Nate Whayman was a church-going kid. His parents raised him in the spirit of Christianity. His mother thought him many things about religion. She used to read to him and his sister every evening from the Bible or other religious books. He went to church at least once a week, sometimes even three or four times. Nate liked the silence and serenity it made him feel. The old building had a calming effect on him. He felt safe inside and also closer to God.
The church had been built in a gothic style. It was a stone structure with a tall steeple. It could accommodate around a hundred people, maybe more. On the inside, the walls had a faded brown color. The windows had been made out of stained glass. It was a common practice in the past to make church windows out of this material because they could be made to represent religious stories. They were called the poor man’s bible because they could be easily understood by those who were not able to read.
Behind the building and extending to the right was a small yard and beyond that Coldhill Cemetery. The churchyard was surrounded by a fence which was made of stone and ornate cast iron. The cemetery was also surrounded by a fence but this was much cruder and looked neglected.
Adjacent to the church and extending into the yard, there was an annex with a long corridor. From here different doors opened to the priest’s office, living quarters, a small library, bathroom and so on. At the end of the corridor, there was a staircase which was leading down into a basement area and an iron door that opened into the yard. In the past, the basement had been used to store food, water, wine for communion and could also be used as a shelter. In the far end of the basement, there was a crypt where the dead priests had been buried.
The boy entered the church and went straight to the altar for a quick prayer. There was nobody inside, it was Thursday early afternoon. The reason he came here today was that he wanted to go to the church library to read some books. He proceeded to the right side of the nave where the entrance to the corridor was located. The first door to the right opened to a bathroom and the first to the left to the library. It was a room of about thirty-five by twenty feet. A big window opposite to the door somewhat illuminated the place. There were old bookshelves all around along with three round tables in the middle. At each table, there were six chairs. All the furniture wore the unforgiving marks of time, even the carpet looked a hundred years old. A big old chandelier was hanging from the ceiling. It was covered by cobwebs and dust. The ceiling had been painted by some unknown painter a long time ago. It represented an event from the Bible, namely the resurrection of Lazarus.
Nate went to one of the shelves and looked for a book. He wanted something that he could understand. Many of the books had been written in an older version of English which were hard for him to read. He told himself that when he will grow up, he will read those too. For now, he settled with an easy one for kids. It wasn’t too old and had lots of pictures. He sat at the table beside the window and let himself be immersed in biblical stories. The boy was impressed by the deeds of all those people who had believed in God and achieved great things. He had two favorite stories. One was the fall of the walls of Jericho and the other one the story of Jonah.
A door opened somewhere on the corridor. He raised his head and listened. He heard footsteps, coming closer and closer. An old priest appeared in the doorway. His wrinkled face showed a possible sleepless night. Old people had a hard time sleeping, Nate thought, his grandfather had sleeping issues too. The priest’s eyes were sunken, his eyelids and mouth drooping a little. He wore the standard Catholic priest’s outfit and kept his hands folded in front of him. His name was Jonathan, Father Jonathan. He was appointed to Linden by his superiors a few years ago. Nate didn’t like him, even when he was younger he feared the look on the priest’s face. Jonathan always had a special way of looking at young boys.
‘Greetings, young one!’ he said an smiled, but it was more like an evil grin.
Nate was surprised a little, the priest never approached him before, when he was in the church library.
‘Good afternoon, Father Jonathan!’ he greeted the priest.
‘Reading a nice book, are you, my child?’ he said and headed towards the boy.
‘Yes, father. It’s a book with stories from the Bible.’
‘I see,’ said Jonathan and stood beside him, ‘it’s a very good book you have there. Do you like it?’
‘Yes, father. I like it, it is easy to read and I like the pictures.’
'Are your parents aware that you are away from home and alone at such a young age?'
'Yes, Father, they know. They are not concerned because I'm safe here.'
‘Well,’ Jonathan said and put his right hand caressingly on Nate’s shoulder, ‘I have more books in my office. Maybe they are more interesting than this one. Would you like to see?’
