Samson Abelien had been the monsignor at Saint Matthew’s parish in Yuma, Arizona for twelve years. In that time, he had been mugged outside of the church, the church had been robbed three times, and vandalized more times that he could remember. It was built on the west side of the city. The last building before there was nothing but the rocky desert. This position often led to the church having wildlife take shelter in its wall. Samson regularly found rattlesnakes, cactus wrens and bobcats making nests in the most insane places. He was grateful in his entire time no one had gotten hurt by this wildlife, but still the fear of having someone get hurt always lingered over him. It was not his only fear. The city was looking to rezone several of the western properties. Samson was worried the church would be next one to go. He had gone to the city council twice looking for support with no assistance to be found. They assured him though, that the church should not be affected by the zoning. He was doubtful they would keep their word. He found himself in a fearful state more than he would like, but nothing scared him more than the day a man who called himself “The Saint” walked into his church.
It was January 27th. The wind was cold as it whipped the against the church walls and windows. The chill was normal for this time of year, but the wind created an extra layer that could be felt down into the bones. Samson was straightening each pew, a regimen he did every night before locking the doors. It wasn’t necessary, but he did enjoy coming in the morning and seeing every single pew lined to perfection. The pews made a large scuffing sound against the marble floor that echoed into the ceiling. The sound of the scuffing was met by the sound of the sand clattering against the stain glass. Even though Samson was the only one in the church, with all the noise he did not feel very alone.
It was an old church. Built when the Irish settlers were traveling west to California. The inside was crafted to match the gothic cathedrals in Ireland but with the red rock of the southwest. The front doors were a dark ebony, each reaching about ten feet tall. It took two people to open them fully but when they opened, they spread out to a single room chapel. The floor was red marble, almost salmon in color, this was helpful to blend the sand and dirt into the floor keeping the church always looking clean. The walls were a blend of slate brown and red rock. It gave an earthier look to the church while remaining beautiful. The ceiling arched into a beveled pyramid. It was white with a little dusting to it. The brightness of the white off set the brown and red making the church brighter than it would normally seem. The altar was birch as were the pews. Some people complained it made the church look cheap and run down. Samson loved them though. He felt it gave church a unique feel and not just another cookie cut catholic chapel. The birch did chip often and with the back drop of the marble it was very noticeable.
The outside of the church was not so lucky. The blistering heat from the summer had taken a toll on the brick outside. Samson believed, when it was first built the brick was a dark red. With the years though the bricks’ color faded to a washed-out burnt pink and no matter how many times he painted, it was one sand storm away from returning. There was a fountain on the steps heading into the church. Inside the fountain was a large bronze statue of Saint Matthew. The bronze was surprisingly in good condition. It reflected the sun so bright it was like neon sign heading to the church. The fountain though was worse for wear. The church didn’t have the money to put in a pump and a sitting pool of water was just a recipe for problems. So, it was dry, constantly having to be cleaned out of soda cans and cigarette butts. Samson would have had it removed if it wasn’t for the bronze statue attracting people to his doors.
Samson adjusted the last of the pews. He sat down and rubbed his ankle. The wind always did bother him. He was only 38 but the stress of keeping the church afloat made him look closer to fifty. His sandy blonde hair was already poking pieces of gray. He was in decent shape, the upkeep of the church helped with that. His hands were callused and bruised. He used to try rubbing lotion on them to sooth the callus, but he had fallen out of practice. Pulling himself up, he approached the large doors. He fished into his pocket. His hand met nothing so his tried the other. He sighed.
“Must still be on the desk,” he thought.
He made his way back towards the altar. The sand had stopped beating against the stained glass so the empty sound of his shoes clogging against the marble left the church feeling hollow. He made his way up the stairs to the altar. He checked his watch out of habit. It was just after six fifteen. His favorite Chinese place usually closed at seven. He wondered if she wanted to meet him there or here. She normally met him at the restaurant but given his now certain lateness, that might not be an option. He decided it would be best to call. Pulling his phone of his pocket the silence in the chapel was shattered by the sound of a large thud. Samson snapped his head up and dropped his phone. He looked around the church in a panic. The thud sound like a door being slammed.
“Hello!” he sheepishly called out.
The chapel was empty, the prayer candles still lit. Samson made his way down the middle of the chapel. He looked from the stained glass to the basin of holy water, but there was nothing to be found. He rubbed his eyes and laughed.
His thought was broken by one of the pews being out of line. He looked up the aisle. All the pews matched in perfect sequence, save for the last one. Shaking his head, he moved it back. He looked around the chapel again. The candles still lit, the altar untouched, even his phone still on the marble floor. He made his way back up to the altar, stopping every few steps to look behind him. The pews were still in sequence. He picked up his phone and looked back at the chapel for a fifth time. There was nothing there.
