Monday, April 23, 2018

Ghosts of the Great White Church

     The Great White Church was neither great nor white, not anymore.
     You could find it simply enough if you wanted to, though no one really wanted to, no one except Stevie Rego.  He had his reasons and they were good ones, but he was the only one to make the long trek down Blossom Road to the old church yard.
     The sun was bright in the clear blue spring sky.  It was one of those days when the sky truly felt endless.  There were no clouds, no entrails, no marks at all on the pristine blue.  The steeple of the church reached higher than the tree tops and power poles.  The poles themselves were bare.  No electrical wires, no phone or cable television wires either.  They stood in a stoic line, like sentries on guard duty.  What they were guarding against was the source of no minor speculation to the children in the city. 
     At the very top of the tall steeple, at the very tip of the point was a weathervane, not a cross as one would expect, but a fine black iron weather vane in the shape of a Rhode Island Red Rooster.  While the rooster no longer spun or pointed toward the wind, it grasped at the folded axis that once had reached into the sky.  The rooster, now lied on its side, as if dead, like the church itself, plainly wrecked by some violent act.  Stevie stood under the giant maple tree at the end of the main walkway.  He did as he always did, beginning with the rooster, he would gaze upon every inch of the steeple and work his way down toward the front entrance looking for a sign of any kind from her.
      Back in the 1920’s, the Great White Church was home to a healthy Catholic congregation.  Saint Marc of the Sea Church remained a committed member of the north eastern community.  Weddings, baptisms, funerals and sixty-five years of Sunday services, until Father Gomes was accused of fiddling the alter boys.  Some of the New England churches survived that scandal, but Saint Marc’s sank.  The hard core working class boys and men of the city wanted no part of that building after that.  Given the changes in the Church overall, the congregation moved on and the Catholics moved out.  The Great White Church was renamed just that by the artist who bought the building.
     Gary Kent, known to most as Grizzly Bear or simply Griz, turned the building into an artist cooperative gallery.  Fifteen artists showed their work, held openings, classes, and music events.  It was during this time that the rooster replaced the cross.  Despite being somewhat off any beaten path, the Great White Church Gallery was successful for over twenty-five years.  Griz passed away the summer he turned seventy-eight years old.  The cooperative sold the church to a fundamentalist Christian congregation.  They renamed the building, and their group to the Great White Church of our Lord Jesus.  They were an evangelical group dedicated as much to spreading good will as much as the good word.  Both the church and the congregation remained that way until two years ago.
     At the time, Stevie Rego was just thirteen, and desperately wrapped up in the throes of his first real love, that first love against all others would be measured.  Shawna Peters was a member of the Church.  Stevie had been considering joining the Church to spend more time with Shawna.  The way it turned out, he was lucky he had not yet decided, but he lost something he desperately wanted back.
Stevie had lost hope, and thirteen was way to young to lose hope.
     The boy, now fifteen stood quietly performing his ritualistic exam.  The stories all said the Great White Church was haunted with the spirits of those children taken to soon.  Stevie really wanted that to be so.  For two years, he came every Sunday, at the time of the fire to watch, to look and to search.  He needed to see her one more time.  He never got to tell her he loved her and that need hurt.
     The scorched paint above the windows was more gray than black, and the remaining white, in general, was a pale gray.  The church appeared as if in a fog, even on this clear spring morning.  Stevie took a long hard breath.  On the far side of the Great White Church, standing in a shadow that should not have been, was Big Jim.  He was known as Big Jim Meaner or Jim the Devil Man, and many others.  He watched Stevie, reveling in the boy’s loss and pain.  Big Jim was a legend in the city, a legend that was as old as the city itself.  Those who had seen Big Jim never lived much longer.  On this day, however, he simply watched as this tale unfolded, and a boy with a broken heart searched for a way to heal.  Big Jim had a hand in the fire that destroyed the Church and took those innocent lives.  Thirteen children and two adults.  He ended those stories before they had time to even begin. Big Jim’s tale however, is one for another day.
Stevie would not see Big Jim, not today, likely not ever if his luck prevailed.  He would, however, see the devil man’s work several times in his lifetime.  Big Jim was like that, never far from those in heartfelt pain.  He enjoyed their suffering.  
Stevie took three steps toward the blackened door to the church.  He could feel the energy exuding from within as if it were a very low bass vibration.  His heart sped up.  His eyes dried out and stung.  He rubbed at them.
     Shawna had been inside with her mom, her aunt and twelve small children learning Sunday School prayers.  Shawna wanted to help.  She thought she’d like being a teacher.  Mom thought this could be an internship of sorts.  There were all in the basement classroom.  This was the room that once held a kiln and shelves filled with cups, pots, bowls, and an assortment of imaginative vessels.  The cause of the fire remains undetermined.  But not to Big Jim.  He had made a deal.
     As he had with the Catholic priest and so many others, there was a deal to be had with the Evangelical Pastor with a fondness for very young ladies.  That fellows eyes had graced Shawna graceful beauty more than once, a lot more than once.  Her long jet black hair, the eyes like a Disney princess, those same eyes that had sparked Stevie’s imagination and heart, had lit a dark spot in the pastors secret desires.  It was all the opening Big Jim needed.
     Stevie took a few more steps.  It had to be this time, this day, right now.  Demolition had finally been scheduled.  The Great White Church was coming down for good.  If there were ghosts, he would never have another chance.  He used his imagination to see her.  The deep dark eyes, the long almost silver hair framing her face, the neat, precise smile and the laughter that accompanied that smile.  He closed in on the door.  The steeple towering over his head.  He thought it might be leaning to the left quite sharply.  He had never noticed that, but then this was the closest he had ever dared get.  His heart pounded. He stepped closer.  He said her name aloud.  He felt a rogue tear fall along his cheek.  His foot reached the bottom step.  
     His mind replayed the sounds of the firetrucks and ambulances racing toward the church.  Stevie thought he could hear their screams, their cries.  He could hear Shawna calling for her mom.
     Another step.
     The devil man tittered softly from his ambiguous shadow.
Stevie reached the burned door.  He raised his hand.  It felt warm.  He pushed it.
     Stevie, the boy with the broken heart, stepped into the darkness of the Great White Church for the first and last time.

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