"I know you're not a believer," her boyfriend Mark had said to her earlier that morning. "But I also know you're searching for deeper meaning. Just come to church with me. No pressure. It's a great way to meet people. You've been moping around your apartment too long. It's time to find some friends."
Reluctantly, Felicity had agreed to attend Mark's mega church. She'd recently found a job as a librarian at the Air Force Academy base near Colorado Springs. Mark, who was a civilian auto mechanic on the base, had asked her out a few days after she'd moved to town. Their first date was awkward, but they'd connected anyway. They'd become an item about three weeks before this church trip.
Now, Felicity was carrying Mark's toddler Mackenzie through a crowd of strangers. The church's wooden floors and vaulted, windowed ceilings echoed hundreds of voices. The space smelled like pine wood polish and new carpet. Mackenzie was asleep and drooling on Felicity's shoulder. The white lace ruffles of Mackenzie's dress scratched Felicity's arm. Felicity waited for Mark to meet them in the lobby near the Starbucks stand.
Churchgoers streamed around them, talking and gesticulating with their bibles. Many church women wore skirt suits or flowing floral dresses. Flawless tanned makeup facades covered their faces. Their hair was teased and tossed in the latest style. Most of the men wore khaki pants and collared shirts. Their hair was short and parted to the side. Nearly all the passers-by had a silver or gold cross hanging from their necks. People with dreadlocks or wrinkly jeans would walk by every once in a while. Felicity might have bolted if it weren't for these other, "imperfect" folks.
Felicity looked longingly west out the windows, towards Pikes Peak. The greenish-brown mountain had recently put on its white winter crown, but Felicity knew she still had time to fish and hike in the nearby foothills before snow clogged the back trails. This church trip had lopped off half of her day. I wish I was up there, she thought.
Felicity found what other people called "God" in quiet mountain forests and calm lakes of the Rockies. Church seemed to miss the point--whatever that was. Still, she found herself falling for this handsome Christian mechanic Mark and his sweet little girl. They were the only reasons she'd visited Holy Mountain that Sunday.
"I don't know if I believe in a Christian God," she'd told Mark during their first argument a week before. "I mean...what if Satan was running the church. How would you know?"
"You'd know," Mark said, putting his fingers through his dark hair. "Besides, God wouldn't allow that to happen."
"Why not?" Felicity asked. "He supposedly causes all kinds of other bad stuff to happen--you know--to punish people."
"He just wouldn't let Satan do that. I have faith. That's why not."
"Christians do a lot of hating on Muslims and gays and anybody else who doesn't agree with them," Felicity said. "That sounds evil to me."
"God doesn't force them to be that way," Mark said. "That's their choice. Christ said to love one another."
"But this is all supposed to be part of God's plan," Felicity said. "Either we have free will, or we don't. If God interferes one little bit in our lives or the universe, then free will doesn't really matter."
Mark shrugged and said, "You won't understand until you give Christianity an honest try. It can change your life."
"Tell that to my parents. They live in Salt Lake, where they practically hang you if you don't convert to LDS."
Mark laughed, sticking his hands in the pockets of his grease-stained gray pants. "The Mormons are deluded by Satan. We're the real Christians."
"Yeah, sure," Fellicity said, squinting at Mark apprehensively. For the first time, the gleam of her new love for Mark had tarnished a bit.
The argument ended there. Felicity decided to keep an open mind about Mark's faith, despite his hypocrisy. Now...here I am, she thought, feeling like her skin had turned red and she'd sprouted horns. Looking around, she wondered if anyone could tell she didn't believe. It's not like you're wearing a scarlet letter, she thought.
"There's my beautiful non-believer," Mark said from behind Felicity.
She turned toward him, put a finger to her lips, and gave the people around them a quick glance. "Mackenzie's asleep," she said. "It's better if she stays that way during the service."
Mark was standing next to another, older man who wore a black suit. The aging man was tall, skinny, and balding. His eyes were big and dark. His nose was fighter crooked. His long fingers shook Felicity's hand delicately. Smiling warmly, he said, "I'm Pastor Reagan. We try to keep children away from the auditorium. Doing so provides our adult members with an optimum opportunity to focus on worship during sermons. Don't worry. We have a full-service child care complex."
"Oh," Felicity said. "Makes sense, I guess. Nice to meet you. I'm Felicity."
"Yes, I know. Mark and I have talked about you."
"Really?" Felicity said, crooking an eyebrow at Mark.
"Come," Pastor Reagan said, grabbing Felicity by the elbow. "Let's get Mackenzie to the childcare complex before the service starts."
