Story:The Church in Ashhaven

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The Church in Ashhaven
User:Avetzan
Smoghollowscard.png
Written 20 April 2019
Wordcount 1998
Character(s) Reverend Hargreaves, Amelia Forgrove, The Man with No Eyes
Location The Smog, Ashhaven

The stars above were shining brightly. They wouldn’t be for long. Twas the first night of Allhallowtide when the Smog began its accession of the town of Ashhaven. To many it would appear to be any other regular mist that encircled the ancient town - but not to Reverend Hargreaves. He alone, living on the outskirts of the town, seemed to recognise the disturbing elements of this apparent weather: the way it snaked along the ground and dragged the rest of the amorphous mass behind it, the thickness with which not even God’s great gaze could penetrate, nor the tightening it caused in his abdomen to see something so unholy yet not know what it is.

In truth, Hargreaves was no longer a reverend. Some months ago he had been a suspect in a missing person’s case - that of Amelia Forgrove. She had only been fifteen. He had first become close to her when she visited the church. It was the safe space from which she escaped a life from a drunk mother and the many bruises gained from... falling down the stairs too often. Hargreaves had not only become her confidant, but her friend. But when she went missing and her mother finally took notice, a friendship between a fifteen year old girl and a sixty-five year old man looked suspicious. The community and the church absconded him from their circles. One from fear of their safety, the other for fear of what his reputation would be. But no-one else had come along to remove him from his position. Ashhaven was a remote town in the hills of the countryside. No-one wanted to be that far away from civilisation. No-one sane, anyway.

And so it was that he still lived in the otherwise abandoned church. And so it became that he was the first to notice the smog’s penetration. He had been drinking. But perhaps his alcoholism is what saved him, for in his drunken stupor he saw the shapes in the fog, the creatures that lurked there. When he emptied the last of his beer bottle he dropped it on the gravel path. He took a few steps back. He rubbed his eyes. The bottle... no, that can’t be right... A small tendril of the fog pushed on the bottle. It began to roll down the bank of the hill. Maybe it was just the way he dropped it... maybe he kicked it... but he couldn’t keep the thought down that this was something else. He staggered his way back to the church.

It was dim inside. The street had only been lit by a couple lampposts, but in the main hall of the church there were only small candles in the corners. The church had never been connected to electricity. A generator had been ordered months ago but was never delivered. It left Hargreaves with an uneasy ominous feeling as the light made the hall appear much larger... much emptier... than it truly was. The underlit glass-stained saints looked down on him as he passed row after empty row. He made it to the front end of the large room and looked around. One corner was a mess of food wrappers and beer bottles, the other was a pristinely set table of some sacred artifacts being held down by a thin layer of dust. He grabbed a candle-rack from off the wall and began to brighten the room. After circling the edges he could just about make out the highest points in the intricate wooden ceiling above him. The beams criss-crossed to make a pattern his eyes followed along until he was once again facing the altar.

Something about it pulled him towards it, his back to the door. He was suddenly very aware that his back was towards the door. He stopped for a second... it’s nothing... He continued forward. There’s something small on the altar. From this angle he assumed it was a gem. An emerald? No, those were green... a sapphire? Perhaps. A small one to be sure, but they are still precious. What was it doing there? He certainly hadn’t seen it before. He walked through this room a hundred times a day out of boredom and the thing hadn’t yet caught his eye. He was standing over it now. He counted the faces of the clean cuts of it’s decoration. Fifty-six. Now that is curious... the same number of seats lined up in the hall. He’d counted them out of boredom more times than he would admit to himself, though the regularity kept his mind in order. He went to pick it up, his hand reaching out towards the cold stone altar when - AAGH!!

A scream from outside. His head shot up. A moment of soberness overcame him as the tension in his stomach spread to a small nervous shake across his whole body. It sounded close. He looked back down at the altar and -what? How could it be? The sapphire was gone. He quickly checked the floor around it, but nothing was there. If it were it would have made a sound? A clatter? Maybe he was just too drunk. This was one night of going just a bit too far and his shame had overcome him. Then the scream came back. He felt wrong to think it for a moment, but at least it was human. It sounded like a young man. He could barely make it out. He wasn’t sure... had he heard some words? ‘Make it stop?’, ‘Make him stop?’

Hargreaves ran to the end of the hall and through the small entrance chamber and looked out of the small windows in the door. The smog had stopped short of the building by a few metres, letting him see a small patch of grass either side of the stony path. He glanced as far as he could - the smog was surrounding the church completely. Those tendrils were writhing amongst themselves. It didn’t seem like anything was blocking them from coming closer... maybe it was the power of the lord keeping something evil at bay... but in Hargreaves mind it looked more like they were just waiting. But waiting for what? He couldn’t say.

