“In sickness and in health.” The vicar read through his normal routine. The summer wind blew a gust through his rapidly thinning grey hair, which coupled with this thick rimmed glasses perched neatly on the very tip of his nose had been the deciding factor in choosing him to perform their nuptials.
As she spoke Leslie McCartney tried to listen to the words, but couldn’t help but keep both her eyes on the steadily building layer of hulking cloud that was gathering exactly over their heads. She hadn’t been too enthused by the idea of an outdoor wedding, but it was the only thing her soon to be husband had insisted on. Leaving her in complete and utter control of everything else, something she actually relished unlike many other people who had called her a fool for organising the wedding the parties and the honeymoon all on their own, especially as she had just announced that she was pregnant with their first child.
Now, standing before the altar in the garden of the small country church – which they had fallen in love with as they drove home from a weekend away. It looked just like a postcard picture nestled back from the road surrounded by trees. It was old and quaint, everything they were looking for. It even had a large outdoor space especially for external weddings. Not that it was used much anymore or so the very aged Vicar Roger Butterworth had told them. It was his first wedding for sometime. His main trade he told them with real enthusiasm was christenings – her white dress clung to her body, specially designed to highlight but not over emphasize her growing bump. She felt a chill as another gust whipped through the congregation and down the aisle with all the grace of a drunken uncle arriving late after having just emerged from the cloister with the 18 year old bridesmaid.
She suddenly sensed all the eyes in attendance focus on her exposed back and not looking at the almost faded tan lines from the previous month’s early summer sun. She returned her focus to the matter at hand, looking from the vicar and into the eyes of the man standing next to her.
“I do” She said with a smile, unable to break the gaze. She had fallen in love with Nathan Owens the first time she had seen him for the very same reason she was still hopelessly in love with him. His blue eyes as deep and clean looking as the sea surrounding a fantasy desert island.
Behind her she felt a communal sign of relief, silent to the ears of anybody but her. Above her head she felt the pressure in the sky building. It was getting so dark around them that in the distance she saw that the street lights were beginning to light and it was only 2 in the afternoon.
“By the power invested in me” The vicar was now building up to his big final speech, the most important lines of the whole show when he was interrupted by a large crack of thunder, followed almost instantly by the whip cracking sound associated with lightening charging toward the ground like a plummeting locomotive.
This time the gasps coming from the crowd were unmistakable, as was the crying 3-year-old daughter of the best man, who was serving as the ring bearer.
“Lets finish this Reverend” Nathan spoke impetuously, something completely out of character, but Leslie put it down the weather. The clouds had developed further and everybody was looking up at the sky, their fingers crossed. Even the vicar was staring towards heaven.
“Lord help us” He whispered under his breath, shortly before his was pushed roughly in the shoulder by Nathan, whose eyes were narrowed, his lips pulled tight over his teeth. A vein had emerged in the side of his neck and Leslie noticed that it was steadily pulsing along to the tune played by his heart.
“Just bless us and we can get going.” He growled, his voice came from the very depth of his body, and actually scared Leslie - who was the only person looking at that time.
The first cold drip landed on the back of her neck. It made her jump, but not because of its low temperature, but because of its warmth. The drop felt like the last drips falling from the shower when you turn it off retaining the temperature of the water that they followed, stragglers in the liquid parade desperate to arrive before the end.
Behind her Leslie heard people shuffle and begin to stand, a few screams emanated from the front row, and beside her Nathan gave a chuckle. “It’s about time” He spoke to the sky. His neck craned back as far as it would allow.
“May the lord protect us.” The vicar’s words chilled her the way she had expected the raindrop to do. She looked at him and jumped even higher. His face was white, his lips matched the shade perfectly, it was as though they had been removed and replaced with grafts of regular skin. His eyes were wide, the pupils dilated and between his eyes was a dark red spot. and if it wasn’t for his now incredibly pale skin and the past meetings between the two of them Leslie would have simply thought he was an Indian. Then she began to shake, it started deep inside her stomach, shaking her young and unknowing foetus and radiating outwards and then along her body in both directions until it ran out and disappeared into the atmosphere. The red drop began to move, slowly working its course down his face, following the contours of his nose before stopping on the tip. Building in mass stretching its outer layer to capacity before taking the last plunge to the ground to be absorbed by the earth.
