Messenger of Fear Page 2

You fear me, come to me, the church seemed to whisper to my heart. Your terror demands an answer. Come.

Come.

And flee.

I reached the door. There was a brass doorknob, strangely shaped, as though it was a carved figure. A head, perhaps. I touched it and my curious fingers could make nothing of the curves and ridges, though I thought I might almost make out the outlines of a face.

I turned the knob and it moved easily. I pushed open the door. An answer was close now, I felt, some piece of knowledge that I both dreaded and desired.

I stepped across the threshold and glanced up, sensing something overhead, and where I thought I would see rafters, there was the sickly mist again, a shapeless carrion feeder greedily awaiting my death.

I moved down the aisle, like a bride slow-walking between rows of family and admirers. There was no altar or cross or other symbol. There was only an oblong box set upon a low stone so that the top of the box would be just lower than my breast if I were to stand close.

It was a coffin.

Something told me it was not empty.

I was sure that I would see a familiar face in that coffin. I was sure I would see myself. But why would I be lying in a church that was no church?

Cold fingers of horror squeezed my heart, wrung the blood from it, and left me gasping for air. Each inhalation was a sniffle, each exhalation a shudder. My fingernails pressed into my palms, and the pain of it was proof that I was alive, or something like alive, and yet I knew, I knew what I would see in that coffin.

I took another step.

Another.

And I looked down to see a face. I stared in confusion. This was not me. Could not be me. I could not bring the image of my own face to mind, yet I knew this was not me.

Maybe she had been fifteen years old, maybe a year older; it is not easy to judge the age of a dead face. My age, perhaps?

That she was dead was not in doubt.

“Her name was Samantha Early.”

A voice!

I spun around, raising my hands already formed into aching fists. Adrenaline chased away the lethargy of dread as instinct took over.

He was a boy or young man. He stood a dozen feet away and did not move toward me or flinch at my upraised fists.

He was tall and thin. His face was pale as a ghost, pale almost to translucence, and made all the whiter by the long black hair that framed it.

He wore a black coat that fell to midcalf over an iron-gray buttoned shirt. His pants were black, and his shoes seemed to be tall boots of black leather, though they were dusty. The buttons of his coat were silver but not brightly polished. Each was a tiny skull, no bigger than a hazelnut.

On his right hand was a silver ring in a shape I could only vaguely make out. It looked like a warrior, a woman, gripping a sword.

The other ring, the one on his left hand, was a face contorted in unimaginable terror. A young face, and in between nervous glances it seemed to change, as though the face was animated, alive.

I had as well the impression of tattoos at wrist and neck in the few visible patches of skin.

His eyes were the only color in that monochromatic picture. They were blue. They were a blue I had never seen before in any human eye. His eyes were the turquoise of the Mediterranean, like something from a travel poster of a Greek island.

I wanted to ask him where I was, but that would have made me seem vulnerable. It would have invited him to take some advantage of me. Better to be tough, if tough was something I could pull off. So instead I asked the question that was inevitable.

“Who are you?”

He looked at me and I had to force myself not to turn away. He looked at me and I felt quite exposed suddenly, as if his eyes were seeing the things I showed no one. I fought an urge to squirm, but still my shoulders hunched forward, and my eyes lowered, and my lips pressed tightly and my lungs labored to take in breath so that my nostrils flared.

All of it was beyond my ability to control.

“Her name was Samantha Early. It is a terribly apt name. Dead too early is young Samantha Early.”

Was I supposed to laugh? Was that some effort at a joke? But nothing about him suggested humor.

“Tell me who you are,” I said. My voice sounded pitifully thin. If there was any threat in that voice, then it was a laughable one.

“That’s not the question you want answered first,” he said.

He had a strange voice. It was as if his mouth was pressed close against my ear so that I could hear every shade of every word, the inhalation and exhalation, the play of tongue against teeth, teeth against lips, lips softly percussing the b and p sounds.

I recoiled a bit from that voice, not from fear but from a sense that its intimacy was somehow inappropriate.

“Are you reading my mind?” I asked.

There was the slightest narrowing of his eyes, and if not a smile, there was a softening of the stern lines of his mouth.

He did not answer. Instead he said, “Samantha Early. Age sixteen. Dead by her own hand.”

With that he laid his pale fingers softly, reverently on her cheek and then rolled her head to the side so that I could see.

“Oh, God!” I cried. It was a hole, just large enough that a little finger could have been stuck into it. The hole was in her temple, and it was the color of ancient rust. Around the hole an elongated oval of scorched skin and crisped hair.

It was the most terrible thing I had ever seen in my life. I looked then at her face. She was not pretty; her chin was too big, too meaty. Her nose was perhaps too forceful, and there were dark circles under her eyes. I felt, seeing this face, that she had endured pain. It was a sad face, though how can a face in death ever be happy?

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