Short Story
Shadow Rites
                  By Keith Adam Luethke

Caleb nailed the last wooden board into place with a single stroke.  He placed
the hammer on a nearby pew and rubbed his wrinkled hands together.  "It's
done my lord."  Caleb scanned the interior of Saint Mary's Catholic Church.  
Where stained glass once depicted patron saints were now thick boards, a
stack of pews blocking the only entrance and back exits, and four cans of
gasoline sitting under an on looking Jesus Christ.  Caleb bowed and prayed to
himself.  "Give me strength my lord so that I may banish these shadows from
your domain."  Caleb sank to his knees.  "Please forgive me for my sins lord
and in my final hours have mercy on me."  Caleb gave his last prayer,  
"remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of
rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence,
Amen."
He rose and went to the gas cans.  Caleb had filled the plastic containers
earlier that day and when the gas attendant asked what a priest wanted with
over thirty gallons of fuel he'd replied:  "It's for the church," which was not a lie.  
Caleb gathered the first payload and splashed the liquid along the floor.  
Droplets struck his arms and the smell reminded him of fixing a used car in his
youth.  Not any old used car, but a 1979 blue firebird with tee tops and a
ruined interior.  It was his first vehicle and his father helped him rebuild the
engine.  That car would roar like thunder from the Heavens.  And when he
slipped the firebird into second gear, watch out!  Caleb felt his lips curling
upward at the memory and fought them back down into a frown.  He emptied
the first gas can and threw them near the doorway.  "May God give me the
strength to finish his work."  The second can went much went much faster and
covered the red carpet below Jesus' feet like the flood.  Caleb snatch the third
can and spent it on the marble statue of Mary.  "May the firesof Heaven purify
our filth, in God's name we pray."
A soft thump came from below, as though the wind had clawed its way inside
and was asking to be let in for the evening.
Caleb dropped the gasoline cans.  His hands trembled.
The thump came again, louder this time.
To a stranger the sounds could've been a settling foundation or rats.  But
Caleb was no stranger to the church.  He raced for the last fuel tank, pumping
his old bones as quickly as they would allow.
The thumps returned, rattling bars, and making the floor shake.
Caleb reached the gas can.  He curled his weathered fingers around the
handle and stepped forward.  "I shall fear no evil."  He placed one foot over the
other until he reached a slight protrusion in the carpet.  Bending down, Caleb
discovered the hidden latch, a small metal ring, and pulled on it.
Part of the carpet gave way to several thick metal bars guarding a black abyss.
Caleb stood over the pit and let the gas pour out.
Cries of anguish and inhuman howls rose from the bowels of the earth and
stung Caleb's ears. He saw a flash of yellow eyes stare up at him.
"Foul creatures be gone; 1 shall not feed you anymore."
The last of the gas seeped out of the can.  Caleb tossed the fuel drum away.
He pulled a Zippo lighter from his front pocket and flipped it open.  "Have
mercy on me father."  Caleb closed his eyes.
A sudden blast shook his hand.
Caleb's eyes fluttered open only to find a bleeding stump where his hand had
once been. Screaming, he fell to the floor.
"Bull's eye brother," sang a man from across the church.  He was over six feet
tall and wore a black trench coat.  His cheeks sported a salt and pepper beard
under a cool smile.
"How dare you," spat Caleb at the man.  He gripped his hand as a red fountain
poured forth.  "This is the lord's holy sanctuary. Get out!"
"Holy sanctuary?  Did you drink a little too much wine tonight priest?  This shit
hole serves the shadows now."  The man stepped closer. He was armed with a
high powered rifle.
Caleb struggled to his feet.  He used a nearby pew to stand.  "I'm through
feeding them.  I only serve one master now."
"Come on now Caleb.  Don't be a fool.  We all know who you serve.  Why don't
you end this madness and take your rightful place with your brothers?"
Caleb made a fist so hard in his good hand that his nails drew blood.  He
leaned against the pew and sighed.  "Why are you doing this?  I'm an old man
in an old church.  I've played my role.  I've kept things quiet for over forty
years, and now it's over.  Let the lord judge me as he must, but there will be no
demons here after my passing."
The man aimed his rifle at Caleb's head.  "That's too bad.  Father Abraham
said you'd come around after a little persuasion.  After that outburst at the last
meeting it's no wonder he had me following your old stinking ass."
