The Church (From the collection of short stories and poems entitled Enter the Dark)
We heard the stories from the older kids in our neighborhood about the old church at the end of our road. They told us it was haunted by the spirit of a pastor who had been cursed by an old witch and turned into a wolf. He had supposedly killed and eaten all of the children in his congregation. They said at night you could see his bright red eyes peering out of the church windows or doors and hear his terrible howl from inside the church where his spirit was bound for eternity, longing for the taste of human flesh. We just laughed it off a bit nervously and told them we didn’t believe their stories. Then they dared us to go see for ourselves. Now bound by the middle school honor code of dares we were obligated.
One Saturday night when my cousin Mike was spending the night, we decided to go check it out. My parents were out celebrating a birthday or anniversary with their friends (I can’t remember which), and our “babysitter” was the neighbor's 17 year old daughter Emily. She could care less what we were up to as long as we stayed out of sight and she could have a telephone in one hand and a TV remote in the other.
We gathered all the things we would need from the shed out back and hid them in a ditch beside the house; bug spray, flashlights, and a couple of t-ball bats. Then we went inside to watch a little TV and play some Tecmo Bowl. We waited until an hour after bedtime to make our move. Mike snuck down the hallway to see what the Emily was doing while I slid the window open.
Emily was on the phone with her sister drooling over a rerun of Beverly Hills 90210. The coast was clear so we hopped out of my bedroom window into the back yard, gathered our supplies and followed the ditch to the field behind the house until we were safely out of sight.
The old church was only a 1/4 of a mile down the road from my house, but there was a path through the woods that came out about 50 yards from the gate, allowing us to bypass the road and avoid anyone who may see a couple of pre-adolescent boys walking down the road after 11 pm carrying flashlights and bats.
The path itself resembled a deer trail more than a human path and it widened and narrowed as it wound its way through the woods. Vines hung from the trees and sometimes would tickle the top of our heads as we walked. Along the ground small briars picked and pulled at our socks.
The old flashlights we had weren’t very good and we could barely see 10 feet down the narrow pathway ahead of us. Then suddenly the clouds rolled across the moon totally immersing the path in darkness. We stopped for second swearing we hear something in the woods ahead of us. After hearing nothing but a the chirps of a few a few crickets we slowly began to make our way towards the church again with Mike leading the way (because his flashlight was brighter).
The suddenly Mike dropped his light and began dancing around wildly waving his arms in the air swatting at something I couldn’t see. I nearly panicked and bolted back towards the house, and then I realized; he had just walked through a spider web.
When Mike turned to look at me I was rolling on the ground laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. He shot me an angry glance his face turning a dark shade of red, but after a few seconds he joined in and we laughed until our sides began to ache.
I got up off the dirt drying the tears of laughter from my face, and picked up my flashlight, ready to resume our trek through the woods. Mike had stopped, standing perfectly still with his head cocked to the side listening.
“Mike….,” I began.
“Shhh!” said Mike.
Holding my breath I started to listen as well. I heard the soft rustling of leaves and small twigs snapping from somewhere behind us on the path. I could feel the sensation of gooseflesh starting to rise up on my arms, and my heart began to race as it got closer.
“Something’s coming,” I whispered. “Let’s go!”
I darted down the path as fast as I could go plowing through briars and weeds at breakneck speed with Mike on my heels. After a few seconds we reached the end of the path and stopped to catch our breath. I could hear it clearly now. It had picked up speed and was nearly on top of us. Tearing through the brush as it came towards us, it sounded big. I could hear its ragged, choppy breathing as it closed in on us fast. I turned and ran towards the road as fast as I could but I couldn’t see Mike anywhere.
Mike had tripped and fallen into a ditch to the left of the path and was frantically trying to pull himself out as whatever was in those woods was closing in on him in a hurry. The ditch was freshly dug and nearly 3 feet deep so Mike couldn’t just pull himself out, I had to go back. I ran to the edge of ditch, nearly sliding in myself on the slick clay. Grabbing his arm I pulled with all my strength and he flew up out of the ditch causing me to lose my balance. We fell backwards on the cold ground with Mike landing on top of me knocking all the air from my lungs. He rolled over and scrambled to his feet.
“Come on!” He shouted. “It’s coming!”
I started crab crawling backwards trying to distance myself from whatever was chasing us down the path
It was too late!
I lay their horrified still unable to breathe as the brush in front of me began to shake furiously. I closed my eyes so tightly I could see faint blue dots on the back of my eyelids. It was here now, out of the woods right in front of me, I could hear its harsh, uneven breathing and feel its warm, rank breath on my face.
“SCOOTER!” I heard Mike exclaim.
I opened my eyes to see Mrs. Johnson’s gigantic St. Bernard, 3 inches from my face with his tongue hanging out, panting relentlessly as his huge tail wagged excitedly behind him.
Relieved, but a little embarrassed we tried to chase Scooter back towards Mrs. Johnson’s house by throwing rocks in his general direction. Mike threw one to close catching Scooter on the hind leg and sending him scurrying back towards home.
Laughing nervously, we decided to continue our journey. We had come this far and the church was only another 50 yards or so down the road. Besides neither one of us wanted to be the first one to chicken out.
As we made our way the final 50 yards down the road we could see the creepy old building slowly taking shape in the darkness ahead of us. The cross on top of the steeple rose up out of the darkness towards the sky and we could see the empty bell tower below it. Shining my light down the building past the broken windows and flakes of paint peeling from the dilapidated wood siding, I thought I saw something move in the bell tower. Quickly raising my light to look I could see nothing.
