Felicity privately believed that it was punishment, not religion, that these parishioners craved. Every Sunday the costumes, the stuffy car, tired silence, and then believers crowding into the one room church shoulder to shoulder, sweating into each other’s skin. Every Sunday. For their punishment they chose the antique chapel out of town, rather than the thick grey stone building on Main Street, St. Monica’s. That was more of a cathedral, more of an event. The little chapel out of town didn’t even have a name. The priest was so dry his scalp flaked off in snowflakes onto the good book as he read.
Felicity and her mother had slunk into town in the Autumn when locals were already preparing for snow. They rented a room above the drugstore and Felicity sat silent in school while her mother served tables in the gas station restaurant. When the storms finally came they devoured the world for months. Drifts of ice blew up the stairs to their apartment. They were forced to climb over white dunes to reach their door. And still the road out to the chapel was cleared and the flock attended, faithfully, their Sunday penance.
She knew her mother had chosen the little chapel rather than the grand cathedral exactly because the flock was smaller. Fewer eyes to judge. But Felicity wasn’t interested in her mother’s disgrace and privacy. She was fifteen years old. She was bored. She wanted bread and wine, flesh and blood, lightning from the sky. Hellfire and sacrifice. The end of days, for a change.
In St. Monica’s Cathedral, she reasoned, the stones would seep centuries out into the damp air. The ages would be visible in stained glass and long polished pews. But the little chapel outside of town was wood, re-painted every year, sealed off and suffocated. The floor was swept out with brush brooms, doorknobs disinfected. It was sterilized against the rages of Felicity’s heart no matter what prayer she whispered to vie with the dry priest’s dry words. She sat in the boredom of every Sunday and saw the others flicking glances at her mother, and at her. She returned the stares with daggers that would never draw blood. Her mother’s pale cheek grew paler. Nothing to speak about — oh no, nothing to get excited about. Just shame as quiet as the snowfall outside. Felicity felt the church’s lack echoing her own.
Until the day when she found out that the church agreed with her.
It had been a long winter. Pale green light shone through the leaves and speckled the church’s walls, newly whitewashed in the spring. Felicity was glad that the colourless windows were fogged and no one could see her sitting crushed between her mother and the sticky paint. She felt the stifled air and wondered how hot it would get in the summer, if it would kill them all, stewing in their own breath. Nothing to speak about, nothing to get excited about, just two dozen suffocated faithful slumped (and Felicity,) indistinguishable from their usual stupor.
The priest leaned over his book, shedding skin, picking out the bones of the words, nothing worth eating. From outside over his droning were chattering birds just waking. Their voices were pure cheer and Felicity perked up, listening. She saw a head rise ahead of her. Was there someone else in the church with a mind, an ear, waiting for life? At once above the little birds was the commanding squawk of a crow broadcasting his presence, his authority, his life. Felicity jumped.
And the priest stumbled, the shout of the crow tripping him up, his words and his feet. Stepping back from his book his hand swung out to catch himself in a jerk and contacted with the thin window. A snik of a crack formed at his knuckle. Felicity saw it there, grinning, and then his arm was through the pane, inside and outside crashed together. The glass was broken into teeth.
Her mother gasped. Felicity smiled.
The next minute was pandemonium and panic, some believers in tears, the priest’s dry arm opened wet in the window. They called for bandages, for water. The crow was long gone and did not see the result of its cry.
But Felicity saw. And in the blood on the glass, on the floor, soaking between cracks of sticky new paint to wood bone below, she saw the spirit of the church, the ancient in its walls. It smiled back at her, content with its blood sacrifice, coloured with life it hadn’t known in an age. Vivid, illuminated like the Good Book, crimson and gold in the sun that followed through the window. A stand against the dreariness of its existence. A gash into truth.
And Felicity thought, In this, I could have faith.
Jen Brubacher is a librarian who believes there aren’t yet enough books in the world. Her short fiction has been featured in Outburst Magazine, Northword Magazine, and several collections including the recent Nothing But Flowers: tales of post-apocalyptic love. She was born in British Columbia, Canada, and lives in London, England. Find her on Twitter @jen_b.