I don’t remember what I wore Or who sat next to me I don’t remember who cried more And who came just to see
I don’t remember hymns they played The readings that were read Or why he paused before he said That you weren’t really dead
I just remember how you looked When you slept next to me The Sunday dinners that you cooked And how you sipped your tea Those corny jokes you always told Which rarely made me laugh How next to you I looked so old In every photograph
I don’t remember telling you To leave me all alone
I don’t remember telling you I’d be fine on my own
The figure on the mountain knew Far higher than the eagle flew Beyond the sun and past the light Were men who crossed the sky by night. Soon after dusk their fires appeared Then slowly, once a course was steered Their caravan set out en masse To make its empyreal pass.
Like beasts migrating on the plains Like swarms that form to greet the rains He found no word for the amount Of travelers he sought to count. A gallery would pass him by Whose outlines seemed to signify Proud emblems of a noble clan Led by an even a greater man.
The bearing, always east to west Suggested they were on a quest Or maybe searching for a door They’d passed through in a time before. Each night the figure danced and prayed Around the fire he had made In hope his kin might see its glow And teach him all he wished to know.
Then with the last beat from his breast Great Spirit granted this request And drew his outline in the sky That men as he should never die
Should I love you? Take hold of you? Our first kiss would be your last Blood pulsating Seeping, sating Taking more than I had asked. This lifeless life out of the sun Exiled from God’s own plan Its beastly feast that’s fit for none Was not how I began. Still, you near me Don’t you fear me? I can suck you into hell No I’ll leave you Let me grieve you In that place where monsters dwell
Father Marc assumed his usual seat in the front pew of St Jude Church and unfastened his collar. Each evening after mass the old Jesuit liked to collect his thoughts for several minutes before extinguishing the candles and clearing the altar. His church had a cheery interior by day but sunset draped a grey cowl over the building which he didn’t like, entombing everyone and everything inside. Now peering into the shadowy recesses around him, he decided he’d turn on more lights for evening mass, even in summer.
In a grotto to the left of the altar stood a life-sized statue of The Virgin Mary, illuminated by several rows of red offertory candles. Earlier in the day an elderly parishioner had brought in a dozen crimson roses from her garden and asked if she might lay them at the statue’s feet. In the flickering candlelight the carefully arranged blossoms created a dramatic effect against the white linen which he now believed merited closer inspection. Genuflecting before the altar, he followed the raised marble railing which led to the grotto.
Father Marc gingerly lowered himself onto the wooden prayer kneeler before The Virgin. He could remain thus only briefly before his knees locked and he leaned forward to transfer some of his body weight onto the wooden book rest. The solitary figure studied the statue’s expression and thought she looked more melancholy than he remembered, while The Virgin’s gaze never wavered from the front entrance to the church. Reaching over the rows of offertory candles, Father Marc selected one of the roses to enjoy its scent but discovered it had none. Disappointed, he replaced it and began counting the number of offertory candles lit that day by the hopeful.
Nineteen… no, twenty. Will there be $20 in the donations box, I wonder? I doubt those three little monkeys threw in anything.
A deep, sinister chuckle rose from within the shadows behind him at this last remark. Father Marc tensed and the hair stood up on his arms; he was not alone. For a moment he thought he’d unknowingly locked in a straggler but dismissed the idea just as quickly. Every instinct told him this was not a believer. The laugh was not human.
“Let me blow those out for you, Father,” came the low, menacing snarl. “You know me… I prefer to work in the dark.”
This time the guttural growl came from much closer yet he’d heard no footsteps. His blood froze and his knees were now on fire as he tried to stand without success. Bracing his arms against the book rest, he looked to The Virgin for guidance but her gaze was fixed upon what was now approaching.
Help me, Blessed Virgin. What has come into my church?
“She can’t hear you, you fool!” the voice snapped angrily. “But I’m listening to your every thought.” It then softened in tone but couldn’t conceal an underlying rage. “Don’t be afraid. I’ve journeyed a long way to find you.”
In one final effort Father Marc managed to get to his feet and turned around but saw no one. The church appeared empty but he knew this was not the case because every nerve in his body screamed he was in mortal danger. Whatever was hiding was playing a game. Waiting. Watching.
“I need to make a confession,” the voice whined mockingly. “I’m about to revert to my old ways and you wouldn’t want that, now would you? Won’t you come in and join me? I really don’t want to have to come out there and get you,” it hissed.
At that moment the light above the confessional door lit up, giving the cleric a start. It was in there waiting for him. Father Marc took a tentative step towards the confessional then stopped. As a Jesuit he’d been trained not to fear evil and although every instinct was telling him to flee this was not an option. Whatever had entered his church had no right being there and he grew angry, not only at this act of defilement but its sheer audacity. As his anger grew, so did his resolve. All the years of training now took over and he advanced slowly forward.
Blessed Mother, stay with your poor servant.
“It’s only you I want for now, Father,” the voice threatened. “I’ll deal with her later.”
Father Marc was no longer listening to the demon behind the door. Whispering the Act of Contrition, he was imagining what God looked like. He hoped his creator would be forgiving and reward him for what he was about to face in his name. The priest also wondered where God was at this very moment. Was he watching events here on Earth? Was this a test? Was the plan to intercede at the last moment and then reward him for his faith? His mind now racing, he hadn’t noticed that the sun had now set, plunging the church into total darkness except for the candlelit grotto and the ominous light above the confessional door.
