Sacrament.

There used to be a low-rent apartment building down the street from the library. It’s just a vacant foundation now, and I’m sure you’ve wondered why nothing’s ever been done with the land when you’ve walked by it, or why radios don’t hold a signal on the streets around it. I know, there’s been enough talk about, but you can never tell when someone listens to the gossip at the bar or if they leave people to talk.

Anyway, I’m drifting far afield of the story. Point is, that foundation used to be a five story apartment building. Now, you have to keep this under your hat, for reasons you’ll understand, because people in the area don’t like to talk about this, okay? It was built back in the twenties, and from the local papers, it wasn’t a bad place to live. It was mostly for the loggers and the mill workers and their families, back in those days. Really diverse set of people, and a lot of mixing which wasn’t warmly received by the locals.

I can tell you’re getting ready to object, and that’s something I can understand. No one ever wants to think that their community is anything other than a sterling example for all of humanity, but you go back far enough and there’s a common lineage of bastard deeds. Fact is, though the people were safe and happy inside the tower, they were not very welcome outside of it, which was a situation that, let’s say, vacillated as years went by.

Years passed, and the people in the tower gained a little bit of traction, at least with the town council. They were able to conduct street fairs outside their building, and even pitch a few tents to make some money on the side with arts and crafts. Out of towners would travel for miles just to come to these street fairs and to purchase these exotic and fascinating talismans and art pieces. There were even a few historians that visited, sampled their wares and brought their findings back to whatever university they worked at. Said the pieces were some of the most fascinating items found in years, with no clear predecessors or kin. This attracted attention and acclaim.

More people visited, and business for the tower dwellers got better and better. They were able to move out of tents and into brick and mortar storefronts. Though there wasn’t much patronage from locals, there were more than enough tourist dollars to justify their existence. They gained more seats on the council and their influence grew. There was a tentative peace for awhile, where the tower dwellers weren’t shunned or in fear, where the general population was grateful for what they brought in.

That was until they bought the church on Brandy and Faulkner. Now, I know that building has been vacant and falling into decrepitude for years, but there’s a reason why no one’s ever tried to recover or move into it. And that’s the Church of the Chasm.

People back in the fifties weren’t the most accepting of any era in American history. This was doubly true when it came to religion. Now, the practitioners were well within their rights, and they had enough influence in the town council to get the permits passed and filed away, but the locals were not going to pretend to be happy about a heretic church in the area.

If you’ll allow me to speak at liberty, the people were not wrong in the estimation of this church. Their masses met at three in the morning, and were lit by candles, hundreds of them, blazing all around the dark building. The practitioners wore black robes and spoke a strange language that no one was able to identify. This went for their holy books as well; untranslatable, in their entirety.

They didn’t discourage anyone from witnessing their rites, but anyone who did would have left feeling disquieted, but ambivalent. The services were strange in meaningful ways, and they were almost aggressively opaque, but they had done nothing wrong. Not that this helped as the locals steadily began to take control back from the dwellers.

Slowly, bit by bit, the town turned frostily hostile to the dwellers. They lost council seat after council seat, losing all of their influence on the government in less than five local elections. Statutes and bills were passed and enacted that squeezed the dwellers back into their tower. Their shops were shuttered and zoning conflict after zoning conflict arose within the Church of the Chasm, until that had to be abandoned too.

After that, the dwellers weren’t seen in the area as much. They drove in and out of the building to go to work, but they were never seen anywhere else. Not even at the local markets. Soon, even these sojourns stopped as rumor came into town that the dwellers had purchased the building from the original owner. Not long after this rumor circulated, the doors into the tower were boarded off from the inside, leaving no way to come in or out. And that’s when things became even weirder.

The people in the surrounding neighborhood reported a disturbing chanting coming from the tower, early in the mornings. No one was ever able to really make out what was being said, or produce a recording, but enough individual reports came in to make that a credible claim. The interior of the building was dark and motionless during the day, but lit by candles at night, casting an eerie, flickering glow around it, like an aura.

We all did our best to ignore this, because what else could we do? Without any evidence of criminal activity, the police couldn’t do anything, as much as they wanted to. Being creepy as hell isn’t a crime, after all. Needless to say, property values were plummeting around the tower, and people began to complain about blinding headaches. This wasn’t just local to the tower, it was all over the town. And then, the candles went out.

When the first body showed up, no one thought much of it. A gawker had come in from out of town, carried his bad health with him and died of a heart attack while behind the wheel. But then more started to be found all over town. What do you mean ‘what do you mean?’ Bodies were appearing where there previously weren’t any bodies. None of them had identification on them, and none of them appeared on missing persons reports. They were fully dressed and they were all fully dead of natural causes.

We all knew who was to blame for this, for the headaches and we all knew what we must do. We elected a representative, a big guy name of Benedict Francis, and went to the building en masse, one bleak December morning. Benny, he strode up to the door and knocked on it heavily. Silence. You could hear the world breathing as we all waited for a response. He knocked again, and one of the boards from inside was pulled away and we were able to look inside the lobby for the first time in months. At least, we would’ve if the inside wasn’t as black as the inside of a paint can.

