A nighttime stroll soothes an anxious mind. Its cool air wicks tension away from a hectic day. Todd’s had begun the moment his alarm clock jolted him from bed and didn’t end until the sun sank into a pool of blood in the western sky.
Todd lived alone in an apartment of other lonely people who seldom did more than nod or wave as they ducked past to get on with their lives. It just seemed that he had nothing in common with those who spent their spare time at the nightclub down the street, bellied up the the bar across the street, or glued to their “devices” at all other times of the day. If the zombie apocalypse did happen, no one would look any different and all the zombies would starve for want of brains.
Witnessing the day’s death, he decided to actually do something other than spend the evening scrolling through options on Netflix until it was too late to watch anything. Tonight, he’d walk out behind the apartment complex and explore the wild growth at the back of the parking lot.
Sitting out on his balcony as he finished the last bite of his mac and cheese dinner, he felt gooseflesh prickle his arms. After rinsing his bowl and setting it in the dishwasher, he grabbed his jacket and locked up.
The parking lot heaved with weeds and roots, pebbled and cracked in every direction. In the falling dusk the trees hung like giant Ents with 70s Jerry Curl afros, swaying to a jazzy tune. By the time he stepped into the woods, his eyes had adjusted to the gloom. Besides, in the city there is hardly a square block that isn’t polluted with the glow of street lights.
Since this wasn’t his routine, he hadn’t counted on the number of mosquitoes that sprung from the dark, alighting on any patch of exposed flesh, drawn by his living scent.
The little vampires!
Turning up his jacket collar and keeping his hands in the sleeves, he jogged through the trees, down through a dirt clearing where bikers did tricks and smoked pot, then up to a field he had never seen before.
Away from the streetlights, which were blocked by the cluster of trees, this field felt like a world away. Looking skyward, he saw stars battling with the clouds below for access to the earth. The gentle breeze felt like a breath from heaven.
The tall grass slapped his pants as he plowed through and found a path. It wasn’t an official walking path, he could tell. It was probably a trail cut by kids who’d found a short-cut from school.
Todd’s mind wandered free as he walked along this path. He considered his lonely existence and the grand scheme of the universe. Thoughts of quantum physics and multiple dimensions existing one wrinkle from the fabric of our own played through his head in an endless loop.
What if heaven was actually not a place so far removed from earth, or in some distant outpost of our expanding universe? What if God and heaven were actually a mere step away, through a tear in the dimensional fabric of space and time? What if angels and demons were truly all around us, just veiled from sight by a quantum portal? Yet, if they could slip through, or if we could venture over, we’d find they were just as substantial and real as we consider ourselves.
Todd stopped walking and looked up at a building at the top of a gentle rise: a church. The building was old, weather-worn. But it had stained-glass windows and a steeple. it sat near a small cemetery where the faithful awaited their resurrection. Or, perhaps, the joining of two dimensional realities?
Todd found the building fascinating. There were no roads that led to this place, so the building had to be abandoned, the property owned so that the city couldn’t simply tear it down and re-purpose the land.
When he stepped foot on the hill where the gravestones poked from the grass, he felt the temperature drop ten degrees. Excitement built in his gut as he waded through the grass and tombstones, up to the humble chapel. The wind had picked up, too, giving the scene a Halloween quality that sharpened this experience to a razor’s edge.
Todd had long since abandoned his fear of the dark or of creepy buildings, which allowed him to savor this little adventure. Walking up to the church, he circled around till he found the steps up to the large, black, double-doors. Tiptoeing up the concrete stairs, he felt a thrill of entering where he didn’t belong.
He stopped, sensing he was being foolish and following some whim down a path that would end badly. While there were certainly no monsters or zombies, there might be some homeless folks who would see his presence as a threat. Many such people were formerly in mental institutions and wouldn’t think twice about killing him and rolling over to go back to sleep.
I’ll be careful.
Wrapping his hands around the knob, he began to turn the loose, creaky latch to open the heavy door.
Inside, the hard-back pews were tipped, broken and cast about. Several were piled in a heap like a reckless beaver dam. The floor was littered with papers, bird droppings, rodent dung and other things that Todd wouldn’t bother speculating. Walking further into the church, he jumped when some flapping rattled above him.
Stepping over some broken pews, he could see that the floor was also rotting and shattered in places. If he continued, he might fall through and get hurt. At that thought, he decided he’d turn around and explore the outside.
Tall, pale and grim, the man behind him hadn’t made a sound, but was close enough that Todd should have heard his breathing. Or felt his breathing. If he was breathing at all.
Stumbling back, Todd remembered that the floor was unstable. Attempting to glance at the floor and keep the strange, thin man in sight, Todd tripped over a pew and crashed down into some sludge-like remnants of something fast-food wrapping paper. He gripped the pew and thrust himself up and away from the stranger, only to come face to face with a teenage girl with equally vacant eyes and gaping mouth.
Since she appeared to be the smaller of the two, he chanced pushing her back. His arm went numb as she clamped her hands on his shoulder and hurled him across the floor. Thankfully, she’d sent him in the direction of the door.
Slapping his palms across the poop-riddled floor and scrambling his feet to follow, Todd raced for the exit just as the door opened wider and three more creatures walked in.
Flipping back and landing on his butt, he turned his head in every direction.
They were everywhere!
The girl came from behind and pulled his head back by the hair. Her soft lips sealed over his throat, but instead of feeling warmth from her mouth, it felt icy cold. Sharp pain stabbed his neck, paralyzing him in both horror and searing agony.
The others gathered in, pulling up his sleeves, lifting up his shirt and scratching at his legs. The torture had left the physical plane and resided completely in his mind for he had shut off all feeling.
The insanity of it all struck him like a gong and he came back to his senses, feeling the burning flame of each icy mouth suckling on his flesh. Thrashing about, he loosed them from his limbs and shoved the girl off of his neck. In that instant, he felt as if he wanted more of their attention, more of their
He couldn’t believe that word came to his mind, but it did. That wasn’t affection, it was lust! Rising to his feet, he stomped out of the church and down the steps, falling to the grass, weak and light-headed. Looking up from the ground, he saw a small animal watching him.
Others of its kind joined it in murderous, intense glaring, their eyes glowing from the starlight, which had lost its heavenly quality. Todd rose and stumble-ran down through the cemetery and sped breathlessly along the path, which now seemed like a road to hell. Though it had been an irrational thought before, he decided not to venture into the dark cover of trees. Instead, he trampled through the reeds to the parking lot behind the convenience store.
An attendant was taking out the trash, but he, too, had the vacant look of those Todd had just left behind. A dead smile revealed the man’s sharp, yellowed teeth.
Todd wanted to scream, but had no breath. Reaching his rundown apartment building had never felt so wonderful. He tripped up the stairs to his door and fumbled with his keys. Once inside, he locked the door in every manner possible. Then he hurried to the bathroom to inspect the damage.
After flipping on the light, running some water to splash on his face, he looked up at the mirror over the sink. He stood there in utter disbelief for ten minutes before turning away and switching off the light.
Sitting in his balcony, he counted the minutes till the sun would rise, curious if the mirror told the truth for he no longer could see his own reflection.