My town was first mentioned by name in 1784. At the time, It was nothing but a small Christian settlement. All in all, there isn’t much of a history to our town. As far as I can tell, it has always been remote and unimportant.
Our church, however, is already mentioned in the middle of the 19th century.
The story goes that a wealthy European nobleman by the name von Schwarzental came to the new world to build a ‘house of God’. The man used all his personal fortune to create the most magnificent church he possibly could. Why he did it and why he came to our town specifically is never mentioned.
To be honest, I don’t know how much truth there is to the story. I could imagine it was simply made up as a means to explain how a building like our church came to be.
While I slaved away at my presentation, I had a look at a few numbers. I found out that a big part of our town’s annual budget is spent solely on renovations and improvements of the church. It’s no wonder that the building is always in prime condition.
It was the Saturday after Ethan had been taken in by Sheriff Anderson that I was on the way to the church.
Mom had found me in front of the computer and reminded me of that damned presentation for her bible circle. I shrugged it off and told her I was making progress. My general disinterest in the matter culminated in a small argument. In the end, she made me promise that I’d go to the church and gather some material.
To say that I was annoyed would be an understatement.
Why had I ever let her and Mrs. Mansfield convince me to do this damn thing, I cursed to myself? As I strolled down Main Street, I could clearly see it already. I was still a good ten minutes away, but the giant building towered over every other one in town. You could pretty much make it out wherever you were.
I took a quick picture from where I was and added a little note about the church’s size and my distance.
The weather wasn’t nice at all. It was a cold, grey day in the middle of spring. Seriously, why did I have to go out today? Thanks again, mom.
When I reached the church, I took a few more pictures. One of the large front door, some of the rich ornamented church windows and of course one of the bell tower.
It had been two weeks ago that Ethan and I had been here, I thought as I stepped past the metal fence surrounding the church grounds.
As I took more pictures, I thought I heard something.
It was quiet, almost inaudible, but I realized what it was: the playing of the church organ.
It had to be Claire’s mother. After her daughter’s death, the poor woman took it upon herself to play the instrument in her stead.
I listened to the quiet, yet beautiful tones echoing from the halls next to me.
I couldn’t help but stare upwards. Once more, Ethan’s story came to my mind. As I looked at the church now, in front of this grey sky, it was more than just magnificent. It was imposing, almost ominous, a place where secrets could very well be hidden.
For a moment I couldn’t help but shiver, as the low organ music continued.
Then I shook my head. Ethan’s conspiracy theories were starting to mess with me. Well, I thought, as the first raindrops hit me, and this weather.
Once I was back home, I made it a conscious effort to work on the presentation at least for another hour. I hoped that this way, mom would stop pestering me about it.
The rest of the weekend passed quickly. I spent the rest of Saturday in front of my computer like the nerd I was. On Sunday, there was the usual mass at church, and afterward, I spent the afternoon at Nathan’s place. It was yet another, wholly unremarkable weekend.
When Monday arrived, mom was quick to usher me out of the house so I’d make it to school in time for once.
“Did you hear that Miller is still in custody”? Someone asked Nathan and me from behind as we walked down the hallway.
When I turned around, I saw no other than Anxiety Eric.
“Well, serves him right,” Nathan replied. “Hope they lock him up for good!”
“Wait, he’s still at the police?” I asked.
“Y-yeah, that’s what my dad told me,” Eric went on. “I heard they are going to charge him with assault!”
“What? Come on, that’s going a bit too far. Not like Ethan-“
“Not like Ethan what, Sullivan?” someone yelled at me.
It was Craig and his two friends who approached me. Craig’s arm was in a cast. Before I could do anything, he used his other arm to push me against the locker.
“Well, Sullivan, what do you have to say about that asshole? You’re his friend, right? Saw the two of you hanging out the other day. So, what’s up with that?”
When I didn’t say anything, he pushed me against the locker once more. The back of my head bumped against the metal, and I winced in pain. It prompted a laugh from the trio.
“Still got nothing to say? Hey, I’m talking to you, Sullivan!”
“I’m not,” I started in a low voice.
“You’re not what? Speak up for Christ’s sake! That fucking asshole almost broke my arm! You know what that means?”
“Now what’s going on here?” Mrs. Johnson, our Geography teacher, walked up from the end of the hallway.
“Nothing,” Craig spat at her, but before he left, he turned around to me once more. “See you later, Sullivan.”
“See? That’s what you get for being friends with him,” Eric laid into me.
“Ugh, you know what, just shut up, Eric!”
The situation didn’t change for the rest of the day. I knew Craig and his friends were on the lookout for me. So during break time, I did my best to avoid the hallways.