“What is going on?” Was all that Leslie could ask. She looked down and saw a similar red stain on her gleaming white dress. The dark spot made the gown glow even brighter than the sunlight had, but now this gleaming spoil was ruining her moment. Another joined it, and these were followed by several more. One landed on the palm of her now outstretched hand. She brought it to her nose although she knew what it was. A scream started to build in her throat but its escape was cut off by Nathan’s lips covering her own, his tongue caressing hers and running its way over the top of her teeth. In his hand, pressing against her stomach he held a bible, open on the same page as the vicars. He let it drop to the floor where its pages were soon stained with the increasingly steady drops of blood.
“It’s time. Stand here with me and welcome them” Nathan released her from his faux loving embrace. He held her head in his hands, they were cold, rough and completely unlike the hands that had held the large diamond ring which spent the last 14 months decorating the finger on Lindsey’s right hand. He held her head firmly in place, he had a mad look on his face, he was grinning like a Cheshire cat, and around them the blood rain began to pour. Most of the guests had fled, hurried into the church by the vicar, who managed to organize the chaos quite smoothly as he never took his eyes from the sky.
“Nate, what’s going on? What are you doing? Your scaring me” She blurted out as much as she could in between breaths, which had been dramatically shortened by the shock she was bordering on entering.
“Nothing my sweet. Our day is being blessed.” He told her, his eyes while still deep were as dark and cold as the Atlantic Ocean they planned to fly over the next morning.
Leslie began to shake. She was unable to process what was happening. Her perfect man, the man who all her friends had loved had become a frightening figure, standing covered in blood holding her face until it hurt. His grip and unusually sharp nails may have drawn blood but it was impossible to tell. He felt her eyelashes become sticky with the gore that was pouring from the sky. Every time she blinked a sickening sticky sound travelled through her senses into her overworked brain. The only thing she could think of was the blood.
Suddenly she was grabbed once again, only this time she was pulled backwards. There was little force behind it but she was off balance and about to faint so it didn’t take much to get her moving.
“Come with me hurry…..hurry get inside” The vicar was crying in her ear. His lips close enough to touch her lobe, but even still she hardly heard his words.
She moved her feet but her body was slow off the mark and her shoulders were grabbed much more forcefully by Nathan whose face was contorted in what looked like pain but after a closer look was clearly not. “Stay” He yelled at her.
“Here he comes. He only wants to bless our day, our child, our future. He chose us and now you want to walk away before he returns. Where is your motherly love” He cried his voice getting louder as he spoke, the wind increased, sending the drops of still body temperature blood flying through the air almost horizontal, further drenching the dress which while lacked the large train and veil of the more traditional dresses she had tried was still deceptively heavy especially when wet.
She couldn’t speak, her entire body was frozen, she didn’t even see the rain falling any more. She knew it was there, but it didn’t enter her brain, which was now diverting new information while attempting to sort what it already had. All she saw was Nathan’s face and the wild look in his eyes. Everything else was just black, as if he was delivering his talking heads speech to the camera. Even his words were muted, his lips moved and she heard a sound nothing more.
“Release her. Do you not fear the wrath of God!” The holy man called to him, standing firm defying his age. If she had noticed, if anyone had been looking at him, they would have noticed that the vicar wasn’t anywhere near as blood soaked as the others. The drops seemed to avoid him as best they could. Some of it was hidden by his already black overcoat, but beneath his unfastened jacket his white dog collar gleamed a brilliantly clean colour. It seemed to emit light and cut through the gore.
