Zeke Pratt seemed to be charming in all the right ways that day. At the coffee shop, he held the door open for Sadie, paid for the coffees, and then tipped the baristas generously. He liked his coffee with one sugar, two creams, and drove a red sports car with tinted windows. His shaggy brown hair perfectly matched his brown oval eyes, and he was slim and fit. Sadie was not used to such gentleness and kindness from men. Her own father had treated her cruelly growing up and now in the final year of high school, she waited for the day when she could finally leave the house she had known for so many years, go out into the world, and make something of herself. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Zeke put his arm around Sadie. She blushed and looked away shyly.
“Thanks for the date, princess,” said Zeke.
“That coffee was heavenly!” responded Sadie.
“Where to now?” Zeke asked.
“I don’t have anything in mind.”
“Well, I do. Trust me?”
Sadie nodded. She did trust him. She sat back in her seat, excited to see what Zeke had planned.
The high school sweethearts had just spent two hours in a locally owned coffee shop just talking and laughing with one another. When Sadie had finished her coffee, Zeke wasted no time in ordering another one for her. With finals coming up, including the heavy weighted diploma exams, they were glad to spend the afternoon together away from textbooks and stress.
Zeke turned on some music through his car stereo. Sadie recognized the song as one her dad would occasionally put on.
I got my first real six string
Bought it at the five and dime
Played it ‘til my fingers bled
Was the summer of ‘69
It made her recoil slightly, but when she looked back at Zeke, smiling subtly as he drove, she immediately felt safe and secure again. She allowed herself to listen to the music and bop her head along with the beat. Zeke drummed on the steering wheel with his fingers and whistled along.
They pulled up to a church on the very outskirts of town. It looked rundown, possibly even abandoned. The faded cladding was chipped and beginning to peel off in large strips. Looking around, Sadie also noticed a few of the windows had been smashed in. Spray paint littered the parking lot with words of praise for Satan and hate filled insults against God. The church’s steeple was ragged and decayed from years of rocks being thrown at it. The crow perched on top cawed at Zeke and Sadie before flying off back towards the town. As a child, Sadie was taught to worship who she knew as The Holy Spirit, and though she didn’t particularly have the fondest memories of church , this defamation of what she believed to be holy upset her.
“Come on! Let’s go inside,” Zeke stated bravely to Sadie.
Sadie followed with hesitant steps. She glanced around uneasily. Something inside her was telling her not to go in. Her body was tense and closed but reluctantly, she let Zeke lead her up the rickety steps and into the church.
Inside, the church’s interior proved to be no less neglected than the exterior. It looked like the ghost of a church, a dreadful transformation from light and holiness to death, decay, ruin, and destruction. Zeke walked confidently through the rundown hallway between the two sides of pews and up to the altar. Sadie glanced up at where a cross with Jesus hung on the wall. It looked too much like a real dead body. All these years, the statue has been slowly withering away with the rest of the church.
“What happened to this place?” Sadie asked quietly, rubbing her hands together in an attempt to release some of her nervous energy.
“A few years back I remember hearing that a congregation used to meet here every Sunday, but one day, a group of Satanists stormed into the middle of worship. They wore black hoods over their faces so they couldn’t be recognized. They cursed the church and all who associated themselves with it. Apparently, everyone fled in fear, and no one has ever come back. We still don’t know who they were.”
That was enough. Sadie wanted to turn around and flee just as the final congregation had done. Zeke sensed her unease.
“It’s just a stupid urban legend,” he laughed, “I think the real reason that this church is in this state is because people keep using it as a hideout to do drugs in.”
Sadie’s unease was not soothed by this explanation. “Why did you bring me here?” she asked.
“Because,” Zeke explained, “I thought maybe we could get married in it.” Suddenly, the charming eighteen year old knelt down on one knee, and Sadie bolted from the church. She threw the doors open and took off down the highway in a desperate sprint. Zeke called out to her from the church but didn’t go after her. His calls grew fainter and fainter as Sadie got further away.
She ran until her sides cramped, and she was sure her lungs would burst. Her chest burned. The bottoms of her feet were sore, and her heels blistered from the roughness of her shoes rubbing against her skin. Once she finally felt safe enough, she stopped to rest. She keeled over panting heavily and then raised her head to assess her surroundings. She must have been close to the city limits. Maybe she could walk into town and then catch a bus or a cab. It didn’t really seem like she had much of another choice, so she started. Still panting, Sadie made her way down the side of the highway and headed towards the town she could see in the distance. There it was, the tall hotel, the water tower, the hill that lends itself for sledding in the winter. It was all right there within walking distance.
After a long walk, back within the city’s limits, Sadie let herself into a gas station convenience store. She bought a chocolate bar and a water and then used the bathroom. Then she asked to use the payphone.
It rang several times. “Hello?” said a gruff voice on the other side of the line.
“Hi, Daddy,” said Sadie, “are you busy? Can you come pick me up?”
“Are you at school?” he asked.
“No, I’m kind of stranded at a gas station.”
“How in the hell?”
“Long story. Can you come get me please?”
Sadie heard the line go blank as her father slammed down the phone. As she waited on the curb outside of the store, slowly savoring her chocolate bar, she wondered if she would ever get to a part in her life where she felt truly and honestly out of danger. Protected.
