’s coming,” hissed the cage on the right. The children who were still alive grabbed their doors, closing them quickly and quietly.
Thomas and Mary Louise moved two of the cages forward, hiding in the filth behind them.
There was no fear in his steps as the tiny man in the brown suit pranced up the stairs, seating himself on the folding chair. He placed an oil lantern on the floor beside him.
“The angel will be here soon,” he told his captive audience. “Are you ready to go, my lovely pets?” The Deacon began to open the cages in the pale lamplight, tsking away the sight of the half-eaten corpse in the fifth cage. “Come to me, my beautiful pets. Come and let me choose which one will go to heaven tonight.”
The boys used the bars on the side of their cages to pull themselves free, quickly pushing their bodies across the floor.
“Yes, yes. How lovely you are all becoming!” He placed one twisted child onto his lap. “The angel will be so pleased with you, Eighty-seven. Your skin has changed into that delightful grey color the angels are so fond of. I’ll be able to refurbish the cafeteria now, with the gold the angel will pay me.” Deacon Walters brushed the child’s long, greasy hair with his fingertips and the boy licked them.
The music rising from the belly of the church below them was building now, making the bars of the cages rattle in unison. Gustav Holt’s ‘A Choral Fantasia’ was a favorite of the caretaker and he played the dissonant chords with rampant abandon.
“The angel comes tonight, my pets, when the caretaker calls him.”
A white beam of light appeared in the front of the room, and creation seemed to hold its breath. There was a circle of radiance now, an almost blinding aura twelve feet high and five feet across. A shadow appeared in the center that quickly darkened into a solid form.
Through the cage’s bars, over the shoulders of the seated boys, Mary Louise saw the muscled body of an angel with wings spread in glory. Suddenly, a leg was thrust through the glowing ripple of light. But it was not covered with silky skin, but rather intricately covered with the scales and a claw foot characteristic of a large reptile. The gargoyle retracted his black, leathery wings and stepped into the room.
“My Lord,” said the deacon, bowing slightly to his superior.
“Deacon Walters,” acknowledged the alien presence with an expectant, booming hiss. “What do you have for me today?”
The tiny man in the stiff brown suit pointed to the boy he held in his arms. “I believe you will be interested in Eighty-seven here. He is neutered, house broken, and has that lovely grey color your clients are so avid about. He’s also very affectionate.”
“Excellent, Deacon, excellent. I’ll take him home with me tonight.” The ten-foot nightmare stomped around in front of the remaining children. “I’d like to pick out one more, if I might.”
“Of course, my Lord, of course.”
“The pet with the odd eyes – is he ready yet?” The gargoyle looked first at the upturned face in the circle of children, but stopped unexpectedly.
“What is it, angel?”
“I smell something, something sweet,” he bellowed.
“I smell it now too,” confirmed the Deacon. “It’s like perfume.”
The monster raced towards the cages, throwing them into the walls.
Thomas jumped to his feet, pulling an 8mm pistol from his waistband and pointing it at the charging creature. Without any hesitation he pulled the trigger twice.
His eyes wild, the creature stumbled backwards, a dark green blood exploding from a hole in his chest. With a grimace, Thomas pulled the trigger two more times, each bullet burying itself further into the monster’s massive body. The bleeding monster again screeched in pain, clawing at his chest before falling backwards through the portal. Eighty-seven scrambled out of the Deacon’s arms and threw himself into the light. The light disappeared as the bridge between worlds vanished.
The deacon screamed in anguish as he saw the angel he had served so long brought down to mere creature of flesh and blood. He shoved his hands into the air as a symbol of surrender. “Now don’t do anything you’ll regret, mister,” he said to Thomas. “You can’t shoot me like you did that gargoyle – I’m human you know.”
Thomas kept the gun trained on the man six feet in front of him as he slowly looked around the room. “Are you human, Deacon? Are you really? I don’t see any proof of that.” Thomas blasted the remaining two shots into the white shirt of the tiny man. The lovers watched him sink to his knees, dazed by the bewildering turn of events.
“Grab Stephen,” ordered Thomas to Mary Louise as he picked up another child at his feet. They stepped around the dieing man as they headed towards the staircase.
“Don’t leave me here like this,” the blood encrusted man begged helplessly as two of the boys closed in on the fallen.
“What about the others,” asked the young woman, turning towards those left behind. Then she saw them, in the flickering lamplight, the boys beginning to feed upon the face and hands of Deacon Walters.
“Help me, dear God, help me,” he began to scream.
“Okay, I’ll help,” seethed Thomas, striding into the middle of the room and kicking over the oil lantern. As she exited the belfry, Mary Louise saw the floorboards and walls explode into an inferno. “Get used to it,” she called out as she descended the steps, carrying her son in her arms.
As they raced down the stairs the group could see the caretaker in a frenzy now, as his music was reaching a maniacal crescendo. The small man looked up for a moment, first at the group of humans racing out and then at the flames spreading over his head. He took a deep sigh, as if he knew his fate, and returned with to the music he so loved.
As the church’s flames spread, the four humans, now safe on the sidewalk, turned a moment to watch it burning. They stepped back when the belfry, now a ball of fire, fell into the belly of the sanctuary, abruptly ending the gothic, pipe organ music. A plume of smoke, ash, and flame erupted into the night sky, shooting 400 feet into the air.
“It’s going to be a beautiful morning,” the woman whispered to her son before the new family hurried towards home.
micheledutcher - This story came as well from a dream that I went to church and someone stole my baby and held it in the bell tower. I really don't write horror, so I'm glad I got some reaction to this tale. I'm rather known for my stoic sci-fi. Thanks for commenting! Michele
yuck, sick and twisted!!
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