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Dead Congregation

Timothy Smith stood on his tip-toes and stared at the old abandoned church on the hill, just as the Sun began to set behind it. The white paint had almost completely chipped away. All of the stained glass windows were broken. Many of its shingles had fallen off and there were several holes in the roof. Despite the building’s dilapidated state, He could not help but be fascinated by it. He felt there was something magical about the place.

"Timmy," his father said, "go to bed."

The young boy didn’t want to make his father angry, so he jumped into bed and threw the thin blanket over himself.

Timmy turned 6 years old a few months ago. He had four older siblings, but they all died of disease. Because of this, his parents became very protective of him. They tried to make sure he never left their sight. He was much more curious than other children, though, and that often got him into trouble. He often wandered off when something intriguing caught his eye. His parents then tracked him down and angrily scolded him for his misbehavior. Many times did he try to go near that abandoned church, and many times did his parents pull him back and tell him to stay away from that haunted place. That only made him more curious.

As he slept that night, he dreamed that the old church on the hill was back to its former glory. Its white walls glowed in the sunlight. The bell in the steeple rang harmoniously. People filled the pews and sang glorious hymns. He woke up, slowly got out of bed, and looked out the window. The Milky Way high above cast a mystical blue light on the church. It seemed to call out to him. The boy opened the window as silently as he could, crawled out, and made his way up the hill.

The building was officially known as St. Michael’s Baptist Church. Built in 1901, it was cherished by the residents of Shelton, Kansas for several decades. Many fond memories were formed there, and many were married in front of its altar. But as America abandoned God, so, too, was that holy structure abandoned. It was officially closed in 2125. Shelton was almost a ghost town by that point. Because of this, the government considered tearing the whole place down several times, but they never got around to it for several reasons ranging from corruption to incompetence. After the Great Collapse of 2222, people fled the violence that was running rampant in the cities and migrated to the countryside. 100 people moved back into Shelton, giving it new life. A few tried to renovate the church, but they ran from it in fear, claiming that they had seen ghosts, so they instead built a replica in the center of town. When Boss Breen conquered Kansas in 2231, he planned to tear down the old building and salvage its lumber, but then a storm came and lightning struck the ground when he approached the hill, chasing him away. It had been 20 years since that particular incident, and that house of God still stood despite three centuries of harsh weather and the march of time.

Timmy was fully aware of the ghost stories surrounding that church, but with his curiously came unusual bravery. He wanted to see those ghosts in person. He wondered if they could talk. If so, then maybe they could tell him all sorts of fascinating stories.

The hill had a gentle slope, but it was covered in tall weeds. Buried deep within those weeds were pieces of trash from the time before the Great Collapse: doll heads, plastic bottles, and other miscellaneous items. Timmy pretended he was a soldier navigating a minefield. A few short moments later, he reached the square double doors. They were once a bright red, but just like the white walls, nearly all the paint had been chipped away. The boy looked up at the steeple, then back down at the limestone foundation. It was simple architecture made by simple folk, but there was a stoic beauty in its simplicity.

Then the doors flew open. Timmy’s eyes widened. He half expected something to jump out at him, but there was nothing, not even the tiniest insect. Sensing that no danger was near, he slowly entered. Blue light shone down from the holes in the roof and through the broken windows. The pews were covered in thick layers of dust. Chunks of plaster were scattered about. The shelves had collapsed, and the moldy Bibles and hymnals it held rested in piles on the floor. Most of the carpet leading up to the altar had rotted away. A large wooden cross was mounted on the wall behind the pulpit. He had been in the replica many times, but the original felt different. It had a certain essence that he could not articulate but knew was there. The replica always bored him, but the original enchanted him.

A man materialized behind the pulpit. He was thin and his face was heavily wrinkled. Circular glasses rested on his nose, and he was dressed in a suit and tie. Upon seeing the man’s translucence and faint white glow, Timmy realized that he was a ghost. His parents always told him how scary ghosts were, but he didn’t get that feeling from the old man. There was instead a sense of benevolence about him. The young boy then began to wonder why the spirit was here.

"Hi," he said. "What’s your name?"

The spirit did not acknowledge him.

"Can you hear me?" the boy said again.

Apparently not, for the old man pulled out a Bible, put it on the pulpit, and opened it. Timmy turned around and noticed a congregation of ghosts, 60 in total. They slowly poured in and seated themselves in the pews. The boy stood by the preacher’s side and gazed upon the crowd. Some were dressed in their Sunday best, while others wore T-shirts and jeans. Who were these people? What were their stories? These and many other questions swirled in the boy’s head. He waved at them to grab their attention, but to no avail.

The preacher began to move his lips, but no words came out. For 15 minutes did he give his silent sermon. The boy desperately wanted to know what was said. What wisdom did that spirit impart? When the old man pulled out a hymnal, the congregation rose. They seemed to sing, but the room was silent. Then Timmy heard a harmonious humming in his head. It had a sense of beauty and wonder that was not of the material realm. The whole room began to glow with a white light, the intensity of which slowly grew until the entirety of the boy’s vision was consumed by it. And then he saw that the church was restored to its former glory and the people inside were made corporeal, and they all sang praise to the Lord. Timmy wondered how all of this had happened. Were they here to sing one last hymn? Did they want someone to witness their exultation?

The young boy could hardly believe what he was seeing. He rubbed his eyes, but when he looked back up, the church was back to its decrepit self. He felt strangely sad for a moment, for he wanted to hear more of those beautiful supernatural hymns. But he was also excited, for he wanted to tell the whole town what he had seen. As soon as he stepped outside, he heard a horrible groaning. The church’s many studs began to lean and the siding fell off. The boy jumped in fright and sprinted down the hill. He looked back and watched as the old building folded in on itself with a deafening crash. Again his mind was flooded with questions. That church stood for centuries, so why then did it collapse? Was it like an old man who would not rest in peace until his mission was complete? Is that why it seemed to call out to him earlier in the night? Did it perhaps know of his unusual curiosity and bravery? He could not process them all, for his eyes were growing heavy. He ran back home and found his parents outside waiting for him. The loud crash had awoken them. He knew he was in big trouble now.

"Damn it, Timmy!" his father said. "We told you not to go near that church. That right there is why. You could have gotten yourself killed. Now go to your room before you get yourself into more trouble!"


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