After school was out, I awkwardly sneaked through the building and ran into Mrs. Mansfield again. Normally I’d consider it bad luck, but today I wasn’t half mad to see her. I quickly told her I wanted to talk about my presentation and followed her to the safety of her office. She was her usual awkward self and beamed at me, oblivious to my real reasons.
I told her the presentation came along quite nicely, and I’d gathered quite a bit of material. A thing that still puzzled me, however, was the church’s true origin.
“Well, David, that’s the only story people know.”
“Yeah, I get this Mrs. Mansfield, but do you really believe that some rich European named von Schwarzental came here and built it? I mean, to this town?”
“It’s such a beautiful town though, David, so why do you think it can’t be true?”
“I don’t know, it sounds so far-fetched. Why can’t I just say that no one knows when and how the church was built? Does it really matter?”
For a moment, her eyes grew wide in shock. “No no, we can’t do that! The church is the most important part of our town. You can’t say something like that. Pastor Owens wouldn’t like it one bit, and I think your mother wouldn’t either!”
I sighed. “Well, guess its fine. I include the story of the nobleman.”
“Great, just be sure to have it ready for the big day!”
The big day, mom’s monthly bible circle. She’d already told me she’d invited everyone over to our house for it.
“Yeah, no problem. Well, goodbye, Mrs. Mansfield.”
“Give your mother my regards, David!”
When I was finally off school property, it was already pretty late. Almost everyone was gone. I sure hoped that Craig and his friends were too. I mean, they must’ve better things to do than to wait around for me. It was Ethan they wanted anyway.
“I wonder what the matter with Odette’s boy is,” mom spoke up while she prepared dinner.
“What do you mean mom?”
“Don’t play dumb with me David,” she said, turning towards me.
“I know that you and Ethan went to church after you came to the archives and I know he’s got some sort of weird idea in his head. Otherwise, he’d not be causing so much trouble around town. Even today, Odette said, he vanished again right after he was released.”
“He must still be doing it,” I blurted out without thinking.
Mom looked up right away. “So you do know what he’s up to!”
“Mom, no, I don’t. It’s like I told you! He’s got this weird idea on his mind about what really happened to Claire.”
“And?” she pressed on.
“That’s it! Why does everyone think I’m involved in it, fucking hell?”
“David Sullivan, you don’t curse like that in this house!”
“Well, but it’s true! Everyone seems to think that I’m in it with him together and that I’m helping him, god!”
“Sorry, mom, but I swear that I don’t know a thing!”
“It’s just. Odette’s so worried. She came to visit me today, and she doesn’t know what to do about him. She said she doesn’t even recognize him anymore. He’s not telling her a single thing and is always avoiding her. I can’t help but think that pastor Owens is right about the boy. I hope he doesn’t cause any more trouble!”
Man, what the hell was Ethan up to?
For a bit more mom tried to get something out of me, but I really didn’t know what to tell her. By now, I was sick and tired of hearing about Ethan.
As if to mock me further, I got a message on my phone this evening. I was sure it was a message by Nathan or hell, maybe Anxiety Eric, but of course it wasn’t. It was from an unknown number.
I frowned and click it. I’d hoped it wasn’t, but of course, it was from Ethan. He asked me if the two of us could talk, yet again. For the next hour, I ignored the message. Fuck it, I told myself, I’m not going to get involved anymore.
The problem was that he didn’t seem to ignore me. Soon another message arrived.
‘I think I really uncovered something. I don’t know what it is yet, but people sure think I do. Can’t go anywhere during the day without being watched. I really need to speak to you, man. There’s no one else.’
Reading this, I started to get angry. Why was I the only one he could talk to? Couldn’t he just find someone else? Why me? I’d gotten in enough trouble already. Shit!
This had to stop. I had to tell him clear to his face, I realized. Otherwise, he would never leave me alone.
‘Alright man, let’s meet up.’
Only a few minutes after I’d sent the message my phone started to ring.
“Can you meet me in about half an hour down the road near old man Ford’s store?”
“Ethan, I think,” but before I could say another word he’d already hung up.
I cursed to myself. Should I really go? Wasn’t it going to be more of his insane conspiracies? Otherwise, what other option did I have when I wanted him to leave me alone for good?
I knew mom had noticed me when I stepped out of the house. I was also sure she knew that I wasn’t just going for a late evening stroll.
It didn’t take me long to reach the store. At first, I didn’t see Ethan, but then I noticed a figure hiding around a corner.
“Let’s go for a walk,” he said, and without waiting for an answer, he started down the street.
“Hey, where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular. I just don’t feel comfortable staying in one place for too long these days.”
