Keeping Watch From a Window
He usually didn’t look up.
His mother scolded him for that.
“You’re always looking down when you walk,” she would say when he was a little kid. “Are you looking for money? Look around, look up -- You can see the sky. It’s pretty.”
Now -- on this chilly October day -- Ray Kazmunik was taking his mom’s advice. He gazed up at a third-floor classroom window of his old elementary school.
It was funny how he walked so much with his head down. But the habit was going to be broken. At 58 years old, Ray had returned to St. Ignatius after experiencing a surge of sentimentality -- and he was savoring all of it, looking up, down, sideways. That classroom window above was holding his attention. He figured it was his eighth-grade classroom, if memory served him correctly. Peering down at the schoolyard from the window was a statue of the Virgin Mary -- about three feet tall. A crack ran down the front of it, but the serene figure seemed to be in good condition. Mary’s cloak was the peaceful light blue he remembered from his parochial-school days. The Blessed Mother’s head shawl was pearl white. Her expression radiated a power to comfort. Placid. An ever-so-slight smile.
Ray liked the idea that she still watched over the playground, even though the school had been shuttered for almost seven years. Could that be the same statue that was in his eighth-grade classroom oh-so many years ago? Nah, it couldn’t be, he surmised. Its condition seemed too pristine. He used to play in the school’s small playground that was next to a stone grotto with a weathered sculpture of Jesus Christ as the “Good Shepherd.” Ray stood in the middle of the schoolyard, surveying his surroundings. The stately rectory was on the side of the playground opposite the red-brick school. Boys who behaved badly would take that long walk from the classroom to the rectory to meet with the pastor, who wielded a belt.
A fence bordered the St. Ignatius grounds. It was black and metal, with spiked points -- a symbol of hard-nosed Catholicism.
A quaint church was located on the ground level of the school. Twin ornate wooden doors were the main entrance to church and school. A side door was the designated entryway for the school, only. A cornerstone indicated the building was constructed in 1926.
Ray refreshed his memory with a stroll that circled the grounds of St. Ignatius. He was drawn back there the next day. But when he looked up at that third-floor window, the holy guardian was gone. Ray saw a janitor stepping out from the twin, wooden front doors. Ray asked the worker about the statue. The janitor knew what he was talking about.
“It’s in a classroom window on the other side of the building -- I don’t know how it got there. I noticed it was moved when I went in this morning,” the janitor said dispassionately.
“Pretty much no one goes in that building anymore, except me,” the janitor added, puffing on a cigarette and staring past Ray.
Ray went to a side street on the opposite side and saw the Virgin Mary statue in a third-floor window. It seemingly gazed down at the street. The janitor walked over to Ray.
“I heard an elderly woman was assaulted on that street last night. Somebody tried to take her purse,” the custodian said. “The thug didn’t get the purse, but gave her a black eye.”
The janitor broke out in a grin as he stared directly at Ray, and spoke: “Maybe Mother Mary heard about the mugging, and moved her statue this morning to watch over that street.”
Ray quickly decided he would gladly believe that. It seemed odd to him that the statue now rested in an entirely different place, but he really liked the janitor’s inspired theory.
“What’s your name?” Ray asked.
“Perry,” came the reply. The janitor was wiry, with a gaunt face and haunted eyes. He looked to be in his 50s, maybe 60s.
“Nice to meet you, Perry,” Ray said with good cheer.
“Same here,” assured Perry, with the weakest of smiles.
Ray started to walk away from St. Ignatius. Behind him, the janitor had blurted out something.
“The school kind of scares me now … and the church,” Perry called out.
Ray stopped and turned. “Why’s that?” he asked.
“It’s too empty now … almost feels like bad things took over."
Perry made that pronouncement without a smile on his face.
Ray didn’t know what to say.
“Hope not,” was all he could muster before heading back to his car.
