Laura’s mother used to play the church organ before Claire took over. Nugget had been involved in preparing the mass. Miss Graham had been responsible for the flower arrangements at church. Mrs. Rose’s daughter Emily had been teaching at the Sunday school after the mass. Even old Pastor Mackenzie, Owen’s predecessor, was on the list.
“David, what’s the matter with you?” mom called out to me, and I soon heard her on the stairs.
In a hurry, I put away the note and picked up one of the games I found lying around.
“Nathan has been bothering me about this for a whole week,” I lied when she appeared at the door.
“I really can’t deal with his shit anymore.”
“David Sullivan, you don’t use that word in this house! And now get down and eat some breakfast. Really, what am I going to do with you?”
I followed her downstairs, but there was no way I could eat any breakfast. For long minutes I sat in front of my coffee cup as if I was in a daze. My mind, on the other hand, was going crazy.
This was what Ethan had been trying to uncover. It was all right here! The people who died, the ones on the list, they were all related to Pastor Owens!
How could Ethan have missed this?
The moment I left the house, I realized it. Ethan wasn’t involved in the mass. Hell, few people were as much as I was due to mom. He never went to the mass. He wouldn’t know who was helping in the preparations.
This was the reason Pastor Owens was out to get him. No, not just the pastor, everyone related to the church. That’s why mom must’ve joined in with his lies as well.
On the bus, I dropped Ethan a message. I told him to get back to me as soon as possible and that I’d found out how the people on the list were connected. I could only hope that he trusted me, or rather, that he was desperate enough to do so.
I was antsy all morning. I couldn’t think straight. I tried to find a reason, any logical reason for all this. A reason that proved that my implications were wrong. Yet, I couldn’t come up with anything.
During the second term, in Mr. Richard’s class of all things, Ethan finally replied to me.
‘Meet me outside in the school parking lot now! I can’t stay long,’ he wrote.
At first, I wanted to reply that he should wait until class was over. That would take another half hour, though. There was no way he’d wait for me until then. Someone would see him, and all hell would break loose again.
Shit, I cursed to myself. Then I took a deep breath and quietly started to pack my things.
“Mr. Sullivan, what do you think you’re doing?” Mr. Richard called out to me from the front.
Shit, why did it have to be him? If it was Mrs. Mansfield…
“Sorry, Mr. Richard, something came up. It’s related to my church presentation and I’ve-”
“Well,” he started in his usual sarcastic tone, “I’m sure it’s related to that little presentation of yours, and I’m sure it can wait until the end of my class.”
“No, it can’t, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go.”
With that, I threw the last of my things into my backpack. I was about to get up when he stepped over to me. By now, everyone in class was watching me.
“Mr. Sullivan, don’t you dare leave my class!” the man screamed at me.
“I’m really sorry, but I-”
“You sit down right now!”
When I simply turned from him, he exploded in a fit of rage, and his hand closed around my wrist.
“If you leave now, I’ll make sure you regret this,” he spat at me. His face was deep red, and he stared at me with such intense rage that I almost backed down.
I ripped myself free without thinking about what I was doing and rushed from the room. As I hurried down the hallway, I could hear him scream after me.
Ethan was already in the parking lot. He was holding something in his hand. For a moment, it shimmered in the sunlight before he put it away again.
Ethan looked terrible. He had a split lip, a black eye, and even from a distance, I could see the countless other bruises on his face. Craig and the others must’ve given him hell.
As I got closer to him, I saw that it wasn’t just the bruises. His posture was slumped, his eyes bloodshot, and he looked so exhausted.
“Will you look at that, you actually came alone this time,” he said.
“Sorry about that, they jumped me and forced me to do it,” I apologized.
“Doesn’t matter. So what’s it you wanted to talk about? Didn’t you say I was delusional and that you didn’t want to get involved anymore?”
“Guess it’s too late for that now,” I replied, which prompted a grin.
“So, what did you find out?”
The moment he’d asked this question, I told him about mom’s and Pastor Owens’ lies. I told him about the rumors that circulated about him. I was about to tell him about the names on the list when we saw someone.
Mr. Richard was storming towards us from the school building.
“Great, couldn’t you have picked any other teacher?”
“What? I just-”
“Cool it, it was a joke,” he said with the hint of a smile on his beat face. “Let’s get out of here.”