Nathan stared directly into the eyes of the vicar and held his gaze. The two men stood firm and then Nathan began to smile. “God! I don’t fear your fucking God. God fears me. You hear.” He leant his head back to the heavens again and held his arms out in an ironic pose and laughed, a deep guttural, maniacal laugh that actually shook a few cobwebs away from Leslie’s mind and she turned and ran towards to the church.
Behind her she heard Nathan scream once more, his voice unusually carried on the wind that was now blowing into her face carrying all other sounds further away. She reached the steps of the church, her trainer shoes – she had never been a fan of wearing high heels and regardless she had twisted her ankle playing squash the week before – slapped noisily on the wet church steps. Deep pools of blood gathered there, but stopped suddenly three steps before the top. Instead all the drops fell on the one step creating a waterfall effect that sent the arterial fluid cascading down the remaining steps as if it were desperate to escape the shadow of Gods house.
Yet another scream stopped her in her tracks just inches away from the large heavy oak doors which were slowly being inched shut but the shaken members of both families. Leslie turned and saw to her horror that the vicar was still standing there. He was facing the church, his dog colour still gleaming white, fighting until the end to retain its purity. His eyes were wide and his moth looked like a he was doing the sort of facial exercises that women did in the late 1980’s before Botox became the high street option of choice. The most shocking thing however was the arm that was now protruding from his chest. The open hand clenched into a fist, blood and entrails – which she knew belonged inside the man they were now held before – dripped to the floor with the same semi congealed dripping of an egg white slipping through your fingers while you separate it from the yolk.
The arm then retreated and with a sucking sound that everyone thought they heard it was gone. The vicar stood for a moment, and before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell to the floor he managed to cross himself and grab his crucifix which he was ironically holding in the inverted position. He tried to correct this but fell before the managed it.
Tears were now falling freely from Lesley’s eyes, leaving snail like tracks down her cheeks, not removing the rapidly congealing blood from her face, rather just diluting it.
“Come on Les” Her soon to be - if not already for she had lost track of events -brother in law called to her. She was only inches away from the hopeful sanctity of the church but she could move. The rain wasn’t reaching her where she stood, but her dress was completely dyed, her hair clung in clumps to her scalp, and she stood there like a victim from a low budget slasher film while her unborn child kicked for the first time. It hurt her, but she didn’t register the pain. She was too concerned by the figure that was now walking up the steps. Nathan ascended the stairs one at a time brining both feet to rest on the same step before moving up another level. He came to rest on the same spot where the blood itself dared not venture.
“You can’t stop it Leslie. He blessed our union long ago, and today is his chance to return and claim what is his.” Nathan hissed, his skin seemed tighter over his bones, the blood didn’t seemed to be clotting on him, it was as though there was a current to it, and it simple drifted over his skin, moving in a steady fashion, never stopping. It flowed and the more she looked at him the more she saw it flow. His whole body whether bare skin or clothed the blood was flowing in a swirling pattern from his head to his feet.
“Fuck You!” She screamed at him, her pitch high enough to make the lone dog in attendance emit a slight howl in agreement.
“No we did that already remember Les, you couldn’t keep your hands off me. You were wild that night, and now the way is paved for him.
Leslie felt the kicking inside her stomach again, stronger this time and painful enough to register, as though something was scratching, trying to escape. Her hands went down to her stomach and she gasped as the realisation dawned on her.
“You really think I’m having a baby blessed by the devil. His son. You have gone mad.” She spat aware that her words had all the sting of a butterfly but was proud at getting them out without stuttering.
Nathan smiled again, even his teeth were stained red, with congealed clots sticking out between his teeth.
“You’re not having the devils baby. Silly girl. I wouldn’t do anything like that to you” He answered, his eyes never leaving Lesley’s no matter how she willed herself to turn away. “You are giving birth to the devil himself” With that he began to chuckle, his eyes turned yellow as he did, something that was definitely noticed by Leslie and both sets of parents who had left the church to rescue the girl they all considered a daughter.
