I wince as I shut the car-door. My coffee cup jitters in my hand. It doesn’t usually do that but in the middle of a sleepless night, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised.
Still, I am. Or maybe just ‘off’. I’ve been here dozens of times to climb around and generally desecrate the place, and with a can of beer no less. Yet this time, a simple stroll on a warm night with a cappuccino feels like a brazen transgression.
We love this place. While renovated, the long Gothic-style church hasn’t changed much in eighty years. In the middle of the night, the only time you’re certain to avoid parishioners,priests, and police alike, there’s just enough light to illuminate the façade and the grounds and make you feel like you’ve wandered right onto a page of Lord of the Rings.
“Wow, look what they’ve done with the garden!” Katy whispers, still a little too loud for my nerves. I hang back in the empty parking lot.
It’s not long before I decide I’d rather not stand alone in the fog and I trot towards her.
Katy is probably the only person besides me who likes to come here and just look. Usually if anyone else mentions going to the church it’s to hide out on the buttresses, complaining about work and swearing. Then we’d scare the hell out of each other by pointing out shadows, pretending to hear noises. The silhouette in the upper window, the grizzly tall figure behind the trees, the gate lifted from the bolts…
This is what we thought of hallowed ground. These are all the things I’m seeing, even now. I suppose those spur-of-the-moment, imagined ghost stories were thriving in my head, unnoticed. Still, they’re memories to smile at.
These were our summer adventures, and they happen seldom now. It’s been months. It feels good to just wander quietly with an old friend.
Except for the strange tension that weighs on me this time. All I can think of in the moment is that, somehow, it doesn’t seem nearly as ‘lonely’ as usual.
I lead us down to the lake, consciously trying to avoid the main building – the façade, the windows, the trees, the dark spaces. I forget how big this place is sometimes. Katy talks at the black water and says how she’d love to live on a lake like this someday. Maybe her rich husband will make that dream come true. I mention I prefer hills to all these trees. She definitely prefers the trees. I’ve heard about half of what she’s said. I keep looking over my shoulder.
“What is wrong with you?” she shakes her head at me, beckoning me back up the hill. I follow her, take a few steps into the labyrinth, my hands shoved into my pockets. She points.
“The way that pot is sitting over there it looks like a woman sitting on the steps…”
I turn around to head back down the ramp. She grabs me by the shoulder and spins me around, flashes me a smile that says she does understand and is done exacerbating my nerves.
I exhale. In the soft moonlight, the place really is beautiful. The bell-tower reaches up and punctures the night, the moon balanced atop, full and yellow. The masonry breathtaking, windows beautifully carved, perfectly spaced, and the lights inside…
“Those aren’t usually on, are they?”
“Stop it,” I say.
“No, really. And…” We step onto a dais, lined with marble memorials. We’ve never been able to decide if it’s an actual mortuary or not. I think so.
“Oh God, now what?” I whisper, listening. All I hear is the sound of huge air-conditioners chugging to life. She lets out a breath in recognition.
“Geez,” she says. “Of course the creepy noises would wait until we get to the actually creepy spot with dead people.”
I chuckle. Knowing I’m not alone diffuses the tension a little.
“Are you good?” I ask.
That’s disappointing. “You want to stay?”
“I’ll stay. You want to stay?”
The night air suddenly roars to life with the sound of massive doors being pulled opened. Behind it pours the unmistakable tolling of church bells and a hundred voices without bodies spilling into the garden. I leave her behind as we run through the trees, trying not to scream, tripping over shadows and into the emptiness.
©2012 Lyle Enright
Lyle Enright is a prospective graduate student and writer for Relief Journal. He has published a number of articles and stories with both Relief and Catapult Magazine, examining the intersections of faith and culture without “sanitizing reality.” He does, however, enjoy it when reality bends out of proportion and is always looking for ways to inflict the darker side of his imagination on others who share in the same guilty pleasures. Especially this piece, considering it’s all true (wink). When he’s not studying or paying for school, Lyle is also an aspiring novelist, and his fiction and poetry have won numerous awards from his alma mater’s fine arts community.