His knees no longer hurt and he’d regained control over his breathing. The only sound was the loose change in his pocket which rattled with every step. He tried to visualise the demon that lay in wait for him and how best to fight it, fully aware the odds did not favour an old man. Martyrdom seemed inevitable and the priest accepted his fate as many others had before him, while his mind continued to release thousands of memories, one of which was a prayer his grandfather had taught him:
Aronhiate, onne aonstaniouas taitenr
“You don’t know which gods to call upon, do you?” the fiend tormented him. “How pleased do you think they’ll be to learn you’ve been playing them off against each other all these years? If you’re afraid now, wait until they get hold of you…”
When Father Marc arrived at the confessional the light above the door went out. Maintaining his composure, he pulled a plastic lighter from his shirt pocket and flicked it. He listened for any type of sound coming from inside the confessional but the church was shrouded in silence as if every living thing was hiding and holding its breath. His left temple ached and his stomach was turning.
God have mercy on my soul.
He reached for the door handle but his right hand stopped short and hovered above it, shaking, while the small flame from his lighter continually rose and fell, threatening to abandon him at any moment. Scarcely breathing, he silently closed his grip on the door handle and was about to turn it when he had a revelation.
It’s behind me.
Before he could turn around Father Marc was set upon. The old cleric was seized from behind and hurled across the church, landing in a broken heap beside the grotto. Disoriented and bleeding badly, he was again raised off the ground and slammed face down into the prayer kneeler before The Virgin. He clung onto the book rest with the last of his strength, realising this was where his enemy wanted him. Daring to open his eyes, he tried to focus but all he could make out was a pool of blood at the feet of The Virgin where the roses had once been.
“We need to talk, old man,” rasped the voice, its breathing now heavy and laboured. “It’s coming and I know you feel it too which explains that prayer.”
Father Marc couldn’t speak but he knew his thoughts were no longer his own. He also knew these were to be his last moments on Earth, a prospect which now filled him with joy because he was ready to meet his god.
You thought it was me, that’s why you came here.
“Yes, I now know you were only a diversion, a fatal mistake on your part.”
We all have roles to play and I’ve played mine.
“I’m getting closer each time, Father.”
Time is against you. It’s started and you can’t stop it. No one can.
“I can make one night last a thousand years,” the demon reminded the Jesuit, “or have you forgotten that?”
Raging it had wasted time pursuing the wrong quarry, the fiend had nonetheless gleaned vital information in its race to find answers, but it didn’t like being mocked and Father Marc would pay dearly for his defiance. All promises of mercy were now forgotten as the demon snapped the priest’s head back, breaking his neck, before bearing down for the final, frenzied attack upon Mary’s poor servant.
Should you happen upon these pages, Dear Reader, you will acquaint yourself with the final remembrances of a life – my life – which is no longer of any consequence to those who mattered most to me. For the record, I was christened Anne, branding me with the same scarlet stain borne by my mother, who died in childbirth. My father’s name I know not, nor was it ever a matter of record, which resulted in my being spirited away under a veil of shame to an orphanage on the very day I first drew breath. I am told I have a sister three years my elder, but Providence has never guided her along the path I have travelled, which, I suppose, has spared her the shame of having to acknowledge our kinship. Yet, I should have liked to look upon her face just the once, if only to discern even the slightest resemblance to the beloved sibling who appears every night in my dreams. But dreams are not to be trusted, for they ease the torment of not knowing with trickery, filling in gaps where there ought to be knowledge, lending convenient falsehoods which soothe the conscience, unperturbed, until morning.
I am Anne, not yet twelve years of age; this is all I can confirm to you.
My life as an orphan could not have been more wretched, even if I had been sent to the colonies where men feed upon the flesh of other men and fail to know their Maker. It is not the lark which wakes us each morning, but the birch across our faces in cold darkness, accompanied by the dull ache of hunger. Our tormentors squeal with delight at our sufferings as they watch us wince and stumble with fatigue, a weariness which pushes downward with such force that some are unable to straighten and walk upright until mid-day.
Today – my final outing on this Earth – I was not permitted even to see the sun, let alone feel its radiance. When I climbed up to the only window within reach, I discovered that it had been smeared with grease, so as to blur the comings and goings of those on the other side. I cried, but without tears, for they too have abandoned me, reducing my anguish to a whisper and little else, as even my breath fails to serve. For you see, I am these days, breathless, due to incessant coughing which knocks at my chest with the force of a blacksmith’s hammer. I know what it is that has come for me – I know. From the look of panic among those who cannot hide their horror, to the countenance of quiet resignation which stares back at me from the darkened window. Without mercy, a malady burrows deeper and deeper into the soft, delicious flesh of my lungs; its hunger insatiable, its progress relentless.
So now, Dear Reader, as my spent candle’s tiny light beckons me to follow it into darkness, I must to bed for the final sleep. I lay me down with a heavy heart for it is without friends, without family and without having told my sister how much I love her. I can see her now… Esther (for I have named her) is trying to find me as I write this, but the race is now over without the prize being claimed.
To my sister, I offer my heart. To this life, I offer myself. To My Maker, I offer my soul. Remember me – I am Anne.
My dog has died and no one cares I mention him but this draws stares And frowns which tell me I’m too old To mourn a pet, or so I’m told. Empty corners, bare floor Room before but now we’ve more Toys donated, bed gone No more divots in the lawn. Coming home, a rusty gate Announces me and though I wait No rocket launches down the path To knock me down and make me laugh. Quiet mealtimes, no one begs Or nuzzles gently at my legs Knowing that, in time, of course I’ll Slip him the odd, tender morsel. Day is done, I climb the stair And reach the top but he’s not there I pray for sleep – those loving scenes When he runs to me in my dreams.