You cannot see the church on the hill from the valley today. The wind causes the snowflakes to roar round the stone walls. Some manage to escape the tireless race of the storm and settle on graves that surround the building. The graves are covered in thorned weeds and thick, creeping brambles. There are no loved ones left to clear the graves and plant fresh flowers in remembrance. Only the path lies clear, even the brambles recoiling from where he treads.
His car is a mile away now. It speeds round the bends, never hesitating with caution. Even with dark falling, he does not switch on the headlights. He knows the road well, he has travelled it for many years.
Inside the church, leaves pile against the wall. Blown in through the broken windows, the give off the smell of damp and rot. The stone floor is cracked in places, moss creeping through the splits. The pews still rest in the space they did before. Grey with thick dust, rather than the brown wood that was polished every week with bodies dress in their Sunday best. The kneelers, which once supported the devout as they prayed for absolution, lay abandoned on the floor. The thick embroidery has long since been chews through by cold, pregnant mice. If art once adorned the walls, there is no sign of it now. Just cold, bleak stone.
His car reaches the end of the path and the engine turns off. The church feels his stare upon it and the groan of the wind amplifies. He climbs out of the car. The snow melts where his boots fall on the path, the hiss of steam lost in the sound of the screaming storm. He reaches the heavy wooden doors, they seem to shrink before his hands but when he turns the knocker they open easily. He steps inside.
His bleached, blue eyes have no need to adjust to the darkness. They have known darker than this. He walks to the end of the centre aisle and stares at the broken alter ahead of him. Above it, the last remaining stained-glass window, Mary the Virgin cradling her child. Once beautiful and revered, the colour is now drained. Cracks have formed with some small panes missing.
He raises his gaunt face so he can take it in, although he knows every inch by memory. After a moment, the corners of his mouth twitch. A sound begins, quiet a first, the sound of glass scraping glass. He stands frozen, his eyes do not leave the window. His smile widens. His eyes blaze, the pupils engulfed by the blue, no space for light to enter. The screaming of glass grows louder, now unbearable for anyone but him. This is what fuels him, causes his spine to fizz, he feels sparks in his fingers.
Finally, he grins. No longer the screaming of glass, now the desperate final scream of a mother. A scream of fear and agony, of futility. Deafening and piercing.
Another pane in the stained-glass cracks. For a moment, silence.
His face returns to neutral. Black blooms in his eyes once again. He turns and leaves the church. Once outside he closes the door and feels in his pocket for the cold, iron key. The lock turns, sealing the doors for another day. He walks to his car, he will be back in the morning to open up. Just in case.
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