I’m alone tonight. Everyone else is too fearful of what lurks in the shadows, but I was told I could be healed if I found the church. The Vatican had even confirmed its powers. The gas lamps do nothing to light the dingy streets. Rats freely dine on curbside trash. This is no place for a lady to be alone. This isn’t even a place for the damned.
In the distance, I see the faint lights from the church window. Coming from the east, people are making a pilgrimage and singing hymns. My instincts are telling me to run, but I press on. I need the saving grace so I may be at peace again.
I fall in line with the pilgrims and try to sing along. But I don’t know this hymn, they are singing in English, but I can’t follow along. I check my pocket for my travel pyx. It’s there. Breaking away from the group, I need to find the priest. He has to bless the host that the pyx is carrying.
“Excuse me, sir,” I say when I finally find him in the sacristy.
“Yes, Miss?” He turns to me with wet hands and a cloth hanging over both his wrists.
The priest's smile startles me. Though his face looks to be thirty, the lines around his mouth give him away.
My hand shakes as I hand him the pyx. I don’t want him to touch me. My instincts are screaming and burning, but it’s too late. “Could you?”
He opens it. “My dear, there is nothing in here for me to bless.”
“No, no, no, no. It has to be here.” I panic. This was all for naught. I could have died.
The filth that fills these streets linger at the church gates. I hear them calling for me.
“There’s no need to fret. We have plenty of the body for you to take. ” He closes the pyx in my hand.
I almost drop it. The inlaid cross started burning into my hand. “But I can’t. I need the ones the Benedictine sisters have made.”
The music rose from the sanctuary. Mass was about to begin, and I was going to be left without salvation. I knew without it. I would succumb to those waiting and wailing.
“We will be offering the blood tonight.” He pointed to the tray waiting for the altar assistants to take.
“I’ll be a vampire tonight,” I manage to say before he leaves the room.
Through the thick heat, I shiver. With every single word spoken, my third eye feels like it’s about to rip open. “Not here,” I pray. “Not now.”
The pilgrims line up for their blessing, each one with his mouth open hungrily, waiting for the host to be slipped onto his tongue. My crossed arms confuse the assistant. She furrowed her brow when I refuse it. The priest waves me over to the bloodline, and the stares that I get from the pilgrims burn into me.
He offers me the cup, and I drink. With closed eyes, my nerves still, and the peace I've been searching for is finally near. When I open, all I can see is the priest wearing the most devilish grin.
What have I done?
I woke up in my bed, unable to move. People were whispering all around me, and I feel the covers shift, but it's not of my doing. I’m experiencing sleep paralysis. A hand slides under the sheet and grips my toes. I manage to kick it away, finally free of the paralysis, and the whispering stops. There is a flurry around me and a haze that won't allow me to see who has violated my sleep. It's five am. I fall back into slumber. Months have gone by, and I have been separated from my friends. They have allowed me to watch the news, and I have been kept track of my own case. They told the police where I had gone, but no one would listen to them. The church was a pillar community, they said, and had nothing to do with my disappearance. I was a troubled soul, and I faded away with the rest of the street riffraff.
“Girl!” A middle-aged woman snaps at me. “You have work to do.”
I turned the t.v. off and go back to the nursery. I was still trying to assemble a strange cradle for the child I was carrying. The instructions were clear: ensure the base is secured and slip the cover over the ends; If correct, the hammock bed will support the newborn's head. I try six different times before throwing the thing against the wall. Just to spite me, it lands upright.
The woman returns and boxes my ears for the outburst. I can’t make out what she’s saying, so she grabs me by the collar and drags me with her.
“Wait here,” she orders as she goes into another room.
The door clicks shut. Down the hall, I can see there is no one at the front door. It’s my chance to run. I take it.
A girl in the orchard stops picking her apples as I fly past her. “He’ll be devastated,” she calls after me. “ You were his favorite.”
Through a meadow and a thicket, I make my way to freedom. I clamber under a barbed wire fence and into the woods. Mud is caked onto my face, and blood leaks from ragged holes left by thorns, but I can’t stop to tend to anything. I hear a road in the distance.
I hide behind a tree until I see a car come, but it doesn’t stop. I doubt it even saw me at the speed it was going. I can feel a panic attack coming. I can’t succumb to it now. Not when freedom is so close. I see a blue car coming, and I step out in front of it. The headlights flash at me to get out of the road, but I don’t move. It slams on the brakes, and the people inside are jostled around. Steam rises from the burning engine below the hood.
“Holy shit!” the driver says as he gets out of the car. “Alex?”
“Brian?” I collapse onto the road.
I wake up in the back seat with a strange girl looking at me. Chris and Brian are in the front seat, and they keep checking in on me.
My mind is groggy as I try to listen, but it takes a while before I’m able to make out any words. the thing I can hear is the stranger saying. “Is this the girl that ran away from the convent?”
“I was never in a fucking convent.” I leaned against the door, trying to put as much distance between us as possible.
She searches through her phone and holds up the picture to me. “We have to take her back.”
“Bagel," I say, addressing Brian by his nickname, "who is she?”
“Who’s, Bagel?” The stranger asks, disgusted by the nickname.
“You’re obviously new here, so shut the fuck up.” I was starting to experience sharp, knife-like pains in my womb. “What were you guys doing here?”
“The police wouldn’t come near this place," Chris answered, "so when they stopped looking, we took a chance."
I leaned over in between the front seats and hugged both their heads. Tears ran down my cheeks, but I knew I wasn’t free yet. The way this girl was glaring at me made me want to punch her in the face and kick her out of the moving car.
“Do you have my things?” I ask them.
“We only found your purse,” Brian told me, looking in the rearview mirror. “It’s in the trunk.”
“Seriously, you both are amazing.”
We drive for an hour before I yell at them to stop.
“There’s nothing here,” the girl says. “We should keep going.”
“No. I want to go to that church.” I point to the west.
She sucks air through her teeth. “I thought you didn’t come from a convent.” “Listen, bitch. If I hear one more thing from you, I’ll smash your head in with the seat belt.”
She obeys and keeps quiet as we pull into the parking lot. I rummage through the trunk and find my purse under Chris and Brian’s sports coats which I retrieve and hand to each of them.
“You two are ridiculous.” I laugh as they put them on.
They were both wearing board shorts and branded t-shirts. “We make it look good,” Brain says, striking a pose with his sunglasses.
“I can’t find it,” I say, throwing my purse back in the car. “Those fuckers took my rosary.”
“Can you go in without it?” Chris asks as he leads the way.
“I have to.”
We enter the church, and I’m immediately filled with dread. We are ushered into a glass room above the altar where the priest is talking to the congregation. He looks up and greets me with wicked smiles. The women and men in the room staring as I cross myself with holy water. It hisses.
There are stairs in the front of the room leading into the dark. As I start to ascend them, I know it’s not safe. I know it's where nightmares are held.