Felicity almost tripped over her high heels. This was the first time in months she'd dressed in anything but jeans and a t-shirt outside of work. On her way to the daycare room, she'd caught a few church men eying her. She wondered if her knee-length black silk skirt had been a poor choice.
The halls had already begun to clear as ushers guided churchgoers to the stadium seating inside the main auditorium. They reached the childcare complex after a block-long walk. Neon green walls, a crescent shaped desk, and a tall clerk greeted them. Behind the desk was set of swinging, saloon-style doors. Felicity saw the legs of children skittering around behind the doors. Screams and laughs echoed out past the desk and into the hallway.
The childcare clerk wore khakis and a baby blue polo shirt with the church logo embroidered on it. His smile was toothy. "I'm Nate," the clerk said, gesturing at his name tag. "I run the childcare complex." He picked up a clipboard and handed it to Mark. "If you're the parent of this little one," Nate said to Mark, "I'll need you to fill out this form."
"What's this?" Mark asked. "A waiver...in a church?"
Nate said, "It's just a formality. Your kid's safe. We have several qualified and caring staff members." Nate stared at Mackenzie and tilted his head like a dog, until he caught Felicity watching him. He glanced at Felicity and smiled big again. Felicity stared back into his cold, dark eyes. He seemed to be looking into an abyss. "No worries mom," Nate said. "We'll take good care of your little girl."
No one, not even Pastor Reagan, bothered to correct Nate's presumption. Felicity hugged Mackenzie tight, thinking, Mom. Wow. That felt right. I wonder how far I'd get if I just ran away with this sweet girl in my arms right now. She laughed to herself, but something she couldn't quite articulate bugged her about the churchgoers. Even Mark's personality had turned a little plastic. He grinned too big, too much. His words had become restrained and vague.
Pastor Reagan squinted at Nate. "Are you new here kid?"
Nate looked at the pastor. "They hired me a couple weeks ago, after...Sharon..." He bit his lip and his Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed.
"Right, right," Pastor Reagan said.
"What happened to Sharon?" Felicity asked. Mackenzie rubbed her eyes and fussed a bit as she took-in her surroundings.
"Well...I don't want to freak you out..." Nate said..
"Whoa. What?" Mark asked, reluctantly handing the signed waiver back to Nate. "I think you better tell us."
"It's nothing," Pastor Reagan said. "Sharon and a couple other care providers must've skipped town. We haven't heard from them since. I don't think they were happy here. They'd started dabbling in...Wicca...I think..."
"Whew," Mark laughed. "You scared me there. With all the talk of Ted Haggard and his ministry's sins, I get a little suspicious. Too bad about the girls though. I hope the Lord finds it in his heart to help them."
"Do you really feel comfortable leaving Mackenzie here?" Felicity asked.
"Of course," Mark said, grinning. His pressed blue collared shirt matched his aqua eyes. "The waiver's new, but I've done this dozens of times before." Something warm, fuzzy, and purring kneaded Felicity's heart as she looked into the tropical waters of Marks irises. His raven hair made those eyes even more hypnotic. Nodding, she let go of her inhibitions.
Nate walked around the counter and stuck a puppy-shaped paper with "88" printed on it to Mackenzie's shoulder. "I'll take Mackenzie now," he said, reaching out. Mackenzie looked back at him and said, "No. Want 'Licity."
"Awe sweetie," Felicity said. "I love you too." She looked at Mark and Pastor Reagan. "Can't I just hold her through the ritual-or-whatever?"
Nate took Mackenzie from Felicity as Mark and the pastor shook their heads. "Our sermons are very special," Pastor Reagan said. "You'll see why in a second. Mackenzie will be fine."
Mackenzie began to bawl as Nate carried her behind the saloon-style doors. Her cries yanked at Felicity's heart. Mark saw Felicity's concern. He put his arm around her shoulders and guided her toward the auditorium "You're a natural born mom," Mark told her. "But don't worry. Mackenzie will be fine."
How do you absolutely know that? Felicity wondered.
On the way to the auditorium, Felicity thought about Nate's lifeless stare and her own speech to Mark about the Devil running the church. She sensed that something strange had hidden in the brightness of the church. Her eyes searched for evidence of her instinctual fears, but everything looked so clean and nice. She understood why people liked to come to church there.
Felicity followed Mark and Pastor Reagan into the dark auditorium. Overhead lights bathed a stage, below, in cool serene colors. A live rock band played praise music in lulling rhythms. Two jumbo screens showed a closeup of the show. The trio found three empty seats close to the stage. Mark said, "Reserved seats: It helps to know one of the pastors."
Pastor Reagan smiled.
