a mob surrounding a flame they're coming for you

They’re Coming For You – A Novelette (Part 10)

<<< Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

That following Sunday, the church reeked. I spoke with Nathan, the church janitor, about it, frustrated that the church would smell so bad. It smelled of rotten skunk carcasses dipped in a bowl of dog drool. He didn’t have an answer, saying he went through every room, nook, and cranny, and couldn’t find the source. I told him to clean the best he could, opening up the sanctuary windows and putting up a few air fresheners.

I scoured the church, trying to find the source of the smell, distraught that church members and guests would arrive greeted by such a foul stench. The smell didn’t grow stronger or weaker. It stayed constant and full and almost unbearable. I checked the trash, the toilets, any place that might smell bad, but nothing looked out of the ordinary. The toilets shined and the trash was empty. Discouraged, I almost cancelled the service but then Nathan rushed down the stairs and said people were scattering inside.

“Do they smell it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “They don’t seem to notice.”

How could they not notice it? “You smell it though, right?” I asked.

He nodded. “I opened the windows like you asked but I don’t think that did anything.”

“Strange,” I said. “Okay, hopefully I can power through the sermon with such a horrid smell.”

Nathan laughed and gave me a knowing look. “Good luck,” he said and winked.

Once upon a time, Nathan had been a pastor, not of my congregation, but a Methodist church in Hopewell, Tennessee. Why or how he ended up here was a mystery. I never asked him and he never shared. Seventy-six years young, spry, and healthy as an ox, I aspired to reach Nathan’s level vitality at his age. Even though he was at the end of his life, not in the ministry, and cleaning the toilets of my church, he never looked down. Quite the opposite actually. He held his head high, smiled frequently, laughed often, and chatted up anyone who crossed his path. He was a good man.

Rising to the podium, I looked out at my congregants and stood amazed. Hiding my astonishment, but feeling it deep inside, I breathed slow and heavy. Though my heart beat within my chest like a hammer, my expression was plain. The church that once bustled with people desperate to find a seat in the pews was demonstratively empty. Some stalwart members of the church attended, like Jerald Honeycutt and his wife Terri, the Wollencraft Twins, and Robbie Hart. My wife wasn’t there. My own wife. If I would have known any better, I would have sworn crickets chirped.

Astonished and perplexed, I tried my best to carry on with the sermon. It wasn’t easy. I had grown so used to a packed house, seeing my numbers dwindle down to a handful of people threw me off balance. My mind wandered to dark places, thinking of dark, monstrous things. And that awful fear, slimy and dreadful, returned, strangling my words as I spoke.

I preached on the eighth commandment of the decalogue to mostly deaf ears.

When I stood at the door to shake their hands, no one obliged. They walked by without a look, without a nod, without a hint I existed. I felt both sad and disturbed. Had they heard the rumors? Did they know about the phone call? A ghastly, heavy dread filled my belly like a sack full of rotten spaghetti.

When the last congregant left, I stepped inside and before I shut the doors, I saw something off in the distance, across the street. Three figures clothed in dark robes just like the one I saw before. Frightened, I closed the doors and locked them. With great urgency, I rushed down the center aisle, went to the back hallway, and sped toward the stairs. The smell stank to high heaven. It might have been even worse than before.

I tried finding Nathan at the janitor’s closet. His jumpsuit hung on the hook and his cart was inside. He must have gone home, I thought. Usually he stuck around for the sermon but I didn’t see him in the sanctuary. I thought about looking further around the church for him but the smell was too much to bear. I had to leave as soon as possible. I closed the downstairs doors behind me, locked them, and set for home.

End of Part 10