Blake looked outside the living room window, eyes wide as he stared at the front yard. The grass twitched against a gentle morning wind, and the rickety fence posts creaked so softly they were almost inaudible from inside. But nothing else seemed to be moving.
He turned around as Alisha walked into the living room area. She wore a dress, with wide straps at the shoulders and a faded flower design. It nearly reached her ankles, and was the most gentle aqua color Blake had ever seen. Her dirty blonde hair wasn't fancy, but she'd clearly spent a great deal of time combing through those wavy locks.
And she reached for something on the back of her neck using both her hands.
"Blake, can you get this clipped on for me?" she asked with tightened lips. "I'm having some trouble."
She referred to a little silver necklace in her delicate grasp. Blake walked to her backside, and grabbed both ends of the chain from Alisha's shaky hands whilst the latter held up her hair. The clip was a bit tricky at first, but he managed it before long.
"Thank you." His mother faced him and rubbed her hands over the shoulders, then greatly brought her soft hands to his chin. "Ooh, I think you'd better comb your hair again. You've got a few strands that look out of place."
She smiled of course, but Blake rolled his eyes. He headed for the bathroom, and looked himself in the mirror once more. The dark blue button-down shirt was really the only nice shirt he owned, as well as the black slacks. He took a simple comb on the counter, wet it down with some sink water, and gently combed through the aforementioned displaced hair strands. His short black hair still nearly reached his eyebrows when completely extended, but with some water he could push the strands into a nice side part. Once finished, he walked back out to Alisha, who put on a thin white cardigan.
"Alright," she said, a bit cheerier than usual. "Let's get going."
"And you're sure you're feeling better today?" he asked.
"I am, actually. Now come on, we don't want to be late."
Alisha locked the door after both she and Blake exited the house. Together they entered her car and clicked in their seatbelts.
The drive was silent, but calm. Though it lasted but ten minutes, Blake did enjoy the scenery as it moved past him in blurs. Houses, then green, and brown, buildings and little parks, a few pedestrians....everything about this little town was so familiar to him, so comfortable, and peaceful. He knew the names of every shop, and knew everyone who owned them, even if he hadn't visited them all at least once.
On the other side of town from his house sat a park, the edge of downtown, and a chapel with a little spire. His mother parked on the street behind a row of at least eight other cars. Once she and Blake exited the vehicle, they walked together towards the chapel a few blocks down.
A few people were gathered outside the open front doors, and spoke in calm and friendly conversation. Blake and Alisha stepped inside after a couple of greetings to the groups they passed by. The inside of the building was impressive, as this church did not appear as large as one would have guessed from its outside. Rows upon rows of old but stable benches filled the massive room in two wide columns, save from the narrow platform at the end of the aisle between said columns. While a few people stood in the aisle or near the windows, dozens more sat in the benches themselves.
Rapid movement caught his attention almost right away. A sharp but continuous wave of a hand. Near the middle of the rows and on the right, someone flagged him down. Blake grabbed his mother's attention and together they walked.
"Hey, Blake," greeted a cheery June. She leaned on the back of the bench with her hands as she stood.
"Hey, good morning," he responded.
"What, no 'hey' for us?"
Blake turned; in the row ahead of June, a lonesome Cameron and Amelia stood near the end of the bench towards the aisle also. Amelia leaned forward as if she expected an answer, though there was a very teasing glint in her eye. He smiled, a response already in mind.
"Nah. I just wanted to say hi to June," he said coolly. "Maybe next time I'll say hello to you, but not her. I don't know if she'll be okay with that....." He shot her a glance. She clearly wanted to play along, yet she could only chuckle and look away.
"Well isn't that nice of you," said Amelia.
Meanwhile Cameron scoffed. "Maybe, but we get no hello today...."
Blake glanced sideways; Alisha spoke with two other adults in the row ahead of them, whom he recognized as June's mother and grandmother. They conversed in a very friendly manner. His own mother even had a big smile on her face while she talked.
"So...." Amelia's voice cut into the air before Blake's mind wandered. "....what did you both do on your Fridays off?"
"Mom and I actually did some baking," June answered. "We got some fresh cherries from Gregor, and used them for some muffins, and then Mom showed me this recipe for this tart bar..."
It was back. That strange sensation creeping up his spine. Blake clenched a fist, and quickly looked around in as inconspicuous of a way that he could. Besides the throng of people that gathered, he saw no shadowy creatures. The burn wasn't quite overwhelming, just bothersome at most, so he could only guess that there was nothing in the building. But he could not do anything for now, and so set his focus back on the conversation with but a nagging thought in the back of his mind.
"....try it myself sometime." June paused. "Would you mind being a guinea pig? I'd love to bring your mom something too."
For a few seconds, he did nothing. But after a couple of blinks he nodded his head with eagerness. "That sounds great. Thanks."
