There’s a small village out in Alabama called Saint’s Glen. You won’t find it on any map, at least not since 1965. But you can still find the remnants of the town. If you follow the river southwest of Thomasville, you’ll find it, somewhere in the woods between Jackson and the state line. The highways never ran through this town, and most of the wood from the buildings came from the nearby trees. It was a small commune for a Christian sect – or cult, as most people would call it – led by a firebrand preacher called Pastor Norton, though most of his following simply called him “the Pastor.”
Most of the buildings have long since been destroyed by the forest’s rapid regeneration, but there’s one building that remains almost completely untouched, and that’s the Pastor’s church. Most of the people who used to live in Saint’s Glen have either died or been committed to psychiatric institutions. I was able to find one woman, who was only a little girl at the time, to tell me what happened the day the town fell apart. Her name is Mary, and she is a middle-aged woman now, in relatively good mental health, but who, sadly, is not long for this world. She does not appear bothered by my inquiries; in fact, she seems to welcome it. She says that she must tell me her story – before it is lost forever.
It was on a foggy Sunday, she begins, in the middle of June, 1964. The congregation had gathered together inside the church. She starts to describe the church to me, but I stop her and show her the photographs I have of the place. She gasps at the sight of them and refuses to look, except to confirm that I have the right building. In the pictures, two lined rows of pews fill the hallway, and on an elevated platform are a podium and an old metal washtub used to perform baptisms. Behind the podium stand a wooden cross and two large stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments.
Mary refuses to continue until I put the photographs away, so I slide them into my briefcase and she resumes her story.
Pastor Norton had filled the tub for a baptism, but no baptism was due. Every member of the community had already been baptized – except for Mary. The Pastor smiled and said that she would be baptized at the end of the sermon and their “family” would be complete.
Just then the Pastor noticed a man sitting in the back row on the left side, only a few pews behind Mary. He was wearing a suit, but it was torn and dirty. His hair was matted and beaten and there appeared to be dirt running all through it. His face and hands were equally filthy. The Pastor looked down on this man and shouted.
“You do not belong in here until you wash that filth from your body and dress appropriately in the eyes of our Lord!”
The man said nothing in return, but stood up and walked out of the chapel. The pastor continued his sermon, but made sure to throw in a comment about how our bodies are temples and that we must treat them as such, especially when entering a house of the Lord.
The congregants sang A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and then the Pastor continued onto his next lecture, this time speaking about the decadence of society and how the knowledge of man was foolishness unto God.
And then the man appeared again, same battered suit, same dirty face and hair. This time he was sitting about halfway up the left side pew, directly behind Mary. She could smell the dirt and detritus, and when she looked into his eyes, she noticed they were somehow empty, as though all the color and life had drained from them. He did not look at her, but kept staring intently up at the Pastor.
The Pastor again took notice of the man, and stopped his sermon once more.
“Did I not tell you to clean yourself up? This is a church, child! A house of God!”
Again the man said nothing, but turned away and left the chapel. The congregation sang Nothing but the Blood and gathered for communion. Mary smelt that stench of the earth again, and noticed that standing a few pews in front of her was the same man. He had still not cleaned himself, and when the Pastor stopped by his pew to deliver the wine, he erupted in anger.
“Have you a need to cleanse yourself, sinner!?” the Pastor screamed. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, and this I say you have forgotten!”
The man said nothing, but he did not move this time.
“Are you deaf, son? Mute? Did you not understand that we are a gathering of the Lord’s people?”
The man said nothing and remained seated.
“What is it then? Do you want to be baptized?”
The man nodded.
“Very well then,” the Pastor sighed. “We will baptize young Mary first. Then we’ll baptize you.”
The man put his hand on the Pastor’s wrist and shook his head. The Pastor grew increasingly nervous as the man raised his free hand and pointed to the steel tub.
“V-very well. We’ll start with you,” the Pastor said, lifting the man up. They both walked to the edge of the tub.
The congregation began to sing Amazing Grace as the tub was filled with water from a garden hose. The man stepped into the tub and took the Pastor’s hand.
“Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” the Pastor shouted.
The man nodded.
“Do you accept his commandments?” the Pastor shouted.
The man nodded.
“Do you feel the weight of your sin?” the Pastor shouted.
And then, the man spoke in a raspy, hollow voice. “Do you?”
In a swift motion, he grabbed the Pastor by the neck and dragged him down into the tub. A few members rushed up to help their leader, but when they reached the platform and looked down into the tub, all that remained inside was the water.
* * * * * *
At this point in her story, Mary pauses and looks around the room nervously. She explains that after the man came to visit that Sunday, some of the congregants broke into the Pastor’s house. They found a pair of his boots and a coat that were still covered in the same dirt that had covered the man, as well as a recently used shovel. They also noticed that the bumper of the man’s car was dented and covered in blood, though it appeared that he’d tried to scrub most of it off and had hidden his car under a tarp.
It didn’t take long to figure out what must have happened. On one of his trips into the city to buy some supplies, the Pastor must have hit a traveler on the road. Rather than get the police involved, he simply took it upon himself to bury the man out in the woods, and he tried to pretend as though nothing had happened. Given the physical evidence, the incident must have occurred just a few days prior.
At that point the people had no choice but to call the police. They found the man’s body after a few days of searching. He was wearing the same suit and had the same hollow, lifeless eyes as the man who’d come to visit them that Sunday…but his body was soaking wet.
After that event the town started to fall apart, and all the members of the Pastor’s church began to disappear one by one. A few died during their move, and others were found out in the woods a few weeks later. Those that did survive were now mad, with the exception of Mary. She is convinced that because she was not baptized, she was spared from the curse.
We conclude our visit. I reach for the photographs again to study them further and Mary hastily flees from the room. I study the picture of the wash tub used for the baptism, and something catches my eye. There is a slight distortion in the picture near the right side of the basin. I pull out the negative that I have of the image and hold it up against the light. The cause of the distortion is a bit clearer in the negative itself.
I burned both the photograph and the negative, and I will not print them in the book I intend to publish.
Believe me, though, when I say that I saw what gave Mary such a cause for alarm at the photographs. Hanging onto the edge of the basin were two pale hands, clawing to get out of the tub.
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