After he’d said it, he let his eyes wander around for a moment.
We walked a whole block before Ethan broke the silence.
“Hey man, thanks for coming, you know? To be honest, I didn’t think you’d even show up. I really need to talk to someone.”
“Yeah, sure, no big deal.”
For a few more moments, he looked around again, then he stepped closer to me.
“You know I’ve been looking for more people who ended up like Claire and Edgar Reeds,” he started in a low voice. I sighed, but if he noticed it, he didn’t react to it at all.
“There’s not just a few people, David. All in all, there are more than a dozen people who died in the past decade, probably more. It’s just that no one remembers anything about them.”
“Remember what I told you before Anderson showed up the other day? I kept digging, and I found more. I told you, there’s something very wrong about this town.”
“Ethan, are you sure-“
“Yes, damnit, I AM sure. I know, you probably think I’m crazy as well. Hell, can’t blame you, you know? This whole thing, it’s so,” he broke up shaking his head.
“Alright, but why? Let’s say what you found is true, who’s responsible? Who’d do such a thing?”
“I’ve got no freaking clue, but there has to be something. People have been watching me, David. I can’t go anywhere without someone following me around. I’m sure that even now…”
Once more, he broke up, and his eyes scanned the area around us.
He looked so different compared to two weeks ago. He was so paranoid. Still, what he’d told me. More than a dozen people? This couldn’t be true. There was probably an easy explanation for all of it.
“Maybe there’s another explanation. I don’t know maybe people left town and-“
“Then what about the freaking graves? How do you think I even found their names? They are all buried there! James Brown, Laura’s mother, every single one of them!”
“Don’t you get it? Someone’s getting rid of people! Someone has to be doing it! You know what? Owens has to be behind it, no, the rest of this whole goddamn town! And then there’s Anderson. That bastard is always looking for a reason. I’m telling you, he is!”
“Hey, calm down Ethan, alright?”
“Calm down, David?” he exploded at me, his face distorted by a mixture of anger and fear. “How in the hell can I calm down!?”
“Look, Ethan, I don’t know. You know what, this is going too far for me. I don’t know what you think you found, but really, I’m done. This is too out there. Why don’t you just leave it alone?”
I was prepared for another freakout, but this time, he looked at me with nothing but disappointment.
As I turned to leave, he reached out to me and handed me a small sheet of paper. Puzzled I looked at it and saw that it was a list of names. I didn’t even have to ask what it was.
I handed it right back to him.
“No, keep it, man.”
“Ethan, I don’t want to get involved in this anymore!”
“Just fucking keep it alright?” he pressed out and put it into my pocket. “God knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon something.”
“You know what I want to know Ethan. Why are you doing this? Why? Is it really because of Claire? Is it really to make sense of her death or are just doing it to spite the church and this town?”
“Fuck the church and fuck this town! It’s rotten, all of it, and you damn well know it, David!”
“You’re fucking delusional Ethan, you know that?” I said, laughing and shaking my head. “Can’t believe I came out here to hear something like this.”
Before I could react, he rushed me and pushed me back, hard.
“And you still listened to me, asshole! Why the hell did you even come out here if I’m just some delusional freak?”
“You want to know why I came? Because I’m sick and tired of your shit, Ethan! Everyone thinks I’m involved in… I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be involved in! I’ve freaking had it!”
Now I’d done it. Ethan stepped up to me again, but this time, he punched me. “You know what David? Maybe I AM delusional? But at least I’m not spoon-feeding all their lies every day!”
Once more, he punched me, and this time, I went down. “Fuck you, David!” He finally said and turned to walk away.
It wasn’t long before a car drove up to me. Its headlights were off, but when the window was lowered, I saw that it was Sheriff Anderson.
“And who do we have here?” he said to me while I was still on the ground. “Had another run-in with our town’s little troublemaker?”
“Get in boy, I’ll drive you home.”
I hesitated for a moment, but then I entered the sheriff’s car.
“That boy sure is causing a lot of trouble,” Anderson said grinning when he sped up the car again.
“Really not sure what to do about him. Can’t keep him locked up forever, but as things go, I might have some real trouble on my hands soon.”
I didn’t say a thing. Finally, the sheriff sighed.
“You know the reason why people think so badly of him, David?”
“Well, isn’t it because he’s never at the church?”
The sheriff laughed again. “Sure that’s one reason, but that’s not the most important one. Hell, not like I’m at the church these days.”
“No, David, there’s another reason. It’s because of what Ethan did when he was nine years old.”
“What did he do?”
The sheriff looked over at me with a dark look on his face.
“Have you ever heard about Michael Sanders?”