I saw the building from across the street as I was waiting in line for a bed at the shelter. It wasn’t hard to miss with its castle-like structure looming ominously over the street like a gray stone angel. The drunk in front of me said it was a holy place, a church. I knew that already. He suggested I go and take a look inside. ‘Migh’ even get somethin’ ‘spiri’ual’ out of it’, he added dreamily. And it was free to visit, warm too and nobody really bothered you, at least until closing time when they kicked you out.
I gave him a half dozen smokes to hold my place in line along with a hard stare that told him he’d best not fuck with me and still be there when I got back.
I needed to find out. I needed to know if anything had really changed.
The sun was beginning to set as I darted across the street, up the large flat steps that led to two large wooden doors. Entering the vestibule, I was overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. The air was pungent, the smell of burning incense, candles. It brought back memories from when I was a child; back to a different church my parents took me to regularly. I hadn’t thought of that place until recently… not since I’d gone off the meds.
‘That’s all in the past,’ I told myself. But the transition had been difficult. Years of therapy had shed some light on understanding it rationally. The meds had blocked out the events that had happened there. Ending up on the street though… I wondered how far I had really progressed? They still lurked, just beneath the surface like flashing snapshots at the crime scene: the candles and dark shapes, the rituals, the black-candled underground room, the unholy sacrifices. What they made me do to that girl.
I eased along a recessed wall, passed veiled statues and carved pictures and I quickly turned away. I slipped quietly onto a bench near the center of the church. This place was different from what I had attended as a child. It was open and serene; its brightly colored glass with Madonna and child, the saintly faces gazing down, shining through in the dimming light. Long wooden benches stretched in front of a large ornate altar, crisp and white as if glowing in a hushed transcendent light. A few people sat silently in front of me and for once in a very long time, I felt at peace.
I closed my eyes and centered myself into a calm trance-like state. My mind slowly began to wander… up to the magnificent altar with its golden candles and shrouded tabernacle… up the giant wooden cross to the luminous vaulted ceiling… back across to the choir loft. Casually floating down, I entered… into a darkened corner.
There were rows of red glass along the sidewall, glowing with dots of candlelight that shook and shuddered as a slumped shadow knelt in front to offer up secret, whispered words. Oh yes, the whispered words. Secrets. I shifted in my seat and tried to refocus. The darkened corner seemed to brighten. Then it quickly slammed shut. Ink black. I froze. There was nothing, only a dark hole in the earth and I fell into the abyss. I could hear the voices now in my head and I tried to silence them but they were loud, rising up, garbled like someone turning the dial on a radio quickly, round and round, round and round, round and round. I shut my eyes tighter and my mind ran, escaping back down along the shadowed recessed walls. I stopped dead in my tracks. Hung along the wall were the carved pictures I’d seen earlier when I’d entered, a row of pictures that stirred something deep, so deep within me - - carvings with depictions of torture and agony, blood and nails, crucifixion and death, of whispered words and secrets.
* * *
The voices haven’t said anything just yet. They’re unclear and I pray sitting here silent in the gloom on this wooden bench will make them stop. Perhaps it would help if someone turned a few more lights on because it is getting darker out. And the light may be the only thing that can save me… me and that innocent girl sitting in the next row.