The following day Ray went back to St. Ignatius. He thought it was silly, but he just had to see if the Virgin Mary remained in the spot he had last seen it. He wanted that sense of stability. It irked him that things had been on the borderline of being creepily odd at the old school he cherished … where nuns in pitch-black habits held ultimate authority.
After parking his car, he walked the half block that brought him within sight of the school windows.
His heart sank.
The statue was now on the opposite side of the building. It was on the playground side, back in the same third-floor window where he first saw it.
What was going on? He had returned to his old school to wallow in nostalgic bliss, but unsettling aggravation cascaded down. Ray opened the giant doors of the building’s main entrance, which led to the small church directly ahead, with stairs up to the classrooms to the right.
Perry the janitor was mopping the floor of the church. Every so often, the mop would bang at the base of a pew, breaking the dead silence with little echoes.
“Sorry to bother you, Perry, but I noticed the Virgin Mary statue is now on the other side of the building,” Ray said as he walked up to the janitor.
Perry let out a little laugh.
“You’re really fixated on that statue, aren’t you?” Perry said, not looking up from his mopping.
Ray was taken aback. Perry seemed curt with him.
“Sorry to bother you,” Ray said calmly as he left the church. Perry never looked up from his mopping.
For Ray Kazmunik, the wistful journey to his old school was spinning down the drain. It was maddening, because he didn’t live all that close to St. Ignatius -- it was almost a 90-minute drive from his two-level townhouse. So going to St. Ignatius was not too easy.
That night, Ray wanted to unwind. He often did that by kicking back in the recliner that was in the second-floor loft, next to a window. The street below was tree-lined, not busy … soothing. The only streetlight nearby was in a neighbor’s front yard. It illuminated a small figurine of a little girl holding a basket of flowers. It was cute; appeared to be made of plaster. A tasteful lawn decoration.
Upon returning his gaze to the figurine for a second time that night, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
Leafy shadows from a tree projected a dappling effect on what looked to be the Virgin Mary statue from the school!
Ray turned away from the window to refocus his eyes, hoping his eyes momentarily played a trick on him. But there she was again; Mother Mary.
He threw on shoes and ran outside. He warily approached the lawn area where he had seen the Virgin Mary. A rush of relief came over him; the little girl with the flower basket had returned. He bent down and felt it, just to make sure. Yes, the basket could be felt and the ridges on the flowers -- it was the right statue.
“Hey, Ray … everything all right?”
The voice out of nowhere caused him to jump. It was Mrs. Laverby, who lived in the house with the little-girl statue.
“Oh yes, everything is all right,” he hastily replied. Quick thinking was in order.
“I just thought I saw a crack in your statue; wanted to make sure kids hadn’t vandalized it,” Ray said. “Your statue is OK … no crack, must have been seeing things.”
Ray’s somewhat frantic demeanor alarmed Mrs. Laverby slightly. But as he seemed to settle down, she dismissed the quirky behavior.
“Yes, I can see there’s nothing wrong with the statue,” she said, after bending down to have a look. “Thanks for checking on it.”
Ray thought she was nice and understanding to have said that.
Back in his townhouse, Ray couldn’t unwind. He was mad at himself. He was seeing things. Was this the beginning of insanity?
It was late -- after 10 p.m. -- but something said: Go back to the school. It had to be made certain that the Virgin Mary was still in the window -- where he last saw it. It was a long drive….but he could be at St. Ignatius before midnight.
While driving, Ray thought of how crazy this all was. He was spending an hour and a half traveling to a place, just to see if a statue was in a window.
Deep breaths were taken to calm down. Finally pulling up near the school, Ray rushed out of the car -- almost locking his keys inside. He ran -- as fast as he could -- to the schoolyard. Looking up, he tried to penetrate the darkness enough to spot the Virgin Mary. Luckily, a full moon was out, lighting up the side of the brick structure. But there was nothing in the window. He was sure he was looking at the right window, the right room where he had last seen it.
What the hell was going on?