Caleb's wounded hand throbbed, yet he remained calm, statue like, as he
spoke.  "Father Abraham was wrong.  I've had my fill of serving the shadows. It
has given me nothing but an endless grief."
The man gestured toward the barred cellar.  "I can't say they've made me a
better man, but my job does have its privileges."
Caleb blinked.  The man was talking about the female servants, free to all the
brothers of the order.  Caleb stared at the man and rubbed his eyes.  "I know
you."
The man shook his head.  "I'm afraid not."  He trained the rifle on Caleb and
fingered the trigger.  "Say your prayers."
Caleb snapped his fingers.  "Christopher!  Yes, that's your name.  Christopher
Leguizamo.  Why I haven't seen you in years."
The man was unmoving.  He didn't confirm or deny his identity.
Caleb motioned to the pew beside him.  "Come have a seat next to me.  How is
Sally?"
"My name isn't Christopher anymore.  And Sally is dead.  So shut the fuck up. "
The rifle blasted in his hands.  The bullet spun wild and smacked into the pew
beside Caleb's head.
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Caleb calmly.  "What's happened to you
Christopher?  You were such a nice boy."
"I said shut up."
"You were always so polite."
"Be quiet."
"I recall your first confession with father Abraham.  Afterward you ran down the
hallway.  I found you there and held you as you cried."
The rifle blasted again.  This time the shot wasn't even near its mark. "I said
shut up priest!"
Caleb stepped toward him.  "You don't want to kill me, do you Christopher?"
The man stared him in the eye then looked away. "I have no choice."
Caleb came closer, until he could almost reach out and hug the man before
him.  "There's always a choice, and it's always your own."
"Not this time.  No.  My path is already chosen.  The trail I've craved is lined
with innocent lives, and you're the next."
Caleb reached out with his unwounded hand.  He placed his fingers on top of
the rifle and lowered it to the floor.  "Then let me go out in a blaze.  I can take
them with me Christopher.  All of them, down into the fires of hell."
Christopher shook his head.  "You don't understand.  They're everywhere.  
The city is choked with their stench.  You only hold the first born here.  Believe
me, there are many more."
"Then let me end their line.  My rites are ended and so are yours.  Walk away
my friend.  Tell Abraham you couldn't reach me in time.  Tell him the fire was
too great."
"Enough," silenced the man.  "Take back your responsibly or die.  That is your
choice priest."
Caleb stood apart from him.  "I was wrong Christopher. I don't know you."
In a flash of movement that even surprised him, Caleb leaped for the Zippo on
the floor.  He managed to flick the top open before a single shot sang true.  
Caleb's head exploded in pieces of gray matter and chipped bone.
The tall man knelt over him and bowed.  "Forgive me, the world has changed."
To his right the cellar shook.  The shadows inside wailed.
Christopher took the priest by his ankles and dragged him toward the
enclosure.  When he saw the ragged claws reaching out through the steel bars
he flinched.   “You're end will come filth."  He kicked Caleb into the grate and
watched the shadows eat their full of his remains.
The dead stare in the Jesus state bore through Christopher's blackened soul.
"What the fuck are you looking at?"  He could hear the shadows eating the
priest; bones snapped and blood was slurped like soup.  Christopher pumped
his rifle and aimed for Jesus' head of thorns. "I said stop looking at me like
that."  He pulled the trigger.  A small mark appeared between the son of God's
eyes.  Christopher laughed.  "That will teach you something new."  He turned
to go, spotted the Zippo lighter and picked it up.   The Zippo's casing was
marked with father Abraham's signature sign of a three headed beast.  
Christopher flipped the lighter open and stared into its flame.  "The fires of hell
my ass. "
A slight creaking, like that of rats chewing on wood, came from behind him.
Christopher spun around in time to witness the crucifix statue of Jesus falling
on him.  He raised his arms in defense as the son of God crashed into him.  
Christopher was pinned to the church floor in an instant, the lighter slipped
from his fingers and landed in a puddle of gasoline.  Christopher let out a long
scream as the fire spread along the floor and ate his flesh. His last image was
of Jesus pinning him down as the two melted together.
Saint Mary's Catholic Church burned to the ground that night. It was said a
thousand inhuman screams rose as one while the church turned to ash.  


                                                                      The End
  
                 
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