Authors: Dennis Etchison
“If there’s anything—”
Reverend Malone put him off with a movement of his hand.
“I’ll be seeing you, then,” said Nick. He backed down the aisle.
“Be seeing you,” said Reverend Malone. “Oh, and Nick?”
“Thank you again for your kindness.”
“Don’t thank me,” said Nick.
Reverend Malone was alone.
His breath came through some obstruction. The effort seemed to sap his last reserve of strength.
He opened his eyes at the sudden pungence of the air.
No one was there. Only the desecrated altar and the sound of the first birds stirring outside the broken windows. A car started up. The exhaust wafted in.
He placed his hands on his knees and rose. His loose footsteps sounded unnaturally loud as he scraped his way over the hand-laid stones. He mounted the steps before the blank space on the wall. The peeling paint held a smudged marking where the cross had been for so many years. The cross, he thought. It was a travesty.
He held out his arms weakly before its memory and shut his eyes. A cold breeze from the windows stung his hands.
His throat moved. “Father,” he said. “Give me a sign. I need to hear you now, but cannot.”
The breeze uncoiled down the aisles and encircled his ankles. His legs began to shake violently.
he thought, refusing to sit down,
I will not have it.
“I implore you,” he said. “Give me to know of your wisdom. I must understand. Why? Why only five?”
His eyes rolled heavenward.
Had he looked down instead, he would have seen the tendrils of mist wrapping his ankles, binding his feet to the burned spot where he stood.
“Why?” he asked again.
“Why not six?”
He lifted his arms in a gesture of supplication.
And saw that they were steaming.
He started to turn.
Fog hissed into the aisles, filling the church with a ghostly congregation. He felt their eyes boring at his back.
“It is you, Blake, I know it. You are with me now, aren’t you? You’ve come back.”
A heavy sucking sound at his back, sliding to rest at the altar.
“Why not me, Blake? There were six conspirators, not five. My grandfather was one of them. He was the first.”
No answer. Only a moist rustling and a dripping on the stones. A sudden odor of corruption filled his nostrils.
“Blake,” he said, “I call you in the name of my father who art in Hell! I beg you, have mercy on my soul. Set me free!”
A rusty, coral-encrusted cutlass was unsheathed from its scabbard. It clanked and swished in the air.
“Blake!” said Reverend Malone. “Here! Take me! For the love of—”
Before he could finish the sentence or complete the turn to face his confessor, the blade of Captain Blake’s tempered sword whistled through the thick air toward Reverend Michael Malone, first-born son of the Reverend Tom Malone and only grandson of Patrick Malone, founder and first pastor of Antonio Bay Township, severing his head roughly from his shoulders with a single powerful blow.
fiction has appeared in a wide variety of publications here and abroad since 1961, including magazines such as
Fantasy and Science Fiction
as well as in such anthologies as
Orbit, New Writings in Science Fiction, Prize Stories from Seventeen, Rod Serling’s Other Worlds
His work remains in print throughout the world in a number of foreign languages, and most recently may be found in many of the best collections of contemporary horror fiction:
Night Chills, Nightmares
and the award winning
Shadows and Frights
among others. He has been both a nominee (1977) and a judge (1979) for the World Fantasy Awards and has also written articles, poetry, film and television scripts. He has a novel,
scheduled for publication in the fall of 1980. Mr. Etchison is a native Californian.