The Haunter of the Sanctuary

It was just after service at the Antioch Apostolic Evangelical Baptist Church when Wilma screamed. The three of us were standing by the coffee machine and discussing tonight’s football game. Fred was chewing the last bite of his doughnut, while Robert rambled on about the Giants. I held a mostly full cup of decaf.

Then we heard the shriek. Robert went quiet, Fred choked on his mouthful of doughnut, and I set my coffee on the nearby counter. A moment later, Wilma came running toward us with a face as white as snow. Her long light blue dress flowed as she ran, and her long black hair trailed out behind her.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“In the kitchen was the biggest rat I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Rats?” Fred said. “Who let a rat into the church?”

“No one let the animal come in, Fred,” Robert said. “I’m sure it chewed its way in through the wall.”

Wilma moved her hands to her mouth, and her eyes went wide.

I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Please, Wilma, take us to where you saw the rat.”

She nodded without a word and led us into the kitchen. The room was still, with not a soul inside. Various wrappers and boxes were scattered across the table at the center of the room.

Robert glanced around the room. “I don’t see no rats.”

“It ran behind the refrigerator.” Wilma pointed to the far end of the room.

The fridge was pressed between the wall and the counter, so I had no idea how an animal so large had squeezed its way behind it. But I wasn’t one to question Wilma’s word. With the help of Fred and Robert, we pulled the fridge away from the wall.

A sudden horrible stench assaulted us before we even set it down. Fred held his mouth to keep from hurling, Robert leaned against the wall as he pressed his nose shut, and I almost dropped the fridge. I ran to a nearby window and slid it open, breathing in the warm summer air. Wilma found a can of air freshener and sprayed it wildly around the room.

“Good golly,” Robert said. “That’s the biggest rat turd I ever saw.”

“Watch your language,” Wilma said. “This is a church, for goodness sake.”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

I finally pulled myself away from the window to glance behind the fridge, and indeed there was excrement lying there, too large for any normal rat to produce. Behind it was a large hole in the wall with visible bite marks around it. I turned back to Robert and Fred, but spared Wilma a glance.

“Uh, would you mind giving us a moment alone, Wilma? I need to talk with just the guys for a bit.”

“O-Okay, I’ll leave you to that.” She nodded and left the room.

When she had shut the door behind her, I pulled Fred and Robert in close. “I figure this ain’t no ordinary church mouse. It’s probably a stray dog, or maybe some kid who found an old wig and broke in here as a prank.”

“So what do ya reckon we should do, Andy?” Robert asked.

“Well, we don’t really have any way of catching ‘im at the moment. So I think it might be a good idea to go home for now and come back later after better supplying ourselves.”

“Should I bring my rifle?” Fred asked.

“Nah, I figure we won’t be needing our guns. If it’s just some stupid kid, we don’t wanna go shooting at ‘im.”

“I hope you’re right, Andy.”

With that, the three of us left the room. I assured Wilma that we’d come back later that day to take care of the rat. She thanked us and left the church. The three of us went home to gather supplies.

Upon arriving home, I took a moment to eat a turkey sandwich and some cream of broccoli with rice soup. Then I got a backpack out of the closet and several objects which I thought might be useful: a flashlight, a small hand saw, and a couple bags of peanuts, in case we had to stay past supper time. I also got a coil of rope from the basement.

I was about to leave when I spotted my Bible on the front table. It was the King James Version, which I had won in a contest as a teenager. In my haste to leave that morning, I had forgotten it at home. As I eyed the holy book, an uneasy feeling crept into my stomach. Before bedtime the night before, I read about how Jesus and His diciples healed people who were possesed by demons. The memory came back to me then, but I didn’t know why. I picked it up and stared for a moment, before placing it with the other items in my backpack. Then I left the house.

When I arrived back at church, Fred and Robert were already waiting for me in the parking lot. Fred was eating a ham and cheese sandwich, and Robert had a bit of ketchup on his upper lip.

“Took ya long enough,” Robert said.

“I guess I just eat a little slower than you.” Then I gestured across my lips, and Robert wiped his on the sleeve of his work shirt. It occurred to me that I probably should’ve changed clothes before returning, though that would’ve only made me even later.

