The Church View
The girls jumped as the clock struck half past five. They looked at each other and laughed then tidied the shop. They cleared what was left of the bread and buns away and all the cakes. Evelyn wiped the surfaces clean of crumbs while Lilly mopped the floor. Evelyn lived above the shop so she didn’t have to go far to get to the safety of her home but she was afraid for Lilly. She cared for her and the strange evening had left her feeling uneasy.
“I’m taking you to the church,” she said. Lilly shook her head but Evelyn insisted. She led her disorientated friend down the dark streets towards the church. It was quiet and the snow was just a gentle shower that fluttered in the breeze. They couldn’t hear any breathing but hurried, none the less, over to the church where the choir would sing. No one was there yet as they were all finishing a dinner in the town hall.
Evelyn sat Lilly down on a pew by the front door.
“Are you going to be alright?” Evelyn asked. Lilly nodded and stood up to play with the candles. Evelyn left her and hurried home to her father.
The choir arrived with most of the parents for a quick warm up. Rose was singing a solo in the choir that night and Abigail was very proud. Lilly listened to the shrill voices of the sopranos echo round the church. The lamps were all lit and cast a holy glow over the choir. Even Rose was in the pleasant haze. Lilly loved the church as there were so many candles. There were thousands of burning flames creating a powerful glow that, when in unison, spread a wonderful light into the dark corners of the church.
There was a corner near the stairs where Lilly liked to sit. It was next to the personal candles where people came to light them for their loved ones, their lost ones, and even their foes. They were a symbol of believe and hope. The fact there were so many lit, made Lilly feel that she was not alone in her pain. She lit a thin wax column and blessed it with her hope. She watched as it flickered in the fragile air movement and was blown out by a gust from the opening door. Lilly watched in horror as it smoked pitifully then she spun round to see who had opened the door but there was no one. Lilly felt alone and unwanted. Her hope had been blown out by something that was not there. She turned round and saw Rose sitting on the steps.
“Lighting candles is a stupid thing to do. They just blow out when the door opens.” Rose blew at the flames but Lilly quickly stood in the way to protect them. Rose was also wearing a white dress but it wasn’t as white or as pretty as her sister’s which made her furious so out of spite she tried to blow the candles out again.
“You can’t blow out other people’s hopes. It’s evil,” said Lilly with fear in her eyes.
“It’s stupid. Anyone who lights a candle for a silly wish is stupid.” Rose tried again but Lilly gently slapped her on the cheek. She looked outraged and charged at Lilly, pushing her away so she fell against the wall and watched in alarm as Rose took a deep breath..
Before she could exhale a man put a candle snuffer against her lips. She pushed it away and stepped backwards in surprise that some one had dared to stop her.
“If lighting a candle is so stupid then why does everyone in this town light them? Even your mother does.” He pointed to a flame and smiled. “See how many are lit? In churches, synagogues, mosques and temples all over the world the candles are a sign of believe and love. Even I come to light a hope in my life. If you dare to destroy other people’s hopes and dreams then you might find yourself without a life to wish for.” He said his speech with a low and powerful voice that made Lilly feel safe from Rose’s spite. He wore a black hat that shadowed his face so she could not see who he was, but the voice sounded familiar.
The man placed his candle in front of Rose who took a breath to blow it out but as she did she choked on the air and bent forwards coughing. When she tilted her head down the flame caught her hair and singed the fine blond strands. Rose was in tears when she ran away to her mother and Lilly stared at the man. His face was still covered. The last act could not have been an accident. The candle still burned brightly and Rose was defeated. She was shocked.
“I’m sorry. I do believe that it was my opening the door that blew out your candle.” He lifted Lilly’s dead candle and held it next to his. The wick caught fire and burnt brightly. The two flames were the highest in the crowd of burning candlings. The man lifted his head and removed his hat. It was the man from the bakery. Lilly smiled with delight at seeing him again.
His eyes were even more hollow and empty in the candle light as they reflected no flame. They looked dead. Lilly gazed into the cold, dark eyes with concern and the man gazed back into hers. Her eyes were different. They had hope and life in them, but still the anger burned behind them. The two gazed at each other for a long time. It was not a difficult silence but welcomed because neither could think of anything to say. Lilly broke the trance first. She held out her hand and spoke softly.
