Dusk approached as Jordan hastily parked his car in the church parking lot. He scrambled up the steps hammering the brass knocker into the sturdy oak door that guarded the main entrance. Moments passed, and Jordan quickly glanced over his shoulder out into the darkening distance. Half of the parking lot faded into darkness as the last fragments of sun illuminated the cars closest to the church. Jordan shivered, clutching his limber arms against himself even though the air brought the warmth of a midsummer’s day. Suddenly, the door creaked open revealing the body of a portly old man dressed in the robes of a priest. Jordan quickly spun around, his pale skin and darkened eyes still able to convey his relief.
“Father! It’s happening again! I can’t take it anymore”, the teenager slumped into the embrace of the priest in a rehearsed manner. Tears rolled down his cheeks spilling onto the priest’s garb.
“Come Jordan, take rest. You mustn’t worry so much son.” The elder stood Jordan up straight, holding him by the shoulders and looking into Jordan’s deep brown eyes that hid behind gaunt features. “My! You’re getting taller every day aren’t you? Well, your mother’s not feeding you enough. You’re still thin as a rail. Come, come. Let’s not stand out here in the dark too long.”
Standing outside was the last thing Jordan intended on doing. He quickly stepped into the hall as the priest shut the door, fastening a sturdy lock to the door handle. There were few lights left on within, giving the stone pillars and walls a yellow tint. Jordan walked down the blood-red carpet towards the sanctuary. His haste was evident as the priest limped further behind him, unable to keep up. Jordan sat upon the frontmost bench and pulled his cross from underneath his shirt to grasp it in one hand. The priest gasped slightly as he approached. Even the limping took its toll. He gently patted Jordan’s jet black hair before sitting next to him with a groan.
“What was it this time boy? You see that face outside your window again?”. The old man’s blue eyes tightened wearily with concern.
Jordan’s voice quivered slightly as he spoke. “No Father Jensen. I was at the art gallery. They had this exhibition where an artist displayed paintings describing her childhood. The centerpiece in her designated room was all black and white. You couldn’t really tell anything of the background at all, it was very hazy, but things were certainly there.” Jordan’s eyes opened wide at the memory. “But the baby! The contorted face it adorned Father. Uneven shifty eyes, wriggling lips, and teeth bared for the world to see. It was absolutely hideous!.” Jordan buried his hands in his face, slipping his palms into the hollow around his eyes.
“You felt it was”, Father Jensen paused to choose his word carefully,”unnatural?”.
“Yes, I definitely did. The aura I felt in it’s presence…it left me feeling unclean. I can’t shake the thought of it. I’m so sorry to disturb you during the later hours, but I had to….”
Father Jensen cut Jordan off before he could state how desperately he needed the comfort. “Think nothing of it boy. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. Besides, I’m more than happy to help as you already know.”
“It’s only getting worse.” Jordan lifted his head to stare directly into the priests eyes. “Yesterday I dreamt of a large fire, out in the woods. Men were huddled over it, all in blue masks, feeding flesh to the fire. I could hear their grunts and screams; they sounded like animals. Three days ago my mother kept babbling to me about how concerned she was over Tom Smith across the street taking a dip into the pool even though he can’t swim. You heard how he went missing didn’t you?”
“Yes I did.” The priest stroked his chin, deep in thought. “His father sought me out immediately after the fact.” Blood red sunlight seeped through the stained glass high above as the priest spoke. “I don’t know what to tell you Jordan. I’m a priest not keeper of the world’s secrets. However, what I can promise you is I will always be here to listen. I’m not one who thinks much of premonitions, but there are some peculiar coincidences between your ‘feelings’ and real happenings.” Father Jensen spat the word out, indicating his particular distaste for the aura omens provided. “Don’t worry yourself anymore for today. Come, let us pray. Bring your thoughts away from such dark concentrations.”
The two figures stepped to the center of the aisle, their elongated shadows disappeared along with the last glimmers of daylight. Now darkness consumed their surroundings and the high arches of the church faded into the background. The sanctuary remained well lit, highlighting a large wooden cross. They stood in silence to gather their thoughts. After a moment they turned away in unison, a product of much repetition.
“Will you need to stay the night?” Father Jensen asked. Although he already knew the answer.
