Chapter 31 from the Ama audiobook
Jason placed his hand on the door and pushed. It opened a little and then slammed shut again; someone had pushed back on it and now held it closed.
“Keep away!” screamed the man inside the church.
Emily tugged on Jason’s arm. “You’ll need to push harder.”
“No. He doesn’t want to open it, and I don’t blame him.”
“Yes, you do blame him. He’s in your way. Now, open that door for me.”
A sudden and immense desire took hold of Jason; he wanted something that lay on the other side of this door. He didn’t know what it was, or why he wanted it, but he had to have it. All else faded from his mind. Damn! His life depended on it. His daughter’s life depended on him opening this door, and no one would stop him, even if he had to rip it from the iron hinges with his bare hands. He ran forward and punched the door, ignoring the pain that shot up his arm as his fist impacted with it. He swung the baseball bat at the door; the reverberating crack from the wood stung his ears. He swung it again, and again, and again. “Open the door, funny man… Motherfucking funny man, open the door and play with me.” He took a few steps backwards and then ran at the door, throwing his weight without concern or restraint. The door burst open as his body crashed into it and he went careering into the church. He tripped and came to rest flat on his face in a pile of rubble. He pushed himself up onto his knees and looked around at the slate tiles and worm-ridden wooden beams that lay scattered across the stone floor; torn Bible pages covering the debris—it looked like a bomb had gone off inside the church. He reached up and grabbed the backrest of a pew and used it to help climb back onto his feet.
The man had shut the door again and now sat with his back to it.
Jason had no recollection of what he had just done, or why he now stood inside a church ruin looking at a guy wrapped in a red sheet. The man pulled the sheet around his otherwise naked body and put his head in his hands, mumbling to himself.
Jason opened his mouth to speak, but confusion took the words from him.
“They’re demons,” the man said. “You blithering fool. Demons! And they’ll lie and deceive to get what they want. You need to listen to me…”
Jason needed a moment to reassemble his thoughts. As he thought about the little girl who had led him to the church door, his skin crawled; it was a similar feeling to the one he had after seeing Hobs in the pub. He looked for something to jam against the door and made to grab for an upturned table.
“That won’t work. The moment you look away it’ll return to where it was. I must stay here, by the door.” The man reached a hand out to Jason. “Please listen, I have to tell you something…”
Jason ignored him and dragged the table towards the door. “Get out of the way.”
The man stood up but didn’t move away. His demeanour irritated Jason. He let go of the table and grabbed the man by his red toga and forced him aside.
“Get off me and listen. Please, for God’s sake…” the man screamed in protest.
When Jason let go, he could see the man making to run back to the door, so he punched him hard in the stomach. The man fell back and collapsed to the ground. Jason went back to the table and continued to drag it to the door. That should be enough to hold it closed, he thought. He looked over at the man, who was lying on the floor, doubled over and holding his belly. He walked towards him. “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
The man jabbed out his finger, pointing towards the door. “See!”
Jason turned around and saw that the table wasn’t where he’d just left it. It was back in its original position, upturned a few metres away from the door. The man was up on his feet and running. Jason stood aside and let him pass.
“They won’t come in if I stay here,” he said in a soft, effeminate voice. He gave Jason a cold stare as he sat down once more. “You didn’t need to punch me.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Jason said without sincerity. “What are they? There’s no way children could survive here.”
“I told you, you bloody imbecile, they’re not children.”
“No, I’d figured that much.”
“Like the caretakers?”
“Yes, like the caretakers. They don’t hurt you in the same way though. These demons…”
“These demons, what?”
“Torment you, they… get in your head and work on you from the inside. I bet you’re not the sort of gent who goes around kicking church doors down, are you?”
“Well… You just did. And I bet you can’t remember doing it either, can you?”
“No. That’s what they all say. Right before they hurt me.”
“Hurt you? I don’t know you. Why the hell would I want to hurt you? I need to think for a minute, and then I’ll get out of your hair.”
“They won’t let you go until you’ve done what they want you to. They tell lies and torment you, picking at you like vultures until you break. Then… that vile monster comes.”
“Who’d you kill?” Jason asked as he stepped up on a pew beneath one of the broken windows. His head came just above the sill, enabling him to see out into the graveyard. “I said, who did you kill?”
“I didn’t kill anyone,” the man shouted back. “Not murder. It wasn’t murder.”
“Okay, what did you do then?” The moment Jason spoke, he noticed Emily step out from behind a headstone. She smiled back at him. Along with that smile came a voice. Not out loud, but like the voice that tells you to turn left or turn right, or reminds you about doors you haven’t locked or ovens you forgot to switch off. This voice wasn’t giving directions, though, or causing paranoia, this voice spoke of… “A priest… A fucking paedophile priest,” he announced, not taking his eyes off the little girl outside. She—Emily—was laughing as she jumped and clapped with apparent excitement. Two more children joined her: a boy and another girl.
