“Yeah, it sounded exactly like when she played.”
“How’d you know?”
“I listened to her. When she was there, practicing.”
“You were at the church?”
“Only a handful of times. She’d… beg me to come along. So a few times I sneaked inside, but never when HE was around.”
“But how could you’ve heard it now? Claire’s dead and I didn’t hear a thing.”
“Shit man, I don’t know! I don’t know what’s going on anymore. But I heard it, David, damnit, I really did!”
“I know, Ethan.”
Ethan didn’t say anything after that. Instead, he lit yet another cigarette. I sighed and motioned for the pack. I’m not a smoker, never was, but I needed to calm down. The few times I’d smoked before I hadn’t liked it. I didn’t like it now either, but somehow it felt better than to just stand there doing nothing.
“We’ve got to go back,” Ethan pressed out. “I’m going back there, with or without you. Right fucking now!”
“Well, boys, that’s a bad idea,” we hear a familiar voice calling out to us.
I knew who it was without even turning around.
“You’re in big trouble now, Miller,” the sheriff said.
“And what’s it this time, sheriff?” Ethan asked in a cocky voice.
“Well, the list is long enough as it is, but this time I’m here because of your attempted break-in at the church and the property damage you caused. Just come with me and don’t cause any more trouble.”
“Well aren’t you a fine pet, sheriff. Guess it was the good pastor who sent you after us, right?”
“Does it really matter? Get in the car, both of you.”
“Sorry, sheriff, but the two of us have other plans.”
I could see Ethan’s hand wander to his pocket again. For a moment I saw the same flash I’d seen earlier at the parking lot.
Anderson’s face grew hard in an instant. “You sure you want to go that far, Miller?”
“Ethan, stop it!” I called out when I saw Anderson’s hand rest on his holster.
For a moment, the sheriff and Ethan looked at each other, then Ethan dropped the switchblade.
A minute later, Ethan and I were sitting in the back of the sheriff’s car. Silence hung heavy over us as he drove us to his office.
He ushered us inside and pointed at a seat.
“Sit down, David. And you better be here when I get back, alright?”
“Can’t believe it, Miller. These days you spend more time here than at home. You know this isn’t a hotel, right?” the sheriff joked as he led Ethan to the back.
He closed the door behind himself and left me there. For a while, I scanned the office. I was about to get up and have a look around when the door opened again.
“Well, David, tell me, why do I always catch you with him? What are the two of you up to together?”
I looked up, opened my mouth, but didn’t say anything.
“Not going to say a thing? You want me to lock you up as well?”
“We were just talking. I don’t know what’s-”
“Bullshit. I know you were with him when he tried to break down that door! Don’t you get it, David? This is not fun and games anymore! You saw that switchblade he carried! You know what he was about to do, right?”
Once more, I said nothing. Instead, I sat there awkwardly, staring down at my feet.
I heard the sheriff sigh. “Well, guess a night in the back might help your memory a bit. Come on, get up.”
“Ethan heard something strange,” I finally started.
Before I could do anything, I rambled on, telling Sheriff Anderson everything. About Claire’s death, about Ethan’s theories, the names and what he thought he’d heard today. I told him all of it and that Ethan, no, I admitted, Ethan and I thought there was something very wrong about this town.
I could see his face. He listened intently, but once I was done, he shook his head.
“Now tell me, David, who’s supposed to believe all of this?”
“I don’t know, but don’t you think there’s-”
“Listen to me, David, and listen well. I’m not sure what you and Ethan think is going on here, but let me tell you one thing. If you keep poking around like this, there’s going to be trouble. Big trouble.”
“And about that list of names, you have it with you, don’t you?”
I wanted to deny it, but when I saw the way he looked at me, it was clear he knew the answer to his question already.
“Yeah, I got it here,” I said in a low voice and handed it to him.
Without much of reaction, he pocketed it.
“Well then, that’s it, David.”
“Wait, didn’t you say I was in trouble, too?”
“Guess it wasn’t you who damaged the church. So why don’t you get out of here before I change my mind.”
With that, he sat down at his desk and opened up a newspaper lying there.
“And no more skipping school,” he called out to me when I was at the door.
I was about to say something, but then I nodded and left.
Once outside, the realization of what I’d just done came crashing down onto me. Why’d I told Anderson about what we’d found? He’d just go to Owens and tell him all about it!
Why am I such a freaking idiot?
There wasn’t anything I could do, though. What’s done is done, I thought. In the end, I simply started walking. I was home about half an hour later. It was barely noon, so mom would still be at work.
The moment I said foot into my room, the weight of the day and the tension I’d been under hit me. I felt dead tired and so exhausted.
The moment I laid down on the bed, I dozed off.
In my sleep, I dreamt that I was at the church again. This time I was inside, and there were hundreds of other people there as well.
Pastor Owens was standing in front of the congregation. He was gesticulating heavily, screaming and yelling like an utter madman. Yet, I couldn’t make out a single word he was saying.
With each new scream, the large church windows behind him bulged inwards and outwards.
Like so often in dreams, I knew that I was at a place where I shouldn’t be. I had to get out of there, but the more I tried, the more constricted I felt. People turned towards me, grinning at my misfortune. Hundreds of eyes seemed to mock me.
Finally, Owens raised his hands high into the air, and I saw how Sheriff Anderson dragged someone forward. A figure was thrown down in front of the mighty altar. In the dream state, I was in I knew instantly that it had to be Ethan. The congregation went wild.
In triumph, the organ started to play. When I turned upwards, I saw Claire. A bulging, rotten version of her, bound to the instrument, forced to continue playing it even in death. With each note she played, dark blood gushed from her tethered wrists.