“Only if that won’t be too much trouble Father”, the boy answered somberly.
“I’ll call your mother then. She’s probably already worrying about you.” The priest headed to the side of the hall flicking several light switches. “Afraid I can’t leave them all on. I don’t think it’s the dark that keeps you up at night anyways.” The main lights over the sanctuary shined brightly, the rest of the space in gloom.
“It doesn’t. I’ll sleep well tonight”, Jordan replied distantly. He had curled up on the bench. Head against the hard wood, just how he preferred it.
“Call me if you need me.” With that the priest left for his quarters, abandoning Jordan to his thoughts.
A tremendous fire raged in the woods. Cats, dogs, squirrels, rats; heaped upon the large logs to feed the flames. The figures in black danced around the flame again, shouting their animal cries. Robes flapped and swayed, directed by wild and limber motion. No coordination could be found in their movements. The wild cries escalated to a high pitch and a fervor came over the group. They danced faster, now circling the flames. Suddenly, a bark erupted through the night. It broke the animal sounds with an air of humanity.
The blue masks quickly formed two lines as a gold mask stepped forward from the edge of the clearing. The bodies in the line stood rigidly straight, then uniformly heads tilted forward to face the ground. On command, each brandished a dagger from beneath their robes, held steady at the waist. Then the gold mask stepped through the line to stand up front by the fire. He kept his back turned to the group, raising his hands perpendicularly in the air. The others bent forward into a full bow. “Truth I seek”, they chanted in unison. The gold mask lowered his hands and the figures stood straight once again.
“Bring him to me”, a voice of ice called out from behind the golden mask.
Several broke rank to disappear into the darkness. They came into view once again, dragging a bound and gagged teenage boy by the rope that secured him. The boys eyes held open in terror and his gagged mouth twitched, but no audible sound came forth. The blue masks held their gaze to the ground as they dumped the boy at the feet of their leader. Then they rejoined the ranks once again, both lines facing forward to the fire. The gold mask took his dagger and started severing the bonds of their prisoner. Next he removed the gag as the stiff body kept the same form, sore from maintaining the same position. After a moment the boy tried to stand up, but immediately a boot slammed down onto his chest, pinning him to the ground. A yelp of pain escaped the boys lips. Immediately the free fist connected with his cheek to silence him. The boy bit his lip till it bled. Too afraid to take such liberties again.
“Name”, the chilling voice demanded. A brief moment of silence was met with a solid stomp upon his chest.
“Thomas Smith!”, the boy screamed out into the night. Tom’s body wriggled helpless under the weight of his holder.
“Crime”, the voice continued with a touch of amusement.
“I…I…I don’t know”, Tom stammered. “I…I swear I haven’t br-broken the law.”
A cackle broke loose from behind the golden mask followed by the howling of his kin behind him. “Wrong answer.” The laughter immediately stopped. “I gave you your chance to repent Mr. Smith. One last chance?”. The question came forth mockingly.
“I…I don’t know.” Tom started mumbling to himself helplessly.
“Treason!”, the words came out in cold blood.
Jordan sprang forward from the church bench, gasping for air. The darkness that precedes dawn maintained the gloom covering the church hall.. Sweat dripped from his forehead as he ran out of the hall, dashing for the priests quarters. “Father Jensen! Father Jensen!”, Jordan yelled loudly whilst rapping hard on the door. No answer. Jordan knocked with all his might and a groaning sound emanated from behind the door.
“What is it boy?”, a voice groggily called.
“Father Jensen, we don’t have time!”, Jordan screamed desperately on the other side. The priest hastily dressed himself before finally opening the door. “You really should be sleeping”, the elderly man complained. “I promised your mother you would get a good rest tonight.”
“Forget that!”, Jordan abruptly blurted. “I saw him in my dream. I saw Tom Smith. I saw Tom Smith!” Jordan pranced around in his heated excitement. The priest calmly gazed at him with much patience.
“Calm down now.” The priest placed a firm hand on his shoulder and guided him towards the bench once again. “Now leaving all the dancing behind, tell me what you saw.” Father Jensen furrowed his brows in a stern manner.