Their representative strode out of this blackness, in a black robe, and carrying a black book with a black hood covering his face. Benny walked over to the dwellers’ representative, and puffed out his chest. He got ready to speak when the dweller looked up at him. Benny shrank back and staggered into the crowd as we all got a look at his, her…its face.

Its skin was the color of dirty chalk, and its mouth hanged open, allowing thick, black tar to seep out of its distended mouth. Its eyes were coals of flame in a black void where its cheek bones and eye sockets ought to be. It gazed mournfully at all of us, spoke a few words in its unintelligible language, and strode back into the building, erect and purposeful. The entrance was boarded back up, and we stared at it for what felt like hours, now fully at a loss for what to do.

We decided that action had to be taken, but what could we do? We needed to get to somewhere that we could talk, somewhere away from the tower. Where we could breathe safely. It was decided that the library would fulfill all of these needs, especially since it was the only public building that was currently accessible.

We made our way to the library straight from the tower, but it seemed like every step in that direction was harder than the last, like our own muscles were fighting against us. There was something going on that no one understood, and that no one was equipped to understand, and we had to get away from the cause of it as quickly as we could.

Benny was the first one to notice, and he pointed as he told us that the sun was setting at one in the afternoon. But the stars weren’t coming out, and there was no moon in the sky. At this, we all pushed harder and were eventually able to make it to the library. Inside, lights were flickering and sound was dampened such that we nearly had to yell at the person directly next to us in order to be heard. We were becoming frantic, but we knew that something final had to be done. The yells soon became murmurs, until the sinking realization crept in, that if it was as difficult as it was to get to the library from the tower, then what on Earth could any of them hope to achieve without the necessary implements with them?

As this went on, no one noticed that Benny had peeled off from the rest of us, and jingling his car keys as he went. Outside, in the deathly stillness and quiet, there resounded the growl and roar of Benny’s hulking monstrosity of a car and the dull purr of its idling engine. We all struggled our way outside as fast as we could, and saw Benny pointed directly at the tower. His high beams were on, and he was revving the engine with a purposeful look on his face.

I made it up to his window and asked him what he was doing, but he looked straight ahead and refused to acknowledge that I was even there. All at once, he let out the brakes and roared at the tower. He barreled down the empty road like a rocket, cutting through the thick darkness that was swallowing our town.

The sound he made when he struck the outer wall was louder than it had any right or reason to be, but Benny got the job done. Though he was a few hundred feet away, we all could see the gash that he put in the side of the tower. No one could see that Benny was bent over the wheel of his car with the steering column piercing his chest. Or that the hit had punctured the gas line, creating a small puddle that was growing and coming closer to a small patch of grass that caught fire in the initial collision.

We all swam through the molasses that was growing worse by the second, but froze when we saw the car light up, embedded in the tower as it was. The insides burned for a solid five minutes and the world was lit up by the fireball that was Benny’s car. We all shaded our eyes as the flames rose higher from the car and caught on the insides of the building. The whole thing burned for hours, and never did we see a single shape fleeing from inside, nor did we hear any screams or cries of pain or anguish. Just a steadily burning building that we thought we’d never get rid of.

By and by, the air became less thick, and the pitch black sky became the gloomy December clouds that they previously were. The tower had burnt down to the ground, and not a single one of us was sad to see it go. Benny was posthumously made a hero, though there were rumblings that he didn’t ram into the building of his own volition, but that he was enacting some deeper part of the dweller’s design.

So, what was in there, you may ask? I’m going to disappoint you here and admit that the multiple investigations didn’t turn anything up. No personal effects, no furniture. No clothes and no human remains. Nothing. As if the building were vacant when it burned down. That sealed it for the entire town. This incident was not to be talked about, or even acknowledged. As far as any of the old-timers are concerned, there was no Church of the Chasm, or low-rent housing or weirdos that had street fairs.

What about the historians and such from outside? A strange footnote and an inexplicable little story. There’s thousands of them all over the place, and nothing that the outsiders saw made them think that there was anything unnatural going on. Just a hitherto unknown language, writing system and religion. Nothing else.

What happened to the people inside? Now, that’s a good question, and not one that us old-timers like to think about. My own theory is that there wasn’t anything inside of the building to burn. The reason why it looked so black on the inside is because there wasn’t anything inside of there. Nothing. No thing. The stuff rocks dream about, if you catch my meaning.

Now, and if everything before this doesn’t sound crazy, this definitely will and I know it: I don’t think any of them burned because the blackness was a tunnel into another place. That’s why they were slowing us down; they were in the process of leaving and didn’t want us to interrupt them. They were successful, and none of their people died in transit.

So, remember that on especially dark nights, when you pull your collar up around your neck, or when you feel like an alley is a little darker than it ought to be. The world is a far darker, far more strange place than you can imagine.

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