By Ben Preheim
Not many alive today know how to listen, but for the few who do, they would know that even the trees were nervous. The shaggy bushes and neatly trimmed hedges stood on edge; their leaves were silent. The air was still, the animals quiet. A figure in a flowing black cloak strode like a ghost down a narrow rubbish-strewn street. He had been overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of the main streets. These people were insane in their love of bright lights that burned without wood or oil, and their noisy vehicles. He chuckled, they called this progress, but they were barbaric than they had been hundreds years before. The air was so laced with pollutants that it nearly made him choke.
He made his way to what the locals called Seraphim Abbey. He could see it now, plainly visible in the pallid light of the possessed lamps that illuminated it. The abbey was a large gothic church with a majestic rose window at the front, flanked by two square stone towers. One tower held the bells, sweet bronze bells that rang on festival days. The other tower had an enormous clock face on the front side; its hands read five minutes from midnight.
Tension started to build in his chest, and he shivered with excitement. Oh, how long he had waited for this moment. After years of preparation, plots, and counterplots, he had come to this moment. He could barely contain himself. Finally, after so many years, he’d be able to complete his mission.
He glided around the church into a garden, grinning as he looked at the hedges and flowers decorating the pathway. He hated plants; they were so fragile and weak. He picked one of the beautiful, delicate, blood red roses, he placed it carefully on the ground, and he lowered his foot on top of it. With savage relish, he ground it into the dirt. It was one minute to midnight now. He could already feel energy surging through his fingertips but he had to wait. He had to hold everything in until exactly the right moment.
Dong! The deep cathedral bell tolled into the night. The time was here. Flames licked his feet, quickly crawling up his form until a pillar of fire emanated from his body. It consumed the entire abbey. The flames seared through everything; wood, stone, glass and flesh. These people were so ignorant of the true power of fire.
He allowed himself a rare laugh as the inferno swallowed up the church itself, leaving the street surrounding it untouched. Fire licked all around and he relished it. His laugh was a high cackle. He had triumphed at last. She was dead. The one his master wanted was surely dead. She must be.
Sarah sat bolt upright, gasping for breath, her nightgown drenched in cold sweat. The man, no, the thing, whatever it was – its cackle still echoed in her head. Had it just been a dream? It had seemed so real and every detail was still vivid in her mind, instead of slipping from memory. She recognized the church in the dream.
Sarah had been a newborn orphan when she was dropped on the doorstep of Seraphim Abbey. The abbey was the only home she had ever known. For twelve years the nuns had taken care of her, taught her how to read and write, read the bible aloud to her, and sent her to school. They had long since become her family.
Terrified, she went to the window and looked outside to where the man should have been. Her bedroom was on the outer side of the chancel, with the window faced the abbey garden. She watched with a sickening sense of déjà vu, as a spectral figure glided over the flowers and bushes. Her eyes widened when it picked up a rose and viciously crushed it into the cobblestones.
Sarah ran to the door and yanked it open. She ran down the corridor at a dead sprint, her nightgown flapping around her knees. Until she slammed into a locked door, staggering with the blow.
Her heart pounded painfully in her chest as she fumbled with the iron latch. Her hands shook as she fumbled with the lock. Finally, it clicked. She threw her weight against the door, the momentum carrying her at full tilt across the sanctuary, almost falling on the marble floor of the chancel. The door was so close and the bell hadn’t rung yet. There was still time.
Fifty feet to the door, blood pounded in her temples as she heaved air through her lungs. She tripped, and skidded across the marble floor. She tried to scramble up, but it was too late.
Dong! High up in the lofty tower came a single mournful peal. It was over. Horrible, gut wrenching acceptance gripped Sarah, and she relaxed in surrender. Then the world was filled with a searing white.
A bystander called the fire department, but by the time the truck got there only a pile of finely ground ash was left. They were dumbfounded as to how the magnificent abbey had burnt down. To this day they have never solved the case, even bringing in the finest experts in investigating arson. They said that not even an entirely wooden structure soaked in gasoline and pressurized full of hydrogen could have been burned so thoroughly. The police released to the press that it was a terrorist attack, but they couldn’t be sure.
However, something extraordinary happened that day. As the nuns from nearby Saint Devon Cathedral crossed themselves, a single body was lifted from the rubble. It was a girl; paramedics were able to restart her heart with a defibrillator. The girl was sent away. Stories would abound for fifty years about the destruction of Seraphim Abbey, and the miraculous survival of one blonde little girl. The stories would grow more sensational with every telling, but no one guessed the truth of what happened.