“Don’t listen to them. Please, don’t listen… They’ll lie to you…”
“You forced a young girl to have sex with you.”
“No! No, no, no, I didn’t. I didn’t have sex with her. She was… Oh God… It’s all lies.”
“I had a daughter, a little girl.”
The man shook his head and mumbled into his hands, “I shouldn’t have done it. It was a terrible thing I did but… she was so young, I didn’t think she’d remember.”
“Yes, she remembered. She recalled every sordid detail for the rest of her short life. Right up to the day she hung herself, one week after her sixteenth birthday.” Jason knew about the little girl called Amanda and how the priest had played on her fears to coerce her into performing for him. He knew about the priest and little Amanda because the girl dancing around the gravestones had told him so. “If I thought you had any, I’d cut off your balls, right here and now.”
“No… She is… I was a flawed man. I had urges. A lapse in judgement, that’s all. Oh Christ, forgive me. But it’s not what you…”
“You told her that God would send her to hell if she spoke of it, you also told her that her parents would die if she told anyone. How does it feel, priest? Being the one now in hell? I hope the caretaker takes its time when it burns you.”
“I’m not a… I didn’t say any of that. They won’t let me explain. I told you they’d make you hurt me…”
“Why would I bother? You sick fuck. You’re in hell, being tormented by a little girl. I don’t know what she’s doing to make you suffer, but I’m sure it trumps anything I could do.”
“She’s not a little girl, you fool.”
Jason looked back out the window and watched the girl dancing and jumping around with her two friends. Then he thought out loud, “If she is a demon, why doesn’t she, it, break the door down?” He turned to the man. “The caretakers aren’t stumped by closed doors, you know.”
“It’s a game… a damned evil game.”
“A game? I’ll put my chips on that girl getting the better of you. A bet I’d be happy to put my mortgage on.”
“You sanctimonious shit. You’re in hell too, but oh, I’m sure your sin tips the scales less than mine.”
“Keep leaning against that door, priest, and I hope you’re warm enough in your toga.”
“It’s a curtain!” the man said, and then sobbed.
Jason stepped down from the pew and looked around the decaying church. He noticed a door to the left of the altar and walked over to it. He found that it led to the vestry, which appeared much the same as the rest of the church. More Bibles and other books lay strewn over the broken remains of a simple writing desk. He looked up at the window. A crack ran across the pane, but it was still in one piece. A red curtain hung on the right-hand side of the window; the hoops for the left-hand side hung bare. Jason looked to the right and froze. He watched as desert sand blew in through an open doorway. The door itself was nowhere to be seen. With slow, cautious steps he backed out of the vestry.
“You know there’s an open door in there,” Jason said as he walked back into the nave of the church.
“They won’t come in that way.”
“What, sacred ground or something?”
The man snorted a laugh. “Sacred ground… No. It’s all part of the twisted game they like to play with me. As long as I keep this door shut, they’ll stay outside… Oh God… I loved her… I never meant for that to happen… My special little girl…”
“Shut up, you sick bastard.” Jason looked back at the door to the vestry and wondered why he hadn’t used it; the demon, if that’s what she was, hadn’t attacked him. She wants this pathetic priest. She wants the funny man, not him. Yes, he is funny, isn’t he. Funny man, funny man, I want to play with the funny man. Jason reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out the carpet knife. He slid the switch and watched the shiny blade appear from the tip of the handle. Yes, Emily, you can go play with the funny man.
“No!” the man screamed.
Why is the funny man crying? I want to play with you. Look, I have a new toy.
“No, please… Do what you like but don’t let them in… Please, God, don’t let them in.”
Listen to the swish, swish, swish sound it makes when I draw pretty patterns on the funny man’s face. Swish, swish, swish…
“No! God, please forgive me…”
Daddy, I want to play a new game. Okay, Angel, what shall we play? This game is called kick the man in the face. That’s it, kick him, and again, and again. Now stamp on him. Stamp on the funny man. No, harder than that, silly. That’s it. Stomp, stomp, stomp.
No more words came from the man.
Swish, swish, swish. Your turn. Stomp, stomp, stomp. I like this game, Daddy. I do too, Angel.