Righteous judgment, Owens jubilated and with that the altar behind him opened up.
A giant, ghastly mouth was revealed, breathing hellfire and smoke into the large church hall. And then the pastor kicked Ethan inside.
The congregation started to repeat the words. Righteous judgment. I heard it repeated over and over from hundreds of laughing, screaming mouths. The music had blared up to a bursting crescendo by now.
And then Owens turned to me. By now he’d changed into an insane inquisitor, twice his size, holding a giant, burning cross in his hands.
The moment he repeated the words once more, the congregation came for me. When hundreds of hands held me down, I woke up.
I was lying in my bed, breathing heavily. A dream, I realized, it was just a dream. As I sat up in bed, I shivered. I couldn’t help but rub my arms to get rid of the memory of people’s touch.
There was something else though, a strange pounding in the back of my head.
At first, I thought it was a headache, and I started to rub my temples. After a while, though, I realized it was something different. It was the organ music, still reverberating inside of my head.
A lingering memory of the dream I told myself. As more time passed, however, it didn’t vanish. Dreams are supposed to fade, right, so why was it still there. Why did this low, quiet humming still persist in the back of my mind?
That dream. This nightmarish version of the mass. Why’d I imagined something like that? It was nothing like the real mass!
I thought back to last Sunday when I went to church with mom. I remembered entering. The rest was hazy as if hidden behind a thick fog.
The more I thought about it, the more I tried to remember, the more I realized, I couldn’t. I had no memory of the mass at all.
Well, almost no memory. There was one single memory that now crawled back into my mind. That melody that I was still hearing. I didn’t just know it from the dream. I’d listened to this very same melody during the mass.
How did I only remember the music? Why was there nothing else? Why was-
“David Sullivan, you come down here right now!”
Of course, the school had called her. I slowly made my way down the stairs and found mom waiting for me at the bottom.
She was fuming.
“I can’t believe it! Getting called at work to find out that my son left school! And with him of all people!”
“Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t-”
“I’m sure you didn’t. Oh, I’m sure, David! This whole thing ends now! Things will change in this house! Enough is enough! You understand me?”
“Why, David? Why were you with that boy again? And what you did at the church… What were you thinking?”
“He called me again and-”
“No, David. Not this time! I’m not going to listen to any more of your excuses! That morning you stormed up to your room, and then I find out that you didn’t only leave school, but you left it with him!”
She stepped up to me. Her face was right in front of me.
“What are you involved with?” she snapped at me.
I didn’t say a word. In the back of my mind, the music of the organ was still scratching at my consciousness.
“Didn’t Pastor Owens tell you what that boy did? Didn’t I tell you not to associate with him anymore? Didn’t I?”
I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn’t find words. Mom’s face was distorted, her eyes were wide, almost bulging. The way she stared at me. She was so different. For the first time, I couldn’t recognize her anymore.
No, for the first time, I was scared of her.
When I still didn’t say a thing, she grabbed my arm and dragged me to the living room.
She pushed me onto the couch and standing in front of me, she lay into me. At first, it was about school, but soon her rant divulged into one about the church.
How dare Ethan and I tried to break in. How dare we tried to damage God’s house. Over and over again she screamed at me, asking me if I was crazy and if that boy had tainted me. She wanted to know if I’d turned from God and had become a sinner like him.
Many times I tried to say something, but every time she cut me off. As I listened to her, she seemed almost like Pastor Owens in my dream. This rage, her rage, it was terrifying.
Then, as she calmed down, she put her hand in front of her mouth. She breathed heavily, and I could see tears streaming from her eyes.
“Please, David, promise me, promise me my son hasn’t turned from God.”
“Mom, it’s alright, I’d never.”
“You’re such a good boy, David, such a good son. Now promise me one more thing. Promise me, you’ll never associate with that boy again.”
When I didn’t speak up right away, she raised her voice again.
“Promise me you’ll never associate with that devil again!” her voice thundered.
For a moment, I cringed back, as her shrieking voice pierced my ears. Then I gave a weak nod.
Was this really my mom? Was this woman in front of me really her? When had she changed like this? When?
“Alright mom, I promise,” I said in a low voice. “I’ll never meet up with Ethan again.”
At this, the anger left her face, and it was replaced by a proud smile. She came forward, took my head into her hands, and kissed my forehead.
“I knew it, I knew that you’d stay true to our lord and savior. I knew you’d be different from Odette’s boy.”
She was happy now, chuckled and before I knew it, she put her arms around me. She hugged me and held onto me tight while the tears were still streaming from her eyes.
“You’re such a good boy, such a good boy,” she whispered into my ears.
I couldn’t move. All I could do was stay still and keep myself from cringing back at this insane display of devotion.
When she finally released me, she beamed at me.
“Well, I’m glad David, oh I’m so glad. I was so worried, you know?”
“I know, mom.”
“Then everything is back to normal again. I’ll better get to prepare dinner, and you rest up well, David. We’ve got a busy weekend ahead of ourselves!”
“The bible circle, silly! Tomorrow’s your big day. You didn’t forget about your presentation, did you?”
Damnit, I totally had. “No,” I pressed out in a low voice.
“And then, on Sunday, there’s, of course, the mass at church.”
When she said those words, I froze. After that dream of mine, no after mine and Ethan’s discoveries, the mass was the last place I wanted to be.
Mom seemed to notice my reaction. The hint of a smile showed on her face. It was not a happy one, not even a patronizing one. No, this was a smile of cruel satisfaction.
“After all, David, attending the mass at church is a Christian’s most important duty.”