They put their arms around her and together the two fathers pulled her backwards into the church. She was as heavy and stiff as stone, the only thing that let them know she was alive was the agonised cries she made as the pain in her belly grew sharper and sharper especially once she crossed the threshold. Her belly began to swell, she couldn’t help it, and within seconds it had almost doubled in size and she felt blood – her own for sure this time – begin to flow without inhibition down her legs under her dress.
She fell to the floor and lay looking up and the timber supported church ceiling and screamed as she felt her stretch marks begin to split, she felt the same burning sensation as when her slightly schizophrenic cat Bubbles scratched her. Her family gathered round her, mainly to hold her down and stop the thrashing for fear of harming the baby. All of them unaware of the cause, apart that is for the old man who had been at the back of the party, the grey skinned man who looked like he had only a few days left to live who had slipped in just before the proceedings began, completely unnoticed even by those who he sat beside. He walked slowly to the front of the church muttering beneath his breath in Latin. The only person who paid it any attention was Nathan, whose face further twisted in pain this time as the words reached his ears. He froze and stared into the eyes of the stranger, but this time he looked away, and backed down a few steps.
“You can’t stop him. He has already arrived.” Nathan screamed in a voice barely understandable and so dissimilar to his own that people inside didn’t even know he had spoken. Nathan gestured towards the sky. The blood still fell but slower now, the clouds were glowing with the colour of fire. The man looked up and flinched at what he saw. The clouds were swirling and creating a funnel that slowly extended towards the ground like the twisted hand of an aged leper reaching out for the small bits of change the kind hearted would throw at him from distance. Around the top of the funnel as the flame colour in the clouds reached its most vivid two large shapes, like the eyes a preschool child your draw with crayon could be seen staring down towards the world. They were black, not like storm clouds on a autumn day, and not black like the night, for when they were compared they would look like a spring morning compared to the total absence contained within the eyes above.
“May the Lord protect us.” The man said, his hear covered by an old dusty slightly worn looking grey fedora the shade of which was almost a perfect match to his skin, but a few escaping strands of hair told everyone that his hair was pure white beneath, and obvious testament to his age. He returned his gaze towards Nathan and calmly continued to speak in a different language, one that only Nathan somehow understood.
“Your Aramaic sayings and beliefs will not help you any more old man. Give me the child or I will rip you a apart from the middle out.” With that Nathan lunged at him. The man didn’t move and Nathan came to a jolting halt on the same step three from the top as he did before. He held his hands up to his head as if he was dizzy. He lunged again and made no progress. This time the old man backed up half a step as if feeling the force regardless.
“You wont get it. I wont allow it.” He spoke simply and in a commanding voice that made everybody listen even Lindsey. The pain lessened suddenly and has he walked over to where she lay she began to feel slightly at peace with herself. Her heart rate slowed and her now over swollen belly – which looked like she was a week overdue with triplets – calmed, bordering on splitting open like a piece of rotting fruit. Just the slightest touch would probably rupture it and send her premature foetus shooting into the world on a geisha of her own bodily fluids.
“Please help me. I can’t loose my baby. Please help my BABY” She cried with a wild devotion that only a mother could understand.
The man leant over her and made the sign of the cross on her forehead. “Hold on my child” He spoke quietly to her the noise of the wind and the delusional screaming of a mad man didn’t seem to enter the church. As if God were catching them before they could cause more harm. He talked in the same language again as he did at the door, but Leslie could understand that he was saying names. The names of the Saints, or so it sounded to her – Peter, Paul, Matthew, Barnabas just some the names she recognised.
Outside them Nathan leapt at the door once more, and Leslie felt the priest move as if being pushed by some invisible force. This time Nathan laughed in triumph as he landed on the next step up. The man stopped and looked over his shoulder. He shook his head an returned to his prayer, speaking quicker now.
Nathan’s parents turned to look at their son and saw that the blood waterfall and reversed and now the blood was pouring up the steps collecting on the unblemished higher ground like a pool. It soon reached the top and Nathan leapt again, making anther gain on his ascent. The blood followed him. In the background the funnel was now a matter of feet above the ground, and the eyes were beginning to glow. A small red dot could be seen in the centre.