June's face had initially been one of interest and delight. But, the longer she eyed Blake, the more solemn her expression seemed to become. He felt his own eyebrows furrow as he looked at her.
"It could be none of my business, but...when I went to your house yesterday to drop off those muffins, you seemed a little down, I guess. Or, what's the word? Agitated? No, maybe...I guess I'm just wondering, is everything okay?"
She was too good. He'd spent all day Friday and Saturday keeping an eye on Alisha, who slept for most of that time. He'd cooked a few simple meals, given her some medicine, and ensured she rested as much as possible. Which meant he'd spoken to no one about the shadow creatures....or the scythe. He had not mentioned a word of what attacked him after the school incident, the following night, and even the next night. So far no one but him knew of anything unusual.
And he wanted to keep it that way.
"Yeah, yeah," he finally responded. "Mom just....wasn't feeling great the last couple of days."
June tilted her head a little, and Blake continued. "She was really tired, had a headache, but she....."
He was trailing off, as he noticed that more people in the church took their seats, and lowered their voices. June, Amelia, and Cameron took notice of Blake's wandering gaze, and all four of them hushed up as they took their seats. Blake and his mother sat near the end of one bench near the aisle. June sat in the row ahead of them, whilst Amelia and Cameron took their seats in the row in front of her. In no time at all, the crowd had silenced and the pastor stepped up to the podium at the end of the aisle. The service was beginning.
Blake was aware of the passage of time as the praises and greeting came and went. But, he really only half-paid attention. He still reeled over the events of the past weekend. He wished he had somebody to talk to about it. He loved his mother, and very much trusted June. But he didn't want to risk anyone's health or confidence right now. As much as he wanted to, he dare not mention anything to anyone.
Still, having to just internalize had become more and more nerve-wracking lately.
Someone approached him from the aisle, and his train of thought diverted. It was a deacon, with a wooden bowl in his hand. A few items sat in there as the deacon held the bowl out to Blake. Instead he looked towards Alisha, but the woman shook her head with a slightly dejected gaze. No one else in the row offered anything. Even so the deacon carried a smile on his wrinkled face and he continued down to the next row. The young teen leaned back on the bench and gazed right at the stained windowpane to his right.
A shadow fell over the window, but disappeared as soon as it appeared.
Blake inhaled sharply and was surprised he didn't flinch any harder. Here too? He shook his head. No, he thought. It didn't look like that. More like, more like a bird, yeah, just a bird just flying overhead.
His spine tingled a little, and he stared at his twiddling thumbs.
"....want to thank all of you for the gifts and donations."
He recognized the pastor had spoken some already in the first ten or so minutes. But only now did he listen a little harder. He hoped it might take his mind off other things.
"And now a moment of silence, my brothers and sisters, as I've come to hear of terrible things from across our country. Floods in the South. Epidemic on the East Coast. A high school bombing in the west. And many other tragedies in the last week alone. Many lives have been taken, or forever changed, and it is time for our moment of silence for the lives lost and spared. Let us in this moment give prayer to those dealing with such hardship."
Everyone began their prayers. Even Blake did the same, for how could he not? Like others, he'd heard about the things going on around the country, and the world. Some good things, but mostly tragedies. They didn't affect him or his hometown, but that didn't mean they couldn't take a moment. He closed his eyes, pushing the negativity down.
His breathing calmed, and in a strange way even the silence of the sanctuary was fading, as if his ears were blocking out the very absence of sound. He felt something he'd never quite perceived, like for a moment he was somewhere else, somewhere not in the church. The hairs on his hands tingled. So did the ones on the back of his neck.
His breathing stopped. There was no pressure. There was no pain. Just an unbelievable calm that swept over and engulfed him. His mind was utterly blank, yet so serene all the same. After such a calm feeling for so long, Blake opened his eyes.
A completely black landscape surrounded him, devoid of any sound or color or life.
Blake's heart skipped a beat as panicked thoughts flooded his mind. He breathed in sharply and blinked again. Next thing he knew he looked around at the benches and the dozens of parishioners seated in them. At the podium, the priest had already begun his service.
His head jolted about a couple of times until he looked at his mother. He turned his head just as Alisha glanced in his direction, and for a moment her eyebrows furrowed. Blake quickly looked away with a tiny smile on his face, pretending that nothing was wrong. Still, how could he pretend he didn't just see what he saw? What even was that exactly?
Blake swallowed and shook his head with a sharp jolt. He didn't want to think about that right now. He needed to take his mind off things. And the service seemed like the only way to do so.
".....opening seven seals. The first, a white horse with its rider wielding a bow-"
Blake had studied the Bible enough to recognize summarized verses from Revelations. He was surprised the priest chose this for the service message.
"....third, a black horse with its...."
