The Iron Writer Challenge #207
2017 Autumn Equinox Challenge #2
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Vance Rowe, Steven L. Bergeron, Amy Huntley, Dani J. Caile, Nerisha Kemraj
Hurt by Johnny Cash (Whatever you take from the lyrics)
Bells, Bells and more Bells
A Haunted Church
Missy lay on the floor in a euphoric state of mind, her eyes rolling back in her head. She glimpsed the painting of the church on the wall and this time the stained glass windows looked like they had faces in them. Did he paint a haunted church? The painting made her think of her brother again and how she found him dead on the floor in his apartment with the needle still protruding from his arm. She had come to the apartment after his funeral service to start cleaning it out. “It was a beautiful service,” she thought to herself and the tears rolled down her face again as she writhed on the floor. The television was still on and a commercial blared in her face, causing her to smile slightly:
COME ON DOWN TO THE BELL STORE WHERE WE HAVE BELLS FOR EVERY OCASSION! WE HAVE BELLS THAT RING, BELLS THAT DING, WE EVEN HAVE BELLS THAT SING! WE HAVE BICYCLE BELLS, DOOR BELLS AND EVEN COW BELLS! WE HAVE BELLS, BELLS AND MORE BELLS. SO COME ON DOWN TO THE BELL STORE AND RING IN THE SAVINGS!
The smile soon left her face as she remembered back a couple of days ago when a policeman walked into the house and pulled her off of her brother so the paramedics could work on him. It was too late. He was gone. His candle had been blown out for good. She then looked up on the wall at the painting of an old church sitting in the middle of a forest. It was a beautiful painting set in winter time as there was snow on the ground and on the church. The stained glass windows were painted in a way that made it seem like a light was on in the church. She then remembered that she rose to her feet when they carted her brother out on the gurney and her grief turned to anger as she began to throw things and break things while shouting expletives at her brother about him leaving her. She then dropped to her knees and began to cry again. That’s when she saw it. Under the table was a small case. She pulled it out and opened it up. She became angry when she saw his gear, and a small glassine envelope with some whitish-gray powder in it. Now curious, Missy laid it all out on the coffee table. She had watched her brother do this before so she did everything he did to get the heroin into the syringe. She found a vein and stuck the needle into it. She depressed the plunger, filling her vein with the poison and then she untied the band on her bicep. She lay back on the floor as a wave of euphoria caressed her body and mind. She remembered a lyric from the song, Hurt:
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
Yes, Missy lay there in a state of euphoria, looking up at the painting, until her candle blew out for good as well.
Dani J. Caile
I watched her shuffle through the nave, dusting here and there, mumbling to herself. A little Italian woman, no one knew much about her, no one cared. Why she came to clean, only the shadows in the vestibule could say.
“Good morning, Mrs Moretti, how are you on this fine day?” I asked as I placed the hymn books on each pew, ready for the next mass.
“Thank you for asking, Father, I am as well as can be, yes,” she replied. Her moroseness hovered over her like a fog. I couldn’t help myself as I stared while she moved over to the small icon of Jesus, lit a candle from those available and knelt down to pray. She crossed herself and took out her duster once more, busying herself by cleaning the icon. I’d seen the same thing every day for as long as I could remember. It was time to ask.
“Tell me, Mrs Moretti, if I may, can I ask who you pray for? If it’s not too much a discretion.”
“Father, I pray for my husband, my son, my mother, my sisters, brothers…everyone I know goes away in the end…” Her sullen face darkened. “But most of all, I pray for the bells to stop. The bells… you can hear them, can’t you, Father?” The church was silent except for her last words echoing in the transepts.
“Err… bells, Mrs Moretti?” I held the spare hymn books against my chest.
“Do you see this crown of thorns?” She gestured to the icon of Jesus. “I hurt myself to see if I still feel… I focus on the pain, the old familiar sting, and try to kill it all away.” I took a step back. “But I remember everything… the bells, Father, the bells. This place is haunted, but you know that already, don’t you Father?” Without warning, she placed her thin, bony hands on my robes.
“Do I, Mrs Moretti?” My initial inquiry had been misplaced. This woman was clearly insane.
“Why, of course, Father! Haunted by a thousand souls or more! At first you can only sense them, then, the bells… on the hour, every hour they hang from the ropes, the weight of their sins pulling down, ringing, ringing…” Her fingers touched my cross hanging at my chest. “And now…”
“Now?” I slowly released her grasp of my cross and smoothed it down against my robes.
“Yes! Now! Come!” She grabbed my arm and tried to pull me towards the bell tower door. An irrational fear enveloped me and I stood my ground.