The moment the two of us got into his car, Mr. Richard sped up. His whole face was contorted by anger.
“Get out of this car right now! Both of you!”
Before he could get anywhere near the car, we drove off.
“About those names,” Ethan started, but I cut him right off.
“It’s all related to the church, the mass!”
“Yeah, no shit man, that’s what I’ve-”
“No, Ethan, listen!”
With that, I took out the list of names and explained how every single one of them was related to the mass.
“So it’s him after all,” he pressed out. This time I didn’t say anything against it. No, this time, I nodded.
“You want to know something about Claire?” Ethan suddenly spoke. “She hated it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Her father, the church, the mass, everything. Worst of all, she hated that he forced her to play the organ.”
“You think that’s why she,” I started but didn’t dare say it in front of him.
“She told me she wanted to talk to her father about it, but could never muster up to actually do it. She was too afraid of what he’d do if she ever went against his word.”
“You think that’s why she killed herself?” This time I said it.
At first, Ethan was quiet, but then he spoke again.
“You know what I think is going on here, man? I think everyone on the list is just like Claire. They all must’ve had their own reasons to hate the church or to go against it. That’s why Pastor Owens got rid of them.”
“But why? There are so many people willing to help with the mass, to help the church! Hell, the whole town is in absolute awe of it! Just think about my mom and your mom as well!”
“And what if anything bad comes out? What if people find out that Owens had to force his own daughter to play the organ? What if any of the others would’ve shared their experiences? Do you think people would’ve ignored it? You know what Claire told me? That her father said the worst thing one can do is doubt.”
“And what are we supposed to do now? What can we even do?”
“There’s only one thing. We’ve got to get that bastard and give him what he deserves!”
“What? No, Ethan, are you crazy?”
“And what if I’m crazy? Fucking hell, man!”
“It will be the same thing all over again! What do you think will happen? Anderson’s going to take you in again!”
Right at that moment, Ethan hit the brakes and stopped the car. His head jerked over to me.
“Then what are we supposed to do?” he asked in utter frustration.
For a while, we both sat there, in complete silence. Then I remembered something Ethan had told me before.
“Claire’s nightmares, what were they about again?”
“Random people and places,” he started, “sounds, plaster and metal, god knows what else.”
Then he realized what I’d meant. “And the church!”
I nodded. “Maybe Owens isn’t around right now, and we can check the place out. I don’t know if there’s anything, but we won’t know unless we try.”
Ethan grinned. “Seems like you’re finally willing to take a risk.”
With that, he started the car again, and we went on our way. Like last time, he didn’t drive to the church directly. He drove around it and parked the car in a small street downtown. We set out on foot.
Ethan pulled his hood deep into his face and hurried to an alleyway nearby. For a moment, he stopped and looked around to see if anyone had noticed him. Then he continued to lead me on.
We went from alleyway to alleyway and from small street to small street. All the while, Ethan was looking around, scanning the area, and making sure no one saw us.
He was so out of it. Whenever he saw someone, he ducked away. When the sounds of a car reached him, he jerked up.
“Bet that asshole Anderson is somewhere nearby. I’d love to see his face right now, wondering where the hell I went.”
“Anderson,” I started. “He told me about Michael Sanders.”
When Ethan heard the name, he didn’t react. He walked on as if nothing.
“So?” he finally asked.
“Are you going to give me a lecture about it as well?”
“No, Ethan, I just, I don’t know it just came to my mind.”
Finally, he turned around and took a step towards me. I knew what he wanted me to ask.
“Is it true? Did you get him killed?”
For a short moment, Ethan looked away, but then he nodded.
“Yeah. That day when we fought, I crushed his spine. Everything Anderson told you is the truth. All of it.”
“Ethan I didn’t mean-”
“Whatever. Let’s go to that damned church.”
“Hey man, it’s alright,” I pressed out, but my voice was weak and quiet. Ethan didn’t say anything anymore.
We walked on in silence. Each time we had to pass a street or an open area, Ethan would make us wait.
Only once we fought ourselves through the hedge at the edge of the graveyard did he speak again.
“What are we even supposed to look for?”
“No clue, really. Anything strange, I guess.”
I wasn’t sure if we’d find anything at all. Yet, being here was better than letting Ethan run straight to Pastor Owens.