“I saw the blue masks again. The same fire, the same woods. They were throwing animals on the fire just like I told you before. ‘Cept this time they had a prisoner with them. Tom Smith!” Jordan nearly hopped out of his seat in agitation.
The priest sternly gripped the boy by the shoulder again. “Boy”, he said in a raised voice, “I’m not going to tell you again.” Jordan held still, his eyes sparkling with fervor. “Did you see anything else?”
The boy nodded rapidly without leaving his feet. “They beat him up pretty good. And they were all armed. Daggers, I think. If this is actually happening Father, he could be in grave danger.”
Father Jensen adorned a weary gaze once again. “Don’t be hasty Jordan. I’m sure there aren’t any raving lunatics in the woods anywhere near he-”
“No! You’re wrong”, Jordan shouted to cut him off. Father Jensen jumped, taken aback by Jordan’s harsh tone. “I’m going to find him, even if you’re too stubborn to come with me”, Jordan continued coldly.
Father Jensen’s face melted with pity and concern. “Please Jordan, the lack of sleep is getting to you. Why don’t you take some rest. Perhaps a blanket will help?”
“No it won’t”, Jordan shrieked in frustration. He ruffled his jet black hair in his hands and dashed for the door.
“Wait! Where are you going?” The elderly priest stumbled after him as fast as he could, but Jordan slammed the door behind him before Father Jensen crossed the third bench.
It was dark once again. Two beams of light shined down the road as Jordan sped past the outskirts of town. Truth be told, he didn’t know where he was going. He had spent all day driving aimlessly, occasionally stopping for gas when necessary. He didn’t bother to eat or drink. He only had one thought on his mind. Finding Tom Smith.
Jordan checked his dashboard again to take a mental note of the fuel gauge. A flashing light on the adjacent seat distracted him. His mother had called repeatedly throughout the day leaving voice messages and even texting him once. In resigned fashion Jordan switched his phone off. Talking to his mother wouldn’t change his current predicament. She would only babble on about how concerned she was and that he should go home, Jordan thought to himself. “No one gets it. They all think I’m some sort of lunatic or something.”Then the calming image of Father Jensen reached Jordan’s conscience. The old priest didn’t fully take Jordan’s word, but he listened to every word of it.
The road was absolutely empty, covered by lines of trees on both sides. Jordan spent the other half of the day fruitlessly searching the Northern outskirts of town. It took an additional two hours before he reached town, refueled, and then continued South to search the only other wooded area he could think of. Jordan didn’t really know what he was looking for. That thought plagued him throughout the day as he drove endlessly. “Do I actually think I’m going to spot anything deeper into the woods from my car on the road?”, Jordan had kept thinking to himself. The same thoughts hammered through his conscience once again as he pulled over to the side of the road.
Tears streaked down his face as Jordan smacked his head forcefully into the steering wheel. “No! No, no, no! Why can’t you find him. Of course you couldn’t dream about Tom’s location could you!” Jordan groaned in anger, beating his fists onto the window. In response shrill cries echoed from the woods.
Jordan shuddered, quickly ducking down by the pedals to hide out of plain sight. He recognized the voices immediately and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Moments passed and the chaotic rhythm of the calls continued. Huddled in fear, Jordan reached for his cross.
“Pray, give me strength”, Jordan murmured to himself. “Give me courage. The courage needed to save Tom Smith.”
Jordan reluctantly exited the car, staring out into the dark abyss that faced him. Solemnly he followed the trail of the manic voices and hopped the metal barrier to cross into the woods. He didn’t dare to use his phone for light. Who knew if they were watching. Moonlight would be his only guide.
Jordan stumbled through the thick in relative darkness. The moon became hidden behind the shroud of branches around him. Jordan followed the voices, the sounds were getting louder. The animal cries echoed harshly throughout the woods. Finally a hint of yellow snaked through the branches. The fervent cries intensified as Jordan brushed aside a branch to be blinded by a sudden burst of light.
In front of him the familiar fire roared. The same pile of flesh was feeding the flames upon the grand logs that were stacked as a base. Hooded figures danced once again, in their blue masks. Jordan took refuge behind the trunk of a tree, his face barely peeping out towards the clearing before him. The gold masked figure walked forward from the far end of the clearing.
“Order!”, it called in the same chilling voice.