“I’m sorry, Mrs Moretti, I remember I must do an errand for the Bishop,” I put down the hymn books and grabbed my coat on the rack at the door. I left as fast as I could, not looking back, leaving the poor woman alone in the church. Some minutes later from the road I saw her walking away homeward bound. Before I continued on, I thought heard something. It was… a bell? Yes, a bell. Then I heard another. And another…
The stench of the dead hung heavily to his clothes. The mud-covered sack draped haphazardly over his shoulder whipped its tail in the chilled midnight air. His improvised walking stick clanged in the scattered gravel.
He raised his candle as he trudged through the muck in the graveyard. Several times, his heavy-soled shoes sunk near a headstone as if the occupants six feet below pulled on him, bored in their eternal isolation.
His burden weighed on him, the sack’s weight responding to his thoughts. He struggled under the burlap; the loose strings felt as if they itched to choke him.
Under the full moon, the mound of freshly dug earth stood before him like the gallows, but he plowed forward, every step a battle of will.
Loralai. Nothing but a wooden cross marked the head of her grave. A chill raced down his spine and he froze, his courage fleeing as a shadow distorted the sign of holiness.
What am I doing? I loved her. What disgusting sacrilege am I committing?
But he dug. One shovelful after another, the sweat of his brow consecrating the primitive grave. His thoughts drifted as his hands mechanically worked the shovel.
Her beauty stunned the whole town. So dark, so mysterious. She chose me. She loved me. He slammed his shovel heavily in the dirt. A dull thud resounded in the night when the rounded edge of his spade struck something solid.
He heaved the body from the charnel and tenderly wrapped her in the rough sack. The purple bruising around her neck stood out even in the twilight. He covered her head and carried her in his arms.
The bells from the church rang out heavy and dull. The din choked him. Sweat broke over his back.
The bells! The bells! He stumbled and drew up his shoulders in an attempt to cover his ears. But he tightened his grip and carried on.
As she swung, her curses burned the ears of those who heard them. The dogs had turned rabid. The cats feral. The moon dimmed in the sky. The church doors darkened as if the demons of a thousand worlds converged on it.
But… my love….
He placed her body on the salted alter, the torches pre-lit, and holy water stood ripple-less in buckets.
As he torched the burlap, a scream more deafening than the bells ripped the night in half.
“You cannot kill me, you pathetic man!” Her hair set ablaze, Loralai tore from the bindings and charged her lover. “Your love has fed me, you worthless worm. My brothers and sisters will swarm upon the town and avenge me.” Her demonic voice shook the branches in the trees.
“Pain, not love, my foolish pawn, is the only thing that’s real.” Her fingers elongated, and as he stood helpless, she came close as if for an embrace. Wrapping tightly around his neck, her fingers dug trenches in his neck as her serrated teeth pulled the remaining flesh from his visage.
A Wedding Lost
“The wedding bells are ringing now, ringing now, ringing now…” The children of the yard all sang merrily leaving the ambience at the church more inviting. My wedding day. James and I had been waiting for this day for a whole year. Although he has been quite distant this past month while excitement filled me to bursting point. Every girl dreams of her wedding, even well before she locates Mr. Right. And today it had arrived! James and Angela Whittaker. What a great ring to it!
I read my vows before him. He seemed too anxious. I figured nerves had gotten the better of him, brushing unwelcomed thoughts aside. No worries, we had our wholes lives together after this. We had each written our own vows.
“I promise to love and to cherish you and to remain loyal to you as you would to me…”
“Stop Ang, I can’t do this. I’m sorry.” Tears flowed down his face, as he grabbed both my hands in his. With one last look he left me at the altar, mouth agape.
I ran after him, obviously. But punctuality was never my strong suit, he vanished. Left alone with my family, we bade goodbye to the guests after inviting them to partake in the already paid for reception.
James remained unreachable over the next few days. Without contact from him since the wedding, grief became me. What went wrong? Things between us became tense over the last few months due to the wedding, of course. Unless there was something else? My subconscious gave me a pitiful look as I dismissed her away.
The news came the following week. James chased down his death, always the braveheart. I later found out of his infidelity but that could not break my already broken heart. This didn’t come as a shock, for I saw it in his eyes that day at the altar.
For months afterwards I longed to hurt him the way he hurt me, but he took the easy way out. I cursed myself for denying the truth. If only I had taken heed to his behaviour. If only we talked like we once used to. If only…
I burn a candle in memory of him every day. If not for him, for my own sanity. If he loved me at all he would have given us a chance to work things out, or not. But his selfishness would not waste my life any longer and it taught me to be less so. His death changed something in me. I’m stronger now. Harder even. And hopefully that’s a better thing.
As I sat for Sunday service that morning, the memories haunted me as it did every day since. The church held his presence and I knew he was always there. But only because it was the place that he let go of me, for good. I could not leave this haunted church nor did I want to. It remains the only place that I can see him.
A Ghostly Encounter
Steven L Bergeron
I was in my pastoral office working on the weekly sermon, suddenly her irritating voice disturbed my meditation. I arrived at the chapel area to the sight of Mrs Turner battered body waving around a lit candle like there was no tomorrow.