“Just my imagination,” I thought, trying to convince myself there was nothing to be afraid of.
Just to the left of the church was an old cemetery. Long forgotten headstones jutted upward, just the tops visible in the tall grass. As we scanned the cemetery with our flashlights, the shadows danced eerily off the side of the old church.
We approached the main gate, flashlights in hand, t-ball bats gripped firmly in the other ready to bolt at the first sign of impending danger.
The old gate was a bit rusted and it took us a few minutes to get it open. As we pulled it free it squealed loud enough to rouse a neighborhood dog. We moved quickly through the gate, closing it behind us.
“Shhh!” I said. “My dad will kill me if he finds out we snuck out.”
We hunkered down by the gate and waited until the dog fell silent before turning to head up the walk leading to the front door. The walk made of square stones that were chipped and cracked. They were covered with centipede grass and it made a soft shuffling noise as we crept closer to the door that gave me the shivers. At the top or the steps was an old door hanging loosely from a single rusty hinge. I could feel the goose flesh rising on my arms and the back of my neck as we inched closer and I could hear Mike’s breathing begin to speed up. The sound of my heartbeat pounded in my head beating faster with every inch gained. I stopped suddenly and Mike ran into me startling us both causing me to drop my flashlight. This wasn’t just any flashlight, this was a cheap plastic flashlight that shattered at first contact with one of the very few exposed pieces of rock that used to be a walk.
“Damnit!” I whispered loudly. “Stop following so close, you broke my flashlight!”
“Sorry,” Mike said, sounding a bit embarrassed.
“Let me hold your flashlight, since I’m going in first," I whispered.
Mike handed me his flashlight, looking relieved that he could now use both hands to grip the t-ball bat he was wielding. Taking a minute to catch our breath and steady our nerves we began to inch towards the door once again. Suddenly, we heard a rustling behind us. My heart began to beat furiously in my chest as I stood there frozen unable to move. Not sure if I should go forward into the church, or back toward whatever that was behind us.
Suddenly an owl screeched in a nearby tree sparking me and Mike into a panic, we rushed blindly towards the church door crashing into it, knocking it from its remaining hinge and sending us tumbling into the church. During the fall I banged my knee on a nail sticking up from the hardwood floor sending a bolt of fresh pain up my leg. I could feel the warm flow of blood running down my leg from a gash it opened on my knee. Mike had made it to his feet successfully and quickly helped me up from the floor.
The neighborhood dogs were in full chorus by this time, barking and howling to the point that a light came on in a house across the street. I quickly turned off the flashlight and we hid, one on each side of the door.
It seemed like an eternity crouched there in the darkness before that light went back out. Finally relieved we didn't get caught, we started to remember where we were.
Nervously I flipped our remaining flashlight back on and began to look around the inside of the church. Cobwebs and dust covered the floor and the pews giving them a strange, gray glow in the beam of the flashlight. I followed the center aisle with the light until it reached the pulpit. Hanging from it was a ragged purple cloth, embroidered with a golden cross. In front of the pulpit there was a beautiful marble table, covered with dust, and lined with vases full of long dead flowers. On the wall to the left of the pulpit someone had spray painted a crude skull with red eyes, to comical looking to be scary. Behind the choir pit there was a broken stained glass window allowing a single beam of moonlight to illuminate a circular spot on the floor. Slowly I moved up the aisle towards the spot, and then I heard it.
A low, guttural growl began that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once and it continued to build until it seemed to fill the entire room. My mouth went dry and it filled with the cold, metallic taste of fear. My hands began to shake violently as I released my grip on both the flashlight and the bat, dropping them to floor. Once again I was frozen, unable to move or speak. Mike didn’t have that problem apparently because he had abandoned his bat and was bolting wildly towards the gate. I just stood there, halfway up the aisle, paralyzed with fear. From the corner of my eye I saw a shadow dart by too quickly for me to make out what it was.
That was all the motivation I needed to get my legs moving and I broke out towards the door. The growl became louder and more intense as I ran towards the opening. I could hear it running behind me, its claws clicking on the wooden floor. It closed in fast reaching me before I could escape. I could feel it grabbing at the back of my shirt trying to pull me back into the church. I turned with my eyes closed lashing out at it in the dark trying desperately to break free, not wanting to see what had me. As I spun its gripped loosened and I fell backwards out of the door and into the churchyard. Scrambling to my feet I could see that Mike had already opened the gate and he hadn’t even bothered to take the path, he was barreling right down the middle of the road towards my house. Feeling like my feet weren’t even hitting the ground I ran quickly through the gate, swinging it shut behind me. As I fell in behind Mike, I turned to look back at the church. There in the doorway I saw a pair of huge, red eyes glaring out at me from the darkness it then let out a howl that made every hair on my body stand on end. I felt a surge of adrenalin and picked up speed catching Mike just as he reached the driveway and I ran right past him to the front door. Emily was shocked when she came to the door and found us terrified and out of breath on the front steps when we were supposed to be in my room asleep. She agreed not to tell, not to be nice or anything, but because she was afraid they wouldn’t let her sit again.
After we got back inside my room safely we swore to never tell anyone what happened. After a few years and many nightmares later I am now able to laugh about it, but I guarantee if you go by that old church today, halfway up the aisle you can find a cheap, plastic flashlight and a couple of Louisville Slugger t-ball bats.