Maddy took a deep breath and held it, her eyes scanning up the plain façade of the building in front of her. It didn’t look like a church, but the mix of stucco and panelling hid the historic structure underneath.
She exhaled and reached for the door, which swung easily but closed behind her with a slam, its heavy metal rattling the jam. Silence followed the echo and Maddy’s fingertips fumbled along the wall to find the lightswitch.
The hallway illuminated, she walked down the new wheelchair ramp and into the theatre, the church‘s new purpose. She paused for a moment to look up to the rafters, to see the lights and curtains hanging from the beams. A catwalk ran outside of the upper floor, leading to a balcony, which she now stood under.
Maddy stared into the empty theatre longer than was necessary. With a sigh, she gripped the flashlight in her hand just a little tighter and took a few tentative steps down the staircase to her left.
She felt the cool air wafting up from below as she slowly descended, her arm sliding along the wall for balance. Below, she couldn’t hear the busy street outside, just like the folks a century ago couldn’t hear the horses and the carriages, the ships in the harbour or the people out for a pleasant evening stroll.
They couldn’t hear the outsiders, but most importantly, the outsiders couldn’t hear them.
It was a regular ritual. They descended below the church to this inner sanctum, music, food and wine laid out in a buffet before them. This was their time to give praise to the gods of wine, food and all earthly pleasures. Their ritual was inspired by the ancient Greeks and their festivals devoted to the god they called Bacchus.
Above, the people covered their skin in lace and wool clothing, fitted and constricted, their very breath confined. Below, they shed their sartorial prisons and draped their forms in silks, the soft, cool fabric sliding easily over skin, teasing the delicate nerve endings, alight with new-found sensations. The wine was sweet and full, and they rolled the alcohol around in the mouth before swallowing, savouring every drop. The absinthe dripped over the sugar, disolving its sweetness into the crystal glass as the green fairy swirled, waiting to catch the next willing captive in her embrace.
They sucked ripe fruit, its sweet juices dribbling down chins and tasted rich cakes, slathered in buttery frosting. Incense burned its musky odour as a player tickled the ivory keys of a piano. Silks fell to the floor with a whisper as couples basked in their naked skin, sinking into the thick pillows scattered about the room. Soon the music from the piano joined the sighs and moans in a symphony of passion.
But on this night, the last night, something was wrong. A gurgling sound, faint, was met with a scream suddenly cut short. People peered through the smoky haze and flickering candles to see an image, clad in black, raise and arm before driving it in one, swift downward thrust, a spray of red liquid hitting the wall and sending a spattering of blood across the killer’s shadow. He moved swiftly taking advantage of their drunkeness to kill one, two, three with his blade before chaos descended. Men and women grabbed for clothes as they ran, throwing their bodies against a locked door. He hacked and slashed his way through, taking his time, ensuring that every single last one was dead.
When the room was quiet, the only sound that of blood dripping onto a wet carpet, he shed his black cloak, revealing a silver cross at his neck. He left the cloak in the midst of the twisted limbs, and smashed any remaining bottle of liquor he could find, letting the contents soak into the floor. He climbed the stairs pausing at the top to light a match. “Sinners,” he spat, bolting the door shut behind him.
No scars or scorch marks were left from that night that Maddy could see. But she could feel them. Anger. Betrayal. They crowded around her, cool drafts on the back of her neck, her arms. She shivered, the light from her flashlight quivering. Her hands were clammy and she whipped the flashlight here and there. Her heart throbbed in her ears as she took fast, panicked breaths. Until she heard a click, ever so slight, that made her breathing stop. She closed her eyes and slowly turned toward the staircase and the door at the top, which she now knew was locked. She screamed.