He made his way back to the office. He tried to shake the goosebumps off his arms, but it was no use, he was still shaken up. Pushing open the office door he rushed to the desk. He figured the sooner he locked up the fear would subside. The psalm he recited last Sunday bounced in his head.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for the Lord God is with me.”
It was always a comfort to him that a phrase so simple could make the fear of evil subside. He recited it when he was in a bad part of Phoenix or during his missions to the penitentiary. But this was the first time he recited it in his own church.
He pulled open the top left drawer and rummaged for his keys. The reciting of the psalm calmed his nerves. He laughed to himself about being afraid of creeks and cracks in an old stone building. He shut the drawer and opened the top right. His key was set on top of his Bible. He picked up the key and started to shut the drawer. The drawer creaked and moaned against the wood. Samson stopped pushing, he was surprised, it had never made that sound. He spotted the lining on right and noticed it was off kilter. He leaned his shoulder into the drawer and popped it back into alignment. The pop echoed in his office reminding him of the loud crash he had heard. The Bible, red leather bound with a gold tassel book mark, had jolted to the corner as he aligned the drawer making its bulk prevent the drawer from closing. Annoyed, Samson snatched the Bible out of the drawer and slammed it shut.
The slam bounded out so loudly it sounded like a gun shut. The lights of the went out in a second. Startled Samson fell to the floor, the red leather-bound Bible soared out of his hand onto the stone. Another boom rang out and Samson covered his head fear the whole building was coming down. The lights came back on. Samson looked up from his wooden desk. The room was quiet again. He gasped, reciting the psalm over and over, holding back tears, as the fear started to consume him. He looked at the Bible. It was strewn on the floor face down with the pages crumpled up against one another. Samson picked up the Bible, feeling guilty about his carelessness. He turned it over, all the pages were blank.
He frantically flipped through the pages. Each one blank, including the maps and the forward. As his fingers spun through the pages, his mind was trying to keep up with what he was seeing. He flipped to the last page and a spark cracked from out of the spine causing him to drop it again. The Bible land flat on its spine, the golden tassel curled between the pages. Samson looked down at it, all the words had returned. He gently picked it up. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, were all there. He paged through, the gospels, the letters of Paul, and Revelations, as if it had not been touched. He closed the Bible and set it on his desk. He sat down and folded his hands in prayer.
“Lord, am I fatigued or is the sign that I-”
His prayer was cut short by the buzzing of his phone. He crossed himself and opened it. It was a text from her, brief, but he knew she was worried.
“At the restaurant, it is not like you to be late. Are you okay?”
Samson wanted to text back “No,” his Bible had just lost all its words and had them miraculously reappear like some bad magic trick. He didn’t want to worry her. She would run to her car and drive to the church and that would just worsen her condition. He typed back.
“Problems with the locks. I should be there soon.”
He knew it wasn’t enough to keep her from worrying but maybe it was enough to keep there. He grabbed his keys and headed out the door. He stopped in the threshold and looked back at the Bible. It was his grandfather’s, given to him right out of seminary. It was one of his most cherished possessions, but tonight it felt sinister to him. He turned off the light and closed the door. Walking back into the foyer the fear and goosebumps came over him again.
He hated this feeling. This church was his sanctuary, his home. He loved coming to it everyday and now it made him afraid. He thought of her and felt he was just letting his brain run wild with fears to avoid the conversation that they were inevitably going to have. He made his way to the giant ebony doors. He thrust the key in the lock on the left, hearing it click, and then he did the other. He felt the strength come over him again. He closed his eyes and recited the psalm.
“Though I walk through the valley of shadow of death I will fear no evil-”
The soft click of lighter broke his meditation. Samson turned back toward the altar and saw him. He was very tall, reaching almost 6’7”, his shoulders hunched, putting him down four inches. He was dressed in black duster reaching down to his ankles. It was a cotton blend, stained and tattered. There was a large fray in the collar. He wore navy blue jeans, bleached white at the base around his thick dark gray boots. He wore a black Stetson with no curve in the brim as it draped over his neck like an umbrella. He was lighting a candle, the flame flickering off the gold lighter, creating and eerie orange glow on the walls.
Samson was about to call out when the man turned from the candles and faced him. His shirt was a button up dress shirt, mostly covered by the dark duster, and seemed to be white, faded from years and now almost gray. He kept his head down, the Stetson blocking most of his facial features. His skin was cracked, it did not seem right. It was pale, looking almost blue, like a robin’s egg left out in the tundra. He approached Samson, lumbering forward with a slowness in his stride, his right foot clubbed and useless. He lifted his head ever so slightly to reveal his lips, a dark blue, almost as dark as his jeans. He opened his mouth showing his filed sharp teeth.
“Father Abelien, may I have a moment of your time?”
His voice was clear and bold. Samson looked back at the ebony doors. Without assistance they swung close and latched.