by Amy Laprade
Once, during daylight hours, a maintenance man named Niles heard strange noises inside the walls of the church: sighing and whistling – not the sweet, melodic kind but the perverse kind, followed by cat-calls and wheezing. The sounds made his neck muscles stiffen, his flesh crawl, and his saliva turn metallic with fear. He ran.
Safely outside, he caught a whiff of something sour as the rear door swung shut. He never wanted to step inside of that church again. He didn’t have a choice.
Tonight, there are burn marks in the red-carpeted aisle. The choir books are slick with mucus and strewn across the pews’ cushions, their pages torn off at the spine like limbs from a paper doll – hymns of holy worship reduced to confetti – the aftermath of an unholy celebration, attended only by an empty nave and chancel.
Hammer in hand, eyes darting about, Niles begins his work when a fuse blows and he is plunged into darkness. He hears the noises. He looks up.
A creature, the size of a cat, quivers between the pews like sea-foam in an ocean breeze. Its iridescence reflects the sky by moonlight. Its bubbled, membranous flesh trembles in the cool draft, bulges and then pops. Effluvium fills the air. Niles gags. He thinks about bolting but the glowing EXIT sign watches him like a red, angry eye from the rear of the church.
Niles has spent his entire life running: from a son he’d had with his first wife, but never met – from a second wife who never forgave him for the affair he’d had with a girl who was half his age … and now his third wife is ill with a respiratory disease and the medical bills are mounting. He’d be fired if he left early again. The boss didn’t care about strange noises inside of the walls.
Niles’ heart begins to pound when the creature slides, quick and furtive as a Black Racer, toward the altar. Its opossum-like tail, atrophied and dragging, paints wet streaks on the carpeted aisle. The streaks would later leave more burn marks.
The creature reemerges from the shadows, illuminated by fingers of moonlight that seep through the window of stained blue glass. Sensing the man’s presence – as incongruent among this place of worship as a songbird lighting on a solar flare — the creature flattens itself against the wall, below the framed Mother of Mary.
Imagining the dour look on his boss’ liver-spotted face and the shunt in his wife’s abdomen, Niles gazes at the creature’s iridescence, noticing his own reflection in its faceless head. Horrified by what he sees, he raises the hammer. He brings it down.
Amy Laprade, winner of the Michael Doherty Award in Poetry, received her MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and has, for over ten years, taught fiction and poetry to students of many ages and backgrounds. Her work has appeared in Meat for Tea: the Valley Review, Canyon Voices and Plum, Literary Journal. In 2016, her debut novel, SO NICE TO FINALLY MEET YOU …, was published by Human Error Press.
Amy Laprade is the author of the novel So Nice to Finally Meet You…. Her work has appeared in Canyon Voices, Plum Literary Journal and Meat for Tea, the Valley Review. Her second novel, Behind the Magic 8 Ball, is forthcoming through Human Error Press.