A slight burning ran right up his spine. He dare not look around, but could feel the frustration build up inside him. Why here? And why now? He clenched a fist but released his grip.
"The fourth, a pale horse, it's rider's name Death with Hades following behind him. The fifth, an altar of souls....."
Something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. Alisha had raised her arm and touched something on her neck. It was the piece of jewelry that he helped her with earlier. It was silver, and strung around her neck in tiny chains. And above her chest attached to the chains sat a small pendant of St. Joseph, which she gently clutched with two of her fingers. However, soon after he'd turned to look at her, she released her tight grip on the pendant and set her hand back on her lap. Her eyelids drooped a little while she stared forward, and her eyes appeared a little glossed over-
Blake's gaze jerked rightward. What was that he just saw? There, in one of the stained glass windows which bore an image of a guardian angel over a young child, a shadow flickered. He swallowed, but kept his chin down and his gaze as steady as he could manage. He tapped a finger on his knees in a rapidfire manner, trying to think of something, anything.
"Hey, Mom," said a quiet Blake, who leaned sideways. "I've got to use the bathroom real quick."
Alisha merely smiled when she looked his way. "No need to let me know," she whispered in reply. "Just head out if you need to."
He took his leave with his head low and his footsteps quick. As he made his way down the aisle towards the back of the church, a few of the congregants looked his way but no one seemed terribly interested in anything other than the service. He very gently opened the large sanctuary door and closed it behind him. Here stood a hall, one path leading left and another right, with a wider hall stretching in front of them that lead to the front doors of the church. Blake looked left. Then right. And finally at the front door. Not another soul stood around.
His foot came forward and his knees bent a little; his squinted eyes scanned every inch of the hallway, intent on locating anything out of the ordinary. Any twitch, any flicker....any shadow. His gaze looked in every place and direction, his breath halted as he did so. There was still a tingle in his spine. Something was out there. He walked out to the left hallway, where the bathroom doors lay. He leaned his head forward, and pushed the door open to one of the bathrooms.
There sat a single toilet and sink, a mirror above the latter, but nothing unusual. The door closed behind him but still he looked around with caution. Absolutely nothing. He wanted a minute, then another. Still nothing happened.
Maybe the other one, he thought. He turned and opened the door, stepping outside.
The water fountain on the other side of the hallway squirted a little stream of water as somebody pressed the button for its use. Blake's spine straightened up almost immediately.
"Oh! Hey June."
The teen did not turn around, not until about ten seconds later. As she turned around she let out a breath of relief, then wiped her lips with a gentle touch of her forefinger.
"Ah, that felt good," she said. "I was getting really thirsty. You feeling alright?"
Blake blinked once, then twice more. "Umm, what?"
"Well, you just came out of the bathroom, but I didn't hear a flush."
It seemed like such an odd inquiry, and Blake rubbed the back of his head. "Oh, no. I mean, it was just a quick break. A-and I needed to fix my hair a bit too."
June looked him up and down, but smiled. "Your hair looks fine."
He wasn't sure why she might say that, but her voice was so soft and sweet when she spoke that he could not help but smile.
"Oh hey!" she suddenly piped. "Have you heard about those baby birds that hatched?"
Blake lifted his head. "What baby birds?"
"In that tree on the side of the church!" Spoke with such jubilation in a high-pitched voice that it was infectious, but then she lowered her voice just a bit. "Apparently they hatched a few days ago. Mom and Dad have been flying around a bunch lately too. But, I wanted to check it out after service. Did you want to join me?"
He took a few moments to think about her words, and then her offer. After some brief consideration he nodded his head. "Sure. That sounds pretty good."
June laughed softly, then made a small gesture with her hand. "Come on, let's head back inside. We don't want to be gone too long."
With a quick nod, he and June quietly opened the door back into the sanctuary. Unsurprisingly, the pastor still continued with his sermon.
"....despite the tribulations of Revelations, Jesus returned after his ascension, due the perseverance and faith of those who believed in Him and His teachings. Much like today. There is no good without the evil, no evil without the good."
Both Blake and June returned to their seats, and stared at the pastor as he raised his arms.
"Just as these terrible events have transpired around our country, we must believe that good will come to those whose faith is strong and true. And once more, let us pray for those that have suffered, and for ourselves. Grant us your protection, o' Father, for our faith remains strong with you."
Everyone lowered their chins, just as Blake did. While he didn't know how much of this was actually true, the pastor's words were still very real and relevant. Just because something bad happened, it did not mean everything else that followed would be the same. It was all about staying positive, no matter what happened.
It made him think about recent events, with the shadowy creatures, and that scythe. He wasn't sure, but all these things occurring at one seemed unusual in a bad way. Or maybe not.
Blake closed his eyes. Whatever was going on, he needed to figure it out. Otherwise it might really get worse.