HOME Activities Stories
Careful, what doors you open
It was July in a high altitude town, and the tar was melting in the streets, clogging my bicycle tire treads and sticking to my bare feet if I wasn't careful where I walked. Though I tried not to walk until after dark because the ground was too hot everywhere. Instead, the days were spent biking to various cool locations with an inner tube to float down an irrigation ditch or the River. Other days my friends and I would nestle in the shady cardboard dumpster behind the Pharmacy with candy and comic books. Sometimes we would bike to a nearby ranch and watch the bronc busters at work, or we would explore the damp and moldy abandoned mining tunnels near town. But the heat and sun this week were unbearable and no one would come out to play.
I decided to spend the time resolving a personal mystery; which was to discover what people did in church. My father was an adamant atheist and I didn't have a clue what the whole churchgoing thing was about. The older churches in my childhood community were all in disrepair and were not secure from the prying hands of a determined eight year old.
Near to my home there was a large Scottish church built in Gothic style. It was in such terrible condition that people in general were not allowed on the balcony or third floors. In the back was a secret staircase and I jimmied the window there and began my investigations. I'm afraid it never occurred to me that I could simply walk in and attend a congregation or service. No, I would creep in late afternoons, and inspect the contents for clues. I was an archeologist at work. There were dusty boxes crammed behind the balcony pews, which contained angel wings and golden ropes. There were hymn books full of songs, dog-eared from years of use. There were potted flowers and candles at the lectern. And Dust. Everywhere.
In the front of the building were two matching oak spiral staircases which ascended to the third floor. These were so rotten that it sounded like thrashing canes to step on them. Upstairs I could see through holes in the floor as I padded gently across the landing. To my delight there was an ancient pump organ in the attic. The attic was cold and dim light filtered in through small square leaded glass windows. I tried the machine; it wheezed and let out a terrible cry! Bats awoke and darted across the ceiling. I was thrilled and the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.
Across the room was a small door set in the plaster wall. I crossed the dusty carpet and pulled on the knob, which came off in my hand. By holding the rod at an angle I could get resistance, and I eased the door open. There was an unexpected shuffling sound from inside and from the darkness a head rolled out past my feet; eyes glittering in the twilight. I dropped the doorknob and levitated down the stairs. There was a horrible noise which I eventually realized was coming from my own mouth. Outside, the heat of the summer afternoon enveloped me and I caught my breath. Holy cow! What was going on inside these churches anyway?
For two weeks I would walk on the other side of the street when I had to pass the church. I stayed away from church goers. Finally I gathered the resolve to go back inside. I was shaking and felt sick by the time I got to the small door again. I had a flashlight this time. When I opened the door and shined in the light I saw a pile of body parts; arms, torsos, jumbled heads. I recognized after my first paralyzing shock that they were life-sized parts of a Crèche Manger display. All made from plaster and cast plastic. It was, in fact, Jesus' baby head that had rolled past my feet before.
Despite my many trips to investigate, I was still in the dark about what was going on in church. I had read a stolen Bible but it didn't make sense. I had to find a better way. I looked at the lectern and thought maybe I could hide inside and listen to a sermon, but I was afraid of being discovered. I looked for other hiding places and discovered under a table a tiny maintenance door for the massive pipe organ! From inside I could look through the keyhole and see and hear the congregation! Skipping home I laid plans for the following Sunday.
At 7:30 am the next Sunday I was climbing through the window of the church to get into my hiding place. By 10am the main room was full and I was dazzled by the display of townspeople in their nice clothes. The Priest came up the same back stairs I used and stood in front and to the left of me. I could hear him loud and clear. I could see and watch everybody. He talked. They listened. It didn't make much sense. Then they began to sing and the organ behind me came to life. I was cramped from hours of hovering and starting to sweat... I moved my legs a bit to stretch out and burned my thigh against some of the organ's intricate plumbing! Somewhere in the depths of the building there was an air compressor powering the organ pipes, and as it labored, it was heating up! All the plumbing and pipes became hot.
They sang and the organ played for an interminable time. I pressed my face to the floor and breathed the hot varnish fumes. The sweat poured down my sides. Finally it was over and everybody went away. I crawled out and never went to church again.
Authored By Jess Bates