Jason grabbed one of the man’s arms and dragged him away from the door. He continued to drag him down the aisle. The man reached out towards the pews, but his hand kept slipping away from the wood as he went by. Jason dumped him halfway to the altar. He took hold of the man’s left leg and, without a moment’s hesitation, used the knife to cut his Achilles tendon. Swish. The blade snapped halfway through the cut, but Jason was happy that it was enough. He let go of his leg and threw the broken knife away into the rubble. Then he walked to the front of the church and sat down on the pew closest to the step of the altar.
Jason didn’t turn when he heard the creaking sound of the door as it swung open, and he thought little of the light footsteps coming into the church. His mind swam in cloudy confusion. He could hear voices, the voices of three children, he was sure of that much, but they all talked at once, in monotone and without emotion. He tried to make out what they were saying, but nothing made any sense; it was no more than incoherent chatter. There was something moving like a snake across the floor, but it wasn’t a snake, it was a naked man. Jason wanted to move. He wanted to help him. Who was he? Jason’s memory left him. His thoughts were like the tide lapping against a beach. They would come, vague and distant somehow, and then roll away again.
The man reached the step of the altar.
“Watch now, Jason,” a young girl said as she walked by.
“Can I help him?” Jason asked. “He looks like he’s in pain.”
“This isn’t pain,” the young boy following the girl replied. “What comes next will be his pain.”
Jason felt a hand touch his arm. He turned—the world blinked in and out of existence as he moved his head—and tried to focus as he looked at a beautiful young face, a familiar face of someone he loved. “Emily?” he said to the girl now standing by his side. “How are you, my Angel?”
“I told you, you wretched ape, I’m not an angel.”
Jason’s confusion grew like cancer across his consciousness. “No… That’s right, you did. And… your mother is by the mountain. You’ll show me the path to the mountain. Who’s your mother, Emily?”
The other children stood motionless next to the man sprawled upon the altar, looking down at his crippled and cowering body.
“Lilith is our mother. We are all her children, Jason. You, me, even that worthless meat over there.” The girl left Jason’s side and joined her two friends at the altar.
Jason felt a rush of air, and then realised a fourth figure—a strange-looking creature—had joined the children. It leaned over the man. There was something else, something weaving with purpose between the creature and the man, a phallus of extraordinary proportions. The man let out a high-pitched screech and clawed at the ground. He tried to pull himself away, but the creature put one of its large hands onto his back, forcing him flat against the ground. Then it dug its long clawed fingers into his flesh. The man screeched again as he fought without effect against the creature’s total domination over him.
Jason’s mind became quiet, serene even, an apathetic spectator to the events unfolding before him. He didn’t care that the creature impaled the man with its penis as the children tore the skin and flesh from his body in a wild frenzy. Jason didn’t flinch as he listened to the screams and sounds of carnage that echoed from the old stone walls of the church. The creature raked its claws across the man’s head and torso, tearing into his body. The children set upon his flesh, claiming great slabs of bloodless meat. They feasted as the man screamed far beyond the point where death should have quieted him.
Once the children had had their fill, they stood back from the remains. The man’s body looked shredded from head to toe, as much skeleton visible as flesh. But he wasn’t dead. His head, which remained attached to the rest of his body by a slight thread of twisted sinew, rolled onto its side. The exposed skull tapped and jittered against the stone floor.
The children stood and watched as the creature set about devouring the remains. The corpse turned first to black, then to ash. A moment later the motes of ash danced in the still air before the creature breathed them all in. All the while, Jason watched as if hypnotised by the macabre performance, yet feeling no sense of horror or disgust. Not until Emily came and sat beside him did his senses return, and then he felt fear.
The little girl no longer resembled his daughter. She had become salt in his eyes and acid upon his skin. He could sense the teetering rage within her, a contained fury that might break free at any moment. He expected this demon to lunge forward and consume him too.
“It’s time to play with you,” she said.
Jason tried to move, to run, but his body remained still.
She put her hand on his arm. “Amanda used to come here, sometimes, after school to be with her daddy. She loved him very much. He was a funny man and liked to make his daughter laugh and giggle while he looked after the church for the priest, doing odd jobs and tending to the grounds. One day she couldn’t find him. She tried the main door but found it locked, so she searched the grounds and happened upon an unlocked door at the back of the church. Can you guess what happened next?”
Jason stared at her with wide, fearful eyes. He didn’t answer.
“She saw her daddy and a woman on that altar. They were praying hard, and talking in tongues, until they both had an explosive revelation together. This made Amanda sad, because the woman wasn’t her mother. Things like that can affect a child’s mind, don’t you agree? She never thought of her daddy as a funny man after that day.” She kissed Jason’s cheek and then continued, “Thank you for playing with me, Jason. Your path to the mountain is behind the church. I want you to stay, so we can play some more games together, but mother wants you to move on. I’ll keep watching you though.”