As I walked alongside the church, that strange feeling was back. The building had always been beautiful and awe-inspiring to me. Now, though, knowing everything that was going on, it felt forlorn and eerie.
I felt restless and nervous, staring at it, but everything was as normal as it could be. The graves, the flower beds, even the little grove next to the graveyard. Still, I couldn’t shake that feeling that something was wrong. It was the strangest sensation. It felt like I was being watched by the lurking church itself.
Beautiful, I thought as I stared at the dark bricks. How had I ever thought this grisly monument deserved the word?
My eyes wandered upwards towards the colored church windows. Even in the bright sunlight, they were darkish, almost as if they absorbed the sunlight. Or, I thought, as if they devoured it.
Then it happened. For a moment, it seemed as if the colors were alive, shifting right in front of me. I squinted my eyes, to make the strange illusion disappear, but it didn’t. Colors ran into one another as if the glass itself was alive. I watched in shock as it changed, warping itself, bulging outwards.
“What’s the matter, you found something?”
I jerked around to see Ethan standing right behind me. I pointed at the glass windows, but now they were normal again. Had I really just seen it?
“No, it’s, I don’t know,” I finally said and shook my head.
I kept staring at the building in front of me, measuring it up. Ethan, who’d been looking around near me, suddenly stopped in his tracks.
“Do you hear this?”
I listened, but everything was silent.
“What do you mean?”
He turned towards me for a moment, but then he took a step closer to the church.
“That organ music. Someone’s playing it!”
I concentrated, but I didn’t hear a thing from inside the church. I heard leaves rustling in the wind, a car passing by, but the church itself was completely quiet. Ethan, however, stood there, focused intently on the building and listening to some imaginary music.
“I’ve got to go in,” he said more to himself than to me and walked towards the side entrance nearby.
I was next to him in a moment as he tried to open the door. When it didn’t budge, he started to get more aggressive.
“Ethan, it’s closed! I don’t know what you’re hearing, but you won’t be able-”
I broke up. He wasn’t listening to me at all. Instead, he started to push against the door with the full weight of his body. When that didn’t work, he threw himself against it. Still, the door proved too sturdy to open.
“Hey, Ethan, stop!” I tried again.
It was already too late. An older lady who’d been on the cemetery nearby had heard the noise and hurried over.
“What do you think you’re doing!?” she shrieked in outrage.
Ethan still didn’t react. Once more, he threw himself against the door.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder.
Then, as suddenly as he’d started, he gave up.
“It’s gone,” he said in a low voice and looked at me. His face was full of misery, and for a moment, he seemed utterly lost. A moment later, when he finally noticed the old lady, his face changed to anger.
“Will you shut up for fuck’s sake?” he screamed at her. The old lady cringed back a step and put her hand over her mouth. Soon enough, she started to yell at us again, though.
“S-someone has to do something! They tried to break into the church! It’s that Miller boy again!”
It wasn’t long before a man heard the commotion walked up to her. The moment she saw him, she lamented at him about what we’d done.
“I really heard it,” Ethan said in a broken, quiet voice as I dragged him away.
“Yeah, it’s alright, I believe you.”
I wasn’t sure if I meant it, but I remembered the bulging, warping church windows and that feeling of being watched.
One last time I turned around. There he was, Pastor Owens. He was staring straight at us with a face devoid of emotions. It showed neither shock, nor anger, nor disappointment. It was his eyes, though, that burned themselves into Ethan and me. Once more, I remembered the words’ righteous judgment’ and shivered.
As we made our way back, Ethan still wasn’t really there. He was mumbling to himself and stumbled forward, rather than walking. This time, he didn’t seem to care about our surroundings.
After half an hour we were back at the car. Ethan slowly seemed to get a hold of himself. He took out a cigarette and lit it. He paced around for a while before he stopped and leaned against his car.
He seemed to be in deep thought and smoked one cigarette after another.
He was at his third one already, when he finally spoke.
“I really heard it, man.”
“Like I said, I believe you,” I started, “but I really didn’t hear a thing.”
He threw down his cigarette and lit yet another one before he looked at me again.
“Are you telling me I imagined it? There’s no freaking way!” he yelled.
“But what did you even hear, Ethan?”
“It was her. Claire. It was her way of playing the damned organ.”