“Come on,” Fred said. “Let’s catch us some rats.”

We nodded to each other and entered the church. Without anyone walking about, the building was quiet as a tomb. Our footsteps against the carpet floor echoed throughout the room. I bit my lower lip.

As we searched the room, I crawled under the front desk and turned on my flashlight. A quick scan of the floor showed some dust bunnies and stray lint, but no animal droppings. Then I heard something scrape across the carpet, and I hit my head on the drawer. I held my head between my arms on the floor, my eyes slammed shut. Then I heard a voice that made me open them again.

“You boys hungry?” Wilma asked. “I brought home baked cookies.”

I crawled out from under the desk. Wilma stood by the front door, holding a basket in her arm. Fred marched towards her, and Robert was already standing beside her, eating an oatmeal cookie. I approached them.

“Wilma, what are you doing here? I thought you went home for the day.”

“But I thought you might like a treat while you’re working.”

“It’s too dangerous for you here! What if the rat were to attack you?”

“Hey, Andy,” Robert said. “I thought you told us it wasn’t no rat that broke into the church.”

I glared at Robert.

“Not a rat?” Wilma asked.

I made a circular gesture with my hands. “Well, we don’t rightly know what animal it is. Could be one of them beavers or maybe a capybara. Won’t know for sure until we see it.”

“Might also be some kid pulling a prank,” Robert said. “Isn’t that what you told us before?”

“Yes, Robert.” I frowned at him, then turned back to Wilma. “We’ll take care of things here. Why don’t you head on home.”

“Here, at least take these cookies before I go.” She handed me the basket, and as I held it, Robert tried to sneak out another cookie.

Wilma frowned at him. “Oh, Robert, at least let Fred have one before you eat them all. He’s been waiting long enough.”

“Sorry, ma’am.” Robert pulled his hand away.

Smiling, Fred reached in and took a couple cookies. “This is enough for me. You two can have the rest.”

“I’m not hungry right now,” I said. “I’ll have mine later.”

Robert took another out of the basket and bit it.

“Now that we’ve all had our fill, I think we should see Wilma off.”

Wilma glanced at the floor. “If you’re sure I wouldn’t be any help. I wouldn’t want to get in your way…”

“It’s not that I don’t enjoy your company. Like I said before, I just don’t want you getting hurt. You understand, right?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Good, good. I’ll call you later tonight, after we catch the animal.”

Wilma’s face perked up. “I’d appreciate that. Thank you.”

I went over to the door and took the handle, but it wouldn’t budge. “That’s strange; it’s stuck.”

Fred pushed the handicap button, but nothing happened. After trying to open the door again, I reached up and fiddled with the automatic switch, but still nothing changed.

I turned back to the others. “I think we’re locked in here.”

Fred and Robert glanced at each other. Wilma dug her fingers into her skirt.

I tried opening the windows, but they were all locked. Fred picked up a metal chair and smashed it against the window. I gasped and shielded my face, but the chair only bounced off the glass.

“Fred, what’s gotten into you!” I took the chair away from him.

“We gotta get outta here somehow, Andy,” Fred said. “We can always buy the church a new window. I got enough money to pay for it.”

“It’s not about the money, Fred. We should at least check the other doors or try to call someone before we start breaking things.”

Robert waved his cellphone. “Hey, I can’t get a signal! What’s going on here?”

Fred and Wilma tried their phones to no avail. Part of me felt foolish for leaving mine at home, but I doubt that it would’ve worked either. I checked the nearby corded phone by the wall, but didn’t hear anything.

“Oh, Andy,” Wilma said, “What are we going to do? We’re trapped here.”

“Now, let’s not start panicking,” I said. “There’s gotta be some way outta this building.”

We split up into two groups—Fred and Robert in one while Wilma and I searched elsewhere.

Wilma and I began our search in the nusery. The room was dark when we entered as the curtains were drawn, and not a soul was inside. A stuffed toy dog lay on the carpet in the middle of the room. Wilma picked it up and placed it on a nearby chair. I drew the curtains, letting the afternoon sunlight pour into the room.