“Good afternoon Mrs Turner, is there any way I can be of your service?”
“Oh Hi father Dan. Not really unless you can make Donald go away?”
“Now Mrs Turner, your husband is no longer with us. He can no longer bring you harm?”
“He is right here in front of us, can’t you see him. All ghostly looking, with chains and bells. Just like the ghost of Christmas past, you know the one that terrorized Ebenezer Scrooge?”
For amusement I had to follow up on her claims. Any thing to make her stop waving those candles , making molten wax a mess of the oak flooring.
“Well Mrs Turner for starters we better secure the exits, we wouldn’t want your husband out of our sight now wont we. And for god sake please relinquish form waving those candles, you are bound to burning this place down.?”
“Yeah like what she did to me.” That voice an eerie feeling that confirmed her claim.
“There Father , I seriously hope you heard that?”
It took me a few minutes to secure all exits, and to get this place ready for an old fashion séance. It’s been a while since I did one, but surely there was a ghost living within my home. I had to do whatever possible to contain it.
“Donald Turner if you are here, make yourself present? Why are you tormenting this poor soul?” No sooner had I finished all the lit candles were completely extinguished. His ghostly image appeared before us.
“ Well Betty have I been tormenting you. My mission has been accomplished, shall we tell your good Father here the truth, or do I need to punish you more?”
“ It is your fault Donald and you know it. It is your drinking and using that drove me to do what I done. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. You don’t know the sense of freedom I felt simply watching you burn. You hurt me, like what Johnny Cash did to the people in his life. Look at yourself for heaven sake, you even look like him.”
“I hurt you what about all the guys you slept with. Yes I know all about them, the mail man, the pool guy, Deacon Will. That’s right father, why do you think he left you high and dry. Enjoy your last day of freedom Betty by tomorrow you are going to pay for what you done too me.”
And with that the candles exploded to new brightness, sending my home into a blaze. We were trapped as the room suddenly was full of smoke. I felt myself elevating to new heights. As for Mrs Turner, she must have joined her husband in the eternal oven. Everyone must pay, for the crimes they committed.
S. C. Jensen
“You sure this is the place?” Gin crouched in the shadows across from the cathedral. Gaping holes stared back at her under lashes of jagged glass. “It looks abandoned.”
“It is abandoned.” Her grubby guide picked at a scab on his neck; the old wound never healed. “But he’s in there. Wanders around like a ghost.”
“Good.” Gin slipped her fingers against the reassuringly cool metal of her pistol. “I’m going to make that a permanent condition.”
“Can I get the stuff, then?” Petr’s glassy eyes flashed in the pitch like a nervous animal.
“Right.” Gin tossed a baggie of gray crystals at his feet and stretched to her full height. “You’re not helping me for the love of Albi, are you?”
“You know I loved your brother, Ginny.” Petr’s hand trembled as he picked up the baggie. Beads of sweat mottled his forehead. “But a man has needs.”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t mean—“
“Get lost, Petr.” Gin clenched her fists, the tendons of her neck strained against her flesh. I should kill you too, you useless junkie. Petr, the coward, disappeared into the shadows without another word.
The terracotta steps of the cathedral lolled toward Gin like the parched, swollen tongue of some dying thing. She crept up and slipped inside the mouth of the beast. The darkness was thicker here. It settled around Gin, a palpable, sticky kind of presence with a life of its own. Like blood.
A golden sphere of light glimmered from the back of the nave. Gin moved soundlessly toward the light, floating. In her heart she felt a lightness that hadn’t been there since her brother’s death. If not for the weight of the gun in her hand, she might have floated away, up through the vaulted arches and out the broken window-eyes, into the night.
There he was, a shadow heaving against the pitiful light of the candle flame. Rubius—her brother’s killer, and worse—sat, shoulders hunched like one of the gargoyles that guarded the cathedral’s desiccated rooftop, lurching rhythmically. Gin’s stomach churned. Oh God, not this.
A sound echoed around her. Not the grunting she expected but the faintest tinkling noise, delicate and eerily beautiful. The haunting notes of a dirge emerged suddenly, as if called forth by something inside her. The song seemed to pour out of her heart, filling the cathedral with its mournful air.
Forgetting the gun, Gin stepped closer and peered over the man’s shoulder. Rubius, the old pervert, rocked back and forth on his haunches with metronomic precision, his blackened hands fluttering over a set of silver handbells. Tears scored a fleshy path through the grime on his cheeks. The man cried, his keening wove through the bellsong, lifting up and up and up until—
The gun slipped from Gin’s hand and clattered to the stone floor, killing the song. Rubius stiffened and Ginny ran. She flew through the cloying blackness of the nave, her brother’s name ringing in her ears like the mournful bells. Before the man could call out to her, to explain, the cathedral spat her into the night.