Something was driving him to go up to the classroom. Was it trespassing? The cops might see him. Before too much time was spent assessing the situation, Ray found himself at the front church doors. The doors would be locked, no? He would pull on the locked doors -- even check a side door on the other side of the building, and find out everything was locked. He would have to go home. But the church doors were open.The janitor must have been lazy, and forgot to secure St. Ignatius.
Up the darkened stairs Ray went, headed for the classroom where he last saw the statue. Fortunately, enough weak light made its way through a sprinkling of windows, thanks to the full-moon night. The trek to the third floor was not overly difficult as Ray clung close to the handrail.
Periodic muffled banging accompanied the climb. Ray believed the noises were a natural product of an aging, creaking building. But as the bangs and low thumps continued, escalating fear set in. Someone could be in the school, or some thing -- Ray’s mind was racing.
Despite the eerie atmosphere, the old smells of the school came back: a slight mustiness in some spots, an antiseptic air in others.
At the third-floor landing, Ray looked to his right and could see his old eighth-grade classroom across the hall. It had been decades since he had been up here, but it was all coming back to him.
He would peek quickly in the classroom and see if he could spot the Virgin Mary statue anywhere. Whatever the outcome was, he would leave immediately. Enough was enough.
The door was slightly ajar. It was only when he was a few feet from the door that he noticed a sliver of diffused light shooting from the opening. The room had a light on.
He pushed the door open just enough to slip into room.
My God, it was so immaculate. That’s what immediately struck him. The wood-plank floors were swept and polished; desks were in tidy rows; they appeared to be original desks from the time he attended school -- desks with the flip-open top that revealed a storage space for pencils, paper and other supplies.
Even the blackboards were spotless. The room was akin to a time capsule -- preserved.
In a far corner, Ray saw the head of someone sitting on the floor. It was Perry. But he was not alone.
A head with reddish, bumpy skin was next to him. Perry stood up. He wasn’t wearing his gray custodial uniform. Instead, a crimson cowl draped his shoulders.
Perry gestured toward whatever it was that was next to him.
“This is my friend Rafflot. He’s a demon,” Perry said coldly while staring at Ray. “We’ve been messin’ with you.”
A devilish smile ripped across the janitor's face.
A skittering noise distracted Ray. It was the thing next to Perry. Ray could see it darting among the legs of the desks.
The thing has talons for feet. It was no taller than two or three feet. And it looked up at Ray with searing hate.
Its face was serpentine. A forked tongue flickered in and out.
“The diocese shouldn’t have left such a religious building vacant for so long,” Perry said matter-of-factly. “It’s our home now.”
The thing -- the demon -- was quickly moving toward Ray. Its jaw was a protruding mass of needle-sharp teeth.
Ray, for a few seconds, could not move. The situation had dazed him, petrified him.
“My demon loves human flesh,” Perry yelled.
Ray finally flew out of the room, never noticing if the Virgin Mary statue was, or was not, inside.
Looking behind him in the hallway, Ray saw the demon coming. Ray raced down the stairs, almost tumbling on two occasions, but made it outside.
Running down the street, Ray didn’t want to look back, but he did. The thing was close behind. Ray couldn’t spot his car. Suddenly, the street didn’t look familiar. He felt something slice into the back of his left leg. The demon was there, snapping his teeth. Ray let out a wounded yelp.
He found himself back in front of St. Ignatius.
How did that happen? He was running away from it. How did he return to it?
He turned and ran in the opposite direction. Nothing seemed familiar. He was lost.
Panic ensued; here he was in front of the school again.
Ray was in a vortex. Time and space had been warped.
He stopped momentarily to reach down to the back of his leg; it was wet with blood. Flushed with dread, Ray ran harder, looking at the ground, just looking at the ground.
When he looked up, Ray found himself in his old eighth-grade classroom.
He stopped running. Perry was directly in front of him.
“Welcome to Hell,” Perry grinned.