“Wanna see something interesting?” Mark asked as he appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.
Even in high school Mark was always the adventurer, and I was the sidekick. He was the extrovert, and I was his adopted introvert; following him along with whatever plan, scheme, or escapade. We were inseparable, even moving to the same city for university and becoming roommates. He was studying biology while I focused on engineering, but we still made time to hang out, drink, and explore the new city we found ourselves in. Recently we’d taken up the hobby of urban exploration and had fallen in love with it. It had only been five months, but I swear we had seen about every abandoned and condemned building in a ten-mile radius.
“What did you find now?” I asked without looking up from the bell peppers on the cutting board.
“Another abandoned building,” he said cracking open a can of beer. “A church on the other side of the city. From what I was told it’s been abandoned for some time but hasn’t been touched in years.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, finally looking up. “If it’s been abandoned for years then it’d be vandalized and stripped of anything valuable long ago.”
“That’s what makes it interesting.” He said as he took a swallow from the can. “I took a drive by earlier and everything seems to still be intact, windows, doors, the whole shebang. The only thing hinting at it being abandoned is that the grass is overgrown and there are no lights.”
I grabbed a beer from the fridge and cracked it open. An abandoned building with everything still intact? “When were you thinking?” I said before taking a drink.
“Well, I don’t have plans tonight,” he said with a smirk. “If you’re free we could do it after dinner.”
I took another drink of my beer as I mulled it over. I had a project due next weekend and still had plenty of time; plus, he had already piqued my curiosity. “Well, I guess we’re breaking into a church tonight.” I chuckled, and turned back to our meal prep.
After we finished our dinner of stir-fry over rice, we grabbed our urban exploration gear; flashlights, rope, crowbar, work boots, gloves, and cellphones before we climbed into Mark’s corolla and drove off to the church. The drive wasn’t too eventful as most of the evening traffic had already settled. A light snow began to fall as we continued down the winding streets to a run-down area of the city. We drove past warehouses with broken windows, bent chain-link fences, and boarded up houses before he made his final turn down Grafton St. A couple of blocks down was the church Mark had mentioned.
The church was in very good condition when compared to the surrounding buildings. It was a three-story tall brick building with a spire that stretched another two stories into the starless sky. The windows still sported their intact stained-glass adornments depicting their biblical stories. Two stone Gargoyles sat atop the awnings, weathered by time and erosion. The large wooden doors on the front still sported their deep oak colour, only showing hints of splintering. Just like Mark had said, the only indicators that it was abandoned were the overgrown grass plots and the large padlock and chain placed across the front doors. Beside the church building itself was a small graveyard, with the tops of headstones peaking above the overgrown grass and brush.
“God this is eerie,” I said as we moved our flashlights across the building, “it’s almost as if nobody’s touched it.”
“Yeah,” he said with a smirk, “almost as if it’s been waiting for us.”
“How long has it been abandoned for?” I asked. “It looks as though nobody’s touched it, not even vandals. Why haven’t they done what they have to the other buildings?”
“Maybe out of respect for the Lord’s house?” Mark remarked sarcastically. “Come on, we aren’t vandals; we’re explorers! Don’t you want to see what gets left behind when a church goes out of business?”
“I’m not sure churches go out of business…” I started.
“Fine, when God leaves.” He said with a chuckle before walking up the front steps to the wooden doors and gave the lock a quick tug; it was locked. He then tried the front doors and found them both locked as well. “Let’s check the back.” Mark suggested. Wordlessly I followed him back down the steps, through the grass of the graveyard, and along the side of the church. We kept close to the building so as not to leave a trampled path. Before we reached the rear of the church, we came across a side door. The wooden door was simple enough with a simple iron knocker in the center. I watched as Mark grabbed the knocker and let it drop, letting out a *thud* as it his back against the door.
“Dude!” I hissed.
“Relax,” Mark said cupping his ear, “there’s nobody home.”
Mark then reached for the doorknob and gave it a turn; it too was locked. He then took out his crowbar and placed it in the space between the door and the frame like he had so many times before. Reflexively I pulled on it as he pushed, we were able to get the door opened with relative ease. The door opened with a light creaking sound revealing the dark interior.
“Ladies first,” I said waving my flashlight forward. Mark chuckled as he led the way without hesitation. The beams of light penetrated the darkness of the building’s interior. In the light we could see that the door led to a small set of stairs made of wood leading to the main floor. I closed the door behind us as we ascended the steps, their creaks filled the otherwise empty air. We emerged from the top of the stairs into a short hallway, with cream-colored walls adorned with various pictures of religious figures and clergy from times past. The carpet was covered in dust, and after brushing some of it away with my foot I could see that it was a deep red. Our feet made no sound as we walked on the shag carpet towards a door halfway between us and the front of the church. This door was unlocked.