The boy didn’t want to see. He felt uncomfortable anywhere near this man. He was weird and ugly but Nate was a well-behaved child. His parents taught him good manners and that he should always trust priests. They are the most loyal and faithful servants of God after all.
‘Yes, I would like to see,’ he said and looked into the priest’s eyes.
The evil spark of opportunity shined in them. He smiled and took his hand from Nate’s shoulder.
‘Come then,’ he said and pointed with an open hand towards the door, ‘I will show you something you’ve never seen before.’
Nate took a few uneasy steps towards the door. He felt Father Jonathan’s eyes upon him. They exited the library and turned left. Father Jonathan’s office was the next room on the right. Nate stopped and made way for the priest to open the door.
He got one more of the evil smiles which made him feel uneasy. He wanted to trust the priest but somehow couldn’t. It was impossible for him to understand why but nevertheless he felt guilty for this.
The office was small and the little window to the outside made it look even smaller and claustrophobic. It was like a crypt. Of course, Nate didn’t know how does a crypt look like from the inside, he just felt awful upon entering. The stale air felt heavy and oppressive. A massive oak table and chair sat in front of the window. The table was packed with papers and books. An old lamp sat on the table’s left corner. On the right wall, there was a bookshelf, near it, in the right corner, a stove. A smaller table and two chairs had been placed near the left wall. In the far left corner, there was a small cabinet with a photo camera on top of it. Nate wondered for a moment about the camera. What does a priest do with a camera?
Father Jonathan closed the door after they stepped inside. He went to the bookshelf and searched for a book. In a few seconds, he found it, took it in his hand and sat down in front of the desk.
‘Come, my child,’ he said and gestured to towards his lap.
Nate didn’t want to go. He looked around in a hopeless manner but his eyes stopped again on the priest’s empty stare. Just as he wanted to say a made-up excuse, somebody knocked on the door. Father Jonathan’s face distorted, his smile and anticipatory look transformed into a blank stare of anger.
‘Come in!’ he said but it sounded more like ‘I will kill you!’
A younger priest entered. He was about forty years old, strongly built and had a round, bearded face. His name was Father Mattew and he was assigned to Linden about six months ago. Nate didn’t know him much but he was way more sympathetic than the older priest. Father Matt, as people used to call him, always had a warm and calm look on his face. He didn't live at the church, he owned a small house nearby.
‘Father Jonathan, I’m truly sorry for interrupting, but the sheriff is here. He said that he wants to speak to you urgently.’
Jonathan’s face remained almost unchanged but Nate observed a slight paleness enveloping it. From the position Father Matt was standing at, it couldn’t have been observed. He sat up and headed towards the door.
‘Don’t worry, my child,’ he said to Nate, ‘I’ll be back in a moment.’
They exited the room and closed the door behind them. In a few seconds, they were out in the yard. Nate looked out the window and saw sheriff Kerrigan shaking hands with Father Jonathan. He pondered about leaving but that was a rude thing to do. He decided to stay and wait for the priest to come back. The fact that he didn't like him didn't mean that Jonathan was a bad person. Old people were usually grumpy, maybe in forty-fifty years, he will act just like the priest. Judge and be judged, this is what his mother said to him. The memory came back now. His mother sat on his bed and talked to him about judging other people. Only God has the right to judge, she said. He will bring final judgement upon mankind but we are not allowed to judge because then we will be judged ourselves.
So he stayed and decided to go to the bookshelf and look around. It was also rude to search through other people's stuff while they are away but standing there looking at the walls was a worse option. Being a small boy, he couldn't reach the upper shelves so he went down on one knee and looked at the lower ones. The lowest shelf was full of thick old books. He grabbed one with two hands and pulled it out. For a moment he lay still and listened. The sheriff and priests were still talking. He opened the book but soon became disappointed because it had been written in a foreign language. After a minute or two of sifting through the pages, Nate tried to put the book back in its place but the shelf was tightly packed. He pushed hard and the book hit the wall behind. Instead of the normal thud, it made a clattering sound. It was weird, Nate thought, how could a solid wall make such a sound?