When I tried opening the windows, they wouldn’t budge. I pounded my fist against the thick pane of glass, then rested my forehead against it. Wilma placed her hands on my shoulders.

“It’ll be all right, Andrew,” she said. “Someone will come here and open the door for us soon enough.”

“If we’re still alive by then.”

“Don’t talk like that. There’s more than enough food in the kitchen to last the four of us a week.”

“I’m not talking about starvation.” I spun to face her. “Whatever creature you saw earlier is obviously the one who locked us in. What if it’s something dangerous?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing of the sort. It’s probably just a stray dog who got in before the cleaning man locked up.”

“And if it’s not? What if some madman starts terrorizing us?”

“Well, you’re pretty strong. I’m sure that you could protect us.” She drew closer to me.

I put my hands on her shoulders, and was about to pull her close, but a crash made me stop. I walked over to the door across the room and peered into the hallway. There was no sign of any creature, but I was sure that something had called.

Wilma approached me again. “Is something the matter?”

“I thought I heard something,” I said. “Stay here for a moment. I’ll take a look.”

She nodded. I left the room, shutting the door behind me. When I entered the sanctuary, the only light came from between the gaps in the curtains lining the south wall. I didn’t bother checking the windows, for I knew they wouldn’t open.

I walked along the aisle by the north wall, my hand traveling over the pews. I gazed up at the empty pulpit where our pastor just preached a sermon just that morning. The pulpit stood on a raised platform; behind it was the choir wing. A large wooden cross hung on the wall above it. I could feel something staring down at me as I stood in the sanctuary, as if two giant eyeballs hung from the wall. I became aware, to my horror, that I was not alone in the room.

I braced myself against the pews to keep from falling to the floor. I heard another cry by the south side of the room and turned. A figure stood at the last pew, and I knew it was the creature Wilma saw before.

Its long hair fell over its face, filled with twigs and soil, and behind the hair, a long, thin face shown, while its body was covered with leaves.

“Hello?” I asked. “Who’s that?”

It didn’t answer my call. Instead, the creature ran out into the aisle toward me. I reached into my bag, but before I could grab anything, it pushed me to the floor.

My bag slid under the pew, and everything spilled out onto the floor. I saw the outline of the rope and reached for it. The creature pressed its hand against my wrist. With its other hand, it turned my head to face it.

The hair over its face parted enough now for me to get a better look at its face. Its skin was covered with a thin layer of dirt, and its eyes were black and vacant, like it stared at something far behind me. As I looked at it, the creature screamed at me.

“Sheen!” he said, in a rough, scratchy voice. “Sheen sheen sheen.” Then he pointed to his chest.

“Sheen? Is that your name?”

He nodded, then jabbed my chest with a finger.

“My name is Andy.”

“Andy… Andy.” Spittle misted my face as he said my name.

I shuddered. He pounded his chest and howled. I pushed him off and got back on my feet. As I reached under the pew, Sheen grabbed me, and his long fingernails dug into my flesh. A burning pain ran across my shouder.

My hand grasped a weighty metal object, and I held it up to my face. It was my flashlight. I turned back to Sheen, who still clawed at me. I aimed the torch at his face and pressed the button on the rear. The flashlight lit up his face.

Sheen screeched and slunk back against the wall, his arms covering his bony face. I sat on the edge of the pew and reached for my supplies, still keeping the flashlight held on Sheen’s face. My fingers tightened around the rope when Sheen rushed me again.

He knocked the flashlight out of my hand, where it landed on one of the pews several feet away. I threw the rope around his arms and body. His fingers pressed against my throat, and I couldn’t breathe.

I pulled the rope tight, but the lack of air made it difficult. My palms started to sweat, and the rope slipped through my fingers. I kneed the creature in the stomach. Sheen’s grip loosened from my throat.

I held the rope tight in my hands and pulled with all my strength. The coil bound Sheen’s arms against him. I wrapped the bindings around him and tied it tight so he couldn’t move. As I stepped back, my breath was heavy.

I sat him on the pew and retrieved my flashlight. Then I switched it off and returned it to my bag, along with the Bible that lay on the pew. After making sure that Sheen couldn’t break free, I went to find the others.