The figures lined up, just as Jordan remembered from his dreams. A chill ran down Jordan’s back as he realized his dreams were true. Despite all his searching a hint of doubt had existed in his mind hoping that his thoughts were merely coincidences. Now the dread of realization flowed through his veins. He reached down his shirt once again, feeling for the cross.
“Give me strength”, he whispered to himself, knees weak and arms trembling. The silent prayer gave Jordan renewed resolve. His eyes glanced over the clearing for any signs of Tom, but he was nowhere to be found. At this time the gold mask approached the fire with his arms raised and back turned.
“Truth I seek”, came the familiar chant of the bowed persons. Then they rose once again as the hands were lowered.
“Bring him to me”, the familiar words were spoken once again.
Jordan watched, petrified, as the battered body of Tom Smith was dragged to the feet of the flames by the ropes that bound him. Jordan desperately wanted to move, to do something, but his fear kept him rooted. The gold mask severed the bonds just like before and removed the gag once again. This time Tom knew better than to make a move.
“Tom Smith. Age 13”, the leader recited mechanically. “Crime treason.”
Tom lay shivering on the ground, biting his lip as hard as he could. Jordan’s fear started to ebb as he realized the urgency of the situation. “I’ve got to do something”, he urged himself.
“Tom Smith your asinine acceptance of the religious faith has made you a traitor to the new world order we here are to establish”, the voice stated in cold blood. “After proper examination”, the voice paused as several members of the audience cackled with sinister amusement. “it has been determined that we cannot rid you of your plagued insights. Therefore we shall sentence you to burn at the stake.”
The cold statement was met with animal cries and raised fists. Tom couldn’t control himself anymore and out of sheer desperation lifted himself off the ground to try to make a run for it. Immediately the gold mask grabbed him by the back of his shirt and stabbed him through the leg with his dagger. A helpless, feeble cry indicated Tom knew it was over. The blue masks ran forth, vicious daggers raised, huddling over the poor boy like a pack of wolves.
Adrenaline pumped freely through Jordan’s veins. His heart pounded through his chest. Without a second thought he bolted. Through the branches, up the hill, out of sight. Jordan ran like never before, without pausing to think or catch his breath. Abruptly a continuous, gurgling shriek pierced the calmness of the night. Jordan shuddered at the thought of flesh charring by the flame as the sound rang out. He reached for his cross underneath his shirt, and kept running.
Cut and bruised from the overhanging branches, Jordan finally reached the edge of the forest. Tremendous fear and survival instincts had made him remember the path. He hopped over the metal barrier and slipped into his car, the engine roaring to life. His breaks screeched as he made a sharp turn at full speed. Then Jordan sped off into the distance.
Two beams of light illuminated the road in front of him as lines of trees flashed past in both directions. He didn’t have to check the dashboard to know he was speeding. He held the steering wheel in one hand, cross in the other. He kept driving without hesitation, watching the mile markers indicating the distance to town. Finally the neon sign for Haverford Inn appeared, indicating the very edge of town. Jordan drifted his car recklessly into the parking lot, his car covering several parking spaces. Jordan flew out of his car, making for the lobby of the inn. A red-haired man in his forties sleepily gazed at a magazine while manning the front desk. He snapped to attention as Jordan burst through the front door.
‘Wow there young fella. Easy now. I don’t want no trouble now. If anybody is chasing you I ain’t keeping you up for the night.” The man outstretched his arms, clearly startled by the sudden commotion.
“Where’s your phone!”, Jordan demanded. The man didn’t move. “I need your phone sir! I just witnessed a murder in the woods. I need to call the police. We need to do something.” The words erupted from Jordan’s mouth.
“Hey! Who said anything about we?” The red-haired man collected himself somewhat, running his fingers over his head. “Witnessed a murder did ya? What the hell happened?”
“Ther-there were men in blue robes. They had this boy, Tom Smith who lives across the street from me, all bound and gagged out there for four days. Did you see the ad in the paper? Well I saw them getting ready to burn him alive!”
“Yeah I seen them ads alright. You better not be rustling my Johnson boy or I’ll have a thing or two to say to you. Lemme talk to my supervisor about this real quick.” The red haired man headed for a door behind the right side of the desk.