Thousands of worshipers were standing and singing along with the music: "God of wonders, beyond our galaxy..." Felicity sat down until she became afraid that she was breaking some kind of church rule. She stood up and watched the stage as several men and women in front of her swayed to the music with their hands in the air Wow, she thought. It's like they're mesmerized. She looked around guiltily, knowing that, if God did exist, he would probably send her straight to hell for thinking things like that about people's faith.
I don't belong here, she thought. Maybe I'm the Devil.
The music lasted for a long time. Felicity realized no one was watching her, so she calmed down a bit. She thought about Mackenzie, and how they'd left her with strangers. Catholic churches these days are full of molesters, she thought. Are Evangelists are any different. I mean look at Jimmy Swaggart. That guy's a perve.
Holy Mountain's pastor came out on stage and began to preach what he called an "apologetic speech." He condemned Muslims and Jews for their beliefs. He disgraced Democrats and Leftists too. The speech confirmed all of Felicity's fears about churches. This pastor was on the warpath, and he was inciting others to hate. Then he ranted against evolutionary history and, eventually, science:
"So Stephen Hawking--some drooling invalid--and a bunch of other no names cook up a batch of numbers and letters. This nonsense is supposed to prove there are other universes? I say they are the agents of Satan. My God is a wrathful and righteous God. If these scientist sinners don't take him into their hearts and fall on their knees, they will suffer..."
"Amen," the crowd shouted in unison. Mark and Pastor Reagan nodded their assent and clapped.
"There is only one God," the head pastor shouted while picking up and pointing at his bible. "This is his book. You live by it and love him...not man...but him, and you make war upon the agents of Satan. The terrorist Muslim devil worshipers want a jihad, well they've got one, by God. We are God's chosen, and we shall prevail against the atheists, the Buddhists, the Jews, and anyone else who chooses the Devil's lies over The One Truth."
The crowd made a standing ovation. Black and white film reels of Nazi Germany played in Felicity's head. She pictured the pastor in Saddam Hussein's green uniform and beret. The Devil is inside this place, she thought. Something's wrong with Mackenzie. I can feel it. She looked over at Mark. He seemed dazed.
"We are righteous," the head pastor yelled, ripping off his suit jacket, throwing it down, and putting a hand through his thinning hair. "Jesus is the only way, and he has chosen us. We are not perfect, nor will we ever be. In fact, sometimes we must do terrible things to save our family from terrorists, heathens, or even temptation. But as long as we believe in Jesus--not the false Gods of the Hindus or the Witches--our God will embrace us in heaven."
The audience continued to clap as the band began to play a serene melody.
Felicity rose from her seat and ran up the stairs. She burst out of the doors and into the strangest daylight she'd ever seen. It was almost noon. The sky had clouded over. The air outside the windows was misty and pregnant with dusk light. The glowing fog obscured the mountains. The church halls were deserted. Even the ushers and greeters were spellbound in the auditorium.
Felicity kicked off her heels and sprinted down the hall toward the childcare complex. An electric chime dinged when she walked inside the room where she'd last seen Mackenzie. Nate the clerk was gone. The room was dark. An odd drumming started thrumming from behind the saloon-style doors leading to the play area. Felicity thought she heard chanting too.
She hopped over the counter and went through the swinging doors into the play area. A couple of orange emergency lights shone their Halloween beams on the huge room full of balls, dolls, and playground equipment. Two metal double doors stood open, opposite Felicity. Fire crackled and flashed beyond this entryway. The thrumming and chanting, which was louder now, came from inside the side room. Felicity heard the muffled screams of children under those sounds.
Felicity tiptoed along the wall, stepping over a building block steeple. She peeked past the threshold of the doors with one eye.
Several tall, skinless humanoids stood in a circle around this smaller room. Frozen with fear, many toddlers and babies sat between the monsters' sitting circle and a fire. One emaciated creature, with the crooked nose and big eyes of the clerk Nate, stood next to the fire. He had a little girl by the hair. Bleeding from several wounds, the girl hung limp from the monster's hand.
Felicity turned away, toward the serene, dark toy room. This is fake, she thought. Dreams...this could be a dream...but...I have to save Mackenzie either way--if she's still...
Felicity turned back toward the grizzly scene. The creature standing next to the fire was holding a human skin in his hand. A small, discarded body lain in the shadowy corner of the room. Some of the living toddlers were screaming now. Mackenzie was one of them.
Thank God, Felicity said to herself.
In a low voice, the creature in the center of the room said, "The humans on this plane call us Skinwalkers. For years, those of us who could escape our dying universe, haunted their wilderness. Humans made myths about us. They claimed we had come from a Shaman who killed and gutted his family. Others claimed we were witches who'd sung incantations at black masses. Now, they will know the truth of us."
