I was alone tonight. Everyone else was too fearful of what lurked 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 did nothing to light the dingy streets allowing the rats to dine freely on curbside trash. This is no place for a lady to be alone. This wasn’t even a place for the damned.
In the distance, I saw faint lights from the church window. People making a pilgrimage and singing hymns were coming from the east. My instincts were telling me to run, but I pressed on. I need the saving grace so I may be at peace again.
I fell in line with the pilgrims trying to sing along. But I don’t know this hymn. Even they were singing in English, I couldn’t follow along. I checked my pocket for my travel pyx. It was there. Breaking away from the group, I needed to find the priest. He had to bless the host the pyx is carrying.
“Excuse me, sir,” I asked when I finally found 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 startled me. Though his face looks to be thirty, the lines around his mouth give him away.
My hand shook as I handed him the pyx. I didn’t want him to touch me. My instincts were screaming, burning. However, it was too late. “Could you?”
He opens it. “My dear, there is nothing in here for me to bless.”
“No, no, no, no.” I panicked. “This was all for naught. I could have died. It has to be here.”
The filth that filled the streets lingered at the church gates. I heard them calling for me.
“There’s no need to fret. We have plenty of the body for you to take.” He closed the pyx in my hand.
I almost dropped 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 it.
“Guess I’ll be a vampire tonight,” I manage to say before he leaves the room.
Somehow 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 prayed. “Not now.”
The pilgrims were lining up for their blessing, each one with his mouth opened hungrily, waiting for the host to be slipped onto his tongue. My crossed arms confuse the assistant. She furrowed her brow when I refused it. The priest waves me over to the bloodline, the stares that I receive 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 them, all I can see is the priest wearing the most devilish grin. What have I done?
Waking up in my bed, I’m unable to move. People whispered all around me, I felt the covers shift, but it was not of my doing. I was experiencing sleep paralysis. A hand slides under the sheet and grips my toes. I manage to kick it away, finally free of the paralysis. The whispering stops. A flurry and a haze surrounded me. It won’t allow me to see who has violated my sleep.
By five am. I fall back into a deep slumber. Months have gone by, and I have been separated from my friends. They have allowed me to watch the news, unknowingly allowed me to keep track of my own case. My friends had told the police where I had gone, but no one would listen to them. The church was a pillar community, the police said, the church had nothing to do with my disappearance. I was a troubled soul. I would fade 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 went 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 tried six different times before throwing the thing against the wall. Just to spite me, it landed upright. The woman returned and boxed my ears for the outburst. I couldn’t understand what she said, so she grabbed me by the collar and dragged me with her. “Wait here,” she ordered, going into another room.
The door clicked shut. Down the hall, I can see there is no one at the front door. Now was my chance to run. I took 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 clambered under a barbed wire fence and into the woods. Mud was caked onto my face, and blood leaked from ragged holes left by thorns, but I couldn’t stop to tend to anything. I heard a road in the distance. Hidden behind a tree, I waited until I saw a car come by. However, it didn’t stop. I doubted it even saw me at the speed it was going. I could feel a panic attack coming. I couldn’t succumb to it now. Not when freedom is so close. I saw a blue car coming, and I stepped out in front of it. The headlights flashed at me to get out of the road, but I didn’t move. It slammed on the brakes, and the people inside were jostled around. Steam rises from the burning engine below the hood.
“Holy shit,” the driver yells as he gets out of the car. “Alex?”
“Brian?” I collapse onto the road.
I woke up in the back seat with a strange girl staring at me. Chris and Brian were in the front seat. They kept checking in on me. My mind was groggy when I tried to listen, but it took a while before I could make out any words. The first clear thing I heard was the stranger asking. “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 addressed 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 said. “We should keep going.”
“No. I want to go to that church” I pointed 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 kept quiet as we pulled into the parking lot. I rummaged through the trunk and found my purse under Chris and Brian’s sports coats which I retrieved, handing to each of them.
“You two are ridiculous” I laughed 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 said, throwing my purse back in the car. “Those fuckers took my rosary,”
“Can you go in without it?” asked Chris leading the way.
“I have to.”
We enter the church, and immediately I’m filled with dread. We were ushered into a glass room above the altar where the priest was talking to the congregation. He looks up and greets me with a wicked smile. The women and men in the room stare as I cross myself with holy water. It hissed.
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.