“Hurry or it’ll be too late!”, Jordan urgently called after him. Seconds seemed like ages as Jordan leaned over the front desk, impatiently waiting for his return.
A projectile erupted through the rear door, missing Jordan’s head by an inch. Jordan ducked down below the desk as he heard a clicking sound. Then the front desk splintered with a bang as Jordan barely got out of the way, sprinting for the exit door. The gun fired again, shattering glass, as Jordan ran into the parking lot. Something stung his shoulder and he felt the warm trickle of blood down his back. He had no time to look back, but he knew the red-haired man was behind him.
Jordan flashed his keys out of his pocket, unlocking the car doors well in advance. Shots rang off into the night behind him, but Jordan could feel he was gaining significant ground on his pursuer. Jordan hid behind the frame of the car as he fumbled to open the door. He peeped out into the parking lot as he revved the engine to life. There was no sign of the red-haired man. Suddenly, two pairs of headlights shined through the darkness. Jordan hit the accelerator hard.
His car roared as the engine exerted maximum force, jumping the car forward. Jordan didn’t bother to hit the brakes as he knocked over a yield sign to turn onto the main road towards town. In his rear view mirror two cars’ headlights shined back at him in pursuit. Jordan sped for his life, foot never leaving the accelerator. The cars behind were slightly slower, but still close.
The flooding lights of the heart of town came into view, but the roads were deserted as usual per the dead of night. Jordan passed the familiar sign for the road to his house without hesitation. “I’m not safe there”, he thought to himself. One hand clutched the steering wheel, the other hand reached for the cross. The light shining onto the front of his car stood as firm reminder of those in hot pursuit. Jordan abruptly turned left, refusing to hit the brakes. He started his turn early enough to stay on the road. Unfortunately the cars behind did the same.
Jordan sped down the road, focus solely on the path before him. A row of white lights over a parking lot designated the entrance to the church. Jordan flew into the parking lot without hesitation. Without pause he screeched the car to a skidding stop dangerously close to the front door. As Jordan exited, he looked over his shoulder. The cars weren’t stopping.
“Father Jensen don’t fail me.” Jordan slammed his body in desperation against the front door. To his relief, the door swung open as a car smashed into his and the other screeched to a halt beside it. Jordan slammed the door shut and scrambled for it’s lock, snapping it shut onto the door handle.
“I knew you would return tonight”, a familiar voice called out across the hall. Master Jensen limped over as quickly as a man of his age could. “And you brought undesired company.”
Jordan, startled by the man’s calm demeanor, stood petrified before him. He was caught between the priests soothing tone and the fact that cold blooded killers stood outside the door.
“Don’t worry, they won’t come in.” The priest waved a hand in the direction of the door. To prove his point no sounds were heard outside the door.
“How do you know tha-”
The priest responded quickly. “Not the first bunch that tried to dent this church. They’ll know better than to draw too much attention to themselves. Stone and oak don’t break too easily.”
Jordan wasn’t completely convinced and ran towards the sanctuary, getting as far away from the door as possible. The first streams of light erupted through the stained glass high above, breaking dawns silence. The priest simply pulled down two metal bars, holding them parallel to the handles of the door and then fastening them.
“Tom Smith is dead”, Jordan cried. “They murdered him! Burnt him over the fire, out in the woods. I watched it with my own two eyes. Well…I fled before they actually put him over the flames.” Jordan’s somber tone marked his regret at not being able to do more.
Jordan relayed the eerie continuation between his dream and the occurrences of the past night to the priest as he walked down the aisle to him. Father Jensen never shifted his gaze from the front door as he stood next to Jordan.
“They killed him for treason. Being a religious man means treason I guess”, John spat through gritted teeth.
The Father motioned the sign of the cross at those words. “I never thought it would come to this.” The priest’s voice sounded distant. “The day in a modern age when this church would serve as my castle.”
“Let the lord of the castle give me strength. For the war has begun”, he continued.
The figures stood in silence as they prayed before the sanctuary.
*The featured image is the church directly across the street from my apartment. I can see it from my front steps. I simply snapped a photo as I was walking home from dinner. I thought it would be fun to let my imagination run wild. 18 pages and 7 hours later my story came to life.