The speaking Skinwalker draped the little girl's skin over its shoulders. The world went fuzzy. Vertigo overtook Felicity. Then, in the Skinwalker's place, the little girl who'd just died stood alive and well again. The Skinwalkers around the room roared their approval.
Tears blurred Felicity's vision. The Skinwalkers were huge. She had no weapons and no way to free all the children. This has to be a nightmare, but I can't just let them all die, she thought. God, how can I save them? God didn't answer. She considered going back to the auditorium for help, but something kept here there, staring.
Another Skinwalker stepped into the circle. Mackenzie, who'd stopped crying by then, pointed up at the creature. "Bad doggie," she said, scowling. Felicity felt the grief and hurt, which had frozen her, thaw a bit. She almost smiled at her little girl's bravery. Meanwhile, the Skinwalker picked Mackenzie up by her pointing hand.
Anger ignited in Felicity. She shoved the horrible idea of abandoning all those children into the back of her mind. If she couldn't save them all, she had to save one: the one she loved. It's no use if everyone dies, Felicity thought. God...I mean the real God of meadows, storms, forests, and light, way outside forsaken places like this...forgive me for having to make this choice. I never wanted or imagined it. I'm sorry.
As the creature brought up a carving knife from its side, Felicity ran into the room and hurdled the other screaming children. One little boy said, "Mama?" and Felicity nearly collapsed from the sadness of the unthinkable choice she had made. The Skinwalker in the center of the circle had moved the blade near Mackenzie's stomach. Mackenzie hung from the monster's clenched hand, her little white dress fluttering in the firelight. She whimpered: "Bad Doggie, bad doggie, bad doggie." Her tiny, kneading voice kept Felicity in motion.
Felicity threw a shoulder into the gray, hairy gut of the creature holding Mackenzie. The Skinwalker dropped Mackenzie and Felicity caught her in mid-air. A couple other monsters reached for them as Felicity made for the door. One clawed hand caught her blouse sleeve, but Felicity's momentum tore her free.
While running through the toy room, past the crescent shaped desk, and into the misty twilight of the hallway, Felicity heard screams coming from the auditorium. The church began to shake. Felicity paused and looked toward the cries. Thousands of people were stampeding through the hallway toward her. She looked back at the childcare complex and saw a Skinwalker chasing her on all fours.
Felicity ran toward a green exit sign. Looking over her shoulder again, she saw a huge, black wolf emerge from the childcare complex. The crowd tried to avoid the monster, but the masses behind the front lines pushed past and over them in a tidal wave. Some thing was chasing them too. Two other wolves emerged from the kid's room and herded the crowd back in the other direction.
More people fell. More wolves emerged. People yelled and flailed to no avail. Turning away from this horror, Felicity burst out of a fire door and into the dusk-light of the alien day. She shut the glass door behind her and wedged it closed with a large landscaping stone. The sound of a helicopter chopping the air came from above. She recognized the aircraft as an Air Force vehicle. "Hold it right there ma'am," a voice boomed from the Humvee-lined road fifty feet away. "Walk slowly towards us."
Hundreds of soldiers dressed in black or camouflage uniforms pointed their weapons at Felicity. Many of them trained M4s on the Holy Mountain Church. Others held missile and tear gas launchers. She caught ghostly glimpses of these figures through the mist.
"Thank God," Felicity said, squeezing Mackenzie. "We're saved."The Librarian and all other materials on Tim's Blog are copyrighted by me, Tim Miller. Please contact me via email regarding publishing or redistribution of stories or blogs. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I apologize for any formatting errors. I'm a writer, not a code monkey.
This story can be read as a stand-alone narrative, but it's also a chapter in a blog novel. If you'd like to read the other stories in this growing book, please click on the links below. To leave a comment, please go to the story's page by clicking on the title. Scroll down and type your comment in the Disqus box.Chapter Six: The Cop
Chapter Seven: The Hunted
Chapter Eight: The Escapee
Chapter Nine: The Mercedes Man
Chapter Ten: The Shooter
Chapter Eleven: The Monster
Chapter Twelve: The Yehasuri
Chapter Thirteen: The General
Chapter Fourteen: The Wendigo
Chapter Sixteen: The Suburbanites
Chapter Seventeen: The Paralibrarian
Chapter Eighteen: The Blighted
Chapter Nineteen: The Captive
Tags: monster church christianity christian devil satan horror skinned alive skinwalker myth legend native american shame folktale library librarian creature military
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