This door turned out to be a side entrance for the sanctuary, a large vaulted ceiling opened up to the middle making the room feel larger than it probably was. Pews lined the floor in order with their red velvet cushions sporting a dusty layer. We walked past the pews and could see that the hallways only surrounded the first floor, while the second floor was open to the brick and the stained-glass windows. At the end of the sanctuary was a large ornate backdrop depicting an artist’s rendition of the resurrection. Large brass tubes along either side of the backdrop framing it as the centerpiece. At the other end was the entrance with the second-floor balcony continuing their loop around, with a spiral staircase ascending upwards into the spire.
“I’m going to check out the second level.” Said Mark as he shined his light along the second floor’s balconies. “It looks like there’s still a lot of stuff that was just left behind.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll explore down here a bit more.” I heard him go back into the hallway while I looked in the pews. I saw some items scattered on the seats. Upon closer inspection of the nearest pew, I saw a handbag next to a hymnal and a bible. I picked up the bag, there were still some papers and articles inside, however the ink had faded long ago. I picked the hymnal up and began to leaf through the pages. They were faded but I could still make out some of the writing. I was just setting the hymnal back down when I heard a creak from upstairs. I swung my flashlight in the direction and caught the spiral staircase in the beam with dust still clinging to the air. I swear it sounded like the creaking had there, or at least I couldn’t see anything there. Maybe the building was settling, all building did that. This place didn’t look like there was anybody-
My train of thought was derailed by a loud bellow of brass and air as the church’s organ let out an unmelodic groan. I nearly shat myself as I turned around to face the front and brought up my light. I could hear Mark cackling as he swung his light in my direction from the 2nd floor balcony.
“You should have seen your face!” he yelled. “You jumped out of your skin!”
“Asshole!” I yelled back. He continued to laugh before disappearing again. I could still year is laugh echoing through the sanctuary as I settled down. Despite my irritation he did take away my feelings of unease in this place. I began to relax as I continued to look through the pews. I made my way along until I reached the doors to the front hallway. I opened them and found myself looking at the front doors again, this time from the inside. The cream-colored hallway had looped around and seemed to end here, wrapping around the corner to my right and ending on the left with the chaplain’s office. I walked over to the office and tried the door. It opened with ease, coating my hand in a layer of dust.
I brushed the dust off onto my pants as I entered the office and closed the door behind me. Inside was just as dark as the rest of the church, however this office was significantly more crowded with overturned chairs, a desk, a table, assorted books, and papers strewn about. I shined my light on the floor seeing the continuation of the deep red shag carpet strewn with papers. Unlike the rest of the church, this office was not pristine. Something had happened here.
I walked over to the desk and began to shine my light on the contents. An older phone sat on the desk along with faded papers. A letter opener showing signs of rust sat atop a couple of red-stamped notices; bills past due, shut off notices, and finally a foreclosure notice. I tried the drawers of the desk but found them to be locked.
I turned my light to the window; it too, like the others I’d seen outside, was stained glass. It depicted a group of cloaked individuals with their arms raised around a circle. I am not sure which story it is depicting, but as a non-religious person my story knowledge is limited to the Ark and the Nativity. I continued to swing my light around the room, looking at assorted books of varying faith related topics. As I continued to swing my light around something caught my eye on the table in the back.
Candles long burnt out with wax dried in pools adorned the wooden table at the end of the office, with stacks of leather-bound books and parchment lay in piles next to it. I walked up to the table, and as I did, I heard footsteps above me. I swung my light upwards but saw nothing. Must be Mark I thought as I looked back at the table. Looking at the candles I noticed there were five of them, and all of them appeared to be pinning down a single piece of parchment underneath the rest. I gingerly moved the overlying sheets revealing the base that the melted candles held to the table. The base sheet of parchment did not have ink on it as much of the others did, but charcoal etchings, a circle with a symbol that was not a pentagram but was not anything I had ever seen before either. In addition to the symbol in the center there were markings that appears to be letters, but not in a script I had ever seen before. I got a feeling of unease as I looked at the parchment. Against my better judgment I wanted to pick it up, hold it, take it with me, but I felt that something wasn’t right, and an uneasy feeling of being watched flooded my body whenever my hand went near it. Despite the feeling of unease, I could not bear to look away, and I would have kept staring at it if not for the sound Mark’s yelling echoing through the halls.
“What the- What is that?” I snapped out of my trance and turned my head; it was impossible to tell where he was. I ran out through the open door of the office and opened the door back to the Sanctuary. Didn’t I close the office door? Doesn’t matter, Mark is in trouble. I entered and franticly waved my light around the 2nd floor balcony looking for Mark. “Get back!” he yelled again. This time I was able to hear where his voice was and swung the light to the front left portion of the balcony. I could see him backing up towards the ledge, I could see that in one hand was his flashlight, and the other had something that appeared to be a shiny metal; but I could not see what he was backing away from. Suddenly a flash of grey impacted him with a sharp crack, and he was airborne.
