Listen to your elders

They have always said to stay away from the abandoned Sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel especially after dark… especially on all hallow’s eve… especially the cemetery. Nobody knew why it sat deserted. Rumor said that one night the priests and nuns it housed disappeared without a trace. Nobody knew where they went; not even the Bishop. Most teenagers of Clifton Falls, that knew everything and rarely heeded the warnings of their parents, avoided it. I chose that night to break that tradition.

I was still trailblazing when the crimson sun retreated behind the tree covered mountains in the west. Darkness swept over the land like someone laid a black blanket over the valley. I found myself regretting the decision to go alone. It was not fear but the realization that I could easily trip, fall, or worse… get lost. I knew I was closer to the Sanctuary than I was to the safety of the town. I chose to continue with a flashlight in hand.

It was another five minutes before I reached the Sanctuary. In the dark, I did not see it until my beam struck it. It stood before me with trees twisted around it after the decades since the last sermon. I was at the façade and it loomed over me. In the past, a pair of solid carved wooden doors greeted visitors. Now, the elements had sanded them and the once intricate carvings were no more than faint outlines. One door had fallen off its hinges and rested on the moss-covered steps.

Looking up, the wall ascended into the darkness and a pair of sinister-looking gargoyles glared down at me; ready to pounce. The solid brick wall featured cracks and crumbling mortar. They threatened to collapse and I was sure they would soon. The stories said that the Sanctuary featured stunning stained-glass windows that were a wonder to behold. Only barren openings in the wall gave evidence to where they once were.

I stepped over the fallen door and walked through the façade and into the worship area. A musty smell greeted me. To my left and right, I saw rotting wooden pews. A few still stood but many had collapsed. It was clear that someone looted everything that had value. The floors were finely polished hardwood but time turned them into rotting timbers. Holes in the floor revealed the dark abyss of the basement.

I heard a noise that sounded like the flapping of wings. I pointed the light towards the ceiling and saw dozens of beady eyes staring at me. A bolt of lightning shot through my body and it tingled. Bats. It looked as if they were ready to head out for the night.

The bats roosted on the bare wood beams where the plaster shattered and fell to the floor. The ceilings were at one time painted white with murals. They were dirty gray with spots of mold and the murals had faded and were just discolored splotches. I carefully walked to one side of the chamber as to not startle the bats.

I found the confessionals and one of them was ajar. I gently pushed it open. The alcove was empty except for a small seat and a set of prayer beads on the floor. I am not sure why but I picked the beads up and placed them in my pocket.

Towards the front, I found a door that led to a set of stairs. I began to climb them and as I turned the corner, I had to stop. The ceiling had collapsed and a pile of rotten timber and dark grey sheets of slate blocked my path. I realized that I could have spent the whole night exploring the Sanctuary and decided to go where I had intended from the start: the cemetery.

If the state of the Sanctuary had not put fear in my soul, the cemetery did. Unlike the Sanctuary, neither trees nor weeds took hold in the confines of the wrought iron fence that surrounded it. The only sign of life was the granite slabs memorializing the passing of its occupants; some of whom were there since before the founding of the country. A lone mausoleum stood as a sentinel over the markers.

I passed through the gates and walked up to it. I tried to open the doors but failed. Its twisted iron doors had long been frozen shut with rust. I heard something. I could not tell what it was because it was close to being inaudible. I searched the area and failed to find the source.

Disappointed, I turned to leave the cemetery and back to my warm bed. Right before reached the gate, the hairs on the back of my neck quivered. A loud screeching noise broke the silence that had surrounded me. I slowly turned to see the door to the mausoleum open.

“Hello?” I called out but there was no answer.

I found myself entering the mausoleum to find it was empty. There was only a set of marble stairs heading down into the darkness. The noise was louder and it sounded like chanting to me. It came from below. I should have fled. Instead, I went down.

At the bottom of the stairs, there was a small room lit with candles. An upside-down crucifix hung on the far wall. Dark figures sat motionless on ornate marble benches. The chanting was loud however, I could not understand the language. I approached one of the figures that wore a habit. I jumped when I came face to face with her desiccated face. She held a set of prayer beads.

Then, I realized that I held the prayer beads I placed in my pocket earlier. The iron door above slammed shut. I was not afraid and my fingers instinctively ran the beads through them. I sat next to the figure and joined the chanting in the alien language.

 

 

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