When I returned to the nursery, my heart was still racing. I burst through the door and only the doorknob kept me from collapsing onto the floor. Wilma was sitting in the chair, but she stood when I entered.

“Oh, Andrew, you’re hurt!”

“I’ll be okay, Wilma. I’ve got that creature tied up in the sanctuary.”

“Oh, did that rat do this to you?”

“It’s not a rat. I think it’s a crazy man.”

Wilma gasped. “A human!”

“Lets find the others. Maybe we can get some answers out of him.”

As they left the room, I glanced into my bag and paused at the doorway. Sitting on top of the other items was a church Bible from the sanctuary; I had taken the wrong one in my haste. My eyes slammed shut, and I pinched the bridge between them. I placed the book on a shelf and left, making a mental note to find my own Bible later. For some reason, I felt helpless without it.

We found Fred and Robert in the kitchen with a broken stool at their feet. I looked down at it, then glared up at them. They shared an uneasy look between them.

“Come on, men,” I said. “I’ve captured our intruder.” I beckoned them to follow.

I led them through the halls to the sanctuary, but when we reached the door, I stopped. The darkness of the sanctuary stared back at me through the windows of the doorway. I could feel my heart beating in my chest, and my face grew still.

“It’s in here, right?” Fred asked.

“Right!” I opened the door.

I scanned the pews, but didn’t see Sheen. When I found the place I had left him, all that remained was the loose coils of rope which had bound him. The rope had been split in two, with frayed bite marks around the break.

“I left him right here,” I said.

“I believe ya,” Robert said. “He tore up your clothes pretty good, and just look at the rope.”

“Ya think he might still be around here?” Fred asked.

“Possibly,” I said.

Fred and Robert searched under all the pews, each on opposite sides of the sanctuary. I stepped toward the pulpit, then looked back. Wilma stood against the wall at the back of the room. I went over to her.

“Wilma, have you been standing here alone this whole time?”

She glanced up from the floor. “Yes, I suppose so. Why do you ask?”

“You need to stay with the group. Come with me.” I took her arm, and we went to the other side of the room. My grip on Wilma’s wrist tightened a little when we approached the pulpit. Inside the pulpit were various papers, some pens, and a couple Bibles, but no creature. The choir wing was likewise bare.

I turned back to the others. “You two find any sign of him?” They both shook their heads. “Then he’s gone. He could be anywhere in this building!”

“Let’s check in the choir storage closet,” Wilma said.

I snapped my fingers. “Yeah, he’s probably hiding back there.” I signaled for Robert and Fred to follow us.

The room was pitch black when we entered, so I fumbled for the light switch. Wilma went into the room and disappeared. I was about to yell after her when the light came on. The light bulb above her swung back and forth as she let go of the chain. I shook my head and followed her inside.

She went to the first closet and was about to open it, but I placed a hand on the door.

“Hold on there, Wilma. We don’t know if he’s in there. What if he jumps out at you?”

“I’m being careful, Andrew.” She stepped aside and opened the door.

All that the closet contained was a set of choir robes. I pushed a robe aside, but nothing was behind it. We tried a few of the other closets, careful to avoid any surprise attacks. Each of them was bare as well.

“I’m starting to think he ain’t in this room either,” Robert said.

“Just keep looking, Robert.” I frowned as I opened another closet. “He’s got to be around here somewhere.”

“Well, I’m not wasting anymore time here.”

“You’re more than welcome to check somewhere else, but I intend to sweep this place clean before moving on.”

“I think I will.” Then Robert left.

“Fred, go with him. See that he doesn’t hurt himself.”

Fred nodded and followed him.

My frown deepened as I returned to checking the closets. But when Wilma placed a hand on my shoulder, my brows softened.

“Did you have to be so harsh with them?” she asked.

“Probably not.” I opened another closet.

“They’re only trying to help you find the creature. I’m sure that they want to capture it just as much as you do.”

Not taking my eyes off of Wilma, I opened another closet. “Next time we see them, I’ll–”

Sheen jumped out from the behind the choir robe and tacked me. His screaming hammered my eardrums. I felt his hands reach for my neck.

Wilma started to approach me.

“No, find the others and bring them back here!” I said.