I watched as Mark flew into the brass organ pipes, creating an echoing sound of low note brass accented with the breaking of bones that I will never be capable of unhearing. I ran over to Mark as he began to fall to the ground. As he fell, he did not make any attempt to brace himself, and he hit the ground with a solid thud, creating a dust cloud around his impact. As I approached, he started trying to get up, but due to the injuries he sustained he could barley even move his arms. He was breathing, he was alive, and that was all that mattered. I turned my light back to the balcony where he was, and only caught a flick of grey movement back into the shadows. Whatever it was, it was no longer there, and it was on the move.
Flipped Mark over on to his back and tried to get him to sit against the wall; his back was broken from the impact. Blood was coming out of his mouth, and upon closer inspection it appeared he had bitten his tongue. “Don’t take anything,” he said as I saw the silver cup in his hand.
“We need to get out of here.” I said as I tried to put my arm under his in an attempt to lift him up.
“No,” He coughed, his voice was strained and wet. “Get out and get help.”
“I’m not leaving you.” But as I said it, I knew I couldn’t carry him; his large frame dwarfed mine and I knew I would have an incredibly difficult time lifting his dead weight.
“Go!” He hissed. “It’s coming back!”
I couldn’t see it, but I could feel the vibration of whatever it was coming, and by the vibrations it felt big. There was no time to run. I turned off my flashlight and hid under one of the pews; leaving the only light being Mark’s flashlight which lay next to him on the floor. As I slid on the floor, I noticed there was something else under this pew, some debris of some sort. I brushed it aside as I slid under the pew and placed my hand over my mouth.
The vibrations got closer and closer until a shape entered the beam of Mark’s flashlight. It wasn’t a foot, it was something else, it looked like a hand walking on its knuckles. It was then followed by a large solid body walking like an ape towards Mark. It walked on all fours with two arms and two legs, its head was a grotesque character of what a person’s head should look like with an eroded face; but the most unsettling part about it was the wings raising and falling on its back. Its size didn’t quite match the weight of the vibrations, but I ignored that as I saw the creature approach Mark. It looked him up and down and batted the silver cup out of his hand, sending it clattering deep into the sanctuary. As it did a second creature appeared in the light, almost blocking it out completely.
I could hear Mark moaning as they approached, his please becoming desperate as the first pushed him back onto the ground from his pillar. The second then moved in, and I heard Mark’s please become more strained. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I hears the sickening crunch of more bones breaking. I wanted to vomit, I wanted to cry, I wanted to get out; but all I could do was listen to the death whimpers of my friend. After about a minute the crunching stopped, and the creatures moved again; this time the 2nd was holding Mark’s lifeless body. They approached a nearby pew and put his body underneath it, taking care to place it so all limbs were hidden beneath the seat. It was at this moment I remembered the pile of debris I had shifted from underneath this pew so I could hide. I involuntarily retched, and thankfully the creatures did not notice.
The started their walk back down the aisle, back out of the light. I waited until I could not feel their vibrations anymore before I crawled out from under the pew. I turned on my flashlight and confirmed to my horror that I had been laying in the remains of a broken skeleton, bones shattered on the ground, and fragments sticking to my shirt. I pulled out my phone and tried to call 911, but the call didn’t connect, I looked at the top and there was no signal.
“Fuck” I whispered, tears forming in my eyes. I ran over to the pew where they had stashed Mark. A trail of blood and dust led from where he was to where they put him. I put my flashlight on him and could see a large concave where his chest was crushed in. My tears began to fall a I knelt down and held his hand, it was still warm, but I could feel the life going out of the limp limb. “I’ll come back for you.” I whispered to him as I closed his eyes.
I scanned the sanctuary with the light, the were signs of disturbance in the dust, a red smear on a couple of the brass tubes, and footprints from here to the main door, but no sign of the creatures. I decided to try and go out the way we came in. I went to the side door to the sanctuary and cautiously opened it. I swung my light back and forth and, seeing it was empty, I ran to the small stairwell. I ran down the few wooden steps, their creak piercing the silence. I swung my light on the door and my heart dropped. There were boards nailed into the frame and door, keeping it in place. I contemplated running back when I felt a faint vibration in the floor.
I felt it again
It was getting closer.
I took the crowbar out of by bag and began to try to pry the boards off the door. It was harder with just me, but I could feel the adrenalin surging as I pried off the first board. The vibrations became stronger as the 2nd board came off. Stronger. Then the third. They were getting closer. I got the 4th board off and the door was free. I opened the door and let the cool knight air hit my face. I turned around to close the door and came face to face with the creature, its facial features eroded with time. I ran. I ran through the grass, through the graveyard, and away from the church. I looked back, and saw the creature was not following. Instead, it gripped the doorknob and closed the door. I didn’t stop running, I got to the road to Mark’s corolla. I tried the door handle and found it was locked. Shit, Mark still had the keys.
I checked my phone and saw I had service again. I dialed 911. As the phone rang, I looked up at the church again, and a chill ran down my spine. The two Gargoyles were no longer atop the awnings.
Credit : Peter Cyrus
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