Zeke Pratt seemed to be charming in all the right ways. He held the door open, paid for each date, and tipped 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 father treated her cruelly growing up, and now in the final year of high school, she waited for when the day would arrive that she could finally leave the house she had known for so many years and 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 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, anxious to see what Zeke had planned.
The high school sweethearts had just spent two hours in a locally owned coffee shop, simply talking and laughing with one another. When Sadie 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. Just good coffee and good company.
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
The reminder of her dad made her slightly recoil, 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 the town. It looked rundown, possibly even abandoned. 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 getting rocks thrown at it. A crow perched on top. It cawed at Zeke and Sadie before flying off back towards the town. As a child, Sadie was taught to respect religion, worship who she knew as The Holy Spirit, and though she didn’t particularly have the most fond memories of her time doing so, this defamation of what she knew to be holy upset her.
“Come on! We can 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, ruins, 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 realistically like a dead body. All these years, the statue has been slowly withering away with the rest of the abandoned church.
“What happened to this place?” Sadie asked quietly, rubbing her hands together in an attempt to release some of her nervous energy.
“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. And the group of Satanists have never been individually identified.”
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 from the nightmare she was sure she was in.
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 ankles 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.
Safely back in the city limits after a long walk, Sadie let herself into a gas station convenience store. She bought a chocolate bar, a water, and 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 a curb outside 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 safe and secure.
That night, Sadie lay restless in her bed, tossing and turning and sweating. She couldn’t get comfortable. She lay facing away from the window and squeezed her eyes shut, to no avail. Then, there was a sound outside her window, like a knock on the glass. She sat up to check. On the ground below her window stood Zeke. “Open the window,” he silently mouthed to her. Sadie did as instructed.
Zeke had a bouquet of roses in hand and he was dressed in a fine suit.
“I’m sorry for scaring you. Can I make it up to you?” he asked.
Sadie smiled. “Maybe,” she said somewhat flirtatiously. She reached out the window and Zeke gently gave her the flowers.
“You can’t come in,” she said, “my dad is still up.”
“No worries. I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No, I hadn’t fallen asleep yet.”
She yawned and stuck her hand out the window for Zeke to kiss. “Sweet dreams,” he said as he walked away. Sadie lay her head back down on the pillow and fell asleep almost instantaneously.
Zeke hadn’t left. After wishing his sweetheart a goodnight, he walked around to the back of the house and hid out under the deck. The gravel was uncomfortable but he restrained from shifting around too much so as to not be detected. He tried to breathe quietly. Above him, he could see the lights in the house go dark. Sadie’s father was going to bed as well. However, he couldn’t be too hasty. He had to leave some time for the man to fall asleep. Zeke remained in his position under the deck.
As he left his hideout, he coughed as he walked face first into cobwebs full of dead moths and plant parts. He brushed himself off and continued, very much unbothered.
Sadie’s window was still open. Zeke could hear her breathe heavily and deeply as she slept. Now, he had to be impeccably silent so as to not wake her. Stealthily, he enacted his plan. Mustering all the upper body strength possible within him, he hoisted himself up and through the open window and into Sadie’s room, where she lay in peaceful and deep sleep. Not letting his gaze off of her for even a second, he silently slid his hand into his pocket and pulled out a delicately intricate engagement ring with a real diamond stud in cushion cut. Sadie didn’t stir as he slipped the ring onto her finger. He smiled to himself, feeling successful and powerful. Then, just as quickly as he came in, he left. He planted both his feet on the grass outside and then took off running.
Zeke was not at school the next day. Sadie found a note shoved messily into her locker with Zeke’s handwriting. In big, bold letters, it said MEET ME AT THE CHURCH. It was signed off by Zeke and a little scribbly heart was drawn next to his name. Sadie decided it was time to break off the relationship. She could feel something weird going on. She crumpled up the note and threw it in the garbage. The bell rang and she slung her backpack over her shoulder and headed to her first class. She stayed at the school all day where she prepared for upcoming finals. The day was uneventfully boring, but the mundaneness of it made it safe and comfortable.
Meanwhile, an assemblage collected and huddled together in the church. They were of various sizes and all had black hoods covering their face. Zeke pulled his hood off and exposed his face. “She should be here by now,” he said frustratedly.
Another member of the group, the smallest one, removed his hood as well. Underneath, the innocently clear skin of a toddler with bright curious eyes was uncovered. “Put your hood back on!” several group members barked at him. The young boy did as he was told but sniffled and whined as he unwillingly cloaked himself back in darkness. Zeke, for a moment, felt sympathetic. He leaned in and whispered into the boy’s ear.
“Hey, I didn’t like it when I was four either, but you’ll grow up to love it.”
He thought back to his memories of being four years old. His earliest memory was being covered in black clothing and instructed to hide his face. He couldn’t see much, but he remembered people screaming as they fled the church. He even remembered being knocked to the floor at one point. The church looked much more vibrant back then but now, fourteen years later, it had finally turned into a house fit for the Devil. Zeke, as well as the rest of the group, gathered there every week and knew that as long as they stayed committed, the Devil would one day finally pay them the visit that they had been preparing their entire lives for.
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.