Sadie went to bed that night earlier than usual. She was exhausted emotionally, physically, and spiritually. She lay her head on her soft pillow and allowed her eyes to close. Her body sunk into the warmth of the bed and one by one, all of her muscles relaxed.
“Let me dream tonight, God,” she whispered quietly to herself. Then, she was asleep. Finally peaceful. This was as close to being dead as someone could get. Through her open window came the soft and melodic sounds of the night, which she would not hear, as her consciousness was already gone.
Zeke sat with his back against the stucco of the house, just below Sadie’s window. It poked uncomfortably into his back and he grimaced. His teeth were unintentionally clenched, his shoulders and neck stiff, his chin jutting out. He crossed his legs, then uncrossed them, repeating this a dozen times. He was impatient and he simply could not get comfortable.
Minutes passed. He would wait until he could wait no longer. He would wait until he couldn’t bear the thought of waiting for another second without going crazy. In his pocket, he toyed with the engagement ring he had picked out for Sadie. The band was yellow gold with a perfectly rounded pearl as a stud. On the inside, a word was engraved. Forever. The several hundred dollars that Zeke had to his name had dwindled down to a measly seven dollars after buying the ring. Even so, he was certain and committed to his purchase. The ring would soon find its place on Sadie’s left ring finger. Once the ring was there, she would be completely unable to back out. She would fall right into Zeke’s trap of togetherness for all eternity. In sickness and in health. In life, and even in death.
Above him, Sadie still slept. Zeke hiked himself up to her window and mustered all of his strength to pull himself through. He landed as lightly as he could on her bedroom floor. Her chest kept rising and falling gently with each breath as Zeke planted a kiss right in the middle of her forehead. Even in her sleep, she seemed to smile subtly. As gently as the cool breeze outside that drifted through the window, he slipped the ring onto her finger. Then, like a phantom in the night, he was gone.
When Sadie awoke the following morning, she found her dad already gone to work and Zeke standing boldly in her kitchen. “Morning, princess,” he said, “breakfast?” He stepped aside to reveal the fresh stack of pancakes he had already whipped up. Maple syrup and blueberries topped the stack decadently, and for a moment, Sadie thought she might be in a restaurant. Yet, she was not. She was at home. With Zeke. And he was impatient, trying to usher her towards a chair at the table.
“Won’t you want any for yourself?” she asked, hesitantly.
“I already ate. These are for you,” he kissed the top of her head.
Sadie began to eat the pancakes. Without even needing to ask, Zeke followed up the pancake stack with two coffees, one for him and one for her. His had one sugar, two creams. Hers was sweetened to the point where it could nearly have been mistaken for hot chocolate. Before Sadie could swallow her first mouthful to ask Zeke what he was doing here, Zeke took her by the hand and helped her up out of the chair. It was at that moment that Sadie noticed the ring. A look of surprise washed over her face. Her cheeks flushed red.
“For you. Forever.” Zeke’s voice suddenly became less sweet. Sadie tried to free herself from his grasp but he held on.
Sadie’s eyes trailed Zeke’s body, and she became aware of how he was dressed. Sleek black pants with black socks and shiny black shoes covered his bottom half. As her eyes trailed up, she closely inspected the fine white shirt with elegant bow tie. Then, as she looked down each arm and to each hand, she saw a ring, a masculine version of the one she was wearing, on Zeke’s left ring finger. Suddenly, she felt faint. Zeke’s grasp tightened.
“Zeke,” she whispered. She wanted to say more but the words caught in her throat, and that’s all that would come out.
“Yes, princess,” he responded dominantly.
She met his gaze, fear in her eyes and power in his. Zeke took her by the wrists and helplessly, her body went limp as she was led out of the house and into Zeke’s car.
“You can go back to sleep now,” said Zeke, as Sadie flopped onto the passenger seat of the car. Then, as if in a trance, she did exactly that.
Sadie awoke sometime later. For a moment, she thought she was in her own bed, and she tried to roll over to get more comfortable. As soon as she realized she wasn’t, she jolted up, a small scream catching in her throat just as the words did earlier. She was back in the abandoned church. Like before, she attempted again to flee, but couldn’t move. She pulled at the restraints with her arms and legs. Her eyes shifted back and forth rapidly until finally, they landed on Zeke, who was not alone. Behind him were three figures cloaked in black with their faces completely hidden. One wore a white rosary around their neck. Some of the beads appeared to be pearls and the cross itself had a blue and pink tint to it that glinted every time the figure moved.
“In the name of The Father. . .”
Crows flew in through the broken windows shrieking and cawing and flying so closely to Zeke and Sadie that their talons brushed against their heads.
“The Son. . .”
The cross that hung on the wall crashed down onto the floor below and Jesus’ head broke clean off. It rolled down the aisle towards where Sadie lay, restrained and terrified.
“And of The Holy Spirit. . .”
The floor began to bounce as if there were an earthquake. Moans could be heard outside of the church, slowly closing in.
Gillian Corsiatto hails from Alberta, Canada, right between two major cities: Calgary and Edmonton. She has been a lifelong writer, and her first book Duck Light was published in 2021. Since then, she has been motivated to keep at her writing and further it into an established career, even branching out into writing for the theatre. Currently, a sequel to Duck Light is underway, but she still pumps out scripts and short stories whenever an idea creeps into her mind. You can find her mostly at her writing desk, probably with a cat in her lap, and maybe even spinning a fidget spinner. She thinks those are still cool.
Featured Image by Cosmic Timetraveler.