The man made another three signs of the cross on Leslie’s forehead and quickly followed with another three on her stomach, which flinched at his touch, but was soothing and she felt the swelling decrease each time his gnarled fingers grazed her flesh; the dress long since burst at the seams, revealed her bleeding bump to the world. She looked up at the man through tear filled eyes, red and stinging from her own sweat, and she saw his face change. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he began to speak in English.
“Lay still my child. We must cast out the demon before he takes control of your child, before he kills you both.” Normally those words would have filled her with panic, but Leslie felt compelled to trust this stranger and was calmed by his voice. Almost hypnotised by its tone. She looked into his eyes and felt herself being protected. Wrapped in a blanket and carried away from harm.
“ I cast you out unclean spirit.” He began, but before he could finish the sentence the wind began to howl and burst over the threshold lifting the grooms father into the air and carried him through the doorway, and launched him down the aisle and sent him skidding on his side into one of the middle sets of pews.
The man was also knocked off balance, but never broke his blind gaze and connection with Leslie. “Close the doors” He called, his calm voice now replaced with one filled with urgency. Everyone rallied together and tried to force the doors closed against the wind.
The man resumed his prayer, his hand resting gently on Leslies stomach which was now half its over inflated size.. “Be gone In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” He traced continued small crosses on her skin with his index finger. His nose began to bleed, a few drops at first but soon it became a steady flow. Still he held firm.
Outside Nathan was now at the top of the stairs, and the blood had rushed against the tide and was waiting at the doors to the church. Biding its time before it swept down the aisle like a gore filled tsunami, washing away anything that gets in its way.
The group made some progress with the doors, but the driving wind easily countered their rapidly flowing adrenaline and equalised the playing field. They all saw it happen. Behind Nathan, over his left shoulder they saw the funnel touch down. Fire flew down from the sky, sliding down the black smoke funnel. The earth split open with a loud crack as the flames came billowing out of contact point scorching the ground over a two-meter radius.
The fire flowed constantly and built into a wall of flame, the heat from which was felt almost immediately inside the church. Nathan took the final steps forwards to the edge of the churches entry point; his feet stopping with a long jumpers precision just behind the line of the threshold.
The congregation whose division was no longer based upon bride or groom but on distribution of strength resumed its heaving efforts to seal the church. While Nathan laughed joyfully as he watched their frantic actions. Beyond them lying on the floor in the middle of the church lay his wife, her legs bent at the knee her feet flat on the floor, but the blood no longer flowed from her loins, and instead had started to flow backwards much like that of the rain. Nathan stared in near disbelief. “Its too late” He called, but was ignore by all.
The old man now had his head lowered and he spoke directly to Leslie’s unborn, undeveloped foetus, but he soon raised his head towards the ceiling of the church, the paintings which provided the edge to the oak supported structure were glowing, their colours radiant and new. The figures were all in their sculpted positions, but their heads were all turned to see the scene below. This wasn’t easily seen on those direct above, but as you got further towards the altar the difference could be seen clearly.
He called at the top of his lungs, his voice filling the air inside and out of the church, echoing around the walls. The stained windows shook, the blood covering their external side slipped away leaving them almost flawless once more.
“And those who have done good shall enter into everlasting life but those who have done evil into everlasting fire! May we no longer fear any evil since the Lord is with us; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever”
The wind died slightly and then returned with an almighty gust that blew the doors back against the inside walls and threw the old man limply the whole way down the church and into the altar sending the crucifix flying along with the candles and cloth, all of which fell to the floor in a noisy pile.
Nathan began to take his long awaited step over the threshold. Behind him the wall of fire began to wobble unsteadily, a parting appeared down the middle and a shape could be seen standing the other side just waiting to escape.