She ran out of the room.

I kicked Sheen in the stomach, but he didn’t let go. He growled and bit me in the arm. The pain shot through my shoulder. I grit my teeth and pounded my fist against his head.

He let go of my arm and rolled off me. I stood and looked down at my arm. Blood dripped from where he had bit me, with bits of black filth stuck in the wound. I held the bite with my free hand and looked at Sheen.

The creature wiped his face with the back of his hand, still staring at me. He rushed at me with his hands reaching. My eyes darted all about, but there wasn’t anything nearby to defend myself with. When he came near, I swung my bag into his head. Sheen ducked below it and grabbed my shirt. He shoved me against the wall by the door.

I tried punching him in the face, but he dodged the blow. He lifted me off of the floor by the arms. At his great strength, I gasped. No normal boy of his frame could lift a grown man. I kicked him in the shin, and he let me fall.

My body slumped beside the doorway. Before I could stand, Sheen planted a bare foot on my chest. A few flakes of dried soil fell from his toes. I tried to stand, but he was too heavy.

I tried to punch and kick him, but my arms and legs couldn’t reach. He knelt on my chest and grabbed my neck. My fingers coiled around his wrists and pulled them away. We strugged there for a moment, his hands about half an inch from my throat.

Then he kneed me in the kidney, and I let go. His hands grasped my head. He smashed it against the hard wood floor over and over. The world around me grew dark. Just as I lost consciousness, I felt him drag me away.

I awoke in a small, brightly lit room with the worst headache of my life. Everything was a blur for several minutes, but when the haze cleared, I found a shelf of cleaning supplies to my left and a stack of boxes to my right.

Mops and brooms rested against the shelf beside a package of paper towels. The fluorescent light above made everything look a dull color. I closed my eyes for a time.

When I opened them again, my headache had softened a little. I tried to sit, but the ropes bound me in place. My bag lay against the far wall across from me.

I rolled until I was facing the bag, then I wiggled across the floor like a worm. Soon my body began to ache. Every few moments, I would rest. Halfway to the bag, I noticed the pain in my arm flare up again.

I groaned and lay limp on the floor for a time, then I continued crawling toward the bag. When I arrived, I just lay there beside it until I caught my breath.

After resting, I bent down, took the bottom part of the bag in my teeth, and pulled. The bag spilled out onto the floor. I dropped the bag and took the handsaw in my mouth. Slowly, I cut through the ropes that bound me.

As I lay against the wall with the broken rope around me, there came a crash from the door outside. I quickly put the saw and flashlight back in the bag and ran into the hallway. The path was dark, so I used my flashlight to brighten the way.

I saw another light up ahead and ran toward it. When I got to the doorway, I leaned against it with my eyes closed, huffing and puffing for air.

“Andy, there you are!” Fred said.

I opened my eyes again. Robert, Fred, and Wilma stood in the kitchen, staring at me.

“We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Robert said.

“Just where have you been?” Wilma asked.

“Sheen, that creature, left me tied up in the janitor’s closet.”

“Oh, thank goodness you’re all right. When we didn’t find you in the storage room, I was so worried something had happened.” She stepped toward me.

“Did any of you see anything while you were searching for me?”

”No,” Fred said. “We thought it was still with you.”

“Then he could be anywhere! We have to–”

A howl stopped me from finishing the sentence.

“That’s probably him now!” Robert said.

“He must’ve checked the janitor’s closet.” I let go of the door and turned. “Come on! Maybe we can get the jump on him.”

The four of us raced through the halls back to the janitor’s closet, but when we arrived he wasn’t there. We kept going until we found him by the sanctuary’s entrance. He was standing in the middle of the room, staring down the hall we entered from.

Sheen held up a finger to point at me. “You escaped!”

I pointed my flashlight at him, but he dove behind a large plush chair. We creeped toward the chair, keeping my flashlight aimed above the backrest. When we came near, Sheen stood and snatched me by the arms. The flashlight flew from my hand. I heard footsteps running toward it.

In the darkness, I could only see the silhouette of Sheen above me. He grabbed me by the throat and began to squeeze again. I choked for air that never came.