He took the book out again and looked but couldn't see much. After taking out one more he saw that the brick had fallen in like there was an opening behind it. Nate listened again and heard that they were still talking so he pulled two more books out and put them down beside him. He reached inside and tried to put the brick back in its place. Panic started to creep over him because he didn't want to get caught. The brick wasn't really a brick, it was just a thin part of it which was enough to cover the hole behind. Inside the hole, there was a stack of papers and as he fumbled with the brick, some of them fell out. It was a small hole and the stack barely fit inside. He grabbed some papers which had fallen out and couldn't resist looking at them. Some of them were pieces of newspaper but others were photographs. Nate expected everything but not what he saw. It shocked him for the rest of his life.
The sheriff stood towering before the priests. He was taller than both of them. Father Jonathan had a slightly bent back, an unmistakable sign of aging. Father Matt held his head high but not in a proud manner, more in a self-confident one. His eyes reflected much more intelligence than he usually showed.
'Father,' said Kerrigan, 'sorry for bothering you but I want to ask you some questions about two recent disappearances.'
Jonathan's face went pale and stiff again but none of them noticed in the strong sunlight. He raised one thick eyebrow and replied.
'Well, son, go ahead.'
'They happened on Tuesday night,' after hearing this Jonathan's face relaxed, 'or so we think.'
'Who are the unfortunate souls?' Jonathan asked.
'The first one is Kevin Cook, he had been bullied in the afternoon and in the evening he had a quarrel with his father.'
'I see. He was a troubled young boy indeed.'
'Yes, that's correct. He might come back, however, I'm afraid he'll do something stupid. The other one is Karen Stevens.'
'Oh...she was the girlfriend of the firefighter who died at the gas station.'
'Yes, that's also correct. She was home alone that night and in the morning, when her parents came home, she was nowhere to be found. Only some muddy footprints showed that there was someone in the house. We have also found some blood on the floor, not much.'
'I understand but how can I help you? What questions would you like to ask me?'
'Only if you've seen anything out of the ordinary that night.'
'No, I have not, except the truly weird fog. I have been awake but couldn't see a thing.' said Jonathan but didn't mention that he was not in his room but the basement, otherwise he would have heard the screams.
'Me neither,' said Father Matt, 'I've been sleeping like a log.'
'All right,' said Kerrigan,'if you hear anything, please call me. Do you mind if I talk to the caretaker?'
'Please, feel free! But you know he is almost always drunk.'
'Yes, I know him for a long time.'
Kerrigan said the two priests goodbye and headed towards the gate that was leading from the yard to the cemetery. The caretaker's cabin was on the right, near the main gate on Coldhill Street. Kerrigan knocked on the door and waited for a few seconds. An old man of about seventy years old opened the door. He was thin and wrinkled but his eyes betrayed courage and resilience. His name was Jim Slade but everybody called him Old Jimmy or Iron-liver Jimmy. He served in the Second World War and was able to drink and digest industrial quantities of whiskey.
'Hello, old friend!' Kerrigan greeted him.
'What the hell brought you here?' replied Jimmy in a grumpy voice but Kerrigan could see that he's happy to see him.
'Thanks for the warm welcome! You drinkin' again?' asked Kerrigan upon noticing the smell of liquor which permeated the small room.
The cabin was made out of wood. It contained a small bed and a table, a chair, a fridge, and a nightstand. Despite the smell of whiskey, it was a warm and welcoming place.
'Not 'gain,' Jimmy replied and took a gulp from the bottle of Wild Turkey which lay open on the table, 'all the time.'
'One day it'll kill ya, you old bastard.'
'Fuck that,' Jimmy said and sat down on the bedside, 'I'm already dead. They just didn't bury me yet. You know I don't drink to get drunk.'
'Yes, I know,' sighed the chief, he felt sorry for the old man.
'I drink to booze up my demons. When they are drunk, I can be sober. Deep wounds heal hard, ya know?'