“Amen” The word suddenly filled the church, all the people in attendance that day felt suddenly compelled to shout the word at the top of their lungs. Nathan’s progress was halted and the wind stopped howling and the blood stopped flowing, it was inside the church now and only inches away from their feet. The two largest men both brothers of the bride ran and quickly pushed the heavy oak doors shut like they were the lightweight doors of a confession booth. Just before they did the wall of fire erupted, sending the wall of fire hurtling towards the church like a back draft, and all they could do was stand frozen in fear for the first time since the blood rain had begun. The doors caught each other and closed just before the fireball hit. The heat from the blast was intense but the doors held firm.
On the floor Leslie remained still, breathing rapidly but controlled. Her entire body now sticky with the combination of the fallen blood and her own sweat, the stress from the ordeal finally taking its toll on her body. Everybody gathered round her as the fire cast its orange glow through the windows. There was a fearful notion move through each of their minds, the thought that the church would simply burn to the floor, but the building held firm and was left untouched by the flames. All that could be heard was the final screams of Nathan. The doors then blew open again but this time nobody flinched because the first thing they saw was the clouds parting and the blue summer sky begin to show once more. The funnel was beginning to dissipate into the air and the fire was retreating back into the split in the earths crust and only the last licks of flame remained above ground. That and the now greatly disfigured Nathan who was clinging for his life to the crust of overturned earth holding onto whatever he could to keep from being pulled down into the fires of hell as payment for his failure. The eyes were still in the sky but only directed upon the pit, and Nathan, who was now completely devoid of hair and his skin was raw and open with blisters covering the most external parts. His eyes were black, their colour removed forever. He cried one last time before his grip failed and he fell from view, the ground closing swiftly behind him sealing his fate.
Everybody gathered round Leslie and tried to talk her out of moving, but she insisted she was fine and raised herself to a sitting position before her father helped her to her feet. She was unsteady but moved forward. She walked for the second time that day down the aisle, her father by her side holding her arm to keep her supported. They walked passed the groaning figure of her father in law who was himself sitting holding his head in his hands. She headed towards the altar to find the man to whom she owed her life and the life of her child; who she could fell still living inside her.
Only the man wasn’t there. The piled of dented artefacts was lying undisturbed, but his body was gone.
“No need to thank me my child. Its my job.” The voice spoke from behind them. The man was standing in the doorway to the church, the sky a brilliant and unblemished blue behind him. His hair as white as Leslie’s dress had been flowed from his head and down towards his shoulders, thinning on the front but full and thick everywhere else. His face was covered with a few days beard growth that showed signs of being equally white. His long duster style jacked was open exposing the white robes he wore beneath. His skin also no longer had the grey tone of before, but was as pink and healthy as a teenage boy chasing the girl of his dreams.
Leslie faced him and smiled at him. His voice effected all of them in the same way. They trusted it and if he had told them to lie down and sleep until morning they would have done it no questions asked. Suddenly beams of sunlight shone through the glass windows of the church and the open doorway. Bathing the figure in a golden light. His jacket fell to the floor and he raised his arms towards the sky.
They then watched in stunned awe as from behind his back a large set of wings emerged and spread wide; the large white feathers easy to see even at the other end of the church. He returned the smile and stepped backwards into the open air before ascending on the beams of light, disappearing from view.
Leslie and her guest walked slowly towards the door, emerging in brilliant sunshine, they were all temporarily blinded by the light, and when everything returned to them colours seemed so much richer than they ever had before, and the surroundings were unharmed, the wedding set was all in place, the archway, the seats, even the external altar. Leslie looked down and saw that her dress was once more the pure white it had been when she picked it from the rails, and the same was for the rest of them. Even their hair had returned to its fully primped glory. The only thing that remained unchanged was the lifeless figure of the holy man lying on the ground. His body whole, no longer having been violated in the brutal fashion everyone had witnessed not 30 minutes earlier.
His robes were spread around him like a cape, his face looking into the sky, but was shielded by a grey fedora gently placed over his brow giving him a peaceful look, like a sheriff sleeping in a quiet western town. In his hand he held his bible, open on the final pages, before a soft gust of a summer breeze blew the book closed.