“My name is Lilly Mare.” She felt ridiculous saying her name. The man knelt down, held her hand and kissed it softly. Lilly felt a hot flush flow round her neck.
“I am very pleased to meet you, Lilly.” It sounded better when he said it. He had a deep voice that was very sensual. It sounded almost ancient and mystical: A forgotten language that seeped into his accent. “My name is Simon.”
“Do you have a last name?” she asked shyly.
“No. Just Simon,” he replied standing up straight. Lilly listened to his voice.
“Where are you from?” she asked gazing up at him.
“I am from many different places,” he spoke with a deep secret hidden in his words. His pale skin suggested he had come from somewhere cold and dark. “My apologies, I only came to light a candle. I cannot stay but I will see you again soon I have no doubt.” He put his hat on again and left. Lilly didn’t want him to go. She stepped forwards to ask him to stay but he had gone.
At six o’clock the choir began. Eric arrived and sat with Abigail near the front, while Lilly sat at the back. She could see Evelyn sitting with her father enjoying the music. They didn’t attend Sunday service but on the night of entertainment they were welcome in God’s house. The organ sighed its low moans and the choir sang along. First they sang a sad and lowly tune that if sung by a trained choir could have shattered the stained glass windows with its wonderful notes. The sweet words of the innocent children rang in the old stone walls.
Rose was singing at the front of the choir but her voice was nothing special. The tones rebounded off the pillars to the back of the church where Lilly listened from a distance. She could sing very well, but she never sang in public as she was extremely shy and didn’t want anyone to know of her beautiful voice. If Rose knew of it, things would be worse.
She retreated to the candles and watched Simon’s with interest. It was not the same colour as the others, a paler flame burned; almost silvery. Lilly ran her finger over it and felt nothing. No heat was given off but when she held her skin in it a sudden chill burnt her. She smiled in wonder, and then stopped. She could hear something outside.
It was a gentle thud that was only just within hearing range. The beat sounded hollow yet crammed with heavy air. Completely forgetting the incident earlier that night, Lilly tiptoed to the doors and let herself out.
Nothing was there and the night had silenced the daytime world. The moon shone brightly and some stars peeped through the thin clouds. Lilly looked up at the lunar glow and began to sing. Her silver voice was quiet at first but then it grew to a louder bell that rung in her throat. She lent against a wall singing to herself while she thought of Simon. Who was he? Where did he come from?
“Excuse me fair lady?” asked a voice. Lilly muted her song and spun round to see a gentleman who had addressed her. He wore dark clothing and his pale face stood out in the blackness. “Are you part of the choir?”
“No, Sir,” Lilly replied as she struggled to view his face.
“Are you here to watch?” His voice was strange but encouraged Lilly to relax.
“No. My sister is singing but I’m not really interested?”
“Does she not sing well?”
“I don’t think so,” Lilly admitted with a small smile. The stranger’s mouth tweaked at the edges in an attempt to copy her but it didn’t suit him.
“What is your name?” he asked stepping closer into the light of the windows so Lilly could see his face. It was Simon.
“I’m Lilly. Don’t you remember?” she was pleased to see him again but his manner had changed.
“Of course. I just didn’t recognise you in the darkness.”
“I didn’t know it was you either,” Lilly confessed.
“Don’t you want to watch the choir?”
“It doesn’t interest me,” Lilly repeated.
“What if I were to show it to you from a different view?” Simon tried a smile again. His teeth showed and it had more resemblance to a grin.
“You don’t spend a lot of time smiling do you?” Lilly jested but Simon just shook his head. As Lilly watched him she saw his eyes. They were no longer deep and hollow. They glinted in the night and reflected Lilly’s image in their chestnut colour.
“Do you accept my offer?” Simon asked holding out his arm. Lilly took it and let him lead her round the side of the church to the steeple door. They stepped into the shadows and looked up inside the tower that loomed above them with numerous ladders and floors that continued all the way to the bell. Simon climbed the old ladder then helped Lilly to the first floor. It smelt of dust and mould that caught in the back of their throats and made them cough quietly. There were two ladders; one leading to the next floor the other to a small door half way up the wall.
They crept up to the door that creaked open and the sound of singing flowed through. On the other side was a small, dark room filled with old sandbags that were used for the spring floods.
