Rain pattered in the dark outside the small building. Islands of frightened humanity shone from the light of a handful of flickering candles. The flames licked at the eyes of the children, and accentuated the dark circles under the eyes of their parents. Dom handed the stub of a candle to his wife, and kissed his sleeping daughter on her head. He looked at his wife and looked for words to pass comfort. She was frightened – frightened for her husband, and her flock, but mostly for her children. Dom could not think of the words to say. He knew that if he tried, he would break and end with an awkward sob.
Instead he stood and began to make his way to the front of the church. He navigated his steps, working hard not to wake the huddled forms in the dark. The small children and their mothers had been moved into the smaller rooms at the back of the building. It was quieter back here, and the children were more at home.
Dom passed the small cooking area. He nodded at the casual guard installed to preserve their provision for as long as they could At least until Joe arrived with more supplies. As it was, there was not much more – even on tight rations. Fifty people ate much more than he would have believed possible. And, when people eat – well, the rooms set aside as latrines were overflowing already. Someone had hung spare blankets across the entry in a poor attempt at blocking the odors.
A flash of light shone through the gap in the barricades set up against the windows in the front of the building. Dom flinched as a peal of thunder followed the lightning. Thunderstorms were rare in late winter, though this winter had been anything but usual. The smell of ozone flowed into the building, and Dom pulled his collar closer to his neck against the chill.
As Dom made his way to the front of the church, he paused to take in the beauty of the scene before him. Slumped against the door were the forms of a newly wed couple. Matt had his arm around his bride, her head nestled against his chest. She was asleep, breathing softly while her husband looked at her face in the dim light of a still candle flame. He stroked her hair, examining each piece as if for the first time. Dom noted the beauty of the scene. Even here, in the midst of this tragedy and darkness, the Mother afforded peace to her children. He murmured a small prayer of thanksgiving.
Matt looked up at Dom. Their eyes met, small twinkling spaces in a vast darkness. Before all of this, Dom and Matt had not been close. Their paths had never really crossed in a significant way. They had been acquaintances and nothing more. But darkness has a way of uniting people. Through the flames of their suffering, they had become brothers.
Joe had been gone for at least a day when the first had died. The next was not long in coming. Dom had stepped in – a reluctant leader in the absence of a true shepherd. Matt was the first and strongest support for Dom that first day. Their bond started there. It had continued as duties rose to claim more and more of Dom’s attention.
For a second time, Dom was at a loss for words. He looked to Matt, wishing for a way to thank him, to express gratitude. More than that, Dom wanted to be comforted himself. He was no leader, and was as frightened as the rest of the believers huddled against the fear.
Matt and Jaime leapt to their feet as a jolt rattled the barricade across the front door. Dom took a step in front of the couple as the door rattled again. A weak voice from the toerh side cried out,
“For the sake of the Mother, open the doors”.
Dom looked at Matt. His pulse beat hard against his neck. He stroked his beard, his breath fast. Matt and Jaime stared at the door. Jaime rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She look as if she was trying to figure where she was, and what his noise was. Dom wondered himself.
Matt grabbed a leg broken from one of the tables used in the barricade. He brandished it as a club and took a step in front of Jaime and Dom.
The voice cried out again. “Please” it sobbed, “please, open the door. Open the fucking door!”
Dom looked from the door to Matt again, but both Matt and Jaime were focusing their attention on the door.
“It’s Bren. Let me in, damn it. Let me in”
Now Matt looked at Dom. Dom tasted the name Bren. Somewhere in his mind that meant something. The fear was so tight, so strong that Dom could not place the name. He couldn’t think at all. Another flash of lightning painted the scene with white hot confusion. The thunder sounded outside as the person outside threw themselves against the door. The door and barricade rocked from the impact.
Clarity pierced the fear and the darkness. Dom leaped past Matt and reach for the door. Matt grabbed his arm, restraining Dom at the last moment.
“No, Dom. No.” Matt said.
“It’s Bren.” Dom said, “It’s Bren. We’ve got to let him in.”
“What if he’s one of them?” MAtt asked.
Dom’s stomach clenched in fear. He swallowed hard. His heart raced and his palms were clammy. What if the rumors were true?
The door shook again with less force than before. The voice outside was barely audible.
“Please,” it sobbed, “please let me in”
Dom moved to the door again, pushing Matt aside. “We have to let him in”
“But,” MAtt began.
“Butt nothing,” Dom turned and looked into Matt’s eyes “The Mother will protect us. We act in love, and the Mother will protect us. There is no but”.
Matt’s eyes dropped down, his features lost in the darkness outside the reach of the candle. Dom threw aside a brace and began to slide the door open. A wet cold rain raced in through the gap as a dark form spilled onto the floor of the foyer. The wet wind blew out the single candle and plunged them into darkness complete.
Matt and Jaime moved and slid the door shut again. Jaime slid the brac into place as Matt piled furniture back against the door.
“Jaime, go light the candle again,” Dom said. Jaime left as Dom crouched down to the man on the floor. “Bren. Bren, are you ok? Where’s Joe? Bren?” Dom shook Bren’s shoulder.
“He’s gone. They’re all gone. Everyone.” Bren began. Jaime returned with the candle. Bren was staring into space, his mind far away. His gaze flicked back to Dom, “Joe’s dead. I killed him” Bren turned his head away and sobbed.
Matt looked at Dom, the fear in his eyes contagious. Dom saw Matt’s chest rise, saw the club raise.
“What do you mean you killed him? Bren. Bren, what happened out there? What did you see?” But Bren was gone again. His eyes had glazed over. He mumbled to himself. Dom could not hear what he said.
Dom needed information. Bren and Joe had left days ago. The went to look for food, and to find out what was happening. Joe was hoping to find help, and to give help – shepherd that he was. Bren had gone along as muscle, and, Dom suspected, to avoid the aggravation of waiting in the silent dark. Bren had a family – a wife and a daughter. There were so many daughters in the church.
“Bren, your family needs you,” Dom said, keeping his tone pleading. He spoke as he would speak to a child – gentle yet firm. “Bren, come back to us”
Moments passed. Bren blinked several times in the dim light of the candle. He licked his lips and turned to look at Dom as if he had decided something.
“They’re ok, my family?” Bren began. Dom nodded. “They took Joe.” he continued “It’s dark how they do it. I had to kill him. It’s the only way to stop them. Joe wanted me to do it. Joe begged me to do it. And I did it. I killed him. MOther help me, I held his hand as he went. “
“I was alone. It’s dark out there. They’re smart, smarter than we are. They waited. I think they enjoyed the hunt. They pushed me where they wanted me to go. I think they followed me” Bren looked at Dom, tears in his eyes. “I think they wanted me to come here.” He spoke in a whisper. “They’re coming here”