The church is empty and silent, even in the middle of the day. I step onto the rain-washed ground of the disused courtyard, where only a thin pathway remains of the once well-kept ground. The building itself looms ahead of me, its windows long since gone, its walls covered with moss and overgrown vines.
There are stories about this place. No one ever dares to enter the church now, not after what happened twenty years ago. The place hasn’t been used for religious purposes for centuries, but kids often used to come here on dares. At least, they did until a teenage boy was killed one night, ripped to shreds and left in pieces on the altar. The police never found out who – or what – killed him, and no one ever came here again.
Many people don’t believe the stories. They think the church is just closed off because it’s unsafe, because someone somewhere made a wrong turn and got hurt. But I believe.
The rusty hinges on the heavy wooden door creak into submission as I push it open. A cloud of dust gathers, and I hold my breath for a moment, hoping it won’t affect my asthma. Then I rub my eyes and take in the room beyond. The hall is massive, pew after wooden pew stretching in lines for at least twenty metres before stopping in front of the altar. Holes in the high ceiling cast rays of light over the benches. One of the rays lights up a large crucifix standing behind the altar, casting the deep shadow of a cross along the wide aisle towards me. I approach the altar, suddenly feeling out of place. I’ve never been religious at all, and the black stare of the Virgin Mary’s crumbling bust suddenly makes me feel unsettled, like I’m being watched.
Even knowing what I know – or maybe because of what I know – I have never dared to enter this place at night-time. In the daytime, it is a place of refuge for me, somewhere to go when I want to know I’m completely alone, but at night it is a different matter. People who don’t believe the stories have never been deterred from staying away, and although I know nothing can hurt me here in the day, I also know that the same rules don’t always apply to creatures that stalk the night.
Again I feel the strange sensation of being watched. I turn and scan the church hall, pausing to stare more closely at the shadowy corners. I can feel eyes on me, making the hairs on the nape of my neck stand on end. I close my eyes slowly, and concentrate. My aura flares around me, the gold light surrounding its black spikes glowing brightly for a second. I can feel the gold wash over me, and know I am more protected now. Reaching behind me, I pull an aether spike from the aura and hold it out in front of me, moving into a classic defensive stance.
Something flits past in the corner of my vision, and I hurl the bolt with all my strength in the direction of the movement. It flashes through the air, colliding with something even my keen eyes can’t pick up. The aether bolt freezes in midair, and then something forms around it; thin, web-like tendrils surrounded by dark curls of smoke begin to snake through the air, thickening and spreading until a cloud bigger than me hangs in the air. A figure appears in its midst, smoky and unclear at first, but slowly solidifying until I can make out human features.
I pull another bolt from my aura, ready to throw it. Then I realise what I’m seeing, and I stop, staring at him in disbelief.
He moves, only slightly, but the next moment he’s right in front of me, holding something out. I take the aether spike from his hand and slide it back into its place within my aura. Then he stands back and cocks his head, watching me as though I should do or say something.
Asher is the only vampire I know personally, and the only Paranormal I can stand to be around. I met him years ago, just before my mother’s death, back when we had to keep moving because the Fey were after us. He found me hiding in a park, waiting for my mother to return, and when we moved for the last time before she died, he came too. He understood that I was in trouble, and took it upon himself to follow me, making sure I stayed out of trouble. Not an easy job, but he’s always been there, right by my side.
“Asher, what are you doing here?” I ask him, because it doesn’t seem like he’s about to say anything to break the silence. “This is a church. How did you get in?”
“I saw you come in, and I followed you.” He glances around at the altar, where Mary’s bust stares back at him. “I think the holiness went out of this place a long time ago. The ground hasn’t been consecrated in centuries.”
Asher is exactly what you’d expect when you think of a vampire; old-fashioned at times, familiar with almost any pop culture reference known to man, strong-willed and often brooding or self-centred. Sometimes I feel more comfortable with him than with anyone born in this century.
Now he steps closer again, folding his arms around me and whispering into my ear. “What’s going on, Shayla? Why are you here?”
I look up at him, afraid to answer. I don’t want to worry him.
Too late. If there’s one thing I know about Asher, it’s that worrying about me is one of his fortes. He strokes my back slowly, his hand cold through my shirt but somehow comforting.
“Shay? Answer me.” It’s more an order than a question.
The church seems to be leaning in to listen as I glance around, even though I know no one’s there. I sink back onto one of the pews and look at my hands, my feet, anything but Asher’s wintry green eyes.
“Remember how it was before?” I ask, and he nods, knowing full well what I’m talking about. “Well… I don’t know why, but…”
I take a deep breath.
“They’re following me again.”
Continues in Part Three
Part Two of a collaboration with Steve Strodder. Next part will be written by him.