SHADOW MASTERS: AN ANTHOLOGY FROM THE HORROR ZINE
Matthew Wilson’s comments about his story “The Church” in SHADOW MASTERS…
Faded fragments of tombstones round a building scratched with long dead names. During the day, churches are set in sun and seem sweet, but at dark, the fog rises and owls scream in trees.
The sanctuary loses its welcome, and you see only Gothic towers layered with grinning gargoyles. These busts are supposed to keep away evil spirits yet become their own monsters in the low light.
I have a great fear of churches and wished to see a great evil homed in the supposedly safest of places. I have eighteen nephews and nieces and have seen much devilment at their hands. Breaking windows to pass the time is a venture that thankfully they’ve yet to reach, but their energy gave me some idea of this stories characters.
But any writer will ask what if, and what follows simple actions like breaking windows. Sometimes the monsters right in front of you. You just have to wake it up at night.
Real monsters only walk at night, feeding on troublemakers.
AN EXCERPT FROM “THE CHURCH” BY MATTHEW WILSON
Liam could not go to war. He couldn’t defend his country in the face of gunfire and be a hero. But here he could make a difference. Here he could save his friend, if he could only find the courage to step off the sidewalk.
He cursed himself, wondering if it was enough protection to simply cross his fingers as he stepped through the mangled gate. He felt like he was crossing from one world to another, a lost explorer in the desert, low on water, hoping this first step in the dark was toward the right direction.
He ducked, expecting some kind of attack when an owl hooted in the air. It did not land on the dead tree, but instead chose to keep flying. Nothing good stopped here.
Walking cautiously on the church grounds, he felt the slight breeze as it rustled the leaves on the overgrown shrubs. The path was dangerous to maneuver in the dark, with uneven concrete pavers that alternatively sank and protruded. To the right and left of the path, wild trees grew at odd angles that had limbs untamed from lack of pruning.
By the time he reached the first granite slab that gleamed in the silver moonlight, the sound of digging assaulted his senses. Liam followed the sound, until he saw that Sam was bringing a spade up and down like a pick axe, breaking open the ground.
Liam paused, fearing what Sam might bring up from the bowels of the earth. A dead hand might reach up from the grave at any minute and drag him down. Liam silently asked mercy from whatever force looked after young men.
He had been stepping only on the pavers. He did not trust the poisoned earth. If the dead souls beneath it minded being trod upon, they had not grabbed his ankles yet.
Coming closer, Liam called, “Sam? It’s me, what the hell are you doing? Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Sam stopped digging and Liam could see him smiling in the moonlight. His eyes were closed, but he was talking. “It’s quite all right, Liam. I know what I’m doing. I haven’t gone mad. Remember, you’re the crazy one and I’m just the one with the bum leg.”
“Come on, Sam, let’s get out of here,” Liam repeated.
“I can’t leave. I’m buried here and now I have to dig myself up again. The church told me it would help me.”
Liam nervously glanced over his shoulder at the church. It still seemed to sleep. He advanced, one step, two…“Sam. You’re not buried in this churchyard. We have to leave this place. It doesn’t like us.”
“What are you talking about? It invited me here; it wants me here. It wants me to dig.”
Liam stopped walking. The spade was barred at him like a knight’s lance warding off a dragon.
“Sam! What are you doing?”
“I should never have thrown those rocks. You were right. I see that now.”
“You don’t see shit. Let’s go.”
“You want my body to rot down there? You don’t want me to breathe, to feel the sun? You’re just like your crazy father. He’s down there too.”
“My father is buried across town, not here. Listen, Sam, that’s someone’s grave. They’re gonna be pissed, you digging it up—whoa!”
Liam threw his head back like a boxer avoiding a KO blow. The head of the spade missed him by inches, cutting the tips off his hair which fluttered to the ground like autumn leaves. The hair frazzled and smoked like spent match heads, sinking into the earth like worms fleeing crows.
Laughing, Sam swung the shovel like a maniac samurai. Liam was afraid of the earth flinging off it, sizzling like acid as it hit the stones he stood upon.
The church tasted and woke. A blue candle came on in the window.
Stay away from the church, his father had said. Suddenly Liam remembered the rest of what his father used to say: Only the dead are welcome there, and you have so much life in you.