He tried once more to see into the fog from behind the window, but it was as if someone had erected a smooth cloudy wall in front of him. He reached for the handle of the door before he’d even turned his attention to it and opened to step through. He stretched out the candles in front of him, wax dripping onto the path as his hand shook, and he closed the door behind him. The scream came again, quieter. He could hear it was coming from more or less in front of him through the fog, but he was not eager in the least to step through it. His feet edged closer slowly. Half-stepping his was to the perimeter of the grounds left untouched. The tendrils at the bottom of the smog seemed to move slower than those further away, almost frozen. He gathered a deep breath to calm himself. When he exhaled the smog retreated as if it were any normal smoke. A small dent which beveled inwards... inviting him to step forward and forget his other senses. He lifted his foot to step over the boundary...

...and there she was. He couldn’t look away. His mouth agape but speechless. The trembling had returned. She stood there in front of him. A black eye, a busted lip, and blood crusted around the rips in her clothes. Amelia Forgrove was staring deep into his soul with her bright brown eyes. There were tears streaming down her pallor face. Her arms were down by her side, but she stood strong. Help me. The voice echoed around him. The girl in front of him hadn’t moved a muscle. He swung his light around him and half-turned every which-way. The smog had engulfed him. He tried to look down at the path, find the stones, but the tendrils were too thick. It was as if the tendrils were the floor and that he was squishing them down. You were my friend, Reverend. The voice said again. He looked forward. The echo definitely belonged to Amelia... but something was wrong. The voice sounded like it was... older... And it definitely did not match the screams he had heard. He took a couple steps forward and knelt on one knee before her, bringing his eye level to hers. You were meant to help me. The fog echoed. He could see the bank expression in her face. The bruise seemed fresh. Red spots of blood seemed to still surface around it.

“What’s happened to you?” Hargreaves managed to speak. His voice was low, and not as loud as he had meant it to be. He repeated himself, reaching into his pocket and producing a handkerchief. He wiped the tears from her face, but they kept coming. Her eyes didn’t look as if they in pain. “What are you doing out here? We need to get you somewhere warmer.” He stood up and reached his arm around her shoulder, pushing her slightly to get her moving. She went one slow step at a time. He was sure he’d pointed her in the right direction, but the way seemed longer than before.

The scream returned. Somehow it seemed both further away and closer. It sent a shiver down Hargreaves spine. Help me. Amelia’s echo urged. You were meant to help me. You have to help me. The echo was getting more frantic, and yet the child in front of him moved at the same slow pace. I’m afraid of him. Hargreaves stopped and turned slowly, making sure nobody else was in the immediate vicinity.

“Who are you afraid of, dear Amelia?” he asked, continuously prompting her to walk forward. “Is it the screaming? We aren’t far from the church, you won’t be able to hear it in there.” He lied, more for his own comfort than for hers. The screams from the man in the mist didn’t seem to stop. The sound only reverberated back and forth, getting louder and quieter in an unsteady rhythm. The depths and heights of the volume changing quickly - and then bursting - AGH! Hargreaves dropped the candles. The scream sounded like it was emanating from his own ear drums for a split second. He held his ear with one hand, his other on Amelia’s shoulder. He glanced at the candles - they were sinking into the tendrils of the Smog. They dropped out of sight, and they were left in the darkness. He stopped walking. “Amelia?” ... “Can you speak?” ... “Please for the sake of my sanity will you speak, child?” ...

He is here. He is here and you were meant to help. You didn’t help me. Why didn’t you help me. The man with no eyes is here. Why didn’t you help me Reverend? You could have saved me. You could have saved me. YOU COULD HAVE SAVED ME. Amelia’s scream was rising to meet the man’s which was hidden in the mist. The echoes bounced off of each other and only grew louder. Hargreaves let his hand go of Amelia. His head felt like it was burning. He crumpled down to the floor first on his knees, then on his side.

“Make it stop.” He said trembling. “Make it stop!” He curled up. “Dear God of the highest heaven! Take my soul out of me, send me to any pit of hell but just make the screaming STOP!!”

...

And it did.

Hargreaves opened his eyes. He was on the ground outside of the church. He removed his hands from his ears. He sat himself up and looked around. The stars above were shining brightly. He glanced down the hill and spotted a beer bottle at the end of the path where it meets the forest... and a fog was rolling in...