'I know, Jimmy, I've got my own. I'm afraid I have to open one of your wounds.'
'What the hell happened again?'
'I think it's back, Jimmy.'
'Who's back? Almighty Jesus Christ?'
'You know, Jimmy. The demon...the digger.'
'No way,' Jimmy replied and shook his head, 'you threw the damn book into the deepest fucking part of the lake...'
'I know, but two people disappeared Tuesday night. And there was also the fog, you remember...'
'Of course, I remember, but forget it! It's a coincidence...it has to be.'
I hope it is. In any case, have you heard anything Tuesday night?'
'If I heard anything, you'd have already known about it. I was drunk as fuck and sleeping.'
'I understand, maybe I'm overreacting. However it is, please be careful tomorrow night.'
'Don't worry 'bout me, son. I'll be sharp as a huntin' knife.'
Kerrigan departed and the old man sat back down after closing the door behind him. He drank another big gulp of whiskey and thought back on his past. All the battles he had fought came back to him in vivid detail. Battles in France, in Germany, fights with his wife, with other people at the Crazy Fox. He also recalled the confrontation in '58. It was a memory which was only muffled by the copious amounts of alcohol he used to drink. He was one of the few people who knew the darkest side of Linden.
Nate looked at the first piece of paper. It was a news clipping about a boy who disappeared in some other town in 1981. At first, he thought that Father Jonathan kept it in order to be able to help or maybe pray for the lost boy. But why hide it then? He looked at the next one, it was another clipping about the remains of a child that have been found in some woods in the state of Vermont. Nate grabbed a photo but soon realized that it was a mistake.
On the photo, he saw a boy about his age who had no clothes. His hands and feet have been bound by rope. Nate recognized the boy. He was Mikey Doyle who disappeared about two years ago without a trace. The two of them were of the same age, they were in the same class. His whole body began to tremble. A sudden realization came upon him, he now knew why the priest had a photo camera. With shaking hands he put the papers and the brick back. He also pushed the book back into its place and stood up. Manners didn't matter now at all, he desperately wanted to leave. He looked out the window and saw the sheriff shaking hands with the priests. No more hesitation, he said to himself, and rushed out on the corridor and then through the back door. In order to avoid being seen by Jonathan, Nate chose to run all the way through the cemetery and exit the back gate. He wanted to go home and lock himself in his room.
His house was far away, he ran out of breath when he reached the Hershey house. The sight of the terrible building was motivation enough to keep moving. Fear of the priest made him look over the shoulder many times. After turning right onto Jameson Street, he stopped. His shirt was soaked in sweat, he had to wipe his forehead a few times because the sweat ran into his eyes. For a few minutes, he waited, then continued walking. Jameson Street was pretty long so he had to walk for a while. Later, after some left and right turns, he reached his home.
The Whaymans lived in a two-story house on Hitcham Street which was parallel to Maple Street. Victor had a considerable salary, so had his wife, Sarah. She was the Assistant Principal at the school. Nate entered the house and wanted to go up into his room but his mother noticed him. She was preparing dinner in the kitchen.
'Nate, honey, aren't you hungry?' she asked while chopping onions with lightning speed.
'No, mom. I'm not hungry.' he said and stepped into the kitchen.
'But you've been away for some time,' she continued then noticed how disheveled her son looked, 'what happened to you, are you ok?'
'I-I'm all right,' he lied, 'it's too hot outside and we played a lot.'
'Then go upstairs and lie down a little. Come back later and grab a bite.' said Sarah and kissed her son on the forehead.
Nate went up the stairs and almost fell on his butt after his sister scared him. She was waiting for him at the top of the stairs, behind the corner. Her name was Mary and scaring his brother was one of her favorite entertainments.
'Hey, little brother! Scared ya?'
'Stop doing this!'
'Then stop being such a pussycat.'
Mary walked down the stairs leaving his brother gasping for air. She was five years older than Nate and they didn't really like each other. The boy walked into his room and lay down on the bed. After some time, he fell asleep but his sleep was an uneasy one.