“Where are we going?” whispered Lilly climbing onto the rough sacking. Simon said nothing and hoisted himself through the open trapdoor in the ceiling which lead out into the church. Once through the hole Lilly crawled onto the precarious wooden outcrop that held a few more bags. It was directly above the stage but close enough to the roof that Lilly could reach up and touch the carved ceiling. She peered over the edge to see the choir directly below but felt like she was falling forward so she quickly pressed herself to the itchy fabric of the sand bags.
Simon picked a feather from a nest above them in the rafters and dropped it over the edge. Lilly watched it fall. It drifted down slowly, twisting and spinning in the air until it gently fluttered to a rest right on top of Rose’s head. Lilly giggled.
“That amuses you?” asked Simon.
“It landed in my sister’s hair.”
“Why does it please you?”
“I don’t really like her. She is not as nice as everyone thinks.”
Simon was not paying attention to her instead he was staring at the candles.
“Where are you from?” Lilly asked.
“I cannot tell you.” Lilly creased her brow.
“You would not know of it.” Simon turned and looked at her. Her eyes were shining in the gloom of the rafters and her soft hair fell over her pale cheeks. She looked ill in the bad light, as if she wanted help or comfort.
“How old are you?” she asked wondering if he would tell her.
“Twenty,” he said bluntly still looking at her eyes.
“Why are you in Hawes?”
“You ask too many questions,” Simon said as he picked at the sand bags and turned his attention back to the candles.
“Sorry,” Lilly didn’t mean it but didn’t ask any more questions as they appeared to unsettle him.
“Did you a light candle?” Simon asked.
“You know I did. You relit it for me and now who’s asking questions?” Simon looked confused and didn’t respond. “Why do you ask?”
“Just making conversation.”
“It’s not conversation if you know the answer,” Lilly pointed out, “You lit one too.” Simon jerked upright and accidentally kicked a beam of wood supporting the floor causing the whole thing to shake. They both froze in fear but it didn’t fall.
“What’s wrong?” asked Lilly after they had calmed from the shock.
“I thought I saw some one I knew,” Simon answered.
“That’s no reason to nearly kill us both,” Lilly joked.
“That is not my intention.” Lilly thought this was a strange answer but Simon was a strange person.
“The candle you lit?” she enquired.
“What of it?” Simon seemed distracted but Lilly continued.
“The flame was cold.” Simon gritted his teeth and sighed. It was not sorrowful or contented but a slightly irritated sigh.
“I imagine it would be.”
“How is that possible?”
“Magic.” Lilly smiled at him in disbelief. He stretched his thin lips back from his teeth to imitate her. It was quite frightening.
“You have to use your cheek muscles as well,” Lilly suggested, “And don’t show your teeth so much.” Simon did as she said so he looked less creepy.
“I have to go,” he said edging back to the trapdoor.
“Why?” Lilly asked. Despite his abnormal behaviour Lilly wanted the man who had rekindled her candle of hope to stay.
“I must do something,” he said then he disappeared back down the steeple.
Lilly stayed on the ledge listening to the music but her mind wondered. Who was he? Why had he behaved so different to when he had spoken with her by the candles? What had he done the candle that burnt with a cold flame? She knew he would not tell her as he was so secretive and not eager to discuss himself. She peered over the platform to look at the audience. There was a man near the back of the pews hidden by a black cloak. Was he the one that had made Simon so uneasy? He did appear to be looking straight at her but she was too high to spot.
At seven o’clock the concert finished with a low and hushed applause rose up to where Lilly lay comfortably on the sandbags. She watched from her secret hiding place as the church was emptying and peace returned to the holy house. The cloaked man had already left and soon everyone else departed as well, leaving only the programmes scattered on the wooden pews. The welcomed quiet was broken by the sound of the door opening again as Simon walked in.
“Simon!” called Lilly from high above him then climbed back down all the ladders of the steeple and stepped through the curtains to the church. Simon was waiting for her by the door.
“I felt I should walk you home in case you didn’t go with your family,” his voice sounded as strange as ever but Lilly willingly accepted his arm and accompanied him outside.
“Why is your suit wet and what happened to your hand?” Lilly asked looking at his scrapped knuckles.
“I slipped in the snow,” he answered plainly.
“Are you all right?”
“I will be fine.” Lilly smiled to herself at his oddity and continued with him up the street.