Then a light shone on the both of us. Sheen shrieked and let go of me. I gasped for air. He ran into the sanctuary. The light followed him, but stopped at the swinging doors. I got back on my feet.

Fred approached me and held out the flashlight to me.

“I think you better keep that for now, Fred,” I said. “There’s something else I might be able to use against him.” I turned back to the sanctuary.

I led the others into the sanctuary, taking Wilma by the hand. The room was just as dark as the rest of the church, now that the sun had set. Fred scanned the pews with the flashlight, but didn’t see any sign of Sheen.

He aimed it under the seats as we traveled along the northern wall. The others kept an eye out for him, while I looked above. As we searched, I saw Sheen crouched low on the edge of the pew as the flashlight passed under him.

He leaped at Fred, and the flashlight flew from his hands. Robert fumbled for it as the torch traveled through the air. I stepped in front of Wilma and shoved Sheen away from Fred.

A few feet away, Robert finally got a grip on the flashlight and pointed it at Sheen, but he couldn’t hold it on the creature. Sheen rushed at him. I extended a foot, which tripped him as he passed.

Fred grabbed his arms and held him up by the wall as Robert shined the light on him. Sheen kicked his legs and tried to flail his arms about, screaming. My eyes darted about, searching for something to stop him with.

Then an idea came to me, and I ran down the aisle with my eyes focused the pews. I saw the leather bound book lying at the foot of the seat. “My Bible!” I took it and handed it to Wilma.

She looked at it, then back up at me. “What’s this for?”

“Wilma, I want you to read from it aloud. You were always so good at live verse readings.”

“You want me to read Bible verses at a time like this?”

“Yes, that young man is possessed by an evil spirit. This is the only way to save him.”

“If you really think so.” She moved beside Robert, adjacent to the flashlight, and began to read.

Sheen’s screaming grew quieter, and his kicks slowed. After a few passages, I knew that simply reading from the Holy Book wouldn’t be enough. I thought for a time, until my eyes caught sight of the outline of the wall decoration to the east.

“Fred, take him to the choir wing!” I said.

As Fred moved him, Sheen began to struggle harder again. I signaled to Robert, and he focused the flashlight on Sheen’s face. Wilma continued reading, this time in a louder voice, enunciating clearer. She began Luke chapter eleven, the story of Jesus instructing His deciples how to pray.

We brought him directly before the large cross hanging upon the wall. I stood under it before him and stared into his face. For a moment, I closed my eyes and silently asked the good Lord to give me the words that would save this young man.

When I opened them again, a smile formed on my face. “By the almighty power of God, I command you to leave this young man! Demon, be gone from this place!”

Sheen let out a scream that was louder than all his others, one which betrayed a sense of pain unlike any I could imagine. Then his body went limp and his eyes shut. Wilma stopped reading, and there was quiet.

Fred set him down against the edge of the box, though he and Robert kept a hand each on his shoulder. After some time, he coughed and reopened his eyes. “W-Where am I?” he asked. His face seemed more relaxed as he stared at us.

Wilma let out a breath, and the others let go of him. I sat down against the wall and sighed. “You’re in church,” I said.

Wilma and I sat there with the boy while the others went to check the phone. She talked with him and asked about where he lived. I simply rested my body and tried not to focus on the pain coursing through it. As I looked at Wilma, she seemed so lovely caring for him.

When Fred and Robert returned sometime later, they told me that they called for help to unlock the door. I smiled at then, then turned to Wilma. She looked back at me, questioning.

“Wilma, dear,” I said. “Could you do me a huge favor?”

“Yes, what do you need?” she asked.

“Can you fix up my arm?”

“Oh, yes. Of course!” She stood and took my hand. “I think there’s a first aid kit near the nursery.”

“Thank you, Wilma.”

She helped me back to my feet, and we walked out of the choir box.

“Uh, excuse me, sir?” Sheen asked. “Um, Andy, was it?”

“Yeah?” I stopped and glanced back at him. “Listen, I’m in a bit of pain right now, so can it wait until after my arm’s fixed up?”

“Well, I just wanted to ask what happened to the others?”

“The others?”

Before he could reply, we heard a howl from outside the sanctuary.

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